Tatara


"What should we name her?"

They were strolling through a park after dinner when the question came up.

"How are you so sure it's a girl?" he asked.

Mika smiled. "Call it intuition."

She looked up at him again when he didn't venture a suggestion. Tatara didn't want to talk about a child he was never going to see, a newborn he was never going to hold. "You can choose," he said, quietly.

Mika was entertaining the name Satsuki and Ayame when a light drizzle began. It threatened to turn into a downpour, but the rain clouds moved on, and they were left with unseasonally damp air.

"Mika," Tatara suddenly said.

She was ten paces ahead of him before she realized he'd stopped walking. Mika turned around. Tatara could see she felt the gravity in his voice. She had a sense for these things, a sensitivity to the subtle changes of mood and the shift of tempers. It was something Tatara sometimes wished he had so he could better read his opponents and his tenuous alliances.

Mika stayed the distance away, waiting for him to speak. There were still people out at this time, but rush hour was close to ending, and there weren't many evening strollers in this area of the park. Despite the ten feet between them, Tatara felt that magnetic pull to her, powerful and indefatigable. Suddenly, maintaining that distance felt as uncomfortable and ridiculous as denying himself the urge to sneeze in the privacy of his own home.

Slowly, Tatara closed the distance, flip-flops crunching over wet grass. He could smell the rain in the air, the damp soil, and Mika's scent, as seductive and tender as the first time he'd met her.

He couldn't trust himself to speak. Instead, he took her into his arms and held tight, as tight as he could without hurting her. This was the last time he was going to be close enough to touch her, the last time he would feel her heart beat against his own. Tatara wanted to remember everything about her, imprint it so vividly in his mind even the current of time wouldn't be able to wear the memory away.

He held on like the world was ending around them, because if he did, if he held on hard enough, then perhaps they'd be able to find each other again in the next life.

Tatara's breath caught in his chest. He made sure the pressure behind his eyes had passed before he slowly released her.

"I want to end this."

His words hung stark and raw in the silence between them. He couldn't bring himself to look into her eyes.

They could hear children playing in the distance, a girl shrill with delight, a boy's laugh.

"Why?" she finally managed.

"Because I can't keep suppressing one side of myself for you."

But the truth was, Tatara could. For Mika, he could cut away that part of himself and keep it imprisoned forever in the deepest recesses of his mind no matter how loudly it howled for freedom. He was willing to give up his revenge on Houji. He was even willing to forget about Yan and Fei. There was little he wouldn't do for her, just as, thirteen years ago, there was little he wouldn't do for his brother.

"It's interfering with what I can do for Aogiri." Tatara took a step back. "This arrangement," he said, icily, "was never fair to begin with. If I stay with you, I'd have to leave a part of myself. You fell in love with one side of me, but you could never bring yourself to love my other half. So I'm ending this."

Tatara finally managed to meet her gaze again, and he saw the hurt so clear in her eyes that the breath caught in his chest again.

She had to hate him after this; otherwise, Mika would never find solace in Amon, and he'd never be able to convince her to get rid of their child.

"I never knew you felt that way," Mika said, as steadily as she could. Tatara could tell she was holding back tears, but they welled past her eyes and fell in two, unbroken streams. She quickly brushed them away. Tatara knew she hated people seeing her cry. "I'd always thought… you were fine with it. I thought…"

He looked away. The lump in his throat continued to grow. "You thought wrong. You were wrong about a lot of things in our relationship. Looking at you, I wonder why I stuck around for so long, why I thought you were worth jeopardizing Aogiri's wellbeing. For the past month, you've been unbearable to be around."

Pain the likes of which he'd experienced only once before lanced him like a pike. He felt physically sick.

Tatara wanted to go to her, to hold her again and tell her this was all a ruse. He wanted to tell her he was willing to sell himself into a lifetime of servitude for just another second together.

But he reminded himself why he was doing this. He forced himself to take another step back. Then another.

Finally, when he was able, he turned his back to her. His face creased with grief as he walked away.


Mika


She wasn't sure how long she stood there.

It must have been hours. No one was left in the park. Anyone who passed her by must have thought she was crazy, rooted to the spot and staring into the distance with unfocused eyes.

Her mind wasn't working. It seemed to be doing that a lot lately, just blanking out like that. Mika felt a bubble of maniacal laughter lodge itself into her throat. She was quick to swallow it back down.

It was closing in on nine o'clock. Mechanically, Mika made her way back to the subway, swiped her way through the turnstile, and rode home alone.

It didn't really register that Tatara was gone until she arrived at her apartment. She saw his jacket hung on the dining room chair and felt something seize her chest. The reaction was immediate: Mika grabbed the jacket, opened the closet next to the shoe rack, and tossed it in. She ran into the bathroom, yanked his toothbrush from its holder and flung it out the window.

Then Mika stood there, chest heaving with equal parts anger and heartache. Her body shook as she kept the tears in. She didn't want to hear herself crying, didn't want to hear it amplified in the bathroom, didn't want to see the tears in the mirror. Mika bit her bottom lip to keep it in, trying to shock herself back into lucidity with the pain. For a moment, it worked. A small bead of blood rolled down her chin.

Mika heard her phone ring in the kitchen. One glance at it told her it was Amon. Mika tossed it back in her handbag. But, almost of their own accord, her eyes snapped back to it again.

Maybe it was the anger towards Tatara, maybe it was the freshness of her grief, but Mika grabbed the phone and dialed back. He answered on the first ring.

"Mika," she heard. "Hi."

There was a pause, which she took as her cue to say hello. But she didn't trust herself to speak, and even if she did, she didn't want to say anything to Amon.

His tone was more hesitant following her ungracious silence. "I… wanted to see if you had time to meet. Somewhere… anywhere. You choose."

"Last time we met, you killed one of my unborn children," she said, flatly.

Mika could almost see Amon cringe on the other side of the line. When he spoke again, the discomfort carried into his voice. "Please, Mika. Let me apologize. I'd like to do it face to face."

Inwardly, Mika sighed, defeated. She didn't want to be alone right now. She worried the keychain on her handbag, winding her fingers into it, once, twice. On the other end of the line, Amon waited patiently.

"Can I hit you again, then?" she asked.

"You can hit me as many times as you want."

"Right. It doesn't really hurt you anyway, does it?" Mika said with a humorless laugh.

"No," Amon admitted. "At least not as much as you want it to. You can bring a baseball bat to help you if you'd like."

"I would, but I don't have one," Mika said, dryly.

"Then I'll bring one for you. Just… not the face, please."

"Why? I think a baseball bat to your face would be an improvement."

She told him Shibuya. Mika wanted to be somewhere loud and bustling, so she couldn't hear her own poisonous thoughts.

After cleaning the blood off her chin, Mika left the apartment. Fifteen minutes later, she was fighting the throngs of pedestrians crossing the famous Shibuya intersection, walking towards a board game cafe Amon had suggested during the subway ride there.

She saw him waiting by the doorway, a baseball bat by his side.

Amon handed it to her when he saw her coming. She brushed past it, saying, "Too many witnesses here. I'll beat you up in a dark alleyway after I have a cup of coffee that you're paying for."

Mika picked a table, and Amon joined her, but not before grabbing a Go set from a shelf of boardgames. He set it down as Mika looked up at him curiously. "You," she said, with a raised eyebrow, "want to play me?"

"I might not look it," Amon said, hanging his jacket onto the back of his seat, "but I used to play blitz Go tournaments in high school." He sat down and spread the paper game board onto the table.

"I despise blitz Go players," Mika said. "The very concept of blitz Go goes against everything this game represents."

Even so, she gave him a four stone handicap, and Amon put ten minutes on the clock.

Blitz Go rewarded rash decision-making that had at least a modicum of insight behind it. She was a careful player, who liked to take her time, so what worked well for her in normal, one hour to one hour and a half tournaments was a terrible weakness here.

But even with everything working in Amon's favor, he began losing territory quickly halfway into the game, mercilessly buried by a more intelligent, more powerful mind.

"I think we can call it a game," Mika said fives minutes in. The board was mostly black at this point.

Amon undid the top button of his collared shirt and raised his hand to get the waitress' attention. He ordered coffee for Mika and something cold for himself.

"Next game," he said, clearing the board.

"Not feeling whipped enough?" Mika asked.

"I'm a closet masochist," Amon said, jokingly.

"You must be if you're willing to play again after embarrassing yourself like that."

"Boy, you don't hold back, do you?" Amon said, obviously a little stung by her remark.

Despite what'd happened earlier today, Mika smiled. "No, I don't. Not on the board. Not in life."

He smiled, too, and plunked down his four stone handicap.

Seven more games later, all ending in Amon's sound defeat, he threw up his hands, looking genuinely frustrated. "I give up," he said.

Mika found herself smiling again. It felt good to beat up someone, even if it was just a mental tussle. "I don't think I need that baseball bat anymore." She sat back in her seat, sighing contently. "I might be a closet sadist." She gestured at the board. "Enjoyed every second of this."

They'd barely touched their drinks. Amon played with his cup of iced coffee. "That might be because I did something terrible to you, not because you're a sadist." He looked down at the table, unable to meet her gaze. "I'm sorry, Mika. For what I did. I should've left it alone. I thought—"

"You thought you were doing the right thing. You thought you had my best interest at heart." Again, Mika sighed. Her anger and frustration towards Amon expelled from her body with that breath. She looked out the window at the Shinjuku crosswalk, watching people hurrying past one another.

"Tatara ended our relationship."

Mika turned to look at Amon when he didn't say anything. She studied his expression, finding that he wasn't surprised. She hadn't expected him to be. "You called it," she said, quietly. "You were right. Tatara thought for a long time it wasn't working out. I was the only fool who thought it was. It was so sudden. The way he ended it. It was like something in him snapped, and he realized he couldn't take it anymore."

"So what now?" Amon asked her.

"I'm not sure. I just know I don't want to go back to my apartment."

"Then come to mine."

Mika met his eyes. Amon didn't look away. "Bold, for a man who lost eight games to me in less than fifty minutes. Some cakes take longer than that to bake."

But in the end, faced with either Amon's apartment or crippling loneliness, Mika took the subway back to his place, a three bedroom in Azabu.

"I take it being a Special Investigator pays well?" she said as she entered a lobby with marble flooring and leather furniture. The receptionist manning the apartment building's front desk, dressed in suit and tie, stood and bowed when he saw Amon, greeting him by name.

"Special Investigators don't live long lives," Amon said, smiling. "That's why we're paid well."

She rode the elevator to the fifteenth floor. When the doors parted, Mika saw more marble floors, polished to a shine. Aesthetically trimmed ferns decorated the hallway, two of them flanking an old, obviously valuable bonsai tree. The recessed lights bathed everything in a warm, golden glow.

There were only two apartments on each floor, a twenty-five hundred square foot space on each side. When Mika stepped into Amon's unit, she saw that the living room was bigger than her tiny apartment.

"The living room is twice as big as the apartment I used to live in," Amon said. "It's too much for one person." He said she could take any of the two guest rooms when she was ready to sleep, and said she could watch the TV in the living room if she wanted. There was food in the fridge.

"Thanks, Amon," Mika said after she'd gotten comfortable on the living room couch. She drew her knees up and wrapped the cashmere throw more tightly around herself. "You didn't have to do this."

He said he was going to get ready to sleep. So, she waited until she heard the shower running in Amon's room before tossing the throw to one side. Mika made a beeline for Amon's phone on the kitchen counter.

She didn't care if this was an invasion of his privacy. The timing of Amon reaching out to her was too perfect. This was no coincidence.

Mika scrolled through his messages and found one sent from a familiar number earlier this evening. Tatara's number.

"It's done," the message said. "Your move."

Mika set Amon's phone down with a shaky hand. Not yet, she told herself when she felt the urge to call Tatara. I don't know anything for certain yet.

If there were answers, they would be somewhere in Amon's apartment. Failing physical evidence, Amon himself was going to know something, and Mika wasn't going to do anything rash until she could shake answers out of him.

Mika walked into a room in the living area that'd been converted into an office space. It seemed Amon was the type who brought his work home with him. The PC was on, a default screensaver of a ball bouncing off the sides of the monitor. Nothing on the desk immediately caught her attention, so Mika shook the computer awake with an impatient wiggle of the mouse. His email was connected to the CCG server.

So sloppy, Mika thought. First, no password on his phone. Now, leaving a computer logged in to the CCG server unattended. But then again, he never set his life up anticipating espionage…

She searched her name, "Hinamori," in his emails, hoping to strike gold.

And she did.

An email thread nine messages long detailed a CCG order to "neutralize an imminent threat." There was an attached file of her in that message.

In a reply, Amon had requested the order be suspended so it could be reviewed by a committee of Special Investigators. He also requested to be on that committee. The request was denied and the case was assigned to Houji and Amon.

Amon rejected the assignment. Reassignment followed. A Special Investigator named Satou took his place.

Amon filed another request for suspension. He managed to convince his superiors to rescind the case if he could have her agree to an abortion. The deadline for that was five hours ago. Her withheld case has since been reopened.

It was open season on her. Maybe inviting her to his apartment had been a trap. But Mika's eyes scanned the email thread again, and she found that unlikely. Amon had been advocating for her life since the case first opened.

Mika returned to the living room. Her head echoed with the phrase "neutralize an imminent threat." She stood at the kitchen counter where she'd left her things with Amon's.

Her mind ran through all the possible options she had like a film reel. But all she could think about was reuniting with Tatara.

And so, despite knowing there were two investigators out on the streets hunting for her, despite years of situational analysis, of strategy-making and risk assessment, she made the most irrational decision she could.

She grabbed her bag and ran.


A/N: Hey guys, it's been quite a while since I last updated. I just wanted to thank that occasional reader who drops a review. I still get review alerts to my email inbox, and every so often, I'd be reminded that this fanfic has remained unfinished. Of all the stories I've written, this has been one of my favorites. To those readers, thanks a bunch. You kept this fanfic going!

Last chapter preview: Tatara saw Houji with a blade against Mika's throat, and he wanted to remind the Investigator that unlike him, she was a fragile thing, and a nick against the jugular vein would kill her, but of course Houji knew that. Of course he did. The word "please…" made its way past Tatara's lips, barely audible in the winter chill. But he saw no mercy in those eyes.