“I tell you, I don’t like it, Joe,” Frances said, brushing her golden hair out. She looked in her vanity’s mirror at Joe Shimamura, who was already settled in their bed. The cyborgs’ new safe house was a posh townhouse in downtown Utoland City. It was courtesy of Dr. Kozumi’s work with the Utoland City University.
It had given Gilmore a chance to catch up with his intimate friend, while the cyborgs caught their breath. She continued when Joe was silent, “A job is too much for him to handle. And come to think of it, I’m not so sure I like those Japanese boys. There was something strange about them.”
“What’s wrong with Japanese boys?” Joe teased, bring a blush to Frances’ face.
“You know what I mean,” she said, getting irritated.
“We just don’t agree with you, darling. He’s made some friends, and that’s better than we expected. Besides, we knew when he would make friends they'd be strange, because he’s a strange boy. You were happy about it this afternoon,” Joe pointed out, setting aside his copy of Murikami’s 'After the Quake.'
“Yes, but it was sudden. A job is something adults do. We're trying to give him a chance at being a normal child,” Frances said in clipped French. She set aside her brush and started rubbing lotion on her arms as she gave her half-Japanese lover a pout.
She didn’t need lotion; she enjoyed the luxury. All the cyborgs, except for Ivan, indulged in old habits to help hang on to some sensation of life. Jogging, drinking, cooking, sex, sports, theater, nature hiking, smoking, swimming, dancing, and reading were some of the things used among the cyborgs to feel alive. Joe shook his head and sighed.
“That wasn’t the point of advancing Ivan’s apparent age. It was so he could learn to be independent and grow as a person, rather than stay as a machine. He was getting more and more detached from humanity. A job where he’ll interact with a variety of people will help him tremendously,” Joe rebutted gently. Frances walked over to their bed and got in on the left side.
“I still don’t like it. We're still being pursued,” Frances said.
“Ivan knows to keep our secrets. He would never tell some strange boys what he is or what we really are. You need to trust his common sense.”
“It’s just that... he’s been like my child, and it’s harder to let go than I thought,” Frances said, with a quiver in her voice.
“What’s really bothering you, darling?”
“It’s about children. It’s the fact that we can never have them,” Frances admitted, reminding Joe that they were both sterilized when they were changed into cyborgs.
“The Black Ghost took that away from us. It was cruel, but we both know we have to move past that,” Joe said gently, pulling her to him and holding her. She didn't sob. She was long past tears, but she still needed to be held.
“Hey, Jinpei! A beer!” Ryu shouted from the end of the bar in the Snack J. Jinpei scowled and grabbed up a frosted mug.
“I thought you had to help your brother at the docks,” Jinpei said, as the amber liquid foamed from the tap. He brought the beer over to Ryu, who threw some yen on the bar. Now he smelled the tell-tale signs of the docks.
“Got done early. So, I heard you actually didn’t get kicked out of school,” Ryu teased, grabbing Jinpei’s cheek and pinching it. Ryu laughed at Jinpei’s glare. “Glad to see you’re back to your regular, nice guy, friendly self. I'm glad to see it was just a phase.”
“I just want to have a chance to be normal!” Jinpei shouted. He glanced around nervously and then frowned. “I’ve been working for the doctor for six years, and I’m just tired.”
“You’ve always been so... enthusiastic? What’s changed, Jin?” Ryu asked softly, glancing around.
“I feel like you all give me mixed messages. You all expect me to act like an adult. Since I was ten years old! But I’m not an adult! I’m a teenager, and I just want to see what it’s like to be sixteen,” Jinpei said.
“Sorry. You're right. You should try to enjoy high school some.”
“Well... I think I’ve found some friends with bigger problems than me,” Jinpei said, grinning.
“What?” Ryu asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Got to go,” Jinpei said, jogging off to the end of the Snack J’s bar where a lady was waiting to be served.
“I can’t believe it,” Ken Hidaka said, pounding his fist beside his empty dinner plate.
“Please, not again. I’m trying to get my homework done,” Omi said, underlining a passage in his French grammar book.
“You aren’t going to have that jerk pay for the damage on the van?” Ken asked. “Why? That Jet Link character needs to pay.”
“I don’t want a big fuss made right after we established ourselves. Besides, it was Aya’s choice. The van is registered in his name,” Omi said. “He's the one who made the calls to Kritiker. They agreed and are giving us money to fix it. Quietly.”
They were sitting at the kitchen table. The new Weiss Kreuz loft was located above the new shop. The four of them were currently sharing the loft, out of convenience.
Ken Hidaka’s aqua eyes narrowed as Aya sat at the table across from Omi. Youji, had for once remained silent during the argument, he kept shooting Ken dirty across the table.
The youngest assassin’s eyes darted around as they all finally cast incredulous looks at him. “What?” Omi asked, blushing and fiddling with his pencil. His sky blue eyes wouldn’t quite meet any of their’s.
“Fine,” Ken growled and stormed out of the room.
Youji sighed. “I'll check on, Mr. Homesick.” He shook his head in aggravation, and followed Ken down the hallway to where the bedrooms were. Omi finally looked up and was a little unnerved to see Aya’s intense amethyst eyes boring into him. Omi squirmed in his seat.
“You’re obligated to Weiss first. Don’t forget your responsibilities.”
“I’ll always put you guys first. I couldn’t do otherwise,” Omi said. The icy redheaded assassin nodded, keeping a blank look on his face.
Donald Wade sat up on his bed and shook off his grogginess. He was used to orderlies doing bed checks, but it was always at a regular interval. It was too early for them. The man cracking the door and standing in the glaring hallway light wasn't an orderly Donald knew. The long, wild red hair and leering expression pegged him as an outsider.
Donald hopped out of his bed and shifted to the balls of his feet when he heard faint screaming from the direction of the orderlies' desk. He still did his kata, in case Galactor decided to come back and punish him for failure.
“I'm not here to punish you for failure,” the stranger said, flashing a crafty smile. Donald didn't let surprise come to his face, even though the man had just echoed his thoughts.
He raised his fists, sneered, and said, “What do you want?”
“To deliver you to your new boss. That's all,” the stranger said. Donald flinched as the sounds of refreshed agony reverberated out in the hallways.
“What is that? What's going on?”
“Only Farfarello having some sport. Had to promise him a little fun if he agreed to set foot in a lunatic asylum.”
“I'm no lunatic!” Donald rage, clenching his fists.
The man threw back his head and laughed, but paused. Donald thought the man was listening to something, but he heard no audible sound except whimpers and pleas for mercy. “No time to argue with you. Crawford says if we delay much longer... things won't end well. This way... Mr. Wade.”
“Who are you anyway?” Donald asked, following the redheaded stranger into the hallway.
“Schuldig,” the man answered simply.
Donald pulled up short when he saw the one-eyed, pale man standing over two bleeding and bound orderlies. “What do you two want from me?” Donald murmured.
“You're going to be taking care of a little problem in exchange for your freedom. Unless...” Schuldig paused and stooped over one of the trembling, beaten orderlies. He took a deep breath, eyes half closing, almost looking as if he were in ecstasy. “Pain and fear like ambrosia. No time to savor, though. Either come with us, or stay. If you do come with us, you'll indirectly get revenge on the people who put you here.”
“I'm coming,” Donald blurted out.
“Get rid of the meat-puppets, Farfarello,” Schuldig said. The one-eyed, pale man swirled two, long blades around his fingers and plunged them into the orderlies' chests. Donald slowly caught his breath as the orderlies lost their lives and lay dead on the floor. A smile spread across Donald's face; he hated those two orderlies, anyway.
His mind plunged to the past as he jogged after his rescuers. Revenge on Nambu, Washio, and Asakura was a powerful motivator for Donald. It'd be a bonus to get even with the little runt that had taken his place, too. He also had some new, burning anger at Jun and Ryu, neither stood up for him after all the talk of being a team. He still had heavy trepidation leaving with unknown, violent men, but the idea of making the Science Ninja Team suffer overrode it.
He was lead out of the institution where a man in glasses and a formal business suit was waiting in a red BMW. There was also an emaciated teenager in a sweater, in spite of the warm autumn weather. Donald didn't miss the teenager's laptop was plugged into the telephony tandem for the asylum.
“Are you my new employer?” Donald asked the man in the suit.
The man shook his head. “No, but he's waiting. Nagi, take care of the asylum.”
The teenager hopped off the car hood and yanked the wire out of the tandem that led to his laptop. Donald knew enough to figure the boy must have been manipulating the computers, telephones, and alarms. That was put out of Donald's mind when he watched the teenager focus on the asylum and slam his foot on the ground.
The next thing he knew, the ayslum's building crumpled in on itself with large plumes of smoke, squealing, and rumbling. Donald fought for balance as he watched the asylum sink half way into the ground. Finally, when the noise stopped and the dust settled, Donald swirled and looked at his four rescuers.
“I foresee you're about to run off. If you do that, Mr. Wade, you'll be shot dead tomorrow morning,” Crawford said, pushing his glasses higher on his nose. “Get in the car. The police are on their way.”
Donald was stunned the man knew what he was contemplating, let alone some outrageous prediction. He sneered at the group. “So you read my mind?”
“I don't read minds, just the future,” Crawford said. He opened the door. “I leave the mind reading to Schuldig. Now, get in.”
Before he knew it, he was in the back seat with the one-eyed lunatic and the redhead. He'd been witness to a lot stranger things than human psychics. Elation soon quelled the remaining qualms he had over his rescuers. He had no idea who his future employer was, but if it did lead to revenge, there wasn't much he wasn't willing to stoop to.
“Don’t look so depressed, kid,” Youji said with a smirk. “We may run into those lovely ladies associated with your new friends.”
“Ken’s still mad at me,” Omi said, in an uncharacteristic funk.
“He's just uptight because he had to leave all of his kids in mid-season. It really has nothing to do with you,” Youji said, pulling the delivery van in front of the high school. Omi clenched his lips to bite off his protest. After all, Omi had to officially reprimand Ken right before they came, because he almost let a target go.
Omi disagreed with Kritiker's reprimand through him, because Ken had chosen to save a child from being hit by a car instead of covering the exit the target slipped through. Omi had told Manx he would have made the same decision, but she couldn't relent.
What surprised Omi, Ken, and Youji was how viciously Aya verbally attacked Manx over the situation. Since then, Manx had been frosty towards them, and Aya had been less critical of Ken. Aya, though, knew Kritiker was the only way he could hope for revenge, so he now kept silent towards Manx.
“There she is! Out, Omi,” Youji said, jarring Omi's thoughts. Omi sighed when he saw Jinpei's adopted sister in front of the van, straddling her motorcycle. He hopped out of the van and hoisted his backpack over his shoulders. Omi walked over to where Jinpei and Ivan were seated on a low stone wall.
“Hey, Jun! Jun, isn’t it,” Youji shouted from the florists’ van as Jun sped past on her Harley Davidson. Youji took off in the van after Jun.
“I was thinking we shouldn't talk about what we know about each other to our respective teams,” Omi said.
“Yeah, I think the others would skin me alive if they knew I told you guys the small amount I did,” Jinpei said. “They’re giving me enough grief as it is.”
:Agreed. Frances is distraught over my changing situation. It would only worry her to know you both knew I am a cyborg. I know both of your organizations rely on secret identities. Omi is a Bombay and Jinpei is a Falcon; I find it rather ironic.:
“That is funny. Jinpei is bird-boy,” Omi said as Jinpei snickered.
“Okay, kitty-kitty. This bird has talons,” Jinpei said with a sly smile.
:We cyborgs... our freedom depends on secrecy. We were assigned numbers after we were changed. My not-so-secret identity is Cyborg 001. I was the first.: Ivan thought as he hoisted his backpack up on his shoulders. The three of them walked towards the school.
“Why are you hiding out, anyway, Ivan? You really weren't clear on your whole story yesterday,” Jinpei asked.
“What do you mean ‘the first’?” Omi added.
:We're still being chased by the organization that made us what we are. They forced us against our will,: Ivan thought.
“It’s pretty terrible you say ‘what you are’ rather than ‘who you are.’ It’s terrible there are people trying to catch you like some sort of run away slave,” Omi whispered, darting glances around as they walked to the school.
“Doesn’t your special job ever make you feel like a ‘what’ rather than a ‘who’? Even if you’re asked in the beginning, and you get into it for all the right reasons, after a while you’re just trapped inside of a whole mess,” Jinpei said in hushed tones right before they reached their classroom. Omi shivered. It was the first time he had heard anyone voice what he felt sometimes after really hard Weiss missions.
He frowned and looked at the ground rather than Jinpei’s burning, brandy eyes. He didn’t want his new friends to see his shame and know how filthy he really was.
“'Sokay. I know how you’re feeling right now. I see it. It makes you feel rotten when you have to kill or things get bad,” Jinpei continued, whispering. Omi looked up and let out a tense breath. Finally, someone who really did know the pain of killing balanced against the safety of innocents, someone his own age.
“Oh, no,” Jinpei hissed when they walked into the classroom. Omi looked up to see the blackboard had the huge chalk message, ‘Go back to Russia, retard!!!’
Omi looked over at Ivan, who seemed impassive as his heterochromatic eyes scanned the blackboard. Ivan walked to his desk and took his seat. The other students giggled and tossed wads of paper at him. Omi was impressed by Ivan’s aplomb as he was ridiculed. He wasn’t even sure if Ivan knew his feelings should be hurt.
Omi was a little surprised to see Jinpei coolly pick up an eraser and wipe the board clean. Omi followed Jinpei to their desks. He wasn’t surprised to see Jinpei kick Aki's desk and glare.
“Keep it up, jerk,” Jinpei threatened. They took their seat just as the teacher came in and started class.
Ken got out of Ryu's borrowed truck and leaned against it. Jun had ask Ken if he'd pick up Jinpei from school. In exchange for the favor, Jun was going to look over the account books for Ken's bush piloting business and figure out how he could trim some of his costs. Ken figured he was getting the good end of the deal.
He looked up when he heard a car pull up behind him. The pulse in his neck pounded hard when he saw the lanky redhead from yesterday get out of the car. He watched the young man stretch towards the sky, then sprawl on the hood of the car. Suddenly, the redhead looked up and scowled towards Ken.
“What are you staring at?” he snapped in sloppy Japanese. Ken felt his face slightly redden, not realizing he had been so rude.
“I think we met yesterday. I apologize,” Ken said, grateful he had an excuse.
“You were bailing out that Sicilian guy. That was three hours in paradise I'll never forget.”
Ken found himself put off at the sarcastic tone, but that initial attraction flared up again, in spite of the attitude. The younger man was wearing a thin, worn tee-shirt, that clung tight enough for Ken to he was lean, but well-defined. The cut-off khakis revealed more smooth, fair skin than the jeans he had worn yesterday. Every instinct inside of Ken screamed the redhead was trouble, but he had been known to ignore common sense and take risks before.
But it had always been easier for Ken to face down a squad of Galactor goons than to deal with people on a personal level. More specifically, women.
“I'm Ken Washio.” He said it, testing the hardened shell this person had. He was curious how deep it went and what was underneath.
“Not another Ken. I hope you aren't bad luck for me, too.”
“I'm just here to pick up my friend's brother.”
“Same here. I don't want any trouble today,” the redhead said and then bolted upright. “My name is Jet, by the way. I didn't mean to take out my shitty mood on you. Hey, you don't think your friend is too pissed off about his car. I know that one cost a pretty penny.”
“It's okay. He's a race car driver by profession. He actually had it fixed last night through some connections. It won't cost you a thing,” Ken said, bending the truth slightly. Dr. Nambu's team at the ISO building had repaired it last night, not any connections through Joe's racing career.
“Thank goodness. Guess you must be a lucky Ken. Hey, my best buddy is a race car driver, too. Small world, hun?”
“Yes. I guess that was your race car friend who bailed you out?”
“What? Albert?” Suddenly, Jet started cackling. “He's a horrible driver! And he reamed me last night for that accident. We've had plenty of fights before, but... damn!”
Ken cursed in his head as the dismissal bell for the school rang. Jinpei came running up with two other boys in tow. Jinpei's expression was drenched in guilt, but before Ken could think about questions for the teenager, there was the tiniest, red dot glowing on his transmute bracelet.
He gave another mental curse when Jinpei looked down at this own wrist, bid the other two boys a hasty farewell, and ran faster towards Ken.
“Come on, we have...”
“I know, Ken,” Jinpei snapped and jumped into the truck. Ken turned to Jet and gave a wave before jogging off. He got in and revved up the old engine. The younger man gave him a charming, lopsided smile and a half wave with a smoldering cigarette between the fingers.
“Great! We'll never get there in Ryu's old rust bucket,” Jinpei complained after Ken pulled away from the school. He slipped his thumb, quickly, to a button on the side of his transmute bracelet, as did Jinpei.
“Eagle One, Falcon is here with me. Go ahead,” Ken said, gripping the steering wheel again.
“Report to the ISO building. This isn't a full alert,” came Nambu's response.
“Great! Some dumb meeting,” Jinpei groused and slouched down in his seat.
“By the way, I don't know why you were running so fast from school, but you better confess before Jun finds out.”
“There's this guy named Aki. He's picking on my friend Ivan, so I...”
“Wait! You didn't beat him up, did you?”
“No... just made his online life more interesting.”
“Jin! I warned you...”
“Omi started it!”
“That other kid? He looks too innocent to do anything like that.”
“You'd be surprised,” Jinpei mumbled sinking lower on the bench seat.
To be continued.