A/N: Hey, actually got this one out in a relatively timely manner! Funny what you can do when you are unemployed. With school starting up again in the fall releases will likely be a little more sparse, but I hope to keep up with it. Anyways enough about me, read, rate, tell me what you think! Enjoy ladies and gents!
The night was passing with a lethargy akin to that of a terminal cancer patient; slowly and excruciating for all involved parties. He had been just sitting and listening for hours, for gunfire, shouts, screams, anything; but there hadn't been so much as a moan from the outside world. It had gotten to a point where he would be almost glad to hear the frightened shrieks of some unfortunate passer-by, if only to break up the horrifying monotony.
Taiga had gone with Minorin and the man who referred to himself as Jeong Jeong long before. He had no watch. No way to tell any time really, they were far from any windows, all of the electronics were as unresponsive as the computers had proven themselves to be, and which he had been informed were now all but useless since the internet had apparently gone down.
He was waiting for the three to come down from the roof – or at least send a runner – and inform him that he was up for the next guard shift. Funny how just sitting with nothing to occupy you made hours seem like eternities. He thought back to the rare occasions that he had been put in time-outs as a child; how the hell had he survived sitting for hours with his face in a corner? His mother had never been big on punishment, she was more of a teach-through-love-hippie type, very laid back regarding most things. The only times he could recall her looking truly enraged were when he had done something so unforgivably stupid that there was no other way she could have dealt with him.
The group was certainly not helping his silent purgatory; he couldn't recall any more words than it took to inform him that the internet was now less a World Wide Web than a tangle of mangled strands being exchanged all night. Sure they had been through some traumatic shit, but then again so had he, so had everyone within a conceivable radius. That gave none of them an excuse to sit like trapped rats and brood… himself included. He hadn't done anything to break the ice either.
Better to be shot out of the sky than never to try, he cleared his throat, "So… anybody hungry?"
Blank, fish-eyed stares from around the room. Scarcely an ear twitched in his direction. Save for his extreme right.
"Actually yes, famished." It was the Kitagawa girl who spoke up, which earned her a sharp look from her mother, she had to be no older than thirteen. However her voice spread like ripples of calming water around the room, and slowly frowns began to ease from harsh faces and hard lines to softer nuances as more muttered agreement.
Thank god Ryuuji thought to himself I don't think I could have dealt with another second of awkward silence. "Well you're all in luck," he exclaimed in the most chipper voice he could muster, "I'm a baker by trade." Now that earned a chorus of smiles. From all but the businessman that was, who immediately poked the obvious hole in the warm, fluffy balloon that was the notion of pastries, and which Ryuuji watched deflate on everyone's faces.
"Issue is, the kitchen's sort of occupied." The door to the outside was still wide open, no doubt the smell of gradually putrefying food would attract at least half of the town's newly and mutually similar residents. Well, no, it was a little early to be starting with the stereotypes; he had no idea if they really were rotting, or if they were undead, or if they were really even zombies in the first place. For all anyone knew it could have been some sort of fungal infection, like the kind that turned ants into mindless drones in order to have them bring the fungus a little closer to home.
However if that were the case then they would all have been exposed. How long did it take to turn once whatever it was got a hold of you? Hours? Days? It would be best not to find out, but at the same time he couldn't let go of the one tiny thread of hope he had managed to pluck from the tapestry of misery these people had succeeded in weaving themselves into.
"This is a restaurant, there have to be some knives and trays and stuff lying around here right?"
"I see where you're going with this, and it's not a proposal I'm willing to back."
"Where exactly is he going with this?" That was Kirino, Karin's mother.
"Why don't you tell them Ace?"
Ace? Who the hell did this guy think he was? "I'm proposing we get some able bodies up and moving before we start looking as dead-eyed as those things out there. I vote we clear the kitchen and get a little food in everyone before things start getting really hairy in here."
Dissonance as outraged cries filled the air.
"I'm not going out there again, are you out of your fucking mind!?"
"You expect me to put myself in harm's way?"
"How the hell would that even work!?"
"Shut it!" He exclaimed as loudly as he could muster without actually shouting. No doubt that would just make things worse. "Serving trays could very easily be used as shields if we had a little rope or some belts. Even strips of cloth would work. And steak knives, large spoons, meat tenderizers, could all work as offensive weapons. I'm not saying that we go in there American-Western style, guns a' blazing. We do it quickly and quietly, they seem to react to sound. If we can take them out from behind, maybe jump all of them at once, depending on how many there are, it's over in a flash, we dump the bodies out the door, bar it, and start loading anything that needs to go onto carts for disposal."
"Stealth kills," One of the brothers, he couldn't remember which was which, "I like it."
"Well I don't." He was really going to have to do something about that businessman's attitude. What was his name? Kiatsu? "I don't like anything about it. It's far too high risk for one thing, there simply aren't enough of us. And for another we have very little idea what those things are capable of. For all we know they could tear a man in half."
"Or they could be tame as kittens," quipped Kirino. Now that he took a moment to look at her properly, she really didn't look as old as he had first thought she was. Maybe she wasn't the girl's mother after all; she hardly looked a day over twenty. Hell even eighteen would be pushing it. He supposed she could be one of those mothers like his own that looked far younger than they were, but … oh crap, he was staring. He turned his head quickly back to the businessman before she had a chance to notice. "If it means food, I'm in."
"We should really wait for the others to get back and have a proper vote on it." He was trying to appeal to reason now was he?
"I think there are enough of us here to handle it while the minority is out," she said, "All in favour say aye."
Affirmatives sounded like cannons from around the room, riddling each consecutive argument he tried to make and effectively sinking the fleet of them. He chose to quit while he was behind, settling for a mumbled, "Don't say I didn't warn you," and proceeded to stalk off angrily to a separate corner. But there was no time to worry about him at the moment, he was a grown man, and could easily take care of himself. Everyone was clustered around Ryuuji, asking him questions, requesting battle plans, and growing steadily in volume.
He hushed the crowd and began, "First we need to scavenge around, we'll need sturdy looking knives, platters with handles, cloth, and preferably something to use as armour. Perhaps coats or aprons, any thick fabric will do." Almost before he got the last sentence out half of them were off like silenced rockets, padding quickly around the place, the others went more warily.
He walked to the kitchen door as quietly as his stature would allow, and slowly raised his head to peer through the window. It was as he thought, the zombies were gathered around any foodstuffs that had been left out on counters or knocked over. He counted five in the little moonlight the door allowed to spill into the decrepit room and mingle with the blood and flour on the floor. That was good, they had five able bodied people including himself. Assuming that they could locate enough knives and protection for everyone, they should be able to finish the job in about 30 seconds.
He crept back to the room they had begun in and saw a pile of supplies already begun to grow in the center; a thick-looking hoodie, three steak knives – which looked fairly sturdy -, two aprons, a serving tray, and a butter knife. It was a good start, he personally had enough gear for himself and maybe one more person, plus he still had both of his knives. All they would need is a bit more by way of protective gear and they would be set.
Just as the thought crossed his mind the others came in with a load of table cloths and other linens. They looked like the high thread count ones, he doubted much of anything aside from a Rottweiler could bite through a layer or two of that. They dropped them with the rest of the gear and walked over to him.
"Alright," he said, "I have two knives in my backpack, so we'll have enough weapons for everyone. As for the table cloths, good job, they look thick and should protect us from any biting or scratching." The others nodded their approval at his praise, the two brothers puffed up a bit; it conceivably had been their idea to use them.
"The Zombies' primary method of attack appears to be just that, biting, scratching, and otherwise breaking the skin to infect. So here's how this is going to work." He indicated the two brothers, Kirino, the woman – Masuno, her name was Masuno – and himself.
"The five of us are going to go in, each person gets a knife, a tablecloth to wear around their torso, and towels for each leg, arm, and their neck and head. Make sure that you are completely covered." The others nodded their approval of the plan thus far.
"We will go in, there were five Zombies that I could see. Everybody takes one, and we sneak up behind as quietly as possible; they seem to respond to sound far more than sight, so if we don't make any noise it is very unlikely that they'll notice us." Everyone was nodding now, drinking in his every word. He hoped for their sake that he was as trustworthy as they seemed to believe.
"After we all get in position I will count down from three on my fingers," he held them in the air and did so, so that everyone could see what he meant, "and when I close my fist," which he proceeded to do, "We knife them." A couple of confused looks from the older ones; probably weren't sure what he meant by knife them.
"To knife of these things, what you'll have to do is simultaneously grab the forehead and hold it against you, so they can't turn around and bite you, and slit their throat with the knife in an arcing fashion all the way around the middle. If you go about an inch or two in it should sever all of the major veins and arteries as well as the windpipe. Death will follow swiftly after. But you have to cut relatively deep, I can't have anyone getting squeamish on me; if you half ass it, they will be able to overpower you before they bleed out." Assuming these things can even bleed out.
"You'll have to hold them all the way down to the ground and until they are completely gone; they will essentially act as wounded animals, and even if they seem weak, they'll probably lash out with enough force to kill. Don't be fooled if any try to play dead." He looked around and was greeted by a lot of green complexions. None of these people were fighters, what was he thinking? Of course they were going to get squeamish on him. He doubted any of them had seen more blood in their lifetimes than what comes out of a pinprick, and here he was asking them to slit someone's throat.
The only one of them who looked resolved to do her duty was the older lady. "Alright," she stated, "When do we start." The others looked at her, and seemed to slowly absorb her resolve; he watched their mouths transform from frowns into hard lines, creased foreheads became taught. They all nodded assent to her statement and walked over to the pile to begin wrapping themselves. The businessman was still standing in his corner defiantly, and he glared a solemn warning at Ryuuji.
One of the brothers walked up to him and proffered a pot filled with what looked like oil and grease taken from food. "Go grease the hinges now," he said, "that way they won't squeak at all when we open the door. Then wash your hands so they don't smell it on you."
It was a good idea, Ryuuji wished he'd thought of it himself. If the door made so much as a peep on the way in their cover would be immediately blown, and the proceeding cacophony would likely attract every Zombie for miles around. The boy could have just saved every one of their lives. "What's your name again?" He asked curiously.
"Ichigo," he replied, "Ichigo Suzuka."
"Well thank you Ichigo," Ryuuji stated earnestly, "I'll go do that." He walked off to the younger boy's lip curling upwards into a grin behind him. The gratitude must have shown on his face, because as he walked towards the door he heard an ominous and quiet, 'You're welcome,' echo from behind him.
The grease stuck to the hinges easily as he smeared it, luckily he found them on the diner side of the wall, rather than the kitchen. That could have been a disaster. He used a bit of napkin to work it into all of the cracks, and then drizzled the remaining oil over them, as well as along the seams around the door itself. No way in hell was any noise coming from it now.
He crept to the furthest bathroom and washed his hands under the trickle of water he allowed the tap to leak. If this went badly he would likely never hear the end of it. It might even be the last thing he ever heard of. With that thought in mind he spent a good five minutes cleaning up, couldn't afford any screw-ups now. Once his hands were scrubbed thoroughly, under the nails and all, he crept back to the room where his new battalion waited.
They were all swathed in cloths from head to toe, and were practicing cutting motions with their knives. Somebody must have found a few more, because everyone now had one, some even had a second as a sidearm tucked in their robes while others had opted for a large spoon or the meat tenderizer. He strode to his pack and rooted around for his own knives; finding them after a few seconds, he then made his way to the pile of cloths and wrapped himself as thoroughly as he was able. The others showed him the way that they had done theirs to allow for mobility in the joints, while still retaining protection.
Once done he turned to face them. They all looked like members of a certain racially biased interest group, a thought which he caught himself smiling at under his face covering. It seemed like dark humour was all anyone could muster these days.
"Alright, here's how this is going to work," he addressed their burning eyes, which were all he could see of them, they may as well have been going on a crusade from their demeanour, "we go in quick, quiet, and we each take one. Kirino, you go extreme right. Masuno, next one over. Kirito can go middle, Ichigo can take the next one and I'll go extreme left." They all nodded in turn as he sounded off their names; Karin looked up proudly as Kirino assented to her position. The businessman just shook his head all the while.
"When I signal with my hand like so," he stuck two fingers in the air and made a forward-sweeping motion with them, "we go in, and then we kill on my count." He once again made the counting motion with his fingers. "Everybody ready?" Another chorus of nods answered him. They were really getting into this.
They made their way to the set of double doors; it was still quite dark outside, which just served to make them look more imposing, but it also afforded them an extra degree of cover. What sight the Zombies possessed would be crippled by the blackness. Then again so would they, but there was still just enough light to make them out by thanks to the moon. It seemed to shine with exceptional brightness; perhaps that was a side effect of the eradication of light pollution from the surrounding area.
He grabbed Ichigo by the shoulder as the others continued forward and gestured to his sidearm, the meagre looking wooden spoon. "That won't protect you if things get hairy in there you know."
The fire that had been burning in Ichigo's eyes dimmed a few lumens as he replied, "I know, but Kirito said I wouldn't be able to keep track of a second knife, so he gave me this instead."
"Nonsense," Ryuuji replied, "That thing's more likely to get you killed than another knife. Here, take this." He pulled a knife from his robes, one of his own that he had been keeping in his pack, and proffered it to Ichigo hilt first. He had picked up one of the steak knives in the pile in addition to his own two, so relinquishing one of the three for the purpose of giving the boy a fair chance seemed only right. He kept his second hidden and the steak knife in the front of his cloths as his main weapon. Ichigo looked shocked as he reluctantly accepted it, relinquishing his spoon to Ryuuji.
"Use that as your main weapon," He instructed, "Keep the steak knife in your robes as a sidearm, blade and tip away from your torso, like so." Ryuuji demonstrated, placing his own knife in a fold at his side. He watched Ichigo do the same, and removed his knife and slotted the spoon in its place, then proceeded to close his robes. Ichigo once again mimicked him, folding the robes so that the hilt peeked slightly out and could be easily grabbed in an emergency.
"Thanks," Ichigo whispered as the two of them turned to re-join the group several yards away. Ryuuji just grunted in reply and gave him a wink as he strode forward to meet the portal to hell their group had gathered around.
He removed the barring on the doors as silently as possible and, making sure everyone was ready to go, tested the hinges by opening them a crack. Not so much as a sigh as they parted; it may have been the elation and relief he suddenly felt, but he could have sworn they looked happy to do so. He opened them the rest of the way to reveal the five forms swaying in the darkness. They almost seemed to undulate as they stood. All of the food on the floor and the counters was gone, save for the mess their feast had left behind, and in the wake of it they seemed to have reached a consensus to oscillate there and regard the open doorway as though they were standing some morbid vigil.
He motioned forward and everyone crept into the room. As an added precaution he pulled the doors closed behind him and replaced the barring as best he could from the kitchen side. He turned to see the others taking up their positions behind their marks, and he moved to his own. Thankfully the Zombies' shuffling and blundering about had pushed most of the clutter aside, so there was little risk of tripping and causing a din on his way there.
He righted himself from the crouch he had been moving in once he had closed in enough and drew his knife; an action which his comrades mimicked quickly. He raised his fist to the ceiling and counted down from three, half the eyes in the room upon him. On reaching one his hand lowered and he began to move, the others followed suit, it was all going so incredibly smoothly so far. In fact they were lucky to still be aliv– CLANG!
The noise echoed like a gunshot through the building, and Ryuuji watched a ripple pass through the cluster before them, all five of their adversaries began to turn simultaneously, but there was no time to stop and think now, he grabbed the thing's forehead and held it tight to his chest at the same instant that he raised his knife to deliver the killing blow. It cut clean all the way around and a geyser of blood issued forward from the wound. It was joined by three others in rapid succession. Three. SHIT.
He turned just in time to see the Zombie Ichigo had been assigned falling upon him, and the look of sheer terror in his eyes. It ripped the robes off of him like they were the wrapping to a candy bar, exposing flesh within seconds, which amounted to all of the time Ryuuji had to react. He plunged the knife he had used on his own deep into its eye-socket, penetrating the brain and ending any further struggle then and there. He then drew his second and leapt from underneath the fallen zombie towards the young man a few feet away.
The head stopped abruptly as it descended towards the boy, arrested by Ryuuji's hand, and it swiftly parted ways with its torso without so much as a sad farewell courtesy of the rage-fuelled strike of his other. The others shoved the bodies off of themselves, by now bled dry, and rushed over to help. Ryuuji ordered them sternly away, and shouted at them to dump the bodies and bar the doors. The world was spinning, reeling as though from the force of his assault. He heard footfalls on the roof, no doubt drawn by his shouts. Had he shouted? It all seemed like a blur now; a loud slam-clink rang out as the door closed and locked itself to the outside world.
He looked down at Ichigo, how could he have been so stupid. He saw the offending pot, the one that had issued the noise, lying at his feet. Ryuuji turned to the restaurant door only to be greeted by the receding shit-eating, I-told-you-so grin of the Businessman from behind its glass. He cursed him under his breath. The others began clearing anything that immediately needed to go, as per the plan, rancid food, soiled linens, anything that might attract more of the damn things.
He turned again to Ichigo. Who was still breathing. Shit! He hadn't even thought to check! He had just assumed the boy was dead. Ryuuji immediately tore off the remainder of his robes and assessed the damage. He didn't even look scratched, a little blood-soaked perhaps from the parting of his target's head from its shoulders, but otherwise not that much worse for the wear. And in that case why did he look like he was in so much pain? His knife lay a little ways away from him, and the second one Ryuuji had given him was… was… lodged in his abdomen.
He shouted, screamed, to the others to open the restaurant side door, they looked momentarily confused until they saw the hilt sticking out of Ichigo's belly. Kirino rushed over and flung them wide while Masuno dragged a struggling Kirito through them. He evidently had not liked what he had seen of his brother's condition. Ryuuji grabbed Ichigo under his arms and dragged him backwards through, while Masuno and Kirino ran on his orders to go find warm water and clean towels, as well as some antiseptics and a first aid kit to clean and dress the wound.
That was another problem: as it was he currently had the Zombie's blood all over him, probably mixing with his own in an open wound. Ryuuji was no doctor, but he had taken first aid courses and studied a bit of medicine on his own time before he had apprenticed as a baker. Keeping his options open had been imperative back then, and he had seriously believed he would go to university for his M.D. before he had discovered baking. Due to his various forays he knew how to stich and suture a wound, but the possibility of infection from doing it in this setting alone was high, not to mention the present contaminants. He had no idea if peroxide or rubbing alcohol would even kill whatever caused the Zombie-ism.
He could do his best, but hospital conditions would be few and far between in this new world. There was a good chance that they were going to lose him. They would all have to be prepared for that. Kirino came running back with everything he had asked for and he set to work cleaning Ichigo off as best as he could while he had her administer painkillers. They certainly didn't have Oxycontin or T4's, but anything was better than nothing as long as it wasn't a blood thinner. Kirino informed him that Masuno was currently detaining Ichigo's brother and Karin in the other room so they wouldn't be in the way.
Thank god he thought, the last thing I need right now is people screaming into my face. He doused Ichigo in peroxide and rubbing alcohol, and allowed it to dry on his abdomen as he applied extra around the wound. He gave the knife hilt an experimental tug, and found it to be stuck fast. That was a good sign, it meant that it was creating a seal with his skin, and the wound might still be uncontaminated. The glimmer of hope burned like a candle in a hurricane until it was roughly extinguished by the sight he was greeted with when he looked at the other side and saw that the jagged edge had torn up the other end of its surface. Not deep, but deep enough to count. He splashed a little extra peroxide on it.
How best to do this? He needed to act fast, Ichigo was coughing up blood, not enough that it appeared that the knife had hit any major arteries, but there was still obvious internal bleeding. Which needed to be remedied. He cracked the first aid kit, which he discovered to be more a doctor's bag than anything, as he rooted through he saw scalpels, self-dissolving stitching thread, and other incredibly useful amenities. This thing was coming with him when they left. He grabbed the thread and a needle and set to work, the knife had not penetrated all the way through his back, so Ryuuji packed the wound as he quickly extracted it, minding the jagged edge. The cloth he used to staunch blood-flow began to redden instantly, but not as quickly as he had anticipated.
He allowed the wound to bleed for several seconds, blood was the body's antiseptic after all, and if it bled out the toxins in the process… Well that was just fine with him. He kept the pressure on, and once he felt good about bad blood being cleared removed it to pour a little peroxide in the wound to deal with any infectious agents remaining and denature remaining blood, and hopefully provide a little stopping power.
Which is when he noticed the organ punctured deeper in the wound.
That was a bag of cats that he hadn't been entirely prepared to open with when he began. In fact he wasn't entirely sure what to do with a punctured organ; he hadn't gotten that far in his studies. It looked like it could be the liver, or perhaps a kidney, it was in the right place. In his second of indecision the wound had again begun to fill; he looked closer, it was definitely the liver.
Not much of an option, he'd stitch it now and deal with any repercussions later. He got to work quickly, suturing from the bottom up, slowly closing the wound tight. The bleeding was lessening, and as he lashed the skin together to the tune of Ichigo's pained whimpers he looked at the pool he was now kneeling in. It wasn't as bad as he had been imagining, he hadn't dared peek before now, but he estimated it to be about a liter. Which wasn't optimal, but for a boy Ichigo's size, survivable.
Ryuuji once again rooted through the bag and found a quick-clot sponge among the supplies. That would have been handy earlier. He squeezed it experimentally and placed it on top of the wound, grabbed some tensor bandages, and set about binding Ichigo's abdomen. His breathing was stabilizing, and when Ryuuji checked his pulse he found it to be slowing to a more normal rate. He checked blood pressure with a stethoscope and pressure cuff. It was low. Very low. But still present. He would need to be left lying down to ensure circulation until a transfusion could happen or his body could compensate.
Kirino came with a bed made of some lashed-together serving carts and cushions and a stretcher constructed from table legs and cloths, which they proceeded to roll him onto for transference to the cot. They wheeled him back to the room just in time to meet Taiga and Minorin barrelling down the stairs from the roof.
"WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED HERE!?"