Chapter 10: Limit

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The rain had continued to pour relentlessly through the evening, and because of the café's upbeat atmosphere, many young women had taken refuge inside. Ichigo had kept herself busy the rest of the evening, smiling and chatting with the customers. Lettuce's talk earlier that evening had made her feel more at ease with the chaos around her. Even though Kish had a rough past, perhaps it was time to believe in him; whether or not anyone else did was not her concern. He had put his life on the line for her, and he at least deserved her respect.

"Ichigo? Are you done mopping?"

Ichigo gave a start and jolted from her contemplation. She looked up and smiled at Akasaka, nodding slightly. "Yeah. I'm sorry I was a little slow today, Akasaka-san. But…"

"I understand, Ichigo." He placed a hand on her head and smiled the same smile he would give to a little sister. "It's not like these past few days haven't been difficult on you." There was a slight pause and he shifted slightly, looking as if he wanted to say something. Ichigo watched him carefully, but he only smiled again, then turned around and left, bidding her good night.

Mint looked up from her cup of tea and sighed as she watched him return to the laboratory under the café. "He's worried about you, you know?" Her eyes followed Ichigo almost lazily around the dining hall. "Everyone is."

"Ichigo understands what she's getting into." Zakuro looked up from the table she had been cleaning, and shot Mint an icy stare. Her face turned to the floor suddenly, a blush running across her cheeks as Zakuro spoke. "She understands there are risks involved, and we need to be more accepting of her plight." Pause. "Besides, I had a chance to speak to Kish the other night. And although our conversation was brief, I could sense that he had nothing but pure, honest intentions."

The air slowly began to tighten, like a violin's strings wound too far. Mint watched Zakuro, and her dark eyes watched as the small girl slammed her teacup down and returned to the kitchen. There was another long silence, but Zakuro shrugged it off and said nothing more. After all, she was above childish confrontations.

Ichigo put the mop down and walked to where Zakuro was standing, washing the tables with stoic indifference. She watched her for a moment before deciding if it was safe to speak. "You… you talked to Kish?"

Zakuro looked up, briefly acknowledging Ichigo. "Yes."

"When? Where? About… what?" Ichigo bit her lip, waiting for an answer. A minute passed and then another. Finally the silence faded into nothingness, and Ichigo returned to her mop. If Zakuro didn't want to talk there was nothing she could do about it, no matter how much she wanted to know. She finished her job and returned to the locker room, glad to have left the tension and foul moods. Lettuce smiled at her but didn't say anything more than "hello" and "good night".

Ichigo changed in silence and left in silence. Nothing seemed to be going according to her ill-thought plan. Surprise. Ichigo was wrong again. She sighed slightly as the rain fell hard on her head, drenching her in tears of the gods. It was several minutes before the fairytale café was out of sight and she began to feel more at ease. Masha hummed softly, singing a tune she taught him. It was almost peaceful…

For a moment.


The voice she had often heard with such energy and teasing; the voice she often hated but sometimes secretly enjoyed, called out to her slowly and painfully. Her heart twisted suddenly, as if a wounded animal thrashed inside her chest, and she gasped at the sting. "Kish?"

He fell from a shadow next to her, making a sickening thud on the grass in the park. The rain continued to pour down over his leaden body, and Ichigo wasn't sure if she should scream or cry. He looked mangled, beaten, and sore. His arms and legs were torn and bloody, and small stream of crimson ran from his lips and pooled on the earth. Ichigo fell to her knees, holding back a scream, and picked up his head to lay it in her lap; she suddenly feared the worst.

"Kish! Kish, are you okay? Do you need a doctor? Should I go get Akasaka-san?" Her words ran at a mile a minute as the wound in her chest grew deeper and harsher every moment he lay there. What had happened? Kish was one of the strongest people she knew; who could have done such a thing to him? "Kish?"

"I'm fine… Koneko." He reached up and tugged gently on one of her recently appeared cat ears. A painful smile worked its way across his mouth, showing the blood on his teeth. Ichigo shuttered for a moment, but continued to hold his head gently, worried she might open a new wound. How could this have happened? "I wanted to make sure you were safe… you're safe? Right?"

"I'm fine, Kish." She rushed some hair out of his eyes, noticing the dilated pupils and fading color. Her lips trembled with a strange and sudden pain, but her only thoughts were for him. She needed to get Akasaka as soon as possible, if something deadly had happened to Kish, he needed attention right away. He needed to help. "What happened?"

"Nothing…" He looked away, letting his hand fall back onto his chest. "I just… I needed to know you were safe…" The air turned sharply cold and a small puff of breath fell from his lips. "I'm going to rest here, Ichigo-chan… please… please go get Akasaka… I need to speak to him…" His eyes closed slowly, but his chest continued to heave air in and out of his lungs.

"Kish…" he heard her voice as his mind turned black. "Kish… please… please don't die." And for a single moment, he thought he felt the soothing heat of tears.

- - -

When Kish awoke there was a throbbing in the back of his head, not to mention in every limb of his body. Even his fingers seemed to ache from his wounds. He lay there, on the cold examination table, watching the blue lights at the corners of his blurry vision and listening to the muted sounds from above him. There was an eerie stillness that permeated not only his heart, but seemed to sink heavily into his soul.

It had ended and it had begun.

Kish had left Pai nearly dead.

And Taruto would unlikely let such an act go unrequited.

Kish sighed, feeling the weight on his heart grow heavier. The only man he ever considered to be his brother no longer existed in his soul. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, wishing the pain would go with it. How could he forget all the good times he shared with him? When they first started on their journey to Earth, Pai had made sure that Kish was comfortable and accepted. Even though Kish felt odd and out-of-place at times, Pai never worried about that. He simply accepted Kish.

Kish pushed back at the strange tears in his eyes.

But, Pai's loyalty never lied with him; his loyalty was bound to Deep Blue. And Pai would do anything to keep him happy; even destroy the one thing that Kish treasured: Ichigo. And so Kish was forced to make the ultimate decision: his friend or his only love? He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, calming the torrential storm of emotions. He had made his choice, and now there was no going back. Things had ended in a way he never imagined, but he had to protect Ichigo. He promised himself, Zakuro, even Akasaka and Shirogane. But, most importantly, he promised Ichigo.

He rubbed his eyes gently and slowly sat up, ignoring the sharp sparks that ran down his spine. The blue lights from the monitors around him continued to blink unintelligible information. Kish swung his legs over the edge of the table. Blood ran full-force to his head and his neck went limp with pain. Why had this happened? How…?

"Kish?" There was a sound of chimes and the soft scent of strawberries. He picked up his head gently and looked into the familiar, large, dark brown eyes, full of innocence and concern. His heart tugged slightly and he looked away as she approached, ashamed at what he had done. How could he ever face her once she knew the truth? That he had betrayed his friend, simply to protect her?

"Kish? Are you… all right?" Her hand reached out and touched his, sending a new warmth into his cold chest. Even in his darkest of hours, she still managed to make him feel loved. "Kish?"

"I'm fine, Ichigo-chan." He turned slowly and smiled at her, hiding his darkness behind golden eyes. "Thanks to you. You got Akasaka in just enough time."

She smiled at him and pulled her hand away, taking the warmth with her. There was a short, awkward silence and then she spoke. "What… happened, Kish? I didn't even know what to do when you found me… or what to think. I was so worried about you." There was a long period of silence as Kish watched the blue glow of the monitor and Ichigo watched him. The air grew heavy as the silence continued until Kish finally spoke.

"I will tell you later, Ichigo." There was another pause as Kish climbed off the table and stood shakily on the floor. He ignored the pain in his legs and turned back to Ichigo's rejected expression. His heart tugged again. "It isn't something you did, Ichigo, It's just something I need to accept and understand before I explain it to you." Pause. "It's something that even I have a problem dealing with."

Ichigo didn't say anything, but the seriousness in her eyes showed that she seemed to understand what he was saying. She touched his arm again. "I'll give you as much time as you need Kish. I'm here for you whenever you need me." She glanced up the stairs as someone shuffled above them. "I'll go get Akasaka for you. I know you wanted to talk to him." Without another word she ran back up the stairs to retrieve Akasaka and Shirogane.

There were muffled voices that slipped down the stairs carrying the sounds of anger, fear, worry, and stoic indifference. The emotions swirled around the room for several minutes before the conversation ceased and the heavy sound of footsteps echoed down into the lab.

"Kish?" Akasaka's gentle, diplomatic tone seemed to sooth the upset emotions. Shirogane, however, stood in the corner with his arms crossed like a brooding child. He watched carefully as Akasaka approached their visitor, worried Kish might turn back into an enemy at any moment. The air continued to have a strange, metallic feel; heavy, as if it were filled with lead. The three men stared at each other, trying to size one another up as if to fight. Akasaka spoke again. "You wanted to speak to me?"

"I have news. I wanted you to hear it." His gaze darted to Shirogane, who lifted an eyebrow in response.

"You asked just for Keiichiro?" His arms seemed to tighten with sudden pressure. "Why not me too?"

"Because you're too concerned with your idiotic notions of me still being loyal with Deep Blue." Kish sniffed indignantly. "At least I can trust Akasaka with having a logical view point and a level head."

"Oh… I'll give you a level head!" Shirogane was about to step forward, but Akasaka held out his arm and gave him a firm look. With that, the sulking blonde returned to his corner like a scolded child.

"What is it you needed to tell me, Kish?" Akasaka stood next to the examination table, watching as Kish tried to pace, an obvious nervous habit. Kish limped a few steps in one direction and then a few in the next. Finally he turned and looked Akasaka in his honest eyes and took a deep breath.

"Pai…" Kish bit his lip, still tasting the tinny, metallic blood in his mouth. "I… I fought Pai earlier this evening." There was a heavy pause as his gaze jumped up and he watched the surprised look on the other men's faces. "I came right back here because I was worried he had attacked Ichigo first… but she's all right." He let a small sigh of relief slip through his lips. "But, now I'm worried there will be an even larger retaliation not just from Taruto, but from Deep Blue as well." Pause. "I wanted to tell you as soon as possible so you could prepare the girls."

"How do we kno-"

Kish's heavy stare cut off Shirogane's snide comment. "Because I would beat myself up for fun?" He shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair, feeling the rain still clinging to the strands. The cool water seemed to soothe him for a few moments. "I got off better than Pai did… at least I know that."

Akasaka's shock was blatantly visible, even in the dim light of the lab. "Did you-"


Kish spoke so suddenly and harshly that even Shirogane seemed stunned. They looked at each other for a moment before Akasaka spoke again. "Thank you, Kish, for letting us know." He looked at Shirogane for support, but the blond just shrugged. "I want you to accompany Ichigo home for the evening, her parents are undoubtedly worried about her." Pause. "As for the attacks from Taruto or Deep Blue… I guess we'll have to plan for that tomorrow…" The blatant fear and worry could not be hidden by the most accomplished of stoics.

What Kish had told them was undoubtedly one of the worst things they could have ever heard. If Kish was worried about what Deep Blue would do to them, then this man was undoubtedly to be feared by all.

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Oh… it's been a real hootenanny around my house… my boyfriend has been sick for a week now and I'm on the verge of killing him due to my lack of sleep and him coughing his nasty germs all over the damn place. And he's so freakin' needy… all I want is just a few hours to write and I can barely get that!!!!

Okay. I'm off my soapbox now.

So… about the chapter. I almost killed off Pai, but I kinda like him, so I kept him semi-alive (mute though). Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it, I think the next chapter will be much lighter and have much more romance in it (Masaya and Ichigo have to go on that damn date at some point in the story… sigh).

Review. It keeps my ego inflated.