Kunoichi

Ishimura Central

Sleep was such a wonderful thing. It rejuvenated the body. Refreshed the mind. Invigorated the spirit.

Yori had no intention of falling asleep when she closed her eyes. Ninja can be out for days at a time with little to no chance of rest. Her body had been wracked with such ordeals that it demanded a period of which it can replenish itself. Even a trained warrior could only push her body so far before the limitations of mortality finally won out. Having just narrowly escaped the clutches of her enemies while surviving a fall that would kill most fit people, Yori had to face the bitter chill as well as several fractured bones. It's a wonder she made it as far as she did before Yusuke found them. Yori had a will of steel. Training did not matter. Only determination.

She woke up in a room much like the cell Saito had her incarcerated. Unlike that cell, however, there was no sense of impending dread. This time she was not strapped half-naked to a chair with a hot lamp dangling over her sweaty head. She was sleeping in a futon with the sheets pulled up to her neck. A tray with a pitcher of water and a glass sat to her left. A change of clothes to her right. The later became obvious when she pulled back the covers….

"Eek!" She immediately covered up. This time there were no clothes. This time she was as vulnerable as the day she was born. "That settles it! I am remaining awake for the remainder of this mission." She really meant it. No more losing consciousness only to wake up with almost nothing on.

Checking to make sure there were no hidden cameras or peeping holes around, Yori quickly dressed herself. She sported a black pair of sweatpants and a white sweater. Good thing too because it was kind of cold in here. Now fully clothed, she realized she was thirsty. After having herself a drink, Yori decided it was time she knew just where she was. A pair of florescent lights on low power provided so that Yori would not be disturbed by the glare, but not awake in total darkness. She put on a pair of slippers and headed for the door.

The door opened without a sound. She found herself looking down a long hallway illuminated by the same florescent bulbs inside the room. One side was blocked off by a wall by there was light coming from the other. This looked to be the wing of some residential area though for what she could not guess. The stone floor was kept relatively clean though there were a few cracks. She looked from side to side but found nothing to convey a trap was in the making. Still, she adhered not to be caught off guard. God forbid she'd black out again and wake up in a way even less dignified than she just had.

She did not want to consider the possibilities.

Even without her gi or weapons she was still a ninja. She moved gracefully around corners, using any obstructing part of the wall as cover while making her way toward the largest source of light; that hailing from and opening at the far end of the hall. She just peered around protrusion when something whistled.

Actually it was more an artificial beep! Looking down, Yori found herself looking at some sort of mobile discus. The contraption moved slightly before coming to a halt at her feet. There was a longer beep followed by the appearance of two holes on opposite ends of the discus. Two wriggly wires slithered out of the holes. Tiny mechanical eyes blinked open at the ends of the wires and they narrowed in on Yori. The eyes were long enough that they reached up to her face. They studied her and she just gawked back.

Never had she encountered such a peculiar thing in all her life.

"Um…it is impolite to stare," she told the machine as if it had any inkling of mannerisms. It did know how to take a hint, however. The eyes blinked once before blurring back into the main body faster than she could follow. The discus-shaped robot veered off towards the end of the hall towards the light.

Fearing she'd just been discovered and with no gear to speak off, Yori ran after it without thinking. Obviously she could not catch something that small and fast and it sped away too fast for her to keep up. She stopped when she knew she'd just reached the end of the corridor. Her eyes widened at the technical marvel before her.

As if seeing a hundred of those disk-shaped machines all over the floor and walls was not enough, the hardware she found in that chamber was enough to put the computer labs of Japan's top universities to shame. There must be a dozen computer monitors displaying information and screenshots from several locations. To the far right was an assembly line where automated robotic arms worked tirelessly on some project. Large coils snaked their way from above, moving carts and supplies too heavy for humans to carry with ease from one end of the storage area to another. Yori cringed as a flying robot shaped like a disk zipped right past her. The machine flew to a nearby CPU unit, connecting itself via a wire and began data transfer. Another unit just like it flew up to the ceiling and disappeared into a vent just as a second came right back in. Like the first one, it too chose a nearby CPU unit and began to transfer its data.

A series of catwalks lined the ceiling like an intricate spider web. Speaking of which, several robotic spiders were working on building a new catwalk. They melded the metal pieces together while something resembling a flying box removed building parts from its compartment, aiding the little metal arachnids in their work. Yori did not want to attract attention. She moved along the wall until she reached a railing which separated the impressive computers and their robot companions. Lo and behold there was a hanger on the other side. She recognized Yusuke's hovercraft and watched as robotic hands tended to its maintenance. There were several smaller craft parked on the lot next to it though they were covered up. A large, four-legged construct waited until the maintenance droids were finished before it positioned itself above the hovercraft. Extending clamps from underneath its belly, the mobile crane hoisted it up and carried it to a place out to the side where it would not be in the way. It set the craft down and walked away.

"Amazing."

"Glad you think so."

Yori turned around to find the originator of that voice. She thought she imagined it at first until a floating chair came down from the catwalks. It was like a bubble with the head lopped off with a pilot seat inside. He was wearing a white metal helmet that seemed too big for his head. His dark eyes peered at her from large goggles. It was kind of funny and Yori did stifle a chuckle.

"I know. Yusuke thinks this helmet is funny also. But I prefer efficiency over aesthetics." His voice was a bit nasally. He seemed like a young man with a bit of a shadow to his face. One sniff and Yori realized hygiene may not be a part of his daily routine.

"Wow. It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Yori."

"Do I know you?"

"You sure do. Well kind of. I saw you sleeping."

Images of her waking up nude came rushing back to her. She covered her breasts. "You saw me?"

"You were out cold. We had to take care of your wounds before you woke up so that you'd be all nice and healthy."

Her face contorted. "You saw me naked?"

"What? Oh. Oh! No! Kimiko dressed your wounds. We just provided her with the materials is all."

Yori wasn't sure if she liked the idea of a trained killer looking after her well being.

"I can see where you made the connection. But don't worry. I'm not that kind of guy.

Yori's face softened with realization. "I see. I did not mean to imply."

"It was an honest mistake."

"Of course. You and Yusuke must be very happy together."

"Yusuke? What….whoa! No! You got the wrong idea. We're…ewwwwwww."

"Did I say something wrong?"

"Okay." He raised his hand to halt her there. "Let's clear things up. When I said I'm not that kind of guy I mean that I'm not some pervert who likes to have his way with girls when they're asleep." A disgusted feeling overcame him. "All hotness aside, I'm not into the whole incest thing."

"Incest?"

"You know it's when…."

"I know what it is." Her hands went up like he was about to throw something at her. Just because she grew up in an isolated mountain school does not mean she was unfamiliar with the ways of the world. Some of the younger students at Yamanouchi, particular the boys, would find ways to sneak manga onto the grounds. Yori learned firsthand how bizarre and perverted the world outside could be. A decent upbringing must be rare indeed if this was the type of material society was putting into their children's hands.

"Wait a moment. Incest? As in related?"

"Catches on quick, doesn't she?" He said to no one in particular. Removing his helmet, the man revealed his pudgy face. His head was nearly bald from a close shave. He had a strange mark that ran from the top to his right ear. The mark appeared to have been made from a bladed object. His eyes were small as if strained from staring at computer screens for too long. He had a small nose but one of the nicest smiles Yori had ever seen. He seemed friendly enough and when he spoke it was with all the sincerity he could muster. "Name's Takashi. I'm your big brother."

"Takashi?"

"Yeah….Yusuke did mention me didn't he?"

"I'm afraid not."

"Oh. Well here I am!" Takashi spread out his arms. "Come give your bro a hug."

"I'm sorry?"

"Hug. You know. Arms around each other."

Yori did not budge.

"It's something family members do."

"Forgive me, Takashi. It's not that I dislike you in any way." She thought of the right words to express herself. "But this is all happening so fast. I just met Yusuke recently. Not long ago I did not even know I had brothers. You must understand that it is a great deal to take in."

Takashi seemed hurt. "Oh. I get it." He lowered his arms. "I'm sorry for making you feel uncomfortable."

"It's not you."

"Of course it is. Sometimes I come on too strong. Rubs people the wrong way."

"How does it 'rub' exactly?" Yori asked.

Takashi stared at her for some time. His frown turned into a smile. "Forget it. I'm just glad to finally meet you after all these years."

Yori felt herself blushing. "Am I that different?"

"Are you kidding? Last I saw you, you weren't even a day old! You were just a baby the day we fled our house and…." Takashi stopped. He looked away.

"And what?" Yori naively pressed.

"The day we lost our mother." Emotion crept into his bubbly face. Yori could see moisture in his eyes and Takashi tried to hide it as best he could. That meant wiping the burgeoning tears from his eyes. "I'm sorry. It's not easy to talk about."

Yori felt so ashamed for bringing up such a painful memory. While she never knew Yuriko, she felt very close to her. All she need do was touch her headband to feel….

"My headband!" It wasn't there. "It's gone!"

"I have it," Takashi said. "I hope you don't mind. It belonged to our mother and seeing it again just brought back a lot of memories. Come on. It's this way." Takashi whirled his floating orb around and headed toward an office beyond the computer aisles. Yori followed.

The office was a fraction of the size of the chamber outside but no less cramped. There were numerous computer consoles and work stations. Yori could barely find the room to walk without stepping on a set of wires.

"Here it is." Takashi stopped before a single table in the back. Yori's headband was sitting right beside a keyboard with green buttons. He picked it up and turned to Yori. "This is my office. It's where I run our entire operation." He caressed the headband like it was some small animal in his care. He seemed reluctant to part with it but did so for Yori's sake. Afterall, it was given to her. "It was her favorite. She wore it almost everyday."

Taking it back, Yori felt like she'd reconnected with her. She wasted no time in putting it back on.

"You look just like her."

"That's what Kimiko told me."

"Hmph. Now she's changed."

"You don't sound like you approve."

"I don't like to judge people till I get to know them. Kimiko was like a big sister to Yusuke and me. She was part of the family. I knew her when she was just a teenager. Before she changed."

"She told me what happened. Between her and my—our father. She did not have it easy."

"Neither did we."

This has to be one of the most dramatic family reunions in history. Meeting three faces from her past, plus an enemy's face whom she cared not if she saw ever again, was trying her self-discipline. Should she break down and embrace her brother as he wanted her to? Does she allow herself this one time to lower her defenses? What would Sensei think of all this? Would he agree with the decisions she'd made?

Perhaps this mission was as much about growing up as it was reconnecting with her family. Yori depended on Master Sensei's guidance too much to ever think outside his teachings. Before she left, Sensei told her that the greatest lessons he learned about life were outside the walls of Yamanouchi. She imagined there must have been many times when he was faced with decisions his training had not prepared him for. Life's greatest obstacles were not overcome with fists but by strength of will. Yori's metal was, is, and will be, tested for as long as she lived. For once she had no one else to turn to but herself. Not even Hirotaka was around to tell jokes.

She would not let them down for to do so would be to give up on herself. Sensei knew she was more than that. As did Hirotaka. And she was sure Yuriko felt the same way.

"You mentioned this is where you run your operation. What exactly do you do?" She wanted to open up this difficult topic by talking about something Takashi seemed really proud of. It seemed to work for his eyes did light up.

"Like it? I built all this."

"By yourself?"

"Well to be fair the robots did most of the heavy lifting."

"And what is this place?"

"It's an old factory. No one was using it so I didn't think anyone would mind if I set up shop. Took me a couple years to get this place up and running again. Parts aren't easy to come by especially with today's economy. Japanese don't seem that interested in robotics anymore."

"Is this where you've been all this time?"

"Nah. I was out on the street for a while. Moving from place to place, trying to stay warm, find food and shelter. Toured the country."

"You mean you were without a home?"

"For the last five years. Wasn't always that way, though. When Kozoburo Sensei split us up, he had me bunk with an old acquaintance of his who used to be an aeronautical engineer. He taught me everything I know about machines. I always loved robots and built my first one when I was nine. Pretty primitive by today's standards but it sure was beautiful. Breakfast was never the same."

"You built a robot who made you breakfast?"

"It was a portable toaster. I'd have it follow me around and make toast whenever I wanted." He blushed. "Looking back now it was kind of silly."

"No. That's very impressive."

"You think so?"

She nodded.

"Thanks."

"So what made you leave?"

"You did."

Yori balked.

"I used to stay late hours for cram sessions at school. One night I stayed longer than usual. The janitor had to wake me up and tell me to go home. I was so exhausted; I didn't even know where home was. It must have been a wrong turn because suddenly I wound up in a part of town I didn't recognize. As if disorientation from a lack of sleep wasn't enough, I ran into a bunch of guys who had a few too many."

Takashi took a deep breath. "I don't know who threw the first punch. One moment I was taking their verbal abuse; the next I was on the floor, huddled into the fetus position while they pummeled me."

"That's horrible." Yori gasped.

"I never felt more helpless than I did at that moment. These guys reeked of alcohol. They were really getting their kicks, or I was, acting like it was some twisted game."

"Is that where you got that scar on your head?"

"What this? Nah. It's from a cosplay convention."

Yori just stared.

"Don't ask."

So she didn't.

"What started the fight?"

"Couldn't tell ya. Maybe I said something too smart that made them feel stupid. Maybe they didn't like chubby kids. Could have stepped on their turf. Who knows? All I could remember thinking was, I wish Yusuke was here to protect me." Takashi regarded his hands. "You have to understand, Yori. I was young when we were separated. I was given a new life and a new identity. My name was Toshio Imamura. I had a future. It was so long since I'd seen any of you that I'd almost forgotten what you looked like. That moment it all came rushing back to me. Our house in the village. Mom's cooking. Dad coming home with presents. Yusuke getting lectured for getting in trouble at school. Kimiko's laugh. I can even remember the first time I heard you cry."

Takashi closed his eyes and his hands. It was painful to relive that memory.

"A part of me wished they'd just beat me to death. I hated myself. I was ready to die if it meant not feeling as bad as I did. I have a feeling those guys would have done me in anyway. But then he appeared. The ninja." His mood changed from solemn to awed. "It was like that time the ninja arrived to save dad from Saito's men back in the forest the night you were born. The coincidence was just too much. I was conscious enough to watch him overpower the thugs and tie them up before helping me. I'm not sure how, but I woke up the next morning in my room. Imamura-san was there and he told me of the ninja who carried me on his back to the house. After dropping me off, he left without a word."

"It's strange but I think mom was speaking to me through him. What are the chances I'd run into a ninja when I needed one most?"

"Maybe Master Sensei sent him to keep an eye on you," Yori suggested. "He probably had ninja keeping watch over Yusuke as well. No doubt he wanted to make sure you would be looked after."

"I doubt it. I mean why would he have waited so long to act? No. This was a case of two paths crossing at the right time. He could have been on a mission for all I know and yet he stopped to help me. Yori, from that moment on, all I could think about was finding you. Yusuke, Kimiko, dad, I wanted to see you again. I tried to convince Imamura-san to help me, but he was under strict orders to keep us apart. The Ishimura children were not to meet again until they would be safe from Saito. That was the promise our guardians made when Sensei made the agreement with our father."

"But I couldn't wait. So one night, I grabbed what I could and I ran away from home. Stupid considering how little prepared I was but I could not go on pretending to live a normal life knowing my family was still out there. For all I knew, you could be dead. I had to find out for myself."

"So you just left?"

"Just like that. The most spontaneous decision I ever made in my life led me down a road of hardship I never thought possible. Times were tough but I learned to survive. By the time I found Yusuke, I was able to look after myself. Course I'm still more brains than brawn. Yusuke completed that part of me that was missing. Together we promised we would find you, our dad, and Kimiko if it took the rest of our lives."

"Where did you two meet?"

"I tracked him down to some underground fight club. Was making a pretty yen till I showed up." Takashi held up his hand. "It's a long story. One I think Yusuke is better suited to telling you than me."

"But there is so much more I want to know."

"I know, Yori. But you're not the only one in the dark. Tell me about you." His eyes beamed. "Is it true you grew up in a secret ninja school? That is so cool. What's it like? Do you run around in black tights and jump from rooftops? Can you kill a man with one finger? Do they have grades? Tests? Finals? Single or Co-ed dormitories?"

"Yes. Probably. Not really. Yes. Kind of. Same sex."

His eyes grew even wider. "Cooooool."

"Takashi. I have so many questions."

"Ditto."

"But if you wouldn't mind answering this one." She looked around. "Where exactly are Kimiko and Yusuke? I have not seen them since I fell asleep on ship."

"They're catching up on old times." He smirked. "Though I suspect their definition of 'catching up' is a little different from our own."

"I see."


Yusuke hit the ground rolling. She was tough for an old lady. Only a handful of women have ever gotten him on his back as quickly as she did but he wasn't about to give up yet. Not with round five coming up.

It was not wise to get on his feet so fast. He nearly bowled over before finding his footing. His sides hurt and that chop to the arm had left his elbow feeling numb. The good news is that years of underground street fighting had left Yusuke with a body that was used to punishment. He shrugged off those blows like a bad case of dandruff. Tough or not, Kimiko had to be feeling some pain.

You wouldn't know it looking at her. The assassin was standing strong with body in a strict fighting stance that he imagined was the last thing her enemies saw before they died. She was sweating, and there was a bruise on her left cheek from where Yusuke landed a successful blow. There were a few rips on her yellow cat suit and her hair was messed up in some places but other than that she was ready to go.

Yusuke was happy.

As a fighter he relished competition. Years of combat and he rarely met anyone who could give him the match he always desired. Kimiko had always been a warrior at heart. He remembered all the times she fought off the kids who used to bully him back at school with a mixture of pride and shame. Proud that he could call her family. Ashamed that he needed protection to begin with.

Yusuke felt so helpless watching his father take on those Yakuza by himself. He was a kid who wanted to be a man so that he may protect those he loved. Growing up with a police officer put him at odds with his new lifestyle. Yusuke got into so many fights as a kid. He'd been suspended more times than he cared to remember and expelled twice. Seeing as how he loved to work with his fists, his guardian, Tanaka, had him take up martial arts. It was a great way to let out his frustrations and fight his inner demons all at once. Yusuke was good, but his spirit was still restless. After injuring a student during a competition, he was kicked out of the dojo.

Realizing he could never fit into the civilized world after what he'd been through, he left Tanaka and went underground. He fought fighters from all over Japan and a few foreigners as well. Experience taught him how to survive in the ring. Determination taught him how to fight through pain. He did not know it then but he was on a path of self-destruction before he met Takashi.

They met after a fierce brawl in which Yusuke had gone up against a lethal fighter under the employ of the Yakuza. He'd been told to throw the fight or else. Yusuke did not respond well to threats.

Yusuke defeated the Yakuza prize fighter and that was that. The end of his career and his life. Were it not for Takashi he may well have died that night. His brother, once he convinced him he was so, convinced Takashi to leave this world behind and join him in his search for their family. They lived on the run for a year until Takashi found this place. He'd been acquiring parts and materials to build his own lab for years, placing them in storage with a friend he trusted. The old factory proved to be the perfect place for their new hideout. From there, the brothers started their own base of operations. Takashi was the brains of the outfit and it was he who made all their tools and equipment.

Yusuke used them. It was Takashi who built his combat suit which gave him near super-human abilities. Enhanced further by his natural fighting ability and Yusuke was near unstoppable.

Of course he was not wearing it now because that would give him too much of an edge. He changed into a casual pair of sweats and a t-shirt which showed off his muscular arms. Both he and Kimiko were barefoot, fighting in what Yusuke called his own private dojo. There were boxing gloves, mats, headgear, staves, vests and all sorts of training gear. Yusuke practiced here on his own when he felt the need to work out the chinks in this fighting style. With Kimiko here, his regimen just reached a whole new level.

Takashi's hair was cut military-style; a homage to the man who raised him during those dark years. He found it very peculiar why a woman in Kimiko's profession would have long hair. Surely it would be a hindrance in combat.

Kimiko was proving otherwise. Then, he deviously thought, assassins had to get close to their enemies. It was probably a means of distraction. Who could resist a beautiful woman with long, dark hair?

"You ready?" She asked in a monotone voice.

Yusuke answered her with an attack. Powerful legs fired off in rapid succession. It was a technique that devastated many opponents in the ring. But Kimiko was too smart to meet it with an attack of her own. Yusuke was obviously more powerful than her, so matching him strength for strength was suicide. She kept her distance while keeping her arms up not in defense, but waiting for the opening she so desired.

She almost missed fighting Yori. True she was skilled, but with her Kimiko could be more offensive using her superior skill and strength. She did not like being on defense.

Her Tae Kwon Do came into play when she found the opening. Feigning a hand strike which Yusuke prepared to block, Kimiko pivoted on her toes and twisted around till her back leg came sweeping like a twister, striking Yusuke square in the chest. He hit the ground hard.

"All power. No finesse. That was always your greatest flaw, Yusuke. As a child you tried to match the larger kids with your own strength and lost every time. Didn't you learn anything by watching me? Didn't you see how I used their own strength against them? I was smaller too but I won because I was smarter. You've become the same kind of brute who always loved picking on guys like you."

"I get by." The pain in his chest was excruciating but he fought through it. "We don't all have the luxury of being trained by professional killers."

"I see you still have daddy issues. Are you jealous because he took me and not you?"

"I've always been jealous of you, Kimiko." He turned on his stomach and slowly got up. "Though now that I see what you are I'm starting to think I got the better part of the deal."

"And what's wrong with what I am?"

"Don't get me wrong. You're still the obnoxious bitch I know and love," He joked. "Only now you seemed to have lost that fire I liked most about you."

"Oh I still have fire. In fact, you've just been burned, what, five times now?"

"I almost beat you two rounds ago."

"I let you get close."

"But I left my mark."

Flinching at the bruise on her cheek, Kimiko could not disagree. "This would count for nothing in a life or death struggle."

"Its counts for one thing. I think I've bruised your ego."

"You are such a boy."

Yusuke reached his feet. His hands balled into fists. "I was about to say the same about you." He switched to Western boxing, coming in with his arms up and in. He jabbed to force Kimiko back. This time he'd made sure not to give her room to use those deadly legs of hers. He learned earlier that she was just as brutal with her hands as she was with her feet, but he knew she was wearing down. Kimiko could not take pain like he could. Her body was strong and chiseled but still much frailer than his own.

Yusuke fired a monstrous uppercut which she easily ducked. What she didn't know was that he left himself wide open for what he knew would be a knee to the gut. Yusuke brought down his elbow hard, connecting squarely with her half-raised knee. The contact was painful on both of them but with his leverage, he knew Kimiko got most of the hit.

"Argh!" She fell back.

"You okay?" His tone was mocking for he knew he got the better of her in that last one.

"Bastard!" Flipping back up, Kimiko attacked him.

"Don't get mad beca….oof!" Yusuke's taunt was cut off with a chop to the neck. She grabbed him and swept her foot behind him before forcing him to the ground. What Kimiko forgot was that in the ring, having your opponent on the ground was a common tactic; one Yusuke was well-experienced with. Before she could put him in a hold, or just beat his face in, one of his legs came around and over her right shoulder. With one push, Yusuke had Kimiko falling back, giving him time to move away.

He coughed. Suddenly he didn't feel like jeering. All he could do was watch as she got back to her feet, a deadly look to her eye.

"You don't know how easily I can kill you."

He had a feeling. Skilled or not, Yusuke had learned most of his trade by trial and error. There's only so much you can learn on your own without the tutelage of a trained professional.

Kimiko launched herself as soon as Yusuke stood back up. She easily kicked his pathetic attempt to block out of her way and spun around to kick him again. Yusuke ducked under her kick and tackled her in the groin area. Kimiko was nimble, and she used the same technique she used on Yori back in the alley. Using her momentum in conjunction with her opponent's, the assassin spilled over, quickly bringing one foot around his neck tightly. She placed her hands on the ground and pushed along, making her body into a living pulley which brought Yusuke spinning head over heels. He crashed onto the mat and did not move.

Still, the exertion winded her and she could not press her attack. Going five rounds with an undisciplined, but still very talented fighter took its toll on her. Yusuke had potential and with the right training might even dangerous one day. For now his style was suited to wowing the crowds in those seedy underground clubs, not for the actual combat in the real world.

Though she had to admit he did save them in the woods. But that could be attested to the suit and not him.

"It's over," Kimiko said.

"Not…yet."

She looked at him. "You can't beat me. You never could. You never will. Just give up."

"No." He began to pull himself off the floor.

So stubborn, she thought. But then again he was a ring fighter. The best made their way to the top through sheer stubbornness and pride. Yusuke would not allow himself to quit. The only way she'd take him down for good is by either breaking something he couldn't do without or knocking him out cold. That or kill him and the latter was looking better all the time.

"Not yet." Yusuke was back up. He grit his teeth and charged her again.

"Stupid." She met his kick with one of her own. They connected in midair and held it there.

"I swear you're just like your father."

"I wouldn't know."

"He never knew when to quit. Always too proud to admit when he was outclassed."

"So why'd you stay with him?"

"I had no choice."

"Bullshit, Kimiko! You told me yourself. You chose to stay with him because you loved him." He grimaced. "Though I wish you left out that part where you two did it. That was so wrong."

"I was young and stupid. I should have left him when I had the chance but I stayed and now I'm in too deep."

"We were in too deep the night Saito's men came for us. We'll never be okay so long as that bastard's alive."

"You think the Brothers Ishimura stand a chance at bringing him down?"

"The two of us? No. I don't even think all four of us can do it. But dammit, we have to try. I'm not going to spend the rest of my life hiding like some chickenshit loser. Fighting is all I know how to do. Might as well put it to good use."

"You'll lose."

"Then we'll take as many of them with us as we can."

"Are you suicidal or just stupid?"

"It's in the family. Even you can attest to that."

"Don't insult me."

"Afraid of being part of something that's bigger than you, Kimiko?"

"What do you know?"

"Plenty. I used to think the same until Takashi found me. He gave me a purpose. A goal. Now all I want to do is rebuild the life Saito took from me. If that means cracking a few heads then I'm all for it."

"Saito's too powerful. You can't beat him with a head-on assault."

"Takashi's got a plan. With you and Yori on our side we can't lose."

"Oh yes we can."

"You are such a whiner." Breaking contact, Yusuke ducked to sweep her leg. Caught off guard, Kimiko fell right on her butt. Pain shot through her spine. She was momentarily paralyzed and that allowed Yusuke to pin her to the floor. That called it.

"Game."

"This isn't a game, you twit!" She spat.

"I've learned one thing while fighting in the ring, Kimiko. It's the last punch that wins the fight. You can knock me down all you like. I'll still get back up to whip your ass."

"If I were serous you'd be dead right now."

"You wish." Though deep down he knew this to be true. "But I have something you don't. Something every fighter needs if he has any hope of going all the way. A dream. I know what I'm fighting for and I'm willing to do anything to see it come true. Can you say the same?"

Kimiko was quiet.

"Thought so. My round." Yusuke got up and went over to a bench with his towel. He slowly padded himself dry while waiting for Kimiko to do the same. She just sat in the mat, staring at him. "What?"

"I think you don't know what you're in for. Saito's a very powerful man. I believe you when you say you have a purpose and that you want to see it through to the end. But I've been fighting him for years. I know what kind of dedication it takes to wage war against a criminal overlord and it has drained me of all my dreams." Her eyes turned sad. "Yusuke, I've known you since you were a boy. You're still young. Don't waste you life like this. Leave Japan. Start a new life. Trust me when I say this isn't the way."

Yusuke smiled. "Going on your own ain't the way. Come on, Kimiko. I've known you a long time too. You never quit on anything in your life. Don't chicken out on my now."

She turned away. "Idiot."

"It's in the genes." He tossed her a towel. "Go take a shower. Takashi's going to want to brief us in a half hour."

"On what?"

His teeth showed. "We're going after Saito."


Four figures walked side by side. They had finally tracked down their elusive prey to this spot and were itching for a fight. Their enemy was cunning but apparently not smart enough to think that they would not be followed. Did they honestly believe they could hide from Saito? He owned this country and everyone in it. His eyes and ears were everywhere. These four, they are his hand. Four, deadly fingers that when put together form a fist that could destroy everything in its path.

A cigarette butt burned in the darkness. A gloved hand came up to remove it from the lips which spouted a plume of smoke into the air. It seemed to meld with the surrounding fog, as if it wanted to get away from him as quickly as possible.

"This is it," said a male voice on the far left. "We strike hard and fast. Take them by surprise."

"No need to go givin' us tips of the trade, rookie. We all know the drill." The smoker tossed his cigarette down and stomped it out.

"I am no rookie."

"You ain't no veteran either."

"Silence," a female voice snapped. "We have a job to do. Let's do it and go home."

"You heard the boss lady." Tipping his hat just slightly, the man who snuffed out the cigarette reached into his long jacket to feel the holster of his six-shooter. "Ladies first."

"Just leave some for me," said the last member of their group, punching a fist into his open hand. Leather gloves rippled upon contact.

"The girl's mine," the female said.

The man in the hat chuckled. "Wouldn't have it any other way."


Yori was impressed. "They appear very well designed, Takashi-chan."

Feeling very good about himself, Takashi blew on his fingers and rubbed them on his shirt. "What can I say? It's a gift."

Guess humility wasn't passed down from one generation to the next. Still, Yori had to give him credit for a job well done. "I am no expert but this technology appears to be very advanced."

"It was supposed to be used for our military forces, but kinks in the nano machines scrapped the entire project. I managed to download the specs before they were completely erased from the system."

"Nano machines?"

"Think of them as tiny, microscopic robots that regulate the suit. Alone they're pretty much useless. Get a billion of these guys working together and there's almost nothing they can't do."

"And Yusuke has them?"

"Sure does."

"And…I can have them too?"

"You wanna try?"

Tempted. Yori was fascinated by all the mechanical wonders her brilliant brother managed to create. Who knew she had such a genius in her family?

"Well?"

"I never use technology on a mission."

"Old-fashioned girl, huh? Well don't worry. Technology is our friend. Why don't you try it on?"

Yori hesitated.

"Go on."

"Perhaps I…"

"Yori." Kimiko appeared. She'd discarded her cat suit for a form-fitting t-shirt with blue jeans. She let her hair down and it waved behind her like a cape. Yori noticed a small bruise on her left cheek.

"Are you okay?"

"What's up, Kimiko?"

"Takashi." Kimiko spoke to him out of courtesy and nothing else. Clearly Yusuke was not the only Ishimura brother she had issue with.

"Let's talk." Grabbing Yori, Kimiko guided her away from Takashi.

"What is wrong, Kimiko?"

"We need to leave. Now."

"What?" She pulled away. "Why?"

"I just had a talk with your moronic older brother. He and Takashi are planning to attack Saito."

"That is great news." Yori held up a fist. "Together I know we can win."

Kimiko threw her hands up in frustration. "I swear you guys are all alike. Yuriko was the only sane person in that entire house. Did you not hear me? These manga stereotypes think they stand a chance. You've been with Saito. You know the guy's a monster."

"All monsters have their Achilles Heel. The biblical David defeated his Goliath by striking at his most vital spot. That is what we must do."

"Yori, unless that geek of a brother has one hell of a slingshot, there's no way they're going to survive."

"We must try."

"Well then good luck. I tried to reason with you but you seem hell-bent on getting yourself killed. I'll have no part in this."

"Please reconsider. We can use you."

"I don't want to be used anymore, Yori. I'm not a tool."

"No you are not. Despite you incessant negativity, I know that you are more than what you make yourself to be. You have a choice. Now it is the time to choose."

"Yori! Have you been paying any attention? I betrayed you. I let you walk into a trap just so I could find out if Saito had Kenji or not. I lied. I fought and seriously hurt you. Then I almost abandoned you in the forest with Saito's goons chasing us. Why do you insist on working together with me?"

Putting her hands behind her, Yori gave Kimiko the most playful smile she could manage. "Because I know there's good in you." She stuck out her tongue.

"This family's going to be the death of me."

"Please do not say such things."

Yusuke strutted into the scene. "Whatcha talking about?"

"Piss off!" Kimiko stormed away.

"What crawled up her ass?" He asked his sister.

"I believe it was introspection."

"Kimiko, wait up!" Yusuke went after her.

"Leave me alone, Yusuke. Less you want me to finish what you started."

A shrill beeping filled the air causing all eyes to turn towards Takashi. The round man rushed his floating chair over to a computer screen and began to type away frantically. "Oh no."

"What's going on?" Yusuke rushed to his side followed by Yori. Kimiko looked to the hallway and considered finding a way out of this place but curiosity got the better of her and she headed back toward the others.

"This is not good."

"What? What?!" Yusuke pressed.

"It's them."

"Them who?" Yori asked. She looked from one brother to the next. She grew even more agitated when Kimiko's eyes widened with recognition. Everyone knew what was going on but her.

"The last people you ever want to meet. Suit up!" Yusuke turned and ran for the locker room.



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