S-CRY-ed Fan Fiction ❯ Evolution of the Lost Ground ❯ Waning ( Chapter 11 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Disclaimer: I don't own. :tear-stained cheeks:
Summary of Chapter 10- Confessing
As Mimori flees with Ryuho from the gang of thugs in the city, she collapses and they must stop. As she rests, Ryuho reevaluates his impressions of the girl, finding that she's stronger and more determined than he had given her credit for. He is also forced to confront his recently surfacing feelings for her following their harrowing reunion that day. After she recovers some he carries her to give her injuries time to rest and to increase their progress out of the city.
Meanwhile, when Tachibana can't find Cammy he heads to the warehouse to look for her, where he is confronted by the mercenary Zondo. The large man holds Cammy hostage with a knife but insists that Tachibana is his real target. The teen tries to convince the merc to let his girlfriend go, but Zondo isn't buying any of his tactics, making him handcuff his own hands behind his back. When Tachibana pushes too far, Zondo asphyxiates Cammy until she passes out and challenges the younger man to a fight. Tachibana puts up a valiant effort, however, since Zondo knows of his Alter powers he is able to get a drop on the teen. While the boy is knocked out he sticks a paralytic device on his neck to subdue him.
Back at the house, Kazuma and Elian puzzle over how to awaken Kanami. Elian proposes attempting to reach her with his Alter and Kazuma gives him the okay. He takes the unconscious girls hands and opens his mind.
An eerie blackness soon appears and Elian can sense Kanami's presence. She doesn't remember any of her friends or what happened to her at the dairy farm. After much patient explaining, he convinces her that he is not trying to hurt her and that she does indeed have friends waiting for her to return to the waking world. She feels as if she is connecting with him and asks him if he can stay while she readies herself to cross over. He happily obliges.
In the warehouse, Cammy awakens to a giant headache and a mercenary standing over her. He tells her that Tachibana's survival and her own depend on her answers to his questions. However, she is slow to answer his first one to his satisfaction and with a remote control he activates the device fixed to Tachibana's neck. The unconscious boy writhes in pain and Cammy screams that she is telling the truth. She rapidly answers his next series of questions regarding who is in the house and how many of them are Alter users. However, she falters when he asks for Mimori's location, saying that she knows he's going to kill them all anyway. He tells her that she is being foolish, that he only wants them because his employer has business with them. He tells her that he is going to let her go but that she will get everyone else in the house killed because of her actions. When he begins torturing Tachibana with the device again she finally relents and gives him the name of the restaurant and its significance as AIMED HQ. Seemingly satisfied, Zondo grabs the unconscious boy, throws him over his shoulder and drags Cammy out of the warehouse to his awaiting car.
After he carries her for a while, Ryuho tries to make Mimori more comfortable in his arms. She accidentally makes a joke about his gait and much to his mixed delight is soon laughing at his expense. Eager to make her feel relaxed, he encourages conversation between them. She touches on some uncomfortable topics but he answers her honestly, telling her that he came searching for her because he was worried about her. However, just when she seems to be dropping her guard he mentions her involvement with AIMED and she gets angry and defensive. She demands that he put her down and tries to walk on her own but fails, falling in a heap. She looses her composure and shouts at him from the ground, demanding to be left alone. Ryuho feels guilty for making her so upset and tries to make her hear his explanation, struggling with her in the process. He finally speaks to her from his heart about his feelings for her, shocking her into silence. She asks about the kiss on the cliffs and he takes the opportunity to kiss her again, softly and sincerely this time. Both are overwhelmed by the emotions evoked from it and Mimori finally believes everything that Ryuho has said to her. She asks him to take her home… just as soon as he kisses her again.
A/N: Come and get it! New update for Evolution here! Hope you like it.
Chapter 11- Waning
As the blazing golden sun rapidly sinks against a rose-colored cloudscape, a speeding quick response vehicle cuts fresh treads into the dusty, well-traveled roads of the Wasteland. Straight Cougar races the lapsing daylight as he heads towards the city, intent on outrunning the fading orb before it can retreat behind the horizon. Both front windows are completely open, whipping an artificial cyclone through his wild mane of hair and allowing him to maximally experience the truck's outrageous speed as he accelerates towards his destination.
To her…to the lovely `Ms. Minori'…
He imagines her correcting him yet again and a crooked smile spreads across his lips, crinkling the corners of his eyes behind his signature shades; she still hadn't figured it out. She thought he didn't know her name, but that wasn't true- he had actually given her name (and the rest of her) a lot of thought.
Of course he knew the correct pronunciation! It's just that whenever he found himself speaking to or about her his heart would begin to race and his speech would soon follow; in his haste he automatically slipped into the more lax `n' sound on the unstressed syllable of her name in place of the `m'. `M's slowed the mouth down. Perhaps if they ever got together he could convince her to let him call her `Minori' all the time without protest, like a term of endearment. Or even shorten it… `Mimi' or `Miri'… those sounded nice. Or even better: `Mi'. So succinct in it's simplicity. You couldn't say it without smiling (yes, he tried).
He doubts he could think of her without smiling. Had there ever been happiness before her? Did he remember life before she had arrived?
As his thoughts shift away from her a dark, foreboding heaviness descends on his mood, blunting his senses as it snakes around him in a constricting and bittersweet embrace. Yes, he can definitely remember life before her, before all of them. His secret past. Memories that evoke sadness, regret, and a bitterness that literally leaves a taste in his mouth. Growing up in the Lost Ground had been an adventure, but the event that was to be the grandest adventure of them all- joining HOLY and going to the Mainland for `tests' and `enhancing procedures'- had ended up more closely resembling a nightmare. He wasn't the same… his gift… somehow they had made it both better and worse. The price of his increased power had been too high, and he had not been the only one to pay a hefty sum for his transformation.
A shudder ripples down his back and he briefly shakes his head to banish the memories. Now he remembers why he doesn't think of his past anymore. The pain and guilt cause his cool façade to falter under their expansive weight, tugging at the bounds of his sanity.
So his thoughts wander back to the object of his infatuation. In his mind's eye her silhouette slowly focuses into stark perfection. Hair the color of endless moonless nights cascades down her back. Alabaster skin as smooth as glass and as soft as silk adorns her graceful form, warming with an ethereal glow at the slightest caress from a beam of sunlight. He follows the long lines of her elegant limbs as they taper to delicate, articulate fingers and dainty feet. As she turns around, he is immediately drawn into those bottomless, chocolate brown eyes. What a magical and enchanting presence, with an engaging wit that belies the true depth of her clever mind... a naïve smile cloaking a volatile temper… and an even more deadly Alter ability…
Wait, Alter ability? Mimori doesn't have an Alter power. And then it dawns on him- he has been thinking of a different girl with long black hair and haunting brown eyes. Someone who had captivated his attentions and imagination long ago and had perhaps never really released them. He has somehow conjured the apparition of a longtime colleague and friend, someone he had once hoped might have been more. Someone from that dark past.
Why hadn't he ever noticed Mimori's striking resemblance to her? Had he really buried those memories so deeply? Actually, when he thinks about it, it really only makes sense. That girl- everything about her had intrigued him; it's therefore only natural that he'd be drawn to girls with features like hers. Perhaps that was why he had warmed up to the beautiful genius so easily and instantaneously. In her witty and beguiling ways he'd unconsciously caught the shadow of his first crush. Of course, there were a million reasons to love Mimori- she was a truly amazing young woman, brilliant and captivating. But Cougar found himself wondering for the first time: had any of those reasons really been original? Maybe if things had been different back then…
It's no use. He's dreaming about possibilities from a lifetime ago that have been every kind of impossible for a long time now, no matter how hard he might wish otherwise. Recognizing the need to concentrate on the road ahead of him, Cougar exhales one last long and lamenting sigh for a dead girl who had possessed more life than he'd thought possible. A girl of peerless beauty and boundless intellect.
As he sits at the head of Kanami's bed, Kazuma's gaze drifts impatiently between the young girl's unconscious face and that of the pensive young man gently clasping her hands. They've been like this forever- Elian sitting there completely still, cloaked in his Alter, trying to reach Kanami on some deeper plane of existence. Kazuma's anxiety is getting the best of him and he continuously catches himself fidgeting nervously.
He steals a glance at the un-shaded window- the sky is finally darkening. It's been a long day for everyone and he somehow feels cheated out of some of the action, sitting on the sidelines and waiting for his turn to get in the game. However, he knows he isn't in the best shape right now. Though he'll never admit it, Ryuho had thoroughly worked him over during their last fight. And with Kanami in such questionable health, he doubts he could really concentrate even if he'd had an opportunity to do something.
Movement draws his attention back to the two children and Kazuma turns his expectant gaze on Elian. The boy pensively knits his brows together and then slowly rolls his eyes open. Eager for news, Kazuma hastily asks in a loud whisper, “Well? Did you… you know, reach her?” The boy answers his question by turning his gaze down to the girl's face. Kazuma watches with bated breath as her lips twitch and then she opens fluttering eyes at him, as if she'd merely been asleep the entire time.
He beams down at her, passing a hand over the bangs he'd been smoothing across her forehead. “Heeeyyyyyy…! There you are!” His whisper brims with excitement and relief. “I've been waiting for you to wake up all day! You really had me worried!”
Her mouth pokes into a tiny frown and she offers a sincere apology, “I'm sorry Kazu-kun. I didn't mean to make you worry about me.”
He chuckles at her unconditional politeness. “Hey, it's okay; don't be sorry. I'm just glad you're back. How do ya feel?”
“Okay, I guess. I had some really strange dreams, and there was a boy- he was really nice. He helped me wake up.”
Kazuma smiles and then points over to Elian, who had risen from the bed and backed away a little once she had awoken. “You mean that boy?”
Kanami follows his finger and notices Elian in the room for the first time. A huge grin illuminates her face. She leans forward and Kazuma helps her sit up. “Yes, him. Thank you, Elian.”
At being addressed, the young boy suddenly drops his gaze to his sneakers and picks at the hem of his shirt as a colorful blush erupts across the bridge of his nose. “Um, you're welcome.”
Kazuma and Kanami both smile at his shy reaction to her gratitude and Kazuma asks her about her ordeal. “Kanami, what do you remember from this morning?”
She shifts her eyes up to the ceiling vacantly as she tries to recall the day's events. “Hmm, let's see… Cammy and I walked to the dairy farm. She was going to milk cows today and I was going to feed them. We were there for a little while until it started to rain really hard. Then the wind started blowing and the cows and chickens started making a lot of noise. The farmer's wife said that a tree had fallen on the house and that we should all go into the barn because the storm was so bad. After a while water started coming under the barn doors and Cammy and I went up into the loft with some of the other workers.”
As she speaks her smile slowly slackens into a sorrowful look. Kazuma pulls himself up behind her and wraps an arm around her shoulder. “We were waiting out the storm when suddenly the building started to shake. Cammy picked me up and started running, but I couldn't see where she was going. People were screaming and then wood started cracking all around us and we started falling… That's all I remember before I started dreaming. Is Cammy alright?”
“She's fine. She's out front with Tachibana. I'll go and get her just as soon as you give the word, okay? Everyone is gonna want to see you.” Kazuma rubs her arm affectionately, not caring if he still has a bit of an audience. Kanami is safe. However he can sense that she still wants to share something and he urges her to continue. “So what did you dream about?”
“I don't really remember that much about them- there was more than one. The one I remember most was when Elian appeared. It was black all around, so black I couldn't see anything. And I didn't remember anything- I didn't even remember you, Kazu-kun! I didn't remember our friends… It was so lonely. But then Elian appeared and he convinced me that I had friends who loved me and wanted me to return to them. So I came back with him.”
Kazuma smiles at her and then refocuses it on the shy little bystander, “Looks like I owe ya one, kid.”
That earns a smile from Elian, who shuffles from one foot to the other before venturing to ask his own question. “Um, Kanami… what do you remember about your other dreams?”
She thinks again as she speaks, trying to recall them. “I really don't remember much about them. What I do remember doesn't make much sense. In one of the dreams there was a man. I couldn't see his face but I could feel that he was searching for something very precious to him. He was growing more and more anxious because he couldn't find it. There was a calming voice, trying to reassure him, but he couldn't make himself believe it. Later on, he was fighting with many other men- they wanted to take his precious thing and he was fighting to keep it safe and close to him. He was hurting and exhausted but he didn't want anyone to know it. He couldn't stop fighting because if he did he knew he'd lose this precious thing.”
Kazuma shakes his head, “Wow… that's a really weird dream. Do you remember anything else?”
“Now that I think about it, if I try really hard I can see little pieces of my other dreams, too. In another one, a woman was running from something. She was hurt really badly, but she couldn't stop because it would be worse for her if she got caught. And eventually she did get caught. She knew that the people who were chasing her wanted to hurt her, but she fought back, even though she hardly had any strength left. She knew she didn't stand a chance, but she still wouldn't give up.”
As Kazuma listens to her, he's filled with a mixture of awe and disbelief. What little kid had dreams like these? Could it be that her Alter power had something to do with them? It wasn't until after Mujo's fortress that he had discovered that the girl had been having empathic dreams. Since that time, she'd been trying to get a handle on the true nature of her gift; were these dreams somehow connected to her ability? A glance over at Elian's observant and appraising stance suggests that the young boy suspects as much. Arms crossed and head slightly tilted in thought, the young boy's next question seems weighted with a secret, undisclosed meaning, “Kanami, are there any other strong emotions in any of your other dreams?”
She turns curious eyes on him, “Yes. There was another dream. In that dream the person was filled with fear… because she had to make an impossible choice. Both of her options were bad ones- no matter what she chose, she knew someone she cared about was going to be hurt. She didn't want to make the choice but she had to, or somehow things would be even worse for everybody. She agonized over what to do. The decision affected her friends and the person she loved with all her heart; she didn't want to betray anyone. In the end, though, she found out that she never really had a choice at all.”
Kazuma frowns at the grave tales the girl is telling, hoping his initial speculation is wrong. All of the scenarios in Kanami's dreams sound distressing; he hopes no one is truly suffering like that. He can tell from Elian's rigid stance that the boy is also bothered by Kanami's dreams. The young Alter user shifts troubled eyes to the older teen, his stare heavy with foreboding. However, neither of them wants to voice their speculations in front of the girl.
Before they can figure out a way to address their concerns, the bedroom door opens and a round face pokes into the room. “Hey, is Tachibana in here? I've been lookin- heeeyyy… Sleeping Beauty's awake!”
Urizane's loud whisper carries through the room and Elian rolls his eyes at his rotund guardian. “Yes, we convinced her to come back to the waking world.” A hint of pride edges into the boy's voice.
Urizane beams and pulls himself into the room, “Well that's great! How d'ya feel?”
Kanami smiles at him, “Oh, just fine, thank you.”
Kazuma remembers the large man's strange entrance. “Hey, why'd you come in here, man? Are you lookin' for Tachibana?”
Urizane frowns, “Yeah! He never came back to check those maps with me! I've been looking everywhere for him!”
Now Elian frowns skeptically, “Everywhere?”
“Yeah, everywhere. As in every room in this house and the yard. I even checked the warehouse. Only thing I found was the bathtub overflowing with water- it's a mess in there! What the hell's goin' on?”
Kazuma shrugs from his perch on the bed, “Maybe he's trying to catch some alone time with his girlfriend. They could be hiding somewhere.”
The large man folds his arms over his chest in a huff, “Well, he needs to come out- we've got work to do!”
Elian wrinkles his nose in displeasure, “Something doesn't feel right. I'll help you find him.” However, rather than heading out the room to search, Elian stands in place at the edge of the room and closes his eyes. After only a couple of seconds, he opens them again, looking to his guardian. “There's an echo of an Alter in the warehouse. I think it's Tachibana's. We should check it out.”
Urizane nods and Kazuma hops up, “I'll come with. Kanami, are you going to be alright here for a sec?”
“But Kazu-kun, I want to go, too!”
Not waiting for an answer, Urizane turns around and heads through the door, Elian close on his heels. Too curious to argue, Kazuma soon follows with Kanami bringing up the rear. They all head outside into the darkening twilight and head for the side door of the warehouse. As they all file through the door, Urizane cups a hand to his mouth and shouts, “Tachibana! Cammy! You guys in here? Come on out already!”
Elian pushes past him and heads for one of the aisles. Everyone follows closely behind him until they come upon a strange sight. In an area where the aisle considerably widens large chunks of concrete floor are missing and there are singe marks on some of the stacked palates. The boy bends down and fingers the holes while the others slowly wander around in shock. Kazuma asks the question on everyone's mind, “What happened here?”
“Tachibana used his Alter. This is where he pulled the matter to construct his treasure balls. There must have been a fight.”
A tiny squeal has all heads turning to Kanami, “I think there's blood on the floor over here!”
Kazuma is next to her in two strides, bending down to look at a red splotch and scanning the surrounding concrete. “She's right. It's blood alright. There's a small pool here and then some spatter in that area over there. It's still sticky. Something definitely when down.”
“Kazu-kun, what's going on? Where's Asuka? Where's Cammy?”
Kazuma stands and pulls Kanami away from the blood. “Dude, did you see Cammy when you were lookin' for Tach?”
Urizane winces guiltily, “Uh, no. I didn't see her anywhere. You think she was here, too?” He looks to Elian for an opinion.
The boy merely shakes his head. “I don't know. I'm not sure what happened here, but I've got a bad feeling about this.” All eyes are staring at him as he shares his grim prediction. “I think our friends are in grave danger.”
A nondescript van speeds down a rapidly darkening road in the middle of the Wastelands. Inside its metal shell is a driver- a large and imposing bald man, a passenger- a frightened girl with her bound wrists in her lap, and their cargo- an unconscious and paralyzed teenager bound on the floor in the back. The outlines of grassy hills dotted with scattered boulders can barely be made out as the fading landscape whizzes by the glass windows. Sometimes at the edge of the road the ground falls away to steep embankments, dipping down to blackness. The van ducks and rises with each change in elevation, thwarting any attempts to set a truly perilous speed. As she looks out the window at the distant shadowed terrain, the passenger ponders. Watching… waiting…
Though not a genius, Cammy is a fairly smart girl.
From the intricate weave of what she now recognizes as Zondo's lies, Cammy has been able to discern two truths: First, though tortured and temporarily paralyzed, Asuka's life is relatively safe until this man, this hired assassin, gets his hands on Mimori. Second, Cammy realizes that in the grand scheme of whatever sinister mission he is executing, Zondo really does not need her; as soon as she outlives her usefulness he is going to kill her.
Shortly after she and Asuka had been taken, Cammy surmised that the best way to ensure their safety would be to delay or even disrupt Zondo's plans to get Mimori. She had already given away the girl's location at AIM headquarters, but when the man had grilled her for directions to the city Cammy had given an unblinking, award-winning performance that put him on their current road, heading toward the city's South Gate entrance.
Of course, anyone from the area would have told you that the quickest way to the city from Asuka's place would have been the road at the front of the house, which led to the East Gate. Indeed, Zondo had been suspicious after a quick glance at his map. However, Cammy had insisted that several rogue Alter users had damaged the East Gate weeks ago, and now the giant metal gates were permanently locked in place. And when her story did not change after several jarring shocks to her boyfriend via the device on his neck Zondo took her word for truth.
This detour would definitely buy them some time; it would give Cougar an even bigger head start on finding Mimori and getting her out of HQ before they could reach her. But Cammy knew her luck would only hold for so long. Eventually Zondo would figure out that she lied and would probably kill her just for spite. She doesn't dare look to the back of the van; seeing Asuka like that will only distract her from what she knows she has to do. It might also tip off their captor to her plan. But can she really leave Asuka behind?
Thinking back to the message, Cammy grapples with the logic of the situation once more. The fact is that Zondo needs Asuka AND Mimori in order to carry out his orders. No matter what he told her, he wouldn't kill Asuka until he definitely got his hands on the other leader of AIMED. She's already slowed the mercenary down considerably, giving Cougar time to secure the girl's safety. If Cammy can get away and somehow warn the others… Zondo would still have Asuka but he'd stay alive until they could rescue him.
She closes her eyes and thinks of her boyfriend one last time. `Oh Asuka, I'm so sorry. I don't want to leave you with this maniac, but it's the only way I can think of to keep you alive! I'll find you again, I promise! I love you…'
Fueled by desperation, Cammy suddenly wrenches open the passenger door and launches herself out of the van. She lands hard on her hip and shoulder; thankfully she hits the thick grass along the side of the road instead of the hard-packed dirt beneath the tires. Using the momentum from the fall she throws her body over the steep-looking embankment and tumbles down the nearly vertical hill and completely out of site of the road. At the bottom she scrunches up into a small ball and waits, listening.
As predicted the truck screeches to a halt a ways off and a door slams violently. She hears a long string of curses, followed by a long silence. She knows what he's thinking. Does he lumber down over 50 feet of steep hill to chase a silly little frightened girl that he doesn't even need or does he get back in the van and race towards the city in order to claim the girl more important to his mission? She has jumped out in an area of wide, hilly grassland and nothing else. He will think that she likely has hours of wandering ahead of her before she can find any help. He has the name of the restaurant and directions (albeit long and grossly indirect) to the place via the city's South entrance.
One runaway little girl can't possibly ruin his plans.
As confirmation of her deductions she hears another slam of a door and the screeching of tires as the van pulls off again, bound for the city. Cammy exhales a huge breath and carefully pushes herself to her feet, relieved but sore. How much falling is she going to endure today?
Her clothes are wet from the grass and the ground is spongy beneath her feet from the day's torrential storm. The tumble has done nothing for her aching muscles; if she ever lived through this her body was going to kill her. Still, mindful of the urgency of the situation, Cammy takes off at a healthy jog. Her gait is somewhat awkward because her wrists are still bound in front of her but she knows she can still make good time. She aims northeast; in a half mile she'll reach Suzume's house, a woman who also works at the dairy farm. Cammy had waited to jump from the van until the mercenary had driven past the turn off for the road to her house. It looked like all the other little dirt roads they'd passed; even if he tried, her captor wouldn't be able to tell which side road to take should he double back. Suzume's husband has a car and Cammy prays she will be able to get a ride back to her boyfriend's house. With Asuka kidnapped and Zondo on the hunt for Mimori, things have rapidly escalated to a state of emergency.
As night falls around him, Ryuho walks the deserted city streets making his way to the nearest exit gate. He is very careful with his speed and stride so as not to wake the sleeping girl draped wearily in his arms. Despite her insistence to the contrary, Mimori had finally fallen into a seemingly restful slumber. Head tucked into the crook of his neck, her breath ghosts across the top of his chest alternately warming and cooling the skin as she breathes. A small part of his shirt is still twisted in her slim fingers. He is aware of how chilly the night air is around him only because every part of his body touching her- arms, chest and stomach- is conversely warm and relaxed.
A familiar presence soon surfaces in his mind and he acknowledges it, `I was wondering when you were going to make another appearance…'
There is a teasing quality in her tone as she replies, “I wanted to give you your privacy. But don't worry; I had a front row seat!”
Ryuho's ears suddenly burn from embarrassment. `You saw everything?'
Cherise giggles playfully causing him to frown. “Oh yeah! I was ready to jump right back in if you had somehow managed to screw up the perfect opportunity. But I'm impressed; you did a good job.”
He rolls his eyes at her, uncomfortable with the intended direction of their conversation. He tries to head her off with his sarcastic reply, `So glad it met with your approval. But it's not exactly any of your business.'
She can sense his desire to change topics but stubbornly refuses to oblige him. “So how does it feel?”
This only deepens Ryuho's frown and he snaps rather impatiently at her. `You're in my head. You don't have to ask me that.'
“I know; I just wanted to hear you say it. Jeez, you act like it's such a horrible and embarrassing thing to be in love!”
He immediately assumes a defensive posture. `No one said anything about…' He can't bring himself to say it, so he simply huffs audibly.
He can feel her exasperation with him and his embarrassment deepens. “God, you can't even say the word? I mean, HELLO! Come on! Even if you don't recognize it, that feeling- that one that comes out whenever you think about her? That's love.”
His discomfort with the current topic palpably deepens, and she can feel his typical composure slipping away. `I don't want… I mean, I never asked… What do you know, anyway?'
“Listen, I may've only had 15 years on this earth but I've been in love before and I know what it is. Once you've felt it you never forget it. And you can deny it all you want, Ryuho, but there's a shadow of it in your heart from long ago. You recognize it; you just don't want to admit it. It scares you, doesn't it? Because it makes you feel vulnerable…”
He sighs in frustration; she was not going to go there. `I don't want to talk about this with you, Cherise. Not right now.'
“If I let this go you'll never talk about it! And you owe her that much! If she's invested half as much as I think she has into loving you then you need to come to grips with your feelings for her. Otherwise you'll crush her.”
He thinks back to his confession to Mimori and the passionate moments that followed. `I… I can't take it back, can I?'
“Do you want to?”
His mind is immediately flooded with memories of their kiss, of the way she had finally completely surrendered her heart to him. Even though she'd always been honest with her feelings it wasn't until that moment, when he had freely and honestly reciprocated them, that she had truly and unrepentantly opened herself to allow him full access. He remembers her eyes, and the exact moment when a veil had lifted, revealing all of her emotions and insecurities, all her hope for the world and all her unconditional devotion to him. He recalls her aching desire for him and remembers the primal satisfaction that knowledge had kindled within. He sees her dreams for the future, a future together with him, and recalls how he found himself wanting to share those dreams, to make them real for her.
`I… no… but I don't know where to go from here.'
“Just follow your heart. In matters of love, that's the only way to survive.”
`I don't think I can do that.'
She feels the panic rising in him as his mind explores unfamiliar and long forgotten territory. “Well if you can't trust your heart then trust hers. And trust mine. We'll get you through this. You may not realize it but you need this; you won't survive without it and you can't go back to the way things were.”
He shakes his head; he feels so helpless and confused. Somehow he'd known, known all along that falling for Mimori would bring him to a place he no longer wanted to go. He was afraid of the balance- the feeling of having her as his own was so utterly amazing… he knew that the accompanying vulnerability would be nearly unbearable. Was his heart really asking him to endure this?
As if in answer, the young woman in his arms suddenly stirs, squirming against him and raising her head sleepily. Her warm lips brush against his bare neck and the tip of her cold nose settles against his earlobe. A lilting voice heavy with fatigue dances its way to his ear, “Am I getting too heavy for you? You can put me down for a while if you need to; I don't mind.”
At that moment a knot twists in his stomach and shoots up to lodge in his throat. Did she know? Could she sense the doubts that had just snatched at his mind? Was she willing to give up everything she'd gained from him in order to make him comfortable? Even though he knows she is only speaking literally, the added implications of her words flood his thoughts and he finds that Cherise is right. Even through his fear he recognizes that every part of him needs her and the serenity she promises to his tumultuous and nearly shattered mind. He doesn't want to let her go, can't let her go, despite what he may have been trying to tell himself. “Don't worry; you're fine just where you are. I've got you for the whole way back.”
Her chuckle reverberates intimately against his skin, wrapping around his heart, “Showoff… Just warn me before you drop me.” She bends her head and brushes a whisper of a kiss on his collarbone before leaning her cheek on it, nuzzling back into his neck. Her fingers untwist from his shirt to settle comfortably against the center of his chest, just against the edge of his heart.
He involuntarily sighs with a deep satisfaction. “That won't ever happen.”
Darkness has firmly settled by the time Cougar races the souped-up QRV through the city's East Gate. Only a dozen or so blocks would have him pulling in front of the steps of the little restaurant-turned-ultra-liberal-charity-organization. The shorter streets of the city force him to slow down considerably, but he's still speeding like a mad man when he whips past a teenager carrying a woman down the opposite side of the street. Was that who I think it was?
Cougar immediately stomps the brakes and jerks the wheel hard, pulling the vehicle into a tight 360 and then another 180 until he's facing back down the road he'd just traveled. He rolls up slowly next to the green-haired traveler and rolls down the window. To his great relief he can just make out the edge of Mimori's face as she wakes in Ryuho's arms. “Need a lift?”
Ryuho is so surprised that for a moment he is unable to speak. Shrugging her sleepiness off, Mimori tilts her head away from Ryuho's chest to get a peak at the open window. “Cougar, is that you?”
“The one and only, my dear Ms. Minori!” He shoots her a wide and smirky grin before hopping out of the car and jogging around to meet them. However, as he reaches the other side of the car, his happiness falters a fraction. With a lightning-fast appraisal he notes the intimate positioning of the girl in Ryuho's arms- her fingers resting gently on his chest, her head already missing it's spot nuzzled into his neck. He also notes Ryuho's somewhat possessive grip on the girl, tugging her a bit closer than was necessary if he had just been carrying her. And though he stands rather rigidly now, Cougar distinctly remembers that the teen had looked much more relaxed when he'd driven past- almost like a groom carrying his new bride across a very long threshold. Add all that to the slight hint of annoyance in his eyes at Cougar's arrival and the speedster feels he finally understands. He really is too late this time…
“Did Tachibana send you to find us?” Ryuho's inquiry is as cool as ever.
“He sure did. Or actually his little girlfriend did. I was heading to the restaurant to get you guys out of there. We've had a bit of a situation develop.”
He isn't at all shocked by Ryuho's derisive response, “They should have known that I had everything under control.”
However, despite their disheveled appearance, Cougar is somewhat relieved to see the man's formal demeanor in place; if anything was really wrong Ryuho wouldn't be so put together. Still, a second glance at the pair reveals dark stains on Ryuho's pants and that the knuckles of the fingers cradling Mimori are raw and reddened. He also notices that the laces in Mimori's shoes are curiously absent and there is a sizeable cut running down the front of her sweater. Then she finally tucks her long dark hair behind her ear and he sees for the first time her bruised cheeks and split lip.
“Holy crap! Ms. Minori, what happened to you? Are you alright?” Cougar can't help turn accusatory eyes on her supposed rescuer. The cold eyes staring back at him are unapologetic.
Sensing the mounting tension, Mimori rushes to reassure him. “It's `Mimori', Cougar. And I'll be fine. It's a long story that I'll be happy to share with you once we're back at the house.”
Ryuho finally looks down at her for the first time since Cougar's arrival and raises an incredulous eyebrow at her. “Once we return we're treating your injuries and then you're going straight to bed.”
She returns his gaze with an apologetic and pleading one of her own. “All in good time, but I have to tell them about headquarters… and Hideki…” Her eyes fall away sadly in memory and she unconsciously collapses back against Ryuho.
Cougar reluctantly breaks in to get them up to speed. “Hey, does this Hideki guy have a place just up the road some? I'm supposed to take us there once I've found you guys. Tachibana and the rest are supposed to meet us there later.”
Mimori turns sad eyes up at him, “Hideki is dead. He was with me when the restaurant collapsed. I managed to get out, but I couldn't save him.” She nervously rubs at the corners of her eyes, wiping away tears before they have a chance to fall.
“Wait, did you say the restaurant collapsed? As in fell down?”
“Yes, during the earthquake. And the streets flooded, wrecking the car.” She purposefully leaves out the part about getting hit by the vehicle and then decides she'd rather not talk about any of the events following her escape from the building.
However, Cougar is curious for answers and rounds on Ryuho. “So why didn't you fly her back? And why do you have blood on your clothes?”
Ryuho briefly answers, “I got into a fight. I don't have the energy to fly yet.” There is a chilling finality in his tone commanding Cougar to drop his questions.
The Master of Radical Good Speed glances from one face to the other before finally abandoning his inquiry. “Fine. We can get answers later. Let's just get out of here. Since Hideki's place is out, I guess I'd better take us back to Tachibana's house. Is that cool with everyone?”
Mimori offers the speedster a bashful smile and a quiet “Thank you, Cougar.” Ryuho merely nods his head. With everyone in agreement, he leans over to the passenger door and opens it for the weary pair. Ryuho carefully deposits Mimori in the front seat as Cougar crawls back behind the wheel. Once Ryuho is buckled in the back Cougar revs the engine, but thinks twice when he remembers the fragile passenger beside him. Resolving to cut his speed by a quarter, he rolls up the windows, pulls into the street and heads back through the gates, headed for Tachibana's.
The sound of screeching tires and a lurching sensation yanks Asuka back to consciousness. His jarring awakening is punctuated by the sharpest, most wracking headache he's ever had in his life. A low groan issues from his throat as the back of his head throbs in a brain-squishing sort of way. Judging from the extreme pain his skull must be cracked open like a piñata, spilling said brains out like so much candy. Disgusting himself with that image, he nevertheless finds it odd that he can still form coherent thoughts. What else can he do?
A mental search of his body proves that he in fact hurts all over. His arms are wrenched and bound painfully behind him and he is lying on his side on a hard surface. His legs are sore and one of his feet tingles with numbness, likely because the other is lying on top of it. His leg refuses to obey his commands to lift or kick, he finds he can't even flex those muscles. He tries for an easier pursuit of simply wiggling his toes, but gets nothing. Attempts to move any part of his body all fail miserably. This isn't good.
Maybe he is setting his sites too high. His eyes are still closed, maybe he can open them. On his first try he feels a slight sensation in his eyelids and redoubles his efforts on the second. However, it takes several more tries and an exhausting concentration to finally get his eyelids to flutter open. Then it takes a rather long time for his eyes to focus, eventually bringing the painted metal walls of a large van into view. Suddenly the lurching and screeching tires make sense. He is in a vehicle, and the sudden stillness tells him that his whole body had been vibrating from the van's traveling, though for how long he can't say. The door window shows black outside; it must be late evening or night by now.
Taking stock of his situation he concludes several things: First, though all of his sensation is intact he has little to no control over his body's movements. Second, he has the mother of all headaches and isn't sure why or if that is the cause of his paralysis. Third, he is in a vehicle that had been traveling for a long time, judging from his soreness and the darkness outside. And fourth, he is starting to regain memories of a fight with a large mercenary in order to free Cammy and himself. Cammy!
Rolling his eyes around the van's interior, he searches for her but sees nothing. He gains only the smallest satisfaction from realizing that he moved his head a little bit. Where is she? What had that maniac done with her?
As if conjuring his presence, the van doors open and the imposing fighter appears in their frame. Noticing his captive's open eyes, Zondo sneers, “Hmph, so you're awake. Good. You've got some explaining to do. Get out here!” And before Asuka can argue about not being able to move, he is roughly dragged out first by his pant legs and then by his shirt front until he spills out of the van, held up off the ground by only a strong fist wrapped tightly around his collar.
Zondo brings his face down towards the limp teen's, “What the hell is this?”
However, Asuka desires answers of his own. Concentrating all of his effort on his mouth, he manages to force out a thickly slurred demand of his own, “W-Where… 'sss… Cammmmy?”
“Answer my question first, boy!”
Undeterred by his precarious situation, he tries to speak again, “W-Why… cannn…'ttt… I m-m-move?”
The man looming over him chuckles, seemingly amused at the boy's determination and his ridiculous requests. “I've implanted a paralytic device on your neck to keep you in line. You won't be able to spit at me, let alone run away.”
Well that explains it. Asuka notices for the first time the biting sensation at his nape, just below his hairline. Something with barbed needles is latched into the skin back there. Anger renewed with his captor, he simply locks eyes with the man and stares with as much menace as he can muster.
“You've got a lot of balls, kid, but I want some answers. AIMED headquarters is supposed to be a restaurant in the city. Is this where it's supposed to be?”
A chill suddenly seizes Asuka. How does he know about the restaurant? Had Cammy told him where to find Mimori? What had he done to her to make her divulge that information? Another chill shoots through him when he realizes that they are standing in the middle of a familiar city street. Zondo had driven them to the city right to headquarters! He briefly wonders if lying would do him any good right now, but then decides against it. He rolls his eyes to the left and right, taking in ragged yet familiar landmarks, and then focuses them back up the arm holding him aloft. “R-right… in front… of you… if I remmm-member.”
The man gives him an impatient snort and hauls him around to face the sidewalk, “Here?!” And Asuka is greeted by a giant pile of rubble where the restaurant should be. Mimori!
What had happened to her? What had happened to the building? Flashbacks of the radio weather report remind him that the storm and the earthquake had been centered over the city. Could the building have collapsed from that? And if so, had Mimori gotten out? Was she safe? If she did get out then she wasn't here, and that meant that Zondo couldn't get his hands on her yet!
Praying for the best outcome possible, Asuka drops any emotion out of his voice and taunts the angry man. “That's where it… used to be;… maybe your… ugly mug… knocked it over… Now where's… Cammy?”
His captor stiffens and then sneers again, “I wasted enough of my time with that little bitch. She made the mistake of cutting into my schedule by giving my bad directions and taking me out of my way. Such transgressions are unforgivable; I dealt with her.”
He watches as the boys face colors with nausea. Oh God, Cammy… What did you do? What has he done with you?
The mercenary continues, “Doesn't matter though. Looks like the quake may have done my job for me. Only problem is I have to confirm the kill. If there's a body in this rubble somewhere then I'll have to find it.” He looks annoyed at this revelation.
Asuka chokes back his grief, unwilling to believe anything this man says. His cooperation ends here. He will do nothing else for the man, even if all he can do is sass him. He notes with a twisted satisfaction that command of his speech is getting better with practice, “Tell you what,… why don't you… pull this thing… off my neck… and I'll help you… dig?”
That little remark gets him thrown on the ground and kicked soundly in the gut several times. Then a white hot electric shock erupts from his neck and shoots through his entire body. A violent scream spouts from his lips and he convulses spastically. The searing pain lasts forever until finally the mercenary grows bored and releases the trigger. Every muscle immediately wilts flaccidly and Asuka finally realizes why he had woken up in such pain; it was the most violent agony he'd ever felt.
“Keep that smart mouth of yours in check, boy! If you and your girlfriend have cost me this job, then that bit of pain is gonna feel like a tickle compared to what I'll do to you.”
Asuka can barely breathe. Every part of his body flames and burns beneath his skin. Images of Cammy suffering an unspeakable fate at Zondo's hands assaults his mind; he knows the man is simply waiting to taunt him with the details later on. Mimori is either lost to the wind or dead under that giant pile of rubble, buried beneath the young man's life's work since leaving HOLY. His friends have no idea where he is or that he and Cammy have been captured. Everything is falling apart and Asuka suddenly knows with an eerie sort of certainty that he will die tonight. Choking back pained sobs, he prays for unconsciousness.
Leaving the boy in the wet street for the moment, the mercenary turns away and pulls out a small communication device. Circumstances have now pushed things beyond his control and he hates that feeling more than any other. Zondo is not looking forward to the call that he will now have to make.
A/N: So there we are, drawing closer and closer to the conclusion. There should probably be about three to five chapters left of this story. But don't worry, there's plenty of action adventure and cool stuff ahead. So read and review! Let me know how this chapter appealed to you (or didn't). The rabid review whore is itching for feedback- feed her addiction!! Or just say hi again (that was actually pretty cool!).
Many thanks and luv to you all. Mira :)