until you can’t feel the breath in your lungs

by renegadekarma

Even after all the deaths she’d witnessed, the years on the run, the constant fear that had buried its way somewhere deep in her bones, she was still a hopeless romantic.

“I once thought that I’d marry for love.”

“If the priest isn’t here yet, I swear I’m going to go bride-zombie on someone and it won’t be pretty.”

Tatiana Penvrane sat cross-legged on a stool in the back room of a church, scowling at the dark curtains that shielded the windows. Getting married these days was a struggle; with zombies on the loose everywhere it was awfully hard to go out wedding dress shopping or cake tasting, dreams that she’d had long since before anything resembling this zombie virus had existed. Dreams that she’d long since decided could never be realized in this life, as much as she’d wanted them to be.

Josephine Penvrane glanced away from the door distractedly and clucked her tongue at her daughter. “You’re messing up your dress.”

The brunette glanced down at what she was wearing. Considering that no one anywhere around had any of their old belongings, including wedding dresses (being on the run from zombies tended to bring a host of problems, often in the fashion department), the brunette had had to make do with something that her mother had fashioned out of a tablecloth. Reluctantly, she stood from the stool, sighing as she leaned against the peeling paint of the wall. “I wish Daniel was here,” she added suddenly, scratching her nail faintly against the wall as she averted her gaze.

Her mother looked pained, glancing back toward the door. “And your father too?”

Tatiana merely nodded, sighing slightly and tucking a lock of chocolate hair behind her ear. “I can’t believe they’re missing my wedding.”

Her mother let out a small huff, although there was more melancholy in her tone than annoyance. “Well, it’s not as if they have a choice.”

The young woman was leaving out the rather important fact that zombies had seized her father and taken her brother as well when he’d rushed out to save Orion – and just like that, she’d lost two of the most important men in her life. If nothing else, she was reminded of them today when she realized that there was no one to walk her down the aisle. She was marrying the third most important man, after all.

Marriage in these times, Tatiana had reflected, was rarely based on love. It was formal and purposeful – after all, their population numbers were dwindling, and they needed more forces to help them fight off the zombies. So when Easton had asked her to marry him, she’d agreed – even if she was still in love with someone else.

“He’s been missing for a year, Tatty,” Josie said sharply, and the brunette glanced up suddenly in surprise and then shame, embarrassed that her expression had given away what she’d been thinking about.

“He could still be alive,” she murmured softly.

“We don’t know that for sure.” Josie pursed her lips and closed the door by leaning against it. “Marry Easton. He’s alive, he cares for you, and it’s a shot at happiness.”

“A shot in the dark,” the brunette murmured, tugging at a loose seam on her dress with her fingernail mutinously. Perhaps she was being flippant, but she didn’t care. She did appreciate East; he was, after all, one of her closest friends, but she didn’t want to necessarily marry him. Even after all the deaths she’d witnessed, the years on the run, the constant fear that had buried its way somewhere deep in her bones, she was still a hopeless romantic. “I once thought that I’d marry for love.”

“We don’t have that luxury.” Josie appeared to be about to say something else when there were voices on the other side of the door, and she opened it again and peeked out. “They have the priest,” she explained with some degree of relief although she paused and then frowned. “This is a new man. Did the older one get… turned?” She mused aloud and then collected herself, shaking off this thought and then turning to her daughter. She smoothed over the tablecloth dress on her daughter’s shoulder, blinking back tears, and then nodded. “You’re ready.” Planting a swift kiss on her daughter’s forehead, she at last pushed open the doors and stepped aside.

They had no veils anymore, nor living flowers. Tatiana tried to think about the last time that she’d seen one. So instead, she walked down the aisle herself, her hands clasped together with only air between her fingers, back very straight, toward her groom.

What she was standing in might have been a church, but now it could barely be called one. The stained glass windows had broken and been covered by dusty old rags instead, while most of the benches were shredded and crushed. A scant gathering of people was perched on what was left of the benches; Seren, her face grim (she’d lost her own husband only a month back), Chastity, flashing a half-hearted grin her direction, and Benjamin, whose curls had lost their bounce and now hung limply around his head.

She started forward, toward the hasty priest and Easton who was waiting expectantly at the front. Tatiana raised her head high and she marched like a soldier. She reached the front and took the hand of the man across from her, sparing him a small nod, her lips curving up ever so slightly. The priest took this as the cue to begin and began reciting the speech Tatiana was so used to hearing at this point, and the brunette allowed her mind to wander until a certain line caught her attention.

“If anyone has any objections to this union, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

She opened her mouth and then closed it, but to her surprise – someone else spoke. “I object.”

Hazel eyes darted quickly to her mother and the scant three people in attendance, all of whom looked as confused as she was. She turned toward the door and then gaped.

“You’re not dead?”

William Shimizuno grinned crookedly at her. “Not in the slightest.”

“You were missing for a year!” She dropped Easton’s hands and stepped away from the front and toward the door, her steps quick and then furious as she approached him. He reached out, perhaps for a hug, but she shoved him back instead. “Where the hell have you been?”

“Hiding from zombies! Surviving. What have you been doing?” He glanced past her and then back at her. “You can’t be getting married already. Your groom just arrived.”

Tatiana scowled and then gaped at him. “Was that a proposal?”

He shrugged somewhat loftily, but there was a gleam in his dark eyes. “If you want it to be.”

She glanced back at East suddenly her throat dry. He lifted his hands up, an expression of mock surrender, and she turned back to Will vaguely murderously and considered shoving him. Instead, she nodded and then tugged him to the front with her. “We’ll talk about your tardiness later,” she hissed at him, although she couldn’t help her lips from curving up slightly just at the sight of him for the first time in a year.

The priest looked pained to be starting his speech over again, but the brunette pinned him with a glare and he started, clearing his throat and beginning.

When vows were exchanged and all was said and done and she was married to a man they’d assumed was dead, she turned to him expectantly, raising an eyebrow.

He anticipated her question before she asked it. “I ran off when they ransacked my house and hopped a train to Scotland and researched the zombie virus for a year to find a cure before I decided that it was safe enough back here to return.”

“You left me here,” Tatiana replied ruefully. “I was going to marry someone else, and my father and brother are dead, and it’s still not safe.”

“I’ve picked up a few tricks on how to fight them off along the way,” Will returned. “You’re safe now. I promise.” He seemed to pick up on what she’d said and then frowned. “Your Dad and Daniel are dead?”

“Yes. All I’ve got left is my mother –“

Seren screamed.

Tatiana whipped around to see the one stained glass window that was intact shatter, and then the front door burst open and the zombies poured in. She felt Will’s hand grip her arm suddenly, tugging her backward as he yelled, “GET AWAY FROM THE DOOR.”

She was well aware that once a person became a zombie, once it was something that took hold, there was nothing human about them. They no longer recognized those who they’d known when they’d lived a human life – but Tatiana was now thinking otherwise. The zombie at the front was her brother, and he was descending fast toward her mother.

Josephine Penvrane was no longer a young woman, and nor was she a completely fit one. The same attack that had taken her husband and her son had broken her leg, and without magic or wands (for they’d all stopped working when the zombie apocalypse had started) it had healed crookedly and was still tender. She began hobbling away quickly, but her zombie son was faster as he followed her.

Tatiana was vaguely aware of herself screaming herself hoarse for her mother but then her friends were running past her for the other door, the priest following suit quickly, and she felt Will’s arms around her waist dragging her backwards while she screamed. The zombies overtook her mother, and soon she was surrounded by them as they seemed to pile on top of her.

At some point, Tatiana recovered her wits enough to realize that her mother was gone – but it wasn’t time to mourn her when they were still in danger. The door behind her was open, the path free of zombies. She was young and fit, and she still had will in her to survive.

So, hitching up her wedding dress, she turned and ran, leaving behind the last person who was left of her old family and running off with the first member of her new one.