The Sickness

By Starzki

-z-

7. Everything that Kills Me Makes Me Feel Alive

-z-

Sousuke took a deep breath and prayed for something that would distract him from Kaname's warm, soft curves. Luckily, another Jindai resident shuffled by the pair, followed by another.

There was nothing more unsexy to Sousuke than the reminder that he and Kaname were camped down with other survivors while ravenous hordes outside the settlement were hoping to find a way in to eat them.

Kaname stirred against him and murmured something soft. Sousuke ran a finger around the outside of her face and watched her eyelids flutter open. This routine was fast becoming his favorite part of the day.

She yawned and groaned, trying to bury her face against his neck.

"Is it morning already?" she grumped.

"Affirmative. I have to get up and get to the gate. You can sleep a little longer."

"Mm. 'Kay. Be careful."

"Not a problem."

Sousuke stepped into his shoes and grabbed his toiletries and headed for the bathroom, pleased to see that the line wasn't too bad. He was about two steps away when he heard Kaname shift again behind him. "Sousuke?"

"What is it?"

"Try to find some spices. Especially salt, pepper, soy sauce, things like that. I don't think I can handle serving the bland food we've been giving all of you for long."

"I'll try."

Kaname plopped forward on the cot and Sousuke suspected that she was asleep before her head hit the pillow.

-z-

"All right, runners," announced Jin in the soft glow of the predawn sky, "Five through Fifteen are Gunning this morning, the rest of you are on Scavenging duty. Do your jobs and everyone needs to be back here by twelve hundred hours at the latest. Infected activity was light last night, so you get extra time to pick up anything you can find. We're expecting big hauls today. And Gunners, try to lure infected away from Jindai. We've been getting a strong stench from the dead and we're not due for a clear-away for another couple of weeks. Get 'em away from here before you whack 'em. Don't let us down."

Sousuke readied himself as the gates started to rise. He felt a nudge on his arm and turned to find Kyouko grinning at him.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"I'm kind of a floater in the settlement," she whispered. "Today I'm on Scavenging, Runner Twenty-Seven. We're low on food, so they've asked me to pitch in."

She gave a small wave and shooed him away. The gates had fully opened. "See ya later!" she chirped, surprisingly still whispering.

Sousuke took off to the southeast at a slow jog. He was tired from the day before and if he was expected to run for the next four-or-so hours, he would take his time.

The streets, as promised, were empty of infected. Only bodies of those killed in the days before stood as evidence to their threat. Any flickers of movement were from other runners jogging, looking for infected.

Sousuke considered the logistics of scavenging for the compound. Two meals a day for roughly 200 people, not to mention clothes, toiletries, tools, medicines, and anything else a thriving community might need meant that they needed a constant string of supplies coming in. He was glad that they were considering a vegetable patch, but Sousuke figured they might need a lot more. Like livestock. Chickens made eggs. Cows gave milk. All were great sources of food, not to mention the cows and chickens, themselves.

He would speak to Hiyashimizu about coming up with ways to make the settlement more self-sustaining, he decided.

About a mile away from Jindai, Sousuke found a group of three infected. They hadn't noticed him yet. Sousuke took them out. One, two, three.

-z-

Sousuke hunkered down in the shed, knowing that he wouldn't be seen. He flicked the walkie talkie from Kurz and heard his voice immediately.

"Calling Farmer Segal… Come in Farmer Segal… Calling farmer Segal… Come in Farmer Segal…"

Realizing that they might need to talk in code, Sousuke pressed the transmitter and answered, "Farmer Segal here. Over."

"Good. This is Urzu Six. How's your Angel? Over."

"Doing well. We're settled into… the farm. Over."

"Good. Looks like we'll have an early spring. You're tending crops, right? How many rows of soy are planted at your farm? Over?"

Sousuke thought a moment. He roughly guessed at what Kurz was trying to ask. "Around 200," he answered. "Tools in the shed and I'm currently on the lookout for vermin. Don't want to let them get at the crops. Over."

"Good to hear. Over."

"The farm looks good. For now anyway. It's still early… in the spring, so there's a lot of unknowns as of yet. Over."

"Understood. How's your fertilizer situation? Over."

Sousuke thought. Fertilizer fed crops. He must be talking about the food supply.

"Low, but we're in the process of getting more. Over."

"I read you. If it gets… bad… let me know. Okay? Over."

"Affirmative. Over."

"No contact until next week at the earliest. Understood? Not sure about hostile activity in the area. Over."

" Understood. Over."

"Looking forward to talking to you again, Farmer Segal. You take care of that Angel, you hear me? Over and out."

-z-

Sousuke's bag was heavy as he crouched under the opening gate at 11:30. He'd raided a restaurant five miles away and come back with loads of spices, two large bags of brown rice, and all of the remaining cured meat that they had in the pantry.

Sousuke wasn't the only one who had come in with quite a haul. An audience had formed to applaud the runners for all of their work and to see what they had coming. Some had come back with new clothes and shoes. Others had found a pharmacy that still had medicines. Still others found canned food and wild onions and garlic.

It was amazing how much easier survival was when there were fewer infected to have to deal with.

Meal time in the future was looking much more promising than it had been before.

-z-

The next day, the area around the compound was so mobbed with infected that no runners could be sent out at all that morning.

"Do they often come in waves like this?" Sousuke asked Jin.

"It happens," he said. "If there's an especially light or heavy day, it usually reverses itself in the next couple of days. But I would say that moderate levels of infected, similar to your first day are what is most usual."

"Hmm," Sousuke murmured, thoughtful.

"The disgusting good part of these mobs is that they… dispose of the bodies around here. Not that they smell any better, but at least they'll eventually move away."

Sousuke made a face, but nodded.

"We've got a couple of people tracking activity to see if there's any pattern, but they say they'll need a lot more data."

"So, what do we do if we're not running this morning?" Sousuke asked.

"Make yourself useful," was Jin's curt reply.

Sousuke nodded at suppressed an urge to stand at attention. He left the front gate and found his path was leading directly to the mess area. He wasn't sure what he could do for them. He suspected nothing. He admitted to himself that he wanted to see Kaname.

The flaps of the mess tent were raised to let the pleasant spring breeze through. Sousuke situated himself next to the noisy generator and found Kaname bustling about in the kitchen.

The mess tent workers were largely in a good mood. After the previous day's haul, lunch and dinner had been comparatively spectacular and compliments to the chefs had been effusive.

It seemed to Sousuke that the mess tent had a hierarchy. At least one woman seemed to be in charge and she seemed to be the only one in a bad mood. Her frown, offset with orange-red lipstick stood out like a slash across her face. She'd also hennaed her hair, making it a shocking, unnatural red. She barked orders and the people around her never appeared to follow her instructions quickly enough to suit her. Sousuke took an instant dislike to her.

Kaname, for her part, let all of the glares and sharp words just roll off her, answering questions with a smile and confidently manning her station, which was peeling potatoes found the previous day, and minding a pot steaming with something that smelled delicious.

At that moment, Kaname looked up from her potato and met Sousuke's eyes. He felt himself blush, knowing that he'd been staring. He gave a small wave.

Kaname's cheeks flooded with color as well and she ducked her head with a surprised smile. She returned his wave, then gave him a questioning glance.

"Potatoes, New Girl!" the red-haired woman shouted.

Sousuke left to find anyone who needed his help in the compound before he got Kaname into any more trouble.

-z-

"I don't know how you could put up with her all day!" exclaimed Kyouko as the usual four of them sat around the fire that night.

Kaname smiled and shook her head. "Akane is all right. She just likes things the way she likes them."

"Ugh. She yells all the time!" Kyouko had been a go-fer, delivering messages all day. "I was just telling her that the doctor told me that a couple of the kids have some food allergies and if she could set aside some of the food so that it didn't have some ingredients. You'd have thought I accused her of spitting in the food!"

Kaname had no defense to give to her supervisor, so she just shrugged. Just about everyone would have seen Kaname's gesture as one of quiet acceptance to her fate, but Sousuke saw the hard glint in Kaname's eyes. She didn't like being bossed around by someone who didn't respect her work more than anyone else, but she was putting on a happy face, allowing it… for now. Sousuke bit back a grin at Kaname. He knew she wouldn't be taking orders from Akane forever and he was intensely proud of her spirit. Sousuke forced his eyes away from Kaname in order to reengage in the conversation, which was still occurring.

"You spending a lot of time with Dr. Yoshi?" asked Shinji.

"Yeah," replied Kyouko. "She heard about my interest in nursing before… you know… and she's asking me to hang out at the medical area more often so that she can train me."

"Well, that's good, right?" asked Kaname. "You said that running wasn't your favorite."

"Yeah, I guess," answered Kyouko. "It's just… well, what if someone is bitten? I mean, I know what happens. We report to the Round Table and then that person is... what? I mean, do we wait until they've turned or give them the option?"

"Has something like that happened here that you know of?" asked Sousuke.

"Dr. Yoshi says yes, but she didn't give me any details. I know it has to be done, but it just feels awful to be part of it, you know?"

Kaname hummed in agreement while Shinji cast his eyes downward.

"But I guess it's not something Dr. Yoshi should have to be responsible for all by herself," finished Kyouko with a shrug. "Hopefully, it won't happen…"

"Hopefully," Kaname responded, speaking everyone's mind.

-z-

Little-by-little, Sousuke and Kaname began to understand the routine of the settlement. Sousuke left in the mornings to run and scavenge and hunt while Kaname worked the mess tent, making friends with fellow cooks and beginning to understand the structure of the kitchen.

She confided in Sousuke that Akane had experience cooking at a hospital, which is why she was in charge. But Kaname was suspecting that Akane may have exaggerated her experience some because some of her actions belied her claims. Akane never seemed to know how many people it would take to prepare a portion of the meal or know how much food would be needed every day. Hiccups in the kitchen could all be traced back to a decision that Akane made, though she loudly blamed everyone else for her mistakes.

Sousuke had contacted Kurz again, but had little more to share. He communicated that he liked Jindai and that things were going well for him and Kaname. Sousuke learned how to effectively vary his runs, sometimes coordinating with a partner to watch one another's backs while exploring new buildings.

He learned the intricacies of Tower duty five days into the stay at Jindai. It was a later posting, after dinner until the late hours. A small group of settlers, self-proclaimed night owls, had all asked for permanent overnight positions on the wall. This meant that the other runners could all be assured to have rested the night before. Sousuke, while on Tower duty and carrying loaded firearms, would patrol the roofs of the school and take out any infected that seemed to be trying to enter the school. Other infected were just to be reported on since gunfire tended to attract more infected to the area.

It was all exhausting work, but their routines did the job. Food and supplies were coming into the settlement as needed and people there felt safe. With the routine established, the real marker of time for Sousuke was Kaname and how much bolder she was getting with him.

Every night, she held his hand for a little longer at the fire. Every day, when she greeted him as he came back from the morning run, her kiss moved closer and closer to his mouth and lingered for just a fraction of a second longer. Every night and every morning, it took Sousuke just a little bit longer to remember where he was and to not give in to the temptation to hold her tighter, to let his hands wander. There were moments when he was honestly curious how long they could keep this strange flirtation before they cracked.

He was just musing on his imminent madness on the way to bed with Kaname for the night when he saw Satsu. She was Runner Thirteen and Sousuke had partnered with her in the past while scavenging. She smiled at him and Kaname and handed over a key on a long string.

"This is the key to Supply Closet B, inside, second floor. Bring your own cot. It's windowless, but has a lantern. Don't waste the kerosene." Satsu smiled and gave a bawdy wink at the couple. "And don't worry about noise in there. The walls are pretty thick. Have fun, you two!" She flipped her hair over her shoulder as she went to the cot she shared with Yumi, Runner Twenty-two.

Sousuke stood, kind of confused. He saw Kaname blushing beside him. He opened his mouth to ask a question when Satsu was suddenly standing before him again.

"Oh! I forgot. Be sure to give the key to Haru or Tama tomorrow night."

Sousuke nearly slapped his head when he realized. It had been two weeks. It was their turn for a private room for the night.

-z-

The line to the shower was a little longer than Sousuke anticipated, so Kaname was the first to the room. He knocked before he entered because he didn't want to alarm her. His mind was whirling with questions and possibilities. He was fully prepared to sleep on the floor if she wanted her space. But he had the idea she wouldn't want that. He wouldn't let himself wonder what more she might want beyond sleep for that night.

"Come on in," was Kaname's unusually soft reply.

Sousuke stepped into the yellow-green glow of the room and his breath was snatched away.

Kaname was only wearing panties and a t-shirt. She stood shyly beside the cot, arms clasped behind her back as she stared at the ground in front of her.

After a few seconds, Kaname looked up and asked, "Could you shut the door?"

Regaining a little of his senses, Sousuke did as she asked as quickly as possible before resuming his unabashed staring.

Kaname was stunning. Her legs were still a little too slim from their recent deprivations, but there was the beginning of a very noticeable bump forming just above her panties. Now that Sousuke was taking the time to actually look, he saw a few other changes to her. Her face was a little fuller, her breasts were a little heavier. They were small changes, easily hidden under loose clothing, but intensely fascinating to Sousuke.

Kaname sighed, sounding frustrated. Sousuke was on the cusp of apologizing for staring when Kaname crossed the room in two steps and embraced him, flinging her arms around his neck.

"Ka-" Sousuke's voice was stilled by Kaname's mouth on his own.

Her lips were wet and unbelievably sweet as they moved against his. After the initial shock, Sousuke responded. His hands moved to her hips, delved under her shirt and around to the small of her back, pulling her closer to him.

Sousuke lost himself in the sensations. It was more than he ever wanted and even if his brain refused to compute what was happening, but his mouth, his hands, his body were responding appropriately. The sweet, astounding kiss stretched into the future and into the past so that it felt truly endless. There was nothing in his life before this moment and nothing after. There was nothing else, only he and Kaname existed.

Those beautiful lies ended too quickly as Kaname leaned back in his arms. Sousuke was breathing hard, unable to speak.

"S-… Sousuke," Kaname was finally able to whisper after a few false starts. "We need to talk."

Sousuke didn't trust his voice. He nodded and noted with some satisfaction that Kaname's strides were a little shaky, her hand a little sweaty, as she went to sit on the cot and pulled him after her.

Sousuke was glad to sit. His knees had literally gone weak and he thought he might melt into the floor with pure happiness if he had to walk much longer than the three steps to the cot.

Kaname restlessly bent her knees up under her chin, then dropped her feet back to the floor. Half of her face hid in the shadows and she seemed to be trying to collect her nerve.

Sousuke, nervous but still amused at how nervous Kaname seemed, leaned over and kissed Kaname's cheek. It was the first kiss he'd ever really initiated with her and it made her giggle and finally meet his eyes. "Let's talk," Sousuke offered.

Kaname took a breath. "Yamato was a good man. He would have been a good husband for me before all of this started."

Sousuke felt confused. He bit back questions about what that had to do with that mind-altering kiss she'd just hammered him with.

"Yamato was under the same pressures I was to get married, to make sure that the family, the Shou Company, looked respectable. We had a lot in common, actually," she gave a little laugh. "The main thing we had in common is that we were both in love with someone else."

Surprise welled up in Sousuke's belly. Yamato seemed so mild. It wasn't hard to believe a woman like Kaname would have passionate feelings about someone else, but Yamato?

"We came up with a plan. We'd marry, have a son, then he would stop coming to the main house. His… lover would go to live with him in his cottage… and I could be with you." Kaname looked at Sousuke with a little apprehension.

"I mean, I don't know for sure if you would have had me…"

Sousuke laughed out loud. "It probably would have taken some convincing," he admitted. "But I would have come around."

Kaname smiled again. "But for me, it was always going to be you. I only ever wanted a life with you, even if it meant I had to marry another man and have his child." She rested her hands on her small belly.

Sousuke couldn't answer. He just scooted closer to Kaname and wrapped one arm around her shoulder and rested his other hand on top of hers, cradling her belly.

She continued, "So I have to ask. I know this little guy isn't yours… but will you help me?"

"Of course," he answered without hesitation.

"No, I mean, will you be his… or her… father? Raise her like you would your own?"

Sousuke laughed again. "I know what you meant. Of course. I would do anything for you and for this little one. There's never been anyone but you for me and I can't think that I could love any baby of yours less for having a father that wasn't me."

A weight seemed to lift off of Kaname and happiness lit her face in ways that the lantern beams couldn't touch. "So this means that you and I… being together… is pretty official, right?" she asked, the grin on her face growing even wider."

Sousuke answered with a kiss. Then another. And another, well into the night.

They didn't make love that night. Everything still felt too new and they were far too nervous, but any mental walls that still existed between them, any idea that they couldn't be together, came crashing down in the soft lantern glow.

-z-

The next weeks passed in a daze for Sousuke. The regular routine held up. It rained, the sun reemerged. Sousuke ran, killed infected, and foraged for food and supplies.

And he and Kaname were becoming adept at finding safe secret corners in which to make out whenever both of them could get away from their assignments.

After two weeks, it was once again their turn for the private room.

This time, it wasn't just the emotional walls that ceased to be a barrier between the two, but their clothes stopped being a barrier as well.

-z-

"Thanks for coming with me," Kaname said as she and Sousuke walked hand-in-hand through the settlement.

"It's not a problem," he said in a way he hoped was reassuring. He still wasn't used to being so open and honest with how he was feeling, so he regularly fell back on words that felt most comfortable to him and hoped that they still conveyed his feelings for her. He wanted to tell her that it would all be all right, but, truthfully, he wasn't sure.

They finally stopped in front of the medical bay. "Kaname! Sousuke!" Kyouko greeted them. She launched herself at Kaname for a full embrace. Sousuke smiled, happy that the two had made such good friends in the months that they'd been at the settlement.

"Kyouko!" Kaname's greeting was just as effusive. Then she lowered her voice, "Is Dr. Yoshi busy?"

"Are you sick?"

"Um, no. I'm…" She stopped talking and brought her hands to her belly, pulling the looser clothes she'd exchanged for her old clothes days before, showing off the bump that she could no longer easily hide.

Kyouko gasped. Then whooped and jumped with joy. Then she hit Sousuke in the shoulder with enough force that he was knocked off balance. He supposed it could have been a congratulatory punch or a punch for getting her friend into such a predicament in a deadly apocalypse. He accepted it either way.

Kyouko led them into the tent and to a small woman who was studying a slide under a microscope.

"Dr. Yoshi, this is Kaname. She's my friend," Kyouko made the introductions. "And this is her partner, Sousuke."

Dr. Yoshi glanced up at Kaname before looking back at her microscope. She was a small, bird-like woman with shrewd eyes and streaks of grey in her hair. "How far along are you?" she asked immediately.

Slightly taken aback at the curt, intuitive reply, Kaname responded, "Six months. Um, around 24 weeks I think. I haven't seen a calendar since… you know."

"Hmm," Dr. Yoshi mused as she wheeled away from her microscope on a rolly-chair. "Kyouko, I'm going to do an exam."

Kyouko nodded and left the room. Sousuke felt uncomfortable, but Kaname held onto his hand tightly.

After recording Kaname's weight, Dr. Yoshi held up a blanket and Kaname shimmied off her pants and hopped up onto the exam table and laid back. Kyouko reentered with a tray of medical supplies and aside from the gloves, Sousuke couldn't identify the tools provided.

Temperature, pulse, and blood pressure all revealed normal findings.

"You knew about this pregnancy before the infection started?" asked the doctor.

"Yeah, I actually found out the day it all started."

"You should have told me about this sooner," chided Dr. Yoshi.

"I wasn't sure if I'd get kicked out. You know, another mouth to feed."

"The Round Table has decided that we don't turn away children. Ever. We all need to stay human. We may not be able to support all adults, but we'll do anything we can for the kids and we've never turned one away." Dr. Yoshi had Kaname lay back.

"Oh," was Kaname's reply.

"You feeling okay?" Dr. Yoshi began palpating Kaname's belly and Sousuke watched with some fascination.

"Yeah. Luckily it's been an easy pregnancy. I started off feeling really tired, then I started feeling better at around what I think is thirteen weeks. Now I'm starting to feel run down again."

"That's pretty normal. Are you getting the right nutrition? I know you work in the kitchen."

"Yeah, I try to keep pretty balanced with what I eat that's available. Also, I take prenatal vitamins every morning. My doctor from before gave me enough to last through the pregnancy."

"Really?" She put her stethoscope in her ears and listened to different points of Kaname's abdomen.

"Yeah, I guess it's pretty lucky."

"Hmm. Well, the baby has a strong heartbeat. I obviously don't have the equipment to check a lot of things that are normal to check. I can do a little blood work, but I think I'll do that in two weeks when I have more time."

"So everything looks okay?" asked Sousuke.

"Yes," the doctor answered. "Good placement, strong heart, healthy mom. We'll check your blood sugars in two weeks, so make sure you see me then, okay Kaname?"

"I'll be here."

"Good." For the first time, Dr. Yoshi smiled. "It'll be nice to have a new life in here. Come by if anything starts to feel even a little bit off, okay?"

"I promise."

-z-

Time marched on. Spring bled into Summer. Kaname grew rounder gave up trying to hide her pregnancy from the rest of the settlement. The weather grew hot, rainy, and muggy. The veggie patch grew thick and ripe with peppers, beans, cucumbers, daikon, leek, and carrots.

After numerous talks with Hiyashimizu and the rest of the Round Table, Sousuke convinced the settlement to send a group of six runners north of the city to the surrounding farm land to see if there was anything to be salvaged from those places. The four-day mission was a rousing success as the runners came home with a half-dozen laying hens and two roosters that could provide eggs, chicks, and meat. They also had managed to coax back three nanny goats and one billy that could be bred and milked to Jindai. The settlement was becoming somewhat self-sustaining, which was good because the area near the former school was becoming picked clean by the daily scavenges.

In fact, it was the fresh food that enabled Kaname and the other kitchen workers to stage a coup of sorts against Akane. She obviously had no experience with fresh food storage and a couple of batches of the hard-earned veggies went bad before she could think of a use for them. As a result, the kitchen staff, led by Kaname, went to the Round Table and had her removed from kitchen leadership. Kaname was voted to her position. Akane, though she seemed embarrassed, seemed to take the demotion well and didn't complain.

For several consecutive months, things were going well for everyone. Then the luck soured a little at the beginning of August.

First, two runners went missing during a mission. Runners Five and Eleven just didn't return home. They were both single and tended to be loners, so many in the settlement simply hoped that they had found a situation that they liked better, living on their own or in another settlement. The truth was probably not as rosy. Bodies were never recovered.

Then, two days later, another runner went missing. Runner Thirty-two, like the runners before, didn't come home at the appointed time. In his semi-weekly talks with Kurz, Sousuke confided that things didn't feel right. Thirty-two had a wife at Jindai and was by all accounts, a good, careful worker. He should have come home. Kurz had no intel on any of the local infected activity, but warned caution, especially since the enemies didn't have to be undead to be dangerous. Sousuke signed off and double-checked the storage shed for the supplies he had amassed in the months since he joined Jindai.

He'd found more weapons, crowbars, long pipes, and even a machete. There were non-perishable packets of food, enough for two weeks for two people. He'd even found and stored another bicycle. He liked Jindai and hoped he was just being paranoid, but it was good to plan, just in case.

When Sousuke arrived back at the front gates later that morning, he saw an unusual buzzing about the settlement.

"What's going on?" he asked Jin.

"New blood coming in. Three of them. They were carrying assault rifles and look really tough. If they've survived out there for this long, it might be good to have them around if our runners keep going missing."

"Hmm." Sousuke was unconvinced. He didn't like the coincidence of three missing runners, then three survivors just happening by soon after. He followed the whispering crowd to the new settlement members.

The crowd broke in front of him and his blood thinned to water. He recognized the tall man with the scarred face in the middle of the group Hiyashimizu was escorting through the compound.

There was no mistake. Things were about to get very, very bad.

One of his new neighbors at Jindai was none other Gauron.

TO BE CONTINUED…


Author's Note: I finally had enough time to sit and plot this chapter out as it should be. Sorry for the delay. Notes for this chapter can be found on my Dreamwidth or Livejournal pages under the user name "starzki" and the tag "full metal panic." I adore reviews, so don't be shy!