Dark clouds loomed in the sky. It was sprinkling outside the high school, leaving the white-haired adventurer with nothing to do but wander the building.

It had only been two weeks since her first attempt at sneaking in the building, and she was starting to get really good at it.

The schedule for the gate was simple—it closed at exactly 7:45 and wouldn't open until a few minutes before school let out at 3:00; even if a student is running late, they won't let them in—and the teachers rarely patrolled the hallways, allowing her access to anywhere she wanted to go. Her main problems were the PE teachers, who wondered the halls when they were on break, and Hisashi.

Today was going to be slightly different, though. Kohta Hirano, the over-weight boy she had helped two weeks ago, usually skipped a class or two to hang out wit her and show her around, but he was going to get a passport and visa so he could go to America over the summer, so she was left alone, wondering the halls, debating on whether or not to go play in the rain.

In truth, she should've gone back to her own school, claiming to wake up late or something, and go to her classes (even if the gates closed, it didn't mean she couldn't climb over and get out), but the high school was so big and she still had a lot to see!

She headed down the second floor hallway, heading for the open, bridge-like hallways that connected the second floor of the main building to the second floor of the Management Building, a building mainly used for it's observation tower. Before she could reach it, however, a high school student, one she hadn't seen, stepped out of the men's restroom.

His shoulder-length auburn hair was pushed behind on of his ears, showing a series of three or four piercings. His uniform jacket was opened, a tallow shirt with 'BAD LINE' printed on it in white, English letters.

"What are you looking at?" he barked, narrowing his brown eyes at her.

"Just a bug," she replied, looking pointedly at him, but instantly regretted it.

Last night, in a fit of drunken stupor, her father had thrown her into the coffee table. She had landed weird and somehow managed to twist her wrist, leaving it swollen and painful—she couldn't even lift her bag this morning; there was no way she'd be able to defend herself if this guy decided to hit her.

"Did you just call me a bug, you little brat?" he spat.

Crap. How was she supposed to get out of this one?"

"What's wrong boss?" another guy wondered, coming out of the bathroom, confused.

Before she heard what he said, she darted past them, speeding down the hallway as fast as she could.

"Come back here!" he shouted, chasing after her.

Curse her tongue. Why didn't she ever learn to keep her mouth shut?

As she rounded a corner, hands reached out and snagged her by the waist. She was pulled against something warm and hard before she could react, fabric brushing her face—a shirt maybe?

Her heart pounded in her chest.

Who in the world was holding her!?

"Wha—"

She was cut off, a hand covering her mouth as the footsteps of the guys passed by. They trailed off, everything going silent as their voices faded away.

The person holding her let out a relieved breath, uncovering her mouth. "Thank God," he breathed.

Her eyes widened as she looked up at Takashi, baffled. "What are you… but how did you… Huh?"

He ruffled his hair, looking uninterested. "I saw you walking the hallways," he said easily. "As for your argument with Imamura, that was just a coincidence."

"Well, thanks for saving me." Yuki smiled sheepishly. "I had a feeling he was going to murder me."

"Probably," he agreed, releasing her, "but the good thing about Imamura is that he has a horrible memory. He won't remember your face if he doesn't see you on a regular basis, and even then there's a chance he'll forget. He still calls me Hisashi sometimes."

She chuckled. "Bet you love that."

He rolled his eyes.

"I am sorry about bothering you, though," she amended, remembering Hisashi yelling at her for the lack of manners.

"Don't worry about it," he said, shrugging. "I was on my way to the rooftop anyway."

"The rooftop?" she repeated, blinking. "You can go on the roof here?"

He coughed. "No, not really, but that doesn't stop us."

"Us?" she inquired.

He looked around lazily. When he was sure no one was near, he nodded towards the bridged hallway. "Come on. I guess I'll introduce you."

Yuki smiled. "Alright."

She followed him outside and into the building. It was pretty plain, nothing but grey paint and metal stairs. As they climbed three sets of stairs, she noticed that there weren't any other doors leading off, so she guessed there weren't many classrooms in this building. At the top, they came to thick grey door with No Students Permitted Beyond This Point in bolded red letters above it. With a little bit of effort, he pushed it open.

"Manda!" someone was strumming a guitar, belting out random words. "Just like a poison eel, manda! Manda, manda, manda, mandaaaa!"

A boy was sitting on the ground Indian-style, a guitar in his hands. His blonde hair was done in an interesting fashion—the side slicked down with a short Mohawk in the middle—and his black blazer was left open, showing a purple-checkered polo underneath.

"Manda, manda, manda, manda, mandaaaa!" he continued bellowing.

Yuki covered her mouth, trying to quiet the giggle, but it didn't help, interrupting the boy's string of mandas.

He looked back at the two, tilting his head. "Oh, Komuro! Don't see ya up here often durin' lessons."

"What kind of song was that, Morita?" Takashi asked, chuckling as he sat down next to him.

"It was…" He blinked, his green eyes trailing to Yuki, who had taken a seat on the other side of Takashi. "Who's she? New student?"

"Yuki," Takashi answered, sending her a brief glance. "She's, uh, just visiting today; trying to decide what high school she wants to go to."

She gave him a look approval. The lie came out so quickly, but was still completely believable. She didn't think Takashi could lie, let alone lie convincingly, so she was a little impressed.

"So this is the famous Yuki?" He grinned. "I heard there was a girl following Hisashi all 'round; never woulda thought she'd be this cute, though."

Yuki blinked, unsure how to respond. Compliments always made her feel uncomfortable, like people were lying to her. "Erm, thanks?"

"Don't freak her out before she even knows your name," Takashi said.

"Oh, right, my bad. The name's Morita; I'm in the same class as Hisashi and Takashi."

"Nice to meet you," she said slowly.

"Will I be seein' ya 'round our Takashi a lot?" he asked mischievously.

She looked up at Takashi for the answer. Was he going to tell Hisashi about her sneaking in, or would he keep it between the two of them? Even if he didn't tell, would he let her come with him again?

"Probably," Takashi said nonchalantly, not giving into Morita's suggestive undertone. "She has a habit of getting on people's nerves, so maybe it'll keep her out of trouble."

She shot him a dry look. "I don't get on people's nerves!"

"Says the girl who pushed me in a fountain."

"That was for your own good!"

"What about the second time?" he challenged.

She snickered. "That was because you got on my nerves."

"And Imamura?"

"Yeah, well, how are you going to keep me out of trouble? Huh? You phone was taken away yesterday because you had it in school, and now you're skipping classes!"

He snorts. "And you're in class like you're supposed to be."

"Ya guys are close, huh?" Morita laughed, stopping their feud. "And ta think Takashi tried ta tell me ya two weren't gonna be friends."

Yuki raised an eyebrow, shooting a look in Takashi's direction, but he avoided her eye, clearing his throat.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," he said, leaning back.

He smirked, bending over his guitar to reach out his hand. "Nice ta have ya on board, Yuki. Don't be a stranger, yeah?"

She grinned, taking his hand. "I won't."

–xxx–

Middle of the Street, Tokonosu City

Fujimi, Japan

Z-Day+2 3:26pm

–xxx–

I'm breathing heavy, trying to keep it quiet as Takashi and I lean against a brick wall. He peers over the corner, checking the damage.

"Damn it," he says. "This place too."

"We're not going to make it to second chrome like this," I say, watching him as he looks at me.

"Let's go back the way we came," he suggests, getting up from the wall and heading towards the river. "We didn't see any of them on the way here."

I nod and follow after him, picking up the pace to a slow jog.

"We're not going to get far on foot," he says absently, like he's thinking out loud, "so we need to look for something with the key still in it."

What about a Yamaya shop?" I ask, glancing around. "I thought we passed one on the way up here."

"That's it!" he says, taking a sharp left.

We head down a narrow ally and emerge on to a blood stained road, almost complete bare of anything, including cars. Down the road a little ways, though, is the Yamaya shop Alice pointed out, motorcycles outlining the front. The coast is clear, no undead in sigh, so we run towards it, trying to keep our footsteps and breathing as soft as possible.

The inside looks boring to me, but Takashi is lighter now, happy to have something to drive. Besides the motorcycles and four-wheelers, there are shelves and racks full of leathered clothing and wet suits. Dummies are lined against a glass showcase, dressed in biker outfits that look more uncomfortable than what I'm wearing.

I run my fingers along a leather jacket absently, eyes drifting to a poster of an overly buff man leaning in to kiss a gorgeous, hour-glass-figured woman, their lips barely touching.

"Are we looking for bikes or going on a date?" I joke. The idea seemed absurd before the outbreak; now, it's plain impossible.

He turns to me with a questioning glance, and I point to the poster. His eyes widen, cheeks flushing, and he chuckles. "You wish, Yuk."

I stop, staring at him.

Takashi's never called me by my nickname. Ever.

He clears his throat, whirling around to the door he was looking act before I have time to say anything. His hand tightens on his gun as he turns the knob, ready to take out anything that's inside. I do as he does, holding my crowbar in the air. Quickly, he pulls it open, inspecting it.

He lets out a low whistle. "Come and check this out, Yuki."

I tilt my head, curious, and walk into the room, eyes widening at the Argo Avenger 700. "Nice," I say, nodding in approval.

Before all hell broke loose, the Argo Avenger serious was a big hit. Not only could it navigate on land like a normal vehicle, it was also supposed to be able to drive on water like a boat. The going rate for one was well over $50,000, though.

It has the body a regular four-wheeler. The front seat, however, is long and black, connecting the driver's seat to the passenger's seat. There isn't a backseat; instead, the back is like the back of a truck: open and deep for luggage or other things. There are also black poles spouting from the side of it, like a golf cart or jeep, probably meant for siding and a roof if the owner wants one.

"Go get things you think we'll need," Takashi says. "I'll look for the keys."

I nod, heading back out. Near the counter, I find a hiking backpack and snatch it up, stuffing it full of clothes from the shelves (absolutely no leather) and water bottles.

Surprisingly, I find myself smiling.

I'm enjoying this.

What? How can I be enjoying this? Takashi and I are stranded from the rest of the group!

Because Takashi and I are working together.

I cringe at my own thoughts, smacking my forehead.

The world's ending for God's sake! Get a hold of yourself, Yuki, and grow up! You know Takashi's only a friend, dammit, so stop doing this to yourself!

I sigh, annoyed, as I hear an engine roar to life. Takashi and the Argo Avenger speed in front of the glass showcase, knocking down all of the bikes in the front. I stare, dumbfounded, but snap out of it when I see a horde of undead heading out way. I snatch a camping kit and run out of the building, jumping into the back as Takashi speeds off.

"How did you get out?" I wonder.

"There was a garage in the back of that room," he explains.

"Nice~"

"Glad you approve," he mocks, smirking as he takes a right.

We run into a horde of Them making their way to us, attracted by the sound of the handy—but extremely loud—Argo Avenger.

"Please tell me you have a plan," I beg, leaning down to hear him better.

"I do, but it might get messy," he says, hitting the gas. "Hold on tight!"

I do as he says, gripping the metal pole above my head with my left hand, the other gripping the back of his seat.

Takashi drives towards a flight of stairs in between two guardrails, and we go flying down them, making me lift in the air for a few seconds before hitting my butt on the floor of the trunk, groaning. More skillfully than I thought he could, Takashi yanks the wheel to the right, steering us along the riverbank before slamming on the brakes.

He checks behind us, cursing. I follow his gaze, watching as several undead students stumble down the hill, crashing to the grassy terrain with a painful thud. They get up almost immediately, though, seemingly undeterred by the fall.

"Damn," I mutter. "I thought it'd at least slow them down."

"The fall isn't going to matter, eh?" Takashi mumbles thoughtfully. "If that's the case, then…"

He steps on the gas again, racing straight to a group of Them in front of us.

"What're you doing, Takashi?" I demand.

"This thing's amphibious," he points out.

I blink, momentarily confused. "Why does that…?"

My eyes widen as I realize what he means, but it's too late. Takashi jerks the steering wheel to the left, splashing us into the river. Water goes everywhere, nearly filling the back with it, and I lose my foot, falling backwards into it.

"Shit," Takashi says, turning around quickly. "Sorry, Yuki. Are you alri—"

He stops, eyes widening.

The black half-shirt is clinging to my chest for dear life, emphasizing the outlines of the black bra. My hair is sticking to my body, irritating me, and water is dripping from the short shorts to my water-filled vans.

"Gah! I hate you, Takashi," I grumble, trying unsuccessfully to ring out my shirt and ignore Takashi's intense stare at the same time. "This is the second time you've gotten me wet in the past two days."

He gulps and tries to clear his throat. "Uh, right. I'm sorry."

I look up and see his face is red, making my face heat up. "I am a girl, you know." Even if you don't see me as one.

"R-right," he mumbles, turning around and clearing his throat again. "Sorry, Yuki."

Everything falls silent as we hang out in the Avenger, bobbing in the water. The zombies on the embankment moan, waiting for us to return, but slowly, they get tired of waiting, some even wandering off.

Takashi leans back and lets out a long sigh.

"You shouldn't get tired so easily," I say, leaning against the neck of the passenger seat. "It's not very attractive if a man can't hold his own, don't you think?"

"H-hold his own?" he stammers, red staining his face again.

I roll my eyes. "Honestly, Takashi, get your mind out of the gutter. I meant fighting. Yeesh."

"Oh, right." He shakes his head and leans back again, mumbling, "Sorry."

I chuckle, climbing in the front with him, plopping in the passenger seat. "Where're we going anyway?"

He nods ahead, and I see the dirt island, or the sandbank, in the middle of the river, also known as the 'Sandbar.'

"Nice thinking," I say.

"When I was a kid, mom used to tell me not to play here because the current was too strong and the water was unpredictable." He shrugs. "I figured it could work to our advantage."

I nod as the Avenger perches itself on the small island, going only a few feet from the water before stopping so Takashi can climb out. I simply turn to him, legs dangling off of the edge of the seat. The breeze is giving me goosebumps, and I want to avoid any wind I can.

"It's nice to have a break," I breathe.

"Yeah," he agrees. "Let's take turns on lookout just in case anyway. I'll go first, so you can relax, Yu—"

I shiver noticeably, teeth chattering.

Takashi glances at me.

"S-sorry," I stammer, trying to hug some sort of warmth back in my body. "Y-you were saying?"

He walks over and puts his forehead to mine, a look of disapproval crossing his face. "You're freezing, Yuki," he says, almost reprimanding. "Why didn't you say something earlier?"

"I'm fine," I argue indignantly. "Just a b-bit nippy outside is all."

He rolls his eyes. "No wonder Hisashi was always worried about you," he mutters, digging through the big backpack of things I had gathered earlier. "You don't worry about yourself enough." He tosses me a black tank top and shrugs off his jacket, handing it to me as well. "Here, put this on," he orders. "I'll turn around."

I manage to snicker, though it's slightly thrown by the chattering teeth. "Trying to sneak a peek, Takashi?"

He flicks my forehead, stunning me. "Just change."

My eyes widen.

"Aww~ Is Takashi worried about me?" a fourteen-year-old Yuki taunted, smirking. "Well, don't be. I'm fine, Takashi, you know me."

Which wasn't strictly true. Sure, they had known each other for almost a year now, and ever since the fountain incident eight months ago, they'd practically spent all their time together, even skipping classes to hang out on the roof, like they were now, but that didn't mean they knew everything. Because, even if they did have an understanding of one another, the understanding wasn't void of secrets—on either side.

Despite what Takashi thought, Yuki wasn't upset that the group of kids had attacked her with harsh words; she was upset because 'worthless' and 'disgusting' was what she was. Even her parents knew it. She was just afraid Takashi or Rei would figure it out too, something she wouldn't live through.

Something flashed in Takashi's eyes, and he flicked the snickering middle schooler's forehead before he could stop himself. Her eyes widened, staring at him as the familiar indifferent look wiped away any irritation. "I don't care either way," he lied easily. "I'm just saying moping around isn't like you, so stop and go do something stupid."

I smile warmly. "Thanks."

His eyes widen too, and he clears his throat, facing the other way as a dust of red spreads along his cheeks. "Yeah. Anytime."

I strip out of the half-shirt, taking off the bra as well since it will only soak the new shirt, and slip on the black tank, grateful to have Takashi's jacket to cover up the scars on my forearm.

"Okay," I announce, shuffling around in his jacket. "You can look now."

He turns around, blinking.

"What?" I ask absently, working on the buttons of the blazer.

"N-nothing," he stammers.

I shrug, trying to downplay the heat flitting through my body at his gaze.

"Hey, Yuki, can I ask you something?" he wonders, looking me in the eyes this time.

I blink innocently, tilting my head. "Sure. What's up?"

"Have you ever had a boyfriend before?"

I straighten up, completely thrown. "What?"

"I mean, we've been friends for two years now, and I've never heard anything about you having a boyfriend. Someone like you… a crush at least?"

"Someone like me…" I repeat. "Should I be offended?"

"What? No!" he says quickly, waving his hands in front of him. "I just meant, you know, looking the way you do…"

I know he means it as a compliment—in the only way Takashi knows how to compliment someone—but his question has my mind reeling.

Again, he asks me something personal. While I know it's a good sign that he's interested in me, it's also unnerving; he's never cared. My love life, my personal life, my relationships, my friendships; nothing has ever sparked his interest, even when Hisashi brought things up that would make someone curious, he didn't ask.

"Yes," I say finally.

"I see…" he says, voice trailing off.

"And no," I say, knowing exactly what he's thinking. "It wasn't Hisashi."

"I never—"

"It's obvious that's who you were thinking it was. You're kind of easy to read."

He sighs, defeated. "I know."

I smile reassuringly. "It's not a bad thing."

"So you say," he mutters.

I chuckle, letting the conversation fade.

Minutes tick by, and soon enough, the bank is nearly barren of zombies.

"It looks like most of them are gone."

Takashi follows my gaze and nods. "You're right. Let's get going before the water level rises."

"Where are we going to go?" I wonder out loud as he jumps in the driver's seat. "The sun's already setting, and God only knows how bad it'll be at night."

"There aren't many options around here," he says, starting up the Avenger. "Any place you have in mind?"

I bite my lip. "There's one," I say, "but neither of us is going to like it."

He looks at me, studying me for a minute before a light goes off in his eyes. "Hisashi's," he breathes, sitting back in his seat as he stares at the steering wheel.

I nod. "It's the closest place I can think of, and the only place I know where the spare key is hidden."

Takashi's silent as he mulls it over. "Can you handle it?" he asks seriously.

I take a deep breath. "I can." My voice is more convinced than the churning in my stomach.

"Then let's go," he says, cranking on the Avenger and heading off of the Sandbar.

Instead of wading in the water, Takashi speeds off, getting us to shore and over the steps in no time flat. We crash into a few undead, but it doesn't hold us up too much. As we continue going, though, more and more show up, just like last time.

"Damn," I hiss. "At this rate, this thing will lead them right to us; and trust me, Hisashi's apartment isn't known for its security."

"I hear ya," he says, swerving left. "I guess we'll just have to get rid of the Avenger and Them."

I raise an eyebrow, curious as to how he's going to manage that, and turn back to where he's going.

He makes a sharp right, speeding into the park where Hisashi and I first met. Suddenly, the wheels disconnect with the ground and there's a crash of water… and I'm soaked again.

"Argh," I growl, sending Takashi a look as water drips down my cheeks. "Do you have to get me wet all the time?"

"Just hand me the rope from the camping kit," he says, holding out his hand expectantly.

"Bossy," I mutter, earning a chuckle from him as I rummage through the black backpack and pull out a thick climbing rope from the camping kit.

I hand it to him, and he goes to work immediately, tying one end of the rope to one of the black poles and the other loosely around the middle of the fountain, giving it enough space to whirl around with the Avenger. Then, he grabs some tape and tapes the gas pedal to the floor to keep it from stopping.

"Lure them in with the noise," I say. "Way to go, Takashi."

"Don't sound so surprised," he says. "Get ready to jump. They're about to encase this entire fountain."

I nod and stand up. As soon as a space without twenty undead heading towards it comes up, we jump for it, rolling on the ground.

"If we head through the east exit, it should take us to Hisashi's house," he states, watching me for some sort of reaction. When he doesn't see any panic on my face, he continues, "And a few miles further is the back of the Takagi's estate."

"Okay," I answer, tying my hair back. "Let's get this over with."

"Right," he agrees, "because of the noise, I don't want to use the gun, so we're going to have to do this hands-on."

"Alright," I say, picking up a missing cane from the stone ground.

"Go," he clips.

With a powerful swing, I knock an old zombie in the jaw, splattering it to the ground, and Takashi strikes at one coming at my side, cracking its skull against the concrete, before we bolt down the walkway, doing our best to keep our footsteps silent but swift.

"Sort of nostalgic, isn't it?" I question, getting one in the groin.

"You want to talk about the past at a time—" He hits one in the temple "—like this?"

"We are in the park that I shoved you into the fountain," I say, avoiding an undead's advance and hitting it in the back of the head.

"Yeah, but then it wasn't covered in Them trying to eat us." He smashes another into the concrete.

"Good point." I capture one against the brick wall.

As we get farther away, I notice that it's working. Instead of focusing on us, most of the zombies are focusing in the fountains direction, barely giving us a glance.

We take a shortcut through a small patch of woods, avoiding branches and dried leaves to keep from making noise. As soon as we emerge on the other side, Hisashi's apartment complex is right in front of us. We rush up the grated metal steps and into the door.

Immediately, I collapse on the dark blue couch, breathing heavily. Takashi closes the door quietly, flipping the lock, and turns around, eyes widening.

"What a mess," he says.

I open my eyes and look around.

The beige carpet is covered in Hisashi's clothes and leftovers from the other night's all-nighter. Pop cans and small 99-cent bags of chips and cookies are scattered all over the glass coffee table in front of me. The TV stand against the wall next to the door isn't even spared of the mess, one of my bras draped over it.

I squeal and jump up, snatching it and shoving it down my shirt.

Takashi chuckles. "I think that's the first time I've heard you squealed."

"Shut up," I mutter, feeling my face heat up.

"Go get cleaned up." He smirks. "I'll work on blocking the door."

"Are you sure you don't need any help?" I check.

"I've got it," he assures me.

"Alright. If you say so~"

I head through a thin hallway, opening the first door on my left to a blue-tiled, off-white-walled bathroom. I don't bother locking the door—it's not like Takashi's going to barge in here—and strip out of the sweaty blazer, tank top, and shorts.

The hot water heats my sore body at a scorching temperature, relaxing my coiled muscles. It's only now that I realize how tight I've been since we were separated from the group: my muscles feel like they've been flexed forever, ready to fight if the time came.

I savor the feeling, taking time to scrub off the blood and dirt stains caked all over my pale skin with some unknown two-in-one shampoo that Hisashi has on the ledge above the showerhead.

When I'm done, I push the knob down, shutting off the water, and step out into the steam. I rummage through the cabinet under the porcelain skin quickly, pulling out a big, purple towel, and wrap it snuggly around me. The air outside is freezing compared to the steamed bathroom, and I rush across the hallway to my room, desperate for warm clothes.

My room is worse than the living room. Dirty clothes are scattered through the entire place, a pile the size of the Eiffel Tower in the corner (give me a break; I've been too busy fighting zombies to worry about laundry day!). Pop cans are covering my end table, surrounding my alarm clock, and a big, half-empty bog of Doritos is leaning against one of the end table's legs. My twin-sized bed's comforter is bundled on the floor with a long body pillow leaning against the end of the bed—a reminder of my all-nighter two nights ago.

Mentally thanking God that Takashi isn't in here with me, I scoop up a pair of fuzzy SAO pajama pants lying on my bed and a matching, grey long-sleeve, slipping them on.

In the living, Takashi is leaning against the couch, his head resting against a cushion. Across from him is a barricade of wooden chairs and a dining table against the door.

"Nice," I compliment, sitting next to him. "I didn't even hear a squeak."

"Thanks," he says, lifting his head up to look at me. "Did you enjoy your shower?"

"Yes," I answer, smiling. "The hot water felt amazing. Sorry you had to do all the work."

He shoots me a look. "Yeah right."

I laugh. "You can go take one if you want to; there might still be some hot water left."

"Nah, that's alright." He sighs, leaning back against the cushion. "I'll wait a little bit."

I relax, stretching my legs out, and let out a long breath as I close my eyes, content.

"Yuki, I've been wondering something," Takashi mumbles.

"You've been wondering a lot lately," I return, not smiling.

I can't see him, but I'm sure he rolled his eyes. "Does living with Hisashi have anything to do with your father?"

My eyes shoot open, looking at him as I go completely still. "W-what brought this on?"

"You said your father disowned you," he recalls, looking into my eyes, "and that the scars on your legs were from him. It would just make sense."

Bile builds up in the throat, like it's trying to choke me so I won't have to say anything. My hands are sweaty, heart rate skyrocketing.

You'll regret keeping this from them.

I pull my knees against my chest and wrap my arms around them. "Disown wasn't the right word for it," I admit.

He blinks.

I sigh. "Guess I should start from the beginning," I mutter, staring at my bare feet.

"My dad used to head of the Tokonosu Clinic—you know, before it went bankrupt, back when it was the main place to go when something was wrong—and he was really well-liked too, even if it was by people like Shido's father, but with high status, there's always a secret." I gulp, tightening my grip around my legs more. "He had a problem with drugs, particularly prescription pills, and alcohol—oh, how he loved drinking. It was safe when he was high—he was careless, neglectful—but when he drank, he got angry, and the more he drank, the angrier he was."

"He didn't…" Takashi breathes.

I bury my face into my knees, but manage to nod. "When he lost his medical license, he didn't have access to pills anymore, so it was the alcohol that nursed him. He went on these rampages at first, destroying the entire house, breaking everything, but then he realized that beating on people worked better than just breaking cups and plates. And who better than his own family?"

Takashi stares at me, so I continue.

"It cooled down when he found out the famous Souichiro Takagi's daughter went to the high school closest to my middle school. The thought was that if Takagi and I were friends, Souichiro might take note of my father and help him out—some sort of 'our daughters are friends, so we should be too' type thing. I never really got it, but if it kept me from getting hit, I was all for it."

"So how did you end up living with Hisashi?" he asks, barely breaking his voice above a whisper.

"Hisashi had known about the abuse since we had first met when I was eight, but didn't tell me he knew until I turned thirteen," I explain. "He made me a deal: if I learned martial arts with him, he wouldn't tell my parents. Things were starting to get out of control, though. Father was going off the deep end for small things, agitated that my friendship with Takagi wasn't going as smoothly as he hoped it would—he forgot that friendships were a two-way street, and there was a possibility that she wouldn't like me—and it was starting to affect me in more ways than just the beatings."

"What do you…"

I take a shaky breath, readying myself. "I started… hurting myself. Cuts, along my wrist."

I can hear his sharp intake of breath, but I can't look at him, focused on keeping my eyes closed.

"When Hisashi found out, he was angry. Probably angrier at himself than anything—you know Hisashi—and offered to let me move in with him. I didn't want to at first—the thought of leaving my mom with Father was too much to bare—but after a few months, I ended up agreeing with the promise that no one would know about it."

It's eerily silent as Takashi mulls over the information, my heart rate sputtering with the near hysterics I'm in. I take chance and glance over at him, surprised to see him more hurt than anything.

"Why didn't you want anyone to know?" he asks, straightening himself up and meeting my gaze. "Why didn't you want me and Rei to know?"

"Because I was scared," I mumble, eyes burning. I'm shaking so hard, I have to tighten my hold on my knees to stop it. "I didn't want you guys to see me the way my father saw me. What would I do if you or Rei were to suddenly see how awful I am? How worthless and pathetic I am? What if you or Rei suddenly saw what my father tried to beat out of me? I wouldn't be able to handle losing you two. Especially you—"

He wraps his arms around me, pulling me tight against him. "You're something else."

I blink, caught off guard. "Takashi…?"

"I would never hate you for something that's not your fault," he promises. "You aren't worthless or pathetic. What that dickhead did to you is not your fault. God, none of this is your fault, Yuk."

Hot tears build up, and I wrap my arms around his ribs, burying my face in his shoulder.

Takashi pulls away enough to brush away the tears, and my face heats up. His eyes widen, hand freezing, but he doesn't move, staring. I stare back, watching his brown eyes darken. My heart is pounding in my chest, threatening to break out, and I mentally beg it to stop.

He leans in, hot breath brushing my mouth. On instinct, I close my eyes.

His lips brush mine lightly, testing the waters, before he presses them together more firmly, arms pulling me tighter against him when he realizes I'm not going to move away. I moan, feeling every hard line of him, and something inside me kicks in, making me snake my arms around his neck, returning the kiss. He groans into my mouth and leans into me more.

My back hits the carpeted floor, and Takashi towers over me, hands propped up on either side of my head. We're both breathing heavily, staring into each other's eyes.

It's like magnets. I grab his shirt in my fists the same time he leans down, capturing my lips again. Some rational part of my mind is telling me to keep it slow, hold back a little, but Takashi's not having any of it. Softly but with plenty of demand, he bites down on my bottom lip. I moan and open my mouth, allowing him to slip his tongue in and explore as it wants.

Suddenly, something outside the door groans, causing us to pull away and look over at the barricade in one movement.

"They must be wandering down the stairs," I whisper, looking up at him, palms still propping him up.

He nods and looks down at me, inspecting my face. His eyes darken noticeably as they pass over my swollen lips. "We should get some sleep," he says, not making any move to get up.

I sigh in open disappointment. "You're right. We can make our way to Takagi's in the morning."

He chuckles, hovering above me for a few moments before pushing himself up. "Where do you want to sleep? Your room? I don't mind sleeping on the couch."

"Can't we both sleep in here?"

He looks surprised. "You want to?"

"W-well, I mean, we need to be close to an exit if something happens, plus I'd feel safer in here with someone else rather than by myself, besides…" Rambling. I'm definitely rambling.

He laughs. "Yeah, we can both sleep here."

I smile, ignoring the tangle of emotions in my head, and laugh too. It's crippled by a yawn, though.

"We need to get sleep," he says, leaning against the couch.

I nod, leaning against him. "Alright."

We end up falling asleep like that, cuddled against the soft couch. When I wake up, I'm thankful that it's not because of someone screaming or an undead clawing at the door; instead, the bright sun is shining through a crack in the blinds. Takashi's nowhere to be seen, though, and the barricade he made last night is gone, only the thin door protecting us.

"Takashi?" I call out groggily, standing up.

He steps out of the bathroom, running a towel through his hair. "Morning."

"Morning." I stretch out my arms, yawning. "What time is it?"

"A little past noon," he informs me.

My eyes widen. "Why didn't you wake me up?"

He shrugs, plopping on the couch. "I figured you hadn't gotten enough sleep for the past couple of days, so I let you sleep in."

"None of us have," I point out.

He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, but I saw the bags under your eyes two days ago; you were tired before everything went to hell; let alone after."

My face heats up as I run a hand through my hair, trying to distract myself.

He steps into the living room and I lean against the wall, ignoring images from last night.

"So what happened to the barricade?" I ask, distracting myself as my eyes glance over at the bare door.

"I moved it when I got up." He answers, bringing out two pieces of toast, "I thought we could leave as soon as you got up so we can get there. Takagi's Estate is only about ten minutes away from here by foot, so the sooner we get there, the better."

He holds out a piece of plain toast and I grab it, thanking him, "Then do you wanna start leaving now? I'd much rather move around in my pajamas."

"Yeah. We'll leave as soon as we finish eating."

It doesn't take us long to eat and before we know it, we're already out on the streets, heading up the empty back roads.

"Gotta plan?" I ask as we head towards a small horde.

"Just one." He answers, taking one done, "Push through!"

"Got it." I clip one on the forehead, rushing past them.

Takashi's right. After taking care of the small horde, we trudge through bushes and forests, avoiding the rest of the undead wondering the streets, and arrive at the back gate to the Takagi's Estate.

"Finally." I say, breathing heavily.

Takashi wraps an arm around my waist and I automatically lean into him, "Tired?" He asks with amusement.

"Hush." I grumble.

"Onii-chan! Onee-chan!" Alice comes running towards us just as the massive iron gates open up to let us in.

Almost immediately he unlaces his arm and holds them out for Alice, who jumps into him with surprising force.

"I'm so glad you're back!" She cried into Takashi's shoulder.

"She's been worried sick." Kohta says, smiling with relief at us, "We all have."

"Thanks." I smile, "I'm sorry we worried you all."

–xxx–

Looking back, I knew I shouldn't have been as happy as I was. We were in the middle of a war between the living dead and the new selves we were becoming. Takashi had kissed me, but that didn't mean everything was going to be okay.

It was the calm before the storm.