I belated Merry Christmas to you all! Enjoy!
She remembered at the last moment not to slam the door as hard as she wanted to. For that, Hoshi was eternally grateful since it would only delay her escape from this place, as momentary as it might be. Kei got into the driver's seat, closing the door and eying her out of his peripheral as he started the car. He wanted to ask. She knew he did, but he wouldn't. At least not until she'd calmed down. For that, she was also grateful.
Somehow, she'd managed to avoid Tsukiko for the rest of the night, but there was no getting around it when David called them all to hand out the concert tickets and remind them that they were leaving for the show around 6pm. Then, of course, he'd insisted that they sit down and discuss the plan again over breakfast. So, to spite her sister, she ate a large helping of biscuits and gravy with scrambled eggs and two glasses of juice. All the while, she felt Tsukiko's animosity towards her. That aspect of the whole mess, she could have gotten over. It was the judgment that made it truly burdensome. Every time their eyes met over the pot of coffee, Tsukiko would quickly turn away with a hint of disgust. By the time Hoshi ha decided she was leaving, the hint had evolved into a visual essay.
And for what? For being what she was? It would have been a cause of sorrow if it was anyone else other than her sister. But it was her sister…her own twin, no less, who was so hypocritical that she refused to see that she was the very monster she was hunting. Because it was her sister, it rubbed her the wrong way in so many ways. However…just in case…
"Tsukiko found me drinking blood in our room," she murmured when the car finally halted at a stop light.
The car slipped slightly as his foot pulled off the brake, but Kei regained control and looked at her.
"You were what?" he asked.
For once, she did not mind at all the pure curiosity that sounded off in his voice.
"Instead of treating it as a transfusion, I drank the blood," she explained. "Tsukiko found me and did not approve."
"Why?" he said, accelerating once the light turned green. "I mean…how long have you been doing so? Has it had any significant effects on you that you're aware of? I could run some tests…"
"It's had no effect," Hoshi said. "None physically anyway. Mentally…it's been an interesting experience."
It was hard to explain how she felt. Whole. Comfortable. Like she'd regained something critical to her existence. What she really wanted to do was ask Saya about it all.
"At any rate, that is what is going on. My sister is upset that I've accepted my Chiropteran nature entirely. She hasn't."
"She hasn't?" he echoed. "But, she uses her abilities so well. I mean…she fights on part with Saya at times, from what I've seen."
"I suppose the best way to explain it is that Tsukiko sees her abilities as a tool she can use, not a part of who she is." Hoshi leaned against the car window, feeling herself calm down now that she was talking about it all. "It is the same way with the Chiropterans we fight. They are monsters…creatures she is in no way related to. She is struggling to understand…to believe that the King we are looking for may be just like us. A person with feelings and a future that we could recklessly take away."
"Do you really think so?"
Her eyes shot over to watch Kei as he made the turn down the road that led to the shooting range. It was the tone of his voice. It was no longer detached and indifferent. There had been emotion in that question. A sincere question, and she wasn't sure if it was criticism or confirmation she'd heard.
"I think," she started, choosing her words carefully, "he should be allowed a chance to explain his actions before being condemned to imprisonment or death. He clearly has an agenda, and that agenda clearly involves us. I'd be interested in knowing what it is, if he's willing to share."
"Wouldn't surprise me if he chose death over whatever Red Shield may have planned for him," Kei replied. "For all any of us know, he is a singularly unique individual, and they are going to want to study him like a rare specimen. And with the damage he's done thus far and the fact that he isn't human… I'd probably choose death."
As they pulled into the mostly empty parking lot of the driving range, Hoshi wasn't certain if his words made her more or less certain that he was the King. What she did know is that she wish she could be so certain. Once the weapons were checked out, and her hands started automatically going over the motions of cleaning and adjusting the gun to her personal preferences, Hoshi knew that if Kei was the King…if tonight made that suspicion fact…she'd do what she could to see that he met his preferred end.
She owed him that much at this point.
The band members didn't even get out a hello before they could tell that Tsukiko was in a foul mood. It wasn't until she'd sat down and realized that no one had said anything to her that she knew how much of a killjoy she was being. It made her feel even worse. She stood back up.
"I'm sorry," she murmured. "I'm just not in a very good mood today. I should probably leave. I don't want to put you all in a funk before your concert tonight…"
She looked up and saw Sho dropping his guitar and heading over to her. It wasn't so much the question as it was the feeling in the words that brought the tears to her eyes. Thankfully, she got them under control before she turned into a wet, sobbing mess. She'd spent enough time last night doing that.
"I had a major fight with my sister."
"That bad, huh?"
He pulled up a chair and sat backwards in it, using the back as a headrest so he could lean in and listen to her words. The other band members drifted away, packing up some stuff to take to the site while one or two practiced trickier rifts or other problem parts of songs. Tsukiko was thankful for the bit of privacy they'd been given, so she decided to open up, just a little.
"It was bad enough," she replied. "I mean…I thought I knew who she was. I thought we were like yin and yang. Two parts of a whole, you know?"
"Two?" he asked. "Aren't you guys triplets?"
Tsukiko blinked for a moment, wondering how badly she screwed up.
"Well…I'm a lot closer to one than I have been with the other," she fumbled. She hoped it was enough. Lying was never her area.
"Understandable," Sho replied, nodding. "And it was that one that you had a falling out with?"
"Yeah." It seemed he was going to at least let it slide if not completely buy it.
"Guess you can't tell me details."
Tsukiko looked at him. He was wearing his glasses today. Probably giving his eyes a rest before sitting in contacts all night. His hair was under his baseball cap, and he looked like just a regular guy. She wanted desperately to believe that he wasn't the King. She wanted him to just be another human. But then…could she remain friends with him? As he aged, she would stay the same, and eventually something would have to shift.
How the hell did Saya deal with it?
"Hmm?" she asked before remembering that he'd asked her a question. "Oh…right. Well, I can't tell you the full details, but I'll tell you enough. I caught her doing something she shouldn't have been. She made it sound like it was completely natural…but it isn't. It just isn't. At least not for us. What she did…well, it completely changed the way I saw her. It changed the way I see myself. I'm just not sure what to think about any of it anymore."
Sho looked at her, and then stared at the ground for a bit. She knew that she sounded like a complete idiot. Who knew what he was thinking about or just what Sho thought Hoshi had done.
"And I guess you think she was wrong for what she did?" he asked.
"Yeah…" she started to say. But even agreeing with him felt a little wrong. "At least…I want to think she was wrong. Because if she was right, then it changes everything I thought about her. And what I thought about myself. It changed a lot of things, and I don't think I'm ready for that."
"Change tends to come when we are least ready for it." He sat up, looking at her. "What matters most is how we react to it. We either decide to just go along with the ride, or we decide to take control of things for once. But this is your sister, Tsukiko. No matter what happens between the two of you, she's still your family. Nothing she does will ever change that."
The tears she'd fought back came back, and nothing she could do would stop them this time. They trailed down her cheeks as she wondered how this guy she was supposed to be spying on always made her feel so understood, so welcome…
It made her miss her sister all the more.
Sho patted her on the head, pulled some tissues out of his pocket and gave them to her.
"Chill here as long as you like," he said. "And thanks for confiding in me. I'm glad that I've earned that much of your trust."
She watched him head off, letting her salvage her pride without an audience. And, not for the first time, seriously thought about his offer.
She trusted him that much, so it truly was now or never. If he was going to convince her to come with him willingly, he had to take advantage of the current rift she had with her sister. It was a delicate card tower that he was building, but his hands had been very steady so far. A few cards had fallen here or there, but the structure still stood. She was the last piece before he could move forward and claim his rightful place. After all, for what other purpose had he been created for?
He watched her and steeled his resolve. Bending over, he scratched at the scars near his ankles. Something would be gained for all that he'd suffered.
"During the concert or after?"
"During. It's easy to get lost in the crowd. That is, unless something actually happens…"
"And what then?"
That was a situation that Saya had not yet contemplated, and she reclined in her chair, looking at nothing in particular before looking up at Haji and Kai.
"Still during," she answered slowly, her focus shifting entirely to Haji. "At least, that is what I would prefer."
"If Sho is the King, you want to capture him and take him with us," Haji said, not asked.
Kai looked skeptical, reflecting her own doubts about the situation. However, there were only two other alternatives: let him escape or let Red Shield have him. A dead body was a lot harder to move around than a live one, and he'd be more likely to go with them than he would be to willingly leave with Red Shield.
David was having a conference call with Julia, so the three were taking advantage of the brief privacy to decide on a concrete course of action. The longer they waited, the harder it would be to leave, and Saya had no doubt that David was growing suspicious of her own priorities. All she had to do was wait until the girls were back and break the news to them. A flutter of nerves made its way along the length of her spine as she entertained the possibility that they may not want to come with her. Had she overestimated their loyalty to her. Maybe she should wait. Maybe she should've talked to them sooner. But when…
Haji closed the distance to sit at her side and place his right hand over hers. The weight broke her out of her musings for the moment, and she looked up at him.
"They will come," he said. "They love you and Kai too much to stray far from your side. They won't let whatever has come between them affect their loyalty to you."
Saya nodded, ever thankful for Haji's perceptiveness and tact. Kai could not figure out what had the girls fighting, but she and Haji had both realized it the moment they'd stepped into the room. The scent of blood had been stong. Strong and foreign. At first, she'd been afraid that the twins had drawn blood in their fight, but that fear shifted to something else when she realized just what had happened before she'd entered the room.
Hoshi had been drinking blood instead of taking it in via transfusion, and Tsukiko had caught her doing so. Saya was still unsure how she felt about it all, and she reluctantly admitted that it had everything to do with the fact that Hoshi was the one who had inherited Diva's features. There was a deep-rooted, irrational fear that trouble was inherent in those blue eyes despite having no evidence to support it. However, Saya also admitted that she was struggling not to think of them as girls, but as women who had lived for a full thirty years. They were grown by human standards. They were grown by her own standards. She could not make every decision for them, and if Hoshi had decided to more fully embrace her Chiropteran nature, who was she to judge based on so little information.
It made her unwary. She could admit that. But she would let it all play out. All she could ever do is protect them from danger. She could not protect them from themselves.
"Then, it's decided?" she asked as a way to wrap up the conversation and refocus her own thoughts.
Kai nodded and she got up, digging through her bags for the envelope with the credit card and information she'd been given from Farrah. She looked at it, only then realizing that it was in her name. She really hoped she was doing the right thing. But how was that any different from the first hundred years or so of her life.
The last chord of the song echoed through the room, dying slowly before Sho spoke.
"That's a wrap folk!"
A shout rang out from everyone on in the room, and Tsukiko took that as her cue to grab water bottles from the cooler. She was genuinely excited for tonight, and allowing herself to get lost in the music had pushed back all the thoughts she'd been battling with since yesterday.
"Looks like you're more than ready for tonight," she said as she passed the water out.
Sho wiped the sweat off his face with a towel hanging around his neck as he took the offered bottle, taking a deep chug before gasping for air.
"Oh, we're ready," he smirked. "I've been waiting for this my whole life. This….this will be the beginning of my legacy."
Tsukiko stood, wondering at his words.
"You've always wanted to be a musician?" she asked.
He looked at her for a moment, taking the time to run his hands through his damp hair.
"What I've always wanted," he said, " was to do things on my own time and my own terms."
She felt her admiration grow for him in that moment. To have his drive, his determination…his complete confidence. He seemed to have the things she lacked, and the admiration was tainted with a little envy.
"I wish I could do the same," she murmured. "I'm starting to wonder if I've ever been my own person."
"Some things you have to fight for," Sho said, turning his eyes fully on her. "Even if the whole world is against you."
He dragged one of the folding chair over to sit backwards in it, an arm leaning across the top of it as he leaned to put his bottle of water on the ground, pausing for a moment to scratch at his ankle. Tsukiko glanced at the clock, realizing she had to head back soon and dreaded the thought of leaving.
"How do you decide if the risk is worth the gain?" she asked.
His movements slowed as his eyes dug into her a little more deeply than she was used to, and she fidgeted with her purse.
"When it's a matter of life or death," he replied nonchalantly. "Be it physical, emotional, mental…when you feel like something inside you just might die if you don't do something about it. Life is always worth fighting for. Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise."
Tsukiko felt like she'd never seen him so serious, but that was completely understandable. This concert was a big deal for him, and if it did well…if he could make it in America, then his career could really take off. It was clear why he was the leader. Her feet took a few steps away.
"I need to go get ready for tonight."
"And we should probably shower," he laughed. Just like that, he was back to the playful Sho she'd come to know. Even so, she realized she still knew so little about what he was. But after today and the time she'd spent with him over the past month or so, she thought she knew who he was.
She was surprised just how hard it was for her to leave, even knowing she was returning that night.
"We really should wrap things up."
Hoshi felt the sun keenly on her back, knowing that it was falling low in the sky. She'd worked off most of the anger she'd had when they'd first showed up. The few scrapes and burns she had from today's training had done much to water down her emotions. Kei hadn't brought any of it up after the initial discussion in the car. It had just been the sounds of gunshots and the thrill that she'd learned to embrace as she dodged…well most of them. None had gone through her body just yet, but more than a few had had close calls with her appendages. She still had a lot to work on when it came to being aware of what her limbs were doing at all times.
"Ok," she finally agreed. "After one more game of dodge. I want to try with the blindfold again."
He let out a sigh, but it was more resignation than anything. Reloading his gun, he waited as Hoshi pulled out the thick fabric, tying it around her face and making sure it wasn't too tight. The bulk of her wounds were from their attempt at this same game earlier. They'd stopped because the blindfold fell off, but she had gotten within a few yards of him. She knew she could do it this time as long as the damned thing didn't come off again.
"Ready," she called.
Her lips had just closed from finishing the word when the first shot sounded. She had just enough time to heighten her senses and feel the vibrations in the air coming towards her, dodging to the side. The rustling of grass, the sound of movement, the hushed friction of fabric. He was strafing to the left, moving away from her, so she turned on the speed, keeping lose as she waited for the next shot.
There were two in succession, and she realized that they were coming from two different angles. But which way? A third shot, and she slid to the ground, taking the safe bet that he had not shot low to the ground. She felt a bullet hiss past her ear, burning it lightly as she rolled back onto her feet and kept advancing. He only had two left, and these were always the most dangerous. He was no longer moving, not enough that she could hear. So if she was as aware as she thought…
Hoshi pushed her legs to her limits in a massive burst, hoping to close the gap and take him off guard quick enough to save them both the risk of those last two shots. She lost her footing for a brief moment, tripping over some dip in the landscape, and recovering while changing directions. Left….right… she knew she was close. She could smell him now, hear his breathing.
The next shot was too loud, and she realized too late how close she was to him. Her body collided with his, and she heard the gun fire again. Something cracked. Panic filled her as she heard him hiss, her fingers reaching up and ripping off her blindfold and feeling tears come to her eyes as she smelled it.
Blood was soaking his shirt, and she rolled off of him, kneeling as his side as she took a transformed finger and ripped his shirt off, trying to see where he'd been shot. Panic turned to a darkening despair as she saw where the entry wound was. Too high on his chest to have missed a lung, he let out a cough, and blood splattered his glasses and her face as Hoshi felt her tears fall.
She had to stop the bleeding. But if it was internal, she had to see if there was an exit wound. He was losing too much blood. She had to call the hospital. How far was one…
"I'm so sorry," she started to cry.
It was all her fault. She had to push her limits, even knowing he was only human. Wait…was he? Her panic paused for a moment, and only a moment as she now hoped desperately that Kei was the King.
She felt something brush her face, and it almost bad her freak out until she realized that it was his hand. He was brushing away her tears.
"It was truly an honor…"
His voice was too weak. There was no way he was healing. Or he was a really good actor. But she couldn't…she wouldn't take that risk. It was her fault he was dying in front of her. She'd done this to him, and she couldn't help him.
Only then did she realize that the fifth bullet had pierced through her arm. It had already started to heal. Her heatbeat slowed down before quickening again, a new emotion taking over. She moved closer to his head, noticing how pale he was becoming and that his eyes were losing focus. He tried to look at her, and she tilted his head towards her, looking at him and hoping he was conscious enough to hear her.
"I can't let you die. I can't."
Slicing her wrist open, Hoshi cradled his head and held out her arm towards him. Kei did not so much as look from her face to her wrist as his neck just lost tension, moving his attention from one to the other. He lips parted slightly…just slightly, and Hoshi took it as confirmation. He could hate her later if he wanted to, but this was all she could do for now. She battled with every emotion running through her heart as she reluctantly made her first Chevalier.