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so i stayed in the darkness with you

Chapter Text

February

i. the loneliest moment


Tsubaki takes a sip of her hot chocolate, a bit of whipped cream sticking to her upper lip. Black Star feels the urge to lean over and lick it off. He doesn't, of course, because he's not a voyeur and she's not his girlfriend and he doesn't really like whipped cream, but the thought is there and it's enough to make him shift in his seat and misspell "fuck you" to the idiot he's arguing with on the forum. He scowls at his phone, then at Tsubaki while she isn't looking, and then out the window.

He's still pretty pissed that she's not ugly like he assumed. With a voice like the one she has and the way she plays WoW she had to be ugly. Or at least have a mole or something. You can't have a hot voice and be awesome at online and video games and be hot. But, to his immense confusion and annoyance, ShadowStag is a fuckin' babe and here he is, rolling around in a wheelchair (albeit a fucking awesome wheelchair) and babbling on about a game she's already played and won. Dammit.

"Black Star?" She asks, leaning forward and smiling slightly. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing," he snorts, picking up his Red Bull and taking a big gulp from it. She smiles at him again with her perfectly straight teeth and Black Star sighs inwardly, wondering what it would take to get a piece of ass like that. Probably two working legs, he thinks bitterly, but then remembers how fucking awesome he is, especially with his prosthesis, and stops feeling sorry for himself like a pansy bitch. "So what'd you wanna do after this?"

She shrugs, pulling the sweater she's wearing tighter around her. She props her arms up on the table and rests her chin in the palm of her hand, the smile on her face softer now. "Doesn't matter to me; wasn't there a movie you were talking about seeing?"

"Yeah," he waves a hand at her, leaning back in his wheelchair, stretching his back out. "But I downloaded it last night and it's pretty good quality so I'll probably watch it later."

"Mm," she hums, brows furrowing. He frowns at that. Had she wanted to go see it with him? Maybe he could invite her back to his place after this? They could watch it together and he could hook the computer up to the television. Of course he'd have to pick some shit up from the corner store like more chips, and then he'd have to pick his boxers up from the floor of the living room, but it could totally work. Would it be like a date, though? Nah, she looked like the kind of girl who had a boyfriend. Though, his mind supplies helpfully, she's never mentioned him if she does.

He's about to ask her when several police cruisers fly down the street, stopping at random intervals, cops exiting their vehicles.

Tsubaki screams when one of the cops knocks a man down and bashes his skull in.

Black Star jumps at her scream, as do others around them, but then there are screams all around him, none of them nice, and he's about to tell the bitch behind him to calm down, because that's definitely something from a movie. It's a dummy; they're filming a movie. There is no fucking way that this is actually—

Another guy, white haired and fanged, comes up behind the cop and takes a nice big chomp out of his neck, pulling away meat and skin and—

Tsubaki vomits and Black Star almost wants to as well, but he's got to keep a straight head because there are zombies. There are fucking zombies and he's always thought it would be cool if this happened but now that it's actually happening it's the farthest fucking thing from cool.

The first thing he does is wait for the traffic of people exiting the Starbucks to pass. There is no damn way he's getting through there with his chair and a vomiting girl beside him, and he wouldn't want to be the first one out anyway. It's awful, but their chances of getting away from here without injury would be better if the zombies were distracted by the raging crowd of other people. Gunshots are flying like crazy outside, and Black Star does roll away from the windows, tugging a sick-looking Tsubaki with him.

After a few seconds of breathing, Tsubaki calms down enough to step behind him and take the handles of his chair in hand. "We have to get out of here," she murmurs, though he's not sure if it's to him or herself. More cop cars have shown up, and there are loud sirens going off like an air raid warning or something. Black Star finds himself grinning at that thought, because from everything he's read about zombies, they're attracted to sound, and there are no huge sirens by his apartment.

"We'll go to my apartment," he says to Tsubaki, glancing up at her. She looks pale but determined, staring out the windows at the panic and chaos. People are running, tripping, screaming, being eaten. Vans have pulled up along with the cop cars and are directing everyone to the local high school as the evacuation center. Black Star scoffs at the thought; he'd broken into the high school several times before and it was hardly the safest place. At least at his apartment they could lock the door. Hell, you had to be buzzed to get in unless you had a key.

"But they—the school," she says, brows furrow once more, stopping just before the glass door that is broken in several places. Just outside there is a zombie munching on a man's intestines, and Black Star looks away from it sharply, back to Tsubaki. She, of course, had noticed too, and he says her name three times before she looks at him.

"We'll be safer at my place."

She swallows and nods, then wheels him through the door, taking a second to stare the zombie tearing the man apart. It seems pretty distracted by its food so it doesn't notice them. It certainly doesn't notice them when Tsubaki stomps on its head repeatedly, face livid and fists clenched.

By the time they start moving, her running and pushing him, the zombie is motionless.


She tells him a block away from his apartment that she has to make sure her brother is alright.

"Just call him," Black Star says, keeping his eyes peeled for any of the zombies. So far he's only seen one, but it was picking away at a dog so they'd gotten by without incident. The only things rushing down the road are cars packed with families and pets, heading to the evacuation center. Black Star shakes his head, muttering "idiots," under his breath. Above him, Tsubaki moves one hand to the middle of his chair, fingers brushing against his spine as she pulls her phone out of her pocket.

He listens to her speak in rapid Japanese to her brother. He can only pick up on some of it, not used to hearing it so fast and not really used to hearing it at all anymore (his mom used to speak it to him when he was younger, and he had watched a fuckton of anime in his teens). He catches dead people and friend but that's about it. The rest he tunes out, hoping she's not talking too loud that the zombies will hear.

Tsubaki snaps something that he definitely understands and it's really surprising to hear from her. Sure, she sometimes gets a little mean when playing games, but that's different. She hangs up with an aggravated sigh, shoving her phone back into her pocket.

"Damn, Tsubaki," Black Star whistles, peering up at her with a leer. "I didn't know you had it in you."

She looks vaguely apologetic and still very annoyed. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be."

They move quickly and silently, only stopping once when a woman in a van pulls over, demanding they get in her car so she can bring them to the evacuation center. Black Star can see that Tsubaki is tempted, hands tightening around the handles of his chair, and then the woman says, "Those things bite! One got my husband and he's not doing too well." She points to the man sitting beside her in the passenger seat, and Black Star can see his bloodshot eyes and teeth that are sharper than normal.

"Nah, we're good. We just gotta head home and get the dog and then we'll be there, no worries. Thanks though, lady."

Tsubaki swallows audibly, nodding at the woman. "Yes, thank you."

She begins pushing him again, quicker this time. "Those people will die."

Black Star knows. Black Star could see that the poor lady in that van knew too, but she wasn't leaving her husband behind to become one of those things. The city is going to shit around them, and hopefully this is the only place doing so, though with luck the whole fucking world would be taken over by the undead by sundown. Not knowing if she wanted reassurance or not, Black Star nods anyway, beginning to push himself when she stops. "Yeah, they will.


Her brother doesn't answer the phone the next time she calls, which seems like a big deal to her, but Black Star doesn't really give a fuck. He's more focused on getting his shit together and making sure the hunting guns his father had left him are in working condition. He's got a shitton of other things to check too, but the guns are his main priority. And if Tsubaki would stop fretting over her phone and helped gather the shit together, they'd be able to go and hunt her brother down.

"The cell towers are probs' down," Black Star snaps over his shoulder, and then feels bad when Tsubaki shoots a withering look in his direction. He's not trying to be insensitive, but fuck man; priorities.

"I know I'm just…he's a police officer so…" She shakes her head, stuffing her phone in her pocket. He can still see that she's worried, it's all over her face, but she also has a determined look in her eyes that makes Black Star hot. "Sorry, Black Star. What do you need me to do?"

She's got her arms crossed over her chest, just under her massive tits, and Black Star waves in the general direction of the closet. "Leg?"

"Um…"

Her eyes dart down to his legs and he flushes, pulling himself back together. Priorities, he repeats in his mind over and over. Goddammit.

"My prosthesis."

"Oh," Tsubaki nods, already at the closet, pulling the doors open. He watches her for a moment to gauge her reaction, grinning when her mouth falls open.

"Are these…do they work?"

"Eh, a few glitches," he says. The guns are piled on the desk along with the rest of his arsenal; a few homemade bombs, a baseball bat, the katana he'd ordered offline years ago, his dad's hunting guns, and a few knives. Tsubaki looks at them, at him, and back at his prosthesis', then frowns.

"You're awfully prepared for this…"

"Are you kidding?" He laughs, wheeling toward her. She's still frowning prettily, but he lips do quirk up a bit at the sound of his laugh. "This is a nerd's wet dream. Zombies?" He reaches for his baby, the prosthesis with a cooler, and a Taser, and wheels himself back around, rolling his pant leg up. "Who doesn't love zombies?"

Tsubaki is quiet when she comes around, kneeling down in front of him to roll up the pant leg easier. Her fingers brush against his knee as she does so, and he barely suppresses a shiver. So fucking lame, he berates himself, attaching the prosthesis himself and allowing her to do up the buckles for him.

He tests it out for a moment, moving his foot, extending his leg. Tsubaki stands at his side, hands clasped tightly in front of her. "You can…move well with that on?"

"Sure fuckin' can." He grins, pushing himself out of his chair and to his feet. The first few moments find him a bit wobbly, but he regains his bearings and makes his way to the desk, Tsubaki close behind. "Alright, ShadowStag, let's get this shit in some duffel bags and go look for your brother." He checks the mini-fridge under his desk, then, "Also, we'll have to stop somewhere, I'm out of Monsters."

Beside him, Tsubaki sighs.


"That is…a lot of zombies…"

Black Star finishes his third Monster, feeling jittery and awake and so fucking pumped. There is nothing better than a good workout after putting his foot on. He grins and tightens his fist around the handle of his baseball bat.

Tsubaki shifts next to him, back pressing against the brick wall, looking faintly sick. The katana in her hand is unsheathed and steady in her grip.

"It sure is," Black Star whispers, stepping out from behind the dumpster they'd hidden behind, carefully picking his way through the alley. Directly across from them is Tsubaki's small house she shares with her brother, and while he doesn't think it's the best idea to go running in there half-cocked, he doesn't think it's a bad idea either. They had to get their feet wet sometime, right?

"Let me go first." He stops abruptly, partially because one of the freaks in the mouth of the alley has begun to move and the other because he wanted to feel her—

He swings his bat into the side of the zombie's head, careful not to let it hit the wall. The last thing he needs would be a fucking clang to alert every dead thing on the street that he is there.

Tsubaki groans quietly behind him but doesn't toss her cookies again. The zombie on the ground twitches a bit, head only partially caved in, and Tsubaki steps on it as hard and quietly as she can, caving the rest of it in. Blood and gore rise up around her foot, staining the boot darker. Black Star grins.

They'd gone over the game plan on the way over. Black Star figured sneaking the fuck around would waste too much time, and it'd be easier to just run straight across. He would hold them off and she would unlock the door, and when it came time to get the fuck outta there, the houses beside it were close enough to jump to if the back door was blocked.

He just hoped her brother was in there and not fucked up like the rest of these poor guys. He hopes this isn't a goose chase.

"Ready, ShadowStag?"

She makes an affirmative noise in the back of her throat, and Black Star doesn't waste any time, darting out of the alley as fast as he can, ducking under any wandering hands, ignoring his own pounding heart and the slight ache as his leg adjusts to the prosthesis again.

Behind him he can hear the sound of the katana slicing through air. He finds it really sexy that she knows how to use the thing, though he shouldn't have been surprised. She told him her family descended from samurai once when they were trying to show off in a forum. Using that thing must have been ingrained in her goddamn blood.

He swings his bat wildly when the zombies begin to come closer. The two of them are making enough of a scene to draw them from halfway down the block, and Black Star wonders if they should have just gone along with Tsubaki's plan to come in the back way. He doesn't say this out loud, of course, because his idea is still good. Hers just might have been...

"How ya doin'?" He calls back, cackling as he slams his bat into a zombie's stomach, pushing him back into two others. He doesn't take his eyes off his path. A few more—yes, he snaps the head off the zombie's body that blocks the gate to Tsubaki's front yard and feels a surge of adrenaline when he does so. He is so fucking boss.

He hops over the gate, grinning when he watches the other zombies trying to get over—shitshitshit one of them—"ShadowStag, let's go!"

Tsubaki hops over the fence a few seconds later, breathless and not all that graceful, but Black Star focuses more on the zombie's intent on climbing over the fence. "Get that door unlocked!"

"Shut—" she gasps for breath, fingers fumbling with the key, "—up. Please."

Black Star kicks a zombie in the knee, wincing at the crack that he hears. Several of them are already in the yard, and he runs backward toward the door, intent on just breaking the fucking thing down—

"There," she breathes behind him, a hand grasping his collar and pulling him backward. He chokes a bit, growls something about pushy women and then finds himself ass-up in the foyer of her house, the door slamming behind him. The lock clicks into place.

The only sounds are the pounding on the door and their harsh breathing. Black Star presses his warm forehead against the hardwood floor, smelling whatever cleaner Tsubaki or her brother had recently used.

She moves before he does, stepping tentatively around him, katana held loosely in her grip. "Masamune?" She calls softly into the house, but if there is any reply it is drowned out by the shrieks outside, the pounding on the door and windows. "Masamune, are you here?"

The thought suddenly occurs to Black Star. Her brother is a cop.

"He's at the fucking evacuation center," Black Star groans, pushing to his feet, knee cracking. "He's at the fucking evacuation center because he's a fucking cop—"

"No," she shakes her head, brows furrowed, mouth set in a line. "He was ill this weekend and couldn't make it to work, so he took the day off. I almost didn't come to meet up with you today because I wanted to take care of him, but he told me just to go…"

"So he's here?"

"He should be."

Black Star comes up beside her, eyes peeled for anything suspicious. Her house is clean, which is no surprise, but it also smells a little. Like…like cleaner. "What's that smell?"

Tsubaki lets out a rattling breath, gripping her weapon more tightly. "Pinesol, but I don't know why it would—unless he vomited and cleaned it up? I can't think of any other reason—"

"Ts…Tsubaki…?" The voice is faint, watery. The voice is obviously her brother's, and Black Star watches it all happen in slow motion.

She darts forward, opening a door a few feet away, only to fall back as another body falls overtop her, hair quickly turning white, skin a grey pallor, and teeth near her neck.

Black Star kicks him off without thinking, grabbing Tsubaki under the armpits and dragging her back toward him. She's breathing harshly, but a quick look at her neck shows that she hadn't been bitten.

Her brother spasms on the floor, vomiting black blood, eyes red and dangerous; Black Star hopes that the Taser fucking hurt.

"Go," he snaps harshly, snapping his teeth at the both of them. "Go."

I've gotta kill him, Black Star realizes. Tsubaki is frozen in front of him, and he wouldn't make her do it anyway. He might be a god, but he isn't a cruel one. Usually.

Well, not to his most loyal follower. And ShadowStag is his most loyal follower.

He starts forward, pulling the bat up and resting it on his shoulder. "Tsubaki, you should go get some clothes or something that you want to bring with you. I'll—"

"Let me, please."

Black Star stops a foot away from her brother, eyebrows furrowed. He doesn't take his eyes off Masamune, but he wants to. Is she serious? She wants to be the one to kill her brother? He knows that she's strong, but is she strong enough to do this?

"ShadowStag—"

"Black Star."

Swallowing, he steps back, watches her step forward, katana held high. "Would you…" her voice is quiet but doesn't waver for a second. Her face is empty, eyes hard and Black Star gives her mad props for this. "The door behind me, on the left- it's my room. Would you wait in there for me?"

Any other time Black Star would be all over that. Waiting in a girl's room? Sure. Waiting alone and having the chance to check through her underwear drawer? Even better. But this is different. She isn't coming in there to—they aren't—

He nods tightly, casting one last glance at the still man on the ground. Masamune's eyes are lifted, resting on ShadowStag. The last thing he sees before he enters her room is his mouth open, muttering, Tsubaki.


Twenty minutes later Tsubaki is changed into something more appropriate to run around in, and a small backpack is filled with essentials. Black Star doesn't peek on her when she asks him to turn around, no matter how much he wants to. It's almost like he's letting himself down, he thinks later, and if this is his last chance to see some nice tits, then he really has let himself down, but he respects Tsubaki and all that shit and she'd trusted him not to look, yada, yada, yada.

"Where to now?" She asks as she wipes the blood off her blade with a shirt. Black Star stares out the window, noting that while many of the zombies that congregated at the doors and windows in front of the house had left, quite a few of them had stayed. He twirls his phone around in his hand, agitated. This was such a waste of time. He feels bad for thinking it, yeah, but he should have known. The towers wouldn't have gone down so fast. Hell, the news was still on, they'd watched it five minutes earlier.

Slumping back against the pillows, Black Star sighs. "Fuck if I know."

"Maybe we should go to the evacuation center, like they said on the news. The whole state is on red alert—"

"It's not just here," Black Star presses the heels of his hands to his eyes, scowling at nothing. "It's fucking everywhere. There probably isn't a safe place left. Going to the evacuation center is stupid too. There'll be so much noise that every single one of those freaks'll be there in a day, if they aren't on their way now."

"Well," Tsubaki says icily. He stares at her as she turns away, shoulders taut, "When you decide to give an idea instead of shooting mine down, feel free. Until then, we'll stay here."

"Well," Black Star mimics back, "If we didn't have to fucking come here then we'd be safe at my fucking apartment."

Tsubaki slumps, dropping the katana to the floor and putting her face in her hands. He doesn't think she's crying, but he doesn't think she's too far from it. "I know. I'm sorry. I thought he'd be okay, but I should have known and now he's dead and now we don't have anywhere to go or a way out of here and it's all messed up. I mean, I don't even—we're only—how are we going to survive out there?"

Black Star freezes when he hears the hitch in her voice. This is so not his thing, not even a little bit. Gods aren't supposed to comfort their followers; they're supposed to put the fear of god into them. That way they never cry and for fuck's sake, he wouldn't have said anything if he knew it'd make her feel that bad. He doesn't try to be a bastard, it just comes naturally!

Scooting forward, her brings his left leg up under him and lets his right leg hang off the bed. Nearly sitting on top of her, Black Star rests a hand on her shoulder, massaging it lightly. "Uh, Shadow—Tsubaki, I was just dickin' around. I'm not really…it's good we came here to uh, make sure and shit. Wouldn't it suck if he were actually okay and stuck here and shit and we didn't show up? Heh…"

She lets out a weird noise that has him cringing and massaging harder. "Not that—I mean. Fuck me, okay, what I'm trying to say is I'm sorry, it was a stupid thing for me to say, and I need you to not hate me or pull some goddamn damsel shit and run off on your own and get yourself killed because I need my right hand uh, woman. And we can just pretend this is like Sword Art Online or some shit. Okay? So let's pull ourselves together and get the fuck outta here okay? Okay."

She's silent and still for a few moments, and then she lets out a long breath, running her hands through her hair, pulling out the tie and re-doing it. "Okay."

"Awesome." He grins, sliding off the bed and grabbing her hand. He's relieved to find that they're both sweaty.


 

Chapter Text

 

March

ii. in someone's life


"Hey," Tsubaki murmurs, drawing Black Star's attention from the TV that is now only looping, images of the outbreak in New York, London, Hong Kong, and Sydney in each corner of the screen. It's all the same, everywhere. Tsubaki swallows and meets her partner's eyes. "Come look at this."

Black Star walks over to her, limping only slightly. The raid from the day before had left his prosthesis nearly in ruins, and it was only sheer luck that he'd thought to bring another with them. He leans over her shoulder; hand on the back of her chair, knuckles brushing against the top of her spine.

He reads quickly and efficiently, his scowl growing darker and darker after each paragraph. When he finishes, he backs away from her, tugging at his hair. Unruly brown locks stick up more than they had before. "How long ago was that?"

"Three hours."

"So they still had power then," he nods, rubbing at his chin, She can see the dark stubble growing there and berates herself for finding it sexy. Especially at a time like this.

"Yes, but it's down now. The twitter feed was updating not too long ago- apparently the quarantine in Moscow didn't work."

"Son of a bitch and bastard, that's just awesome. The whole world is going to shit, man."

It had only been about half a month since the outbreak, but already most of Vegas was in ruins, the walkers roaming everywhere. And it wasn't only Vegas, either. Major cities around the world had attempted quarantine, but the virus wouldn't stay gone and power lines were going down all over the world. It was just luck that the two of them had managed to secure the top floor of a Holiday Inn that (thankfully, after Black Star crawled through what seemed like thousand year old cobwebs and dust to reach the backup generator) had yet to be raided by any other groups, and the amount of walkers within were minimal. At least in the rooms they'd checked.

She had pushed, at first, to join another group. They couldn't go on raids with just the two of them; it'd never last. They were quick and they knew how to fight, but one day their luck would run out and then where would they be? But Black Star had been completely against it, saying something about too many cooks in the kitchen, which Tsubaki found vaguely annoying, but she went along with him anyway.

Even if the walkers managed to break into the hotel, Tsubaki and Black Star would be able to see from the security cameras they'd rebooted and hacked into, and then they would have to get past the obstacles in the stairwell, if any made it that far.

The water was still running, which was something Tsubaki was endlessly grateful for. Black Star made sure they never put it in their mouths or nose without boiling it- he was afraid it might have been contaminated- but after nearly a week of looking for somewhere to go to get away from the madness, Tsubaki would have done anything for a shower.

It wasn't just walkers out there, though. There were survivors all over, cars constantly honking somewhere, gunfire echoing through the night. The police could only keep the peace and fend off walkers for so long, and soon they'd been overrun. She was embarrassed to admit that she and Black Star had been in the group of people who had broken into police departments to raid for weapons, but desperate times called for desperate measures.

"And I'm all outta fuckin Monsters, terrific!"

She blinked at her screen, eyes stinging from staring too long. Twisting around, she frowned at Black Star. "We just went out yesterday, you drank them all?"

"It was a very rough night, okay?"

The noise she lets out is half laugh, half sigh. "I know; I was up half the night listening to you complain."

"The internet kept going in and out! I wish the military would stop fucking around. The only good they're doing is drawing the walkers away from here."

The military was being quite a nuisance. At first they had been successful in killing many of the walkers, but when two died, it seemed like six more would take their place, and soon things were worse than before. It, like everything else, was not only happening in Vegas, but everywhere. Detroit had nearly been blown off the map in their attempt to eradicate the walkers.

Standing from her chair, Tsubaki reaches her arms over her head, bending back to crack her back. It cracks twice, and relief fills her. "You know what I miss the most?"

"Porn?"

"No," she blushes hotly, wishing she'd never admitted to him she watched porn. Although in her defense, it'd been a very long night of raiding dungeons and she'd had her fair share of the wine Masamune's girlfriend at the time had bought him. "My massage therapist."

"You went to massage therapy?" He quirks an eyebrow at her, lips curling up. "If you were so tense you coulda just given me a call, y'know."

Tsubaki flushes hotly and makes her way to the couch by the window. She pulls at the blinds, looking at the fire escape. She knows there would be no chance of a walker getting up there, but both she and Black Star tended to look anyway.

"I am good at massages, Tsubaki. I can't believe you; get your mind out of the gutter, perv." He holds a hand to his chest in mock hurt, and Tsubaki laughs lightly.

"My bad," she smiles. Black Star makes his way toward her, kicking his prosthesis up on the coffee table. It looks terrible- a mess of duct tape and wires, now. The Taser had broken first, and then it'd been his mini foot fridge, much to his never-ending annoyance. She was glad he'd brought more than just this prosthesis with him, but wasn't sure why he wasn't wearing them. She asks him, folding her own legs up beneath her.

"I'm just walking around here so it's no big deal, y'know? And I didn't bring my chair so I'm not just gonna hop around here like an idiot."

"How...how did that happen? If you don't mind me asking."

"What? How'd I break it? Tsu, you were there with me, did you hit your—"

"I mean um, how did you lose your leg?"

His mouth opens slightly, and Tsubaki colours. "I-I-I didn't mean, you don't have to tell me—"

Shrugging, Black Star rests his head on the back of the couch, visible eye on her. "Eh, it's no big deal. We used to do this stupid game where we would run across the train tracks, like chicken I guess, and one time I ran and I misjudged how far the train was away from me. Well I fuckin' tripped and when I tried to get out of the way my pant leg was stuck and the big fucking thing ran over my leg. I mean, it would have been okay if my friends hadn't fucked off on me and I hadn't had to drag my own ass to the nearest house, but hey."

Brows furrowed, Tsubaki asks, "How could you—how did you stand the pain? I can't imagine…"

"Adrenaline, maybe? Fuck if I know." He shrugs one shoulder and yawns, scrubbing at his eyes. "All I know is one second there was this awful, ripping pain, and then I was in an ambulance and they were saying shit like amputate." He looks a bit uncomfortable, and rubs at his face, yawning widely.

"What happened to your friends?"

"I kicked their fucking asses when I got my first prosthesis."

Tsubaki muffles her laughter in her hand. He would, of course.

He smirks at her, and then closes his eyes. "I gotta get some shut eye before we run back out for my Monsters."

He yawns again, and Tsubaki catches it once he's done, though she covers her mouth.

"You probably should too, ShadowStag."

"Mm," she hums, leaning back on the armrest. Her legs are beginning to fall asleep under her, and Tsubaki straightens them out, hovering over his lap for a moment, before bending them back toward her, close to her chest. It's not the most comfortable thing in the world, but it's not the worst, and Tsubaki quickly finds herself falling asleep, lulled by Black Star's quickly growing snore.


Raids, Tsubaki decides with a sort of elation, are the best and worst parts of this quickly changing world.

The best, perhaps because she can prove to Black Star that she can take care of herself and handle most of what comes at her, and the worst because of the dead and, occasionally, the living.

The Walgreens they stop at has dozens of walkers dead in the parking lot, which immediately puts the two of them on edge.

"Who do you think did this?" She asks, crouching between two cars, eyes wandering around. She's making sure there aren't any walkers in the vicinity. Thankfully, the day had been mostly uneventful aside from a quick skirmish outside a Starbucks a few blocks from the Holiday Inn they'd commandeered, but aside from that, things were relatively quiet. They hadn't even seen any signs of other raiders, which was something that had the two of them on edge.

"Others, obviously. I mean, as much as I would love it, I doubt the stupid freaks just dropped dead, so my guess is other raiders, maybe the military."

"Do you think they've cleared the store out?"

Black Star stands up, kicking his prosthesis against the ground twice, before adjusting his grip on his gun. She stands as well, brushing the butt of her jeans, before checking her own gun to make sure it is loaded. Her eyes sweep the area once more, only noting one moving white head at the end of the street; far enough away that they don't have to worry about it.

"Probably not, hopefully not," he says, before starting forward, keeping low as he makes his way around the bodies toward the doors of the Walgreens. She follows suit, pulling out her knife as well, knowing that shooting a gun off around here would doubtlessly serve to draw more of them around or, with their luck, another raid party.

The sliding doors are smashed and pried open, and the inside of the huge store is black as pitch. It sets Tsubaki's nerves on fire. Who knows what could be lurking around in there, and their little flashlights she had been smart enough to bring with would only do so much to illuminate things. They would have to stick together, rather than going off on their own, and while the idea would usually comfort her, it would be so much quicker and easier to split up and get what was on the list Black Star had made.

She watches as his shoulders straighten, fingers tight around his gun, the silencer at the tip glinting in the sunlight. "Flashlights, ShadowStag."

"Right," Swinging her backpack around, she pulls out both of the flashlights they'd taken from the police station. Tsubaki hands one to Black Star and clicks her own on. "Sticking together, right?"

He nods, and then begins to pick his way through the broken glass, into the store, Tsubaki following close behind.

There aren't many sounds coming from inside the store. At least, nothing that sounds like a walker moving around, or moans or shrieks or snarls. And even if there were Tsubaki has gotten far too used to those noises, and when she hears one outside from a distance, she doesn't even flinch anymore. It's another part of her life now, along with running for her life down empty streets, and bashing in the heads of the dead that aren't quite dead.

She watches Black Star, watches him pick his way through the broken glass and debris soundlessly, and watches the taut line of his back under the t-shirt he's wearing. He's so different from the boy she'd met online, and the boy in the wheelchair, but he's not at the same time. Maybe it's the fact that until a few weeks ago she had never seen him on two legs, or maybe it's the way his personality has hardly changed. His get-shit-done persona is maybe a bit more pronounced, but other than that he's exactly the same.

She wonders if he thinks she has changed. She wonders if he thinks it's better or worse.

A rough tug on her wrist brings Tsubaki back to the present, and her eyes snap up to meet Black Star's. "Yes?" She asks quietly, eyeing the hand on her wrist. It looks so dainty in his huge hand, tanned skin against her creamy, and she likes it, she thinks.

"Put this on," he murmurs, pulling something out of his jean pockets and fastening it to her collar, shoving it in her ear. It falls out after he moves away, but Tsubaki secures it in her ear, frowning at his fingers around her chest.

"When did you…?"

"Eh," he shrugs, grinning at her, all teeth. "I got bored last night and I couldn't sleep."

"You make me tired," she shakes her head, inspecting the microphone on her collar. His hands are still fluttering around uselessly, and she contemplates holding them still. "So I just press this and you can hear me?"

"Right," he nods, grabbing the gun he'd shoved into the holster on his thigh, twirling it around his finger. "I have one too, so we can split up. I dunno how far away we can go from each other before they stop working, but we'll probably be fine in here."

Dread creeps up her spine, leaving a cold sweat in its wake. This, of course, is not the first time they've split up to find supplies, but it's the first time they've done so in such a dark, deserted building. The other grocery stores and department stores they'd raided at least had some form of light but the Walgreens doesn't- it's just empty darkness that makes the hair on her neck stand up.

A part of her pleads that she tell Black Star, hopes that maybe he'll just forgo trying out his newest toy and stick with her. It doesn't matter if he gets annoyed with her, he'll get over it eventually. But the other part of her, the bigger part, wants to be able to prove herself; to show that ShadowStag isn't just a name, that she can be ShadowStag. So she smiles and nods, and takes the right while he takes the left, splitting the list of supplies between them.

His voice crackles in her ear five minutes later when she is inspecting a can of spaghetti-o's that had fallen on the ground, and she bites back a shriek, though she does drop the can.

"ShadowStag? You drop something?"

"You scared me," she hisses, bringing the mic close to her mouth.

"Oh. Whoops?"

Shaking her head, Tsubaki picks the can back up, stuffs it into her bag, and begins to scan the shelves for more. Spaghetti-o's are a guilty pleasure of hers. "What do you need?" She murmurs, frowning when she doesn't find any more. Pork and beans it is, she sighs, grabbing a few of the cans, as well as a few soups, and stuffing them into her bag. They all rattle when she walks, and Tsubaki grimaces, hoping she isn't drawing the attention of anything in the store.

"Just wanted to see if they worked, and they do, no surprise there. I am a fucking god, after all."

She reads off her list, humming quietly under her breath. Water, they need water. Black Star is supposed to be getting his own energy drinks, and she is on water. Making her way toward the back of the store where the coolers are, Tsubaki makes sure to check over her shoulder every so often, swinging her flashlight around to make sure nothing is following her.

The store is silent, and it's putting her on edge.

"Have you seen anything?" She asks into her mic, more for her sanity than anything else.

"A couple dead walkers, you?"

"Nothing," she murmurs, not even a dead walker. Why aren't there any dead walkers down her aisle? She would think that there would be a lot of them, since most raiders would go for the non-perishable foods, but there is hardly anything out of place in the aisle.

"Nothing? Huh, lucky."

Groaning inwardly, she continues on, still glancing behind her to make sure she isn't followed. It is during one of these checks that she runs straight into something that smells rancid and is cold and soft to the touch.

Tsubaki stumbles away, narrowly dodging the walker's claws as he reaches out for her, not making a sound. The flashlight slips from her sweaty grasp, and she fumbles for her knife, knowing better than to grab her gun. I should have taken Black Star's gun with the silencer when I had the chance; she berates herself, looking for a way to kill the walker without being slashed open by those claws. She notices that its jaw, along with the tongue, is missing, and realizes that is why she hadn't heard any noises from it.

Scowling, she lunges when an opening appears, but the walker is fast and catches its claws in the material of her jacket. The speaker in her ear crackles with Black Star's voice, but she can't focus on much aside from the feeling of the walker mouthing at her shoulder. She's thankful for her thick jacket, though it's not really that cold outside. The walker might not have the bottom set of teeth, but the top row is sharper than ever.

She elbows back at him, hoping to dislodge him somehow, but to her disgust, her elbow simply sinks into the rotting flesh of his torso. Her hand flies to her collar, nicking her chin with the knife in the process, which only makes the walker madder. "Black Star!? I'm in a bit of a situation and I could—"

Tsubaki loses her footing, slipping on a flyer. She and the thing go down hard, the walker landing on top of her. This is Black Star's fault for saying I was lucky. It wasn't, of course, but it made her feel better to think so. She shoved against it, listening to the sound of her jacket tearing, listening to the sound of Black Star snapping in her ear, listening to the sound of her heart beating and the low, reedy whine that comes drifting out of the zombie's mouth—

She shoves her knife hilt-deep into the walker's skull, watching it jerk, its blood red eyes dimming, and then it is still and heavy on top of her. Tsubaki takes a moment to breathe, even if it is the rancid smell of the dead.

Her flashlight illuminates Black Star skidding around the corner, his own flashlight burning her eyes as he turns it on her, whisper-shouting, asking if she is alright. He looks worried and annoyed and a bit relieved. Tsubaki nods, sticking her thumb at him in a thumbs up. "Wonderful. Would you mind helping me get him off, please?"

Black Star shakes his head at her, grin wicked and sharp. "You can stab a walker in the head but you can't lift one off yourself?"

Colouring, Tsubaki looks away and attempts to do it herself, but every time she tries to move the walker off of her, her hands sink into its flesh and she feels like she'll be sick. "I can't," she sighs softly, letting her head fall back onto the linoleum floor.

"Well," he laughs, stepping over toward her and putting his hands under her armpits. "Good thing you've got the great Black Star here to help you."

"Good thing," Tsubaki agrees, wiggling her toes once she is standing. A good thing indeed.


"Do you have to shave while I'm showering?"

"I'm not fucking peeking, Tsubaki!"

"I know," she murmurs, lathering her hair with as little shampoo as possible. Her hair has gotten to the point where it lost its luster and got coarser, and while she is tempted to cut it off, she can't bring herself to. She's only done it thrice in her life, and each time was a mistake she hadn't wanted to repeat. "But I don't understand why you have to shave while I am showering."

"I like the company, obviously."

She sighs, rinsing her hair as quickly and efficiently as possible. The water pressure isn't as good anymore, and the hot water went out pretty quick sometimes.

After finishing, Tsubaki shuts the water off and holds her hand outside the curtain, wiggling her fingers. "Towel, please."

"There isn't one."

"Liar."

He mock-gasps, "Tsubaki."

"Black Star."

"ShadowStag."

"Black Star."

"Feisty," he chuckles, pressing something soft to her hand. Tsubaki pulls it behind the curtain and begins to dry herself off, smiling fondly at him through the curtain. "I like feisty."

Her face feels hot, all of a sudden. She isn't unaware of how attractive Black Star is, with his toned shoulders and wide grin. Sure, she'd been shocked to find him in a wheelchair when she'd first met him in person a year ago, but even that wasn't enough to deter her. Even if he was obnoxious eighty percent of the time and crude another ten, he could be smart and wonderful and sometimes even a little suave if he tried (though she didn't know if he did it on purpose). And it wasn't the first time he'd flirted with her (knowingly or not). She herself tried not to flirt back, but sometimes…

"You're cute," she deadpans, wrapping the towel around her body and stepping out of the tub. The first thing she notices is that he is shirtless, clad in only his boxers. It's not the smartest thing, considering they could be overtaken at any moment, but right now Tsubaki cannot bring herself to say anything.

"I know," he grins cheekily, pulling his cheek taut as he drags his razor down it.

The washroom is pleasantly warm and she takes her time letting her hair down, combing her fingers through it. There is an almost vindictive pleasure in her when she spots Black Star watching her, though she herself doesn't find anything sexy in what she is doing. The towel she wears is the biggest, fluffiest one they could find and reaches down to her knees.

He clears his throat and looks away, and Tsubaki hopes that he doesn't think too much about the redness of her cheeks. "Are we going raiding tomorrow?"

"I was thinking we should—Ow, fuck me," he scowls at himself and wipes at the blood dripping along his jaw. "Just stay here and recuperate? I mean we've been out every day this week and we've been killing ourselves trying to find more information on shit that we already know. I found a few board games when I was at Walgreens yesterday—"

"I knew you put extra in my bag!" Tsubaki accuses, pointing at him. He bats her finger away with a scoff. "It wasn't that much heavier. I also got blue hair dye which," he adds, meeting her eyes for a moment, "I will need you to help me dye."

"Blue."

"Fuck yeah," he nods, rinsing his face with water to get the excess shaving cream off. "Blue is the fucking bomb, and your god needs to stand the fuck out in this sea of white, you feel me?"

"Whatever you say, Black Star."

"Wonderful," he nods, smacking his cheeks lightly. "Alright, you take that off and we'll get started." He winks at her, jerking his chin at her towel.

Tsubaki sighs and reaches for the hand towel he had been using, whipping him in the chest with it. "Grow up."


The blue…suits him, surprisingly. She hates herself for thinking so, because really? Blue? But it's like he was born with it. And it makes his eyes brighter too, which Tsubaki quickly finds is her favorite thing about him.

"I think I'm going to head to bed," she murmurs, after watching the surveillance cameras for the last two hours. Nothing new has happened, and Tsubaki is pretty sure she'll go insane if she has to do it any longer.

"Me too," Black Star says in a yawn, already up and by the door to the bedroom. Thankfully it's dark and he can't see the flush that spreads over her cheeks. It's been nearly a month of sleeping beside each other, but the thought still makes her stomach curl. It also makes her nervous, but she knows that if anything was going to happen between them, it would have already happened. Besides, now isn't the time for having a relationship.

She stands, stretches, and heads for the door, walking in behind him.

They move through the motions of getting into bed, lying down close, but not touching, their breaths the only thing they focus on; not the honks below, or the trash cans being pushed over. Not the sounds of screams mingling with snarls, and especially not gunfire. Black Star takes his prosthesis off, putting it on the end table beside the bed, and Tsubaki slips her bra off beneath her t-shirt.

It is no longer awkward when they spend the night beside each other, not the way it had been that first week, though in their defense neither had really slept, and any noise or movement had them both awake and blinking, pointing their respective weapons at the other. It is different, however, that he isn't staying up to stare unblinkingly at the security cameras the way he usually does, only finding himself slipping into the bed for sleep after hours. Tsubaki figures it's the lack of caffeine in his system and tries not to think of the other reasons he might have decided to come to bed with her.

They lay there in silence for what feels like forever. Black Star fidgets constantly, always moving his leg, his toes pressing against her leg, once, but instead of flinching away she presses her shin more firmly against his freezing toes, smiling softly in the dark.

"Hey, Tsubaki?"

"Hmm?" She murmurs, lying on her back, head turned toward him.

He doesn't speak again for a long time, and Tsubaki doesn't understand most of the words he says, only something about a wheelchair and a guy like him. She reaches across the short distance and pats him on the arm. She had planned to say something, but by then, she'd been asleep.


She wakes a few hours later with someone's hand pulling painfully on her hair. Her first instinct is to reach up and try and disentangle her attacker from her. She claws at the glove holding her hair, spitting and snarling, and kicks Black Star accidentally, though it does the job of waking him up. There is light from somewhere- flashlight, maybe-and the brightness brings tears to her eyes. She wishes she had taken up Black Star's offer and slept with a knife under her pillow the way he does.

Unlike her, Black Star immediately jumps into action, knife already in hand, swiping across air, nearly nicking her leg in its path. "Whuddafuck?!"

Tsubaki feels the cool steel of a knife press against her throat. This is no walker.

Green eyes meet hers, enraged and a bit scared, blue hair sticking up in every which direction. "You'd better let go of my friend before I rip out your insides, you-"

"Says the cripple," the voice chimes from behind her, filled with laughter and disgust. Tsubaki's heart stops when the man behind her presses his face against the side of hers, running his lips along her hairline, tongue peeking out. "This your girl, gimp?"

Black Star is shaking; the white knuckled grip on his hunting knife is still, though, and Tsubaki can't imagine what will happen next. This hadn't been the way she imagined dying, not in the least. Not with some scumbag behind her, holding a knife to her throat. The hand previously holding her hair releases the black tendrils, drifting down, cupping and twisting her jaw briefly before traveling lower, squeezing a breast.

She feels sick, dirty. You should have slept in your bra; she berates herself, not missing the way Black Star's eyes darken. He should have kept his prosthesis on. We should have taken turns watching the security cameras.

Should have. Could have. Would have.

It's not like it really matters now, a dark part of her mind reminds her, and Tsubaki blinks back tears when the man's hand travels lower, reaching beneath her shirt, speaking all the while. His vile breath doesn't add to her nausea.

"Me and my...associates have been lookin' for a safe place for quite some time now. The military's hoggin' most of the good places, being real pricks about sharin', so it was just my luck seein' you two kiddies at that Walgreens the day before. Just my luck that you fuckwads didn't watch for anything other than them damn freaks, and just my fucking luck that I decided to take the fire escape all the way up instead of goin' in through the front."

Black Star doesn't answer him, he just snarls.

"Right," the man behind her continues, fingers touching the underside of her breast. He shines the light between her and Black Star constantly. "So, as I was sayin', I'll give you and the chink here a few hours to pack the fuck up and get the fuck outta here before me and mine come back here."

"Like fuck," Black Star snaps, eyes darting angrily to the man. "Do you know how fucking long it took us to secure this goddamn place? And you want me to give it up to an inbred, rapist asshole?"

"I'd watch your fucking mouth, you little shit. I'm the one with the knife to your little slut's throat. Ain't that right, cutie?"

He moves so he's in her line of vision, the grip on his knife slackening enough that she can lean forward and bite him, if she pleases, but the thought of him retaliating by slitting her throat and then killing Black Star keeps her from doing it.

"If you're still here when I get back in, what'll it take me, two hours? Yeah, two hours, then I'll chop your other fucking leg off and make you watch me fuck this one, got me?"

It takes a few moments, but Black Star nods reluctantly, eyes piercing and full of hate. "Fine."

"Good boy," the man chirps, pulling Tsubaki off the bed. Her legs fumble when they hit the ground and she claws at the man's hand once more, eyes intent on her friend on the bed.

"Just..." he takes a breath through his nose, exhaling it just as sharply. "Just let her go."

She is dropped. Tsubaki looks at the man who had threatened her life; dirty, matted blonde hair, lazy eyes and a pierced nose. He reminds Tsubaki of every other pervert whose hit on her before, though it all seems like another lifetime.

The man backs out of the room, shrugging his shoulders at them. "A guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do, y'know? No hard feelins, right?"

"Go fuck yourself," Black Star sneers. His grip on the knife is lax, and for a brief, terrifying moment she is afraid he might try and throw it at the man. Thankfully, he leaves the room before Black Star gets a chance, stomping through the living room, kicking things out of his way as he goes. His footsteps stop briefly.

"This gun got a silencer? Hey I'm taking this with me, shitdick, hope that's alright?"

"Get the fuck out!" Black Star explodes, and even after he is gone, Tsubaki can hear his echoing laughter.

For the moment, however, she pushes to her feet and comes around the side of the bed, reaching for his prosthesis and handing it to him. "I'll go get our things packed up."

"Tsubaki-"

"It's fine. I'm fine," she murmurs, though her fingers shake when she picks up her discarded bra. "Hurry up, alright? We'll need to find somewhere to stay tonight."

His mouth clicks shut, and Tsubaki leaves the bedroom.


There isn't a lot they can bring with them, which irritates the both of them to no end. Black Star won't stop muttering under his breath and Tsubaki can't stop thinking about that man's hands on her.

Mostly, they bring as many weapons as they can, clothes and food and water and, at Black Star's insistence, their laptops. She isn't in the mood to argue with him, so she packs it in the bottom of the hockey bag he has, wondering if he played hockey before his accident.

She nearly falls down the fire escape four times, and by the time they reach the bottom her nerves are so frayed that she wants to cry or kill or—

"That van over there," Black Star murmurs, close but not touching. "We can stay there for tonight, and we'll figure something out in the morning."

The van is a newer model, but all the dust and dirt on it make it look a million years old. There aren't any walkers looking when they run and hide behind it, and Black Star manages to pick the lock on the passenger side door. If there is an alarm on the car, it doesn't go off, and they slip into the car without giving their location away to the walkers in the area.

He closes the door with a click, and then moves to the driver's side while she attempts to figure out if the van is one of the Stow-and Go ones she had seen advertised. After breaking the seat behind the driver's, she realizes they do go into the floor the same time the van starts, the radio blasting metal music right beside her head.

It's off in seconds, but Tsubaki's ears ring for longer, her eyes on the back window, watching the walkers pause. Black Star swears, the windows opening just a crack, letting in the cold night air, but it does little to cool her down. The lights fade just as one of the walkers swivels toward the van.

They watch the walker for a long moment, the air in the van thick with tension. It's only when the walker stumbles away that they both begin to breathe again. She turns to look at Black Star, smiling slightly at the sight of him trying to crawl into the back area of the van. "Fuck, that could have been really bad," he says, flopping down onto the carpeted floor. Pillows and blankets, Tsubaki sighs. They should have brought some. She lies down beside him, using her sweater as a pillow.

The events of the night come crashing down on her and Tsubaki presses her face into her sweater. She needs to get over this; she needs to move past it. It was nothing, she tells herself, watching Black Star study the ceiling of the van. It was nothing and by tomorrow you won't remember anything but how much you don't like the asshole that kicked you both out of the safe haven you created.

"I won't let that shit happen again, Tsubaki." Black Star says, interrupting her train of thought. "The next time I see that stupid fuck, I'll kill him, I promise."

"Not if I kill him first," she murmurs. She doesn't sleep that night.

Chapter Text

April

iii. is when they


 

On the first of April, like the biggest April fool’s joke, power lines go down in Vegas indefinitely.

It’s basically a big fuck you, and Black Star has had enough of those in the last months to last him a lifetime. He and Tsubaki can’t stay in the van any longer than they already have, but there isn’t anywhere else to go. He had been talking to someone online who was in Vegas, but he hadn’t been able to get an answer outta him.

Tsubaki shifts beside him, fanning her face. The car is hot during the day and freezing at night and that’s another thing that’s getting on his fucking nerves; that and the horrid smell that drifts up and presses in close around them.

“Let’s go do something,” she begs, face flushed and dripping sweat. He watches sweat drip down the side of her face, onto her shoulder and then down into her shirt, right between her—

“Black Star?” She raises an eyebrow at him.

He grins, “What would you like to do? Maybe give away our location, or, perhaps we could—“

“We could find another place to live,” she offers quietly, stretching her long legs out. Black Star follows them for a moment, before turning back to look at her. “It’s very cramped in here.”

“Whaaaat? I know it’s no fucking Holiday Inn,” he snarls the words, glaring at the huge building behind, “but don’t tell me you don’t like the sweltering heat and the freezing nights?”

“You’re hilarious,” she mock laughs at him, face quickly falling and becoming serious, “But we really can’t live in here like this, and we need to get more supplies.”

“So we’ll get more supplies.”

“And somewhere else to live?”

He doesn’t answer right away. He knows they need to get out of there, he really does. The only problem is where could they go that some other group hasn’t already taken? If the guys who had followed them had to resort to kicking them out then what else could there be? They could only stay locked in an apartment building or a house for so long until someone came to raid it, or worse.

They also have to be careful not to give away their location. He’s sure those pricks are pissed that he brought most of his electronics with him and smashed the fuck outta the shit he couldn’t bring, so the cameras are down, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a lookout. And the possibility of them leaving only to find more walkers than before on the block is not one Black Star wants to entertain.

Things are so fucked up, and he’s supposed to be good in situations like this. He’s a man with a plan and when shit needs to be done, it gets done. The only problem is that his plans had been fucked in the ass by the pervert who kicked him and Tsubaki out of the hotel and the whole world is going to shit.

Reaching to adjust his prosthesis, Black Star sighs. “If we can find a place today I’ll try and hotwire the car so we can drive it there. We got more shit than we can carry, so we’ll have to drive it to wherever we decide to stay.”

Tsubaki stares at him, eyebrows furrowed. “Won’t that draw attention?”

Another sigh and then, “I can drive faster than those dead fucks can run.”


 

Black Star’s leg is stiff from not moving around and while he tries, Tsubaki is the one who has to kill the majority of walkers they run into. It drives him nuts because the girl doesn’t take care of the guy and he’s certainly no fucking damsel in distress, he is not distressed, but Tsubaki still lunges in front of him, whaling the dead business men and teenage girls in the head with a knife.

The alley they’re walking down smells a bit better than the rest of the city, though not by much.

He’s not-quite-limping when a little girl stumbles into their path, holding a hand to her mouth, something stringy and bloody hanging from between her teeth. She blinks blood red eyes up at them, and Black Star feels ill. He hadn’t seen dead kids yet, though he’s known that eventually he probably would.

Tsubaki stiffens beside him, shifting so she’s ahead of him. He swallows and watches the little girl step closer, the scent of death and decay strong. She moves again, quicker now, and Tsubaki whispers something in Japanese that Black Star doesn’t understand, leaning down and, to his horror, shoving her knife hilt-deep into the girl’s skull.

They begin moving again, not exactly having a destination.

Black Star knows he’s changed since all this began. He isn’t the cool god he was on the internet anymore, ruling over forums and RPG games. He isn’t the guy sitting in his apartment tweaking his prosthesis to carry and refrigerate energy drinks while listening to rap. Those days are long past, and he hates that he doesn’t entirely miss them. This is cool and crazy and gets his adrenaline running, but he misses feeling safe, having running water and electricity. He misses a lot of things, but he hasn’t changed that much. He’s still a kickass god, now one that kills zombies in real life (and this is so like that anime Tsubaki had told him to watch, the one where they get trapped in a video game, only this video game is real life). Black Star is still the man with the plan.

It’s Tsubaki who has changed, Black Star thinks. Or her true colours are showing. He’s not really sure, and there are really only so many things you learn from someone online (the words of his foster mom from years ago echo in his head “watch who you talk to on the internet—you never know who they could be” come rushing back, but Black Star shoves them away as quick as they come) and there are only so many things you can bring up in normal conversation. She’d always been pleasant in person and usually when playing games aside from the few times she’d gotten frustrated by someone or something (or him), but this person she’s becoming or has become is terrifying and beautiful and Black Star is so fucking hung up on her that he’s not sure what to do with himself. Hopefully they find a place to stay soon, because he can’t jerk off with her lying beside him at night, and he’s not even sure if she really sleeps.

She holds out a hand to stop him from going onto the next street, and seconds later their backs are both pressed into the wall. Black Star bites his tongue and attempts to pull himself together. He can’t be a little pussy right now and let her take charge. It’s not that he doesn’t think she’s capable, it’s just that he’s…well he’s more capable.

Trying to find what made her stop, Black Star turns and spots about three dozen walkers wandering around the market square. Their pale hair makes it look like a sea of white, and he swallows, moving slowly back beside Tsubaki.

“What should we do?” She asks under her breath. Black Star leans down to adjust his prosthesis. It needs some major fucking maintenance, but he doesn’t have anything that he can use and he really hopes the stupid thing doesn’t break if he has to run.

If they go north instead of south on the street they could still be noticed and then get their asses eaten or turned or whatever, so backtracking makes more sense, even if he loathes to do it. His leg aches too, and with a glance skyward it looks pretty fucking overcast.

“We go back and take a different direction,” he mutters, already turning, knowing she’ll follow. “And quickly, because if it rains and we’re still out here we’ll be fucked seven ways from Sunday.”

Tsubaki watches his back, and Black Star trudges forward, cursing himself the entire way.


 

The rain makes his leg ache and burn like he’d just lost his shin and foot anew, and it wouldn’t be as bad if they hadn’t stumbled into a group of dead gamblers, all young and really dead.

He barely manages to dodge the swipe of claws from a walker with fucking braces. There is rain in his eyes and on the ground and it makes his leg slip every so often. They should have gone back to the van and tried again the next day, they should have just—they shouldn’t have given up their previous safe haven, should have just killed that greasy fucking fuck and if his stupid friends came back then they could have killed them too.

Black Star twists away, coming back around to stab the walker in her back, enjoying the loud noise she makes. Does it still hurt them? Black blood spurts from the wound, thick and awful smelling, and Black Star pulls the knife out, allowing her to turn only to shove it up under her chin.

Tsubaki is fighting off the other two, having killed one already. The two he’d killed are strewn about the alleyway, and he makes his way toward Tsubaki, the limp from before more pronounced now. His leg really fucking hurts. He wants to vomit, he wants to sleep, he wants to kill these twats and he wants—

Calling his name, Tsubaki knocks one of the walkers down. He spins around, knowing she doesn’t need his help to take those two down. Behind him, there are several more rushing toward them.

His stomach drops and before he knows it the two of them are running, feet pounding against the wet pavement. His own leg burns with each step and beside him Tsubaki looks winded. He can’t hear if they’re following, though he is sure they are. Ahead, thunder booms and lightning cracks across the sky, illuminating everything.

He wants to crack up when he watches Tsubaki grasp her tits, holding them to her chest because she forgot her sports bra in the hotel, but figures it’s inappropriate and focuses on the task in front of him: get away from the walkers and somewhere safe.

Only, the safe place they had been staying is the opposite way and the only places he sees right now are boarded up. They don’t have the time or the weapons to fight off the walkers and—

Black Star falls, chin hitting the ground. His mouth fills with blood from having bit through his lip, but that’s the least of his worries. There is a weight on his legs, and with a glance beside him, he notices Tsubaki is down too. Fuck.

There is really no way out of this. He’s trying to get his legs out from under them, but his prosthesis is coming loose and hands keep grabbing his shirt, ripping and tearing and Black Star cannot see a fucking thing because it’s raining so hard.

Beside him, Tsubaki lets out a loud noise. For a long, sickening moment he’s afraid she’s been bitten or killed or that maybe they’re eating her. He can’t really get a clear picture from all the rain, but his heart is in his throat. I don’t want to die, he thinks, I don’t want her to die. He’s scared and he’s powerless, prosthesis half-way off his leg, walkers reaching for him, clawing at his shirt, his pants. He’s going to die like a little bitch and there is nothing he can do about it.

Black Star turns to look at Tsubaki, wanting to at least see something he gives a shit about before he’s torn to pieces. A jaw clamps down on his prosthesis, getting electrocuted from biting into the wires that powered the cooler and the taser, and his prosthesis comes off completely. Only, he isn’t worrying about that, he’s focused more on the fact that Tsubaki’s driving her elbow backward, smashing it into the mug of one of the walkers. Tsubaki looks feral, twisting around and swinging the knife that is still clutched in a white-knuckled grip right into the side of another Walker’s head. The one she’d elbowed gets back up, but is down again in seconds when her knife finds purchase through an eye.

His own Walkers are getting restless, teeth snapping, and Black Star is seconds away from getting his nose bitten off when he remembers he has a knife of his own.

Pulling his hand up and twisting a lot less gracefully than Tsubaki had, Black Star shoves the knife hilt-deep under the chin of his Walker, hoping it reaches far enough to do the damage he needs.

The thing shudders above him, spitting black blood and other things into his face, but Black Star pulls his knife out and pushes that one off him, looking for the fucker who bit into his prosthesis.

That Walker, a showgirl who is missing most of the meat on her left side, is still gnawing on his prosthesis. Black Star raises his hand and slams it down in the girl’s skull, enjoying the shake she does when he kills her. Serves you right, bitch. I hope that fucking hurt.

Tsubaki is up already, her Walkers dead again. She looks ready to bolt, and there are more Walkers making their way down the street, but Black Star can’t walk and she can’t carry him and they are actually so fucking fucked--

“Let’s go,” Tsubaki says, eerily calm. He looks up and notes that her expression, while less feral, is still terrifying. Her eyes are glinting, the rain pasting strands of her hair to her face. Mouth curled in a snarl, Tsubaki looks more like ShadowStag than ever before, and it gives him the push to grab her hand and hoist himself up along beside her.

“Go where?”  He asks, spitting blood out of his mouth. His chin hurts like a bitch and he’s pretty sure there’s a loose tooth in the back of his mouth, but he’s got more important things to worry about: like not getting eaten.

Tsubaki is fast, which he never really gave her credit for before, but now he does, because she’s making good time and getting pretty far from the Walkers while carrying his heavy ass. Or dragging it.

Keeping his gaze out for more Walkers or a place where they can hole up until the rain stops or the Walkers clear so they can get back to the van, Black Star realizes that they might actually be screwed. Most shops have been abandoned or raided, windows smashed and doors pulled off the hinges. There are a few apartment buildings that he can see, but the front doors are opened too, and the only possibility of getting in there safely would be by a fire escape, and that’s only if there is one. And if the apartment they choose isn’t infested with Walkers or worse, other raiders.

Black Star knows teaming up with others could benefit them a lot, he does. He knows how much she wants to join others but he doesn’t think it’s safe. After what happened in the hotel that night, the look on Tsubaki’s face when the other raider grabbed her like that... Black Star doesn’t want to chance something like that happening again. After all, there are all kinds of freaks out there.

It’s selfish, but Black Star doesn’t want to join others because he can't stand the thought of losing his wing (wo)man, his partner, ShadowStag, Tsubaki, not to Walkers or other raiders, not to anyone or anything. It provokes other, more dangerous thoughts that Black Star doesn’t want to think about, but it’s true.

Tsubaki’s fingernails dig into his armpit painfully, and Black Star shakes his head, realizing where she’s pulling him. “Whoa, whoa, whoa there Tarzan I can’t jump and I doubt you can either--”

“Shut up,” Tsubaki murmurs, then, “Balance for a moment, please.”

She lets go without another word, and Black Star struggles to keep upright, runners slipping on the slick concrete. Somewhere behind them, far but not far enough, the snarls and moans of Walkers get louder. Tsubaki is jumping, futilely trying to reach the ladder that leads up the fire escape of the apartment. If he had two legs Black Star might have been able to reach it, but he doesn’t and he can’t and the Walkers are getting closer.

Tsubaki swears under her breath, and then looks to him, eyes sparking. Her hand clamps down on his wrist and tugs him closer to her, and before he has a chance to catch his balance again, Tsubaki is already leaning down, wrapping her arms around his hips and lifting him up.

She’s fucking strong, lifting him enough that he can reach the landing of the fire escape. His fingers slip and bleed on the rusted, wet metal, but he manages to get a good enough grip that he can lift himself up. He is so fucking thankful for the pull-up bar his uncle had gotten him for Christmas four years ago.

It takes him a second to move around and lean back over the edge, but by the time he’s ready to reach down and pull her up; there are three Walkers in the mouth of the alley, quickly making their way toward Tsubaki.

The rain is still pelting down heavily, flattening his hair to his head, making it hard to see her. “Come on, reach!”  He shouts down at her, watching her jump and stretch. Her fingers bump his more than once, but he can’t get a good grip on her wrists or her fingers, and the Walkers are making their way closer.

“Black Star,” Tsubaki yells back, voice hitching as she tries to reach him. A Walker, a tourist, from the looks of him, comes up behind her, and Tsubaki shrieks, pushing him away from her as the other two surge up beside him, jaws open and ready--

No!”

Black Star watches in slow motion as she ducks out of the way, narrowly missing the two walkers. She darts up, stabbing the first walker in the throat, literally shanking him. She doesn’t hesitate the pull the knife out, jamming up into the thing’s mouth when it comes down to bite her.

The Walker on her left is the problem, Black Star realizes, too late to call out for her to move. Claws rake down from her shoulder to her chest and his heart stops.

He isn’t thinking when he gets to his foot, jumping off the landing and on top of the Walker on her right, watching a scream tear from her throat, hand rising to grab at the wound. He doesn’t think when his fingers dig into the soft, decaying throat of the walker he landed on, trying to choke the life out of something that’s already dead.

Black Star is seeing red. Blood and blood and more blood, trailing down Tsubaki’s arm and her white shirt, splattered across her neck, and staining his hands. She’s still killing and he’s bashing his Walker’s head against the ground. Tsubaki is a force of nature right then, fierce and incredible and fucking beautiful and Black Star rears his fist back, slamming it as hard into the Walker’s face as he can, grinning at the sickening crunch it makes.

It seems like seconds later that they are alone, panting and bleeding in the alleyway. Black Star is still on his Walker, legs throbbing and scraped. Beside him, Tsubaki stumbles to one knee, eyes on the mouth of the alley. “A-are there anymore, do you think?”

Scratches never turn them, Black Star repeats to himself, crawling over to her to check her wounds. He doubts she can lift him back onto the landing, and it’d probably cause more damage to her if he had stayed up there and tried to pull her up.

The rain is beginning to slow, making it easier to see and hear. Tsubaki is staring at the Walkers, eyes wide and breathing laboured. “I...I don’t know if I'm infected--you shouldn’t--stop!” She snaps eyes wide and panicked when Black Star pushes her hand away from the wound. It’s deep and ugly, marring her pretty, smooth skin.

Swallowing, Black Star glances back to the mouth of the alley. Are they going to be able to make it back without drawing the attention of all the Walkers in the area? If he can smell her blood, he can only imagine what those undead freaks can smell.

“Dammit,” he mutters, gathering his bearings and pulling Tsubaki and himself to their feet. He’s a bit unsteady and so is she, but it’s the best they can do right now. “Alright, we gotta figure out how to keep the--”

“Hey mister,” a voice from above calls. Tsubaki’s head cranes upward, face pale. Turning, Black Star follows her gaze and spots a curly head poking out through the bars of the fire escape three stories up. “You and your lady friend need help? She looks real hurt.”

Angela!” Another voice calls, a man, and Black Star watches a pale haired man grab the girl, pulling her into his arms. “I thought I told you not to talk to anyone!”

Black Star’s heart pounds and his muscles tense, ready to move at a moment’s notice. It could only take a second for this guy to whip a gun out and put a bullet in each of their heads, especially in their condition. Tsubaki’s hand finds his, squeezing it tightly. For once, he is too strung up to really think more into this.

“--help, she got hurt and he ain’t got a leg, Mifune, so we gotta help ‘em!”

Would a guy with a kid kill us? Black Star wonders, blinking rain water from his eyes. Tsubaki tugs on his hand a bit, drawing his attention back to her.

She looks really awful, which is saying a lot. The blood has yet to stop flowing and her eyes are getting a bit glassy. They can’t make it back to the van in one piece and she’s trying to tell him that this might be their only chance of survival.

That is, if this man decides to be kind.

Gritting his teeth, Black Star prepares to call up to the man and explain their situation. His chance is lost when the man asks, “Bitten or scratched?”

“Scratched,” Black Star calls without hesitating. Hesitation gets you killed, he knows. It makes you suspicious, and he has the police record from his teenage years to prove it. Never hesitate.

Tsubaki tenses behind him and it seems like forever until the man--Mifune, the girl had called him--begins down the fire escape, steps whisper soft. “I assume neither of you can jump?”

“No, sir,” Tsubaki answers. She keeps close with Black Star as they make their way toward the fire escape. Mifune grabs something lying against the brick wall.

A ladder. A fucking ladder.

Black Star blanches, and then bites roughly on his tongue, angry at himself for not even looking for a ladder. If he had then none of this would have happened. He bites down until Tsubaki clenches her hand painfully around his own, prompting him forward toward the ladder now waiting.

“Hurry,” Mifune calls down, eyes on the mouth of the alley. “I can hear more coming and I’d like to be in the apartment before they see us.”

It takes a while to get up the ladder, far longer than Mifune seems comfortable with, but Black Star can’t help that Tsubaki’s got a bad arm right now and he doesn’t have part of his fucking leg, so the guy can shove it for all Black Star fucking cares. It takes even longer to get into the apartment, and Tsubaki only makes it there on Mifune’s back, much to Black Star’s annoyance. The guy looks a few years older than them, maybe his thirties, but he remembers her saying something once about liking how older guys are more mature.

“She’s exhausted,” Mifune murmurs once they are inside the apartment, window shut and locked. He rests Tsubaki down on the kitchen table. “Angela, grab the first aid kit for me, would you?”

The curly haired brat nods, and Black Star slumps down into one of the chairs surrounding the table, watching Tsubaki’s chest rise and fall. He wonders if you can be infected by claws. These zombies aren’t your regular everyday ones after all, and Black Star wouldn’t be surprised if she did turn.

He would have to kill her, that’s for sure. She would want him to, he thinks. It’s a lot of pressure on one person, but even if she didn’t want him to, he still would. It’s the right thing to do.

Still, she could be perfectly fine, just have a new set of scars. Black Star hopes that’s the case.

Black Star almost doesn’t notice when Mifune cuts Tsubaki’s shirt and bra off, but then it’s all her can focus on.

He knew her tits were huge, but seeing them bare and not confined in a bra or sports bra-- it’s a whole new experience. Any other time, any other occasion, Black Star would need a pillow to cover his lap, or, in a perfect world, would have Tsubaki to take care of the huge boner he’d be sporting, but her tits are covered in blood and the scratches reach down to the top of her breast, and he can’t look at them.

Mifune works diligently, asking questions every so often while his daughter, or who Black Star assumes is his daughter, sits on the chair opposite of Black Star, making faces at him when her father isn’t looking.

“The leg,” Mifune begins, not noticing the way Black Star stiffens, his fingers spasming where they’re closed over the stump of his knee. It’s scraped raw from jumping on the walker and trying to pull Tsubaki up. “How’d you lose it?”

“Accident when I was a kid,” Black Star answers tightly, watching the man sew Tsubaki up. He hopes he never has to see her like this again because it’s making him vaguely ill. “Train.”

Mifune hums, cutting the wire he’d used to sew her shoulder up. “You learn your lesson?” The man asks, moving to the sink and depositing his tools in there. He looks at Black Star and motions for him to lift Tsubaki up so he can wrap her chest.

He hesitates for only a moment, then stands, ignoring the way his knee buckles and his hands sweat when they lift Tsubaki’s torso from the table. Mifune comes around and begins to clean the blood off her chest with a wet rag--how’d he wet it?

“Water bottle,” Mifune answers when he catches Black Star’s look. “Now answer my question and hold her steady.”

Question? Black Star back tracks, mentally shaking himself. He’s so fucking out of right now and he needs to get his head back on straight. Gods don’t lose their cool. Now what was that fucking--

“Oh,” Black Star clears his throat, looking away when Mifune’s cloth passes over her breasts. “Yeah, don’t play chicken with a fuckin’ train.”

Language!” Angela snaps at him, hands braced on the table and eyes narrowed. Black Star glances at her for a long moment, giving her his most withering look.

“Angela, would you mind going to get a shirt for this lady, please?”

“Okie-dokie artichokie!” She sings, hopping off her chair and darting out of the room.

Mifune begins dressing her wound, “So the two of you are raiders, I presume? How long have you been out there?”

“Yes to the first question, a few hours to the second.”

“So you have your own hideout?”

“Eh...” Black Star shrugs, shifting his hand so Mifune can work. Tsubaki’s eyes open for a brief moment, a small smile curling on her lips when he scowls at her, then they slip shut once more. He can’t help the small chuckle he makes, and he glares when Mifune casts him a questioning glance. “We did. We live in a van right now.”

“A van,” he deadpans, looking thoroughly unimpressed with them. Fuck him, Black Star thinks. The asshole had probably been holed up in this apartment for months, never going out unless he needed to. He probably doesn’t even know what it’s like out there, what it’s like to have everything taken from you.

“And how were you doing all of this with your...leg situation?”

Gritting his teeth, Black Star snaps, “Oh, I just hopped around everywhere, you’d be surprised on how much it confuses the walking fucking dead.” Then, “I had a prosthesis you asshole.”

Black Star rests Tsubaki back down, and in seconds he is shoved against the cupboards behind him, Mifune’s hand around his throat, the man’s pale face inches from his own. “You listen to me, you little brat,” Mifune murmurs in a quiet, deadly voice, “I could have left the two of you out there to be eaten and killed; I could still toss you out there and it wouldn't make a difference in the slightest, but I am not that kind of man. I am doing this out of the goodness of my heart and because I didn’t need to add to the death toll, so you watch what you say to me, and around Angela. Do you understand me?”

He wishes he had a knife. He wishes he had anything that would make him less vulnerable, but he doesn’t, and he can’t fight this man with only one leg. Adam’s apple bobbing against the man’s hand, Black Star nods grudgingly. “Fine.”

Mifune steps away from him seconds before Angela comes skipping back into the room, a shirt held in her hand, as well as--was that a bra? That was a bra. Black Star gives Mifune the side eye, wondering why a guy like him would have a bra when it was only him and a kid, unless he had a...

Scowling, Black Star makes his way back to the table. “Where’d you get that stuff? I mean, no offense but I don’t think you’d fill that bra out as well as my friend here.”

Taking the clothing from Angela, Mifune straightens, giving Black Star a blank look. “It was Angela’s mothers. Now, would you prefer to do this, or shall I?”

Oh. That made sense. Ignoring the heat in his cheeks, Black Star holds out his hand for the articles of clothing, waving his hand at the man when he instructs Black Star not to put the bra on right away, maybe wait a few days before trying it, so not to irritate the stitches.

“I can take a look at you after, if you’d like. It looks like your knees and arms are scraped pretty nastily.”

Glancing down at himself, Black Star notes that he is, indeed, a mess. He’s still wet from the rain and there is blood caked on him from Tsubaki. His chin, now that he thinks about it, is beginning to hurt more from falling on it. Cursing himself for being such an idiot--especially one without prosthesis now, dammit--Black Star nods sharply, turning his back to Angela and Mifune.

Tsubaki’s awake again, eyes glassy and mouth curled in a grimace. “I feel really awful,” she slurs, blinking up at him. Black Star listens to Mifune shuffle Angela from the room, letting out a sigh he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

“You should, you got your ass clawed, ShadowStag.” He murmurs, pulling her into a sitting position. For a second he almost sits on the table with her, but decides he can handle standing a little longer. He’s felt shakier than this before, and he’s gotten through it fine. Tsubaki is his priority right now.

“Oh.” She murmurs, tilting her head down at her bandaged chest, then back at him. “I’m sorry.”

She must be out of it, Black Star decides, maneuvering himself so she’s leaning against him. Strands of her hair that escaped her ponytail tickle his cheek and collarbone, the dampness cooling his skin, and he reaches up quickly to tug the rest of it out. His fingers sift through it, moving as gently as he can to get the bigger knots out. She hums against his shoulder, leaning more heavily against him.

Once her hair is untangled, he pushes her head through the hole of the shirt, grateful that it’s a V-neck, then pulls her right arm through the right sleeve, carefully making his way to her left.

The skin around the bandages is red and raw looking, almost purplish, and Black Star really hopes she isn’t changing. They’ve never really witnessed it before, so he’s not sure how it happens. Just that once it’s finished the person’s hair turns white, their eyes turn red, and their teeth become serrated like a shark.

He ignores the noise she makes when he pulls her arm through the left sleeve, and then moves to settle her back on the table. “Do you feel any different?” He asks quietly, mouth against her ear. If Mifune is watching, it might look like Black Star is hugging her. He can’t have the man questioning Tsubaki’s possible transformation, because Black Star doesn’t think they’ll last long out there on their own right now. Not with him down a leg and her left side immobile.

“No,” she breathes back, lips brushing against his ear. They’re chapped and a little bit wet and Black Star pulls away quickly, clearing his throat.

Tsubaki blinks up at him, eyebrows furrowed. Black Star sighs.

“Hey, you got any painkillers!?”


 

The house is lit with damn near a thousand candles, all scented differently, and he has no damn idea how he never noticed before. Berries and cookies and pine fucking trees mingle in his nose.

“So do you have a name?” Mifune asks, pouring Black Star another shot. It’s cheap tequila, but it’s better than nothing. The only thing that could top it would be an energy drink. God, what he wouldn’t do for a Monster. Shit, he’d even settle for a RockStar. “I know that woman called you Black Star, and you called her a few different names... ShadowStag, I believe? And Tsubaki?”

Leaning back in the rickety wooden chair, Black Star casts a sidelong glance at Tsubaki, who is resting quietly on the couch while Angela colours on the coffee table in front of her. He hasn't told her his real name before, which now that he thinks about it is kind of weird. He thinks of himself as Black Star, and introduces himself as Black Star, and he’d never really told her he had another name. She must have assumed it, of course, because what kind of parent calls their kid Black Star? Still, she respected and trusted him enough to not ask about his name, and now that Mifune is asking, Black Star wonders if he should even say Blake Strickland.

He hasn’t been Blake in a long time. Not since the accident, hell, maybe not since before then. His username on everything had always been BlackStar, and it wasn’t until he’d decided to stop feeling sorry for himself for losing his leg that he decided to just go by Black Star. Blake was the stupid jerkoff who played chicken with trains, and if he couldn’t get a new leg, he’d get a new name.

Shrugging at the man and downing another shot, he answers, “Yeah, ShadowStag was her username online; it’s uh, how we met.”

The shots are making his belly warm and bubbly, and it’s not a familiar feeling, but it’s still nice. Really nice.

“And your name is Black Star?”

“Yes.”

“Any other names, Black Star?”

“Nah,” he shakes his head, reaching for the bottle again. Mifune eyes him warily, but Black Star ignores him and just takes a drink straight from the bottle, tipping his head back. The taste is bitter and overwhelming, but Mifune doesn’t say anything, and Black Star only stops when he can no longer breathe. Tsubaki snores softly from the couch, and the sky is growing darker, rain pelting against the metal fire escape outside.


 

It turns out Tsubaki has been awake. For how long, Black Star isn’t sure, but he is kind of annoyed that she was eavesdropping. Also, he’s annoyed he didn’t realize she was awake.

The bed they’re lying together on is a very small double, and the fact that they’re only allowed to have the window open a crack does nothing to help their predicament. It’s hot and stuffy in the room, and lying practically on top of each other is making Black Star uncomfortable. The humidity from the rain and the heat, mixed with the stuffy air in the bedroom is driving him fucking insane.

“Maybe,” Tsubaki murmurs, letting out a small noise is discomfort when she shifts too much, irritating her wounds, “Maybe one of us should sleep on the floor.”

He thought about that too, but it’s so goddamn nice being on a bed and not the floor of a van that he can’t bring himself to give it up. “No.”

Tsubaki sighs, shifting away again. He’s annoyed when he hears her bite back another noise of pain, then, “For the love of all that is good and fucking holy Tsubaki, stop fucking moving.”

“I’m uncomfortable,” she snaps back, much quieter than him, “and you’re all sticky. You stop moving closer to me.”

Her hair is down too, sticking to his neck and to hers and in his face. Why’d he take it down in the first place? Why didn’t he just leave her out in the living room? Letting out an aggravated sigh, Black Star moves until he is lying on his side on the edge of the bed. He can’t feel her pressing against him anymore, but it’s not much cooler. “Better?”

Tsubaki doesn’t answer, though he figured she wouldn’t.

Now that he’s not worried about sticking to her, he’s worried about other things. Like all their shit still in that stupid van, or how they’ll get back there in the condition they’re in. If he’s being realistic, Black Star figures they’ll probably die. They don’t have weapons, he doesn’t have a leg, and she probably won’t have much use of her arm for at least a week or two. He could ask Mifune, but if things went sour and Angela was left alone—

He can’t take care or a kid, hell no. And he doesn’t want the death of her guardian on his shoulders. He and Tsubaki can’t make it back to their van in one piece, so either way they’re fucked.

Tsubaki seems to share his sentiment. “What are we going to do?”

Black Star closes his eyes and feigns sleep.


 

The next week is spent dicking around Mifune’s stuffy apartment, much to Black Star annoyance. He’d wanted out of there as soon as possible, but Tsubaki seemed intent on fucking up her wound by doing everything she shouldn’t. Angela needs something on the highest fucking shelf? Tsubaki’s got it! A noise outside, below the fire escape? Tsubaki whips around to check it out, jostling her shoulder in the process. Her wound is itchy? She scratches it with nails she’s only been able to bite down to a relatively normal size.

It’s like she’s pissing him off on purpose, and it’s getting on his damn nerves. It’s bad enough that he’s got to wheel himself around on the piece of shit chair Mifune had stolen from some other apartment, but unless someone goes back to the van to retrieve their shit and the leg he’d been working on, they’re stuck here.

Even if someone was able to retrieve their stuff, it’s too much for one person to carry (and there is no way he’d send Tsubaki out there unless she was fully healed, or healed enough that she could function without getting a stiff arm, or worse, reopen the wound) and hot wiring the van would only draw every walker to them.

Rubbing a hand over his face, Black Star tries not to worry too much. There isn’t anything they can do right now. At least they’re somewhere relatively safe. Mifune had the same idea they’d had at the hotel; blocking off the exits in the hallways, lining the stairs with traps, and of course unless the dead can learn to jump, they can’t get onto the fire escape. So even if the apartment is hotter than Satan’s balls, it’s safe.

They haven’t had safe in a while.

“What’s on your mind?” Tsubaki asks from beside him. In his peripheral he sees her toes wiggle up on the windowsill. “You’re being awfully quiet.”

“I’m just thinking,” he murmurs, slumping lower in his chair. He drags a hand roughly through his hair, wincing when it sticks up even more than it already had. “I’m thinking I need a goddamn shower.”

“You and me both,” Tsubaki laughs, removing her feet from the windowsill and pulling them up beneath her. “But that’s not the only thing on your mind.”

She’s right, of course, but Black Star ignores her in favor of staring at the building across from them. Mifune is out on a run, and Angela is playing with dolls in her room. Now would be the perfect time to tell her what he’s really thinking. That maybe they should head out soon, or at the very least get the van. He’s had a lot of time to think about a way to get the van here without bringing the entire population of the walking dead in Vegas there too, but it’s really risky and he can’t be there which makes it even riskier. At least with three people it’d have a better success rate.

Tsubaki is looking at him, and when he turns his head, their eyes meet. He’s close enough that he can feel her breath on his upper lip, and can probably count her eyelashes if he were into that sappy shit. As it is, the only thing he wants to do right now is kiss her or fuck her or both, but Angela is there and they’ve got far more important things to talk about. Besides, he doesn’t even know if she... he’s not even sure--

“Black Star?” Tsubaki asks, clearing her throat. She moves back a little, and he turns away, tugging again at his hair.

“I have a plan to get the van here.”

“You do?” Her eyebrows rise, like she didn’t think he could manage it, and he sneers at her.

“Yes, I do. And I think it’s pretty foolproof only the possibility of someone dying is like... an 83% chance.”

Glancing at her to gauge her reaction, he notes the determination in her eyes, the loyalty. She nods her head once, “It’ll work. And nobody will die.”

Black Star grins at her, holding out his fist for a fist bump. She knocks her knuckles against his, then, “Alright, explain.”


 

Mifune steeples his fingers, resting his chin on them. “And you think this will work?”

Black Star has gone through the possible outcomes more than once. Hell, more than ten times. Tsubaki drives, Mifune is the distraction. There is a lot of room for error, like there not being any gas in the van, or the dicks in the hotel noticing them, or Mifune getting caught and not being able to lure the walkers away from the van, but the plan is also really simple, and Black Star sure as shit thinks his plan will work. “Yeah, man.”

“And if it doesn’t?” Mifune looks pretty unsure about this whole thing if the way his eyes keep darting back and forth from Angela have anything to say about it. The brat is sitting on Black Star’s lap and drawing a picture, humming under her breath and not letting him look down at the picture. He’s not sure when he became her favorite, but he doesn’t really mind. Tsubaki seems jealous and it’s actually hilarious to see that she’s annoyed Angela likes him more than her. Angela coughs a bit, sounding congested. “What happens if this plan flops and Tsubaki or I end up injured, or worse? Do you really believe you could stay here with Angela forever?”

“I try to think positively, negative Nancy,” he drawls in return, leaning back in his chair. Tsubaki is staring Mifune down (one of Black Star’s tactics. She can be pretty intimidating), but he doesn’t seem to be cracking under the pressure.

And Black Star gets it, y’know? He and Tsubaki owe this man their life but he doesn’t owe them jack shit, and if he wanted to tell them to fuck off, they would have to. He understands that Angela is Mifune’s first and only priority, and if the guy dies then who’ll take care of the kid? Black Star and Tsubaki are hardly suited for that kind of gig.

“And I try to think rationally. Those things out there are not as stupid as you think, Black Star. I could lure dozens away, but several could come back to follow or ambush Tsubaki.” His eyes glint when he moves, directing them to Angela. “I promised her mother I would protect her with my life, and I can’t do that if I’m lying on the street being eaten alive.”

Angela’s head shoots up, knocking against Black Star’s chin. He bites his tongue, glares at the girl, but she beats him to the punch, tiny hands pressed flat on the table, “Mifune! What are you talking about, you’re not gonna die!” She sounds panicked, afraid, and Black Star can only imagine what she looks like. “Right?”

Mifune smiles softly, much softer than Black Star or Tsubaki have seen, ever. “I’ll be fine, Angela.”

Her curls bounce when she drops back down onto Black Star’s lap, and he barely manages to cover a wince with a scowl. “So does that mean you’re in or you’re out?”

Mifune stares at him, at Angela, at the uncovered scars littering Tsubaki’s shoulder and neck. Then he gives a short nod, mouth set. “I’ll help you.”


 

“I’ll be fine.”

Black Star watches Tsubaki change into something more lightweight--, not one of the shirts Angela’s tiny ass mother had left behind. Black Star had enjoyed the tight tops, had enjoyed them even more when she hadn’t been wearing a bra, but for a mission like this, looser clothing will be easier to move around in. She turns her back to him and pulls the shirt off slowly. He wonders if she’ll be able to swing the katana Mifune had given her.

(When he’d asked the older man where he found something like that, the man had replied in quick Japanese that only Tsubaki understood, and the way her eyes lit up and her mouth fell open, Black Star isn’t sure he wants to know. Hell, Black Star had no fucking idea Mifune was Japanese, let alone knew how to speak it.)

The scratches along her back are scabbing and healing nicely, according to Mifune. It makes him sick to look at them, but he can’t pull his eyes away. Why isn’t she yelling at me to turn around? Why is she even changing in front of me? Does this mean something? He’s never...he’s an honest god, and he’s not afraid to admit that he doesn’t understand girls, like, at all. This might be her way of showing that she trusts him, or it could be her way of saying that she’s comfortable around him. Or, it could be the awful way of her saying she’s not interested. He fucking hates girls and their motives and their weird minds. Tsubaki doesn’t seem like most girls at first glance, or in their first meeting. Shit, he thought she was a fucking dude until they played Batman: Arkham Asylum and used the mics. But underneath all the rad gamer skills and hot body is just another girl.

A bit different; he doubts most girls could stomp a zombie’s head in the way she had.

She tugs the shirt on, tucking the loose bit into the rolled up waistband of the cargo pants Mifune had lent her. The look she gives him when she turns, it’s like she knows what he’s thinking. Girls, he mentally shakes his head. Running his eyes up her body, he makes sure she’s got the kitchen knives in her boots, tucked away but easily accessible. The katana will go across her back, and she’ll have a walkie-talkie that Mifune had dug out of some pit.

He’s so focused on her that he doesn’t realize she’s standing closer than before, staring down at him. Slightly overgrown eyebrows are furrowed, her mouth tilted down in a frown. Pouty lips, Black Star checks off his mental list of hot shit his future lady should have, and that is so fucking one of them. Tsubaki fills out a lot (every) category, but thinking about her like that isn’t smart. They’re partners, and they can’t let something like feelings get in the way of that, no matter how much he wants to kiss her, touch her, fuck--

Her hands press down on his shoulders, eyes soft, lips quirking up, “I’ll be fine, Black Star. Quit worrying.”

He grabs the hand on his shoulder, squeezing it tightly. “I know you will. If you aren’t, you’ll have to be demoted from my most loyal minion.”

Raising an eyebrow, Tsubaki snorts. “And who would be your second, then?”

“Angela,” Black Star says seriously, jerking a thumb to the table beside the bed, where a small pile of pictures lie. “She’s pretty devoted.”

Tsubaki laughs, and for the first time in a while, Black Star joins her.


 

Walkie-talkie clutched tightly in his hands, Black Star waits for word that Mifune and Tsubaki got to their first check points. His leg shakes up and down and his knuckles are white. This has to work, he repeats to himself over and over, glancing down at Angela as she stares out the window. The moon is full and fat in the sky, illuminating the tops of every building they can see. This will work.

The thought had only occurred to him as he was saying goodbye to the others that maybe Mifune and Tsubaki should have gone on a raid together first-- maybe they should have practiced working together before doing something this crazy. But by then it’d been too late, and Mifune’s hand had closed around what Black Star had given him, a grim expression on his face.

It had been fifteen minutes since they’d left, and if his estimation was right, they should be getting to the van in about five minutes, give or take. That was if they’d gotten there without any hiccups, of course.

“Hey, Black Star,” Angela pipes up from beside him, turning her impossibly big eyes on him. Loosening his grip on the walkie-talkie, Black Star nods at her.

She crawls up onto his lap, tugging at his hair and his nose, leaving him looking like an idiot as he tries to get away from her prying hands. “What the--kid, relax. What do you think you’re doing?!”

Angela pouts, getting comfortable and turning so she’s looking out the window, back pressed to his chest. She’s warm, almost too warm, and he hopes she’s not getting a cold. It has been pretty toasty in the apartment lately, what with the change in weather. “Mifune and Tsubaki will be ok, won’t they?”

“Hell yeah,” he says immediately, because if he allows himself to think about the ways this could go wrong-- what could happen if this goes south-- he won’t be able to answer her honestly. He really does believe this will work. “Mifune seems like a pretty capable guy, and you haven’t seen Tsubaki fight. She’s like... uh...” he tries to think of a character that Angela would recognize to describe Tsubaki, but comes up empty. “She’s incredible.”

“Like a superhero?”

“More like...a ninja, or something. Maybe a superhero to you, though.” He shrugs, ruffling her curls. He’s about to open his mouth to ask who her favorite superhero is when the walkie-talkie crackles to life, Tsubaki’s voice coming through.

“Black Star, we’re in position.”

Embarrassingly fast, Black Star lifts the walkie-talkie to his mouth, “ShadowStag, you’re good? Did you hotwire the van?”

“Yes. Mifune is waiting in the alley for me to go.  Also, there are dead walkers all over here. Piled up in front of the doors to the hotel; I think it might have been that man and his friends who did it. There aren’t any walkers around.” She sounds on edge but determined, and Black Star gives her the go ahead.

He’s on edge now, too, waiting for the first crack of the homemade firecrackers he’d made and given to Mifune to lure the walkers away from Tsubaki. It’s not until the first one goes off in the distance that Black Star relaxes his grip on the arms of his chair.

Angela lets out a loud whoop, followed by a cough, and Black Star is so fucking glad his firecrackers worked. Three more go off in the next five minutes, six more following, and the dull sound of a car engine moves around below them, a window rolling down, Tsubaki’s grunt, footsteps on metal, then on the fire escape--

“We fucking did it,” Black Star mutters, hearing footsteps pounding on the ground. Angela jumps off of him, squealing and leaning out the window.

“They’re here!” She laughs, jumping on the spot. Black Star slumps in his chair. They did it.

But something doesn’t feel right.

Mifune and Tsubaki appear in the window, a little dirty and out of breath, but unbitten and safe so why is he so worried? Why is he freaking out?

Because there should have been walkers. The streets were infested when he and Tsubaki were out there, so where were they? It was way too easy, and if there is one thing Black Star has learned in these past few months, it is that there is nothing easy about life anymore.

He looks up to see Tsubaki speaking to him, grinning at him with perfect teeth. She’s got something in her hands--his prosthesis, he realizes slowly. She gets to her knees in front of him, rolling up his pant leg. Black Star doesn’t move as she straps it into place, doesn’t move as she pulls away, standing with her hands on her hips, grinning still.

“Come on,” Mifune murmurs, Angela held tightly in his arms. He offers a small smile, then, “Go on, and stand up. Then we can talk.”

Black Star pushes to his feet slowly, grimacing as the leg adjusts to his weight. Tsubaki’s hands are held out a bit, prepared to catch him in case he stumbles, but he doesn’t feel as unsteady anymore. He’ll have to fix some shit on here, but other than that, everything is great.

His eyes meet Tsubaki’s violet ones, clearer and brighter than they have been in weeks, in months. She looks happy.

And maybe he was wrong before, because this shit right here, this feeling of victory, and the way he surges forward and pulls her into his arms-- it’s pretty fucking easy.


 

“I don’t get it,” Black Star begins, pacing around the room, arms crossed over his chest. Tsubaki is on his laptop, trying and failing to find any network connection. The candles in the room are irritating his nose again, and he tries and fails not to sneeze. “There weren’t any zombies?”

“Several, actually,” Mifune says from the head of the table. “All heading toward the Strip. They seemed largely uninterested in your firecrackers, and Tsubaki.”

He knew something was off about this. What was drawing them that way? Maybe it was wishful thinking, but were they leaving Vegas? They wouldn’t know unless they went and checked, of course, but...

One look at Tsubaki tells him she knows what he’s thinking, that she agrees. They’re going to leave.

Chapter Text

May

iv. are watching


 

“I really,” Tsubaki begins, grunting against the weight of one of the fattest Walker’s she’s ever seen, “wish they would have come with us.”

Five feet away, Black Star stomps the head of a teenaged boy, wincing when blood and brain matter stains his runners. “Yeah, I bet Angela would have loved it, too.”

Scowling, Tsubaki attempts to find an opening, angry when he can’t. If only the fat guy would stop pushing her. Really, why couldn’t the dead be more cooperative? It was too hot to be out here. “Shut up. And would you take care of the--oh, behind you!”

She watches him spin, slamming a baseball bat into the side of the old woman’s head. Tsubaki watches the grim smile light up his face, and then turns back to her own predicament. Why does she always get the hard walkers? A girl would think that the man would take the hard ones, at least to pump up their self-esteem, or make themselves look better to the girl but--

Tsubaki snorts, rolling to the right, yelping when the fat walker falls on her leg, but doesn’t waste any time leaning over and shoving her knife hilt deep into his skull. Black Star would never be that type of guy, and she’s thankful that he’s not that much of a douchebag.

He jogs toward her, rolling the walker off her leg and helping her to her feet, bag full of water bottles clutched tightly in one hand. “Jesus, that guy was heavy.”

“Tell me about it,” she mutters, dusting off her bottom. She looks out around them, frowning when she doesn’t see any more. “There aren’t a lot out here today, huh?”

Dead walkers litter the roads and sidewalks, evidence that other groups have been through here. The water from inside the convenience store hadn’t been taken, though, which Tsubaki assumes means that they’re still drinking water from taps. Idiots.

“Yeah,” Black Star replies, sounding weary. Let’s get out of here; I want to hit the store at the end of the street before it gets dark.”

Nodding, Tsubaki sets out with him, checking behind them every so often.

It’s been two weeks since they’d left Mifune and Angela, but it seemed like forever. She and Black Star were used to being on their own, but after being safe in that apartment for so long, it was so weird sleeping with one eye open again. At least they had a better setup than before.

The Library wasn’t what she would call the perfect hide out-- far from it, really, since there was only two exits, one of which being on the roof, but it was better than sleeping in the van or behind a dumpster. There were only eight walkers in there when they’d broken in, too, which was like the world’s way of saying, here, sorry for being a jerk. At least, that’s what Tsubaki thought. Black Star seemed to think it was because people were too lazy to try and break in, or they were afraid of what might be inside.

They make quick work of the convenience store, grabbing the shitty canned food that nobody wanted, and as many energy drinks that Black Star can fit in his own bag and, to her amusement, the pockets of his pants.

“Hey, fuck you! I bet if there were spaghetti-o’s you’d have them all hidden somewhere, like your bra or something. Don’t steal this enjoyment from me, Tsubaki. Energy drinks are my only happiness.”

She snorts with laughter, covering her mouth to keep her voice down. “You’re the biggest loser I’ve ever met. No, really,” she says when his face colours, mouth opening to argue. “You definitely are. Please never change.”

He grumbles a quick, “shut the fuck up”, under his breath, then stuffs a bag of Miss Vickie’s into his backpack.

There aren’t many zombies on the way back to the Library, and only one of them notices Black Star, who accidentally drops an energy drink.

The lack of zombies is setting Tsubaki’s nerves on fire. This doesn’t seem right, but then again, neither does the dead coming back to life. Still, there has to be a reason they’re all congregating somewhere else, right? That’s what Black Star thinks, at least, and who is she to argue? She bends to pick up the dented can, and when she stands--

Oh.

“One of these days we need to capture some zombies and pull that Walking Dead shit. Y’know, when Michonne cut off the jaws and arms of the zombie’s and brought ‘em around with her? It’s a good idea. Never thought it’d come in handy, though.”

Tsubaki ignores him, speeding up. “Black Star, let’s hurry, I need to use the washroom.”

“Uh, me too. You’ll have to wait--hey, are you bleeding? From your--oh. Wow. Um.” he coughs into his fist, and Tsubaki wishes the ground would swallow her up. She knew something felt off down there, but she thought maybe she peed a little, or that it was nothing, and that the cramp in her stomach was from lack of eating. She was just fine not having her period, and she damns everything all to hell that it decided to come now. Dammit, they don’t even have pads or tampons back at the Library. Were there any at the store? She doesn’t remember, but maybe Black Star saw some. “Um, you wouldn’t run back to the store to get...I mean, we don’t have anything I can use at the Library and I don’t. Um.” Taking a deep breath, Tsubaki turns and meets Black Star’s very embarrassed face.

“I need pads. Tampons would be better, but. Yes. Something.”

They stare at each other for a moment, his face growing redder with each second. “You’re a very awful person, making me do this,” he snaps, turning away and heading back in the direction of the store. “And for your information, if the world wasn’t ending, I would never do this!”

Tsubaki turns, wishing her face wasn’t so hot, and continues on.


 

By the time she makes it back to the Library, she is drenched in sweat and her stomach hurts more than it has all day. Her fingers fumble for the key above the door.

Inside the Library the air is thick but bearable. At least it’s a bit cooler, since the area they’ve been staying in isn’t bathed in sunlight the way the back of the building is. After shutting the door and locking it, leaving the deadbolt off so Black Star can get in, Tsubaki beelines for the small bathroom, pulling off her t-shirt and tugging her tank top away from her chest. It sticks to her like a second skin and she definitely needs to cool down. She considers taking off her tank top too and just wear her sports bra, but doesn’t need Black Star commenting on it.

She’s about to go into the washroom when a gun barrel presses into the back of her head. A female voice asks, “Who are you?”

The knife she has strapped to her hip is snatched away from someone behind her, but the gun doesn’t shift, so there must be more than one. Dammit, Tsubaki thinks, not now. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that question? Especially considering you’re in my--”

“Answer the question,” a female voice snaps from her left, while another gun is cocked on her right. Three? She has no idea, and she needs to figure it out before Black Star comes back and gets his loud-mouthed head blown off.

“My name is Tsubaki. I’ve been living here.”

“Alone?”

She’s about to speak when a new male voice says nearly beside her, “She’s started her period.”

The gun at the back of her head doesn’t shift at all. Tsubaki’s face goes hot and she grits her teeth, squeezing her legs together. It’s dark, how the hell could they notice that? She’s wearing jeans. Unless of course they were looking for injuries.

“Yo, Tsubaki! I had to run all the way to the first store for this shit, so you better share some of that Aero I know you got!”

Panic seizes her, and she turns, grateful for his unwanted but helpful distraction. The girl holding the gun to her head isn’t looking at her, and Tsubaki takes the chance to twist the girl’s wrist, putting the gun to her head and pulling her back against her chest. A man with glasses holds the other gun up, and the other man holds another, aiming it at Black Star rather than her.

A pink-haired girl looks worriedly at the girl in Tsubaki’s grasp. “Please don’t hurt her, we wouldn’t have--”

“We’re not here to harm anyone,” Glasses Guy says, lowering his gun. “We just...thought this place was safe. We had no idea that there were others here.”

“Well there fucking is,” Black Star snarls, hands up. He’s got a bag of Kotex pads in one hand, and a box of tampons in the other. Tsubaki can’t help but giggle a bit.

“What are you laughing at?” Pinky snaps, but she’s laughing a bit too, hardly able to keep the scowl on her face. She glances at Black Star, and then snorts again. “Shit, I’m sorry but, you really made him get you stuff like that?”

Black Star glares at the both of them, dropping both items on the ground, while Glasses Guy snaps, “Kim! Stop laughing!”

The other guy with his hair in a ponytail and wearing sunglasses sighs, tipping his head back. “Would you mind letting our friend go? We really aren’t here to argue.”

“Says the guy who took my knife,” Tsubaki snaps back, meeting Black Star’s eyes.

Should we let them go?

He looks like he isn’t really sure, but gives her a gruff nod anyway, lowering his arms. “So who are you assholes and how the hell did you get in here?”

Tsubaki relaxes her grip on the girl in her arms, allowing her to move away and toward the others of her group. She doesn’t like being so far from Black Star, but doesn’t want to chance walking over there, in case this cease fire is a trick. She wouldn't be surprised-- there are a lot of gangs turning on each other, freshly made walkers with stab wounds or gunshots. They’d seen the aftermath of a gang fight already, seen what happens when innocent people get caught in the crossfire.

“You left the key on top of the door,” Pinky says, leaning back against a bookshelf. “The dead might not find it, but anyone else could. You might want to rethink that logic--”

“You might want to watch what you say, or you can get the fuck out.” Black Star snaps, walking through the group and toward Tsubaki, tossing her the pads and tampons. “Go ahead, I’ll be out here.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah, go.”

Tsubaki reaches for her backpack leaning against the wall near the washroom, and with a glance over her shoulder at her partner, she goes in. She cleans herself as quickly as she can, changing into a cleaner pair of pants, balling her soiled ones into a ball and shoving them into the corner of the room. She casts herself a glance in the mirror, wincing at what she sees. Dark smudges under her eyes, hair limp and greasy. The candlelight isn’t doing her any favors either, so she leaves the washroom--

--And finds Black Star interrogating the group of four, twirling her knife in his hand. “Oh, here. I got that back for you.”

“Thank you,” Tsubaki murmurs, taking the knife and sheathing it at her waist. She stands beside him and stares at each of the newcomers, eyeing their weaponry and, now that she’s paying attention, their bags lining the smaller bookshelf.

Black Star stretches his arms over his head, “So uh, anyone planning on answering my question, or would you like to head out now? Where did all the weapons come from?”

“And your names,” Tsubaki adds, tired of calling them Ponytail and Pinky. “Please,” she adds for good measure, ignoring the withering look Black Star sends her.

The next hour is spent introducing each other. Kim, Jack, Harvey, and Ox, she learns, come from up north. The reason they have so much artillery is because Jack and Harvey were cops before, and when things started going to shit they ransacked their supplies and brought whatever they could. They’ve been driving for weeks, looking for other survivors. It was only because they finally ran out of gas that they tried finding somewhere safe to stay, and here they were. Tsubaki stares at each newcomer, wondering how they’ve gotten so far in one piece. Was there ever another one? Another cop, another civilian? Have they lost anyone? What has coming to Vegas cost them?

“So...” Black Star runs a hand through his hair, looking slightly more exhausted than he had been before. “You’re telling me that you’ve gone...months looking for survivors and you’ve come up empty? That we are the first ones--”

“No,” Ox interrupts, leaning forward. “No, not at all. There were others...other groups that merged with us, but when you’ve got so much weaponry, it’s only a matter of time til someone tries to take it, or take charge. We had to leave.”

“You left people who needed help? Or you left them with some crazy people who tried to kill you for your shit?”

Kim stands, fists balled at her side, eyes sparking, “You have no idea what we’ve been through! What it was like, leaving those people, those children!”

“And I don’t really care to be completely honest with you.”

Tsubaki turns to Black Star, trying to read where he’s going with this. What’s he going to achieve by antagonising these people? There are more of them; they have better guns, probably more skill. She doesn’t think she can handle having to look for a new place, doesn’t want to have to. She’s about to tell him this, or at least make him act a little nicer when he speaks

“This is a kill or be killed world, yeah I get that. But I don’t care about the hardships you morons have been through any more than you care about mine or Tsubaki’s. So sit your ass down and tell me something important, like why the fuck you came all the way down to Nevada. You’re from California, right?”

“How did you--”

“Lucky guess,” he says, but Tsubaki can see the Stanford backpack lying beside Ox.

Jack pulls a knee to her chest, draping an arm across it. “How about you tell us a little something. Like how you secured this place. It doesn’t look very secure from the outside. And you’ve got running water too, right?”

Black Star lets out a loud laugh that has Tsubaki cringing and the others jumping. She knows it isn’t loud enough to attract the walkers outside--especially since there aren’t any around, apparently--but it still sets her nerves on fire and leaves her staring at the windows, waiting for the first knock behind the flags they’d draped over them. “Oh, that’d be ShadowStag’s superior knowledge on how wells work. Go on; tell ‘em.”

Tsubaki flushes and glares, though the effect is lost on him. She had lived on a farm in Japan and they’d used well water, so Black Star had dubbed her an expert. “It wasn’t a big deal really. They run on well water, so all we had to do was find the well and make sure it wasn’t contaminated. When we figured that out, we stuck spikes and wrapped fencing around them to ensure that nothing got in.” She shrugs, pinching the skin of her elbow as all eyes fall on her. “No big deal.”

Kim is blinking at her like what she’d said was unbelievable. “Whaaaat?” She asks, “That’s awesome, oh my god, can you shower--?”

Ox interrupts her, “And the building? You’re telling me that nobody thought to come hide here before you?”

Black Star sighs heavily, reaching into his backpack and producing a rice krispy square. He breaks half off and hands her the smaller piece, munching on his loudly. “Nah, there were like fifteen dead in here--”

“Eighteen,” Tsubaki corrects, frowning at the gooey-ness of the treat. Obviously some of the marshmallow was melting, leaving the sticky residue on her fingers.

“--eighteen, whatever. They were no big deal really. The issue here was getting them all out, and the smell.” You can still smell it a bit, Tsubaki knows. The air fresheners they stole from cars and convenience stores don’t completely mask the smell, but it’s better than it was before.

“Everyone was dead?”

Or bitten, Tsubaki thinks darkly, remembering the teenaged boy with pink hair, his eyes slowly turning red, and his roots white. He’d stared up at them and begged them to help him, to make the pain stop. He was hiding in the bathroom and his chest was a mess of bites, all leaking black blood. It’d been quick, easy, sliding her knife into his skull.

“Yeah,” Black Star nods grimly, eyes hard as he stares at them. “Everyone was dead.”


 

They let Kim, Ox, Jack and Harvey stay the night.

It was more Tsubaki’s decision than it was Black Star’s. He’d wanted to send them on their merry way and let them deal with whatever was out there, but she didn’t want any more blood on her hands-- besides, they looked like they were falling over themselves to use the washroom. He’d consented eventually, and now she and Black Star were sitting behind the Librarian’s desk on rolling chairs, sharing a chocolate bar and energy drink between them.

Black Star has both legs propped up on the table, lowering and raising his chair every few minutes, a bored expression on his face. “I really wanted to check that AT&T building out today.”

“I know.”

“Damn tourists,” he mutters, taking a swig of his Monster. He passes it back to her, and she swallows the flat, warm liquid without wincing. Harvey, Jack, Ox, and Kim all sleep in the kid’s area of the library, resting on beanbags and the small couch Tsubaki had been using to sleep on. Aside from the occasional snore, the only sound in the library is the creak of her chair and the air leaving Black Star’s as he lowers it. She hadn’t thought that they would fall asleep, especially not with strangers, but Kim and Ox had passed out almost as soon as they’d lied down. Harvey and Jack took a bit longer, but she’s pretty sure they’re asleep now.

“I know you did, but we can always go tomorrow. It’ll still be there.”

“You never know,” he shrugs, turning his head and looking at her, eyes bright in the darkness of the library. They hadn’t lit a candle, since there’s enough moonlight seeping in through the tops of the windows and the ones they hadn’t covered. It’s kind of nice, sitting here like this. Tsubaki settles down more comfortably in her chair, biting off another piece of her chocolate bar and handing it to Black Star.

They sit in silence a little longer, both too keyed up from earlier and wary of their new guests to get any sleep. The silence, while nice, has her thinking about a lot of things. Masamune, Mifune, Angela. Has her thinking about Black Star and the way he went out and got her pads and tampons, how he gave her the couch to sleep on and took the floor. How he’s so strong and a good leader and a better partner.

His prosthesis bumps against her foot, nudging her toes apart. “This little piggy went to the market,” he begins singing under his breath, nudging her big toe. He hasn’t taken it off since he’d fixed it back at Mifune’s, making it better with several batteries from remotes and alarm clocks. She wonders if it bothers him, always having to wear it, and she wonders why he does. I’ll ask, she decides, turning and looking at him.

“And this little piggy cried wee wee wee all the way home, because she’s a little bitch.”

Tsubaki snorts, knocking her foot against his, though it does literally nothing. Black Star grins at her, turning, face close to hers, almost too close. If she moves, they could kiss. It all seems incredibly familiar, them sitting together like this, comfortable with each other. Her face flares up and she turns, running her tongue over her teeth. “Um, how--how come you’re always wearing your prosthesis?”

Black Star grunts, shifting his feet farther away. “Because the last time I didn’t have it on and something bad happened, you were almost raped and we were kicked out of our hotel.”

Memory of that dirt bag’s hands on her body surface quickly, but for once she doesn’t push the thought away. That night was what brought them to here, what made them leave the comfort and safety of their hotel. The road wasn’t a nice one or an easy one, but they’re getting back into the swing of things, and if Kim, Jack, Harvey, and Ox stay with them… well there’s a better chance for survival. She just hopes Black Star understands that. Hopes he knows that these people aren’t the ones who hurt her, the ones who ruined everything. If they could trust Mifune and Angela, why couldn’t they trust these people?

“That wasn’t your fault, you know,” she says softly, reaching for the tightly curled fist on the arm of his chair. She takes a few seconds to loosen his fist before twisting her fingers with his. This is okay, for now… right?

Black Star squeezes tightly, grinding her knuckles together, then, “Still should have been prepared.” He sounds annoyed and defeated and tired.

She doesn’t know what to say to him and she knows that even if she did, he wouldn’t listen to her. In his mind, he screwed up-- in his mind, it’s all his fault. So she changes the subject, instead.

“We should let them stay.”

The silence seems thicker now, more deafening.

“What?” He sputters after a few moments of shock, pulling his hand out of hers. They turn to look at each other, no longer relaxed. Her shoulders are tight with defiance, his with annoyance. “Are you out of your fucking mind?” he snaps, loud enough to make her wince. She shoots him a look and grabs him by the arm, dragging him off the chair. He’s stronger than she, though, and not one for manhandling, and soon it’s her being dragged along to the washroom.

They’re shut into the cramped bathroom, nearly chest to chest. Black Star looks pissed and she understands why, but really? Really? This is a bit of an exaggeration. It’s not like she suggested they just hand over the library and move somewhere else. “Will you relax?!” She hisses, shoving him in the chest, annoyed when he barely moves. How is he still so solid? They’ve been living off junk food and pop for the last few weeks, this is so--

“Uh, in case you’ve forgotten, they left a group of people with someone who threatened to kill them, they tried to attack you, and they pointed guns at us! They haven't exactly shown or proven that they’re trustworthy,” he snaps, face close to hers. It isn’t anything like earlier, however. This is him trying to intimidate her, trying to talk down to her, and she’ll be damned if he thinks he can get away with it.

She moves her arm back and then forward, socking him as hard as she can in the gut. When he doubles forward, surprised by her hit, she grabs him by the hair and spins, shoving him against the wall and bracing her arm across his chest, leaning her weight on him. It’s not much, but they’re almost the same height and she has the advantage of actually knowing how to properly fight and subdue someone. “In case you have forgotten, we’re a team. We are partners, and when a partner suggests an idea, the other partner doesn’t react like an idiot, you hear them out! I’m not your subordinate.”

Their chests heave and there are tentative knocks on the door; the quiet voices of the others, asking if everything is okay. Tsubaki doesn’t pay attention to it, just holds his gaze. If she drops it, then this is all over. She’ll look like she’s backing down when she is most certainly not.

Black Star stares back, eyes unreadable. His arms lay at his sides, his whole body losing the tension. “You’re right,” he breathes, and she knows there is a double meaning when he says, “You’re my equal, Tsubaki. The only one left who is my equal.” The words make her toes curl in her sneakers; leave her throat filled with something thick.

She steps back slowly, leaning against the sink. Pretends her hands aren’t shaking and there isn’t sweat beading at her hairline. The candle flickers twice, casting eerie shadows across his face. “Then hear me out.”

Green eyes blink once, twice, then, “Yeah. Okay.”


 

Black Stars says, “You can stay,” and Kim and Ox’s eyes light up like little kids on Christmas. Jack and Harvey are a bit more reserved, offering smiles and thank yous. Black Star grins a little at the praise and then sits down on a swivel chair, smile gone, and hard face of a commander taking its place. “Alright, but let’s set a few ground rules. Number one: Don’t fuck with me, or Tsubaki.”


 

It is two in the afternoon, if her watch is correct. It is also hot enough that her sunburn has sunburn.

Tsubaki’s ear crackles, sending a jolt down her spine. Where was the radio silence? She’s pretty sure Black Star called radio silence. “So you’ll never guess what I just saw,” Kim’s voice is small and electronic-sounding. “It starts with a z and ends with an --ombie.”

“Wow,” Black Star snaps back, and she can hear the murmur of his voice from in here, “Zombies? Here? You’re shitting me. Kim, are you shitting me?”

His sarcasm makes her laugh, but it trails off as she smells the rot and decay of an old corpse. The shop she’s in is a sex shop, but she’d needed to find new underwear and hands cuffs, strangely enough. Black Star is in the back, rifling through boxes, while she is near the front of the store, trying to find underwear that aren’t lacy, frilly, or crotchless. Dammit. Although, Kim might like those--

“I’m sorry,” Kim snaps, sounding farther away. She also sounds sassy, “But there are like a dozen of them, fuckface, and the most I’ve seen together in two weeks is four. And FYI, there aren’t many places you can hide inside an AT&T store!”

Tsubaki wonders briefly what the hell she’s doing in a phone store, but promptly forgets it when she spots a cute pair of panties.

Black Star doesn’t answer right away, though Tsubaki hadn’t really expected him to. She snags a few pairs of underwear for herself, Kim, and Jack, then a pair of crotchless panties to throw at him. “Black Star?” She calls out softly, wandering toward the back of the store. Mannequins are knocked down, and there is a dead walker lying behind the video section with his pants down. Her earpiece buzzes quietly, though nobody speaks.

She rounds the corner into the back room just as Black Star speaks, “Keep away from them, everyone. I’ve got an idea.”

He’s grinning wildly, eyes glinting in the...

“How is that light on?” Tsubaki asks, staring at the swinging bulb. She hasn’t seen a lit light bulb in what feels like forever. How is it working? Do they have backup generators? Would they still be working--?

“Solar panels,” Black Star cackles, head falling back, arms raised to the sky. “I don’t know why I didn’t think about it before, but solar panels!

Tsubaki nods slowly, not really comprehending what he plans to do. Shack up in here? The entire front of the store is all windows, and if he was planning on using them at the library, how did he plan on getting them there? Even if they used the trucks Jack and Harvey had hotwired, there is no way they’d be able to install them without attracting more walkers. “Um...”

Black Star stares at her for a long, long moment. Then: “I have a great idea.” 

Chapter Text

June

v. their whole world


 

“Have I told you what an awful idea this is?” Tsubaki voice snaps from the walkie-talkie, sounding distorted. Black Star ducks under the sun visor and tries to spot her on the roof, but she’s keeping low. Actually, he can kind of see her hair there... “It’s too windy. You’re so frustrating.”

“Just do it,” Black Star prompts, leaning back in his seat. “Jack and Kim aren’t complaining.”

“You just can’t hear them,” Ox says from beside him. Black Star turns, giving the bald man a glare.

“This is an A-B conversation. C yourself the fuck out.”

Ox sneers at him, turning to look out the window again. They’re in the rich part of Vegas where all the rich fucks decided to hole up inside their rich ass homes and probably died in them. The possibility of finding a horde of zombies here is pretty large, but Black Star is confident that they don’t know how to unlock doors. Ox, ever the worry wart and non-believer in the great cause that is the Resistance, continuously looks out the window, while Harvey hums to himself in the back.

Black Star turns the volume up on the radio a bit more; He’d found the CD in the music section at the Library and he likes the fourth song on it. He considers playing it through the walkie-talkie so Tsubaki can hear it, but figures she’d probably fall off the roof.

“You really think this will work?” Harvey asks from the back seat, shotgun lying across his lap. “That we’ll be able to hook this crap up? It doesn’t sound plausible.”

“One,” Black Star begins, holding up his fingers. “It’ll work because I came up with the idea. Two, leave the worrying to Ox.”

The plan was pretty simple in Black Star’s mind. He had his phone from what seems like forever ago, only it’s been dead for months. Tsubaki had hers, and Kim had snagged four from the Sprint store she’d broken into. If they got solar panels, they could charge their phones, and if Black Star broke into the huge AT&T building, then granted permission for data plans, they might be able to hook up a twitter or Facebook or something. A way to connect with other people. He doesn’t know how he’d get it out to the people of Vegas--if there are even people out there that want to be saved--but he’s pretty sure he could do it. Eighty-five percent sure.

“Okay,” Tsubaki murmurs or maybe shouts on the other end of the walkie-talkie. “I’ve got some. I’ll be down in--dammit--”

He moves the walkie-talkie to his mouth so fast that he gives himself a fat lip. “ShadowStag?” he calls into the device, but doesn’t receive anything back. Both Ox and Harvey are pressed to the edge and back of his seat, breathing down his neck. “ShadowStag!?”

SHH!” Comes the angry reply. That means her position is in jeopardy, doesn’t it? Probably, dammit. Why can nothing go as planned, ever?

Black Star waits anxiously for her to say something again. He’s half-leaning out the van’s window trying to catch a glimpse of Tsubaki. Surely there aren’t zombies on the roof, and these houses looked too nice for their roofs to be shitty, so what the fuck?

Hey, can someone come pick us up, for Christ’s sake? It’s hot up here!” Kim’s loud, tinny voice comes through the walkie-talkie, scaring the shit out of the three males in the car. Black Star growls and snaps back, “Shut the fuck up!”

When he turns back to see if Tsubaki’s visible, he sees her scowling down at them, then asks them to come around back.


 

Black Star is seriously underwhelmed when he comes around to find a teenager helping Tsubaki down from the roof (needlessly, he might add, considering she got up there on her own in the first place) and his hands are riding a little high, or maybe a little low--depends on where you’re standing. Either way, Black Star is not feeling any of this, and the faster they solve this little “survivor” issue, the faster they’ll be outta here and back to the Library. “Yo, ShadowStag, what’s going on?”

He catches the look she gives the guy helping her when he’s not looking and smirks. “The roof had a skylight and I saw this boy and his family...” She gives him another wary look and starts across the small path in the backyard to where Black Star and Harvey stand. Ox had stayed in the front to wait for Kim and Jack. “What is your name, by the way?”

The boy looks startled. “Uh, my mom always told me never to talk to strangers--”

“Did she tell you not to touch their asses, too?” Black Star sneers, stepping forward, “Now answer the question--”

“Black Star.”

He feels Harvey’s hand on his shoulder and stops advancing. The boy looks annoyed and maybe a bit scared, and Black Star is more than done with today, really. “What. Is. Your. Name?”

“Clay Sizemore.” His eyes flit back and forth, never staying in the same place for too long. “Uh...maybe we should bring this inside?”

“There aren’t any walkers around,” Black Star dismisses the boy’s worries with a sneer, turning to Tsubaki. “Can we go home?”

She gives him a dirty look, as if she’s saying no, we can’t leave them here! And Black Star really, really can leave this kid here. For several reasons, in fact.

Clay has moved to the back door now, looking more and more wary. “How do you know there aren’t any around?”

“Because we’ve been driving around here for a goddamn hour trying to break those stupid solar panels and haven’t been attacked. I figure we’re pretty safe as of right now.” But Clay is already shaking his head, looking pained.

“No, no, no, there are dozens of them around here! I mean, last night they kept banging on the front door, trying to get in... How are you guys still alive, even?”

Black Star turns away and begins to inspect the backyard, leaving Harvey and Tsubaki to explain. This kid could always be exaggerating about the amount of zombies, but on the slim chance that he’s right and these fuckers are lying in wait someplace close, Black Star wants to be prepared. How were this guy and his family even alive still? The house had floor to ceiling windows in the front, and the door didn’t look that intimidating. Clay even looks clean and pretty well put together for someone who shouldn’t have running water. They probably had a well running out here...

“Can I come with you guys? My mom and dad are really freaked out and you guys seem capable and really tough and just--”

“No,” Black Star whispers, outraged. Then, “Uh, I do--”

“Well,” Tsubaki turns back to Black Star, eyes wide and wondering, looking like a fucking puppy. Harvey is looking at him and smirking, and wow, really? Is this them ganging up on him? No, no fucking way! “It’s up to you, Black Star.” It really isn’t though. If he says no then he’ll get grief about it for the rest of his life, if he says yes, then he has to share his rations and they’ll have to make more runs (actually, there’s a Costco he spotted on the way over here that he’s dying to raid, but that’s not the point!). This is just another thing on his Do Not Want list, the first being the other four losers he’d allowed to stay with them.

“You and your bleeding fucking heart, Tsubaki,” he grumbles, not spotting anything weird except the corpse in the yard over that’s been mostly bones now. He begins to make his way back to the van. “Hurry and get your shit together, I want to get a move on.”


 

“That,” Black Star hisses in the cramped bathroom, toothpaste flying from his mouth, landing on Tsubaki’s arm. She wipes it away, looking annoyed. “Was not cool. So not cool. Like, there is cool, where you usually are, and there is uncool, where Ox is. You were with Ox.”

“Oh shut up,” Tsubaki sighs, running her fingers through her hair and tugging at the knots. More than once Black Star almost reaches over and untangles them for her, but he knows better, and by the way she keeps looking at him when she thinks he doesn’t notice and licking her lips or biting them, he figures she does too. They should really talk about that. Probably.

Later.

“At least we’re helping them.” Tsubaki says, giving up on her hair and pulling it into a bun at the back of her head. She grabs her own toothbrush and the toothpaste and begins brushing. Black Star watches the movement for a second (or eight) and turns to look at himself in the mirror. His sunburn has turned to a tan for the most part, and the blue in his hair is nearly gone, just brown with little blue tips that make him look like a fourteen year old girl. He knew they should have stopped at Costco on the way back.

“We’ll have to get,” spit, “you more dye. I think I like the blue more than brown.”

Black Star smirks at his reflection, “We’ll go tomorrow?”

“Sure.” She spits into the sink, and then wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. She stares at herself for a moment or two, and then leans toward him, pitching her voice low. “Is it just me, or did they seem really well kempt? I mean, they have had a well like we do, but...it just sits weird with me.”

Black Star understands exactly what she’s saying. He figures that they’d have shown signs of changing if they were using bad water, though, so he tells her not to worry for now. “We’ll keep an eye on things. You feel like something isn’t right, do what you need to do.”

“Okay,” she nods, and they exit the bathroom together. In the main area of the Library, the others are sitting around, Kim and Jack taking inventory, while Ox speaks with Clay and his family. It’s still pretty light outside, from what Black Star can see through the American flag he and Tsubaki had hung over the window, but that light won’t last much longer. His entire fucking day has been dedicated to getting these other survivors back to the Library. Anymore and they’ll have to move outta here, which is the last thing he wants to do.

He’ll have to talk to Tsubaki about taking in strays.

They split up, Black Star going to the row of computers, Tsubaki heading toward Clay’s mother and father, who look exhausted. He thinks about giving them the same talk he gave the others when he’d allowed them to stay with him and Tsubaki, but he’s got other shit to do and they’ve already interrupted his day enough.

For the next hour and a half he fucks with the wires and motherboard from the computers, thinking about his baby back in his cluttered apartment. This low-grade cheap shit probably couldn’t run a YouTube video. But it’s still got some shit that he can use, and once he’s done taking it apart, he gets to work on how the hell he’s gonna charge their stupid phones. He’s still gotta work out how they’ll use the phones, but he has a vague idea of how that could work...

He jumps a little when Kim sits down heavily beside him, turning to him with a look of complete and utter disdain. Black Star has taken to avoiding her, since they tend to get on one anothers nerves, but sometimes she actually has intelligent things to say to him, so he allows her to stew there for a few moments while he finishes up. Then, “So tell me, when you and Ox have sex, does he mind taking it in the ass, or does he cry?”

Her fingers press his lips shut, and he tries to speak around them, “Kimmy, I’ll punch--”

“You tell me,” Kim says, sugary sweet but looking like he’d just kicked her cat. Or Ox. “Why you just missed that look Tsubaki shot you before she hauled ass out onto the roof?”

“She’s on the roof?” Black Star blinks, then, “What look? Kimmers--”

Stop giving me nicknames!”

“--are you high? Did you take the painkillers Harvey found? Or are you retarded, because what look?”

Taking a deep breath, Kim grabs him but the collar of his shirt, pulling him close enough that he can smell the chocolate on her breath from the Coffee Crisp she’d just eaten. “Go see what Tsubaki wants.”

He hates to say that Kim scares the shit out of him. Kim is like...Kim is every kind of mean girl wrapped into one fierce bitch and Black Star grew up shooting spitballs into the hair of girls like her. He grew up simultaneously wishing he had a girl like Kim and praying for every dude that had to suffer one. Kim is his second favorite as of right now.

“Only if you promise not to make Ox cry anymore.” He dodges the slap she attempts to give him, speed-walking away from her and toward the steps to the attic. He notes that Clay’s parents are sleeping and Clay is checking out Jack while she bends over and Harvey is checking out the windows and Ox is being uselessly in love with Kim, who is giving Black Star a dirty look.

This is his life. Wow.

When he gets to the roof, Tsubaki is lying on her back, staring peacefully up at the stars. She looks hella hot and really calm and it’s cool to see her like this. Sometimes he forgets that she’s this really nice chick (because if Kim was the type of girl everyone wanted, Tsubaki was the type of girl that people saw but didn’t get, the type of girl that he would have never gone for but would have thought was a really awesome friend, and now look where they are) because she’s always being a badass mofo.

He plops down beside her, looking out over the roof. If the world wasn’t gone to shit and there weren’t bodies strewn across the highway, this might actually be romantic. As it is, there’s death in the air and both and he Tsubaki smell a bit rank. “What’s up and why are you on the roof?” He asks after a few minutes, looking down at her.

She blinks slowly, eyes especially bright in the moonlight. This is so weird. “It’s nice up here, don’t you think?”

“Uh, yeah.” Scratching the back of the head, Black Star looks over at the strip club hundreds of feet away. He wonders if it’s fucked that he wants to see zombie strippers.

“Is it fucked that I want to see a zombie stripper? We’re checking out that place over there for sure this week.”

Tsubaki sits up on her elbows, looking out across the land and smiling slightly. “It’s a little sick.”

“Maybe they’ll have a vibrator for ya. I bet you’ve missed--ow, what the fuck!?” He laughs, rubbing his arm. She packs a pretty good punch when she wants to. “I’m serious, you horny--I will hit you back!” He warns, but she’s already on him, fingers digging into his sides, under his shirt and racing along his stomach and holy shit goddamn he hates that he’s so ticklish.

“Tsu-Tsubaki,” he wheezes, kicking his legs and grabbing at her hands but she is much faster than he and well-versed in tickling him and even though it’s giving him cramps, it’s the most fun they’ve had in...Shit, it feels like forever.

Her chest heaves with her own laughter and she looks so damn beautiful above him, face flushed and smile soft, bangs pasted to her forehead from sweat, the rest falling over her shoulder in waves of black. Black Star thinks of priorities and his dad’s voice, don’t name it, don’t get attached, it’ll hurt more when it’s gone and it will be fucking gone, boy, and he wants to kiss Tsubaki. He wants to kiss the smile off her face and tug on her hair and spread her legs and do all kinds of dirty shit to her that would have her flushed and ready and--

“Black Star?” Her voice breaks him from his reverie. Her lips brush against his with each word out of her mouth, her breath ghosting into his own mouth. He doesn’t even remember moving, but now he’s kneeling over her with his hands on either side of her face and she isn’t moving or trying to get away. “What are we doing?”

He swallows thickly, pants suddenly tight. This is a bad idea. This is getting attached--but haven’t you already gotten attached? Aren’t you already too deep--and he doesn’t know if he should move closer or farther. He doesn’t know what kind of effect this will have in the long run. He thinks she likes him and...And he fucking likes her too.

“Goin’ with the flow,” he nods, pressing his mouth to hers tentatively (and since when does he do things tentatively?) and when Tsubaki’s hand curls up into his hair, nails scratching along his scalp, he presses more, sliding his tongue along her bottom lip, willing her to open her mouth and kiss him back.

Her knees are tight against his hips. She kisses back with as much enthusiasm, and holy hell has it been long since he’s gotten it in or what? He feels like he’s gonna come in his shorts or something like he’s thirteen and Mary Allen is bending over in front of him. He palms her tit, wishing there was no bra and no apocalypse and no fucking people down below--

“We can’t,” Tsubaki pulls away, pressing a hand to his chest. “I can’t, this, we--”

She looks really freaked out so he backs away immediately, getting off her. “What’s the matter?” He’d been having a good time, he’d been having a really good fucking time, okay, and what was with her? Did she not feel the same about him, or was it something else? He’s going out of his fucking mind trying to figure it out while she calms her breathing, hands pressed to her face.

Her voice is muffled when she says, “This is a really bad idea, Black Star.”

Why?” He snaps, frustrated with the world at large.

She lets her arms fall to her sides, carefully not touching him. “Because we could die any day. We could die any day and we need to be able to go on afterwards and starting something like this isn’t beneficial to anyone, but especially not us.”

He wants to say, but I like you, wants to say we aren’t going to die, wants to grab her and shake her and make her see sense, only she is seeing sense and he’s being impractical and immature and he needs to get the fuck outta here before he says or does something incredibly stupid. “You’re right,” he nods scrubbing a face over his face, callouses catching against the stubble there. “I’m gonna head back in.”

“Okay,” Tsubaki whispers. “I’ll be in soon.”

He doesn’t answer; just gets to his feet and goes back inside.


 

When he finally lies down in his corner of the Library several hours later, Tsubaki is there and curled on her side away from him. He watches her for a long time; the way her body moves with each breath, how she smacks her lips and snores softly, how she stretches her legs out thrice before curling back up into a tight ball.

He doesn’t know what he was thinking, earlier. He doesn’t fucking know anything.

Black Star lies down and stares at the ceiling. He doesn’t sleep.


 

“I’m gonna ask, not because I want to, but because Ox is too scared to and the girls are wondering: what the fuck happened?”

Black Star feels the heat of the day settle on his shoulders like a boulder, and he turns and gives Harvey his most withering look. He hadn’t meant to be miserable all day, and it wasn’t his style to let shit like what happened last night mess with him--it hadn’t been the first time he’d been rejected, but this seemed to hurt a lot more. Black Star can’t see Harvey’s eyes behind his sunglasses, but he can see the shit eating grin that he wears and it’s almost as bad.

“Fuck off,” Black Star says simply. Harvey shrugs and trudges on ahead, gun loose in his hand as he looks around. They’ve already raided the places they needed-- including a small motel that looked probably better than it had when it was running-- to get some soap, shampoo, and towels. And all day he and Tsubaki were so out of it that more than once he’d almost gotten himself killed. He was used to giving her glances and knowing she understood what he needed, or the plan, but they could barely look at one another. It’d fucked up their dynamic and he gets why everyone was worried. But he shoves that out of his mind and focuses on what’s happening at the moment.

Now, like he’d planned to the night before, Black Star makes his way to the gentleman’s club, Chupacabra’s. It’s visible from the Library, but it’s like his first time noticing it.

It doesn’t seem like the end of the world has reached the place. Its doors are locked, it’s windows unbroken and barred. It even looks relatively clean, but Black Star is the first person to know that appearances can be deceiving. He bangs on one of the windows a few times and waits a few minutes for anything inside to come calling. When nothing does, and nothing moves inside, he decides it’s safe to head inside.

He picks the locks with a bit of difficulty, ignoring Harvey’s mutterings above him. The guy had been a cop before the world ended, so he could probably do a better job, but no.

With their guns out, Black Star and Harvey begin inside, Harvey taking the left, Black Star the right. It’s stuffy in the place, almost chokingly so. Its dust and blood and death everywhere in there, and holy fuck, who could have done this?

Bodies are strewn everywhere, various objects sticking out of four of the john’s heads, while seven others, dancers and waitresses, he assumes, lie slumped and lifeless, throats slashed and heads bashed in. Black Star is in sick awe of the entire place, and is almost sad that he hadn’t gotten the chance to see zombie strippers because zombie fucking strippers. The only thing that could even top zombie strippers would be a zombie pizza man with a nice hot pizza, fresh out of the oven and the former is at least a little possible.

Harvey checks each of the bodies while Black Star checks some of the alcoves and rooms, pulling back drapes to find eaten bodies and cheap liquor. He snags the liquor, though he’s not sure what kind of use he’ll have for it. Black Star didn’t drink before, really, but it might be good to sterilize a wound.

He’s about to check behind the bar when he hears a noise to his left. It’s the creak of a door, and Harvey isn’t over there. Black Star doesn’t know if zombies have learned how to open doors, but he’s not taking any chances. Lifting his hand over his head, he signals to Harvey that he’s moving forward.

Black Star rounds the corner of the bar, finding a long hallway, and at the end of it, he sees a purple haired stripper with a cane and a… whip? Her eyes dart to his leg, eyes widening.

He ignores the flush on his face and levels his gun at her, eyes narrowing when she doesn’t lower either of her weapons. Is she dumb? He’s got a gun on her, for Christ’s sake. “You bit?” He asks, looking over her body for any signs of change. She looks normal though, despite the stupid cat ears she’s wearing.

“No.”

“You kill all them?”

“Sure did, kiddo. I’ll kill you too, if you come any closer.” She says sweetly. Her smile is predatory and dangerous, and for a brief moment, Black Star can see this woman slaughtering those people. What he can’t see is how all these people were infected in a locked strip club.

“I doubt that,” Black Star smirks, “Seems like a lot of work for a girl like you. What? One of them steal your client?”

“You don’t know a thing about a girl like me, boy,” she snaps, hands tightening on her weapons. She looks ready to attack, and if he didn’t have a gun trained on her, Black Star might be worried. “And for your information, I was glad to give her my client. Turns out he was a biter.”

“Looks like more than a few of your girlfriends out there were too,” Harvey says from behind Black Star. “They were all bitten, weren't they?”

“No,” the woman shakes her head, voice sad and steely all at once. “Two of them killed each other. I just finished the job when they woke up. Now, tell me what you’re doing here or get your perky little asses out of my club.”

“It’s none of your business,” Black Star snaps, indignant. This chick is hot and sassy and he fucking loves it, but that doesn’t mean he’s gonna tell her his shit. “Scat, cat.”

“Oh,” she giggles, winking at him. “We don’t have any um… lube, available, if that’s what you’re looking for.”

“We’re not--”

Are you fucking kidding me?”

“--gay. And if I were, it would not be with him,” Harvey points a finger at Black Star.

He hates that he’s vaguely insulted. “Really? You would choose Ox over me? I’m kind of hurt. Like, no shit.”

“Shut up,” Harvey growls.

“Coming out just in time for the end of the world,” Sighing, the woman leans on the cane. “It’s romantic.”

Shut up!”

“Harvey, you rotten bastard.” Black Star shakes his head and turns his attention back to the woman. “What’s your name, lady?”

“Blair,” she flips her hair over her shoulder, blinking at him. “You idiots have food wherever you’re staying?”

Black Star is a bit reluctant to tell her, because she’d killed all those people out there and still seems pretty sane, so there has got to be some mental issues there, but she’s also hot as fuck and Tsubaki picked that Clay loser, so he gets to pick someone now. He turns to look at Harvey, just to make sure the guy doesn’t mind.

Harvey shrugs, Black Star nods. “Yeah, enough.”

“Good,” Blair says, turning her back to them. “I’m sick and tired of peanuts and I’ve been drinking expired fruit juice for months. Let me get my bags, boys.”

While they wait, Harvey corners Black Star once more. “So. You and Tsubaki?”

“So,” Black Star leans against the wall opposite of his friend, crossing his arms over his chest and giving his best look of indifference. “You and Jack?”

Harvey gives him what might be a grimace, but what might also be a smirk. Black Star can never really tell with the guy. Regardless, he knows he’s not getting out of this one unscathed. “You seemed pretty eager to follow her onto the roof last night, and then you came down all pouty and whiny. Something happen? She pop your cherry, finally?”

“‘She pop your cherry finally,’” Black Star mimics the other man, looking away and hoping the dim light doesn’t give away the stupid flush along his cheeks. “No, fuck you very much. Nothing happened. Everything is super fucking duper.”

“She doesn’t like you back? Or... or she doesn’t want to start anything?”

He stews on that for a few seconds, fingers tightening around his bicep. It’s fucking annoying, all of it. How this stupid fucking guy can read what’s going on between him and Tsubaki so easily, when he’s only known them for a handful of weeks, or how he actually seems like he gives a shit, or how Black Star gives a shit, because he shouldn’t. She was right, and he’s fucking butt hurt over it.

“It’s not beneficial to the group,” Black Star mutters, staring down at his prosthesis. It’s a new model he’d fixed up with his broken laptop (he’d carried the thing around after the battery had finally depleted, but he couldn’t stand looking at his baby all dead and lonely, so he’s smashed her to shit, cried a bit, and savoured the pieces not completely broken). Not only is it a hella cool taser, but it holds M&Ms.

“Girls suck,” Harvey nods sagely, like he’s going through the same thing. Jack seems pretty uptight though, so he might be. Black Star is appalled to think that Ox might actually be getting more action than either of them.

“That they do, my man,” Black Star agrees, just in time for the stripper to re-enter the hallway, bags in hand. She tosses each of them one, keeping her purse to herself.

“Let’s skedaddle, boys.”


 

“So she killed everyone in that club,” Jack deadpans, looking altogether unimpressed with the two of them, “and you decided to keep her.”

“Have you seen the tits on her?”

“She’s a very skilled killer. Could be useful.”

Tsubaki, Kim and Jack look at both Harvey and Black Star like they’ve gone nuts, which one: is rude, and two: Blair knows how to heat up the fucking Spaghetti-o's that Tsubaki likes so much with only a lighter and a bowl, so Tsubaki has no room to complain at all.

They’re all huddled in the bathroom which, in hindsight, might not have been the best idea. It’s small enough when one of them goes in it, and two is pushing it. Currently there are six of them and Black Star is standing on top of Tsubaki pretty much, and Harvey is kind of touching his butt. “Why the bathroom? Why not the roof or the office-thing where we found that dead chick? This is a bad idea. Whose stupid idea was this?”

There are five replies of “yours,” and Black Star snaps, “Well my ideas are bad, remember? Murdering stripper!”

Tsubaki stiffens behind him when he stumbles back as Kim shifts to get more comfortable. Her hands come up to grab his arms, but she quickly releases him. Black Star holds back the urge to yell.

The rest of the impromptu meeting goes by much quicker, and they come to the decision that Blair may stay unless she proves herself dangerous to the others. Kim and Ox have first watch, so they head to the front desk, while Jack and Harvey argue over who gets the bean bag chair from the kid’s section. Clay and his dad are sleeping, and his mom is reading some smutty novel over in the corner, and Blair is curled up beneath a window. Black Star is waiting for Tsubaki to leave so he can take a piss and brush his teeth, but she’s definitely not moving fast enough for him.

Eventually, Black Star just reaches around her, pulling the door shut and says, “Turn around,” and takes a piss. She does as he asks, the tips of her ears pink, though in hindsight that might be sunburn.

He’s brushing his teeth when she finally asks, “Why did you bring her here? She’s dangerous.”

“Didn’t we just talk about this?” He says with a mouth full of foam. He quirks a brow at her through the mirror and her expression darkens a bit.

“Yes. Your reasoning was because she had nice breasts.”

“Are you jealous?” He asks before he can stop himself. She looks outraged.

Hardly.”

“Then don’t worry about it.”

“I’m just--” Tsubaki pushes a hand through her hair, grimacing as she pulls on the knots. She lets out a sigh of frustration. “I’m just worried about everyone. And while you were gone today, Clay asked to be included on the next raid.”

He’s still staring at her through the mirror, even though his mouth is dripping toothpaste foam all over the sink. She blinks back unerringly, seemingly unworried about what happened the night before, but hadn’t that started this same way yesterday? Them in a confined space, talking about other people but only focusing on each other?

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” Black Star says a bit reluctantly. “And don’t worry, Tsubaki. We’ve got Ox to worry for us. Ox is the best worrier.”

“Right.”

The silence afterward is awkward and strained, so Black Star finished up as quickly as he can, before sliding past her, “‘Night, Tsubaki.”

“Good night.”


 

It seems like once they found Clay and his parents, more and more survivors start coming out of the woodworks. They’re hiding in fucking dumpsters, in stores, in apartment complexes, in strip clubs.

It is a week and three days since adding Clay and his family to their fold and there are two more than before, not to mention the three that they’d found that were in various states of changing. Black Star had put each one out of their misery, though the kid...he doesn’t like killing kids, is all. And he figures now that there are plenty more survivors (after all, the best way to fight the dead is the living), maybe Mifune will be more open to coming along, too.

But the apartment is nothing like he remembers. It is in shambles, tables and chairs flipped, the couch shredded. A crayon mural on the wall stares him in the face like a message.

no good, no good, no good, no good, I’m sorry, so sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry

Black Star almost wishes he hadn’t come alone. He makes his way through the shattered window carefully, not waiting for Tsubaki like she’d asked. If Mifune isn’t here...well Black Star doesn’t know what he’ll find, but if it’s what he thinks, he doesn’t want Tsubaki to see this. She’s strong; stronger than anyone he knows, but...

Swallowing, Black Star retrieves his knife from its sheath at his hip, eyes checking every shadow, every corner of the room. He doesn’t risk calling out for Mifune or Angela, in case there is something in here lying in wait. He also doesn’t want to hear the echoing silence, either, but he ignores the part of his mind that thinks that. He’s a god, and if Mifune and Angela are gone then that’s no skin off his back. Gods don’t cry for anyone.

It takes him five minutes to check the kitchen, bathroom, and Mifune’s room. It’s all the same it usually is, and he’s about to check Angela’s room when the barrel of a gun presses into the side of his head.

“Why did you come back?”

He doesn’t raise his hands, just keeps his arms at his sides, knife held loosely. His gun is easy access here, too. Black Star turns, feels the cool metal slide against his forehead as he faces Mifune. The man looks ragged, hair cropped short, eyes dark, almost red. There are scratches along his neck, long and infected and--

And he’s turning.

Black Star has his gun out in seconds, lifting it under his friend’s chin, gritting his teeth. How could this have happened? They were completely safe up here, the front door still looked secure, and unless it happened on a run...or Angela... “What happened, man?”

Mifune’s arm drops to his side, but Black Star’s doesn’t. He isn’t taking the chance, and Mifune looks pretty rough. Maybe a few more hours, another day at most before he turns. “Where is Angela?” Black Star asks. He sounds desperate, but he doubts the dying man will mock him for it. If that little girl is turned or dead or--she’d better be safe, she’d better be safe.

“She was drinking the water,” Mifune sounds crazed, “I didn’t--I had no idea, and then one day she was coughing up blood but...but it was black and thick, and then she scratched me.” He turns his head to the left, where her room is. His teeth are serrated when he smiles. “She's sleeping now, though. Don’t wake her, please. Please don’t--”

Black Star squeezes his eyes, “I’m sorry, Mifune,” he says before he shoots the man. Blood and brain matter hit the side of his face, and he rubs a shaking hand across it, turning to Angela’s door. He needs to know if Mifune could do it-- if he put her down. The silencer on his gun had muffled the sound, but they were talking loud enough that anything in the apartment should have come calling, so to speak.

Taking a deep breath, he opens the door into Angela’s room, nearly vomiting at the smell of decay and rot that wafts up. He only takes a moment, sees her tucked into her bed, bullet between her eyes before he shuts the door again, losing his lunch all over the floor, onto his shoes. Now that he’s breathing in, the smell of death is all over the apartment. Stale, awful. He gags again, but there is nothing left for him to vomit up.

He’s up and pointing his gun in seconds when he hears glass cracking underfoot in the next room. For a brief, mad second he wonders how walkers got in, how they heard his gun, but then he realizes that Tsubaki was only a few minutes behind him, and then he is darting into the next room.

He doesn’t catch her before she sees the mess in the hallway. She appears at the end of the hallway, eyebrows drawn together, and then she sees Mifune, and Black Star barrels into her, knocking them both to the ground, right beside stinking black vomit. How did he miss this when he came in? It’s on the walls and the carpet and the place reeks like death.

Tsubaki breathes raggedly beneath him, heels of her palms pressed tightly against her eyes. “Oh no,” she murmurs, nails digging into her hairline. Black Star sits up, still straddling her because he doesn’t want her to go over there, not yet, and reaches up to pull her hands from her eyes. “Oh god, Black Star. Did you kill him? Where--where is she?”

“She...she’s in her room.”

The twenty minutes pass achingly slow. None of the residual awkwardness from the past few days is left, it’s just Black Star and Tsubaki, and he’s thankful for that but he hates the circumstances.

He knows that the others are expecting them back, that it will be dark soon, that there are more and more walkers every day, but he also knows that he can’t rush Tsubaki, and he also can’t keep her from checking out the mess that has become their friends.

He sits on her for a few minutes, rubbing his thumbs almost absently over her knuckles, trying to calm her down. Black Star has had his fair share of panic attacks in his life, most of which had been after he’d lost his foot, so he’s relatively good at helping with them. After she’s calmed down, he sits against the wall for fifteen minutes while she checks out Mifune in the hall and Angela in the bedroom.

She comes out looking how he feels and it fucking sucks.


 

Black Star doesn’t sleep much that night, but he must doze off a bit, because one second he is curled up on his side staring at the back of Tsubaki, and the next his eyes are snapping open and she isn’t there.

He reaches out across the sleeping bags, but her spot is cold. Black Star is pretty sure she wouldn’t have gone to sleep somewhere else, and if she were using the washroom her place would still be warm. There are only two other places he can imagine her being.

Getting to his feet with a wince--his prosthesis is starting to hurt like it usually does when he wears it excessively--he walks into the main part of the Library, noting that she is not, in fact, at the desk, so she must be on the roof. He snags a walkie-talkie on the way there, making sure its screen still lights up, and makes his way up onto the roof.

When he gets up there, he spots her in the same position she’d been in the other day. It sends something sharp down, coiling in his stomach, and it leaves a bad taste in his mouth. She must not hear him as he makes his way closer, because he doesn’t think she would be crying if she had.

Her sobs are muffled against her arm, but the moonlight reflects the tear tracks on her face perfectly. She looks like a goddess, lying there.

Black Star sits down slowly, and she startles, making a choking noise. “Oh! I--I’m sorry.”

Tsubaki sits up, shoulder brushing against his as she moves. Her chest still heaves with uneven breaths, and her eyes haven’t stopped leaking. Black Star’s own eyes burn with heat and his throat is clogged with emotions he hasn’t felt in a really long time. He killed his friend today. He killed a man he admired, a man he trusted. If he and Tsubaki had insisted that they come with them, then this never would have happened.

“I’m sorry,” Tsubaki says again. Black Star glances at her, frown tugging at his mouth. What does she have to be sorry for? Crying...it’s not a big deal. Black Star will be the big man here and comfort his friend, and it’s not like Tsubaki is like this all the time. He rarely sees her crying, and never over something unimportant. “I’m so sorry.”

“Stop, okay?” He says, slinging an arm around her shoulders. She leans over and presses her face to his armpit, tears soaking the skin there. He feels bad, because it probably smells. “What are you sorry for, Tsu? There’s nothing to be sorry about.”

The noises coming from her make his skin crawl, and he hopes nothing below them can hear her, too. His fingers draw up and down her arm absently, and one of her hands clenches around his knee. He has a feeling she’s gonna start spouting out some bullshit, so he stops it before it starts. “Whatever you’re sorry for, stop it. You have literally nothing at all to be sorry for so shut the fuck up, alright? Mifune and Angela--what happened there is not your damn fault.”

“I--I know,” she mutters, scrubbing at her eyes. She takes in a shaky breath and moves so her chin is propped up on his shoulder. “I’m talking about you and me. I’m sorry about that.”

Black Star knows his mouth is hanging open stupidly, but he can’t help himself. That’s why she’s crying?

“That’s why you’re crying? Because of me?”

“And the others, too. Mostly because everything sucks, though.”

He swallows thickly, looking away from her. “You especially should not be sorry about that shit, Tsubaki.”

Her fingers have started tracing patterns on his knee, nail digging in every so often. He doesn’t get chicks, not at all. How in the world could she ever think that he would blame her for something like this? It’s not her fault that the world is shit and it’s not her fault that she doesn’t want to...do whatever with him. He can wait, and she’s an idiot for thinking that he can’t.

He’s an idiot for acting like a sixteen year old girl when she told that, but whatever.

“You’re so stupid.” She blinks up at him at through heavy lashes, nose red from sniffling. “So am I for making you think you had to be sorry. I uh, I get what you’re saying. Now isn't the time, but there’s always...after?”

“After?”

He blushes, annoyed that she needs clarification, “Yeah, like, after the apocalypse. When the world isn’t so wrong and we’ve got things figured out. When we’re safe enough that we don’t have to be scared of losing each other on raids, or by even going outside. Because I get what you mean now. I’d never imagined losing Angela and Mifune, and now...” he shakes his head and tightens his arm around Tsubaki. “Things might change in the next month, or five, or year, but. Fuck, what I’m trying to say is if you’re down for a post-post-apocalyptic date, so am I?”

He pointedly doesn’t look at her, instead staring out across the roof, and onto the highway, imagining racing cars and horns honking and music and laughter and the lights of Vegas lighting up the sky. It seems like a million years ago.

“We don’t even really know much about each other,” Tsubaki says quietly, voice still thick, but she’s not tense anymore and her head is rested comfortably against his shoulder. “I mean we’ve been talking online for such a long time but there are things I still don’t know.”

“I know plenty,” Black Star argues smugly, counting on his fingers, “You’re name is Tsubaki Naka...something Japanese, you’re the only person who has ever stayed up for thirty-six hours to play a video game with me, you’re a huge pervert and chronic masturbator--or you were, in which case, don’t let my presence stop you--, you like eating just plain sugar cubes and you've got a permanent retainer and you failed Calculus, which is your biggest failure to date.”

“Okay,” she says softly, wiping her nose on the edge of his shirt. “But I still hardly know anything about you. Personal stuff, I mean.”

“What is there to know?” He shrugs, easing them onto their backs. He’s exhausted now, which is what usually happens when talking about his feelings. Goddamn Tsubaki and her goddamn tears.

“Your name,” Tsubaki teases, poking him in the side. “That’s a good place to start.”

Black Star is quiet for a long time. He’s never told anyone online his name before. Hell, probably nobody alive knows his name. Blake is...Blake was the kid that thought hanging out with those dicks in high school was a good idea, and Blake was lost in the mess that came from that. Black Star was a nickname he’d given himself when his friends had started calling him BS, Black Star was the name he’d used on every email, every username. Blake was a stupid kid who didn’t know anything; he was a mistake, a failure. It’s probably better that Tsubaki doesn’t know about him, that she doesn’t know anything about his old life. He doesn’t like living in the past, because it eats away at him. All the things he could have, all the things that have stopped him, all the people who left and never came back.

He swallows thickly, says, “Blake Strickland.”

Tsubaki says, “That’s a nice name,” fingers curling into his shirt, “But I like Black Star, better. The name of a leader.”

He snorts, blinks away the wetness in his eyes. “Yeah,” he nods. “Thanks.”

They’re both nearly asleep when he thinks of going back inside, and he’s about to suggest it when the walkie-talkie beside him crackles to life, a low gravelly voice asking, “Anyone there?”

The two of them snap into action, both twisting to grab the walkie-talkie. Their hands fumble, and he smacks hers away, shooting her a dirty look, then bringing the device to his mouth. “Who is this?”

“Your saving grace,” the voice on the other end laughs.

Chapter Text

July

vi. fall apart


 

“How many meetings will this guy set up with us before he decides whether or not he wants to let us in? We don’t exactly have a whole lotta time here.”

Tsubaki pushes her damp hair away from her face, turning to look at Kim. She understands the girl’s frustration; they’ve been waiting around for a week, negotiating with a man named Sid who was currently holed up in Hoover Dam, trying to convince him that letting them come there would be a good idea. Tsubaki could see the wariness that clouded the man’s mind; most people who were still alive after so long had more than a little blood on their hands, and he didn’t seem to like Black Star’s… bossy attitude.

But there were more and more civs every day, and Hoover Dam would be the safest place to go. If they didn’t get there soon, they would have to move locations.

Tsubaki squints as she looks out across the parking lot, staring at the storefront of a Wal-Mart. It looks empty, but most things do these days. “I think I have a plan, Kim.”

“For what?” The pink-haired girl asks, sounding sceptical. It’s not often that only the two of them are sent on a run, but Black Star is currently helping a group of civs they’d found on the way back to the Library with Ox, while Harvey and Jack are back at the Library. “This or the Dam situation?”

“Both,” Tsubaki nods, grabbing the brick beside her and throwing it as hard and as far as she can toward the windows. Kim gives her an incredulous look, slowly turning in place to see if the noise drew any walkers toward them. Tsubaki muffles her laughter, knowing that doing so out loud would only stress the girl out more. “I can’t believe you did that!” She hisses, but only a few walkers have surfaced from inside the building, and if they can take care of those ones quickly and slip inside the store, then anything that comes this way won’t find anything. Probably. Tsubaki needs to stop using Black Star’s ideas.

Kim sighs when Tsubaki stands and darts toward the closest walker, shoving her knife deep into its skull. She struggles to pull the knife out, but Kim is already in front of her, smashing a baseball bat into the side of its head until the man stops moving.

“My hero,” Tsubaki chirps, finally pulling her knife loose. She finds it funny that Kim uses a bat, mostly because they’ve got a pretty good arsenal back at the Library and a pretty array of knives that Tsubaki gets a little too excited over.

Kim smirks, tossing her hair back, “I know. Let’s get moving, Mulan.”

“That’s kind of racist, y’know,” Tsubaki calls after her, slipping through the open doors. Kim has her bat ready in case anything decides to come strolling by.

“Hey, your man says some pretty questionable things all the time. I figured you were used to it.”

Scoffing, Tsubaki hisses back, “He’s not my man, and yeah, I guess it doesn’t really faze me anymore.”

The look Kim sends her tells Tsubaki everything she needs to know about Kim’s opinion on the relationship between her and Black Star. Tsubaki sighs.

They don’t split up since it’s just the two of them, and it seems like the place is mostly raided and barren. Tsubaki can hear a low scrape coming from the McDonald’s that’s attached to the Wal-Mart and decides to go the other way.

Kim is a surprisingly good partner. She’s funny and witty and damn good with a bat (and everything else, really, but the bat is what makes Kim shine) and she’s always up on the gossip of the Library, not that there is much, or that Tsubaki cares really. Jack is nice to go along with too of course, but with her it’s all silent glances and hand signs, so after a while it gets boring. With Kim, none of it is boring.

“Batter up,” Kim trills a few feet in front of Tsubaki, swinging her bat around the corner and smashing the head of a child. Her eyes close for a second, and if Tsubaki hadn’t been paying attention, she wouldn’t have noticed the look that crossed her friend’s face.

“So,” she starts down the canned food aisle, clearing her throat. “Tell me about the other plan?”

Tsubaki does so while she scans the shelf, grimacing at the crappy selection. Canned corn and tomato sauce, really? They should check out some of the jarred food too. Blair had mentioned something about olives. She grabs as many cans as she can fit and shoves them in her pack, swinging it onto her shoulder.

Kim looks slightly impressed, nodding her head slowly. “You sneaky, clever bitch.”

Tsubaki flushes.


 

The plan is pretty simple, really.

The last time she and Black Star had gone to meet Sid, the man had “tripped” while walking back to his van, and Tsubaki had run over to help him, only to have a piece of paper shoved into her shirt before Black Star had gotten there. She’d been outraged at first, but the look on his face gave her the feeling that it hadn’t been sexual. When she’d gotten back, she’d immediately gone to the bathroom and fished it out of her bra, reading the little note he’d sent her.

meet back here at 8 tomorrow. don’t bring the idiot. we’ll talk --Sid

It could be a huge set-up, it could be him feeding her to the sharks (well, the dead), or it could be him wanting to talk without Black Star’s asinine, better-than-you speeches. She understands how frustrating it can be trying to get a point across to Black Star, and even more so when he doesn’t know or trust you. She thinks maybe Sid would have liked Black Star if the circumstances were different, and hell, if all works out well and dandy like Tsubaki hopes, maybe they can become friends, or something of that sort. But Tsubaki knows what will happen if they have to find another place to stay, and she knows that Black Star is as stubborn as they come, so if she has to do this then...

Well, it’s a good thing she snagged some handcuffs from that sex store.

“Black Star?” Tsubaki murmurs to him, drawing his attention from the piece of solar panel he’s fiddling with. He blinks up at her, rubbing at his sunburnt nose and holding back a yawn.

“Yeeeesss?”

She gives him the sweetest smile she can manage, wringing her hands in front of her. All around her the rest of their makeshift community is making dinner, telling stories, or sleeping, but she can feel Kim’s eyes on her and can almost see the lecherous grin on her friend’s face. “Would you come downstairs with me? I have to show you something.”

He blinks at her slowly, checks her out, blinks some more, and then, “Uh. Downstairs. We have a downstairs?”

Tsubaki was pretty surprised too, but yeah, Clay had found it. She tells him this, and Black Star nods, pursing his lips. “Okay. Downstairs.”

He follows her down there, and tells him not to turn on his flashlight. She feels a pang of guilt when his voice cracks when he answers, but she squashes the feeling down.

She can see the dull glint of the piping by the wall and she makes her way over there slowly, leaning against it, hoping he does what she needs him to do, because if not it’ll be pretty difficult to go through with her plan.

He stays a few feet away, rubbing a hand over his knuckles. He looks nervous, and she ignores her own pounding heart, murmuring, “Come here, Black Star.”

Black Star, self-proclaimed god, master of World of Warcraft, zombie-apocalypse survivor and Tsubaki’s third ever crush, stumbles as he makes his way to her, hands coming to rest on the pipe on either side of her. His face is close, craned up a bit because she’s taller, and Tsubaki doesn’t think, just leans forward, lips ghosting over his and--

He jerks when the click of the handcuffs echoes through the empty basement, confusion clouding what little she can see of his face, but she’s already slipping out from around him, fingers digging into the pressure point on his wrist when he grabs her.

“What the fuck--Tsubaki--” He looks betrayed and worried and furious.

“Sid isn’t going to listen to you,” she tells him quietly, just out of reach. He tugs and tugs against the pipe and the handcuffs, but neither gives. She’d tried them earlier with Kim. “But he might listen to me. I’ll be back soon, I promise.”

“Don’t you dare,” Black Star seethes, kicking at the pipe. But it must be new and pretty strong, because all it does is hurt him. “Don’t you dare go see him!” He howls, but she can sense the urgency, the fear under his angry words. “Tsubaki!

She turns and heads back up the stairs, quietly shutting the door behind her. A knot settles in her chest and her throat feels thick each time she swallows. Kim and Jack are standing there when she comes up, though, and Kim says, “I’ve already briefed the big babies, and they’re totally mad you’re locking up their boyfriend.”

“I--” Tsubaki falters, “I did it for us.”

“We know,” Jack says, grabbing Tsubaki’s shoulder tightly. The three girls stay like that for a few minutes, ignoring Black Star’s outraged yells from the basement.

“Okay are we done being touchy-feely?” Jack asks, pulling her hand away and turning. “I think we are. Good team work right here.”

Kim lets out a loud laugh, and the three girls make their way around the book shelves and to the front desk, where most of the small little resistance is gathered. Harvey and Ox both look put out, while the others look nervous. Except Blair, who looks far too smug. Tsubaki hates her just a little bit.

“Kim told us your crazy plan,” Harvey drawls, arms crossed over his chest. “You’re not going alone,” Ox adds.

“That’s right,” Kim says, slinging an arm over Tsubaki’s shoulders. Kim hadn’t really been her first choice, but she is better than nobody. “I’m going.”

“Me too,” Jack adds quietly, glaring at the boys.

They both look stunned for a minute. Tsubaki counts to three until each of them both bark out, “Ohhhhh no.” Harvey is even smiling, shaking his head. “Nope.”

The glare Jack gives the two of them has even Tsubaki cringing away. “Is it because we’re all girls?”

Clay’s mother and Blair both shoot the boys dirty looks as well. Tsubaki smirks a bit, but it falls off her face when she hears Black Star again. She really needs to get out of here, if only to have this weight lifted off her chest a bit. She reaches into her pocket for the key, tossing it to Harvey. “Here’s the key if we don’t come back. If he gets out before then, keep him from coming after us.”

“How,” Clay asks in the silence that follows, “the fuck do you think we could hold Black Star back?”

“Be creative,” Tsubaki says.


 

Tsubaki is speeding down an empty stretch of road, palms sweaty when Jack says calmly, “Please slow the hell down.”

“Why? There isn't anyone for her to hit.”

“Except the dead?”

“Do you see any, Jacqueline? No. Stop worrying.”

“Stop being a backseat driver. Put your seatbelt on.”

“You’re such a hypocrite; you’re being a passenger seat driver. Also your seatbelt. Just an FYI, you’re not a cop anymore.”

“Kimberly, shut up.”

“No, you shut up.”

Both of you shut the fuck up,” Tsubaki says as calmly as she can, shooting both of them the dirtiest looks she can. She feels bad about it, though, so she says, “That was rude. Sorry.”

“Is it fucked that I’m turned on?”

“Kim shut up.”

Tsubaki doubts that they were trying to cheer her up, but their bickering does help settle her nerves, and she lets up on the gas pedal. They’re almost there, and it’s going on seven forty-five. This is probably their last chance to convince Sid to let them come and stay there and they need to make it count. She can’t be a sweaty, nervous spazz, or some incompetent idiot. She needs to be ShadowStag, raider of dungeons, zombie killing pro, and the right hand woman of the leader of their small resistance. Tsubaki will not blow this, and when she gets back to the Library, Black Star will be giving her all his energy drinks for the rest of his life.

They arrive ten minutes later. He’s asked them to meet at a gas station a while out of Vegas and closer to the Dam. It’s run down and empty, almost completely, and you can see anything coming from miles away. Sid is already there when they show up, leaning against the side of his armoured van.

“Stay here,” Tsubaki turns to her friends, giving each of them a hard look. When they look ready to protest, Tsubaki says, “I can handle myself, and I… I think he’s safe.”

“Be safe, girl,” Kim grabs her hand tightly, and Jack gives her a sharp nod, gun in hand.

“I’ll be watching from in here. Any false moves and I’ll shoot his knee out.”

“Thanks.”

Gathering up all her courage, Tsubaki gets out of the van.

The night air is thick and sticky, and sweat drips between her shoulder blades. Sid straightens when she makes her way toward him.

“You packing?” He calls to her, and Tsubaki raises her hands, showing that she currently has no weapons on hand.

She does, however, have a gun in the back waistband of her pants and knives tucked into her boots. Tsubaki really has a thing for knives.

“Alright, girl,” Sid says when Tsubaki is standing in front of him. “You can put your hands down; I don’t think you’re the type of girl to shoot a man without reason.” He offers her a small smile, arms loose at his side. Tsubaki finds Sid very handsome and very easy-going for someone who works in the military. Her own brother had been a police officer and he’d been cold toward her most days. She thinks she’ll be able to convince Sid that he should take them in, she really does.

“First I’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk to me,” Tsubaki begins, keeping her own arms loose. Her back is straight and her eyes are hard, and she needs him to understand that she’s not playing games, and she’s not here because of Black Star, but rather for him. For him and the other civilians. “I know what it’s like to have a good safe house and to have it taken from you, and I want you to know that that isn’t what we plan to do with the Dam. We’d like to share it, really. We want to find civilians and save them and we can’t do that without a base of operations, and to be frank, sir, the place we’re staying right now is not big enough.”

“You’re planning on rescuing civs, but what if you save too many for the Dam? Our food supplies aren’t what they were at the beginning, and there aren’t many more places in Vegas that can be raided. There might not be enough room for your civs.”

Tsubaki meets his gaze evenly, smiling slightly. “Hoover Dam is better than any alternative. We might lose civilians, but the casualty will be much higher if we’re forced to move from safe house to safe house in Vegas.”

“You kids think you’re smart, don’t you?”

“I beg your pardon?” Tsubaki raises an eyebrow, hoping he doesn't notice the way her fingers twitch toward her gun at her back. Stones settle in the bottom of her gut.

“You humanitarians,” he sneers, crossing her arms over his chest. He’s got thick arms, veiny and strong-looking. “You’re looking to save your own asses, and you think by tossing in the fact that you’re saving civs too that maybe I’ll let you all in. I wasn’t born yesterday, and I’m not the type of man who let’s punks like you trick me.”

Tsubaki feels her face heat and outrage burn in her throat. He thinks they’re lying? This is a kill or be killed world, so she understands where he’s coming from, but she’s risking a lot being out here alone with him, trying to convince him and--and--

“Your boyfriend let you come by yourself?”

She doesn’t bother correcting him, for once, “He trusts me. He knows what needs to be done. And I’m not doing all of this to save my own ass. If I wanted to, I could have let several civilians die so I didn’t have to move from my own safe house, but instead we took them in and gave them food and a place to stay. We saved them, and we’re not asking for gratitude, we’re asking you to take a chance, to have a heart and let us come with you.”

Sid stares at her for a very long time. Tsubaki doesn’t cower under his intense gaze, just raises her chin and straightens her back, fingers curling into fists at her side.

Finally, Sid says, “We’ll have to lay down some rules, but I don’t see why not.”

The relief Tsubaki feels brings tears to her eyes, but she blinks them back. “Of course. Anything.”

Sid smiles, sharp and curling. “I want in on all of your boyfriend’s plans. All your raids, all your ideas. He might be the leader of your little Resistance, but I’m the one who will be in charge. I’m not the type of man who is easily pushed over.”

Tsubaki doesn’t hesitate. She thrusts her hand out, smiling, “You’ve got a deal, sir.”

“It’s “major”,” Sid corrects with a grin, taking her hand in his and shaking it.


 

Tsubaki prepares herself for a storm when she returns to the Library. She doesn’t get what she expects, and she’s not sure if that’s worse.

Harvey tells her that Black Star is an idiot. A stubborn idiot who got the punch in the face he rightfully deserved, and he doesn’t tell Tsubaki why Black Star got punched in the face, and she doesn’t really want to know why. She has a few guesses that mostly end with him either being incredibly misogynistic or really rude about her in general. He tells her that Black Star, after receiving the punch in the face, retreated back to the basement.

That’s where Tsubaki heads, leaving Kim and Jack to give the message of their upcoming move to the others. She’d filled them in on the way back, so she has it in good faith that they can fill the others in. Besides, she has an angry god to apologize to.

The steps creak as she makes her way down, and for a brief moment she curses herself for not bringing a light with her, because he could be literally anywhere and he could also think she was Harvey or Ox, and just be lying in wait to punch her in the face.

With a low sigh, she calls, “Black Star?” Into the darkness. She hears his sneaker shift on the ground, and the plastic of his prosthesis as he lets it drop to the ground. “Where are you?”

“Fuck off,” he calls out, anger painting his voice. There is something else there too, but she’s not stupid enough to think it’s relief. It sounds like pain. She shuffles around more, making her way toward the piping again. She hopes he’s over there, but even if he’s not she still needs to talk to him.

“I’m fucking serious,” he snaps when she kicks his foot accidentally. “I’m not in the mood to fucking see anyone, least of all your traitorous face.”

That stings a lot. She gets that he’s mad, she really does. She’d been preparing for it, she’d known since she first decided to go through with her plan that he would not be a happy camper, but Tsubaki is not a traitor, and for him to even say that has her gritting her teeth.

“Fuck you,” Tsubaki snaps, hoping he hears the anger and hurt in her voice. She almost feels bad for swearing, but figures this situation calls for it. “I did what I had to, Black Star. And for your information, I got us into the Dam.”

“Yeah, and risked your goddamn life to do so! How could you know if that Sid guy was a freak like the one that took the hotel from us? Or what if he’d killed the three of you? It was reckless and stupid and--”

“Something you would do,” Tsubaki snaps back, frustrated with him. “You would do the exact damn thing so don’t you dare give me grief over it. Actually, get over yourself. You’re just upset that I didn’t take you with me, that for once someone didn’t want your loud and unnecessary opinions!”

“No,” Black Star shouts back, crawling to his feet, fisting his hands in her shirt and pulling her close. She can see the brightness of his eyes in the darkness, and something shiny on his face. She’s not stupid enough to believe they’re tears. Is it blood? Oh, the punch in the face. “I’m mad because you put yourself in fucking danger! We’re supposed to be partners, and if you had gone and gotten yourself killed, I--” he breaks off, and it’s then that Tsubaki feels the tremors ripping through him. He was scared for her. Really, truly scared. “If you die on me Tsubaki, I’ll lose it,” he says quieter, grip going slack. He backs away from her and runs a hand through his hair, making it stick up. “I really fuckin’ will.”

“Stop cursing,” she says almost absently. Then, “I won’t die.”

“You don’t know that. You could every second of every day, but today it was magnified, okay? That guy could have killed you and let you come back as one of them.”

“I trust him.”

“You barely know him,” Black Star stresses, hands gripping his hair. She reaches out to stop him, but he backs away. “No, okay? Just...stay there.”

“I barely knew you,” she says after a second, wringing her hands, tugging on her fingers and making her knuckles crack. “But...but I still let you in.”

“You showed me your bra on webcam,” he adds reluctantly, and she flushes at the memory.

“I was kind of drunk.”

“Yeah,” he snorts, “kind of.”

“What I’m getting at,” she looks at him, waits until he’s looking at her again. “I’m saying that I let you in and you could have been a serial killer, or a rapist or a stalker. But you turned out to be this awesome guy and... And I took that chance with Sid because he kind of reminds me of you. And it turned out okay.”

“I know what you’re trying to say. It just. It fucking sucked, sitting here and wondering if you were coming back, wondering if the last thing I would get to say to you would be fuck off--

“You should stop swearing at me,” Tsubaki mutters, scuffing her shoe against the ground.

“--and it was a really shitty thing, leading me down here and almost kissing me. That was a super bitchy thing.”

“Yeah,” she nods. “I know. I’m sorry.”

“S’okay. I’m uh. Sorry too.”

Tsubaki swallows past the lump in her throat. “It’s alright. I know where you’re coming from. I really do.”

He’s hugging her then, moving too quickly for her to see, but she sinks into him and squeezes back. His hand is fisted in her hair and the other is pressed against the base of her spine, keeping her pressed tight against him. “No more of this lone ranger shit, okay?”

Tsubaki inhales slowly, reveling in the smell of him and presses her lips to the skin of his neck, not kissing, just resting there. She nods and draws her finger up and down his back, tracing the same set of words over and over again, though she doubts he knows what she’s saying.

If he squeezes her a little bit tighter, neither of them mentions it later.


 

The three trips to Hoover Dam had been altogether uneventful, which is probably the reason luck turns on them and they get ambushed the last run.

Tsubaki glares out the window of the van as walkers surround it, nails scraping along them, the glass shaking as it’s pounded on relentlessly. She knew Black Star didn’t need the stash of energy drinks he’d been keeping, but he’d insisted that he wouldn’t find a stash quite like his ever again, so.

In the backseat, Harvey is cursing both their names, Tsubaki’s because she’s an ‘enabler’ and Black Star because he’s a ‘mother fucker’. He’s got his gun in hand, but she knows that he won’t shoot until it’s absolutely necessary. “Aren’t you glad you came for the ride?” Black Star snarks from the driver’s seat, looking all too relaxed for the situation they’re in. A particularly nasty walker drags his claws down his window.

“You’ll be glad when I shoot these freaks.”

“Don’t be so hasty,” Black Star says calmly from the front seat. He even looks calm, which gives Tsubaki a bad feeling. He’s always thinking his craziest ideas up when he looks like that. Her immediate thought it that he’ll make her do something crazy, like stand up through the sunroof and shoot at the walkers surrounding them. But then he shoots her a glance, looking a mix between crazed and worried. “Man the wheel.”

“Man the--what?” Harvey snaps from the back, leaning forward, but Tsubaki is already grabbing the wheel, trying to keep it steady while Black Star maneuvers around her, grabbing his own gun and hers from her waist, pressing the button to the sunroof. Ah, she thinks, we had the same idea. Only, there are too many and not enough bullets.

Harvey seems to think the same thing, “You don’t have enough ammo, idiot!”

“Then get your ass up here and help me, Jasmine. I’ll show you the goddamn world!”

Harvey grumbles in the backseat, but shuffles in beside Black Star, while the two of them take aim at the walkers in front of the van. “Keep your foot on the gas, Tsu!”

She floors it, though the van barely moves an inch. There are so many there in front of them, so many on the sides. The van is rocking with each shove from outside, and she’s feeling vaguely car sick.

“On three, Harv. One...two...three--”

The sound of gunshots it deafening, but Tsubaki keeps her foot down on the gas. The van is inching forward slowly, quicker by the minute. Blood and gore splatter the windshield, and she realizes they’re only shooting the walker’s in front of the hood.

Tsubaki tries not to pay attention to any of it (because if she did, she would see the little girl who is barely as tall as the hood getting shot between the eyes, or the elderly man nearly crawling up the hood, nails dug into the metal and pulling. Tsubaki has gotten very good at not seeing what is actually there.

Above her, Black Star is cackling, and the van inches forward more, but there are bodies beneath it and--

“Goddammit,” Harvey mutters from above them, and she’s surprised she can hear him over the roar of gunfire. “The van can’t get over the bodies. Why did we take the van?”

Tsubaki glances up at him, but now she’s wondering the same thing. They could have taken the armoured truck or van they’d had at the Dam, but since most of the other runs had gone by without incident, they had all assumed this one would too. Now, Tsubaki glances back at the red and white cooler they’d thrown all Black Star’s energy drinks into, and curses its very existence. Dammit, she thinks, because she doesn’t know what else to do. “Are there any other vehicles around us?”

“Yeah, you’re not blind, right?” Harvey snaps, now back in the van and shuffling around for more ammo, only they hadn’t brought any. He curses loudly and brightly, while Black Star yells insults at the walkers. Outside, she hears names and moans and half-words, and she feels sick. “But the question is how the fuck do we get over there without getting our asses bitten in the process?”

Tsubaki scrubs a hand across her face, pressing her fingernails into her hairline. We’re going to die, she thinks. All for a few expired energy drinks. And then she tries not to think about Black Star and how this is his fault, or how it’s her fault for letting him, or how Harvey must hate them. And he must, because he hadn’t wanted to come, but Jack had asked him to, even though everyone knows Black Star and Tsubaki could handle it. She must be so worried since they’re not back yet--so scared for him and--

The window cracks. Nothing big, just spider web fissures crawling up the glass, but Tsubaki’s heart drops in the vicinity of her stomach regardless. We’re all going to--”Hey,” Harvey’s voice is calm, his hand an anchor. He says, “Take a breath for me,” and Black Star stares down at the two of them from the sunroof, looking concerned, but Tsubaki focuses on her breathing, trying to remember the breathing techniques from the classes she and Masamune used to take.

After a few moments--though it feels like ages--Tsubaki is relaxed enough to turn back around and rest her hands on the wheel. “Sorry,” she mutters, running a hand across her brow. “It won’t happen again.”

Harvey gives her a small smile, then looks up to Black Star. “Get outta my way and give me the gun, shithead. I wanna try something.”

Black Star is down beside her in seconds. He gives her a firm look and squeezes her shoulders. “How’re you doin’ ShadowStag?”

“Peachy,” she deadpans back, while he pushes some loose hair back behind her ear. It’s not the slickest move ever, but it is reassuring and cute, and if this were any other time, she’d probably grab his hand. But Harvey is telling her to twist the wheel and keep her foot on the pedal, so she can’t.

“We’ll be home soon, y’know.”

“I know. I do.”

“‘Kay.”

Another gunshot rips through the air, smashing the window of the closest car. It takes a second, but then the long, loud sound of the car’s horn breaks through the moans of the dead, and several look toward it, stepping away, and just as the driver’s side window shatters, Tsubaki gets the van free, and they are ripping down the street, nearly hitting several cars on the way.

There is silence for a few very long seconds while Harvey gets back in the van fully, looking more than pleased with himself, reaching into the cooler and grabbing an energy drink.

Black Star is looking at the man like he’s Jesus risen from the dead or something (Tsubaki quickly changes her analogy because what the hell there is enough dead risen, thank you very much) and says, very quietly, “I’m getting the most awkward boner ever right now, Harv,” and Tsubaki shoves him away from her and into the backseat.


 

“How is your leg?” Tsubaki asks later that day, sitting around a huge table in what Black Star has dubbed The Motherbrain. Around them, Kim is hunched over the table, half-asleep while Ox rubs at her shoulders, and Jack and Harvey are cleaning their guns. Sid has yet to grace them with his presence--he’s still with Clay helping everyone get settled in--but he’d told them all to meet here. Or maybe Black Star had. She doesn’t really know for sure, just that they’re waiting for Sid.

Black Star glances up at her tiredly, a smile stretching up on his face. He looks a lot better than he did a few hours ago, or a few days ago. They’ve all been able to shower and change into something that wasn’t crusted and grimy and smelly, and his hair is all mostly grown out now, too. But she saw the way he winced when he stood earlier, and how he keeps rubbing his leg. “It’s fine,” he shrugs, looking away from her, and she knows that he’s lying, that he must be in pain, but he’s too stubborn to admit anything. Tsubaki gives him a dirty look and turns her gaze somewhere else. She hates boys, sometimes.

Sid comes in fifteen minutes later, and she hears Black Star muttering under his breath, “the queen is never late, everyone is simply early,” while Sid tries to justify his lateness, and she snorts.

The first half of the meeting is mostly them setting up schedules for showering and patrols--there are hundreds of cameras all over the Dam, and all the video feeds end up in the Motherbrain. Tomorrow they’ll start putting up barricades and whatnot to keep walkers from getting too close. The Dam has food and supplies that, with the number of people they have right now, should last quite a while, but Sid mentions something about setting up raid schedules too, just in case they get any new survivors.

“Speaking of that,” Black Star interrupts, scratching his head and looking way too bored. She remembers Sid calling him cocky the first time they’d met. “I have a way we can find survivors.”

“You do?” Sid asks sceptically, raising an eyebrow.

Black Star’s smirk is vicious, “Sure do, champ. See, a while back we were on a raid and I saw that huge AT&T building, all locked up and pretty, and I just thought ‘damn, I wish I still had my phone’ because wouldn’t that make things a fuck of a lot easier, and the rest of the day I just kept thinking about it. I still had my phone from months before, but it lost its charge and there wasn’t a way to charge it, and besides, there wasn’t a network or anything to use it. And then I thought, I am a hacking genius, and so I’m going to set up some data plans or free texting plans or something and that’s how we’ll find survivors.”

Tsubaki blinks. The rest of the room is staring at him like he’s slightly crazy, and she wouldn’t be surprised if he is. The first thought in her head is, how will that work? The second, if you don’t have a charge, nobody else will either, and the third, your leg is hurting you, which is actually what she says.

The look he gives her is venomous at best, but nobody really pays attention to what she says, because they’re all focused on the how’s and the whens. Like how will people know about this, and how will people get service, and Black Star says, “Harvey and Jack will jerry-rig some towers.”

“We will?” Jack asks, shooting Harvey a look. “I’ve never done anything like that in my life.”

“I have,” Harvey comments quietly, looking far too interested in what’s under his nails. “And my man asked me to, so I have to.” Tsubaki thinks he might wink at Black Star behind his glasses, but she’s not sure.

“You losers,” Jack sighs, leaning back in her chair. “Okay. So we rig these towers so that people can text us or whatever--how are people going to charge their phones?”

Black Star shrugs, legs shaking like crazy under the table. “We charge a buncha phones here and then leave them in stores and crap. People are gonna be looking for food eventually, so we’ll put them in the dried food areas, leave a note or something. Go back once in a while to see what’s happened or drop more off.”

“It’s so crazy--”

“Dumb,” Kim interjects with a pop of her gum.

“--that it just might work,” Sid finishes, crossing his thick arms over his chest. He’s got his eyes narrowed at Black Star. “So how will things work? You and Tsubaki will go and--”

“Your leg,” Tsubaki mutters, reaching over and digging her nails into his arm. Sid stops, looking between them slowly, and the others watch intently. “You can’t be running around or from zombies with your leg hurting,” she stresses to him, needing him to understand that if he keeps pushing it, he won’t be able to walk on it probably for a few weeks.

Black Star ignores her, arm flexing beneath her grip. “Tsubaki and I will go and set them up tomorrow.”

No,” Tsubaki hisses, turning to the others. “No, we have to wait a week, maybe two--”

“We don’t have time!” Black Star snaps, pulling his arm from her grasp. Her fingernails had left track marks that well up and bleed almost immediately. He grimaces down at the mess of his arm, then back at the others. “Tomorrow. We’re going tomorrow.”

“No,” Sid shakes his head. The man gets to his feet and walks over to the monitors, seemingly surveying them. “You’ll leave in a week. You won’t jeopardize the mission because you think you can do it. You need to be one hundred percent.”

Black Star looks like he might argue, but everyone nods, shooting him sympathetic looks and Tsubaki swallows.

Black Star says nothing.


 

“Listen here, Tsubaki,” Black Star says, startling Tsubaki enough that she drops the bar of soap she’d currently been using. The dirty part of her mind reminds her what dropping the soap in an open shower means, while the rational part of her mind is freaking out because why the hell is he in here?! Or, rather, why isn’t he waiting until she’s dressed to yell at her?

Scowling, Tsubaki squats down to grab the soap, eyeing him warily. He’s on the other side of the stall and she’s pretty sure he can’t see over it from that far away (not that he hasn’t seen her chest before) and he’s--oh, he’s in a chair. “Are you kidding? You couldn’t wait ten more minutes?”

“No,” he snaps, wheeling himself closer. Tsubaki, who is finished with the soap, holds it up threateningly until he stops wheeling himself over toward her. “You’re a nark!”

Face colouring, Tsubaki actually does consider whipping the soap at him. She’s not a--a nark. “Excuse you? I’m trying to be a good friend!”

“I don’t need you to be a good friend right now,” Black Star growls, rubbing his leg, which looks inflamed and vaguely like he’s been itching it. “And yeah, you were being a nark! I could have done the run tomorrow just fine but you had to go and open your big mouth--”

“I didn’t want you to get hurt!”

“I would not have gotten hurt.”

“Yes,” Tsubaki glowers, reaching for the shampoo and squeezing some in her hair. He’s not interrupting her shower time. “You would have. All day you’ve looked like you’re in pain or uncomfortable. Was it so bad that I’m worried about you?”

Don’t worry about me--I can get by on my own, thanks. And I know my limits.”

“Clearly,” Tsubaki snaps back, grimacing as soap dribbles down into her eye. “Nice leg by the way. Looks painful.”

“Fuck you.”

She gets why he’s angry; Black Star is not the type of person who likes being told he can’t do something, and he certainly doesn’t like people babying him, but she can’t let him go out there and get hurt. And if she hadn’t spoken up, then they probably would have still gone and if he’d gotten hurt--or worse--then she would...it would be her fault for not saying anything. And she doesn’t want that on her conscience, and she doesn’t want him to get hurt. So yes. Maybe she’d been a bit of a nark, but he was being a stubborn jackass and she doesn’t feel bad.

“Just go away,” Tsubaki sighs, holding her eye open to get the soap out. If he does go away, it won’t be for very long, since they’d opted to share one of the board rooms when they’d gotten there, but she suspects they both just need a little bit of time to cool off.

He wheels away, grumbling under his breath, and Tsubaki begins conditioning her hair.


 

The next few days are spent working around the Dam to ensure their safety and security, and minor raids that Black Star is left out of. He’s still mad at her, from what Tsubaki gathers (considering he doesn’t speak to her beyond saying goodnight and good morning) and she really doesn’t know how to make him un-mad at her.

Well, no, she does. Which is why she is ten minutes from his old apartment building with Kim and Jack arguing in the front and backseats, respectively.

Black Star had been crying about how crappy the computers where at Hoover Dam (which made Tsubaki laugh and everyone else wonder why since they were pretty high-tech. Black Star had just mumbled something about his old ones being far superior) so she figured she’d go ahead and get his old ones--like a peace offering, of sorts. Besides, she knows he has programs on there they can probably use, and probably a bunch that will make him cry. And Kim had seemed far too eager to help when she’d heard that.

The area outside his building looks like a warzone. Bodies are strewn here and there, blood staining the concrete. Upon further inspection, Tsubaki realizes that they are all very dead--hundreds of times over, some of them--and she gives the building a wary glance. None of these people are walkers.

“There are people in there,” Jack murmurs, hand on her gun. Kim’s got her baseball bat out and ready, but Tsubaki doesn’t think there is anyone in there. The doors are thrown wide open, windows on the first and second floor smashed. She doesn’t understand why anyone would stay in there.

“No,” Tsubaki shakes her head, stepping over the dead and making her way inside the building. It smells like death in there. It seems like everywhere does these days, but the stench in the building is enough to make her gag.

With a hand held over her nose and mouth, Kim asks, “You remember which apartment is his?”

Tsubaki nods, making her way up the staircase. The carpet on them is filthy, ripped, and stained with something Tsubaki doesn’t want to think about. Behind her, Jack gags, actually stepping back and asking, “What--is that--?”

Stepping around it, Tsubaki continues on, casting Kim a look to stay with Jack while the girl vomits. Tsubaki feels bad for her, but they need to be quick, and lollygagging around in an unfamiliar building is not a good idea.

She reaches his door and is only mildly shocked to find that it is open slightly, the knob blown off. People had been through here, and probably through his apartment too. Hopefully they’d only taken whatever food he’d had, and not any of his electronics.

Gun in hand, Tsubaki pushes the door open slowly, eyes scanning the room for anything dead or alive. The living room is much the same as they’d left it--only the cushions on the couch are torn and lying across the ground. She spots his boxers lying in a heap along with a pair of pants and socks by the door leading to the bathroom and shakes her head faintly.

She knows his room is the one on the right, but shuffling in the kitchen has Tsubaki veering that way instead. She knows she shouldn’t--if whatever it is hasn’t heard or smelled her yet, then she was definitely better off--but she knows that if she were a walker, or bit, she would want someone to take mercy on her. She would want to be put to sleep, permanently.

Rounding the corner of the small kitchenette, Tsubaki peeks into the room, gun out in front of her, ready to shoot anything that moves--

A woman with white hair, sharp teeth, and crimson eyes is in the corner of the room, seemingly in stasis. Her body is eaten away at--various bites from other walkers, Tsubaki assumes--but the first thing Tsubaki notices is the star.

A good majority of the skin is rotted away, but she can still see it, can still recognize it because she sees it every single day--

“Oh,” Tsubaki gasps quietly, feeling her knees weaken and give out. They hit the tile flooring with a thud, and that combined with the noise she makes is enough to wake the walker.

Unblinking eyes look up at her, jaw working as the walker realizes she’s there. Tsubaki’s hands are trembling and her heart is beating fast, and she knows what she’ll need to kill her, need to put a bullet between her eyes because he would want her to, she knows he would--

...lkae...” the walker murmurs, then louder, “Blake...”

You died with him as your last thought, Tsubaki thinks, before pulling her knife from her boot and leaning forward, shoving the knife between the woman’s eyes. She dies quickly. She dies infinitely.

Tsubaki stands on shaking legs, making her way back toward his room. How had people come in here and not killed her? How the hell could she be up here for so long, for months without...? Had she waited here for him? Had she thought he might come back? She knows bits and pieces about Black Star’s mom and dad-his dad was an alcoholic who left when Black Star was seventeen, and his mom had been in and out of rehab facilities for drug and alcohol abuse. She didn’t think Black Star spoke to either of them, but then, she didn’t really know.

She was just a girl he met online, right?

His bedroom is the same--stale and a little funky smelling, clothing everywhere, popcorn bags and pop cans lying around the room. And, of course, his extensive and magnificent computer area.

There are at least four desktop monitors and two laptops. He’s got motherboards and wires lying about everywhere, and she knows he’s probably got things in his closet, too. Tsubaki turns when she hears footsteps in the living room, gun at the ready, but it’s only Kim and Jack, the latter looking much better than she did downstairs.

“What a geek,” Kim moans, putting a hand over her face and peeking through her fingers. “What the hell do we grab?”

“You grab some clothes,” Tsubaki says quietly, pointing to his dressers. He’d probably like that a lot. “Jack, grab the cluster of wires and the motherboards, and the laptops. I’ll get some of the desktops, and then we’ll drop them in the van and come back up.”

She turns around when she doesn’t hear either of them moving, and is surprised to see them both looking at her with smiles on their face.

“You’re whipped, girl,” Kim smirks, and then gets to work.


 

Black Star’s eyes are bright in the darkness of their room. It’s way too early for them to be awake or way too late, depending on whom you were asking, but Tsubaki doesn’t mind. They’ve been talking for a while now; their fingers meshed together under the blanket Sid had given them.

“Thank you,” Black Star says quietly, shifting so his nose nudges against hers. He doesn’t move forward or back away and there isn't anything sexual about it, Tsubaki knows. “For...for all of it.”

“You would have done the same for me.” She remembers the smell of Pinesol and death and Black Star at her back, Tsubaki, I can do it, just go get your things.

“Yes,” he murmurs firmly, squeezing her hand tight and turning to lie on his back. “Yes I would.”


 

The day of their raid on the AT&T building comes quicker than Tsubaki thought it would. But there they are, backpack already making her shoulder hurt, and the heat making her wish she’d stayed back at the Dam. They drive with the windows down, but the warm air blowing in through them does nothing to cool her down.

Black Star is listening to some awful CD and singing under his breath, fingers tap-tap-tapping along the steering wheel. “Bitches ain’t shit and they ain’t sayin’ nothin’, a hundred mother fuckers can’t tell me nothin’.”

She sinks lower in her seat, scanning the roads for anything weird. She’d seen a few walkers, but only one had tried to follow them, and they’d been gotten rid of it quickly enough. “How much farther?”

“Ask me again and I will turn this car around, young lady.”

She gives him a look. He sighs, “Like, ten minutes? I mean that’s only if there isn’t any traffic...”

“Ha,” Tsubaki deadpans. She’s hot and uncomfortable and kind of miserable and she is sorry but she’s also on her period, or will be by tomorrow, and she is not having any of this. “So when we get there what exactly are we doing?”

Black Star looks too relaxed for the circumstances, and he explains like she’s been told a thousand times. “We go in, go down to the basement where the back-up generator will be. Kill anything on the way. Turn on the generator; get our asses up into the big bosses’ offices where I’m pretty sure I can unleash my godly hacking skills. Then, we radio Jack and Harvey and they start the tower stuff and we go do one too, just in case we get bored, and then skedaddle on home to the Dam and viola, our plan.”

She’s taking a swig of water and Midol when they get there, pulling up outside. There are several clusters of dead around--probably since they’re so close to the Strip, Tsubaki thinks grimly, and it seems like each one of them turns to look at them. Crap, Tsubaki thinks, reaching for her knife. She sees Black Star grab for his gun, but she has no idea how they’ll go through all of these walkers and get through the doors into the building. She can see them from here and she’s sure they’re locked.

“What do you want to do?” Black Star asks quietly, watching them make their way toward the car. She has a few ideas that are much more like his stupid ideas, and she thinks about voicing them, but there are already four of them at the hood and if they try to move forward, there will likely be the same situation from a few weeks ago.

“Dammit,” he mutters, twisting the key in the ignition and looking behind him. There are two back there. “Think they’ll have a back entrance?”

“Not one we can get through. Probably a reinforced door.”

“We could try going through the front. Like, with the--”

“The windows will probably all smash on impact. You’ll let more in and it’ll be a bigger mess than this. And we’ll probably be injured.”

Black Star turns and looks at her, looking decidedly unhappy and annoyed. “Any suggestions, then? Is this what happens whenever girls are on their periods, or--oh, duck!”

She slumps as low in the seat as she can, not sure if he wanted her to move her seat backwards or to slump forward. He leans forward and the loud crack of his gun and the shattering of the window momentarily stun her. Tsubaki tries not to gag when brain matter and blood and bits of hair stick to her face. The walker slumps heavily on the broken window, impaling itself, and Tsubaki wonders if maybe it’d be better to keep him there for the time being.

They are surrounded right now, walkers all around them. It reminds her so much of last week and they had gotten out of that, right?

Only, it doesn’t seem that way. Things seem pretty hopeless, actually, and Tsubaki reaches into her backpack for her gun, cocking it. They’ll have to shoot their way through these ones and hope there aren’t any inside. Or not too many. Black Star gives her a firm nod, knuckles white around his own gun. He levels it at the head of a walker on the hood of the car, and then--

HEY!” Someone screams, making all the walkers pause and turn. Tsubaki herself is sitting on the center console between their seats, wincing away from grabbing hands that try and reach for her over the body of the dead walker, but she can see a flicker of gold not so far away, jumping and waving a sledgehammer over her head. “COME ON!” She shrieks, and both Black Star and Tsubaki watch numbly as the walkers start toward her, slowly. Three stray behind, still looking to make a snack out of the two of them, but Tsubaki kicks the dead walker out of the window and stabs the one on her side, while Black Star slams his door open into the other two, stunning them enough that he can get the upper hand and kick their heads in.

JUST GO!” The woman is screaming, making her way down the street, stopping Tsubaki and Black Star as they attempt to go after her. “DON’T WORRY ABOUT ME!”

Tossing Black Star a look, Tsubaki shrugs. The woman seems to know what she’s doing, and this may be their only chance to get inside the building.

“Grab your stuff,” Black Star says, reaching for his own bag in the front seat, and his extra prosthesis, and then running toward the door. She is right on his heels, keeping her eyes on the horde following the blonde woman. She’s faster than them, which is good, but she can run out of breath and they can’t.

“Why would she do that?” Tsubaki wonders aloud, scanning their surroundings while Black Star knocks on the glass doors, waiting for anything inside to be drawn toward the noise. When nothing comes after a few tense minutes, Black Star gets to work jimmying the lock. “She risked her life and she doesn’t even know us.”

Tsubaki can’t--no matter how much she wishes she could--fathom how that woman could do such a thing. How she could lure those walkers to her? She’ll die, most likely, and it’ll be their fault.

Tsubaki doesn’t realize that she’s inside the building until Black Star shoves his things into her hands, checking to make sure he has his gun and knives, and then says, “You go turn on the generator--if you hear anything down there don’t go, but if you don’t then do. I’ll be back as soon as--”

“No,” Tsubaki shakes her head, his bag slipping between her hands. They feel numb. He’s not serious, is he? He’s not going to help that woman, he’ll die, he’ll leave her here alone and he’s the only one who knows how to do any of this, how to lead and how to set up these towers. He’s her friend, her best friend and he is--”No!”

“Trust me, Tsu,” he smiles grimly, “Now go!” And then he is darting back out through the doors and down the street.

Gritting her teeth, Tsubaki spins and runs, slipping on some of the papers that are scattered across the ground, and slipping behind the front desk, shuffling through the drawers and binders, looking for a layout or something that will show her where the basement is and the generator. She gets several paper cuts and almost doesn’t notice the secretary or worker that is half eaten away lying in the corner. Tsubaki gives her one, fleeting glance before labelling her a non-threat and giving up on the desk, eyeing the large corridor and the several doors she can choose from. She knows which ones are the stairs; the elevators are on the opposite wall. Some doors have gold plated names on them, while others are blank.

She plays a quick game of which has more gore in front of it, and decides that the door in the corner of the huge room probably leads somewhere awful, because that is unfortunately where most of the gore is.

It is also probably the door that leads to the basement, it being shoved in the corner the way it is and, upon further inspection, showing a staircase going down. Taking a deep breath and casting her gaze around the rest of the room, just in case she’d forgotten something, Tsubaki plunges through the door, heading for the stairs and pounding down them, the metal rattling beneath her sneakered feet.

Anything down there will hear her, she’s sure. Anything in the basement, alive or dead, will be ready and waiting, or already making their way up the stairs. But Tsubaki doesn’t have the time or patience right now to stop and wait and listen for anything coming.

Gun held out in front of her, knife clenched in a white knuckled grip, Tsubaki gets to the last landing, and she shoves her dagger into the forehead of a large, stinking dead man, grimacing as blood splatters her face, adding to the rest of the gore from the walker outside.

The walker blocks her path, so Tsubaki shoves her shoulder into his chest, wincing when she feels the rotting flesh give a bit under pressure, and shoves him down the rest of the stairs, effectively knocking down the three business people--a man and two women--and pinning them.

Her breath is coming faster now, the adrenaline making her heart pump faster and faster--run, duck, swing, shoot, shove--she thinks of Black Star out there, chasing down that woman to help her and thank her, thinks of the others back at the Dam, trying to build a new home. Of Jack and Harvey studying how to fix up the towers.

Each kill--and there are a lot, more than one person had had the thought to come down here, whether for the same reasons or different ones--reminds her of every kill she’s made before this. Her brother is in the forefront of her mind, Black Star’s mom not far behind. They aren’t doing this for themselves so much as they’re doing this for everyone else.

By the time Tsubaki boots in the head of the final walker--a little girl with lopsided pigtails, probably one of the business man or woman’s daughters--she has enough scratches, scrapes on her knees from falling, and pains in her muscles to leave her jittery and anxious. She runs her eyes over the room, seeing all the dead and wondering if there is anyone left.

But nobody pulls away from the shadows, and none of the bodies’ twitch, so Tsubaki turns around and fishes a flashlight from her bag, trying to find the generator.


 

“...and he electrocuted the one that almost bit me! It was incredible, really,” the woman--Marie, Tsubaki mentally corrects--nods her head and turns to look at Black Star, who is smirking as he rifles through the computer behind the desk. “I understand how you two have survived so long now.”

Tsubaki smiles slightly, keeping her eyes on the large doors at the front of the building. Black Star had pulled the metal fencing across in case any walkers tried breaking through the glass which was a pretty good idea, since they’d brought more than a dozen walkers with them on their way back. “Are you almost finished, Black Star?”

“Shadow Stag,” Black Star begins, giving her a quick look over the top of the computer screen. “You can’t rush greatness like this--especially when you know jack shit about hacking, which, quite frankly, leaves me feeling very disappointed. I thought you would know how.”

“Just because your other friends could didn’t mean I could.”

“Yeah, but you were always in the chats when we fucked with the Tumblr coding so I figured you knew something.”

“No,” Tsubaki sighs, pushing her bangs off her forehead. “I just made really awesome playlists.”

Black Star pauses for a second, fingers stilling over the keys, then, “That is very true.”

Tsubaki smiles again as he starts typing again, and she gives Marie a once over. The woman looks decent, for someone living in a city without water, or electricity, and she looks kind enough, so Tsubaki figures they don’t have much to worry about from her. Aside from the fact that she was a clearly a little suicidal, she had saved their lives. “So...do you have a group, Marie? Or anyone else?”

A shadow passes over the woman’s eyes, something Tsubaki understands and, unfortunately, knows a bit about; but the shadow is gone as quickly as it comes, and Marie smiles, brown eyes softening. “I have a few friends back at my own...base, of sorts.” She looks between the two of them. “Are you two on your own?”

Black Star pauses on the keys for a split second, but it is enough to tell Tsubaki he’s not sure what to say. Say nothing, it says, and so Tsubaki shrugs lightly, carefully not looking at Marie. “Yeah,” she says, and technically she’s not lying because it’s just the two of them right now.

Marie makes a noise in her throat that might sound like pity, but then Black Star is Yahoo-ing and the printer beside him roars to life.

Tsubaki watches him, confused as to what it is he’s doing. She voices her question, and gets a grin in return. “I just hacked through their database and found out which computers up in the big-wig’s offices could help us. That way we’re not wasting time going through eighteen thousand computers.”

“You did all of that in the twenty minutes we’ve been sitting here?” Marie asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Coulda’ done it in ten if I hadn’t talked to you guys.”

Tsubaki nods sagely when Marie turns her sceptical glance on her. She was Skyping with him when he once hacked into the Club Penguin database and screwed with their entire system (he’d been rightfully kicked out for getting into fights with literally everyone and smack-talking them, but he’d called it retribution and helped her beat the racing game she’d bought, so Tsubaki had said nothing) and all of it had only taken seven minutes and forty-eight seconds.

Minutes later they are racing up the stairs, much to Tsubaki’s annoyance. She knew the elevator was not a good idea at all but she’d lost her sports bra a while back and hadn’t had the chance to get another, so the run was very uncomfortable. And long. Tsubaki could on a flat surface from things trying to kill her like she was born to do it, but running up stairs just for the sake of running (because they didn’t have to, but Black Star was way too impatient) was not something Tsubaki could do with grace. Or easily.

By the time they reach the floor they need--the 16th, to be exact--Tsubaki is red-faced and gasping, leaning against the railing while Black Star presses up against the door, trying to hear any movement inside.

There hadn’t been anything in the dimly lit stairwell on their way up, just drops of blood and the occasional high heel, but that just mean nobody had used the stairs from floor sixteen and down. There were still about eight more floors to go.

Black Star had mentioned on the way up (not huffing, either, the jerk) that “most of the idiots probably used the elevator” and that the elevator was probably crawling with walkers who were in various states of stasis.

When her lungs don’t feel like they’re on fire as much anymore, Tsubaki stands up straighter, watching Marie do the same, though still looking winded. “Hear anything?” She asks, scraping her fingers through her hair to keep her bangs back and out of her face. Black Star looks a bit troubled and his hand as reached for his knife at his hip, fingering the hilt.

“Nah,” he pulls away, “but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything. Get ready.”

Marie hefts her sledgehammer onto her shoulder, while Tsubaki readies her knife and checks how many bullets are in the chamber of her gun. Black Star grabs the knob, and with a deep breath, throws the door open.

Nothing comes at them, but the horrible stench of death wafts out, and a wall of heat that makes her eyes burn. It’s hot in there from the sun, and anything dead in there has been cooking for a while. Beside her, Marie gags, letting out an awful noise, but Tsubaki and Black Star head inside, eyes scanning for anything out of the ordinary.

There is blood everywhere. Desks flipped and things like mugs smashed on the floor. Tsubaki sees the legs of a business woman sticking out crookedly from behind a desk, but she doesn’t even twitch. Dead, Tsubaki decides, before catching up with Black Star, who has turned a corner.

He’s inspecting a janitor’s closet and motions for her to be quiet when she rounds the corner. Marie runs into her, letting out a yelp, at the same time Black Star slams the door open wide

Another shriek, though more like a sob, echoes through the room. Black Star has a gun raised from what seems like out of nowhere, but he looks vaguely sick. The noises are louder now, gasping, raspy, and Tsubaki slowly makes her way over to stand next to Black Star.

The sight inside the closet leaves Tsubaki feeling vaguely sick. There are two women--a child with white hair, hands and mouth taped, and an older woman, who is wholly human, or would be, if there wasn’t death colouring her hair white, or a sick looking bite on her arm.

“Don’t kill us,” she’s pleading under her breath, holding the girl close to her. “Don’t kill her. Don’t, please. It was supposed to be safe here, we were going to be safe, everything was going to be okay but they ate her--” and here Tsubaki notices how the little girl’s leg is mostly bone and bits of hanging flesh, her light up shoe blinking up at them sadly. “--and then I went to the next floor to get us food but there were more and the vending machine cut me and they came at me too and no! NO, NO, NO--”

Tsubaki’s hand is steady when she plunges her knife into the skull of the child. Its eyes go dark faster than anything she’s killed before. The mother’s eyes, which have taken a red-tinge to them, go out just as quickly, and Tsubaki pulls out her knife from behind the woman’s ear, wiping the blood and gore off on the leg of her jeans.

She doesn’t look at Marie or Black Star, because she is very afraid suddenly of what they might see in her own eyes. Instead, Tsubaki turns and heads down the hall, “I’ll scout on ahead. Anything on this floor would have heard her, so I’ll take care of them.”

“Shadow Stag,” Black Star’s voice is commanding, if a little strained. “Come back here.”

She continues on ahead.


 

It is late that night, after Black Star’s fifth finger cramp that they decide to get some rest. Marie is sleeping quietly in the corner of the office they’d commandeered. Tsubaki and Black Star are situated on the floor; she is half under the desk, while Black Star rests beside it, back against the wall and legs resting over her shins. He’s got his own laptop open and there are three computer screens on the ground resting on their towers, thousands of lines of coding across them.

“How are you doing?” Tsubaki asks quietly, head resting on her backpack. She watches him set his laptop aside and climb to his feet, disappearing from sight, only to reappear a second later, the sound of the door clicking shut.

“M’okay,” he sighs, slumping down and squishing in beside her, under the desk. It’s really too warm in there to be touching, but Tsubaki doesn’t mind much. “You?”

She knows he’s been watching her all day--both him and Marie, really--wondering what happened earlier. Wondering how she could kill those people without a second thought.

“I’m fine,” Tsubaki says, lifting her hair off her neck and out of his face as they both turn on their sides to make more room. “I--”

“You can talk to me, y’know,” Black Star interrupts quietly but fiercely. “Always. Whenever.”

Tsubaki thinks I killed your mom. I killed my brother. I’ve killed so many people that sometime along the way I stopped feeling anything about it. Killing is as much a part of my life as breathing now, and doesn’t that scare you? It scares me. But instead she just reached for the hand around her waist and tugs it more firmly against her, squeezing it.


 

Three days later, Tsubaki is chewing on a handful of stale potato chips. She almost wishes for the canned food back at the Dam, because the chips taste more like ashes in her mouth than potatoey goodness, and she’s eaten chips for the last three days. I can’t believe we brought computers but not food, she thinks to herself, watching Black Star’s fingers fly across the keys of his own laptop. She has no idea what he’s doing right now, but it must be important because he’s not commenting on the way she keeps tapping the butt of her knife against the desk. A few chairs over, Marie is cleaning blood from her sledgehammer. They’re had to make their way through a few floors to find vending machines.

Not for the first time, Tsubaki wonders about the woman. Where did she come from? Why did she save them? Was there something she was trying to get at, or something that she needs? She could be like the man from before only smarter, trying to lure them into a false sense of security, and what’s stopping Black Star from asking her back to the Dam with them, now that there are more survivors there? And when the cell towers go back up she could easily communicate with her own group, they could try and overrun the Dam, kick them out and--

“Tsubaki, sweetie?” Marie asks slowly. Tsubaki’s eyes snap up to meet the woman’s. She looks worried and Tsubaki realizes it’s because she’s breathing heavily and clenching her fist around her knife--

Hey,” Black Star snaps at her, reaching forward to grab the knife from her. He tosses it onto the desk, and Tsubaki feels very...disoriented as he lifts her hand up. She didn’t break the skin, but any tighter and she would have. “What the hell are you doing?” He asks, sounding worried and confused and angry all at once.

Tsubaki wonders when she started thinking more like him. No, not like him. When she started thinking like this. Marie has done nothing but show that she wants to help them, she hasn’t kept any information back (as far as they know) if they’ve asked about her group (a middle-aged man and two children, apparently) and she’s fought alongside them, hell, she saved them more than once in the last few days. They likely don’t have anything to fear from this woman, and yet.

Running a shaking hand over her face, Tsubaki tries to even her breathing. This apocalypse...whatever it is, it’s messed with her more than she’d ever imagined. She’s done things she would have never dreamed of--killed the dead and dying and made enemies of her own kind, and now she’s persecuting a woman for being a decent human being? What the hell is wrong with her?

Both Black Star and Marie are still looking at her, a full spectrum of emotions reflecting back at her, and Tsubaki feels her eyes well up with tears, though she doesn’t let them fall. “I-I’m okay. Sorry. Just--I’m going to go for a walk, alright? You finish up here.”

Black Star looks like he might argue with her, but Marie smiles slightly and nods, “Be safe.”

Tsubaki doesn’t answer and she makes her way out of the room as quickly as she can. She knows what a panic attack is, what anxiety attacks are. That felt like something in between them and the only other time she had one was when she got a bloody nose on her calculus exam in twelfth grade and had to wait in the bathroom for half an hour--missing most of her exam. Only this time she isn’t freaking out over not having enough time to finish an exam. She’s freaking out over turning into a person she never thought she would. This is ShadowStag, not Tsubaki, and she’s forgotten to differentiate between the two at some point over the last few months. She’s had to rely on ShadowStag’s strength and courage, her skills and her passiveness. She forgot to rely on Tsubaki’s kindness and she’s forgotten about Tsubaki’s fears and worries and locked them away in a part of her mind where they’ll just simmer and rot until they come back full force. Tsubaki has forgotten how to be Tsubaki, and as she sits with her back against the elevator, the faint sound of the dead trapped inside and a few floors up or down, she realizes she really needs to talk to someone. Or else she’ll lose Tsubaki entirely.


 

“Hot damn, bitches, I have done the impossible.”

“I thought you said you could do it...?” Marie looks over his shoulder at the page, frowning slightly. “Were you lying?”

Tsubaki watches from the window, eyeing the few zombies scattered around the street, and the copious amounts that are lying dead around their car. It has been six days since they’ve been there, and Black Star is finally finished.

“Well,” Black Star chuckles, rubbing a hand through his hair and looking very sheepish. “It was a good idea in theory...I just didn’t know if it would hold up in practice. Turns out it did, obviously, so good on me.”

Blinking at him, both women take in the fact that this very well could have been a total waste of time. Tsubaki realizes faintly that this is Black Star they’re talking to and she really should not be surprised. “Okay, so the data plans are up. How do we use them?”

“I go to the Dam and set up a connection there and that Twitter clone thing I told you about. I radioed Harvey earlier while I was pissing and he and Jack are starting on the towers, so by the time we get back to the Dam, more than a few will be up and running, and from there we can start.”

“Sounds...complicated...” Marie sighs, touching her forehead with her hand. “But very smart.”

“Yeah, here,” he reaches into his bag and tosses Marie a smartphone, which she catches easily. The woman frowns down at it, touching the dusty screen like she’s never seen one before. When Black Star reaches forward and holds down the power button, the phone buzzes to life, startling Marie.

Tsubaki watches with a sort of detached amusement as the woman thumbs through things, smiling slightly as her wifi bars immediately go from off to on. “You really did it. Wow.”

“I just made it so you don’t have to use a password to get into this Wi-Fi. Out there you’ll just have really good cell strength, but I made it so that’s basically like using the internet. But it doesn’t matter--you’re coming with us.”

Marie and Tsubaki’s eyes snap to Black Star’s at the same time, the former looking confused. Tsubaki knew this would be coming, but she hadn’t expected him to say it like that. “I--no, I can’t go with you. I have to go home to my own group.”

“Yeah, we’ll go pick ‘em up.”

“No,” Marie shakes her head sadly, squeezing the phone in her hand in a white knuckled grip. “I--he won’t come with you two. Not right now, at least. And we’re safe back at our base.”

Black Star looks confused; like he’s surprised she’s turned down his offer. Tsubaki is a bit surprised--they have an ideal situation--but she also knows that not everyone in a group will agree with plans and that sometimes it’s easier to just go along then to be stubborn. “You know you’re always allowed to come with us, right Marie?” Tsubaki murmurs, resting a hand on the woman’s shoulder. She smiles and reaches for it, squeezing it tightly.

“I know. Now, how can I contact you both?”

Black Star goes through his plan, describing how Marie will be able to contact them when she’s ready to come with them, or if there is anything she needs to tell them. Tsubaki half listens, half watches the street outside.

Soon, Black Star is finished explaining, and they are making their way back down to the main floor.

Outside, Marie shakes both of their hands and hugs them in a tight group hug with strength that belies her small stature. “I’ll see you two very soon, I’m sure. Be safe, alright?”

“Right,” Black Star nods, and Tsubaki squeezes her a little bit tighter.


 

The ride back to the Dam is quiet and uneventful. There are walkers everywhere, naturally, but there is something else off about the landscape that had Tsubaki clutching her gun in her sweating palms a little bit tighter. When she asks Black Star about it, he barely gets a chance to reply before she sees it, spray painted in huge writing on the side of a convenience store. The sight leaves Tsubaki grinning, leaves her feeling much lighter than she has in days. And as they make their way slowly back, she sees the word several times on billboards, on the sides of buildings.

For the first time in a very long time, Tsubaki feels something like hope surging in her gut. It’s happening, she thinks, grinning at Black Star.

#Resistance

 

Chapter Text

August pt. 1

vii. and all  


 

Tsubaki wakes slowly, from what Black Star can tell. He’s at the foot of the air mattress, tweeting to Harvey to pick up some bubble gum if he gets the chance, because Black Star will not lose this stupid prank war with Ox, and if the guy sees him tweeting about it, the horror of what he might do with the gum will kill him.

Out of the corner of his eye, Black Star watches Tsubaki turn on her side, moving more onto his pillow than hers. Seconds later she is reeling back, yelping and pawing at her face. He sees the look on her face as she tries to figure out what she’d rolled on, her gaze darting from him to the pillow and back to him.

He’s still laughing, holding his stomach and hiccupping as tears fall down his cheeks when she looks at him, rubbing at her face. He’s got half a mind to tweet about it, just to make Kim and Jack laugh, but she’s glaring at him and pointing, asking, “What was that!?”

“I--ha ha--drooled. Holy shitsticks I’m sorry but you’re such a spazz!”

He’s still laughing when she kicks him the rest of the way off the mattress, flopping back tiredly onto it. He didn’t wake up when she came to bed last night, and he wonders how much later she stayed out. He was on most of the night talking to that fucking Prometheus guy, Marie’s friend, but had fallen asleep sometime around two. Even now, At-Prometheus tweets back at him. “Yo, what time did you come to bed last night?”

She grumbles something that sounds like three and Black Star gives her a very disapproving look. “You know, Miss-I-Don’t-Really-Need-Sleep, you do actually need sleep.”

He knows she’s been talking to someone, though he has yet to find out whom. A part of him almost doesn’t want to. Who could she talk to, what could she say to someone that she couldn’t say to him? It leaves him with a gross feeling in his gut that feels a lot like jealousy, which is shit because gods don’t get jealous. Mostly, a part of his mind sneers, because gods don’t lose to humans. But isn’t he losing right now?

Whatever, he thinks; making sure his prosthesis is on properly. At least she’s talking to someone.

Tsubaki is still grumbling softly, pressing her face onto his pillow. “Don’t get your gross morning breath all over my pillow, Tsu,” he says, standing. She peeks at him from between her bangs but he’s already pulling the door to their room open, slipping through and heading into the hallway.

He scans his phone while he makes his way to The Motherbrain, scowling at the cryptic as fuck messages At-Prometheus keeps tweeting at him. It could be that the guy just doesn’t know how to type or text, but Black Star figures Marie would have shown him, and he’s just being difficult. There are a few messages from other raiders, other groups, and Black Star makes a mental note to send out a few people to pick up the group stuck in the mall.

He’s thinking of something witty to say back to At-Prometheus when an arm is slung around his shoulder and he is taken slightly off balance. “You know, it was kids like you that Jackie and I yelled at, a hundred years ago.”

“Yeah,” Black Star slips out from under his friend’s arm, going back to reading off his phone. “Thanks officer, I’ll be sure to look where I’m going, though.”

Harvey chuckles slightly, shoving his hands into his pockets. Black Star briefly wonders if it’s him that Tsubaki’s been talking to, but then nixes the idea. Harvey doesn’t seem the type. “We going anywhere today?”

Black Star doesn’t know, hasn’t decided yet. They probably should make a few runs, but he’s too focused on trying to figure out why At-Prometheus keeps tweeting him lines from history texts and other boring reading material. It’s all about illnesses and cures and death and Black Star is very done with his obscurity. He tweets, wut the fuck? At the most recent tweet, then pockets his phone.

“Do you want to go anywhere?” Black Star asks, stretching his arms up high and feeling the muscles in shoulders tighten pleasantly.

“Not really,” Harvey shrugs, slipping through the door and into the Motherbrain, grinning at Ox when he comes into view. Black Star nods at Sid, who is standing in front of the monitors. “But I’m getting a bit of cabin fever just sitting here.”

“Yeah, being safe is a real hassle,” Kim speaks up from her spot at the table. Black Star takes the time to walk past her and knock her feet off the table, before taking his own spot three seats away from her.

“Some of us like the thrill of adventure, Kimmy-poo,” Black Star grins at her, reaching into his pocket to check for anymore messages. None from At-Prometheus, but one from Clay saying something about finding survivors and--

“What the fuck why is Clay out on a run?”

Harvey and Kim decidedly don’t look at him, and Black Star feels a conspiracy. Ox crosses his arms over his chest and looks him straight in the eye, saying, “Jack thought they should be trained to run raids. In case something happens to us.”

One word sticks out to Black Star specifically. “They?”

“Blair is out there too. Clay, his dad. A few other civs who looked or seemed capable.”

Harvey and Kim are grimacing, but Ox barrels on, oblivious. Or maybe he doesn’t care. “Jack just brought them to the Costco about an hour away. We’ve been there before and took out most of the walkers, so it’ll be a walk in the park, just a quick mission to let them stretch their legs.”

Black Star is still reeling on the fact that he wasn’t consulted, never mind that Jack took several civs with her. And nobody had thought to tell him? He can feel his face getting redder and his hands clench into fists at his sides, “Who the hell said they could--”

“Sid,” Harvey pipes up from the table, meeting Black Star’s eyes for the first time. And yeah, now that he thinks about it, Sid does have the authority to send people out, no matter how annoyed Black Star gets when he does so without asking. This makes it the third time.

“And nobody thought to wake me up?”

“Nobody wanted to wake Tsubaki up,” Kim says quietly, giving him a very pointed look and tapping her fingernails against the table. She has literally the nicest fingers of anyone he’s seen, and he doesn’t understand how, it being the freakin’ apocalypse. “You know she’s been...having a rough time with things.”

Black Star thinks maybe Tsubaki’s talking to Kim, but before he can grill her on it, the monitors light up.

“They’re back? Good, I need to rip someone a new asshole.”


 

The next raid they go on, Black Star is part of. So are three of the civs that Jack took, Clay, his father, and Blair, and Black Star has changed his guess of Kim as Tsubaki’s confidant to Blair because she has been up her ass since they’d left.

The goal of the raid is to more or less figure out where At-Prometheus is and rescue a group of civs who are trapped in a clinic, which sounds easy but is turning out to be way harder than he thought. On both accounts. Black Star really fucking hates At-Prometheus, and he doesn't even know why. The guy doesn't ever have anything substantial to say and is always speaking in riddles and if it hadn’t been for the fact that he mentioned something about Marie once and then something about cures, Black Star would literally not give a shit.

But, curiosity has gotten the better of him, once again, so he gives a bit of a shit.

Currently, Sid is going over the game plan--a group runs in through the back, another through the front, take out as many walkers as possible without any fatalities, rescue the civs and figure out if any of them are bitten; the group entering through the front raids the pharmacy attached to the clinic for any and every drug they have; they run back to the first van where someone will be waiting and ready to go, while Tsubaki, Sid, Blair, Clay’s father and a few of the civs Jack trained, and Jack get into the second van where someone else will be waiting and ready to go, and hopefully Black Star will have tracked At-Prometheus down.

“And if he hasn’t?” Clay asks through the walkie-talkie, sounding wary. “What happens then?”

“We go home and try another day,” Tsubaki says into her own, giving him a look that tells him she thinks he can do it. He appreciates it, and gives her a wink. “But he will. I don’t know any better hacker than Black Star.”

“Wasn’t the wikileaks guy a good hacker?” Kim mutters, missing the glare Black Star gives her, but totally getting the one Tsubaki gives her, which makes him feel marginally better.

He stays in the car while they head in--a small little egg timer gives them thirty minutes to get in and out, and it grates on his nerves while he works. He keeps looking up and around, watching for any movement in the alleys near the clinic, or sounds that might tip him off that something is going wrong inside. So far he’s only heard the muffled sound of a shriek. He hadn’t recognized it from any of the others, so he’d gotten back to work.

At-Prometheus is harder to track than Black Star originally thought, especially considering he’s working on a phone and doesn’t have to proper equipment. But still, he has to work with what he’s got. If his hunches are correct, this guy could be a lot more than just an idiot who spouts stupid shit into his twitter. Marie trusts him, at least Black Star thinks she does, and Marie is pretty badass, he will admit.

His earphone crackles to life with Tsubaki’s voice, “How goes it?” She sounds winded and he is reminded that it is probably eight million degrees in there, and she’s probably been killing walkers. He briefly wonders why she’s talking to him when they both have other things to do, but realizes he’s cracked the first bit of coding and he replies back, “Keep talking.”

She talks in his ear quietly, more often than not out of breath and grunting as she takes down a stray walker. Her voice is like some Mozart shit (Black Star is fairly certain Mozart makes you smarter if you listen to it as a kid) and he’s already halfway done when the timer goes off and the first van speeds off. He doesn’t even know how many civs they’ve saved, but it looks pretty full and--”Where are you guys?”

“We’re almost done, Blair and Sid are heading into the--”

He hears a muffled shriek in the background, then Tsubaki’s loud “No!” And he’s out of the van faster than he’s ever moved in his life, pounding across the hot pavement and through the smashed front doors, past the metal gate that kept the civs inside safe, or safe from whatever was outside.

The only thought going through his head while Tsubaki yells orders into his ear is that someone was bitten. Someone is dying, someone is hurt, and they’re going to have to kill a friend. He wonders who it was, but the thought is quickly answered as he rounds a corner and pushes through the swinging door to find Sid and Blair bleeding in front of two dead pharmacy workers.

Everyone is freaking out, screaming or pacing or holding up their guns and taking aim at the two people bitten, while Tsubaki is trying to get everyone to calm down again. Her face is completely drained of colour, much the same as Blair and Sid’s.

EVERYONE SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Black Star bellows, stomping into the room and toward Sid, who gives him a look that is a mixture of terror and pride. His gaze passes over to Blair, who is hunched over and cradling her arm, eyes wide with fear.

Actually, everyone in the room looks scared. Murderous. Ready to jump the fucking gun and Black Star is having none of this bullshit today. If they can’t handle this, they can get the fuck out while he takes care of this. He tells them as much, giving each of them a hard look.

Jack stands up taller, Tsubaki’s blank face stares at Blair. He nods at the rest of them, feels his phone vibrate in his pocket. Another message from At-Prometheus.

He’s reaching in his pocket to see what it says when he hears the loud bang of a gunshot. Instinctively, Black Star crouches and covers his head, looking for the source while simultaneously feeling something splatter against his back and neck.

Below him, his phone shows a reply to Jack’s tweet to Black Star, telling him Sid and Blair have been bitten. Beneath her tweet is At-Prometheus’ reply.

I have a cure. #Resistance

He doesn’t really know what happens next--just knows that his eyes trail up from his phone, blood and brains sticking to the sole of his sneaker as he darts across the room, grabbing the woman who’d shot Blair--he doesn’t remember her real name, just that her username was MadamMedusa--by her neck and shoving her against the wall. He snarls at her, not even really sure what he’s saying, but her nails dig into his hand, leaving bloody tracks as she tries to breathe, and Black Star presses harder because Blair still had time, had to say good-bye, and if there was a cure--

“She had to!” Clay’s father is yelling at Black Star, trying to haul him off, but it only succeeds in loosening his hold, and then Tsubaki is there in muted rage, hand clenched in the woman’s hair as she knocks her skull back into the wall behind her violently.

Movement around them stops. Jack has a hand around Black Star’s left bicep, Clay’s father on the right. There are two more people and Sid behind them, but all eyes are on Tsubaki as she smashes the woman’s head into the wall so many times that it’s stained with blood.

Medusa fights back as much as she can, swinging her hands up and clenching them into Tsubaki’s hair, driving her knee into her stomach. There are elbows and nails and hands and clumps of hair on the ground, and all they do is watch.

Tsubaki gets the upper hand eventually, pinning Medusa against the wall and slamming her head repeatedly against the wall.

“Stop,” Black Star commands after the thirteenth time, but Tsubaki looks no less enraged. She does stop, letting Medusa slide to the ground, blinking slowly at nothing in particular. Blood dribbles from her nose and a sticky, wet trail of it is smeared on the wall above her.

“Are you done?” Sid asks a few feet away, and Tsubaki boots Medusa in the ribs.

“Yes,” she answers quietly, turning her gaze on the rest of them. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Jack tells her. She’s looking at her phone when Black Star looks over at her, and when she meets his eyes, she says, “There’s a cure.”

Black Star doesn’t say anything, doesn’t meet Sid’s eyes or react to the noise Tsubaki makes. He won’t get his hopes up on this cure or At-Prometheus.


 

While Jack speeds through empty, body-ridden streets, Clay’s father, who he has learned is named Dane, and Black Star keep their guns trained on Sid. The two civs--Linda and Kyle--are navigating in the front seat, while Tsubaki sits pressed up against him. He’s tempted to ask her if she’s okay, but he knows she’s not. And he has no doubt now that Blair was her confidant.

I’ll take care of her, Black Star decides firmly, watching a line of white burn through one of Sid’s braids. I’ll make sure she doesn’t...I’ll make sure she’s alright. I have to. I owe her this. More than this.

Sid is watching him. With each passing minute the air in the van seems to leave and the heat of the day compresses around them. Black Star wonders if he actually smells death in the van, or if it’s just his imagination. “You should have left me there,” Sid tells him quietly. “This isn’t the type of man I am--leading lambs into the slaughter.”

Black Star’s eyebrows furrow, “What?”

The man’s eyes are glistening with sickness and water and something deeper. They stare at Black Star like they can see his soul. “You don’t know this man. It could be a trap. A set up.”

“It could be a way to save your life,” Tsubaki says lifelessly from beside him. “And if it works, everyone else’s.”

Sid doesn’t say anything, but Black Star can see the trepidation in his eyes, in his stance. He’s scared, or worried, or both, and Black Star has to ignore his own voice in his head, telling him to take this one step at a time, to not rush into this.

“You should have left me back there. Shoulda’ killed me, Black Star.” Sid repeats, scrubbing a hand across his face. His teeth look sharper than before.

He feels Tsubaki stiffen, sees the way the others pause.

Black Star scoffs and snaps, “Just let us help you, old man. If you die you can haunt me.”

Sid glares at him, but Black Star sees something like relief in his eyes, so he isn’t really offended when he says, “I will, punk.”


 

At-Prometheus is holed up inside a house just outside Vegas, its windows boarded up, a tall fence surrounding it. Black Star has passed by it a thousand times before, but he’s never thought anything about it before. Houses were not safe anymore and probably wouldn’t be ever again. Windows could be shattered; front doors kicked open, boards broken. But, At-Prometheus seems to fuck everything in the ass, so Black Star is not surprised that he’s living inside a house.

Marie greets them grimly at the door when they arrive and shuffles them in quickly.

The house, despite its outside appearance, is pretty nice inside, and pretty clean, and Marie explains offhandedly that all the old buildings out here have wells, and that she’s a bit of a neat freak, and oh, Stein’s lab is in the basement.

Black Star grunts under Sid’s heavy weight as he and Dane bring the huge man down the steps and into the basement, the rest of their group trailing behind. The stairs are metal and the walls look like steel, and Black Star actually wants to cry when they reach the bottom. His leg is bugging him a bit from carrying such a heavy weight and walking down the stairs.

“Who’s Stein? At-Prometheus?” Tsubaki asks while Marie leads them down a long hall.

The woman looks over her shoulder, brown-eyed gaze passing quickly over Sid, who is breathing heavily at Black Star’s shoulder, and moving on to Tsubaki. She offers a small smile. “Yes, he’s a scientist.”

“And this cure?” She prods, sounding sceptical. “He said he has a cure.”

“Yes,” Marie says firmly, stopping before a heavy-looking door and typing in a code. “He does.”

The room is freezing when Black Star gets in, which is a nice relief. Sid is burning up and the heat outside wasn’t helping at all. Everything is pristine and shades of white and grey, including the pasty man standing by a long table.

“Hello,” he says politely, though his tone makes him sound bored. “I’m Doctor Frank Stein.”

Frank Stein? Black Star is pretty sure this guy’s parents were fuckin’ high when they named him. Who names their kid after a monster that was hated by everyone? “Cool,” Black Star says regardless, nodding at him. “You can help our friend?”

The Doctor’s cold eyes pass over each of them, finally landing on Sid. They move rapidly over his body, and then he nods sharply, pointing to an operation table on the far left of the room. Black Star, Dane, and Sid make their way over while the Doctor turns away and gathers things from off the table he stand in front of. Marie is asking the rest of the group if she can get them anything.

“Lie him down,” Stein commands, coming up on Black Star’s right and reaching over to grab Sid’s face and turn it toward him, where he proceeds to check out his eyes and teeth. Sid looks worse than before, all pale and sweaty and he begins to mumble something. “Fever,” Stein decides under his breath, turning away. “Black Star, right? I’ll need you and the others to hold him down while I do this.”

“Why?” Dane snaps on the other side of the table, but he’s got a tight grip on Sid’s arm. “Is it going to hurt?”

“It might, I suppose.”

“It might?” Jack, who has made her way over with the others, sounds outraged. “What do youmean? Haven’t you done this before?”

“No.”

WHAT!?” Black Star yells, along with the rest of the group. Marie looks guilty as she takes a place at Sid’s head, reaching over to press her dainty hands down on his chest. Sid jerks at their loud yell, but Black Star ignores him. He’s too busy thinking about all the things that could go wrong. He remembers that the monster wasn’t named Frankenstein, and that it was the man--a man who thought he could achieve more than anyone before him and failed and he thinks maybe this guy is nuts and he’s trying the same thing. “I don’t fucking think so!”

“Black Star--” Marie tries, but he’s shaking his head, watching Sid fill a needle with an awful looking cloudy mixture. It’s a muted purple, almost grey.

“No, he’s not--what if he just fucks up and creates something else...something other than a zombie? You’re nuts if you think for a second that we’re letting you do this, you creepy mother fuck--”

“Stop it,” Tsubaki sighs beside him, and Black Star turns to her, eyes widening at the look on her face. She looks determined. “You’re wasting time. This could save him, right? You said so yourself, and now we have the chance.”

“We can't do this alone,” She adds, so only he can hear over Sid’s laboured breathing and mumbled half-words. “You can’t lead this resistance by yourself.”

She might as well be saying ohana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind, but this is not Lilo and Stitch and Sid is not being kidnapped by aliens. This is someone’s life, his friends. But...

“So what is your decision?” Stein asks at his shoulder. Black Star stares hard at the man on the table, watching as half his braids burn white.

“Okay,” he nods, pressing down. “Do it.”

Stein squeezes between him and Tsubaki, and then the needle is shoved into Sid’s chest, right where his heart is, and he screams.


 

Sid’s screams echo in his head for hours afterward.

He’s tweeted at Harvey, telling him they’d be staying the night here and bringing Sid home tomorrow, if he made it through the night, and now Black Star is sure it was the dumbest mistake he’s made in a while. He swears he can still hear Sid yelling, begging to die, can see his skin changing colour beneath his hands, or how his eyes bled and his lips curled back from his teeth as the most guttural of sounds made its way out of his throat.

Stein had said that if he made it through the night, then they’d probably be safe. The antidote--the cure--must be working, has to be working, at least a little, because Sid was still alive, breathing, when Stein had sent them away earlier.

Black Star had thought maybe a shower would help clear his mind, maybe. Actually, he was originally planning on talking to Tsubaki, but he hadn’t been able to find her anywhere, and so shower it was. Besides, he’s still got...got bits of Blair on him, and he really needs to wash it off.

Only, that’s where he finds Tsubaki.

“We have to stop meeting like this,” Black Star jokes, leaning against the door while she peeks at him from behind the curtains. Her eyes are red rimmed and her nose rosier than usual. He’s probably interrupted her in crying or something, but Black Star is a very big believer in not wallowing in guilt, so he figures his most loyal follower should be too. “You need help washing your back?”

She smiles at him faintly before disappearing back behind the curtain. Black Star makes his way over and sits heavily on the lid of the toilet, briefly wondering why they seem to always have little pow-wow, heart-to-hearts, and fights in the can. They should really stop--it’s not sanitary. He tells her as much, and gets a quiet laugh in return.

“Where else would we meet up? The roof?”

Black Star flushes at the onslaught of memories of them on the roof of the library and he smirks at the shower curtain. “Maybe that should be where our first date takes place. What do you say?”

She is quiet after that, and Black Star slumps, angry with himself for putting his damn foot in his mouth. Again. He has no idea what is going through her mind anymore, hasn’t for a while, and he doesn’t really know if her feelings for him have changed at all. They could have, he wouldn’t be surprised, but.

He shakes his head. Thinking about this will only cause more problems. They need to worry about hundreds of other things right now, not when their first date will be.

With a small sigh, he asks, “How are you doing?”

She doesn’t answer right away, but when she does, her voice breaks. “I’m okay.”

Would it be weird to get in the shower with her and make sure she’s actually okay? Probably. Does it stop him from kicking off his sneakers and doing so? Nope.

She looks very, very shocked to see him step inside the tub, and immediately her hands and arms move to cover her naughty bits, even though Black Star has pretty much seen it all, at one time or another. And he’s not even looking there thank you very much.

What,” Tsubaki whisper-shouts, looking very upset and very unamused, “are you doing?”

“Turn around,” he instructs with a grin, to which she replies with a fierce scowl and a sloppy punch that he catches and also gives him a nice view of her tits. “Not like that, perv. I’ll wash your hair. Like we’re girlfriends or something. You talk to me while I wash your hair. I’ve heard it’s very relaxing.”

“Can you even reach that high?” She snaps, but turns away from him slowly, letting her hands drop back to her sides when she is completely turned. “And Marie is going to be so suspicious when she sees you all wet.”

“I’ll tell her you splashed me. If me being dressed is bothering you, I can fix that?”

“Please don’t.”

Black Star gives her his best smile when she looks over her shoulder at him. “Just relax. The Great and Mighty Black Star is here to give his favorite person a head massage. You should count yourself lucky.”

Tsubaki lets out a sigh, which quickly turns to a low moan when he begins to lather her hair up with shampoo. “So, are you actually okay?” He asks quietly, turning the water on a bit hotter. He has no idea how she can shower in water this cold. “Because you’ve uh, kind of been freaking me out.” You’re worrying me, is what he doesn’t say, but he thinks she gets it, because she presses up into his hands like a cat.

“I’m really stressed. And anxious. And violent,” Tsubaki breathes, almost too quiet for him to hear. “I don’t mean to be, I really don’t but. But I feel like someone has to be and that someone is me. If I’m not, you’ll die, or Jack and Kim will, or someone else I care about. Like Blair,” here her voice breaks again, and he pretends he doesn’t notice the tears dripping down her cheeks, mingling with the water. “I don’t want to lose anyone else, so I’m trying to be better, I’m trying not to...to feel and...And I’m losing myself, I think.”

“Nah,” Black Star murmurs, running his fingers through her long hair, untangling all the knots. “I wouldn’t let that happen. You know that, right? And you uh...you know you can talk to me, don’t you? Because you can. Look, we’re talking right now. It’s like a regular ol’ slumber party, except you’re naked.”

She laughs, looking at him over her shoulder again. He doesn’t know if this has helped her much, or if what he’s saying is getting through to her, but he thinks maybe it is. Hopes so, anyway.

They finish her shower five minutes later, with her rinsing out the rest of the conditioner while he steps out of the shower. His shorts feel heavy, way too heavy for just wet cargo pants, and he looks down to see a familiar lump. His phone. Which is probably broken, now, from being showered on.

Son of a BITCH!


 

Stein calls them into his lab the next morning bright and early.

They make their way down there slowly, all wary of what they might find when they reach the lab, knowing that they might see a body covered with a sheet, or Sid staring back at them, looking altogether unimpressed with how long it took them to get down there. Black Star hopes it’s the second, but from the way the man had screamed yesterday, he guesses it’s the former.

What they find, as Marie pushes open the heavy doors, is a mixture of both.

Sid sits up on the bed, only it’s not Sid, and it’s not one of them. This...creature has blue skin and wide eyes and he really looks like Frankenstein’s monster.

But then he slides off the table saying, “Yo,” and Tsubaki lets out a breath beside him, along with most of the others. “Don’t look so surprised. I’m not the type of man--or I wasn’t the type of man to let something like that defeat me so easily. I told you this would work.”

He smirks at Black Star, and Black Star feels his own mouth widening in a grin.

“Welcome back to the land of the living.”

Marie’s hands clap over her mouth, and when Black Star and the rest of them turn to look at her, she has tears in her eyes. “Stein...does this mean?”

“Yes,” he nods, shoving his hands into his pockets. “We can help the twins, now.”


 

The twins, it turns out, are Castor and Claire.

They had been bitten a few days ago and had been resisting, better than Sid had, and have yet to fully turn. Stein had only just finished the cure when he found out Sid was bitten, and decided, apparently, that Sid could be the test run before they tried curing the twins.

Said twins dance around the living room, all white hair and razor smiles but completely human, and they fucking’ freak Black Star out. But Marie loves them, and so does Tsubaki, so he can’t really say anything.

Still, he sees the way Kim flinches when they come near her or how Harvey’s hand is always rested somewhere he can easily access his knife. And he feels a little better.

But right now, he has bigger problems than the twins.

“What the hell do you mean you’re staying?”

Marie is looking warily between them, but Black Star is more focused on Doctor Crazy Pants. He stares back passively, seemingly unaffected by Black Star’s tone, but he can see the sharp glint of annoyance in the man’s eyes, and how his finger shave to curl into fists because they keep twitching. He doesn’t seem like the most stable guy in the world, but he cured Sid when he got bit and they can all deal with the weird little quirks the guy has if they can stay alive.

But he doesn’t want to come. And Black Star has no idea why.

“It’s way better than this,” Black Star continues, throwing his arms out and gesturing to the man’s tiny kitchen, where they’re having their impromptu meeting. He can hear the others shifting in the next room, but he pays them no mind. This involves them, too. “We’ve got supplies, food, and people. And it’s not like we could just run on out here if someone was bitten on a raid--we were lucky with Sid. It’s too far, too dangerous. Walkers could be here at any moment, and then where would you be? Fucked, that’s where. At the Dam we’ve got checkpoints and not even I could get in if I posed a threat to the Dam. It’s way safer than this--”

Stein scoffs, waving a hand at Black Star and looking at him sharply, “I think you’re missing the point where I said all my supplies are here, and that we are safe here. The walls and doors in the lab were made with reinforced steel.”

“Yeah,” Black Star jokes, grabbing his pop and taking a swig from it, grimacing when he realizes it’s flat. “It’s almost like you knew it was comin’, huh?”

It’s meant as a joke, but Marie stiffens imperceptibly, and Stein looks out the window. Black Star’s heart picks up speed and his hands get a little sweaty. “...unless you did,” he swallows around the lump in his throat and glares at the man. “Did you--”

“Never mind any of that. I need Sid to stay here so I can finish up tests on him and make sure nothing goes wrong. At least a week, maybe more. I’ll think on your proposition and give you your answer next...Wednesday. Does that sound alright?”

“Stein,” Marie begins, but he cuts her off with a sharp look.

This guy is too sketchy, his mind is telling him, which sounds a lot like Tsubaki. Did you see the way he reacted when you joked about him knowing?

But Black Star knows they need him, so he pushes past his annoyance and scepticism and leans across the table, shaking the man’s chilly hand.


 

Black Star is in a bit of a rage still, so he steals Jack’s phone and tweets passive-aggressive things at everyone who's been tweeting him the last day, since he’d ruined his phone by showering with it. Still, he sees the tweet from At-Pianoman, asking for directions, and replies very snarky, it’s hoover dam, use a map.

“Don’t get mad at innocent people just because you’re made at Stein,” Jack chuckles, looking at him when she should be looking at the road ahead of them.

“Mind your business, cupcake.”

“Call me cupcake again,” Jack says with false cheerfulness, “and I’ll rip off your dick.”

He winces, and is a little nicer to At-Pianoman, telling him, we’ll pick you up, where are you? And then turns to glare out his window. So what if he’s pissed? Stein was a fuckin’ jerk for not coming with them, and Sid was being annoying by staying with them.  Black Star knows why he’s staying, because people will not react well to his new uh, transformation, but still. At least Stein said he’ll think about it, though Black Star probably has Marie to thank for that, not his awesome persuasion skills.

ur just sore bc u didnt get ur way At-ShadowStag tweets at him, and he tweets back, talk 2 me when ur over ur s’ghettio fix, bitchass.

He hears her huff in the backseat and vows to eat all of them before she can when they get back to the Dam, just to spite her.

Before he gives Jack back her phone, At-Pianoman tweets him back, saying i’ll find u

Chapter Text

August pt. 2

viii. they can do


 

“I think,” Black Star says, waking her up with his minty-smelling breath and fingers pulling open her eyelids. “That a Thing is happening today.”

Tsubaki groans, turning away from him and batting away his wayward hands. “What kind of Thing?”

Black Star lays atop and across her, much to her chagrin. She shoves at his face, which looks too puppy-ish for her liking. “I think I convinced Stein to come here.”

She blinks, sitting up from her uncomfortable position hunched over the table in the Motherbrain. She hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but it had been a really good nap. “How did you manage that?”

Before he can explain, the rest of the group makes their way in, far too loudly. Tsubaki rubs at her eyes and sits up straighter; taking one of the gums Black Star offers her. They wait until everyone settles, before Black Star launches into his explanation of how he convinced Stein to come to the Dam, since none of it was on the feed last night.

“Oh, I just uh...set up a kind of DM thing, but that’s not the point. The point is, I promised him Ox and Kim’s room because they stole the nicest one--” here, there are two outraged cries from the aforementioned room thieves, though Black Star ignores them and plows on, “--and we have to send a couple groups to get all his shit, because he has a lot of shit and doesn’t want to part with said shit. Ok? And while two or three groups do that shit, another group will be raiding that Shoppers Drug Mart--”

“--Near the Strip?” Jack snaps.

“--and the next person who interrupts me gets my foot up their ass, all clear? Good. Now, Kim, Ox, Tsubaki, Dane, Clay, and Linda will go to Shoppers, while I, Jack, Harvey, lead the others to Stein and Marie’s. We’ll have our walkies and Bluetooth’s in at all times to communicate, and the feed, too, so everything should go nicely.”

He stares his followers down; making sure each of them is up for this. When he gets to Tsubaki, he’s surprised she isn’t demanding she come with him. Instead, she gives him a small nod. Black Star grins.

“Wonderful. Everyone, get ready; we leave in twenty.”


 

“Hey,” Tsubaki murmurs, fingering the box of dye in her hands. Black Star’s reply of “huh” has her smiling, and she presses down on the button again, bringing the walkie closer to her mouth, “I’ve got something for you.”

“Oohh~,” he crows from the line, leaving her laughing. His voice sounds very far away and she is reminded that he is pretty far away.

She feels light and happy and there is no reason beyond the fact that everything is going well for once. After they’re done here they’re going to Prometheus’ to help pack his things and bring him to the Dam, and the cure worked on Sid, so she was allowing herself that moment to feel happy. “What is it? Can I know now?”

“No,” she shakes her head, grabbing a few more boxes of the stuff and making her way down the aisle. She shoves one in her bag and reads the back of another. “I’ll give it to you tonight.”

Is it a sexy surprise?” Tsubaki flushes at the tone of his voice, and it is only the sound of Kim’s voice butting into the conversation that has her remembering that they’re not alone on the channel. Whoops.

“Sorry, Kim,” Tsubaki murmurs to her, looking overhead at the mouth of the next aisle. Chips? Okay. “I’m just about done here so-- she’s cut off by the garbled words of a walker, and the feeling of teeth sinking into her shoulder.

Tsubaki’s first reaction is to scream, because it hurts, God it hurts. Her second reaction is to try and pull away, but all she does is bring the walker with her, its long fingernails scrabbling at her waist for something to hold onto. It pulls away with a pop, bringing meat and flesh and blood, then comes back for another bite--

She screams, scrambling away from it and trying to hold her hand over the wound on her shoulder. It feels like her whole body is on fire, and she barely sees anything, her eyes are so filled with tears. Footsteps pound toward her, Kim’s voice shouting for her, but Tsubaki is far more focused on the fact that this walker is taking another bite out of her leg, despite her best efforts to kick it off.

Black Star is yelling somewhere, asking her what’s happening, begging her to answer him. Each time she opens her mouth to tell him she screams and tears drip down her leg and why isn’t she using her gun, Tsubaki use your gun!

Before she has a chance to try and find it amongst the mess of chips she’d pulled to the ground in her attempt to escape, Kim is there, batting the thing’s head away from her calf, and then batting it some more until there is nothing but large chunks of skull and brain coating the Dill Pickle chips.

Tsubaki lets her head drop to the ground, one hand clutching the gaping wound of her shoulder, the other twitching against the ground. The one on her shoulder hurts far worse than the one on her leg, and she’s going to die, she’s going to die, she’s going to die--

“No,” Ox tells her sharply while Kim speaks rapidly to the rest of the raid over her walkie, “You’re not goin to die. We’ll take you to Prometheus--er, Stein. You’ll be fine.” She hadn't realized she’d been speaking aloud before.

Dane nods his agreement above her, grabbing her under her armpits and hefting her up. Linda shouts something farther down the aisle about more of them, and Tsubaki feels she might puke.

“We have to go,” Ox tells Kim, but the girl shakes her head.

“Black Star says to wait for him!”

“We don’t have time to wait for him!” Ox yells, coming up on Tsubaki’s other side and slinging her arm over his shoulder, while Dane does the same to the other side. Black Star’s voice is in her ear, still, and despite the adrenaline rushing through her system, Tsubaki can't find the energy to lift her hand and hold the mic down.

She is going to die.

Kim scrubs her hand across her face, but seems to make a decision. Picking up her bat, she nods to Linda and Clay, “Let’s take care of the rest of them. Ox, take her somewhere we can wait for Black Star.”

We don’t have time!” He screams at her, looking livid. Kim is his polar opposite, looking very put together.

“We’ll make some.”

Letting out a loud growl, Ox barks at Clay to come take Tsubaki from him, and she tries not to cry out when her shoulder is jostled more as Clay takes his place. He’s taller than Ox, but not taller than her, so it doesn’t hurt any more than it had previously. She watches over her good shoulder as the others round the corner, and then Clay and Dane set off toward the cash registers.

Things get a little foggy after that. Tsubaki is very aware of how much pain she is in, and it only intensifies when Clay’s father rips pieces of his shirt to wrap around her leg and shoulder. He says something about pressure, and she knows what he’s talking about, but she thinks she asks him to stop. And she thinks that Clay has to hold her down.

She has no idea how long it takes the others to come back, or how long it takes Black Star to come back. But one second she is crying and sobbing and digging her fingers into her neck to try and stop the pain, and the next there is a calloused hand on hers, pulling it away. It reminds her of her brother, for some reason. Maybe the time she’d broken her arm and tried to set it herself when she’d been eight, and he’s pulled her hand away gently, or maybe she’s just losing her mind.

Something is shoved into her mouth and warm water is poured in. Tsubaki nearly chokes on the pills, nearly spits them back out, but Kim is there and plugging her nose and telling her to swallow them, please, and Tsubaki does her best.

Her mind clears up a little after that. Painkillers, she realizes when she blinks up at Kim, who is hovering over her. “You gave me painkillers?”

“Yeah,” Kim nods, brushing Tsubaki’s bangs out of her eyes for her. “Black Star is almost here, okay? The others stayed back at Stein’s, but he’s coming.”

Tsubaki almost wishes he wasn’t, but she doesn’t say that. The girl looks very worried, very sick. She looks to the side at something--Tsubaki follows her gaze and spies Ox sitting heavily against the candy rack, holding a hand to his stomach and giving Kim a small smile. “He’s bitten?” Tsubaki asks, voice hoarse.

“No,” Kim shakes her head, turning away. “He tried to save Linda when she was bitten, but she’d accidentally um, stabbed him. It’s not deep but...”

Tsubaki turns her head, trying to look for the others, but she finds only the three of them. A cold sense of dread floods through her, and she closes her eyes, trying to reign in the tears. This is all so hopeless. “Clay and Dane?”

“They heard us struggling and went to help. They turned so quickly,” Kim’s voice cracks, “there were so many of them and by the time we got them all, Dane’s throat was ripped out and Clay had bites all over his chest and--and his mouth...” She shudders above Tsubaki, squeezing her eyes shut. “They’re all dead.”

Tsubaki hears what the other girl doesn’t say. We will be too.


 

Black Star arrives in a flurry of noise and yells, pounding into the store with a look of anxiety and worry. “Tsubaki?!”

She raises a hand weakly, having been propped up against the cash register table by Kim, who now sits beside Ox, hands pressed against his wound. “Here, Black Star,” she calls out as loudly a she dares, though she knows that if there is anything else in here, they will come because of his voice.

He spots her, and the look on his face is enough to make her wince. He looks distraught and horrified and so scared for a moment. But then his face is blank and he’s making his way purposefully over to her. He drops to his knees in front of her and take her face in his hands. “You’re going to be fine. I’m taking you to Stein right now.”

He instructs Kim to help Tsubaki while he goes over to help Ox, and the four of them make their way slowly out to the van Black Star had driven here.

Kim gets into the driver’s seat after helping Tsubaki into the backseat, while Black Star helps Ox into the passenger’s seat, before getting into the back with her.

The car ride is silent, except for the occasional direction from Black Star. The atmosphere, however, is not quiet. It’s anxious and buzzing with nerves and fear. Black Star keeps giving her these looks, like maybe she doesn’t notice them, but she does.

“I’m not scared,” Tsubaki says quietly, offering Black Star a small smile. Fire crawls in her veins, excruciatingly painful, changing her into something not quite dead. A monster.

Black Star doesn’t return her smile; his blank face doesn’t do anything. Tsubaki is actually wondering how he’s sitting there so calmly, not tapping his leg or shouting directions at Kim, who is driving. She wonders if he’s upset about this, if he’s thinking through ways to get rid of her, or if he’s the scared one.

She isn’t lying. Tsubaki isn’t afraid of dying and hasn’t been for quite a long time. She is, however, afraid to leave him, this man who has gone from a geeky, self-proclaimed god of the internet to an actual god, someone who has started a resistance, the Resistance. He has gone from a boy to a man and she is afraid to miss any more changes.

She is afraid of dying only to become one of them, a Walker.

He doesn't say anything, no words of reassurance, no I know. All he does is take her hand in his, threading their fingers together.

And that, somehow, is infinitely better.


 

They don’t even make it two blocks before Tsubaki vomits black blood all over herself, and the fever returns.

Black Star tries to help her, but she can’t stop gagging on blood in the back of her throat, and her head is pounding. It sounds like someone is trying to shoot their way out, and she can’t help the little noises of pain and discomfort she makes.

It also doesn’t help that there is an army of the dead blocking their path. Tourists, strippers, hotel clerks, women and children. They crowd the road leading into the country, to Stein. And no amount of bullets will let them pass.

Black Star’s hand flies to his collar, speaking rapidly to whoever is on the other end--probably Harvey--tell them about the walker blockade, while Kim turns the van around and tries to find another way there, only there isn’t one.

She looks panicked, and Tsubaki feels so awful for her. She must feel like she’s under so much pressure and Tsubaki wishes she could help her, but she’s starting to smell things, and she’s cut her tongue on her canine tooth, which is longer than usual.

Black Star reaches over and picks up a piece of white hair, twisting it around his finger. When she meets his eyes, he looks panicked. “Head toward the Strip. It looks like most of these fuckers are from there.”

“B-Black Star, I don’t--”

“Just do it!”

Kim lets out a noise that is half-growl, half-sob, but presses the gas pedal to the floor. “Where in the Strip?” Ox asks, turning to peer at them in the backseat. He looks so pale, and Tsubaki has to count to ten in her head, because she can smell the blood leaking slowly from his stomach.

“Uhhhhhhh,” Black Star scrubs a hand through his hair, tugging the unruly brown pieces up into disarray, “The Luxor? Or--the Chapel. There’s a chapel there, right? We’ll wait out there.”

Tsubaki vomits again, and soon she is covered in rank-smelling black blood. “I’m sorry,” she whispers to the van, to its occupants. “I’m so sorry,”

“Shut up,” Kim and Black Star say at the same time, their voices coated in worry. Black Star’s hand tightens around hers.


 

The Chapel is a quaint little thing--all hues of yellows and gold’s, with pretty chairs lined up in rows. It is also nearly completely untouched. The chairs are slightly askew, and the stand at the front has been knocked over, but other than that it is the picture of what life looked like before.

Black Star had been right, too. For some reason, the majority of the walkers had been heading toward the road leading to Stein’s, so getting into the Chapel had been almost too easy.

Black Star helps Tsubaki into one of the chairs, and then turns to Kim and Ox, fingers dancing against his legs. “I--I have to go. I have to get Stein and get them here. I’ll be back--”

“You’re leaving us!?” Kim shrieks, waving her hands around. “What the--what the fuck!?”

“They need help too! They need me to bring them here--”

“No,” Kim shakes her head, stomping toward him. “No, you’re not fucking leaving us here. We can keep going!”

Black Star glares at her, clenching his fists at his side. “No we can’t! Tsubaki’s too weak to continue and Ox isn’t much better! You can come if you want, but--”

“I’m not leaving Ox,” Kim snaps, shoving him. “How are you going to get through those freaks, anyway?”

“I’ll figure out a way,” Black Star grits out. Tsubaki wants to say something, but her throat is clogged with something. A lump, maybe. Or blood. “And I’ll bring Stein back here. I’ll come back.”

“Famous last words,” Kim snaps, pivoting on her heel and making her way back to Ox.

Tsubaki watches Black Star take several deep breathes before he makes his way back toward her. He kneels before her on the chair, and Tsubaki leans forward.

“I’m coming back for you,” Black Star says fiercely, hands cupping her face. His whole body is tensed but his hands are gentle and Tsubaki wants to cry. Even if they manage to make it back to Prometheus alive, there is no guarantee that he’ll have more of that cure ready, nor is there one that they’ll get it to her on time. Already Tsubaki can feel the change coming upon her. It’s not just superficial, either. She can smell every inch of Black Star, from the sour smell of his sweat, to the clogging smell of his hair dye.

That’s why you’re in this mess, her mind supplies for her unhelpfully. His roots are coming in badly, and she still has the blue hair dye in her backpack, the box stained with her blood.

Please don’t leave me, please don’t leave me.

“Tsubaki,” Black Star calls her away from her thoughts, eyes intense. Behind him Ox is attempting to bandage his stomach, Kim trying to help unsuccessfully. Tsubaki knows that Kim is worried and scared, especially being left behind with her, but Tsubaki can’t bring herself to feel bad. In fact, she feels like she’s being abandoned, and while it’s awful to think, she can’t help it. Black Star could leave and never come back. They’re partners, but partners can be easily replaced and—

Warm, chapped lips press quickly against hers, pulling away before Tsubaki gets a chance to kiss back.

Her eyes focus on Black Star who looks very torn and very upset, and she takes back her thoughts from earlier. He wouldn’t leave her behind, and she was stupid for even entertaining the thought. It’s the fever talking.

(please don’t go, please please please please don’t leave me here to die)

“I’m coming back,” he says one last time before straightening, pulling himself away and marching toward the doors leading out of the Chapel, barking out orders into his walkie as he goes. She hopes she gets to kiss him again. She hopes she doesn’t die.

Black Star has beaten a lot of odds, Tsubaki knows. She really hopes he beats this one.


 

She must doze off, because one second she is watching Kim and Ox speak quietly on the other side of the room, and the next she is jerking upright, bleary gaze fixing on Kim as she sobs, shoving her knife hilt-deep into Ox’s forehead.

His eyes are red, his teeth serrated. He’s changed, she realizes, and looks down at herself. She’s got multiple bite wounds which inject...whatever changes a person, directly into their bloodstream. Even if Ox had died, it should have taken him so much longer to change.

Kim sobs over her boyfriend’s body as it slumps to the ground, and Tsubaki gets a better grip on her knife. She knows what grief does to people, and she won’t take any chances.


 

It’s been days, Tsubaki thinks. Maybe. She doesn’t really know--can’t really tell. She has no idea what’s happened at Stein’s lab, if any of them are alright, or if any of them are coming. Her walkie is silent and bloodstained, and if it weren’t for the battery pack Black Star had attached to it, she might have thought it died. Kim’s had, after all.

“You’re changing,” Kim murmurs, scared. Tsubaki can see it in her eyes that the girl is terrified, sitting beside Ox’s body, trembling.

Tsubaki can see that she’s changing, too. The ends of her hair have begun changing to white, moving up. It’s white to her shoulders now.

“I know.”

“I’m going to have to kill you, too.”

“Black Star will kill you if you do,” Tsubaki says for no reason other than she is terrified. She’s trying to think up reasons why Kim shouldn’t kill her, but she’s coming up empty. Black Star would be upset if Kim killed her, but he would get over it and he would understand eventually. Tsubaki wants to see the end of this; wants to believe that she’s resisting the cure, even a little. Ox had turned almost immediately, but it was going on days and she was still…still human, maybe.

Kim is on her period. Tsubaki can smell it, thick and strong and gag-worthy. There is blood in the back of her own throat, vile tasting, and Tsubaki clenches her fists tighter and presses them into her stomach. Kim rests a hand on her knife.

“Black Star will understand, I think.”

She’s up faster than Tsubaki can follow, which isn’t that great a feat. Tsubaki hasn’t slept in what feels like years, not since Kim killed Ox, and she can barely follow Kim. It’s only when the blade of Kim’s knife slices Tsubaki’s skin does she react, swinging out violently.

Her fist hits Kim in the jaw, and Tsubaki uses the girl’s disorientation as a chance to stand, trying to put more distance between them. Her blood spreads out along the pale yellow walls of the chapel, like a twisted finger painting. Hadn’t Angela drawn something like this once?

She feels the first slice of Kim’s knife along her back, and Tsubaki crumples to her knees, screaming.

Kim falls on top of her with the knife, eyes wild and panicked. The cuts she makes aren’t shallow or meant to slow Tsubaki down; they’re meant to kill her. The knife slides along the scars from her fight with the walkers, the one Mifune had stitched up for her, and the knife cutting through the scar tissue is almost as painful as being bitten.

But she understands. Kim wants to live, wants to make it out of here alive, and Tsubaki is hindering her. She knows that she should just let Kim do it, that it’ll be better in the end, but the thought makes her sick. She’d already promised Black Star she wouldn’t give up, and she just knows that this would make him angry.

Tsubaki, to her utter horror, can smell the blood in Kim’s neck, pumping hot and fast through her system. It’s rising to her face and her ears, anger colouring her face red. And so Tsubaki bites her without thinking.

She lunges up, feeling the knife tear against her skin again, incredibly deep this time, and she bites into Kim’s neck, teeth sinking in and tasting blood and sweat and flesh. Tsubaki’s nostrils flare and Kim pulls away before anything else can happen. There are—there’s skin in her—

Kim scrambles away, shrieking and crying and holding a hand to her neck, teeth stained red. “Wh-what did you do?” Kim asks, bawling.

“I’m so sorry,” is all Tsubaki can think to say, covering her face with her hands, coating it in her own blood, mouth stained with Kim’s. Her whole body aches from fatigue and she’s on fire from the fever and there is blood everywhere from the knife Kim had used. Tsubaki shakes and whispers, “I’m so sorry,” and pretends she doesn’t hear the choking sobs of her friend, or the knife sliding across the smooth skin of her neck.

I’m so sorry, Tsubaki repeats in her mind. She’s never killed a human, and though she hadn’t been the one who killed Kim, she’d bitten her, prompted her to take such a drastic measure. She wonders when Black Star is coming back for her, if he ever made it to Prometheus. She wonders if she should let the fever overtake her and stop fighting it, because an awful, sick part of her liked the taste of Kim. Tsubaki wonders if she’ll make it out of here alive, and if it’s worth it.

She thinks of Masamune, of Black Star’s mom, of Angela and Mifune and everyone she has killed and everyone who has died for her or because of her. I’m a murderer, she thinks numbly. I’m a monster.

Pushing to her feet and ignoring the pain, Tsubaki attempts to make it to the door. She needs out of here, away from her dead comrades. She needs out of here before Kim wakes, eyes red and hair white.

She uses the wall to walk, hands and shoulders leaving more pictures. It’s like a story.

Where are you, Black Star?

She falls to her knees, breath leaving her. It’s so hot and her head is pounding. Tsubaki doesn’t even feel herself falling backward, and she covers her face again, as if covering her eyes will keep the images of the room away.

Blinking against her hands, Tsubaki pulls them away and casts a bleary glance around the room, the blood loss finally hitting her. She can feel blood flowing from her neck, her shoulders, and her back; there isn’t a part of her that feels good and for the first time in a long time, she knows this is the end.

Somewhere, she hears the sounds of shrieks, moans, and half-words.

Somewhere, she hears someone call her name. But it is muted and small and so far away that Tsubaki figures it is the fever or her mind or someone else playing some sick joke on her.

Please come back,” she whispers to no one, only the walls and the dead can hear her now.

Hopelessness, Tsubaki decides, tastes a lot like blood. 

Chapter Text

September

ix. is stare blankly


 

Black Star watches the way Jack stands guard in the corner of Harvey’s room and it makes him sick to his stomach.He knows it’s not cool, he does, but he can’t stand there and watch the two of them together and not think of Tsubaki back at the Chapel, dying or dead or--or whatever. As soon as he has a big enough group, he’s gonna go and fucking find her and bring her back here. That miracle cure worked on Jack and Sid and the twins, so it’s gotta work on her, no doubt about it.

He doesn’t know what he’ll do if she doesn’t make it. Or what he’ll do if he goes there and finds her...other. None of them are replying to his tweets, and while he tries to be hopeful he knows it’s probably a moot point. It’s been days and the likelihood of her surviving out there, bitten, is slim to none. That’s what Stein had said, after all, and he was the fucking scientist, wasn’t he?

Black Star grits his teeth. This is so fucking...wrong. Things weren’t supposed to turn out like this, nobody was supposed to die, but especially not Tsubaki and especially not on a raid. How many had they done before? How many times has she saved him or killed walkers by herself? Why hadn’t she been paying attention to her surroundings? Why had she been--

For you, his traitorous mind hisses at him, she was bit because of you. And it’s true but it’s not and everything is so fucked up.

“Black Star.”

He turns slightly, short nails digging into the skin of his biceps, putting on a face he hopes doesn’t look too angry or distraught or hopeless. Sid stands there, look serious and cured and Black Star fucking hates him, too. “We need to send a team to meet up with Pianoman and his friend.”

“No,” Black Star shakes his head, smiling sharply at the older man. Sid is pretty smart. Hell, Sid is pretty much the idea guy, the one who comes up with their best plans of action, but Black Star is the fucking god of the Resistance, and the only person they need to send a team to get is Tsubaki. “ShadowStag is our top priority right now.”

For once, Sid doesn’t argue. Black Star is a little grateful for that.


 

Jack says, very calmly, “I’m going with you.”

Harvey is sitting up in his bed, looking worse for wear, and shaking his head. “You just got cured! And you want to go on a rescue mission?! There are plenty other people who can go, Jackie--”

“Raise your hand if you’re currently in a hospital bed,” Jack snaps, glaring at Harvey. Black Star watches Harvey open his mouth to argue, but Jack turns her back on him. “Right, now let’s go. We don’t have any time to waste.”

Black Star nods at her, then at Sid. They don’t really have a plan--just go in, rescue the others, get out. They are all very aware of the fact that the place could be flooded with walkers, that they could die, that the others are already dead or eaten or dead but not dead. The last tweet Black Star had received had been Kim saying that they’d better hurry up.

That was days ago.

Stein has the cure ready, though he refuses to come with them, just in case something happens at the Dam while they’re gone. Black Star had tried to put up a fight, tried to argue that it would make more sense if he came with them, but Stein had argued back that there was no point in joining a suicide mission.

Black Star had tried to deck him for that, but unfortunately, Sid had been there.

They are leaving the room when Harvey pipes up from his bed, “Bring ‘em home, yeah?”


 

Whatever had prompted the walkers to make their way toward Stein’s lab was apparently gone, because they were all back in The Strip, to Black Star’s utter and eternal annoyance. And with only three people in their raid party, well. The odds were not good. At all.

Although lately their odds were pretty shit anyway. They’d been ambushed at Stein’s, had lost three members of their raid party, Jack and Marie had been infected, Stein had been clawed to shit, Harvey had been injured, and of course there was always Ox being stabbed and Tsubaki being infected to add to their shitty odds, and Black Star was getting real tired of Lady Luck’s bullshit, especially when it concerned the lives of his friends.

“How the hell are we going to get through there?” Sid asks incredulously. Black Star’s eyes scan The Strip, looking for anything they can use. There are a few vehicles in one of the parking lots closer to where they’re trying to go, but that doesn’t mean they’re full of gas, and taking a chance like that could fuck them in the ass, hard. But still, they only have a few options and Black Star has faith that they can pull it off.

He digs through the van, looking for the CD case he knows is in here, explaining his plan to the others while he looks. Black Star has never been so glad for his taste in music as he is right now when he finds the case beneath Sid’s seat.

The CD is not in there, though, which prompts him to check actual radio, and, oh, there it is. “Roll down your windows,” he tells the others, “and get into the back, open the trunk, be ready to run.”

With the windows all down, the sounds of the huge crowd a hundred feet away can be heard even more. He catches snippets of mama and fuck and no and then he can’t hear any of it anymore, because he’s blasting Girl Talk, turning up the speakers as loud as they can go and slipping out through the back of the van.

They need to circle around--any chance of running through the crowd of the living dead would be suicide, so going around them is a much smarter and much better idea, even if it takes longer.

And it does take longer. On the way around they have to kill some bitches and avoid some other bitches and Black Star steps in something really fucking nasty when they run through an alley, and it takes them an hour to arrive outside The Chapel, and when they do...

There are at least three dozen walkers, all pressed against the doors that Black Star had tried to barricade when he’d left. Thankfully, the doors have held. But they creak each time the zombies press on it, and the three of them probably can’t take down this many by themselves.

And they don’t have a vehicle to distract them this time.

The hopelessness of their situation comes crashing down on him, and Black Star presses himself up against the wall, out of sight of the walkers in the hall over. Neither of them speaks; just in case they’re overheard, but Black Star’s sure they’re all thinking the same thing.

We’re so fucked.

Black Star takes a deep breath, knows what he has to do. He won’t let Tsubaki stay there a moment longer, even if he has to cut through a thousand of those things. He promised he would come back, he promised he would bring them all home, and he will.

Removing his knife from its sheath at his hip, Black Star meets Jack and Sid’s eyes, hoping they understand what he’s about to do. A darker part of him hopes they’ll come with him, lend him a hand or something, but he wouldn’t blame them for turning around and leaving, or waiting here. This is a lot to put on a person.

He turns and doesn’t wait to see if they’re going to follow him. Instead, he darts into the hallway as quickly and quietly as he can, taking down five walkers before they realize he’s there. The others quickly notice the decrease in their numbers, and once one sees and smells him, the rest seem to converge on him.

Thank fuck I wore my jacket, he thinks to himself, kicking in the knee of a walker and stabbing it when it crumples to the ground. Claws scratch at the material of his jacket, tearing it, but their claws don’t reach his skin and he counts himself lucky.

The stench around his clogs his nose and he tries not to gag when his hand accidentally sinks into the ribcage of a teenaged girl. Her hand comes up to grab his wrist, but he can’t defend himself against her because the guy on his other side if trying to get way too personal with his neck and god fucking dammit!

The girl’s arm is cut off at the elbow, and Black Star shakes her off with a grimace, turning to drive his knife under the male walker’s chin, grinning slightly when he sees the life leave the thing’s eyes. He turns back to get another, but finds Jack has already taken care of it. Sid is there too, a bit farther in but holding his own very well.

“Go,” Jack snaps at him, and Black Star doesn’t need to be told twice.

He starts running toward the doors, too fast to be caught by wandering hands. Most of them are going toward Jack and Sid anyway, which has Black Star counting his blessings. Just a little bit farther, he thinks, tasing a small child-walker-thing, when it tries to bite his leg. I’m coming, Tsubaki, he promises as he stomps in the head of a downed waiter. The doors are so close and he can see through them a bit. He hits the table and cabinet blocking the entrance into The Chapel with an “oof” and quickly gets to work dragging them out of the way, at least enough that he can open the door enough to get in. Behind him, Jack and Sid are still killing, their grunts and curses echoing through the hallway. Hopefully nothing else comes for them.

Black Star slips through the doors with a sigh of relief. He takes a second to catch his breath and prepare himself for what he might see, and then he looks up.

Blood.

That’s the first thing he sees, anyway. Blood, and then something moving beside another body, just limbs twitching back to life, a head of white lifting off the ground.

Kim has a bite taken out of her neck, but it is not what draws his attention. Her throat is a gaping slit, black blood crusting around the edges of it, and every noise she makes seems to come from it. She’s dead--either killed by Tsubaki or she’d killed herself (though he doubts it’s the latter, she’s not really the type, not even in moments like this) and all Black Star can think is that this is all his fault.

He looks around the rest of the room--sees blood on the walls, on the floor, on chairs. See a head of black turning white and--

“No,” he shakes his head, running for her, because she’s torn to pieces nearly, all cut up and broken, and he barely registers Jack and Sid entering the room, or Jack’s low cry as she sees Kim.

He pulls Tsubaki against him, feeling for a pulse or something because she’s can’t be dead. She can’t be, the wounds have scabbed it seems and her hair isn’t completely white and she’s still warm, just a little bit, “C’mon,” he murmurs, pressing his fingers to her neck. “Tsu, you gotta wake up, okay? Just show me you’re still here, c’mon please.”

His hand shake when they run across the black scabs across her shoulders, back, and neck, and she blinks up at him, eyes red but not completely, and smiles slightly, showing her sharp teeth. “Y’came back,” she breathes, then her face seems to crumple and tears spill out the corners, “y’came back,” she cries, over and over again.

Black Star feels like his heart is in his throat, and Sid comes over to help him get her to her feet. “Yes,” he tells her the seventh time she says it, mouth against his shoulder. “I did. It’s okay, we’ll fix you up.”

Sid grabs Tsubaki into his arms, because although the last thing Sid wants is to be away from her, he knows he can’t carry her to the car and run at the same time. He tosses a look at Jack, about to tell her that they need to go, but he falters.

Her fingers are touching the bite on Kim’s neck, the girl’s own knife stuck in the middle of her forehead. He watches as she reaches for Kim’s hand and Ox’s and locks them together. When she stands, her features are schooled, and she leads the way out of The Chapel without a glance back.


 

“It’s not working.”

Stein seems to be talking more to himself than anyone else, but Black Star sits up from his spot next to her bed so fast that he’s pretty sure he’s pulled something in his back. “What isn’t working?”

The doctor sounds perplexed, which is not fucking good. “The cure. I didn’t think she would last so long without it, but here she is. Only, it’s not working. The one I used on Sid, that is.”

“Then use a fucking different one!” Black Star roars, standing up. “I don’t give a fuck what you have to do: you’d better fix Tsubaki!”

The Doctor’s eyes narrow at him, his face turning mean, “Excuse me, boy, but I’m in the same predicament with Marie, and I am trying to fix the both of them but it is not working. Now, if you have a better idea, you can share with me. But if not, then sit down and shut your mouth before I sew it shut.”

Black Star’s chest heaves as he stares at the man, and any other time he would argue back, but he sits down heavily, too tired to argue. Besides, he knows it won’t get him anywhere to fight with Stein. He’s trying his best, and he is in the same predicament as Black Star. Marie is barely reacting to the cure, and he’s sure Stein cares about her just as much as he cares about Tsubaki. It just fucking sucks sitting here and not watching her get better. Stein had stitched up the slices Kim had given her--he assumes it was Kim, at least--but it wasn’t enough. She’s dying.

She’s dying, he repeats, closing his eyes and resting his head in his palms. He hasn’t really let himself think like that since she’s been back, but now he can’t help it. If the cure doesn’t work, she’ll turn. There isn't an if about it. She’s going to be one of them, and he’ll have to put her down.

He wants to tell her that he’s sorry, he wants to thank her for staying with him, he wants to tell her how he feels and how he’s planned out their entire first date right down to them getting back to the Dam and him kissing her goodnight, because while he might be a bit of a perv, he knows good dating etiquette, and besides, they would probably still share a room and she’d initiate something anyway, but Stein is staring at him and he doesn’t want to pour his heart out in front of the crazy Doctor, so he settles for taking her hand in his and telling it’ll be alright.

What’s one more white lie?


 

He’s in the Motherbrain eating and mentally planning how they’ll get to At-Pianoman when Jack bursts into the room, eyes wide and face pale.

“It’s working.”

Black Star is up and out of his seat in seconds, only he realizes too late that he hasn’t got his foot on, so he tumbles a bit. But Jack is there quicker than he can follow and she shoves him back down into his seat so she can wheel him out of the room. “I leave him alone for half an hour, and he fucking tries this!” Black Star complains, heart beating nearly out of his chest. If it’s working, that means she’ll be alright. “I didn’t even--”

“--want to leave her, yeah, I know,” Jack snarks. “But you had to because you stunk and you needed to direct those civs somewhere, and figure out what was going on with Pianoman.”

He really hates that Jack is usually right. He tells her such, and she smirks.

When they get close enough to Stein’s lab, they hear it: screaming and sobbing and a whole lot of cursing, and Jack picks up her speed even more, yelling at Harvey, who is standing guard outside, to open the door. He looks a bit reluctant, but since the only other option is Black Star running headlong into the door, he throws it open.

Inside they are assaulted by the sour stench of vomit and the horrible sound of her screams. She’s on an operation table, being held down by Sid, as the infection burns out of her--slick black blood dribbling out of the corner of her mouth, her ears, and her eyes. She looks like she’s in so much pain it makes Black Star sick.

He’s not aware he’s yelling until Jack smacks her hand over his mouth, telling him to shut up. Too late he realizes that his yelling has attracted Tsubaki, that she’s screaming at him, begging him to help her, to make the pain stop.

“I wanna die,” she sobs, head thrashing as she tries to rid herself of the black blood. “What’s happening to me? Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop, MAKE IT STOP--”

She says something in Japanese, then some more things, until finally she’s just mumbling in it, things that don’t make sense, even to him. He watches as she calms, slowly but surely, her heart rate decreasing back to normal. The bleeding stops and he wonders why it was so different from when Sid was cured. Or if it even was. Maybe this was different because it is Tsubaki.

Stein seems to read his mind. He pushes his glasses up onto his nose and reaches into his pocket for a cigarette he’s not authorized to have. Nobody says anything as he lights it. “I used the blood samples from Castor and Claire.”

“They were cured with the same stuff, though,” Harvey pipes up from behind them, voicing the thoughts of everyone in the room. “Weren’t they?”

Stein launches into some scientific sounding bullshit, and the only thing Black Star gets from it is that Castor and Claire were resistant longer, so their blood was more advanced, and since Tsubaki was resistant for so long, the cure used on Sid wouldn’t work as well, and they’d need to use the cure made from the twin’s resistant blood. Or something. Black Star doesn’t really know. He’s just thankful that it’s helped her.

“She’ll be okay now?” He asks Stein, wheeling himself toward the table she’s laid out on. She looks troubled, even in sleep, and he reaches up to smooth out her brow as best he can.

“She should be,” Stein shrugs. “Some things will change--her teeth, for example, are already changing, but I’m sure there will be skin-deep things that don't change. She might, for example, see better, or smell better, or hear better. Either way, she won’t want to feast on any of our flesh.”

Her hair hadn’t completely changed to white, and the black ends right below her ears, the rest giving away to infection. He wonders if she’ll like it.


 

She wakes up on a Tuesday evening, and the first thing she does is cut her hair. Or, at least, that’s what Jack told him. He had tried to come and see her when he’d first heard, only he’d heard her crying when he stood outside the door and had turned away, heading back into the Dam proper. He hasn’t seen her awake yet since she’d been cured, and he hasn’t worked up the courage to do it until now.

It’s late Tuesday night--around midnight, he thinks--and a thousand years ago they would have just been logging on to their computers to talk to each other. She had classes Tuesday nights and he always waited for her to come online, since Tuesdays were the nights they played on PokerStars. But this is now, and this is the apocalypse, or some fucked up shitty version of it, and things are the farthest from okay with them.

“I left you there,” Black Star murmurs, eyeing the white strands of hair on the ground. He can see Tsubaki shift in his peripheral, movements mechanical and stiff. “I abandoned you, Tsu. What kind of god does that?”

Tsubaki is quiet, and the only sound in the room is their breathing mixing together. Black Star thinks back to that day, thinks of the way she looked, all fragile and pale and sweating. He thinks back to the way her lips felt against his. It had been a last-ditch effort, really, but it was one that Black Star was more than happy to use.

It’s not like it was their first kiss, but it'd felt different than the heated moment they’d shared months ago. It was their entire relationship built up in one small peck, and the awful, horrible part of him had been sure she wouldn’t make it. That it would be their last kiss.

But it wasn’t, and here they are, with her broken and him cracking around the edges and it sucks ass because everything had been so simple before, just killing zombies and finding survivors. He--he had fucking feelings for this chick next to him (not a chick, it’s his best friend, it’s ShadowStag, it’s Tsubakibut she doesn’t...trust him, or maybe she doesn’t like him or maybe it’s none of those and simply that she’s scared but whatever the reason, he doesn’t want to kiss her again or make another move, or the fragile trust they’re rebuilding will crumble. He shouldn’t have kissed her. He shouldn’t have left her. He shouldn’t have let her get bitten but Black Star has done a lot of things he shouldn’t have and none of this is a surprise.

Running a hand through his hair, Black Star sighs. Tsubaki isn’t watching him, just staring at the wall, face blank. She’s good at keeping her emotions off her face, he’ll give her that. He only wishes she would talk to him. Yell and scream and hit him for abandoning her, for making her kill Kim (because he did that, he left Kim there with Tsubaki, he put her in the position and he hates himself for it), for dragging her along with him. He wants to yell at himself too, because had he just ditched her that day and let her find her brother on her own, they might have been better off. She might have died, yeah, but at least she wouldn’t have been assaulted by some perv, or bitten.

He probably would have died too, though.

Black Star leans back in his chair, fingers clenching on the wheels. “I’m a fucking failure.”

“No,” Tsubaki murmurs, voice rough from disuse. “You’re human. You’re allowed to make mistakes, Black Star.”

“But at the cost of the people I--the cost of my followers?” Black Star scowls and looks away, crossing his arms over his chest.

Tsubaki makes a noise of discomfort, and Black Star immediately looks over at her, eyes scanning for an injury, wondering if maybe one of the stitches opened. Kim really did a fucking number on her, carving Tsubaki’s smooth skin like she was a goddamn jack-o-lantern.

But nothing seems to be reopened, and she continues to adjust herself on the cot with only a wince. “It’s nothing; I just moved the wrong way is all.” She blinks and looks at him, finally comfortable. Her eyes aren’t the same anymore, but he hates to say they’re prettier this way. Her eyebrows draw down, and Black Star scowls at the bandages covering her entire torso. Stein hadn’t wanted to put a shirt on her since it’d be a hassle to get it on and off when re-checking her wounds, but Black Star doesn’t like the idea of anyone coming in and seeing her like this. While her breasts might be covered, it doesn’t really leave much to the imagination.

“Stop staring at me,” she murmurs, rubbing at her now short hair. He hadn’t been looking at that, but he doesn’t think she’d like what he was actually thinking.

He bites his lip, worrying at the chapped skin. Jack had come to find him earlier to tell him what she’d done to her hair, and he’d come over as soon as he could, but couldn’t bring himself to push the door open when he heard her quiet sobs. He’s such a fucking pansy.

“I like it,” he offers quietly. He doesn’t, really. Her long hair had been one of his favorite things about her, even if it’d tickled his nose and he’d eaten it several times while sleeping next to her. He’s not saying this is ugly, because there is nothing about her that Black Star finds unattractive, but it’s so drastically different and he gets why she cut it, he just hates that she had to.

She doesn’t reply, but she does smile at him slightly. Her fingers reach for his, and he hooks two around hers.

They sit like that for a long time. Long enough that he begins to feel sleepy, long enough that he begins to think this is all a fucked up dream. Long enough that he can imagine Tsubaki in one piece and yelling at him for being lazy.

And then Sid’s voice comes in over the intercom, asking for his presence in his office. Tsubaki removes her fingers from his; shifting so she’s in a better position. Her eyes are drooping and he remembers that she’s got a fuckton of meds in her, and he’s definitely been keeping her from sleep. With a low groan, he gets to his feet and makes his way to the door, shutting the lights off and pausing before he leaves.

“Hey. Tsu? Are we gonna be cool again?” He pretends his voice doesn’t crack and his fingers tighten on the edge of the door painfully.

“When I look at you, Black Star,” Tsubaki murmurs in the darkness of the room, voice broken and raw and so empty that Black Star feels his throat tighten, “I see it all again.”

He’s about to leave when she says, even quieter, “But I think we’ll be okay.” And he pretends like his stomach doesn’t flip around and his chest doesn’t swell with joy because that’s some girly shit right there.