S-CRY-ed Fan Fiction ❯ Evolution of the Lost Ground ❯ Confessing ( Chapter 10 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Warning: language, torture, violence, illicit drug reference, lime (sensual content). Do not proceed if any of these things offends you.
Disclaimer: I do not own.
A/N: Hope you guys like this brand spankin' new update. Heed the warnings for this chapter- the story seems to be getting a bit heavier than I intended, but that just means more fun for all! So let's all suck it up and enjoy, shall we?
Chapter 10- Confessing
Even at a slow hobble, Mimori only lasts a few blocks. Her breathing rate steadily increases to a shallow pant and her steps repeatedly falter; Ryuho can tell she's quickly running out of steam. He figures they should probably rest very soon, however, he wants to put more distance between them and the gang of men he left battered in the alley. It's unlikely that any of them would regain consciousness for another couple of hours, let alone be in any condition to follow them, but he won't take chances with Mimori's safety. She's been through enough today.
As Ryuho puzzles over what to do next Mimori's knees suddenly buckle beneath her and she slips off his shoulder. Reacting quickly, he catches her beneath her armpits before she can fall to the hard concrete underfoot. He spots an old sedan not too far off from them and, without hesitation or worry over propriety, dips low and gathers the still-dazed woman up into his arms before heading to the deserted car. He settles her as comfortably as possible on the vehicle's trunk, urging her to lie back against the window, “Just relax for a minute and catch your breath…”
She does as she's told, pulling her knees up to rest her heels on the car. She raises a hand to cover both her eyes and the mask of pain stretching across her face. Her complexion is clammy and her voice is thick with fatigue, “I'm sorry… I'm just so tired… I'm really slowing us down, aren't I?”
A pang of guilt stabs at his gut; he should have known from her condition that they wouldn't have been able to get very far. He should have insisted that they stop much earlier. “No, we needed to rest, anyway. Now that we've made some progress I want a closer look at your injuries.” To his relief she doesn't lapse into any jokes this time. He leans against the car facing her and appraises her overall condition, “First things first- show me where you hit your head.”
She moves her hand from her face over to her temple, sweeping away some hair to reveal a gash covered in crusted blood buried in her hairline. She winces when he pulls aside more of her hair to take a closer look. It appears rather ugly, but has already formed a solid scab.
Curious about his impression, Mimori asks, “Is it bad?”
“No, it's already started mending, though I imagine it must hurt. Where else were you injured?”
“I don't know… it hurts all over… and I feel disgusting; all those years of just saying `no' for what? There goes that little achievement…”
He frowns at her comment; if that was a joke it wasn't funny. “It's not your fault he gave you drugs, Mimori. No one would ever blame you for what happened.”
She frowns, looking as though she'd roll her eyes at him if she could. However instead she merely sighs, “That's very kind of you to say…”
A slightly awkward silence settles around them; Ryuho attempts to buffer it by propping the bag on the trunk next to her and rummaging in its depths. Retrieving the plastic bottle from before he asks, “Can you drink some more water? It'll probably help wash the drugs out of your system. And you need to keep yourself from dehydrating anyway.” She nods in assent and he offers her the uncapped water bottle again. As she takes small sips, he continues his scavenging in the bag and pulls out a protein bar, “There's some food in here, too. Can you eat?”
She rests the now half-empty bottle on her thigh and nods again, “Sure, but those things taste nasty- `chewy caramel' my butt…”
“Well you need the energy, so eat it.” He continues sorting through the bag, appraising its contents, “I think there's some pain reliever in here but I'm afraid to give it to you since we don't know what drug you were given. We should probably wait a bit longer for it to clear your system.”
Ever the lady, she finishes chewing her gooey mouthful before speaking, “Then I'll just rough it. I'm sure you've endured much worse than this.”
He had, but is still impressed with her determination and resilience; even though he can tell she is in a lot of pain she isn't complaining much, and overall he notes that she's handling the whole situation surprisingly well. As they had walked away from the gang he'd gotten her to recount her tale of nearly being impaled by a tree limb and then her narrow escape from the collapsing restaurant. From there she'd been `rescued' by the manipulative Hiro but had still managed a valiant escape once she'd discovered that he'd tricked her. Considering all of these things, Ryuho finds himself wondering if perhaps Mimori wasn't as fragile and helpless as he'd always thought her to be. His entire impression of the grown-up Mimori seems to be changing before his eyes.
Stealing periodic glances as he ponders, Ryuho watches as Mimori slowly eats the protein bar; ever so often she makes funny faces with a new bite in silent disproval. He doesn't know what to make of her now. Ever since she had first appeared at HOLY, his main objective concerning her had been to protect her from harm, which undoubtedly meant getting her as far from him and HOLY as possible. And even after their situation changed around them, he had never stopped to wonder why such a goal was so important to him. It was hard enough seeing her pained reactions to his own icy façade when he attempted to keep his distance; seeing her battered and nearly broken like this is almost more than his typically stoic resolve can handle. Her injuries, both physical and emotional, are shaking him to his core and Ryuho can sense that he is finally being forced to confront his honest feelings for this girl.
It was one thing to admit to himself his strong feelings for her. But something else, something deeper, stirred within him whenever the image of that man dripping his blood on her and trying to violate her entered his consciousness. He felt physically sick and an overwhelming desire to rip flesh immediately consumed him. And though he could scarcely admit it, darker thoughts of himself being the one poised over Mimori's prone figure snuck into the recesses of his mind. Something deeply possessive within him had laid claim to the girl and he was utterly bewildered as to how that realization might change things. He didn't think that he wanted things to change- everything was complicated enough between them as it was.
“You seem to be coming around some; you don't appear quite as drunk as before. We need to keep going.” At the dismayed and withered look she shoots him he clarifies, “But don't worry- I'll carry you.”
Her face immediately morphs into one of skepticism, “What? But you're… still injured.”
“It's true I haven't fully recovered yet. I don't have the energy to use my Alter to fly us back. But I'm fine enough to carry you the rest of the way.”
She looks up at him, puzzled. “The rest of the way? You mean back to the house?”
He nods confidently, “I can move faster than we were a moment ago, and I'm not letting you injure yourself further by having you needlessly push yourself anymore. Are you ready?”
Still somewhat unsure, Mimori nods. However neither of them moves right away. The brief physical separation while they'd rested makes them both a bit bashful about renewing such intimate contact. Even as they hesitate, both feel rather foolish- certainly they can be grown up about this sort of thing, right?
Ryuho finally takes the initiative and silently leans in on the car to pull Mimori's arm over his shoulder. He grabs her gently around the back of the waist and behind her knees and lifts her lightly. He tilts her forward a bit and she readjusts herself against him until they find something comfortable for both of them- Mimori cradled in his arms with hers circling his neck, her uninjured hip resting against his stomach. Unable to really make eye contact with her, Ryuho instead concentrates a bit too sharply on the road ahead, one that will put them on the highway leading out of the city and back into the Wastelands.
From the house, Tachibana hears the peel of tires in the driveway from the direction of the barn and knows that Straight Cougar has taken his beloved QRV in search of Mimori and, to a lesser extent, Ryuho. With an absent shake of his head in exasperation he heads to the front door, expecting to meet Cammy. When he gets there, however, she is nowhere in sight. He walks out of the house towards the warehouse and notices that the bay door is already closed again. She must still be inside.
Opening the large building's side door, he leans halfway in the frame and calls for her, “Cammy?”
“A-Asuka?” Her voice is high and distant, coming from the center of the building. He heads towards the sound, allowing the door to shut behind him.
“Cammy? Are you okay? You sound worried.”
He walks down the row of vehicles and cuts between two palates of stacked supplies. Something doesn't feel right. He should go back for help, but he can't just turn his back on Cammy- especially when she sounds like that. Standing in the middle of a wide aisle, he calls, “Cammy? Where are you?”
Twenty feet away a tall figure steps from behind a tower of stacked boxes. Combat boots, khaki pants, muscle shirt, kerchief skull cap. Giant and well-defined biceps, deltoids and pecs. Military watch, tight latex gloves, and a 6-inch hunting knife pressed against the throat of his tiny girlfriend. Her wrists are bound in a thick plastic zip tie and her face is streaked with tear tracks.
Tachibana bites back the name “Zondo.” Don't show your hand! Hold on to the element of surprise Instead, he takes a breath and, in the calmest voice he can muster, asks, “Who are you?”
The large man moves no muscle other than to smile, “I'm someone who's looking for you, Tachibana. Or can I call you Asuka, like Cammy here does?”
Tachibana's stomach flip-flops but he maintains a cool façade, “I don't care what you call me; I'm too distracted by that big knife you have there. Why don't you put it away, let the girl go and we can talk about this?”
The man chuckles at the young man's words. He maintains his hold on Cammy, “Do you think it's going to be that easy? You just ask nicely and I let her go? I don't think so, Asuka.”
This is really bad! Standing stock still, Tachibana sweeps a quick glance at Cammy, taking in her apparent condition. He notes the vise-like grip the man has on her arm, but otherwise she looks unharmed. Still, he's unsure of how to proceed with this stranger; this is presumably the `Zondo' character from the message who is supposed to `take care' of Mimori and him. How did he find me so quickly? According to Elian and Cougar, the message was only a few hours old. This guy is either really good or really lucky. In either case, I have to get Cammy out of this!
In an appeasing gesture, Tachibana slowly brings his empty hands away from his body, “Look, I'm not looking for trouble and I'm a bit confused. My name is Asuka Tachibana, but I'm nobody special; are you sure I'm the person you're looking for? I don't understand why a guy like you would be looking for a guy like me.”
The large man still refuses to budge, “Feigning innocence? Or do you really not know? Well, it seems you've upset some pretty powerful people, Asuka. Meddled in affairs much larger than you. You're in somebody's way, and I'm afraid I'm going to have to move you.”
The young man can't help but show some of his mounting anger, “And you're going to do that by scaring the hell out of a teenage girl? Threatening a friend is not the way to get on a person's good side.”
The stranger chuckles again, “I'm not interested in your good side. But really, Asuka, just a `friend'? I thought she was a lot more than that to you. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe you don't like them so petite…” he releases his grip to graze his rubber gloved fingers over her arm, up her neck and grabs her braid, “…so blonde…” He yanks on her hair, jerking her head back, and pulls the band loose. The jerking movement causes a thin line of blood to erupt along the length of the knife pressed against her neck. A small whimper emerges from the back of Cammy's throat even though her lips are pressed together in a tight line.
Tachibana tenses visibly, mind already calculating and running scenarios of summoning his Alter power and subduing the man before he has time to slide that knife across Cammy's neck. Too many of them are ending badly.
Still holding the blade firmly in place, the stranger pulls Cammy's plait loose and then places his hand on her head, pulling his fingers through her hair. It falls loosely around her shoulders, nearly obscuring the blade behind long wavy rivulets. Stroking her tresses, the man taunts, “Perhaps you were going to wash this hair in that bath you were running. Rub shampoo all through these pretty curls. Massage her shoulders, run your hands all over her skin…”
He rests his hand on her shoulder and then runs it down her back out of Tachibana's view. He can tell the boy is cracking.
“Stop it! Enough! No more games… What do I have to do to get you to let her go?”
The mercenary smiles in satisfaction, “Ah, smart boy- you catch on quick. As you may have guessed, I'm only here for you. But I'm not ready to part with dear little Cammy yet; holding on to her will keep you honest- no tricks.” He tilts the knife for emphasis and it flashes against the girl's throat. Tachibana is immediately drawn to the terrified look in her eyes. He wants to reassure her. He'll find a way to get her out of this.
The stranger continues laying out his conditions, “But… if you want me to free her then all you have to do is put these on.” Still holding the knife, he reaches in his pocket with his free hand and tosses a pair of handcuffs to Tachibana, who catches them one-handed.
The young man frowns, “Fine.” He closes one bracelet on his wrist, but as he goes to fit his other wrist the man stops him.
“No. Behind your back.”
Wordlessly, Tachibana complies, and after a bit of maneuvering, turns to the side and pulls his locked wrists into view, “There. Now let her go. I'm not going anywhere.”
“Walk slowly towards me.” Tachibana's frown deepens to a scowl at this. Things are quickly spiraling completely out of his control. He needs to turn the tables on the situation, but doesn't know how much leeway he'll be allowed. Deciding to take a small gamble, the young man walks within 10 feet of Cammy and the stranger and then halts.
The large man's knuckles tighten on the knife handle and the corners of his mouth turn down, “I didn't say stop.”
“This is close enough until she's out of harm's way,” Tachibana stiffly replies. “I don't trust that you'll just let her go once you have me, so right here is all you get until you free her.”
“You don't follow directions so well, boy.”
The youth quirks an eyebrow at the large man in front of him, “What's the matter? Big guy like you afraid of a kid like me? I'm hardly dangerous, especially like this,” he gestures with his bound wrists for emphasis, “What kind of coward hides behind a little girl?”
The man's right eye twitches and Tachibana knows he's struck a nerve. The man suddenly drops the hand with the knife to his side and grabs Cammy's throat with the other. With two fingers and a thumb he squeezes both of the carotid arteries in her neck.
“Stop!” Tachibana watches helplessly as her eyes slowly roll up in her head and her knees buckle. The stranger releases her and she pitches to the side, hitting the warehouse floor with a jarring `thud'.
Renewing his cruel smile, the large man steps over Cammy's crumpled form, staring intently at the handcuffed youth, “Who's hiding?”
Tachibana narrows hateful eyes at the man, “That was unnecessary.”
“I let her go- just like you asked.”
A lightning-fast glance at his girlfriend shows the telltale rise and fall of breathing- she's only unconscious. As much as he hates what happened, Tachibana is slightly relieved that Cammy is now out of the man's immediate possession and out of the line of fire. The scales are slowly tipping back in his favor. Now it's just a matter of summoning his Alter power at the right moment to take down the dangerous stranger.
The man interrupts Tachibana's train of thought as he spreads his feet a ways apart and crouches into a balanced fighting stance, “Well now. We both know you're waiting for the right time to turn the tables on me. I'm a fighter by trade, so the only way you could get out of this would be to best me. Do you want to try your luck?”
This is it! Distract him for as long as you can and then drop him fast... Tachibana's cool façade slips back into place, “With my hands like this? Hardly seems fair.”
“If you don't know yet, you'll soon learn that life's not fair, Asuka. We work with the cards we've been dealt. You'll just have to be a little creative.”
Sinking into his own low crouch, Tachibana's lips twist up into a wicked smile, “You don't know how right you are- Eternity Eight!!”
Large chunks of the concrete behind him disappear as he lunges with surprising speed towards the mercenary. The large man moves to block as the quick teen instantly changes direction and sends a spin kick towards his target's midsection. The stranger easily dodges it, but the kick was not meant to injure, rather to divert attention from the four glowing treasure balls sweeping in behind it, the closest heading straight for the man's forehead.
However, at the last minute the mercenary produces a retractable ASP baton from nowhere and extends it, batting away two of the spheres while dodging the others. Tachibana gasps. Of course he knew about my Alter power all along! …Access to personnel files from HOLY… Zondo had indeed been prepared for his powers.
Still, the young man had managed to free his hands with his other four treasure balls. He regains his footing as they pulse and float near his outstretched fingertips. He extends his arm in the stranger's direction, commanding his Alter to attack, but the man has already sent a small explosive sailing at the youth. It is intercepted by two of the treasure balls but still explodes dangerously close to Tachibana, sending him reeling backwards.
The mercenary instantly closes the distance between them and sends a jarring blow to the teen's jaw, knocking him down. Three treasure balls embed themselves in the man's chest but he still barrels forward, snapping the ASP down harshly on the back of Tachibana's head with a `crack', dropping him instantly. All eight treasure balls freeze in midair and crash to the floor, shattering like glass.
Massaging the scald mark on his shoulder from one of the treasure balls, Zondo stands over the knocked out teen, muttering to himself, “Damn boy, you put up quite a fight. If I hadn't known about your powers, you might've had me.”
He pulls another plastic zip tie from his cargo pocket and leans down to re-secure the teen's arms. “I almost underestimated your Alter. I'd better neutralize that power before you come to.”
Digging in the same pocket, he pulls out a small plastic case and flips the top open. From within it he extracts a tiny, odd-shaped device- a rounded, coin-sized disc with six thin metal appendages extending outward. He carefully places it on the back of Tachibana's neck and presses a button at its base, causing the legs of the device to plunge deep into the boy's skin.
“It'd be safer if I could just kill you now, but I need to get my hands on Miss Kiryu. Speaking of which…”
Zondo eyes the crumpled form of Cammy a few paces off. It's time she proved her usefulness as more than just bait.
In the room that Mimori and Kanami share, the younger of the two lays motionless on the bed under a smooth comforter. Her breathing is calm and even, causing the fluffy blanket pulled up under her arms to rise and fall minutely with each breath. The muscles of her face and body are completely relaxed and her eyes remain motionless beneath her closed lids. If not for her stiff positioning, one would swear she was merely sleeping.
A pensive and frowning Kazuma sits at the head of the bed, hip next to the pillow of his young charge. He absently twirls a long strand from her ponytail around his finger as he considers Elian's offer to help her. The younger boy in question stands patiently at the foot of the bed, looking down at the small girl with an appraising look. He knows that Kazuma doesn't know him very well and wonders if he will trust him with something he so obviously treasures.
After a while, Kazuma breaks his long silence, “So you think you can reach her with your Alter? Like with the TV?”
Elian answers him with a small decline of his head, “It's not quite the same but if it's her Alter that's preventing her from waking then I might be able to tap into her subconscious. There's a tentative link between us already from the projection she sent us from the barn. I think I can follow it back and maybe talk to her, and find out why she's still… sleeping.”
The boy can read the doubt on Kazuma's face, but the teen surprises him by eventually nodding his head, “If you think you can reach her then I think you should try it. Nothing else we've tried has brought her around. We can't wait any longer for Mimori to get back here. So yeah, do it.”
Elian calmly lowers himself to sit on the edge of the bed so that he faces Kazuma and the young girl. He gently takes her hands, entwining his fingers with hers.
Kazuma can't help but notice how tiny both of their hands are.
Elian's eyes linger for a long time on Kanami's features, constructing a mental image of her face before he finally closes his eyes. Keeping the picture of her at the forefront of his consciousness, he allows his Alter to awaken and cloak them.
Kazuma watches the golden bubble appear seemingly out of thin air and then expand around Elian, creeping towards the prone form of the little girl. The older teen reflexively pulls away the hand he had rested on Kanami's forehead, but the boy's soft voice halts him, “Go ahead and touch her. The contact will be a good anchor for her.”
The glowing skin of the bubble slowly thickens by degrees, enveloping both children on the bed almost completely as well as Kazuma's outstretched arm. A closer look actually reveals that the bubble is constructed of light rather than solid matter, and its glassy surface shimmers with microscopic bursts of color. Elian sits perfectly still, eyes closed, hands gently holdling Kanami's. He almost appears as if he, too, has drifted off to sleep…
He floats in an impenetrable blackness. There is no floor or ceiling, there are no walls. There is nothing but a distant, whispering presence.
“Kanami? Are you here? …Can you hear me?”
“Go away.”
“Kanami, is that you?”
“There is no Kanami. You don't belong here. Go away.”
“It is you. And you don't belong here, either. You should come back with me.”
“I don't know you.”
“It's me, Elian. We've met before. Remember when I brought Cougar to the house? We sat together outside on the porch. Cammy came and told us he would be alright…”
“I don't know Elian. I don't know Cougar. I don't know Cammy.”
“You do know Cammy. You work with her, you live with her. You see her every day, her and Tachibana…”
“I don't know Cammy. I don't know Tachibana… You're frightening me! Go away!”
“It's frightening here. You need to come back home, to you friends…”
“I don't know friends. I don't know home. I haven't been anywhere but here.”
“You're confused. There was an accident and you were overwhelmed by your Alter power-”
“-Alter… power?”
“Yes. I felt your pain, your fear. You must have hidden here for protection. But you don't have to be afraid anymore.”
“I'm not afraid. I don't remember an accident.”
“I know. It's how you're coping. And maybe you're not afraid now, but you can't tell me you're happy here, either.”
“Yes, happy. Like when you were home, or at the farm. When you were helping people or when you were with your friends…”
“I don't have-”
“You do have friends! You have Cammy and Asuka. You have Mimori and Ryuho…”
“I… these names… I-I don't-”
“And you have Kazuma. You know, `Kazu-kun'? He misses you so much.”
“Kazu… kun? Do I…?”
“He's sitting with you right now. Can you feel him? The connection? He's barely left your side since they found you.”
“No one else is here.”
“No feel it! He's there, I promise. You just have to reach for him.”
“I can't do that! I can't leave.”
“Why not?”
“I-I'm safe here.”
“It's just an illusion of safety. There's no danger anymore. You can come back now.”
“I… I don't remember this place that you want me to go to. I… what if you're lying to me?”
“We're in your Alter right now. You should be able to sense that I'm being honest with you. I have no reason to lie.”
“I… I'm still afraid to leave. What if… what if I don't like it there? What if these people are angry with me?”
“No one will be angry with you- they're all too busy worrying about you. They want to see you again.”
“How do you know all of this? Are we... are we friends?”
“I'd like to think we are. I don't know you as well as the others, but I thought we got along pretty well. We have a lot in common. I thought you were really nice…”
“You seem… really nice, too.”
“Well, I try… Kanami, aren't you lonely here?”
“I… I never thought I was lonely… But now that you're here… it's… better.”
“Your friends miss you; they're lonely without you. You believe me now, right? That you have friends?”
“I… yes. But I don't remember. It's very strange. I-wait… what is that? There's… there's a warmth. I can feel it… It's gentle… and… I can't describe it…”
“That's Kazuma. I told you he was near. Now that you're relaxing, you're becoming more receptive to your real surroundings. See? It's not so dark here anymore. I can see your face. Can you see me?”
“I… I think I see you… It's hazy… like a shadow. You have a lot of hair… and… kind eyes. The other one… will I be able to see him?”
“You mean Kazuma? You won't be able to see him until we go back. Are you ready?”
“I… not yet. I'm just not… I still need a moment…”
“Don't worry; I won't make you go anywhere you don't want to. I just know you'll be happier once you're back there.”
“Do you… have to leave? Can you… stay with me? …Until I'm ready to go?”
“Sure. I'll stay right here with you.”
“I… I can really see you now. I was right about your eyes… Why are we holding hands?”
“That helps me connect with you so we can talk. If I let go, then I risk the chance of going back without you.”
“Then don't let go! Please… just… don't leave yet…”
“Like I said, I'll stay right here until you're ready.”
Thundering drums echo in Cammy's ears, punctuating her abrupt return to consciousness. Her eyes pulse with each percussive thrum and her head feels so tight that her brain must be trying to push through her skull. Something large and firm is squeezing her lower jaw and her head is being shaken by some force outside of her control. As curiosity overrides her discomfort, Cammy slowly rolls her eyes open.
A massive, hazy outline of a head and upper torso swims into view and, after a moment, sharpens into the visage of the cruel, knife-wielding mercenary. Tears immediately re-cloud her vision and a low wail escapes from her throat. She tries to wrench her chin out of his large grasp, but he holds firm. Memories of the moments before she blacked out assault her fragile mind: The colossal shadow looming over her. Meaty fingers digging into the too-sensitive skin of her arms. The sharp steel of a blade licking shallow cuts against her neck. The shear panic underlying her boyfriend's deceptively cool demeanor as he bargained for her safety. Oh Asuka, what happened?
The large man's icy voice answers as if he'd heard her internal query, “Your boyfriend turned out to be quite a challenge, little girl, but in the end he just couldn't last against me.”
Cammy blinks the wetness out of her eyes to search for Asuka, not caring as it trails heavy tracks down her cheeks. A few paces off she spies a body with purple hair lying face down, arms tethered behind its back, and fresh tears surge forward to replace the old, “Asuka! Oh God!”
Rough hands pull the girl up into a sitting position. As he speaks, Zondo gestures to the motionless figure, “He's alive for now. However, whether he stays that way is entirely up to you, Cammy.”
“Wh-what do you mean?”
“I'm going to ask you some questions. If you answer me honestly and completely, then I will let Asuka live. If you take too long to answer these questions, then I will hurt him. If you refuse to answer these questions, then I will kill him. Then I will kill you. Do you understand?”
She nods vacantly at him, eyes wide with bewilderment and anxiety. He smirks at her rapid compliance and pauses before beginning his inquiry, “First question: is Mimori Kiryu in the house?”
Cammy is so shocked to hear Mimori's name that she hesitates in order to repeat his words in her mind. Zondo can sense the surprise in her face and voice, “Mi-Mimori?”
“Pay attention, Cammy. I don't want to have to repeat myself…”
“-No! Sh- she's not in the house…”
“Are you absolutely sure? I can't have you lying to me. Maybe you need to see how serious I am.”
Somewhat confused, Cammy watches as the mercenary produces a tiny remote from his pocket. He holds it in front of her face and with a very deliberate motion depresses the largest button. At that moment Asuka's body seizes up and spasms behind them; jagged, pained growls emit from the still-unconscious teen.
“Noooo!!” Cammy screams as she watches her boyfriend's head bang repeatedly into the concrete floor- every muscle in his body reacts as if he's being electrocuted. Zondo releases the button and the boy's body mercifully sinks back into stillness once again.
The mercenary taunts the girl as she sobs; “Now you see how important your answers are. This little device is a paralytic- it cuts off 90 percent of his motor functions. That leaves just enough muscle tone for bladder control and speech- if he were conscious. This way he can't summon those powers of his. But you see it also serves another practical function- in order to instill `compliance' it delivers electric shocks of an extremely high voltage whenever I press this button.”
He holds the remote even closer in front of her eyes and she shuts them reflexively, whimpering softly at her helplessness. “I have to be careful when I use it; too many shocks can stop a human heart. I've accidentally killed people with this thing on more than one occasion. Collateral damage. So think carefully before you decide to lie to me.”
“I won't lie! I swear! Just don't hurt him again!” She trembles with anguish and the man continues, “Alright then. Question two: who else is in the house?”
She doesn't even hesitate this time, words and names spilling from her lips before she can even think of the consequences, “Urizane and Elian are still inside. And Kazuma is with Kanami. That's it.”
“Four people? Are you sure?” As she nods vigorously, Zondo thinks back to the people he saw entering the house earlier. “Two children, right? One's a little girl?”
“Yes, th-that's Kanami.”
“And two older boys? The fat one is…?”
“That's Urizane. The other is Kazuma.”
The man nods and Cammy gives a silent exhale- he seems satisfied with her answers. “And how many of them are Alter users?”
She blinks, surprised by the question, but hurries to answer, “All of them…”
Zondo thinks about this for a moment, frowning at the odds. He won't concern himself with them; he has more important tasks to accomplish. “Alright Cammy. Next question: where is Mimori Kiryu?”
Fear instantly blanches her face and she stutters before she can muster a coherent answer, “I-I… We don't… we don't know… She left…”
The man quirks a curious eyebrow at her; perhaps the girl isn't as frightened as he thought. “But you know where she went, don't you?”
Cammy panics. There is no longer any doubt in her mind that this is the man from the message looking for Asuka and Mimori, her two best friends. He already has his hands on her boyfriend; can she give him Mimori as well? What guarantee does she have that he won't kill them all?
“I-I… Please! I… I can't…” and her stomach knots when annoyance clouds his eyes.
“No Cammy, that's not allowed…” His thumb finds the button again and Asuka artificially spasms once more. His body jerks uncontrollably and his arms and legs flop spastically about him. His head thrashes from side to side and his low growl grows into a haphazard cry of agony. Cammy screams as she watches until Zondo finally releases the button. “I told you what would happen if you didn't cooperate.”
She collapses backwards and cries with all her heart. “Oh God, I can't! You're just going to kill us all anyway! We're already dead, you just want information!” Her sobbing causes her to miss the funny look he gives her.
“Is that what you think? You stupid girl, you are going to get them all killed if you don't smarten up.” Even as she still cries, he waits until he's sure she's listening before continuing, “I need Miss Kiryu alive- my employer has business with her and your boyfriend. As I said before, I don't need you. Once I have the information I want I'm going to lock you in this warehouse and finish my errands. However, if you don't give me the answers I want I'll have to move on to your friends inside the house- they should be able to tell me what I want to know. But once I'm in the house people will definitely die. Like I said, `collateral damage'.”
Cammy whimpers, but opens her eyes and looks at him, judging his sincerity as he speaks. “So just tell me where I can find Miss Kiryu or a lot of innocent people are going to die today- including you and your boyfriend.” Zondo punctuates his last word with a press of the button and Asuka once more launches into a violent seizure on the floor, flopping and grunting and banging his head into the concrete again and again; Cammy frantically looks between Asuka and his punisher.
“Stop it, please!! You'll kill him!! I'll tell you!!” When these words fail to gain the release of the button, Cammy screams out, “She's in the city!! At the restaurant!!” The mercenary finally releases the remote and the entire warehouse fills with a silence broken only by the echo of her shrill exclamations.
His words are deathly calm, “Which restaurant?”
She gives him the name and the cross streets, all the while silently praying that he keeps his word. She almost screams again when he picks the remote back up, “I think you might be lying to me, Cammy. Why in the hell would she go to a restaurant in the city?”
Cammy furiously shakes her head, “I'm not lying! I swear she went there!! It's… it's AIMED headquarters… Now please! Check on Asuka and see if he's alive.”
A wicked smile curls Zondo's lips. His second target is now within his grasp. He rises to his feet and crosses the few paces to stand over Asuka. He checks the boy's pulse, and then hefts the unconscious body over his shoulder. Walking back over to Cammy, he leans down and pulls the startled girl by the arm to her feet. “B-but I thought… What are you doing…? You said…”
He drags her toward the back of the warehouse, over to the door he broke into to get inside. “I'm not going to leave you here so you can run to your friends. You're going to help me find this restaurant and Miss Kiryu. And you're going to serve as insurance in the off chance that your boyfriend there gets out of control. And just remember- I've got another one of these devices if you try to cause me any trouble.”
Too stunned to speak, Cammy can only stumble along as Zondo drags her beside him and carries an unconscious Asuka out of the warehouse and over the cliffs to his concealed van.
As predicted, Ryuho and Mimori make significant progress towards the highway; however, the trip has been haunted by an awkward silence. Neither teen speaks a word; they have yet to make eye contact since setting back out again. Ryuho notices that Mimori has gradually shifted in his arms and is sitting up rather rigidly; she can't be comfortable like that. “You can relax- lean on my shoulder.”
Somewhat startled by the break in their mutual silence, Mimori tenses in his grasp, “Oh… okay. You… don't mind?”
“I don't mind. It's easier that way. And you should sleep if you can; give your injuries an opportunity to mend.”
She dutifully settles more comfortably against him, but absently adds, “I doubt I'll be able to sleep, though, with all the swaying.”
Unbeknownst to Mimori, Ryuho's brows immediately knit together in disproval. “I don't sway.”
Slightly confused, she finally looks up at his face. It takes only a moment to process the unforgivable transgression she's just made against his male ego. Utterly tickled by his instantaneous prickling, she makes a valiant effort to soothe him without laughing. “I'm sorry. I just meant that the lope in your gait makes the ride a little bumpy- not that I'm complaining! I much prefer this to barely hobbling…”
She succeeds in keeping a straight face but her eyes dance with unmistakable mirth. Embarrassed by his own reaction, Ryuho only mutters defensively, “I don't lope, either…”
This only exacerbates things in Mimori's eyes and the corners of her mouth threaten to push up to her cheekbones, “What!? Loping is manly! American cowboys `lope'. It's not like I said you `sashay' or anything… Fine! You `lumber' like a big manly-man! Is that better?”
The look he shoots her is a cross between disgust and disbelief, and she finally looses hold of any resolve she might have had. Laughter soon boils over and spills out of the girl like a steaming kettle. Ryuho rolls his eyes at her for what feels like the millionth time in so many hours; he'd wanted to dispel the awkwardness between them but this was not his preferred method of accomplishing it. Still, her body language indicates that she's loosening up and is perhaps again comfortable with him. All that seems to be missing is an easy-going conversation.
“I guess…” she trails off, leaving something unspoken.
“What is it?” He encourages her, eager to firm up the tentative bond slowly growing between them.
“It's just… I'm still waiting. When are you going to say it?” Though she tries to sound nonchalant, there is a barely perceptible edge in her voice.
“Say what?” Ryuho is utterly confused.
Not entirely sure that proceeding is such a good idea, Mimori still continues, “You know, `I told you so.' `This never would have happened if you'd have just gone back to the Mainland like I said'- you know, the lecture.”
In her nervousness she begins to babble, “Because I'd rather just get it over with now. I'm half doped, so it shouldn't hurt so much to hear it. And it's not like I can go anywhere- you have a pretty captive audience.”
The only indication of Ryuho's inaudible yet exasperated sigh is the slight collapse of his chest which Mimori feels against her side. “I'm not going to lecture you. It wouldn't do either of us a bit of good. I already know that nothing I can say is going to make you change your behavior.”
“Oh, I see. Alright then…” In all honesty, she actually didn't see that one coming. She sits in silence for several moments, contemplating his peculiar and out of character statement before hesitantly asking, “The others… did they send you… to get me?” She has a nervous look on her face that she tries to hide from him by keeping her head low.
He walks quietly for a moment, wondering what consequences could come from disclosure of the truth. Concluding that he's done enough over-thinking, Ryuho decides to go with honesty, “Actually, I came here because I was worried about you. The weather report said that the storm was centered over the city and I was afraid you were in danger- especially after the earthquake. I'll admit I didn't expect to find you in quite so much distress.”
She nods in understanding and he continues, emboldened, “What I said on the cliffs this morning, I meant it. I'm trying to respect your desire to help others the way you see fit. Of course, I don't understand how being tangled up with a risky organization like AIM is going to-”
Unfortunately, the mere mention of her beloved organization puts Mimori on the defensive. Without even realizing it, she snaps at him, “Don't talk about it like that! You have no idea what AIMED has accomplished- what I've accomplished! And do you know what? I did it without an Alter!”
Ryuho hears the wounded quality in her voice and realizes too late that he's fallen back on a sore subject. He can tell she's flashing back to every curt and callous lecture he's given her since she showed up at HOLY. Her tone steadily rises to match her anger, “God, you're so predictable! Really, are you that obsessed with it? I bet you can't even imagine the Lost Ground gaining its independence without an Alter-wielding martyr at the helm! Well, I don't have any powers but I'm not helpless! Put me down!”
She starts struggling out of his arms with more energy than he thought that she had. “Put me down, now! I've changed my mind- I don't want to hear this!”
“Mimori, stop it. That's not what I'm saying-”
He does his best to juggle her flailing limbs but finally relents, putting her feet down to appease her. Once close to standing, she pushes away from him and starts limping swiftly down the street on her own, fury evident in her rapid pace. “Leave me alone! I'll get home by myself!!”
However, she only makes it a few meters before collapsing heavily on her injured hip. She yelps in pain and shock, but soon tries to hoist herself up onto her knees. However, her attempt is unsuccessful; she doesn't have the strength to even sit up properly, let alone stand. Stung by humiliation and unable to properly right herself, she can do nothing but bury her face in the crook of her arm and pound her other fist on the pavement in frustration. Her back spasms from wracking sobs of pain and defeat.
Stunned by her reaction, Ryuho at first just stands dumbstruck. Lying in the street propped on her elbows, Mimori turns her head to stare him straight in the eye, yelling with a shaky voice, “Alright I'll say it- you're right! I couldn't cut it! In the end I couldn't save myself. After nearly being impaled and then crushed to death, after escaping a fire and a collapsing building, after getting hit by a car and then kidnapped, after nearly getting away- it was just too much. I was nearly raped and killed! But thank goodness you showed up and saved me! Because now you get to say `I told you so.' So SAY IT!!! But then leave me the hell alone!”
Snapping out of his shock, he rushes to her aid, crouching beside her, “Mimori-”
“Go away! Just… just give me some space…” She turns away from him and tries to bury her face again.
“I mean it! Please, God…”
He finally grows impatient, “Mimori, damn it, would you listen to me? You don't understand; that's not what I meant…” He straddles her on his knees and grabs her arms, twisting her to face him. Her head remains bent down and her eyes are stubbornly shut tight but he holds her in front of him, determined to make her hear.
“Listen, I'm serious! I meant what I said on the cliffs, about understanding your need to help, to make an impact here. I didn't understand how much you'd come to consider the Lost Ground as your home. I didn't know you'd go so far as to be a part of AIMED-”
Mimori struggles in his grasp but he holds her fast, searching in vain for the words that will make her recognize his sincerity, “Listen! I realize that I don't mind that Tachibana is involved with AIMED-”
She cuts in, “-because he's an Alter user!”
He continues, determined to be brutally honest, “Maybe. Maybe that has something to do with it. But the main reason is because he's not you. I care about you- more than anything else! I don't ever want anything to happen to you and it makes me absolutely crazy to think that you put yourself in situations that endanger your safety!”
Somewhere in the midst of this confession, Mimori has stopped her struggling to stare awe struck and unblinking at him. Her voice is shaky and skeptical, “Do you… mean that?”
Realizing that he finally has her attention, he looks her squarely in the eyes, “I can say without a doubt that this is the most honest I've been with you since you've returned to the Lost Ground.”
With a fraction of hope in her voice, she asks, “So you… really care about me?”
He notes how carefully she is choosing her words and wants desperately to reassure her, “Yes, I care about you- so much so that it scares me.”
She averts her eyes pensively, “And the other… on the cliffs… did you mean that, too?”
He has to think for a moment before he understands her meaning, “You mean the kiss?” He is rewarded with a small nod as she looks searchingly into his eyes. He simply asks, “What do you think?”
A bit embarrassed, she averts her eyes immediately, looking everywhere but at him to finally contemplating a truth that she hadn't yet considered, “What do I think? I think I sort of tried to seduce you. I didn't think it would work…”
“I just hoped… I wanted you to feel the same way about me…”
“Mimori!” His sharp tone halts her renewed babbling. She looks up again, confusion prominent in her russet eyes.
Ryuho doesn't think- just lets his heart do the talking for once. “That kiss, on the cliffs, that was for me. I was selfish and I took it.” He searches her eyes hoping that perhaps she'll understand his intentions, “This one… this one is for you.”
Taking her face in both hands, careful to avoid her bruises, he gently lowers his lips to hers and, in the ultimate symbol of trust, closes his eyes. He kisses her slowly, pausing to let her breathe, taking his time to deepen the kiss in stages and worship her lips, tasting them, soothing them. He waits for her to open up to him, exploring the cavern of her willing mouth, savoring the warmth and smoothness within and teasing her tongue with his own. To his delight she soon takes the lead, tilting his head to the side with slight pressure from her cool, slender fingers. He revels in the feel of her tongue as she tastes every corner of his mouth. Moans when she deepens the suction between them and then releases it to massage his tongue with hers. It's magnificent; better than their kiss on the cliffs, better than he'd ever imagined a kiss could be, had any right to be.
He feels a drip of wetness on his cheek but waits for her to pull away. When she does he sees that a tear had slid from her eye and tracked down to where their cheeks had been touching. He reaches up and wipes it away with the pad of his thumb.
“Now do you believe me?” He receives a wordless nod. “Do you remember what I said when I found you? I said I'd cross hell and back to keep you safe. I meant it. I know you're strong, but please- try not to make me crazy.”
Mimori smiles at him and another tear spills down her cheek. Ryuho wipes it away; he'll wipe them all away.
“Ryuho? Can you take me home, please?”
“Of course.”
“Um… after… you kiss me again?”
For the first time in a very long time, a genuine smile spreads across his face. He'd done it- the unthinkable. He'd done the one thing so uncharacteristic that he had scarcely been able to consider it as a viable option: he'd been honest about his feelings with the person who mattered most to him. And the reward was more than he'd ever hoped for.
“It would be my pleasure,” he wraps an arm around her waist and raises her chin. A last peek before he closes his eyes again reveals the most angelic little grin he's ever seen dancing across her awaiting lips. Once his mouth finds hers again he is carried away on a wave of truly blissful contentment.
A/N: Whew! Another one done. So tell me what you think of this chapter- How was the fight scene in this one? Are you worried about Tachibana now (you should be)? Did you like the moment between Ryuho and Mimori? Were they too OOC? How about the scene with Elian and Kanami? Anything you feel like commenting on, please share in a review. Or just push the button because you want to say hi! I LOVE it when people say hi!
Anyway, until next time!
Luv, Mira :)