Chapter 16: I Promise
Outside St. Maur's Cafeteria, Freya sat by herself on a bench, obviously lost in thought.
She thought back to what had happened to her sister earlier this morning, to that attempt Abstergo had made at either capturing or eliminating her. That was what she'd feared above all – that they'd eventually go after her loved ones in an attempt to get to her. Granted, earlier might have been a fluke on their part, given that Freya and Chii were twins, but still…
Freya knew she couldn't help it if Abstergo mistook Chii for her. She was her twin sister, after all. Chii didn't have any of her enhancements, but outwardly the two were identical in every possible way.
The problem was, even awareness such as this failed to assuage the guilt she felt for having inadvertently endangering her younger and more innocent sibling.
Even Freya telling herself that she was able to protect her sister did nothing to help, as there was still the minor detail of it being her, Freya, who they wanted in the first place. And if ever they found out there were two of them, they might even get the bright idea of trying to do to Chii what they did to her...
She felt a tightness in her chest as a light breeze began to blow.
Freya thought to herself that her programmed skills would at least ensure safety for Chii and for herself. However, that attempt at reassurance fell flat a moment later as she realized that no one knew her lethality better than Abstergo. They'd turned her into this... thing, after all. Of course they'd know exactly how deadly she was, and eventually come up with something even worse.
And that, dear Freya, is why you should never tempt fate.
Sighing to herself, Freya got up from the bench to rejoin Rei and friends inside.
"So tell me, Rei, are you and Freya… involved, or something?"
I can't say I'm surprised you noticed something, thought Rei sardonically as Shana asked this question.
It was their noontime break; they were sitting at their usual spot near the door of the school cafeteria, having just finished their lunch, while Freya went outside for a while to have a few moments of silence to herself.
Shana's intuition and observation skills were as sharp as ever, much to Rei's chagrin, though it hardly surprised him. As a psychology major, he too was capable of intuition and observation, but alas, it was women who generally had more talent in those respects.
If nothing else, though, Rei now knew why his inner voice was so spot-on when it came to snarking at him and driving him mad.
It sounded exactly like Shana's did now.
But then, he thought, there was a reason she was the unofficial 'mother' of their circle of friends. Not only did she have the tendency to nurture them even as she kept them in line, she also had an uncanny knack for guessing what was on their minds. Rei could only guess that she listened during their psychology classes, even more than he did, because there was absolutely no way she could be an actual mind reader, could she?
Still, he tried to deny it. "Really, Shana? Where ever did you get that idea? I –"
Rei grimaced as she kicked him lightly in the foot, something she usually did whenever she was exasperated at whoever she was talking to. When she next spoke, it was in the motherly tone she knew how to affect so well.
"Face it, Rei. You're no bigot when it comes to human-persocom relations. I've heard you talk glowingly of Ceres and how she was like a second sister to you. You yourself said you spent the better part of two days trying to help Freya deal with her problems!"
Rei kept silent, knowing there was no arguing with Shana whenever she was in full-on 'mother' mode.
And she does have a point, you crocodile in denial, added what he called his 'inner troll' in a highly irritating, singsong voice.
"And it's not like she doesn't feel anything for you, judging from those glances she keeps sneaking your way during class," she finished, an exasperated half-smile on her face.
She stopped talking for a moment to let all that sink in. The worst part of her little outburst wasn't that she took it out of context, but that it all hit a little too close to home.
"We're your friends, aren't we?" Shana looked round at both Reiko and Kyo, both of whom were gazing at Rei avidly as she spoke. "Just come clean and admit it already, Rei. It's not like we'll laugh at you or anything."
At this, Rei explained to his friends the same thing he told Ueda yesterday: that Freya had gone through trauma at the hands of her previous owners; that he and Freya had indeed grown pretty close ever since she found her way to them, but that she was vulnerable at the moment and that it would be wrong to take advantage of her vulnerability. Yet even as he spoke, his inner voice couldn't help but make itself known again.
Really, Rei. How long do you plan on denying it?
Rei ruthlessly squelched it just as he did the first time around.
Unfortunately, Shana happened to agree with whatever it was inside him that wouldn't shut the hell up, judging from the way she was shaking her head in growing irritation at his denial.
"Stop insulting my intelligence, why don't you?" Shana persisted, mounting annoyance evident in her voice. "I know an item when I see one! The way you two are around each other! And she doesn't quite smile at anyone else the way she does at you," her scowl turned into a smile at this as she looked at their friends. "Right, guys?"
At his friends' reaction, Rei grimaced to himself. There really was no getting anything past them, was there? Another denial and Shana might not be content to kick just his foot anymore.
About time, too. You're not fooling anyone, you know.
At long last, Rei nodded.
"…Yeah. You're probably right."
It was right then that Freya resumed her seat, ashen-faced, beside Rei. The look on her face effectively killed any compunction on Shana's part to revel in having been right about them both.
"It was Chii," Freya said quietly, in a voice only Rei could hear. Don't tell me…
"She… was attacked."
Rei just got a ready-made excuse to not go through with his admission, maybe even go back on it, but he was far from relieved. Freya hardly deserved the attention of her former owners; Chii, even less. Whereas Freya could defend herself if something bad happened, Chii would be helpless as a newborn kitten. And if ever they did to her what they'd done to her sister...
All Rei could do at the moment was to assure Freya that they'd visit Chii at Tirol after school.
Chii was still confused and befuddled at what had happened earlier today.
It was supposed to be just another day of work for her, albeit one with Hideki accompanying her so nothing would happen to her again. She'd run into some men in black on the way to Tirol who thought she was Freya. Then she heard Freya's voice inside her head.
Chii… my dear sister…
I'll protect you. I promise.
Next thing she knew, she was here.
Manager Ueda hadn't noticed it, and so she just went about things as though nothing was out of the ordinary. But that didn't mean it didn't happen. Chii herself tried not to think of what had transpired that morning as she and her co-worker, a young girl named Yumi, attended to their tasks at the shop.
She didn't know exactly what had happened, but for some reason, she now wore a bracer on her left arm. It was very similar to that of her sister, only in Freya's case she had it on both arms. And just before that gap in her memory, she'd heard her sister's voice…
She looked up to find Manager Ueda looking at her, holding a box of cake in his hands. His tone of voice, not to mention his expression, made it clear that he was very concerned about Chii right now. "Is something the matter, Chii?"
"Manager," Chii looked up, taking the cake and passing it over to Yumi, who was currently dealing with a waiting customer, "It's… Freya. Chii's sister."
Ueda nodded, smiling slightly as he understood. "Yeah, she's your sister, isn't she? What happened, Chii?"
Before Chii could answer, though, the bell rung as the door opened again; it was Hideki, having come to pick her up on the way home from school. He waved his hand at Yumi upon seeing her before turning toward Ueda and his persocom – girlfriend, rather. Faint creases appeared on his forehead at the sight of the bracer Chii was wearing.
"Oh, hello, Mr. Ueda!" Hideki greeted him as he came on over to Chii's side. "What's up?"
"Hi, Motosuwa," Ueda replied in turn, giving Chii her paycheck for the day while eyeing her left arm bracer. "Chii's sister was here the other day, by the way. Freya, wasn't that her name? She was with a young man and a baby," he recalled thoughtfully.
Hideki's eyes widened very slightly at that. So Rei and Freya had been here recently, then. He was almost sure that Chii seized the opportunity to bond with her sister and catch up with her. And now she seemed to have taken a leaf out of her sister's book with that thing on her arm…
For the second time in less than an hour, Chii looked up as someone said her name.
"Hey, Chii, what's with that thing on your arm?"
She looked at it again, more closely this time. The inside of the bracer had a thin space in the middle, enough for something to fit in. It looked a lot like the one Freya had, except that she had two of them. It was a little heavy, too – not to a detrimental degree, but enough that even Chii knew it wasn't just something to wear on her arm.
And when she flicked her wrist slightly...
"G-gyahhhhhh! Chii, what the hell?"
Hideki's reaction was overblown as a blade extended from out of the bracer. Chii looked at it in awe and wonder before retracting it, much to Ueda and Yumi's astonishment. It was Freya's, alright… but why was Hideki looking at her like that?
Chii gazed up at Hideki, the expression on her face suggesting she'd just been caught doing something wrong.
The sadness was evident in her voice as she said his name.
"Is Chii bad?"
Hideki winced; he could never bear it whenever Chii put on that heartbreakingly adorable puppy dog look. "Is Freya?"
Try as he might, he was unable to answer. Chii wasn't bad; not once did he ever think it, or otherwise consciously do anything to make her feel it. In fact, he quite often felt that he had the best girlfriend in the world – even if she was lacking in common sense at times. It was all he could do to give her a reassuring hug, the better to get his message across.
"No, Chii," he whispered so only she could hear, "You're not bad. Freya isn't bad, either." And he meant it, too; whatever had been done to Freya, he could see that she meant no harm.
At the same time, though, Freya surely knew Chii didn't know what her gift was, or what to do with it. Hideki believed that her heart was in the right place, but still, there was something to be said about giving a deadly weapon to your innocent and naïve little sister.
"She's not bad, Chii," Hideki reiterated when he let go of her. "But we're gonna have to have a word with her on that present –"
"Alright, then," said a voice as Tirol's door opened yet again.
Freya looked from her sister to Hideki as she walked in the shop carrying Oyuki in her arms, Rei wheeling the stroller behind her.