Jitsui pulled Hatano onto the top of a nearby counter, using it as a makeshift seat so he could rest. They were separated from the others, lost in an unfamiliar ghost town that was desolated just like the others when the disease wiped out most of humanity. Now the land was crawling with the undead and they were one of the few left alive to keep fighting.
He and Hatano found shelter in a nearby gas station after a group of zombies had followed them down the road and forced them to flee while they still could. Hatano’s weapon had run out of ammunition during the fight and Jitsui was too slow to stop the rotting corpse from sinking its teeth into Hatano’s arm before he decapitated it with a knife.
“Show me.” Jitsui dropped his shotgun down at his feet while he reached for Hatano, the other pulling away and holding the wound to prevent Jitsui from seeing.
“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Hatano tried, his own body stiff from hiding the injury and keeping his pain at bay.
“We won’t know for sure unless you show me.” It wouldn’t have made a difference anyway, because no matter how deep a cut or bite from a zombie was, the infection would spread and Hatano was as good as gone. Just like Odagiri.
It was only a matter of time.
Jitsui was afraid he was going to have to use force when Hatano eased the pressure on his arm and removed his hand, revealing the fresh bite that tore through his skin. Blood was rising to the surface of the injury, no longer contained now that the weight of his palm was gone. His fingers were covered in his own blood.
Jitsui pulled at the ragged sleeve and tore it away from the shirt, dropping it to the ground so he could see better. The attack broke through the skin and Jitsui knew that the disease had gotten inside his bloodstream.
Jitsui turned around and searched for any kind of tools or medicine they could use that were left on the shelves. It was obvious that the place had been ransacked long before Jitsui and the others arrived, probably from the locals that were desperate for emergency supplies and anything else they could get their hands on.
Still, Jitsui looked and checked down every aisle he could before he found a small box that contained cheap gauze wraps that they could use to keep the blood down. He came back after pulling it off the shelf and ripped it open, dumping the contents out and sorting through it so he could get to work.
Hatano was more willing than he was before and let Jitsui do what he could, holding his arm out and watching Jitsui wrap the gauze around his wound. “’Tis but a scratch, Jitsui.”
Jitsui stopped his hands for a moment, his eyes narrowing at the thought of Hatano even joking about this when he looked up and saw that Hatano wasn’t even smiling. He was trying to lighten the mood, but even he knew that his future was looking grim. The least he could do was bring some humor into it while he suffered. “I’m going to check outside and see if anyone is nearby.” They got separated earlier, but there was a chance that one of them was searching for the others to regroup. Cell phones went obsolete months ago, when no one was around to maintain the power grids and phone towers, so convenient means of communication were almost nonexistent.
Hatano let him leave, though the other didn’t move very far, as they were already near the entrance of the station. He pulled the handgun he kept secured in his belt and made sure it was loaded before he fired it in the air once, a signal that he and the rest of the group had agreed on using in case a situation like theirs ever occurred.
Jitsui waited a full minute before firing a second time, hoping to hear a reply gunshot in the distance. He waited again and when nothing came, he put his gun away and went back into the building. No one was outside from what he could see, and if the others were in immediate danger he would have heard several shots to indicate that there were zombies nearby. Instead, it was like everyone had scattered too far or they were simply forgotten.
“Are they coming?” Hatano asked, still seated on the counter as he was told, his hand back over his wound where the gauze was covering.
Jitsui closed the door and shook his head, moving back to accompany him. “I think something must have happened. No one’s answering.”
“Amari was low on ammunition earlier, but they might have found someplace to stay for the time being. If they’re inside somewhere, they might not have heard it.”
Jitsui didn’t want to argue with him, not now, but it was clear that it wasn’t the case. “It’s hard to miss something as loud as a gun in a ghost town. You’re have to be deaf to ignore it.” Jitsui sighed and gently motioned for Hatano to move over, jumping up and seating himself next to him on the counter space.
It was quiet between them for a few minutes, Jitsui gathering his thoughts while Hatano busied himself with the pack of lighters that were by the register, flicking one on and watching it spark into a flame before he grew bored and set it back down with the rest that were left by the civilians. It was dangerous for the two of them to venture out until the others would answer the signal, but Hatano hated staying still for so long and he knew that his condition only made the situation worse for all of them.
A thought crossed Hatano’s mind and he couldn’t help but chuckle at it, despite the wound in his arm.
“What’s so funny?”
Hatano grinned and hit Jitsui’s knee with the back of his hand, as if trying to gain his already undivided attention. “I wish they gave us this much alone time when we started dating. I think it’s too late for them to be so considerate now.”
Jitsui didn’t say anything in response at first, not in the mood to play along with whatever Hatano was doing, but then he figured that if Hatano was forcing himself for the sake of Jitsui, he could do the same. “Do you remember our double-date at the arcade?”
“You mean the tagalongs we couldn’t get rid of? Yeah.” Hatano kicked his heel against the counter as he recalled. “That was the worst date we ever went on. They stuck us with the lunch bill, too.” Hatano and Jitsui’s date plans had been leaked among their group of friends and Kaminaga and Amari decided that babysitting them throughout their entire day would have prevented any “accidents” and “misdemeanors” with their youngest.
The joke was on them though, because Jitsui had given them false answers on the test a week later and they had to stay after school for tutoring until the end of the semester.
“They never let us live it down, either. Comments on how young we were and how we looked.” Jitsui was never truly upset by it, but the constant reminder that they were still too young compared to the rest of their friends sometimes became unnecessarily bothersome. Even when the apocalypse started, most of them refused to have them actively fighting until Hatano had proved to them that higher numbers meant a better chance at surviving.
“This whole situation really bites.” Hatano delivered the joke in such an emotionless tone that Jitsui wasn’t sure if the pun was deliberate. Then Hatano turned to him and grinned, giving him the answer.
“I can’t believe you sometimes.” Jitsui shook his head, leaning back on his hands and staring up at the ceiling of the gas station.
“You just don’t have the brains to understand my comedy.”
“Your jokes are terrible.”
Hatano laughed at his response before they lapsed back into silence, both of them idly searching around to keep themselves occupied. Hatano had seen the stack of magazines that were still on the shelf where they were sitting, but he deemed them uninteresting and left them alone. What could you do to relieve boredom when you were stuck somewhere with nothing?
Hatano tried not to show it, but his body was in pain. He had felt the zombie that attacked him bite through his flesh, and though he acted quickly, he knew that the moment its rotten teeth had punctured, Hatano’s life was done. The blood was already seeping through the gauze wrap, but he figured that replacing it immediately wouldn’t help much. If his body was in a weakened state, maybe it would affect the way the virus spread. He could be a lame zombie, or something. Hatano didn’t know.
There was a sudden pressure on his hand and Hatano looked down to see that it was Jitsui’s own that was struggling to intertwine their fingers together. His bad arm was next to Jitsui, but he supposed he didn’t mind from the way he was trying to comfort him. Hatano made his move and clasped his hand under Jitsui’s, holding it tightly and smiling when Jitsui squeezed his hand back.
“No cheesy one-liner?” Jitsui offered, expecting Hatano to make another joke at his attempt.
“Not this time.” Hatano looked at him and couldn’t bother making light of the gesture. It was something Hatano really needed then, and he was going to take it. His arm throbbed with pain again and Hatano cleared his throat to hide the way he winced, bringing his other hand up to his mouth and coughing.
“Do you need any water?”
Hatano shook his head. “It’s just going to be wasted on me. I know we—you guys are already low on provisions.” They hadn’t found any edible food since three cities ago and they had all kept themselves on small rations to keep from running out. Hatano’s last meal was yesterday morning, but his stomach didn’t feel hungry. He wasn’t thirsty either.
“Tell me when you do, I don’t mind sharing what I have.” Jitsui tone was serious and Hatano knew better than to tell him no again.
The two of them remained in that position until roughly an hour later, when Jitsui picked up the sound of a gunshot in the distance. The walls muffled it, but the noise was unmistakable.
Jitsui turned his head to look at Hatano, who was leaning against the wall connected to the counter, his lidded eyes emphasized with sleep. Hatano had nearly nodded off once before while they waited, but he promised to stay awake along with Jitsui in case anything happened and he was needed. Hatano looked exhausted and in pain, despite it being only an hour ago when he was still so lively.
Jitsui gently pulled his hand away from Hatano’s, his boyfriend’s own going limp for a moment without the support. That had finally gotten Hatano’s attention, the young man blinking and looking outside the doors to see that a vehicle was heading in their direction. “Is that the others?”
Jitsui moved to grab his shotgun and walked to the entrance, his pistol in his other hand as he shoved the door open and fired it in the air, watching the vehicle. A second later his signal was answered with a familiar arm hanging from the passenger’s side window of the jeep, the person firing twice as the vehicle seemed to slow down its approach.
Jitsui knew then that his suspicions were correct and he motioned the rest of the group to the gas station, making sure they saw him before he went back inside to alert Hatano. “They’re here to pick us up. I think they found us a ride.”
Hatano forced a smile, his eyes following Jitsui as he made his way around to where Hatano was still seated, his boyfriend securing his shotgun around his shoulder with the sling attached to it so he could free up one of his hands.
Hatano was then gently pulled from the counter, his feet touching the floor and Jitsui used his own weight to support him long enough for Hatano to get used to the position change. His legs were light and sensitive, like they had fallen asleep after being useless for so long. The new pressure made his legs weak, but he managed and let go of Jitsui, careful not to overdo himself.
They walked out together and Hatano saw Fukumoto behind the wheel as they parked by the entrance with Tazaki in the passenger’s seat. The cheers of reunion never came when their saviors were all too aware of the bloody gauze wrapped around Hatano’s arm. They seemed to have understood the circumstances immediately, Fukumoto’s eyes shifting from the two men and then to Tazaki when Jitsui shot him a warning look.
Jitsui and Hatano opened the jeep door and climbed into the back seats, Hatano going in first so that Jitsui could help him if necessary. “Why didn’t you answer my signal earlier?” Jitsui asked.
“We were split up during the attack and Fukumoto and I found shelter in an underground garage. It took a long time, but we managed to hotwire this thing long enough to get us out of town, at least.” Tazaki didn’t mention the fact that he had busted his side window in order to get in, and some of that time was spent cleaning out the glass to prevent any more injury.
“Amari, Miyoshi, and Kaminaga went ahead to see if they could find any supplies while we secured the car. They were also searching for you along the way. We’re meeting at the rendezvous point once we get going.”
Jitsui nodded, now satisfied with an explanation. He knew that it wasn’t anyone’s fault that they had gotten separated in the first place, but they could have had the opportunity to rescue them sooner and get Hatano the help he needed before it was too late. With the right supplies, he could have cleaned out the wound before the virus had any time to spread, but even he realized that was wishful thinking.
Beside him, Hatano leaned against the door and rested his head against the cool window, blinking slowly before his arm throbbed again. The pain was getting duller now, the worse of it had passed, but that was even worse for Hatano. His body was slowly growing numb and he had lost feeling in his fingers long before Fukumoto and Tazaki had arrived.
His transitioning was only beginning, but he wasn’t ready to confess that to Jitsui. There wasn’t any point, because they both knew that he wasn’t going to make it. Reminding him would only make him worry and Hatano wasn’t about to become more of a liability.
Fukumoto reversed the car and straightened it out, returning onto the road and following the landmarks so that they could get to the meetup quickly to see the others. It wasn’t smart to stay separated for long, even if they were split up in pairs, but now they were facing another problem. Hatano’s injury on his arm looked bad from the way it bled through the bandages and Hatano was in pain, his skin pale and that faraway look in his eyes made it obvious. He knew the signs well, and all of them were pointing towards the virus.
He was smart not to bring it up, because all of them knew, so he kept his focus on the abandoned road and left the decision to the rest of the group once they were together again. Fukumoto hadn’t seen any undead wandering the streets since their last attack, but he needed to stay sharp in case. They were smart, and they learned to hide their presence when food was around, which also made night watches all the more difficult when they were resting.
In the back of his mind, Fukumoto wondered how long Hatano had left. The virus infected the body differently from person to person, and the more you moved the faster it would spread. How long would it be until Hatano was no longer himself?
How long would it be until Jitsui…