Tsukiko looked from Saya to Kai and back again, opening her mouth briefly before letting out a groan of frustration and running her hands through her hair. They stood in a stairwell, voices gently echoing off the walls as they sought to meet in a place that wouldn't have much traffic. The roof was too exposed and too available for satellite images.
"We're doing what?!"
She watched Saya take a step back, giving her attention to Kai as if handing the situation over to him. He tightened the odd shape that existed between them, lowering his voice as if it would help make sense of the whole situation.
"We're leaving Red Shield. Tonight. After the concert."
"And shacking up with that Farah Queen?" Tsukiko repeated from earlier.
"She is suspicious about what Red Shield will do if and when they get their hands on the King. She's about as neutral a party as there can be in this situation," he explained.
But the explanation wasn't good enough for her. They'd always worked with Red Shield, being their backup to any number of missions that required her strength and his experience. After all, a Chiropteran was best suited to deal with one. And now they wanted to ditch the organization they'd always known to work for someone they'd just met.
"What does Hoshi have to say about this?" Tsukiko asked.
"She isn't home yet, and this was the only time we could manage before the concert," Saya spoke. "David cannot know about this. He has been a friend for many years, but I do not know how he will react. I doubt he will let us go willingly…"
"The truth is that we have always used Red Shield and they have always used us," Kai interrupted. "But I…we think it is time to take our future back into our own hands. This mission has more than some lives on the line. We're talking the future of all Chiropterans, yourselves included. You aren't all monsters."
Herself, hmm? Her gaze drifted down to her hands, slight calluses from her years of training and fighting. But now, her enemy was changing. Then what did that mean for all the blood she'd shed over the years?
"Listen, Tsukiko," Saya started. "I'm not asking you to fight our fight. I couldn't punish you for your mother's crimes and I won't ask you to bear my sins. However, no matter what happens tonight, Kai and I are leaving. Hoshi is free to decide her own path, as are you. But understand that whatever you decided to do, there will be consequences. It is easy to throw away everything you've known to pursue a new path once everything you once knew has been taken from you. The hardest choices are just that…having a choice."
Tsukiko looked up and saw her aunt coming towards her, taking her hands and holding them tightly.
"I want you to come with us, to fight with us. But I will not be the one to force your hand. I only present you with a choice and ask that if you will not side with us, that at least you will not betray us."
Slowly, Tsukiko felt Saya let go and make her way down the stairs, barely a sound to be heard. The warmth from her grasp was dissipating almost as quickly before Kai turned to follow her. Her heart ached for a moment, watching the two of them together. Kai was family in a way that Saya could never be. He'd raised them, loved them, trained them. But now that Saya had set her feet on a path, Kai was ready to follow without a glance back towards them. No…she knew that wasn't it. Like Saya, he refused to force her hand. He wanted Tsukiko to make up her own mind. Didn't make it hurt any less. For whatever reason, he was choosing to walk with Saya and not with her or her sister.
She leaned against the wall, hearing a door somewhere below her close quietly. She didn't want to have to make a choice. She didn't know if she could live with either consequence. To leave Red Shield would be one step closer to really accepting that she was not human, that she may not belong in this world. That she might be a monster herself. But to continue to follow them might mean fighting those she cherished most in the world.
Tsukiko felt like she was being forced to choose between her humanity and her family, and she did not know which she valued more. Or worse, which was the bigger illusion.
No one had warned her that it would be so agonizing, so painful for him. Hoshi held a towel over his face when he started to scream, tears pouring down her face as she muffled the sound, his body spasming slightly like he was being electrocuted and hoped it would end soon. It couldn't have taken more than a handful of flutters from her own heartbeat.
It felt like hours.
Suddenly, it was quiet. Birdsong finally returned to the area, and Hoshi watched and waited for the rise and fall of his chest. There was still a raspy, gurgle to it, but it was there. Her fingers went to his shirt, ripping it open since it was a lost cause of red, brown and white now anyway. The skin around the entrance wound pulsed once. Twice. Slowly, the bullet that had caused all of this slid from his body and rolled down onto the remains of his top. With that out of the way, the wound closed on its own finally, only a slight marring of his skin to let her know the wound had happened at all.
"Thank heavens," she murmured, sitting back on her heels and pulling her hair back before realizing that there was still blood on her hands.
She was glad that they'd made a habit of bringing their own weapons. There was no real reason to go inside the little storefront of the gun range. With a final glance at Kei, she started to pack up their gear, keeping an ear focused on him to listen for any changes in his breathing. As the last loose piece of bloodied clothing found its way into a duffel bag, Hoshi sat down, frustrated to discover she was slightly out of breath. She sat down next to his body, wondering at just what she'd done and trying not to hate herself for it. Sure, one could say she'd saved him, but at what cost? Hoshi hated that she'd taken the choice from him and found herself rehearsing words of apology in her mind as she finally set her hands to the task of removing the destroyed dress shirt from his body. Forming a claw, she sliced through the fabric easily, not wanting to move him too much until she had to. Those bits went into the bag as well, her eyes falling to the bullet that sat flecked with brown-red on the green grass around them. She picked it up, holding it at eye level and staring at it. Such a small thing, to drastically change their lives. But such was the way of the world. Smaller objects and organisms had wrecked havoc across civilizations. Still…in her world, this little metal ball had affected everything.
He couldn't be the King. But what a price to pay for that knowledge.
She sat for a moment, everything packed and as put away as it could be. The only sign that they had been here would be the blood-soaked ground underneath him, and if anyone bothered looking for the owner of that blood, they'd be looking for corpses, not a living body. Hoshi doubted that Kei was on any radar anyway. He likely existed outside of the system, same as them. Standing up, she slung the duffle bag onto her shoulder, looking down at him and trying to decide if she should just carry him out as well. It was then that he sat up of his own accord, pupils dilated and glowing green for a brief moment before the light died and his gaze focused on her.
Hoshi waited, bracing herself for the questions, the verbal onslaught. She didn't know if he'd remember what had happened, and she had no idea if he could feel the difference and recognize it for what it was. Kei stood slowly, eyes cast down towards his body before he started to squint. His hands moved up and down in front of him, and Hoshi was afraid something was wrong until he reached up and took off his glasses, folding them up and putting them in the pocket of his pants.
"That's better," she heard him mutter to himself, fingers reaching up again to trace lightly over what was his wound.
"Kei," she finally said, unable to wait any longer for him to address her. "I…"
She blinked. That couldn't have been what he actually said. As her mind tried to figure out what he must have said, that slightly sheepish look came over his face as he ran a hand over it.
"Like you needed any more stress," he continued. "I would never want to put you in a position like this, although I'm flattered you thought enough of me to save me… My god, is this what it feels like?"
The duffle bag fell from her shoulder as she laughed, despite herself. This idiot was in full science mode, staring around him with eyes seeing the world in a new light. It didn't take long for the laughter to turn into sobs as complete relief flooded into her. In a blink, Kei was at her side, hands on her shoulders as he peered into her face.
"What's wrong? Did something happen?"
"You happened!" she shouted, hitting him in the chest. "You scared the hell out of me, and I thought you were going to hate me for turning you, but I didn't know what else to do, and I couldn't let you die…"
"And I am grateful, truly. I just…are you sure you're up for this?"
Hoshi blinked, looking up at him. "Up for what? Having a Chevalier?"
"Having me as a Chevalier," he specified.
He did have really pretty eyes, now that the glasses were out of the way. His hands still sat heavy on her shoulders, and for the first time, she felt it. Felt him. There was something instinctively "hers" about him now, and she wasn't sure just how she felt about it. Well, if Saya was any indicator, she had at least a century or two to figure out. Provided the King let them live that long. She had no idea just how this little event would play into his plans…
'"The concert will start soon, won't it?"
His words brought her attention back to the present reality and away from the future possibilities. Looking down at her watch, she managed to make out the time through the dried blood and realized they should've been home about an hour or so ago.
"Yeah, we need to head back," Hoshi said, reaching to get the duffle bag only to realize Kei had already picked it up.
"I wonder if the others will trust me more now," he joked.
How would the others react to this? How would Tsukiko react to this?
"Damn it," she hissed as they made their way off the range. For some reason, she knew that her sister would not be pleased about this. Not at all.
Saya had finally sat down and stopped pacing only because Kei asked her to. Her foot was shaking so hard now that she thought it might just flop off of its own accord. She wondered if she could grow a new one.
Just then, she stood up, knowing something was wrong. No, wrong wasn't the word. Different. She'd grown so used to feeling Tsukiko and Hoshi that their energy was almost a part of her own or like Haji. She could feel it if she focused, but it wasn't something her radar normally picked up. So the fact that she felt Hoshi's energy along with this new source was the only reason she wasn't warning everyone. Her eyes flashed to Tsukiko, who had stood up as well, looking at her for some sort of confirmation.
"What's going on?" David asked as he pushed away from the wall where he was leaning.
"I…I'm not quite sure…" she murmured.
There was only a moment to brace herself for Hoshi's entrance, and her jaw dropped when she saw and realized that Kei was the source. Her fingers clenched into fists as Hoshi closed the door behind them, breathing deeply and looking like she'd been in a fight for her life. Relief and anger fought within her, and only Haji's hand on her shoulder brought reason into the fold.
"Are you ok?" Saya asked, getting that out of the way first and foremost.
Hoshi nodded, and Saya noticed that her niece refused to look her in the eye. To look anyone in the eye. She knew exactly what she'd done, and she wasn't proud of it. Kei sat the duffle bag he was carrying to the side of the door before taking a few steps to come in front of Hoshi. So, it was kicking in already was it?
"Saya…" he started before she held up her hand.
"Hoshi will explain because she is the one who must ultimately take responsibility," Saya said, a little shocked at how cold her voice sounded.
"What's going on?" Kai asked. His eyes shifted from her to the rest of the people in the room before they widened slightly. A very slight nod was all she gave him before waiting for Hoshi.
"I…" the young queen started. She took a deep breath and finally raised her eyes, a hint of tears lining the bottom of them. "I wanted to make my training sessions more challenging, so I told Kei to shoot at me while I was wearing a blindfold. I felt like I needed to train my senses better, especially my hearing. However, I was moving faster than I thought I was, so I ran into him. The gun he had went off and into his chest. He'd punctured a lung from the sound of it. I gave him my blood to save his life."
"You did what?!"
Tsukiko's shrill voice did not go unheard, but Saya refused to acknowledge it. Those two could have it out as they would later. She needed to make sure that Hoshi understood exactly what she'd done. At least she hadn't done it on a whim.
"You understand what this means, Hoshi?" Saya continued.
Hoshi's eyes flicked towards Tsukiko but refocused on Saya. "He will live as long as we will. He can be killed by Tsukiko's blood. And…"
"And I will be compelled to protect her. By any means necessary."
Saya looked at Kei, feeling his energy again and noting how it hinted at Hoshi's, like its own form of DNA. She let out a sigh, the anger disappearing. He seemed fine with the burden, so Hoshi would learn to live with it one way or the other. Turning towards the others, she glanced at them.
"You all understand what this means for our investigation, yes?" Saya asked, her attention eventually settling on David.
"And it's not a trick?"
"We can feel his energy," Haji spoke. "Kei feels as if he belongs to Hoshi. We have never been able to sense the King's energy. Like he was created with some sort of camouflage ability…"
Saya shivered at the thought. It had frustrated her from the moment they'd started to suspect Kei and Sho. If either of them were Chiropterans, then she should have been able to feel them out. That left only two options: neither was the King or the King was even more different than they'd original suspected. Saya knew instinctively that he was close, though. He seemed to be watching their moves, so her deepest fear was that he could hide from them. He could be anywhere and anyone.
Her eyes took in Kei once more, knowing there was a way to truly test him. To make sure this wasn't just another hidden trick of the King.
"Kei, come here."
His eyes shifted, giving off light like a cat's eye in the night. She wondered briefly if her bond with Hoshi gave her any control over Kei. If so, it was weak since he looked to Hoshi for confirmation. Hoshi hugged her arms around herself, nodding as she entered the room completely and sat down at the table, still avoiding eye contract with her twin. Kei moved forward until he stood in front of Saya.
"Tsukiko, give me some of your blood."
Hoshi almost darted from her seat, and Saya waited to see what would happen. The girl tensed, but she did not get up. Saya looked back to the other one. Tsukiko looked afraid for a moment, and for the first time looked like she was concerned about Hoshi. Still, she got up and walked towards Saya enough to hold out her hand. Saya's hand went towards her blade and hesitated. A dark claw came into her line of vision to slice at Tsukiko's palm. Saya started for a moment before recognizing Haji's hand, realizing he'd done what she was wavering at. Holding out her hand, Tsukiko obliged and let her blood drip into the hand before it. As she turned towards Kei, she smelled his blood before seeing that he'd already slit his hand, cupping his blood and waiting for the makeshift vessel. Saya held out the already bloodied hand, watching Kei drip his blood into it.
The change happened almost instantly. She watched it harden before her eyes, turning into what could have been a large ruby. The rest of it flecked off as crystals in her hand as she emptied the now solid contents of her hand, letting the newly formed crystal fall onto the table with a loud thud.
"There should be no doubt now, yes?" she asked. "Kei is completely Hoshi's Chevalier."
David stared at the crystal on the table before nodding harshly.
"Then we go forward assuming that Sho is the King," he said, coming to the table to sit down.
Haji wrapped up his hand, taking up his place at the wall while Saya, Kei and Tsukiko all took their seats, Kei sitting next to Hoshi. With slight amusement, Saya saw how awkward Hoshi sat, eyes darting towards Kei occasionally. She needed to talk to her, and soon…
A smack of papers landed on the table, pulling her attention back to David.
"Julia sent these reports over through encrypted email, and while I'm sure the results are fascinating on a scientific level, one thing was made very clear," David said. "We are to catch the King alive and bring him back to Red Shield."
"May I?" Kei asked, hesitation filling his voice.
David stared at him for a moment before pushing the papers across the table. Kei picked them up and started to glance through them as David continued.
"The mission, as of now, is to go to the concert and take him by force once it has ended. We might have tried a snatch and grab before the concert if we had all been here on time…"
His eyes drifted towards Hoshi before he went on.
"But this should cause less suspicion. Unless he moves first. Subdue him, maim him if necessary, but keep him alive. Understood."
Saya gritted her teeth lightly before standing.
"We need to go prep for battle then," she said. "We'll meet you at the car in 30 minutes."
She had to force herself to slow down before she moved at an unnatural speed. Haji followed close behind, and she knew he could hear her whispers.
"They're going to make him a damn test subject. Keep him in a cage just like Diva. What in the hell are they thinking. Didn't they learn from their mistakes? Any of them?! What the hell is in that report…"
Even if Hoshi didn't come along, she had to get her hands on those documents. She wouldn't be able to make heads or tails of it, but Farah might just be able to do so. Yes, it was a snatch and grab mission. Her hand tightened into a fist as she mentally steeled herself. This fight was not going to be easy.