Zombie AU (Azi/Ellie)

Azi and Ellie are characters from Sanctuary Averra RP group.
Words: 114,998 words and counting
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: Violence, gore, sex

—-

Ellie swung her hockey stick with the precision borne of long practice. She kept her mouth firmly closed and was ready to turn her head if anything unpleasant came her way. The only problem was, she was cornered in an alley, there were more zombies coming, and her energy levels were running on empty. She could finally see her end and at this point she wasn’t sure why she was still fighting. Another swing, another direct hit to the temple, and the zombie went down. Maybe if she dropped her pack… but then, if she did manage to get out of this, she needed the supplies in the bag to survive. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. She’d already lost her sword when a zombie had knocked her hand hard enough that it went numb, and she hoped firstly that she hadn’t been infected by that and secondly that she could retrieve her weapon later. The hockey stick just didn’t cut it. She took another swing when one got too close for comfort. If only she hadn’t left the others. Stupid of her to think she could do this alone, but they’d irritated the hell out of her. Swing, crack, breathe. There were too many.

He had been carefully peeking around corners and collecting what little he could find in means of supplies from the local shops when he heard the tell tale noises of a hoard nearby. By what he could make out from the sounds they were obviously gathering to one area not far from where he was. He should be taking this moment to get out of town but… what exactly had them gathering? Odds were they had found some poor creature that had been foolish enough to wander into the city… but then again, what if it wasn’t an animal? He /really/ should go not but curiosity was getting the best of him, he had to know what the creatures were after. Mentally kicking himself he grabbed his supplies and quietly snuck out of the store and headed towards the noise. Fighting, he could make out the sounds of something fighting them off. Azi moved quick to the source only to come across what appeared to be a girl single handedly fighting off a hoard. Sadly, it looked like she wasn’t going to be able to keep it up much longer. Azi looked down at the gun he kept with him. The zombies hadn’t noticed him yet, he could still get away and not waste the last few bullets he had… but he just couldn’t bring himself to sacrifice the girl like that. Sighing with a little more than annoyance, Aziraphale said goodbye to his last long-range weapon and fired into the hoard, taking down a few and earning him the attention of many.

The last thing Ellie had been expecting in the heat of the fight was the loud cracking sound of a gun, but she was immensely grateful for it. Even without seeing who had fired, a gun meant a human who hadn’t turned zombie, and from the zombies that fell without her touching them, the gun wasn’t aimed at her. Two things to be grateful for. It was enough to get her adrenaline (she still had some?) to kick in again and she renewed her fight without even the time to glance at whoever it was that took out some of the horde for her. And now appeared to have attracted quite a few of the rest. She hurried to try and take out the ones still focusing on her.

Tossing his weapon aside (it was useless now anyway) Azi retrieved his only other weapon, a metal baseball bat, and started swinging away, cracking skulls with strength he didn’t know he had until the whole world turned to chaos. With every fallen zombie, he inched closer to the girl. Odds were that they wouldn’t be able to take down all of them, but if he could clear a path they could make a run for it. Swing the bat, zombie falls. Swing the bat, zombie falls. Avoid splash back. Crack their skulls and avoid their teeth… and then crack their teeth. Azi was burning with adrenaline from the sheer instinct to /survive/ so when the girl was finally within reach he skipped the introduction and just uttered one word, “Run!” before grabbing her and running like Hell was one their heels… which it sort of was.

Ellie didn’t know how many zombies she had taken out with the stupid, inefficient hockey stick, but she reached out for her saviour (all she had time to register was that he was a man, possibly blond) at the same time as he reached for her. She didn’t need the prompting to run, she’d survived this long, and her legs knew the drill. Before this whole zombie thing she had run every now and then for the fitness. Now it was necessary for survival. But it had been too long since her last meal, and so by the time they’d put enough distance between the zombie horde and themselves, her legs felt like jelly and she was slightly light-headed. “Thanks,” she managed to pant.

“You’re…. welcome.” He was out of breath and wanted nothing more than to sit down and relax for a moment but he knew it wouldn’t take long for the hoard to catch up so they had to keep moving. He gripped the girls hand tightly (he saved her, he’d be damned before he allowed her to fall behind and get eaten) and began to shamble forward, searching for a safe place to hide out.

Ellie also knew they had to keep moving, though her body was sluggish to respond. She’d expended far more energy than she had. Still, he seemed determined to drag her along and she wasn’t going to slow him down. She wasn’t going to be a burden to anyone. The horde would find them if they didn’t find somewhere to hide out until they’d dispersed. She kept her eyes peeled.

The odds of finding a place that was one hundred percent safe were slim to none… however, the odds of finding a place that could be monitored and made at least /semi/ safe were far better for them. Azi kept his eyes open for anywhere that wasn’t completely exposed as he pulled the girl along with him. Despite the obvious fatigue she appeared healthy enough and not likely to bite him and time soon, so he was going to just assume she was safe enough to hide in a little hole with until the zombies dispersed again.

Ellie tugged at her companion’s hand and pointed silently with her gore-covered hockey stick. A small nondescript building, possibly a storage shed? Whatever it was it looked intact, the door looked sturdy enough and it had only small windows. Question was what sort of lock it had and whether it would be more trouble getting into than it was worth. And whether it was unoccupied.

Azi looked at the building his new companion had indicated and shrugged, it was a good of place as any and they didn’t exactly have a whole lot of options at the moment. As quickly as he could move while attached to the tired girl, Aziraphale entered the shed (after looking around to ensure it was safe of course) and closed the door behind them.

Ellie extracted her hand from the man’s and moved to check the integrity of the windows. Then she checked the door herself – not that she didn’t trust him to have closed it properly but she didn’t put her trust into /anything/ she hadn’t checked herself. Only then did she really look around. Some sort of storage space, tools but no food. Great. She looked back at the man. “Safe for now, I think,” she whispered.

“Looks like it.” He looked over a few of the tools to see if any of them were useful. So far… they weren’t, at least meaning this place didn’t have anything he didn’t either already carry himself or would be too much of a hassle to bring along. With a quiet sigh, Azi slumped against a corner and allowed himself a small rest.

Ellie eyed him cautiously. “You’re not bitten, are you?” She did /not/ want to be trapped in a small confined space with someone who had been bitten. Her grip tightened on her hockey stick.

Hollow laughter and glances up at his companion. “I just rescued you from what had to have been at least a forth of what used to be this cities population before everyone got all bitey, and your ask /me/ if /I’m/ infected?” He smiles at her a little, slightly amused, before pulling out his bat and starts wiping it if with a dusty old rag that had been sitting amongst the tools. “…No, no I’m not. You?”

She checked her arms carefully before answering, but her clothes were intact and there were no scratches on her hands. Her legs were the same – jeans in the same condition as they were before, if slightly splattered with… well, best not to think about that, really. “Don’t think so,” she said. “And thank you again. I didn’t think I’d make it through that.” She looked more carefully at her saviour – a young man, around her own age give or take, and definitely blonde. Something about him said /books/ rather than /weapons/, but the way he’d handled the bat (where was the gun now?) and the fact that he was still alive said he knew his way around.

Azi looked up from his blood soaked bat (ick) and took a moment to observe the girl he saved. Young, maybe a year or two younger than himself, long dark hair, green eyes, rather thin (she must have been having trouble finding food), obviously a fighter by the way she handled that hockey stick (but weren’t they all fighters now a days?), all in all a rather pretty girl… well, as pretty as you could get when you’re covered in blood and other lovely zombie fluids. “…I’m Aziraphale, I prefer Azi. What’s your name?”

Interesting name, yet it suited him. “Elisheva. I prefer Ellie.” The last of the adrenaline finally let her go and she slumped to the ground right where she was, letting the hockey stick fall from her hand. She was incredibly grateful she didn’t have to use it on Azi. She’d have to go back for her sword, if she could remember exactly where she’d lost it. Beating zombie heads in with a stick was a lot of work. She let her backpack slide off her shoulders, crawled to the nearest shelf and pulled down what was probably meant to be a towel but it had seen better days (hadn’t they all?), and started to listlessly clean her hockey stick. It was the only weapon she had right now.

He tossed the rag to the side once he was done with it and put him bat down, instead switching to rummage through his supplies. His food supply was doing good, canned goods may be Hell when you had to carry them around, but they were worth it when your stomach started acting up. He pulled out a can of soup (chicken and dumpling it looked like) before wordlessly rolling it over to Ellie and returning to finding himself something. He didn’t like how thin she was looking. “You can probably find something to heat that up with in here but if not it’ll still taste fine cold. I have spoons if you need one.” Oh good! Dried banana chips, just what he needed.

Ellie picked up the can and blinked at it, then back up at Azi. “Are you sure?” He didn’t even know her and yet he’d put his own life on the line to save her and now given her food.

Munching on banana chip, “Wouldn’t have given it to you if I wasn’t. Oh yeah! I almost forgot…” He pulled out his can opener and tossed it towards her. “You might need that.”

He was far too good to be true, or she was far too jaded to take things at face value any more. Still, she took the can opener and carefully removed the top of the can. Her mouth watered as she rummaged around in her own backpack for a spoon. Heating was a luxury that could wait for days when she could actually remember her last meal. She did her best not to be rude and inhale the soup, but she could swear half of it was gone before she even blinked. “Sorry,” she mumbled around another mouthful.

He found himself smiling a little sadly. Ellie really must have been having food trouble… but so was everyone these days, either not having enough or becoming food themselves. “It’s fine dear.”

It had been a long time since she’d been embarrassed by licking out a can, or bowl, or whatever receptacle her food happened to come in. Once she was sure she’d gotten out every last drop she possibly could she put the can down carefully to one side. “I can hunt,” she offered. “Just had a bit of bad luck these last few days.” She looked at her ‘weapon’ again and sighed. Bad luck, all right.

Azi finished his makeshift meal and put all but a handful of the banana chips away. “I’d say hunting isn’t exactly the best thing to be doing at this time considering we ourselves are still being hunted.” He got up and moved to sit by her side. “Here, you look like you could use these.” Taking her hand he put the small handful of banana chips into it, licking off the bits that got stuck to his palm.

Ellie stared at the chips in her upturned palm, then offered them back to him. “I can’t. You’ve already given me a whole meal.” Her stomach chose that moment to make a protest at her not accepting the food.

He smiled and shook his head. “No take backs, besides, I didn’t save your life just to watch you starve to death.”

The first smile she’d cracked all week tugged at her lips. “I’m still a few days from that grizzly fate, thanks.” She cradled the chips back to her chest and picked one out to nibble at it. They tasted insanely good.

He watched her eat the chips with a satisfied grin and looking towards the window. He could make out what had to be a zombie shambling along in search of meat, but it was far enough away that they didn’t have to worry about it finding them just yet. “Are you by yourself these days or should we be looking out for your friends?”

She tensed at the question, wondering what she should be saying. Was it going to be dangerous for her to admit that no one would be looking for her? She searched Azi’s face and /saw/ only honesty and kindness, but how much was she being influenced by the food? By him saving her life? She was still too light-headed to be thinking clearly. “Just me,” she admitted in a very quiet voice. She’d spotted the same movement out of the corner of her eye and didn’t want to attract any attention from the wandering undead. “You?”

“Same sadly, came across a few groups in the beginning but the chaos started to really get to them and I thought it best to leave while I still could. Been mostly on my own since then… beside the few people you’re bound to run into, but again I never stuck with them. This world isn’t as friendly as it used to be.” He took out a bottle of water and took a swing before offering it to Ellie.

Ellie nodded in agreement and then shook her head at the offered bottle. She drew a bottle of water out of her own backpack and unscrewed the lid, taking a sip. Water was something she /did/ have. “Everyone has been forced to change. I’m not fond of groups, either.” She gave him a tired small smile. “Though there are benefits of company.”

He nodded and put his water away. “I have to admit it’s nice having someone around who isn’t trying to eat you.” He stretched his limbs and noted that the zombie had moved on. Good, they would need to get moving again soon anyway if they wanted to find a safe place to sleep for the night (well, as safe as you could get given the circumstances).

Ellie dragged herself to her feet and carefully approached one of the windows so she could try and look out. It was dirty, but she couldn’t see any movement beyond. She returned to her pack and hockey stick, picking the two of them up. It took a couple of tries to get the pack on as her arms didn’t seem to want to work like she wanted them to, but once it was on the familiar weight was reassuring. And the benefit of a hockey stick was that she could somewhat lean on it. “I’m going to see if I can get my weapon back. The horde should have moved on by now.” She bit her lip. “Hopefully.”

Azi threw on his pack and grabbed his bat. “Let’s move quickly than. I don’t fancy another run in with those /things/ again today.” Opening the door a crack, he determined that the coast was clear and headed out.

Ellie followed him out the door and headed back towards where the horde had cornered her, keeping a careful eye out for any stray zombies. She checked around the next corner and saw a single zombie bouncing listlessly against a wall, her sword on the ground not far away. Flattening herself against a wall out of sight, she closed her eyes for a long blink, then opened them again and looked at Azi. She whispered, “There’s one, I should be able to take it out and grab my sword… but if there are more I’m going to have to run for it.”

He held his bat up, “I’ll watch your back while you grab your weapon. Once you have it we should try and find someplace to stay for the night.”

Ellie nodded, took a breath, and dashed out. She was lucky – the zombie was making enough noise that it didn’t hear her until the last minute and she was able to take it out just as it turned around. She dived, grabbed her sword (the handle was slick with something gross, but she could still grip it well enough) and then ran back to where she’d left Azi.

Azi was lucky, as far as he could tell their were no other zombies wandering around at the moment. He gave Ellie a smile when she returned. “Everything go well, dear?”

She hefted her sword and nodded. “Better find somewhere, as you said. Know of anywhere?”

He shook his head, “No sadly. I just showed up here this morning. Haven’t had a chance to find any safe houses yet.”

She slumped a little. “I hadn’t intended on getting caught here after dark, myself.” Biting her lip again she looked around. She indicated a direction which looked like it may lead to some houses. “This way?”

“Works for me.” Follows Ellie to the houses in hope of finding someplace to sleep for the night.

Ellie trotted past the houses in the first two blocks. They were well-looted, windows smashed in, goodness only knew what sort of state they were inside. The further out they went the better the houses. She diverted them, or paused, a few times to avoid lone zombies. Then, spotting a likely-looking place, she pointed silently, raising an eyebrow questioningly at Azi.

He took his eyes off of a lone zombie wandering around nearby and looking at the house that Ellie had picked out. It looked intact enough. Giving a mental shrug he smiled at Ellie and started to head towards the door.

Ellie followed, keeping an eye out behind them, until they reached the door itself. Then she peered in the front windows. “Looks clear,” she whispered, trying the front door. Locked, of course. She didn’t want to smash in the window to get inside if she could help it. “You don’t by any chance know how to pick locks?”

He shook his head, “Sorry, my many talents don’t include lock picking. Let’s try to back door and see if that’s open.” He started around the house, peering around corners as he went.

Ellie followed his lead around the house, keeping an eye behind again. Definitely one of the benefits of travelling with someone was the ability to have eyes in more than one direction. Though this far on from the start of the outbreak, most zombies emitted a sort of horrible gurgling sound that gave them away before they got too close. It was the fresh ones that really freaked her out. She peeked into windows as she went. No sign of movement inside.

Azi tried the back door and found it locked as well, just their luck. He started looking around for another entrance when he notices a nearby window appeared to be unlocked. He pulled out a small pocket knife and cute out the screen in front of the window before prying it open. Sticking his head inside, Azi determined that it was safe to enter and turned to Ellie. “Ladies first dear.” He held up his hand to assist her inside.

Hoisting herself up, Ellie also looked inside, then got her feet back on the ground. She took off her backpack and carefully slid it through the window, followed by her hockey stick. Ignoring Azi’s helping hand, she lifted herself in and through, landing lightly on her feet. She grabbed her hockey stick, ready to attack anything that came at her. Nothing, just an empty kitchen. Still, she would keep watch on the door until Azi was safely inside.

He shrugged when Ellie denied his help and tossed his bag and his bat inside after her before climbing in. Noting that Ellie had look out under control he quickly shut and locked the window, no need to have anything follow them inside. Grabbing his bat and leaving his bag behind in the empty kitchen, Azi began his search of the house to see if they would be having any unpleasant surprises.

She didn’t know why she was surprised that he was so efficient – he was still alive, after all. It was that look about him, like he belonged in a library rather than on the road, she supposed. So she looked upstairs while Azi secured the downstairs area. She dispatched a couple of zombies in one of the upstairs bedrooms. They were well decayed, been here since the start she’d guess, and one of them was small; her mind had long since stopped trying to fill in the backstory – it waited until she slept and gave her nightmares instead. Other than that, clear, and she headed back downstairs.

The down stairs area had only one zombie, by the looks of it an older fellow, and Azi was able to take it down with ease before dragging it’s remains out the front door and relocking it behind him, he just didn’t like the idea of leaving that thing in the middle of the hallway where he’ll keep on seeing it… plus the smell was horrid. He looked up when Ellie returned. “Any trouble?”

Ellie shrugged. “Avoid the master bedroom upstairs and you’ll be fine. Place looks pretty untouched since the outbreak. Gonna raid the pantry, see what I can find.” She headed back into the kitchen and located the pantry, starting her raid.

Azi glanced upstairs where he guessed that master bedroom was. “Well I suppose we’re not sleeping /there/ tonight.”

Figuring Ellie could handle the food search he instead decided to search the house for anything useful. His search found him a medical kit, a few light weight blankets, working torches, lighters and cigarettes (thank /god/ for that), a few minor tools, soap and other personal cleaning supplies, and several clothes that looked like they might fit him and Ellie. He piled his findings onto the dining room table and began to rummage through it, taking what he needed and reorganizing his pack.

Ellie had been creating a similar pile of things from the pantry – canned goods, instant noodles (somewhat expired, but hey), dried pasta, rice, various packet flavourings to make things more palatable. There were some apples (she assumed) that had gone very very bad and the smell was a bit awful. The potatoes had started growing wild. She opened the fridge and hastily closed it again, coughing slightly from the pungent smell. Looting other parts of the kitchen she transferred some washing liquid into a much smaller bottle and stashed that in her bag, exchanged her dish towel for a nice new one, and swapped her much blunter knife for a fresh one from the block. Walking into the dining room, she was pleased to see a pile of things on the table and Azi sorting through them. She indicated the kitchen, “Some more stuff in there, too. Oh man, clean clothes. I took clean clothes so for granted before.” She reached out and held up a tshirt that probably would have fitted her six months ago.

He smiled and was pleased to know that they would actually be able to have a meal tonight. “I’m not sure if they ever turned off the water on this block, so you can try the shower if you’d like to wash some of the blood off yourself. If it’s not working we can check for a well out back.” Azi pulled his medical kit out of his bag and began transferring what little he had into the new and less beat up kit.

Ellie gave him a tentative smile back and nodded. “Would be very nice to feel clean. I’ll be quick.” She grabbed a selection of clothes and went in search of the downstairs bathroom. The shower was working, but on such low pressure she assumed it was just draining the water in the hot water cylinder. It was freezing cold, so she washed quickly and was out in five minutes. Just enough to get the grime off. Dressed in baggy but clean clothing, she wandered back into the dining room, shivering slightly but grinning. “Water’s there if you want to shower. Not sure how much, but should be enough.”

Azi grinned at the idea of actually having a shower and quickly grabbed a few clothes that looked like they might fit him and a toothbrush from his pack. Noting Ellie’s shivering he also picked up a blanket and handed it to her before heading towards the down stairs bathroom, the water was probably freezing.

Wrapping the blanket around herself, she made her way back into the kitchen. The electricity was off, of course, so the stove wouldn’t work. But in the back corner of the pantry she found a camping stove and some gas canisters. She brought them out, noting that the gas had the same fittings as what her stove used, so she stashed the spare ones in her pack. By the time Azi returned, she would have a gourmet meal of canned spaghetti with sausages ready to eat, using up one of the jumbo-sized cans which would otherwise be a pain to carry around.

It didn’t take long for him to shower (the freezing cold water ensured that) and wrap himself up in the old sweater he had found. Teeth still chattering, he headed for the table to grab a blanket before entering the kitchen, smiling when he noticed what Ellie was up to. “Either you’re hungrier than I thought or you’re making dinner for two.”

Ellie shrugged. “No way of keeping the food once the can has been opened, so I figured I’d just cook all of it up and we can stuff ourselves.” She ladled him up a full plate, placed a fork in, and handed it over. He looked as cold as she’d been getting straight out of the shower. Some hot food should fix that. She then served herself and leaned against the kitchen counter to eat. She wasn’t particularly fond of canned spaghetti, but she’d eaten far worse over the last six months.

“A girl that can kill monsters and cook canned spaghetti, what more could I possibly hope for?” Azi took the plate gratefully and began stuffing his face. Hot food was always welcome as long as it was edible and he wasn’t exactly choosy at this point. His meal was gone in less than five minutes and he eagerly went back for seconds, being considerate enough to leave Ellie a hefty portion for when she went back for seconds herself.

She snorted and rolled her eyes at his comment, concentrating on eating. It was warming her up, but her somewhat reduced stomach couldn’t take too much more. She went back for a bit more, found that he’d left more than she’d be able to eat, so walked over with the pot and ladled what she wouldn’t be able to finish onto his plate. It didn’t take much to finish off her own, but even then she was eating pretty slowly by the time she was done. Fatigue was definitely setting in and she was looking forward to somewhere soft to lie down. She was about to give the plate a rinse, realised that would be wasting more precious water, and just placed it in the sink. Wordlessly, she got her own bottles out of her pack and filled them up again. “I can take first shift on watch. If I sleep now you’ll never wake me.”

He wrinkled his brow when she added more to his plate but didn’t say anything about it. She must not be able to eat much if she really has been having food troubles. Once his meal was finished he sat his plate in the sink with hers. “Then I would prefer that I take the first shift. No offense dear but if you’re that tired I think it would be safer for the both of us if you got some rest… besides, I’m used to late nights.”

“I am perfectly capable of keeping watch,” she snapped, then immediately covered her face with her hand. “Sorry.” She /was/ tired, and if she was alone she’d make do somehow (probably just fall asleep and hope for the best, if she was entirely honest with herself), but she couldn’t endanger someone else. “Sorry,” she repeated. “I’ll go rest. At least /try/ to wake me for a shift at watch though, ok? None of this gallant ‘oh you looked so tired so I let you sleep’ crap.” She took a deep breath, mentally rolled her eyes at herself, and gave him a lop-sided smile. “I mean… thank you.”

Azi smiled back and made a note not to mess with this girl when she was tired. “It’s no problem dear, but you /did/ just ruin my plans to act all gallant and let you sleep all night.”

Ellie snorted again and shook her head as she exited the kitchen, having collected her sword on the way, and headed for the lounge. There had been an entirely too soft-looking couch there, and when she sank down onto it she couldn’t contain the sigh of relief. She placed the sword carefully down on the floor where it would be easy to grab. She realised then that she hadn’t brushed her teeth, but the last thought before sleep claimed her was that she could do it when she woke.

Azi sat nearby in an armchair, reading a book he had located and keeping watch while Ellie slept soundly. Checking his watch (which had somehow not only survived but still in fact worked) he saw that he had already let her sleep for well over half the night and figured if he didn’t wake her soon he might get a tongue lashing in the morning. With a rescinded sigh, Azi closed his book and got up, gently attempting to shake her awake through the extra blanket he had thrown on her earlier that night. “Ellie? Ellie dear I’m afraid unless you wish for me to continue my watch for the rest of the night you’re going to have to get up now.”

>>She was in a supermarket surrounded by fresh produce, and she could taste the fresh apple, the orange, the melon… So much fresh food, all of it unspoiled. Why would it be spoiled? She couldn’t remember. Except that then there was a hand on her and suddenly she remembered why all the food was spoiled, and she whirled around and saw Azi, but with decaying flesh, hand on her shoulder and trying to drag her in close…<< She woke with a start and Azi was still gripping her shoulder, and it was enough of a match with her dream that she yelled out and tried to back away before she realised that he was fine, he wasn’t dead, and she was awake. She swore and rubbed her face, then sat up properly, noting that she had more blankets than when she went to sleep. “My watch, huh?” Deliberately not mentioning her panic, she stood up, stretched, and moved to sit over in the armchair, allowing Azi use of the couch. Azi jumped back a little when Ellie cried out and gave her a moment to get her bearings. Odds were that in her tired state she may have forgotten that he was even there, so he couldn’t blame her for panic. In this world everyone had to be alert. “Take a blanket with you, the night is chilly.” He draped one over the armchair for her before laying down on the pleasantly too soft couch, curling up in a small ball in a cocoon of blankets, and closing his eyes. Ellie stroked the blanket he’d put over the armchair but decided to go without. She’d drape it back over him when he was asleep – the cold would help keep her alert anyway. She checked her own watch (courtesy of a jewellery store she’d raided not that long ago) and saw that he’d let her sleep longer. Pursing her lips, she picked up the book he’d discarded and started reading. “Sweet dreams,” she murmured as an afterthought. >> He couldn’t see, but there were people around him, people he loved, people he once knew. He could hear their cries, they were looking for him, calling- no, /begging/ for help. But he couldn’t, he couldn’t find them… and he wasn’t sure if he should. The voices became twisted and unnatural but still they called. They needed him, /wanted/ him, he had to go to them, because he was the only one who could help they kept whispering. He was the only one who could satisfy their hunger…. <<

Azi woke up with a start, barely even noticing that the sun was up or that there were tears running down his cheeks as he desperately tried to forget…

Ellie became aware of the restlessness of the sleeper on the couch and tried her best to ignore it. She had enough experience with nightmares now to give someone else the decency of privacy, even if it was pretend, when they were having one. But she couldn’t help glancing, wondering just what was going on, and on one such glance she saw the pained expression and the telltale glistening of tears.

Sliding silently off the armchair, she crawled over to Azi and hovered uncertainly on her knees next to the couch, not sure what to do. It was almost a relief when he woke himself. “Shhh, it’s ok,” she said, feeling like it was such a trite thing to say, but she reached out a hand anyway to brush back some sweat-dampened hair. “Just a nightmare.” Never mind that the whole damn world was a nightmare.

He leaned into the hand that was brushing his hair and felt his heart begin to settle. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew it must have been Ellie doing this, but for now all he wanted was the comfort that physical contact gave him. Sitting up, mind still in a daze but not caring, Azi reached out and took the girls hand, resting his head against her shoulder as he tried to forget the dream. “Nightmare… right.”

Ellie hesitated for a second as his head rested on her shoulder before letting her free hand settle on the back of his head, gently stroking his hair. “You ok?” she asked quietly.

He nodded and was finally starting to get his bearings back. “I’ll… I’ll be fine.” He found himself not wanting to move away from the girl he had only known for a day. Physical comfort was a rarity these days and he had always been the type of person who would gladly give and receive hugs. This girl could be taking this moment to hold a knife to his neck for all he knew and he wouldn’t even care… in fact, in this world dying while someone was there to comfort you was hardly the worse way to go.

Despite him saying he’ll be fine, Ellie noted that he didn’t move away. She supposed she understood – the number of times she’d wished she had someone safe to cling to after a nightmare, well, she’d lost count. So her hand moved from stroking his hair to stroking his back in what she hoped was a soothing manner. She moved the hand he’d captured, but only to thread her fingers with his. Unsure what to say, she said nothing.

It took him a few minutes to remember himself and reluctantly pull away from her, drying his eyes on his sleeve and offering Ellie a sheepish smile. “…Sorry about that.”

She gave Azi a lop-sided smile back, wiping a stray tear off his chin with her thumb. “Don’t worry about it. We’ve all been there.” She patted his hand and extracted hers before standing up, knees clicking a little in protest. “Come on, breakfast. We’re probably safe to hang out here for a day if we need to? Or would you rather move on…?” She realised then that she was assuming they would stay together. She didn’t even have any idea if Azi was wanting company or not.

Azi resisted the urge to hug this sweet understanding girl and instead pondered on their options. “As long as it’s safe here we could use this as an opportunity to rest up and get our strength back… but we shouldn’t get too attached to this place, this area is far too populated to settle in.” He got up and stretched his limbs. “Were you heading anywhere in particular?”

Ellie sighed and held out her hand to indicate the kitchen. “Not really. Still looking for some sort of settlement where the people aren’t batshit crazy.”

He laughed hollowedly, “Good luck with that dear. When you do fine this settlement I hope I’m there with you. Now, I believe you mentioned breakfast?” He smiled and headed into the kitchen.

Ellie followed him and went to the pantry. There wasn’t much there in the way of perishables such as bread, but she’d seen an unopened package of rolled oats, and there were some of those large cans of fruit, too. “Porridge?” She started filling a pot with water. They’d run out eventually, but for now there was enough.

“Sounds lovely dear, would you like any help?” He approached to get a better look at what they would be eat that morning.

Ellie smiled at him as she broke into the oats, smelled to check that they weren’t off, then poured some into the heating water. “No, it’s fine. I haven’t killed myself with my cooking yet, so I think we’re safe.”

He chuckled, “That’s good to know, I’d hate for me to have saved you from the undead just for the porridge to get you the next day. Besides, I’d probably miss having a zombie fighting, canned food making girl around.” Grinning, Azi went to search the cabinets for spare containers to put the juice from the canned fruit in.

Grinning, Ellie carefully stirred the pot, keeping the oats from burning to the bottom. “How about you, by the way… were you headed anywhere?”

Quietly he located some containers and sat them down on the counter. “I was but…. then I found it…. now I don’t really have anywhere else to go.” He acquired a can opener and began opening the canned fruit.

Ellie looked at him curiously. “You found it?” She stopped stirring.

He remained silent for a moment and emptied the juice into the containers. “I… I went back home but…” He he set the can down and tried to will his hands to stop shaking.

Ellie took the porridge off the flame and took his hands in hers. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly, kicking herself for poking her nose in. He’d only just woken up from a nightmare that had obviously distressed him quite a bit and now… /Damnit Ellie./ She swallowed and squeezed his hands.

Azi registered that Ellie had taken his hands again. “I’m okay, I’m-” He tried to shake off the memory and smile reassuringly, “…okay.”

Ellie wasn’t good at the whole comfort thing and she let her hands slide free again, going for forced cheerfulness instead. “Well, breakfast is nearly done, so you could find some bowls…?” She smiled, hoping it didn’t look as strained as it felt, and put the porridge back on the flame to finish cooking.

He nodded and did as he was told before finishing his task with the fruit. “So um… since neither of us know where we’re going, want to just pick a direction and hope for the best when we leave?”

Ellie looked at him with large eyes. “You… want to travel with me?” It had been more than she’d hoped for, especially since they’d been a bit off since waking up.

Azi blinked at her, a little confused. “Of course I want to travel with you. Why wouldn’t I?”

Ellie blinked back and smiled a little. “You were travelling alone, by choice I assume. But if you don’t mind a travelling companion… Picking a direction sounds good, then.” She took the porridge off the heat for the final time and turned the gas cooker to off. Spooning some into a bowl for herself she added some of the fruit and leaned back on the counter.

Azi followed suit and collected his own bowl of porridge and fruit. “I was traveling alone because I hadn’t found any nice people to travel with until I came across you, my dear.” He spooned and mouth full of porridge and quickly devoured it. God he loved having warm food.

“How do you know I’m nice?” she cocked her head to one side and grinned. “I could be lulling you into a false sense of security and turn out to be as batshit crazy as those settlements I’ve left.” She shoved another mouthful of porridge into her mouth and chewed smugly.

He grinned mischievously, “How do /you/ know that I’m not the crazy one of the two of us? I mean really, no sane person would go and use up the last of their bullets to save someone they’ve never even met.” Noms on porridge.

She waved her spoon at him. “Ah ha! I thought you’d used a gun, but you don’t have it any more…?” She looked towards his pack. “Well, seems I have a lot to thank you for.”

He shrugged, “Don’t worry about it dear, you made me canned spaghetti and porridge, we’re even.” Azi smiled and finished off the last of his meal. “That gun was getting tiring to lug around anyway.”

It took Ellie a few minutes longer to finish hers, being a slow eater and trying to get a little more in while she actually /had/ a supply of food. “If the sword weren’t so damn useful, it’d be a bit of hassle to lug around, too.” She put the bowl in the sink again, feeling vaguely guilty for not washing, even though the family here was long… gone… Well. Depending on your definition of gone.

“I’m impressed that not only do you have a sword, but you actually know how to use it. It kinda makes my baseball bat feel inferior.” He grinned to show her that he was joking.

Ellie laughed self-consciously. “Who knew an obsession with medieval reenactment and roleplay groups would pay off in the end, huh?”

Azi couldn’t help but laugh along. “Medieval reenactments? My how I wish I would have been able to see you in one of those Ellie my dear.”

Ellie laughed softly and shook her head as she made her way past him and back into the living room. The couch in there had been way too comfortable, and she’d only had half night of sleep. Even if she didn’t sleep, she could relax. Relax today, travel tomorrow. A day of food and rest and her fatigue should be mostly sorted. She collapsed onto one end of the couch and sighed happily.

Azi joined her on the couch once he had retrieved his book. “If you’re still tired, feel free to take a nap. I’ll wake you if anything happens or if you’re about to miss lunch.”

Ellie shook her head. “It’s fine, this is restful and I’ll get more sleep tonight. Moving on tomorrow, right? I haven’t had a proper rest day in… weeks? I don’t know. But from how I just wandered into that horde of zombies, I think I was overdue one.” She shut her mouth, realising she was babbling a little, and burrowed into the backrest of the couch, trying to get comfortable.

He smiled and grabbed a nearby blanket, snuggling down and opening his book. “Suit yourself dear, but odds are that I’m going to take advantage of this situation and take a nap later. Always best to get as much sleep as you can when you can, never no when the next time you’ll be able to rest peacefully.”

Ellie sighed a little because dammit he was right, but she couldn’t find a comfortable position on the couch. She ended up wriggling and shifting position so often that she felt bad for disturbing Azi’s rest. Frustrated, she stood and went to the armchair instead and curled up in it. After a few more position shifts she placed her chin on the armrest and looked at Azi with a little pout.

Azi had been watching her fuss out of the corner of his eye and was forced to hide his amused grin behind his book. God this girl acting adorable, pouting at him like that, he just wanted to wrap her up in a blanket and gently lull her to sleep. “…Having a little trouble getting comfortable?” Bites back a chuckle.

“You’d think I’d have learned to sleep pretty much anywhere by now,” she muttered, and tried curling up like a cat in the armchair, face tucked under her elbow. It wasn’t any better and a leg soon spilled down off the chair for her foot to rest on the floor. She dug her toes into the carpet. Maybe if she lay on the floor instead…? No. Head still tucked under her arm, voice slightly muffled, she asked, “Would you mind talking? Read aloud, anything… I just… need to hear a voice.”

“I’ll gladly read aloud if you think it would help, but would you like to lay down over here? I’m sure it would be much more comfortable than that armchair.” He grinned reassuringly and took on a joking tone. “I’ll even let you use me as a pillow.”

She lifted her head to regard him with a serious expression, biting her lip for a second. “I don’t want to disturb you. You need to rest as well.”

He shook his head at her, “It wouldn’t be disturbed in the least my dear. In fact, I imagine it would actually make it easier for me to relax knowing that there was another human nearby who didn’t want to eat me.”

Ellie let her other foot slide off the chair and onto the floor as she straightened up. “If you’re sure.” She had to admit the thought of being close to someone… Why did she trust Azi so quickly, she wondered? She should be more wary, but there was something about him that put her at ease. Shaking her head a little, she resolved to look at that later when she wasn’t so bone-deep weary. Instead, she slid out of the armchair and across to the couch, this time using the cushion next to his to seat herself rather than the one at the far end. Still, she made no move to lie down just yet.

He watched her curiously as she moved to sit next to him. When she didn’t make any other move he snatched another nearby blanket and offered it to her. “…If you’re going to attempt to sleep sitting up I would at least suggest snuggling into this, it might help you relax.”

Ellie took the blanket and wrapped it around herself, sagging back into the couch and slouching ever so slightly towards his shoulder. She wasn’t sure just how serious his offer of being a pillow was. “Thanks,” she said, shifting again so that she was close, but not quite touching.

“You’re welcome Ellie dear.” He settled back into the couch and leaned slightly towards her. She seemed hesitant about making contact so he wouldn’t push her, but he would let her know that he really didn’t mind if she wanted to use him for her own comfort… once she was comfortable enough with him that is.

Warming up under the blanket, she let her eyes drift shut. She could hear the slow turning of pages, the even breathing – not a single rattle or gurgle -, and between that and the warmth she started to drift off… leaning further as she drifted until her cheek made contact with his shoulder. A warm body, blood still pumping, living. Reassuring.

Prying his eyes from the pages, Azi smiled warmly once he felt Ellie slump against him. It was nice… having someone around who he was comfortable with and visa versa. Silently he closed the book and set it aside, unable to resist the chance to nap peacefully next to someone. He didn’t need to worry about zombies wandering in while they slept anyway, if the family that lived here couldn’t get out then odds were pretty good that nothing else like them could get in. Gently resting his head on top of hers he allowed this comforting thought and the sound of Ellie’s breathing to lull him to sleep.

——

Ellie woke slowly from a dreamless sleep, aware of a warm body next to her, and for the briefest (and most heartbreaking) of moments thinking that the whole zombie thing must have just been a bad dream, that she was back at home, waking up next to… except… she was still sitting up (mostly) and under an unfamiliar blanket, and she’d drooled a little on an unfamiliar shoulder…

Blinking, she realised that there was a head resting against hers, and the room was not her living room. She swallowed down the bitter disappointment and wrapped an arm around the warm and definitely living body next to her, seeking comfort.

Azi snuggled closer to the warm body that was pressed against his own and in a only half awake state, he wrapped both of his arms tightly around whoever it was that was providing this comfort.

Her mind was catching up to events in a hazy sort of sluggish way, and it eventually threw up a name: Azi. The guy who had used the last bullets in his gun to save her, who had shared his food, who had helped her break into a safe house for them to rest, and whose arms were now holding tightly onto her. She froze, her own arm lifting ever so slightly off him. “Azi?”

In his sleep induced haze, Aziraphale was still able to make out the sound of his name being called. The voice calling him was familiar, but he was far too relaxed and tired to place it. “Mnm… yes?”

He sounded tired, and she knew how much they all could do with some rest, so she relaxed her arm again and, with a sigh, sagged back into his side. “Nothing,” she mumbled, closing her eyes again. She could hear his heartbeat, strong and steady, with her ear pressed against his chest like this.

“Alright….” He settled his arms snugly around her and figured that if it was important the owner of the pleasant but yet to be identified voice would let him know. Absently Azi pulled the blanket that he apparently had been using tighter around himself and even the owner of the voice whom he was currently snuggling before letting sleep take him completely again.

——

This time it was hunger that drove her out of her exhausted sleep, and her alarm clock was the rather loud (in the silent space) protest of her stomach. At some point during the time when she was last asleep she’d thrown a leg over Azi’s knee. She knew where she was immediately, though, and remembered waking up briefly only to go back to sleep. Azi hadn’t minded cuddling then, but she needed food, he probably did too, and she didn’t know how embarrassed he would be to find himself snuggling on the couch with a strange woman. Only one way to find out. “Azi.” She lifted her head and rested it against his upper arm. “Azi, wake up.”

The voice was calling him again, this time a little more urgently than before. Figuring he should probably go ahead and acknowledge it, Azi made the effort to wake up. Blinking his eyes lazily he slowly got his bearings and remembered where he was and who he was snuggling. “Morning dear…” He mumbled, still tired but at least aware now.

Figuring that if he wasn’t going to make a big deal of waking up with her draped all over him, she wouldn’t either. Without moving, she asked, “Do you want some food?”

He blinked lazily a few more times and noted a grumbling sounds his stomach made when Ellie asked him about food. “…That sounds lovely. Would you like me to make it this time?” Did he actually want to move from his nice warm accidental but still satisfying snuggle session with Ellie? No. But he /did/ want to be fair and not have her do all the cooking while he sat back and acted useless. If they were going to work together they would both have to pull their own share.

Ellie’s lips twitched a little at the grumbling sound his stomach made. “I don’t mind cooking, but I suppose letting you wow me with your culinary skills sounds good, too.” Reluctantly she moved her leg and slid away from him. She could probably sleep all day like that if she let herself. “There’s more canned stuff in the pantry than we could possibly carry, so we may as well go for it.”

Azi sat up a bit and rubbed his eyes, attempting to rub the sleepiness away. “Excellent idea dear, though I won’t lie to you, my cooking skills are okay at best and when my mind distracting me with ideas of just curling up and napping with you again… well, let’s just hope what I make is edible.” With a sleepy yet playful smile, Azi went to search through the kitchen cupboards.

It was odd in a nice sort of way, ever since all this began he usually only got a few hours a night if he was lucky. His body just didn’t seem to be able to relax enough for him to get proper rest with those… things around, so he learned to do without and function perfectly with only a little nap each night. Yet here he was now, tired not because he felt exhausted, but because his body just would not stop tempting him to simply grab Ellie and sleep the day away in the comfort of her presence…. He’d better hope this didn’t become a habit. It would only mean certain doom if he was tired and sluggish like this out on the battlefield.

Ellie chuckled as she followed him through to the kitchen. “Perhaps I should be cooking after all, then. Last thing I need is food poisoning.” She put her hip against the kitchen counter, folded her arms, and watched him prepare a meal. She had to admit it had been the best sleep she’d had in a while, despite the uncomfortable position, and from the sounds of things he was quite willing to curl up with her again sometime. Perhaps later they could find a bed downstairs… She shook herself. What was she thinking? She barely knew the guy, they were in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, and all she wanted to do was cuddle and sleep. Frowning, she wondered if it would be better for them to part ways after all. The thought hurt more than it should.

“Huh, and here I thought the last thing you needed was to become someone else’s food. In comparison I would take my horrible meals any day.” Azi located something that said ‘Cream of Broccoli Soup’ and figured it would be pretty difficult for him to mess that up considering all that was needed was to be heated up. Grabbing a can opener and a pan he did what little prepping that was needed for their meal and attempted to farther the conversation. “…So how are you feeling? No offense but as far as I could tell you weren’t exactly in the best shape yesterday.”

“Feeling much better, thanks.” She blushed a little, remembering her rude behaviour towards him last night. “Sorry for snapping at you.” She cleared her throat. “I think this rest day will be very good for me. I had just pushed myself a little too far, is all. Only myself to worry about, only myself to endanger. Until you decided to act all gallant and save me.”

He ducked his head and focused on the soup warming in front of him, not willing to let Ellie see that her ‘gallant’ comment had made him blush. “I… I only did what I thought was the right thing to do. Just because it’s the apocalypse doesn’t excuse rude behavior and I have to say letting a tired girl get eaten would have been /incredibly/ rude of me.” He smiled a little at his own joke. “And don’t worry about last night dear, I’m just relieved that you’re feeling better today. Best not to dwell on the past…” Azi located a few bowls and filled them both up with the now hot soup before handing one to Ellie.

Ellie took the soup and blew on it to cool it, sipping at the first spoonful the moment it was no longer burning hot. She shovelled in the soup as fast as she could until the hunger pangs had gone. She was a little concerned that a day of over-eating would have consequences later, but she was too hungry to really care. She snorted a little as a thought occurred to her. “I was thinking…” she looked at him with a slightly cheeky smile. “It might be a good idea to get to know each other a little more before we sleep together.” A small cough. “Again.”

He choked a little on his soup at her last comment and reminded himself that he was an adult and he shouldn’t get flustered at little jokes like that. As soon as his lungs were free of soup he managed to give Ellie a sheepish smile. “I um… I think that’s a swell idea dear. What would you like to know?”

Ellie scraped the last bits of soup out of her bowl and licked her spoon. “Let’s start with the easy questions. Like… who is Aziraphale?” She grinned, knowing full well that was about the opposite of an easy question. “What did you do? What skills have kept you alive this whole time?”

Spooning in a couple of mouths full of soup, Azi thought over the question. “Well, before all of… /this/ started, I owned a small rare book shop. Not exactly the most exciting life to lead but it was peaceful while it lasted. As far as why I’ve survived this long… I’m going to have to say luck. Pure and simple. Luck and no longer having any other goals.”

Ellie smiled and placed her bowl in the sink with the growing pile of used dishes. She wasn’t at all surprised by the rare book shop. “If that’s true, then you’re the luckiest damn bastard this side of the outbreak.” She folded her arms and looked at him, head cocked to one side. “I saw you swinging that bat. You’ve got some skills.”

Azi grinned at the flattery and finished off his own bowl, placing it with hers in the sink. “Lucky yes, skilled no. It doesn’t take much to figure out if you swing a bat really hard at something’s head it will go down and hopefully stay down.” He went over to where he had stashed the juice from the fruit earlier and took a sip from the container it was in. For a major sweet tooth like himself who’s been deprived from any other decent drink besides water, the juice tasted like Heaven. “So what about yourself? What did you do before all this happened and how have you been able to make it this far without becoming one of those /thing’s/ snack?”

Ellie grinned at his improvised drink. She had a bit of a sweet tooth herself so she understood the attraction of canned fruit juice. “I survived mostly because I know how to swing a sword, I think, and I happened to have one close by when it all went down. As to what I did…” She watched him carefully for his reaction, because although she wasn’t ashamed of what she did before the outbreak, it could make people uncomfortable, or change the way they viewed her. Mostly she’d lied, but there was something wrong about lying to Azi. “Well, I worked in the sex industry.” There, nice and blunt, and if he didn’t like it at least she hadn’t had enough of a chance to get too attached.

Azi blinked, and then blinked again. Huh, out of all the jobs he figured she might have had ‘sex industry’ hadn’t been one of them. The surprise at this reveal left him silent for several moments before he realized he had better react to this new information about like any sane person would. “….Fruit juice?” He held up the container and attempted to stop mentally kicking himself for his terrible response.

Ellie chuckled at his stunned response and shook her head. “No thank you. All yours.” At least he hadn’t recoiled or, even worse in her experience, become overly interested in her. It had been her job, one she’d enjoyed, but since the outbreak… Well, you just didn’t go exchanging bodily fluids with just anyone nowadays. “I had started training to be a personal body guard, but this other thing fell into my lap and it paid well.” She shrugged and pushed off the bench, heading to look in the pantry for something else to snack on. “But I’ve moved mostly from one small settlement to the next, not found a place to stay yet.” Looked like more canned fruit… Maybe later.

Azi put the sweet liquid away when she rejected it and considered the knowledge that she had given him. “…Since you’re here I’m willing to guess that any of the small settlements you’ve come across so far haven’t been the friendly sort?”

Ellie cocked her head as she considered his question. “Not necessarily unfriendly, all of them. But in some places I just didn’t fit in, or I wasn’t comfortable with how they were run. You haven’t tried joining any of the settlements?”

He shrugged and headed towards the living room to sit himself down on the couch. “I guess I’ve been having the same problem only on a smaller scale.”

Following, she commented in an amused tone, “Look at us then, a pair of loners and misfits.” Then in a more tentative tone, “You don’t mind what I did, do you?” It bothered her that it even bothered her. She barely knew him, she told herself for the hundredth time. So why was it so important that he like and accept her?

Smiled reassuringly and motion for her to join him on the couch. “I’m not going to lie, I was a little shocked but I’m not going to judge you for your job choice…. especially since there are far more important things to be focused on now a days.”

She joined him, sitting on the same cushion as before but keeping a respectful distance. She wouldn’t blame him if he decided that cuddling up with her wasn’t quite his cup of tea any more. She relaxed into the backrest, tucked her feet up onto the couch with her, and turned her head to face him. “So what sort of books? You said rare books, right? Any particular specialty?”

He was a little disappointed that she didn’t want to sit with him like before but he couldn’t blame her, she’d only just met him and just she woke earlier with his arms around her. Accidental snuggling or not he understood why she would be weary of contact with him again. He pulled his feet up so that he could wrap his arms around his knees and snuggle into his spot. “Religious and historical mostly. The older the book the more it was worth… though sometimes I had trouble parting with them once I made a sale.”

Ellie smiled at him as she imagined him holding onto a book as the new owner tried to take it from him. “Are you particularly religious yourself? Since you said one of your specialties had been religious texts?”

“….” Azi hugged his knees a little tighter and rested his on they, speaking with a far away look. “….I don’t know anymore.”

Concerned, Ellie scooted closer and put her arm around his hunched shoulders. “I’m sorry, just give me a good firm kick if I’m asking all the wrong questions.” She smiled and squeezed, her other hand resting on one of his.

Azi welcomed the contact and leaned against her, his own hand taking the one she had placed on it. “It was an innocent question dear, no need to worry yourself over it.”

Ellie’s smile softened and she positioned herself so that she could hug him properly, cheek resting against his shoulder. “Why do you call me dear?” she asked quietly, curious.

He shrugged and put an arm around her to return the hug. “I call everyone who’s dear to me ‘dear’. Old habits die hard.”

Ellie shifted again and cuddled in close when he put his arm around her. “How can I be dear to you? We met yesterday.” Though she smiled as she said it because she would like to think that she /was/ actually dear to someone.

He chuckled softly, “I’ve been told I form attachments easily but I like to think that I knew you would turn out to be a sweet person.” It may have also helped that by being one of the first people he’s seen in a while he may have been a little starved of social contact.

Ellie hid her grin by burrowing her face into his shoulder. “You’re still labouring under the impression that I’m sweet. Maybe I have ulterior motives?” Her shoulders shook a little with laughter.

Azi grinned, “Oh? And what exactly /are/ these ulterior motives you have for snuggling up to me right now?”

Lifting her head, she smiled at him, suppressing her laughter. “I /was/ hoping to tempt you into bed…” Her grin widened. “For a good night’s rest, that is.”

Ellie had successfully caused him to blush but Azi was still able to laugh most of it off. “A good night’s rest sounds fantastic, so please, tempt me.”

With a pleased sigh, Ellie rested her head against him again. “Tonight, after we’ve had a good dinner, ok? There was a second bedroom upstairs that is clear, and if you don’t mind…?” She bit her lip. “I miss having someone to sleep with. And I do mean sleep.”

Azi completely uncurled himself to that he was able to hug Ellie probably. “I understand dear…. I really do.”

Ellie melted into his hug, even as her brain was wondering why she was being so easily intimate with someone she met /yesterday/ for goodness sake. She told her brain to shut up and sit down. “So tomorrow… we head out of town and see what happens, yeah?”

“That’s correct, we’ll probably have to get up pretty early and pack up anything we’re taking with us if we want to cover and ground before night fall.” Azi lifted his head to catch her eye. “Best case scenario, what are you hoping for on our little never ending journey?”

Ellie looked at him. “Safety? I really just want somewhere safe and comfortable, with good company.” She looked around the lounge they were in. “If this house weren’t in the middle of an infested town, I’d quite happily stay here.”

He smiled, “Then we have a common goal. I doubt there is much more you could possibly ask for in this world…”

“My needs are simple.” She smiled at him. “Food, sleep, safety, people who aren’t trying to kill me or drive me insane.” Then she tucked her head back down against his shoulder and sighed. “I’m also going to add cuddles to that list now, though, because I never realised how much I missed this.”

“I certainly did. This may come as a surprise to you dear but I’m actually a very touchy feely person. Been so ever since I was little.” He rested his cheek on top of her head. “Though we’re going to have to be extra careful with our cuddle times or else they might become a hazard to our health and well-being.”

She snorted. “Well this may /actually/ surprise you, but I’m usually not a touchy feely person. Yeah, despite my work.” Another snort. “And as to your other point – both of us have survived this too long to do something stupid now, I hope. Tomorrow it’s all business, back on the road. But when we have safety, and a bed…?”

Azi willed himself not to blush. She didn’t mean for it to sound like that… he thinks. “Right. Business during the day and relaxing sleep when the conditions are safe enough for us to curl up together without worry that something might walk in on us.”

She found it amusing (and a little disturbing) that it wasn’t some/one/ these days, but some/thing/. “That sounds lovely. But for now…” She deliberately burrowed in close to him and even threw a leg back over his for good measure. “Hmmm yes, better. We have a whole afternoon to spend like this if we want, then dinner to make, then a bed to sleep in.” Deep breath in, long exhale. “Tomorrow will come soon enough.”

He felt his heart skip but couldn’t exactly place why? “To soon if you ask me.” Leaning back against the couch cushions he made himself more comfortable and pulled Ellie closer. He knew that he had missed being able to hug someone like this, but it wasn’t until he had his new friend and companions in his arms that he realize exactly how /much/ he had missed it. This quiet moment with Ellie had to have been one of the happiest moments he’s had in a long time.

——

Aziraphale adjusted his pack on his shoulders and wiped his brow. When he and Ellie had set out this morning (after pretty much just pointing in a random direction and going with it) it had been cool and crisp, but now that midday had arrived the sun was beating down and them mercilessly. Azi wished that there were at least a few trees alongside the road to shade their travel but it seems they had no such luck. Actually, there luck had been pretty terrible today considering the amount of undead they’ve come across and had to slay. Azi was overheating, hungry, and his arms hurt from swinging the bat so many times before even half the day was over. He hoped they would find a nice secluded spot to stop and rest soon because if they had to go through any more than they already went through this morning he just knew his fight would get sloppy, and that would put not only himself but Ellie in danger as well. Pulling out a water bottle he took of it to help keep him going and offered a sip to Ellie.

Ellie wasn’t in much better condition. She was considering swapping out her sword for her hockey stick, because it was lighter, but that would require putting her pack down and she wasn’t entirely sure she could pick it up again. It was /hot/. She blinked at the offered bottle and hesitated. Six months of very, /very/ carefully not sharing any sort of bodily fluids was hard to undo. Azi wasn’t infected, she told herself, they’d been very careful to check for scratches or spatter every time they’d had to slay some zombies (and they’d had to put down quite a few already). Still, it was better to be safe than sorry, right? Giving him an apologetic smile and hoping that he wouldn’t take offence, she reached around for her own water bottle, hidden in a flap on the side of her bag, and took a sip. She looked around. Empty road, no trees, no sign of anything. “Hope we don’t have to sleep rough tonight.” She’d done it before, and sleeping out in the open was a nerve-wrecking experience.

Putting away the offered bottle, Azi attempted to shield the sun from his eyes and peer ahead for any signs of shelter. “Personally dear, I just hope we find someplace to sit down and rest soon. If the walking dead don’t get us the heat stroke will.”

Shielding her own eyes she waved in the direction they were headed. “Do either of us actually know what’s in this direction? Do we keep going? We know we’re only half a day’s walk from confirmed shelter back the way we came… or we keep going and hope we’re not walking into a desert?” She jiggled a bit to shift her bag around. “There must be /something/ along the side of the road eventually.”

“Logic dictates that there should be a rest stop for traveler every couple of hours so as long as we stick to the road we’re bound to come across something sooner or later. Besides, look on the bright side…” He wiped the sweat from his brow again and forced himself to keep moving forward. “At least with the lack of human life around we know that we aren’t going to be coming across human death to often anymore today.” And thank goodness for that.

Ellie couldn’t help but smile at his logic, and she forced herself to start moving again to keep up with him. “Just as well. I may just hand the next one my sword and tell them to make it quick.” She chuckled to show that she was joking.

Azi smiled, “Then I guess I’ll just have to take care of the next one before you get a chance to do that. There’s no way you’re getting out of suffering through this without me.” He noticed a zombie stumbling around pretty far of to the side of them heading in the opposite direction. It didn’t seem to acknowledge them to Azi saw no reason to acknowledge it.

Despite the heat, it was much easier to travel with someone than alone. Especially with someone like Azi. Most people rubbed her the wrong way within hours of constant company and she usually found herself longing for solitude again… but not with him. She wondered why that was. They’d spent a lot of time together yesterday, lounging about the house and relaxing, always in close physical proximity, as if they were both loathe to leave the other alone. How was she not finding that stifling? She watched Azi out of the corner of her eye as they walked, as if she might find the answers in his face. There was some movement beyond him that caught her attention and she focused on it, but it was far away. Could have been an animal, hard to tell at this distance. “Do you have any preference if we come across other travellers? As in… avoid or join?”

Azi was grateful when the zombie got too far for him to see anymore and turned his attention back to Ellie. “That depends entirely what they are like. I’m always willing to travel with good people, but if they’re anything like the ones I’ve come across in the past I would think is best to avoid them.”

She nodded in agreement. “I think at this point I have all the company I need, and unless there is some pressing need to travel with others I’d prefer it to just be us two?” She hoped that wasn’t too scary sounding. More people on the road meant more likely to attract zombies, and more likely for someone to snap and take it out on the group.

Azi smiled and might have even taken her hand into his if it hadn’t been so bloody /hot/ out. “Just the two of us sounds good to me dear. Having you around is more than I could have ever asked for anyway.”

It was days like this where Ellie wanted to just cut her hair off and be done with it. She’d tried to plait it earlier and then bundle it into a bun at the back of her head, but bits that had escaped were sticking to her face and she could feel the bun unravelling by the weight of the hair against her neck. Still, she smiled at Azi in return, tried to ignore the way that everything was sticking to her, and trudged on. Probably an hour later (could be longer, she kept forgetting to check her watch), she thought she saw something on the horizon. “There? Is that…?” Oh, she hoped it was shelter. Even a lean-to would do right now!

Azi looked up and squinted his eyes as he attempted to make out what Ellie had spotted. “I don’t know dear, but let’s hope it’s shelter because I’m about ready to pass out on this road and let you leave me here if we have to go much farther.” With new found hope he started moving a little quicker down the road, careful not to leave Ellie behind.

Ellie kept pace with him, also somewhat buoyed by spotting possible shelter. “If you think I’m leaving you behind, think again.” She’d drag his ass to shelter and she suspected he’d do the same.

“You’re too good to me.” Azi smiled and kept moving. As they got closer he was able to make out that it was definitely a small building of sorts and even if wasn’t the greatest place at least it was a spot to get out of the sun.

Ellie sighed a little when she saw that what they were approaching was a service station, and a well-looted one at that. At least the forecourt would give them some shade, and the chances of zombies lurking around were low because they would have been dealt with already by others. Maybe, if they were lucky, they could renew their water supplies. “Not gonna be much here, by the looks. But shade! Glorious shade!” She walked into the shaded area of the forecourt and closed her eyes in bliss. It was still hot, but at least the sun wasn’t burning her any more.

Azi grinned at Ellie’s dramatics a followed her inside. The service station was a mess and it was a far cry from the nice comfy home they had left behind, but it was still somewhere to sit down and get out of the sun so he was grateful for that. “Do you see anything in here that /hasn’t/ been looted yet?”

It was best not to look at some of the perishables, which had been left where they were to just stink up the place, but she trawled the few aisles for something very specific. Of /course/ there would be no sanitary products left. Just in case, she got down on her knees and bent over (bag nearly over-balancing her) to look under the shelf. A few seconds later she stood up, grinning in triumph and holding her prize up. “Thank god, tampons!”

Azi tripped and stumbled because they had been walking all day and he was suffering from heat stroke. He did /not/ trip and stumble just because a girl had announced that she had found some much needed personal sanitary products. Nope, not at all. “That’s um… good for you dear.” He coughed and began looking behind the counter, totally not hiding his flusteredness because he was an adult and this sort of things shouldn’t bother him.

Ellie ducked behind her shelf again to hide her silent laughter, emerging only when she had it under control. There were also a couple of chocolate bars that had fallen where the tampons were, and she had those clutched in her hand. “Think quick,” she said, tossing one to Azi.

He thought quick enough and caught whatever it was that Ellie had tossed to him, only to discover, to his delight, that it was chocolate. “Oh thank Heaven or Hell or whoever is responsible for this small mercy!”

Hiding her chuckle behind her hand, she turned back to the shelving to see what else she could find. There really wasn’t a lot there. “Is there a back room?” she asked Azi, since he was behind the counter. “Does it have water?” Then, as an afterthought, because you never knew what people had decided to ‘leave behind’, “Just make sure it’s clear before you go in. We’re assuming this is zombie free because we haven’t seen any in a bit, but maybe someone left a surprise.”

Azi nodded and looked around, finding that there was, in fact, a back room, but it appeared to have been locked from the outside. Azi considered simply breaking the lock with his bat but remembered Ellie’s warning about people leaving behind surprises. “Dear, can you come over here and help me with this for a second?”

She made her way behind the counter, renewing her grip on her sword. “Yes?”

“The doors locked and I’m going to try and break the lock but I would feel better with you by my side in case there’s something other than food in there.” He tightening the hold on his bat.

She nodded and stared at the door, sword held ready. God she hoped there wasn’t anything in there.

It took to swift swings of his bat for the lock to crack and fall off. Azi held his breath as the telltale sent off death hit him once the door swung open but, to his surprise, nothing came wandering out. Hesitantly, he peeked his head inside only to have a zombie tackle him (as well as a zombie could tackle that is) and trip the two of them onto the floor. ‘Of course, the stupid bloody thing just /had/ to be a ninja didn’t it? It couldn’t just stumbled out like any other one of these creatures!’ Gritting his teeth together, Azi held his bat out in front of him to try and keep the zombie’s teeth at bay.

Ellie had tensed at the smell of decay and so when the zombie tackled Azi she was ready. “Turn your head,” she snapped, swinging the sword down to sever the neck, hoping Azi had closed his lips in time to avoid getting any… residue, gunk?… in his mouth. She quickly turned back to the door in case any more decided to come lurching out at them, but that appeared to be the sole occupant.

Azi pushed the now unmoving corpse off of himself and quickly wiped his face of any splatter that may have gotten on him. “I hope whatever’s in there is bloody worth it because that was /extremely/ unpleasant.”

The back room stank pretty badly of decaying flesh, but the zombie looked like it had been trapped in there from the beginning, or at least shortly after, and the supplies inside were untouched. Including…

Ellie’s eyes went to one particular shelf with a sense of relief. Finding one packet of tampons hidden under the shelf had been great, but this… The months she’d had to make do with rags had been unpleasant. Azi didn’t really know what unpleasant was, she thought, as she stuffed packet after packet wherever it would fit.

Azi crawled to his feet to see what was inside only to discover Ellie stuffing her bag full of feminine hygiene products. Gaping at her for a moment he shook his head away from the odd sight he was seeing and instead opted to go through the shelf full of candy and Tylenol. “….You know I’m sure that there are probably plenty of bags around here is you don’t feel like overfilling your pack.”

“I’ve got room,” she said distractedly. She’d /make/ room. If she never had to deal with rags again she’d be a very happy person. Once she had shoved the entire stock into her bag she looked around at what else there was. Band aids, painkillers, batteries, chocolate bars (though those would melt once they were back outside, she realised, and put a few back), muesli bars, she even found a first aid kit. Now her bag really was getting full, but she preferred to have it stuffed with supplies than empty but lighter. “I think this was definitely worth it.” She found the sink, but when she turned the tap nothing happened. “Damn. Oh well, can’t have everything.”

Azi stuffed his bag full (although not as full as Ellie’s considering she had put over half of the store in it) and opened a chocolate bar to snack on, breaking it in half and offering it to Ellie. “Are you sure you couldn’t fit any /more/ in that bag of yours dear?” He smiled to show that he was joking.

Ellie raised an eyebrow at him and accepted the offered chocolate. “Oh, I can always put it back and for several days out of every month how about I leave a nice bloody trail everywhere I walk for all the zombies to follow instead?” She smirked and bit into the chocolate bar.

Azi choked a little on his piece of chocolate and gave her a half-hearted glare. “I was going to suggest you let me carry some of that so you wouldn’t be as weighed down when we hit the road again.”

Ellie beamed at him. “Why yes, you could. I’ll keep the feminine products, they’re light enough, and… uh… if we get separated I’m the one that needs them most.” She gave him a cheeky look. “Presumably.” Looking back down at her backpack, she picked out some of the things she had been shoving on top, like the muesli and chocolate bars. “But you can take these.”

Azi thought it over and couldn’t help but see a flaw in her logic. “No offense dear, but shouldn’t we distribute everything into each pack eventually? I mean obviously you have a few things that only you’re going to need but if we ever get ourselves into a situation where one of us loses our pack or has to leave it behind then we would be pretty grateful knowing that we had a backup of everything in the other persons pack.”

Ellie cocked her head at him, blushing slightly at her own oversight but respect in her expression. “You’re right. I’m too used to thinking self-sufficiently, making sure to rely only on myself.” She smiled. “Even distribution makes sense if we’re going to be travelling together.” He wasn’t going to take off and abandon her, she told herself. If he was going to do that, he would take only the things useful to him. The fact that he was offering to carry things that were only of use to her meant that he would stick around. She found that very reassuring, when with anyone else she would have found it quite the opposite.

Azi smiled and stripped off his pack, sitting it in the counter. “It’s fine if you’re not used to relying on others dear. Quite honestly the thought only just now occurred to me myself.” He began unpacking his pack so that they would be able to reorganize everything.

It didn’t take long to empty out her backpack as she’d organised it pretty well again when they were in the house. She /did/ have a lot of feminine hygiene products, but unfortunately she didn’t know when the next time would be she would find some, and they were one-use only items as well. Still, tampons were lighter than canned goods. By the time she was done repacking, she had more room again, mainly because things weren’t just shoved in the top half any more.

“Brilliant. Do you want to carry on now?” They could stay here if they needed to, but a service station (especially the only building within miles) was going to attract any other travellers, and she’d rather not deal with trying to figure out if new people were hostile or not in the middle of the night.

He shrugged his pack on and was pleased to find that it wasn’t as heavy as he feared it would be. “We might as well. We’ll cover more ground if we leave now and hopefully we’ll come across another place to sleep for the night besides this run down service station. Although I’m not looking forward to that sun beating down on us again.”

“Perhaps there’s something we can use as improvised hats?” She’d already checked for hats and found them all gone. With a smile, she said, “I could probably fold something out of newspaper.”

Azi couldn’t help but giggle. “The two of us dragging our feet down the road in a pair of paper hats… that image does have a certain appeal to it.”

Ellie grinned in response and grabbed a newspaper, the date depressingly from back before the outbreak, and had a couple of basic paper hats folded in no time. She handed one over to Azi and placed the other on her head. “It’s the height of fashion, darling,” she said in a pompous voice.

His giggling only got worse and he placed the hat upon his head. “Well then /darling/, considering how fashionable you appear to be I guess I’ll just have to take your word for it.”

She grinned over her shoulder as she moved towards the front door again. No sign of movement outside, though she stood and watched for a few second just to be sure. When she moved out back into the sun, the heat was immediately oppressive. Her paper hat, while not doing a lot to shield her face, at least kept the top of her head cooler. “Onward, then,” she said with a little less enthusiasm than she’d have for swimming with crocodiles.

They walked side by side in the unpleasant heat for hours until the sun was finally starting to set. Azi saw this as a mixed blessing because even though the heat was finally subsiding, it wouldn’t do to get caught out once what was left of their light ran out. Plus, even though they had both been complaining about the heat and day, Azi knew that the cold that came with nightfall could be just as bad if not worse. “Please tell me we’re near another building…”

“Should be by now,” Ellie responded, the headache she had been quietly nursing for the past hour now throbbing with every step. She’d take something for it when they stopped. “We stuck near the road, so we should be coming up to something.” She hoped so. It was starting to cool down a little now, which was very pleasant, but if they had to keep walking she’d have to dig out the hoodie she had stashed in her bag to keep warm.

Azi was dragging his feet and just about ready to call it quits for the night and attempt to sleep on the side of the road when something on the other side of Ellie caught his eye. Grabbing her arm to stop her for a moment, he squinted his eyes and tried to figure out what he was looking at in the dim light of sunset. “…Do you see that dear?” He pointed.

Ellie had been eyeing up various patches of grass and wondering about their softness when Azi’s hand on her arm stopped her. She blinked at him, not understanding for a moment even as her heart kicked up a notch, expecting danger. Then she followed where he was pointing and squinted, too. “A building?” She started lurching towards it, hoping no one was around to mistake her for a zombie. “I think it’s a building.” Better than sleeping in a clump of grass.

“We don’t know that for sure yet, but at least it looks like we have a shot at shelter for the night. Let’s hurry before we lose the rest of our light.” Azi moved towards the building (which as they got closer he was able to make out that it was a barn of sorts) while keeping an eye out for any unpleasant surprises.

“It’s a barn,” she whispered excitedly once she was sure. It could be full of the undead, and if it was she would rather abandon it and sleep in the open than deal with a horde right now, but she chose to look on the brighter side. Shelter! She did a loose circumference of the barn, keeping an ear out for any noises or sign of zombies.

Azi followed her lead and listened for any sign that they shouldn’t go inside this place. After a few minutes of listening everything appeared quiet and safe. “Shall we try our luck and go inside?” The sun was nearly gone for the night and Azi could just barely make out Ellie’s features in the soft golden glow.

Ellie shrugged. “We’re here now, may as well.” She approached the barn door, adjusted her backpack, gripped her sword, and pulled the lever to swing it outwards, scrambling backwards just in case. Nothing immediately came lurching out at her.

Azi stepped next to Ellie and slowly moving forward into the barn when nothing came wandering out. Inch by inch he made his way inside and looked around. Nope, nothing living or unliving in there and not exactly many places for something to hide if there was. “It looks clear.”

Ellie scanned the interior as well and relaxed when she saw nothing, either. She clicked her torch on just enough to sweep the area and get a good idea of what was around. The beam landed on a ladder up to a loft. “Hay loft. Perfect.” She closed the barn door and secured it as best she could, then made her way over to the ladder, scrambling up with her torch held between her teeth. At the top she once again shone it around. Nothing but hay. “Clear,” she called down softly, and entered the loft.

Azi watched Ellie climb up to the loft and followed her once she had given it the okay. The loft was a far cry from the nice comfy bed they had back at the house, but it was still nice if not it little drafty. Moving some hay around he made them a makeshift bed out of it and layered a blanket on top of it before settling down.

While Azi was making the ‘bed’, Ellie pulled some items out of their packs. It would be a cold dinner tonight, the hay was far too flammable to risk the gas cooker, but they had enough variety of food that it wouldn’t matter. Joining Azi in the nest he’d made, she handed him a small plate of dinner (cold canned beans and half a muesli bar). “Bon appetit,” she told him, pressed close for warmth and digging into her own food.

“Oh Ellie dear, you have such a way with canned food.” He finished his meal quickly (having had only half a chocolate bar for lunch) and went to Ellie’s bag to find her blanket for them to share. The temperature had already begun to drop rapidly now that night had fallen.

Ellie had licked her plate clean by the time he came back with the blanket. She placed both their plates carefully off to the side (she would see if there was a trough nearby for her to wash them in when it was light) and helped to pull the blanket around the both of them, cuddling into his side like a limpet. “There’s something to be said for sharing a sleeping nest,” she murmured. “It’s certainly warmer than sleeping alone.”

Azi put his arms around her as the chill of the night air started to get to him. “Warmer and definitely more comfortable. I’m glad that you’re not opposed to being used as a teddy bear dear.” He smiled and gave her a little squeeze as he cuddled closer.

Ellie smiled into the darkness as she felt herself hugged tight. “It’s the least I can do since you consented to be my pillow.” There was a reassuring silence around the barn, barring the sound of nighttime insects. “Azi?”

“Yes dear?” The day had been long and tiring yet even though he was relaxing with the quiet lull of insects outside and a warm Ellie in his arms he still felt so awake.

Her mind was buzzing with plans and possibilities. “Perhaps we could stay off the road… head into the countryside? Find somewhere nice and secluded, self-sufficient, and hole ourselves up there? I know I talk about finding a settlement but maybe… maybe that’s not the way.” She found herself clinging to him a little harder than she intended. Her body was extremely tired, and she hadn’t managed to take those painkillers for her headache, and she didn’t want to move now to get them. But this was nice (apart from the draft and the scratchy straw and the empty stomach and the headache), this she could keep doing. Just them.

The idea of just him and Ellie, alone together, secluded and cut off both pleased yet terrified him. He wouldn’t mind having Ellie and only Ellie from now on, it wasn’t like he had anyone else anymore. But the thought of just themselves to rely on? Could they actually pull that off and spend the rest of their time alone together on the country side? It wasn’t an easy choice but no matter what they chose he knew one thing… he wanted to stay with Ellie. “I… I’m not sure which would be better. I mean I love the idea of the two of us living alone together but… if something were to happen I don’t like the idea of one of us being left completely alone in the middle of nowhere.”

“How would it be any different to how we were before? I was alone, I’ve managed to survive pretty much alone this long, and so have you.” She closed her eyes and tried to breathe through the pounding in her head. “We can talk about this in the morning. I think I need to sleep,” she said. “I’m not thinking clearly.” She shifted a little bit to a more comfortable position.

‘Because before I met you I didn’t have anything else to lose.’ He thought to himself as he stroked her hair gently and settled down to try and get some rest.

——

Things were both easier and harder being in the woods. There was more shade and chances of finding a natural supply of fresh water, but you couldn’t see approaching zombies until they were nearly on top of you. They’d found the cabin – well, it was more of a hut than a cabin – after they’d been travelling for only an hour in the morning and had agreed to stop there for the day. Ellie had set out immediately to set up some cage traps she’d found inside for small game. Fresh meat would be most welcome right about now. By the time they’d cleared the cabin… hut?… up a little bit, it was time to check on her traps. She doubted they’d yield anything, but as she’d used what was just lying around, they hadn’t cost her anything but an hour of her time to set up. It was with mixed feelings, then, that she returned with a rabbit in one of the cages.

Azi had been foraging the woods, attempting to find any sort of plants that he remember learning about when he was young that were safe to eat. After about an hour he had to call it quits and made a mental note to find a book and plants next time they reached a town, it would come in handy and definitely know more than he knew one the subject. Sighing and a little irritated with himself for not finding anything useful (well actually that was a lie he did come across a small stream that they could get water from but that’s not exactly what he had in mind when he went out) Azi returned to the shack and dropped his bag to the floor just as Ellie returned with a rabbit. “Oh! You seem to have caught us a friend.”

Ellie gave the rabbit a slightly desperate look, which she then turned on Azi. “It’s not /meant/ to be a friend, it’s meant to be food. But…” She looked at the rabbit again. Why did it have to be a rabbit? Why couldn’t she have caught any number of other small woodland creatures? The damn thing looked at her with a nervously twitching nose, too.

Azi approached her and couldn’t help but stick his fingers through the cage to pet the little bunny. “….It’s cute.”

“Stop calling it a friend and cute. It’s food,” she said, but with less conviction. The rabbit also looked back at her, having decided that Azi wasn’t going to be a threat. “You’re food,” she told it in a quiet voice. It seemed to shake its head in disagreement. She put the cage down on the bench and sat in the only chair in the small room, staring morosely at the trapped animal.

Oh dear, and here he thought Ellie was going to be the hunter of the two of them. /He/ certainly knew he would never be able to bring himself to kill a rabbit, not with it twitching its little nose like that. “Ellie…” He placed a hand on her shoulder. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to eat that.”

Ellie sagged a little and stared at the rabbit. “I’ll put the trap back out and maybe we’ll catch something else. Anything but a rabbit.” It was so incredibly stupid, too… she could sever another human’s head without a second thought (though they weren’t really human any more, were they?) but give her a rabbit and she just couldn’t do it… She loved rabbits. She’d been too busy to own any herself, but she’d collected rabbit /things/. And now this rabbit was meant to be dinner? No. She couldn’t.

Azi couldn’t help but smile softly and kiss her temple, he hadn’t wanted to see the poor little thing die either. “You’re far too sweet for this world my dear.” Carefully he opened the trap and took the surprisingly calm rabbit out of it, holding it in his arms and petting it’s soft fur gently. Azi always had a soft spot for anything small and adorable.

Ellie stood again and moved close so that she could pet the lovely rabbit as well. Its fur was soft; it was quite a healthy specimen. “Stay out of traps,” she told the rabbit in a quiet, gentle voice. “Go home and make lots of little baby rabbits and tell them to stay out of traps.” She smiled, petting the rabbit’s soft ears. Sighing, she looked at Azi. “So much for fresh meat for dinner, though.”

Azi grinned at Ellie’s advice to the small rabbit in his arms. “I think I can live without fresh meat for a day if it means I get to see you fawn over our furry little friend here.” He carefully set the bunny into her arms.

Ellie carefully accepted the furry burden and poked her tongue out at Azi. “Shush you, rabbits are damn cute, ok?” She wished she could keep it, it reminded her of her childhood where she’d been allowed to keep a rabbit for a few years. Happier days and fluffy hugs. She was totally unaware of the smitten smile that was on her face as she looked down at the animal in her arms.

‘So are you dear’ Azi blinked. That was an odd thought. It was true, but still not the thing he should be thinking about when they should be looking for food. “There’s um, a stream not far from here. We can see if we can catch some fish that way our little friend can live and we can still get fresh meat tonight.” That’s right, focus on survival and not on that adorably sweet smile Ellie had on her face or how happy a little bunny made her and… oh dear he was in trouble.

She looked up at him when he suggested trying fishing, love for the little rabbit still written plain across her face and her dopey smile. “That sounds lovely,” she told Azi, then looked down at the rabbit again. “Doesn’t that sound lovely? We’ll let you go and we’ll find some fish instead.” She walked towards the door, somewhat reluctant to let the furry bundle go. Perhaps she could walk towards the stream and let it go there?

Oh god she was just acting so sweet that Azi actually started playing with the idea of somehow finding a way for her to keep it. If they didn’t live in a world where they had to constantly travel to stay away from things that might eat them he would totally suggest that they keep it. Azi had to hold himself back from hugging her then and there. Instead he managed to simply follow out the door and watch her continue to fond over the bunny rabbit. “…Come on dear, the stream is this way.” He indicated the direction.

Ellie started to change direction then paused. “Wait. We don’t go anywhere without weapons.” With one last cuddle and a sigh, she set the rabbit down. “Off you hop, back to your family,” she told it, and watched as it took off into the underbrush. She then quickly ducked back into their hut and came back with her sword and the empty cage, trying not to look as downcast as she felt having to let the rabbit go. Still, it was better than the alternative, she told herself as she caught up with Azi again.

Taking her hand into his, Azi guided Ellie to the small stream not far from where they would be staying for the night. “…So I’m going to take a wild guess and say that you’re a fan of bunny rabbits.”

Giving his hand a squeeze and smiling at him, Ellie nodded. “Just a bit,” she said, not intending to tell him about the rabbit ornaments, pyjamas, slippers, and various other bits and pieces she’d had at home. She snorted. “I could honestly have killed anything else. Any other animal that landed in that trap. But not that rabbit.” She hadn’t ever done any fishing before the outbreak, and her attempts after had been quite fruitless. She hoped Azi was better than her.

It only took them a few minutes to reach the stream and from where he was he could already make out the shapes of a few fish swimming around. Sitting down on a nearby rock he took off his shoes and roll up his trousers. “Ever caught a fish before my dear?”

Ellie sat down on a similar rock, put her sword carefully within reach, and followed suit with her shoes and trousers. “No, I haven’t. I take it you have?”

“Nope! Wish me luck.” Entering the spring Azi grinned and waiting patiently for a fish to swim by.

Ellie paused in the rolling up of her own trousers to gape at Azi. “You’ve never…?” She stifled a giggle and figured what the heck, she may as well get in on the fun. Trousers securely rolled up to above her knees, she waded in and positioned herself a little way from Azi, watching the water and trying not to laugh at the ridiculousness of the two of them in here, trying to catch fish.

It only took a few minutes for a couple of brave fish tried to get pass them. Plunging his arms into the water Azi was just able to brush his fingers against one of their targets before it slipped by. “Darn it.”

Laughter bubbled up inside Ellie and emerged as a series of snorts as she tried her best to suppress it. How cute was that swearing – darn it? Really? Just then a fish swam by her and she plunged her arms in, but the thing slipped through her grip. “What, exactly, are we meant to do if we do happen to actually grab and hold one?”

“Toss it to shore to be cooked later.” Another fish m, bigger this time, decided to risk it and swim by him. In his efforts to catch this one Azi found himself falling head first into the water.

This time Ellie couldn’t contain the laughter and she had to brace herself on her knees to stay upright.

Azi’s head popped up out of the water and might have glared at Ellie if it wasn’t for the fact that he felt something caught in his shirt. Flailing around frantically, Azi was able to extract a medium sized fish from his clothing and toss it to shore.

Ellie stumbled to the shore, still laughing, so that she could toss the fish a bit further up away from the water. She turned back to Azi, grinning widely. “That’s one way to catch a fish, but excuse me if I don’t try that.” She looked down at her chest and back at him. “You can be the king of shirt fishing.”

“You’re hilarious dear.” He said in a somewhat dry but still a little amused tone. Moving towards the shore, Azi stripped off his now soaking wet shirt and sat it on a rock to dry as he returned to his task.

“Yeah, I’m a real comedian.” Despite herself, Ellie found herself /looking/ at him as she went back into the water to try and catch some fish. She smiled a little at her own stupid mind and concentrated on what she was doing, staring down into the water instead. By the time she was starting to shiver she was no closer to actually catching a fish.

As time passed Azi noticed Ellie’s shivering and figured that they might as well call it a day, didn’t look like he would be catching anything else anyway. Stepping onto the shore Azi made quick work of gutting and cleaning out the one fish he had managed to catch and collected his still damp shirt. “Let’s go back and start a fire Ellie, the temperature is dropping again and we can cook ourselves up some accidentally caught fish.”

Ellie nodded, clenching her teeth to stop them from chattering, and climbed out of the water. Her feet were pretty numb and she warmed them up a bit as she pulled her shoes and socks back on. “I’ll go collect up the traps I set out. See you back at the hut?” She picked up her sword. “You’ll have my undying love if you have a fire going by the time I get back.” She grinned at him.

“You mean I didn’t have that already? Well if a fire is what it takes to win your heart then consider it done my dear.” Azi smiled at her and headed back towards the shack to start a fire for both them and their dinner.

Ellie rolled her eyes and headed to where she’d left the first trap. She got back, juggling three cage traps, her sword, and a dead chicken. She dragged all of these into the hut, dropping the traps by the door, propping her sword against the bench, and placing the (rather emaciated) chicken down on the table. “It was in one of the traps. Must have escaped from a nearby farm. Doesn’t look like it has much any more, but we might be able to eat something…”

Azi nodded and looked the chicken over. “Any food is better than no food. Did you kill this one yourself or was it already like that when you found it in the trap?”

Ellie twitched one shoulder. “It was clucking rather pathetically when I found it. Snapping a chicken’s neck is easy.” She took the chicken over to the bench and started plucking it.

Azi took a moment to feel sorry for the poor thing but he knew that they couldn’t let every animal they came across live if they wanted to survive. Fire roaring and the fish slowly cooking, Azi went and grabbed his pack so that he could change out of his freezing wet clothes.

Ellie made short work of plucking and gutting the chicken, then skewering it on a metal pole she held it over the fire, turning her back to Azi to at least give him some privacy.

Laying his wet clothes out by the fire to help them dry, Azi sat down next to Ellie to try and soak up the heat coming from both her and the fire. “Should I get anything else out or will this be enough food for now?”

Ellie leaned a little towards him because he still looked cold from having been soaked in the river, even though he was in a dry set of clothes now. “This should be enough, don’t you think? Between your fish and this chicken, we’ve got plenty. Not like we usually only have meat, but this stuff won’t keep like the cans will.”

He nodded and pressed his shoulder against hers, stealing her warmth. “So I had the fire good when you got back, do I have your undying love now my dear?” He grinned.

Ellie grinned back and leaned over to place a kiss on his cheek. “My undying love, yes. A good fire!” She looked back at the chicken, turning it carefully. It would take a while to cook properly, she hoped the fish would be done sooner.

Blushes slightly, Azi got up to check on the fish only to find, to his delight, that it was just about ready. He took the now cooked fish off of the fire and returned to Ellie’s side. “Fish, my love?” He smiled playfully.

“My love now is it? What happened to my dear? I’m having trouble keeping up with all these endearments.” She grinned and made grabby-hands at the fish. “Of course you realise this is just cupboard love, right? Like cats.”

“Does that mean if I start scratching you behind the ears you’ll start purring for me.” He handed her grabby hands the fish.

“Hmmmm maybe,” she said, giving the chicken a quick turn again before taking the fish. It was hot, so she blew impatiently on it. “You’ll just have to try sometime.” She was only half concentrating on what she was saying because the fish smelled so good her mouth was watering.

Unable to resist the invite, Azi lifted his hand up into her hair and gave her a gentle scratch.

That got her attention, and she looked at Azi with a small smile and started making an exaggerated purring sound while leaning into his hand, rubbing against it like a cat would. With a laugh she popped some fish in her mouth and hummed with real pleasure. “Ok, stop playing around and eat, because this is so… very… good.”

Azi laughed when Ellie started purring and really didn’t want to stop his scratching but his stomach made a grumble of protest and Azi figured he should probably get some of that fish before Ellie finished it all. “Not bad for a shirt caught fish?” He asked as he stole a piece and took an experimental bite.

“Not bad at all.” She winked at him. “Wasn’t the only good thing inside that shirt, either.” Pleased with herself, she popped some more fish in her mouth and smiled at the fire while chewing.

Azi blinked a few times before the flirtation clicked and caused him to blush. She was just messing with him, surely, so there was no reason for him to get flustered over a little comment like that. Azi stuffed another piece of fish into his mouth to distract himself from his thoughts.

Ellie carefully made sure she had only half the fish and kept turning the chicken. When she was done she tucked herself close against Azi’s side, slinging an arm around him so she could rub his back. He still felt cold, poor darling. “This place should heat up quick with the fire and we can make a little nest again with our blankets later. Too bad there isn’t a bed, but we’ll make do, right?”

Azi yelled at himself to stop blushing, she just wanted to be close and snuggly with him that’s all. Perfectly innocent behavior and he really needed to get his head out of the gutter before he makes a fool of himself. “R-Right. Too bad, a bed would have definitely been a lot warmer and comfortable to sleep on…” He scooted a little closer to her and hesitated for just a moment before putting in arm around her in return.

She leaned her head against the side of his neck and watched the fire. They need a place like this, she thought, somewhere quiet and safe. Preferably something bigger, with a bed would be a good start. More solid walls. Windows you can’t climb in through. Near a stream so they can catch fish, maybe they could grow some vegetables… She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then turned the chicken again. “That was a very nice fish. And the chicken smells good.”

Azi rested his cheek on top of her head and closed his eyes blissfully. He didn’t want quiet moments like these to end. Moments where it was just the two of them and they just got to hold each other and have a nice meal and it seems like everything bad in the world can’t effect them because how could anything ruin a happy moment like this? Azi found himself snuggling closer and wrapping both of his arms around Ellie tightly, letting the bliss of this moment wash over him.

Ellie smiled to herself as she was enveloped in a very thorough hug. If there was one thing she’d learned over the last few days it was that Azi liked to cuddle. (And if there was one thing she learned about herself, it was that she wasn’t complaining.) She kept one hand free to turn the chicken at regular intervals, and she could feel him warming up under her other hand at his back. She had to be careful not to fall asleep.

Azi was feeling pleasantly drowsy and would have fallen asleep right there if it wasn’t for the smell of cooking chicken reminding his stomach that it was still hungry. Blinking his eyes open he attempted to focus on the fire to keep himself awake. “Ellie… I’m tired.”

Ellie nodded, staring blearily at the cooking chicken. “Should be about done,” she mumbled. The fire was dying down as well since neither of them had done anything to stoke it. She took the chicken off and placed it on one of their plates. “How about we make our nest, and we can pick at the chicken while we lie in it? Best of both worlds.” She lifted her head off his shoulder and gave him a tired smile.

Azi nodded and sluggishly untangled himself from Ellie to grab their blankets. He wrapped one firmly around himself and settled down in their nest, beckoning Ellie to snuggle up with him.

She grabbed the plate of chicken and placed it carefully on her stomach when she lay down against Azi. It would be awkward, but this way they could have their warm little sleeping arrangement without missing out on the chicken. The fire was to their feet. Ellie poked at the chicken with her fork, loosening a piece, which she then offered to feed Azi.

Azi put both of his arms around her as soon as she was close enough and bit the chicken off of the fork without even thinking. It turned out a lot better than he could have hoped for and he found himself humming in satisfaction. Fresh meat was difficult to come by these days and he had to appreciate it when he could. “You’re a brilliant chef my dear.”

Ellie smiled at the compliment and got a bit for herself. It /was/ good, but a lot of that was probably more due to the fact that she hadn’t had fresh chicken in so long rather than her actual culinary skills. She speared another piece and offered it to him. (She figured neither of them was infected, they could share a bloody fork for once.)

The chicken was finished off in no time at all and Azi found his hunger pleasantly satisfied. Pulling the blankets snugly around both him and Ellie when the fire died out and the cool night air took effect, Azi hugged her as close to himself as he could and even tangled one of his legs with hers in order to fight off the cold.

Ellie wrapped herself around Azi once the plate had been put safely aside, completely disregarding any ideas of personal space or sense of decorum. She just wanted to give and receive as much warmth as possible. Smiling with her cheek pressed against his chest, she dropped off into a doze.

Azi grinned when he felt Ellie’s breathing even out and gently kissed her forehead as he settled down and allowed his eyes to drift shut.

——

They had been wandering around the forest for a few days before they finally came out the other side and found, to their surprise, a small town. The sight of it was both a blessing and curse. On one hand a town would be filled with supplies and possible shelters for them to stay in. In the other hand however, a town would also be filled with undead people looking for a snack. Still, best to try and make the most of this and take advantage of the opportunity in front of them rather than whine about how much they didn’t feel like killing monsters after they had had such a peaceful time in the woods together. Gripping his bat, Azi sighed to himself and prepared for the fights that he and Ellie were bound to come across.

Emerging from the shelter of the woods, Ellie blinked at the sunlight suddenly assaulting her vision. She paused next to Azi and switched her sword back to her right hand. “Well, best get on with it then, right?” she asked, sounding less than enthusiastic. They could do with showers, if they could find them, and swapping out some dirty or worn clothes and towels for clean ones, but the thought of entering a town was still not a pleasant one. With a sigh, she stepped out onto the street and steeled herself for whatever they would face. She would keep an eye out for any likely houses on the way in – they would need somewhere to sleep tonight, and she looked forward to having a bed again.

“It shouldn’t be too bad. Kill a few monsters and find a nice warm bed to sleep in tonight. It’ll be over and done with before we know it.” He tried his best to sound optimistic but he could already see a zombie shambling along a few streets over.

Turning around and heading back into the woods was not an option, Ellie told herself as she moved forward. She appreciated Azi’s attempt at a pep talk and gave him a grateful smile. The thought of a warm bed was enough to get her through the first couple of kills without too much trouble. She was distracted from finding houses, but spotted a sports store. “What are the chances the camping supplies haven’t been looted clean?” she asked, pointing with her chin.

Azi swung his bat and cracked another biters skull. “That depends on how fast this town got over run I guess…” Swings his bat and takes down zombie attempting to get Ellie.

There were, thankfully, only a few more zombies nearby and Ellie made short work of the ones near her. She headed to the sports store before any more could turn up. It didn’t look locked, but there was no electricity to run the automatic doors, so she stuck the tip of her sword in to try and pry them open manually.

Azi watched her back as she attempted to pry open the doors and was able to take down the last few zombies wandering around them for the moment. “Any luck?”

Ellie got her fingers into the gap and pulled. The mechanism groaned in protest, but she finally had a large enough gap for them to squeeze through, provided they took their packs off and carried them through separately. “Sort of?”

Azi glanced over his shoulder and nodded in approval. “Sort of works for me.” He pushed his pack through the small opening and squeezed inside after Ellie.

Once they were both through she took a quick look around and then decided that she would rather have the doors closed, at least a little further, so that no zombies could wander in from outside. She pushed until there was about a handspan gap. “This doesn’t look too bad. There may be a few employees and shoppers around, but it’s not like a supermarket, which is always full.” Movement caught the corner of her vision and she turned with a sigh and her sword already swinging.

“You know I never appreciated being able to go into a store and not have to bash someone’s head in before these things started walking around.” Swings his bat.

Ellie couldn’t help a short laugh even as she separated a zombie’s head from its body. It was still in the store uniform. “Tell me about it.” She looked around and didn’t see any more movement. For now. “Considering the state of them, I’d say this place is pretty untouched. Should be dried food somewhere, and gas cylinders, batteries, lights, oh man proper jackets…” Ellie went to raid the clothing section.

Azi smiled at her enthusiasm and began collecting anything they might need and stuffing it into his pack to be sorted through and evenly distributed later. “Do they have any hats over there dear?”

Ellie had already pulled on a thermal top and one of those special exercise tops made out of breathable material, and shoved some socks into her pack, and tied a jacket around her waist… She spotted the hats and grabbed a couple of nice wide-brimmed ones, waving them at Azi. “Yep, have hats.” She spotted the dried food section and started filling her pack with as much of that as she could. It was light, it would last. Perfect.

Joining her in the clothes section, Azi switched out his sweaty t-shirt for a new one and found a pair of biking gloves that he figured would help prevent blisters when he swung his bat. “Do you think we should hang out in here for a bit or get moving again?”

“Still a few more things I want to get from here, but I think once I’ve done that I’m pretty good to go.” She looked around with a thoughtful expression on her face. “In fact, I can’t think of anything I need that we can’t get here at the moment.” She grinned cheekily at Azi. “Since I have a pretty good supply of tampons now, that is.”

Azi laughed a little and found sports bandages that might come in handy later on. “You know if I didn’t know any better I would think that you’re /trying/ to get an embarrassing reaction out of me.”

Ellie just grinned in response to that and skipped off to find some of the other things she wanted. A few minutes later (and apparently they’d cleared out the zombies, because she didn’t come across any more) she came back to find Azi, decked out with new shoes and pants too and a whole lot of useful little things stashed in her bag (and a new bag, too, for that matter). “I think I’m done. This has been a great find!”

He had come across a nice pair of running shoes and a nice new bag himself. “That it has dear! Should we go and find a nice secluded spot to snuggle in tonight or should we stop in a few more stores?”

She looked at her pack. “I honestly… with all this dried food, my pack is pretty full. Unless you want to look for a different weapon?”

He shook his head, “I’m fine with what we have now. Lets find a nice spot for tonight.”

Smiling at him, she reached out and grabbed his hand. “Sounds lovely.” The door was just as she’d left it, and when they were both outside, she pushed it all the way shut. Hopefully some more survivors would find what they needed inside the now cleared store. She looked around. “Did you happen to spot anything on the way in?”

“Few houses but they looked kinda iffy considering the number of zombies surrounding them.” He glanced around in search of someplace they could stay for the night.

Ellie tightened her grip on his hand for a moment then let go. They were better off with both hands free when moving through zombie territory. “Maybe they’re better on the other side of— shit.” She swung and just knocked the zombie with the flat of her blade, getting it properly on the backswing. She breathed heavily and waited for her heart to slow, looking around for any more surprises.

Azi’s disappointment at their hands no longer being locked together was short lived and quietly replaced by surprise when that zombie snuck up on them. Holding his bat at the ready, he looked around for any more undead but didn’t see anything. “…We need to get out of the open and find shelter soon.”

Breathing and heart rate just about back to normal, Ellie’s lips compressed into a thin line. “I’m with you on that,” she said in a determined tone, and headed off in the direction she /had/ been intending to suggest before she had been so rudely interrupted by the undead.

Azi kept in pace with her. “So was there something you had in mind this way or do we still need to brain storm ideas?”

“If you have any bright ideas, please do throw them out there, but I’m just heading this way because back there,” and she indicated over her shoulder in the general direction of the woods they had emerged from, “you said there was nothing.” She stopped and grabbed Azi’s hand, giving him an apologetic smile. “Sorry, stress handling is not my best ability. Getting angry has worked well for me so far because it means I’m in the mood to chop heads off.” Then, in a much kinder tone, “/Did/ you have any ideas?”

Azi felt guilty for bombarding Ellie with questions like that. He shouldn’t expect her to have all the answers like that. He instead should be trying to help her and not stand around acting useless. “….I’m sorry dear, I’ll try to be more helpful, especially when it is our lives at stake.” He pulled his hand from her so that he could properly grip his bat and started moving forward again, keeping his eyes peeled.

Ellie gave an internal sigh and moved along with Azi, also keeping an eye out to avoid any more surprises. Keeping her voice low, and looking more at her surroundings than her companion, she said, “Azi, you’re more than helpful. You’ve done nothing /but/ help me since we met up, and I repay you by snapping at you.” She shot him a small smile and let her free hand brush against his shoulder briefly. “We’ll find somewhere safe, and we’ll make something to eat, and if you’re feeling like it we can curl up on a couch or a bed and relax. Ok?” The area they were moving through now was starting to look like more housing rather than stores again.

Azi tore his eyes away from their surroundings (there didn’t seem to be any zombies nearby at the moment anyway) and gave Ellie a small smile. “I’m always up for getting my arms around you dear, and please don’t worry, no one can blame you for snapping considering the situation we’re in.” He spotted a small single story house and gestured towards it with his bat. “How about there?”

Ellie looked at the house. Seemed intact, weren’t hordes of zombies floating around it… looked good. She nodded and started her approach, moving around one side to do a full circuit of the house first.

Azi moves around the other side and finds the back door open. He waits for Ellie to join him before even daring to enter.

Ellie looked suspiciously at the back door. She shifted her grip on her sword and crept towards Azi, raising an eyebrow at him. She hadn’t /seen/ any signs of movement in her circuit, but that didn’t mean there wouldn’t be. “Still want to go in?” she whispered. “Other than the open back door, it looks ok…”

He tightened his hold on the bat. “Might as well at least check it out. At least with the door open we won’t have to break in.” Slowly he crept into the house.

Ellie kept close enough that she could keep a good eye on him, but far enough away that if she had to swing her sword she wouldn’t hurt him. Every muscle was tense and her eyes scanned their surroundings for anything… any sign of danger at all.

The small house didn’t take long to search and Azi sighed with relief when it appeared to be empty. Whoever had lived here had probably simply left the back door open after fleeing from it when that outbreak happened. Relaxing his grip on the bat, Azi went and checked that the back door was locked before settling down on the couch.

Once she was also reassured that the house was empty, she let her bag and sword drop to the living room floor and sagged onto the couch and against Azi, still shaking ever so slightly from the tension. “Why is it that all the best houses are in zombie infested territory. The property market really has gone to hell recently.”

He shrugged, “Zombies need nice homes too. Where else are they supposed to lurk when they aren’t eating people in the streets?”

Ellie snorted and wrapped her arm around his waist and rested her cheek against his shoulder, cuddling into him. “Do you suppose there even /are/ any safe and sane places out there any more? Have all the nice people been eaten?” She said it jokingly, but it made her heart ache a little to think that.

He slipped his arms around her and snuggled tightly. “I don’t know if there is anywhere completely safe anymore but I /do/ know that there are still nice people in this world.” He kissed her forehead. “I’m sitting next to one after all.”

Ellie shifted a little bit, pretending to be alarmed and look under herself. “Oh god, sorry, where? Did I crush them?”

He chuckled. “You’re adorable dear. In a silly zombie killing bunny loving way.”

Ellie grinned at him, pleased that he was laughing again. “I’m glad you at least got those the right way around, and didn’t say bunny killing zombie loving, because that would be awkward.” She sighed, happily this time, and closed her eyes.

“I doubt you would be able to kill a bunny even if you were completely starving and you were surround by rabbits.” He lean back against the couch cushions and relaxed.

Ellie smiled, because he was probably right. She was completely useless when it came to killing bunnies, and she didn’t care. With her eyes shut, and no obvious sounds of moaning or groaning or shuffling from outside, she could almost pretend they were safe. /Properly/ safe. And that they could stay here forever. She knew that wasn’t really the case, but she indulged in the fantasy for a good few minutes. “You know one thing I don’t miss?”

Azi allowed his eyes to drift shut for a moment as he enjoyed the feeling of comfort that came from having Ellie in his arms like this. “What dear?”

“The Internet,” she told him. “I thought I would, but I really don’t. If it weren’t for the hordes of shambling undead trying to eat me at every turn, I feel quite liberated.”

“Huh… I guess now that I think about it I don’t miss it all that much either.” Azi smiled. “Not that I used it all that much in the first place.”

Ellie snuggled in closer with a little sigh. “I can imagine you… sitting in your rare book store, nose buried in a book, and some old contraption of a computer which probably still runs Windows ME or something.” She grinned, seeing the scene on the inside of her eyelids.

Azi got a far off look and smiled a little sadly. “That sounds pretty close to the truth. Often times I would ignore customers because I was so caught up in my novel in wouldn’t even notice them.”

Ellie giggled. “I’m not in the slightest bit surprised.” She relaxed and let herself half-doze. Not quite sleeping, but not hyper-aware of everything, letting her mind relax. “Azi?” she asked in a somewhat distant voice.

He was lost in his own memories of happy easy times when Ellie’s voice rang through. “Yes dear?”

“I have a small dilemma,” she admitted, a smile playing at the edges of her lips, even as her eyes remained closed while she rested against his side.

He cracked his eyes open at looked at her curiously. “…What dilemma?”

She could feel his gaze on her and so opened one eye to look up at him, lips curling further into a smile. “I’m hungry but I don’t want either of us to move. Do you suppose this place has room service?”

He giggled, “There’s always a chance my dear. But how ever would we call them to bring the food over?”

She giggled a little herself. “Braiiiiinsssss… brains for freeeeee!”

He burst out laughing and snuggled her close. “I was right, you’re adorable.”

Ellie snuggled back, smiling happily. Her stomach could wait a little bit longer, she was enjoying being held far too much right now. “I wonder what culinary delights we’ll find in this pantry.” Though perhaps talking about food wasn’t going to help her hunger situation…

“Maybe some tea? It’s been forever since I had a nice hot cuppa tea.” Azi’s mind was wandering back to those bittersweet memories of times before.

Ellie lifted her head and looked at him. “Ohhh, you should have said! We could have found a cafe and raided it for tea.” She gave him a squeeze. “We’ll do that next time we come across one, ok? But chances are there must be some tea in here.”

He snapped out of it again and gave Ellie and squeeze to help ground himself. He didn’t need to go getting lost in memories of things lost when he had something else just as important right here with him. “Thank you dear, do you want to check the cabinets now or stay here for a little while longer?”

Ellie let out an exaggerated put-upon sigh, grinning to show that she is teasing. “I suppose we should get up, or I’m just going to hibernate here on the couch with you the rest of the day and all night and slowly get hungrier and hungrier. I might even start to see the attraction of brains…” With a wink she peeled herself off him and stood up, stretching out her joints.

“Well the mind is a beautiful thing. It’s not difficult to understand why one is attracted to it.” Azi’s was a little disappointed when she pulled away and was tempted to pull her back down but his stomach made a noise of protest. Reasoning he could always drag her back to the couch late, he got up and stretched himself before entering the kitchen.

Ellie trailed into the kitchen after him and started looking through the cupboards, leaving what was obviously the pantry to Azi. She located some plates and cutlery, some glasses, and even managed to pour them some water. Again, the supply was slow, so she suspected it was whatever was left in the hot water cylinder. Pity.

The pantry contained mostly canned vegetables and beans, not Azi’s favorite things but beggars can’t be choosers. As he had feared there didn’t seem to be any tea in the pantry but to his surprise, and delight, he found a box of powdered cocoa. Azi couldn’t help but grin and eagerly showed his findings to Ellie.

Ellie put down the glass of water she had been chugging to stare at her cocoa. “Oh… wow. Yes.” She met Azi’s eyes and grinned. “Most definitely yes.” She went back to the living room to retrieve her pack, where she had the gas cooker, figuring that if the water was cut off then the electricity would be, too.

Azi was practically giggling as he pulled out two cups from the cabinet and filled them with water before adding the powder. “This is actually a better find then I could have possibly hoped for.”

Ellie bounced impatiently on the balls of her feet as he prepared the cocoa. She could almost taste it already…

Azi grinned at Ellie’s cute childlike impatience and it didn’t take long for the cocoa to heat up. “Here you go dear. Remember not to burn yourself.” He handed her a cup.

Ellie rolled her eyes and eagerly took the hot cocoa, blowing on the surface. She could /smell/ that delicious, chocolaty goodness, but she wasn’t going to give Azi the satisfaction of saying ‘I told you so’ by burning her tongue. She took a tentative sip when she reckoned it was cool enough and closed her eyes in pleasure. Hot chocolate was so, so good.

Azi took his first blissful sip and practically melted from happiness right then and there. He hadn’t had cocoa since before this all started and he missed it. He missed drinking it by the fire or when he was reading or all those times when he was little when his older brother would make it for him and fill it up with marshmallows…. Azi faintly realized he was making a little sniffing noise but ignored it, opting to focus instead on the cup of cocoa and attempt to blink away the blurryness from his eyes.

While Ellie was just thoroughly enjoying her cocoa here and now, she became aware of Azi making noises that weren’t along the lines of ‘nom nom’. She looked up from her own drink and saw… Oh dear. Oh, she couldn’t have that. She put her own cocoa down and walked around so that she could hug Azi from behind (she didn’t want to disturb his drinking after all), wrapping her arms around his belly and chest, and resting her cheek against the back of his shoulder. She didn’t know what was bothering him, so she didn’t know what to say, but she hoped the hug said enough.

Azi registered that someone was hugging him and that he would /really/ like to hug them back right now. Setting the cup of memory inducing cocoa aside Azi turned in his huggers grip and clinged to them like a life line.

Ellie adjusted her hold when he turned around, one arm around his waist with her hand resting on his upper back, the other arm thrown around his shoulders with her hand threaded up into his hair, massaging gently. “It’s ok,” she said softly, even though she knew nothing was ok. “I’m here.” That much at least wasn’t a lie. She wanted to know what was wrong, but she didn’t want to make it worse by asking.

Azi found himself burying his face against her shoulder and attempting to control the shaking of his hands as they gripped desperately at the back of Ellie’s shirt. “…I miss them. I miss them so damn much Ellie and it’s not fair.” He must have given up trying to control his emotions back he was pretty sure Ellie’s shoulder wasn’t this wet a few minutes ago. “Why would anyone let this happen? What sort of God would take my own family from me?” Azi felt his throat start to close up. “I just-” He choked on the last of his words and held onto Ellie as if he were to ever let go she would be taken away too and Azi couldn’t handle that. He couldn’t handle losing anyone else.

Ellie felt her own throat constricting and a stinging in her eyes. If only she could give him back all the things he had lost – she had this burning desire to make everything ok again. It translated, uselessly, into a fierce hug and whispering little nonsense things in his ear. She was aware that her shoulder was getting pretty damp, and she wasn’t willing to bet that her own face was dry by this point. “I don’t know, Azi,” she said in a low voice, slightly rough around the edges, trying to answer his question. “I don’t know why any of this has happened.” She knew it wasn’t much consolation, but… “You have me.”

He slowly threaded his fingers through her hair and nuzzled the side of her neck, attempting to catch his breath. “…. I don’t want you to leave me Ellie. Please don’t leave me?”

God, could she get any closer right now? She wasn’t sure, but she tried. “I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”

Several minutes passed as Azi clung to Ellie to allowed his eyes to cry themselves out. “… I’m sorry dear.”

She continued to run her fingers through his hair and hug him tight. “Think nothing of it. I’m here, I’m staying, and any time you need a shoulder warn me first and I’ll get a towel.” She smiled into the side of his head and placed a kiss in his hair.

Smiling at little Azi lifted his head off of her shoulder and kissed her cheek. “How did I ever managing to find someone as lovely as yourself?”

Ellie blushed a little at the compliment and the cheek kiss. She grinned at him and rubbed some of the residue of tears off his cheeks with her thumbs. “I believe there was a horde of zombies involved in our meeting, and then we immediately slept together, which is pretty fast moving even by my standards…” She winked at him.

He laughed softly and kissed the hand wiping away his tears. “You do… do you mind if we lay down together for a little while?”

“Of course.” She smiled a little and glanced down at the two abandoned mugs of cocoa on the table. “So long as we can take our cocoa with us.” Giving him one last squeeze she moved away a little, but threaded the fingers of one hand firmly into his, taking her mug in the other hand. It had gone cold, but she didn’t care. It was still chocolate drink, and Azi was much more important to her than a hot drink. Much.

Grabbing his drink without thinking Azi went into the living room with Ellie and gently dragged her down onto the couch with him. “You really are too good for me my dear.”

Ellie tried her best not to slosh her cocoa around too much as she was pulled down onto the couch. She snuggled up against Azi again and sipped at her cocoa from a slightly odd, but not impossible, angle. “Well, you’re probably the sweetest man I’ve ever met, so let’s call it even, shall we?” She took another sip, smiling.

He couldn’t help but kiss her cheek again and allow his lips to linger for a moment. Talking like this with Ellie did wonders for his despairing heart. “It will never be even dear. Your company is worth so much to me I can’t even begin to describe it.”

Her smile widened a bit when he kissed her cheek again. He really was so very sweet, and she was afraid of getting too close, and it scared her that perhaps it was already too late for that. She shifted away to put her now empty cup on the floor and then returned to the cuddle. “At least if you’re insisting on keeping me around, it means I get to keep you around, so I’m happy.”

His heart skipped a beat and he told himself she meant that in a strictly platonic way. Ellie wanted to keep him around be they’ve become friends and that’s all. No need for him to go getting excited…Still, if there was even just a small chance? “…Ellie?”

Ellie grinned at him. “Yes, Azi?”

“I-…” His heart was pounding as he leaned closer and rested their foreheads together. “I… would like it if we could move this cuddle session into the bedroom later?” Coward.

Ellie wrapped her arms around his neck and nuzzled their noses together. “Of course,” she said, wondering that he even needed to ask. By now it was pretty much the norm that they’d cuddle up in bed after dinner and sleep in their little nest. She looked forward to it every day. Being near Azi helped her sleep and she’d been catching up on six months’ worth of awful rest since they’d met.

——

There had been little clues around the landscape which, looking back on it, Ellie should have recognised for what they were – signs of nearby habitation. She stopped dead in her tracks when she spotted the sentry through the trees, then quickly stepped back out of view and turned to Azi to stop him and cover his mouth with her hand, just in case. “People,” she mouthed more than whispered.

Azi’s eyebrows shot and looked at Ellie in surprise. Quietly he pulled her hand off of his mouth so that he can mouth the word “Where?” to her.

Ellie spoke firmly to her heart that people, real living people, were not a reason for panic. She crouched down, looked through the underbrush and pointed, careful not to disturb the bushes. There was a sentry, who wasn’t really doing a lot of watching of the woods, which was probably the only reason they hadn’t been spotted.

Azi crouched down next to Ellie and peered at the group of people she had indicated. They were living that was for sure, but just because they probably wouldn’t try to eat them doesn’t mean they should be trusted just yet. “What should we do?” He whispered.

When she turned her head, her face was incredibly close to his. “Find somewhere to watch them,” she breathed back. She indicated with her hands that he should back up a bit so they could stand and get away undetected. There was something about this that wasn’t right, and she didn’t know what it was, but she hadn’t survived this long by ignoring her instincts.

He nodded and slowly backed up, careful to remain out of sight. He didn’t speak again until both he and Ellie were a safe distance away. “So what do you think of that group? Crazy or non crazy?”

“I… I don’t know,” she said honestly, disturbed by her own immediate feelings of danger. Was it just that she didn’t want to share Azi? Or was there really something off about them? They needed to find a spot where they could observe. She looked around for higher ground. “This slopes up here, maybe we can find some sort of view of their camp?”

“Sounds good to me.” He began his climb with Ellie up the slope until, like Ellie predicted, the camp came into view. Shielding he eyes from the Sun, Azi attempted to spy on the camp. “…How many people do you see?”

Ellie took the opportunity to rest a little as she looked down on the camp. “Hmm, looks like a decent sized settlement. Maybe twenty? Could be more.” She watched the movements of people within the village. They were… furtive. These weren’t the movements of carefree and happy people. There, someone sticking to the walls as they moved around, pausing at corners. Strange.

“What… what are they doing?” Aziraphale found they’re movements and actions strange as well and he was attempting to understand what these people were up to.

“I don’t know.” She watched a little bit longer, saw someone come in from outside and they looked heavily armed. They vanished into a tent and didn’t come out. “I don’t like it.” There weren’t any signs that they were trying to keep livestock or grow anything, so how were they supporting their community?

“Neither do I dear. Best we stay here and get a better feel for what these people are up to before we even consider trying to make contact. There are far too many of them for us to just wander in and say hello.” He saw a few more people wander by and head into the same tent. Curiouser and curiouser.

Ellie moved her sword in her improvised scabbard, careful not to cut herself, and crouched down to rest on her heels. She scanned the woods surrounding the encampment but the sentries were too well hidden from this vantage point. She could only see one, and it hadn’t been the one she’d seen up close, she didn’t think. The mysterious tent where the heavily armed person had gone in worried her, too. She watched it like a hawk.

A few hours passed and still they sat there, watching the camp. So far the most that had happened was that a few of the people switched look out and the heavily armed man left the tent. Azi’s stomach started making sounds of hunger and he absently pulled out a granola bar to snack on, offering Ellie half not wanted their watch over this people to distract her from the body’s basic needs.

Ellie accepted the offered bar and chewed on it absently as she watched the camp. Nothing untoward had happened, the furtive person was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps she had been overreacting. Guns as weapons may just be a precaution, after all… but then, just as she was considering turning to Azi and suggesting that maybe it was ok after all, the sound of some sort of commotion reached them. She sat up straighter.

There, in the clear space in the middle of all the tents, was the person she had seen lurking around, acting suspiciously. And they were being held by two others, one of whom had…

“Is that… a bullwhip?” she whispered to Azi, horrified.

Azi’s eyes widened when he saw that what they were carrying was exactly what Ellie had stated. He prayed that they weren’t about to do what he thought they were going to do but sadly his prayers weren’t answered what the snapping of the whip quickly followed by a cry of pain was heard. Azi sat there frozen in shock as he man was lashed again and again, each cry of pain more agonizing than the last. His hand found Ellie’s and gave it a squeeze. “We have to do something.”

Ellie gripped his hand tight and turned to stare at him with wide eyes. “What? Azi, no!” She waved her free hand frantically at the camp. “They have guns! We have a sword and a baseball bat.” She held to his hand tightly, afraid he was just going to go and charge in like he did when she was trapped by the horde, except this time he’d get himself killed and… no.

Azi understood her reasoning perfectly. These weren’t predictable creatures like zombies, these were intelligent human beings who knew what they were doing. If they were to go down there they wouldn’t stand a chance. Another cry of pain was heard and Azi instinctively stood up and stared down at the camp, feet wanting to break into a sprint to stop this barbaric activity but mind remembering to think before he acts. “There…. there has to be /something/ we can do?” His eyes frantically scanned for that something.

Ellie couldn’t bring herself to look down at the camp any more, it was bad enough she had to hear the crack of the whip and the cries of the man. Weren’t they going to /stop/ soon? They’d kill him at this rate… oh no. No no. Her voice shook with a mixture of impotent rage and stark fear, “I don’t think there’s anything we can do. By the time we…” Her eyes slid back to the camp then away quickly. She felt sick.

The sound of a whip, another cry was heard. Azi was shaking with rage. He wanted to do something… /needed/ to do something, but there wasn’t anything he could do that wouldn’t get either himself or Ellie killed. Sound of a whip, another cry. Sound of a whip, another cry. Sound of a whip, another- ….This time there was no cry of pain to follow the sound of the whip cracking, only the whip over and over and over again. Azi stared at the camp in fury and his knees gave out underneath him, collapsing to the ground and cursing the being that could let this sort of thing happen.

Ellie was shaking so hard she could barely move, but she managed to control her descent to the ground a little better than Azi had and she wrapped her arms around him. “We need to get out of here,” she said in a voice that was choked.

Ellie’s voice helped anchor him, calming him down enough so that he could at least remember that they were still far too close to these people to stay where they were. He managed to choke out an “Okay” and climb back onto his feet, taking Ellie’s hand and leaving that scene as quickly as possible.

She didn’t know where they were going, but so long as it was away from that lot she didn’t care. They’d need to find some shelter, but she’d rather sleep out in the open than go back. They still had a few hours of daylight left, so their situation wasn’t dire, but she was quiet and very subdued as they travelled on.

Neither of them spoke as fled from the scene they just witnessed, but Azi did keep a firm grip on her hand the whole time. He could still hear the cries of pain and that sound of the whip echoing inside his head and he was filled with pure anger. It was by some miracle that he noticed a small hunting cabin through all of his anger. Releasing Ellie’s hand from his death grip, Azi wielded his bat and made sure that the cabin was clear before motioning for Ellie to come inside.

Without a word, and trusting that Azi had cleared everything, Ellie followed him in, dropped her pack and sword to the floor, and wrapped her arms tightly around him. She was too drained by now to shake with anger, and if there was any shaking going on it was exhaustion. It was going to take a while for her to get those sounds out of her head, and she hated… /hated/ that there were people who would do that to other survivors. There were few enough of them left! They didn’t need to go killing each other! She pressed her face into his shoulder and if it got a little wet, well, she could hardly be blamed for that…

All of his anger left him as soon as Ellie was in his arms. He didn’t want to feel anger when she was with him, he just wanted to feel safety and comfort. His heart ached for the poor soul that they just witnessed being tortured and then killed. Azi couldn’t understand why another would do that to another human being and quite frankly he didn’t /want/ to understand what was going through those monsters’ heads when they did that…

Feeling Ellie quietly sob into his shoulder, Azi lead them both over to and armchair and dragged Ellie into his lap. Gently he rubbed her back and kissed her forehead and whispered calming words to her to calm her down. She comforted him like this once and he’ll be damned if he doesn’t return the favor when she needs him like this.

Eventually Ellie just sagged, completely drained and numb. She hadn’t opened her eyes the whole time but she was warm and safe. Whenever she thought she’d seen the worst of humanity, something always managed to come along and prove her wrong. But here and now she had Azi, who surely had to be amongst the best of humanity, and it was like a balm to her heart. “Where are we?” she managed to ask into the silence.

He might have jumped when she spoke up considering she hadn’t said a word since they left that camp, but he was far too exhausted to be bothered with jumping at someone’s voice right now. He spoke softly. “We’re in a little hunting cabin in the woods. There’s a little cot we can sleep in tonight over in a corner and it doesn’t look like there’s any food here but we have enough on us to last awhile.” Carefully he combed through her hair with his fingers. “….How are you feeling my dear?”

She untangled one of her arms from where it was resting under his and around his waist to wrap it around his neck instead, fingers going into his hair. Opening one slightly blood-shot eye, she looked up at him. “I’ll be fine. How are you feeling?”

His heart ached when he saw just how much Ellie was hurting after witnessing that and he found himself gripping her tighter against himself. “I feel like… like I want to go home and pretend that this world isn’t the way it is… and that when I go I get to take you with me that way I’ll know you’re safe and far away from anyone like the people we just saw.”

She managed a small smile at that and blinked at him, opening both eyes. “That sounds lovely.” She took a deep breath and let it out again. “But for now we have this hunting cabin. Are you sure we’re far enough away?” The thought of those people finding them… it scared her in a way that zombies didn’t. Zombies tried to kill her because they were running on instinct. Those people, however… who knew what reasons they had for killing?

“I’m not going to let those people or anyone like them get you dear. Not now, not ever.” He closed his eyes and nuzzled into her hair. No, he would never allow anyone to hurt Ellie. He’d sooner put his own life on the line than ever risk losing someone important to him ever again.

Normally she would have come back with some sort of biting rejoiner about how she didn’t need someone to look after her and protect her, but she was too shaken by witnessing someone whipped to death, and too comfortable in Azi’s arms to protest. “There’s still light out,” she said, craning her neck to look out of the high window. “We should see if we can find a creek or something nearby.” She really didn’t want to move, but she thought she should at least sound like she’s trying to be practical.

Azi looked at her with concern, he didn’t want her out there right now, not after just witnessing someone get killed. “Please… please don’t leave Ellie. We can look for a stream in the morning but for now just stay here with me that way I’ll know you’re safe…. please?”

It didn’t really take any more convincing than that to get Ellie to do something she would much rather do anyway. She curled up tight against him again. “I’m not going anywhere,” she assured him. “I’ll stay right here.”

Sighing with relief, Azi muttered a shaky “Thank you” and sat there in pleasant silence for a little while, rubbing her back and just enjoying her presence. Sunset came and went and the cabin became dark and cold. Azi knew they should make a fire or at least light a lap but every part of him was screaming in protest at even the idea of letting go of the girl currently curled up in his lap.

Ellie had been dozing slightly and it was the cold that woke her. The parts of her that were pressed against Azi were nice and toasty, but large parts of her body were now quite cool – uncomfortably so. She stirred. “We need a blanket,” she mumbled, just as reluctant as Azi to move even though she was cold. “And food. And a bed. And I need to relieve myself. Not in that order.”

Hesitating but knowing she was right, Azi let Ellie climb off of him. “I’ll warm us up a can of soup and grab the blankets, you go ahead and use the little zombie killer’s room.” He managed a small smile and searched through his bag for a torch Ellie could take with her. “…Be careful, if you’re not back in less than five minutes I’m coming out there to find you.”

Ellie gave his hand a reassuring squeeze when he handed her the torch, then ducked out the door. She /was/ back in much less than five minutes, glad to be inside the safety of the cabin again. Her stomach growled loudly at the smell of the warming soup. “God that smells good.”

Azi was relieved when Ellie was back in the safety of the cabin and gestured her towards the cot that he had tossed their blankets on. “Wrap yourself up and get warm dear, the soup is almost ready and I’ll be sure to bring you a bowl.”

Ellie smiled at the setup. He /had/ been busy in the few minutes she had been gone. She passed behind him on her way to the cot, gently resting a hand on his shoulder for a second, then followed his advice and wrapped herself up in their blankets and watched him preparing their dinner. What would she have done if he’d gone charging in today? The idea of having to face all of this without him now was… well, unthinkable. Would she have charged in after him? She watched his face as he heated their soup and poured it into bowls. Considering the alternative would have been to stand back and watch him kill himself… yes, she probably would have followed. It was a very sobering thought.

Once the soup was warm and evenly distributed in the bowls, Azi looked up and caught Ellie watching him. For reasons he really shouldn’t be thinking about right now he found himself blushing a little as he offered her a shy smile. Picking up the bowls and being careful not to spill a drop, Azi sat himself down next to Ellie and handed her a bowl.

Ellie sat up a little straighter so that she could eat properly, and leaned close enough so that her shoulder was just brushing Azi’s. “Thank you,” she said, lifting the spoon to her mouth and blowing gently before taking a sip. She didn’t care what sort of soup it was, her stomach was just happy to have food. So happy, that before she knew it the soup was gone and she was once again licking out the bowl. “I’ll wash up in the morning,” she said, placing the bowl carefully off to one side on the floor, laying back, and reaching out a hand towards him on the covers. “Join me?”

She didn’t have to ask twice before Azi was under the blankets and pressed close to her, his own now empty soup bowl placed on the ground next to hers. He threw one arm around her waist and tucked the other one under her head, stroking her hair and resting his forehead against hers. If they could get stay like that, safe and warm and close in each other’s arms, Azi would be impossibly happy. “Feeling better?”

Ellie smiled and stroked his face. “Much. I have been fed, I have a warm blanket, a bed, and you.” She chuckled. “What more could a girl want?”

His heart skipped a beat and he closed his eyes, losing himself in Ellie’s touch. Oh dear god, he’s fallen hard for this girl. Trying to force his pulse to slow down, his eyes cracked open and he regarded Ellie with a half-lidded stare. “Ellie….”

She recognised that look – how hadn’t she seen it before? Or had it not been there before? And was it just because of what they’d seen today, a reminder that zombies weren’t the only dangers out there, that they may not make it through this? She didn’t know, but her own heart beat erratically when he said her name like that. “Azi,” she responded, fingers trailing into his hair. Maybe she was mistaken. She didn’t want to make assumptions and ruin what was, all in all, already a very satisfying relationship.

Azi gave up trying to control his rapidly beating heart when she responded to him like that. He was so close to her, bodies flush against each other, limbs tangled together, noses barely brushing together as he leaned closer to her. His voice just above I whisper as he stared into her eyes and hoped that he would never have to look away. “I… I’m so grateful that I found you.”

There was no mistaking, with their bodies pressed so close, and the look in his eyes, just what it was that he was thinking. She was thinking pretty much along the same lines. “Azi,” she said again and, letting her eyes drift shut she brushed her lips ever so lightly against his. “Me too.”

Heart pounding and breath hitching when their lips made contact, it was a wonder that Azi was still able to remain calm enough to actually think about what was happening between them. This was a terrible idea. A horribly terrible idea… and Azi didn’t care in the least. They may be living in a world where a relationship would just distract and get in the way of survival but Azi didn’t care about this god forsaken world. He cared about Ellie, if not being with her would ensure a longer life span then what was the point in surviving that long. Closing his own eyes and telling his brain to stop distracting him from the gorgeous girl in front of him, Azi pushed his lips a little firmer against Ellie’s.

Ellie smiled against his lips when Azi pushed back, tilting her head so she could kiss him properly. Finally. Azi… /her/ Azi. Her knight in not-so-shining armour. The one she’d fallen so helplessly in l… woah. She broke off the kiss and stared at him, wide-eyed. “Shit,” she said.

Blinks. What? Why’d Ellie pull away like that? Didn’t she feel the same way? Did he… did he read her wrong? Oh dear god did he just screw everything up between them because of a simple misunderstanding? His face was bright red and hesitantly he started to pull away from her. “I-I’m sorry…. I s-should have… I mean I-I shouldn’t h-have…” He messed up. He shouldn’t have tried anything especially considering their situation.

Oh god now she’d gone and done it. She grabbed onto Azi to stop him going anywhere while she tried to process what had just happened fast enough to not do any more damage. “No, you didn’t do anything wrong,” she said quickly. “Most definitely not. I just… I realised… something.” She went a little red herself. “And I… god Azi…” She was saying this all wrong. She placed a hand on his cheek to make sure he was looking at her and could see the sincerity of what she was saying. “I really want to. I l… like you a lot.” It was far too soon to be throwing the other L word around. So much for not getting too attached. “I want this.”

His state of pure panic was replaced with relief. She felt the same way and he /hadn’t/ somehow managed to screw everything up between them. Ellie wanted to be with him just like he wanted to be with her and that thought alone was enough for him to grin madly. “God Ellie, you nearly gave me a heart attack.” Through a wave of happiness his lips found hers again. “I want this too.”

Ellie let herself be kissed and kissed back with equal enthusiasm. She wasn’t feeling in the slightest bit cold any more, if anything she was overheating just a little, but she didn’t mind. She had Azi, and they were kissing like they needed each other like they needed air, and despite the horrors she had seen today she felt /good/. “Now I’ve got even more to look forward to when we cuddle down at night,” she told him with a giddy smile when she finally managed to pry her lips away from his long enough to talk.

His face went beet red at the thought of what else she was looking forward to, resulting in Azi scolding himself and telling his mind to get out of the gutter. “You know, I didn’t think our cuddle sessions could /get/ any better. But if they involve more of this…” His lips were on hers again and kissing her with a new found enthusiasm before pulling away again. “…Then I don’t think I’ll be complaining.”

Her lips chased his as he pulled away to talk and covered them again. She wrapped her legs tightly around one of his and broke off the kiss again, panting slightly. “Well…” Another quick kiss because she couldn’t get enough, and she wanted so much more. “I know one thing I’m putting on our shopping list next time we’re in a town.” Grinning, she kissed him again.

Azi’s mind was in a daze of infatuation and pleasure as he continued to steal her lips and help tangled their legs together…. which is probably why he didn’t catch on to what she was implying as quickly as he should have. “What are we getting?” He managed to ask between kisses.

Ellie chuckled and pulled away to look at him to see if he was joking, but he wasn’t. “Think about it for a second, it’ll come to you,” she said, voice thick with happiness and suppressed laughter.

He thought about it and it /did/, in fact, come to him. “O-Oh!” His face was going red again. “Well then… I’m certainly not opposed to adding those to our shopping list.”

There was a part of her that was quite glad, and flattered, that he hadn’t just assumed that she would already have something like that. Either he’d forgotten about what it was she’d done before, or he really was as non-judgmental as he seemed. Of course, they’d unpacked and repacked each other’s bags enough times that those certain supplies would have come to light long before now, anyway. Still, she was smiling at the adorable way he got flustered and went red. “Good,” she said, ducking in for another quick kiss. “So tomorrow we head straight for the nearest town, then?” she teased.

He chuckled a little at her teasing and nuzzled close to her. “That sounds like a splendid idea my dear.”

Ellie smiled and tucked her head under his, nuzzling into his neck. “I think we’ve somewhat redeemed this day. It was an awful day, and it’s ended…” Beautifully? Wonderfully? She couldn’t think of a word that wouldn’t come out sounding cheesy.

He smiled and dipped his head down. “It ended like this.” Locked their lips together again.

——

As he was wandering down one of the narrow aisles of the small department store he and Ellie had come across Aziraphale spotted a small stuffed bunny rabbit and quickly collected it. It was hardly what they had come to collect there in terms of supplies but he just couldn’t resist. It had been so long since either of them had a personal item just for the sake of having one and Azi was sure that Ellie would like it. Turning the corner he went to show off the gift he had found for her.

Ellie was wandering down a completely different aisle looking for something very specific… and when she found it, she smiled and grabbed a few boxes, shoving them securely into her pack. The shelves were too tall to see over, and she was nervous being away from Azi, so she turned to go and find where he was. Not calling out, because they weren’t sure they’d entirely cleared out the store.

Turning another corner, Azi spotted Ellie a few paces away from him. Stuffing the bunny into his bag to properly surprise her when the moment was right (because why just pull something off a shelf and hand it to her when he can save it and hand it to her when she’ll least expect it?) Azi quickly moved to catch up with her… only to feel something grip his arm and suddenly catch up to him. Yelping rather loudly as he felt something dig into the flesh of his arm, he spun around and yanked himself out of the zombies grip. Terror and adrenaline rushed through him as he stumbled back from the creature so that he could actually have some room to swing his bat.

Ellie heard the footsteps behind her and turned in time to see the zombie grab for Azi, too late to do anything about it, to even call out a warning. He tore himself free and as he started swinging she was closing the distance and swinging, too, her heart in her throat at how close that was.

Lifting up his leg he managed to kick the thing far enough away from him to get a proper swing in and bash it’s head in. His breathing was heavy and his hands were shaking, but the damn thing was dead…. well, double dead.

Just to make sure, Ellie severed the head then looked around to see if there were any more. Seeing nothing, she looked to Azi, heart still hammering in her chest. “You ok?” Her eyes scanned him for any injury and then rested on his arm. She felt the blood drain from her face.

“Yeah I’m fine. I-” He stopped when he saw the look on her face. Confused by this, he began to look himself over only to discover a rather nasty scratch on his arm. He must not have noticed it during the adrenaline rush. Feeling panic start to overcome him, Azi looked between the scratch on his arm to the look of horror on Ellie’s face before tearing down one of the aisles.

Ellie froze for only a second, then gave chase. “Azi!” No, she wouldn’t believe it, and she wouldn’t let him get away from her. Her pack wasn’t on properly and it was hindering her ability to run. “Azi stop!” She wanted to curl into a little ball and tell the world to fuck off, she wanted to throw up, but most of all she wanted to have Azi hold her and tell her that it was ok, he cut himself on a shelf and it wasn’t how it looked…

He wanted to stop, he wanted to go back and comfort Ellie and kiss her and snuggle her and tell her that everything was fine…. but he couldn’t. Not in this situation. Scanning the shelves as he sprinted by them Azi came across the liquor section of the store and stopped in his tracks. Wasting no time he broke the top off of one of the bottles and poured it on the fresh wound. The alcohol stung horribly but he didn’t care, he just didn’t want any of this to be happening. He didn’t want to become one of /them/. He didn’t want to leave Ellie- Breaking another bottle he poured the alcoholic substance on his scratch in a desperate attempt to clean out his wounds before it was too late.

Ellie caught up to him while he was pouring the second bottle over his arm, trying to process what was happening. He’d been scratched, that much was clear, and from his actions it /had/ been the zombie that had done it. He was trying to cleanse it with alcohol. She had no idea if that even worked.

She felt sick and had to put a hand on the shelf to steady herself. “No,” she whispered, as if she could /tell/ this virus to not take him. What else could they do? There wasn’t a cure, as far as she was aware. Scratches and bites, that was all it took.

Ellie desperately needed to throw up but she breathed slowly through her mouth and tried to fight away the nausea. “Azi.” She didn’t know what she wanted to say. Perhaps she just needed him to know that she was there.

Tossing the now empty bottle aside he sank to his knees. ‘This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening!’ He was about to have a full blown panic attack if it wasn’t for Ellie’s voice reaching him. Looking up at her he took a few calming breaths and told himself to keep it together. He had to keep it together, for her. In a small broken voice he managed to respond. “…Hi dear.”

She went and knelt down in front of him, not caring that she was soaking her trousers in alcohol from the knees down. “It’ll be ok,” she said but the shake in her voice betrayed her fears. “You’ve cleaned it, and…” Her throat closed. She reached out to take his hand.

He backed away from her touch, heart breaking from such a simple action. “Ellie no. You shouldn’t touch me…. I-I don’t know if the alcohol helped or not but if it didn’t I….” He was choking on his words and his hands were shaking. All he wanted was to have Ellie in his arms right now but he knew that it was too risky. If he /was/ infected he didn’t want to pass the virus on to her.

Ellie bit her lip and wrapped her hands around her waist instead. She knew that what he said was logical, but she didn’t want to be doing this whole survival gig alone again… without Azi by her side. “Ok, so we’ll go somewhere safer and we’ll wait out the infection time and then if you’re not infected we’ll have the benefit of being somewhere safe, and if you… are… I… I’ll…” She couldn’t say it, and her vision started to blur.

“Oh Ellie darling….” He resisted the urge to wipe her tears away and hated himself for now being able to do anything. “I… I can’t hide out with you. W-What if I change and I…. I hurt you?”

Ellie shook her head. “No, you promised me. You said you wouldn’t leave me, and I promised I wouldn’t leave you. If you… if you turn…” She had to swallow several times before she could go on. “I… I’ll take… take care of it.”

He took a step towards her, still not touching but making sure that he was looking her in the eyes. “Ellie…. I want you to be perfectly honest with me. If I turn are you /positive/ that you wouldn’t hesitate to kill me?”

Ellie scrambled to her feet. “Of course I’d bloody well hesitate! I…” The look she gave him was desperate, because he knew what she was thinking, knew what she’d been considering doing even before she’d been aware of it herself. If he turned on her, /would/ she kill him? She didn’t know. Would her instinct to survive win out over despair? “No, I don’t want to leave you,” She whispered. “I won’t.”

“And I don’t want to put you in danger, but if you stay with me I….. I can’t guarantee that I wont end up hurting you.” He felt his voice begin to shake. “Ellie I-I…. I don’t want t-to leave you either b-but…. but I want t-to keep you safe.”

“No,” she continued stubbornly, which quickly turned to pleading. “Azi, please…” Her throat felt like it had a lump of lead stuck in it and tears were leaving hot tracks down her face. “I don’t… I don’t want you to be alone.”

“…Neither do I dear.” His vision was getting blurry. “I-I don’t want t-to be alone. N-Never again do I-I want t-to go t-though that. So i-if I’m insisting f-for you to leave, d-don’t you think i-it’s for a good reason?”

“God damn it, Azi! Stop… being so logical and selfless.” She knew it was the stress talking again but she didn’t know what else to do. He was determined to leave her and even though she knew and understood the reasons, she couldn’t help but feel a little betrayed. She wiped at her nose. She couldn’t breathe.

God make it stop. Make this horrifying situation stop. He didn’t want to hurt her like this. They were supposed to have just come here and grab a few things for tonight and…. none of this was fair. “……T-This is hard for me t-too Ellie.”

And that was it, that was enough. She sagged in defeat because oh god, last thing she wanted to do was make this whole thing harder for him. He already had the worst part of the deal (or did he? She had to stay behind without him…), and here she was laying more problems on him. She tried to pull herself together. She could be strong. “Sorry, sorry. You’re right. What do… do you want me to do?”

He was able to manage a small smile and he tried his best to make it as reassuring as possible. “I want you to find someplace safe and stay away from me until we know for sure whether or not I’m infected. If I’m not then I /promise/ I will find you…. but if I am…. I want you to promise me you’ll keep going without me. There are bound to be other good people out there and someone as sweet as yourself will get along with them easily.”

Ellie felt her heart breaking just a little as he made plans to send her away, but she made herself nod even if she couldn’t smile in return. She couldn’t even stop the tears. “I’ll go back to that cabin we used a couple of nights ago? I think… I can make it in half a days solid walk… I…” She lost her composure for a moment and paused until she could speak again. Her voice was very wobbly. “I expect to see you there, ok? Because you’re… going to be… ok.” She didn’t make any promises she wasn’t sure she could keep.

He nodded and felt tears fall from his eyes. “I’ll be fine darling, trust me. You better be in that cabin tomorrow or else I’m going to be disappointed.” He tried to sound optimistic about playful but even he didn’t believe himself. Remembering the gift he grabbed earlier took off his pack and pulled out the small stuffed bunny. “I…. I found this and was going to give it to you once we found somewhere…. somewhere to stay for the night but…. I think it would be better if you had it now.” He handed her the bunny.

Ellie took the little toy bunny with shaking hands and hugged it tight. She gave it a little kiss and then held it back to him. “You can give it to me when we… see each other again. It can keep you company until then.” She finally managed to dredge up a rather watery smile for him. “So you’d better… better bring it back to me soon.”

Azi didn’t argue about how he might not be able to give it back to her and simply took the little stuffed animal. “I promise I’ll bring it back as soon as I can.” He carefully put it back in his bag and shrugged it on, physically ready to part ways with Ellie but dear god did he not want to. “Until then….” His eyes were overflowing with emotion and despair for what might happen to him and what it would do to Ellie. “…I love you my dear.”

Ellie couldn’t stop the sob that escaped her at those words and the finality of them. She covered her face with a badly trembling hand until she could get herself under control again and then looked up at him. “I love… love you too. Damn it Azi, you’d better meet me at the cabin or I swear I will hunt you down and decapitate you myself.” Her voice kept breaking on her, making her sound about as threatening as a field mouse.

He smiled a sad smile. “I’ll look forward to it.” With that he turned and went to leave the store, knowing if he stayed another minute or even looked back at the sobbing girl he had fallen for he would never be able to leave her side again.

Ellie watched him go, biting down on any urge to call him back, beg him not to go. It took her a full five minutes to work up the motivation to move. If a zombie had come along, it would have found an easy meal. By the time she reached the store entrance, there was no sign of Azi or the direction he’d gone in. She was alone.

——

It took longer than she had predicted to reach the cabin again, nearly a full day’s travel. The problem was, she was travelling along a route that was full of recent memories. There, by that bend in the river, Azi had kissed her as they lay resting in the grass. She must have wasted a whole half hour standing there, remembering, and waiting for the tears to stop. She’d eventually pulled herself together again and berated herself for losing concentration like that. He’d return. He’d meet her. There was no alternative. But he couldn’t do that if she didn’t make it to the cabin, so she had to make it there. There were very few zombies on the way, and they were easily dealt with. When she got to the cabin she had a few more, but thankfully none inside.

She let her pack slide to the floor. No one had been here since, by the looks of it. There was still the flower she had left on the windowsill, wilted by now. She touched it with shaking fingers and then curled up on the floor underneath the window and sobbed as quietly as she could.

He was in a daze, curled up in a corner of some old abandoned shack and letting his mind wander as he clutched the stuffed bunny that had been meant for Ellie. He had found the shack when he had been looking for a quick place to sit down and wrap his wound and…. just never left. Why would he? If he was infected then why bother with a proper shelter? Why did he even bother with putting a bandage on? Force of habit he guessed. He recalled all the times that he or Ellie would hurt themselves and they would each ensure that the other one was okay and properly cared for… he wished he had Ellie with him now. He knows that in the long run he had made the right choice in leaving her. She was safer away from him and he didn’t want her to be put in any danger but…. god did he wish they were together right now. He didn’t want to be alone like this, slowly waiting for death and then what came after. Is this how… how his family felt? Did any of them suffer like this? Curled up in a dusty corner waiting for their bloody fate? Azi shook his head and told himself that he shouldn’t dwell on the ones he’s lost… odds were that he would be joining them soon. No, he wanted his last thoughts to be of Ellie. About the lovely girl he had rescued. The girl who he had shared numerous meals with. The girl he would curl up with at night and hold tight to, never wanting to let go. The girl who he had laughed and smiled with and gave him feelings of comfort and joy and love….. He felt something hot and wet run down his cheeks so he closed his eyes and blocked out the rest of the world. The girl he had fallen for.

Later that night when he finally drifted off to sleep his thoughts weren’t dwelling on his fate or the ones he had lost in the past, his thoughts were filled with a beautiful green eyed zombie killing bunny loving girl. His thoughts were filled with Ellie.

The next day Ellie started getting herself sorted again. She’d had a fitful night, eventually crawling (rather reluctantly) into the little bed with her blanket. There had been no arms to curl into but her own, and she’d kept waking up in a panic when she’d found Azi missing, until she’d remembered why, and then panic had turned to despair again.

So it was a ragged-looking Ellie who got out of bed and made herself some food. She hadn’t eaten since… well, she didn’t remember whether she had eaten yesterday… She devoured a whole can of cold beans and a whole granola bar.

It was habit that got her through that morning more than anything. She refused to think because thinking brought tears, so instead she laid traps, refreshed her water supply, checked the immediate area for zombies or other people, and returned to the cabin. With nothing further to do until later in the day, she crawled back into the bed and thought of Azi.

It was late morning when Azi finally woke up and honestly, he was surprised. He had been so sure that last night was going to be his final hours on this earth that when he opened his eyes that morning he didn’t know what to think. He… he was okay? Was he actually alive and healthy right now? Or was this all some sort of dream? A dream where he got another chance? He blinked at nothing for nearly half an hour as he tried to processes what exactly was going on before he found himself slowly unwrapping his wound. There were the scratches, not looking any better than they did before…. but also not looking any worse. There were none of the signs of infection coming from the wound. No darkened veins or discoloration, nothing like what he had scene in the past when the outbreak first started, just simply a scratch on his arm that had clotted over. He… he wasn’t infected. The shock of this discovery left him frozen in shock…. for about fifteen seconds before he grabbed his pack and went tearing out the door. He was alive, he wasn’t infected, and now that he knew these things, he had to find Ellie.

Ellie had found herself looking out for signs of Azi when she emptied the traps later that day. Every sound she’d jumped at, every small movement out of the corner of her eye that just turned out to be birds. She’d let another rabbit go and none of the other traps contained anything, so it would be soup or whatever other food she had in her pack for dinner that night.

After she’d cleaned off another one of her cans – spam, which she’d eaten with a grimace – it was dark. She had a little bike light which she placed in the window, shining out, just in case. She knew it could bring hostiles, but she’d rather have to fight off some hostile zombies or people than have Azi miss the cabin. She’d wait here until her food ran out and then… well… she’d cross that bridge when she got to it.

Sitting in her bed, blanket curled up to her chin and sword leaning against the side, Ellie stared into the darkness and pictured his blue eyes, curly blonde hair, that smile she wanted to kiss again and again… She had no more tears, but her eyes went hot and burned. Tomorrow she would see him, she told herself.

One way or another she’d find him.

He was breathing heavily, heart pounding wildly as he attempted to power through another wave of dizziness. He hadn’t stopped moving since he had started his search for Ellie that morning, not even taking a break to eat something. Azi knew in the back of his mind that he should rest and give his body some time to recharge, but he didn’t care. All he wanted was to find Ellie.

Night had fallen and still he didn’t stop. He couldn’t stop. If he stopped he didn’t think his body would be able to move again. Trying to navigate through the pitch black woods, Azi was beginning to wonder whether or not he got lost and had a brief moment of panic where he thought that he wouldn’t be able to find Ellie when out of the corner of his eye he saw a light. There, not too far off, was a small light shining out the window of the cabin he had been searching for. Using the last of his adrenaline, Azi pushed forward and charged to the cabin, swinging the door open once he reached it. “Ellie?!”

The sword was in her hand in an instant when the door burst open, adrenaline shooting through her. She regretted being caught in the bed because she’d get tangled in her blanket and she wasn’t standing and…

Then her name, in that voice. It was rougher, exhausted-sounding, but it was /his/ voice, and zombies didn’t talk! She dropped the sword and launched herself out of the bed, feet tangling as predicted she went down in a heap on the floor then picked herself up immediately and threw herself at him.

“Azi!”

Shutting the door behind him, Azi dropped his pack and bat and wrapped his arms around her. Oh dear god thank you. Thank you for letting him hold her again. He buried his face against her neck, breathing in her sent and tangling his fingers into her hair. “Oh dear god Ellie. I missed you so damn much.”

Ellie’s brain was shorting out with happiness. He was here, he was here, he was here… “Azi…” She buried her face into his neck, too. He smelled of sweat and woods and /life/ and it was the most wonderful thing she’d ever experienced. “You’re here. You’re here. Your arm!” She tried to wriggle around in his arms to look at the wound. “How’s your arm?”

“It’s fine darling, I’m fine-” He felt his knees start to give out under him and he clung tightly onto Ellie to stay upright. Huh, perhaps not eating all day and constantly being on the move hadn’t been one of his smartest decisions… but it was worth it.

She felt him waver and cling harder and dragged him over to the bed, switching to mother-hen mode. “When was the last time you’ve eaten? Have you rested at all? How long have you been running here? God, is your arm in as much of a mess as the rest of you? Let me look….”

He smiled fondly at her worrying over him and gently placed a hand against her cheek once he was settled on to the bed. “In that order, I haven’t eaten since the last time you saw me, I got some sleep but it wasn’t exactly restful, I started running late this morning when I found out I wasn’t infected, and I’ll gladly let you look at my arm as soon as you do me one little favor…” His hand snaked around her waist and he pulled her down onto the bed with him. “Kiss me.”

Ellie let herself be pulled into his arms, her mouth immediately finding his and kissing him like she hadn’t seen him in much longer than one and a half days. She wrapped her arms and legs around him, hands roaming, checking for injury as much as just feeling him.

His hands clutched desperately into her shirt and his heart was once again racing… only in the most fantastic way. Ellie’s lips were intoxicating, how had he been able to last so long without her? Even though it was only a day apart Azi felt like a part of him had been ripped away and he was only just now reuniting with it. Oh lord did he love this girl. With what little strength he had left, Azi laid back on the bed and pulled Ellie down with him.

Ellie eagerly followed, not wanting to be parted from him by even an inch right now. They’d spent way too much time apart, because of his stupid gallant protective wonderful attitude. But she was aware that he’d said he hadn’t eaten or rested and here she was ravishing him. “Azi,” she said, intending to say something, but the moment her lips left his she wanted them to be back there again. God, she couldn’t get enough. “Azi,” she panted against his lips, trying again. “Food. You need food.” She buried her face back into his neck and breathed him in, one hand buried in his hair and the other pressed to his chest.

She was right, after a day of none stop running his body needed some sort of nourishment. If there was an attack on them right now he would be completely useless and that would put not only himself but Ellie in danger as well. No, that wouldn’t do at all. Managing to stop his hands from roaming up her shirt, Azi took a moment to allow his heart rate to slow down. “Right, food. I need food and that should be taken care of as soon as possible…. because once I eat I can move on to the thing I /really/ need.” A hand pressed gently against her back and he soaked up the moment of closeness. “And what I need is you.”

Oh god yes… the only thing stopping her from removing his clothes and getting skin-against-skin right now was how very weak he was. She left a trail of kisses up his neck to his ear, which she then tugged at with her teeth. “Food,” she rasped, a reminder for herself of what she was meant to be doing.

Reluctantly, she extracted herself from him and the bed and rummaged around in her bag. There was soup, or spaghetti, or beans. “Do you want it heated or is cold ok?” she asked, turning back to where Azi was lying. Her eyes devoured him, trying to memorise everything. He looked so very tired.

“Whichever gets you over here and back in my arms the soonest.” He said this like he would actually have the energy to do anything besides just rest there right now, but a guy could dream couldn’t he. Kicking off his shoes Azi scooted higher up on to the bed and laid back, actually taking a moment to rest as Ellie fixed them something to eat.

Ellie smiled and opened a can of minestrone soup. It would taste ok cold. She poured the whole lot into a bowl, added a spoon, and returned to the bed. She would watch him carefully as he ate to make sure he finished the lot. Resting one hand lightly on his ankle, she continued to drink in the sight of him there, alive, unharmed (apart from pushing himself too far), and back with her again.

“Thank you my dear.” The meal disappeared in no time flat, Azi’s hunger finally catching up to him like that. As soon as his meal was over however, Azi set his bowl aside and dragged Ellie back on top of himself.

Ellie was glad to see the food vanish, and she was about to suggest plying him with more when she was pulled down for snuggles. With a sigh she relaxed into him and rested her cheek against his chest, listening to his steady and loud heartbeat. It was reassuring because zombies didn’t have heartbeats. “I love you and I don’t care what happens in the future I’m never, ever leaving you again. Got that?”

“I love you too my dearest, and trust me when I say how much I never want us to be separated again.” He started combing his fingers through her hair and kissing lazily at her neck. “It was Hell out there without you.”

Ellie tilted her neck and hummed with pleasure, eyes closed and fingers trailing into his hair, too. “Never again.” Her nails scratched gently at his scalp. She would need to cut them soon, long nails were impractical and just tended to break. “I take it you brought the stuffed bunny back? I did love the gift.”

“It’s in my pack. We can grab it as soon as we get up again but for now… ” His teeth played with the skin under her jaw. “I /really/ don’t want either of us to leave this bed tonight.”

Ellie smiled and regarded him through slitted eyes, even as she tried to get her stolen breath back. “I wouldn’t dream of it.” She tried to keep calm because he was exhausted and needed /rest/, not an enthusiastic romp between the blankets. There would be time for that later.

Azi, despite knowing just how fragile and exhausted he was feeling, had other ideas. His hands roamed slowly up and down her back as they seek for the warmth of her skin. His lips found hers again, licking and nibbling along them as he practically begged for her to let him deepen the kiss.

Azi was making it incredibly difficult for her to remain calm. He was back, he was here with her, and his hands were moving in ways that encouraged her to move. And then, of course, there were his lips, which she pressed against eagerly. Her own hands moved down from his hair, over his chest and stomach, to tuck under the hem of his shirt and seek skin.

He moaned softly into her lips when she returned the kiss with so much enthusiasm. He had missed this. He had missed /her/. Touching her and hearing her and holding her against him as all the troubles in the world were momentarily forgotten in favor of having their bodies so impossibly close. Hands found what they were searching for, they slipped under the hem of her shirt and began to explore the skin underneath it.

They had been here before in the days in between their first kiss and Azi getting scratched by the zombie and had always stopped. Now they had the means to keep going properly, just over in her pack, and she wasn’t sure where the stop sign was or even if there was one. Her hands pushed up further under his shirt, massaging his chest as she made little helpless sounds in the back of her throat and continued to kiss him hungrily.

Those little sounds she was making had to be the most fantastic noises he had ever heard, and he couldn’t get enough of them. Nipping playfully into her mouth before pulling away, Azi quickly moved his efforts into biting and sucking at her ear lobe. “Ellie…” His breathing was hot and heavy. The hands that had been caressing the bare skin of her back were now sliding up her abdomen and slowly teasing the skin of her bare chest.

Ellie’s breath hitched and then continued on erratically when his hands moved around to her front and she found herself arching into his touch. “Yes Azi,” she whispered, unsure herself if she meant it as an answer to his use of her name or as encouragement to keep going. She tilted her head to bite lightly at his shoulder as her own hands travelled down.

They both still had way too many clothes on and Azi decided that that simply wouldn’t do at all. Not with Ellie saying his name like /that/. Wasting no time at all he managed to pull away from Ellie long enough to remove her shirt and toss it carelessly onto the floor. Attacking her now exposed skin with both his hands and his lips, Azi still wasn’t getting nearly enough contact and began to slowly roll his hips up to meet hers.

The cool night air on her skin felt amazingly good when she was otherwise feeling so very overheated, and his hands felt even better. When his hips started moving she gasped and ground hers down in response. Shoving his shirt up as far as it would go she wished there was more light in here so she could admire him. Instead she did so by touch, running her hands and lips and teeth and tongue over every bit of exposed skin she could find.

Little noises of pleasure escaped him with every lick, every nibble, and every kiss she placed on his exposed flesh and he felt himself moaning for more. He pulled way just long enough to remove his own shirt and toss it in the same direction as Ellie’s before pulling her back down on top of himself. Her delightfully soft skin felt wonderful against his as he started moving his hips up to meet hers with a new vigor.

“Azi,” she gasped more than said, because the feel of so much of her skin against so much of his (yet still not quite enough) made her feel so, so good. “Are you… are you sure? Because…” The feel of their sweat-damp skin sliding together, and his hips moving against hers, pressing in all the right places, made her completely forget what she had been trying to say.

“Yes Ellie. Now and forever always yes.” His fingers found her the front of her jeans and he made quick work of undoing them and gently trying to coax them off of her. God he wanted to feel more of her, he /needed/ to feel more of her. With her jeans now pushed mostly off of her waist Azi gripped her hips shuttered delightfully when he felt the only thin layer of fabric still left on her.

Ellie took him on his word that if he felt up to this then he felt up to it. She moved back to shimmy out of her jeans /and/ underwear then, with a quick kiss to his stomach left the bed completely. “Off with it, then,” she said with a grin that she knew he couldn’t see. Naked and unselfconscious about it, she walked to the window where the bike light was still shining out into the forest and used it to light her way to her pack, where she quickly found what she needed and returned to the bed.

His pulse leaped when he felt Ellie remove the last of her own clothing and he was about to see what else his hands could feel now that she had no more barriers on when she climbed off of him. For a split second he thought that he might have missed something, but then there was her voice, demanding that he follow her lead and remove what was left of his clothing as she wandered around the room with a small light in hand. It only took him a second to realize what she was getting he was stripped of the remainder of his clothing by the time she climbed back on top of him.

Ellie slid back onto the bed at the very foot, touching his ankle lightly with one hand and his other ankle with the small package. She then trailed both up his legs, pausing to tickle behind the knees, then up to his hips. She dropped the package next to him where she would be able to find it easily and braced her hands on his chest as she straddled her legs across his hips and leaned down to mouth her way up his neck. “I dreamt of this.”

A little sound of need and pure want passed his lips when Ellie was on top of him again. “I… I d-don’t think anything I… I could h-have dreamt could e-ever even compare t-to how… how you’re making me f-feel right now.” His fingers gripped her shoulders momentarily before gently sliding down, caressing her chest, teasing her sides, and squeezing tightly on her waist as he started to roll his hips upwards.

Now that there was no clothing in the way they hip roll of his was even more effective and the sound she made echoed his. She scraped her teeth along his jaw and down his neck. “Azi,” she breathed, hands roaming from his chest to his hips to his chest again, her own hips moving in time to his. She would need to do something about protection soon, but for now she was just enjoying these sensations and the way he moved, the little sounds he made and his skin… so much skin for her fingers to explore. “What /have/ you dreamt about?” she asked in between nibbles. “What would you like me to do?”

Oh she just had to ask him like that. If he hadn’t been completely and utterly turned on before, he certainly was now. He threw his head back to give her better access to his neck as his brain tried to figure out exactly how to answer that question. Of course he couldn’t blame himself for taking a moment to answer, he /was/ pretty distracted at the moment. Her soft sweat soaked skin rubbing against his own, creating wonderful friction between their legs every time he thrusted himself up to meet her. “E-Ellie… I want… oh god I-I want you. I want y-you closer…. I wanna f-feel you around me a-as you squirm and pant h-heavily with pleasure… I-I want my lips t-to kiss every bit of s-skin you have t-to offer… Ellie I… I /need/ you.”

Ellie smiled and panted a little breathlessly as Azi started listing the things he wanted. “Your wish,” she said against his lips, “is my command.” And she proceeded to do everything he wanted and then some.

~Fade to black~

——

The morning sunlight was just now shining through the cabin window when Azi woke up. He still felt exhausted from all the running he did during the day before and from all the ‘other’ activities he did after that. A smile graced his lips and through his tired groggy mind he registered that there was someone soft and warm curled up in his arms. Shifting around a little Azi was able to get a better hold on the sleeping girl next to him and nuzzle into her hair, muttering quietly. “…Morning darling.”

Ellie dragged herself out of unconsciousness rather reluctantly. She was warm and comfortable and the world outside wasn’t. She became aware of light on the other side of her closed eyelids, and a lot more skin against hers than she’d become accustomed to. She smiled and nuzzled under Azi’s chin, eyes still closed. “Hmm, morning lover.”

He chuckled and blushed a little at the nick name. “How are you feeling after our little work out last night?” He pressed a kiss to her forehead.

Eyes still shut, she grinned wider and nudged at his cheek with her nose then nibbled his ear. “Wonderful. You?”

Azi bit his lip to hold back a little noise of pleasure when Ellie’s teeth found his ear, still a little sensitive from the night before. “I’m doing fantastic.”

She finally opened her eyes to look at Azi, no longer able to pretend they weren’t in a hunting cabin somewhere in some woods in the middle of a zombie apocalypse instead of in her nice comfortable home. But seeing his face made none of that matter. She stroked a thumb over his cheek, lips still curled in a smile. “You were doing pretty fantastic last night, too.” She chuckled and pecked his chin. “Yes, pretty fantastic indeed.”

He smiled fondly at the girl snuggled up in his arms and pecked he lips playfully. “You flatter me. Out of the two of us I have to say that you’re the one that made last night unforgettable.”

Ellie smiled at that and grabbed his lips for a longer kiss. She searched his face to try and ascertain just how tired he still was. She had been quite amazed at his enthusiasm last night considering how dead on his feet he’d been. “Are you /really/ ok?” she asked seriously.

His legs curled around hers a little tighter and he pressed his forehead against hers, eyes drifting shut momentarily. “I’m not going to lie, I’m tired as hell and would rather not have to leave this bed for a little while…” His hand found her cheek and gently he brushed his thumb over it. “But there may be more than one reason for why I don’t want to leave yet.”

Ellie frowned and brushed some of his hair away from his forehead. “There’s nothing that says we have to go anywhere today. We have food. We know we’re a day’s good hike from a town that’s not /too/ overrun. No one else appears to be using this cabin.” She pressed tightly against him and spoke in a low voice. “You can rest all you like. I’ll protect you.” She winked at him.

His smile became playful and Azi turned his head to nibble on Ellie’s ear. “Does protecting me include staying in bed with me /all/ day.” He breathed softly against her ear.

Ellie shivered with pleasure, and her eyes drifted half shut again. “Hmm, well I have to make sure to keep you close in order to protect you, and I can’t think of anything closer than this… so…” Her hand trailed up his back.

His back arched as Ellie’s hand slid up it and he found himself moving his mouth from her ear to down her neck. As his lips reached the crook of it he murmured just loud enough for Ellie to barely hear. “I can think of one way to get a little closer.”

Ellie’s hand travelled back down to his hip as she tilted her chin up to allow him full access to her neck. “If this is what you’re like when you’re exhausted, I may have my work cut out for me keeping up with you when you’re well rested,” she mused, wrapping one leg around his hip instead and letting her hand roam some more.

Azi shifted his hips closer to Ellie’s and sucked enthusiastically on her neck once she gave him more room to do so, fully intending to mark it. “Exhausted or not, I’ll always be ready and willing to do something that gets me this close to you, my dear.” His fingers trailed teasingly down her sides.

Ellie’s breathing came in short, sharp little pants now, and she knew from the way he was sucking that she would have a hickey later, and she found that thought somewhat pleasing. Her own hips moved automatically in response to his and she wondered what she’d done with the package last night because it seemed that they would need the contents again. If she could wake up like this every day for the rest of her life, she wouldn’t complain. “Insatiable,” she mumbled, pleased, and encouraged him with her hands.

His hands trailed down her sides, over her hips, and down to her thighs, spreading her legs farther apart and pressing himself even closer. As his tongue and teeth continued to explore her neck his hips would gently brushes against hers, teasing.

She let out something partway between a chuckle and a moan as he moved against her, and one of her hands gave up urging him on and started to blindly search the bed for that damn box.

His breath was becoming hotter and more frequent as he found himself gently rolling Ellie onto her back. Hands still on her thighs he carefully wrapped both of her legs around his waist and rolled his hips down to meet hers. His fingers trailed teasingly up her abdomen.

Ellie gave up on the box for now in favour of enjoying the ability to get her hands all over his chest and stomach from the position he’d rolled her into. She shifted her legs so that she had a good grip around his middle and tried not to giggle as his teasing fingers found her sensitive, ticklish skin. “Oh god, Azi, I can’t get enough of this.” She gasped a little as he moved against her. “Of you.”

Little noises of pleasure escaped him every time their hips made contact, wanting more but remembering that rushing things wouldn’t be any fun for either of them. “The feelings mutual darling.” He picked his head up away from her neck and stared fondly into her gorgeous green eyes. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get enough of you, but I intend to get as much as I can get for as long as we live.” Azi grinned playfully and his hands found their way past her abdomen and on to her chest.

Ellie couldn’t help the grin back, though he soon had her eyes closing and back arching in pleasure as his hands and hips continued to move. She didn’t bother with words for a while, telling him all she needed to with body language.

Panting heavily and pretty certain that he was going to lose his self control soon, one of his hands abandoned her soft and sweat damp skin and instead started to search wildly through the sheets for the box that had been left on the bed from their previous nights activities.

Something stabbed Ellie in her hip and when she reached down she found that the box had been flattened under her and it was the corner of one of the little foil squares that had caught her. She giggled a little. She had never been quite so… distracted by her partner before. “Here,” she said, bringing her hand around and holding her prize in front of her nose. She tried to push the rest out from under her, but probably just succeeded in scattering them across the bed.

His search stopped once Ellie had discovered the item they had been looking for and he placed a quick kiss to her lips before taking the item from her hand. “Thank you, love.” Sitting up on his knees Azi was able to focus long enough to open the little packet and put it on. Now that they had the proper protection, he didn’t have to restrain himself any longer and immediately returned to ravishing Ellie.

~fade to black~

——

Ellie missed the woods, especially now that they were back on a seemingly endless stretch of road in the hot sun again. At least this time they had hats and proper gear to keep them protected, and seeing the road ahead they had turned back briefly to stock up on as much water as they could carry. It was too hot to hold hands, though every now and then she reached out to brush her fingers against his sleeve, if only to reassure herself that he was real and not some heat-induced hallucination.

Up ahead she could see two figures. With a little sigh she tightened her grip on her sword. They were still a fair way off, but they were on the road and therefore in their way. “People,” she said to Azi, indicated the direction. “Dead or not?”

Azi was doing a little better than the last time they were out on the road like this but it was still far from enjoyable. The only upside to the day was during those little moments Ellie’s fingers would find his sleeve and bring a little smile to his face. It was both a comforting and endearing gesture.

He squinted his eyes and observed that people up ahead. They were shambling along…. but it looked more like the shambling he and Ellie were doing rather than the uncoordinated limping of a dead thing that really should not be moving anymore. “Not dead I think…. They look to be alone so with only two of them we shouldn’t have too much trouble.”

Ellie nodded in agreement, then realised that Azi may not be looking at her and made an agreeing sound instead. “We seem to be gaining on them.” Her and Azi weren’t moving that fast, but they were definitely gaining on the other two. As they got closer, she could make out that one of them appeared to be injured and was leaning on a stick. Or maybe elderly? No, the line of the back, the colour of the hair, the bearing, it was of a man no older than middle-aged. His companion was younger and obviously still fit – he was carrying the bulk of their gear.

As they got closer, Ellie realised that sneaking up behind them would probably not be the best move. “Hello travellers!” she called ahead, and they paused to look around.

She didn’t recognise the younger one, but the other… Her step faltered as she was hit with memories. No, not here. Not with Azi right by her…

“Alisha?” the man with the cane asked. He was in his late forties, she knew that for sure, and she hoped this wasn’t all going to blow up in her face.

Azi grinned and giggled a little at Ellie’s greeting. They could have made their presence known in a number of ways but of course she had to do it in a way that made her sound absolutely adorable. He was about the open his mouth to comment on it but he was cut off when the middle aged man spoke up, leaving him confused for a moment by the name he had just called Ellie.

“Alisha?” He looked between both Ellie and the man with a look of question.

Ellie bit her lip and whispered to Azi, “The name I used at work.” She hoped he understood what she meant by that, and the relationship that implied between her and this man. She /hoped/ she wouldn’t have to explain it.

“Moe,” she said, forcing a smile onto her face. “Glad to see you’ve survived the apocalypse.” Lying through her teeth as usual when he was around. One of her regulars, only because she’d been able to handle his moods where other girls hadn’t. She tried to nudge Azi past them. “We should probably be moving on–”

“Not going to introduce me to your client there?” Moe asked sharply. She saw that the apocalypse hadn’t improved his demeanour any.

It only took a moment for the confusion to subsided and slightly embarrassed understanding to take its place once he remembered what her job has been before all of this has started. Ah! So this man must have been someone she… worked with. Azi wasn’t sure how to feel about this. On one hand he kind of wanted to feel jealous because that’s just sort of the things a boyfriend would do in this sort of situation most likely, but on the other hand it had just been her job so who was he to worry about someone she had worked with in the past? A job was a job and he wasn’t planning on judging her for how she used to get by so he figured there was no reason to get angry with this man who only knew her professionally back in the day.

…At least Azi wasn’t planning on having a temper with this man (now known as Moe) until he referred to him as one of Ellie’s ‘clients’. For reasons he would rather not dwell on at the moment, that comment just rubbed him the wrong way. “My name is Aziraphale, and I’m not her client.” He tried his best to hold the bite out of his voice.

Just brilliant, Ellie thought, wondering how to fix this.

Moe fixed Azi with a knowing look while Moe’s companion, having not said a word, scanned the surrounding area, his own weapon held ready. Moe’s bodyguard? Son? … Boyfriend? She knew so little about this man, really.

“Maybe not,” Moe said to Azi, “but I’m sure you’ve still managed to sample the goods.” He looked at her sword. “Do you even know how to use that sweetheart?”

Ellie felt the usual surge of anger when Moe opened his mouth to speak. It was always condescending, never a kind word, which was probably why he had to rely on whores to get laid in the first place. No one would do it for free.

Then she laughed, because it was the end of civilisation and he wasn’t her client and that meant she didn’t /have/ to be civilised back. She swivelled the sword in a lazy arc. “Would you like me to demonstrate? I’ve become very good at decapitations.”

The silent partner shot her a look, going tense.

Azi’s hand gripped his bat. He had only just met this man maybe two minutes ago and he could already tell that he didn’t like him. Ellie’s former job or not he didn’t like the way Moe referred to her as if she were an object rather than a person. And he /really/ despised the way he called her ‘sweetheart’, Azi really didn’t need the mental images that brought up. He suppressed a disgusted shudder and silently admired the amount of patience Ellie must have had with this man back in the day.

Although he also had to admire the /lack/ of patience she was currently showing this jerk and a wicked smile graced his lips. Who would have thought her threatening to decapitate someone still living would earn her praise from him? “Oh don’t go doing that darling, who /knows/ how long it would take you to wash all of this man’s slimy and filthy blood off of your sword?”

Ellie placed the tip of her sword into the ground and gave Azi a grateful smile. It was nice to have someone on her side. Then she smirked at Moe. She felt free, and now was her chance to say what she’d wanted to say for years, every time she’d had to spend even minutes in his poisonous presence. “Moe, you’re an ass. And that’s putting it lightly. I lied earlier when I said it was good to see you alive. I’m kind of surprised you are, really, but then the vermin are usually the last to go in a disaster, right?”

Moe opened his mouth to speak, as did his companion, but Ellie cut them off. “I lied so much to you. You probably thought I was actually infatuated with you, didn’t you? The way you always ended up with me and the way I fawned over you.” Her laugh was hollow. “It was because I’d rather you dripped your poison only onto me and not the other girls. They didn’t deserve that.”

She looked at the silent companion, who was still glaring at her. “Good luck,” she told him (she had nothing against him after all, not yet at any rate), turned, and stalked away.

“You may think you’re better than a whore now, girl, but that’s all you’ll ever be underneath,” Moe called after her.

Pausing after a few paces she turned around, smiling sweetly at him. “At least I can choose to do something else. There’s not a lot you can do with that pathetic excuse you call a c–”

His yell of rage interrupted her, but she just laughed and kept walking.

Azi stood back and watched Ellie tear the scum known as Moe apart with a look of admiration. It wasn’t his place to step in on this conversation or add his two cents and quite frankly he didn’t want to. Ellie was doing just fine defending herself against this man. From the sound of it she was using this moment to liberate herself from years of putting up with this guy’s behavior towards her.

Azi was grinning madly when Ellie finished her fantastic rant and with a quick final word, “Good day gentleman. Do try not to get eaten too soon.” Azi turned and caught up with his wonderful girlfriend.

Heat of the day be damned, when Azi caught up with her she grabbed his hand firmly in hers and grinned at him. “That felt quite good.” She didn’t look back, but she made sure to walk at a pace that Moe and his cane couldn’t keep up with. “Wonder who the poor shlup is who ended up travelling with him.”

“Hopefully he’s a master of patience like yourself or I don’t think either he or your /lovely/ former client will last long.” Azi gave her hand a squeeze and placed a quick kiss to her cheek. “He had my sympathies.”

Ellie shrugged, finding herself unable to sympathise with someone who would choose to spend their time with a poisonous wretch when they were obviously fit enough to leave him behind. (Though a small part of her brain thought that if it had been her, she probably would have been in the same situation and hating herself for her own inability to leave, too. She told it to shut up and sit down.)

“Well, if anything it has given me the motivation to make good pace along this road. I do /not/ want to end up sheltering with him.” She shuddered.

“Not to sound too selfish and possessive, but I would rather you only share your shelter with me tonight rather than those two.” Moving closer so that they occasionally brush shoulders, Azi decided the heat really wasn’t so bad.

The smile she gave him then was fond. “I’d rather share my shelter with only you on /any/ night.” She took a sip of her water, grimacing to find it warm. “Hence my plans for a nice secluded little cabin in the woods, far from any zombies or other people.”

He stopped for a moment to place his lips to hers. “That sounds wonderful darling. Nothing trying to eat or kill us, just you and me surround by wildlife we can live off of and little rabbits we can /not/ eat and us sharing a bed together each and every night.”

She smiled at the kiss and looked into his eyes afterwards. How had she gotten so lucky in the unluckiest of circumstances? Aware of who was behind them on the road she turned again and urged him onwards. “Do you think there is still somewhere left in this world that is free of the virus?”

He thought quietly for a moment. When this had all started and he lost so many people Azi felt like that this thing would take over the world, that there would be nothing left for anyone anywhere… But now? Now that he had Ellie and her hand was in his and he was feeling truly and honest to god /happy/ again after so long… his opinion of certain things had started to change. “…There’s always hope I suppose.”

Ellie looked at him out of the corner of her eye and couldn’t help smiling. “You know, I think I’m starting to believe that.”

——

Azi had just finished a simple meal of tomato soup with Ellie and was now laying down under the warm blankets besides her. What had started out as lazy gentle strokes of hair and cheeks had quickly turned a little more heated as Azi slipped his hands under her shirt and started pressing closer to her. His once soft and playful kisses to Ellie’s lips were now intoxicating explorations of her mouth.

Ellie smiled and kissed him back, her own hands exploring the skin of his back, re-learning the contours, loving this man and showing him that in every way she knew how. They were still in the honeymoon period of their relationship, unable to keep their hands off each other, and she was thoroughly enjoying herself. Their shelter was a sturdy barn containing a couple of tractors and a range of tools for maintaining them. The doors hadn’t been locked, as if the farmer was coming back soon, but they’d been able to secure them from the inside. There were only a couple of very high windows, and the corrugated iron walls would keep anything out. She felt safe (though she always felt safe with Azi), and so she started peeling his shirt off.

Azi pulled his hands away from her for the minute it took Ellie to remove his shirt but was quickly back to touching and stroking and exploring her skin. He loved this, every moment with her was intense in its own way even if said moment actually involved clothes which, considering how often they’ve been at each other, had been happening less and less. He adored the moments when he and Ellie shared this sort of passionate pleasure with one another, but he also loved the less lustful moments. The times where he could just be sitting down working on something or out on the road searching for anything and Ellie would always be nearby. Gently touching his arm or hand and both succeeding in grounding him and getting him lost in the moment. He loved those times they were trying to sleep and even though the world was out to get them just the presence of each other could put them at ease enough to get a good night’s rest in each other’s arms.

Oh yes Azi loved all these moments, but right now he figured he should focus on /this/ moment and the fact that his hands seemed to have already undone Ellie’s jeans and are already slipped his hand into them as his fingers explored every bit of soft skin they could find.

Ellie got distracted from trying to undo Azi’s jeans when his hands vanished under the waistband of hers. She pressed her mouth to his jaw and clung to him, panting, as she waited for the world to come back into focus. She finally managed to get his belt undone and was working on the button when a noise from outside made her freeze. Wide-eyed she looked at Azi, who was just a darker blur in the darkness. “What was that?” she whispered.

Azi had to stop the gentle teasing motions he was making with his fingers when an outside noise interrupted them. “I… I don’t know.” He got his head together enough to remove his hands from roaming Ellie and reach for his bat.

Ellie also reached for her weapon. Even sleeping they didn’t leave them very far from their sides. There was more noise, from the barn door, a muffled cursing and… the hint of light spilling in under the crack at the bottom? Zombies didn’t carry lights. “People,” Ellie whispered, hand wrapping around the hilt of her sword while the other did the fly of her jeans back up again.

Moe had been trying to work out how the door was locked while Peter scouted around the other side of the building, when he found it flung wide. He cursed and shone his light inside, ready with a length of pipe to hit anything that came at him. The cold of metal pressed against his neck.

“Unless you want your brains to be bashed in by accident,” Ellie said, “I suggest you stop blinding Azi with the torch and lower your weapon.”

Moe would have said something scathing to that, but by the sharpness of the object pressed to his neck he guessed it to be her sword, and he hadn’t survived this long by antagonising people who could easily slip and kill him. He lowered the beam of his torch.

Ellie wanted to run him through just for interrupting what he’d interrupted.

Azi gently placed his hand on Ellie’s and guided her sword away from Moe’s neck. Although Azi was less than thrilled about what had just been interrupted he knew that the weak limping Moe wasn’t their main threat. “Where’s your partner? Did the quiet fellow wise up and leave you?”

Moe schooled his expression into something that wasn’t a scowl. These two had the only shelter around in miles, and it wouldn’t do to have them lock the doors. “He’s around,” Moe replied, deliberately not looking at the girl.

Ellie reluctantly let her sword be lowered, but only enough that it wasn’t pointed directly at Moe any more. She glared daggers at the guy, wishing they’d taken any other direction this morning when they’d set out.

Seeing that Ellie wasn’t going to be the one to try and make civilized conversation with this guy (and quite frankly after some of the things he said earlier Azi wasn’t too thrilled about it either) Aziraphale made the attempt. “So what brings you and the quiet one to our humble home this most unpleasant of nights?”

“We need shelter for the night.” A voice spoke up. The ‘Quiet One’ as dubbed by Azi and Ellie, appeared around the side of the barn and approached them at the door. He was still carrying most of the stuff from earlier for both him and his companion and despite looking like he was practically built for heavy lifting and a lot of physical activity he looked exhausted. Looking to Azi and Ellie with big brown eyes he added, “Please.” Always best to remember your manners when asking two people to share their shelter for the night, especially if that shelter means life or death.

Moe nodded agreement, seeing that his silence would best serve their cause right now, and continued to look at Aziraphale for permission to enter.

Ellie shifted her gaze to the quiet one since that was much preferable to looking at Moe. He had been polite and well mannered, hadn’t made demands to be let inside. Good start in her opinion. And he was still carrying the bulk of the burden, which she had to respect. With a sigh she looked at Azi and shrugged with one shoulder, giving her permission if he felt like letting them stay. “Perhaps knowing your name would be a good start?” she suggested softly.

“Peter,” said the man now known as Peter, still looking between Azi and Ellie for shelter for the night.

Knowing that Ellie was okay with it and that Peter seemed like a nice enough person that Azi didn’t want to see him eaten just because he kept unpleasant company, Azi stepped back to allow the two travelers inside.

Ellie backed right off and stood by Azi. “Nice to meet you, Peter,” she said, deliberately ignoring Moe. Their lights painted details in the dark room, lighting bits of the machinery and walls. “There’s not a lot here for sleeping in or on, we have the far side.”

Moe hobbled in and shone his torch around. He landed on their gear, noted that there appeared to be only a single place to sleep, and smirked a little. He had been right about sampling the goods, then. She really hadn’t changed her spots, he thought. “Who is on first watch then?”

Ellie frowned. “Do what you like, we keep our own watch.” She was annoyed because they /would/ have to keep watch tonight. She didn’t trust Moe as far as she could throw him, and she didn’t know Peter.

Peter, the man of oh so many words, nodded at Ellie and carried his and Moe’s still to the opposite side of the room where Azi and Ellie were staying. He could care less about if those two were sleeping together in more ways than one, he just wanted to take this moment to get some rest. It wasn’t exactly easy to travel carrying well over half of what you and another person needed to survive.

Azi took Ellie’s hand and lead her back to their little nest. “So what do you think we should do now that we’re no longer alone?” He asked once they were out of earshot.

Moe followed Peter and, knowing he wasn’t going to get any conversation, did what he could to help set them up a place to rest, keeping an eye on what the other two were doing.

Ellie sighed and sagged down into their nest. “I’d rather not have both of us sleeping now, for starters. I wouldn’t put it past the weasel to take our stuff while we slept.” She sat with the blanket pulled up to her chin, looking at Azi but watching the other two in her peripheral vision.

Azi put his arms around her and snuggled into the blanket with her. “Then I would feel better if you let me take first watch that way when your turn comes those two will already be asleep.” Azi would have liked it if everyone could have gotten along and he some sleep, but sadly the world wasn’t as trust worthy as it used to be.

Ellie nodded and kissed him briefly before lying back in the blankets. Her hand found his and held on. “Don’t take the lion’s share of the watch. Wake me on time,” she said before closing her eyes. The sooner she slept, the more she’d get. She was only getting half a night as it was.

Moe scowled to himself as he observed the two of them. There she was, pretending to be a respectable woman when they all knew what she really was. And she owed him. He’d given her gifts and plenty of money over the years, he deserved a better reception than the one he’d gotten.

“Oh you know I won’t darling.” Azi replied softly. With one hand intertwined with hers he used his free one to stoke her hair and gently assist her into sleep.

Peter finished setting up his and Moe’s things for the night and looked up to see what the two people who had allowed them shelter for the night. The woman seemed to be snuggling close to the man with the intention to sleep but the man who had earlier said his name was Aziraphale was still sitting up. Peter couldn’t blame him for not wanting to sleep while they were around. Both groups hardly knew each other and those they had met before obviously held some hostile feelings towards. Not the ideal situation for shelter sharing.

Moe quietly thanked Peter for setting up and handed him his share of their dinner (late as it was). He settled down himself, then, to eat and eventually to sleep. He didn’t think he had anything to fear from Alisha (or whatever her name really was) and Aziraphale so he would at least get a good night’s rest.

——

Ellie stroked the hair that fell over Azi’s forehead, reluctant to wake him. But the other were showing signs of stirring, and she wanted to get on the road to have plenty of time to get ahead of the other two. Far enough ahead that she’d never have to see a certain ex-client ever again, and even then it’d be too soon. “Azi,” she whispered, fingers feathering across his face. “Wake up.”

He heard the gentle sounds of Ellie’s voice and shifted closer to its source, sleepily throwing an arm around her and snuggling. “I don’t want to.” He managed to say through tired mumbles. “… How about instead you go back to sleep?”

Ellie smiled at his sleepy response. “Azi, wakey wakey. Time to get moving. We need to get ahead of these other two, or go in a different direction. So good morning, lover.” She said it fondly and kept stroking his hair with her fingertips.

Cracking open his eyes reluctantly, Azi sat up just enough to look at the two men snoozing across the room before falling back onto the bed and burying his face against Ellie. “….Those two messed up our night.”

Ellie nodded and shook lightly at Azi’s shoulder. “Yes they did, and I don’t want them to mess up another night so get moving.” She attempted to extract herself from Azi’s embrace so she could get up herself.

Azi made a sleepy noise of protest but let her go. He knew that she was right and that they should get going, but that didn’t mean he had to enjoy it. “Did anything happen on your watch last night?”

Ellie stood and started packing up their things. They could eat on the road. “Nope. From what I can tell they both slept. Maybe Peter did some watch, but Moe snored the whole time I was on watch.” She considered a change of clothes but again decided it could wait until tonight.

Azi finally dragged himself out of bed and assist Ellie with their packing. “That’s good, I’d hate for you to be up all night with only him to talk to.” He yawned and rubbed his sleepy eyes. “How you use to actually be able to…. /work/ with him I’ll never understand.”

Ellie grinned, rolling up her blanket now that Azi was clear of it. “I thought of the money. He always booked a few days at a time, and that paid very well.” By the time she hefted her pack to her shoulders and picked up her sword, Moe was sitting up and looking their way. Again, she decided to ignore him.

Moe was watching the two talking in hushed voices and packing up their things. They looked to be getting on the road early, which annoyed him because he was hoping to spend more time with the whore. It had been a while since he’d had female company and while she had been less than pleasant to him so far, he was sure all he had to do was remind her of all the gifts and money and she’d realise just how much she was in his debt. “Going so soon?” He called across to them.

‘Oh how lovely, the rude one was awake.’ Azi kept his back to Moe and helped Ellie finish the packing before shrugging his pack on to leave…. Or at least he /would/ have put his pack on if it wasn’t for the fact that he was still missing his shirt for last night’s activities that sadly got interrupted, much to Aziraphale’s annoyance. Feeling slightly embarrassed for nearly forgetting such an obvious thing, Azi dropped his pack back onto the ground and began to search for wherever he and Ellie had tossed it last night.

Ellie smiled a little when she realised what Azi was looking for. It can’t have gotten too far from their nest. She found it behind something and held it out to him, ready to playfully snatch it away when he reached for it.

Moe, not liking being ignored, tried again. “Why don’t we travel together?” He suggested. “Safety in numbers and all that.” And then he’d get to keep an eye on Alisha. She’d gotten a bit skinny, but then they’d all dropped weight with the enforced diets. She was still an attractive girl, exotic with that dark skin and those green eyes. How he used to enjoy being able to touch it all, and he wanted to do that again. He /would/ do that again.

Ellie looked up and regarded Moe with a blank expression. “I’d rather go feed myself to a horde of zombies, thanks.”

Azi used the unpleasant distraction of Moe speaking to them to snatch his shirt from Ellie, pulling it over his head before speaking. “Judging by how well you and my dear companion get along I think it would be better for everyone’s heath if we go our separate ways.”

Peter, who had just woken up from all the noise and movement around him, had to agree with Aziraphale on that one. He had only been traveling with Moe for a few weeks but it hadn’t taken him long to figure out he wasn’t the kindest of people, especially to women. The man seemed to love to share his old stories about the girls he had been with and ‘Alisha’ had been the subject of most of them. If they all actually /did/ start traveling together odds were Moe would run his mouth about some of the things he did with that girl and Peter would have to protect him from whatever reaction her boyfriend had to those rather graphic stories.

Moe grinned. “Oh we used to get along just splendidly sweetheart, didn’t we? I’d buy you pretty things, so many pretty things, and you’d–“

Ellie glared at Moe. “I’m pretty sure we’re all aware of what I used to do by now, thank you,” she snapped. “I’d rather not be reminded that I did it with /you/, and I’m sure neither of these two,” she indicated Azi and Peter with a wave of her hand, “want the gory details either. So kindly shut your pie hole.”

Moe opened his mouth to issue an angry response.

Peter reached out and placed a hand on Moe’s shoulder, shaking his head at him. Those two had obviously survived this long with what looks to be just a sword in a metal baseball bat, odds were that they knew how to use them.

While Peter was stopping Moe from antagonizing the other group anymore, Azi was doing the same with Ellie… only in a bit more familiar way. Now that he had both his shirt and his pack on, he slipped an arm around Ellie and nuzzled next to her ear, speaking quietly. “Let’s move on darling, they sooner we leave the sooner we can find shelter for the night…. and the sooner we can continue what was sadly interrupted.” Azi grinned and hoped that his little innuendo would be enough to make Ellie forget about the unpleasant man in the barn with them and focus on the road ahead.

Ellie sighed and turned her head to catch Azi’s lips for a kiss. “Sounds good,” she said, meaning it.

Moe watched them kiss and felt jealousy burning inside him. Alisha was his. Had been his for years. What had this young upstart done to earn her? He turned back to his pack and shoved in the much smaller load that went in there with angry little movements.

Ellie wrapped her fingers around Azi’s and tugged. “Ready to go?” she said quietly.

Peter politely turned his head away when the young couple started acting a little more intimate with each other. Instead he decided to help Moe pack up the few things they had, all the while noticing the jealous expression he wore on his face and hoping that he wouldn’t try and cause a scene just because some girl he used to sleep with had found herself a boyfriend.

Azi smiled and pecked her on the cheek. “Of course.”

“Goodbye Peter. All the best of luck,” she said in a voice that she hoped didn’t hold any sarcasm. She then exited the barn without a single backward glance.

Moe, however, watched her go.

——

It was a nice little cafe, Azi had to think to himself. The sort of place he used to sit down and read one of his books at before this whole apocalypse business had started. It brought back a few pleasant memories but Azi wisely pushed those away in order to focus on the moment. He and Ellie had come there to stock up on some food and any other essentials they could find, and by the looks of things in the cafe, they may have been the first people to think of this. The place had been completely locked up when they found it, as if the manager had been planning to open it the next day. A lot of the perishables had gone bad leaving a less than desirable smell in it but considering they were used to the smell of rotting corpses it wasn’t all that bad. There were still plenty of drinks and other non-perishable goods that Azi and Ellie could really stock up on. So far it seems like they were having a lucky day.

Ellie had gone straight for the supply of coffee. She would have liked to have taken the beans, but they had no easy way of grinding them so she went for the instant blends instead (being a cafe, there wasn’t as much of that, but it /was/ in sealed packets at least. She trusted Azi to deal with their stocks of hot chocolate provided he wasn’t too distracted by the range of teas. She looked over at him and smiled. “We may not have a ready supply of milk for the hot chocolates, but at least I drink my coffee black.” She was definitely looking forward to a coffee later.

Azi had been busy stuffing his bag with a variety of teas when Ellie spoke up. “Milkless hot chocolate is better than no hot chocolate.” He smiled at her and continued to stock up and the various teas and other drink the small cafe had to offer. “You know this wouldn’t be the worst place to stay for the night if we can’t find anywhere else. There’s some food, water, a clean bathroom, and an overly comfy couch for us to snuggle up on tonight.”

Ellie looked at the couch, back at him, and smiled. She still got butterflies in her stomach when she thought of them snuggling down anywhere. Usually it would turn to more, though the large cafe shop front windows would put a damper on things. They could move the couch into the back room, which would be more secure /and/ private. “Yeah, it’s worth keeping in mind.” She looked at the coffee collection and considered adding more, but it was all weight and coffee wasn’t a necessity like their other food and water so she couldn’t justify the extra weight and room it would take up. Pity. “Going to go stock up my water. Got any empty bottles you need me to fill?”

“A few…” He pulled out a couple of old watch bottles and moved to hand them to Ellie while he went ahead and finished stocking up when there was a bang heard from the front door. Quickly grabbing Ellie’s hand, he pulled her with him behind a counter. There was another bang from the front door. “Zombie or human?” he asked Ellie.

Ellie looked at Azi for a moment, letting her immediate panic subside. She poked her head quickly around the side of the counter to look at the front door then back again to face Azi. “Pretty sure they’re not zombies. Not unless zombies have started carrying packs and weapons.”

Azi grinned a little despite the tense situation. “You never know. Those walking corpses could be getting smarter and smarter each day. Maybe they decided to take up a different form of hunting?”

Ellie glared at him. “Not funny,” she said, even though it was a little. She’d left her pack on the other side of the counter as she’d been putting coffee away in it and getting out her empty water bottles, but at least she had her sword. They both knew better than to get more than arms distance away from their weapons. “So what do you think we do? They’re going to come in by the sounds of it. We’re well outnumbered. I guess we hope they’re not hostile?” She bit her lip. It had been easier when it was just her because she could bluff her way through most situations.

Azi could make out the sound of the door breaking. “Sounds like the best we can hope for unless this place has a back door, but that would mean either leaving our supplies or making ourselves known.” The lock on the front door broke open and five or six people cautiously wandered in.

Ellie knew that her pack was in plain sight and there was no way of retrieving it unseen. She really didn’t want to leave it, and they were trapped behind the counter now. No doubt the group would look back here eventually. They had to make themselves known and do it in a way that wouldn’t get their head chopped off accidentally. With an apologetic look at Azi she raised her hand above the counter and called quietly, “Not zombies, coming out.”

Azi sighed but knew it was probably their best way for getting out of this situation, so when Ellie made their presence know he slowly climbed out from behind the counter. “We come in peace.”

The small group of people, six in total, stopped their search of the cafe and stared at the strangers. One man, older fellow with salt and pepper hair, approached the two strangers and held his gun up to them, obviously wanting answers. “Who are you people and what are you doing in our town?”

Ellie stood next to Azi, sword carefully hidden behind the counter as she raised her hands. “We’re just passing through. We’ll move on if you want.” She really didn’t like guns.

The man with salt and pepper hair regarded Ellie, scanning her up and down to analyze if she was a threat. “….What are you hiding?”

Ellie looked at him blankly. “Hiding?”

One of the others, a girl with a short brown bob, younger than Ellie by a few years, stepped forward. “Look at them, they’re travellers, no threat to us. As to what she’s hiding… well, she’d be stupid not to have a weapon somewhere, right?” The girl winked at Ellie.

Ellie kept her expression blank, focused on the gun pointing at her.

Azi stepped out of behind the counter and showed off his bat, purposely making himself the focus of the gun. “We just came here to get some supplies and find a safe place for tonight. We’re not hostile but we /will/ defend ourselves and each other if necessary.”

Mr. Salt and pepper haired man gave Azi a hard look before he replied. “Is it just the two of you? And if so, are either of you infected?”

Ellie slowly reached down (no sudden movements was the key) and picked up her sword which had been leaning against her side of the counter, holding it in a non-threatening way, but obviously comfortable with it in her hand. Let them draw their own conclusions from that. “Not infected,” she said. “Are you?”

The girl smiled at them and waved at Ellie to come out from behind the counter. Ellie didn’t move. “I take it this pack belongs to one of you?” the girl asked.

Ellie tensed. There was nothing she could do if they decided to take her pack. Better that than her life, though. The contents of the pack could be replaced. It wouldn’t be the first one she’d had to abandon since the outbreak.

Mr. Salt and pepper responded to Ellie’s question. “We’re clean. Never let anyone in unless we check on them first.” He lowered his gun and held out his hand for Azi to shake. “Name’s Hank, yours?”

Azi politely took the man now known as Hanks hand, shaking it firmly. “Aziraphale.”

The young girl came forward then, picking up Ellie’s pack and putting it on the counter. “There you go!” she said cheerfully. “I’m Jane, what’s your name?”

Ellie found Jane’s attitude a sweet counterpart to Hank’s, though she understood the older man’s attitude in the current situation. She took the pack and shouldered it. “Elisheva,” she said. The others made their brief introductions but didn’t come close, some keeping an eye on the shop front and the rest watching the travellers curiously.

“Well now that we’ve got the introductions out of the way, you two said you were looking for somewhere to stay for the night?” Hank asked, carefully watching the exchange between Ellie and Jane.

Azi looked at him curiously, “That’s correct. Why? Do you have someplace in mind for us?”

Hank cracked an almost smile. “I might….”

Ellie may have turned way too suspicious for her own good nowadays, but she found herself stepping closer to Azi and watching Hank carefully. Jane seemed nice enough, but she still wasn’t sure about Hank.

Jane sighed when she saw Elisheva close off again. Twitchy one, wasn’t she? So she put on her best smile. “So long as you check out clean, you can come back with us? We have a nice safe place to stay.”

Azi finally took his attention off of Hank and regarded the younger girl. “What sort of place? And why would you be so willing to let us in?” He blinked at her curiously.

“Safety in numbers!” A young man piped up from the back.

Ellie pursed her lips. She’d seen some nasty stuff go down in places where they’d let the population grow too big. More people meant more chances that someone gets infected or takes offense at something someone did and starts fights. She liked it being just Azi and her, but she also didn’t want to antagonise this group by turning down their offer. Perhaps they could shelter with them just for the night, then move on in the morning. The quicker the better. “May we have a private discussion?”

Hank looked between her and Azi a little suspiciously but nodded. “Make your decision quick. We’re heading back as soon as we’re done collecting supplies here.”

“We’ll be but a moment.” Azi took Ellie’s hand and lead her to the back room. Once the others were out of earshot he spoke up. “So what do you think?”

Ellie sighed and sagged into him now that they were alone for a minute. “I don’t know. I think I’ve gotten so used to it just being us that I distrust settlements? Am I being stupidly paranoid? We could stay with them the night, I guess. They do seem normal enough. Move on in the morning?” She nuzzled into his neck. “We probably won’t get anywhere private to curl up together, though.”

Azi wrapped his arms around her tightly and rubbed her back soothingly. “Probably not, no. But staying for one night sounds fair. Gives us a chance to see what being in a settlement is like and whether or not it’s a good fit for us.” He tilted her chin up and placed a small kiss to her lips. “And you’re not being paranoid darling, it’s perfectly normal to be wary of a group of people you just met.”

Ellie wanted to kiss him some more because it would mean putting off going back out there, but Hank hadn’t sounded like the waiting type. “Ok, one night. Anything weird happens and we’re out of there, though.” She put her hand on the door handle, bracing herself for the group in the cafe again.

Azi made sure to take her hand and get another quick kiss in before they left the back room, unsure of what this new group had waiting for them back at their camp.

——

Jane talked non-stop pretty much all the way back. “We’ve even got hot showers, and in the evenings some of us get together to play games or mend clothes or knit, I think you’ll like it here, and I’m sure you’ll fit right in. We need more girls anyway, gotta keep the boys in line, right?” It was such cheerful, non-malicious chatter that Ellie couldn’t bring herself to mind the company, as Jane seemed to have latched onto her as her new best buddy.

Azi did his best to look serious as Hank told him all about the setup of the camp and how well their security was and how much food and water they have in stock and what sort of weapons they own and how many people they had and etc etc…. But instead he found himself eavesdropping on the conversation Jane was having with Ellie, smiling a little at how quickly the young girl had taken to her.

When they reached the outer fence of the settlement, Ellie had to admit to being a little impressed. They’d cleared the vegetation from the fence so that people couldn’t climb in or approach unseen, there were alert sentries who greeted them, and it was a fair distance between the outer fence and the inner one. There was a large tent right in between the two fences.

“We’ll need to be checked over for infection by our medical people, but once you’re cleared I’ll see you outside that tent there and I can show you around the place, if you want? You and your partner, that is.” Jane indicated the tent, where someone was waiting outside to guide them in.

Ellie caught Azi’s eye. She didn’t want to be separated from him, even during a medical exam.

Azi reached out and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder in a comforting gesture. “It’ll only take a few minutes and then we can check this place out together. If anything happens we’ll be within earshot of each other. Try to relax.” Azi wanted to do more than just touch Ellie’s shoulder to put her at ease, but considering how little they knew of these people it would probably be best if they knew little about them and what they could use against them.

Ellie nodded and let herself be led into the tent. It was, all in all, quite a painless process. She was thoroughly checked over – by a female nurse or doctor, she wasn’t sure which – for any cuts or bites. The few lacerations she did have (just from walking through the woods) were checked very carefully, but they were all showing signs of healing. It wasn’t long before she was back outside with a clean bill of health, her pack back on her shoulders and sword in her hand.

Jane bounced up to her. “See, nothing to it! And when your partner… Aziraphale was it?… when he comes out, I can show you around!”

Aziraphale’s examination went roughly the same as Ellie’s did. The doctors looked him over for any bites and scratches and ask him the usual questions you’d expect to hear from a clinic doctor. After he got to you answering all the questions (honestly of course) and getting a few bandages for who is still healing arm from the time he got that nasty scratch from that zombie, Azi was free to go and join Ellie outside of the tent. “Everything went swell I assume?”

Ellie eyed up the bandage, but Azi must have gotten a clean bill of health if he was back out here with them. She had been a little concerned about that. “Just fine,” she answered, wondering whether to take his hand or not. They’d been very careful about being too intimate around these people.

Jane solved the dilemma by tucking herself between them, looping her arms through theirs, and pulling them towards the inner fence. “We’ve got bunks for you to stay in if you want, or if you want something a bit more private we’ve got spare tents and bed rolls. You’ll need to set up your own tent, but I can show you where they are and where you can pitch it, if you like. Food is served from the mess hall… I don’t suppose either of you has any allergies? We need to know these things so that we don’t accidentally kill you with the food.”

If it hadn’t been said in such an overly cheerful way, Ellie would have taken it for a threat. But there was something so very naive and open about Jane, it was refreshing. She smiled helplessly at Azi over Jane’s head.

“… you only get a few minutes in the shower, because we have limited water supplies…” Jane was still talking.

Azi smiled a little tiredly back at Ellie but didn’t fight Jane as she dragged them around camp. She was an enthusiastic little thing, that she was. It’s not often you meet people this cheerfully excited these days and quite frankly Azi was torn between being overwhelmed by her happiness or getting infected by it. If he had met Jane before all this zombie business had started he and her would have probably been like two peas in a pod, both friendly, talkative, and overly cheerful when it came to meeting new people.

“Jane dear was it? Would it be alright if Ellie and I had a moment alone to discuss our sleeping plans? We aren’t exactly used to sharing our accommodations with other people and we need to decide on how we are going to approach our sleeping situation tonight.” He smiled kindly at her in hopes that she wouldn’t take offense.

Jane beamed and nodded. “Of course! I’ll be over in the mess hall, just come find me when you’re ready. And welcome! We don’t often get new friendly faces, so I’m so happy you’re here!” She lunged at Ellie to envelop her in a brief hug, which Ellie didn’t have time to react to before the girl was walking off, a spring in her step.

Ellie blinked at Azi. “Wow.” She grinned a little. “I feel like I’ve been hit by a small friendly tornado.”

“She was quite the cheerful little character wasn’t she? And by the look of things you’re going to be her new best friend.” He teased her good naturedly and then gently touched her arm, discreetly leading her to the side of one of the buildings in a semi-private corner.

Ellie took his hand and bit her lip, looking around then back at him. “Our accommodation. I /want/ to say tent, because it would mean some privacy, but I’d feel so exposed in something like that as well. Just canvas… and yet, sharing one of those small four-bunk rooms with other people…” She sighed. “I don’t know? I think I’m still swaying towards a tent…”

“We’re surrounded by guards and fences, a tent should work out just fine for us as long as nothing gets past them.” He stepped into her personal space and squeezed her hand. “It’s only for the night anyway, we can always leave in the morning if we find this place not a good fit for us.”

She let her free hand trail up to hook around his neck. “A tent it is then.” She grinned. “That way I can ravish you all night long and so long as we’re quiet, no one needs to know what is going on behind those thin canvas walls.”

He shivered pleasantly at her words and leaned in closer. “Ellie darling, it might not be best to say those sort of things in public…” Azi snaked his arms around her waist. “Because I might forget where we are and try my hand at seducing you right here and now.”

Her grin turned very cheeky. “Oh might you now?” The thought was quite a pleasing one, but they did have to be somewhat discreet, she supposed.

His lips moved to her ear and nuzzled beneath it. “You’re a terrible tease and a temptress and god do I love you for it.”

Ellie hummed in pleasure as he hit that spot right below her ear that she loved so much. “Just as well,” she managed to say, considering she was just melting right now. The sooner they went and talked to Jane, the sooner they would get their tent and some privacy. Her hands pushed at him and she laughed and blushed. “Come on, behave, lover. We should get our sleeping arrangements sorted before someone comes looking for us and finds us in a compromising position.”

He got a wicked look about him and couldn’t help but tease her a little more. Leaning back to her ear he whispered softly. “And exactly what sort of compromising /positions/ would they find us in my dear?”

Ellie grinned back. “Oh, you know that I know /all/ the positions, lover, and there’s nothing I won’t do. Take your pick.”

His face felt warm and Azi knew that he wasn’t going to win this battle. “How about when we get our tent you can take the lead of things and surprise me?”

Ellie couldn’t help getting one last bit of teasing in. “I’m pretty sure I can more than surprise you. I can blow your mind.” She grinned, kissed him quickly, then slid out from between Azi and the wall. “Come on, my darling lover, let’s go get a tent.”

“As you wish my beautiful temptress.” He grinned and followed her out of their little hiding spot between the walls to go find themselves a tent for the night.

——

Azi crawled into the little tent he and Ellie would be sharing for the night. It was far from one of the most luxurious places they have slept but it was still small and cozy and as long as he had Ellie by his side for the night Azi didn’t worry too much about the state of their sleeping accommodations. They had just gotten back from having dinner with the other occupants of the camp, getting asked a variety of questions such as where they came from, how they met, how they survived on their own for so long and so on and so forth before they had finally been allowed to retire for the night. The people in the camp seemed nice enough and Jane certainly was one of the friendliest of them but Azi was still a little put off from being in such a large group. He was relieved now that it was just him and Ellie again in the comfort of the small tent that was provided for them. Unrolling one of the sleeping bags which had also been provided for them, Azi laid down and beckoned for Ellie to join him.

Ellie crawled in and straight over to Azi, curling up against him still fully clothed, just enjoying being able to be so close after being around so many other people. It never used to bother her before the zombies. She’d never been a social butterfly and much preferred spending her time alone with a book or the TV, but she had sometimes let her friends drag her out to a night club or somewhere like that, and she’d generally enjoyed herself. She certainly hadn’t felt the intense twitchiness and nervousness she’d felt in the mess hall, surrounded by all these unfamiliar people, no matter how friendly they appeared.

She nuzzled into Azi’s neck and let out a massive sigh. “I’m so glad we went for the tent option,” she whispered.

He draped an arm around her and nuzzled back. “So am I darling. Even if it is a little small and drafty it’s still better than being put into separate bunks and being bombarded with even more questions like the ones we had to go through in the mess hall. Plus…” He snuggled closer, “We no longer have to keep our hands off of each other.”

Ellie smiled and wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tight. “You know I’m no good at keeping my hands to myself, so it’s just as well we got a tent.” She still half expected someone to come ‘knocking’ to check on them.

Azi grinned and pressed his lips to her forehead. “That it is, especially considering I certainly don’t /want/ you to keep your hands to yourself.”

Ellie smiled at the forehead kiss and lifted her chin to capture his lips with hers, then rolling a little to pull him on top of her. Her hands travelled down his chest and up under the hem of his shirt. She loved his body, loved everything about him, and counted herself very lucky indeed. Her fingers trailed up his ribs, tickling slightly, as she grinned into the kiss.

Azi pressed his body against hers and nibbled teasingly at her bottom lip, asking for permission to deepen the kiss. Azi didn’t know what part of Ellie he loved the most whether it be her eyes or her lips or her voice but he did know that he absolutely adored everything about her and no matter how often they did this or how close they stayed he would never get enough of her. Ellie was intoxicating.

Ellie’s hands trailed around to his back, massaging little circles, feeling the muscles bunch and move as he did. She opened her mouth to him, inviting him in, and arched up against him even as he pressed towards her. Always trying to get closer.

A quiet little needy noise escaped him when Ellie allowed him to deepen the kiss, his own hands pushed up her shirt and fingers trailing up her abdomen. God she felt so warm and soft and inviting how was he ever suppose to get enough of her?

He was like a drug, she decided, and she was definitely an addict. She let herself go with it, moving when he urged her to move, suggesting some movements herself with her hands and her hips, gasping when they finally got some skin contact. When did her stomach become such an erogenous zone?

Azi tore himself away from Ellie just long enough to remove her shirt and then start attacking her neck harsh bites and soothing kisses. Every move she made sent shivers of delight up and down his spine. The taste of her salty skin in his mouth was fantastic and he wanted… needed to taste more of her. Needed to kiss and explore every inch of her again and again and again until they were both completely high on the sensation of each other.

Ellie rolled them again, tapping Azi’s hip to move over a little so they wouldn’t roll into the wall of the tent. The space was rather limiting, but she’d worked with worse. From her new position she could reach his trousers and she started to undo the button and zip while kissing her way down his chest to his belly.

Azi was panting heavily when Ellie took the lead. His body was practically on fire with the sensation Ellie was putting him through and he rolled his hips against her to get even more of that addictive feeling. His fingers gripped at her hips and if it wasn’t for the fact that Ellie’s lips were provided a pretty good distraction, he would probably already feeling her inside her jeans instead of outside of them.

Ellie got his jeans undone and sucked at his hip bone just where it emerged from the item of clothing. She ran her hands down the sides of his legs and back up again, then hooked her fingers in the waistband of his jeans, ready to tug down as she smiled and kissed his belly button.

He threw his head back and moaned softly as Ellie’s mouth reached some more sensitive areas. “E-Ellie….” His hands beginning to search for something to anchor him, one hand tangled up in Ellie’s hair, the other in the sheets above his head. “O-Oh Ellie… p-please…”

Ellie smiled and nuzzled at the hollow of his hip as she pulled his jeans down, deliberately avoiding something else. She ran the tip of her tongue up the hollow back to his hipbone, pleased at being able to reduce him to helpless begging. “Please what, lover?” she asked smugly.

The little noises he was making earlier were now not only needy but also desperate. His emotions were in a wild frenzy. Part of him wanting to scream because of her teasing whereas the other part of him loving every moment of this drawn out suspense. “P-Please Ellie…. d-don’t make me b-beg for i-it…. because we b-both know I-I would a-as long as i-it’s you.”

Hiding her smile against his heated skin, Ellie kissed him hard on the hip, gently extracted his hand from her hair, threaded her fingers with his again, and kissed down his hipbone to his thigh. Then, pushing his leg over with her free hand, she kissed his inner thigh. “How am I supposed to know what it is you want me to do if you don’t tell me, my dear lover?” she said teasingly. “I’ll just have to take the scenic route in the meantime.”

Okay, now he /definitely/ wanted to scream from the wonderful torture she was putting him through. “Y-You are an e-evil evil temptress a-and I am s-so going t-to get you back f-for this a-as soon as m-my mind c-can make coherent t-thoughts again.”

She was just pulling his boxers down when a general commotion, a noise that didn’t sound like the every-day workings of an organised township, filtered in through the walls of their tent. It was far away still, so hard to tell, but…

Ellie paused, boxers around Azi’s knees, and tried to clear her thoughts (difficult to do when her entirely distracting boyfriend was now practically spread out naked below her). She pushed his boxers back up and scrambled off him, sitting up and trying to listen.

“What’s that?” she asked.

Azi sat up when Ellie had spoken and was just now noticing the noise coming from outside through his lust induced daze, cursing whatever was making that commotion for interrupting them.

“If it’s anything other than an attack then I’d say it’s worth ignoring.” He reached down to pull his trousers back on (it felt a little uncomfortable considering the state a certain part of him was in but he didn’t feel like going out there in just his underwear, especially since they had only just met these people) before handing Ellie her shirt and crawling towards the tent opening, baseball bat in hand.

Ellie pulled her shirt back on and grabbed her sword, holding it carefully so as not to accidentally slash the walls of their tent. There wasn’t really enough room at the entrance for both of them to look out at once, so she sat behind Azi and waited to hear what he saw. She listened to the noises coming from the camp. They sounded… distressed. There was shouting, and was it getting closer?

Unzipping the tent only a small fraction, Azi peeked outside to see what the commotion was… and he did not like what he was seeing. It was chaos, pure and simple. People were running around wildly in a frenzy to get their weapons and use them on the /dead/ people trying to eat them. By the look of things a horde of zombies had overrun the camp in the middle of the night while everyone was getting ready for bed. Even with all their weapons Azi could tell that with the number already in the camp and the amount of people that seemed to have already been caught there was far too many of them to fight off. Because zombies are generally slow moving creatures and the tent had been set up in the middle of the camp he and Ellie had some time before they would reach them.

Azi backed away from the tent opening and started shoving what little they had unpacked into their bags. “We need to go. Now.” A gunshot was heard. Azi pulled on his shoes.

Ellie had already taken the cue from his frantic packing and had dragged her bag closer to herself. She shoved in what she could in ten seconds then grabbed her shoes and shoved them on, fumbling as she did up the laces. She didn’t bother asking stupid questions like ‘how much time do we have’ or ‘how many zombies are out there’ because it didn’t matter, it made absolutely no difference. They’d either get out or they wouldn’t. Using her sword she just slashed a new door in the side of the tent and stood up, slinging her pack onto her shoulders. The sight that hit her outside made her pause for a minute. Chaos. Just… chaos.

She turned to Azi, wide-eyed. “We need to run. Where to? Everything was fenced!”

He ducked out of the hole she had created for them and sling his own pack on. “What? Never climb a fence when you were little before.” He joked without any real humor. The sound of gunfire was getting louder and more frequent. They had to find a place to hop the fence soon or else all this noise was just going to attract even /more/ zombies. Gripping his bat he did a quick sweep of the area before making a run for a safer part of the camp, trusting Ellie to follow.

Keeping pace with Azi, Ellie ducked around people running. No one paid her any attention, all scrambling for their own survival. She didn’t like the sound of gunfire getting closer. Thankfully it wasn’t long until they got to the fence. The barbed-wire topped fence. She wanted to swear, but that wouldn’t help.

“Why the hell would they need barbed wire on top of their fence for zombies?” she mused even as she took off her jacket in preparation for throwing it over the barbed wire part. The outer fence would probably have the same. Jacket held in her teeth she started climbing. It was difficult with her pack on.

Azi stopped her climbing and gently scolded her. “We may be running for our lives from flesh eating monsters but please think before you climb dear.” Taking her pack from her, he hurled it over the fence along with his own, making sure they landed on the other side before tossing his bat over with them and beginning his now much easier climb with Ellie.

Ellie didn’t say anything about the pack, just tossing her sword after it. She wouldn’t have been able to get enough power to throw the heavy bag over the fence, and it honestly hadn’t crossed her mind that of course Azi was stronger than her. She was just glad to be without it. She threw her jacket over the barbed wire and scrambled over, landing heavily on the other side with her knees bent to absorb the impact. She picked up her pack and sword again, ready to move to the outer fence.

That gunfire was getting closer, and though it was hard to tell in the confusion, there may be some coming from the outer border, too? They didn’t have a choice. They had to get out of this contained area.

Only cutting his hand a /little/ on the barbed wire, Azi jumped over the fence and landed a little less gracefully than Ellie before ignoring the pain of the impact and grabbing his belongings. Suddenly hearing a noise behind him, Azi turned and saw a group of zombies reaching for him through the fence where he and Ellie had just been. Fast undead bastards weren’t they? Ignoring them since there was a rather tall fence between them, Azi moved to catch up with Ellie at the outer barrier.

Ellie had on only her short-sleeved shirt now and the next barrier also had barbed wire. “Your jacket,” she said to Azi, indicating the top of the fence. They could get new jackets, provided they survived this night. Using the swing gesture Azi had used before, she tried to get her pack over the fence but it hit the top and fell back down. She swore.

There was definitely gunfire on the outer fence, but it was a little way to their left. Hopefully it meant that any zombies outside the fence were heading there instead of waiting for a tasty meal to leap over here.

Azi shrugged off his jacket and handed to Ellie. “Start climbing, I’ll toss the bags over.” He did so with first his bag and then retrieved Ellie’s to do the same. Out of the corner of his eye he could see something approaching them. Fast. Azi swore and tossed the bag and his bat over before hopping on the fence and trying to reach the top as quickly as possible. Fresh zombies. He /really/ hated fresh zombies. Because of the fact that their muscles were still mostly intact they were often much stronger and faster than the average zombies use of shambling along that has been dead for a few weeks. They really didn’t need to deal with one of those right now.

Ellie grabbed the jacket and scrambled up the fence, throwing it over before climbing over herself. Her heart was in her mouth as she picked up her sword and watched Azi climb the fence just ahead of the fresh zombies. Some of them were still gripping the weapons they had when they turned!

Then some more gunfire, closer this time, and some of the zombies that had been chasing them fell. She quickly shouldered her pack. The gunfire was coming from… directly on the other side of the fresh horde.

Shit. She hoped they wouldn’t hit Azi by mistake. He was an easy target right now. Then, just as that thought had finished processing her leg exploded in pain as another gunshot rang out, and she went down on her knees hard, vision going black at the edges. She yelled out in pain and tried to get back to her feet, but her calf… oh god, what had happened?

Azi had just reached the top of the fence (being careful not to cut himself this time) when he heard the gunshots and then a cry of pain. A close cry of pain. A cry of pain coming from someone he held very near and dear to his heart. “Ellie!” Azi dropped off of the fence and grabbed his bag and bat before kneeling by her side. By the look of things there weren’t any zombies on this side of the fence yet but Ellie’s leg was bleeding and that was very very bad. “Ellie?! Ellie are you alright?” He put one hand on her shoulder but kept a firm grip on his bat with the other in case any unpleasant surprises came their way.

Ellie gritted her teeth and tried not to scream, but she couldn’t stop the whimpering sounds that happened with every shallow breath. “I… I think… I’ve… been shot,” she managed. She tried to drag herself upright using Azi as a crutch because they /had/ to get moving. There may not be any zombies around right now, but they’d come. There was so much noise, and the fresh zombies could break out of the fence at some point, and there were still shots ringing out /towards/ them, taking out zombies. “Move,” she tried to say. “Need to move.” Never mind that movement or trying to put any weight on her leg caused her vision to fade.

Azi was pumping full of adrenalin so he acted fast. Sitting Ellie upright and silently apologizing for any pain he caused her, he pulled her pack from her back and placed it in her arms. “Hang on. If you drop it I’m not sure if we’ll be able to pick it up again.” With that simple instruction Azi scooped Ellie up into his arms and began racing away from the camp as fast as he could, knowing if a zombie caught them now that they wouldn’t be able to defend themselves. ‘Who would have thought lugging books around for a living would have come in handy strength wise?’

Ellie clung to her pack and tried not to throw up on Azi from her pain-induced nausea. She was way too distracted by her leg to even protest that he couldn’t carry her and both their packs for very long. What would happen if she couldn’t walk? She’d be a danger and liability, just like she was now. What if they ran into some zombies? Azi couldn’t very well fight with her in his arms, goodness only knew if he still had his bat. She certainly didn’t have her sword, and even if she did what use would she be? She huddled down with her thoughts and tried not to picture all the worst-case scenarios. Unsuccessfully.

Azi must have ran a whole lot farther than he thought because the next thing he knew they had made it back to town and the little cafe they had first met the other group in. Taking the fact that the front door was still closed like they had left it as a good sign that nothing was lurking inside Azi went inside and put Ellie on the couch before dropping his pack (sadly he had to leave his bat back at the camp with Ellie’s sword because he could only carry so much) and moving to barricade the door with a number of chairs and tables.

Ellie breathed through the new pain caused by Azi putting her down on the couch as he moved to secure the cafe. Once she was sure she could move without passing out she leaned forward to try and get a look at her leg. It wasn’t pretty, and she felt a fresh wave of nausea. It was definitely a bullet wound, and it had entered and exited her calf, thankfully missing the bone, but making a mess of the muscle. She’d have quite an impressive scar. She tested her weight bearing ability by lowering the leg to the ground but the pain made her cry out again and then swear. Gritting her teeth she lifted the leg onto the couch, not caring about bleeding all over it, and laid back. She felt weak, bereft of adrenaline now, and shaking.

Azi finished securing the cafe and pulled down the blinds for good measure just in case something were to wander by and see them inside. At this point all he wanted to do was lie down and take a rest now that the adrenaline had run out and the exhaustion of what he had just gone through was finally catching up to him but he knew that there was one more very important task he had to take care of. Moving back to the couch where he had left Ellie, he knelt down beside her and started to pull a medical kit out of one of their bags. “…I’m sorry but I’m either going to have to roll up your jeans or just take them off in order to clean and wrap the wound.”

She had pulled them up as best she could to inspect her wound before, but the leg had moved back down again. Absently she undid the button and zip and wriggled out of them, trying not to jar her leg too badly, but she couldn’t stop the hiss of pain as she had to lever her hips up first to get the jeans down over them, then again as she tried to get that leg out. “It’s not like in the movies,” she said faintly, lying back again now that her jeans were clear. “People get shot and just keep going, maybe hobbling a little. This fucking /hurts/, Azi.” She tried not to whine, but she could feel tears not far off. She closed her eyes and tried to think of something else.

Azi helped her out of her jeans and gently placed a blanket over her so that she could both cover herself and keep warm. “I know and I’m sorry darling, but you’re going to have to bear with me just a little while longer while I clean and wrap your leg before you can rest it.” He spoke in a soft, comforting voice and gently stroked her hair before pulling a bottle of pills out of the medical kit and handing her two. “Here, these should help with the pain.” He gave her a water to help her swallow them.

Ellie threw back the pills immediately, knowing it would take about twenty minutes before they took effect. She didn’t even look what they were. “It’s ok, I understand,” she said, telling herself firmly to not complain or whine or make a nuisance of herself while Azi tried to help her. She turned her face towards the backrest of the couch and gritted her teeth, preparing for the cleaning.

Azi felt his heart break for her and wanted to hold and comfort her but he knew that the longer they put off cleaning and sewing up the wound the worst it would get. He grabbed a cloth from the cafe and poured some alcohol on it. “…This is going to sting so brace yourself.” He placed the cloth onto her wound and gently started to clean it out.

Ellie turned her face further into the back of the couch, trying to hide her expression from Azi. When he pressed the alcohol soaked cloth to the wound she bit her lip and tasted blood. Tears stung her eyes. The only thing she could say in her favour was that she was pretty sure she didn’t make a single sound.

Azi finished cleaning Ellie’s wound after a few minutes (wincing all the while because he still had a cut on his had from climbing the fence but it had clotted over quick enough that he figured he would take care of it once Ellie was fixed up since she was top priority right now) and tossed the cloth aside as he search for his next items, a needle and some thread from a small sewing kit they had on them. Azi placed a length of the thread in the alcohol and took out a lighter to heat up the small needle in order to sterilize them both. “This part is sadly going to be just as bad as the first part dear, so if it gets too bad let me know and we can take a quick break…. you’re being incredibly brave about this.”

Ellie nodded to show that she understood but kept her face pressed into the backrest. She was vaguely aware that her nails were also digging into her palms, but she welcomed that pain. It was another distraction from what Azi was doing.

Azi threaded the needle and was about to get it over and done with when a thought occurred to him. Setting the needle to the side for just a moment, Azi reached into Ellie’s bag and pulled out the small stuffed bunny he had given her before. “Here.” He placed the little rabbit in her arms before returning to the needle and began to sew up the wound.

Ellie took the bunny and gave Azi a grateful (if slightly wet) smile before burying her face in the soft toy instead of the couch. By the time he was done she was shaking and the bunny was wet.

Azi put the needle away as was grateful that his hands decided to start shaking only /after/ he had finished sewing the wound up. “The hardest part is over darling. Now all there’s to do it wrap your legs up and get some rest for the night. You’ve been an excellent patient so far and I’m very proud of you feeling that.” He smiled up at her and pulled out some bandages, beginning to wrap her leg as gently as possible.

Ellie let her face emerge from behind the soft toy to watch now that the painkillers were starting to kick in and he wasn’t using alcohol or needles any more. She watched and then something on his hand caught her eye. They wasn’t only /her/ blood… “You’re hurt!”

He blinked and looked down at his hand. “Oh that? It’s nothing, just got snagged on the barbed wire earlier. I’ll wrap it up in a minute as soon as I’m done with this.” He went ahead and finished wrapping up Ellie’s leg.

The moment her leg was wrapped she sat up and made a grab for his hand. “Let me see,” she said, worried for him now that her own injury was dealt with and the edge had been taken off the pain by whatever pills Azi had given her.

Azi hissed in pain when Ellie grabbed his hand but smiled kindly at her. “I’m fine darling, really. I’ll fix it up now. But you should really lay back down and rest. Wouldn’t want to have to redo those stitches so soon after putting them in would we?” He carefully tried to get her to lay down again.

Ellie winced when she inadvertently caused Azi some pain and inspected the hand with gentle fingers. It wasn’t too bad and she let it go so that Azi could deal with it himself. She let herself be guided back into a horizontal position and watched him as he sorted out his hand. “What do you suppose happened?” She waved a hand in the general direction of the township. “Back there?”

Azi started to disinfect and clean up his hand while he pondered her question. “If I had to guess? Judging by how fresh some of those zombies were I’d say an infected person got past the fence and no one noticed until it was too late.”

She shuddered. It was one of the reasons she had avoided large settlements. “If they get out of the fence, it’s not going to be safe here. We should try moving on tomorrow.” She looked at her leg and bit her lip again. She wasn’t sure she could even walk, but she’d be damned if she’d slow Azi down.

He finished cleaning his hand and started to wrap it up. “I didn’t see any other survivors heading this way when we left so odds are if those things /do/ get out they will head towards where the most food is. We should be safe here for a little while. Give you time to heal up.”

Ellie reached for him once he’d finished with his hand, shifting back against the couch to give him room to sit. “I’ll try my best to heal up quickly, then,” she said with a small smile.

Azi put the bandages away and joined Ellie on the couch, kissing her tear stained eyes and stroking her hair with his good hand. “And I’ll do my best to take care of you.”

She wrapped her arms around as much of him as she could reach from her position and closed her eyes. “You always do,” she said softly. She wondered if there would be enough room on the couch for the both of them without jostling his hand or her leg.

He placed a few more kisses on her cheeks and nose before resting his head against hers and allowing his eyes to drift shut, the exhaustion of the day finally catching up with him. “…I should probably let the have the couch all to yourself so that we don’t accidentally hurt your leg.”

Ellie tightened her grip on him. “No,” she said, not wanting to be parted from him. “Look, if I lie like this,” she shifted so that her injured leg was the one on top, “and you come here, then I can put my leg over yours…” She looked at him hopefully.

He laughed a little at Ellie’s tangling of their legs and moved closer to make it easier for her. “Alright, alright. I certainly didn’t want to sleep apart from you tonight either.”

Ellie relaxed the death hold she had on Azi and snuggled into him, trying to find a comfortable position for both of them on the narrow space. She winced once or twice as she had to move her leg, but once she got settled it was better. “Thank you,” she said, meaning it to encompass everything he’d done for her tonight: getting their bags over the fences, carrying her when she’d been shot, fixing her up, agreeing to sleep in a very confined space just because she asked… There weren’t enough thank yous for all of that.

“You’re welcome darling.” He hugged her tightly as he let himself drift to sleep.

——

Ellie was making her way around the cafe, just trying to walk and exercise her leg. The stitches pulled uncomfortably and the abused muscles screamed, but the actual wound had stopped hurting quite so much. Azi had been meticulous in keeping it infection-free. She had already repacked their bags, getting rid of anything that wasn’t needed, adding a few extra things that Azi had brought back with him.

She was fretting. She didn’t like being useless, and Azi was out by himself trying to retrieve their weapons. He was going close to the dangerous zone where there were a whole lot of fresh zombies. He may not come back. Just thinking that made Ellie feel slightly sick. So to keep busy, she was walking around on her leg, determined to be able to travel again soon. She was /not/ climbing the walls, no she wasn’t (if only because the leg still wouldn’t allow it).

He’d be back soon. He had to be back soon.

The journey to retrieve their weapons and not been a fun one. There had still been a rather large group of zombies in the camp so Azi focused on simply sneaking up next to the fence where Ellie got shot, find their weapons that they should still be sitting there waiting for them, and then making his way back to Ellie before night fall. It hadn’t taken him long to locate the weapons once he get his bearings back and he was ecstatic to have his bat back into his hands. Ever since the faithful night he had lost it all of his attempts to replace it just didn’t work out. Azi snatched up Ellie’s abandoned sword and quietly moved away from the zombie filled zombie, hopefully Ellie would feel better with a familiar weapon in her hands.

The later it got, the more Ellie ‘exercised’ her leg because she had taken to pacing. She would walk to the far end of the cafe, then back to the window where she would peek out. Every now and then she saw a zombie, and she would duck out of view. No use tempting them to come closer.

This was where she missed cell phones. She wondered if they could find some long-range headset radios. Did such a thing exist?

Another peek out the front, another trip to the back of the cafe. At least her fingernails didn’t need cutting any more – she’d bitten them all short.

Azi made it back to the cafe with little incident just before the sun finished setting and he held out his prize. “Look what I found curled up next to my bat?”

Ellie took the sword off him, vibrating with tension by now, and placed it off to the side. Sword safely out of the way, she grabbed Azi by the front of his top and hauled him in for a kiss.

Azi was delightfully surprised by the kiss but returned it enthusiastically. “….Well, I figured you’d be happy to have that back but I guess I underestimated just /how/ happy you’d be.” He teased.

“Yes, that’s all for the sword,” she said in a dry tone. “I’ll show you /later/ how pleased I am to have /you/ back.” She grinned at him.

He smiled wickedly and stepped into her space, nuzzling under her ear. “Try not to strain that leg of yours darling, once we get each other started who knows how long before we stop again….”

Ellie nuzzled him back. “I think I can handle it. You’re just scared you can’t,” she teased. It was good for her nerves to have him in her arms and in her sight.

“That may be true, but you know I’ll just keep trying again and again and again until I’m as good as you at it.” He couldn’t help but smile now that they were casually flirting, it was familiar territory for them and it was a fantastic way to unwind after a stressful, zombie avoiding day.

Ellie smiled and slung her arms around his neck. “Again and again and again, huh? I admire your stamina, lover.” She placed a kiss on his chin. “Would you like some dinner? Gotta keep your strength up.” She turned away from him and walked to the pack, only slightly favouring her injured leg. The exercise had paid off.

“Dinner sounds fantastic darling. Gourmet as per usual tonight?” He smiled playfully and followed her to their pack in order to assist her if she required it.

She turned to find that he was hovering as if wanting to help and she smiled. Reeling him in for another quick kiss she said, “I’ve got this. You’ve done enough. Sit down, relax. Let me pamper you with my fantastic cooking skills.” She got out the cooker, selected a couple of cans of soup, and set them to heating in their camping pot.

He hesitated for a moment before moving to sit on the couch and let her handle things. Ever since Ellie got shot Azi had gotten a little more protective, never wanting to her to over exert herself or reopen her wounds. Azi knew he was overreacting and that Ellie was doing just fine taking care of herself, but when someone you loved gets shot overreacting can be expected.

Ellie smiled at him from the table she had set up the stove on. He really was sweet, worrying over her, but that combined with her cabin fever was driving her a little stir crazy. They needed to get moving. Or she needed to jump him. That would work, too.

She got the soup off the flame, turned the burner off, and brought it over to him in a bowl with a glass of water. “Azi…?”

Ellie went and got her own meal from the table and sat down next to him. She spoke sweetly. “If I don’t get out of here soon, I’m going to throttle something, and not necessarily in the kinky way.”

He laughed a little at how overly sweet she made that sound and nudged her shoulder with his own. “I guess you’re getting a little fed up with hanging around inside all day huh?”

Ellie nodded, frowning a little. “I don’t mean to complain, but…” She looked towards the door. “I just feel like I’m not doing anything useful.” She sighed and leaned against his shoulder as she sipped at her soup. “I’ve never been a very gracious invalid.”

Azi ate some of his soup and kept his shoulder pressed close to hers. “You’ve been more than helpful dear. It’s not your fault that you got hurt and no one can blame you for taking the proper time to heal. Odds are if you didn’t we’d be have some trouble down the road.”

That just made her feel worse and she continued to eat her soup silently. When she was done she put the bowl down and stared moodily at the wall. She felt as much a burden to Azi now as no doubt Moe was to Peter, and she hated to think that she had /anything/ in common with that man.

Azi noticed Ellie’s silence and put his now empty bowl of soup to the side, freeing up his hands so that he could pull her into a hug. “What’s bothering you dear?”

There was nothing Ellie could do to resist the hug, and she sagged into it, her own arms stealing around his waist. “No one can afford to be a burden these days,” she said quietly into the fabric covering his chest.

Ah! So that’s what was on her mind. He held her tighter and stroked her hair soothingly. “You’re far from being a burden darling. Without you I doubt I would have survived this long.”

“Don’t under sell yourself, Azi. You survived perfectly well for six months before I came along.” She loved the way he stroked her hair. She turned a little and threw her injured leg over his lap. It was easier to hug back from here, and had the added benefit of elevating her leg into a more comfortable position.

“Yes but those were the longest, loneliest, terrifying, and most depressing six months of my life. Finding you the best thing that could have ever happened to me.” He placed his lips against her temple and adjusted himself to make their snuggling easier.

Ellie sighed and grinned at the sappiness of it all, but she really didn’t mind in the slightest. She used to be allergic to sap, finding it overwhelmingly sickening to behold and even more so directed at her, but she understood now why – she’d never been in love before. With Azi it was easy to do the lovey-dovey stuff that used to irritate her so. “The feeling is mutual,” she assured him. She wanted her leg to heal quickly so that they could get back on the road and find that secluded woodland home and not be living out of a cafe.

Azi placed a few more little kisses against her temple and her cheeks before leaning back on the couch cushions and holding Ellie in comfortable silence. Things had been hard ever since she got hurt but not because she was some sort of burden. Things were hard because every time he went out alone he was worried that he would come back and something bad would have happened to her. He knew it was just him acting paranoid and overprotective because Ellie had proven time and time again that she could take care of herself… but Azi still felt grateful whenever he came back and could hold her like this, reassuring himself that she was okay.

Ellie felt him relax and let her own breathing slow, relaxing each of her limbs and every part of her body until she was floating on the edge of consciousness. Here, just like this, she could imagine that they had been watching TV and were falling asleep on their couch at home (not that they’d ever had a home together, but they would), and she felt content. With one last nuzzle, and a small shift of her shoulder, she let go of wakefulness.

——

It was a few days later and Ellie’s leg had finally healed up enough for them to get back on the road, much to both hers and Azi’s relief. The day wasn’t as hot as the other ones so it made travel much more enjoyable. Azi could even hold Ellie’s hand from time to time without overheating from the physical contact. Hearing his stomach make a grumble Azi knew that they would need to stop for lunch soon if they wanted to have enough energy to keep going until nightfall. He began to take in their surroundings from a nice place to rest for a few minutes. “Do you see anywhere worth stopping at my dear?”

This stretch of road was at least not a barren landscape like others had been. There was the occasional farmhouse to be seen on a hilltop. Ellie pointed at the next one coming up, which looked quite large. A double-storey, rather sprawling house with Mediterranean style arches. The driveway entrance was not too far down the road, and from there it looked like a scenic and meandering walk up to the house. “There’s as good a place as any. We might even find something useful, if it’s not overrun with zombified family and staff.” Because surely something that large had some staff.

Azi looked over at the farm house Ellie had pointed out and smiled at her. “Sounds good to me darling. Through the idea of having to take care of a zombified family does put a damper on one’s appetite.”

Ellie grabbed his hand and grinned, pace picking up a bit now that they had a nearby destination to head for. The driveway was as picturesque as it looked with a slightly overgrown wild feel to it now. As they approached the house it occurred to Ellie that she expected to hear at least /some/ signs of zombie activity and there was nothing. She paused, still on the far side of the parking zone from the house. “Do you suppose there’s actually someone living there? I mean… it could happen, right?”

Azi blinked. Huh? The thought that someone might have /actually/ been able to fend off and continue to live in their home was such a foreign concept these days that it hadn’t even occurred to Aziraphale to consider the possibility. “It’s…. possible I suppose. Do you think that that is the case here?”

Ellie shrugged. “I don’t know, I just…” She eyed the house. “Something about this place. The grounds seem very quiet.” She shook her head. “Never mind, I’m just being silly. I’ll be proven wrong when we’re greeted by a zombie doorman.” She smiled a little, but still watched the house warily.

Azi reached out and squeezed her hand. “If there’s even the slightest possibility that someone is living here then we should be on our guard more now than ever. A hungry zombie doorman is easy and predictable, it just wants to eat you. But if we were to walk in on a family that’s actually been able to defend themselves this whole time, well then who knows how dangerous they are.”

Ellie nodded in agreement and was very glad that Azi went to get her sword back. She knew how to use it, and she felt so much more confident with its familiar weight in her hand. She approached the door, keeping an eye out for any sign of zombies… or humans.

Azi followed behind her cautiously and watched their backs in case something (or someone) were to sneak up on them. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was expecting to happen once Ellie opened that door, but all he knew was that he was ready to fight off anything that came their way in order to protect both Ellie and himself.

With one last glance at Azi behind her, Ellie braced herself, turned the latch on the door (surprisingly it wasn’t locked) and pushed it open. The front hallways was light and airy, and free of large shambling zombies, but something small, ginger, and howling launched itself towards them at leg height and Ellie tried to jump backwards, jarred her leg, and ended up stumbling with a small cry of surprise and shock.

Azi rushed forward to help Ellie when he heard her cry out, only to stand there in confusion when he didn’t see a threat around. What he /did/ end up seeing, once he looked down, was a small ginger cat looking up at him curiously. It took a few seconds for him to process what had just happened but when it finally clicked Azi had to brace himself against the wall because he was laughing so hard.

Ellie glared between Azi and the cat as she tried to get her heart rate back under control. Did the thing have to /howl/ as it ran at them? And now it was sitting there, all innocent, like it hadn’t just caused Ellie to nearly have a heart attack. The damn thing was /purring/.

And Azi… She renewed her glare at him. He was /laughing/. Though once she calmed down enough she couldn’t stop her own lips from twitching, and in a few seconds she was chuckling, too.

“I could have been attacked by some sort of new tiny zombie creature and you’d have been a fat lot of good,” she told him around her giggles. She rubbed at her bandages beneath her jeans, feeling the ache, but it didn’t feel like she’d pulled any stitches so that was ok.

Azi calmed down enough to pick up the small purring ginger cat and pet it lovingly. “Oh yes dear, we must always be weary of these new adorable tiny zombie creatures. Just look how fierce this one is!” He held out the still purring cat.

Ellie glare-grinned at him and shook her head. “Yes yes, alright. Adorable and all that. Now… shall we go and see if this cat has any owners around, living or otherwise?”

He petted the cat (actually more like a kitten judging by its size) thoughtfully. “I’m going to guess that if this little one is here then there shouldn’t be any dead around, otherwise this kitty would have been long gone.”

“Ok, so we could be dealing with some living people. Who haven’t shown themselves yet.” She glanced nervously inside then around at the large paved area in front of the house. “We should still be careful.” She stepped into the house.

Azi managed to stop cooing over the little feline and let it hop out of his arms. “Of course dear, sorry.” He moved forward into the house some more and looked around. So far that kitty was the only sign of life he had found.

Ellie continued to move forward, ducking her head carefully around doors to inspect the rooms beyond. Everything still in pristine condition, if a little dusty and neglected. This family had never returned to their house, and she found that a little sad. Still, it would be unusual for a place this size to be left completely unattended and unlocked. So she remained alert and entered the living room.

Azi was just beginning to think that the biggest threats in that house was the small ginger cat following them around until he heard the floorboard creek from the other room. He grabbed Ellie’s arm to get her attention and silently pointed to where he heard the sound come from before creeping up next to the doorway and readying his bat.

Ellie nodded to show that she understood, and placed herself on the other side of the doorway. This time Azi could open it first, though. She was done being scared to death by the local wildlife. She nodded again to show that she was ready.

Azi nodded in return at Ellie and began to reach for the door when suddenly it flew open and there was Peter standing there wielding a pipe as a make shift weapon. Both him and Azi found themselves yelping in surprise at the sight of each other.

Ellie swore out of both fright and the realisation that where there was Peter, there was probably Moe. She lowered her weapon and told her heart that it was ok, it could calm down again. “Peter! You scared the living daylights out of us.”

“Sorry,” muttered the large man, lowering his weapon now that he saw that it wasn’t a threat on the other side of the door.

Azi did the same and peered into the room behind Peter. There was no sign of Moe so Azi took that as a plus but he knew not to get his hopes up. Odds were Peter just had him stashed in a safe place while he check out the house to secure it first.

Ellie also peered into the room and then looked at Peter. “So where’s Moe?” she asked, hoping that Peter didn’t have the odious man in tow still.

As if on cue, Moe sauntered into the room from an opposite door. “Here I am, sweetheart, I knew you missed me.”

A disgusted look crossed Ellie’s face and she turned to walk back into the living room. “I think I’ll check out the next house along,” she said.

“Ohhh, but you only just got here,” Moe called in a sweet voice. “And it’s lunch time. Why don’t we sit down and have a meal like civilised people?”

Ellie gave Azi a resigned look. She /was/ hungry, and they /could/ move on straight after lunch.

Azi was really /really/ against the idea of sitting down as having a meal with Moe just so he could leer at Ellie, but he knew that they were all hungry and that none of them would really feel like trying to find another house in this area on an empty stomach. So reluctantly he gave Ellie a look that said he was okay with this. Not happy, but okay with it.

Moe smirked and walked out of the room and approached Ellie. “We haven’t had a proper chance to get reacquainted have we, sweetheart?”

Ellie backed off and got a piece of furniture between them. “No, we haven’t,” she said coldly.

Moe pouted. “This is how you treat me after all the years we spent together?”

Ellie rolled her eyes and managed to get around him and into the kitchen. She was safe enough from him with the other two around, she doubted Moe would try anything, but he was an irritating little bastard nonetheless. She started rummaging around in the pantry.

Azi’s grip on his bat tightened and if it wasn’t for the fact that Peter put a calming hand on his shoulder Azi wasn’t entirely sure what he would have done to the creep obviously hitting on Ellie.

He took a calming breath and muttered a quick “Thank you” to Peter before joining Ellie in the kitchen.

Peter, on the other hand, went to go speak to Moe. “It might be best to leave that girl alone, especially with her boyfriend around.”

Ellie turned when she heard someone enter the kitchen and was relieved to see that it was Azi, and not Moe. “I swear, I will chop his head off,” she muttered in a low voice. “And I’m not talking about the one on his shoulders.”

Moe arched an eyebrow at Peter. “A mistress is not a wife, and a whore is not a girlfriend,” he said, then followed the other two into the kitchen.

Azi snorted and started laughing quietly at Ellie’s threat towards Moe, while he searched the cabinets. Among his search he came across a couple cans of cat food and went ahead and open them for the small ginger cat still following him around. The cat purred appreciatively and started to snarf down its meal.

Peter sighed at Moe’s rude behavior towards the girl and questioned why he was still helping this guy out as he followed him into the kitchen.

Moe saw the two of them by the pantry, the boy feeding the cat and /her/ looking inside for some food. He went and stood right by her, as if to look inside as well.

Ellie /felt/ Moe enter her personal space, turned, and shoved a hand against his chest, pushing him away to arms length. “Seriously? Back off.”

Moe gave her a wounded look. “I was merely trying to see what food was here for lunch.”

Ellie slid away from Moe again and went to stand on the far side of the kitchen. “All yours.”

Azi looked up from watching the ginger cat eat to glare at Moe. Didn’t this guy understand that Ellie clearly didn’t want anything to do with him? How creepy was he planning on getting?

Meanwhile, unknown to Aziraphale, Peter was wondering the same thing. Well, that and how long before one of them snaps and he would be forced to protect the older man.

Figuring that Ellie needed his assistance more than the cat, Azi got up and stood next to her as he casually checked the other cabinets for food, brushing his arm with hers to let her know he was there.

Moe, noticing that the other two men were looking at him as if he’d done something wrong, shrugged and ransacked the pantry. A lot of things were off, but there were canned goods, things in jars, and various other sealed packets. A good supply of rice and pasta, unopened, and some canned pasta sauces. That’d do.

Ellie just leaned against the kitchen counter at the far side and watched Aziraphrale, because watching Moe wasn’t good for her blood pressure. When his arm brushed hers, she flicked her fingers out to brush back, and gave him a smile. “Farm house like this probably has a generator in case of power failure. If we find it and turn it on, we could cook properly.” She looked at the two younger men. “Perhaps two of us could go find it? I would suggest you two… but…” she looked significantly at Moe, who she really didn’t want to be left alone with.

Peter spoke up before Moe had the chance to suggest that he go and try to make another move on the girl. “I was raised on a farm like this, I will help you.”

Azi looked up at Peter when he volunteered to go with Ellie and gave him a curious look. They new very little about this large man who was traveling with Moe so he wasn’t entirely sure if he trusted him going anywhere alone with Ellie, but Peter hadn’t done anything to make Azi suspicious of him yet so he would give him the benefit of the doubt. Better him than Moe going off alone with her.

“Be careful and yell if you need help.” He smiled at Ellie.

Ellie smiled at Azi and gave him a quick peck on the lips. “I’ll be fine,” she whispered, then turned to Peter, completely ignoring Moe, and gave the large man a cheerful smile. “Shall we?” She walked towards the kitchen exit.

Moe waited until they were gone and turned to look at Azi. “Let her go off with just any old man, do you? How trusting.”

Peter followed Ellie out of the room and took the lead, heading to the same area the generator was located on his farm back home.

Azi resisted the urge to glare at the older man. “Peter hasn’t shown any interest in leering at Ellie since I’ve met him.” ‘Unlike yourself.’ He added silently. “Besides she’s a strong person, she can handle herself.”

Ellie happily let Peter take the lead and followed along, alert but not knife-edge. “I don’t believe I’ve actually had the chance to introduce myself,” she said. “I’m Ellie. You said you grew up on a farm like this? Must have been nice.”

Moe smiled at Azi as he arranged their food on the kitchen bench, checking expiry dates. “Ellie, is it? Do you suppose that’s her real name? I quite like the name Alisha.”

Peter checked around a corner before heading outside where he believed the generator to be. “It was very nice miss Ellie, and I miss it very much.”

“Real name or not it’s the one she wants me to call her by so that’s what I’m going to do.” Azi helped Moe go through the food to check if it was edible or not.

Ellie followed him outside and smiled at how he’d addressed her. “If you don’t mind me asking…” She bit her lip. “Why /are/ you travelling with someone like Moe? Did you know him before? Are you headed somewhere in particular?” She closed her mouth, realising that she was sounding nosy. It just made no sense to her. From what she could tell this guy was soft-spoken, level-headed and gentle – the exact opposite of Moe.

Moe just smiled to himself at the thought that /his/ Alisha may not even have told her new bedfellow her real name. Poor sod thought he had it good, thought he had a nice little girl to call his own. He knew her better, knew the sorts of things she’d do for money, because of course she’d done them to him. And would do again, once her true nature was finally revealed.

Peter turned another corner and found the generator tucked away against a corner. He kneeled down to try and start it up, trusting that Ellie would use that sword of hers to take down any threats that may come their way. “I found Moe a while ago and saw that he needed help, so I helped him. As for where we are going, we’re trying to find where my family was taken.”

Azi, luckily not a mind reader or else his self control might be losing some battles against why he shouldn’t harm Moe, found that all of the food seemed to be okay and began to divided it up into proper shares for each group.

Ellie, who had positioned herself to defend against anything coming towards them from behind, turned her head briefly to look at Peter with wide eyes, then turned back. “Your family was… taken?” she asked, unsure what to make of that information. Not ‘turned’, not ‘killed’, but /taken/.

Peter nodded and continued to work on the generator. “Taken yes. My mother, father, and two little sisters were in a hospital just after our grandmother died of the unknown sickness when some men from the government came and took them and all of the non infected people away.”

“Do you know where to?” Ellie asked, fascinated. She glanced back every now and then to see how he was doing, but otherwise remained vigilant.

“Yes, before they were taken one of my little sisters, Kathryn but we call her Kitty, was able to call and tell me where they were going after she had asked one of the government men.” The generator was on and working now. “Apparently the location is something of a secret so I don’t know /exactly/ where they are, but I know the general area.”

Ellie liked the sound of the generator running because it meant electricity. Probably limited, but it should be enough to get the stove tops working. A few lights flickered to life nearby as well. “Well done!” she said, grinning. “We’ll need to come back and turn it off when we leave, but it’s nice to know that there’s a house here with working electricity. As long as the petrol lasts, that is.” She looked back the way they had come, reluctant to head back to where Moe was but also wanting to get back to Azi. God, she’d left poor Azi in Moe’s company. She’d have to make that up to him later.

To Peter, she said, “So you’re heading to the general area and just going to see if you can find this place? I do hope that you find your family there and that they’re safe. It’d be nice to hear a happy ending for once.”

“I promised little Kitty that we would see each other again, so I am sure I will find it.” Peter stood up and wiped his hands free of dirt before heading back into the house. Hopefully Moe had behaved while they were gone and they wouldn’t be walking in on Aziraphale trying to hide the body.

Ellie walked back into the kitchen and went straight to Aziraphale, taking his hand and eyeing up the food that had been neatly divided up on the table. “That’s quite a good haul,” she observed.

Moe, who had been silently staring out of the window (he had nothing of interest to say to Azi, and nothing he wanted to know about the boy), turned and smiled when Ellie entered the room again. “Welcome back, sweetheart.” He looked at Peter. “Good work getting the generator going, we’re just heating up some water now.”

Azi pulled her closer and placed a quick kiss to her cheek. “The people here must have left in a hurry like most others. Did you run into any trouble out there?”

Peter nodded at Moe in thanks and began going through their share of the food to see what they had.

“No trouble,” she said. “This place has been remarkably zombie free. Almost worth staying here, really…”

“Could be quite nice to stay here,” Moe agreed, watching Ellie.

Ellie sighed and leaned into Azi. “Or not.”

Azi put an arm around her waist and nuzzled beneath her ear. “I’m sure we’ll find a nice little place for just us eventually dear.” He mumbled softly, ignoring the unpleasant man in the room and giving Ellie his complete focus.

Ellie smiled at Azi and kissed him on the nose. “I’m sure we will,” she said in the same low tone.

Moe was annoyed because they were being all sickeningly sweet, mumbling little things to each other, in the corner of the kitchen. He remembered when she used to mumble sweet things to him. He poured the pasta into the pot and stirred angrily.

Azi smiled and pulled Ellie closer so that he could rest his head against her shoulder. “If we /do/ stay here for the night I’m sure we can find a room for just us to share.” His voice was still low so that the others wouldn’t overhear. “It’ll be nice and private.”

Peter politely gave the couple their privacy and want to help Moe with their food.

She snorted. “With a lock, please,” she said. “Should we be helping with the food? At least getting plates out?”

Moe was wondering just how he could get Ellie on her own without that irritating little gnat Aziraphale hanging off her, when Peter came over to help. “Not a lot to do here. Boil the pasta, drain the pasta, add the canned sauce, done. You could show Aziraphale how the generator works so that he knows for the next house that has one?”

Azi gave Ellie a playful kiss on her lips. “Alright, alright.” Pulling away reluctantly he started pulling out plate and silverware for everyone.

“I believe miss Ellie saw what I was doing while we were out there but if not I will remember to show them when we turn it off later. Thank you for the suggestion Moe.” Peter pulled out a strainer for the pasta.

Moe was sullenly silent as they finished preparing the pasta, then tried to sit next to Ellie at the table. She wasn’t even subtle about getting up and shifting her plate to the far side of Azi when Moe sat down, though she didn’t say a word.

She wanted to bring up Peter’s quest to find his family as table conversation before Moe could find something more innuendo-ridden, but she wasn’t sure whether that would just bring back bad memories for Azi with his own missing family. Though maybe it would give him hope…? She didn’t know, so she put her head down and tucked into her food.

She ungraciously didn’t thank Moe for making the pasta. It was pretty hard to mess up boiled pasta with canned sauce anyway.

Azi watched the silent and obviously hostile exchange between Ellie and Moe as they all ate their lunch and sighed to himself. He didn’t blame Ellie for her behavior towards Moe (Moe wasn’t exactly acting like a gentleman), but it would be nice if everyone could get along for the short time they would be together. Azi wasn’t a big fan of awkward tension filled silence but he didn’t have any plans for breaking it.

Peter was sharing the same thoughts as Azi. It was always uncomfortable when half of the party wanted to strangle each other (Or in Moe’s case, do something a little more intimate than strangle) Peter just hoped that by the time they all finished their meals he won’t be pulling anyone off of anyone else.

The small ginger cat, unaware of the situation, simply purred loudly in Azi’s lap were it had decided to rest while the humans ate, getting petted occasionally.

When they were done Ellie got up and started clearing off the dishes. Moe leapt to his feet (and she just noticed that he was minus a cane again, so whatever injury had him slowed down before was obviously fixed, more’s the pity) to assist her. She didn’t say anything until he once again crowded into her personal space at the sink.

She turned to him and put her hand on her hip, exasperated. “No.”

Moe smiled at her and leaned closer. “That’s not what you used to say, sweetheart.”

Ellie huffed out an annoyed breath. Time to at least /try/ and get the message through to him. “Quite frankly you’re coming across as pathetic and desperate right now, little man. I want you to get it through your thick skull that I slept with you for /money/, it was my /job/, and that I don’t do that any more. I’m not sleeping with Azi for food, or shelter, or protection, or any other sort of trade. He doesn’t need to /buy/ me and I am not for sale or rent. Wake up, Moe. The world has ended, and all your sad little fantasies with it.”

Moe frowned but leaned back again.

“You have no one, Moe. Only person in this world who looks out for you is one man who is too nice to either put you down or abandon you somewhere. I’d consider myself lucky, if I were you, and stop pushing.”

She started to turn away, then paused. “And I’m done with letting you near me. Next time you enter my personal space, no matter what the situation is, I’m going to stab you with whatever I find nearby.” She wrapped her fingers around a butter knife.

Moe backed off completely.

Both Azi and Peter got up from the table when they started to hear Ellie’s hostile voice coming from the kitchen, so they were both there and ready to stop Ellie from carrying out her threat.

Azi grabbed the hand that was holding the knife and gently lowered it. “Come on darling, let’s check out the rooms and see if we can’t find a nice secluded spot to settle down for the night… or at least until dinner.” He put a hand around her waist and lead her out of the kitchen.

Peter, who had moved in front of Moe incase Ellie had decided to make good on her threat, turned to look at him and shake his head. “I don’t think she likes you.”

Moe scowled, humiliated now in front of the others, and stormed off to some other part of the house.

Ellie let herself be led. “I wasn’t actually going to stab him with the butter knife,” she was explaining. “Well, probably not…” She thought about it for a moment longer. “Only if he hadn’t backed off…” Yeah, all in all it was probably for the best that they’d intervened.

She shook her head. “He didn’t used to be so bad. Stuck up, yes, and a chauvinistic pig, sure, but he paid on time and played by the rules. I think the apocalypse has done a number on him.” She scowled. “Now every time he opens his mouth I just want to waterboard him or something. Ugh.”

“This world has done a number on all of us, but that doesn’t excuse him not respecting your boundaries… or you stabbing him with a butter knife. What would the nice people who are letting us use their home say if they found out we’ve been using their silverware for murder?” He teased a little and began to search through the house with Ellie for a bedrooms.

Azi found what looked to be the master bedroom and took Ellie inside, locking the door behind them to give them some privacy. “Now in all seriousness dear, are we going to need to do something about you and Moe or would it be better if I start helping Peter dig a grave for him right now?”

Ellie walked over to the bed and threw herself down, stretching out on the luxurious covers. “A grave sounds good. No, two. One for his body and another one far away for his head. I wouldn’t put it past him to reanimate even if we take his head off.” She was only half-joking.

“In seriousness, though,” she said, propping herself up on one elbow. “I just need to keep away from him. I don’t /want/ to be near him, I keep trying /not/ to be near him, but he keeps finding me.”

Azi climbed onto the bed with Ellie and wrapped his fingers around hers. “Well I think it’s safe to assume that with the door locked he can’t find you now. So try to unwind and think less murderous thoughts okay?” Azi smiled.

Ellie leaned forward to press her lips to his, smiling in response. “Hmm, make me,” she said.

He sat up a little and smirked. “Why my dear Ellie, is that a challenge?”

She grinned at him. “Why, is it too challenging for you?”

“I guess we’ll see now won’t we?” He leaned forward and captured her lips with his.

~fade to black~

——

Ellie rolled over and stretched, smiling because she’d had a good night’s rest, in a secure room, on a really comfortable bed, in the arms of a man she was head over heels in love with. It didn’t get much better than this. Once she’d had a good stretch on the bed, she rolled back and flopped an arm across Azi’s waist, resting her chin on his shoulder. “Morning,” she said, feeling chipper.

Azi stirred awake when Ellie began to shift around on the large bed and instinctively put an arm around her when he felt her snuggle up close to him again. “Morning to you too darling. Get enough rest?”

Ellie’s smile widened as she nuzzled up under his chin and hugged him back. “Yes, thank you. This bed is fantastic, I slept very well. Do you reckon we can fit this into one of our packs? I want to take it with us.”

He pretended to ponder this. “Well, I’m sure if we take turns carrying it we’ll be able to bring it with us… but I think we’ll need a bigger pack for it.”

She placed her hands folded on his chest and her chin on her hands, grinning at him. “I like that you’re as silly as I am.” She reached out a finger to tap his chin. “Did you sleep well?”

Azi tilted his head and kissed playfully at her finger. “With you by my side? I slept fantastically.”

Ellie smiled at the little finger kiss, then let out a dramatic sigh. “I suppose we’d better haul ass out of bed and show our faces. Get it over with, get on the road and away from…” She didn’t finish. He knew perfectly well who she was trying to get away from.

“From that ferocious little ginger cat that startled you when we first got here?” He finished with a grin.

Ellie laughed. “Yeah, that’s the one.” Reluctantly, she pushed away from him to sit up.

Reluctantly, he let her and set up himself. “Do you feel up to having breakfast with the other occupants of this house or would you rather hit the road right away?”

The offer was very tempting. “I feel we should at least give Peter some company other than that…” She closed her mouth and tried to think of something to say that wasn’t an insult. “Moe.” That would do, though even the name was starting to taste sour on her tongue. “Patience of a saint, I tell you.”

Azi started giggling madly at the unintentional pun had just made and had to wipe a stray tear from his eye because of how hard he was laughing. “Saint Peter….” He was able to get out between chuckles.

Ellie joined in the laughter when she realised what she’d done, too. “Oh dear. No, now I’m going to keep thinking that and it’s…” Some more giggles. She got out of bed and started fishing around for her clothes. “Where did you toss my bra?”

Azi made a helpless gesture towards the corner of the room where he believed most of Ellie’s clothes resided and worked on getting his giggles under control.

Ellie shook her head in amusement at Azi’s antics and went to collect her clothes, pulling them on in a playful reverse-strip tease.

Azi shamelessly watched Ellie get dressed out of the corner of his eye as he started pulling on clothing himself. “Keep that up my dear and we just may have to take those off again.”

Ellie laughed, happy with the reaction her little show got, and pulled her shirt over her head. Dressed now, she walked over and gave Azi a little playful tap on the ass and picked up her bag to make sure it was all packed and ready to go, her turn to watch Azi getting dressed out of the corner of her eye.

Azi blushed and smiled a little both at Ellie’s groping and at her watch him pull his clothes on. “Like what you see?” He teased at he buttoned up his trousers.

Ellie grinned and did up her pack, sitting back on the bed to openly admire him. “Fishing for compliments?” she asked, eyes following the movements of his hands.

“Oh always darling.” Azi grinned and finished pulling on his shirt before securing the pack onto his back.

Ellie stood, putting her own backpack on her shoulders and picking up her sword before walking over to join Azi. She grabbed his hand and leaned in to give him a quick kiss. “Well, in that case, I happen to think you’re gorgeous and yes, I definitely like what I see.”

“Oh Ellie, you flatter me.” Azi smirked and leaned in closer to recapture her lips, gently teasing them open and deepening the kiss before pulling away again. “Shall we go see what the others are up to?”

Heart racing a little at the kiss, Ellie grinned at him. “Hmm, your words say one thing but your lips say another…” She laughed and stroked his cheek before turning away and walking towards the door. “I suppose.” She opened it and stepped out, catching some movement out of the corner of her eye. With a frown, she turned towards it, sword ready, but there was nothing there now. Odd.

Azi grabbed his bat that had been propped up next to the door and followed Ellie out of the room. Although he didn’t notice the movement (and if he had he probably would have just assumed it was the little ginger cat) but he did notice the frown Ellie was suddenly wearing. “What’s wrong dear?”

She shook her head and relaxed. “Nothing, I just… nothing.” She smiled at Azi and walked towards the kitchen, wondering… At least when she got to the kitchen, Moe was nowhere in sight. Small mercies.

Azi followed Ellie into the kitchen and was going to ask again just to make sure she was alright when suddenly he found the small ginger cat attacking his leg a mewing at him. He couldn’t help but smile at it. “Hello Ginger, I’ll take it you want me to feed you hmm?” Scooping up the small cat (now nick named ‘Ginger’) Azi went over to the cabinets to open up another can of cat food for his feline friend.

Ellie had to smile at the cat, who had adopted Azi. At least he hadn’t insisted on them having it in the room last night. Not that she had anything against cats, but she didn’t want to traumatise the poor thing… She grinned and went to the pantry to see what was available for breakfast. The selection was somewhat limited in actual breakfast foods as those tended to go off after short periods, but she’d become a lot less picky about what she ate when. She got out some oats, but the packet had been opened and now had bugs in it (and it smelled bad). Grimacing, she went for the rice instead, which had at least been in a sealed container. “I wonder where the other two are?”

Azi placed both the cat food and Ginger onto the floor that way it could eat in piece while he went to help Ellie with breakfast. “Maybe they took off already? Places to go, zombies to slay, that sort of thing.”

She thought about the movement she had seen as she’d exited her room and frowned. “Don’t think so,” she said carefully. “I’m pretty sure I saw…”

As if summoned, Moe swept into the room. “Good morning, sweetheart. Did you sleep well?” As usual he mostly ignored Azi’s presence to shower all his attention on Ellie, though at least he wasn’t trying to breathe all over her right now.

Peter somewhat reluctantly followed in behind Moe, eager to get something to eat but not looking forward to Moe hitting on miss Ellie again and getting himself killed. Stopping to pet Ginger, Peter muttered a quick “Good morning” and started to go through the cabinets.

Azi resisted the urge to sign in annoyance when Moe started up again and instead wished Peter a “Good morning” as well.

Ellie, deciding to ignore Moe as much as she could, and determined to stick as close to Azi as was possible, passed Azi the rice. “This going to be ok for breakfast, love?” she asked, looking pointedly only at Azi.

Moe beamed as if the appellation had been directed at him. “Rice sounds lovely!”

Both Azi and Peter gave Moe a strange look but didn’t bother on telling him that the question had been directed towards Azi, since it was sort of obvious.

“He didn’t get much sleep last night.” Peter whispered to them. “Off exploring the house or something most of the time.”

Azi nodded, understanding sleep deprivation can have strange effects on some people. “Rice will be fine darling.” He turned his attention back to Ellie.

Ellie took two cups of rice out of the container and chucked it in a pot with some water, set it boiling on the stove, and rummaged around in the pantry for something to flavour it with. With both Azi and Peter there to keep an eye on Moe, she didn’t feel she needed to. She was a little disturbed by the information Peter had imparted, though. Where had Moe been exploring? She was doubly glad that they’d picked a room with a lock. She shuddered, thinking about Moe watching them sleep. Ugh. No thank you.

Moe watched Ellie’s movements like a cat watching a mouse. There was something predatory, possessive, /hungry/ about his gaze. He kept a respectful distance, though. There would be a better time.

Meanwhile, now that it had finished its meal, Ginger watched an actual mouse scurry across the floor and out of the kitchen before scampering off to go play with it.

While Azi was opening some canned fruit for everyone to share, Peter had found the spices and had set them out for Ellie to use on the rice. “We can split theses between our groups once you are done using them miss.”

Ellie gave Peter a smile. “Thanks Peter. And I’m not miss, I’m Ellie. Miss makes me feel like a school teacher.”

Moe slouched over to the kitchen bench and watched the other two men /fawn/ over his Alisha, like they had a right. It was sickening. And she was /flirting/ with Peter, smiling at him like that! And he just wouldn’t /mention/ the things she had been doing with the other one last night. It was not on. His Alisha should /not/ be behaving like that with anyone other than him. But the other two men were both younger and stronger than him. He’d have to wait for an opportunity to get her alone.

Azi was glad to see that Peter seemed like a pretty nice person and was acting kindly towards Ellie. The last thing they needed was another Moe leering at every move she made.

Fruit careful divided up into small bowls, Azi placed one at each seat on the table and started collecting silverware for everyone.

Peter, after muttering a quick “Sorry miss Ellie” to her, decided to help Azi set the table by getting everyone a glass and filling them with water.

Ellie patted Peter on the shoulder as he passed her and said, “It’s ok. If you want to call me miss I don’t mind.” She then drained the rice when it was done and added some spices, stirring them in thoroughly before dividing the meal into four soup bowls and adding them to the small bowls at the table.

Moe was once again thwarted in sitting next to his girl, so he sat across from her. This was better anyway, because he could look at her and if he stretched his leg out…

Ellie kicked him under the table, and he jumped with a little wince.

Azi tried not to laugh when Moe obviously got himself kicked under the table for invading Ellie’s personal space again by shoving a mouth full of rice past his lips. “This tastes lovely dear, thank you.”

“Ah yes, thank you for the meal miss.” Peter added once he remembers his manners. His mother had always taught him to be polite even in the worst situations and he was pretty sure the zombie apocalypse where he was sharing breakfast with two people he was still getting to know and one other that was trying to play footsies with their cook under the table counted as one of those situations.

Ginger returned from her hunt and leapt onto Azi’s lap, curling up and purring.

“Thank you and you’re welcome,” she said to each of the younger men in turn, happily munching on her own meal now that Moe was no longer playing footsies under the table with her.

When they were done she stood up to start collecting the dishes, but when Moe leapt to his feet to help her she sat down again. “Actually, I cooked, so Moe can do the dishes,” she said.

Moe hesitated for a second, realising that he wasn’t going to get her alone in the kitchen after all, then continued gathering the dishes, unable to back out now. He took them through to the kitchen with ill grace.

Peter finished his meal and stood to help the older man take care of breakfast. He’d been helping this long so why stop now?

Once the two men had disappeared into the kitchen, Azi turned to Ellie. “Now that that only slightly awkward breakfast is over and done with shall we be gathering up what we can and get going?”

Smiling, she brushed a bit of hair off his forehead. “Sounds like a plan. But what about…” she waved at the cat on Azi’s lap.

Ginger poked her head up to look at Ellie before lazily rolling over and curling back into Azi’s lap.

Azi scratched her ears absently. “Maybe we could…. you know.” He gave Ellie a helpless look.

Ellie smiled indulgently at him. “You weren’t kidding when you said you form attachments quickly, were you?”

He smiled shyly at her. “Well it helps when the things and people I’m forming attachments to are absolutely adorable.”

She rolled her eyes but remained smiling. “Well, if it follows us I’m not going to chase it away. It’s obviously a good mouser or something, because it didn’t starve to death without a supply of cat food.” She looked at the ginger feline. “If you follow us, you earn your keep, ok?” She reached out and stroked its chin.

Ginger nuzzled into Ellie’s hand and let out a little mew, purring loudly.

Azi chuckled. “Have I mentioned that the way you talk to small furry animals has to be one of the cutest things I’ve ever heard?”

She cocked her head at him. “How do I talk to small furry animals?”

He continued chuckling and just shook his head. “Don’t worry about it dear. Let’s grab what we’re taking with us and get out of here before Moe tries to follow.” He gently coaxed Ginger off of his lap and stood up.

She stood up, too, and looked in the direction of the kitchen, biting her lip. “Peter won’t mind us just taking off, will he?” Though the thought of Moe following made her want to run out the door right now and not look back.

She shouldered her pack, which they’d left just outside the kitchen. They’d distributed the food yesterday, so at least she didn’t have to go in there to get anything.

“We can say goodbye to him before we go. He seems like a nice enough fellow that I don’t want to out right ignore him.” Azi picked up his own pack with Ginger following closely behind him. “But first let’s try and find some jackets. As I recall ours are still hanging on the top off a barbed wire fence a few miles back.”

Ellie chuckled. “Hmm, true. Thankfully it’s been mild enough since to do without, but yes, farm house this size should have something for both of us.”

It didn’t take them long to locate some jackets, and Ellie selected one that fit her well enough. A little baggy, but that just meant in the colder weather she could wear more underneath. Also, it was quite hard wearing and looked like it might even be waterproof.

Azi found an older tartan jacket in a corner coat closest and despite it being a little dusty and smelt of mothballs, it suited him just fine. “I suppose it’s time to say our goodbyes.” Taking Ellie’s hand into his own, Azi started towards the kitchen.

Ellie dubiously eyed the tartan pattern as she let herself be led back to the kitchen. “I suppose,” she agreed, steeling herself for an encounter with Moe.

He was, unfortunately, still in the kitchen when they returned. He turned around to smile at them, saw their joined hands and his smile turned to a frown.

Peter, not bothered by the fact that they were openly acting like a couple, instead noticed that they seemed to have gathered all of their stuff together and were prepared to head out. “Come to say your goodbyes?”

Azi smiled and nodded. “That we have. Best we get going while the day is still young. Best of luck to you Peter.” He held out his hand for a handshake.

Peter took it. “And to you and miss Ellie, Aziraphale.” He nodded to the both of them.

“If you give me a moment, I’ll be ready, too,” Moe said, throwing the dish towel down on the bench. “Peter has his own mission. I could travel with you…”

Ellie got over her initial shock and burst out with a loud, “No!” Then she got a hold of herself. “No way in hell.” Well, sort of. It was still a lot politer than what she was thinking of /doing/ to him.

Moe looked genuinely confused by her outburst.

The two younger men jumped at Ellie’s outburst but had a better idea as to why she responded in such a way.

“Moe,” Peter put a hand on his shoulder. “I think it would be best if we leave miss Ellie and her boyfriend alone for now, odds are we’ll run into them again someday soon.”

Azi’s hand found Ellie’s again and gave it a squeeze.

“Goodbye Peter,” she said in a much gentler tone, grounded by Azi’s hand around hers. “Good luck with finding your family.” She turned then, without acknowledging Moe, who had picked up the dish towel again and was quietly strangling it.

She led Azi out of that kitchen and didn’t look back.

—-

It had been nearly a week of solid travelling and the houses had gotten fewer and fewer. Thankfully, so had the zombie sightings, but that was small comfort when the last house they’d seen had been shortly after they’d set out that morning and now the afternoon was wearing on. They couldn’t turn back because they wouldn’t make it before night fell, so they had no choice but to go on. Ellie paused to have a drink of water and look around.

“We need to find somewhere.” Nothing but rolling hills. Not even that many trees. “See anything at all?” She shaded her eyes, but it didn’t help.

“Nothing sadly.” Well, that was a lie. Through out their day of walking Azi hsd seen plenty of things. He saw roads, and grass, and a few flowers, and even a mouse that Ginger seemed to enjoy hunting before making a meal out of it, but nothing that could be considered useful to them like food or a building to rest in. On the bright side though, they hadn’t come across anyone undead or not, so that was a plus. “Do you think that we’ll come across some shelter before night fall?”

Ellie was /not/ going to let herself sag when Azi’s response was negative, and she made herself put her water away and keep walking. “I /hope/ we do,” she said, once more putting one foot in front of the other. “I don’t fancy sleeping rough, but it won’t be the first time.”

“Well if we /do/ end up sleeping outside tonight I wouldn’t worry too much about it. We haven’t seen a zombie for miles now and we always have our fierce guard cat to protect us.” Said guard cat was currently chasing a butterfly, causing Azi to chuckle.

Ellie eyed up Ginger dubiously. “Yeah, really quite fierce. I’m so reassured,” she said, voice dripping with sarcasm, but she was smiling. The smile faded as she squinted into the distance again. “I hope we at least find some woods before dark.” She shook her head, telling herself not to start whining about shelter. They had food, blankets, and weapons. Whatever happened, they’d be fine. And Azi was right, they hadn’t seen any zombies in a while.

“Me too dear.” If not though, at least the ground is covered with soft grass rather than hard rock. Always find a bright side. “How much longer do you think we can keep going before fatigue sets in?”

Ellie shrugged. “I’ve still got a few hours in me, but it may be worth stopping in an hour or two and using some of that energy for setting up a safe comfortable place.” She looked at Azi and at Ginger, who had stuck with them since the farm, never ranging far. Her little family. She hadn’t given up on her dream of finding a nice place somewhere in the woods for just the two (or three, if you count the cat) of them. She did wonder, though, if it would ever happen.

Azi adjusted his hold on his back pack and kept his eyes sharp on their surroundings. Nope, still nothing. “Want to just call it quits now and start a fire?”

Ellie looked around. Every direction was pretty much the same. She dragged a mark into the ground, placing an arrow at one end. The direction they had been travelling. Then, without a word, she dropped her pack and rolled her shoulders. “Don’t like the idea of a fire out in the open like this, but without it we’ll definitely be too cold. And the thought of a hot meal is…” Her mouth watered. Yes, a hot meal would go down a treat right now. “I’ll gather up some kindling.”

Azi dropped his stuff to the ground as well when he saw Ellie doing so. “Alright, I’ll dig a fire pit and set up camp for the night. Yell if you come across any trouble…. or if you just want me to come running to your side.”

Ellie checked her sword strapped to her side and shot Azi and amused grin. “I /always/ want you to come running to my side,” she said, blowing him a kiss and heading towards the bottom of the hill. If there was any wood around, it would be down there.

Shaking his head with a chuckle, Azi set his bat aside and began to dig the fire pit.

Meanwhile, Ginger had decided that whatever Ellie was up to was more interesting and followed her.

Ellie looked down at the little ginger cat. “Ok, you keep an eye out for anything we can hunt, and I’ll keep an eye out for twigs,” she told the cat, amused at being followed.

In half an hour she’d managed to scrounge a mere armful of wood. There were few trees around, and that meant branches and twigs weren’t just lying around. She trudged back up the hill, wishing she had more to show for her time.

Ginger however, had plenty to show for her hard work. While Ellie had been hunting for twigs, the feline had been hunting for prey and had a big juicy bird in her mouth to show for her efforts. Tonight the kitty would feast.

Azi saw Ellie and their furry companion coming up the hill and since the fire pit was ready and their camp set up, he went down to meet them. “Find anything interesting?”

“Seems Ginger was more productive than I was,” she responded, handing over some of her load. “Should be enough here for us to heat up some food, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for it lasting long enough to keep us warm.” Her mouth quirked up at one corner as she gave Azi a heated look. “We’ll have to keep warm other ways.”

Azi smiled slyly and started back towards the camp with Ellie by his side. “Oh? And how /ever/ are we going to keep warm?”

Ginger ignored the humans and beat them to camp.

Feeling better for being near Azi again, Ellie climbed the hill with enthusiasm and she shot him an amused glance. “I’m sure you’ll think of something. You’re pretty clever.” She deposited her load by the fire pit Azi had dug, leaving him to arrange the fire while she fished through their bags for a suitable meal for tonight.

“I may have some ideas…” Azi was tempted to share some of his ideas with Ellie then and there, but there was a fire to be started and food to be made, so he would have to wait.

Ellie grinned but didn’t respond, gathering together some canned food that is better heated than cold (such as creamed corn and beans) and had each of them in a camping pot. At least they didn’t have to share food with the cat. Ginger was quite the little hunter and provided for herself very well.

Using one of the many lighters they had from their convenience store raids, Azi had the fire going in no time at all went to check on Ellie and their food. “What are we having tonight darling?”

“Your favourite!” she said, which was pretty much what she said no matter what was on the menu. “Corn and beans. Yummy yummy!” Ellie laughed and placed the pots over the fire, keeping them carefully balanced. It wouldn’t do for them to fall over and spill their food.

Azi smiled cheerfully. “Oh Ellie my dear, you always make such fine meals for us to feast on.” He moved to her side by the fire and helped her balance one of the pots.

Ellie gave him a playful shoulder nudge now that she wasn’t balancing both pots. She smiled as she waited for the beans to heat. It didn’t take long and she then took it off the fire and poured an equal measure of beans into the two bowls she’d set out earlier. “How is the corn coming along?” She wasn’t sure about mixing the two, but who had the luxury to be picky about their food nowadays? Not her!

“Looks just about done. Nothing like a hearty meal of beans and corn before settling down for a night under the stars.” He picked up one of the bowls and began to add the corn with the beans.

Ellie tried not to look too much at her meal as she settled back to eat. She tried not to taste it, too, but at least it was hot and filling. “We’ll have to take turns on watch tonight,” she pointed out unnecessarily. They could cuddle for a bit, sure, but it wouldn’t be a full night of sleep for either of them. There was something to be said for having some solid walls to depend on.

Azi ate his meal out of hunger rather than enjoyment and sort of wished Ginger would share her bird to at least get some variety in the meal. “I’ll take first watch if you would like, but I doubt we’ll come across any trouble tonight.”

Ellie nodded and collected up their empty plates and the bowls to rinse out and wash as best she could. She hoped Azi had zipped their sleeping bags together for the night, they’d need the extra body warmth. Things finally cleanish and packed away again (had to make sure packs were ready to go with as many supplies as possible on short notice if they were attacked), Ellie looked around to see what their sleeping arrangements would be.

Azi had, in fact, zipped their sleeping bags together (there was hardly ever a time he didn’t) and was already settling in while Ellie cleaned up. He may have to stay awake for half the night, but he’d like to be warm and cozy while he kept watch. With their weapons set close by and the fire still going (but beginning to simmer down) Azi beckoned Ellie to join him in the warmth.

Ellie dragged their packs over, took her shoes off, and crawled into the sleeping bag with Azi. She immediately wrapped her arms around him and buried her nose into his neck. Another day survived. She squeezed hard and thanked whoever that she had Azi.

Azi slipped his arms around Ellie as soon as they were both settled in and would have kissed her if it wasn’t for the fact she was currently burying into his neck…. which he didn’t mind in the slightest. “Tired I take it?”

Ellie shook her head and then lifted it so she could catch Azi’s mouth in a kiss. She pressed close and ran her hands up his back so that she could bury her fingers in his hair. She spoke in between kisses. “Now… what ideas… did you have… to keep warm?”

Azi gasped quietly when he suddenly felt the heat from Ellie’s body pressed flush against him and he returned the kiss eagerly. “I… I think you already have an idea.”

Grinning against his mouth, Ellie pulled him down on top of her, holding him close and wrapping her legs around his. She wished they could risk making love tonight, and before the world ended this would have been a perfect situation for dining el fresco. As it was she couldn’t help encouraging him with kisses and caresses, loving the feel of him so close.

Her kiss and caresses excited him in a way that he really shouldn’t be distracted by at the moment since they were outside and exposed to the new and old dangers of this world, but Azi couldn’t help but press down, closer to the warmth that was Ellie. His cold hands slipping under her shirt seeking both the heat and a few other things…

“Oh god,” she groaned, throwing her head back and grinding her hips up. “Azi… I… We shouldn’t but…” Oh she wanted to, she most definitely did, and her own hands trailed from his hair to hemline and up under his shirt. The feel of skin, warm smooth slightly-furred skin, made her ache.

“But…?” Azi’s lips found her throat and began to nibble and suck there, gently marking her. He knew that they should probably stop there before they forgot themselves, but he was /really/ enjoying the soft skin beneath his hands and the wonderful friction that came from grinding his hips with hers.

Ellie had an idea… A wicked, brilliant idea. “Wait… Azi…” she gasped, forcing her mind to take over control of her body again. She grinned at Azi. “Sit up, on your backside, I have an idea…”

Azi pulled away, body protesting to the sudden loss of warmth, and gave Ellie a queer look before following her demand. “…What are you plotting?”

Ellie knelt above him as best she could in the confines of their sleeping bags and spread Azi’s legs, shuffling forward a little and running her hands up his thighs. “You just keep watch… If you can… And let me have my fun.” Her hands skimmed around him and up his stomach, under his shirt. Her grin could only be described as calculating.

Azi raised an eyebrow at her. If she thought he would be able to keep watch while she had her fun with him, she had far too much faith.

Ellie let her hands trail down again to rest on his waistband. She looked up and met Azi’s eyes. “Do you want me to keep going?” God she wanted to, wanted to taste him and make him fall to pieces…

Watching Ellie’s hands move over him, Azi started to form an idea of what Ellie was up to. He felt his face turn bright red. “…Always darling.”

She smiled and undid his trousers, sliding a single finger along the length of him through the thin fabric of his boxers. Her breathing was already erratic and she was so turned on by having this power. She wanted to feel him, and to this end she gently hitched his trousers down a little then slid the waistband of his boxers carefully down, exposing him.

Azi swallowed dryly as Ellie unzipped him, a tad nervous about his lack of control, but any nervousness was lost as soon as Ellie began to touch him. He was far too turned on already by her simple stroke and he didn’t care in the slightest. He leaned back a little to make what she was doing easier.

It was quickly cooling out and she’d just exposed a very vulnerable part of him. She leaned forward and blew a gentle, warm breath along the length of him, kissing the tip. “I love you and I love this,” she murmured before using her hand to guide him into her mouth. He tasted salty and seductive, she took in as much of him as she could.

Azi had to bite his lip to keep from crying out. Ellie’s mouth was warm and wet and oh so much better than the cool night air he had been feeling before. “E-Ellie…”

His voice was like music, but Ellie’s mouth was too busy to respond, so she reached up with her free hand to grab at his. She moved, slowly in and out, changing angles and then speed.

Azi’s hand found hers and squeezed it tightly. His breath was short and ragged, doubting he would last long but wanting to enjoy every moment of this act. “Oh E-Ellie….. p-please….” What he wad begging for, Azi wasn’t entirely sure, but he knew he wanted it desperately.

She could feel him, the way he twitched and moved, that he was really enjoying this. What she wanted right now was to hear his voice break with pleasure, feel him shuddering… Ellie wrapped her tongue around him and sucked, then pushed back down, scraping her teeth ever so lightly. Even with her throat relaxed, she couldn’t take all of him in, not easily, and she pushed down hard.

This time Azi /did/ cry out and threw his head back. The combination of Ellie’s tongue and teeth and how deep she was taking him… it was all too much. With his pulse racing and his breath no more than short, shallow breaths, Azi knew he was close to the edge and began to lose himself in the pleasure of it all.

That was it, that was what Ellie wanted (no, /needed/) to hear. She increased her pace, using her lips, tongue, teeth, throat and hand to take him that last little bit further. She doubted he was keeping watch at this point, and she didn’t care. All she cared about right now was him, and the sounds and movements he was making.

“Ellie… I-I’m… I’m g-gonna…” Azi couldn’t finish his sentence though as suddenly a final wave of pleasure over took him. He cried out loud and breathlessly as his whole body shuddered from the release.

Ellie squeezed his hand to indicate that she understood and then the salty heat hit the back of her throat. She had been prepared for it and didn’t choke but rode it out with him, waiting until his throbbing had stopped before swallowing and pulling off. She wiped delicately at the corner of her mouth, catching any spillage, before covering him (with his boxers, anyway, he could do himself up later when he wasn’t sensitive any more) and crawling up to place a kiss to his jaw, smiling in satisfaction. “Well, we weren’t eaten by zombies, no thanks to your sentry skills,” she teased.

Azi had to wait for his breath to come back to him before he could retort. His eyes were half lidded and he wore a small smile on his face. “Well you… you didn’t exactly make keeping watch easy.” Azi stole a kiss. “Though I’m certainly not complaining.”

Ellie chuckled and kissed him back. “Just as well,” she said. It had been stupid and risky, but also thrilling and amazing. And he’d been just as polite as she’d expected him to be in this situation, which she found both amusing and incredibly sweet. “I take it you wouldn’t mind doing that again in the future, then?”

Azi pressed his forehead to hers and nodded slightly. “I… I think I might enjoy doing that again.” His hands wrapped around Ellie’s waist and pulled her closer. “…What about you?”

Ellie smiled because of course he would ask. And she /did/ ache for the same release, for his hands and his lips… or even just his hands… The thought made her shiver with pleasure. She grabbed one of his hands and placed it against her stomach, forehead still pressed to his and looking him in the eyes. “I wouldn’t say no if your hand decided to explore.” She squirmed against him and her voice lowered. “In fact, I’d probably say yes over, and over, and over…”

Azi hand /was/ exploring, pushing up her shirt and slowly undoing her jeans as he pressed himself closer when an idea came to him. “Are your sure you only want my hands to explore…” He moved his lips to her ear and spoke just above a whisper. “…Or would you rather have my mouth join in the fun as well?”

Her breath hitched and she pushed into the hand that was undoing her jeans. “Oh god yes please,” she said in a rush, and turned her head to catch his lips in a fierce kiss, her own fingers threading in his hair to pull him as close as possible.

Chuckling into the kiss, Azi returned it hungrily as his hands worked Ellie’s jeans off. He had to force himself to pull away slightly to speak. “…This will be easier if you lay back.”

Ellie did as she was told and watched Azi with heavy lidded eyes and wide-blown pupils, her stomach clenching in anticipation of what he was about to do. She kicked her feet free of her jeans, wondering if this was the best idea. It meant that if they were attacked now, she would be without her trousers entirely.

With Ellie now on her back, Azi slowly pushed up her shirt and spread her legs, feeling both nervous yet excited about what he was about to do. Gently Azi began to kiss and nibble at the soft of her stomach and take his time trailing his lips downward. His hands rubbed soft circles into her thighs.

Ellie found her back arching, pressing her stomach into his lips then thrusting up with her hips, desperate for him by now. “Oh god Azi, please, just… I want you.” If zombies came and ate her now she would be really very pissed off.

A chuckle vibrated in the back of his throat and he held her hips steady as he continued to kiss her. His lips slid down her stomach to kiss a sensitive skin at her waist, and then the inside of her thigh, biting sharply before soothing her with his tongue, so close to where she wanted his mouth to be but he couldn’t resist teasing her first.

Ellie whimpered and her back arched completely off the ground. “Please, Azi…” Her hands reached for his hair, for anything she could grab hold of. One of her hands grabbed at his forearm while the other found his hair. She tugged unintentionally, unable to stop herself.

Smiling slyly to himself and actually enjoying the gentle tugging on his hair, Azi gave her what she obviously wanted and kissed her in between her legs. He let his tongue slowly graze over her and tasted the sweet wetness that was coming from her.

The moment his tongue touched her the air went straight out of her lungs and her hand in his hair clenched tight. The danger of the situation was heightening her awareness of everything – the feel of the cool air against her skin, Azi’s hair in her fingers, his mouth on her… ripples of pleasure travelled out from her abdomen and kept her from catching her breath.

Azi couldn’t stop his mouth from smiling against her when he felt her grip tighten. Keeping his pace slow and gentle, Azi explored Ellie with his tongue and lips, pressing against whatever spots that caused her to make the most noises of pleasure.

Ellie chanted his name over and over, pleading with him, feeling the pleasure and the pressure building. She wanted more, thrust gently against his mouth, and whimpered whenever his tongue rasped against a very… particular… spot…

Azi felt himself grow excited once again at Ellie’s chatting and gentle thrusts into his mouth. He resisted the urge to touch himself by instead adding his fingers into the mix, licking and nuzzling the spot that was driving her wild while his fingers worked on… /other/ parts of her.

Ellie’s eyes and mouth opened wide when she felt his fingers as well. “Yes, Azi, yes!” She felt the building of her orgasm, the slow wave of pressure, and she thrust more desperately against him, rushing towards her own completion with a single-minded determination.

Azi moved his head with her thrusts but next let up with either his mouth or fingers. Carefully he moved the tips of his fingers inside and made a few motions he knew she had enjoyed in the past. Making a bold move, Azi gently added his teeth along with what his tongue and lips were doing to her, careful not to hurt Ellie in any way.

That was it, the combination of the things his fingers were doing and his /teeth/ on her most sensitive spot threw her plummeting over the edge, crying out his name, back arching, and shaking and throbbing with her release. Her fingers in his hair clenched as tight as they would go and she stared up at the stars, not seeing them as her vision nearly blacked out.

Azi road out her orgasm with her, his tongue soothing her most sensitive area until Ellie finally came down from orgasmic high. When he was sure she was done shaking he slowly pulled his fingers out of her and crawled up to meet her panting lips with his own.

Ellie dragged him in for a kiss, tasting herself on his lips. “Oh man, Azi,” she said when she could get enough breath to talk. “We are /definitely/ doing that again sometime.” She grinned at him.

Azi’s own breath felt a little ragged from the excitement of it all but he was still smiling all the while. “Some time soon hopefully.” He stole a kiss a mumbled against her lips. “You taste far too wonderful not to try again.”

She framed his face with shaky hands and couldn’t stop grinning giddily at him. “The feeling is /entirely/ mutual,” she assured him. She felt entirely sated and languid and ready for some cuddles. Her hands ran over him, gently tracing his curves and angles, even through the clothes, so happy to have him here and safe. Safe. She listened out for any movement, but couldn’t hear anything.

Slipping off of her, Azi quickly fixed both of their clothes and laid back down by her side. His arms wrapped firmly around his Ellie and pressed close against her inside the sleeping bags.

Pressed so close to him, she couldn’t help notice the renewed vigour of a certain part of him and smiled. “Was there something else you… uh… were wanting my help with?” she asked quietly and with an over-exaggerated innocence.

Azi blushed horribly and cursed his body for betraying him. “Um… I-I just got a little excited when I was… you know.”

Ellie smiled and kissed him. “Would you /like/ me to do something about it, or would you prefer to be uncomfortable and just ignore it?” She moved against him, hand trailing down to grip his ass. Whispering in his ear, she said, “I know exactly where the condoms are if you want to do something a little more… conventional.”

Azi did /not/ whimper. He simply made a noise of agreement that just so happened to sound like a plead for pleasure. “I… I would like that very much.”

Ellie stole another kiss before rolling away to reach for her pack, quickly locating the items they needed. “I was hoping you’d say that,” she said, holding the little foil packet between her fingers and grinning at him. After that, she didn’t say a lot.

~fade to black~

—-

Sam:

It was raining. Strike that. It was /pouring/ out. The day has started out pleasant enough. Sunny, cool breeze, no zombie sightings, and the memory of what they did last night still fresh in their minds. Everything pointed to a nice walk up the road today, but as the hours passed a light drizzle snuck up on them that quickly turned into a full on down pour, and there was still no shelter in sight.

Azi couldn’t do much about the rain except pull his hood up and thank who ever was listening that their backpacks were pretty waterproof. Tucked safely away inside his zipped up jacket, Ginger road along warm and dry. Azi envied the little orange cat.

Ellie used to love rain because she always had the promise of a nice hot shower and warm dry clothes at some point. Now, however, she hated it. It made no difference to the zombies, so it wasn’t even as though they got a respite from that threat, but without the means of a hot shower, the rain was just miserable. She huddled into her jacket, thankful that they’d picked them up at the farm house when they’d had to leave their others over a barbed wire fence. Even the thought of last night’s activities wasn’t enough to warm her any more. She dug her hands more firmly into her pockets and hoped no zombies would come shambling along and make her take them out to use her weapon.

“Next shelter we stop,” she muttered. She didn’t care if it was only just gone midday.

“Agreed.” Azi cursed himself for not ever thinking of grabbing an umbrella. Next time he saw one, he was grabbing it. The rain was chilling him down to hus very core and if they made it out of this with only a cold, it would be a miracle.

She didn’t like that the hood of her jacket removed her peripheral vision, and of course the rain on the hood drowned out most environmental sounds, so she couldn’t see /or/ hear any approaching zombies. This resulted in her looking around, turning her body this way and that, far more often than usual. It was no use complaining of the wet and cold – not like either of them could do anything about it. She was somewhat grateful for a shrunken stomach because it meant that she wouldn’t feel hungry until around dinner time. Rummaging around in their bags right now would just let water in. The hills had given way to spattering of trees, but none of them were particularly useful for sheltering under. She hoped the dark mass in the distance was actual woods.

There were, in fact, woods in the distance. Woods that would hopefully provide them with shelter and not with flesh eating undead hiding behind every tree. “Do you think we’ll get lucky and find a cabin or something of the sorts?” He had to raise his voice a bit to be heard over the downpour.

Ellie’s mind supplied all sorts of lovely fantasies of a cabin in the woods where they could get warm and dry and maybe even have a hot meal. It was enough to warm her and help her pick up her pace. “God I hope so!” she said. “I really do!” She could see now that they were indeed woods, and they’d had real luck with zombies (or lack of them) today. Maybe this area was clear. Maybe… Maybe they could be safe here?

Azi sneezed and rubbed his nose. Looks like a cold was certain up to this point. “Me too darling. Hopefully, wherever we stop for the night, we’ll be able to start a fire and get warm again. A fire sounds excellent right about now.”

Ellie nodded then remembered that under her hood Azi couldn’t see that. “Yeah,” she said out loud. “A fire, solid walls, warm food, and you.” She willed the woods to get closer. They /were/, just not fast enough.

Eventually they reached the safety of the trees that was sure to make their travel far more pleasant than before, provided that there isn’t any lightning. They were still getting rained on sure, and Azi couldn’t seem to stop sneezing, but at least it was better than getting drenched down to their bones.

Ellie was grateful for the shelter of the trees, too, though she was a bit concerned by Azi’s sneezes. Hopefully they’d find a place where they could rest up and warm up soon! The woods got thick quickly, but there was still no sign of the undead. It was starting to make Ellie nervous, like they were using up all their good luck and soon the bad would come and bite them. Literally. She looked around rather skittishly, keeping an eye out for both zombies and more solid shelter. Game trails… If they could find a game trail it might eventually lead to a cabin. Everything looked so dark and grey in the rain, and despite having some hunting skill she couldn’t distinguish any trails through these woods. If they did have some, they were so overgrown and unused that they were gone now. She resisted the urge to reach out for his hand. They both needed to be able to manoeuvre, plenty of time for hand holding (and more) later. “No one has been here in a long time.”

Azi sniffled. “That could be a good sign for us a suppose. No people equals no zombies.” Of course no people could also equal no safety, but they were already drenched and shivering and Azi saw no reason to bring them down any more than they’ve already been brought. (or maybe he was the only one shivering at the moment. Ellie seemed to be handling this day far better than he was.)

They had to travel through the forest for a couple of hours before a small cozy looking cabin finally came into view. And by then Azi’s throat was so raw from sneezing that his voice was nothing more than a painful scratchy whisper. “…O-Over there. Shelter.”

Ellie nodded and, having already established that Azi was pretty sick by now, she motioned for him to stay back and watch for any approaching zombies (or people) while she sneaked closer. The cabin was a reasonable size, probably still only a one-room arrangement but looked like it was designed to be lived in for short periods and not just keep gear. There was no sign of movement as she approached and the place was still padlocked shut. A few knocks with the pommel of her sword fixed that and she waved Azi over. “Empty. Get in!” A small awning out the front kept the door area dry.

Azi quickly entered as soon as Ellie gave the place the okay and was immensely relieved to finally be somewhere dry. The rain hadn’t let up once since it started and he doubted it would stop any time soon that night.

Sensing that it was finally safe to come out, Ginger poked her head out of Azi’s jacket and observed her new surroundings.

Ellie smiled at the cat and undid Azi’s jacket to lift her out and put her down on the floor. “Take off your wet things,” she said to him once Ginger was off exploring the one-room cabin. “Dry off as best you can, I’ll get a fire started.” There was wood stacked by the fireplace, thankfully, and later she’d investigate around the cabin a little. She suspected there was more firewood stacked somewhere, hopefully under cover, and she’d locate the out house. No shower facilities which meant that either they had a solar shower bag somewhere or there was a stream nearby. She got started on the fire, having only shed her bag and coat.

Azi did as he was told and started to strip off his wet clothes, which pretty much left him in nothing more than his boxers and a thin undershirt. Unable to stop shivering, Azi unpacked a blanket and wrapped it tightly around himself before investing the cabin as Ellie started the fire. He found an old but still fully intact quilt folded up beneath the bed (most likely long forgotten by it’s previous owner) and bundled in around himself along with his blanket. He hoped that he would start feeling warm again soon because this shivering was getting a little ridiculous.

It didn’t take long for Ellie to get a fire started but it would take a while for the cabin to heat up. Seeing the blanket-covered Azi, Ellie made a plan. She got a couple of cans of food out of her pack, the pots out of Azi’s, and quickly set a pot of soup and one of water heating over the fire. She then stripped off her own wet clothes and hung them about the place. “Come on,” she said gently, sliding her arms around him and rubbing to try and get some warmth into him. She got him as close to the fire as was safe and rubbed at his arms and back through the blanket. The activity was enough to keep her from getting cold, and she kept half an eye on their food. “Good thing we found this place when we did. You’re in no condition to travel.”

“I could have kept going if we had to.” Azi managed to croak out despite him leaning into Ellie’s warm comfort. If truth be told, Azi probably would have been able to keep going for quite a while, but if he had odds are he would come out of that rain with something worse than just a little cold, and in this world one couldn’t afford to get sick. Sickness could mean life or death in more ways than one now a days. The sooner he got rid of this cold, the better.

“I know you could have,” Ellie said soothingly, doing her best to rub some warmth into him. “This way, though, I get a good opportunity to get you in my arms,” she teased. It wasn’t exactly the way she had imagined and fantasised having him in her arms tonight, but she felt happy that they had a good shelter and she got the chance to look after him. “We haven’t seen any zombies around, so who knows, maybe this is our little safe haven in the woods I’ve been dreaming about…”

“Maybe darling…” Azi smiled as he imagined them living here together. The rain wasn’t exactly making this area his favorite, but he had to admit that living /anywhere/ peacefully with Ellie by his side and not some undead strangers trying to eat him sounded bloody fantastic.

Reluctantly, Ellie let go of Azi so that she could divide up the soup and make some hot chocolates with the boiled water. She then bundled Azi onto a chair near the fire and placed the soup in his hands and the cocoa on the ground next to him before grabbing her sleeping bag and using that as a blanket for herself then settling into the second chair to have her meal, too. “We will stay here for a few days at least, so long as it remains safe, to let you get well again and make sure I don’t come down with something similar. How does that sound? And I’ll go have a look around…” She listened to the rain. “… tomorrow, I think.”

He nodded and sipped ay his soup gratefully. “Tomorrow sounds good. I’ll come along if this cold doesn’t progress into something worse.” Snuggling farther into his blankets, Azi had finally stopped his shivering.

Ellie closed her mouth on a protest. He was a grown man and as much as she wanted to pamper and look after him when he was looking (and probably feeling) so miserable, she knew what it was like to feel like a burden and to want to be useful. So she just smiled at him and sipped her soup till it was gone, then cradled her own cocoa. The food and fire had warmed her up, too. She had a good look around now and was quite pleased with the place. Solid construction, good tin roof (which was noisy as hell in the rain but at least kept them dry), and even a bed big enough for two. A fireplace, table, two chairs, and the usual range of hunting gear along the far wall. She was pleased to see a range of traps and some maps of the area. The traps would provide them with food and the maps would take the guess-work out of scouting out the place. “I like the look of this place.”

Azi finished off his soup a bit slower than Ellie, but the warmth and food was making him feel a whole lot better than he had been feeling before. “So do I darling. If food is easy enough to find we could stay here for quite a while if you would like.” Which, Azi was rather certain, Ellie would like very much. And he could see why. Warm fire, big bed, the severe lack of zombies they’ve been seeing, compared to the rest of the world this place could be a paradise.

Ellie looked at Azi again and had to swallow several times around the lump in her throat. Fancy getting all choked up just because they may have found a home. “I’d like that very much,” she said, her voice just a little thick. She cleared her throat. It was still mid-afternoon, way too early to sleep. She should potter around and check that their supplies weren’t soaked and lay their bags out to dry. If they were going to stay here they would still need to keep emergency bags ready to go, and they couldn’t live off their canned food because that would run out quickly, and they should keep some of it for their bags… Ellie sighed. Even when they find a place she can’t help but prepare for moving on again. Was this her life now?

Azi heard the sigh and frowned. They had found a nice place to rest and maybe settle down for while without fear of being eaten, so why did Ellie sound disappointed? Setting his now empty soup bowl aside, he beckoned for Ellie to join him in his chair. “Come here darling. I’m still cold.” Hugs, hugs would fix things.

Ellie slid off her chair and into Azi’s lap, cuddling in. She suspected that he hadn’t invited her over just because he was cold and she was grateful that he was such a sensitive person. “I love you,” she mumbled into his neck. She wanted to say so much more, but settled for squeezing him instead.

Azi kissed her cheek and brought his blanket and quilt around them both. “I love you too darling.”

“How are you feeling, love?” she asked, burrowing in closer. They were safe for now and she wanted him close.

He nuzzled her and warmed his nose against the crook of her neck. “Warm. Throats a little sore, but I’m feeling warm.”

“Hmm your nose is cold,” she said, though she didn’t pull away when he stuck it in the warm part of her neck. Sliding her hands up and into his hair, she held him close. “We’ll keep your fluids up and with any luck you won’t get too sick.” One thing she had definitely taken for granted back in the old days were cold and flu pills. She’d been sick only once since the outbreak but that had been miserable enough. “I should see if there’s more wood outside before I settle down too much,” she said, though she didn’t move.

“Must you? You very well might drown out there with all that rain. Do you really want to leave me with no one to snuggle on this dark and rainy day.” Azi kept his voice light to show that he was only kidding, but his arms tightened around her all the same, seeking the warmth that she was providing.

“If we run out of firewood it’ll be even worse. And when I get back you can warm me me, how’s that for a deal?” she said, smiling.

Knowing that she was right and that they would be needing the firewood, Azi grumbled a little incoherently and loosened his grip. “Would it be too much to ask from me to go with you?”
Ellie levelled him with a stern look. “You, sir, are staying here and keeping warm. I won’t be going far. If there’s no firewood stored near the cabin I’m coming right back.” She made herself get up and bundled the blankets back around Azi. “Sit. Stay,” she teased. She pulled on her damp clothes with a little grimace.

Azi grumbled some more at the order but obeyed, knowing that again she was right. “Shout if you run into trouble. And don’t stay out there too long unless you want us both to have a cold.”

Dressed again, Ellie leaned down a placed a kiss against Azi’s lips before straightening up. “I’ll be quick,” she promised and slipped out the door. The rain hadn’t let up at all, if anything it had gotten worse, and she was soaked in seconds. Thankfully she found a stack of firewood around the corner, piled against the wall with a small tin roof awning keeping it marginally dry. She loaded up her arms and dumped it by the front door. Several trips later she had a good pile by the door and had made hardly a dent in the original pile. She opened the door and started getting the pile inside.

Azi waited patiently for Ellie to return, petting Ginger to calm his nervous. He didn’t like how this rain drowned out most sounds. What if Ellie called for him and he didn’t hear her? What if something snuck up on her and she didn’t hear /it/? Azi did not like this waiting.

Luckily for him, he did not have to wait long. Just as he was beginning to consider sticking his head outside to check on her, Ellie opened the door and started to pile firewood in. Azi got up to help her. “Found a good stack I see.”

Ellie nodded and kept hauling the wood in as quickly as she could. “Plenty there but if we are staying a while we will need to do something about replenishing it.” When the wood was finally in she closed and locked the door, stripping off her wet clothes there on the doorstep because she could feel that it was warmer in here and the wet clothes were stopping her from getting the full benefit.

Azi moved the wood over by the fireplace once it was all inside as Ellie removed her wet things. It looked like she got soaked once again in that short time she was out there. Azi hoped that the cabin was warm enough for her. Just to be certain that she was warm enough, Azi wrapped her up in his quilt.

Ellie smiled gratefully at Azi when he wrapped her up. “Thanks,” she said, already feeling the warmth of the place seeping back into her skin. “It’s pretty wet out there. Hard to see through the trees what the sky is doing, but it doesn’t look like it’s letting up any time. Will be worth keeping the door locked from the inside.” She indicated the crude locking mechanism which was more like barring the door than any actual form of lock. “Keeping light to a minimum so as not to attract any unwanted attention. A quiet night in.” She smiled, because that sounded divine about now.

Azi wrapped his arms around her along with his quilt. “That sounds absolutely wonderful darling. I’m not sure I can even remember the last time I spent a quiet warm night inside on a rainy day like this.” Not that he wanted to remember. Those days were full of bittersweet memories and he would much rather focus on the now.

She /could/ remember the last time, and it had been at a settlement with a dark undercurrent. Not that all people there had been in on it, but a few key people had been very corrupt, and she’d been lucky to get out. No, this was much better. “Come on, we can camp out in the bed and take turns getting up to replenish the fire. Sorting out the bags can wait until tomorrow, I think.”

Nodding, Azi lead them both to the bed and settled Ellie down on it before going to grab the rest of their sleeping bags and blankets to add to their little nest. Once they had everything, Azi buried himself in besides Ellie and sighed from the warmth of it all. “This is much better.”

Ellie latched onto him when he returned. “Much,” she agreed with a happy little sigh of her own. Her fingers stroked at skin idly, not trying to start anything but just reassuring herself that he was there and safe and warm.

Azi had to turn his head a cough a few times but besides that he was feeling loads better than he had been feeling when they first entered the cabin. “What do you want to do once the rain stops?”

Ellie tensed every time he coughed and tried to sooth him with gentle fingers. “Set out traps, try and get some food, locate a supply of water, find the outhouse.”

“That all sounds like fun dear, but we really ought to try to get some work done while we’re out too.” He smiled teasingly and nuzzled closer.

Ellie chuckled and nuzzled back. “Oh, you’re wanting /fun/ things to do? Well, let me think…” Her fingers trailed with more purpose now. “I can think of something fun that doesn’t require waiting for the rain to stop.”

“Oh?” Azi grinned and found himself pressing closer into those wandering fingers. “Care to share what you had in mind?”

No matter how many times they did this, it always made her breath catch. She covered his mouth with hers, pressing in as close as she could get, and used the ‘show don’t tell’ rule to answer his question. It may be too early for sleep, but it was never too early for /this/.

—-

Sometime during the night the worst of the rain had passed. The soft sound of drizzle still pattered at the roof, but their jackets should be more than adequate for keeping that off them. Ellie opened her eyes and blinked at her lover, gently reaching out a hand to feel his forehead and see if he had a fever.

A warm hand was being pressed against him. Actually, more than that. A whole person was pressed against him and he found himself snuggling closer to the comfort they were providing, fighting to remain asleep in his safe and warm environment. His body was still far too tired to wake up anyway, despite his cold breaking in the night.

Ellie was pleased to note that he didn’t have a raging fever, and amused to note that even still mostly asleep he was snuggling close to her. She leaned down to kiss his forehead and attempted to extract herself from his vice-like grip, a sappy little smile on her face.

Azi frowned and let out a little noise of protest when he felt his comforting warmth try to leave him. Snuggling closer, Azi mumbled a little “Don’t go” sleepily.

How could she resist that sleepy request? Never mind the fact that she probably couldn’t get out of his arms now if she wanted to, and she really didn’t want to anyway…

“I’m not going anywhere,” she assured him quietly, placing a few little kisses along his jaw.

“Good.” Azi leaned his head up as he felt Ellie’s lips on his jaw. Consciousness was coming to him slowly and he was beginning to become aware of not only his surroundings but also who he held in his arms. Drowsy, Azi blinked his eyes open and smile at his lover. “‘Morning.”

Ellie’s mouth curved into a soft smile. “Good morning, love. How are you feeling?”

“Sleepy.” He slow a kiss and nuzzled the crook of her neck. “Where trying to sneak away?”

“Hmm foolish notion I know,” she said with amusement in her voice, angling her neck to give him better access. “Thought I’d get a start on organising our packs, you see. But this is much nicer…”

“I guess we /should/ start organizing like you said…” Azi placed a lazy kiss against her neck and then another to her jaw. “But you were right, this is /much/ nicer.”

Wrapping her arms around his neck and grinning widely, she said, “I don’t know how I’m ever going to get the motivation to get out of this bed if you keep doing that…”

Azi smiled wickedly and was suddenly feeling far more awake. “Then I guess neither of us are going to be leaving this bed for a while.”

Ellie mirrored his smile and slid over so that she was straddling him. Placing her hands either side of his head and smiling down at him she wondered for the thousandth time how she got so lucky in this disaster of a life. “Well then, we’re going to have to make sure we get some exercise since we’re being lazy and staying in bed.” She moved her hips. “I have just the thing…”

Azi didn’t have to ask what she had in mind this time as he started to move his hips with hers. “It seems to me we’ve been getting a lot of /exercise/ lately…”

Ellie couldn’t help but laugh a little at that, even as her hands trailed down his chest. “You’d be the first man to ever complain of getting /too much/ of this, I think…” They were still unclothed from last night’s ‘exercise’ and she ran an appreciative eye down Azi’s body. Unfortunately, they’d need certain items she’d left conveniently by the bed, and it irritated her a little that she didn’t have access to the other, more convenient sort of preventatives she’d gotten so used to having.

Azi hummed in appreciation. “I wasn’t complaining…” His hands slipped around her waist and began to teasingly run his fingers up and down her sides. “I doubt I could ever get enough of this.”

Ellie leaned into his hands. “Good, because I enjoy this very much,” she said, arching just a little both to press herself into his hands and to get a better angle on her hips. One of the reasons she’d done what she’d done for work was because she /enjoyed/ having sex. That, and it paid well. Money meant nothing now, but this she could still have, and the best part was who she got to have it with. Some stupidly wonderful man who had saved her life then wormed his way into her heart with his open, caring, cuddly ways.

Azi lifted his hips up to meet hers, already getting excited from the friction they were creating. No matter how many times they did this he would always enjoy getting this intimate with someone he truly loved. The world may have gone to hell, but at least one wonderful, fantastic, brilliant person came out of it all.

—-

Satisfied that the items in their bags that had gotten wet would dry quickly enough now that they were spread around the cabin, Ellie hefted some of the cage traps, ready to go outside now that it was light again and wasn’t pouring down. She left the nastier leg traps where they were. “Ready? You’re in charge of the compass,” she said with a grin. “South to the river, if we’ve read the map right.”

Azi shrugged on his now dry jacket and even found an old umbrella tucked away in the corner of a closet. He would bring it just in case. “I’m ready darling. South to the river.”

Ellie checked her sword and exited the cabin. There was little they could do to lock it from the outside that couldn’t easily be undone by other travellers, so with a sigh and a little knot in her stomach, Ellie turned away from their shelter and started heading south, trusting Azi to keep her on track. The woods were quite peaceful, glistening in the aftermath of the heavy downpour and alive with the sound of insects and birds. That in itself was encouraging. She found a likely spot and set the first trap. “If I put them between us and the river, then I can set and clear them while getting water. I’ll have to alter the path from time to time, but hopefully we catch things. Doesn’t seem to be a lack of wildlife.” She just hoped the things they caught weren’t predominantly rabbits.

Azi had grabbed his bat before they left and practically prayed that he wouldn’t have to use it. Whether it be on a human or an animal. With that and the compass his hands were full. “The rains must have brought them all out. I doubt the critters of the forest enjoyed being couped up in their homes as much as we did.” Azi noted a small, overgrown game trail that they could follow back to the cabin if they got lost. “We should see if we can’t find some fish while we’re getting water. Odds are the river is overflowing from that storm last night. And we should as note the plants we see. Some could be editable or useful for medical purposes.”

Ellie nodded. If they could get a supply of fresh meat and edible plants near the cabin, and the zombies stayed away, they may /just/ have a chance… She let herself start to hope. She kept an eye out for anything she recognised as safe for eating. She set the second trap and picked a likely looking mushroom. “Did you happen to notice if there was some sort of mushroom guide in the cabin? Or do you know if this is safe?”

Azi studied the mushroom curiously. “…I have know idea what sort of mushroom that is, but there might be some sort of guide back at the cabin. We haven’t exactly searched every inch of it yet.” Azi looked down at a couple more mushrooms and was tempted to gather them up. But if they turned out poisonous, he would only be wasting their time.

“We’ll take this one back and see. If it turns out to be safe, then we know it’s by the second trap,” she said, already moving on. She could hear the water already. The river was close.

Azi took note of where they were on the map with the compass before following. As they neared the river Azi started to have to fight off more insects then he would have cared for, most being mosquitoes. “This forest could use more spiders.”

Ellie was not particularly fond of spiders, and bringing the wood in last night had only been achieved because she’d had to learn to not be squeamish around spiders since the outbreak because there were far worse things to use her fear on. So she said nothing about the spiders comment, quietly thinking to herself that she’d rather be eaten alive by mosquitoes than have to walk through a bunch of spiders’ webs. Instead she knelt down near the banks of the swollen river with her last trap in hand and surveyed the surroundings. No sign of zombies still, and the river here was slow moving even after all the rain last night. It was reasonably clear of trees except for one, which meant you would have some warning of approaching hostiles if you happened to be in the river. Suitable for bathing, though they’d have to go soap-less when bathing here so as not to contaminate the water. It was a good five minute hike, though, so she hoped there was a closer supply of water for the cabin. Maybe a tank or well. She turned to Azi. “I’m going to set this trap back just a little. You going to try your patented shirt fishing technique again? Just remember not to get too cold…”

A little way up the hill, something stirred and watched.

Azi gave her a mock glare a sighed. “…I’m never going to live that little fishing incident down, am I?” Not that he blamed her. It /was/ pretty funny.

Ellie grinned as she walked past him and reached out to pat his cheek. “Nope!” She continued back the way they’d come. “I’ll stay in sight,” she assured him, finding a likely little spot for setting the trap.

The watcher moved slightly, but it was too risky to approach just yet. There would be other opportunities.

“Be careful.” Azi watched her wander off to set up her last trap for a moment before kneeling down by the river. The water was clear enough that he could actually see some fish swimming by, but he didn’t try to jump in and get them lest he make a fool of himself once again.

It didn’t take long for Ellie to set the trap and come back. She noted with amusement that Azi had /not/ jumped in to start fishing. “I think I saw some fishing line at the cabin. There may be hooks somewhere or we can make some. Let’s walk a bit upriver to see what it’s like. There may be a better fishing spot.” An overhang would be ideal, or at least a tree that reached over a bit. That way they wouldn’t need poles. She looked around on the ground, took a few steps back from the river, and made a mark in the ground with the heel of her shoe. “So we know where we started.”

Azi looked at the mark and smiled. “Good thinking dear. No need for us to be getting ourselves lost.” He looked up and down the river before taking Ellie’s hand and heading upstream.

The watcher saw them move and stayed very still until they were past. It wouldn’t do to be discovered.

Ellie slid her fingers between his and walked upriver with Azi, keeping an eye out for any likely fishing spots. They didn’t go too far (they needed to be able to get wherever they were going quickly after all) and all they saw was the river turning to rapids. Ellie was a little disappointed. “Maybe the other way?”

Azi nodded. “Maybe, unless you fancy a challenge?” He grinned and gave her hand a squeeze before starting back the other way.

Ellie eyed the water. “I’m a good swimmer, but no thank you. There are enough risks in my life now without adding to them!” She squeezed his hand back and they headed back the way they came. She checked that her mark was still there where she expected it to be, then looked down river. “Even if that way is no good, we do /have/ the river at least, and this bit would be okay-ish for fishing at,” she said, trying to make sure she wouldn’t be /too/ disappointed at what they find.

It was tempting for the watcher to mess with the traps. No, that would just give him away. He would watch, and wait. There would be a chance for him.

Azi stole a quick hug. “That’s the way darling. Always look on the bright side!” It was far better to find the good in their situation rather than the bad. There was too much bad in this world already?

As they moved downriver the river actually split. One fork vanished into rapids and the other spread into something a lot calmer still with the trees encroaching quite close. Although the overhanging trees were what she was looking for, the lack of visibility made her nervous. “Hmm I think I prefer our original spot…”

Azi regarded their surroundings and lack of open space. “I think I would have to agree with you on that one darling. Should we had back or see how far this river goes?”

“I’m keen to get back, I think,” she said. “I want to check out around the cabin a bit more, and there’s something here that’s…” What? Creeping her out? How could she describe her vague feeling? “I don’t know. Let’s just head back.” She scanned the surrounding trees but she couldn’t see anything wrong.

The watcher pulled back a little. Had she noticed him? He would have to be careful.

Azi gave her a curious look but didn’t ask what was bothering her. Not yet anyway. They could talk when they got back to the cabin. “Alright dear.” They started back for the cabin.

Ellie all but dragged him back to the cabin and breathed a sigh of relief when they were in sight of it again. Safety. “Let’s have a better look around. Looking for a well or tank.”

“Okay. It wouldn’t be too far off from the cabin I assume?” He began to glace around for any sign of a well or tank or anything of the sorts.

Ellie nodded. “If there is one, yes. Otherwise it’s hauling water up from the river and that will be tedious.” She also started looking around, walking around the side of the cabin where she’d found the wood. There was an axe to cut more with.

He stayed well back hidden by the trees. So this was where they were staying.

“Well if worse comes to worse, at least the river isn’t too far off.” Azi followed her around and took note of the axe and chopped would for future use.

Ellie was about to round the corner of the cabin to the back when she glanced at the axe again. She backtracked to pick it up. “Call me paranoid, but I don’t like the idea of this lying around outside our cabin.”

“Good thinking love. Having an axe nearby could prove useful if we get caught unaware.” He smiled proudly at her smart thinking.

Ellie smiled back, then continued around the corner. What she saw there made her smile wider. “A well!” she exclaimed. What a relief. Hopefully it wasn’t dry.

Azi grinned and quickly made his way over to it. “Do you think that the water will be safe to drink.”

“We can always boil it,” she said, reaching over to grab the bucket and pressing the release on the lever to drop it. She listened and was rewarded by a splash. “Yesss,” she said, starting to wind the handle to lift it out again.

Azi peered down the well and watch the buck splash down before moving to help Ellie wind the handle. “We should find a cover for when we aren’t using this. Keep bugs and other things out.” The bucket too hard to lift out, but he could tell already that this might not be his favorite chore.

“Hmm yes, maybe there’s a tarpaulin somewhere. Or we might need to make a shopping list and find a nearby town for the things we are missing. I wouldn’t mind getting some seeds and starting a garden for fresh vegetables…” She said it hesitantly, not sure if Azi thought this was a good place to try and set up a more permanent home.

Azi beamed at the idea. “That sounds like a fantastic idea love! But of we start searching for a town we should be careful to mark our path so that we don’t lose our way home.” He moved and inspected the side of the cabin. “Hmm… if we start a garden we’re going to have to build something to keep animals out of it. Perhaps a fence of some sort?”

Something inside her loosened and unravelled when he started talking fences and said the word “home”. A home! They could have a home! “Yes,” she said enthusiastically, hauling the bucket out of the well and putting it down next to it. The water looked ok, not brilliant but not green. Some boiling should do it. “Maybe we could put a little security fence around the whole property eventually, just in case! There’s plenty of wood, and we have an axe. And depending on how close a town is, we might even be able to bring back some wire for reinforcement!” They were making actual /plans/! For the future! She felt giddy.

“We certainly have enough trees for a fence that size.” He took in their surroundings and had to smile. He could see it, a nice little home here where they could spend their time just surviving on the forest and in each other’s arms. It was a dream that seemed impossible, but maybe…. maybe someone up there was finally giving them a break.

She unhooked the bucket and left it and the axe by the well, walking over to Azi and throwing her arms around him, trying to express the happiness she couldn’t put voice to. “I’m so afraid to hope,” she admitted.

Unseen, the watcher sneered.

Azi returned the hug and held her tight. “Me too darling. Me too.” It was both thrilling yet terrifying to believe they may have finally found somewhere safe, but Azi was happy to give it a chance none the less.

Ellie was making plans in her head. Securing the property, both through fences and maybe a more complex locking system on the cabin itself. Reinforcing the walls and door. Getting a garden started, maybe even keep some small animals. If they could find and catch some chickens, that would give them eggs. They would need another axe, nails, screws, wire, staples, hammers, saw, screwdrivers… They could start with whatever the cabin had, but they needed to find a town and then find a way of getting the things back here. A wheelbarrow! It would also prove useful for moving things around the place… “Let’s get started now,” she said, her eagerness obvious from her tone.

Azi chuckled at her obvious enthusiasm, eager to get started himself, but knew that they couldn’t just jump in like this right away. “We should probably wait at least a week to get a feel for how safe this place actually is before we start putting our time into it. Plus we haven’t even gone through the cabin yet.” He brushed her hair back and leaned his forehead against hers. “We’ll make a home for ourselves darling, but we have to be patient. Okay?”

Ellie couldn’t help the disappointment showing just a little on her face, and she bit her lip and nodded, closing her eyes briefly. “You’re right,” she said as if it pained her to do so. “Yes, we should look through the cabin and try it out for a bit. Yes.” Her dreams were so close she could taste them.

Azi kissed and hugging her tightly, unable to see Ellie disappointed. “We’ll have our home soon darling. Just give it a little bit more time.”

She nodded into his shoulder. “Let’s take the bucket and axe inside and do a good inventory of the place, then,” she said, trying to sound more cheerful than she felt.

He nuzzled his nose to hers, doing his best to comfort her from her disappointment. “Okay darling…. How about we focus on fixing up the inside this week while we’re waiting to see how good this area will be treating us?”

She nodded, swallowing down her disappointment as best she could, and went to collect the bucket and axe. Ellie headed back around to the front of the cabin to start on their inventory.

Somewhere further away, the watcher made himself comfortable. He couldn’t hear what they were saying but he could see from the body language that she was upset by something. There would be a time to comfort her. Soon.

It was sprinkling today, but just barely. Not /nearly/ as bad as it had been when they first showed up there. The forest was bustling with life and the was looking to be a pleasant one.

Inside the cabin, Azi was making himself busy trying to crack the infernal safe that had been teasing him and Ellie since they found it. After several hour (and days) without any success, he was beginning to wonder if it would be easier to just find a cliff to drop the damn thing off of.

Ellie joined Azi and draped herself over his shoulders, watching him struggle with the safe box. She had been boiling water and cleaning the utensils they had found in the cabin, then going through the room itself and wiping down all the surfaces. The place looked and smelled clean now. “Still no luck?”

Ellie joined Azi and draped herself over his shoulders, watching him struggle with the safe box. She had been boiling water and cleaning the utensils they had found in the cabin, then going through the room itself and wiping down all the surfaces. The place looked and smelled clean now. “Still no luck?”

Azi sighed and leaned back into Ellie’s arms. “No…. do you think that taking the axe to this thing would do us any good?” Azi thought for a moment. “…Or perhaps dropping it off of the roof?”

Ellie smothered a giggle against Azi’s neck. “I don’t think we need to go to such drastic measures. It probably doesn’t contain anything useful anyway, how about you leave it? Look, the cabin is clean. Maybe we can try our luck fishing? And I should check the traps again…” And later she’d find some other activities to keep them occupied. These last few days had been bliss, the two of them together in the privacy of their own cabin.

Azi stared daggers at the safe, silently promising that he would get it open someday before admitting defeat I and getting up with a soft sigh. “Sure love, maybe falling in the river again will be less stressful than trying to crack this infernal lock.” Azi glanced around the cabin and smiled a bit. “….You did a great job in here.”

Ellie pressed a kiss to his cheek and stood up again. “Why yes I did, thank you,” she said light-heartedly, grabbing his hand to pull him to his feet. “Come on, you get the fishing line, I’ll get the net. Don’t forget your bat.” Like they needed reminding. She went and got her sword and gathered up the net she had been trying to mend. She wasn’t sure how nets worked, but maybe the two of them could figure it out.

Smiling slightly from the kiss, Azi did as she asked and collected the fishing line and his bat. “Do you reckon it’s safe to leave our packs here this time?”

Ellie looked around at their little place. “We have our weapons. We can always make our way back here if something happens.” She hesitated. “Right?”

Azi was weary to leave their things unattended, but if they were going to start calling this place home they would have to start trusting it. “…Right. We haven’t seen any sign of anyone dead or alive since we got here, so our things /should/ be safe.”

Ellie would have reached out to take Azi’s hand but they were both full. “Come on,” she said quietly, and exited the cabin. She hoped the sprinkling rain wouldn’t get any worse. Once Azi had closed the door, she took off on the route towards the first trap.

“Coming love.” Securing a knife into his belt, Azi followed Ellie out the door and down the now familiar path.

Watching from a nearby tree, a small orange creature hopped down and trotted to catch up with her humans.

Watching from a nearby hill, another shadow moved, but not to follow the others. It headed towards the cabin.

The first trap was empty, as was the second. The third, down closest to the river, had a rat in it. Ellie grimaced and set it free. They needed meat, yes, but she wasn’t quite so far gone she’d resort to eating rat. Also, there was no guarantee that it wasn’t diseased. “So much for the traps. Hopefully we’ll have better luck with the fish.”

“Hopefully. The river has been good to us so far, so we may have some luck.”

Upon seeing the rat slip away, Ginger wiggles her bottom and gave chase, following her prey into the forest.

“Goodbye to you too.” Azi said to the retreating orange fur ball.

Well, at least someone would get some use out of the rat, Ellie thought, starting to untangle the net. “So what do we do with this thing? Do we just… string it across the river and hope stuff gets stuck? There weren’t exactly any instructions with it.”

Azi shrugged and put his stuff down to assist her with the net. “I guess so? To be honest I’ve never attempted fishing this way before, but that sounds about right.”

Ellie started stripping off her shoes and rolling up her trousers. “I’ll see if I can walk it across. The river doesn’t look like it gets deeper than… what, waist height?”

“You sure you wouldn’t rather have me go across? I’m bound to get wet while we’re out here anyway.” Azi wasn’t exactly sure if he liked the idea of Ellie crossing the river on her own.

She shook her head and stepped into the river, holding one end of the net. “I’m a strong swimmer, not that you need to be here, it’s pretty calm.” The water chilled her feet. “But oh man it’s cold!” she said with a grin and kept going. She’d find a rock or something to anchor the net on the other side. It had about three metres of rope to tie it onto something, too.

Azi chuckled and let her go, telling himself to stop worrying so much and trust Ellie to know what she was doing. “Don’t worry darling, we can always warm you up when we get home.”

Ellie pretended to change direction for a second. “Oooo, can we do that now?” she laughed, then continued the way she had been going. It only took her a minute to get across the river, and it got a little deeper than waist height. She was wet up to her chest by the time she reached the shallows on the other side. There was a convenient rocky outcropping that she could tie the net to, and on her way back she untangled any bits that had gotten twisted. “I really have no idea if we’ve done that right, but it’ll do.” She dragged herself out of the river, soaking wet and shivering slightly but smiling.

Tying off his end and checking to be sure that everything was as it should be (or at least what he imagined it to be since this was his first time doing this) Azi moved to Ellies side and began to rub her arms in hopes of warming her up. “Well done darling. Enjoy your swim?”

Ellie shoved at him playfully. “Yeah yeah, careful or I’ll shove you in the river and see how you like it,” she said, glad that at least her teeth weren’t chattering. Now that she was out of the river, it was considerably better. The water did have quite a bite to it. Perhaps bathing in the river could be reserved for the summer months. “How about you chuck your line in and I’ll run up and down this stretch of river to warm up?” She chuckled.

“Sounds good to me darling. But I thought you liked to save your exercise for whenever we got back?” Azi asked teasingly, tossing a line into the and careful not to let it get tangled in the net.

“Consider this a warm-up!” she said, lacing her shoes back on and then taking off down the river to the first line of trees. While she ran she looked for other possible places to put traps, any signs of habitation (either human or animal) and just in general familiarised herself with the river. She turned around before she got out of sight of where Azi was, and watched him all the way back. She liked the way he moved, and even when he was still like he was now, patiently waiting for a nibble on the line, there was something so peaceful and graceful about him.

Azi watched Ellie out of the corner of his eye, not wanting to lose sight of her for even a second less he end up regretting it later. She never went too far off to the point that they wouldn’t be able to find each other, and he was always grateful for that. In his hand, the line bobbed gently along the river.

While she was running, she thought she may as well run up the river as far as she could get as well. She waved at Azi on her way past, and continued on. The sound of the pebbles under her feet was soothing and for this moment here she could pretend that they were a normal couple, perhaps on a holiday outing. It was a lovely fantasy, and that’s all it was, she reminded herself as she turned once again at the point right before she got out of sight.

Azi chuckled and waved as she ran by, tempted to get up and chase after her just for the fun of it. This was nice. The day may have been a little rainy and they memory of danger around every corner still stuck with them, but ever since they found this place they have actually been able to sort of relax and enjoy themselves, and Azi hoped that they could stay in this sort of peace forever.

By the time she got back to where Azi was for the second time she was quite a bit warmer, if not dryer (thanks to the persistent drizzle). “Any luck?” she asked, panting slightly.

Azi shook his head. “None sadly. But we only just started and the day is still young. Maybe they’ll start biting a bit later.”

Ellie nodded and put her jacket back on. Her clothes were still wet, but at least she would stay warm under the thick jacket. She sat down next to Azi facing away from the river (watching their back) and leaned against him, making sure her sword was right there at her hand. “There are worse ways to pass the day.”

“I’m pretty sure that out of most of the days we’ve had, this is by far one of the best ones yet.” Azi pressed back against her and smiled at the peacefulness of it all.

Ellie smiled at the forest and leaned her head back. “I remember one of the first days we were together… maybe even /the/ first day… we found that house and we had a good meal and we just cuddled on the couch all day.” She snorted. “I’d never done that before. I was always too busy to just stay on a couch all day, and I certainly wouldn’t have done that with a stranger.”

Azi remembered that day fondly. “Well we weren’t exactly strangers by that point. I mean we had already shared a meal and killed zombies together all in a couple of hours. How much more bonding do you need?” His tone was light and playful.

Ellie laughed. “Quite a bit, normally. I don’t… I didn’t… have a lot of friends.”

Azi took her hand into his. “Neither did I but… but the ones I had were always incredibly important to me.”

Ellie didn’t say anything to that, just smiled and gave his hand a squeeze, quietly watching the woods and listening to the river behind her.

Azi sat in silence with Ellie by his side, not minding the quiet. The woods were peaceful and besides a few false alarms with the fishing line (the fish much be teasing him) nothing too exciting was happening. And after living in the world they lived in, some time away from excitement was time well spent.

Out of the woods, carrying a fat bird in her mouth, emerged a familiar orange feline, placing the in front of Ellie before heading to the river to quench her thirst.

Ellie reached out to run her hand along Ginger’s back before the cat moved away. “Thank you, Ginger.” She reached out for the bird. It was about half the size of a chicken, but would make a good meal for them, provided the cat had /meant/ to share it. “Look, Azi, Ginger brought us some dinner.”

Azi glanced at the bird and chuckled a little. “I heard that cats bring humans their prey either because they liked them or because they thought that their humans couldn’t hunt for themselves…. maybe it was a bit of both.”

Ellie giggled. “Well, we’re not exactly doing a brilliant job on the hunting front today are we? I think Ginger is taking pity on us.” She shrugged and decided she may as well do something useful while she was sitting there so started to pluck the bird.

Azi chuckled some more. “I believe you’re right. Maybe we should start letting Ginger do the hunting for us from now on.”

Once finished with quenching her thirst, Ginger went a sat but her humans, watching over the poor hunters carefully.

Once Ellie had finished plucking the bird, she reached for the knife in Azi’s belt and cut off the head, then slit between the legs so she could gut it. If the cat wanted to eat the viscera, she would be welcome to it, but at least this way it wouldn’t be near the house. “Good cat, Ginger, you’re a very good cat. Lots of cuddles for you later.”

Ginger made a purring sound and rubbed up against her female human as she went for the birds discarded insides. This was a good human.

Azi was watching Ellie gut what looked to be their only meal today when suddenly his line gave a tug. Shocked by this sudden development, he nearly dropped the line before he got his wits about him again and started fighting to pull in the line.

Ellie’s back support was suddenly gone as Azi shifted position to pull in the line that seemed to have actually caught something. Holding the now-gutted bird clear of the ground, Ellie twisted around to watch. “I don’t care if it’s undersize, whatever you catch we’re eating,” she said.

“You’re going to regret saying that if this turns out to be some sort of weird mutated zombie fish!” Azi laughed in delight as it seemed he was succeeding in pulling in whatever creature he seemed to have caught. It took him a few minutes of fighting, but eventually a descent sized first came flying out of the water and landed on the river bank. “Success!”

Ellie clapped at his success and laughed. “Fish and bird for dinner! We’ll feast tonight,” she said, holding out the knife. “You’ll want to wash it in the river first, or would you rather I gut the fish?”

Azi picked up the still squirming fish and moved it away from the water. “I’ll gut it if you want to give fishing a try? Maybe we’ll get lucky and catch another.”

Ellie grinned and stood up to take the fishing line off him once he’d taken the hook out of the fish’s mouth. “Sure thing, I’ll show you how it’s done then,” she teased. She dug around in the mud nearer the woods until she found a worm and speared it onto the hook before heading back to the shore and casting the line in. She sat herself down where Azi had been and watched the water. The bird was safely tucked into an old bag she’d brought with her.

“Of course you will darling.” Azi smiled and took the knife from her and washed it in the river. Once clean, he sat down behind Ellie and watched her back like she had done for him as he cut off the fish head as cleanly as possible. Tossing the head aside, Azi started to gut his catch and give the bits he knew they wouldn’t be eating to Ginger.

Ellie relaxed and enjoyed the experience of fishing. She’d never liked it before, not being one for doing what she felt was basically nothing, but now that it was feeding them its usefulness went up. Watching the river was peaceful and calming, and she knew that Azi was watching her back. She let her mind drift as she kept the line moving.

Once the fish had been boned and gutted, Azi stored it away with the bird and watched the forest for a bit. “….Do you think we caught anything in the net?”

Ellie pulled at the fishing line when she thought she felt a nibble, but there was nothing. “If you hold the line I’ll go in and check. No use both of us getting wet.”

“And deny me the joy of slashing around in the river? Why my dear, I couldn’t possibly allow that.” Azi was already working off his shoes and socks.

Ellie resisted the urge to fuss. He’d been sick earlier in the week, but as she kept reminding herself she was dealing with a grown man, and he’d made it this far through this mess of a world without her – he didn’t need mothering. So she watched as he took off his shoes and prepared to go into the icy water. She shifted her position on the shore so that she wasn’t facing straight into the river and could keep half an eye on the woods. “Be careful,” she said, because she couldn’t help herself.

Azi smiled and kissed her cheek as he got up. “I will darling.” Going to the river side, Azi considered the water temperature before stripping off his shirt and jeans as well. If he was going to be jumping in a freezing cold river, he would at least like dry clothes for when he gets back. Inching into the water, he set off towards the other side of the water to free the net.

Ellie kept an eye on Azi as he made his way across the river, an eye on her line, and an eye on the woods. She wasn’t quite as unsettled today as she had been the other day, but that didn’t mean she had to be complacent. She did, however, keep more of an eye on Azi than the other two things.

The water was bloody freezing and Azi moved across the river quickly, determined not to have to spend any more time in the water than he had to. Once on the other side of the river he made quick work of undoing the net on his side and started to head back to Ellie once he was done.

Ellie stood as Azi made his way back towards her again to help him drag the net out of the water. She anchored her end of the fishing line under a rock and moved over, carefully not stepping in the water herself as she still had her shoes on. Her hands reached out to grab the net.

“This water was far colder than I had expected.” Azi climbed back onto the river bank and with Ellie’s help, dragged the net the rest of the way out of the water. “Did we catch anything?”

Ellie looked at the mostly-naked and shivering Azi and tried not to grin too widely. “Now you know why I had to go for a run,” she said, hauling the net the rest of the way onto the bank and looking at its sad, empty state. “I think we caught some driftwood…” She picked said driftwood carefully out of the net. “Perhaps we shouldn’t give up our day jobs. Or maybe we did it wrong.”

Azi was rubbing his arms vigorously to try and get his body temperature back to that above an ice cube. “It was only our first try and we’ve already been pretty lucky today. Maybe we’ll catch something next time.”

“Come on, let’s get you back to the cabin and dried off.” She picked up his things and handed them to him. “I’ll gather up the net. The traps can wait. If you can bring the bag with the fish and bird, that’ll be perfect.” She did as she said and started to gather the wet rope net to her. She was already still damp from her earlier dunk in the water, and they could both dry off (and have fun getting warm) back at the cabin.

“Of course darling.” Azi accepted his clothes gratefully and tugged them on, immediately feeling warmer once he was fully dressed again. Snatching up the bag and slinging it over his shoulder, Azi went and gathered up the fishing line as Ellie took care of the net.

The front of Ellie was soaked before she even managed to get the net bundled up, so once she had it in her arms it wasn’t any worse than she had been before. She started the trudge back up to their cabin. “I think I’ll put some water on to boil when we get back,” she said, feeling the cold seeping through her again.

“To drink or to bathe in?” Azi joked, moving into step by her side. “Would you like me to start dinner when we get back so that you can warm yourself up first?

Ellie smiled at him. “How about we both dry off and warm up, I’m sure dinner preparations can wait five minutes.”

Azi linked his fingers with hers and smiled. “Alright dear. Warm up first, dinner by the fire later.”

“Sounds divine,” she said, and her pace picked up as their cabin came into view. She’d started thinking of it as ‘their’ cabin a few days ago, rather than ‘the’ cabin. It felt good. That was, it felt good right up until the part where she noticed the door was slightly ajar. “Azi… did you leave the door open?”

Azi stopped and frowned at the ajar door, suddenly feeling much more on edge. “….No. No I didn’t.”

Ellie dropped the net and unhooked her sword from her side, holding it ready and balanced lightly on the balls of her feet. “I don’t see any movement,” she whispered, approaching the cabin carefully, eyes darting everywhere to look for danger.

Azi carefully put down their food and gripped his bat tightly, inching closer to the cabin behind Ellie. “Be careful.”

She got up to the door and, standing as far back as her reach would allow, poked the sword at it to open it the rest of the way, ready to lunge if something came at her. One of the benefits to having a single-room cabin with very little furniture to hide behind was that it was easy to see if someone was inside – and the place was empty. But her things… “Someone’s been through my things,” she whispered, the edge of fury in her voice. “Inside is clear, check the surroundings.”

Azi peered inside, noting that Ellie’s stuff did in fact appear to have been ruffled through. “See if anything is missing while I check outside. I’ll yell if I find anything suspicious.” Bat in hand, he began to slow circle the cabin, looking for anything that may have done this.

Ellie nodded, letting the anger of her privacy being invaded grow just a little. It was either that or cry, and anger was more useful right now. Her things had been taken out of her bag and spread about the place a little, as if someone was looking for something in particular. The food was still there, and her personal hygiene items, which she would have thought were the first things to go. It wasn’t until she started going through her clothes (not that she had many, one spare change of everything except for socks and…). Where was her underwear? She looked around, checking under the bed, and every corner of the cabin, but they were nowhere to be found.

Cautiously, Azi moved around the cabin, checking the surrounding trees, looking around every corner, looking inside the well to ensure that it hadn’t been contaminated. Besides Ellie’s things being gone through, noting seemingly out of order. Taking one more look around with his bat, Azi grabbed their dropped things and headed inside. “Anything missing?”

The place looked a little messier now than it had when she’d first walked in because she’d completely emptied her bag across the floor and messed up the bed and left a few cupboard doors open in her search, and Ellie sat on the floor in the middle of it all. “You won’t believe what’s been taken,” she growled, really pissed off now. “/All/ my underwear, and my spare bra. I really liked that bra! What the hell does someone want with just my underwear? They left all sorts of good clothes and supplies behind…” She threw down the thick jumper she had been holding.

Azi put down the net and bag of food to the side and moved to help Ellie clean up her things. “Considering it was some pretty pacific items taking I guess we can rule out that an animal or a zombie was in here.”

“It was some stupid, deranged pervert!” she raged. “They couldn’t leave me just /one/ pair, could they? Now I’m wet, and I’m cold, and I’ve got no spare underwear to get changed into and I just…” Her ranting trailed off into something closer to despair as she looked around at her scattered things and frowned.

“Hey hey, it’ll be okay.” Azi got up and took her hand, hoping that it might help calm her down. “Whoever did this is probably long gone by now. Cowards who sneak in when no one is home are probably smart enough to stay away after doing something like this, so I doubt we’ll be troubled by them again, and if we are you have my full permission to used my bat on them.”

“We need to figure out how to lock this place,” she said quietly, glaring down at her things. She slid her hand out of his and continued packing them back into her bag, then, perhaps a little more roughly than was necessary. Her home had been violated, her little safe haven, and she wanted blood.

Knowing there probably wasn’t much he could do to help Ellie feel better in this situation (not that he was feeling particularly happy about all this either) Aziraphale sighed and went back to cleaning the place up. “…Maybe we can find a padlock or something to reinforce the door.”

Ellie just nodded as she stuffed the rest of her things back. There were a few items she had to crawl to reach. She should have known that their happy day couldn’t last. She should have realised that something would come along to destroy their little idyllic world. This was the apocalypse, after all. How stupid had she been, thinking they could live here peacefully?

When she was done with the scattered items from her bag, she went and grabbed the food from where Azi had left it and took it to the table to continue preparing, mouth pressed into a tight line and shoulders tensed.

“Ellie…” His shoulders slumped, hating how badly this was effecting her and cursing whoever had been sick enough to break in and steal her undergarments. “Dear… why don’t I prepare the food and you take a moment to warm yourself up?”

Ellie hadn’t gotten far with the food preparations anyway and she let the knife she was holding sag down to the tabletop. “You need to warm up, too,” she said in a slightly dull tone, though she realised that she was still in her wet clothes and getting cold again.

But she had no underwear to get changed into, and she really, really disliked going without.

“Do you… um.” He rubbed the back of his head awkwardly. “Would you like to use something of mine until we get a chance to stop by a clothing store again?”

The look she gave him could only be described as pathetically grateful. “If you don’t mind…?”

“Not at all dear! I know if the situation was reverse you would do the same for me.” Azi hoped maybe the little joke would cheer her up some.

A small smile tugged at the corner of her mouth when she tried to picture Azi in her underwear. “Nice,” she said, looking at him again and realising she’d been moping. “Alright, I’ll get out of my wet clothes. I’ll borrow a pair of your boxers… thank you…”

Azi moved and gave her forehead a quick kiss. “Thanks isn’t necessary, but you’re welcome darling.” Trusting that Ellie wouldn’t need his help changing clothes, Azi went ahead and started preparing dinner.

Ellie helped herself to Azi’s clothes and got her own (now rumpled) spare set out of her bag, getting changed quickly then sliding into a seat at the table. “I don’t like that someone was in here,” she said, fiddling with some imaginary dust on the table. It felt weird wearing Azi’s boxers, but not as weird as having nothing on under her lighter trousers. Her own clothes were now hanging up to dry.

Azi continued to clean and prepare their food to be cooked as he spoke. “Neither do I darling, but with any luck they won’t be coming back…. Maybe we should set up some traps around the cabin just in case.”

“Maybe…” she said, chewing her lip. She stood up, still feeling restless, and bolted the door shut, then sat back down again, watching Azi work. “Do you need any help?”

“The food is almost ready to be cooked, so we could use a fire if that wouldn’t be too much trouble?”

Ellie nodded and got to her feet again, passing by Azi with a quick touch against his shoulder to go light the fire. It wasn’t long before she had a good blaze going, and the warmth of the fire helped to dispel the remaining cold.

Azi smiled at the warmth that the fire was giving off and took their soon to be ready meal over to it. “Want to warm up by the fire with these while I fetch us some fresh water?”

Ellie took the offered uncooked food and arranged it carefully to cook over the fire. “Be careful,” she said, though she hardly needed to. Azi was always careful. But there was someone out there, and as much as she wanted to believe they were far away now, she had the sneaking suspicion that they’d show up again. “Take your bat…”

“I will darling.” Azi smiled and pecked her lips before heading to the door, stopping to grab his bat as he promised he would.

Ellie watched him go, then turned to look at the food again. It wouldn’t take long for the fish to cook, and they could eat that first while they waited for the bird to cook through. She kept an ear out, but the crackling of the fire was louder than any sounds (apart from birds) coming from outside. Azi would call out if there was a problem.

Azi looked around once he was outside, still not seeing any sign of anyone but keeping his guard up none the less as he headed for the well. Putting the bat down next to it for just a moment to free his hands, Azi cranked up the bucket from the well. It took a few minutes but eventually the bucket was in hand and Azi could head back inside.

Ellie breathed a sigh of relief when Azi returned with the bucket and she smiled at him. “Welcome back,” she said, though he’d been gone for such a short time.

Azi beamed at Ellie and set the water down beside her. “Miss me darling?” Now no longer with his hands full, Azi went ahead and moved to close and re-lock the cabin door.

Before he could do so though, a small orange feline was sure to sneak back in.

“Always,” Ellie assured him, then smiled when Ginger came back into the hut. “Hey darling, did you have a good time? Maybe we should teach you to guard the cabin for us?”

Ginger looked at her female human curiously before letting out a small meow and making herself comfortable on the bed.

Azi chuckled and joined Ellie by the fire once the cabin was locked up tight. “How’s our meal coming along?”

Ellie grinned at the cat’s antics, then turned to Azi again. “Fish will be done first,” she said, turning said fish over. Would have been nice to have some lemon for the fish, but it was still good to have fresh meat in the first place.

Azi could practically feel his mouth watering at the smell of the fresh cooked meat and decided to busy himself by at least getting them out some plates to eat their meals on. They had done well today.

Ellie could also smell the delicious cooking fish (and the bird, though the fish was so close to done it was letting off the most delectable smells). She divided up the fish onto their plates when it was done and had to stop herself from scorching her tongue by making herself blow on the forkful of meat before putting it in her mouth.

Azi followed Ellie’s example and waited a minute for the freshly cooked fish to cool before taking his fish bite. It tasted absolutely fantastic. “You’re an excellent chef my dear.”

“I’m positive that even the things you burn would taste absolutely delightful!” Azi grinned and bit into another piece of the fish.

Ellie rolled her eyes but grinned back. “You’re so cheesy.”

Azi pecked her cheek. “Yeah, but you love me for it.”

Ellie shoved another mouthful of fish in and chewed happily. The day was almost redeemed again, and she was pretty sure she could convince Azi to end it on a much higher note still.

Azi picked up a piece of the fish and gave it to Ginger as a thanks for her help today. Ginger ate it gratefully. The day may not have been the best, but at least they wouldn’t be going hungry.

Ellie remembered the bird and turned it over with some long tongs before tucking into the rest of her fish. Azi had shared some with Ginger, and she was pretty sure Ginger had caught at least a rat today since she brought them the bird, so Ellie didn’t feel guilty not sharing any of her own fish with the cat. She polished off her plate and licked it for good measure. “I’m sure I’ll get sick of it eventually, but for now fresh fish is definitely one of the better things in life!”

Azi finished off the last of his fish and nodded in agreement with Ellie. “I’m with you there darling. Think the bird is going to be just as good?”

Ellie shrugged. “Who knows. I don’t even know what sort of bird it was. But it smells promising. Just to be safe, though, I’m going to make sure it cooks very well!”

“Good thinking love.” Azi turned the bird on the fire slowly. “It looks just about done.”

Ellie hummed in agreement, definitely liking the smells that were coming from the bird. “Poke it with a knife and if the juices run clear I think it’s done?” She cocked her head. “Something like that. It shouldn’t be bleeding.”

Azi pulled out his knife and did as Ellie suggested. When he pulled it out, the juices flowing out appeared to be pretty clear. “Done?”

Ellie nodded, eager to try the bird (whatever it happened to be, and at this point in time if it was an endangered bird, well, humans were an endangered species, too). “Well then, do the honours, sir, and carve the feast!” She was definitely in a better mood than earlier.

Azi chuckled “As you wish my lady!” Careful not to burn himself, Azi set the bird down onto his plate and carved him and Ellie a generous piece.

Ellie nearly scorched her fingers trying to get at the bird too quickly, but when she blew on it to cool it down then finally tasted it, she moaned in delight. “Oh yes,” she said around her mouthful. “Oh this is good…”

“Better than the fish?” Azi inquired as he blew on his piece. Once certain that he wouldn’t be burning his mouth, Azi bit into the bird and immediately answered his own question.

“Good, isn’t it? Told you it was good.” So much for not talking with her mouth full, but there was no way she was going to stop eating just to speak right now. “Ginger did very well!”

“Hear that Ginger, you find better food than we do!” Azi smiled and tossed the cat a piece of the cooked bird.

Ellie shifted over so that she was leaning against Azi as she nibbled at her cooked bird. It wasn’t exactly a balanced meal tonight, but it wasn’t every night that they had only meat (most nights they had no meat at all) so it wasn’t going to kill them. The rest of her meal was gone before she realised what had happened, and she licked her fingers and leaned her head against Azi’s shoulder. “Nom.”

Azi sucked the grease from his fingers one he was finished with his own share of the bird and happily leaned against Ellie. “Nom indeed.”

Even though she /knew/ that Azi had properly locked the door, her eyes still checked before she allowed them to close. “A proper lock, a fence. I wonder if we can find a dog somewhere…”

“I dog would be good for hunting….” Azi gave her a side glance and smiled. “Maybe we could even start raising rabbits.”

She gave him a sharp glance. “Raise them for what? Not eating!”

Azi shook his head. “Nope! Just snuggling and having them around to make you happy!”

Ellie smiled and cuddled into him. “I already have something to snuggle and make me happy.”

Azi giggled and wrapped his arms around her. “Besides me of course.”

Ellie chuckled. “At the risk of sounding as sappy as you, you’re all I need.”

“…You’re right. You /do/ sound sappy.” Azi squeezed her tightly. “And I love you for it!”

Ellie rolled her eyes but didn’t protest. “Sap,” she said quietly, with a small smile on her face, and stared into the fire. He was a sap, but he was /her/ sap.

—-

Ellie inspected the lock on the door and decided that it would have to do until they got to a store and found a decent deadlock. It would make it a lot more difficult for someone to get in if they didn’t know how to undo the lock, anyway. She’d spent the morning cleaning some of the other traps that were in the place and intended to put them in a different track down towards the river so that she could check some traps on the way down and other traps on the way back.

“Good work,” she told Azi with a smile. She hefted one of the traps. “Ready to go?”

Azi was gathering up the fishing lines and his weapons when Ellie spoke up. “Sure am darling. Should we leave the net this time around or do you reckon we’ll be having better luck today?”

Ellie shrugged. “Doesn’t hurt to take it and try, does it?” She hefted her pack, a smaller one than the one with all her gear, but this one had some towels and a waterproof bag for any fish (or other animals) they catch. She reached for her own weapon. “I’m going to take a different path down, I’ll meet you at the river?”

Azi gathered up the net. “Alright darling. Try not to get lost. I’d hate to lose you in these woods.”

Ellie snorted. “All I’d have to do is find the river and follow it til I found you, right? Anyway, I’m not going too far.” She leaned over and placed a kiss against his cheek. “See you soon, love.” Her existing traps lay in a nearly straight line down towards the river, so she headed slightly to the right.

The watcher stopped watching and… followed.

Azi smiled and watched Ellie go before setting out on his own path to the river. He would get everything set up before Ellie got there after she was through with the traps.

Ellie kept the sound of the river off to her left as she moved through the woods. There was a snap of something to her right but when she paused to look around, she could see nothing out of the ordinary. She loosened her sword in her belt and continued on.

The shadow paused as he stepped on a twig, holding very still. She hadn’t seen him – this was good. But he would have to be more careful. It wouldn’t be long. Not long now at all.

It didn’t take him long to reach the river. After traveling back and forth for it to the cabin, the path had become easy and familiar to him. The waters were rather calm today and the sun was shining brightly. Today was looking to be a good one.

Ellie crouched down to set the first trap a good distance from the cabin. Too much human activity nearby would chase most of the wildlife off, so it was best to not have them too close (unless she wanted to catch more rats – she shuddered). She took her time disguising and covering it properly, and marked the tree near where it was so she could find it again easily. Satisfied that it was as good as she could make it, she moved on, three traps still in hand.

He followed at a distance because she was still heading away from their cabin, and not in the direction that the other had gone. Privacy was exactly what they needed. What they /wanted/…

The water was warmer than last time he and Ellie had been there, so dragging the net across the river wasn’t nearly as unpleasant as is had been previously. He was sure to strip down completely before entering the water and was able to change back into his dry clothes was he was finished. Azi was just about to put out the fishing line when he thought he heard a noise coming from the forest. He stopped and listened for a moment. “….Hello? Ellie?”

Ellie was too far to hear his call. The watcher didn’t hear it either. She reached the furthest point she was going to go and knelt down to set her second trap.

The watcher considered approaching her now, but decided to wait a bit longer.

Azi listened for a few moments longer but heard nothing more. Figuring that it was probably some sort of animal he was back to his task at hand… though he kept his bat close just in case.

Ellie straightened from setting her second trap and admired her handiwork. It would do. Two down, two to go. She was just about to head towards the river when another snap caught her attention, closer this time. She pulled her sword and looked around. “Whoever you are, come out,” she said quietly.

Moe stepped out from his hiding place, smiling broadly at the girl. “Hello sweetheart. Here I am, just like you asked.”

Ellie’s jaw dropped for a second and she wondered just what her chances were of getting to Azi unharmed now. She had a sword… Moe looked unarmed. But there was something not right about him. Apart from the fact that he didn’t look like he’d washed at all in well over a week, there was something not… Right… About his eyes. They looked fevered, too bright, manic…

“Moe, what are you doing here?” she asked quietly and as calmly as she could without lowering her sword.

“Sweetheart, what sort of a greeting is this? I waited, just like you said, until you were alone. We can be together now, just like we planned!” He moved towards her.

Ellie backed away. “What?” Not the cleverest of responses, but his words didn’t make sense.

“Sweetheart, I’ve waited.” His voice turned harsh. “I’m sick of waiting. Come here.”

Eyes wide, Ellie backed off some more and went down on the root of a tree. “No!” she shouted, both in protest of the fall and for what Moe was suggesting.

Everything was set. The net was up, the fishing lines had been baited and tossed into the river, and now all he needed was for Ellie to finish up with her traps and they could get started. What was taking her so long anyway….?

Not too far off, a tall figured inspected him from within the trees.

Moe took the opportunity while she was down to close the distance between them and kick the sword out of her hand. Ellie tried to roll for it but the man trapped her in his arms. She heard a satisfying grunt when she started going with elbows and knees and all the moves her self-defence classes had taught her. “Help!” she yelled at the top of her voice. “Azi!”

Moe smacked her hard across the jaw. “Don’t you go calling another man’s name,” he snarled. Ellie gave him another kick in the ribs, twisting to reach for her sword. Moe smacked her wrist against another tree root and she felt her hand go numb.

“Help!” she shouted again, landing a few blows on her assailant.

Azi looked up again when he heard another sound from the trees. “Who’s there?” He started reaching for his bat.

The figure appeared from behind the trees, muttering a quiet apology for hiding.

“Peter?! What are you doing here?” Azi got up and approached him.

Ellie punched and bit and clawed until she could reach /something/ she could smash Moe with. It was just a stick, but it was better than nothing. Was she really so far from the river that Azi couldn’t hear her?

She smacked Moe a few more times until she could scramble clear. “AZI!” she screamed as she stumbled in the direction she thought the river was. “AZ–”

Moe tackled her to the ground again with a shout of rage. “Whore, stop it! You’re mine! You said you were mine! You were /always/ mine!”

Peter looked around a bit nervously and moved a little closer to speak. “Is miss Ellie with you?”
Azi shook his head. “No, why? And where’s Moe?”

“Moe…. Moe’s not right. He’s been sort of out of it lately… sort of out of touch with reality. A couple of days ago he got away from me and as far as I can tell these woods are the only place he could have gone.” He looked apologetically at Azi. “I’m sorry, if I had known you and miss Ellie were here I would have tried to find him earlier.”

Azi stared at Peter a bit confused. “So… so you’re saying a deranged Moe is just wandering around these woods with us as we speak?”

Peter nodded.

“…Ellie!” Forgetting about the fishing lines, Azi tore off down the path that he knew Ellie should have been taking.

Ellie did her best from the position she was in, face down on the ground with Moe pinning her back, but there was only so much kicking back with her heels could do. When did Moe get so strong? He was such a weedy thing she should be able to throw him off. But then, she was a lot weaker nowadays than she used to be.

Moe pinned her legs with his knee and tore at her shirt with the hand that wasn’t holding her shoulders down. He’d seen the sorts of things she’d done with that… Other… Boy. Why was she with him when she could have a man like him? But he was here now and she just needed reminding of how good he was.

Ellie felt her shirt tear and screamed anew. He’d loosened his grip a little to get at her shirt and she managed to squirm and turn over.

“Oh, you want to see me? How sweet,” he purred.

“Bastard!” she shouted and hit him as hard as she could, again and again. He seemed to be weakening finally, probably hadn’t eaten much these last few days. Ellie didn’t waste breath on talking to him, but she knew now who had taken her underwear. She hit him until he staggered away from her, looking /offended/ of all things.

This time Ellie staggered for her sword.

Peter raced after Aziraphale, understanding his concern but not getting why he was suddenly in this much of a panic. Did he suspect that Moe had already found them?

Stupid, stupid, stupid! How had he not guessed it?! Only Moe was creepy and obsessive enough to break into a cabin just to steal some of Ellie’s clothes. The creep had /obviously/ been watching them if he had gotten away with that. And if he was watching them, he knew that both of their guards would be down. Azi just hopped he could warn Ellie before he-

A scream was heard.

“Ellie!” Azi picked up the pace, knowing that they were close.

Ellie got hold of her sword just as Moe pulled himself together again and she swung to face him, holding it out in front of her with both hands. Her right hand was still numb (though sending stabs of pain up her arm) from when he’d smashed it against the tree root.

“Bitch!” he shrieked, coming towards her, heedless of the sword she was holding. She smacked at him with the flat of it, not /really/ wanting to kill him despite what she’d said. It didn’t deter him. “You ungrateful little whore! You told me to come get you, you–”

“I never did!” she shouted back. She backed off a little and whacked him again. He stumbled sideways this time but kept coming.

“You stupid whore, you asked me! Begged me to get you, and this is how you treat me?”

She had no idea what he was talking about. Had he hallucinated a meeting with her? Was he really that far gone? She swiped at his leg, aiming to cut this time. A gash of red blossomed through his trousers but apart from a more pronounced stagger, he didn’t seem to register it. Almost like a zombie. But he was still alive! She needed help…

“Azi!” she shouted. “AZI!”

Moe lunged and was suddenly in her face again, tumbling down and taking her with him. Her head hit something and she saw stars.

Ellie’s cries were heard and both of the men picked up their pace. She was close, that much was certain.

Everything happened so suddenly. One moment that were run, the next Azi has his bat out and was whacking Moe squire in the ribs with it, sending him tumbling away from Ellie. He didn’t even remember finding them.

Peter acted quickly. As soon as Moe’s guard was down, he grabbed the smaller man and restrained him the best could while Aziraphale checked on miss Ellie.

Azi was on his knees besides her. “Ellie?! Ellie are you alright?”

Ellie blinked up at Azi. She had no idea what happened to Moe but Azi was here now and so she was safe. “I’m fine,” she assured him, trying to sit up. Her head swam and she was aware that her shirt was torn so she tried to hold it shut. “What the hell is he doing here?” She looked and saw that Peter was here, too, and he was holding a spitting and fuming Moe.

Moe struggled against Peter’s restraints, glaring at Azi. “You! You interfering boy! We were happy! HAPPY! Then you came along and… She wants me, you know, she wants /me/!”

Azi propped Ellie up in his arms and held her protectively against himself. Even if Moe was currently restrained and Ellie /did/ say she was fine, he wasn’t taking any chances. “The creep must have been following us.”

Peter struggled a little with the thrashing Moe. “Calm down! If you don’t we’re going to have to take more extreme measures.” Which Peter, a peace loving fellow at heart, would really rather not have to do.

“I will not calm down!” Moe screamed. “Can’t you see what’s happening? She wants /me/! She asked me to come get her! Let. Us. GO!”

Ellie shook her head. “I never,” she said quietly, frightened a little by the level of Moe’s delusion.

“Liar!” he screamed, spittle spraying from his mouth and he renewed his efforts to get free. “Lying little whore!”

Azi instinctively held Ellie closer. “….Peter, could you?”

Peter nodded and gently as possible, he knocked Moe unconscious before he could hurt himself or the others.

“Thank you Peter.”

Ellie nodded her own thank you as Moe slumped in Peter’s arms. The back of her head hurt, and she reached up to feel why. Her fingers came away with blood on them – not a huge amount, thankfully. She groaned and tried to get to her feet. What were they going to do about Moe? They couldn’t let him go, he’d just keep coming for her… “I’m sorry,” she said, though the moment she said it she wasn’t sure what she was apologising for.

Azi kissed Ellie’s temple and helped her to her feet. “Don’t feel sorry love, none of this was your fault.”

“If anyone should apologize, it should be myself. I… I should have found and warned you earlier.” Peter looked away in shame.

Ellie had a bitter taste in the back of her mouth. “The only one to blame here is Moe. He’s… crazy. But… what do we do with him?” The thought of him out wandering free again made her feel sick and anxious.

Peter shook his head. “I don’t know, he’s too dangerous to keep around but I… I don’t want to hurt him.”

Azi let Ellie lean on him and considered their options. “….Maybe we could leave him somewhere? Somewhere far away?”

Ellie’s stomach sank down to her toes and the blood rushed from her face. “No,” she whispered, a small broken sound. “I… I can’t… Not knowing that he’s out there and is so determined to get to me. It doesn’t matter how far away we leave him, he’s… he’s deranged! He’ll find me again and… next time he might actually get me and…” She closed her mouth and pushed away from Azi, shaking. She reached for her dropped sword, feeling a little dizzy as she bent down. “Peter, you don’t have to hurt him,” she said, her voice gone hollow and hard as she looked at the unconscious man. “Tie him up. I’ll deal with him.” Because there was no way she could let him go.

Azi was shocked. It’s one thing to kill a zombie, but to kill a /human/ that… that was taking another step entirely. “Ellie….. a-are you sure you want to do something like this? He may be a creep in every sense of the word, but murder is still murder.”

Peter looked between the two of them, unsure what to do.

Ellie shook, and she wasn’t sure if it was from fear, anger, exhaustion or a combination of all. She didn’t look at Azi or Peter, all her attention focused on Moe. “He’s a threat to our safety and we can’t afford more of those.” She still couldn’t feel her right hand. “We put down dogs for less, and they’re much more innocent.”

Azi grabbed Ellie’s arm and tried to prevent her from advancing on Moe. “Ellie please, how about we just tie him up for now and get you some medical attention first? Discuss things when you’re feeling better?”

God it was hard to think, her head felt thick and she’d let her torn shirt fall open. She let the sword fall again so she could close her shirt. She wanted Moe gone. She wanted to never see him again. She wanted to not have to worry about him. “Yes,” she eventually said, unsure what the next move was.

Azi noted that Ellie seemed pretty out of it and gently gathered her back into his arms. “Come on love, let’s get you home. Peter, I think we have some rope back at the cabin. Could you tie up Moe while I take care of Ellie?”

Peter nodded and carefully picked up the unconscious man.

Ellie sagged into Azi’s arms and closed her eyes. “I don’t want him in our cabin,” she whispered plaintively. “My head doesn’t feel so good.” It had started throbbing. She flexed the fingers of her right hand and felt some pain shoot through. Pain was better than numbness, in a way. “He hurt my hand…”

“Then he won’t enter the cabin. Peter can tie him to a tree outside while we fix you up.” Azi gently took her hand and inspected it. “Do you think you can walk, or would you like me to carry you?”

“My sword,” she said, which wasn’t an answer to any question. She bent down again (steadied herself against the ground) and picked it up. “I can walk. What about the traps…” She looked at Azi. “The fishing stuff!”

“We’ll get it all later, right now we should just focus on getting you home.” Azi began to lead her forward.

“If you would like…” Peter began, following them back to the cabin. “I saw where you were fishing. I could get your things for you once I get him properly restrained. It’s the least I can do for not finding you all sooner.”

Ellie let herself be led and felt a strange mixture of relief and trepidation as they approached their cabin. She was pleased to note that at least the lock was still in tact. She slumped onto the doorstep and let Azi deal with it. She deliberately didn’t look at Moe.

Azi fiddled with the lock until he got the door open and lead the others inside. “There should be some rope in the corner with our other supplies. It should be enough to hold him.” Azi motioned towards Moe and started looking for the medical kit.

Peter found the rope where Azi had said it would be and took it outside to restrain the deranged older man.

Ellie fought off bouts of panic and sadness and anger, unable to settle on one emotion. By the time Peter passed by her again she was looking and feeling quite fragile. She massaged her hand, trying to get the feeling back into it. Her sword was right there, and if Peter went back for their fishing gear, maybe she could send Azi on some errand too, and then she could… She buried her head in her hands. What had she become?

Azi returned to Ellie’s side with the medical kit in one hand and the old quilt they had found in the other. He wrapped the quilt around Ellie’s shoulders in the hopes that it would provide her at least a small bit of comfort and moved to sit behind her so that he could check on her head wound. “How badly does it hurt dear?”

“It throbs,” she said in a low voice. “I think I hit it on a tree root.” She tilted her head forward to give him better access to the wound. “My whole head throbs. Hard to tell how much anything hurts.”

“We should get you some water. Both to drink and to clean out the wound.” Azi was gently parting her hair to judge how bad it looked. “…The cut doesn’t look too bad but head wounds are known to bleed a lot though, so I’ll wrap this up as soon as it’s cleaned out. Will you be alright while I go grab us some water?”

If Peter was tying up Moe and then going to get their fishing gear (she’d heard something like that, right? It was hard to remember…) and Azi was out the back getting water (that always took a while, winding the bucket back up…) then she had a chance to do something about Moe. “Yes, water would be good,” she said, hoping she had it timed right.

Azi kissed her temple and gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Until then try to relax, you’re safe now I I’m not going to let anything happen to you, okay?”

Ellie nodded and waited until Azi was definitely around the corner of the house. She checked out the front door and found no sign of Peter, and the unconscious (but stirring) Moe tied to a nearby tree. Ellie grabbed her sword and walked over to the man. She could easily do it. He was tied up and only just starting to move and groan a little. If she listened more than looked she could even pretend he was a zombie. She’d done this to plenty of zombies. A quick cut to the neck, that’s all it would take. The tip of her sword grazed the side of his neck, like a lover’s caress, then poked at his face.

Moe moaned and turned his head away. Like a zombie, those sounds. So like a zombie.

But he wasn’t. She’d never killed someone who was still alive (and wasn’t that a sentence she never thought she’d have cause to use). Could she really? He was mad, completely insane, and a danger to her.

But he was alive. The tip of her sword came to rest by her foot. She stood there over him, he was completely at her mercy, and she did nothing. She stared and wondered what this world had done to her, done to him, done to Azi.

Would any of them ever be normal again?

Azi made another quick promise to be back soon and headed out the, noting as he headed for the well that Peter was nowhere in sight, probably grabbing the fishing gear like he promised. Giving Moe a weary glance, he headed around back and started cranking up a bucket of water as fast as he could. He wasn’t going to leave Ellie waiting. He was going to get this water, patch her up, and then hold her until everything was okay again.

Once the water was out of the well, Azi started back, only to stop at the sight of Ellie standing over the restrained Moe with her sword. “….Ellie?”

Ellie turned her head at the sound of her name and saw Azi’s expression. She looked back down at Moe and gave him a good solid kick in the ribs. The man groaned and coughed.

“Don’t worry, the asshole still lives,” she said, turning away from Moe and walking back towards the cabin.

If they left him tied up outside overnight maybe he’d die of exposure. One could only hope.

Azi sighed with relief when Ellie started back inside. Not out of relief for that creeps life, no. But out of relief that he wasn’t about to become an accessory to murder. Because honestly, if Ellie /really/ wanted to kill the bastard, Azi doesn’t think he has it in him to stop her anymore. He nearly killed the guy himself when he caught him attacking Ellie….

Figuring he could start questioning his morals another day, Azi followed Ellie inside with the bucket of water in hand.

Ellie dropped her sword again just inside the door and made her way straight to the bed and collapsed down into it, letting Azi do whatever he needed to do with the water. She was still wearing her ruined top and didn’t care at this point. Let them do whatever. She was done.

Azi started a fire to boil the water and sat down next to Ellie on the bed, soothingly rubbing her back and providing whatever comfort he could. “…I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner love.”

She wanted Azi to crawl into bed with her and hold her, but Peter would be back any minute and she didn’t want to embarrass the young man. Cuddling could wait. “It’s fine,” she said into a pillow. “You didn’t know. You came. Thank you.”

Azi wanted to scoop Ellie up in his arms and hold her close… but after what she had been through today he wasn’t entirely sure he would be welcome. “It’s not fine. I should have noticed what was going on earlier. I’m…. god, I’m so sorry Ellie.”

Ellie turned slightly and looked up at him, frowning. “No, the only one who should be sorry is Moe, and I doubt he would ever be sorry now. He’s lost it. The things he was saying… He wasn’t making any sense, he was contradicting himself… Azi…” She reached out to him, grabbing his hand and putting her other on his knee. “You came. Once again you were my knight in shining armour.” She gave him a little smile, the best she could dredge up under the circumstances, still feeling a little odd and her hand still numb and swelling. “I love you.”

He still felt absolutely terrible for letting Ellie get attacked like that, but her words did put a small smile on his face. “I love you too darling.”

Ellie turned back to lie face down again, closing her eyes and letting Azi do whatever he needed to do to fix her up.

The water had reached its boiling point and was now deemed safe enough for use. Careful not to burn himself, Azi brought the bucket over to the bedside and gave it a moment to cool. “This is going to sting a little, but I’ll try to be quick okay?” He dunked a rag in the warm water and gently started to clean out Ellie’s head wound.

Ellie winced into the pillow but tried not to move as Azi used the hot water on the back of her head. After a few seconds it felt quite nice. Still sore when he pressed, but no longer stinging and the hot water was soothing. “Mmmm maybe you can look at my hand after? I still don’t have the feeling back.” She wriggled her numb fingers. The wrist was quite swollen and the arm ached.

Azi noted how swollen her hand looked. “How exactly did it get hurt? Do you think anything was broken?” Her wound was just about clean so Azi started to reach for medical gauze.

“When he knocked the sword out of my hand… Or after… I don’t remember. He slammed it against something hard and I lost the feeling. The whole arm hurts, but my fingers are just sort of numb, maybe slightly tingly…?” She slitted her eyes open and regarded her own wrist dispassionately. “That’s not a normal colour.” She wriggled her fingers again. “I can move them, but it feels funny because I can’t really feel them.”

Azi didn’t like how that sounded. “We’ll wrap it in a cool rag to try and get done the swelling. Hopefully the feeling will come back on it’s own, but if not….” If not what? It’s not like there was a hospital he could take her to. Whatever needed to be done, they would have to do it themselves. Azi started wrapped the gauze around Ellie’s head wound.

Ellie lifted her head to make it easier for Azi to wrap. “Ok,” she agreed because whatever Azi thought was the best thing to do was good with her. She wanted to stop thinking for a while, because thinking hurt. “I love you,” she said because she wasn’t sure if she’d said it out loud before or just in her head, and she wanted to make sure that Azi knew.

“I love you too darling, more than I could ever put into words.” Azi tied the gauze tightly around her head and set the medical kit aside. “Done. Feeling alright?”

Ellie struggled slightly as she got herself up into a sitting position. Her head felt even stranger wrapped with the gauze. She placed her sore hand carefully on his lap. “This now,” she said, looking down at it. The swelling made it look funny.

Azi gave her a strange look and prayed that Ellie was only tired from this long and stressful day. “Yes, we still have to wrap your hand. But could you look me in the eye for a second love.” He tilted her chin up.

Ellie obediently looked at Azi, smiling a little as she looked into his lovely blue eyes, even though her head was pounding and her arm was throbbing. Hopefully he’d give her some painkillers soon, though she knew they had to conserve them. Maybe it wasn’t enough of a reason to have painkillers. How much pain was needed before she was allowed some, she wondered. “I love you,” she said again, because it seemed like the thing to say when she was looking into his eyes like this. Hugs. If she couldn’t have painkillers she definitely needed hugs.

“I love you too.” Azi said it automatically, a bit distracted by the fact that Ellie’s pupils didn’t match in size. Wrapping up a head wound was one thing, but he had never dealt with a concussion before. The most he knew to do in this situation was not let Ellie go to sleep for awhile but besides that, he was helpless. Reached in the now cold bucket of water, Azi pulled out a soaked rag and wrapped Ellie’s swollen hand in it, figuring he could at least do this much.

Ellie found herself watching Azi’s face instead of what he was doing to her hand. He had a nice nose, she decided. Yes, she definitely liked his nose. It had a nice shape. And it felt good when he burrowed it into the crook of her neck. “I love your nose.”

Azi smiled a little, even though he was finding himself deeply concerned for Ellie’s well being. “I love your nose too darling. Is there anything I can get you?”

“Your nose. I want your nose,” she said, reaching up with her good hand to pinch it playfully.

“I was thinking more along the lines of medicine or something to eat.” Azi wrinkled his nose as Ellie pinched it.

“Medicine?” she asked. “Like… Painkillers? Because…” she looked down at her hand. “The arm really hurts now.” She frowned a little.

Azi kissed her forehead. “Then I’ll get you some painkillers.” He reached for the medical kit and started going through it till he found the pills and handed one to Ellie.

Ellie swallowed the offered pill and leaned into Azi, kissing his jaw. “Your mouth,” she observed, looking at it. “I love that, too, especially when you use it on me…” She smiled and kissed his jaw again.

She’s sick, she sick and affectionate and just went through a traumatic incident. Encouraging this would be the absolute worst thing to do right now…. even though he truly enjoyed having her lips on him like this. “Ellie love, perhaps you should give yourself some time to heal.”

Ellie nodded and leaned her cheek against his shoulder. “Ok,” she said, because Azi was trying to help her so she had to do what he said. “But am I allowed cuddles later? I really would like cuddles later.”

Azi wrapped his arms around Ellie gently. “You can have cuddles now darling. Cuddles are safe and always okay.”

Ellie snuggled into him and smiled. “Good.” She wondered where Peter was. Maybe he wasn’t coming back? Maybe he’d been back and she hadn’t noticed. “Because cuddles fix everything.” She nodded sagely. “I’m thirsty.”

“Then I’ll go get you something to drink. We should still have some drinking water in the bottles.” Azi went other to their and found that they /did/ in fact, still have some drinking water left. (Which was lucky for them considering the bucket he had brought in before hand had been used on cleaning up Ellie’s wounds) “Here you go love.”

Ellie took the bottle and guzzled down some before slowing to sips. “I’m tired, Azi.” She figured it was best to let him know everything right now. She didn’t know what was important information and she was aware that she wasn’t well. The painkiller would soon take the edge off the pain but it hadn’t started working yet. Her arm hurt, her head hurt, and she wanted to sleep.

Azi slipped his arms back around her and let her lean against him. “I’m sorry darling, but I believe you’re suffering from a concussion and I can’t allow you to go to sleep yet. Please try to stay awake for me.”

Ellie sighed. Well, if he wanted her to stay awake then he was going about it the wrong way. She was comfortable and safe and being hugged by the man she loved. “Ok,” she said, though. “I’ll stay awake.”

There was an unintelligible shout from outside as Moe woke up and realised he was tied to a tree. “Why am I…?” He started, then continued, screaming. “You can’t do this to me! Untie me! What have you done with Alisha? Bring her here now! Alisha! Alisha!”

Ellie shuddered and turned her face into Azi’s chest.

Azi held Ellie closer and glared at the door. Why couldn’t the creep just stay knocked out?

Peter knocked politely and poked his head inside. “Sorry to disturb you, but would you like me to gag him so that miss Ellie can get some rest?”

“Please,” Ellie muttered only loud enough for Azi to hear. And maybe he’d do them all a favour and choke on the gag while he was at it.

Azi smiled gratefully at Peter, wondering a little when he got back. “That would be wonderful. Thank you Peter.”

Peter nodded to them both and went to do as he promised.

Ellie sighed again. “What are we doing with him?”

Moe saw Peter approaching and struggled harder. “No! Alisha! Where is she? Alisha! ALISHHHH—”

Ellie’s shoulders relaxed a little as Moe’s cries became muffled.

Azi sighed. “I wish I knew…. Maybe we could just…. let him go? Somewhere far far away from here and hope that he’s mad enough not to remember how to get back?”

Her breathing became a little erratic as panic hit her at the thought of him out there, able to get to them (ok, to /her/) at any time and they wouldn’t know when or where… And if they let him go they couldn’t stay in this place, and she was just starting to think of it as home. She buried her face deeper into the front of his shirt and hoped that her tears were mostly soaked up. She also tried to keep her gasping breaths as quiet as possible.

“Ellie? Ellie! Oh I’m sorry love. Don’t listen to me. My ideas are absolutely awful and should be ignored. Please don’t be upset.” He rubbed her back soothingly and prayed that she would be okay.

She sniffed and tried to stop her tears, but when she wiped at them fresh tears came in. “We don’t have a choice, do we?” Her voice was broken and weak.

“We have a choice. We have plenty of choices.” He wiped away her tears. “But for now how about we leave the choices for when you’re feeling better okay?”

“Ok,” she said very quietly. She was saying that a lot today. She tried to think of things other than Moe and his fate, and so she focussed on Azi’s face again, feeling herself calm down when she did so. “When can I sleep?” She really was very tired. Maybe she should get off the bed and try doing something.

Azi stoked her hair, mindful of the bandages. “I wish I knew love. But for now I would like it if you stayed awake and talked with me for a bit. Is that alright?”

“Ok. I can do that.” She paused and realised she wasn’t talking. “What should I talk about?”

Azi thought. “Hmm… about anything I guess. Like…. when you were a kid maybe?”

Ellie smiled a little at him, wiping the last of the tears from her eyes. “I was a very serious child,” she said. “My mother always said so. I was signed up for all sorts of sports, but they were all solo things. Swimming, running, fencing. Even if you were technically in a team when you were competing you were on your own. I liked it that way.” She nuzzled Azi gently. “I still do, then you came along.”

He nuzzled her back. “You’re a sweetheart, you know that?” Azi pecked her cheek. “What else? What other things about when you were little that made you you?”

“I had a pet rabbit. Her name was Fluffy.” She cringed slightly. She’d been a little kid when her mother had given her the rabbit, and Fluffy had seemed like such a good name at the time, and she didn’t want to change it later. “Fluffy died of old age when I was in high school, and I never got another. At university I was too busy for a pet, and then when I dropped out of that to work, I was definitely too busy for a pet.”

Azi smiled, not surprised that the bunny loving girl had in fact owned a rabbit named Fluffy when she was younger. She was just adorably sweet like that. “Well how about as soon as we get our home set up we find you another bunny rabbit to give a ridiculously cute name to?”

Ellie snorted. “No way, I’ll find a better name.” She looked up at Azi, blinking slowly and reminding herself that falling asleep was not allowed. “Did you have a pet?”

“My…. my brother had a puppy he absolutely adored. I liked him well enough but he was still my brother’s dog so I’m not entirely sure he counts.” Azi tried not to dwell on the memories.

She leaned against him. “Sorry. You miss your family.” Did it make her such a terrible person that she didn’t, really? In a vague sort of way she missed them, but she’d been parted from them for much longer than the apocalypse and so it wasn’t all that different to before. Maybe that’s why she had considered killing Moe, maybe she was just a little less able to love and forgive than Azi.

“Yes… yes I do.” He clung to her a little tighter, as if he was afraid she was going to leave him if he let her go, and buried his face against her shoulder. “I miss them all the time.”

Ellie knew she was a poor substitute for the family that he had lost but she held him tightly and did what she could. “I’m here,” she reassured him. She also didn’t bother with empty platitudes like ‘you’ll see them again’ or ‘maybe we’ll find them’ because for all she knew he had seen them wandering around as zombies and just hadn’t said so, and she couldn’t promise either of those things anyway. But what she could promise was, “I’m not going anywhere. You’re stuck with me.” She kissed his ear.

He wouldn’t cry. He had cried enough at the beginning of all this and there was no reason for him to waste his tears on something he knew he would never be able to change. No, instead he would focus on something else. Someone who was still here and whom he could love and protect until the end of his days. He would focus on Ellie. “…I love you.”

Her arms tightened and she burrowed her nose into his neck. “Love you, too,” she mumbled sleepily. She was comfortable and warm and if she could just sleep things would be good. She tried to drag Azi down so they could lie flat.

Azi didn’t fight Ellie pulling him down, but he did have to remind himself that she was still sick and needed to stay awake for a little while longer. “Darling, you still shouldn’t sleep yet.”

Ellie hummed her agreement but her eyes stayed closed and she snuggled in to get comfortable. It was so easy to just let herself drift…

“Ellie? Ellie how about you tell me more about yourself? Like…. what was your school life like?” Keep her talking. Don’t let her fall asleep.

“Hmm?” She dragged herself back from the brink of sleep. “School,” she said vaguely. Her eyelids opened rather reluctantly and she blinked at Azi. “School. Was school. Didn’t like it, didn’t hate it. Academic life was not for me.” She was waking up again with some effort. “That’s why I dropped out of uni. That’s why my mum stopped speaking to me.” That and the fact that she disapproved of her daughter’s chosen career.

“I’m sorry. How about we pick a different subject?” The last thing he wanted to do was upset her with painful memories of the past. “What was your favorite part of growing up?”

She wondered why he wanted to pick another subject but she went with it. “Favourite part… of growing up. Um.” She let her eyes droop shut. “Ice cream on the beach. Swimming. We lived… near the sea. I liked summers.” Warm sandy beaches, the sound of the surf, seagulls, melting ice cream, sand in inconvenient places, running barefoot. Her breathing slowed as she remembered those happier, warmer, brighter times.

He nudged her gently to keep her from nodding off. “How about you and I go to the beach together someday? Sometime in the summer when it’s warm and we can spend the whole day out in the sun?”

Ellie nodded and shook herself awake. “Yes, that sounds good,” she agreed, momentarily lucid. “I don’t even know where the beach is from here, but yes.” The thought of Azi in swimming trunks and playing around in the waves was a very nice one. “Do you like swimming?”

“I enjoy it well enough, but in all honesty I prefer playing in the snow as opposed to playing in the water. Do you like the snow dear?”

Ellie shivered. “Not as much, but I’ve tried skiing a time or two and don’t suck at it.”

Azi pulled one of the blankets around them when Ellie started to shiver. “You prefer the warmer activities I take it?”

“I like the beach. And summer,” she repeated. “Being warm is a bonus.” She cradled her injured hand carefully against herself. “Would suggest other warm activities but Peter is outside and my arm hurts.” She didn’t mention Moe. She didn’t care if Moe heard them. Ellie gave Azi a small smile.

Azi kissed her forehead. “I think /other/ activities can wait until you’re feeling better love. Just take it easy for a while.”

“I’ve never been good at waiting when it comes to… other activities,” she said in an amused voice. Though he was right, between her pounding head and aching arm (the pain medication had helped a little but not enough) she was happy just to cuddle. She’d be happier still if she was allowed to sleep. “We should invite Peter in. See if he wants a drink or some food.”

Azi stoked her hair and smiled down at her softly. “Alright love. You promise not to fall asleep while I go get him?”

Ellie nodded and wriggled so that she could sit up in bed instead of lying down. She looked down at her ruined shirt. “Maybe you could toss me a new shirt before you do?”

“Sure thing love.” Crawling off the bed, Azi pulled a fresh shirt out of her bag and tossed it to Ellie. “Will that do?”

Ellie stripped off her torn one and put the one on Azi had thrown her. “Yes, thanks,” she said and arranged the blankets around her a bit. She was still very sleepy, but the change from lying down to sitting up was helping for now.

“You’re welcome love.” Giving Ellie a moment to dress her, Azi went to the door and poked his head out, finding Peter sitting on the front porch. “Hey, would you like to come in?”

Peter looked up at Azi and nodded. “Yes, thank you.” He followed Azi inside.

Ellie smiled at Peter. “Welcome. I didn’t get to thank you for also coming to my rescue.”

Peter regarded Ellie with a small nod. “It was no trouble miss. I’m just sorry I didn’t warn you sooner.”

Azi glanced to make sure Moe was still tied up before shutting the door behind him.

Moe saw Peter get up and go into the house and tried to see what was going on inside. When the boy shut the door he renewed his struggles again, but to no avail. What had they done with Alisha? He hadn’t seen her since he’d woken. He fumed to think what they were doing with her in there, what /she/ was doing to them. The whore. She was his.

Ellie shook her head at Peter. “No apologies necessary. You were both there when you were most needed, so you can both stop blaming yourselves. Hot drink? Food? We don’t have any fresh meat as that was interrupted but we still have canned food.” It was like trying to talk drunk without the slurring. Everything felt like someone else was doing it.

“Right right. I’m on it.” Azi started going through their food supplies, looking for something to hold them all over until they could go out and get fresh meat again. “Anything in particular that you would like to eat dear?”

Peter stood back a little awkwardly, not entirely sure of what he should be doing with himself at the moment.

Ellie shook her head but that made things hurt more. “Anything, Azi. Whatever we have.” Poor Peter looked a little lost. She struggled out of bed and swayed a little on her feet for a moment before she got her balance. “I… Peter, I can show you where to get water, that way we can have hot drinks?” She picked up the bucket from where Azi had left it next to the bed.

Peter took Ellie’s arm to help her keep her balance. “That’s… that’s fine miss Ellie. You should rest.”

Azi joined them with a couple of cans gathered up in his arms. “He’s right love. You should be taking it easy.”

Ellie grumbled a little. “I’m not allowed to sleep, and my legs are fine.”

Azi gave her a look of concern. “I would really rather you stay inside and take it easy, but I guess if you really want to go it should be alright as long as Peters with you.”

Ellie looked at Peter hopefully. She held up the bucket and held onto his arm. “Water?”

Peter looked between the two of them, making sure it was okay before he agreed to it. When Azi didn’t seem to oppose, he nodded. “Alright.”

Ellie walked with Peter to the door and when she exited she couldn’t help glancing at Moe. He was tied very securely and gagged now, too. Her emergence from the cabin seemed to excite him and he squirmed in his restraints and was trying to say something rather urgently. She turned her head and walked as independently (and steadily) as she could around the corner and out of sight. Dumping the dirty water on the ground, she paused by the well. “Here. We still need to find something to cover it, bit the water hasn’t poisoned us yet. We are careful to boil it.” She desperately wanted to sit down, even lie on the ground and sleep, but she distracted herself by attaching the bucket to the chain and then tossing it down the well. Peter would need to operate the handle.

Peter watched Moe carefully as they walked by him. He had been sure to tie him up tight, but one could never too careful. Once he was certain that the squirming man wasn’t about to break free, he focused on helping miss Ellie with the water. “He either of you had any other trouble around here before today? I haven’t seen anyone else in this area for awhile now.”

Ellie leaned against the side of the well and watched Peter wind the bucket back up. “No, been very quiet. No zombies, no people. Did you come across any nearby towns? We’ll need supplies soon.”

“The nearest town I’ve seen was about a full days walk from here. I don’t know if there was any one closer than that.” Peter didn’t have any trouble winding up the bucket full of water. It reminded him of the chores he did back home.

Ellie sighed. A day was a long time to walk. The direction that her and Azi had come, they hadn’t seen a township in several days before finding the cabin, so she supposed a day was an improvement. And it went somewhat to explaining why this place wasn’t overrun with zombies. They didn’t tend to go for cross country treks unless they were chasing something particularly slow. “That’s would be a long trip,” she said. She didn’t relish the thought of leaving their cabin unattended for that long, either.

Peter hoisted the bucket of water out of the well and started back to the cabin with Ellie. “Yes it would, but again I’m not sure if there is one closer by than that. There /could/ be a small settlement not far from here.”

Ellie nodded, following Peter. “We haven’t had much of a chance to explore yet but…” She had no reason to mistrust Peter, but she didn’t want Moe to hear their plans. “Well, hopefully we get a chance.” She didn’t look at Moe at all this time, though she could hear his muffled attempts to get her attention. She just walked back through the door and sagged a little when she knew she was out of sight of the older man.

Once he was sure that miss Ellie wouldn’t fall, Peter left her side and went to set the water down besides Aziraphale, whom was currently cooking up /something/ over the fire. “What is that?”

“Soup.” Azi replied, glancing from Peter to Ellie. “Was there any trouble out there?”

Peter shook his head and felt his stomach rumble. It had been awhile since he had last eaten.

Ellie wished they could offer the big guy something more than soup. “If you are around tomorrow, Peter, we can clear the traps and do some fishing and get a proper meal into you…”

Peter smiled slightly at Ellie’s offer. “That would be swell miss, but I don’t want to be any trouble for the two of you.”

“You’ve been more helpful than troublesome. It’s fine.” Azi stirred the soup slowly.

“No trouble,” she insisted, going and sitting down on the bed before she disgraced herself by falling flat on her nose.

“Thank you both.” Peter took a seat by the fire, figuring it would be inappropriate to sit by miss Ellie on the bed. “…Should we feed Moe out there? I don’t think he’s had anything to eat for a while either.”

Ellie closed her mouth and looked at the wall. Moe could starve for all she cared. She was not feeding him or condoning feeding him, but if they wanted to there wasn’t a lot she could do to stop them.

Azi saw the look Ellie was wearing and figured maybe approaching the Moe subject wasn’t very wise at the moment. “…Maybe we should wait a bit until the guy has calmed down. I doubt he would be accepting any food from us right now anyway.” The soup was just about done and Azi started reaching for the bowls.

Ellie was still struggling with her own anger so didn’t get up to help. Anyway, the cabin was small, and she was under orders to rest, and there were only two chairs for the table, so she stayed on the bed. She did watch Azi’s movements, though. There was rarely a time she didn’t take that opportunity.

Peter helped Azi pour the soup into three bowls and set the water over the fire as Aziraphale went to join miss Ellie on the bed, carrying both of their meals.

Azi handed Ellie her bowl of soup. “Feeling any better darling?”

Ellie accepted the bowl with her good hand and cradled it to her. She wasn’t sure how she was going to eat it. She hoped the others wouldn’t mind her drinking directly from the bowl. “A little. My head feels funny, pain is a bit less, still really tired. Looking forward to sleeping later.” She gave Azi a tired smile then carefully blew at her soup before taking a sip. The bowl was quite hot in her hand. She held it out to Azi. “Can you put this on the table for me? I can’t hold it and eat…”

Azi took the bowl from her and carefully set it on the table for her. “Sorry dear. I hadn’t thought of that. I could always feed you if you’d like?” He meant it as a joke but he would gladly do it if it meant helping Ellie.

Ellie mock glared at him. “I’ll pass,” she said, getting up off the bed and sliding into the second chair. Now that she didn’t have to hold the (very hot) bowl, she could use a spoon and eat her soup like a civilised person. “Thank you. This is nice.” It wasn’t a patch on fresh fish and bird, but it was a lot better than a good many of her meals had been since the outbreak.

Peter sipped his meal gratefully, happy to have something in his stomach again. “Thank you both for sharing your food with myself.”

“We will share our shelter too,” Ellie said, indicating the cabin with a wave of her spoon. “But not with /him/.” She glared at the door. She would never again share a roof with Moe.

“I understand. Thank you for this.” Peter went back to eating his soup, wisely knowing not to farther the subject of the man tied up outside.

Ellie also ate in silence, wondering if she’d pushed things too far. Thinking that made her head hurt more so instead she focussed on the taste of the soup (which was decent). It was gone in no time and she scraped the last little bits out that she could, resisting the urge to lift the bowl and lick it.

Azi and Peter both finished their bowls just as quickly as Ellie had (Peter had practically inhaled his because he had been so hungry) and Azi asked if anyone would like a second bowl? He had been sure to make more than a single can of soup knowing that Peter would be dining with them that day.

Ellie waved off a second bowl. She was afraid if she had too much she’d be ill as she wasn’t feeling all that well. “You two go ahead. I’m fine.” She did wonder how comfortable the table would be to lie on.

Peter gratefully accepted a second bowl and Azi had half one one himself before setting the remainder of the soup aside. Hopefully Ellie would eat some more later, but for now she looked like she could pass out at any moment. He went over to help her to bed. “Come dear, I think we can allow you to nap now.”

Ellie stood and leaned against Azi as he helped her to the bed, pretty much collapsing into it the moment she reached it. She winced as her arm was painfully jostled and got it into a more comfortable position. “My shoes,” she said, hoping Azi would take the hint and take them off for her. They were so very far away and she was already so very comfortable on the bed.

Azi chuckled quietly at his sleepy Ellie and removed her shoes for her. Wrapping the quilt comfortably around her, Azi kissed Ellie’s temple. “Get some sleep darling.”

Ellie mumbled something incoherent in reply because sleep was already claiming her. She’d been fighting a losing battle against it for the last hour or so. Between one breath and the next she was out.

—-

Ellie pulled herself out of a dream – or a nightmare – she’d rather not be in. Moe was chasing her, but he was a zombie, some sort of super zombie, and he could talk and was calling out to her, calling her ‘darling’ and saying sweet and sinister things, and she was running through the woods but she kept tripping on the roots and it was like running through treacle and she just… needed… to reach…

She woke, sweating and panting, looking around wild-eyed. Once she realised she was safe inside the cabin and that it was only a dream, she sank back down to the pillows with a pounding head. She put her hand up to her forehead and felt the bandage. She had a bandage? Oh… yes… Moe really /was/ here.

That thought alone made her want to sob with frustration. She couldn’t get rid of him, and she’d been too chicken to deal with him, mad as he was. She let out a quiet groan and buried her face in her hands.

Azi was going through their food supplies. He wanted to find something better than just beans for when Ellie woke up, she deserved something better. Azi was in the middle of cursing their lack of variety when Ellie let out a moan. He was at her side in an instant. “Ellie? Darling are you feeling okay?”

One of the things she’d noticed immediately when her right hand made contact with her face was that it was still numb, though showing more signs of tingling than last night. Perhaps. Or it was hurting more at any rate, which was better than numbness. But the feeling in her fingers was gone, and she experimentally touched her thumb to each finger. It was like they weren’t even hers. She looked at Azi, at his concerned expressions as he was right there by her side. “As well as can be expected,” she said quietly. Her eyes strayed to the closed door and her lips compressed into a thin line. She looked back at Azi again and held her left hand up to him. She vaguely recalled being woken at times, and him checking that she was ok. Neither of them had slept well that night. “Thank you.”

“For what love?” He took her hand and looked into her eyes, searching for any signs that she was still unwell.

Ellie blinked at him, confused. “For… looking after me?” She gave his fingers a squeeze. “Is…” Her eyes went to the door again and she bit her lip. “I don’t remember a lot. What was decided about… him?”

Azi smiled reassuringly, hoping she will take the news about Moe well. “We… I decided that it would be best if he left this place. Peter volunteered and took him away this morning. We shouldn’t be seeing him again.”

Her fingers tightened as panic took over. Her pulse kicked up a notch and her breathing became erratic. They’d let him go, they’d let him GO. No, nono, didn’t they understand just how much of a risk he was? She couldn’t feel her /fingers/, her head was pounding, she wouldn’t be able to go out into the woods by herself ever again… She should have killed him, she should have… “Why?” she whispered in a betrayed voice. She searched Azi’s face for any clues.

He frowned. This wasn’t going as well as he had hoped it would. Not going well at all. “I’m…. I’m sorry love I… I just thought we didn’t have many other options and Peter could handle taking him far far away.”

She wasn’t safe here, not any more, they needed to move. She started to get herself out of bed and look around for her things. “Which way did they go?” she asked, somewhat frantic. “We need to get going, we need to go somewhere else, in the opposite direction or… no, that’s predictable, if we go slightly off their path, he won’t predict that, he won’t expect that…” She stood up and immediately sat down again as her head throbbed and her vision blacked out – just for a second.

Azi put his arms around her and helped her balance herself on the bed. Poor dear wasn’t completely well yet. “Take it easy love, please. He’s gone. He’s not going to hurt you again, I promise you that.”

Ellie gave him a disbelieving look. “You /can’t/ promise me that, though. You don’t /know/, he could come back and he knows where we are now we’re not safe. Azi, /I’m/ not safe.” But what else could she do right now? She could barely walk without blacking out, she couldn’t hold her sword properly with her hand all numb, she was helpless. Even at the start of the outbreak she didn’t feel this helpless. She hated it, /hated/ it.

“Oh Ellie…. I’m… I’m so sorry. I… I didn’t know what else to do.” He hugged her tight and buried his face into her shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

Ellie wrestled with her anger and frustration and fear in silence, holding Azi nearly as tightly as he was holding her and working on getting her breathing under control. A few small tears leaked out of the side of her eyes, but they were dry again by the time she lifted her head again and turned her face so she could look at Azi. Well, his ear anyway. His face was firmly lodged in her shoulder. “We do our best,” she said quietly. “It’s all any of us can do now.” How could she blame him, really? He had been a better person than her, letting Moe go, and done the only thing he could do by sending him away with Peter. She felt sorry for the big guy and hoped he kept Moe gagged except at meal times.

Azi lifted his head up to look at her. “Do… do you still want to leave here? We can pack up and go if you no longer feel safe.”

Ellie thought about it. “As long as Moe is still out there, he knows where this place is. But…” She looked down at her hand even as she lifted the other to her head. “I don’t think I’m in any state to travel right now. I like this place, I thought we had somewhere… but…” The thought of Moe finding her here, watching like he did last time, waiting for an opportunity to get her alone, it made her shudder.

Azi snuggled her closer when she shuddered. “I like it here too darling, but if you still want to leave when you’re feeling better than we will, alright?”

Ellie nodded, very carefully so as not to jar her head, and sagged into Azi’s embrace. “Alright,” she agreed. She wondered how far Peter and Moe were now, and hoped that Peter was taking all precautions in keeping Moe restrained. The younger man was too gentle for this sort of life, she felt, and yet he still lived. Ellie’s stomach made a loud rumbling gurgling sound and she grimaced. Trust her body to make light of the situation.

The growling made Azi chuckle just a little and pull away from her. “Hungry I take it?”

Ellie gave him a wry smile. “A little,” she admitted.

He kissed her temple. “Then how about we get you something to eat?”

Ellie leaned her face into the kiss and closed her eyes. “Sounds good,” she said. Hopefully she’d be able to keep whatever it was down.

—-

There was quite a bit of cloud coverage that afternoon, so the day wasn’t as hot as the others had been. Fishing was going well enough. Azi and Ellie had caught two small fish for themselves for later and were hoping to catch a third before the day was out. (Actually, they /had caught a few other ones, but they were so small that once gutted their wouldn’t be anything left of them to eat, so those went to Ginger.) Azi pulled on the line a bit, hoping to prompt a fish to bite. “Do you think we’ll be having any more luck today love?”

Ellie had refused to sit with her back to the woods, even when Azi had offered to watch the trees while she concentrated on the fishing, so she was slightly less successful than Azi at their activity that day. Her line dragged in the water, mostly disregarded, as she scanned the woods endlessly. Every small movement caught her eye, every rustle caused her to turn her head slightly in that direction. Something caught at her line and she tugged it absently. Not a bite. Though at least she could feel her fingers again, and her head was no longer bandaged. She still got headaches, but she could think clearly.

Ellie turned her head and made herself smile at Azi. “Maybe the traps will have something. We can check them on the way home.” She ignored the clenching of her stomach and the racing of her heart when she thought about going near the traps. She had been setting traps when Moe attacked her. But Azi would be with her this time, she told herself. He’d be there and she’d be safe. Movement caught the corner of her eye and she looked at the trees again. Just a bird.

Azi sighed at Ellie’s obvious nervous state (which he fully understood /why/ she was nervous but he truly wished he could ease her mind somehow so that she could relax a little) and took Ellie’s hand into his own. He squeezed it in hopes it would comfort her. “Would you like to go back to the cabin earlier today?”

Ellie squeezed his hand back, so glad that her own hand was on the road to recovery. She’d worried that something had been permanently damaged, and with no surgeons or doctors around there was no way of fixing it. It was still swollen and bruised, but she could feel Azi’s fingers and threaded hers with his. “If you want…” She turned her head to look at him again. “I feel like we’re at least being productive like this, but… maybe we can start thinking about moving on?” She flexed her fingers against his. “Tomorrow or the day after. I can hold my sword again.”

Azi felt disappointed at the thought of moving on. They had finally found a place they had thought would be safe, why did Moe have to have found them? Why couldn’t they have just spent the rest of their days safe and living full lives together here in the forest? It all just seemed unfair that their happiness had been broken like this. Well, no matter. They would be leaving soon and maybe… maybe they’ll find another place like this one someday. “Alright dear.”

She wondered if he was as disappointed as she was about having to move on. She /wanted/ to stay here, she’d made so many /plans/ for the place. It was in a zombie-free zone, as far as things went, and it was a place where she could be with Azi, alone and undisturbed. But her security here had been compromised. If /only/ she’d killed Moe while she had the chance, she thought again with a bitter taste in the back of her throat. Silently, she reeled in her line and carefully wound it up so it wouldn’t tangle. It wasn’t like she was catching anything anyway. When she was done she sat with her back to the river, her shoulder pressed against Azi’s, and stared broodingly at the forest.

When Azi saw Ellie reeling in her line, he figured they might as well call it a day and started reeling his in as well. Maybe Ellie will feel safer once they are back inside the safety of the cabin. “I don’t think we’ll be catching anymore today, lets start heading back.”

Ellie nodded and got to her feet, picking up her sword which had been lying across in front of her like a shield. “Sounds good,” she said with more cheerfulness than she actually felt. The traps were next, which meant going back into the woods.

Azi was with her, she reminded herself. And then they’d be home, and she’d have walls. She was also aware that what she needed to do was get back on the horse, figuratively speaking. She was going to be no use to anyone if she couldn’t walk through some trees without spooking. So, squaring her shoulders, she prepared to go back.

Climbing to his feet with the fishing line and fish in hand, Azi followed Ellie into the forest. At least she sounded happy at the idea of going home rather than spending the rest of the day outside in the woods. She’ll be less on edge once they’re back at the cabin.

Ellie was a lot more nervous than she was letting on, and by the time she reached the first trap (after checking regularly that Azi was right there with her) she was in a cold sweat. It was empty but had been triggered. She reset it and motioned for Azi that they should move on. The quicker they checked, the quicker she could get back into the cabin. Her stomach was in knots.

The second trap was empty, but hadn’t been set off, so she left it as it was. The third trap, closest to them, held a rat. Her mouth curled into a sneer and she reached in, pulled it out and snapped its neck. At least Ginger would have something else to eat later. She then reset the trap and looked at Azi with relief. “All done. Let’s head back now.” There were other traps, but they’d checked them on the way down to the river this morning, and they could wait until the morning again.

Anyway, if they were going to move on tomorrow, she’d have to collect all the traps up again and store them back in the cabin. She felt a stab of grief at leaving their little woodland house.

Azi watched her carefully move from trap to trap, never straying far and always keeping within sight. He was just as nervous about losing her as Ellie was of losing him. He was relieved when the trap checks were (although he did wince when Ellie killed the rat) and they finally made it back to the cabin. Azi held up the fish. “Should I cook these now or would you rather wait a bit?”

Ellie eyed up the fish and looked at her watch. “Wait a bit, I think. We can have them for dinner?” She checked and double-checked the lock on the door, and only then put her sword down, leaning it against the table, and relaxing a bit. She looked around at their little cabin, the four walls and bed and table and kitchenette that they had called home, and went and stood close to Azi. She didn’t want to leave here.

“Alright dear.” Azi set the fish and supplies down, freeing up his hands to wrap around Ellie. He pressed a kiss to her temple. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” she mumbled back, leaning into him, her own arms stealing around his waist. She sighed. “I should go through my things and see if anything needs mending.” Anything to keep her hands busy.

“Would you like any help with that?” There really wasn’t much to do at the moment besides keep each other company.

Ellie smiled at him and kissed his jaw. Over the past few days he had been especially soft spoken and gentle around her and it had been very comforting. “I’d like that,” she said. Once she’d been thinking clearly again she was a little reluctant to start anything too intimate. Part of it was her fingers, which were thankfully getting better, and part the fright from Moe’s actions. She’d been extra cuddly, loving the reassurance of Azi’s gentle embrace, and he’d helped keep the worst of the nightmares at bay. The only time they got her was when he left the bed without her.

Ellie found that she was clinging and forced herself to relax. “I’m not sure whether I /want/ to mend that torn shirt, but I don’t exactly have a lot of spares.” And she was still alternating between her one remaining pair of panties and the boxers she’d borrowed off Azi.

“You could always steal one of my spares? I’m sure you would like far better in them than I do.” Azi smiled, hoping that the small jest would get her to smile.

Ellie did indeed smile at him and kissed his nose. “You want me wandering around in your boxers and one of your shirts, huh? I’m sure that can be arranged.” When they found somewhere new and safe. The smile fell from her face again as she realised that they would have to leave their home.

Azi pressed his lips to her temple and snuggled her tightly. God he would give anything just to keep her smiling. She deserved to be happy.

Ellie let herself be snuggled for a minute, but she knew that she needed to get on with things and stop being so melancholy. It was upsetting Azi, and it wasn’t doing her any favours, either. So she leaned back to look at him again, framed his face with her hands, and placed a quick peck on his lips. “You can help me mend my socks,” she told him with as cheerful a smile as she could manage. “And later I’ll wander around in whatever clothes you want me to.”

Reluctantly Azi let her pull away from him, but he managed a small smile nonetheless. “Alright darling, but if you’re socks look absolutely horrible once I’m through with them please forgive me.”

That made Ellie chuckle, and she had this mental image of incredibly misshapen socks. “I would forgive you anything,” she said, walking towards her pack so that she could find her socks. “So long as you make it up to me later.” The look she gave him over her shoulder was definitely suggestive.

Azi was a little surprised by that look, yet not at all disappointed. They had been pretty snuggly since the attack but besides that they haven’t tried to take things any farther. Ellie needed comfort and Azi was happy to give it to her… though this little development definitely wasn’t unwelcome. “I’ll make it up to you however you want love. Did you have something in mind?”

Ellie smiled as she searched through her bag, producing the socks without too much trouble. Her bag was well-organised and she knew where everything was. “I may have a few thing in mind,” she said sweetly, moving to the bed with the sewing kit in hand, too.

“I would hope so. Your ideas are always so…. interesting.” Plopping down on the bed besides her, Azi stared at the pair of socks that needed mending and tried to figure out exactly how he was going to fix them.

Ellie smiled at him out of the corner of her eye, and picked up the other pair of socks. She threaded a needle and started to do her best to mend the hole. Having little to no idea of how to actually mend socks properly, this would have to do. If only she’d learned to darn. Who knew it would end up being a useful skill one day? “I’m glad you think so,” she said.

It was nice to be able to sit side-by-side with him and work on something. Soothing, in a way. These last few days they’d been pretty much inseparable, and while in the past she would have found it highly irritating to be around someone so constantly, with Azi it had never mattered.

Azi picked up a needle and attempted to mend the other sock. He knew he was probably doing an absolute horrible job of it, but at least it gave him and Ellie something to do together. Any activity that gave them an excuse to simply spend time together was an activity worth doing. It didn’t take any time at all for him to finish up his needle work and hold it up for Ellie to inspect. “What do you think?”

Ellie looked at his attempt at the sock and was amazed that she managed to keep a straight face. She thought her effort was bad… well… the sock was wearable, but may need re-mending at some point in the near future. “Very nice,” she said, taking the sock off him and pairing it with the one she had finished. “How about you bring me anything you need mending and I do it while you watch?” she suggested with a small smile.

Azi knew that the sock looked absolutely horrible, but he appreciated Ellie’s kind comment. “I’m not sure if I have anything that needs mending, but I’ll check.” He hopped off the bed and grabbed his bag, digging through it to see what may need to be fixed.

Still smiling, Ellie put her ‘mended’ socks away, grabbed the torn shirt, and returned to the bed. If she could keep busy then she wouldn’t have to think about leaving. And she had the fish to look forward to, as well. A quiet afternoon in with Azi sounded ideal. Soon they’d be on the road and quiet afternoons would be difficult to find.

Azi found a small hole in a spare pair of trousers and moved back to Ellies side on the bed. Picking up a needle, he started working on them. “I do hope well be able to replace these clothes soon before they fall apart on us.”

Ellie snorted. “We could do the whole Adam and Eve thing and run around in fig leaves.”

Azi had to chuckle at the idea of them running around in nothing but leaves. “I think we would get a little cold after a while.”

“I’d have to find creative ways of keeping you warm, is all,” Ellie said, enjoying the flirty teasing.

“Creative ways hmmm?” Azi leaned against her as he continued his needle work. “What sort of /creative/ ways are you thinking of?”

Ellie grinned at him. “I think you know,” she said. “But just in case you don’t, how about I demonstrate later?” She relished the idea of cuddling up (and more) with him this evening after their meal of fish.

Azi stole a quick kiss. “I’d like that love. Shall I start dinner as soon as we’re finished attempting to fix our own clothes?”

Ellie chased his retreating mouth and stole a second one. “Sounds lovely,” she told him, then went back to trying to mend her shirt.

The hole in his trousers didn’t take long to mend and satisfied with his clumsy job of fixing them, Azi put them away and went to attend to the fish. He started preparing them for the fire. “It’s a shame that we don’t have anything to season these with.”

Ellie continued working on her shirt (it really was quite well torn and had been stretched oddly as well) and looked up briefly when Azi mentioned seasoning. “Oh don’t…” she said, her mouth watering. “I miss spices and seasoning. Maybe we can…” She stopped herself from saying that maybe they could plant some herbs, because they wouldn’t be staying here to plant the herbs. “Find something that hasn’t expired in the next town,” she finished quietly, looking back down at what she was doing and concentrating on that.

Azi noticed Ellie’s sudden mood change and moved to place another quick kiss to her lips. He didn’t want her to start feeling down again just when they were starting to feel better. “We’ll find someplace for us love. I’m certain of it.”

Ellie again made herself smile. Be happy, she told herself. You have so much to be thankful for now. “Yes, we will,” she said to him in the most determined tone she could muster. “We’ll find somewhere, and we’ll make a home, and we’ll have a herb garden with basil and mint and parsley and rosemary. We can keep chickens, if we find them.” She nodded to herself and attacked her shirt with renewed gusto. “We’ll find a place.” She just had to be patient.

Azi brushed her cheek with his thumb. He didn’t like seeing her upset, but he liked it even less when she forced herself to be happy for his sake. Maybe… maybe he should have just let her take care of Moe, at least then they wouldn’t be losing their home, and if anyone deserved to die, it was that creep. “….I’m sorry darling.”

Ellie kissed and then playfully bit his thumb before letting it go to carry on with her mending. “Don’t be sorry. You’ve made me happier than I thought I’d ever be again, and we /will/ have a home. I’m just… I let myself get a bit too attached to this one.”

“Yeah… so did I.” Azi placed a kiss to her cheek and left her to her mending. He had to finish making dinner anyway.

—-

The smells of cooking fish and whatever else Azi had produced from a can were filling their little cabin. Ellie refolded her clothes (she’d almost managed a decent job of mending the shirt – it would be fine for wearing over another one as an extra layer) and made her way over to where Azi was cooking. She was about to ask when it would be ready when a knock on the door interrupted her, making her jump and look at the door with a deer-in-headlights expression.

Who had found them? Were they in danger? Where was her sword? She quickly reached for it, still propped against the table, but couldn’t make herself go to the door. That much was still a little beyond her courage at the moment.

Azi jumped at the sound of someone knocking on the door as well, though admittedly not as badly as Ellie had. Leaving the fish to cook, he snatched up his bat and carefully approached the door when he saw that Ellie wasn’t going to. He put his free hand on the door but didn’t unlock it. “Who’s out there?” He called.

“Aziraphale? Miss Ellie?” Peters voice called from the other side of the door. “Might I come in?”

The blood drained from Ellie’s face. Peter meant Moe, and she didn’t want Moe back here. She backed to the far end of the cabin and tried not to show how much she was shaking. A small, rational part of her brain was also reminding herself that Peter wouldn’t willingly put them in danger and so if he was here, it was to help or warn them. She nodded a little at Azi, but stayed where she was, pressed to the far wall of the cabin.

Azi almost wanted to deny Peter’s request when he saw how badly his presence was affecting Ellie, but when she gave him the okay he reluctantly opened the door and peered outside. Peter seemed to be alone. “You’re by yourself? He didn’t come back with you?” He opened the door a little more to let him inside.

Peter shook his head and walked inside. “No he’s… Moe’s gone. For good.”

Ellie blinked as she tried to take in that statement. “Gone. What do you mean gone? Like lost? Or… you left him somewhere? Or… how… how do you know he isn’t coming?” She hated how her voice shook.

Peter noticed that miss Ellie seemed pretty uneasy and thought it best if he just came out and said it. “Moe he… he suffered an accident and he… let’s just say he’ll no longer be a danger to you or anyone else ever again.”

Ellie’s mouth dropped open and the tip of her sword sagged to the ground. Moe… gone? Completely gone? Never be a danger to her or anyone else ever again. So… not a zombie. Gone. Her knees gave out and she slid down to the floor. “Gone,” she echoed. “For good? Absolutely sure?” She looked up at Peter with wide eyes.

Peter nodded a little nervously, unsure if he should be doing something about miss Ellie’s reaction.

Luckily he didn’t have to. Azi was at Ellie’s side as soon as she hit the floor. “Are you alright dear?”

“I’m fine I’m fine,” she assured Azi, letting her sword go and grabbing at his hand instead. “I’m fine.” It was sinking in, still. Moe was gone, no more Moe. But she looked at Peter. “Please… you’re /absolutely/ sure. No doubt at all?”

Peter nodded once again and looked her in the eye to make sure his point was getting across. “He’s dead miss.”

Dead. Moe was gone, dead, properly gone. A thorn in her side which had turned dangerous and life-threatening in such a frightening way that zombies weren’t. He had been menacing, deliberately targetting her. And he was gone. She wanted to cry with relief, but she didn’t want to burst into tears and worry the other two further. So instead she spoke quietly, as if from far away. “Please lock the door, Peter. Will you stay for dinner? We have fresh fish.” She picked herself up off the floor and clung to Azi’s hand.

“I would like that very much miss, thank you.” Peter did as Ellie had requested and locked the door behind himself.

Azi helped Ellie to her feet and hung on to her tightly. “Are you sure you’re feeling alright love?”

Ellie nodded. As the news sunk in, she could feel a knot releasing in her stomach and a weight lifting off her chest. Moe was gone. And if Moe was no longer… “We can stay here!” she burst out, a genuine smile starting on her face. They could plant herbs and make fences and keep livestock and fish in their river and…

Peter nearly jumped out of his skin at Ellie’s outburst and gave her a strange look. He had no idea what that was all about, but he wasn’t going to intrude on their conversation.

Azi smiled along side with Ellie and pulled her into a fierce hug. “It looks like we can!”

Ellie squeezed Azi in her happiness. It was a strange world when she was celebrating the death of someone she knew, but that’s how it was. “We don’t have to go,” she whispered and looked around at the cabin. /Their/ cabin. “You’d better stop the fish from burning, love.” She let him go and walked over to Peter, throwing her arms around him before he could take evasive manoeuvres. “Thank you!” she said before letting him go again, too.

Poor Peter froze up when miss Ellie attacked him with a hug and just barely managed to stutter a “you’re welcome” before she let him go. That wasn’t exactly an expected reaction.

Azi chuckled and the two of them and went to tend to the fish before they started burning.

Ellie sat down at the table, fidgeting. Not because she was nervous, but because she was allowed to be /excited/ again! She couldn’t sit still so she got up and retrieved an extra plate and cutlery for Peter to join. In fact, if they were going to stay here, they should make another chair at some point so that if they had a guest then no one had to sit on the bed.

Plans ran through Ellie’s mind again. Gardens and security and fencing and trap lines. Making better and more permanent use of their net (maybe Peter knew how to work a fishing net?). And Peter… what was going to happen to him? Was he going to keep moving on now that he no longer had Moe to look after. He still had his family to find, didn’t he? She’d miss the big guy…

So many questions!

Satisfied that the fish wasn’t burned, Azi gathered up their food and evenly distributed between the three of them. He let Peter take the only other empty chair and seated himself on the bed like last time. He was sure Ellie probably had quite a bit to ask the man anyway.

Ellie tried her best to tone down her elation at the news. It really wasn’t appropriate to be so happy that someone was dead, but she couldn’t help it. All their plans were back on track. “So what are you going to do now, Peter?” she asked around a mouthful of fish. “Keep looking for your family? Or stay here a while?”

Peter took a greedy bite of his fish before answering. He hadn’t had anything to eat yet that day after all. “…I would like to continue to look for my family, but if I ever find myself close by of find someplace safe I shall let you two know. You both seem like good people.”

Ellie smiled at him, then looked at Azi. She wasn’t so certain that she was a good person any more, but Azi was, and it was nice to know that Peter wanted to keep in touch. She looked back at their guest. “If we ever need to move on from here, for whatever reason, we will leave you a note or something. We’ll come up with some system of letting you know. But if you are ever in the neighbourhood, I’m sure Azi would agree that you are most welcome to stop by. We see so few friendly faces now.”

Azi made a sound of agreement even though his mouth was currently full of fish. It would be nice to hear how the rest of the world was fairing whenever Peter came around.

Peter smiled shyly at miss Ellie and muttered a “thank you” before attacking his food again. It was good fish.

Satisfied, Ellie finished off her own portion of fish. They didn’t have the most balanced of meals, but once they got to growing their own vegetables things would improve, she was sure. She wondered if it would be too much to ask Peter to stay here for a few days while her and Azi went off to the nearest township for supplies. A garden store for seeds, or even raiding people’s actual gardens. No doubt a lot of herb and vegetable gardens had died, but some would have grown rampant. She could take cuttings, and transporting them here would be difficult… seeds would work better, if she could get some. Wire. Some more tools. She vaguely remembered the list she had assembled when they’d first arrived here and she’d been all enthusiastic about setting up a home.

She would ask Peter later. Surely he’d stay the night at this point… “Um. Are you going to stay here tonight, Peter? It’s getting quite late to travel on…”

Peter looked a little flustered. In all honesty he really hadn’t thought of where he would be sleeping that night, but he didn’t want to intrude on miss Ellie and Aziraphale like this. “I um… I don’t exactly have any plans for tonight but I will happily sleep out so as… so as not to disturb you.”

Ellie looked briefly at Azi then back at Peter. True, she’d had plans for Azi tonight, but those could wait. There would be plenty of other nights, and you don’t turn a friend out into the cold. “Nonsense,” she said with a smile. “If you don’t mind rolling your sleeping mat onto the floor, then inside is much safer and warmer. You won’t be disturbing us at all.”

Peter flushed even farther but nodded slightly. “Thank you miss. You two are kind people. I promise not to be a burden tonight.”

“I’m sure you won’t be,” Ellie said kindly. “It’ll be nice to have someone else around to talk to for an evening.” She meant it, too. She loved Azi, she loved spending every moment with him, and would be perfectly happy to have no one but him to talk to for the rest of her life, but it was also still nice to have someone else around. Just every once in a while. “Perhaps we could play a card game later, if you want? There was a pack of cards somewhere in this cabin.”

Peter brighten at that. He used to play card games and such with his family back before all this chaos happened. It would be nice to do something normal like that again for a change. “I would like that very much miss Ellie. Thank you.”

Ellie beamed at Peter, then at Azi. Normal things, they could do normal things, and they could stay here. She was still so relieved that everything was going to be normal again. Well, as close as you got to it in a zombie apocalypse, anyway. She licked off the last of her plate and took it over to the sink. It didn’t have any water hooked up, but it was a stainless steel sink with a waste pipe that went elsewhere. With a bucket of water from the well, it was enough to clean the dishes. She also put some water over the fire to boil for hot drinks. They were running low on tea, coffee, /and/ cocoa and would need to do a run into town at some point to get some more. She added that to her mental list.

Azi finished most of his food and gave the last bit of fish to Peter as a thank you. Anyone who could maybe Ellie this cheerful deserved to have seconds. He joined Ellie by the sink. “How about you get the cards ready while I handle the dishes?”

Ellie pressed a firm kiss to Azi’s cheek. “Ok love,” she agreed, and went to find the cards.

—-

The hour was late and the cabin was quiet except for the gentle breathing coming from the sleeping man curled up in his sleeping bag on the floor. They had given him their spare blankets to help ensure he was comfortable so that had only left the old quilt for the couple (and an orange cat curled up at the end of the bed) to snuggle under together… which Azi didn’t mind in the least. Holding Ellie in a close but loose hug, he started to feel himself nodding off.

Ellie’s mind was buzzing as she snuggled in close to Azi, fingers of her right hand idly stroking a tiny circle against his shoulder, reassuring herself that she had the feeling back. She wondered exactly what sort of accident had befallen Moe, but she hadn’t been brave enough to ask. It was enough that he was gone, and they could get on with their lives.

She resisted the urge to shuffle and shift about in her restlessness because she could hear Azi’s breathing start to even out, but she couldn’t sleep. Maybe if she got some things off her mind, she’d be able to settle down? “Azi?” she breathed, barely even a whisper so as not to disturb Peter on the floor.

Azi slowly blinked his eyes open and smiled at Ellie, feeling a little out of it by how drowsy he was but always willing to hear what she had to say. “Yes darling?”

Ellie shifted a little now, shuffling up so that she could rest her hands on Azi’s chest, and her chin in her hands. “Do you think Peter would mind showing one of us where the town is that he found?” She didn’t like the idea of being separated from Azi, not in the slightest. It filled her with a mild panic. But Peter knew where the township was, and if someone stayed here to look after the house then the other two could come back with supplies. She explained this to Azi (without the bit where she was panicking about being separated from him), and waited for his response.

Azi’s sleepy mind tried to process all of this. They would leave the woods, but only for a day or two to grab some supplies before coming home. There would be risks. Odds are a town would hold at least a /few/ zombies, but he assumed that they would be able to handle whatever came their way as long as they were careful and didn’t take any unnecessary risks. This idea could work. “…We could use a few extra things if we’re going to make this place our home, but we have to be cautious when we leave. Who knows what might be waiting for us in that town.”

Ellie bit her lip and then spoke hesitantly, because she didn’t /like/ the idea even if it was the most practical. “You and Peter can carry the most… it would be best if you two go…”

His grip tightened around her ever so slightly and he pressed his forehead to hers. “I have absolutely no plans to leave you here by yourself. I think I might make myself sick with worry if I couldn’t be with you.”

Relief flooded through her. She fisted her own hands in the front of his shirt and nuzzled his nose with hers. “But… do you think Peter would agree to stay here and keep an eye on the cabin?” she asked. She was glad she wasn’t the only one feeling clingy, though.

“I’m sure if we ask he would at least consider it.” He nuzzled her nose in return. “If not I’m sure Ginger will make an excellent guard cat.”

Ellie muffled her laughter against his chest. She was still feeling quite drunk on relief, and the smallest things were amusing. The thought of Ginger staying here and guarding the house just seemed hilarious to her right now. She got herself back under control and looked up at Azi again, eyes shining. “We’ll ask in the morning, then,” she said, feeling like she had at least got that off her chest. She cuddled back down and tucked her head under Azi’s chin.

Azi kissed her temple and rested his chin atop of her head. “Alright dear. Let’s try and get some sleep until then.” He could already feel himself drifting once again. “Love you.”

“Love you,” she whispered back and let her eyes drift shut. Tomorrow they would start rebuilding.

—-

Despite the talk, Ellie had still spent a restless night. Constantly drifting in and out of sleep, she kept thinking of things they would need to get, and what they would do if Peter didn’t want to stay here. So in the morning, when the first glimmers of light started showing through the single high window she stirred and slid out of bed. She tip-toed around Peter and sat on one of the chairs to put her shoes on. She could get water from the well and have it boiling for breakfast in no time.

The soft sounds of someone moving about at this time in the morning caused Peter to stir. Slowly he opened his eyes and took a moment to remember exactly /where/ he was. A cabin. He was on the floor of a cabin. A cabin belonging to miss Ellie and Aziraphale. He was safe. Pushing himself up into a sitting position, Peter saw that miss Ellie was up and muttered a quiet good morning.

Ellie smiled at Peter and continued doing up her shoe. She looked over at Azi, but he hadn’t shown any signs of moving just yet. “Morning,” she whispered to Peter. “Just going out for some water.”

“Would you like some assistance?” He kept his voice low when he saw that someone was still resting.

Ellie smiled and shook her head. “I’ll be fine. You could get the fire started, though?” She stood up and got her sword. Even though she was going to just out the back of the cabin, she never went anywhere without her weapon. Much good it had done last time she’d needed it, but then she’d hesitated using it properly against a living human. What a mistake that had been. Shaking herself out of those memories, she offered Peter another quick smile and headed out the door.

Peter did as miss Ellie had asked and started a fire for them. He was sure to go about it as quietly and possible so as not to disturb Aziraphale’s sleep.

It didn’t take long for Ellie to get the water, and she was pleased to note that the forest felt as it should – early morning noises from the wildlife, no strange quiet patches which could indicate people or zombies. She kept the sword propped against the side of the well as she wound the handle, and was soon juggling a sword, a bucket and a door lock. She made more noise than she meant to, and as she closed the door as quietly behind herself as she could, her sword tipped and clanged to the floor. Wincing, she turned to see whether she’d woken Azi.

Azi jumped at the sound and was already sitting up and glancing around wildly before he was even fully awake. “Wha-?” He rubbed his eyes and was able to process his surroundings. Ellie and Peter were up and doing some morning chores. Nothing seemed amiss. “…Morning.”

Ellie smiled apologetically at him, feeling like such a klutz for letting her sword topple over like that. “Morning love,” she said back, bringing the bucket of water over to the fireplace where she tipped some into a pot to go over the fire that Peter had started. “Hot drinks soon.” She wondered how to broach the plans with Peter, and decided that over hot drinks would probably be best, when everyone was a bit more awake.

Azi stumbled out of bed and rubbed his eyes again. He felt incredibly drowsy and could use a dip in the river to both wake him up and just generally wash off, but that could all wait until after hot drinks. “Did I miss anything while I was asleep?”

Ellie shook her head and kept an eye on the water over the fire. “Just got water, is all.” Her eyes skidded to Peter, then back to Azi. “We haven’t had a chance to talk about anything,” she said to Azi, hoping he got what she meant.

“Ah, I see…” Azi smiled, knowing what she was referring to. It wasn’t exactly a surprise. Odds were she would have wanted to at least have everyone awake and aware before she broached subject.

Seeing that the pot was secure enough for now, and not on the verge of boiling, Ellie stood up and went to give Azi a proper good morning kiss and hug. “Did you sleep ok? I hope I didn’t wake you with all my wriggling.”

Azi returned the kiss eagerly and nuzzled her nose with his. “I slept wonderfully dear, as per usual whenever I’m with you.”

Well, at least she hadn’t kept everyone awake with her restlessness, which was one thing. She gave Azi a smile as she stroked his cheek, another quick peck to the lips, then returned to tending the pot of water. It would boil soon and then they could have their drinks, and then they could ask Peter what she was burning to ask. She prepared their drinks and handed the boys theirs before wrapping her hands around her own and watching Peter for an opportunity to ask her question.

Peter thanked Ellie for the drink and took a small sip before setting it down on the table to cool. He could feel some tension in the room. Ellie seemed to want to say something but as to what it was, he wasn’t sure. “Um… was there something you wanted to ask me?”

Ellie’s eyes skidded to Azi and then back to Peter. Slowly, she nodded her head. “We… we were talking last night and… well, if we’re going to stay here we will be needing some supplies. Things like a lock for the door, seeds, more fishing gear, toilet paper wouldn’t go amiss, more clothes… those sort of things. And you said that there was a township a full days hike away, right?”

Peter nodded. “Yes, the hike isn’t difficult but it’s long. It will take a full day just to get there.” He wondered if they wished for him to show them the way to the town.

Ellie nodded, too. “Uh… well, we were wondering if you wouldn’t mind looking after this place, and Ginger, while we went and got what we needed? It’s just… I know it would make more sense for you to go with us, but we don’t want to leave the cabin unattended, and we don’t want to be separated…” She reached out a hand to Azi. “We’ll understand if you would rather move on, though.” She didn’t want Peter to feel obligated to help just because they’d asked him to.

Peter smiled at their request. Ah, so that’s how it was. Peter couldn’t blame them for not wanting to be apart. They had been together for as long as he knew them. It was really rather sweet. “I’d be happy to watch over the cabin for you.”

Ellie smiled at Peter, relieved, and squeezed Azi’s hand. “Thank you!” She turned her smile on Azi. “The sooner we leave the sooner we get back? I can make a list of supplies we need while you get the directions from Peter?”

“Alright love, I’m sure Peter and I can figure a map of some sorts to show us the way.” He gave her a quick kiss and went to go find some paper for Peter to write on.

Ellie also searched around for something to write on. A scrap of paper and a pencil later, she was sitting on the bed (so the other two could have the table) making a list.

—-

Ellie thought they would never make it to the township, that they’d somehow gone off course, because it wasn’t until early evening, with the sun getting closer to the horizon than she’d like, that they crested a hill and the small town was suddenly below them. Small was right, too. Only a few shops, maybe ten or fifteen, and fifty or sixty houses, spread out with large sections, those on the very outskirts obviously farms, with a few more farms scattered in the distance. The only good thing was that it was obvious from here that at least it wasn’t overrun with zombies. They might run into a few, but there were no signs from their hillside view of movement, which meant hordes weren’t just wandering the town. She turned to Azi and raised an eyebrow. “Well, we’d better get down there and looking before it gets dark, I guess, and find a place to stay overnight.” She hoped they could at least find the things they were looking for.

Azi scanned the town from their view point and was satisfied to note that he didn’t see anything shambling around. Good, they should at least be relatively safe here for at least one night. And of course they would be sure to take all the necessary percussions. “Perhaps we can find a house like the first one you and I ever shared?” He turned to Ellie and offered her a hopeful smile.

Ellie smiled back, filled with fond memories. Cuddling on the couch that first day, taking comfort from just being close to another person, being able to spend all day in one place recovering and warm and well-fed in good company. “If this whole stupid situation ever ends, we’ll have to find that place again.” She took his hand and carried on down the hill until they were in the outskirts of town. Only there did she let go and kept her weapon ready. “Supermarket first? I think we should be able to find most of the things we need there. I haven’t seen a hardware or garden store, but it’s a rural town so there should be something…”

Azi nodded in agreement. “Supermarket sounds like a good start. We can hit the other stores as soon as we’re done with it and whatever can’t be found in them can probably be found in a couple of the houses.”

Ellie found herself a lot more nervous being back in a town, almost like the feeling she’d had back at the beginning when she was still adjusting to just what had happened with the world. She checked carefully around corners, and felt her adrenaline kick in big-time when one corner produced a zombie. Her swing was more panic than precision, but she still took its head off. “Can’t wait to be back home,” she muttered, stopping at the supermarket doors. The automatic sliding doors were slightly ajar, like someone had been in and out, and when she looked through the windows she saw that the place looked… very well looted. “Oh…”

Carefully stepping around the now dead zombie (well, double dead now he supposed) Azi followed Ellie inside and shared her sentiment when he saw how very little there was left in the store. Obviously someone had beaten them here. “Oh indeed.” He sighed and hoped that the rest of the places weren’t like this. “They didn’t leave much for us to choose from huh?”

Ellie frowned. “If anything.” A lot of the stuff left on the shelves was spoiled, either rotten or long past its use-by date. She looked around, but couldn’t find anything particularly useful to them. Window cleaner – no thanks. Dishwasher tablets – not needed. The milk was still there in its bottles, all bloated-looking and curdled. She didn’t want to look at the cheese and yoghurt. The vegetable section… was best avoided. Not a damn scrap of anything useful. No sanitary products. Not even pantyhose or underwear. Damn it. She let out a frustrated sigh.

Azi put a hand on her shoulder. He could hardly blame her for being frustrated. If they had come all this way for nothing Azi was going to be more than just a little disappointed. He may even need to find a zombie to take a little frustration out on. But not yet, he had a hunch. “Come over here for a second love.” Leading her over to one of the shelves, he set his bat down and braced himself against it. “Help me move this. Odds are likely that /something/ must have been kicked up this.”

Ellie put her sword back in her make-shift scabbard and pressed her shoulder against the shelf as well, doing her best to help Azi move it. It shifted a little and she increased her efforts.

It took their full combined efforts to move the shelf, but their work wasn’t in vain. As he has suspected, a few items had been lost underneath the shelf… and not all of the items looked completely useless! “What did we find?” Azi took a breath and picked his bat back up. He felt safer with it in hand.

Ellie leaped on the items that came to light. A three-pack of cheap supermarket underwear, and she was never so happy to see cheap cotton underwear in her life. The size was large, and she was anything but large right now, but she could take them in. “I was so hoping not to have to take underwear from someone’s house. It may be the zombie apocalypse, but second-hand underwear still makes my skin crawl just a little…” She smiled at Azi and waggled her find before tucking it straight into her pack.

“Ah underwear, never have we found such a cherished treasure. Perhaps we’ll get lucky and find me some as well.” Azi chuckled a little at his own humor and moved to the next shelf. “Shall we try the others to see what else we may have missed?”

Ellie nodded enthusiastically and moved to help him shift more shelves. Whoever had so thoroughly looted this place hadn’t bothered moving the furnishings around, at least. But what they /had/ done was eliminate any of the zombies running around in here. There were a few corpses scattered here and there, adding to the unique aroma of rotting meat, fruit and vegetables, and the promise of all sorts of nasty things in the dairy section.

They didn’t spend a whole lot of time in the supermarket after that before moving on. The hour was growing late and they still had a lot of buildings to search. The supermarket hadn’t turned out as rewarding as they had hoped, but at least they found a few things that could prove useful later on. Granola bars, batteries, some soap and toothpaste that could last them a while if they used it sparingly, a bicycle repair kit, and (much to Ellie’s joy) a few more feminine hygiene products that would /definitely/ be needed in the future. With their small haul divided up between them, Azi looking down the street for their next target. “Where to now darling?”

Ellie pointed at the next largest building, which looked to be a hardware store of some sort. “Let’s hope that one isn’t quite as picked over as the supermarket,” she said, though she didn’t sound all that optimistic. If the supermarket was /that/ clean, then someone (or a large group of people) had done a very good job of looting this small town. “If it looks bare, though, I say we don’t waste time and move on. We might not be able to find much here, so we have to hope that whoever has cleaned out hasn’t hit all the houses yet?”

“Alright love.” Taking the lead with his bat in hand, Azi moved towards the hardware store. No zombies came popping up from behind some hidden corner, so that was a relief, but upon entering the store Azi couldn’t help but feel disappointed. He wasn’t exactly sure what he had been expecting, but he had /hoped/ that /maybe/ this store would be better than the last one…. Sadly, he was quite wrong. “Oh dear….” He sighed.

Ellie looked around at the empty shelves and sighed as well. This store had been even more thoroughly cleaned out than the supermarket. At least the supermarket still had the perishables in it making it look less empty. The hardware store had nothing. It looked like even the bathroom and kitchen areas had been cleared out. She swore under her breath and turned right around to walk out before she started bashing things. They /really/ could have used stuff from there – tools like a saw, hammers, nails, screws, screwdrivers, wire, rope… There were so many things on her handwritten list that come from a hardware store. “Right, onto the next thing,” she said with a grim determination.

But the next thing was a clothing store, and that was just as bare. “Who the hell has cleaned this town out? I don’t see any signs that people live here… Is there somewhere nearby? Or…” She looked around the empty clothes racks helplessly. “I think we move onto some houses now. It’s getting darker, we probably only have half an hour of daylight left. To save time, the moment we see a house has been cleaned out we move to the next one. If it gets dark before we find one with some supplies, we just pick one that looks sturdy and stay there overnight. We can search some more first thing. Sound good?”

Azi was getting pretty frustrated by how little this town had to offer. Sure it was small and obviously other people got here before them, but you’d think that there would at least be /something/ left behind that they could use. Hopefully, the houses would have more to offer and not picked clean like every store they’ve checked so far. “Sounds good to me dear. I don’t think I’m really in the mood for staying out all night fumbling around in the dark just to find some supplies. We’ll be quick about this.”

Ellie nodded and led off to the first house. She found almost immediately that it had been cleaned out just as the stores had and, on a whim, skipped the next few, heading further out of town. The second one she tried was just as bad and, with a look at Azi, she skipped a few more. Third house she tried (and one near the outskirts) looked a little more promising. The door wasn’t hanging open, for starters. She looked at Azi again and at the sky, which was getting close to dark. “I think no matter what, this is our place to stay. It might have… occupants.”

“Well hopefully whomever might be in there will be will to lend us a bed for the night. All this disappoint really can tire a fellow out.” Trying the door, Azi was both delighted yet suspicious to find it unlocked and cautiously made his way inside.

Ellie bit her lip and followed. Unlocked could mean that someone had been there before them, or that the previous owners were still in residence, so to speak. She lifted her sword and kept a close eye out.

Azi slowly crept forward into the house and checked each room. Living room: Empty. Dining room: Empty. Kitchen: Zombie, whack it with a bat. Bathroom: Empty. Bedroom: Empty. Besides that one little scare the house seemed safe, and even better than that, it didn’t appear to have been raided yet. Finally luck was with them again!

Ellie finally breathed a sigh of relief when the place was deemed clear and double-checked that the doors were now locked and the windows barred. “Ok,” she said, rubbing her hands and putting her pack down. “Time to raid the pantry!” She grinned at Azi and went into the kitchen to do just that.

Azi, doing the gentlemanly thing, was sure to drag the dead body out of the kitchen while his lady looked for food to steal. “Find anything good darling?”

With her head stuck in the pantry, Ellie answered, “Usual array of canned good… fruit, which is good. Some spaghetti. There’s also rice and pasta, which will be good to take back.” She started moving things to the kitchen bench that she deemed good to take with them. “Ah!” she said, having piled a reasonable stock of stuff and finding something. “Milk powder!” Not as good as actual milk, but better than nothing, and would make hot chocolates nicer.

Azi rejoined Ellie in the kitchen smiling brightly. “Milk! It feels like ages since I’ve been able to enjoy a dairy product. Any other little treasures in there?” He peered over her shoulder to peek inside the cabinet.

“Some spices like cinnamon. Not sure how good they are.” She opened one and sniffed. Still had a smell. She shrugged. “Better than nothing, and the mixed spices might make some of the fish taste a little different. Save us from getting bored of it.” She grabbed out all the dried spices. They didn’t weigh much and didn’t take up a lot of room. The paprika looked promising because it was in a plastic container and therefore may have kept its potency a little better than others. “Curry powder, custard, might even be worth taking the baking powder and I can try my hand at bread, what do you think?” There was flour, which she would be taking anyway.

Azi thought about it. Fresh bread /would/ be nice to have again, even if it would only be a little. He saw no harm in taking it. “I think that sounds wonderful love. Maybe we could add some cinnamon to it to give it some flavor?”

Ellie smiled and turned her head to plant a kiss against his cheek. “Sounds good.” And it really did. But whatever they raided here wouldn’t last them long. They needed to be self-sufficient, which meant seeds, tools, the means of supporting themselves. “I hope that this place has a garden shed.” It had already been too dark to risk poking around the yard, but there were farms nearby. One of them would have seeds, surely. “Come on, I’ll make us something to eat and we could relax on the couch, or even in a bed.” Her smile turned seductive. “We’re here by ourselves, the doors are locked, and maybe we can find something in a bedside cabinet to use.” Even if they couldn’t, there were other ways to have fun, and she planned on having fun tonight.

Azi blushed a little but smiled shyly at the suggestion. Leave it to Ellie to go from survival planning to bedroom talk so casually. “…I’ll go poking around the bedroom to see what may have been left behind. Be back in a jiff!” Off he went.

Ellie grinned and started opening one of the larger cans. Baked beans with meatballs for dinner. Sounded good to her. She had their camping stove going and the beans simmering away before too long, mouth watering with the smell. It was sad that canned beans had her salivating, but at least she’d enjoy the meal tonight.

The bedroom was fairly large, full of standard bedroom things. A dresser with a few clothes still inside it. A closest with some extra pillows, blankets, and a box of personal items. A king sized bed with a couple of sheets thrown around it, whomever had last slept here hadn’t bothered with making the bed before they left. And finally a small nightstand which, after doing some digging through, was found to have the very items Azi had been hoping to find. He went to go tell Ellie the good news.

By the time Azi returned, Ellie was ready to dish up their meal. She got it onto two plates and presented it with a flourish. “Your dinner is served, my darling!” she said in her sweetest housewife voice with a little curtsy and a cheeky grin.

Azi nearly burst out laughing at Ellie’s adorable housewife act. Instead, he covered up him laughter by pressed his lips firmly to Ellie’s. “You’re too sweet for my own good and I absolutely love you for it.”

Ellie wrapped her arms around him and kissed him back hungrily. She was almost tempted to leave their dinner and have some fun now… /almost/. Forcing herself to pull away, she sat down at the table and grinned at him, face flushed a little. “Come on, eat up, because you’re going to need your energy tonight.”

Doing as he was told (but sure to steal another kiss first), Azi sat himself down and started on his dinner. “It tastes lovely dear. What /ever/ is your secret?”

Ellie stuffed some of the beans into her mouth and smiled as she chewed. “It’s all in how you open the can,” she joked. She was hungry enough to shovel the food in, though by now she wasn’t self-conscious about how she ate in front of Azi. It was the end of the world, the last thing they were worrying about was table manners. In no time she was scraping her plate clean.

Azi finished his meal shortly after Ellie, his stomach feeling full and satisfied. “Thank you for that, love. I’ll handle clean up.” He took both of their now empty plates and set them in the kitchen sink before returning to Ellie’s side with a smile. “Done!”

Ellie had to laugh at that and she stood up to slide her arms around Azi’s waist. “I take it you were successful in your search earlier?” she asked, nuzzling the side of his neck before giving it a gentle bite.

Azi sighed happily and tilted his head back to give her better access. “I… I might have.” He slipped his hands around her and drew her closer.

“Oh good,” she said, walking him backwards out of the kitchen as she continued to nibble at his neck. She wondered whether they should head for the couch or just straight for the bed. Bed, she decided, grinning and angling him that way. “Let me drag you off to my cave, then.”

Azi chuckled quietly and let Ellie drag him to the bedroom, careful not to stumble on anything. “Creepy yet oddly seductive. How did I ever get so lucky as to find you?”

Ellie closed the door behind them and pushed Azi against it, getting her hands under his shirt. “I’m not sure who is the…” she mouthed at his jaw, “lucky one…” bit his ear, “but I’m feeling…” hands skating up his chest, “like making you…” pushing his shirt up, “very lucky tonight.”

“Oh g-god! Please!” Azi felt his pulse jump when Ellie was suddenly on him like this. Her mouth playing with sensitive areas, her hands already undressing him, just her very person pressed close against him. He suddenly wasn’t certain if they would make it to the bed or if he should just let her have him right there against the door. He definitely wouldn’t complain.

She pushed his shirt up and over his head, stopping kissing him only long enough to get that and her own shirt off before pressing up against his bare chest, skin against skin except for her bra. She worked at his belt as she kissed his mouth, loving this man and not wanting to wait longer to be with him again. “Azi,” she breathed against his mouth, nibbling at his lower lip and undoing his trousers.

Ellie was intoxicating. Azi was so drunk on her mouth and skin and touches that he had nearly forgotten that /he/ could be removing things as well. Azi would have been perfectly happy with Ellie just having her way with him. Instead his hands started to work on removing her bra and belt. His mouth leaving a trail of kisses from her lips down her throat, muttering her name over and over again.

Ellie dipped her hands into his pockets once she had his trousers undone, trying to find where he’d hidden the items he’d come searching for earlier. Deciding that against the door, while fun, wasn’t the best place in the room to be doing this when there was a perfectly good king-sized bed available, she walked backwards towards it, dragging Azi with her.

Azi followed Ellie to the bed as he continued to work off her clothes. Her belt and trousers had been undone easy enough, and after some fiddling her bra finally came off, exposing more of her skin much to his delight. Careful not to let the heat of the moment ruin his judgment, Azi slowed down just enough so that they could sit down on the bed rather than go toppling over it.

Ellie found what she was looking for and wriggled out of her own trousers now that Azi had undone them, then gently pushed at his chest to lay him down while she climbed on top. “Been wanting to do this for days,” she said, running her hands up and down him and letting her lips follow the trails.

A moan escaped him and Azi arched into her touch. “M-Me too.” He wasn’t exactly sure if she meant she had been wanting to kiss him like this or pin him down or what they were surly /about/ to do, but whatever it was Ellie could do anything she liked to him. Azi definitely won’t be complaining.

Grinning, Ellie worked his trousers and boxers down over his hips and off. Nothing between them now, which was exactly as it should be. Well, nothing but a small latex barrier, which she made sure was firmly in place before she pounced.

~fade~

—-

It was early morning and Aziraphale found himself on his hands and knees searching through one of many gardens this town had. So far the most he had found was some weeds and flowers (that he may or may not have picked and playfully put in Ellie’s hair) but so far nothing edible. A town this small and in the middle of nowhere had to grow at least /some/ of its own food. Signing at his lack of findings, Azi stood up, brushed the dirt from his trousers, and went to find Ellie to see if she had any better luck.

This house didn’t have the decency to have a garden shed, and the garage was locked with no apparent way in, so she was rummaging around under the house. A rusty old garden fork (she’d rather not take the Tetanus risk) and some discarded bits of rusted wire, piles of wood, and way more spiders than she was comfortable with were all she’d found. She spotted Azi come to find her and crawled out of the dark confined space. “Next,” she said grimly. “Maybe we should stay away from these suburban houses, or as suburban as this tiny town gets, and stick to the outlying farms?” It was only one of the first houses they’d tried, but she was feeling like this town just wasn’t going to be very lucky for them.

Azi nodded and weaved another flower from the garden into her hair. “Sounds good to me love. I wonder who picked this town so clean though? Must have been a pretty large group to take so much.”

Ellie smiled when Azi added to the flowers that he’d already put in her hair. It was incredibly sweet, and it seemed to natural to him to just do it. “Yeah, makes me wonder what else is nearby, but we don’t have the time to explore the countryside. Peter’s looking after the house, and we don’t want to be any later back than tomorrow night or he might start looking for us.” She led the way out of the yard and headed out of town, her sword making little clanking sounds against the pavement as she put the tip carefully down every now and then. “Keep an eye out for garden sheds, I think they’ll be our best bet…” Having said that, she spotted one. “Like that!”

Azi cheered happily and followed Ellie to the shed. It had a padlock on it. “Just a second darling.” He made sure Ellie was out of the way before swinging at the lock. It took him a couple of hits but the thing finally fell off and the door swung out. Azi peeked to make sure nothing would be jumping out at them before giving Ellie the okay and holding the shed door open for her. “Ladies first.”

Ellie grinned and rolled her eyes before stepping into the garden shed. There wasn’t a /lot/ in here, and the only seeds she found were flowers and grass seeds, which she left. But she did put a garden trowel and small hand fork into her bag, and grabbed the spade. There was a small saw, like what you would use for trimming small branches. She eyed it up, wondering if it was worth grabbing, then shrugged and took it. If they found something better, she could always swap it out. “Find anything else useful?” she asked, turning to Azi once she had her bag secured again.

Azi pocketed the flower seeds while Ellie was inspecting the saw. He liked flowers, and if they were going to start a real home it would be nice to have something to brighten the place up. He also found a large sun hat and placed it on his head when Ellie spoke to him. “Nothing much. Seems like this wasn’t exactly the sort of gardener we were hoping to find, but we still have the other houses to check so I wouldn’t lose hope just yet.”

Ellie giggled at the hat. It was a step up from the newspaper hats she’d made for them back when they’d first started travelling together, but not much. Still, it would do the job and keep the sun off – no one was here for a fashion parade. Just as well. “Right, moving on then. We may as well not waste time.” So saying, she left the shed behind and headed back for the street to try and spot the next house with a likely-looking garden.

He followed her out and stole her hand as they walked down the deserted road. They had to pass a good number of houses as they headed towards the farming land, but luckily the walk went soothingly without any unpleasant surprises jumping and trying to eat them.

Ellie threaded her fingers with his. If it weren’t for the eerie emptiness of the place, and the sword and baseball bat held like the weapons they were, they could be tourists in this place, walking together through the streets and admiring it. She wondered if there would ever be tourists again in her lifetime (or at all?). She pointed with her sword at a farmhouse that was coming up now that the houses were thinning out. “If that’s a dairy farm I’m going to be very disappointed.” Had she spotted any greenhouses from the hill? She couldn’t remember now, but possibly…

Azi smiled optimistically. “If it’s a dairy farm I won’t be disappointed. Maybe we can find a dairy cow and take it back with us. Fresh milk and butter sounds like a pretty good find to me.” Azi lead them towards what appeared to be the barn and listened to hear if there was anything inside.

Ellie shook her head. “It’s been too long, love. Dairy cows would have long gone dry, or died from… ok, I don’t remember what it is they can get if they don’t get milked, but it’s not nice for the cow.” And she didn’t know what to do to get a cow to start lactating again. Maybe get it pregnant? So they’d need a bull, too… “But if there’s smaller livestock, like chickens or even goats…” She bit her lip. “I’m hoping for a greenhouse, myself. Preferably growing something other than flowers. Though I do like the ones you wove into my hair.” She gave him a smile.

Azi frowned in disappointment. He hadn’t thought of that. It was pretty silly of him to think it would be that easy to just find and care for a large farm animal. He may a mental note to start thinking things through before he made a silly suggestion and nodded solemnly at Ellie. “You’re right dear. Maybe we’ll get lucky with something smaller.”

Ellie squeezed Azi’s hand and then dropped it as they approached the front of the barn, holding her sword ready. The doors were closed and she couldn’t /hear/ anything inside, but that didn’t mean there was nothing. Carefully, she lifted the latch and let the barn door open, stepping back so that she had time to swing at anything. First thing that hit her was the smell. Feces, urine, and the unmistakable and familiar smell of rotting flesh. Then the flies, which she swatted away. But nothing else moved or made a sound in there. She peered into the gloom and what she saw saddened her.

This place had had horses. They were still there, or at least their remains were.

The smell hit Azi like a train and if that hadn’t been enough to make him gag the sight of the horses did it. He was used to rotting humans, not animals. Azi had to move away from the barn door a dry heave a bit. No animal deserved to go through that. “Maybe….” He took a few breaths of fresh air. “Maybe we can skip the barn…”

Ellie swallowed a few times because the sound of Azi dry-heaving was almost enough to tip her over the edge, too. She took another couple of steps back from the barn and nodded, her face a little whiter than normal. “Yeah, good idea,” she said weakly, unable to tear her eyes away from the poor animals in the stalls. “Uh… we should… um. See if there’s a garden or something.”

“Y-Yeah…. yeah lets go do that.” Azi grabbed Ellie’s hand and dragging them as far away from that horrible sight as possible. You’d think living in a world full of death would have numbed him to this sort of thing, but just knowing /how/ those poor creatures died, that was just too much from him to handle seeing.

Ellie let herself be dragged, grateful when she couldn’t see the horses any more. She turned instead to face the direction that Azi was dragging her and looked around, surprised to find that her vision was slightly watery. Stupid, crying over some dead horses. She’d seen far worse. Irritated, she rubbed her eyes clear and shook her head. “Right. Gardens. Probably near the house itself. And should we go in to see if there’s anything useful in there? They probably have good, sturdy clothes for us to raid.”

Azi nodded and didn’t point out that Ellie had tears in her eyes. She probably knew. Instead, Azi stole her hand and gave it a tight squeeze as they headed behind the house in hopes of finding a garden.

Ellie was pleased to note signs of a vegetable garden, even if it was just a small one, about the size a family would need. It was overgrown, but the broccoli had gone to seed, so she grabbed as many of those as possible. Unsure what else to do with them for now, since she didn’t exactly have containers to put the seeds in, she stuck them in her pocket. “Broccoli is a good start. Don’t recognise anything else here, can’t tell the weeds from the vegetables.”

Azi shrugged and bent down to collect a couple of the mysterious plants. “Might as well take them just in case they grow into something edible. This /does/ appear to be a vegetable garden at least.” Azi shoved what he could into his pockets. “We should find another bag or some containers to carry whatever seeds we find.”

Ellie agreed and harvested a few more things herself before standing up and heading for the back door of the house. “Let’s hope the inside of this isn’t filled with more dead things,” she said rather grimly.

Azi made a face of disgust. “I can’t believe I’m saying this but if they are dead I’m kinda hoping that they are still walking around. Those dead things I’m used to.” Azi headed towards the back door.

Ellie shot him a somewhat amused, yet slightly disturbed look. She tried the door, it was locked. “I need your lock picking skills,” she said, indicating his bat. She would break the glass panel in the door herself but knowing her luck right now she’d slice her arm open on the glass.

“As you want, m’lady.” Using his amazing lock picking skills, Azi bashed the lock in until the door would open. The house didn’t smell like death like the barn had, so that was a good sign.

Ellie stepped through into what was the kitchen. No sign of movement here, though the sound of thuds and something dragging upstairs made her wary. Probably a zombie trapped in a room, but where there was one there could be more, and they may not all be trapped. “Looks like there are occupants. If they thought they could hole themselves up until it was over, it would explain why the horses weren’t let loose.”

Azi didn’t like thinking about the horses so he just nodded and forced himself to focus on what had been left behind in the kitchen. The cabinets had some pretty standard stuff, but Azi suspected that if a family had been planning on staying here they would have stocked up. Azi figured they should probably look for a basement. That’s where most people would think to store their survival kits and supplies.

Ellie stifled her sigh and made her way slowly through the house, checking and clearing rooms on the ground floor then making her way upstairs. She avoided the room where the noises were coming from at first and checked that the others were clear. Once she was sure nothing was going to come sneaking up behind them, she faced the closed door with the thudding sounds behind it. “Ready?”

Azi followed Ellie from room to room, watching her back in case anything tried to surprise them. They already knew that there was something in there with them, it was just a matter of how /many/ something’s. When they finally stopped at the room where the source of the noise was coming from Azi stared at the door wearily and readied his bat. “Ready dear. Go ahead.”

Ellie nodded and turned the handle, ready to push the door open. The handle turned, but the door barely moved. Something was blocking it. Frowning, she pushed a little harder. It wasn’t locked it was… barred? Had they pushed furniture against the door? She put her shoulder to it, but whatever was blocking the door was solid. “Hmm,” she said, standing back. “Ok, well they’re not getting out if we’re not getting in so… we leave them?”

Azi tried to give the door himself, putting all his weight into it. It wouldn’t budge in the slightest. “It seems pretty secure. I doubt they’ll be able to bother us any more than we’ll be able to bother them. We should be safe.”

Ellie looked at the door for a moment longer. She hated to think that if she was a zombie at some point she was just left to wander around a room until her body decayed so far that it fell apart. She felt like they should do more for the family than raid their house while they left them shambling undead in one of the upper bedrooms, but such was life now. She turned away and went to one of the other bedrooms to start looking for clothes.

Giving the door one last glance, Azi followed Ellie to the next room. It was a smaller one, used to have been exhibited by a young woman judging by the clothes in the closet. Snagging up a spare handbag he spotted, Azi left Ellie to pick through the clothes while he went to raid whatever toiletry items he could find in the private bathroom.

Ellie raised an eyebrow at Azi’s choice of handbag and smiled as he vanished into the bathroom. She hoped he was going for what she thought he was. Meanwhile she looked through the clothes in the wardrobe. She was small enough nowadays that clothes worn by a teenager (and a reasonably slim one by the looks of it) might just fit her, but what she found was less than practical. Still, there was one cute sundress she quickly shoved into her bag. She’d surprise Azi with that when they were settled in. Everything else could be left. This girl had riding clothes and delicate floaty things and very little in between. She did check the drawers and cabinets for birth control pills, but apparently this girl hadn’t been taking any. Damnit. “If there are any pills in there, bring them out,” she called into the bathroom. “Painkillers, antihistamines, birth control, we’ll take anything.”

“Alright dear!” He called back. After tossing in all the toilet paper and tampons he could find, Azi opened up the medicine cabinet, scanned a few of the labels, and then just dumped everything into the bag. She /did/ say that they would take anything. With his findings in hand, Azi exited the bathroom. “Find anything you like? Hiking boots or something useful like that?”

Ellie shook her head. “Nah, all pretty impractical stuff.” She hefted her pack more firmly onto her shoulder and headed out of the room. She suspected that the family was trapped in the master bedroom, where they would normally have found more useful things, but that couldn’t really be helped at this point. There was a downstairs bathroom that she cleaned out for pills, like Azi not bothering to look at what they were. That could be sorted out later. She also found a few personal items and the remains of some toilet paper. Then she looked around, wondering what next.

Azi walked past the lounge, looking for a basement door, when something caught his eye and he had to take a few steps back and peer into the room. There, in the lounge, was a small library that practically made Azi squeal with delight and pounce at it. It was filled with all the classics. Shakespeare, Hemingway, Steinbeck! There were even a few books on plants and gardening sprinkled about. Azi didn’t care if he would have to carry all of these in a wheel barrel, he was taking these back home and no one could stop him!

Ellie heard the squeal and looked around in time to see Azi vanish into the lounge. She followed at a run, only to pause when she saw just /what/ it was that got his attention like that. She leaned on the door frame in relief and chuckled. “I see you’ve found something /you/ want.”

Azi tore his attention away from the shelf and gave Ellie what had to have been the world’s biggest puppy dog eyes. “Oh /please/ dear, please may we take them with us? I promise I’ll drag them back home all by myself as soon as we find a wagon or something. A couple are even useful, see?! Plants and gardening! Please may we take them?!”

There was no way she could resist those eyes and she found herself giving him a fond smile. “How could I possibly deprive you of books, my love? And as you say, some are even useful.” Still chuckling a little, she came into the room to give him a quick kiss on the cheek. “The barn will have a wheelbarrow, love. It’s had time to air out a little, I’ll go and see. You stay here and sort out which books you’re taking, ok?” She knew that the horses had distressed him more than they’d done her, and so she didn’t want him going back there.

Azi was about to suggest all of them, but he knew he should probably check the titles before he just took all of them like he had with the medicine, so he kept his whims to himself. “Alright dear, but I insist on dragging them all back myself. I’m not going to make you push around a wheelbarrow full or books just because I wanted them…. And Ellie” He gave her a quick hug and a kiss. “Thank you.”

Ellie smiled and stroked his cheek. “You’re very welcome. I’ll be back soon.” And with that she was gone out the door with her pack and sword. The barn was almost as foul as it had been when they’d first opened it, but she just held her breath for as long as she could then breathed as shallowly as possible while she looked around for a wheelbarrow without trying to see the horses. Or what had been horses. Her eyes watered a little again when she saw the tiny mostly-skeleton that had been a foal, but she blamed it on the pungent smells. She found the wheelbarrow, grabbed the garden fork and shovel next to it, and got all three items out of there as quickly as possible. She parked it all by the back door and went to see just how much of the library Azi was going to try and take with them.

Azi had a couple stacks of books going by the time Ellie got back. It was hard to leave any of them behind, even the bloody dictionaries! But he managed to only take about half the shelf rather than all of it. (Some of the books had been double copies and old school textbooks or journals, so those had been easy to give up. And a couple were on horse care and breeding, Azi couldn’t even look at thoses. He stuck with the classics and what would be useful! ….And maybe /one/ dictionary. But hey! It could be useful!) Azi smiled brightly when he saw Ellie return, though he did feel a bit guilty when he saw that there were tears in her eyes again. “Are you alright dear?”

Ellie eyed up the piles and was happy to see that he hadn’t, in fact, just decided to take every book he saw. She smiled and nodded. “I’m fine. There was… no, it’s ok, I’m fine. The wheelbarrow is by the kitchen door, and I found a spade and a garden fork while I was there.”

Azi smiled brightly. “Wonderful! I doubt these books are going to fill up a whole wheelbarrow so we can use it to push back whatever else we may find… If we find anything else that it.”

Ellie moved forward and bent down to pick up one of the stacks. “Come on, let’s get these into the wheelbarrow before you decide to add more to the pile.” She smiled as she said it, loving how very enthusiastic Azi had become when he’d seen the books. She didn’t know if she’d ever seen him like this.

“Good thinking. You have no idea how much those outdated school books are tempting me.” Azi scooped up a stack and, with Ellie’s help, transferred the all of the books he jad picked out of the lounge to the waiting wheelbarrow outside. (Azi may or may not have broken down and actually added s few of those textbooks when Ellie wasn’t looking but he had already made up his mind about pushing back the wheelbarrow by himself and he figured he could handle a little extra weight.) “That seems to be the last of them. Let’s do one more sweep of the house for any rooms we may have missed before heading on to the next one, alright love?”

Ellie pretended not to notice that, despite his comments about the outdated text books, he’d actually added one or two to his pile. She just smiled quietly to herself and gave her adorably bookish boyfriend a firm kiss. “Sounds like a plan,” she said, dragging him back inside. She wasn’t going to hold her breath for finding anything else in the place, but she was glad that Azi had found something he was keen to salvage. She hoped it wouldn’t rain on the way back. Maybe they could find some tarpaulins somewhere to cover the books. They’d also come in handy for the well back at their cabin, as well as other things.

Stealing a quick kiss Azi left the books in the wheelbarrow and followed Ellie back inside the house. Together they searched the place for anything that they may have missed and came up empty… At least, they /thought/ there was nothing else worth exploring in the house until they came across a door hidden behind the stairs.

Ellie looked at the door and at Azi. “Probably just a storage cupboard under the stairs,” she muttered, trying not to hope that they’d found a basement. She stood back and let Azi open it this time.

Azi knocked on the door and listened incase something stirred or made any sort of noise. When everything remained quiet he tried the handle and found it unlocked. When he pulled the door open it revealed a dark set of stairs behind it and a cold draft. “…Well this looks promising.”

Ellie peered over Azi’s shoulder. “A moment,” she said, swinging her pack down and rummaging through it to produce a couple of dynamo torches. She handed one to Azi, put her pack back on, and switched her one on. She shone the beam down the stairs. They looked sturdy enough. “You first this time,” she said with a wink.

Azi stuck his tongue out at her playfully and switched on his torch. Careful of where he was stepping he started his way down to stairway of darkness and the spooky unknown. It took him longer than he would have liked to reach the bottom and instinctively he started to search for a light switch. The torch only allowed him to see so much. “It’s incredibly dark down here!” He called up to Ellie.

Ellie followed once he was a little ahead of her, also carefully placing her feet. It was cool down here. “I can see it’s dark,” she said, amused. “Is there a floor down there somewhere?” She had also been searching for a light switch before she realised that it wouldn’t work anyway. The power stations had long stopped pumping out electricity and they hadn’t found and started a generator.

“I assume there’s a floor. I must be standing on /something/ after all.” He replied in a playful tone. Moving farther into the room Azi shined his torch around and spotted a shelf full of canned goods. “We have food!”

“Food?” Ellie echoed. “As in, good food? Non-expired food? Easily transportable food?” She’d caught up to Azi now and shone her torch around. Cans and cans and cans. There were also sacks which, when she inspected them closely, proved to be bulk sacks of rice. “Hmm, rice. Easy to make, filling, goes with anything, just add water. Any chance we could get one of these sacks into that wheelbarrow? I think we should find a second wheelbarrow for us. Not only is it useful to have, but we’ll be able to take more back with us. Good find, lover!”

“Nonsense! I only found it because you insisted that I go down into the dark creepy basement first. You have just as much credit for this fine as I do, darling!” Azi swept her up into his arms and covered her face in kisses. This was a /fantastic/ find.

Ellie giggled as he peppered her face with kisses. “Ok ok, leave some of that for later. Let’s see what we can clean out of here.” She looked around. It seemed like this family had been prepared to stay for a while. She started making a pile near the bottom of the stairs of things she wanted to take.

Azi let Ellie go like she requested and throw a bag of rice over his shoulder. It was heavy but not any heavier than the stacks of books he had been carrying around before hand. He could manage it. “You go ahead and sort and I’ll start bringing some of the heavier items upstairs okay?”

“Ok!” she said, carrying on perusing the shelves and picking out the occasional item. There was a brown box marked with a popular feminine hygiene brand on the outside and when she opened it she was pleased to find what must be a six-month supply of tampons. That went in the pile! Matches, lighters, more gas cylinders for camping stoves, batteries, quite a few useful things. No seeds, and very little in the way of tools. She did find a screwdriver set, and she put that in the pile too.

Azi hauled the suppies up the stairs and into the waiting wheelbarrow outside as fast as he could. Trying to match Ellie’s sorting pace as best he could. By the time he got most of the stuff upstairs and ready to transfer, the wheelbarrow was already in danger of overflowing. He hoped that they would find another one soon.

Ellie brought the last armful up herself and looked at the wheelbarrow. “You can’t push all that!” she said. “Look, we both still have room in our packs, how about we reorganise this a little better until we have another wheelbarrow?” So saying she took her pack off and started putting what she could into it.

Azi sighed but was immensely grateful for Ellie’s suggestion. He doubted he would be able to haul all that back home by himself with a /little/ help. “Alright dear. But I still insist on pushing whatever is left once we’ve evened everything out.” He knelt down and opened up his own pack to organize and add to.

Ellie nodded, seeing the sense in that. He /was/ the stronger of the two of them. “I’ll take turns pushing if you get tired, ok?” She had about as much in her pack as would fit so she did it up and shouldered it again. It was quite a bit heavier than before. She fished in her pocket for her list. “We have a few things off the list now,” she said, “and a few things that weren’t.” She looked at the books with a smile. “Let’s try another farm, maybe head towards the one we first passed coming in, on the edge of the woods? We can stay there overnight again and head back home first thing.”

Azi nodded and threw his now much heavier pack on. “Sounds like a plan love. With a little luck maybe that place will prove just as fruitful as this house was.” Getting a good grip on the wheelbarrow, Azi started to push it towards the direction he remembered the house to be in.

Ellie closed the back door and followed, saying a silent goodbye and sorry to the zombie family still trapped in their room. With Azi’s hands busy with the wheelbarrow it was up to Ellie to take down anything that came their way. The only zombie they saw they had plenty of warning for as they watched it amble towards them on the road. One swift swing of the blade and it was dealt with. “Hang on,” she said, spotting something in a yard. “I see a garden shed and what looks like a small greenhouse.”

Azi stopped the wheelbarrow and left it there for a moment so that they could investigate. He doubted anyone was going to steal it. “Is it unlocked?” He asked as they approached what they hoped was a greenhouse.

Ellie tried the handle. It didn’t move. Then she spotted the bolts top and bottom. They unbolted easily enough and, finally free, the greenhouse door swung open. She checked inside by peeking quickly around but nothing moved. “Clear, I think.” The inside smelled a little of rotten vegetables. Some things had thrived and taken over and other things had obviously rotted. There were a fair few dried plants, too. “Looks good. Let’s hope they raised these from seeds and still have some around somewhere!”

Azi smiled happily at all of the fresh fruits and vegetables that were still doing pretty well in the greenhouse. Even if they didn’t find seeds this was still a pretty good find. He picked a tomato and inspected it. “How do you feel about fresh vegetables for dinner tonight love?”

“It would irresponsible of me to pounce you right here, but that’s about how I feel about that idea,” she replied, grinning. “And…” She moved to another bed where the smell of rotting was quite strong, but there was also a good crop of leafy plant. She dug around in the soil, grimaced as her hands encountered something squishy and slightly slimy, then smiled again as she found what she was looking for. Bringing her hand out, she held up her find. “Potatoes!”

Azi let out a sound of glee and joined her side. “Excellent find darling! This day is turning out much more satisfying than the previous one.” He wrapped his arms around her from behind and nuzzled her cheek. “I think I may end up being the one to pounce first.”

Ellie smiled and leaned into him. “Oooo, promise?” she asked, teasing, and turned her head to kiss him, still holding the dirty potato in her hand. “Let’s glean what we can from here for some dinner, maybe even take some back to share with Peter. Also, seeds. I really would like seeds. In fact, I think if we keep some of these potatoes we can plant them and they’ll sprout again? I believe that’s how it works. We’ll find out.” She crouched down again to get the rest of the potatoes, the ones that hadn’t rotted away anyway.

Azi returned to kiss fondly before letting her go to do her potato digging task. “We certainly will love. Do you think there might be a bag around here that we could carry some of these back in so that they won’t get crushed in the wheelbarrow?” Azi idly started digging through some of the soil only to find some carrots hidden behind it. He smiled gleefully.

After a short while Ellie had a decent pile of potatoes by the potato bed and she got up to go in search of something to keep things in. There were some empty mulch sacks which she brought back to where Azi was digging up carrots. She handed one to him and started to stuff the potatoes into the other one. “I don’t even remember the last time I had proper vegetables that weren’t dried or out of a can!”

“Neither do I! Chop theses up and throw a few of those spices we found on them and we can make ourselves a proper meal out of them!” Azi started adding as many carrots to the bag as he could before moving on to the next set of plants to see what they were producing. Turned out to be onions. Yay!

Ellie found some salvageable radishes and beetroot to go with the potatoes, then moved onto the things she could see hanging. A lot of fruit had gone overripe, but she got an apple and bit into it, moaning slightly with the lovely juicy taste. She walked over to Azi and held it up to his mouth. “Here, have some.”

Azi was nibbling on a carrot was Ellie came over a brightened when he saw what she had found. “Thanks love!” He took a bite and moaned just as Ellie had. A bit of the sweet juice ran down his chin. “This is /fantastic/. We must be sure to take a few of these seeds back with us.”

Ellie’s eyes were fixed on the juice dribbling down Azi’s chin, and she couldn’t help but lean forward and lick it off, then taste the apple again from his lips. She pressed up against him, loving the taste of apple juice mingled with his own unique flavour. God, she was reacting like this just because they’d found some fresh fruit!

Azi’s breath caught as Ellie pressed herself up against him to steal his lips with her own and before he even fully comprehended what was happening his arms found their way around her waist and he was pulling her closer. His mouth and tongue explored to taste apple between them and a sweet flavor that was Ellie all her own. God did he love that taste.

If it weren’t for the fact that they were in a greenhouse with no one to guard them, she’d have been very tempted to keep going. She /was/ tempted to keep going anyway, but she made herself pull back and pressed her forehead to his, breathing a little heavily. “God, Azi, I want you.” She closed her eyes. “Later,” she said firmly, mostly to herself.

Azi forced himself to breath and /not/ jump Ellie and have her right there in the greenhouse for all the plants to see. God if this is what happened when they had a bit of apple (and Azi fully blamed the apple of this) then they were /definitely/ bringing some seeds home with them. “Hopefully not too much later.” He lazily pressed his lips to the spot just below her ear and spoke softly. “You’re not the only person who wants someone.”

Ellie melted against him when he kissed her just there, in that sensitive spot just below her ear, and she wanted nothing more than the security of some walls around them so that they could continue this. “Let’s raid this place quickly and get to that last farm,” she said, pushing away from him now before her heart beat its way out of her chest. “This place must have a wheelbarrow, so I’ll go find it and we can put all the vegetables in it.”

Azi resisted the urge to reach out pull her back into his arms. “Good idea dear, because if you stay here much longer a doubt I’ll be able to keep my hands off you.” Azi chuckled and grinned playfully. “I’ll gather as much as I can for when you get back alright?”

Ellie blew him a kiss and took off towards the far end of the greenhouse where she’d seen some tools. There was indeed a wheelbarrow, and some more gardening tools (quite a range of them), and a saw in better condition than the one she’d picked up previously. She piled in the useful things she could find (gloves as well, a bit large for her but should fit Azi just fine). She came back with her finds and smiled at Azi as she lifted the potato sack in.

Azi playfully caught her kiss and put it in his pocket for later before turning back to gather up whatever food they would be taking with them and added it to the sack. After collecting a number of potatoes, carrots, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, and the occasional other fruit or vegetable that looked safe enough to eat, Azi called it a day and figured they had gotten all that they may be needed from the greenhouse for now. “Does this seem like enough dear?”

“More than,” she said with a smile. “Ready to head on, then?”

Azi nodded. “Yup! Let’s hurry and get to that house that you were talking about before it gets too late in the day.” And before either of them pounced on each other.

Ellie felt her cheeks heating as she thought about what they could do once they were in the house. She had a bloody one-track mind, but Azi didn’t seem to be complaining. She pushed her wheelbarrow out to where Azi had left his and waited for him to take it up again.

Grabbing a hold of his wheelbarrow (and pleased to note that no zombies came up and stole any of his precious books) Azi pushed it side by side with Ellie’s as they made their way down the street. Hopefully the house they were going to would have someplace they could store these for the night.

Ellie happily wheeled her burden along the road, glad that they didn’t encounter any zombies because having to juggle her sword and the wheelbarrow was just a little much. She’d placed it across the top of the contents so that it was in easy reach. It was a bit of a push to get the two wheelbarrows up the hill to the farmhouse and she parked hers just outside the front door. She sighed. “Time to check that it’s clear, I suppose,” she said without much enthusiasm, picking her sword up.

Azi sighed and stopped his wheelbarrow next to Ellie’s. “I miss the days when we didn’t have to worry about getting eaten.” Taking up his bat, Azi approached the front door and tried to open it. It was unlocked. He wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or bad.

Ellie bit her lip when the door opened without any resistance. She tucked in behind Azi, looking briefly behind them to make sure there was no sign of anything coming up the hill, before looking back inside the house again.

Azi took a few steps inside the house and listened. It was quiet. No moans or shuffling or the sounds of the dead feasting upon the flesh of the living. All good signs. Proceeding with caution, Azi moved towards the kitchen. It was clear.

Ellie kept close at first then took a slightly different route to Azi. If they were going to stay here the night, they’d have to clear the whole house. “I’ll take upstairs if you take down?”

“Alright dear. Be careful a call if you find anything.” He watched Ellie to make sure she made it safely up the stairs before continuing his search of the downstairs area. It didn’t take him long. Both the living room and the study were clear and after he did a bit of searching he found that this house had a basement just like the last one, though he dared not go down it without Ellie by his side. Instead, he went to join her upstairs to tell her about what he had found.

The upstairs area wasn’t overly large. Four bedrooms, two bathrooms, all clear. It looked like they’d find some better gear, though that could wait. She was just heading down to find Azi when she nearly ran him down at the top of the stairs. “All clear,” she said. “Find anything unpleasant down there?”

“Nothing. Though I /did/ find another dark spooky basement that a thought you might like to explore with me.”

Ellie raised an eyebrow. “That sounds like the worst euphemism ever, just so you know.” She smirked and walked past him down the stairs. “Come on then, show me this sex dungeon…”

Azi snorted and started to giggle madly. He had to take a moment to calm himself down before he could speak again. “I… I didn’t mean it like-” Another fit of giggles overtook him. “A-Alright dear. To the sex dungeon we go.” Still chuckling, he lead the way to the basement door.

By the time she reached the bottom of the stairs, she had the urge to giggle back mostly under control, and instead wore a wide grin. “There is a whole world of kinks we have yet to explore,” she said. “And we will… but for now, let’s see if this basement is as well-stocked as the last one. Though I’m not sure how much more we can carry back.”

Azi tried not to blush too much when Ellie started talking about kinks they had yet to try and attempted to push those thoughts and mental images away. They would have plenty of time for that later, for now they needed to focus on checking out this basement… /then/ they could explore exactly what sort of kinks Ellie had in mind. Trying the door, Azi found it unlocked and pulled it open, revealing a stairway just as dark as the last one.

This time Ellie was prepared and produced two torches from the outside pocket of her pack, handing one over. “You first worked so well last time, how about we go with that?” she said.

Azi gave her a playful glare. “Of course dear. I survived the first time I went down some dark creepy stairs going who knows where. Why not a second time?” Turning on the torch, Azi made his descent down the old creaky stairs.

Ellie gave him a sweet grin. “Love you!” she said, following him down the stairs in the dark, with one last look behind to make sure they’d closed the front door. She felt much better knowing that Azi was down here with her.

The basement was cool and a little damp, not unlike the last one. The steps creaked eerily as he made his way down them. Azi truly hoped that whatever was down here was worth the wariness he was feeling.

Ellie was just thinking that the basement was clear when something brushed her ankle. She was embarrassed to admit that she squealed just a little and turned, shining the torch to reveal a zombie trapped under the stairs. At that point instinct took over and she slashed out at it, taking two swipes to actually get at the thing since there were tool racks and bits in the way. It got itself free and came at her, and her third swing took the head off. She turned and saw more movement. “Azi!” There wasn’t time to tell him more!

Azi had heard the commotion and his pulse leapt when he saw what had been trapped down there with them. A faint shuffling to his left and Ellie’s cries were the only warning he had before the zombie was upon him. He wrinkled his nose at the foul rotting smell and pushed away from it, getting just enough room between it and himself to swing his bat and crack its head open.

Her adrenaline was through the roof and even after Azi had downed the second zombie, she was standing ready with her sword and shining the torch around, trying to listen over the sound of her own breathing. Were there any more? Damn it being so dark down here!

Azi shined his light around the room as well and didn’t allow himself to relax even a little until he was certain there was nothing else down there. “…Are you alright dear?”

Ellie got her breathing under control. “Yeah,” she said when no more zombies came lurching out at them. “I’m fine.” She /hated/ the ones that caught you by surprise like that. “You?”

Azi nodded, still feeling a bit shooken up but overall still healthy and unharmed. Bloody zombies hiding in dark creepy basements. “….I would like to get out of here.”

Ellie nodded, because she felt the same way, but first… “I saw some tools that we need. Let me just grab a few and we can head upstairs, ok? Here…” she turned back to where her zombie had attacked her, carefully stepping over the now-still corpse, and handed Azi three containers of screws and two of nails. She grabbed two hammers, a wrench, a phillips head screwdriver, and even found an axe. As an afterthought she grabbed another two containers of nails. She had no idea what sort they were, hoped they weren’t for a nail gun, but whatever they were would be better than nothing. “Ok, good to go.”

Azi stood by the stairs, holding the tools Ellie gave him and constantly glancing at the now still corpses on the floor. There was just something horribly unnerving about being in a dark damp basement with rotting zombies. He was immensely grateful when Ellie gave them the okay to go and waited for her to start heading up before following.

Ellie scampered up the stairs as quickly as she could with her pack and all the tools in her hand and still trying to juggle the torch so she could see and her sword. When she got to the top and back out into the hallway she dropped all the things she’d picked up down there and turned to make sure Azi made it up ok.

As soon as he had made it up the stairs after Ellie, Azi kicked the door shut and locked it. He didn’t want to take any chances. “Bloody zombies creeping about,” he muttered.

Ellie took the things she’s shoved at him off him and placed them on the floor before wrapping her arms around his waist. “Funny how a few days of relative peace make the zombie encounters that much worse,” she said into his shoulder, rubbing his back soothingly.

Azi allowed himself to relax in her arms and breathe a sigh of relief. His own arms wrapped around her tightly. “I can’t wait until we can go home again.”

Ellie smiled. “It’s nice that we /have/ a home,” she agreed. She rubbed his back a little more, but they were going to run out of daylight sometime… “Shall we see what the yard holds for us?”

Azi nodded gently against her shoulder. “Alright, but as soon as were done scavenging I say we settle down for the night and find a nice bed for us to share.”

“Oh! To share?” she said teasingly. “I thought well, since there are four rooms, what a /great/ opportunity to have a bed /all/ to myself!” Grinning, she pressed a kiss to his cheek, and continued in a more serious tone. “That sounds like a splendid idea, but first we have some lovely fresh vegetables to cook, because I’m /really/ looking forward to those as well.” Threading her fingers with his, she headed for the back of the house to check out the yard.

Azi smiled at Ellie and gave her hand a squeeze as they headed outside. The garden seemed like most of the others they had found. There were some flowers and a couple of rotting fruits and vegetables, but not much to scavenge. A couple of wild grapevines were growing along the side of the house and when Azi tried a few (after avoiding a huge bee hive that seemed to have snuck up on him) he found them to be incredibly sweet and picked as many as he could find. They would make a lovely per dinner snack.

Like the other houses there was a garden shed that needed braking into and after only a couple of swings from his bat, it opened. Causally they opened the door and when they found no zombies waiting for them they went inside. It held a couple of garden tools, not as nice as the ones found in the greenhouse house but still pretty good, and a large flower patterned sun hat with matching garden gloves. Azi set the hat on Ellie’s head and handed her the gloves. “They look to be your size.” He smiled hopefully, hoping that he wasn’t wrong.

Ellie tilted the hat up again so she could see and examined the gloves. “I think you’re right,” she said, tucking them into her belt and looking around. What she spotted on a shelf was a very promising-looking plastic container. She could see hundreds of little packets inside, and when she got it down and opened the lid, she saw that the packets were organised with little dividers that said ‘lettuce’ and ‘carrot’ and ‘broccoli’ and ‘beetroot’ and so forth. Seeds. All sorts of vegetables and many varieties of each. “Jackpot!” She beamed up at Azi from under her sunhat.

Azi peeked over her shoulder and smiled as her prize. “Jackpot is right. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more impressive collection of seeds. Surely we must be able to at least a few of these. Wonderful find darling!” Azi placed a happy kiss to her cheek.

Ellie smiled as she closed the lid of the container again. “This is probably the thing I’ve been wanting most. With this we can become self-sufficient. We have a river to fish in, traps to catch other animals, and now we have the means to grow vegetables. Azi, this means we can stay in our home for longer periods without needing to come back to town. And if I take enough rags, I can make reusable pads. A little less pleasant, but tampons aren’t exactly a renewable resource.” Toilet paper would still be an issue, and she’d have to think about that one a little more.

Azi pulled Ellie into his arms and stole a happy kiss. They had a home. They can grow their own food. They can survive and take care of themselves. They could actually live in peace, away from all the horrors and uncertainty of the world. They could be safe. They could be happy. Azi giggled a little hysterically from the sudden relief that came from knowing all this and he felt tears in his eyes. Happy tears.

Ellie framed his face and kissed at his eyes and cheeks. She understood that they weren’t tears of sadness and so she wasn’t concerned. Her own heart felt light with hope. “Let’s go get our wheelbarrows inside, love, and make a delicious meal, and then go upstairs to bed where we can celebrate the start of an actual life.” She kissed his nose, then briefly his lips (because she couldn’t resist), then his chin. “And tomorrow we go home.”

Azi chased Ellie’s lips to steal another kiss (because he could hardly resist either) before pulling away and smiling shyly. “That all sounds lovely darling. Let’s finish up in here first though. It would be a shame if we missed anything.”

Ellie nodded and kept looking around. Pruning shears, a solid bucket. She didn’t know whether they’d be able to carry everything they find, but they had tonight to sort out the wheelbarrows and packs. When she’d added a couple more items to the bucket she stood back. “I think we could easily justify taking everything so I’m stopping there.”

Azi was searching the work bench and adding a fe more items (scissors, a new padlock and key, a little plant mister that would be useful for watering) to the bucket before he was satisfied. “Alright, this all seems like enough. Let’s go get those wheelbarrows.”

Still with her silly smile in place, Ellie picked up her bucket and sword and walked back outside. The wheelbarrows were exactly where they left them. There wasn’t a step up into the house from the back door side so they should be able to wheel them in there no trouble. Ellie grabbed hers and got it inside. Certainly it would need repacking, and they still needed to raid the clothes from the house. She had a feeling they’d need to leave some things behind.

Azi followed her into the house, pushing his own wheelbarrow in behind her but not any father then the doorway. Insuring that the door was locked behind them Azi scooped up some of the fresh vegetables from Ellie’s wheelbarrow and took them to the kitchen to start their meal.

Ellie trailed along behind him, quietly getting to work peeling carrots and potatoes along with Azi, enjoying the domestic tasks in the company of someone she loved, and inside a safe space. The things she used to take for granted, she now tried to remember to treasure. Security, normality, companionship. She watched Azi out of the corner of her eye as she worked. An unlikely choice of partner for her before the outbreak, she could almost be grateful for the disaster in that it brought them together.

Azi smiled shyly to himself when he caught Ellie stealing glances at him. Even after all this time she could still get him blushing like a grade schooler with a crush. How did he ever get to lucky? He had a home, he could be safe, and he had Ellie. Despite the whole zombie thing, life was wonderful.

Once the vegetables were cooking, Ellie tucked herself under Azi’s arm and cuddled him. “I love you,” she whispered, and nuzzled into his shirt. She wanted everything she never thought she did before – love, security, home, family. She was so close.

Azi kisses the top of her head fondly and brushed his finger through her hair. God, she was absolutely wonderful. “I love you too darling.”

She stood like that as the vegetables boiled, letting go only to adjust the lids on the pots so they wouldn’t boil over. She couldn’t wait to get home tomorrow.

When the vegetables were done, they got them served up and Ellie took her plate to the kitchen table. Things smelled delicious!

Azi settled himself down next to Ellie at the table (he would have sat arcoss from her but he was feeling especially cuddly and wanted to stay as close as he could without disturbing her meal.) Getting a good mix of vegetables on his fork he took his first bite. It was fantastic.

Ellie closed her eyes in bliss. Fresh vegetables! And they had this sort of thing to look forward to eventually, once they got their own garden growing. She could hardly wait. As she got closer to the end of her meal, she also got closer to Azi, so that by the time she was done she was practically leaning on him. “That was the best meal I’ve had in ages,” she said.

Azi sighed in satisfaction of having a good meal and casually slipped his arm around Ellie. “I agree. Imagine all the sorts of meals we’ll be able to make once we’ve got our own garden!”

Ellie slid her arm around him in return. “Mmmm. And I think I spotted some herbs in that collection of seeds, too. We’ll be pretty well set.” Condoms were another thing they hadn’t found nearly enough of, but if they used them sparingly they could last a while. She wasn’t good at restraining herself when it came to Azi, though, and she really didn’t want to.

Placing a quick kiss to her temple, Azi got up and started cleaning up the plates. It really didn’t take him long. “Now that we’ve had our fill of vegetables, how about you and I go check out which bed we’ll be using tonight?”

Ellie smiled and gracefully got to her feet. “Shouldn’t we sort out the wheelbarrows and packs before we get… distracted?” She moved back into his personal space. She /did/ want to head straight up to bed, but they hadn’t survived this long by being impractical. “Because once I’m in a bed with you,” she said, sliding her arms around him again, “I’m going to be /very/ distracted.”

“You’re right. We should organize everything and check the house for anything useful.” He took a step into her arms, pressing them closer together. “We should focus on survival and the task at hand.” His hands found themselves on the small of her back and gently cupping her cheek, tilting her head up. “We shouldn’t get distracted.” He pressed his lips to hers.

Ellie kissed him back hungrily. They were in a safe place, and it was still early. She supposed they could afford a little bit of distraction… Her hands slid under his shirt and skated against his skin. “Maybe…” she said, but she couldn’t keep her lips off him long enough to talk. “Bed,” she managed to gasp.

Azi managed to stutter a quick “okay” before he practically carried Ellie upstairs and dragging her into the first room he could find. In his haste though, they went tumbling down onto the bed in a very ungraceful manner. Azi muttered an apology.

Ellie rolled him, grinning. She loved it when he lost his gracefulness in his haste to get her into bed, because it meant that he was just as keen as she was. Straddling him, she slid his shirt up. “Love this.”

Azi’s pulse jumped when Ellie was on top of him. God, she was so much smoother at this than he was. Slowly, he started to undo her belt, never taking his eyes off her. “Love you.”

She got his shirt off and made short work of his belt. Every time she did this it was like the first time – the sensations and feelings, the excitement. She hoped it stayed like this for years, forever. Leaning forward, she captured his lips again.

Azi nipped and kissed her lips eagerly as his hands slipped underneath her shirt and undid her bra. After all of the times doing this he was finally getting a hang of undressing her properly, even if he was still a little clumsy at it.

Ellie helped by sliding out of her shirt, letting her bra fall off to one side. Even though she had lost a lot of weight, she still liked the way she looked, and she knew that Azi did, too, so she was completely unselfconscious in her nakedness. She ran her hands over Azi’s chest and belly, taking in the sight of him spread out below her, hers all /hers/. She popped the button of his trousers and slowly pulled down the zipper, feeling his excitement beneath and smiling.

Azi drunk in the sight of her. She was beautiful, absolutely stunning. God he just wanted to kiss every inch of this woman who drove him insane in the best possible way. Slowly he trailed his fingers up and down her sides, and her back, and her front, and every bit of skin within reach. Gently caressing and feeling her.

Ellie worked his trousers and boxers down over his hips and all the way off, then stood up to shimmy out of her own. She paused at the edge of the bed, looking down at him. “We should conserve the condoms,” she said, kneeling on the edge. “And as much as I want you inside me again and again and again…” She moved so that she was straddling him once more, leaning over him so that their noses nearly met. “We’re going to have to get a little more creative.”

Azi tried to tell himself to calm down and /not/ just flip Ellie on her back and take her again and again and again, but it wasn’t exactly the easiest task in the world to calm down when the person he wanted was naked and straddling his hips with absolutely no barrier between them. “Creative…” He echoed as his hands gently rubbed up and down her thighs. “What did you have in mind?”

Ellie closed the space between them from lips to hips, enjoying the sensation of so much skin against skin as she explored his mouth with her tongue. She pulled away to nip at his lower lip. “Well, for starters I really enjoyed it when we used our mouths,” she mumbled against his lips, then kissed him again, squirming against him. “And…” One of her hands trailed down his side, then the inside of his thigh, then up. “I’m quite good with my hands, too…”

Azi gasped and arched into her touch. “I-I see…” His hips rolled against her as he attempted to create some of that wonderful friction between them. Oh dear lord did he want her. Wanted to feel her tight and warm around him. Wanted to make her feel just as much pleasure as she made him feel. That thought in mind, Azi slowly slid his hand up the inside of her thighs and gently started to caress her between her legs.

Ellie gasped as well and crushed her lips against his. “Hands it is then,” she managed, grinning, and proceeded to show him just how good she could be with them.

~fade to black~

—-

Once they were done exploring some more creative ways of finding pleasure in each other in the bedroom, Ellie and Azi did actually manage to finish organising their things. They found some clothes to add to the collection and had to cull out some of the things they’d picked up. A lot of the things from the medicine cabinets weren’t needed after all, but a lot were very useful. Ellie grabbed as many cotton shirts as she could to cut up and turn into reusable pads. She added more cotton thread and needles from a sewing kit she found. She discarded the first saw she’d found because they had better ones… by the time they were done, both wheelbarrows were full, but still manageable, and so were their packs. They’d found some extra backpacks, smaller ones, which they’d attempt to wear strapped to their front. It was only for one day of travel, after all, and it would save a return trip.

Ellie fell into the bed, exhausted but satisfied (in more ways than one) and smiled at Azi. “First thing tomorrow we head home, Azi. Home!”

Azi smiled and snuggled Ellie close in his arms. “That’s right darling. /Our/ home! Safe and secluded and all our own.”

Ellie snuggled into him, wrapping her arms and legs around him limpet-style and smiling. “Yes. And one day this world will be safe again and we’ll be there to see it.” She hoped like hell that was the case, anyway.

It was a beautiful dream, even if Azi knew how unlikely it was. But he could still hope. “If…. /when/ the world goes back to normal, what will you do?”

Ellie propped her chin on her hand and looked at him, quizzical. “How do you mean? We’ll be living in our cabin in the woods, won’t we? Or… wherever you want to go then… I’ll go, too?” Why had he asked what /she/ would do and not what /they/ would do?

“Well…. what I meant was….” He was blushing, he /knew/ he was. He couldn’t help it though. How do you casually ask someone if they would stay with you forever and ever and not just because society has crumbled? To just live out their lives together until the very end? Through all the good and the bad? No matter wha- Oh! Oh that’s how you ask. Propping himself up, Azi entwined their fingers together and took a deep breath. “….Would you marry me?” His eyes were locked on to hers.

Ellie blinked a few times, searching his eyes and unable to process just what he’d asked. /Why/ he’d asked. She wasn’t the sort of girl you marry, goodness only knows her mother made that clear, and yet he seemed completely serious. Her fingers tightened in his and she remembered that breathing was definitely something she should be doing. “Azi… I… yes!” She laughed, because the answer was so obvious. She was head-over-heels in love, she wanted to be with him forever. “Yes yes!” She was grinning far too hard to make the kiss very effective, but she didn’t care.

Oh thank god! For I second there he thought he might have made a fool of himself. But she said yes. Ellie said yes! Several times actually! And Azi couldn’t stop smiling. Not that he would ever want to stop. Ellie was his and he was hers and that’s the most wonderfully fantastic thing in the world! “Darling I… god I love you so much.”

Ellie continued laughing softly against his cheek, his neck, his chest. She was way too happy to stop. She was so lucky – lucky to have survived, lucky to /still/ be alive, lucky that Azi had been there at the exact right moment to save her from the horde of zombies, lucky that they hit it off so quickly, lucky that he loved her as much as she loved him. “Me too, Azi. I’ll stay with you forever even without marriage, but it means a lot to me that you asked.”

“You don’t suppose Peter could wed us to each other?” He joked, though in all honesty if he could Azi wouldn’t let an opportunity like that slip by.

Ellie got her hysteria under control and down to just an ear-to-ear smile. “If he’s willing… I mean, governments have fallen, haven’t they? Who would know?” Her heart was fluttering quite badly, and she was torn between pouncing on him all over again or just smothering him with cuddles. She couldn’t believe she could be this happy!

Azi chuckled and pressed their lips together. She was wonderful and hilarious and prefect for him and he was so immensely grateful to have her. He just wanted to cover her in kisses from head to toe and just keep telling her how much he loved her for ever and ever and ever.

Ellie kissed and cuddled him back, showing him her love and muttering little endearments. “I love the idea of marrying you,” she said. “Aziraphale and Elisheva…” She paused, realising that she didn’t know one very fundamental fact about Azi, something she knew about most people when first meeting them. “Uh… Smith?” she hazarded with a little giggle. How could she not know his surname?

Azi blushed, just now realizing that after all they’ve been through he never thought to share his full name with her. Not that full names are really important anymore, but still there nice to know, especially if you’re planning on spending the rest of your life with someone. “Angeli. Aziraphale Angeli.”

Ellie’s eyebrows shot up. “Angeli? Really?” She buried her face in his chest to smother her giggles. Oh that was just perfect. It suited him!

Azi frowned at her playfully. “Oh come now. It’s not /that/ bad of a name.”

Ellie lifted her head to look at him again. “No, you’re right, Aziraphale Angeli is a perfectly common name,” she said with an almost-straight face. The smile crept back on immediately, though. “Seriously, though, what’s amusing me more is how well our names match. Angeli. Farishta. My name means angel.”

Azi blinked at her for a few moments before bursting out laughing. “Oh my goodness! I suppose it was meant to be than. We should just change our names to Azi and Ellie Angel.”

Ellie joined in his laughter. “My angel,” she said fondly, and cuddled him tight.

Azi cuddled her in return. “And you mine love. My gift from heaven.”

Ellie rolled her eyes but grinned and relaxed so that she was resting comfortably. God he was cheesy. She loved it.

—-

It was getting dark. The sun hadn’t quite finished setting yet but it might as well have considering all the good it was doing them. With forest all around them any light that may have been left was thoroughly being blocked out by a wall of trees. It didn’t matter though. They have been lugging along all day, pushing their wheelbarrows in front of them for hours nearly none stop that they /had/ to be almost there. Almost safe and back home in the cabin. In their home where there friends were waiting for them. It wouldn’t be much longer now. Just a few more steps, just a few more and then they could rest. One foot in front of the other. Just a few more. Almost there. Almost home.

By this time Ellie was just blindly following Azi’s lead, trusting him to keep them going in the right direction. But as darkness descended, she started looking around nervously, searching for any familiar landmarks or signs. She didn’t want to sleep out tonight, but in this light they could easily walk past their cabin and not realise it. Finally, on one of her looks around, she saw the glint of something…

“Azi,” she said, then a bit louder because it came out more of a croak than an actual word. “Over there. I think that’s one of my traps…”

Azi peered over at the item she had indicated and left his wheelbarrow a moment to go investigate. After getting a closer look, Azi turned to Ellie and smiled. “It is darling! We must be close!”

Ellie nodded and offered him a tired smile. “Good,” she said quietly, pushing her wheelbarrow on. If she stopped now she’d stop. Azi could easily catch up because it wasn’t as if she was going very fast. But then they passed a second trap and she thought she even recognised the path they used up from the river. “Nearly there. Nearly there,” she muttered to herself. Oh what she wouldn’t give to just stop and put the wheelbarrow and the bags down.

Azi sluggishly went back to his wheelbarrow and tried to catch up with Ellie. He was just starting to wonder if he could somehow push and sleep at the same time when he thought he saw a light up ahead. “Is that it?” He called to Ellie.

Ellie looked ahead rather than just the dirt in front of her wheelbarrow and squinted. “Could be?” It was enough to help her pick up her pace, and as they got nearer it definitely looked like their little cabin. The light was faint, just whatever light the fireplace gave out and then was visible through the single, high window, but it was their cabin. “Home! We’re home!” A little louder, she called out, “Peter!”

Peter, whom had been in the middle of cooking a turkey he and Ginger had caught earlier, poked his head out the front door and smiled when he saw Ellie and Azi home. “Welcome back. The trip proved to be a good one a hope?”

Ellie sagged with relief, dropped the wheelbarrow and her bags right there, following them down to the ground and leaning against them. She didn’t have the energy to respond.

Azi pushed his wheelbarrow right up next to hers and dropped to the ground just as Ellie had. It had been a long day. “We picked up a few things during our visit…”

Ellie nodded. “A few things,” she agreed, and reached out to Azi. “We’re home.” Just a few more feet to the cabin, but the thought of pushing the wheelbarrow or picking up her bags right now made her want to cry. These last two weeks had been hard on her body, and today hadn’t helped.

Peter knelt down beside them and took in their condition. They were exhausted, obviously, but if they had been pushing those wheelbarrows all day and haven’t taken any proper rest they could be dehydrated as well. But get them some water and rest. “I have a turkey and a bucket of water that needed boiling inside. How about you two tend to those and I’ll bring your findings in for you?”

Ellie found herself nodding again and she dragged herself to her feet, just. She reached down to help Azi up, because if she was going inside she was taking him with her. She trusted Peter to get their things inside.

Azi smiled at Peter and muttered a heartfelt “thank you” before allowing Ellie to help him up. Together they shuffled to the cabin door only to be greated with smell of cooking poultry and Ginger meowing happily and brushing against their legs.

Ellie smiled and leaned down to pet Ginger. “Hey sweetie, did you miss us? You’re looking healthy. Been eating well?” And speaking of eating, the smell of roasting bird was mouth-watering. She stood up again and went over to the fireplace. Before her energy completely left her, she did what they had been asked to do and transferred the bucket of water into the large pot and hung it over the fire. She then sagged onto the floor in front of the fireplace and stared into it, energy gone and on the verge of tears with relief of being home and safe and not having to walk any further.

Azi collapsed with his arms around Ellie by the fireplace and just snuggled her tightly. They were home. They had made it safely back with all those supplies and now they could finally rest and have a nice meal together like a family.

Ellie gratefully snuggled in and listened to the fire and the sounds of Peter bringing in their gear. “There’s vegetables in there,” she said to the big man when he brought in the sack she recognised. “If you bring them here, we can peel some potatoes and carrots and have them with the turkey…”

Peter looked in said sack and smiled at the sight of all the fresh vegetables. “These will go well with the turkey.” He said as he handed them the bag and went out to finish unloading the wheelbarrows.

Ellie groaned a little because she hadn’t thought to ask for a peeler and Peter was already gone again, so she dragged herself upright and over to the pile he’d been bringing in. She knew she’d put at least one peeler in somewhere… Locating it, she returned to the fireplace and got out the first potato to peel, leaning against Azi because staying upright took too much energy. “When do we tell him that we’re engaged?”

Azi had taken out his knife and started chopping up carrots when Ellie spoke up. He thought it over. “…We could tell him right now. I mean considering how much time we spend together I doubt he would be surprised.”

“Ok,” she said, smiling and blushing a little. She was still getting used to the idea of being engaged. She had no doubts about Azi, about /who/ she had chosen to say yes to, but she just never thought she’d ever even get to this point with anyone. But then, she never thought she’d be running from zombies and swinging a sword around for anything other than play. “But you tell him,” she said, suddenly shy, and she ducked her head down to focus on peeling the potatoes, which she would then hand over to Azi to cut up and add to the pot.

Azi kissed his adorably shy fiancée and waited for Peter to come back inside with his next load of items (which were now books) before speaking up. “Excuse me Peter, but miss Ellie and I would just like to let you know we got engaged while we were away.”

Peter stared at the two of them blankly for a moment. “Congratulations but….” He blushed a little. “To be honest I sort of thought you two were /already/ engaged before you left.”

Ellie went a bit redder herself when Peter said that and looked at Azi with a fond smile. “Well, it’s all official now. As official as anything gets these days, anyway.” She smiled at Peter again, then looked down at the potatoes in her hand and kept peeling.

Azi was chuckling a little at Peter’s assumption and returned Ellie’s fond little smile. He was tempted to jokingly ask Peter to marry them, but he figured they should all finish their tasks and settled down first. There would be plenty of time for talk and jokes over dinner.

Ellie finished the potatoes and checked in the pot. She settled back again and cuddled Azi. “I’m /so/ happy to be home.”

Azi chucked the last of the vegetables her had been chopping into the pot and nuzzled against Ellie. “So am I darling. In the morning we can really start doing some serious work on this place but for now,” he kissed her cheek, “I’m think we should just relax, eat something filling, and sleep for at least eleven hours.”

“Oh god yes, keep talking dirty to me babe,” she said, more tired than teasing, and she let her eyes drift shut. The fire was warm, Azi’s arms were around her, and the smell of cooking food filled the room.

It only took a few more minutes for Peter to finish loading everything in and by the time he was done the food looked just about ready. Serving up three generous servings (and one little serving for Ginger) Peter set himself down by the fire and started eating. It all tasted wonderful.

Ellie fell on her food like someone who hadn’t eaten for days. Truth was, they hadn’t wanted to stop for much food today, and between that and the fact that they’d perhaps spent a little more energy (and gotten less sleep than they should) last night, then walked all day… she was /hungry/. She cleared her plate in record time and then lay down on the floor with her head resting on Azi’s thigh. “Wake me next week,” she mumbled.

Azi laughed and finished off the rest of his meal almost as quickly Ellie had. Once his now empty plate was set safely aside, Azi scooped up Ellie off the floor with what little strength he had left and laid her down in the bed. After he was sure to grab some of the extra pillows and blankets they had brought back with them (and give at least half to Peter along with some clothes, tools, and even a new bag) Azi climbed into bed next to her.

Ellie mumbled something which sounded suspiciously like ‘love you’ and latched onto Azi the moment he was in bed, blinking sleepily at him. She’d apologise to Peter in the morning for her rather unsociable behaviour, but right now she was way too exhausted. Her whole body ached, and she just wanted to sleep.

~fade to sleep~

—-

Leave a Reply