Chapter 13

Paradise Found?

"Have you ever seen anything like this?" Takashi's question was to no one in particular and so hung in the air several seconds as the three teens stood in amazement at the camp before them.

Kohta spoke up first. "In a few graphic novels I've read they had similar refugee camps but seeing one in reality blows those illustrations away!" His eyes were scanning the layout both in awe and with a tactical intent; every exit, choke-point, and hiding place being mentally cataloged. While he was excited to see so many survivors, Kohta was all too familiar with the costs of complacency. 'Complacency kills' Ryker-san had told him prior to their departure. Even without the former soldier's wise words, Kohta had seen it before. People got comfortable in a safe area and their security became lax. Then it took but a single, small mistake to cause devastating consequences.

"I want to see their medical situation." Miss Shizuka announced abruptly. "Perhaps they can even spare some pain medication for Ryker-san."

Takashi leaned on the railing before him, still taking in the massive encampment. Metal beams with sections of what he could only assume were siding were placed above them in a makeshift but surprisingly effective roof. It was loud and not all that pleasing to the eyes but it kept the interior mostly dry. "Sure thing Miss Shizuka. I wanted to look around a bit and I'm certain that Kohta would like to look into their security. Let's all meet up in," he glanced at his watch, "forty-five minutes. That's about ten-o-clock." As the others headed their separate ways, Takashi took another glance out over the massive crowd below. "Mom, Dad," he mumbled. "I hope you guys are here somewhere."

"Saya-chan, are you listening?"

Looking up, startled, pink hair bounced in acknowledgement. "Of course Rei-san." As the brunette returned to her droning about Takashi, Saya's mind went back to their new American addition. He was certainly of a different stock, no, make that a different species, when compared to most other men she had encountered. Thinking back to their initial encounter Saya found herself smiling. The suddenness of that black-gloved fist slamming into that creep's unexpected face and the mixture of disgust and righteousness on Ryker's...


Orange eyes snapped up. "Mmm?"

Rei let out a sigh. "Not you too."

Tilting her head to the side and adjusting her glasses with a wrinkle of her noes, Saya eyed Rei questioningly. "Not me too, what?"

Arms folded, the older girl leaned against the wall behind her. "You were thinking about him just now." Saya's mouth fell open, confirming Rei's suspicion and so she continued. "I've been noticing the little glances, the impromptu smiles," she gestured to Saya's hands which were currently tugging at the hem of her skirt. "the awkward fidgeting."

"Asami noticed this too." Both girls jumped and turned to the previously silent officer having forgotten her presence entirely. "But Asami thinks this is very normal." She brushed her hair out of her eyes tucking a few loose strands behind her ear. "Ryker-san is very handsome and has acted heroically on multiple occasions. Between natural attraction and White Knight Syndrome, Asami would be very surprised if anyone wasn't attracted to him."

Both Rei and Saya stared at Asami in silence before Rei let out a guilty giggle. "She's not wrong. Don't be mistaken, I am very much into Takashi but between his actions and that body..."

Saya nodded, her face nearly matching her hair. Ryker was not terribly large for an American man but here in Japan he basically towered over everyone. "So maybe I have a small crush. He HAS saved my life not once, but twice now! It's nothing that won't fade soon anyway but it is kind of fun to think about." Her mind wandered to her recent, vivid dream and her blush deepened.

Rei's giggle made known that it hadn't gone unnoticed. "Saya-chan! You've done more than some light thinking on this!" As Saya continued to darken in shade, Rei's giggling intensified. "I expect sharing!" She glanced over at Alice-chan as she suddenly remembered the small girl was present. The young girl was following along with the conversation, Zeke sitting comfortably in her lap. "But perhaps tomorrow night."

Muted by embarrassment, Saya folded her arms under her breasts and let Asami and Rei converse about various topics. While she disliked being the center of such attention even momentarily, she appreciated the fact that for a brief time, none of them had been thinking about the death and destruction around them. It was a welcome break that was truly needed; Saya couldn't recall the last time she had heard genuine laughter and it brought a small smile to her lips. Her mind, however, wandered back into the reality of things and she found herself torn on her feelings of what was to come; what would happen when they found Takashi's and Rei's parents? Would they be enveloped like what her own parents had attempted? Would Takashi and Rei simply stay with the parents and the rest continue on? While life on the road was terrifying and without comfort, Saya was certain of one thing: she was not quite willing to give it up just yet.

The ride back to the garage was filled mostly with the loud engine of the monstrous vehicle as it cruised through the city. The occasional 'THUMP' as one of them wandered into their path was the only other sound. Each of the three within were overwhelmed with excitement; not only in the similar joys of finding a safe place with survivors, but in their own discoveries as well. While Takashi was disappointed that he hadn't come across his or Rei's parents, he felt confident in their being there. Kohta was plenty pleased with the security setup which was not at all complacent, as well as the fact that they had actual cooks preparing real food! It would not be anything too special due to the mass quantities but after living on cold, canned goods and sandwiches all this time, the idea of anything cooked sounded incredible. Miss Shizuka was equally excited about hot food but was over the moon at the cleanliness of the medical section that was staffed with actual medical professionals! Additionally, she had discovered hot showers! No more buckets of barely-warm water!

All in all, the recon mission was a success. At best, they would end up finding their families there and make plans on the next steps. At worst, they found a large, comfortable sanctuary. One that didn't appear to ask anything unreasonable and hadn't attempted to disarm them. Being on the edge of town had additional advantages geographically; a full side of the encampment was against water while another side had a steep cliff face of nearly fifty meters! Additionally it was in a more rural area in a far lower population dense area. This meant both less wandering dead and more area between structures giving far better lookout capabilities. The ground was fertile as well which offered cultivation opportunities. This would be a far more long term effort than most could consider at this time but if this was to become a permanent station, it was important to start early.

As the humvee pulled up to the back to let Takashi out, the moon broke through the clouds at last. 'Perfect timing.' he thought as he trotted over to the door. Inside, an exhausted Saya offered a half-smile in welcome before locking the door behind him and teetering off to bed. At the large door with the chains, Takashi took care to pull slowly but deliberately until the humvee could just fit before lowering the door with limited noise. Miss Shizuka killed the engine and the three shared triumphant smiles. They had made it back without incident and first thing tomorrow they'd have news to share that would brighten everyone's mood. This could finally be something to take the stress off the group and provide some much needed rest in a safe, secure location with plenty of supplies and the necessary facilities. So long as nothing went wrong.

Author's Note

So again, I'm sorry if you hate me for the absurdly long disappearance. Or the crazy short chapter. Or the moderately (read: severely) lacking in content chapter. I did this chapter in a notepad during my shifts down here in Louisiana during the most brutal training of my military life. All the reasons for my writing absence I'll add later but know I never stopped thinking about this story. You readers/reviewers still populate my inbox! Every so often I get another "Name has followed your story" and my heart leaps. Anyhow. I am sorry this chapter is short but I NEEDED to put something out there. I'm not allowed a laptop/phone during this so I am doing this secret squirrel style JUST to give you all some evidence that I am indeed still alive and intent on writing this out.

I'll try to sneak in my usual review responses as well!

BloodyFalcon187, GioM. Meow: Thank you both so much for your words. I am so sorry I fell away from all of this. It's REALLY hard to write with your life in a tumble but I intend to rectify this upon returning home.

SlimPickensUK: I'm glad you were hooked! I love this story so much. I was torn between it and my FFX-2 fic but I accidentally wrote myself into a dark, deep, corner on that one which discouraged me entirely. Saeko is amazing. As for Ryker, I think I mentioned it before but he's based (loosely) on myself. I'm an Army medic. His back story is a bit more tragic to push him into being the tough, selfless individual he is now though. I will admit, since writing this years ago until now, I always HOPED I could live up to his personality that I had based on my own with some improvements and I can proudly say, I have done pretty well. His humor, his gusto, and his willingness to push the envelope are things I have personally done with females far beyond what I thought was within my league. So he will evolve even further since I have evolved over the years. I hope you are still around to witness it! I will hopefully be back to my 1-2 weeks per chapter at LONGEST when I get back to NY.

RedGamer101: Thank you! I find my writing style pretty unique. I write like I actually talk which includes a lot of interesting turns of phrase, subtleties, and pauses that most might not expect. I am glad I did well in my introduction of Ryker! It is SO hard to inject an original piece into such a dynamic story. I admit the romance WAS rushed but there's two reasons for that: The first is that it's a HIGHLY emotional time! He saved her life, they're in an apocalypse, adrenaline is ALWAYS high and they both ended up baring their deepest darkest secrets to each other. The other? Reality! In my personal experience (which I try to base Ryker loosely on) I have never dated. I meet someone and we CONNECT. Boom, relationship. I don't know how else to explain it but when I'm with someone either we become DEEPLY connected and it becomes intense almost instantly, or we never connect. I swear, Chemisty is involved in a literal sense! As for the dogs... well I have a lot planned for all that I assure you!

Sisi427: I saved the best for last! I love all my reviewers but YOUR review... yours really put emotion to me. I realize it was TWO YEARS ago... but I still recall how I felt the day I opened that email and read it. I actually SHOWED it to my roommate because I couldn't contain myself. To hear I inspired someone is without a doubt a living dream; nothing could be a bigger compliment. I truly hope you still get some email notifications because people like YOU will cause me to never give up writing. I know this one is super short and not the chapter you were hoping for to follow up the other build-up but like I said above, I needed SOMETHING in print! And this is me being sneaky to do so, so I can't do a huge chapter. Thank you for what you do, law enforcement has my heart now and always. I hope to see your name on my email list for reviews in the coming weeks! (Fun fact: My unit is the 427th!)