My hope is on fire
My dreams are for sale
She shifted uncomfortably, rolling over on her back, her body strangely contorting as if fighting against an invisible enemy, the blanket dangling precariously off one side of the bed as sweat began to form above her eye brows.
Smoke surrounded her, prickling at the corner of her eyes, but even without her vision she could feel a sticky substance trickling down the side of her head.
I dance on a wire
I don't want to fail her
Sounds of a fierce battle that she could not see assaulted her senses as she forced herself to her feet and broke into a wild run across the bloodied ground, careful even in her hurry not to trample over any of the fallen, praying that all hopes were not lost as she heeded her heart's call, following a telepathic connection that directed her to people who needed her the most.
I walk against the stream
Far from what I believe in
She gripped the corner of her pillow in an attempt to determine her surroundings. No, this doesn't make sense... here was her bedroom...
The pull of something unpredictable interrupted her line of reasoning, and she felt herself falling deeper into the pit of the unknown, walking along the fading corridor of nightmare lane.
Emanating from a dark corner behind her was a shrill laugh, devoid of humour and any trace of humanity, and instinctively, she turned on her heels, ready to face the henchman – or rather, henchwoman – of unspeakable evil, her mind suddenly clear and tranquil, prepared and assured with an experienced warrior's lifetime of knowledge.
Red eyes bore into her with malicious curiosity, and the caricature that once was a honest soul howled with laughter again before it spoke, its voice sending chills down her spine, invading her mind with images of corpses, hopeless cries and flashes of blood spewing on the ground, threatening to sever her telepathic link, her only connection to hope and the prevailing of good over evil.
_Why don't you admit it, little brave one? The person you've spent all your life protecting no longer requires anyone's protection... As safe as dead can be.
Terror shot through her at that very moment as she recognized the telepathic bond fading away, but she shook her head and thrust her hands forward in a surprise attack, denying to her rational mind the very conclusion it had been forming as soon as the creature opened its mouth.
I run towards the end
Trying not to give in
Before she could complete her spell, the creature vanished into a tornado of smoke that blinded her yet again, and it did not take long for the wounded warrior to realize that was merely an apparition, a decoy to delay her from reaching the ones who needed her the most.
Cursing in a manner very unlike the usual her, she again took off in a run, focusing all her mental strength on maintaining the telepathic bond that faltered and wavered faster than the speed at which her physical body could take her to the designated location.
She could feel her body threatening to collapse, her limping legs threatening to give way, but still she persisted.
She had to find her.
She's lost in the darkness
I'm still around here
Screaming her name
She stopped dead in her track as the fires of hell burned skyhigh before her eyes, forming a deadly wall of defense, shielding the force of unspeakable evil within from her futile attacks, hiding from her the one person she was seeking, and as she stood in defeat, her hands hung limply at her side, she realized with horror that the hellfire was feeding off the blood dripping from her various wounds. The heat grew more intense as she once again called upon her planetary power, intended to at least decrease the inadvertent supply of power for the enemies, if her strength was no longer under her command.
A faint cry permeated the air, and her whole body shook uncontrollably as she took in the sound, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the fading telepathic bond. It could not be!
She's haunting my dreamworld
Trying to survive
Sensing movement behind her back, she whipped around sharply, only for the battlefield to fade before her eyes, and within the blink of an eye, she found herself surrounded in a thick twirl of silver mist.
Something was burning on her forehead, and she reached up with blood dripping from the tips of her fingers only to rip her hand away in alarm, as a bright beam began to emanate from and spread on her skin, amidst the burning sensation.
A haunting melody began to fill the air, and even as she recognized the tune, she could not make out the words. And even as she could not understand the lyrics, the song itself called to her, awakening in her senses a strange pull, allowing her blind eyes to see, for the first time, a fading figure separated from her by the mist.
_Please... you must find her.
She found herself frozen on the spot, unable to speak as the figure's message danced around her. The melody began to seep through her torn clothing like some sort of liquid, and to her surprise, she found that where it could reach her cut-open skin, a cooling sensation began to spread from the contact point, sealing away the blood.
My heart is frozen
I'm losing my mind
She twisted and turned on her bed, hands began flailing wildly to situate herself somewhere... anywhere, as long as she could be away from the scene of death and destruction, of lost and never found.
She was a scientist...
_Please... find her before it's too late.
... and a scientist needed facts to work with...
She struggled to voice her question, but found she could not escape the silence spell.
... not dreams...
_... before it's too late...
Mina shot up from her bed, and before rationality could return to her mind, her feet already carried her to the door, which she opened, and followed a higher calling she had yet to understand down the corridor.
Help me, I'm buried alive
She was still groggy as she snapped open the blue door, heading straight for the bed Ami was thrashing about on, and proceeded to shake the latter awake from the dream that had been tormenting her, despite being half-asleep herself.
The bluenette's eyes shot open, and she instinctively reached for the box of tissue on her night stand to wipe away the sweat that had broken out all over her forehead.
She gasped as she saw the blonde sitting on her bedside.
The sound of her name jolted the blonde awake, and she stared at the bluenette open-mouthed, not sure what to make of the situation.
It was Ami who broke the awkward silence.
_How did you end up here?
_I'm not sure myself – Mina fidgeted uncomfortably. I just... kind of woke up and before I knew it, I was here shaking you awake from whatever it was that was bugging you in your sleep.
_Thanks, Mina – the bluenette offered her a small smile, patting her friend's hand. I'm okay now... I think. It was just a weird dream.
Or was it?
Something prickled at her subconscious.
_What time is it... – Ami reached for her bedside clock, still yawning. Moments ater, she hastily jumped off the bed, the force of her sudden movement made the blonde bounce slightly towards the pillows.
_It's 7 am! And the visiting scholar arrives at 9! Oh boy, why didn't my alarm go off today?
Mina laughed at the rare sight of the team genius being in a hurry.
_Can I just resume my nap here, Ami-chan? I'm too tired to walk back to my room.
_Sure you are, - the bluenette smiled sarcastically, but waved her approval to the blonde, who promptly leaned into the messy blanket and fell asleep as if she had never awoken.
Ami pushed the burning question, the only remnant of her strange dream – dream? But it all felt so vivid, so real, as if she had been running to that unknown destination on the bloodied battlefield - to the back of her mind as she prepared to leave for the laboratory.
Still, she could not ignore another, newly emerged question that had bothered her ever since the blonde shook her awake.
She was not screaming. Not very loudly, at least.
And certainly not loudly enough to bypass the mildly soundproof barrier of her room, one she had erected out of courtesy for her friends and flatmates, for the bluenette was a workaholic that often brought her experiments home, and sometimes the chemicals did not agree with one another enough to prevent reactions and noises that outsiders would consider alarming.
Then, why was Mina the only one that came to her aid, while her room was at the other end of the hall?
Ami pushed that question to the back of her mind too as she slung the messenger bag over her shoulder and closed the door behind. She was a scientist, a scientist running behind schedule, and anyway, a scientist needed facts to work with.
Not dreams. And especially not strange demands from an unknown figure for her to find Venus, while the blonde was already sleeping soundly behind the blue door, taking advantage of the lingering warmth in the blue-haired genius' bed.
The excitement yesterday must have followed into my sleep, the bluenette resigned herself to a half-hearted conclusion as she tiptoed toward the main door.
Exiting the complex and heading for the subway station, Ami wondered for the first time after she was inducted into the team, why Luna-san had assigned the five of them such peculiar code names, and why it had seemed so right to her at the time, to accept it without question.
As she progressed down the escalator, catching the train in the nick of time, she made a mental note to do some background research on their planetary namesakes.
Plopping down on an empty seat, she reached within her bag for the folder on the visiting scholar, only to freeze and almost upturned all its contents in her shock.
In her hurry to catch the subway, she had forgotten the folder.
And having been tired out by last night's events, her usually genius brain could only come up with a few mismatched details.
First, the visiting scholar was male, and would be collaborating closely with her on a molecular experiment she had received funding for during the previous month. It was almost a godsend, when words from the international council on molecular research and cancer prevention arrived that they would be working together. In fact, she was pretty sure it was his presence on the team that allowed the funding application to go through so smoothly.
Secondly, he was a Greek citizen, but had lived in the States for quite a time, quickly rising in the academic community as a star prodigy, earning the respect of colleagues many years his senior with his daring ideas and humble diligence.
Thirdly, she wasn't sure how to write the welcoming banner now that all she remembered about his full name was the initials, ZZ.
It wasn't entirely her fault, though. The scholar had a habit of signing only his initials and affiliated institution on his published papers, rather than his full name as was the norm in the community. Hardly anyone faulted him for it – on the other hand, they just chalked it up to an eccentricity they so often found in geniuses. He also had a habit of avoiding conferences, preferring to communicate via emails and, well, drafts or published papers.
Kind of like the Angels' Charlie, she thought to herself, amused as she recalled the TV shows – or was it a movie? – that Mina was so fond of.
But back to her current dilemma: she couldn't just write "Welcome ZZ" on the banner that was to be draped across the lab door.
For one thing, that phrase was too short, if compared to the banner she had bought.
The blond man looked at the building in wonder. It was far grander than he had expected, and being the humble man he was, he was not quite sure if he would fit in with the community. Despite being a well-known scientist, he certainly hadn't expected the royal treatment, and here it seemed he was close to being treated like a king.
Maybe I'm overthinking it, he consoled himself. Maybe they're just co-renting a facility and the other tenant's name is on the other side.
Resigning himself to his not-very-convincing conclusion, the blond man elected to take a walk around the building and toward the nearby park that he had caught a glimpse of on his way there.
After all, he got there way too early, probably thanks to a certain flatmate. His bedside clock had screeched in his ears, indicating he was half an hour late to the reception, causing him to dash to the subway station as fast as his tired legs would carry him while others were still blissfully sleeping.
And it was only when he was aboard that he checked his watch.
He was two hours early.
Stretching his shoulders and grumbling to himself about missed sleep and paybacks, the blond man headed for the other side of the facility.
A while after, back at the apartment building.
The insistent sound of a wooden ladle knocking in distance was the first thing the blonde could hear as she groggily dug herself out of the warm blanket.
She froze as her feet touched the ground, eyes widened. This isn't my room!
A quick glance at the lab coat in the corner relaxed her, as she realized the familiar blue colour of the wall, and her sleepy mind began to gather the reason she was where she was.
Then a delicious smell reached her nostrils, and Makoto's call from down the hall broke through the fog in her mind as she realized it was indeed way past time for breakfast.
Holding a hand to her grumbling stomach, she popped open the door and poked her head out.
_Coming, - her answer was cut short by a yawn.
The brunette turned, casting her a surprised glance.
_What are you doing in Ami's room?
_Catching up on sleep, - the blonde couldn't help another yawn as she walked toward her teammate and friend. I had the strangest feeling last night that Ami was in trouble...
Makoto asked sharply, and Mina smiled at the familiar mother hen reaction.
_Not quite. She was having a bad dream of some sort, and for some reason it woke me, and next thing I know, I was shaking her awake. Then she left for that reception and I was too tired to walk back.
The brunette grinned as her blonde friend yawned a third time.
_You mispronounced "lazy", Mina.
Mina stuck her tongue out at the taller woman, whose brows suddenly furrowed as she realized something was off with the story.
_Wait, do you mean you heard her in her nightmare?
_No, - the blonde shook her head – I don't think she was screaming, at least not when I got there, or you would've come barging in as soon as I walked in and left the door open. I mean, your room is next to hers.
The brunette shook her head.
_I didn't hear anything. I know Ami sound-proofed the room, but she promised us it was not too thick, in case someone attempted forced entry.
_Yeah, I don't think that was it, - Mina looked puzzled as she pulled out a chair.
She remains lost in thought until a plate of scrambled eggs and sautéed vegetables were laid down in front of her, and the blonde inhaled that heavenly scent she had missed so much during her time in undercover.
_Thought you might want something other than miso soup, - Makoto grinned.
Mina smiled her thanks and picked up the fork, but not without a remark to the brunette's turned back:
_You ever feel like you just have to be somewhere, Mako? I don't know how to explain it, but that strange pull woke me up and dragged me to Ami before I could comprehend what was going on.
_Must be one hell of a pull, - the remark rang out from the kitchen – to be able to wake you after all the running around you did last night.
_Hey! – Mina protested indignantly, but her voice was drowned out by another's squeal:
_HEY! You meanies didn't call me to breakfast?!
Makoto poked her head out of the kitchen:
_We haven't even started.
Mina smiled to herself as the usual banter commenced near the kitchen entrance.
She hadn't realized how much she missed Usagi and the others until she sat down at the dining table, with Makoto assuming the role of cooking as usual and the blonde leader bugging them for snacks.
Indeed, she was home.
At the lab.
The bluenette breathed a sigh of relief as the last banner was hung up near the building entrance. It was only fifteen to nine, and she had scrambled to get all the decorations in order, including settling on a welcoming phrase she deemed satisfactory.
She turned, ready for a cup of coffee in the break room as she suddenly felt a tug on her sleeve.
Ami turned around, the smile on her lips dying as soon as she recognized the familiar figure.
_Urawa-san, - she greeted calmly, her eyes colder than the man had ever seen before.
_I'd prefer you refer to me by my last name, if you don't mind, - she cut in, which was rather rude of her, but after what he had done, she felt the slip in courtesy was justified.
_Let's not do this, Ami – he pleaded with her as she broke into a slow stride.
_I'd prefer not to discuss my private affairs at the workplace, thank you, - she remarked in a detached voice, not even sparing him a second glance as she increased her speed.
Patience running thin, Urawa grabbed her arm as soon as they walked by a side door, and dragged her out to what, she discovered while trying to regain her balance, turned out to be the parking lot adjacent to the facility entrance.
_Let me go!
She snatched back her arm, and Urawa found himself cowering under the cold fury that emitted from her, a cold fury that for some reason, cast shiver down his spine, as if a wind gust just howled nearby.
_Listen to me!
_What is there to listen to? – she looked at him, determined to not show any emotion.
He had abused her trust, and it was her policy to not shed tears in front of those of that ilk, for she considered emotions were a weak point that one should never expose in front of those who had hurt her.
_She was just a temp fling, Ami – Urawa pleaded, and the bluenette found herself looking away from those eyes that once attracted her gaze.
_She was just a temp fling, Ami, - he insisted – I just needed an outlet... I... I still want to spend the rest of my life with you.
_Why would I want to spend the rest of my life with a liar?
She had stretched to her full height, and despite being a head taller than her, Urawa stepped back, startled at the cold anger clouding her blue eyes.
_I've picked up the rest of the story here and there, Ryo – she hissed the name that she had once whispered with her eyes cast down and a blush on her cheeks – I have heard rumours, but I didn't want to believe it, because I did choose to trust you, not second guessing anything.
She made eye contact for the first time, and the man was startled into silence at the emotionless state of her normally twinkling blue orbs.
_I cooked for you because you said you liked it. I kept our relationship out of the workplace because I didn't want rumours here and there to cast doubts on you, to reflect on you in a bad light, since I am two years older and am your supervisor. I trusted you to be where you said you would be, to cancel on me when "a new idea comes up" that you somehow always forget about the next day, to...
She held back a sob. She will not cry. In front of this man, she would not cry.
_... to mean it when you say you love me.
Ami tore her gaze away. Her voice was strained, teetering on the verge of breaking down.
_It was all a lie, wasn't it?
_NO! – Urawa exploded, and before she could react, he had taken hold of her wrists and had her backed up against the wall.
The bluenette struggled to free herself, she had not anticipated such strength coming from an untrained civilian.
_I wasn't lying when I said I love you! I still do! She was just a temp fling, Ami, it means nothing! Please, Ami, look at me...
She blocked out his voice and her own bitter inner monologue. Yeah, temporary enough to go on for half a year. Maybe if Motoki-kun hadn't known you and some other bartenders, I wouldn't have had to know the full extent of...
She swallowed the tears that were about to flood her eyes, and focused on a way to free herself without revealing that she was much more than just Ami Mizuno, head of the Tokyo molecular research facility and a physically fragile woman.
It would be very satisfying to roundkick him to the moon, but she had a feeling it wouldn't do much good for her cover, seeing how he knew she was never a martial arts practitioner.
In the middle of calculations, she was taken by complete surprise as Urawa forcefully jerked her chin up and crashed his lips down to her, mumbling something about proving his love to her with his touch.
She raised the one free hand in disgust and slapped him across the face, her eyes narrowing in a manner very unlike the usual her.
Before either of them could take any action, a familiar voice rang out and Urawa was jerked away from her.
_What the hell do you think you're doing in broad daylight, you creep?
_You?... – Urawa spat out, but quickly scrambled to his feet and disappeared around the corner.
_Are you okay? – the newcomer asked with concern as she continued to rub the non-existent pain on her hand, struggling to hold in her emotions.
Ami ignored the saviour as she fought against the words from flooding out with her tears...
... And failed.
She collapsed on the ground.
_Are you okay? Ami?
_I guess – she forced out, her voice cracking – everyone leaves me in the end...
She choked – on her words or her tears, she wasn't sure.
She felt the stranger poking her pinky finger in an awkward move meant to be comforting, and suddenly something shot through the fog of feelings that had been keeping her rational side under siege.
He had called Ami.
Her head shot up, and because he had been kneeling beside her and seemed to be taller than she was – gee, even Rei was taller than her – she hit him hard on the chin.
_OUCH – he yelped and attempted to jump backward, which wasn't the wise move considering he had been kneeling on the ground, and ended up tumbling, falling flat on his back.
She shot to her feet and hastily extended a hand toward her fallen saviour, only to jump backward herself in surprise.
She took in his white lab coat and the stylish suit underneath at the same time that he looked her over, and both froze as their eyes came to focus on each other's name tags.
A/N: There! I was going to finish this on New Year's Eve, but then I forgot – I think the only thing that gets done that day is last year.
Anyway, here we go, the interlude to all the fighting. If you're here just for the fighting... well, too bad. I want the characters to be fully fleshed out, rather than just fighting for a good cause. And I'm a slow updater, so there's that too.
Gotta run, though. This chapter may seem a bit rushed, because I have a midterm due tomorrow and I haven't started yet :( I'll update as soon as I get that out of the way.
My thanks to EbonyMitsu, my loyal beta-reader and reviewer (Happy belated New Year, Eb!), Pinka, Whitewolf513, luckyduck8801, MennaHennah, Djbriel, KaiPhoenix, RaigingSpring, Oky Verlo, wingsofseyfert12, Essie123, Sirona, Raiging Spring, , luckyduck8801, Vchanny, Fortune Maiden, Shadowfey913, mistressinwaiting, princessKatAngela, WhiteInfinity21, Ice Phoenix Angel and an anonymous reviewer for their patience and time in following my stories. To everyone else, thanks for reading as well.
Until my next chapter,
PS: and the song is "Lost", by Within Temptation, one of my favourite bands.