* I. Don't Let Appearances Fool You *
The same color, only a shade or two lighter. Not that many can actually tell the difference between the two. But that's it — the moment Akashi Seijuurou opened his eyes, the only thing he can see is black.
I'm not supposed to be here, he thought with mild irritation. Apparently, waking up in a dark place without knowing how and why it happened was not enough to shake the Akashi heir's calm and logical composure. He took a deep breath, then regretted it almost immediately. The air in this room was stale and mouldy, and the dust tickled his sensitive nose, unused to such filth. He suppressed a sneeze.
Where the hell am I?
Akashi, who was lying on his back, stared up at the ceiling that he cannot actually see, his brain working overdrive as he tried to figure out the what, the when, the where, the how, and the why that has gotten him to his present predicament. His memory wasa bit uncooperative at first; his memories were simply too hazy and disordered to even make sense of them, but Akashi willed them to make themselves clear in order to remind him of the events that resulted to him being bound up and kept hostage in here, and with a gag to boot.
Tea, he remembered — almost tasting the Early Grey on his tongue. He was supposed to be drinking tea with one of his father's clients in a teahouse in Gion, then discuss business afterwards. However, the 'business' part didn't come, because at some point, Akashi lost consciousness.
It must've been the tea. No, he thought. It really was the tea. No mistake about it. They probably — they actually drugged me then locked me up in here. The bastards.
Akashi rarely curse or say such crude words, but when one gets fed up, what can you do? At least he does not say them out loud, but rather screams it out in his mind and let it echo inside his head, to be heard by only him and him alone. After all, Akashi was always polite and the way he speaks is borderline poetic, even when he is threatening someone.
But back to the problem at hand. The whole thing was a set up, from the client to every single staff of the teahouse present at that moment. If not, then it would have been very troublesome for them to smuggle an unconscious person out of the teahouse. What irks him, though, was why he wasn't able to notice something suspicious from the start. Thinking about it, he'd actually fallen for it — hook, line, and sinker. Oh well, he'd figure that out later — what he needs to do right now was to get out of this place, and fast.
That was easier said than done. His hands were bound behind him, and it was only when he tried getting up that he discovered that his ankles were tied to unseen bedposts, completely restraining his movements.
And the gag was truly irritating him.
What now? He is practically a sitting duck in his position. Well, if someone was to enter the room, that someone won't be able to see anything either, but then again, whoever it is that'll pay him a visit sooner or later has the freedom to turn on the light, while Akashi can only wait and see what happens to him.
There was a shuffling noise as Akashi moved in the darkness, changing his awkward position on the bed. His arms were killing him, the knots digging painfully on his back, so he decided to lay on his side, his cheek pressed against the rough surface of the bed.
One loses sense of time when surrounded by darkness. Akashi was not sure how long he lay in the darkness when there came a faint metallic click followed by a creaking sound. It's the sound of a door being opened. There was no one on the other side, though, no footsteps to indicate someone's presence. Maybe he was just imagining hearing such things. Then he remembered something.
Father's probably figured out that I'm being held somewhere. He should've sent someone in already, Akashi thought. It's not hope, it's actually a fact. Even though he does not particularly likes his father, Akashi knows that the man will do anything to keep his sone safe — Akashi, after all, was the one and only heir to the Akashi conglomerate, and that makes him, in a sense, a valuable piece to his father. Thus, Akashi trusts him that much, though most people would be aghast at the basis of his trust. Akashi Seito does not 'love' his son the way a normal father should, and Akashi finds it hard to even think about it, much less putting his trust on something as vague and as abstract as 'love'. Akashi was thinking about all these things when all of a sudden, he felt his skin tingle.
He's not alone.
Akashi couldn't feel any presence at all, but he knows perfectly when someone is looking at him, and right now, his instincts was screaming at him that someone is looking at him that very moment.
And that person was right behind him.
No, Akashi does not believe in ghosts — he finds them extremely absurd and childish. This is a being with a real form. Since his instincts was never wrong, then that means that there was someone who opened the door and managed to get behind him without making as much as a single footstep! And that person can move well in the absence of light... Are we talking about a cat here? Well, Akashi has always been fond of cats, but cats can never turn doorknobs nor make his skin crawl like this.
Just as he was about to look behind him, the unseen being made itself known. It whispered in his ear, its nose brushing slightly against his earlobe.
"I'm here to get you home, Akashi-sama."
It's a female, judging from her voice. It was light and almost pleasant to the ear if only she did not speak in complete monotone. If you were to draw her way of speaking, you'll end with a perfectly straight line, no rising or falling crests to indicate the rise and fall of her intonation. It was all flat. The only punctuation marks she probably knows was the comma and the period.
She didn't bother to get a light or something instead she started undoing Akashi's restraints. She removed his gag first, her fingers not even fumbling once as she undid the knot that secured the cloth at the back of Akashi's head. Next to come off was the ropes around his wrists, and finally, the ones around his ankles. Carefully, Akashi slowly sat up, and the movement made him feel a bit woozy.
"Who are you?" he asked, wary of this stranger in the dark.
"If you want to get out of here, then you have to trust me. Can you run?" He heard her ask him, and Akashi added the missing question mark at the end of her sentence unconsciously in his head. He nodded, forgetting that it was too dark to even see your own hand a mere few inches from your face, but the girl seemed to see quite well in this abyss, and made a noncomittal 'hmm' before going on a brief explanation of their plan of action.
"There's a back stairway that will bring us out near the garage. We'll have to get past the guards and their guard dogs, though, so we'll have to be real quiet." The way she said makes the whole thing as if it was just a simple game of hide-and-seek, as if she's not even anticipating of killing those guards and their dogs if ever they encounter one. Akashi said nothing though, but stood up from the bed.
There was no reply, only her fingers wrapping themselves around his wrist, pulling him closer and leading him out of the room. Everything was dark, and Akashi wondered how she can navigate around in this maze of nothingness. Without warning, she stopped, her fingers tightening their grip for a moment as if to tell him to wait. He felt her move, then the unmistakable sound of a gun with a silencer, followed by a heavy thud somewhere.
She just had her first kill, then Akashi wondered how she managed to sense that person. The man did not do anything to announce his presence to her, but still, she had stopped and shot him like she perfectly knew where he was exactly standing. It must be a headshot, too — the man died too quickly without even crying out.
He felt a tug on his arm, and they moved along, down a long, long corridor and down the narrow unlit staircase that she told him earlier, and finally out into the equally dark night. The fresh, cold air was a welcome change to the stale inside the dark room he was in earlier, and he inhaled deeply. Suddenly, the girl shoved him against the wall, keeping and camouflaging them in the shadows.
Her back was pressed up against him, and Akashi got to know two things about her. One is that she had long hair, currently tied in a high ponytail, and two, that she is a few inches shorter than him.
A muffled growl shook him from his musings, and her grip on him tightened once again. They froze as the guard admonished his dog, and Akashi saw them pass by without noticing their presence. A few minutes passed before she moved away from him.
"They would be back soon. Come on."
The guards were halfway across what looked to Akashi as a formal garden, but he can't remember seeing this place before. She urged him to run, and they dodged from shadow to shadow as they crossed the wide strip of the well-lit lawn. He noticed her odd hair color — a luminous shade of chartreuse — and wondered if it was dyed or something. The girl seemed to have a preternatural instinct as to where to move, and Akashi found himself following her at will. Since they were in such a rush, he wasn't able to get a good look at her, but then it won't make much of a difference as she was wearing a mask over the lower half of her face, her eyes only the ones visible beneath her bangs.
She killed four more guards, disposing of them quickly with a single shot to the head, all without hesitation. She merely aimed and pulled the trigger with ease. She didn't harm the dogs though, and miraculously enough, the dogs didn't even bark at them, but growled for a moment before slunking away with their tails between their legs. Twice she left him in the shadows where he waited until she returned to get him. Finally, they reached their goal — a black Porsche parked near the curving drive. With a burst of renewed speed, they ran to it, and they entered, she on the driver seat, Akashi on the passenger seat. He sank into the leather, relieved. He heard the click of the seatbelt, and he looked at her as she gripped the wheel with black gloved hands.
"Put on your seatbelt."
Akashi did, and when he was done, she started the engine, and they shot off into the night like a cannonball. True to her word, she drove really fast on the dark, moonless roads, as if the Grim Reaper himself was chasing them. No one spoke. Her hand reached over and turned on the radio. What came forth from the speakers was some sugary love song from a girl idol and Akashi saw her cringe before hastening to flick the switch off.
That was something. Here was a girl who would flinch at hearing pop songs but not when killing people.
She drove so fast, everything was a blur. Which is why Akashi was surprised when she suddenly pulled into some hotel's parking lot instead of going straight to the manor. She turned off the car and stepped outside, wordlessly prompting Akashi to do the same.
She turned to him the moment he was out. As if reading his mind, she said, "They'll have an ambush waiting for us if we go straight to your estate."
She gave him a shrug as if to say, I don't care what you think, but Akashi felt too tired to get mad at her even though her indifference not to him but to everything else around her annoyed the heck out of him. They headed to the elevator and rode in silence till they reached the top floor. She went out first, looking left and right, scanning the deserted hallways.
"All's clear." She handed him a room key. "The room is the one at the end of the hall." Akashi led the way, with her trailing behind, in case someone had managed to follow them all the way up here.
It was dark when they stepped inside. She flicked the light switch near the door and warm artificial light flooded the room. They were standing in the sitting room. The girl shed her coat and threw it carelessly to the sofa. She walked past him to the double doors that lead to the bedroom and shower area. She paused, her hand on the doorknob.
"Your father sent you some clothes. It's on the coffee table," and then she went inside, closing the door after her.
Fifteen minutes later, she came out of the bedroom, drying her hair with one of the hotel's issued towels. Akashi was sitting on the sofa, the parcel of clothing on his lap. He instinctively turned his head when he heard the door open. And for the first time that evening, he was able to get a good look at the girl whom his father had sent for him.
What struck him the most is the realization that the one who saved him was a fairly young girl, maybe around his age, perhaps younger. Her chartreuse hair was a bit darker in color in its wet state, and they were long and straight and reached all the way to her slim waist. She has a petite figure, well-toned and lithe as a panther, clearly seen due to her rather revealing choices of clothing of white tank top that exposed her midriff and white boy shorts to match. Her skin is flawlessly fair, rosy cheeks and coral lips — hard to believe that this girl with her doll-like features is actually a murderer.
Her eyes had been partially hidden from view by her bangs as she had head bowed slightly as she toweled her hair. The moment she looked up and meet Akashi's gaze, he was taken by their haunting depths of liquid gold, a bright yellow color that ironically lacks the glimmer of life. They were as barren as the desert, like the gaze of the stone sphinx over the land of Egypt.
She stopped a few feet from the couch where Akashi was seated. Her face was blank as ever. She hung the towel round her neck.
"Done staring? We only have a few more hours so move it."
Something in Akashi snapped. All the irritation that had build up inside him from the moment he woke up in that dark room up to this girl's demeanor came bubbling up like lava spewing out the volcano's crater. Anger needs an object to act as its receiver, and the nearest thing happened to be this pokerfaced assassin. Akashi stood up, closing the distance between them. He looked down at her, eyes glinting dangerously. "No one speaks to me that way. No one, not even you."
The girl was unfazed by his threat. As if to anger him further, she met his gaze with an insolent one of her own. "Well, I just did." Akashi's hand shot out and gripped her wrist tightly, to the point of almost leaving a bruise. There was no reaction from her, only narrowed eyes that shows only mild annoyance.
"It would do well for you to know that threats, empty or not, do not work on me," and as if to drive the point home, she freed herself from Akashi's grip with a single flick of her wrist then walked away, bumping her shoulder intentionally on Akashi's own. There was a whoosh of air as she plopped herself on the couch a bit heavily. Akashi turned, and the paper bag containing his clothes came flying into his arms. He shot a glare at her.
"Go take a shower. We leave at first light."
He found her sitting up on the couch, eyes closed, but the faintest sound of his footstep made her open her eyes. Without looking at him, she spoke, "Three more hours. Go to sleep."
Akashi ignored her suggestion and sat instead at the couch on her left.
"You never told me your name."
Her look says, 'Why should I?'
"Your name?" Akashi prompted, getting another look with the message, 'Bug off.'
"It's not fair when you know my name and I don't know yours."
"I never asked for your name."
She has a point. "But still, you know I'm Akashi Seijuurou."
"No, I don't." At Akashi's confused look, she sighed, as if to say, 'Why do I have to explain this things to this idiot', and said, "I only asked for your description. Bloodred hair, heterochromatic eyes. Not a hard person to miss."
But it was totally dark when you came into the room. How could you know that it was indeed me on that bed and not somebody else — say a decoy? But Akashi didn't told her that. Instead he nodded thoughtfully, and said, "Well, you are pretty hard to miss yourself. There is not a lot of people with hair the color of yours. I'd say it's quite unique. It is the first time I'd seen one with lime green hair, to be honest."
"It's not artificial," she said, with a bit of annoyance, the first time her voice took on the faintest hint of emotion. Akashi was amused. Apparently, her hair color was a sensitive subject to her. A ghost of a smirk crept on his face.
"I didn't say anything about it being artificial or dyed, did I?"
"But you were thinking about it," she replied with an accusatory tone.
"How can you prove that?" he asked, hiding his mirth behind a passive face.
She rolled her eyes at him. "It's written all over your face. And I'm pretty sure you're holding back your laughter right now."
She's good at this — very perceptive. She really is talented to have been chosen by her father to send after him. The question is, where did his father picked her up?
"How long have you been working for father?" he asked, curiousity getting the better of him.
"Then why —"
She cut him off with a disinterested look. "I don't work for anybody."
"You're a freelancer, then?"
She gave no reply. Akashi sighed inwardly. Talking to this girl is like playing the slot machine. If you're lucky, you get an answer. If not, well, you're better off talking to yourself.
They spent the remaining hours in complete silence, both staring into space, lost in their own worlds. No one knew what they could be possibly thinking at that time, or if they were even thinking at all. Then, as the imaginary hourglass at the table had run out of sand, the chartruesette rose from her seat, donning her coat once again.
"Time to go."