12. And All I Feel is this Cruel Wanting
Pandemonium reigned both inside Sousuke's head and in the landing helicopter.
Kaname shoved Shizu at Sousuke, crying hard. "Take her before I do something else dumb that gets her killed!"
Shocked into paralysis, Sousuke cradled the wailing baby on his shoulder as he tried to think of a way out of whatever had just happened. I was so impossible. It couldn't be. They were finally together again. They had Shizu. It couldn't end like this. It just couldn't.
"Oh, I'm so stupid! So stupid!" moaned Kaname over and over while Mao wrapped her hand in a bandage. She was nearly hysterical.
"Shh," cooed Kurz, awkwardly patting Kaname's shoulder. "We'll figure this out. We're landing now." He looked sad and scared.
Kaname vehemently shook her head. "No. It's over." She hiccupped and forced herself to calm down, demeanor changing. "She'll need to feed in about an hour." She attempted to be all business as she gave instructions on how to care after Shizu. "I don't know if you all will have formula. I can't give her anything now," her face crumpled once again as she wept.
They touched down on the upper deck of the submarine, instantly surrounded by Mithril soldiers and doctors.
"She's bit," warned Mao and everyone froze, some soldiers reaching for their weapons.
"Don't you touch her!" roared Sousuke. He felt completely helpless, but he would protect her for a long as he could.
Kurz tried to placate everyone. "Hey, if the baby has the antidote…"
"It'll take too long. Kaname has minutes as it is," reminded Melissa.
"She's not your guinea pig," wept Kaname as she was helped into another wheelchair.
Tessa made her way through the crowd, calming the situation. "Ms. Chidori," she said, approaching the new mother. "I'm so sorry. We'll take you and Sousuke some place quiet as the change happens, okay? The baby will be safe, I promise." Sousuke guessed that this wasn't the first time someone returned who had been bitten.
Kaname only nodded miserably. After a deep breath, everything seemed to relax around them. Finally, she asked, "Can I just see her one more time?"
Tessa gestured to Sousuke and he squatted next to the wheelchair holding out the baby in his hands. Shizu had tired herself out with crying and was once again sleeping.
Even through her tears, Kaname smiled brilliantly at her child. "She's so beautiful," she whispered. She reached out with her uninjured hand and hovered it over the thin dark hair on her head, then held it near Shizu's plump cheek. It seemed Kaname couldn't bring herself to touch her baby, afraid of passing along the infection. Kaname dabbled her finger over the baby's mouth, feeling her breath. A gentle smile played on Kaname's mouth. After a few moments, Kaname's breath hitched once again and she nodded at Sousuke.
He stood and handed Shizu to a waiting Kurz. Tessa led the way as Sousuke pushed a weeping Kaname into an open corridor and into a small room with a table, very similar to the one where Tessa had explained Mithril and Amalgam to Sousuke.
"I won't let Sousuke do it!" said Kaname suddenly.
"We'll have a guard outside, for when the time comes," said Tessa solemnly.
They sat at the table, side-by-side, as the door closed behind them. The room was dominated by a large mirror that Sousuke suspected was two-way. They'd have an audience for Kaname's last minutes. The thought both angered him and relieved him. They'd know when to step in. When to force him out. When to… When it was time for Sousuke to work on protecting just Shizu. He inwardly promised he would do a better job of it than he had done with Kaname.
Sousuke took Kaname's hands, careful of the bandage wrap. Kaname gave a small laugh as she noticed that he had his own wrap that seemed to mirror her own. "What did you do?" she asked.
"It doesn't matter," Sousuke said. "I'm so sorry."
"Idiot," said Kaname. "Everything about you matters. It's because of you that I lived this long. It's because of you that we have Shizu. I'm the one who's sorry. I didn't mean to abandon you with her. I really wanted…" her voice cracked and more tears spilled down her cheeks.
"I know," Sousuke said.
"There's still so much that I want to tell you. While they had me, I'd promised that I wouldn't let a day go by without telling you how much you mean to me."
She got serious, "It's okay. For Shizu: Be sure to tell her about her family. Both sides. About my father. And tell her about me and how much I loved her and how much we were looking forward to having her. Tell her how sorry I am."
Sousuke felt the tears welling up. "I will. I will do my best with her."
"You'll be a wonderful father. I'm just so sorry that I'll miss it."
Sousuke felt tears slip out and roll down to the corners of his mouth. There was so much to say and the words seemed to have hit a traffic jam in his throat. Nothing could come out.
They sat in silence, staring intently into one another's eyes for a long time. Sousuke wanted to embrace her so badly. He wanted to take her into his arms and kiss her deeply, make everything okay, but they couldn't risk further infection. There was only one thing left to say.
"I love you, Kaname."
Kaname smiled through her own tears. "I love you, too."
They gripped each other's hands and waited.
A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door. Sousuke scowled. They still had more time!
He rose and opened the door, surprised to see Shinji and a finally-mobile Kyouko. "Are we too late?" Shinji asked, breathless.
"Oh, Kaname!" Kyouko pushed her way in and threw herself into her friend's arms. Kyouko's recovery had been swift thanks to the excellent doctor on the submarine.
Kaname hugged her tight before pushing her away. "Kyouko! I was so worried." Kaname started crying again. This made Kyouko sob and Shinji sniff through his own tears.
"You're so skinny," Kyouko finally remarked. "The last time I saw you, you could barely walk! They said you had the baby and that it was here?"
"It's a girl, Shizu, and she's perfect," said Kaname with a little pride.
"We'll help Sousuke," blurted Shinji.
"With three of us helping, little Shizu is sure to grow up happy. Well, as happy as she could be without…" Kyouko dissolved into tears once again.
I-love-yous and I'll-miss-yous were passed back and forth among friends. Sousuke saw that Kaname looked grateful and completely exhausted. This had to be wearing on her. And she wouldn't want them to see her change, so Sousuke announced, "If we could just have these last minutes…"
Kyouko straightened, winced, then straightened more slowly, the wound still taking its toll on her. "Okay," she started sniffling anew. She slowly followed Shinji out of the room with a longing look that Sousuke completely understood. There was still so much time that they should have together. There was more to say, more to promise, enough love to share for decades and even after. This wasn't fair.
Sousuke took his seat next to Kaname once again. It began to feel strange, all of this waiting for someone who still looked so healthy to get sick and die. They only had… minutes? Whatever the case, Sousuke would wait for however long it should take, even if nothing was currently happening.
After several more long minutes, Sousuke cleared his throat. An awful feeling rose from his belly. It was tempting and beautiful and would crush him into nothing if it was wrong: hope.
"Kaname, how are you feeling?"
"Tired," she answered instantly.
Sousuke dropped her hand and cupped her face, forcing her to look him directly in the eyes. Yes, they were bloodshot, but from crying. They weren't the intense red of someone recently infected.
"You're not coughing," said Sousuke. "If you were infected, you'd be coughing. You would have turned already…"
"Sousuke," said Kaname with a gently. "You're going to have to be strong, okay? From The List, remember first rule? No exceptions. A bite will always spread the infection."
"No." The hope wouldn't let him go. It had been something like twenty-five or thirty minutes since the infected's teeth had pierced Kaname's skin. He argued, "The third rule also says that that infection happens earlier than 30 minutes. And I've never personally seen it take longer than five minutes. You're not changing."
"Sousuke." Kaname had the look of a teacher who is disappointed that a pupil was not getting a simple concept. "No exceptions. I want to hope, too. But it's better to just face reality."
"Fuck reality," Sousuke grumbled as he took Kaname's injured hand and began unwinding the bandage.
"Careful," said Kaname.
The gauze fell to the table as Sousuke's heart exploded with optimism. The green and red striations that had been forming around the wound had disappeared. Only angry pink skin surrounded the teeth marks. Kaname gasped.
Sousuke stood and went to the door. The guard there wasn't anyone Sousuke recognized. The man sighed and reached for his sidearm.
"Stop," said Sousuke. "She's not infected."
"My orders," the man said.
"Go get the captain. Now."
The small room was getting crowded. Tessa had brought the doctor, and Kyouko had returned with Shizu who was sleeping contentedly in Kaname's arms. Sousuke stood back and regarded the scene with confused happiness.
That same feeling was reflected in Kaname's expression. The doctor was turning her hand back and forth, searching for any sign of infection.
"She's clear," the doctor finally said. "For now. We still need to keep her under observation. It could be that she's just a carrier, in which case, she could still be contagious."
Kaname froze, wide eyed, and motioned for Sousuke to come take the baby.
He did so as Tessa answered, "That's unlikely, based on the way this infection works. It only spreads by killing the cells it encounters. Kaname would most likely be dead if she was truly infected."
"Most likely?" Kaname asked.
Tessa nodded. "There's another possibility." She nodded at the baby cradled in Sousuke's arms. "Amalgam may have really found the cure."
Kaname only gave Tessa a confused look.
Tessa continued, "Based on the research that we've just recovered, I would say that it's more likely we have a cure than I would consider you a carrier." Tessa took a breath, considering how to continue. "It's biology. The 'vitamins' you took all through your pregnancy were able to work within Shizu's fetal development to create a biological cure within Shizu as she came to term. Their drug passed the placental barrier that keeps fetal blood separated from the mother's system. But sometimes, during labor and delivery, there can be placental breaks that allow the baby's blood to pass over into the mother's system."
"Oh," said Kyouko. "Like in rhesus positive pregnancies. Second pregnancies of rh positive babies in rh negative mothers are at more risk because of a chance that fetal blood got into the mother's system, and she'll develop antibodies against rh positive fetuses in the future. It does happen that baby's blood can cross over."
"Exactly," said Tessa.
Sousuke was still a little confused. "So Shizu has the cure in her blood and that blood crossed over into Kaname and now she's… immune to the infection?"
"Yes. It's possible," said Tessa with the doctor nodding along with the theory.
Kaname frowned. "I think my baby has been poked and prodded enough already."
"Ms. Chidori, if you have the cure, we may not need to test little Shizu at all," said the doctor.
Kaname only considered this for half a second before offering her arm and saying, "Take as much as you need," with an intense look.
Mithril didn't have many scientists; at least not on Tessa's submarine. But they did have the captured/rescued Amalgam scientists that they had been able to bring from Shou Convention Center. Most had come willingly, carrying what they could of their research. Mithril had not been able to find Leonard, who it seemed was in charge of that branch of Amalgam. He either had not been at the convention center during the raid, or had found a way to escape.
As the scientists tested Kaname's blood, Kaname mentioned the intense resemblance between Tessa and Leonard. Tessa confided to Sousuke and Kaname that Leonard was her brother. She hadn't mentioned it previously because she was so ashamed that her twin so eagerly joined a group of scientists who took no care about ethics in their work. He was brilliant, but he felt he was entitled to more power as a result. In fact, he often led the scientists he worked with to take more and more short cuts.
Those captured scientists who had previously been under Leonard's command all volunteered to continue working on their experiments for Mithril. Sousuke suspected it was the science that was the draw for these people, not the promises of power and fortune. In any case, their current cooperation kept them out of the brig, where the few captured Amalgam soldiers were passing their time.
Within days of study, the scientists agreed with Tessa. Any time Kaname's blood came into contact with infected cells or tissue, the infection died and the surviving tissues thrived. They were soon able to locate the cells within the plasma that seemed to hold the cure, add them to their own serums to help replicate and preserve the cure, distilling a vaccine of sorts.
Since animals weren't affected by the infection, and since the need was so pressing, the scientists called for human volunteers to take the vaccine.
Sousuke wanted to volunteer, but Kaname made him promise to wait, just in case something went wrong.
One brave young Mithril soldier named Suna stepped forward and asked for the vaccine. He was injected. The injection site turned green and red for a moment, then faded. Thirty minutes later, he was still healthy and uninfected.
At the same time, the scientists were trying to find a way to introduce the serum into weapon technology to see how it would work on an infected, lurching, blood-hungry body. With the lack of biological technology on the submarine, they decided to just try coating ammunition in the serum and shooting an infected to see what happened.
Kurz took a high powered rifle with the special bullets into a helicopter and fired non-head shots into the infected that paced the bay of Western City.
He came back to the submarine whooping his success to Sousuke and Melissa. "Even if you just graze them, they go down!"
"You're losing your edge if you're just grazing them," scoffed Melissa.
"Ricochet of a through-and-through, Babe. Two Deltas with one bullet. I'm that good," Kurz waggled his eyebrows at his superior officer before tackling her in a hug with laughter. "This is all ending," he finally said.
Melissa returned his hug. "End of the end of the world, eh? I think that deserves a celebration."
"My bunk at nineteen hundred hours?" Kurz asked, joking.
"Only if you have beer," said Melissa, patting him on the shoulder with a sly smile before leaving the room.
Kurz sobered instantly. He then turned to Sousuke and said, "I may be getting laid tonight." He then whooped again. "Gotta go find some beer… Wish me luck!"
Sousuke shook his head, secretly amused. He wasn't quite sure that Mao had meant it in the way that Kurz hoped she did, but hope did strange things to people.
The feeling of elation at the success of the serum spread through the submarine. Group after group stepped forward to take "Suna's Vaccine." No one experienced any dire side effects. Some got a rash due to the serum that contained the cure, but it usually cleared within a day.
Further, the soldiers began volunteering en masse to go mainland and fight the infected. Tessa had told Sousuke that she hated sending soldiers to the mainland due to how dangerous the infection was, but dozens were simply begging to go, so she ordered a strike on the infected in the city.
During the afternoon of the strike, Sousuke was in the infirmary. Kaname had finally given her consent and he had just received Suna's Vaccine when three panicked soldiers, back from the strike, entered the room. One soldier had been badly bitten when their squad had been overtaken by infected in a blind alley. Most had been able to shoot their way out, but one infected made its way through to savagely bite on his upper thigh.
His two fellow squad members each helped him up onto the doctor's table. She went to work right away, taking scissors and cutting up the length of the injured man's pants to expose the wound. There was no mistake the infected had broken the skin. The green and red striations were vibrant against the man's white skin.
"Was he vaccinated?" asked the doctor.
His friends nodded. "We all were. Captain Testarossa wouldn't let us go if we weren't."
The doctor took clean gauze and water and began to wash off the deep wound. "This was really close to a major artery," she explained. "Missed it by about a centimeter. He could have bled out. I'm not sure he's not infected" She continued to wash out the wound. Then she took a flashlight and checked the soldier's eyes. One of his friends took out a gun and checked that there was a bullet in the chamber. He held it at his side.
Sousuke stayed quiet and tried to blend into the wall. He needed to see if the vaccine would truly work and was afraid if he said anything, they would notice him there and ask him to leave.
The bitten soldier moaned, tears seeping out of his eyes. "Tell me doc. Am I gonna turn?"
The doctor went back and cleaned out the wound again. The bleeding was slowing. She inspected the skin around the wound.
A clock on the wall ticked slowly. The main sound in the room was the injured soldier's panicked breathing. Everyone else held their breath.
After another minute of wetting and wiping the wound, the doctor, sounding relieved, said, "The striations are fading. It looks like the vaccine is working!" All tension left the room. "We'll keep him under supervision, but the news looks very, very good."
The next afternoon, the doctor cleared the bitten soldier and declared the vaccine a success. She did warn that further study of the vaccine was needed in order to determine if this was something that needed to keep being reintroduced into the body or find out if one vaccine was enough. But the take-away message was that the vaccine worked.
Infected were still dangerous, but one mere bite was not going to be a death sentence any more. The entire crew of the submarine thought that this was something worth celebrating. Suddenly, hidden stashes of liquor were brought out and hoarded sweets and candies were shared. Tessa, reading the mood, declared that evening as time off and no one had to report for duty. Anyone who wanted to, could revel in the main mess area. Almost every soldier took her up on this offer.
Sousuke had just come from a meeting with Tessa and was making his way back to Kaname. Tessa had shared that Shinji's program had revealed that while Amalgam was no longer in charge at Jindai, Gauron's two underlings were still fighting for power. However, they were meeting up with some resistance. Tessa had promised Sousuke that Mithril would send Jindai help just as soon as they could. Soldiers were volunteering every day to lead raids on Western City in order to both spread word of the vaccine and to take out as many infected as they had ammunition for. Strike teams were organized for the next several weeks to clear specific parts of the city.
Tessa had also offered Sousuke a part in these raids. He hesitated. He wasn't Mithril and with Shizu around, he felt he shouldn't take unnecessary risks, but he did want to help clear his city. He had promised Tessa that he would think about it and he would definitely consult with Kaname. Sousuke shook his head and gave a half smile as he made his way back to their bunk. Whatever Kaname's answer would be, he was sure it would be spirited. She was showing her old spark again and he was falling more in love with her than he ever thought possible.
Sousuke made his way through the main mess area where groups of soldiers that ranged from happily buzzed to truly intoxicated reveled together, singing songs and toasting the new age. He smiled and shook hands when they were offered to him. Many on the boat knew that he had something to do with their success, but they were not quite sure what. He only wanted to get back to his bunk. Their bunk.
The baby was fussy when he reentered the room; Kaname did her best to rock and bounce the baby in her arms, but Sousuke could see how tired she was.
"She's not hungry. She's not wet. I just don't know what to do," Kaname said, frazzled.
"This was all I could find," said Sousuke, showing the book's title to Kaname. It was Modern Maritime Law, Volume 1, that Tessa had loaned Sousuke. It was the original reason for their meeting. Kaname made a face at the title.
"Well, I guess it will put me to sleep, if nothing else."
Sousuke smiled and went to Kaname. He traced a finger down her cheek, pulling back some hair that had gotten in her face. She smiled genuinely at him then, leaned her face towards his. He gave her a long, gentle kiss that was only interrupted by a surprisingly loud wail from Shizu. He took a guess that the baby would be just as spirited as her mother.
Sousuke laughed, truly happy. "Okay, okay, you little tyrant. Let's learn about maritime law." He took the infant from her mother and Kaname promptly flopped down into the bed they shared. Sousuke sat in the room's chair and held Shizu with one hand so that she rested against his shoulder and with his other hand, he opened the book and began to read.
He kept his voice soothing and gentle, "Once upon a time, there was something called maritime law, also called admirality law. Maritime law is a body of both domestic law governing maritime activities, and private international law governing the relationships between private entities that operate vessels on the oceans…"
Shizu was already beginning to quiet. He half-smiled at the book. Laws were going to be necessary and important again. Once they all worked together to kill the infected, the world had a second chance and they would need law and order again. Other things, however, would never be the same.
As awful as everything had been, and as much as they had all suffered, this was a world where Sousuke knew he could be with Kaname. He could love her openly, in the full light of day and no one would question it, even though he still did from time to time. A dirty street kid was making a family with the daughter of the head of one of the most powerful companies in the country, the woman he loved more than his own life, and it was still right.
Sousuke continued reading. Shizu yawned, tried to fuss, but then yawned again. Kaname snored softly from their bed. For as much was still wrong with the world, in this little room, in a submarine floating about a kilometer off the shore of a city still teeming with undead killing and eating any living thing they could get their hands on, Sousuke couldn't help but feel like everything was perfect.
Author's note: Holy shit, y'all. This is the end. I kind of can't believe I finished it. To everyone who has stuck through it with me, waited for months on end for the next chapter to come out, who read, favorited, followed, and reviewed, thank you so, so much. If it wasn't for your encouragement, this story would have died after the third chapter. I will be writing a (very) short epilogue to the story, but for all intents and purposes, it's over. Thanks for reading! Let me know what you thought!