Chapter 1: it was the worst of times
“Hey, hey, Akaashi.”
Keiji turned his head, already getting used to Bokuto’s turn of phrase for all that they’d only met yesterday. Hey, hey, Akaashi. He’d probably start hearing it in his dreams soon if they continued on together.
That wasn’t a bad thing. The things he heard in his dreams these days were a lot darker than they used to be.
“What is it?” he asked.
Something flew—a stick of deodorant, tossed towards him. They were in an abandoned convenience store, surrounded by a mess of overturned shelves and scattered products. It was better stocked than any of the stores Keiji had crawled through when he was on his own, half-starved and desperate for scraps.
Of course, food was the one thing this shop lacked, thanks to looters who’d come before; everything they’d found so far had been hidden well, jammed beneath fallen cases or disguised among nonessentials. A freezer box was filled with melted ice cream, smelling of sugar and decay when they made the mistake of opening it.
Keiji caught the deodorant one-handed before looking up at Bokuto. Bokuto was grinning.
“You said you missed things smelling good.”
Had he said that? He’d complained about the stench, maybe, but not about this. He pulled the neck of his ratty T-shirt aside and used the deodorant anyway, smelling his armpit after. His nose wrinkled. Now he smelled like death and a mild blend of manly spices. It wasn’t an improvement.
“Come on, don’t look like that! We’ll find a working tap soon. You can get all cleaned up.”
Keiji looked down at the water bottles hooked onto his belt. They were almost empty. Bokuto was wearing his backpack with the water filter now, Keiji’s body light without the weight of that pack, and if they didn’t get to use that filter soon their situation would be dire.
Bokuto’s grin didn’t acknowledge the danger; it said they were just hanging out, as if they’d met before the world went south, as if he hadn’t saved Keiji’s life hours ago, soon after they’d met in a Tokyo alleyway.
Bokuto’s grin said this was all one big adventure, and they’d make it through somehow.
“Do you want some?” Keiji asked, tossing the deodorant back. He thought he might be able to find some more food if he could crawl under one of the upturned shelves.
“Depends. Does it help?”
“Not at all.”
Keiji suppressed a snort when he saw—from his peripheral vision as he searched through scattered stock—Bokuto smelling the deodorant and accidentally bumping his nose against the stick. Bokuto jumped and held the thing at a distance as if it had attacked him, and Keiji bit his lip against laughter.
Being with Bokuto made Keiji feel just a tiny bit more human. Perhaps it was only amusement at another’s expense, but the tiny thread of laughter he felt watching Bokuto’s antics made his whole body feel looser, his mind less close to being unhinged. The silence and terror of traversing corpse-littered Tokyo alone had made a part of him disconnect until his mind felt all animal.
The strange boy who’d greeted him like a long-lost friend was beginning to tempt that part back.
“We might have to risk the river water eventually,” Keiji said, his stomach tight with nerves at the thought of it. He knew corpses and infected had fallen in the river—but they were almost out of water, and even if the filter they had was rudimentary it had to be better than dying of thirst.
The infection probably spreads person to person, he reminded himself, though the safety of drinking from the river wasn’t the only fear in his mind at the thought of approaching that great body of water. It was too open; both infected and uninfected would be able to spot them, and though the former seemed to lack the processing power of uninfected humans, they weren’t blind to their prey. The latter category terrified him, but in a different way. There had been evacuations, orderly conduct, organizations hell-bent on saving as many people as they could—but chaos was rampant in those early days, and not everyone could make it to a group of uninfected.
Many had not dealt well with being left behind. They were angry, or mad—literally mad. In his university dormitory with no friends to rely on, Keiji had gone through stages—disbelief, anger, terror that could have driven him out the window if not for the thought that his family might still be alive, and the thought that three years in medical school might count for something in humanity’s fight for survival. That pure intent had faded after he left his dormitory, when his mind had narrowed to placing one foot in front of the other.
He’d been alone for weeks now, and every day in this place felt like forever.
“Let’s not give up yet,” Bokuto said. “The river’s the wrong way. You need to go home, right?”
That was the other thing: when Keiji had said he wanted to make his way home, Bokuto had agreed—as if it didn’t matter where they went. He hadn’t said we should look for a community or there’s probably nothing there anymore.
He’d just asked which way.
“Yeah,” Keiji said, and a moment later he spotted a half-crushed energy bar. He held it up triumphantly; Bokuto snatched it from his fingers, put it in his pack.
“For later,” Bokuto said, though Keiji had heard his stomach rumble earlier. “We’ll feast.”
Keiji doubted that their meager haul would amount to a feast—but he appreciated the sentiment.
That day they covered more distance than Keiji ever had on his own. On his own, every rush from building to building was preceded by long minutes of vigilance to make sure the coast was clear and followed by longer minutes of taking deep breaths and reminding himself he was alive. On the first day of travel, after deciding to leave his university building and make his way to the neighbourhood where his family lived, he’d only gotten to the next building over.
That night he’d shaken rather than slept.
With Bokuto tugging at his sleeve and mumbling assurances—to Keiji or to himself, Keiji didn’t know—everything was easier, even if Bokuto’s occasional loudness made Keiji fear for his life more than once. Thankfully Bokuto was being a lot quieter since yesterday afternoon when his loud, rambunctious greetings had almost gotten them killed.
He’d also saved the day, dispatching of infected with ruthless efficiency, so Keiji figured he’d made up for it.
“We should sleep here,” Keiji said, when the next building on their careful journey from the center of Tokyo to the outskirts turned out to be a hotel. He wasn’t sure whether to be reassured or disturbed by the fact that the corpses in the lobby were mostly bone; how long ago had those corpses been picked clean? If it was recent, the infected who’d ravaged them might still be here, hungry for more. If it was long ago, they’d likely move on to the next feast.
There were enough corpses in the city to feed the infected for months, though they never stopped hunting living prey.
Bokuto seemed not to notice the corpses. “Upstairs?” he asked.
Keiji swallowed. The glass doors to the hotel were shattered, so anything could come at them from the street—but anything could come at them from upstairs too.
Given a choice, though, he’d rather sleep in a bedroom than a hotel kitchen.
“Upstairs, if that’s okay with you.”
They made their grueling way upstairs, checking doors, waiting for painful minutes to hear the shuffle of infected feet. There was no sound; only their own breathing.
Keiji tried to calm his racing heart as they walked down a lushly carpeted hallway, Bokuto in front with his arms wide as if he was going to challenge the infected by being bigger than them. There was still no sound beyond their own—until there was.
A loud bang as they passed a closed door caused Keiji’s heart to jump into his throat.
Oh god oh god oh god oh god—
Bokuto peered at the door for a moment, eyes curious rather than terrified. His head tilted to the side.
“It’s locked in,” he said. “It can’t get to us.”
The banging sounded like someone throwing themselves against the door repeatedly, full-strength, and Keiji had a feeling that was exactly what it was. “Are you sure it knows that?” he asked.
For a moment Bokuto looked surprised, and then a delighted smile pulled at his lips. “Akaashi! Did you just make a joke? You can make jokes?”
Keiji already regretted his comment. “Please don’t make a big deal out of it.”
“If it hasn’t gotten through yet, it probably won’t,” Bokuto said, looking at the door’s frame. It did look very solid. “Our footsteps woke it up. It’ll run out of energy soon.”
Keiji’s nose wrinkled. He’d seen the feeding habits of infected, but he’d only ever seen them on the move. The thought that they could be woken up meant that they slept, and somehow that was almost more terrifying than shuffling mindless creatures; it meant they could lie still until woken.
That is not dead which can eternal lie…
It meant he could have stumbled across one and been surprised.
“Oh, but I don’t think they use it tactically or anything,” Bokuto said, seeing Keiji’s expression. “We’ll be fine as long as we knock. The dormant ones always do that thing where they storm the door once they hear noise.”
Great. Etiquette amongst the undead.
They continued past more closed doors until they came by one that was ajar, propped open by its own lock. Bokuto knocked, and Keiji braced himself.
Bokuto pushed the door open bit by bit, revealing a generic hotel room: a door on the left, a coatrack on the right, beds and desk ahead and a half-open suitcase in a mess on the floor. So far so good. They knocked on the bathroom door, and again no slamming noises greeted them.
The room was clear.
Keiji could have wept with relief as he sat down on one of the beds, unbuckling his belt to get at the water bottles. His muscles were twitching the way they always did when he found temporary safety. Bokuto slapped his back.
“Not so bad, hey?”
Keiji nodded, trying not to actually weep with relief. Before this he’d been alone; it was strange to hide his reactions again. He heard Bokuto move into the bathroom, some banging noises, and then:
Keiji jumped up, panicked—and then more sounds told him Bokuto was laughing, and there was a sound of water running: a working tap.
“This hotel has its own water supply! Let’s use your filter.”
Again tears threatened. None of the other places had had water, or power. He grabbed the bag and brought Bokuto both the filter and the bottles, not sharing the fact that the filter might not be enough to protect from pathogenic E. coli, let alone whatever had turned people into mindless hunters. There were a thousand things he wished he’d researched before the internet became a thing of the past; water purification was one of those things.
They filled the bottles, and then their eyes rose—as one—to the western-style shower stall.
“Do you think…?” Bokuto asked, voice almost reverent.
Keiji’s stomach was tight with desire. “I don’t know.”
They looked for a moment longer.
“It would be a waste of water,” Keiji said, imagining clean water against his skin, washing away weeks of fear-sweat.
“We don’t know how much there is,” Bokuto agreed.
Keiji gazed at the shower longingly, his lips pressing together in pure want.
“Akaashi,” Bokuto whispered. “Let’s do it.”
Keiji nodded. “Together?”
Bokuto stared at him, as if the thought of two men showering together was ridiculous. “Akaashi!”
“What? I don’t want to be the one left with no water, and I doubt you want to either.”
Bokuto’s eyes lowered, his cheeks slightly pink. His hesitation made something like nervousness bubble up in Keiji’s stomach—a kind of nervousness that seemed totally without substance in their after-world.
Was Bokuto gay or just really concerned about Keiji’s modesty? Because guys bathing together was pretty norm—
“Fine,” Bokuto said, before Keiji could contemplate it further. “Together. It might be cold, anyway.”
They shed their clothes, stepped into the stall and turned the water on.
It wasn’t cold.
Keiji actually did cry with relief then, with the water from the shower to disguise his tears. Bokuto seemed just as overwhelmed. He was humming some sort of victory song, squeezing his eyes shut and putting his face under the stream.
If the pathogen was waterborne, they’d probably be infected by now—so Keiji decided not to worry. They took turns under the showerhead, using the already-unwrapped soap whenever it was their turn to be out of the water. It took several goes to get properly clean, and Keiji knew they were both delaying turning the water off—but eventually they managed to step out of the shower.
They had to use two already-used towels, in addition to already-used soap, but neither of them was in any state to complain. The used-by-a-stranger towels Keiji would have avoided a month ago were a fluffy, welcome gift from the universe now.
He found himself humming too, too quiet for anyone but him to hear.
The room was pitch dark. Bokuto lay in the other bed, his body still now after half an hour of restless movement—movement Keiji had been too wired to block out despite the exhaustion thick in his limbs and the softness of the mattress under him.
“Can I—I need—”
Bokuto’s voice sounded completely different. Before there had always been good humor behind it; now it was devoid of that, more like the voice of a scared child than that of the fearless man who’d greeted him yesterday. A part of Keiji was glad to find out he wasn’t unaffected by circumstance either.
“Can I hold you?” Bokuto managed finally.
Whatever Keiji had been expecting, it wasn’t that. He remembered Bokuto’s blushes earlier before they’d showered.
“Are you gay?” he asked, expecting a fierce no.
“Maybe,” Bokuto said without inflection. “I’m attracted to you. But I just want…”
He didn’t finish the sentence, and he didn’t have to; Keiji could guess. And Keiji wasn’t opposed to the idea. The thought of feeling that closeness with another person made longing pour through him, opening like a wound in his chest.
“You can hold me,” he said, making his voice flat so it wouldn’t tremble. Bokuto slid out of his own bed instantly and crawled into Keiji’s. They were both wearing borrowed, mercifully clean clothes from the suitcase, and Keiji let his hand touch the cotton of Bokuto’s T-shirt very lightly.
Bokuto took it as the invitation it was; he curled into Keiji tightly, throwing an arm and a leg over him and turning his face into his shoulder. Keiji’s arms wrapped around him.
There were no words, somehow, although Bokuto had been noisy since the moment they met, talking or whispering or humming. Keiji’s body welcomed the weight and warmth of Bokuto’s even as his mind reeled at the strangeness. His body didn’t care; it let that warmth sink into every part of him.
His hands tightened in the back of Bokuto’s shirt, and he realized Bokuto was holding him tight too.
“Your group really left you?” Keiji asked, his voice shaky. It was cruel to ask a thing like that, but he couldn’t help it. He’d been on his own since the start of this mess, holed up in his apartment eating through his supplies, thinking someone would come for him. He’d never known the comfort of a group, but he could imagine the loss of it.
“Yeah,” Bokuto said.
“Because you were too loud?”
“I won’t do that,” Keiji said. His heart was hammering. What was he saying? No one could know what might happen—
“Your family. What’s it like?”
Keiji paused. He imagined them standing side by side like in a family photograph: his divorced parents, his second father, the little sister who’d been born when he was twelve. She was nine now, shy in the same way he’d been shy when he was her age. His biological father was barely in the picture, visiting for his birthday once a year, helping him move when he went to university. He got his reserve from his mother, but she hadn’t passed on her sweetness, not to him. People said their smiles were similar, tough Keiji didn’t think so.
He wasn’t sure how to talk about them, especially when he didn’t even know whether they were alive. He told Bokuto the bare bones of it.
“What’s yours like?” he asked when he was done.
“Dead,” was Bokuto’s short reply, and the certainty in his voice made Keiji’s stomach sink. Bokuto knew for sure, then.
“I pretend they’re still with me,” Bokuto added.
They are, Keiji imagined himself saying, the way people in drama movies reassured each other.
“I pretended everything was a big joke,” he said instead. “That everyone was pretending and someone would jump out at any minute yelling surprise.”
“Like a TV show,” Bokuto said, and he sounded a bit more like himself. “Surprise: you’re on candid camera.”
They fell silent, and Keiji felt Bokuto’s arms loosen just a bit until the embrace was more comforting than strangling. They both smelled like the stranger’s fabric softener, but Bokuto’s warmth was all his own, and Keiji found himself wondering if he could keep it—if he could keep Bokuto and this tiny bit of comfort.
Another part of him wondered if it would be so bad to die now, like this, with someone here to hold him. He’d never have to go out into the streets again. Paradoxically, he’d never have to fear for his life again. He knew he’d feel differently in the morning when survival instincts kicked in and told him to move on, to keep on living—but for now he daydreamed about surrender, and went willingly when sleep tugged at him.
They woke to knocking.
For a moment, the disease-torn city they’d walked through seemed like a dream, and Keiji imagined that he was waking up in a hotel room with a stranger after a series of bad decisions. It wasn’t something he’d done before, but it was the sort of thing he’d seen on TV.
The knocking continued, and Keiji’s imaginings fell away like torn paper. Fear gripped him. He remembered yesterday’s creature, thumping itself against the door over and over in a desperate bid to get out. Had it freed itself at last?
“We know you’re in there!”
He gasped. People? There were people outside.
“We’ll knock down the door if we have to.”
“We’re not harming anyone!” Keiji shouted back. “We didn’t know anyone was here. We’ll be gone before you know it.”
Bokuto was shoving their possessions under the bed, hiding their backpack and the leather jacket he wore and their water bottles.
“You used our water,” the voice behind the door said.
“We didn’t know. We used as little as we could. We won’t take any more.”
“Open this door, or we’re dragging you out. We have an axe.”
That didn’t seem like an idle threat. Keiji glanced at Bokuto; he nodded. In his hand was the knife Keiji had told him not to use on the infected in case of blood splatter.
These people weren’t infected.
Keiji opened the door, Bokuto at his back.
“We’ll be out in a moment, we swear,” he said. There were four people outside: three men and a woman, all between eighteen and thirty. The tallest of the group held himself like the leader.
“So give us something worthwhile in return,” he said. “Water for something of yours.”
“We don’t have anything,” Keiji said. His heart was hammering. He wasn’t sure they’d find food again if it was taken from them.
“Everyone has something.”
Keiji’s shoulders rose, and he remembered the knife Bokuto had grabbed.
“Well, we don’t, so—” he tried to swing the door closed, but the leader stuck out his foot. The leader opened his mouth to say something, threaten him maybe, but a noise from behind Keiji drew his attention.
There was a sound of something heavy dropping, and the people at the door took a step back. Keiji whirled, staring down at Bokuto. He’d fallen; he was twitching, making that garbling sound.
He’s having a seizure, the part of Keiji that remembered three years of medical school told him dispassionately. All he could do was stare. Bokuto has epilepsy.
“Whoa,” the woman said, and her face was twisted into something that looked like pity. “You’re traveling with him?”
“That guy is a time bomb,” another said. Even the leader looked stricken.
Keiji bent down, snatched up the knife Bokuto had dropped before he could hurt himself with it. He held it up towards the strangers, even though they didn’t look like they wanted anything to do with them anymore.
“Leave us alone,” he said. His voice sounded strange, like he was on the edge of tears. A lot of things were starting to make sense: the way Bokuto had wanted to be close last night, how he’d steered the conversation away when Keiji asked why his group had left him behind, his lack of concern for his life when he went up against the. Bokuto thought he was doomed already, with a condition like that, and he wasn’t wrong. And suddenly the way Bokuto looked at Keiji made sense too: the quick adoration that had crept into his gaze almost from the first, the pink cheeks, the grins, the fact that he’d only asked which way.
He’d just been looking for someone to be with before a seizure at the wrong time claimed his life. And he hadn’t told Keiji a thing.
“We’re leaving,” the woman said, and she tugged on the leader’s sleeve. He nodded slowly.
“Make sure you’re gone by afternoon,” the leader said, allowing himself to be dragged away.
Keiji closed the door, and it went hazy in his vision.
He was crying again; great.
He tossed the knife away and put his hands under Bokuto’s armpits, dragging him out of the room’s narrow hallway so he’d have more space. Keiji grabbed Bokuto’s leather jacket from beneath the bed and slid it under his head, hoping it would be enough. Then he sat, and waited, and tried to ignore Bokuto’s twitching—how helpless he looked.
“Akaashi…?” Bokuto asked after what felt like hours. His voice was weak.
Keiji stopped hiding his face in his knees. “I’m here,” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want you to leave yet.”
“I told you I’m not leaving.” Until now he hadn’t been certain of that. During Bokuto’s seizure he’d imagined it: telling Bokuto that his keeping this secret was a breach of trust and they couldn’t continue on together. No part of him had wanted it, but it had seemed like the smart thing to do.
He wasn’t going to do it.
“How long have you been like this?” Keiji asked.
“Since—not long.” Bokuto moved, lying curled on his side. “I got sick. After the disease spread. My first group—not the one that left me—they tried to get me treatment. We broke into a hospital and they gave me what they could find. None of us were doctors. I was fevered, so I didn’t… I’m not sure what happened after.”
“What do you mean?” Keiji asked, fear in his stomach.
“I don’t know. This jacket—it belongs to my friend. He must have put it on me while I was sick. They hid me. Maybe they were chased out. I don’t know. I woke up alone in a morgue.”
Maybe they were infected, Keiji thought. Maybe they were eaten. He didn’t say so.
“The seizures started after you were sick?” Keiji asked. “Not during?”
Bokuto curled a little tighter. “During too.”
Keiji was being stupid even asking these questions; Bokuto had a disease, and that was that. But the timing…
“Were you scratched?” Keiji asked in a whisper. He moved so he could look down at Bokuto. “Came in contact with the infected? A few days before you got sick?”
Keiji’s insides were shivery.
“Why?” Bokuto asked. His eyes were droopier than usual, tired. His hair was splayed across the jacket, surprisingly endearing.
Maybe you were cured, Keiji thought. It was a ridiculous idea that a bunch of panicked kids could cure someone with a random slew of antibiotics or fever-reducers or whatever Bokuto’s friends had used, especially when scientists had failed to contain or cure the disease. But what if Bokuto had been infected with a weaker strain? What if his lymph nodes were flooded with the answer to their current hell even now? What antibodies could his cells produce?
“I’m not sure,” Keiji said. “Not about anything. But maybe—maybe you had the infection and lived through. Maybe you’re immune. It’s just an idea.”
Bokuto sat up slowly. “What would that mean?”
“If we could get to a hospital, maybe we’d find something in your blood. Some reason to hope for a cure.”
He didn’t know if the infected could be cured. Living on human flesh was an invitation for disease, beyond whatever had crawled into the brain stems of those affected. But if healthy people could be vaccinated…
“But it’s a distant possibility, right?” Bokuto asked.
“Yeah,” Keiji said, slipping back into reality. “Yeah, it is. Maybe you had some known form of bacterial meningitis, or something. There’s no way to know.”
Bokuto nodded slowly. “But we have to find your family first,” he said, and looked up with big eyes. He looked hopeful, somehow.
Because Keiji had told him he wasn’t leaving him.
And Keiji wasn’t, even though Bokuto was a time bomb. Even though Keiji could imagine a million different ways they could get in trouble now where before he’d only imagined a thousand.
“Yeah,” Keiji said, and when Bokuto’s hand slid across the carpet towards him he covered it with his own. He swallowed. Bokuto’s knuckles were big, his hand cold. He was a stranger in most ways, an acquaintance of two days.
Two days was a long time in this world.
“Let’s go,” Keiji said. “Before those guys come and kick us out by force.”
Bokuto hid his face, his shoulders slumping. For once Keiji wasn’t the one crying with relief.
THIS CHAPTER HAS 4681 WORDS (TIME: 19MIN)
Chapter 2: just a scratch
Thank you to everyone who has commented and sent me nice things! And… most stunning of all… fanart! *wipes away happy tear*
This chapter is a bit in-betweeny but I hope you’ll enjoy it nonetheless! Thank you for your support!
“Watch out!” Bokuto hissed, grabbing Keiji by his sleeve. He didn’t say what Keiji was supposed to watch out for; instead he pulled him into the doorway of an apartment building, pressing his own body in tight. Over his shoulder, Keiji saw him grope for a door handle blindly.
There was a sound of shuffling steps not far away.
“We should run,” Keiji said into Bokuto’s neck, his eyes closed tightly against the familiar wash of fear. There was no telling what might be lurking inside the building, and they already knew what was lurking outside.
“They’ve been more observant lately,” Bokuto said, and the bad feeling in Keiji’s stomach worsened. He’d noticed the same, but somehow he’d felt like if he didn’t say it, it wouldn’t be real. Somehow the infected were more attuned to their prey—to movement and sound and even smell. Perhaps it was because that prey was getting scarce. “We can’t run.”
“It’ll notice us, though,” Keiji said—and yet he didn’t move. He stayed motionless, letting Bokuto’s body pin his to the wall while a creature from his nightmares took uneven steps closer. He couldn’t see it, but he could hear it.
“It will,” Bokuto said. “If you raise your arms, you can reach around me and open my backpack. Take out the knife.”
“I told you, the risk of infection—”
“What about the risk of others noticing us?” Bokuto asked, in that characteristic, open way of his—like there was nothing behind the question. Bokuto didn’t have an agenda; he just stated facts.
With shaking hands, Keiji did as Bokuto said—because he was right; other infected might come to them if they ran, and after the morning’s revelations Keiji knew that running wasn’t always going to work. If Bokuto had a seizure during an escape, that would be the end for them. He took the knife from the compartment Bokuto kept it in, zipping the backpack back up after.
“Okay,” Bokuto said. “Move your arm so it’s not between me and the—the thing.”
This time, Keiji didn’t do as he was told. “What?”
“Your shirt—a bite would go straight through it. Pull your arm back.”
Keiji hated himself a little for doing as Bokuto said, but he did it anyway. He understood Bokuto’s logic: Bokuto was wearing a leather jacket, so it was safer for him to be the vulnerable one. The way he was shielding Keiji made sense—but Keiji mentally catalogued all the places Bokuto was vulnerable despite the jacket, and felt deep unease.
“Okay,” Bokuto said. “It’s gonna be here soon. Stab it fast. Can you? Or should I…?”
Keiji was better positioned for it, especially since Bokuto was making himself into a shield. A quick stab at the neck, Keiji thought, thinking of the knife’s edge and how it needed sharpened, the tensile strength of human skin. Could he even puncture the creature’s flesh without holding it down?
“Here it comes,” Bokuto said, and Keiji moved just a bit. There was a rasping sound—the creature’s breath—and then it was charging, hands forward, mouth open.
Stained hands studded with long nails, mouth filled with teeth. Bokuto moved as if none of those things could hurt him, as if the infected was nothing more than a nuisance, knocking an elbow into its face before spinning and grabbing its arm, quickly taking hold of the other. Keiji felt the weight of the knife in his hand, knew that his part came next.
He sliced with more force than he ever could have mustered if he’d been looking properly at his adversary; he didn’t look at its face, only at its bare neck. He moved the blade along the carotid artery on the left, and the knife cut.
A part of him had been convinced it wouldn’t.
Keiji stumbled back, his back colliding once more with the wall of the doorway. He hadn’t closed his eyes all the way, but the blood didn’t spurt. It was a steady waterfall down the infected’s neck—and then it went limp in Bokuto’s arms, and became a corpse.
Suddenly Keiji saw its’ features: the face of a human woman, tangled black hair, a low-cut shirt that was probably pink at one point. His stomach heaved.
Bokuto stepped between him and the corpse, and Keiji wondered if Bokuto avoided stepping on her hair on purpose. Keiji couldn’t stop looking at Bokuto’s foot, at how he’d avoided her like she was a real woman—no, it, it, he’d avoided it—
The sharpness of Bokuto’s tone brought Keiji’s attention back to the present; his eyes rose to meet Bokuto’s, and the contact held. Keiji let out a shaky breath.
“It’s not nice,” Bokuto said, which was the understatement of the year. “We should get away.”
Keiji didn’t argue, though he knew they should be more careful. He let Bokuto grab his free hand and drag him along, their feet quiet, Keiji’s stomach turning as images flashed before his half-blind eyes.
“You’ll be okay,” Bokuto said.
Keiji wanted to believe him.
They took shelter inside an abandoned school, the halls blessedly free of corpses; this place was untouched by infection. Keiji was glad; if he’d had to kill an infected fourteen year old he might have just given up. The whole place was ordered, neat—as if someone had taken the time to straighten out the desks before locking the door and heading out. From inside one of the upstairs classrooms, Keiji could almost believe he was in a pre-breakout world where his only concerns were grades and what he was going to do after graduation.
A pre-breakout world where he and Bokuto sat at desks opposite each other, sorting their food by the midafternoon light from the window. He couldn’t shake the feeling that Bokuto was watching him, somehow, without really watching.
“Hey Akaashi,” Bokuto said. “Tell me a secret.”
“Something no one else knows about you.”
For a moment Keiji felt thick despair as his mind zoomed to depressing possibilities—that perhaps there was no one left who knew him at all—but he straightened his spine and leaned forward on his elbows, breathed deeply. “What kind of secret?”
“You can choose.”
Keiji smiled. Bokuto didn’t even seem like he was prying; his hands were still sorting the food, even though there was too little of it to need sorting. Energy bars there, candy bars there, dried goods there. There was something so innocent about him that it loosened something in Keiji—some tension that dated back to even before the outbreak.
At least I have this now, he thought, and felt a quote tug at his mind: Here at the end of all things. Had that been from a movie? A book? He didn’t remember.
Possible secrets rose to his tongue, cliché and too-close things like I’ve never had sex or I didn’t have any good reason for becoming a doctor or I feel guilty for not loving my father. But in the end what tumbled from his mouth was simply,
“I’m glad I met you.”
Bokuto’s cheeks colored instantly. “Really?” he asked, his eyes rising to meet Keiji’s.
“I guess that’s not a secret. It’s obvious.” Keiji looked away. Outside, birds flew in the dull air; a cloud had moved to block out the sun.
“I’m glad I met you too, Akaashi.” Bokuto was grinning.
“Yeah, well, you’re a lot better at surviving than I am, so you shouldn’t be,” Keiji said, remembering Bokuto’s swift movements earlier. He handled the infected efficiently, without flourishes. There was none of his usual joy in it, but none of Keiji’s wavering either.
“That doesn’t matter,” Bokuto said quickly, picking at the wrapper of a Kit-Kat without opening it. “You have to have a reason to fight, y’know?”
“Like hope?” Keiji asked, thinking of Bokuto’s recovery from something that left his central nervous system affected. It’s probably nothing, Keiji reminded himself for the thousandth time.
“I was thinking more like friends!” Bokuto said, looking totally unashamed of his cheesy statement. “It’s hard alone.”
He was still fidgeting with the candy wrapper, the sound grating at Keiji’s ears, and Keiji’s hand shot forward, covered Bokuto’s so he couldn’t make the sound anymore. A moment later Keiji’s breath hitched.
What am I doing?
They’d met just two days ago, and Bokuto had already said he was attracted to him, so Keiji couldn’t just go around touching him casually. It would give the wrong impression. This kind of thing was awkward, really awkward. If he felt anything for Bokuto it was probably that one type of attraction that came from meeting under dangerous circumstances rather than an actual connection—the thing about meeting people after walking down rickety bridges. Misattribution of arousal, that was it.It would explain why he kept finding excuses to touch Bokuto, or to let Bokuto touch him.
“Akaashi,” Bokuto said, looking at Keiji’s hand covering his. His sunny disposition had clouded. “If I do have a fit during—I want you to run. It’s better that way.”
“I won’t,” Keiji said, though he had no way of knowing what panic might make him do. “I’ll take a stand like we did today.”
“If you get their blood on you it might infect you.” Bokuto’s eyes were serious as they rose to meet Keiji’s. “You said so. If things go badly, I think you should run. I want you to.”
“Is that what you said to your other group?”
“No.” Bokuto was drooping visibly. “After they… saw… they said they were going to continue on, and I could continue on too, but not with them.”
Anger made Keiji’s jaw ache, even as a part of him thought it’s only practical and if you had sense you’d tell him the same. He reminded himself that the group before the last had hidden Bokuto, hadn’t really abandoned him—but his gut ached with the knowledge that Bokuto had been in two other groups, yet he’d been alone when Keiji found him.
“We’ll see,” Keiji said, and looked down at their meager supply of food. They sat in silence for a long time, both lost in thought—and then Keiji heard it again.
Bokuto was having another seizure.
Keiji lifted him out of the chair, dodging an arm shooting out. He laid Bokuto on his back, head pillowed on a mostly-empty backpack. He took a few steps back and looked away, wanting to give Bokuto privacy. This was the second seizure in as many days.
How long until they weren’t in relative safety when one happened?
He didn’t know how long he stood trying not to hear the sounds behind him, the small noises Bokuto made as his body spasmed. He was trying not to think much either, and he’d clamped a firm mental hand down over his imagination. It was interminable.
Again that small voice was the first sign of Bokuto regaining consciousness. Keiji moved to help him, seeing Bokuto swipe at the crotch of his jeans surreptitiously as he sat up. He was checking if he’d soiled himself, though Keiji knew he hadn’t; he’d be able to smell it if he had.
“There’s no shame in losing control of your body,” Keiji said, kneeling down next to him. He didn’t want Bokuto to worry about things like that. “I studied medicine. I don’t get squeamish about people wetting themselves. Also, you should be lying down.”
Bokuto groaned softly and let his head drop onto Keiji’s shoulder. He wasn’t saying anything yet, but it’d come.
It took a long time to come.
“You should go,” Bokuto said, his voice still weak. “Don’t wait till it goes wrong.”
“I’m not waiting until it goes wrong. This is a risk I want to take.”
Bokuto’s hand twitched towards Keiji, and Keiji reached for it, letting Bokuto grab him for reassurance. Touch seemed so important to Bokuto; despite his words, his fingers curled tight around Keiji’s hand; those fingers weren’t telling him to go.
“Hey,” Keiji said. “Tell me a secret.”
“I shoplifted,” Bokuto said slowly. “When I was fifteen.”
“Did you end up going back and apologizing?”
“How’d you know that?”
Keiji laughed silently, trying not to dislodge Bokuto’s head from his shaking shoulders. “I know you. A little.”
The hand around his tightened.
“Tell me another secret.”
Keiji looked up at the window, the light outside very yellow—sun under grey clouds, the angle strange. They were both going to run out of secrets at this rate.
“No,” Keiji said with sudden determination. “You. Tell me how you can just say something like I’m attracted to you and act like it’s nothing.”
“Just what I said. Doesn’t I’m attracted to you mean you want something?”
“Oh,” Bokuto said. He thought for a while. “I don’t think so?”
It was Keiji’s turn to be confused.
“Are you attracted to a lot of people?” Keiji asked eventually, not sure how else to phrase it. Keiji’s attraction to anyone was rare, and slow, and it made him nervous when it happened.
“Hm,” Bokuto said, and his voice had changed—the change of subject had pulled him out of whatever despair he’d been feeling before. “I guess so.”
Keiji considered that. They were different, then, though he’d known that already. He couldn’t help a twinge of something almost like jealousy—or perhaps it was just disappointment that Bokuto saying I’m attracted to you didn’t mean anything big. A part of him had hoped—what? That he was special to Bokuto? That was true by default; for the moment all they had was each other.
Bokuto clapped him on the back. “Don’t worry, Akaashi! You’re totally safe with me!”
Keiji raised an eyebrow. “What does that mean?”
“Just… that…” He’d confused him. Bokuto’s odd eyebrows drew together, forming a dark line in the middle. “It just means don’t worry.”
“I wasn’t worried,” Keiji said, annoyed somehow. “You’re the least intimidating guy I know.”
It was a lie, at least insofar as intimidating could mean dangerous. He just happened to be not-dangerous to Keiji; he wasn’t not-dangerous to everyone. Keiji remembered how Bokuto had reacted to the infected they’d crossed paths with today, how calm he’d been, how ruthlessly efficient. All the weeks Keiji had waited to be rescued Bokuto had been out there with his own groups, doing god-knew-what in a city full of infected. Keiji didn’t want to ask him about his experiences so far, and he sensed Bokuto didn’t want to talk about them.
It didn’t do any good to wallow.
“We should move on,” Keiji said. “Get a little further. Do you think you’ll be ready to move soon?”
Bokuto jumped up. “I’m ready to move now!”
He faltered a bit, and Keiji held up hands to steady him. He was a moment too slow retracting them; Bokuto’s face lit up when he looked down.
“Akaashi! Are you groping me?”
Keiji snatched his hands back. “You were going to fall.”
Bokuto grinned. “I know.”
“You were teasing me?” Somehow, the thought felt foreign. It was so long since he’d been teased.
Bokuto shrugged, smiled, and all was forgiven. Keiji rose with difficulty; his muscles were sore. They always were when he sat down for a while, now that his life was no longer sedentary.
They stuffed food back into the backpack and exited the school; Keiji imagined the warmth of Bokuto’s body imprinted on his fingertips, and thought of how effective Bokuto’s teasing had been.
Misattribution of arousal, he reminded himself as they climbed over the gate.
Frequent high rises gave way to occasional ones as they drew closer to Keiji’s neighborhood. There were less infected, too, and Keiji wondered if that was a good sign. Were the rescues effective here, unlike the rescues near his university? It could mean his family was still alive—even if that meant he didn’t get to meet up with them now.
He wasn’t sure whether it was hope or despair filling him at that thought; maybe it was just hunger.
“Akaashi,” Bokuto said, a note of warning in his voice. They both stopped walking. Suddenly Keiji was very aware of how dark the sky had gotten, how vulnerable they were here in the middle of the street. There could be gangs, infected—anything.
There could even be rescue teams.
Scratching sounds, and then whining. Keiji’s stomach clenched—and a dog walked out into the street, looking ragged but not like it was starving. It passed them without even pausing to sniff them, its claws clicking against the pavement.
Bokuto nudging him made Keiji jump; he’d been totally focused on the dog.
“How do you feel about pets, Akaashi-kun?”
Keiji snorted. “What? Are we going to settle down in the countryside with a few animals?”
“Only if we don’t find anyone.”
Keiji smiled. It was preposterous. They’d find someone before then, right? Or die at the hands of the infected.
“We should find a place for the night,” Keiji said. “If that had been one of them…”
“Yeah,” Bokuto said. “How close are we?”
“We’ll get there tomorrow,” Keiji said. He swallowed. “We’re three stations away, now.”
He’d never realized how big Tokyo was until he’d had to walk it under constant threat of attack.
Bokuto nodded. “Over there?” he asked, pointing at a building with balconies on the second floor. They could climb up the outside and sneak into a room if the glass doors weren’t locked. Not being on ground level always felt safer.
The third balcony they tried had unlocked doors, and Bokuto tapped at the glass door softly. Nothing made a sound. They walked in, finding a small, near apartment despite the unlocked doors. The water wasn’t working here; they hadn’t found a place where it was since the hotel. They explored the apartment in the spare light from the darkening sky outside.
“Is there a lock?” Keiji asked, collapsing onto the tatami floor of the living room. He hoped there was, because he was too tired to take first watch.
“There is!” Bokuto shouted back. When he came back in he was grinning and holding up two cans. “And these were in the fridge.”
“Yeah, of course.”
Keiji recognized the design on the side once he got a better look at it: melon soda, not beer like he’d thought at first. Of course Bokuto would enjoy sugar highs. “We should save them,” he said regretfully. “For when we need the boost.”
“Can we share just one?” Bokuto pleaded, and Keiji nodded. He didn’t want much, and let Bokuto drink most of it, sitting opposite each other in a stranger’s living room. He was starting to relax when he heard dragging noises, and then scratching at the wall.
“Tell me that’s another dog,” he said, tired beyond belief. Bokuto’s face had gone serious.
“It’s one of them,” Bokuto said with certainty. “But it’s dying. Stuck in the next room.”
Keiji wanted to cry in frustration. The scratching continued, but his legs were so tired. Moving on would mean walking in the dark, and the infected seemed to have better hearing than sight, turning the tables on them at nighttime. He didn’t want to move on to the next place.
“I can go and kill it, maybe,” Bokuto said.
Keiji set his jaw. “I don’t want you risking yourself. Not when you don’t have to.”
The scratching continued on, softly, but Bokuto talked through it, his voice louder than it had to be. He told Keiji about his family with determined cheerfulness: camping trips, days at the beach, arguments. He talked about them like they were still alive and Keiji might meet them someday.
Keiji let himself believe he would.
Bokuto talked about friends too, regaling Keiji with stories about a guy named Kuroo—the owner of the leather jacket Bokuto wore. From the stories, he didn’t sound like the kind of guy who would leave Bokuto behind willingly.
“Most of the time I like people more than they like me,” Bokuto said halfway through a story, without even a hint of self-pity. “But Kuroo never made me feel that way. He’s really nice, even though people always think he’s teasing them.”
“I hope I get to meet him,” Keiji said, meaning it. He didn’t really care for his own sake, but if he met this guy it would mean Bokuto would too; they’d have their happy, overdue reunion. That would be worth a lot, even if the thought made a tiny trickle of jealousy flow through Keiji, cold and unwelcome. There was the worry that he would cease to matter if someone else entered the picture, and the slight tug of conscience that followed it—like his unwanted jealousy would be to blame if Bokuto never met his friend again.
There was a good chance this friend was dead or infected already, given the fact that he’d left Bokuto behind.
Keiji looked up. “Hm?”
“Why are you sad?”
Keiji felt like he’d been slapped in the face. Only Bokuto would ask that—ask why are you sad in a world like this. There was a former human being with an eaten-away brain in the next room scratching at the wall, and who knew how many of the things outside, in Japan and the rest of the world—and there was still someone to ask Keiji why he was sad.
And it wasn’t like he was ever going to admit to his insecurity; Bokuto wouldn’t understand it. Probably.
“The usual reasons,” he said with a spare smile. “Shall we try to sleep?”
Bokuto’s lips pursed, but he nodded anyway, and together they moved the bed away from the wall where their neighbor could still be heard. They’d shed their clothes down to boxers and T-shirts and slipped into yet another stranger’s sheets when Bokuto stiffened.
“What if they’re not infected?” he said suddenly.
“They’d say something,” Keiji said, eyes shut. He was curled on his side, but Bokuto lay ramrod straight on his back.
“Maybe they can’t speak.”
“You really think someone’s still alive in there? This long after the outbreak?”
“No,” Bokuto said. “But what if they are?”
Keiji sat up. It was dark, too dark to see by, but they had a flashlight in the backpack for emergencies. “If you go, I’m going with you,” he told Bokuto, and Bokuto was up and out of bed almost immediately. They got dressed—less surface area to get bitten—and risked the corridor, knife and flashlight out.
Nothing stormed them.
The light trembled in time with Keiji’s hand on the way to the door next to theirs, and worsened as he swung it around to make sure nothing was closing in while Bokuto forced the door open. His stomach was tight with fear, every cell in his body aware of the noise and what it might attract.
The door opened with a crunch, and Keiji stopped worrying about what might come up behind them; he knew there was a monster in here. A cursory sweep around the room revealed nothing, but it was only the entryway, the apartment beyond dark and impenetrable. They stepped in together, closing the now-broken door as much as they could behind them.
A dragging sound from the next room made Keiji’s heart jump into his throat.
“It’s weak,” Bokuto whispered to him. “Don’t worry.”
They walked in, and finally Keiji could see their neighbor: an oldish man with grey hair and the blank look of the infected.
It was trying to get to them.
Bokuto didn’t hesitate; he stepped forward and onto the man—it contorted trying to grab at him—then bent down to slit its throat. Blood pooled silently beneath the corpse; it was over in a moment.
Keiji shone the light around the room. There was another pile of something, and it smelled, but he didn’t let himself look too close.
“Come on,” he said. “Let’s get back quick.”
Bokuto followed him silently, and soon the lock on their first apartment’s door was locked once more, their night venture over. Keiji took his clothes off with less care than he had before, wanting to roll into bed and forget everything—but Bokuto stayed in the bedroom doorway.
“I’ll sleep on the couch,” he said.
“What?” Keiji’s stomach plummeted, and the force of his disappointment surprised him. It told him how much he’d been looking forward to this—to the basic human contact sharing a bed with Bokuto presented.
“I think it scratched me.”
Bokuto sat down on his haunches very suddenly, as if admitting he’d been hurt made it so. Keiji rushed forward, falling to his knees in front of Bokuto.
“Where?” he asked urgently.
“My ankle—I felt it—”
Keiji grabbed the ankle Bokuto glanced down at and pulled it, throwing Bokuto onto his backside. He wanted to examine it and see nothing, tell Bokuto he’d imagined a scratch, but he saw a tiny red line above Bokuto’s drooping sock when he lifted the bottoms of his jeans.
If he’d felt bad a moment ago, it was nothing compared to now.
“Right,” he said. “Medicine cabinet.”
He stood on shaky legs, taking the flashlight with him as he gathered up what antiseptic supplies he could find in the bathroom. There were some; obviously any rescues hadn’t taken everything. When he returned to the bedroom Bokuto was still sitting in the doorway.
“You’re probably fine,” Keiji found himself saying, dousing the scratch in out-of-date antibiotic ointment. “It’s very superficial, and there’s no way scratches are as dangerous as bites. You’re fine.”
“You mean that?” Bokuto asked.
“Yeah,” Keiji said. “Yeah, I do.”
He willingly forgot broadcasts he’d heard saying that even scratches could transfer the disease. He didn’t tell Bokuto a single doubt; he carried them inside of himself, pushed deep down where even he could barely feel them.
“Come to bed,” Keiji said, reaching for Bokuto’s wrist. Bokuto let himself be pulled, sinking onto the edge of the mattress like a puppet with no strings, shoulders drooping.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “We shouldn’t have gone.”
“You thought it might be a person,” Keiji said. “That’s not something to apologize for.”
“You didn’t want to though.”
Keiji sighed, seeing how Bokuto wasn’t going to budge if they didn’t work him out of this mood. “It’s not my job to want to do things. It’s your job to want to do things and mine to reluctantly agree.”
Bokuto’s brows furrowed.
“You’re a better person than me,” Keiji said, since Bokuto seemed so confused by the concept of people who didn’t always act according to their better nature. While Bokuto stewed on that, he took off Bokuto’s shoes—they’d put them on to confront the creature, even though wearing shoes indoors still felt wrong—and his socks, and he wasn’t sure whether removing Bokuto’s jeans for him would be crossing a line so he helped him out of his jacket.
“You won’t die, will you?” Bokuto asked, and Keiji knew immediately what he was worried about: turning while they slept in the same bed, and eating or infecting Keiji.
“You won’t turn, and I won’t die,” Keiji said, rattling off memorized information about signs and symptoms and how long before there was any real danger. He skimmed over any facts he knew about the disease’s unusualness, how some carriers could turn in record time while others remained symptomless for days. When he finished, Bokuto almost had color in his face—which reminded Keiji to turn off the flashlight to conserve batteries.
“Thank you, Akaashi,” Bokuto said as they lay side by side in the bed, both calm at long last. The dark of the room felt heavy around them.
“I didn’t do anything.”
“We’ll get to your house soon,” Bokuto said, rolling to face him. His knees bumped Keiji’s.
“Kill me if I turn, okay? Before I hurt you. Even if you think I’m not going to.”
THIS CHAPTER HAS 3683 WORDS (TIME: 15MIN)
Chapter 3: the regulars
Once more, to everyone who’s been commenting: thank you thank you thank you, you’re amazing. ;v; Guess what else is amazing? Wonderful people drawing art for this fic CCC’x
http://mysecretfanmoments.tumblr.com/post/118716082977/eicinic-youll-be-the-one-make-me-hurt-make (Gin’s imagining; not from a scene that’s happened! obviously)
Keiji woke to Bokuto nuzzling his neck. There was an arm slung over him and a thigh pressed up against him; he was at the very edge of the bed. An electric charge seemed to hover over his skin, his stomach tight with something that should be fear but wasn’t.
“You better not be undead right now,” he mumbled. Nuzzling didn’t really seem like an infected habit.
There was a sigh that made the hairs on his arms and at the back of his neck stand on end, and the arm around him tightened.
“Akaashi?” Bokuto said sleepily, his body drawing even closer, pressing in—and then Bokuto sprang back, but not before Keiji had felt morning wood rub against him. “Ah! Sorry!”
“Were you humping me, Bokuto-san?”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry—”
Bokuto stopped apologizing when he saw Keiji was laughing, rolling to face him with bliss in his stomach and laughter in his throat. Bokuto went very quiet, his face coloring just a little. He rubbed his head.
“You didn’t turn,” Keiji said. “You’re still you. Show me your ankle.”
Bokuto did, and the line from last night was already harder to see. Keiji looked at it with a satisfied smile.
“Better in no time,” he said, more to himself than to Bokuto. He couldn’t wipe the smile from his face. “Not infected at all.”
“I think I might be really in love with you.”
Keiji’s stomach swooped before tightening in a way that was somewhere between pleasure and agony. His face felt warm, and a deep, dark part of him acknowledged that he’d wanted this—at the same time as he prepared to downplay it.
“That’s just because we’ve been through a lot of dangerous situations together,” he said gently. “We’re mistaking fear-adrenaline for… for love-adrenaline, I suppose.”
Bokuto had been still before, but he looked absolutely motionless now opposite Keiji on the bed.
“We?” he said quietly.
Keiji’s heart raced. Shit. He had said we, hadn’t he? Too late to crawl back now.
“Yes,” he said like it didn’t embarrass him. “We.”
Bokuto was staring, a flush across his cheekbones. Keiji couldn’t quite make out his expression; it seemed like a mix of things.
“We should eat and move on,” Keiji said. “I’ll put some more of that ointment on your scratch just in case.”
Bokuto didn’t reply, but Keiji acted like he had, preparing them for movement. When he was ready to go Bokuto was too, sliding the pack onto his back, his motions still strange and heavy—like his mind was miles away.
“Ready?” Keiji asked.
Bokuto nodded—and Keiji tried not to notice his unusual silence.
Keiji had known they were getting close to his old home, but he hadn’t prepared for seeing his old neighbourhood torn up and deserted. There were broken windows and doors swinging on hinges, cars driven into buildings, stains on walls. A part of him had expected to find it perfectly intact, but it wasn’t. It was ruined just like everything else.
Somewhere along the line Bokuto must have taken his hand, because he realized he was holding it now; he didn’t let go. He steeled himself and walked on, less concerned now with infected than with what the next mostly-eaten corpse might look like. The place had a deserted feeling that made Keiji think the infected had moved on.
He felt the warmth of Bokuto’s hand in his, the solidity of Bokuto’s presence next to him. He kept reminding himself of those two things: companionship, contact. He tried not to imagine what it would have been like if he’d come here alone.
“That’s it,” he said when they turned onto his street. His voice seemed to belong to someone else. “My house.”
“Do you want to go in?”
They walked slowly, guards still up. Nothing charged out at them; the silence was deafening. Keiji found himself standing in front of his old door on non-existent legs. He tried the handle.
With great care he drew his key from his pocket and unlocked the door, noticing how quiet it was—quieter than it had ever been here. No cars, no cyclists, not even animals making noise now. There was wind, and that was it.
The door didn’t make a sound as he drew it open. He was ready for something to attack him—an illogical part of him hoped something would, anything but this deafening silence—but the hallway looked as it always had, and there was no shuffling from other rooms or banging or groaning.
They were alone.
“Akaashi,” Bokuto said, passing by him. “I’m going to check it out.”
Keiji watched him go, wanting to say something—that he should take his shoes off, or wait—but he couldn’t do a thing. He knew why Bokuto was going in ahead of him; if there were corpses in here, Keiji’s sister or mother or stepfather, he wanted to hide them or warn Keiji off.
In that moment Keiji was sure he loved Bokuto, and then it passed. Mostly he felt sick.
“All clear,” Bokuto said when he returned. “Water doesn’t work. Akaashi…”
Keiji looked up into his eyes.
“Can I do anything for you?”
Keiji shook his head slowly, then reconsidered. He took a step forward and let himself reach out, putting his arms around Bokuto. Bokuto’s arms came up around him immediately.
“I’m sorry you lost your family,” Keiji whispered. “I’m really, really sorry.”
The hold on him tightened.
When Keiji noticed how little he wanted to let go he let go, stepping away and taking off his shoes. He loped up the stairs like he had thousands of times, heading for his bedroom. Perhaps his ancient iPod still had charge; it had a radio function.
Even though nowhere had been broadcasting when he last checked.
His room was just as he’d left it, the bed made, orderly, the posters on the walls a testament to his obsessions over four years ago. They belonged in a different world. He didn’t look at them, rummaging through his nightstand for that iPod instead, his legs folded under him.
He sucked in a breath when he found it, and then again when the screen lit up after he tried to power it up. As fast as he could he found the radio function and enabled it, flipping through channels. The green battery was already decreasing; that much hadn’t changed. Old stuff still lied about how much charge it had.
“Hey, Akaashi, I—”
“Shh!” Keiji hissed, when he thought he heard something other than static on a channel.
“…survivors in K neighbourhood are advised to make their way to the nearest community, as rescue missions in that region have been deemed too risky. Shelter B has been wiped out. Here follows a list of active communities. Upon your arrival in one, you will be submitted to quarantine. Do not resist…”
Keiji watched the battery level drop further, his heart in his throat. He wished the voice on the radio would talk faster—and just before the charge gave out he heard it: the location of the nearest community of uninfected.
It wasn’t far, not in terms of what they’d already done.
“We could get there in two days,” Keiji said, looking up at Bokuto. “Maybe less if we made good time.”
Bokuto nodded, his eyes tracking up to the window. Keiji followed his glance up to the weather outside. It was warm today, one of summer’s last blazing breaths before it gave way to fall. The air was close.
Maybe that was why Keiji felt pressure inside of his head, like he needed to lie in bed and not get up for a week. His whole body felt heavy.
“Okay,” he said, pushing himself up from the floor—and falling promptly back down. His arms weren’t holding him right.
Bokuto rounded the bed, scooping him up like it was nothing. He laid him on the bed.
“I’ll check the cupboards,” he said. “You rest.”
“Wait, I’m fine—”
Bokuto wasn’t looking at him, his shoulders high. “You aren’t eating or drinking enough, and this used to be your house. Lie down.”
Keiji wasn’t sure how he felt about Bokuto being that considerate, but he stopped protesting, lying back down while Bokuto left the room. This used to be your house. Was Bokuto suggesting it was shock that had weakened him, as well as lack of food and water?
He didn’t ruminate for long; his eyes closed, and when he woke up the shadows outside had gotten longer and the pounding in his head had gotten worse. He’d slept; he knew by the taste in his mouth.
Bokuto was sitting on the edge of the bed holding a can of something.
Keiji moved into a sitting position against the headboard. “Are you going to feed me?”
Bokuto handed him the can and the fork. “You should eat.”
Tuna in water, the cheerful packaging on the can said. Keiji grimaced. Bokuto hadn’t drained it, and Keiji knew why: the water was precious. It was also going to be disgusting.
He ate, though, because denial only went so far. He knew that eating too little for this long was starting to have an effect. He ate and tried not to think of how much they might need this later.
“Did you find anything else?” Keiji asked when he’d finished.
“Some other cans of food. The pantry was pretty empty.”
That was good news, Keiji thought. He looked at Bokuto closely. “You’re being quiet.”
Bokuto shrugged, then ran a hand over his forehead like he was wiping off sweat—but he wasn’t sweating. “We didn’t find your family.”
“I wasn’t expecting to. Were you?”
Bokuto shrugged again, and Keiji’s eyes were drawn to his shoulders. Without the jacket on they looked so broad, like they could carry anything.
He carried you just a little while ago, Keiji’s useless inner voice informed him. It made his stomach squirm.
“Bokuto, what’s wrong?”
“We’re going to the place the radio-man described next, right?”
“I feel like something bad is going to happen,” Bokuto said, looking up. “I don’t know why.”
“Is it…” Keiji swallowed, trying to phrase the question in his head before trying again. It was hard to say because he was worried about it too. “Are you worried we’ll get separated?”
Bokuto nodded mutely.
“Before we get there or after?”
A noncommittal shrug of those large shoulders, Bokuto’s mood still obviously heavy. Keiji was acutely aware of his tuna-breath, and he was aware because he wanted to get close to Bokuto, pretend it was night and wrap around him. He wanted to believe Bokuto’s senses were wrong, that everything would be all right and they’d stay together no matter what happened.
“I don’t want you to worry about that,” he said thickly. He reached out for Bokuto’s hand and caught it, drawing it to him. He had the strange urge to kiss Bokuto’s knuckles, as if that would tell him he was treasured.
I won’t leave you willingly, Keiji thought, meeting Bokuto’s stare. He was all too aware that what he wanted might not have any effect on their journey’s outcome.
Bokuto leaned in. He didn’t look like he was doing it on purpose, but he was getting closer.
“I have fish-breath,” Keiji warned, turning his head slightly so his breath wouldn’t pass over Bokuto’s face.
Bokuto jolted on the spot, his eyes opening wide. “Akaashi—did you say that because you thought I was going to kiss you?”
“Does that mean I can?”
Keiji’s gaze was drawn back to Bokuto’s, and he gave the smallest nod. It wouldn’t hurt to feel close to someone. It wouldn’t hurt to—
He was wrong. It did hurt. When he felt Bokuto’s lips soft against his, Bokuto’s hand warm and unsure against his shoulder, his heart clenched up. He wasn’t sure this was the right thing to do, but he wanted it—the comfort of someone wanting him, the comfort of someone pressed against him. It helped that it was someone bright and brilliant like Bokuto, someone who made the dark seem merely dim. He found his hands reaching, tugging Bokuto closer, spanning Bokuto’s ribcage as his mind wrapped around Bokuto’s dimensions in new ways.
He was so solid.
Much as Keiji wanted things to accelerate, the kiss remained tentative. Something about Bokuto wouldn’t budge, not when Keiji opened his mouth or when he fisted his hands in Bokuto’s shirt or when he made an unpracticed and probably totally unsexy noise of encouragement.
He wished he’d practiced sexy noises; then maybe Bokuto would move closer, maybe press him into the bed.
Too soon Bokuto drew back.
“No,” he was saying. “No, that’s all wrong, no, wait, let me think about this.”
He was holding up a hand, looking away. Keiji looked on, stumped. “What’s all wrong?”
Bokuto’s eyebrows were drawn together when he turned to face Keiji. “You’re just letting me kiss you because I want to. You still think this is that Miss Arousal thing.”
“Misattribution of arousal.”
Bokuto waved a hand to dismiss the words, as if he’d said them right already and Keiji was being anal for correcting him. “Anyway, I don’t want that.”
An awkward silence drew out between them.
“We should probably get going soon,” Keiji said. “Get a little further before we stop for the night.”
“You don’t want to stay here longer?”
Bokuto nodded, seeming to understand. There’s nothing for me here. Even surrounded by all his old things, Keiji knew how useless they were, how after-the-fact. They belonged in a different world. He’d grab a change of clothes—he’d left exactly one, in case he stayed the night here unexpectedly—and they could go.
He wanted to go.
The next morning found them hungry and desperate after a night spent alternating watches. Keiji knew they would have been smarter to stay at his house, but he hadn’t known that then; he’d thought they’d come across somewhere better, and they hadn’t.
His back ached. His eyes were dry. He fantasized about falling into some body of fresh water and never surfacing again. By the look of the clouds, though, water was about to fall on him. There was a storm coming. Maybe he’d just hold his mouth open and hope for the best.
Moments later he would curse himself for being so lost in nothing-thoughts; if he hadn’t been, he might have heard them coming.
The shout was all the warning he had, and then Bokuto pushed him, tripping him into a run. Akaashi glanced around, wondering what Bokuto was doing—and he saw them.
Five of them.
He stopped looking around. He ran grimly, Bokuto beside him. Infected were no faster than normal humans, but they were no slower either once the bloodlust was on them, and they were better fed than Keiji and Bokuto were. Keiji’s lungs began to burn much too soon, and his heart slammed painfully in his chest.
Just keep it up, he thought at his underfed body. Just keep working until we get to safety.
He felt a hand graze his back—one had sprinted and grabbed for him—and urged his legs on, forgetting pain and tiredness. Just run. They’ll tire.
He was tiring.
Beside him, Bokuto slowed to a walk.
“No!” Keiji yelled, no longer caring about how much sound he made; the worst was already happening. He turned and saw how Bokuto’s eyes were glazed, how he was stumbling. It was the start of a seizure.
Four of the creatures converged, the fifth fallen behind. Four would be enough to rip Bokuto apart.
“No!” Keiji yelled again, and this time action accompanied it. He darted back towards Bokuto—he’d fallen to his knees—and pulled at his arm, inhuman strength allowing him to lift his heavier companion onto his shoulder. Bokuto’s body was shuddering.
“Bokuto,” Keiji said as he began to limp away, hampered by the weight. “Bokuto!”
He knew it wouldn’t wake him; if you could yell someone out of a seizure epilepsy wouldn’t exist. Keiji held on tight anyway, struggling to keep hold of Bokuto’s body as it jerked in his grip. He couldn’t glance back, but he thought the infected were on them. New weight told him he wasn’t just dragging Bokuto.
He refused to think of what that might mean; he just pulled harder. He heard someone screaming with effort and realized it was him, but he didn’t stop. His legs pumped. His hands gripped tight, bruisingly tight, tighter than he’d ever held onto anything—and the weight diminished to what it had been.
Keiji jerked forward and ran. There was no way he could be faster than the infected, not weighed down like he was, but something had made the infected stop. Keiji couldn’t see; his vision was blurry with panicked tears and what he would later identify as rain, his senses overloaded.
He kept running.
Eventually, voices penetrated the endless screech of terror inside of his skull. His charge slowed and he looked up, wondering if he was hallucinating. The storm had broken, and he saw everything through a sheet of rain.
There were people with guns. Most of those guns were aimed at what Keiji had been running from.
And some of them were aimed at Keiji—or rather, at Bokuto.
“Don’t get closer!” the nearest guard shouted over the roar of rain.
Keiji’s knees felt very weak; he sank down as slowly as he could, letting Bokuto drop to the ground. He glanced down at Bokuto’s still-twitching legs.
They were bitten and bloody; one shoe had come off.
“Don’t shoot us,” Keiji said, standing up. He should’ve moved to give Bokuto room, but he didn’t want to get even an inch away from him. “You’re from colony B, right? Put us in quarantine.”
“He’s as good as dead,” another guard said, his gun trained on Bokuto. Keiji dropped immediately, getting between the guns and Bokuto. There were three; he couldn’t block all of them.
“He’s immune!” Keiji yelled, his voice panicked. “He’s withstood it before!”
“You’re just saying that. Look, kid, it’s nice that you want to protect your friend, but—”
“It’s true!” Keiji yelled, not at all sure it was. If it wasn’t, Bokuto really would be dead soon. As good as dead. “Please. Just let us prove it. I’ll stay with him, make sure he doesn’t get an infection.”
One of the guys had lowered his gun; that was good.
“An infection?” the guy said, his voice incredulous. “He’s got an infection! The same one that those creatures back there—”
“You’d go with him?” someone else asked, interrupting. His voice was soft, but somehow it carried. “The same quarantine room?”
“Yes,” Keiji said. “I’m a medical student. I can take care of him until you see he’s fine.”
“That’s ridiculous,” the first said, the one who’d told Keiji to stop running. “We can’t put them together. We could use another doctor, and we won’t have one if we put them in the same room.”
“Yeah, but if the other one’s the cure…” the soft-voiced guy said.
“Can you carry your friend?” the second guard asked.
“Yes,” Keiji said. He looked down at Bokuto; the twitching had stopped. “But he’ll be waking up soon.”
He turned and looked back at the street he’d run down. Infected stood at a distance, shuffling, moving back and forth like animals awaiting a meal. It was as if an invisible fence stood between them, and he turned to the guards. Some guns were still trained on the infected; had it been the rain or the guns that had stopped them?
“Did they learn not to come near?” Keiji asked.
“After a long time, yes. A very long time. They’re learning what it’s like to be hunted.”
“These are the regulars. If we went after them, they’d run…”
“…and then circle back to surprise us,” someone else finished. “It’s dangerous out there still.”
And anyone trying to make it to this community would have to go by them. Keiji felt sick at the thought of it—at the thought of infected learning.
The men closest aimed at Bokuto once more, and Keiji kneeled down next to him.
“Bokuto. I’m here. I’m here. You got hurt a little.”
More than a little.
Keiji leaned in further, trying to keep the others from seeing Bokuto’s face.
“Do you remember being chased?” Keiji said softly. Water dripped down his neck, bracketing his body in warm dampness. “We were chased. You got bitten. Good thing you’re immune.”
Bokuto looked at him. “I got bitten?”
“Good thing you’re immune,” Keiji said again, with a false smile. “These nice people are going to put us in quarantine.”
“Together?” Bokuto asked, panic filling his eyes. “No, I—”
He tried to get up and Keiji pushed him down. “I’ll take care of you,” Keiji said. “Can you walk? I’ll help. We need to get inside of the—uh—”
“Complex,” one of the guards offered.
“See?” Keiji said. “It’s near. We’re going to be fine.”
Bokuto blinked up at him. “I don’t want this, Akaashi… I don’t want you to—”
“Too bad,” Keiji said, helping Bokuto up. “I’m sticking with you. I told you I would.”
Bokuto was silent, still stunned and confused. Good. Less chance of him deciding to do something stupid like tell the guards the immunity thing was just a theory. Keiji got Bokuto’s arm around his shoulders and started to carry him, willing exhausted limbs back into motion. The group of guards fell in around them, a protective shell that didn’t feel like much protection. They walked through the makeshift gates and into the complex, the rain drumming on their heads. Keiji imagined it might wash the infection from Bokuto’s wounds—but he knew better. Life didn’t work that way.
He prayed to whatever gods might be listening that his impossible theory was right; this time, it wasn’t just a scratch.
THIS CHAPTER HAS 2932 WORDS (TIME: 12MIN)
Chapter 4: I’ll take care of you
THANK YOU to everyone who commented. I feasted on your tears–I mean, wait, no, what I meant to say is I really appreciate it! I’m sorry for stressing you out with where I left it last chapter. Please trust me! I will be (relatively) gentle with your hearts.
This fic gets an inordinate amount of love from talented people and I am the luckiest:
http://mysecretfanmoments.tumblr.com/post/119803060252/eicinic-best-friends-and-right-in-the-head (+art for “Best Friends”)
I hope you’ll enjoy this chapter! Thanks for sticking with me.
They didn’t see much of the walled community, not with the downpour and the guards marching them down the road, but their short walk within was enough to form a general picture. The cordoned off area looked mostly residential, the houses short and squatter than in central Tokyo, but the building the guards were leading them to was large: a hospital. As they walked Keiji saw people bringing out buckets to collect the rain. Those people often stopped to watch the silent procession without approaching or asking questions.
It was eerie.
“I’ll need first aid supplies and something to wash him with,” Keiji told the guard walking next to him. “As much as you can spare.”
“We can spare a good amount,” the guard said. He was the one who’d hung his hopes on Bokuto being immune; he looked to be in his forties or so. “If it could be cured…”
“I’m not sure a cure is realistic,” Keiji said. “But a vaccination against it might be. Of course, the time it would take to design one is considerable, and the process of bringing it out to the public in this state…”
“We’ll do it somehow,” the man said. “We have to.”
They came up to the doors of the hospital then, and after a brief, whispered discussion some of their protective detail peeled away. With difficulty Keiji half-carried Bokuto through the revolving doors.
“Please tell me the quarantine room you have in mind is on the ground floor,” Keiji said, looking around the large lobby with trepidation. Bokuto shouldn’t even be trying to walk right now, and yet Keiji couldn’t carry him—and no one else would get near enough to catch the infection, as if simply breathing near Bokuto would fell them.
“We have power,” a guard said. “We’ll use the lift for this.”
“It’s not a quarantine room we’ll bring you to, exactly,” Keiji’s friend among the guards said. “Not the proper way. It’s an abandoned lab.”
“It’s amazing you have this,” Keiji said. “The hospital—”
“Ah, yes. It was one of the first to stop taking patients, so it wasn’t hard to reclaim. Most hospitals…”
Keiji nodded. Most hospitals were hives of infected, totally wrecked in the fallout. This one wasn’t very different from what hospitals were like before the outbreak—minus how quiet it was.
They went up in one of the lifts and exited to mostly-empty corridors, navigating them until they reached an upstairs lab with two large tables. Sinks and cabinets lined the walls, and Keiji saw familiar-looking lab supplies inside of them. Someone left to bring in two futons, and Keiji was surprised; he’d assumed they’d sleep on the hard floor.
“Someone’s bringing water now,” a guard said. “You know what you’re doing?”
“Yes,” Keiji said without hesitation. “I’ll leave the samples for you to look at on that counter when I have them.”
The guard’s mouth tightened; he hadn’t been talking about samples. Keiji felt something warm press into his hand a moment later, and he looked down to see the guard handing him a knife.
“Just in case,” the guard said, letting go. Keiji couldn’t stop looking at his hand and the hunting knife the guard had pressed into it.
We have a knife, he thought, but the words didn’t quite pass his lips. He didn’t want to acknowledge what the guard meant, and next two men holding full buckets and first aid supplies came up, and then it was time for the guards to shut them in. Bokuto sat in the corner, his arms over his head.
“Good luck,” the guard said.
The laboratory door closed. Locked.
Keiji washed Bokuto’s wounds with ritual slowness, the quiet of the lab thick around them. Bokuto still hadn’t said a word, though he’d taken off his tattered trousers when Keiji asked him to. He watched Keiji’s hands without flinching.
“It doesn’t make you nauseous?” Keiji asked. “To look?”
Bokuto shook his head.
“Most people… even me… they can’t look when it’s them. They have to look away.”
More silence—the tinkle of water as Keiji squeezed out a sponge, the slight hiss of Bokuto’s breath as wet cold came in contact with his skin.
“Not that I’m squeamish.”
Keiji lifted cautious eyes to meet Bokuto’s. Bokuto’s face looked tired, lined in a way it wasn’t before.
“You’re talking a lot,” he said.
Bokuto’s mouth pursed. Dip, dab, rinse. “I’m angry with you,” he said eventually.
Keiji’s shoulders rose.
“You were supposed to leave me behind. And now you’re risking your life, and it’s not like before.”
“It’s my life to risk.”
Keiji finished cleaning the wounds on Bokuto’s legs and lost no time bandaging them up, his stomach tight. He moved on to the bite on Bokuto’s hand, angry and red. He was dabbing disinfectant on it when he looked up and saw Bokuto had his face turned away, his free hand covering it.
“I don’t want this,” Bokuto said, his voice thin. “If I’m going to die—”
Keiji surged forward, grabbing Bokuto’s jacket and holding it in tight fistfuls. “You’re not going to die. I’m not going to let you.”
“Not dead then, just—”
Keiji shook him. “No. Not dead and not anything but what you are. You’re immune, you—”
He let go, moving his hands to Bokuto’s face.
“I’m not letting you go.”
Their eyes locked, and Keiji—who hated long eye contact, who hated melodrama—didn’t look away. It was Bokuto whose gaze slid from Keiji’s, his face reddening. An almost-smile colored his face.
“What?” Keiji asked.
“I wanted to kiss you,” Bokuto said. “And then I thought—”
“You might be infectious,” Keiji said. The tension in his stomach abated as he realized Bokuto had given in. He’d let Keiji stay. Keiji didn’t think Bokuto knew how easily he could ruin this arrangement—how yelling that this was all a theory might bring those guards back to separate them.
Keiji moved closer on his knees, pressing a kiss to Bokuto’s temple. “You won’t always be,” he said. It sounded like a promise.
He moved back. “Now I’m going to finish cleaning you up.” He swallowed. “If you’ll let me?”
Bokuto nodded, his whole demeanor changed—softer. Trusting.
Keiji swore to be worthy of that trust, even knowing that it wasn’t up to him. He’d deny it until it was too late if he had to—but he wouldn’t let Bokuto face this alone. Bokuto had been right; everyone needed a reason to fight.
Keiji wasn’t ready to lose his.
Keiji had been expecting something different, somehow. He’d expected a proper quarantine, with all the guards staying away and him and Bokuto eating through the last of their supplies slowly—but that wasn’t how it happened. Either he was too precious or the hope Bokuto represented was; every now and then the door opened and a tray of food was laid out by heavily gloved hands, sometimes alongside water to wash with, a sliver of soap. The door closed quickly each time, but it was obvious they weren’t alone.
It was such a strange feeling after a city’s worth of isolation. Keiji looked at the gloved hands each time, his throat aching with questions—the most prominent of which was, Is my sister here?
He never quite managed to ask. If she was here, would he know somehow? Would he sense it? And how could he ask, knowing the answer might be no?
Bokuto slept for most of the first day, fitfully, telling Keiji to sit on the other side of the room. Keiji did—for as long as it took Bokuto to fall asleep. Then he sat stroking his hair, thinking. Not thinking much, just let me keep this, let him recover, let my family be alive. It seemed impossible that he could have both: Bokuto and a family. He sat weighing which one he wanted more and hated himself; there was no way to weigh something like that, and yet his tired mind kept measuring, kept evaluating, kept spinning.
Eventually he slept too.
Their days were reduced to the taking of samples, silence. There was a fire curtain in one corner and they’d placed what amounted to a chamber pot behind it, embarrassing to use. Keiji insisted on samples, blood and stool and urine to track Bokuto’s possible infection. The latter two didn’t happen often; Bokuto had no appetite, and the samples were irregular. Keiji hoped the daily blood samples would reveal something useful, and they were collected so fast he thought they might.
It would be better if Keiji could be near Bokuto, help him somehow, but Bokuto had pulled the two lab tables across the middle of the room and insisted Keiji sleep on the other side—had made Keiji promise not to cross the line when Bokuto was asleep. It was clear he hoped his infected-self would be hampered enough by the makeshift wall for Keiji to get away. Keiji ached at night, curled around the tight fear in his stomach as he listened to Bokuto’s restless slumber, hopelessly alone.
“Akaashi,” Bokuto said on the third day. His head was hot, his eyes heavy-lidded. He’d been like that since they got here—Keiji blamed the wounds, the shock—but he’d worsened this afternoon.
Keiji didn’t want to let Bokuto speak, afraid he might say this is it or I feel it coming or you should have left me there. He let him, though; he was tired of trying to distract himself from his own dark thoughts. Better to share Bokuto’s.
“Tell me a secret.”
Keiji laughed. “Another secret.”
“My life wasn’t ever juicy. I followed all the rules.”
“You’re the kind of person who’d say that, but I don’t think it’s true.”
“You think I’m lying?”
“No, I think… you follow the rules, but only because you haven’t felt the need to break them yet.”
Keiji smiled. Bokuto made him sound more interesting than he was. “Does that mean you break them a lot?”
“Not much. Just with friends.”
“Social delinquency. Sounds trendy.”
“Not delinquency! Just… fun. Sometimes. Sneaking into parks after dark, that kind of thing.”
Bokuto smiled, his eyes unfocusing—seeing something Keiji couldn’t. “Yeah. Always with him. Others too, but mostly him.”
Are you in love with him? Keiji imagined himself asking, but even in his head it sounded jealous. He didn’t want Bokuto to make fun of him or try to spare his feelings, and regardless of the answer it would lead to one of those.
“I’ve never had sex,” Keiji said instead, nearly laughing when the words left his mouth. He’d considered that for a secret before but passed it over. Apparently he was running out of interesting things to say.
“Hm,” Bokuto said. “Do you want to?”
Keiji leveled Bokuto with a look of exasperation.
“I didn’t mean like that! I meant… is it something you’ve wanted to do and haven’t, or you don’t want to at all?”
“There’s never been any reason to,” Keiji said, wondering if that sounded strange. He’d always assumed he felt desire less strongly than others, and perhaps that was true. There was no great longing to lose his virginity beyond maybe knowing why others wanted to so badly—but then, he did want to be close to someone.
He looked away as the silence lengthened. Days ago—before the bites, the community, the fear gone sharp—he’d imagined what it might be like to have sex with Bokuto. The picture in his mind had been fuzzy but it had made desire tug low in his belly nonetheless. In his fantasy Bokuto had been smiling, at ease, totally himself—and totally focused on Keiji’s pleasure.
“I thought for sure you had,” Bokuto said. “You’re really pretty.”
Keiji snorted. “Thanks.”
“I’m weird-looking,” Bokuto said, smiling like he’d said something funny.
“What?” Keiji asked, starting. He’d thought the same thing, but always with parentheses attached. Never just weird-looking and nothing more.
Bokuto inclined his head. “You don’t think so?”
Keiji wasn’t going to tell him how owl-like he looked with his head tilted like that. “Maybe, but… you’re other things too.”
Bokuto grinned. “You do like me, huh.”
Keiji almost laughed. Weren’t his bad life choices lately proof enough of that?
“Akaashi…” The grin disappeared, Bokuto’s tone suddenly solemn. Keiji felt his insides turn to water.
“You need to protect yourself if it happens. I’m not saying it will but it might, and I need you to be safe.”
That was an understatement. Keiji looked at the tables lying on their side, the wall between his side of the room and Bokuto’s. He longed for that night in the hotel when Bokuto’s arms had been tight around him; there wasn’t much intimacy in changing bandages, and that was all Bokuto allowed him to do.
“I’ll protect myself,” he said. “If it happens. Which it won’t.”
“Okay. Thank you, Akaashi.”
Bokuto worsened. He fell asleep not long after their conversation, but it was restless sleep—sweats and shivers cycling hour by hour. Keiji felt sick watching him, sure that—if Bokuto was going to change—he would change now.
Keiji wasn’t ready for it. He never would be, no matter how long they sat here in stasis taking samples and talking about things that didn’t matter anymore. He wished he’d asked Bokuto more instead of shying away for the sake of his own feelings. He wished he had more time. He sat on his side of the room watching the light outside fade, feeling like a black hole had taken up residence in his stomach. He shivered like he had before, when he was alone.
He so desperately wanted to not be alone.
The sun had set when Bokuto’s sweat-shiver cycle ended and Bokuto’s teeth started to chatter in earnest. He’d pulled up the blankets earlier but he was still shaking visibly, and Keiji clenched his teeth.
I could go to him, he thought. There were no open wounds. The sweat would be harmless. He could warm Bokuto with his own body heat, no matter what he’d promised.
He stood up. There was just enough light to navigate by, and he picked his way between the tables on their side. He pulled off his own shirt and then Bokuto’s, his stomach tight with fear when Bokuto’s only response was to moan.
He slipped under sweat-soaked covers, curling one arm around Bokuto, placing the palm of his hand on his chest, pulling Bokuto’s body in against his. Bokuto’s heart beat normally, sounding strong—but it wasn’t Bokuto’s heart Keiji was worried about. He closed his eyes, pressed his forehead into the back of Bokuto’s neck.
Somehow—amazingly, stupidly—he slept.
He woke to someone holding him half-upright in a princess carry, though there was no movement, nothing to suggest he had to be carried. His head lolled on a bare shoulder and his stomach was wet.
“Bokuto?” he said, his eyes still shut. He didn’t want to open them in case it wasn’t him, in case some guard had saved him after Bokuto turned. The person holding him smelled mostly like sickness, but he thought—he hoped—
Keiji opened his eyes, heart pounding wildly. He saw Bokuto’s jaw and how they were sitting—Bokuto’s back pressed up against the wall of cabinets on Bokuto’s side of the room—and he saw it was daylight.
The night was already over.
Keiji moved very slowly, climbing out of Bokuto’s arms and moving back on his knees, his eyes scanning Bokuto’s for signs of infection. He looked better than he had for a while, his eyes clear despite red rims, his skin a normal color. Keiji reached and touched his chest.
“You don’t follow rules at all,” Bokuto said, looking away. His skin was no longer fever-warm or fever-clammy, though he could do with a wash. They both could; they’d use some of the water the guards had brought up yesterday.
“You’re better,” Keiji said.
“We don’t know that.”
It was the kind of thing Keiji always said to himself, though he expected more optimism from Bokuto. Keiji knew things could go dormant, lie in wait—but at the moment that didn’t seem like a big concern. At the moment that seemed like no concern at all, joy beginning to beat its wings inside his chest.
“Let me take a blood sample,” Keiji said. “They can test it—I’m sure you’re clean, I’m sure—”
Keiji found one of the tiny vials, filled it. He knocked at the door on the assumption that they kept a guard outside at all times; he had no way of knowing if that was true.
“He’s better!” Keiji yelled. “I have a sample. I think you’ll see.”
He placed the vial on the counter and walked back to Bokuto’s side of the room, suddenly self-conscious. He had broken the rules. And he’d been dramatic about the whole thing, balanced on a knife’s edge for days, beside himself with fear. His only comfort was that Bokuto had been too weak to notice much.
He squatted in front of Bokuto, uncomfortably aware of his bare chest. He wiped sweating hands off on his jeans.
“So,” he said conversationally. “Tell me a secret.”
Bokuto laughed, covered his face with his hands. They didn’t quite disguise that he was crying again.
“You go first,” he said, wiping his eyes. “I can’t think of any right now.”
“Okay. Well. This one time, in my first year of medical school…”
THIS CHAPTER HAS 3950 WORDS (TIME: 16MIN)
Chapter 5: alive and well
Thank you for all the comments keeping me going–and also, oh my goodness, you guys jump to the absolute worst case scenarios. I wish you could see me reading your comments with a look of horror. If I ever decide to go dark all I have to do is use the stuff you come up with. *-*;;
Also, I doubt anyone would use this, but if you’ve got a mywriteclub account I’ve started keeping track of my progress for this, though the wordgoal is arbitrary. (I’m not sure how long it’ll be when I finish.) Linky: https://www.mywriteclub.com/beta/writers/mysecretfanmoments
Again–thank you so, so much for your continued support and I hope you enjoy!
The people at the complex took longer to convince than Keiji did, silently coming each day to collect the samples Keiji took. Two more days were spent in quarantine, but they were good days, easy days. Bokuto’s laugh rang from the laboratory walls.
“You know, I think I might be older than you,” Bokuto said at the end of one of Keiji’s stories. Until he said it, it hadn’t crossed Keiji’s mind; age seemed so relative now.
“Say your birth year in 3, 2, 1…”
They spoke at the same time, Bokuto naming the year before Akaashi’s birth. Akaashi blinked. “Why did we have to say it at the same time?”
“So you couldn’t lie just to get seniority,” Bokuto said.
“What, you want me to—ah, I see.”
Keiji waved a flippant hand. “Don’t worry, Bokuto-san, I won’t be disrespectful anymore. We’ve found civilization now after all.”
Bokuto laughed, big shoulders shocking. He’d had a seizure that morning, but it hadn’t phased either of them once Bokuto recovered. The world looked brighter than it had since before the outbreak—like they might really have a chance.
“What do you think the people here are like?” Bokuto asked.
Keiji shrugged. He’d tried not to think of what kind of people their new hosts were, preferring to assume they were good, but he’d noticed a few things on their way in. “I think at least two of the guards who brought us in are yakuza. I saw tattoos. Could be more.”
“And they didn’t say anything about your family?”
“I think they might be waiting until quarantine’s over to process us. So they don’t get anyone’s hopes up in case we die in here.”
“But they’re your family—of course they want to know—”
“It’s what I’d do,” Keiji said, cutting Bokuto off. He didn’t think the people at the complex had gotten as far as they had by being sentimental and disorganized. The radio messages going out had been impersonal but effective, illustrating a world that was harsh but navigable if you played by the rules and stayed within certain areas.
Bokuto chewed his lip. “Do you think we’ll be able to contact people in other places?”
“Maybe,” Keiji said, and he was saved from having to say more by the door opening. A woman in casual clothing walked in, accompanied by two guards. The guards were carrying guns, just as they always did, but they weren’t pointed at anyone.
“Afternoon,” the woman said, inclining her head in a makeshift bow. “I’m one of the people who’s been testing your blood. I have some good news.”
Keiji glanced at Bokuto, wondering if he’d look bored—but he was staring open-mouthed as if he couldn’t wait to hear what the good news was.
It’s that you’re not infected, Keiji thought at him, brows furrowed. How could Bokuto not know? What other good news was he waiting for?
“Your body is officially free of the infection. It wasn’t a few days ago; we watched the count go down. People are calling it a miracle.”
“Is it bacterial?” Keiji asked.
The woman looked at him in surprise. “Yes. It took a while for us to establish that.”
Keiji remembered; he’d been following the news until the news ceased to be a thing.
“There’s a virus that’s present in most affected individuals and not in most healthy ones, but it doesn’t seem to be what’s causing symptoms. You haven’t fought off the virus; it’s still present in your samples.”
“So I’m still infectious?” Bokuto asked.
“We don’t know. This is all new to us too. We’ll have to keep checking on you.”
“What does that mean practically?” Keiji asked. “Do we stay here?”
“We thought we could move you to a place you’d be more comfortable,” the woman said, glancing at one of the guards. “Under supervision. We couldn’t let others near, of course, not until we were sure. But locked doors seem a bit much at this point when you clearly don’t care to escape.”
Keiji swallowed hard. It was now or never.
“Excuse me,” he said. “Do you know if my family might be here? Last names Akaashi and Mori—a couple in their forties and a girl, a teenager—”
“We can check for you,” the woman said. “If you give us your full names we’ll include them in our next radio transmission. Reunions are a possibility, though they’re dangerous.”
“I think my family would be here, in this complex—”
The woman smiled. “We don’t know everyone here. I don’t want to tell you anything before I check. In the meantime, we’ll be ready to move you later today. You might want to clean up before you go out.” She looked at Bokuto. “And we’ll find you some clothes that aren’t torn apart.”
If Keiji’s mind hadn’t been reeling at the thought of his family not being here he might have asked why cleaning up and changing Bokuto’s clothes mattered—but he didn’t. Instead, he watched as the group left, closing the door behind them—without locking it.
He breathed out long and slow.
As they stepped out of the building, armed guards on either side of them, Keiji realized why the woman had told them to clean up. There was a crowd of people outside, lining the street as if for a parade—but all they were looking at was the two of them, Keiji and Bokuto walking side by side within the armed party. It made Keiji’s skin crawl.
“What do they look like?” Bokuto asked, scanning the crowd. Keiji blinked in confusion before he realized that Bokuto meant; he was looking for Keiji’s family. Keiji couldn’t believe Bokuto could just ignore the crowd like that—could turn it into an opportunity instead of a challenge.
“My mother and sister look like me,” he said. “They’ll be with a tall man, my stepfather, he’s got grey hair even though he’s young—”
He scanned the crowd, his discomfort forgotten. Where are you? He tried to crane his neck, see every face clearly through the screen of guards. They walked, and he looked. When he heard the sound of a body falling next to him, though, the faces were forgotten. He saw how Bokuto had fallen forward onto the ground, saw the shock run through the guards, and he needed no more time to process before jumping to cover Bokuto with his own body. He only hoped he could cover enough.
“Don’t shoot!” he yelled. “Don’t hurt him—he’s fine, it’ll be over soo—”
Bokuto’s body jerked, and Keiji clung tight. Don’t shoot, don’t shoot, don’t shoot—
“Um,” Bokuto said, his voice tentative. “Akaashi, uh—I tripped. I’m fine.”
Keiji pushed himself up onto his hands and knees, his face beginning to flush.
“I was looking for your family and I tripped,” Bokuto said, extracting himself from Keiji’s hold. He looked up at the guards, then back at Keiji. “Sorry for scaring you.”
Keiji covered his face, still kneeling. Embarrassment filled him, thick and hot and heavy. He’d forgotten the crowd when he jumped, but he felt them around him now—and knew they’d all seen his theatrics.
“I have seizures sometimes,” Bokuto explained to the guards, obviously trying to assuage Keiji’s mortification.
“We saw,” one of the guards said. “When you came in.”
Then there was a sound from further away: a voice Keiji recognized, a name he hadn’t been called in months.
He uncovered his face, standing up promptly. He scanned the crowd. He hadn’t imagined it, had he? His stomach was tight, embarrassment forgotten—and then he saw her blundering through the crowd, apologizing as she pushed past people, her eyes directed only at him, her dark hair cut pixie short in a jagged, self-inflicted style where before it had fallen to the small of her back. He moved past the guards—she separated from the crowd—and then he was holding her.
He was holding his sister, who was alive, who was here.
“I thought I’d never see you again,” she said into his chest.
Keiji’s hand came up to stroke her strange new hair. He couldn’t say a thing; his whole body felt weak with relief. Over his sister’s head he saw another person making their way through the crowd: his mother, looking older than she’d ever looked but alive too, and crying as she approached.
She stepped forward to put her arms around both her children, her movements sedate—as if she couldn’t stand to make a scene, but couldn’t deny herself this either.
“Where is—” Keiji started, his throat tightening around the question before he could finish it. Where is dad? Where is my stepfather?
“Dad died,” his sister spoke into his chest, her arms still tight around him. “On the way here. He tried to save me.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” his mother said with the ease of a phrase spoken over and over. “It wasn’t.”
Grief trickled through Keiji, but it was muted by relief. He could have lost so much more. He’d feel guilty for that later—he’d remember the man who’d been a better father than his father and know he deserved better from him—but for now it was beyond him to feel the full extent of his grief.
He opened his eyes—he hadn’t realized he’d closed them—and saw the waiting crowd through a wet haze.
“I should go,” he said. “We need to—we’re being moved—”
The scientist lady from earlier stepped into his range of vision. “We could assign someone else. There’s no reason you can’t be with your family.”
“That’s not—” Keiji looked at her, then back at the two women holding onto him. His mother met his eyes. “I have to help my friend. I’m the only one—I’ll see you soon—”
He looked behind him, saw Bokuto sniffing loudly. He’d stood up too, and now he was crying and watching and Keiji didn’t want to not be holding him.
“You should go with them, Akaashi,” Bokuto said.
“And let you be locked up with a stranger? No.”
“They said they wouldn’t lock—”
“I promised to take care of you and I’m going to do.” His sister’s arms around him had loosened, and he stepped back. “I have to do this,” he told her.
“That’s fine,” she said. Her nose was running, her face wet with snot and tears. “As long as you’re safe, it’s fine.”
His mother was glancing between him and Bokuto. She nodded.
“Go get settled in,” she said. “Then come visit us. You’ve come a long way together.”
Keiji’s throat was tight. “Yeah. Yeah, I’ll go, and—”
“Let’s go then,” one of the guards said, looking uncomfortable at the spectacle. He waved his gun down the road. “It’s not far.”
Keiji’s family let him go and he took a few steps back, bumping into Bokuto. He swallowed hard.
“See you soon,” his mother said.
“Soon,” Keiji echoed, still stunned—and then they were moving again.
“You should go with them,” Bokuto said, craning his neck to look at Keiji’s family as the guards marched them away.
“I will,” Keiji said, looking back. He couldn’t feel most of his limbs, his body felt so weak. He needed time to process this. “Soon.”
Bokuto looked at him strangely. “You’re going to lie down when we get in, aren’t you?”
It was all Keiji wanted to do, but he didn’t confirm it. He could have Bokuto and his family, minus his stepfather; it was so much more than he’d ever imagined—so much more than he could have hoped for a month ago, locked up in his apartment waiting for a rescue he was beginning to realize wasn’t coming. He was in a daze as the guards led them up to a small, two-story apartment and preceded them up the stairs to the second story one. He didn’t even know how far the apartment was from the hospital; his thoughts blurred.
When they got in the scientist gave Keiji a list of instructions for taking samples and measuring Bokuto’s vitals; Keiji was glad it was written down or he would have forgotten. The guards led them through the small house—a bedroom; a bathroom with a toilet that flushed; a kitchen with meager stocks. It was more luxury than Keiji had known since the outbreak.
Best of all: everyone took their shoes off to enter, as if the end of the world hadn’t happened here. And when it was time to leave Keiji and Bokuto alone, they put their shoes back on again.
Once the door closed behind the last of their guards—one of them signaling that he would be right behind the door—Keiji sought out the bed and sprawled on his side, just as Bokuto had predicted. You’re going to lie down when we get in, aren’t you?
He listened to Bokuto puttering around in the kitchen exclaiming over things. He desperately wanted to ask him to come to bed, but he wasn’t the one who initiated things. He could try, though, to the best of his nonexistent abilities.
“So are we both allowed to sleep here now?” he asked.
The sound of a cabinet closing, then: “I still have the virus.”
Keiji clamped his mouth shut against a sigh.
“But I guess it’s up to you.”
The noises from the kitchen had stopped, and Bokuto was standing in the doorway in his borrowed clothes, the leather jacket hung up someplace now it was no longer essential for survival. For no reason at all Keiji’s heart started to hammer, and his tiredness ebbed.
“Let me see you,” he said, moving to sit on the bed instead of sprawling, patting the space next to him. Bokuto was used to the command now; he pulled off his shirt and dropped his trousers with an efficiency that removed tension instead of adding to it—except Keiji still felt tense, and his already rapid pulse quickened as Bokuto sat with him on the bed, just in his boxers now.
Keiji looked, and this part at least was familiar. He saw the scars on Bokuto’s hands up to his wrists where the jacket protected him, and the long scratch above his right hip, and the patchwork wounds of his legs—still fresh, some of them stitched up or bandaged. Bokuto flipped over, and then Keiji examined his back—the tan line of his neck and lighter skin beneath, the continuation of other wounds. One mimicked the curve of his behind just below it, and Keiji traced it with a finger, wondering if the scratch looked redder than it had before.
Keiji pulled his hand back. “What?”
“Not there,” Bokuto said into the pillow.
“This is a strange time to be getting self-conscious, Bokuto-san.”
“You shouldn’t get my blood on you. Wear gloves.”
“You’re not bleeding. It’s scabbed over. I’ll wear gloves if I change your bandages, but in the meantime—you’re not infectious. They said so.”
“They didn’t exactly say that,” Bokuto said, turning. His mouth was pulled down at the edges, and he looked at Keiji with a faraway gaze. “And you have more to lose now.”
Keiji took a breath. Bokuto was right; it was stupid, now, to gamble with his life for the sake of his own needs. If he was so dead set on his feelings for Bokuto being fabricated by circumstances, why would he risk his life for him over and over?
Bokuto seemed to be thinking the same thing. “The way you jumped on me back there, when I tripped—have you done that before?”
Keiji looked away. “Only when we got here and there were guards with guns. They’d just seen you get bitten. They thought you were as good as dead.”
“And you thought they couldn’t shoot through you?”
“I was hoping they wouldn’t try.”
He lay down next to Bokuto, looking up at the ceiling. He remembered his sister’s arms around him, her tears wetting his shirt. She was out there now—maybe thinking of him—and his mind was too stunted by fear and pain to go to her. As Bokuto had said, he’d needed to lie down. What was wrong with him?
When he looked over at Bokuto Bokuto’s eyes were already on him, and Keiji wanted to tell him to stop—not to stop looking, but to stop the thoughts behind those eyes, the insight that made Keiji feel vulnerable.
“It’s okay you know,” Bokuto said. “Whatever happens is okay.”
“Are you saying I should leave you?”
Bokuto shook his head slowly. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Okay. Good. Because I don’t trust the people here yet, and they might not treat you right—”
“Thank you, Akaashi.”
Keiji turned away, hyperaware of the warmth in his chest—the relief at still being wanted. “You’re welcome,” he mumbled, and didn’t draw Bokuto’s arm over himself or ask him to hold him.
He imagined it, though, and closed his eyes tightly.
Sometimes, before deciding to leave student accommodations, Keiji had imagined the kind of communities that would exist in the after-world. Sometimes he imagined dystopian hellscapes: people forced to breed for the continued fitness of the population, a hotbed of eugenics, old people culled when they ceased to be useful. Other times he imagined a return to basics—city people wandering around stupefied, confused where their phones had gone as they stood knee-deep in rice paddies. In moments of optimism, he imagined people working together.
He knew what humanity’s pockets of society looked like now, and perhaps he’d been right to be optimistic. People with haunted eyes worked with what little reclaimed space they had, convoys left for other compounds, able-bodied people readied themselves for being shipped out during the harvest. He knew from their tattoos that many of the guards and community leaders were yakuza, but no one looked at them with fear now. Keiji wondered how long a community like this could last—whether duty-bound guards would always risk their lives without demanding a price from the people they protected, and he wished he could stop anticipating evil where there was none.
When he went out people stared, and as they got used to him they asked questions. Was the immune boy still alive? How quickly could his blood be used to find a cure? Had Keiji seen him being bitten?
He didn’t go out much; only to visit his family and discuss things with the research team at the hospital. Sometimes when he came back Bokuto was overexcited, wanting to hear everything he’d seen, and other times Bokuto languished. Today was one of the latter.
“They could let me out,” Bokuto said. He was sitting on the bed, his knees drawn up. “It’s not like I could infect people at a distance.”
“You can’t infect people at close quarters either,” Keiji said, indicating the room. “If you were dangerous to be around, I’d have turned by now. I’ve been saying the same thing to the people at the hospital.”
“You have?” Bokuto asked, perking up.
Keiji nodded. “I think they’re keeping you inside with a guard because they’re worried what other people might do.”
“Like try to drink your blood or something. I don’t know. People are desperate, and they don’t know how immune systems work.”
“Would that not work?” Bokuto asked, head inclined.
Keiji laughed. “No, and even if it did, it would be wrong to try.”
“I’d let you drink my blood,” Bokuto said cheerfully. His mood had shifted again, like he’d never been sad at all, and Keiji met his gaze steadily.
“You don’t mean that,” Keiji said. “You won’t even let me be close.”
Bokuto looked away, rubbing his cheek. “You haven’t asked. And it’s dangerous, so…”
Keiji reached, letting his arms fit around Bokuto before using them to pull him over. He curled in against Bokuto’s chest and breathed slowly, finally close enough to feel his warmth. Somehow, even the scent of him was comforting—a scent Keiji didn’t remember memorizing but must have at some point because now it smelled like home.
Arms came up around his shoulders, and he felt Bokuto’s breath against his hair. His heart was hammering, and belatedly he realized Bokuto’s was too—that he could feel that rapid heartbeat against his forehead.
“I thought you’d leave,” Bokuto said into his hair. “Every time you go away I think you’ll decide to stay away.”
“I wouldn’t do that.”
“I said I’d take care of you.”
“But now there’s others,” Bokuto said. “You could decide—”
“I won’t, so let’s not talk about it.”
A long silence, then: “Okay.”
Keiji let the warmth and smell of Bokuto fold in around him. It was different from being with his mother and sister, even when they reached for him. Today he’d stood arm to shoulder with Mitsuko for an hour as she manned her post as a lookout for the complex. He’d looked at her jagged hair and the tightness of her face and known she was different from the sister he’d known, just as he was different from the brother he’d been, and the comfort of her presence was—something else.
Which meant that, at the very least, what he felt for Bokuto wasn’t familial.
“You were gone for longer than usual today,” Bokuto said.
“I was out with my sister at the edge of the community. Spotting infected and convoys coming in.”
“What’s she like?”
Bokuto had asked before; he knew what the answer had been then. Either he wanted Keiji to repeat it or amend his stories from back then.
“I don’t know anymore,” Keiji said. “More serious. The same as everyone. We still don’t talk much when we’re together.”
“That’s because you’re both the stoic type.”
Keiji smiled. “Hm.”
They fell asleep like that, as if there hadn’t been a period of forced separation—as if they’d always simply curled into each other and breathed until dreams caught up with them. Keiji woke first, Bokuto’s arms still draped around him, breath gusting his hair. He extracted himself and tried not to think the kind of tender thoughts that came too easily for him now.
These feelings will pass, he told himself when the asymmetric tilt of Bokuto’s eyebrows in sleep caused fondness to flutter in his chest—but they still hadn’t, and Keiji was beginning to think that perhaps they wouldn’t. A tiny part of him asked if it would be so bad to keep them, and each time it asked that question it was met with silence.
He heard a soft knock at the door and took it as a cue to slip out; he was glad to have a reason not to stare. He put his shoes on, walked out the door. A tattooed guard stood outside alongside one of the usual guys.
“Yes?” Keiji asked, closing the door softly behind him.
“Got a transmission this morning,” the tattooed guy said. “Thought you might like to know. Someone in sector C claiming to know your friend—they’re coming this way. He’s a guard, apparently, so he’ll hop a ride on a convoy.”
Shock filled Keiji’s body, warm and cold at once. “Their name?”
“Kuro, I think? Might be a pseudonym.”
“And—he’s allowed? He can come meet him?”
The guard nodded. “Think so, once he’s vetted. Need to make sure he’s not a spy trying to steal our best subject. You heard of him?”
Keiji told himself to calm down, to ignore all the different feelings pulling at him—relief, fear, jealousy. “Yeah,” he said at last. “I’ve heard of him.”
THIS CHAPTER HAS 4474 WORDS (TIME: 18MIN)
Chapter 6: reunited
It’s hard to encapsulate how happy your comments make me; I’M SORRY THE WAIT WAS SO LONG. Especially knowing how much people were loooonging for Kuroo. (and honestly, who wouldn’t?)
Thank you thank you thank you, please keep encouraging me–and a bonus author’s note at the end of the chapter for people who like angst…
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Do you think I should give the jacket back immediately? Should I wear it when he comes? Would that be weird?”
Keiji smiled tolerantly. “I’m sure he’ll react well no matter what you do. It sounds like he left the moment he heard you were alive.”
“I can’t believe he’s alive.” Bokuto’s eyes were wide. “Are you sure they said Kuroo?”
“They said Kuro, but it seems like him from what you’ve said.” Keiji wanted to lie down again—his usual response to situations he didn’t know how to deal with. “I’m sure it’s him, Bokuto.”
“And you’re sure they didn’t mention anyone else?”
“You’ve asked that already—who are you hoping for?”
Bokuto shook his head, his shoulders rising defensively—against a thought, maybe, since Keiji was all the way on the other side of the tiny sitting room, resorting first aid supplies that didn’t need sorted.
“Everything’s fine,” Bokuto said, pacing. “Everything’s fine. Everyone’s alive. And the convoy will get here safely.”
“Just like all the ones that arrived since we got here,” Keiji agreed, slipping easily into the assurances; he’d made them before. “There have been no accidents or convoys going missing in recent times. The disasters happened early on. They have their system worked out. Safe roads, good tactics.”
Bokuto nodded as if he’d said something particularly insightful, and Keiji withheld a sigh. He shouldn’t have told Bokuto about Kuroo coming. He’d told himself it would be cruel not to—to let it be a surprise—but in hindsight it was just as cruel to tell him. He wished he hadn’t been told so he wouldn’t have had to decide between telling or keeping a secret.
It would have saved him the moral quandary—and the pacing Bokuto.
Tomorrow couldn’t come early enough. That was the arrival date the guard had given, and like a fool Keiji had relayed it. What would he do if the convoy arrived late? Delays had to happen occasionally, right?
He wanted to visit his family for a moment of quiet, but he didn’t think Bokuto could stand being alone alone. Bokuto hung by a string, his mood fluctuating between despair and joy faster than Keiji had ever seen. Keiji had been tempted to drug him, but the realization that medicine was valuable beyond measure now kept him from slipping anything into Bokuto’s drink. Someday someone might need it for some horrible battlefield amputation—or at least that was what he told himself as Bokuto’s pacing became unbearable.
Bokuto whirled. His head inclined. “You’re calling me that as a joke, right?”
“Okay, good. What is it?”
“I was going to tell you to stop pacing.”
Bokuto looked down at his feet as if he was surprised to find them there. “Oh.”
He took a step. Another. Keiji’s eyes narrowed, and Bokuto looked at him curiously. “What were you going to do if I didn’t?”
“Holding you down had crossed my mind.”
A contemplative look crossed Bokuto’s face. He put his hands in his pockets. Took a step. Another. Paced back.
Keiji felt his face warm. He looked at Bokuto’s feet knowing his mouth would get too dry if he met Bokuto’s gaze head-on. “So do I tackle you to the floor where you stand, or will you go to the bed willingly?”
“You mean you can’t carry me?”
Keiji considered it. He wasn’t all compact muscle like Bokuto to start with and he’d just spent a month eating too little. If he could have, though, he would have. He stood up.
“I’m going, I’m going!” Bokuto said, backing away. He ran to the bed, bounced on it, looked at Keiji expectantly. “Are you really going to hold me down? Because that sounds kind of—”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Keiji said, climbing onto the bed only to turn and flop back onto Bokuto in the least sensual way he could think of, letting his weight fall flatly on Bokuto’s stomach. Bokuto’s breath whooshed out and there was groaning—but then the groaning turned to laughter, vibrating through Keiji’s body.
Keiji folded his arms, looking neutrally up at the ceiling. “Are you sorry yet?”
“No,” Bokuto wheezed. His hands landed on Keiji’s shoulders as if to hold him, and Keiji moved, turning over to face him. He hoped his face wasn’t red.
“Are you sorry?”
Their eyes met. Bokuto wasn’t handsome, not in the usual fashion, but his expressiveness drew Keiji to him in a way Keiji had never been drawn to anyone before. Right now Bokuto’s face was all expectation, a flush across his cheeks, mouth slightly open.
Keiji’s arms were planted on either side of him. It would be easy to lean down for a kiss; all he had to do was let his arms bend. He saw the way Bokuto glanced at his mouth and knew he wasn’t the only one thinking it—but he would be the only one to act on it as long as Bokuto thought there was the slightest chance of Keiji getting sick.
Keiji leaned down.
For one short, bright moment Bokuto responded. His mouth opened against Keiji’s almost immediately, warm and close—his hands moved to Keiji’s waist—the air between them dulled to nothing—and then those square hands had come up between them, covering Bokuto’s mouth.
“Akaashi! You—I’m—is there disinfectant mouthwash? You need to go scrub—I’m sorry—”
Keiji bit back a groan. “It won’t give me anything. There are healthy people with the virus. It’s the bacterial infection that drives people crazy, and your blood’s clean of that. It’s tested daily.”
Bokuto didn’t look convinced.
“This is like you giving me—I don’t know. Epstein Barr virus. It’s not what you get, it’s what you get it with. And I don’t plan on being bitten anytime soon.”
“You’ve thought about this?”
“I’ve asked about it. I’ve kept up with everything the people at the hospital tell me. And yeah, I’ve thought about it. Please? I’m not going to die of kissing you.”
Bokuto blinked up at him. “Please?” he asked—not begging but echoing, like he didn’t understand why Keiji would ask him for anything.
Keiji feigned interest in a spot to the left of Bokuto’s shoulder. “Let me,” he said quietly.
Very slowly, Bokuto’s hands moved away from his mouth. He didn’t use them to pull Keiji close, but he looked up at Keiji like he was waiting for something, and it was all the encouragement Keiji needed. He lowered himself down again, his stomach pressing into Bokuto’s stomach, his chest against Bokuto’s chest. With continued slowness he brushed his lips against Bokuto’s.
“You’re sure?” Bokuto whispered.
About what? Keiji thought but didn’t say. “I’m sure,” he said.
“You won’t die from it?”
“No,” Keiji said, huffing a breath. “Just trust me?”
“I do trust you,” Bokuto said, and very carefully he brushed his fingers along Keiji’s sides. Keiji sucked in a breath.
“Maybe not with yourself.” Bokuto’s eyes were earnest. “With me yes. With you…”
“I’m not suicidal. Promise.”
Bokuto bit his lip. He examined Keiji’s face for a long moment, then nodded. “Okay.”
Shock settled in Keiji’s stomach. “Okay?”
Bokuto’s golden gaze skittered away from his. “It’s not like I don’t want to.” He looked back, and now his eyebrows were knitted together in that totally guileless way that had disarmed Keiji from day one. “I want to really badly. I want to touch you all the time but if I make you sick or hurt you—”
Keiji didn’t need to hear the end of that sentence; he closed the distance between them, letting his hand slide up Bokuto’s jaw to cup his face, making sure there was no escape this time. His mouth brushed over Bokuto’s, open, asking for a response with the barest flick of his tongue. Bokuto sucked in a breath, and Keiji didn’t waste his chance to deepen the kiss before Bokuto had second thoughts; he pressed into Bokuto’s mouth and felt his whole body fill with pleasant tension when Bokuto pressed back.
The time for hesitation was past; Bokuto’s hands slid up the back of Keiji’s shirt and a gentle rhythm began between them, though it was punctuated by erratic heartbeats and shuddering breaths. The smell of Bokuto surrounded Keiji—not the sickroom scent of days past but the one that meant companionship, and he found his body moving without thought in a motion of crashing waves, pressing close and pulling back, close and back, without ever breaking the kiss.
“Akaashi—” it was said against his mouth, the vowels indistinct—
“Nh?” He pulled back enough to look at Bokuto’s face and saw his bright gaze made hazy with arousal.
“Nothing,” Bokuto said. He sounded awed. “Just wanted to say it.”
Keiji huffed a laugh—but the easy condescension that had served him this far seemed out of reach now. He couldn’t tell Bokuto how ridiculous he was or how silly he sounded; he wanted Bokuto to want to say his name. He wanted Bokuto to want him.
He felt ridiculous—but it was better than feeling lost, or jealous, or worried, and right now Bokuto’s rough fingertips were tracing his skin and his heart was thundering against his and there was no one to judge him for wanting more than he could have. He knocked his forehead against Bokuto’s and let out a jerky breath.
“Are you still worried?” he whispered, not knowing why he was whispering. There were people who lived below them, sure, but their talk would be muted by the floor; despite that, Keiji was reluctant to break the quiet.
“Yeah,” Bokuto replied. He swallowed. “About lots of things.”
The silence made to stretch—and then they were kissing again, words forgotten; it wasn’t silence when it was filled with quick breaths and rustling clothes and the soft sounds of kissing. Keiji’s mouth made a trail from the soft skin below Bokuto’s ear to his collarbone, nipping gently below his jawline. Bokuto’s body arched against him, his erection hard against Keiji’s hip, insistent, and Keiji’s breath left him. He knew he was pressing into Bokuto in just the same way, his arousal evident, but Bokuto’s wanting seemed so much more open, so much more inviting—
He rasped a breath, drawing up to look at Bokuto’s face once more. Bokuto’s head had tipped back when Keiji was kissing his neck, and mostly what Keiji saw was Bokuto’s throat and the red that had bloomed there under Keiji’s ministrations. When he stopped, though, Bokuto looked at him, eyes heavy-lidded.
Keiji knew he could take it further. They could keep going until they were both panting, both smeared with more than just sweat. Longing for that mental image made arousal pulse for just a moment, his erection begging for the release his mind pictured—and then he let the image go. What he wanted was to claim Bokuto, to make some mark in him deeper than any wound could go—but sex wouldn’t do that, and until that childish desire left him he couldn’t trust his instincts or his arousal.
“You want to stop?” Bokuto asked, obviously trying to affect a light tone.
Keiji shook his head. When he spoke, his voice was rough. “But we should.”
There were questions in Bokuto’s blinking eyes, in his abruptly closed mouth—but he didn’t ask them; he simply nodded, and didn’t protest when Keiji moved off him to fall on the mattress beside him. He pulled at the neck of his shirt to let air in, leaning his head back. Keiji thought of the skin under that shirt—smooth where it wasn’t marred by scars, the little hairs covering it, the slope of muscles and ribs and the small round nipples Keiji could have teased at if he just—
Keiji let out a deep breath. “It’s too hot,” he said, turning his face into the pillow.
“Mm,” Bokuto said.
“I’m glad you’ll get your friend back.”
But Bokuto’s voice didn’t just sound glad; it sounded anxious too. For Kuroo’s safety, Keiji thought. He bumped his hand against Bokuto’s on the coverlet, momentarily considering whether it was selfish to have sex with someone if it would help them too—but sex wasn’t something he could take back. As it was now, he had no claim on Bokuto, and no reason to resent him if he was put aside.
It was better that way. Sex made people vulnerable, just like sharing secrets, and they’d already shared too many of those. Better to call it to a halt; he could imagine what they’d shared until now, replay it in his head; he didn’t need more.
“Do you think people still have funerals here?”
If Keiji’s arousal hadn’t ebbed before it would have then. He blinked. “Oh. I didn’t think of that. I guess they still burn them when they can.”
“And if they leave them behind?”
“I guess there could still be a wake without a body.” His throat ached, but he was brave enough to ask: “Why?”
“Just wondering,” Bokuto said—and moved to lie on his side facing Keiji, not commenting when Keiji turned and backed into him until they were spooning. A thick arm came to rest over Keiji’s side, and Bokuto placed his hand on Keiji’s chest over his heart, tucked his face into the nape of his neck.
“Sleepy,” Bokuto mumbled, though Keiji thought it might be a lie.
“Then sleep,” Keiji whispered. It was bad advice; it was afternoon and a nap would ruin their schedule. The arm around him tightened. “Sweet dreams, Bokuto-san.”
“Night,” Bokuto replied, “Keiji-kun.”
Keiji laughed in surprise, and just like that his heavy mood lifted. He hooked an ankle around Bokuto’s leg, clumsy—and Bokuto trapped the offending foot between his.
Keiji resolved not to think of anything at all after that.
The day of Kuroo’s scheduled arrival barely dawned at all, a horizon-to-horizon bank of clouds keeping the sun at bay—though those clouds seemed to trap in the heat rather than shield the world from it. Keiji couldn’t put a stop to Bokuto’s pacing inside of the apartment, and instead tried to put his time to better use arguing with one of their keepers for Bokuto to be allowed to greet the convoy.
“We don’t know when it’ll arrive,” the guard Keiji had harried said. He sounded annoyed, his eyes pinned to the world beyond the makeshift wall around the complex; he was on sentry duty, the third guard Keiji had asked about this. “Could be waiting all day. We don’t have the manpower to be guarding your miracle all the time, you know.”
“You have a guard outside at all times,” Keiji said. “Isn’t that enough? He could come with us to wait by the road the convoy’s coming in on.”
“The apartment under you houses off-duty guards,” the man said. “That’s one of the reasons we put you there. You’re more protected than you think.”
Keiji sighed through his nose. “From what?”
The guard shrugged. “Anything. People have gone crazy, you know. World’s gone crazy.”
Keiji had a feeling that—if the guard had had a cigarette—he would have lit it then. He looked annoyed not to have one.
“There’s no guarantee a guard won’t go crazy,” Keiji said. “Might as well—”
“Nope,” the guard said. “There’s a guarantee. All the guards? They have families, or friends—someone they’re clearly attached to. It’s a rule. Don’t go crazy, or they get it.”
“That seems like… a really bad system. The stress alone—”
“You don’t hear me arguing, do you?” the guard said. He shrugged. “But we all want to do our bit, and so we signed on. Beats working in the field anyway, though we’ll probably still have to do that if we draw the short straws.”
The guard sighed. “He can be out in the street, but that’s all. He stays near the apartment. I’ll make sure someone runs over the moment they see a convoy.”
“Thank you,” Keiji gasped, suddenly wishing he had a cigarette to give the man. Just letting Bokuto out of the apartment would be a huge plus, even if he couldn’t wait at the gates. At the very least Bokuto wouldn’t wear holes in the floor with his pacing.
When Keiji rushed back with the good news, he found Bokuto sitting on the floor, his head between his knees.
“Did you have a seizure?”
Bokuto nodded, and when he spoke his voice was slurred. “I thought I was supposed to be cured?”
“You had an infection in your brain,” Keiji said, kneeling down. “You might always have the scars from that. But you’ll be alive.”
“But I won’t be able to… do stuff. On my own. I’ll always be a liability.”
Keiji frowned. He’d expected Bokuto to be deliriously happy all day—but he was agitated, his mind going dark places at the drop of a hat. “You can’t drive a car,” he said matter-of-factly. “But these days who can?”
At long last Bokuto looked up at him, and he nodded slowly. Keiji’s stomach was tight.
“I thought you’d be happier,” he said.
“I’m happy, but—” he clenched his fists, took a ragged breath. “What if it’s just him? If it’s him by himself it’ll mean—it’ll mean—”
And then—much later than he should have—Keiji realized what Bokuto was afraid of. He remembered the other person in most of Bokuto’s stories—a tactical-minded guy Bokuto had said was a genius. He and Kuroo and Bokuto broke off from the larger group when Bokuto got sick, fighting their way into a hospital despite the odds that Bokuto was doomed.
“Maybe your other friend is staying behind for some reason,” Keiji said. “Or they forgot to mention him because he’s quiet.”
“Don’t anticipate the worst,” Keiji said, and a commanding note had crept into his voice. “It won’t prepare you, and if you’re wrong you’ll have wasted time being upset.”
Bokuto’s eyes narrowed just a bit. “But you don’t do that, Akaashi. You’re always worried.”
“Didn’t I say it was my job to worry?”
“Anyway, I talked to one of the guards. You can’t wait at the gates, but you can go stand outside the apartment if you like, and he’ll send someone over as soon as they spot the convoy.”
Gold eyes opened wide. “I can be outside? You asked for me?”
Keiji nodded mutely, and the next moment Bokuto was pushing himself up from the floor and running out the door, forgetting the leather jacket he’d fussed over for so long yesterday. Keiji followed him out, seeing the muted sunlight against Bokuto’s scarred wrists, the uneven tan at his collar. He looked so human—not like anyone’s miracle hope at all.
This time not much of a crowd gathered around Bokuto, though some people slowed while they walked past. The lack of stares and questions probably had a lot to do with today’s guard, who was a particularly forbidding-looking guy who sighed loudly when Keiji said someone had given them permission to go out. Keiji was glad of his forbidding looks, not wanting the long wait to be any more stressful than it had to be. He and Bokuto found a patch of dirt beside the street and sticks to draw in it with, amusing themselves for a while with a game of tic-tac-toe. Bokuto’s tactics were bad; he always put his starting move in the center if given a choice, even after Keiji tried to explain that the corners were better. Bokuto didn’t seem to care much about percentages, though.
“You always win, or we tie!” Bokuto exclaimed after a while.
“That’s because there’s a limited number of options,” Keiji said, tapping his stick against the ground. “If both players do the smartest thing, a tie is the only option—”
There was a sound of running footsteps and they both looked up, game tactics forgotten. Keiji was ready for the messenger—a girl of about fourteen—to run past on some other errand, but her face filled with purpose when she saw them.
She was here to tell them the convoy had come; Keiji knew it before she’d gasped out her message.
“It’s here,” she said. “They—say to wait—it’ll be another half hour or so while they work out the details. Gotta be careful. Stay where you are.”
Her short sentences were interrupted by gasps each time, but after telling them to stay she nodded with satisfaction, apparently done. That had been the full message then.
She ran off again, waving, and Keiji was reminded of his sister. He’d seen her the day before yesterday, but suddenly he missed her as if she’d been gone for a year. He realized there were things he wanted to say to her that he hadn’t, things that their silences together couldn’t quite communicate. It made him antsy—or perhaps his body was just looking for a reason to be as anxious as Bokuto was.
The wait after the messenger was interminable, worsened by the fact that Bokuto was faking cheerfulness he obviously didn’t feel. Several times Keiji resolved to go demand to see the new arrivals to see if the quiet boy was there, and each time he didn’t quite manage to leave Bokuto’s side. His heart was a hot coal in his chest, uncomfortably tight, singeing his lungs.
I need to learn to deal with conflict, he thought vaguely, and nearly laughed at himself. The world gone screwy and this was why he needed to learn to deal with conflict—because he couldn’t handle people’s emotions, and his, and how the two might intersect.
He couldn’t deal with Bokuto losing anyone.
“They’re coming,” the guard said dispassionately, staring down the road. Bokuto stood up quickly, Keiji doing the same at a slower pace. He brushed off his trousers and looked: there were people coming their way, walking fast. The one in the lead was walking so fast it was almost a jog, though he’d obviously been told not to run.
Bokuto took a step forward.
“You stay here,” the guard said. “And try to keep the dramatics to a minimum.”
Still, the guard took a step back as the group neared and the tall guy in the lead broke into a real run. This was Kuroo, then: in dark clothing with empty gun holsters, his weapons obviously surrendered to the complex’s guards for the duration. His lack of protection didn’t seem to bother him at all; his attention was all on Bokuto.
Keiji scanned the people behind Kuroo for a slender guy with partially-bleached hair. And there he was: dressed like Kuroo, also divested of weapons, but his attention wasn’t reserved for Bokuto; instead his eyes swept the surroundings, taking in everything without letting anything on. Keiji felt electricity prickle over his skin as the guy looked to him, then Bokuto, then back. He felt like he’d been scanned by that impassive gaze, his image stored somewhere, his personal details stuck onto a hard drive.
“He’s here,” Keiji said, just as Bokuto said “Kenma, too!” in hushed tones, and then Kuroo collided with Bokuto and there was nothing Keiji could have said that was worth saying; he watched Bokuto be crushed, his face pressed into Kuroo’s shoulder, his arms coming up to crush back.
“I thought you were dead,” Keiji heard Kuroo whisper, and Keiji took a step back to be out of earshot. He didn’t want to hear; this wasn’t his moment to eavesdrop on. Still, his eyes were drawn to the pair of them, Bokuto and the stranger—the way they seemed lost to the world as they held each other and whispered.
Keiji looked away, his throat aching. He had no claim over Bokuto beyond what shared history they had, and he knew how little that could mean. People came and went in life; that was just the way it was, whether they turned into monsters or left you of their own volition. Keiji had been left more often than most, but then, he’d never cared to hold on before. Maybe he should have practiced sometime before it mattered.
He missed his sister.
In avoiding looking at the reunited friends, Keiji’s eyes somehow locked with Kenma’s, and again he felt that sense of giving too much away simply by being in the boy’s presence.
“Hey,” Kenma said.
“I’m glad you’re alive,” Keiji said, breaking eye contact. “Bokuto was worried. They didn’t mention you when they told us Kuroo was coming.”
“Oh. Kuro’s the one who made the fuss.”
Silence fell for a moment, and unbidden Keiji’s eyes rose to look at Bokuto—only to find Kuroo looking back at him.
“And this is him? The one who saved you?” Kuroo asked, his eyes still on Keiji.
“Over and over,” Bokuto said, smiling and wiping tears, and then Kuroo was moving, dragging Bokuto along. A moment later Keiji was being crushed in Kuroo’s embrace alongside Bokuto.
“Thank you,” Kuroo said over and over. “Thank you, thank you, thank you—”
Keiji patted his back, not sure what to do.
“Not everyone’s touchy like you,” Kenma said, tugging at Kuroo. If he was trying to pull Kuroo away he’d have to try much harder; the arms around Keiji were tight.
“Oh.” The hold loosened. “Right. Uh. Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Keiji said, stepping back. He looked at the guards around them, and the few people who’d stopped to look. “Should we go inside? Or—do you want time alone? I can go visit—”
“What are you talking about?” Kuroo asked with a quizzical smile. “You should be there too.” He turned to Bokuto. “Right?”
Bokuto nodded vehemently, though it looked silly with his nose dripping and his eyes red.
“You’re a mess,” Keiji said, unpocketing a handkerchief. He wiped it under Bokuto’s nose—then froze.
Kuroo and Kenma were watching with twin looks of amusement.
Keiji pressed the handkerchief into Bokuto’s hand, suddenly embarrassed. “Anyway, you should wipe your face. Follow whenever you’re ready.”
He walked away from the group fast, heading for the apartment. He ran up the steps, and if he tripped over the threshold as he stepped into the building at least there was no one to see him do it.
Embarrassment still coursed thick through his veins, though, strange and disproportionate. He looked around the apartment—small and tidy, with just one bed in the bedroom. Somehow the thought of Kuroo and Kenma seeing that made him feel nervous, and he closed the door quietly. They wouldn’t have to see there was only one bed in the apartment.
The front door opened, and Keiji took a steadying breath.
“Welcome back,” he called to the group.
I TOLD YOU GUYS I WOULDN’T BE KILLING ANY HAIKYUUS AND I STAND BY IT–but for those of you who like their fic a little darker, tumblr user SilverYazoo has tooootally got you covered. Read their comics (au of an au? haha!) here:
bonus bloody Kenma: http://silveryazoo.tumblr.com/post/120725986535/x-be-ready-ok-im-ready-as-hell-somehow-its
I’m afraid of what I unlocked in you, somehow…
THIS CHAPTER HAS 5811 WORDS (TIME: 23MIN)
Chapter 7: jump
Thank you as always for your amazing support. ;v; You keep me going. People who leave comments on fics are pretty much the only reason multichapters happen, I’m at least 90% sure.
This chapter necessitates a rating change. I’m really sorry for people who aren’t into sex! If you start to get uncomfortable, you can jump to “Keiji covered his face with his arm” and the sexy times will be over. To the people who have been begging me: you’re welcome. (sunglasses emoji) (please like it. please.)
“We wouldn’t have left,” Kuroo said. It wasn’t the first time he’d said it; each time he paused in telling his story he looked up at Bokuto and repeated the sentiment. “If we’d known you would live, we would never have left.”
“Then we’d all be dead,” Kenma said dispassionately, which was a new addition to the conversation. They were all sitting on the living room floor in a circle, leaning back against furniture. “It was us running that led them away. They knew there were living people to pursue. If we’d stayed, they would have boxed us in until we died.”
Kuroo pursed his lips. “We would have found a way. You would have found a way.”
Kenma gave his head a little shake, but Kuroo chose to ignore it.
“Where was I?” he asked.
“At the end of the story,” Kenma said. “When we got the transmission. We found the nearest complex and joined it. They let us join the guards. Kuro tried to organize missions to the hospital but it was out of our range. No one goes that far into that section.”
Kuroo looked at him with indignation. “You missed out the best parts! There were two hordes between us and the complex, and Kenma had this amazing—”
“Bokuto doesn’t want to hear that part,” Kenma interrupted.
Bokuto blinked at the pair of them, and Keiji felt the same confusion. Why wouldn’t—oh.
“Are you…” Kuroo pursed his lips, sharp brows drawing together. “Do you not want to hear?”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Bokuto asked, heralding an awkward silence. Keiji was the one to break it.
“Because you got bitten.”
“Oh.” Bokuto looked around at them. “You’re not afraid of me, are you?”
“No!” Kuroo said vehemently. “Not afraid. Only worried it’ll… dredge stuff up. I mean, I have nightmares about the infected and none of them have ever actually chewed on me.”
“Oh! I wasn’t conscious for that part. Akaashi was dragging me.”
Two sets of eyes shot to look at Keiji.
“I told you he saved me,” Bokuto said, looking confused. “Over and over.”
“You didn’t say he dragged you away from a group of corpses—how—” Kuroo looked at Keiji with awe. “But you’re so…”
Keiji shrugged. “Adrenaline,” he said, guessing Kuroo was going to say small or malnourished. He’d been fit once; it wasn’t like he was properly scrawny. He just looked slender next to Bokuto.
“And how long had you known each other at that point?” Kuroo asked, still with that note of awe—but Keiji’s body went cold. How long had he and Bokuto known each other? Not long, in the scheme of things.
“A week maybe?” Bokuto offered. He looked at Keiji, and Keiji couldn’t make out his expression. It was open—almost like he was asking permission for something. But what?
“Wow,” Kuroo said.
Keiji felt sweat prickle on his skin, his gaze lowering to his own folded legs. He wanted to leave and let them talk about whatever they wanted to talk about. Why was he here, anyway? So Bokuto’s friends could stare at him and wonder what person in their right mind would drag a companion from a horde of infected after their companion had been bitten? What person wouldn’t drop them and run?
From the story being told, he sounded desperate. He had been desperate.
“I should go,” he said, standing abruptly. “I think… you need time to catch up without me. I’ll go visit my sister.”
He escaped with as much grace as he could, taking care not to register their reactions. He didn’t want to know how strange he looked or how weird he was acting. He didn’t seek out his sister, though; he went to the hospital instead, hanging around the floor of labs dedicated to studying the brain-eating disease. The people knew him there, welcomed his presence—but of all the questions they might ask him, none were personal.
His heartbeat steadied in the cool confines of the hospital. He helped a lab tech with her endless PCR samples, donning latex gloves for an hour. He washed sample tubes and learned to use the autoclave. When others talked about progress, he eavesdropped. It helped clear his mind—reminded him that whatever problems he had were silly compared to the problem they were all facing. It was good to feel small sometimes.
He left the lab when he started to get hungry; the others must have had enough time to talk by now. He would walk in on a relaxed crowd and be able to slip into the background. Maybe.
His calm shattered when he saw Kenma in the lobby, talking to a white-coated local. Keiji stuffed his hands in his pockets and made to move on—but Kenma spotted him.
“Hey,” Kenma said, cutting his conversation with the researcher short. They gave him a wave and walked off. “You were here?”
“Ran into someone,” Keiji lied. “Why are you here?”
Kenma shrugged. “Like to know things. Do you know how they came by before and after samples of people who got infected? When I asked she said they were lucky. Do people volunteer to get bitten? Have you seen anything like that—infected being held in captivity?”
Keiji goggled. He hadn’t heard anything about that. “No, never.”
Kenma’s brows were furrowed. He stared at Keiji’s shoes for a moment longer then seemed to come back to himself.
“Oh. But you probably want to get home,” he said with a quick glance up. He never seemed to make eye contact for long.
“Uh. Should I?”
Kenma was quiet, and this time Keiji was the one avoiding eye contact. What would he walk in on if he went back to the apartment? Kenma was here, which meant—
“They’re not like that,” Kenma said. Keiji expected more, but apparently that was the whole explanation. He tried not to sigh with relief—though of course not having been like that before didn’t mean they weren’t now. Still, Kenma’s words sounded final.
“Okay. I guess I’ll see you later, then.”
Kenma nodded, giving a little wave. He looked self-conscious, his posture tense—but not like it was because of Keiji. Maybe it was due to being surrounded by strangers; that could be hard for anyone. Even geniuses.
Keiji walked back to the apartment, his stomach still tight. They’re not like that repeated over and over in his head, and maybe if it hadn’t he would have heard running footsteps behind him before someone tapped him on the shoulder. He jumped.
“Sorry, sorry,” Kuroo said, guiding Keiji to the side of the road. “Didn’t mean to scare you, but you were walking fast. Wanted to talk.”
“To me?” Why was Kuroo here, anyway? Didn’t he want to catch up with Bokuto? Wasn’t that why Kenma had left?
“Who else?” Kuroo said. He seemed different now—more solemn. “There’s no way I can thank you for what you’ve done, so you’re gonna have to forgive my presumption.”
“My interfering,” Kuroo said. He caught Keiji’s gaze and held it. “Tell me. Why are you pushing yourself away?”
“He’s never been like this before,” Kuroo said over Keiji’s protest. “He’s all… fragile. Passive. I mean, I get it, but it’s scary. You know he once convinced me to jump onto a moving train with him? From a bridge. We could have died.”
Keiji blinked, not sure what that anecdote was supposed to prove. They both had poor impulse control?
“He thinks the world of you. When you leave the room he gets this kicked-puppy look. I mean, not for long, since it’s him, but…”
“Where are you going with this?”
“You like him as he is, right? When he’s being himself?”
“Yes, of course—”
“Tell him that.”
Keiji rubbed the spot between his brows, wondering what Kuroo took him for. Did he look like the kind of person who just came out with stuff like that?
“I get the feeling he’s holding himself back to be more like the kind of person he thinks you like. Part of it’s trauma, I’m sure, but seeing him like this is just—”
“—scary,” Keiji finished for him. “I know. You said.”
“Don’t you think so too?”
Keiji looked away. Bokuto had been rambunctious in the beginning, yelling too much, talking too much. He’d blown life into a lifeless place—and he had changed since then. First after Keiji found out about the epilepsy and then when he was bitten. Keiji had bossed him around then—but he’d been doing it from fear. He hadn’t meant to push Bokuto into being someone else for him.
It would be nice to see him happy more often. No—better than nice. It would loosen the knots in Keiji’s shoulders and all along his spine. It was necessary.
“Yeah,” Keiji said eventually. “But couldn’t you—”
“It’s not up to me,” Kuroo said. “That’s why I’m out here. Well—that and the guard kicked me out. Apparently you’re the only one they trust with him. Seems strange, doesn’t it?”
“They just don’t trust you,” Keiji said. “They offered to replace me.”
“Oh? So you volunteered?”
Keiji’s eyes narrowed. “Of course I did.”
A grin split Kuroo’s face. “I wasn’t criticizing you. Look, sorry. I know you’re not into the whole heart-to-heart with strangers thing. But someone had to say something.”
Maybe someone did. Keiji nodded slowly, still embarrassed but a little more willing to believe that Kuroo knowing things about him wasn’t the worst thing in the world. He’d been floundering by himself for a while now, not trusting his own judgment. He needed a new normal, and maybe the new normal included advice from well-meaning strangers.
“Wait,” he said, a thought occurring to him. “You were kicked out? Where are you staying?”
“Another guardhouse,” Kuroo said. He shrugged. “We put in an application to move here, but everyone’s suspicious of us. It’s fine. I’m very charming.”
Keiji snorted, and Kuroo smiled. He was charming, in a way—all honesty and good intentions—but there was a calculating air about him too. If they’d met under different circumstances, Keiji wouldn’t have trusted him right off the bat—not like he’d trusted Bokuto.
“Anyway,” Kuroo said. “You have some talking to do. Bokuto’s probably doing the kicked puppy face and I hate the kicked puppy face. Go home.”
“Yeah,” Keiji said. “Yeah, okay. Thanks.”
Kuroo shook his head. “You don’t have to thank me for anything. Ever. And if there’s ever anything you need from me—”
Keiji waved the offer away. “Just… don’t tell Bokuto about this?”
Kuroo smiled. “That goes without saying.”
Nerves flitted through Keiji’s stomach as he stepped through the door. “I’m back,” he called, taking his shoes off. There was no reason to be nervous, he thought, but he was—hopelessly. And it wasn’t helped by Bokuto running up to him excitedly only to pause in the entryway fidgeting.
His hair stood up at more angles than usual.
“Hey,” Keiji said, smiling tentatively.
“Hey,” said Bokuto.
“You’re—” Keiji stopped. He was going to say that Bokuto was acting strange, but he wasn’t. He’d been waiting on Keiji to make moves for weeks now, no longer relying on his own impulses. Kuroo had been right; Bokuto was suppressing his own instincts in favor of trusting Keiji’s, his impulsiveness quashed by force of will.
Keiji took a breath. “I didn’t mean what I said about the misattribution of arousal thing,” he said. “Or I did, but I said it because I was scared that we’d find people and you’d leave me behind.”
Bokuto smiled quizzically. “What?”
“I’m never anyone’s best friend. I have friends, and people think I’m reliable, but there’s always someone they like more. And I’m fine with that usually but…”
Keiji swallowed, shrugged.
“I didn’t want that with you. But I didn’t know how to stop it, and I didn’t want to get my hopes up just because we were both feeling something that might have been situational.”
“You’re strange, Akaashi,” Bokuto said slowly. “You thought I’d like someone else if there was someone else?”
“Something like that.” Keiji shrugged again. He felt like he’d chucked his insides out for Bokuto to see, but it didn’t feel as bad as he might have expected. He felt vulnerable—but he didn’t regret sharing. “I’m not interesting like other people are. I don’t jump onto moving trains.”
Bokuto’s hands came up to clamp on either side of Keiji’s face. “Weird, weird, weird! That’s a stupid thing to think! I thought you were smarter.”
Keiji allowed himself a smile, his heart hammering at the new proximity. “Yeah, well. Not everyone’s smart all the time.”
“I’m going to kiss you now,” Bokuto said. “But not because you’re stupid. Because I like you.”
“I like you too.”
Keiji nodded, his throat tight.
Bokuto leaned down tentatively, his gentle movement belying his brash words. Keiji gripped Bokuto’s arms, his face still cradled by those blocky hands. He felt very warm and he could smell Bokuto’s scent again, somehow arousing and welcoming at the same time.
Keiji’s body fizzed with nerves when their lips met, and again at the next kiss. They weren’t touching in enough places; their bodies weren’t pressed close. Frustration rang like a bell in his mind, curiously removed from the knowledge that he could shrink that distance if he decided to. All he had to do was move in; he could probably even rip Bokuto’s shirt off if he wanted—Bokuto would let him. Wouldn’t he?
His breath shuddered out of him when Bokuto’s hand dropped to Keiji’s waist, caressing the sliver of skin between shirt and jeans. Bokuto made a small noise of concern, pulling back just a little.
“Your hands are cold,” Keiji said in a rush, realizing at the same time that Bokuto’s hands weren’t cold; Keiji’s skin just felt like it was burning, and being touched made him jump. He was oversensitive.
“Sorry,” Bokuto said—but he didn’t pull his hand back. In fact, the left hand joined in, both his hands now sliding around Keiji’s hips, caressing his back, his sides, pulling him in. Keiji bit back a whimper when he was pressed up against Bokuto hard enough to feel the firmness of his body.
He had a feeling this wasn’t part of the kicked puppy routine.
Keiji heard his own gasps of breath between kisses and in the back of his head—in the dispassionate, observing part of him—he was conscious of how little control he had. With his senses overwhelmed he was left clinging and going along with whatever Bokuto did, melting at hard kisses and wandering hands. He felt his arousal pulse when Bokuto sucked a bruise into his neck, and he tried desperately to remember how to move his limbs. He was still standing; that was good.
He moved his hand, brought it down between them—cupped Bokuto through his trousers. He was rewarded with a gasp of disbelief, and then a tortured sound as he moved his hand in a slow downward stroke.
“It’s not nice to push people around, you know,” Keiji said. He hadn’t meant for his voice to sound so husky; he sounded ridiculous. But he felt Bokuto twitch against him.
“I know, but you sounded so good—”
Keiji dropped his face against Bokuto’s shoulder, trying to ignore the rapid beat of his heart and the way his body pulsed with longing. What happened next? He’d bought himself time to think, but suddenly time to think didn’t rank very highly on his list of priorities. He wanted Bokuto to touch him. He wanted to lose—
Bokuto dipped, and a moment later Keiji’s feet had left the floor, Bokuto lifting him as if he weighed nothing. Keiji didn’t struggle; he didn’t want to end up concussed. He ducked his head as Bokuto kicked the bedroom door open.
“Seriously?” Keiji said. “I’m not your newlywed wife!”
“Are you sure?” Bokuto asked. He’d deposited Keiji on the bed, kneeling at his feet. He pushed up Keiji’s shirt, eyes a little hazy.
Keiji wanted to snipe. He’d been about to, but the look on Bokuto’s face stalled him. He swallowed, looking away. They should have done this ages ago.
“You’re so beautiful, Akaashi.”
“What?” Keiji asked before hissing in surprise. Bokuto was tracing his abs, his sides, pushing clothes away as he went. He got to the V of Keiji’s hips and bit his lip.
That should look stupid, Keiji thought, still in that vague floaty way. His body didn’t seem to care if it looked stupid; it responded with need, insisted that mouth could be put to good use. He took a breath to steady himself.
“You can take them off if you want,” he said before swallowing. He’d tried so hard to modulate his voice that it sounded commanding, and Bokuto’s fingers were undoing his zipper a moment later.
He closed his eyes tightly. He was about to be naked in a way he’d never been naked with anyone before, for all that he still had his shirt on. Much as he wanted to be touched, it scared him too.
It’s nothing he hasn’t seen befo—
The thought cut off. Bokuto had undone his zipper, but instead of pulling everything down he’d placed his mouth over the outside of Keiji’s underwear, wet warmth sinking through the fabric to Keiji’s erection. Keiji clenched his jaw; he wouldn’t whine.
“Wh-what are you doing?” he asked.
Bokuto’s tongue pressed against him for a moment before his head rose to answer. “You seemed nervous. Oh, but you shouldn’t be! I’m gonna like the way you look no matter what.”
Keiji didn’t want to be reassured by that; to disguise his relief he said, “It could be blue when it gets hard for all you know.”
The words had barely left his mouth before Bokuto was pulling down Keiji’s underwear to see, Keiji’s nerves forgotten. Keiji looked down at himself: shirt rucked up, jeans and underwear pulled down just enough for his erection to poke out. Bokuto was looking too, though unlike Keiji he seemed to be drinking in the sight instead of feeling a vague sense of embarrassment.
“You look really good like this too,” Bokuto said. The way he swallowed spit after he said it lent credence to his words.
“How about you take your shirt off too?” Keiji said dryly. Bokuto shrugged and complied, seeming unconcerned.
“Do you want the rest off too?” he asked as he pulled the shirt over his head, voice muffled. Keiji didn’t reply, too busy watching the way Bokuto’s stomach stretched with the motion, ribcage extending; the way those solid arms looked while bent above Bokuto’s head. Keiji felt an impish desire to graze his teeth over one of Bokuto’s nipples, to demand attention in a way he never had before, but he wasn’t quite bold enough for it.
It was only his first time after all. Would there be a second? A third?
“You ignored my question—”
“I didn’t hear it,” Keiji said, half remembering that there had been a question but not what it was. His body ached. “Touch me?”
Bokuto’s expression went from innocent inquiry to ardor in less than a second; his eyelids drooped; his cheeks flushed; his mouth drew up into a strange smile.
“Okay,” he said, and leaned down over Keiji. One hand cupped Keiji’s face, drawing him into a slow kiss—but the other was between them, caressing Keiji with infuriating gentleness. Keiji thrust his hips up, seeking real pressure—real connection. He’d wrap his legs around Bokuto if they were free, and he wondered if his jeans hobbling him were a blessing in disguise; they kept him from making more of a fool of himself. Then again, was wanting really that foolish? Did he think Bokuto would judge him for it?
“Akaashi,” Bokuto said. He kissed the end of Keiji’s jawline, his breath ticklish against Keiji’s neck. “Can I make love to you?”
Keiji was glad Bokuto didn’t pull back to look at him; he would have seen Keiji’s face flood with color. “Why are you calling it that?”
“Because it is that.”
Keiji’s stomach flipped over, embarrassment warring with warmth. He wanted to say something like do whatever you like—something to remind Bokuto that even if he was the kind of person to say cheesy stuff like make love instead of have sex Keiji sure wasn’t—but he didn’t want Bokuto to stop being so himself.
“So?” A hand was pressed against Keiji’s erection, making his head fall back. “Can I?”
“Between two guys—”
“There’s stuff in the backpack. I lifted it from your house.”
“You know.” Bokuto was looking away, a flush over his cheeks. “The… things we’d need. If we ever decided to. I wasn’t planning on it, I just—”
“Shut up,” Keiji said, huffing a laugh. “I’m not offended. I’m glad.”
“There’s other ways, too, we don’t have to—”
“I want to.”
“You want to?” Bokuto was looking at him now, his face painfully earnest. Keiji bit his lip, wondering if he was corrupting Bokuto in some way—but no, Bokuto had done this before. His innocence had nothing to do with sex; it wasn’t something that could be taken from him.
Keiji glanced down at himself. He was a mess—his clothes pulled back to reveal most of him, his erection pressing into Bokuto’s abdomen—and Bokuto wondered if he wanted to? “Yes,” he said, hoping the emphasis would get the point across.
Bokuto nodded, and in the next moment he was descending down Keiji’s body, hands and lips rough the way Keiji had wanted them, teasing at his nipples, his stomach—the crook of his inner thigh—
Bokuto’s mouth had found its target, settling close and hot around the tip of Keiji’s erection. Keiji’s head fell back, his eyes closing tightly. He wanted to weep with need. It was so different to have his pleasure dictated by someone else; this wasn’t the impersonal business of slaking his need when it built up, and it terrified him even as it tantalized.
Keiji’s words cut off, replaced by wordless writhing. He could feel Bokuto’s tongue, the way it moved—
I’m going to come if he doesn’t stop soon, Keiji realized with sudden mortification. He should have anticipated this; weren’t first times meant to fizz out fast?
He moved again, trying to signal to Bokuto that it was time to stop—but suddenly Bokuto’s hand clamped down on his leg, his forehead coming to rest against Keiji’s abdomen, a hand replacing the warm mouth on Keiji’s erection.
“Wait, wait,” Bokuto said. “Don’t move for a second.”
His voice sounded strained.
“What’s wrong?” Keiji asked.
“Too excited,” Bokuto muttered, moving uncomfortably—like his clothes were too tight. Keiji pressed his mouth shut but a laugh still escaped him. Here they were together, finally—and the only problem was the danger of coming too fast.
“Not funny,” Bokuto said, his voice vibrating through Keiji’s abdomen.
“I was thinking the same thing,” Keiji said, to make him feel better. “I was going to ask you to stop for a moment.”
Bokuto looked up at him, his expression suspicious for a moment and then—as he realized Keiji was serious—adoring.
“Hm,” he said, and just then his index finger smeared precum across the tip of Keiji’s erection. “I guess you are leaking pretty badly.”
It sounded like a compliment, but Keiji pulled his legs up, trying to hide the source of his embarrassment.
“I’m going to grab stuff,” Bokuto said, jumping up. Keiji’s eyes were drawn to the tent at his crotch, and again he felt a mix of amusement and arousal. He wanted to touch…
“Don’t go anywhere,” Bokuto warned as he rushed out of the bedroom.
Keiji didn’t go anywhere, but he pulled his jeans off and his underwear up, embarrassed at the thought of Bokuto coming back into the room and seeing him all mussed again; he’d only just made himself decent when Bokuto ran back in, supplies in tow.
“Now, I know this is creepy because I got it at your house, and I’m sorry—”
Keiji shook his head. “Don’t care. Our world is crazy.”
Bokuto kneeled on the bed beside him, a slow smile dawning. “Our world is crazy.”
Keiji nodded. He felt desire tug at him, and he didn’t resist this time when he felt the impulse to touch. He sat up, pushing Bokuto to lay on his back before straddling him, moving his hips the way he had before. This time it wouldn’t end in frustration. This time he wouldn’t stop until they were both done, both breathing hard, both—
His eyes met Bokuto’s, and perhaps his intent showed through them; Bokuto swallowed, and at the next cant of Keiji’s hips he let out a small whimpering noise.
Keiji swallowed too, sitting up to work on the button of Bokuto’s trousers. He pulled them down a moment later, and Bokuto helped kick them off.
Keiji was used to Bokuto saying his name at random by now; all he did was smile. “What?”
“This is happening, isn’t it?”
“It better be.”
Bokuto trailed his hands up Keiji’s chest, then down to his hips. He let one move along the front, cupping Keiji through his underwear again.
“Can I prepare you like this?”
Keiji looked away quickly. Prepare you. He knew what that meant, what it entailed—and suddenly he was aching to be touched there too, to feel Bokuto’s fingers inside of him. He nodded mutely.
He let his thoughts go fuzzy after that, not wanting embarrassment to ruin everything for him. Bokuto helped him out of his underwear, and then he was leaning above Bokuto, his body tense. He set a hand on Bokuto’s shoulder, thinking of the shape and length of Bokuto’s fingers—wondering why the thought of them could turn him on so much.
A moment later his breathing hissed at the first cold touch of lube, his body clenching up. Bokuto shifted, and Keiji saw he was still trying to manage the tent in his boxers.
He got turned on by that, Keiji thought, a shiver going through him. This was weird; everything to do with sex was weird.
He didn’t want to stop.
Keiji’s hand tightened on Bokuto’s shoulder when he felt one finger push into him. He bit his lip. He’d wondered if it would be painful, but it wasn’t. It felt strange—and the arousal helped transform the strangeness into something pleasurable. He wanted to be filled, for Bokuto to surround him utterly, not an inch of skin untouched. Didn’t he deserve that, after so long? Hadn’t he been good?
He shocked forward as the movement of Bokuto’s finger began to feel differently good. He wanted to touch himself without Bokuto seeing, but that was impossible. He must have made a small noise, though, because Bokuto caressed him almost absently with his free hand, still rapt with attention—watching Keiji with unparalleled focus.
Keiji felt naked—and suddenly that wasn’t such a bad thing, not when Bokuto watched like that, like he could barely contain himself.
“I’m gonna…” Bokuto said, trailing off. Keiji knew what he meant; another finger joined the first, and this time it wasn’t a simple adjustment. Keiji bit his lip against discomfort, his hand sliding up into Bokuto’s hair. He let it grab a fistful at the back, discomfort for discomfort.
He hadn’t expected Bokuto to keen at it, though, and rock his hips automatically; the only thing close enough to rock against was the back of his own hand, still working on preparing Keiji, and Keiji rocked down on those fingers in response, suddenly feeling a lot less uncomfortable.
“We need to—take our time—” Bokuto was saying, more to himself than to Keiji.
“We’ve taken our time,” Keiji said.
Bokuto looked up, his mouth open. Keiji met his gaze, hoping his silent stare would convey what he meant: that this was the answer to a very long question, that they deserved this, that he wanted it more than he’d ever be able to say.
The fingers inside of him spread, moving faster. Keiji rocked his hips again, and this time Bokuto didn’t protest, fingers pumping. Keiji bit his lip, held onto Bokuto harder. He could come like this, he thought: just intent fingers and the absentminded caresses of Bokuto’s other hand, but that wasn’t how he’d imagined it.
“Stop,” he said, voice breathy. “I’m ready. Please?”
When he opened his eyes—when had he closed them?—he saw Bokuto was looking stalwartly away, his color high. An arm had come up to obscure his face.
“Don’t say stuff like that during,” Bokuto mumbled. “I don’t want to come too soon.”
“Stuff like what?”
“Oh.” Keiji swallowed. “Then—not please. Do it.”
Bokuto made a strangled sound. “That’s not better! That’s definitely not better!”
Keiji moved off of him, trying not to laugh as an embarrassed Bokuto wiped his hand off on the coverlet. He pounced a moment later, rolling Keiji onto his back and kissing him fiercely—the kind of kiss that said I want to devour you, unskilled but enthusiastic and almost-but-not-quite too deep.
Keiji was growing impatient though. He’d been on display for so long and they hadn’t even graduated to Bokuto’s boxers being off. Keiji pulled at them, not able to reach far enough—but Bokuto took them off without being asked, not breaking the kiss; Keiji broke it instead to look.
“Akaashi,” Bokuto whined when Keiji sat up to curl his hand around Bokuto’s newly-bared erection, the skin very soft. It was wet at the tip too, and twitched under his hand. Bokuto bent to groan into the coverlet.
“Do you have a condom, or just—” Keiji started, not needing to finish when Bokuto gestured at a foil packet on the bedspread. Keiji was tempted to talk Bokuto out of using one—he didn’t want anything between them—but that was a discussion for another day when his body wasn’t aching with impatience. He rolled the condom on with clever fingers and ignored Bokuto’s whimpering, which renewed as he slathered on lube.
“I thought you were going to make love to me?” Keiji teased, pulling his shirt off before lying back down. He canted his hips up in a stretch, gifted with sudden confidence as Bokuto suffered.
“I am,” Bokuto said stubbornly, grabbing Keiji’s arms and holding them down. He took a breath, eyes closed. Keiji bit back a smile, his body warm with affection. He wanted it now. Now, now, now—
Now seemed to be the time. Bokuto’s short meditation session had ended, and he was moving down to kneel between Keiji’s legs, his fingers at Keiji’s hole again. This time it didn’t make Keiji clench up, though it did make need flare through him. He wanted to be filled up with no recourse, nowhere to escape to. He didn’t want to escape.
“I’m ready,” he said again, and felt the tip of Bokuto’s erection against him, slick as his fingers had been. Bokuto looked down at him like he was memorizing the moment.
Then he pushed in.
Keiji’s head fell back, back arching. It hurt a little—Bokuto’s erection had more girth than two nimble fingers—but it was what Keiji had wanted. He could handle the burn; all he wanted was Bokuto deeper, lost inside of him—
Bokuto ran his hands up Keiji’s body, stopping when he reached Keiji’s hands—entwining their fingers and pinning them together above Keiji’s head. He rocked very slowly, going deeper every time—and then pleasure was streaming through Keiji’s body from the inside, making him clench his legs hard around Bokuto.
Bokuto made a soft hissing sound.
“Don’t stop,” Keiji pleaded. He was going to come apart at the seams. He was going to split apart and finally be everything he needed to be. He wasn’t sure what that meant, but his body seemed to know it—seemed to be building towards it.
Bokuto didn’t stop; he kept up his cresting motions, rhythmically pushing Keiji further and further over the edge. It didn’t take much; once that pleasure had begun to ripple through him he was so close he could taste it, and Bokuto felt like he belonged inside of him. When the high hit Keiji felt every cell in his body heave a sigh of relief. He clenched his legs and fell back, head spinning, dimly aware that his stomach was getting wet but totally unable to care—totally focused on the continued throb of pleasure burning itself out. What he did care about was the groan Bokuto let out and the fast, desperate way he kept up the movements, giving everything he had as he found his own climax. He collapsed after, pressing exhausted kisses to Keiji’s collarbones. “Love you,” he muttered after each one. Kiss. “Love you.”
Keiji covered his face with his arm. He wasn’t going to cry just because he felt adored; he wasn’t. He caressed Bokuto’s face blindly with his free hand, swallowing through a suddenly tight throat when Bokuto nuzzled in.
“I’m not going to leave,” Keiji said with some difficulty. “But you have to promise not to leave either.”
“I won’t,” Bokuto said without hesitation. “I was never going to.”
“You won’t tell me to leave you behind anymore?”
Bokuto’s head shook no against Keiji’s chest. “We can stay together now, can’t we?”
“I think so,” Keiji said. He looked at Bokuto, at his sweat-damp hair and earnest eyes, droopy now with sleep. “I’m not jumping onto moving trains with you though.”
A slow smile spread across Bokuto’s face. “That’s okay. I have Kuroo for that. He talked to you, didn’t he?”
Keiji opened his mouth to deny it—but how else would he have known about the trains? He forgot how perceptive Bokuto was sometimes. “He did.”
“Thought you’d… get along…”
Bokuto’s body was getting heavier, and Keiji shook him. “Hey. You’re still inside me. We can’t sleep like this.” Not to mention their cum-splattered stomachs—not that Bokuto seemed to have given that a second thought when he collapsed.
Bokuto sighed pathetically, making Keiji take matters into his own hands He rolled them so he was sitting on top of Bokuto and made to get up, but Bokuto’s hands clamped down on his thighs.
“You’ll always come back?” Bokuto asked, somehow intense despite the way the words slurred with sleep.
“Yes,” Keiji said. “And you?”
Bokuto smiled, his eyes closing. “Always,” he mumbled. The hands on Keiji’s thighs dropped back, and Keiji was free to get up.
His legs were shaky as he went in search of a washcloth.
THIS CHAPTER HAS 3188 WORDS (TIME: 13MIN)
Chapter 8: night visitors
I was going to wait until I’d written the next chapter to post this, but my motivation is flagging and I’m afraid I need your sweet words to push me on to the next chapter. I’M SORRY ; n ; I have failed you all. Thank you to everyone who has said such wonderful things; your reviews make me squirm and do that one pikachu face
(this one: http://i.imgur.com/mQyfM04.jpg)
For anyone who enjoys kuroken, I wrote a (very angsty) side-story for the lovely Gin/eicinic, which you can read here: http://mysecretfanmoments.tumblr.com/post/124574739172/eicinic-mysecretfanmoments-today-is
Keiji didn’t know whether what they’d done was sex or lovemaking, but he knew Bokuto slept soundly after it; he knew because he kept waking up to find Bokuto still sprawled, his breathing deep and relaxed. Each time Keiji woke he was a little more embarrassed, the scenes from yesterday evening replaying in his head over and over. He didn’t regret it, per se, but it embarrassed him to think of how he’d lost himself—and to think of all the things Bokuto would now remember: Keiji’s movements, his whispers, his sighs.
Still—as Bokuto slept Keiji couldn’t stop touching him lightly, fingertips skimming his skin. Are you mine now? he asked in his head.
Apparently his possessiveness was still in fine working order.
It was still dark out when Bokuto started to wake up. It was funny to watch; for a moment he stretched as usual—and then he froze and turned to look at Keiji in the bed. There was just enough light from outside to see by—enough to see that Bokuto looked stunned.
“I didn’t dream that, did I?” Bokuto asked after a long moment of silent eye contact.
“That depends,” Keiji said. “What do you think you dreamt?”
Keiji bit back a smile. His own body ached from what they’d done, and not in any metaphorical way; his muscles were sore. Didn’t Bokuto have muscle ache too?
“We did!” Bokuto said, eyes narrowed at Keiji’s lack of answers. His narrowed eyes turned questioning, unsure of himself. “Didn’t we?”
This time it was Keiji’s turn to be confused. “You’re seriously not sure?”
“It… seems like the kind of thing I might have made up…”
Keiji snorted. “I’ll take that as a compliment, I guess. Yeah, we did.”
Keiji was glad of the dark; this was only getting more embarrassing now that Bokuto was awake.
“Hey… are you still naked?”
What was with the interest in his voice? Keiji smiled. “Maybe.” He wasn’t; he’d pulled on clean underwear. He wasn’t the type to sleep naked, though obviously Bokuto was.
A hand snaked out, and then rough fingertips were caressing his shoulderblade, running down his spine. Bokuto crawled closer and pressed kisses to his shoulder and the back of his neck.
Keiji sighed into the mattress. Was Bokuto trying to get him going again? It was working; the only thing keeping him from pushing Bokuto down and kissing him senseless was the knowledge of how truly awful their breath would be.
And then his stomach growled.
Bokuto jumped off him, bouncing off the bed in a hurry. “You’re hungry! I should have—wait here.”
Bokuto had the sense to pull on trousers and a shirt before hurrying to the kitchen, leaving Keiji feeling flustered on his own in the bed. Wait here? He rolled onto his back, looking up at the dark ceiling. Shivers lifted the hair on his arms as he remembered Bokuto’s kisses—such a strange thing to wake up to.
He was still musing about strange mornings when he heard a sound outside—a shout followed by a dull, slightly wet thunk like flesh hitting flesh. He sat up in bed, pulled on discarded clothes from the day before and was glad he had when there was a quick, covert knock.
Bokuto was singing in the kitchen; Keiji ran past him to open the front door.
Kuroo and Kenma stood beyond in all black, their faces sweaty. Keiji swung the door open without a moment of hesitation; the guard posted at their door was slumped over, curled up on the walkway.
“Where’s Bokuto?” Kuroo asked, but his mouth snapped closed when he heard singing. For a moment his serious demeanor disappeared; a smile breathed life into his face—and then the sober look took over again. He went into the kitchen and the singing stopped.
“What happened?” Keiji asked Kenma. His stomach was roiling, and a part of him felt like he should have expected this. Of course things wouldn’t go right; of course there was no happily ever after. This was the apocalypse, not a fairytale. He closed the door quietly.
“Remember how I asked about volunteers for the disease research?” Kenma said. He moved into the living room, sitting down on one of the couches. There was dirt in his hair. “We decided to look into it.”
Keiji swallowed. He remembered: Kenma had asked how the hospital had samples of victims before and after they got infected, and Keiji had put the thought from his mind. They got lucky, the people at the hospital had said. Obviously it wasn’t that simple.
“They did get volunteers,” Kenma said. “Old people, people who had lost the will to live—they’ve been infecting people with the disease and monitoring them before and after, checking white blood cell count, running tests—”
Keiji clenched his jaw. It was distasteful, but he understood why they were doing it. “Is that a problem?” he asked, knowing it might ruin Kenma’s good opinion of him.
Kenma smiled fleetingly, though in response to what Keiji didn’t know. “It wouldn’t be, except we’re pretty sure they want to do it to Bokuto.”
Keiji’s lungs felt like they’d collapsed; all the breath had left his body. “What?”
“We broke in after hours. Found the records on Bokuto. They almost have enough; they want to get started on testing him. I found a calculation on what the infectious dose would be for a person of Bokuto’s BMI. They want to test a range of them.”
Keiji said nothing. He heard Kuroo saying something in the kitchen, his voice pitched low. When Keiji looked he saw Bokuto’s bent head, Kuroo touching his shoulder.
They would have to leave, wouldn’t they? Bokuto was immune—Keiji was over ninety percent sure—but having someone inject the disease into him would be different. He’d be locked up inside the hospital, poked and prodded. What if they messed up? What if the delivery system changed Bokuto’s reaction? What if they were tempted to use higher and higher doses of the disease to see how his body reacted?
Keiji didn’t look forward to living on the outside again, but what choice did they have?
Bokuto approached, thrusting a plate of scrambled eggs at Keiji. He sat down next to him, his jaw set in a stubborn line.
“Nice of everyone to come over,” he said, as if Kuroo and Kenma were here to visit. “Bit early.”
Keiji shoveled food into his dry mouth, though he had difficulty chewing.
“I’m not going,” Bokuto said. He looked at Kuroo and Kenma, the former draped over the back of the couch, the other sitting on it. They seemed like very sober figures in their black fatigues.
Keiji stopped eating. “We have to. It’s not safe for you to stay here.”
“Nothing is safe for anyone,” Bokuto said. “We’re staying.”
Kuroo looked at Keiji, his eyes pleading. Make him change his mind, those eyes said, and Keiji nodded.
“We’ll find a different way to live,” Keiji said. “There’s four of us now, and we can steal weapons on our way out. No one will expect us to go.”
“The guards at the gate could shoot us before we got out of here,” Bokuto said. “The regulars could attack us again. There’s no way out.”
“We’d protect you,” Kuroo said.
“And yourselves? Would you protect yourselves?”
“Of course we would, what are you—”
“Any one of you might get infected, and any of us could die. I’m not risking that.”
Kuroo’s eyes narrowed. “We’d all be taking an individual risk. Our lives aren’t your responsibility.”
“My blood might hold the answer,” Bokuto said. “And I am immune.”
At this everyone looked at Keiji, who swallowed. What Bokuto was saying made sense—but still. The scientists here had planned to do tests on Bokuto without ever asking for permission. They wanted to infect him directly. That was terrifying—the kind of stuff Keiji had been worried about from day one.
“Well?” Kuroo said. His voice was clipped.
“Theoretically,” Keiji said. “But I don’t trust them. What if they give you too high a dose? And why haven’t they asked?”
“So the worst case scenario is I die,” Bokuto said. He looked at them all, eyes neutral. “Right?”
“Yes,” Keiji said. Then again, if they couldn’t trust the people here weren’t there other dangers?
“Worst case scenario on the outside is we all die,” Bokuto said. Again he looked at them, and the stubborn set of his jaw forbade questions. “We’re staying. They don’t know you broke in, do they?”
“The guard outside knows he got attacked,” Kenma said. “But no. I don’t think anyone can tie the break-in to us, even if they notice someone infiltrated.”
Kuroo’s mouth was tight. He looked at Bokuto as if the intensity of his stare might change his mind; Bokuto stared back.
What was Keiji supposed to do? Make Bokuto leave with them? How long would they last with the four of them, assuming their allies didn’t shoot them for trying to escape? How long until a seizure or a simple mistake cost one of their number?
The urgency seemed to drain from the room, though Kuroo and Bokuto were still stuck in a staring match.
“Do you think the volunteers were really volunteers?” Keiji asked Kenma in a subdued voice.
“I don’t know,” Kenma said. “They might have been stragglers. I’d worry about going against camp directives; might just disappear one night if I did.”
Keiji nodded. They were probably okay, being as visible as they were, but what about people who had lost everyone? If someone disappeared it would be easy to lie and say they’d gone crazy, run out of the community and into the regulars when really they were taken from their beds and infected. Had that ever happened?
He stopped his thoughts from racing through force of will; he was thinking in worst case scenarios again.
“All we have to do is be good,” Bokuto said. “Do what they want us to do.”
Now everyone in the room was staring at Bokuto.
“Sure,” Kuroo said. He sounded angry. “Let’s let people with completely arbitrary moral codes dictate our lives. That really sounds like something you’d suggest, y’know, the whole submit-to-an-oppressive-regime thing—”
Keiji’s body felt tight. He hated arguments, and he hated arguments between friends even more. Did Kuroo blame him? Did he think Keiji was the one who’d made Bokuto scared to leave?
“Everything is different now,” Bokuto said. He looked at his lap.
“Because you want to protect him?” Kuroo asked, jerking his chin at Keiji.
“Yes,” Bokuto said. He looked up. “If this is how, then this is how.”
“That’s not what I’m asking for,” Keiji said. “If you die, or they mistreat you, or—”
“That’s a risk I’ll take.”
Keiji’s insides squirmed. Meanwhile, Kuroo had planted his head in his hands; Keiji could see he was shaking.
“This might be for the better,” Kenma said. “Bokuto’s right. There are more risks out there than in here. We could save mankind here, for all we know.”
Bokuto looked relieved; he had an ally at last. He hadn’t looked at Keiji for a while now, and Keiji felt new tension between them—tension he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Why was Bokuto avoiding looking at him?
“I hate this,” Kuroo said. “Everything was supposed to be better now.”
“Everything is better,” Bokuto said stubbornly. “You’re here. I’m here. We’re together, and no one’s going to die.”
Silence fell, and Keiji held himself very still. He was about to ask what they’d do next when he heard the strange noise that usually heralded Bokuto’s seizures. Keiji propelled himself off the couch, pushing the coffee table out of the way. When it looked like Bokuto was going to fall off the couch Keiji laid him gently on the floor, dodging an arm.
Kuroo and Kenma were watching, Kuroo’s eyes wide—Kenma’s sympathetic.
“I’m sure he’d prefer if you didn’t look,” Keiji said, moving them out of the way. Kuroo ignored him, though Kenma turned his head away.
“This is why,” Kuroo said. “This is why he can’t go out there.”
“It’s a time bomb,” Keiji agreed. “With three people we might be able to manage it, but I don’t think Bokuto can handle the possibility of us not handling it.”
“This is our fault,” Kuroo said.
“It was this or him dying,” Keiji replied, voice sharp. “I prefer things the way they are.”
Kuroo seemed to break out of his spell, suddenly meeting Keiji’s eyes. He smiled fleetingly.
“Right,” he said. “I guess things went well after you got home.”
Keiji’s cheeks flushed. “We talked.”
There hadn’t been a huge amount of talking.
Kenma snorted, and Keiji looked at him accusingly—was Kenma going to call him out, really? Keiji had thought he had more tact than that. Kenma didn’t respond.
“You both have hickeys,” Kuroo said, as if he was Kenma’s mouthpiece. A grin pulled at his mouth. “I love those kinds of ‘talks’.”
Keiji flushed harder.
“Stop,” Kenma said. “I didn’t mean to laugh.”
At least one of them had a conscience. Keiji folded his arms. “What do you want to do?” he asked the pair of them. The less attention they paid Bokuto while he was weak, the better; Keiji didn’t want him to wake up to them staring.
“Nothing, I guess,” Kuroo said. His shoulders were high. “We can’t leave without Bokuto, and he won’t leave. So we’ll stay.”
“And the guard you knocked out?”
“Probably won’t talk, since he’d have to tell his superiors people snuck up on him. If we go back and don’t mention it again it’ll just seem like a prank.”
Knocking a guy out? What kind of pranks was Kuroo used to?
“Fine,” Keiji said. “I’ll try to stay on the hospital’s good side too. Maybe they’ll let me help.”
Kenma nodded. “Best not to show it affects you. And…”
Keiji raised his brows.
“Best to keep your relationship a secret,” Kenma said. “Best to seem normal.”
Keiji had come to this community dragging his bitten and bleeding friend, screaming and crying in the rain. Normal seemed a long way off—but he knew what Kenma meant; he appreciated the fact that he didn’t quite put it into words.
“Okay,” Kuroo said. “We’ll say goodbye to Bokuto when he wakes up and get out of here. But…”
“If we need to escape—even if he won’t agree to it—just let us know. We’ll find a way.”
Keiji smiled. “You’d drag him out?”
“I’d do a lot of things,” Kuroo said. “You’ll tell us, won’t you? If we need to go? If you think they’re going to kill him?”
“I will,” Keiji said, ignoring the voice inside that said there was no way they could smuggle Bokuto out of the hospital once he was inside. Kenma and Kuroo had smuggled themselves in and out—but no one had been expecting a break-in then, and they were both willing.
“Good,” Kuroo said, and turned the conversation to inconsequentials—stories about the other community they’d been a part of. He was in the middle of one when Bokuto woke up.
He and Kenma left shortly after saying goodbye.
Keiji wondered if he was imagining things. After Bokuto woke up he’d been his usual weak post-seizure self, letting Keiji help him and bring him things—but after their friends’ departure he started turning away from Keiji, answering in half-sentences.
He still wasn’t meeting Keiji’s eyes.
“Are you avoiding me?” Keiji asked at last, when they’d both eaten and washed the dishes. Bokuto was on the couch again, legs drawn up.
“Huh?!” Bokuto said, jumping. He looked up guiltily. “I’m… not…”
Keiji’s eyes narrowed, and he kneeled in front of Bokuto. “Why?”
Bokuto’s head lowered; he propped his chin between his knees, eyes downcast. “You’re angry, aren’t you?”
“No,” Keiji said. How had Bokuto come to that conclusion?
“You wanted me to go.”
“And you’re not angry I don’t want to?”
“No. I understand your reasoning. I don’t like it, but maybe this is what we have to do. Stay and hope for the best.”
Bokuto unfolded, looking down at Keiji kneeling in front of him. He reached, and Keiji let himself be pulled in, setting his knees on either side of Bokuto on the couch. The hug Bokuto pulled him into could have cracked a lesser man’s ribs.
“Kuroo’s angry,” Bokuto said into Keiji’s chest.
“Yeah, well, I think your friendship will survive. He’s only angry because he cares about you so much.”
“It’s terrifying,” Bokuto said.
“Really? He didn’t seem that—”
“Having things to lose,” Bokuto said. “That’s scary. Scarier than having nothing.”
“Oh,” Keiji breathed. Everything is different now, Bokuto had said, and Kuroo had taken it to mean he was scared of losing Keiji. But he was scared of losing Kuroo and Kenma, too.
“We’ll be safe,” Keiji said. “No more breaking into hospitals. We’ll be upstanding citizens, and your blood will be the answer to everyone’s questions, and we’ll rebuild the world together.”
“Okay,” Bokuto said, like it wasn’t some ridiculous fantasy. He sounded calm now. “Okay.”
Keiji wasn’t surprised the day an official came to their door. It was the same scientist who’d come to say Bokuto no longer carried the disease, and she was holding a clipboard. Two guards stood behind her.
“Bokuto-san, Akaashi-san,” she said, smiling pleasantly. They nodded back as if this was business as usual.
“Please come in,” Keiji said.
She did—but she didn’t sit, and her guards came in with her.
“We’ve completed our tests on Bokuto-san’s blood,” she said, more to Keiji than Bokuto. “It’s time for the next round of tests, which are a bit more… intense.”
Keiji lifted his brows, as if he had no idea where she was going with this.
She didn’t have the decency to look uncomfortable. “We need to see how Bokuto-san reacts to the disease so we can collect more of the antibodies he produces and monitor the infection process. Without this knowledge, our research is stuck at step one.”
“You mean to expose him,” Keiji said. “That’s risky.”
“Our research is sound,” she said. “He fought the disease off once. He can do so again.”
“I already took blood samples during—”
“Yes, in uncontrolled circumstances—and besides, we’ve run out. We won’t take any unnecessary risks, but we have to understand this disease, and he’s the only one who can teach us.”
“I’m guessing we can’t say no.”
She smiled temperately. “Akaashi-san… don’t you care whether humanity recovers from this blight?”
“We’ll do it,” Bokuto said quickly. “Of course. Akaashi’s just someone who worries a lot.”
“That’s nice to have in a friend,” she said. “We won’t let you come to any harm.”
“When do these tests start?” Keiji asked. He looked at the two guards, feeling his heart rate increase for no reason. They’d already made all their decisions; there was nothing to panic about.
The woman smiled. “Well—now, ideally.”
THIS CHAPTER HAS 4447 WORDS (TIME: 18MIN)
Chapter 9: under observation
Thank you to everyone who’s commented & kept me going. ;v; Also, ARTISTS. I realize I haven’t showcased the amazing art people have drawn for this fic since a while ago–
http://claramarla.tumblr.com/post/123163975175/im-not-going-to-leave-keiji-said-with-some (nsfw!!! amazing!!! linking to the original post because my reblog of it got inexplicable weird text in it)
http://mysecretfanmoments.tumblr.com/post/125919270352/chosenofkagami-right-in-the-head-got-me-right SO CUTE
I’m so lucky… sorry for the long wait this time! I’ve been busy & exhausted. Also, this seems like a good time to remind everyone that the science in this is bogus and you should just enjoy without absorbing probably-false information.
Obviously Keiji’s objections hadn’t raised enough suspicion to shock anyone; he was permitted to join the group taking Bokuto to the hospital. He had a feeling they liked having him around because it made them feel insecure to handle Bokuto directly—like he was some animal they were doing tests on, not a person.
“He’s been eating plenty, hasn’t he?” the woman asked as they walked to the hospital. “Given how much blood we take, we’ve given the two of you extra rations—you look healthier too.”
This second part didn’t seem to please her very much; Keiji wondered if she thought he was stealing Bokuto’s blood-replenishing rations.
“He eats more than I do,” he said simply. The words caused a twist in his stomach; the past few days Bokuto had been determined to cook for him, and the memory of the way he watched Keiji eat—face hopeful—was too much to bear at the moment. Better to store all those feelings inside, to forget how much he loved the idiot walking next to him.
The idiot who’d refused to run.
Keiji looked up and found he hadn’t quite locked everything up inside of him when he saw his sister among the passersby. She drew up short, beginning to walk with their group.
“What’s going on?” she asked. “Where are they taking you?”
Does she know? Keiji wondered. Had his sister noticed there were people who disappeared from the community? The concern in her voice suggested she might have.
“More tests,” Keiji said, casting a glance at the scientist who escorted them. Her mouth thinned; she didn’t want people informed. “Nothing to worry about.”
The scientist lady looked slightly mollified by that, obviously not reading the doubt in Mitsuko’s expression. Good; if things went south, Keiji didn’t want his sister getting in trouble for knowing too much.
“See you later,” Keiji said, waving, and Mitsuko nodded. She stopped walking along, watching them go.
“I’m glad to see you found your family,” the scientist said. She didn’t sound glad.
“Mm,” Keiji replied. He was ready to get to the hospital and get this awful business started; anticipating it was hell. He’d had three days with Bokuto, and amazing as they’d been they were edged with dark fear that threatened to swallow him if he turned his mind to the future. He didn’t want Bokuto just for now; he wanted him forever.
It was a relief to step into the hospital alongside their escort. Bokuto tripped slightly, forcing Keiji to right him. For a moment Keiji had an excuse to grab Bokuto’s back and arm, and he memorized the feel of Bokuto’s solid body beneath his hands. He swallowed as he let go, wondering if Bokuto had tripped on purpose. Keiji had told him not to be openly affectionate, but the thought of Bokuto finding excuses to touch him when he was scared was heartbreaking. Keiji wanted to kiss him soundly, hold him close.
“This way,” one of the guards said, and they took the lift up to a floor higher than Keiji had ever been. He looked at Bokuto and found Bokuto looking back at him, a strange sort of longing in his eyes.
Keiji swallowed. He moved slightly so his hand hanging by his side bumped Bokuto’s, and felt Bokuto shift his hand so more of their skin was touching. Bokuto smiled at him—a smile that wasn’t quite a smile. Keiji’s jaw ached with how hard he was clenching it. He wanted to break through that stillness, wanted to drag Bokuto to the nearest bathroom and suck him off, make him feel so good he forgot he’d ever been scared.
But he didn’t. Keiji followed meekly to the wing in question, confused when they paused along the way. Another scientist ran down the hall to meet them, carrying a bag.
“These should be his size,” she said with a flustered smile. She held the bag up for Keiji to take before looking to the head scientist for approval. The boss lady nodded.
“Thank you, Yamamoto.” She looked at Keiji and Bokuto as the other scientist ran back to whatever lab she’d run out from. She beckoned to the nearest door. “There’s a shower in there, and we’d like you to wash thoroughly before we take you to the room. Put those clothes on after. Do you need assistance?”
Bokuto looked at her, the guards, Keiji. “I can shower by myself,” he said with a confused smile. “Of course.”
The scientist looked at Keiji meaningfully. What did she want? For Keiji to make sure he washed behind his ears? Her nod suggested she did, and Keiji nearly laughed. What had he been thinking before this? That he’d love to give Bokuto a blowjob in one of these bathrooms?
“We’d prefer to keep you under observation,” the scientist said. “If you don’t mind.”
Bokuto’s continued to look puzzled, and he opened his mouth to argue.
“I’ll go with you,” Keiji said, taking his cue. When Bokuto raised his eyebrows Keiji shrugged. At least Bokuto looked relatively pleased at the new development. Keiji looked at the woman in charge. “Is that all right?”
Bokuto and Keiji walked into the bathroom, closing the door behind them. Bokuto was about to say something—no doubt in high volume—and Keiji pressed his fingers to Bokuto’s lips, passing him to get to the shower. It was open on all sides, a slight lip the only thing separating the tiled shower from the rest of the small room. Keiji turned on the water and the sound filled the air. Feeling paranoid, he checked for cameras—and found there were none.
“Why do they want you to watch me shower?” Bokuto asked, a confused look on his face.
“Not sure. I’m not complaining.”
A sweet smile rose to Bokuto’s lips. “Akaashi—are you flirting with me?”
Keiji stood in front of him, rose up slightly to press a kiss to Bokuto’s mouth. “Yes,” he said. “Now get naked.”
“I love it when you boss me around,” Bokuto said, pulling off his shirt. Keiji sat down on a plastic chair that had to have been there since the days geriatric patients showered here. He watched as Bokuto undid his belt, feeling kind of perverted for not looking away—but Bokuto didn’t seem to mind.
“You can join me if you like,” Bokuto said, stepping into the shower.
“There’s only one towel in the bag they gave me,” Keiji said. “Plus they’d notice I was wet.”
“They would just think you were doing a thorough job.”
Keiji laughed quietly. He felt around in the bag some more and found soap. He threw it to Bokuto, who caught it one-handed and grinned blindingly. Keiji fought down the fear that grin inspired.
Don’t take this from me, he pleaded with the universe.
“You remember the code?” he asked a moment later, watching Bokuto lather up. There was a lump in his throat, and he thought talking might dislodge it.
“If you touch my bicep it’ll mean are you okay, and if I smile it means I am and if I duck my head it means I’m not and you should get me out.”
Keiji nodded. “I’ll find a way to be there with you, I promise.”
“I know,” Bokuto said. He was totally without shame as he washed himself, hands slow and thorough. In a different setting Keiji would be pressing down on his crotch, swallowing uncomfortably—but in this one he was all too aware of the people outside. He couldn’t let any weird noises pass through that door.
“We should have more secret meanings,” Bokuto said. His back was to Keiji, but there was a smile in his voice. “Shoulder means you’re horny. Knee means you want to jump me. Ribcage means take me now I’m yours.”
Laughter bubbled up in Keiji’s stomach, emerging very softly. “All of these are about me wanting to have sex with you.”
Bokuto turned and looked at him, eyes wide. “Well, what else would you need to tell me?”
Keiji smiled, ignoring the strange urge to break down and cry at this evidence of Bokuto being irreversibly himself. Would Keiji ever get tired of it?
Would he get the chance to?
The comically innocent look on Bokuto’s face began to fade, and Keiji realized that some of his own misery must have shown through the smile. He didn’t want Bokuto to be sad, and he hastened to fix it.
“What will your secret responses be?” he asked.
“Oh! If I breathe, it’ll mean same here.”
Again Keiji wanted to claw at things, and again he smiled through it. Bokuto turned off the water, and Keiji approached him with a towel.
“I’m still going to take care of you,” Keiji said softly, patting Bokuto dry. Bokuto took over after a tense moment.
“I know,” he said. The levity in his voice was gone.
“I can’t handle—” Keiji started. He swallowed. “If anything happens to you…”
“Lots of things have happened,” Bokuto said. He was done drying, and he grabbed his change of clothes without Keiji’s help: sweatpants, a shirt with long sleeves, underwear. “But here we are.”
Here we are.
They’d triumphed over impossible odds already. They were in a community, Bokuto had fought off an infection that had felled millions, Keiji’s mother and sister were alive, Kuroo and Kenma had found them—they were here. For better or for worse.
Keiji reached, letting his hands cup Bokuto’s face; Bokuto’s skin was damp from the shower.
“I’ll be pretending I don’t care,” he said. He let his forehead rest against Bokuto’s. “But it’ll be just that: a pretense.”
“I know,” Bokuto said. He moved his head, nuzzling Keiji as if he was a child. Then, suddenly: “Let’s go.”
Something inside Keiji stuttered at the commanding note in Bokuto’s voice. He’d expected Bokuto to be the one dragging his feet, needing comfort—but Bokuto finished dressing, and his face was resolute. Keiji was the one who didn’t want to open that door again, and it was Bokuto who stepped out first.
“All clean!” Bokuto declared. Keiji stood behind him and couldn’t see everyone, but he thought the scientist lady looked just a little disarmed by Bokuto’s childish goodwill. For the very first time, Keiji considered the possibility that perhaps Bokuto was aware of the effect he had on others—maybe not totally, but enough to use it in a pinch.
There was a light feeling in Keiji’s chest—pride, maybe. Use everything you have, Keiji thought at Bokuto. Please.
The light feeling was crushed as they got to the ward Bokuto would be kept in. There was a row of observation rooms with glass walls on the side facing the hall, obviously made to keep an eye on the patients without being physically present inside. The room they were led to was on one end of the row of rooms, containing a bed, a chair, and a curtain that presumably hid a chamber pot. Both the chair and the bed had leather restraints dangling off them.
“He won’t be restrained, will he?” Keiji asked, trying to sound casual about it. The scientist shook her head.
“Not unless there’s a need for it.” She looked at Bokuto and smiled. “You intend to be a good patient, don’t you?”
Keiji tried not to recoil visibly. Using the word patient was wrong; a patient was someone you healed.
“Of course,” Bokuto said amicably. He let himself be led into the room.
“What about books?” Keiji asked. “It’s going to be boring to be in there day and night.”
“We could supply some,” the scientist said. “Of course, books are very popular these days. We can’t simply requisition them from people; it wouldn’t be fair.”
Keiji nodded, as if her concept of fairness had any value to him. He stood in the doorway of Bokuto’s room as the woman in charge explained what would be happening over the next few days. Her businesslike tone made it sound like a normal thing, to be injected with disease and observed like an animal—and maybe it was, in the after-world. They would collect Bokuto’s antibodies and monitor his body’s response to see how it differed from a normal human’s; they had plenty of research on how non-immune people responded.
“Say goodbye for now,” she said finally, turning to Keiji. “Unless you want to be on the research team, you’ll—”
“I want to be on the team,” Keiji said quickly.
“Ah.” She smiled. “Of course. Well, then I suppose you’ll see each other daily. It’ll be like nothing’s changed.”
Keiji doubted that, but he stepped aside to let her out. He grasped Bokuto’s bicep in what he hoped looked like a friendly gesture. Are you okay? that touch asked. Nothing had happened yet, but fear was as valid a reason to escape as any.
They stepped away from each other, Keiji out the door and Bokuto into the room—and a guard closed the glass door between them. For a moment it felt as if Keiji couldn’t breathe—and then he steeled himself. He squared his shoulders and followed the scientist as she moved off past the observation rooms. He sent a last wave at Bokuto, thinking he’d managed the whole thing rather well.
Then he saw the other rooms.
In hindsight, he should have guessed it. The researchers here had too many good samples, and it made sense that they had to come from somewhere—but Keiji still hadn’t been prepared to see the other observation chambers inhabited by corpses, struggling weakly against restraints. One was free, and it began bumping into the glass wall when it saw Keiji’s group, its eyes bloodshot and desperate.
“Not a pleasant sight, I know,” the scientist in charge said. “But necessary. At least he’s not sharing a wall with any of them. He won’t know unless you tell him.”
Keiji imagined it: moaning and retching in the night, never knowing who was in the room beside you. He shivered, glad there were two empty rooms besides Bokuto’s. “There’s that, at least.”
She nodded, tapping a finger against her clipboard. “You’re very understanding. I’m glad. Some people are brought in and they… don’t cope well.”
Keiji made a noncommittal noise.
“We’re in for a long month,” she said, sighing. “The injections themselves, and then waiting for traces of the strain to leave his system—how long it takes him to clear it each time. A long, boring month. We’ll be lucky to find any of his veins by the end of it.”
They arrived at a door marked Research 1, though the sign used to say something else. The woman in charge looked at him. “Are you all right? You look pale.”
“I’m fine,” Keiji managed.
The following weeks blended together. Keiji forced himself to go back to his lonely apartment on the days he didn’t have night shift, but most of him wanted to be in the hospital fulltime—for all that it made him miserable. Bokuto was miserable too, drooping a little more every day. Keiji had managed to get him a collection of books and magazines, but he knew that wasn’t enough, and it wasn’t like he could keep Bokuto company either. The researchers had to wear hazmat suits inside the room whenever Bokuto’s infection-levels were unknown, meaning Keiji could only touch him unobstructed when it was time to inject him again—and when he did that he wore gloves.
He wanted so badly to touch him, even if it was only to brush his bare hand against Bokuto’s
“You look awful,” Kuroo told Keiji when he and Kenma visited Keiji’s quiet apartment. They still hadn’t been reinstated as guards, but they worked odd jobs and kept close, always ready for news of Bokuto. “You need to rest. Badly.”
Keiji shrugged. He was injecting the person he loved with ever-increasing amounts of a disease. How could he rest?
“Maybe you need to pull back from the research,” Kuroo said, and he sounded reluctant. He knew as well as Keiji did that being one of the researchers was the only way to keep an eye on Bokuto.
“If I don’t do it someone else will,” Keiji said.
“Yeah but—you’re torturing yourself.”
“I can’t leave him. It’s better if it’s me.”
“You could just do the labwork,” Kenma suggested. “Then sit outside Bokuto’s room now and then. It’s not weird for someone to keep their friend company.”
“It’s too late for that,” Keiji said. “It’ll look suspicious now. I’m fine.”
“And Bokuto?” Kuroo asked. “He’s still saying he’s okay?”
Keiji nodded. Each time Keiji touched him, Bokuto smiled. The smile was weak, but there; Keiji nearly felt guilty for forcing Bokuto to conjure it. Each time, Keiji anticipated the signal for not-okay, but Bokuto never gave it.
A part of Keiji wished he would.
He went back in to work the next day, ignoring Kuroo’s advice to stop helping. Bokuto had been declared disease-free again, which meant it was an injection day. Keiji wanted to fall down and become one with the floor.
“Maybe I could go into isolation with him again,” Keiji tried arguing with Dr. Hayashi, the head scientist. “It would help, wouldn’t it? Bokuto’s mood might be depressing his immune system.”
She pursed her lips. “No. We’re not doing it that way again. No outside influence.”
“But we wouldn’t need all that protection. It would be so helpful—”
“No, Akaashi-san. You’re not joining your friend. You’re a valuable member of our team, but you’re not the one running the research. Would you like someone else to take over your job?”
“No,” Keiji said quickly. “I just thought it was a good idea.”
“Your opinion has been noted,” she said. “Hanyuu is preparing the inoculum this morning.”
Keiji looked over at the biosafety cabinet where Hanyuu worked, noting the man’s tired expression. Had he had enough sleep? What if he messed up the dilutions? Keiji wished he could do everything himself.
Hanyuu finished his work, and Keiji managed not to badger him for an exact chart; people didn’t make mistakes like that, not when lives depended on it. Bokuto was still valuable, even if they had so much of his blood to test.
He was still too valuable to risk, wasn’t he?
Keiji’s stomach squirmed on the way to Bokuto’s room, and it had nothing to do with the restrained infected they had to walk past. These times were always the worst and the best—the worst because he was the one injecting Bokuto with disease, and the best because they got to be in the same room without a hazmat suit between them. Regardless of the procedure, though, two guards always accompanied him to inspect Bokuto, and frequently the head scientist watched.
“Hey,” Keiji said, walking into the room. Bokuto’s eyes looked brighter than they had for a while. Keiji wanted to walk him back into the wall and kiss him senseless—but instead he motioned towards the chair, and Bokuto sat obediently.
“Are you enjoying the books?” Keiji asked, kneeling down next to him.
“They’re boring,” Bokuto complained. “Really dry. One of the magazines had a funny what-he-secretly-wants list though. I liked that.”
Keiji shivered. He’d seen magazines like that—advising women to run ice cubes over their partner’s nipples or to use teeth in decidedly sensitive areas. He hoped Bokuto wasn’t absorbing any of the information.
“And you?” Bokuto asked. He didn’t glance up at the guards; it was normal for him and Keiji to talk a little at these times.
“I saw Kuroo and Kenma yesterday. They were asking for you.”
Keiji kneeled beside Bokuto’s chair. He couldn’t spin this out too long; the guards would start to shift uncomfortably, and he’d be scolded. “Arm out,” he said thickly.
Bokuto offered his arm obediently, laying it on the arm rest for Keiji to inject. The skin on the inside of his elbow was lightly purple despite all Keiji’s best attempts not to bruise. Keiji gripped Bokuto’s bicep and earned a smile. I’m okay, that smile said, but Keiji disbelieved it.
“Are you ready?” he asked. Bokuto nodded, and Keiji’s shoulders rose. He didn’t want to do this. His hand trembled with how much he didn’t want to do this—but the trembling would only make it worse. He breathed long and deep and injected the poison as gently as he could, plunging sickness into Bokuto’s veins; Bokuto continued to look at him like he was the stars in the night sky.
“Feel okay?” Keiji asked. He let his free hand move to Bokuto’s chest, over his heart. Thud-thud, thud-thud, right there under Keiji’s palm. It wasn’t a code for anything, nothing they’d worked out—it wasn’t are you okay or anything like that—but Keiji hoped Bokuto knew what it meant.
I love you.
Bokuto’s hand came up to cover Keiji’s for just a moment. He met Keiji’s gaze head-on, and Keiji couldn’t read the look in his eyes; perhaps it was I love you too.
“Feel fine,” Bokuto said at last, and Keiji nodded. He stood up and stepped back, looking at the two guards; they managed to look bored.
“All done?” one of them asked.
Keiji nodded tightly. Let me stay, he imagined begging them—but the ruse would be up quickly even if the guard agreed.
“Remember to write in the diary,” Keiji told Bokuto as the guards opened the door. “Anything you think might be important.”
Bokuto nodded. He smiled sweetly. “Bye, Akaashi.”
“For now,” Keiji said back, and then he was moving out the door, the guards locking it behind him.
He wanted to fall on the floor and sleep for a year.
The cycle continued until the next dosage. Keiji could tell almost immediately that something was wrong, noticing Bokuto’s agitation and his high color ten minutes after the injection. An hour after, he was sick and his brow was wet with sweat. Keiji stood outside the observation room shouting at the others to get Doctor Hayashi. She joined him soon after.
“It’s too much,” Keiji said. “Too many bacterial components, even if he can fight it off. This is going to kill him if we continue.”
She nodded grimly.
“You have to stop the experiments. He’s too precious to us to risk this way.”
He fought to keep his voice modulated, but on the inside he was screaming. Too precious to me, too precious to me, too precious to me…
“We’ll stop with these,” she said. “Let him recover fully. He’ll do us no good if he’s completely worn down. Bad for the immune system, too.”
“He could come home?” Keiji asked, his mind catching on let him recover fully.
She raised an eyebrow. “If that’s the best recovery situation for him, yes.”
Keiji looked into the room. Bokuto was on the bed, his body shaking. “And for now? Can I go in and help him recover?”
“You have very little respect for your own health, Akaashi-san.”
“I trust my habits,” he said coldly. Let me in there, please, let me go in… “I’m not some idiot who shoves his fingers in his eyes after someone sneezes on him.”
“That’s as may be, but I won’t have you catching it. You’ll wear your suit in there as always and have it sprayed off on exit, until he’s better.”
“I can go in?” Keiji asked.
“Yes, with your suit on.” Her eyebrows were drawn together in a frown.
“Okay,” Keiji said, and rushed off to the infectious disease prep room. He was in his suit shortly—stopping only to locate fever reducers—and then he was stepping into Bokuto’s room, finally for something other than shots.
“Hey,” he said in a rush. Bokuto looked up, eyes hazy, but they cleared at the sight of Keiji.
“Sorry for the get-up,” Keiji said. “They wouldn’t let me in without it. But you’re done, after this. Once you shake this one off, we can go home.”
Bokuto blinked. He sat up on the bed, his back against the wall. “Really?”
Keiji nodded, moving to sit next to him. It was pretty ridiculous in his biohazard suit, but he wasn’t going to stand in the middle of the room like some strange spaceman. This was Bokuto, and Keiji was partially responsible.
He looked over. Bokuto was sweating, his color high, but when he met Keiji’s eyes through the mask he smiled just a little.
“You know,” Bokuto said. “This could work for me. I thought it’d be too kinky even for me, but if that suit had panels in all the right places…”
He trailed off, and Keiji stared. He bit his lips, looking at Bokuto and his slight smile, the way he’d just tried to take the horror out of their situation. The fact that he was suggesting sex in a hazmat suit barely even registered.
Keiji’s eyes were stinging.
Bokuto jerked when he saw the glimmer of tears in Keiji’s eyes. The slight smile disappeared, replaced by worry—not for himself but for Keiji.
“No,” he said. “I don’t want you to be sad—please—what can I do? Keiji, I didn’t—it was a joke—”
Keiji huffed a laugh. He couldn’t even brush the tears away, but at least he could modulate his voice. “I knew it was a joke, idiot. I’m not crying over a hazmat suit kink.”
“Are you staying here?” Bokuto asked. “For a little?”
“Yes,” Keiji said. He held out the fever reducers. “Take these. Your body is reacting to the amount of bacterial matter in your bloodstream, not the specific strain. I can’t believe they let it get this far. I let it get this far. Kuroo’s going to kill me.”
“I won’t let him,” Bokuto said easily, taking the pills and swallowing them dry. Keiji moved so Bokuto could lay down, and Bokuto moved obediently, lying on his side. Keiji sat beside him.
“Won’t this make them suspicious?” Bokuto asked. His eyelids were drooping. “They’ll think you’re my lover.”
“They’ll think I’m your friend,” Keiji said. “I’ve always been that.”
Silence fell, and eventually—fitfully—Bokuto dropped off to sleep. Keiji stayed where he was on the side of the bed, his mind whirring. Let him recover fully, Hayashi had said—but what came after that? This proved they were playing with Bokuto’s life. What came after this series of tests? Another, and then another, and then another. It was too much.
It was time to talk to Kuroo and Kenma about escaping, regardless of what Bokuto wanted.
THIS CHAPTER HAS 3963 WORDS (TIME: 16MIN)
Chapter 10: out of the frying pan
Thank you to everyone who sent encouraging messages, especially the people who have been here all along who took the time to let me know they still cared. Your kindness & my stubbornness are the only reason this fic is getting its ending. I’m struggling to work on this because I’m no longer in the right headspace for it, so if there’s a drop in quality it’s because I’ve stopped my endless editing; I’m just posting the chapters as I write them instead of giving them twice-overs before posting. I hope it’s not too noticeable! It just takes too much energy to work on this, and I’d rather use that energy writing than editing.
All that being said, I hope you enjoy this chapter! It’s, uh… what it is. (You’ll see what I mean shortly!)
Keiji left the hospital feeling better than he had for a while. The fever reducers had helped, and he’d seen the concern on the other researchers’ faces; they’d wanted to have more samples for study, more antibodies, more stool samples, simply more, but not at the cost of their only living specimen. For once, Bokuto was safe; people had remembered how important he is.
It was too bad Keiji wasn’t going to let them learn from their mistake.
He walked from the hospital with unbent shoulders. There was a chill in the air of coming autumn, and it felt good against his skin and in his lungs. He wanted to seek Kuroo and Kenma out immediately—but he didn’t know where they were this time of day, and he didn’t want anything to raise suspicion.
He sought out his sister instead, knowing she’d be working as a sentry this time of the afternoon. Whether she stayed here or not was up to her, but he would offer to take her and their mother along. He knew that leaving put them in danger, and he also knew that telling her put him in danger. Leaving would be tantamount to treason, for all that it hadn’t been stated.
Still, she was his sister. She wouldn’t tell.
“Brother?” she said, spotting him walking up. She was out on top of one of the buildings, on the west end of the safe zone.
“Hey,” he said, climbing up the ladder set against the side. He joined her, stuffing his hands in his pockets. It was weird standing high up with nothing to do. “They don’t let you sit?”
“Standing inspires wakefulness.”
“It also inspires health complications. They should think of long term health problems; this is the apocalypse.”
His sister raised an eyebrow. “I guess I should leave, then.”
He huffed a laugh. What a perfect way to broach the subject—though she’d think he was kidding. “Do you want to?”
She looked at him like he was crazy.
Keiji shook his head. “I’m not being ridiculous. We’re leaving soon. Do you want to come too?”
“You can’t leave,” she said, face frozen. “You’ll be shot.”
“We’ll find a way around that.”
“You’ll be killed. Infected.”
“Bokuto is being tortured,” Keiji said. His chest was tight; hearing his sister list the difficulties wasn’t easy, but he knew it would be worth it. “As long as he’s here, he’s in danger. Even if they don’t kill him, they’ll hurt him. They don’t treat him the way they should, and suggesting they change their methods will only ruin my chances at getting him out.”
“You’ll die out there,” she said, merciless. “If not from the disease, then from thirst or starvation. You know what it’s like out there.”
She was right. He’d thought about this two—and come to his own conclusion. It wasn’t a good conclusion. It was probably just as dangerous as being out in the world without protection—but Keiji knew as well as anyone that Bokuto’s epilepsy would get them killed out there sooner or later, and the plan he’d come up with would keep those seizures from mattering.
“We’re going to a different sector,” he said. “We’ll pretend he’s someone else.”
Her mouth hardened. She stared at him, and he saw so many of their shared features just then: hard gaze, humorless set of the mouth…
“I’m staying,” she said. When he opened his mouth, she stopped him. “You need someone to tell them you went in whatever direction your next compound isn’t in.”
“It’ll be hard enough disguising who he is, with his condition.”
It was the start of their first real argument as adults. It was impossible for Keiji to let his sister take a risk like that, and apparently it was impossibly for her to see reason. If she said she’d seen them go, or said Keiji had told her of his plan beforehand, she’d be punished for not telling the sector’s leaders—but she insisted the danger he was in was much greater, if the people from their sector ever got hold of him again. Keiji’s entire plan hinged on there being too little movement between the sectors for anyone to recognize Keiji’s group.
“It’s not ideal,” Keiji admitted. “But that’s on us. That’s not for you to worry about.”
She wouldn’t back down. “I can choose what to worry about. It’s not up to you to protect me or do anything.”
“It’s my job to—”
“No one can protect anyone anymore,” she said, cutting him off. “That’s just the way it is now. We can try, but there’s no way to be sure. You just have to do what you think is best at the time. I’ll stay here and cover for you.”
There was something strange in her face. There was color in her cheeks, and he looked at her for a long time trying to decipher her expression.
Fear. That expression was fear—and shame.
“Mitsuko,” he said. “What’s wrong?”
“I want to leave,” she said under her breath. “I’d leave with you if I could. But…”
She nodded. “I’d rather face the people here than them. I remember…”
She didn’t have to say any more. Keiji nodded. Humans could be cruel—beyond cruel—but there was only a certain risk of cruelty. There was always the hope of avoiding that side of them. The infected couldn’t be reasoned with, and outside of the complexes they couldn’t be avoided. They were a force of nature given terrifying form.
“Thank you,” he said at last. “For what you’re risking in staying here.”
“You’ll let me?” she asked, sounding surprised.
He inclined his head. “Could I stop you?”
She blinked. For a moment, her eyes swept the ruined city, the complex behind her, her own hands. Some surprise registered in her face. “No,” she said. “No, you couldn’t.”
It didn’t take any convincing whatsoever to get Kuroo and Kenma to agree to his plan. Both of them latched onto different details than he’d considered: how to disguise Bokuto, how to play off his epilepsy. If Bokuto went missing, there was sure to be a search for him, and they couldn’t count on that epilepsy being kept a secret. The different sectors might be on the lookout for someone of Bokuto’s description.
Their group would try to keep it a secret, of course, but it was a secret that could be exposed any time Bokuto was in public. That thought made Keiji’s blood run cold.
“This is all so risky,” he said, ensconced in the living room he and Bokuto used to share. His companions nodded in tandem. There was a part of him tempted to wait this out—but that part was easily cowed by his own memories of Bokuto in that observation room and the infected in the rooms adjacent.
Were the volunteers really volunteers? Or were they people who misbehaved? If they tried to flee and failed, that might be their fate…
“It’s for the best,” Kuroo said.
Keiji hoped he was right.
“It’ll take a while to plan,” Kenma said. “We’ve been keeping an eye on the different shifts and guard changes, but we’ll need to be sure about everything, from how to spring Bokuto out of that hospital to how to get him out of the compound. When we’re a good distance away, your sister can sound the alarm and say she saw us head south.”
“Where are we going, then?”
“Here,” Kenma said, pointing at a battered-looking map on the coffee table. “Sector K. On the comms, they were always the troublemakers. They’re run by this old guy who’s always arguing with leadership. At the moment, most sectors have civilians and guards, and the guards are obviously more powerful, and this guy keeps ranting about how this divide is going to kill us if we don’t watch out. He says we all have to work together.”
“You think he’d harbor a fugitive?” Keiji asked doubtfully. “Just because he’s worried about people with weapons abusing their power?”
“He might be sympathetic,” Kenma said. “What’s more important is that the people in his camp might be more independent-thinking too. Less whatever-we-need-to-do-for-the-cause-is-just.”
“They might still want to hand him back.” Kuroo’s voice and expression were dark. “Everyone’s lost someone. Maybe they’ll think they can turn the infected back into humans, in time. With more research.”
“Plan A is no one finds out who Bokuto is at all,” Kenma said. “Plan B is we hope the people in sector K realize that pumping Bokuto full of poison is inhumane, and they settle for collecting blood samples instead. I doubt the grumpy guy in charge would let that horrible scientist waltz in and take Bokuto.”
Keiji looked at Kenma, hoping his words were true. Kuroo caught him looking.
“Kenma’s a pretty good judge of character,” Kuroo said. “Even over comm.”
Keiji nodded. He tried not to let his doubt show in his expression, and they turned back to the plan.
They’d only get one shot at this, and they had to make it count.
It was raining again.
It had rained quite a few times since Keiji got to the complex, but this time was different. It was autumn rain, cold and drenching, ringing in the new season by drumming incessantly against roofs and pavements, puddling everywhere. It was a miserable night to go out, but the rain would reduce visibility and dull the noise of their footsteps. This was home territory for the guards; they would be looking outward, not inward, and tonight they wouldn’t be looking very hard.
Keiji stood opposite his front door, the old backpack on. He waited, trying to steady his breathing, and at long last there were noises outside the door. They were muted—no one dropped—and when he opened the door a moment later he saw why. Kuroo and Kenma hadn’t dropped the guard unconscious; they’d simply tied him up and gagged him. It was a different guard than the one they’d punched out.
Keiji had a feeling their application to move to this sector was going to be thoroughly denied.
They dragged the man inside and stuffed him in the bedroom closet, bound up tight. Keiji wondered whether they’d gagged the guard instead of punching his lights out because of an offhand comment he’d made to them about concussions and permanent brain damage. He thought again about how he actually liked these guys, genuinely liked them.
He hoped he wouldn’t get them killed.
“All good?” Kuroo whispered to him as they walked back to the front door, and Keiji nodded. He tried not to look back at the house as he left it, but it was hard. For a short while, that house had been home. Now, he was heading out into the world again, and their escape tonight was likely to end in a week of discomfort and hunger if they succeeded and death if they didn’t.
Keiji allowed himself one glance at the house. Safety. He’d already said goodbye to his family, though his mother hadn’t known it for what it was. He’d been scared to tell her what he was planning, scared she’d mess everything up in a plan to protect him. His sister was the only one in the complex who knew what he was doing.
He blinked rain out of his eyes as they approached the hospital. Kuroo patted his shoulder as he and Kenma left Keiji to walk up to the front doors himself. They were locked; Keiji tapped the glass.
A night guard opened the door, her eyes red.
“Purpose for being here?” she said in a yawn.
“Visiting one of the subjects,” Keiji said, head jerking. “I know it’s after curfew, but—”
Her eyes had sharpened. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“He’s afraid of storms,” Keiji said, his words a rush as his very real chance of failing here crashed down on him. “He was all bitten to pieces in a downpour like this—I just want to make sure—”
Her hand was reaching for something—a communication device?—and he surged forward, spinning them both in order to bang her head against the wall. She blinked and weakened, but didn’t lose consciousness.
This was the other reason not to rely on movie-punches to knock people out. He dropped her, grateful Kuroo had insisted on Keiji filling his pockets with the same rope and cloth his and Kenma’s supplies were filled with. The guard was still struggling as Keiji bound her hands and gagged her. He took the walkie talkie she’d been reaching for too, his heart heavy with guilt.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “But you people are going to kill him if he’s here for much longer. I’m really sorry for scaring you.”
He headed for the stairwell. No time to feel this way; he had to be alert. Don’t think about her. Don’t think about the guy in the bedroom closet. They were hurting so many people—people who were trying to carve a life for themselves after losing loved ones. How could he hurt them more, after all they’d been through?
His breath was ragged as he ran up the stairs. Several flights later he was at the door, pressing the bar to open it, feeling that if he encountered someone up here who stopped him and hurt him, it would be all he deserved.
He didn’t encounter anyone. The hall was lit only by emergency exit signs, the main lights shut off. The lab was empty too, a few incubators running, shaking the test tubes they held gently. Keiji checked the PCR lab next door: empty, the machines off.
He’d lucked out. It was normal for people to stay up and do experiments at all hours of the night; perhaps they’d been afraid of power cuts due to the storm.
That was stupid. The generator for this place was in the basement, not some center miles away. Old habits died hard, maybe.
He grabbed the keys for Bokuto’s observation room and ran, not sure how long he had now. He wished he could tell Kuroo and Kenma to simply use the main entrance, that their plan to let Keiji go in by himself without arousing suspicion had failed. With trembling hands Keiji stuck the key in the lock, his heart thudding painfully as he heard the bolts click.
He opened the door.
“Bokuto?” he whispered. There was almost no light in here, and the effect was creepy. For a moment Keiji imagined Bokuto coming out of the shadows, shambling like the infected, his eyes glassy. A shiver ran down Keiji’s spine. No, that was stupid: they’d harvested antibodies from him. He hadn’t succumbed to the infection when his body was filled with it, and he wouldn’t have succumbed in the days since Keiji had last seen him.
The voice was quiet—strangely hesitant. It should have been a relief, but fear still thundered through his body.
“Yes, I’m here.” He walked towards the bed, hoping he wouldn’t trip.
“It’s dark,” Bokuto said.
“Is it past curfew?”
Keiji had reached the bed. He let his hands roam the coverlet until he found Bokuto’s shape beneath it, then groped around for his hand. He snatched up the first one he found, pressed it and tugged.
“It’s past curfew. Come on.”
Bokuto’s voice was hushed. “Why?”
Keiji wished he could see. What expression was Bokuto wearing? One of joy? Fear? Was he just sleepy and stupid?
“We can’t,” Bokuto said. “We’re not allowed to.”
“That’s why we’re doing it at night.”
Much more slowly, Bokuto raised the next complaint, his voice very soft: “We’re working on a cure. We can’t stop.”
“They have enough of your everything to last them a long time. They’re not careful enough with you. We have to leave.”
Was Keiji imagining the heartbreak in Bokuto’s voice?
“Well, I can’t stay,” Keiji said ruthlessly. “I’ve been seen knocking out one of the guards. So have Kuroo and Kenma. We’re leaving tonight.”
“You’d be alone if you stayed,” Keiji continued. “Please, Bokuto. Please come with us. We can’t stand seeing you hurt. We have a plan.”
“What if I can save people?”
“Save them without sacrificing yourself.” Keiji’s voice was thick. “Please.”
Slowly—with a pace that made fear and impatience ring in Keiji’s ears—Bokuto sat up. Keiji got out of the way, and Bokuto pulled on the clothes Keiji handed to him from the backpack. Keiji stepped out of the room for him to finish getting ready, his nerves wound tight, and he wanted to weep with relief when Bokuto finally stepped out, dressed and ready to go. A part of him had feared he wouldn’t.
That was why Keiji had withheld the plan even from Bokuto: because advance warning would give Bokuto time to stop them somehow. Better to broach the plan when all their lives were forfeit already.
Keiji allowed himself the time to kiss Bokuto on the cheek and grab his hand. Bokuto squeezed back painfully hard.
“Why are you all wet?” Bokuto asked as they set out.
“It’s pouring outside,” Keiji said, without thinking about it very much. Then: “Wait, why else would I be wet?”
“I thought—sewer escape—”
Keiji stifled laughter with his free hand, knowing it would quickly turn hysterical if he let it out. He walked at a pace that was almost a run to the stairwell Kuroo and Kenma had picked out.
“In video games, people always go through the sewers,” Bokuto explained.
They reached the stairwell; Keiji raised their held hands and kissed Bokuto’s knuckles. I’m going to keep you safe, he thought. He had to; he couldn’t let Bokuto be hurt again. The words sewer escape drummed against his insides. He hadn’t known it was possible to love someone this much, let alone someone he’d known for less than three months.
“Come on,” he said, tugging him through the door. He let go of Bokuto’s hand to run down the steps, and they thundered down the stairwell together, Bokuto slow with lack of recent exercise. It was proof enough for Keiji that this was necessary: they hadn’t let Bokuto out of that room since they’d put him in. What kind of organization did that to their greatest asset? Who wouldn’t make sure to keep the only immune patient to the disease that ravaged humanity healthy?
On the ground floor, they went out the nearest door that stated an alarm would sound when it was opened. Keiji flinched in preparation—but no alarm went off.
Kuroo and Kenma stood outside the door waiting. Kuroo grabbed Bokuto up in a hug, and even Kenma patted him in friendly greeting. It was strange to see Kuroo in Bokuto’s coat now that Bokuto was back—as if the coat should have transferred itself to Bokuto once he reappeared. It seemed Kuroo had the same idea.
“Here,” he said, beginning to take the leather jacket off—but Bokuto stopped him.
“Keep it,” he said. “It’ll protect you better.”
“We don’t have enough coats for all of us,” Kuroo said stubbornly. “And you’re the one that’s been sick—”
“I’m better now,” Bokuto said.
“I had to fight the night guard,” Keiji said, hoping to stop the argument before it took all night. “We should get out of here.”
“You fought someone?” Kuroo asked. He sounded borderline impressed.
“Not well,” Keiji said. “I think I woke her up from a nap. And…”
Kenma clapped him on the shoulder. “Let’s go,” he said in that small, efficient voice. It wasn’t much of a rallying cry, but they all went. Armed with only knives, not enough coats between them—it was the worst rescue attempt Keiji had ever seen. He was drenched already, his skin ice-cold under sodden clothes, but fear kept him warm. Kenma led the way, guided by his knowledge of the guards’ patrols and rotations, and they all walked behind him, footfalls soft compared to the hard fall of rain.
Someone would see them any minute. Any minute, some good Samaritan would look out a window and catch sight of them, raise the alarm—but Keiji waited, and waited, and by the time he was done waiting they were at the fenceline, hiding from that section’s guard.
“I assume you have a plan,” Keiji whispered. He had a headache from all his worrying, and the night wasn’t even close to over.
“Just wait, Loverboy,” Kuroo said, and Keiji thought he heard a smile in his voice. “We have a really high tech plan. Brilliant. High stakes. You’ll love it.”
Keiji looked up at the guard standing in the downpour. He hadn’t heard them take cover here behind this wall, and he hadn’t seen them—but the only reason he hadn’t seen was because he was looking out at the fence, not back at the complex. But how could Kuroo take him down? He was standing on a two-story building, a ladder the only way up to him. Was Keiji meant to believe Kuroo and Kenma had a grapple?
Keiji watched as Kuroo picked something up from the ground. He moved out from cover slowly—if the guard glanced back, he’d see Kuroo now—and wound up for a throw.
No way. No way. Kuroo’s high tech solution was to throw a rock at the guy? The guard had a gun—Kuroo was out in plain sight—
The rock sailed past the building the guard stood on, and past the fence. Keiji didn’t hear it land, but he thought the guard did; he walked to the edge of the building, peering out. Floodlights lit the stretch of ground he protected, but he didn’t see any infected there, and soon he was moving back to the middle of the building.
Keiji nearly jumped when he saw Kuroo was on the ladder, halfway up. All the guard had to do was look down and he’d see him.
Don’t die, he thought at Kuroo, which was about as useful as telling a bullet not to hit anyone. His nerves jangled further when he saw Kenma step out with the same motion Kuroo had just before. He threw as well, though his rock landed only just beyond the fence. This time, the guard didn’t fall for it; his weapon pointed in the direction the rock had come from, right at Kenma. He hesitated for just a second—had he killed before?—and in that moment Kuroo finished climbing, bowling into the armed man and sending them both rolling.
Keiji couldn’t look. He waited for a shot to pierce the air, ringing out over the hissing and splashing of rain. I killed him, I killed him, I killed him echoed in his head—any moment now, he’d hear the shot—and then there was a shout of “come on!”
It was Kuroo’s voice.
He and Bokuto rushed from cover, running after Kenma. They went up the ladder—it was the easiest way over the fence, scaling a roof—and saw the guard. He looked unconscious, and there was blood on the roof, but Kuroo had tied his hands. He wouldn’t tie up a corpse, would he?
There wasn’t time to think about that. They climbed down the other side of the building into the territory beyond the sector. They were back in nowhere-land, underprepared and terrified, but Kuroo had a gun now, and Bokuto was immune.
Gunshots will attract more of them, a voice in Keiji’s mind said. Three of us are not immune.
He shut out the voice. He needed to focus; all of them did.
They were in the domain of the regulars.
THIS CHAPTER HAS 4120 WORDS (TIME: 16MIN)
Chapter 11: escapees
Once again, the comments I get on this fic are out of this world. You’re the best. I’m so lucky this story has held your attention for as long as it has. I’m sorry I haven’t replied to comments, but I read and reread them over and over, and adore you for leaving them. Here it is, the second-to-last chapter!
 I forgot to link this amazing art when I first updated!!! Okay, step one: ready your hearts and minds. Are you ready? Now look at this epic gorgeousness: http://mysecretfanmoments.tumblr.com/post/139421767032/orangiah-spends-an-entire-week-crying-over ;____; <3
Rain continued to pour from the sky, dulling the sound of their footsteps. Kuroo had strapped the gun to his back, preferring to keep the long knife he bore at the ready. Kenma had one too, and looked just as ready to use it. Keiji felt fairly useless next to them, but he kept hold of Bokuto’s hand without having to be told. If a seizure started, he’d know immediately, no matter how dark the sky or how loud the rain. He could tell the others, and they could—something.
They could do something, and hope they didn’t die in the process.
Keiji’s frequent glances at Bokuto didn’t reveal an oncoming seizure, but then, there were no good early signs. Bokuto’s expression was grim, his hair uncharacteristically flat. When Keiji squeezed his hand, Bokuto squeezed back.
“Thank you for coming with us,” Keiji whispered.
“I promised,” Bokuto said. “We were going to stay together.”
Keiji’s eyes stung as he turned to look at the rain. They had human enemies behind them and infected ahead. The thought that they could be safe together had been a welcome illusion before the hospital took Bokuto for testing, and he was reluctant to let it blind him again—but why else had they escaped?
Hope was worth holding onto, even if it could be taken from you in the blink of an eye.
Ahead of them, Kuroo stopped walking. He glanced back at Keiji and Bokuto, jerking his head just a little. Grab your weapons, that gesture said. Keiji had argued that giving Bokuto a knife was too risky, especially with stress levels so high; Kuroo had said not giving him one was risky too, and thereby won the argument. Keiji drew their old knife from his backpack for his own use, letting go of Bokuto.
Bokuto looked at him, seeming keen to take up the rear, and Keiji hoped it was light enough for Bokuto to see his ‘are you stupid?’-expression. There was no way he’d let Bokuto out of his sight.
In either case, Kenma moved around so he was in the back, and the point was moot. Kenma walked nearly backwards, always turning so he had a one-eighty view. Keiji tried to glance around often, but the rain obscured everything; it was like trying to peer through fogged glass.
“They’re here. My left.”
That cut through the fog. Kuroo’s soft voice—barely above a whisper—seemed calm.
“Keep moving, but keep them in sight. We might stay ahead of them if we walk fast.”
Keiji remembered the speed the infected had mustered the day he and Bokuto arrived at the compound, the weight of Bokuto’s body with living corpses clinging to him. His stomach heaved, but panic quashed the need to puke.
Next to him, Bokuto didn’t look the least bit scared. In fact, Bokuto mostly looked glad the infected were on his side of the group, so he was between them and Keiji.
“Get behind me,” Keiji whispered to him. “You can die of blood loss as easily as any of us.”
Bokuto pretended not to hear him above the rain.
They walked onwards, steps urgent. In different circumstances, Keiji might have imagined them in another time, out in a late-summer storm on the cusp of autumn, underdressed—college kids without sense on a midnight stroll. The regulars tailing them kept his attention focused on not tripping, walking softly, keeping an eye out for more.
“On my right,” came Kuroo’s voice. “More of them.”
Kenma hissed something; it sounded more like a curse than advice. “They’re speeding up.”
“Run?” Kuroo asked.
Caught in a pincer attack between two groups of undead, running sounded like a good option. A rumble in the sky announced impending lightning, and a part of Keiji hoped he’d be struck down in a blinding flash of light. No fear, no sense of loss, just light followed by nothingness. Nowadays, that seemed like a good way to go.
“Run,” Kenma agreed. “Akaashi, and Bokuto, keep hold of each other. If he slows, Akaashi, tell us. We’ll help you.”
They began to run—or jog, more like, the kind of running you saw people in the military do for practice—and Keiji kept hold of Bokuto, who insisted on keeping his right hand free. He ran slower than Keiji, eyes darting between groups of infected.
“You’re not going to fight them alone,” Keiji told him.
Bokuto met his gaze as lightning flashed, and Keiji’s eyes widened. There was a look in Bokuto he hadn’t seen a while—maybe even something he’d never seen before. It made Keiji breathless, even as it made him nervous. Bokuto’s wan face was alive with energy, his grin determined, eyes wild.
“For my sake, don’t—”
“I get a choice too,” Bokuto said. He went back to watching their pursuers, who had sped up along with them. “I’m sorry, Akaashi. I can’t always let you protect me.”
Keiji wanted to scream. He couldn’t always protect Bokuto? He’d never protected Bokuto. He’d done a piss-poor job for all the months they’d known each other, and if Bokuto went off and died a glorious death, Keiji would never get the chance to make up for it. He wouldn’t scream for fear of attracting more infected, but he wanted to as the gap between them and their pursuers closed. Bokuto lashed at the nearest one with his knife, striking it across the face in a diagonal. Kenma sped up.
“I’m going to die soaking wet,” Kuroo sighed, switching places with Kenma; Kenma took point. Because Kuroo was stronger, and would be more help dragging Bokuto? Keiji suspected so.
“What is it they say?” Bokuto said, striking out again. “Water never harms a handsome man?”
“Dying after being called handsome is better,” Kuroo said. “Thank you. Speed up, everyone.”
They did. Keiji was out of breath, worried Bokuto would trip with the way he was mostly looking over his shoulder and swinging that knife. Didn’t the infected ever get tired? They kept pace, and every now and then one or two would speed up and reach out; one lost a hand that way.
The jog from a bit ago had turned into a fully-fledged run down the wide street, dodging cars and random debris. Keiji gasped out a protest when he felt Bokuto wriggle his hand from his. He pushed Keiji when Keiji tried to slow with him, and Keiji turned to look. A bolt of lightning illuminated a scene from his darkest nightmares: Bokuto alone, his back to Keiji, slashing at the oncoming mob with grim efficiency.
Keiji felt a hand on his arm.
“Keep running,” Kenma said. “They’ll come.”
Keiji let himself be dragged, but he glanced back again and saw Kuroo grab Bokuto just as Kenma had grabbed Akaashi, pulling him back away from the mob just before it closed on him.
Keiji’s lungs were going to burst, from fear of exertion. How long could he keep this up?
“Watch!” Kenma yelled, and Keiji almost stumbled over him as Kenma pushed a stray attacker away from them, crossing Keiji’s path to do so. A sweep of Kenma’s long knife sent the head flying.
How could they all do this like they were trained to it? None of them had military experience, or they hadn’t before the outbreak. Why weren’t they scared and useless like Keiji?
Perhaps he’d said something as Kenma dispatched the corpse, because Kenma gave him a significant look.
“You’re the medic,” he said, low-voiced.
“In games. You protect the medic.”
“In games, the medic has supplies and magical healing powers.”
Keiji looked back and saw Kuroo still struggling with Bokuto, who kept trying to thin the crowd following them. Bokuto didn’t seem aware of the way the mob was dispersing, some of them ignoring him to ring him instead. Kuroo seemed very aware of it, from his frantic gesturing.
“We need to help,” Keiji gasped. “Look—”
They’d all slowed down, and Keiji and Kenma only had to slow a little further to face the tactical infected. This time, there was no fear of bites or scratches. Seeing Kenma—slender, self-contained Kenma—wade into the fray so fearlessly helped Keiji mimic him, wielding the knife as efficiently as he could. In the next flash of lightning, Bokuto finally noticed the crowd trying to engulf him, and Keiji’s eyes met his for just a moment.
Bokuto’s expression turned from that wild one to one of outright fear. His mouth opened to yell, and the lightning was gone.
“Get away!” Keiji heard, too late. Something grabbed his arm, and it wasn’t Kenma this time. Keiji didn’t think; he pushed, and then he slashed, and kept slashing.
Infected blood was warmer than rainwater. He felt it soak his sleeve. Any open wounds he had would mean his end.
Still, there was no fear, just a grim determination to keep going. Eventually determined hands pulled him away, and the weight of his attacker dropped from him. The corpse was really dead, then, or no longer able to follow. Part of him expected to look up into the dead eyes of one of the infected, mouth open to begin the meal, but it was Bokuto, and his mouth was only open to yell.
“—you were supposed to keep running! Stupid Akaashi! Since when are you stupid?”
Keiji let himself be pulled along, looking in stunned shock at the mob. It was diminished in size, half of what it was, and he saw Kuroo toss a corpse into three others. It was so surreal it was amusing, like watching a cartoon, the corpses clownish in their varied responses.
Hysterical laughter bubbled in Keiji’s stomach.
They ran on. Finally Bokuto seemed to have calmed down—or put his energy towards something else—and his bit of stubborn resistance had won them time. After another fifteen minutes of jogging, they were out of sight of the regulars. Keiji wished more than anything that they might stop somewhere for the night, but they’d decided not to long ago. The other compound could be reached in time.
Cold and tiredness finally began to set in, replacing terror and hysteria. They were walking now, and it occurred to Keiji that there might be another group of regulars around this other compound. Kuroo was convinced that getting there under the cover of night, especially with the rain dulling their footsteps, gave them a fair chance of getting past these regulars without being hurt.
Bokuto admonished Keiji periodically. As Keiji returned to himself, he began to argue back.
“You can’t expect to go down in a hail of bullets alone,” Keiji said. “Those infected were trying to get around you, attack you from the back. Attacking them was logical.”
“He’s right,” Kenma said.
“Were you trying to get yourself killed?” Keiji asked softly.
For a moment there was silence—just the sodden trudge through Tokyo in the dark, the storm growing distant. Then Bokuto shook his head.
“It felt good to do something again,” he said. “I’m not suicidal.”
Keiji pursed his lips. Having no self-preservation was as good as being suicidal in this world. It would be so easy to let fate make the decision.
“He’s the berserker,” Kenma said, with the same confidence he had when he announced you’re the medic.
Bokuto laughed. “I’ve missed these theories.”
“It’s good to hear you laughing again, but keep it down,” Kuroo said, slapping Bokuto’s shoulder. “Ah, here’s where we turn. Come on. This road goes into one of the compound’s walls. If we’re going to get chased by flesh-eating undead at the end, I’d like there to be a door on the other side of my run.”
Their group tightened as the road they turned onto got smaller. All of them were acutely aware of the possibility that something might jump out. Keiji’s stomach wrung tighter and tighter, waiting endlessly for a shock that might not come.
“Shit,” Kuroo said suddenly, and everyone froze. “Oh, no, not undead. We forgot to dye your hair, Bokuto.”
“Leave it,” Keiji said. “It’s not like they won’t recognize us anyway. Four people left the compound, and four people arrive at the next one—four people of exactly the same description. We just have to hope they’re merciful.”
Kuroo looked at him with—something. A half-smile. What did that mean? It made Keiji uneasy, and it wasn’t like he was relaxed before. What? he wanted to ask—but some impulse forbade it.
They continued on, bumping each other occasionally due to the close quarters—and the fact that it was nice to feel living, healthy bodies so close. In a panic, the human psyche reverted back to its cavedwelling days.
Keiji kept hold of Bokuto’s hand tightly.
He didn’t know how long they walked. He was freezing, soaked, worried about the blood that had poured over him earlier. Perhaps he was infected now, and his life was on a short timer. There was no way to know, and for the moment it didn’t matter to him very much; there was too much physical discomfort to think about future horrors. He jumped when Kenma spoke for the first time in ages.
“This is it,” he said. Kuroo nodded at him.
“What?” Keiji asked.
“This is where we leave you,” Kenma said, mouth twisting. “Four people leave the compound. Two arrive at the next one.”
“It’s just for now,” Kuroo told them. “We’ll come back soon.” He stretched. “I could do with a holiday, anyway.”
Kenma nodded. “Day at the corpse-strewn beach,” he deadpanned. “Long walks as the sun sets.”
“Runs,” Kuroo corrected. “As we’re being chased. Romantically.”
Keiji didn’t understand why they were smiling. “The risk you’re taking is insane, and for what? They’ll just think you died along the way, and still pick us up.”
“I’d love to stand here arguing,” Kuroo said, “but we can be attacked at any minute. Head that way.” He pointed, then stabbed his thumb in another direction. “We’re going that one, no matter what you say.”
Keiji opened his mouth to argue, but Bokuto got ahead of him.
“It’s just for now?” he asked. “You’ll come back?”
Kuroo nodded, punching Bokuto’s shoulder. “Try not to have any public fits. It’ll sorely hurt your chances.”
“Yeah,” Bokuto said. “I’ll just not have epilepsy for a while.”
Kuroo and Kenma snorted; Keiji still didn’t think any of this was funny. “The risks,” he began. Bokuto squeezed his hand hard.
“You’ve got to trust people sometimes,” Bokuto said.
“I trust them to be idiots who risk themselves—every one of you—”
“I guess that makes you one of us, then,” Kuroo said, and his grin suggested this wasn’t the apocalypse at all. He looked truly happy.
What the hell?
“We’re touched,” Kenma said. He patted Keiji’s arm. “Thank you for your concern, but we’ve been through worse. Things are calming down outside the compounds. Promise.”
Having just been chased by a horde of infected, Keiji was inclined to disagree—but nothing he was saying was helping. The others wanted to do this stupid thing, and soon they were all saying goodbye.
And then it was just him and Bokuto again.
“Come on,” Bokuto said. “This way.”
“They’re your friends.”
“Exactly. The best of the best. It’s just for now.”
Keiji shook his head. Promises like that meant nothing. You couldn’t promise to stay safe in an unsafe world, but it was too late to do anything. It probably always had been; Kuroo and Kenma had planned it like this, and they’d gotten their wish. If they’d all been chased by regulars it would have been another matter, but it wasn’t.
He was too cold to argue about it further, though, and he followed Bokuto to the compound gates, which went up and up.
“Is anyone up there?” Bokuto yelled. “Help? Please?”
Two complete idiots, Keiji thought. Why did he think this would work?
Right. Because he was an idiot.
Bokuto called out fake names. Keiji hoped he knew how to write them, because he didn’t. “We’ve been walking for days,” Bokuto said. “We’re soaked and frozen. Very non-lethal.”
Keiji hoped that—if they’d arrived chased by infected—the process might have been a bit more streamlined. Two guards multiplied into four, and the gate opened. They were ushered inside.
“Why’d you come at night in the rain?” a short guard asked, like people’s reasons for doing things made sense anymore.
“Someone told us about infected circling compounds,” Keiji said. “We knew we were close to one, so we were careful.”
Another guard exhaled sharply. “Not here. We have some… zealots, here.”
“We’re not zealous,” the short guard complained. “We’re competitive.”
“You’re idiots,” the older guard said, before turning his attention back to Keiji and Bokuto. “Come on. You’ll spend the night in the quarantine house, locked up in a room. Hope you like using a chamber pot.”
“Will there be dry clothes?” Bokuto asked hopefully, and Keiji saw how disarming it was. The guards shuffled around, looking pleased at his excitement; they obviously had dry clothes to give him.
“Of course. We’re not barbarians.”
No, thought Keiji, looking at all their faces wonderingly. You sure aren’t.
“Welcome,” the leader said, clapping both their shoulders in turn. “We’re happy you made it.”
What a strange thing to hear.
He followed the leader to the quarantine house, stunned. The welcome was… seamless. And Keiji so badly wanted to believe the best of these people after their experience in the other complex. Please don’t be militaristic ‘for the greater good’ people, he begged them mentally. Please let the goodwill in their faces mean something.
For the moment, Keiji was willing to let himself believe it did mean something. They were let into the quarantine house and given fresh clothes and bedding, then locked inside. There was no dread at this event. In fact, there was no dread at all.
Keiji was spent. He took off his clothes half-asleep, wrestled into dry ones, and lay down on the lumpy mattress, pulling covers over himself.
Tomorrow, he’d have the energy to think and berate himself for a million things. Today, however…
Two days later, Keiji was enjoying his quarantine period very much. So this is sector K, huh? he kept thinking, surprised at how safe he felt. Bokuto had had an episode yesterday, but no one but him had seen. Furthermore, the guard who delivered their breakfast and lunch liked to sit with the door open and chat, which was bad quarantine procedure but good hosting procedure. He was the short guard from the first night—the one who was “competitive, not zealous”.
“Compound B’s gone crazy the past few days,” the guard said amiably today, eating his own meal of rice and seaweed. “Looking for people. Like, they escaped. How ridiculous is that? People escaping.”
“What do you mean?” Keiji asked sharply.
“Like they had to escape.” The guard shrugged. “That’s wrong, isn’t it? These communities are meant to protect people, but they’re not prisons. Ukai-dono would never stand for that.”
Keiji choked on his rice. “Dono?”
“We call him that because he hates it.” The guard grinned. “Well, I actually think he likes it, deep down, but he’s never smiled a day in his life so who knows. His wrinkles are a mile deep. He’s mean to everyone, and he expects a lot—everyone works in whatever capacity they can—but he’s fair. Being fair is important, he says, or we’ll all be dead within the year.”
“Cheerful guy,” Bokuto commented. Quarantine was suiting him too. They’d both washed up on the first day, and Bokuto was getting increasingly… handsy. Not that Keiji minded—but it seemed wrong, to be happy and safe while Kuroo and Kenma were out there.
“Anyway, he says Compound B’s gone off the deep end,” the guard continued. “They say they’re working on a cure, but they won’t say anything more. I think they’re lying so we’ll all send them stuff.”
Bokuto and Keiji exchanged a glance. They hadn’t put about Bokuto’s description, then.
Kuroo and Kenma could have come in with us, Keiji thought. They could all have been safe. His stomach churned.
After the guard left, his stomach was still churning. Guilt coursed thick through his veins—guilt at leaving his mother and sister, at letting Kuroo and Kenma protect them needlessly, at killing that infected person on the way here without a second thought.
He wished his conscience could have died alongside half the world’s population.
“Hey,” Bokuto said, touching his hand. “What is it now?”
“Kuroo and Kenma…”
“Know how to take care of themselves.”
“My sister, then. And mother.”
Bokuto sighed, eyes lowering. Suddenly, Keiji realized what his own unhappiness meant to Bokuto: that he regretted saving him. That regrets outweighed relief.
“I don’t mean it like that,” he said quickly. “I just… wish things had happened differently.”
They were silent for a long time, sitting on the old mattress. Outside, the sky was white with clouds, wind gusting past the nailed-shut window. Mostly, Keiji could see the community’s wall; their room faced the wrong way to garner anything from looking outside.
“Tell me a secret,” Keiji said, falling back into old habits easily.
“Are you sure you want to hear one?”
“This one makes me seem really pathetic,” Bokuto warned, but he was smiling.
“I can’t wait.”
Now Bokuto looked away. He fiddled with his hands, looked at Keiji, away again. Apparently it was a good secret—but when he shared it it wasn’t anything like what Keiji was expecting.
“I’m worried you don’t want to have sex with me anymore,” Bokuto blurted finally.
“You keep—putting me off. Gently.”
“Did you not like it?” Bokuto asked, very quietly. “Because there are so many different ways to do it; you really don’t have to—”
Keiji placed his hand over Bokuto’s mouth. “I liked it. A lot. I told you that already. It’s just… the guilt. Of being happy.” His hand dropped.
“Sometimes you’re a real idiot, Akaashi.”
“Mm. I’ve been told.”
“Let’s talk through it, then. Tell me all the stuff you’re worried about.”
Keiji looked at him. He meant it, and somehow that was enough by itself; he knew that talking about his worries would take the week. “Or you could help me forget it.”
“I could?” Bokuto said, immediately interested. Keiji imagined Bokuto’s hands on his bare skin again, caressing in that way that made him feel uniquely treasured and uniquely alive. They had all the time they needed; dinner wasn’t for hours.
They’d be in the quarantine house for days.
Keiji’s hands caught Bokuto’s halfway, and the distance between them shrank to nothing.
The day they left the quarantine house was bright, and maybe that was what did it. Bokuto had taken a few steps out the door, accompanied by their friendly guard, when he stopped walking. His eyes were vacant; he crumpled.
The fit lasted maybe three minutes, but they were some of the longest minutes of Keiji’s life—and Keiji had experienced a lot of long minutes. When Bokuto woke, there were tears in Keiji’s eyes. He couldn’t look at the guard.
The guard made himself known nonetheless, having watched the episode in silence. “Huh,” he said. “Strange. One of the escapees from Compound B is meant to have epilepsy. Real coincidence.”
Should Keiji attack him? But what was the point? Others had seen; he’d seen them from the corners of his eyes, slowing in that way people did around emergencies.
“Good thing compounds aren’t prisons, and people are welcome to leave whenever they like,” the guard said. “Some of these places get a little confused about that, but they’ll see sense in time. That’s what Ukai-dono says.”
Keiji looked up from his spot next to Bokuto, on the damp ground. From this vantage, the guard’s head was haloed by autumn sunlight.
“You won’t send us back?” Keiji asked. His voice was quiet, uneven. The guard grinned.
“Send you back? Out there, into the unknown? Of course not. We’re not barbarians.”
Keiji closed his eyes and waited for Bokuto to recover. They weren’t safe. He couldn’t assume they were, not when Bokuto’s blood held what it did. Compound B could confess the reason behind the escape any day, and then the guard might change his tune.
But maybe not. Maybe they’d be safe here after all. Maybe they were among friends; that hope was worth holding onto. He let it fill him up—and it was as bright as the orange-haired guard’s grin.
THIS CHAPTER HAS 7054 WORDS (TIME: 28MIN)
Chapter 12: the thing without feathers
We’ve come to the end of our journey. 🙂 Thank you to everyone who has supported me—who has kudo’d or bookmarked, or yelled at me in comments and private chats, or sent me messages on tumblr asking whether I’ll ever update (sorry) or contributed their own time & effort to make beautiful (or hilarious) things related to this. Thank you for the art and the fanmixes. I’m sorry I ran out of steam near the end, but I hope you still enjoyed this zombie au that no one asked for ;D
All fanworks related to this should be in this tag: http://mysecretfanmoments.tumblr.com/tagged/my-ridiculous-zombie-au for people to enjoy. (Please contact me if yours isn’t! I’m not always organised or consistent)
Wishing you all a good day, and I hope you enjoy the last chapter.
Waiting for the other shoe to drop was beginning to wear on Keiji. Misfortune was its own kind of pattern, worming its way into his psyche until he thought there was nothing beyond it. There was hope, sure, but it existed only so it could be crushed, a bright and uneven counterpoint to the steady drum of misery.
Apparently he’d been living in the zombie apocalypse for too long.
“Hey hey, Akaashi!”
Keiji didn’t turn to look, but he did sigh. Bokuto was still out on duty rounds, repairing things around compound K alongside the construction crew. He took second lunch most of the week, not first—which meant that the person calling out to Keiji was one of the many who’d adopted Bokuto’s greeting.
Hinata ignored Keiji’s refusal to acknowledge him, bumping him in the mess line. “Hey!”
He started picking up a plate, brazenly cutting in line—but no one besides Keiji seemed to care.
“I’m older than you,” Keiji said. He accepted his rations: rice and vegetable stew, in smaller portions than any of them needed. It was necessary, but it kept all of them hungry and tired, working too hard on too little fuel. Only the people who went on patrol were allowed full calorie meals, and Keiji hadn’t volunteered. It was a fair system, protecting them from future, worse hunger. Ukai himself ate the rationed food just as the others did, his sunken cheeks testimony to his honesty. No secret snacks for their indomitable leader. Somehow, Keiji didn’t think it was the same in Compound B as winter drew close, but he wouldn’t return there even for a full stomach, or for the generator in the hospital that allowed for hot water. It was warm enough in the hotel restaurant they used as a mess hall here, anyway. The cold only mattered the rest of the time.
Hinata sighed. “Hey hey Akaashi-san doesn’t sound as fun.”
“How about ‘hello, Akaashi-san’?”
Hinata’s face squished into a frown.
“You call Bokuto Bokuto-san,” Keiji said pointedly, and got to the end of the mess line. He sat down at an empty table, Hinata—with a full, patrol-guy plate—joining him.
Hinata caught him eyeing the food. “You want some?”
Keiji did, but he knew he couldn’t ask. “No. You might die out there from lack of calories.”
“I’m small,” Hinata said. “It’s really not fair…”
“Front-line guards, sick people and children only. Those are the rules. They’re fair.”
Hinata chewed thoughtfully. “There’s less infected,” he said after a pause. “Might be staying away for the winter.”
Keiji’s mind was a permanent foggy mess at the moment, dull with hunger, but this caught his attention. “They are?”
“Not everywhere, but there’s been less than the usual from the north side when we bang our pots and pans. They learned not to go for the traps eventually, but I didn’t expect them to learn to stay away from us totally. Surprised me. Well, maybe the north ones got smart. Wonder why it hasn’t spread to the others though.”
Keiji thought of the regulars and how they’d learned to stay away from the perimeter of compound B, picking off stragglers instead. He didn’t like the thought of infected regaining some form of animal intelligence, but perhaps it wasn’t that strange. Given enough time, wouldn’t most creatures adapt?
But like Hinata said—why only on the north side?
“Could there be another reason?” Keiji asked. “A different compound holding them off?”
“As far as I know, we and one other place way west of here are the only ones actually sending people out to kill them on purpose. There shouldn’t really be any change. Or—well, maybe there’s people nearby again.”
Hinata nodded. “One time there was a group that almost made it here, and the infected swarmed them instead of lurking about here. We only realized afterwards why there had been so few that week—when we found the fresh skeletons.”
Keiji’s breath came fast. Grisly story, but there were thousands of those to be had. People. The word echoed hollowly in his mind. People nearby.
Think, he told his brain, gritting his teeth against the fog he often fell into. This is important. Last time, the patrols hadn’t found the bodies until too late. This time…
“How long?” he asked, voice thick.
“Almost a week. Hey, Akaashi-san, you don’t look good. Do you need to lie down? I told you to have some of my food.”
Hinata pushed food onto Keiji’s empty plate, though eyes around the room burned as he did so. Keiji didn’t push it back, his mind suddenly filled with alarm bells. Hinata was right—Keiji might need this.
“How do you sign up for patrols?” he asked. Hinata was looking at him strangely.
“You go to the old art shop and tell the admin people. Akaashi-san?”
“I want to go north.”
“If there might be people, I need to go north. We need to go north.”
Hinata’s lips pressed together. “We can’t go too far when we patrol. Getting cut off from here would be a disaster.”
“My friends are out there,” Keiji said. “Mine and Bokuto’s. They helped us get here. They said they’d come to us eventually. Please.”
Hinata’s eyes widened. He didn’t say anything, but Keiji thought he could read it in his face anyway: you left your friends out there? Keiji swallowed.
“Please,” he said again.
“I’ll go with you to the office,” Hinata said. “And volunteer, but…” He trailed off.
“They’re fighters,” Keiji said. “I don’t mean that like ‘they might still be alive’, I mean that like they’ll be worthwhile here. They’ll be your patrol guys. If we could just convince a team to do a sweep—”
“Save this for the people in charge,” Hinata said. “Let’s go!”
Keiji argued the same point three times. Once to a bureaucrat who suspected him of wanting to join patrols because of increased rations, another time to an officer who argued going out further north of the compound was a death mission, and a third time to the man in charge. Ukai didn’t look particularly swayed by Keiji’s passionate entreaty, but perhaps he didn’t have the energy to express much emotion, because when Keiji finished he asked only, “And you would go?”
Keiji didn’t understand. He glanced at Hinata for clues.
“Look at me, boy!” Ukai barked. Keiji jumped, suddenly alert. “You believe in this mission. You would risk your own life? You would accept more patrol duties for this boon?”
“And you would go with him?” Ukai asked Hinata, who gave an enthusiastic salute.
“I’ve been wanting to see if having a medic on a team makes a big difference,” Ukai said. “I thought about requiring it when we started, but beggars can’t be choosers.”
This little tidbit didn’t seem to be directed at anyone, and Keiji and Hinata were dismissed soon after, with a promise that the patrol would go out tomorrow. Keiji wanted it to go out now.
He slumped back to the ward he worked in with four other medical professionals, his head aching with the thought of Kuroo and Kenma out there but unable to get past the horde. He thought of infected learning not to step in traps, learning how to hunt.
Tomorrow couldn’t come fast enough.
Keiji decided not to tell Bokuto about tomorrow’s mission out of a mix of selfishness and caring. He remembered how Bokuto had reacted to the news that his friends were coming last time, how he’d paced and worried, and Keiji didn’t want to get his hopes up only to have them spoil. There was no guarantee Kuroo and Kenma would come back even if Keiji’s patrol went well. They could be dead; the infected could be drawn by a different group, or some other weird phenomenon might be happening. Without certainty, Keiji preferred to let Bokuto think tomorrow was a day like any other. Even after deciding not to let on, though, he couldn’t stop his throat from stoppering with suppressed emotion when Bokuto joined him in their room that night. It was unheated, one of the upstairs rooms of the hotel where most people in compound K lived. It would be warmer in the common sleeping area, but privacy was worth the chill.
“How was work?” Keiji managed, still not used to the mundanity of that statement—like they were a couple from before the world went to shit.
“It was amazing! Kenji-kun told this great joke. It was… hmmm…”
Bokuto’s hands found Keiji’s as he tried to remember, clasping around them. He’d lost weight too, no longer the beacon of vigor Keiji had met in the summer. If people knew what he was, that might change. More rations would plump up that precious immune system like a charm—but no one knew Bokuto was immune. No one but the two of them, and if people died because of that secret—or because of their escape from B—Keiji was willing to bear that on his conscience. He didn’t value human life the way he once had. He knew life could be measured in rations, work rosters, masses of laundry. It was hard to remember sunrises and sunsets, most days.
He knew what he valued, and it had little to do with humanity’s continued existence.
Bokuto was still trying to remember the joke. “It’s uh—a ship captain has to get a bunch of foreigners to jump onto a lifeboat to save them, and…” He paused. “Uh. An Italian… an American… a French person… a Japanese person… Uh. Hm. What did he say to each of them? It was to make them jump. It was funny! Ask Kenji-kun to tell you, okay? I can’t remember it well enough.”
“It’s a good thing I didn’t fall for your ability to tell jokes,” Keiji said with a tempered smile.
Bokuto grinned. He loved it when Keiji mentioned falling for him, even now. Low calorie diets had reduced their sexual appetites, but the shine hadn’t worn off for Bokuto. It hadn’t for Keiji either. With every day of Bokuto loving him, the concept of foreverbegan to take shape.
It didn’t terrify him anymore. Okay: it didn’t terrify him much.
“I fell for your body, of course,” he added, when all Bokuto did was glow and play with his hands. Bokuto’s grin widened.
“How was your day?” he asked, pulling Keiji in close.
“I tried to get Hinata to use honorifics properly. He imitates you.”
“People look to me for leadership,” Bokuto said grandly. “It makes sense.”
Keiji snorted and let Bokuto draw him onto the bed. They lay together, eventually moving to get under the covers. Bokuto didn’t notice that Keiji held on tighter than usual, fingers curled in the fabric of Bokuto’s shirt. He wasn’t meant to.
Don’t let something happen to me, Keiji prayed. Don’t let him resent me if something happens to me.
It took him a long time to fall asleep.
Keiji spent the next morning being drilled in something patrol captain Tsumura called outside procedure. It consisted mostly of assuming there were infected behind every door and window, which some hidden part of Keiji did anyway, but the lesson on hand signals was useful. At first lunch he met the team: five guards total, including him, Tsumura, and Hinata. Completing the five were an older woman named Ono and a rambunctious guard his own age called Tanaka. Apparently they were handpicked by Ukai after most of the guards had volunteered for the forward patrol, which was incomprehensible to Keiji. Did all of them have a death wish? Or were they all hoping the hypothetical group they were saving contained loved ones? Ono and Tsumura were old enough to realize anything might kill them, even if Hinata and Tanaka still believed in their own immortality. When they left the compound after lunch, many of the other guards looked envious, and a tall guy Keiji had seen before with Hinata actually followed them out and had to be pulled back by one of the gate guards. What was wrong with people?
Keiji supposed he shouldn’t judge.
They walked north, armed with weapons that wouldn’t make too much noise: knives, axes, bows. Guns were a backup for if things went downhill fast, and Keiji didn’t have one. He had a knife and a med kit. Ukai had watched him prepare, obviously waiting for him to back out—but if he did, the mission might be cancelled. Keiji walked out of the compound with his jaw set and his shoulders back, determined. He’d always been good at passing tests.
“If they’re here, they’ve gotten awfully good at hiding,” Tsumura said under his breath. How far had they walked by now? A sprint back to the compound would be impossible. A little further and they’d be in real danger of being cut off.
“It’s possible,” Ono said. She looked calm, her bow a natural extension of her body. All four of Keiji’s companions seemed relaxed in their way—or perhaps relaxed was the wrong word. Ready. They looked ready for anything.
A shuffle to his right made Keiji jump. Uncoordinated feet crunched on fallen leaves outside of a burned-out apartment complex, but Keiji had barely spotted the corpse before it fell back with an arrow sticking out of its eye. The whole thing had happened in seconds.
Keiji waited for a round of congratulations, expecting the guards to act in their usual rambunctious way, but Ono collected the arrow silently and they moved on.
“I thought you all kept a tally,” Keiji said to Hinata softly. Where was the camaraderie he had seen? Did they really bring none of that out of the compound? How did normal people transform into soldiers like that?
“Ono-san doesn’t like the tallies,” Hinata whispered back.
“Why?” Did she worry about the infected having souls? Did she wish there were some way to save them?
Ono looked over her shoulder at the pair of them. “It’s undignified.”
Tanaka nudged Keiji. “She was keeping one, but she lost count. People teased her saying she was getting old.”
“I heard that, boy.”
Hinata and Tanaka exchanged amused glances. Then—very quickly—they sobered, going back to their serious alter egos. They fanned out.
Three more infected were dispatched of as they walked north. Every step away from the compound felt like a risk. A litany of we could still go back, we could still go back repeated in Keiji’s mind, but none of the others looked tempted.
“Ah,” said Tsumura eventually. His weathered face gave nothing away. Ono, next to him, was more expressive. Her eyebrows rose.
“Ah,” she echoed.
The rest of them caught up, cresting the slight hill to see. Tsumura held out a hand to keep them back. He motioned for them all to retreat, and they did, to a safe distance. The image of infected swarming a house, surrounding it like flies on meat, stuck in Keiji’s mind.
But they were only surrounding it. That was good, wasn’t it?
“Scout for higher ground,” Tsumura told Hinata. “Check for more pockets of infected, then report back. Tanaka, check out the nearby alleys.”
Tanaka and Hinata took off while the rest of them waited.
“Is this good news?” Keiji asked.
Tsumura shook his head. “Too soon to tell. Could be two fresh corpses in there. You’d be surprised how many people don’t want to wait it out when things get to that point.”
Keiji looked at him dryly. “I don’t think I’d be surprised.”
They waited, and at last Tanaka and Hinata came slinking back. Tsumura laid out a plan, as if five people taking on a horde of more than twenty walking corpses was run of the mill. One mistake and the whole venture was doomed.
Seriously, why had most of Compound K’s people volunteered? If it wasn’t the tallies, then what?
They each went to their stations, Ono and Tsumura on a roof, Keiji and Tanaka hanging back, with Hinata to act as bait, drawing portions of the horde off at a time.
If things went well.
The sting began. Keiji saw Hinata running his way, red-faced. Four infected followed, moving fast in their shambling, careless way. One dropped from a thrown knife from Tanaka. Two. Somehow, the calm efficiency dimmed the panic inside of Keiji, and he felt himself stepping forward, readying the long knife he held, aware of where he’d stick it on the corpse closest.
Hinata got there first, spinning to take on number one and two. He grinned at Tanaka and Keiji and ran back for more.
“Is this for real?” Keiji breathed. It was so simple. How could things have gotten so bad if everything was this easy?
“It wasn’t always like this,” Tanaka said, seeming to guess his meaning. He looked up. Tsumura was gesturing at Ono and the ground below her building. Cover her?
“Think we’ve got some climbers,” Tanaka said. “They really are getting smart. C’mon.”
They dispatched Hinata’s new group—only three this time—and went to help Ono. Much of the horde had moved, trying to climb her building. The infected were helping each other, sort of, falling and climbing up onto the fallen.
Tsumura signaled something, and Tanaka nodded. “Step back.”
Keiji did, and heard a hiss. Was that smell—
A burst of heat warmed Keiji’s face. The pile-up of infected was on fire, flames licking at them, spreading. They ran around, and Tanaka grabbed Keiji and ran back several more steps, dodging a panicked, flaming corpse. More infected were coming, leaving the house they’d swarmed entirely, but Ono and Tsumura picked them off with arrows. A flurry of activity, and then all the infected were laying still, spent. The group began to collect arrows and knives as Keiji stared. Had that been a Molotov cocktail? He couldn’t stop himself from asking.
“Yes,” Tanaka said. “It’s dangerous. You could set yourself or a teammate on fire by accident. But pile-ups are the leading cause of everything going to shit, so…”
“Why did Ukai-san even want me on a team like this? I don’t have any skills like these.”
“He has his own reasons for things,” Tanaka said. “A medic could mean a lot in crisis situations. A just-in-case guy. Hey, come on. Let’s check out that house.”
Keiji followed him almost reluctantly. Tsumura was standing at the door, which was blocked. Of course it was; otherwise the crowd wouldn’t have been outside.
An upstairs window opened, and someone leaned out. Keiji looked up and let out a sound—somewhere between a laugh and a yell. Kenma. Kenma was hanging out of the window. He was alive. It was him.
“Hello, Akaashi,” Kenma said. He looked around at the others. “Thanks for coming.”
Hinata began to laugh while the others just stared at this underwhelming reaction. No thank god or I thought we’d die or tears or anything, just that deadpan greeting. Keiji covered his mouth and began to laugh too. He wished Bokuto had been here to see.
Then he sobered. “Is Kuroo…?”
“Alive and well. Ish. Festering leg wound. It’s why we got caught like this.” Kenma slumped a little. “Embarrassing.”
“Not with that stuff,” Kenma waved at the infected bodies. “Just a cut gone bad.”
Tsumura recovered at long last. “Situation report?” he asked Kenma, as if he was already a part of the team.
“Me, one wounded person, no one else. Not many supplies. We’ll have to come out this window. I blocked the hallways with every piece of furniture in the house, and it won’t be fast removing them.”
“Will you—” Tsumura started, but Kenma waved off the question and disappeared back into the house. Tsumura’s expression nearly startled a laugh out of Keiji. He looked deflated.
“These friends of yours follow orders well,” he commented.
“They’re good,” Keiji assured. Under his breath he added, “Probably.”
Tanaka choked down a laugh.
Kuroo appeared at the window, face pale. He waved weakly.
“Can someone stand under the window?” Kenma asked. “I’m going to lower Kuro down by this rope, but he might fall.”
“Before you volunteer,” Kuroo said, sounding ill, “you should know I might puke.”
Keiji’s debt to the pair of them reared its head, and he started forward—but Tsumura got there first.
“Not you,” he told Keiji. “Your body is still weak. I’m not risking broken bones.” To Kenma he said, “Ready.”
Kuroo didn’t puke, as it turned out, though his grip on the makeshift rope slackened part of the way down, and Tsumura caught him. The smell of his wound hit Keiji even from a distance, even in the cold. It was bad news. How much longer before sepsis reared its ugly head?
Keiji walked forward to grab Kuroo, putting his arm around his shoulders and moving him away from the window so Kenma could come down. This time Tsumura didn’t say no; Keiji was the logical choice for helping Kuroo walk. He was the least skilled in combat, and a medic besides. He had Kuroo sit down so he could wipe the wound off. Until they got back to the compound, there wasn’t much else he could do.
“We need to move,” Kenma said. “The wound is a beacon.”
“My powers of attraction,” Kuroo wheezed, “have always been off the charts.”
“That’s his fifth time making that joke,” Kenma told Keiji. There was no inflection, but somehow Kenma managed to sound like he’d suffered anyway. They began to move back towards the compound.
“You all right?” Keiji heard Ono ask of Tsumura ahead.
“It was a slim chance,” Tsumura said. It turned Keiji’s relief sour. So at least one of the volunteers had been hoping for a different group to turn up, and that hope had been in vain. Was it really fair for Keiji to have so much, to accept so much?
He stumbled, nearly taking the limping Kuroo with him.
“Sorry,” he whispered.
“It didn’t send me spiraling into a world of pain,” Kuroo grunted. “You not paying attention to where you’re stepping is totally fine by me. My suffering is only at ninety percent or so. No problem whatsoever.”
“I’m going to suggest we treat you with leeches if you keep up the sarcasm. Or maggots.”
Maggots weren’t a bad idea, actually.
“I’m going to puke,” Kuroo said, and then he did. Guilt warmed Keiji’s face; he resolved not to bring up maggots again no matter how petty Kuroo acted.
“Bokuto is doing well,” he said, hoping it would be a refreshing change of topic from maggots and suffering. “Everyone likes him.”
Kuroo smiled, though it turned into a grimace with his next step. They trudged on, surrounded by their companions. A few infected were dispatched of; the wound really did seem to attract them. Before Keiji’s group reached the compound more came from either side of the road they walked, shuffle-running past houses in an unintentional pincer attack.
Keiji’s body ached to run, though Kuroo would faint and become dead weight if he did.
“No running,” Tsumura said a moment after Keiji quashed the urge. He was already firing at the infected on one side while Ono took the other. “A brisk walk. Keep going. Use their numbers against them.”
Once again, Keiji was dragging someone past a horde, but this time there were people on either side—defenders. The panic he felt was a small animal tearing up his stomach, but it was contained, and it dimmed every time a companion darted out to take care of a foe coming too close.
Kuroo was fading, though. Keiji pulled his arm more firmly around his shoulders, teeth clenched.
“Bokuto tried to tell me a joke yesterday,” he said.
“How far’d’he get?” Kuroo wheezed.
“A little past the set-up.”
They were past the pincer. The outer compound gates were in sight, and they were opening. Guards streamed past and became a wall—behind Keiji. There was no suspicion of infection, and there were no guns aimed at him. He and Kuroo reached the compound safely.
Kuroo wriggled until he could drop to the ground, panting. He was drenched with sweat.
“Here,” someone said, indicating a gurney set up near the gates. The person helped Keiji lift Kuroo onto it. Keiji began rolling it towards his workplace, running through a list of procedures in his mind. Food, antibiotics, a poultice—
The voice stopped him. Keiji looked up, past the haze of adrenaline that narrowed his vision. Bokuto stood on the other side of the gurney. He looked down at Kuroo.
“He’ll live,” Keiji said, hoping it was true. “Need to get him to the ward. You can come too.”
“Don’t let him use maggots,” Kuroo said to Bokuto. His voice was scratchy.
Bokuto didn’t laugh or question him. He was looking around as if in a daze, clearly confused. I should have told him, Keiji thought, but what if it hadn’t been Kuroo and Kenma? What if they’d found them dead? Keiji couldn’t have known the mission would be a success in advance.
“I need to…” he said, and began to push again. His steps were fast. Bokuto would realize in a minute that his friends were back, and he’d be happy. It just hadn’t hit him yet.
Keiji’s grip on the gurney was vicelike as he pushed.
By nightfall Kuroo seemed stable. He’d have around-the-clock attention, in case things turned nasty, but Keiji was hopeful. Bokuto was with Kuroo now, and Keiji was alone in their shared room, worrying.
Bokuto was angry with him. He was fairly sure he was, at least, and Bokuto had never been angry with him before. He’d never even disapproved.
There was a knock at the door.
Kenma entered, dressed in new clothes. He wore a puffy black coat that made him look unusually round, an effect that would be comical if the mood was lighter. He sat down on the bed next to Keiji and leaned back on his hands.
“Thanks again for coming to get us,” Kenma said. “I heard you instigated.”
Silence fell. Keiji wished he had something to say, but he didn’t. His mind was on Bokuto disapproving of him. How had he gotten so used to complete and utter admiration? Hadn’t he distrusted that shining regard in Bokuto’s gaze from day one?
“You didn’t tell Bokuto you were going,” Kenma stated.
“He was so agitated last time when we knew you were coming. This time it was only… it wasn’t sure. It seemed too tentative a hope.”
Kenma’s gaze was steady. “You could have died.”
“Should I have said I was going out, but not why?” Keiji asked.
“Maybe. I don’t know. You’d be angry if the positions were reversed, wouldn’t you?”
“Horrified. But I don’t have to worry about that with Bokuto anymore.”
Silence fell again, more or less companionable this time. Being around Kenma was relaxing; his muted reactions and relativistic way of thinking appealed to Keiji. There was no judgment in Kenma’s manner, even as they discussed Keiji’s actions, his unfairness.
“I don’t have much energy,” Keiji said at last. “If he told me not to go, or to think of another solution, I might have given up. It’s hard to think.”
“Mm. I know the feeling.”
“Want me to send him up?” Kenma asked.
“No. I think he’s pacing around somewhere. He’s upset.”
Keiji looked at his hands in his lap. He was cold. “But happy too, right?”
“I don’t think he ever wrote us off,” Kenma said. “He knew we’d find a way back. So…”
“So not as happy as I thought he’d be. Shit.”
“I’ll tell him to talk to you.”
Kenma left without another word, and Keiji drew his legs up onto the bed, wrapping his arms around them. He knew he hadn’t been wrong, exactly, but he might not have been right either. When Bokuto came in a few minutes later, Keiji’s heart was heavy.
“I’m sorry,” he said immediately, wanting to get it over with. “I didn’t want to get your hopes up, or for you to argue.”
Bokuto didn’t approach. He stood near the door, mouth set mulishly. Keiji had never born any sort of disapproval from Bokuto before, and he wasn’t equipped to deal with it now. He gripped the fabric over his shins tightly, as if curling up further would create a shield against that unhappiness.
“I’m not a child,” Bokuto said at last.
Keiji met his gaze. His insides were a mess, but at least it wouldn’t show in his face. “I don’t think you’re a child.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure.”
Bokuto moved at last, but it wasn’t to embrace him or anything like that. He settled down against the wall, legs drawn up. He looked at his hands.
“I love you,” Keiji said, feeling hopeless. What was he meant to say besides sorry?
“That’s not the point,” Bokuto mumbled. “You’d tell someone you trusted.”
“I trust you more than anyone.”
“Okay. Respect, then.”
Keiji swallowed. Respect? He respected Bokuto, he thought, but Bokuto had hit on something with this comment. Keiji didn’t always expect Bokuto to be reasonable about things. He was more comfortable being the one deciding things while Bokuto followed his lead.
Was that bad?
“I’m used to making my own decisions,” Keiji said at last.
“And what if you never came back?” Bokuto asked, standing. His fists were balled. “I couldn’t—you’d just be…”
Keiji pressed his face between his knees. He hadn’t been fair. He knew that—but to hear the fear in Bokuto’s voice cut him down. Neither of them wanted to be the one left behind.
“I’m sorry,” he said into his knees.
The bed rocked slightly. Bokuto had sat down next to him.
“Akaashi,” Bokuto said. His hand tugged Keiji’s sleeve. “I was scared.”
“I hoped you wouldn’t realize until I was back.”
“More scared than I’ve ever been.”
Keiji let out a breath. They’d lived through too much both together and separately for that to be true. “That’s not possible.”
“I didn’t think so either, but it was. You can’t just do that.”
“I have to go a few more times,” Keiji said. “That was the condition. Ukai wants medics on the patrol teams. I promise I’ll be careful.”
“If you die I’ll find your ghost and pummel it.”
It was a cute image until Keiji considered that, if he died, there was a good chance of some remnant of him remaining alive as a flesh-eating corpse. Cases of people trying to put down their infected loved ones were well-documented: a final act of mercy.
“I won’t die,” Keiji said. “It would be way too annoying to die now.”
Bokuto had pried his hand loose; he was playing with it now. He was still angry, Keiji thought, but not so angry as to want to keep his distance. “It wouldn’t have been annoying before?”
“I thought it might be a relief sometimes.” Keiji looked down at their interlinked hands. “Now I know my family is alive. I have you. I like the people here. If something bit me after I finally have everything to live for I’d be too angry to see straight.”
They were quiet. Bokuto didn’t let go of his hand, and Keiji was starting to get cold. The room wasn’t warm enough to just sit in, but he didn’t want to move while Bokuto was still making up his mind.
“You’re sorry?” Bokuto said at last.
“I am. I’ll try not to do it again.”
Bokuto let out a breath and leaned, his face coming near Keiji’s shoulder. He inhaled slowly.
“You bathed,” he said.
Keiji nodded. Bokuto’s breath was tickling his neck, making shivers run down his spine. There must have been an insulating layer of dirt on his skin before, dulling sensations like breath against his skin, because it felt strange and new now. He straightened without meaning to. Bokuto was still leaning in close, his quiet breaths maddening.
“Is this some sort of punishment?” Keiji asked, resisting the urge to squirm. Having someone so close but barely touching was odd now, after months of shared heat. He wasn’t used to whatever this was anymore.
“No.” Bokuto drew back. He considered Keiji, his expression open—but something in Keiji’s expression sharpened his gaze. “Are you turned on?”
Keiji nodded. “The bath…” he let his words trail off, knowing they held an omission. It wasn’t just the bath. It was relief, exhilaration. He felt more alive than he had in a while. The interest in Bokuto’s face at his admission was unmistakable, and he let it guide him, moving their entwined hands above Bokuto’s head before push-pulling him onto his back, climbing on top when he met with no resistance. Bokuto’s back arched when Keiji dipped to kiss his neck; clearly Keiji wasn’t the only one feeling sensitive.
He worked Bokuto up for a little longer, not minding the salt of his skin, though the chill of the room pulled at him. It was inadvisable to do this on top of the blankets—but when Keiji straightened to say so, Bokuto pulled him down into a kiss, hand tight in his hair.
It took another few tries to get beneath the blankets, and they shed their clothes only slowly, too distracted by each other to go fast. Winter dress meant layer after layer to uncover, and by the time Keiji could feel Bokuto’s skin against his own he was warm, and all his patience had been used up.
Bokuto didn’t seem to mind.
The next day was Keiji’s day off, but he spent it at the medical center anyway. Bokuto and Kenma joined him.
“Do you think being one-legged would have added to my appeal or detracted from it?” Kuroo was asking, lying in his hospital bed holding court. He looked better—there was color in his face—but Keiji could tell a lot of his energy came through strength of will. He had to feel terrible, even if he was no longer fevered and delirious.
“Well?” Kenma said to Keiji and Bokuto. “I already answered this question a million times up in that room. Your turn.”
“Added, obviously,” Bokuto said.
“You’d finally have character,” Keiji said, and bore Kuroo’s amused glare with a smile.
Kenma was smiling, and something about it made Keiji ask, “What?”
“You must be feeling better. You’re only mean when you’re happy.”
Bokuto laughed in surprise—and then turned to Keiji with round eyes. “It’s true! Why did I never realize that before?”
Keiji didn’t know how to respond to that. He’d made a conscious effort to suppress his cutting remarks at times, especially with Bokuto—but somehow he’d relaxed just now. He shrugged, then looked at Kuroo again. His eyes were blinking shut now that he wasn’t the center of attention; they’d been up here for two hours, recapping everything while he was lucid.
“We should go,” Keiji said. “Kuroo’s tired.”
Kuroo let his eyes drop shut. “I have the stamina of a race horse.”
“Obviously.” Keiji stood. “Sleep well.”
Kenma stood, but didn’t follow. “I’m meant to stay here. Quarantine, you know.”
“Weren’t you out and about yesterday?”
“There was a lot of confusion. How was I meant to know I was quarantined alongside Kuroo?”
Translation: Kenma had snuck out knowingly, but now he was done sneaking out. Keiji laughed, then pulled Bokuto with him into another blustery winter day, pausing only to collect their coats. Cold wind on his face numbed it when he stepped outside, and Keiji wrapped his scarf up over his nose, then pulled the hood of his coat up for good measure.
Bokuto—drawing a fluffy hat from his coat pocket—soon looked similarly ridiculous, but his eyes were bright. He pointed at the compound wall. “Want to go up?”
“No.” It would be even windier up there.
“It’s our day off,” Bokuto wheedled.
“So we should spend it wisely.”
“I’m going up.”
Keiji sighed and followed. Bokuto led them up through the building closest to the wall, out onto the roof and across the bridge to a flat section of wall. The construction here was done; they were alone. Bokuto stretched his arms out.
“Come away from the edge,” Keiji said. There had been no seizures for a while, but that meant little.
Bokuto dropped to sit on his haunches. “Nope.”
Keiji sidled up next to him. The drop from here probably wouldn’t kill someone unless they landed head-down, but it’d do damage. He settled next to Bokuto, ill at ease. “I see. I made you worry, so you’ll make me worry.”
Bokuto grinned, nudging him with a shoulder. “Keiji,” he said. “We made it.”
“Yeah, right up until you fall off this wall and I live the rest of my life as your resentful widower. I told him to get away from the edge…”
The laugh Bokuto let out was hard enough to break through Keiji’s trepidation, letting a smile break through. Bokuto reseated himself, snaking an arm around Keiji. “Are we married?”
So that was why he’d sounded so happy. How could Bokuto doubt they were bound? Keiji didn’t think there was any form of legal commitment that rivalled what they’d been through, or what he’d be willing to do for Bokuto. “Yes,” he answered simply, because Bokuto sounded so pleased by the idea.
Bokuto grinned. Eventually Keiji tore his gaze from that grin to the blue sky beyond the compound, squinting. The sky was almost painful to look at head-on, it was so bright, but dark clouds on the horizon promised rain—or snow, possibly, at this temperature. The thought made him feel chilled, which wasn’t helped by wind whipping at him, pulling his hood off to expose his head. The only warmth was Bokuto’s body heat leaking through all the layers of clothing between them, folding into his own. Hopefully the chill would force Bokuto to leave this perch soon.
“You’re thinking about all the things that could go wrong, aren’t you?” Bokuto said after a while.
It surprised Keiji. “No.”
Bokuto’s eyes slid to meet his. “No?”
“It’s a first, I know.” Eventually, he decided to address the unspoken question. “I’ve worked out most of the threats to us living here, and I know how we’ll handle them. If they happen.”
“I can write it down for you if you like. If you’re worried too.”
Bokuto shook his head. “No. I’d just like… if our old friends in B don’t manage to find a cure, or they keep it to themselves, I’d like to try and help somehow. Anonymously.”
There was no way to do the research in sector K; there was no well-stocked hospital here. The medical center didn’t even have a PCR machine—but Keiji nodded. “Okay.”
The quiet way Bokuto looked at him then chased all thoughts from his head; a gloved hand came up to touch his cheek, lowering his scarf, then guided his face up. Bokuto’s mouth settled softly on his. A flush of heat travelled through Keiji, providing temporary relief from the numbing cold. Paradoxically, he shivered.
“Thank you,” Bokuto said.
“It’s not my call to make,” Keiji mumbled. Bokuto’s words yesterday were still echoing in his head: I’m not a child.
“Not just that. For everything.”
Bokuto was still looking at him in that way that made his knees weak, his face still close from that kiss. Keiji’s gaze lowered to the buttons on Bokuto’s coat. He thought about hope, that thing that existed to be crushed, and didn’t know what to do with it. It wasn’t hope he felt just now, and it wasn’t hope alone that had gotten him through the past six months. Keiji would hold on with both hands—but not just to hope. To everything.
“You can thank me later,” Keiji said. “Literally. Please thank me later. I’m freezing.”
Bokuto laughed softly, and pulled him up. They headed back over the bridge, to the roof of the adjacent building. A gust of wind pushed Keiji into Bokuto as they walked, and he let himself lean. The look Bokuto turned on him was the kind of sappy, adoring look that would have sent Keiji running before; he leaned harder.
When Bokuto set his hand on the door leading into the building, Keiji stopped him. The wind wasn’t so hard here, and they were out of sight of any guards. It was enough. Keiji rolled onto the balls of his feet and returned the kiss from earlier, gloves set against the sides of Bokuto’s face. Bokuto’s arms settled around him gently, then pulled tight. It was warm again; it could have been months ago, sweat slicking clothes to skin, the blazing sun above—but no. Months ago they’d been alone, raiding corner stores for increasingly scarce supplies. He hadn’t understood Bokuto, and Bokuto hadn’t understood him. He hadn’t loved Bokuto back then, not yet; that had been another world.
The kiss ended, but their embrace didn’t.
“My thanks as well,” Keiji said, with the hint of a smile. “For everything.”
He refused to imagine what his life would have been like if he and Bokuto hadn’t found each other that day, in that other life. Poorer. That was all he needed to know.
“That’s not fair,” Bokuto said. “You can thank me, but I can’t thank you?”
“I don’t make the rules.”
The amusement in Bokuto’s face was another wave of heat in Keiji’s body. He stretched up for another kiss, then ducked inside the building. Bokuto stayed outside, a darker silhouette against that bright sky.
“You coming?” Keiji asked, holding the door open. For a moment it seemed like Bokuto might say no; he was looking out over the wall, his attention caught by something beyond Keiji’s vision. Whatever it was, he stared at it for a long time; seconds ticked past. When he finally turned back to look at Keiji in the doorway, his expression was odd—but the serious look melted into a smile after another moment.