(A/N GUYS THIS IS SO EXCITING! Ok so I spent like a month and half writing this and having my friend Tabitha beta it (she also made the cover god bless her) and it is my CHILD and I'm so excited to finally put it up! Enjoy!)
All the Living Will Fill These Coffins
Out of the things they'd seen over the course of this apocalypse, the weirdest thing had to be the zombie tortoise that crawled across their path one day. Of course, it made sense that the virus would affect creatures other than humans (it had originated in insects, after all). But still, the sight of a turtle covered in spores hauling it's way through the desert sand was more than a little unnerving.
"Leave it alone." Shiro scolded when Keith nudged it with the tip of his boot.
"I'm not hurting it." Keith responded, but left it alone anyway. They lapsed back into silence, neither one of them having the energy to continue the conversation. It had been three days since they had eaten, three days of walking, trying to find their way to something, anything. It didn't help that they weren't sure where they were. Shiro thought they were somewhere in Texas, but even that was up for debate.
Keith let the tip of his bat drag through the dirt and brush against the shrubbery as he passed, some small form of entertainment. On his other hand his thumb rubbed against his knuckles, just above where his gloves ended, over and over the same chunk of skin. Shiro didn't fidget, only rolling his shoulders every so often to resettle his backpack and the hunting rifle slung over his shoulder.
They traveled at night to avoid the worst of the heat, but the sun had been edging at the horizon for awhile now, and the temperature was starting to rise again. They had both removed their jackets a few miles back, Keith tying his around his waist and Shiro shoving his into his backpack. About a mile after that, Keith tied up his hair, getting it unstuck from the back of his neck. Shiro didn't have the same problem with his undercut, but periodically would run his fingers through his white forelock, his hand pausing at the scar across his nose before dropping again.
They wouldn't keep going for much longer. They were both tired and hungry, and soon it would be too hot to continue walking. But for now they pressed on, small granite rocks getting trapped in the treads of their boots and thorns scratching at their jeans.
"We're almost out of water." Keith remarked about half an hour later, glancing balefully at his nearly empty water bottle. Shiro nodded, eyeing the shrubbery around them.
"There should be a creek or something nearby, if the plants are anything to go by."
After another minute or two of walking, the ground began to slope downwards, a good sign if one is looking for water. Sure enough, at the bottom of the ravine, was a thin ribbon of trickling water. It wasn't the cleanest or the coldest, but it would do.
"We can rest here." said Shiro. Being the older brother, seven years older than Keith, he had taken up the more authoritative role in their relationship. Keith didn't argue, just set his backpack down with his bat and beginning to unpack their water purification supplies.
"We have to find some food soon." Keith said, and Shiro just nodded absently, absorbed in gathering water from the little creek. Keith's stomach had stopped grumbling at this point, his hunger reduced more to a dull ache in his middle and a lightness in his limbs. He tossed Shiro the water purifying tablets and his several water jugs, and then pulled his red hoodie from around his hips and laid it on the ground. Taking a seat, he pulled his black hair down from it's ponytail and it slightly curled against the back of his neck.
Bright light flashed into his eyes as the sun finally peeked up over the edge of their ravine, splaying golden light across the water. It looked slightly more cheerful in the light, sparkling and running a little clearer. But Keith didn't notice, only scowled at the light and turned away so it wouldn't be in his eyes anymore.
Shiro kept an eye on him as he worked with the water, watching as Keith eyed his own filthy white tank top and stripped it off in disgust. He felt a twinge of guilt at seeing his little brother's ribs sticking out of his skin, but there wasn't really anything he could do about it.
They worked to set up their rudimentary camp in silence. There was a mesquite tree growing near the creek, the only source of spotted shade in the area. Short of leaning up against a cactus, it would have to do.
Keith laid down, putting his bare back against his hoodie and letting his legs rest in the dirt. Staring up at the rapidly lightening sky, he idly pulled his knife from its sheath and twirled it between his fingers.
"I keep telling you not to play with that." Shiro sighed, capping the last jug. "You're gonna cut yourself."
"Whatever, Dad." Keith huffed, and then flinched a little. Shiro didn't react outwardly, but in his head he unwillingly replayed the scene from the first day of the outbreak, the one he had relived a million times over by now. Returning home from the Garrison for the weekend, walking through the front door, following the sounds of distress into the kitchen, where Keith was huddled up against the cabinets. He was trembling, holding a knife, covered in blood, with the bodies of his adoptive parents on the floor beside him.
Shiro rolled his shoulders and forcibly dismissed the memory from his mind. He knew Keith still felt guilty about it, but Shiro didn't blame him. They had both done terrible things to survive.
Keith resisted the urge to look at Shiro and continued to gaze up at the sky, thin desert clouds flitting across his vision. He couldn't remember the last time he had seen rain, or big puffy clouds, or lightning.
Shiro settled the water jugs and bottles in the shade of the mesquite tree, and then extracted his long grey trench coat from his bag, laying it alongside Keith's and sitting cross legged.
"I'll take first watch." he said softly, as he normally did. He always liked to let Keith sleep first, so he would be there to wake him up if he started having nightmares. Sometimes Keith insisted on switching, because he was a stubborn little shit, but most of the time he was too tired to argue.
Today he just hummed his assent, continuing to look up at the sky. They sat quietly for some minutes, letting the small noises of the waking desert wash over them. For once it was quiet and peaceful, and no sounds of Z's roaming just beyond their line of sight. It was a small comfort, but not one Shiro was about to take for granted.
Suddenly, Keith grabbed for his arm, making Shiro jump.
"What's wrong?" Keith was still staring, wide eyed upwards at the sky. Shiro sometimes had flashbacks like that, but Keith never had.
"Look." he hissed, pointing over at the far edge of the ravine. There, billowing up in thick clouds, was smoke. A campfire.
Shiro regarded it solemnly for a moment as Keith sat up, pulling his tank top back over his head.
"We should check it out." said Shiro.
"What if it's Galra?"
"We're dozens of miles from Galra territory, it won't be them."
"You can't know that for sure." Keith mumbled under his breath, but he followed Shiro as he started to gather their things. If they had to make a run for it, they wouldn't be able to come back here. His legs ached a bit in protest. He ignored them. Instead, he busied himself looping his dusty hoodie back around his waist and picked up his bat. His gloved hands tensed around it, carefully hefting it in preparation for a fight. Shiro, after packing up the bags again, made sure his rifle was loaded and slipped his homemade knuckle duster onto his hand. Wordlessly, they crossed the creek together and moved towards the smoke.
Here, a few hundred yards from the camp, the smell of roasting meat was overwhelming. And irresistable. As the pair crept closer, crouched in the cover of the shrubbery they were both thinking different things. Shiro was wondering how difficult it would be to talk them into sharing. Keith was wondering how difficult it would be to steal it from them.
Poking his head out just the tiniest bit, Keith caught a glimpse of the camp and the people crowded around the fire.
"Three people." he breathed to Shiro, who gave a terse nod. He took another peek, sweeping a practiced gaze over their potential adversaries. "They look young, maybe around my age, but they're armed." One more look, and he finally came to the conclusion that made his shoulders release a bit of their tension. "Not Galra." None of the three had the purple tattoo on the back of their hands, meaning they were safe. For now.
They both waited for a few more moments, individually assessing the situation. To the left of the fire was a boy, tall and lanky with brown hair and skin, carefully cleaning what looked like a sniper rifle. A homemade bow and a quiver of sad looking arrows lay in the dirt beside him while he chatted animatedly with the boy across the way.
Long range weapon, Keith thought, adjusting the grip on his bat before moving his gaze to the other boy. He was taller than the first, and also just bigger in general. He was dark skinned, and an orange headband pulled his black hair off of his face. He was giving the first boy short, but still interested, answers while he turned their meal on a spit over the flame. A rat, and what could have been a coyote. Barely poking out from behind his back was the double barrel of a shotgun.
Short range Keith noted with a wince, picturing the damage a buckshot could do to one of them before finally evaluating the last person, who sat behind the fire with their knees tucked up and their chin resting on them.
They were… well, Keith couldn't actually tell their gender. They were dressed fairly androgynous, with baggy shorts and a large t-shirt covering most of their frame. They looked almost Irish, with pale skin and brownish hair that verged on red, which was cut short and fluffed up against the sides of their head. They wore glasses, which somehow hadn't been scratched or shattered yet, and the glass reflected the dancing of the flames back at their watchers.
Keith eyed the shotgun nervously. He and Shiro could probably take them if they had to, but if they didn't get rid of that gun first, they would be blown to smithereens before they made it ten feet. He turned to ask Shiro what he thought, but right then the one behind the fire looked up. They seemed to stare right at Keith, light flashing off their glasses.
"We know you're there." They called, and Shiro and Keith went still while the other two boys turned towards their hiding place expectantly, not surprised at all.
"Come on," drawled the one with the sniper rifle, "We're friendly."
Shiro narrowed his eyes, weighing his options, and then stood. Keith hissed his name and scrambled to grab the hem of his t-shirt, but he was already walking forward, away from cover. He breathed out a curse and stayed where he was.
"Hi there!" said the sniper with a grin. The cooking one gave a shy wave. But the last one was still staring at the bush.
"Do you think I'm stupid?" they said, a little snappishly. "There's two of you."
Keith tightened his grip on his bat until his knuckles turned white and didn't move. Until Shiro turned his head and spoke to him.
"Come on, Keith, no point in hiding."
He didn't want to, but if Shiro said it was ok… Slowly, slowly, he emerged from his hiding place, still holding his weapon out in front of him in a defensive stance. All of his muscles were coiled tightly in preparation for a fight.
"Hey!" the sniper exclaimed, leaping to his feet. "I know you!"
Keith immediately took two steps back. He was holding onto his weapon so tightly it felt like his knuckles were going to splinter, but he didn't notice. Adrenaline was pouring into his system, making him even jumpier, like he was going to leap out of his skin at any moment.
I can't go back, I can't go back, I can't-
"You went to our school. You're that kid who always got perfect scores even though you were a total slacker!" The sniper crossed his arms over his chest, almost seeming to pout, while Keith's mouth twisted.
"What?" he snapped, all the adrenaline going right to his head. Everything was so confusing, what the fuck- "I didn't slack."
The sniper huffed and dropped back to the ground, picking up his rifle again, still with the pout on his face. "Man, and to think, this whole time I was hoping the muerto's got you."
Shiro instinctively edged in front of Keith, and the one who was turning the spit gave a dramatic sigh.
"Don't worry," he said with an eyeroll, "Lance is just salty that Keith always got better scores than him."
Keith's battle stance had finally loosened, but he was far from comfortable.
"I don't know if you noticed," he said to the sniper- Lance, "but that stuff doesn't matter anymore. It hasn't mattered for a long fucking time."
"You take things too seriously," Lance responded carelessly, dragging his rag over his gun. Keith opened his mouth to retort, but Shiro laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Enough, Keith," he said softly, and Keith let the rest of the tension bleed out of his body. The tip of his bat hit the ground with a soft thump.
He was so confused. He hadn't thought about the time before the outbreak for a long, long while. He didn't recognize any of these people. Everything before the last three or so months was a blur, and the further back he tried to remember, the worse it got. A few events popped out clearly, like what he did to their parents, but other than that it was all blood and pain and-
He abruptly cut off his own thought process, his whole body shivering. Shiro felt it and squeezed his shoulder, but when Keith looked at him, he wasn't meeting his eyes. Instead, Shiro was staring at the fire. Or more accurately, what was roasting over the fire.
The bigger boy noticed Shiro's gaze, and gave the two of them a small smile.
"Hey, are you guys hungry? We have plenty to share."
Keith grabbed onto Shiro's wrist. He didn't want this. He didn't trust these people, he didn't want to owe them, he just wanted to go back into the desert, just him and Shiro, where it was safe. But Shiro could feel his fingers trembling. He was hungry, Keith was hungry, and they couldn't keep going like this. So he started towards the fire.
Keith followed, a sick feeling in his gut. He and Shiro settled down in front of the fire, across from the one with the glasses. The heat from the flames combined with the rising sun was almost too much, and the smoke stung his eyes, but neither of them moved away. Shiro shrugged off his backpack and his gun, but Keith didn't disarm. He kept his bat close.
"How did you guys catch this stuff?" Shiro asked, keeping his eye on the roasting meat. The one doing the cooking smiled wide.
"Pidge is great at setting traps," he said, gesturing to the one with the glasses. Pidge didn't respond to the praise, just sitting and regarding the two newcomers with solemn eyes.
Shiro hummed an acknowledgement and rested his hands on his knees. His body language was open, calm, nonthreatening. Keith's was the exact opposite, sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest, one hand still on his bat and the other tucked against his chest.
"When was the last time you guys ate?" Pidge asked, finally joining the conversation with a little head tilt.
"Three days ago," Shiro answered, getting a surprised gasp from the cooking guy.
"You guys get the coyote," he said firmly.
"Hunk-!" Lance exclaimed, but the other guy, Hunk, cut him off.
"No arguments Lance, we ate ten hours ago."
Lance pouted and glared at Keith, as though this was somehow his fault. Keith returned the glare, only now noticing that Lance's eyes were blue.
"So, you guys went to school with Keith?" asked Shiro. Keith shot him a look, which Shiro steadily ignored. Why was he being so… friendly?
"I guess so," Pidge answered with a rueful head shake, "I never noticed him."
"I only knew he existed because Lance would never shut up," Hunk said, rolling his eyes again. Lance made an indignant sound, but Pidge and Hunk ignored him.
"Do you remember them, Keith?" Shiro gave him a searching look, and Keith turned his head away from it.
"No," he mumbled, "I don't."
"Liar!" Lance cried, and Keith cringed back a little. Damn, this boy was loud as fuck. "We were rivals! You know, Lance and Keith, neck and neck, always competing."
"Must've been someone else," Keith muttered, not looking in Lance's direction.
"Nope, I'd recognize that mullet anywhere."
Keith's fingers rose subconsciously to the back of his neck, where his hair was starting to stick again. "It's not a mullet."
"Whatever." Lance replied scathingly. "Besides, the only reason you got better scores than me was because you cheated."
Keith immediately bristled, and snapped his head around to glare at Lance.
"I never cheated." he spat out. Vaguely, he could remember long nights spent scrunched over textbooks, panic attacks before tests, breakdowns over a low grade; things that hadn't mattered in a long time.
Lance scoffed and set his rifle aside.
"Yeah, right. You never participated in class, I never saw you studying. No way someone like you could get perfect grades all the time without cheating."
"Maybe your scores were lower because I was just better than you." It was mean, and he knew it, but dammit why couldn't this kid just leave him alone.
"Keith." Shiro said in a warning tone, and he ground his teeth. Lance opened his mouth to answer, but Pidge beat him to the punch.
"Lance, that was all a year ago." they said (Keith still couldn't tell if they were a guy or a girl or somewhere in between). "It doesn't matter anymore."
"Is that how long it's been?" Shiro asked, cocking his head to the side. Him and Keith had lost track of time.
Pidge shrugged and adjusted their glasses. "Give or take a few weeks."
"Huh. Guess I'm 26 now." he said, musing, and then playfully elbowed Keith. "And you're 19."
Keith made a noncommittal noise in the back of his throat. He didn't really care.
There was quiet for a few minutes, Hunk turning the meat over the fire, until eventually he pulled off the two sizzling carcasses. He held the two sticks upright for a little bit, letting them cool, and then handed the one with the coyote to Shiro, who immediately tore off an entire leg and gave it to Keith.
They both tore into the meat. There wasn't any seasoning obviously, and it was tough and stringy, but it was food, and at this point it could have been freaking ambrosia for all they cared.
Unnoticed by the two of them, Hunk was dividing the rat amongst the other three. He took a drumstick, gave one to Lance, and then insisted Pidge take the last two. He and Lance would split the torso.
"So." Pidge said, nibbling on her drumstick. "Where are you guys heading?"
"Nowhere." Shiro answered with his mouth full. "We don't have a plan."
Normally Keith would have shot him a look for revealing their plans (or lack thereof) to a bunch of strangers, but right now all he cared about was eating.
"What about you guys?"
"We're on our way to the Garrison." Hunk said easily, licking grease off of his large fingers.
Shiro froze. "The Garrison?"
"Yeah." Lance chimed in, oblivious to Shiro's reaction. "Pidge thinks her brother is there."
"I hope my brother is there." Pidge corrected.
"We've been trying to find our way there for months." Hunk added. "But shit keeps going sideways."
"I used to work for the Garrison." Shiro revealed carefully, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Pidge immediately took notice, sitting up ramrod straight.
"You did?!" she exclaimed. "Maybe you knew him! His name was Matt, Matt Holt."
Shiro choked in surprise, and Keith lasered his gaze onto the small girl. "He- he was my best friend."
"He was?" her brow furrowed for a moment, and then her hazel eyes lit up brighter than the sun that was baking down on their shoulders. "You must be Shiro!"
"Wow, small world." Hunk murmured in a dazed voice.
You can say that again. Keith thought bitterly, and instinctively reached for the hem of Shiro's shirt. He didn't trust this, not in the least, it was all too convenient.
Shiro ignored him, his mind racing with possibilities. "You're his little sister, Katie."
Pidge nodded, and if it wasn't for the glasses, he could've seen the tears welling in her eyes.
"Why do you think he's still at the Garrison?" Shiro asked. "I figured it must've been overrun by now."
"It's not." Lance said, finishing off his rat and laying back on the ground with his arms behind his head. "They managed to build up a safe zone, about five miles around it. They've got a settlement there. Rumor has it they even have electricity."
Shiro was silent, thoughtfully gnawing on his coyote.
"You guys should come with us!" Pidge said, her excited demeanor a sudden change from her previous aloofness. "Matt would be ecstatic to know you're alive."
"No." Keith snapped immediately. He ripped the last bit of meat from his leg and tossed the bone into the fire, glaring at Pidge. "No way."
"Keith." Shiro looked at him, and Keith couldn't believe it. Shiro actually wanted to go, he wanted to trust these strangers and go back to-
He pushed himself to his feet, grabbing Shiro's arm as he did so. "I need to talk to you." he hissed, and then yanked Shiro upright and pulled him away from the fire, back towards the shrubbery.
"What the hell are you thinking?" he whisper-yelled once they were far enough away. "I don't know if you forgot, but the Garrison is smack dab in the middle of Galra territory."
Shiro pushed his white forelock off of his forehead with a sigh. "I know, but-"
"But nothing! We swore we would never go back there! You promised, Shiro."
"I know." Shiro had a conflicted look on his face, clearly not any happier with this situation than Keith was. "But what else are we supposed to do? Just wander around in the desert until we starve to death or get heat stroke?" he swiped at a drop of sweat that had started to make it's way down his cheek. "I know I promised we wouldn't go back in Galra territory. But I also promised myself that I would keep you alive, and I can't keep that promise if we keep going the way we have been."
Keith dug his teeth into his lip, staring down at the dust with his arms crossed. He said nothing.
"Look, we don't have to decide now. We can eat, rest, sleep on it. And then make a decision. Ok?"
Keith drew in a deep breath, still not looking up. "Shiro, I trust you, you know I do. And if you decide this is the best choice, I'll follow you. But I can't go back to the Galra. I won't. And if they find us, if they capture us, I won't let them take me. Not alive." he finally met Shiro's gaze, his indigo eyes looking much darker with the resolve and fear in them. "You understand?"
Shiro, feeling sick, nodded. At that moment, he made himself another promise. He would never let the Galra get their hands on Keith again. Never.
After a moment of silence, they returned to the fire. Well, Shiro returned to the fire. Keith split off and went over to a nearby mesquite tree, finally taking his backpack off. He once again removed his hoodie and spread it on the ground as a makeshift bed, setting his bat down carefully next to it.
He was tired. He wasn't sure he could sleep, not with these people around, but he could at least try. Pulling the pistol out of his waistband, he tucked it safely into his bag, and then tied up his hair again. It was going to get hot now, and he hated the feeling of his hair sticking to the back of his neck.
The four others watched him as he settled down on his hoodie, fingers inches from his bat, and closed his eyes. Shiro knew he wasn't asleep, not yet, but eventually his exhaustion would catch up to him. He continued to eat small pieces of the coyote, until his leg was gone. He would save the rest for later, when the sun was going down.
"Who are the Galra?" Pidge suddenly asked, earning herself a suspicious look from Shiro.
"You heard that?" he asked sharply.
"Just the word Galra. I was wondering what it meant."
"They're a gang." Shiro's voice was gruff as he spoke, willing himself not to freak out. "Pretty big one. From what I know their territory is most of Utah and Nevada, goes right around the Garrison."
"And let me guess." Lance drawled from his position, still laying down. "They're not very nice."
"No." Shiro grimaced and rolled his shoulders, one of the scars on his back stinging slightly at the memory. "I'm not sure if you guys will want to travel with us. They're looking for us, and things might go badly for you if we get caught."
"We're not afraid of people." Pidge said, determination shining in her eyes. "Not anymore."
"You should be." Shiro mumbled, but let the topic drop before he had a flashback or something. If they wanted to accept him and Keith into their group, that was entirely their decision, and Shiro wasn't going to argue about having more eyes and hands on their side.
"We should all get some sleep." Hunk said, stretching and popping his back. "Who wants first watch?"
"I'll take it." Shiro said quickly. The others gave him surprised looks, but none of them argued. They all set up their various sleeping positions around the fire, and Shiro moved back to Keith, setting up his coat the same way he had back at the ravine. Keith's breathing was a little deeper, so he was probably dozing at the very least. He leaned back against the trunk of the tree and let himself relax, listening for the telltale groaning of Z's. There shouldn't be any nearby in the middle of mcfucking nowhere, but you never know.
In the back of his mind, he hoped he wasn't making a giant mistake.
(A/N OK so this story is gonna be updating on Wednesday's and will also be going up on AO3 if you prefer to read it over there. Anyway I hope you guys like it it's gonna be 19 chapters of absolute heartbreak have fun.
Until Next Chapter-