A/N: Finished it! Early too! Originally I was going to make this a bit more actiony but... I decided against that. I'll leave that to the imagination instead. With this I wish you all a good night and happy homecoming, etc.

If you have any questions on what I was thinking about when I wrote this, please pass them on. If anybody seems ridiculously out of character, there are errors of any sort, etc, please let me know! Thanks a lot!~

Passages in italics are flashbacks.

02-06-13 EDIT: Mistakes hopefully all located and fixed. Thanks for noticing them all reviewers.


Between a Bullet and a Smile

His luck was bad. It was why this had happened. In the slick and slosh of the rain, as a boy went off in the ambulance, he went to sleep, waking up to the sound of sobs and the rasps of his own breathing. He was in the dark but at the sound of something hitting a wall, the child realized he didn't want to. It wasn't as though he could move at the moment, his limbs strangely limp. He wanted to, he truly did, but…

Bright light revealed dead children and mangled bodies. And for the first time in his life, he swallowed a scream.

It wouldn't be the last time.

Taiki knew better than to leave it all behind. That would be like forgetting and cutting off his arm. That would be like denying who or what he was. That would be as though those people had never been alive. That was unthinkable, an abomination to those days.

So he would never let it go. As childish and stupid as it was, he would live for them.

So every day he did the same routine he could get away with. He got up when he chose, exercised, went to school, sometimes Hunted or played basketball, then went to the shooting range. Was it legal? Of course not. But he had connections… and it was best to use them before they up and mysteriously disappeared on him. She was like that at times. Of course he helped people in between and he never forgot the most important lesson.

He always made sure to smile, especially when he wanted to cry.

It was mostly grey here, grey and frantic breathing and tears. There wasn't sympathy; it was sucked into the fresh air outside. It didn't matter that his hands were small and trembling or that others were screaming. Nobody cared. They wanted results. And he had to give them some. Again. This was the endless routine, that which blocked out individual thought, love, even a hint of happiness. Death was the relief, blood the drink and bread the water. It was his new doctrine and the words had no book he could read, only scars as written rules.

He sighed softly in class, brushing at the bands on his wrists. Taiki hid it out of guilt. Also everyone asked questions, always wondering about him, about the prodigy with the big heart, the boy with the barcode on his wrist and the numbers on his left shoulder…

He wished they would stop.

Couldn't everyone have a secret or two?

It wasn't the bullets that scared him or the gunshots or screaming. They worried him. They worried everyone. It wasn't the whispers of the other kids, words of escape and freedom and no more blood. He knew that without understanding their words. It was hopeless. They knew it. It was the time, the endless slipping of time and the fact that his face was always so blank and his hands felt sticky even when they were clean.

It was the fact that he was forgetting his Mama's face, replaced with the dirty outline of a heavy military boot.

There was nothing to tell, nothing that could be grasped in fists and held tightly to the chest. Each question was nothing more than another reminder that he remained, that he had no answers to his questions. Every gentle curiosity was a prying toward his fragile game avatar and because he didn't want the thing to fall to pixels, he'd like the whispers to stop, if that was all right.

He raised the gun toward the man, the trembling minion of the week up for slaughter like a pig. The others were silent. They feared him, this little boy. He was the best they said, according to Mary, whose name he only knew after sounding it out many times in an English lisp. He was the best, the little boy who spoke no English and wept in his cot.

He didn't know how to do what he was doing. He just did it. And it scared him that he could do it.

Cafes were always known for their anonymity. It was why he sat in one now, drinking tea and fidgeting with a parfait that melted like viscous tears in the sun. Taiki hated sugar. He had bought this for someone else. Shoutmon was the only one who understood his hatred of the sweet. Sugar was the bribe, the incentive to get drunk from energy and go into a battle you couldn't win. Every time it touched his tongue he tasted blood and gunpowder.

His head was shoved in the barrel. He coughed and spat it out, watching the others burn with energy they shouldn't have. Why couldn't they eat yet? Wasn't everybody dead?

"It's a test, a test!"

What did he have to smile about? A brutal kick-

"Wow, have you gotten tall~"

Taiki smiled at her, the princess of the underground. Her white hair as pure as the snow she turned red with blood, the young woman lifted her sunglasses to pierce him with the most twisted of blue hues. He rose from the chair, suddenly vividly aware there were people watching him in the most obvious of places, civilians. His audience was captivated, as was his actress and her support, a boy with eyes like his own, only ruby red and forcefully dispassionate. Ah, he understood. Taiki knelt and pulled her hand to his lips, kissing her fingers with a delicacy he knew would amuse her. "Miss Koko," he demurred, stepping away. "You were busy this morning." He caught the dirt on her clothes, the boy's unsubtly twitching hand toward a pocket in his sweater, how he pointedly looked everywhere around him. Her smile, catlike and unbearably cruel, widened.

"And you're as observant as ever," she chirped as merrily as though he had merely mentioned the weather. "It looks like you haven't forgotten."

This gun was heavy or maybe that was his limbs, crying from their abuse and the future agony. The stares… why were they staring so intently? He was doing the same thing he always did: shooting a gun.

The same thing…

When was he going to get to go home?

Taiki laughed slightly sheepishly and relaxed, feeling his old rhythm return. Koko brought out his awkward formality at times, mostly with her own absurdity. "Of course not!" He tilted his head at the boy, who was still avoiding his gaze in the most dispassionate way possible. "Who is this?"

"Ah this is Jonah," Koko introduced happily. He's a child soldier with a high kill count went so unspoken he believed she created negative silence somehow."He's just like you, except shorter." He saw Jonah twitch silently and smiled. He was her latest one… perhaps her last one.

"Really," Taiki commented softly, giving his replacement a look of fond sympathy. "Nice to meet you. I'm Taiki." He stared at him briefly before the smaller boy nodded, emotionless as he seemed to be. Taiki could see the unvoiced behind his gaze. The brunette chuckled and jerked a thumb at Koko. "I hope she hasn't been too much of a handful for you. You know; flying planes, getting assassins on her, sniping people across mountains…" He trailed off casually, smiling at Koko like a sweet-driven child. He looked around in puzzlement. "Where's… R?"

Finally Jonah's expression changed, twitching with a grimace as Koko's eyes flashed with a sorrowful chill. Their silence made him frown and almost visibly droop. "I see… that's too bad… I would have liked to see him again…" He fidgeted with his hands and Koko snapped forward to grab his cheeks. Taiki smiled again. "It's all right Miss Koko. I will not forget again."

Get me out! LET ME OUT OF HERE!

His finger was on the trigger, gluing it open as he fired at them, these cruel men. He let go only for a second, lunging forward like a frenzied animal, biting one and kicking another. He broke free of lunging arms and frightened whispers. He didn't scream, couldn't. The howling was trapped in his throat only to be hollered by the dead as he shot them or bashed their heads. Everything was blurring, turning red, deep wine red-

Then it stopped.

To the passerby it likely just seemed like two people chatting, an absurdly youthful woman and a young, well-known boy that happened to know her. Anyone who actually stopped and watched them engage in small talk was able to sense it… the tinged sensation of murder. The other boy was still never more than an arm's grasp away yet he seemed not to care, fixing chilly eyes on everyone who looked or didn't look like a threat. At least he wasn't discriminatory.

His gaze was clear and the fear returned. His breathing began to burn his throat, desperately loud and cold. He shrank against a storage unit, what could have been his for all he knew. Fear. They wanted his fear yes. Fear of them, because they could probably kill him. Probably…

Not?

He had just killed them after all.

"Do you remember the day we met?" she asked casually as they sat down, Jonah's fingers slowly leaving the pockets they had been twitching towards for a good few minutes now. Taiki sipped his tea again, looking off into the distance.

"Every night," he replied quietly. "It haunts me, my dreams. Why?" It had been years. Maybe he couldn't let sleeping dogs lie, but there was no need for her to concern herself. There was a plot afoot, he could almost see the strings wrapping around her slender puppeteer fingers.

"Amazing," commented the sultry voice of a woman he didn't know. At least, he thought that was what she said. When had they gotten there? "Someone up and did the work for us." There was a thunk, like flesh smashing against concrete. The possibility of that made him tremble. He almost wet himself but an absurd thought pulled itself into his head. This is my only pair of pants.

The thought made him want to giggle but the hysterical emotion wouldn't leave his throat. Nothing would leave him, preferring to settle in the cold pit that was once his stomach. Yet he still breathed so loudly as a different voice chimed. "Search around. Maybe someone's still alive in this shit." It was an old man, who snorted and coughed at the same time. He smoked, judging by the dryness of the noise. "These are very accurate shots," the man commented. He had no clue what this person was saying, but… they sounded like they were talking about the outside. He… were they going to kill him? "Clumsy but incredibly on target. A child… or someone with arthritis."

"It's a child, Lehm," the sultry voice commented and there was suddenly an eye staring at him in the carton, as concerned for him as the sun was about nighttime. He scrambled back, as far away from the possible hands as he could be. He was about to be punished for his fear. Not for the murders no, but for the fear. You weren't allowed to be frightened. "A child soldier in training."

"Oh?" The carton was pulled open and light stabbed him where it hurt: his eyes. "Hmm… quite a young one there." This man was big, but not like the guards; he was someone who glowed with power and many, many showers of blood. He puffed on his cigarette and smiled, the expression so casual it was completely unsettling. "You kill all these people, boy?" His voice was very calm. The boy stared, uncomprehending. Then the man sighed. "Language fuck-up. Did you kill all these people, boy?" This received a small, frightened nod.

"Oh he did, huh?"

"We've found him."

Taiki didn't freeze at these words nor do anything remotely dramatic other than take a deep breath. He knew better than that. He had been trained and habits were hard to kill, unlike people. The images of the past did not rise. Not a single laugh or bleeding corpse or the sting of belts and boots on his skin rose up in his mind's eye. They waited for his dreams, where he was forced to watch. They waited so they could shove coins in his eyes and sugar down his throat so he went mad. Opening his eyes in an exhale, he locked eyes with Koko and spoke in an even voice that traumatized that broken child locked in his rotting heart. "Do I get to kill him?"


"Yes."

The word spun in his mind as he lay on his bed. He could kill him and for the entirely wrong reasons. Taiki snorted. "Only that guy would make this complicated," he muttered. That wasn't true entirely, he knew that arms dealers complicated like a science, but this guy, after all the reputation, would be foolish enough not to pay Koko upfront and expect to see next week.. She was a scary person after all, always walking the grey line and all that. Then again even if she wasn't, Koko would still be pretty scary. She was, after all, an human being. He stretched, listening to the sounds of pots moving over flame and his mother humming. The issue with only the two of them in the house was that there were no secrets and more room for sound. Therefore, she had heard everything and had also decided in the same thought process to let him take care of things. His mother had a habit of doing this.

Would he be able to take care of it was the question.

Taiki was confident, as he rarely was in much of anything, that he could shoot the man if it came right down to it in one scenario while in another carve him like a turkey. No, the ability to do so was not and never would be the problem with him. He knew perfectly well his "knack" for new skills was abnormal and intended to milk it, particularly when it came to things like this. He was merely concerned about his… resolve. Would he do it? Did he have the urge for revenge? Did he have the desire?

He knew damn well he had the motive. If the scars didn't remind him, his own brain would. The therapy was working on it though. Or was it? Taiki was never quite sure. He curled and uncurled fingers around the trigger of an invisible handgun. Yep, it was definitely not working.

Someone shuffled at the door. Taiki didn't sit up, merely yawned before asking his query. "What is it, Shoutmon?" He knew his partner's footsteps pretty well by now; not that Shoutmon was trying to hide it or anything. That wasn't his way of doing things.

"What is your mother doing to that piece of meat?" asked the red dragon with a curious sigh, walking in and flopping ungracefully on his computer chair. "It's now nothing but a bunch of squares."

"Hotpot," replied his General with a small grin, happy to take his mind off this discomforting subject attached to his brain. Shoutmon knew him well; he couldn't distract himself with a cat toy. He grinned to himself again. "I hope she's lighter on the spices this time." The red dragon chuckled and spun himself in the chair. A comfortable silence lapsed for a while, causing Taiki to roll over and face the wall. He couldn't do it; he just couldn't drudge up any cheer or mellow confidence. His left hand trembled ominously in front of his eyes, causing the young teen to shiver with dismay.

What was he supposed to do?

The logical thing actually, instead of gut the bastard like a pig, was to politely decline to Miss Koko's request. Actually wait that was the stupid idea, as he would end up doing it anyway. No the rational thing was to get up now, hunt the bastard, get a camera, then YouTube his intestines spilling out until there was more blood on the internet than porn.

Taiki was not known for being entirely rational. Hence why he was sitting here pondering the matter; instead of simply getting up and doing what needed to be done. His family had tried to redrill the kindness destroyed by guns and choices back into his brain. Luckily it hadn't entirely worked or he'd have been data paste and none of this would exist. But still… he did treasure life. He really did. Everyone deserved a second chance.

Yeah, mocked his mind, the sneer so palpable it was like a forensics unit to itself. Let's give a second chance to a guy who won't even use it. Let's give a second chance because the others won't get one. Where's their freebie? Why don't we listen to him squeal once in a while, just for fun?

"Am I really like that…" The muttered phrase didn't escape his Digimon's ears he knew, but Shoutmon was looking away calmly, scratching the bridge of his nose.

Whether he was or not didn't really matter… there was still a gun under his bed.


Curiosity was like a sore. You scratched it and ended up with pus and blood all over your hands. And the itch didn't leave.

It was worse when you were the object of scrutiny, Taiki found. It was one of the reasons he hated being a "child prodigy", which in truth he thought was a lie if there ever was one. There weren't really prodigies, he had found out from Koko, just people who could only fake socializing so well it was creepy how little was in their smiles. Or they didn't smile, which was more refreshing to him.

And then there was him, who had no clue where he belonged.

Luckily the gift of smiles was more useful than anyone dreamed. It enabled him to leave the school out the window and have nobody notice it was the third floor. Magic right? No he didn't break his neck of course not. Actually he didn't even get close. He grabbed a tree was why he was glad they rarely trimmed the sakura tree, even though he was covered in pink petals the whole way down. Taiki disappeared behind the grey fence before Tagiru and Yuu made it down the stairs.

It wasn't like he could blame them. He had said something Kudo Taiki just did not say. Talking about killing casually was not exactly teatime conversation topics. Well… with Miss Koko it was. She was strange like that. Taiki sighed softly as he walked away, intending to go talk to Shoutmon or shoot something that exploded. He wasn't sure why water balloons were more interesting than ordinary targets but whatever. Probably because they exploded, especially since half the time somebody put in watermelon juice. Crazy buggers.

"You're frowning."

Taiki whipped around, reflexes for once beating his brain to the punch and pulling his knife from that oh-so-cozy spot in one of his pockets and leaping back to pin the stranger to the wall. Only at the sight of crimson eyes looking coolly at him did Taiki relax by an inch and even that wasn't much. Ren smirked at him, bravado hiding the trembling in his hands as his hat floated innocuously to the pavement. Taiki saw this and gave him a look that Kiriha would describe as unnatural, a smirking raise of the eyebrow. Hah, the mask was easy as breathing.

Slowly, eyes making sure there were no weapons and possible life-threatening injuries on the other's person, because that would be great to explain to the authorities, Taiki removed his hand from its place on the other's throat. "You know," he commented softly. "Interrupting someone's thoughts like that is rather risky, particularly without warning."

Ren massaged his throat and Taiki winced. For a normal person that must have hurt like hell. "Or you could be less paranoid," remarked the almost gutted pre-teen as he sauntered over to pick up his hat. "No wonder Tagiru's such a weirdo if that's how you greet each other. Or…" He raised an eyebrow. "Am I just special?"

Taiki hummed as he thought about it. "Tagiru doesn't tend to poke holes in my behavior." Or sneak up on me. Not that Tagiru actually could though.

The blunette snorted. "That's because Tagiru is an idiot."

The former gogglehead rubbed at his spikes, allowing a tiny, dark smile to curl the edges of his lips. "Are you sure you're not imagining things?"

Ren cocked an eyebrow, leering chuckle quirking his lips. "Many people tell me that," admitted the young man with an almost modest laugh after it. "That's of course before I'm right."

"What happens when you're right?" the brunette inquired as casually as he dared. He was starting to feel nervous… and anything that made him nervous was filed under a threat… like Kiriha. Kiriha had made him twitchy, that special trigger-finger kind of twitchy. He needed to work on that, Taiki realized. He had to be normal and not give things away. Otherwise people like this kid would catch him. Who else had caught on though? The possibilities almost made him ill. If he got caught…

He earned a shrug for his attempted nonchalance. "Not much, unless I can prove anything. And with you…" Ren grinned, gently tapping his music player. "I bet you'll give me proof real easy right?" Taiki examined him, smile unchanged as his thought process streamed on. If he got caught… what? What would this kid do? Sadly he knew very little about the other Hunters as they tended to keep to themselves. This one was rather ruthless with what he wanted, he found. It actually was interesting, since he was rather like… Koko-san. Hm… there was an idea. Taiki felt his heartbeat calm gently to rest, his panic fading into little more than a light in his eyes.

"Why?" he uttered simply, smile elongating at the sight of Ren raising an eyebrow. "I'll give you your proof… but for what? And why?" Taiki smiled again, letting his eyes grow to a piercing chill. "Do you always sneak up on people to find your answers? Or am I just special?"

Ren, to his credit, didn't react too much to this with more than a small shake of the head. Taiki watched the expression flicker and shift like murky water, scarlet eyes glinting with oddly vibrant and puzzling emotion. Personal, Taiki thought with light understanding, amusement undercoating his words. Or he believes it is. Mentally, he kicked himself. A couple days with his old world creeping in and he already sounded like Koko. Or Kiriha. Or both. Oh dear god, he thought it was both. That was bad; that was very bad. He had leverage over a kid his own age and was actually considering blackmailing him. Dear god, dear god…

He had to end this. He absolutely had to.

Taiki jerked unnoticeably back to reality at Ren's words. "… Ryouma's fascinated with you." This earned a blink, surprise curling around his blank smile. Ren continued undeterred, anger turning his words fiery, exhaustedly desperate to leave his lips. "I don't know why, he doesn't tell me. All I know is that the Hunt and you are some of the most exciting things he's ever seen…"

"But…" Taiki prodded quietly, eyebrow still gently quirked. Ren remained silent, shifting in that uncomfortable way that the gogglehead always defined as "I said too much" and "What do I answer with" in the same gesture. It was likely taking all of the other's self-control not to blurt and scream and attack the older male. Perhaps fear was also playing a part. Taiki's reaction when he didn't expect an attack was downright disturbing for such a kind person, if he knew what was coming….

Mentally, the boy laughed. Was he really such a nice guy? Sure, he always did the right thing, but that didn't make him nice. Or perhaps, despite circumstances, it did. He could do the wrong thing, but decided against it… for the most part. "Ah…" he sighed, preventing Ren from trying to spit out whatever the accusation may have been. "And because I'm now behaving oddly you think he's going to get caught up in something right?" His smile softened and he shook his head. "Why do people always…" Taiki scowled to himself.

"Why do we always…" Ren invited, back to amused glare mode.

Taiki smiled sadly. "Why do they always try to get involved with things like this… and never talk?" When he earned a completely puzzled look, he chuckled. "Things like the Hunt… the pasts of other people… people dive right in and then are broken by the burdens of others… even the strongest of hearts have trouble bearing another person on their own troubles. They never stop and ask… what do you do? How did this happen? Are you okay? All of those questions that people secretly want answered are never asked… and pain appears and is passed from person to person."

His fingers closed gently around his knife's handle. "People drown that pain… with money, with people, and other things… but that doesn't always work. So they push the pain on others… and that's where wars begin. The people grow lax… and they forget the pain they left behind. They grow fat on money and power… and then they turn into dragons." His fist clenched with anger, quiet, burning rage. "While the rest of us crumble under the whips they forced upon us."

"And then…" He looked solemnly into the ruby red eyes, the slowly widening irises struggling valiantly to meet his own stare. "We slay those dragons."

Now Ren's expression changed. Dismay and fury and protectiveness curled a frown so deep it was almost etched onto the other's face like a knife. "You're going to kill him?" The other's hiss was harsher than a snake's.

Taiki's grey irises burned with pity and misery. "Do you think I want to?" he asked sadly. "Dragon-slaying is the highest honor, but it's best if we don't create them at all."

"So… what?" Ren's fists clenched and he marched up to the gogglehead. His fiery scowl was a pitiful attempt at roasting the other alive. "What are you going to do?"

Quite frankly Taiki was going to end this conversation. Ren had no idea the political screwballs and murders under the table he could reach into if this kept going, if his friend got pushed into a deeper world than simply the Digital one. This was, as Lutz had put it the day he'd met the guy, seriously fucked up. So Taiki allowed himself to do a normal Digimon Hunter reaction. His hand slid toward his Xros Loader just slow enough for Ren to see. The other reacted but the elder merely held up the red device with a small smile. His free hand clutched the knife. "I'm still armed," he reminded gently, solemnly.

I have the advantage here.

"Here is the situation," Taiki continued languidly, pretending not to see the horror marring the young teen's face. "There is someone in this city who I have unfinished business with." He didn't smile. "He has nothing to do with this game everyone's playing. He has nothing to do with the Digimon and the Digital World. I've been asked to hunt him down." He heard his own voice, curiously flat. "I… considered letting someone else do the job but…" Taiki smiled. "You've given me reason to not do that. So thank you."

"Wh-…" Ren caught himself. "What the heck does this have to do with anything?"

"That man is a dragon," Taiki answered simply. "He is a dragon who kidnaps children and makes them monsters of war." He slid down his wristband and displayed it, eyes burning with mortification so deep and shameful he thought he couldn't contain it. "And if I leave him alone, he might find me. And by extension he will find your friend. I personally have nothing to worry about… but he will be in danger because I wouldn't be able to help him." He gave Ren a tiny, horrible wink. "I won't turn my back on those who need it."

Taiki pocketed both of his possessions quietly, continuing. "So I need you to keep him away. Distance us however you can, for as long as you can. That man will have connections… and I think it's best you aren't discovered through them."

The gogglehead smiled to himself once more, as though remembering a fond joke. Then he turned sharply on his heel and walked away, leaving before Ren could process a thing he had said.

He hadn't lied really. He was going to have to kill the man. But that wasn't why. Another ghost on his conscience wouldn't bode well, but neither did the fact that there could be another dragon in waiting. He couldn't exactly change the kid's mind though.

Perhaps this excuse would be his way of sleeping at night. He was protecting people who had no involvement in it.

"Shoutmon," he murmured. "Am I doing the right thing?"

Shoutmon shrugged inside the scarlet object. "I know as much as you do Taiki."

"I suppose so."


"All right."

As he spoke these words into the phone speaker, Taiki carefully arranged the disassembled firearms on his bed. He put speakerphone on and got to work with the cloth.Not dying because of a misfire. That would be so ironic. As ironic as an arms dealer teaching him to laugh.

"Good boy," aforementioned tutor purred. He could envision her smile, toothless but no less creepy. "Tojo and Valmet will pick you up in an hour. Make your arrangements and remember:" Koko paused dramatically. "Either get the money… or get his head."

"Not both?" he inquired curiously, quietly pulling off his goggles. He didn't want to get blood on these, not after Kiriha cracked the last ones. Goggles were surprisingly expensive. Taiki gently reassembled the weapon, loading the magazine without fanfare. Shoutmon watched this with his typical silent curiosity, fascinated by the weapons his partner was putting into his hands.

An old voice, hoarse from years of cigarette smoke pumping the sweetest high into his lungs, quipped through the receiver. "Kid, you getting both is like Koko flying a plane right. Don't try for too much now." Taiki laughed at the sound of huffing on the other side of the speaker.

"I suppose I shouldn't count my chickens before they hatch," he admitted softly, shaking his head. "Talk to you later Miss Koko." He turned off the phone and sighed, slipping the black dress jacket over his shirt. "Shoutmon," he asked quietly. "What would you do in this situation?"

"Do you want me to be emotional or logical?" was the expected cheerless quip.

"Same thing with you," Taiki retorted, causing his best friend to snort. It had taken Taiki some time to separate the two parts of his thinking himself, though fighting for your life with crazy monsters didn't exactly give you time for that sort of thing.

"In that case I'd kill him quick, no deal," replied the red dragon.

Taiki didn't glance up at the callous reply, focusing pointedly on the task he had set his fingers to. "Why?"

"Because he hurt you," his friend said simply. "And you saved my life more times than I can count on my hands." He glanced at his six fingers pensively. "Taiki… the fact that this guy screwed you up so bad you're about to go shove him into a cheese grater… that you are here in front of me cleaning weapons instead of… I dunno, being a normal kid or something…. I dunno much about people… but I know that's messed up."

"That pain helped me save your world," Taiki commented softly.

"Yeah," Shoutmon agreed bitterly. "But it didn't save you, did it?"

The human gave the Digimon a small, sweetly earnest smile. "I don't want you to save me," he admitted lightly. "I want you to live, everyone to live. I… don't care what that does to me." He picked up the handgun and held it thoughtfully before rising to his feet. "I'm ready… to close this chapter of my life."

This was a selfish wish of his. He just wanted to sleep without screaming himself awake, without crying for people he never got to really know. If that meant a few bullets and buckets of crimson staining his hands, well, it was back to the old grind, one more time. Sometimes things just happened. And hypocrisy was the sweetest temptation to turn it the opposite direction. You could only be as kind as the blade in your hand. He knew this. And for one last evening, he would accept it. The most important lesson needed one more teaching on this night.

Taiki walked out of his room, turning his back on the sniper rifle under his bed, on the thoughts that swam in his mind. One last day as a soldier.

One last day in masochistic dreaming.