The Sickness

By Starzki

-z-

8. I Won't Turn Out Like You Want Me To

-z-

Nearly blind with panic, Sousuke found that his legs were running to the mess tent. His breath rushed out of him when he saw Kaname busily giving orders to those working around her. She was oblivious to his terror, which was good; he didn't want her to panic, too.

Instead, he did what he could to walk calmly to the communications building.

Besides the vegetable patch, this area had seen the most changes in the months that Sousuke and Kaname had joined the compound. Those changes were largely due to Shinji's work.

Shinji was amazing with electronics. He'd managed to take the various wires, cables, and electronic gear that the runners were able to bring home and build a very powerful radio antenna. Jindai could communicate with other settlements across the city and even as far as some of the suburbs of Southern City. They'd not yet been able to coordinate with the other settlements, and they were very careful about the information they shared, but it was a start.

Sousuke, though, was more interested in Shinji's new project. Using the school's existing security features, Shinji was able to hook up a number of monitors and establish a closed circuit video feed from around the settlement. That way, any runner, go-fer, or anyone else could be found immediately. Also, everyone could know if someone was sneaking into the veggie patch. Some of the infected activity surrounding the school could be monitored without sending human beings in to some of the blind spots around the corners.

"Hi, Sousuke, how's it going?" Shinji asked. Sousuke often dropped by the communications area, but never directly after a run, so Shinji looked a little surprised.

"Could be better," Sousuke mumbled. He scanned the CCTV monitors and found Gauron almost immediately. His group was at the dorm tents, single men's side. Sousuke pointed the group out. "You see this guy?"

"Yeah?"

"We're going to need to keep an eye on him."

"Really?"

Sousuke nodded gravely.

"Why?"

Sousuke hesitated before answering. "I know him… from before. He's not a good guy."

Seriousness overshadowed curiosity on Shinji's face. He nodded back at Sousuke. "I'll do what I can."

"Thank you. I'll explain things tonight."

-z-

Sousuke couldn't stop himself from nervously pacing the compound. He even skipped lunch because he was afraid he'd come face-to-face with Gauron, which was a scenario he'd like to avoid forever, if possible.

It felt inevitable, though. Gauron would see him. He would recognize him. But then what? It was a completely different world than the life he used to live down in the Basin. Sousuke didn't think for a moment that Gauron had (or even could) change. But with the way the world was now, Sousuke wondered if Gauron could manage to keep up his old ways.

Then, Sousuke realized, that with the collapse of any semblance of order would only make it easier for Gauron and his kind to keep on perpetuating their evil.

Sousuke wondered what Gauron was doing at Jindai. This type of settlement, while good for protection and supplies, probably didn't have near the protection or supplies that Gauron and his ilk had stashed away for just such occasions as the apocalypse.

There was no doubt, Sousuke decided, Gauron was here to make trouble.

-z-

"What is going on with you, Sousuke?" Kaname asked that evening at the fire. She had noticed is anxious behavior, the way he kept a watchful eye around them even as he gently rubbed her swollen ankles.

"Yeah, you said you'd explain why you wanted me to keep an eye on that new guy," added Shinji.

Kyouko and the others looked at Sousuke with curiosity as he gathered his thoughts.

"I used to live in the city, down in the Basin," Sousuke explained. "A lot of kids without parents lived down there and we were kind of adopted by the crime syndicates there."

"I remember you saying that," answered Kaname. "It sounded awful. All of those adults taking advantage of homeless kids. Using you." She frowned.

Sousuke sighed, not wanting to get too far into the details. "Well then you'll remember the red house."

"The red house?" asked Shinji.

Kaname gave a small gasp, then looked at Sousuke. He knew he must look miserable because she took it upon herself to explain. "It's a red brick hotel in the Basin. Some adults took the weaker, younger kids to the building… and kind of sold the kids."

"Wait, what?" asked Kyouko.

"Prostitution. Human trafficking," offered Sousuke finally.

Shinji took off his glasses and rubbed his nose in frustration as he realized what Sousuke was saying. Kyouko crossed her arms in front of her and dropped her eyes to the fire.

"Gauron was one of those adults who were luring the kids into the red house," Sousuke finished explaining. "He and I got to be serious enemies during my time down in the Basin, mostly because he thought he could win me over to his side."

Kyouko made a squeaking noise and Shinji looked aghast. "We have to tell someone!" he said.

"There are kids here," hissed Kyouko.

Sousuke gestured for them to keep it down. "I know. I don't think he's going to try anything like that here. At least not right away. But I don't think telling people will work. We all know that everything is different now. Most of us accept that we're not the same people we used to be and are willing to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Gauron will be counting on that, and something tells me if we insist on expelling him, things are going to get really ugly and really violent. Maybe if we can figure out his plan, we can stop him without anyone getting hurt."

"I don't know, Sousuke" said Kaname. "It seems like a really big risk, for you especially."

"All I know is that things are mostly good here at Jindai. Peaceful. If he and his friends start acting out, this problem will fix itself without having to make ourselves targets. I really don't want to draw his attention any more than I already will. He's the kind of man who would hurt my friends to get to me." Sousuke slipped his hand into Kaname's and couldn't hide his anxious look. Her eyes softened and she managed a small smile for him. He leaned in and was rewarded with a small kiss.

Shinji and Kyouko fidgeted with some alarm, but came to see Sousuke's point of view. They'd be keeping a close eye on the Gauron and the other two, for now.

-z-

The confrontation was bound to happen. Two days after the newcomers arrived, Sousuke came face-to-face with Gauron while getting lunch in the mess hall.

Kaname had just piled Sousuke's plate high with rice and some dried chicken stew when Sousuke turned and nearly ran into Gauron.

"Watch where you're going," growled Gauron. Then he looked Sousuke up and down. A definite smirk pulled up the corners of the older man's mouth. "Oh, I beg your pardon," he amended. There was no doubt that he had recognized Sousuke.

Sousuke clenched. Every muscle from his jaw to his toes flexed, bracing for a fight.

Gauron laughed openly at Sousuke and clapped him on the shoulder. He wasn't going to start anything in the middle of the compound, it seemed, even though the two of them had been in enemy gangs while in the Basin. Sousuke had even spearheaded the cooperation between some gangs in order to try to take out the business at the red house. Gauron was acting like it was water under the bridge.

Sousuke knew better. If Gauron and whoever he was working for were infiltrating survivor settlements, it wasn't to help.

Sousuke sat and shoveled lunch into his mouth. Even Kaname's excellent dish tasted like sand when he could feel Gauron's eyes boring into the back of his head from across the room.

-z-

"There's a fox in the henhouse. Repeat. There is a fox in the henhouse. Over."

Sousuke's receiver buzzed to life. "What kind of fox? Over."

"Really sneaky one that used to prowl the Basin a few years ago. He went after the young ones."

"I see. Different… prey now, you suspect? Maybe your fox is just seeking shelter?"

"Negative. The coincidence of losing other… livestock… at the same time doesn't sit well. Things are about to get bad here."

Sousuke heard a heavy sigh over the airwaves before conversation continued. "I'm inclined to agree. We've been researching… varmints… especially like those you described in the Basin. Most didn't survive the infection, but those who did dug in and seemed to be well-supplied. They shouldn't be venturing into your… henhouse. Coming up would only put them in danger of the infected."

"Agreed. I'm not sure how to proceed. Rules of the farm are the past is in the past and we all do the best we can right now. As long as everyone is pulling their weight, nothing will be done. And the fox is not about to cause obvious trouble, but I don't want to wait this out."

Kurz allowed another frustrated noise on the walkie talkie. "I understand your predicament. I have no specific recommendations at this time. I will ask around. Things are starting to move forward on my end, so I might be able to help some time in the future. But not right now. Keep an eye on that fox. Protect your Angel and the little one that's on the way. I'll be on the comms every day. "

Sousuke felt confused. "You and yours suspect something that you need my info?"

A small laugh. "Maybe. Can't go into detail. But we've been watching movement from the Basin and it's too coordinated to be nothing. We suspect very deep pockets and if they're employing… varmints… they're at cross-purposes for most people's survival. I'd say bad luck that a fox found his way to your farm, but I think they've infiltrated most farms in the area."

Sousuke thought this over. If the gangs in the Basin were risking infection by coming out of whatever bunkers they had, they had to be motivated by some force. And any force that would team up with human traffickers couldn't be looking to help any survivors that had escaped death so far.

"Most farms? Are the varmints… looking for something?"

"Classified information. Sorry. But if you don't start problems, they might eventually move on."

"Unlikely. Even if they don't find what they're looking for, a fox will take what it can before leaving."

"True. Like I said, stay in touch whenever possible. Even if I'm not here, someone will be manning this side so that you can share intel."

"Affirmative. Will give any info I can as long as you can promise that you'll try to help us if we need it."

"I can't give promises, but do know that I'm doing everything I can. I won't forget how you and your Angel helped us out. I'm doing my best."

Sousuke felt the first bit of relief he'd experienced since Gauron came to Jindai. "Thank you. Over and out."

-z-

The next few days passed without incident, but there was a new charge in the settlement. Sousuke believed it had something to do with the way Gauron and has two friends prowled the grounds. They never sat still, were always on the move. They put on friendly faces and seemed to be making it a point of getting to know everyone, but there was a definite menace behind their eyes.

One of them was always armed in some way. Whenever they talked to others, one could be peeling an apple or cutting a thumbnail with a knife. Other times, they swung baseball bats around, saying that they were going to the recreational area, but only actually winding up there after a few hours. Any threat was subtle and easy for them to explain away, but Sousuke had seen similar tactics before.

What was worse, though, is that Gauron did seem to take an interest in Kaname. He was never anything but respectful, but was persistent in his questions whenever they crossed paths and she wasn't with Sousuke. He asked her where she was from and about her pregnancy. The questions weren't different than other survivors at Jindai asked Kaname, and she only ever answered in the same generalities as she gave everyone else, but she shuddered as she informed Sousuke of a recent run-in.

Sousuke thought about it, what would happen if a confrontation did arise between him and Gauron. Sousuke was relatively confident that the settlement would mostly side with him. He was quiet and generally kept to himself, but his missions were successful and Hiyashimizu often backed him and his ideas. Kaname, too, was very well-liked at Jindai. Her cooking and, surprisingly, her pregnancy were both enjoyed by most people. They loved her food and saw her pregnancy as something to look forward to: a new hope. Therefore those who didn't know Sousuke well or didn't like him much would still back him up because of Kaname.

Gauron was getting some following, though. Those who had been especially fearful, runners who didn't like running or those who had been too damaged by the sights they'd seen before making it to Jindai, seemed to respect Gauron and his men. He oozed violence and, to many, that violence translated into protection from the infected. Akane, former head of the kitchen, had taken a real shine to Gauron, too. Though well over a decade (probably two) older than Gauron, she still followed him around and flirted with him whenever she had the chance. He didn't seem receptive, but didn't push her away.

Overall, Sousuke liked his chances if there were to be a blow up between him and Gauron. That's where his anxiety grew. No way would Gauron ever start a fight he knew he couldn't win. Plans must be in place to tip the scales in his favor and Sousuke knew he had to ready himself to whatever that wicked man had planned.

-z-

A week after Gauron came to Jindai, Sousuke, Kaname, Kyouko, and Shinji traded notes in whispered tones over the campfire. August was slipping away and the heat of the day dissipated in the earlier and earlier nights.

"They keep coming back with more ammo and guns," explained Kyouko. "I mean, how did we miss all of those weapons caches?" Gauron and his friends had been assigned as runners and had immediately gained favor for all of the supplies they scavenged.

Sousuke frowned in answer.

"Also," Kyouko continued, "They always seem to come up with exactly what Jindai needs. Whether it's food, electrical equipment, or medicines, they look like heroes every day. I wouldn't complain, but they never come back sweaty or tired."

"It's like they have it stashed just around the corner. I wonder what they're doing with all the time they're out running," Sousuke mused.

"Also, I think they ignored that five-year-old boy from today. I know that they must have run past him. I heard him crying from three blocks away, but they didn't do anything to help him. I'm just glad I got to him before any infected zeroed in on his cries," said Kyouko. "I mean, you have to be some kind of a monster to leave a kid on his own out there, not that I really want those guys around kids after what you said, but still. It makes me wonder what they think is so much more important that having as many people as possible survive this world."

"Maybe if we can get more cameras up, we can start to track their movements," said Shinji.

"That will take a lot of time, though, and I'm not sure that we have it," said Sousuke.

"Should we… try to follow them?" asked Kyouko, worry creasing her brow.

"Negative. You should keep doing what you're doing. I'll follow them."

"But they already know you," said Kaname. "They'll be looking for you to tail them."

"I'm pretty good at looking innocent," laughed Kyouko. "If I 'just happen' to stumble after them on a run, I can be pretty convincing that it was an accident and that I just got lost."

"I don't like that idea," said Shinji.

"Me neither," said Sousuke.

"But there isn't anyone else here to do it. And the three of them all always go together, so we have that working for us," Kyouko explained. "I can just see where they go and tell you. Then, you can check it out later when they have a day off or something."

Kaname frowned and put an arm around her friend. "You don't have to do this." Sousuke continued frowning and nodded with Kaname.

"If they're going to do something, it's bad enough that you're associated with me," said Sousuke. "You don't need to be risking yourself like this."

Kyouko gave a small, frustrated growl. "Of course I do!" she didn't raise her voice, but emphasized her words. "You are my friends and you're all I have right now. If the doctor doesn't need my help, I'm running and I will follow them. You don't get to say where I run."

Sousuke begrudgingly accepted that Kyouko was going to do what she thought was helpful. And truthfully, it really might be.

"Um, guys…" said Shinji as an unhappy quiet settled over their small group. "I thought I should also bring up that Gauron has been in the comms area quite a bit in the last day or so. He says he's just curious, but I got the feeling that he was checking out the equipment and that he knew a lot more than he was saying. He spent a lot of time watching the monitors."

The group looked at one another with anxious curiosity.

"I'm being sent into the school to get the equipment we need for our next project, so I can't be there all the time to see what he's up to."

"It's just good to know he's interested," said Sousuke. "You have enough work. Just keep doing what you're doing and let me know if anything changes. I'll try to keep an eye on the comms area, too, if it helps."

-z-

During the beginning of the last full week of August, with Kaname's September 3rd due date fast approaching, everything seemed to happen at once.

It all started and early afternoon when Sousuke and some other runners were sitting with a few of the self-selected researchers of infected movements around the settlement. They had just been warning the runners about their prediction of coming hordes of infected to hit the area in the next few days when Shinji burst into the tent, breathless.

"Sousuke, you need to get to her now!"

Sousuke was on his feet instantly with worst-case scenarios running through his head. "Where is she?" he demanded.

"The dorms, I think it's your bunk," he answered with a slight asthmatic wheezing. Shinji tried to keep up as Sousuke took off across the settlement. "I saw Gauron snooping around your bed area on the cameras when Kaname stopped by. She saw what he was doing and she just left. I wasn't sure what to do, so I watched her make her way there and I think she's confronting him. So I came to find you!"

"You did the right thing," answered Sousuke, but he still wished that Shinji had come to him earlier. "Go back to the comms. Find someone to watch with you. It'll be safer and we'll have some other witnesses."

Shinji immediately changed course, not questioning his orders. Sousuke tried to calm down. There wasn't a reason that he could imagine for Gauron to hurt Kaname. She wasn't a threat. She was nine months pregnant and practically Jindai's mascot.

But Sousuke also knew how much Gauron loved violence. He'd seen him kill a man in the street for no reason that Sousuke could reckon. The man had been unaffiliated with the gangs, homeless, but only a part of the scenery. The murder had brought the police around, stifling business as usual and creating a headache for everyone in the Basin. Sousuke knew that Gauron didn't sweat it if some of his recreational murder got in the way of business.

It took only a minute to race across the settlement to the dorm areas. It was enough time for Sousuke to imagine the worst.

He entered the tent and saw Kaname and Gauron facing off about ten feet apart amongst the empty cots. Gauron had Kaname's backpack in his hands and Kaname was red-faced and furious, pointing at him.

"Put my things down!" Kaname yelled for what Sousuke guessed, based on familiarity with her exasperated tones, was at least the third time.

"Hey now," was Gauron's calm, smooth response. "I had heard that some people had contraband and I was told to check things out."

Sousuke moved between the two. "Contraband? And who exactly told you to check things out?"

"Jindai is about sharing, so I've heard. People get upset if you don't share everything you have if it could benefit others, too." Gauron smirked and reached into the pack and pulled out Kaname's vitamins. "I would guess that a lot of people would like to be sure they're getting all of their vitamins, too."

"Those are prenatal vitamins, you jerk," seethed Kaname, trying to edge around Sousuke to snatch her things back. Sousuke held her off.

"But vitamins are vitamins. Maybe some of the kids here need them more." Sousuke heard Kaname growl behind him.

Unsure of what Gauron was getting at and knowing that they had a probable audience via the cameras, Sousuke kept calm. "Dr. Yoshi is fully aware of Kaname taking these vitamins. In fact, she's directed that Kaname continue to do so. I think that Jindai's doctor would be the first to insist she share the vitamins if anyone else here needed them more than she does."

The smile dropped off of Gauron's face as he regarded the bottle. Then, it slowly stretched across his face once again. "Well, we need to make sure the little one is taken care of, eh Mrs. Watanabe?" He put the vitamins back in the pack, set it down on the cot, and backed away with both hands raised in surrender. "My apologies. It does seem like there's no contraband here."

"You never said who ordered you to look for 'contraband,'" reminded Sousuke.

"I didn't? Well that's strange," said Gauron over his shoulder while he walked away, swallowed by the bustle of the settlement outside.

-z-

Kaname was still fuming when they got ready for bed that night. "The absolute nerve of him…"

"He's up to something," said Sousuke as he sat on the cot. He was tired. Long conversations had been relayed between the comms area that had seen the exchange, Sousuke, and Hiyashimizu, who was busy with other Round Table business.

It had been discovered that while no one had ordered Gauron to search people's belongings, he had been present when the subject of people keeping desired goods for themselves had come up during a Round Table meeting. Someone had suggested random searches of the bunks, but no resolution had come of the idea. Gauron, when asked, simply stated that he must have misunderstood the interaction.

Sousuke wasn't happy with the explanation, but others seemed willing to let it go.

Kaname went through her things once again, making sure that nothing was really missing. "And that 'Mrs. Watanabe' dig. What did he mean by that exactly?" she groused. "He knows I go by Chidori here."

"I don't know. It's on the vitamins, right?"

"Yeah, but still. He seems so ready to have other people forget the past, why is he making such a point of bringing it up? And, really, Hiyashimizu didn't do anything about it?" Kaname shoved her pack under the cot and sat back-to-back with Sousuke. He half turned and embraced her around her shoulders, sweeping away her hair and putting a small kiss on the nape of her neck.

"They told him he was forbidden from going through anyone's things unless expressly ordered to do so."

Kaname laid back, scooting to the edge as much as she could. Her advanced pregnancy had made the sleeping arrangements a little more challenging. Sousuke sidled up to her and curved his arm around her belly. Some nights, he could feel the movements of the baby within, gently bumping against his arm. As much as he worried about Gauron, whenever he held Kaname like that, his mind couldn't help but be happy and tranquil.

"We have to keep an eye on him…" yawned Kaname. Late pregnancy was taking its toll. There were many nights she didn't sleep well, so she took advantage when both she and the baby agreed on the time to rest.

Sousuke took a long look at his sleepy girlfriend. As she drifted off, the tension melted from around her eyes and she looked like the girl he had first met years ago. He quietly kissed her mouth and settled in beside her. He fell asleep trying to predict the ways in which Gauron might come at him next.

-z-

The next day, Sousuke was preoccupied as he moved through the mess hall line to get lunch. Kurz's response to Gauron's aggression the previous day was sympathetic, but he said that he could do nothing on his side. Not yet. As always, he was cagy with details. Before, when life at Jindai had been going well, Sousuke hadn't cared about whatever operation Kurz was a part of. But now, that his life may depend on him, Sousuke was starting to resent being kept in the dark.

Sousuke moved his tray down the line as two workers piled rice and beef curry, one of Kaname's specialties, onto the plates. Akane's smile as she handed Sousuke back his tray interrupted his thoughts. Ever since Kaname had taken over the kitchen, she only had frowns and glares for the young man. Sousuke was instantly suspicious.

As he ate, he kept an eye out for Gauron's movements. Maybe Gauron had let something slip to Akane about coming after Sousuke. That would, he thought, likely make her smile. He half expected the older man to come at him as he ate.

But nothing happened. Or so it seemed at the time.

Later that night, at the fires with Kyouko, Shinji, and Kaname, Sousuke shared his misgivings about anything that might be going on.

"Maybe she thought you were someone else?" tried Shinji. "Akane can be pretty friendly to people who aren't us."

Sousuke didn't answer. He disliked that he was so on edge that someone smiling at him put his defenses up so quickly.

"Maybe," said Kyouko, "But I have some news. I followed them today."

All faces snapped to the woman in braids. "What?" hissed Kaname.

"I wasn't seen. It'll be okay," she comforted, putting an arm around Kaname's shoulders. "And, really, I didn't see much. They're pretty fast and three miles in, I lost them for a little while around a corner."

"Where did they go?" asked Sousuke, his blood starting to pump adrenaline.

"Southeast," she said. "After ten or 15 minutes, I saw them all running back the way they had come, so I ducked into an alley. They ran right by me and they were all holding weapons they didn't start out with. Once they were gone, I took off to find where they had gone and I heard and engine. So I climbed up an awning and looked around until I saw a man on a small motorcycle driving away. If I didn't know better, I would guess he was driving toward the Basin. But that's dumb, right? You can't get by on the streets over there because they're all packed with cars."

"They were when we were there," confirmed Kaname.

"That was months ago," said Sousuke. Maybe there are some paths now, or ways we didn't see. I don't like it."

"Me neither," said Shinji with a shudder. "I mean, they can't be running drugs or prostitutes during the apocalypse, can they? So what in the world could they be doing?"

"I wish I knew, then I might know why they were here," said Sousuke, looking around for Gauron. He didn't see him, but noticed that the fires were not as well attended as they normally were. The nights were getting earlier, so maybe some people were going to bed when the sun went down, but it seemed unusual.

Then, he saw someone abruptly get up, lurch over to a metal trash bin, and vomit into it.

It was the start of a long, painful night.

No one slept. Either people were moaning at the cramping in their guts, or they were making their way to the toilets. Anyone not affected was trying to help soothe the sick by bringing them water and blankets whenever needed.

Kyouko seemed to be working the hardest. Dr. Yoshi was sick and was doing her best to instruct the nursing student on any medicines that might be created with the supplies they had to relieve people's pain.

When the morning's first rays of light stole away the nighttime's stars, most of the sick were finally still and sleeping. It was then that Sousuke realized their predicament.

Except for himself, Kaname, Shinji, and Kyouko, the only other people who weren't affected by the mysterious stomach bug were Gauron and all of the people who had recently been vocal about supporting him.

Sousuke knew at that moment that Gauron had poisoned everyone in the settlement that might be against him.

Akane picked that time to saunter by Sousuke and Kaname's cot. She put on a concerned face, her hand over a mouth posed with an O of surprise, "I wonder if there was something in that curry you made for lunch yesterday that made everyone sick?" she asked Kaname before smiling and walking to Gauron's side. "Maybe you shouldn't be in charge of the kitchen, after all."

TO BE CONTINUED…


Author's Notes: My discussion of writing this chapter (as well as the others) can be found on DreamWidth or LiveJournal under the user name "starzki" and with the tag "the sickness." I appreciate any feedback that you would like to give. Thanks for reading!