The strong survive, and the weak die and become food for the Kabane.
That had been what Kurusu had been hearing every single day of his life ever since he was a child. That was what he'd been told when his parents -and the rest of the village he lived in, for that matter- were overrun by the undead. That was what Lord Yomogawa had told him when he was taken in his service to be his daughter's loyal guardian.
These were the words that were playing again and again in his head now, as another Kabane launched itself towards him, mouth wide open and ready to deliver the deadly bite. Kurusu's new sword -the one Ikoma had recently given him- pierced through the iron cage surrounding its heart and, with a final shriek and the all-too-familiar blue flash, the Kabane fell dead at the samurai's feet.
No matter how many of them he killed though, they kept coming. Mumei and Ikoma were most probably at the process of eliminating them, yet they were still working their way from the last cargo of the train. They would never reach them in time.
Kurusu had accepted his fate of dying -yet he could not do so yet. Not until he'd made sure that Ayame was safe and away from the monsters.
But his foolish, foolish Lady would not budge an inch from the infested cargo and would refuse to run to the engine room, that could put up a greater defence until the Kabaneri arrived. She said she wasn't going to leave without him.
Did she really want to die that badly?
Well, it wasn't like he could take her away himself, not when he was busy holding off the hordes of Kabane and trying to push them out to the previous cargo. For now, all he could do was prevent them from reaching her. And hope, that help would arrive soon -because without assistance, they'd both end up dead, or worse.
The whole train suddenly shook as there must have been some irregularity on the rails -and shaken by the impact, the masses of the Kabane trying to push through the door staggered backwards. Behind them, Ikoma's ruffled green hair finally appeared. Shooting and stabbing his way through the monsters, the Kabaneri finally found his way towards the door, bolting through it just as Kurusu slammed against it, puhing it shut just in time before the Kabane could have slithered through it again.
Ikoma rose up from the floor, seemingly startled by the sudden abscence of noise. He looked around, taking in the amount of slaughtered Kabane.
"Did you take them all out with just your sword?" He cocked his head with genuine curiosity, but didn't seem to mind too much the fact that he could have a moment to catch his breath. "Mumei should be here shortly, dealing with the ones that are left behind that door. Are you two alright?"
Kurusu nodded, finally deeming it safe to lower his sword.
"Your help is appreciated." Was all he graced Ikoma with, before shifting his attention towards more urgent matters. "Ayame-sama, are you unscathed... Ayame-sama?"
Ayame looked perfectly fine -there was not a drop of blood to be seen on her. Yet despite there were no more enemies inside their cargo, she was still crouching against the metal walls of the train, her eyes wide and her face a mask of terror. Kurusu was ready to inquire about about the reason behind this, but then she lifted up her hand, struggling to keep it steady as she pointed towards him -specifically, towards his arm. Kurusu blinked in confusion, but then he heard Ikoma gasp in shock as well. Slowly, he lowered her eyes to where Ayame was pointing.
There was a small, yet clear bitemark just above his wrist, and thin glowing orange marks had already started slithering up his arm, as much as he could see beneath the shredded blue leather of his gauntlet.
There was just a short, frozen moment of silence as the three lone occupants of the cargo stared at each other in disbelief, as if all of this was just a sick, sick joke.
As if Kurusu wasn't going to turn into a Kabane during the next hours.
Turn into one of them.
That was the thought that finally spurred him to action. Losing no more time, he stuffed his other hand inside his pocket, dragging out a suicide charge and fumbling with the string that secured it. When that was done, he placed it upon his chest, right over the spot under which he knew his heart -still human enough- was beating.
He delayed himself only for a moment, turning towards Ikoma.
"Ikoma, I must ask you to watch over Ayame-sama at all costs. Do not-"
Ayame's scream was barely any more human than the shrieks of the Kabane, that were still coming from the other side of the door, as she suddenly sprang to her feet, bolting towards Kurusu. She caught him by surprise as she fell on top of him, grabbing the suicide charge out of his hand and tossing it away. It detonated, but the explosion barely left a shallow dent on the iron wall.
"Ayame-sama, you must move away! I don't know when-"
"No!" Ayame said again, this time her voice steadier, almost collected. "I'm not letting you do this, Kurusu! I'm not letting you die!"
Kurusu let out a short sigh. There was no time to waste -he could already feel his hand going numb, as if he could no longer control it, and the bruise was spreading towards his elbow faster. Maybe if he could get Ikoma to shoot him...
"Forgive me, Ayame-sama." He muttered, pushing her off of him gently. "But the weak die, and the strong survive-"
"Then I should be dead!" Ayame cried. "I should be dead, and you should live on! Because you were the one that fought them all, and got bitten, while I was only sagging against a corner like a coward! I... I cannot allow this, Kurusu!"
Before he could stop her, she got up with astonishing speed, and grabbed Ikoma's steam gun right out of the stunned teen's hands. The boy did nothing to take it back, or stop her, as she knelt down, pinning Kurusu's elbow to the floor with the barrel of the gun. Tears glistered in her eyes as her finger found its way to the trigger, but her face remained calm and determined -the face of a leader.
Kurusu's eyes widened with sudden realisation.
"Ayame-sama, this won't work-"
"I'm sorry, Kurusu." She smiled weakly, her lips shaking despite her brave expression. "Please, forgive me..."
The sound of the gunshot echoed through the cabin, covering the screams...
Kurusu woke up to the steady, reassuring movement of the train, and the humming sound it made as it skidded across the rails. He needed to blink a few times for his eyes to readjust, but even then the corners of his vision were still blurry.
Wait... Hadn't he been bit by a Kabane? Could it all have been a dream? And if it hadn't been, then what...?
He jolted a little when he heard Ayame's anxious voice. He turned his head as much as he could, finally able to see her, as well as study the rest of his surroundings -he was lying on one of the bunkers towards the front cargo, but aside from his Lady and him, there was no one else in sight.
A small sob escaped the girl's mouth as she took hold of his hand, all the bravery that she had been putting on during all this time dissolving in a matter of seconds as relief washed over her.
"You're awake..." She murmured, shaking her head, as if she couldn't believe it. And, in her defense, he couldn't, either. He thought he'd never wake up again -and if he did, he wouldn't be human anymore.
Speaking of which, he should get someone to impale his heart as soon as possible, before the virus would take over his brain. And someone should take Ayame away too, because it was dangerous for her to be near him. How far had the virus gone so far? He tried to lift his other hand to check -and froze. He couldn't move it. In fact, it felt as if there was nothing to move at all, yet he couldn't tilt his head far enough to inspect.
Seeing him try to move, Ayame sniffed again.
"I'm so sorry... I couldn't think of anything else to do..."
Finally, Kurusu managed to move his head enough to look on his own. He saw nothing strange at first -just that the upper section of his arm was bandaged down to his elbow and...
And the bandages stopped there, because below the joint, there was... well, there was nothing to bandage. He blinked in confusion, but then he remembered Ayame pointing Ikoma's gun to his arm and -oh. Right.
"Does... Does it hurt?" Ayame's hesitant voice brought him back to the present, and despite the situation, he felt a strange heat rising into his cheeks when he turned to look at her.
"No, not at all." It certainly didn't hurt, although to be fair, it wasn't like he could feel anything at all. He guessed it would start hurting like hell later, but for now it wasn't an issue, so there wasn't really any reason for him to waste energy thinking about it. "Does... that mean I won't become one of them, m'Lady?"
He felt Ayame pressing his other hand into her own and, as much as it flustered him to admit, he... almost enjoyed the warmth of it.
"No, you won't. I had Mumei-chan to check on you a few times. She says she can't smell any trace of the virus in your blood." The relief in her voice just caused him to blush all the more -had he really worried her that much? "Apparently if you remove the infected part before the virus reaches the brain, you're as good as new."
Well, that was an interesting piece of information nonetheless. "It is intriguing that no one else has thought of doing that before."
His words brought a weak, shivering chuckle out of Ayame's lips, and hearing it, he allowed himself something that could be called half a smile.
A few seconds of silence passed, until Kurusu dared ask something that had been going around in his brain ever since he recalled what had happened.
"Did I... Did I scream?" He muttered, frowning. "When you shot my arm off, m'Lady. Did I scream?"
Ayame blinked in confusion for a few seconds, but then burst out laughing, and this time her laugh was genuine.
"My, you're always so stiff!" She breathed in a lighthearted tone. "But to answer the question... no, you didn't make a sound. Ikoma was the one that did all the screaming. Poor Ikoma, he was pacing nonstop outside the door until half an hour ago, when Mumei forcefully got him to sleep. He thought you were dead."
"Hmph. Who knew the brat would get a big brother figure out of a lowly samurai like myself."
"Don't say that." Ayame pouted almost in a childish manner. "You saved me... You saved all of us."
"I..." Kurusu blushed again, and turned away from Ayame in a pitiful attempt to hide it. "I was just doing my duty." And, technically, she had been the one to save him this time. But he wasn't going to get into an argument with his Lady.
There was silence, again, and after a good five minutes, it was Ayame who broke it this time.
"May I ask you a question, Kurusu? You don't need to answer if you don't want to."
"Please go ahead, Ayame-sama. I will do my best to satisfy your curiosity."
"What..." Ayame lowered her eyes. "What was your wish? What did you wish during the Tanabata?"
This time he could have sworn his cheeks were as bright as a Kabane's eyes -but he couldn't refuse the answer. He couldn't refuse to oblige, after she'd saved him. Swallowing down whatever shreds of dignity he was left at that point, he opened his mouth reluctantly.
"I... I wished to stay by your side, Ayame-sama."
To his surprise, it was she that was blushing now, her eyes wide with surprise. "And... And why didn't you want me to know...?"
"Well... Is there any point of us dwelling on a moment of the past? And after all, my wish isn't going to be coming true, m'Lady."
"Huh?" She didn't seem to carch on. "Why wouldn't it?"
Ah... so she hadn't thought of it just yet. Well...
"I came to your side as your loyal bodyguard, your sword and shield. My sole duty was to be your protector, Ayame-sama. But..." He shifted a little, lifting whatever had remained of his arm. "I can no longer wield a gun, and I doubt a sword will be any different. What use am I? You should have already started looking for a fitting replacement instead of wasting your time by the side of one that has essentially become nothing more than a broken, useless tool-"
"How could you say that!"
Kurusu's eyes widened, and he looked at her flustered face, her eyes suddenly being wet.
"How could you speak this way about yourself? The only reason you're like this is because you saved me... You're no tool, you're... you're..." She sobbed, lifting up his hand and pressing it against her cheek. Feeling her skin under his hand, Kurusu blushed all the more, trying to look away and focus on the current issue.
"Forgive me for distressing you." He murmured quietly. "But it is the simple truth, my Lady. I am no longer fit to be your guardian."
"We will find a way!" Ayame insisted. "I will send word to my father's most trusted engineers. Building prosthetics isn't any kind of new technology -you will be able to hold your sword again. I will do whatever I can to make it happen."
Kurusu let out a small sigh, looking away.
"Ayame-sama... you don't have to do this." He said quietly. "I do not wish to go against your word. But to my best of my intentions, I advice you to find another samurai to be your protector. At least... at least for as long as it takes for me to adjust." He added quickly, seeing her face darken with sadness again.
Ayame looked at him thoughtfully, nibbling on her lower lip -a habbit of hers, he'd noticed earlier in time, when she was nervous or troubled. A habit which he found oddly endearing and... wait, what was he thinking?! He was a lowly warrior and she was his Lady. How could he make such dishonourable thoughts?! Hhe should be ashamed of himself!
Distracted by these thoughts, he thought for a moment that he'd misheard her, when she spoke to him again.
"E-Excuse me, m'Lady?"
"I said that I want you to stay by my side." She repeated, and this time he heard her loud and clear, which only added to his shock. "I want to make your wish come true. It's the least I can do to repay you for all you've done for me."
He begun opening his mouth to protest, but he caught him off by taking hold of his hand again.
"Please, Kurusu." She said softly, her violet eyes staring directly into his steel-blue ones. "Stay by my side. As my sword and shield, or as... as my companion."
Kurusu's eyes widened slightly, not only at her words, but mostly at the tone of her voice -warm and instense... as if the plea came from the bottom of her heart.
And as much as he hesitated to take such vows, vows that his situation could prevent him from keeping...
He couldn't disappoint his Lady.
Sitting up as much as he could and flipping his hand so that it would rest on top of hers instead of the opposite, he bowed his head.
"As you wish, Ayame-sama. I promise... I promise, that I will remain by your side, always."