Epilogue: Welcome to the New World
Melissa weaved through the streets on her motorcycle as fast as the stalled cars in the street would allow her. Abandoned cars had been removed on the main thoroughfares, but they weren't as much of a priority on the side streets she now traveled. She even had to ride on the sidewalks in some places. It was still such a mess.
The air smelled of living things despite the low temperature of early spring, and this made Melissa smile. The winter had been pretty tough and she'd been busy trying to enforce law and order in a city low on food and any systematic resources to help those in need. The walking dead had been largely dealt with after two months of work by Mithril, then any volunteers they could take. Once word of the vaccine had spread and most of the survivors in Western City were inoculated, the tide had turned against the infected. Mithril had also been able to share the vaccine with other countries. The world was quickly ridding itself of the infection.
But the survivors could be just as deadly. Various settlements across the city had almost gone to war over food supplies and other provisions. The only thing that prevented it was Mithril's work in repairing communications within the city and Jindai's Hiyashimizu stepping into a leadership role. Melissa had worked hard with Hiyashimizu and his assistant Ren in cataloging the entire city's available resources and finding a way to distribute them fairly to each settlement. Through patience and an extraordinary talent for public speaking, he'd been able to convince people to band together so that all could survive the long winter.
It was Hiyashimizu that Melissa had been tasked to meet that day and she was looking forward to it. Winter was over. Things were growing again. The walking dead were no longer a threat. They were rebuilding. Mithril was ready to hand over the reins of governance back to the people of the country. They still had not located Leonard and had no idea what Amalgam was planning next. They needed to change their focus.
Melissa braked and cut the engine when she reached the gates of Jindai settlement. They were no longer barricaded against the dead, only locked at night to prevent living intruders.
The man at the door greeted her. "Mao. You're expected at the Round Table in ten minutes."
"Thank you Jin," she said.
Melissa looked around. It was still called a settlement, but not many people continued to live there. Once winter had really settled in, most people had left to find nearby houses or apartments that they could claim and make their own. Some returned to their own homes, but most opted for new housing closer by. Everyone was still expected to work and do what they could during the day at the settlement to keep everything going. Now that the ground was finally soft, she saw a dozen people working the land, preparing it for this year's crops.
"Sergeant Major," said a deep voice behind her.
She turned and saw Sousuke hunched over Shizu. The baby was "walking," supporting herself with tiny fists around Sousuke's fingers as she plodded one step in front of the other, guided by Sousuke.
"Morning stroll?" Melissa asked with a smile. "She's getting so big!"
"It seems she decided to skip crawling and go right to walking," Sousuke said.
Melissa squatted down to get a better look. She lightly pinched Shizu's fat cheek and was rewarded by delighted gurgle.
"You're coming to the Round Table?" Sousuke asked, though his attention remained on the baby who had decided to take a right turn toward the old softball field.
"Yes. Tessa thinks that Western City needs official leadership."
"You don't think it's too early?" Sousuke said, sounding skeptical. He grabbed Shizu under her arms and hoisted her onto his hip. She gave a small frustrated cry, but then snuggled into his shoulder.
"Well, I guess that's what we'll discuss. Mithril is willing to help sponsor an election. Of course, we think Hiyashimizu would be ideal for the position. We're able to get the equipment together for candidates to broadcast their platforms to other settlements around the city, and we'll charge a city-wide election committee to ensure honest and fair voting."
The two walked toward the mess hall. "I imagine that there will be a need for security," Sousuke said.
"Yes. And I know just the guy to head that up," Melissa said, smiling and nudging Sousuke with her elbow.
Sousuke looked serious. "If Hiyashimizu asks me, I will do it." Melissa smiled again, happy to see that little had changed in the seven months since they'd discovered the cure. She looked again at the sleepy Shizu. It was hard to believe that this little baby had saved the world. It was even harder to believe that hardly anyone knew it. Kaname had asked that any reports on the vaccine and cure they sent or recorded not use their names. Kaname only wanted to survive, become a regular person, just like anyone else, and be with her family in peace.
"Melissa!" came a friendly voice. Kaname ducked under the mess tent flap, wiping her hands on her apron. She'd resumed her role as head cook at Jindai. Akane had been nowhere to be seen once she and Sousuke had come back to the settlement. Apparently, she and the others who had supported Gauron had either been asked to leave or disappeared on their own once their new leader hadn't returned seven months before.
"Hey, Kaname. What's for lunch?" Melissa asked.
"I think a nice hot stew is in order for a cold day like today," she said, reaching for Shizu.
"I look forward to it after the meeting," said Melissa.
Sousuke handed Shizu to her mother, taking advantage of their nearness to give Kaname a lingering kiss. Kaname blushed, but smiled.
"And how's your Kurz," Kaname asked, seemingly to take attention away from Sousuke's kiss.
Kaname laughed. "He's definitely your Kurz. He turns into an absolute puppy dog whenever you're around. It's just so cute."
Melissa scowled. Things had developed between them physically after the vaccine had been discovered. At first, Melissa had chalked it up to a drunken mistake, made in a fit of joy at the prospect of the end of the apocalypse. But it was a mistake that they seemed to make at least twice a week since that first night.
"Kurz is fine," Melissa growled. At least he still followed orders whenever they had to be professional. The whole thing still felt like a giant mistake. Kurz had even taken to writing love letters to her, not that she'd ever tell Kaname that. He wrote an entire letter in praise of her "amethyst orbs" that made her cringe in embarrassment, though she always kept it in her back pocket.
Kaname laughed again. "I think that meeting is going to start up soon. You better hurry over there to make it in time. I'll be sure to save you some stew."
Melissa reached out and pinched Shizu's cheek again for good measure, gave a grudging smile to Kaname, still annoyed at her teasing, then turned with Sousuke towards the former high school.
After a moment of silence, Melissa said, "You three seem really happy."
Sousuke didn't answer for a long time, but then said, "We're all working hard. We have an apartment, enough food to eat, are safe, and we can be together. That's all we want. Yes, we're happy."
"Good," said Melissa. "We're going to need some happy people around if any of this is going to work out. Now let's see if we can't rebuild this world of ours."
The two walked into the school building and found the classroom set up for the meeting. Ren smiled at them as they took their seats, marked something down on her clipboard and whispered to Hiyashimizu.
"Wonderful," he said. "Now that we're all here, let's get started…"
Author's Note: Okay. This is the end for real. I'll have my final thoughts on this story over at Livejournal or at Dreamwidth if you're interested in my notes. Thanks again to everyone who gave support to this fic. I can't tell you how much it meant to me over these years. I love all of you who made it this far into the fic and saw it out until the end. Thank you, thank you, thank you.