Actions

Work Header

Sleepwalker

Work Text:

Excuse us for our vocabulary, but there’s really just one way to describe how Kuramochi Youichi is feeling right now.

Fucking shitty.

His throat is beyond parched like he hasn’t drank in ages. His entire body aches and seems to be covered in sweat. That by itself is gross enough, but his eyes feel swollen and crusty, and he really isn’t looking forward to today. His mattress feels stiffer than usual, and where the hell is his blanket? How did he manage to get this sweaty without it? Actually, the room feels stuffy and humid. When was the last time they opened the window to air this place out?

He tries to sit up, but his entire body protests. He swears his limbs feel ten times heavier than usual. What the hell? What’s going on? Youichi fights against his body and finally manages to rub his eyes so he can open them.

The ceiling seems further away than usual. As someone who sleeps on the top bunk, he is always in fear that he might smack his head on the ceiling. But right now, it’s almost as if…

He’s on the ground.

Rather, he’s on a mattress that has been moved to the ground. Where’s his bed? Did Sawamura prank him?

Annoyance and irritation is a great source of fuel to get him moving again. He finally sits up, scowling and looking around. His body feels stiff like he hasn’t moved in a long time. But why would it feel like that? Just how long has he been sleeping?

This room is not his own. Or if it is, Sawamura’s going to get it big time.

All the furniture is missing from the room except for some mattresses placed with just enough distance between them for someone to walk through. It looks like some of the other Seidou baseball club members are sleeping on those, completely unaware of this stupid prank. Youichi is pretty sure this is something that Sawamura came up with, but he supposes that stupid first year probably had help. Jeesh, the minute Youichi finds that brat, he’s going to throttle him!

He gets off the mattress and immediately falls to the ground. Why does his knees feel so weak? Luckily, he didn’t fall on someone who’s sleeping, so no one saw him stumble. But this is still embarrassing. He gulps, wincing at how dry his mouth is. Does anyone have water? If he’s in his own room, he can just grab his water bottle. But whose room is this? And why is there no water bottle anywhere?

The door to the room opens without any fanfare, and a shocked Masuko stares at Youichi. Masuko is carrying a small tub, which is weird enough, but he also looks like he hasn’t slept in days. His eyes begin to water, and he lets out a sob that sounds a little like “Thank god.”

 

 

“Do you think they’ll ever wake?”

It occurred to Toru belatedly that he probably shouldn’t voice such question out loud. If he started doubting, he would end up losing hope. He should know better than to lose hope when he was the one who volunteered to take care of the sick members.

“Sorry,” he said quickly. “Ignore that.”

“If you’re having second thoughts, we can always replace you,” Ryo said.

He smiled like it didn’t bother him, but Toru recognized that tone of voice. And guiltily, he recalled that Haruichi still hadn’t woken up.

He shook his head. That wasn’t it. That wasn’t his intention. But he didn’t know how to voice his conflicting thoughts without insulting Ryo further. Of course, he wanted to take care of them. Of course, he wanted everyone to wake up and for everything to be okay (whatever that meant now). But was it possible? Because when Sakai opened his eyes, he was…

“They will wake up,” Sawamura said with conviction that made Toru want to believe him. But logic dictated otherwise, and Toru’s heart ached for their tragic future.

“Because everyone at Seidou is strong.”

It wasn’t a matter of strength, Toru couldn’t bring himself to say. Instead he forced himself to smile and agree.

“You’re right, Sawamura-chan. Everyone is strong.”

“They will wake up,” Sawamura repeated, nodding. But this time, it sounded more like he was trying to convince himself.

Toru realized too late that he hit a sensitive nerve.

Ryo’s sharp intuition picked everything up as always. Without hesitation, he directed Sawamura away and waited until the southpaw is out of earshot. Then he turned to Masuko, lips curved into a warning smile.

“That kid’s been trying hard to do everything by himself. He didn’t have to, but he nursed your sorry ass back to health and waited for you to wake up. If you have any more doubts, keep them to yourself.”

“But don’t you think about it, too, Ryo? Will they wake up? Or will they…?”

Ryo’s smile was cold. Toru had never been on the receiving end of that look before. But he had seen it when an opponent said something that was too harsh or too grating on Ryo’s pride. Toru didn’t know how to respond other than silently agreeing with everything Ryo said.

“If you have any more doubts, keep them to yourself,” Ryo repeated.

It wasn’t until Ryo walked away that Toru realized that his friend had been shaking. He pushed too far. It wasn’t that you were supposed to believe that everything would be fine. It was just that everyone was trying hard to cope, so it was for the best not to give doubts power by saying them out loud.

Keep doubts to yourself, Toru thought. Keep it to yourself. Keep it there. Locked up so it couldn’t hurt anyone else.

Keep it… 

 

 

“M-Mas…” Damn. Youichi’s throat is too dry. He can’t reliably form words.

Almost as if he understands that, Masuko nods frantically. He puts down the tub outside of the room and holds his palm up in Youichi’s direction.

“Wait right there. I'll get you some water.”

Right. Because what else is Youichi going to do? Run around? He pushes down his ire. For now, all he can do is wait for Masuko to return.

*

Masuko comes back with Ryo, of all people. Ryo holds up a bottle of water to Youichi, but the minute Youichi reaches for it his partner pulls back.

“You have to drink this slowly. If you don't, you'll choke. Don't waste water, got it?”

If Ryo had asked Youichi to give up his heart or soul or even his games, he would’ve done so in a heartbeat. He just really want some water right now, so please just let him drink. Ryo holding the water bottle towards him but refusing to let him have it is slowly driving Youichi insane.

The shortstop nods desperately, but Ryo still doesn't relinquish the bottle.

“I think he gets the point,” Masuko says softly.

Yes, yes. He gets the point. He won't drink too fast. He won't waste water. Please just let him drink.

With a soft sigh, Ryo hands the bottle to Youichi. He doesn't hesitate. The shortstop opens the bottle and- Ryo puts his hand over the mouth of the bottle with a grin.

“What did I say?”

Youichi closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He nods and moves to drink slowly. Seeing that, Ryo takes his hand back. But the minute Youichi lifts the bottle a fraction too high, Ryo immediately pushes it down so that the water flow lessens. It’s torture at best, and Youichi doesn’t understand just what he did to anger his partner this much. But he’s finally getting some water in his system, so he decides to ignore it for now. The water is lukewarm like it's been sitting out in someone's room for hours. But Youichi can't complain. Water is water, and this is really all he can ask for.

The two third years wait for Youichi to finish, watching him with sharp eyes that would normally unnerve him. Once his thirst is quenched, Youichi realizes just how odd all of this is. Why does it matter whether or not he wastes water? What's up with this room, and why was Youichi and the others sleeping here? Just how long has he been asleep? Because this is starting to feel less like a prank and more like a quarantine of sorts.

He finishes every drop and puts the bottle down. Just a little, he feels like he wants another bottle, but he wisely refrains from saying anything like that just in case it angers Ryo.

“Thank you,” he says as soon as he can speak again. He clears his throat a little to get his voice back.

Masuko relaxes and smiles. “Then I'll leave this to you, Ryo.”

Youichi isn't sure what that means. But Ryo motions for Youichi to stand and follow him, so the shortstop does. He watches as Masuko picks up the tub (of water. The tub has water in it. But Youichi assumes that it’s not safe to drink since there are various towels in there. Thank god Masuko left the tub outside, else Youichi might have desperately dunk his head in there to drink). Then he closes the door to the room behind Youichi and Ryo.

*

“What do you remember from before you went to sleep?” Ryo asks as he leans against the railing of the second floor of the dorms.

Youichi follows Ryo’s lead and leans against the railing, too. His eyes are trailed on his upperclassman, because it’s disrespectful to not give Ryo every bit of his attention. But he can’t help but to notice the ominous black clouds in the sky. It looks like there’s going to be a pretty bad storm.

“Before? I was… Ah, that’s right. We lost the right to go to Koshien…”

“Koshien, huh?” Ryo lets out a soft chuckle and shakes his head. “It’s already been a month since then.”

That… has to be wrong. A month? He’s been sleeping for a month? That can’t be. How can a month have passed already? What about practice? What about Fall Tournament? If it really has been a month, why are the third years still around? And what about-

“There was a bug going around. Pretty much everyone went down except for Sawamura and Tetsu. They’ve been taking care of us.”

Even if it’s a bug, to be asleep for a month seems excessive. Youichi’s grandmother used to say that being down with a fever for more than a day was dangerous. But to be down for a month? This has to be a joke, right? Yes, that’s right. This has to be just a complicated prank that Sawamura somehow convinced Ryo to be a part of since they can’t exactly practice when it looks like it’ll storm, and…

Youichi recalls the way Masuko’s eyes started to water. He remembers the soft “Thank god,” Masuko whispered. Then…? Is Ryo telling him the truth? Huh? Wait. Then that means the others sleeping in that room are also sick?

“Well, uh… I guess what they say about idiots not catching cold is true,” he says, trying to lighten up the mood.

Ryo graces him a twitch of the lips. “I suppose so.”

It feels like there’s more that Ryo wants to say. But the awkward silence between them implies that the third year doesn’t know how best to put this. It makes Youichi nervous. If he really has been out for a month, then he can’t imagine the amount of practice that he missed. Just how bad was whatever this bug was that the retired third years returned to help out?

“Just say it, Ryo-san,” Youichi says finally. “You hesitating is creeping me out.”

There’s a soft sigh, and Ryo nods curtly. He stops leaning on the railing and turns to fully face Youichi. “It’s going to be hard to believe, but the world ended.”

  

 

Ryo grew up with a healthy dose of the horror genre.

Horror movies, horror stories, horror games. Anything he could get his hands on that wasn’t just your average, dull every day. Sci Fi, fantasy, mystery, and (to a lesser degree) suspense/thriller. But nothing quite scratched that itch like horror did.

It wasn’t quite like escapism where he just wanted to get away from the “boring” norm (Believe him, his everyday was far from boring). It wasn’t quite like he wanted to feel smart and powerful by coming up with better strategies than what the characters did either. If anything maybe he just wanted something different. Something that made him pause and think about things that normally wouldn’t pop up.

Things like the dual nature of humans. Things like mercy killings. Things like morality of killing something that was once human.

Ryo felt Sawamura’s hand on his shoulder. The southpaw shook his head, silently letting Ryo know to stay back. But no, that wouldn’t do. He was the one who pushed to go outside. He should be the one to take responsibility. How could he just sit back and let a first year dirty his hands for Ryo’s sake?

“It’s okay,” Sawamura told him softly. “You don’t have to.”

The zombie in front of them seemed to say otherwise. Ryo tightened his grip on his bat. C’mon, what was he hesitating for? He ran through things like this in his daydreams all the time. All he had to do was swing and bring down the zombie. How hard could it be?

Why won't his body move?

“Stay back, both of you,” Tetsu said.

And with swings that seemed much too used to this, Tetsu cleared their way forward.

There were no snarky words to remind Ryo of his uselessness. No one said anything to point out that Ryo was the one who insisted on coming along. Just quietly and efficiently, Tetsu and Sawamura continued to move forward. And that was the thing, wasn’t it? There was no time to waste on such negative feelings or self-loathing. They had to keep moving.

Consuming horror content wasn’t enough to completely prepare him for this. But playing baseball all his life at least taught him this lesson early on.

You had to keep moving. You could never stop. The minute you did, your position on the string was gone. Well, this current situation had a more dire consequences than losing your spot on the team.

But the lesson was the same nonetheless.

 

 

Okay, Youichi knows for a fact that this is a joke now. His chest feels lighter, and he doesn’t bother to stop the laughter from bubbling out of him.

“Jeesh, Ryo-san! You got me for a second there. And here I thought this was something serious. What’s Sawamura offering you to make you go along with a prank like this? And he must be feeling better about his yips if he’s willing to pull this.”

“It’s not a prank. The dead walks the world now. It’s unfortunate, but we’re currently living in a B-rated zombie flick.”

Ha ha. Youichi rolls his eyes. Just what kind of idiot does Ryo think he is? Does the third year really think that Youichi will fall for this? At least come up with a better story that's believable! The world ending? If Ryo stopped at the bug, Youichi would have been more likely to believe it. But the end of the world on top of that? Hah! Nice try.

“It’s fine if you don’t believe me now. You’ll see it for yourself soon enough.”

Ryo’s voice is soft. There’s something about the way he speaks that makes Youichi wonder if maybe this isn’t a prank. This isn’t a joke.

“For now, why don’t I show you around? You can decide for yourself what is a joke and what isn’t.”

“Show me around?” Youichi asks.

If this really is a prank, then isn’t it a bit tad elaborate? Or is it one of those things where the minute Youichi puts his guard down, Ryo’s going to give him that look and make fun of him? As someone who’s helped Ryo pull of those kinds of pranks, Youichi won’t put it past his partner.

“Alright,” Youichi decides. “Please show me around.”

Ryo smiles, but it looks strained somehow.

*

Perhaps, just a little bit, this isn’t a prank.

The dorm is deathly quiet. There’s a strange smell in the air that Youichi can’t quite identify, isn’t sure if he wants to identify. One of the dorm room door that he and Ryo passes has strange marks on it like someone tried to carve something out of it. If the coaches or the janitorial staff saw this, they were going to flip out. Actually, now that he thinks about it, where are the adults? And the other members who weren’t in that room, sleeping? Where is everyone?

“Ugh. What did someone spill here?” Youichi grumbles when he sees a dark stain on the ground.

Ryo doesn’t even glance at the stain. “That’s Endou’s and Sakai’s.”

 

 

When Sakai opened his eyes, he wasn’t himself.

And because, of course, that was their luck, no one realized that he woke up until they heard soft thumping against the door. Thinking back on it, Ryo wondered why they had been so rash. Were they so excited by the prospect of more people waking up that they threw caution to the wind?

Endou opened the door.

The first thing Ryo registered was the stench of blood. Then the sound of flesh ripping apart as Sakai dug into Endou’s neck with his teeth. And by the time Ryo realized exactly what was happening, he found himself frozen. Despite having put on so much air of being someone who knew what to do in situations like this, he found out that he actually didn’t.

Tetsu was out scavenging with Sawamura. Out of everyone here, Ryo was the only one with experience in this only because he fought with Tetsu to take him scavenging.

That meant that he had to do something or watch everyone die.

There wasn’t a weapon anywhere near here. But Ryo remembered that potential weapons were kept in the cafeteria. Just a little, he found himself wishing he had faster legs like Kuramochi. He turned to run, but it turned out that wasn’t necessary.

Without showing any fear, Masuko tackled the two, pushing their bodies back inside the room. The rest of them finally snapped out of their shock and joined Masuko in closing the door. They held the door closed until Sawamura returned.

“Tetsu?” they asked with hopeful eyes.

Sawamura’s lips thinned. “Water. He and Masashi went to collect some water from the river.”

And with the thick armor that Nabe designed for scavenging, Sawamura walked into the room by himself with a crowbar. The walls of the dorms were thin enough that they could make out the dull thuds and crashes, but that was all.

After thirty minutes of tense silence, the door finally opened.

“It’s safe now,” Sawamura told them.

He was drenched in blood of their friends, but it wasn’t like any of them could fault him. They were the weak ones for forcing their first year to do this.

The clean up afterwards was gruesome, but Ryo insisted on helping out. Not because he thought it was his fault that all of this happened (Well, okay, there was some of that, too), but because he felt that he should have reacted faster. He should have been able to take care of the situation without Sawamura cleaning up their mess. It shouldn’t have been Masuko who figured out what to do first, even if Masuko was the only one feasibly large and powerful enough to have done what he did at that time. But they could have very easily have lost Masuko if he hadn’t been careful. They could have easily just waited for Tetsu to come back. And Ryo really shouldn’t have let Sawamura go in that room by himself when they all knew of the dangers and-

They dragged the corpses of their friends (because of course, what did you think would happen when you lock a zombie in a room with bunch of sick kids who hadn’t regained consciousness?) out of the dorms and towards what was left of the gym.

“We can’t bury them,” Sawamura told them in quiet regret.

Ryo already figured that. In a world where the dead walked, it was far safer to not take chances by burying the dead.

The thick black smoke of burning corpses stained the skies.

Ryo pretended that he didn't see the accusing anger in Tetsu's eyes when he returned and learned what happened.

 

 

Endou’s and Sakai’s…? Endou’s and Sakai’s what?

Ryo always enjoyed making people unsettled, but this is ridiculous. Is this supposed to be Ryo’s masterpiece prank or something? That’s why he’s sticking so close to this story? Youichi will take off his imaginary hat to his upperclassman for this dedication. But this is starting to get tiring.

“Are you hungry?” Ryo asks, catching Youichi off-guard.

“H-huh?”

Due to his extreme thirst when he awoke and Ryo’s strange behavior, Youichi didn’t realize just how hungry he feels. And if he gets food, that means he gets to drink a bit more, right?

“Yeah. I’m hungry,” he says.

Ryo’s smile looks mocking somehow. “Good. The cafeteria is also where we keep potential weapons.”

… Come again?

“Potential weapons. Nabe and some of the guys have been working hard to see if they can turn every day things into something we can fight with.”

So Nabe is part of Ryo’s elaborate prank? Who else is part of it? Miyuki? The first years? Obviously Sawamura and Masuko. Could it be that everyone on the team is a part of it except for Youichi? But why would they do something like that when it isn’t like Youichi’s birthday is coming up? So is this revenge? But for what? Did Youichi do anything mean recently that would warrant a revenge? He can’t think of any.

“Still don’t believe me, huh?” Ryo says, a wry smile on his face.

Youichi has half a mind to remind Ryo that he doesn’t exactly have a clean record in regards to pranks like these. But he decides that he likes living more than being a smartass.

“It’s… a lot to take in.”

Ryo’s smile seems to accuse Youichi of dodging. But since he doesn’t vocally say anything, Youichi decides to ignore it, too.

“It’s fine. I didn’t really take it seriously until I saw a zombie myself. The only thing I ask is that you don’t drag others down with you when the time comes.”

With those ominous words, Ryo opens the door to the cafeteria.

*

One of the tables of the cafeteria has bunch of electronic parts, pieces, and packs and packs of batteries. Another table has been taken over by various items like pipes or long wrenches or baseball bat, clearly meant to be used as weapons. There’s another empty table with twenty or so chairs around it. But otherwise, the rest of the tables and chairs are missing.

There’s a dim, flickering light from the kitchen, possibly from a candle. But Youichi thought that candles were forbidden because of some kind of a fire that started due to a birthday candle some years back.

Aside from that, the cafeteria is dirty like it hasn’t been cleaned by the staff. That’s odd. Even if it’s for the sake of Ryo’s prank, there’s no way the cafeteria staff would allow the cafeteria to get this dirty. There’s dirt all over the ground. There’s thick cobwebs and dust in the corners. And Youichi is trying really hard not to think of some of those dark red stains as blood.

Youichi realizes that Ryo is watching him, so he quickly straightens himself.

“This place is a mess,” he says evenly.

Ryo sniggers. “Indeed, it is.” Then a little more loudly, he calls out, “Nabe! Is that you in the kitchen?”

There’s a small pause before someone calls out timidly, “Ryo-san? Nabe isn’t here. He’s taking a break.”

“Is that so? Kuramochi woke up. He says his hungry.”

Youichi hears a startled gasp. Then the sound of someone clumsily moving too fast, causing them to bump into something. With a soft hiss of pain, Nori runs to the open kitchen window with a candle. He looks at Ryo and then at Youichi, and then he bursts into tears.

*

“Sorry, it’s not much,” Nori says softly as he presents a small bag of jerky to Youichi.

“It’s fine! It’s fine!”

Youichi grabs a jerky and happily bites into it. But judging from its small size, he’s pretty sure it’s not going to fill him up. As he eats though, Ryo’s and Nori’s conversation fill the space.

“Nothing on Nabe’s end?”

Nori shakes his head. “He was getting frustrated, so I told him to take a break.”

“Kadota was good at things like this,” Ryo mumbles. “Well, what about you? What were you doing in the kitchen?”

“Oh, I thought it might not be bad to organize some of the food we’ve collected. Take note of what we have and things.”

Either Nori is part of the prank or Ryo is telling the truth. At this moment in time, Youichi isn’t sure which one makes more sense. So for now, he opts for chewing slowly while keeping his eyes open for any sign of a slip up.

“Sawamura?”

“Not back yet.”

“I wonder if he’ll be able to find something this time,” Ryo sighs. “It sounded like the closest areas have pretty much been stripped clean.”

“He hasn’t failed us yet.”

The two talk more about housekeeping things that Youichi quickly loses interest in. It seems that they’re not going to budge on this a prank. Did the world really end? Are there really zombies? It seems like such a strange thought. But he can’t think of why else the cafeteria staff would allow this place to look this messy or no one being afraid of being caught making this place this messy.

“How are you getting used to this?” Nori asks Youichi with a kind smile. “It’s a lot to take in, right?”

Youichi thought Ryo would make a snide comment, but he doesn’t. Instead, he looks to Youichi seriously, almost like he’s wary of something.

“I’m… still not convinced that this isn’t a prank,” Youichi admits honestly.

Ryo seems to relax at those words. Nori, though, has a pained expression on his face.

“It is hard to believe,” Nori says delicately.

“You’ll get it soon enough,” is Ryo’s off-handed remark.

Nori bites his lips, hesitating. “I think we should let him know now. It’s rather cruel to let him find out later.”

“Sure,” Ryo says, motioning at Youichi. “Have at it.”

Youichi doesn’t mind being the butt of Ryo’s joke. He’s been there enough times to know Ryo is just playing around and does care about his partner. But this doesn’t feel like a joke anymore. No, the signs were always all there. The slightest bit of something wrong with the way Ryo is, the stains that look too much like blood…

“I get it. I get it. It’s not a prank,” Youichi says.

Logically speaking, that’s the only thing that makes sense when he puts everything together. But he’s not sure if he’s completely convinced of it.

The expression on Ryo’s face clearly says that he doesn’t believe Youichi. But Nori beams like he’s been promised an entire catching session with Miyauchi. Youichi feels a little bad for lying. But this also make him feel better about the whole prank situation. With how earnest Nori is, Youichi doubts that this is a prank.

That means the world has truly ended.

Now if only he can just get his heart to accept that…

“Since you just woke up, you don’t have to worry about anything but getting better,” Nori tells him excitedly.

Youichi finds himself smiling despite himself. “And once I’m better?”

“With your speed, I’d want you on to help with scavenging. But I doubt you’d be able to keep up with the other… strain,” Ryo says.

That would sound insulting if not for the haunted look on Ryo’s face. Whatever this ‘strain’ Ryo is talking about, it’s something Ryo himself experienced.

“You can help me with bookkeeping,” Nori decides. “Or help Nabe with the radio.”

At Youichi’s questioning look, Nori clarifies.

“We have working radios. And we have plenty of batteries to make them work. But for the past few weeks, there’s been someone broadcasting that they’re in a safe zone. Nabe wanted to see if we can modify some of the radios we have to communicate with them.”

Youichi knows how the story plays out from here… if this was a game. It’ll turn out that the radio broadcast is actually a rouse to attract survivors to kill them. Or there used to be a safe zone until an idiot brought a zombie in or whatever so everyone died. “Safe zones” are always used as some kind of a bait in order to start a dramatic climax.

“Are you sure that this safe zone is real?” Youichi asks carefully.

Ryo raises a brow. “Oya? That’s your first thought?”

He doesn’t want to admit that it’s because of the games he’s played. It’s not like he thinks they’ll judge him, since both of them should know that Youichi is a gamer. He just… doesn’t like it, okay? Maybe it’s a leftover from people mocking him for playing games. He doesn’t know.

“Unless you have reasons to believe that it is real and safe?”

Ryo and Nori exchange a look.

“We don’t know,” Nori begins slowly. “But the broadcast changes every day. So at the very least, we know that there’s someone out there making these, and it isn’t a recording. That’s why Nabe wants to see if we can talk to them before we try anything.”

That seems pretty fair.

“I didn’t think that’d be your first concern,” Ryo remarks.

“Why not?”

“I wasn’t sure if you really did believe us. So I figured you’d treat it as a joke.”

Youichi considers pushing his luck and then changes his mind. “It’s hard to make jokes when Nori’s being that earnest.”

Nori blushes at those words, looking a little peeved. “Well, forgive me for being so earnest.”

Like this, it feels like absolutely nothing has changed. Like this, it feels more and more like the whole “world ending” is just a prank. Like this…

“Well, do you have a better plan? Because clearly, I’m just wasting everyone’s time!”

That loud shout is accompanied by Nabe angrily opening the cafeteria door. His eyes land on Youichi, Nori, and Ryo. At first, it looks like Nabe doesn’t know what to make of the three of them. But then it must sink in because his eyes light up and he points at them, the beginnings of a smile dangling on his lips.

Nabe looks sickly grey. There are dark bags under his eyes, too, accentuated particularly because he looks so sick. His hair is messy and flying all over the place. This is not the neat and impeccably sharp yearmate that Youichi has known for so long. Just a little, he believes that this is not a prank bit more.

Whoever it is that was arguing with Nabe follows him in.

“But that’s not what I’m saying! Stop putting words in my mouth and-”

If Youichi remembers correctly, this is a first year by the name of Takatsu Hiroomi. He overheard the managers talk about this first year before but can’t really pinpoint more than the name.

Takatsu stops yelling when he realizes that Nabe is distracted by the three in the cafeteria. He looks mildly annoyed at Nabe but dutifully gives Ryo a small nod. Although he looked just as bad as everyone else, Takatsu’s anger seemed to give him a more lively image than everyone else in this room.

“Kuramochi? I’m… I’m not dreaming, right? You’re really there?” Nabe asks.

Youichi feels his heart ache at the look of desperate hope on Nabe’s face.

“Yeah, it’s me,” he assures his friend.

“He just woke up,” Nori rushes to explain. “We haven’t really explained everything to him yet.”

Nabe covers his face, letting out a sound that sounds a little like a sob. Takatsu looks away as if he’s guilty, probably for pushing Nabe to that point. Nori stands up but hesitates in running to Nabe’s side. Youichi wonders why.

“Sorry. Sorry,” Nabe says, wiping his eyes.

“No need to feel sorry,” Youichi tries. But then he falters because he has no idea what else he should say. He glances at Ryo for help.

His partner must have felt his gaze because Ryo gives Youichi a dry look. He lets out a soft sigh before saying, “Nabe, we’re all doing the best we can. You don’t need to apologize for that.”

Nabe nods furiously, but doesn’t seem to be able to stop rubbing at his eyes.

Takatsu rubs the back of his neck, looking quite like he doesn’t want to be there. Yeah, well, join the club, kid.

“I’m… sorry, I was out of line,” he tells Nabe. Then to Youichi he says, “Uh… g-good to see you up and about, Kuramochi-senpai. I’m Takatsu. If you need help, I guess you can ask me.”

With an awkward bow, Takatsu rushes out of the cafeteria. Does being near Ryo scare him (Because it used to for Youichi a lot until he came to understand Ryo a little more)? Or is Youichi’s presence? He supposes he can ask the kid later for more information. Right now, he should focus on Nabe.

“Hey… uh…”

“I know,” Nabe manages out. “Just… give me a moment.”

 

 

The first thing Watanabe Hisashi realized about this new world they now had to live in was that becoming a liability meant dying.

So even though his body was wrecked by a fever, he forced himself to his feet. Even though he felt delirious, even though his knees constantly gave out, even though he felt too nauseous to do anything but cry, he forced himself to stand.

“You should rest,” someone that Hisashi could only remember in vagueness used to tell him.

Used to.

That person hadn’t been by Hisashi’s side in a while. Or maybe he had been? Hisashi couldn’t recall. Later, he would think that it was Sawamura. But the voice had been deeper, hadn’t it? There was someone else there. Someone else who took care of them as much as Sawamura did, apologizing profusely for not being enough.

But didn’t they understand?

Unlike Hisashi, who still couldn’t move around properly, they were not bedridden. They were not a liability. They were not a burden.

So in order to not drag them down, Hisashi stood up. He dragged himself out of bed and found bats that the others stored in their rooms. Even though his body protested every movement, even though his head was spinning, he forced himself to wipe down the bats. Wipe them down, because that was all he could manage as of now (Later, he would start hammering long nails into them, but that came much later).

And through sheer will, he fought against the damned bug. Through his stubbornness, he found himself the victor in the end.

By that time, it was just himself and Sawamura. There was no one else. And Hisashi didn’t think it right to ask if there had been someone else when they were burning corpses left and right to keep at least the Seidou Spirit Dorm clean.

“Nabe-senpai,” Sawamura said, holding out a bloodied bat. “Can you clean this for me, too?”

Using that (and the rest of the sick kids in the dorms) as excuse, Sawamura became their sole scavenger. In order to not become a liability to the first year who risked his life to go outside every couple of days, Hisashi struggled to find something he could do.

Wipe down those sick with fever? He could do that. Clean the bloodied bats Sawamura used? He could do that, too. Manage the food and supplies that Sawamura brought back? No problem. Start turning anything and everything he could find into a weapon to protect Sawamura? Create makeshift armor to keep Sawamura safe? Start doing a parameter check to make sure that the dorm stay safe? He did all of that without complaint.

In his struggle to find something to not become a liability, he found a radio. More specifically, he found that broadcast.

He didn’t know anything about electronics. But Sawamura found him hardware and batteries. He brought back bags and books with a tired but proud grin. And later, Tetsu and Masashi joined, too. They tried to bring back as much equipment as they thought Hisashi would need, even though they all seemed clueless about electronics.

So Hisashi swore he would master this.

Because becoming a liability meant death.

 

 

With a shuddering breath, Nabe finally seems to have gotten himself under control. He wipes his eyes one last time before finally facing Youichi with a polite smile Youichi is far used to seeing on Nabe’s face.

“I’m glad you’re awake,” Nabe says.

Youichi nods. And because he’s an idiot who has no idea what to say in this kind of situation, he manages out a lame, “Thanks.”

Nabe doesn’t seem to mind, though.

“What have you been told thus far?”

“End of the world. Zombies outside. Water is scarce. Everyone caught a bug. You’re working on trying to communicate with a safe zone,” Youichi lists.

There’s a twitch of an amused smile on Nabe’s face. “I think you guys filled him in on pretty much everything. Kuramochi, you believe all of it?”

Youichi nods. “Nori is very convincing.”

Nori flushes red and gives Youichi an annoyed look. But he doesn’t vocally protest. He just crosses his arms in front of himself with a small pout.

“Any sign of Sawamura?” Ryo asks, changing the topic.

Nabe shakes his head no. “It’s getting really late. I think he might have gone too far out this time.”

“Why send him out alone?” Youichi finds himself asking.

“He’s not,” Nori says quickly. “Tetsu-senpai and Masashi is with him.”

“Masashi?”

“Tetsu’s little brother,” Ryo supplies.

But why is Tetsu’s little brother hanging out here? Seeing that Tetsu is a commuter, did he bring his little brother here because this place is safe? Then are the other commuters here, too?

Nabe shakes his head. “We had contact with Fujiwara-senpai for a bit, but then lost it about a week ago.”

Youichi feels a chill go down his spine. In games, that’s a clear signal that Fujiwara went down. Depending on the game, you’d get an option to go “rescue” her, only to end up losing more survivors on a fruitless trip. It’s a red herring that he knows better to take.

At his silence, Ryo raises a brow.

“You’re not going to suggest that we go after her?”

Youichi shrugs. “I imagine if it’s been a week, it’s far too late to do anything to help her.”

The others look impressed. Youichi doesn’t know how to tell them it’s probably because it hasn’t really sunk in for him. None of this feels real. Even if he says he believes that the world ended, what the hell does that even mean?

“Would you also say the same for Sawamura?” Nori asks, voice quiet. His head is lowered, letting his bangs cover his eyes.

“Depends,” Youichi says. “When does he normally return?”

“He’s been returning later and later,” Nabe informs him.

Yes, Youichi gathers that. “How late?”

“Usually before sundown.”

Actually, now that Youichi thinks about it, he has no idea about the current zombies. Every game (and movie) has different kind of zombies. Some of the older ones are slow. You can easily outrun them. The more recent zombies tend to be much quicker with some of their senses intact. Some zombies won’t attack you if you look or smell like them. Other zombies react to heart beats. A lot of zombies depicted in media tend to react to sound. And some zombies went to sleep-like state when the sun was up.

What kind of zombies are they dealing with?

The answer to this question would help Youichi come up with a better plan.

Hold the phone. Why is he making plans, anyways? Do they want him to make plans? Is this unwelcomed? They probably already have procedures and rules that they set up. Do they want to affirm their decisions and thought process with Youichi’s own?

Well, whatever. For now, let’s satisfy his curiosity.

“Tell me about the zombies,” Youichi says firmly.

The other three glance at one another. After a pause of silence, Ryo starts.

“They react to sound. Smell or vision seems to be gone for them. They seem to have kept their physical abilities when they were alive. So a younger or older zombie will be easier to fight off than someone in their prime.”

Or an athlete, Youichi adds silently in his mind.

“We don’t know if the infection spreads through bites or something else. So we’ve just been covering all of our bases by covering up and cleaning everything as much as we can.”

Wait a minute.

“What do you mean you don’t know how it spreads? Isn’t that the first thing you notice?” Youichi asks, incredulous.

Ryo’s smile takes on a self-deprecating look that Youichi doesn’t remember ever seeing before. “Did you forget the part where we all went down with the bug?”

“Then is it safe to assume that the information you have is from second hand as well?”

Nabe shakes his head. “No. Some of us accompanied Sawamura. So we’ve seen some of these things first hand.”

That’s fair. With both Ryo and Nabe being astute observers, Youichi can probably assume that this information is correct, then.

Hah.

Look at him sorting through these information like he’s some kind of a pro when all he’s ever done is play games.

“Is it safe to say that the only way to defeat them for sure is to destroy their head?”

The three nod.

“We’ve also been taking care to burn any corpses. Just in case,” Nori adds softly.

“Any chance they don’t move during the day?”

Ryo gives him a wry smile. “Unfortunately, they’re not like the zombies from 28 Days. They move around aimlessly when they don’t have a target.”

And the only target is found through sound?

“Do they discriminate against animals? What about each other? Do they know enough to not attack one another?”

The three of them fall silent for a bit. Youichi doesn’t know why, but it feels like something changed. It feels like they’re… excited?

“We should talk more once Sawamura returns,” Ryo concludes.

Youichi feels like he just accidentally stumbled on something. But before he can protest, Nori turns to him with an excited look in his eyes.

“Are you still hungry? Should I get you more things to eat?”

And because Youichi is weak like that, he decides to put hold on the protest for food.

*

Ryo continues the tour afterwards.

They visit the laundry room that has been re-purposed into a bleaching station. All the washing and drying machines are gone from the room. Instead are wires to hold up clothes in a makeshift drying rack, tubs of bleach, and bunch of open and unopened bleach containers.

“Bleach?” The minute the question leaves his mouth, he realizes how stupid that is. “To clean things. Duh. To minimize the chance of infection since you don’t know how it spreads.”

Ryo looks impressed. “Yup. That’s it. I can’t tell if you’re just good in these situations or things haven’t registered yet.”

“I’d appreciate it if you could think positively of me,” Youichi says cheekily.

“So it hasn’t registered,” Ryo sighs dramatically.

Trust Ryo to be able to see through to the heart of the matter within seconds. Not that Youichi expected anything differently. Ryo has always been blunt, even when if his words could be phrased nicer. It’s what Youichi appreciated the most about his partner.

“It’s… a lot to take in. I mean, from what I’ve seen thus far, I believe that it isn’t a prank. But I’m having a hard time making that leap to zombies, you know?”

Ryo nods. “Yeah, I figured. I’m surprised you’re going along with it thus far, to be honest. When I first woke up, I wasn’t as kind.”

 

 

“You expect me to believe all that when you can’t even answer my questions properly?” Ryo growled, glaring at Sawamura.

The first year flinched back at the question. But when he looked up, it was with fire in his eyes. A good look, Ryo supposed. Much better than the whispered rumors of Sawamura being depressed because of his yips.

“I didn’t think to be more observant. For that, I’m sorry,” Sawamura gritted out. “But Onii-san, I can’t let you come with me. I’ll be more observant so-”

Ryo crossed his arms in front of himself.

“No.”

The first year flinched again. Odd, Ryo didn’t remember this kid flinching this much. The only time was when Kataoka raised his hand near Sawamura’s head on the first day of practice. No, Ryo always saw Sawamura as a spit-fire. Someone who rose to the challenge with a grin on his face. Someone who fearlessly pitched with his entire heart on the line, even after Masuko hit a home run off of him. Someone who Haruichi respected.

“It’s simple, Sawamura. If you want me to believe you, take me with you on your next scavenging trip.”

Sawamura seemed to take a long time to think about it. Ryo didn’t get why. If Sawamura was indeed saying the truth, why wouldn’t he want Ryo to see it for himself?

“If… If I do,” Sawamura began slowly. He licked his lips as if to buy himself more time. “Can you… Can you observe them without getting close to them?”

“I have zero intention of being bitten, so yes.”

Sawamura at least looked relieved. “Onii-san, tomorrow around noon. Let’s go then.”

 

 

“Well, that’s why you’re Ryo-san,” Youichi says tactfully.

It earns him a soft chuckle. “I don’t remember raising you to be a flatterer.”

“You didn’t raise me.”

“Let’s move on to the next spot,” Ryo says, changing the topic.

Youichi marks it as a rare victory.

*

The vending machine is gone, Youichi notes as they walk by where they used to be. There’s a faint mark on the ground that looks as if it’s been dragged…

Dragged?

The washing machine and the dryer in the laundry room were gone, too. The furniture in the rooms, too. They were just lying on the mattress. The cafeteria was missing most of its chairs and tables. Now that Youichi thinks about it, does the dorm even have a fence? No. It’s always just been the buildings and a path to the field. There’s a fence around the field. But not the dorm. So…

“Did you use the machinery and furniture to build a barrier?"

Ryo glances at him with yet another impressed look. “Excellent deduction. I had to see it for myself before I realized what happened. Come, I’ll show you.”

It’s not just the furniture from the dorm. It looks like the desks and chairs from the school buildings were dragged here, too. Exercise equipment from the storage room, gym equipment, and even the items from the teacher’s lounge (Youichi swears that’s the principal’s couch) are all piled haphazardly to a ridiculously high degree. One person couldn’t have done this in a short time.

“And it’s this high all the way around?”

Ryo nods. “There’s no gate or opening. Our scavengers have to climb over this to get out and get back in. It keeps the zombies out, but it’s a pain to take people who aren’t at full health.”

Youichi understands the unspoken warning tucked in there. He’s not to ask to go outside until he’s fully healed, huh? What a troublesome upperclassman.

“How long did it take you to find things to pile this high? And is it even safe to climb over?”

There’s a small pause before Ryo says, “This was like this by the time I woke up.”

“When was that?”

“About two weeks ago.”

Two weeks? So Ryo’s been awake for a good chunk of things that happened. But that also means that this barrier was put up within two weeks, too. Is that possible? Yes, if everyone was awake, most definitely. But with how few people they mentioned are around as is… Unless there were more people before…?

“And the zombies can’t climb these?”

Youichi recalls a horribly put together zombie movie where that was a plot point. If enough bodies were to pile by the other side of the barrier, couldn’t they climb it?

“They haven’t thus far. But we also do our best to keep the area clean.”

“Clean?”

Ryo motions at the shovels and rakes by the side of the dorm. There is also a pile of rocks that look to fit comfortably in people’s hands. As baseball players, Youichi assumes they’d all be able to throw those pretty far.

“We throw the rocks and make loud enough noise to draw them away. If that doesn’t work, we use the rakes or shovels to try and push them away. But for the most part, they leave us alone. The only time they try to get close is if our scavengers bring home a surprise.”

“What if there’s loud enough noise here? They don’t crowd around?”

Ryo laughs. “What noise do you think we can make that the city out there doesn’t make louder?”

Youichi supposes that’s true, too.

“Just in case, we have people stationed on the roof of the dorm.” Ryo motions towards the roof.

“I’m going to guess I’ll be stationed there until I’m completely well?”

“Up to you. If you want, you can join Masuko on helping the sick. You know something about electronics or the radio?”

Youichi shakes his head. “I’m afraid not.”

Ryo nods. “That’s fine. Nabe doesn’t seem to like it when others try to help him with it. You can help Nori and few others to cook or even join the gardening group. But you don’t have to decide right away.”

It’s only been a month since the world ended, according to everyone else. But it looks like they have all more or less settled in.

*

“I doubt we can get you to the garden today,” Ryo continues as they walk along the makeshift barrier.

“Garden?”

Ryo nods. “On the rooftop of the school building. Getting there is a pain, though. Those who are well enough have been slowly cleaning through the school area. The problem is getting enough things to stop the zombies from entering the school after we’ve cleaned up. It’s been a never ending process. The rooftop has been fairly well secured, though.”

Youichi stops when he realizes that he recognizes the principal’s couch. They’ve barely walked for few minutes. They’ve already circled the entire dorm? Has the dorm always been this small? It always felt so infinitely large with so many people bustling about.

“If you see any buckets outside when it starts to rain, it’s to collect water.”

That makes him pause.

“Wait. Collect water? Are we out of water bottles? Even those in the kitchen and storage? There should be some in the school cafeteria, too, right?”

It’s just been a month. Surely, they’re not completely out of water?

Ryo’s smile is strained. “It’s to stock up in case we want to make a run for the safe zone.”

If there’s something that bothers Youichi, it’s how much Ryo seems to hate the idea of this safe zone. He’s sure that there must be a reason for it, though. So he doesn’t push.

*

Right before sundown, the others return from the garden. It scared Youichi at first to see moving figures on the barrier, though. He thought that perhaps the zombies have gotten through and they were now going to go into the climax of every zombie movie.

But alas, the time to play hero will have to wait another day.

“Miyauchi-senpai!” Nori shouts. His steps have a spring in them that wasn’t there before.

“I’m back,” Miyauchi greets with a kind smile.

They’re just talking like normal, but Youichi finds himself looking away to give them some privacy. He’s not too sure why he did that though.

A quick head count informs him that five people went to the gardens. Miyauchi, Ono, Toujou, Asou, and Higasa. Youichi doesn’t remember how many were in the room when he first woke up. And the number of people that went out for scavenging sounded like it was just three, with one of them not even being from Seidou.

So did everyone else… die?

“Did you see any sign of Sawamura?” Ryo asks the returning group.

Ono frowns. “He hasn’t returned?”

“Request to send a party after him,” Toujou says seriously.

“And who exactly do you think we can spare for that?” Ryo asks, his voice light.

Youichi knows that tone of voice. That’s a scolding Ryo reserves for those stupid enough to not be able to draw their own conclusion. It’s why Youichi learned to be quick on his feet and even quicker with his mind.

“Do the zombies change between day and night?” Youichi asks.

Ryo gives him a look that seems to accuse Youichi being too soft-hearted.

“No,” Toujou informs Youichi.

“Then there’s your answer.”

The expression on the first year’s face is thunderous. But he seems to at least know better than to say anything in response. He just clenches his fists for a second before forcing himself to take a deep breath. With a more cheerful expression on his face, he nods.

“Understood.”

*

When everyone gathers in the cafeteria, Youichi can see for himself exactly how few of them are up and about. They’re four shy of having a full team for a Koshien match. Whether the rest of the team has been lost for good or are just sleeping is something Youichi is too scared to ask. Right. He should also consider those on guard duty. Except how many people are on guard right now? How many of them have survived?

The fourteen of them gather together around the one empty table to eat. Their meal consists of rather hard bread and some soup made from the greens the gardening group brought back. It’s a mediocre meal that makes Youichi ache for some rice. But he can’t complain when he hasn’t done anything to put food on the table.

“Ahhh, it’s so bland. When’s Sawamura coming back?” Asou groans.

“Bland food is better for you,” Ryo says curtly. “Don’t bother Sawamura for something so trivial.”

“I think it tastes fine,” Miyauchi adds firmly.

Nori by his side blushes. “I-it’s fine, Miyauchi-senpai. It is pretty bland. I’ll pay more attention to Sawamura-kun’s cooking.”

“I’m sorry, Nori-senpai,” Toujou says with a strained smile. He stands up. “It’s not your cooking. I just don’t feel right eating when they’re not back.”

“They will be back. You’re being rude. Eat food when we can and wait. That’s the last we can do.” Takatsu doesn’t look up from his food. Is it because he knows that he just poured fuel into a spark?

“That’s enough, both of you,” Miyauchi says tiredly.

At the very least, it shuts them up.

It’s possibly the most tense dinner Youichi has had since coming to Seidou.

*

“I can help with the watch,” Youichi says during after dinner discussion.

It seems that this is when people report in on things that they have found or seen. As well as volunteer for duties tomorrow.

“You should rest for today,” Masuko tells him worriedly.

“Yeah, you just woke up,” Nori agrees. “Please rest some more.”

“A-alright.”

*

Ryo takes the night watch shift, so Higasa shows Youichi their resting location.

It’s just yet another empty dorm room. The mattresses are placed like in the room for the sick kids, just barely enough space to walk through. Youichi assumes it’s so that they can rotate watch around in the middle of the night.

“No blankets here, either?”

Higasa gives him an apologetic bow of the head. “Those were taken for medical emergencies.”

Youichi supposes he can understand to a degree.

 

 

Chris covered his face and forced himself to take a deep breath.

“I’m not a doctor,” he managed out weakly. “You guys realize that, right?”

The others nodded seriously. When they realized that Chris wasn’t looking at them, Fumiya spoke up.

“Out of everyone, you’re the only one with this kind of expertise.”

Chris just held back his flaring temper. What the hell did that even mean? He hurt his shoulder once and suddenly, he was an expert at all things medical?

“Shishou, please,” Sawamura begged quietly. “Can you just… look at it?”

Nakata’s mouth had been gagged, probably to stop him from yelling out in case it attracted the zombies. His face was wet with tears. And seriously, Chris just didn’t see how he was supposed to help this guy when his arm looked like it was ran over by a car. What the hell happened here?

“He wasn’t bitten,” Fumiya said quickly as if that was the issue at hand. “While we were setting up the garden-”

Chris put his hand up to stop him from talking. Didn’t they understand that whether he knew what happened or not, he didn’t know what he was supposed to do? He couldn’t help this guy. It wasn’t even like there was some kind of painkillers either. At this point, the most humane thing to do might be to just…

Tetsu seemed to understand Chris’s feelings, because he dismissed everyone from the room.

“You can’t save him?” Tetsu asked, voice low.

Chris shook his head. And almost helplessly, he added, “I’m not a doctor. I don’t know how to do these things.”

Tetsu nodded. “Okay. You can leave, too.”

“What… what are you…?”

Chris stopped himself.

“No. Don’t tell me. I’d rather not know.”

Tetsu nodded again.

Chris stepped out of the room, making sure to close the door tightly behind himself. From the downcast mood, he knew that the others understood the decision they arrived at.

There were no medical supplies. There were no doctors. It was just them, bunch of dumb baseball kids who had never even seen someone die in front of their very eyes before. What do you mean the apocalypse?

And if Sawamura or anyone else went outside and got hurt, was this what Chris going to do every single time? Look away and say that he wasn't a doctor?

Chris’s eyes met Sawamura’s guilty ones.

No.

He couldn’t allow that to happen.

“B-bring me clean sheets. I’m going to make bandages.”

It wasn’t much.

And it was far too late to help save Nakata. But this was the only thing Chris could think to do.

He drew the shortest straw to be their medic. So he was going to do his best to keep everyone alive as well as he could.

They pretended they didn’t see the blood splattered on Tetsu when he came back out.

 

 

“It’s Fall, you know. What are we going to do when it gets colder?”

“Huddle up, I guess! Hahaha!”

It’s not even that funny. But perhaps it’s just the situation at hand, and they’re all desperate for something to laugh at.

Either way, Youichi finds himself sniggering along with the rest of the kids allowed to rest for now.

*

Youichi has no idea what woke him up. He doesn’t think he heard anything. And it’s not like there’s any noise outside, either. But he realizes that the beds around him are empty.

Something must have happened. But it wasn’t big enough to wake Youichi for.

He can easily go back to sleep if he wanted to. There’s nothing that says he needs to be up, especially since no one woke him in the first place. But he feels like he’ll miss something big if he doesn’t get up now.

So he takes a step outside to relieved shouts and scoldings followed by a loud whine of indignation.

Sawamura was back.

*

“Kuramochi-senpai?” Sawamura’s voice is caught in his throat. There are beginnings of tears gathering in his eyes.

“Yup. One and only,” Youichi says, pointing at himself. “Missed me?”

Sawamura’s lips tremble. He covers his face, presumably to cry. Honestly, he’s always such a handful. But man, what’s that smell? It looks like the group is… Oh right. The bleaching station. Since they came in from the outside, they probably had to get bleached. It smells putrid, but it’s better than getting accidentally infected.

Youichi reaches out to ruffle Sawamura’s hair (or maybe to pull him into a choke-hold), only to be stopped immediately by a boulder of a guy he doesn’t remember meeting. Seriously, what did they feed this kid?

“Masashi, stand down,” comes a sharp voice of Youichi’s captain.

“Tetsu-san!”

Tetsu allows a small smile and a nod. Then he takes on a stern look as he squeezes the big guy’s shoulder.

“Masashi, this is Kuramochi. He was our shortstop. Kuramochi, this is my little brother.”

Little brother? This giant of a guy? Did he eat all of Tetsu’s portions or something?

“N-nice to meet you,” Youichi greets with an awkward nod of the head.

The guy makes the smallest motion that looks like a dip of the head. But he makes no move to let Youichi get anywhere near Sawamura.

“Masashi,” Sawamura says softly. Youichi assumes that Sawamura grabbed Masashi by the back of his shirt to catch his attention. “You can relax.”

  

 

Safety was an illusion that shattered with the world.

For the first two weeks of the end of the world, Masashi was down with a fever.

Do you know what that was like? Having to rely on complete strangers that banned together in the local supermarket as they whispered that Masashi could turn into a zombie at any moment? Tetsu tried his best by volunteering to scavenge for food and supplies for the group. But that meant that no one was around to take care of Masashi or help alleviate their suspicion of him.

“We have nowhere we can go,” Tetsu had said, face contorting with shame.

Masashi knew that. They couldn’t return back home where what was left of their parents roamed. All they could do was cling onto the hope that this place would be safe. That they would be rescued from here. They just needed to survive and wait.

But when people became scared, all form of logic and reason went out the window.

It was easy to point at a kid with a fever too weak to fight back and say that he would become a zombie. Far easier than facing the dangers outside.

“Safety” no longer existed in this world. Actually, did it ever exist to begin with?

Having no choice, Masashi clutched to his bat he managed to hang onto. This bat was supposed to take him to Koshien one day. It was a gift from his family when he got into middle school. Because with a build like his at a famous middle school like the one he managed to get in, surely he would be able to take the team his brother loved to Koshien.

And when they came after him with a viciousness that was far worse than the zombies outside, Masashi swung.

He swung and he swung and he swung and he swung.

After a while, he couldn’t keep the facts straight in his head anymore. Was he swinging his bat for practice? Because you don’t understand. Tetsu swung every day and he was the best batter in his entire generation. So Masashi just needed to follow his brother’s lead and practice every day, too. Except no, that wasn’t right. He wasn’t practicing.

He was swinging against someone wasn’t he?

Not against someone as in an opponent but…

Zombies? Was he swinging against zombies? Was he hitting humans? He didn’t know. He couldn’t tell. The fever made it hard to move his body, but he forced it to continue anyways. So maybe it was getting back at him by making him delirious?

“Home run!”

Masashi’s hands stilled.

“Your swings are beautiful.”

There was a pair of earnest golden eyes staring back at him. Perhaps it was the lack of suspicion in those eyes, but Masashi found himself relaxing despite himself. The person with the golden eyes reached out and gently placed his hand over Masashi’s own that gripped the bat.

“Masashi-kun, don’t waste your swings here. Come with me. We’ll find somewhere else to play baseball.”

In his fever-induced haze, Masashi didn’t question why this person knew his name. He didn’t question anything, actually. Because unlike everyone else Masashi had met since the world ended, this person (Sawamura, Masashi would later learn once the fever had finally finished its course and it finally sunk in for him that this wasn’t a dream. He was indeed rescued and was being taken care of by a teenager with too gold of eyes) didn’t promise him safety (never did, actually). He didn’t promise protection.

Instead, Sawamura promised baseball.

For Masashi, that was everything.

 

 

Another tense second passes before Masashi relaxes and steps to the side. Youichi wonders what this kid saw for him to react like that to strangers. Wait, no. Not just strangers. But strangers approaching Sawamura. Huh? Wait a minute-

“Can we get some food first?” Sawamura asks. “We’ll report back as we’re eating.”

He wants to eat with the scent of bleach this thick on himself? Youichi lost his appetite at the smell. But he supposes they might be used to this.

And now that Youichi takes a step back to observe the scene, he realizes two important things. The first is that there are two teenagers that Youichi doesn’t remember meeting before. From the way the two of them stay close to each other but keeps everyone else at an arm’s distance, Youichi concludes that the scavenging group found survivors.

One of them has blonde hair and bright green eyes that reminds Youichi of the field. He glares at everyone else around, looking a little like a wild animal that hasn’t decided whether to trust them yet. The other has black hair and what looks to be red highlights in his bangs. He wears glasses that looks like it’s gone through quite a lot. Youichi is rather shocked that it’s staying on his face. The two of them stand close, and it takes Youichi a second to realize it’s to hide their trembles.

The second is that everyone is carrying bulging bags.

Youichi hopes that there’s delicious food in there.

*

They gather back in the cafeteria with the heated up soup from dinner. The five of them don’t complain. They dig in with an appetite that Youichi is a little envious of. No seriously, how can you eat like that when they smell so thickly of bleach? Or are they just that used to this?

Once they finish eating, Masashi stands up and drags his chair a little behind Sawamura. Then he sits down with his head on the first year’s shoulder. It’s possible that Masashi said something and Sawamura said something back. But all Youichi sees is Sawamura smile sweetly before he runs his fingers through Masashi’s short hair.

Nori and Miyauchi clear the table. Seeing that, the scavenging group pulls out their backpacks and begins to unpack. Youichi thought for sure they were going to focus on the supplies brought back first, but it turns out that Ryo has other plans.

“I thought you weren’t going to go far.” Ryo leans back in his chair and crosses his arms.

“We overestimated how fast we can move,” Tetsu answers the unasked question.

Masuko shakes his head. “That’s not the problem. You can’t just suddenly go that far away without giving us a heads up.”

“It’s just to the suburbs. It’s twenty minutes max on the bus. There was just a bit more debris and zombies than we thought there would be,” Tetsu continues coldly.

“There’s not much left around here,” Sawamura adds hesitantly. “And we brought back a lot.”

“If they didn’t come by, we would be dead,” the one with blonde hair says.

“We’ll get to you two,” Ryo tells him sharply.

The one with blonde hair snaps his mouth shut with a clack. Youichi mentally winces for him. It looks like Ryo is a lot more angry than Youichi expected. Sure, they went out far and they came back late. But they came back with what looks like lots of things. Isn’t that good enough?

“Onii-san, don’t be like that.” Sawamura turns to the one with blonde hair with an apologetic smile. “Sorry, Wolf-boy. They’re not usually like this.”

“We were really worried,” Chris tells them with a stern frown.

“There’s no way for us to contact you when you guys are out there. If you guys were to all die or desert us, we won’t know,” Ryo points out.

“We wouldn’t desert-”

Ryo’s look stops Tetsu’s words. Even though it’s not aimed in his direction, Youichi flinches back.

“So the reason you are mad is because we didn’t communicate clearly, right?” Sawamura asks.

Fumiya hesitates, looking like he’s searching for the correct words. “It’s just… if you’re going to go out that far, you need to let us know. You guys didn’t take any more gear or supplies than usual. How were any of us supposed to know that you’d take this long out there or where you’ve gone?”

Sawamura nods. “I’m sorry. We will be more transparent about where we’re going from now on.”

The others don’t look too happy, Youichi notes. It’s probably that their worry transformed to frustration once they realized the scavenging group was okay. And since it’s not like there’s a good way of working off the frustration at this moment in time, they have to settle for silently fuming.

“Now that that’s settled, do you two mind introducing yourselves?” Masuko says, turning to the two teens.

The blonde nods. “I’m Okumura Koushuu. I played catcher.”

“Seto Takuma. Second baseman,” the other one says with a grin. It doesn’t look as strained as before. He must have calmed down.

They take a moment to introduce everyone else in the cafeteria. Youichi feels like it’s unnecessary to mention that they all play baseball, but since everyone else is mentioning their playing position, he does, too.

“So how exactly did you guys come across each other?

 

 

Koushuu didn’t watch a lot of horror movies when he was younger. But that didn’t mean he didn’t know the first thing about the zombie apocalypse. Takuma wasn’t much of a horror nerd either. But when one caught his eyes, they watched it together. They played a few zombie games, too. Koushuu always preferred baseball over video games, though.

But in the end, no matter how much zombie media you consumed, you couldn’t face against an apocalypse (zombie one or not) when you were sick in bed with a fever.

According to Koushuu’s father who was a doctor, there was a nasty bug going around. He gave Koushuu a tired look when he realized that Koushuu was running a fever.

“I’ll be home as soon as I can to take care of you,” he promised. “Can you hang in there for me?”

He never returned.

Takuma’s parents both had work and couldn’t take care of him. So they dropped Takuma off at Koushuu’s place, since Koushuu’s mom was a stay-at-home housewife.

“Hang in there, Taku,” they said, ruffling Takuma’s hair. “We’ll be back as soon as we can. And when you get well, let’s go to your favorite restaurant. So you just focus on getting well, okay?”

They never returned, either.

It was just the three of them in that house. Koushuu and Takuma sick in bed, while Koushuu’s mom took care of them. She made them porridges, she hummed lullabies for them, and she wiped down their sweat. Koushuu suspected that she did many more things, because as he came in and out of consciousness, he swore he saw her worried expression as she promised that she would take care of them later morph into tears as she begged someone, something, to rescue them.

Without a doubt, things would have been much different if they had been well.

Actually, if they had been well, Koushuu and Takuma probably would’ve gone to school and had been killed for whatever reasons.

So perhaps this was for the best.

By the time their fevers ran their course and they were both well enough to start moving around, there was no electricity or running water. All the windows were covered up with duct tape and newspaper prints. There were sticky notes here and there that gave them brief instructions, and in the kitchen, they found a longer list of things that Koushuu’s mother must have observed in those days while she took care of them.

And through those writings, they learned of the end of the world.

At first, Koushuu was disoriented and confused. He couldn’t quite believe the writings that begged him to believe that zombies walked the earth. There was no way that this could be true, he told himself. Sure, his mom was never the joking type, but this had to be a prank.

Takuma heard the sound first.

Something akin to mutterings coming from the basement.

Koushuu imagined he was fearless because the situation hadn’t sunk in for him. He opened the basement door wide, wincing at the rotting smell he was greeted with.

“Mom…?” he called out hesitantly. And more bravely, "Mom? You here?"

The answer he received was a screech from something that used to be his mom. She hung by the neck, feet dangling in the air. When her eyes caught sight of Koushuu, she reached for him while making inhumane sounds that haunted Koushuu even now. In that excitement, her body began to swing. By her feet on the ground was a fallen chair.

The implication was clear, but Koushuu couldn’t quite wrap his mind around it.

In his hesitation, the rope holding her by the neck snapped.

She landed with a crack of what had to be bones, but it didn’t stop her. She crawled, hands reaching for Koushuu, as she stumbled her way to the stairs. Her glassy and vacant eyes met with his. Dread, he thought. This feeling in the pit of his stomach was hopeless dread.

If Takuma wasn’t there, Koushuu imagined that he wouldn’t have made it out alive.

Takuma grabbed Koushuu and pulled him out of there, throwing the door shut. They blocked the door with the chairs from the dining room.

And because staying in the kitchen meant listening to the constant sound of her thumping against the basement door, they grabbed all the written notes and made their way back upstairs to Koushuu’s room. There, they opened just a little bit of an opening in the window to look outside in case a rescue squad came.

In the meanwhile, they studied the notes and made plans to survive. They understood that just waiting wasn’t an option. They had a limited supply of food. Koushuu’s mom tried to stretch out the food they had. But it couldn’t last. So they had to go outside.

They made two attempts.

The first, they made it to the third house down the block. It turned out there was a survivor there, who lost all hopes for living. Thanks to his screams, though, Koushuu and Takuma spotted him. But by that time, the zombies had, too. Koushuu would never forget the regret on that person’s face when he saw the two of them. Regret and hope that quickly turned into fear.

“Wait! I take it back! I don’t want to die! I don’t-”

His screams became unintelligible.

Koushuu and Takuma had no choice but to rush back home while the zombies were distracted.

They didn’t dare make another attempt until three days later. When they did, they made it as far as the gardens before a zombie spotted them and gave chase. Although neither of them screamed, somehow the rest of the zombies seemed to have realized that they were there and began to swarm after them.

It occurred to Koushuu belatedly that perhaps this was what happened to that man who gave up, too. He tried to go outside and was mobbed by the zombies. Because the barricade that they put up didn’t last a second against these zombies.

They just barely managed to get into Koushuu’s room without being harmed. So that the zombies couldn’t break into this room, they moved the dresser in front of the door. Only after all that, they realized that they now had no access to the food outside of this room.

There was just two choices left.

Slowly starve in here or fight to get out.

They didn’t think there would be a third option in the form of a rescue.

 

 

“I don’t know how long we were out because of our fever. But we were locked in that room for four days,” Seto says. “When we saw people walking around with catching gear on, we thought that this might be it. Our only chance to get out of here. So as quietly as we could, we opened the window and waved a blanket.”

Okumura pulls out a folder from his bag and puts it down on the table. “These are all the notes that my mom wrote.”

It’s hard for Youichi to say that it’s a bad thing to have rescued these kids. They seem to have information that Ryo and the others have been searching for. On top of that, they’ve personally went against zombies, which doesn't seem to be the case for most of the guys here. Honestly, what are they thinking? There's a zombie apocalypse just outside the barricade. Why wouldn't they want to explore and figure out how the new world worked? Not just because it's a sense of adventure, but also because that's the best way to survive.

Ryo takes the folder and begins to look through it. They decide to let him be for now.

“We also took what was left of their rice,” Sawamura says, pulling out a heavy container from his bag. “I think there should be enough for maybe two meals for everyone.”

By “everyone,” is Sawamura counting those sick in bed?

“First aid and extra batteries,” Tetsu adds. “Bleach. Blankets.”

“We’ve also brought some canned food and bottle waters,” Seto says. Then he hesitates. “It… probably isn’t enough to last for everyone here, though.”

“No, no. Every little bit helps,” Nori assures him with a soft smile.

“I heard you guys were looking to fix up the radio. So we brought some, too.” Okumura presents them on the table with an uncertain look.

It’s not until the two newcomers nervously look to Ryo and say, “Please let us stay,” that Youichi realizes why.

These guys honestly believe that if they don’t appeal to Ryo, they wouldn’t be allowed to stay. How cruel do they think the world is?

“Of course, you can stay-”

Nabe’s words are cut off by Ryo.

“Wait a minute.” Ryo turns to the two, lips pulling into a sneer. “Your mom was infected by a dog?”

Okumura nods. “At least according to the writings.”

“Ryo-san, what do you mean?”

To his credit, Ryo rubs his temples and forces himself to calm down. He puts the papers down on the ground and points to one of the writings without touching it, probably to prevent it from smudging.

“She heard a dog in the yard. Because the dog was barking loudly, she feared that it would attract zombies. She went outside to shoo it away and it bit her. She didn’t encounter any zombies in any of her notes. If the only thing that bit her was a dog, and she turned into a zombie, the dog bite must have turned her into one.”

Nabe takes the paper to read. “I don’t know, this dog was highly agitated and foaming at the mouth… Isn’t it possible it had rabies? Or maybe that’s the form that the zombie infection takes in dogs? So can we say with certainty that all animals are at least carriers? Or is it just for dogs?”

“It can’t be all animals. I’ve been scratched by birds and cats, and I’m fine,” Sawamura volunteers. “Never had a dog bite me, though.”

"I thought you were going to report all injury?" Chris scolds with a worried look in his eyes. 

That, that makes sense. Chris has always been a worrywart, especially when it comes to Sawamura. Everyone was just waiting for Chris to step in when they heard that Sawamura was in the yips. But the part that makes no sense to Youichi is this:

Tetsu’s eyes are sharp as he grabs Sawamura by the shoulder his brother isn’t using. “Next time, you report any injury.”

“Sorry,” Sawamura tells him with a sheepish smile to both Chris and Tetsu.

Has Sawamura always been that close to Tetsu? Youichi doesn’t recall. Sure, Sawamura was loud and obnoxious, so everyone knew of him and was exasperatedly fond of him. And in this kind of situation, you wouldn’t want your comrade to die. Youichi is probably thinking too much about it. Tetsu would react like that for anyone. He’s a reliable leader type like that, after all.

“Well, at least we can rule that out,” Nabe grumbles, rubbing the back of his neck. “No clue on whether a bite from the infected can cause it to spread, though.”

Okumura’s head snaps up. “You haven’t found that out?”

“If you go by the standards in zombie movies, that would be the case. But what if we’re wrong? Have you seen for yourself someone changing due to a bite?”

Both Okumura and Seto shake their heads.

“Then isn’t it also possible that they don’t change through that? If that’s the case but we follow what popular media says, we’ll just be murderers.”

Ryo sure is amazing to be able to think about things like that in an apocalypse. Youichi himself is still stuck on the games that he's played. He wouldn't have questioned anything and just killed anyone with a bite.

“Some people are better off dead.”

Youichi’s grin slips. He and the rest of the people turn to stare at Tetsu. But Tetsu doesn’t glance in their direction. He’s shuffling through the folder now that Nabe is done with them.

“Tetsu, we’re not here to kill people,” Masuko says firmly.

“No. We’re here to protect our own.”

Tetsu finally looks up. Although his eyes aren’t locked on Youichi, he can’t help but to shudder. It’s like looking at the eyes of a beast about to strike. It's not a look that Tetsu has on his face when he's about to face against a talented pitcher. This is much different from that. But Youichi doesn't know how else to describe it. Just that it's terrifying. 

 

 

The people gathered in the supermarket didn’t bother to hide their distaste of having Masashi in there with them.

“It’s just a bug,” Tetsu tried to explain. “He wasn’t bit.”

He knew because his parents were in the other room. He knew because he locked them in there in desperate attempt to figure out what was happening. He knew because Masashi didn’t say anything about being hurt. And Masashi wasn’t the type to lie.

All they could do was try and escape.

But Masashi could only walk for so long when he had a fever.

So they had nowhere they could try to go. This was the only safe spot they were able to find. Because Tetsu didn’t think Masashi would be able to make it anywhere else.

“But we don’t know that. You could just be saying whatever to keep your own hide safe,” the man in charge was the supermarket’s owner.

Tetsu had bought countless things here growing up. This man knew Tetsu. This man saw both Tetsu and Masashi grow up. And here he was, saying that Tetsu’s words could not be trusted.

“We’re not babysitters, Tetsu. If you want something, you have to work for it.”

So Tetsu “volunteered” to be a fighter for them.

They had a lot of supplies, seeing that this was a supermarket. Any time someone wanted anything, they made a note of what they took to the owner.

“When all of this is over, you will pay me back,” he said.

So they didn’t need to go out to get supplies or anything. All Tetsu had to do was, with all the other volunteers, patrol this area and keep this supermarket safe. That was all. A simple enough job with this many people.

That was…

“Tetsu-senpai?”

Sawamura looked worse for wear. Tetsu had thought that he looked pretty bad during the yips, but right now, he…

“I’m really glad you’re alive.”

Tetsu dare argue he had never seen anyone more beautiful at that moment when Sawamura smiled.

It wasn’t like they needed him to guard this place. Not when they had so many others patrolling. So Tetsu took some time to help out Sawamura whenever he could. Through it, he heard about the situation back at Seidou.

“As soon as Masashi is better, we’ll come to you.”

As soon as…

The supermarket was overrun with zombies.

If Tetsu had actually done his job, he was sure he would have been able to help prevent this. But as it was, he was with Sawamura. The two of them found some batteries while rummaging through the electronic store and-

“C’mon!” Sawamura rushed forward without a second thought.

“W-wait! If you go in, you might not-”

Sawamura’s eyes shone with determination like they used to when he was on the mound. “Your brother’s in there, isn’t he?”

If Tetsu hesitated a moment, it was because of those eyes. Since the world ended, everyone’s eyes had been so dead. No one fought like this. Not for someone else.

The two stormed the supermarket like a pair of fools. They had no plans. Just go in, grab Masashi, and get out.

And while Sawamura did just that, Tetsu found himself a little distracted.

“H-help me! Please! I don’t want to die!”

Tetsu stared down at the supermarket’s owner. There were two others who used to be refugees here, but they had turned. They crowded around the owner, ready to tear into his flesh. For just a second, Tetsu considered pretending to not have heard. But that wasn’t the kind of person Tetsu was. And he was not about to allow this apocalypse to rob him of his principles as well.

He rushed over, fighting off any zombies that dared to get near. He stood over the owner, protecting him until it looked like the coast was clear for now. Then Tetsu turned to the owner.

“As expected of Seidou’s best batter! Thank you, Tetsu-kun! I’ll let you eat whatever you want from my store!”

But see, Tetsu didn’t do that for something as meager as an item from the store. He pointed his bloodied bat at the owner.

“I’m not a babysitter. If you want something, you have to work for it… You said that to me, do you remember?”

The owner nodded. “I got it! I got it! I’ll let Masashi stay! Jeesh, you’re so stubborn.”

Why did those words put such a nasty taste in Tetsu’s mouth? Wasn’t that what he wanted by rescuing this man? Wasn’t that what he had wanted from the beginning?

“Jeesh, I guess we’ll have to find a different place. Hm? Who’s that boy?”

No.

The sheer amount of anger at that question surprised himself.

No.

No. No. No.

This man ignored the fact that Masashi and Tetsu had grown up around here, buying things from his own store, just for his own convenience. This man was horribly against letting Masashi stay because of a fever. This man forced others to make notes of what they took, even if it was medical supplies to live another day. This man…

No matter what, Tetsu could not allow this man to get near Sawamura. Not near Sawamura, who had been taking care of those sick at Seidou. If this man were to get to Seidou, then everyone there would be…

Murder was wrong.

That was a sentence any child could tell you.

Fighting zombies was one thing because that was a matter of survival. Zombies stopped being humans the minute they came back from the dead. But because Tetsu did such a thorough job, this man was unscathed.

Despite everyone being covered in blood and fighting for their lives, this man was just looking for the next profit. And if he got his hands on Sawamura…

Tetsu raised his bat.

 

 

“Well, obviously,” Youichi shrugs. “But that’s not what we’re talking about. There’s nothing concrete there about how people turn into zombies, right? That sucks, but we should focus on what we do know.”

“Right. We didn’t tell you everything, did we?” Ryo says.

Nabe nods. “I got it. Let’s see… We told you that they react to sound. And that they seem to keep their physical abilities as they were alive.”

“Do they react to animals? Or do they just chase after human?”

“I don’t think it’s just sound that they react to,” Okumura says. “I didn’t make much sound when I went to the basement, but my… the zombie in there reacted. But I don’t remember them ever turning on each other.”

“Pheromones maybe? Or maybe they make different sounds that differentiate them from us? Hey, isn’t it possible that they can hear our heartbeat? And maybe that’s how they know that we’re alive?” Youichi guesses.

Oh, he has everyone’s attention now.

“W-what? Why are you looking at me?”

“No, I just didn’t realize that Kuramochi-senpai can be smart,” Sawamura admits.

Youichi feels his cheeks heat up. “Shut up, Sawamura! No one asked you!”

But just a little, it’s nice to see everyone chuckling, even if it’s at his expense.

“It’s a good theory. We shouldn’t discredit it.” Nori says. Miyauchi nods.

“Heartbeat, huh…?” Tetsu mumbles.

“If it’s like that, then there’s no way to disguise ourselves from them,” Chris points out with a frown.

“No. there is. You just need a louder sound. When everyone’s well enough to move, we’ll send out scouts. I’ve been collecting some firecrackers. So we’ll set them all off. That should free us up to move for a bit,” Sawamura says.

… “When” everyone is well enough, huh? So Sawamura wants to go to the safe zone?

“I disagree. We shouldn’t move, even if people get well enough,” Ryo declares. He glances at Youichi. “Tell them why.”

Youichi recalls the look Ryo gave him when he questioned the safe zone. Is this an internal debate that he’s going to get dragged into? What a pain. But it’s not like he can disappoint Ryo.

“Do you know for a fact that there’s a safe place we can get to from here? If it’s just a conjecture, then all you’re doing is risking everyone’s lives in a fruitless endeavor.”

From the look of resentment on Sawamura’s face, he must have realized whose side Youichi is on. Sorry, Sawamura. But between you and Ryo, Youichi will doubtlessly pick Ryo’s side every time.

“There’s nothing left around here,” Sawamura grits out.

“So we’ll risk everyone’s lives on an off-chance that there’s something out there?” Ryo asks evenly.

This is an age-old argument, Youichi thinks. They’ve fought about this, listing the pros and cons of both sides.

Almost as if feeling how tense Sawamura is getting, Masashi stirs. He lifts his head and glances tiredly around the room.

“Still talking?” he mumbles, yawning.

“Let’s push this to later,” Nori says quickly. “Everyone’s tired. We should all be getting rest.”

With that, it seems the tension is gone from the room. Without realizing there were sides, Youichi seems to have casted his lot.

*

It takes him a few seconds when he wakes up to realize that the reason why he’s on a mattress on the ground is because the world has ended. That’s right. That’s all there is to it.

Grumbling, he forces himself up. Ugh. His body is all sore…

His eyes land on the mattress towards the far corner. Sawamura’s still sleeping. He’s tangled with Masashi, probably to keep warm since there are no blankets around here. It must be because Youichi is still half-asleep, but it takes him a bit to realize that Masashi’s eyes are open and he’s glaring at him.

“Morn’,” Youichi mumbles.

And because it seems like the kid won’t stop glaring at him, Youichi decides to leave the room.

Jeesh, what a scary guy. How’s he related to Tetsu? Tetsu is so much more regale and cool and…

Tetsu is swinging his bat.

Then again, Tetsu is intense in his own way, too.

Youichi smiles. “Morning, Tetsu-san! Working hard today, too?”

Tetsu doesn’t pause in his swings. But he does give Youichi a smile.

“Did you sleep well?”

“Yeah! Shouldn’t you be resting, though? You got back pretty late last night.”

“It doesn’t feel right if I’m not swinging.”

“Jeesh, Tetsu-san! You’ll overwork yourself at this rate! You need to rest, too.”

There’s a soft puff of laughter, but Tetsu doesn’t stop swinging. “This is me resting. Oh, right. Since you just woke up, you might not know this. We don’t really have a set time to eat meals except for dinner. Feel free to stop by the kitchen whenever you’re hungry for food.”

“Got it. Thanks!”

*

Takatsu’s head snaps up when Youichi walks in. He glances behind Youichi, as if waiting for something, but when he sees that Youichi is here alone, he returns to his food without any greeting.

What a rude kid.

“Kuramochi, good morning! Do you want breakfast?” Nori greets with a bright smile.

“Yeah, that’d be great. What do we have?”

“Leftover soup from last night!”

Youichi tries not to grimace. Seeing that, Nori giggles.

“I’m kidding! There’s no leftovers. Our scavenging party must have been starving. But guess what we do have? Jam!”

“Jam?”

Nori nods. “We don’t have any bread left. But we have some crackers. Want some?”

Crackers and jam for breakfast. If the cafeteria ladies were here, they’d have a heart attack. Ah, that’s right. They’re probably…

“Yeah, that sounds good. Thanks.”

*

“What are you going to do today?” Nori asks as he sits next to Youichi.

Youichi wonders if Nori is always this friendly with everyone or if he’s just lonely. Does no one talk to him or something? Or is it because Shirasu isn't by his side?

“Ryo-san mentioned taking me to the gardens.”

“That’s dangerous.” Nori’s lips pull into a frown. “I mean, since Tetsu-senpai is back, it might not be too bad… You probably want to stretch your legs a bit, too.”

There’s a sad look in Nori’s eyes. Youichi doesn’t know how to comfort his friend, so he opts for eating the crackers with jam instead.

“Why does everyone want to leave?”

Oh? Nori doesn’t like the idea of going to the safe zone either? Then again, Youichi thinks that he can understand why. Nori has always been a creature of habit. If he considers something safe, he doesn’t like to deviate from it. After all, that’s what made him decide to seal up his sinker.

“If there really is nothing left to grab as resources outside, then it makes sense as to why they’d want to,” Youichi says evenly.

Nori gives him a surprised look. “I thought you were on Ryo-senpai’s side!”

“I’m not on anyone’s side. I’m just trying to figure what’s the best thing to do given the current situation.”

Youichi hates the look of disbelief on Nori’s face. Is it that hard to believe that Youichi might not side with Ryo? Thus far, their logic and thinking has lined up. That’s why they’re Seidou’s Iron Wall. But if Ryo ever makes a decision that goes against what Youichi thinks is the right thing to do, of course Youichi would say that….

Except that’s not true.

Even though he thought he knew what was the right thing to do, he couldn’t bring himself to report that Ryo was injured. At that point, isn’t he just as good as a puppet that just repeats what Ryo says?

“I told you to wake me so we can swing together! You’re not off the hook either, Masashi!”

Sawamura’s voice rings clear even before he opens the door to the cafeteria. He pouts at Tetsu, who just chuckles good-naturedly. Right behind them is Masashi, whose eyes seem to do a quick sweep of the cafeteria as if to check for any signs of danger. There’s nothing dangerous here, though. Is it just a habit for him now?

“Good morning, Sawamura-kun!” Nori greets. “Do you want me to get you some breakfast?”

“Nori-senpai! Tetsu and Masashi are big meanie heads!”

Hold up. What’s with the lack of respect? It’s fine when Sawamura disrespected Miyuki, since that was funny. But Tetsu? That’s just rude. Ah, now that he thinks about it, Miyuki isn’t around either. Was he in the room with the other sick kids? Youichi doesn’t recall.

Sawamura rushes to Nori’s side, whining about this and that. It makes Nori struggle to not laugh as he tries to console the bratty first year. Looks like Youichi lost his chance to scold him. Next time, he decides. He’ll make sure to remind Sawamura how important seniority is.

Tetsu and Masashi both seem to grab some jam and crackers and sit down by them. Seeing that, Eijun reluctantly sits down, too. He still pouts as he takes the food they brought and begins to eat. Youichi thinks it’s rude of Sawamura to just take the brothers’ food. But neither of the brothers seem to mind.

“Eijun, are you planning on going to the gardens today?” Takatsu asks as he moves to sit near them.

Sawamura nods. “Yeah. Miyauchi-senpai said there’s something he wants to show me.”

“Did he mention if something’s wrong?” Nori’s brows furrow.

“I don’t think so. He didn’t sound worried.”

Nori looks relieved at that.

“I’ll take you,” Takatsu tells Sawamura.

Sawamura grins mischievously. “Eh? You’re not going to freeze up like last time?”

Takatsu’s face turns beet red. “Sh-shut up! I’ve been working on that.”

“Then I’ll be relying on you!”

 

 

This had to be a sick joke, right?

This was the universe’s way of laughing at him. For what, Hiroomi hadn’t figured out yet. But they were laughing, alright.

In middle school, he had always gone head-to-head against Kanemaru. And for once, just once, he found himself on top. He was the one who defeated the fever earlier than Kanemaru. He was the one up and about. He was the more healthy one. And that meant that he was the winner for this round.

So it could only go up, right?

He couldn’t stop his body from shaking.

What the fuck? What the actual fuck?

What do you mean zombies? What do you mean the walking dead? It didn’t make any sense. Were they in some kind of a badly written story or something? Who the fuck came up with this kind of ridiculous scenario?

Hiroomi covered his mouth, trying to stifle any and all sounds.

Sawamura said that the zombies reacted to sound. But how loud was the sound? Would they react to the heartbeat racing in Hiroomi’s chest? When they were telling him all this, Hiroomi assumed it was a prank and ignored it. And now he was on the wrong side of the barricade with no weapons and zombies everywhere.

Death?

This was how he was going to die?

Right after he defeated Kanemaru by getting up before him from a fever?

See? The universe was laughing at him. That was the only thing he could think of. Takatsu Hiroomi was going to die as the butt of a joke. Haha. He was too busy besting someone who was sick in bed to realize the situation he was in. And now he was going to die and-

Something flew from the top of the barricade. Hiroomi didn’t see what exactly it hit, but something sounded like it shattered. The zombies all rushed towards the sound.

Someone tapped Hiroomi on the shoulder.

When he turned to look, Sawamura smiled kindly at him.

 

 

“You can just rely on me,” Masashi says, holding up a cracker for Sawamura to eat.

Without missing a beat, Sawamura opens his mouth for the cracker. Then he must have realized what Masashi said, because he chokes slightly. Nori quickly gets him some water.

“What’s with that, Masashi? You know I rely on you a lot!”

“More than Aniki?”

Sawamura makes a face. “How many times do I have to say I rely on the two of you for different things? You can’t compare that!”

Tetsu clicks his tongue. “Masashi, don’t tease him. Eijun, here.” Tetsu holds up another cracker for Sawamura.

Once again, Sawamura accepts the cracker without any hesitation. Just a little, Youichi is reminded of a small bird opening its mouth for food.

It’s odd. He doesn’t think Sawamura and Tetsu were ever that close. But everyone seems to be more or less used to this. Not to mention Sawamura seems just as close to Masashi as well. Just what did these three go through for this kind of closeness?

  

 

So this was the end.

Tetsu closed his eyes and took a deep breath. This was fine, he told himself. This was fine. It had to be fine because he was able to lure the zombie horde away from Sawamura and Masashi. And there was nothing more important than that.

“I did well,” he told himself.

So why was it that his heart kept twisting in his chest?

He protected his brother as he promised. He led the team as well as he could, even though he had already left. Sure, they never made it to Koshien (would probably never go to Koshien now that the world ended) but he made sure that Sawamura was alive. And Sawamura would surely be able to save everyone.

That was why this was fine.

He lived by his priorities, and he never got them mixed up. So this was good. He did well. This was…

He hated himself for tearing up. He hated himself for feeling bitter. He hated how much he wanted to live. He should be satisfied. He got a lot done. But you don’t understand, Masashi was too innocent. Sawamura was too kind. Who would take care of them now that Tetsu was gone? Who would make sure that Masashi didn’t forget to keep an eye on their backs? Who would make sure that Sawamura got some rest?

Instead of swarming him like he thought they would, the zombies began to look away.

Hope, Tetsu thought, was such a dangerous thing to dangle in front of a man faced with death.

If they weren’t attacking him right away, that meant that someone or something was making a sound so loud that the zombies couldn’t be bothered with the prey in front of them. The only one who would be dumb enough to try something like this was doubtlessly Sawamura.

As soon as he thought that, he heard it. The sound of someone crowing. Of all the sounds in the world, why a rooster’s crow?

But he had to admit that it made him chuckle.

No, it wasn’t over.

This was not how it ended.

When he got out of here, he was going to give both Masashi and Sawamura a scolding. They had to learn to let go of people. You couldn’t save everyone. And as soon as he finished, he would pull them both close to himself and hold them tightly while thanking them for not leaving him behind.

Ah, perhaps that was too hypocritical.

Then he would start with something simpler.

“Masashi, Eijun,” he called when they were finally safe back at Seidou. “Do you guys want some rice crackers?”

“Aniki… these are stale. How long have you had them?”

 

 

“Kuramochi, why don’t you go with them? I’m sure Ryo-senpai won’t mind if you let Sawamura-kun give you a tour instead,” Nori suggests.

“Oh, was Onii-san giving you a tour? You haven’t been to the gardens yet?” Sawamura asks, turning to Youichi with excited eyes.

Youichi knows what that look means. It’s the same look Sawamura always got when he thought Miyuki was going to catch for him.

“Didn’t Ryo-san say he’ll be looking over the notes with the new kids?” Takatsu recalls.

“It’ll be better to let Eijun give you the tour of the gardens anyways. He knows it best,” Tetsu advices.

Sawamura laughs. “No way! That's Miyauchi-senpai. It's pretty much he's garden now. But if this many of us are going, you’ll definitely be safe!”

*

They give Youichi the catcher’s gear.

“Any other openings, we’ll just duct tape shut.”

That seems kind of lazy of a way to do it, but he supposes it makes sense to put on protection. At least, that’s what he thinks until he realizes that everyone else is wearing the Seidou jumpsuit.

“What about you guys?”

“At most, we should just run into three or so zombies. Less, since the gardening group already left for today,” Tetsu explains. “There’s no need to get completely suited.”

“So why do I have to?” Youichi asks, trying hard to sound respectful to Tetsu.

“Because you haven’t faced them yet. It’s just a precaution,” Sawamura tells him with a grin. “If you want, you don’t have to wear the mask.”

Youichi decides to take comfort where he can for now.

*

The catching gear isn’t made with a lot of range of movement in mind. After all, the main thing a catcher does it to stay squatting the entire game. Or perhaps Youichi just feels bitter as the only one trying to keep up while wearing such cumbersome things?

At the very least, no one snaps at him for being slow.

But man, who the hell thought that climbing over the mess of furniture while wearing the catching gear is a good idea? Youichi bets it’s Sawamura. And Tetsu probably went along with it because their former captain has never been that bright to begin with. But why wouldn’t someone smart like Nabe or Ryo or even Kawakami mention that this is ridiculous?

“Watch your footing,” Sawamura yells out.

The only silver lining to this is probably that he doesn’t have to wear any mask. He doesn’t want to imagine trying to climb over this while wearing it. But no wonder no zombies tried to climb over this, no matter what sound they must have heard. Even able-bodied people have trouble. How can the dead do it?

They pause to let Youichi catch his breath at the top of the barricade. From where they were, Youichi can’t really make out anything more than how deserted the school is. It just looks like how the school normally gets when it’s vacation time. The only thing that stands out is how much the weeds and grass have overgrown.

“It doesn’t really feel like a zombie apocalypse,” he admits out loud.

The others stay silent. Youichi doesn’t know if it’s because they agree with him or if it’s because they pity him for thinking so.

*

The first zombie that Youichi sees is in the school courtyard as they’re making their way to the roof of the school. It seems to have a visible limp as it dragged its left foot along the ground. From this distance, Youichi can’t see why. He assumes that maybe it’s broken to be used properly.

It doesn’t look like the zombie has noticed them, and the rest of the group seems content with just walking by without facing it. But there’s something that Youichi wants to check. He motions at them to stop.

No one speaks, possibly so they don’t accidentally catch the zombie’s attention, but they give Youichi a questioning look.

They’re not all stupid, so they should be able to understand what Youichi is doing once he starts, right?

With that thought comforting him, he takes two steps towards the zombie. Still no motion that the zombie has seen or heard him.

“H-hey,” Youichi whispers lowly.

Still, no motion.

The others seem to tense, possibly picking up what he’s trying to do.

“Hey,” Youichi says just a little softer than his normal speaking tone.

No response from the zombie.

“Hey,” Youichi says at a normal speaking volume.

Nothing.

Alright, time to get a little louder.

“Hey,” Youichi says. Not quite a shout yet, but louder than before.

The zombie seems to turn but still doesn’t make any movement like it has spotted them. If it’s struggling to hear even this much, it’s hard to make the argument that these guys can hear heartbeat. So it has to be something else that these guys are attracted to. And in the same breath, something aside from just hearing that these zombies use to differentiate between themselves and the living.

Concentrating his energy on his gut, Youichi yells out, “Hey!”

That catches the zombie’s attention. It snaps its head towards the group at the same time it begins to rush forward. Youichi thought for sure that its limp would slow it down, but it seems to be able to move just fine even with it. Probably because it can’t register pain. He should have considered that.

But it turns out there’s no reason to be worried at all.

Before the zombie can get close enough, Tetsu swings his bat. It’s a clean hit. Not that Youichi expected anything less from Tetsu. It knocks the zombie flat on the ground. And Tetsu takes his time swinging his bat down until the zombie stops twitching.

At this close of a distance, Youichi smells the corpse and struggles not to gag. It gets particularly bad once Tetsu splits the head open. Black blood clumps more so than oozes out. It takes everything Youichi has to not to vomit on the spot. And Sawamura deals with this daily?

Youichi feels a warm hand on his back.

“You alright?” Sawamura whispers.

He nods. “Didn’t expect that smell. Sorry to slow you guys down like that.”

“No, we learned a lot from watching that,” Takatsu tells him.

At least they’re not so stupid that Youichi has to explain what just happened.

*

The school building looks a little better than how Youichi imagined it would look. Sure, the windows are broken and it looks like some of the plants in some of the rooms became completely overgrown. But otherwise, it looks a little less creepy than he thought it would be. Perhaps it’s because it’s only been a month and not god knows how long it takes for those haunted mansions in horror movies to become like that.

Tetsu and Takatsu take the lead. After them is Youichi and Sawamura. Taking the back is Masashi, whose eyes seem to do a quick sweep of the area before falling in line. Youichi wonders if he’s the only one who don’t really get this kid.

 

 

"You want to reclaim the school?" Nabe asked, his brows furrowing in annoyance.

"That has to be our next goal. The barricade is more or less up. The dorm area is safe. So we should start carving out more safe space for ourselves," Eijun tried to reason.

Nabe covered his face and took a deep breath. The fever was wearing him down, Eijun knew that. That was why he didn't want to say anything. But if he didn't say anything before he left, then Nabe got anxious and tried to climb the barricade himself. And right now, what Nabe needed was rest, not more worry.

"Don't you think that would be nice? Have the entire school to ourselves?"

"Sawamura, that's not-" Nabe dropped his hands and gave Eijun a tired look. "You'll go no matter what I say, won't you?"

"We have a gardening club. Had. But we should be able to use their things."

"Even if you take their things to grow plants, it'll take time to grow. It's already Fall. With winter looming just around the corner, what exactly do you think you can grow?"

"They had some veggies they were growing-"

From the look of doubt on Nabe's face, Eijun knew what he was thinking. The gardens was in the courtyard. It was more likely that the garden was completely destroyed and trampled upon when the apocalypse first broke out. But Eijun couldn't just sit here and do nothing. It was dangerous to continuously go outside to scavenge for goods. At least, not until more people were better from the bug.

Therefore, he had to stay nearby. And for now, the only thing he could think of was this.

"I want a garden, Nabe-senpai."

Nabe let out a sigh. He ruffled Eijun's hair with a tired smile.

"Then a garden we'll build."

 

 

 Takatsu makes sure to point out any broken tiles on the ground or debris so that they can sidestep them. Tetsu, meanwhile, keeps ahead to scan the area for any oncoming zombies. Masashi stays just few steps behind them, seemingly unconcerned with keeping up the pace. It looks like they’re more or less used to traveling like this. Youichi wonders if he feels impressed or if he’s a little annoyed at how smoothly they work.

It’s a slow process. But they don’t run into any other zombies on their way.

And after what feels like forever, they finally arrive on the roof.

*

Youichi wonders if it’s a silly thing to feel so impressed to see that the door to the roof is still functioning. He doesn’t particularly think it is. But who knows with how screwed up this world is.

Although they call it a garden, it really isn’t.

It’s just various pots and buckets that they’ve filled with soil to grow various things. There are some that are empty, possibly here to gather water for when it rains. It’s honestly kind of disappointing after how much everyone hyped this up.

“Don’t look so disappointed,” Asou tells Youichi as he comes to smack his back. “We worked hard to grow this, you know.”

“Ah, sorry. I just… thought it’d be a garden.”

Higasa lets out angry “Shu shu shu” sound as he swings his fists in the air. He’s probably trying to work his anger out that way instead of taking it out on Youichi. Youichi feels just a tad bad.

While he’s talking to the others, he spots Miyauchi talking seriously to Sawamura. Although Sawamura has been lighthearted about it this morning, the expression on Miyauchi’s face is plenty serious. Youichi doesn’t like what this might mean.

“Is everything alright?” he asks as he joins them.

“Kuramochi,” Miyauchi greets. “It’s not… bad, I don’t think. It’s just-”

Sawamura shakes his head. “No, this is pretty bad. These plants weren’t meant to grow in small pots. They’re suffering because of it.”

“Is there no other place for them?” Youichi asks. As soon as the question leaves his mouth, he wants to smack his forehead. “Right. If there was, you wouldn’t have used the roof. Do the zombies get to them or something?”

“Sort of. They just trample all over them. I tried putting up a fence, but they just walked through that and broke everything. But I couldn't build a barricade around the gardens when there wasn't enough for the dorm,” Sawamura grumbles.

Youichi thinks the barricade around the dorm is plenty enough. But he's not going to argue. He eyes their pathetic attempt at a garden with a frown. There's no space in the dorm area for these guys either. He imagines the field wouldn’t work because of years of dedicated care to be the baseball field. Given these options, there really isn’t a good place to grow anything. They just have these buckets for now.

“This is the time the plants are supposed to grow the most. If we can’t get them to give us lots now, it’s going to be a hard winter.”

From the sounds of things here, it definitely feels like going to the safe zone is a better option. But does the safe zone really exist? Worse still is the question of can they make it to however far away this place is? Not to mention there are those still sick in bed to consider and the winter. If it gets cold, how does the zombies react? Does it slow them down since cold weather tend to slow down functions? Or does that not apply to zombies?

“Don’t make such a scary face, Kuramochi-senpai. Yeah, it’s bad. But it’s not like we can’t survive if these guys don’t bear fruit. In the meanwhile, though, we’ll look for better places to plant and more soil. Maybe fertilizer, too.”

“We’ve already hit the nearest flower shops,” Masashi reminds him with a frown.

“There’s another one by the station. Have you been there?” Toujou asks.

Tetsu shakes his head. “Too risky. That area is too dangerous.”

Huh? A flower shop? Is there one nearby? One by the station? Youichi only knows where the sports shops are (and that one bookstore to pick up shoujo beats for Jun). He hasn’t even known that there were multiple. Thinking like that, he feels a little inadequate.

“We can use a fire-”

“No,” Tetsu says firmly. “Those are for emergencies only.”

“What? And let these guys all die?” Sawamura motions around at the potted plants in buckets.

Youichi doesn’t mean to be a downer, but he’s pretty sure these plants probably won’t be able to survive past the winter.

“They should be able to last until we’re ready to go, right?” Takatsu asks.

Sawamura’s eyes light up. “That’s true! Maybe there’ll be better places to plant in wherever we end up.”

Once again, Youichi finds himself in doubt about this safe zone. He wonders if he played too many games. Or perhaps it’s because he himself hasn’t heard the broadcast? Then it sinks in exactly what Sawamura said.

“You’re not going to aim for the safe zone?”

“Of course, that’s our aim. But we have a huge group, and not everyone’s well yet. It’ll be hard to move fast while being safe. And if it just so happens that we find a better place to settle down instead of the safe zone, then that’s that.”

“Does Ryo-san know that?”

Sawamura nods. “We’ve been going back and forth on it. I don’t get why Onii-san hates the thought of moving so much. We’re running out of things here.”

Youichi finds himself looking around the so-called garden on the roof. He recalls the look on Ryo’s face during the tour. The reason why Ryo doesn’t want to leave? Wasn’t it as simple as the fact that for Ryo, this place has been his home for the last three years?

“Do you think we will make it to that theoretical place?” Youichi asks.

“We won’t know until we try.” That’s fire burning in Sawamura’s eyes as he turns to face Youichi. “I’m not going to wait around to slowly die.”

Youichi nods slowly. He should really talk to Ryo about this.

*

They stay for a little while longer to talk to the gardening group. But around what Youichi assumes is noon, the entire group makes their way back.

“Why not just bring food out with you?” Youichi asks before they walk back into the school.

“And if we don’t return? That’s food that could have fed someone else,” Miyauchi says.

Youichi’s mouth snaps close. That’s fair, he thinks. Blunt. But fair.

*

Ryo is in the cafeteria with Nabe, both of them glaring at one another in a tense way that suggests prior argument. Nori worriedly looks between the two until he spots Miyauchi. Figuring best to just leave these two alone, Youichi makes his way to Ryo’s side.

“Everything alright?”

“Peachy.”

Ryo doesn’t look it, though. But Youichi is smart enough to not push.

“You look like shit, Onii-san,” Sawamura, the idiot, says as he sits down next to Ryo.

Who even says things like that to Ryo?

“Have you read through the papers yet?” Ryo asks.

Sawamura shakes his head no. “There wasn’t time for me to. Why? What’s on them?”

“She thinks the safe zone is real. Her reasoning is that if she could make it that far out with two sick kids, then there would be those with better resources who are able to survive better. She truly believed a rescue squad would come. And that all she had to do was ration until then.”

“Did she not listen to the radio broadcast?” Youichi asks with a frown. Someone who heard the broadcast about the safe zone wouldn’t come to that conclusion by that logic.

Ryo’s smile is strained. “That’s just it. Neither Okumura or Seto knew about the radio broadcast. She just made that assumption without hearing it. They were probably too scared to turn on the radio in case the zombies made their way in.”

Actually, now that Youichi thinks about it, that’s kind of weird. The zombies thus far seem unable to climb over the barricade or be able to open the door that’s the only protection to the garden on the roof. Sure, Youichi proved that the zombies don’t react to heartbeat, but… Oh, right. He should tell Ryo that.

“Interesting,” Ryo mumbles when Youichi fills him in on his little experiment. “I didn’t think you’d be ballsy enough to try something like that.”

“What’s that supposed to mean, Ryo-san?”

His partner just gives him a non-committal answer. And instead, he turns back to Sawamura.

“Does this mean we might be able to get away with louder noises than we previously believed?”

Sawamura nods. “I think it might be why they never attempted to climb the barricade. And why they leave the gardens alone. But it still doesn’t answer why they don’t attack each other.”

“Pheromones? That’s usually the go-to answer,” Youichi points out. “Or maybe some kind of sound frequency that only they can hear.”

“Nabe, can you lend us a radio you’re not using? I want to experiment,” Ryo calls.

“Sure, Ryo-san. I’ll get you a portable one.”

“Before that, eat,” Nori insists.

At the sound of food, Youichi smells it.

Meat.

Nori brings out thinly sliced spam for everyone. The spam has been lightly cooked, possibly with too low of heat (Did Nori cook it with the candle?). But it’s precious meat, and Youichi’s mouth salivated at the sight of it. Along with the spam is a bag of chips for everyone. That seems kind of an unhealthy option, but hell if Youichi is going to say no to food.

“Spam?” Ryo asks, surprised.

Nori nods. “We thought it’ll help raise morale.”

Ryo lets out a sigh that sounds a little like he’s chiding them. But he doesn’t say anything as a complaint. Instead, he just puts his spam on top of Sawamura’s portion.

“I don’t like spam,” is all he says about it.

Youichi is pretty sure that’s a lie. But he’s not brave enough to challenge Ryo.

*

His suspicion that Ryo’s treatment of Sawamura is a little more is confirmed when Ryo taps Sawamura’s chest after lunch and says, “Get some rest.”

“Eh? I slept all last night. I’m fine,” Sawamura protests.

Ryo arches a brow. “Then why are the bags under your eyes so prominent? Get some rest.”

“You treat me like a baby!”

Despite those complaints, Sawamura leaves to find Masashi. After what seems to be a brief discussion between the two, they head to the resting room, followed closely by Tetsu.

“Are they always like that?” Youichi can’t help but to ask.

“Who?”

“Sawamura, Tetsu-san, and Masashi.”

The smile on Ryo’s face looks self-deprecating, which is odd. Why would Ryo feel insecure?

 

  

He realized the truth of the situation the third time they went out.

And it wasn’t that Ryo was stupid or naïve. But he truly thought that as long as he kept going out on scavenging trips with them, he would be able to keep up with Tetsu, Sawamura, and Masashi. That as long as he kept trying, he would become useful.

But when the three of them moved, it was with familiarity that made no sense.

With minimal eye contact and hand gestures, they understood each other. Ryo needed moments to calm down and think about what was happening. And in that precious seconds, Sawamura had already ran forward, crowing like some kind of a kid playing Peter Pan.

Did they already make plans beforehand for what to do in these situations? But that couldn’t be true, because both Tetsu and Masashi always looked so shock when Sawamura went off. But instead of getting mad or blindly following, they went around.

How did they even know of this path? Did they go through this area before?

Ryo couldn’t keep up.

And in this new world where the dead walked, he understood that he would just end up becoming a liability to them.

So what could he do?

In this twisted world that he now had to live, what should he do to protect those he loved?

 

 

“I imagine that’s just what happens when you spend a month trying to survive in this apocalypse together,” Ryo says lightly. “But yeah, they’re always like that now. You want one of them to rest, you need to send all of them together.”

There’s something about this line of conversation that makes Youichi uncomfortable. He thinks its because of Ryo’s reaction to it, but he can’t figure out why Ryo is reacting like this. Instead of trying to face it, he does what he’s always done when it came to Ryo.

“Ryo-san, can I look through the papers, too? I’m curious about these zombies.”

He ran.

*

The zombies reacting to sound is something that this woman noted, too. But because she didn’t trust that she could safely return from going outside, she never did. All of her observations were what she could find by peering out the window from the upper floors of her house.

The zombies do not attack each other. She guessed there might be a way for them to know who is still alive or not. But since there aren’t any other survivors going outside for her to watch, she didn't know for certain. She did notice that the zombies do not bother with the other animals. Then how do these animals carry the infection? Or did the zombie outbreak happen because of animals quite like the bubonic plague?

Or perhaps that dog was special?

Nabe’s observation is right. This dog does sound like it had rabies before it bit the woman. Then…

What does all of this mean?

Youichi rubs his temples.

“This is hard,” he groans.

Ryo snorts. “No shit.”

“Isn’t the only real way to get answers by going outside?”

“Be my guest. And when you turn, remember to turn in a ten page essay on exactly how the process goes.”

What a cold answer.

“Ryo-san, why are you so against going to the safe zone?”

There’s a small pause as if Ryo didn’t expect this question. “I’m not against it. There’s just too little information about them to believe that it’s real. For all we know, it can just be a lonely radio wiz broadcasting from the rooftop of his house and there isn’t a safe zone. I’d rather not clutch to false hope like that and just try to improve our situation here.”

Logical as always. That’s Ryo for you.

“From what I’ve heard and seen, it sounds like moving is the best course of action.”

Ryo laughs. “You’ve always had a soft spot for Sawamura.”

It sounds mocking when Ryo says it like that. Youichi finds it unfair. He’s really thought this through it. This has nothing to do with Sawamura.

“Think it through,” Ryo says, voice tinged in annoyance. “Move? Where? Let’s for a bit assume that there is a safe zone. According to the broadcast, it’s near the Koshien stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo. From here to Koshien is nearly 500 km. In a car, that used to be about six hours of a distance. How long do you think it’ll take for us to walk there with zombies all around? That’s not even thinking about those who are still sick in bed.”

“Sawamura suggested that we stop if we find another place to settle-”

Ryo shakes his head. “My god, were you always this stupid? Fine. Let’s say that we do find a place to settle down. What are we going to eat? It’s nearly winter. There’s not enough time to grow anything. We’ll have to rely on scavenging again. Assuming that everyone is well enough to move, that’s hell of a lot more mouths to feed than we are currently. How much scavenging do you think we can do to keep everyone fed for the winter?”

“But isn’t that why we’ve been storing up food and water? To help us move?”

“And what of protecting ourselves from the zombies? You think we can just build this kind of barricade again? If not, how are we going to protect ourselves?”

Ryo isn’t going to budge. No matter what Youichi brings up, he’s going to find a reason why it won’t work. This isn’t a matter of reason or logic. Ryo just refuses to accept anything outside of his own points. It’s frustrating, but arguing here isn’t going to change anything.

What happened to the impartial but fair upperclassman Youichi used to respect? He wonders if Ryo can feel his disappointment.

*

By dinner time, two more people are awake. Both Kariba and Yamaguchi look confused, not that Youichi can blame them.

“Maybe everyone will wake up now,” Nori says hopefully as he gives everyone more jam and crackers for dinner.

Kariba stares blankly at the crackers and jam. “I uh… somehow don’t think…” he falters as if he has no idea how to finish that.

Yeah, Youichi relates.

Yamaguchi, however, seems to take it all in good stride. He laughs at the jokes of the people around him. He eats the cracker and jam with an amused expression. He shows no sign of being shaken or worried about the fact that the world has ended. Youichi bets that it hasn’t registered for him.

“You need to eat, Kariba,” Sawamura says as he sits down across from him.

“I-I know. I’m just… still in shock, I think.”

Sawamura nods in understanding. He picks up a cracker from Kariba’s portion. Youichi figures the southpaw is planning on feeding Kariba, the way Tetsu and Masashi does for him. But instead of being a good human being, Sawamura eats the cracker himself.

This spoiled little…

“Don’t eat other people’s portions,” Youichi scolds. He stops Sawamura’s hand from hovering over Kariba’s food.

“Eh? It’s fine. I was going to share,” Sawamura insists.

Youichi gives him a withering look, which makes him pout. Jeesh, does everyone here spoil this brat rotten? Just because he’s a scavenger? Youichi better keep an eye out on him.

“Go get your own portion,” Youichi growls.

As soon as he says that, Tetsu and Masashi sits on either side of Sawamura with slightly more portions than everyone else. The reason for that, it turns out, is because of Sawamura. The two of them push their portions together in front of the southpaw before giving Youichi a look. It feels a little like they’re telling him to butt out of their business.

“Aren’t you spoiling him too much, Tetsu-san?” Youichi can’t help but to point out.

Sawamura picks up a cracker and holds it out for Kariba. “Hey want to play catch with me after dinner?”

This guy has no sense of awareness, doesn’t he?

Kariba at least gives Youichi a worried glance as he tries to catch Sawamura’s attention.

“S-Sawamu-”

The minute he opened his mouth, though, Sawamura shoves the cracker in.

“I guess I shouldn’t force you to do that when you just woke up,” Sawamura sighs.

“I’ll catch for you,” Masashi offers as he holds up a cracker for Sawamura.

Sawamura accepts the cracker and boldly says, “Masashi, you suck at catching.”

Damn, that’s cold. Poor Masashi looks to be sulking. Tetsu pats Masashi’s shoulder in a consoling way.

“You suck a lot at catching,” Tetsu affirms.

Right. This is Tetsu, they’re talking about. He doesn’t know how to social.

Masashi gives both his older brother and Sawamura an annoyed glare. Kariba looks more guilty than either Tetsu or Sawamura. He hesitantly offers Masashi a cracker, but Masashi shakes his head no. Seeing that, Sawamura accepts it instead.

“If you want to pitch, I will catch for you.”

Okumura stands right behind Sawamura’s seat as he says this. The first year turns to face Okumura with his eyes bright with excitement.

“You want to catch for me?”

Youichi doesn’t know how he predicted it at the same time as Tetsu did. But the two of them grab Sawamura by the shoulders to prevent him from jumping out of his chair.

“Dinner first,” Tetsu says at the same time Youichi says, “Like you can even pitch.”

He forgot.

What with the zombie apocalypse and everything, it completely slipped his mind that Sawamura was in the yips before all of this began.

Sawamura’s mood darkens noticeably. The grin on his face is gone, the excitement extinguished. And damn it, that’s not what Youichi wanted to do. It was supposed to be a simple jab they used to make at Sawamura near the beginning of the year. It wasn’t supposed to actually hurt him. It-

“Y-yeah. It’s not like I can pitch anyways.”

Okumura frowns. But before he can retort, Tetsu pulls Sawamura into a hug. He glares at Youichi over Sawamura’s head that seems to promise that they’ll talk about this later.

*

“Hahaha! Yo Kuramochi! You’re awake, too, huh?” Yamaguchi greets with a loud laugh. “Have you seen the barricade? It’s wild.”

It’s not quite that Youichi has been dodging Tetsu, but he really don’t want to face his captain right now. Former. Right. The third years left the team. And… god, what’s wrong with him? What team?

“Someone’s in a good mood,” Youichi manages out.

Yamaguchi points to the principal’s couch. “Do you see that? I’m pretty sure that’s from the principal’s office. Haha! I wonder what kind of face he’d make if he knew about this!”

“Hey, do you not believe that the world ended?”

From the way Yamaguchi bursts into laughter, Youichi has his answer.

“Don’t tell me you fell for that? Dude, obviously it’s a prank! Zombie apocalypse? No way!”

Youichi uncomfortably clears his throat. “No, it’s not a prank actually. I saw the zombies, too.”

Yamaguchi snorts. “Yeah, that’s not very convincing coming from you.”

“Eh? Why not?”

“You always do whatever Ryo-san says.”

Is that just what everyone thinks of him? That he has no thought of his own? Like some kind of an extra mouthpiece for Ryo? It’s insulting as hell, especially from someone in his own year.

“I really don’t. But I guess the best thing for you will be to see it for yourself. Ask to go with the gardening group tomorrow. You’ll understand.”

*

“Excuse me… Uh…” Okumura hesitates, looking at Youichi with uncertainty.

“Kuramochi,” Youichi fills him in.

Okumura looks relieved at that. “Kuramochi-san, what did you mean during dinner when you said that Eijun can’t pitch?”

“Ah, that’s just an inside joke. At least… it used to be. When he first came to Seidou, he was just a mouthy brat who kept telling everyone he’d be the Ace when he couldn’t even throw 90 meters straight. So we’ve often teased him by reminding him about that. But… during the Summer Tournament, he threw a dead ball and haven’t been able to pitch since.”

“That’s the ability of someone who can’t pitch?” Okumura’s voice is filled with disbelief. Then a small pause later, he shakes his head. “No. This is Seidou, after all. I guess that’s just the level of talent found here.”

Youichi feels like that’s too high of a praise to be given to their team that’s been on the decline for years now. But it does make him curious as to what exactly Sawamura did.

“Hm? He borrowed a baseball and threw it from my room window on the second floor. It hit the car two blocks down and caused the alarms to go off so we can escape. It was really impressive.”

“That’s nothing impressive,” Youichi says, waving his hand in the air. “Anyone can do that.”

Okumura looks annoyed for some reason, but it doesn’t seem to be directed at Youichi. It looks more like he’s annoyed at himself. Youichi wonders why.

“It’s probably for the best that you don’t really bring up baseball or pitching around him. Don’t want to rub salt on his wounds,” Youichi tells him.

Although Okumura looks upset by those words, he nods. “Okay.”

Despite looking like an angry little wolf, he’s surprisingly quite amiable. No wonder Sawamura called him "Wolf-Boy."

*

“Kuramochi.”

At the very least, Tetsu doesn’t sound angry, which is all really Youichi can ask for at this point.

“T-Tetsu-san,” he says nervously.

“I’m not here to scold you. Relax.”

But the deep set frown on Tetsu’s face doesn’t budge. Youichi wonders if Tetsu even realizes how terrifying he looks right now.

“I will really appreciate it if you don’t mention anything about the yips near Eijun. He’s doing his best to keep the mood lively for everyone.”

That’s right. Sawamura has been keeping things lively, hasn’t he? But Youichi assumed that was because Sawamura is rather stupid and has zero sense when it comes to reading the mood. With how close Tetsu seems to have gotten to Sawamura, Youichi suspects the former captain is giving too much credit where credit isn’t due.

“Yeah, I didn’t mean to say that to him. But I’ll keep that in mind.”

Tetsu nods, looking relieved.

“But Tetsu-san, aren’t you spoiling him too much?”

Youichi doesn’t know how to describe the emotion on Tetsu’s face. He doesn’t think it’s anger or annoyance. Nor does it seem like self-loathing or malice. It’s something dark. Of that, Youichi is sure of. He just can’t put his finger on it.

“When the world ended, I was nowhere near Seidou,” Tetsu manages out evenly. “At that time, who do you think took care of everyone?”

“The adults.”

Tetsu gives him a weak smile. “Adults, huh?”

There’s something more here that isn’t being said. But Youichi is a coward. He doesn’t push for more information.

*

The next few days are a flurry of people waking up.

Instead of using Youichi as an extra eye for the guard shift or as an extra runner for the gardeners, he finds himself taking care of those who just woke up and filling them in on the state of the world. He’s doubtful that any of them actually believe him. But they humor him anyways.

They’re going to be in for a nasty surprise when they leave for the safe zone.

Because no matter what Ryo says, they have to go.

The scavenging group returns with thinner and thinner bags each day. Every couple days, they go further than usual in hopes of finding something. But more often than not, Youichi feels like they return looking more disappointed and annoyed at themselves.

“Isn’t it stupid that you guys are the only ones going out?” Miyuki points out.

Despite the easy going smile on his face, it’s clear that he’s annoyed. He, likes the others who just woke up, wants to see what happened to the world for themselves.

Youichi thinks he understands where they’re coming from. If he hadn’t gone to the gardens and ran into that zombie himself, he also would be in the same train of thought. On top of that, the dorm area that’s been deemed safe is tiny, especially with this many people around.

“Aniki, I don’t understand why you’re caging us in here,” Haruichi voices.

And if there’s one person that Youichi thought would be able to change Ryo’s mind, it would have to be Haruichi. But Ryo is being stupidly stubborn to the point that even Youichi is getting sick of it.

“The sick should stay silent,” Ryo says simply.

No explanations. No reasoning. Just cold words with an equally cold smile. Youichi doesn’t understand why Ryo is forcibly turning himself into a villain like this.

And in the midst of this building friction, the scavenging group returns with three extra mouths to feed.

*

“Wow. You guys look like you’re doing great!”

Sanada Shunpei of Yakushi laughs brightly when he sees the group. Todoroki Raichi stays just a step behind him, half looking like he doesn’t trust any of them and other half looking curious about them. But the one that Youichi is having a hard time figuring out why he’s here is one Amahisa Kousei of Ichidai. Amahisa looks at all of them with an amused smile like he’s secretly laughing at them.

It kinda pisses Youichi off.

“Last time I was here, the barricade wasn’t that high. And of course, majority of you guys were asleep,” Sanada sniggers. Then a little more loudly, he adds, “You’ve worked hard, Eijun.”

At the sound of his name, Sawamura’s head snaps up. “Huh? What?”

The look in Sanada’s eyes are soft as he ruffles Sawamura’s hair.

  

 

Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Oh fuck.

What the hell? What the actual hell? This had to be a joke. A terrible, horrible joke that he was the butt of. He didn’t mind being the butt of a joke, if it was a good one. But this? This was just…

They were eating each other.

With gleeful looks on their faces like they never had anything more delicious, they dug in. It didn’t matter that there was clothing in the way or that their teeth shouldn’t be able to bite through the bone. They just bit down and tore back, a sickening wet ripping sound filling the air followed quickly by seemingly never ending screams.

The smell triggered Shunpei’s gag reflex. The sound made him want to stop the world. This couldn’t be real. It just couldn’t be happening. Wasn’t this a scene straight out from a horror movie? Why was it happening in real life before him? It just made no sense.

“Stay away!”

Instead of going for someone like Shunpei who just stood there, the zombies rushed for those who screamed instead. Was this a sign? Did that mean he had to survive? But why? Why did he have to survive when his classmates were getting torn into pieces?

He stumbled out into the hallway, making sure to keep quiet. He didn’t really have to worry, though. Frightened students and teachers alike screamed, giving Shunpei another chance to leave. As long as he kept to this, he was going to be fine. He just had to sacrifice everyone else…

His stomach felt sick. Was it really worth living?

At the end of this, would he really be okay with being alive?

He didn’t know why, but his legs took him to the first years’ classrooms. No, that wasn’t right. He thought of Raichi. That was why he came here. Because Raichi was the type to get swept up by this. Because surely, Raichi was curled up somewhere, eyes wide and scared. He was probably waiting for someone to come and save him.

So Shunpei naturally went.

Because if guilt prevented him from living, all he had to do was give himself a reason to live. If he was protecting someone innocent, then clearly he couldn't die. See? Sanada Shunpei was nothing but scum. That was probably why he got along with Raizou so well.

He wondered why he felt so shocked at the sight of Raichi swinging. Of course, Raichi was swinging. That was his default when he didn’t know what to do.

Raichi’s bat made contact with a zombie’s head, snapping it back. Without pausing for break, Raichi continued to swing. He allowed no one to come close. A ferocity quite like a storm, Shunpei thought. Looks like Raichi didn't need help. Shunpei tried to make Raichi his reason to keep living, but it turned out that he was going to just have to swallow his guilt. Because Raichi could survive just fine without him. 

And instead, he was going to rely on Raichi for protection.

God, what a horrible upperclassman.

“Raichi,” Shunpei called out.

Bad idea.

The zombies immediately turned towards him and began to walk toward him. But Raichi was faster. He swung his bats faster than they could move towards Shunpei. And with a grin like this was just another baseball practice, he turned to Shunpei.

“I’m glad you’re okay! Everyone’s acting really weirdly.”

And yeah. Shunpei needed this, alright. He needed someone to make this normal. He needed someone to make him feel like he wasn’t alone. And who better but Raichi, the social recluse who didn’t understand?

The next few days were a blur. All Shunpei knew was that the two of them made their way through the city. He thought they might have met other survivors, but none of them were able to keep up with Raichi’s and Shunpei’s relentless pace to find something.

Find what, you ask?

Shunpei didn’t know.

But he thought that it had to exist. Something… that was out there. He didn’t know how to describe it other than that.

And one day, they were cornered in a blocked alleyway with the zombies coming at them. Raichi swung wildly as he always did, but they wouldn’t stop. It seemed that, once again, this would be the end. Shunpei was prepared to make peace with the world.

When they heard crowing.

The zombies immediately went for the sound. They left Raichi and Shunpei alone. The two of them took that chance to run and hide. And when things seemed to settle down, they found him.

The one who crowed. The one who lifted his catcher’s mask with a tired grin and said, “Yo.”

“Sawamura!”

Since the apocalypse started, Raichi hadn’t grinned like that.

Here, Shunpei thought. It wasn’t what he was looking for (what was he even looking for?) but if all else failed, they could rest here.

If all else failed, Raichi would be happy here.

 

 

“Eijun, you didn’t mention you met these guys before,” Ryo says, voice sharp.

“Oh, I didn’t?” Sawamura looks honestly shocked.

“It probably slipped his mind,” Tetsu says. “Let’s talk over food.”

“Eh? We’re going to eat while smelling like bleach?” Amahisa complains. 

What rotten luck. Of all people, Amahisa is the one that Youichi agrees with? 

Todoroki shrugs. “Food is food. Let’s eat first!”

*

While everyone is heading towards the cafeteria, Sanada pulls Sawamura to the side. Youichi gets a bad feeling about this. He follows them to behind the dorm. It looks like Sanada is showing Sawamura something on his arm and… Wait a minute. Doesn’t that mean?

“… only one I can ask. Please, kill me.”

Youichi moves before it registers. He grabs Sanada by the front of his shirt. Just for a second, his eyes catch sight of the nasty wound on Sanada’s arm. This stupid asshole, did he really-

“If you’re infected, why the hell did you come here? Die by yourself. Don’t drag the rest of us down with you!”

A hand on Youichi’s shoulder reminds him to calm down. Tetsu meets eyes with him and gives him a firm squeeze on the shoulder as if to say that Tetsu agrees. Masashi experimentally swings the bat in his hand before glaring at Sanada. A few steps behind is Ryo who is leading both Todoroki and Amahisa towards them.

“Shun-senpai, you…” Todoroki doesn’t seem to know how to finish saying that. He just looks down at the ground, fists clenching at his sides.

“I liked you guys better when you were sleeping,” Sanada tells them.

*

They tied Sanada down on a chair in the room with the bloodstain on the door.

Sawamura stands in front of him, Tetsu and Masashi by his sides. Todoroki stands a little to the left of them, staring at Sanada with a hooded expression. Ryo stands by the door, clutching tightly to the bat that he found. Youichi feels like this might be overkill, but he’s there armed, too. Amahisa stands in the other corner, eating a granola bar.

“I was bit right before we climbed the barricade,” Sanada says. “I don’t know when I’ll change. I… would really appreciate it if you just offed me before I did, you know?”

“What if you don’t change?” Sawamura asks.

Sanada scoffs. “Don’t cling onto false hope like that.”

“There was a guy who changed suddenly despite never having had any contact with zombies outside,” Ryo informs them. “It’s possible that the bite doesn’t change you.”

Amahisa’s head snaps up. With his mouth full of food, he says something that no one can understand. He takes a quick moment to swallow and when he’s ready, he speaks up.

“What do you mean that the bite doesn’t change you?”

“We don’t know if it does or not. So this is actually a good chance for us to find out.”

“So it’s possible that it might change you, right?” Amahisa’s voice is tinged with desperation.

“That’s what we’re trying to find out.”

Amahisa nods slowly. There’s a dark look in his eyes that Youichi suspects he knows why. He doesn’t continue eating his granola bar.

 

  

A trip to the beach.

The third years wanted to go, since they lost the right to go to Koshien. And since Kousei promised he was going to return to baseball anyways, he figured he deserved a little break before baseball consumed his life again.

Some of the guys suddenly caught a nasty bug on the day of. But since they had the tickets already bought, they went ahead and invited others, too. Tanba Koichiro of Seidou came along with them. Kousei’s girlfriend and her friends, too.

On the beach while crying about their loss at Koshien, the world ended.

When Kousei turned his back on the world of baseball, he goofed around with his girlfriend and her friends. They watched bunch of horror movies because he liked how his girlfriend clung to him when things got scary. So he knew how this played out.

Zombie apocalypse?

No problem.

If someone was bit, you killed them. You couldn’t let any emotions cloud your judgement, because that was how everyone ended up dying. Headshot was the best way to kill zombies. But since this was vacation, Kousei or any of the other kids didn’t bring their baseball equipment.

So Kousei got smart.

He picked up a beach umbrella and used that to fight. The weight made it hard to maneuver, but the impact was delightful. He imagined that if he wasn’t such a genius who kept in shape, he wouldn’t have been able to help lead the group to safety.

From there, it was all about using common sense and remembering the horror movies.

They kept an ear on the radio in case there was a broadcast about a safe zone. They made makeshift weapons to fight with, and they scavenged for food. They didn’t have one place that they called their own. You mustn’t settle down, just in case that attachment ended up killing you. It was far easier to continuously move, looking for supplies as they did so.

It wasn’t the vacation Kousei thought he was going to get, but it was pretty fun over all.

… “Fun.”

It wasn’t.

It really wasn’t.

“I-it was just a nick! D-don’t! Kousei, don’t!”

But if you had a bite, then you had to die. That was the basic foundation of every zombie movie. The one person who tried to hide it always ended up causing trouble for everyone else. Following horror movie logic hadn’t been wrong thus far. Therefore, this was the correct thing to do.

No matter how much people protested and complained, Kousei had to keep everyone alive. And if they couldn’t do something as simple as killing themselves after being bit, then Kousei would just be a saint and do it for them.

One day, the radio buzzed to life with a broadcast about a safe zone.

They immediately set course for it without questioning anything. The safe zone was located in a hospital near the Koshien stadium. From the town they were at, they were looking at a minimum of two weeks’ worth of travel.

They were stupidly optimistic. In their travels, they talked of what they might find.

Running water. Electricity. Warm food. Things that used to be the norm that seemed like such luxury now.

Clinging onto hope, they braved zombie hordes. Clinging onto hope, they forced themselves to keep moving. Clinging onto hope…

By the time he ran into Sanada and Todoroki, it was just Kousei left.

 

 

“Raichi, why don’t you get some food first? This might take some time,” Sanada offers with a forced smile.

Todoroki shakes his head. He doesn’t say what’s wrong, but Youichi can see the tears starting to gather in his eyes. Does Sanada really not understand how this kid must feel?

Tetsu squeeze’s Sawamura’s shoulder. “You and Masashi get something to eat.”

Sawamura wordlessly shakes his head. He keeps his eyes glued on Sanada, watching carefully for any sign of change.

“Aniki, I’ll go bring food for us,” Masashi says instead.

“Thanks.”

Would it be bad to ask Masashi to grab something for Youichi too? Should he just leave to grab food, too? It’s really tense in here, and he’s starting to get hungry. Not to mention the other guys are probably really curious as to what’s happening in here. They should probably keep them informed. Open communications and all that. It’s not because Youichi doesn’t like this uncomfortable silence, okay?

A knock on the door catches their attention.

Miyauchi and Nori are there, carrying a small tray of food for the people gathered in the room.

“It’s not much,” Nori says. “But I didn’t want you guys to go hungry.”

Bless Nori.

Youichi grins and slaps Nori’s back. “You’re the best, man!”

Nori grins back, making Youichi feel a little like they’re back to normal.

The tense silence returns once Nori and Miyauchi leaves, though. And it seems that Amahisa is just as bad with this silence as Youichi is, because he lets out a loud groan.

“This is boring! C’mon, let’s play a game while we eat.”

The others give him wary looks, but no one answers him.

“Yo Seidou kids,” Amahisa says, pointing at Tetsu. “How long did it take to set this place up? Is it really possible to put up that kind of a massive barricade in the middle of the crazy zombie apocalypse happening right outside?”

Everyone turns to Sawamura. Seeing that, Amahisa’s eyes follow.

“Oh, don’t tell me this kid did it by himself? Let’s see… You’re…?”

“Sawamura Eijun. First year, so I’m not surprised you don’t know me,” Sawamura says with a tight smile.

It’s the first time he’s finally looked away from Sanada, Youichi notes. He doesn’t know if that’s a good thing or not.

“Yeah. Sorry. After the Spring, i quit baseball. But after watching these two wreck my teammates,” Amahisa motions at Todoroki and Sanada, “I decided to come back. Haha. It’s funny how life turns out, eh?”

“I didn’t put up the barricade by myself,” Sawamura tells him. “I received a lot of help.”

 

 

Takashima grabbed Eijun by the shoulders, pressing her finger to her lips as she did so.

Without any explanations, she dragged him away from the chaos of screams and sheer destruction. He had a hard time registering anything. Eating? Were those guys tearing into each other like this was some kind of a… a… Eijun didn't know. He didn't have the vocabulary to describe the situation in the school right now.

Takashima pointed back to the dorm.

"We need a safe place. Do you understand?"

Eijun didn't. He couldn't register anything. Not the violence happening all around the school courtyard. Not Takashima's words. Not-

The slap snapped him out of it. There was a forced smile on Takashima's face.

"I know. It's a lot to take in. But we need to save as many people as we can. Do you understand?"

Eijun nodded numbly.

"Good. Go to the dorm. Secure it."

What did that mean? How did one go about securing the dorm?

When Eijun got there, he was greeted with the baseball team staff. They had begun to pile up machinery outside, trying to build some kind of a barricade. In the screams and chaos of people eating each other, they were focused on this. Just this. Save those who were sick in bed. That was their goal.

Save as many people as they could.

"Sawamura-kun, get to some place safe!" they told him.

Safe?

Go somewhere else while they worked? Sit on his ass while these people risked their lives? Continue on to blankly stare at the world just because he was "in shock" so he couldn't do anything?

He was a Sawamura, damn it.

He slapped his cheeks and grabbed a bat. While they worked on putting up a barricade, Eijun fought to keep the zombies off their backs. From that, he learned that he could lure the zombies away with the sound of crowing. But it wasn't enough. He wasn't enough. He couldn't save these people who worked so hard to create a barricade to save them.

No matter how he swung his bat, it wasn't enough. No matter how hard he fought, he wasn't enough. And wasn't that just fitting? He was the reason why they lost their ticket to Koshien. And now he was the reason why all these people were dying. Why the hell did he even bother? He should just give up now. He should just-

Takashima returned later with her car. They pulled out more furniture she brought back with her car. Then they piled everything on top of the car, using it as a foundation.

The look on Kataoka's face was grim. But he managed a small smile when he saw Eijun. He ruffled Eijun's hair.

"You did well."

Kataoka never told Eijun to stand down, to find a safe place to hide. He walked and Eijun followed. They fought. They swung their bats and tried to clean the place the best they could. And one by one (and sometimes handful of people at a time), they lost other people. Some due to being torn apart by zombies when Kataoka or Eijun wasn't fast enough to save them. Some due to just sheer exhaustion. And others just disappeared from sight after being bit. Eijun didn't have to be explicitly told to know what they decided to do.

And by the end of the third day, there was a makeshift barricade around the dorms that kept out the zombies and just the two of them left.

Kataoka held his bloodied arm with a look on his face that seemed to scream of regret and anger.

"Eijun," Kataoka said, his voice low. "The rest, I'm leaving to you. Take care of them."

"Don't go," Eijun begged.

But Kataoka shook his head. He did not force a smile. He just walked away and…

And then there was just Eijun. 

 

 

Ryo leans in. From the way even Tetsu and Masashi seem just as raptured, Youichi realized that this damned first year never told anyone about this.

“Help? But even with help, is it really possible to build something to this effect in that short time? It’s been… How long has it been since the zombies?”

“About a month or so,” Ryo answers.

Amahisa makes a face. “It’s already been a month? But yeah, that outside? You can’t do that in a month. Not with the zombies. You must have been under attack a lot, no?”

“… on fire…”

“What was that?”

Although Amahisa is loud and a little obnoxious, Youichi has to admit that he’s quite effective in getting Sawamura to admit everything.

“A lot of people died to build it. And later, when there wasn't much people left… The gym… He set it on fire. The fire alarm went off, so the zombies all went there.”

Amahisa whistles. “Now there’s a thought. Distract them while you build a fort. I didn’t even consider something like that. As always, you guys are smart and ruthless. But couldn’t you have just set off the alarm without setting it on fire?”

There’s a haunted look in Sawamura’s eyes.

“He… was bit. I didn’t think to question… He set the gym on fire with him inside. Why… didn't I question it? Why did I just let them all kill themselves?”

Tetsu’s eyes widen in realization at the same time Ryo lets out a shaky, “Oh.”

Youichi doesn’t know what they realized. And from the curious look both Amahisa and Masashi have, he knows he isn’t alone. Who is this “he” that Sawamura is talking about? Tetsu said he wasn’t around when the zombie apocalypse first started. It can’t be any of the sick kids, since they were down and out. It’s not Ryo, since he’s standing right there. So it must be…

“Kataoka Kantoku?” Youichi guesses.

Sawamura flinches as if he’s been struck.

Bingo.

Amahisa looks impressed. “Your Kantoku did all that for you guys? Damn. Aren’t you guys well-loved?”

“More loved than us Yakushi,” Todoroki grumbles. “My dad ran.”

“We don’t know that for sure,” Sanada says.

But Todoroki stubbornly shakes his head. “He ran. That’s what he always does. When things go bad, he abandons everyone and everything and runs. As long as he’s alive, who cares?”

“Raichi, you’re too harsh on your dad.”

“If you don’t change through the bite, then…” Sawamura falters.

Masashi puts his arms around Sawamura from the back, resting his head against Sawamura’s shoulder. If he said anything, Youichi doesn’t hear it. But it seems to comfort the first year anyhow.

“I killed majority of the people in my group,” Amahisa admits. “They were bit. I assumed that the horror movie logic applied, so I killed all of them. Don’t worry, Sawamura. You’re not the only one with blood on your hands.”

Sawamura nods. And after a second of hesitation, he turns towards Masashi and buries his face against Masashi’s chest. Masashi holds him tightly and Tetsu gently pats Sawamura’s head.

They pretend they can’t hear Sawamura crying.

*

Sawamura must have fallen asleep like that.

Masashi lifts Sawamura in his arms like he’s light. Then he settles with his back against the wall and Sawamura asleep in his arms. Tetsu gives them a small nod of approval and takes the position Sawamura had at guarding Sanada.

Youichi finds it a little ridiculous.

Sanada is tied up. Even if he changes, he can’t get far. There’s no need to watch this dedicatedly, is there?

“Kuramochi, make sure to eat,” Ryo reminds him.

“Y-yeah. Thanks.”

*

“Do you think the safe zone exists?” Amahisa asks after few more minutes of silence.

Youichi is starting to think that this guy just hates silence.

“No,” Ryo says firmly.

Everyone turns to him surprised.

“That’s… uh… really certain,” Amahisa says.

Ryo nods. “Yeah. There’s no safe zone.”

“You’ve got more than just your words to back you up?” Sanada asks.

Youichi doesn’t miss that Ryo’s eyes flicker to where Sawamura is sleeping first. With a soft sigh, Ryo tells them.

“We have a guy named Nabe who’s been working on trying to get in contact with the ones making the broadcast about the safe zone. Few days after I woke up, Nabe got in contact with them through morse code. While they were broadcasting about the safe zone, they replied with ‘T-R-A-P.’ When we tried again later, there was no response.”

Todoroki whispers quietly to Sanada, “What’s ‘T-R-A-P?’”

“Trap, Raichi.”

“Why did you never mentioned this before?” Tetsu demands to Ryo.

Ryo makes a small motion at Sawamura, making Masashi tense. “He’d lose hope.”

“He’s not that weak. Don’t decide by yourself and keep secrets from him.”

“That’s hilarious coming from you. Did you think we didn’t realize that the reason why you only take Masashi and Sawamura for scavenging sessions is so you three can run away without any baggage like the rest of us?”

Masashi's head snaps towards his older brother in shock. The guilty look on Tetsu’s face speaks volume. 

Youichi always believed that Tetsu was an honorable man who could do no wrong. He’s starting to realize that there really isn’t such a perfect man in the world.

“Pffft! Hahahaha! What the hell? Were you guys always this much of a mess?” Sanada’s laughter at least cuts the tension in the room. He probably did that on purpose. Youichi is secretly grateful, because he doesn’t know what he should’ve done to calm them down.

Sawamura stirs at the loud laughter. He yawns and rubs his eyes, looking at them tiredly.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”

“Eijun, there’s no safe zone,” Tetsu blurts out.

Sawamura seems to take a second to take that in. He nods slowly. “O-okay. There’s no…” Then it must have sunk in, because he pushes himself out of Masashi’s arms to look at them. “There’s no safe zone? We know this for a fact?”

“Ryo here conveniently forgot to tell everyone about it.”

So even Tetsu can be petty. Youichi is learning quite a lot about his former captain.

“Oh, that’s rich. Eijun, did you even realize what Tetsu has been doing? The reason why you’re always included in the scavenging group? It’s so that the three of you can run off!”

Sawamura holds up his hands. “W-w-wait. This is a lot of information… I just… What?”

An urgent knock on the door stops their conversation. Sawamura sighs.

“We’ll talk about this,” he tells them. Then he motions at the door. “Let him in.”

Nabe holds a portable radio in his hand that he desperately plays for them when they open the door.

“They found a cure,” Nabe says, a slightly crazed look in his eyes. “They said they have a cure.”

Quietly, they gather around the radio to listen in. The broadcast is vague. They mention that there’s a cure but doesn’t really talk about how someone turns into a zombie or why. They also don’t say anything on how the cure works or who it would work on. Did it turn the zombies back into humans with this? Or was it to prevent a human from turning into a zombie? Why wouldn’t they share the important information?

“This is a trap,” Amahisa says even before the broadcast finishes.

Nabe waits until it finishes before switching it off. “It’s been repeating that for the past few minutes. I think they’re just going to have that on loop from now on.”

“The information in it is too sparse. It’s clearly a trap,” Youichi agrees.

“But what if it really is a cure?” Todoroki asks hesitantly. He eyes Sanada. “If there’s even just a slim chance-”

“Shunpei’s not going to turn.”

Sawamura’s certainty in those words are a little unnerving to say the least.

“What makes you say that?” Ryo asks lightly.

“If he was going to turn, he would have done so by now. At this point, we’re just being cruel to him by keeping him tied up.”

Amahisa raises a brow. “How can you be so sure?”

“Because when the world ended, there was suddenly a lot of zombies. They couldn’t have taken this long to transform. Not to mention, there wouldn’t have been a sudden mass of zombies if it spread through bites. That’s too slow.”

“But if they do bite into an artery, you’d die,” Masashi adds.

Sawamura nods. “Yes. But you won't turn.”

“Then what do you suggest is the reason why people turn?” Amahisa asks, looking annoyed.

“Sanada, did you catch the bug? The one that went around when the world ended, I mean,” Ryo asks suddenly.

Youichi doesn’t like what that implies. He turns to Ryo, who is not smiling. It’s not a joke. Ryo seriously, honestly believes that-

“No. I haven’t.” Sanada pauses, thinking about something. “The guy you said suddenly changed, did he…?”

Ryo nods. “He didn’t wake up from his fever. We weren’t there to see the whole process, though. So I can’t tell you more than that.”

“But Okumura-kun’s mom-”

Whatever Sawamura is about to say, Youichi counters.

“She didn’t say it explicitly. But her handwriting becomes shaky in her later notes. She also noted that her vision was swimming and she seems to be sweating a lot more. I think she did have a fever that she didn’t realize. The dog had nothing to do with it."

“So it’s not the bite, but a bug?” Amahisa concludes slowly.

“That can’t be it. Nearly everyone here from Seidou had it, but we’re not all zombies,” Nabe points out.

“You have to die.”

Ryo’s smile has returned to his face, but this time in the form of disgusted respect.

“That’s the only thing I can think of. If you had the fever and you died, you end up becoming a zombie.”

“That’s even more ridiculous! You’re suggesting that bunch of people died all at once at the start of the apocalypse!” Amahisa growls.

“It’s only as ridiculous as everyone catching a fever all at once. Or as ridiculous as the dead walking,” Nabe says.

Amahisa doesn’t seem to have an argument against that.

“So the question now becomes the cure,” Sanada says. It seems that while they were talking, Sawamura and Todoroki have untied him. Sanada rubs his wrists, trying to get feeling back.

“If they’re broadcasting something like that, then either they did find a cure or it is, as you guys said, a trap. Either way, anyone who survived thus far might be heading that direction,” Sawamura says.

“Oho? Didn’t think you can be smart,” Youichi snarks.

Sawamura gives him a dirty look. But the twin looks of anger from Masashi and Tetsu is more than enough to shut Youichi’s mouth.

“I say we go, too.”

“Even though it’s a trap?” Amahisa asks, voice soft this time.

Sawamura nods. “Because it means others will be gathering there. Even if there isn’t a cure and even if it’s a trap, I think that’s worth it.”

There’s a small silence as everyone allows that to sink in. Then…

Amahisa bursts out laughing. “Oh man, you’re a riot! Alright! Sounds good. I’ll come with you.”

“I… wasn’t asking you to come with me,” Sawamura says.

It goes ignored as Amahisa moves to slap him on the back. But before he can make it that far, Masashi steps in, growling lowly in warning. Amahisa laughs brightly and smacks Masashi’s back instead. Masashi rightfully looks confused, but Amahisa just laughs merrily.

This guy, Youichi can’t help but to think, must have been lonely.

“It’s not like we had a destination in mind anyways,” Sanada says with a shrug.

With a shy dip of the head, Todoroki adds, “We’ll come with you.”

“No, I seriously wasn’t asking-”

“We’ll need to pack. Our regular scavenging tools should be enough, but we should at least make sure we have first aid and water,” Tetsu says.

Sawamura sighs. “No one is listening to me!”

Masashi, now free from Amahisa, rushes to hide behind Sawamura. He looks a little like a frightened cat as he glares at Amahisa from his position.

“I’m still against going,” Ryo states firmly.

"Ryo-san, there’s nothing left here.”

Youichi doesn’t like how everyone is looking at him like it’s a surprise for him to publicly disagree with Ryo. But this is something that’s been bothering Youichi for quite a while now.

“Pretty much everyone’s better from the bug. They’ve been asking to go outside anyways, we should let them.”

“W-whoa! We’re all going?” Sawamura exclaims. “T-that’s a lot of people! It’s not going to be safe. It-”

“Ryo-san, if you’re that against it, we can just leave you behind.”

The shocked look on Ryo’s face promises death for Youichi later. But he needs to make his position clear. If Ryo is continuously going to bullhead his way like this, then he can do it by himself. Youichi plans on surviving. Not to mention he’s quite curious as to how the whole safe zone with a cure will play out. He knows what happens in games, but will that logic hold true? They’ve already seen that zombie movie logic of infections spreading through bites isn’t real.

So what about this?

“What’s the point of me being here? No one’s listening,” Sawamura complains. Todoroki pats him to console him, only to get growled away by Masashi.

“If my partner insists, then I suppose I have no choice but to relent.”

Despite the pleasant smile on Ryo’s face, his voice is dipped in venom. Yeah, Youichi’s going to get it later for this.

But for now…

*

“Do you hear yourself? First you tell us that we’ve had a fever for over a month and that in that time, the world ended. Now you’re saying it’s not safe here despite pretty much locking us here and demanding that we stay here because it’s safe?” Miyuki growls, arms crossed in front of his chest.

“I know how it sounds,” Youichi says tiredly. “But that’s just how the situation turned out.”

“Don’t you think this prank has gone long enough? Just drop it and let’s just go back to baseball.”

“And how many times do I have to say that there’s no ‘baseball’ to return to?” Ryo asks, sounding just as tired.

“Aniki, this is really lame,” Haruichi says.

Well, sorry it’s lame. But that’s just what their reality looks like right now.

“You guys want to go see zombies then?” Amahisa asks.

Ryo immediately shoots that down. “Too dangerous.”

“But it’s better than them not even knowing about the apocalypse.” Amahisa shakes his head. “But man. What a nice little cocoon you guys built for yourself. It’s so safe that people in here don’t even know that the world ended. Jeesh, are you sure you want to abandon this place?”

“That’s what I’m saying! We should leave some people behind here-”

Sawamura’s words are shut down by Ryo.

“No. If we’re moving, we’re all going together. Separating is a death sentence. There’s no way to communicate once we separate.”

It’s a sound fear. But Youichi can’t help but to find it exasperating after his talks with Ryo. Why can't he just trust them already?

“We need scouts,” Tetsu counters. “I want at least four teams of three. We’ll rotate who goes out so Sawamura can get some rest.”

Youichi wonders if he should point out that Tetsu just said that last reasoning out loud.

“We’ll also need medical team as well as someone to keep an eye on the supplies. It’ll be bad if someone just makes off with more supplies than they should. So someone partial,” Sanada adds, giving Chris a side-eye. 

That crosses off pretty much everyone here, Youichi thinks humorlessly. If any of the first years make doe-eyes at their upperclassmen, there’s no telling what the first years would be able to get away with. So you need to put someone scary, but everyone already knows Ryo would spoil Haruichi. They can’t ask Tetsu to do this since Tetsu’s already in charge of the scouts. So that leaves…

“Nori-san, I think you’ll be great at that,” Sawamura tells him.

“E-eh? Me?”

Miyauchi nods in agreement. “You’ve done a good job. And if anyone tries to disagree, I’ll back you up.”

Yes, but if Sawamura grins at Nori, can Nori stop himself from giving him an extra helping?

Youichi supposes they’ll find out.

“I’ll stay in charge of the radio,” Nabe says.

No one fights him for that.

“We’ll do last minute gathering and packing. But more importantly, we need to get everyone used to the outside world. It’s not much, but in three day’s time, we’ll leave,” Tetsu tells the rest of them.

And with Tetsu taking the lead like that, no one is able to argue. Even Miyuki shuts his mouth, looking dissatisfied. Youichi feels oddly content with that.

*

Ryo had a hand in this.

Youichi stares at the four groups of three that has been formed. Tetsu is in one group with Kanemaru and Jun. Masashi is with Okumura and Amahisa. Miyauchi, Toujou, and Takatsu are another. And the last group…

“We’re going to lose because you won’t believe that zombies are real!” Sawamura complains.

Miyuki forces a laugh and places his arm around Sawamura’s shoulders. “Is that so? I guess you don’t want me to catch for you ever!”

“What does that have to do with this?!”

It’s Sawamura, Miyuki, and Youichi.

“Why aren’t I part of any group?” Haruichi demands. A flash of his angry eyes can be seen under his bangs.

“I didn’t make the groups,” Youichi tells him.

Haruichi is clearly displeased with this answer. But if he has a problem, he should take it to Ryo.

“But is it okay to separate our scavengers into different teams?” Youichi can’t help but to voice.

“At least this way, each of the group has someone who’s been outside,” Sawamura informs him.

Wait. Can it be? Did Sawamura make these groups? No way. He’s way too stupid to do something like that.

“I wanted to be in a group with you,” Okumura tells Sawamura.

“I can protect you better,” Masashi points out.

“The point isn’t to protect me. The point is to make sure that everyone comes back alive. The best way to do that is this.”

“I suppose asking to put me in wouldn’t be very wise then?” Chris asks softly.

Sawamura freezes. He stammers nervously before he finally manages out, “I’d… feel more encouraged to come back, knowing you’re waiting for me. Not to mention… It’d be a waste of your pretty face, Chris-senpai.”

“Huh? Wait a minute. What about me, Sawamura? Aren’t I too handsome to waste, too?” Miyuki demands, pointing at himself.

The sheepish blush on Sawamura’s face is replaced within seconds by an annoyed scowl. “Why do you think you’re paired up with me? You won’t be in any danger as long as I’m here.”

“Ehhh? How reliable! I’m swooning!” Miyuki teases.

Sawamura’s face flushes red. But Youichi feels uncomfortable.

Because yeah. That’s right. Out of all of them, Sawamura is one of the best at surviving, just because he’s been around for much longer than anyone else. Youichi isn’t sure what he hates more. The fact that Sawamura of all people is one of the best at this or the fact that their first year was forced into that role because everyone else was too sick to properly protect him.

“Enough,” Tetsu tells them. “Today, we’ll be playing a simple game. Sanada and Todoroki have done us a favor and hid four plushies in the school that we must return with. Each group is responsible for bringing one back."

“Don’t forget that goal of this is practice to get used to moving around. Don’t do anything stupid. It’s fine to come back even if you don’t have the plushie,” Ryo adds. He seems to have aimed the last condition to Sawamura, who is too busy yelling at Miyuki to have noticed.

“Eijun,” Chris calls.

Despite how soft his voice is, Sawamura’s head snaps towards him with excited eyes. “Yes, Shishou?”

“Come home safely.”

Sawamura’s eyes are so bright with such simple words. With a matching grin, he yells out, “Ossu! We’ll bring back the plushie as fast as we can!”

*

“The catching gear wasn’t meant for things like this,” MIyuki complains as they make their way to the school.

They ignore him as those used to the situation try to fill everyone else in on the zombies.

“It’s important that you don’t make any unnecessary sounds. They’re attracted to those. Their other senses are pretty dull, though. But don’t put your guard down.”

“Yes, yes. You’ve already said all of this before.”

Just a little, Youichi wishes that Miyuki will just shut up and let people be. There’s no harm in telling them of vital information again. As Miyuki’s voice begin to grate his nerve more and more, he suddenly falls silent. He’s not the only one. Everyone’s eyes are on their tattered school building.

“We’ll separate here,” Tetsu says. He nods to Sawamura and Masashi. “Be on guard. I won’t be there to back you.”

“Right back at you!”

They’re laughing when they say goodbye. But the smiles and good mood fades as they walk  towards the school building, one group at a time. Youichi’s group is last to go. If he remembers the instructions, they’re supposed to walk through the science labs.

The school smells a little more rotten than Youichi remembers. Miyuki takes a step back when the smell hits him with a look of shock. So it still hasn’t set in yet. It probably won’t until he’s fought with one himself. Is it bad that Youichi is looking forward to that? Finally, that smug look on Miyuki’s face will be wiped off as the horror of the situation finally sinks in. That’s what he gets for doubting Youichi and giving him those nasty looks of “You believe in these ‘zombies?’”

Sawamura takes the lead, eyes sweeping around the halls for whatever signs it is that he’s looking for. Miyuki stays just a step behind him. Youichi rounds up the back, trying to watch their backs as Masashi has done. But he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to be on the lookout for. Does he just look around for a zombie?

The first year suddenly stills. He holds up his hand and gives some hand signals that he must normally use with Tetsu and Masashi. Miyuki turns to Youichi as if to ask him what that means. But how the hell is Youichi supposed to know?

“Sawamura, just speak. We already know that they can’t hear us at a conversational level.”

It’s clear that Sawamura didn’t expect any sound. He flinches violently and turns to Youichi and Miyuki with wide eyes of fear.

“They can’t hear us,” Youichi repeats in a soothing voice.

Slowly, Sawamura breaths out. “Sorry,” he whispers with a sheepish smile. “Old habits.”

Old habits? What is he, ex-military? Youichi knows he shouldn’t feel so annoyed by it, but he can’t help it. They were students nearly a month ago. What do you mean they have to act like soldiers?

  

 

He was crying again.

Wasn’t that pathetic?

Everyone sacrificed themselves for the sake of turning the dorm into some place safe, to make sure that at least the people in the dorm could be safe. And here he was, crying.

Leaving people on the ground floor was a mistake. He moved them to the best of his abilities to the second floor. It looked like the zombies at least didn’t understand how to use stairs or the doors. But he wasn’t going to risk it any more than he already did.

With his eyes wet with tears, it was nearly impossible to see what he was hitting or if he was hitting correctly. But in order for the barricade to work, he had to clean out the dorms. He had to make sure there was no zombies in here.

A loud sob broke out of him, making him miss completely. His knees gave out. And he found himself kneeling down on the ground, surrounded by the corpses of those he used to go to school with. Those who used to field for him. Those who ate and trained and lived by his side for the past half a year.

“I’m sorry,” he managed out over the sound of his own sobs. “I’m so sorry.”

But there was no time for this. The longer he took with guaranteeing safety, the more people would die. Did he want to kill everyone else? Wasn't it enough that he killed all the adults who helped put up the barricade? Wasn't it enough that he was so helpless that he allowed his sick teammates to die? Who else did he want to kill on top of that?

They couldn’t care for themselves. They had no choice but to rely on someone as useless as him.

Since he killed everyone, this was the least he could do.

So he had to collect himself. He had to learn to be quiet. He had to learn to stop crying.

He promised Kataoka that he would take care of everyone. He promised Takashima that he'd have a safe place. Kataoka was gone. Takashima was gone. All the other adults who helped were all gone. So it was all up to him to make sure that everyone got better. For that to happen, the most important thing was safety. Reinforce the barricade. Kill whatever zombies that were stuck inside. Then he could figure out how to care for people who had a fever. But see, now he had a list of things to do.

There was no time to waste by crying.

Wiping his eyes furiously, Sawamura Eijun stood back up.

 

 

“I’m going to check out this lab. Can you two keep guard here?”

Keep guard, Youichi thinks bitterly. Why bother hiding it like that, Sawamura? Just say it. They’re going to be protected by their first year.

“Y-yeah. Go ahead,” Miyuki says.

Sawamura nods and walks in. The door has been ripped from its hinges. Youichi doesn’t know if that was done by their group or from the desperation of the initial outbreak. They watch as Sawamura climbs on top of a desk and scans the room. He must have spotted something, because he jumps from table to table (surprisingly softly, too. Youichi suspects this kid has done something like this multiple times before) to look at it.

Miyuki breaths out slowly. “Jeesh, this is-”

It’s his fault, right?

Sawamura told them to keep watch and Youichi didn’t. So it’s his fault that this happened.

His mouth drops open at the sight of the zombie, but he has just enough control to not shout out. It doesn’t look like the zombie noticed them so-

“What the fuck?!”

It’s only when the zombie’s sightless eyes lock onto them that Miyuki seems to have realized his error. He covers his mouth, but it’s far too late.

Bat. He needs to swing. He needs to do something.

The zombie rushes at them with surprising nimbleness for someone with a visible twist in its knee. Youichi just manages to tighten his grip on his bat when-

A bat flies out of the lab and smashes into the zombie’s head. It stops the zombie momentarily, but that second is enough for Sawamura to rush out of the lab. With golden eyes of fury that seems more like molten lava, Sawamura run at the zombie without any weapon. The zombie snarls but Sawamura’s silent. He dips down and picks up his dropped bat before swinging it full force at the zombie.

From there, it’s easy.

Sawamura just keeps swinging the bat until the zombie stops moving for good.

The stench of rotting flesh fill the air. The bat makes an ugly, wet squishing sound as it collides against what used to be muscle. The blood isn’t even red anymore. It’s black as it splatters on the ground, on the bat, on Sawamura.

Youichi hears the sound of Miyuki puking, but he can’t look to check. This gruesome scene before him is now their reality. It’s what they must face every day once they leave the safety of the barricade around their dorm.

“Sorry,” Sawamura tells them as he rushes back to them in worry. “I took too long.”

No.

No, damn it.

This isn’t anything on Sawamura. This is because Youichi didn’t pay attention. This is because neither Youichi nor Miyuki were prepared. This is because-

“No. I’m sorry,” Miyuki says. His voice is raw, and he can’t seem to stop trembling. “I… I shouldn’t have doubted you.”

Although Youichi had been looking forward to seeing Miyuki’s composure break, he realizes that it actually doesn’t give him any glee.

“Sorry, Sawamura,”  Youichi adds. “I should’ve been more alert.”

“You guys are okay?” Sawamura asks hesitantly.

“You moved fast. We’re both fine,” Youichi assures him.

Sawamura brightens like he didn’t just bash in a zombie’s head. “This lab is safe. I don’t remember seeing the plushie, but I didn’t look all the closely.”

“We’ll give it another look.”

*

The plushie is definitely not in here. But this short break seems to be just what they needed to calm down.

“And you’ve been doing things like that alone?” Miyuki asks Sawamura quietly when he thinks Youichi isn’t listening.

“Eh? No way! I can’t do that alone. Usually, I play the distraction role. Masashi takes care of big group slugfests, and Tetsu sweeps. We’ve never failed!”

Yes, Sawamura. If you did, you wouldn’t be here.

“There’s nothing here,” Youichi announces. “Let’s check the next lab.”

*

Once again, Sawamura tells them to stand outside to guard. This time, both Miyuki and Youichi make sure to stay alert.

“… It really is real.”

Youichi glances at Miyuki before directing his attention away. “Yeah. It is.”

“It doesn’t feel real.”

“No, it really doesn’t.”

There’s a small pause of silence. Then…

“Do you think Sawamura still wants to pitch?”

“Now is really not the time.”

*

They don’t encounter any more zombies after the initial shock. Youichi recalls that the school for the most part is pretty clean except for occasional zombies. He thought that Miyuki would start saying something about how the one zombie that they met could be fake, especially since they didn’t see anything else. But he doesn’t, so Youichi doesn’t needle.

The only other worrisome thing that happens is that they hear a loud scream echo down the hall while searching through the third lab.

Sawamura immediately runs to the door, bat ready, but he hesitates from rushing out. Instead, he turns around slowly and looks at Youichi and Miyuki.

He wants to go, Youichi thinks. Sawamura wants to run there to see if he can offer any help. But he looks to the two of them, probably in worry that they won’t be able to survive if he leaves.

The correct thing to do will be to tell Sawamura to go. The correct thing to do will be to save as many people as they can.

But Youichi is a coward.

And it turns out that Miyuki is the same.

“Don’t go,” they say at the same time.

Sawamura closes his eyes for a second as if he's pained by something. When he opens them again, it’s with a sweet smile as he walks back to them.

“I won’t.”

*

The find the plushie in the fourth lab they check. It’s a pink bunny in the cabinet with broken bleakers. But they have it, so they head back.

*

Youichi is proud to say that they’re not the last group to return.

The first group to return is Masashi’s. Apparently, they refused to get looked over by the medical team and instead waited for Youichi’s group to come back. By that, Youichi really means that they waited for Sawamura.

“Any injuries?” Masashi asks.

Sawamura twirls in front of him and bows extravagantly with a laugh. “It was just the school, Masashi! And you? No injuries?”

“None.”

Then the two of them stand close as they wait for (Youichi assumes) Tetsu. They converse lowly to one another, possibly detailing exactly what happened.

“Aren’t they close?” Miyuki mumbles, motioning at the two of them.

“They and Tetsu-san pretty much have been keeping this place floating,” Youichi tells him.

Miyuki looks like he has a lot more questions, but he doesn’t ask. He just quietly walks up to Chris and the other kids meant to be their medical squad for a check up.

Miyauchi’s group returns soon after. Takatsu hands the small purple bear to Sawamura with a small smile on his face.

“We’re back.”

“Welcome back.”

Youichi adds Takatsu to the list of people who are most likely to give Sawamura extra helping of food.

They wait and they wait, and finally after another hour, Tetsu’s group returns. Jun has a limp and is leaning heavily on Kanemaru, whose face is pale. Tetsu’s bat is covered in the black blood of a zombie, and Youichi feels like he can already envision what went down without having been there.

Immediately, Masashi and Sawamura runs to Tetsu’s side. Youichi doesn’t know if they exchanged any words. But it also looked like they were having a private moment, so he looks away.

“It just startled me. I didn’t get bit or anything,” Jun tells the medical group with an embarrassed scowl.

Youichi wonders if that was the scream they heard.

“You alright?” Haruichi asks Kanemaru.

Kanemaru nods wordlessly. He opens his mouth as if he wants to say something, but then violently closes it shut. Youichi figures he’s holding back needing to puke. As if understanding that, Toujou gently rubs his friend’s back and pulls him to the side.

“We were unlucky. There were five of them. Tetsu said… Tetsu said that’s not usual,” Jun grumbles.

Five? That does sound like a lot.

“But at least we got this.” Jun presents a small dog plushie to Ryo. “We’re good now, right?”

*

“This barricade was a good idea. But it’s kind of a problem. You might’ve protected a little too well.”

Youichi overhears Sanada say to Sawamura.

Protected too well, huh? That’s probably a fair assertion.

“I… didn’t know what else to do. At that time, I was scared out of my mind. No matter what I tried, it felt like everyone kept dying. A way to protect everyone… I became convinced that there wasn’t such a thing.”

“I didn’t say that to criticize you, Eijun,” Sanada says softly.

Sawamura drops his head in his hands. “But you’re right. I made a selfish decision without regarding anyone else. They have every right to hate me. I’ve forced them to become useless. All for what?”

Useless… huh?

It’s none of his business. Whatever they say is their opinion. It has no bearing on him. There’s no need to get involved…

“Oi Sawamura, we’re going into the city tomorrow, aren’t we? What are you doing lazing about here instead of resting up?”

The look on Sanada’s face seems to accuse him of something, but Youichi isn’t here for that. He puts an arm around Sawamura to drag him away.

“W-wait. I wasn’t done talking to-”

“Sawamura,” Youichi says firmly, “you weren’t in the wrong. You decision was correct. Honestly, who the hell do you think we are? We’re your senpais. We’re hella lot stronger than you give credit for.”

Youichi pretends that he doesn’t see the way Sawamura’s eyes water. The way Sawamura dips his head as he desperately tries to wipe his tears.

Yeah, they’re useless right now.

But this time around, they’ll be the ones to protect their first year.

*

The next day, a rather cranky looking Ryo greets the scouting groups.

“Today, you guys are going out to the city. There are few things that we need. Try your best to bring back as much of these things as you can.”

Instead of Jun, Haruichi stands proudly with Tetsu and Kanemaru. Ah, that must be why Ryo looks so cranky. When did these two even talk about that?

“If you encounter any trouble, just come back,” Ryo directs that one at his little brother. Then to the rest of them, he simply says, “Don’t do anything stupid.”

“S-sorry. I wanted to…” Jun falters.

Tetsu nods. “It’s fine. Better now than when we don’t have a reliable safe place. In return, I’ll be leaving the firecrackers to you.”

“Firecrackers?” Youichi asks.

“To be the distraction so we can leave safely,” Sawamura reminds him.

“Ah right. I forgot about that.”

“I… wanted to go scouting, too,” Furuya says softly.

“Don’t be silly, Furuya! If the Ace goes, who will keep the team together?”

Youichi isn’t alone in feeling shocked at Sawamura’s words, right? After all of his bellyaching since the beginning of the year, Sawamura isn’t just… giving up on the Ace position? Well, sure. They can’t exactly play baseball right now. But just giving it up like that is a little-

“So you help with setting the firecrackers, okay?”

It’s probably not a big deal. Sawamura probably just said that without thinking as always.

But just in case, Youichi marks it as something to later talk to Sawamura about.

*

The stench of the rotting corpses doesn’t register until they’re almost off the Seidou grounds.

Youichi stumbles, holding his nose with a groan. “Are you kidding me? Don’t tell me it smells like this everywhere?”

Amahisa laughs. “Nah! This is one of the more disgusting places I’ve been to.”

“Eijun, Masashi, be on your guard,” Tetsu tells them.

What about the rest of them, Tetsu? Should they have their eyes closed the entire time? … Youichi probably shouldn’t sass his former captain in his head too much.

“You’re the only one who messed up last time, Aniki,” Masashi reminds him.

“Being out here is different from being in the school,” Sawamura tells the rest of them. “If you run into trouble, we won’t be able to help each other. Keep that in mind and die alone.”

It’s crueler than what Youichi expected from Sawamura. But he supposes that’s the correct way to behave in a zombie apocalypse. Trying to be a hero or trying to selfishly survive by asking for help will doubtlessly get everyone killed.

“Ossu. Let’s go.”

*

The city is indeed crawling with zombies.

Youichi doesn’t know how, but Sawamura moves nearly silently. As the one who used to be known as the loudmouth brat with no off switch, it’s a little terrifying to watch. He just casually walks in front of zombies, completely unnoticed due to his silence. Then he turns around and motions for Youichi and Miyuki to follow.

Except how the hell are they supposed to move that quietly?

Their only saving grace is that these zombies don’t have that acute of a hearing as they first suspected. Because even though they stumble and falter, they don’t catch the zombies’ attention. Good, Youichi thinks. So this much noise is okay.

Sawamura presses his finger against his lips. Then he motions at the ground of the store they’re going in. There’s broken glass littered everywhere, probably from looters when the apocalypse first began. Are there even things to take in here?

“Sawa-”

The first year covers Miyuki’s mouth with an angry glare. When he’s sure that Miyuki won’t speak again, he slowly lowers his hand. Sawamura makes an angry motion that seems to tell them to stay. Then he walks into the store, moving surprisingly quiet for someone who is moving that fast.

It leaves Miyuki and Youichi to awkwardly wait for his return.

Just a little, Youichi considers talking. But after seeing how Sawamura reacted, he doesn’t feel comfortable doing that.

At least the zombies leave them alone.

In that awkward silence, the two wait for what has to be an hour or so. But Sawamura returns with a small smile and reeking of something rotting. Youichi doesn’t have the courage to ask him how many zombies he killed in there.

Sawamura motions for them to follow him in. They carefully step over the glass and do.

*

“It should be okay to whisper in here,” Sawamura informs them.

“It should be okay to whisper out there, too,” Youichi points out.

Sawamura shakes his head. “I don’t want to catch their attention.”

“‘Their?’” Miyuki asks.

“There’s… couple other surviving groups throughout the city. Some of them are pretty nice and don’t mind trading tips with us. But there’s a few that get really aggressive.”

“How come you never mentioned them before?” Youichi demands.

“I… thought I did? I mean, Onii-san and the others know. I guess I didn’t mention it after you guys woke up?”

Youichi sighs. How convenient. He forgot. Then again, it isn’t like they’ll be able to do anything with this information.

“What are we grabbing here?” he asks instead.

“Winter clothes. Ryo-san said to grab bags if we find any, too,” Miyuki says.

“And anything else that looks important, grab,” Sawamura adds.

Youichi sighs. “What vague orders…”

*

Youichi is proud to say that they didn’t run into any trouble. They returned with six backpacks filled with winter clothings, half-used Clorox wipes, and unopened boxes of tissues.

“It’s not so bad out there,” he finds himself bragging.

“That’s not what you said when you smelled it,” Miyuki teases.

“Are the others not back yet?” Sawamura asks Chris.

Chris shakes his head. “Not yet.”

Sawamura nods. “Okay. Let’s get ourselves cleaned before everyone comes back.”

*

Tetsu’s group returns soon after with three bags bulging with first aid supplies.

“We lost the bag of canned food,” Tetsu reports.

Haruichi looks haunted, but he (and the rest of the group) seems to be okay. As soon as they’re done cleaning themselves with bleach, Tetsu goes to Sawamura’s side, probably to wait for Masashi.

Masashi’s group return about an hour or so later with a wildly laughing Amahisa and scowling Okumura and Masashi. Turns out they had a run in with an aggressive surviving group Sawamura mentioned.

“It’s not someone we’ve met before. I think it’s a new group that just moved in,” Masashi says.

“They threatened to eat us,” Okumura grumbles as his friend Seto held him tight.

“So you couldn’t bring back anything?” Ryo asks.

Youichi thinks that’s kind of cold to ask.

“Just this,” Amahisa says with a grin. He forks over a small bottle of painkillers. From the delighted look on Nori’s face, Youichi understands that this is probably worth just as much as what they brought back.

Masashi dips his head in shame, though. “I’m sorry. I thought we’d be able to get more. But they pushed us back.”

“You came back, so that’s what matters,” is what Sawamura tells him to comfort him.

“Go wash up first.”

Youichi thought that as long as the three of them were together, they’d lose interest in waiting. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. The three of them, even after cleaning up with bleach, stands to wait for the last group.

“We know we can survive just fine,” Sawamura answers when Youichi asks. “But Miyauchi-senpai, Toujou, and Takatsu haven’t really gone further than the school. Maybe we should’ve asked Raichi and Shunpei to watch over them…”

“That would defeat the purpose,” Masashi says. He lightly bumps shoulders with Sawamura as if to calm him with that.

It seems to work because Sawamura deflates with a pout. “I know. It’s just worrying.”

In two hours, the last group returns with two carts filled with pots, buckets, two giant bags of what looks to be off-brand cereal, and a bag filled with hats and scarves. They can’t quite get the carts over the barricade, so they just leave them there and transports the supplies inside the carts.

“We’ll be able to use the carts when we move. We checked to make sure that they don’t creak,” Toujou informs them.

“Jeesh, you guys are showing all of us off. Where did you even find these?”

“The station area was empty,” Takatsu says.

Sawamura’s head snaps up. “The station? Empty? But that’s where the cannibal group used to…” His eyes met with Masashi’s. Masashi just nods solemnly.

“I think the new group wiped them out.”

“Good thing we’re leaving,” Tetsu sighs. “They don’t sound safe to brush against. Are the firecrackers-?”

Jun nods. “Yeah. We set it all up.”

*

The last day is spent packing and planning routes to Koshien.

“To think that we’ll still be aiming for Koshien after the world ends,” Ryo says with a wry smile.

“We’ll never quite escape baseball at this rate, eh?”

Youichi grins at the smile tugging at Ryo’s lips. It’s been a while since Youichi saw Ryo smile like that. At least it looks like Ryo hasn’t lost the ability to smile. In the upcoming days, it’ll probably be harder to smile, so Youichi should treasure these moments.

“One and a half week,” Nabe tells all of them during dinner. “Assuming there’s nothing in our way and we can keep up a good pace, we should be able to arrive at Koshien by then.”

“The scouting groups will rotate in finding the safest possible routes. But we’ll need everyone to be on guard and prepared to fight or run, if it comes down to that,” Tetsu adds.

“Since we’ll need a lot of energy, I made rice for dinner,” Nori says.

Youichi can’t believe how much he missed the taste of hot rice on his tongue.

“Ahhh, this is the best!”

They don’t have much for side dishes. But they have hot rice. There isn’t enough for their typical three bowls a meal. But this is more than they’ve been able to eat before.

Tomorrow will probably end up being much harder than it needs to be. So before that, Youichi is going to eat and rest.

*

They don’t get to rest.

They don’t even get to finish eating.

About ten minutes into dinner, Higusa runs in to the cafeteria to warn them that they’re being attacked.

“Attacked? Zombies?”

Higusa shakes his head. “They’re too smart to be. I think they might be other survivors.”

Immediately, Youichi recalls the group that attacked Masashi’s group. Wonderful. Now they had human enemies. Damn it. He should’ve seen this coming. That’s always a lesson in zombie games, isn’t it?

Humans are always the most frightening creatures. More so than zombies or demons or monsters. It’s always humans that ruin things.

“Grab your packs! We’re leaving!” Tetsu yells. “Ei-”

“I got the firecrackers.”

Tetsu’s eyes are thunderous. It’s clear that he doesn’t want Sawamura to go anywhere else but by his side. But they don’t have that luxury. Tetsu closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. When he opens them, he looks more like the calm leader who led them through the Summer Tournament.

“Let’s go!”

*

It occurs to Youichi belatedly that he and Miyuki should have followed Sawamura. They are, after all, a group together.

But by the time he thinks of that, the school rooftop explodes with a deafening boom. Bright lights flash, colors of every shade mix together, blinding them. It takes few more seconds before his eyesight and hearing return. God. He forgot just how bright firecrackers are.

“Now!” Tetsu yells, snapping them out of their stupor.

The group that set up the firecrackers also set it up to easily push the barricade down. The furniture that must have taken weeks to slowly stack up come tumbling down. But the sound is deafened by the explosions of firecrackers on the roof. Just how many did Sawamura set off?

With the world distracted by the light show, the Seidou kids (and three extras) make their way out of the safety of their barricade and into new horrors.

*

Thinking back on it, Youichi supposes that it’s naïve of them to believe that they will all get out just fine in that chaos.

It’s dark as it is with only light source being from the bright firecrackers. But there’s the other surviving group to worry about. They’re probably really confused by the sudden bright light and sound. And possibly because of that, some of them lash out blindly.

With a yelp, someone by Youichi’s side falls.

Ryo grabs Youichi by the front of his shirt. “Don’t,” he hisses. “Pay attention to where you are and where we’re going. You have no room to care about others.”

He knows that.

He thinks he knows that.

But it’s harder to do when people around him all seem to be falling or disappearing.

So he forces himself to focus on the small back of his partner.

And he runs.

*

He doesn’t know for how long they’ve been running. But the firecrackers have stopped exploding for a while now, leaving the world in darkness and silence that seems even more pronounced. He’s too scared to look around to properly check who made it, but it looks like the group as a whole is slowing down to a walking pace.

“I know we said we were going to rest, but it’ll be safer to just keep moving for now,” comes Tetsu’s voice.

Good. He sounds like he’s okay.

“Do you think you guys can keep up?”

“Oi Captain, aren’t you underestimating us? We’ve been training to get to Koshien, don’t you know?”

Takatsu. He’s okay, too.

Youichi breathes out slowly. He so desperately wants to look around and ask who else made it. But he can’t quite bring himself to.

“Ossu. I’m going to go ahead and look around. If my scouting group is here, come to the front. Rest of you, keep an eye out for any stragglers. Don’t fall behind.”

*

Tetsu says that there’s a music shop that they can crash at. According to him, it’s clean in the sense that there aren’t broken glass everywhere and there aren’t a lot of zombies. He says that they’ll have to station guards, but the rest of them are too tired to disagree.

How long have they been walking until now? How much more will they have to walk? Youichi feels sore. But he supposes that’s because of his one month of being sick in bed. He’s not looking forward to the rest of the walk.

A week and a half of this, huh?

Will they really make it?

*

Youichi unluckily gets asked to be the guard for the first few hours. And because it’s Tetsu who asks this of him, he can’t disagree. He just swallows his pride and his want to rest, and he watches for any zombies.

And when he can truly no longer keep his eyes open, he wakes the person closest to him (Asou) to be the next guard.

He’s too tired to think about who made it this far. So instead, he gets some shut eyes.

*

It’s probably late morning when Youichi next wakes. He doesn’t feel like he rested at all.

Nori is going around to wake everyone and put granola bars in their hands.

“It’s not much,” he apologizes. “But this is the best we have. Keep your strength up. We need to start moving soon.”

“Thanks,” Youichi tells him as he accepts the granola bar.

He takes this moment to look around.

It looks like there’s just a little over thirty of them huddled in this shop. But how many did they start with? There were about hundred members on the Seidou baseball team. But there weren’t that many people when Youichi first woke up. Let’s see, there was…

“Took you long enough to wake up,” Ryo says, clicking his tongue. “Your group members already left.”

“Eh? Already left? Left for what?”

Ryo gives him a look. “Jeesh, I don’t know. What’s your group supposed to do?”

“They went to find safe routes? Why didn’t they wake me?”

“They tried.”

Youichi feels his cheeks burn. He messed up. So much for protecting Sawamura, he-

“Oh, so Sawamura’s fine?”

“You think Tetsu will be with us if he wasn’t?”

Phrased like that, Youichi realizes how stupid that question is. “I’m going to guess that Masashi’s okay, too? And Haruichi?”

“They’re fine.”

Then who isn’t fine?

“Everyone made it out,” Ryo tells him even though Youichi didn’t ask. “After setting the firecrackers, Sawamura made sure to pick up anyone who fell behind or got lost.”

So once again, they owe it to Sawamura, huh?

“And after all that, he went out to scout?”

Ryo nods, looking quite dissatisfied himself. “Stretch once you’re done eating. We’ll leave as soon as they return.”

*

Sawamura and Miyuki look worse for wear, but Youichi supposes that they all look like that.

“What do you know? Sleeping Beauty’s awake,” Miyuki greets.

“Haha. Shut up.”

“Did you find a route?” Ryo asks.

Sawamura nods with a small smile. “We lucked out. It’s really empty around here.”

“Then let’s not waste our chance and go,” Tetsu says. He squeezes Sawamura’s shoulder as if to say welcome back.

Masashi offers Sawamura a granola bar that he must have saved. Youichi can’t help but to feel a little guilty for having already eaten his. Sawamura takes a small bite out of it before giving it back to Masashi.

“I’ll eat more later,” Sawamura says with a sheepish smile.

Youichi makes a note to keep an eye on how much Sawamura eats.

*

Their travel is slow, as they knew it would be.

Although they said that they’d rotate scouting shifts, Youichi feels like they haven’t rested since they woke up. Which, he supposes, means that Sawamura and Miyuki had been up even earlier than him. Don’t they get tired? He doesn’t understand how they can just keep going.

But he’s not a fool.

Rest?

How can he think about such a thing when his first year is still this alert, eyes sharp as he searches for any sign of trouble?

Sawamura holds up his hand, letting both Miyuki and Youichi know to stop. He turns back just a little to press his finger against his lips. Then he creeps forward quietly, eyes glued to something in the distance. He stays silently still, like a predator waiting for its chance.

A second passes. Then another. And another.

And…

It’s like watching a cat pounce.

One second, Sawamura’s still, bat in hand. In the next, he swings wide, again and again. When he stops, it’s to take a step back to observe again. Then he must have decided that this is good enough, because he turns to Miyuki and Youichi with a smile.

“Safe,” he whispers.

Youichi nods. “We’ll let the others know.”

*

The biggest problem of finding safest route is that they have to be mindful about the carts. If there are bunch of cars piled up, they have to go around it, since the carts can’t quietly go over the cars or other debris. So even if an area has less zombies, they have to choose a more open road so that the carts don’t get stuck. Especially since Jun’s sprained ankle prevents him from walking too much, so they’ve been letting him ride the cart with the more heavy supplies.

Youichi is just a little bit jealous.

He’s tired, and his body is sore. He’s been sick in bed for a month, damn it. This kind of sudden exercise after that long of a break is really strenuous.

Then again, at least he’s had few more days to get used to this than some of his other teammates. Being tired is just a default for everyone at this point.

Can they really make it to Koshien?

“Good job. Eijun, you and your group rest up. Masashi, your group take over,” Tetsu says.

Youichi just barely holds back a verbal cheer.

"On it.” Masashi motions to his group members, and the three of them set off.

“Even if you say rest, we still have to keep walking,” Miyuki complains.

“Feel free to stay here and rest,” Ryo tells him with a grin. “No one’s stopping you.”

Trust Ryo to bluntly get to the point.

“If you’re tired, Miyuki, I’ll stay and watch over you,” Sawamura offers.

“I’ll watch, too, if you’ll catch for me,” Furuya adds.

“Separating right now isn’t a good idea,” Tetsu scolds them. “Ryo, I thought you were against that?”

Ryo just shrugs. Youichi is pretty sure it was a joke, but the two first years took it too seriously as always. He should give those two a talking to later.

“Hey Sawamura, have you eaten anything other than a mouthful of granola this morning?” Youichi asks.

That does the trick. A worried looking Chris makes his way over to the first years to talk.

Hah. Take that, Sawamura.

*

Youichi isn't the first person to notice that Sawamura is swerving as he walks. 

Toujou and Kanemaru stand on either side of him, trying to help stabilize him. But it seems all the events have finally caught up with this idiot.

Before Youichi can suggest that they rest for a bit, Masuko moves. He too easily picks up Sawamura and dumps the first year in Jun's lap on the cart. Sawamura at first looks like he's going to yell and fight, but Jun quickly covers his mouth. Whatever he says seems to mollify the first year, who reluctantly settles in and falls asleep within seconds.

Youichi tries really hard not to feel jealous.

*

Masashi’s group finds them a relatively empty food court of a mall to stay in for the night.

“This place looks too clean,” Sawamura says with a frown.

“I think another group of survivors were using it,” Okumura tells them. “And since it doesn’t look like a fight broke out or a zombie attacked, they probably left willingly.”

Probably because of the promise of a cure, Youichi thinks.

Amahisa laughs. “Lucky us!”

“It should be fine to start a fire, right?” Nori wonders.

“Start it in this trash can, so it stays contained,” Sanada suggests.

“Then let’s have a warm meal tonight!”

*

“With how slow we’re traveling, we might have to tack on another week to our travel time,” Nabe informs them during dinner.

“Maybe we should just settle down here. It’s relatively safe looking and it’s clean,” Masuko suggests.

Sawamura, Tetsu, and Masashi all disagree at once. They glance at each other, looking amused that they’re on the same wavelength despite not having talked about this.

“There’s nothing around here to scavenge,” Masashi says.

“If another group was here before us, they would have already used up all the resources,” Ryo points out.

“But from here on out, wouldn’t that always be the case?” Takatsu asks. “We’re walking in the footsteps of whoever was here before us. We won’t be able to find anything to scavenge.”

Kanemaru clicks his tongue. “Aren’t you forgetting the flip side to that? If another group went before us, there’s bound to be a clear, safe path that we can follow.”

Takatsu gives Kanemaru a look that seems way too angry for a simple comment. Youichi decides to change the topic before it went out of hand.

“The path that they took might not be optimal for us. We have the carts to consider.”

Jun makes a face. “Sorry.”

“Not your fault, Jun-senpai,” Nori tells him immediately. “Having the carts is really useful for carrying the heavier weapons and food. We would still have this problem even if you weren’t injured.”

“Besides, it’s better that you rest up now than make your foot worse,” Chris adds.

“Eijun, you did well today. Eat more.”

Youichi probably wouldn’t have heard Tetsu if he hadn’t just happened to be looking in that direction when he saw the former captain give Sawamura an extra portion from his own bowl. Tetsu is too kind for his own good. But he does agree that Sawamura shouldn’t be skimping on meals, especially if he wants to have energy for future scouting.

“Don’t give me your portion,” Sawamura hisses lowly at Tetsu. “You have to eat, too.”

Masashi nods and adds his own portion on top of Sawamura’s. Sawamura groans and returns both food to the brothers.

“You haven’t been eating. I’m just worried,” Tetsu justifies.

“I too have been eating! Both Nori-senpai and Chris-senpai have been giving me extra servings, you know. You and Masashi think you’re being so clever to sneak me food. Not to mention even Miyuki tried to hand me some of his portion. It’s annoying. We have a limited supply that we can’t just waste like this!”

… Just how many people have been sneaking their supplies to Sawamura? Is this something they’re going to have to address?

“But you prefer mine over anyone else’s, right?”

Why the hell is that your first concern, Tetsu?!

Sawamura grabs Tetsu by the nose. “If you’re going to act like a child, I’m going to treat you like one!”

Even if Tetsu is being childish, Sawamura’s being way too rude. Youichi stands. He pauses when he realizes that Miyuki has also mirrored his movements. Miyuki stares at him before sitting back down.

“You can go to the bathroom first,” he says with a superior smirk.

Youichi is going to kill him.

"You brute! You… you meanie head! I can’t believe you!”

At Sawamura’s sudden loud shout, everyone turns to look at him. The southpaw's face is bright red as he smacks Tetsu’s arm. It looks like that’s the beginnings of tears gathering in Sawamura’s eyes. But Tetsu smiles like he’s been charmed, and Youichi really wished he knew what happened between the two for this to transpire.

“Sawamura, if you’re too loud, you’ll attract zombies,” Miyuki reminds him.

With a huff, Sawamura grabs his portion and marches over to sit next to Takatsu. Masashi gives Tetsu a look that seems to call his brother lame before he moves to join Sawamura. Tetsu stays there in silence for a second and then stands up, clearly ready to follow. Sanada and Todoroki sits down on either side of him, pulling him to sit down to talk. The soft smile that was on Tetsu’s face is long gone.

Despite being in a life or death situation, Youichi can’t help but to marvel at the fact that nothing seems to have changed.

*

He volunteers for the first watch and is shot down by Ryo.

“You took care of watch last night and then you took care of scouting. We have plenty of people, so get some rest.”

Despite having said that, Ryo takes the first watch anyways.

Youichi finds it awful cute of his partner. He’s just worried about everyone as always, huh?

Perhaps he should talk with Ryo and keep him company for a bit. But as soon as that thought occurs to him, he spots Haruichi sit next to Ryo.

“You should sleep,” Ryo tells him softly.

Youichi has to really strain to hear what they’re saying.

“I just… wanted to talk a bit,” Haruichi says. “Do… Do you think mom and dad-”

Quickly Youichi covers his ears.

This is obviously a private conversation for the brothers. He shouldn’t eavesdrop.

*

It seems that no matter how much rest Youichi does get, he’s never going to feel rested.

“Morning. Ready for today?” Nori asks with a soft smile. He offers a small cup of hot tea that smells fruity.

“We’re moving up in the world. A hot drink in the morning?” Youichi can’t help but to remark as he accepts it. The smell is sweet and soothing. Youichi takes a small sip and ends up burning his tongue.

“Toujou-kun found a huge can of unopened powdered tea in one of the cabinets in the kitchens. We looked around to see if there’s any more, but it looks like this is it.”

Youichi nods. He doesn’t attempt to drink until it cools down a little more. “How many more times do you think we can drink it?”

“If we ration it, maybe a week?”

Ration tea, huh?

“I’m sure Sawamura’s over the moon with that.”

Nori giggles. “He is! It’s really adorable. I think if there’s just a little bit left, I’ll save it for him.”

No, Nori. That wasn’t a suggestion to-

You know what, Youichi’s just not going to bother.

*

“I think the group before us took some carts,” Miyauchi reports when he returns to inform them of their next path.

“Wheel tracks?” Ryo guesses.

Miyauchi nods. “We lucked out.”

*

Luck is relative.

Tetsu motions for all of them to stop.

“Is something wrong?” Masuko asks.

“Miyauchi’s group hasn’t checked back in with us for too long.”

Nori trembles. And Youichi is many things, but he cannot in good conscious see his teammate be that worried and not do something about it.

“We’ll check it out,” Youichi volunteers.

Tetsu’s eyes aren’t on Youichi. It’s on Sawamura with a type of desperation that seems to be begging the first year to disagree. But Sawamura just shakes his head.

“I’d rather it be us,” Tetsu says. “Masashi, me, and Eijun. We’re the best-”

“No.”

Ryo doesn’t say anything else. Just that simple word.

For Youichi, he understands the power of that silent accusation loaded in that single word. He knows that it’s something that not everyone understands. But right now is probably not the time to say it. It’ll drive a wedge between people, and they need to be able to trust Tetsu.

“Masashi, yours and Tetsu’s groups look around for any sign for an ambush. Kuramochi-senpai, Miyuki, and I will go and see if we can bring back Miyauchi-senpai’s group. Shunpei, can you and Raichi be extra eyes?”

Tetsu moves to protest, but Sawamura cuts him off with an angry glare.

“I’m the best at recon missions. So be my anchor to bring me home.”

*

Neither Miyuki nor Youichi can bring themselves to talk. They clutch their baseball bats as they shuffle two steps behind Sawamura. Youichi finds himself flinching at any sign of a shadow flickering in the corner of his eyes.

Because if Miyauchi and his group didn’t come back, then surely, they must have been-

Sawamura stills suddenly. Miyuki and Youichi glance at one another before rushing to stand by Sawamura’s side in case anything happens.

But it turns out that there’s no looming danger.

Just devastation.

There are upturned and broken carts before them. Between those are remains of broken bags and exploded supplies, possibly from being crushed. There’s faint scent of blood in the air. It leads Youichi to believe that all of this must have happened at least a few days ago.

“Miyuki Kazuya, can you tell Tetsu and the others that the group before us looks like they’ve been ambushed? Tell them that this looks like it happened few days ago. Most likely Miyauchi-senpai and the others weren’t involved.”

“And what are you two going to do?” Miyuki asks.

“We still have to locate Miyauchi-senpai and his group.”

Miyuki looks uncomfortable. “Why can’t we just stay as a group? We can all go to tell everyone that.”

“Too slow. If they’re in danger, then we just waste time we could’ve spent looking for them.”

Because it seems like Miyuki might argue and waste even more time, Youichi cuts in. “I’ll keep my eyes on Sawamura. Don’t worry.”

Ah, that’s right.

The reason why Tanba hated Miyuki as a catcher (other than because Miyuki stole Chris’s position on the string) was because of this, wasn’t it? Miyuki’s reluctance when it comes to relinquishing what he considered his responsibility, even if everyone disagrees with him. Just a little, Youichi can’t help but to think that they dodged a bullet when the world ended. At least they don’t have to see what kind of a disaster Miyuki would have been as a captain.

“Go before they start to worry,” Youichi says sharply.

After another second of hesitation, Miyuki nods. “Don’t go too far.”

“We’ll just follow this stretch,” Sawamura tells him. “Catch up quick.”

It looks like Miyuki would say something more. Perhaps to protest? Perhaps to wish them a safe journey? But he seems to change his mind before he turns and leaves.

Youichi is glad.

It’ll feel too final if Miyuki said anything more.

*

“Do you think another surviving group did this?” Youichi finds himself asking after few minutes of silence.

Sawamura shakes his head. “A surviving group wouldn’t have left those supplies.”

Youichi feels a little stupid for not thinking of that. Of course, that’s right. No surviving group would see all those supplies lying about and just walk away. So the group before them was ambushed by zombies? But that also brings up the question of just how loud that group was.

“Maybe they got into a fight?” Youichi wonders.

“What do you mean?” Sawamura glances at him curiously before returning to scanning the area.

“We’ve seen that the zombies don’t react to conversational level sounds. So if a large enough group got attacked like this, maybe there was infighting that distracted them from how loud they got.”

Sawamura nods. It doesn’t look like he has anything else to add, so Youichi continues to speculate.

“Or maybe there was someone already infected as part of their group. Or… maybe someone got bit and they fought about whether to kill them or not. That’s assuming they didn’t realize that getting bit by a zombie doesn’t turn you into one, of course.”

Sawamura holds up his hand, signaling that they need to be quiet now. Youichi grips his bat and looks around. It takes him a second to realize what Sawamura is looking at.

The Seidou logo on a jacket that’s on the ground.

It doesn’t look to be stained in blood or anything. Just discarded.

Except why would any of their group members just throw off their jacket like this?

The only thing Youichi can reason out is that it was thrown there on purpose. Was it to mark this location? Was it a warning? Or was it a trap? Why is this here?

“Sawa-”

The first year gives him a sharp look and presses his finger to his lips.

Youichi feels a bit annoyed, but he lets it go. It’ll be a bad idea to approach this carelessly in case it’s a trap. He nods to let Sawamura know that he’s on his side.

After a second, Sawamura turns back to the jacket. He moves slowly and quietly, the bat loose in his hands. When he gets close enough, he gives the area another scan before picking up the jacket. When nothing else seems to happen, he relaxes and motions for Youichi to approach.

“It’s Takatsu’s,” Sawamura whispers to Youichi.

“How can you tell?”

Sawamura just motions at the name scribbled on the tag. “He wasn’t wearing this when he left. It was tied around his waist.”

“You think it fell when he was running?”

Once again, Sawamura scans the area around them. He presses his lips into a thin line. He’s worried. That’s clear enough to see. But Youichi can’t figure out what to say or do to comfort him.

“If they were chased, they might be hiding somewhere.”

With those words, Sawamura takes few bold steps away from Youichi. He glances around. Youichi gets a bad feeling about this.

“W-wait, Sawa-”

“I’m going to scream, Kuramochi-senpai. Find some place to hide and stay quiet. If you see them, help them get away.”

“C-c’mon, let’s talk about this. Sawa-”

But the first year doesn’t listen anymore. He runs in the opposite direction, towards the chaos of the broken carts and supplies. Then he cups his hands around his mouth and crows.

First of all, who the hell crows in this kind of situation?

Second, why crowing? Isn’t just shouting just as effective?

And third-

Youichi thinks that his guess that the group before might have been infighting makes the most sense. Because with that single crow, zombies crowd out from all sides. They rush blindly around, searching for the source of the noise. It’s clear that Sawamura didn’t expect this sheer number, because his face falls.

Tch!

If left alone, that kid’s going to get himself killed.

Youichi bursts into a run and grabs Sawamura. He drags the first year, who must be too shocked to do anything, behind one of the cart. As long as they stay silent here, they should be fine. The crowd of zombies is too thick to try and think of breaking through. But surely if there's silence for long enough time, they'll just return to wherever they came from?

“This is way too many,” Sawamura mumbles.

“Hey, focus,” Youichi reminds him. “We’ll talk about that after we’re done.”

Except what the hell does it mean to be done here? How are they going to get out? This must be what happened to Miyauchi and the others. They were probably suddenly mobbed… perhaps there was some kind of a sudden noise that brought these zombies out? Youichi hopes that that means those guys are hiding somewhere, waiting for a chance to run out.

“If Miyuki comes back, he’ll be attacked.”

Youichi freezes. He slowly turns towards Sawamura, who stands up.

“W-wait. Just… Wait a minute, Sawamura. Think this through.”

“And if Miyuki told the others what he saw, Tetsu and Masashi will rush here. They’ll be in danger.”

“We’re in danger,” Youichi hisses. “Shut up and sit back down. Let’s come up with a plan-”

“I’m going to lead them away. When they’re distracted, run into that building.”

Youichi shakes his head. “I’m faster. I should-”

“Kuramochi-senpai, you caught the bug. If you’re killed, you’ll probably come back as a zombie. I haven’t caught it. Even if they bite me a few times, I’ll be fine.”

No. Damn it. Ryo said it before, too, didn’t he? They shouldn’t separate. Why the hell does Sawamura’s plans always involve him throwing himself into danger?

“Don’t go,” Youichi manages out.

Sawamura grins at him in a manner that feels too final.

Youichi hates himself.

He can’t even muster the strength to run after Sawamura. Turns out, he’s too much of a coward for that, too.

All he can do is watch as Sawamura’s crowing attracts the zombies.

And, as promised, he runs for the nearby building.

*

He must have made too much noise trying to find a place to settle in.

Couple of zombies have followed him in, blindly stumbling around in the room. At least it doesn’t look like they’ve figured out where he is now that he’s being quiet. But the part that’s starting to worry him is how many are starting to file in here.

At this rate, one of these zombies might just accidentally bump into him and discover him.

Can they communicate? Is that what this is? They’re piling into the room because they’ve somehow told each other that there’s food in here?

Youichi wishes they had more information.

After realizing that those without fevers won’t become zombies, why didn’t they try to conduct a more thorough investigation to figure things out better? Why did they just rely on Okumura’s mother’s notes and the words of mouth from what everyone else said? Why didn’t they just…

Damn it.

Two more zombies stumble into the room.

Or maybe that’s just how these zombies have been hunting?

When they hear a loud noise, they all rush outside. But when there’s nothing happening, they just… pile into random places like this. That’s why the streets looked so safe and empty. It’s a surprising smart way to lure people into false sense of security. And if someone starts a fight outside, they would be caught completely unawares by the sheer mass of zombies that would swarm them.

It’s dangerous. Much too dangerous.

They shouldn’t have come this way. They should have all turned back when they saw the chaos. He shouldn’t have let Sawamura crow. He shouldn’t have let Miyuki go off by himself. He shouldn’t have volunteered them to come scout. He-

Damn it!

He can pinpoint all the mistakes that he made, that they all made, leading up to this moment. But how the hell is any of that going to help him get out?

More and more zombies are coming into this room.

He can only stay in this position for so long.

No matter how he turns it in his head, this is it.

He should have ran after Sawamura. At least there’s a chance of survival in the open unlike being stuck inside of a closed room. And no one will even think of checking this building. If he’s lucky, he’ll be torn apart quickly. If not, he’ll wander the world as a zombie. And right now, he doesn’t like either options.

Damn it. Damn it.

If he was just going to end up like this, he would have preferred to have just never woken up from his fever. Just let him go in his sleep after losing the right to go to Koshien. That’s infinitely better than this. Let him die peacefully without ever realizing that the world ended.

How sweet that would have been.

Never realize that the world is over. Never have seen the ugly sides to Ryo and Tetsu. Never have to risk his life like this. Never have to face the fact that he’s a coward and that this is a fitting end for him.

Maybe he should shout out.

His last act of defiance. A pathetic attempt at trying to pretend he isn’t a coward.

Shout. Make some noise. Make the zombies come after him on purpose.

Die.

Because the choice now is when he’ll die.

When one of the zombies run into him? Or because of when he chose to die?

Youichi cups his mouth. Sawamura crowed, but Youichi doesn’t really want to do that. It’ll feel too much like he’s copying a first year. No, he’d rather something more uniquely him. Something like…

His eyes catch sight of something.

No, someone.

It’s Sawamura.

It has to be Sawamura. No one’s eyes are that gold.

Sawamura is standing just outside of the door. He looks at Youichi and then at the zombies all around the room. And in that second, he seems to come to a conclusion.

He grins at Youichi again.

That final grin from before.

And before Youichi can even let out a squeak of a sound, Sawamura turns.

Sawamura’s yells echo throughout the building (is he running up the staircase?). And within seconds, the zombies in the room rush for the door, for Sawamura.

 

 

There! There it is.

Eijun grits his teeth and puts on a burst of speed to get him to the rooftop doors. Thank god, he thinks. It’s unlocked. He doesn’t have to worry about being trapped with nowhere to go again.

The rooftop have been fenced. Possibly to discourage jumpers. But the fences look old and rusty. Discourage jumper, yes. But there’s no actual care to stop a more determined jumper. Or maybe that’s just how it looks now.

Eijun can only thank small miracles.

He runs towards a fence, screaming as he does so. And behind him, he hears the low moans of the zombies. They’ll catch up to him in no time. But that’s fine. That’s fine.

The fence is shaky, but it holds his weight. He climbs to get to the other side, because this is it. This is it. There’s nowhere else to go but here. The other buildings are too far to jump to. So there’s just one thing to do. Without really registering it in his brain what exactly he’s doing, he climbs.

He hears the dead slam against the fence, and it shakes loose just enough to be knocked horizontally down. The impact forces him off, and he finds himself hanging to the chain-links of the fence. If not for the weight of the dead pressing down on that end in a desperate attempt to grab at him, the fence would have fallen.

Fallen?

Eijun glances down and realizes what he must do.

“But that’s not fair!”

The words are out of his mouth before he can stop himself. In the agonizing screams that he allows to rip out of his chest, he tries to climb back up. But maybe his arms are just tired or maybe he registers in his brain what might happen if he does get back on the right side of the fence. The dead are now starting to tower over him. If he stays here and does nothing, he’ll become their food. He’ll be ripped to shreds. He’ll be…

He won’t be able to return to his team. He won’t be able to take care of them. But you don’t understand, he promised. He said he will make sure that everyone’s okay. And he messed up a lot already but he-

“You’ve done well.”

Eijun feels a hand on his head. It’s not small like Ryo’s or as calloused as Tetsu’s. It’s warm, though, and large. Just at the lightest touch, Eijun feels the grief in his heart lessen. Has he been waiting for this? Ryo and Tetsu and the others ruffle his hair all the time, but this feels different. This feels like…

“Eijun, it’s okay. You can rest now.”

It’s like being released from a spell. He feels the weight of the world fall off from his shoulders. He feels his body sag, the tears roll freely down his face, and he howls and sobs and lets out everything he’s ever felt. The frustrations of never being enough, the anxiety of not knowing what to do to help others, the guilt of everything he couldn’t do and everything he has done, the self-hate of always falling short of his goals, the…

He hears the laughter and feels the sound of those who shouldn’t logically be here. The gentle teasings of his childhood friends calling out, “Ei-chan, are you crying again?” The laughter of his teammates that he could not save. The soft promise that it’s okay now from his coaches, his teachers, and the others in his life that have done their utmost best to help him get this far.

That’s right.

It’s okay.

He’s done everything that he can.

“I’m glad.”

He finds himself grinning despite himself. That’s right, that’s right. It’s okay. He’s done enough. This is enough.

Sawamura Eijun lets go.

 

 

Youichi is out of the building by the time the room is clear of zombies.

But when he’s outside, he realizes that he has no way of telling Sawamura that he’s safe. That it’s okay to come back. That-

“Kuramochi!”

Tetsu and the others are here, bats ready. Did they see the mob of zombies around here? Youichi has to make sure that they stay silent. That they don’t accidentally catch the attention of the zombies that Sawamura worked so hard to lead away.

Lead away?

Lead away to where?

The zombies aren’t out here. Then the only place Sawamura could have taken them is…

Youichi slowly lifts his head up. The building is at least twenty story high. They have to get out of this immediate area. He has no idea how high Sawamura climbed but if they just kept climbing up, they would eventually end up falling down from the sky.

“W-we need to get out of here!”

Youichi can’t explain any better.

“Quickly!”

Perhaps it’s the desperation in his voice. Perhaps it’s because Ryo ordered them. But everyone rushes past the area for now.

*

Youichi knows when Tetsu deems the area safe because he grabs Youichi by the front of his shirt.

“Where’s Eijun?”

It takes Youichi a few seconds for his brain to catch up. “H-he climbed up. So if we didn’t move out of there it would have been…”

“Raining zombies,” Ryo finishes for him humorlessly.

Realization flashes in Tetsu’s eyes. He releases Youichi and turns back, determined to run back to Sawamura’s side. But there isn’t a Sawamura to run back to. Doesn’t Tetsu understand that?

Sawamura bought them that time to run. Sawamura…

Oh gods, Sawamura is dead, isn’t he?

“Masashi, let’s go.”

“W-wait, Tetsu! W-where are you going? I thought we were all…” Masuko falters, looking confused.

Tetsu shakes his head. “I’m going to rescue Eijun.”

“Sawamura isn’t-”

Ryo stops Youichi from saying anything more. When Youichi gives him a questioning look, Ryo shakes his head.

Instead, he calls out, “I thought I made it clear? We’re not separating the group.”

Tetsu’s eyes are cold when he glances back.

“We’ll all go look for him.”

*

They all know the truth.

They all have to. Youichi cannot think of a single reason why they wouldn’t.

But no one brings up the fact that it’s dangerous to go back. No one talks about how it’s stupid to waste their lives that Sawamura worked so hard to protect.

There’s no point to this.

Sawamura couldn’t have survived that. But Sawamura wanted them to go to the safe zone. So they should be honoring his wishes. They should be...

But Youichi, you see, is a coward.

He cannot bring himself to protest against the hopeful looks on everyone’s faces.

*

Youichi played quite a lot of zombie games.

He watched a lot of zombie movies too.

So he knows how stories like these end.

There is just one ending to zombie apocalypses. Even if the survivors manage to last one more day, the insurmountable grief will never change.

“Ossu. Let’s keep going.”

And they’ll have no choice but to keep moving forward.

 

Fin.