Chapter 10: Jagged Hearts
A numbness ran through my whole body as I carefully traced through countless photographs online. Agil wasn't kidding by any means. It didn't take much searching to find Kotone's photos all over the internet as she accompanied her father to banquets and other events. She was always in the most stunning clothes and various fashions every time she was presented. But in each photo, she wore a lifeless deadened gaze that seemed to be ever unchanging.
"So, that's why they call her the Doll of the Aomori Clan." I gruffed, "They dressed her up and show her off every chance they get."
The large and successful pharmaceutical company and multiple hospitals that Aomori Genjirou, Kotone's father, owned or had a part of would probably be enough to reaffirm a foot hold in his fortunes; but it was all an elaborate yet profitable cover for his less than reputable ties. Well, thinking about it, it is probably his less than reputable ties that allowed him to operate his business so successfully without competition sullying his net gains. The real question is, does Kotone even know about all this? I am pretty sure she would be more worried about me ending up in a riverbed tied to a cement block versus me realizing her disability. Right? ...right?
Sitting back away from the computer, I rubbed me eyes. No matter what scenarios I ran in my head, I did not see this ending well for me. If I was the same person I was back before the SAO incident, I would have already marked this girl off my list and forgot about it. But... damn that girl has a way of making my conscious interfere with more logical conclusions. Either way, in my current situation I have no means to combat her overly possessive father or his corporation to get to her. At best, I would get myself killed. To have any success at all, I would need to have much better financial resources and a better understanding of the market surrounding his business. And let's be honest here, I am no Edmond Dantès. I am short a decade of time to plan and a massive treasure trove to bolster my every need. I'm fairly certain that Agil doesn't want to be my Giovanni Bertuccio either.
Though, the seed has been planted. What I did in that hospital room was enough to draw that Chelsea's dark side out in front of her father. While I'll no doubt be blamed for her change in personality, it will at least keep her father on his toes. I also highly doubt that she will have enough sway to win him over for me. He obviously never respected her in the past, I doubt that will change just because she has proven rebellious. Seriously, what has happened to me? I jumped in without looking or doing research. That is so unlike me. My motto has always been "never fight a fight you can't win."
Tomorrow, I go back to the states, no if ands or buts. They have already picked up all of my luggage and taken them to the airport holding to be loaded onto my flight. There is no way to stay and I have no choice. All I can do is obediently go back to the states and bide my time till I can figure something out. But a part of me feels that once we are a world apart, we won't be able to go back to what we once had. Who would have thought I would long for the time I was trapped in SAO. She made that world worth living in. But for now, I'll have to resign to the world of my dreams. I have an early morning tomorrow.
As I got off the train at the station closest to the airport I pulled my coat up over my neck as the cold air blasted me. I can't believe it was already approaching Christmas time. The station was lit up and decorated brilliantly. I come from a suburbia hell back in America; people just don't get this excited over Christmas anymore. It was refreshing. Though, there were a lot of posters featuring some male pop idol plastered all over the walls. He was apparently having a huge concert today in a nearby plaza. Off in the distance I could hear the boom of music. The concert was probably already started. Even so, it was pretty crowded in the area with a lot of young high school aged girls. The sun was suddenly blocked from my eyes for just a moment as I passed under the low skyway that everyone had to walk under to get to the airport.
"But Oujo-sama, the concert is over there!" I heard a deep voice pleading, "It has already started, don't you want to at least go see part of it? That was the reason we came out here, wasn't it?"
Oujo-sama? Heh, never thought I would hear that being said openly in public. After passing under the skyway, my curiosity got the best of me. I peeked back up over my shoulder up at the sky way.
My eye-twitched furiously as I spotted Chelsea standing on top of the skyway along with the bald guy who I laid flat yesterday, "... Chelsea! ?"
Chelsea's eyes grew wide for a moment, and then a sharp expression crossed her face. Without thinking twice, she suddenly climbed over and leapt off of the skyway, with a small bag fluttering in the wind behind her.
"Oujo-sama!" The man yelled and reached out for her as she leapt. He then noticed me below, "YOU!"
In a panic, I dove for her, just barely catching her and sliding across the ground on my back.
"Jesus! That hurt..." I whimpered as I sat up, "What the hell were you thinking! ?"
"I knew you would catch me, but we don't have time to chat... let's go!" She said hurriedly.
"But... go where?" I blinked as I stood up took her hand and began to sprint off.
Kotone held up two first class plane tickets to New York, with a stop in California and Texas, "I figured we could transfer over at which ever airport was closest."
"You..." I sighed heavily, "You're crazy, you know that?"
"I thought you liked the fact I was crazy?" She smirked as we continued into the airport, "The plane is leaving soon, and we have to hurry."
Once we were in the airport, many of the Aomori Family's men had followed us in. We had to get the East Wing to reach our flight, but that was the first place they all spread out to, so we moved into the West Wing. The two of us were leaning up against a pillar, waiting for a chance to go. I peered around and didn't see any of them, so I took Kotone's hand and started to pull her with me, but she suddenly resisted.
"Hold up!" She whispered as she pulled me back.
She lowered her head and cupped her ear, "I hear Tanaka coming."
"Tanaka?" I asked.
"He got shot in the leg about eight months ago, it hasn't been right since and he has a very unique lope when he is in a hurry." She explained.
She definitely knows about her family... And sure enough, a large man in a suit hobbled by with a slight limp. That is amazing.
"How could you hear that amongst this massive crowd?" I was shocked.
Chelsea just grinned, "When you know what to listen for, it's not hard to tell sounds apart."
A minute or two passed then she gave me the single to go. We had to move around the air port in a large circle to get back to where the plane was taking off from. There were too many of them at the entrance. However, we had men coming from both directions. In order to avoid them, I drug Chelsea with me into a unisex bathroom. Chelsea pulled away from me and moved up against the door.
"Can you hear anything?" I asked.
"Shh!" She hushed me.
"Ah..." I made a noise in response.
"I said quiet!" She hushed me again, "Don't even breathe."
After a few seconds of holding my breath, she beckoned me closer, "One of them is right outside."
"I can't believe you told me you were useless..." I gaped, "You are amazing, you know that?"
"Only because you are here." She flushed slightly as she said something that even embarrassed me.
"You..." I shook my head.
"When you visited me a few days ago, I knew it was you before you said anything..." Chelsea mentioned, "Only you could have gotten that close to me without noticing you. Your steps are soft and calculated. The way your heel comes down first into a gentle roll has always impressed me."
"How is that..." I began.
"Let's go!" She beckoned me.
We worked our way all the way around the airport only to find more men blocking our path, "Did they know which plane we were taking?"
"There is no way, Kazuto-kun was the one who bought the tickets for me." She explained, "I just gave him the money."
"Who is Kazuto?" I asked.
"I'll explain later." She cut me off.
We had to do something. We would lose our chance if that plane left without us. With a deep breath I let that deadly calm wash over me. Then I opened my eyes and began to scan the surroundings. There sixteen men in the area we needed access to. If they really didn't know which plane we are getting on, we were suffering a bad case of bad luck. I noticed the security in the air port was also starting to get finicky with all the suits moving around. They were whispering into their walkie-talkies while eyeing the men in the suits. ... That might work, but it would be a bit risky.
"Stay here." I told her, "Don't move until I come back for you."
"Okay." She replied with complete trust.
Not all of the men would recognize me, but they would be wary of a tall foreigner, as I was surely described. So I kept my head low and moved into the crowd and waited for an opportunity.
"...then he said he wasn't coming!" I heard a woman mid conversation on her cell phone, "Yeah... yeah, okay! See you soon!"
Right as she was about to slip the cell phone into her pocket, I bumped into her, sliding my cupped hand into her pocket swiftly, catching the phone before it fell completely to the bottom. Before my hand came into any view, I slid the phone up my sleeve.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, are you okay?" I asked her with a smile.
"Yeah, I'm fine... just be more careful!" She mildly scolded me.
"I will, sorry about that..." I scratched the back of my head.
Quickly, I moved back to Chelsea and taking her hand and leading her into another unisex bathroom. Then I pulled my own phone out and searched for the number for airport security. After finding the number, I called it using that woman's cell phone.
"This is Airport Security, how may I direct your call?" A female voice called through.
"There are some scary men in the East Wing of the air port in suits; they are planning on killing me! Please help!" I cried into the phone pathetically before hanging up and dropping the phone into the toilet.
"What are you..." Kotone furrowed her brows.
"Let's move!" I grabbed her again.
This time I boldly moved into the crowd where only nine of the original sixteen men were located near our flight. One spotted Kotone and began to move towards her quickly.
"Oujo-sama!" He called out heading for her.
Quietly, I whispered into Kotone's ear, "Look directly ahead toward the man who just called out for you, scream then cling to me and act terrified."
Following my directions, Kotone looked directly toward the man, screamed out with a blood curtling tone, and then began to cry pathetically as she wrapped her arms around me. Instantly, the airport security guards looked up due to her scream and swarmed the man. As the rest of the men began to move in, the other security guards began to do the same. The two of us disappeared into the crowd and silently moved over the boarding platform.
"Hooooooh!" I exasperated as I collapsed back into the cushy first class chair of the plane, "I can't believe we made it..."
Both of Kotone's hands tightly grimed my right hand as she sat down next to me, "I can't believe I'm doing this..."
With my other hand, I grasped the back of her head and pulled her close and touched my forehead to hers, "We're going to make it."
"Yeah." She smiled and nodded, "But where will we go?"
"Back to my house for now I guess." I replied a bit unsure myself.
"But, he knows your name... he WILL find where you lived..." She began to get worried then a shocked realization hit her, "Your family!"
"It's okay..." I reached up and touched her face, "I was cautious from the very beginning when I gave that old man a fake name. That old man was a red player, even though he told me a heart wrenching story, I still didn't trust him."
"Eh?" A confused look appeared on her face.
"My name isn't Aiden Holloway." I smirked, "My real name is Sid Holloway... Aiden was an alias I used when played poker."
"Cid is it...?" A warm expression filled her face, "It's going to be weird calling you something other than Reis."
"You are still Chelsea to me a well..." I grinned.
"Wasn't Cid a reoccurring character in that game back then?" Kotone asked.
"No, my name is spelled S-I-D." I snickered, "My mother was a huge fan of the Sex Pistols back in her day."
"You are definitely no Sid Vicious." She remarked sarcastically.
"No kidding." I agreed with her.
Kotone scooted closer to me and laid her head down, I brought my arm up and around her. The plane was starting to fire up the engines around that point. Then curiosity began to overwhelm me once more as I realized how unlikely all of these events were.
"How did you... everything... I mean, how did you coordinate all of this?" I asked.
"Actually..." Kotone squirmed a bit, "I ran into Kirito when I was coming back from a rehabilitation session and he invited me to visit Asuna..."
"Poor Asuna..." I sighed.
"Yeah... but I told Kirito what happened, and we exchanged email addresses." She explained, "Then he help me pick the best spot to wait on you in a place where you would hopefully spot me and helped buy the plane tickets. I told my father there was a concert I wanted to attend and was hoping he would only send a light security detail with me... but there were more than I thought."
"I... I'm impressed." I laughed slightly, leaning my head back.
We grew quiet as time went on, then I heard Kotone softly snoring. She has had a big day today. I'll admit... I am exhausted as well. We have a very long flight ahead of us, some sleep would probably do us a lot of good. We're both still recovering from atrophy after all.
It was late when we arrived in New York. The flight to my home state wouldn't be leaving till the next day. The two of us decided it would be best to get a room while we waited and sleep in an actual bed. Our fingers remained interlocked as I led her into the front entrance of the hotel.
"Let's get a suite." She tugged on my hand.
"Can we afford that?" I asked.
Kotone reached into her small overnight bag she had been dragging along all this time and pulled out a change pouch. She opened it up to reveal a massive wad of hundred dollar bills, "I came prepared."
I let out an appreciative whistle, "A suite it is."
It wasn't quite Christmas; we still had a little while, so hotels weren't wildly booked yet. After getting our key we headed up to our room. The view wasn't anything especially enthralling, not that it mattered much to Kotone, but the room was nice.
"I'm going to take a shower." Kotone spoke up, pulling a few things out of from her overnight bag then blushing slightly, "Can I... uh, borrow one of your shirts to sleep in?"
I smiled slightly, "Of course."
She had been in the bathroom for about five minutes now, and I was flipping channels checking news stations. I have been so focused on finding her that I haven't really caught up with what I missed in the past two years. It all seemed to be the same thing as before but with a different coating of paint... political nonsense, he said she said, and people were either unhappy with the president or revered him as per usual. I sighed heavily and started to turn off the TV, but then something caught my eye. The news was showing footage from what looked like a game.
"ALO is still rapidly growing in popularity as a safe virtual world." The newscaster explained, "There was much hesitation about the game after the SAO incident which has recently ended and resulted in the death of over four thousand people."
Suddenly, Kotone made a surprised shrill sound. I quickly hopped off the bed and rushed to the bathroom and opened the door, "Are you alright?"
At that moment I saw her, she wasn't anything like she was in the game. She still looked undernourished and her rib cage was fully visible. Her frame was almost spindly.
"GET OUT!" She threw a mini-shampoo bottle.
"Wha-?" I ducked under the bottle, "What happened?"
"Don't be such a pervert, GET OUT!" She said as she covered herself, "The water was cold and it surprised me!"
I shut the door then leaned up against it, "It's not like we haven't ever..."
"This is the real world... things are different." She sounded a bit angry.
"Do you want me to sleep on the couch too?" I asked.
Kotone was quiet for a little while, "...No."
After she finished showering up, I left a shirt on the bed for her then hopped in myself. I was probably in there for a good thirty minutes washing away the stress of the day. Nothing revitalized me more than an overly hot shower. When I left the bathroom, Kotone was already in bed and the lights were off. Carefully I put on some night clothes and approached the bed. I slid in under the covers in moved in behind her, wrapping my arms around her.
"It feels like it's been a long time." I whispered quietly.
"Mmhmm..." She replied.
As I embraced her, she skittishly twitched; she almost seemed nervous, "Are you okay?"
"Y-yeah..." She replied.
"If you didn't want to do anything tonight, I'd understand..." I began, "You were just always so aggressive that it's weird seeing you like this."
"I am a long way off from the girl you knew in that game." Kotone replied quietly, "That's one of the reasons I was so terrified to see you again."
"I still see hints of her." I teasingly bit down on her ear, causing her shrill.
"S-Stop..." She whimpered.
"Teasing you like this is kind of fun..." I snickered.
An elbow suddenly struck my gut, "I said stop!"
"Sorry." I whispered, snuggling my head down to the top of hers as I pulled her to my chest.
After a long moment of silence in the darkness, she spoke up hesitantly.
"... When I was in SAO, I felt like I started a new life and left everything behind." Kotone began, "But, now that I am back... everything returned, all my fears and doubts... I'm scared."
"We'll figure it out." I smiled as sleep started to take a hold of me, "I'll be there for you."
"Sir." A subordinate entered the room, "We questioned the woman who owned the cellphone; she swears up and down that it went missing that day."
"Let her go." Genjirou never turned to face the man, his eyes locked on the monitor in front of him.
"Are you certain?" The subordinate asked.
"Don't question me!" Genjirou barked back.
"Yes sir." The subordinate dismissed himself.
Genjirou began to rewind the video he was watching once more. His eyes narrowed to a deep focus as he watched in slow motion as the man he knew only as Aiden Holloway skillfully swiped a phone from the said woman so quickly that his eyes could barely catch it in slow motion.
"Not bad." Genjirou smirked slightly, "But I still don't see why my daughter is so taken by you..."
He brought up another monitor from a different camera feed. It showed as Kotone grabbed the young man, pulled him back, and kept him hidden while one of the men ran by. Genjirou was equally impressed by his daughter as he was furious.
"The plane they got on..." Genjirou grimaced, "They could be anywhere in the states by now..."
Genjirou's phone suddenly lit up in the darkness below the light of the computer monitors. Looking down at the name of the caller, his eyes grew wide.
Awaking the next morning, I found Kotone bundled in the usual sleeping positioning she always was in when we were in SAO. She was tightly knotted up against me with her face buried into my chest. All I could see was her flowing hair atop the blankets. On some of the warmer nights, this habit of hers was uncomfortable. It always amazed me how it never seemed to bother her. But at times, she was sweltering. But the cold air of a New York winter was hanging heavy outside and a light frost covered the windows; so today was a day I gladly welcomed her warmth.
Much like those countless times within the game, when she finally awoke, her head slowly turned up to face me. Around this time our eyes usually met and she would smile. But this time was different. When she looked up, realization crossed her face and a sad expression formed.
"Good morning." I placed my hand on top of her head.
"Mornin'" She yawned, "What time is it?"
"Our plane isn't leaving till late in the day..." I replied.
"Then I'm going back to sleep." Her face disappeared back into the sea of her pitch black hair.
"Sweet dreams." I replied as I wrapped my arms around her.
After a bit of squirming and trying to get comfortable, she finally rolled over away from me and knotted up. Although she always woke up in that position, she could never fall asleep in it. A deep sigh escaped her as she tried to fall back asleep.
"Hey." She suddenly spoke up.
"Mmm?" I replied with my eyes still closed, fighting away the intrusive morning sun.
"Do you miss SAO?" She asked.
I had to contemplate my answer for a bit before replying, "Parts of it."
"Would be it weird if I said I wished that world were real?" Her voice grew shallow.
"Considering your situation..." I began, "I don't think it's unreasonable."
"What about you?" She asked, "Do you ever wish it was real?"
"Hmm... maybe if you were there." I smirked.
"Augh... what a cheesy answer." She mocked me.
The sun was starting to set and we still had an hour or so before we needed to be at the airport. So the two us were walking down one of the main streets past all the shops. Kotone was tightly wrapped around my arm swaying back in forth with a light hum chiming quietly from within her. Christmas decorations were in full bloom in this area, and many shops had Christmas music playing and the scent of pine and cinnamon hung heavy in the air from the various gift shops.
"You certainly seem to be in a better mood." I smirked.
"Hearing the sounds of Christmas reminds me of when I was younger." She explained, "I lost my sight right after a really nice Christmas I had. All of daddy's men brought me a gift and we celebrated under a really big tree."
"That sounds mildly terrifying." I chuckled.
"I didn't know what he was doing back then." She smirked, "But still, it was a good memory."
"Does your father's line of business bother you?" I asked.
Kotone tilted her head mildly, "I don't really approve of it, but he has always been a very good father to me if not a bit over protective."
"I think that's quite the understat-" I paused and grew still.
Kotone bumped into me when I stopped, "W-what's wrong?"
"We're being followed." I explained.
We've crossed eight blocks in a zig zag pattern, and each time I've seen the same guy with a brown hoodie and a news paper somewhere in our vicinity. Likewise, I've seen the same bicyclist four times in the past hour. Both kept their faces concealed.
"Come on." I ushered, "We need to move, we don't want to have another repeat of the last airport incident."
Weaving between the people in the crowd with Kotone carefully in tow, my mind raced. Was it Genjirou's men? Did they find out? How did they get here already? They would have had to leave last night and flown straight here. While my mind was still spiraling in thought, my eyes darted back and forth. A busy mall caught my eye as the safest place to lose them in.
Racing through the first floor clothing boutique, Kotone started to grow languid in her pace. While a spark of concern for her pressed into my mind, I was more focused on getting us to a taxi before getting caught. We pulled out of the clothing store and into the main strip of the indoor mall. As we passed all of the shops, Kotone nearly tripped. I turned and caught her right before she fell.
"Hey..." Kotone spoke up.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"Yeah, but..." Kotone was trying to say something, but she was struggling to find the words.
"Just a little bit more, okay?" I told her.
As I approached the exit that was next to the movie theatre, I noticed the area was oddly devoid of people. This time of night or late day I should say, the movie theatre should be packed. My pace slowed once more as I took in the situation. Something was not right at all.
"Kotone!" A deep voice called out.
My eyes grew wide.
"Daddy..." Kotone spoke quietly.
"How?" I was trying to conceive how he was tracking us. Kotone was using a prepaid phone and he shouldn't know who I was.
Tightly, I gripped Kotone's hand and looked around for an escape, but every single passage was starting to be blocked off by Japanese men in suits. Slowly, Kotone's father stepped forward. How the hell did the Japanese government not catch on to that many Yakuza members traveling internationally? Unless... It doesn't matter at this point. We had to do something. Once I started to move, Kotone gripped my hand tightly and stopped me.
"It's okay Reis." She spoke weakly.
"Huh?" I turned to her, spotting her expression, "You can't mean that you..."
"I was the one who called him." Kotone admitted.
"But, why?" I asked.
"Because... last night I realized I'm still not myself. I'm not ready for this yet." She lowered her head, "When have you ever known me to run away from a confrontation? The fact I ran was proof enough to myself that I'm doing something wrong. We have to do this the right way. My father is craftier than you can ever imagine. He would eventually find us."
"You know we may never see each other again if he takes you." My eyes grew weak.
"I don't believe that for one second." She took both of her hands in mine, "We both know we will find a way."
"Assuming he doesn't kill me." I smirked sadly in a mild jest.
"Part of the deal was that he wouldn't hurt you." She forced a smile.
Slowly, I reached out and took Kotone into my arms. Tightly, she wrapped her small arms around my back in return. As I looked back over her shoulder, my eyes met with Genjirou. His glare was that of any father who did not want to let his daughter go. Nonchalantly, I stuck my tongue out at him trying to break that vice like stare that he was holding. His fist clenched as he took a step forward. But suddenly, Kotone was pinching my side, "I know what you are doing. Stop."
A warm smile overwhelmed me as I placed a hand on her head, "You know me too well."
Kotone nodded, "I may be comfortable with you and know you all too well sometimes, but I'm still not comfortable with me. I need to work my own problems and I need to face my father and let him know I am my own person."
"Kotone!" Genjirou yelled, "It's time."
Kotone gripped my shirt and pressed her forehead to my chest as she always did while sleeping, "Good bye for now."
Gently, I kissed the top of her head, "For now..."
Kotone turned away and walked towards her father. As she approached him, he placed a hand on her shoulder, yet his affixed glare never broke away from the lock he had upon me. Without a word, he proceeded forth past his daughter who he handed off to that same short bald subordinate before heading in my direction. Everything from his glare to his walk had one purpose; to intimidate me. He grew uncomfortably close as he pressed his face into close proximity with my own.
"If you truly love my daughter, become someone that I can't ignore." He spoke almost threateningly in a low voice, "Then I might be willing to negotiate."
"As much as I love your daughter, whatever I may do to catch your attention will not coincide with your less than official means of gathering profits and-" I stopped as a smirk came to Genjirou's face.
"June 6th, 2020." Genjirou grinned toothily, "Don't act like your hands are clean."
A dark twisted grin came to my face as he relayed that very important date, "You have a nose more keen than any blood hound I've ever met... to pick up such an old trail. No one involved had any idea who I was. I was very thorough. Though, I doubt you will ever tell me how you sniffed that information out. Just how far did you dig into my past?"
"Does my daughter know what you are capable of, Sid?" He spoke my name, "She is quite innocent."
"Innocent? That daughter of yours is capable of more than you realize." I replied, "She will surprise you in the coming months, I'm sure."
"I look forward to it." He turned away from me as he began to walk off, "Do not disappoint me."
Genjirou put an arm around his daughter as he began to exit the mall. All of his men in various locations started to pull back as well. Kotone suddenly stopped and turned to face me.
"I'll be waiting on you Reis!" She called out.
"You can count on it!" I yelled back before turning my gaze to Genjirou
Trust me you scarred bastard. You can count on it.
Kotone quietly listened to her father's heavy breathing. While to most people, his breaths wouldn't be that noticeable, but she knew this pattern of his. He was heavily thinking of on something and was at an impasse on how to handle a situation.
"Daddy, I know you keep your word..." Kotone tightened her fingers, "But I was really surprised that you agreed to not hurt him."
"That boy... Sid..." Genjirou began, "Hmm... how do I say it..."
"He's impressive isn't he?" Kotone smirked up at her father.
"We'll see..." Genjirou looked out of the window of the plane.
"You WILL see." She insisted.
Genjirou's eyes narrowed down at the document he held in his hand entitled June 6th, 2020, "I just hope that I have not stirred the slumber of a sleeping giant..."
Side Story Volume 1: The Dragoon, THE END