Hello loyal readers!
How many months has it been since the last chapter? Many apologies, as I'm posting this at a weird time on Friday, but I'm about to head out of Wi-Fi range into a national park for a weekend getaway.
Just a note that this fic was written before we were introduced to the character of Cedric D. Bennett (who turned out to be Kuon's cousin). I meant for the person taunting Kuon in the America flashback right before Rick gets killed to be the character of "Marcus", but amazingly enough Sensei has caught up enough with her own plot to give this man a name! (Not confirmed in the manga but from a story standpoint, it makes sososo much sense that the light-haired man beating up Kuon in the flashbacks and making fun of his Japanese lineage would be Cedric.) Once I finish this fic, maybe I'll go back and ret-con the name "Marcus" into "Cedric" haha
Well, welcome to the pen-ultimate chapter of the longest story I've ever written! Thank you all – old and new loyal readers – for sticking along with me for this journey. We're almost at the finish line! Love you all, and enjoy! This was a heart-breaking chapter to write.
And please, please, please remember to review, favorite, and alert! It means the world to me!
Previously on Spy Beat:
Misonoi gave a small, helpless shrug and smiled. "You say that I can't erase the past with revenge. That it's impossible. But for your mother… For Rick, I have to at least try."
A shot rang out. Kyoko startled, expecting the room to go dark as she died. But instead of her blood on the ground, she saw her father's feet as he stumbled forward. The hand holding her pistol drifted downward to the floor until he dropped the gun completely. It clattered to the tile, hollowly. His hand instead came up, slowly, to clutch at the hole in his abdomen. The hole was quickly becoming black with darkening red as the wound profusely wept blood.
And as Misonoi Kazushi fell to his knees, his blood dripping heavily to the tiled floor below, Kyoko watched in horror as a tall, grinning stranger – a foreigner – with wavy, light brown hair stepped out of the shadows, a smoking pistol in his hand.
With a grimace of pain and rage, Misonoi snarled up at the man a bitter greeting.
0:02 during scheduled re-vote
"Otou-san!" Kyoko sprang forward. The panicked name for 'father' flew from her lips as involuntarily as her hands moved, pressing at the terrible, black crimson blossom growing on Misonoi's stomach.
Disconnected from the fact that just seconds before this same man had been holding a gun to her head, her desperate fingers pushed through the puddle of viscous warmth. Instinctive shaky dread – the cold but familiar fear of loss, of abandonment – drove her actions now. The fear forced out reason and allegiance.
As she bore her palm down onto the bullet wound, the metallic stench of too much blood accosted her. But as she pressed down, the flow from the red spring slowed. Was it enough though?
Preoccupied and blinded by panic, Kyoko hardly noticed the shooter move until he was standing just behind her, his dark chuckle raising the hairs on the nape of her neck. Agent M's eyes flicked up as he gloated down at her father, the used pistol hanging casually in a slack grip.
"It was so unlike you to let your guard down like that." As he addressed Delta in a thick American accent, the foreigner grinned. A shark's smile. His heavy, black boots were astonishingly light, catlike as he prowled forward. "To think, the infamous Izanagi… Done in by a shot from behind. Like a common criminal."
Beneath her hands, Misonoi stirred. Struggling against obvious pain, the master spy tried to sit up, failed, and collapsed back onto the tiled floor. The blood flowed anew, and in spite of the warm pool, Kyoko's hands felt cold.
Instead of rising, Misonoi gasped at the pain as his gaze sharpened. He took a steadying breath and then growled a retort – "And you, the master assassin, reduced to such a cowardly method of murder. How times have changed, Marcus."
Distracted, digging in her side pouch for a tamponade device, her fingers scrabbling madly to tear open the plastic covering on the medical gauze, Kyoko's brain had to register the name twice. Then she froze.
'Marcus? … Surely not the same Marcus as–!'
A quick glance upward showed Kyoko more of the wavy-haired assassin, who was dressed from head to toe in deep black – from a lazily open sport coat to fashionably slim trousers – like he was already attending a funeral. But he was not even regarding her, having apparently already calculated her out of the equation. Still addressing her father, the man named Marcus shrugged. A rude, belittling gesture.
"What?" Marcus crooned, mock-offended. "We're not using code names any more?"
"Now I know why you wanted to be called, 'Alpha,'" her father mused with a grim smile that was more of a snarl. Grunting, he finally managed to prop himself up on one elbow. "Your own inflated ego couldn't help itself from alluding to this betrayal."
With the movement, a fresh rush of crimson quickly soaked through the tamponade gauze Kyoko had managed to plug into the bullet hole. The protest that rose to her lips was quickly silenced by the feeling of metal being pressed urgently into her other hand. Her eyes darted downward.
Her pistol. The one that Delta had stolen from her. Her father was pushing the gun into her shaking fingers. Using Kyoko's back to shield the transfer from the American's view, her father didn't stop conversing with his would-be murderer. He simply and smoothly passed her the weapon. The firearm's grip felt rusty with his already-drying blood. Her wide eyes flashed to her father's face.
"How long have you been planning to betray me?" Misonoi growled up at Marcus. "From the very beginning?"
A sharp, quick glance from the side of Delta's eye toward Kyoko conveyed everything.
One shot. Her gun still only had one bullet left.
"Of course. From before the beginning!" The American scoffed and twirled his pistol expertly in his hand. The hand of a virtuoso flawlessly manipulating its most familiar instrument. "I'm surprised you hadn't suspected me."
Soundlessly, hiding it beneath her crouched body, Kyoko slipped the gun's grip into her hand. Her heart hammered.
One shot. She had to make it count.
But their sociopathic attacker was clearly not done congratulating himself. He spun on one heel, full of theatrics, spreading his arms wide. An easy target, seemingly. But Kyoko was not fooled. His finger still lingered on the trigger of his own weapon. His eagle eyes still tracked the father and daughter's every movement with an instinct honed from years of experience, as second nature to the man as breathing.
Kyoko knew that stalling was their only hope. They needed a distraction. An opening. Something to break the status quo.
"Marcus Alexander," Agent M found herself speaking up, her eyes narrowing. As the man's sharp eyes focused on hers, she had to stifle the urge to swallow hard, nerves prickling at her stomach.
But her hunch was right. His eyes held acknowledgement for the name, not confusion. He was the same man. The same man who had trained Ren to be an assassin.
"It's really your fault," Kyoko said, her voice gaining momentum as she continued speaking. She dared to stare the man straight in the eye, ignoring her father's hand gripping her wrist tighter and tighter. Misonoi clearly did not appreciate the assassin's attention being focused on his daughter. But the words flew from her lips regardless. "If you hadn't taught T-san all of those terrible things, then to Rick, he wouldn't have– he couldn't have–!"
A spark of recognition lit up Marcus' eyes. Kyoko didn't like it at all. Apparently, by the deathly tight grip her father had on her wrist, neither did he.
"Oh~!" The CIA assassin tilted his head to the side, regarding the auburn-haired agent with an understanding look. "So you're Mogami Kyoko? Kuon's Japanese partner? I would've figured you'd be taller. Or prettier. Or… something-er."
The words stung. But Kyoko stuffed her feelings down. That emotional unease was exactly what Marcus craved, and she aimed to deny him the pleasure of seeing her wounded by old insecurities.
Besides, he was wrong. She was exactly what Ren needed and he for her.
But at the price of Marcus' coy verbal barbs, Kyoko got what she wanted for her troubles. Her prompting caused Marcus to teeter on the edge of launching into a long, self-congratulatory speech.
Stall. Wait for the right moment. One shot…
"You're right though. More than you know." Marcus' eyes sparkled with equal amounts of mirth and malice. "It really was All. My. Fault."
His last words dripped with mocking disdain.
Beneath Kyoko's hand holding pressure on his wound, Misonoi demanded with a growl, "What do you mean?"
"I mean that I planned it all!" Marcus took the bait and began his gloating rant, grinning maniacally. "But actually, you know who's really to blame? Kuu Hizuri! If he hadn't been so damned good at his job, he wouldn't have been offered the promotion to West Regional Director of the CIA. And then Rick wouldn't have been on the fast track to Los Angeles Division Section Chief… We really couldn't afford that: the director of half the CIA with the LA chief in his pocket. Both of them would've choked out our assassin-training program! It would've been a danger to the entire country! Put us decades behind the Russians!"
Biting her tongue to prevent herself from interjecting, Kyoko fought the urge to ask who 'We' was. But she had a feeling that America had its own nameless, nebulous organizations jockeying for control from the shadows. She didn't want to interrupt the flow of Marcus' thoughts and ruin their tactic.
"Anyway…" Marcus caught himself digressing and waved his gun-less hand in the air, dismissing any hypothetical situation of American inferiority to the USSR. "Anyway, we decided to get rid of both of them at once – Kuu and Rick. But we needed a little help…"
Under her hand, Misonoi stiffened. Frightened, Kyoko glanced down. His face was pale and his eyes were wide, as if in shocked comprehension.
Just then, Kyoko's ears perked up. She'd heard something like a squeak and a rattle from farther up the seating rows. Apparently, Marcus had heard it too, pausing in his story, his head cocked to the side and his breathing stilled. Listening.
But below her, sitting on the floor, her father finally found words.
"I thought it was the North Koreans who wanted Kuon," her father choked out. Forgetting the noise, Kyoko stared down at him, not understanding. "They sent their forces to abduct him."
Marcus clicked his tongue and wagged a finger, a teacher disapproving of a slow pupil. "The North Koreans provided the muscle – they were upset about the role Kuon had played in the disruption of their human trafficking ring, after all – but they were just a scapegoat. The North Korean bunch are not very handy at silent infiltration and extraction. We had to outsource that service… all the way from Japan, as it turned out."
A dark shadow crossed Delta's face.
"But it was lucky, really," the scheming assassin mused with mock thoughtfulness. "There just happened to be a PSIA agent in Los Angeles who had experience not only with the CIA's Los Angeles branch but who also knew Kuon Hizuri personally. All it took was one dirty PSIA supervisor – a quick phone call – and we had a mission directive to that PSIA agent in the field."
"And you lured Rick back from South America," her father ground out behind clenched teeth, rage quickly sprouting from the disbelief that had shaken him.
Marcus shrugged again. "One little rumor that his precious mentee had been recruited into my program, and he came running! Like a rat into a trap."
"He was your brother!"
"Half-brother." Marcus threw back, his spare hand waving the fact away like an invisible airborne pest. "But it was all business. Nothing personal."
With a sneer, the assassin added with a little gesture toward the infamous spy, bleeding out on the floor, "Look what happens when you make it personal. Instead of acting like the good little government tool you are."
"A tool… Or a monster?" Misonoi asked quietly, pointedly, before retorting with venom in his accusation, "You knew I'd kill Rick."
"Oh, but that was the best part! It wasn't you who killed Rick! It was Kuon!" Marcus crowed, his eyes sparkling madly. He gestured with the gun to emphasize his point. "And it was the fact that Kuon went off the deep end – not just his proven status as a security liability to his father – that made the CIA easily pass up Kuu Hizuri for that promotion. The plan couldn't have gone more beautifully, even if I'd tried!"
Kyoko couldn't say a word. Her tongue seemed tied as red clouded her vision. Her hands shook with rage.
This scheming killer – gleeful and completely lacking remorse – had no qualms about ruining so many lives. For what? So he could protect his own selfish ambitions? So he could corrupt and crank out more sociopathic murderers just like himself?
Suddenly, she felt a tug at her wrist. Kyoko looked down sharply.
Her father's gaze connected with hers – just a flicker – and vaguely, she realized that he was gripping her wrist with all the strength he probably had left in his body. He was holding her hand in place, the gun quivering in her grasp, a hairsbreadth just out of Marcus' line of sight.
When she had raised it to try and shoot the American, Kyoko could not say.
Another probing look from her father, and Kyoko released the shaky breath she hadn't realized she had been holding. It wasn't time yet. It wasn't the right moment. She let her hand snake back down, out of sight.
Eyes lingering on his daughter's for just another millisecond, Misonoi turned back to Marcus. "So, what's your real goal? I'm assuming your excuse that the CIA wanted to help me rid their strongest Pacific ally of communist influence in the Diet is absolute horse shit?"
Marcus Alexander snickered openly and wiped a mirthful tear from one eye. "You actually bought that? I still can't believe it!"
"I didn't buy it," Misonoi snapped, "I just thought I'd have more time before you damned Americans made your move. You're too early. Mogami Saena still doesn't have control over the Diet."
"But in a few minutes, she will," Marcus said with a negligent shrug, his gaze cocky. "If anything, you Japanese people are thorough. I trust you did good work, Misonoi."
"If you're trying to take over the Diet through my mother, she'll never be your puppet," Kyoko stated bluntly, trying to sound more confident than she actually was. "You tried to kill my father."
There came another shrug.
"I have killed your father. It's only a matter of time before he runs out of blood, no matter how much gauze you stuff into that bullet hole," Marcus arrogantly droned. He busied himself using a thumb to rub out a non-existent smudge on his gun barrel. "But just in case… there's always you, Miss Mogami."
Kyoko froze. She felt her father stiffen similarly beneath her fingers. She managed to demand, "What do you mean."
Marcus rolled his eyes, as if dealing with a slow child. He enunciated, "Insurance. An additional bargaining chip."
"Bargaining chip?" Agent M uttered a short, dry guffaw. "You're wrong. She doesn't care about me. She abandoned me."
For the first time, if only for a millisecond, Marcus' eyebrows raised as if in surprise. Then he scowled. "Well, you'd better start getting her to care about you—"
"Even if that were possible," Kyoko retorted, her heart stinging. "I would never help you convince her."
The assassin raised an eyebrow and crooned smugly, "What if I told you I had every single file on every last PSIA and LME operative worldwide?"
Before they had raided the Henshin conference room, Kanae had explained why their comm units were down. Now, Kyoko's heart sank.
"You sent the Vie Ghoul?"
Marcus pointed a lazy, accusatory finger to the man lying on the floor in front of her. "Actually, your father did, but all within my plans. However! You're stalling, Kyoko Mogami."
Leisurely, Marcus dug into his breast pocket until he had come up with a smart phone. He swiped at the screen and found what he was looking for. One tap and the projector screen on the wall behind him switched from the live feed of the Diet vote to mirror what must have been on Marcus' phone screen.
On his screen, there was only one folder entitled, "PSIA Confidential". The assassin tapped the icon, opening a vast network of sub-folders, each bearing the recognizable name of an LME friend, a PSIA coworker, a Japanese ally.
Kyoko's gut roiled. If he were to release that information to the American CIA, countless of her fellow agents, her friends, would instantly become hostages to the American government. And if the Americans were to leverage or release that information to the various foreign powers, her allies would undoubtedly be hunted down and mercilessly slaughtered.
But if she did give up and side with him – if by some miracle, her mother cared enough to listen to her daughter's pleading to help the American – if Marcus Alexander were to gain control of the sole governing body of Japan, whatever his purposes – they were all doomed anyway.
Mistaking her hesitation for skepticism, Marcus' eyes widened at her and a manic grin passed over his lips. "Don't believe me, Miss Mogami? This is 794 terabytes of Japanese secrets and identities at my fingertips. Ready to be sent to governments all over the world. For example… Maruyama Marumi–"
As the CIA assassin scrolled leisurely through the folders, Kyoko felt more and more nauseated, drowning in despair.
"—I believe you're vaguely acquainted with her," Marcus drawled on, finally reaching the 'M' section, a gleeful smirk crawling over his face. "I hear that she was planted months ago in Beijing, deep in the Ministry of State Security. I think I feel like sending this to the Chinese government. Oh, the boys in Beijing are going to love this! I'm sure you've heard the many stories of what they do to foreign spies…"
Marcus tapped the folder with his thumb, and Kyoko watched in horror as it opened on the projector screen.
Then Kyoko broke off her plea. Replacing her terror was absolute confusion.
Instead of a confidential dossier, listing her friend Rumi's location, real appearance, and mission directives, to be sent directly to the Chinese spy agency, what Kyoko saw on screen was a video. It was, in fact, the opening animatic of the latest installment of the Japan-famous Doki Doki otome videogame franchise, this one set on a zombie-infested island. Beaming anime girls and boys with unrealistic hair and eye colors flashed across the opened file window, smiling and laughing and blushing as the CGs alternated between heart-racing embraces and viciously battling the undead.
"Huh…? What the f–?" Marcus seemed just as confused. Cursing, he glanced down at his phone, bewildered, his mouth agape. Quickly he backed out of that file and jammed his finger down on another that read, "Koga Hiromune".
Instead of Agent Koga's suave grin and a description of his mission posing as an aide for the Japanese ambassador to Iraq, the occupants of the room were treated to yet another opening sequence for a different otome game, this one instead set in a school of anthropomorphic animals. Several man-imals with broad muscles and tails crossed the screen as a bunny-girl protagonist swooned in the background.
Cursing repeatedly, Marcus jabbed his thumb down on file after file of what were supposed to have been Japanese state secrets and blackmail-worthy PSIA operative information, only to find that his folder, so painstakingly stolen by the Vie Ghoul from the LME unit's servers, was full of 794 terabytes of anime dating-sim games.
After a moment of shocked silence, her father burst into side-splitting laughter. But despite his delight, Kyoko didn't at all like the pallor of his face or the way his chest heaved laboriously with each rolling chuckle.
"That's what you get for underestimating Lory Takarada," Misonoi finally managed as Marcus wound down his file-tapping, clearly becoming resigned to the idea that his blackmail was useless and he'd been bested by the eccentric but paranoid LME President. "I told the Vie Ghoul to look deeper than one encryption level. I'm glad they forgot."
"Shut the hell up," Marcus threatened unevenly and leveled the pistol again. Though clearly shaken, the manipulating assassin apparently had more than one ace up his sleeve. A couple more quick taps on his phone screen and the projector flashed to another image, this time a live feed of a concrete cell. A rumpled, threadbare bed lay in the corner.
"You wouldn't want me to hurt your precious partner, would you?" The American's gloating tone was back as he sneered, "Your father may have saved Kuon's life, Miss Mogami. But I can take it from him any time I want. Kuon is my prisoner now, and you'll do exactly as I say if you want to keep your partner safe–!"
But the jail cell on the projector screen was entirely and unmistakably empty. The door hung open on its heavy metal hinges.
Kyoko's heart swelled at the image. Ren had broken out. That meant he was well enough to escape after getting shot. Was he safe? Was he on his way here?
"No!" Reacting to the image on the screen, Marcus cursed, rage causing him to jab at his phone sporadically, gun forgotten. He frantically searched through various camera angles of the cell, all showing the same thing. Empty. Empty. Empty. "No. No. No. No! NO!"
In his distraction, Kyoko saw the opportunity. The one she and her father had been so painstakingly and patiently awaiting. Fluidly, as if from a dream, Kyoko saw her hand rise, thumbing the safety off her pistol with a solid click.
By heart, Agent M knew and was trained to target 36 different sites for non-lethal trauma with a firearm. However, she knew she had to shoot to kill. This trained assassin was too dangerous to leave alive. Her father's current condition necessitated that she be able to go run for help immediately. And she could not leave Misonoi in the same room as an incapacitated but still-deadly assassin.
Not to mention the danger to herself should Marcus recover from such a wound and return fire.
This was not a revenge kill, Kyoko knew in her heart of hearts, as she raised the gun calm and collected. A few moments ago, she would have killed out of anger. But now, she was in her right mind… This was a necessity.
It was necessary to save herself. To save her father. To save Japan.
On instinct, perhaps from years of living with a gun pointed at his back, Marcus' head jerked up from his phone, but it was too late. Kyoko pulled the trigger and knew she would not miss. In all of her weapons training, sharpshooting was second only to her skill with a katana.
The shot hit the assassin squarely in the chest, knocking him backward. The force of the shot sent him stumbling into a row of seats behind him as he crashed to the ground.
Rising, her heart only now picking up a staccato rhythm, Kyoko looked remorsefully across the room at her opponent. Her pistol – originally Ren's pistol – hung limply at her side, spent.
This was the first time she'd had to shoot to kill. A luxury, she now knew, that had been afforded to her by the sacrifices of others like her father.
Kyoko looked down at Misonoi, a trembling smile on her lips. "I'm going to go get you help, ok?"
But her voice dropped off as she saw the tense look of horror on her father's face. Her gaze darted across the room, following his eyes.
A shuffling, a dry gasping cough, and Marcus Alexander was stumbling to his feet, clutching his chest. However, instead of oozing blood beneath his hand, there was only a Kevlar vest peeking through his torn black collared shirt, where the bullet had struck, directly over his heart. A violent storm passed over his face.
"There's clearly no reasoning with you people," the assassin spat out, still coughing dryly. The bullet must have felt like a heavy punch to his torso. Kyoko's eyes widened and she froze as he lifted his own gun. "You're more trouble than you're worth. But if Saena doesn't help us, I'll put someone in power who will!"
Kyoko felt her father's grip again on her hand. He was tugging her away. From some far corner of her mind, she could hear him shouting, "RUN! RUN!"
Then at almost the same time – Kyoko would be hard-pressed to say which came first – two things happened. A dark figure burst from the shadows, practically tackling the assassin. And a shot rang out, the assassin's shoulder exploding in a spray of blood.
At first Kyoko thought the figure was Ren – but then her eyes and brain caught up with her assumptions, and she saw the bun, hair escaping every which way and the formerly white, crisp ironed blouse now untucked and bloodied. For a long, terrible moment, Kyoko watched her mother struggle with the trained CIA agent, playing a deadly game of tug-of-war with the gun's muzzle, and as her mind registered this, she leapt forward to help.
But she was too late. It was a foregone conclusion, after all. A petite Japanese policy-maker against a six-foot-tall American killer. In the struggle, Marcus fired the gun. Saena stumbled backward, clutching the bullet wound on the right side of her chest.
However now that Saena was clear, another shot rang out from across the room. A bullet zipped by, grazing Marcus' cheek. His injured side's hand hung limply at his side. He cursed, shot back blindly into the darkness and turned on his heel to flee.
Kyoko hardly saw him go as she dashed toward her mother. All she could hear was the blood drumming in her ears, and all she could feel was the numbness in her fingers as they scrabbled madly to apply pressure for the second time in so many minutes on a likely fatal bullet wound in a previously absent parent.
As if from underwater or half a continent away she heard a faint voice shouting her name. She felt like time had slowed to a crawl as she stared into her mother's face. The stark cheekbones, the smooth dark hair, the pale skin turning ghostly white. Her mother's pained but regretless brown eyes stared back at her.
Time snapped back like a rubber band, and suddenly she could hear Ren shouting her name as she heard her own disembodied voice screaming, "Okaa-san! Okaa-san!"
She hadn't even been aware she'd been yelling. Or crying.
Then Ren was beside her, rummaging through her gear pack at her belt, tearing open another tamponade device. His deft fingers found the bullethole beneath her hands and plugged it with the gauze. White swiftly turned red. There was too much blood, nothing like her father's steady ooze.
"T-san?" Kyoko's glance flickered up at him, the view of his worried expression instantly blurred by tears.
"Your mother helped me escape," Agent T gave a soft-spoken explanation for all the questions hurtling through her panicking mind. He turned his attention back to Saena. "Councillor, stay with us!"
"I told you… I'd slow you down…"
Kyoko swiped the tears from her eyes just in time to see her mother stir on the ground, a deep frown crossing her face as she turned from Ren to address Kyoko.
"You…" Saena hardly seemed to know how to address her own daughter. Her sharp eyes darted wildly over Kyoko's face and body as her chest heaved, trying to gather breath. "You're not hurt?"
Kyoko's amber eyes filled with tears anew. She shook her head. "No…"
The frown lifted off Saena's face. Stark relief and a small smile replaced her trademark expression. Saena managed to muster a soft, "I'm glad."
In the deepest of buried hopes, long forgotten, a light flickered. Her mother cared.
But it was all too late, Kyoko knew.
"M-san. I have to go after him." Ren was saying, his voice soft but urgent. Kyoko felt dizzy, near hysterics. But deep down, she knew he had to.
She felt another presence at her other side. How her father had managed to muster the strength to move halfway across the room, she did not know.
Saena coughed and grimaced as a third set of hands applied pressure at the wound site. Blood expelled from her lungs splattered on the collar of her white blouse. Misonoi looked up at Ren. Kyoko watched their wordless but heavy exchange. Finally, Ren nodded, and a weight seemed to leave the older spy's shoulders.
"Kuon. I'm sorry to be so irresponsible to ask you this, but… Go get that son-of-a-bitch." Misonoi grunted, his face ashen. "I'm leaving the rest up to you."
A warm, lingering hand on Kyoko's shoulder begged a question, and Kyoko nodded her agreement. The large hand squeezed gently, then with a respectful, "Yessir," directed at Misonoi, Agent T had slung a rifle strap over his shoulder and sprinted from the room, hot on Marcus' heels.
Saena was wracked by a series of violent coughs. Kyoko and her father doubled down, holding pressure on the hopeless wound.
"Okaa-san…" The tears were blurring her vision and Kyoko swiped at them. More welled up to take their place. "Why?"
The question hung in the air, a delicate thing, shimmering with a hundred angles.
A shaking, tremulous hand rose from the floor. Almost hesitant, as if she was afraid she would destroy something precious just with her touch, Saena almost flinched away from Kyoko's face before alighting her fingers gingerly on the young woman's cheek. "I'm… I'm sorry, Kyoko. For everything."
Past the fog of pain and blood loss, Saena's eyes focused with shining conviction, a lone tear escaped. It shone in the dim light like a diamond.
"Of all my mistakes… I regret leaving you the most."
A choking sob built in Kyoko's chest.
"I thought… I was doing it to protect you." Saena drew a long, rattling breath. Kyoko could hear a faint burbling. Each beat of her mother's heart forced more blood out of her body, pushed more fluid into her lungs. The very means of her life begetting death. Saena continued in a shaky whisper, "But I was… just lying to myself… to cover up… my selfishness…"
"Okaa-san…" The whimper left the young woman's trembling lips.
"I'm sorry… you had… such terrible parents," Saena concluded with a rasp. A small, ironic smile quirked the edge of her mouth as her fingers brushed a tear from Kyoko's eye. "At least… in the end… I could protect you…just once."
"No…" Kyoko whispered back. Her fingers drifted up to her cheek to curl into her mothers' hand. She squeezed tightly, unwilling to let go. Her sobs strangled her. "No, please…"
From beside her, Kyoko heard her father try to chuckle ironically. What he meant as a dry laugh came out a grunted pant. Then Kyoko noticed the thick trail of blood from a few feet away where her father had dragged himself. Blood smudged her father's glasses.
He offered weakly to Saena, "Indeed, my dear Makoto, we were pretty terrible parents. But our daughter… She turned out alright, didn't she?"
Saena's other hand wandered to find Misonoi's clasped over her wound. As she held both their hands, she turned upward to face Kyoko again and smiled. She spoke in halting pants, the fluid in her lungs robbing her of air. "We couldn't… let go of the past… to run after our future… We are so sorry," Saena addressed her daughter, squeezing her hand. "Our future."
The loud, angry sound of gunshots and shouts echoed from the next room over. Kyoko turned back to her parents, unsure. But they already knew what she had to do.
"I can't…" The young woman swallowed roughly, her voice breaking. "I can't just leave you two–"
Misonoi gasped and winced. When Kyoko turned to him sharply, concerned, he shook his head and stared deep into her eyes. "Go protect your future. And stop mourning what is past."
Saena nodded weakly, her face like a sheet. She squeezed her daughter's hand once more before letting go. For what was likely the last time, Kyoko saw her mother smile at her. "Thank you, Kyoko. Our daughter."
She almost didn't leave after that. But she knew what had to be done. She and Ren, they had to finish this. Stumbling to her feet, Kyoko nodded silently at her parents, and after one last backward glance, she started forward, at first a slow jog and then a trained sprint, swiping the tears from her eyes as her feet flew over the tile.
Behind her, as she ran, she thought she might have heard her father murmur to her mother that he finally, maybe, perhaps understood why Rick had stepped in front of that bullet for him all those years ago.
Then Kyoko passed through the threshold into the next room. And behind her, everything was still.
If you want more Skip Beat AU goodness, don't forget to check out my one-shot series, ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE. Detective AU, Star Wars AU, Horror AU, and Ren-and-Kyoko-stuck-in-a-house-together AU. Will be uploading more stories there even when Spy Beat is done!
Love you all! See you in a couple months – but please, please, please remember to review, favorite, and alert! It means the world to me!
Otou-san – "father"
Okaa-san – "mother"
Doki Doki – the onomatopoeia for a fast-beating heart, essentially meaning "heart-pounding" or "exciting"
MAILBAG – Don't forget to submit your reviews! This is likely the very last mailbag for this series!
MWEH: I'm still alive! I promise! Haha For some reason, with all my creative projects, my mojo starts to run out in the end. Honestly, good prep work before I even started writing is like the road my car is on and everyone's encouraging reviews are like the fuel that's getting me to the destination. Haha so thanks for being my #1 most consistent supporter!
Regarding the manga, OMG, do you think Ren will confess? The title of the chapter is "Impending Doom" but also there's been a big countdown in the chapter titles up until this day, which Sensei has been referring to as a "bomb" about to go off. And the extra chapter, in which Kyoko finally gets her White Day gift from Ren (Taisho had forgotten about it and finally gave it to her), we see Kyoko get flustered and embarrassed when Kanae mentions Ren! If it was an unfavorable result or not a confession, I don't think Kyoko would act this way. AAGHH I can't wait!
And extra bonus points for you! Out of all my reviewers, I think you were one of the only ones who got the shooter's identity correct!
Thanks again MWEH! Just in case I don't do a mailbag after next chapter (which will likely be the last), thank you for everything! *hugs!*
Erza Tsuruga – Were you surprised that I shot both of Kyoko's parents? As for magical plot armor, their rate of death is definitely plot-armored. Don't think anyone would be able to talk that much or live that long after getting shot in the chest. xD And you'd be correct! Kyoko would be devastated if he died! She finally got her father back… even if he is a megalomaniac. Thanks as always Erza Tsuruga! Grateful for your faithful reviews!
Guest – Glad you're enjoying the twists! Hope you enjoyed this chapter!
H-Nala – We'll get Ren's POV next chapter. I just wanted to keep the focus (and tension) completely with Kyoko for this one. But to answer your questions, yup! Ren heard everything from the security room. That squeak from higher up in the auditorium during the middle of Marcus' rant was Ren exiting the booth and accidentally pressing against one of the chairs when he stumbled upon hearing Marcus' story. He was absolutely shocked.
Guineapigs1 – OMG! You totally nailed the themes I've been trying to explore! I'm so proud of you~! When I first started writing this story, I did want to delve into the idea of revenge – and that also meant giving Ren's backstory some edge and not just letting him wallow in emo-ness. And Delta, sadly, has found that his revenge was a farce from the start, begun and ended as a pawn in someone else's selfish schemes. He has given up on it, but it's far too late.
And correct! You were one of two people to have gotten the shooter's identity correct! Proud of you twice over! Thanks as always Guineapigs1! You've truly been a faithful and observant reviewer, and I'm grateful for you!