AN: I...er... Chapter. Done. Yeah.
I'm kind of a slow writer okay? I when I get stuck- I don't even mean badly stuck, I just mean no immediate ideas- I walk away and forget about the whole thing for a week or two. Plus, I've been busy. That's basically all I've got. ^^; Sorry.
If it makes you feel better, I'm really emotional about my writing, and every time a week went by, I worried about how my readers and reviewers were going to feel when they saw I hadn't updated. I always felt sad when someone didn't update the stories I read.
This chapter...came out differently than I meant. I even had to add another chapter after it because I ultimately couldn't fit everything. Oh well, it means I get to update sooner. Not my best work, there may be some mistakes, but I really wanted to update because it's been...like... over a month? That feels like a long time to me...
ALSO- I have an idea: considering it may be taking me longer to get chapters out, I could try uploading Bonus Chapters, little things with any of the characters that occur but aren't of enough significance to make the final cut. I won't make any of those silly little skit things, Omak-somethings? But if you guys are okay with it, I could probably whip up some mini-chapters with other characters besides the main or just things that happen on the side. Think about it.
I Do Not Own Guilty Crown, and as such shall consider marrying it or its oh-so-awesome music. Because Krone and Release My Soul make me sad EVERY DAMN TIME.
Tennouzu was under attack. Again.
They had started to notice a kind of pattern in the attacks, at least when they tended to happen. Usually, there was a noticeable assault on their base every two weeks, give or take a day, not counting the occasional lone Gatherer that sniffed a bit too close for comfort or happened to come across an outside patrol. Sometimes the period between those attacks were pretty peaceful, and sometimes there would be some random, sudden attack at some odd hour of the day, which were completely unpredictable. Some thought it annoying, most others simply settled into it as routine after the fourth or fifth attack. People didn't even freak out anymore when Gemhead suddenly fell from the sky and made some crude comment about their defenses.
That's what they'd started calling their resident crystal nemesis, who was also something of a- well, not really a friend, but something like it. The Undertakers had come to refer to him as a 'neighbor', a force of their environment that was neither with them nor against them, and they had no choice but to live with. Recently Gai had begun muttering things about Gemhead 'testing' them with the steady stream of monsters it seemed to be directing towards them. Also, when it came to Gemhead, 'he' was considered synonymous with 'it', simply because the strange being tended to avoid any questions directed at him, if he was close enough for conversation at all. Since that first exchange, it had mostly just been spotted observing from afar, sometimes being glimpsed wandering Loop 7, or in close quarters with the Gatherers, in which case no one felt like taking the risk to go and say hi.
Anyway, this time was no different than usual, except that perhaps this time the Gatherers that had attacked were on the smaller and wilier side, and the Undertakers were having a bit of trouble rounding them up. A number were being forced to chase the small crystal-human hybrids through the maze of shacks. One, a student recruit, skidded around a corner after his quarry and suddenly had a face full of monster. It clung to his chest, digging its claws into his shoulders, and started trying to chew his ears off. He stumbled around, screaming, and shoved a fist into the creature's mouth to keep it from biting his face. In his panic, he managed to keep enough of his wits to hold onto his weapon, and twisting his other arm up stabbed the gun barrel into its eye and fired.
The things head exploded and he fell to his knees in exhaustion, exhaling in relief. He had to pry the corpse's claws from his flesh, and it hurt, but he was alive, he still had both ears, and he could probably hide here until the attack was over. He didn't think he was fit to chase any more demonic monkeys.
"Nicely done, the eye is probably the weakest part."
He shrieked and looked up. Gemhead squatted in the narrow space only a few meters away, tall, skinny body hunched to fit into the significantly smaller space. It seemed to be making an effort not to be conspicuous. The creature lifted its hand and bent its fingers repeatedly, in what appeared to be a lackadaisical wave.
He passed out just then, a red light briefly overtaking his vision before he was engulfed by black.
'Gemhead' looked at the tiny little bulb of light in his enormous hand, crooked smile unseen behind his black face. He closed his fist around the sphere, a red glow shining briefly through his fingers, and when he opened his hand it was gone.
In his crystal form, he was incapable of yawning, so the feeling that normally came with the action felt strange. He determined this was a sign that he had done enough for the day.
And, just like that, the Gatherers disappeared as fast as they appeared, and when the Undertakers regained their wits they noticed that Gemhead was nowhere to be found either. Most of them didn't know whether to be relieved, or disappointed. Most of them were also somewhat alarmed upon realizing this. Funny how that works.
When he woke up, Shu was finally able to yawn for real. He stretched, like a cat after a long nap, and ran a hand through his hair. He ached. And he was tired. Significantly tired. And the day wasn't anywhere close to over.
He recalled Yuu saying something the other day about having some sort of gathering with the test subjects. It didn't seem like a bad idea, since the majority of the subjects had never even seen him before. All they knew was what their instructors passed on or gossiped about. The thing was he was fairly certain it was going to involve him and Yuu being showy and destructive with their powers, and he wasn't really in the mood right now.
He needed to start taking naps. Like, real naps. Where he actually slept. It was easier said than done.
The door creaked open, and Shu watched its movement lazily. He smiled a little when a pink head poked through and peered in at him. When she met his eyes, she entered quickly and made her way to the Cradle, not even bothering to close the door. She climbed onto an outcropping of crystal on his right, at about the same level of his armrest. This had become something of her official perch.
"Did I make you wait long, Inori?" He asked, smiling. She shook her head, and picked up his hand, cradling it in her lap.
"It wasn't that long. I wasn't bored." She said. She reached into her shawl and pulled out a purple string. Returning Shu's hand, she began twisting the string between her fingers. When she was satisfied, she held out her creation. "I practiced." She told him, presenting the cat's cradle to him shyly.
He smiled. The string had perhaps been his first gift to her. "That's great. You're getting really good." He praised. She flushed a little, happy, and looked away as she began to play with the string in her lap, her fingers moving rapidly. She said nothing more, and he closed his eyes and leaned against her shoulder a little.
Inori had become his constant companion, and she had taken to him as if he were the source of life itself. He was like her sun; he made her feel warmth and showed her new things. She, in contrast, was like his oxygen; pure and sweet, and made it possible for him to breathe more easily in this corrupted, stifling world.
Shuichiro had been very unhappy when he learned just what his nephew had done with his little experiment. Shu had worried he might be punished, or worse, that Inori would be taken away from him, but he hadn't let this fear show and had stood his ground, daring his uncle to try and stop him. He looked like he might have, but then Yuu stepped in. To Adam's surprise, his mentor found it beyond amusing that the 'copy' they had created had become so attached to Shu, and followed him around like a lost kitten. To Shuichiro's annoyance, Yuu had allowed him to 'keep her', saying something about letting Adam have jurisdiction over toys that were rightfully his to begin with. Shu wasn't sure how he felt about that statement, but decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth and ignored it.
Someone was humming. Shu was so lost in his own thoughts that he didn't notice it at first, but once he did he found himself sliding into bliss. It took him a moment to realize it was Inori.
"You have a nice voice, Inori." He commented, making the pink haired girl blink in surprise. She hardly even seemed to realize she was doing it in the first place.
"You…think so?" She queried, thoughtful and curious. He nodded earnestly.
"Absolutely. You like singing don't you? You should try writing a song."
She looked down at her hands, where the cat's cradle sat limply. "I don't know what I'd sing about." She said softly.
"That's alright." He assured her, smiling comfortingly. "Songs don't need to be literary genius, just truthful, emotional. If you could sing your thoughts, or put your heart into the song, it would be more than enough."
Inori gazed at him, tilting her head slowly. "Shu's songs… have no words?" She said it something like a question, as if she wasn't sure how else to phrase it.
"My feelings are too indiscriminate to put into words," He chuckled wryly. "Not necessarily a good thing, but I don't think any lyrics I write would be any good anyway." He stood and stretched some more, brushing wrinkles from his black regalia, only worn willingly after having it toned down to personal preferences. He cared more about maneuverability than appearance after all. "Keep it in mind, I'm sure you can come up with something." He offered her a hand. "Shall we?"
He was late, and it wasn't his fault.
He was swearing in a grand total of four languages, silently of course, as he ran through the halls as fast as his legs could carry him, which for a genetic experiment, is pretty darn fast.
He was fairly certain Group Six only dumped their chore on him out of some petty sense of cruelty or sadism, hoping to delay him enough that he would get punished for being tardy, or not show up at all and miss a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was such a big deal that not a single Group was being left out. They were even attending as a kind of side note along with the actual followers, legitimate members of Daath, who in comparison to the test subjects were like real people over dolls. That's all they really were unless they were chosen for something, that's why they tried so hard, so they could rise from being dirt on the shoes of the organization to being human, of importance.
The Gravekeeper, who could also be considered Daath in human form, had suddenly intruded upon a Group gathering and announced that he was inviting them all to what he called a 'performance'. They had all leapt at the chance; they were always being preached things about the goals of Daath, of their destined King Adam, but they'd never really seen him before. The supervisors said it was because they were merely test subjects, if they proved themselves and moved up the ranks, maybe they'd get to meet him, but not likely. He had been bitterly amused when he overheard them later and realized that followers rarely came into contact with Adam either. It sounded as though when he wasn't busy with whatever duties future kings have, he kept to himself.
So back in the now, he was late for aforementioned performance and was now running for what may well be considered dear life. He simply couldn't afford to miss this.
Of course the universe hated him though, and despite moving as fast as possible, he was actually looking where he was going, and so when he came around a corner and saw a small form and pale head of hair, he did all in his power to stop and thus not harm anyone unintentionally. It's just as luck would have it, in his haste to stop, he tripped gracelessly, and did a most spectacular face plant.
On the outside, he didn't move once he had settled onto the floor. On the inside, he wanted to scream in frustration. Why was he always a klutz at the most inopportune times?
Just kill me. I'm done. I give up.
He'd never make it now.
He thought he heard something, a voice directly in front of him that he couldn't quite distinguish. Oh, right. He'd almost run someone over.
Well, this is embarrassing…
Maybe if he just lay there they'd think he was dead and leave him alone. Would it be more damaging to his dignity to stay where he was and look like road kill, or get up and face his audience? They both had different appeal. He took his time deliberating, and eventually gave an internal sigh and chose the latter. He pushed himself from the floor onto his elbows before he looked up.
There was a pair of clear red eyes barely two inches from his own blue ones.
He had to fight the urge to swear very loudly and settled for jerking back a bit in surprise. The eyes blinked innocently, the pale, pretty face they were set in blank aside from a faintly puzzled air.
The girl looked at him. "He's alive." She said in a soft, flat voice. She almost seemed to be talking to herself, just stating the obvious for the hell of it.
"Um…" Was his eloquent response. The girl just tilted her head briefly, then turned to look behind her, long, wavy pink hair falling over her shoulder as she did so.
"Shu, he's still alive." She informed the figure behind her. "Why did he throw himself at the ground?"
He twitched, whether out of embarrassment or annoyance, he couldn't really tell. "I'm right here you know."
The person behind the girl chuckled. "I think you'll find that has more to do with gravity than anything he did, Inori." Said a male voice, the speaker stepping closer to rest a hand on her head. He stared up at the two of them, the boy especially, and suddenly his eyes widened.
The teen before him raised an eyebrow, studying him, and then recognition flickered over his features. "Oh, I remember you. Alio right?" He smiled a little and extended a hand. "How long has it been? Two years?"
"Almost three." Alio responded, eyeing the hand warily before he took it. The teen didn't seem to think it was strange that he knew how long it had been since that brief encounter, not unlike this one, in an unassuming hallway when they were fourteen, if his assessment of the other's age was accurate. He studied the teen, and his odd friend, and seriously felt as if he was missing something.
The young man before him wasn't really all that different from the one he remembered, taller admittedly, lean and pale, brown hair almost brushing his shoulders and were it not partially pulled back would probably completely hide his eyes. He wore an entirely black ensemble, some sort of elegant black coat with a turtle neck collar, he also had a single silver stud in his left ear, in the shape of a cross.
His female friend Alio had never seen before. Aside from the pink hair, which, believe it or not, appeared to be natural, she wore some kind of white dress mostly hidden beneath a black shawl and black shoes that looked more like socks and covered the majority of her legs. She stood close to the teen, one hand loosely holding his sleeve, as if to make sure if he started moving she would be going with him.
They both had red eyes. The boy's perhaps a harder, more solid red than the girls.
There was something bugging him at the back of his mind. He knew he was missing something; he just couldn't seem to remember what it was.
"Were you heading to the Moving room for the session?" The teen asked, startling the test subject from his thoughts.
"I…was." He looked away, expression dark. "I probably won't make it in time though. Just my luck I suppose."
The other didn't seem so sure, and gave him a reassuring smile. "Don't worry about it, you'll make it with plenty of time."
Alio lifted a skeptical brow. "What makes you so sure?"
The girl gave him a blank look. "It can't start without Shu. We can delay as long as we want." She said, as if it were obvious.
He wrinkled his brow in confusion. "Can't start without…?" That funny little thing in the back of his head was bugging him again. He could vaguely recall some gossip amongst the test subjects that had likely been inadvertently passed along by their instructors regarding Adam. Only two things really stood out from that particular memory. "Young" and "Red Eyes".
This is the part where two and two make four, and Alio almost loses his eyeballs they pop out so much.
"You." He brain was in disarray, and his voice wasn't helping. "You're not- I mean you- er- " He closed his mouth to prevent himself from saying something more stupid.
The teen- no, Adam- smiled crookedly, seeming to find his floundering amusing. "We were never properly introduced were we?"
Alio released a frustrated sigh and ran a hand through his hair. "No," He said. "We weren't."
"I'd be lying if I said that wasn't my intention." The King admitted, shrugging. He held out a hand. "I suppose better late than never? My name is Shu, but for the past decade or so I've been called Adam, whichever you prefer." After a brief hesitation on Alio's part, they shook hands, and Adam gestured to the girl. "And this is Inori. She's…well, she's a friend."
Inori tilted her head at him, crystalline red eyes inquisitive. Despite having a childish kind of way of studying him, her gaze was so unabashed and piercing that he felt like she was seeing into his soul. A little unnerving, but he didn't shy away.
"So," Adam smiled at him pleasantly, and gestured he follow as he began walking. "How have you been doing?"
"Okay…" Alio answered warily, and then gestured vaguely to his collar. "I mean, about as okay as I can be, especially being a notorious failure and all."
Adam frowned a little, and Inori cast him a look that she might have intended to look surprised, but didn't quite get past a few blinks and a sidelong gaze. "You don't seem like a failure." She said bluntly. He lifted a surprised eyebrow- he'd half expected the King and those whose company he kept to be full of themselves. Apparently not.
"I'm flattered you think so." He responded. "I'll admit, I'm stronger than the rest of my Group, and worked hard to be that way, but I'm not likely to ever be considered worth something." He shrugged, as if it didn't matter, and added on thoughtfully. "Unless this secret thing they've signed me up for is actually a miracle in disguise, which I highly doubt."
"Secret thing?" Adam lifted a brow. It occurred to the test subject that the King might know what the 'secret thing' was.
"Some sort of experiment they sometimes pluck subjects up for. They never really explain what it is we're in for, and those people don't ever come around again." Alio elucidated. He twisted his mouth into a crooked, sardonic smile. "You can guess why I'm not hopeful."
Adam said nothing, but his expression darkened, and Alio knew his suspicious were likely correct. He'd accepted such a fate a long time ago. That didn't mean he was happy about it.
They spoke no more before they reached their destination, or rather, the place where they parted ways. Alio was to be observing from a lower deck with the other subjects, below where the followers would be. Adam would likely be entering from elsewhere.
"Alio," The teen stopped him before he could leave. "I was thinking, would you…"
"Shu," A voice cut in, and they all turned. Adam's expression flickered, then settled into a cool mask.
"Shuichiro." He greeted, something barely noticeable in his tone seemed to say he was annoyed at the older mans appearance.
"You're late." The Chief informed him, approaching at a sedate pace before halting before them.
"I beg to differ." Adam scoffed. "A King can hardly be late for his own performance. And anyway, I came when I was meant to, I merely took my time getting here."
Shuichiro did not appear convinced by this explanation, and ran his gaze over the others present, mild displeasure flashing through his hard brown eyes when passing over Inori, and eventually resting on Alio. The test subject stiffened, some part of him wondered if he ought to stand firm and show no fear or run for dear life. He ultimately couldn't decide and just stood there.
Shuichiro's gaze flicked to the collar around Alio's neck. "Why aren't you with the other subjects? The… performance should have already started." The man addressed him, but he didn't seem interested in hearing an answer, because he turned back to Adam. "You took your time getting here? I find that hard to believe. Slowing down to fraternize with worthless experiments however…" The last part was something most men would have muttered, rather than say directly to their King, but the Chief was not a timid man, and would not be intimidated by a boy half his age. His voice was cold and blunt and disapproving and on the brink of sneer, as if he only expected it of the one called Adam.
Alio was downright shocked that the man implied such a thing in such a manner, and found himself instinctively wilting beneath his hard eyes and degrading tone. He'd thought he'd grown used to it from the scientists and instructors, but they were nothing compared to this man.
Adam's expression did not change, but his red eyes seemed to smolder, and his jaw tightened- it was as close to scowling Alio had seem him yet.
Which was why he was surprised when the teen suddenly smiled with such warm pleasantness that it was obvious he was faking, and he wanted everyone to know it. "You know, Shuichiro, since you're here, there was something I wanted to tell you." He smiled some more, making the man wrinkle his brow slightly in suspicion. Adam rested a hand on Alio's shoulder, closing the distance between them in a blink, and continued to address his uncle. "This is Alio, I've chosen him as my personal vassal. Great choice don't you think?" He practically glittered with false cheeriness, but there was something very smug and disdainful in his tone. In the face of their surprise, he plowed on before anyone could argue. "I'm planning on verifying it with Yuu after the session, but I'm sure he'll think it's a great idea. Speaking of which, you wanted to get this show on the road didn't you? We shouldn't just be standing around here talking then should we? Let's go Inori, Alio."
Just like that, Adam steered the confused test subject around and headed down the opposite corridor Shuichiro had come from, Inori following after him obediently. For some reason, the Chief didn't try to stop them.
When he was well out of sight, Adam stopped and sighed, running a hand through his bangs. He smiled crookedly at Alio, who just stared at him. "I'm sorry about that, my uncle is a bastard." He apologized. The test subject wasn't sure whether he ought to be surprised or honored or both that the King was actually apologizing to him.
"Were you serious?" He asked slowly. "About… or was that just…" He didn't know how to say it. He didn't want to dare to hope. Adam peered at him, then his smile became a bit more genuine and friendly. He made a funny kind of laugh, as if embarrassed.
"I was, actually. I was going to ask you before Shuichiro showed up, and at that point it just kind of slipped out." The King explained, toying with Inori's hair absently. "It's okay if you don't want to. Regardless of what I said back there, it's your choice."
Alio opened and closed his mouth wordlessly, speechless. His brain had temporarily come to a screeching halt upon being presented with a very unexpected hazard, leaving him with yet more unexpected decisions. It sounded almost too good to be true, becoming something of a personal aide to Adam would mean he'd never have to look at another obstacle course or syringe ever again, but Alio wasn't naïve enough to think that getting out of being a test subject immediately excluded him from the hardships of life. He didn't even really know what Adam did outside of a few vague duties only detailed in rumors and through indirect sources.
But… could it really be any worse than the fate he was currently facing?
Alio's mind whirled around the possibilities, pros and cons, and Adam waited patiently, despite his previous mention of being late for the performance. It could wait.
"…Why?" He eventually asked. Even if he was possibly passing up the chance of a lifetime, he really had to know. Adam blinked, opened his mouth, closed it, and finally settled for looking thoughtful.
"Good question." He said, adopting a thinker pose.
Alio didn't know whether to be horrified, or laugh. The King was really defying all expectations, not in a bad way though. Adam saw the look on his face and managed to look a little sheepish.
"I guess I never had a real reason, but do I need one? I like you, and the whole vassal thing seemed like the only way I could help you out." He shrugged a bit. "The experiment you mentioned earlier… it's not a good thing. Not at all. If I can, I'd like to save you from that. That is," He extended a hand, smiling faintly. "If it's alright with you."
Alio stared at the hand for the better part of a minute, coming to his decision. If he was honest with himself, he kind of liked Adam, too. He was the kind of person he'd want as a friend: his honesty, humor, quiet strength… the simple way he treated him like a human being.
Inori peered over Adam's shoulder at the test subject, and at the King's hand held between them. She tugged tilted her head and looked to the one she leaned on. "Is Alio a… friend, Shu?" She asked, hesitating in a way that made it seem she was making sure she was using the word correctly. He glanced at her but said nothing.
She looked at Alio. "Are you?"
He looked back, from her to Adam, and then away. Finally he sighed, not an exasperated one, or a sad one, or an angry one. It was more like amused resignation.
He took the offered hand. "I guess so."
Adam smiled. Inori did, too. Two sets of red eyes glittered faintly.
Alio had to resist the urge to say- or even think- something along the lines of I guess my luck is finally looking up.
He didn't want to jinx it.
Holy crap, how did that happen?
Inori is going to be somewhat OOC, mainly due to her changed circumstances. I personally think of it this way: when Gai found her, he mainly taught her how to be a useful and deadly addition to his group, and things like emotion would get in the way of that. In this, however, Shu is more interested in nurturing her as a person, and so treats her with affection and encourages her to ask questions and try things out so she can develop her own likes and dislikes.
But anyway, you like? The part with Alio...had me stuck for a while. I wasn't sure how to word it, and I think it shows. But at least I wrote it, right?
Whatever. I just want you all to know I love you- no, not like THAT- and please await, with all much-appreciated patience, the next chapter.
Read, review, love me, hate me, throw cabbage at me(no really, I like cabbage), eat me...okay maybe not that. I don't taste very good.