"Look, I can't pretend to understand how you feel, but maybe you got something back out of all of this. Sometimes your life gets turned outside-down. No one can control that. But if you're lucky, it works out, and I'd say you're a very lucky woman. You got a second chance, and a man who loves you and wants to help you take it. Are you gonna turn your back on that?"
- obscure sci-fi proverb, 1/2/94
"But of course! Nothing says 'romance' like the gift of a kidnapped injured woman!"
- Claire Danes
The sound of a gunshot echoed through the sublevels of Mikage International. Yuuhi crashed to the ground on his back. Chidori stood over him, throwing her head back and screaming in agony as blood splattered from her chest. She had pushed him out of the path of a bullet aimed for his back, allowing the projectile to strike herself in the process. Before Yuuhi could fully grasp what had just happened, she collapsed face-down on top of him and remained motionless.
As a few wisps of bluish-black Tennyo hair brushed over his face, Yuuhi blinked and finally pulled himself back into awareness. In a split second, the rescue attempt had turned into a disaster. Chidori's eyes were closed. He couldn't hear her breathing. He couldn't feel her heartbeat. A second ago, she was weary but alive, having just recovered from a mysterious surgery she had been subjected to by her captors before her would-be hero arrived. Now, as far as he could tell, she was nothing but a lifeless corpse.
The child assassin Assam stepped out of the shadows of the dim passageway, lowering a pistol to his side as he verbally berated himself.
"Crap! I didn't mean to hit one of the C-Genomers!"
Yuuhi sat up with Chidori his arms and gazed toward the speaker. Assam now directly addressed him.
"Hey, you better let me take her back so I can get her patched up!"
Yuuhi let Chidori slowly slouch to the floor as he recovered his own gun. His eyes filled with a rageful fire that wanted nothing but to make the shooter burn. He rose to his feet, sprinted toward Assam, and slammed the handle of the weapon into the young boy's gut to cause him to double over on his knees. As Assam tried to recover, Yuuhi roughly pushed the barrel of his gun against the top of his prey's skull. He became rabid and wild-eyed as he screamed.
"Why did you kill Chidori? Damn you!"
Assam replied with only a horrified glance. Yuuhi practically frothed at the mouth as his trigger finger began to tense. Just moments before he would have painted the hallway with the interior of Assam's cranium, something interrupted him. It was the soft but familiar voice of an angel praying for him to be more merciful.
"Don't do it... Yuuhi..."
Yuuhi gasped and snapped his head to Chidori, who had begun to move again and struggled to lift herself onto her hands. With her ethereal golden eyes half-closed and despite all of her pain, she was forcing herself to smile. His frantic panting breaths returned to a normal rhythm as the girl's words slowly guided him back to sanity.
"I know you're not that kind of person."
Yuuhi shook his head in disgust with himself, lowering his gun to his side and granting Assam a stay of execution. He returned to Chidori, tossing the weapon away entirely and kneeling to the ground so he could support her. She allowed her eyelids to fall the rest of the way as she rested her head against his shoulder. She whispered in a barely audible tone.
"I think I should go back, Yuuhi. If I'm really that important to whatever they're planning, they'll take care of me. You'll never get me to a hospital in time, and I want to hang on at least until I know Shouta's safe."
Yuuhi squeezed his eyes shut in regret, feeling his poor judgment had sealed her fate as either a prisoner or a shooting victim. He muttered through clenched teeth as he stopped himself from weeping.
Chidori's expression grew slightly brighter as she understood his worries. She responded in a caring voice.
"Forget about me. Just make a run for it."
After a moment of contemplation, Yuuhi reached to his ear and threw his headset away, severing both his ties with the rest of his covert squad and his last form of defense. He then holstered Chidori onto his back, holding her up by her legs for a piggyback ride. He spoke sternly as he gazed back toward the way they came, back where this nightmare began.
"I'm coming with you."
Chidori wrapped herself around his shoulders as tightly as her frail arms could manage. When she spoke again, she was giggling under her labored breath.
"You worry about me too much."
Yuuhi used his head to motion for Assam to lead the way, then began a swift jog back to the heart of the complex. A minute or so into the trip, he heard Chidori murmur into his ear.
He briefly looked over his shoulder as he continued running, wondering what she could have to say at a time like this.
Chidori hesitated for a few seconds before she replied. There seemed to be shyness in her speech, but it may have been an effect of her growing weakness.
"If this is the last time I see you, I just want you to know I've always... really... l...iked you..."
Yuuhi appeared to wince in pain when he looked forward again. He shook some tragic thoughts from his head before he replied.
"Don't talk like that, Chidori. You'll make it."
She was silent for the rest of the trip.
A long rectangular window allowed a clear view into Chidori's intensive care room. She was unconscious as various machines monitored her vital signs and a clear breathing mask provided her with a constant supply of oxygen.
On the opposite side of the window, in the hallway outside of the room, stood two groups of figures. On one side was Kagami Mikage and his female assistant, Gladys Smithson. Several feet away on the other end of the window was Yuuhi, now surrounded on all sides by a semi-circle of heavily armed guards. He couldn't bring himself to care about the hostile predicament he was in, however, and he spent his time pressing his forehead against the window. He occasionally muttered to himself in grief and self-loathing, oblivious to the conversation Kagami and Gladys were having only a few paces away.
Gladys briefly turned toward Yuuhi as she thought aloud.
"So that's Yuuhi Aogiri. He barely looks older than a boy."
Her eyes returned to Chidori's resting form as she continued.
"I have to commend him. He surrendered himself so we would treat the C-Genomer he tried to escape with. The two of them seem to be... attached."
Kagami glanced toward his colleague and added his own stoic commentary.
"He was smart enough to infiltrate the complex with minimal support, and he nearly overpowered all of our best guards. It's a shame he's not one of our donors."
He then turned his attention to Chidori as well, providing a look of concern toward his injured captive.
"What's her status?"
Gladys replied with strong discouragement in her voice.
"She's comatose. The poor thing would have been dead if she had gotten here a few minutes later. The blood transfusions weren't a problem, but removing the bullet was difficult since the surgeons had to account for the anesthesia still in her system. "
Kagami nodded and changed his tone to match Gladys's.
"This is most unfortunate. Even if she survives this, all of the trauma her body has gone through may have jeopardized her ability as a carrier. Her capture, the Hagoromo experiment, the rushed harvesting procedure, and now a gunshot wound and an unplanned second operation have occurred in only a few hours. She's the most powerful C-Genomers in captivity, but she may no longer be viable after everything we've put her through."
His attention temporarily shifted back to Yuuhi as his words took on an air of reserved anger. Despite his bitterness, however, he ultimately realized his own defeat.
"Before the Aogiris interrupted us, she was ready to become the mother of a new human species. Now she can't do anything but cling for her own life. I don't know where we go from here."
Gladys looked downward in meditative thought as she considered her next words. When she resumed the discussion, there was new hope in her voice.
"Perhaps this is all a blessing in disguise."
A soft grin suddenly appeared on her face as she presented her idea.
"There's a legend that says a Tennyo's happiness will cause her heart to beat faster and her power to grow stronger if the man who finds her robe is someone she truly wants to spend her life with. Some variations even say these Tennyo are tricksters who hang their robe in a place they know their prospective mate will find it so it will only seem like chance draws them together. In any case, these Tennyo are believed to form the deepest kind of bond with their husbands, and are said to be especially fearsome when protecting their young."
Kagami turned to her with a lightly raised eyebrow, failing to see what a Japanese mythology lesson had to do with any of this.
"What are you suggesting?"
Gladys's eyes coyly turned to Yuuhi before she replied.
"If there's any truth behind the myth, the solution to our problem may be standing right in front of us."
Her eyes then gazed back toward Chidori with an intent sparkle.
"I think we should let her advance to the next phase of the C-Project. Maybe, if only on a subconscious level, she'll put up a better fight once the child of the man she loves is depending on her. You're the one who said he meets our requirements."
Kagami quickly sighed and shook his head. Always the skeptic, he had no time for worthless fairy tales. Such stories could only be archaic misunderstandings of the obvious extraterrestrial origin of the C-Genomers.
"We'd be gambling on superstition. There's no scientific basis to say a pregnant mother would fare any better in this situation than a typical woman, and she's barely holding herself together as it is. I don't like it."
Gladys's expression gained a mildly devious quality when she turned toward her employer.
"Would any of your theories help her chances?"
With another sigh, Kagami hung his head. His answer was blunt.
Gladys narrowed her eyes, practically changing her proposal into a dare.
"Then what's stopping you from testing a little hypothesis?"
Kagami seemed to stare aimlessly at the floor for a few seconds before he took any further action. Finally, he made his decision. Regardless of how ridiculous the belief sounded, it may have been based on something in C-Genome physiology and required further investigation. He lifted a small cellphone from his shirt pocket and dialed a pre-programmed extension. After a short pause, he spoke into the tiny receiver.
"Alec, are any of the eggs we withdrew from the Pallas Type A patient mature?"
Another pause, and then he spoke again. His attitude remained humorless the entire time.
"That's all we'll need. Isolate it and have it moved to the fertilization lab. We've found a suitable match."
As Kagami turned the phone off and placed it back in his pocket, Gladys chuckled softly to herself. Another confused look appeared on his face before he questioned her on the matter.
"What is it about all of this that amuses you, Gladys?"
She answered in a hopeful manner as her eyes remained fixed on Chidori.
"You've spent your entire career preaching about how love is a silly human invention that has no real value in the reproduction process. This experiment might just prove you wrong."
Kagami engaged in the rare activity of mumbling to himself as he turned away from Gladys. He then approached Yuuhi, waving for the security staff to let the teenage intruder be. When the two were in speaking distance from one another, Kagami barely turned his head to acknowledge his guest. He coldly spoke as he stopped in place.
"If you truly care for Chidori Kuruma, I advise you to come with me."
He then casually continued down the hallway, leaving Yuuhi no apparent choice but to swallow his pride and follow suit.
When Yuuhi reached Kagami's personal office, the Mikage leader slowly and systematically explained everything. Yuuhi now knew the corporation had been bringing females with sufficient Tennyo powers here and providing them a so-called safe haven. He now knew C-Genomer allegedly existed to mediate a necessary evolution in mankind and bring a better tomorrow. He now knew Kagami hoped to create a new race of spacefaring superhumans by selectively crossbreeding the nubile portion of this population with outstanding human males. Worst of all, he now understood he had initially rescued Chidori when she was fresh out of an invasive surgery where her precious reproductive cells had been hoarded for this purpose without her knowledge or consent. The rationale for this appalling action revolved around the belief that Chidori "wasn't able to make the best decisions for herself" and would "recklessly waste her potential" just like "any other human woman." He was told he had nothing to worry about since any eggs that were fertilized from her batch (after being carefully screened by Kagami and his scientists, of course) would be returned to her specific womb just as if she had conceived the "natural way," minus any acknowledgment that she would carrying the baby of an unnamed donor she would never meet. He had even been "invited" to participate in the program's sperm bank based on the traits he had displayed during the botched invasion. He was promised his genetic material would be set aside solely for creating Chidori's bloodline, but he had an understandably hard time believing it.
And he wasn't happy about any of it.
Kagami slammed into the front of his office desk and nearly toppled over backwards, having received a monumental punch from Yuuhi's right fist. The younger of the two men was half-crazed with anger when he offered his response.
"You people are insane! You terrorize Chidori's family until she cooperates with you, you practically rape her after you drug her out of her mind, and now you expect me to help you torture her even more so you can breed her like livestock? What the Hell are you thinking?"
Aside from stumbling back into an upright position and wiping a thin trickle of blood from his lip, Kagami's stance was unwavering. He coldly answered after straightening his tie.
"Say what you will about our methods, but I expect you to make necessary sacrifices for her well-being. If you reject my proposal, we will have no use for you, Chidori will remain in our hands, and we will have to choose an anonymous partner for the procedure. Which do you prefer?"
Yuuhi put his emotions back in order when he realized what was at stake. It was an incredibly precarious position. Either option involved violating Chidori's very being; it was just a matter of which would leave the largest psychological scars. The way she had acted around him made it obvious which solution would be the least harmful, but he still had other doubts. He looked toward the ground and muttered in subdued regret.
"How will you do it? I mean, IF I go through with this..."
Kagami sounded as if he had planned everything in advance and was simply delivering a scripted response when he spoke.
"We'll select the sperm with the best traits before carrying out an in-vitro fertilization. Once a healthy zygote has formed, it will implanted into her womb through a simple injection."
Yuuhi raised his head when he moved to his next question, locking his eyes straight on Kagami's.
"And then what? Are you just going to kill me anyway and lock her away as soon as it's done, after you've used me up?"
Kagami shook his head, finding Yuuhi's suggestion to be a foolish waste of resources.
"Depending on your level of cooperation, we could have you assigned as a sort of bodyguard for her. She's much more valuable than any of the other C-Genomer who reside here, and I already know you'll be willing to give up certain freedoms to keep her safe. We're willing to reach any compromise that will produce the best results."
Great, Yuuhi thought to himself. The man was a strategic mastermind on top of everything else. He was being read like a newspaper. This realization quickly brought him to his next topic of concern.
"What about her brother?"
Kagami now sounded more assured than ever.
"He'll be released as soon as we verify the pregnancy. I'll also have his surveillance lifted. I understand these are great sources of stress for her, and I don't want anything interfering with her health while she's in a more fragile state. It would be pointless for us to continue those activities once she's under our complete care, anyway."
Yuuhi spent a great deal of thought over his predicament. When he spoke again, he narrowed his eyes in obvious suspicion.
"How can I trust you?"
Again, Kagami never faltered in his words or changed his monotonous character. Either he was confident he had nothing to lose, or he knew he had already sold Yuuhi on his generous pitch.
"To answer bluntly, you can't. But would you rather sentence yourself to death and cut off her last link to the outside world?"
These words instantly sent knives into Yuuhi's heart. He lowered his head again in an agonized grimace as he muttered under his breath. He knew there was only one option.
"God damn bastard."
He continued to stare at the floor for what felt like an eternity before he blurted out his decision. He never stopped being at odds with himself, but he made up his mind. He just hoped she would understand.
"I'll do it."
Chidori's eyes slowly opened to the glare of overhead lighting in a brightly lit hospital room. As she squinted to regain some of her eyesight, the first words she heard came from a most unsavory voice.
"Good. She's waking up on her own."
It was Kagami Mikage, the heartless bastard who had made her wind up like this. She would have reacted with an angered growl if she had the strength and sense to do so. Instead, she focused her wits on slowly sitting up in her neatly dressed bed. She grunted softly as she propped herself against a comfortable throne of pillows situated between her back and the headboard. She then tried to get a bearing on her surroundings.
She raised a hand to her temple and shook her head to rid herself of her remaining drowsiness. When she lowered her hand and examined it, she saw its fingers were long and slender, belonging to a refined young woman. She was wearing the same metal bracelets as before, nullifying most of her powers and preventing her from lashing out against her captors. Additionally, dangling in front of her eyes were a few wavy strands of near-black silk. A look of curiosity appeared on her face. Her body was still in its Tennyo form, but how? She had never been able to maintain her transformation while feeling this tired before.
When she shuffled her blanket down to her waist and began investigating her attire, she saw was she still wearing the same style of half-elegant, half-utilitarian long white medical gown she had been forced into when she first arrived. Despite the unpleasant memories associated with wearing it, she actually somewhat appreciated it. It was the only attire she had ever worn that properly fit her taller, much more curvaceous celestial form, and she especially liked how the fabric was loose-fitting and left plenty of room to spare in the waist and hips. It made all the difference when her human street clothes were always many sizes too small and quite uncomfortable on her transformed body. However, this current dress lacked any sign of a bullet hole and blood loss. They must have changed her again while she was asleep.
Last, she reached to her neck to see if her identification tag was still present. Her hand quickly found its mark before she studied the end of the small necklace in her palm. It was molded in bright gold and engraved with her name, classification, and various personal information. Strangely, she remembered it being silver before.
When she finally looked forward, she saw Yuuhi, Kagami, and Gladys were in her room. Yuuhi looked like he was deeply disturbed by something, but Kagami and Gladys both gave her glances that left her feeling very uneasy.
Gladys. Kagami's doe-eyed, violet-haired human armrest, wearing the same ugly secretary dress Chidori last saw her in. She had been the one overseeing the experiment where Chidori was required to use her powers to restore some sort of ancient fossilized sample of a Tennyo's Hagoromo robe. She had been the one to proclaim Chidori's regenerative abilities were by far the greatest on confirmed record. She had been the one to anxiously urge Kagami into ordering a pair of doctors to drag Chidori out of the testing room kicking and screaming for what they would only say was an "important surgery," which she was still in the dark about. That was enough to make Chidori hate her.
Much to Chidori's consternation, Gladys was the first to step forward and speak. There was a wondrous smile on her face, and she looked like she was about to boil over with good news.
"Congratulations, Miss Kuruma. You're going to be a mother."
Yuuhi was staring at a marble white floor tile when he angrily mumbled.
"Chidori, it's... mine."
Chidori's eyes widened in horror. She looked downward and rested a single hand over her belly. She was pregnant. She blinked as if she were staring at herself vacantly, but her mind was spiraling out of control through innumerable emotions. Context was everything, and Chidori was clever enough to deduce a certain connection to her newfound state.
"You mean... that surgery before... ?"
Kagami nodded and spoke next, answering her incomplete question in a strictly business-like manner.
"Induced ovulation. We needed to remove the most developed eggs from your ovaries so we could store them in a safe place. After being chosen for artificial insemination, one ovum is usually placed back into the woman it was taken from to ensure compatibility and allow a natural maternal bond to form while it's carried to term. Normally a C-Genomer's retrieval, her extraction surgery, and the subsequent embryo implantation are a carefully timed process with plenty of rest provided between each phase, but the pending Aogiri attack and then your declining physical state forced us to act ahead of schedule."
Chidori now looked toward him with an awestruck expression. She felt violated. She felt betrayed. She felt afraid. She half-expected some unearthly creature to burst from her body that instant. For a moment, she wished she was back in that hallway, dying in Yuuhi's arms as all of this played out as nothing more than a final delusion in her oxygen-depraved brain. Her eyes were damp when she could bring herself to speak again.
Kagami casually rattled off another response. Subtlety and compassion were clearly not any of his stronger qualities.
"Your genes are quite valuable. You're the second most powerful C-Genomer we've encountered, outclassed only by Aya. The offspring of your kind will be the first step in humanity's evolution, and we're simply taking measures to ensure the children will be healthy, diverse, and raised in a safe environment. Many of the women who came here before you are already well into their pregnancies."
Chidori slowly turned her head to Yuuhi. Her expression changed to a look of of insurmountable despair.
"Yuuhi, you were part of this the entire time... ?"
Yuuhi clenched his hands into fists at his sides as he remained silent. He had joined Mikage International and helped them turn Chidori into a zoo animal any way you look at it. He couldn't deny he had sold his soul to the devil, so what was the point of differentiating exactly when and why he had done it? Fortunately, Kagami was in a clearer state of mind to answer for him.
"On the contrary, he nearly ruined everything by stealing you from us. He only volunteered to help us after I informed him your safety was at risk and you would wind up carrying the child of an unknown man if he didn't give us his consent."
Chidori now focused back on Kagami. Yuuhi's plight was quickly becoming a new source of inspiration for her. What had always been her most playful features prior to this day contorted into a hateful sneer as she spit verbal venom back toward him.
"You took advantage of both of us. You forced us into this before either of us was ready, before we even had a chance to say how we really felt about each other."
The negative energy then faded from her voice and her words became weaker. Her new tone contained an ironic combination of disgust and disappointment.
"You didn't even let us do it the right way..."
Kagami seemed to shrug, but perhaps it was Chidori's imagination. Even that simple of a gesture would have probably been overacting in his case.
"Human courting rituals are an unnecessary burden. They only get in the way of the underlying instinctive drive all life shares: The desire to reproduce. This method satisfies your basic needs while filtering out all of the risks associated with traditional conception. Birth defects, substandard traits, and similar problems can all be eliminated through careful genetic engineering while still allowing the child's gender and physical makeup to be relatively randomized."
His seemingly infinite patience was now appearing to grow thin. He narrowed his eyes in contempt, driven to slight anger by the fact she had showed no respect for the compromises he had made.
"Furthermore, we disregarded our usual policy of matching you with an approved donor. You could be carrying the child of a renowned scientist, or a world class athlete, but we gave you the mate you statistically would have chosen on your own. Don't you feel the slightest bit of gratitude?"
Chidori would have none of it. Her look of hatred returned and slowly increased toward Kagami, creating the appearance of a wrathful demigoddess that was unique to her particularly youthful face. Gladys found the display to be cute. In a way, despite his current dreary mindset, Yuuhi would have agreed with her.
As Chidori continued to silently stew toward her unwanted benefactor, Gladys realized it was her cue again. She quietly stepped closer to Chidori and sat on the edge of the bed, looking into the girl's resonating gold irises with a peaceful smile. Her comforting voice was just enough to cut the tension and cause Chidori to turn toward her.
"I understand this is overwhelming for you, Chidori, but aren't you at least happy you'll be having his baby under otherwise natural circumstances? What are you afraid of?"
Chidori's stubborn attitude was now in a smaller quantity. It was still enough to convey how she felt Gladys's question was one of the most insulting things she had ever heard, though.
"The fact none of this is right? The fact we're not even dating, much less married? I mean, I'm only 17..."
Gladys nodded before continuing her cheerful consultation.
"I see. You have nothing to worry about, though. We extensively examined you before your first operation to make sure your body would be capable of this. You're still young, but, physically speaking, you're in your prime for motherhood. We'll make special accommodations for Yuuhi and yourself so you can live together however you please, given you make no further attempts to leave the complex grounds. In the slightest chance any complications arise, you'll be in the immediate care of some of the best doctors in the world."
She tilted her head whimsically as she placed a hand on Chidori's shoulder for support.
"We want you to be happy, Chidori. A happy mother will produce a healthy baby."
Chidori couldn't stand how this woman could talk about putting her through a strip search and worse in such a trivial way, but her kind words about Yuuhi more or less made up for it. However, the wayward mother-to-be could tell when something was too good to be true, and she twisted herself away from Gladys's reach as she became embittered. She then protectively raised her knees to her chin and hugged them closely to herself. Her words were equally on the defensive when she questioned the research assistant.
"You're just going to take it away and experiment on it when I have it, aren't you?"
Gladys briefly chuckled before she dispelled Chidori's concerns in a humorous light. She was delighted to see Chidori was starting to exhibit the qualities of a loving mother and making an effort to fend for her child.
"Oh, no. We want to make this as comfortable as possible for both you and your baby. The child will remain your own, and we hope you'll play an active part in his or her development. Like the chairman said, an entire community of C-Genomers live in this base, so your baby will have plenty of friends to grow up and play with."
The lack of solitude sounded better than what Chidori was expecting, but it was the promise that she and Yuuhi would be allowed to live as a normal loving couple that brought her the most relief. She gradually lowered her legs, letting her abdomen come out from behind its defensive wall. Still, this wasn't nearly enough to bury the hatchet with Gladys and forgive her employer for the travesty that had transpired. Despite everything that had happened, despite all the terrible things she helped the Mikage company do, she still had the gall to wear that fake foster mother smile on her face. It was sickening, and Chidori shared a piece of her mind with another disgusted scowl.
"So that's how it is with you people. You murder grandma and grandpa and hold Shouta hostage to make me to play along, then you treat me like a princess as soon as I give you what you want."
Gladys sighed in disappointment, finally showing the first signs of seriousness in her words. She spoke in a concerned tone as she frowned.
"I apologize for the more... forceful approach our retrieval staff took in your case. If you feel you're still being mistreated, would you prefer that we abort the procedure?"
Gladys's question took Chidori back in sudden shock. She shook her head as she placed her hand over her stomach.
"N-... no. I would never do that to something so helpless, not when it's Yuuhi's."
Gladys smiled and nodded, seeing she had succeeded in her mission. One could label everything she had said here as an underhanded strategy to wear down Chidori's resistance, but she considered herself to only be helping a new C-Genomer mother understand the miraculous gift she had been given and happily carry her baby to term.
"You're going to make a great mommy."
She then lifted herself back to her feet and returned to Kagami's side with a content look on her face.
Chidori exhaled in a strong uneasy sigh. She looked toward Kagami, appearing to be more collected in her thoughts.
"Okay. If I agree to stay here, you're going to let go of Shouta, right?"
Kagami replied by speaking toward a medium-sized blank video monitor hanging from the ceiling.
"Sector 12 camera."
The monitor instantly sprung to life, showing the crystal clear image of Touya and Shouta standing just outside Mikage International's front stairs. They were surrounded by guards, and Touya made no attempt to fight back while the frightened boy was right at his side.
Kagami pulled his phone from his pocket, entered a short chain of numbers, and spoke sternly into the receiver.
"Release the prisoners."
At the same moment, one of the guards on screen raised a hand to the microphone on his ear and nodded. The group then began herding Touya and Shouta through the complex's central walkway, toward freedom. As the two figures reached the main road and the security fence closed behind them, Kagami placed his phone back in his shirt and turned back to Chidori.
"As you can see, your brother is being safely escorted off of the premises as we speak. We'll leave the rest of the Aogiri family to decide who will take care of him."
Chidori watched the monitor in amazement. For the first time since Yuuhi had first arrived to rescue her, the beginnings of a relieved smile were forming on her lips. However, she stopped her current joy from getting the best of her and spoke toward Kagami with a more serious expression.
"What about Aya and Touya? If you have me, there's no reason to keep bothering them."
Kagami nodded and answered promptly.
"Correct. I've already called off the associates we had monitoring their home."
Chidori now felt somewhat puzzled. With how aggressive Kagami had been in his efforts before now, it should have taken her at least a little bit of effort to get him to listen. Something else must have changed in his master plan.
"Why are you giving up so quickly? After everything you've done..."
Kagami replied as if he had been expecting Chidori to ask that exact question.
"In addition to what you just said, our spies recently came in the possession of information I doubt you're aware of. It seems Aya has decided to help the C-Project proceed on her own, so we have no reason to acquire her assistance."
Chidori was becoming increasingly baffled when she spoke next.
"What are you talking about?"
Kagami answered her in his usual stoic tone.
"She's two months pregnant with Touya's child. She just came to realize it herself."
Chidori and Yuuhi both responded with matching expressions of extreme surprise. Kagami simply continued as he remained impervious to their emotions.
"If nothing else, the child of a Ceres Type A being born in a traditional environment only eight or so weeks before the child of a Pallas Type A is born in our special care should make for an interesting long-term observation experiment. I have no desire to contaminate any of the variables."
Chidori got over her shock thanks to Kagami's empty words. A new look of disgust appeared in her eyes as she growled.
"Is that how you think of people? You just quantify everyone as test subjects in some science project you came up with?"
Kagami clearly held no qualms toward his ethical stance.
"Is there something wrong with looking at the world from a methodical viewpoint?"
Chidori's anger grew slightly more. She could barely believe how ceaselessly he managed to act more like a mechanical genetics computer than a living human being.
"You're not using Tennyo to create a better world. You're just hoping one of us will be nice enough to give you a soul."
She could see she was trying to criticize a brick wall, however. She briefly shook her head as she gazed toward her lap and muttered.
"Forget it. Can you just leave me alone with Yuuhi for a few minutes?"
Finally, he displayed some emotion. He gave a small, satisfied smile as he nodded.
He then motioned toward Gladys, and the two quietly left the hospital room to grant Chidori and Yuuhi their well-deserved privacy.
Yuuhi finally stepped forward. He was mentally punishing himself again, and he couldn't bring himself to look at her.
"Chidori, I'm sorry..."
He then found himself somehow drawn to her angelic complexion as she cheerfully replied.
"It's not your fault, Yuuhi. I'm sorry about what I said earlier. I was just scared. I know you tried your best to rescue me."
He sighed in regret as his eyes returned to the floor.
"But I wasn't careful enough. I almost got you killed, and now I ended up getting you trapped here."
She became slightly depressed due to this observation, but her joyful demeanor never completely faded.
"We're both trapped here. You were forced into this just as much as I was."
When she spoke again, she regained her emotional footing and allowed her bright grin to return in full force.
"Besides, if you insist on blaming yourself, I'll still forgive you. How will we ever be good parents if we can't accept each other's mistakes?"
Yuuhi now set himself down on Chidori's bed where Gladys had been sitting, allowing them to see eye to eye. There was mild curiosity in his voice when he spoke.
"You're really on board with this, aren't you?"
She answered with a bubbly nod.
"Mmhmm. All that stuff about the fate of the world and helping people evolve is over my head, but I don't mind. All that matters is we're going to have a baby."
A teasing smirk appeared across across her lips as she continued.
"Besides, now you'll HAVE to pay attention to me. You can't really turn me away now that I've got a bun in the oven and I need your support."
Yuuhi was relieved she was taking her situation considerably well. Her happiness was so radiant that it rubbed off on him, and he responded with a soft chuckle and a joking tone of his own.
"Guess my ladykilling days are over."
She leaned slightly forward so she could situate her head just beside his chin. As she embraced him, her voice softened and took on a more mature quality.
"Hey, Yuuhi. I don't think I ever got to finish what I wanted to say before, but..."
As she struggled to finish her statement, she looked up so her eyes met his. A deep blush appeared on her cheeks, adding new color to her fair Tennyo skin.
"I love you."
Yuuhi silently smiled and lowered his lips to hers. For the next few seconds, he finally granted her what she had always tried so hard to get from him: Her first kiss.
When the two pulled away, Yuuhi noticed Chidori's eyes were a emitting a soft glow. The light slowly faded as she let out a relaxed sigh, causing him to wonder aloud.
"Chidori, what happened with your eyes?"
She clearly had felt something happen as well. She blinked in slight surprise before shaking her head.
"I'm not sure. I felt like I was full of energy a second ago, but... that's strange."
Yuuhi was even more puzzled when she couldn't come up with an explanation.
She responded with a rather intriguing observation.
"Back when you used to kiss Ceres, she'd always turn back into Aya, right? I'm still in my Tennyo form."
Yuuhi tried to think of a possible reason for what had happened, but the matter escaped him. He realized Chidori was right. In the very least, she was immune to his peculiar ability to interfere with a Tennyo's power. Maybe it only worked by pacifying the more rageful deities. Maybe it had a reverse effect that was unique to Chidori's powers for some reason. He had no idea.
"Yeah, I didn't even think of that."
The couple eventually shrugged off the event and continued their embrace for a few more peaceful moments. After a while, the palm of Yuuhi's hand delicately found its way over the lower part of Chidori's stomach. She responded by giggling lightly into his shoulder. There was a slight anxiousness in his voice when he spoke quietly.
"So, I'm going to be a daddy..."
Chidori closed her eyes and gently purred under his touch. Despite her improved disposition, Yuuhi still held some concerns for her. His expression became slightly worrisome as he changed his tone.
"You're not still scared, are you?"
She gave her response in a small, uneasy whisper.
Yuuhi nodded and gently tightened his opposite arm around her, bringing her closer to him.
A few seconds later, Chidori pulled herself away just far enough so she could look into Yuuhi's eyes again. She had a curious but content demeanor.
"What do you think Aya and Touya will do when Touya gets back?"
He smiled in return as he provided the most likely scenario.
"They'll probably have the same conversation we're having right now."
Chidori looked to the side in growing worry as she thought aloud.
"I bet they're worried about us..."
Yuuhi agreed with a nod and a soft sigh.
"Yeah. Too bad we can't get in touch with them and tell them we're okay."
After thinking to herself, Chidori turned back toward him with somewhat of a scheming grin.
"I'm not sure about that. Kagami said we couldn't leave here. He never said we can't communicate with anyone on the outside."
She then reached downward, cupping one of her palms over the back of Yuuhi's hand as it still rested on her waist.
"Besides, I'm his prized research specimen. We have a little bit of leverage to make him do what we want."
With this, almost everything seemed to be settled. One final worry was left in her mind, however, and she lowered her eyes as doubt got the better of her. Maybe she had assumed too much. Maybe, amidst the jokes she had used to try and improve the situation, she had overlooked how Yuuhi truly felt. Maybe she was forcing responsibilities onto him just as much as Kagami and his staff. She had to put her greatest fear to rest, and she spoke with uncertainty in her words.
"Yuuhi, do you... really feel that way about me? You're not just acting like this to make me feel better, right?"
There was no hesitation in Yuuhi's response. His voice had a genuine and comforting tone.
"I'm all yours, Chidori, and I wouldn't want it any other way. I figured that out when I nearly lost you."
When she looked back up at him in relief, his expression became more jestful and he added his own playful humor to his voice.
"Besides, I bet every guy wishes he had a Tennyo girlfriend."
A blush appeared on Chidori's face, but this time it was much more subtle than before. She silently responded with a cheerful expression on her lips and a few tears of joy in her eyes. She sunk back into his arms and closed her eyes as she listened to him assure her.
"Don't worry. We'll make this work."
Nothing could rob them of the warmth they shared from that day forward.