Yeesh, I'm sorry this took so long. Strangely, it wasn't the writing itself, but my own idiocy in trying to find out the romanji translation for Kirika's comment at the end of the chapter. My own knowledge of Japanese and online translators failed me. (sigh) Ah well, I tried.

Kapleon: (waves) Of course I will - I can't leave people hanging. Besides, I'd probably have a stroke if I left it now. xD

MV: As long as she needs to until Kirika is safe. (grin) Messing with her woman is grounds for "I will kill you all."

Fiefiefofum: Rest assured, I haven't forgotten the kitties. They show up next chapter with amazing fluff and adorable cuteness. Mirelle has to give them to Kirika, after all. (evil smirk)

Im nothing but a dream: Hey, it will be good. Happens - well, depending on where I cut it off, either next chapter or the one after. Since it'll be a doubleshot anyway, next update. (nodnod)

Haru-Chan: (blush) I cannot BELIEVE I did that. And the sad thing is, when I read it through before uploading, I went "that's not the right gun" but couldn't for the life of me think of which one it really was. Haru gets cookies! xD

Everyone else: I luff joo all muchly! And thank you so much for reviewing. As a sidenote, the translation for Mirelle's Corsican is at the end of the chapter.

Rejoined Hearts, Dreams Revealed

This job had to be the most boring one he could have pulled.

Robert Anders, member and foot soldier of the great Soldats, leaned back against the reinforced wall of the Old Manor and yawned. At his side stood three more fellow soldiers, mirroring the other four men standing across the hall. All eight were armed with semiautomatics along with the usual handguns, ear-coms and walkie-talkies – just like the sentries manning the walls and roofs of this place and the neighboring buildings, and the men farther inside the winding halls. Whoever had ordered this guard detail, they were taking absolutely no chances. There were more than sixty soldiers, for cripes' sake! It was seriously annoying. As far as he could tell, there wasn't even anyone coming after the little bitch they had stuffed in the main assembly hall. And she was drugged up and quiet for the most part.

Still, it was better than some assignments he could name, so he supposed he'd best count his blessings. Grabbing for his water bottle, Rob tilted his head back and squeezed a long stream of liquid into his mouth, wiping his lips with a swipe of his arm. Across from him, one of the other soldiers – Kenny, he remembered after a moment – gave him a raised eyebrow, looking somewhere between amused and reprimanding. Robert ignored the pointed expression. Kenny was a foul-mouthed pain in the ass most of the time anyway. Beside Kenny, Juan rolled his eyes and smirked. He was a good enough guy as far as Rob knew, usually easy-going, and with a decent sense of humor. Robert grumbled under his breath. At least there was one of them in this screwed-up place.

Blam! Blam blam blam! Blam blam!

What the hell had that been? Rob's eyebrow quirked, automatically shifting his automatic toward the faint noises from farther outside. He knew the sound of gunfire, and yet, the noise he heard was – off, wrong somehow. After a few more seconds, it hit him. The shots weren't coming from any of the standard-issue handguns he knew the soldiers carried. They were from a different make all together.

His head lifted, eyes wide and body tensing with the prospect of real combat. Who was coming? A rival Councilman's thugs, some gang of lowlifes looking to make a name for themselves? Glancing to the side, he could tell Kenny and Juan had heard the noises too; they were straightened, faces alert and intent as they watched down opposite ends of the hallway. There were more shots now, from the other direction. Robert's eyebrows drew together in a frown. Two teams, maybe? Coming from opposite sides? His com hadn't gone off once – why wasn't anybody reporting in if they were under attack?

Another moment, and the gunfire had stopped entirely, leaving an eerie silence in its wake. Rob flicked the safety from his automatic, frown deepening. He could have sworn he felt eyes watching them, a strange gaze pressing down on the very air until it sang with power and tension. But there was absolutely no one for a good dozen yards on either side down the hallway. Still, as much as he wanted to write the sensation off as nerves, it was just too strong. His skin was crawling, the hair all over his body standing on end and the taste of copper heavy on his tongue. Next to him, the new guy – a kid called Danny – was shaking, nearly vibrating with tension. So it wasn't just his worry, Robert thought with a faint satisfaction. There was something very weird going on here –

In the quiet, a new sound appeared, different than the shots that had erupted moments before. Muted, slamming, as if a stream of bullets were deliberately hitting something solid instead of the softer give of flesh and bone. It seemed close, but Rob couldn't see a damned thing. There was no-fucking-body there!

Turning slightly to the side, he meant to ask Juan and Kenny if they were feeling the same thing he was. Instead, his eyes widened in shock. The soldier standing beside Kenny had just gone sliding down the wall, half of his head blown away. Blood spattered across Ken's dark jacket and now paper-white face, his gaze black and terrified. Danny was jerking around, almost spastic. "Where the fuck – "

Another of those weird noises, and the kid stopped talking, frozen for a moment before dropping like a puppet whose strings had been cut. In the fading sunlight that still illuminated the corridor, Robert could see blood pouring from a new wound in his neck. "Sonofabitch!" Rob cursed, hearing Juan swearing vehemently in Spanish. Mostly foul snarling, sprinkled with something about ghosts and invisible killers. It didn't make any sense – how the hell had the kid been shot from behind? He was leaning against the damned wall!

The wall – no, that was fucking impossible!

Robert spun around, staring wide-eyed at the thick, blank wall as though it had personally betrayed them all. There were two holes in the plaster and brick now, no larger than the width of a thumbnail. For a few more seconds, shock and disbelief held him frozen and speechless. Who the hell could shoot though a wall with such pinpoint precision?

"They're through the damned – "

The words died in his throat as Kenny – having realized the same thing and followed his look – spun halfway around and dropped to the ground, the third attacking shot having gone straight through his temple. Terror competed with a sudden surge of inappropriate, hysterical laughter bubbling through Rob's gut. Somebody had killed Kenny! Wasn't that an American joke somewhere? Robert gave a horrified groan, watching the other three soldiers in his squad toppling like bowling pins. He and Juan were all that was left, now. Clutching his automatic tighter, Rob wondered in the back of his mind if he should simply shoot himself and save their unseen assailant the trouble of terrifying him to death.

"Màs dios." Juan whispered, staring wide-eyed all around them. His jittering gaze focused briefly on Kenny's ravaged face. "That did not come from the wall." He turned toward his right, Rob's left. "There is something – "

The bark of that invisible gun came again, and Juan's body jerked as a chunk of meat exploded out of his upper shoulder. An expertly placed heart shot, Robert realized distantly, watching his former friend – now corpse – join the masses littering the floor. But now Rob had caught a flash of red and gold, too solid to be the reflection of sunlight. The fact that he'd never seen anyone able to shoot from that distance and hit shit, let alone the incredible feats of marksmanship in the last few seconds, didn't even register. Instead, his automatic jumped to life, spraying the hallway with a howl of terrified bravo. "Come on out, bastard! You wanna fucking play, let's play!"

A sudden clicking sound penetrated his haze, and Robert's hands shuddered as he realized the clip was empty. Dropping the automatic with a harsh clatter, he tried to jerk his handgun free of its holster, staggering back from the shadowy end of the hall. He never even got that far. Agony exploded in his gut, blood running in wet heat down his body to join another soaking stain farther down. As though in slow motion, Rob felt himself falling backward, dropping onto his ass with an ungraceful thump. The stink told him the bullet had hit his intestines – even if he didn't die right away, the infection would very likely kill him anyway.

Into the quiet and soft moaning came another noise, one his slowly shutting down brain refused to comprehend for a moment. Boots, he realized dimly. The sound was the sharp clacking of boot heels against the floor. Slowly, the owner of the boots came into view, and Robert wondered if his imminent death was making him hallucinate. This was the killer, the destroyer, the person who'd massacred his entire squad?

She looked more like an angel that happened to wander down to earth. Thick, wavy golden tresses forming a halo around her elegant features, pale, flawless skin, and a lean, beautiful body showed off to gorgeous perfection in a black leather skirt and a tight, sleeveless shirt of crimson velvet. Each smooth, liquid stride was like pure grace made flesh, the knee-high black leather boots rapping out his death with perfect precision. She had a matching leather jacket thrown almost carelessly over one shoulder, and Rob could see a black shoulder rig strapped across her torso. It fit with the handgun she held in her right hand. Robert didn't know much beyond the basics of guns – he was fairly sure it was a Walther, and not a PPK, but the actual model eluded him. Though judging from the confident ease she carried it with, she was obviously a pro.

Then, as he strained his eyes, her face leapt from fuzzy beauty into full, terrifyingly gorgeous detail. The skin there looked smooth and soft, her features aristocratic and amazingly beautiful. But it was the eyes that pulled Rob up short, made him realize exactly how this willowy young woman could ever have done such a thing. The sapphire blue orbs were flat and emotionless, darkness layered beneath a sheen of living, glacial ice. There was nothing in that gaze to be reasoned with or pleaded with. Looking into those eyes, he knew she really had shot through the walls, taken out Juan and Kenny from a distance he'd never seen any human being manage. She was death itself, implacable and unstoppable.

Glancing down at him, the killer spoke, tone as level and empty as her eyes. "Where is she?"

She? The little bitch? Robert coughed, blood running down his chin while he wheezed. How the hell had she hit his intestines and his lung? Maybe it was two shots, close enough that he couldn't tell the difference. It wouldn't have been hard for her. "Go to hell." He rasped.

There was no reaction, but her weapon barked again, and Rob writhed in agony when his kneecap splintered. Again came her voice. "Where is she?"

"Kiss my a – " Now Robert screamed, a choking howl as she slammed her heel down on the wound, snapping the tendons and grinding bone fragments into flesh. "Sh-She's in the main hall." He half moaned, half sobbed. "In the middle of the house. They're all there, forty, fifty of 'em. They left us to watch for intruders. Oh, god – "

The boot moved, and Rob gave a shuddering sigh, the lessening of the agony almost a physical relief. A split-second later, the Walther spoke once more, and Robert of Soldats slumped back to the floor, a neat hole through his forehead.

Mirelle paused only long enough to wipe her heel against the shirt of one of the other thugs, apparently considering her options. The eyes of the true Noir flicked briefly toward the ear-coms still adorning the corpses, but she decided against taking one. Whatever they were planning didn't concern her.

Strategic attack or frenzy, they were all going to die.

"Squad C! Come in, squad C!"

Kirika's fuzzy thoughts swam back to sharper consciousness as she listened to one of the goons yelling furiously. She'd been fading in and out since a little while after they'd brought her to this place, although she had no idea how much time had actually passed. The thugs basically ignored her, talking among themselves unless one of them felt the need to shut her up when she groaned or whimpered. Not that she meant to do either, but she didn't even have control enough to stand upright. Her shoulders and back were on fire with spasms. They'd hung her by her wrists from something up in the rafters, half-leaning against the wall, like some sort of hunting trophy or a slab of beef. A choked noise that might have been a laugh died in Kirika's throat. It was absolutely ridiculous – she was Noir, a maiden of death. And she couldn't even stand on her own two feet, could hardly open her eyes.

"They took out squad C!" Howled the voice again, dragging Kirika's attention back to him. He sounded so furious, and Kirika wondered what he was talking about for a few seconds before the words made sense. Someone had taken out their people? Who? Hope flared briefly in her chest, hot and bright in spite of her attempt to squash it. Mirelle, oh Mirelle, could it really be you? Did you come for me?

Common sense intruded a moment later. Mirelle wasn't coming to rescue her. Even if they'd somehow gotten the blonde Corsican to agree to meet with them, there was no way Mirelle would find this place. Or that she would ever want me back again. I was so stupid – I should have died months ago. Then she wouldn't have been in danger. Mirelle, Mirelle I love you, I'm so sorry.

Kirika swallowed a sob, realizing she was babbling mentally again. The thugs appeared to be oblivious to her thoughts, shouting and raging at each other. Apparently, there was someone, some group attacking this place. Whoever they were, they were heading this way at a worrying speed. The goons were split as to whether or not they should stay put or leave with her in tow. "We're supposed to stay and wait for Alexander!" One of them protested. Kirika gritted her teeth. That bastard.

"To hell with that!" Another yelled back. "I don't want to stay here and get killed for this worthless bitch!"

Kirika shuddered. She really was worthless. No one needed her, no one wanted her. Pain that had nothing to do with her physical agony tore through her chest, heavy and pressing. Why couldn't she just disappear?

A sudden scuffling, shooting noise coming from close by suddenly ripped her mind back to the present. Body trembling with tortured effort, Kirika lifted her head, opening her aching eyes. At first, the flickering shadows and fading sunlight refused to connect with her brain; then, with a shock like cold water dashing across her face, the world returned for just a moment, incredibly vivid and clear. That lean, beautiful shade across the room, darkness in the deeper shadows – her chapped lips moved, the anguished, hopeful sound no more than whisper.

"Mireyu – "

Those eyes were the prettiest things she'd ever seen.

Six-year-old Kirika Yuumura stood motionless among the bodies of the Bouquet family, solemn gaze locked on the older girl that stood in front of her. What had lady Odette called her? Mirelle, that was it. Mireyu, Kirika thought silently, splitting the syllables and coloring them with the Japanese that had been her first language so long ago. Mirelle Bouquet, with wavy golden tresses and the most beautiful sapphire eyes. There was warmth in that gaze, a fierce gentleness Kirika had never seen before. Something she could almost lose herself in. And the blonde wasn't afraid of her at all.

Her gaze flicking downward briefly, the little Japanese stowed her heavy gun in the pocket of her overalls, then looked back up at Mirelle. "You – dropped your teddy bear." She spoke English, though she knew the older girl could understand French just as well. English felt right. Gently, she scooped up the stuffed animal and held it out, half-expecting Mirelle to shrink away or react in fear. It was the way everyone reacted to her – fear, awe or brisk efficiency. But this girl did neither. She looked surprised, as though she hadn't realized she'd dropped her toy . . . but she took the teddy bear without the slightest hesitation, tucking it safely back in the crook of her elbow. Her voice was soft. "Thank you."

Kirika nodded slightly, her eyes skittering across the floor to the silver pocket watch gleaming open on the tiles. Mirelle's sapphire orbs followed the movement, and now she stepped forward, picking up the round metal object in one hand. After a moment, the small blonde held her precious item back out solemnly. "This – it's yours now, isn't it?"

Kirika nodded again, faintly surprised that the other girl would realize such a thing. Especially since she hadn't been raised as Noir. The younger child reached out, their hands touching, the watch settled between them. It was an oddly intense emotion that swept the two of them then; Kirika felt it, and she could see in the depths of those sapphire eyes that Mirelle did, too. Intense, almost electric, but not painful. A connection, as fierce and real as anything Kirika had ever experienced. She had never known anything like it – the closest thing she could compare it to was her training as Noir. Like coming home, or being safe, needed. "Thank you." She whispered, closing the lid of the watch and tucking it carefully in another pocket.

Mirelle gave a soft expressive look that could almost have been a smile . . . there was a sudden motion behind her, movement that instinctively meant danger . . . a tall man, with hair like Mirelle's, jerking the older girl back with the same horrified expression they always wore when they saw Kirika . . . he was shooting, and a blade was coming at him from somewhere behind her . . . and Kirika spun, leaping to get away . . .

Bright light flared suddenly in Kirika's eyes, scraping across the inside of her skull and dragging her back toward consciousness. With a moan, she batted weakly at the air above her, trying in vain to make the blinding blaze go away. It hurt so badly –

Quick, gentle fingers caught her wrist, softly stroking the back of her hand as they returned it to her side. A voice was speaking above her, faintly familiar but somehow different, not quite right. Another known voice answered, this one male – the first cut in again, slightly sharper, and Kirika had a sense that it won whatever argument they were having. The light went down a few seconds later, much to the young woman's relief. She was so muddled, everything fuzzy and covered in a haze. Dimly, she knew she wasn't tied up or standing anymore; she was lying down on something cushioned and soft, the agony in her back and shoulders reduced to little more than a dull ache. The air around her wasn't cold, but comfortably warm, even though she couldn't seem to stop shivering. There was no more yelling or screaming either.

And the sweet, smooth hands cradling hers were incredibly comforting.

Gentle clinical fingertips touched her jaw, tilting it softly to the side. Kirika couldn't help the low whimper that escaped her throat, fear crawling through her veins like slow sludge. What were they doing to her now? She felt better, or at least not as horrible, but was it all a trick? The soft grip on her hand tightened a bit, calming touches trailing over her skin. The first voice was saying something again – Kirika caught her name in the soothing flow of meaningless words. Whatever it was saying, the murmur of sound loosened the tight ache in her chest, making everything feel light and airy. She was falling again, floating away, but strangely, it wasn't frightening anymore.

Mirelle watched in silence as Patrick finished his examination, fingers still absently stroking the back of Kirika's hand. They'd been here a little less than an hour, the blonde Corsican stationed in a chair at her partner's side while the doctor took care of Kirika's injuries. Vaguely, Mirelle was grateful for his quiet competency – he hadn't done much more than blink when she'd appeared at the door, the younger woman cradled safely in her arms like a child. Since then, the young man had carefully checked her body reactions for the drugs, examined and cleaned each and every wound.

"Well, I think that's the last of it." Wiping his hands with a damp cloth, Patrick tossed it into the sink and sighed, shaking his head. His voice was wry, tiredly amused. "Silly me, I hoped you might manage to keep out of trouble for more than a month."

The ghost of a smirk crossed Mirelle's face, and Patrick was grateful for that. He'd been more than a little frightened when he had first laid eyes on the two young women. Not necessarily because of the wounds, he'd seen those – and worse – before. No, his fear had come when he had looked up into Mirelle's face and seen those terrifying eyes looking back at him. Darkness incarnate, power beyond anything human. Those eyes had been horrifying – if he hadn't known for a fact that the blonde Corsican wasn't going to kill him, Patrick was certain he'd have had a heart attack right then and there. Folding his arms over his chest, the young doctor turned his gaze intently to Mirelle.

"As far as I can tell, her body's breaking down the compounds of whatever drug he injected her with just fine. She'll be pretty exhausted until it wears off, probably a little confused too, but she should be alright by tomorrow morning." Patrick shook his head again, amazed as always by their healing abilities. "Maybe a massage for her shoulders and back, since they're kind of tender. There's no real deep physical damage, just a few bruises and some scratches." He looked at the blonde narrowly. "I suppose asking how she ended up with her ass kicked and you don't have more than a few scrapes is an exercise in futility?"

"They got her by surprise." Mirelle's voice was nearly as flat as before, but there was a low undercurrent of rage that sent every part of his skin crawling. Even though it wasn't directed at him, it was still terrifying. Blinking, the doctor tried to gather his wits as the young woman stood. "Um, I have a wheelchair you could use – "

"That's alright." Golden tresses sweeping like a curtain, Mirelle bent and gathered Kirika in her arms, cradling the smaller girl close. Shifting that dark head to a more comfortable position on her shoulder, the Corsican made it all look incredibly easy as she stood. "Put it on the tab, will you? We're going home."

Still a bit stunned, Patrick nodded, hurrying to open the door to his medium-sized office. After a few more instructions, the two young women swept out, and he took a deep breath, letting it out in a whoosh as he sat down. Briefly, he wondered what had happened to whoever might have had the stupidity of touching Kirika. Then he shook himself.

There were some things a man just didn't want to know.

Outside on the street, Mirelle headed for the new car, Kirika nestled safely in her arms. She wasn't worried about drawing her weapon – she knew, somehow, that she could do it without a problem. And she knew she probably should have accepted Patrick's offer of a wheelchair, too. It was the most intelligent thing to do, the most logical course of action, especially for an assassin.

But it would entail letting go of Kirika, and somehow she just couldn't bring herself to do that unless she absolutely had to. Even if it meant her safety, she couldn't stand the thought of Kirika scrunched up on the seat of the car, cold and unconscious and alone. Although, as several shadows blocked her path and the darkness in her mind rushed forward again, she had to wonder if obeying these odd impulses was going to get them both killed.

Lisa paused, keeping perfectly still as Mirelle's head lifted, those frightening eyes focusing in on her. She knew the tall blonde was still more Noir than the young woman she had met earlier, and she knew Mirelle wouldn't hesitate to put bullets through anything that stood in her way. But right now, she was hoping there was enough of the Corsican left to talk with. "Mirelle?"

"What do you want?" The voice that answered was still emotionless, flat and measured, but not quite as frightening as before.

"To give you a ride." Tucking a lock of thick hair behind her ear, the young Soldat answered the question honestly. "So you two can get home." So we know you're safe, she wanted desperately to add, but decided not to press her luck. After today, she had a feeling the other girl wouldn't believe that comment if her tongue came notarized.

"I have a car." Mirelle pointed out calmly.

Lisa nodded. "Yeah." She agreed, her voice quiet and careful. This was the moment that might kill her. "But if you're driving, you can't hold her."

Mirelle blinked, and Lisa watched the darkness in those eyes receded just a bit, warmth flaring in to fill the emptiness as that gaze flicked swiftly down to the dark head resting against her shoulder. A slow, almost imperceptible movement, but it was exactly what Lisa had suspected. Her uncle had said as much, but any doubts the gray-eyed blonde might have had vanished in that simple look. Mirelle would rather cut her hand off than let go of Kirika, even if it was just for the short ride home.

After a long, drawn moment, Mirelle nodded silently. Lisa turned, waving aside the two tall, hulking men with her. One of them – Duncan Anderson – moved aside with hardly a glance; the other, one of their new men from outside Paris, simply stood gaping in astonishment. Mirelle ignored both, following the blonde Soldat down the sidewalk toward the limo. Behind them, Lisa could hear a hissed, rapid-fire conversation in French. Mostly, whether or not she was insane, and what the hell they were doing picking up hired killers in the Breffort's personal vehicle.

"Shut up." Anderson finally growled, effectively ending the conversation. "The lady Lisa knows what she's doing. And the maidens deserve our help more than any person alive."

Lisa's lips twitched. Their driver opened the door, and she stepped easily into the back of the limo, shifting to the side so Mirelle could climb in after her. This was going to be an interesting ride.

Kirika floated to the edge of consciousness once more, burrowing instinctively closer to the warmth pressed against her. She wasn't lying down anymore, but curled up in what felt oddly like someone's lap, arms bent up against her chest, head resting half against the person's shoulder, half against their neck. Other arms were wrapped gently around her, cradling her, a hand stroking soothingly through her hair. A familiar voice murmured in her ear, the sound like a low rumble through the torso Kirika lay against. She could only make out a few of the soft words and phrases, a mix of French and another tongue she couldn't make sense of. " . . . pè e . . . donne dui . . . a manu neru se securità." "scusate tante ûn la sô, ûn capiscu mica." "Mon scuru ange." "Vous êtes les miens . . . je vous protègrai." "per piacè, per piacè, être bien."

Then, even softer still, "c'est le nom d'un destin antique. Deux demoiselles qui régissent la mort. La paix nouvellement du soutenu, leurs mains noires se protègent."

Kirika's muddled mind recognized the last part, but strangely, the familiar litany filled her with soothing calm instead of fear. The other gentle phrases she tucked away for later, letting the light tones wash through her. Farther away, she could hear a low rumble, like that of a high-performance car. Where on earth was she?

Too tired to figure it out, she gave a soft sigh and snuggled closer, exhausted eyes never even opening. Whatever was going on, here in this moment she was protected, surrounded by safety and warmth and a feeling of utter want. It was enough for now. The rest, she could deal with later.

Lisa sighed, glancing at Mirelle as the limo purred along. The blond young woman had settled Kirika oh so carefully on her lap right after she'd climbed in, her arms wrapped softly around the smaller girl as her fingers trailed gently through that short dark hair. She'd been whispering for almost the whole time, too, her voice a low, running murmur. Distantly, Lisa wondered what she was saying. Soothing words of encouragement, maybe? It looked like she wasn't even aware she was doing it.

Looking to the side, she caught the new guy – Pierce, she remembered after a moment – staring at the two maidens with an expression equal parts shock and curiosity, eyes wide and stunned. Lisa stomped on an urge to kick him, then bit down an equally inappropriate urge to laugh. She just couldn't help it. He looked so funny.

Anderson, following the direction of her gaze, leaned over the slight distance that separated them on the seat and jammed an elbow in his fellow Soldat's ribs. When Pierce looked up indignantly, the taller young man gave a fierce, silent shake of his head. His eyes were intense and defiant. Stop staring. He seemed to say, snarling without words. Leave them alone. They don't need your prying.

Pierce had the grace to look embarrassed, turning his head to look out the window instead. Good. Lisa leaned back, another soft sigh escaping almost unheard. Kirika would be alright; the blond Soldat had done enough medical work – mostly field, with animals and people – that she knew the younger girl's wounds were mostly superficial, if a bit jarring to look at. Still, the idea that Alex could do such a thing to the smaller Japanese was painful. And she still felt guilty. It was at least partly her fault.

The auto pulled up to the curb outside of the apartment building, and Anderson fairly leapt to open the door. He climbed out, followed by Lisa, then Mirelle and her precious burden, then Pierce. "Mirelle – " The younger blonde reached, then paused, fingertips hovering just over the skin of Mirelle's arm. Touching was probably still a big fat no at this point, if it was ever okay in the first place. "Can you reach your keys?"

Again, that faint echo of Mirelle's usual smirk, a slight incline of her head. The Corsican shifted Kirika just a bit, muscles trembling lightly as she balanced all her partner's weight in one arm. Her now-free hand dipped swiftly into the pocket of her jacket, returning with a light, familiar metallic jingle. "We're stronger than we look." She said softly.

Lisa nodded, a ghost of a smile flitting across her own lips. "That was never a doubt."

Mirelle nodded once more, equal parts agreement and thanks, Lisa had a feeling. Turning, the taller blonde headed easily into the building. All three Soldats stood and watched until the door shut behind the maidens. Anderson set a hand on Lisa's shoulder gently. "So – where to now, miss Lisa? Home?"

The younger Soldat sighed. "Home." She agreed. "Uncle will probably want to know how things went, and I'd like to see what he found out."

"And the two of them?" Pierce asked, slightly more subdued after Mirelle's casual display of strength. A laughing smirk flicked through Lisa's mind, quickly hidden. Not so big and bad now, was he? Her gray eyes shifted up to the top floor windows, a range of emotions slipping through her features. Gentle sweetness, knowing laughter, slight awe and even a trace of soft affection. She smiled, turning back toward the limo. "They'll be fine."

"They have each other again."

Corsican eyes.

That was what she remembered first, living ice glittering savagely in the tumbled-down entrance. Those sapphire orbs that Kirika so loved to watch, the same fascinating, striking eyes that could shatter her heart or send her spirit soaring with a single casual glance. But these dazzling, gorgeous eyes were narrowed now, pitiless and cold like chips of frozen sky, a distantly lethal expression upon the lovely porcelain face in the doorway. Mirelle's arm swinging up from the deep, endless shadows, finger pulling the trigger of her Walther again and again, firing with so much more than even her usual deadly proficiency . . . reloading once, then twice, pressing her attacks with swift, critical combinations of hands and feet, even though the small Asian assassin had been sure before this day that her partner lacked more than half her own skill in martial arts.

And their enemies died, in scores and piled on top of each other, most before they even had a chance to recognize the golden reaper that had come upon them. The smell – no, the reek of blood and bodily fluids had been almost overpowering, even to a practiced killer like Kirika. Copper and cordite lay heavy and bitter on her tongue, burning raw in her throat. And the sounds were beyond description. The sharp splinter of shattered bone, the hollow pop of torn joints, the repeated crack of gunshots and thuds when they found their mark, all punctuating the rough, rasping breaths of her captors and – only once or twice – the tortured, horrified screams of those unfortunate enough to see death coming in the instants before they died.

And once the slaughter was over, and only corpses remained to litter the ruined, blood-slick floor, that crimson and gold goddess turned toward her, unhurried and unstoppable. Those terrifying eyes focused on her, and there was nothing in them, no emotion and no mercy, no escape from the overwhelming fear and the eternal loneliness of death they promised –

"No, Mireyu!"

Kirika awoke at shocking speed, ripped into full consciousness with a painful jolt of adrenaline. Sweat dampened her brow, body shivering feverishly, though whether it was the after-effects of the drug or a reaction to her nightmare she didn't know. For a few seconds, her dazed mind couldn't understand where she was, breath coming in harsh, frightened gasps. Then her strained eyes focused, and she recognized the plain white wall, the polished wooden angles of the dresser she and her partner had shared for so long. The soft cotton pulled up around her shoulders was their familiar pale sheets, the same ones she'd slept on and awakened to countless times in the past, faintly cool night air from the windows just barely stirring the linens. She was back in the apartment? But how – why?

A shadow swept across her moonlit vision, mattress sinking slightly as someone slipped hurriedly under the blankets in response to her hoarse cry. "Shhhh, Kirika." The female voice was low and soothing, an arm curling gently over Kirika's shoulders. Mirelle pulled her partner back against her own lean, lithe body, brushing at the younger woman's dark hair with soft fingertips. "It's alright, I'm here. It's alright."

Kirika clung without shame to that comforting arm, still shaking and frightened. A terrifying flash of inhuman, pitiless sapphires rose sharp and brief, then faded away from her thoughts, tense and trembling muscles relaxing by inches into the Corsican's warm embrace. This was her Mirelle, the young woman she cherished, not the bloody killing goddess she remembered in such fear. She knew it by the soft strength in the arm across her shoulders, the gentle stirring of breath against her ear and the tender warmth of the toned, familiar frame pressed to her back. The blonde assassin's chest moved slowly, rhythmically, coaxing her partner's ragged half-gasps into something more normal. Kirika managed a long, shaky breath in response, taking the soft, faintly-herbal scent that meant Mirelle deep into her lungs. It spread into her, floated around her, a warm, invisible cloud of safety. Dispelling her fright and pain in a wash of comfort. Tucked here against the Corsican, held in this cradling embrace, she was protected and cared for. Unbidden, a shaking whisper passed her lips, the questioning sound laced with fear, anguish and shame. She had to know. "Alex – "

"Dead." Mirelle's murmured answer was fierce but gentle, with none of the anger or disgust Kirika had been expecting. The fingers trailing through her hair never ceased their light movement. "Him and all soldiers."

"Oh." Kirika breathed, uncertain. Mirelle didn't sound furious or annoyed or even mildly put out. It was unbelievable, especially after the argument and the Japanese's monumental stupidity, but there it was. And the soft touches were incredibly soothing. Shifting slightly, the younger woman winced, a sharp hiss escaping her throat when her body protested. Apparently, her shoulders and back were still more than a little sore. She could feel Mirelle's eyebrows drawing together in a frown.

"Does it still hurt?" The blonde's voice was low and definitely, strangely anxious. Kirika hesitated, torn between wanting her partner's comfort for the pain and admitting such a horrible weakness. She was already a liability, a worthless fool – her muscles spasmed, throbbing now that she had forced them to move. "Yes." Her whisper was full of self-loathing. "Just – just a little."

Mirelle's hand dropped from her hair to her shoulder, massaging the sore muscles gently. Kirika stiffened, half-gasping, then relaxed backward with a sigh of relief. The tense knots clung stubbornly for a few seconds, staying clenched, but they unraveled to smoothness again under the soft ministrations. Eyes like molten copper fluttered slightly, a combination of calmed release and sheer exhaustion. "That feels better, I bet." The blonde sounded satisfied, so much more like herself that Kirika's lips twitched in a faint smile.

The smile faded a second later, Kirika's eyes prickling suspiciously. Her throat was tight, voice shaking and incredibly small, but she had to say it. She had to tell her partner how sorry she was, even if the words didn't mean anything. "M-Mir-Mireyu, I – "

Before she could finish, a light finger pressed gently to her trembling lips, silencing her. Mirelle spoke quietly, tones immeasurably tender as they murmured in her ear. "Shhhh, Kirika. Don't – don't say it." Her breath caught slightly. "I know."

Mirelle – Mirelle knew? How could she? The hand against her mouth cupped her cheek briefly before moving back to her hair, continuing the soft petting. It seemed impossible that the Corsican could forgive her that easily – but why would she have come to the rescue otherwise? Why would she have brought Kirika home? Kirika took a deep breath and sighed. Sleep returned and pulled at her, trying to suck her beneath its waves, but she fought it back. "Mireyu?"

"Ummm?" The blonde answered with a low sound in her throat, noise vibrating gently through her chest and Kirika's own back. It made the younger woman relax further, even as her heart clenched. She had no right, but the question tumbled from her lips anyway, a halting whisper of need. "You won't – leave me, will you?"

For a moment, there was silence, and Kirika forced her eyes open, biting back the rush of sob that choked the back of her throat. She wanted to disappear all over again. Of course Mirelle didn't want to stay with her anymore –

Then the blonde's arm shifted, tucking the sheets a little tighter around the two of them before curling around Kirika's shoulders once more. Mirelle held her close, voice low and firm. "I'm not going anywhere." Her steady warmth never faltered. "Go back to sleep, Kirika. I'll be here when you wake up."

There was so much more she wanted, needed to hear, but for now, those simple words were treasure enough. Kirika's breath ran from her in a soft, contented sigh, rust-colored eyes drifting shut once more, and Mirelle could feel the brittle tension of her partner's body draining like dirty water. She's confused – must still be working the drugs out of her system. The Corsican assassin lay quietly on her side, head propped on one elegant hand, blonde tresses turned liquid silver in the moonlight as they flowed over the shared pillows. Her fingers trailed gently through Kirika's bangs, an unconscious, affectionate motion. Actually, she couldn't seem to stop touching the younger woman – brushing at her hair, stroking her shoulders or just cuddling her close, it didn't matter as long as she had some contact with her partner. It was as though her body was afraid Kirika would melt away if left by herself. She didn't quite understand it, but at the moment, she didn't care, either.

Feather-light, her fingertips lingered on the quarter-sized bruise half hidden in Kirika's hairline, tracing the long scratch down the side of her partner's face until it dropped off her jawbone. In the darkness, the wounds were almost invisible, but nothing could soften the dark purple finger marks violating the golden skin of her slender, delicate neck. Mirelle's own jaw tightened with barely-leashed fury, hand hovering just above the smaller woman's sleeping face. She had seen those wounds fresh and raw, under the full harshness of Patrick's florescent lights. Even without his expert opinion, the blonde was an accomplished field surgeon. She understood how bad the injuries were, and how bad they could have been.

If they had hurt her permanently – Mirelle refused to finish that thought, carefully counting Kirika's breaths instead the way the doctor had suggested. They were all dead, down to the last arrogant suited bastard, but it did little to ease the strange ache lodged under her chest. That was dull now, with Kirika's lean body pressed safe and warm against her, but still there. Not anger, but maybe – guilt? Shame that she had put Kirika in a position to fear her. Jagged splinters of vivid memory darted through her head, a kaleidoscope of spinning sensation that strung together into a sharp, frightening whole.

It was the smell she noticed first.

Mirelle blinked, slowly, mind rising back to the reality around her like she had just woken from a nightmare. A charnel scent, blood and bowels, burned gunpowder and singed flesh all mixed together to make a musk more at home in a slaughterhouse than this slightly-rundown manor home. Touch came to her a moment later, toned and powerful muscles throbbing distantly with the faint ache of recent, vigorous use. Flashes of several different lifeless corpses flicked through her thoughts, and she knew she had killed them all. Her Walther was in her hand, a lightness at her back suggesting she'd unloaded the spare clips she'd tucked there without realizing it. There was a smear of something on her cheek, light enough that it had to be blood. Some distant part of her mind was grateful it wasn't thicker. Wiping scrambled brains from skin was never an easy or pleasant task, and the smell usually lingered for quite a while.

Her ears had 'returned' next, filled with mostly silence, though the steady, pattering drips of blood were entwined with the faded echoes of tortured, terrified screams. There didn't seem to be anyone alive in the room – at least, no one she recognized as an enemy. But there was someone breathing nearby, a rough and uneven noise she recognized deep in her gut. The name had been immediate, threading her consciousness with urgent anxiety. Kirika –

In spite of the relief rising hot and hard in her chest, the turn to look across the room had been slow, almost negligent, her weapon held automatically in that direction as though it might yet find a target. Kirika had been standing almost flush against the far wall. Or perhaps standing was the wrong word; thick leather straps around her raised wrists were twisted over an exposed beam in the ceiling, dangling her small form like a piece of fresh meat. The litter of fallen foes was smaller here, only three or four slumped at her dark-booted feet. She was conscious, head lifted and lips slightly parted. Her gorgeous eyes were wide, stunned and perhaps a bit frightened, their rust color more vivid than usual against her paled skin. Her voice was rough, pained. "Mireyu?"

That softly accented name, said the way only Kirika could, was enough to temporarily shred the traces of whatever strangeness had gripped her. The Walther dropped slightly, and she swiftly flicked the safety on, tucking it back in the shoulder holster as she kicked aside the bodies in her path. "Kirika." She breathed her partner's name without meaning to, strides quick across the stained floor. Kirika flinched at the blonde's first touch to the ropes, shying away before realizing it was a rescue, not an attack. The younger woman was obviously dazed and hurting, muscles across her body wracked with small spasms again and again. She seemed to be drifting in and out. "Mirelle . . . eyes . . . Chloe . . . "

At the time, the rasped words hadn't made much sense. Distantly, she'd felt a flash of dark, confused anger and jealousy as she pulled hard on the stiff knots. The straps came free in a few seconds, and Kirika slumped weakly against her, body limp like Jell-O. Not that it mattered; Mirelle would carry her small partner from this hell in a heartbeat if need be. Still, the disjointed phrase had rankled her while she lifted the Japanese girl's light frame into her arms. Had Kirika really thought Chloe had come back from the dead to save her? She hadn't believed Mirelle would come?

Back in the present, the Corsican's large eyes grew distant and dark with thought, light fingers trailing up and down Kirika's bare shoulder once more. It hadn't been until they were in the car, pushing the speed limit to its thinnest edge with the younger woman nestled safe against her, that she realized what her partner had meant. That was one of the things they had talked about, during those long hours of recovery. The way Kirika's eyes had changed in the heat of their most intense battles, especially during their fight at the Manor. How they'd mimicked Chloe's eyes – so full of blood-drenched darkness, without mercy or emotion – just the way her reactions did. The 'true Noir' eyes, Mirelle had commented sardonically. It was a realization that struck the blonde like a bolt of lightning. Kirika hadn't been saying she saw Chloe's eyes; she'd been trying to tell Mirelle her eyes had changed, just like Chloe's.

Was that why Kirika had been so scared to look at her? Mirelle sighed, sapphire gaze softening as she looked down at that delicate sleeping face. So different, and yet, the features were as intimately familiar as her own reflection. "Mon petit idiot." She whispered, the soft words no more than a warm breath of sound. As though she would ever hurt the younger woman.

You hurt her earlier. You slapped her and made her cry.

Mirelle shook the mental voice away, arms unconsciously tightening around Kirika. She didn't have the energy left to argue with herself. Yeah, I know. I'm a nasty, selfish bitch, I'm a lousy partner that doesn't deserve her. Happy now?

The voice was silent for a moment. Yes, you can be a nasty bitch on occasion, and you've certainly got the selfish part down, but I'm not sure the last part applies as well as you might think.

What the hell are you talking about? Mirelle not-quite buried her face in Kirika's thick dark hair, breathing the scent like a comforter. She knew she shouldn't, she knew it was impulsive and stupid, but she couldn't help it. I almost got her killed!

And you saved her. You'd have ripped the world apart to get her back. How many men did you kill?

I – I don't know. Mirelle hesitated. Something had happened when she was talking with Alexander, something that made her memories strangely hazy. She knew she'd killed him, that she spoken with Breffort and Lisa and that they'd told her where to find Kirika. And she knew that she'd killed every Soldat she'd come across in the manor home. But how she'd done it, the specifics, she couldn't fully remember. Only that they were dead, and at her hand. They hurt her. They –

Were between you and Kirika. The voice prompted helpfully. Which is exactly the point. You may not be able to admit your emotions, but you still feel them, even stronger than usual when you enter that state. You adore Kirika, you lo –

Shut up. The reaction was instant and intense, Mirelle's throat going tight. I don't – that's not what it is.

That couldn't be what it was. A sinking feeling took over the pit of her stomach even as she cradled that lean form tighter to her. That just couldn't be right, could it?

There was a moment of silence, then a mental sigh. If you say so. At least you had the common sense to get her back. Would've been a long night without her, wouldn't it?

Pain in the ass. A yawn slipped out, wide enough to make the blonde's eyes flutter. If she wanted to be honest with herself, Mirelle knew she was nearly as exhausted as Kirika, sans the lingering effects of the drugs. It was only worry about her partner's condition that had kept her awake this long. Now that she knew Kirika was alright, it was all she could do to keep her eyes open.

That's probably why I'm arguing with myself. I'm too tired.

Careful not to disturb the sleeping younger woman, Mirelle shifted the pillows slightly to a more comfortable position, one arm still wrapped around Kirika's shoulders. The next time the smaller girl woke, it wouldn't be alone. Another deep yawn, and the Corsican's eyes slipped shut, tense muscles relaxing completely as she drifted under. Her last conscious thought was of Kirika, that slender frame pressed so gently to her chest. A smile touched her lips, slow and sweet. Sleep tight, Kirika.

I'll protect you, I swear.

Mireyu –

Kirika woke in the deep, soothing darkness that wasn't quite dawn, wondering why her mind had pulled itself back to the land of the living. Judging by the shadows that still blanketed the room, it was a few hours after her nightmare – nowhere near morning yet. Puzzled, she lay still for a few seconds, trying to figure out exactly what had tugged her awake. There were no unexpected noises outside, nothing that would pull her from sleep . . . the bed was nice and warm, and she was so safe and content, though she couldn't remember exactly why . . .

A low, strained sound from behind her brought the Asian assassin's last waking moments roaring back. Mirelle! Mirelle had comforted her from her terrifying nightmares, held her and promised to stay with her while she slept. It was the blonde's elegant hand clutching her shoulder, the quiet whimper and shifting tension that had chased away sleep. Worry jolted through the younger woman like a shot. What was wrong with Mirelle? Why was she crying?

Carefully, Kirika rolled over, her earlier fear of seeing those inhuman eyes overruled by concern for her partner. Mirelle lay just behind her, no more than a few inches away, obviously still asleep and dreaming. The expression on her face was haunting, mesmerizing; eyebrows snapped sharply together, skin pale as fallen snow, full mouth thinned and twisted in a sharp look of terror and pain. Tension radiated from her lithe body, muscles wound so tight she seemed ready to snap. Her free hand was fisted so hard in the sheets the knuckles shone white, and tears glimmered on her lashes like caught diamonds. She was whispering something, voice a husky, almost sobbing sound.

"Kirika, no – don't, please, don't leave me – "

The words hit her unsuspecting partner with the force of a sledgehammer. Stunned, Kirika's body froze motionless, hardly daring to breathe. Mirelle was dreaming about her? Dreaming about her leaving, and it made her this upset? The thought was so shocking, the younger woman wondered for a moment if she was still asleep. Her stomach fluttered oddly, warmth flooding through her veins. Mirelle really cared that much?

Another soft whimper tugged at her heart as the Corsican assassin shuddered, elegant hand slipping from Kirika's shoulder to clutch at empty air. "Kirika?" Her murmur was hoarse, aching. "Kirika, please – "

Kirika didn't dare twitch, sudden instinct keeping her absolutely still instead of waking Mirelle from such obvious horror. The blonde's hand twisted on the mattress between them, searching in vain for some sort of contact with her partner. Outside their skins, the world seemed faint and far away, waiting with bated breath. Which one of them would break first?

Still, Kirika never expected the reaction that came after a few frozen seconds. Mirelle's face seemed to collapse in on itself, all sharp angles and contrasts of shadow and harsh moonlight. An agonized shudder wracked her lean frame, porcelain limbs trembling beneath the thin sheets, tears raining like lost stardust across the pillows. Her throat spasmed with a low, choking cry, wordless, but full of such pure grief it could have shattered stone. "Kirika, no! Kirika!"

The blonde's head fell forward, body curling in on itself, weeping as if her heart were broken. Kirika couldn't take the sight anymore. Lifting Mirelle's tight fist in her own hand, she shifted the last few inches between them, until she could tuck herself firmly once more against the Corsican beauty. One arm slipped around the blonde's waist, the other holding Mirelle's tight to her chest, willing her partner to feel the touch. Eyes burning, she spoke huskily, words breathed against Mirelle's neck. "Shhhh, Mireyu. I'm here, I'm here." Her smaller hand stroked the blonde's clenched fingers over and over, soothing the brittle, anguished tension she found there. Nestled this way, her head fit perfectly beneath Mirelle's chin, and she could feel the tears trickling down through her hair in warm, damp streams. Anguished suffering, made real and physical. It only tore her heart further. "Mirelle, I'm here. I won't ever leave you. I won't."

Mirelle stiffened for a moment, still dreaming, nerves still fraught with fear. Then, with a final convulsive shiver, the blonde assassin melted into Kirika's arms, her pained sobs trailing off to a soft sniffling. Her fist unclenched, shaken fingers interlacing with her partner's and clinging so tightly it almost hurt. Kirika didn't care. Her other hand trailed up and down Mirelle's back, tracing her spine through the thin fabric of the oversized white shirt. Pressing close, head tucked against the Corsican's shoulder, the younger woman found herself murmuring softly in Japanese. Just as Mirelle had earlier. "It's safe, Mireyu. You don't have to be afraid. I'm here with you. I'm here."

With one last, low whimper, the blonde buried her face in Kirika's thick, dark hair, the trembling of her lean body quieting. Her slowed crying stopped, breaths growing deep and even once more as she drifted back into normal sleep. Kirika lay still beside her, arms wrapped gently around her partner, still absently stroking the Corsican's back. Her mind was too full to sleep just yet. Why was Mirelle dreaming about her leaving? Why would she have such a terrible reaction to it? What could terrify her like this?

It was just so strange and confusing. Just like the rest of their relationship, Kirika thought wryly, careful not to disturb the her exhausted partner. Every time she thought she understood what was between them, something happened to throw everything into a mess again. Like this afternoon, when she was absolutely sure that this was it, they were through with each other –

– but Mirelle had saved her, even when she didn't feel like she deserved to be saved. Kirika's throat tightened. Mirelle had come after her, carried her from the death-trap, made certain her wounds were treated and comforted her in her nightmares. It was another of those things that brought more questions than it answered, like the blonde's terrifying dreams. If Mirelle was angry enough to strike her earlier, why had she risked herself to save the young woman only hours later? Mirelle might as well have told Kirika to leave, but the thought frightened her enough to give her full-blown nightmares?

Kirika sighed and curled herself tighter against her partner, shoving the whole thing resolutely from her mind. She knew this day had changed them both – it would take a fool to believe otherwise, and above all, Kirika was no fool. But how it would change them, or if those changes would stay, she had no idea. For now, she was content simply to comfort Mirelle, hold her as she slept and feel the same warm, comforting protection in the blonde's arms.

Unraveling could wait until morning.

Muahahahahaha, buttkicking, angst and fluff! I looooove it! (glee) And the translation for Mirelle's limo comments are as follows:

" . . . pè e . . . donne dui . . . a manu neru se securità." Literally, "Of . . . two maidens . . . black hands keep safe." She's reciting the Noir litany in Corsican.

"scusate tante ûn la sô, ûn capiscu mica." "I'm so sorry, I didn't know, I didn't understand."

"Mon scuru ange." French and Corsican mix here. "Mon ange" is "my angel," "scuru" is Corsican for dark. Thus, "My dark angel."

"Vous êtes les miens . . . je vous protègrai." French here - "You are mine . . . I'll protect you."

"per piacè, per piacè, être bien." Another French / Corsican mix. "per piacè" is "please" in Corsican, "être bien" is "be okay" in French. So "Please, please, be okay."

And, finally, the lovely Noir rote in French: "c'est le nom d'un destin antique. Deux demoiselles qui régissent la mort. La paix nouvellement du soutenu, leurs mains noires se protègent." Literally, "It is the name of an ancient fate. Two maidens who govern death. The peace of the newly born, their black hands protect."

That's it for now - reviews are loved and given many hugs as always.