Disclaimer: I make no claim to the series, ideas, or characters of Full Metal Panic.

Author's Notes: Heh. It's kind of funny in a way. Updates from me these days seem to be about as common as a solar eclipse. As always, I want to deeply thank everyone who reviews my story; if it wasn't for you guys and gals, I probably wouldn't update at all anymore. Also, a big shout out to my super awesome wonderful beta/buddy, Ariane, for all of her help with this chapter and unwavering support. Anyway, the story is nearing its final stretch, and I just hope that I can write with the same quality that has somehow managed to entertain my readers so far. Thank you all very much, and I hope you enjoy.

Defining Normalcy

Chapter 22: To Bring to Mind

Sousuke watched the water flow down the drain and wretched once more for good measure.

His own helplessness made him feel sick.

The two and a half members of his family had been taken by the Old Republic of China weeks ago, and here he was… waiting. In the end, it seemed that he really couldn't do anything for his family without someone else's help. Not that that bothered him; he would throw away every ounce of pride, dignity, respect, and everything else he liked to claim that no one could touch. He would give anything and everything for them.

But, right now all he could do was wait.

He needed the comms device. He would be going up against odds that would make even the most optimistic cringe, so he needed every bit of help he could get when the time came to take solid action.

He sighed heavily and held his head under the running water. The cold water washed over his face and down his bare shoulders. It sent a brief shiver through him, thus accomplishing its purpose, but he remained there for a moment longer.

The temporary relief felt good… but it wasn't what he wanted. He didn't want temporary relief.

He wanted Kaname.

He wanted to hold her in his arms again. He wanted to let her know how much he really did love her. He'd had a hard time expressing his feelings through words; he had been reserved, held back around her. He knew she understood, but he didn't want her to be so understanding with him. He wanted her to yell and fume at him, turn red in the face like she used to when he screwed up; he actually wanted the wrath of the harisen… somewhat. He wanted her to fuss at him once more about how stupid he was for trying to be what other people wanted him to be… and not who he actually was.

He thought he wanted to be normal, clearly defined for him and all. But normalcy wasn't something he could attain; it wasn't something he wanted to attain anymore. It wasn't who he was, and when he stopped to think about it, no one is really normal at all since everyone is different. If no two people in the world are the same, then how can there be a median staked claim as to what is 'normal'?

If trying to be 'normal' meant that he would have to hurt his loved ones in the pursuit of it, then he could quite easily do without it. If being 'normal' meant he would have to ignore what are, to him, clear signs of danger, then normalcy was not his thing. He liked who he was… sometimes. At least, the real Sousuke Sagara would have been so over-anxious and cautious that absolutely no harm could have befallen his loved ones. Granted, public society may have frowned on his actions and precautions, but the real Sousuke Sagara would have simply walked on without paying any mind to what anyone else thought. At least then… they would have been safe.

Now, all in the hopes of accomplishing normalcy, Kaname, Jin, and his unborn child were in captivity, possibly even…


Sousuke gripped the sides of the sink until his knuckles cracked.


They were alright. He had to remain optimistic if he hoped for any chance of pulling this off. He would deal with the dreaded scenario B if need be when he got there. Until then, they were alright. Perfectly safe.

In a brief flash before his eyes, he saw himself, Kaname, and his future child all splayed out on the ice-covered sidewalk, the same image he had seen during their momentary free fall.

Sousuke braced on each side of the sink and let out another dry heave.

Had he saved them then?

He had every intention of giving his own life for theirs, and for a while… he probably had.

But he couldn't remember much after his head hit the sidewalk…

He didn't know if Kaname had walked away or not…

Did his child make it through the impact of the fall…

… he remembered.

Kaname held on to him. She was crying.

Something happened… he can't remember…

She said something. A car.

There was a car. She was taken. It wasn't the people who… Gunfire.

He had completely blacked out then.

He was in a dark place. Cramped. Cold. Iron. A trunk…

After that, he couldn't see anymore. He knew he had blacked out. Perhaps he had died… he didn't know. But the next thing he knew, he was hot, and the smell of stagnant water assaulted his senses.

"You are awake?"a raspy, thick African voice questioned.

Sousuke opened his eyes slowly to a faintly lit room. A quick glance around revealed that he was surrounded by bare walls on all four sides, no windows were in sight, and an unfamiliar ceiling loomed ominously over him. His initial feeling was strange; he felt safe. Safe, but unwelcome. He must have been given the most uncomfortable bed in the place; it definitely wasn't intended for comfort as much as practicality.

He tried to sit up, but as soon as he did, a sharp pain shot through his back, and a throbbing pain pulsed through his head. He tried to lift an arm but found himself unable to do even that. There were no restraints; he just simply… couldn't. He did feel his arm twitch slightly, which was always a good sign.

"You should not try to move."

Sousuke traced the African voice to its source. He was unsurprised to find out that the voice did, in fact, belong to an African man, seemingly in his early-mid thirties. The bald-headed man dipped a cloth into a bowl of water which resided on a rickety looking table next to Sousuke's bed.

"Here, this will help you in healing."

After wringing the cloth out and waving it around, trying to get it cold, he folded it and placed it over Sousuke's face. He didn't like this idea of something obstructing his field of vision, but he soon realized that the cloth was somewhat thin and worn out, so he was able to see through it relatively well, albeit somewhat hazy. It didn't help things at all that the water the cloth was dipped in stunk to high heaven. However, it smelled very familiar, and he could have sworn it to be some sort of herbal mixture used by the Sudanese people in the OROC prisoner camp. The memory unsettled him somewhat, but now the terrible smell comforted him… oddly.

"You have received a very bad fall. It is good that I found you when I did," he emphasized. Sousuke didn't bother questioning him when he placed his emphasis on "I", for he somehow knew it would be explained to him regardless. He remained silent for a moment.

"Do not you want to know why I say this?"

"Yes," Sousuke droned through the cloth, sounding more irritated than he meant to. His head was killing him, he couldn't move, he was worried about Kaname, and he had a cloth over his face which smelled of dirt and vinegar. The last thing he felt like doing right now was talking unnecessarily. There was a lot he wanted to say, a lot he wanted to ask, but the more he tried to think of what to say, the more his head hurt. The pain did strange things to his mind as well; he knew he should be worried about something, but the more he thought about it, the more the pain jumbled his thoughts.

There was silence for a moment before his care-taker responded. "Perhaps you should ask me then?"

Sousuke would have growled if he knew it wouldn't make his headache worse. "Why do you say this?" he inquired, each word sounding like a drum in his head.

"Because I can speak English."

That was obviously an attempt at humor. Sousuke didn't find it funny. Sousuke waited for him to explain, but only silence responded. He sighed slightly.

"Why is it a good thing that you found me?"

"Because you had fallen. Because you were hurt." Another attempt at humor, he assumed.

"Obviously," the sarcasm dripping from the single word said everything else he wanted to be known at the moment. He waited for an explanation once again, but didn't ask again when he got no answer. It hurt too much to talk, but it would hurt even more to explain this.

After a few moments of silence, "Do not you want to know why it is good that 'I' found you?" His caretaker didn't seem to notice that didn't enjoy this. Either that, or he was enjoying it too much to care. "Do you?"

No answer.

"Ask me."

No answer.

"Ask me. I promise I will tell this time."

Sousuke sighed audibly this time. "Why is it a good thing that you found me?" he questioned, making sure to place the proper emphasis this time.

"Because you were hurt."

He wanted to scream.

"I will be serious now. It is because I know you."

The following silence suggested the man wanted to hear more questions. However, he realized this time that his patient wouldn't play the game anymore. As such, he decided to continue.

"I know you. You are Illian. I remember you. You are the second father of the son of our Cajarahahi."

Those words brought back brief memories, but they were only brief glimpses that were quickly shrouded over by throbbing pain. However, he was able to remember the man he was talking too. During his time at the encampment, it was this man who had treated his wounds after his interrogations. Suddenly, he felt a bit more relaxed, and he must have visibly relaxed a bit.

"It looks like you remember who I am, Illian."

Sousuke let out a low hum of acknowledgment. "Tak."

"The name you gave me, yes. You never were able to say my full name," he paused for a moment to let out a chuckle at the passing memory before continuing. "They wanted to kill you when I brought you here. I told them you would help us if we help you." A light thump sound came from the door, and Tak rose from his seat, making his way to the door. "I will be back later."

Sousuke was somewhat surprised that Tak would be leaving. He was left with the feeling of having only been told half of a story, and he didn't like not knowing the full story. He let out a slight hum to test the volume of his voice, having learned that the louder he talked, the more it made his head hurt.

"Who are you?" he questioned about as soon as Tak reached the door. Talking didn't hurt as much that time, but it still hurt.

There was a brief moment of silence before Tak spoke again, having formulated the perfect response. "I am Tak."

Again, Sousuke would have thrown something if he could move. Thankfully, Tak chuckled, understanding what it was that Sousuke wanted to know.

"We call ourselves, Pumice."

Before Sousuke could ask any further questions, Tak was gone. Within seconds, the throbbing pain in his head got worse, and before too much longer, he was asleep again. He woke up many times after that during his three week healing process, usually much less coherent than the first.

However, one time he had woken up, and he remembered everything. It threw him into a panic when he was able to remember and fully acknowledge that Kaname was in danger. When he did, it took several people, including Tak, to subdue and calm him. Once calm, they explained to him exactly who they were and what their purpose was.

"You think Mithril is the only organization of its kind?" The red-haired woman's question was accompanied with a humored chuckle. "No. There's more like dozens. We are one of those organizations; Mithril is another. Each of us has our own motives, but we're all able to coexist. Unfortunately, we can't work together very often, because the one resource we all desire is very… limited." Sousuke knew she was talking about the whispered. "But I think you'll help us."

Sousuke involuntarily raised an eyebrow: a clear sign of his uncertainty. "For what reason?"

"We have a common enemy. After the rebuilding of the Old Republic of China, Chan Do Huang… I'm sure you know him well…" Sousuke cringed, his leg beginning to hurt. "He began rebuilding the OROC by himself, soon establishing it into a mercenary organization like us and Mithril. However, something has been happening lately, and they seem to be reverting back to their original plans. I'm sure that you and Tak of all people know that this cannot be allowed to happen."

Sousuke remained silent for a moment. There were definitely other reasons why he wanted to stop them as well.

"We also know that they took away people who were very close to you. That's why we-"

"How do you know that?!" Sousuke interrupted with a shout, certain that he was starting to put something together. He remembered the people who had originally burst into his and Kaname's room… he knew they weren't from the Old Republic. "Are you-"

"Yes. Operatives of Pumice were the ones in your room that night."

It took three people to keep Sousuke seated that time. The red-haired representative took a few steps back, not wanting to be on the receiving end of a knife should the young man manage to get up. So, she went on to explain quickly.

"But you seem to misunderstand. We were not intending to harm anyone before confirmation was given. One of our local operatives in Colorado had spotted several soldiers of the Old Republic around the motel of which one of the confirmed whispered, Kaname Chidori, was staying in. A previous informant had defected and gave us false information that one of the OROC's soldiers, you, Devin Letrus, were in her room, and we had no way of knowing for sure other than sending people to find out."

Sousuke narrowed his eyes. "They burst into the room with the order to kill me…"

The red-haired woman narrowed her eyes as well, stepping forward and looking down at him, obviously angered about something. "That's because you were the one to fire the first shot. You were the one who blew Simon's brains out, you dumb shit! To the team, that was obvious proof that the information was true! I mean, what kind of normal person would shoot someone through a door?!"

Sousuke looked down at the floor. Yeah, he had forgotten about that part. He would later find out that Simon was her little brother. But, until he did…

"Tell me, then. What kind of sane person orders armed soldiers to storm a civilian motel? On that note, what sort of person does 'Simon' have to be in order to blindly follow such orders," he retorted, trying his best to strike some sort of nerve. He was still quite bitter over the whole ordeal anyway.

There was no response, no noise, no shouting… nothing. Sousuke wondered why everything had suddenly gone so silent.

"Considering some of your past deeds and loyalties, Mr. Sagara, I'm inclined to ask what position you're in to say something like that," she said, but there was no insulting or mocking tone to her voice as she looked away from him. It was as if she was simply making a logical statement.

Yes, the past was something he definitely couldn't forget… and it was painful to be reminded of that.

"You hypocrite," she added, as if to rectify the previous lack of malicious tone. The woman cleared her throat and continued before Sousuke could respond. "But that's not the issue right now. Right now, we need the Old Republic of China disposed of. We also know that you have a vendetta against them and desire just as much, Lieutenant Sousuke Sagara of Mithril," she said, wanting to make it obvious that they had done their homework. "We know that there are people there you want to rescue, but you don't have the proper tools to initiate an assault against the OROC. We have an AS that can match or exceed any Arm Slaves they may have, but we don't have a capable enough pilot who is also able to operate the upgraded Lambda Driver we've installed. So, I'm sure you see where our crossroads meet, right Lieutenant Sagara?"


So, here he was, dry heaving over a sink. Sprucing up for what was probably going to be a suicide mission turned over to him, an operative of a mercenary organization, by a completely different mercenary organization. Not only that, but he would be going up against a group that he really didn't know much recent information about, and he would be going in some sort of super-AS that he was still learning how to properly operate. He didn't want to give up hope, but he was still uncertain about the success of this mission. However, he couldn't stand by and not do anything for Kaname. If having any hope of saving them meant doing things so… unorthodox… then he still wouldn't hesitate for a second.

… Not a second longer.

… Just a second more.

The sleek, red convertible cut through the air and tore down the highway like an unforgiving blade of destruction with Shin pushing it to go even faster. Unfortunately, one can't outrun their past. That… was a lesson he had learned the hard way. He had also learned that lesson again just a few minutes ago.

Deny it. Forget it.

His curve was coming up soon anyway. That's what was important at the moment. It was one of those break-neck curves that make driver and passenger alike lean against it in order to remain sitting upward. And that's when crawling around it. His current record was 87 mph, and no one had come close to beating that yet. This was his curve; no one else could nurse that turn like he could. Then again, he knew that due to who he was, a lot of people couldn't do the things he could. But, this was somehow different. This was…

His gaze was inexplicably drawn to the ocean just below the overpass. He couldn't help but take note of the beauty of the glistening waters of the ocean, reflecting the last remaining evidence of the dissipating eventide. The setting sun's rays sparkled in the ocean like shining, aquatic crystals. The constantly moving lights beamed with such a bright, glistening beauty that he had to squint his eyes to help filter out some of the piercing light that even his dark-tinted sunglasses could not. The car slowed only for a moment before picking up speed again as Shin turned his head back toward the road in front of him. He didn't dare to gaze upon that which he had grown to love about this place for any prolonged amount of time.

He smoothly transitioned the car into fourth gear and continued to pick up speed.

The heat of the summer days were subsiding, and the fresh, crisp breeze coming from the ocean felt relaxing on his face, making him feel more refreshed than he had all day as the gusting wind whipped his long, black hair around and against his face, neck, and shoulders. For some reason, his head was drawn upwards just in time to see a pack of white birds fly overhead in the shape of the flying-V, greatly contrasting against the red and orange sky. Even over the loud hum of the engine and the gusting wind, he could have sworn he heard the calling of the birds. Or maybe it was just a memory; he wasn't sure. It had been so long since he had heard the sound of birds that he had almost forgotten what they sounded like.

The relaxing drive, the peaceful scenery, the sense of freedom, and the sound of the birds made him feel as if he could stay like this forever… made him as if he could afford to take a vacation and forget his worries.

A permanent vacation away from everything.

It was the kind of peaceful place that made a guy start thinking. Made him think about settling down, having a wife and kids, leaving the past behind, and anything else that was associated with returning back home. Home. The word was so foreign to him since he had been gone so long.

Finally, after so many years, he had returned to his home… and how he hated it.

Shin half-listened to the rising hum from the automobile and waited until the proper calculated moment to shift the manual gear into fifth. The hum of the engine settled again as the rear wing of the convertible rose and tilted, adjusting to the wind friction. He eased off of the gas petal while applying equal pressure to the clutch and the fleeting red convertible slid gently and perfectly around the curve with a mastered perfection as if it was gliding on air. Definitely not his best time, but he would try again later. He really didn't care if the car flipped. Maybe it would be better anyway.

The others were easier to operate, Lord Huang had told him while they were picking out the car. It didn't matter though; being who he was made it easy for him to adapt and learn just about anything. With this sort of vehicle, he had not restrictions, no rules… no programming. If he wanted, he could steer off of the road he was on and drive along the sandy beach below. Unfortunately, he was pretty sure that would do bad things to the air filter, oil track, fuel lines, suspension joints, and probably the radiator just out of consequence. He didn't know why people would shun away from this sort of vehicle and not invest the extra time learning to operate one; it was incredible. It gave one more of a sense of control.

But it was only that. A sense of control. He had no more real control over his life than he had control over the time of day. The only control he had was how fast he could go around a curve. But, even then…

Unwarranted images made their way into his mind. Images he wanted to be rid of but never could. Friends, family, his sister, that small home on the beach, the family dog…

The mere thought of that place brought back unwanted memories. The smell of the fresh breeze drifting up from the breaking waters of the sea triggered his other senses as well. The dotted lines of the road whizzed by him even faster as he gripped firmly to the manual gear and shifted into fifth. The heat of the setting sun on his shoulders gave way to a feeling of sweat and fatigue. The soft bumps in the road grew to something of a much harder bounce to him, causing him to feel as if he was driving on their old driveway.

What would they all say about him? What would his sister say if she saw who he was today? Would she approve? Would she be disgusted and refuse to look at him? Would she even ever talk to him if she knew that he had befriended and then betrayed three of the whispered, being one herself and all? What would Lord Huang do? He'd probably disown him. But they weren't there anymore. And the last ten years of his relatively young life had been for nothing. All of the sacrifices had been for nothing.

Shin shook his head violently and floored the gas pedal, causing the engine to scream in protest, having never been handled in such a way. Shin's eyes narrowed at the break in the guardrail in the distance.

New challenge.

He had seen in the movies where the action hero would run a car off the freeway and land perfectly on the landing twenty feet or so below. Was that really possible? Only one way find out, right? Sure, the twenty foot drop was more like 120 feet this time… but that sort of logic never stopped cinema magic, so why should it stop him?

The hum of the engine grew louder as the speedometer reached past the 140 mark. Might as well try to grab for some distance while he was at it. It would definitely be a spectacle for the newspaper, no doubt.

Where was Lord Huang? How could he possibly die without telling him first? Why did he…

… There he was. Lord Huang. Standing right in the middle of the road… walking toward the oncoming car.

Shin's eyes widened in shock, horror, and surprise as the specter appeared from the heat waves coming from the road.

"You fool!" his voice boomed inside Shin's head as he raised his finger to point at the oncoming vehicle.

Reacting in the same split-second, Shin slammed the brake as hard as he could to the floor and turned the wheel sharply. The sound of screeching tires filled the air, accompanied by the smell of burnt rubber. The car spun around in several circles, all the while, Shin working to bring the car out of the uncontrollable series of spins. Sharply let off of and slowly reapply pressure to the brake; counter-turn the wheel to stop the swerving rear end. In no more than two seconds, Shin had mostly regained control of the car and instinctively navigated the car to miss the opening in the guardrail.

The car slammed harshly into the guardrail on Shin's opposite side. The impact caused the seatbelt attachment to break off, and Shin's head flew quickly to the side, impacting sharply with the door. The protruding door-lock chipped and flew off upon contact with Shin's head.

A few moments later, he was awake again… mostly. He let out a pained groan, sat up, and fell back against the seat. Blood was quickly making its way from his head and into his left eye, causing it to burn. Dizziness filled his head and a slight ringing sound played in his ears. He sighed, realizing that, yet again, he was unable to take his life. Now came the lecture…

"That's it, Shin! Just end it all! That'll really help us out!" called the obviously enraged voice from the passenger's side of the vehicle.

He looked over through one open eye to see the Chinese woman in the lab coat. She had her arms crossed over her chest and refused to look at him. He sighed and sat back in his seat. It didn't occur to him that he hadn't brought his medication. He smiled and let out a forced chuckle.

"Hey, I'm trying, alright?"

"Asshole. I hate you."

"Yeah. You know you don't mean it."

"I hate you."


"I… hate you, Shin," the young woman repeated again, sounding as if she was on the verge of tears.

He looked over once more, feeling guilty. He had never wanted to see her cry over him anymore. Ghost or not, he felt like a loser.

"I'm sorry, Sis. It's just that… I miss you. I want to see you again. And Lord Huang's dead too. I can't think of anything left here for me."

The woman smiled weakly. "I miss you too, Baby Wu. But, I don't want to have to see you again like that. Actually… I hope I don't see you for a long time, you know?"

"I wish I could say I feel the same way."

"You think Lord Huang would just want you to give up on the organization? Do you really think he would just want you to allow his life's dream to fall into the hands of that corrupt man just because he isn't around anymore? I don't think so. He took you under his wing so you could take over for him. That's what I think."

"There's no way I can replace him."

"And what about the whispered? Whether you want to accept it or not, you've become that little girl's daddy. I guess I should be calling you Daddy Wu, huh?" she said with a mild laugh.

"I don't think it's too funny, Sis."

"Sorry. It's not. But I just think it's great. I've never seen you happier than when you're with that little girl."

Then she was gone. No vision, no voice… nothing. Just his imagination acting up again.

Shin eased on the gas and continued driving for a bit. Slowly, as if without any sort of purpose. Almost as if with a heavy restraint unrelated to his recent crash. In the next moment, the car had slowed to a complete stop in the middle of the road.

There was nothing to be seen. The road went at an incline upward and he couldn't see the ocean anymore. The woods to his side were dark, and he couldn't hear the birds. He looked in his rearview mirror and he could see the ocean. He could see his curve. This was the furthest he had ever been from the base in years, and it had been so long since he had last been any further up this road that he couldn't remember what waited on the other side of the hill. He couldn't recall at all.

Maybe there was nothing.

Shin sighed again, realizing exactly how much he had been doing that as of late. He closed his eyes for a moment and let out a humored chuckled. The chuckle soon turned into a frustrated growl, and he furiously scratched the back of his head. A hand flew up and grasped tightly to the rearview mirror. With two harsh jerks, the mirror broke off its axis and was aptly tossed to the road. The screeching of tires filled the air once more as the car made a complete turnaround and went back the way it had come.

At least he knew what was waiting for him if he went this way.

Sousuke winced once more as the knife removed another handful of hair. The blade was dull; it seemed as if it was sawing his hair more than "cutting" it. Almost like pulling it out by the roots, more like it.

Being satisfied with the scraggly strands and locks of hair he had been much more accustomed to a few years back in his high-school days, he tapped the knife against the sink to remove bits of hair from the creviced blade. He looked at himself in the mirror from a few angles and nodded approvingly. Kaname would probably like the change.

The door to the large bathroom opened with a deep, metallic clang and the hinges squeaked loudly, still in need of oiling as he remembered them.

"Battle ritual, Mr. Sagara?" called the familiar voice from the door.

Sousuke didn't even have to look to place the voice to the face of Andrea Kalinin. "I suppose."

Kalinin approached from the side and stood at the sink next to him. He looked in the mirror and rubbed a few grey whiskers on his face, contemplatively. "I think I need to shave as well."

Not much was said until both had nearly finished shaving. Sousuke finished before the older man and inspected himself in the mirror. Yeah, Kaname would definitely like the change. He looked exactly like he did three years ago, except older. A light smile came to his face. He'd have Kaname cut his hair for him later, he mused.

"When do you plan to depart, Lieutenant?" Kalinin asked him, having finished rinsing the shaving cream from his face.

"Fifteen minutes. Perhaps sooner," was his only reserved answer.

Silence prevailed for a few moments as Sousuke pulled on his shirt and tied his boots. He walked toward the sink, gathered his things, and threw the towel over his shoulder before making to depart.

"Lieutenant," he coldly acknowledged Kalinin with a nod.

Kalinin realized that the single word held the tone of a final word. In his time spent with Mithril, the Soviets, and the Helmaj, he had heard it enough times to identify it. It was in that moment that Kalinin realized he would never see the young man again. Whether by death or permanent departure, Sagara would not be coming back. Something kicked him in the back of his mind, and he couldn't explain it. The only thing he knew was that he had to spur one final conversation with Sagara before he left.

He would never have the chance to again.

"I did what I had to. You know that."

"I know. I've always admired that quality about you. You've never cared who you trampled as long as it was for the greater good." Sousuke's tone held a ton of malice in it.

"Then you understand why I did what I did?"

"Of course. And I probably wouldn't have cared in the slightest if it had been someone else'sfamily. But, it was my family this time, and I simply can't shake that."

Kalinin sighed sorrowfully. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry."

"Coming from you, it's definitely not worth much at the moment. Try again when I bring them back."

"Then, I sincerely wish you luck with bringing them back. I know it doesn't seem it, but I would really like that as well. I want you to be-"

"Don't give me that!" Sousuke yelled. The pressure of his pent-up anger was starting to fizz. "Don't wish me luck! You should know as much as I do that when someone tries their hardest at something, luck has absolutely nothing to do with it! I don't need your blessing; I don't need your sympathy."

Kalinin looked at him through the mirror. "I suppose I've asked for it considering what I did. But it still surprises me; I never thought I'd see the day that you wanted to kill me… again. But you know, I really wouldn't blame you for killing me. I would."

Sousuke was silent for a moment. "Is that right?" he said, sounding somewhat uncertain.

Kalinin nodded grimly. "I guess a bullet between the eyes would be a good souvenir to remember you by. But, if you have something to say to me, and I know you do, then say it now. I'm sure though, that like you said, what you have to say can't be said through words. However, as men, I think we need to have this conversation." Kalinin put down his razor and turned around to see Sousuke setting aside his things as well. There was a fire in the young man's eyes that he hadn't seen in a long time. He was definitely ready for their inevitable conversation.

"A souvenir, huh?" Sousuke questioned as he advanced at a hastened pace.

Kalinin sunk his knees slightly and brought his hands up, clenching them into fists. As soon as Sousuke was a few feet away, his hand reached up and grabbed hold of the towel on his shoulder. The towel flew through the air and covered the face of an unsuspecting Kalinin.

He knew not to take the time to remove the towel; he didn't have the time. Instead, he listened to the thump of Sagara's boots and the shifting of his clothing.

Sousuke wasn't surprised that the older Russian was able to parry two of his punches and counter with one of his own. The punch was only slightly hindered by Kalinin's inability to see during the single second's time, and the straight jab landed on Sousuke's jaw. It's exactly what he would have expected from the ex-Spetsnaz. His jaw throbbed and he tasted blood in his mouth, but now wasn't the time to let up any. Pain could come later. Right now, it was most important for him to make a point. He had something to say, and it would be heard.

Kalinin parried another jab aimed at the stomach just as the towel was about to fall from his face. One eye was uncovered just in time to see a fist right in the center of his field of vision. It was getting bigger.

Having had his first few attacks blocked, Sousuke hopped off the floor a few inches, getting the clearance above the Russian's broad shoulders that he needed. Just as the towel was getting ready to give the older man his vision back, Sousuke's momentum supported punch fell with a tremendous amount of force behind it before Kalinin could even react.

Kalinin barely even had time to roll with the punch any at all. His ears immediately began ringing rather loudly, his vision blurred, and everything felt like it was spinning. Without a doubt, he realized Sagara could speak very loudly when he wanted to. He stamped his foot so as to trigger a dendritic pulse to his brain in order to stop himself from passing out on the spot.

In the next moment, he practically doubled over in half when he felt as if his groin was going to fly up into his stomach. He had forgotten how cheap Sagara could be at times.

Sousuke brought his foot down after delivering the swift kick to the groin. Going on the advantage of having his opponent dazed, stunned, paralyzed, and confused, Sousuke moved in and placed a hand on Kalinin's hunched back. He felt Kalinin stir, ready to attack, so he didn't hesitate planting a fist into the center of his stomach. Then again… and a third time… a forth…

Sousuke stepped back, panting heavily and flushed in the face, teeth grinding together. The older man gasped for air but found it rather difficult. Sousuke let out a war-cry that seemed to hold all emotion he had been feeling for the past few days in it. Not entirely satisfied with that, he placed a hand on the kneeling Kalinin's head and forced it around to face him. He pulled his hand into the air one final time, balled it into a fist and brought it down across Kalinin's face, causing his head to jerk harshly to the side. The Russian fell to the floor, coughed a few times, and showed no signs of getting back up.

Sousuke stared at the fallen man for a few seconds while rolling his tongue around in his mouth to inspect for gashes. Snarling in disgust at the older man, he spat some blood to the side. He knew that if the older man's heart had been into it and maybe if he was a few years younger, he wouldn't have had any chance of winning this 'argument '. He took in a shaky breath, trying his best to steady himself and stabilize his adrenaline. Sousuke turned a quick glance back to the mirror for a moment and then turned to leave. He gathered his razor and utilities, put a hand on the door to leave, and didn't bother looking back.

"I don't mean to be rude, sir. But you'll have to excuse me for cutting our conversation short. I must prepare for departure."

Kalinin laid there, only able to listen to the sound of boots against the stone floor getting further away, the screech of the hinges, and the metallic clung of the closing door.

Kaname walked down the hallway feeling more afraid than she had in a long time.

She and Stefanie had been moved fromlab to lab over the past several hours. She knew what they were doing. They were checking to make sure there was no other use for them before they were disposed of. Simply thrown out like old furniture. It had long past turned dark outside, and she was certain they had just left the final lab. Since she had been there, she had never had to go through so much testing in a single day. She was tired, sore, and she had a terrible headache to top it all off. Some of the testing she was unsure about. She didn't know if it was all done in the name of science and advancement, or if some of it was done because the people there were sick, twisted, and perverted. Regardless, they were done with them now. They had no further use for them, but they definitely had no intention of sending them home or taking care of them any longer. That really only left one other option.

She felt a light squeeze on her hand, bringing back to her senses again. She looked down to see that Stefanie had taken hold of her hand and was staring at her with a very worried expression. Obviously, she had seen the worry on her face and this made her worried as well.

Kaname quickly smiled down at the little girl, wanting to make it seem as if everything was alright until she figured out something to do. Sousuke wasn't there, and no one knew where she was. So, help wouldn't be coming. She knew that much. She turned a glance behind her to see Quon and his ever-present, sadistic smile. If anyone was going to get them out of this, it was going to be her.

She started to recall all of the self-defense lessons and lectures Sousuke had forced her into listening to. She would insist it was stuff that she would never need. He would insist that it was better to have it and not need it than the other way around. She would demand that he shut up about it. He would demand that she shut up and listen. She would call him a jerk. He would call her a child. She would get mad and refuse to listen until he was talking about something else. He would get mad and refuse to talk about anything else. So they would always be at a standoff for about an hour or so, but she was always the first to give in and listen to him ramble about self-defense.

It was one of those memories she loved. In order to adapt to her stubbornness, Sousuke had developed a stubborn streak as well. Now, she was glad he was so adamant in teaching her how to defend herself. She was starting to realize that more times than not, there was usually an underlying wisdom and foresight in Sousuke's antics.

She recalled one "session" in particular that she figured would best suit this situation. She glanced behind her to realize that Quon was looking at one of the shadows on the wall and wasn't entirely focused on her. It was the best time to do something if she intended to do anything. Catch him off guard. She had just started to turn and tense the muscles in her leg when she heard a low booming sound which shook the base. All of the lights immediately turned off and were replaced by a cascading red shroud of light permeating from the corners of the rooms. It was an emergency signal.

"Sir!" a panicked voice called from down the hall.

Quon turned around to address one of the new soldiers who was making his way down the hall. "What is it? What was that?"

The young soldier held up a piece of paper and hunched over slightly to catch his breath. "It's a… grey AS… sir. The same one… we… received this message from."

"When did you receive the message?"

"No more than two minutes ago. We received the message on our LT communications system. I didn't know what to do, because nothing was showing up on the radar. And I knew that if it was close enough to send a voice transmission, it was close enough to be picked up on radar. But it wasn't. And right now, it's on the ground surface plating above."

"Who is the pilot? What is he here for? What was in the message?" Quon asked, sounding somewhat panicked.

Kaname's heart felt as if it had completely missed a beat when something occurred to her even before the messenger spoke.

"He, sir. The pilot is a he, and he didn't sound at all happy. He sounded confident, and he sounded dangerous."

"What did he want?"

She knew it. He was still alive.

"He has demanded the release of Jin Lain and Kaname Chidori. He said that there should be some people here who know him by the name of Illian."

This time it was Quon's heart which missed a beat. He recalled that day in the rain when he and some others had executed the Cajarahahi and his son. He remembered Illian, the Cajarahahi's defender. He also remembered what happened when Illian went on his unstoppable killing spree. The thought shook him to the core and his hands began trembling. The arm which Illian had pierced through with a rusty, blunt mattock began to burn. Quon took in a deep breath, realizing that he had forgotten to breathe.

"He said, 'To those that remember, remember well. Return the whispered to me, or else I will incite the Cajarahahi's curse once more."

With those words and that promise, Quon's blood ran cold. Much blood was going to be spilled tonight.