Since everything began, none of us have had a moment of respite.

We've been running and fighting for much too long, and I don't think any of us have had a real chance to sit back and talk about everything that's happened. It's not easy to talk about, but it's better than slowly going insane.

Just once, we need the opportunity to rest and recover. To feel safe one last time. To lie to ourselves for one night longer.

After this, there's a chance we won't need to run away anymore. It would be best to make peace with ourselves before that happens.


H.O.T.D. Season 2: World of the DEAD

Act 5: Respite for the DEAD


A blast of heat seared the back of Rika's neck as the SWAT officer hastily pulled out a handgun.

Skidding to a stop, Rika spun around and adopted a solid stance. She lined up the undead in her sights, and with one shot sent it crashing to the ground in a halo of blood. Behind the collapsed form of the monster the explosion swallowed itself, leaving a tangible absence of heat in its wake.

More zombies were slowly pinning them along the furthest edge of the floating airport, and one of Rika's men got down on one knee in an attempt to pick of the zombies with a sniper rifle. The gun was a long range one – not meant for encounters of such a close nature.

Rika's gloved hand shot out to pull the man to his feet as another thing approached from behind.

"Move!" She cried out to the men who were now scattered in a loose line along the tarmac. Heeding her order, the men ran for cover.

Following suit, Rika and the other SWAT officer dove behind an upturned loading cart. Pulling another grenade from her belt, the leader ripped the pin out with her teeth and tossed it over the cart.

The moans of the undead were cut off as fiery heat buffeted them from around the vehicle. Rika rose to find several corpses staggering towards her, their flesh on fire.

Swearing, her subordinate raised his scope to his eye, intending to take the closest one out.

"No, Marco!" Rika yelled. Forcing Marco back, Rika stepped away from the nearest corpse, and soon enough it collapsed onto the tarmac as its flesh was burned from its bones.

There were only two more zombies now, one of which Rika took out with an excellent shot from her handgun. The other was still several meters away, but even as she watched, one of the volunteers from the airport staff charged at it with the butt of his rifle raised.

"He must be out of ammo," Marco growled, his legs beginning to shake from the pounding they had received.

The man yelled and swung the makeshift club as hard as he could. He misjudged his aim, and connected with the monster's shoulder. It was forced back a step, but the man lost his grip on the weapon and it was flung out of his grasp out of sheer momentum.

He staggered back from the weight of it, but not before the monster was able to lunge forward and sink its teeth into his neck.

The man cried out in pain, and blood splattered over his cheek as the monster bit down deeper. A sudden bang and the zombie collapsed, courtesy of another well placed bullet from Rika.

The other men ran over to their fallen comrade, who was already coughing blood over the ground. Rika came to his side, her gun clutched tight. The man turned to look at her with clouded eyes, and grinned.

"If you'd so please ma'am… I don't wanna go out like one of Them." He coughed again, and Rika nodded with a hard gaze.

"I can't think of a better use for my last bullet," she said simply.

The next second, the man's movements were still.

Some of the men looked away, grinding their teeth in anger at the pointlessness his death. Rika noticed, but turned her head and returned her now-empty hand gun to her belt.

"Get this man back to the main building. He has a mother here doesn't he? She can say goodbye."

Her words were met with grateful smiles, and the men set about transporting him back to the building as respectfully as possible.

Rika sighed, and turned back to her subordinate.

"Marco, how the hell did they get past us? We have a screening process in place don't we?" Rika all but growled, her frame tense with barely concealed anger. One of the remaining two SWAT members moved over to their position, drawn to familiar colleagues and old friends.

"We don't know ma'am. There must have been a couple of Them in one of the beat up cargo transporters which got out and attacked people." Marco replied, uncertain.

"We've confirmed from witnesses that three of the monsters infected some civilians who were doing a sweep of the loading bay. Hideki was among them," filled in Parker, the only foreign-born member of the SWAT team and the youngest of them, his face falling towards the end.

Rika swore violently, and clenched a gloved fist.

"First Tajima, now Hideki too. Not even the best officers in the country can survive…"

Hideki was the fourth ranking member of the five officers whom had been deployed to the airport. He'd been a good man… always helping someone or other, whether it be an old lady crossing the road, or a group of civilians searching for zombies post-apocalypse.

Now that he and Tajima – Rika's second in command – were gone, only Rika, Marco and Parker remained, in that order of command.

The three of them began the kilometre journey back to the airport building – the battle had taken them almost to the western edge of the tarmac. The SWAT team and whichever citizens helped had made a fine effort in clearing the airport of undead. The main tarmac area outside the building within a kilometre radius had been all but secured, and was easily defendable.

It was the planes, loading bays, and the rest of the large airport that was the concern.

Rika had begun organising periodic sweeps of the airport, slowly clearing it of undead section by section. It was a slow, methodical process which had cost both ammunition and lives. But it was either that, or forever repel an undead force of unknown size and location.

"Ma'am…" Began Parker, but trailed off.

"God Parker, you'd think I'm your grade school principal or something. I don't need any of this Ma'am stuff anymore, alright?" She grinned at him, and he nodded back.

"Hai, Ma'am!"

Rika raised her eyebrows and groaned, resting her head in her hands as Parkers ears went red.

"Parker! What were you saying?" Marco encouraged, thinking to save the poor guy from his embarrassment.

"Just that, what are you going to do about the executives? About them wanting you to pretend to be prime minister and all?" He enquired. Marco's ears pricked up as well, curious as to their superior's answer.

"I'm sure those crazy bastards are planning something. I don't want to be a part of it." Rika dismissed, regretting smoking her last cigarette this morning.

"But you know," Parker intoned, "you definitely act like a beacon of hope for these people. They'd have fallen apart without your help."

"Skip's right." Marco joined in, using the ironic nickname Parker had picked up in his time as the newbie.

"You could lead them, I reckon."

Rika sighed.

"I'm not a good public speaker," she joked, before her expression hardened.

"And I'm heading into the city soon anyway. Very soon."

"Oh right, to find that friend of yours." Marco remembered, and scratched his stubbly chin thoughtfully.

"But they only want you to pretend to be prime minister. Just so they think that things are going back to normal and the situation doesn't get out of control again." Parker added.

Rika shook her head. "I'm not feeding a bunch of lies to a bunch of desperate people. Deep down they know things will never go back to 'normal', whether they're ready to admit it or not."

"Then… why don't you tell them the truth?" Parker cautioned, looking to his leader as the shadow of the building fell over their faces.

"And what exactly is that?" Rika asked. "It's not like we know how this all started. We're as clueless as to what's going on as they are."

"No, but we do know how we're going to survive. We know that we can't rely on some greater power to get us out of this mess. We know it's up to us." He said firmly.

Marco grinned and shook his head.

"Damn Skip, when did you get so wise?" He chuckled, smacking his colleague on the back.

Rika looked at the two of them thoughtfully as Marco teased Parker like a nine year old. She smiled suddenly, glad that she wasn't alone even if two of her friends were dead, and another one was somewhere in a zombie infested city with a group of teenagers.

"Alright Parker, you've convinced me. I'll talk to the people here – but I'm not about to become a puppet to those bastards from higher up." She declared with a stern face, her eyes flashing with determination.

With that, Rika turned and strode firmly to the closest official she could see, leaving Marco and Parker exchanging grins in her wake.

"This will be interesting," Marco smirked, and Parker could do nought but agree.

It didn't take long for a meeting to be set up. Soon, the near thousand people whom had accumulated at the airport since the outbreak of hell were gathered in the waiting bay. They sat in long rows, facing each other on the plastic chairs which were fixed to the ground and nervously chatting as they wondered why they had been called there.

Rika didn't leave them waiting for long. Two of the officials had found a large, sturdy crate and a podium from the check-in area for Rika to use. The useless microphone had been removed. She wouldn't admit it out loud, but Rika found it most amusing to watch the officials doing hands-on work, an occurrence that neither of them were happy about.

But if they wanted to maintain the façade, they had to do what the 'prime minister' wanted.

The muted conversation grew in pitch as Rika strode into the area with two other officials hanging off her ears, filling her head with last minute lines and recommendations. She hadn't changed from her SWAT gear – she was potentially wearing one of the three safest uniforms in the entirety of Japan after all. Rika had refused to change into a power suit sourced from an unlucky business woman's luggage. She wasn't about to bow to these bozos.

As Rika and the officials neared the podium, someone scrambled to find her a chair. It was placed neatly behind her, and Rika ignored it resolutely, crossing her arms and looking over the crowd with a stony expression.

A middle-class member of the Liberal Democratic Party, and thus the highest ranking official, Yori Orochi stepped up onto the crate with all the practiced ease of the politician that he was. No matter what had happened to the world, he would be a politician to the end of his days. Too bad no one at the airport trusted him anymore.

As he stepped up, the murmuring quietened. People rotated in their plastic chairs so they were angled towards him, and he smiled a small smile which was supposed to be comforting and encouraging.

To Rika, Orochi looked like he was grimacing at a slimy insect.

The man moved to grip the sides of the podium, and spoke:

"It gives me great happiness to be before you on this happy day. A day for rejoicing and congratulations."

The crowd stared blankly back at Orochi, but he seemed unperturbed by their lack of reaction.

"In recent times, an unprecedented tragedy has befallen Japan and in fact, the entire world." He paused again, as if for dramatic affect before continuing.

"Those of us who are gathered here today have survived this tragedy, a fact we should be proud of. Despite all the odds against us, only we have been strong willed and determined to live on."

Rika could see members of the audience, particularly older men and women tensing at his words. Some of them turned to sob against their partner's chests, Orochi's words unwittingly mocking what hope they had left for their missing friends and family.

"It is now that we must work to maintain order, and to re-establish stability. On this day, we form a new government to rebuild our country. As your humble public servant, I promise this service to you. Until such a time that we can reconnect with the former members of parliament, and reassert the prime minister to his position, I would present to you the temporary prime minister of Japan! Rika Minami-san!"

Orochi's voice projected over the crowd, whose now curious gazes turned to the SWAT officer. As Orochi stepped down, Rika casually made her way to the podium, stepping onto the crate with the practised ease of the soldier she was. From behind the podium, Rika couldn't even see the front line of people who were supposedly looking up at her.

She sighed.

"Well this won't do," she said conversationally, and hopped down from the crate. Orochi looked horrified, but could do little to stop her as Rika picked up the podium with relative ease and carelessly dumped it someway behind the crate.

The crowd tittered as Rika moved back and seated herself on the crate, now on the same level as the people. She hitched her left leg up so her boot was resting on the edge of the crate, and rested her elbow on that knee so that her hand was dangling in space.

The people were still looking at her as she looked at them, and finally she sighed and began.

"We lost good men and women this morning. I didn't know them all personally, but I know they were all fighting for something." Her no-nonsense tone made those who were still grieving look up with questioning looks, and Rika felt a sort of certainty settle in her chest.

"As far as I'm concerned, this has been a pretty shitty day," Rika made sure not to allow any inflections in her tone, but she encouraged a few snorts from the audience. They recognised the subtle jab at Orochi's speech, and apparently, he did too.

"But you know something… I couldn't be prouder."

Silence. She had their attention now.

"I lost one of my close friends this morning. He was helping your friends and family ensure safety for everyone.

"He was the kind of guy who would be annoyed with me if I worried about it too much though, so I won't. I lost another friend two days ago when he blew himself, and a few hundred of those bastards up after he lost his leg. Before I got away, I told him the truth. He was the best partner anyone could have ever had."

The area was silent. Rika rubbed her eyes wearily.

"Most people don't get any last words, but he did."

"'I really wanted to feel her boobs'" She repeated, making quotation marks in the air. The crowd laughed, and someone called out: "A man after my own heart!"

The crowd laughed once more, and a smile tugged up the corners of Rika's lips.

"We all know things aren't easy anymore, and it's not something we can avoid. The world has pretty much fallen apart. It's not going to return to the way it was in this lifetime."

She was met with a sea of resigned faces.

"But nothing we have ever worked for was about us. Not really. Your children may live to see a safe world. Their children might. We're starting again, whether we like it or not. Because we're all fighting for something."

People began nodding, and Rika let her leg fall to the floor so she was leaning over her legs with her hands clasped in front of her.

"Perhaps we need a leader to survive, someone to give us a common goal. I don't know if I'm the person for the job… most of my thoughts are about my last cigarette which I had this morning."

More smatterings of laughter. The people looked friendlier, more resolute.

"We're all fighting for who we love. Just before the EMP strike, I was lucky enough to get in contact with my best friend. Right before she could tell me where in the city she was, the phone was fried. Obviously, I haven't heard from her since."

From the looks on people's faces, they were in similar, if not identical situations.

"At this moment, I don't know where she is. I don't know what she has with her. I don't know if she's alive. But I'll be damned if I'm not going to go into that city and find her!"

People cheered, and rose to their feet, clapping and whistling. Rika was the only one sitting now, but quickly stood. Her surprised gaze moved to the right, where she saw Marco and Parker grinning wildly and wolf-whistling at her. She winked as she had a mischievous thought, and turned back to the crowd, who were dying down and returning to their seated positions.

"I would leave right now, but not without doing my bit to secure this place. So, I leave in three days. If there is anyone who wants to come with me, I'm keeping three spaces open. You need to be prepared, and able to fight. There won't be any respite for us. The rest of you are free to make your own decisions, but if you decide to remain at this airport, every one of us has to be ready to make an effort.

"In which case…" here, Rika turned again to Marco and Parker, who suddenly looked very apprehensive.

"My colleagues will be happy to give some basic weapons training to any who want to learn. We only have so many weapons to go around, but we need as many people who can defend themselves as possible."

In her peripheral vision, she saw Marco shoot a deadly glare in her direction, although Parker looked happy enough to help. Rika grinned.

"Well, ah, I don't really have much more to say. These guys are pretty decent organisers. They'll get some kind of system going." Rika said, pointing her thumb over her should at Orochi and the other officials. They gave a collective sigh, glad beyond telling that they hadn't been made totally obsolete.

Bringing her feet closely together, Rika addressed the audience with a military salute, a gesture which had significant meaning for her and her colleagues. She saw them returning their salute, and nodded to them.

"Good luck to you all." She said firmly. The meeting was dismissed.

For a few minutes after, as everyone began dispersing to whichever part of the airport they had become most familiar with, Rika was constantly approached by people who wanted to shake her hand or share their thanks with her.

She dismissed all their praise.

Finally, most everyone had gone, and Rika was left with Marco and Parker.

"You were excellent," Parker grinned. "Most inspirational thing I've heard all week."

Rika smirked, and ruffled his hair furiously.

"Shut it, Skip. You know I completely winged that."

"Yeah, but you did a bloody good job," Marco pointed out.

Rika groaned. "Don't start treating me like some saviour. I made it quite clear that everyone has to make an effort to get along."

"Yeah, yeah, we need to rebuild our burnt bridges and all that." Marco waved his hand in the air as Parker fought Rika away.

"How roguishly poetic of you," Rika grinned.

"Minami!"

Rika turned slowly, and was met with a flustered looking Orochi with the other officials in tow.

"You were supposed to address forming a democracy! And about reforming government! People can't live on their own, they need to be controlled!"

"God complex much…" Parker muttered, too quietly for Orochi to hear, but Marco and Rika had to forcibly supress their amusement.

Rika fixed the politician with a piercing stare. "What we need isn't leaders, Orochi-san."

"Our survival is a result of our collective effort. You'd do best not to forget that."


H.O.T.D. Season 2: Human or DEAD


It had grown into a humid night – rain was consistently pattering outside, drumming quietly on the corrugated roof and the air was pleasantly warm. The sound of the rain was soothing, leaving no clues as to the fact that the world had all but ended.

Miyuki has always loved the sound of the rain. It was more relaxing than any music. When she had lived with her dad, she used to run outside and lie of the sloped cement in the back yard, just letting herself get completely soaked in it. She would often catch colds from doing so, but it was worth it.

Lying out in the rain had let her feel like nothing was important. She could lie there for hours, simply doing nothing but allowing herself to really and truly rest. It was tempting to do so now, but she couldn't risk getting sick. None of them had that luxury anymore.

Miyuki looked up at the roof over her head, and then back over the courtyard. Rei's house had been completely untouched. There were no signs of a struggle, a hasty escape or any unusual signs at all. It had seemed to encourage Rei, who was certain that her mother must be at the police station too, but Miyuki's newly developed cynicism led her to believe a different scenario.

Finally, the large tub was nearly full to brimming. It was a sturdy, metal thing, which had used to be home to Rei's mother's herb garden. It was surprisingly light, but much less so when filled with so many litres of water.

Miyuki and Rei were busy filling three of these tubs from the giant water tanks that the Miyamoto family had out the back. Gardening had been a hobby of Rei's mum's, strange when compared to her love for soujutsu. Rei had been telling Miyuki how her mum had gotten her interested in the discipline, and how they had often practised together.

In the few hours they had been here, all eight of them had been swapping small stories about life before the outbreak. Little things like what hobbies they had, what their favourite foods were. Normal conversation topics that made them feel a little more like their age.

"This is the last one, Miyuki-san," Rei said, drawing the red head's attention back to the task at hand.

"Right."

With a bit of complaining, they shifted the tub onto a medium-sized furniture mover they had found in the shed. Tilting it back onto its wheels, the girls carefully pushed it back to the house, glad that the courtyard was enclosed.

Without wasting any more time, they moved the remaining tubs back to the house and through the corridor until they reached the lounge. By the time the third one was inside, Hirano and Takashi had already set the first one on the fireplace.

"I can't wait for a hot bath!" Rei groaned as she sunk back into the leather couch.

"You guys should all be making yourself at home!" She admonished, as she looked around. Miyuki was shifting in her boots, and Takashi was still crouched, gazing at the fire. The lounge had a strangely homey feel to it – it contrasted jarringly with the experiences they had had over the last week.

Thanking Rei, Miyuki turned to head to the back door, and leant against the frame as she laboriously removed her left boot. She turned it upside down, and let water splash out onto the ground.

"Bloody weather, ruining a good pair of shoes," she grumbled as she emptied the other one of water as well.

After she had finished her task, Miyuki padded back into the warm interior and rested her long boots against the wall of the study. It was perhaps the only room that gave away the true nature of the world.

Guns were stacked neatly against the walls, hard, black weapons that seemed alien in the cosy environment. Bags of equipment and tools they had picked up from the mall rested in neat stacks, and other pocket gear had been grouped and laid out categorically for each person. In Miyuki's pile sat her belts, axe, handgun, and pocketknife as well as one of the walkie talkies. Her short blades were laid flat on a different table, lying next to Saeko's katana.

It had been a mutual consensus for the group. One night without weapons, one night without fear.

Sunset had just darkened into night, which meant it was roughly 6pm. Life had seemed so unliveable without technology, but Miyuki was often surprised by the number of ways they were able to undertake tasks using only basic materials and knowledge. Telling the time was just one of them.

As Miyuki stepped out of the study, Hirano walked past with a nearly unconscious Alice clutched in his arms. She was wearing a pair of flannel pyjamas and socks on her feet. Hirano raised a finger to his lips, signalling for Miyuki to be quiet.

The red head grinned at the sight of the sleepy girl.

"She ate the last piece of good fruit and some dry cereal, but she's about to drop," Hirano whispered.

"Sleep well, Alice-chan," Miyuki murmured to the girl, who didn't show any sign of recognising her at all. Hirano walked past, headed towards Rei's room to put Alice to bed.

When Miyuki turned back, Saya was standing in the doorway to the kitchen with a tender expression, looking after Kohta and Alice.

"Sometimes, you don't realise how much you miss something until it's gone… or until you realise you haven't had it yet." Takagi said with a small smile.

Miyuki nodded. She could understand where Takagi was coming from – she seemed to appreciate smaller things more often than not these days. She turned back to the genius.

"He likes you. I can tell after just one day." Miyuki said with a sly smile.

Saya's eyes widened and she shook her head. "I have no idea what you're talking about." She spun around, and headed into the bathroom which was just off the lounge area.

"Come on, the water's ready."

"What?" Miyuki asked, but Saya had already gone. Following curiously, she entered the bathroom to see the remaining girls – excluding Saeko – stripping off their clothes in preparation to bathe.

"Can you find Busujima? I thought she was already down here. And don't you let that bloody idiot have even a single look in here!" Saya's voice rose into a yell, and Miyuki hurriedly shut the door. She hadn't realised the girls were going to bathe together, although she guess it made sense. They only had so much hot water to go around after all.

She could just imagine Hirano tipping the water into the bath, knowing full well what Saya would be doing in there… Miyuki shook her head with a grin. Hirano was clearly head over heels for the girl, and Miyuki was quite sure Saya felt something back.

I wonder when they'll finally give in, she thought with a grin.

She headed to the kitchen, where she found Saeko resting her hands heavily on the counter to support herself. She was giving instructions to Takashi about making soup, but the poor guy looked like the information was flying straight over his head.

"Uh, Saeko," she interrupted, and grinned when Takashi beamed at his rescuer.

"The girls want you to come to wash up." Miyuki explained, and instantly noticed a raging blush take over Takashi's face.

Saeko nodded her thanks, and turned back to Takashi to finish her instructions. Her eyes danced with amusement as Takashi blustered about and assured her there would be food on the table.

Miyuki helped Saeko to the bathroom and set the crutches against the wall. Wordlessly, she opened the door and stepped through, only to be ambushed by a naked Rei.

"What took you so long?!" She cried, as she forcefully tugged the two through the door. Shizuka (literally) bounced over, nearly taking out a disgruntled Saya on the way, and helped Rei remove Miyuki and Saeko's clothing with remarkable speed and dexterity.

Leading them over to the bath, which had been filled with the hot water from one of the tubs, Rei and Shizuka hopped in with giggles, squeezing up to Saya who had already seated herself in the water. Miyuki gingerly stepped into the hot water, and turned back to keep Saeko balanced as the warrior got her bad ankle into the soothing bath. The comfort it gave her washed over Saeko's face, and then all five of them were settled.

"Ehh, Miyamoto-san, you have such a big bath!" Shizuka moaned as she sunk back into the water. This proved difficult, as the bath was not as big as the nurse thought, and the rest of the girls were pushed around as Shizuka forced her legs underneath their own.

Takagi grinned evilly, and snuck her hand out to rest on Shizuka's head. She suddenly pushed down, sending the nurse sprawling under the water, creating waves which rushed up to splash Miyuki's face and soak her hair.

She spluttered with the surprise of it, and pushed her sodden hair out of her eyes. But before she could do anything to counter the attack, Rei had lunged at Shizuka, laughing as she chased her around the bath. The teen slid over the rest of her friends, and Saya awkwardly blushed as Rei's leg was caught between her own, her chest right up in Saya's face as she tried to grab Shizuka by her ridiculously proportioned breast.

Somehow, she succeeded, and Shizuka cried out as she fell out of the bath and onto the ground. She pouted for a few seconds, before Rei clambered out and began flicking her with a wet towel.

Outside the door, Hirano paused as he came back down the hallway, and grinned as he heard the noise from the bathroom and realised what it must mean. Sneakily, he crept towards the door, intending to crack it open and get a glimpse of his favourite genius…

Takashi chose that moment to cry out in frustration from the kitchen. Hirano jumped back from the door, and whistled casually as he strolled into the cooking room, where he was met with a foul smell.

"What the hell did you do, Komuro?!" Kohta gagged, and noted with alarm that there was smoke in the room.

Takashi was standing by the stove, frantically waving his hands through the air in an attempt to move the smoke away.

"I told her I can't cook! I told her!" He said desperately. As Hirano realised there wasn't any danger, he crept towards the stove, and looked into the large cooking pot. He wrinkled his nose.

The base of the pot was coated with a congealed mess of multi-coloured broth which had mostly burnt itself to the cast-iron. Roughly chopped sliced meat floated on the surface, and pale cabbage leaves floated just beneath the surface.

"I didn't even know you could burn soup," Takashi moaned as he hefted the pot up and scraped the mess into the bin.

"How did you manage it?" Hirano asked, pulling off his glasses to polish.

"I fell asleep leaning against the counter." Takashi admitted as he flung open the pantry door in search of a replacement meal.

Hirano couldn't help it. He burst into a fit of laughter which hurt his sides and shook his belly. Takashi remained facing the other way, but soon he too was shaking his head and laughing along with his friend.

Takashi wiped away his tears as he let out a few more chuckles. He straightened up and sighed.

"Did you put Alice to bed?"

Hirano nodded.

"Hai."

"And what's it looking like out there? Do you think we can make it to the police station alright?" Takashi suddenly looked tired. Hirano couldn't help but be impressed with Komuro. Not only did he have to deal with his own demons, but he was their leader. He was the one who always made the final decision. The group would have had a much harder time without him guarding the front.

"Clear of anything. The rain makes it more difficult to tell, but there's no danger within several hundred meters." Hirano said surely.

Takashi nodded. "And this time there's no Zeke to draw Their attention," he joked, glancing out the door to where the small dog was curled up in a ball, fast asleep.

Hirano smiled, and Takashi pulled out a large plastic packet from the cupboard.

"Looks like we're having packet ramen," Takashi said as dumped the dry noodle packets on the counter.

Hirano grinned, and began ripping open the packets with his friend.

Back in the bathroom, Shizuka squealed as Rei flicked her on the behind again. The blonde fell forwards onto her face, moaning.

"Stop it, Miya… moto…!" She panted.

Saeko, still sitting in the bath with an amused Miyuki and a disdainful Saya, called out to the girls, who were all but wrestling on the floor.

"The water is getting cold."

Shizuka looked happy at the intervention, and was soon squeezing in next to Takagi again. Rei was able to get them all talking, somehow finding topics that didn't always relate to the outbreak. If the conversation did somehow turn zombie, Rei always seemed to have some kind of segue into a new point of interest.

It was impressive, if not altogether subtle.

After they had all washed their bodies and hair, the girls dried off and donned the sleepwear they had picked up from the mall. At a suggestion from Rei, they braided each other's hair, and a session of compliments and self-degradation unlike any other Miyuki had been a part of ensued.

The red head knelt behind Saeko, brushing her indigo hair as she listened to Rei complaining about the size of her breasts. Miyuki began to weave Saeko's hair into two long braids, and the warrior turned round to look at Rei, Saya and Shizuka, who were doing each other's hair in a line.

"I can assure you Miyamoto-san, from my experience; your breasts are very large." Saeko guaranteed her with a grin.

"What do you mean "from experience"?" Saya asked with a sly grin, and Shizuka slapped her shoulder in a playful rebuke.

"Only that Miyamoto-san is one of the most endowed people I have come into contact with, perhaps second only to Marikawa-sensei."

Shizuka mock-blushed, which only got Rei complaining again.

"I want big ones like her too!" Rei groaned again as she moved around to braid Shizuka's hair after Takagi had finished with her.

Miyuki moved in front of Saeko so the same could happen, and knelt between Saeko's spread knees.

"Is your ankle troubling you?" Miyuki asked, conscious of Saeko's position.

She shook her head. "It's fine, Miyuki-san, but I appreciate your concern. I'll just need to keep it propped up on a pillow when I rest."

"I hope Komuro-kun was successful in preparing some food for us," Saeko thought aloud, glancing at the door to the bathroom.

Right in Saeko's line of sight – had there not been a wall in the way – was Takashi and Hirano. The packet noodles were sitting in a bowl as they heated more water to cook the noodles in. Hirano seemed thoughtful.

"Something troubling you Hirano?" Takashi eventually asked, slightly apprehensive of the answer.

"Actually, yes."

Here we go, thought Takashi.

"Have you been paying attention to the group?" Hirano asked him suddenly.

"What do you mean?"

"Haven't you noticed the number of females in the group? Haven't you noticed how big they all are?" Hirano demanded of him, his eyes wide with excitement.

"Well yeah, it's kind of hard not to have noticed," Takashi replied, running a hand through his hair at the awkward bodily encounters he had seemed to be having with half the girls since everything began.

"Doesn't it concern you?" Hirano asked again.

"Should it?" Takashi queried. "I admit, I thought it was pretty cool at first," he said with a chuckle.

"But it didn't take very long to put what's actually important into perspective. Not that I don't enjoy seeing them!" He defended himself at Kohta's sceptical look.

"We need to protect and preserve our masculinity Komuro!" He declared, and Takashi balked.

I don't think I want to know what that means…

"By wrestling!"

Too late.

"Is that really practical?" Takashi asked, desperate to find an excuse.

"Of course! It will train our muscles and help us cope with the ever-growing female presence of the group!"

"Now, fight me!"

Takashi waved his hands in an attempt to bring his friend to his senses.

"I really don't-"

He was cut off as Hirano threw himself at him. Takashi raised his hands to ward off the attack, and Hirano's fists closed around his own. He squeezed and pushed, trying to force Takashi off balance. Hirano threw his head forward and head butted Takashi as their hands were raised over their heads by the force of their pushing.

Takashi grunted, but pushed back.

It was a strange battle. Both their arms began to shake, but both boys refused to give up. They grew hot next to the fire, and soon they had stripped off their shirts, and Hirano had tied his old bandana around his head to keep his sweaty hair out of his eyes.

They collided again, grinding their teeth and trying to overpower and intimidate their opponent.

It was like that that the girls found them.

The door to the bathroom opened, completely unnoticed by either of them, and they filed out into the lounge area, not three meters from where Takashi and Hirano were going at it.

Takashi noticed them first, and scrabbled for his discarded shirt as he fought to keep himself from blushing.

First out of the door were Miyuki and Saeko. The red head was wearing a white dressing gown which exposed most of her legs and her forearms, and was tightly tied at her waist. Saeko was wearing a pair of light grey sleeping shorts and a black tank top. It looked remarkably normal on Saeko, whose clothing always seemed slightly regal when compared to the others.

Behind them was Saya, wearing a tight singlet which made Hirano's eyes (and Saya's chest) pop, and a grey pair of track pants. Shizuka had remembered to put clothes on this time, and was wearing a baggy T-shirt that was long enough to conceivably be an incredibly short dress. Takashi doubted she was wearing any underwear underneath it.

Rei marched out from behind Shizuka in her tank top and gym shorts and whacked Takashi over the head.

"Where's the food?" She cried.

After he had escaped and the guys had washed up, Takashi sidled up to Hirano was an abashed grin.

"I just can't catch a break can I?"

Hirano laughed and smacked them on the back as he opened the door to the kitchen and they stepped in to eat.


ACT 5: Respite for the DEAD


Motorcycle's in the parking lot

Revving their engines and it just won't stop

Matches the noise screaming in my head

Houston, I think we got a problem

Where does everybody go when they go?

They go so fast, I don't think they know

We hate so fast and we love too slow

London, I think we got a problem

And when I think about it

I just can't think about it

I try to drink about it

I keep spinning

Ave Mary A, where did you go? Where did you go?

How did you know to get out of a world gone mad?

Help me, let go of the chaos around me

The devil that hounds me, I need you to tell me

Child, be still, child, be still

If the darkest hour comes before the light

Where is the light? Where is the light?

If the darkest hour comes before the light

Where is the light? Where is the light? Where is the light? Yeah

Ave Mary A, where did you go? Where did you go?

How did you know to get out of a world gone mad?

Help me, help me, let go of the chaos around me

The devil that hounds me, I need you to tell me

Child, be still, child, be still, child, be still


Takashi set a bowl of steaming ramen down in front of her, and Miyuki thanked him with a smile.

The seven of them were seated around the dining table, and now were all hungrily digging into their food. Miyuki couldn't help but study each one of them as they ate and talked.

Everyone was friendly with each other, she could see that. It was blatantly obvious to her that Hirano and Takagi liked each other, although it was equally clear that Saya didn't want to admit it. Whether out of embarrassment or denial, she couldn't tell.

She raised a spoonful on noodles to her lips and gratefully sucked them into her mouth.

They were good, no matter how doubtful Takashi was of his cooking ability. And the fact that it was packet ramen.

She watched Takashi and Saeko as they quietly talked. Well, they didn't really talk. They had this strange way of communicating, almost without words. It was like they could look at each other and convey a message.

Miyuki swallowed another mouthful, and blinked as Rei turned away from Shizuka to talk to Takashi.

He didn't notice her.

Rei opened her mouth to scold him, but stopped when she realised that Takashi was completely focused on Saeko. She bit her lip and turned back to her noodles.

Miyuki frowned to herself.

Perhaps things weren't working as well as she had thought.


TO BE CONTINUED…


I am not associated with the artist P!NK, nor do I own the rights to her song 'Ave Mary A'

On that note, listen to this song. It's great. Does anyone listen to any of the songs I include? You should! I'm slowly creating a playlist of them as I go – maybe I'll post a link to it on my profile in the future.

So, basically no plot in the last half of this chapter. Oh well, they were supposed to be having a break after their long and successful day after all. And I just needed to have a jab at HOTD, what with all the ridiculously busty teens, the large ratio of girls to guys, and largely blowing up Hirano's character to silly proportions. I had fun writing it anyway.

Huge, huge thanks to the wonderful The Queen of Water, Gravenimage, SatoshiKyu, MikeOfTheDead, and X for reviewing. I'm going through and replying to all of you as soon as I post this chapter. Keep them coming guys! And a shout out to all the people who have either followed, favourited or reviewed this story in the past. You're all keeping me motivated :)


NEXT: Act 6: Elementary School of the DEAD