Chapter 22

Ripples of water spread out from his ankles, colliding and disrupting patterns to form new ones. Narihisago wasn't even moving, just standing still staring down at his bare feet submerged in the calm blue waters. The subtle waves lapped up, nearly catching the rolled cuffs of his jumpsuit roughly halfway down his calves.

Water, or some water-like substance, was an odd sight. Had his cell flooded? He glanced at his black shirt, the long sleeves of his jumpsuit tied around his waist, the white prisoner identification bracelet on his right wrist. He looked normal enough for reality.

But how could this be real?

He wiggled his toes and watched the ripples build again. There was no doubt, this was new. The action disrupted his refection. What a sad sight that was. He had not aged well these last three years. His hair hung down in limp stands, stubble darkened his chin out of neglect. Lines betrayed a face that had forgotten how to smile with any sincerity. His eyes … once a vibrant jade were tarnished with shadows … haunted, hollow. There was a time he would have stood tall, shoulders back with his head held high. Now he slumped forward, eyes downcast, movements slow and measured. The embodiment of shame.

His hand brushed the shirt. No bandage beneath. He tugged it up, peering at his bare skin. All that remained was a scar. This … this couldn't be real. Moments ago as he closed his eyes he had felt the residual ache of the still healing wound bound in bandages.

More ripples collided with his, disrupting his refection, mixing with another. By reflex and conditioning he lifted his head slowly, as sudden motions from inmates often resulted in being roughly manhandled into the unforgiving concrete. He'd had plenty of experiences with that after episodes of losing his shit, especially prior to the transfer to Kura. A young woman stood in the vast shallow pool dressed in a body suit of white and gray patches, glowing electronic green probes scattered over it in symmetrical patterns. Long raven hair flowed down her shoulders, framing her whole body. He met her eyes, calming deep, forest green.

He had stared into them countless times before when the gaze was lifeless. But this was not Kearu. This was the young woman he'd spoken to in the well within a well. Narihisago took in a deep breath before he found his voice enough to utter the truth. "Kiki Asukai."

She moved with the grace of a deer, coming to a stop at a purposeful distance. If they both reached out, their fingers could touch. But their hands remained at their sides. "Akihito Narihisago."

"Do I dare ask … " he glanced around at the vast shallow pool illuminated in blue from below, there was not much more to this place, the edges seemed to evaporate into the nothing, " … if this is real?"

She kept her eyes fixed on him without blinking. "I think you've already deduced the truth of that, Akihito." Bowing her head slightly, she added, "May I call you that? Akihito?"

He took a few breaths letting this all sink in. How was she doing this? Of course it wasn't real. But this wasn't a standard dream. Somehow this was … this was happening without the Mizuhanome.

No... she was the Mizuhanome. This was merely happening without the cockpit. Somehow she had targeted just him in the middle of the night, summoning his consciousness into her own. Her question played on the edges of his thoughts, he nodded slowly. "I think we know each other well enough for our given names, Kiki." In that fuller sentence the echoes came back. His head jerked up … there were inflections … tones that had previously been striped away, aside from the brief window the painkillers had allowed them to surface. This surpassed even that phase, a vibrancy that he thought he no longer possessed.

A flicker of a smile formed. She placed a hand to her chest near the glowing probes. "Don't worry. You are safe to feel here. I know it seems strange after so long. I can sense your apprehension. But that terrible urge can't reach you here."

Dead alive. He'd been numb for years now, suppressing everything possible to insulate himself from the searing agony. Opening up to that seemed impossible … like the first steps on wasted muscles after being bed ridden. Everything was hesitant. "Where is here?"

She raised her hand and gestured around the room. "Where we have been for the past year. We are both dangers to the world. You and I are both prisoners in the same building, one neither of us can ever be released from. I have sensed your presence since they brought you here. Now, I am getting stronger."

He cleared his throat. "Obviously. This has never happened."

"Things are different now, I couldn't do this before. When Momoki put me back in there are protocols that he missed, ones that … " she paused and trembled for a moment, fear blazed in her eyes, " … he used to control the tether."

Akihito's fist pumped at this side. A twinge tugged in his chest. She wasn't referring to Momoki, but to that vile bastard Hayaseura.

"I reached out to you before over the years. But I fear I made things worse."

His hand came up to his forehead, eyes shut tight against the flood of memories. "The flashes, the images, all those vivid nightmares … " again it seemed so strange to hear emotion in his voice echoing back, "just like the hospital … in the well within a well. That was you, here … in reality."

"But I had no way of explaining my projections to you." She clasped her hands in front of her, looking down into the ripples of water. "That was my haphazard attempt to contact you. Ever since I became aware of you … when he first used me to invade your subconscious, I knew … I knew you were different than the others. Please understand, I was desperate, frightened of what he was doing. I had no one else I could even try to reach out to. I never meant to hurt you."

He took a step forward, his hand rising but he couldn't commit to the full motion to touch her. Too many years of being stripped of any agency by the prison system hobbled him. "Believe me, I know. The overwhelming panic in relentless waves … "

Her cheeks flushed. " … were all projections from me."

His breath caught in his chest.

"That was never you, never from your own mind. That's why nothing worked to stop them from battering you." She twisted her foot in the pool of water sending out ripples that washed against his bare skin. "I didn't know you were unable to act. My efforts to reach out to you only caused you to wall your emotions away to protect yourself from the onslaught. I am truly sorry. But my apology is only one reason I have brought you into my dream, Akihito. You need to know the full truth that no one has revealed to you."

He narrowed his eyes trying to work out where this was going, but her calm expression revealed nothing … until she shut her eyes and reopened them, filled to the brim with discomfort.

"I know what he did to you."

His breath caught in his chest. "You do?" His pulse raced at the potential. "Tell me."

She bowed her head. "When you are conscious in the real world. What do you feel?"

"Nothing most of them time, just perpetually numb." That wasn't precisely true. There was one thing … one core emotion he'd been utterly incapable of banishing. "But when I do … " He tapped the vein, the torrent rushed through him, a destructive flood. Clenching his eyes, he growled. "Anger! … followed by," he winced, this never made sense but it was undeniable, " … pleasure."

She nodded slowly. "That was his work. He carved it into your subconscious with his knife."

He stumbled backward, grabbing his head as he remembered the searing anguish of a blade, slicing … slicing … slicing … "No! Those sensations! They were … "

"Echos of his invasion after the damage had been done. I'm sorry. He got to you because of me, through me. The moment that the contact was made I felt the intention of the vulgar sin of his work. I raged against him, but you know his power. He bent me to his will, forcing his access to your subconscious." She took a deep breath. "He knew what he was doing when he mutilated your emotions. When he made you addicted to that anger like a drug … cold or flaming hot, your rage would have the same result in a twisted chain that can never be severed."

He bowed his head, fists flexing. "So … I am stuck … a slave to this repulsive urge."

She nodded. "You will never be able to resist, the scars are too deep. The instinct as deep as the need to breathe. When the trigger is right … you will succumb. No treatment, no cure, no one can heal the scars he left. I'm so sorry."

His brow furrowed as he fought to suppress the surge. There was no point, he could not reach John Walker … no, Hayaseura, where they sent him. "Kiki, you have nothing to apologize for. You didn't do this to me. You were abused, just like I was."

"That isn't all." She held her hand to her chest. "I am the reason he did it to you."

He opened his eyes and stiffened. The clues beginning to align for the first time. "Three years ago … Denshin Katsuyama had kidnapped you before Momoki found you. How long had it been?"

"He'd kidnapped me and held me in secret for well over a week. But that did not stop the man you knew as John Walker from reaching me through his machine. He was afraid Katsuyama would kill me in an effort to fill his urges in a place where the pain and consequences were real. The dreams were no longer enough for him. My death would have severed John Walker's connection. He would have lost everything … so he made certain that would not happen. He triggered you."

Akihito touched his forehead. "No … oh no. That's the reason … one gigantic string of manipulations. The Challenger grabbed Muku to give me motive."

She grabbed her arm and nodded.

"Hayaseura sacrificed her to set me up to charge in so you would be recovered before you could be killed. He butchered my psyche to make sure it all happened. How could he! Now I'm stuck like this, unable to resist this damn addiction!"

"It isn't fair to you. That urge does not belong to you, yet it will chain you for the rest of your life. Your heart is still pure. It's why you struggle to function. They are at odds with one another in a crippling battle. And I wish I knew the way to free you from that defiling scar … but I can no more do that than stop my own powers from damaging others. You have seen what happens when I am not confined in this chamber." She gestured to the pool. "You have witnessed the devastation."

"The comatose … do know how to you wake them?"

She shook her head. "No more than I can fix you. At least not yet. I am exploring my abilities." Tentatively she stepped closer. "It's selfish of me … but … there's another reason I reached so desperately to you those months I was in the hospital outside of his immediate control."

Akihito's tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, dry as the desert he knew formed his subconscious. "Those first agonizing months I was imprisoned … the insane visions that plagued me … "

"I sensed your true nature. You fought bitterly against the wound's poison. Unlike the others who embraced and allied with his meddling, you raged against the savage grip. You proved it inside your own well where the scar cannot reach you … Fukuda. You refused to give in and end the life of a man, even in a well dive, who was driven to misguidedly help fix others. Fukuda is also different … but I can't reach him like you." Her fingers brushed against his shirt, her palm flattened on his chest over his heart. "Your true drive is still intact inside you … to be husband, father, … protector."

The tears stung his eyes. He cringed as the pain struck him. The air was too thin, his breathing came in desperate gasps. "But … I failed them."

"Through no fault of your own." Her other hand traced the path of his tears, the finger drawing his face down toward hers. He opened his eyes to find his arms around her shoulders. She placed her hand on his cheek. "You always came for me without fail. I felt so safe when you appeared. The only one dedicated to the resolution in such hopeless dream-scapes. No one else has the strength to reach me here in the darkness … only you."

"But I … "

Her voice hitched, she forced the words out as her hands shook. "In my life before this stasis everyone abandoned me or betrayed me, even my own parents … that was when I was free as a living breathing human being. Here, I was already dead to your eyes, but that changed nothing. You still repeatedly endured the hazards of my ability time and time again. Driven not by the mark he shackled you with, but by who you truly are."

In his arms she relaxed into his hold, like a child … like Muku. The pang struck and vibrated through him, starved for human affection in any form. He rested his head on Kiki's as she clung to him. Father … that is what he felt like in this embrace. What he should have been. Where he should be now … instead of in isolation. The denial of his true life threatened to bring him to his knees. His silent tears dampened her hair.

"You are not a crippled beast, Akihito. But like me, we both dwell in a delicate balance." Kiki lifted her head. "No matter how deep you dive, you cannot save me from here. And I cannot heal you in the waking world. We are bound here in the only place designed to hold us in any state close to functioning."

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, the knot remained in his chest. "Somehow I have known that all along. Only through this am I allowed a path out of this miserable limbo, a wretched purpose. If you were freed from Kura I would be truly trapped without even a temporary respite from the monotony … as vile as my task is."

Still clinging to him she nodded her head, hair brushing against his bare arms. "It's true … my release would condemn you to no purpose. Within my projections is the only place your balance is restored."

Sighing he gripped her shoulders and held her back so she looked up, her eyes trembled. "Don't you think about me. If there ever is a way out for you, take it. I have already resigned myself to my fate."

A tear dripped down her cheek. "Your truth is showing." She curled back against his chest. "Please, I … I don't know how much longer I can hold your consciousness here. Let me steal this for a moment longer, Akihito. It's been so long since I have felt … truly … safe."

Closing his grip, he held her tight, shutting his eyes. He couldn't admit how much he needed it too. The sensation pierced deep enough that if he let go of her now he feared suffocation. The life of a pariah meant near total isolation … if he was honest, it gutted him.

"I want to do something for you … I know you miss them terribly … "

"No." He shuddered. That answer came so fast, but he knew it was right. "That would be torment seeing what I can't have." He looked down into her eyes and smiled. "Let me protect you … as my … daughter." The contact, even just within this brief dream-scape, that was what he craved. To feel something he had locked away so long ago.

The proof that he was still human after all.

Hope you enjoyed my first dive into ID:Invaded... more to come. I tend to string my fics together, but they are mostly stand alone stories. I hope you will join me for the next dive!