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Thread: Tabula Rasa

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    Default Tabula Rasa

    A/N: Been a long time, I know. But I'm still around; real life and roleplay has eaten up my writing time and I'm only just getting back into it. Either way, here's a project I've been working on for a while and has been chugging along at a decent enough rate that I feel I can start posting it. It's set in the same universe as 'The Good Fight' and those other fics of mine, which means it's gameverse-based. Thanks go to IC Ghost for betaing.

    Please note that this fic will be R-RATED. In later chapters it will contain explicit torture and some sexual references. For now, it is PG-13, but earlier chapters still contain implications of torture, definite severe injury, brainwashing/mental manipulation and swearing (hardest swear being multiple uses of the 'the f-word').

    'Tabula rasa' is 'blank slate'; it indicates the mind before it has been conditioned and changed by experience or implies the necessity of beginning anew.



    Flashes.

    The darkness lured him, soft and cloying, and he strove to remain there. It was safe there. There were flashes, but even when they let him see things they were dangerous because they hurt; he couldn’t control them and they always always swallowed him when he tried.

    He was yanked toward one and pulled into light and sound and ohgodspain—

    “How long does it take to break one man?!”

    There was a pressure in his head and he fought, steel cutting into his wrists, his arms, his chest. It felt as though his mind was exploding but he just couldn’t get away.

    “Well?”

    “I’m
    trying, Sir.”

    “Try harder!”

    Then he wasn’t there anymore he was
    home, talking to his sister, and for a moment he was happy. Abruptly she vanished and he cried out because she was gone—

    He ran and ran, but there were people after him, black shadows. They couldn’t catch him, he couldn’t let them catch him. He ran through a door and they were waiting, but so was he, and then they all were surrounded by fire and ice and sheer white-hot
    rage

    Something pricked his arm.


    He felt so heavy. He could hardly move, but the darkness was nice, and he didn’t really want to move, because to move was to invite pain. He tried to think, but the darkness was foggy as well as black, and it was so very thick. He couldn’t seem to grasp the flashes in the fog even if he tried or wanted to, and when he did try it seemed as though some great force stole them out from under his fingertips and then sent them back at him.

    Something was ticking over, beeping, and something else was covering his mouth and nose. He tried to move his hands but couldn’t, first because he was tied down and then because he was just too tired.

    “How much longer?”

    “It’s hard to say—he’s so weak. How many tranqs did they have to
    use?”

    “Do something about it!”


    The fog seemed to lighten and the flashes seemed clearer, but—what was that?!

    There was something in there with him.

    “Stop him!”

    Flames roared and he ignored the shouts and screams. His limbs didn’t seem to want to work properly, but there was light ahead, light and maybe freedom and he threw himself into it as though his life depended on it. It did.

    He wasn’t anticipating the flare of pain which came from the side, something which knocked his world into spinning wildly. A shape hesitated, one that was big and angular and hard.

    “Go … go!”

    They went, and he and another—someone warm and strong, if battered, and very, very large—they rose to meet the shadows with lightning and flame.


    He clawed in the darkness, but it did nothing. Even if he gripped the Other it seemed to slide out from under his fingers just as the flashes sometimes did, and it hurt him. It made the darkness around him radiate pain. He fled from it, but he couldn’t escape it and—

    His head pounded, pain stabbing into his eyes, but there was nothing but darkness. No sights, just sounds, far too loud, voices coming over his heartbeat.

    “You idiot!”

    “I’m sorry, Sir, I—”

    “He’s no good to us blind, you fool!”


    Sometimes he saw things, people, and heard sounds. Sometimes they answered him, but they always faded or went transparent when he tried to touch them. Sometimes he was sure they were supposed to be people he knew—should know—people who knew him. And yet the Other came and swept them all away, and there was pain and darkness. Then there was only darkness.

    And then there wasn’t.

    ***

    Everything was heavy. I heard sounds coming from all around me, sounds which seemed like they should have been quiet and yet weren’t. Ticking. Footsteps. People talking.

    I could smell … something. Something sterile. It burned my nose when I tried to breathe too hard, but something burned in my chest as well when I did and I only just kept from coughing. I was resting on something soft, and even though the heaviness pushing me into it was keeping some of the pain back it was also receding fast. My head hurt. My chest. My arms … everywhere hurt. I tried to move and whimpered instead at the pain.

    There seemed to be a pause in the sounds, but I was just trying to breathe without moving too much or, well, doing anything too much. Opening my eyes seemed like a good idea at that point, only they were one of the things that hurt most. They burned, but there also seemed to be something across them which was coolish and a little soothing—

    “You’re awake, Sir?”

    The voice sounded like it came right next to my ear and far too loudly, and I jerked.

    Not good. Pain stabbed into my head and sparked down my arms, and I was pretty sure I whimpered again but really honestly couldn’t care because fuck that hurt!

    “Sorry,” said the voice more quietly, and dimly I realised the light weights shifting down my limbs and across my chest were hands. “I thought you would have heard me coming.”

    I’d have answered, but my mouth was so dry my tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth. I tried anyway, if only to ask for water, but apparently only pain could force a sound from me because my voice sure as hell wasn’t working, even though I’m sure my lips moved. The man behind the voice seemed to understand anyway; the hands lifted and a moment later there was a straw poking at my lips, and oh gods yes, water!

    The straw was pulled away too soon for my liking, but I don’t know if I made some noise of protest or if he’d just done it too many times, because the man said, “Not too fast; you’re a little dehydrated.”

    I wondered whose fault that was and turned my head in the direction the voice was coming from. Come to think of it, I didn’t know at all what had happened to land me here … I wasn’t even sure where ‘here’ was.

    “Whe—where?” Gods, was that my voice? I sounded like a chainsaw dragging over gravel.

    “You’re in the medical wing,” said the voice, a little briskly, and I tried to frown.

    “What—where?” A hospital? Where? Was that supposed to mean something to me?

    A beat of silence. “How … how much do you remember?”

    Uh … I thought. And thought. And my heart seemed to try to burst out of my chest through my throat, because I couldn’t remember a godsdamned thing

    “Doctor Kitano?”

    Another voice, another one I didn’t recognise, barely audible over the rush of my blood in my ears.

    “Wataru?”

    Breathe. It was hard, harder than it should have been, why was it so hard—?

    A hand landed on my arm and I jerked, and the new voice sounded again, familiar this time.

    “Wataru?”

    They were talking to me, I realised, and the weight on my arm was somehow comforting. I took a semi-steady breath, and then another. “Is—that me?”

    “You don’t remember?” The voice sounded slightly wary, just the slightest bit uncertain; I guess he wasn’t expecting that reply. Who does expect to have a patient wake up and not know who he is, anyway?

    “N—no … no.”

    The hand squeezed briefly, and it seemed to tremble with the voice as the man answered. “Yes. Yes, Wataru is your name. You’re an … agent under my command.”

    An agent? An agent for what?

    I had a vague idea I should’ve been able to answer that question, but blackness apparently has weight and all of a sudden it was suffocating me.

    “Whe—where—?”

    “You’re at our headquarters, in the medical ward. I’m afraid you were injured rather badly.”

    Injured? Well yeah, I could tell that myself, thanks, what with the pain thing, and my eyes—

    FUCK!

    “M—my eyes …”

    “Were damaged, yes. However, chances are they’ll heal fully given time.” That was the doctor—Kitano. Did he realise how detached he sounded? Almost frightened, even.

    “How—did it happen?”

    A sigh, from my right this time—the man who wasn’t a doctor, then. My employer?

    “I’m sure I shouldn’t go into details at this point in time, but suffice to say that something happened which was rather … traumatising for you. Doctor Kitano says you are recovering, however, and that is all you should allow yourself to be doing.”

    There was a noise of agreement from Kitano, but it was the tone of command in the other man’s voice which had me wondering, the familiarity clearer than ever now, and if I strained I thought maybe I could remember hearing him shouting.

    “I know you. Don’t I?”

    There was a pause, and then the man spoke again, his voice slightly tighter with fissions of—excitement? “Oh? Do you remember me, then?”

    “I … don’t know.” What had he been shouting about? I couldn’t seem to call the words to mind, and the disconnected nature of the memory made me think that maybe I’d already been injured at the time. “I think … I remember hearing you shouting—about me being hurt?”

    A heavy sigh. “Yes, I was rather emotional, I’ll admit.” He said it carefully and he didn’t really sound like the kind of person who’d lose control easily, so he was probably ashamed of whatever outburst that had been. And I had been the subject of it.

    I swallowed hard. “I—sorry. For worrying you … I guess.”

    The man, when he replied, sounded both surprised and gratified, and a hand squeezed my arm. “Why, thank you, my boy, though it wasn’t precisely your fault.” Someone cleared their throat. “Ah, yes; I do believe it’s time for you to rest now, isn’t that right, Doctor?”

    “Yes, Sir.”

    The hand was removed and my stomach fluttered with panic. “Wait—I—who are you? I don’t know your name!”

    “Sakaki,” the man said, and he sounded pleased. “My name is Sakaki.”
    Last edited by purple_drake; 10th November 2011 at 4:26 AM.

  2. #2
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    It's been too long since I've seen your name around here m'dear! It's nice to see that you are still around~! X3 I really enjoyed this! Your writing style is as lovely as ever, and the little mysteries you've wound into this have me as curious as hell. X33 I have quite a few speculations, but I'll keep them to myself for now. I'm sensing ironly at the end of the last scene though, although I may've been lead astray by your rating warning. XD

    Delightful in any case. :3


    Floating over your rocky spine
    The glaciers made you and now you're mine


    Pair: duncan | Lyrics: Great Lake Swimmers

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    Quote Originally Posted by katiekitten View Post
    It's been too long since I've seen your name around here m'dear! It's nice to see that you are still around~! X3 I really enjoyed this! Your writing style is as lovely as ever, and the little mysteries you've wound into this have me as curious as hell. X33 I have quite a few speculations, but I'll keep them to myself for now. I'm sensing ironly at the end of the last scene though, although I may've been lead astray by your rating warning. XD

    Delightful in any case. :3
    Aw, but I like hearing speculations! :3 When you say 'ironly', d'you mean irony and it's a typo? XD I'm curious to hear what you mean by that, but I'm guessing it's to do with the final line specifically.

    Thanks for commenting; it's nice to be back again. I missed the place!

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    XD Sorry, that is a typo- I can pretty much only access the Internet on my phone right now and I'm horrible at typing on it. X3 I was getting the irony from their conversation, specifically from the characters assumption that Sakaki is on his side? :x I may be picturing an opportunist 'yeaaaaah you work for me' when it feels like he is being held against his will. I'm probably completely off though. X3


    Floating over your rocky spine
    The glaciers made you and now you're mine


    Pair: duncan | Lyrics: Great Lake Swimmers

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    Interesting. You captured the confusion and disarray very well, I thought, and the writing was solid throughout, as expected. The concept seems intriguing and like my kind of thing, so I'll be following this.

    What continuity is this? From what I gather of the Pokémon Special manga, Lance is involved with Team Rocket there, but I'm not sure if that's related to this or not.

    Chapter 64: Hide and Seek
    The story of an ordinary boy on an impossible quest in a world that isn't as black and white as he always thought it was.
    (rough draft of the remaining chapters finished for NaNoWriMo; to be edited and posted)

    Morphic
    (completed, plus silly extras)
    A few scientists get drunk and start fiddling with gene splicing. Ten years later, they're taking care of eight half-Pokémon kids, each freakier than the next, while a religious fanatic plots to murder them all.

    Lengthy fanfiction reviewing guide / A more condensed version
    Read and I will be very happy for a large number of reasons.

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    Quote Originally Posted by katiekitten View Post
    XD Sorry, that is a typo- I can pretty much only access the Internet on my phone right now and I'm horrible at typing on it. X3 I was getting the irony from their conversation, specifically from the characters assumption that Sakaki is on his side? :x I may be picturing an opportunist 'yeaaaaah you work for me' when it feels like he is being held against his will. I'm probably completely off though. X3
    Actually, you're not far wrong! Some of the details you have in mind are a bit off, but you're on the right track. :3


    Quote Originally Posted by Dragonfree View Post
    Interesting. You captured the confusion and disarray very well, I thought, and the writing was solid throughout, as expected. The concept seems intriguing and like my kind of thing, so I'll be following this.

    What continuity is this? From what I gather of the Pokémon Special manga, Lance is involved with Team Rocket there, but I'm not sure if that's related to this or not.
    Ach, I knew there was something I'd forgotten to put in the first post. It's gameverse, in the same universe as The Good Fight and its sequels--basically the 'live-action' take on the gameverse. Chronologically, the bulk of the story happens in the eight months or so before GSCHGSS, though by the end of the story it does cross over with some of the earlier events from those games. Basically this is the story I came up with to explain why Lance originally went from focussed and humourless in the gen 1 games to flippant in the face of danger in the gen 2 games. In HGSS they changed the tone of his dialogue significantly, so the personality shift seems non-existent, but it's a story worth telling anyway.

    As for the manga, Lance's only involvement with the Rockets is as their enemy, unless something happened in the HGSS arc, but I can see how you'd connect it to this. XD

    Cheers!

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    Is it weird that I remember you talking about you wanting to write this fic? I'm pretty sure I said something about it in the Fic Ideas thread. I think it was before Rookie's Handbook because I seem to remember you saying something about it to me in that thread.

    xD My memory is about as good as Lance's at the moment.

    Oh sorry, Wataru :P I do kinda like the Japanese names for some characters. For example, I believe Claire's is Ibuki, which is also a Street Fighter character I enjoy playing. And Steven's is Daigo, who is pretty much the best Street Fighter player out there. Yay Street Fighter!

    Anyway, colour me intrigued. Can't wait to see where this goes.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Diddy View Post
    Is it weird that I remember you talking about you wanting to write this fic? I'm pretty sure I said something about it in the Fic Ideas thread. I think it was before Rookie's Handbook because I seem to remember you saying something about it to me in that thread.

    xD My memory is about as good as Lance's at the moment.

    Oh sorry, Wataru :P I do kinda like the Japanese names for some characters. For example, I believe Claire's is Ibuki, which is also a Street Fighter character I enjoy playing. And Steven's is Daigo, who is pretty much the best Street Fighter player out there. Yay Street Fighter!

    Anyway, colour me intrigued. Can't wait to see where this goes.
    Nope, not weird. XD I was pretty excited about it, and you were one of the people in attendance when the idea came into conception. I wondered if you'd remember.

    I've gotten so used to using them now that I can use them pretty much interchangeably and like most of the Japanese ones as much or more than English ones. XD I enjoy acknowledging the fact the pokeworld is a world with multiple languages like ours and it made most sense with this story because some cultural things started coming into it that made it weird to use English names (meal-times, mostly). And Clair's is Ibuki, yes.

    Cheers. I'm pretty excited myself. :3

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    Chapter 1
    I’m terrified of these four walls

    Phantoms.

    They played in his mind, black shadows with glaring red. They surrounded him, holding him down, so heavy, so many that he could barely fight beneath them all. One of them came at him, grabbing him and making him stare into their eyeless face, and even though they had no face it was as if he could feel them forcing their fingers into his mind, forcing his thoughts any way they liked …


    I jerked as I woke up, my heart pounding. My head hurt and the pain seemed to chase away whatever fragments were left of my dream—not that there were many. For a few long moments I could only lay there, my heartbeat pounding in my veins and my body aching with its injuries as I breathed. The air in the hospital was still, but I could hear the sounds of machines and people moving in the distance. I tried to talk, to call out for someone, but it demanded too deep a breath for me to manage.

    “Ungh …”

    It hurt. Fuck, it hurt.

    Footsteps. “Sir?”

    I breathed out and turned my head toward the voice, a female one, one I wasn’t sure I’d heard before.

    “W—water …?” I croaked, my voice catching in my throat.

    “Of—of course, Sir.” The sound of the water being poured seemed loud, and she didn’t let me drink for nearly as long as I’d have liked. I made a slight noise of discontent, but it was too exhausting to argue; about all I could or wanted to do was sink back into the bedding. My body cooled from the sweat of my uncomfortable sleep, leaving me feeling grimy but far too weak to do anything about it.

    Someone drew my blankets down, and I felt light touches on my skin as the nurse checked my bandages and then—what was she doing? She was dragging something moist down my arms, across my forehead, over my chest. I spent a few minutes wondering what that was before realising it was a sponge, that she was giving me a bath, and of course by then she’d moved on to everywhere else and I felt movement underneath my blankets—

    My stomach jolted. All of a sudden my hands were moving, catching her wrists and gripping them firmly. There came a squeak through the ringing in my ears as pain lashed down my arm and side, and for a few moments the world swirled. I heard a strangled groan of pain beneath a barely controlled call for help, but didn’t realise at first that the sound was mine—at least, not until I heard running footsteps and someone seized my arms. Urgent voices babbled at each other overhead—all except for the only one I recognised. Kitano.

    “Wataru?! Wataru, can you understand me? It’s—it’s all right, Wataru, you can let go …”

    Let go?

    Dimly I realised I was still clutching the nurse’s wrists and released her, still trying to breathe through the throbbing throughout my body.

    “What happened?”

    It wasn’t directed at me. The nurse answered, sounding shaken. “I—I was just washing under his blankets, Doctor.”

    Yes. Right. I shivered, feeling cold without the covers on. Kitano seemed to realise it, because he pulled it up as far as he could without interfering with the check he was doing on my wounds. “Warn him next time.”

    His tone was sharp; I flinched and my body throbbed.

    “I’d already washed down his chest and arms! I thought he realised!”

    “He’s d—he’s drugged! Warn him next time.

    I wanted to tell them to stop yelling, to ask why on earth they sounded so scared, because she’d just startled me, that was all, and I couldn’t exactly see her to know what she was doing—but then warmth spread out from the pinching in my wrist and I sank back into the bed. The pain faded, the voices becoming distorted and then going away altogether.

    ***

    He was running, fast as he could, faster—if he fell it was over because he didn’t have the strength to stand again, not before they found him. But then he rounded a corner and they were right there, black shadows, red, all reaching for him.

    He lashed out but his blows sank right through them. He tried to turn back, to pull away, but their snatching fingers wrapped around him so he couldn’t move and they
    burned—

    “Nnghah—!”

    My chest burned with the sudden influx of air as I cried out, and I couldn’t help coughing. That only made the burn worse, until I couldn’t do anything but try and curl up, struggling not to cough and failing.

    I felt hands on me and flinched, my arm jerking out to slap them away because they’d burn

    Except they didn’t, they were cool, and for a moment I had no idea where I was or what was happening. They pushed me over, onto my back again, and I struggled weakly, pushing back against them.

    No, that hurts—

    I tried to take a breath and coughed again, and that hurt more. Then suddenly there was something over my mouth and nose; I felt air on my face and managed a shallow breath. A moment later I managed another, and another, the pain fading to a dull, tolerable ache.

    My heart still pounded but I was dimly aware of a voice, now, Doctor Kitano’s voice, low and soothing and speaking nonsense.

    “There now, Wataru,” he was saying. “Don’t struggle, just breathe softly. That’s it. Don’t panic.”

    “Like to see you not panic,” I wanted to say, but I just took another shaky breath instead, a little raspy in the mask. I did put my hand out, searching for his arm or hand—anything—and it was put into my grasp a moment later. I squeezed to let him know I could hear him.

    “Good now. Another nightmare, was it?”

    No shit. It wasn’t the first. Wasn’t even the second time. Already I’d lost count. Four? Five? A hundred?

    I nodded a little, more an incline, really, but I couldn’t do much else with them pushing that mask on my face. A moment later it was gone and I took a breath of actual air, but not too deeply this time.

    “Do you remember what you dreamed, Wataru?”

    Only fragments—enough to make a chill run through my body.

    “Sh—shadows—black shadows—holding me down …”

    A slight indrawn breath, but I couldn’t tell which side it came from. “Alright. It’s alright, Wataru. Have some water.”

    A straw prodded my lips and I sucked at it. Once again they pulled it away too soon, but at least I’d managed to drink nearly my fill this time.

    “Here.”

    I heard a rattle, tilted my head in its direction, and someone lifted my hand, guiding my fingers around a small paper tub and a pile of round and oval-shaped objects inside.

    “They’re pills, Wataru. Medication, of a different sort to what’s in the IV. We’re going to start you on this tonight, alright? There’s two tubs of them.”

    More medication? What was wrong with the drugs in the IV?

    “What—what are they for—”

    “It’s alright, Wataru. It just means we’ll be able to take you off the IV sooner.”

    Oh. That pulling in my wrist did get kind of annoying. I nodded weakly, even though I knew it wasn’t as though I had a choice in the matter. And it was hard to drink without a straw, but that was only because I couldn’t lift myself high enough to drink without one. What were they going to do about that?

    “We’re going to sit you up now. I’ve put a sedative in the second lot, so you’ll be able to sleep again, alright? Here we go.”

    There was a squeak and I felt the bed rising, the top half of it at least; a hand cupped the back of my neck to lift my head up. Okay, that worked.

    “Open up, Wataru. And then drink, quickly now.”

    The feel of those pills in my mouth made me want to spit them out again—except I couldn’t, because someone was already putting the cup of water to my lips and I couldn’t do anything but drink. I almost choked on the pills, but someone rubbed my throat lightly and they went down.

    “That’s good work, Wataru. Now the other.”

    At least, I thought dimly, I’ll be able to sleep after this.

    ***

    My heart was pounding. My heart was pounding and I didn’t know why, I couldn’t remember why, except that I’d dreamed something … horrible.

    “S—Sir?”

    I flinched and then caught my breath, turning my head in the direction of the man’s nervous voice. One of the nurses—I was beginning to recognise the voices of the two nurses who tended me the most, now, even though I couldn’t remember if anyone had said their names near me.

    I wished they wouldn’t sneak up on me like that, though.

    “Uh … s—sorry, Sir …”

    Oh. Had I said that out loud? I hadn’t meant to say that out loud.

    “I’ll—get Doctor Kitano for you. Sir.”

    I heard footsteps hurrying away, and then I was left in the silence of the ward. Which wasn’t very silent, I had learned, because I could still hear the hum of technology somewhere nearby—a computer maybe—and I could hear distant sounds like voices. It was calming, actually. Different to the energy of the dream I couldn’t remember. I hadn’t been able to remember them for a while. The last that I could had been about black shadows—but that was all.

    Footsteps. “Still awake, Wataru?”

    “Mmhm.” I turned my head in Kitano’s direction, still breathing slowly, relaxing after the adrenaline rush. I felt the weight of hands, the doctor’s customary check-up after that last scare. I’d pulled some stitches, that time; I hadn’t even noticed through the pain in my chest.

    “Another dream? Do you remember this one?” Talking. They’d first started using it during my sponge baths. It didn’t work, but I let them pretend. Then again, my dreams seemed to be something they were always interested in.

    “Why d’you always ask that?”

    A pause in the motion of his hands. “Well, sometimes people with amnesia remember things in their dreams.”

    “Oh.” That made sense, I guess. I just wished they weren’t nightmares; I couldn’t even be sure if they were real if they were always nightmares. I shook my head, but slowly.

    “I see. Well, I have good news.”

    My heart skipped a beat. “Am I getting the bandages on my eyes off?” Not being able to see was starting to wear on my nerves. It was like the nothingness of my unremembered nightmares followed me while I was awake too.

    Another pause, and then, “No. I’m sorry, Wataru, your eyes still need a bit more time to heal. Sakaki will be returning soon.”

    Sakaki? Had he gone somewhere?

    “Well, yes, Wataru. He had to leave soon after you first woke up, remember?”

    Did he? I couldn’t—wait. Yes, I did. It was the second time he’d come to visit—he’d sounded sorry he’d had to leave. I hadn’t exactly wanted him to either … he was nicer to talk to than Kitano.

    “Where—did he go?”

    Kitano’s voice was as brisk as his hands when he answered. “I don’t know, Wataru. He has a lot of business to do, and not all of it is in this facility. Now.”

    I heard a rattle, and the slosh of water, and my bed started to rise.

    ***

    I jerked awake with a gasp. It made my chest burn, but at least it didn’t set me to coughing—not anymore. The ward’s air was still and I couldn’t hear anything besides the hum of equipment; it was night, then.

    For a few minutes I just lay there, letting my pulse slow, wishing my head didn’t hurt, that the pain hadn’t chased away the fragments of the dream.

    Then, footsteps. “Wataru?”

    Right on time. They’d started giving me a few minutes to calm down before coming in. Guess they figured I’d hear them if they gave me some time.

    “Mmm?”

    “Ah. You are awake.” The footsteps came nearer, and Kitano’s hands came to rest over my chest, light moving touches. “Would you like to tell me what you dreamed about?”

    “Same as the other times; I can’t remember.” Gods, I sounded tired. “I never remember.” And bitter. And I was getting annoyed that was always the first thing he asked. I wanted to remember more than anyone, but he wasn’t exactly making it easier always jumping on it first chance he got.

    Kitano coughed uncomfortably, and I realised that I’d said that out loud. I’d been doing that a lot lately too.

    “My apologies, Wataru. Why don’t we change the subject?”

    “Mkay.”

    His hands lifted and I heard a tell-tale rattle, and I only just managed to suppress a groan. “I do believe it’s time for your medication.”

    “Already?” My voice rasped a little. Was it really necessary to take the pills so often? They always got stuck in my throat and drinking was uncomfortable with only the bed to lift me up. And I was still on the IV, even though I seemed to remember Kitano saying I could get off it sooner if I took the pills.

    “Well, we might be an hour or two off, but it doesn’t really make much of a difference, and you’re already awake.”

    His tone had the cadence of someone who’d said it before. Well, he had, really—I’d asked once why I always seemed to wake up at the right time. He’d told me my medication timetable was loose because my sleeping timetable was.

    I half heard, half felt him move closer. “I thought I could get off the IV once I started taking the pills.” I wasn’t whining. I wasn’t. “I don’t need them both anymore, do I?”

    “They’re for different things. I can’t just take you straight off the IV; it just means you’ll get off it sooner, that’s all.”

    I heard water sloshing as it was poured. “What are they both for, then?”

    There was a thunk as the jug was set down. “I beg your pardon?”

    “The pills. What are they for, if they’re different to the IV?”

    Kitano’s voice was cautious; my gut tightened. “Well, it’s complicated and you’re not a doctor. I doubt you’d understand.”

    “Try me.” I don’t know why I wanted to know so much all of a sudden—I just did. Maybe it was because I’d spent so long in someone else’s hands, and I didn’t even know how I’d got there. Surely there was something I could know about it all, even if it was just what kind of medicine I was taking.

    “You’re not exactly at the peak of health, Wataru, I wouldn’t want to confuse you or slow down your healing—”

    I let out an irritable whoosh of air. “Doctor. Answer me. Now.

    … Where had that come from? I barely registered his sharp, indrawn breath; I was too surprised by my own tone of voice. Up until then it had always been slightly gravelly with sleep or uncertainty. I hadn’t even known I could produce that kind of tone.

    Then again, I didn’t know much of anything, and that’s what this was supposed to change, right?

    “You have a—condition.”

    If I could have I would have blinked, his voice surprising through my marvelling. Then he paused, the way he did when he was searching for the right words (when he wanted to hide something), and my gut clenched again.

    “What kind of condition?” Not so strong now, was I? More like uncertain and cautious. Did I still even want to know?

    Yes, I decided after a beat. I had the right to know.

    “A … psychological condition.”

    For a few moments there didn’t seem to be any sound but my heartbeat. A … what? A psychological condition? What the hell does that mean?

    I swallowed hard. “What—kind of—”

    “Sir. Wataru.” Firmly. “It’s my considered opinion that it will do your recovery no good to discuss this at this point in time—”

    The bitter laugh that came from my lips surprised me. “You’re going to drop a bombshell like that and then not even explain it—”

    “In my defence, you pressed the issue.”

    A psychological condition.

    “You were keeping something from me!”

    Ow. Ow, that hurt, that pulled at my stitches, and dammit I didn’t want his hands on me, even to keep me down on the bed—

    “Someone’s woken up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”

    That voice, that cheerful, familiar voice—Sakaki—I hadn’t even realised he was back—

    “You would have woken up on the wrong side of the bed too,” I said through gritted teeth, “if you had just been told you were nuts.”

    My voice had risen, but the words and their anger seemed to steal all my energy, and for a few moments I could only lay there, pressing a hand to my bandaged ribs. There was a pause. That seemed to happen a lot around me, actually.

    Then Sakaki chuckled and I drew in a breath, my heart pounding with anger as I glared in as near to Sakaki’s direction as I could guess.

    “Well. It seems someone has gained energy since my last visit also.” Then he sighed, and with a pang I realised the chuckle was probably just a reaction, just surprise. “My deepest apologies, Wataru. I can see this troubles you.”

    At least it sounded like he was going to tell me something.

    “And yes, it was partly my decision to keep such knowledge from you, at least until you were stronger. I was afraid of what it might do to you to know.”

    He sounded sincere. Sincere and grim, and my heart-rate slowed, my stomach twisting with fear instead. “What do you mean?”

    “I’m afraid you have a reason to be worried,” he said gently, and I heard him come forward. “You are sometimes somewhat … unstable, you see. You were out of control, completely irrational, and such a man as you are … rather dangerous.”

    … Wait, what? He was—he was agreeing with me? I barely remembered what a psychological condition was, let alone whether it meant I was nuts or not!

    “I am … I was …?”

    “I’m afraid so, yes. We had to take rather extreme measures to defend ourselves and subdue you. That was how you were injured.”

    That was how you were injured.

    Because I was attacking people.

    Because I was
    hurting people.

    If he kept speaking, I couldn’t hear him; the blood rushed in my ears and my throat closed, my chest tightening, burning with the pain that said I was breathing too quickly.

    “Wataru? Come now, Wataru, calm.” Someone squeezed my arm and my fingers jerked up, finding a hand that I clutched with all my might. Slowly my breathing eased and I became dimly aware that someone else’s hands were on my shoulders.

    “There now; you should have let me finish,” Sakaki scolded. “I was going to say that your recovery thus far has been most encouraging; likely the new medication. If it continues to work as well as it is I imagine you’ll be able to return to your duties without much trouble.”

    His words, at first, were encouraging, and I began to relax—until I realised exactly what it was he’d said. “What do you mean—the new medication?” My voice rose again, and there was a slight pause.

    “Oh dear; I’d hoped you wouldn’t notice that little slip.”

    No. No, this couldn’t be happening. It just—it couldn’t. First I was an amnesiac, now this?

    “This … this isn’t the first time this has happened?”

    Fuck, how crazy was I? Incurably insane? Maybe I was insane enough that all this was just a dream and I was in a padded cell somewhere giggling my brains out. I fought the urge to giggle right here and now; there was no point in making them think I was any crazier than I apparently already was.

    “I’m afraid not, Wataru, though it was certainly one of your more … damaging phases.”

    Why did he have to say it like that? Like I was some monster who’d go off the deep end at any moment until they figured out how to pull me back or hurt me enough to—to what? Put me in the hospital wing?

    He said it like that because it’s true, isn’t it? Fuck.

    Someone patted my hand, bumping a plastic cup against it. “Time for your meds, Wataru.”

    Dazedly I obeyed.

    ***

    Blackness everywhere, except where there was fire and the crackle of electricity, and the screams and shouts of people. There were shadows, black shadows, and they were surrounding him, trying to hurt him—

    No, he was hurting
    them: he snapped his fingers and three of them burst into flame with screams, and with his other hand he brandished a gun. His voice echoed, but he couldn’t tell if he was talking or laughing.

    One of the shadows rushed at him, but he shot it. It fell and came to rest at his feet, its face turned towards him, except that it didn’t
    have one.

    None of them had one.

    Neither did he.


    I shot upright in bed, my heart beating wildly in my chest and ribs and head, my breaths so deep and ragged that pain stabbed into my chest, not quite bad enough to make me cough. My trembling hands clawed at first at my sheets, then pressed to my face. My whole body was shaking, but I felt like the consistency of rubber.

    The fabric of the bandages across my eyes felt rough against my fingers, and all at once I couldn’t stand it; I was awake but I was still in blackness, and I couldn’t hear anyone around but I was certain that if I waited long enough someone would come, someone I couldn’t see

    Oh gods.

    My fingers clawed the bandages, my breath coming fast as I fumbled to push it up, to get rid of it, its tightness moving up over my forehead until I could open my eyes …

    And slam them shut again with a hissing whimper, pressing my face into my hands to stop hide the stabbing light. For a few moments I just sat, breathing raggedly; then I blinked, slowly opening my eyes to peer blurrily through my fingers at the blanket below.

    Everything was grey. Not, I realised after a moment, because there was something wrong with my eyes, but because it was dark. What had seemed so bright a moment before probably wasn’t anywhere near daylight level—the only reason it’d seemed so was because of the light coming through from another room and the fact that I hadn’t given my eyes time to adjust to not being in total darkness.

    Slowly I lifted my head, looking around. There was a light on in the room adjoining mine, but there were only two doors leading out anyway. My room was small, with only one bed, the medical equipment and a nightstand.

    I scrubbed my face and then shivered in the relative cool of the room. I didn’t feel faceless, and there was no longer only darkness, but …

    Have to know.

    I’d already swung my legs over the edge before I’d really considered whether I could or should get out of bed. The tiled floor was cold under my feet and made me shiver again, but I set my eyes on the darkened doorway I was certain was the bathroom, gripping the IV stand and using it to pull myself to my feet. My legs shook slightly and my ribs groaned, and I was surprised by the pull of stitches at my side and partly on my back.

    Just how many parts of me are injured?

    Had to find out. Grimly I moved toward the bathroom, step by step, using my stand as a crutch. It hadn’t looked so far a distance from the bed, but walking it seemed to take forever; by the time I stumbled through the door I was breathing hard and my legs felt like rubber, the air felt even colder against my sweaty skin.

    The lights came on automatically, soft lights that nevertheless made me flinch and blink rapidly. I didn’t dare pause in the doorway in case I wound up hitting the floor, but the sink wasn’t far in and I caught myself on it, my limbs shaky from the exertion. Now that I was there I almost didn’t want to see anything, but after a moment I looked up into the mirror.

    I wasn’t faceless—that was the first thing I saw—and it filled me with absurd, ballooning relief that let the tension in my stomach loosen. The second was that I looked younger than I was expecting, younger than I felt; my face was smooth and relatively unlined save by overnight stubble and bitter exhaustion. Maybe a few years over twenty?

    The weariness filtered through next, and although it shouldn’t have been surprising, the dullness of my grey eyes still shocked me. I looked even more ruffled because of my hair, red and sticking up every which way save the few long shaggy strands framing my face. When I reached up to pull off the bandage completely I saw that feature was apparently normal, since it refused to flatten properly afterward.

    I let the bandage drop without looking away. I was probably tanned, usually, but at the moment I was pale, with dark rings around my slightly bloodshot eyes. Gingerly I touched my cheek, feeling the stubble beneath my fingers, taking relief from the fact that the image in the mirror and the reality did actually match.

    My fingers travelled from my cheek to my chest, pressing once, firmly, against the bandages I could feel under the pyjama shirt. Then I let out a shaky breath and, without stopping to think, unbuttoned the shirt and shoved it back over my shoulders. I shivered again in the cool night air, but ignored it in favour of pressing my hand to the bandages again, feeling out the lines of stitches curling around my left side, high on my ribs. Even with the bandages I could see I wasn’t an idle worker—I was thin but broad-shouldered and well-built, and my muscles were too well defined for someone who sat at a desk.

    And then there were the scars. Most of them looked to be the kind that would fade with time, but there were a few that stood out. One thin, deep-looking one near my hip, some jagged flesh near my elbow where it looked like I’d been bitten a long time ago, the white sinewy knots on my right collarbone. They looked like they’d been painful.

    I grimaced. As painful as what you’ve got now? More scars to add to the arsenal. How had I gotten the others?

    There came a strangled noise from inside my room and I twitched and turned, fingers massaging the scar on my shoulder. A moment later a man appeared in the doorway, tall and black-haired and with a face taut with fear. When he saw me the tension seemed to flow out of him and he reached for the jamb, pressing a shaking hand to his face as his lips moved silently in—what? Supplication? Prayer?

    When he looked at me his expression was calmer, but his eyes skittered over my face as if to avoid looking directly at me. He cleared his throat.

    “S—Sir, you shouldn’t be in—”

    His roaming eyes caught on the bandage on the floor and his gaze snapped up to take in my face properly, and he froze, making the same strangled sound as before. “You—you—what have you done?!”

    I blinked slowly, my hand unconsciously coming up to touch my eyes. Oh. Right. I wasn’t supposed to take the bandage off.

    He rushed forward, reaching for my arm, but the sudden motion made me flinch and he froze again. I watched his throat work for a moment, fascinated by the fact I could see the movement, a frightened movement, before he managed to say, “You need to return to bed, Sir.”

    … Oh. Right. Sleeping.

    I tore my eyes from his throat to study his face. I knew this man—knew his voice, at least, as one of my nurses—but now I knew what he looked like too. Hesitantly he dragged the shirt back up over my shoulders and took my arm, not quite looking me in the eyes, but my exertion was beginning to catch up with me and I didn’t mind leaning on him. It wasn’t until then that I even realised I was trembling slightly.

    Maybe that’s why, at first, I didn’t notice that his hands trembled too.

    ***

    “That was a foolish thing to do, Wataru.”

    I nodded, staring down at my entwined fingers. Part of it was because I didn’t want to look up at Sakaki; part of it was because I was revelling in being able to see my hands. “I know.”

    It wasn’t a lie. I did know. Taking the bandage off early could have damaged my eyesight permanently; even now they were still light-sensitive and my room was kept dim. I just … couldn’t bring myself to care. I’d been terrified, and even if I could have stopped myself I think I’d have felt it was worth the risk anyway.

    I could see. I could get away from the faceless darkness.

    I didn’t try to explain this to Kitano or Sakaki. It was bad enough that they’d already seen me so weak—so insane. I couldn’t bear to think what they’d think if I tried to explain something so irrational. Kitano would pretend not to scoff and Sakaki …

    Sakaki knew me. He’d been angry when I’d been injured and he’d been taking the time out to visit. He hadn’t told me about my—my condition, but that was only because he hadn’t wanted to worry me. I couldn’t make him worry even more.

    It made me wonder, though. He was investing so much personal time … surely it wasn’t usual to do this for the average agent under his command?

    Sakaki raised an eyebrow as he handed me a tub of pills and a plastic cup of water, and I suddenly realised I’d been staring. “Is there a question that needed asking, Wataru?”

    “What are you to me?” The question was out before I’d intended it. “I used to have a position of authority, didn’t I?” That made sense. I wasn’t sure how high up on the scale of things Kitano was, but he seemed fairly high up, which gave credence to the idea. Yet, would Sakaki really give so much time to even a highly-placed agent?

    “You still do, I imagine,” he said, and tapped my tub of pills. Obediently I lifted both cup and tablets, taking mouthfuls of one and then the other. “And yes, you did have rather a high position among us. As for what I am to you … well, you did call me ‘uncle’ through your childhood, you know.”

    I nearly choked on the water, distantly hearing Sakaki’s light chuckle. “Not a blood relation, no,” he said. “I was merely a friend of your father’s.”

    “Oh,” I croaked, and coughed, massaging my throat and throwing him a baleful glare. He did that on purpose.

    Sakaki only chuckled again and handed me another tub of pills. I took them, comforting myself with the fact that I’d only have to take one tub once I was released from the medical wing. “What am I supposed to call you, then?” I asked, and with a stab of vindictive mischief added, “‘Uncle’?”

    “Oh, dear me!” Sakaki laughed outright, both looking and sounding so amused that I decided to just ignore him and swallow my pills. “No, I think that would terrify half my agents. At this juncture, I suppose I’m more of a mentor than anything else. ‘Sakaki’ will suit just fine for my protégé, I think.”

    His what? My heart leaped to my throat and I took a slow breath, lowering the cup of water I’d just raised to tongue the pills into my cheek so I could answer. “Protégé?”

    “I’m not so old, Wataru, but neither am I young,” he said, the amusement on his face fading into gentle resignation. “And this job of ours is dangerous. I need someone I trust to take over should something untoward occur.”

    … Oh. Oh wow.

    My stomach fluttered with pride; I had to take a breath, drinking my water, to give myself a moment and counter it with a hefty dose of reality. Bitterly I sneered into my empty cup. “I bet they’d all just love a crazy man leading them.”

    “Now, Wataru.” I jumped as Sakaki took my chin, forcing my head up so I could meet his sombre eyes. “You’ve had problems, yes, but with this medication you’re as safe as any one of us here.” He released me to pat my arm, sitting back with a reassuring smile. I tried to muster one in response, but it was wan and it didn’t clear my mind any.

    “Then why am I still here? In a secluded room, away from the main ward?” I haven’t even realised how far I was until I could see out the door and into the long passageway beyond it.

    “Ah.” Sakaki’s lips twisted wryly. “You’re safe now, Wataru. But you weren’t always. I have to say, however, that your recovery thus far is remarkable.”

    “But you haven’t moved me.” I winced inwardly at the wavering, uncertain note in my tone, but ploughed on. “It’s because they’re still in the main ward, isn’t it? The agents who tried to stop me. The ones I hurt.”

    My voice was bitter again; I didn’t try to stop it. The thought had occurred soon after I’d realised my room wasn’t merely attached to the main ward—it was deliberately separate from it. That I was secluded because I was dangerous, and they hadn’t known if the medicine would work. That there might be people in there that wouldn’t want to see me. That might be afraid of seeing me. Saying it out loud now made my throat close.

    Sakaki smiled grimly. “You always have been too smart for your own good, my boy. Did it occur to you that it was as much for your sake as theirs? It isn’t easy being in a spotlight.”

    I swallowed hard. There was another question I wanted to ask. That I needed to ask. Except that my throat didn’t want to open up enough to ask it.

    Finally I croaked, “Did I kill anyone?”

    His silence made my gut clench tighter and tighter until finally he sighed. “Four. I will not lie to you, Wataru.”

    Oh, is that all? I had to think it, because my throat had closed again and I couldn’t say it. I leaned forward to rest my head on my knee, shutting my eyes against the burn in them and swallowing hard several times. After a few moments a hand patted my back.

    “I’ll leave you to think.”

    I heard him rise with a scrape of the chair on tiles and his footsteps moving toward the door before I was finally able to say anything. “Uncle Sakaki?”

    The footsteps stopped. “Yes?”

    “Thank you for telling me,” I said in a small voice. “The truth, I mean.”

    There was a smile in his voice when he answered. “Why, you’re welcome, Wataru.”

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
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    Blackthorn City
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    Chapter 2
    These iron bars can’t hold my soul

    I took a deep breath, leaning on the door to my room and gazing out at the corridor leading away. I couldn’t see the end; there was a corner there. But I could hear the distant sound of people. Absently I flexed my hand, enjoying the lack of a tube to bump against my wrist. The IV had only been removed yesterday, but the passageway was already calling. I’d never been out of this room.

    Well, I didn’t remember ever being out of this room. There were no windows. I hadn’t known there weren’t any at first, but once I did the room had rapidly become stifling. I wanted out. I wasn’t allowed to go out. Kitano had made that clear when they removed the IV. Besides, there was a nurse’s booth right outside, almost always manned … except right at this moment, when I’d heard a quiet, if furious, one-sided conversation before the man on duty had left.

    He probably wouldn’t be gone for long. This was the first chance I’d had to do anything at all. And so I stood there in the doorway, in slippers and a bathrobe and with a blanket over my shoulders.

    I don’t have to go out for long, I thought. Just to the end of the corridor. So I could see the main ward. So I could see something else existed out there. I didn’t need to actually go out or let people see me.

    I just—wanted to know. Maybe it was masochistic, I don’t know, but it wasn’t like I’d recognise anyone that I might have … hurt.

    Before I could agonise any further I pushed myself off the door and stepped out of the room. My going was slow; I may not have needed the IV but my wounds still throbbed when I moved the wrong way. Besides, I needed to be as quiet as possible.

    The corridor seemed much cooler than my room, cooler and with the nasal-sting of antiseptic in the air. I had to lean against the concrete wall, but pulled my blanket closer to me with a shiver when I did. There were a few doors leading into it, all on the same wall, either locked or marked ‘Inventory’.

    I heard voices before I got to the end, muffled through the closed double-doors. They had small windows at the top, threaded with wire and somewhat cloudy, but enough for me to see the ward beyond.

    It was somehow … bigger than I expected, with the rows and rows of beds all next to each other. It bent around and out of sight in either an L- or a horseshoe-shape, but there were windows in the part of the wall that would be the centre, and I could see movement inside—an office.

    My stomach lurched as I realised that many of the beds were filled. Some of them were those nearest, in fact; a man with his leg in traction, reading a book aloud with the pages bent back, and a woman with a bandaged head just beyond him, propped up against some pillows, apparently listening.

    Abruptly the man with the injured leg looked up, letting the book drop to his lap as a brown-haired woman approached with a basket under her arm. I couldn’t hear the words but they greeted her enthusiastically—the man did, at least—as she sat between them with a smile, opening the basket and unpacking some food items I couldn’t quite identify.

    Is that our uniform? I took in her outfit. It was black and rather baggy, held close with a belt; it looked like jumpsuit. She had a pair of white gloves and something black I thought might have been a cap sticking out of a pocket.

    I grimaced; the only good thing about it was the boots. At least they looked practical.

    I watched the woman visit her friends for a while longer, until I couldn’t stand the tightening in my gut anymore and carefully pushed myself upright. I’d seen enough to know there was a world outside—and to know that I’d had an effect on that world.

    Turning away, I shuffled carefully back down the corridor.



    It was a few days before I risked the passageway again, before the twisting nausea eased enough for me to want to know more and I had the opportunity to sneak past the nurse. It was fortunate that Kitano and the others weren’t giving me attention every minute of every day anymore, because they no longer rushed in when I woke up from a nightmare. Instead they came in at regular intervals around the clock, which made it easy to avoid them, and the male nurse seemed to take what opportunity he could while he thought I was sleeping to take a break out in the main ward. It can’t have been easy, watching a psychopath.

    It made me feel guilty—sneaking out when I probably wasn’t allowed. It still didn’t stop me from visiting the doors again … and again.

    Once, the brown-haired woman had come back to sit with her friends. The other time, it was a black-haired man who greeted them, one arm in a sling. It made my gut clench to see him injured too, and I hadn’t stayed to watch them long. On the third occasion there was no one close enough to watch except for the patients, but at least I didn’t need to see them interacting with their friends and feel guilty for possibly having caused it.

    The fourth time there was a whole group of them. The man with the injured arm and the brown-haired woman were back, this time with a dark-skinned man as well. Watching them gave me a pang of loneliness and I sighed, pulling back to lean against the wall. These forays into the passageway gave me something to look at, but that’s all it was; I was on the outside, looking in.

    But how can I expect anything different, after what I did when I was inside?

    “—don’t care how well it’s g—never gonna work!”

    Someone’s strident voice came through the general hubbub, easily heard even through the closed doors. I craned my head to look at the group again and caught sight of the brown-haired woman gesturing the dark-skinned man to quiet down. Cautiously I poked at the door to push it open a little further, and the sounds of their conversation seeped through, distant but audible if I strained.

    “—in the hospital wing,” the woman was saying, and the man winced and glanced around as if looking for a nurse.

    “Still,” he muttered to his shoes.

    “I’m with him,” said the black-haired man with the sling, quietly and with a slight curl of his lips. “I don’t want to second-guess the Boss, but it’s been weeks. You can’t control a man like that. Sooner or later—”

    My breath caught, my chest tightening, and I let the door shut again to put my head back against the wall. I had to swallow hard, blinking as I slid carefully to the floor.

    They’re talking about me.

    Idiot! I shouldn’t have opened the door. Should’ve turned around and walked away the instant I’d heard a raised voice. Shouldn’t have been spying to begin with. Well, I’d been wondering how they’d been injured, feared how they’d been injured. Now I knew.

    I had to leave. Had to get back to my room. Sakaki was right—the seclusion was a blessing.

    I shoved myself to my feet using the wall as a prop, but halfway there a sharp pain tore through my side and I hissed, curling inward, leaning against the wall. Dammit, my stitches! Please tell me I hadn’t torn any of them—bad enough what I’d heard what I did. Worse if I had to explain to Kitano how I’d managed to ruin his hard work.

    “Oi! Who’s behind there?!”

    FUCK!

    Catching my breath, I glanced over to see the door still swinging slightly and had to bite down in another curse.

    “If it’s one of you orderlies, you’ve gotta know that eavesdropping is bad on your health!” And then, muttered, “Pretty sure that corridor’s off-limits, too; I’ve only seen authorised staff go through there the whole time I’ve been lying here.”

    Gee, I wonder why that is.

    Sarcasm. Sarcasm, even mental sarcasm, could not be a good sign.

    For a moment I didn’t know what to do. Go back to my room and pretend it hadn’t happened, or …?

    No. I’d been caught, fair and square, eavesdropping on a private conversation. I wasn’t going to make things worse by cowering.

    Gingerly I pushed myself to my feet. The door swung open beneath my hand and I caught myself on it, half in the entrance, to stare out at the group of agents.

    Their reactions made my gut twist so hard that I felt sick. All of them paled so sharply that I was certain they were going to pass out altogether, and those that could leapt to their feet as if they’d been stung. The expression of pure horror that crossed the black-haired man’s face made the feeling so much sharper.

    “You—”

    Terror. He was terrified.

    This is my fault.

    “It’s alright,” I said quickly, and took a breath. “I … did overhead some of what you were saying, yes. But from what I’ve heard your doubt is warranted.” At least my voice was mostly even.

    The agent swallowed hard and the dread didn’t leave his expression. “Some of, Sir?”

    “I stopped listening at about, ‘you can’t control a man like that’.” I tried to smile, but I doubted it worked in the slightest. “Perhaps I should take that as a compliment?”

    The dark-skinned agent let out a nervous chuckle, and somehow that broke the tension; I could see the others relax with shaken exhales, the bed-ridden agents sinking back into their pillows. The black-haired man forced a laugh, halfway between uncomfortable and relieved.

    “Probably just as well; nothing after that was very complimentary.”

    “Guess that explains why that passageway’s off-limits,” mumbled the man with the injured leg, and I recognised his voice as the one that had challenged me even as I flinched. The brown-haired woman whacked him on the shoulder, and her cheeks reddened a moment later when she realised the action had caught my attention. She straightened, clearing her throat and bowing.

    “Hamasaki Aina, Sir. Field agent.”

    I blinked at her for a moment, nonplussed by the tacit invitation. Introductions meant a conversation could follow, right? That she was willing to risk it?

    Maybe …

    Maybe this was my chance to start proving I wasn’t completely insane. I took a deep breath and pushed off the door. My side twinged slightly but didn’t outright hurt, a fact I noted in the back of my mind and with the hopeful thought that perhaps I’d just tugged on them a little and not pulled them out.

    The rest of me was focussed on making it to the beds and trying not to let my stomach sink at the unhappy expressions and the restless, uncomfortable movements they made at my approach.

    “And the rest of you?” I asked, stopping short at the injured man’s bed and leaning on the end.

    There was a beat of silence as the agents looked at each other hesitantly out of the corners of their eyes. Aina cleared her throat quietly.

    Then the black-haired man squared his shoulders and looked me in the eye. “Nakamura Yuudai, Sir,” he said with a bow. “Administration.” His mouth turned up slightly at the corners; it was tense, but the fact he was willing to concede that far made the twist in my gut loosen. “Just call me a glorified courier. Sir.”

    Sir. It sounded strange, almost absurd; I wasn’t anybody’s ‘sir’. I was just a patient, for more reasons than one. “You don’t need to ‘sir’ me,” I said quietly, but returning his small smile before looking at the others. “Any of you. I’m not in a position to demand that kind of formality.”

    The looks they exchanged this time were surprised and mildly incredulous, particularly from the two agents still bed-ridden. I suppose they had more reason than the others to be. Still, it didn’t do the state of my gut any favours.

    Finally the dark-skinned man said, “Coelho Rafael, S—er, Wataru?” He grimaced as he brought his hand up in a casual salute, shooting me a rather disbelieving look from beneath it.

    “That’s fine,” I assured him quickly, suddenly glad that I couldn’t remember anything. I couldn’t have been a very nice person to begin with if they could hardly imagine saying my name—the fact I was some kind of psychopath notwithstanding.

    I hope Sakaki and Kitano are right about these new meds.

    “Ichigo,” the injured man said, leaning back into his pillows with his arm over his head and a speculative look in his eyes. “Tachibana Ichigo. Trainer.”

    “Wakahisa Marilyn,” said the woman with the head injury, but shortly.

    I nodded and tried to smile reassurance, but it came out rather weak and an awkward silence fell. The standing agents shifted uneasily, Marilyn’s eyes seemed fixed on a point somewhere beyond my shoulder and Ichigo’s gaze was assessing. It made my skin prickle with uneasiness, and along with the general tension I was beginning to feel a little sick.

    This wasn’t going to work, was it? Not right away. Not so soon.

    “Well,” I said, striving for a vaguely light-hearted tone, “I suppose I ought to head back to my bed before one of the nurses catches me.” I was already shifting backward, ready to turn and leave. I didn’t even know if I’d wind up coming back out again … too soon, too much, for all of us.

    I was halfway back to the door before I heard the whap of someone hitting someone else, and then furiously hissed whispers, and my heart leapt. I managed not to let my step falter, but I was already at the door by the time Aina’s voice rang out.

    “Si—Wataru!”

    I turned in time to see her flush and stride self-consciously toward me, halting a few feet away. Looking over her shoulder, I saw that not only were we being watched by her friends, but some of the nearest patients who had heard her call and were looking over with wide eyes, leaning over to whisper to their neighbours, craning their heads to watch. My skin crawled at the attention.

    With a hard swallow I looked back at Aina. She cleared her throat. “If you like and you … get the opportunity to come out again … you can come sit with Marilyn and Ichigo.” Her hand moved slightly, indicating the beds behind her. Marilyn didn’t look particularly happy by the arrangement, her mouth drawn tight, but Ichigo gave me a cheery wave. The action made my chest loosen. “Or,” Aina continued, less sure this time, “if you’re allowed to have visitors, we can—you know, drop by.”

    Hope ballooned in my chest, and the smile that came to my lips wasn’t feigned at all. “I think I’d like that.” And the smile turned rueful as I remembered I wasn’t actually meant to be out there at all. “But we’ll have to keep to the former. Kitano … hasn’t given me permission to be out here.”

    “Oh.” She blinked. “Well, then it probably isn’t a good idea for one of us to ask. Uh.” Her hand came up, clenching in her hair before she realised and dropped it again, and smiled back uncertainly. “You should go back to your room, then. Good afternoon.”

    “Good afternoon,” I echoed, bowing slightly in response to hers, and managed to withhold the grin until after I’d already turned and passed through the doors. Maybe this wouldn’t be so difficult after all.

    ***

    I peered through the doors’ windows, searching for the medical wing staff, and, on seeing there weren’t any in sight, slipped through the door. I could move a little faster this time, feeling steadier on my feet than I had even a couple of days ago, but I was still mildly out of breath when I dropped into the chair beside Ichigo’s bed. Marilyn, I saw with a glance over at her bed, was apparently asleep.

    Ichigo’s eyes were closed, but he opened one lazily when he heard me. The other snapped open and he jerked in surprise, a little too suddenly for it to have been anything but an instinctive reaction at the fact that it was me. Still, he covered it well by pushing himself up onto his elbows, and I managed to push away the mild gut-clench that came in response.

    “Well, well, made another escape, have we?”

    He grinned and I grimaced even as I laughed softly, half surprised, half grateful. I hadn’t been expecting such a welcoming response. “I’m surprised they don’t have guards along with the nurses, to be honest.”

    “Don’t they?” He looked thoughtful. “Guess that would be kind of obvious where they’d put you, then. S’pose I should’ve guessed, being this close; usually that passageway’s only used for inventory.”

    I leaned back in the chair to hide the sudden unease. “And people knowing where I’m coming from would be a bad thing?” I asked, aiming for a droll tone. It fell flat to my ears.

    “People knowing where you were could lead to them trying to kill you,” he said simply, but he was grinning as he said it, and I hesitated, unsure how I was meant to respond to that. Take it as a joke? Joke back?

    I grimaced instead. I didn’t have it in me to joke about that. “S’pose I can’t blame them. I tried to kill a lot of you.”

    He blinked and an odd expression crossed over his face—somewhere between speculation and … something else, something I couldn’t quite identify. “If you don’t mind me asking, how much has the Boss told you?”

    I hesitated. I hadn’t really talked about this with anyone other than Sakaki and Kitano, and not exactly in any detail. How much did the general agents know? “He’s told me about my—condition.” My gaze dropped to my lap, my fingers knotting and unknotting. “That I’ve had psychological problems. That I … went berserk.” And then, without intending to beforehand, I added in a soft voice, “I’m sorry for that, by the way.”

    There were a few beats of silence, and when I looked up through my fringe I found both Ichigo and the apparently not-quite-asleep Marilyn staring at me, the latter incredulously, the former thoughtfully.

    “Yeah well,” Ichigo said after a moment, his eyes gleaming with a dark humour I almost envied him for, “all in a day’s work, y’know? Leastways you’re with us now.”

    “Oh for God’s sake,” Marilyn mumbled.

    “Got a problem, Mary?” Ichigo asked cheerfully and without taking his eyes off me. I had to resist the urge to shift in my seat; I was grateful the man was going to let me off the hook, but I wished he wouldn’t stare quite so much.

    “Yeah.” The woman pushed herself onto her elbow, hissing slightly through her teeth and clamping an arm down on her side as she turned to face me. “Look,” she said bluntly, “I don’t like you and as far as I’m concerned they should’ve kept you locked up. But the Boss says we’ve got to ‘help’ you—” the words were said with such bitterness that I cringed— “and I’m not about to start disobeying him now. Just don’t talk to me. Don’t expect me to do things with you. Don’t think I’m your friend.”

    I swallowed hard against the lump in my throat. “Alright. That—that’s fair.”

    “Good.” Marilyn shot a glare at Ichigo and lowered herself back to the bed, turning around and curling up so her back was to the both of us.

    “You killed a good friend of hers,” Ichigo said in an undertone, his eyes on her back. I flinched, and my gut tightened so hard that I felt sick. “Just so’s you know.”

    It took a moment before I could say anything at all, and even then it was still hard to breathe. “Th—thanks. I guess.” Abruptly I shoved myself to my feet, smiling weakly down at Ichigo when he glanced up in surprise. “I think I ought to go.”

    “See you ’round,” he said with a faint curl of his lips that could have been a smile or a smirk or a grimace.

    “See you,” I mumbled, turning and moving toward the door to the passageway. If I hurried maybe I’d get back to my room before I actually got sick or the burn of tears in my eyes and the lump in my throat got any worse.

    I was actually a few steps into the room by the time I realised that there was someone in there and stopped short with a strangled gasp. Sakaki looked up from the book in his lap. “Good afternoon, Wataru.”

    For a moment I stood frozen, my chest too tight to let me speak, my heart pounding with surprise and fear and guilt. Sakaki frowned and sat up, putting the book on my bedside table. “Is there something wrong, my boy?”

    I opened my mouth but nothing came out, and all of a sudden I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. I dragged in air and wrapped my arms around myself, swallowing and trying to tell myself to get a grip, that I shouldn’t be falling apart in front of my employer of all people—

    “You did call me “uncle” through your childhood, you know …”

    The first sob took me by surprise. So did the second. I covered my face with one hand and turned away, my chest hitching uncontrollably. Sakaki’s hand on my arm made me flinch, but then I clutched his wrist, taking deep breaths to try and stop the tears from coming. It didn’t work.

    I was only peripherally aware as Sakaki guided me toward the bed and pushed me down onto it. I bent over my knees, my chest so tight it felt as if someone had to have stabbed me. Sakaki’s hand landed on my back and I choked a little trying to get the tears under control, my face burning.

    Dammit—

    “There now, dear boy,” Sakaki said quietly, “don’t fight it.”

    My shoulders shook as I finally gave in and sobbed into my knees. I felt Sakaki’s weight on the bed beside me and leaned into him, clutching his shirt. There was a part of my mind that wanted to hide with embarrassment at the action, but I couldn’t help it; Sakaki was the only person who hadn’t been afraid of me.

    I don’t know how long we stayed like that for, but eventually the tears came to a halt and I could breathe, if shakily and through a tight throat. Still, I didn’t want to move, and Sakaki didn’t make me. In time, though, he spoke.

    “I hope you learn from this, Wataru. You were placed in this room for a reason, and neither Kitano nor I had cleared you to leave it for that reason.”

    Dumbly I nodded into his shoulder. How could I do anything else? He was right. I shouldn’t have left. In retrospect any one of the agents I’d met could have—would have, even!—told him I’d snuck out. What possible reason would they have for keeping it secret?

    “Now. Why don’t you try and get some sleep?”

    I let him push me up and then slumped down to the other side, where my pillow was. The bed shifted when he stood, giving me the room to curl up, but I didn’t look up at him as he patted my arm and left.

    Time seemed to run together after that. I remembered lying there for ages, but I didn’t know exactly how long it was for. All I could hear was remembered voices.

    “Did I kill anyone?”

    “Four. I will not lie to you …”

    “You killed a good friend of hers. Just so’s you know.”

    “You have a condition. A … psychological condition.”


    I must have fallen asleep with those words resounding in my head, because at some point I slipped into darkness, and at first I didn’t know where I was. Then I heard a sound behind me and spun, my heart clenching. There was a gun in my hand but I didn’t notice it before I’d already raised and fired it.

    The figure in front of me staggered and fell. Someone screamed a name I couldn’t hear and suddenly Marilyn was there, falling to the side of the person I’d just killed. I wanted to move, but I couldn’t. I just stood there.

    And then I woke up, jerking upright in the bed with a cry. Someone exclaimed and I flinched at the presence beside me, wrenching away hard enough that I nearly fell off the side of the bed.

    “Wataru! Calm down!”

    Kitano. It was just Kitano. I took a deep gulping breath and found myself shaking uncontrollably, barely keeping the inhale from becoming sob. I could hear Kitano talking, but it wasn’t to me—there was someone else in the room—and it was a string of technical names that went straight over my head.

    Then he squeezed my arm. “We’re getting you something to help you sleep,” he said quietly.

    I nodded but didn’t speak; my throat felt too tight to let words through. I wasn’t supposed to remember my dreams. How come I remembered that dream?

    “Because it wasn’t real, Wataru.”

    That startled a bitter laugh out of me. “Not real! I killed people!” Even I could tell my tone was hysterical, and I took another half-choked breath.

    “Yes,” Kitano admitted cautiously, making me flinch, “but I’d wager the dream is based on what you were told after the fact, yes? You’ve got amnesia, Wataru. You might never remember the details of what really happened. All you have to go on is what you’ve been told, and that’s terrible enough.”

    It wasn’t at all comforting, but I could feel the shakes subsiding and as I inhaled again I had to admit that he had a point. I didn’t even know what Marilyn’s friend looked like in the dream, didn’t know what their name was—just that I’d killed them.

    I couldn’t decide if that was better or worse.

    Footsteps. “I’ve got the sedatives, Doctor.”

    “Good.” He squeezed my arm. “Pills, Wataru.”

    More pills. If it meant I didn’t dream, I couldn’t care.



    There was a gun in my hand. The feel of it, rubber grip and heavy metal, made my stomach twist, but when I tried to let go of it I couldn’t. I moved through the corridor leading from my room and the main ward, and my heart fluttered in my throat because I knew what was coming and I couldn’t let go, I couldn’t stop it—

    I pushed the doors opens and the group of agents gathered around the nearest beds looked up. Aina. Yuudai. Rafael. Ichigo. Marilyn.

    “Made another escape, did we?” Ichigo asked cheerfully from his bed, but I couldn’t answer through the lump in my throat. Didn’t they know, couldn’t they see the gun in my hand—! Wordlessly I screamed at them to run.

    I was still screaming when my arm lifted and gunshots rang out.

    WATARU!”

    Someone was shaking me. Automatically I fought back, the screams still ringing in my ears, pushing and shoving against the hands on my arms and shoulders. The bedcovers slid around me and the next thing I knew I was falling, landing on the concrete floor with a blow that rattled my body.

    It stopped me screaming. I didn’t even realised it was me doing it until I’d hit, and for a moment I couldn’t breathe. Then I inhaled and choked, and curled up right there on the floor, shaking and crying and still half under my blankets.

    Distantly I heard footsteps, and then Kitano’s hands gripped my shoulders. “Come on, Wataru,” he said, sounding almost kind and mildly shaken himself. “Let’s get you back on the bed.”

    “I killed them,” I said without paying him any mind. My voice sounded about how I felt—like I’d dragged all the broken pieces of myself up from my chest. I killed them I killed them I killed them—

    “I know, Wataru,” he said quietly.

    My chest froze and I shot upright. My body throbbed but I barely noticed, couldn’t tell through the pounding in my head. “I—” I choked on air. “I k—killed Ichigo and Ai—Aina and th—the others?!”

    No no no no no that was a dream, that was supposed to be a dream!

    “What?” Kitano exclaimed, gripping my shoulders to hold me upright and trying to pull me bodily onto the bed. I tried to help him, clumsy and slow, but between us both he managed to get me back up on the bed. “No, you didn’t kill them, why would you—” He cut himself off and his eyes widened. “Oh.”

    I couldn’t stop shaking, but the rush of pure relief made me feel weak. “They’re not dead?”

    “No, Wataru, they are not dead.” Sakaki’s voice made me jump, and Kitano’s head snapped around, relief flying over his face too. The black-haired man approached, immaculately dressed in a black suit as he somehow always was, his expression frowning but concerned. “You dreamed they were?”

    I nodded wordlessly, drawing my legs up to my chest and wrapping my arms around me. Even his presence didn’t make the awful, hollow feeling inside me go away.

    “We gave him a sleeping pill, Sir,” Kitano said, sounding frustrated. “But they simply don’t work very well on some people, especially people who have used them often before, and given Wataru’s history—”

    “Thank you, Kitano.” Sakaki’s voice was crisp and unyielding, and Kitano cut himself off with a breath. Though I didn’t look up I still heard footsteps coming closer, Sakaki’s sigh from above me, and then I flinched as his hand fell gently on my head.

    “It isn’t as bad as it seems, my boy,” he said. I just shook my head. Marilyn was right not to trust me. I was too far gone. “As long as you take your medication, you’re as safe as anyone here. Isn’t that right, Doctor?”

    “Yes,” Kitano answered immediately. “It’s been weeks and he’s been entirely in control of himself the whole time. Frankly it’s even better than I was expecting.”

    “There, you see?” His hand moved, stroking my hair, and I couldn’t help but make a small mewing sound and lean into it. “You’re safe, Wataru.”

    “But what if I—” I took a deep shuddering breath. “Wh—what if I forget or something happens, and—” My voice cracked.

    “Do you trust me, Wataru?”

    What?! How could he ask me that? He was the only one who’d never been afraid of me! Shocked, my head jerked up, and he caught my gaze and held it. His dark eyes were serious, but they seemed to drill into me, and I couldn’t not answer. Wordlessly I nodded.

    He smiled. “Then trust that I know what I’m doing.”

    He knows what he’s doing. I swallowed hard. He knows what he’s doing. I nodded again, my gaze dropping.

    “Good.” He petted my hair again and I took a deep, shaky breath, closing my eyes. “Nevertheless, I imagine you would feel better if you could see the truth of things, hm? Let them in.”

    The last was directed over my head at someone else, but the words still made my heart leap, and I looked up toward the entrance. The nurse turned from hovering in the doorway and spoke to someone behind her, and then a moment later—my heart leapt again—Aina and Yuudai came through. The former looked tired and her uniform and hair were rumpled, as if she’d been pulled out of bed, and Yuudai, looking bewildered, was very casually dressed, but the sight of them made hope balloon in my chest.

    “I’m afraid Agent Coelho is out on deployment,” Sakaki was saying, “and obviously neither Agent Tachibana nor Agent Wakahisa are in the condition to be visiting—but as you can see, your dream was just a dream, Wataru.”

    “Dream, Sir?” Yuudai asked uncertainly. His eyes were on me, furrowed and confused—the same sort of confused he and the others had been when I’d first come out those days ago, as if I wasn’t quite matching up to what he expected and he wasn’t sure how to react.

    “Wataru had a nightmare that he’d killed you, Agent Nakamura,” Sakaki said. I couldn’t help the flinch and my gaze dropped, but not before I saw both Yuudai’s and Aina’s eyes widen. “I imagine you both have the time to keep him company for a while, do you not?” Somehow it quite wasn’t a question, but I still held my breath, looking up at them through my fringe.

    It was Aina who answered. “Of course, Sir,” she said quietly.

    “Agent Nakamura, didn’t you just receive some pictures from your family?” Sakaki asked blithely, and Yuudai managed a rather weak smile.

    “I did, Sir. Actually, I was just showing them to …” He trailed off as his hand automatically went first to the pocket his sweatpants didn’t have, but then he reached into his sling to pull out a photo album. “Did you want to see them S—Wataru?”

    The last was directed at me, tentatively, but it still made my chest and gut loosen. I took a deep breath and nodded.

    “Good.” Sakaki’s hand fell on my shoulder and squeezed. “I’m sorry I can’t stay, Wataru, but I will come back tonight to see you again.” And with a nod at the other agents he strode out of the room, before I could even think to muster a response.

    For a moment there was an awkward silence. Then Kitano coughed and made for the door, motioning the nurse out. Aina took a deep breath and moved toward me, gesturing at the bed. “May I …?”

    I nodded, so she sat, casting a glance up at Yuudai. I couldn’t follow her gaze; one part of me felt tight with tension, knowing they were right beside me—two of the people I’d killed in that vivid dream. Two people who weren’t sure if I could be trusted.

    But it was better than being alone, and with them there I at least knew they weren’t dead.

    “You have a family?” I asked instead, staring down at my feet and picking at the blanket. There was a beat of silence before Yuudai answered, but when he did I also heard him come close.

    “I’m married, yes. Kids, too. That’s mostly what’s in the photos.” The scrape of a chair on the floor made me flinch, but then his legs entered my field of vision and I blinked, looking up. He grinned at me, sort of nervously, sort of sheepishly, and held out the album. “My wife’s on the first one, though. She promised that she’d—”

    He stopped and cleared his throat, looking faintly embarrassed and when Aina answered for him a moment later there was a smile in her voice. “That ‘she’d always be the first thing he got to see’.”

    My lips twitched and I took the album, opening it up. “How many kids do you have?”

    “Three. One of our daughters is adopted, but the other two are ours—fraternal twins, a boy and a girl. They’re four years younger, but all of them tend to spend a lot of time together, which is probably just as well because—”

    I let him talk without interruption, paging through the photographs of three children playing, hiding, wrestling, being nuisances, and stopping every now and then when Yuudai felt the need to explain the story behind a picture.

    Seeing them made my gut clench, but at the same time I felt … calmer. More stable. I knew what I had to do. I just had to make sure this family wouldn’t lose their father, that was all—no matter what it took or how many pills I had to swallow.

    I trusted Sakaki. He knew what he was doing.
    Last edited by purple_drake; 5th October 2011 at 3:49 AM.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
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    A/N: No reviews for the last two chapters. What happened, did my aftershave curdle? :P

    Glossary
    Kairyuu = dragonite


    Chapter 3
    Sometimes I feel like I’m a bird with broken wings

    I clenched my fist, peripherally aware of the nurse beside me working the blood pressure pump but not really focussing on her presence. The male nurse had apparently been taken off duty for giving me the opportunity to sneak out, but the female was getting a little more used to me now, I thought, in that at least she looked me in the face and didn’t flinch or hesitate when she needed to touch me, even if she remained wary. It would do; given how I’d reacted the first time this same woman had given me a sponge-bath, I couldn’t blame her for being cautious.

    If only I could remember her name. I’d been listening but not once since I’d woken up could I recall hearing anyone call her anything but ‘nurse’. It made me feel guilty, but after all this time it was just too awkward to admit that I didn’t know it. (Or maybe it was by request. If I didn’t know her names I couldn’t find her again. That thought had made me go cold.)

    There was a rasping sound as she pulled the armband open. “All done,” she said, with a passable attempt at a smile.

    “How am I?” I asked with an answering smile, and to her credit she didn’t flinch the way her colleague always had. Actually, was it just me or did her expression get fractionally warmer?

    Couldn’t be.

    “Blood pressure’s still a little high, but otherwise you’re fine. How do the wounds feel?”

    Experimentally I straightened, pressing a hand to my side where my stitches had once been. Kitano had taken them out a few days ago, and it still felt a little strange when I stretched and didn’t feel the slight pull that told me I was going as far as I should. “Fine.”

    That was good. Maybe it meant I could take a longer wander through the ward, and then I could visit Ichigo until Aina or Yuudai came by in the meantime.

    “Excellent.” Sakaki’s voice made me jump and hiss a curse, and I snapped around to see him and Kitano in the doorway.

    “So much for my blood pressure,” I muttered, and shot the nurse a wry grin. She looked startled, then laughed, then cut herself off as if she wasn’t sure if that’s what she was supposed to do, her eyes darting toward Sakaki.

    Sakaki chuckled, and if my grin was a little wider when I turned to him I couldn’t care. She’d laughed.

    “Good news, Wataru,” Kitano said cheerfully, coming toward the bed carrying a bundle of clothes. It was actually a little weird—the whole time I’d seen him Kitano had never looked as happy as he did now. On one hand that fact (and what he carried) made my heart lift with hope; on the other my chest clenched a little with the implication. “You’re being released.”

    Bingo. For a moment I wanted to beam and feel irritable at the same time. He didn’t need to be so blatantly happy that he didn’t need to deal with me anymore. But then again … I was being released. That meant I really was okay.

    The beam won out. He was letting me go. The meds were working. I was okay. Fucking brilliant.

    Sakaki chuckled. “I thought you’d be pleased by that,” he said. “But you’re not quite cleared for active duty, Wataru. First you’ll need to complete your physical therapy, and obviously there are many things about our procedures that you’ve forgotten and will need to relearn.”

    “And,” Kitano continued, his expression sobering slightly, “you’ll need to visit with either me or the base psychologist regularly, to make sure the meds keep working as they should and that you’re coping alright with the change.”

    I let out a barking laugh. “Doctor, if that’s all I’ve got to do to get out of here, then let me out already.” This hospital ward was all I remembered. I was beyond ready to be leaving it—only this time it would be with permission.

    “Very well,” Sakaki said with an indulgent smile. “Go ahead and change, and I will show you the base.”

    My heart skipped a beat. So I wasn’t just being released—I was being explained things. My cheeks hurt with the responding grin as I stood and took the clothes and shoes Kitano held out to me, hurrying into the bathroom to change.

    It didn’t even occur to me until after I’d unfolded the clothes that what I was about to put on could well be one of those baggy monstrosities I’d seen Aina and Rafael wearing, but to my relief it wasn’t. Actually, it wasn’t a uniform at all, just slacks and a black turtleneck, but that was better even than the sweatpants and sweatshirt I’d been wearing since the IV was taken out.

    When I came out again, running a hand through my hair, the nurse was gone and both Sakaki and Kitano stood by my bed, the former reading something off a sheet of paper and the latter taking pill bottles out of a paper bag. The sight made me slow, and I took a breath to stave off the sinking feeling I got as I came back down to reality. Of course—my medication. I couldn’t forget that.

    Kitano glanced up and saw me, and smiled slightly, sweeping a hand over the bag. “I need to go over these with you before you leave, but it won’t take long, I promise.”

    I inhaled again and nodded, dropping my old clothes on the bed and turning toward him. “But before that,” Sakaki said mildly, stopping me with a hand on my chest and holding out a glasses case. I blinked and took it, bemused, and Sakaki chuckled, handing me the paper he’d been holding. “Read that for me.”

    I glanced down at the page and blinked again at the blurry letters. Far too blurry, in fact, in a way the huge letters on the doors in the passageway hadn’t been from a decent distance. “Oh.” I needed reading glasses?

    Apparently so. The paper, I saw as soon as I’d put the glasses on, was a list of instructions for my medication—which was just as well because even though the bottles were labelled the technical names were a little daunting. Kitano went over them with me quickly, but warned me to ask for help if I ever got confused or something started feeling off. No need to worry there; Yuudai’s photographs flashed, unbidden, through my head.

    Never going to happen, I told myself, exhaling. Not as long as I’m careful.

    “Are you ready, Wataru?” Sakaki asked. His eyes were back to glittering again.

    “Beyond ready,” I answered instantly, clutching the bag of pill bottles and turning toward him.

    He smiled and clapped a hand to my shoulder. “Then walk with me, Wataru. And ignore any surprise from the other agents; I have been telling them this day would come. They’ll just have to get used to seeing you beside me—again.”

    The last word was thoughtful, almost an afterthought, really, but I didn’t dwell on it. There was probably a lot that Sakaki wasn’t telling me, but his words implied that he would—soon. Instead I gave Kitano a cheery wave and followed Sakaki toward the door.

    “I have been wondering,” I started as we left the room, my heart pounding, “exactly what it is we do.”

    “Ah.” Sakaki smiled lightly. “That has a complicated answer, Wataru, one I shall explain more fully once we’ve reached the base proper. I believe we may have something of an audience in the ward.”

    So saying, he pushed open the doors leading into the main section of the wing with hardly a break in his stride, and I followed. Automatically my eyes flickered toward Ichigo and Marilyn’s corner, and in fact I saw Ichigo pushing himself up, looking as if he was about to say something before he registered who I was with and his eyes and grin widened in equal measure. He lobbed a pillow over at Marilyn without looking away and I heard her irritable “what?!”, but I didn’t see if she found out ‘what’ because of the sudden hush that fell over the rest of the ward.

    My step faltered when I looked away and saw just how many startled and shocked gazes were turned in our direction. Then, just as quickly, they shifted away as if they hadn’t seen anything at all. I took another quick step to catch up with Sakaki, taking a deep breath and shoving down the anxiety building in my stomach. The ripple of whispers we left in our wake didn’t help. Yes, he’d said this would draw attention, but it hadn’t quite sunk in. I locked my eyes on the door to the main base and refused to look around.

    Stepping out of the med-ward was just the same as walking down the corridor to my room barring two major differences. The corridors were still cement-walled, with steel pylons and no windows except those set into the doors, but, firstly, this corridor smelled differently—the medical wing smelled like antiseptic and bandages. The main corridor was somehow weightier, earthier, and smelled like stone and steel.

    The second difference was that it was a thoroughfare. By the time the doors had swung shut behind me three agents had already hurried past, giving brief but respectful nods to Sakaki without seeming to notice me.

    At least, not until a few moments later, after Sakaki started talking and moved forward down the corridor. “The Team is something of a paramilitary force. We’re not government-sanctioned, unfortunately, for reasons you will discover soon enough, but we have clear goals and are highly dedicated.”

    I was only half listening, since that was when there was a split-second lull in traffic and the agents who had just passed, dipping their heads at Sakaki and skating over me, did a double-take as they realised just who their employer was talking to. If my gut hadn’t been clenched so tightly I’d have laughed.

    “What are our goals?” I asked, focussing on the corridor ahead. The traffic parted before us, murmurs travelling ahead faster than we walked, but Sakaki never looked around him or aside at me. I could only wish I could be that self-possessed, particularly since the sound of my voice made people all around us jerk with—surprise? Instinctive anxiety?

    I didn’t want to know.

    “For the most part, our goals are settled around one ideal, if not one easily expressed in few words. What do you remember of pokémon?” The last was such a non sequitur that I blinked before frowning.

    The word had the same familiar, taken-for-granted feeling as sky or grass—I knew what they looked like, knew what they were, but I couldn’t remember ever seeing them. Of pokémon I knew they were unique beings, of many different kinds, capable of some pretty extraordinary things. And I knew that they could be kept as a form of energy in a device.

    But any other details eluded me, and in the end I had to shake my head. “Not much. Mostly that they’re beings with some powerful abilities, and can be stored as energy.”

    Sakaki inclined his head. “Enough, then. For your sake, I had hoped it wouldn’t be much; they haven’t been kind to you, Wataru.”

    I couldn’t help but blink at that. The word hadn’t felt like they were necessarily a bad thing; just that they were there. But before I could ask what he meant Sakaki was off again on a lecture, his stride lengthening as if proportional to the strength of his voice, and it took me a second to match his pace. “In terms of our understanding of life, pokémon inhabit their own kingdom despite marked similarities between themselves and organisms from other kingdoms. The differences are what make them so powerful. Most of them are wild. All of them are dangerous.”

    “Dangerous?” My stomach turned over.

    “They cannot be controlled,” Sakaki said simply. “They can be temporarily placated, they can be broken, but they cannot be reasoned with and they cannot be controlled.”

    Abruptly I thought of a woman I’d seen rushed into the medical wing on one of my visits to the main ward, covered in burns and twitching with static, and felt cold. “How many of the injuries in the ward are caused by them?”

    Sakaki nodded again without looking at me. “Now you’re beginning to understand. Most of them.” He kept walking. I kept pace.

    “If they’re dangerous, what are our agents doing getting so close?” I demanded.

    Sakaki sighed. “Unfortunately the government believes otherwise. It is their belief that pokémon can be—”he snorted—“befriended, that they can even be trusted as partners or with our children. They treat bestial beings as people, and it endangers us all.”

    “But what does that have to do with—” I started.

    “Because we must fight them, Wataru,” Sakaki interrupted, coming to a halt before a closed and sealed door, and removing a key from his pocket. “We must fight them, and to do so we must have pokémon of our own. When we don’t … you have seen what happens.” He ended with a sigh, opening the door and beckoning me to enter with him.

    I obeyed, stepping into a darkened room lit only by the glare of computer monitors and light through a broad window on the other side of the room. Pausing in the doorway to let my eyes adjust, I glanced around at the quietly murmuring technicians, but Sakaki gestured me further into the room. For a moment I could have sworn I felt a rumble beneath my feet, and something on one of the desks rattled.

    “Pokémon cannot be reasoned with or befriended,” he continued, “but, as I said, they can be broken and thus they can be tamed, if only by those willing to take the necessary measures. And yet …”

    He inclined his head at the window. Half curious, half fighting sick anxiety, I approached it and peered through. I couldn’t help but gape at the sight.

    The view behind it opened up into a cavernous room, plummeting downward with straight lines of concrete before reaching the cement floor. One side of the room was comprised of computer banks and research equipment, but the rest—the side nearest to me—was a massive cage. It reached to the roof, in fact, and was close enough for me to see that the steel bars were thicker than my legs.

    And why. There was a dragon inside, peach-coloured and not nearly as big as the cage itself, but dwarfing all the individuals on the floor below. Its wings were bound against its back, a collar on its neck, and there were restraints on its limbs. Its golden eyes rested on the people outside its cage. As I watched, someone approached it and it growled. It lunged at the bars, jaws clicking together, restraints snapping taut and wings pushing against their bindings; the movement made the whole cage and even this room shudder.

    The woman at the cage flinched back; there was a jet of steam or frost from the bars and the dragon shrieked and pulled back, hissing, its antenna sparking with electricity. It tossed its head and lightning arced against the walls, the bars, crackling down the cage and making electronics burst with sparks.

    Then it lunged forward again, I saw flames and my heart stopped. I didn’t even realise that I’d leaned forward and put a hand on the glass until I had to yank it away with a hiss—it was burning cold.

    “The cold of liquid nitrogen subdues them,” Sakaki said from beside me; I jumped, glancing over. “The dragons, at least—but it is one of the only things that can. We use liquid nitrogen. Everything else we might use—fire, electricity—they have a resistance to it. They are the most versatile of all pokémon.”

    I looked back, swallowing hard. There were alarms ringing, now, distant through the thick concrete wall, and I could hear the hiss of something being released into the cage beneath a bestial shriek. The room shuddered again—and again.

    Smoke blocked our view through the window, collecting at the vents in the ceiling, and as it cleared a little I saw that the bars were partially melted and the floor scorched. Liquid nitrogen jetted into the cage and even though the dragon flailed and writhed, yanking at its bindings, its movements were growing weaker.

    The woman who had approached the cage was seated up against a computer bank with one of her colleagues beside her, moving and alive but clearly burned. I exhaled. “How do you defend against something that can breathe fire?”

    “By keeping it as weak as possible,” Sakaki answered bleakly. “And even then, if they get up enough power, there is very little we can do except hope the casualties are minimal. This one’s escaped twice.” The shivering dragon swayed and then fell, and steel rattled and screeched as its restraints caught it. I watched, half fascinated and half sick.

    “We’ve been unable to tame it,” my mentor continued, “but we cannot release it, either; the gods only know what it would do. It’s proven too powerful to be caught in a pokéball—though we’ve tried, when it’s weak as it is now. It only breaks out again once it’s gotten stronger.”

    I couldn’t look away. The scientists and agents in the room were swarming around the dragon, now, and although I couldn’t hear their shouts there was a clunk in the walls and I saw the billow of hot air coming from the vents. The frost on the window started to thaw, droplets of water trickling downward. “How did you catch it in the first place?”

    “Luck and with losses, mostly,” was Sakaki’s quiet answer. “As for why—yes, you were wondering why, don’t deny it—it was necessary. Dragons become enraged easily, Wataru, and when they do they are nearly unstoppable. This was nothing compared to what they’re truly capable of.”

    There was a funny little jolt in my stomach. “Enraged like me?” I asked in a whisper, my heart lodging itself in my throat. I was like a dragon? Like pokémon?

    Sakaki sighed. “Ah, my boy, there are times I could wish you were less observant.” My heart clenched and then dropped somewhere in the region of my stomach. That wasn’t what I’d meant. He couldn’t possibly mean there was an actual connection. I felt his hand on my arm, but I couldn’t turn to look at him; my body felt rigid. “You were a pokémon trainer, Wataru, and these kinds of beings do release certain kinds of energy, often as a by-product of their own physical functions. And sometimes … they affect people badly.”

    Fuck. To my horror I felt my eyes prickle, and my throat was so tight I couldn’t have spoken even if I’d wanted to. This was what he’d meant by them not being kind, wasn’t it? I wasn’t born insane—I was made. By them. By pokémon.

    “We have little choice,” he murmured. “We need the protection of pokémon to defend ourselves against pokémon, and for that we need trainers. You are the best I’ve ever known, Wataru, and you understood that. And yet there are times I wonder … if perhaps I should have stopped you sooner. If I had, perhaps you would not have to suffer as you do now.”

    Dammit. I blinked rapidly against the burn in my eyes, his regretful tone making the lump in my throat increase. “It wasn’t your fault,” I managed, but croakily.

    “You are very kind to say so, my boy.” He tugged slightly on my elbow and with a deep, shaky breath I obeyed his cue to turn away from the window, allowing him to steer me in the direction of the door. I kept my head down as he nodded to the technicians, flushing slightly as I realised that they must have heard every word—but none of them looked over at me and by the time we stepped out into the passageway I’d managed to pull a mask over my emotions. My face still felt tight, but at least I didn’t look like I was about to fall apart … I hoped.

    Sakaki released me when we exited, and I almost wanted to smile as a passing grunt jumped at our sudden appearance, throwing us a wide-eyed glance over her shoulder.

    “Now,” Sakaki said, business-like again; I envied his ability to hide his emotions. “Let me show you your quarters.”

    Yes, that sounded like a very good idea. I inhaled slowly and nodded, following his direction down the corridor. As we walked he filled in some details of the base’s layout; it was fully equipped with medical and research facilities, a gym and living spaces, with the medical wing opposite the garage, supply-storage and base-entrance, and the laboratories (including the training area) and lodging to the east and west respectively. And it was all underground.

    It provided a good distraction; by the time we reached the living quarters I felt calmer and a little weary from adrenaline. It helped that I was, apparently, in with the Team executives, whose section was at the far end of the wing and further out of the way.

    “Here we are.” Sakaki stopped at a door at the end of the hall, unlocking it and strolling sanguinely in.

    I followed, half uncertain, half buzzed with faint excitement even after the revelations in the laboratory. This was my room, to do with what I wanted.

    It was bigger than I was expecting—the privilege of rank, I suppose—but simple, windowless and with an adjoining bathroom opposite the entrance. The bed was queen-sized, centred in the middle with a nightstand beside it, and as I entered there was a wardrobe in the opposite corner, with a cabinet and a desk to my immediate right. There wasn’t much to make it mine; the bed was made, the desk clear barring a computer and a sealed folder, and the nightstand devoid of personal effects. I dropped my bag of meds on the bed, taking it all in and wondering if there was anything in the filing cabinet.

    The walls were stone, I noticed absently, which made sense, but when I glanced down at the floor it was carpeted. Well, that was a nice little slice of luxury after the stone halls. I was tempted to take my shoes off.

    “Your uniform.” Sakaki’s voice made me turn to him to see him gesturing at the wardrobe, now open. Still glancing around, I moved over to join him, and it didn’t occur to me to be worried about the cut of the uniform until after I’d reached out to finger one of the jackets wistfully. It wasn’t, I could see, anything like the grunts’ uniforms. This one was crisp and straight-cut—not quite a suit, but smart nonetheless.

    “What will I be doing?” I asked suddenly but softly, toying with the red R on the breast pocket of the jacket. “If I—I mean, if pokémon—” My throat tightened and I couldn’t finish.

    “That depends on you, Wataru,” Sakaki said quietly. “Regardless of what you choose, it will have to have something to do with pokémon; they are too pervasive to spare you that, I fear, and I daresay you won’t do well at a desk.”

    I snorted. He was probably right; even without knowing what kinds of duties I’d had before I couldn’t have imagined not doing something that was physical.

    “For now,” Sakaki continued, “you merely need to recover your former state of health and learn again what you have forgotten. Then, when Kitano sees fit to clear you for duty, we can discuss your field of expertise.”

    That … sounded good, actually. I took a deep breath, closing the door and turning to him. “Alright.”

    “Good.” He clapped me on the shoulder. “Now, I imagine that file on your desk is your schedule for the foreseeable future. Why don’t you familiarise yourself with it and your room, and perhaps get some rest. An agent will come by in the morning to show you to the mess-hall and give you a tour. In the meantime …” He smiled ruefully. “In the meantime, I’m afraid I must say goodbye. One of our other facilities has requested my presence, and I cannot in good conscience ignore them, even for you.”

    My responding smile, I could feel, was slightly forced, but it was as good as I could manage over the sudden pound in my chest. “I wouldn’t want you to. Sir.”

    I can do this. I would have to do this, even without him. When he got back he’d find that I was on the way to being better than the agent I had been.

    Nevertheless, he looked pleased, squeezing my shoulder. “I have no doubt. Good afternoon, Wataru.”

    “Good afternoon,” I echoed as he turned and left, and then I was alone. I glanced around the room with another slow inhale. Alright. Let’s start with that schedule, then.

    ***

    I smoothed down the wrinkles in my uniform, eyeing myself critically in the mirror set into the inside of the wardrobe’s doors. The clothes were a perfect fit, but it felt strange after the gym clothes I’d gotten used to wearing. Fingering the small red R over the breast and running my other hand through my hair, I thought ruefully that at least I was colour-coordinated.

    A knock at the door made me startle, and with a deep breath I abandoned the mirror to open it, coming face-to-face with Aina. She blinked when she saw me, her eyes widening and mouth dropping slightly. Then she caught herself, clearing her throat and straightening, giving me a salute. “Sir. Good morning.”

    Sir? My twisting stomach sank, and my smile was a little forced. “Didn’t I say you didn’t have to call me that?”

    She flushed, her eyes dropping. “We’re not in the medical ward anymore. Sir.”

    “I’m still not in a position to demand that much respect,” I countered, a little more sharply than I’d intended.

    Her lips quirked, but it was a wry sort of quirk. “You may not be able to stop people respecting you, Sir.”

    I asked quietly, “Respecting or fearing?”

    Aina’s eyes snapped up, clear surprise in them, and she drew in a breath to say something she never started. Instead her mouth closed and she looked at me for a long moment before she answered. “Alright.”

    I exhaled. Already this day was wearing on me, and it had barely begun. “Thank you.”

    Her nod was a little hesitant, but then she stepped aside to let me out into the corridor and said, “I’m supposed to show you to the mess hall.”

    “Good,” I said, managing a small smile, “I’m hungry. What else are you showing me today?”

    “The gym,” she answered promptly, gesturing me down the hall, “the psychologist’s office, Inventory in case you need to sign anything out, more of the labs including the library and training arenas—”

    I flinched. She cut herself off with a breath, and I sensed more than saw her looking at me sidelong. “We might not have time for all of it, though,” she added tentatively. “You’ll need the gym for your physical therapy and the psych office for your appointments, and naturally inventory and the library are givens—”

    She was babbling, trying to make me feel comfortable. It was stark contrast to the woman who’d been silent when Yuudai had been nervous, when they’d come to visit me that day. They had come twice more, after that, both together, but it was mostly Yuudai who had talked.

    I managed another smile. “We’ll see how much we can fit in then, right?”

    “Right,” she said, flushing. There was silence for a moment as we walked, while she gestured in the directions we needed to go. I was breathing deeply and slowly, trying to push down the fluttering nervousness in my stomach the nearer we got. It wasn’t working.

    “How often are meals served?”

    I felt her jump beside me, and she stammered a moment before clearing her throat and starting over. “The hall’s open all day for recreation, but food is served between oh-six-hundred hours and oh-eight; eleven-hundred hours and thirteen; and seventeen-hundred hours and nineteen. Food’s available in a buffet between twenty-three-hundred hours and oh-three-hundred, though. For the nightshift.”

    That was useful. I hadn’t slept well last night, not because I’d dreamed—though I had—but because I just hadn’t been able to fall asleep. I’d wound up playing around with the computer until at least two, browsing the base network, and I could’ve used something to eat.

    We rounded a corner in a T-junction and there, at the end of the corridor, was a pair of double-doors. Automatically I slowed as we approached, and Aina only realised once she was a few feet beyond me. She turned slightly with a blink and I sped up again, swallowing hard to push down my pounding heart and willing my stomach to uncoil.

    Whatever happens, just ignore them. Sakaki’s advice echoed in my head. They’ll just have to get used to seeing me around. Ignore them.

    Aina swung open a door and stood back for me to pass through. For a moment I hesitated; then my jaw clenched, I lifted my head and strode through, sensing her follow behind me. For a moment there was no difference; the room’s hubbub didn’t ebb at all as I glanced over it. There were lines of low rectangular tables, enough to seat perhaps a dozen at each on the rows of cushions on the floor. To my right was the long counter where the food was served, and behind it the kitchen; Aina tugged my arm gently, so I turned and followed as she moved toward it.

    It wasn’t until we were halfway there before the tables nearest us started to go silent, and the quiet seemed to spread on a flurry of whispers. I refused to look over, but my back prickled wildly at the feel of all those gazes on me; my footsteps seemed to echo on the concrete floor, and the scrape of the trays as Aina separated them was loud. Worse, even the servers were staring, the nearest one with eyes the size of saucers, ladle still extended over the tray of the agent he was serving.

    Wordlessly Aina held out a tray. I took it without looking down, evenly meeting the server’s gaze. He balked with a sharp inhale and the soup and noodles in the ladle splacked to the counter; he cursed, his gaze finally torn away from me.

    As if that was the cue the room exploded with sound again, agents all over the room turning back to their companions. It didn’t help the prickle in my back; it was me they were undoubtedly talking about. Still, it was better than being stared at. In fact, when I came to the server he didn’t look up at me at all, and the one after him barely let her eyes settle before they flickered away again, looking in every other direction.

    Her hand trembled as she set down the bowl of rice. I pretended not to see it.

    There came a shout from behind us, and I turned to see Yuudai standing beside his table, beckoning the two of us. The agents around him seemed to want to give him a wide berth—the ones immediately next to him were leaning away, glancing between him and in our direction.

    Silence seemed to follow us as we wove between the tables, only to be broken once we’d passed. More than one agent hastily vacated our target area with mumbled excuses, but even more chose to stay, clearly torn between curiosity and apprehension. I ignored it all, sternly telling my stomach to behave even while I tried to smile at Yuudai. “Good morning.”

    “Good morning,” he echoed, making a sweeping gesture at some spare cushions with his good arm. “Take a seat.”

    I sat, glancing at the agents across from me, and almost started when I realised one of them was Rafael, looking stoically down at his food. The smile came surprisingly easily. “Good morning, Rafael. I thought you were still out on deployment.”

    He looked up, his expression saying that he wished he were just about anywhere else, and my smile faded.

    “I just got back last night,” he said, his tone noticeably strained, and he glanced away again immediately afterward. Aina, setting her tray down beside him, nudged him not-quite discreetly. He jumped and threw her a tortured look, and then I looked down, clearing my throat and picking up my chopsticks.

    It was Yuudai who spoke up next, in a would-be cheerful voice. “Wataru got out of the medical ward yesterday. I’m almost sorry I missed it, but …” He chuckled, pouring my drink for me; it sounded strained. “I was catching up on some work at the time.”

    “And by ‘work’ you mean writing your wife?” I asked with a crooked smile, tilting my head at him in thanks. During his second visit he’d been late, and after some prodding on my part and light teasing on Aina’s had finally admitted that his wife demanded she get a letter every day.

    He blinked and then laughed, and this time it was completely sincere. “I was hoping you’d forgotten I said that. You were half asleep at the time.”

    “Yes, well,” I murmured, reaching out to pick up my cup and half wishing it was something stronger than water, “I think I’ve forgotten enough already, thank you.”

    I cringed inwardly almost the instant the words were out, and there was a dead silence following them. It took effort, resisting the urge to put my face in my hand; oh, this was going well.

    The rescue came from an unexpected direction—over my shoulder and behind me. “The food’s not supposed to stay on the plate, Sir.” I flinched, jumped and whirled in my seat to see the female nurse, out of uniform and looking chagrined at having startled me.

    “And here I thought you’d be celebrating not having to deal with me anymore,” I managed with a passable attempt at a smile. She gave me a tentative one in response.

    “And you, Sir. You’re free of the medical staff’s tyrannical ways.” The way she said the last sounded like a quote, and she rolled her eyes in the direction of the other agents. More than one didn’t meet her eyes, looking sheepish.

    “Would you like to join us, Chiyo?” Aina jumped in, making room beside her and effectively, I saw, moving Rafael away from being directly across from me. He looked faintly relieved; I ignored it by looking back up at Chiyo and fixing the name in my mind. Finally I knew it.

    “I promise I won’t go sneaking away,” I said wryly.

    Chiyo hesitated for a moment, her eyes flickering overhead—at her usual table, I suppose. Or asking for tacit orders from someone over there; it was entirely possible she was here to check on me, on duty or not. I didn’t look over to confirm.

    A moment later she nodded, smiled and moved to sit, and if the expression was a little strained I wasn’t going to call her on it. Even so, despite the added presence of someone else I knew and was making an effort not to judge me, what followed was what had to be the most awkward meal of my life (whether I remembered it or not). Yuudai and Aina tried to keep me included, but the conversation was always uncomfortable, and in time they just left off talking to me except to direct the occasional comment or question my way. In turn, the other agents seemed to realise they didn’t need to talk to me at all and went back to their own conversations, and although some of them seemed to relax (judging by the smirks) for the most part I still got furtive glances that made my gut clench every time I caught one.

    That wasn’t even counting the looks I knew I was getting from agents on other tables. In fact, there was a large group of scientists against the wall relatively nearby who kept on looking around at me nervously, their apprehension as clear as it had been with the kitchen staff. I suppose that made sense, given that they probably weren’t trained in self-defence.

    At least we were essentially on the other side of the hall to the entrance. True, the people entering inevitably discovered I was there once they joined a table, but at least I wasn’t on display when they came in.

    “What have you seen around the base?” Yuudai asked me.

    “The Boss showed me the lab and my room,” I said, pleased by the fact my voice was calm and ignoring Aina’s sidelong look, “but that’s all.”

    Someone coughed down the end of the table and Rafael’s face contorted. I was just turning to ask if he was alright when Yuudai quickly leapt in with, “Which lab? There’s a few.”

    “The one with the kairyuu in it,” I said flatly. I’d looked up the name the night before, and learned more than I wanted to; dragonite were incredibly powerful. “Pass the soy sauce, please.”

    I held out my hand for it, but no one moved to give it to me because they were all staring, clearly stunned. Even Aina’s mouth had dropped open. Slowly I realised this, looking around and letting my fingers curl up, pulling my hand back.

    “He … showed you the kairyuu?” Yuudai asked weakly.

    “Yes,” I mumbled, my stomach clenching and unclenching and making me decide that I didn’t need the sauce after all, since all of a sudden I couldn’t eat another bite. Don’t tell me the kairyuu is directly related to me too!

    Probably. Maybe he’d even planned to tell me whatever it was it, if I just hadn’t freaked out at the thought of being rendered insane. In fact, maybe that’s the pokémon that had done it to me!

    Someone else coughed, agents all over the table looked away and my cheeks went hot. “I said that out loud, didn’t I?”

    “You’re doing it less often than you did,” Chiyo said quickly, putting the sauce down next to my tray. “A few weeks ago you talked a lot without realising it, but now you just do it when something’s—”

    “Shocked me?” I finished, my lips twisted into something that might have looked like a smile but really, really wasn’t.

    Her eyes dropped and she mumbled, “Right.”

    There was another awkward silence while I stared down at my plate, not wanting to see the looks everyone else was probably exchanging. Finally Yuudai cleared his throat.

    “Well, I’m done. If you’re done too, Wataru, why don’t Aina and I give you a tour?”

    Relieved, I pushed my tray back and stood. “That sounds good.” Anything to get away from this awful breakfast experience.

    Aina dropped her chopsticks on her plate and stood too, squeezing Rafael’s shoulder and murmuring a goodbye to Chiyo as she passed. I inclined my head toward the table at large. “Good day.”

    One or two murmured it back, but Chiyo was the only one who looked up to say it, her smile rather forced. I didn’t look around as I walked away, but I had no doubt the rest of the table would be all over her for the gossip as soon as we were out of earshot. Likewise, I ignored the falter in conversations that I seemed to elicit as I passed, though the one or two shocked faces I saw—people who had come into the hall after me, obviously—almost made me want to smile grimly.

    Yes, I’m really here. Yes, I am insane. No, I’m not going to try and kill you. Yet.

    I was about ready to breathe a sigh of relief as we left the mess hall, but as the door swung open beneath my hands I nearly I walked into a man who’d been coming to enter, a man who was turned half to the side to tell a joke to one of his companions. I side-stepped, he jerked back to avoid me, and then he looked up and saw my face. With violent curse and a movement far too instinctive to be deliberate he leaped back, his hands flying to the gun and the pokéballs at his side. The action made my hand jerk to my belt before I even realised why or that there wasn’t anything there.

    Then Yuudai was between us and I felt Aina grip my arm. “Hold it!” Yuudai shouted, flapping his hand toward the other agents in the group, all of whom looked as ready to draw as their friend—those that hadn’t just backed away entirely. “Just hold it, okay?”

    “Come on,” Aina whispered, tugging gently on my elbow. It took a moment before I could get my frozen feet to move, guided through the unmoving group of agents and feeling their eyes on my back the whole way through. My heart pounded so loud in my ears that I almost didn’t notice Yuudai’s footsteps behind me.

    The last thing I heard before rounding the corner was an explosive, “Fuck!”

    I let out a shaken breath. The man’s face flashed through my mind—the expression of sudden shock and fear that had crossed it when he realise it was me. I knew I was going to be seeing it in my dreams tonight.

    “Wataru?”

    Aina’s quiet voice made me flinch. “Don’t,” I muttered, my voice hoarse and rough in my throat. “Just—talk to me. Give me the detailed tour. Where are we going?”

    “The gym,” Yuudai said promptly, quickening his stride so he passed us and took the lead. “It’s a shared gym, joined to the medical ward so the staff can keep an eye on people doing physical therapy. The therapists are pretty stringent about using the gym for too long, though, so you may not go there much in your free time until you’ve been cleared …”

    Thank the gods, I thought numbly as he continued, going into far more detail than was necessary, that Yuudai knew how to talk.
    Last edited by purple_drake; 2nd November 2011 at 8:19 AM.

  12. #12
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    May 2006
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    Ah. I don't know about anyone else, but I didn't know it had been updated xD

    Coming home to a few new chapters is always a good thing though.

    Just to confirm, I'm pretty much 99.9% on this but you use the Japanese naming system where they put the family name first then their first name, right? It always annoyed me in anime when they put names like that in the subtitles, if it's intended for english audiences, then why do they keep it the same?

    Not that your use of it annoys me, it makes sense given the context of your world and to be fair, it's a minor quibble anyway.

    Not really much else I can say beyond the fact that I'm enjoying this immensely and I'll try to be more vigilant when it next gets updated.
    Skogsrĺ

    Gardenia never liked the Old Chateau, but what if the Old Chateau liked her?

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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Diddy View Post
    Ah. I don't know about anyone else, but I didn't know it had been updated xD

    Coming home to a few new chapters is always a good thing though.

    Just to confirm, I'm pretty much 99.9% on this but you use the Japanese naming system where they put the family name first then their first name, right? It always annoyed me in anime when they put names like that in the subtitles, if it's intended for english audiences, then why do they keep it the same?

    Not that your use of it annoys me, it makes sense given the context of your world and to be fair, it's a minor quibble anyway.

    Not really much else I can say beyond the fact that I'm enjoying this immensely and I'll try to be more vigilant when it next gets updated.
    I've been updating it weekly on Wednesdays my time. XD So roughly the same time every week.

    I will be, yes, because a lot of the names and conventions are slanted toward the culture and it's not a difficult convention other-language speakers to understand. For the same (former) reason I'll be using Japanese pokemon names in dialogue. That said, since Japanese pokemon names are harder to remember than naming conventions, I'm using the English names in the narrative.

    Glad you're enjoying it!

  14. #14
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    Chapter 4
    At times I dread my now and envy where I’ve been

    “Sir? Wataru?”

    “Hmm?” I looked up from the weights to Chiyo, and she tensed for a split second before relaxing and giving me a smile.

    “You’ve completed the set.”

    Oh. I blinked and automatically glanced up at the weights, then let them fall back into their nook. I hadn’t noticed. “That didn’t take long.”

    “You were pretty deep in thought,” said Chiyo, glancing down to scribble something on her clipboard. I sat up, shaking out my hands, stretching my arms and pressing an experimental hand to my aching side. Now that I was aware I could feel the lurking fatigue in my limbs that would have quickly turned into exhaustion if I’d continued.

    I almost wished I could have. There was something to be said about being able to press yourself to your very limits, and part of me wondered if it would have helped me sleep better, but physical therapy was too regulated to ever let it happen.

    Pity.

    “You’re finished now,” Chiyo announced, looking up and tugging the page out from under the clip. “And you have an appointment with Doctor Ishii today.”

    A psych evaluation, then. Wonderful. I sighed and hid it in the towel I was using to scrub off my face. “Right,” I mumbled, towelling off my arms, throwing it over my shoulder and then accepting the folded page from him.

    She flicked her pen at me with a smile and faintly affected benevolence. “Shoo.”

    I half saluted her with the page in my hand and made for the locker room to wash off properly. I was barely a week out of the hospital wing, if even that, so the agents still in the room still looked at me sidelong when I entered, conversations cut off and I didn’t linger to chat. There was very little privacy in the showers and I didn’t exactly want to show off my scars. Not now I knew where I’d probably got most of them.

    Washed, dressed and gym clothes in the basket, I headed for the doors leading to the medical wing and the desk to check in, ignoring the sudden jump of one of the agents inside who hadn’t expected me to come through the doors. That still happened relatively frequently, though thankfully it had never been anything as bad as that first morning when I came out of the mess-hall.

    My schedule was regular. I had physical therapy most mornings, and then, if not a doctor’s appointment or a psychological evaluation, plenty of time to wander the base. My first psych evaluation had been on my third morning out, straight after my second PT session, with the resident psychologist. Doctor Ishii was slight, black-haired, confident … psychic. Literally. And although he didn’t exactly force his way into my mind, he always knew when I was lying or holding back.

    Afterward, I decided as I handed the PT form over to the nurse on duty, I’d go visit Ichigo for lunch before going to my first tutoring lesson. Marilyn had been released three days ago and I’d been getting the feeling Ichigo was feeling lonely with not being able to be out with the rest of us, even though he was sure to be released soon. Maybe we could cheer each other up.

    “Ah, Wataru, you’re already here.”

    I turned to see Ishii at the door to his office, looking me over with a smile before his gaze met mine. “You look well.”

    “I just had PT,” I pointed out. I probably looked tired.

    “Yes, well …” He shrugged, smiled again and gestured me into the room. Perpetually optimistic, was Ishii, or so I had gotten from meeting him once.

    I moved over to the plush chair facing his and heard the door click shut behind me, then his footsteps approaching. “So. How have you been, Wataru?”

    “All right.” I sat on the edge of the chair. It was the kind that I just wished I could sit back in and sink into, but I didn’t quite feel comfortable enough in Ishii’s presence to do that yet.

    “Really?” He took his own seat, shooting me a look that said he’d divined whatever the hell it was I hadn’t wanted to tell him, and I sighed. Last time I’d told him about what had happened when I left the mess-hall. It had been only a couple of days after it had happened, after all, and by that time I’d needed to tell someone. But it wasn’t as if I wanted to whine to him—it wasn’t exactly something he could change and wasn’t something I could, so what was the point?

    “More of the same, really,” I admitted. “Just—me taking people by surprise, I guess. They’re getting better when they know I’m there, but sometimes …” And it was true. Most people in the mess hall who looked at me did so out of curiosity and interest, now, and some had even gingerly made wisecracks at my expense.

    Even so, it was strange how the status quo had been reversed in my dreams. In reality everyone was watchful, nervous, only slowly relaxing. In my sleep I’d enter a room and no one would look over, and that was when I’d attack.

    “What was that thought you just had?”

    I jumped, looking up with a blink to find him looking at me, his head tilted slightly, chin resting on his fist. “I …” It was such a knowing look that my throat closed and I looked away.

    There were a few moments of silence before he prodded me. “You mentioned last time you have dreams.” Automatically I nodded. He had probably already known that before the first time we met, because of how I’d reacted to what Ichigo had told me. He confirmed that a moment later by saying, “Are they still of you … attacking others?”

    I looked down at my lap and nodded again. I hadn’t told Sakaki or Kitano that. There was no point; neither of them could stop the dreams, even if they could give me the will to rise above them. Kitano had said outright that too many sedatives would interfere with my medication. And it wasn’t as if I could stop the dreams from coming just by … curling up on my bed and hoping they’d go away or something ridiculous like that, as much as I’d done it for the first few days after I’d found out.

    There was more silence, but this time Ishii didn’t seem inclined to break it, and I could feel his patient eyes on me. Finally I mumbled, “Usually it’s the people I know. But sometimes it’s the people I know people have known that I—” Killed. Like Marilyn’s friend.

    “Do they usually have any particular running theme?” he asked gently. I shrugged.

    “Mostly I use a gun? I guess because they’re the easiest weapon. But sometimes …” My breath caught and I had to clear my throat. “Sometimes I dream I’m the kairyuu.” And then I flushed, because what the **** was up with that? Aside from the similarities between its conduct and mine, and that it was probably responsible—

    “The Boss told you that pokémon were responsible for your condition, didn’t he?” It wasn’t a question but statement, something to lead into the next topic, but it still surprised me and made me look up. He looked back sympathetically; I felt my flush deepen. In a way it was almost easier that he seemed to know what I was thinking—in another it was just unnerving.

    “Yes,” I said, fighting to keep a steady tone. “And I …” I stopped, unsure how to express the next bit. Would it be tattling on the other agents, to say what I suspected and why? Or would they have already gone to Ishii to tell him themselves?

    He could probably tell, because he smiled gently and said, “Yuudai told me about a conversation that happened at breakfast when you first got out. About their reactions when they found out you had seen it. He was concerned they might have frightened you.”

    “The kairyuu did it to me, didn’t it?” I heard myself asking, half in a daze of relief. “That’s why they were so scared.”

    “It’s one reason,” Ishii said, and my gut tightened. I knew it. I knew it was true. “The other is that … the last time you lost control, you released it into the base.”

    I flinched. Dammit—the garage and base entrance had been under construction when Yuudai and Aina had shown me around, and they’d said it was because of the dragonite’s rampage, but they’d never said I’d been involved too.

    A moment later I felt Ishii’s hand on my knee, squeezing. “It’s not your fault. Different pokémon have different sorts of radiation, and they affect people in different ways. The dragons are the ones that did the most damage to you.”

    I inhaled deeply, feeling suddenly weak with adrenaline, my heart pounding. Even so I made myself look up, looking him squarely in the eye and swallowing. “What happened? I mean—why?”

    He examined me for a moment before nodding. “Dragons are incredibly powerful, Wataru. You’ve trained a few, and the more you trained the more of a … propensity, I suppose you could say … you had for them. That one was the one that tipped the scales.”

    “Did it—” I started to say, and then had to stop and take a deep breath, my heart suddenly pounding with something like hope. “Was—was it controlling me?”

    His expression shifted to open sympathy tinged with sorrow. “No. I’m sorry, Wataru, but no. A psychic pokémon, perhaps, could be blamed for that, but not a dragon. You were drawn to it, yes, but anything you did you did on your own.”

    Fuck. I looked away and took a deep breath, swallowing to keep the prickle in my eyes from getting too strong and clenching my fists in my lap. It took me a few moments to get myself under control, but Ishii didn’t say anything, and when I looked back I saw his eyes were closed.

    They opened and he smiled at me, a wan smile. “Yes?”

    “How can I stop it from happening again?” I blurted out. “What if it does? What happens when I’m fit for duty again? What will I do? What if just being around them sets me off? Or near them? Does this mean I can’t be a trainer again, and if I can’t what the hell can I contribute? What good’s an agent who can’t pull his weight? What—”

    Ishii lifted a hand and I cut myself off, taking a deep breath and finding myself trembling slightly with adrenaline, my fists clenched in my lap.

    “First of all, Wataru,” he said, “though I imagine Kitano would have told you this when you got closer to being clearer for duty, as long as you’re not around dragon pokémon you should be fine.”

    Really? My heart did a sudden quick pound, and I must have looked or felt disbelieving because he smiled encouragingly at me.

    “The Boss probably didn’t want to overload you with information at the time, but yes, it’s true. It’s dragons who did this to you, but the radiation produced by other pokémon has about as much effect as on anyone else—that is, not much. It’s why the Team collects many kinds of pokémon; it reduces the chance that its agents will be overly affected by the radiation of one type over time.”

    “So I … could go back to training if I wanted?” Why did my heart have to beat so loud? I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to hear his answer.

    Do you want to?” he asked, and I floundered.

    “I—I don’t know.”

    He patted my hand. “That’s alright. You don’t need to know—not yet. But you haven’t as much reason to fear pokémon as I suppose you thought you did.”

    I found myself nodding, more vigorously than I’d been intending. Yes, that was right. Here I’d been thinking it was pokémon in general and wondering how the hell I was meant to stay away from them when they were everywhere. There was a brief pang of annoyance that Sakaki hadn’t told me this from the outset. Maybe he hadn’t wanted to overload me with information or something, but still!

    “As for what might set you off,” Ishii continued, “that’s what these appointments are for, Wataru. Doctor Kitano will keep an eye on your medication and adjust it as necessary, and I will watch your mind. As long as we—and you—are vigilant, and given your remarkable progress thus far, I see no reason for you to relapse at all.”

    He was the third person to have said that, but somehow it carried more weight this time, making me feel weak with relief. Maybe it was the fact that he wasn’t just a doctor, but a psychologist—he probably knew more about my mind than anyone, and I didn’t mean just in the way my thought process worked.

    “I imagine this might not help with the dreams at first,” he said, “but in time your subconscious may come to accept this truth. Nevertheless, I do encourage you to talk about them with me, since they are a representative of your subconscious fears, and you hardly need them holding you back.”

    I nodded again, hardly able to find the words to answer that. It was true, after all, and it was relieving to know I could talk about them to someone. Ishii didn’t seem to be afraid of me, just as Sakaki wasn’t, but he wasn’t my employer either.

    He smiled. “Good. Now, unless there was something else you needed to talk about, why don’t we call this session over, eh? I think you’ve taken in enough today.”

    To my surprise, I laughed—shortly and a little humourlessly, but it was still a laugh. “Yeah—I mean, no, I didn’t have anything else in particular.” And even though he’d told me things that made my heart pound, I did feel better.

    “Very well, then.” He stood with a smile and I followed suit, feeling a little wobbly on my legs but less tense than I had been when I entered. “In that case, all I have to remind you of is our next appointment. That said, if at any time you want to talk, Wataru, my door is open.”

    “Thank you,” I said, and meant it.



    I hurried down the corridor, glancing at my watch. Early—good. I wasn’t exactly losing my way around the base, but I hadn’t been sure how much time I should give Ichigo before I left. The man had been cheerful through lunch, despite his leg still being in its cast, but at least he was no longer confined to the bed and apparently felt comfortable enough to rib me ceaselessly.

    Which may have been the reason I was so early. I appreciated that he was including me, but after the near cold silence I’d received from everyone else it took some getting used to.

    At any rate, I generally tried to move through the lab wing’s corridors as quickly as humanly possible anyway. Sometimes I felt as if I could still feel the corridor shake with something fighting to break out.

    As long as it isn’t me, I told myself, turning around a corner and entering my target corridor. The office in which I was supposed to be meeting my new tutor, Anderson Hanako, was third down from the end. I had a lot I needed to refamiliarise myself with.

    I knocked on the door and slipped in, just I case my tutor had beaten me to it. She had, apparently, because she looked wordlessly up from a stack of paper when I entered. Resisting the urge to shift uncomfortably, I nodded at her in greeting and made for the unused chair opposite her.

    “You’re early,” she said flatly, and I paused in the process of pulling the chair out from the desk.

    “Ah … yes? Is that a problem?”

    Her lip curled slightly and my stomach dropped. Don’t tell me she’s another one who wants nothing to do with me.

    “We’re not all here to cater to your whims, Himura.”

    Oh yes; yes, she was. Wonderful. I knew my family name from looking at my personnel file, but no one so far had called me by it in a tone of such disdain.

    “I’ve got things I have to do which have nothing to do with tutoring you,” she continued, “and I’m not going to start early just because that’s when you got here. So you can just sit there ’til it’s time, got it?”

    “Alright,” I said quietly, and sat.

    Anderson was true to her word; on the dot of the hour, nearly twenty minutes later, she closed the file with a snap and shoved it aside, reaching for another one on the other side of the desk. Even upside-down I could read my name on it.

    “Right,” she said in a tone that was more flat than brisk, “now that it’s time for the lesson to begin, I’m going to lay down some ground rules that I expect to be obeyed by whoever is under my tutelage.” She looked me square in the face as she spoke. Her expression didn’t flicker; in fact she stared, her gaze drilling into me. “Firstly, you’ll get here sharply at two. I’ve other things to do beforehand, and I’m sure you’ve nothing else pressing enough to cut into our allotted time.”

    At the last part of the sentence her monotone took on a mildly pointed, ironic tone that made my cheeks heat; I focussed on not clenching my fists under the desk and holding her gaze.

    “I expect you to study,” she continued, “though you might find it difficult to apply yourself that much, having been in the hospital wing so long.”

    And the way she said it, the challenging flash in her eyes, made it perfectly clear that she knew why I’d been in the hospital wing and that as far as she was concerned I was lucky to have been there. It was that which made me flush the deepest—I knew perfectly well how I’d gotten there, thanks. I didn’t need some snide agent reminding me.

    Somehow I got the feeling I was going to be reminded constantly.

    “But I’m sure you have plenty of time to study nowadays. Don’t disappoint me.”

    Too late.

    “We’ll have a three-hour session every afternoon; there’s a lot you need to be tutored in—” she raised her eyebrow fractionally— “so we have to cover as much as possible, as quickly as possible. In addition, we need to find out what you do still recall. So we’ll start with some general academic tests in which I’m sure you’ll do your best, and then tomorrow we’ll move onto the brief recent history of the Team and the politics which led to its inception and its processes. Once we know where you’re lacking we’ll go on to cover those more scientific processes which most people would require to complete their duties, including those relating to pokémon handling.”

    I blinked, startled. She’d laid enough emphasis on the word ‘scientific’ that it made me wonder if there was something there I’d used to do—or not do—which merited her disapproval.

    And what about me doesn’t so far?

    It was enough for me to slide on past to the middle part of the comment and the implication in it. If ‘most people’ meant not me, then it meant it was something she believed I didn’t do, or which I had believed I didn’t need, which meant—

    “Finally, I expect you to pay attention!”

    The last was a bellow, accompanied by a thud right in front of me that made me jump. Anderson snarled at me. “Mark my words, Himura; I don’t care how much of the Boss’s favour you have. You’re my student now and you’re damn well going to work for it! Got it?!”

    Wordlessly I nodded, my jaw clenched, trying not to telegraph either my irritation or my incredulity. She’s jealous!

    “Now.” She dropped a pile of stapled papers to the desk. “Here’s your test. You’ve got two hours and fifty minutes; if you can’t get it done by then you’ll have to finish it tomorrow and push back the whole schedule.”

    “I don’t have a pen,” I said as evenly as I could manage as I dragged it toward me, ignoring the accusation of potential laziness in her words. Her lip curled and she tossed one onto the paper.

    “If this was a graded test you’d fail, Himura. Start.”



    Things didn’t get better after that; I had a three-hour lesson with Anderson every afternoon. She never deliberately gave me impossible tasks, but it felt as if she was just waiting for me to do something she could remark on. If I asked her to repeat something she would say, “Not paying attention, Himura? Figures.” When I made a mistake she would tut and go, “And you want to go back to being executive?” or “What, you think you don’t have to study as hard as everyone else, do you?”

    After the first lesson I did worry, for a little while, that she might sabotage my test, but then I realised that would have been stupid. She wasn’t doing anything that would get her into trouble; even if I’d intended to give in and tell on her like a schoolkid, she wasn’t doing anything I could prove was bad. That was all she did—make snide remarks.

    That and delight in giving me surprise tests. Most of the things I remembered were fundamental—colours, languages, names of things, basic math, festival dates. Things that weren’t related to the Team, pokémon training or my own personal history in any way. I could even remember bits and pieces of history.

    But there were definitely other things I felt like I should have known, that built on the things that I did know, but which I blatantly didn’t. Those were the things that made me realise what Anderson had meant by ‘processes which most people would require to complete their duties’. I don’t know if she was being truthful when she said “your previous education letting you down, Himura?” or not, but given the differences between what I did remember and what I didn’t, I was beginning to wonder if I didn’t know some of those things because I just hadn’t bothered to learn them beforehand.

    Not that I was going to admit it to her.

    It didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to let her be proven right. Alright, so I’d been a bastard at one stage. I’d changed and I was going to stay changed, and I would damn well prove it.

    Maybe that was what had started it all. Or to be more precise, it was the studying which started it all. That is, the fact that I’d taken my handheld computer into the mess hall with me so I could study while I ate.

    That was a mistake.

    I didn’t notice anyone’s reactions at first. I brought my tray over to the usual table and dropped the handheld with a clatter above it, sitting down and scrolling through the list of study materials I’d downloaded from the base library. In fact I didn’t notice anything at all until someone’s finger came into my vision to point at an answer I’d just scrawled onto the little notebox at the corner of the screen.

    “I’ve no idea what that even means.”

    I blinked at the problem for a moment. I didn’t have any idea what it meant either, but since this was supposed to be somewhat standard work and just about anyone else was sure to know better than I, I just nodded a thank you and flipped the touch-pen so I could erase it and scribble my alternative answer.

    “I’ve no idea what that means either.”

    I flushed as one of Rafael’s friends asked, voice amused, “Got a test to study for?”

    “No,” I said simply, and jabbed at the box’s scrollbar to hide the problem. A moment later I added, “There’s just a lot I need to catch up on.”

    “Of course. Can’t let yourself get behind.” The tone sounded innocent, but I glanced over out of the corner of my eye and caught the highly amused looks more than one agent was exchanging with their fellows.

    Wonderful. I dropped my eyes back to the book, trying to stave off the burn in my cheeks. Worse, none of my closer friends were at the table with me. Rafael was, but he still ducked his head and didn’t talk to me unless he absolutely needed to, and I never dared push him.

    Fortunately they left me alone after that, aside from the feeling that they were talking about me in whispers down the end of the table. At least, they left me alone until I reached for the soy sauce without looking up from the book, my fingers taking a few minutes to find the bottle so I could dibble it over my fish.

    It wasn’t until I’d taken a bite and my mouth and nose burned that I realised it wasn’t soy sauce at all—or not completely. I couldn’t help but cough and gasp a little, but managed to keep from diving for my cup and instead picked it up as casually as I could to down the water.

    I didn’t even know we got wasabi for the tables! I thought, keeping my eyes closed to keep them from watering.

    “Alright there, Wataru?” someone asked casually.

    “Fine,” I managed to say after a moment, my voice a little hoarse, and I put the cup down with a harder thud than I’d intended. “Wasn’t paying attention. Excuse me.”

    Not hungry anymore, I picked up my tray and computer, and nodded at the other agents before leaving. By chance I glanced back while emptying the tray into the garbage.

    They were all laughing their heads off. So were a couple of agents on the neighbouring tables, and as my gut clenched with realisation I turned hurriedly away so they didn’t see me flush.



    This is ridiculous. I cursed to myself as I yanked another pair of pants out of my drawer, throwing it on my bed and going for a shirt and jacket. My whole body throbbed with a burning sensation every time I moved; it wasn’t painful, quite, but it was constant, unceasing, annoying. Worse, I had no idea what was causing it—it wasn’t a rash.

    Growling, I picked up all the clothes and stalked into my bathroom. I had an hour to try and get rid of the burn before I had my lesson with Anderson.

    Tossing the clothes onto the counter, I turned on the shower and stepped in, breathing a sigh of relief at the cold water. Much better.

    I stayed in there much longer than was my warrant, relishing the coolness before climbing out. It was only when I was picking up my trousers and saw the faintest glimpse of red on the inside, almost invisible against the black, that the realisation hit me. I froze, staring down at the pants, and then numbly reached in to rub my finger against it.

    Not fluff. Powder.

    They had to have gone through and unfolded every one of my clothes to put it in, I thought detachedly. It had to have been after breakfast; the burn had only started after PT when I’d changed out of my gym clothes, which I’d worn to breakfast. And they were already in the laundry so I couldn’t wear them again.

    Mechanically I pulled the pants on. Next time I washed my own clothes.



    “I heard you had a bit of trouble at breakfast the other day,” Aina said quietly from behind me. I shrugged without turning to her, busy trying to track down an electronic book on the library database.

    “Just had trouble studying, is all.” What was I going to tell her? That someone had put wasabi in my soy sauce? She wasn’t responsible for them, and I wasn’t going to give in to them by whining. Let them see I could take the heat.

    There was a moment’s silence, broken only by the hum of computers and the shuffle of one or two others working in some of the library’s other cubicles. I ignored it all, my stomach coiling and uncoiling with the fact that I couldn’t find the title of the book supposedly there. I’d gotten it right when Anderson told it to me; I’d double-checked it twice. With a growl I went back to the start of the list to go through it again.

    “What’s wrong?” I heard the rattle of a chair moving back and sensed Aina hovering over my shoulder, and shook my head in disgust.

    “I just can’t find this electronic book Anderson told me to read.” I hadn’t been able to find it on my personal computer, so I’d thought maybe it would show on one of the public ones in the library—hence my being there.

    Aina picked up the note and then vanished back to her own computer (she said she’d been researching for an upcoming field mission). I was halfway down the list when I heard her say, “Got it.” My head shot up and I looked over, blinking in surprise, as she turned her screen so I could see the entry right there between two other entries I remembered scrolling past.

    “What? Why’s it showing up on your computer and not m—” My breath caught in realisation and my face closed down.

    It wasn’t showing up on my computer. “Log into here for me and find it again, will you?”

    I signed out and pushed away, and wordlessly Aina rolled close so she could login on the computer I’d just been using. Sure enough, when she searched for it she found the book without trouble. The bastards had blocked me.

    I took a deep breath and forced my hands to relax, telling my heart that it could slow down.

    Aina didn’t turn as she mumbled, “I’m sorry.”

    “It’s not your fault.” My voice was hard, angry, so I tried to soften it. “I doubt you had anything to do with it.”

    She shrugged and logged out again, rolling back over to her own computer. “Still. It’s immature of them. Give me your handheld; I’ll download it for you. And Yuudai told me to tell you that if you want, he can help you study in his spare time. His timetable will be settling down soon so he’d be able to manage it.”

    I handed the computer over, my next exhale loosening my gut with a rush of warm relief. I hadn’t wanted to ask Yuudai for help; he’d been busy over in administration since getting his cast off and going back to work full-time. But if he was offering, and if Aina wasn’t going to be here, it seemed I was going to need someone to collect my study material.

    “I’ll talk to him about it. Thanks for the message.”

    “You’re welcome.” Aina turned to me with a smile, holding out the HC. As I took it I was surprised by the realisation that that was the first time I’d seen her smile unreservedly.



    “Wataru!” Yuudai’s voice made me stop and turn outside the gym doors, and with a greeting smile I waited for him to catch up to me.

    “Yuudai. So you are alive.” I stumbled a little over the last word, and grimaced. Still not quite up to making light of my past conduct or my nightmares, apparently.

    Yuudai gave me something of a grimace in return, but didn’t comment on the joke or its appropriateness; in fact it barely dimmed the grin he wore. “No thanks to my immediate superior. I have some time this afternoon if you wanted some help studying. And I’ve got pictures of my daughter’s birthday.” He waved the envelope he clutched. That explained his expression.

    I couldn’t help but grin a little in response, feeling lighter than I had when I’d been deciding what to do today. “I was going to see if I could get away with a couple more hours of exercise, but that sounds good.”

    My appointment with Kitano had been short, so I had the time. A few days ago the doctor had let me start trying to recall some of my fighting forms, but it was a difficult prospect given that I had apparently studied a style most other agents hadn’t, so none of them could lead me through it. I could stand to avoid that frustration.

    “You need a hobby,” Yuudai said, falling into step beside me. “Training and studying all day long isn’t good for you, Wataru. Aina does the exact same thing with work.”

    “At least she’s being productive,” I pointed out, but he just shook his head and threw up his hands, muttering, “Field agents.”

    In short order we’d made it to my room and I’d managed to give Yuudai a rundown on what I was supposed to be doing for Anderson and how I was having trouble—both with understanding it and actually getting the resources to understand it.

    “Yeah, Aina told me you were having trouble with the computer,” was all he’d said on the matter.

    I directed him to the desk (noting as wryly as I could manage that maybe he could fix that ‘computer problem’), then headed for my wardrobe and then the bathroom for the shower I hadn’t bothered to have after PT, expecting to go back to the gym as I had been.

    The shower was cold. Not just ‘cold because I hadn’t turned the hot water tap enough’, but ‘cold the hot water tap wasn’t working at all’.

    I hate cold showers, I decided as I came out not long after, shivering, rubbing my hands and cursing under my breath. That water had been icy.

    Yuudai took one look at me and went for the environmental controls on the wall; being underground like we were, the temperature of the entire base was regulated through the ventilation system.

    I was still squeezing out my hair when he said rather calmly, “Your heater’s not working.”

    “Of course it’s not working,” I muttered bitterly, whipping the towel forcefully down into the laundry basket. “It wouldn’t have the same effect if I just came out of a freezing-cold shower into a nice, warm room, now, would it?”

    “You need to say something.”

    I won’t give them the satisfaction,” I snarled, yanking a comb through my hair. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him flinch. The sight made my stomach twist in a way that had nothing to do with anger, and there was a moment of awkward silence. I could feel the heat of a flush in my cheeks, but I didn’t dare say anything else in case I snapped at him again, and after a moment Yuudai cleared his throat.

    “Well. Why don’t we get started on this higher math, then?”

    Throwing the comb down on my bed, I nodded, somehow only half relieved that he hadn’t called me out on my irritation.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
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    Blackthorn City
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    Chapter 5
    The world seems not the same

    I woke up gasping, my heart pounding and limbs weak with adrenaline. Cold air hit me with a billow and I shivered, automatically hunching back into my bedcovers.

    Don’t tell me they’ve moved up from just breaking the heater.

    ‘They’ had: my room was freezing. For several minutes I just lay there miserably, curled up to my pillows and letting my heart calm itself down. That wasn’t a normal dream—I couldn’t remember what it was. The ones I couldn’t remember were always related to my memories. Repression, Ishii had said it was; repression for the consciousness but not the subconscious. I couldn’t argue.

    Turning my face into the pillow, I closed my eyes and let myself breathe. I didn’t remember the dream, but I thought that if I pushed—just a little—maybe I could remember some feelings.

    I didn’t remember anything but fear, and even then it felt like I only knew that because otherwise I wouldn’t have woken up like I did. Fear and urgency. But that was all.

    Dammit.

    With a sigh I pushed myself up, wrapping my arms around myself as I slid out of bed and attempted a distraction by considering my mental timetable. I had an appointment with Ishii today; wonderful. That meant I had to dodge all his questions and allusions … chances were Aina or Yuudai had already reported the pranks, but Ishii was likely to make a bigger deal of it all than I wanted.

    That morning had to have been the fastest I’ve ever showered and changed, and I was looking forward to physical therapy by the time I left my room, shivering. I didn’t linger over breakfast; there was no point in giving the pranksters more opportunity than they already had when I didn’t have anyone to eat with. Aina was out on deployment, Yuudai had worked late last night and was probably still in bed, and Chiyo would have already had breakfast.

    At least Chiyo I still got to see, since, as I entered the gym, I spotted her beside a set of weights and realised she must be in charge of my physical therapy for today and not Kitano or one of the other nurses I’d been seeing more recently. My smile must have been relieved, because when she looked up she looked startled for a moment before returning it. My arctic-temperature room notwithstanding, it wasn’t that bad a start to the day.

    In retrospect I should have known it was only a matter of time before some idiot chose to do what one idiot that day did.

    The gym, at this time of morning, was that comfortable place in-between empty and full, when there were just enough people around that the room didn’t feel awkward and not enough for there to be contention over use of the equipment. Most of the time they never bothered me, and I basically ignored them. Until now.

    I was finishing up with a few stretches beside the mats while Chiyo, sitting on a seat against the wall, scribbled a few last things down on my sheet. “You should be nearly done with PT,” she said. “Cardio is fine, arm’s holding well, sides aren’t paining you.” She looked up. “Doctor Kitano will have to clear you, but other than that …”

    The slow smile was impossible to stop, and she actually gave me one back before looking down at the clipboard again to sign the page with a flourish.

    “That’s great,” I exclaimed.

    “Great,” another, deeper voice agreed from behind me, and I whirled around to see a man standing on the edge of the mat, his eyes on me. I recognised him, but I didn’t know his name—I just knew he was in the gym nearly as often as I was. He was shorter than me, but thicker, sturdier, with dark hair.

    “That means you can spar with me,” he continued, a slow grin crossing his face, his teeth flashing white. I resisted the shiver that ran down my spine.

    “No, he can’t,” Chiyo objected. “He’s not done yet, and he shouldn’t push himself when he’s so close to being cleared.” She ripped off the form for my therapy and forced it into my hand. Reluctantly I submitted to her light shove on my arm and, picking up my gym bag, started to move mechanically away.

    “Too bad,” said the agent from behind me. “I heard that he turned pussy, but didn’t want to believe it until I saw for myself.”

    I stopped short, my face burning, but didn’t look around at a smattering of laughter from the others I hadn’t realised were watching.

    “Wataru,” Chiyo hissed.

    Obediently I took another step, but the agent’s voice stopped me again, this time noticeably raised so I would hear it. “Guess I know he’s just all washed up, now, don’t I?”

    It wasn’t only my face burning, now. It was my whole head, throbbing with frustration and anger and my pounding heartbeat. I dropped my gym bag where I stood, letting the slip of paper flutter down on top of it, and turned around, stalking back toward the man. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Chiyo flinch and back away, but it was easy to ignore that and keep this—this upstart agent—in my sights.

    “Get on the mats,” I growled, and he took a quick, automatic step back onto them before forcing a smile.

    “Not so much a pussy after all, eh?”

    I didn’t answer. I just strode past him, making a bee-line for the centre and ignoring that fact that just about all activity in the gym had stopped so the other grunts could watch.

    Fine. Let them see. I was tired of being pranked and ridiculed. Let them have a taste of what I had to deal with every day, the fear that I lived with.

    As long as you don’t go nuts, part of me whispered.

    We faced each other and I exhaled, balancing myself on the balls of my feet and trying to force my mind to pay attention instead of just seethe. He was shorter than me, but heavier and probably remembered all his forms to boot. I didn’t particularly care.

    I don’t know what the signal to start was; I just knew that one minute there was silence as we sized each other up and the next there was motion. His fist lashed out and my arm came up to deflect it of its own accord, and then I stepped in, thrusting my open hand forward only for him to block me. It felt like punching a wall, jarring my whole arm and making my palm sting.

    He gripped my wrist and yanked me forward as he turned, trying to pull me off my feet. My heart leapt and my other hand lashed out toward his face, my knee toward his groin; with a hiss he let go to block them both. I didn’t try to resist the fall he’d pulled me into, ducking, rolling and coming up on my feet enough of a distance away to give me room to work with.

    To my surprise I found my heart still pounding, but pounding with something different this time. I was still angry, but that was somehow distant, completely pushed aside in favour of the unwavering instinct. Practicing my forms had been difficult without something to guide me, but now I found all I needed was to have something to respond to.

    My mind had forgotten. My body hadn’t. It was exhilarating.

    It took a moment before I realised that the reason my face felt so tight was because I was wearing a fierce grin. Slowly, a similar expression spread over the face of my opponent, and his eyes gleamed.

    There was one last beat of stillness, and then, once again, we were both in motion. This time neither of us stopped. Even as it was happening, I couldn’t remember what my actions were; we were too fast, and my mind had spent too long in convalescence for me to spare the thoughts to try and keep up consciously. And I wasn’t as fit as I should’ve been, because some of the movements felt harder than I was subconsciously expecting them to be.

    But I put it out of my head—I put it all out of my head—and just let myself move.

    I don’t know how long it went on for. It seemed like no time at all before I was panting, tired, having to measure my breaths with my actions. My opponent didn’t seem to be weary at all.

    Have to end this, I realised in some dim corner of my mind. And fast, or else he’d win just by outlasting me.

    The grunt dodged a strike by dropping and sweeping his leg around, but I somersaulted over him. He tried to turn and meet me, but I was faster and I’d taken him by surprise—I blocked his clumsy blow with my elbow, striking his shoulder with my hand to collapse his arm and bend it back. A quick foot to the back of his knee put paid to any attempt to rise. With a grunt of pain he arched his back, trying to give his arm more slack, and without thinking I put him in a headlock.

    He froze. It was impossible to miss, given how close I was to him and the fact that I had my forearm against the pulse-point in his neck. For a moment I froze too, feeling the quick beat and knowing that if I wanted—

    I exhaled slowly and released him, stepping back. He leaned forward against the mat, one hand coming to his throat, and released a breath of his own.

    For a moment I didn’t look around. My head and heart still pounded, and my hands were shaking with adrenaline and a level of fatigue they just weren’t used to. But despite all that, it was difficult to miss the dead silence in the gym.

    It made me come back to reality with a stab of frustrated anger. First they try to humiliate me, now they’re surprised when I fight back?

    Fuming, I whirled around and stalked off the mats, ignoring the way the agents scattered from my path. Chiyo, still near the seat, squeaked and backed away, her eyes widening. It should have made me feel guilty.

    It just made me feel angrier.

    Face so tight that it made my temples throb, I snatched up my gear and stormed out through the medical ward, the door slamming against the wall as I thrust it open. The bang made everyone in the vicinity jump, but I ignored it as I slapped the PT form down on the counter and turned, without waiting for a response from the wide-eyed nurse, toward Ishii’s office.

    He opened his door before I got there, holding his head and looking rather white. I didn’t halt my stride toward him; he just paled a little more and quickly stepped back to let me in.

    “What the hell do they want from me?!” I demanded, throwing my gear down on the chair and whirling on him as he closed the door. “They’re scared but they insist on pulling pranks and making my life hell? Am I the only one who’s trying to make things different here?!”

    Someone coughed behind me and I froze. Oh no; don’t tell me.

    “Well,” Sakaki said carefully, “and here I thought I would have to pull rank for you to be honest with me.”

    My face burned. It just figured that the one time I lost control, Sakaki was there to witness it. Damn damn damn—

    Ishii cleared his throat. “Sakaki arrived home late last night, Wataru. He wanted to sit in on the beginning of your next session. I told him I was a little worried that you weren’t telling me you’d been having trouble with the other agents.”

    I took a deep breath, and then another, my fists clenching. “Somehow,” I said, and it still sounded like it was coming out through gritted teeth, “I think I’ve sent them back to being terrified.”

    The psychic approached me, directing me to my usual chair. “Why don’t you tell us about it?”

    Sakaki, I saw as I turned, was standing in the corner beside Ishii’s desk, but as soon as he caught my eye I looked down, flushing again. “You probably already know all about it,” I muttered.

    “We know that Agents Nakamura and Hamasaki reported you were being targeted for some childish pranks, yes,” Sakaki said mildly. “They both also said you insisted on not reporting it. May I ask why?”

    I fell into the chair and put my face in my hands, rubbing it. “I didn’t want to whine,” I said, my voice muffled. “And I didn’t want to prove that I needed to be protected by you. Or that I only got where I did because you knew my father.”

    “Have others said this of you?” His voice was still that mild tone, mild but with an undercurrent of command and … something else. I shrugged without lifting my head.

    “Anderson’s a good tutor but I’m pretty sure she’s jealous I’m an executive hardly without trying. And the others …” I ran my fingers through my hair, straightening up with a bitter laugh. “I don’t know what the others were thinking.”

    I took a breath and, before I could stop myself, kept going. “I just—what the hell do they want with me? I know what I did wrong; do they have to hold it over my head? It’s like they’re punishing me just because I used to be untouchable, and now I’m not so I’m safe, and that’s stupid because we’re all members of the same Team but they wouldn’t stop—”

    “And now they will?” Ishii asked, his expression sober. “There’s a lot of fear out there, Wataru. What did you do?”

    I shook my head violently. “Nothing they didn’t want me to—except win. I just had a sparring match with one of the grunts.” And I hadn’t cooled down properly afterward, I remember with chagrin. I was going to regret that in a few hours.

    “And you won,” Ishii repeated, exchanging a look with Sakaki over my shoulder.

    “I had him in a headlock,” I mumbled and then added defensively, “I know why they were scared, but if they were they shouldn’t have been taunting me all month to begin with.”

    “And you should not have given into them, Wataru,” Sakaki said reproachfully. “You should have confronted them calmly or reported them. Either action would have proven you can maintain your composure without being weak, and that is all they needed to know.”

    I couldn’t stop either the flinch or the flush. “I just didn’t want to give them the satisfaction …” I trailed off, but the words sounded stupid and hollow, and I heard Sakaki sigh behind me. A moment later his hand fell on my head, making me jump.

    “You’re young,” he said, “and cannot remember some of the hard lessons you learned in the past. But you must not do such a thing again, Wataru. You mustn’t tempt fate. I fear we might not be able to bring you back the next time.”

    I blanched. When he put it like that it sounded like I’d done the stupidest thing in the world—let them get me so frustrated and angry that I almost couldn’t help but lose control. That wasn’t good for anyone.

    “And rest assured,” he added, “those responsible will be dealt with. You have my word on that.”

    The cold, steely undertone in his voice made me shiver, but I nodded. It was the first time I’d ever heard that particular tone from him, but it was warranted. The other agents had been playing with fire by taunting me.

    But Uncle Sakaki’s right too, I thought miserably. I let them control me. I couldn’t afford to let anyone or anything control me. Not the agents and not … not pokémon either.

    “Now.” Sakaki patted my shoulder, pulling me away from that important, somehow tantalising thought. “I have some other duties I must attend to. Wataru, I expect you to tell Doctor Ishii everything you’ve been avoiding in the past few weeks, is that understood? We cannot solve the problems you’ve been having unless we know what they are.”

    I nodded a second time, wordlessly. He patted my shoulder again and I felt him moving around the chair toward the door.

    “I’m sorry I’ve been such a nuisance,” I said suddenly, peering up at him through my fringe. He paused beside the chair and gave me a reassuring smile.

    “I know, Wataru.”

    Then he left, closing the door quietly behind him, and I took a deep breath, turning back to Ishii. Right. Time to make things better.

    ***

    I really, really wish I’d stopped to cool down yesterday, I thought, wincing as my stride pulled uncomfortably at my calf-muscles. Hours of talking to Ishii over lunch and then having to head to a tutoring lesson straight after had left me as stiff as anything before I’d slept for the night. I didn’t think I was likely to forget to cool down properly again; it was taking effort to resist the urge to limp.

    Pushing open the doors to the mess hall, I entered without looking around, and maybe that’s why I didn’t notice the looks at first—that and the fact that the noise-level didn’t dramatically decrease. It wasn’t until I turned around with my tray in hand that I realised I was getting nearly as many glances as I had when I first came to the mess hall, and it made me stop and blink for a moment.

    Then I forced myself to take a step, ignoring the attention as I made my way to my usual table. Yuudai looked up first and growled censure at someone across from him, and as they noticed I was approaching the agents fell silent.

    “Good morning,” Yuudai said, falsely cheerful.

    “Is it?” I asked. “I hadn’t noticed.”

    Oh yes, those were definite winces going around the table there; even Yuudai did it, even though he was the only one who didn’t look away. I had to wonder how many of them had been reprimanded.

    A pang of guilt made me give in and I smiled at him reassuringly as I sat. “I’m all right.”

    I was glad I’d done so a moment later, when he looked relieved. Even so, the conversation at the table was quieter than usual and he was the only one to address anything at me at all. I didn’t mind, rather relieved myself, actually, that at least one person hadn’t gone back to square one.

    “I heard what happened,” he said in a low voice when the rest of the table was occupied with their own chatter. “Frankly I’d have done the same thing. They earned it, eh?”

    “Maybe,” I said quietly, and then voiced an observation I’d made at the beginning of the meal that had made my stomach sink. “But I don’t know if Chiyo agrees. She’s sitting on the other side of the room.”

    Yuudai grimaced. “Yes, well …”

    I stared at the nurse’s back past his shoulder as I took a mouthful of rice, my brow furrowed slightly in consideration. Abruptly I made a decision and put my chopsticks down with a clack, pushing myself to my feet.

    Yuudai looked startled but didn’t stop me as I made my way through the tables toward Chiyo’s, firmly telling my nervous stomach it could damn well leave me alone or else. She knew I was coming before I got there; I saw one of her table-mates lean over to whisper it to her.

    “Chiyo?” I asked when I reached her, ignoring her tense back. She looked up. “I apologise,” I said, if not loudly then clearly, “for frightening you yesterday morning.” And then I bowed.

    She stared, eyes wide and cheeks a little bit red, and took a minute or two to answer. “I—th—thank you,” she stammered.

    I straightened and gave her a smile, and then turned to head back to my table, calm and ignoring the flurry of whispers and the buzz of adrenaline. I didn’t stop to apologise to anyone else, even though there were one or two in the hall who had been in the gym. She was the only one who’d earned the right to one.

    When I sat down at the table it was silent, but Yuudai was hiding a grin behind his hand and I nodded at him. Then, clearing his throat, Rafael held out a condiment bottle. “Soy sauce, Wa—Sir?”

    Graciously I accepted.



    Anderson looked at me measuringly as I entered the office; I nearly stopped in astonishment. Was that actually an expression not filled with disdain that I saw on her face?

    “Sit down,” she said, her voice not quite as flat as it should have been, and I obeyed, a rather unnerved but hiding it. Instead of launching straight into my lesson she leaned on the desk with her elbows and clasped her hands, staring at me over them.

    Oh yes, now I was worried. What’s happened?

    “You should have told me the other agents were stopping you from getting your study resources.”

    This time her tone was accusing and irritable, and I actually felt myself relax a little. “And give you more ammunition?” I asked sardonically, meeting her eyes squarely and not even trying to hide the fact that she didn’t like me. It hadn’t exactly worked out so well with the others, had it?

    She rolled her eyes, her lip curling. “You idiot. You not being able to study not only puts everyone on base at risk when you do something stupid with the wrong information, but it makes me look bad. I don’t like you, Himura, but I’ll be damned if I let you pull down my reputation by being a fool or an idiot with a martyr complex.”

    I flushed, not because of the insult but because it was true. If only I’d said something to someone things wouldn’t have gotten as far as they did. And Anderson, for all her snideness and jealousy, never had done anything to sabotage my prospects; I’d known that even before.

    She pointed at a sheaf of paper on the side of the desk. “Pop quiz. You’ve got two hours. Get started, and if you don’t finish it all you’re getting extra homework tonight. If you do then maybe you’ll actually learn to combine speed and quality at once.”

    I still hate her, I decided, reaching for the papers and my pen.

    ***

    With a sigh I flopped back onto my back, covering my face with my hands. “I hate statistics.”

    “It’s a good thing you’re not in administration, then,” Yuudai answered with a laugh. “Sometimes our job is nothing but statistics.”

    “Remind me not to go anywhere near your job.”

    “That’s what we grunts are for,” he said implacably, and I heard the sound of his handheld computer clatter to the desk. “I think we’re done for the day. I’ve seen my daughter do the same thing when she’s ready to stop doing her homework, and I can never get anything out of her afterward.”

    Chagrined, I shifted my hands so I could crane my head to see him. “You’re comparing me to an eight-year-old?”

    “Well,” he said, his expression carefully blank, “there are some similarities. The pretty hair, for one …”

    Without thinking about it I snatched up my pillow and threw it at him, and just caught a glimpse of his surprised expression before it hit him in the face. I laughed, leaning back on my elbows, while the pillow dropped into his hands. A moment later he joined me, though he still sounded rather startled.

    “Maybe I’m the one who should be sending a letter to your wife,” I teased. “A warning letter.”

    His returning smile was troubled. I ignored it; it happened from time to time, even with Yuudai and Aina—and especially Chiyo—when I did something unexpected. “I’m not entirely sure she’d mind,” he said in a tone of someone who was just talking for the sake of it without paying attention to what he was saying—something Yuudai did often. “She’s into those kinds of books where—” And then stopped, flushed and cleared his throat. “Er. Never mind.”

    I just snorted, half sure I knew what he was referring to and half not sure I wanted to know. “Well, if you’re going to abandon me I think I might head to the gym.”

    “Or we can see if Aina made it home on time,” Yuudai suggested instead. “She and her team were due to come in today.”

    Without meaning to I straightened, blinking. “She was? How do you know that?”

    Swivelling around on my desk-chair, he gestured me over to the computer so I could see what he was doing. Access was restricted to me, but Yuudai’s being an administrator meant there almost wasn’t anything on there that he couldn’t see anyway.

    “Look. Administrators—and executives—can see when agents check in and their expected return times. Aina’s team lead checked in two days ago with an expected completion date.” He pointed on the screen at the line indicating the call and then clicked somewhere else with the mouse.

    “I haven’t seen any of this,” I murmured, leaning on the side of the desk. “I can see when teams come in?”

    He shrugged. “Teams can come in and not be registered in the system until after their paperwork has been filed, which can be a few hours, but … yes. Here, let me show you.”

    Computer work wasn’t exactly my specialty and the way the system was laid out was, at first, confusing given I knew nothing about it, but after a few minutes I started to catch on and could navigate the team lists myself. The first one Yuudai showed me was Rafael’s, since I’d recognise the name.

    It was … oddly fascinating. Few people were willing to outright introduce themselves to me, so any names I’d gleamed had been incidental (or outright wrong, thanks to a few pranksters), but now I had concrete names to give to faces I recognise. I could see what they were doing, how well they did it, when they returned from missions and in what condition. For the first time I felt like I wasn’t just scrabbling at straws—here was something I could know. Not just about the process; I already knew that, or most of it. This let me see the process in action.

    Soon, I told myself. Chiyo had said ‘soon’. True, that had been a few days ago now, but it was still soon.

    Abruptly Yuudai clapped me on the shoulder, pointing at the screen. “Here. Look here.”

    It took me a few moments to respond because the action had startled me so much. I think he felt me jump, because he gave me a chagrined sidelong look a moment later. “Er. Sorry.”

    I shook my head, resisting the urge to smile. That had been … companionable. Following where his finger pointed, I grinned. “She got in twenty-three minutes ago.”

    “That’s just when the page was updated,” Yuudai pointed out. “She’s probably been here for a few hours by now. Asleep, I imagine; that’s all field agents ever want to do the instant they get home. Forget the paperwork, they say—just let them sleep.”

    He sounded so longsuffering that I laughed as I logged out. “Well, we’d better let her, then. I’m going to go to the gym; want to come?”

    “No. If they’ve just had a team come in the boys at admin could probably use the extra hand. I’ll see you tomorrow, Wataru.”

    “Tomorrow,” I echoed as he bowed slightly and left. I stood and stretched, glancing at the clock. It was after dinner, but the gym would still be open. I wasn’t the only insomniac in the Team. Well, that and some agents’ hours just didn’t allow them the daylight to spend. Underground as we were, what was the difference?

    I liked the gym at this time of night, actually. It was quieter than usual, with only one or two other agents inside, and they never bothered me. I barely looked around before making for the bench against the wall, pulling off my shoes. I preferred to feel the mats under my feet while I tried to work through my forms.

    After the initial frustration of being backed into the fight had blown over I’d actually found myself hoping that maybe it had broken something in my head that would let me recall the movements with more ease. No such luck; it still felt like pulling teeth, and I got them mixed around, and wrong, and that’s if I remembered them at all.

    Still, it was something to focus on, and when I remembered the feeling of … empowerment, of knowing what to do, it made it worthwhile. It made the hours go fast.

    So it felt like a shock when, sometime I don’t know how long after I’d started, someone cleared their throat behind me. I jerked a little, my breath catching, and then exhaled slowly to release the adrenaline and turned.

    It was the grunt I had fought last week. He looked rather sheepish, but also rather anticipatory, as he bowed. Not a malicious kind of anticipation … more like the expression he’d worn when he first started to fight in earnest. A curiosity, almost. “Sir. Thought you looked like you could use some help. Sir.”

    “Do you know anything about my forms, Agent?” I asked, ignoring the ‘sirs’ for now.

    He snorted. “Fuck no. But you sure do.” Taking a step onto the mat, he sidled around me until we were facing each other again, near enough that we were both within reach; I turned to keep him in sight.

    “Say if I were to do this …” Abruptly he lashed out toward my face; instinctively my arm came up to deflect the blow, and I jerked before I managed to curb the urge to step in and retaliate. He just grinned. “Yeah, you’d go like that. So if I did this …”

    This time he pivoted, dropping, his leg sweeping out. I didn’t just jump—I somersaulted, putting me some feet to his side and near his back. He was ready, completing the circle so he could block my strike to the back of his neck and aim a blow at my solar plexus which I dodged by stepping back.

    His eyes gleamed, and to my surprise I found myself smiling.

    Clearing he throat, he stood up and stepped back. “Right,” he said briskly, voice gruff. “No point in starting in the middle. Basic techniques are usually best met with basic techniques. So starting with the Form One of the style—”

    I settled back into a neutral form, limbs loose, weight evenly distributed, let his voice wash over me, my smile broadening.

    This was better. This was much better.



    Standing in front of the only wooden door the base probably had, I took a deep breath and released it slowly. It wasn’t as if I’d never spoken to Sakaki before.

    It was just that this was the first time I’d been to his office. It was rather nerve-wracking.

    It’s also making me miss saying hello to Aina, thought a part of my mind grumpily, but I squashed it. I’d have plenty of time to say hello to Aina at lunch or dinner.

    Absently straightening my uniform—ridiculous, since he’d just recently seen me in my dirty gym clothes—I knocked on the door.

    “Enter.”

    Obediently I turned the handle and slipped smoothly in, shutting the door behind me. When I turned I had to pause for a moment, just near enough to sense the timber at my back, so I could take the office in with a quick gaze. It certainly wasn’t anything like any other room on the base, even the rooms the executives got: huge, carpeted, with wood-panelled walls and a polished, equally huge desk facing the entrance. There was a smaller, more intimate table beside it, laid with breakfast cutlery.

    “Big, isn’t it?”

    I managed to suppress the twitch and turned to see Sakaki beside a small bar, watching me with an amused gleam in his eyes.

    “It is,” I admitted.

    “I probably don’t need all the space,” he said idly. “But vanity isn’t too bad a vice to have, I suppose.”

    “You, Sir? Vain?” I said dryly.

    He just chuckled, gesturing me toward the smaller table, already laid with steaming food. I drew his chair out for him as I passed, but he waved me on and sat of his own accord, steepling his hands to study me. I looked back, entirely calm and waiting for me to speak. Last time I’d been raging; let him see that wasn’t my only setting.

    At last he stirred and offered me a drink from the wine bottle.

    “Isn’t it a little early?” I asked uncertainly.

    He laughed and withdrew it, pouring a bit for himself. “Likely it is. Another vice, you could say. But as you disapprove, I’ll only have one glass, shall I?” He smiled at me, half teasing.

    “If you say so, Sir,” I said dryly. Who was I to argue, really? He was the Boss.

    “And, of course,” he continued, shifting the bottle from his glass to mine despite my words, “if I can have only one, so can you.”

    “Is that an order?” I asked, half rueful, half uncertain.

    “I thought you would appreciate the celebration,” he said benignly and with a faint smile, pulling the bottle back after my class half-full. “This morning Doctor Kitano gave permission to have you cleared for light duty. I felt you would be more interested in observing the pokémon training more than the paperwork, eh?”

    I really only heard up to the point he said ‘cleared for active duty’; the words made my heart pound with startled excitement and I drew in a sharp breath, half intending to say something without knowing what. I wound up gaping.

    Sakaki chuckled and I flushed, but a grin spread over my face nonetheless. “I—really?” Chiyo had said it would be soon, but it had still seemed as if it was something that would always be ‘just a little longer’.

    “Really,” Sakaki said, lifting his glass at me and looking far too amused. Hastily I reached for my own to follow suit, still wearing a silly grin and unable to care. “Obviously, you will only observe pokémon training at first, and there is paperwork you will need to help with, but between your tutoring and your health I fully expect you’ll pick things up quickly. Congratulations, Wataru.”

    “Thank you, Sir,” I said, feeling warm on the inside and not bothering to try and control it. Finally I could start earning my keep and proving myself to the other agents as a whole, instead of just individually.

    We both drank, and as Sakaki set down his glass he said, “Now then. Shall we eat?”

    It sounded like a good idea to me.



    I was still smiling at nothing and at odd intervals by the time I left Sakaki’s office. I hadn’t had physical therapy that morning, and was instead due to start official training with Takeshi—the man who’d challenged me those days ago. It wasn’t going to be easy; he worked me hard and left me exhausted, and now he had my measure tended to win our spars by virtue of endurance if not skill, but I was glad. It felt like I could improve with him.

    I’d actually started to head back to my room to collect my gym clothes and go directly to the gym, but then I passed the corridor leading to Inventory and stopped. I remembered seeing Aina assigned to Inventory this morning when we rifled through the admins’ database last night; Yuudai had said that sometimes field agents were assigned to it to let them wind down after a mission. (He’d said it with a frown, too, but hadn’t explained just what the frown was for.)

    Changing my mind, I turned down the corridor; I could at least give one of my friends the news before lunch! Even so, it took a little while before I found her sequestered in one of the furthest, coldest rooms in the wing; I was almost shivering by then.

    “How can you stand it in here?” I grumbled as I came through the open door. She jumped at the suddenness of my voice, then laughed a little and turned back to the box she was trying to wedge onto the top shelf.

    “It’s not so cold once you’ve worked up a sweat.”

    “Still cold, though.” I couldn’t muster the need to sound disgruntled; if anything I sounded happy about it. Okay, no more waiting. “I’ve been cleared for light duty.”

    She exclaimed wordlessly, got the box in place and finally turned, brushing her hair out of her face and grinning. “When did this happen?”

    I grinned back, almost having to struggle not to bounce on my toes. “This morning. I just came back from breakfast with the Boss. He said I could observe the pokémon training starting tomorrow afternoon, after training; we’re downgrading Anderson’s tutoring lessons to twice a week.”

    “Fantastic.” Aina positively beamed, reaching out as if to hug me or pat me on the arm before faltering. “Oh, er … S- Sir?”

    Her tone was tentative, questioning, and from the look on her face the words sounded as odd to her, now, as they always had to me.

    “Not Sir,” I said, losing some of the edge in my smile, my stomach twisting a little. “I’m not there yet, Aina.”

    “But you’re on the way,” she said, managing a flickering smile that was half proud and half unsure.

    “So? You don’t need to start siring me until I do.”

    She stared for a moment, not in disbelief as much as thoughtfulness, and then her smile firmed, small and somehow appreciative. “Right. Wataru.”

    “That’s better.” I threw her a crooked grin of my own. “Now, I have to go start my ‘official’ training. I just thought I’d stop by to tell you that and welcome you back to base before I did.”

    Her smile lingered. “Thank you. I’ll be sure not to tell Yuudai or Ichigo before you get to lunch.”

    “If they don’t already know,” I said dryly. Yuudai was administration and may have already heard I was being put back on duty, and Ichigo seemed to overhear everything. “See you later.”

    “See you.”

    Then I turned and left, absently wondering at that last smile she’d given me.

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
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    Michiyashi Village
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    PD!!!! You're aliiive!!!! omg!!!!! And with a new fic to boot!!!! yay!!!
    Very interesting what we have here. A Lance with amnesia, I'm excited to see where it all leads.
    I really enjoy our thoughts with Lance. The first couple chapters you could really feel his frustration with him not being able to see. And his being all confused and such. And I'm enjoying our look into the rocket base and all that goes on there.
    Well, I hope to read more of this PD and see where this goes. I missed all your epic writing on here and I hope to get more!!!
    jirachiman out
    Yes people, I have returned.
    Pearl FC. Arlen 1718-9710-2821
    Eat More Chicken!!! Self-proclaimed, unofficial spokesman for Chick-Fil-A.

  17. #17
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    Apr 2005
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    Blackthorn City
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    Quote Originally Posted by jirachiman876 View Post
    PD!!!! You're aliiive!!!! omg!!!!! And with a new fic to boot!!!! yay!!!
    Very interesting what we have here. A Lance with amnesia, I'm excited to see where it all leads.
    I really enjoy our thoughts with Lance. The first couple chapters you could really feel his frustration with him not being able to see. And his being all confused and such. And I'm enjoying our look into the rocket base and all that goes on there.
    Well, I hope to read more of this PD and see where this goes. I missed all your epic writing on here and I hope to get more!!!
    jirachiman out
    Yes, I'm alive. XD Thanks! I can't even remember why I chose for him to be blind in the beginning, other than I've always wanted to write a blind Lance, but it actually really worked with making him more vulnerable and susceptible to what Giovanni was saying. And delving into Rocket behind-the-scenes has definitely been fun, hee.

    Thanks for commenting. <3

  18. #18
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    Glossary
    Ratta = raticate
    Pigeon = pidgeotto


    Chapter 6
    Though I know nothing has changed

    The training arena was one of the few places I had never been, even after more than two months in the base. The rest of the place I knew just as well as anyone could—but the training arena and the laboratories, aside from the command room Sakaki had shown me, were a mystery. I had meant it that way. For a long time I just wanted to focus on catching up; it let me forget, for just a little while, what my circumstances were. Just being focussed enough did that—if I focussed hard enough to get rid of the reminders. Being in that particular wing would have been a worse one.

    It was different now, though. Sakaki and Ishii had given me clearance, and that meant they had faith in my ability to cope, and their faith gave me confidence. If they believed it, I’d just have to live up to it, right?

    That still didn’t stop me from feeling nervous as I approached the training room’s doors. Despite all the facts and figures I’d learned about pokémon, I actually have very little idea about what to expect. That they were wild seemed a given, but what sort of wildness? In the end I could only shake my head, sigh, and shove open the door.

    Lounging against the short wall dividing the seats from the arena was Ichigo, and I stopped, blinking. Was I in the right place? Ichigo looked down and waved, then beckoned, calling, “You’re late.”

    “Ichigo?” The confused word was already out before, abruptly, I remembered—Ichigo was a trainer. A grin spread over my face. “You’re the one who’s going to be giving me orientation.”

    He spread his hands, wearing that rueful, mocking smirk. “Whyever would they want to inflict you on anyone else? I’m already doomed; may as well go the whole way!”

    I laughed and let the door close behind me, moving to the centre of the arena and shooting back, “Maybe you’ll be lucky and succeed where everyone else has failed.”

    His smirk widened. It always did, when I joked back. I was starting to think he’d just been testing me, way back when, and I’d seen him only sporadically since he was released from hospital. Maybe it was me starting to feel more comfortable in my uniform, but I got the feeling I was starting to pass his ‘tests’.

    “Get your ass over here and I might have the time to try, then.” He gestured me closer and pulled a pokéball from his belt. Most agents wore them, even admins like Yuudai, but in time I’d actually stopped noticing them. It was more noticeable whenever I saw someone with a gun—the buying of them was so regulated by the government that not every agent could even get one.

    “This pokémon’s newly caught,” Ichigo told me, tossing the ’ball further into the centre of the arena. It was a basic pokéball, I saw; that meant the pokémon was relatively weak at the time of catching. You could usually estimate the strength of a pokémon by the kind of ’ball it had and how weathered the ’ball was. “But completely untrained.”

    Then I actually realised what he was doing and tensed as the pokémon materialised in a flash of red light, because if it was untrained it was sure to attack us, right? Why wasn’t Ichigo releasing another pokémon as protection?

    Only it didn’t attack us at all. It was a raticate, brown-furred and with a sturdy, compact body unlike mundane rats, its hind legs more powerfully built than usual for its kind to let it rise on two legs with ease. And it just stood there, hunched over and ears twisting this way and that, nose working as it scented the air. It did turn toward us, but then it just waited, gaze fixed on us and somehow blank. This was one of the pokémon I was so afraid of?

    It’s not a dragon, I reminded myself. It was the dragons I had to watch out for. This was just a … well, just a rat in comparison.

    Ichigo pushed off the wall and strolled toward it, and belatedly I followed. “Not gonna assume you don’t know all the stats and attacks about ratta,” he said cheerfully. “Although if you don’t, I warn you: I am going to hold it over Anderson right into next year.”

    “And she’s going to hold it against me right up until I become the Boss,” I said deadpan in response, eyeing the raticate. It still wasn’t moving. If I didn’t know any better I might have thought it was cringing. Ichigo snickered, clapping me on the shoulder.

    “You know the solution to that, right? Anyhow, you know all about ratta. I, mere grunt that I am, am just here to teach you how to train it.” His grin widened and he held out a set of keys, dangling by their ring, his head jerking toward the door opposite the entrance. “And you, mere student that you are, get to be my slave. Training gear’s in the room out back; what we want is the basket of large balls.”

    “Certainly, oh great one.” With a roll of my eyes I grabbed the keys. At least he didn’t actually try to snatch them away at the last moment, even though I was half expecting it. I jogged for the training door, brow furrowed as I sorted through the keys to find the one he’d been holding them by. That was the one that opened the door, right?

    If I’d been wrong, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Fortunately, Ichigo was likely to have gotten the same lecture as everyone else about pranking, and he chose to give me a break. The training-gear storage room was dark and not musty at all, surprisingly; actually, it smelled like oil and polish. I didn’t know what half the equipment was for on first sight, though—for all I knew it could have been a torture chamber.

    After a quick glance around I spotted the basket of foot-long rubber balls and hauled it out, huffing a bit at its unexpected weight. Ichigo rose from his crouch in front of the pokémon.

    “This should be easy for you,” he said. “All the balls take is a lot of patience and repetition. Now.” He pointed at the raticate. “Take a look at it and tell me what conclusions you come to.”

    I lifted an eyebrow as I set down the basket. “You know, even Anderson gives me more specific orders than that.”

    “Anderson has no concept of the ‘learning by mistakes’ method,” he said with another smirk. I just shook my head and turned to the pokémon, studying it for a moment. It stared blankly back at me.

    “It’s not wild,” I said without thinking, because that really was the first thing I had noticed. Then I shook my head and crouched to look closer, to use my hands. That’s what Ichigo had been doing when I first came out: seeing what condition the pokémon was in. The only problem was, he had a baseline and I didn’t.

    Still, it was worth examining. The raticate went still under my touch and I ran my fingers through its fur, stiff and coarse. It was shiny, though, I noted. Coarse to the touch but sleek against its body, and the skin under it felt faintly elastic.

    “It’s young,” I murmured, again without thinking, because it was. It had to be. This wasn’t something Anderson had covered, but I still knew.

    “Why?”

    “Because its skin is still tight and elastic; it’s not sagging like it would on an older pokémon. Its fur is thick, not patching. And it’s bigger than average, but …” I craned my head down, using a finger under its chin to lift the raticate’s face up. It didn’t resist. “Its teeth aren’t as long as they would be if it was a full adult. Not as badly stained, either. They grow faster when they’re younger, so the enamel gets replaced more quickly.”

    I smoothed out its whiskers and its—his, I saw with another duck of my head—nose twitched. “His whiskers and nose aren’t dulled and his tail’s sleek. And I can’t feel any scars under his fur.”

    “Could’ve just been lucky,” Ichigo pointed out, but I shook my head.

    “Not on top of everything else, and not at this size. He’s, what, two or three years old? Ratta mature fast and live to be around twenty, don’t they? He’s young. Nearly an adult, but not quite. Big and powerful—” I could feel the latter in the quiver of the pokémon’s muscles under my hands; more bulky than sinewy “—he can get food more easily than the others with his size, so he was relatively high in the pecking order of his family group. And he got a lot of it, too. Food, I mean. He’s not starved.”

    “What, you think we starve our pokémon?” Ichigo’s voice sounded strange; like he was trying to sound amused and not quite managing it. I rolled my eyes in his direction.

    “His skin fits him too well. If he’d been starved before he was caught he wouldn’t have filled out nearly so nicely, and not with muscle-fat ratio so clearly in favour of the former. So.” I patted the raticate on the head and pushed myself to my feet, absently brushing my hands off each other. “How’d I do?”

    Ichigo was shaking his head with a strange, only half-cocky smile on his face. “And they say your memories are gone. I’m going to win my bet with Anderson for sure.”

    I couldn’t tell if the statement was a compliment or not, and it simultaneously made my gut clench and fill with warmth. It wasn’t the first time I’d just known something without knowing how, but never like this. It felt like déjŕ vu, so crystal clear that it didn’t matter what pokémon Ichigo had pulled off his belt: I’d still have been able to answer. I knew it, the same way I knew … well, the same way I knew my martial forms, I suppose. It was too ingrained for me to have forgotten—I just needed the right impetus.

    “If you were betting on how long it would take me to learn what you have to teach me,” I said, forcing a jovial note into my tone, “you can tell her she needs to work on her student-teacher manner before she’s going to win that one.”

    He grinned. “That might ruin the fun. Catch.” My hands instinctively shot up to catch the ball he lobbed at me, but I didn’t manage it before it bounced off my chest. “Balls are versatile, but usually what they have to teach are about control. Finesse. Refinement. Want to teach a pokémon to dodge? Start with the balls. Want to teach them how to counter, either in the literal use of the attack or with another? Start with a ball.”

    “Accuracy, evasion and conditioning,” I said with a nod. Made sense.

    “Basically,” Ichigo agreed. “Unmoving targets are better to start with for accuracy, though. Balls are for precision.”

    He grinned again and threw another ball at my face; this time I managed to catch it with some juggling. It was hard to catch balls that size when I was already holding one.

    “So go ahead. Throw one of those balls at ’im.”

    I raised my eyebrow. “Here I thought I was meant to be an observer.”

    “What, you’re actually complaining I’m not making you stand on the edge and just watch?” His tone was innocence personified.

    “No.” I grinned and then glanced sidelong at the raticate. He remained unmoved, staring into space. “Will he actually dodge? He looks like there’s something wrong with him.”

    “He’s just a clean slate,” Ichigo said dismissively. “All we’re supposed to do is give him some basic training, really. Teach him how to obey commands.” His grin widened. “You’re the opponent. Throw a ball.”

    “Doesn’t he need an example first?” It seemed unfair to start throwing things at him and expecting him to know instantly what he’d been ordered.

    “You’re going to make a lousy field agent, ’Taru, just thought you ought to know.”

    … Oh. Right. Field agents had to obey orders without thinking; there was no room to stop and ask questions while on a mission. Abashed, I tossed the ball lightly at the raticate.

    “Left,” Ichigo said. The ball bounced off the rat’s head and made him start, take few loping steps away on all fours, then and turn toward me, whiskers quivering. “Wait until he stops paying attention, then move around to his left side and throw it again,” Ichigo instructed, throwing me another ball. Baffled, I obeyed. “Left.”

    Again the raticate turned, again Ichigo gave me the same order, and again and again I pelted the rat with the soft rubber balls while Ichigo tossed them to me from the sidelines. Before a half-hour had passed I was looking at the other man sidelong, half certain the man was having me on somehow. If Ichigo hadn’t already shown he could focus on the training and leave aside the jokes, I would have been more than half, but he had. And although it felt oddly cathartic to be pelting a member of the species that had so completely screwed me over, a part of me started to feel a bit bad for the raticate too.

    But there were changes—the raticate started anticipating the balls coming from the left, and a few times managed to dodge. But Ichigo kept doing the same thing, over and over, even when the pokémon succeeded. Surely once it had learned to dodge the lesson had been learned?

    Then things changed. “Go to his right,” Ichigo instructed even while I started taking steps to the left. “And don’t toss the ball until I’ve given you a signal.” I obeyed, holding back the ball until he said “Left,” and signalled me.

    The rat, at the sound of Ichigo’s voice, took a hopping step and turned to the left. It never saw the ball coming from the opposite side, but finally I got it, and grimaced. That was so obvious; why had it taken me so long to catch on?

    “Do they all learn so quickly?” I asked, moving around to the raticate’s right this time, still with a ball in hand. Ichigo snorted.

    “He’ll have forgotten by tomorrow. It’ll have sunk in by the end of the week, though. These simple verbal commands are easy—all it takes is repetition. Right.”

    The rat failed to dodge, but after the past half-hour I knew it was only a matter of time. And it was—half an hour later, the raticate knew ‘right’. And another half-hour after that, he knew ‘behind’ too. He also knew the ball was an enemy, and regardless of the direction managed to dodge more often than not—not that we were really trying, but even so. My arm was probably in worse condition than his head.

    “What other basics does it need to learn?” I asked along the way, when I switched arms the third or fourth time to give the other a rest. Turned out I was ambidextrous. Useful, that. “Attack names, but what else?”

    “Some other verbal commands,” was the answer. “Attack, defend, dodge, forward, hold. Those are the harder ones. ‘Dodge’, ‘forward’ and ‘hold’ we can do, but the other two we’ll need to teach it some attack commands first.”

    That’s almost all we did that first day. Left, right, behind, dodge, hold, over and over until I was more exhausted than the raticate was. He had already started to forget the first commands by the time we got to them again, but he only took one or two bops with the ball before he picked them up again.

    I barely looked at the clock. Ichigo’s commands had started coming faster and faster, and with the man’s grin I was half-convinced it was mostly for my benefit. By the time Ichigo called out “Lesson end” it took a few moments for the words to sink in and I was panting, my arms aching.

    At least the raticate was too. He’d taken a little while to respond to the staggered timing of the commands, but he had. Ichigo was the only one who wasn’t tired, the bastard. “And that,” he announced, “is how you start off training a pokémon.”

    “I hate you worse than Anderson,” I grumbled, not even half seriously.

    “You’ll hate me worse tomorrow,” he said cheerfully, returning the raticate and nudging the basket with his foot. “Now, it’s your responsibility to return this, and then I’ll show you where the pokémon in training go when lessons are over. Then, tomorrow, you’ll be doing all this yourself.”

    “Yes, Teacher, Sir,” I said with a mocking bow, and turned my back on the sound of his laughter to do so, rolling my eyes. And yet, as tired as I felt, I also felt … good. Accomplished. Granted, I hadn’t cottoned on to what Ichigo was doing until he all but told me, but I’d known things without being told too. And I’d survived the lesson without breaking down or being attacked or … whatever I’d been afraid of when I’d been hesitant to confront pokémon. This was easy. It was basic, so far—but oh, it was easy. I wasn’t worried about tomorrow. Possibly Ichigo was even speeding things up for my sake—or at least to see how I’d react, before he bumped me down again if necessary.

    After all those private lessons with Anderson, easy was nice.



    “I hear you had a good lesson.” Yuudai slid into the seat beside me, his tray clicking on the table.

    Ichigo told you that?” I asked incredulously, looking down at rest of my rice and trying to decide if it was worth the ache in my arms to try and finish it.

    “Well, he said he had a good lesson. That probably means he had loads of fun bossing you around,” Yuudai said with a grin.

    “I threw rubber balls at a ratta all afternoon.” It sounded like I was complaining, but the fact I was trying to repress a grin myself probably ruined that.

    “And how does that make you feel?” Yuudai asked in the sort of tone Ishii would have used had he been the one asking and trying to pry out my deepest emotional problems.

    I snorted, then let the grin break through. “Fantastic.”

    ***

    “Left. Left. Behind. Dodge. Dodge forward. Right. Left. Hold.”

    I followed the raticate around the arena, occasionally tossing a ball at it and occasionally holding it back, my tone even as I spoke the commands. On the ‘hold’ command I tossed it, watching the pokémon closely in anticipation. Last time I’d used the ‘hold’ command the raticate had—

    There! Done that! He attacked the ball right back before it could hit him on the head, his teeth flashing. The ball squeaked and rebounded in Ichigo’s direction, so I left it for the agent to get.

    “Right,” I said as evenly as I could, just before Ichigo tossed the ball, but it was hard when I wanted to grin. I’d spent the last three days wondering just how we were going to teach the raticate attack names when we couldn’t actually tell it what to attack with yet. No wonder ‘hold’ was one of the first things they were taught.

    “Judging by that cat-canary face I’m guessing you figured out the next step,” Ichigo said cheerfully as the raticate dodged his ball. I caught it and threw him a half-sheepish, half-exasperated look. It must have turned out more eager than I thought, because he laughed.

    “When do we start the next step?” I asked, and added absently, “behind.” The raticate didn’t instantly respond, so I sharpened my voice and motioned at Ichigo to pinpoint the command with two balls instead of the one. “Behind.”

    The raticate dodged.

    “Soon as they start fighting back, usually. We’re not replacing one training with another—just adding onto it.” He smirked. “Hope you’re ready, because these sessions are going to get long.”

    “No wonder you people spend all your time in the training room,” I grumbled. All this repetition took its time, and if one afternoon was for the six basic commands, well … “How do we get him to distinguish between the ‘attack’ command and the attack name?” He was already defending—just defending with a technique. I just couldn’t figure out how we were meant to translate ‘attack’ when all he’d done so far was wait for the balls to come to him.

    “Later. Toss the ball already.”

    “Hold.” I tossed the ball. The raticate’s teeth seemed shrouded as he snapped them at the ball, and even though I could see Ichigo’s mouth opening to name the attack it felt perfectly natural to say, “Bite.”

    The ball slid out from under the raticate’s teeth and went bouncing across the floor, ash-like marks left where the raticate had hit, but Ichigo didn’t move, so I retrieved it myself. “And how,” he asked as I came back, “the hell did you know that was Bite?”

    “I don’t know,” I said. Except that I did. It was in the raticate’s jaw-speed—for a raticate, nearly everything was jaw-speed and –strength and the angle of application. A raticate’s Super Fang could easily crush a small rock—or a pokéball. It was a technique they used to crush bones and cripple opponents. Hyper Fang could tear flesh off the bone. I’d read that in one of my stats books.

    But I knew that that had been Bite, and not the myriad of other jaw-related attacks raticate used, because the attack had been quick and snapping, meant for stunning with pain, and had pushed Dark energy into the fangs. Something like Super Fang was intended for power—to crush, hold on, and never let go. It was slower and the angle of the lower fangs compared to the longer upper ones was completely different. Crunch was more like that too, with the added bonus of using Dark energy, but it was also meant to be more of a death blow than a crippling blow. And with Hyper Fang the angle was different again, meant to strip flesh, almost more a series of lightning-quick gnaws than a bite.

    I’d been able to call the raticate’s age and health before capture almost perfectly; I looked it up in the database after the first training session, just to confirm. Sure, that sort of thing came easily with experience, but if you knew basic physiological facts, a well-informed trainer could have come to the same conclusions. It made my performance that first day less unnerving, because I could have easily just happened to study it.

    But not this. They didn’t write books on the fine nuances of biting techniques for raticate. This was something that came with experience. And part of me didn’t want Ichigo to know I was remembering it. There were some things, some terrible things I’d done, that I didn’t want to remember at all. What if this was just the beginning?

    “You’re a fucking terrible liar, Wataru,” Ichigo said bluntly and without the hint of a joke in the least. I winced. “You know exactly why that was Bite and not something else.”

    “I don’t remember how or where I learned it, though,” I offered.

    Ichigo snorted. “This sort of thing you just pick up over time and never remember exactly where you first started noticing it. Well, fine.” He pointed at the raticate. “Since you apparently already know half the **** I’m supposed to teach you, show me.”

    So I did. We ran over the commands again. Over and over. Most of the time we used the ‘hold’ command the raticate used Bite, but several times he used Hyper Fang and once he used Crunch. And I knew the difference.

    Every time.

    ***

    “Right. Behind. Left. Behind. Dodge. Behind. Right …”

    The training-room door opened and closed quietly. I spared it a glance and looked away before registering that someone had actually come in, and hesitated. It was our eighth day training the raticate, and I’d never seen anyone in the room aside from us.

    It was Ichigo’s finger-snap that got my attention; I pulled my mind together and tossed the ball at the raticate, ignoring the trio that gathered at the wall. “Defend with Bite.”

    The commands came before the raticate had the chance to respond on his own. We’d started combining technique names with the ‘defend’ command yesterday; he was still getting used to it. He responded perfectly well to the ‘Bite’ command, but if a ball was lobbed at him without the ‘hold’ command’ he had as much chance of dodging as actually defending.

    It was only a matter of time. That was one thing I’d learned: it was always only a matter of time. But I’d also learned one or two other things, too. Like the fact that he responded better to a sharp, authoritative order than a calm one. It wasn’t a matter of fear—he responded to the urgency. If I was too calm about it he didn’t react as quickly.

    I managed to ignore the newcomers up until Ichigo called out, “Session end,” and by the time he did Raticate had started to pick up ‘defend’ on his own more times than not. It didn’t prove anything—yet. He needed to be able to remember it long-term, and that would take a little while longer yet.

    So I wasn’t quite expecting Ichigo’s next suggestion.

    “Right. I think it’s time for a battle, then,” Ichigo said briskly, and I paused in the motion of lifting Raticate’s pokéball.

    “I beg your pardon?” I asked incredulously. He just waved a hand.

    “You’re pardoned.”

    “Ichigo!”

    “What? I mean it. He knows all the basic commands, and even if he doesn’t defend without an accompanying attack order, he doesn’t need to. It’s about time we took a look at how far your training will hold up under pressure and how much further it has to go.”

    … It made sense. I just wished he hadn’t chosen to spring this on me while there were others watching. What the hell were they doing, anyway? If they wanted to use the room, it wasn’t like they couldn’t see it was already in use. Ichigo has explained early on that we didn’t train multiple pokémon in the same room—not unless they were being tag-trained. Otherwise it risked the sessions crossing by accident.

    No, I realised with a sinking feeling. They were here to watch me. What I couldn’t figure out is if Ichigo was doing this now to make me look good, or show me up.

    I had a bad feeling it might be the latter. This was Ichigo, after all. He was a friend, not a saint.

    The training-room arena was small, but I’d taken a quick look around the other rooms at disposal. This was for the low-level pokémon—the ones without the truly terrain-affecting attacks. We took our places on each side. It wasn’t going to be a true battle; not really. Raticate was probably going to be reduced to constantly defending. That wasn’t the point.

    There was still a part of me that chafed at the one-sidedness.

    The pokémon Ichigo released was a persian. Well, alright. So at least we were both even when it came to using special attacks, assuming he hadn’t taught the cat something like Thunderbolt … which he probably had. How was Raticate meant to defend against something like that?

    … Well, he wasn’t, I guess. That was what the plain old ‘dodge’ command was for.

    “Now then,” Ichigo said calmly, but I didn’t think I was missing the glitter of excitement in his eyes. Of course; who wouldn’t enjoy showing me up? Only a handful of agents hadn’t wanted to or hadn’t tried, and Ichigo hadn’t been in either category. “Use Fury Swipes.”

    Almost too fast to see, the persian bounced. It felt like I barely had time to shout, “Defend with Tail Whip and dodge!”

    I panicked at the command a moment later; I hadn’t been thinking. Was that too complicated? That was too complicated—two totally different commands at once, we’d never done that before. What if Raticate didn’t know how to—

    The rat’s tail flashed out and Persian instinctively shifted its focus from rat to the sudden movement apparently striking it from the side. It gave Raticate the chance to dart away from the cat’s sharp claws and wheel back around, teeth bared. I exhaled, my heart already pounding. Never underestimate the value of instinct; I had to know that better than anyone. Pokémon were wild beings, and wild beings couldn’t help but react to sudden movement.

    “Scratch,” Ichigo called, and I countered with “Bite!” The persian’s paw shot out, and then was yanked back in quick succession before Raticate’s snapping jaws could close on it.

    “Attack with Hyper Fang,” I ordered, and caught Ichigo nodding out of the corner of my eye. ‘Attack’ wasn’t a command Raticate knew—but Hyper Fang was. And Persian wasn’t a ball; it was a real, tangible threat right there in front of him. He had no reason to wait and see if the cat would come to him.

    Raticate lunged and Persian darted to the side, but not before the rat’s long teeth scraped a furrow in his side. Hissing, Persian pounced, accompanied by Ichigo’s command of “Fury Swipes!”

    I already had a counter, and there was fierce victory in my voice when I spoke. This was easy—as easy as reading Raticate had been on my first day. “Dodge forward and Hyper Fang!”

    Ichigo winced. Raticate dodged forward—right under the airborne persian. And then used Hyper Fang. On its underside.

    I wasn’t anticipating the scream of pain a cat could make. I wasn’t anticipating it at all. It made my heart leap to my throat and then start pounding somewhere down in my twisted stomach. The sharp copper scent of blood made me feel sick to my gut, and for a moment I had a fleeting sense of déjŕ vu so sharp that I forgot just where I was, whether I was actually there or somewhere else in the cement corridors—

    “Quick Attack!”

    I blinked and saw the arena in front of me again, Raticate with his fur bristling and his teeth stained red, Persian leaving a spray of red droplets in its wake as it flashed across the arena nearly too fast to be seen. Nearly.

    “Dodge left. Tackle.”

    My voice sounded distant; I was actually vaguely surprised to hear it at all. Raticate darted to the side, turned on his heel and then charged the Persian just skidding to turn itself.

    “Right!” Ichigo shouted, and the cat just barely managed to dodge, Raticate’s shoulder grazing its haunch.

    Even that light touch made the cat almost stumble and fall, but then there was a moment of stillness and I was able to actually see its condition. It took a few moments—at first all I could see was the blood staining its underside, but then I saw something long and thin protruding from the ragged wound and realised it was a rib.

    Before I knew what I was doing I’d stepped forward, lifted Raticate’s pokéball and returned him. “That’s enough.”

    Ichigo raised his eyebrow. “Oi, who’s the official trainer here?”

    “Give it a rest, Ichigo,” I said flatly. “The purpose of the battle was to see if Ratta could respond to commands in action, and he’s done it. Persian’s hurt and getting weaker all the time. There’s no reason to continue with it in this kind of condition, and I’m not going to train you a new cat because you can’t take proper care of your own.”

    Besides, now Raticate had tasted blood. What if it made him go wild? What if he forgot whatever conditioning he’d been given to make him compliant? I didn’t want to risk it.

    There was a moment of dead silence in which I had time to be faintly amazed at my own tone of voice. I’d never addressed an agent in that tone of voice before—the same sort I’d used on Kitano way back when to find out my exact status.

    Then Ichigo started laughing, and if it sounded mildly incredulous I couldn’t find it in me to be insulted. Instead, with a faintly forced grin, he obeyed and returned the cat. “Persian’s got a lot of levels on your rat. A few broken ribs and an open wound isn’t going to put her out of the fight. But, fine. Whatever you say.”

    I exhaled with a whoosh, and all of a sudden felt weak in the aftermath of adrenaline. “Yes, well, there’s not much point in breaking your tools during a test-drive, is there?”

    “Guess not.” He sounded cheerful, but there was an undercurrent in his voice too. I just wasn’t sure what it was. Maybe I was just progressing faster than he’d thought … or maybe it had never fully occurred to him that, one day, I’d be giving orders to him again.

    Maybe that day was closer than either of us had imagined.

    ***

    “Sir.”

    The agent just coming to the table I had just left stepped aside and saluted with the hand not holding his tray. Aina’s gentle prod in my back helped me not to falter, but I still couldn’t help but glance behind me after we’d passed the man, half expecting him to be laughing with the buddies he was joining.

    He wasn’t.

    “What happened there?” I asked out loud without meaning to.

    “Didn’t you notice?” Aina asked with a small smile. “He’s the third person to salute you today.”

    “He is?” I really hadn’t noticed, but come to think of it, hadn’t someone saluted when I came into the mess hall? I’d just assumed they were directing it at someone else. And before that … it had just been in the corridor, hadn’t it? “Huh.”

    Aina laughed quietly, but it wasn’t a disdainful laugh, and I found myself grinning as I scraped the detritus from my lunch into the trash and left the tray on the counter. This was new; the last time someone had saluted me it had been Aina herself.

    “Are you coming in this afternoon?” I asked. It came out more uncertainly than I’d intended, but I had a right to that. Today I was going to battle one of the other trainers with Raticate. It was a test for both pokémon, not unlike Ichigo’s sudden decision to battle, only now it was several days later and both Raticate and my opponent’s pokémon had been trained in all the basics. This would be the first time I had trained Raticate at all for two days; it was a test of the pokémon’s retention as much as his ability. Wining wasn’t really an issue.

    I still intended to win. I didn’t know if Ichigo had been holding back on me or not, but pokémon were meant for battling. Last time, I’d cut the battle off early. Last time I’d been unnerved. That wasn’t going to happen this time. Of course it was brutal; I was just going to have to get over that.

    “Of course.” Aina set her tray on top of mine. “I have a few minor duties to finish, but I’ll be at the arena. You have to go over right away, though, don’t you?”

    I nodded. “I have a few hours to train Pigeon.” I hadn’t trained Raticate, but that didn’t mean I hadn’t had to start on another pokémon. This time, Ichigo had let me have control from the very beginning, right from the paperwork to say Raticate was ready for testing and signing out a newly caught pokémon to replace him. In-between, Ichigo had started to show me some of the other training equipment with his own pokémon; most of the equipment was actually for trainers to further refine their pokémon’s skills and not in the least bit relevant to my work given I had no pokémon of my own.

    I waved goodbye to Aina and headed for the training-room to give Pidgeotto a few hours of my time. The bird was picking things up at roughly the same rate as Raticate—it was the third day, but I was already running through the ‘hold’ command and she was beginning to attack back.

    Three hours later I headed for the main arena. This was where the real battles were done, and it was where newly-trained pokémon were tested. Apparently it was something of an occasion. I was just glad I’d actually known this before I was meant to show up, and then wound up faced with an audience.

    As it was, when I entered the arena by the trainer’s entrance there were already people on the balcony, but I ignored them in favour of seeing if my opponent was already there. She was; a trainer I’d seen around once or twice, but never close enough to actually be introduced to. She just gave me a short nod of acknowledgement. A side-glance showed that Ichigo was already there too, yawning and leaning against the wall below the balcony.

    Officially, the battle could begin anytime the trainers and a judge were present, and my opponent was apparently eager to begin, because she made for her side of the arena. Automatically I glanced back up at the balcony, half to see if Aina or Yuudai were already there. I didn’t expect for my gaze to catch on a black suit and slicked-back hair, and my heart pounded at the sight of Sakaki.

    Of course he would be there too.

    I turned back to the arena, took a deep breath, and took my place. I was not going to let this rattle me. It just meant it was even more important for me to win—more important to prove the battle wouldn’t unnerve me like it had last time.

    The distant, overhead chatter of agents faded once it became clear we were about to begin. I faced my opponent and breathed out slowly, my limbs already tingling with adrenaline. Ichigo pushed off the wall and ambled to the side of the arena, glancing first at my opponent, then at me. I gave him a short nod.

    He lifted his hand. “Begin.”



    “Congratulations.” Aina squeezed my hand and then released it quickly and rather sheepishly. If she weren’t Aina she have been beaming, just like Yuudai was; the man had clapped me over the shoulder.

    “Thank you.” Aina wasn’t the only one wearing a grin, I had to admit. I hadn’t been able to stop the silly little smile all the way down to the medical ward, where I’d handed Raticate over to be healed. He was out of my hands now—Ichigo had pronounced him as having passed, satisfaction in his voice and with one of those mysterious, considering looks at me.

    My opponent’s pokémon had passed too—an ariados. In a way that was to my benefit; I knew ariados. I wasn’t sure why or how, but I knew how to beat them, even with a raticate. I’d tried not to let on, but right now, having won, I couldn’t find it in myself to care even if I’d failed.

    Abruptly both Aina and Yuudai snapped to attention, and I already knew who was behind me before he even spoke. “Well done, my boy.”

    I turned, still not trying to get rid of the smile. He looked pleased. That made my smile widen, and I sketched a salute. “Sir.”

    Very well done,” he repeated, coming forward and patting me on the arm. “At ease, my boy, and congratulations. Agent Tachibana wasn’t exaggerating when he said you were picking the training up quickly. Given your background perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was loath to rush you before you were ready. That was only your second battle, wasn’t it?”

    “Yes, Sir.” It was impossible to hide the pride in my voice, so I didn’t try, and Sakaki nodded thoughtfully and gave me another small, satisfied smile.

    “Continue, Agent Himura.”

    He squeezed my arm one last time and then turned and left, and there was no stopping the grin that plastered itself over my face. Agent Himura.

    I liked that. I liked that a lot.
    Last edited by purple_drake; 2nd November 2011 at 8:20 AM.

  19. #19
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    Yay battling!
    This was an interesting chapter. It is kind of weird how we take for granted that as soon as we catch a Pokemon in the games or something they seem to already know how to battle and do all that. So, it makes sense they need to be trained on how to actually battle in real life and all.
    Yay for more undiscovered memories slowly seeping up too. I can't wait for the part where he gets them all back and realizes what he's been doing.
    Well, can't wait for the next chapter!
    jirachiman out
    Yes people, I have returned.
    Pearl FC. Arlen 1718-9710-2821
    Eat More Chicken!!! Self-proclaimed, unofficial spokesman for Chick-Fil-A.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by jirachiman876 View Post
    Yay battling!
    This was an interesting chapter. It is kind of weird how we take for granted that as soon as we catch a Pokemon in the games or something they seem to already know how to battle and do all that. So, it makes sense they need to be trained on how to actually battle in real life and all.
    Yay for more undiscovered memories slowly seeping up too. I can't wait for the part where he gets them all back and realizes what he's been doing.
    Well, can't wait for the next chapter!
    jirachiman out
    I got stalled on that chapter for a little while because of that. XD It took a bit to sit down and hash out how training might have been done, exactly because it's not something I'd thought much about before. Needless to say, the Rockets' training methods are ultimately a little different to how the rest of the country might do it. :3

    Gonna be a while yet, but neither can I. |D Thanks for commenting!

  21. #21
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    A/N: Tad late, sorry. Explicit violence and pokemon torture in this chapter.


    Chapter 7
    Breathe life into this feeble heart

    “Sir. Sir?” Someone nudged my side and I blinked, looking up from the surface of my soup to find half the dinner table looking at me, Rafael with a trapped expression as if he’d started something he regretted.

    “Rafael asked you a question,” Aina said after an awkward pause, and I shook my head to clear it.

    “I’m sorry. Ask it again and I’ll hear it this time.”

    “Just asked you how the training was,” Rafael mumbled down into his meal. Under other circumstances I could have gone into great detail to answer that question, but Rafael had never managed to stop being skittish. He would have only asked to be polite, so I let him off with a short answer and the smile I wasn’t quite able to restrain.

    “Very well, thank you.”

    Better than well. I’d now trained over a dozen pokémon, was in the process of training two at once—during different sessions, of course—and Raticate had been assigned to a field trainer for evaluation. He’d passed with flying colours, according to the write-up I’d seen in the database; the trainer had taken him on permanently to train herself.

    Ichigo had long since stopped overseeing my sessions. After I started training my third pokémon he’d thrown up his hands in exaggerated disgust and pronounced loudly that he had nothing more to teach me. It had been at once warming and embarrassing, but the one or two trainers in the room hadn’t laughed.

    If anything, it was the opposite. People were ‘sir’ing me left, right and centre, now. I’d even caught Yuudai and Aina doing it in public. It had been a shock at first; I didn’t want them to feel like they had to be official. And yet, at the same time, I’d known it had to sooner or later. It had just always seemed like it would be ‘later’.

    In all, things were good. There was just one thing I didn’t understand, the thing that had occupied my attention just before. I’d started training my second concurrent pokémon just that day, which was why it came to mind.

    “Actually,” I said, turning toward Ichigo, just down the table. “There was one question you never answered about that.”

    “I never had to answer any questions,” he pointed out without looking up from the magic trick he was showing to the agents on either side of him using the wasabi and soy-sauce bottles. “Easiest orientation I’ve ever had to undertake. You’re good for the old record, y’know.”

    “Glad I could be of service,” I said dryly. “But there was one thing I never figured out on my own. Why aren’t the pokémon we train wild?”

    His fingers faltered, messed up the sleight-of-hand, and he frowned down at the bottles as if it was their fault. Around us, the table went a bit quieter. Obviously I’d said something wrong—again. It had been a long time since that had happened; I hadn’t missed it in the slightest. Still, I pressed on.

    “The Boss told me that pokémon are violent. And you remember he showed me that kairyuu. So why are the pokémon we train so passive?”

    Ichigo grimaced and looked up. “You know, I think that’s a question you should probably ask the Boss yourself.”

    “Why?” I lifted an eyebrow, aware of the awkward silence around us and trying to ignore it. It just made my stomach clench. “You are a master trainer, aren’t you?”

    “But I’m not in the habit of yanking the rug out from under the feet of my superiors,” he corrected, and then grinned hard. “I hate to see an executive-in-training cry.”

    I snorted, the others chuckled, and the awkward moment passed—for them, at least. It didn’t do anything for the solid knot of apprehension in my gut. There was a reason why he didn’t wanted to tell me that himself; I just didn’t know what it was.

    Maybe he was right. Sakaki had asked me to breakfast to discuss my progress within the next few days. I’d ask him then.



    “You look pensive, my boy.” Sakaki watched me over the tops of his steepled hands and I smiled sheepishly at his regard as well as the observation. “You have a question you want to ask me.”

    From the serious look on his face, he already knew what it was, too. It was hard to resist the urge to roll my eyes, but I managed; naturally, someone had reported what had happened. “Do I even need to ask it out loud?”

    “Would you prefer if it you did?” A twinkle of humour there, now, and reluctantly I grinned. I couldn’t keep it, though. The question had been gnawing on me more and more over the last few days until I’d been impatient for an answer. And yet, on arriving at the Boss’s office, I hadn’t known how to ask it without causing the same kind of awkwardness as before. If I thought Ishii would know I’d have asked him during my check-up tomorrow, but he was a psychologist, not a trainer.

    “Why aren’t the pokémon we’re training wild?” I asked. There had to be a good answer—Sakaki wouldn’t have told me pokémon were violent unless they were.

    “They are,” he said simply, “but you’ve only seen them once they have already undergone their first stage in training.”

    That was … actually, that didn’t make much sense at all. I blinked. “First stage?”

    He sighed. “If you are finished with breakfast, I believe we will need to take a walk.”

    Immediately I nodded, laying my chopsticks down and pushing the bowl back. Even if I hadn’t been done already, the coil-uncoil of my stomach would have made sure of it. His silence as we left didn’t help much either, but it wasn’t any different to previous times. He seemed to use it to gather his thoughts, so he knew exactly what to say before he said anything at all.

    Only this time he still didn’t say much. He just led me through the corridors toward the training areas, ignoring the salutes thrown our way.

    “Sir?” I asked eventually, because the corridors were definitely familiar, now. That’s when he finally spoke.

    “You haven’t been to all the arenas, have you, Wataru?”

    “No,” I answered, a little startled. “I haven’t needed to. They’re all the same, aren’t they?”

    He gave me a sad, tight smile as we came to the door to the viewing balcony for one of the biggest arenas, one of the ones I hadn’t been to. “No, my boy, I’m afraid they’re not.”

    I’d been to a few of these seated balconies before to watch other trainers at work, to view their styles and see if I could learn anything from observing them. Like then, there were a handful of off-duty agents watching what was happening below—except that this time, the atmosphere was oddly tense. One of two turned at the sound of the door opening and snapped to attention, startled by the abrupt presence of their Boss.

    “Rock Tomb!” I heard shouted as we came in, and perked up a bit. Once you got used to the sheer brutality battles sometimes had, they were pretty thrilling. They weren’t always nice but they were necessary; and even if it wasn’t fun to see the blood, analysing trainer tactics always was.

    “Are we going to watch a battle?”

    “Of a sort,” Sakaki said quietly under the roar of flames, nodding at the other agents and moving toward the edge of the balcony. That answer made my neck prickle and my stomach coil again, and I almost didn’t want to get closer to the edge. Still, when Sakaki beckoned me, I approached, trying to breathe through the dread settling in.

    The battle below wasn’t like the others I’d seen in at least one very obvious matter: there was only one trainer. The pokémon in front of him was a graveler, semi-round and stony, with its hands in the ground. The other was a growlithe with bristling orange fur and flames pouring from its mouth, the attack striking the monument of jagged rocks between it and its opponent.

    “What’s going on?” I asked, and couldn’t even grimace at the uncertainty in my voice. A battle without two trainers? Surely that couldn’t be right …

    Sakaki didn’t speak, but as we watched, the trainer on the field lifted something in his hand. Next instant the growlithe’s Flamethrower cut off with a choked howl and the pokémon convulsed, collapsing to the ground. It took a moment before I could see the spark of electricity and the collar underneath its thick fur, and it seemed forever before the trainer shut it off.

    “Wh—what—” I stammered, the bottom falling out from my stomach.

    “You remember the kairyu,” Sakaki said without looking over at me. I flushed and was grateful for his discretion, at least, when I saw the other agents eyeing us sidelong and then looking quickly away as if to pretend they hadn’t been watching.

    “Well, yes, but—”

    “We’re barely able to control it at all. We’re certainly not having much luck breaking it. Other pokémon are easier.” He nodded toward the growlithe now staggering back to its feet, panting, fur slightly singed. “Their natural rage is their enemy as well as ours. As soon as they are broken of that, they are trainable. A clean slate, as it were, without their baser, more violent instincts interfering in the process.”

    The growlithe was exhausted, I could see, and yet it still took a few steps forward, slowly at first and then faster, and then suddenly in a flash of movement too quick to be seen. The trainer pressed the button in his hand, and the growlithe shrieked, tumbling to the ground only a few feet away, rolling over and over the ground and shuddering with the electric shock.

    “But …” I couldn’t look away. It was horrific and fascinating in equal measures, making my skin crawl. The trainer shut off the collar, but this time the growlithe didn’t rise and just lay there, breathing.

    “We don’t revel in this duty, Wataru,” Sakaki said quietly. “It would be better if it weren’t necessary at all, of course. But it is. The way the government would like to believe is best results in thousands of pokémon-related injuries every year. Pokémon turning on their trainers. Attacking them. All because their rage drives them to it.”

    The trainer indicated for his graveler to approach and the pokémon lumbered closer to the growlithe, poking the dog with one huge hand. Growlithe twitched but didn’t move to attack. The trainer looked up toward the balcony and nodded. It felt as if the nod was permission to made my stomach turn into stone; it certainly felt heavy enough.

    “I would like you to learn how to do this.”

    At first I thought Sakaki’s voice was just a result of the ringing in my ears. Then I managed to croak out, “What?”

    “You are a trainer, Wataru,” he said simply. “The best. Trainers are responsible for all aspects of making a pokémon eligible to be used as protection—including this. Your education would not be complete without it.”

    As I watched the trainer bent down to examine the growlithe, hand absently stroking through its fur, before returning it to its pokéball in a flash of red light. I felt numb; part of me wanted to refuse, but I couldn’t. Sakaki was my Boss, and I was just like those enraged, wild pokémon. That’s what my medication was for—so I wouldn’t be like them all over again. He didn’t have to take that risk for me, but he was.

    I owed it to him not to mess up that gift. If that meant I had to break pokémon into being useful creatures instead of sociopathic ones, I couldn’t do anything less.

    ***

    Ichigo was looking at me sidelong. I didn’t even look around to know that he was; it felt as it his gaze was burning. I was grateful Sakaki had banned anyone else from watching, but Ichigo alone wasn’t helping the fact my stomach was trying to drive my lungs out of my body. Wasn’t it enough that I had to learn to do this in the first place? And to think I’d been wary about the battles.

    This was nothing like a pokémon battle. It wasn’t about defeating an opponent—it was about hurting a pokémon into submission.

    “I don’t have any pokémon of my own,” I said, trying hard not to glance down again at the pokéball in my hand. It was hard to make myself believe that I’d just been pointing out a flaw, not trying to find a way out of it. Something about this whole situation made my skin crawl.

    “That’s why I’m here,” Ichigo said negligently. “You’ll be using one of mine.”

    I took a deep breath and held it, counting off five before letting it out. “Alright. What do I do?”

    “Pigeon will be groggy when you let it out, so just step away quickly.” He tossed a pokéball at me; it was only reflex I caught it. “Let Persian defend you, but don’t attack Pigeon directly. She’s just there to make sure you don’t get filled with beak-holes.”

    He grinned but I grimaced, releasing Persian first. She yawned and stretched, blinking sidelong at me warily. I clipped her ’ball to my belt and unclipped the remote control I’d been given. The one that controlled Pidgeotto’s shock collar.

    Then, with another deep breath, I tossed Pidgeotto’s ball out so it would land a distance away and stepped back quickly. The flash materialised into a bird a little bigger than the one I’d trained previously, with four feet worth of wingspan, and not nearly so passive. No, this one shrieked and beat its wings almost the instant it was out of the ball, and I instinctively covered my face with an arm against the sharp buffet.

    “Use the collar before it turns into a Gust!” Ichigo shouted from the sidelines. I pressed the button on the remote control. The pidgeotto shrieked, the sound high-pitched and drilling into my head, and I looked up as the wind died.

    I shouldn’t have. The bird hit the ground, convulsing and shrieking and hurriedly I turned the collar off, swallowing hard once, twice, three times to keep my stomach down.

    “Ichigo—”

    “Keep your focus on the damn bird!” he barked, so suddenly and forcefully that I flinched.

    “But—”

    TSSSEEER!”

    RRREEOW!”

    I jerked back at a sudden movement—the pidgeotto, back in the air and diving at me. How had it done that so quickly?! But Pidgeotto wasn’t the only one moving; Persian leapt to intercept. They collided with one another, rebounded, Persian landing on her feet with only a minor stagger and Pidgeotto’s spinning flight-path stabilising after a moment. It dove again, shrieking.

    “The collar!” Ichigo’s voice was barely audible over the bird’s scream, all of it ringing in my ears, but I obeyed. The pidgeotto dropped. This time I took a few moments longer to react, and before I could press the button to turn the collar off Ichigo spoke instead. “Count off thirty.”

    “But that’s too—”

    “Thirty!” he barked again. “Twenty-nine! Twenty-eight! Twenty-seven!”

    He kept counting. I closed my eyes, kept them closed so I didn’t have to watch the pidgeotto buck on the ground, and took a shaky breath. My hands were trembling; I clenched them. That, I could hide—but not the raggedness of my voice. “Twenty-three. Twenty-two. Twenty-one.”

    They’re dangerous, I told myself firmly. They’re dangerous, they’re enraged, they need to be broken of the rage before they can be trained, this is necessary.

    “Eighteen. Seventeen. Sixteen. Fifteen …”

    So why did it still feel like this was wrong?

    ***

    I’m standing in an arena, an arena without places to hide. My heart’s pounding; there’s a bird in the sky, shrieking, preparing to attack. There was someone else here, but when I turn around there isn’t anyone, just an arena that stretches on and on and on, the arena and the bird.

    There’s something in my hand and I know it can help me. When the bird dives I press the button, but nothing happens, and then I can’t move at all because my heart’s beating too fast and my muscles don’t want to work. The bird’s claws rake forward and its whole body hits me on the chest, sending the both of us tumbling in a flurry of limbs and feathers and—

    Only there’s no more human limbs, only feathers, and when I straighten up and shake myself I
    am the bird. Now there is someone else there—Ichigo, it’s Ichigo. I try to speak but it comes out a bird’s shriek, and then Ichigo’s lifting something in his hand, something he presses with his thumb—

    Pain.


    There was darkness as I jolted awake, my heart pounding and body trembling, and for just a moment I could feel electricity making my muscles clench, could feel the hard, hot steel around my neck. I whimpered involuntarily and curled up on my side; my breathing was ragged and so fast that it didn’t seem as if I could get enough air.

    I needed to uncurl. I needed to uncurl and breathe and stop trembling and breathe and yet I couldn’t move.

    Count off. I had to count off. One. Two. Three. Four. Five …

    On sixty-three my chest loosened enough that I could take a regular breath on every fourth or fifth number. At two-hundred-thirty-two it was every second. At about three hundred I was taking them and holding them for a few counts before letting them go. It was still impossible to tell how long I lay there just relearning how to breathe. I couldn’t even feel embarrassed; I was still shaking, could barely swallow, felt damp and sticky with sweat.

    I couldn’t remember being so terrified in my life. Stupid statement, really; I couldn’t even remember most of my life. But I’d had dreams before. Nightmares. Some had made me break down; this one made me incapable of doing anything but lay in bed and tremble. Something about it had just … I had felt that pain, I was sure of it. But that couldn’t be possible, could it? It had only been a dream.

    Only a dream, I told myself. Only a dream, only a dream, only a dream. There was no way I could turn into a pokémon. It was just a metaphor for me being like them, needing to be broken and medicated so I didn’t turn like them again. That was all.

    I wasn’t sure how long it was before I really started getting aware of the room around me—a couple of hours at least. It wasn’t much, at first. The shadows seemed deeper and my eyes picked out the shapes of pokémon in them. The silence made my heart start to pound again. The windowless room felt like a prison.

    Had to get out. I shoved the covers aside and almost staggered, my legs shaking, when I tried to stand. It took me ten minutes just to walk to where my boots were; another ten to pull them on along with my jacket and pants. I didn’t bother to change my sleeping shirt—no one was going to see under the jacket. Then I was out the door, without any direction except to be able to move and reassure myself that I didn’t have phantom pidgeotto stalking me through the corridors.

    I tried the gym but couldn’t get into the rhythm of the forms we’d managed to figure out. The emptiness made my skin crawl, but so did the company of the one or two others that were there. If Takeshi had been awake maybe we could have practise my forms, but he wasn’t. I left.

    The training arenas were a definite no. So was the lab. Yuudai would be asleep. So would Chiyo. Aina …

    Aina had nightly inventory duty this week. For a moment I hesitated in the cross-corridors; then with a deep breath I turned down toward the supply wing. At this time of night, the corridors in the supply wing were nearly empty. I couldn’t decide if that was a bonus or not, and walked quickly to escape it. I didn’t want strangers around, even other agents—people who’d be watching me, judging me. Yet I didn’t want to be alone, either.

    It took a little while for me to notice the singing. It echoed slightly, which was the only reason I could hear it at distance; some of these corridors were wide to allow carts through. It wasn’t a terribly good singing voice, either, but it was a voice I recognised. Eventually I found a door standing open, one of the general supply rooms, and when I reached the door I saw Aina inside, clipboard in hand, tallying the inventory.

    It was strange. I wanted her company, but the instant I got there I didn’t move into the room. I just stood there watching her instead, feeling weak and wrung out and yet soothed by watching her do her chores and listening to her idle, half under-the-breath singing.

    She had to notice me eventually. I just didn’t expect it to startle me as much as her when she turned around and then jumped with a shriek.

    “What are you—don’t do that,” she gasped, clutching her clipboard to her chest, and pressing a hand to her eyes.

    “Sorry,” I mumbled, trying to take control over the sick churn in my stomach the sudden adrenaline spike had caused. It didn’t occur to me that I must have looked awful until she frowned and came forward, one hand automatically lifting toward my forehead before she checked herself and let it drop again.

    “Are you alright? You look horrible.”

    “I had a nightmare,” I admitted, but not reluctantly. Aina had never made fun of me. “It was a bad one.”

    “Oh.” There was a moment of awkward silence, but then she gestured toward one of the boxes, tugging gently on my sleeve. “Come on. Sit down for a little bit. I need to finish this inventory, but I could use some company.”

    “I don’t think I’m going to be very good company.” I let her lead me and sat with a sigh. It had been hard to tell just how rubbery my legs felt until I was off them. Leaning back against the crate behind my new seat, I found my eyes actually sinking a bit as I watched her, head tilted back so I could see her work beside me. Yet the idea of actually trying to sleep, going back to that dark-filled dream, made my stomach twist with dread.

    “I finished breaking the pigeon today.” Why the hell had that come out? Aina paused, half turned toward me, and nodded as if prompting. “It took five days. Ichigo says that’s par for pigeon.”

    Five days, every afternoon, torturing a bird that wasn’t responsible for its instincts. I needed to change the subject. Now. “Why are you on inventory? I thought this was a job for admin and supply agents.”

    Was it my imagination, or did she just flinch? “We all have to pull our weight.”

    “But you’re a field agent and you haven’t been on a mission recently,” I pointed out. “Field agents don’t get assigned inventory this long after a mission unless they—Oh.” Unless they did something wrong. I blinked. Aina did something wrong? That was … a really strange thought. An irreconcilable thought. I’d seen Aina’s stats on the database; she was a good trainer, a good supportive agent. And she was too nice, too even-minded, to have had anything to do with disciplinary problems. “Your last field lead must have been a dick. What did you do, turn off his favourite radio station?”

    “No.” She marked something down on her sheet, clearly avoiding looking over. “He doesn’t assign inventory for stupid things, Wataru.”

    She really didn’t want to talk about this. If the alternative had been anything but what it was, I’ve have regretted bringing it up; as it was, the least I could do was drop it. But not without a final word. “He must be a dick,” I muttered, “to give it to you.”

    Now she looked over, and her expression made my gut clench. She was blushing, and maybe on another night I’d have teased her about that. But there was also something tired, an edge of pained sadness—a lack of the semi-formal barrier she usually kept up between us because of my rank, even when we were alone. It was in her eyes and the soft, resigned smile. She put a hand on my cheek, and my chest clenched and my stomach fluttered in equal amounts.

    “You’re a sweet man,” she murmured.

    My breath caught. For a moment it didn’t matter that I was supposed to be an executive and she was just a field agent, or that I was insane and she wasn’t, or any of the other things I was supposed to keep in mind. What mattered was that her face was sad, even with the tiny, wistful smile in the corner of her mouth marking some kind of acceptance I just couldn’t see.

    What mattered was that I wanted to make that expression go away. That she was kind and gentle and hard-working and unafraid of me, and shouldn’t need to wear that expression at any point or for any reason.

    That was why I took her hand and pulled her down to kiss her.

    It didn’t work as well as I’d intended. If I’d intended anything. It was hard to tell; I hadn’t even been really thinking. The action took her by surprise so she tripped on the box and landed on me with an oof; the clipboard whacked me across the head when she instinctively reached out to catch herself; and the kiss turned out to be less on the mouth than on her cheek.

    “Oops,” I muttered, and felt my cheeks heat up a bit.

    Oops?” she repeated, sounding shocked and on the verge of laughing both at once. I gripped her around the shoulders to pull her up so she could find her feet and a proper seat on the box instead of half sprawled across me. This time I held her face steady with a couple of fingers on her chin and then leaned down to kiss her. It was the first kiss I could remember giving—soft, a little quicker than I wanted, a little more tentative than I’d intended.

    She smelled like apples.

    “There.” When I pulled back this time my heart was pounding, and despite the fact that I’d already been insensate with terror just a few hours earlier I found myself smiling. She blinked up at me, her expression more shocked than amused.

    “I—you shouldn’t have done that,” she said at last.

    That wasn’t the reaction I’d been hoping for. I hadn’t even realised how much lighter my stomach had felt until it sank again. “What? Why not?”

    “Because you’re an executive and I’m just a grunt.”

    She was frowning now. I had to resist the urge to wipe away that frown with my thumb, but I couldn’t keep my hand from twitching up in automatic action first, so I brushed a stray bit of fringe behind her ear instead. “Is it really so important?”

    She didn’t pull away. “Yes.”

    “I could always promote you.”

    Now her expression changed, flickering so rapidly from stoic resignation to wide-eyed panic that I wanted to hit myself. “Please don’t do that.”

    “I—” Alright, now I was at a loss. And kind of hurt. “Why? Not that I would, if you didn’t want to, but—why?”

    “I don’t want to be a team lead,” she whispered. “I don’t want to have to order people into danger or decide who lives and who dies. That’s why I’m here, Wataru. He ordered me to kill someone for the sake of the mission and I couldn’t. I’m too soft.”

    Soft. Aina. Soft. Who the fuck had told her that?

    “I’m insane and violent,” I said quietly. Her head jerked slightly and she opened her mouth as if to object, but I continued quickly before she could. “I’m insane and violent and I killed members of my own team, and yet you were the first person other than Sakaki to talk to me without acting like I was going to lose it at any moment. The first person to tell me your name. To treat me like I’m human. That isn’t soft, Aina, and if you need to want to kill to not be soft then I wouldn’t want you like that anyway.”

    Even if it meant following orders.

    She looked up at me like she was a deer in the headlights and I had to look away, running a hand through my hair. I hadn’t meant that to sound so heartfelt, even though it was true. “That’s just how I see it, anyway,” I mumbled.

    For a few moments neither of us said anything; I leaned my head back against the crate behind me with a thunk and a sigh. Aina didn’t try to move, so we stayed sitting like that, our thighs pressed together. It was … nice. Companionable. Maybe that was all we were supposed to be.

    Except then she sighed too, and then she leaned on me, all her weight pressed against my side and her head on my shoulder. It made my stomach flutter again. “Can we not tell anyone?”

    The smile was impossible to stop.

  22. #22
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    AWWWWW!!!! Adorable!!!
    Interesting chapter. Now we see Lance's previous feelings coming back. He knows it's wrong. It seems we're getting somewhat closer. Though that is kinda an interesting concept. If they're wild when we catch them and they pretty much just want to hurt us, how do they become automatically obedient?
    And yay for romance! It's cute, and very well written. I need to figure out how to do that well for my story...
    Well good stuff PD, I can't wait for the next one!!!
    jirachiman out
    Yes people, I have returned.
    Pearl FC. Arlen 1718-9710-2821
    Eat More Chicken!!! Self-proclaimed, unofficial spokesman for Chick-Fil-A.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by jirachiman876 View Post
    AWWWWW!!!! Adorable!!!
    Interesting chapter. Now we see Lance's previous feelings coming back. He knows it's wrong. It seems we're getting somewhat closer. Though that is kinda an interesting concept. If they're wild when we catch them and they pretty much just want to hurt us, how do they become automatically obedient?
    And yay for romance! It's cute, and very well written. I need to figure out how to do that well for my story...
    Well good stuff PD, I can't wait for the next one!!!
    jirachiman out
    Keep in mind that Lance is an unreliable narrator at best; what Giovanni and the others are telling and showing him isn't necessarily true, as long as it keeps him agreeable for their purposes. ;3

    Glad you enjoyed it; thanks for commenting!

  24. #24
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    Remember how I said in that other place I would look at this after exams? I'm a slow reader. =p

    But it is a good reminder for myself to check out your work sooner rather than later, because as usual I thoroughly enjoyed this (or leastways what is here thus far but I imagine I'll also enjoy the rest =p). The whole brainwashed theme is done very well here and it all sounds so realistic - Lance's thoughts seem quite well communicated to us. And I also like the small bits and pieces of his past coming back to him in his dreams - I'm now waiting for him to finally wake up and see how the heck he'd react because I imagine it would be most awesome to see the potential events following that. =p

    In particular I quite liked how you did the training sequences there - it's a neat concept for how trainers do it, and I also like how Lance is suddenly quite uncomfortable with learning that the Pokemon are firstly broken before their training begins. (I also now wonder about if TR have a deal with some company that makes balls for that =p). And the last part there with Lance and Aina was particularly well done too - as jirachiman876 said it was quite cute and certainly convincing. I also enjoyed seeing how the grunt's attitude towards him slowly changed as time went on.

    One thing I'll complain about though is the fight Lance had a few chapters previously (and the case afterwards too when the grunt began teaching him) - sure, it may be a case of Rule of Cool and all in which case this can probably be disregarded but having done karate for a good while and knowing a lot about how fights go, I didn't find the instances of Lance somersaulting over attacks to be realistic. Basically that leaves you rather vulnerable in fighting and is not easy to perform (generally you'll never see it done in real cases) And I find it quite an odd action for him to suddenly remember and choose to perform as opposed to other ones that would be ingrained far more in one's muscle memory had he done a lot of fighting before (which I imagine is the case).
    He was yanked toward one and pulled into light and sound and ohgodspain
    I'll admit I initially read it as 'oh god spain', not 'oh gods pain', which struck me as an odd thing for him to say. XD
    They went, and he and another—someone warm and strong, if battered, and very, very large—they rose to meet the shadows with lightning and flame.
    This bit sounded a bit too disjointed imo to really get for a while what was being said, even though it might have been intentional, given the nature of the prologue.
    I could smell … something. Something sterile. It burned my nose when I tried to breathe too hard, but something burned in my chest as well when I did and I only just kept from coughing. I was resting on something soft, and even though the heaviness pushing me into it was keeping some of the pain back it was also receding fast. My head hurt. My chest. My arms … everywhere hurt. I tried to move and whimpered instead at the pain.

    There seemed to be a pause in the sounds, but I was just trying to breathe without moving too much or, well, doing anything too much. Opening my eyes seemed like a good idea at that point, only they were one of the things that hurt most. They burned, but there also seemed to be something across them which was coolish and a little soothing—
    Pretty nitpicky but burned appeared thrice there and seemed once too often for myself.
    “Thank you for telling me,” I said in a small voice. “The truth, I mean.”

    There was a smile in his voice when he answered. “Why, you’re welcome, Wataru.”
    I also enjoyed some deliciously ironic moments like this one. =)
    It was that which made me flush the deepest—I knew perfectly well how I’d gotten there, thanks. I didn’t need some snide agent reminding me.

    Somehow I got the feeling I was going to be reminded constantly.
    Also seemed a touch repetitive there with 'reminded'.
    “Unmoving targets are better to start with for accuracy, though. Balls are for precision.”
    Maybe something like 'Stationary targets' would sound better than unmoving.

    Now get to writing more! =p

    A parody of the Pokemon Colosseum game, full of pastries and Miror B.
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