"Hey, Tezuka—" a soft whisper in his ear, "—did you ever think about leaving?"
"Really?" the voice asked, though its owner already knew that Tezuka dreamed of climbing onto one of the ships that were leaving daily now and flying away from this doomed place.
"We could go," it suggested.
"Go to sleep, Fuji."
"We could leave," it said, one more time.
"All right." It sighed. "Sleep well.
It was quiet when he woke, like it shouldn't have been. The streets should have been teeming with life, with housewives bargaining for their groceries and with vendors shouting their best deals. There should have been cars rushing along, people almost late for work shouting at each other to move out of the way. The old couple across the street should have been shouting at each other like they had done for the past fifty years; the couple next door should have just been waking up to their baby's sobs.
It was quiet. Fuji stood in the kitchen, looking out their dingy window, and an omelet sat on the table. An empty plate sat beside it. Tezuka put it in the sink.
"Good morning," Tezuka said quietly.
"Morning." Fuji didn't look back at him. "France claims that they have already evacuated everyone."
"They haven't," Tezuka said with certainty.
"Their ships will stop."
"But there will be people left." The omelet was still warm. Tezuka found a fork in one of their drawers—he didn't even know where anything was anymore, they didn't keep track anymore—and sat down.
"I know." Fuji turned around and tried to smile. "I made sure that Yuuta and Yumiko went, anyways."
"You managed to find tickets?"
"I had a friend." Fuji said. Had; the friend had already left. "First class, even."
"Too old. They wouldn't have survived anyways." Fuji leaned against the wall. "The bombing should stop soon."
"Are you done?"
He wasn't. "Yes."
"We should go, then."
Watching Fuji walk on the empty streets of Tokyo always gave Tezuka a pang of guilt. By all rights, Fuji should have been on a ship out of there ages ago, into wherever the citizens of the world had been sent. The Alliance had stopped bombing urban centers a while ago, which was a relief to all of the people, whether they had left or were leaving, or were left behind, but the marks of the aerial bombings were still there.
But here he was, walking with Tezuka, stopping at the first shelter they see. The people rush out to greet them and they drop the bags they had been carrying. Tezuka fell into his natural role easily here, answering questions and reassuring the desperate eyes with his very presence. Fuji would hang back, silently give out the rations that they kept so carefully, and watch.
Fuji should have been gone.
"Have the bombs truly stopped?"
"We think so, yes."
"Can we go home now? Please, please let me go home. My baby needs to sleep in her bed!"
"Please wait a little longer. We can't bring food to all of your homes."
"We can come here!"
"It is too far a walk, not when the streets—"
"But you walk it every day!"
"We walk so you don't have to." Fuji's voice said. He walks so you don't have to.
Tezuka looked up, at Fuji. Fuji held himself stiffly, like he had when they were children and Yuuta hadn't been able to speak for himself.
"Why are you here?" They turned on him.
Fuji did not turn away. So he won't walk alone.
Tezuka looked away.
"The last ship leaves today."
Fuji looked up, eyes wide with some emotion that Tezuka didn't understand. "I know."
"It is half empty—" Tezuka's voice was chocked "—and they're welcoming passengers."
Fuji was quiet. "Do you want to leave?"
"You know I can't."
"Then I will stay."
"You should eat." Fuji pushed the plate towards him, the fake egg mixture cooked into some semblance of real food. "You know they will be panicked today."
Fuji looked up. "Eat."
The people in the shelters were excited. No, not excited. Anxious. They jumped at every noise and they strained their ears, as if they listened for that last ship leaving, leaving them alone in a world where the Alliance had won. They complained bitterly, asked Tezuka if this was what their countries were made of, what the free world was. Asked if they were all cowards, who ran away when their plans fell apart.
Tezuka couldn't say no.
So Fuji said it for him.
Because Fuji knew that Tezuka hadn't run away, and that he could have.
It was a hollow victory, as far as Fuji was concerned. The Alliance had conquered the once free nations, but their attacks had destroyed the land and the farms, which once made grains and fruits and vegetables, were too wasted by the nuclear attack to be used. There were tracts of land in Africa, maybe, that could still be farmed—Africa had stayed well out of the war and no one had wanted them in it anyways. The Alliance took those immediately, because they could not go.
No one went to the once free lands anymore, not if they could help it.
Tezuka said it was good, that no one came. He gathered people to work a factory that seemed in better condition than others and they made the soft powder that was nutritious enough to keep them alive, but nothing more.
The people were angry, that they had been left behind. They were the old and the weak, the ones deemed unfit for the new world, though no one would say as much. There was only so much space to bring people out, they had said. They would need the strongest.
It had made sense then, but they had been angry.
Now there was no one to talk down their anger with meaningless platitudes, no one to falsely assure them, and they were still angry. They turned it on Tezuka, who shrugged it off. "They need someone to blame," he had said.
"They have someone to blame," Fuji had replied softly.
"They are hurt."
"Because they were left behind."
"Then what are you?"
"We—" Tezuka always said 'we' and Fuji always said 'you' "—are not cowards."
"Fools, then." Fuji slid out of his shirt. "Fools for staying."
Tezuka shook his head, watched Fuji.
"No." Fuji threw the shirt down and grabbed the rag, barely clean, and soaked it in water, barely dirty. He wiped it across his skin. "We mistook foolishness for bravery."
"Then you should have left." Tezuka clenched his fist. "I told you to—"
"You knew I wouldn't." Fuji finished and put another shirt on, pilfered from some abandoned store that didn't need it anymore. Tezuka had disapproved at first, but Fuji had been right. They had taken the clothes and brought them to the rest of the people.
"Why?" Tezuka took the rag.
"Because you are here."
"You were foolish." Tezuka dipped the rag into water again. "That is no reason to stay."
"It was all the reason I needed." Fuji said simply.
There were very few young people left—those were all eligible to leave and so they did, encouraged by their parents and grandparents that stayed. There was no burning passion for anger left, not really. Fuji realized this before Tezuka, realized that their anger was only sorrow. They had wished that they had been loved enough that someone had stayed, at the same time that they would never wish this fate upon any that they loved.
Tezuka looked at Fuji when they walked. Fuji walked calmly, carefully avoiding the cracks in the road and the rubble on the ground, but Tezuka always thought he could see a small skip in Fuji's step and a little playfulness, when he jumped over a pile of shattered cement. He saw the way that Fuji would move with the wind and the way he always took a deep breath when he got outside, and Tezuka thought that maybe, Fuji wouldn't have been happy without this place anyways.
Fuji didn't care about the wind blowing in his face or the sun shining too brightly over him. He would not have been happy leaving, but he knew why.
"Will you miss them?" An arm snaked around Tezuka's neck and Tezuka pulled Fuji closer. He could feel Fuji tremble.
"I don't think..." Fuji's voice didn't break, but he took a moment to continue. "I don't think Yuuta will know what to do, on the ship."
"He is with Yumiko."
"She loved it here." Fuji buried his face into Tezuka's chest. "I don't know if she could live without the sun and the moon telling her what would happen."
"She has her cards."
"Yeah." Fuji pulled away. "Sorry."
"For what?" Tezuka pulled him back.
"I didn't mean to lean on you."
Tezuka didn't know what to say, but "I want you to."
"Everyone already does." Fuji didn't move away again, but he didn't pull closer. "I won't add to them."
"I don't care about them—"
"You do." Fuji kissed him lightly. "Or else you wouldn't have stayed."
They found the building by accident, taking a detour from their normal route home. Neither of them had thought it was a good idea, but they were still young and living forever cautious, forever anxious, living like that they could not help but seek just the smallest adventure.
It was a large building, a wonder that they had not seen it before. It looked sound and it looked unbroken.
The door was locked, one of the electronic fingerprinting systems that were impossible to break through, now that there was no more electricity. Fuji went in through a window and opened the door, looking pale but not frightened. The first thing they noticed was the soft humming of power, then the very light breeze from some central heating unit.
The people moved without complaint. The winter was coming and none of them wanted to bear it out in the ramshackle buildings they had gathered in. They entered the building silently, just whispers amongst themselves, wondering that it was still intact. Tezuka did not mention the bodies that they had found on the lowest level, nor the plans for evacuation that had been pinned on every wall. They had removed them, in any case.
Fuji led half the group to some rooms, Tezuka led the other. Then they went for a separate encampment, gathered those people, brought them to the building.
"What are you doing out here?" Fuji stepped outside and sat next to Tezuka on the carefully cleared ground.
Fuji looked up, at the sky. "It must be cold up there," he said.
Tezuka grabbed his hand, and Fuji looked back down. Tezuka was looking at him, begging him—
"I'm glad we stayed," Fuji said, barely a whisper.
"You know I couldn't leave you."
"I know." Tezuka's grip tightened. "Thank you."
"For what?" Fuji pressed their lips together.
"For letting me lean on you," Tezuka said when they pulled apart.
"Someone had to."