“This is Hatchetfield Action News with Dan and Donna! What began as a series of isolated incidents had escalated into what some are calling a musical riot-“
“Good god! Katelyn, do you hear this? It’s spreading faster than I theorized!”
Katelyn looked up from the news screens she had pulled up on her iPad, speaking through a mouthful of cereal. “Well, I did tell you it would.”
The radio was playing from the Alexa sitting on the edge of the counter, Bee’s housewarming present to them when they’d moved in. Aaron had shown her endless conspiracy theories when they’d first gotten it, adamant that it was ‘recording their conversations, Katelyn!’, but she had a sneaking suspicion that his bitching had less to do with Aaron actually being concerned about Jeff Bezos stealing their data, and more to do with the fact that Aaron liked to bitch about things. It was something he and his brother had in common, although they’d both deny any similarities until their dying breaths.
“Despite several reports of violence, the Hatchetfield Police have assured Channel 9 there is no cause for alarm.”
Donna’s irritatingly cheery voice cut through their kitchen, and Katelyn was vaguely tempted to let Aaron get away with destroying it like he said he’d always wanted to. But no. They were smart people. They had medical degrees and common sense, were extraordinarily well-protected, and they needed to listen to what was happening outside of the house.
Although, if she had to sit through Donna’s chirpy voice for five more minutes, Katelyn would be throwing all common sense out the window. Aaron looked close already- he was pacing the room and stress-eating Hawaiian sweet rolls, gesturing wildly as he muttered angrily.
“Because they’re part of it, Donna!”
“Nevertheless, our skittish neighbors in Clivesdale have raised the Nantucket Bridge. With the ferries down for the season and no accessible means off the island, Hatchetfield citizens are advised to stay indoors.”
Aaron threw up his hands. “Like fish in a barrel!”
Katelyn sighed, putting her iPad down just as the doorbell went off. Well, not the doorbell- the buzzer system, hooked up to speakers, that guarded the gate in the ten-foot wall around the house. They tensed, and Aaron shouldered the gun he’d assembled that morning, before pressing a button and speaking into the receiver. “Who is it?”
The cry from the other end was delighted. “Aaron!”
Katelyn watched as Aaron eyed the panel suspiciously. “Don’t lie to me! I’m Aaron. I said who is it?”
“No, Aaron, it’s me, Nicky! Andrew and Erik are with me. The whole town’s gone crazy, we didn’t know where else to go!”
Katelyn let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. “You’ve come to the right place. Hold on, we’ll let you in.”
The speakers turned off, and she shared a look with her husband. Of course she was glad Andrew was alright, and that he’d got here safely, but god knows those two hadn’t been civil in a room together without Bee there to mediate for decades.
When Nicky stumbled into the room, he collapsed into Katelyn’s arms, wrapping Aaron in a hug which he allowed, standing awkwardly stiff as he took in the tears on his cousin’s face. Wymack followed, carrying Erik between him and a redhead she didn’t recognize.
Andrew was the last in, and he barely looked at Aaron before reaching out an expectant hand for the gun, and inspecting the barrel closely.
Nicky was babbling incoherently. “We came from downtown, Neil’s coffee shop was infected and Erik- listen, this is going to sound crazy, but everyone is-“
Nicky nodded, and Aaron’s lips pressed together grimly.
“Singing and dancing, like a musical. We’ve been watching the news. They want you to join them, and once they get you, you’re a part of it.”
“Wait, so that’s what’s wrong with Erik?”
Aaron’s head snapped towards the blonde man Wymack had lain propped up against the wall. “Jesus, don’t tell me you brought one of them here! Katelyn!”
Katelyn was already crouched down, unwinding the bandages and checking the wound on Erik’s skull. Aaron rushed over, and they managed to manhandle him into a chair together while the rest of the room looked on in apprehension.
It was Riko, who spoke up next. His face twisted, and he gestured at the German, who’s head lolled back. “So he’s gone. What, we’re just going to keep him here, where he can infect us, too? I told you we should have left him in the alley!” His eyes scanned the room, skimming right over Nicky’s fury. “Andrew’s got the gun. I say we shoot him.”
“You’re a monster, Riko!”
The man whirled on Nicky. “No, you idiot. He’s a monster! And I’d like to get out of this alive!”
Aaron snatched his gun back from Andrew, when he was sure Erik was firmly secured to the chair with the police-issue handcuffs he’d had on his belt. Andrew merely gazed back calmly, not even blinking as the redhead- Neil, she presumed- touched his sleeve lightly.
“Make sure he’s secure. There’s no telling what would happen if he were awake and loose.”
Aaron’s words were bitter, anger showing through, but Katelyn knew how much this was affecting him. Sure, he’d taken too long to accept Erik and Nicky’s relationship back when he was young and didn’t know better, but he knew how much his cousin cared about the man, and they’d spent Christmases and birthdays and thanksgivings together for the last ten years. He was doing what he always did, lashing out and being abrasive to hide how vulnerable he was feeling. He and Andrew were similar in that way.
She placed a soothing hand on his arm as he placed down the gun, which he shrugged off as he pulled on some latex gloves. Together, they inspected the wound with masks on and sterile tools, before Katelyn carefully placed a sample of the blue leaking from his head into a Petri dish.
She focused a harsh light on it, holding the dish up so they could inspect it properly. “Now, tell me, what does that look like to you?”
Her words were quiet, but Aaron responded loudly enough for the room to hear. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
Wymack cleared his throat. “You all remember that meteor that crashed into the Starlight Theatre last night?”
Katelyn pondered this as she prodded the blue slime. They’d run full tests on it later, in their kitchen with latex gloves and cheap surgical masks, wishing they were back in their sterile hospitals. “I think it carried a deadly cargo, that meteor. A contagious pathogen of cosmic origin.”
Neil spoke up for the first time, voice disbelieving. “What, you mean aliens?”
Aaron glared at him. “Why is that so hard to believe?”
The man shook his head, an almost smile gracing his delicate features. “No reason. I guess I’m just finding it hard to believe that after a lifetime of people trying to kill me, what’s finally gonna do me in is fucking aliens.”
There was an awkward pause in the room, Wymack looking vaguely appalled while Riko narrowed his eyes in suspicion. The man seemed to realise what he’d said, quickly looking away from Aaron and leaning closer to Andrew, who wasn’t forthcoming with information about who the redhead was, even though Katelyn recognised the rest of their coworkers from Nicky’s constant gossip, so she turned back to studying the blue under a microscope they’d stolen from the hospital.
In the background, she could see Andrew and Aaron staring at each other, stuck in some sort of ridiculous stand-off, until Andrew broke it off to glare at Neil. The man suppressed a smile, clearly unaffected by a glare many other, Katelyn included, ad cowered before. Andrew scowled at him, then turned back to Aaron.
“Do you have alcohol.”
She couldn’t see Aaron’s face from here, but she could almost perfectly picture the disgust on his face as he spoke. “Andrew, for the last few years I have been stockpiling the barest essentials for human survival in the event of an apocalypse. Of course I fucking have alcohol.”
Nicky’s jeans scuffed against the carpet where he knelt next to Erik. Katelyn and Aaron were examining the blue slime, and Andrew was ignoring them while he drank whisky in the kitchen, leaving Nicky alone in the living room with his murderous husband.
He hadn’t prayed in ages. Too long, his mother would tut, but then he’d never really subscribed to Maria Hemmick’s particular brand of Catholicism anyway. He’d spent sixteen years kneeling next to his father every night while they prayed together, sixteen years of itchy suits for Sunday sermons, sixteen years of desperately praying to the God his parents so adamantly believed in to change him, to fix him.
If he was more cynical, he’d say that God had never done anything for him. He’d been seventeen, suicidal and disowned, begging desperately to a higher power that never seemed to listen to fix him- but Nicky was an optimist at heart. God had given him the twins, even if they were complete assholes, and God had given him Erik, lovely, gorgeous, could-lift-Nicky-like-he-was-a-feather Erik. Erik who’d seen through Nicky’s blinding smiles, and had helped the desperately guilty boy underneath understand what real happiness was.
So God had been kind to Nicky, even if it wasn’t the God his parents had taught him about.
But now here he was, hunkering down in a bunker in the fucking apocalypse, praying next to his husband, who was handcuffed to a chair.
Hey, God. He’d never really believed in the stiff formalities of his family’s prayers. It’s me, Nicholas. You just gotta know... I didn’t want any of this to happen. I love Erik, and I know we’ve had our problems recently, but I don’t know what i do without him. Please, just let him wake up. Just let him wake up!
When he opened his eyes, the room was still silent. His jeans were still scuffed, his husband was still tied to a chair.
Nicky scoffed, and leaned his head back against Aaron’s sofa. What had he been expecting? He sat like that for maybe five minutes, listening through the wall as Riko tried to simultaneously flirt with Katelyn and try and tell her that she wasn’t using the correct method of handling her test tubes, before even that went quiet.
He’d shut his eyes again, trying to fall asleep, maybe, when he heard it. The voice was quiet, barely a rasp, but it was undeniably there.
His eyes snapped open, watching in awe and horror as Erik blinked at him in confusion.
“Where am I? Why am I tied to a chair?”
He pulled at his handcuffs, staring imploringly at Nicky, who gulped.
“Um, it’s for your own safety, Erik. And ours... you’re not well.”
Erik shook his head, seemingly noticing for the fist time the gaping hole in his head.
“Nicky, baby, I’m hurt real bad. I need a doctor.”
Right. Yes, that was sensible. Katelyn and Aaron could help him, and Andrew would know what to do.
“Um, I’ll go get Aaron-“
The ferocity of the word startled him. Erik was a big guy, the kind of guy who looked like he could take half a village in a fight, but he’d never so much as raised his voice near Nicky. He shrank away slightly, but then Erik flashed him a blinding smile, and Nicky melted.
“They left me here to die, Nicky. Only you can help me, baby. Untie me, and we’ll leave here. Together.”
And that smile, what Nicky wouldn’t do for that smile. He would have done whatever Erik said right there, consequences be damned, but then he started singing, and Nicky was horribly reminded of just exactly where they were.
“I’m tied up, Nicky. Tied up with you!” Erik lolled his head towards him, grinning, and Nicky backed away from the sight of just how little human there was left in him.
“No, please don’t do that, don’t sing.”
“You understand me, baby. Hand me those keys- the keys to our youth. God! We were young once- innocent and fun once, and free! Let go of this grip of me, because you tied up my heart!”
Erik pulled at the handcuffs, shuffling the chair ever closer to where Nicky was backed against the sofa, and grinned.
“You tied up my heart, you tied me down, now break me open! With your love and mercy.”
Nicky gulped, his body slowly inching closer, hips swaying no matter how much he willed them to stop. Surely, Erik wouldn’t hurt him.
“You’re breaking my heart, babe, got my feet to the fire, just let me go, and I’ll love you-“
“I- I love you too, Erik, but I- I can’t let you go-“
He protested, but they could both hear how weak it was.
Erik cocked his head, and pouted cheekily. “Don’t you trust me?”
Nicky couldn’t help but nod, and Erik got to his feet wobbily, hands still bound to the chair. “Please take away my pain, Nicky! Let me hold you again, babe, just free up my arms, and free up my heart!”
And suddenly, Nicky could hear the music.
He swayed towards Erik, the voices calling angelically from seemingly nowhere.
“Untie me now, now break me open, with your love and mercy!”
Nicky was lost in the music, and he barely heard Erik as he said something else. He didn’t even notice his husband until Erik collapsed, the chair toppling over him as he coughed on the floor, and all of a sudden the voices stopped, and Nicky was very much back in the present.
He shook the man, gripping his shoulder. “No, no, Erik, wake up, you’ll be alright! Just hold on!” Hands shaking, he fumbled with the key ring, unlocking the handcuffs binding Erik to the chair and reaching to check for a pulse.
There wasn’t one. He stared, blankly, and then-“
“Nicky!” Erik sung, springing up as if he’d never been hurt at all. He held up his hands, grinning down at him triumphantly.
“You’ve brought me back from the dead, babe! My light was in red, I saw God, and he told me boy, to free up my heart!”
The voices were back, and Nicky inched towards him.
“Untie me now, now break me open, with your love and mercy!”
He reached Erik, and collapsed into his arms, unable to do anything but smile stupidly and bask in the music. In the back of his mind, he could hear Erik’s voice, but it hardly seemed important, when the notes flowed over him like a wave.
“Now I’m gonna free up your heart, baby.”
The last thing Nicky registered before it all went hazy was a sharp pain in his gut, and Erik’s manic grin, and then all he could focus on was the music.