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Bloom and Scatter
Chapter 9: Hopeless
Characters, Pairings: Tachibana Makoto, Matsuoka Rin
Summary: Rin returns to Japan to look for his mother and sister. What he finds, instead, is Makoto.
Notes: Originally posted on AO3.
[ 1: Homecoming ]
[ 2: THe Fog ]
[ 3: Masks ]
[ 4: They Live ]
[ 5: The Truth ]
[ 6: Making Plans ]
[ 7: Lost & Found ]
[ 8: The Payoff ]
[ 9: Hopeless ]
[ 10: The Waiting Game ]
Rin couldn’t stop staring.
“That zombie,” Makoto said with a slight wheeze and a self-deprecating chuckle, “He got me real good, huh? I can barely feel my arm.” Makoto looked down at the palm of his trembling left hand, trying to flex and close his fist, though the full-body wince that went through him seemed to signify that the acid had done damage beyond the original splatter zone. He tried to rotate his shoulder but he inhaled sharply partway through and slumped, wheezing through the mouthpiece of his gas mask. It was a good thing he was a rightie.
Makoto seemed to notice that Rin hadn’t said a word.
“Rin?” He asked, “Something wrong?”
Though he was listening to Makoto, Rin couldn’t seem to parse the words he wanted to say. Conversations flashed through his mind. Some he recalled as-a-matter-of-factually. Some he regretted from the bottom of his heart. I really want to be stone cold before my corpse so much as sniffs you out and thinks you’re edible. The words felt like lead on his tongue.
“Earth to Rin,” Makoto waved a hand in front of his face.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
“Are you okay?” He frowned when Rin didn’t answer, “What are you looking at?”
His eyes travelled downwards, following the line of Rin’s sight…
… and rested on the bite mark on the back of his left forearm.
The colour left Makoto’s face.
“No,” Makoto whispered, seized with sudden grief and fear, “No. It… It can’t be.”
“You got bit,” Rin said hoarsely, pale as a sheet, “When did you get bit?”
“I-I don’t know,” Makoto stammered, “I don’t know. All I know was that I-I shot the spewer and then he… fell on top of me, and then I…” The realisation hit then, Makoto’s voice becoming thick, “Then I kicked him off.”
“He fell on top of you. Face first.”
Makoto could only nod, feeling his blood run cold.
“Despite having his head shot into.”
“H-His teeth,” Makoto said, “He still had teeth. I was already injured and…”
There was a long shriek from the direction of the hospital. Both of them looked towards it briefly before their eyes met.
“We need to go.”
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
It wasn’t long before they staggered out of the lake district. Rin refused Makoto’s offer of assistance and limped the entire journey, steeling himself to ignore the rejection in Makoto’s downcast eyes and dragged feet. They had been through too much damage to be able to fight their way through zombies, be they a hoard or just stragglers, and took to a winding path that weaved through the remnants of the shopping and housing districts. Makoto still clutched at his arm, blood mostly dry but still oozing down his wrist. Rin was careful to keep him at a distance, in case he… Well. In case.
They crossed the river further inland since they’d blown up the Tottori Bypass Bridge, passing a heavily looted Sega World, which Rin would have found more amusing under different circumstances. The walk was long and hard and Rin was both pleased and irritated by the presence of the gas masks that they wore; on one hand, he couldn’t hear the laboured breathing one would associate with… turning. On the other, a mouthpiece meant there wouldn’t be any jaw snapping action. The only other issue was the fact that they were both covered in blood; but as long as they kept a distance from each other and the blood kept drying, it should be fine.
“Rin,” Makoto’s voice cracked slightly, muffled and hoarse, “Where are we stopping?”
He let the silence linger before he opened his mouth.
“Manidera. It should be… safe.”
“The… The temple up the mountain?”
“That’s… that’s a bit far.”
“We’re halfway there.”
“I’m… I don’t know if we, if I can m-make… the trip.”
Rin lapsed into silence. When it was obvious he wasn’t going to respond, Makoto hung his head and said no more.
Makoto looked hesitantly between Rin and the big jeep whose window he’d just smashed the butt of his machete through. Hotwiring it had been a snap. There was more than enough fuel to last a trip partway to Kyoto and a handful of supplies inside. It was a lucky break, really.
Rin’s gaze shifted briefly before he dove into an explanation, “The trip’s too long on foot, and uphill. I can’t risk any… turning that can attract zombies. Not when we’re out in the open. Plus, I’m running on empty right now. Even if this thing makes noise, I’ll make some sort of explosion happen as a distraction.”
Rin fiddled around with another vehicle and jumped out of it just before it slammed into a pile of abandoned cars that he had covered in gasoline further down the street. The bang was enormous, smoke and fire and car alarms making a hell of a scene.
With some satisfaction, Rin took the wheel of the jeep. It stalled briefly but after a little revving and a handful of attempts to get the gears to lock in place, it positively glided up the winding mountain path that led to Manidera. What had been a 5-hour walk had just been reduced to a 30-minute drive. Past the parking lot at the end of the road, the crumbling steps of an otherwise untouched Manidera Temple were a challenge in their own right.
Rin considered the logistics of walking up the steps for about two minutes before he said, “Fuck it,” and jammed the pedal all the way down. The entire vehicle shook as they rolled up the jagged steps but the final distance was bridged by a spurt of power that sent them flying over the stoop and through the wide wooden gates into the courtyard.
He killed the engine and stepped out.
If need be, I won’t hesitate to kill you if you get turned.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
“Give me your gun.”
Makoto’s breath hitched, “Rin, p-please, please don’t—”
“I said,” Rin interjected calmly, “Give me your gun.”
“Shut up,” Rin snapped, cursing inwardly as he couldn’t seem to stop his hands from shaking at his sides, “You’re making this more difficult than it has to be. I’m not about to use a shotgun or-or a machete on you. Okay? I promised I’d make it quick.”
“No, no, please Rin, please wait, I—”
“Did you or did you not get bitten?!” He shouted over Makoto’s whimpering, “Well?!”
The words wouldn’t come out. Makoto gripped his forearm tighter and hung his head.
“Exactly,” Rin couldn’t stop the faint tremble from his voice, “Exactly. You got bit. You know why? Because you didn’t listen to me. Because you didn’t listen to me. You were so goddamned obsessed with that CD, with that-that friend who wasn’t even there when you went back for him. And for what?” He could feel the anger rising inside him, like a pulse of tears and frustration, and it was too difficult not to yell.
“You jump the moment you read a single illegible word in a month-old diary at the mention of your friend, but you don’t give a single flying fuck when I tell you to get out because you and I were in danger. Because that’s how high I rate, isn’t it? Me, in the here and now; despite sticking my neck out for you, again and again, my safety is less important than some… some fucking false flag about this stupid damned plague, that you kept from me. You lied to me. You lied to my face. So you know what? Fuck this, and fuck you. You deserve this, you piece of shit. Give me your fucking gun, now!”
Makoto didn’t move, so Rin let out an angry snarl and launched forward, grabbing the handgun that had been tucked in the back of Makoto’s jeans. He skidded back, leaving some room between them as he unlatched the safety and raised the gun so it was level with Makoto’s eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Makoto finally said, gripping his head in his hands, “I’m sorry.”
“Too late now,” Rin said, voice choking at the worst moment. His hand was shaking so badly and his vision was blurring. He tried to breathe deep. He tried to hold it in. He tried to aim. He tried to pull the trigger. His hands were sweating. His fingers wouldn’t budge. He couldn’t shoot. He couldn’t shoot.
“How could you do this to me, Makoto?”
Makoto raised his head slowly.
“I was alone, all this time. I couldn’t trust anyone. But then you came along, and you saved my life, and you took care of me. And then you lied to me and you got bit. How could you—” Rin looked away, trying to stop himself from weeping openly. He grabbed the straps of his gas mask and ripped it off his head, tossing it aside because it was too hard to breathe, and he sank to his knees and punched the ground, once, with his free hand. He took deep, harsh breaths, trying to calm down the feeling in chest but he couldn’t stop his shoulders from shaking as the tears fell from his eyes to the moss-covered stone tiles, “—how could you make me kill you?”
“I’m sorry, Rin,” Makoto blubbered, dropping to his knees and reaching out for Rin, pulling back at the last moment when he remembered his blood, “I’m sorry, I never wanted it to be like this. I’m sorry, Rin. I’m so sorry. I don’t want to die. I don’t… I don’t want to turn.”
“You’re my friend. The only one I’ve got left. How could you…”
“I’m sorry, I should have been more careful, I should have listened,” Makoto hiccoughed and slumped over, “I’m sorry I can’t make it better.”
“I have to kill you,” Rin said, squeezing his eyes shut, “I have to do that. That’s my responsibility. Nothing can ever make it better. Nothing. Why couldn’t you just have been more careful?”
“I’m sorry,” Makoto echoed, miserable, “I’m sorry. I had to know.”
“Was it worth it?” Rin sat on his haunches, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand, taking a steadying breath, “Was it worth this?”
“Maybe,” Makoto said, “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter anymore.”
They sat in silence in the middle of the courtyard.
“Rin,” Makoto finally said, hesitating to look up, “I… I’m afraid of dying.”
He didn’t know what to say in response.
“Please don’t… please don’t shoot me. Not until I… I turn. I’m scared, I-I don’t want to hurt. I don’t want to be in pain. I’m afraid of getting shot. I… I want to be human for just a bit longer. Please, Rin.”
“You’re such a pain in the ass,” Rin said hoarsely, “What if you turn on me?”
“Tie me up. Tie me to a pole. Anything. I just… I’m scared, Rin. I’m really scared.”
The gun was too heavy for him to lift anymore.
He didn’t know what else to do.
Makoto took off his gas mask and set it down by his sack.
It was pointless, but Rin dressed his wounds, helping Makoto change his destroyed shirt for a spare and disinfecting and dressing the bite mark with clean bandages. It was pointless, but Rin felt like he had to do it. It was the decent thing to do. It was one of the last few things he could do for Makoto.
Rin bound Makoto’s hands behind his back to one of the stone lanterns in the courtyard. He sat opposite Makoto, leaning against the tyre of the jeep, handgun on the ground by his right and machete on the other side. The silence was filled by cicadas and crickets from the surrounding forest.
“Rin,” Makoto said, swallowing slightly to wet his throat, “Will you… talk to me?”
“… about what?”
“Maybe… maybe the last time we were here at Manidera? Maybe about the squid festival?”
“No,” Rin said firmly, eyes downcast.
“Oh,” Makoto said, smile watery, “Okay. I’m sorry.”
“H-How about Obon? With the lanterns and the fireworks?”
Rin didn’t respond.
Makoto’s head hung low and he was sniffing, tears dripping onto the ground, “Please, say something. Say anything. I… I can’t stand the silence. I can’t…”
Rin bit down on his lower lip as he watched Makoto cry, feeling his own tears beginning to well up. He wouldn’t give into this. He wouldn’t. Didn’t want to. But… he could. He could talk for a while. He could babble uselessly as the breathing turned into grunts and growls. They could have a one-sided conversation that would end with a gunshot or a decapitation. It would be awful. It would be better than watching Makoto turn into a zombie in silence. He could do this much for Makoto. It wasn’t a lot to ask. As painful as it was for Rin to spend even a second longer like this, it couldn’t compare to what Makoto was feeling, tied up and alone and aware that he’d become one of those. He couldn’t let Makoto die scared and alone. He couldn’t.
“Okay,” Rin finally said, words caught in his throat, “Okay. Let’s… let’s talk. I’m sorry, Makoto. Please don’t cry. Let’s talk. Let’s talk about…” He wracked his brain. He didn’t want to talk about the good times. He didn’t want to talk about the past. He wanted to comfort Makoto with the knowledge that the future wasn’t hopeless. Rin cleared his throat, “Let’s talk about Nakagawa Akiko and your friend. Let’s… let’s look at the documents we picked up at the hospital. Okay?”
“Rin,” Makoto protested weakly, but Rin steeled himself and reached into his backpack for the folder. They never managed to check what was inside the USB drive, but he could hazard that they likely contained whatever was inside the folder. There were a few small stacks of papers, stapled in the top left hand corner. They were reports that had been printed and then annotated in blue ballpoint. He rattled off a title, something long and very medical, and began to read a note that had been hastily scribbled alongside in plain speech.
“N seems to have lasted longer than the others because of his immunity. It seems like this definitely has something to do with Neurosedata. Don’t understand the tumours in his lungs and spine. Something new? Related? Out of left field?”
Rin flipped to the next page. There were arrows and underlined medical terms. There was another note in the margin.
“Coagulative and caseous necrosis, spreading quickly. Tumours now malignant. Cells continue to regenerate, but then quickly begin to decay. Cycle repeats constantly despite continued surgery. Want to conduct CAT scan but machine wrecked by deceased test subject after infection set in (subject M). Disturbing conclusions.”
The last page revealed one brief, but hastily scribbled note that had been underlined again and again.
“AGE. Hormone development, metabolic rate, cell regeneration, etc. Late onset of puberty. N is the YOUNGEST.”
There were no more notes on the other documents. Rin attempted to read the actual report, but it was too technical and detailed for either him or Makoto to grasp and he soon put it away. When he looked up at Makoto, he seemed dazed.
“What is it?”
“I’m thinking,” Makoto said, a faint frown on his face.
With a single nod, Rin moved over to Makoto’s sack for Nakagawa’s journal.
“Where’d she write about your friend?”
“Hmm? Oh,” Makoto snapped out of it briefly, shaking his head, “Towards the end. I think I dog-eared the page.”
Rin found it as Makoto lapsed once again into thoughtful silence.
“I can’t believe it. Samezuka Academy really is empty. I’d heard the rumours weeks ago but I couldn’t believe it… I still can’t believe it. I’m not sure if the information was worth my last jar of coffee. What happened to my brother? Is he safe? I miss him more and more every day, but [illegible] swears that Tottori City [illegible]. He looks more and more tired every time he comes back to the university. He says it’s getting worse out there. He stays out for longer during his runs and [illegible] Iwatodai have to assume he’s dead, every time. Sometimes we make him sleep in our pallets overnight so he can recover. I’m afraid to ask him about [illegible] because [illegible] but [she crosses out a long sentence over and over again, scribbling over it until it’s impossibly to tell what she had originally written] if anything, it would be at the hospital. That’s where he’s going. Even though he shouldn’t. Even though he knows all about [illegible] Maybe this is the last time we’ll ever see each other, maybe he came to say goodbye. Ryugazaki is like my own [illegible] I don’t want to [illegible] but he’s survived this long, with his own strength. I believe in him [illegible] will meet at that place. We promised.”
Three entries later, Nakagawa wrote about the final push.
Rin toyed with the page between his fingers, idly scanning her words and sketches. She had switched between pen and pencil throughout her journal, the graphite fading here and there. He understood what Makoto meant when he’d referred to this entry, vague but so full of information that had been censored by accident no thanks to the elements. He tried to picture a different name, maybe Yamazaki or Nanase instead of Ryugazaki. He felt the pull. He felt the need to go to them and make sure they were okay. He knew why Makoto did why he did. Rin exhaled softly.
Rin looked up. Makoto had a look of dawning horror on his face.
“What about the fog?”
“Do you remember what I said about the fog? Dust particles, internal lung injury, infection, cancer. It’s the fog. Those weren’t just rumours.”
Rin felt like he was about to hear something he wasn’t going to like. “Right…”
“No! No, listen to me! What did they write about N? N was young, wasn’t he? N was… N was immune. N didn’t-didn’t succumb because he was immune. But he kept growing those tumours, despite them being harmless at first. Remember? They were harmless and the doctors always detected them early and had them removed. But they kept spreading. And then they kept decaying. Do you see? Decaying. Rotting. From the inside. Like-like…”
“Zombies,” Rin muttered, eyes widening at the revelation.
“Do you get it? It’s the fog. The plague is in the fog.”