Gangster's Paradise

Witch-Mistress Animaru

A/N: major change in the plot (for the better, definitely). Read on to the post-AN.

8: Changing everything

A minute into the match and both the toughened agents Eli Hakura and Madison were prepared to put an end to the foolish act. Both winced as the two fighters kept on attacking even though it was obvious that each blow they gave and took were costing them tremendous effort. In fact, it looked like the mere act of remaining standing was causing them every ounce of effort and sheer will and determination.

"C'mon, Sakura, is the prospect of kissing my cousin that bad for you to risk being invalid? Your wound is not completely healed, and we didn't exactly leave the fight yesterday without some bruises," Eriol said, and immediately regretted it when a spike or two nearly got him hit.

"Whose side are you on, anyway?" Sakura replied, hopping away as Syaoran continued attacking.

"Nobody's, seeing as you will both murder each other off if we continue this folly." Eriol said, but the fighting pair did not heed him at all.

Both Syaoran and Sakura were already limping and wincing with every move, but both were determined not to drop out before the other does.

Sakura was running low on ammunition. Her pistol ran out of bullets earlier, and her supply of spikes was thinning out. She had already thrown both daggers, so she surmised she would have to rely on her physical capabilities, which is not exactly promising. Li Syaoran overpowered her physically speaking, and he proved to be at least her match in martial arts abilities in a fair setting.

Loathe as she was to admit, she bit off more than she can chew on this one. Especially since she wasn't exactly in tiptop shape.

Damn it to hell, not that she expected him to stop being a gangster on a mere bet. She knew better than that.

Thus, it all boils down to one thing: she just had to win to avoid kissing that jerk.

However, it seems Sakura, code name Avalon, was out of luck.

Or so she thought as she felt exhaustion creeping up her veins.

Her labored breathing didn't sound good, not at all. If it was any consolation, Li Syaoran sounded like he was also tired, as she was.

Now it was only a question of stamina between two hardened fighters.

Both of them dodged and attacked with equal ferocity, yet both did not want to give up.

Then, by a matter of pure chance, Sakura lost her footing as she perched down the rooftop, and she winced as she landed on her bad leg. She wobbled for a full minute (she was obviously fighting the instinct to fall down) then Syaoran took advantage and kicked her light enough behind the knees to knock her down.

Not giving her the chance to stand up again, Syaoran jumped over her, pinning her down to the ground.

"I won," he gasped out, eyeing Sakura Kinomoto, alias Avalon, with triumph.

"No, you didn't. You cheated."

"I don't remember any rules."

"It was only fair that you let me gain my equilibrium before attacking." She was indeed a sour loser, Syaoran thought with a chuckle.

"You know that we gangsters never lick before our prey. One moment of weakness will cost them their lives."

"You speak bashful words, but you can hardly stand as well."

"Ah…now Avalon's back after sulking for a moment." He stood up with great effort, and offered Sakura his hand. She shook her head and stood up on her own, with difficulty.

Both Eriol and Tomoyo were relieved that the battle was over, but they were apprehensive of Sakura's reaction thereafter. Avalon hated to lose, even though she acknowledges that she's not in tiptop shape to fight. What's more, her pride won't allow her to renege on their little bet.

But she won't take kindly to being kissed by the enemy as well. They were contemplating Sakura's dilemma when said girl stood up and stared haughtily at her adversary.

"So you think you've won," she said coldly, while Syaoran just shrugged it off. "I won, that's clear enough. We didn't set any rules, just that no actual cheating. I just used the incident to my advantage; I never cheated you in any way."

"I don't know…many would say you cheated," Sakura accused hotly, although she's trying to remain calm.

Then Syaoran realized what she was trying to do. He whistled.

"I don't believe this. Avalon is breaking her word."

"Of course I am not. If you won by any other means we won't be having this argument."

But Syaoran was hearing none of it. "No, don't explain. I understand, and it only makes my winning better." Then he laughed. "It's okay, if you don't want to fulfill the terms of our bet."

Sakura looked ready to murder him then and there, but she got her temper on hold just in time and feigned nonchalance. "I do not go back on my word." She said stiffly. "It's not as if one kiss would kill me. Besides," she flashed him an angered glance. "I do not wish to be indebted to an enemy."

"Ah, yes…the old Avalon honor is back, as well. Really, how can I have failed to see that you were her, all along? I mustn't have looked properly."

"Are you going to forfeit or not?"

"Ah…I admit that the idea of the great Avalon indebted to me is a seductive offering," he said suggestively that Sakura fought the urge to blush and flee, so she tried her damnedest to be haughty. After all, Avalon had a reputation to maintain. "But as you said, a deal is a deal. So let's have our wager done, then?"

"Fine," Sakura snapped before limping towards him—not really an arousing sight, but hey, he always wanted to kiss Avalon.

She stopped walking within an inch from him, then, as if knowing he won't be satisfied by a kiss on the cheek, smacked her lips briefly over his. "There, that's our deal done."

"Not quite," Syaoran growled as he reached her hand to stop her from turning away. I won't be cheated. "Is that my only reward for besting Avalon? I don't think so, princess," he said softly before turning her head towards him and capturing her lips in a searing kiss.

Oh, Sakura struggled. Too much pride in her won't allow her to be quelled this way—but Syaoran wouldn't budge.

Then she grew conscious of the warm, slightly moist lips on hers, and how he was coaxing his way in…and she threw all caution and pride to the winds to respond to the mastery of his kiss.

Syaoran didn't know what hit him as he locked lips with Avalon, his supposed enemy. It was all new to him, this feeling of exhilaration while kissing someone…

His tongue delved in her mouth, and they were locked in a fierce embrace that both Eriol and Tomoyo had to look away.

After a full minute or so, however, unable to stand the rather…gross (actually, the word is tantalizing, but both Eriol and Tomoyo would never admit to enjoying it) scene before them, Eriol cleared his throat rather pointedly, breaking the two apart.

For a moment, neither of them spoke. Then, gaining sanity back, Sakura raised herself with dignity and eyed Syaoran with distaste. "That's the deal done, I believe. You can never say I cheated."

Yeah, but you enjoyed it… Syaoran refused to give in to the impulse to say just that, knowing Avalon won't let him get away with it, even if it killed her.

He sighed, refusing to dwell on the emotions she invoked from inside him.

--

Sakura barely talked to the pair as they went back to class. Sakura had placed her eyeglasses back on and was trying her best not to wince and flinch with every step she took.

Thankfully, Syaoran's damages, though severe, were placed strategically to be hidden from sight. All he had to do was put up a triumphant face (not very difficult, seeing as he won anyway), and trying not to show his pain (now that's one of the most difficult thing he must do).

…but most of all, what would test Li Syaoran would be his ability to conceal his newfound knowledge about Kinomoto Sakura. How can he go on bullying her when she's not supposed to fight? How will he bully her, knowing she could kill her with one swift move?

But they must put on a show for the world. They must. So, feigning arrogance and nonchalance, he strode back in a few minutes after the trio entered the room, and basked in his victory even though he just wanted to sleep off the pain all over his body.

"It was too easy to beat you, Kinomoto," he said through clenched teeth as he lied through his skin. As if to remind him of the truth, pain shot out from his left leg, almost causing him to stumble.

Sakura-Avalon did not answer, but her eyes said, "If that was too easy for you, I won't make it so easy next time." He gulped. This woman was not to be reckoned with. How did he ever get away toying with her like the bully he was supposedly? Hell, she was supposed to be the nerd and the weakling! How was he to know…really?

"I couldn't believe I wasted my time on you. It was really pathetic," he chortled, and he felt his lungs respond violently to his attempt to laugh. Damn, did she hit my ribs and damage my lungs or what?

Sakura eyed him with distaste (of course that was what he saw, but everyone saw her trying to plead with Syaoran to stop his jests), before dismissing his presence with an almost unperceivable roll of her eyes.

Wow. She just did that?

Knowing better than to push his luck, he ended that particular episode.

But since then, the Kitoshi had been lenient to the Apocalypse…And the Yukai decided to lie low as well. And the gang activities are nowhere near finished.

…and things began to get out of hand…

--

Some weeks after, Clow's quarters, Kitoshi

"They're taking far too long in their mission, Clow," Kenzo Riyuki noted to their leader as he sat in front of the man. Other agents never saw his face—he was always watching by the window, or leaning to the aquarium behind him, his seat was always turned back, and only top officials knew who Clow Reed really was. But Kenzo was not ranked number one during his years for nothing—he knew the goings-on within the group even as he continues to plan his retirement.

Only a handful of people knew the face behind the electronically-modified voice always instructing them—and he, as well as Daidouji Sonomi and Sawada Tenshi, belong to that handful.

Their protégées were doing well, he supposed, but it was the longest they were unable to finish a mission. Kenzo was growing worried, particularly for Avalon.

"They'll get around it," Clow said softly, and was it his imagination or was Clow's voice, after all these years, has grown tired and battle-worn? Definitely, Clow sounded old. Too old for his post, just as Kenzo was feeling himself. "Let those kids play around for a bit."

"But Clow! Wait…are they hearing us?" Kenzo's voice was cautious.

"No, I do know how to disable those spying devices they set up here. I did so before I called you in. Let's just say this meeting is 'off-the-record,' Kenzo."

"Oh…very well. What were you saying?"

"Kitoshi will soon be left to their hands…my time is nearly up. Let them have a bit of fun before that burden is thrown their way…although I won't allow it, if I can help it. I will never allow them to get those three."

"Then…they are going to replace you?"

"Oh, of that, I am certain. I may have seemed the leader to all of you…but they are the ones pulling the strings. They let me have my freedom on handling things, like my predecessors…but in the end, they always had us replaced."

"Then you will be saying goodbye to your memories soon."

"Yes…that seems to be my fate. Sometimes I question the wisdom of my actions—had I been too blinded by my devotion to my work? I overlooked a number of things…and now it seems too late…"

"You won't even try to fight it?"

"You know what happens to those who fight…" He could feel the anger in Clow's voice. "And soon…" he paused, unsure what to say. "Your…your protégée...as well as Violet's and Sawada's…will be swept away to this whirl of power…I am certain one of them will be chosen as my successor. And I am not certain…I want that to happen…especially to her…I…we brought her to this mess, didn't we, Kenzo?"

"I understand what you mean."

"If I can turn back the clock, I would have never, ever…" Clow sighed tiredly once more. "Can you try to pull her back, Kenzo? I don't want her hurt…"

"You know why she's doing this. You can put an end to this."

"But won't she hate me after? Especially if she finds out…and by then I won't even remember her…"

"It can cost her a lot, Clow," Kenzo said softly. "Like her life…or her life as she knows it now."

"Better alive with no memories than to live and go through with this farce!" Clow's voice dropped to a whisper. "If you fail…then I know what I must do. By no means will I allow Avalon to succeed me. And if it's the only way to stop them…I will do it, even if it means I have to stay a bit longer, and I will undoubtedly be swept away thereafter."

"Clow…"

"You see, I made a stupid mistake. A mistake I don't intend anyone to repeat. If I go down, Kitoshi goes down with me. I know it's how you feel as well, Kenzo…why you decided to retire early in your career, find a protégée instead of being swept away…"

"This is stupid—you cannot waste your life on things you didn't know better about."

"Oh…it is the most sensible thing I will do in this lifetime, Kenzo. After all…Kitoshi is nothing more than a gang, like all the others we have crushed…yet its hidden, evil secrets go beyond those we have encountered…and if you ask me, Kitoshi is the most dangerous of the lot, being disguised as the hunter instead of the savage prey…"

Kenzo knew what Clow was talking about, and by god, how he agreed with this man.

He had to coerce the three to end everything…by making them the enemies of the very agency they swore to work with.

If gang wars were to end, then they must bring the Kitoshi down.

…For their own sakes, as well as Tokyo's.

And Kenzo believed that if anyone could do it, then those three could.

"Rest assured, Clow…I will do everything in my power to carry out your orders."

"They are not orders, Kenzo…you know me well enough to know that those are a desperate man's request…" and he could tell from the voice that Clow was crying silently from his seat.

TBC

A/N: I will explain all terms as the plot progresses, like "swept away," the "secret" and all that stuff. Believe me, this new twist struck me dumb—I liked it too much (I thought, was that really me thinking?), it removed the high school-ish feel of the fic, making it more laudable and well, thrilling, as a gangster fic should be (I think "conspiracy novel" comes close now to Gangster's Paradise. Romance takes a bit of a backseat here, but it'd show up from time to time. At least I removed the cliché from the original plot. Although this twist about the Kitoshi might sound a bit…well, cliché as well, I try to make it otherwise.

I feel like a light bulb has been lit in my brain. I swear I'd do my research on spy and special agent technologies to make all else that follows very realistic.