Pain and Loss by Maya Perez
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Pain and Loss

By Maya Perez


            The sky blurred before me in hues of pink and orange.  The bright explosion, signaling the end of so many things, was already fading from its surface as if it had never been.

            I'd found him.  After all this time, I'd finally found him - my father.  After all the years of doubt, of fear, I'd finally proved he was alive.  But I did so only to lose him.  There was no question that this time he was dead...

            Minutes ago, my father had sacrificed himself to save the world. 

It meant nothing to me.  All I could think about was how I'd lost him again.  It wasn't fair!


            I stiffened at Jun's soft whisper, having momentarily forgotten that I wasn't alone.  I quickly wiped at the tears coursing down my face.

The five of us were in the country of Huntwall, in the base dedicated to their allies, Galactor.  We were in the country that had for days held the world at ransom with their implementation of the V-2 plan.

            How could so many things have happened so quickly?  It seemed but hours ago that Sabu had come back into my life claiming to have seen my father.  I hadn't seen Sabu in years, yet like a fool, I'd rushed off with him to look for my father only to get myself captured by Galactor.  They'd used my friend to trap me in the hopes of using me to catch the man they suspected of being an ISO spy.

            Even after Red Impulse and the others had come and rescued me I'd had no inkling on who he really was.  At the time he'd shoved aside all my questions, throwing the news of the implementation of the V-2 plan at me, derailing me with duty away from things I wanted so desperately to know.

            By then, the missile had been launched.  The Earth's Van Allen Belt had been destabilized and the world had been thrown into chaos.

            When Red Impulse had offered me the chance to infiltrate Huntwall with him to go put a stop to it, I'd jumped at the chance.  It was in this way we'd come to find out there was a way to reverse the effects of the missile.  The Earth could be saved.  But we also found out that the means weren't ready.  The autopilot system hadn't been set.  Katze had started his demands and set the whole machine in motion without having the means ready to stop it if the world gave in to his whims.  Someone would have to give up their life in order to reverse the conditions that were tearing the world asunder.

            It was then that things started falling apart. 

            Red Impulse proclaimed that he would be the one flying the missile.  But it was my duty, my place, and I told him so.  That's when he did what had always got me the most annoyed with him, he treated me like a little child and told me I wasn't going to go.

            We were about to come to blows when the rest of my team showed up.  And that's when Jun told me.  "Ken, don't!  Nambu Hakase told us everything.  Red Impulse is your father!"

            Red Impulse, my father?  Yet, when he'd raised his visor - the way he'd looked at me.  I couldn't doubt.  I forgot everything.  All I could do was stare at him, filled with an indescribable joy.  At last my quest was finally over.

            And then... then he'd taken hold of me for what I'd thought would be an overdue embrace but wasn't.  He lifted me high into the air and after spinning me round and round had thrown me across the hangar floor.  Before I could do anything to stop him, he'd boarded the missile.  He'd launched it into the horizon giving his life for the world and for me...

            My eyes stung again and I couldn't look at Jun though I felt her presence so close to me.  But that was when it started, that was when my blood turned cold as her previous words whispered through me once again - Nambu Hakase told us everything

            Hakase had known

It was as if a light had been suddenly snuffed inside me.  I couldn't feel anything.  Nambu had known?


Jun reached for me and I pulled away at her touch, anger and revulsion pouring through me.  My face grew hard.  They'd known before me.  Somehow Nambu had known and he'd told all of them instead of me.

"We have to go."  I almost didn't recognize my own voice it was so devoid of everything.  "Our job here is done, and since Katze has escaped again, it's more than likely that this place won't be safe for long."

I didn't look at Jun as I snapped around and cut past Joe, Ryu, and Jinpei.  It was definitely likely that Katze had set in motion a self-destruct sequence on his way out.  Honestly, I didn't care.  I half hoped the base would take the whole stinking country with it when it blew.

I heard the others whispering as they followed behind me, so I walked faster.  Sparks of anger continued to speed through me though I was trying my best to stay calm.  Still, they'd known before I had.  They'd been told before me

I leapt up to the top of the God Phoenix and took the platform down without waiting for the others.  My shoulder convulsed, the muscles too tight as I sat myself down stiffly at my station and waited for them to catch up.

They were quiet as they came in.  I kept my eyes staring blankly at the view screen as they moved to take their places.

The old familiar background vibrations rose throughout the ship as Ryu fired the engines.  Within moments, the God Phoenix lifted off leaving the accursed base behind.

Silence lay like a smothering blanket in the bridge and I was glad of it.  Jun's words kept spinning round and round in my head - Nambu told us everything.  Everything... what did that mean?  What was everything?  And how would Nambu have known it?  A cold fire rose inside me as the truth showed itself.  Could it mean that Nambu had known the truth all along?

"A - aniki," Jinpei's voice rose up shyly from the back, "shouldn't we call hakase to tell him the mission is finished?"

Finished -- what a quaint word.  Yes, finished was what it was.  "Go ahead."  I had to bite the words out.  All I wanted to do was scream.

At least the kid kept the report short and to the point.  I felt my right eye twitch as he mentioned my father's death.  Nambu hadn't been at Crescent Coral, but Jinpei had been patched through to the UN building.  I could almost picture the doctor in his cold, detached way, trying to hold the pieces together while the hysterical leaders of the world waited for the time of the ultimatum to run out.  He would be relieved just like the rest of them at the news.  That one man had been sacrificed to achieve the end of the Earth's destruction would mean nothing to them.

No one said anything the rest of the way back.

The moment we docked at Crescent Coral and the water was pulled from the bay, I got up out of my seat and headed for the elevator.

"Ken, wait!"  Joe caught up to me there and was forced to grab my arm to stop me from leaving.

"Let go of my arm."  My voice was filled with venom and I saw Joe flinch with surprise.  I took that as my chance to wrench my arm from his grip.  The elevator doors closed on his face.

I detransmuted when I reached the outside and headed for the nearest exit from the bay.  As the doors opened, music and the sounds of loud celebration slammed into my ears.  No one was actually out in the hallway, the sounds were coming from the speakers that were on throughout the station. 

I frowned at the sounds of merrymaking.  What the hell were they celebrating for?  Yes, Galactor had been stopped from subjugating the world, but as far as things involving them were concerned, nothing had really been resolved!  Katze had escaped - again.  He would try to bring the world to its knees once more as soon as he got the opportunity.

And next time, next time they might not be as lucky.  They should all be mourning not celebrating.  Not only had there been thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of deaths during this ordeal, but they'd also lost one of the most valued fighters for their freedom.  Fools!

I stomped down the hallway my anger growing with each step.  At the main hallway, revelers filled the area moving to and from.  Alcohol was flowing freely and a number of the revelers were none too steady on their feet.  Many danced to the upbeat music coming from the speakers.  Others just laughed and talked as if their lives were now totally carefree.

I steered clear of all of them, my hands bunching into fists at my sides.  The more I saw of them, the more my anger flared.  I knew I was being unreasonable, but I didn't care.  How dare they?  My father was dead.  Galactor was still alive.  There was no reason to celebrate.

"Get out of my way!" I barked acid at a couple entwined in one another's arms right in front of the elevator doors.  It was all I could do not to grab them and fling them across the hall.

At my words, they looked up, startled, and quickly stepped out of the way.  I could see that one of them recognized me.  I stepped into the elevator before he could say a word.  The smile that had lighted on his face had told me all that he would say.  I would have killed him if he had.

I jabbed the button for the office level, the merriment flooding over me from the speakers above setting my teeth on edge.  I almost screamed in frustration when the doors opened and I found my way once more blocked by revelers.

Unkindly, I pushed past them, even as I fought the irrational urge to pummel them out of the way.  Their happiness cut at me like slashing wounds.  I made myself walk faster.  I could feel my restraint starting to slip.

Luckily, the revelers thinned the closer I came to Nambu's office.  His door was closed at the far end but I knew he wasn't there.  I also knew, however, that he would show up eventually.

I walked into the dark office and left it that way.  I closed the door and stumbled forward to the closest chair and sat down.  It was time to wait.  I had some questions for my dear guardian.

As I sat there in the dark, still surrounded by the never-ending sounds of merriment, I followed the lessons we had learned so long ago and slowed my breathing and attempted to meditate. 

I tried to focus my attentions inside, to study an element or object there, to ease the tide of anger and fury within me.  It wouldn't pass, it wouldn't be pushed back.  The events of the day replayed themselves with uncommon clarity and I couldn't separate the feelings from them.  If anything, each detail, each nuance only seemed to make them grow stronger, more fierce.  Just trying to get my body to even half way relax was a struggle.  I'd never before felt so unbalanced, so out of touch with myself.  It only served to add fuel to the fire.

The minutes turned to hours and I still held on  -- only the certainty that Nambu would eventually come here keeping me together.

My bracelet beeped but I ignored it.  I couldn't talk to them, not now, not with the things I felt.  They'd been told before me.  They'd been used as messengers, making them participants in the whole sad affair.  And through it, they'd stood by and done nothing.  They'd stood by and let me live, even as my father chose to give his life to save the planet.  No, I couldn't, wouldn't talk to them.

A chill of expectation ran through me when the door to the room opened quietly minutes later.  I sat perfectly still as the lights came on and I heard the door close.

Once I could see, I watched as Nambu walked slowly to his desk and dropped down into his chair.  Dark circles had grown beneath his eyes.  He looked drawn and pale.  A part of me worried over what I saw, but my anger quickly silenced it and my heart grew cold again.  "Hakase."

He looked up at me in surprise and when he spotted me, I saw his eyes fill with what looked like sorrow.  "Ken."

None of it meant anything to me.  "Hakase, I have some questions for you."

Nambu looked away and nodded.  "I'll answer whatever you like."

I rose slowly to my feet, my voice cold.  "How long have you known?"  I didn't have to specify what I was talking about.  We both knew only too well the only topic I would care about.

Nambu hesitated, and I felt my ire rise.  He took off his glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose.  "I've... known from the beginning."  His tired eyes rose to meet mine.

A jolt slammed through me at the words.  From the beginning?  He'd known all this time?

"Fourteen years ago, during Galactor's early years, they formed an alliance with the country of Huntwall.  It was a long-term strategic alliance that had but a single purpose.  It was a purpose that only through luck, or fate, became known to us.  They were to be the vessels for the research and implementation of the V-2 plan." He paused, his voice sounding weary beyond bearing. 

"A young pilot stumbled over some information during a test flight of a military craft and brought it to the research facility I headed at that time.  The data was astonishing, it was almost too terrible to believe.  But I had to, yet there were problems when the matter was brought up to those who could do something about it.  Things started to go wrong.  In the end, we were forced to take matters into our own hands."  Nambu stared down at his lap.

"Your father made the choice to be the one to go, to be the one to try to find more information on the project and if at all possible put a stop to it.  I... wasn't qualified enough."  He sounded bitter.  "But to do this he knew he'd be putting his family in danger, especially if he were ever suspected or discovered.  To circumvent that Kentaro swore me into secrecy and then placed you and your mother in my care before faking his own death during a test flight."

My hands clenched and unclenched at my sides.  "So... what you're telling me is that for fourteen years you've not only known that my father was alive, but also strove to keep the knowledge from me."  I stared daggers into him but he didn't even flinch.

"Yes, that is correct."

"You bastard!"  I rushed forward and slapped my hands on his desk.  I shook as I struggled to keep from launching myself at him.  "And when, if ever, was I going to be told?  Were your words about my finding out who my father was once this mission was over, just bait?  Just your way to try to keep me in line?  You never had any intention of  telling me!"

Nambu eyes wouldn't meet mine.  "It wasn't up to me."

I wanted to scream.  It wasn't up to him?  "But isn't that exactly what you did do?  Didn't you tell the others so that they would tell me?"  I slapped the desk again.  The pain in my palms only echoed my fury.

"You had disappeared," Nambu calmly explained.  "The world was in a crisis and we couldn't afford to lose you in a wild goose chase for him."  He paused.  "I'd hoped that Kentaro would understand."

"Well I don't understand, do you hear me!"  I was shouting and I didn't care.  "The two of you were more than happy to have me as your little ninja leader but you didn't feel you could trust me with my father's identity?  That's crap!"  This time my hands had curled into fists when they struck the desk.

"I could have been told as soon as I entered the science ninja team program.  What the hell did you think I'd do?  Go out there and expose him to Galactor?  Wasn't I already keeping secrets on classified information by the age of twelve?  But you couldn't tell me this?  Lies!" 

I kicked the desk with all my might and it actually jumped forward an inch or two.  This drove Nambu abruptly back into his chair in shocked surprise. 

"Ken, please -" 

I cut him off.  "I have given everything I am to you, to the ISO, to the world for that matter, and this is how I'm repaid for it - with lies, betrayals.  Well I've had enough of it.  I won't be used anymore."  I tore my bracelet from my wrist.  I wanted nothing more than to throw it into his bewildered face, the bitterness of all he'd told me eating at me from the inside.  It was all I could do to just slam it onto the top of the desk instead.  "I quit!"

I turned away and headed for the door, hatred, pain, and above all, rage battling inside me.

"Ken, wait!"

I didn't.  "I hope you burn in hell."  I slammed the door hard on my way out.

Four shocked and horrified faces met me in the hallway.  I didn't feel a thing.  Served them right for being involved in things that didn't concern them.  I closed myself off to them and went to make my way past.  They wouldn't let me go that easily.

"Ken, what happened?"  Jun crossed my path staring at me with worried eyes.

I didn't want this!  "Don't."  My anger came through in my voice.  They'd been told before me.  "I don't want to talk about it.  Just leave me alone."

I pushed past her but not before I saw the hurt growing in her eyes.  I told myself it didn't matter.

Ryu took one look at me and quickly stepped back as if he'd been slapped.  Joe proved more stubborn.

"This is serious, Ken."  Joe's dark blue eyes searched mine and I could tell he didn't like what he found there.

"This is my business and it's going to stay that way.  Butt out!"  I roughly shoved him out of the way.  "Leave me the fuck alone!"

I almost tripped over Jinpei in my haste to get past.  He stared at me his eyes wide.  "Aniki..."

I stormed past him, trying not to notice the tears gathering there.

I took the stairs and sped down to the lobby not trusting the elevator to get me down there fast enough.  The others' faces kept flashing before me as my feet slapped down hard on the steps, their echo ringing in my ears.  What had they expected?  There was nothing to say.  How could they have thought otherwise? It should have been perfectly obvious to them all. 

I made it to the lobby and got mobbed as I came out the door.  More revelers.  Were these people never going to stop?  I shoved my way through them, a grimace on my face. 

I took another set of stairs down to the garage.  Out, out, I wanted out!  I made it to my bike and was about to get on when I hesitated.  Damn!  This was the ISO's.  I didn't want to use their equipment, I didn't want to owe them anything, but how the hell was I supposed to get home?  I kicked the bike in disgust and then left it where it sat.

I stomped my way to the exit and walked out into the bright sunlight.  I frowned at the happiness I saw there and the light.  It was as if the whole city had lost its senses and everyone had poured out into the streets.  It'd been hours since the end of the world had been averted yet here they were still partying.  Had these people nothing better to do?

What little traffic there was stood at a stand still -- revelers of all ages and sizes clogged the streets.  So much for my taking a cab.  It looked like I'd have to walk home.  Great.

I shouldered my way through the revelers cursing at anyone foolish enough to stay in my way or try to force me to join their fun.  The streets were total chaos even as it looked like Utoland was trying to out do Mardi Gras.  I pushed forward harder.  I had to get away from this.  I had to get the hell away!

Taking the alleyways helped a little, but even they weren't free of revelers.  You'd think from the way they were acting that there was no more evil in the world - blind fools!

As I made my way out of town, the crowds grew mercifully less.  But though I'd thought that the growing solitude and quiet would help me calm down and feel better, it instead gave me time to think and stew.  Though I hadn't thought it possible, I grew angrier than ever.  My whole life had been a sham, a lie.  And my poor mother!  She got to die of leukemia, alone, deserted.  Maybe it was a kindness that she'd never known Kentaro was still alive.  Had he ever even asked about her?  About me?  Surely he could have made an exception for her?  He had supposedly loved her, hadn't he?  Yet he'd let her die alone.  I wanted to howl my misery.  Everything had been so clear before - but then only because of the lies.

It took me several hours to make it to the airfield.  By then, the sun was already low to the horizon.  My legs hurt, my whole body hurt.  I couldn't remember when was the last time I'd eaten or slept.

When I spotted the familiar buildings, I felt a draft of relief - the first positive emotion since all of this had started.  It didn't last long.  As I got closer, I remembered that the field, the house, the hangar, they were all things that had been left for me as a supposed legacy from my dead father.  New rage flooded through me as I realized that it was actually more like a bribe to obscure the truth.  It rankled me as I walked on past the tarmac that I was going to stay here.  All this would be one giant constant reminder of the lies instead of the comfort I had hoped for.

I shoved the door of the small, one bedroom bunkhouse open and it slammed against the wall with a bang.  Finding the sound strangely satisfying, I slammed it shut even harder.

I reached for the lights and then stared at the room before me.  Everything was as it had been before my father's supposed death.  All the furniture, the décor, most of the utilities were as they had been when Nambu had presented me with my birthright at fifteen. 

How delighted I'd been, how grateful to finally have something that had belonged to my father.  What lengths I'd gone to over the last few years to preserve it as it had been before. 

Bile filled my mouth as it all turned bitter.  Everything made sense now.  I'd always wondered why I hadn't found much that belonged to him that was personal.  It'd been one of my greatest hopes when I'd first come here.  Well, he'd obviously cleaned the place out before his "death" to remove all traces of himself, to get rid of any evidence that could come to haunt him later by pointing out who he had been.  And I'd worked so damn hard to keep it intact, to add very little of myself to it, to preserve the feeling of his presence here.  Stupidly hoping that if he was dead, perhaps he would watch over me.  How pathetic.

"Lies!  It was all lies!"

My eyes burned and I suddenly couldn't stand to look at it, couldn't stand the thought that Nambu and Kentaro had believed that this would be enough to replace my father. 

"You bastards!"  I screamed at the top of my lungs all the pent up emotions of the day rushing forward to make me feel as if I would explode. 

Not thinking, only feeling the rage, the confusion, the pain, I grabbed the nearest thing to me and threw it across the room.  Half blind with madness I stormed into the kitchen and opening the cabinet doors, started throwing their contents in every direction. 

After I ran out of things there, I stomped into the small living room and picked up the coffee table and launched it at the large window in the front.  I paused a moment as it crashed through it, and watched the piece of glass shatter and fly everywhere just like my life.  A chair bounced off the wall and another hit the refrigerator.  I pulled the cushions from the couch and tore the stuffing from inside.

Like a raging tornado I moved from room to room to cause havoc and destruction.  Nothing was safe.  All I wanted was to destroy.  Bills and papers littered the floor, some intact and some not.  Chest drawers and clothes went everywhere.  Pictures were jerked from the walls and were stomped underfoot.

Mindless, after I knew not how long, my vision swam before me in spirals and I fell exhausted to my hands and knees, sweat dripping off me to the floor.  My breath came in harsh painful gasps that I'd overlooked till then.   I lay down to ease the pain, my rage finally letting me know that I had done enough.

I hadn't been there long before darkness came and claimed me.




A burning sensation on one side of my face slowly brought me back to consciousness.  I opened my eyes only to shut them again as bright sunlight blinded me.  With a push of effort, I turned my aching body onto its back and tried again.  This time I was more successful. 

Having done that much, I just lay there a while and stared at the ceiling.

I felt numb, drained, dead, but I could still feel the rage laying somewhere beneath the surface, roaming.  It was quiet at the moment, satiated, but still there, and still full of fire.  Nothing would ever be the same for me again.

Little by little I talked my body into letting me sit up.  After a little more time, I even made it to my feet.  There were things I needed to take care of, a life I needed to put together and a livelihood to create now that the old one was gone.  I stared at my wrecked home and felt nothing.  With a shrug, I stumbled off towards the bathroom.

The shower felt good even as I scrubbed myself raw.  He had touched me, he had held me, and I wanted none of it.  I scrubbed at my skin until it almost bled as if doing so could take away the memory of all that had gone before.  Damn him.

Dripping wet, I shambled into my room, no towel in sight.  As it was, it took me over fifteen minutes just to find some clothes to put on.  I'd really made a mess of things.  How'd you like what I'd done to your so called legacy, father?

After putting on some old work coveralls, I followed my trail of water back to the bathroom.  I retrieved my uniform and folded it neatly into a pile.  I'd need to mail these to Nambu today - by courier if I could afford it.  No way in hell was I going to give him an excuse to come here to get them.

In the living room, I swept off some of the broken dishes from the counter by the front door and set the uniform there.  My stomach grumbled lightly, but I ignored it.  There were too many other things to do.

Checking my wallet, I found that I had forty-three dollars to my name.  It took me almost an hour to track down my savings account book so I could see what I had there.  It wasn't much -- just a little over fifteen thousand dollars.  That wouldn't get me very far, not with some of the expenses I knew I'd have to worry about.  Maybe I should have waited to quit until after I'd gotten paid.

My barking laugh at the thought sounded strange to my ears.  Why had everything turned so sour?

I set the savings account book by my uniform and then stepped outside.  The sun shone over me but didn't warm me.  Hands shoved deep into my pockets, I walked on over to the hangar.

When I'd actually done delivery work, I'd always done it in the G-1.  That plane would never sit in this hangar again.  In the back, covered by an old tarp was what I'd have to use instead to try to make a living. 

The old Cessna had seen better days.  It'd come along with the airstrip just like everything else but after sitting around for eleven years before it'd come into my possession, it had gone a bit by the wayside.  It grated on me that I would have to depend on Kentaro's "gifts" for my livelihood, but at this point I knew I had no choice.

Up to now, I'd been slowly refitting the old girl, trying to get her back up to specs in the little spare time we'd been given between fighting and training.  Now I'd have to get it done in a hurry or starve.  That was assuming that my money would go far enough to get all the things I needed.  Great.

I struggled to get the tarp off the Cessna even as my mind quickly ran through my options. I didn't have many. 

On a best situation scenario, I would get the plane up and running in a few days and then scrape up some business by getting in touch with some old friends.  Or if the money didn't go far enough, I could try to get a loan from the bank.  Though with someone with no steady source of income and no real credit history that might prove a bit difficult, even with the airfield as collateral.

Another option would be to just say hell to it all and sell the place - to just get rid of it.  I had no family, so without the airstrip I'd have nothing holding me here.  I could go wherever I fancied and use my flying skills to get me a job on a small strip somewhere. 

I stood there, the tarp in my hands that last idea looking very appealing.  I could sell the place and get out.  I could leave all this behind me.  I could get rid of it all.  I let the tarp fall to the floor.

Still, there was no telling how good or bad the market would be after all the disasters from Katze's latest attempt at world domination.  It'd be best to find a way to eat now and then worry about selling later.

The Cessna's paint was old and faded.  It even looked to be cracking in a few places.  It'd need a new coat, but that could wait.  I made a mental note to check and see if the licenses and permits for the plane were current.  I knew I'd meant to do something about them sometime back, but couldn't remember at the moment if I'd done anything or not.  I should have prepared a little better for this eventuality, huh?

Luckily, I had previously bought oil, sparkplugs, and some filters, so I wouldn't have to buy everything.  My biggest worry though was the engine - which until I'd taken the trouble to empty it out, clean it, and replace all the normal wear and tear parts, I'd have no real idea on its condition.  I'd just have to wait and see.

The morning wore on quickly as I spent it working on the plane.  The busy work kept me from thinking and I found that I liked that just fine.

A stubborn spark plug was fighting me when the wrench slipped.  My hand went with it, smashing against the engine block, sending shooting pain up my arm.  "Dammit!"

"That's no way to say hello."

I looked up, caught totally off guard by the familiar voice.  Joe stood leaning against the doorway into the hangar a small, amused look on his face.

A chill cut through me, my previous pain forgotten.  "What the hell are you doing here?"

"My, didn't someone get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning," he said.  Joe pushed away from the doorway and started towards me.

I felt a queer sense of panic building inside me. Why was he here?  What did he want?  I climbed down from the work ladder I'd been using to work on the plane, my eyes glued to him.

"You should be happier about seeing me anyway," Joe added.  "After all, I am a Sicilian bearing gifts."  He grinned, lifting a six pack of long necks for me to see.  "I would have just put these in the fridge, but after seeing the state of your place, I wasn't too sure of what might happen to them there."

I looked away from his penetrating stare having no intention on explaining what had occurred there.

"Here, take one."  Joe took one of the beers from the pack and held it out to me.  "Come on, they're still cold."

Hesitantly, I took the offered beer not sure what else to do.  I felt nervous, and that sense of panic hadn't lessened, but it still felt good to see him.  Especially after the way I'd treated him the last time I'd seen him.  Still, I didn't know what I was going to do with him.

Trying to buy myself more time, I picked up a wrench and used it as a makeshift bottle opener.  I handed it over once I was through so he could open his own.

I took a long swig and felt the cool liquid travel down my grateful throat to smash like a rock inside my empty stomach.  Despite that, I took another long draught after the first, the alcohol already giving me a light buzz.  "Thanks."

"Don't mention it."  Joe shrugged.  "I know you never keep anything worth while in this rat trap of yours."

"Yeah, like your trailer's that much of an improvement."  I ducked beneath the plane and moved to sit on the lower steps of the ladder.  The beer was hitting me harder than I'd expected.

"At least my fridge is stocked."  Joe followed me a smug look on his face.

"Whatever."  I took another pull from the beer.  Miraculously, I actually felt my shoulders relax a little.

Joe leaned up against the Cessna and we drank our beers in companionable silence.

When I handed him my empty bottle, he immediately handed me another.  Though I knew better by then, I took it anyway.  I relaxed a little more.  I pushed the hair away from my face with my greasy hands.

"So, you're finally fixing the old crate?"  Joe patted the side of the plane taking a look at what he could of the engine.

"Trying to anyway."  I shrugged, half-hoping he'd volunteer to help me but also feeling I had no right to ask.  I took another long swig of my beer.

Joe only nodded.

"So, why'd you come here anyway?"  I was starting to get a headache.

"Can't a guy just show up to share some good beers with a friend?" Joe asked me.

I glanced up at him and his easy laid back stance, and though I tried, really tried, I couldn't fall for it.  With all that had happened, there was no way he'd come here without an agenda.  "Cut the crap.  I wasn't born yesterday."  That came out a little harsher than I'd meant it to be.

Joe nodded and his expression grew suddenly serious.  "So much for the pleasantries I guess..." He took one long last swig of his beer and then set the bottle down on the floor.  Watching me, he reached into his pocket and pulled out my wrist activator.

I felt my whole body tense.

"I came here to give this back to you."  He held the activator out to me.

I jumped to my feet before I'd realized I was doing it, the rage from the day before flooding back as if it had never gone.  "What?  Did Nambu send you to bring his little fool back?"  I spit it out like an accusation.

Joe blinked in surprise at my vehemence.  He didn't know the half of it.

"Actually, no, he didn't send me," Joe announced.  "If anything, he was against the idea, but I did it anyway."  He shrugged.

"Well it doesn't matter.  I don't want it."  I waved his hand and the activator away from me.  "You can even save me the postage and take the rest of the uniform back with you.  Give the whole lot back to him.  I'm not going to be needing it anymore."

Joe stared at me, putting the activator back into his pocket.  "So that's it then?  You're just going to throw it all away?  Will we be next?"

I felt myself bristle at the words.  What the hell did he know anyway?  "What business is it of yours what I do with my life?  It's mine not yours.  Don't you dare tell me how to live it."

His gaze narrowed as I screamed at him.  Angry lines sprung up around his eyes.  Good.  Maybe he'd like a taste of all the shit I'd been going through.  "So I guess what you want is for me to just watch you flush it down the toilet?" Joe asked.  "Did I get that right?"

"Dammit, you don't know anything about anything!"  I twisted away from him not wanting to get into this - not wanting to see where it might lead.  When I stopped turning though, the room didn't.  I watched as if from somewhere else as the beer bottle slipped from my numb fingers and shattered to a thousand pieces on the floor.  I felt myself starting to follow it.


Joe was suddenly behind me, propping me up.  The anger in his face had vanished as quickly as it had come.  "Are you all right?"  He pulled me over to sit back down on the ladder.

I was seething inside.  Seething at the fact he'd helped me, seething that I'd so stupidly tried to fall at all.  I roughly pushed his hands away from me.  "I'm fine!"

"When was the last time you ate anything?"

"It doesn't fucking matter," I growled.  "Just leave me the hell alone."

Joe backed off, his face unreadable.  "All right, if that's what you really want."

"It is."  I wouldn't look at him.  "So get out."

"Fine, but one last thing before I go."  Joe's voice grew quiet.  "The UN is having a memorial service for your father early tomorrow.  I can pick you up and drive you there."

"That won't be necessary," I told him.  "I'm not going."  My jaw felt wired tight.

"He was your father."  Anger had crept back into Joe's voice.  Good.

"Was he?  Was he really?"  I looked up at him.  "How many fathers do you know that go around letting their sons think they're dead?"

His gaze studied mine.  "Then perhaps you should consider going just to pay your respects to Red Impulse."

            Joe sighed.  "Suit yourself then.  I'll be seeing you."  He put two fingers to his forehead and gave me a salute, then turned to go.

I watched him as he headed for the door and never looked back.  I breathed a sigh of relief after he'd gone, knowing that it could have gone much worse.  It was nice that he cared, but he just didn't understand.  No one could.  None of them had been lied to all their lives; none of them had been branded as unworthy to know the truth.  A pang of pain tore through me at the thought, but I quickly crushed it with anger.  Damn them all if they thought so little of me!  The only thing I had need of was me.

Joe'd been gone about a half hour when I finally felt steady and calm enough to get back to work.  The hours passed.

As the sun lowered in the horizon, I stopped only long enough to turn on the lights and slowly sip at one of the beers Joe had left behind.  I took my time with it, hoping to avoid the effect they'd had on me before.

The quiet and the solitude were wonderful - none of the outside world intruded here.  None of the hollow celebration that I was sure was still going on rang here, none of the questions either, none of the doubts.

I worked on into the night until my hands couldn't hold anything without shaking.  I was exhausted, tired to the bone, and it felt good.  I was looking forward to welcoming oblivion.

As I staggered back to the house, I frowned as I noticed light shinning through the broken window.  Had I left the light on from last night?  I shook the question away.  It didn't matter.  At least I wouldn't have to bumble along in the dark.

When I stepped inside, it was instantly obvious that someone had been there.  Someone had made a hurried attempt to straighten out the worst of the disaster area.  I hadn't had a clue anyone had been here.  Would Joe have done this?  I wasn't too sure.  But when I glanced at the counter I knew he had at least been here.  But instead of taking my uniform like I'd asked him to, he'd instead left my wrist activator on top of the pile as well as a piece of paper with what looked like an address and time.

I felt a shaft of annoyance cut through me at his presumption but it evaporated as quickly as it'd come.  In the end, whatever Joe did or wanted wouldn't make a bit of difference.  I'd made my decision and I would stick by it everyone else be damned.

I closed the door to the house and was about to go take a shower before crashing for the night when I smelled it.  I turned, surprised, and spotted the covered dish sitting by the side of the kitchen sink.

I recognized the metal cover and the white plain plate it sat over - they were the same as those used at the Snak J.  Jun had been here. For some reason, the thought of her having come here and my never being aware of it, sent a chill down my spine.

Not sure why I did it, I walked into the kitchen and lifted the plate's cover.  Inside I found a large steak, wedge potatoes, and corn on the cob - some of my favorites.  This had definitely been done by Jun.

Suddenly I saw a flash of her face and the hurt that had covered it when we'd met outside of Nambu's office.  Damn, why did she have to care?  Why had she been the one to tell me about my father?

I pushed the food away, my insides churning.  It was all so bloody unfair!  Why had she told me?  It would have been so much better if I'd never known.  I would still have my life, my friends, and my purpose.  I would have been a fool living in a lie, but I would have had the blessing of ignorance.  And ignorance was bliss.

Without a second thought, I left the kitchen and headed for the bathroom as I'd originally intended.  Jun's handiwork was evident even there.  My razor, toothbrush, and combs were no longer on the floor but back on top of the sink and medicine cabinet.  She'd even put towels on the rack and the soap back in the shower dish. 

But like this place and what I'd done to it, nothing would bring it back to being just like it'd been.  The broken things could be replaced but the originals were gone.  I felt like that inside.  I almost laughed at the apt comparison.

I stayed beneath the shower's scalding water until I'd pruned and beyond.  Once I'd half fried myself, I put on my nightclothes and exited to the bedroom.  Jun looked to have attempted to put my bed back together too, but the frame was bent and wouldn't hold the mattress.  Exactly how I'd managed to make it that way I couldn't quite recall.  So without much emotion, I took the mattress from the frame and then set the frame up against the wall out of the way.   I set the mattress back on the floor and piled my covers on it.  My head had barely touched the pillow before I was out cold.





My scream echoed in my ears as I sat up in bed, my eyes opening into darkness even as bright explosions flashed across the sky in what remained of my dream. 

My breathing was harsh and heavy, my chest was filled with pain.  I bent forward, my sight narrowing, and put my head between my knees until I could breathe again.  I shook in the darkness though I wasn't cold, and I was hard pressed to make it stop.

It was just a dream.  A cruel memory - why was it making such a wreck of me?

I lay back down, my cold sweat drying on my skin.  I tossed and turned, feeling even more exhausted than when I'd turned in, but sleep evaded me.  I gave up after a couple of hours and got up.  I spent the time till the rising dawn cleaning up the rest of my mess and making a list of things I needed.

As the sun finally broke over the horizon, I stepped barefoot outside.  I walked over the cold tarmac to the dew covered grass beyond and watched the sun grow before me.  I stood there and stared at it, the dawning realization growing inside me that it was another day Kentaro would never see. 

Yet here I was. 

I saw the splendor of life and renewal and found that it meant absolutely nothing to me.  Even the sun's rays didn't seem capable of warming what had happened to my heart.

Numb, colder inside than before, I made my way back.  The things I felt, the undercurrent of rage, the things I didn't feel, my lack of I knew not what, clashed together into something that made no sense at all.

As I walked in through the doorway my gaze lighted on my uniform sitting on top of the counter and I felt myself shiver.  They were symbols of my past, part of what I'd been.  If Joe hadn't been so blastedly stubborn they wouldn't be there now reminding me of what I'd had and of the lies that had come with it.  I would send them back to Nambu today, one way or another - it'd be another loose string I wouldn't have to worry about anymore.

Most of the other things would go away on their own too.  But... four of them, four of them would be part of the hardest thing I'd ever had to do.  I knew they'd come to understand in time.  And really, in this one thing, Nambu and Galactor might do me a kindness after all.  If things worked out right, the two would keep the others very busy, making the process that much easier for us all.

I hunted down some shoes and socks and then decided to tackle the kitchen.  Broken plastic and glass crackled underfoot even as I reached for what was left of the broom.  What would Jun have made of all this destruction? 

I clamped down on the question before it could go any further.  Why the hell was I thinking these things anyway?  I scooped up three broken cups and dumped them noisily into the trash.  Who cared what she made of it?

My eyes flickered to the untouched food by the sink and didn't listen to the answer of the question.  How long had it been since I'd eaten?  Joe had asked me the same thing yesterday and I didn't have any more of an idea now than I'd had then. 

A part of me toyed with the idea of food, but as I looked at what was there, it only turned my stomach.  It looked like most of me just wasn't ready yet.

I'd made some progress in the kitchen and had moved on to the broken front window to break off some of the glass still hanging from the frame when the phone rang.

I whipped about in surprise making no move to go answer it, my gaze sliding towards the activator half expecting it to beep.  Nothing happened.

It was one of them though, I was sure of it.  Who the hell else would it be?  Still the phone continued to ring and I started to doubt.  What if it was someone looking to hire me?  Could I pass up the chance?  The list I'd compiled that morning of the things I'd need to fix the plane hadn't painted a pretty picture. 

I sprinted across the room for the phone.

"Washio Airstrip.  Can I help you?"  My knuckles were white as I gripped the phone.

"Ah, you're awake.  Great!"  Joe's voice came over the receiver his tone unbelievably cheery.  That put me instantly on guard.  "I thought you might want to get to the memorial service early.  Are you ready for me to come and pick you up?"

I heard the bones in my hand pop.  Feeling like a bonfire had just come alive inside me, it took everything I could not to scream into the phone.  "I thought I told you yesterday that I wasn't going."

"That was yesterday," he said as if he'd honestly expected me to have changed my mind.  "So, just say yes now and I'll come right over."

"Joe, I don't need this."  I shook, my voice low, I was so angry.  I'd already told him I wasn't going.  What was the matter with him?

"Quit playing stubborn, will you?  You know you want to go."  His smug tone threw me right over the brink.

"You fucking son of a bitch!  I said no!"  I slammed the phone back on the hook and then yanked the whole thing off the table and hurled it toward the broken window.  The phone cord snapped itself out of the wall and broke from the phone on the other end.  The phone's momentum halted, it crashed to the floor with a loud clang.

The fucking bastard!  How dare he tell me what I did or didn't want?  Why did everyone feel they had to decide everything for me?  Was there no one that believed that I could make my own decisions?  I stared wildly around the room looking for something, anything to vent my rage out on but there was nothing there that I hadn't already broken or mutilated in some way.  Was everything to be denied to me?

I was thinking of having a go at the smashed TV set anyway, when a sobering thought brought me up short.  Joe hadn't taken my refusals seriously.  What if he decided to come over here to pick me up anyway?  A part of me celebrated at the thought.  If Joe dared show his ugly face here I could give him a greeting he'd never forget.  I'd teach him to go around making my mind up for me.


I felt a shiver of fear course through me.  He'd sounded so sure, so certain.  Was there a part of me that did want to go see a memorial to this man who'd been my paternal father?  But that'd be insane!  And beside the point.  Joe had a plan though and that wasn't so easily set aside.  He seemed too sure that he could make me go there whether I wanted to or not. 

I'd take one look at his smug, confident face, and I wouldn't be able to help myself.  He was probably on his way right now.  And if I saw him, I'd kill him.

Cold inside and out, I knew with all certainty that I couldn't be home when he showed.  I rushed to the table where I'd compiled my lists, grabbed them and shoved them into my pocket.  Not slowing, I grabbed a trash sack from the kitchen and shoved my uniform inside.  Joe's note fell on the floor, and without thinking I grabbed it and shoved it into my pocket as well.  The only thing on my mind was my need to get out of there in a hurry.

I ran down the length of the tarmac with the trash sack over my shoulder, frantically trying to calculate how long it'd take Joe to get here.  The way he sometimes drove, I assumed I had ten minutes tops.  Damn!

Rather than follow the meandering road from the field, I cut across the grass to get to the main thoroughfare.  Joe would be approaching from the east, so west would have to do for me. 

I was sweating and winded by the time I reached the road.  I kept glancing over my shoulder expecting to catch sight of Joe's sedan at any moment.

Luck was with me though, I hadn't gone far before an eighteen wheeler roared down the opposite way and I was able to flag him down.  I flopped into the seat, giving the driver a heartfelt smile, breathing a lot easier now that I was sure I was going to get away.

About thirty minutes later, I waved goodbye to my ride just outside Utoland and made the rest of the way in by bus.  Once I got close to downtown, I got off and walked the rest of the way to the Utoland Central Bank.  I withdrew all the money I had from my account except for twenty bucks so that the account would remain active.  I stared at the cash now in my hand, hoping that it'd go farther than I knew it would.

I walked by a newsstand in the lobby on my way out and despite myself slowed to take a look at the headlines.  ‘Residual effects of Galactor's latest ploy still being felt across the globe. The final count of the disaster related deaths reached into the millions -- Stock Market still closed as world tries to recover from the emergency.'  It looked like everything was back to normal. 

‘UN to honor valiant hero in private memorial service.'  This I found in small print at the bottom of the front page.  Hell, if they'd waited a few more days, it would have been just a small footnote in the obituaries.

I turned away disgusted and at the same time angry with myself for feeling that way.  The man was dead, none of it mattered to him, and he didn't matter to me.  I shouldn't care.  But the gall of those people.  How could they care so little over the man that had sacrificed his own life for them?  If things had run differently, it would have been me.  And that's all my life would have meant to anyone, a minor footnote in the paper somewhere.  Shit as it was, I wasn't even worth that much anymore.

I hit the glass door a little hard as I made my way outside.  None of this mattered; I had other things that needed my attention.  Damn them all to hell.

The morning wore on as I walked the streets going from one specialty store to another looking for the things I needed.  A lot of the items I had no choice but to order and my money quickly dwindled as I paid for them in advance.  The one bright spot in that was that at least they'd be delivered to the airfield so I wouldn't have to figure out a way to get them home on my own.

At the post office, I bought a box and dumped the trash bag inside and sealed it up.  I flinched as I was told how much it would cost me to have the box delivered when I took my package to a nearby twenty four hour local delivery service.  I was already almost out of cash and I knew I'd barely even started.  Things were definitely going to be very tight for quite a while.

Aching, worn out, and thirsty, I walked into a small café for a break.  I almost dozed as I nursed a Coke in a back booth, the cool air from the air conditioner sweeping over my sweaty skin. 

"Turn that up, will you, Nadine?"

I glanced up from my table as the waitress reached up and turned up the volume on a large TV dangling over the front door.

" - amazing turn out of heads of state and national leaders.  The ceremony was informal and closed to the press despite protests lodged by the media.  Even now, after it's all been said and done, the UN still refuses to disclose the identity of the man rumor has it drove the rocket into the Van Allen Belt to save the Earth from total annihilation."

The reporter rattled on, the camera switching to a photo of a large cliff side and then to another high air shot which showed a large group of people gathered about a simple grave marker set in the grass near the cliff's edge.

I looked away, a part of me sure that the place was familiar.  Not wanting to hear more, I quickly slipped out of my booth gulping down the rest of my Coke as I went.  The cold rushed to my head bringing on a light headache.  I ignored it.

"As well as the famous heads of state, it's been said that the illustrious member of the ISO, Dr. Kozaburo Nambu was also in attendance as well as the champions of the world, the Kagaku Ninjatai."

I felt my eye twitch even as I stubbornly refused to hear anymore.  Had Nambu faked my presence there?  It wasn't as if he hadn't done that before.  Would he have dared?  I tried to clamp down on my rising anger.  This was no longer my concern.

I shoved my hand into my pocket as I reached the register, hoping for some change I might have dropped there, and encountered paper instead.  I pulled it out to get it out of the way and quickly paid for my drink and got out of there.

The heat as I walked out the door almost forced me back inside.  I grit my teeth against it, fighting a sudden strange bout of nausea, and hurried on down the three steps  onto the sidewalk.  I'd hurried off almost a block, perspiration breaking out all over me, when I remembered the piece of paper still in my hand.  Moving under an awning out of the direct sunlight, I unfolded it, having totally forgotten what it was.

The address I found there written in Joe's lazy scrawl clicked in my mind with the photos on the TV.  I'd been there before - I'd been there with him

It'd been one of the few times I'd actually felt at ease with Red Impulse, one of the few times I hadn't felt angry, chided, or even overwhelmed by his presence.  Many times I'd had the suspicion that he made me feel those things on purpose, but he hadn't on that day. 

The mission had gone well.  The information we'd retrieved had shown great promise of providing a means of ending the war.  We were wrong, but we hadn't known it then.

I'd been so startled when he'd invited me on that drive.  Red Impulse had been quiet and more withdrawn than usual.  He'd taken me with him to that place and had shared the sunset with me. 

It had always struck me how vulnerable he had seemed that day.  I'd been certain more than once that there'd been something he'd wanted to say to me.  But though I'd waited for it, he never had.  It was only too easy to figure out now what it might have been.  Yes, only too easy.  My fist crushed the paper in my hand.

Damn him.  Damn him.  How many times, how many chances had he had to tell me?  But I couldn't be trusted.  I couldn't handle the truth.  Even on a night of seeming victory he hadn't been able to bring himself to tell me.  Bastard!  And now that I knew, I couldn't spit my anger in his face.  I couldn't tell him what a sorry son of a bitch he really was. 

Or could I?

I felt a faint shiver course through me at the idea.  Yes, to tell him off. 

With a burst of righteous strength I moved out from beneath the awning and headed for the nearest bus stop.

Five buses and a twenty minute walk later, I was there. The grounds housed an ISO weather station, one of the first, if I remembered right.  Now it was a memorial as well.  The gates to the drive were closed but that didn't stop me.

I walked through the trees at the perimeter towards the cliffs suffused with angry purpose.  Though I knew Kentaro's body was but scattered atoms now, his memorial was here, so in a way he was here as well.  He would hear me.  I was sure of it.  And I definitely had some things I wanted to say.

A cool breeze rose from the sea, tickling my hair as I studied the area by the cliffs.  The grass had been recently cut and looked fresh and clean, showing no signs of the crowd that had stomped all over it that morning.  Seagulls called to one another overhead, even as my gaze moved to the small cordoned off area near the cliff's farthest edge.  Red velvet ropes formed a square, held up by gold posts set around a marble plaque on the ground.

I made my way over to them, a sense of urgency moving through me now that I was so close.  I unhooked one of the velvet ropes and entered the cordoned off area.

The sky slowly changed to brilliant hues of orange and pink, the sun lowering towards the horizon as I stood there and stared.  The marble marker was beautiful, gray and white with swirls of black.  Engraved into it were the year and the words ‘We Honor You in Gratitude for the Lives You Have Spared With Your Own.  May We Have the Wisdom to Not Let Your Selfless Sacrifice be in Vain.'

There was no name, no clue as to who this was for - just the year and the UN's platitudes.  Served him right.

"Do you see what it's got you?  Do you?"  I screamed at the plaque, sure in every fiber of my being that he was here and that he would hear me.  "You bastard!"  My voice echoed around me before being snatched away by the wind.

Words piled in a rush into my mouth, the rage that had so far lain mostly dormant pushing against me to burst free.  "You're a liar and a scoundrel," I accused.  "You weren't worth the uniform you wore.  You may have saved the world but that still doesn't mean you were ever a human being!"  I stomped on the marker with all my might.  It didn't even scuff the surface.

"As far as I'm concerned, Kentaro Washio died twelve years ago.  You were nothing but a shadow of what he could have been!"  I glared at the marker daring him to come refute my words as if he ever could.  I spit on the marble, my disgust, my rage, and my disappointment more than I could put into words.  He was gone; I would never get satisfaction.  This would have to do.  Still, I shook with the unfairness of it.  "You would have gone to your death and never told me!"

A stabbing pain poked through my eyes and I turned away.  It was true.  If not for Jun and the others, I would have never known.  He wasn't going to tell me, not even at the end.  "You bastard!"

My nails cut into the palms of my hands as I screamed my accusation with everything I had as if by will alone I could reach him wherever his spirit had gone. I ached from head to toe.

My rage suddenly left me as if snuffed, leaving me only empty and numb.  He was gone.  My old life was over.  That was that.

I took a step forward to leave him forever.  To get on with the rest of my pathetic life, when everything turned upside down and my world suddenly went black.






My eyes blinked open my mind blank and dull.  After several seconds, the knowledge slowly trickled in that I wasn't where I'd been.  Rather than laying sprawled out on the lawn of the old weather station, I was at home, on my couch, with a blanket thrown over me.  How?

I looked up and my eyes grew wide as I spotted the back of a red jacket and the unique red helmet.  Through my mind flashed the other two or three times that had been so like this very moment.  Sudden hope flared inside me.  It had all been a lie.  It had all been a bad dream!  "Father!"

Hope crumbled to dust as the red clothed man turned to reveal a harsh but familiar face that was not Kentaro's.  I looked away, not meeting his eyes, ashamed and angry at the hope that had risen inside me.

I forced myself to look up again at Red Impulse's close teammate as I felt his eyes on me.  "Oniishi...?"

A small smile touched the mute's face as he nodded to me in acknowledgement.  I could feel questions forming up inside me like a rising wave, even as fear rose up with them that I might actually ask them.  This man, this man had worked with Kentaro for years.  He would know things about him.  Kentaro might have shared his private thoughts with him.  But I didn't care!

I stood up, turning away, confusion flooding through me.  Why was I even thinking of asking Oniishi anything?  I had all the answers I needed.  I had all the betrayals I was willing to take.

The room spun around me and I found myself suddenly floundering.  Oniishi appeared at my side and helped me sit back down.

"Sorry about that."  I felt weak and foolish.

Oniishi shrugged and seemed to take it all in stride.  He set the blanket back on my lap and after patting me softly on the shoulder headed off towards the kitchen.

I must have blacked out at the memorial site.  It was the only thing that made sense.  Had Oniishi already been there or had he come later and found me lying there?  I hadn't known that he had any idea of where I lived.  I supposed I was lucky he'd not taken me to a hospital or worse, the ISO.

Did he know the truth, I wondered.  Did he know I was his leader's son?  A flare of annoyance lit inside me.  More than likely, I was the only one who hadn't known.  It had proved true over and over again.  Poor little Gatchaman always left alone in the dark.

My hands coiled into fists on my lap.  I forced my fingers apart, willing my hands to relax.  I had other things to worry about.  Like how to get Oniishi not to tell the others what had happened.  All I needed was the team suddenly hovering over me gushing with concern.

I could see through my broken window that the sun was already high in the sky.  It looked like I'd been out for quite a while.  I knew I hadn't been taking good care of myself, but so far that had been the least of my problems.  I hoped Oniishi wouldn't prove to be another.

I'd spent several minutes contemplating on whether or not I should try standing up again when Oniishi returned.  He pushed my beat up coffee table towards me with his foot and then set a filled tray on top of it. 

He pointed at the steaming bowl of Campbell's chicken soup, at the tall glass of orange juice, at another of water, and then at me.

"I'm - I'm not really hungry," I told him.

Oniishi raised a brow and stared at me.  He pointed at the bowl again and then at me his eyes never leaving my face.

How do you argue with a man who can't argue back?  Not that his set expression left me much room for that anyway.  With a small defeated sigh, I reached for the spoon next to the bowl though in all honesty I had absolutely no desire to eat. 

Originally I planned to eat just enough to satisfy Oniishi's badly aimed good intentions, but his hard insisting stare remained on me until all the soup was gone.  Every time I tried to stop, the eyebrow would go up and his gloved hand would point at the soup and then at me again.  I ended up eating it all.  I felt bloated, almost sick.  How long had it really been since I'd eaten anything?

I was about to sit back when Oniishi stepped forward and moved the glass of orange juice towards me.  I sighed again, but after a moment under that gaze I gave in and drank it down though I was sure I was going to explode.  I mightily hoped he wouldn't insist on my drinking the water as well.

I must have looked a little green, because after giving the water a glance, he picked up the tray and took it away.  I leaned back, trying not to move much, sighing with relief.

I closed my eyes and listened quietly as he put the dishes in the sink and before I knew it I fell into a light doze.  The next time I opened my eyes, Oniishi was sitting on the couch beside me, his gaze intent.  Something about it made me very nervous.

"I - I want to thank you for bringing me home," I said.

Oniishii shrugged his expression non-committal.

I pushed on.  "I realize this is going to sound a little strange to you, but I'd really appreciate it if you wouldn't inform anyone on how you found me last night."  Goose bumps rose up between my shoulder blades as he just sat there and stared.  Had he already informed them?  Or was there something else going on?

I studied Oniishi with my doubts even as he slowly reached within his jacket.  From within it, he withdrew a battered looking envelope.  The face of it had my name written on it.

Dread clamped around me as I realized what it might be.  Oniishi held the envelope out in my direction.

"No!"  I pushed away from him as if he'd threatened to electrocute me with a touch. "I don't want it."

Oniishi made an impatient gesture and held the envelope out to me again. 

Anger and fear shot through me.  I stood up and found that my vision remained steadier than before.  "I said no!"

Oniishi stood up, his face set, and once more thrust the envelope in my direction.

"I'm grateful for what you've done, but I won't take that.  I don't want it."  I turned away from him thinking of heading for the door but he cut me off.  I couldn't read Oniishi's expression as he stood again before me, holding out the envelope that he still expected me to take.

"I won't read it even if I take it."  I tried to sound as cold as I felt.

His dark eyes locked with mine as he once more thrust the envelope towards me.

I snatched the dratted thing out of his hand and threw it on the coffee table.  Calmly, he picked it back up and held it out to me again deep determination on his face.

Why was everyone in the Red Impulse team such a bunch of stubborn fools?  I didn't want to read the damn thing; didn't he understand that?  Who knew what lies Kentaro had told Oniishi over the years.  Who knew what lies he was about to tell me in that letter.  "No."

I tried going around the table but Oniishi blocked me at every turn always holding that blasted letter before him like some kind of accusation. 

"I don't want it!"  I twisted around, thinking to feint past him, but fell instead.  My cheeks burned as I picked myself up off the floor, even as Oniishi stubbornly presented me with the letter yet again.

"You're not going to stop are you?"  I felt tired to the core.  Was nothing in my control anymore?  Had anything ever been?

Oniishi stared at me and slowly moved his head from side to side. 

I sat on the floor, weary, not doubting his answer in any way.  Sighing heavily, I reached for the battered envelope.  I held it in my hand, staring at my name on it, in no hurry to see what was inside.

Oniishi's presence stood over me, pounding at me like a conscience.  With another sigh, I turned the envelope over and slit it open.  I was surprised to see my hand shaking as I took out the letter nestled inside.

~ Table of Contents ~
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