A/N: I originally intended this to be like 10 chapters long but I've got the scenario laid out to chapter 8 and there's no way it's going to be only 10. Sigh

reading your comments makes me so happy it's ridiculous!


3.

It's remarkable how quickly, how easily Allen falls into life around the camp. As if there had been an empty slot just waiting to be filled by him. He wakes up earlier than most, right when the sun begins its ageless course, timid rays dissipating the fog that built up during the night, tiny water droplets glistening on the leaves and running down the outer layer of his tent.

The air is chilly when Allen slips out of his sleeping bag, body pliant and warm from slumber. He puts on his pitiful looking shoes over thick socks and a loose sweater before stepping outside. Breathes in the fresh and peaceful atmosphere and yawns.

He throws a glance over his shoulder at Timcanpy's huddled up form, not anywhere near ready to wake up.

It's been little over a week since Allen arrived with Lenalee and Kanda, and he has already been trusted with his fair share of chores – the enthusiasm with which he executes them probably due to the childlike wonder of discovering domesticity – for a boy who never belonged anywhere it's simply and deeply satisfying.

One of the things he's responsible for is the bringing of water to wash the dishes and vegetables they find. There's a stream, about a ten-minute-long walk south from the settlement, that's where he heads to, holding an empty plastic carboy by the neck, steps unhurried.

The wind blows gently between the shrubberies, a wet whisper running amongst the innumerable shades of green. The murmur of vegetation accompanying his strides. The atmosphere is so serene; it wouldn't be that much of a stretch to imagine that the apocalypse hasn't befallen the earth, to forget that life hangs only by a thread. That nobody is safe.

Allen knows better than to get lost in contemplation and keeps his senses on alert. He's not paying attention to the ground though, his heel presses into slippery mud and he loses his balance, stumbling down a slope, butt sinking in the soft soil.

"Ouch –" he grunts, coccyx throbbing. The lightning of a sudden movement shines right before him and he shrieks, "Jesus Christ!" because there's a very sharp looking blade a breath away from his throat.

"What the hell? Beansprout?"

Shocks instantly morphs into irritation.

"The name's Allen," he throws back, teeth clicking.

"Why were you creeping up on me, freak?"

"I wasn't," he shakes the carboy for emphasis. "I'm on water duty."

Talking while the prospect of decapitation quite literally grazes you is somewhat uncomfortable – whether the swordsman realizes or not – and Allen is about to ask: 'would you mind putting that thing away from me, please' when the offending device and the arm holding it withdraw silently.

If Allen had learned something during the days he had spent among these people, it's that Kanda is by no means nice. He's a cold bastard. Doesn't have a single pleasant bone in his body. The concept of politeness in all likelihood as foreign to him as life on another planet.

He also noticed how Kanda tolerates Lavi's bigger than life persona, how he respects Komui and only shows the closest he could come to being amiable to Lenalee. Allen's the odd man out, here. The one Kanda favors when it comes to expressing his anger or frustration, the one he turns to when there's a particularly cruel jab on his tongue. Maybe it's some sort of a sick privilege and Allen has to admit, an even sicker part of him enjoys it. Occasionally. Most of the time it just feels damn infuriating. Downright unfair.

Yet he still finds the git appealing, torn between some absurd infatuation – or whatever he's got going – and the itch to punch that pretty face of his. He must be going bloody barmy.

"What are you doing here anyway?" He asks, standing up, genuinely curious – Kanda disappears for hours on end, God only knows where to. Is it to come here? – but acting uninterested.

The guy's face clams up, much like a mussel when it's being removed from its lodge on a rock.

He should know better than to try talking to the prick. It's like asking to be insulted.

"It's none of your fucking business."

How predictable.

A hard shoulder purposefully knocks against his. He's not getting anywhere with this. The wisest thing would be to let it go, to drop it. His brow furrows in aggravation and his hand shots up and closes around Kanda's forearms, white-knuckled, grasp strong enough to halt the long-haired male's steps.

"What's your problem?" He can see Kanda fuming; nostrils flared and ice-cold stare. "Could you at least tell me what I ever did to you?"

A dark gaze settles on the abnormally colored hand and the man's face scrunches up in distaste.

"Get that thing off me," comes the deep, chilly voice. "Before I chop it off."

It's not the first time, nor will it be the last, Allen is met with scorn and disgust. He must've grown soft, though, because it sends an almost forgotten, long-lived stab through his chest and he freezes, grip going slack. It allows Kanda to shake off the affronting appendage and stomp away. Tall silhouette engulfed by the surrounding foliage.

Allen's hands roll into tight, trembling fists. He walks to the stream, dips the carboy under the water, focuses on the patterns the water draws as it fills the plastic body, bubbling soundly. Like his contained anger and indignation.

He tries to shake it off; smiles back at Komui who greets him when he reaches the camp again, goes along with the idle chatter he's pulled into, but the morning's exchange keeps nibbling at his mind.

Lavi's old man – Allen hasn't managed to catch his name, but he heard the others addressing him as 'Bookman', which he's pretty sure is a nickname. Lavi and he used to run a library after all – climbs up the ladder fixed to the side of the RV to his usual observation spot. There's a deck chair placed on the roof, provided for his specific use. He spends most of his afternoons there, blending in the scenery, wrinkled gaze stubbornly set on the horizon. A rifle sits on his lap, in case danger should manifest itself.

Lavi is lounging cross legged in the shade, leaning over a book.

"What's that?" Allen asks, plopping down to the older male.

"Moby-Dick," the redhead answers, closing and passing the heavy tome over to the other boy.

The yellowish pages are worn out at the bottom corner – like they've been turned a hundred times – the cover is creased and has lost color.

"Looks like one hell of a read," he hands the volume back.

"Yeah, when we had to leave our place I couldn't chose and just went for the biggest one. I mean, what better time to go through some classics than the end of the world?"

"I…guess."

"I've finished it already," the one-eyed continues. "I could lend it to you, if you want?"

"Ah, no, I'm fine, thank you," Allen quickly refuses, just slightly overwhelmed by the sheer thickness of the thing. "I'm not much of a reader."

Lavi chuckles, it dies down, replaced by a clever eye searching the younger male's face.

"Wanna tell me what's eatin' ya?"

"Hm? Nothing."

He wonders vaguely who he's trying to convince, pouting like that and tugging at the dried grass. Nobody, that's who. He's a damn good liar when he wants to be, and right now he's clearly not trying.

"Does it have anything to do with Yuu's super bad mood this morning?"

Am I really that obvious? He wonders.

"We had a run-in and he was his usual arsehole self."

Lavi hums and scratches at the light stubble on his chin.

"He's not warming up to ya, is he?"

The white-haired boy does smile at that – although it's a tad bitter – because the mere idea is the definition of improbable.

"I doubt that's even possible."

Lavi only pats him on the shoulder encouragingly.


"Each square has a corresponding number and letter, see?" Johnny points at the side of the board, index finger running across the sides. "They go from A to H and 1 to 8."

Allen is positively fascinated.

He's caught sight of Johnny and Suman playing chess a couple of times. It looks complicated, all about mathematics: calculating your moves and anticipating your adversary's. It reminds him of poker.

"There are six different kinds of pieces, and each of them moves differently. The rooks," he takes a tower-like piece in his hand, "go in the corners. They may move as far as they want; forward, backward and to the sides. They're particularly powerful pieces when they are protecting each other and working together." The phrasing makes Allen smile, but Johnny's usually expressive face is focused so he nods, to indicate he understands.

"Next comes the knight," he continues. "It moves in a different way from the other pieces: two squares in one direction and then one more at a 90-degree angle. Just like the shape of an 'L'. It's also the only one that can move over other pieces."

Suman, who's sitting silently in front of the short brown-haired man, crosses his arms. A discontented expression on his squarish face.

"The knights are followed by the bishops. These can move as far as they want, but only diagonally. Each bishop starts on one color and must always stay on that color."

Then he takes one of the crowned figures.

"The queen is the most powerful piece. She can move in any one straight direction: forward, backward, sideways or diagonally. As far as possible as long as she doesn't move through any of her own pieces. Like with all others, if the queen captures an opponent's piece her move is over." There's only one figurine left. "And finally, the king takes the remaining square. It's the most important piece, but also the weakest. It can move one square in any direction: up and down to the sides, and diagonally. It may never move itself into check, but if it's attacked by another piece, it's called 'check'."

He gestures at the first-row, eight squares occupied by the same eight pieces.

"Last but not least, the pawns! They're unusual because they move and capture in different ways: they move forward but capture diagonally. Pawns can only move forward one square at a time, except for the first move, where they can move two squares."

Johnny, round spectacles sliding down his upturned nose, looks at Allen with a smile.

"Want to give it a try?"

"Definitely!"

"Here, you'll play against Suman, then!"

He gives his chair to Allen and leans over his shoulder.

"I'll help you out for your first match."

"Hey, that's not fair!" Suman complains, snapping out of his grim silence.

Gray eyes widen slightly, both surprised and amused. The man before him is usually so tight lipped that in all the days he's been here he only heard him talk a couple of times. It appears that chess – and loosing – make him chattier, if not chatty.

"Don't tell me you're afraid of losing against a novice." Johnny throws back with a large smile and the frown between the older man's eyebrows deepens.

"Let's get this over with," he says with a tone of finality, eyes scanning the wooden board before he chooses a pawn to move forward.

Johnny thinks up the moves really fast – like he's got the whole game thought through – whispering to Allen where he should place this or that piece. Suman on the other side, is visibly struggling. Fingers resting against his chin as he ponders what to do. It's not long before Allen has captured most of his pawns, both his knights and one rook. Moves losing their initial hesitation and growing bolder.

"You're a quick-learner, Allen!" Johnny praises, impressed.

"Thanks," he grins. "I always enjoyed a good game."

"Beginner's luck," Suman mutters opposite them, the corner of his mouth ticking with annoyance as he moves his king around in a futile attempt to preserve it. In the end he loses by moving it into check himself.

The man stands up abruptly, a deep scowl on his face as he walks away from the them.

"Oh, come on, don't be a sore loser Suman!" Johnny calls after him to no avail, evidently amused by his friend's antics.

"Is it okay?" Allen asks hesitantly.

"Yeah, he'll come around eventually. And ask for a rematch," the curly-haired male laughs lightly.

"I wouldn't have pegged him as the sulking type."

"He is. When he loses, he refuses to talk to me for days and I've won 39 times to his 7. Back to back that has to be like four months of silent treatment?"

Allen laughs, Johnny and Suman make such an odd pair. Their personalities so very fundamentally different; Suman being almost creepily quiet where Johnny can talk to anyone easily – and that includes the camp's two infamous socially retarded cases – even he acts more genuinely around the guy.

It's a dangerous power Johnny has: to get under one's skin. He looks like he's not even aware of it and maybe that's how it works.

"Allen, may I have a word?" Komui's level voice interrupts.

He sounds serious and the laughter diminishes.

"Of course," he stands up from the chair Johnny lent him to follow Lenalee's brother. He remembers something and turns around, walking backwards to face the short man. "Remind me to teach you about cards next time!"

Johnny smiles brightly. "Got it!"

Komui leads Allen to the RV. It's been parked in the same place since he arrived.

"After you," the tall man opens the door and motions for the teen to go inside.

He finds that Lenalee, Lavi and Kanda are already there; the girl and the redhead sitting on a narrow convertible couch while the long-haired male stands opposite them, arms crossed. Dark eyes spot Allen and his expression immediately becomes sour.

The younger male answers with a frown of his own and a downturned curve to his lips.

"Why did you bring the beansprout, Komui?"

"I'll have you know that I've got a name."

"Because Allen will be leaving with you tomorrow."

"What? Leaving to go where?" The aforementioned boy asks. They don't hear or ignore his question.

"Just kill me right the fuck now."

"Calm down with the sass, will you?"

"We don't need the brat or Lenalee to tag along, Lavi and I can take care of it."

"That's not for you to decide, Kanda." There's a finality to Komui's voice and the black-haired male's mouth shuts with an audible clap.

"What in the Lord's name are you going on about?" Allen cuts in again with combined annoyance and incomprehension.

"I want the four of you to go on a supply mission," Komui finally explains. "We're running low on food again, and let's not even start on ammo. It's not been an issue until now, but I'd rather it doesn't become one."

"Yuu's right, though" Lavi speaks up. "That's nothing two of us can't manage on their own. Plus, and I mean no offense, leaving the camp with no skilled fighters is pretty risky itself."

"We'll still have Bookman and Suman with us," Komui dodges the argument and starts rummaging through the upper cabinets. "Besides, it shouldn't take you any longer than a day. A day and a half at most. Now, if I need the four of you to go, it's because this time you'll be going deeper inside the city. Reever and I believe that's where the real resources are."

"The city…that's where there are the most walkers, brother."

"Yes. A lot of people lived there, meaning food in abundance for them."

"Isn't it too dangerous?"

"From what you've reported to me from your last expeditions it looks like they've been spreading out, we might have an opening."

Komui doesn't find what he's searching for and squats down, emptying the bottom cupboards' contents on the floor.

"There it is!" He exclaims victoriously, brandishing a white and pink polka dot wrapping paper roll.

Lenalee and Lavi push books, dirty plates and coffee stained mugs away from the center of the table, allowing Komui to unfold the brightly colored paper, blank side upwards. Except it's not blank.

"What's that?" Allen wonders aloud, leaning over the man's shoulder to take a closer look. On Komui's other side Kanda does exactly the same, and their arms brush together.

"Don't touch me, sprout," Kanda growls.

"You bumped against me, jerk."

"Allen, Kanda, please. I need your attention."

"Tch."

"Sorry."

"Is that a map?" Lavi inquires, already studying the sketch.

"That's right," Komui states. "Johnny, Reever and I tried to make it as accurate as possible. I'd say it's pretty close to the real deal."

"You drew it from memory?"

"Indeed."

"That's…impressive."

"Well thank you, Allen."

"Don't praise him too much, it might get to his head," Lenalee chimes in, but the affection and pride dancing in her large eyes contradict her words. The softest smile blossoms on her brother's mouth.

"This right here," he starts again, pointing at a small square, "represents what used to be a police station where you might find some firearms left and considerable amounts of ammunition. It'll be your first stop. A hundred yards down the street is a shopping center." A long, pale finger slides across the thin paper to settle on a similar but larger shape. "There was a supermarket inside. It got raided when it all started, but the stocks should be mostly intact. That's the two places I need you to get into."

"And how are we supposed to do that? The streets will be flooding with geeks. A few of 'em ain't nothing we can't go through, but if we get surrounded by a horde we'll be in deep shit," comes Kanda's to the point remark.

"That's why you'll be taking the fast road and entering the city north. It's far less crowded there. Most walkers followed people south."

Kanda frowns.

"That's a half-hour longer ride, it'll use too much gas."

"We don't have a choice," Komui deadpans. "You've been exploring the residential neighborhoods for weeks, each time bringing less. It's only a matter of time before you don't find anything anymore and come back empty handed. We've got to think bigger." He flattens his hand over the rudimentary map, palm down and fingers spread out. "If this works out, we'll be set for weeks. Maybe a month or two if we ration the supplies. What do you say?"

Lenalee bites at her bottom lip, hesitant. Lavi's attempting to picture the whole thing in his mind and Kanda's still frowning, but it's apparent he's contemplating the plan.

"I say it's worth a shot," Allen voices when the silence starts to stretch and Komui gives him a grateful nod.

"You told me you knew your way around locks and sneaking in and out of buildings, right?"

"Yes."

"Well, this is the perfect occasion to put those skills of yours to good use."

He turns to the others, hands on his hips, expectant.

"I'm with the brat," Kanda grumbles, looking as if his tongue's about to fall off and Allen is so surprised he forgets to protest the verbal abuse.

Lavi leans back against his seat, crossing his hands behind his head. "Count me in," he says with a lazy smile.

"It's decided, then," Lenalee concludes. Like not going with them simply isn't an option.

"Excellent," Komui rolls up the map and hands it to Lavi. "I trust you not to lose it."

"Yes, sir!"

"Go get your stuff ready. I'll give you ammo but remember to use it only if you have no other choice."

"We got this, brother," the only girl in the group reassures.

"I know," the man sighs. He has to send them away, knowing they might not come back. It must weight heavily on his shoulders. "You'll be taking the Ford Escort; it has the most spacious trunk."

"It needs a refill," Kanda states.

"You know where to find the gasoline."

The long-haired male nods and exits the RV.

"You'll be leaving tomorrow morning, around 7 o'clock," he tells the others.

"Do you have a weapon Allen? I can lend you a gun if you need one."

"I've got one already."

"Good." He stares at the white-haired teen pointedly. "If I'm asking this of you, it's because I trust you," he eventually declares.

It makes the boy's throat go tight.

"I won't let you down."


The dark and silent night finds Allen turning and twisting inside his tent; sleep set on eluding him. Plagued with gruesome images and thoughts every time his eyelids fall shut. Raspy grunting echoing in his ears. The phantom of cold clammy digits scraping his skin. He's almost scared to doze off, scared of the nightmares his brain will conjure.

They're leaving in a few hours for what has little chances of running as smoothly as they'd like and they'll need to be on their toes, which is significantly harder to do when you're lacking sleep. Allen should've been fast asleep by now, but the sluggish and acid mishmash of nervousness and apprehension won't let him rest.

He rolls onto his back, turning for the umpteenth time. The sleeping bag is tangled up around his feet and he kicks at it.

Seriously the best time to get insomnia.

His right hand finds Timcanpy's little form breathing regularly against his leg and settles there, fingers running through the soft fur.

How could such a tiny thing be so anchoring?

Allen huffs in frustration, finally coming to terms with the fact that he's not going to fall asleep.

"Might as well go for a walk," he whispers to himself.

He always liked night better than day; feels at ease in the shade it provides, appreciates the coolness. A breeze curls around the trees, it brings the smell of warm dusty earth to his nose. He sticks his hands in his front pockets and walks away as quietly as possible.

The sky is clear and the moon bright enough that it illuminates his way, casting a blueish glow on the settlement.

Mana would've liked it here.

The dull ache that accompanies nostalgia settles in his chest and Allen welcomes it. Is thankful for it. It's a meager price to pay for his happiest memories.

He doesn't know how long he keeps on walking, but when he's nearing the center of the camp again, his anguish has consequently subsided. It's short lived though, because once he's by the RV, the sound of shuffling reaches him. Imagining right away it's a walker, or several of them, Allen squats down, cursing himself for not taking any weapon along in his impromptu promenade.

He hears a zipper being undone and relaxes; zombies don't bother with zippers.

Straightening up from his crouching position he spots a head of red hair. It's Lavi, probably needing to take a leak. Allen is about to call him but stops short as the other male – unaware of his presence – heads towards a familiar tent instead of the nearby bushes.

He goes very still. Astonishment causing his mind to go blank, which is only natural since Lavi is sneaking inside Kanda's tent.

Talk about unexpected development.

The sight in itself is surreal enough, but the meaning behind it managed to be even more so.

Allen tiptoes back to his own shelter, making it a mission to not breathe. Once inside, his body falls limply on the sleeping bag, mouth still ajar from shock.

He tries, with all his might, to block out the noises coming from his neighbors. It's easier said than done and his hormonal teenage mess of a body ends up reacting to the faint moaning, brain providing helpful graphic material.

He brings an arm over his reddened face and exhales shakily.

There's no way he's going to jerk off to his companions getting it on. That would be plain wrong.

Instead, he rolls on his front, presses his hips to the solid ground beneath him and wills his hard-on to die down.

Needless to say Allen doesn't get a wink of sleep that night.


A/N: I know ab-so-lu-te-ly nothing about chess, I had to look it up lmao

hope you liked this chapter (can you feel the plot thickening?)!