Blood was totally serious all of a sudden, looking ready to explain in full. Kate was glad for that, and wondered if he had actually ever used her real name. Her real name. It felt great to be Kate again, to know that she could be herself, at least to this one person.
"Go on," she said quietly. "Tell me while I pack." Blood stared at her quizically.
"You're leaving?" She shook her head.
"I'm coming. If Tom is alive, I'm going to him."
Blood nodded, looking unsure. "If you insist. But I've got to warn you, Tom might be, ah... inaccessable for a time."
Kate stared at him as she turned the knob on her bedroom. She pushed inside, talking as she rooted through drawers.
"Takapa has him."
Kate froze momentarily, took a deep, cleansing breath.
"Oh." She slowly returned to packing, unsure of what to say. Blood saved her from having to speak.
"We're organizing a team to break into Takapa's main den and get him. That's why I came." Kate nodded, partially focused on deciding whether to take her old iPod. On a whim she stuffed it in under her jeans, just in case.
Blood was silent for a moment, and then began to list off names. "Let's see... we've got Jasmine and Sunday so far, and I'm working on getting Stacy to join in. She's actually not bad with a knife."
Kate stopped moving once again, feeling as if her world was falling apart all over again.
"Jasmine and Sunday?!"
She fumed silently, wishing her anger away. Why those two?
Blood answered her unspoken question. "They volunteered, and they've both been helpful in the past."
Kate shook her head furiously and threw the rest of her clothes into her bag angrily.
"Whatever. As long as they're not our only recruits." Blood was silent as Kate boiled over, grunting as she considered meeting those two again. Sunday had never been a big problem, but Jasmine?!
What was Blood thinking? Not only was she the bitchiest girl Kate had ever met, she hardly even knew Tom!
Kate grabbed her keys from the kitchen table and stormed towards the front door with Blood in tow. She glanced back over her shoulder and glared at him.
"Come on." He smirked and sped up to match her pace, thinking of how much money he could rake in on the bets over who would win the catfight that was sure to follow. It would be two against one, most likely, or one on one, seeing as Sunday generally stayed out of other people's business.
However, Jasmine had sort of adopted her as a student, in the art of who-knows-what. They were friends now, something nobody had really expected.
Blood grinned behind Kate's back, feeling devious. This was going to be fun.
Kate slung her bag over shoulder as she shot out of Blood's plush car. Tension had been rising ever since they had climbed into his brand new Porsche, and Kate could hardly sit still any longer.
She began walking towards the clinic that Blood had described on the way there, excited over something that could easily let her down. She hurried towards the little building with Blood close behind, locking his car up with a little remote.
He let Kate lead, afraid that she would trample him if he got in her way. She burst through the door and glanced around. The place was unfamiliar, but the face looking at her from a waiting chair in the corner brought back memories.
Stacy Stein had barely aged. Her shining copper hair was still cut sharply around her face, her intelligent eyes still pierced Kate straight through.
"Stacy!" Kate ran towards her friend and enveloped her in a warm hug.
"Kate! I seriously didn't think Adam would be able to convince you!"
Kate laughed and shook her head. "You should have more faith in him, Stacy. To tell the truth, all he had to do was tell me Tom was alive."
They broke away suddenly, friendly reunion cut short with mention of his name. Kate felt herself slipping into slight deppression all over again.
"I'm sorry," Stacy said quietly.
Kate forced a smile. "It's okay. I'm just a bit... unstable." Stacy nodded and looked at her hair questioningly.
"Blonde?" Kat shrugged and gave a true smile, glancing down at herself. "It's good to see a little meat on your bones."
They fell silent once again, and Kate suddenly hated herself for running away, letting herself go like this. She could have fought harder, but... she'd thought he was dead, and that was too much to come back from.
"We'll get him back, Kate."
Kate sat absolutely still as she sat in reverence, towards everything that had happened. Blood sat down heavily beside Stacy. He put an arm around her and they exchanged a wierd glance.
"What?" asked Kate apphrehensively. Blood looked at her with an unreadable expression, and it looked like he was about to say something when Jasmine swept into the room. Kate's head snapped around to look at her as she walked towards them, stopping when she saw that Kate was sitting with Adam and Stacy.
"Kate?" her full voice sounded amazed and slightly angered. Kate frowned.
"Yeah." Jasmine stared at her and then smiled mysteriously, her pretty face lighting up.
"Shit. You came!"
Kate tried to smile back but failed. "Mm-hmm."
Jasmine was strangely casual as she took the chair beside Kate.
"Guess we got us a full rescue team now, eh?" Kate looked sharply at Blood and he shrugged.
"You'll manage." Kate snorted and glared at Jasmine.
"So...." she trailed off, wanting to say something to Jasmine that she thought might unnerve Stacy and Blood. They caught the hint and rose together, leaving through the same door that Jasmine had entered through. Once they were alone, Jasmine got the first word in.
"It's been a year, girl."
Kate glared at her with hatred at the name. Jasmine continued, though.
"Took you long enough." Kate gaped at her and Jasmine snorted in annoyance. "You been takin' it easy while we been gettin' your Tommy back."
Rage was rising in Kate's throat and she fought to keep her voice down.
"Taking it easy? Are you kidding, or has your grungy little brain finally run out of juice? You think I've been on some sort of vacation?! I thought he was dead!" Be the time Kate finished, she was almost screaming at Jasmine, her face a terrifying red. Jasmine looked at her coolly and replied, "You ain't got no smarter, either."
Kate lunged at Jasmine, fighting to get a hit in as she strong girl grabbed her wrists and forced her back. "Back off."
Kate clenched her fists at her sides and ground her teeth together, but before she could fully get a hold of her anger, she blurted out, "Why didn't you just stay in that shithole of an apartment?"
Jasmine's pouty lips had barely opened into an O before her dark eyes narrowed and her face twisted into a snarl. "You wanna know why I came? 'Cause I just got kicked out o' that fuckin' apartment, and Stacy gave me a place to stay. Because I care about Tom, and I've actually done somethin' to help him. And what've you done, eh, white girl? Just sat around and looked pretty, that's what. Skinny little bitch!"
Jasmine's dark complexion was turning a dangerous burgundy as she shrieked at the top of her lungs in Kate's face. Kate shrank back slightly as her mouth hung open even wider at Jasmine's words.
"I saw that bullet go into his chest. I thought he was dead! You think I would've stayed away if I'd known? I was just trying to stay alive!" Her last word hung in the air as Jasmine regained her composure remarkably fast and scowled at Kate with disdain.
"Whatever." She got up and turned her back to Kate, walking out on Kate rudely and ending their conversation abruptly. Surprisingly, Kate didn't feel wetness in her eyes. She was numb. She barely noticed the girl that crept into the room like a scared animal, looking warily at Kate. She was about Kate's age, maybe a bit younger, but shorter and more stocky, but not in an unflattering way. She was shapely with beautiful blonde hair and big, innocent eyes. Kate sniffled as she sat down beside her where Jasmine had just been.
"Hey, Kate." At this Kate met her gaze fully and stared. She couldn't summon words for a long moment, then she managed to say quietly, "Hey, Sun-day."
She was almost singing as she did so, though her face had somehow managed to coat itself with tears. Sunday put her arm around Kate's shoulders tentatively, rubbing her arm in comfort.
"Don't let Jasmine throw you off," she advised. "She's just nervous. And besides, you're on a team right? Maybe it's time to put your differences aside." Kate nodded solemnly, feeling like a total bitch for not even hugging Sunday or asking her about her life. She was just sitting there being useless, soaking up kindness like a stupid old sponge.
"Sorry I'm such a wimp," she said with a laugh. "I've just been sort of emotional lately."
"I can understand that," Sunday told her. "It must be kind of a shock, after thinking Tom was, you know...."
She squeezed Kate's shoulder and looked into her deep eyes, wondering exactly what Kate had been up to. Her new hair colour and slightly altered shape had put Sunday off at first, but now she saw the same Kate that had taken her in when Tom had brought her back to that lush apartment. It had been bearly a year, after all; what had really changed? Well, that sweet boy had been shot and captured, Kate had gone into hiding, and Sunday had been training to fight with people like Adam Blood and Stacy Stein. Their world had fallen apart, basically.
Sunday sighed and took her arm back, gesturing towards another door just beside them. "There's cots in there. You better get some sleep."
Kate nodded and smiled widely, somehow glad that this girl she had barly known was taking care of her. She rose and walked to the door, pushing it open to reveal three little beds that were no doubt stiff as boards. "See ya," she said cheerily to Sunday, who left quickly as if just remembering something important she had to do.
Kate drifted in and shut the door behind her, crashing on the closest cot to the door. She laid her tall form out on the thin mattress, adjusting until her feet no longer hung off the end. In seconds, Kate's mind had drifted away and sleep crept over her.
Kate woke to Stacy's face looking down on her irritatedly. "Boy," said her cloudy voice. "You sleep like a brick."
"Thanks," answered Kate, swinging her legs off of the bed. A wave of naseous washed over her and she steadied herself for a moment before hopping onto the ground again. Stacy held her up while blood rushed back into her body and Kate asked sleepily, "What time is it?"
"Time to go," replied Stacy cryptically. "We've let you sleep for hours. We've got to get to Takapa's base."
Kate shook her head in bewilderment, eyes wide. "You mean we're going now? We're not gonna wait or anything?"
Stacy shook her head and stared confusedly at Kate. "Why would we?"
She opened the door for the sleepy teenager as she lumbered into the main lobby. Waiting for her were Blood, Sunday and Jasmine. She refused to meet Jasmine's eyes and stood defiantly before them, shrugging off Stacy's attempts to help her.
"I'm fine," she insisted. "Let's go."
At this Blood gave an exasperated snort. "Finally. You, Trolly, could sleep through a herd of stampeding elephants."
Kate blushed and shrugged modestly, wishing that the attention could be diverted from her already. Jasmine took care of that for her.
"Yeah, well, girls like Kate need their beauty sleep."
The blush on Kate's cheeks rose again and reddened further. She glared at Jasmine's smirking face and turned to Blood.
"Can we just go already?" He smiled and gestured towards the front door.
"Lady's first." Everyone in the room but him went to the door with an annoyed expression, filing out and onto the steps. Sunday was the only one that seemed unbothered by the obvious tension. She wasn't sporting a sour expression or a rigid posture like the others, yet Kate knew she was smart enough to sense what was going on. Kate retreated into her own brooding world and ignored Sunday's futile attempts to lighten her mood. She was determined to outdo Jasmine.
However, they somehow were forced into sitting side by side in the large van that they were all piling into moments later. Kate scowled and Jasmine turned her head away, though it was pointless to look out the window, which was covered with black paint like all the other ones. Only the windshield offered a view of the dingy neighborhood they were cruising through, heading towards Takapa's lair.
When Kate expressed doubt that Takapa would set up in such a filthy place, Blood mentioned that their enemy had been forced to downgrade his movement. "Also," Blood added, "this is just a kind of prison for people that Takapa needs for experiments and such. He values them only enough to keep them alive, not treat them like human beings. Well, not human..."
He trailed off and shrugged, and Kate watched him for a moment before turning her attention back to the street. As they puttered along, houses shrank and became more beaten in. More and more stooping figures littered the sidewalks and trashcans began to show evidence of neglect. Kate spotted a boy on the sidewalk, probably about sixteen, with a gun handle sticking out of his waistband. She half expected him to pull it out and begin shooting, but he just glanced around suspiciously and shifted his jacket to conceal the weapon.
They passed him, leaving behind the most respectable person in the entire neighborhood. Kate grimaced as they pulled to a stop in front of what looked like a tiny shack sunken into the concrete. Blood took the keys out of the ignition and began digging in a garbage back he had hauled in with him. He pulled out a large amount of black clothing and began passing it around, holding them out in front of him one by one to check the size. Finally, he gave the smallest stuff to Kate and told them to suit up.
Stacy grabbed her clothes and immediateay began pulling them on over her outfit. Kate copied her, glad that she had cut her hair as she slipped on a ski mask without having to tuck in her locks. She wriggled into a baggy black sweater, pulling at the hood to obscure her face. After she covered her jeans with a pair of sweats, she looked expectantly at Blood, hoping for a weapon.
He smiled and opened the glove compartment, rifling through the mess to pull out four shiny black things. He passed each girl one of the round black objects and began talking even as he reached under the seat to pull out several different types of shotguns and tranquilizer guns, and one revolver that Kate looked at warily. He handed a small, black gun to Kate and gave it's twin to Sunday. Then he handed the revolver to Jasmine. Kate scowled as he passed it off to her without the uncertain expression he had worn while giving Kate her gun. Blood nodded and Jasmine and said, "Just like you wanted, sweetheart."
He grinned at Jasmine's grimace as he called her that totally inapliccable nickname. Kate fought the pout that was straining towards her, setting her face into a blank slate. Blood glanced at her, and suddenly his ever-present grin was replaced by a serious frown. "This has to go well, Kate, or we don't get him back. Ever."
Kate swallowed and nodded, realized that he had actually called her Kate. Again. This was serious.
Jasmine was looking at them, seeming totally bored out of her mind. Finally, she said, "Let's do this shit."
Kate followed her as she climbed out of the van, looking around warily before uncomfortably readjusting her grip on the gun, wondering if she still had the drive to actually hurt someone. Then the image of Tom's blood-soaked body lying motionless before her flashed across her vision and she set her mind. Holding the weapon firmly, Kate walked up beside Jasmine and gave her a curt nod, which she returned. They both understood now that this wasn't the time or place for bickering; it was a rescue mission, and fighting within the team could crash the whole thing.
The two started forwards side by side, with Sunday and Stacy just behind them. As they began to descend the steps down to the door, her resolve managed to hold.
Kate stepped back as Jasmine held out a hand, signalling for her to stop. The short girl crept right up to the door, placing her ear lightly against it. For several moments she was still, then she blinked slowly and withdrew from the door, beckoning frantically at the rest of the team. Kate shot forward and looked expectantly at Jasmine, who whispered, "It's unlocked. Let's hurry."
Stacy drew in with them as Sunday looked back to the street in case they'd been spotted, but the place was still deserted. She sprinted up just as Kate said suspiciously, "Takapa can't be stupid enough to leave his back door unlocked."
"He doesn't know that this one exists," Jasmine replied, and turned the knob. She pulled the door open only a few inches and slipped through, leaving Kate to follow. She did so, realizing as she passed through the crack easily that maybe she hadn't gained as much weight as she'd thought. Stacy followed, and Sunday slipped inside right behind her, shutting the door hastily.
Kate blinked. Had they just broken into Takapa's lair? Jasmine saw her expression and chuckled lightly.
"We're not in yet," she told Kate quietly. Kate looked around at their surroundings and saw that they had entered into an even dingier area than the abandoned street after all. They were in a narrow hallway that seemed impossibly long, it's borders covered by clusters of trash, bagged or not. The reek was unbearable, filling Kate's brain until fresh air seemed like a heavenly priviledge.
There were flickering florescent lights every few metres, but their bulbs were failing and all in all the place might as well have been totally unlit. Darkness was pressing in nearly as hard as the stench, until the very walls seemed to be closing in on the group. The walls, which must have been white at some time, but now they had been stained various sickly shades of yellow and green, broken occasionally by cracks in the ancient plaster.
It took plenty of will not to spin around and bolt out of the door, but Kate had realized that this must be a cover for whatever Takapa's lab really looked like. That meant that sooner or later, this disgusting charade would give way to pristine linoleum and sparkling observation windows.
With that in mind, Kate began stepping lightly forward, bringing herself to the head of the group as everyone else reluctantly followed. Jasmine adjusted the fastest, and despite Kate's temporary spell of forgiveness to the cocky girl, she thought bitterly, Can't be much different from wherever she grew up.
She mentally scolded herself for it and moved twice as fast, picking her way through spots of mould and plastic. Silence fell among them as they made gradual progress down the endless hallway, and obviously it was due to the fact that they came closer and closer to their worst enemy with every step. Of course, it was unlikely that Takapa was actually waiting for them, or even thinking about the chances of invasion. He would surely be unprepared, which was the one thing they were counting on. That fact was solidified as Kate recognized a door breaking the blotchy watercolours of the wall on her right, which was old enough that it looked as if it was about to fall apart.
She halted in front of it and peered curiously at the rotting wood, which didn't appear to be reenforced. She allowed herself a questioning glance back at Jasmine, who nodded hopefully. Kate understood that they didn't know for sure whether this back door would have been noticed by the time they got to it.
Hesitantly, Kate reached forwards and wrapped her fingers around the oval shaped knob that had rusted beyond repair. It turned without sticking as she gently rotated her wrist, holding her breath as it came to a stop. She jiggled it a tiny bit to make sure that it was actually ready to open, then she closed her eyes and pushed.
The door swung inwards with an ear-splitting creak, and Kate winced, half wishing she could pull it shut again and walk away. Instead, she let it go, standing tensely as it settled against the wall. A breath found it's way out of her tight lungs as it stilled.
Then, a shattering crack as the door's hinges gave way, letting the rotted wood fall from it's ancient housing and onto the concrete floor. Kate couldn't retrain a gasp at the mind-filling sound, and she took half a step back as it splintered into a thousand pieces. The crash resounded for several seconds after, the only noise other than her wildly beating heart.
Almost warily, Kate took her gaze from the broken door and looked inside.