"Ayami!" Haruko rose from her chair, but Hei had already leapt to his feet, hand raised to halt her.
"Stay there," he ordered. Without so much as glancing in her direction, he picked up his weapons harness and threw it around his shoulders.
Haruko's heart was pounding. "Are…those…really necessary?" she asked weakly.
"I hope not," he said as he buckled the harness, still not meeting her eyes. "There's a door to the back alley through the bedroom; two deadbolts. If something happens - even if it looks like nothing is happening - if I tell you to go, you go. Don't argue, don't ask questions. Just run."
"Run? But -"
"I'm not your client right now. My job is to protect you, no matter what; that means you do what I say, and don't worry about me."
Haruko swallowed the lump in her throat. She had just told him that he shouldn't worry about using the cold-hearted persona that he adopted in difficult situations. It may make her uncomfortable - it did make her uncomfortable - but it helped him. She shouldn't complain. Even if it was sending ice through her veins.
"It is just that other officer with Ayami at the door, isn't it?"
"Probably," was all he said before leaving the kitchen.
Haruko followed a few steps behind. Hei had told her to stay put, but Ayami must still be shaken up; she ought to be able to see a familiar face as soon as she came in.
Well, Haruko supposed, Ayami did know Hei - but this Hei wasn't exactly the same person that chatted with the girl outside her office every week.
She paused in the kitchen doorway and watched as Hei silently approached the front door. Resting his fingertips lightly on the wooden panels, he pressed one eye to the peephole.
"Is Ayami there?" she couldn't help asking.
Hei glanced briefly at her and nodded once before returning his attention to the door.
"Who is it?" he asked in a low voice.
If Ayami is there, it must be fine, Haruko thought, her heart lifting at last. Then why is he still being so careful? In her head she heard the police chief's voice - Because he's paranoid. Sometimes excessively so.
A man's voice answered on the other side of the door. "Officer Koga. Criminal Investigations; escorting the witness."
Hei frowned slightly. "Show me your badge."
The officer must have done so, because after a moment Hei exhaled visibly and unlocked the door. When he opened it, a man - in his thirties, most likely - wearing a blue Metropolitan Police uniform entered, gently guiding a crying Ayami inside with a hand at the small of her back.
The officer balked at the sight of Hei, dressed all in black and wearing at least three knives; but Haruko hardly noticed. The sight of her client - a tear in her pink t-shirt, a cut lip, bruised and swollen eye - filled her vision and her heart nearly broke.
"Ayami!" she exclaimed, and rushed into the living room.
At the sound of her name, the girl turned towards her - and broke out in a fresh flood of tears.
"Haruko!" Ayami bawled, wrapping her arms around her. "I'm so sorry!"
Haruko hugged her back, patting her short-cropped hair soothingly. "It's okay; none of this is your fault. You're alright now, that's all that matters."
"But Daddy - he tried to hurt you! You told me I shouldn't talk to him again, and I didn't listen. I -"
"It's not your fault." Haruko held Ayami at arm's length so that she could meet her eyes. "You didn't know he would do this. You aren't responsible for anyone else's actions."
The girl sniffed; Haruko felt her own tears ready to fall. She pulled Ayami back into a tight hug. "You're okay now," she repeated. "I'm okay too; don't worry, the police are going to keep us safe."
Ayami turned to look at the two men in the room. She blinked, her brow furrowing. "…Li? You're a police officer?"
"That was going to be my question," Officer Koga said, casting a wary eye over Hei. "Are those knives standard issue in Section Four?"
"Special dispensation," Hei said curtly. His arms hung loosely at his sides, as if he was ready to reach up and grab one of those knives at a moment's notice. He turned to Ayami. "Yes, I'm with the police; I've been looking after Haruko."
While his voice had softened to address the girl, Haruko noticed that he hadn't quite taken his eyes off of the other officer. She supposed this must not be someone he'd met before.
"Thank you," Ayami sniffed. At those simple words, Hei's mask of cold indifference slipped ever so slightly. Though he still made no move to approach her; perhaps he was worried that she would reject him out of fear, dressed as he was now. Ayami continued, "It would have been my fault if Dr. Haruko got hurt; I'm glad you took care of her."
Haruko gave the girl another squeeze. "I told you - it's not your fault." The tendency to blame herself for her father's actions was something they had been working on for a long time; this incident certainly wasn't going to help, Haruko thought sadly. It was far too much pressure for any seventeen-year-old to handle.
"So you're the therapist?" Officer Koga asked Haruko.
She nodded, and Koga smiled, showing all his teeth. "Good thing you're here, then. The girl's pretty shaken up, but that Section Four woman didn't want her taken to the hospital until all threats were neutralized."
Haruko glanced at Hei, expecting him to take offense at that description of Misaki; but Hei merely continued to regard the officer with the same guarded expression.
"Is there any coffee in this place?" Koga asked, turning back to Hei.
"That's a good idea," Haruko said. "Ayami, you should have some tea; Li just made a fresh pot for us."
"It's in the kitchen," Hei told the officer. He made no move to go pour out a couple of cups, as Haruko would have expected given his general consideration. Especially since he was standing closer to the kitchen than Koga.
"I'll go -" Haruko began when the officer's gaze flicked to the side, a brief frown appearing on his face.
"Don't worry about the specter," Hei told him. "It's just here to keep other dolls from looking in."
"Ah," Koga said, "good -"
Both men moved at the same time, faster than Haruko would have thought possible. Hei whipped a wicked-looking knife from the sheath at his side and sent it flying straight at the officer. "Go!" he shouted.
But Koga had already raised his hand, palm out and glowing blue - and the knife stopped in midair.
Blue, Haruko realized dumbly, frozen to the spot in fear. The same as that man in the garage. Contractor.
The next instant, the contractor flicked his wrist and sent the knife flying directly at Hei, who threw himself to the floor in a somersaulting roll. "Go!" he shouted again.
Even as he rose up, hand on the hilt of his next knife, the officer - contractor - flicked his wrist again, and Hei was flung backwards into the kitchen with a horrible crash. The contractor charged in after him.
Haruko couldn't move; couldn't breathe. She had to help Hei, somehow, but -
Ayami let out a frightened cry. "Li!"
At that, Haruko jolted back into life. She grabbed the girl's arm and yanked her away from the kitchen.
Through the bedroom, she thought desperately, dragging a terrified Ayami with her. Two deadbolts.
There were no lights on in the bedroom; Haruko charged blindly in, praying that she wouldn't trip over something and break an ankle. Straight back; there was a soft square outline opposite her - light from the city outside leaking in through a curtain.
She almost slammed face-first into the door. With shaking hands, she fumbled against the wood for the deadbolts, Ayami sobbing beside her.
Behind them came another loud crash. Haruko flipped the second deadbolt and gripped the round knob. She opened the door to be hit with a gust of chill November wind, but she hardly felt it, her blood was racing so quickly.
The two stumbled out into the street; Haruko slammed the door shut behind them, wishing that she had some way of locking it.
"Where do we go?" Ayami clutched her hand so tightly that Haruko could hardly feel her fingers anymore. "What about Li?"
"Li will be fine; he can handle himself." He said he could; I hope to god he's right.
But where should they go? Haruko glanced up and down the narrow, cluttered alley, lined with brick garden fences, parked cars, and bags of garbage waiting to be removed.
She turned them right at random, pelting down the alley, the instinct to flee from danger at war with the feeling that she was safest with Hei. But he was fighting that contractor alone; he couldn't protect them.
She could call - no, her phone was in her purse. In the house. She didn't even know what neighborhood they were in; would any of these residents open the door to a stranger pounding on it at two in the morning? Did she dare risk bringing a dangerous contractor down on them?
There was a stitch in her side, getting worse with every step; beside her, Ayami was hiccuping for breath.
Haruko had just decided to risk knocking at the next house they reached when a door slammed open to the alley behind them. Her heart lurched; without thinking, she pushed Ayami behind a parked car and threw herself in after her.
They huddled there on the ground together, in the one-foot gap between the car and a brick wall; the corner of the car's bumper dug into Haruko's spine. She struggled to breathe evenly, terrified that even the smallest inhalation would give them away. Ayami was shaking, her hand clamped over her mouth to hold in her sobs.
It was just some homeowner, realizing that he'd forgotten to set the trash out, Haruko told herself. Not the contractor. Or it was Hei. He…took care of Koga, or whoever he is, and is looking for us.
She knew in her gut, however, that it wasn't Hei. She couldn't imagine him ever making so much noise, unless he was trying to attract their attention - and if he wanted to attract their attention, he would have called her name.
Footsteps crunched on the asphalt, getting closer.
I shouldn't have run, she thought desperately. I know he said to, but there must have been something - how could I just run and leave him alone like that?
The footsteps were just on the other side of the car now. Haruko searched for a way out, but there was nowhere to go - they were between the car and wall. The wall was too high to climb, and the next hiding place was across an open stretch; surely the contractor would see them. Maybe they could crawl under -
"Come now, my darlings," came the voice of Officer Koga, just behind them. "It's no use hiding - no one is here to save you. Section Four really ought to hire better personnel, you know."
Ayami whimpered silently, and Haruko wrapped her arms tightly around her, a tear escaping from her own eye. Why hadn't she kept her pepper spray with her? There had to be a weapon, something she could -
The car they were hiding behind abruptly flew back, flipping end over end down the alley to land with a resounding crashing on top of another car, revealing a grinning Koga. Blood was dripping copiously from a slash in his cheek, but he seemed to disregard it.
"There you are," he said casually, as if they'd just met up in a coffee shop. "I'll make it quick, I promise. I may be a contractor, but I always keep my word." He raised a hand, that eerie blue glow coalescing around him.
Haruko gritted her teeth and shifted herself in front of the girl. He could kill her, fine, but he wasn't going to hurt Ayami -
A black shadow detached itself from the wall above them and leapt at the contractor's chest, knocking them both to the ground. The blue glow wrapped around both forms - no, it was coming from them both, Haruko realized - as a black-gloved hand clamped down on Koga's head. There was a loud, crackling snap!, like a miniature bolt of lightning. The contractor's entire body convulsed; then he went limp, the glow disappearing like a candle that had just been snuffed.
Hei crouched over the body, checking the pulse; then he turned to them.
"Is he…dead?" Haruko managed to ask, though she could guess. Blood-flecked foam leaked from the man's mouth, and the stink of urine filled the air. His eyes were wide open, empty and unblinking.
"Yes," Hei said, eying her and Ayami with a mix of wariness and worry. "Are you both okay?"
"Yes; I think -" Haruko had just begun to say when Ayami leapt up and launched herself at Hei, throwing her arms around his waist.
"You saved us!" the girl choked out through her tears. "Thank you!"
Hei flinched, his eyes widening in surprise; after a moment, he hugged her back, slightly awkwardly. "Um. You're welcome."
How many times has he been thanked in his life, Haruko wondered as she picked herself up off the ground, brushing the dust of her skirt. Not very many, I'd bet.
When Ayami released him at last, a glimmer of pain flashed across his face and he put a hand to his ribs.
"Are you alright?" Haruko asked in alarm.
"Fine. Just a couple bruised ribs."
"Just - Hei, that can be serious! Sit down -"
He only waved her off. "It's nothing; I'm fine."
Any further protests were cut off by the ringing of his phone. Suppressing a grimace at the movement, he reached into his back pocket and pulled it out. "Let me guess," he said in lieu of hello, "you found Officer Koga, dead and stripped of his badge and clothes. Yes; don't worry, I took care of it."
Hei wiped a weary hand down his face. "Misaki, it's not your fault," he said softly. "He didn't catch me off guard - you know how paranoid I am. Both Haruko and Ayami are fine." He paused. "Yes, I am too. I said yes." Another pause. "Just some bruised ribs, probably - alright, I'll sit down." He sighed heavily, but Haruko could see the corners of his mouth turning upwards. "I need a team to clean up the alley behind the safe house. Alright; see you soon."
"The real Officer Koga is dead?" Haruko asked quietly after Hei had hung up.
He nodded solemnly. "The contractor must have been watching the raid on the yakuza headquarters from a hidden vantage point; he heard Koga being given the instructions to drive Ayami to this address, guessed you would be here as well, and killed him. Then got in the squad car in his place."
Ayami sniffled. "He was so nice in the car. He said he was taking me someplace safe and that everything was going to be okay."
"Contractors are liars," Hei said, the bitterness clear in his voice.
Haruko sighed. She stepped up and gave him a hug of her own, reaching up to peck his cheek as she had done so many times for Suzu before sending him off to school. "Thank you," she said with a warm smile. "It seems like police work is what you were meant to do."
"Do you think so?" he asked, almost wistfully.
"Yes. I do."
It took ten minutes for Section Four and the uniformed units accompanying them to arrive; a long ten minutes during which Hei couldn't leave the scene, in case any local residents stumbled across the contractor's body, and he refused to send Haruko and Ayami back to the house on their own, even though he assured them that it was most likely safe now.
The crash of the car had stirred some people in the nearby homes; several poked their heads outside to see what the commotion had been. Hei had dragged the body into a deeper shadow up against the block wall, stating that it was better than letting it be seen by the public.
"Don't bother calling the police," Hei told one man for the third time. "I am the police."
"Where's your badge?" the pajama-clad man demanded.
Hei smiled that same disarming smile that he gave Haruko's receptionist every week. "Uh, I must have left it in my other pants. Don't worry, a squad car will be here soon."
"Why don't you have a badge," Ayami asked him when he joined her and Haruko, sitting on the hood of an undamaged car a few feet away from the dead contractor. "You are a cop, right?"
"I should have grabbed it; but I didn't want to wear it with these clothes."
"It's too, well, too shiny," he muttered.
To Haruko's pleased astonishment, Ayami actually giggled at that. The girl swung her feet idly against the bumper. "I used to wish I had an older brother," she said. "Someone who - who would protect me from my dad. If I did have one, I think he would be just like you."
Hei stared pensively at the ground. Undeterred by his lack of response, Ayami continued, "Do you have any younger siblings?"
"I have a little sister."
"I bet you look after her, too."
He sighed. "I did. Until she decided that it was her job to look after me. There's Saitou and Kouno," he finished as a pair of headlights swung into the alley.
Ayami leaned into Haruko, as if seeking safety. "Are they going to make me go to the hospital? I don't want to."
"Don't worry," Haruko said, stroking her back. "I'm going to go with you. And then you're going to come home with me, and spend the night at my house."
Haruko felt a squeezing of her heart at that hopeful question. "Really."
The silver car pulled up next to them. Hei stood; before he could join his fellow officers and the chaos of a police crime scene ensued, Haruko slid off of the car's hood and joined him. "I'm still going to see you at your appointment next week, aren't I?"
He gave her a quick smile. "Of course."
She nodded, relieved. At least there won't be any more surprises, after this. Then another thought occurred to her. "You talked to Ayami about your sister as if she was still alive."
"Uh…" was all he said.
Haruko frowned. "Right?"
"Well…I mean…I guess it depends?"
"Depends on what?"
"On how you classify the quantum fusion of two separate individuals?"
Oh dear. She sighed. "Well, we'll get to that eventually, I'm sure. Are you going to write down tonight's events in your notebook?"
At that, he gave her a genuine, if sheepish smile. "I guess I should, shouldn't I."