Hey Everyone! Neither I nor my story are dead! lol I just really struggled with the idea of trying to make this chapter longer...and it just wasn't having it. 5 freaking months later...BETA'd and ready to roll. The Introductory chapter to JATTP. Thanks as always to Dear4Life and Aerysa. Two wonderful gals! I promise the next chapter will NOT take that long! *crosses heart*
This is where I remind any new readers to READ MIDNIGHT IN MATSUYAMA FIRST, as this is a direct sequel, peppered with flashbacks and asides.
Thanks to all the readers and reviewers! Patience is obviously a virtue! *HUGS*
Chapter 1: The Return of the Black Reaper
Hei let his eyes adjust to the dim light of sunrise peeking through the heavy curtains. It took him a moment to get his bearings in his still somewhat unfamiliar surroundings as he shook himself of a long deep sleep. The last few days, he had spent reacquainting himself with the idea of being comfortable in his environment, and was finding sleep to be increasingly welcome and restful.
A soft smile graced his lips as he recognized the muted snore emanating from the body curled up to his side. The dark-haired contractor craned his neck to place a kiss on his lover's forehead; the stern countenance she normally wore, replaced with one of serenity.
Who's to say how long this peace will actually last…
A sigh escaped his lips as he realized today was the very day he had been quietly dreading. In a mere few hours, Hei would be meeting with Madame Oreille and Goro Kobayashi to join the remnants of an organization he once loathed. Emotions began to churn and swell in those deep blue eyes as he stared at the ceiling, when a kiss to his jaw prevented his thoughts from spiraling out of control.
Hei hadn't noticed a pair of sleepy coffee-colored eyes flutter open a moment ago.
"You're uneasy, Li," a velvety contralto voice hummed. "You're clenching your jaw."
Drowsiness still evident in her concerned words, Misaki stroked his jaw with the back of her hand.
"Are you having doubts about today?"
Hei didn't answer her immediately, but his sideways glance and heavy exhalation spoke volumes. Her warm hand moved under the blanket to gently stroke his bare chest in an attempt to ease his tension.
"I know why you have your reservations," Misaki sympathized, her hand pausing to brush a few strands of his hair from his face. Her palm returned to rest on his sternum. "But I assure you that with everything that has changed here in Tokyo, and the Izanami Incident far behind us, it's a different ballgame altogether. They would never deny your alliance now."
Her brooding boyfriend could only manage an unimpressed "Hmmph."
"Besides," she added with a smart look, "they would never risk losing their right hand woman."
The Black Contractor raised an eyebrow at his brunette beauty, his face relaxing into a hint of a smirk at her confident declaration.
"I suppose you're right."
"Not to mention, Madame O and Goro put a lot of stock in Kanami and Mao as their head analyst and special agent, who are standing to put in the secondary recommendations. Everything should go according to plan."
Hei was silent as he processed those facts before catching Misaki off-guard by turning to wrap himself around her. The sentimental contractor hummed into her long chestnut tresses that smoothed over her shoulders, burying his face at the crook of her neck.
"You have so much faith in me, Misaki," he marveled softly. "Thank you."
Misaki smiled to herself and returned the warm embrace.
o.O ^_^ O.o ^_^ o.O ^_^ O.o
The tall blonde former CIA informant and her bespectacled co-director sat at the long table in the conference room. They were both a bit restless as neither of them knew the reason for their being summoned by their head agent on such short notice.
"So Goro, do you have any inkling as to what Yayoi called this meeting for?" Oreille asked as she played with the pen that lay on the notepad in front of her.
"Your guess is as good as mine. It's not like her to pull all the team leaders in last minute," he replied gruffly as he checked his watch, taking note of how long they had already been waiting for their Head Agent.
"Unless it's top priority to a case," she countered pointedly, gesturing toward him with pen in hand.
"True," he concurred before countering. "But we always get a briefing before any important case meeting…even urgent ones."
Their conversation was cut short as, one by one, the half-dozen team leaders arrived. Among them were Kanami, Mao and Mina Hazuki. As everyone settled in, they noticed that the individual who had called the meeting had yet to arrive. Murmurs and grumbles began rippling through the group; save Kanami and Mao who remained quiet as people questioned the absent second-in-command. The scientific advisor and feline contractor planned to play along with the group to avoid suspicions for the time being.
There was a sudden knock on the door and the room fell instantly into silence. All eyes were on Head Agent Ichinose as she entered the room alone and carefully shut the door behind her.
"Well, well…nice of you to join us," Madame Oreille taunted with a smile, her words drenched in sarcasm, reflecting the general attitude of the group. "Care to tell us what is so important that we all had to get here immediately?"
This was it: Misaki's moment of truth that she had been dreaming of for what seemed like forever. She had been considering how to introduce Hei without alarm or suspicion, and do it in a fashion that there was no other choice but to accept him into the organization, making the transition as smooth as possible. Of course, her idea of 'smooth' meant that no one tried to arrest or kill him before she could make it happen.
The 'New' Syndicate's second-in-charge didn't even allow an inkling of her nerves to betray her usual austere facade. She adjusted her glasses as she scanned the room without a word, making eye contact with everyone present before speaking.
"I have come here before you all to bring you the newest member of our organization."
Jaws dropped, eyes widened and eyebrows rose on every unknowing face, all the way around the table, with the exception of two irate co-directors. Kobayashi fumed in his chair and was the first to reprimand her for ignoring protocol.
"What is the meaning of this, Ichinose? You, of all people, are well aware that new members absolutely must be approved by Oreille and me before they even set foot in this building!"
His counterpart rested her hand on his arm in a mild effort to calm him before crossing her arms.
"This is quite unlike you, Yayoi," Madame noted with a smirk. "But now I am curious; all this secrecy and urgency over a 'new member'?"
Misaki could feel a light film of sweat coating her palms as eight pairs of eyes bore into her. But she stood her ground and refused to elaborate any further.
"Well then," Madame prompted, sensing her subordinate's resolve. "Who, may I ask, is our special guest?"
"Before any introduction, I want you to know that this new agent not only comes on my highest recommendation, but also that of two other team leaders," she declared unfalteringly as agents looked around suspiciously at each other. Misaki then made a promise she meant with all of her being. "I know, without a doubt, this person will be our greatest asset."
"Those are some strong words, Yayoi," the cool blonde shot back at her, keeping her arms folded. "If this is true, then please, don't keep us waiting."
Misaki took a deep breath as she gripped the steel handle of the door knob and turned it. With a click, the door slipped open to reveal the expressionless, shaggy-haired contractor dressed all in black; like a ghost back from the dead.
Nearly everyone in the room gasped. Mina's eyes narrowed.
"BK-201!" she hissed, slamming her fists on the table, rising from her chair as Hei stepped into the room, his eyes trained on the potential assailant. Goro stopped her in an instant.
"Be seated, Hazuki," he commanded the contractor, causing the entire room to fall silent once again. "Misconduct will not be tolerated."
A sly smile spread across Madame's face as she greeted him.
"Welcome back, Hei. I believe all of us here thought you were gone for good," she chuckled. "Glad to see you've had a change of heart."
Hei grimaced briefly at her little jab, but kept Misaki's words in mind as she stood at arm's length beside him, observing the exchange.
"For that, you can thank Ichinose-san," he said with nothing but a speck of amusement in his tone as his gaze went from his former CIA cohort to his girlfriend.
Kobayashi eyed him, slightly bewildered by his words.
"Come now, Hei…that is what you go by, yes?"
The Black Reaper nodded and the director continued.
"Well then, I'd say Yayoi was correct in her assumption. The world's most powerful contractor wants to join our cause. Only a fool would refuse your assistance." His words set off a wave of whispered protests.
The agents hushed once more, hanging on every word from their director's mouth. Hei did not once break eye contact with Kobayashi, despite the flattery, the concerned whispers and the death glare from a certain female contractor.
"I would like a private conference with you, Yayoi and the two agents who have yet to speak on your behalf. Would you all follow Oreille and I to my office, please?"
Kobayashi and the master informant stood to leave with Kanami and Mao following suit. The lack of reaction from the co-directors as the two agents revealed their intention was a tad unnerving.
"They must have guessed it was us," Mao mumbled to Kanami as they exited the room behind the others.
Hei had followed Misaki out into the hallway. The other four were close behind as they headed to Goro's office in silence, leaving behind them a roomful of grumbling, doubtlessly led by one furious woman.
The beautiful blonde tittered to herself, garnering everyone's attention as they neared the director's door.
"I should have known…as soon as I was suspicious…" Her cat-like grin was bright with self-satisfaction.
Upon entering the room, Kobayashi took his seat at his desk and Oreille planted herself on the edge of his desk. There was a small black leather couch facing his desk flanked by deep red leather chairs on either side. Hei and Misaki positioned themselves on the couch as Kanami and Mao took their respective seats on either side of the couple.
Being ever the silver-tongued diplomat, Madame Oreille broke the ice as they settled in.
"I'm glad to see you are alive and well, Hei."
"Thank you," he replied politely, feeling a little more comfortable with the nearness of Misaki and their trusted friends, yet still refusing to let down his guard.
"I must say, and I believe I also speak for my co-director, that I am perfectly shocked at our lovely former police chief's ability to keep you off our radar," she admitted, glancing back and forth between the agent and the contractor. "But then again, she's always been very protective when it came to you." Slowly she smirked at the pair.
"With that said, inquiring minds want to know: why gone so long, Reaper?…and just how long have you been seeing each other?"
For the first time, Oreille saw a break in his cool façade as his eyes widened ever so slightly in surprise. On the other hand, the keen observation had left Misaki at a loss for words. Even the other three bystanders were taken aback by her brazen assumption.
"What? How-?" She fumbled for a retort, but there was no denying the truth. Not from her superiors.
Misaki was quieted by a gloved hand on her knee.
"I didn't want to be found," Hei stated coolly, dodging the more recent question. "I haven't used my power since the day after it returned years ago. I had had enough, so I gave up being the Black Reaper."
Misaki squeezed his hand on her knee and his hard gaze softened the slightest bit.
"How did she find you, then?" Goro pressed on, completely attentive.
"Actually, Misaki found me completely by accident," he replied nonchalantly. "But we took the opportunity to talk, and came to the understanding that-"
"That you were destined for each other!" Oreille interjected melodramatically with a hand to her heart, trying to frazzle the blue-eyed mercenary. Misaki sat in quiet embarrassment, her face a deep shade of pink. Kanami couldn't help the giggle that escaped her, warranting a glare from her best friend.
Goro stopped her from continuing. "Will you let the man speak?"
There was a pause. Hei remained relatively unfazed by her jests. The straight-faced director urged him to proceed.
"We came to an understanding. Misaki and I both desire a future in which contractors, dolls, and normal humans coexist; and we both want to work to keep peace between them."
The middle-aged director pushed his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose, seemingly pleased by BK-201's honest answer. Hei exhaled and looked back over to his former fellow CIA operative.
"August. That's when Misaki ran into me while on her vacation with Ishizaki-san," Hei divulged reluctantly. "But given that we are now living together, you may as well know that your 'right-hand woman' and the Black Reaper come as a team."
"Meaning?" Goro asked indignantly.
"She's the reason I'm here. So, I will work primarily with her and Mao," he stated firmly, giving his pearameters.
"That means giving you equal ranking and priority as our team leaders," the director concluded. "That won't sit too well with a few people, but I suppose it's worth having you join the organization." He turned to Oreille, who had stayed silent after being reprimanded. "I assume you agree, Madame?"
"But of course, Goro. You know that I've worked with Hei and know everything he is capable of as an agent. His expertise and ability far outranks most of our agents. I have no qualms placing the Reaper in our top rankings," she declared, defending the handsome contractor. Turning to the couple on the couch with a wink, she affirmed, "With Yayoi by his side, finally working together rather than against each other, they'll accomplish a lot."
"Thank you, Madame," Misaki said with a nod, a small smile giving away her relief.
They all stood up and Goro extended his hand to Hei. "Here's to the future, Hei. Welcome to the team." Hei nodded in reply as he reciprocated in a single firm handshake. Misaki gave him an expectant look as he turned back to her and quirked the left corner of his mouth at her with softness meant only for her to see. She knew in that moment he was alright. They'd have time to talk later. For the present, business prevailed and relationships were put aside for staunch professionalism, a skill in which both were experts. As the group made their way back to the meeting room Misaki exhaled. The hardest part was behind them, or so she thought.