Warnings: Violence involving a pregnant woman and young child. Sexist and demeaning language. Oh my God, Takaba and Tao, I am so sorry.

XIII

"Was the food to your liking?"

Before she could stop herself, Takaba looks up from her plate and then, with no hesitation at all, proceeds to dump her food all over Yanzhui's ugly little head, dirtying the bastard's pristine, very likely obscenely expensive, clothes. Then before he could retaliate or even react, Takaba stabs him in the eye with her chopsticks.

Which is what Takaba would have done, if she could. Unfortunately, certain circumstances prevent her from doing that, so the best she could do at the moment is to look Yanzhui in the eye, and nod curtly.

How pathetic, Takaba thinks, as she feels the hot rush of shame down her body. Here I am, having a nice, meek little dinner with the vilest human being on earth, when I should be tearing out his throat.

The 'cozy little dinner' is not her own fault, or her idea, but Yanzhui's. For some insane reason, he wanted to have dinner with her, about almost every day. Takaba had balked at the idea, fought against it, and on their first 'dinner', she told Yanzhui, "You and your food suck. Leave us alone."

Yanzhui had remained impassive at her insult, and just simply turned and nodded to one of the guards. A few moments later, they then hauled in Tao, who had been sitting on a chair in a corner, kicking and screaming, and proceeded to beat and whipped him bloody for her 'insolence' before her very eyes.

"As the good doctor tells me physical trauma would be bad for you and the unborn child's health," Yanzhui tells her in a calm, dispassionate voice even as Takaba fights the men restraining her to get to Tao, as she screams for them to stop as they strip off his clothes and then whip his still-injured back, the crack of the whip cutting through the air, loud and terrible as thunder, "all punishments for your insolence would be meted out on the brat."

Takaba never wanted to kill someone so bad as she did then, to rip out someone's throat out and claw someone's face to strips of bleeding flesh, never felt so helpless as she watched Tao's back torn to bloody shreds at every strike of the whip. Tao'd tried not to cry — she could see him bite his lip bloody to stifle his screams — gods, he was so brave and resilient — but towards the end it was not enough and he was sobbing and whimpering and crying out in pain, every sound tearing into Takaba's heart.

Afterwards, they didn't even let her comfort him — they locked her in her room, alone, Tao taken somewhere else for the gods only know what. That was the first time she ever wept since her abduction. The second time was when she and Tao were finally reunited again. He was weak and injured, but alive. They'd clung to each other as if never intending to let go.

This memory in mind, Takaba tries not to flinch and shudder in revulsion and punch him in the face when Yanzhui gives her that smug, slimy reptilian smile of his. "Good."

"May I leave for my room now?" Takaba says coldly. She wants to be out his presence as soon as possible, as far away from this monster. If she stayed any longer, she'd up to throw up all the food she'd eaten. She thankful at least today, Yuri isn't here to look at her with that disgusting, creepy stare. She had thrown up after dinner when he was there, unable to stomach both Yanzhui's slimy company and the way Yuri's gaze seems to creep all over her.

She doesn't understand the point of these dinners. They didn't speak while they ate, and if the idea was to poison her, surely he could do that without going through the fuss and risk of setting up a formal dinner — with candlelight and cutlery, and fancy tableware. Cutlery! She could have stabbed Yanzhui with her fork! Didn't anyone think of that?

But then, perhaps they knew she wouldn't do anything. They took Tao from her again this early morning, and that was a weapon against her far more effective that a knife at her throat.

Yanzhui narrows his eyes, and for a moment Takaba fears he would do something. But she's survived Asami and Fei Long and Yuri and Mikhail, and she'd be fucked if she loses her nerves now. She merely returns his gaze, willing her eyes to show nothing, and only reflect. Let me fucking leave, damn you!

He must have been satisfied with what he saw, as he made a dismissive gesture with a flick of his wrist. "I do hope you'll like my surprise for you when you go back to your room."

Surprise? Behind her, she could sense her 'escort' move closer to her, ready to 'accompany' her back to her cell, though not before none-too-gently hauling her up to her feet and handcuffing her hands behind her, the chill of the metal far milder than the sudden chill up her spine at the thought of what Yanzhui's surprise would be.

But before she could ask him what his surprise was, she's dragged out of the room, Yanzhui smiling mockingly at her all the while.

(She did make an effort though, to take note of Yanzhui's arms, bared today by rolled-up sleeves rather than hidden as usual.)

She keeps her head slightly down as she walked, but her eyes rove around, committing everything she sees into memory as much as she could. She notes that today, there were more guards posted in the corridor than usual, their posture tense and on alert. Some eye her with hostile eyes, full of promises of pain.

Has something happened? Has this something to do about Yanzhui's surprise? And what of Tao? She had tried to ask of Tao as subtly as she can during dinner, but she'd been pointedly ignored. Is he alright? Were they hurting him again? Please let him be unhurt.

Her speculations are momentarily interrupted when she arrives at her room. "Tao!" she cries out as soon as she sees him, standing in her room, a guard beside him. She quickly steps forward, for a moment forgetting the thug holding her in place. She's yanked back, hard, the brute growling something in a language she didn't understand. Briefly, the thought of injuring the fucker enters her mind, but then she hears the familiar click of cuffs unlocking, and instead she all but sprints to Tao and enfolds him in a gentle embrace, mindful of the injuries of his back.

"Are you all right?" she whispers. She takes a step back, and looks at him. Tao seems thinner, so pale and sickly, black circles under his eyes and bruises all over his arms. His clothes are filthy, smeared with dirt and blood and gods know what else.

"Does he have clean clothes? Bandages?" she all but demands to Tao's guard. The man stares at her impassively, perhaps not understand what Takaba had said, but then indicates a small pile of clothes on her bed, and possibly a medical kit of sorts. (Later she'd find a note on top of it, in messy handwriting, saying "As reward for your good behavior." She immediately tore that one up.) "Thank you," she says, more out of instinct and habit than anything else. The man's expression does not change at all.

She turns back to Tao, who has not responded at all to her. "Let's get you patched up and cleaned, all right?" When dull, lifeless eyes stare back at her, she fights back tears of rage and helplessness, and just pulls him close again. Dimly, behind her, she hears the two guards leave.

As soon as the door slams and locks shut, Tao whispers back, voice hoarse, "I want a bath. They made me stink with their smells."

Takaba lets out a chuckle, catching herself before it turns to a sob. She runs his fingers through his hair, and smiles at him, her first genuine one for today, then impulsively places a kiss on his forehead. "All right."


Takaba thinks they've been here for about a week now.

Takaba has desperately tried not to lose all sense of time, but it's incredibly hard. Their cell has no windows to observe the changing sky, no clock to tell time. She doesn't even know where they are right now. All she has to rely on is her own instinct and body clock — and frankly, that was not enough.

All she knows for certain right now is that she's been kidnapped again, with company this time — Tao and her unborn child. A no-brainer conclusion, really.

But maybe that wasn't the only thing she knows. After being kidnapped for several times already, Takaba had taken to reading a few survival guides, just in case — considering Asami's line of work, it's probably an inevitability. It may have taken her a day or so to work things out, but using the knowledge and experienced she'd gained, she'd tried to analyze her situation.

One thing she's fairly sure of, is that her kidnapping had been meticulously planned — probably for months. Yanzhui and Yuri knew their routines and schedules, knew when best to strike. It frightens her to think that they'd probably been under surveillance for quite a while, and they had known nothing about it. Has someone betrayed them?

Another, more terrifying thing she was fairly sure of, is that escaping would be difficult. If her kidnapping had been so precisely planned, then it would stand to reason they had ensured her captivity would be well-enforced. She could already tell that from the cuffs and the numerous guards, the psychological games using Tao to keep her in line, the cameras and the bugs — in all her previous kidnappings, this is the one where she's the most suffocatingly guarded. She'd been able to escape from Fei Long and Asami, true, but in many of those times, her abduction had been impulsive, spur of the moment, with very little planning and preparation. She is not so lucky with this one.

But they have to get out of here. This isn't like with Fei Long, where there's a faint possibility there would a trade, or with Asami, where once he's taken his amusement he'd let you go. Takaba has not heard it from them, but she senses Yanzhui and Yuri meant to have them for keeps for something. Whatever that something is, Takaba knows for certain it is not for good.

If there's anything she could be thankful about, Takaba supposes it's that she has a decent bathroom, with a decent shower and tub and toiletries, and in light of the terrible cold (for, wherever they are, it is absolutely freezing right now), hot water flowing from the taps. Whatever their reason for giving her this comfort, Takaba isn't about to argue with them lest it be taken away — for far more important reasons than warm baths.

Takaba laughs a little when Tao goes wide-eyed and blushes a little when she joins him in the bathroom. "I'll help you wash," she says, and before Tao could protest, she discreetly puts a finger on her lips. She has a plan, one that's been brewing in her mind since she'd seen the bathroom.

She opens the taps. Water gushes from the faucet, loud and noisy, sluggishly filling the tub. Then, leaning over, making sure her back shields her hands — she knows there could possibly cameras, she doesn't just know where exactly they are — she begins tracing characters on Tao's back, nodding once when she sees Tao's eyes go wide open in recognition and understanding. Ok to talk, her fingers write, slow and careful not to hurt his wounds, but whisper.

Taking a washcloth, she moves as close to him as possible and begins to carefully clean his body as she talks to him in whispers. The noise from the taps should mess up the audio of the bugs — she'd read that somewhere — but would still allow them to understand each other. "Did they do anything else to you?"

"No." Tao flinches a little when the towel brushes over the bruises on his face. "They just locked me in a dark, smelly cell with no food. Or water."

To her surprise, he touches her hand, as if in comfort. "How about you? Are you ... okay?"

"I've … been better, but I'm coping. I'm a pro at this, you know," she says, smiling slightly. "You don't need to worry so much about me. I'm … fine."

"But you're having a baby. Isn't this sort of thing … not good?"

"The baby's fine," she says, biting her suddenly tremulous lip. It's true, at least if she believes the tombstone teeth doctor who had examined her. Despite the car crash, she'd only had minor injuries — scratches and a bit of concussion, and her son is as safe and as healthy as could be — he is, after all, well cushioned in her uterus.

"Your uterus is like a bomb shelter," the tombstone teeth doctor had said, baring his hideous teeth in a rictus grin. He'd been a revolting creature, and she'd felt bile rise up her throat as she, restrained, was poked and probed and touched without her consent by rough, gloved fingers. She had thrown up after that examination, almost brought to tears.

She ducks her head so Tao couldn't see the sudden unshed tears at the memory, her fingers gripping the towel tighter as she gathers her composure. Taking a deep breath, she calms herself enough to ask, "Tao, what can you tell me about Yanzhui?"

Tao's face shifts to an expression of utter contempt. "He's vile," he hisses. "He's a traitor. He killed his and Master Fei Long's father in cold blood. Master Fei Long never told me of this, but I've heard people talk. Some people think Master Fei Long should have had him killed when he should, but he never did. Killing a family member is still taboo, even if it's someone like him." Tao obediently ducks his head a little when Takaba starts lathering shampoo in his hair, looking a bit relax as she works it into bubbles. "They say … he was obsessed with Master Fei Long."

"I see." For a moment, she idly wonders why Fei Long had hated Asami if he knew it had been his brother who had killed their father. But that's not important now.

In all the guide books Takaba had read, they advice being humble, of trying to get their abductors to respect them, to look at them as humans, rather than tools or objects. If Yanzhui had killed his own father then this advice is useless, because Yanzhui respects no one other than himself and perhaps, power. Any person who kills their own father in cold blood surely has no humanity left in him, nor has the ability to empathize with others.

"Aki-san," Tao suddenly says, and Takaba looks down to find him staring up at her. "Why do you think they took us?"

"I think kidnapping me has become an initiation rite into the elite supervillain boyband," Takaba says dryly, rolling her eyes. Then she turns serious. "We're probably being used as leverage for something."

"Do you–" Tao's voice catches in his throat, and his eyes suddenly fill with unshed tears. "Aki-san, they–before they brought me here, someone told me Master Fei Long and Asami-san are dead. Do you think that's … true? It can't be true, can it?" Tao rises from the tub, his words coming out faster and louder. "They're lying! Master Fei Long isn't dead! He would never be killed so easily, not by vermin like them."

"Tao, lower your voice, they'll hear you." To his credit, Tao quickly shuts his mouth, and sinks back into the tub.

She doesn't reply to him immediately, instead taking the shower head and rinsing the shampoo off Tao. Despite her persistent questions, neither Yanzhui nor Yuri told her anything about Asami. She knows nothing of what's happening to him right now, and Tao's words made her heart slam hard and fast against her chest.

She remembers she'd been talking to him, before the car crash. God, he probably heard the impact. She couldn't imagine how'd he'd felt then, hearing that.

She did not sleep her first night in captivity, her mind to busy conjuring images of terrible things that could have happened or is happening to Asami. Please let Asami be safe, is a constant prayer on her lips. Please. The possible death of her father and of her own child are horrible things she never, ever wants to think of again, and the possible loss of Asami …

Takaba couldn't bear it. Her heart seems to stop at the thought, her mind stuttering to a stop. She would live on, of course, she'd survive, but she could never

"They're not dead, Tao," Takaba says, her voice low and fierce. "If they were, we should be too. We don't have much use for them if both Asami and Fei Long are dead. This … thing isn't about us. It's about hurting them." She clenches her hands to fists as she gathers her will, her strength, everything she has. She must not let despair win. "But fucked if I'm going to be stuffed in a fridge by these assholes, and neither are you going to suffer the same fate. I refuse to be a source or tool for Asami's pain, even if some idiots seem to be determined to do just that."

She reached out and took Tao's hand in hers, entwining their fingers before squeezing gently. "We're going to get out of here, Tao. I promise."

Tao looks uncertain for a moment, but then smiles and nods. Takaba smiles back.

The mood now considerably lighter, they go on to finish the bath in a comfortable silence, the sounds of water suddenly soothing and relaxing.


Takaba is helping Tao get dressed when Tao suddenly looks at her and asks, "About the baby…is it … Master Fei Long's? Because–" he doesn't finish that sentence, and instead blushes again.

Takaba stares at Tao for a moment, struck speechless, but is quickly overcome with the urge to laugh. "Tao, why would you–"

Oh. Oh god. Takaba stills, and her pulse races as a terrible idea forms in her head. Does Yanzhui think she's carrying Fei Long's child? Tao did mention he was obsessed with Fei Long. Would that obsession extend to–

But that's stupid! Surely he'd realize there is no way this is Fei Long's child! The months don't quite add up! But then Takaba remembers her conundrum months ago — she, too, hadn't known for sure who the father of her child was, the closeness of the dates of … events, and her own whacked-out cycle had made it difficult. But further examination of the OB-GYN had confirmed conclusively who the father of the child she's carrying.

Takaba also suspects Asami has taken covert steps to determine the paternity of the child. He is the man, after all, who had no compunctions covertly having her blood tested to confirm her pregnancy.

There is no way I would have been able to continue, or even know about this pregnancy if Asami had found out the child isn't his. It's a chilling thought, but a true one. What that says about her life choices she'll worry about later. (It's far too late anyway.)

If Yanzhui did think she's carrying Fei Long's child, however improbable that is, that would explain why she's being treated so well. He wants my child. Oh god.

The idea, the very thought of Yanzhui taking her child from her – she ducks her head, fighting back the nausea, the sudden painful twist and burn in her heart. She wraps her arms around her swollen belly, and as if sensing her distress, her child moves, kicking against the walls that kept it safe.

For now.

He won't take my child, He won't take our child, I won't let him. She'd tear his limbs off, break his neck and every bone in his body, gouge his eyes out with her nails. He will never touch him. Or even lay eyes on him. She would kill him with her bare hands and teeth first.

"Aki-san, are you all right?" Tao asks, and when she opens her eyes (when had she closed them?), she finds him looking at her with concern.

"Of course, I–" She doesn't finish her sentence, as then the door bursts open, and guards swarm in. Takaba, acting on pure instinct, pushes Tao behind her, shielding him with her body. If her hypothesis is true, they are least likely to hurt her, so Tao is safer behind her.

Before she could ask the armed men what they were here for, Yanzhui and Yuri enter the room. Both of them are smiling. Smiling as if they had won.

"What do you want?"

Yanzhui smiles thinly at Takaba, unmindful of the hostile tone of her voice or the glare she is giving him. "I told you I have surprise."

"I don't want your surprises."

"A pity, but I'm in a generous mood I shall give it to you regardless." His voice rings with feverish excitement as he speaks, "Asami is dead, as is my brother. They've killed each other, as they both suspected that the other of kidnapping you or the boy." His posture straightens, and his smile grows wider, almost monstrously so. "I'm afraid your unborn child is now fatherless, Takaba-san."

Notes:

I'm sorry I made you wait for so long, guys. Thank you so much for your support and comments. They mean a lot to me, more than you could ever know. You guys are the best.

Writing this fic has its ups and downs, and it has been incredibly difficult at times, especially lately, but thanks to you guys I always try my best to power through. You are all wonderful, and I'm so happy you guys gave this fic a chance.

My deepest thanks, always, to sunflower-san, who lent her ear during a troubled time.