the killer in me is the killer in you
Posted originally on the Archive of Our Own at

Archive Warning:
Graphic Depictions Of Violence
F/M, Gen
Ride the Cyclone: A New Musical - Maxwell & Richmond
Astrid & Hank & Corey Ross (Ride the Cyclone), Astrid/Hank (Ride the Cyclone), Astrid (Ride the Cyclone)/Talia Bolinska
Astrid (Ride the Cyclone), Hank (Ride the Cyclone), Corey Ross (Ride the Cyclone), Talia Bolinska, Trishna (Ride the Cyclone)
Additional Tags:
Alternate Universe - Apocalypse, Not Canon Compliant, Angst, Heavy Angst, Hurt/Comfort, Fluff, Established Relationship, Ambiguous Relationships, Complicated Relationships, fellas is it gay to cuddle with your gf and boy bestie in the same tent during the apocalypse, Found Family, Dead Dove: Do Not Eat, Blood and Injury, Near Death Experiences, Dissociation, Mental Health Issues, Implied/Referenced Character Death, Codependency, lack of communication (literally), Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms, Platonic Cuddling, trails of hank/corey, they/she pronouns for astrid
Published: 2023-03-19 Updated: 2023-04-07 Words: 7,855 Chapters: 2/5

the killer in me is the killer in you


" Like a wolf pack, they are looking out for each other. To the extremes. "




They march towards the south.

lovebite + corey apocalypse au


Chapter Notes

PLEASE be mindful of tags. my first time putting such a heavy work on the internet lmaoo

this is dedicated to callie and mabel and penny who always cheered me and this godforsaken fic on. thank you guys for sticking around mwah!!!

the only research ive done for this fic is reading flo's fic + tlou fics . yippie !!

cws for this chapter - near-death experience , ( fantasized ) murder , blood , animal death ( off-screen ) + dead animal description

title from disarm - the smashing pumpkins

Bonded for life, some might say. Bonded for life in current circumstances might mean bonded for the next two months, or a week, or four days or the next ten minutes. Bonded for life means being constantly around, constantly aware, constantly protecting. Like a wolf pack, they are looking out for each other. To the extremes.

Eyes always looking out, hand on gun’s trigger at all times, feet in heavy boots trained to avoid deeper mud and holes that could make them stuck. Always in the field of vision, preferably side by side, just to know there will be no more casualties.

It’s not a pact they made willingly – it was made with tears, bandages soaked through with blood, bullets whistling right by their ears, twisted ankles and muffled screams of pain. Solidified with nights by campfires, breaking gas stations’ windows, armfuls of long-term food.

Astrid wants to go back to the life in Uranium she cursed on so much. She hadn’t cried about it in a long time, far longer than they did at the beginning. She wants the boredom, groaning about English homework and laying around in Hank’s room pointlessly. They need the normalcy desperately, playing on Ocean’s nerves, pretending to pay attention in classes and drinking hot lemon tea at the Blackwood Café every afternoon after school.

They placed all of their bets on graduating and getting the fuck out of Uranium. Well, she got her wish. At least half of it – they got out of Uranium. But not in the way she wanted.

Neither did they graduate.

They live in constant journey now. From one place to another, getting up after a few hours of light sleep, legs moving with muscle memory, hours spent in silence, walking on abandoned country roads – no danger, because even a blood-hungry creature wanted to get near fucking Uranium. Guessing by the map and their collective terrain orientation skills, averaging a little above zero because Hank’s dad used to take him hunting and he has some knowledge how to locate himself, they are going southwest.

It’s not all freedom and nature and having no parental authority over them. Nothing like the survival shows on TV. Bear Grylls had years and years of experience and a professional filming team to help him out when he couldn’t go on, they have each other and a map.

Instead of Bear Grylls fighting bears shirtless, it’s learning how to hunt more efficiently to not waste bullets and knowing how raw meat tastes like. And it's mostly snow, actually. Endless fields with snow laying on them, thick forests with tall trees where they need to listen to every twig snap because vision can deceive.

Astrid must admit, she never really thought about the apocalypse. It was something they read about it on the blurbs of the adventure novels Hank would read, and from the clickbait stories of zombie sightings, and apocalypse movies where the aliens invade US for the thirty thousandth time.

She would pass it off as a myth, something that would never happen, something that only crazy people - cough, aunt Fiona and uncle Kevin, cough - believed in. The science is too advanced, the government too prepared, people too smart.

She should’ve thought more.

On worse days, Hank’s joints don’t let him move an inch without crying out in pain. Astrid and Cory ravage through their backpacks ten times in an hour, hoping they will find a forgotten package of any painkillers.

Too bad they ran out of them the second flare-up Hank had after this shitshow started.

On better days, Hank slides his crutches into his backpack – thank god for creating foldable crutches – and walks shoulder in shoulder with Corey and Astrid.

Being physically close to each other stopped being awkward last autumn when they had to huddle close to keep any warmth at night and hold hands in the forests so they wouldn’t get lost. During the winter, cold and windy with snow up to their knees they became ever closer, almost merging into one person, constantly walking pressed against each other.

The role assignment came naturally.

Hank is the one taking care of map and terrain orientation. The most responsible role, some might say, because without him and his higher-than-zero skills Corey and Astrid would be either in a ditch or infected already. Corey is next to a tourist when it comes to terrain orientation. He could be dropped off three feet from his house in Uranium and he wouldn’t know where he is.

Astrid is better at it, but being the one with quickest reflex and reaction time she manages all the weapons, with a rifle over their shoulder, gun on a belt and a hatchet in her sleeve.

Corey became their designated donkey, carrying all of the heavier things, like the tent that’s been through so much and still works, and canned food they’ve been living off for the last few months.

It’s peaceful for the most part. In every zombie movie the protagonists fight off the monsters every few minutes, but in reality it's Uranium - let's be real, nothing happens there. Even an apocalypse, though it made its' way there.

Astrid would enjoy the peace, but the anxiety keeps them on guard, not letting them enjoy the calm. It keeps all of them up.

Astrid knows that by heading south they’re bringing more danger upon themselves. They can stay here, hidden away in the deep forests and open fields and empty highways and be safe, live out their lives in a tiny community like some people already do.

But all three of them crave for any human connection, besides themselves, knowing that there's someone out there, and they're not alone in a country forgotten by God. Eating something different than mushrooms, canned beans and various wild fruits sounds like heaven now. Possibly, a dark, deep desire, finding out what happened to their mothers, fathers, siblings, relatives. Friends.

Trishna and Talia occasionally ping on Corey's walkie-talkie. It’s the only one working, since Astrid threw herself down a pretty big hill in the middle of a forest to escape a horde of Them and broke hers.

They talk about day-to-day life. The new normal.

The snow still lays up to the knees and the sun is relentless where Trishna and Talia headed – west, towards Manitoba, possibly Toronto. Look into the more populated areas if they can, seek other survivors.

Trishna and Talia, an unlikely duo, broke away from the group after a fight that made Astrid want to bash her head against a wall. Between Talia, Corey and Astrid, after yet another attack. Not like they didn't have any fights before - they obviously did, conflicting temperaments and all that, but this one was so bad.

They were raiding a grocery shop, between some residential homes, when suddenly a bunch of Them jumped out and a bloody mess started. They were surrounded, Hank's gun jammed and Corey was trying to kick away one of these assholes who latched its' ugly hand into his pant leg, and Astrid had cold shivers running up and down her body, and,

And Talia willingly put them in danger, trying to sneak to the shelves to get food and water. Only shooting at the ones that got in her way, leaving the rest for sure death, trying to defend themselves.

Astrid couldn’t fucking understand how selfish Talia was, and Talia screamed, primal scream like Astrid only heard from dying people, that if she got the supplies, the ones that survived would thrive. That only the strongest will survive. And nobody will survive if they protect the weakest.

And Astrid couldn’t help but see a flash of Ocean in Talia’s words. So similar, yet so different.

Such a dumb decision of them from a few months earlier, to put so much trust in other person's hands.

She couldn’t help but scream “GET THE FUCK OUT! GET THE FUCK OUT!” for a good ten minutes, both Corey and Hank holding her back, as Talia packed all of her belongings scattered along their base and left. Trishna lingered around the door for almost a minute with her backpack on, before mouthing sorry and quickly shutting the door behind her.

Hank, Astrid and Corey held each other as they fell apart. Astrid sobbed so loudly some of her vocal chords gave out, and she almost bit her knuckles to the meat. The three of them spent the entire night curled up against each other on the cold floor, eventually moving from there to the couch but never daring to release the grip.

Through the walkie-talkie, in sessions where Corey, Astrid and Hank sit in a triangle on the floor or walk on abandoned country roads, it’s Trishna who does most of the talking. Talia not so much, keeping it down to short responses.

It’s the opposite of their personalities Before – Trishna was reserved and quiet, keeping to herself. Talia was loud and took up the room and had a bright voice. She brought out the best in people, so positive and sweet. Astrid couldn't believe the girl, who they once considered a good friend, a best friend even, was such a manipulative liar, who, in a dangerous situation was willing to put herself before her group.

Trishna often needs a moment to collect herself after she speaks. Almost as if her voice locks in her throat, unable to form words, not used to talking.

It makes Astrid so fucking upset. Trishna spoke freely when she was with them, throat never constricting.

It all started after the fight. When she left with Talia.

Astrid isn't fucking dumb. They still have their brain primarily intact.

Sometimes Astrid wants to kill Talia. Swing wildly. Yell out everything they didn't get to say. Leave a bloody mess on the floor and mop it. Bury the body in cold dirt. Plant a wooden cross where she lays and kick it so it breaks. Not something they would do right now, right here, but it’s surely a thought forming.

For making Trishna, the girl Astrid wasn’t even close to before all the apocalypse shit went down, sad. For manipulating all of them for so long, splitting them up after so long, betraying their trust in a matter of seconds, for disappearing in the middle of winter, for making them worried sick, for being irresponsible, for being a selfish asshole who only ever thought about her gain and survival.

Astrid doesn’t feel bad for it. Not necessarily. She knows she’s supposed to be horrified at the mere thought of killing her friend, ex-friend, but they're not. There’s no sinking stomach, or blood freezing in her veins, or the back of her head going cold.

Talia had no feelings towards the group that protected her. She was able to leave them to die, if it meant she would survive. Astrid has no feelings about thinking about killing her in cold blood.

But she can’t bring herself to, you know, actually think about it. It’s more of a distant fantasy, blurred and mangled, that keeps pushing on her brain but when she thinks about it, it fades away. No actual plan, because as cruel and cold-hearted as the apocalypse made Astrid, she unfortunately has some human instincts, unlike certain someone, she can’t kill her.

It would be a wasteful death. Does she sound like Talia? Maybe.

She could kill her if she had the chance.

Talia would have killed her.


According to Hank, it’s April 3rd. The day is significantly warmer than yesterday, but none of them dare to take off their jackets just yet. Can’t risk getting sick.

They spent the night in the woods, the tent set up between two big redwoods. They had a small conversation, like they always do after calm days, in their sleeping bags before going to sleep.

Sun was still low in the sky, painting the sky orange and yellow when they set off. A cold wind blew into their faces as they walked, even with scarves wrapped around noses and hats almost on their eyes. Astrid felt her legs go mildly numb from the cold, raising them higher and higher with each step, imitating a military march in order to not let them go completely numb.

Astrid had always liked early mornings. Everything was so quiet and calm, no chaos, just the natural course of things. When she walked to the bus stop for St. Cassian’s bus, the wind blew straight into their face, numbing the muscles and reminding them of the mornings she spent riding her bike to school back in Ukraine.

Focus, Astrid, focus.


They set up their tent behind an empty field. They got it from one of the raids on a gas station, before the winter came, and behind it was clearly a survivor camp, abandoned not that long ago. They took what they could, washed the tent and sleeping bags they found in the river and gave these things a second chance to be useful.

Corey walked into the woods with one of their rifles to hunt for their dinner. The walkie-talkie stayed with Astrid and Hank, since it would be useless if Corey needed help, and if he didn’t come back, it would serve them better.

Hank is sitting cross-legged on a fallen tree, picking at the blades of grass visible through the snow, which isn’t that thick there. They lean over Hank “Hi.”

He jumps and turns around, finger on a gun’s trigger, ready to shoot. Upon seeing it’s only them, the corners of his mouth spring up.

“Hi Astrid.” His voice is sweet and soft, a hot chocolate after a tough exam day, and it makes Astrid want to melt into him and never leave. “Care to sit down?”

They sit right by him, thighs clothed in heavy fabric pressing against each other, leaning into his side after a few moments. He's tinkering with the gun, opening some part of it and then closing it with a 'click'.

“Can we stay like this?” Astrid almost-whispers.

He takes their hand in his silently. He’s wearing dark blue and black ski gloves, worn-out where his fingers connect with the palm. The weight of his hand around hers feels comforting, good, familiar, and she almost lets herself go a little.

There's rustling in the bushes behind them.

Astrid’s rifle is immediately in the air, pointing at the noise. Hank follows close behind, ducking behind the fallen tree a little, holding up his gun.

Corey’s smiling face comes into their point of view first, appearing from behind a tree with a dirt splatter on his cheek, then his bloodied hand grasping the strap holding up rifle on his back, and then-

“Hey guys! Look what I got!” He sing-songs, dangling a dead rabbit around like he just won a stuffed animal at a fair. He’s grinning wildly, showing off his yellow teeth and torn lip, looking between Astrid’s annoyed expression, Hank staring at him with wide eyes and the animal.

The hare, a reddish-brown one with a white underbelly, looks like it’s sleeping, but the blood seeping from a gash on its head is indicating something more sinister.

Astrid clicks her tongue in annoyance, and gets up at the same time as Hank does. “Get the bullet out, I will start the fire.”

“Aye-aye captain!”

These fuckers.


The hare tastes… Like a hare. It’s not a fantastic meal by any means, but it’s satiating and nutritious and surprisingly tasty. A good change of routine of eating whatever long-term food they have on hand.

Okay. Okay. They’re okay.


Astrid, Hank and Corey arrive in a small settlement, created before the virus, by mid-April. It’s really tiny – just a few houses, the main building, once a village hall, an abandoned bus stop and a farm about a mile southeast.

The three of them regenerate in Silver Stone. Astrid’s frostbitten hands get treated. Hank’s twisted ankle actually has the chance to heal. Corey’s horrible gash above his left eye that made Astrid sure he would go blind gets bandaged and taken care of properly. He sleeps looking like fell ten stories for twenty-five hours straight, and then complains about his back hurting for the next week.

They stay in their little tent that can barely hold three people inside, especially with Corey’s broad shoulders and Hank’s long legs and how all three of them toss and turn in sleep. They take turns being the watch, changing every three hours.

Astrid won’t tell them, but she sometimes doesn’t wake up the person that was supposed to have the shift after her, and in the morning lies, saying the other took it for him.

She’ll wear herself thin if it means they are safe.

They attempt to communicate with the others. The ones who stayed behind, in Uranium City, the ones they lost contact with after Highway, the ones presumably dead. Hank diligently notes every contact attempt in his notebook, crossed out lines standing next to their friends’ names.

No one answers. They end up chatting to another group of survivors who turned up on the same airwaves as them for a few hours. Katie, Dustin, Cody – “Hey, that’s almost like Corey!” “No it’s not, sit down” - and Liam.

They will never know if anyone dies.

April days pass. First grass patches sprout shyly from the ground, and Astrid makes sure she doesn’t step on them. Snow melts, there are more sunny days, even if the sun doesn’t bring any warmth and only blinds them, but it’s less depressing to live in an apocalypse with sun than in an apocalypse with constant rain and dark clouds.

Astrid, Hank and Corey leave. It’s the natural way of things. Silver Stone airwaves coordinates, written by Julie, who invited them to eat dinner with her and her daughter Emma every night – simple, humane gesture, so rare in their current world – and sewed by her into the inside of Corey’s coat.

They march south, through wet forests, mud and dirt, shoes constantly soaked and caked with mud, batting away mosquito and huge beetles. They sing songs, swing each other around on the road until their heads spins and ribs ache from laughing.

Astrid falls into a shallow river at one point. Full-body slam and drown. It wasn’t deep, but deep enough for them to panic.

She’s not sure how she survived the next night, trembling from hypothermia, almost drowning and whatever the fuck her body went through while Hank and Corey tried to haul her out of the river. Their head hurt like she got a hammer to it, they couldn’t get a sentence straight and they had an out-of-body experience. In a horrible way.

Hank and Corey got the wet clothes off of her, dressing into the thickest clothes of their own and shoving her between them in the tent. Kept her calm during the fever-induced delirious states, when they flew in and out of consciousness, mumbling comforting words when she started hallucinating and screaming, holding their head up so she could drink water without choking on it because she didn't have enough strength to hold her head up herself.

Trying to keep them from tipping over the edge of death.

They live. The next morning she wakes up, sun shining and tinting the inside of the tent green, she thanks whoever is looking after them from the big sky for another chance. And promises they won't fuck up this time.

Hank later told her that he started praying that night. Something he hadn’t done since their last mass before classes at St. Cassian.

He's the one that holds the most hope in contacting the others. He holds the bare scraps of the trios, the optimism and energy. He’s the driving force, the one that encourages them to wake up every morning and go, the one that says “one more turn guys, just one more.”

Astrid truly admires him. Through all of the misery and pain and losing the life they built so carefully, he’s still Hank. He still has the same mannerisms, like rotating his right foot when he's thinking intensely, or his eyes tending to open up randomly when he sleeps and scaring the shit out of them. He's the same Hank she fell in love with, the same she spent endless periods at school passing notes, the one that allowed them to stay for two weeks-long "sleepovers" at his house, the same she still loves.

She can’t say the same about Corey. His moods come and go, back and forth, and they can never quite expect the change. Sometimes, he’s Uranium Corey – cocky, confident, excitable, laughing loudly and affectionately making fun of Hank and Astrid. Astrid started liking him, but maybe it's just conditioning to his annoying nature by almost a year together. Sometimes, he’s After Corey – quieter, more obedient, more observant and prone to cold, calculated violence instead of lashing out on impulses. After Corey still makes fun of them, but doesn’t pinch the sensitive areas. Doesn’t walk as confident.

He doesn’t put his hands in pockets anymore.

Sometimes he becomes Rey. Rey is vulnerable, Rey is small, Rey is distant. His eyes look somewhere far away, even if he’s looking straight at Astrid or Hank. He’s searching for the thing he can’t find.

Rey sits by the campfire when he thinks Astrid and Hank are tucked into their sleeping bags. He stares into a picture that’s safely tucked away in a pocket on the inside of his coat, just where his heart is.

He doesn’t cry. He doesn’t even move.

Just stares.

Astrid never sees the picture. She can only assume.


Chapter Notes

hi pookies

deeply apologizing for my lack of knowledge of constellations . i did like 20 minute google research sorry :(

no cws for this chapter !! have fun with the most lighthearted chap of this fic

They lose contact with Talia and Trishna.

Their last conversation together was on May 4th, and lasted thirteen minutes and fifty-eight seconds. The walkie-talkie has been silent ever since, despite all of them changing the batteries several times.

It means either two things – they’re dead, or so far away it doesn’t catch.

Hank hopes it’s the second one. It’s a plausible theory, because they’ve been apart for six weeks and thirteen days now. He keeps track of the time, hours, days, months. Every paragraph in his notebook is annotated with the date and hour.

It’s something that helps him keep his mind clear. Time makes sense in this chaotic world. Time is solid.

After almost a year now together, they know each other like the back of their hands. It’s solid too. He can count on them.

Hank knows Astrid doesn’t like being touched at times. He knew this before the apocalypse, doomsday, whatever floats your boat, started, but the experience heightened it. She is a touchy person, but only with certain people (Hank. Corey. Ocean. Talia). Sometimes, she’s somewhere far away, not wanting people to talk to her. Focusing only on survival. Of her and her group. (At least he hopes so.)

He lets her be these days. She walks ahead of him and Corey, steps rigid and fast, looking left and right every few moments. But most of the time, she walks next to them, holding Hank’s hand, the other hand always hovering near her gun.

Corey’s moods still are a rapidly swinging swing. One second he’s happy and talkative, the other he sees something in the woods and keeps silent for the next five hours. Astrid and Hank walk around him carefully, hoping he won’t feel the difference. Hank longs for the long-gone normalcy of Corey, always cheerful, when he would giggle and pass notes to him when their Humanities teacher was turned around, how he would argue with the vice-principal that wearing gold chains should be allowed.

Hank wouldn’t change his group for any other. Even for one with much more resources, who lives in a stable settlement, with a community, preferably not having blisters on hands from trying to raise a fire. Corey and Astrid are intelligent, and sweet, and can work in group, fighting only sometimes, mostly playfully.


They continue their journey. He maps out where they were, looking after landmarks on their map. Counts how much they’ve already traveled, where is - was? - the nearest village, where there could be danger. Even moss is helpful if you travel without a compass. If someone, something is nearby, traces are everywhere, so if there’s anything out of the ordinary it draws their attention

As they continue their journey, the warm spring season changes into summer so gently it’s almost unnoticeable. Hank suspects it might be the conditioning to their situation, so the change isn’t important.

Eventually, they have to take off their heavy jackets and layers of hoodies and sweaters that seemingly became adjacent to them during the long winter months. They carefully peel them away, washing off in a stream, glued to the materials with sweat and blood.

Then Corey splashes Astrid, and she splashes him back, and suddenly they’re all splashing each other, kicking the water, getting water all over their clothes and feeling like children again, not worrying about a thing. Their faces turn towards then sun like sunflowers, and soon enough freckles spring across Astrid’s nose and cheeks, a few brave ones making their way onto her forehead. Hank and Corey count them, arguing about whether there are 21 or 22.

Hank and Astrid hold hands as they walk, and after Corey starts complaining about feeling left out, “how can you leave someone out in the middle of an apocalypse!”, Hank grabs his hand too.

Corey shuts up.


They were supposed to stay in the farmhouse for a week, maybe two.

After the first two weeks Hank still didn’t feel well, so they took a few days off. And then stayed another few, and suddenly they were clocking six weeks in the house.

It’s not like Hank is complaining. He likes the stability, the constant, somewhere to return for the night. Finally, they could go to sleep at the same time, after setting up traps and endless strings of bells hanging all around the house, to alarm them if anything tried to get inside.

They gave up with the bells after Corey woke up in the middle of the night and Astrid almost shot a round into him.

They spend the days lazily exploring the area. The farmhouse is painted light blue paint, chipping from the outside and mold-infested near the ground, and is surrounded by forests. Deep, thick forests, unlike the forests in Uranium with thin, but tall trees - From each side, after the wide open fields end, the woods start.

It reminds him a lot of his cousins’ farm, outside of Uranium, where he used to spend summers and breaks. Hell, for half of the 9th grade and almost the entirety of 10th, the guest room was his room, and he actually considered moving there before.

The farm was his safe place, where he could turn where things at his own house turned sour with Kayla and their parents. Which was, admittedly, often. He used to tell himself it was just their temperaments clashing, but after thirteen years of constant fighting he realized they just couldn’t stand each other.

His aunt and uncle always welcomed him with open arms and a warm dinner on the table, and never had issues with Astrid or anyone else being over all the time. They didn’t get mad when Hank asked them to help with homework, or when he felt too bad to do his chores, or when he did anything that would spark an almost-physical fight at his house.

Gosh. How he misses them. He would do anything for a hug from his aunt now. Or another piece of his uncle’s thoughtful advice, which he and his cousins made fun of constantly. Or a high-five from Adam, or a jump on the back from Isabella.

He can just hope they’re either in a settlement or died at the beginning.

Memories are vivid and colorful in Hank’s memory. He supposes it’s because he sees it through rose-tinted glasses. If it means he has some comfort in them, he will lie to himself.

The house, his home, was white, two floors and a basement, surrounded by forests and fields that he and his cousins, Adam and Isabella knew by the back of their hands. There was a metal pipe running along the side wall where Adam’s room was, and they would sneak out through it sometimes, sliding down the pipe. They had to be careful not to bang their feet against the wall, because the living room where their dad often slept was right by it, and nearby their parents’ bedroom.

His uncle, their dad, Franck, installed a tire swing on the big elm behind the house for Adam’s fifth birthday. The two of them spent hours on the steadily growing playground space - the proper swings that were installed soon after Isabella was born too, and in the treehouse, a gift for the beginning of summer of 2002. Their little imaginary world, only for them to have.

It was one of Hank’s favorite parts of the house and area - the absolute favorite of all time was a little nook behind the back staircase, the one that was hidden behind the kitchen. The house and farm had so many hiding spots he wouldn’t be able to count them all.


Corey and Hank find an abandoned dirty tractor far behind, on the edge of forest and declare it their “Boy Base, No Astrids Allowed”. They hang the sign, written on a paper they found inside the house and decorated with skulls and red exclamation marks, on the tractor’s side windshield and when Astrid comes near they start banging on the window and pointing at the sign.

It’s fun – acting like little kids again. A place only for them, no monsters or creatures or anything that wants to eat their guts. It reminds Hank of his cousins’ tree house on their farm. The one their dads built, where he basically grew up, and where nothing bad could touch him.

If he stayed on the farm that day, would he know what happened to his family? Would he still be there? It was pretty far from Uranium, and isolated, and uncle had told him something about an atom bunker built behind the stables during the Cold War. If he stayed, what would happen to Astrid and Corey? Their other friends?

Thinking too much, Hank. Focus on counting.


There’s a stable system going on. Two people go guarding, one stays at the house.

Usual morning rounds are taken by Hank, very much a morning person, and oftentimes Astrid. Corey, who can’t keep his eyes open until it’s nine, stays and makes breakfast – nothing fancy, bread with tomatoes or other vegetables, butter if they’re lucky.

Mid-day round is usually Corey and Astrid, Hank making the dinner because he’s the only one that won’t set canned beans on fire without electricity.

Night round changes almost every day, but Hank likes going on walks before bed to “clear his head”, so it’s usually him and one of the two. Astrid tends to have no energy after the clock strikes nine, so Corey often accompanies him.

It’s nice. It’s routine. It’s safe.


They discover a lake deeper in the forest, far behind the little empty campsite they ventured into a few days before. It's Corey and Astrid, doing their usual midday rounds around the farm, making sure there's nothing stalking them, who discovered it.

The lake isn't all that big, but definitely bigger than the thousands of tiny, ten feet wide lakes that surrounded Uranium. The water is in a blue-greenish color, like a movie lagoon, light reflecting on the surface, the lake in the shape of an uneven egg. There's a small sand patch in front of where they are standing, with an unsteady-looking wooden pier, the rest of the lake surrounded by bulrushes and tall grass, except for another sand patch on the other side of it, more to the right.

Corey immediately crouches down and tries to put his hand in the water, only for it to be swatted away by Astrid's seconds later. He turns to her, looking for an explanation.

"Stop! Are you stupid? This could be poisonous." She scoffs, arms quickly returning into their usual position of being crossed on their chest.

A light bulb almost physically turns on above Corey’s head.

"How can water be poisonous?" He asks, a shadow of a smirk dancing on his face.

"Chemicals. Human waste. Animal waste. Creature waste."

Grand Astrid finale, Corey thinks. "I think the word you're looking for is contaminated."

Astrid clicks their tongue in annoyance. "Yeah, yeah, Mister Smarty-Pants. We need to go back to Hank."

A beat of silence passes between them.

"I want in." He gets up, knees cracking.

"Fuck you are. I'm not treating your burns again." And with these words, Astrid turns on her heel and starts walking back. "By the way, I don't know how to treat chemical burns!"

It’s Corey’s turn to scoff and roll his eyes, before he sprints at Astrid, putting his hands on her shoulders and effectively startling her, because the next thing he knows is a gun barrel on his temple and Astrid’s finger on the trigger. “Hey, it’s- it’s not a reason to pull a gun at me!”

“What if you were one of them? I would be gutted in seconds.” He looks at them, eyes shouting ‘challenge me’. “Be happy I didn’t shoot.”

“Very happy to still have my brains intact.”

“You have any?” They duck from the slap on her head from Corey, sticking out her tongue at him.

“Shut the fuck up!”


When they come back after dinner – canned beans and potatoes, such a feast! – the water isn't so green anymore, having a more dark blue tint to it.

"Are you sure it wasn't a mutual illusion thing?" Hank asks and both Astrid and Corey look at each other. An unspoken conversation.

Hank is actually pretty happy that they are getting along. Even if it means them making fun of each other every second Hank has his back turned and can’t try to separate their quarrels. The atmosphere is much better than at the beginning, when Astrid and Corey co-existed in the same group solely for survival.

If he’s feeling bold, he might call them actual friends.

Suddenly, Corey starts sprinting and before either Astrid or Hank can let a word out he's half shin-deep in water, successfully wetting his shoes, socks and if the water is toxic, irreparably destroying up his skin cells.

He kicks around in the water for about thirty seconds before raising his thumbs with a huge grin.

"Not poisonous!"

"Poisonous?" Hank turns to Astrid, but is met only with her rolling her eyes.

"No comment. Are you going in?" Astrid smiles, one corner of their mouth higher, and Hank knows the game is on. Shoes come off faster than Corey sprinted, and even if Hank tries to run, he’s never been the one to walk fast on anything other than solid ground. Astrid quickly out runs him, straight into the lake, Hank following.

The water is cold. Not freezing cold, like having snow thrown under your T-shirt, but cold enough to make a difference to the air temperature. It hugs Hank's legs as he comes deeper, wet mud and sand wrapping around his feet in a seemingly vice-like grip.

Astrid is skipping ahead of him, every leg move splashing more water around trying to catch up to Corey, who is already mid-chest deep, paddling away from Astrid and screaming in terror. Part of Hank's brain wants to tell him to shut the fuck up, because he could attract them, but the part that wants to play wins and he starts swimming towards the two of them.

When he finally catches up, Astrid already has her legs around Corey’s waist, trying to choke him, while Corey screams wildly and splashes around, trying to tear Astrid away from his back.

Hank watches as the two struggle for good two minutes before Corey manages to throw Astrid off his back, into the water. She falls in slow-motion. Hank can see her expression changed from confident to shocked to mouth opening for a scream that doesn’t get out because she fully dunks underwater. Corey immediately ducks down, almost jumping on her, committed to keeping the struggling girl underwater.

Astrid eventually emerges, taking a big breath of air as she grabs Corey at under knees and throws him into the water. Bubbles come from where his head is, and a fervent battle starts between them, trying to keep the other under and themself over.

Finally, both of them need to breath and they declare a temporary peace. But then Astrid looks at Corey, Corey looks at Astrid and they share a crooked grin right in the time as they lunge at Hank.

“Fuck, no!-” Is all he can get out before he’s dragged down, head slamming against the surface and pushed down, someone cutting his legs in the knees and

He fights to get to the surface, and when he does, he takes a big gulp of air before he spots Astrid doing the same and launches himself at them.


The lake question comes back a few days later, while the three of them are having a peaceful moment outside the house. The heatwave, usually coming to Uranium between June and the first weeks of July, finally caught up to them and made the whole apocalypse experience even more miserable

Hank and Corey are sweating their asses off, pinning a piece of roof that fell off back on. Corey is holding the board while Hank swings the hammer wildly but with precision of a trained hunter, slamming the nails in.

He stops to wipe at his forehead. “Hey, Corey?”


“Do you still think about the lake?”

Corey looks over to him with a confused face. “Yeah. Yes.”

Hank looks over to Corey. Corey's face changed to curious, like a cat who just saw the shadow of a toy.

“Do you want to, y’know, swim? Sometime? If you’re up for that." Hank tries to sound as nonchalant as he can, despite begging Corey to agree in his mind.

Corey mumbles something to himself, so quietly Hank can’t hear any of that. The cicadas and bunches of various other bugs in the background really don’t help with his already bad hearing.

“Huh? Can you repeat that?”

“I can’t swim.” Corey whispers under his breath.

Hank blinks. Once. Twice. Don’t laugh out loud, it's impolite.

“You can’t?” His voice comes out more strangled and choked than he hoped it would, breaking on the second word.

Corey makes an exaggerated pout and rolls his eyes. “Making fun of me is Astrid’s job, not yours. I hoped I had at least one friend here. I’m so hurt by your actions, you can’t even begin to understand.”

“Ah, come on, you big baby.” Hank smiles softly, and Corey smiles back, one of his downturned smiles where his lips turn into a thin line. Hank looks deeply into the other’s eyes - his left is more brown, with a ring of dark, deep shade of brown around it, and the right one is brown hazel, green and light brown merging and seeping into each other.

They sparkle and shine in the sun, like honey, crinkles appearing around them. His nose always crooks forward when he smiles, and his teeth still have braces marks.

Hank’s heart jumps up to his throat.

For a moment, he thinks about grabbing Corey’s hand. Right then, right here. It’s laying so empty against the board, mole between his pointer and middle finger, displayed so perfectly for Hank’s hand to slide over.

He doesn’t.

“What would you say…” Instead, Hank leans over to Corey, like it’s lunch and he’s about to share some juicy gossip. “If I hypothetically found a boat?”

“You didn’t.” Hank’s smile grows wider, and soon Corey has a matching one on his face. “No way, oh my- No. No you didn’t!”

Hank smiles smugly. Corey suddenly reaches over and slaps him on the head. He lets out a hiss of pain while Corey giggles.

“Where did you even find it?”

“The shed. The one by the lake.”

“When did you even go there?”

“Last night’s patrol. I told Astrid I’m going to check on the pipes.”

“We waited for you.” Corey's voice sounds almost mad, but then tries to slap him again. This time Hank ducks and falls into a fit of laughs.

It takes him a few moments to speak again.

“My parents used to take me and Kayla to a summer house for a few weeks every summer." Hank looks over to Corey, to see if he's listening. He is.

"It was just by a lake, so both me and her got a lot of swimming practice. And my dad’s friend from Quebec, Robert, he had a rental business by the lake.” Hank smiles to himself, head hung low, still nailing the board. “Kayaks, boats, you name it, he had it. And he would let us, me and Kayla, use them for free.” He turns to Corey. He’s watching Hank intently, fully focused on his words. “Sometimes he would let me or Kayla navigate the boats."

Corey nods. An amazed expression grows on his face.

"But most of the time we would get the kayaks and just paddle. I was too much of a wimp to navigate the boats alone."

“So, you can drive a boat?”

“Yup.” Hank nods.

"So..." Corey smiles downwards a little, and Hank responds with a grin of his own.



They sweet-talk Astrid over a cup of herbal tea. It’s mostly Hank, hitting all of their buttons, and Corey supporting him in the background.

Eventually, they agree, and Hank and Corey immediately fall into each other’s arms like long lost lovers. And promptly lose their balance, causing them to swing dangerously onto Hank’s side, but he manages to get them back into a vertical position.


The three of them go out to the shed the next evening. All of them are wearing lighter clothes - “If we fall into water, heavy clothing will weigh us down.” “Hank, please!” - but Astrid still has a gun tucked into their shorts’ belt.

They carry the heavy boat to the patch of sand just by the lake. Corey jumps in first, as he’s the one keeping the balance on the back. Hank and Astrid push it into the water, Astrid jumping in first and finally, Hank stepping in carefully, assisted by Astrid’s hand when the water is almost to his knees.

The boat rocks as Hank sits down, and Corey screams, holding onto the side of it. Hank laughs throatily and he keeps pushing the paddles against the muddy bottom, until he can’t touch it anymore.

“I sure do hope you didn’t lie about knowing how to navigate a boat.” Corey pants out, knuckles white with how hard he’s holding the boat. Hank and Astrid share a look and a quick snort.

Hank paddles for some time before he hands it over to Astrid. He guides them on how to move it, and when they seem to not get much of his teachings, he wraps his hands around their arms and paddles.

After a few moments, maybe minutes, maybe seconds, Hank leans forward to place a kiss on Astrid’s cheek. She turns to him with a surprised smile, and pecks him back, on the lips.

A loud groan comes from behind them. “Why am I still third-wheeling in a fucking apocalypse?”

All three of them burst into a sudden, loud round of laughter. Astrid manages to paddle them onto the middle of the lake, where the starry sky is most visible.

“The sky is so clear.” Hank whispers. It feels weird to talk outloud now, like he's invading a sacred place.

“See?” He points to the sky, fingers connecting the stars with a sparkly string, only seen by him. “That’s Draco. The dragon.” His eyes dart around the sky, knowing well the ways stars lay. “Ursa Minor. Little Bear. And Polaris. Little Bear’s brightest star.”

His finger moves further, shoulder joint cracking. “And that’s Perseus. As in the Greek hero Perseus. Monster slayer.” And something tells him to look to his right.

Astrid is looking at him with the loveliest of eyes. Eyebrows relaxed, eyelids slipping down. This must be what ‘looking at someone like they hung the stars’ means, because there are almost literal fireworks in their eyes, pure love and happiness. It quickly seeps over to Hank. Their gaze radiates comfort, a warm, fluttery feeling in Hank’s stomach.

They speak seemingly telepathically, understanding the other without words. He slowly turns his head back upright, looking at the sky. He swallows thickly, in order to not sound like an old door being opened. “Taurus constellation is near it, but you can’t see it in the summer.”

“Hey, I am a Taurus!” Corey pipes up, a big smile dancing across his face. His eyes sparkle. They look like the starry sky when he looks up, and then when he looks at Hank and Astrid. He is quick to lay his head back on Hank’s shoulder.

Hank moves his fingers further, slowly finding others, voice quieting down, syllable by syllable. “Scorpius constellation.” A warm wind washes over them, moving the boat ever so slightly. “Norma constellation. Lupus constellation. The wolf.”

He takes one of Astrid’s hands and points one of her fingers into the sky. “Sagittarius constellation. And that’s Corona Australis, at Sagittarius’ feet.”

Astrid intertwines their fingers. Hank's heart swells. Her hands are rough and dry, and she has a scar on the inside of her left palm - the one that is currently holding his. But she always holds him gently, delicately, like he's made of glass and will break at the lightest touch. They're so unbelievably different to how other people perceive them, and it's all for Hank, for him to experience and drink in and take and give.

He wants to give her the world. Corona Australis, Polar Star, all constellations and skies and galaxies. All universes, dedicated to them, because without Astrid the world isn't complete. Hank isn't complete.

He will give it to them one day. He will, he knows that, and he suspects Astrid also knows that. One day, when he finally gets enough courage and when his brain will stop getting rid of all thoughts when Astrid is in arms reach.

Astrid deserves everything and more.

He turns his head to look at them. She's looking right at him, face so close their noses almost smush together as he turns.

Hank tried to count the freckles on their face before. It always ended with Astrid moving and him losing count.

He didn't really mind starting all over again.

Astrid turns their head to the left a little bit. His lips brush theirs. Neither of them presses.

It's chaste, it's sweet, it's simple.

It's so painfully Astrid Hank might cry.

He wants it to last forever.

He hopes it will.


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