Chapter 24: Bleed It Out

Drip, drip, drip.

A light shower was falling outside, drumming gently against the metallic roof of the warehouse, but the steady liquid beat was not one of soothing but foreboding. Like a soft murmur which foretold doom. The tremors which shake the earth before the coming of the behemoth. Kazuto had never been very fond of rain during his time in Aincrad either, due to the visual obscurities brought on by the type of weather, but their circumstances at the present moment made such a complication pale in comparison.

Yet in spite of it all, he felt rather safe. Ironic, he knew, and borderline ridiculous (although the fine lines between things had become rather blurred as of late), but it was how he felt and he could not deny it. It had been some hours since Fletcher's frenzied call of desperation, after which he had almost instinctively arisen to seek out the doctor and assist him. But Hideki had interfered, saying that he mustn't leave, that he must stay behind and let the man care for himself. Kazuto, outraged, had demanded an explanation for suggesting such conservative behavior, and Hideki's justification had been so:

"Fuzen could be tailing him right now. It's either he goes down, or all of us do. Just think strategically."

The older man's eyes had told Kazuto that it hurt him very much to have to say that, and with good reasoning behind it. When had it come to this? When did it become acceptable to sacrifice the well being of others to achieve their goal? He believed very much in going all out to win, but victimizing the innocent was also something he took care to avoid. Despite this, he was still forced to acknowledge the logic behind Hideki's words. Leaving the warehouse to find Fletcher could get both of them killed, not to mention leave Yui's capsule less well defended. So here they sat, waiting to find out simply if their outside friend was alive or not, hoping against hope that he had survived and was on his way. Yet as the hours waned on and the moon climbed higher into the night sky, their hopes sunk with the set sun.

So why wasn't his heart racing like there was no tomorrow?

Letting out a soft, fluttering sigh, Asuna shifted delicately against him.

Of course...

Smiling in the face of adversity, Kazuto used his arm to pull his partner closer to his side as they both leaned against an overturned table near the back of the warehouse. He had laid the table on its side some time ago, finding himself too restless to be confined to a chair but not energetic enough to pace the floor. So he had settled for sitting down and leaning against a flat surface, and at some point Asuna had come to join him. Hideki was sitting at another desk some distance away, his head buried in his hands while low murmurings issued from his mouth. All of the lights in the building had been shut off, excluding the light blue halo which surrounded Yui's growth chamber as it glowed from the substance suspended inside.

It amazed Kazuto that he could still be calmed by his lover's scent, the feeling of her warm slight body against his, during such a calamitous situation. Despite the miserable weather slugging past outside, and the man he knew must be running for his life at this very moment, Kazuto couldn't help losing himself in the softness of her hair, they way she twisted her neck to bury her nose in to his chest. It had occurred to him long ago that without Asuna, he really would have nothing. She had been the first person he really interacted with after deciding to go solo, and it had been that single encounter which changed everything. He couldn't even imagine how his circumstances would have turned out had he chosen not to pair up with the girl for the first boss quest, but any life without Asuna in it would certainly be painful, he knew.

Heaving a short sigh of his own, Kazuto bent his neck and kissed his lover's temple, just a brush of the lips really. He hadn't realized it until now, but since the birth of their plot against Fuzen there had been hardly any time for them to grow what they had between them, if any. He knew that their love for each other was still there; and, if he was allowed to sound cheesy for a brief moment, he felt like it would always be there. But it had been battered and marred and tested by there recent vendettas, leaving no opportunity for him to enjoy the woman he had chosen to be his partner in life, or at least let her know that he loved her. And Kazuto really did love Asuna. There had been a time in his life, during those years locked behind doors with his computers and games, when Kazuto had deemed personal relationships unnecessary for happiness. What was the point of personal interaction when nobody truly understood him? Now he could do little but laugh in shame at his former self, because he could say with absolute certainty that Asuna was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

"Love is a good thing. It helps people grow," Asuna had thought out loud one night, when neither of them had been able to find the will to fall asleep.

He had smiled and pulled her closer to him. "Then...can we grow up together?"

She had said yes, and Kazuto had every intention of holding her to that promise. That they would grow old together, maybe not physically but as people, and die only when their relationship came to an end, God forbid.

Heh. God forbid, Kazuto thought wryly as Asuna murmured something he couldn't make out. He didn't think she was asleep, but he didn't want to find out. Would it be rude of me to convert from atheism right now simply to pray for our own sakes? If I were God, I wouldn't appreciate it much if I were acknowledged only when it benefitted someone else. Well, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Breathing heavily out of his nose, Kazuto bent his head and closed his eyes, trying his best to believe at least briefly that there was some sort of omniscient entity up in the heavens, perhaps watching him at this very moment, and prayed. Prayed for Yui's life and safety, for Asuna's and Hideki's happiness, for justice to be taken against Fuzen, and for the prosperity of all of his friends and family. He did it knowing that it would probably piss God off, assuming he existed, since he had shunned His existence until this very moment. But for those in reality he loved, Kazuto was willing to stoop to that level.

But really, how different is heaven is from the virtual world? Kazuto thought with a soft, dry laugh.

The noise made Asuna open her eyes and look up at him, revealing that she really hadn't been asleep. "What are you laughing about?" She asked him softly.

"Nothing important," Kazuto murmured back. Then, knowing it was a non sequitur but choosing to say it anyway, he brushed their noses together and murmured, "I love you."

Asuna blushed slightly and looked away. "What are you saying? At a time like this..."

"I don't know," He said back earnestly as he reached out with one hand to pull her face back to his. "I just felt like I had to say it."

"Why?" Asuna shot back with a lifted eyebrow, honestly quite bewildered by her lover's behavior.

Kazuto frowned and shrugged until he formed an acceptable conclusion. "I feel...responsible for all of this, to be honest," He confessed at last. "And before you say anything to the contrary, let me explain. When Hitomi asked me not to go through with this plan, she also told me that the virtual world still has too much of a hold on me. I denied it at the time, but she was right, and I was wrong. There were some factors that acted...out of my control, but there were some measures I could have taken to prevent something like this from happening. And for that I'm sorry."

Asuna shook her head and shifted to loose herself from him, sitting cross legged beside him once she had. "What are you talking about?" She said. "If anything, I'm as much to blame as you for what Hitomi claims to be our issue." The girl looked down at the ground. "We just loved Yui too much to let her go."

Kazuto nodded. "I know. But it made us vulnerable, and Fuzen was in the perfect position to take advantage of it. But now that it's come to this..." He paused to think over his next words. "Now that it's come to this, I'm going to make you a promise. That we will save Yui, and bring her to reality...and then cut off all ties with where she came from."

His lover laughed softly. "Wasn't that supposed to have happened the minute I was released from the hospital, so many months ago?"

She was right, he knew. But their mistakes had postponed that separation. Some variables had been inevitable like he'd said, for instance Takashi's act of revenge, but at least they had been able to forgive him and prevent that from festering. Yui was always going to be the final obstacle, he had known, and it was now an obstruction they had failed to scale. But this was one failure Kazuto was willing to accept; because if it meant they could walk away with their daughter, it would all be worth it.

Only then would they leave Aincrad behind forever.

It occurred to him then that he had yet to answer Asuna's question, but upon searching for the right words he found himself unable to. Somewhat at a loss as to what he should do in response, Kazuto settled for the simple form of communication. Reaching out, he grabbed Asuna by the shoulders and pulled her in for a deep kiss, ignoring his mental objections due to Hideki's presence nearby, and waiting for his lover's yelps of surprise to turn into whispers of acceptance as his lips strove to deliver the message he couldn't express properly enough in words.

I know it feels like a bit much, but please rely on me just this one time. I promise to make up for my mistakes.

Nobody else could have understood what Kazuto might have meant by the kiss, but Asuna comprehended it perfectly. Taking responsibility when none of this was really his fault? The idea was even laughable, but unbearably sweet at the same time.

Yeah, I think he's a keeper.

Asuna's sensations of bliss were rudely interrupted, then, when a loud crashing issued from the steel warehouse door. Startled by the abrupt noise, she jerked upwards and knocked against the overturned table. Kazuto, furrowing his brow, stood up and pulled his partner behind his back to protect against any potential physical threat. Hideki was snapped away from his light doze as the older man scrambled up from his chair and backed up to join the two of them. A rapid glance at a watch told him that it was well past midnight at this point; meaning that whoever was lashing at the entrance at this very moment was certainly not a random bystander.

"Stay behind me," Kazuto hissed to Asuna when the girl tried to peek out at the door from his back. He knew that it would probably irk his lover to be told to hide, and he was very aware that she was more than capable of defending herself, but no risks could be taken.

"We should move forward and stand on either side of the hinges," Hideki shot to them lowly as the banging continued. "We'll open the door, and tackle whoever comes through."

"What if there are more people out there than in here?" Kazuto demanded.

The older man looked back at him, and quite unbelievably, grinned.

"Carpe diem," Asuna's brother said with a short chuckle.

Yes, they had all certainly lost their minds.

Succumbing to the need to take action, Kazuto nodded and the three of them dashed towards the door. Meanwhile, it seemed as if the crashes had subsided somewhat. Initially it had sounded like a pack of werewolves were screeching against the metal surface, not to mention a faint sound of...panting?

"I think that's just Fletcher out there," Asuna whispered from her position behind Kazuto at the door's left hinges.

"We can't be so sure he's alone," Hideki reasoned. "Open the door, and take down whatever comes through."

"I'd never considered you a man of physical means," Kazuto commented wryly as he reached out to grasp the door handle and unlock it.

The gates were flung open almost immediately, and a short stocky figure streaked through the newly created opening and into the warehouse. All three of them fell upon the intruder without hesitation, resulting in bodily impacting thuds and scuffling grunts as they struggled to subdue the surprising strong newcomer. Things may have gotten out of hand, had Kazuto not paused in his assault and cried, "Wait, it's only Fletcher."

"Of course it is, boy!" The blunt doctor spat back up at him. The man didn't lose his scathing attitude even in times like these, it seemed. Just how had he become such close friends with Hideki? "Now get off me! I just barely managed to lose Fuzen's goons once night fell, but who knows where they are now..."

The meaning behind Fletcher's words registered in Hideki's brain, and he turned to close the doors and re-lock them. After this was done, he walked over to begin dragging some tables and unused computers to barricade the entrance.

Kazuto finally found it fit to lift his knee off his former boss's chest, and the doctor coughed into his sleeves a few times before standing up, glaring at him all the while.

"You could have been an enemy," The young man justified with a nonchalant shrug, refusing to feel remorse for his actions. "It wasn't my idea. Ask Hideki."

The doctor finally sighed and let his shoulders droop. "I have been very, very close to the Yuuki family for a long time now, but the magnitude of your insolence makes me reconsider the value of helping you out."

"How are you and my brother so close, anyway?" Asuna queried. "I've never even heard of you before, Mr. Fletcher."

"Doctor Fletcher.


"That's a story that'll have to wait for another time," Hideki grunted as Kazuto helped him lean a particularly bulky chair against the doors. "Fletcher, do you have any kind of idea how close Fuzen is at the moment?"

The doctor shook his head. "I pulled every street trick out of my sleeve to lose those men. I didn't have time to check their progress while I was running. Fuzen did send far fewer men after me than I had anticipated, however. Excluding the big mob that chased me out of the building. I had expected an entire to be on my arse at some point."

Kazuto frowned at this new information, contemplating as to what it could mean. "He probably wants to keep this entire thing under wraps as much as he can," The young man finally speculated. "After all, it would probably damage Fuzen's reputation for the public to learn about Yui, not to mention all the corrupt practices he organized while he was in Aincrad."

"Which gives us a sort of advantage," Asuna concluded. "If he's afraid to let this go large, he won't be able to send a massive force against us. He might even have to come here himself..."

"My employer is a very aloof man," Fletcher objected. "He very much prefers to have others finish his dirty work for him while he sits back and continues scheming. Only truly desperate circumstances would push Fuzen to take action into his own hands."

Hideki hummed something under his breath. "This just might be enough."

Willing to let those words serve as a temporary conclusion to their predicament, Kazuto left the door and paced towards the capsule within which his daughter was being kept. He stopped about five yards from the glass separation, irises fixated on the movement of her gently fluttering eyelids. Just a nervous muscle reflex, not a reflection of consciousness, he knew, but it still instilled him with a small measure of comfort. Fletcher also excused himself and stood beside his former underling, staring at the human girl floating before them. Kazuto heard the man murmur something about the beauty of science and laughed inwardly. They both saw different ideals within the same catalyst; he saw hope for the future, and Fletcher saw proof of glory.

Which view is right?

Fletcher flinched badly when a hand reached out and grasped his shoulder. Turning, the doctor saw Asuna staring hard at him.

"Do you have the data with you?" She asked in a soft voice dichotomous to her calculated expression.

After recovering from being nonplussed, Fletcher blinked and said, "Ah, yes," Before reaching into his pocket.

Kazuto turned to lay his eyes upon the key to all their endeavors. It was a rather simple mini-database "chip" although it wasn't exactly small; its dimensions were roughly five inches in any direction, and it looked blocky and cumbersome encased in a protective plexiglass layer. It occurred to him that it must have been very difficult to extract the data with such a conspicuous tool, not to mention escape with it. He resolved to thank the man properly later, but not now. Not until Yui was here to express her gratitude with him.

"I am forever in your debt, my friend," Hideki sighed as the cube was handed over to him. Fletcher revealed an exceedingly rare smile.

"Friends are there to give each other trouble and cause issues," The doctor said sagely. "So my sacrifice was a bit necessary, if you think about it. Besides..." The stout man turned to observe Yui again. "It would go against my code as a man of science to miss witnessing a pioneer."

Nodding in acceptance, Hideki carried the data cube over to the central computer, which was situated in the center of the floor in front of the capsule. The lights were still shut off in the warehouse, and the only lights still came from the glows of the machines around them, casting ominous shadows in every corner and niche. It really felt like an environment for mad scientists. Well, one had to be insane to bet on a plan like this.

Hideki attached the cube to the central processing unit via cable and synthesized their programs together, until the information between the two had become one. Turning after his work had been completed, the older man said, "Yui's data has been inputted within the system which is currently running her growth process. Her physical body is increments away from being fully complete, after which it will die should two months of inactivity follow. We have until then to fuse the data with Yui's mind and cement her consciousness, as well as configure her mental facilities once the initial process is finished."

There was a heavy silence following his words, and after a minute Kazuto realized that it was because everyone in the room was staring at him. No words were spoken in clarification, but he felt that he understood the message behind their eyes; they were leaving the decision up to him. Should they attempt to complete Yui's consciousness now, before any additional complications cropped up, or wait until the storm had truly blown over? The latter would usually be the greater tactical maneuver, but it was also possible that they would have to lay low for a very long time, too long for his daughter's capsule to survive. Meaning that acting as soon as possible would be ideal. But what if he was wrong? What if making the incorrect move resulted in all of their work being for naught? He couldn't take the risk of that happening.

Lifting his head, Kazuto narrowed his eyes at the small childlike form standing suspended in growth jelly. Once again, he took note of the way the eyelids fluttered at him, as if in communication. It was after this, after gazing upon his motivation from everything he had done these past months, that the thought entered his mind.

Just end this already...for better or worse, just let it end.

Closing his eyes and swallowing heart, Kazuto stood up and declared,

"We start now."

He felt the tension in the atmosphere disperse somewhat. At least now, everyone knew what they were doing. It was then that Kazuto was forced to acknowledge the value of purpose. There was not going anywhere without it.

Hideki nodded. "In the end, it is the parents' decision."

Asuna walked up behind Kazuto and twined their fingers together in support. "I agree with you're decision," She said to him. "We've waited long enough. Let's get this done."

The small engines which powered the work of the machines sprawled across the warehouse growled and chugged at greater speeds when Hideki initiated the fusing process. In order to set up the procedure, they had unlocked the lid at the top of the capsule in order to reach the nape of the body's neck. After pushing the hair there aside, Kazuto had been shocked to discover a ping-pong sized opening where there should have been flesh, as well as Hideki's hooking up various equipment to the open wound.

" that?" He'd asked.

"The ugliest part of this whole thing," Asuna's brother had replied. "We need to transfer the information somehow, and the best means are direct contact through the area around the hypothalamus. The capsule's brain is already capable of feeling physical pain, and this will hurt a great deal, unfortunately. But there is no other choice. I do like our chances, though. The brain has been well conditioned for the procedure and should be able to absorb the shock of the fuse. If everything goes smoothly, your daughter will walk among us before the sun rises."

Now, as Kazuto stood back and took in the sight of the wires snaking past the computers and up the side of the glass tube to dive into Yui's spinal cord, he had to feel another small jolt of remorse. He knew that their actions were for the greater good, but he still didn't want to see his daughter's body writing in pain from the data transfer. A pain that it would feel very clearly, as it had no other bodily sensations to concern itself with. According to the computer's calculations, the entire procedure would take three hours to complete, excluding post-fusion configuration and tweaking, although those could wait a little longer.

They just had to protect the warehouse from any exterior inference until then.

A number of minutes passed, then, filled by nothing but the humming of the machines and the mutterings of Hideki and Fletcher as they worked, being the only ones capable of handling the equipment properly. Kazuto forced himself to sit at a desk and watch Yui's body go through gradual changes as the process took its toll. After the first hour, veins became somewhat distinctively visible to the naked eye. The child's skin had seemed unnaturally unmarked and...bloodless before hand, but now cardiac activity was evidenced as the brain apparently gained the ability to regulate a heart rate. After twenty minutes after that, the capsule's eyes peeled apart for the first time and lay half open, as if asleep, something that had shocked Kazuto.

It was a bit unnerving to watch. Since the front of Yui's body was facing him, he felt as if the eyes were staring straight at him as the body's brain was literally having its identity poured into its cranium. Kazuto had to shiver at the imagery. He decided that he wouldn't have taken this path for any other circumstance.

Another hour later, her fingers began twitching at irregular intervals, and the half-covered irises retracted from their overly-dilated state to a more focused, solid look. After some time, he heard Hideki yell that there were only twenty minutes left. Hope dared to grow within his and Asuna's heart. Perhaps they would make it.

Soon there were just fifteen minutes left until the completion of the procedure. Kazuto couldn't keep an unbearable excitement from manifesting within his chest; he gripped Asuna's hand very tightly, trying to contain himself, but was not kept from entertaining thoughts of the future to come. A life where they would raise Yui as their one and only daughter, a life where all three of them would be one safe, happy family like he had promised-

In an abrupt jerk that shattered his visions, Yui's spine suddenly arched backwards, the wires protruding from her neck whipping around violently as the capsule began to spasm violently, even beginning to let out weak screams through an undeveloped throat. Bewildered beyond belief, Kazuto leapt to his feet with Asuna in time to see the electric sparks falling to the floor around the glass tube, the half-severed wire hanging limply like a felled tree, and the now fading echo of the bullet which had destroyed it.

Feeling the foreboding presence of Death chuckling in amusement behind him, Kazuto turned and saw the owner of the weapon, the tip of the gun still smoking from the work it had done. He thought he could hear Hideki and Fletcher shouting something about the stabilizer wire being cut off, but it did not take prominence of the sight of Fuzen snarling to himself as he struggled to reload a revolver he had forgotten to stock with more than one bullet.

An unexpected calmness settled over Kazuto as he watched Fuzen cry out in delight when the second bullet fell into its revolver slot, watched the man's shaking fingers close the rounds magazine while Asuna screamed something at the older man, perhaps already believing that it was too late to keep his fingers from squeezing the trigger. But Kazuto knew that in this instance his lover was wrong. Fuzen would not succeed in loosing a second bullet, because if that happened, his family was going to die. Which left only one choice.

Eliminate the threat.

He took in many things around him as his feet propelled him towards his adversary; the steel warehouse doors which had been flung wide open, letting the moonlight stream inwards, the broken lock lying like a dead bird on the ground, the twisted look of insane hatred on Fuzen's face as the man swept his firing arm upwards in a desperate attempt to point the barrel at Kazuto's forehead. He heard Fletcher's frantic shouts, Yui's screeches of agony, and the synchronized thudding of his and Fuzen's hearts as they grew closer together. Kazuto knew that in a split second a bullet could be entering the space between his eyes. But he also knew that in a split second, he could finally taste the revenge he had been thirsting for since watching his beloved daughter disappear from his arms.

"AHHHH!" Kazuto roared as he hunkered low and dove for Fuzen's midsection. There was a terrific crash which shook the air then, and he knew that the bullet had been fired, but its destined location was yet to be determined. That question was answered when a cold, unforgiving bite sank its crippling fangs into his left calf.

It was a pain greater than anything he had ever experienced. Kazuto's next scream was not one of anger but agony, but through a haze spawned by his lust for revenge he forced himself to ignore the pain and bowl Fuzen to the floor as he was attempting to reload. The two men fell to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs that send lightning forks of suffering through Kazuto's body, forcing another tortured groan. He desperately tried to flail at Fuzen's body once their momentum ceased to control them, but the bullet buried in his bone proved too much to overcome as the older man snarled and swept the younger one off his feet.

The world tumbled about and around through Kazuto's vision, and when it righted itself again he was staring at the ceiling, the edges of his view vibrating and his ears magnifying the rush of his blood by a thousand times. He brain urged, bellowed at him to get up, to move, move, but the pain running its way up and down his leg had other ideas. It vaguely occurred to him that he was hyperventilating; there was something thick and sticky steadily coating the skin beneath his pants leg. Then something entered his vision from the side. It was Fuzen, expression contorted almost beyond recognition, bending over him and lashing out to seize his windpipe and squeeze.

Kazuto's best initial reaction amounted in a low, choked gurgle as he swiped at his assaulter's face with his arms, but this proved ineffective. Resorting to pure instinct of preservation, he violently lashed his head from side to side in order to free himself from Fuzen's oxygen depriving vice. He saw Asuna leap up from behind the table and begin sprinting towards them, but stop once Fuzen pointed his revolver at her. Hideki and Fletcher were kept similarly at bay, and all the while Yui just kept on screaming, screaming, screaming...

Is this it? He wondered, eyes glassing over and looking past Fuzen's head to stare at the rounded ceiling. It reminded him very much of a sight he had witnessed some time ago, after failing to scale a certain tree by himself. He had fallen then, too, engulfed in the smoke of his own failure, reaching wretchedly for something he was not able to reach. That past scenario felt scarily familiar to this one, so much so that Kazuto expected any moment now for a notice to appear over his eyes which read, YOU ARE DEAD.

I'm sorry, Asuna, he thought sluggishly as the fist around his windpipe closed ever further and without mercy, not allowing a single molecule of air to pass through. I made another mistake.

Looks like we won't grow up together, after all...

He closed his eyes.

And then opened them again when a startled yelp emanated from just above him. His irises dilated to match the light levels just in time to witness Fuzen being roughly belted off of his chest by someone's foot, tumbling away from the doorway and landing between himself and Asuna with a loud grunt. The pressure which had been crushing his throat was suddenly, mercifully alleviated, the reacquired oxygen bringing with it such a great sense of relief that he immediately began to laugh, although it sounded more like a sick croak. Rolling his head to the side, Kazuto looked up to see a tall woman with her hair tied back into a ponytail standing over his body like a sentinel of the night.

"You went against a nurse's orders," Hitomi told him calmly, arching a stern eyebrow at him.

Kazuto couldn't find it within himself to respond.

Hitomi just sighed in exasperation and and pulled a Swiss Army knife from her back pocket.

"Never disobey a nurse's orders," She advised, before leaping towards her father's body and yanking him to his feet, pressing the edge of the blade to the man's throat to discourage any sort of rebellion.

Once Fuzen was properly detained, Asuna bolted to Kazuto's side, falling to her knees and furiously wiping tears from her cheeks as a stream of meaningless nothings tumbled from her lips.

"Oh my God, Kazuto...are you dead? Do you need CPR? I can give you, please don't be dead, Kazuto, I need you, you can't just leave me here or else I'll-"

He gasped and reached outwards with his arm, luckily succeeding in grasping his lover's wrist.

"Though a kiss would be nice," Kazuto wheezed as he forced himself to lift his head from the floor, "We have greater priorities at the moment."

It sounded wrong to say it, but it made him smile to see Asuna's eyes spill over with additional tears when he said that. Finally giving in to the incredible shock the last few minutes had brought, she threw herself at his chest and held him tightly enough to choke him out again, yelling something about how stupid he was while a small fist pounded against his shoulder, although this eventually deteriorated into broken sobbing. And Kazuto held her tightly through it.

Meanwhile, Hitomi was struggling to detain her father.

"Your worthless bitch!" Fuzen roared in unbridled rage. "How dare a daughter betray her own father! I taught you better than this! What in the world made you think that running away made you better than I am!?"

Hitomi's face hardened at these words. "Firstly," She began softly as Kazuto and Asuna ran over to help her, "You are not a father to me. were never better than anybody."

This final insult proved to be the final blow to Fuzen's rationale. Loosing a choked yell, the older man twisted and drove his elbows backwards and into his daughter's gut, sending the nurse gasping and recoiling away from him. Finding himself momentarily freed, he yelled in delight before falling to the floor to paw around for his revolver, too lost in his search to notice Kazuto advancing upon him until the young man seized him by the collar and sent his fist into the Complexity executive's jaw.

Asuna's hands flew to her mouth and Hitomi cringed somewhat as Kazuto pushed Fuzen against a table and proceeded to dish out the beating of a lifetime, sending knuckles into noses and windpipes and ears and knees into groins and guts. Part of Kazuto's mind had considered not taking a violent form of revenge, but this logic had been quickly abandoned the moment his fist made contact with the man's skin. Now he realized that he couldn't stop himself from sending punch after punch after punch into Fuzen's now disfigured face, bruised and battered by Kazuto's merciless treatment. The discipline would have continued further, had Hitomi not decided to finally grab Kazuto and pull him away from her father, though not out of any worry for the man.

Still breathing hard from his exertions, Hideki ran up and caught Kazuto when he stumbled a bit on his feet. Asuna joined him while Hitomi and Fletcher grabbed Fuzen by the arms and sat him in a chair, as to prevent any attempts at escape.

Hideki's observed the bleeding bruises covering his boss's face and said, "You might have been a bit excessive, there."

Hitomi shook her head. "No, he wasn't."

At this point, Fuzen's awareness regained a suitable amount of recovery and he somehow found it in himself to spit at Kazuto's shoes. This was followed up by the butt of a knife striking his temple, effectively knocking him unconscious.

Everyone stared at the nurse, who had been the one to hit him. She just shrugged.

"I couldn't resist."

This statement would have been met with an equally poorly planned explanation, if not for the blaring alarm which sounded from the central computer at that moment.


Now that the chapter's over, I'd like to take a moment to express my gratitude to everyone who has taken time to review or at least check out my story after such a long absence. I figured this fic must have fled from everyone's memory after such a lengthy hiatus, and I was both pleasantly surprised and delighted to receive a rather active welcome back. So for that, thanks so much.

I wanted to provide a longer chapter to express my thanks, and I did stay up rather late to finish this, so I do hope you enjoyed it :) This story is not over yet, but it is very close to being so, and I hope it ends on as well a note as it started.

Oh, and do review!