Kaoru volunteered for watch duty when Howard was still sweating out his fever under a blanket with a cold cloth on his forehead. He stood outside and kept his eyes on his surroundings, and tried not to think about that pale grimacing face with blond strands plastered to the sides and drops trickling down his face like a light rain but not nearly so healthy.
Is he going to die?
His fingers tightened on the spear, and he used the rough feel of it to focus on his surroundings and force himself to be alert. It was important, after all - people's lives depended on his vigilance.
He'd never actually seen a dead person - not right in front of him anyway, rather than in his dreams. The closest he'd come was in the recurring nightmare with Louis' face, bloated and still, fixed in an awful grin as his eyes stared off at nothing. Even the thought of it still sent him into a cold sweat sometimes - every now and then he woke up in the middle of the night, shaking, with the image of that still, grinning corpse burned into his mind.
And he'd never actually seen it.
If things went wrong, they were going to bury Howard. Kaoru let out a breath, forcing it to remain steady, and squinted at the forest as if the sight could save him from his morbid thoughts. If it happened, they'd move on - he knew that. They'd be upset, but they'd keep going - they'd survive.
That wasn't the hardest part, even though he knew it should be.
He wondered if he'd have nightmares about this one, too - Howard's face, still fixed in that grimace, but with his eyes open, glassy and vacant, body still when it had always been in motion before, just a shell with nothing to fill it.
Kaoru wanted to run off to check on the criminals - disappear into the forest and not come back until it was all done. It was a stupid urge, and he pushed it down, disgusted with himself. But he didn't want to see Howard - didn't want to remember him the way he remembered Louis. As a cold dead body and not a person at all.
Even if it wouldn’t make a difference… He hadn't seen Louis, and still that was how he remembered him.
Kaoru didn't want to see, just the same.
He didn't want to think about losing Howard. One of his friends - when the word finally meant something, and he could admit it was important. Howard, who complained and boasted and reacted to every little thing as if it was a big deal. It was painful, and it made a hole in his life when he'd just finally started to patch it up. But more than that - more than even that much - if the worst happened, he didn't want to see Howard.
Because seeing him made it real, and even if he was dreaming about a still corpse, at least it was a dream and not reality.