Recipient: cathybites
Author: thalassatx
Pairing: Sean/Viggo
Rating: PG


It had been two years since the Superflu had swept the earth clean of about 90% of her population. The environment was rebounding, but the humans weren't coping as well. Humans are social animals, for the most part, and loneliness, along with the inability to cope with hardship, killed another half of the remaining ten percent.

Viggo had escaped LA when he'd seen things were getting out of control. He'd driven as far as he could, before he'd had to abandon the truck and set out on foot. The highways were clogged with cars that had run out of gas, or that had dead drivers still sitting at the wheel. Viggo stopped looking at them after a few days. They were just monuments to a life that had passed, now.

After a week of walking, he'd come across a large ranch, full of curious horses who wondered where their master had gone. They had plenty of pasture, and clean creeks and ponds, so they were healthy, but they welcomed Viggo and his soft voice and gentle hands all the same.

He'd found their master moldering in his upstairs bedroom, so Viggo had spread a blanket over him and said a short prayer, then availed himself of the downstairs and the canned foods the rancher had so carefully put away for the future. He'd stayed for a few days, opening every gate between pastures, and examining the horses, until he'd decided on three that would serve his purpose well. He left the ranch behind the next morning, with the rest of the horses free to live as nature intended.

Sean had barely escaped New York City with his life. When the electricity had failed and the people had realized that most of their friends were dead or dying, they'd panicked. The bridges leaving the city were scenes of rioting and fear, and more than one had met their death in the unforgiving waters below after an altercation. Sean had kept his hat pulled down and hands in his pockets, and he'd relentlessly walked, trying to avoid others as best he could. He had no idea who was alive and who wasn't, but he knew there was no way back to England, and he had to get to a place he knew.

He met up with a hungry Irish Setter somewhere outside the city, and he named him Guinness. The dog was grateful for the beef jerky Sean took from an abandoned convenience store, and so he followed him. He gave Sean someone to protect, and someone to talk to. Before long, Sean had gotten a shopping trolley from a store, then found a sporting goods store that hadn't been completely ransacked. He salvaged a sleeping bag and a tent, along with a rifle. If he had to hunt to survive, he could do it, albeit with regret.

Viggo made the ranch in Idaho before winter, thanks to the horses. He'd gone to his brother's house first, and had buried the bodies he found there with reverence. He buried them deep, to prevent the coyotes and the wolves from scavenging, even though he knew it was the way of nature to survive. He'd be helping those creatures this winter by hunting and putting out the inedible parts for them, so he didn't feel too guilty.

TJ and Uraeus were thin, but they whinnied plaintively at the sight of their friend. Viggo slid from one of the new horses and went to them, hugging each one and burying his face in their manes. "I'm back, for good," he told each one, promising them a good grooming and a good feed. The first thing he did was climb up into the loft and shovel down more hay, then go into the storeroom for oats. The barn needed a serious mucking out, but that could wait for him to get some rest.

His house was musty and stale, and he opened the windows to air it. He'd have to go back to his brother's to retrieve canned foods and more blankets and wood before the real cold set in, but for now, all he wanted was a good night's sleep in his own bed.

Sean had been lucky. He'd found a small farmhouse with a fireplace and a huge supply of wood just before the first big snow. He and Guinness moved in, and he was surprised that there were no bodies to be moved. Every other house they'd tried had still had inhabitants. This house appeared to have been owned by a widow. Her mail lay on the table next to her chair, and there were pictures of a couple dressed in clothes from the sixties around the house, but no evidence that a man had lived there recently. Maybe she'd left then, before the flu got too bad. He hoped so, at least.

He missed his daughters terribly, and wondered what had become of them. He'd spoken to them shortly before the lines all went down, and Evie had been coughing. He supposed he knew what became of them, but he pushed that to the back of his mind.

He built fires and heated up canned beans for himself and Guinness. The dog cuddled next to him when he slept next to the hearth, and they stayed for several weeks, until he thought it was safe to move on. He'd found an atlas of the US early in his travels, and he marked carefully each town they'd passed through. He met few other people, and the ones he'd seen had been wary, so he'd learned to avoid them.

He had a long road ahead of him, but there didn't seem to be any good transportation. Here in the Midwest, people had kept their animals in safe stables, where they'd died of starvation after the humans were gone. Cars and motorcycles were out of the question, because there was no way to pump gas. So Sean faced a long walk, and as soon as he saw buds on the trees, he packed his shopping trolley with non-perishable food, and some other supplies, and headed west once more.

Viggo had a good summer. His five horses were growing fat off the grass and the seedlings that came up in the fields, and he'd gotten very good at hunting again. He fished as well, in a clear running stream only about a mile from his house, and he worked on his art in the evenings by the light of a lantern. He talked to the horses, and the trees, and the stars, and he told them of friends and lovers lost, but he wasn't as lonely as he'd feared. Perhaps he was a little mad, but in the firelight at night he'd talk to the ones not there, and tell them of his day.

One morning early, while he mucked out the stalls, he heard a noise behind him and he turned to see a black and tan coonhound watching him. He smiled at the dog, and put the pitchfork aside. The dog walked up to him, then sat and raised his right paw for a shake. Viggo laughed and knelt, taking the offered paw gravely. "How are you, friend? I'm Viggo." The dog stayed, and Viggo kept calling him Friend. It seemed to fit him.

When autumn came, Sean was weary and footsore, but his goal was within reach, he believed. He'd passed into Idaho according to the sign on the road he was walking, and Guinness had gotten a good petting. Sean was tired of walking, and more than once he'd thought to just stop and make his home where he found himself, but something kept calling him. He didn't expect to find Viggo at the ranch, but he'd find something he could call home, nonetheless.

Snows came early here, and Sean often pitched his tent in the lee of a stand of trees, bringing Guinness in so they could huddle together and try to shut out the cold of the biting wind. He had a cough that he feared would worsen, but he had some cold medicine he'd picked up from the near-empty shelves of a pharmacy back in Wyoming.

He had to abandon the cart a few days after that. It was impossible to push it in the snow, so he strapped what he could onto his back, and wrapped the extra blankets around himself. Guinness had sore paws, and he whined, but Sean could do nothing to help him other than rub them at night and try to keep them from being frostbitten. Eventually, Sean looked at the dog with disappointment. "I think we're close, but we won't make it this winter. I promise, the next farm we find, we'll stay 'til spring, yeah?" The dog whimpered and lay his head on Sean's knee, looking up at him adoringly.

Viggo rode out with his shotgun. Callie, one of the mares he'd gotten in California, wasn't gun-shy, so he always took her when it was time to hunt. She'd stay quiet and if he had to shoot from her back, she didn't jump from the sound. He suspected she was nearly deaf, but that worked out well for him when he needed to bring down a deer. The sky looked leaden, as if a blizzard could come soon, and he needed to get a good supply of meat. He'd get a deer and clean it in the woods, then drape the carcass over the horse's back for transport back to the house.

As he rode, he glanced towards his brother's old house, and he reined in Callie. "Whoa girl. Something's up over there." Friend looked back at him in annoyance. He'd been loafing up ahead, sniffing out rabbits. "Come on, old man," Viggo called to him, and he turned towards the house. He'd seen smoke spiraling up from the chimney.

Sean huddled in front of the fire, his face full of misery. Guinness had suffered more than he'd thought. One paw had gone nearly lame, and when Sean examined it, he found cracks going through the pads. This house had been the closest place he could carry the big dog to, and luckily he'd found healing salves, but the dog was miserable and had even snapped at Sean when he'd tried to treat him. "I'm sorry, boyo," he apologized. "We'll stay here until you're all healed up, I promise. I'm so sorry." He feared he'd have to put his only companion out of his misery soon, and he dreaded the loneliness without him.

When the door opened, Sean whirled, eyes wary. Had he intruded on someone else's squat? Would this be some crazy mountain man set to eliminate strangers?

Viggo froze in the doorway, unable to believe his eyes. "Sean?" he whispered hoarsely.

Sean stood looking at him, and Guinness dragged himself to his feet and growled at the stranger before Sean put his hand on the dog's head. "It's all right, boy. It's who we came here to find."

He stepped into Viggo's hug, wrapping too-thin arms around his waist and burying his face in Viggo's shoulder. Viggo held him tight, still almost unable to believe that Sean had come.

"Sean" he asked with a shaking voice. "How'd you get here? Where'd you come from?" The dogs were sniffing at one another, and at the strange men, then both went back to the fireplace to lie down.

Sean looked up with liquid green eyes, and shook his head. "It's too long of a story. This isn't your place, Viggo," he said, glancing around again. "Where are we? And how did you find us?"

Viggo guided Sean to a sofa, then sat down with him, still holding him close, as if to reassure himself that this wasn't an illusion. "It was my brother's house. When I saw smoke, I came to investigate. My place is a couple of miles on down the road." He leaned over and kissed Sean's temple. "It's so fucking good to see you."

Sean laughed through his tears. "I told Guinness we had to be close, but he's hurt, Vig. He can't walk any farther."

Viggo took notice of the exhausted Setter, then moved down to examine him. His voice was soft and gentle, and the dog looked at him with trusting eyes as Viggo carefully took his paws. "We'll fix you up, boy," he said, stroking the long red hair away from the dog's face before turning back to Sean. "Can you hold him on a horse?"

Sean nodded gratefully, and Viggo picked up the dog, then led Sean outside. "Up you go," he instructed, and after Sean was settled into the saddle, he handed the dog up to him. "Come on." He took Callie's reins in his own hands and led them up the trail to home.

Back at his own place, he checked the fire under the makeshift water heater, then fixed Sean a bath in the clawfoot tub. "You get in there and soak. I'll tend to your dog."

Sean looked at him gratefully. "His name is Guinness." Viggo's face broke into a grin. "Just like you to name him after alcohol."

After Viggo had treated the dog's paws and given him some canned food, he peeked in to see how Sean was doing. The man was sound asleep, head lolling onto his chest. Viggo took in the sight of his upper body, far too skinny, and went into the living room to heat up some venison stew. After he built up the fire, he came back to the door. "Hey, food's almost ready. Better get dressed."

Sean roused and blinked blearily. "Food?"

Viggo smiled at him. "Yeah, good food. I put some jeans and a shirt there by the tub. Socks, too. Get dressed and I'll get you fed."

Sean looked like a vagrant as he padded into the kitchen. Viggo had big bowls of stew on the table, along with some homemade bread. He'd gotten very good at self-sufficiency, and Sean was more than happy to reap the benefits. His hair was long and tangled, and Viggo's clothes hung on him loosely, but he sat down and began shoveling in the food so quickly that Viggo had to warn him to slow down. "Be careful, there. Don't make yourself sick on it."

After eating, Sean sat in the floor in front of Viggo so Vig could try to work out the worst of the knots and mats, but he finally had to resort to scissors. Guinness lay with his head on Sean's knee, paws bandaged. Viggo had explained that he used a bad smelling salve that the dog wouldn't want to chew, and so far, it seemed to be working.

Sean told Viggo about his journey, how he'd found the dog, and how the two of them had comforted one another. Viggo told him about the horses and how Friend had come to join him, then the two men fell silent for awhile. "I guess me girls are dead," Sean said softly.

Viggo shook his head. "We don't know that. I mean, I thought you were, but here you are. Henry was at college. I kept hoping he'd make it up here, but he hasn't. Yet." His voice still held some faint hope, even though his mind had long given up on it.

Sean turned and put his hand on Viggo's knee. "Yeah, maybe he's still walking."

They both knew Henry had only been a couple of hundred miles away.

The men watched the flames until it was dark outside, then Viggo stood and stretched. "I've got to get out early tomorrow," he said. "I was going deer hunting today when I found you." He smiled warmly at Sean. "I usually sleep here on the couch, because of the fireplace, but you can have it, and I'll use your sleeping bag."

Sean chuckled softly. "That bag's had better days, Vig. What if we just made a big pallet on the floor?"

Viggo nodded. "I'd like that. Haven't had a sleepover with you in years."

Sean laughed then, and got to his feet. The two of them dragged the mattress from Viggo's bedroom into the den, and piled it with pillows and blankets, in case the fire went down in the night. They got settled, and each one's dog made himself comfortable on his master's side of it, but Sean couldn't sleep. He lay there, listening to the crackle of the logs, and to Viggo's steady breathing. After awhile, he whispered, "Vig?"

Viggo's voice answered right away. "Yeah?"

Sean turned on his side, facing him. "Were you scared?"

Viggo nodded, closing his eyes. "Very scared. Shit, I'm still scared."

Sean scooted over closer. "Me too."

Viggo wrapped his arm around Sean's shoulder and let him snuggle in. "It's better now. You're here. You're safe." Sean tentatively put his hand on Viggo's stomach, then slid it over so he was holding him around the waist. He fell asleep that way, warmer than he'd felt since his world came crashing down.


Concept created by Megolas in 2002
Fabulous artwork ©2002 by Hope.
Moderated since 2004 by MSilverstar and yueni.
Site revised ©2006 by yueni