Blood Spatter: Part Seven

RECAP of Part Six: Kiril and Miho finally relent to the inexplicable attraction that has been drawing them together, and Miho finally contacts a concerned yet still cryptic Sebastian. Following information from the vampire king of Prague, Jazz and Konstantin are discovered, but it is not entirely a happy – nor peaceful – reunion.

In the past I have felt like a bit of a grandma for carrying a handkerchief, but right now I’m glad to have it. If I could, I’d be sitting in Jazz’s lap. I want to curl my arms and legs around her and never let go, but I actually feel pretty weak with relief that she’s still… alive.

That’s the other thing isn’t it? Kiril and I talked about the possibility, but now the reality is squeezing my hand almost painfully.

Jazz is a vampire now.

Even in my ugly crying state, I can tell Konstantin is highly apprehensive. He’s not letting Kiril out of his sight, like maybe he thinks Konrad sent us here to kill them both, but at the same time he wants to comfort Jazz who is clearly struggling with the moment.

No one really knows who should talk first, but eventually, I cough something out – the biggest question of them all.

“Why?”

“How did you even find us?” Konstantin scowls, ignoring me.

Kiril’s response is curt.

“I didn’t, she did,” he points out, indicating with his thumb in my direction. “Now answer her question.”

“Why what?” Konstantin glares, and I have to fight not to shrink back.

“And watch your tone,” Kiril snaps icily, and Jazz places her hand on my knee before leaning toward the two men.

“Cut it out, both of you,” she growls, then looks to me with such an apologetic shadow in her beautiful blue eyes I nearly forget how mad I am at her. “I’m sorry, Miho, really. It was never my intention to hurt you. Things just got… complicated… really quickly.”

Her hand is cold.

“I didn’t even know,” I sniff, “you were serious… but becoming a vampire serious?”

Jazz winces.

“We didn’t plan it like that,” Konstantin replies. “And it is my fault.”

“Not just yours,” Jazz quickly adds. “I didn’t say no.”

“I just got… carried away,” Konstantin frowns, looking into Jazz’s face apologetically.

“That is usually my line,” Kiril snorts, perhaps an attempt to lighten the mood in his own way, but it falls flat.

“It is what it is,” Jazz rationalises. “And I don’t regret it, not the vampire part anyway.”

Though Konstantin is still peering at her, Jazz’s eyes return to Miho and rest there.

“I can’t go back to London, Miho, or the UK even,” she goes on, and instantly both Miho and Kiril are shaking their heads.

“I honestly do not care what you do,” Kiril declares, pointing at Jazz, “but he is going back, unless he wants Konrad’s finest hunting him down and killing anything that gets in their way.”

Konstantin winces, so it’s clear he knows the truth in that statement.

“I won’t be leaving him,” Jazz announces forcefully, and I feel as much as see the tension in her hand, the creep of her fingers toward a fist.

“Do you even understand the predicament you have put yourself in?” Kiril presses, and I – at least – feel as if he has grown ten feet. “Konstantin is Konrad’s golden child, the one upon whom he pins his legacy because he is purportedly the elusive perfect mix of blood powers.”

It’s a surprise Konstantin doesn’t interject; he shifts uncomfortably, for though in another tone Kiril’s assertion could have been a compliment, even to my ears it sounds like a terrible and oppressive yoke.

“He has spent centuries breeding for a vampire like Konstantin,” Kiril snorts, and there is bitterness there. “Many women and many children slain because they did not meet his standards – he will not let his hard work run away with a turned for something as foolish as love.”

“You only say love is foolish because you lack the capacity to feel it,” Konstantin spits, and I cannot help the flit of my focus between the two brothers.

And in a split second that doesn’t go unnoticed by either Jazz or Konstantin, Kiril and I meet somewhere in the middle.

“No way,” Konstantin blinks, and Jazz goes that little bit further, snatching both my hands and nudging me sideways, putting her legs between Kiril and I.

No way,” she reiterates, but Kiril is unfazed.

“Do not project your foolishness on me,” he derides, a dark, jaded sound that hits me far more solidly than it should. “At least in my own pursuits I have the good sense to keep clear of Konrad’s zone of absolute destruction.”

“This wasn’t planned!” Konstantin charges, rocking to his feet, and Kiril is standing beside him that same instant, an intimidating obstacle between Jazz and I, and his brother.

“It does not matter how or why,” Kiril grates through his teeth, so low I physically feel his words. “As your reckless lady friend said, it is what it is, and what it is is a mess no amount of running will mediate.”

“You are the mess mediating expert,” Konstantin snaps back, and I’m finally at my limit, leaping to my feet and placing a hand against both their arms. Tingles spread up through my fingertips, but my annoyance overwhelms it.

“Enough!” I bark, taut and pointed. “This stupid circular bickering is getting us nowhere.”

Silence fills the space vacated by my patience.

“You want him to go back, Kiril – he needs to or Konrad will send Narumi and others after him,” I go on quickly, before I lose my steam. “Jazz won’t leave him, but going back for her is suicide – so what now?”

Licking his lips and looking slightly destabilised, Kiril takes my wrist and slowly lowers it away from his body.

“Konstantin needs to return post haste,” he says, evenness returning to his demeanour. “For now, until Konrad is appeased, he comes back with me, and Miss Mann here can take refuge at one of my estates on the outskirts of London.”

“Hide?” Jazz exhales.

“Bide your time,” Kiril corrects. “If there is any suspicion – and to be frank I would not put it beyond Arno or any of his people to attempt garnering Konrad’s favour by divulging what they discovered here – then there must be distance between you that leaves none.”

“And then what?” Konstantin huffs, sliding around his brother to sit on the arm of Jazz’s chair.

“Then I cure cancer, end war and solve world hunger,” Kiril sneers. “You be a good boy and play Konrad’s foot-stool until it is safer, but make no mistake – her life will always be in jeopardy if you continue this… relationship.”

“Could you say it with any more distain?” Jazz glowers, and Kiril’s self-confident grin only grows.

“You hooked up with the nice brother,” he leers, and I’ve had enough of the snarkiness.

“Will you come back?” I ask Jazz, but of course I’m caught between wanting her back in my life, and keeping her safe.

Biting her lip, I can see she too is in the grips of indecision, and it’s not one she wants to make without Konstantin’s input.

“I hate you, you know that?” Konstantin drops acerbically, the comment definitely meant for Kiril.

“Because I am right?” Kiril sniffs.

“Because you’re only ever right at the most infuriating of times!” Konstantin spits back, and Jazz takes this as the signal to move.

There is absolutely no way I’m letting her out of my sight, so I follow without so much as a glance back at Kiril, though the brothers remain glaring at one another.

Jazz and Konstantin had been travelling light, so there wasn’t much for them to pack up before they were ready to go. Miho, on the other hand, had far more luggage.

Though there was still so much to say, a weighty silence – a storm cloud on the very brink of breaking – followed their progress all the way to the airport where they boarded Kiril’s jet. They had encountered no problems – nothing from Arno and nothing from Konrad, and arrived back in the U.K to nothing but a limousine with heavily tinted windows. And still the thick tension persisted, all the way through the city, glancing over their shoulders, until it all gave way to much greener scenery.

But the rolling hills the farthest thing from Miho’s mind. She took very little in about the grandeur of Kiril’s sprawling estate, focused instead on trying to put all her questions and statements about everything that had happened since Jazz’s disappearance in some sort of order.

In a bedroom fit for a queen, the two men left Miho and Jazz sitting on either side of the bed. Both of them look down at where their hands were folded in their laps until Miho lifted one to rub fingers against the slowly increase throb of her temple.

“When did you know?” she asked quietly. “About the vampires?”

“Not right away,” Jazz answered, staring across the room at the balcony doors. “But, before…”

“Before what?” Miho pushed, rocking to her feet and turning around, though that only aggravated the ache in her skull. “I mean, I knew he’d been at the club, that you’d seen him outside a couple of times, but we used to share everything… I’d have thought the existence of supernatural creatures would count as pretty important to tell your best friend.”

“I think you’re well enough informed now to know why I couldn’t say anything,” Jazz frowned, tipping her chin toward the door in a gesture meant to indicate somewhere in the great manse, Kiril and his brother were no doubt having their candid own discussion. “I wanted to protect you.”

A noise something akin to a snort punctuated Miho’s incredulity.

“Did you expect me to accept you’d dropped off the face of the Earth and just get on with my life?” she questioned rhetorically, kneading the back of her neck. “Because that’s the only explanation I can think of that might have led you to think I wouldn’t do everything in my power to find you, and in doing so, put my nose in vampire business anyway.”

There was little for Jazz to do but cringe, because Miho was right.

“It was a difficult choice to make,” Jazz began awkwardly.

“You chose him, Jazz!” Miho exclaimed, the thundering in her skull doing little to aid in the containment of her sense of betrayal. “And I would never stop you from seeing someone you loved, but you actually chose to be with him, to keep his secrets, to become one of them, rather than stay with someone you’ve known practically your whole life! You just, threw me away.”

Cringing for the twisted expression on Miho’s face, Jazz finally tried to approach, but the wild slashing motion of Miho’s arm warned her not to get too close.

“I’m sorry,” Jazz sighed, and she’d lost count of how many times she had said it. “I fell in love with him and he with me, and when he confided his secret…”

“You couldn’t have told him there is nothing we don’t share?” Miho snapped, her eyes losing focus. “You couldn’t have told him we’re practically sisters and nothing can… nothing should have come between us?”

“Miho, be reasonable…” Jazz tried again, but she had seen Miho lose her cool enough times to know a temper like that was beyond reason and logic.

“You’re a fucking vampire!” Miho shouted, her whole face scrunching up as she backed away, the animated nature of her expressive hand movements causing her to wobble. “There’s no coming back from that, and what’s worse, if Konrad finds out his favourite son has gone and given his heart to a turned, you’re dead, dead!”

Breathing heavily against the boiling emotions in her chest, Miho leaned against the sideboard. Oh she was angry, no two ways about that, but now her fingertips felt as if they were burning away from the bone and her skull was cracking from some inexplicable pressure that distorted her vision.

Obviously, Miho was very angry, but it became clear when she blinked away large tears rolling red ribbons down her cheeks, that something else was very very wrong.

“Miho!” Jazz gasped, dashing forward in time to catch Miho before she hit the floor.

“Everything’s on fire!” Miho panted through teeth tightly clenched, and Jazz wanted nothing more than to comfort her, but blood was now dripping from Miho’s chin, and within Jazz a dangerous hunger called.

“Konstantin!” Jazz shrieked in panic, laying Miho gently against the carpet and moving swiftly to throw open the bedroom door. “Kiril! Help!”

She didn’t know where either of them were in the spacious mansion, they could have been in another wing entirely, but as Jazz took a necessary step onto the landing – away from the scent of blood that taunted her – two blurs flashed toward her at great speed.

“Jazz? Are you o…” Konstantin began, but his sentence broke off when he too was reached by the sweet smell of Miho’s distress.

“Take her down stairs, now,” Kiril barked sharply, and with eyes flashing an uncompromising warning, he spared neither a second more before disappearing into the bedroom. “Miho,” he hissed, pulling her gently into his lap.

And instantly the razorblades that had been digging through his veins were somehow dulled.

The beast within him paced irritably as Kiril weathered the tantalising spectacle of Miho’s blood-smeared face, but he hoisted her into his arms and carried her whimpering to the bed.

“What is this?” he whispered coldly, not to her but to himself, as he gently wiped her face clean with a hastily acquired pillowcase, before tossing is as far across the large room as he could. “Miho?” he breathed again, and finally she seemed to rouse from her agonised state enough to focus on his face.

And her mind was clear, her skin prickling pleasantly in the wake of each soft pass his fingers made down her cheek.

“That was…” she croaked thickly, reaching out to take his other hand and draw it down between her breasts, pressing his cool palm over the rapid pulsing of her heart. “I thought I was going to die.”

“What happened?” he soothed, his voice sounding foreign to his own ears.

“Nagging headache just, got worse and worse,” she murmured, savouring the sensation of his fingers sliding through her hair and the pressure of his hand that ensured they were connected. “Then it just, erupted… but…”

The last few tears fell, but this time they were clear.

“The moment I touched you,” Kiril continued, his brows knitting, “the more I touch you, the pain subsides.”

“You too?” she exhaled, examining his face as it drew closer.

Less than a minute ago it had felt as if she was being torn apart; but now she wanted to taste Kiril’s tongue, ravenously claw away his clothing and bury him so deeply within her the memory of that pain would be erased completely.

“Just relax,” he instructed, lips brushing lightly against hers with the promise of more, but to her disappointment he then sat up. “There is something I do not like about this.”

“Bleeding from the eyes was sort of traumatic for me too,” Miho piped up, shifting his hand over to her right breast. “But…”

Her pause was filled with puzzlement.

“… all I want now is to feel you,” she finished finally, frowning. “Kiril…”

“I know,” he admitted, but it was through gritted teeth.

He was fighting himself, Miho could see his struggle.

“Why am I not freaking out?” she exhaled, clutching his hand more firmly. “I should… see a doctor.”

“Liana will examine you,” he asserted, rocking back and standing, but Miho dug in her fingernails.

“Don’t leave!” she gasped quickly, a reflex, and Kiril’s gaze narrowed on her grip.

“I will return momentarily,” he told her, strain tightening his voice. “But until Liana has examined you, your friend will have to stay away. She is still young, and if you bleed again she may not be able to control her primal urges.”

“But not you,” she stated, rather than questioned, not removing her grip.

“No, not me,” he smiled with a gentleness Miho had not yet seen from him, and she allowed her hold to fall away.

True to his word, just minutes later Kiril returned, a woman a step behind him.

Though she again found relief in Kiril’s presence, this did not detract from the sharp, clear blue of the other woman’s eyes, and her instantaneous study of her new patient. And there was something old-world about her – from the modest ankle length of her skirt, to the well-loved leather doctor’s bag she carried to the bedside and opened.

“You may leave now, Master Kiril,” Liana said softly, placing a stethoscope around her neck.

“I shall stay,” Kiril responded, much to Miho’s relief, but Liana turned to frown at him – and when she spoke it was much more crisply.

“Master Kiril,” she began, firmly, the tone of an uncompromising woman. “I should like to begin my examination of your lady friend, however, I shall not do so without the requisite privacy necessary to uphold her dignity and confidentiality.”

Miho blinked; people generally did not speak to Kiril in such a manner. She expected a storm to break in the room – gale force winds and lashing rain, but Kiril simply looked annoyed.

“She is…” he began, but Liana cut him off abruptly.

“In capable hands,” she finished for him. “I shall call for the young master if I require assistance.”

This made Kiril ruffle, but Miho lifted her head a little.

“I’ll be okay,” she forced out, though she honestly didn’t want him to go.

Wordlessly he ground his teeth for a few seconds, while Liana simply peered at him expectantly.

“Fine,” he huffed, then stalked out, closing the two women into the room alone.

If she was pleased, or felt any form of satisfaction over her victory, Liana’s expression showed none of it. There was an intensity of focus about her, a stare that told Miho she missed very little, and practiced hands that spoke of experience.

There was little talk between them, save for questions and answers, and when Liana had determined Miho’s basic physiological details were normal, she requested more comprehensive tests to be performed… in the basement.

“So,” Miho quipped, much of her strength returned as she walked beside Liana out of the elevator into the incongruously sleek and sterile décor of the basement. “Kiril really is Batman.”

“He has considerable wealth, if that is what you mean,” Liana nodded, guiding Miho past various rooms before urging her to enter another.

“He doesn’t have a mask wearing fetish?” Miho quipped, settling into the indicated chair before a piece of medical equipment.

“Not to my knowledge,” Liana replied, taking her time to calibrate the machine. “However, what Master Kiril does outside the estate is his own business.”

There were still so many unanswered questions – like who this woman really was, and what her relationship to Kiril was, but Miho didn’t want to just blurt them out. She felt suddenly, acutely aware of his age, and what that meant for his relationship history – not that she was all that clear on his relationship at present either.

“Just relax, and look straight ahead,” Liana instructed with a small smile, indicating the chin rest, and Miho complied.

What followed was a gamut of tests, at the conclusion of which, Liana showed Miho back to her room wherein Kiril arrived shortly.

“Well?” he prompted impatiently, but Liana seemed completely unfazed by him.

“She has no evidence clinical conjunctival hyperemia, periorbital or palpebral edema, and maintains normal vision and extraocular movement,” Liana explained. “The young master is currently examining pathology for some underlying cause of the hyphema, though there are no visible indications of infection.”

Miho caught a handful of the medical jargon, and surmised what Kiril then vocalised.

“So you have no idea what happened,” he dropped, clearly displeased.

But the hand he had on Miho’s shoulder was light, warm.

“As yet, no,” Liana responded, and appeared a more than a little irritated by the fact.

Konstantin had been the one to contact Konrad: Kiril’s idea. Since he and his father didn’t get along – to put it politely – and to increase the chances of distracting the king from his rage – however unlikely.

Eyes followed the pair as they made their way silently through the lobby of Konrad’s primary place of business, but no one questioned them. Kiril strode with his typical air of self-confidence despite the derisive daggers shot his way.

Oh, if only they knew.

Better that they didn’t.

“When was the last time you were here?” Konstantin asked as they reached the elevator.

He was not so practiced at hiding his discomfort.

“A year or so,” Kiril shrugged. “Daddy dearest is not especially welcoming.”

“Like you ever tried to make peace with the guy,” Konstantin snorted, stepping into the gilded cabin of the lift.

Very conservative.

“What, drawn, and talk of peace?” Kiril smirked.

“Yeah, yeah, you hate the word, and he started it,” Konstantin huffed. “But you can’t tell me you’ve done anything to try and appease him.”

“No, I cannot,” Kiril agreed with mirth, not the slightest bit repentant. “That is what happens when you kill a man’s mother.”

“That’s your excuse?” Konstantin snorted. “Really? Because yours is not the only mother he’s killed.”

“So I should not hold him accountable because he has a full complement of victims on his ledger?” Kiril retorted.

“And I suppose your hands are clean?” Konstantin challenged. “Perfectly clear conscience?”

“Do not be absurd,” Kiril sniffed. “But by comparison…”

“Bad is bad, Brother,” Konstantin argued, looking up as the elevator chimed.

“I will keep that in mind as I’m bailing you out of the grave you have dug yourself into,” Kiril smirked, and was first to saunter out into the plush antechamber.

“Hmm, new carpet,” Kiril noted flippantly, causing several chatting in the large room to stop and stare.

As if it was his house, a crown upon his brow, Kiril strode unaffected by the attention he had drawn; in fact, Konstantin noted he seemed pleased and entirely unsurprised.

The way he pushed through the double doors was anything but subtle. Indeed, he announced his arrival like a performer: exaggerated, confident movements, boldness, and an aura that drew and held gazes.

“Father!” he exclaimed in an overly affable tone, clearly intending to mock the poor relationship they shared.

Konrad did not turn from the conversation in which he was engaged, though two other bodies in the room inched away from the king.

Not only unaccustomed to being ignored, but already looking to stoke the fire of opposition, Kiril filled the hall with his presence. As much as Kiril clashed with his father, this magnetism was what had allowed him to build his own empire despite the king’s enmity, and Konstantin had to admire that.

When there was no reaction after a few more seconds, Kiril’s upper lip began to curl, and Konstantin saw all the theatricality recede.

“You have ten seconds to acknowledge my presence, or your favourite and I return to our fun and games,” Kiril growled.

Challenge accepted.

It was the sudden slamming of the doors they had entered through that drew Kiril and Konstantin’s focus, and there they found Narumi with arms crossed over her chest.

“I am listening,” Konrad stated, his voice reverberating most unnaturally. “But not for long. You have already kept me waiting.”

“Drop the drama, Konrad,” Kiril dismissed, hands deep in his trouser pockets and looking completely relaxed. “We are here of our own volition at your most insistent behest.”

“And yet it was not you I called for,” Konrad dropped, only now turning to rest his unsettling scrutiny upon his children.

Kiril, however, he looked right through.

“Explain,” he added, cold and commanding.

“I sent Konstantin to address sensitive interests in Europe I could trust to no one else,” Kiril answered, and that more directly drew Konrad’s ire.

“And who are you to send my son, anywhere?” Konrad glowered, Kiril’s demise swirling in his eyes, his disdain carving his mouth in jagged lines.

“You would not question the contributions my business assets make to this kingdom,” Kiril replied calmly. “Because you would notice a significant decline in both revenue and influence were I to transfer my operations to say… Australia?”

“Do not over-estimate your worth,: Konrad retorted, approaching his elder son with a predatory gait.

“Oh, I know exactly what I’m worth,” Kiril chuckled, and the two vampires who had skirted to the edge of the room began their way toward Narumi, perhaps for protection from the oncoming affray. “But I stopped measuring myself by your skewed standards many years ago. After all, when you’re that small…”

Knowing he was playing with fire and brimstone, Kiril made a ‘tiny’ gesture with his thumb and index finger.

While the eyes of the three who were not important enough yet to be given names froze in absolute shock, Konrad began forward. It was Narumi, however, who took firm hold of Kiril’s chin and forced him to look at her.

“You owe your king the truth,” she hissed into his face, eyes boring into his, and he knew her power would catch him in a lie if he attempted to tell one. “So I suggest – for once in your life – you do not lie.”

“Konstantin was working for me,” Kiril told Narumi confidently, and instantly her nose wrinkled.

“As much as it surprises me, my Lord, Kiril is telling the truth.”

With his full focus on Kiril, Konrad didn’t notice the most unsubtle double-take Konstantin performed.

“It is truly touching how much you trust your children,” Kiril sniffed. “Now, if there is not anything else, there are a great many other things I would like to be doing.”

“Konstantin, remain,” his father ordered, and Kiril made no quarrel.

IF he dropped himself in it now, both he and Jazz deserved to be hunted as far as Kiril was concerned.

Following his retreat, Narumi waited with Kiril for the elevator and stepped in beside him.

“And what did that little ruse just cost me?” Kiril drawled, working the ache of his jaw and touching the throbbing pain of one temple.

“The truth would be nice, but I know it’s unlikely you’ll give me that,” she shrugged nonchalantly. “So, for now I’ll keep that one banked. Need I tell you whatever game you’re playing is a most dangerous one?”

“No,” Kiril grimace, and this certainly did not escape Narumi’s notice.

“What is wrong with you? You’re paler than usual.”

“It was a long trip and I am famished,” he answered flippantly, but his tone was tainted by discomfort.

“Have you been feeding from junkies again?” she snorted in amusement, knowing full well his response was a falsehood.

“Best you mind your own business, Narumi,” Kiril warned. “You want none of mine, and if the king learns of your complicity in my deception there will be little left of you but dust in the wind.”

“I knew what I was doing, cousin,” she smiled. “And I know – whether you tell me or not – I will uncover what you’re hiding.”

As swiftly as inhumanly possible, Kiril returned to the estate. Blinding pain seared his consciousness, and so he feared Miho was in an even worse state.

He was directed to Liana’s infirmary by an anxious Jazz, but he left her alone upstairs to ponder Konstantin’s failure to return.

“I was forced to sedate her,” Liana reported, when Kiril showed alarm at Miho’s unresponsiveness. “She was thrashing about quite vigorously, in addition to the symptoms you described earlier.”

Sliding his palm up Miho’s arm, Kiril’s own anguish abated swiftly, and when he touched his lips to the warm of hers, a buzzing joy flooded his veins.

“This is most unnatural,” he exhaled in relief.

“I have been able to determine no medical explanation for Miss Fujiwara’s condition,” Liana admitted. “And could certainly not yet venture the correlation with your own afflictions, save – it seems – that it intensifies the longer you are parted.”

“Unacceptable,” Kiril snapped, but he was gentle in the brushing of Miho’s forehead.

“It is all very well and good you saying that,” Liana grumbled. “But at this stage I must consider the cause to be rooted elsewhere.”

“Such as?” Kiril prompted expectantly.

“Witchcraft, obviously,” came a rather impertinent voice from the doorway. “Clearly, both you and your visitor have been hexed.”

Carrying a tome almost as large as his entire body, the lean child moved effortlessly toward Liana.

“I’ve been reading,” he announced.

“That is all you ever do, Kai,” Kiril pointed out, but he was clearly listening.

“And a good thing too, since you do so little,” Kai snorted, though he sobered and straightened his shoulders when Liana looked displeased.

“Did you know,” Kai began again, “that the Cerchio di veli coven in Florence during the Renaissance were well reputed for their love spells?”

“Are you truly suggesting I am subject to a love spell?” Kiril scoffed.

“Wealthy families paid fortunes for political gains founded in love spells that caused infidelity and broke politically motivated marriages,” Kai elaborated, much to Kiril’s disdain.

“Have you upset any witches lately?” Liana queried. “Aside from me, that is.

“No more so than usual, and even if I had, they would certainly not be alive enough at present to curse anyone,” he asserted.

“Unless,” Kai piped up, “she is the primary target of the manipulation?”

Appreciatively, Liana nodded, and Kai smiled broadly.

That Kiril did not immediately shut down this concept, told Liana Kai’s postulation had some merit.

“So, who exactly is your little friend?” Liana asked, since Kiril was not forthcoming with the details.

“A hunter, I suspect,” he replied, and both Liana’s and Kai’s eyes bugged. “You have plenty of blood to test so I want it confirmed,” he added waspishly. “I need to be sure.”

“So, you’ve been out and about cavorting with a hunter?” Liana questioned, though it was obviously rhetorical.

“Unawakened, but yes,” Kiril confirmed, his top row of teeth scraping over the lower.

“Are you insane?” Liana hissed, leaning over Miho toward him.

“No, hexed apparently,” he retorted, glaring icily, and Liana moved back. “Return to the library, Kai,” he then commanded. “I want to know which spell and who I need to kill to break it.”

“And you’re going to be doing what meanwhile?”

For a second Kiril pursed his lips, his fingers paused mid-way through stroking Miho’s hair.

“I have a child to teach the ways of our world and a couple of nightclub owners to manage.”

“You’re going to leave here with her? With both of them?” Liana blinked. “If you are indeed connected by magic, it may very well be ill advised to kill her before the spell is broken, but to allow her out in public? Have you lost your senses?”

“Watch your tone, Liana; you know who you are talking to,” Kiril snarled.

“And it’s because I know, I think this is a terrible mistake,” she tried to reason. “Were the king to learn of this…”

“He shall not, unless some poor creature no longer wishing to live should tell him.”

Both fact and a warning Liana heard loud and clear.

I rouse to a melancholic piano melody drifting purposefully through the mansion. Though I picture the simple press of keys, the sound each makes is far more than that; there is a ubiquitous pain woven into the undulating tempo, a graceful, sorrowful longing in every hanging pause and a hand offered in my direction.

Wrapping myself in the satin robe hanging at the end of the bed, I pad out of the bedroom I don’t remember returning to, coaxed by the music’s sweet desperation, completely under its spell. And half way to the lower floor, I find myself unable to move – peering down into the lounge I discover the source of that beautiful distress.

Transfixed, unblinking, I watch Kiril’s fingers glide across the concert grand, the monstrous instrument of dark, varnished wood tamed by the skilful touch of his cold fingertips; and I wonder if it’s possible to be jealous of an inanimate object. Yet it seems so alive, the silver strike of each hidden string taking flight and fluttering upward to where I stand – and I can almost see those hazy wisps of sound shuddering toward me: fragile, hopeful, fervent but somehow laces with fine threads of irritation.

When the final reverberation gives way to silence, I inhale a sob and finally release the tears that have been swimming across my vision.

Clear at least this time.

Kiril looks up at me, his expression unreadable, his thoughts so shielded compared to the open emotion of his unguarded tune.

“You’re such a trope,” I declare, my voice still thick with a clinging sadness. “Sullen vampire playing broody music on his piano in the dead of night.”

“The pipe organ was taking up too much space,” he replies, and it might have been humourous had his tone not emerged so darkly from between those perfect lips I have kissed fervently and want to partake of again. “And it’s a little past noon.”

Impassively, he turns a couple of sheet music pages and begins again to play, ignoring my approach.

What am I supposed to make of that?

Have I irritated him by interrupting, offended him with my remark, or is there someone worse still than the wracking pain connecting our separation?

Persisting despite the ache in my chest, I complete my descent and tread slowly across the space until I am directly behind him. The swaying rhythm of his new malady causes me to frown; he is right there within arm’s reach and yet he somehow feels very far away. To reassure myself, I lightly place a hand against his shoulder, but immediately recoil when the piano shouts a single, dramatic discord and Kiril becomes still.

“What?” I scowl, with equal parts indignation and upset, and Kiril turns his whole body, suddenly trapping my legs between his, possessively drawing me close again with one arm around my waist.

I’m looking down at him, but the power is all his; not something I’m used to nor entirely comfortable with.

“Spit it out,” I huff, even as his hand floats downward over the curve of my backside.

“I am angry,” he answers finally, and as much is evident in the arctic sharpness of his eyes.

“I can see that,” I retort, trying to maintain my train of thought as he begins to gather up the back of my robe.  “It’s not like we both don’t have plenty of reasons to be pissed off at the world right now, so what particular frustration has got your goat right now?”

“I want you beyond all reason,” he snarled, but hidden beneath it was a despairing purr. “I want to consume you entirely, but then you would be gone and that I simply cannot allow.”

This confession is so incredibly frightening, but at the same time the most mind-blowing statement I have ever heard – of this I am sure.

Expressing this is nigh impossible, however; emotions refuse to be converted into words. All I can do in response is climb into his lap, lock my fingers at the nape of his neck and drink that sweet affection from his lips. Fervently, he searches for the places about my body of greatest warmth, until he’s straining against my inner thigh.

“Wait,” he utters, incongruent with the insistent press of his fingertips. “Wait.”

“For what?” I rasp. “A written invitation?”

“This,” he begins again, swallowing his desire in a massive gulp, “this isn’t real.”

“You’re going to let witches tell you what is and isn’t real?” I challenge.

We’d spoken in the infirmary about the theory of a curse or spell binding us by lust, and at first I was outraged and sickened and frustrated. To be manipulated in that way, to be robbed of emotional freedom made me feel trapped, suffocated.

As Kiril kissed me good night, however, and left me alone I couldn’t reconcile what I knew of my desire’s falseness with how powerful and real it felt.

How it feels.

“I will let the facts do so,” Kiril clarifies, and the icy edge causes me to recoil, rock back and pull free easily because Kiril allows me to.

“Oh well, in that case I’ll just be on my way and waste your time no longer,” I bite back, the lashing of a wounded and confused animal.

“You are overreacting,” he says from his seat. “You know very well you and I cannot be apart at present.”

“Enjoy your headache, Kiril,” I spit, failing to resist the burning hurt of a knife twisting between my ribs.

“Are you a woman or a toddler throwing a tantrum?” he hisses, in front of me before I can dodge.

“I’m a woman taken for a fool!” I shout into his face. “Caught up by your unnatural charm and swagger – maybe drawn by magic if you want to blame it – but preyed upon and lured nonetheless until I gave myself to you!”

“And I am the only one who has ever had the pleasure I suppose?” Kiril volleys.

I don’t know if he’s just caught off guard, or if my rage has given me supernatural speed, but my palm snaps loudly across his face.

“Miho?” Jazz calls from above, but all my focus belongs to Kiril for another barb before I stomp upstairs.

“I hope you have a good memory, Kiril,” I snarl. “Because hex or otherwise, screaming fits of bloody murder, it’s a pleasure you’ll not have again.”

MJS – 6 Feet: Part 2

Both Ishigami and Kaga were more than excited to see the figure on the other side of the door, leaping at him with reckless abandon, but Miho slumped against the door frame. Jazz appeared behind her, biting her lip as Subaru fought the puppies off to wrap Miho in a tight embrace.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered into her hair, shoving the foil covered casserole he had in one hand at Jazz.

This time, Miho didn’t cry, even if Subaru did.

“It doesn’t have coriander in it, does it?”

“You love coriander!” he attempted to joke, but the look on Jazz’s face told him he’d made a terrible blunder.

“No,” Miho disagreed quietly. “That’s Seiji.”

“Oh,” Subaru dropped, cringing a second but he had a smile affixed when he finally brought Miho to arm’s length.

“It’s fine,” she smiled back. “Everyone’s in a bit of a tizzy at the moment.”

“Except you,” he noted a little quizzically. “The very picture of calm and collected.”

“How many times has he nearly died?” she asked, turning and heading into the living area with the pups on her heels. “Every other week, really, right?”

Glancing sideways at Jazz, Subaru followed, shrugging awkwardly. It was clear to Jazz that Subaru didn’t have the words, not to comfort Miho, or himself. True, Subaru and Goto always bickered, but their actions had proven time and time again they were best friends.

“Tea? Coffee?” Miho chirped, obviously attempting to change Subaru’s grim expression.

“Yeah,” he answered ambiguously, scrutinising the house’s interior as he trailed Miho and Jazz into the kitchen.

“Yeah what?”

“What happened here?” he replied, only looking more confused. “This place is spotless.”

Another blunder for anyone who knew Goto was a bit on the untidy side.

“Are you suggesting my home is usually a mess?” Miho sniffed.

“Well, no,” he stumbled. “But there’s clean, and then there’s I could eat off the tiles clean.”

“We’ve been keeping busy,” Jazz clarified.

“Because work isn’t enough to keep us occupied apparently,” Miho dropped sarcastically.

“Should you even be wandering around?” he then asked of Jazz, who while obviously pregnant did not seem to be in any discomfort.

“Being pregnant isn’t a disability, you know,” she grunted, then dropped her voice. “Unlike being an idiot.”

“I heard that,” Subaru grated sourly, but his brows lifted when Miho let out a chuckle.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think this comedy routine was for me.”

Both her friends fell silent.

“Oh, cut it out will you?” she huffed, throwing up her hands in annoyance. “Come on, Subaru, you’ve known Seiji far longer than me, so you should know this is bullshit.”

“Um…” he squirmed. “I’ve seen the evidence, Miho, the forensics…”

“Yeah?” she snorted. “You know who saw the evidence for Daisetsu’s ‘death’? The forensics? I did, and we all know how that ended.”

Knowingly, and not very discreetly, Jazz rolled her eyes to Subaru.

“Cut that out,” Miho snapped. “He’s not dead, and that’s all there is to it.”

She left them both standing in the kitchen a little bewildered by her curtness, but Jazz eventually let out a heavy sigh.

“I tried to talk to her about funeral arrangements, but she just shuts me down,” she explained solemnly. “I get where she is coming from, what with Daisetsu’s faked death, but if Captain Ishigami and the whole of Public Safety is sure, then…”

Helplessly, she shrugged.

“She doesn’t want me to comfort her,” she exhaled, her eyes misting over a little, and Subaru drew closer. “I don’t know how to comfort her, and I’ve always known.”

“We just be here,” he said, offering his arms and an awkward but honest hug. “So, when she figures out what she needs, we can be there to give it.”

 

People came and went, but it was the arrival of Goto’s parents and brother that complicated the situation more. Under any other circumstance, the presence of family might have brought some solace, but Miho was… as Miho was – forward about her opinion.

“I’m not interested in burying an empty casket,” she declared stubbornly.

Haruka looked tearily helpless.

Shinichi scowled.

Issei became angry.

“I thought you loved him!” he barked, and Miho’s face darkened in response.

“I love him, present tense,” she snapped. “And it’s because I love him, know him, trust him, that I can’t and won’t believe he’d be stupid enough to get killed.”

“But Miho,” Shinichi beseeched, and in an unusual sign of physical affection he attempted to hug her.

Miho dodged.

“No, Dad,” she argued.

“You’ve always known his work was dangerous,” Shinichi continued, his tone settling back into something gruffer. “As much as we might want this not to be true, there are things beyond our control, beyond Seiji’s control.”

“You go,” Miho told them, nodding emphatically. “I understand. If you believe this, then you need to find closure, but I will not put another box in the ground.”

The door slammed, Kaga and Ishigami lucky to scoot through with tails intact.

In the bedroom, Miho paced back and forth until her eyes came to rest on the pinstripe suit laid out across the grey duvet.

Haruka had picked it out. Even though there wasn’t a body as such to put in it, she’d felt it symbolic of his professionalism, of his nature, and an important part of letting him go. Kaga and Ishigami, however, thought the suit made perfect bedding, and curled up together to watch their mother scowl.

“What the hell, Miho?” Issei charged, bursting into the room. “Where do you get off talking to Mum like that?”

His eyes were red – he had been crying, but now he was just angry.

“You think you’re hurting? What about us?” he snapped, spittle peppering the air between them.

“He’s not dead, Issei!” Miho shouted, right into his face, then pointed at Goto’s suit. “It’s empty, you see that? EMPTY.”

“Because what’s left of him is locked up in a mortuary!” Issei fired back, not backing down – but that only drew him into striking range.

Redder still, Issei looked absolutely shocked with Miho’s palm print emblazoned across his left cheek.

“Your brother would be heartbroken you’ve so little faith in him,” she hissed, her eyes wild and her tone low, seething. “Go pick a casket, choose music and scripture and flowers to lay at a hollow grave, but do not think for a moment I will partake in such a farce.”

She moved so quickly her puppies didn’t have a chance to catch up. Bursting from the bedroom, she stalked to the front door past a bewildered Shinichi and Haruka and snatched her jacket.

 

After stomping several blocks, Miho hailed a taxi, glad she left emergency money secured in the inside pocket of her coat. It was enough to get her to Station, where Agasa raised an eyebrow at her in recognition. The death of a police officer, regardless of what department they belonged to, did not remain a secret for very long, and though Agasa might have seen Goto and Miho only a handful of times – if that – Second Unit had raised more than a few glasses in honour of a fallen comrade and a good man.

“Mrs. Goto,” he greeted softly, as Miho sat herself down on a stool at the bar. “What can I get you?”

“Enough whiskey to make it all go away,” she replied, not questioning how he knew her, just tapping the bar with her fingertips expectantly.

Agasa knew well enough when to argue with a customer and when to let them drink. At least if she was there, he could keep an eye on her, call in backup if things got a bit too ugly. He placed the bottle down beside her, though it was only a third full, then a glass.

“Don’t go too overboard,” he warned her softly, and in response she grunted and poured for herself.

As she drank, she muttered, but she was not looking for a response from Agasa or those who came and went.

“Shouldn’t have done that,” she murmured, shaking her head.

Hitting Issei like that – she knew she’d done a bad thing and would have to apologise.

“How can I convince them?” she sighed, staring into her glass but quickly turning her head when she sensed a presence close behind her.

“Convince who of what, Princess?” Baba enquired in his usual happy tone.

“You know what,” she replied dryly, taking another sip as he sat down beside her. “You know everything.”

“It is true I know a lot of things,” he smiled, waving to Agasa before pointing at Miho’s glass. “Not quite everything, though.”

Working with Baba at the agency had proven both a blessing and a curse at times. He had this infuriating way of being jovial no matter what happened, this ability to see the upside in even the darkest of situations. It could be both uplifting and excruciating at the same time. There was also the fact that he had made himself available on and off through Miho’s single years as a physical comfort: the best kind of friend with benefits.

“What are you doing here?” she asked him, still not looking into his face.

She wasn’t sure she could stand to see the sparkle in his eyes or the playfulness on his lips.

“You know this is a police bar, right?” she added.

Baba shrugged.

“I don’t know why I should be concerned,” he smirked. “I’m a law-abiding citizen; besides, I don’t think Detective Ayase meets the height requirement to get in.”

Miho might have snorted, but the air in her lungs was lethargic, morose.

“Come on, Princess,” he crooned, giving her arm a gentle nudge with his, as Agasa put a tumbler down in front of him. “I tracked you down because I thought you’d have given me a call by now.”

“I’ve been a little preoccupied,” she pointed out, emptying her glass and pouring herself another, then one for Baba.

“Yes, yes, funerals – so many little details to plan for,” he agreed, one hand moving in an animated way as he spoke. “Eulogies and floral arrangements and boxes for burial.”

Now, Miho looked at him, her eyes narrowed. But she said nothing, studying him, searching him. What he said was not meant to hurt her; no, he was teasing her because…

“Tell me,” she demanded in a cold hiss, turning her body to his. “Tell me I’m right.”

“Right about?” he poked, obviously enjoying the little game, pushing her because he indeed knew her well enough he knew her limits.

“I will fucking deck you, Mitsunari,” she growled, leaning forward and baring her teeth. “Tell me I am right. He isn’t dead.”

“Hot damn, you’re sexy when you get angry,” he grinned. “You really ought to wear more leather.”

Limit.

He probably could have dodged, but he didn’t, so when Miho grabbed him by the tie and dragged him off his barstool, he slid off easily.

“Riding crop, too,” Baba added, allowing himself to be dragged to a booth and shoved into it.

“Cut the shit,” she hissed, dropping in opposite him. “Playtime is over.”

“A little birdy told me something fascinating,” he admitted finally, triumphant. “Did you know that DNA identification of burnt bone can be pretty reliable?”

Eyes sharp, Miho brain raced ahead to find Baba’s point before he voiced it.

“In extremely bad cases though, if someone was to use, say, white phosphorus or thermite, for example, bones don’t leave much at all – no nuclear DNA – and even mitochondrial profiles are sporadic in their reliability at best.”

“The gang he infiltrated had access to thermite and white phosphorus?” Miho blinked.

Of course, she knew Public Safety worked dangerous cases chasing really dangerous people, but for criminals to have and use dangerous chemicals like those put a whole new perspective on it.

“Maybe,” Baba mused noncommittally, “but I think the point is more that it’s highly unlikely any remains burned to that extent could be positively identified.”

Miho licked her lips.

She knew better than to ask about Baba’s sources, and knew through experience – even if she didn’t know how – that his information was always accurate.

“Captain Ishigami wouldn’t, he wouldn’t tell me it’s him if he wasn’t sure,” she exhaled to herself. “He wouldn’t accept the death of a subordinate if there was any doubt.”

“You know the guy that well?” Baba posed. “I mean, these Public Safety guys lie for a living, right?”

“To me? About that?” Miho wondered, her throat dry.

Trembling hands took her mobile phone from her pocket.

“That I don’t know the answer to,” he admitted, leaning a little closer to see what Miho was texting. “Going straight to the top, huh?”

“No, Namba’s out of town,” Miho murmured, as she fired off her text message to Liana, “but Captain Ishigami will do.”

“I wouldn’t want to be him,” Baba smirked swirling the drink he hadn’t touched yet. “You have a plan?”

“Yeah,” Miho rumbled, slipping from the barstool and throwing a fist full of money for her drinks on the counter. “I’m going to get really, really angry.”

 

Rationality still existed, Miho felt it tugging her in the opposite direction to her destination, but she ignored it. Her rage was a blaze bringing warmth back to the numbness of her flesh, and she allowed it to fill her to overflowing before she arrived at the restaurant Liana had unwittingly revealed as the location of Miho’s target.

“Miho?” Liana blinked, as Miho stalked between the tables – definitely a woman on a mission.

“Mrs. Goto,” Ishigami added, seeming surprised but quick to rise to his feet. “Are you alright?”

“Out of respect for our friendship and your personal and professional relationship with Seiji,” Miho began, her tone an ice-pick: cold, pointed, “I’m going to give you the opportunity to step out with me and have this conversation.”

Understandably, Ishigami looked surprised, but Liana appeared downright shocked and both their mouths hung open too long for Miho’s liking.

“Very well,” Miho grunted. “Explain the conviction you have Seiji is dead, when the extreme heat you’ve admitted rendered the remains you found to nothing but bones?”

People looked in the direction of the standing pair as they remained facing one another, though the volume of their voices was not especially loud.

“I’m no scientist, Captain,” Miho went on to fill the void once more, “or a weapon’s expert, but to reach the kind of temperatures needed to reduce human bone to the condition you found them in, in an open space like that warehouse, you’d need some seriously restricted firepower.”

“Where did you get this idea from?” Ishigami asked finally, his expression a good approximation of concerned.

“You mean, how do I know you grossly overstated the certainty of my husband’s death?” she snapped, the crack of a whip that silenced everything else in the restaurant.

“Miho,” Liana whispered, reaching for her hand, but Miho yanked it away.

“Look into his eyes, Liana,” Miho growled, pointing into Ishigami’s face. “Imagine Seiji is telling you your husband is dead, all the while you’re holding evidence it isn’t true in your hand.”

“I know this is very difficult for you,” Ishigami attempted, watching the maitre’d cautiously approach in his peripheral vision. “No one wants Lieut..”

“I am his WIFE!” she roared, and people at nearby tables flinched at the violence of her retort, the rawness of her emotion. “Difficult is an understatement I will not bear when you know he’s alive.”

“Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you t…” the maitre’d interrupted, but the freeze of his jaw when Miho’s eyes fell upon him made it clear he saw death in them.

“Tell me where he is,” Miho demanded on little more than a breath, an imperative she exhaled into Ishigami’s face. “Give me the truth.”

“I can see, Mrs. Goto, the truth is too much for you at present,” Ishigami said evenly, but Liana saw him adjust his glasses – noted and filed it. “Grief is…”

“I will not mourn the living,” Miho snarled, blind to the much larger man who had come to back the maitre’d.

“Ma’am,” came a firmer, warning voice.

Miho tilted her head in some form of acknowledgement but maintained eye contact with Ishigami.

“I will never forget this pain,” she hissed, gaze like razor-wire. “And I will never forget your part in it.”

Before she could be manhandled out of the restaurant, Miho turned on her heels and strode out, to bystanders a vengeful force of wrathful energy.

 

(GUEST WRITER @BelXsar! Scene RPed)

There was a full moment of silence, then another, and another, before the interior of the restaurant finally started to return to its former activity before the human whirlwind that was Miho Fujisawa Goto had blown in and then just as dramatically swept out.  The restaurant staff resumed their former duties, and the other patrons’ gazes went back to their dining companions, while Liana studied her husband with hers, even as he just as studiously avoided it. They had just been contemplating what to have for dessert when Miho had arrived, but it was clear that any appetite for sweets had vanished just as abruptly.  With a sidelong glance towards the discarded dessert menus lying on the table, Captain Hideki Ishigami emptied his water glass, then signalled their waiter and coolly asked for the cheque. The bill paid, he got up, and his wife followed him out of the restaurant.

His hand reached out for hers on the street outside, and Liana took it, noting his grasp was on the cool side as usual but his grip a bit tighter.  They strode silently, hand in hand, to where their car was parked, and he opened the door for her before sliding into the driver’s seat. As the car pulled into traffic, he still had yet to meet his wife’s gaze which had remained mostly fixed on him all the while.

On the silent drive home, Liana pulled out her phone and tapped a quick text to Jazz Mann Akiwa, hoping their shared friend would update her on what was going on when clearly her husband had no desire to do so.

Ishigami remained silent even as they arrived home.  It was after they entered their flat, taken off their shoes, hung up their coats, and he seemed to be heading towards the bathroom, that Liana finally quickened her stride and cut in front of her husband, putting her hand against the wall to block his path.

Enough was enough.

She had given him the appropriate discretion while they had been in public, despite the maelstrom of questions running through her mind.  Now, in the privacy of their own home, she could remain silent no longer.

“Hideki,” she said quietly, softly, yet no less firmly.  “What is going on?”

Her dark blue eyes sought out his grey ones, intent.

His hand was half-way to his glasses before he actually stopped himself.

“I thought perhaps I would take a shower,” he explained, as if as much was obvious. “I have an early meeting tomorrow and will not have time in the morning.”

If he knew what she was actually getting at – and the man wasn’t a moron, so he knew – there was not a single hint of it in his expression.

Liana tilted her head slightly and gave him a look, one eyebrow raised.  “Please don’t insult me, and I won’t return the favor. You know very well what I mean.”

With practised zen, Ishigami’s expression didn’t so much as twitch; still, when he spoke again, there was at least a little emotion in his tone.

“It is understandable Mrs. Goto would not wish to believe Lieutenant Goto is gone,” he explained, “and regrettable her desire seems to have manifested so strongly. You are right to be concerned; I shall organise for a counsellor to touch base with her tomorrow.”

Liana’s eyebrows drew together a little.  “As passionate as Miho can be, she’s not a woman prone to hysterics.  And I think you appreciate that, Hideki. This is not just a grieving widow deep in denial and going off the deep end.  She said something about extreme heat, and remains being reduced to nothing. Which you didn’t deny. You’re deflecting.  Whatever it is, I think Miho has proven in the past she can handle it, any truth, rather than a bunch of lies. As Lieutenant Goto’s wife, she deserves that much, at least.”

Responding seemed a little difficult for Ishigami – not because he didn’t know what to say, but because saying it to his inquisitive wife would not be easy.

“You know I cannot discuss an ongoing investigation,” he told her gently, his brows lowering just a little bit.

He wasn’t without empathy.

“Doing so could put further lives at risk, and that is the very reason rules and protocols exist.”

“Then she’s not wrong.”

Liana’s words were murmured to herself as much as her reticent husband, said in confirmation more than any triumph.  She looked back up at Ishigami. “You don’t have to tell her any details. But can’t you at least indicate you’re still just trying to confirm the identification of the remains, and that it’s still an ‘ongoing investigation’?  If you tell her to keep things to herself, she will. She understands the importance of discretion, as much for her husband’s safety as the case itself. Just don’t add to her trauma, Hideki. You know she’s not someone you want on the warpath against you, and that’s what’s going to happen if you keep lying to her and suggesting she’s crazy.”

His wife calling him a liar was something he knew he just had to weather. Despite his absolute devotion to the job, it hurt no less.

“I do not believe she is crazy,” he said carefully. “Grief takes a great many forms and denial can be a natural part of the mourning process.”

This wasn’t anything Liana didn’t already know.

“If I lost you,” he continued, hazarding to raise his hand toward her cheek, “I would not wish to believe it, either; I would do anything to undo it… But I cannot give this to Mrs. Goto, or to you, no matter how much we both want to alleviate her suffering.”

She looked down for a moment, shaking her head briefly before taking a breath and looking back up at her husband.

“Things don’t always have to be zero sum, you know.  I believe rules exist for the spirit of such protocol rather that the strict letter of them.  You don’t want to compromise an ongoing investigation, I understand that. So does Miho. But in this case, especially for her — and I’m not just saying that because she’s my friend; I think she’s proven herself in situations like this –, I think you can maintain the integrity of the investigation while not having to deceive her at the same time.  Rules are a dead and static thing, made by humans to serve the needs of a situation. And by the same token, situations can change, and so we can be flexible to adapt while remaining true to overall protocol. It’s not ‘either or’ in this case, Hideki, you must be able to see that. Things need not be robotic; in fact, I think something as dynamic as a complicated investigation is best served by anything but.”

Her look was beseeching as much as it was resolute.  She wanted, needed, him to understand that there was more than one alternative, and indeed, a better one existed than what dead, strict rules dictated.

His hand had reached her cheek, his thumb had been lightly grazing the skin as she spoke, but the moment she’d mentioned his way was ‘robotic’, his arm sank back to his side.

“You are operating under the assumption I do not know how to effectively perform my job,” he stated, and indeed, this time he sounded more mechanical, “that I am intentionally wounding Mrs. Goto. Please do not forget our duty is not without risk – risk Lieutenant Goto has always accepted as a necessary evil in the pursuit of people who want to destroy our way of life (writes a presidential speech). Lieutenant Goto’s death will not be in vain provided the integrity of this investigation is not compromised, and in time, Mrs. Goto’s pain will diminish.”

His stoic mask was now firmly affixed, a sure sign to his wife he had been affronted. It was rare he showed anger, whether he felt it or not; it was far more common for him to shut down.

Which is what he did – and before she could speak again he had stepped away.

“I am going to take a shower now,” he asserted.

“Is that part of the fake eulogy you’re going to give?” she threw at his retreating back before she could stop herself, her sarcastic side finding voice in her frustration.

She almost wanted to throw something at the firmly closing bathroom door, but knew it would accomplish nothing but a momentary childish satisfaction of noise to punctuate her ire.  She thought she understood her husband enough to get beyond the “cyborg” persona his colleagues often referred to him as, but now she wondered how much she was really able to understand him in the dire situations when she felt she should most.

She bit her lip, and after only a moment’s thought, grabbed her phone to text a quick thanks to Jazz for what she was able to surmise by now.  She followed this with a quick text to Miho:

“I believe you.  I’m sorry about him.”

Liana didn’t want to go more into it than that, over what was really essentially not that secure a channel.  She hoped her friend understood the “him” was her infuriatingly stubborn husband.

Liana stood halfway between the hallway and her bedroom, wondering whether she should get ready for bed or go to Miho to apologize to and try to comfort, and help, her friend.  She doubted if she would get much further with Hideki tonight, though a tenacious part of her wanted to try, as well as to make him understand she was not against him, but trying to help him as well as her friend and Lieutenant Goto.  Or if it would be more helpful to the situation as a whole to go to discuss things over with her friend. A chime from her phone alerting her to an incoming text helped make up her mind.

“I’m going to need more ice cream.”

It was Jazz, and no doubt Miho had chowed her way through all available potential sources to cool her ire.

“Will hijack an ice cream van and be right over. Preferences?”

“Surprise me.”

MJS (Twilight Zone Edition) Part 1

With a quiet groan, Kaga opened his eyes. His recollection of the previous night’s mission was a little fuzzy, and he struggled to bring his memories into clarity. Another soft murmur sounded in the quiet room, and Kaga tensed when he felt movement against his body.

“Mmm, it’s a little early for that, don’t you think?” a somewhat familiar-honey-laced voice whispered, and Kaga flinched when the supple shape ground back into the curve of his body.

In confusion, he gripped her hips to prevent her from arousing him any further, but it had the opposite effect.”

In a no doubt practiced move, Miho rolled over on top of him, hands either side of Kaga’s had, and grinned down as she undulted her hips.

“I wonder what your colleagues would think, Lieutenant, if they knew you were so dirty,” she crooned, leaning down to speak against his lips.

“Who’re you calling Lieutenant?” Kaga retorted, but he couldn’t – or simply didn’t – untangle himself from her before she smothered his lips with a passionate kiss.

His hands were sliding up her bare sides before he got a grip on himself, turned his head and pushed her back.

“I’ve got things to do,” he declared as he tipped Miho sideways, but his voice rasped.

He had just enough time to see her pouty-quizzical face before he hefted himself out of bed, quick to glance around and then head into the ensuite.

With the door closed behind him, Kaga took stock, pausing a second before looking into the mirror.

Instant.

Horror.

The face that stared back was not his own, but that of Seiji Goto.

I mean, it made sense considering this wasn’t his apartment, and Miho wasn’t his bedfellow, yet there he was having his morning wood stroked by the wife of his colleague.

“What the fuck is going on?” he exhaled sharply, his heart beating rapidly, even as he splashed cold water on his face.

Unfortunately this did not dispel whatever black magic had trapped him in Goto’s body, a body he then began to examine.

“Bullshit,” he snorted caustically when he pulled out the front of his boxers to inspect his – or rather Goto’s – slowly receding erection.

Knowing he couldn’t stay cloistered in the bathroom forever, he took a quick shower before gathering his courage to emerge.

Thankfully, Miho was not in the bedroom and the bed was made, giving Kaga the chance to explore until he found the closet.

“Humiliating,” he muttered as he pulled one of Goto’s uniforms out, but he dressed himself and ventured beyond.

He we was greeted by boisterous barking, as two greyhound puppies came speeding toward him. They pulled up short, however, skidding across the floor before they reached him, and began to growl: tails trembling, teeth bared, then they began to bark.

“Ishigami! Kaga!” Miho shouted from out of sight. “Cut it out!”

Imitating the pair of little pooches, Kaga leaned a little and snapped his teeth, and the pups backed away before turning and racing away.

Kaga had known Kurosawa had named the puppies he’d given to Miho and Goto as a wedding present, but hearing his own name from Miho’s lips like that in his current situation just made it even more surreal.

Something rattling in the kitchen drew the lean dogs back down the hall, and rubbing the back of his neck, Kaga followed. There he found Miho, in a short, satin robe, her hair a messy bun, pouring a second cup of coffee which she then held out to him.

“You okay?” Miho frowned, scrutinising her husband closely.

His response was from his lips before he’d paused to think.

“This better have enough sugar in it,” he snuffed, and was alerted to what he’d done by the surprise in Miho’s expression.

“I’d hope by now, as a dutiful wife, I’d know how you take your coffee,” she retorted, a little hurt behind her eyes.

“Gah,” he spluttered, wincing after he’d taken a sip. “Moron! This isn’t coffee!”

Stunned, Miho blinked a couple of times before her expression darkened.

“Uh… sorry?” he stammered, the word feeling somehow easy on his lips, despite being almost complete foreign to his brain. “Had… weird… dreams.”

Desperately trying to figure out what the hell was going on – considering the possibility he was indeed still asleep – Kaga stiffly sat down. Under the watchful gaze of two very wary greyhounds, he sipped his coffee while Miho made them some breakfast. He knew his objection hadn’t been very Goto-like, and it was clear his colleague’s wife was not at all accustomed to being insulted, but he too was at a loss.

“Actually, you know what?” Kaga grunted, as she put a plate down in front of him. “I should…”

Then he was interrupted by the ringing of a cell phone.

It rang, and rang, and rang, until Miho snatched it from the counter and handed it to him.

“It’s Captain Kaga,” she declared, having glanced at the caller I.D.

“What?” Kaga greeted, though he REALLY needed to talk to… um… himself?

“Is Miho there?” came Kaga’s own voice, but he hadn’t spoken it.

Kaga could only assume if he was in Goto’s body, Goto was in his.

“Of course,” Kaga grunted. “Her coffee is terrible.”

As if reacting on Miho’s outraged behalf, Ishigami let out a high pitched bark.

“Let me talk to her,” Goto rushed.

“And say what? You are worried about her?” Kaga snorted. “We have bigger things to worry about, so get your ass to the Academy.”

Then he hung up.

“Hey,” Miho blustered, ignoring the weird one-sided conversation she’d just heard. “You haven’t touched your breakfast.”

“Not hungry,” Kaga grunted, leaving everything on the table and heading to the front door under canine escort.

“Since when?” Miho persisted, following him closely. “Seiji, slow down.”

“No time. Very, very busy,” Kaga pressed on, reaching the door and slipping his feet into Goto’s shoes, stooping to tie the laces.

“I think you can make time to spare me a few words,” she volleyed, as Kaga straightened and reached for the doorknob.

But Miho’s hand slammed against the door with force, startling the pair of puppies.

“Goto Seiji, I’m talking to you,” she insisted, her tone low and authoritative.

Many – most people – would back down when faced with Miho in serious mode, but this only triggered Kaga’s defiance.

He’d taken her wrist and spun her around before she could blink, and though she well and truly knew how to defend herself against a stranger’s attack, Goto pressing her cheek flush against the bevelled surface, using his body to trap her there, was restricted to intimate scenarios only.

Intimate, this was not.

Something was definitely wrong.

The greyhounds snarled but Kaga ignored them.

“I’m talking to you, wife,” he whispered behind her ear, and the hairs on the back of her neck stood to attention. “I’m busy. I’m going to work. Don’t wait up.”

When he stepped back, Miho slid sideways and crouched to calm her puppies.

“Well shit, have a peachy day then,” she dropped caustically – confused, hurt.

Kaga exited with no further comment.

Honeymoon over.

 

Goto arrived at the Police Academy flustered, and found Ishigami in the main area of the Instructor’s Room pouring over the previous night’s reports.

“Sir!” Goto exclaimed, rushing up to his superior while – of course – wearing Kaga’s face. “Captain, we have a serious problem.”

Lifting his head, Ishigami blinked at Kaga in puzzlement.

Usually it was hostility and insult.

Usually it was biting sarcasm and venom.

But, Sir and Captain?

This was surely the Twilight Zone.

As if realising his folly, Goto straightened, blushing a little as he put some distance between them.

“Sorry, Sir, you’re right,” Goto stammered, and this simply blew Ishigami out of the water. “Maybe we could discuss this in your office?”

As Ishigami stood, Kaga arrived – of course – wearing Goto’s face.

“Ahh, four-eyes,” he sniffed. “Has your lacky filled you in on this shitstorm?”

He looked at Goto inhabiting his skin, and Goto peered right back at Kaga wearing his skin.

“Goto,” Ishigami said curtly, though he was looking at Kaga. “If this is some sort of joke…”

“No, Sir,” Goto assured, but all Ishigami saw was a long-time agitator mocking him.

“Captain?” Goto prompted, sending Kaga a somewhat pleading look.

“Well… shit,” Kaga sighed, and Ishigami swore – in Goto’s body language – he saw Kaga’s arrogance and disdain. “Captain Ishigami,” Kaga went on, and he couldn’t have looked any more like he’s just bitten into a lemon. “It seems as if Lieutenant Goto and I have… somehow… switched bodies.”

Snakes and Starships: V

There was simply no mistaking the suggestion in Miho’s tone, nor the way her gaze lingered on certain parts of his anatomy before she made purposeful eye contact.

“Just how often do you get an open invitation from a princess?” she sighed out, and Orion could almost see those words: a sinuous line of seduction dropping a noose around his neck.

“Not often,” he admitted, fingers tensing into fists. “But I’m…”

“Not interested in girls like me?” she finished for him cheekily, and gave a shrug before turning toward the other end of the cabin. “That is a terrible shame.”

“You like to put words in the mouths of others, don’t you?” he said, close behind her, and Miho grinned.

“I do,” she agreed, playfully, and when she lolled her head back, she was satisfied to find it nestled quite snuggly against his shoulder at the crook of his neck. “Are you feeling the need to reciprocate?” she purred, speaking against his throat. “Or is there something other than words you’d like to put into my mouth?”

“Among other places,” he hissed, hands falling against her hips and digging in lightly.

The taste of adrenaline was still bitter on his tongue, and though he was not oblivious to the dangers of becoming entangled with a woman like Miho, she was right. There had been many times, close calls – some far too close – he had returned to the Promise wound so tightly he thought he’d shatter. And there was little release but for his own company, which was a far cry from the intoxicating promise of a woman’s delicate flesh beneath his fingers.

“Go on then, Captain,” she whispered, grinding back against him. “Don’t be shy, take what you want – I won’t complain… unless you disappoint me.”

She had barely uttered the last taunting word when Orion pushed her forward, forcing her to brace with her hands against the cold, metal shutter.

“That’s a start,” she sighed, the heat of his fingers sliding from her belt buckle to curl over the top of her leggings and drag downwards to her ankles.

“Shame you didn’t get to wear your new outfit very long,” he said against the top of her shoulder, his hands snaking over her breasts to the zipper of her jacket.

“Damn shame,” she grinned, spinning around the moment her jacket hit the floor and crushing her lips against his.

This brought back the rush of their retreat, and with the pressure of an entire city looking for a killer squeezing them tightly, their bodies released control and inhibition. In a frenzy of clattering peripherals and the rustle and fling of fabric, both ignored the possibility of the shutters suddenly opening, and enjoyed unconstrained exploration of each other’s bodies.

Orion was unsurprised Miho was no shrinking violet, meeting the urgency of his own mounting want with equal fervour. He put aside the idea she had won her way like this in other circumstances, for it honestly didn’t matter. Instead, with chest heaving and eyes smouldering, he watched as she slid down his body and settled on her knees.

“Sit,” she commanded, wicked smile adding to the already prominent sense of danger twisted with desire in Orion’s stomach. “Or you will fall,” she added, smoothing her palms up his thighs, her thumbs grazing sensitive flesh until her hands fell completely away.

She sat before him, but Orion was under no illusion that she had the power. The slightest touch of her tongue against the tip of his shaft was excruciating, a fleeting shock of exquisite sensation that caused him to shudder and inch forward. When he reached out to cup her cheek, then comb his fingers into her hair, she seemed pleased, and rewarded him with the full, moist warmth of her mouth and the delicious force of her lips around his cock.

Dropping his head back, Orion let out a low groan, tightening his grip in Miho’s hair and drawing her back and forth against him with increasing fervour. And even trough watering eyes, Miho’s focus remained fixed on him defiantly, challenging him not to cum embarrassingly soon while doing everything she could to push him right over the edge. Her tongue swirled purposeful circles each time he passed her lips, and though she braced herself against the bench with one hand, the other encouraged his arousal with playful fingers.

“Grrr, enough!” he barked suddenly, and actually caught Miho off guard when he pushed her backwards.

Just as it seemed her head would crack against the floor, she felt it cushioned by the curl of Orion’s arm beneath, followed by his weight on top.

“Reached your limit alr…” she began cheekily, but her triumphant chuckle was muffled unexpectedly by a kiss so fierce, so deep and probing, when he allowed her to surface she was gasping for breath.

“Ha,” she hissed out. “A man who’ll kiss a girl who not moments ago had her lips around his cock?”

“No doubt they’ve been worse places,” he volleyed, burying his face in her neck and his free hand between her legs.

An intense shock burst through her, so sharp and delightful her back arched against the firm massage of his thumb on her clit, while his fingers curled within.

“Ahh, not the first time you’ve done this,” she exhaled heavily, lips quivering as he dragged his teeth over her shoulder before returning ravenously to her mouth.

His erection pressed insistently into her inner thigh, and she wanted it, wanted to feel full, but Orion was now trailing kisses down her body – over her breasts, pinching one nipple between his teeth before settling his face between her legs and lapping over the inflammation of her sensitive bud.

“Ohhh… yes…” she moaned, sifting her fingers through his hair as he worked magic into her flesh.

A strangely familiar, oddly nostalgic sense flickered within her, along with the intricate motion of Orion’s tongue, but it was fleeting – overwhelmed as she lifted to her pelvis to meet each skilled thrust and the determined suckle over her clit.

“Give me more!” she demanded hoarsely, digging her fingernails into his shoulders and trying to pull him back up.

Orion lifted his head, licking his lips, his chin, and his expression told Miho he was both drunk with carnal desire and fighting it at the same time.

“We can’t,” he panted, shaking his head, but there was a persistent glaze in his eyes that Miho knew well – and it begged him to throw caution to the wind.

“Oh, yes we can,” she growled, shoving against his slightly sweat glistening chest with enough force to push him back into a crouch. “And we’re going to.”

“Miho, wait,” he insisted when she crawled forward against him, curling one arm round his neck.

“You think covert operatives don’t take chemical precautions?” she rasped before biting down on his lower lip, drawing it into his mouth and dragging away slowly, all the while grinding her hips against his lap, coiling her legs around him. “Or is it you think I’m the danger here?”

“Oh, you’re a danger,” he grimaced, his hands gripping her waist, but his efforts to keep her from working his shaft to her impatient entrance, were at best half-hearted.

“Your doctor,” she whispered against his soft earlobe, “gave me a clean bill of health.”

Orion hadn’t thought of that, and it was true.

“Are you sure?” he managed, voice strained, brows knitted, and again Miho had cause to look amused… then extremely serious.

“Let me sink down on you, Captain,” she breathed, speaking the words from one corner of his mouth to the other. “Let me swallow you whole, squeeze you – I want you pulsing inside me, pounding until I cum so hard I forget my own name.”

That was waaaay too much for Orion, who instantly pulled her down onto him, full force penetration, a deep sense of satisfaction and the reckless abandon of his animal instincts.

There were no more words to spare, just the frantic ballet of Miho’s body undulating against Orion, the joining of their bodies a passionate, rhythmic dance set to the sound of heavy breathing, the slap of skin on skin, and the mounting inevitability of each other’s climax.

And when they had rocked the boat – and each other – most thoroughly, Orion drew Miho into his arms and held her as they both tried to catch their breaths, lightly stroking her arm, across her collarbone, her throat, with feather-light fingertips.

“Are you all right?” he asked softly, brushing moist hair from her forehead.

“Oh yes,” Miho grinned languidly, bathing in the afterglow. “Is it bad of me to hope this lockdown continues so you can regain some of your stamina?”

Orion exhaled a husky chuckle.

“Yes,” he answered, humming a little before making another addition. “And… no.”

“And for a bounty hunter you came across as such an upstanding individual,” Miho laughed, and stretched out her legs a little, legs that Orion promptly entwined with his own. “Mmm you know, there is only one other man in all the galaxy I know with that tongue technique,” she mused, tracing her fingertip around one of Orion’s nipples, the sharp edge leaving a light scratch mark among many much deeper. “And I guarantee he isn’t enjoying himself nearly as much as you are right now.”

“Tongue technique?” Orion repeated, on the verge of expressing her lack of manners talking about another man while he still held her in his arms, but he shuddered a little as Miho slithered her tongue front he nipple she’d been torturing, to his Adam’s apple.

“Don’t look so offended, Orion,” she breathed, kissing lightly along his tensed jawline. “It’s a compliment of the highest order – believe me…”

A little awkwardly given the compact nature of the cabin, Miho wriggled until she laid on top of Orion, and settled back against his chest.

“Very few can make me see stars like that,” she sighed blissfully. “I almost want to keep you.”

“I’m not a pet,” he frowned, but Miho simple placed her lips over each crease.

“No, but you could be a delectable periodic pitstop in my travels,” she pointed out, the tip of her nose touching his as she peered down into eyes she felt now were also quite familiar.

This time, however, she chose to say nothing on the subject, and kissed him again – this time so very gently, almost tenderly. It made Orion’s head spin a little at how quickly this woman changed gears, but while they continued to be in lockdown, there were worse things in the universe to do… than her.

 

Returning to the Promise after the end of the lockdown proved to be a non-event. No one had come to search the water taxi in which Miho and Orion had taken refuge, and Miho found this curious though obviously convenient. She and the captain didn’t talk about what they had done, and they sure as hell weren’t holding hands and singing love songs, but there was an oddly comfortable familiarity between them; both had enjoyed the unexpected interaction, and Miho marked Orion down as definite ‘contact’.

If only Jaxon knew how detailed her ‘little black book’ of names was, he’d be floored.

“You look well rested,” Jazz noted, seeming a little tired herself, rubbing her eyes.

“And you don’t,” Orion frowned. “Everything alright?”

“Well, that depends on your definition,” she shrugged, and opened her mouth to continue when Jenna came racing up to them, Atlas trudging behind her more slowly – probably because he was carrying several heavy looking bags.

“You’ll never guess what happened!” she exclaimed giddily, and Miho arched a brow at her enthusiasm. “Atlas and I got locked into the apartment Jaxon’s source sent us to, and there was only one bed!

By the time Atlas had stomped to Jazz’s side and dropped his cargo, Jazz was looking at him with interest.

“Don’t gimme that look, Love,” Atlas rumbled, leaning closer to her. “Made her sleep on the floor.”

“Only one bed, huh?” Miho chuckled. “Wow, Orion and I didn’t even get that lucky.”

Orion coughed, then cleared his throat.

“So long as everyone is back in one piece,” he said in a bit of a rush, which awarded him inquisitive looks from both Jazz and Atlas.

“Don’t celebrate just yet,” Jazz edged in. “There’s someone waiting for you. Soon as he saw the Promise, he refused to leave.”

Even before Orion’s head snapped to Miho, she knew who he was referring to, and she rolled her eyes.

“Ugh, well I have questions for Commodore Fairchild myself,” she grunted, and began stomping up the ramp.

But before Miho could reach the bridge, Orion caught her wrist.

“Wait a second,” he exhaled, giving her a slight nudge against the wall.

“You want to go again right here?” she queried, but she didn’t seem really in the mood.

“No,” he shook his head. “There’s something you should know.”

“Clone?” she offered with a slightly raised eyebrow.

“What?” Orion responded, confused.

“No, you’re right,” Miho mused, tilting her head a little. “Cunnalingus instructor? Nah, that doesn’t explain your eyes. Cousin? Brother?”

Orion blinked at Miho openly, and she chortled.

“You’re being ridiculously obvious, Captain,” she laughed, giving his cheek a light pat. “All I need now is some confirmation.”

“Brother,” Orion answered, lifting his chin a little. “We’re twins.”

Miho chewed her lower lip, considering him nose to nose.

“Special arrangement indeed,” she smirked, then began again down the corridor to the bridge.

There, she found Nova and Jaxon ‘guarding’ Antares, who got to his feet and glowered at her fiercely; not to be intimidated, Miho threw down the bag carrying her weapon, and simply stood her ground.

“Are you going to bow to your princess, or say hello to your brother first?” she smile smugly, and Antares swept up to her, incredibly unamused.

“What, are you doing here, Miho?” he growled, but Orion forced his way in between them as the others arrived on the bridge.

“Atlas,” he said, though he was still looking at Antares. “I’d like to get clear of this planet.”

“Can we dump him first?” Atlas grated, handing over what he was carrying to Nova, before flopping into his seat.

“Got a little something on your cape there, Commodore,” Miho grinned around Orion’s shoulder. “Not really up to uniform code.”

“I could say the same thing for you, Princess,” he volleyed coldly. “What were you doing on Eryl, and why are you with him?”

“Why do you insist on asking questions you know I’m not going to answer?” Miho sniffed. “Furthermore, I need a shower, and I’m absolutely starving – Captain?”

“You can use my quarters,” he acquiesced. “Jenna, could you show her where…”

“Stay right where you are,” Antares commanded, and Jenna froze, looking helpless.

“This is my ship, Commodore,” Orion said, his tone tight. “And Miho is a guest, and while she is a guest, my word is the only one that matters. Go ahead, Princess, just follow Jenna.”

Without another sideways glance at Antares, Miho followed Jenna off the bridge.

“You have no idea what you’re dealing with here,” Antares dropped crisply.

“I’m starting to get an idea,” Orion answered slowly. “Nova, I think our guest is probably going to need a fresh towel.”

“I got it,” Jaxon ejected, leaping up, but both Orion and Antares barked at him.

“No.”

“Don’t you dare,” Antares hissed, pointing at Jaxon.

“Yes, Captain,” Nova acknowledged, and departed.

“Let’s go and wait in the lounge,” Orion then suggested, and the pair of brothers moved out with Jaxon, to the sound of Atlas cursing the Empire dead-weight on board.

 

Miho hummed as the water ran down her body, smiling whimsically as she smeared herself in soapy suds until she was thoroughly clean. She was still enjoying the warmth when there was a solid knock on the bathroom door, followed by the appearance Nova with a towel folded over her arm.

“Princess, the captain asked me to bring you this,” Nova said, loud enough for Miho to hear her.

Without hesitation, Miho shut off the water and stepped out of the spacious glass cubicle, dripping from head to toe.

“Mmm,” she murmured with a slight stretch. “I don’t suppose I can convince you to give me a hand? A couple perhaps?”

“Are you unable to manage on your own, Highness?” Nova enquired, deadpan. “Are princesses not taught to dress themselves?”

“Of course, I can,” Miho admitted. “But team work is always so much more… rewarding.”

“So, you are offering me a reward in exchange for my services?” Nova surmised, with eyebrows raised.

“My goodness, you make it all sound so sordid,” Miho chuckled, then reached for the towel that Nova relinquished.

“When you are ready, I will escort you to the lounge where you are awaited,” Nova declared, then exited to give Miho her privacy.

She didn’t rush, but didn’t dally too long either, and though without her tiara, she entered the lounge most regally with her escort and took stock of the room.

Everyone except Atlas was present, but even under the weight of their combined scrutiny, Miho didn’t seem the smallest bit uncomfortable.

Of course, it was Antares who spoke first, rocking to his feet, tall and straight.

“Imagine my surprise when I met with Admiral Yuul on Eryl – foremostly to determine what he was hauling that could have interested you so much,” he began, taking measured steps in Miho’s direction, “when he pops like a balloon before discussion can even commence.”

“They just don’t make Empire admirals like they used to,” Miho sighed, but there was cheek sparkling wildly in her eyes.

“Or princesses,” Jaxon muttered under his breath.

“Oh I’m the new improved model,” she announced triumphantly, defiance in the tip of her chin, which Antares swiftly snatched, thumb pressing firmly into her skin.

New model?” he questioned, and he was looking for something, looking at her in a way he never had before.

“Antares,” Orion barked sternly. “Let her go.”

Deliberately, Antares craned his neck to look at his brother, which Miho remained still and remarkably unreactive to Antares’ physical trespass.

“What exactly is going on here?” Antares asked slowly, his gaze loitering on Orion a moment before passing an expectant eye over the rest before finally returning to Miho. “How in this or any other galaxy did you manage to get them on your side?”

“Magic,” Miho offered through a wicked grin.

A moment of silence fell, before Antares worked his jaw – cast Orion a meaningful glance – then resume his assessment of Miho’s expression.

“You didn’t,” he stated, voice low and quiet, perhaps only loud enough for she and him to hear.

“Why don’t you ask the questions you really want answers to, Commodore,” she whispered, leaning a little against his hold to breath upon his lips.

There was something there in Antares’ face, Miho relished. Though it was ever so fleeting, his conclusion Orion’s reaction was because she had slept with him, did not sit well.

“Did you murder Admiral Yuul?” Antares asked flatly, now seeming in an even fouler mood.

“Oh yes,” Miho confirmed, satisfaction in the way she swaggered to Orion’s side and sat down. “Still, let me throw you a breadcrumb for free and say, I didn’t expect him to deflate any more than you did – though, the look on your face was priceless.”

“Deflate?” Tyrian repeated.

“Yep,” Miho nodded. “No bloody nuggets as expected, just a burst of purple light and then a crumpled skin-sack.

“What the hell kind of being is that?” Jenna scowled, glancing up from the tablet she was tapping on.

“Yuul was human,” Miho responded. “Was, is, I don’t know what it was I killed, but it wasn’t the actual Admiral Yuul.”

“What are you thinking, Commodore?” Jazz prompted, noting Antares’ pensive silence.

“You didn’t know?” Antares asked Miho seriously, and she straightened in her seat.

“Yuul needed killing,” she explained clearly. “All his other crimes aside, he’s one of my father’s ass monkeys. If that wasn’t him, and it wasn’t, then where is he?”

“This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this,” Antares stated, and he had everyone’s attention.

Snakes and Starships: IV

“Anyone here surprised to hear that?” Jaxon piped up and Miho snorted.

“I suppose you lump me into the same category as the Emperor just because I’m his daughter?”

“Seems likely,” Orion responded.

“Malicious? Genocidal? Sadistic? Megalomaniacal?” she lists off.

“Accurate,” Orion nodded again.

“Well I’m not him,” Miho declared. “Whatever you’ve heard is ninety percent fiction. I’m just a monster by association.”

“And the other ten percent?” Jazz prompted.

“Accurate,” Miho grinned proudly.

“There’s nothing average about your fighting ability,” Tyrian noted, and Miho’s smile grew wider, throwing him a wink.

“I enjoy what I do,” she announced. “I’m just miffed I wasn’t around to deal Sol’s much deserved final blow.”

“So, you’ve admittedly been on a killing spree but you’re not a murderous savage like your father?” Orion posed sceptically.

“Doesn’t it depend on who I’m killing?” she volleyed. “Or have you never been responsible for the death of an Empire soldier.”

“We’re not a bunch of murderous space pirates,” Jazz frowned, but Orion seemed to be waiting for Miho to continue, and she looked all the more smug for it.

“In order for Rastaban to usurp the former emperor, he needed supporters everywhere. Now, those Empire big wigs are working on expanding my father’s territories into both Union, and independent space.”

“Aggressive Empire expansion isn’t anything new,” Tyrian noted, but Miho was clearly not finished.

“He has people placed in more colonies than the Union knows,” she explained. “And when he calls for them to take control, it will be with the backing of armadas the Union will not be prepared for.”

“Let me get this straight,” Orion levelled. “You, daughter of the emperor, are colony hopping to assassinate your father’s sleeper agents?”

“Attractive and smart,” Miho grinned. “And oddly familiar… have we met before?”

“Definitely not,” Orion replied quickly.

“And that is pretty much it,” Miho added lightly. “So, if you don’t mind, I would like to get on with my work.”

“You still haven’t explained why?” Tyrian pointed out.

“Does it matter why?” she chuckled. “At the end of the day, less assholes are a good thing for everyone.”

“That depends,” Tyrian pressed, though his manner remained calm, “on what happens after they’re gone.”

“And why you’d defy your father when in your position you could live a life wanting for nothing,” Orion added.

“There is a lot he’s done, and continues to do, that I disagree with,” she answered simply. “Because he is a blood relative means nothing, when I know he’d sell even me if that would forward his goals.”

“So, you’re petulant?” Jaxon snorted.

“Petulant – exceptionally well trained, and vehemently at odds with your enemy,” Miho clarified. “So I’d have thought you’d be happy for me to carry out my business.”

For a moment, Orion looked pensive, before he spoke again.

“And Fairchild is a part of the Emperor’s domination plan?” he asked slowly, studying her with renewed scrutiny, and she returned his gaze with equal intensity.

“The GLF is still very fractured,” she answered him, and he could tell she was being careful in her response. “There are countless pockets of Empire forces – some of them very powerful – that operate outside Rastaban’s mandates, just as they did before with my father’s predecessor. For all his faults, Commodore Fairchild fits into one such pocket, so I don’t need to kill him… yet.”

“So why does he want to get you back so badly?” Tyrian persisted. “If he’s not one for toeing the line.”

“Well, ingratiating oneself with the emperor is not without its benefits,” Miho shrugged, then shifted a little uncomfortably, twisting her wrists where they remained bound. “And speaking of benefits, either someone needs to remove these hardlight cuffs, or one or more of you needs to step up the kink game.”

Tyrian blushed.

Orion crossed his arms.

Jaxon stepped a little closer and appeared to be giving Miho’s ill-fitting clothes another examination.

“Hmm…” he began, one full of suggestion.

“No, I’m not going to sterilise the infirmary again,” Jazz broke in.

“Ugh, come on,” Miho growled, sitting up straighter. “I kill Rastaban’s allies, so unless you’re pro-totalitarianism, you’ve nothing to fear from the likes of me.”

Tyrian nodded slowly, the turn of his head a silent question to Orion, who also considered Jazz and Jaxon’s reactions.

“I want to see this for myself,” he declared finally, and with a soft click, Miho’s cuffs fell away.

“Which part?” Miho grinned suggestively, rubbing her wrists a little before sliding her feet to the floor.

“Hey, take it easy, you took a really hard blow to the head not that long ago,” Jazz warned, but Miho stood, grinning, obviously reflecting on Jazz’s choice of words.

“I wasn’t the one taking it, but let’s not focus on that,” she chuckled, seeming completely at ease despite her foreign surroundings.

“Who is your next target?” Orion asked, refusing to react when Miho drew closer to him, far closer than she needed to in order to reply.

“Admiral Darsius Yuul,” she revealed. “He was personally overseeing the transport of some particularly sensitive military grade materials and I had intended on taking him out there, but someone had to get in my way.”

“What happened to your ship?” Tyrian questioned, for obviously she hadn’t just been floating about in space waiting for the admiral to fly past.

“Waiting for me to make contact, which – by the way – I would like to do now.”

“We’ll find Yuul’s current whereabouts,” Orion announced.

“We will?” Jaxon piped up, then looked a little sheepish.

“And,” Orion continued, “when we find him, I’d like to witness your conviction, personally.”

“You’ve a taste for blood, Captain?” Miho teased, licking her lips a little.

“Words are cheap,” he noted. “Forgive me for doubting your word until I’ve see them brought to action with my own eyes.”

“That is… exceptionally inconvenient,” she sighed, rolling her eyes toward the ceiling before fixing them on Orion’s face again. “If I let you tag along, you’ll walk away?”

“And leave you to carve your path of anti-Emperor carnage,” Orion nodded.

“Lovely,” she chirped, smiling at everyone, “though I’d quickly put some distance between your and Commodore Fairchild afterwards; he’s a sore loser.”

 

Atlas was unimpressed with Orion’s plan to accompany Miho on her next assassination, but stopped short of calling the decision madness. Of course, he had no love for the Empire or the Union, had taken his fair share of lives, but being party to straight up murder didn’t sit right with him – and he thought Orion would have felt the same.

Still, when Jaxon used some of his contacts to locate Admiral Yuul, the Promise headed to the tropical resort colony of Eryl and made as inconspicuous a landing as possible.

“Gee, I wish we were here on vacation,” Jenna sighed, moving to disembark.

The remark had been meant for Atlas, but he lingered on the bridge with Jazz a moment before catching up.

“There’s more to this place than clear water and high-end hotels,” Atlas grumbled in his usual, cheerful tone.

“Right you are,” Miho affirmed, joining them with Orion behind her. “I’m not surprised Yuul is here. Eryl may consider itself an independent colony an have a reputation for being a perfect honeymoon spot…”

At this point she winked at Orion, before continuing.

“… but it’s been used as a waystation of sorts for difficult to get, exotic and dangerous materials for as long as I can remember.”

“So, he’s here to offload whatever was on the ship you missed?” Tyrian concluded, coming to stand on Miho’s other side at the bottom of the Promise’s boarding ramp.

“Not just a pretty face,” Miho smiled, and she’d gently stroked his cheek before he had even thought to recoil. “He’ll no doubt be picking up some bits and pieces for his next project as well, buuuut, sadly he’s not going to be able to complete it.”

Tyrian was a soldier, like Atlas, he too had killed in the name of duty, but the flames in her eyes as she spoke so casually of murder? That concerned him, even if Yuul was a really bad guy.

“Let’s go on with this,” Orion prompted. “Don’t hang around, Atlas; get what you need to patch the Promise up, and get back to the ship as soon as possible. If this goes south, we’re going to need to get out of here in a hurry.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” Miho smirked, her enthusiasm undampened. “I’m going to need to get some equipment first, and definitely something else to wear, then we’re good to go.”

Trading one last glance with Atlas, Orion then followed Miho away from the Promise and out of the spaceport.

“So, what is your plan?” he asked, as they walked through the exceptionally clean streets bright and warm.

“Acquire gear, find a vantage point, kill the bad guy… then celebrate,” she replied happily. “Oh, that’s cute!” she exclaimed suddenly, snatching his wrist and dragging him unceremoniously over to a boutique.

Shaking his head, Orion had little choice but to trail behind her as she headed inside and demanded the clerk find the outfit in the window in her size. Shopping wasn’t exactly what he envisioned from a highly dangerous mission to kill a high-ranking Empire official, but it was quickly becoming clear to him that this woman – the Emperor’s own daughter – operated by rules entirely her own.

“How does this look?” she enquired, emerging from the dressing room and striking a dramatic pose.

The sleek bodysuit flattered her figure in ways that made Orion shift a little where he sat, and he took a few seconds before answering.

“I think you know very well you would look good in even rags,” he admitted, and Miho’s eyes narrowed on him in an almost predatory fashion.

“Even better out of them, Captain,” she announced, then turned her attention to the waiting clerk. “I’ll take this.”

The process of payment was quick and clean – an electronic transfer keyed to Miho’s bio-signature, and they were out of the boutique in under ten minutes.

“You’re not concerned about your account being traced?” he wondered aloud, as Miho dumped her old clothes into a garbage receptacle.

“I wouldn’t be a very effective covert operative if I didn’t have means to cover up my movements,” she chuckled, “so no, I’m not worried.”

Indeed, nothing about her suggested anything sinister, and Orion found himself struggling against being swept away by her open enthusiasm for their locale.

“I really should come back here for some r and r when I’m done with this crap,” she mused, now carrying a brightly coloured bag over her shoulder.

She’d known exactly where to go to get the equipment she desired, and the ‘vendor’ had been an unassuming woman at a garage with a dizzying array of very specialised weapons.

“That’s the plan?” he probed. “Kill Rastaban’s collaborators then go on holiday?”

“I think I’ll have earned it,” she shrugged. “Conscientious homicide is quite a thankless job, you know.”

Frowning, Orion allowed some of his consternation to show.

“I’ll admit it,” he declared. “I have no idea how you, given your upbringing, became the person you are – what little I know of you that is.”

“It’s not that complicated,” she responded easily. “My upbringing is exactly why I am who I am. A well-trained killer…”

“A conscientious killer by your own admission,” he pointed out, and Miho grunted in confirmation.

“You think a girl brought up with Empire rhetorical poured into her ears could only turn into selfish, carnivorous monster who cares nothing for others?” she posed, watching him with a gentle and unwavering smile.

“That’s what my experience has largely taught me,” Orion nodded, their path drawing them up a steep hill overlooking a public square.

“You’re right in that I was educated a certain way,” she agreed. “But you cannot simply discount the will and conviction inherent in a person. Even the most heinous creatures have choices, decisions they make that are purely self-serving at the expense of others when there are other options.”

“You’re saying something intrinsic in you is the compass that directs your behaviour in opposition to your upbringing?” Orion surmised, but still didn’t sound entirely convinced by her argument.

“My father sees people as a resource, and while he has the ability and want to take for himself alone, that is precisely what he chooses to do. To him, I too am a resource,” she pointed out. “And don’t think simply because he’s half way responsible for my existence I am immune to his outlook. I could follow in his footsteps and reap the rewards of blood and brutality, but that isn’t what I want.”

Her tone had become firmer toward the end of her assertion, and it was a clear message to Orion she had grown tired of being doubted, even though she knew – logically – it was smart for him to be cautious.

Silence wrapped itself around them, until Miho had chosen her vantage point and set herself up.

“So, according to your incredibly modest crew member, Yuul has a meeting with another ranking Empire officer… there…” she murmured, and though she was sort of talking to Orion, it sounded to him more like vocalised thinking.

Orion watched her scan a building in the distance through a recon-scoped rifle of some description, the price for which could have financed more than half the advanced upgrades Atlas wanted for the Promise.

There they waited as time ticked by, Orion occasionally using a long-range scanner to check the room under Miho constant stare.

“Oh, I’m going to wipe that smug expression permanently off your face, you smug son of a bitch,” Miho hissed, and Orion refocused his scanner to find Miho target striding into view.

“And who is he there to meet wi…” Orion began, before his question was answered, and Miho cursed.

“For fuck’s sake, Antares,” she growled under her breath, but Orion heard her colloquial reference to his brother. “I swear, this guy seems to be making it his mission lately, to get in the way of mine,” she continued, and Orion watched her adjust her aim a little.

“You’re going to kill them both?” Orion scowled, and cringed at the amount of concern that had leeched into his voice.

“I should,” she replied with an irritated grunt, then clicked her tongue, then muttered again. “Conscientious homicide.”

And she pulled the trigger.

It was a remarkable shot – just one – that fired a highly compressed sonic ‘dart’ across the considerable distance between Miho and her target; it smashed cleanly through the glass of the window and found its mark perfectly.

What followed, however, was not what anyone expected – not Miho, not Orion and not Antares, who stood but a few feet from the victim. Like a deflated balloon, Yuul’s skin sagged as Miho’s invisible projectile penetrated one side of his skull, and instead of a graphic explosion of skull fragments and grey matter, Antares’ witnessed a rush of flashing purple energy escape the man’s body. His ears were assailed by the most horrific chorus of screams, as the light dissipated, and when silence returned he stared at the bizarre pile of skin, hair and clothing that used to be Yuul.

“That was unexpected,” Miho exhaled, watching through the scope as Antares crouched to more closely inspect Yuul’s remains, before beginning to search along the murder weapon’s most likely trajectory. “Let’s reflect on that later hmm?” she then posed, rocking back and folding her weapon before stuffing it into her bag. “Time to go.”

No doubt thanks to Antares, alarms began howling, and Orion quickly followed behind Miho as they headed toward a river.

“That guy really is a pain in the ass,” Miho muttered, scanning the river bank for a suitable vehicle. “Oh, there.”

Without waiting for Orion’s input, and either assuming he’d continue to follow – or perhaps not really caring at all – she waved over one of the automated water taxis and hopped on board.

“Head for the spaceport,” she instructed, though there was no pilot to speak of, and Orion only just made the leap onto the aft of the vessel before it began to move from the bank.

Her eyes sparkling, Miho settled against the cushions in the surprisingly spacious cabin and kicked her boots up onto a table.

“Isn’t it a little early to be so relaxed?” Orion questioned, shaking his head a little at her satisfied expression.

“This isn’t relaxed,” she told him promptly. “I’m… reflecting.”

“On why Admiral Yuul…” he began.

“Yeah, why a guy who was – according to my intelligence – one hundred percent human, didn’t turn into bloody nuggets, and why instead, he vented pretty lights like a plasma piñata.”

Orion blinked a few times as her description.

“Looked like Fairchild had no idea either,” she mused, gnawing on her lower lip a little, but sitting up a little straighter when sirens sounded much closer, and a robotic voice rang out of nearby loudspeakers.

“Attention citizens and guests. In accordance with city code AWV117, all public and private spaces will be subject to lockdown for an indeterminate period.”

“Just peachy,” Miho grumbled, getting to her feet.

“Please remain calm, until authorities have resolved the situation,” the voice continued, “and thank you for your cooperation.”

Miho managed one step toward the cabin door, before a metal shutter fell swiftly to bar her path, followed by others that covered the windows.

“Well, that complicates matters,” Miho admitted, shoving her bag back down.

“Somehow I’m beginning to see everything with you is complicated,” Orion responded, rubbing the back of his neck and looking around for a panel that might reveal some manual override mechanisms.

“Ha!” Miho snorted incredulously, but it didn’t sound offended. “Don’t go getting all sassy with me, Captain,” she continued, for some reason unperturbed by the fact they were trapped. “You wouldn’t be here if you’d just let me do my thing.”

“Would you have let you go?” he volleyed, rolling to the side to sit and peer at her.

“Okay, I’ll concede that point,” she grinned. “But, only because a part of me is happy you’re here.”

“And why would that be?” he queried, watching her body language change.

“Oh, come on, Orion,” she drawled, eying him up and down. “Your heart isn’t pounding? Blood… throbbing?”

Her Love In The Zombie Apocalypse

Happiness doesn’t last, does it?

In the perfect world, we grow to be strong, learn to believe in ourselves and to have the courage of our convictions, and finally meet someone with whom we can be that person – in both strength and weakness.

When you find that person, don’t let the small, the insignificant things come between you.

Embrace.

Embrace your differences and each other and don’t let go. Fight hard and with everything you’ve got.

Because you never truly know when the dream will end.

 

Panting and laboured beneath the weight of my backpack, I struggle to keep pace. Kaga and Soma are already pulling aside our barricade at the east end of the academy, while Shinonome and Ishigami stand alert for approaching threats.

At my side – always at my side – Seiji remains in step.

His face is smeared with the horror of his narrow escape, much like the rest of us.

But one of us fell, one of us didn’t really escape at all, the others just don’t know it yet.

Seiji doesn’t know it yet.

“Get the hell in here!” Kaga barks, but his curt urgency is no exaggeration now.

The threat is real, however disbelieving we were at the beginning, the truth has well and truly sunk in.

“Christ,” he huffs as Seiji and I pass him, and he and Soma begin to reassemble the barricade protecting our fortress home. “Could you possibly find a smaller pack?”

“Screw you,” I gasp, stumbling into the foyer and sliding the bag from my aching shoulders.

It hits the floor with a heavy clunk, the cans within part of the bounty we’d retrieved from several convenience stores much further from the academy than we have ever venture since the incident. Those closest to the academy have already been stripped bear, and it was the necessity to eat, and to provide for those who also shelter with us, that prompted a much more dangerous run to distant sources.

Roaring in my ears, my pulse refuses to slow, and Seiji looks me over with worry.

“Are you all right?” he asks quietly, leaning against the wall beside me, peering at me with those gunmetal eyes haunted by deep concern.

“Mm,” I nod, giving him a weary smile.

Anything to ease his troubles.

Anything to lighten this heart I love.

Anything to protect it from breaking.

But I can’t.

“That was intense,” I add, as Ishigami joins us.

“Everyone okay?” he asks, the blandness of his expression a stark contrast to the dangle of gore hanging from the left side of his glasses.

“Yeah,” Seiji confirms, and I nod also.

Liar.

But they take my word for it, this trust is what has kept us alive this long.

There are untold numbers of dead in Tokyo, some permanently, some now roaming, shambling, looking for prey – because it all happened so quickly, and people didn’t know how fast the infection spread, how virulent it was.

We still don’t know how it started. Even law enforcement was woefully unprepared, and communication came too slow, too late.

“Let’s get this stuff to storage,” Seiji prompted, shouldering his pack, before collecting mine.

“I’m not completely useless,” I argue, but I’m playful in my scorn.

Oh how many small things has Seiji done for me? When was the exact moment his selflessness won over my heart? I have no doubt, he would gladly give his life in exchange for mine – but this time, he can’t.

 

When twilight drifts, everyone goes to their posts. We check our defences, reinforce each barricade, look for weaknesses and plug them, and check night-watch rosters.

Glancing down the list I note who is meant to be at each guard position. It looks as if I’m just doing my job, but in reality I need to know who is where for a very different reason.

Shivering, I pull my jacket more closely around me, and eventually meet up with Seiji in our room.

Our room.

It was going to be a little house, with a yard big enough for a dog and a small vegetable patch. That was our shared dream.

Now, he is all that I have left of that dream, and…

“You look tired,” he tells me, gently taking my face between broad palms. “You’re cold.”

“It’s a clear night,” I point out, leaning into his touch, trying to memorise the sensation. “It’s freezing out.”

“Well, it was a long day,” he smiles, carefully sliding his fingers into my hair and running them all the way to the tips. “Early night?”

“Gladly,” I exhale, hoping he can’t tell I’m gritting my teeth behind this smile.

He doesn’t know I organised a pack of bare essentials while he was showering, and hid it from sight. He’s treating me like he always has – the centre of his world.

Mouth dry, maybe from the gathering nervousness of what I must do, or maybe… I can’t tell if the jackhammer pounding against the inside of my skull is part of my transition, or the spread of guilt and grief and emotional pain so potent it’s a wonder I can stand, let alone smile like nothing is wrong.

And everything is wrong, because the throb in my forearm, hidden by the long sleeves of my flannel pajamas is a harbinger of my imminent death, and horrifying resurrection.

And I can’t be here when that happens.

Just the same, I snuggle under the blankets, and as Seiji is reaching over to turn off the lamp, I wrap my uninjured arm around him, and press myself mercilessly against his back.

I want to feel the imprint of his body against mine, my fingers, my hands, I want to remember every taut undulation of his chest, and the steady rhythm of his breath.

“Your hands are still freezing,” he grumbles, but hugs my forearm tightly.

And I pray he doesn’t hear my breath catch and stick in my throat, or feel the desperation to withhold a sob in the tension of my muscles.

“You always warm me up,” I whisper, hardly a breath at all, and he gives my hand a squeeze.

Nothing in the world would give me greater peace, than to remain here – but if I stay, even until morning… I might truly destroy him. Instead, I listen to the sounds of him, inhale the scent of him, until he falls asleep.

And then I have to exercise the absolute, utmost of my willpower to separate – softly so as not to wake him, when all I really want is for him to wake suddenly, grab me, pull me down and wrap himself around me.

I am my own person, but I would gladly let him consume me.

Cautiously I cover him back up, but the slight motion of Seiji’s head causes his bangs to flop over his closed eyelids.

So innocent.

And yet so fierce in my defence – and this is why I have to go.

He would make excuses, drag it out, maybe even beg me to stay even while knowing my fate is a foregone conclusion.

Go. GO! You have to go. For his sake.

As quietly as I can, I retrieve my backpack. There is hardly anything in it, because let’s face it, I’m not going to be needing human supplies for much longer.

Then there is the letter.

Saying goodbye, face to face, seeing him break… I can’t. And it’s not arrogance to think he will, because his heart and mine are one and mine…

… is being torn apart.

On the pillow, still fresh with the impression of my head, I leave my final missive to him, and bite down so hard on my lower lip, it bleeds. These feet won’t move but they have to.

Go.

My insides are hollowed out, a gaping, weeping wound very nearly prompting a sob when in my retreat from out room I spy Domo-kun.

It’s so stupid that Domo-kun should symbolise our love somehow, but for some reason that gift to me left a lasting impression. And even in the chaos, he stayed with us as a constant.

“Goodbye Domo-kun,” I whispered, slipping out into the hall and closing the door on all I ever wanted.

 

BONUS

“Cold,” Goto murmured, rolling over and groping across the bed for his favourite source of warmth.

It was not so jarring an awakening, for he didn’t yet know the truth. His wife could be any number of places by far more obvious than having snuck out in the night to meet her grizzly fate.

So he clutched at the blankets and tucked them under his chin, and in doing so disturbed the piece of paper beside him.

Rubbing his eyes with the back of one hand, he plucked the missive from the pillow and unfolded it.

And dread began to form, dread that turn swiftly into a panic without description.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE AUDIO OF THE BELOW LETTER

My dearest Seiji,

We said, till death do us part – but, I’m not sure where undeath fits into that.

I am sorry.

I made a mistake and now… the cost of it must be paid. And this is the one time you can’t save me, no matter how many times I call you name, the enemy now inside me cannot be defeated.

You will be angry that I didn’t tell you, that I didn’t… give you a chance to say goodbye, but leaving like this is the lesser of two terrible evils.

I will turn, it’s inevitable, and I don’t want your last memory of me to be as a monster.

Please remember the brush of my fingertips against your forehead.

Please remember the warmth of my body curled against yours.

Please, remember the passionate heat, and the bliss of our every union.

And let me save you this time – let me stand, even at this distance, between you and having to see me as anything other than the woman you took to be your wife.

That woman will soon be consumed, but until the very end I will fix you in my mind and heart, grip you relentlessly, because you have taught me what it means to be loved so unconditionally, so completely; I will not be afraid.

Loving you, and being loved by you, has been a privilege I’m not sure I ever really deserved, but you have been the absolute, the most precious gift I ever received.

I love you.

Your dearest wife.

 

The bed beside him was cold.

When in the night had she left him?

He knew she was gone but could not control his panic. It exploded inside him, could not be contained, and drove him from their room in his pinstriped pajamas. With abandon he threw himself down the corridor, blind almost but for a target in the distance he had no way of seeing.

Morning greeted him with a slap of winter, but Goto struggled through the haze of his desperate breaths lingering in the air, and staggered like a drunkard to the outer most manned position.

“Did you see her?!” he shouted.

“Lieutenant?” the young man queried, looking very confused.

“My wife!” Goto gasped. “Did you see her? Did she leave this way?”

But the pair stationed there could tell him nothing, nor could any of the other outer guards, and finally, her last words to him clutched in his bloodless fist, he sat, in the dirt, trembling.

Why couldn’t he see her face? Why could he only see the back of her, her retreating figure moving with labour steps through the undead who paid her no mind?

Losing her was… there were simply no words, but to know she had gone alone with such pain in her heart was a wound to him like no other.

And all he could do was sit, and stare off into the distance.

If Miho was MC Part 2

In Your Arms Tonight 2

Miho: Careful, that one’s a bit heavy.
Watches Shu struggle with a bulging garbage bag.
Shu: What is in this?
Miho shrugs.
Miho: My marriage?
Shu trips, drops bag which breaks, and Kazuya’s severed head rolls out and into the gutter.
Miho: You’re a lawyer, right?

My Forged Wedding

Miho arrives at Long Island.
Saeki: I need some practical experience, Honey.
Kunihiko: I’m not really your uncle.
Yamato: I could lose my job if you don’t help me.
Takao: I just want to make my grandmother happy.
Ren: I could save so many lives.
Yuta: Reality television; it’ll be a real laugh.
Tamaki: My half-brother is a total dick.
Akito: I don’t even like sake.
Haruka: Tradition is so suffocating.
Kyoichi: I would never manipulate you.
Miho blinks, and holds up her hands.
Miho: I’ve got this – I’ll help ALL of you.
Changes title.
‘My Forged Harem’

Her Love In The Force

Checks with local superior when she hears she has been accepted to an elite academy on recommendation, requests a copy of the application. Calls academy to apologise and withdraw.
Namba: Well, that’s honest of you.
Miho: Of course, I hope you’ll take that into consideration when I file a genuine application.
Duh, is accepted on own merits and kicks Kaga’s ass at every opportunity… slaps Goto’s ass at every opportunity. 

Serendipity Next Door

 Miho turns Masaomi’s penchant for getting lost into a fan mobile app entitled Omi Go!
Jinpachi: You didn’t really sell his fans Omi-balls to throw at him did you?
Miho hands Jinpachi a second beer, then settles in his lap to comfortably enjoy watching Masaomi’s GPS tracker blip around on her iPad.
Miho: He’ll evade them. I left energy bars at Omi-stops around