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Memento Mori

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 Xian's eyes snap open and she sits up, drawing in a breath for a scream. It doesn't make it out, and she presses her hands to her face before slowly exhaling.

    The last thirty hours or so have been a nightmare on their own, and having another one feels redundant. Unfortunately, Xian is a cop and a cop's daughter, with the sense of black humor that the job requires, and at some point she said to herself, well, at least I don't know any of these people. When she slept, that was what her imagination had waiting for her: Banoi repopulated with friends and family, shrieking like demons and throwing themselves against her in an endless human wave. Sometimes they died, and sometimes she did. Xian isn't quite sure which was worse.

    She lies back on the bed, forcing herself to breathe evenly, and realizes she doesn't know where she is. It's one of the bungalows on the resort, which are all made from prefabricated parts and, aside from their basic interior-design scheme, most of them look the same on the inside. This one's got the impersonal, empty feel of an unused hotel room; the only light's coming from the self-illuminating switches on the wall, and from an old digital alarm clock sitting on the nightstand next to the bed. It reads 11:32 PM. Aside from the distant sound of heavy rain against the roof, it's unnervingly quiet, which is something she never thought she'd think about Banoi.

    Discomfort eventually gets her out of the bed. Somebody threw the comforter over her and removed her shoes, but didn't do much else, so there's a fine layer of dirt, sand, sweat, and other people's dried blood that's accumulated between her and the sheets. Now that she's up, it's like lying on sandpaper.

    Xian pushes open the door into the living room, which is lit by a couple of dozen bath candles. Most of the furniture's piled up against the front door, except for the couch, a table, and two chairs. The front window's half-open, and she can see maybe three feet beyond it. Rain lashes against the island in heavy, wind-driven sheets, which is a typical sort of storm for Banoi.

    Purna's seated at the table, which she's moved next to the front window, and looks up as Xian enters. She's had some time to clean up, and has removed most of her gear except for the torn evening gown she's had on since they met. Purna's revolver is dismantled on the table in front of her, the parts laid out precisely on a spread towel, and she's poked a wad of cloth halfway through the barrel with a length of wire. "Evening," she says.

    "I--" Xian presses her palms against her eyes, then walks to the two duffel bags that contain their supplies. They, and most of the weapons that both she and Purna had been carrying, are stacked up neatly on one end of the couch. "How long have I been asleep?"

    "Maybe six hours," Purna says. She puts down the wire long enough to take a sip of Energizer. It's a brand of energy drink that's local to Banoi and tastes like diabetic shock feels, but it does what the ads say it'll do. There are five more cans of it sitting empty on the table in front of Purna, which explains how she's still awake.

    "I don't even remember coming in here," Xian says, and fishes an orange out of one of the bags. She almost uses one of her knives to peel it, but she knows where those knives have been. She uses her fingernails instead.

    "Doesn't surprise me. We were all running near empty." Purna squints down the barrel of the revolver. "Sinamoi's monsoon was about to hit, and it was coming up on sunset anyway. No reason not to hole up somewhere defensible for the night, and if that twat Svetlana can survive out here on the docks, so can we."

    Xian pops an orange segment into her mouth and chews slowly. It's hard not to remember Svetlana, who'd drunkenly begged them to bring her bottles of champagne. She and the rest of her group had been hiding in the Diamond bungalows, behind a barricade that wouldn't have stopped a curious toddler, but which had seemed to keep the infected at bay. Come to think of it, this looks like one of the Diamond bungalows.  "You stayed up?"

    "I'm used to it. First I was a cop, then I was a bodyguard." Purna sets the barrel down and picks up the cylinder. "Don't get a lot of chances to set your own hours on either job."

    "Thank you." Xian tears off another chunk of the orange. "Where are Logan and Sam?"

    "Bungalow across the way." Purna makes a gesture in that direction with her head. "Theirs still has cable. I checked in with Sam on the two-way about an hour ago. He says they've been watching ESPN since we got here."

    Xian smiles faintly.

    "Which works out pretty nice," Purna says, "since I wanted to get you alone." She cleans the revolver's cylinder with a small wire brush, carefully removing grains of sand. She'd taken a lot of tools from the gas stations north of the resort, none of which were anything as formal as a gun-cleaning kit, but she's able to make do.

    Xian pauses, her hand halfway to her mouth, and looks cautiously at Purna.

    "When we woke up in that shack with Sinamoi," Purna says, "and made our introductions, I figured you'd be an extra pair of hands at best. Hotel receptionist, right?" She frowns at the cylinder, and scrubs out one of the chambers. "Then I noticed you were scared, same as anyone, but you weren't panicking. Got my attention there."

    She gently applies oil to the revolver's crane and slides the cylinder back on. It spins gently and smoothly, and with a pleased nod, Purna begins to reassemble the revolver. "Then I saw you fight, and with a blade in your hand, you're a bloody lawnmower. Not bad for a receptionist."

    Xian eats the last bite of the orange.

    "So I'm asking, politely, because you're a hell of an asset, who you really are."

    The revolver's back together, and Purna carefully inserts fresh rounds into the cylinder before snapping it shut.

    Xian thinks for a couple of minutes. Then she stands up, reaches into the pocket of her skirt, and tosses a billfold onto the table in front of Purna. Purna raises one eyebrow, then picks it up and opens it, revealing a polished brass badge. Purna's eyes widen when she sees it.

    "You're a cop?" Purna says.

    "Undercover," Xian says, "with the Hong Kong PD. Or I was."

    Purna closes it and tosses it back to Xian. "Are there a lot of Hong Kong criminals vacationing on Banoi, constable?"

    "Almost none," Xian says, and sits back down on the couch. "I am here because they're not sure what to do with me."

    That gets a laugh, which wasn't what Xian was expecting.

    Purna puts away the revolver. "You and me, doll? Turns out we have a lot to talk about."


    The next time Xian looks at the clock, it's three in the morning.

    Purna's relaxed considerably around her. She's got a thousand stories from her time as a cop in Sydney: stupid crooks, dumber officers, and her near-constant fights with her own superiors. Xian has maybe a week and a half of actual police work under her belt, so she spends a lot more time listening than talking, but a lot of Purna's stories sound strangely familiar. Sydney isn't Hong Kong; nearly every detail that could be different is different; it's still like she's talking to a version of herself from the future.

    Two hours ago, Purna cracked open a bottle of the brand-X whiskey Banoi serves in the beachfront bars. They've been using it to make Molotovs. It's awful stuff, like drinking paint thinner, and neither of them are dumb enough to have more than a little, but if there are two women on the planet who deserve a fucking drink more than they do, Xian cannot imagine who they are. She's not drunk, nowhere near it, but the whiskey's pushed a lot of aches, pains, and unpleasant thoughts off the table. For as many as thirty seconds at a time, she can forget about the infected, and that's worth a lot.

    They're both sprawled out on the couch as they talk and drink, and their mood's dwindled down to a sort of easy, comfortable paranoia. They can't even see any of the infected from here, but every time one of them laughs louder than she meant to, or Purna starts getting wound up from a story and her voice rises, they both look at the window, drop to a whisper, and scoot a little closer together.

    The last candle finally gives out, a couple of hours after it could have reasonably been expected to last, and dim light turns into no light at all. Their flashlights are with the rest of their things, in easy reach, but they don't turn them on just yet. The conversation tapers off, and they both find themselves staring at the rain.

    The storm hasn't broken yet, but the torrential downpour's tapered off into a steady drumbeat against the roof. Now they can see out the window across the water to Banoi, which has gone almost completely dark. Most nights, it'd be lit up like Vegas and every bar would be at least half full. Tonight, it's an ominous black shadow against the horizon line.

    Xian's very aware of Purna's presence. They were sitting close, and in the darkness it has a peculiar sort of intimacy. Purna's warm to the touch and breathing evenly; she smells of the whiskey they're drinking, sweat, hand soap, and machine oil. She's everything the infected aren't, and there's comfort in that.

     They're both leaning on each other's shoulders, and Xian's thinking about taking Purna's hand, or stroking her hair. She doesn't. It occurs to her that Purna's close enough to kiss. She doesn't do that, either, but the idea has a strange appeal.

    "What do we do now?" Xian says softly.

    "Head back to Sinamoi with the supplies," Purna says. They're both speaking barely above a whisper. "I haven't gotten any further than that."

    "I'm..." Xian shakes her head. "I don't know how you're staying so calm. Aren't you scared at all?"

    Purna sits up and knocks back the last of the whiskey in her glass. "I'm absolutely fucking terrified, doll." She turns to look at Xian. "I'm just using it. Hard to be scared for me if I'm busy keeping an eye on the rest of you."

    Xian smiles and says nothing.

    Purna fumbles blindly in the dark for a moment, finally coming up with her flashlight, and turns it on. "I'm going to grab a shower and a couple hours' sleep. You mind staying up?"

    Xian sits up and stretches out both arms. She does, but it's not fair to Purna. "No, not at all."

    It's hard to see what she's doing, but Purna contorts a bit in the dark before letting out a whispered curse. "This goddamn gown. Xian, can you unzip me?"

    Xian takes the flashlight and stands up, moving in behind Purna and feeling along the top of her evening gown for the zipper. It's small and half-jammed with sand, but it's not as stubborn as she is, and she manages to work it down bit by bit, holding the flashlight in the crook between her torso and right arm.

    As a side effect, she's revealing more of Purna's tattoos, a black-against-black tribal design she doesn't recognize, and that's interesting by itself. Xian touches one without thinking, tracing its lines across Purna's back with the tip of her finger. Xian doesn't quite realize what she's doing until Purna turns around slightly.

    They make eye contact, and Xian looks down again, newly focused on the zipper. Purna seems quietly amused as Xian pulls on both sides of the dress, yanking on it steadily with both hands, and it finally loosens. Xian lets go of it and takes a step backward, her hands down at her sides, and Purna stands there for a long second looking at her. Then she disappears into the bathroom.

    Xian sits down heavily on the couch and rests her face on her hands. There's a squeak and hiss as the shower comes on, and the same traitor imagination that gave her the nightmare paints her a picture of the water sliding down Purna's body, rivulets running along her skin. Then she puts the heels of her palms into her eyes and tells herself to stop. It comes out aloud, in Cantonese.

    She needs a distraction and finds one by sorting through the supply bags, marveling at the random junk they've managed to accumulate, most of it on the assumption it'd be useful somehow.

    Xian's organizing the supplies, just to get an idea of what they've picked up, when Purna shouts her name. It probably isn't actually a shout, but it sounds only slightly softer than the first clap of creation, and she's on her feet with a knife in her hand before she's fully registered what it is.

    "Xian!" Purna calls again, and Xian snatches up her flashlight and heads through the bathroom door.

    The room's filling slowly with steam. Purna's gown, jewelry, and holstered revolver are in a pile on the washbasin, and Purna's flashlight turns the entire room into a blue-and-yellow Chinese lantern, its beam filtered through the happy beach-themed shower curtain. Xian does a quick look around, adrenaline filling her mouth with a taste like copper, before taking three quick steps to the curtain and yanking it open.

    Purna's hands gather up a double handful of Xian's shirt and pull her into the shower. For a second, Xian thinks that immunity they've thought they had was a lie, or a mistake, and Purna's turned in the last five minutes, but her eyes are clear and amused. Now she's kissing Xian, and if zombies have learned how to do that it's a very new event.

    It starts off tentative, with Xian's arms held out to her sides so she doesn't accidentally stick Purna with the diving knife, little more than just her lips against Xian's. When Xian doesn't push her away immediately, Purna gets bolder, one arm coming up to rest on Xian's shoulder and one hand coming in to run through the tangled wreck of Xian's hair, as their mouths open slightly and the kiss gets harder by subtle degrees. Xian's eyes close and her free hand grabs weakly at Purna, settling up on the small of her back, and Purna takes that as an opportunity to tilt her head just so, and their tongues slide against each other.

    Purna switches positions so she can push Xian against the tiled wall of the shower stall and Xian goes with it, somewhere between paralyzed with shock and eager participation. The shower's just slightly south of scalding and now she's directly under the spray, the water soaks through her nice white business shirt almost immediately, and Xian's flashlight drops into the bathtub with a loud clatter that neither of them really hear.

    "I thought you were in trouble," Xian says, pulling Purna's face away from hers. There doesn't seem to be enough oxygen in the room.

    "Nah," Purna says, and her hands settle on Xian's hips. "I decided to stop being subtle. Sorry." She does not sound sorry.

    Xian's mouth twists into something between amusement and genuine anger, and then she realizes she's still holding the diving knife. She doesn't have anywhere safe to put it down like ordinary people would, so she throws it instead, and even distracted as she is, it goes end over end into the far wall of the bathroom with an impressively solid thunk. Purna watches it fly and turns back to her with an eyebrow up.

    "This may be a very bad idea," Xian says, but doesn't really mean it.

    "We're probably gonna die," Purna says, and her lips touch Xian's ear like she's about to tell her a secret. "No supplies, no cops, no army, no way off the island, and I figure we got about fifty-fifty odds that the mainland says 'fuck it' and bombs the island flat.

    "I've been thinking about this for the last couple of hours and you know what? Couldn't think of a good reason to do anything else."

    She punctuates each part of that statement with a kiss, a lick, a bite, and Xian shudders each time Purna's lips touch her skin. There are concerns here, very real ones, issues of identity and practicality and basic fucking safety, and they all seem very remote right now.

    We're probably gonna die.

    In a strange way, this is the most erotic thing she's ever heard.

    Her shirt's barely there at this point. The shower spray's turned it into basically the suggestion of apparel, but even that's too fucking much now and she starts yanking the buttons open, pulling back from Purna just far enough so she can reach her front. Purna starts going after the buttons near the hemline, their hands meet halfway, and the shirt's already half-torn and sticking to her like cobwebs. In the end, she manages to tear it off with a frustrated growl and throw it out of the shower. The moment it's gone, Purna's back on her, her lips starting at Xian's neck and rapidly going lower.

    Xian sags back against the wall, and Purna kneels quickly--they're having to do a lot of spur-of-the-moment contortions to both stay in the shower, which only now strikes Xian as a serious design flaw, because of any place on Earth you'd expect Banoi to have showers in which you can comfortably fuck--to grab the waistband of her skirt. It was already torn and now it's soaked, and Purna pulls it all the way down to Xian's knees with next to no resistance.

    She's wearing nice sensible white cotton panties underneath it, the kind of thing that Xian Mei the excited future world traveler would wear, because a good cover story begins with your choice of underwear, and Purna doesn't bother sliding them down her hips. No, those she tears completely off, yanking three times until the waistband breaks, and Xian lets out a muffled shriek as they rip away.

    Purna pushes the skirt the rest of the way down Xian's legs with one hand, then she's back up on her feet in one motion with her hands on Xian's hips, leaning into a kiss that's nothing quite so much as hungry, there's a real sense of urgency and raw need behind it, and Xian brings her hands up to hold either side of Purna's face.

    Suddenly Purna's touching her between her legs, sliding along the surface, and Xian lets out a muffled sound of surprise. She can actually feel Purna smile, their mouths are that tight against each other, even as Purna finds what she wants and a single finger slides up inside Xian. She breaks the kiss to let out a moan, and Purna adds another finger in that moment. There's adrenaline behind it and Purna's pushing hard already, her thumb sneaking up to find Xian's clit, and Purna's got this wild wolf smile as she starts fucking Xian with her hand.

    There are fireworks going off behind Xian's eyes and she loses most of her motor control, because she's thinking this might be the last time she ever comes; for all she knows there are about a thousand zombies waiting right outside and they're firing up the barbecue grill, because she and Purna are currently fucking when they should be watching the window, and God help her, that just makes this better somehow.

    Her hands drop as Purna's hand moves faster, one's wedged against the wall and the other one's on Purna's shoulder, and she says "Fuck you, enjoy the show," out loud in Cantonese, almost screaming it at this entirely imaginary crowd of zombies standing right on the other side of the wall. Purna doesn't seem to care.

    Xian's thoughts are still that tangled when it hits her. Purna's tossed another finger in there and seems to know exactly what she's doing, like they've been doing this for years, and Xian takes a deep breath that she's going to let out as a scream. Purna quickly muffles it with her other hand, and Xian sags against the shower wall, shrieking into Purna's palm as she comes.

    Both of Xian's legs turn to rubber, and she starts sliding backward down the shower wall. Purna's fingers leave her and they fall down together, Purna holding her as Xian shudders and gasps for air, and they wind up in an awkward tangle of limbs on the floor of the bathtub.

    It takes a while before she can move again, and when she can, Xian reaches out and twists the shower handle, turning off the spray. They're both flushed and wrinkled, and Purna's nuzzling against her neck again, ready to start over.

    "...bedroom," she says, twice, because she forgets what the English word is the first time (and she's really rather proud of herself for remembering what it is at all, top marks to Xian Mei), and they make it as far as the couch before they fall down again, next to the supply bags, their mouths fastened together in something a little more violent and exploratory than a "kiss." Xian manages to roll her stockings off her legs during this, because suddenly anything she's wearing is like a ball and chain around her neck, and Purna doesn't remove her bra--some practical white cotton monstrosity that came as a matching set with the panties--so much as try to yank it off. Neither of them quite have the patience for the clasp, but it unfastens before one of them picks up a knife and severs the elastic.

    They stand up again, Xian first, and she manages to get six steps into the bedroom before Purna's back on her from behind. Her hands are everywhere, her lips are on Xian's neck, and there's this constant stream of half-comprehensible dirty talk, just a hundred thousand things Purna would like to do to Xian, and Xian's legs are already about to give out, thanks. She yanks the comforter and top blanket off of the bed, because she somehow remembers why she got up in the first place, and throws them aside.

    Purna makes a mistake, grabbing for her, and Xian pulls off something kind of like a hip throw, an application of her training that her father probably would not have predicted. Purna hits the bed hard enough to bounce, and Xian leaps on top of her, straddling Purna, her hands coming down on Purna's shoulders and keeping her there. Purna tries to get up a couple of times, but only for show, and then they're kissing again, their nipples rubbing together, Xian unable to get enough of just touching this woman, of the simple feeling of wet skin on skin. She's pushing herself into Purna, sliding against her, and Xian brings her hands up to either side of Purna's head, running her fingers through the tangled nest of her hair. Purna's hands come up and clap onto Xian's buttocks, pulling against her, squeezing hard enough to bruise.

    Xian breaks the kiss after what seems like a long time and moves backward, motivated by reciprocity, stopping where she thinks she'll get a result, and she's always right; kiss her neck, bite her ear, swirl her tongue around a nipple and Purna writhes like a madwoman. It's almost too easy.

    She finds what she's after eventually, though, and Xian slides backward off the side of the bed as she licks her way down Purna's body, taking her sweet time. Purna's more than ready for this, she's basically living in anticipation, growling down at the woman between her legs in a language Xian barely speaks right now (English might as well be fucking Martian to her at the moment and she's known enough of it to get by since she was six), and Xian lets her squirm for a moment like that, just breathing in Purna's scent and exhaling slowly, driving her to the point of near-insanity. When Xian opens her mouth and leans in, it feels like she's doing this woman a significant kindness.

    Purna's as worked up as she is, which is gratifying, because she spasms like she's been hit with a taser and Xian hasn't really done anything yet. She's just slid her tongue into Purna, and then she starts to explore, nibbling Purna's clit and thrusting a finger inside her whenever the impulse strikes. Xian doesn't have a lot of experience with this, but she knows what she likes, and after an initial moment of frenzied uncertainty, that appears to be what Purna likes as well. Purna grabs a double handful of the bedsheets and her thighs fasten around Xian's neck. Xian takes these as positive signs and keeps along her present course.

    The unique taste of this woman floods her mouth and Xian keeps at it, flicking Purna's clit with her tongue, savoring the flavor, hooking a finger inside Purna just so. Purna's muttered monologue hits a fever pitch, going from something that Xian would ordinarily recognize as words to what she doesn't think are words at all, and then Purna sits up suddenly and both her hands fasten onto Xian's scalp in a motion that's just this side of genuinely painful and Xian smiles, because it turns out she's pretty decent at this.

    Purna finally lets go of Xian's hair and falls back against the bed, her breath coming in audible heaves. Xian stops what she's doing to come crawling up towards Purna's face, feeling powerful and dangerous in the darkness, and she catches Purna's lower lip between her teeth. Purna's moving slowly right now, but she's not so weak she can't respond to that, licking her own taste off of Xian's lips and chin.

    There's a brief moment of confusion next, where they both seem to have an idea of where this goes now but they don't really feel like sharing that with the other woman; they'd also have to stop kissing to do that and well, that's just not going to happen. Xian, for her part, isn't certain what she's doing and is just going with whatever feels best, and Purna seems to have a slightly different notion thereof. It's almost funny.

    They settle up in a bizarre position Xian would have never thought of on her own, both their legs spread, Xian's bush sliding down Purna's thigh and finding an amazing friction against Purna's pussy. That seems to get an unspoken agreement, they're both fine with this, and they grind against each other with all the speed and force they can manage. Xian swings her leg over Purna's, and then they're locked together.

    It feels slightly ridiculous at first but it gets results in a hurry, and Xian feels Purna's orgasm through the deathgrip they've got on one another's hands, and then she's ready to come and it's going to come out as a scream, and just before it happens she breaks contact and throws herself on top of Purna. That final cry goes into Purna's mouth, muffled by a kiss.

     Xian topples over next to Purna and stares at the unusually interesting ceiling, both of them breathing in shallow gasps. She's as exhausted as she's ever been; her thoughts have been replaced by a very pleasant sort of white noise.

     "Maybe," Purna says, "it wasn't such a good idea."

     Xian lets her head fall to the side so she can look at Purna.

     "I just needed to feel alive," she says. "Maybe that wasn't fair to you."

     "If you apologize to me for this," Xian says, "I will beat you to death."

     That gets an exhausted laugh, and Purna half-rolls over to face her. They don't want to be done yet, their hands both start roaming, but they've both hit their limit for what they can do in one day. Xian kisses Purna one last time, but it's more of a goodbye than anything else. Then she's asleep.



    Xian doesn't dream. She knows, upon waking, that the nightmare tried to come back, but it didn't manage to get any traction.

    She and Purna are wrapped around one another, covered by a thin white cotton sheet that one of them pulled over themselves in the night, and she only woke up in the first place because Purna tried to get out of bed. She makes a pre-verbal sound of disapproval and tries to keep Purna there with her, and they wrestle sleepily for a couple of minutes before Purna manages to win. Xian flops facedown into the mattress with a groan.

    Purna's not gone for long, but by that point, it's too late. Xian's awake enough to have realized where she is, and she's already worked through the pleasant possibility that the entire "zombie outbreak" thing was some kind of wine-soaked dream. Purna comes back into the bedroom, still naked, and leans on the doorjamb as Xian pulls herself up on one elbow.

    The only thing Xian's still wearing, somehow, is the stupid hotel-uniform necktie. Somehow it feels a little more immodest than if she were totally naked, but either way, she doesn't think to cover up until a couple of minutes after it's a moot point. She sits up on one elbow, rubbing sleep out of her eyes with the other hand, and gives Purna a sleepy grin. The sheet's only covering her up to the knee.

    "The two-way went off. It's noon," Purna says. She seems completely comfortable, her body on open display, and Xian isn't sure where to look first. "Sinamoi thought we were dead."

    "What about Sam and Logan?" Xian says, yawning as she does it.

    "It may surprise you to learn that Logan is not a morning person," Purna says. "We actually woke up before they did."

    Xian chuckles.

    "They're out of food up at the lifeguard station," Purna says, "again, because somebody up there eats like a fucking horse." She sighs. "We should probably get up there."

    "Yes. Probably." Xian swings her legs over and off the bed, rubbing the stiffness out of her thighs and calves, and Purna takes two steps to stand over her. Purna sets her knees on the side of the mattress, on either side of Xian's hips, and kisses her softly.

    "I said we were probably gonna die," Purna says. "I didn't say I wasn't gonna fight like hell."

    "If that's what you had meant," Xian says, and she ducks her head slightly so their foreheads are touching, "I was going to try to talk you out of it."

    "I've gotten further than I had," Purna says, and drapes her arms around Xian's shoulders. "Let's say we survive, just on the chance we live through this. Fuck the Hong Kong PD. Fuck those old men who don't understand you. Come to work with me."

    "As a bodyguard?"

    "Bodyguard, private detective, French maid, fuck it, I don't care. You're wasted there." Purna kisses the tip of Xian's nose. "Think about it. Something to live for."

    "I do my best work when I've got an incentive," Xian says, and it's a little more daring than anything she's said before, but to hell with it. There are a lot of things she's never done before this week, and this, at least, is pleasant.

    Purna laughs, and drags Xian to the bungalow's shower.