A/N: I wrote this over the week that i was gone on holidays, so it is longer and hopefully better than the ones i simply one-shotted and banged off in a matter of hours. Some character development here and a little look at how I believe they would react to stress based upon various breakdowns in the anime, and patterns that i have observed in people (Not murderers and killers of course, nor any personal experience with killing, i'm not a psychopath i promise ;) ). Enjoy!
Chapter 5 - Diamond in the Rough
Taiga awoke to faint recognition of a noise her subconscious plucked from the wall of night sounds it usually filtered as she slept. Some of those noises were incorporated into her dreams, some catalogued, the vast majority discarded without as much as a second thought. This one was of the second category, stored a long time ago, and one she had only ever heard in an incredibly watered down form on very specific occasions. As her brain ran through its boot-up procedures the sound grew louder, reaching a fever pitch, and as she pulled it free of the background and examined it inside of her mind she began to feel its familiarity more strongly. The more she rolled it around in her sleep-addled brain, the more agitation she felt at her inability to place it, until the realization of its origin hit her like a wave and revived the portion of her psyche that registered alarm and feeling, fully and instantly, just as a physical one would have. The sound was Ryuuji's scream.
She sat bolt upright in bed, straining for something more so that she could be entirely sure that what she had heard was not simply a figment of her imagination, or something caught at the edge of a nightmare and mistaken for reality. But to no avail, the sound cut off abruptly the moment she righted herself, which in a way made her even more nervous than the racket in and of its self. She swung her legs over the edge of the four-poster, deciding that whatever had caused it warranted investigation, and leapt to the floor, landing silent and cat-like in a crouch. Two feet and one hand hit the floor; the second groped the night air beside her bed for the blade that she kept there, and came up empty. This puzzled the still drowsy logical side of her brain; that is until her memory of the previous evening kicked in. She had shattered it mere hours before in her siege of the laundry room.
"Damn it all," she muttered under her breath, she would have to go solo this time. Her instincts screamed protest at the notion of continuing unarmed, but for the moment she had no choice but to fly in their face and proceed. She preferred to keep her room Spartan, and as such there were no real adornments that were not soft and used for sleeping, or heavy and used for holding clothes or other articles. Her best bet would be the kitchen; Ryuuji would surely have left a frying pan or knife in the rack to dry overnight. At times his insistence on cleaning absolutely everything by hand was a pain, but at the moment she felt grateful for his obsessive compulsive tendencies. Not because they achieved a better result than that of a machine, but because they now had the possibility of yielding her a means of self defence.
Rising from her crouch she began padding down the hall, checking her surroundings as se went, though the screaming had stopped there was a dull, methodical thudding issuing from the same direction, and that alone was enough to keep the hair on the back of her neck standing at attention. Every open door was a potential source of danger, and she treated them accordingly, checking each one individually as the cops in the American movies and TV shows she saw always did, leaning slowly around, prepared to strike. She had no idea what she would have done in the event that there had been an intruder hiding in one of the chambers, but the act its self made her feel more at ease. After a few minutes, which seemed like an eternity, (as tends to happen when one is involved in a game of cat and mouse, fearful for one's wellbeing), she arrived at the living room adjacent to the kitchenette and dining room. She strode past the partial island dividing them, not yet looking down the final hall leading to her front door, and glanced to the drying rack. It appeared to have been rummaged through, and recently. Instead of the careful placement Ryuuji usually employed when drying his dishes, everything was either sideways or strewn across the counter in a chaotic manner; there did not seem to be a single piece of kitchenware in its proper place.
"That isn't just odd," she mumbled to herself, "It's completely unlike him." Moving closer, she spotted what she was looking for, a large kitchen knife. "Not quite a sword, but when in Rome…" she trailed off, having turned in the direction of the kitchen's connection to the front entryway and spotted something that immediately caused her blood to run cold. There were flecks of red trailing along the walls that Ryuuji had scrubbed to a pristine white not a week beforehand, growing larger as they progressed towards the door.
"Oh god," Taiga exclaimed in a hushed tone, hand rising to cover her mouth. She started towards the entrance slowly at first, but speeding up quickly, and breaking into a flat run as she rounded the corner. And stopping dead in her tracks once again. Sitting there in the doorway was Ryuuji, covered from head to toe in blood and bits of various organs and clutching a splintered, gory rolling pin to his chest. He was rocking back and forth, seemingly on the verge of tears. In shock at this peculiar sight, she did not immediately notice what was lying next to him until his head snapped around at the sound of her approaching footsteps, drawing her eyes to it and what rested just beyond.
Lying on the ground beside him was a pair of bodies, one atop the other, the bottom one appeared to have been ripped open, its insides pulled out and mauled all down the corridor. The second was less rent open and picked over, but at the same time decidedly more disturbing in nature, it appeared to have been beaten to a shadow of its former self, to the point that it was really just a skeleton lying in a pool of near-liquefied flesh and muscle tissues. The shear force required for such a feat was astonishing by its self, but what was even more amazing was it did not look like something done out of malice.
There were no signs of struggle, no bloody handprints on wall, messages written in bodily fluids by the dying, or even signs of torment. It simply looked as though whoever had assailed the victim had been too blind with fear to realize that their quarry was long dead, or had continued swinging just to make sure. Her eyes shifted back to Ryuuji, and the splintered rolling pin he still clutched. He stared at her with eyes wide, as though not comprehending that it was her who stood before him, but instead seeing some ferocious creature. As the pieces of the puzzle playing out before her slowly began fitting themselves together, she felt the knife slip from her grasp and clatter to the floor. The thudding noise, the rolling pin, the smashed corpses, and Ryuuji sitting there in evident shock. For whatever reason he had killed these people.
She sunk to her knees, overwhelmed by all that she had just taken in, and bit back tears that were threatening to overflow and completely overwhelm her. How could this have happened? The two of them were just beginning their lives together, why had he done something so stupid? Had her classmates been right about him? Was he really a bloodthirsty delinquent? Had he exhibited the symptoms of mental illness, the signs of a sociopath? Had she missed them, or been so taken in that she had just not seen them? As she wallowed on the floor, clad still in only her pyjamas, she heard one word escape his lips.
What in the hell was that supposed to mean? Zombies? Was he honestly so delusional that he believed he had been killing zombies, and not living human beings as the cadavers had so obviously been? Without warning his head snapped around yet again, staring down the approaching hall. She heard his breathing quicken, and watched as he gripped his makeshift weapon more tightly, knuckles so far past white they were approaching transparency. What was it that he was so afraid of? People seeing what he had done? Calling the Cops on him?
She raised her eyes, following the path his seemed to be taking down the hall, and was rewarded with the biggest shock she had received so far that evening. Shuffling down the communal corridor; some dragging legs, others with limp arms, and one missing both of its legs as well as half of its torso, dragging its self forward with only clawed hands, came creatures bearing a striking resemblance to the two bodies before her. Pale clammy-looking skin, insides coming out from every which way, and jaws agape, eyes staring but not appearing to perceive anything before them, there was only one word she could call to mind to describe them.
"Oh…" she whispered, succumbing one again to sheer astonishment,"… Zombies…" All doubts about her fiancé stricken from her mind in that moment, she grabbed him by the arm and hauled him through the doorway. With the Zombies advancing at their current pace they would be overwhelmed in less than a minute, there was no time to think, she had to act. She snatched the knife from where it had landed after she had dropped it and hurled herself through the doorway after him, slamming it behind her just as the group from the hall reached it. They were fast. She had always thought Zombies would be slow, shuffling and dragging limbs lackadaisically, and though these did shuffle and drag it appeared that they could build up some serious momentum when they put the tattered remains of their minds to it.
She slammed the bolt on the door home and chained it shut just as they started throwing themselves against it, attempting to break it down. Unlike her laundry-room door which, though solid, she had broken through the previous day with relative ease, this one had been made for maximum security, composed of steel and titanium and held in place by a frame anchored deep in the concrete supports of the building its self. It was artfully done and tasteful as well, unlike the sliding grey doors you see in prisons, both sides were intricately patterned with three dimensional embossments. No expense had been spared on insuring her safety, he original door had been made of painted wood, but in one of his erratic fits of concern for his poor, fragile daughter, he father had had it replaced with this one. This was one of those times that having an incredibly wealthy and concerned parent came in handy. She promised herself that if she got out of this alive she would find and thank him.
She then turned to Ryuuji, who lay where she had thrown him, spread eagle on the floor with her rolling pin still clutched to his chest. She wondered how she had managed to throw him through the door; he had been essentially dead weight. "Must have been the adrenaline," she muttered to herself as she observed him, noticing something even more uncharacteristic of him than the upturned dish-rack. His shoulders were shaking, breaths coming in quick gasps; she went to him and turned him over onto his back. He was crying.
"I didn't have a choice!" He bawled, face contorted by grief as sobs ripped through him, "It wasn't human! It was eating that body! EATING IT!" After that and coherent speech was lost in a wave of agonizing tears, followed by a chorus of hiccups after which he began to wind down.
Taiga had no idea what to do in this sort of situation; how did you comfort a person who was essentially just forced to murder another, even if out of self defence? She had never been good with feelings or comfort in the first place, so all she could think to do was to curl up with him there on the floor and softly stroke his head until he had calmed down enough to speak clearly, while whispering things such as "It's ok," and, "You did the right thing."
Though the latter of the two expressions may have been accurate, she had never before in her life felt that the former could be any further from the truth. After seeing what lay outside her door, and hearing it there still, she had developed the distinct feeling that nothing was ever again going to be truly "Ok."
"Are you alright now?" She asked him after he had calmed down enough for the shaking hitch in his breath to disappear.
"It depends on your definition of 'alright'," he replied, "Did that really just happen? You saw the same thing I did right? Is this a dream?" She pinched his arm, hard, and he leapt to his feet with an indignant yelp. "What the hell was that for?"
"'That' was an experiment," she responded, "You aren't dreaming." His face fell, and took on the appearance of someone who had just been slapped by their best friend. "Now do me," She said, eyes downcast.
"What?" He inquired, confused
"Pinch me or something, I want to make sure I'm not dreaming either."
He obliged, pinching her arm hard enough to bring tears to her eyes. "I'm not dreaming either..." She moaned, and with that she let the aforementioned tears fall, staring downward at her upturned hands. As sobs racked her body she felt Ryuuji's arm slip around her shoulders, comforting her. She didn't know how long she knelt there, sobbing at the ground, but after what seemed like an eternity she began peter out, eyes running dry and racking sobs diminishing to mere shudders, Ryuuji slowly stood up.
"I'm going to go shower," Ryuuji stated, "Are you going to be ok here by yourself for a little while?"
She nodded, still staring at her hands, and heard his footsteps recede towards the bathroom, stop, and then the sound of a sudden rush of water and the clunk that signified her tub switching from faucet to shower. That snapped her out of her revere; she rose from the floor and relocated to her couch, by how stiff she felt doing it she estimated that she must have been hunched there for at least an hour.
Her mind felt clearer now that she'd had a good cry and she began sorting through what she knew to be true in an attempt to make sense of all that had just happened. The noises outside the door had not yet stopped; the Zombies in the hall were still throwing themselves mindlessly against it, which sealed the deal for her. No human would continue hurling themselves unflinchingly against a solid metal door for hours on end, and certainly not that hard; they would have either knocked themselves unconscious or been to hurt to continue after even half an hour.
And what she had seen in the hallway had definitely not been human. They hadn't even looked diseased; they seemed so far past any form of ailment she had ever seen that they could only be described as corpse-like, with their lifeless, staring eyes and multitudinous lacerations. The term 'Zombie' was truly the best descriptor one could come up with, though whether they were Zombies in a classical sense; Un-dead creatures from the nether world, or some scientific anomaly, could not yet be determined she felt sure that they were not something to be taken lightly.
With that sorted, at least for the time being, she looked beyond her immediate situation and broadened her scope to include society and the town in which they were living. If all the movies, books and media about Zombie apocalypses could be believed then this would not be an isolated event. Assuming that whatever was causing this whole fiasco was communicable, then within a matter of hours there would only be pockets of survivors left. If that was not already the case. Shortly after which society, social order, and any other institutions currently present would all collapse, leaving the rag-tag groups of survivors completely alone and defenceless against the ever growing hoards of monsters roaming the Earth.
She rose from her seat and moved to the French doors on the far wall of her living room, opening them to reveal the concrete balcony that jutted a couple of feet straight out from the outside wall of her building, and over the sidewalk of the street in front of it. She stepped onto it and strode forward, taking a moment to steel herself, and looked to the street below. They were definitely going to need to find some weapons. Fast. As far as she could see in either direction there were the same things they had so narrowly escaped in the hallway just milling aimlessly around. There had to be hundreds, if not thousands, in the square kilometre of area around her apartment alone.
She looked to her left, and her eyes alighted on the house in which Ryuuji had grown up with his mother. Oh god, Ya-Chan; in their terror they had completely forgotten about her, at this time of day she would most likely be at home and asleep in her room. Not even the din that the street roaming Zombies were making would be able to rouse her from her drunken sleep for at least another several hours.
Wait, she would be sleeping! That meant she would be making next to no noise, and would be in a dark home behind locked doors; since she lived alone now the likelihood that there was somebody else inside that had been infected was next to none. The only way that she would be in any immediate danger would be if she had brought a client home from work. She had done this on an odd couple of occasions when she had been to drunk to even walk herself home, but Ryuuji had always been there to shoo them away, assuring them that he would care for her appropriately and that he was perfectly capable ensuring her safety. He was not there now, but the instances had been so incredibly infrequent that she saw no reason for concern.
There would be no way the Zombies would be able to tell that she was there, unless they had incredible, altered senses of smell. That would certainly explain why the ones in the hallway had still not given up their assault of her apartment, but she would just have to hope for now that they didn't. She sprinted from the balcony in the direction of her bathroom to report her findings to Ryuuji, and hopefully come up with a plan to rescue his mother.
Part way there another thought stopped her dead for a third time that night. Yasuko was not the only one she had to worry about. Minorin, Kitamura, even that stupid Chihuahua would be caught up in this just the same as they had been. That was almost enough to push her over the edge and into another fit of tears, but she managed to hold on for the moment. They would simply have to come up with a plan that incorporated then into their rescue effort; all of her friends were incredibly resourceful, they would find a way to survive for a few more hours without her. Comforted, she continued on her way, even faster this time, as though trying to outrun all the horrors that now lay around her, hiding in the shadowy cracks that spider-webbed the rapidly degrading remains of her world.
She reached the bathroom and burst in without thinking to knock, if Ryuuji had been showering he wasn't now, the water was no longer running and she didn't see anything through the crack under the door signifying that he still was. As she opened it she loudly proclaimed, "Ryuuji, I'm coming…" she had meant to say 'I'm coming in,' but the sight that greeted her caused the remainder of the sentence to swell, and catch in her throat.
Before her, naked as the day he was born, stood her fiancé. In his surprise at her sudden entrance he had turned to face her, and a certain something between his legs swung around with him, coming almost to level with her chin. 'Right,' she thought, 'His dick, boys have those.' Ryuuji was staring down at her, blushing furiously, they were not more than a foot and a half apart even though Taiga's bathroom was quite spacious. The reason for this was probably the fact that the towel hanger was located oh-so-inconveniently beside the door, she had never before understood the reason for its placement, but she now theorized that it was just to create situations like these.
She began to look him up and down; the bakery work really had done wonders for his physique. His arms, which before had been wiry and of a slightly above average size, could now be safely described as corded with muscle, and very developed, all of their strapping portions looked taut and primed without his even having to flex them. She moved her flitting gaze to his torso, where she saw the now obvious benefits of his having hauled all of those heavy bags of ingredients, pectoral muscles jutted from his chest as though hewn from stone, angular and defined, and further down she observed full six pack abs, each one perfectly shaped, like a double row of the succulent buns he sometimes brought her home from work. She felt a little bit of drool run down the corner of her mouth at the thought of eating him just like those buns, 'I wonder if he would taste as delicious…' she contemplated, the sight of him placing her in the midst of an ever growing haze. 'Where the hell did that come from?' the logical part of her brain cried out, shocked, but it was quickly silenced by the next destination of her now greedily wandering eyes.
They alighted on the toned musculature of his legs, cut calves running into thighs developed by much squatting and lifting of flour, sugar, and other things sacked by the hundreds of pounds. Her brain was beginning to feel numb, and she felt a small fire building in her lower abdomen, slowly boiling her insides into an incoherent soup of pure desire. Her visual path brought her back up the genitals which still hung essentially in her face, Ryuuji hadn't yet moved, frozen in place by either surprise or fear, she couldn't (or at the moment didn't care to try and) tell which. She was now looking at them in a light very different from that of moments ago when they had swung to greet her entrance, she felt her head cloud further with a fog of disbelief and something else which she could not yet place. The feeling was not entirely new to her, she had gotten it before when looking at pictures of scantily clad men with Minorin, or at times when she'd had rather lewd dreams, but never this strong or immediate.
He was close enough that if she wanted to, she could simply reach out and grab them, caress him up and down… was it bigger than average? It certainly seemed to be growing, slowly standing to attention in front of her until it came to rest, pointed sharply upwards in the direction of her mouth. She moved her head sideways to get a better look at it, yes it was certainly large, and she wondered how it would feel… Suddenly he jumped, practically falling over himself in his attempts to back pedal; her movement must have broken his trance, but his only served to fuel her, the way it bobbed hypnotically up and down as he moved seemed to call her ever closer. She followed him, a damp spot forming between her legs as a direct result of the fire now raging just above it.
He continued backward until he hit the far wall where she pinned him, head sliding still farther into the haze in which she found herself nearly engulfed. "Taiga! What are you doing?" He cried as she drew ever closer, their bodies scarcely inches apart.
"Well we're engaged aren't we…?" She trailed in a breathy voice, she pressed a palm against the cool, tiled wall beside him, feeling deliciously reckless. "Wouldn't it be alright for me to have just a little feel?" Face hot as an iron she placed her free hand on his chest, trailing fingers slowly downwards. "I want to see what. It's. Like." She hoped the staccato punctuation made the statement sound as seductive as she intended, by this point her need was almost overflowing. Her spot had grown to a blotch; she wasn't sure how much longer she could contain herself.
"Would that really be appropriate, considering what just happened?"
She looked up at his face at that point, noting the way his back was arched in obvious discomfort, his facial expression screaming of apprehension, looking incredibly off put despite the blush evident in his cheeks. He looked her in the eyes and asked, concern coating his words, "Taiga, what's gotten into you? Are you sure you're alright? This isn't at all like you."
That snapped her back to reality, and she immediately recalled the reason she had burst in with such urgency. "Oh god," she said, the haze, which his gaze had pushed into her periphery, now lifting completely, she backed up blushing furiously now, "Sorry, I guess I kind of… lost it." With a feeble attempt at an apology aside the gravity of the situation outside of her bathroom caused it to bubble to the forefront of her mind and burst suddenly outward in a rush of pent up fear and apprehension.
"We have to save the others!" She blurted, giving rise to a confused look on Ryuuji's face which gradually disappeared as she rehashed, in a much briefer fashion than that in which they had come to her, her realizations and her theories about his mother, their friends, and society as a whole. He took a moment to absorb all that she had told him, and then spoke softly.
"I was actually thinking the same thing, about society that is, but I agree with you. If we are going to get through this, and it goes anything like what is stereotypically supposed to happen in apocalypse events, we are definitely going to need a solid group of able bodied people whom we can trust." He paused and then asked tentatively, "Could we continue this one I'm dressed?"
"Oh god!" She exclaimed again, "Yes! Sorry! I'm just, I mean I was… I'll just go…" And turned on her heel and left him standing there, smiling to himself a little.
"I didn't think she was that attracted to me. At least not in that way. I may have to take her up on that offer of a feel up sometime." He then began the process of drying off, and getting ready for the hell he was about to face. Taiga was doing the same in the other room; preparing herself for all that unpleasant things she was certain she would have to do before this was over.