Chapter 20: Recent Twists and Turns
Rei reflected at the recent twists and turns his life had recently gone through.
For the longest time, he'd been an unremarkable 19 year old, going to college and screwing around with friends on the side. His brain was top notch, but his grades were barely above average as he couldn't be bothered excelling in school. No girlfriend since birth, either – he couldn't be bothered, and he'd been left jaded by the one girl he was actually interested in.
In short, he had never stood out among the many other young men who lived in this big city.
At least, until she showed up.
Rei stared up at the ceiling of his bedroom, chuckling to himself at the thought of her. Freya's arrival at their home, and in his life, hadn't so much as changed it forever as it turned everything upside down.
The time had been when he'd disappear from the house at night to hit the local internet shop, thrashing the competition and making money off of them. He used to get into fist fights with Asakura as well, and while he often gave as good as he got, Shana often doled out those trademark slaps of hers as her own brand of punishment.
But even Shana, however seriously she took her self-appointed role as the 'mother' of their group, could do little to persuade him to turn away from his decadent lifestyle. Eventually she'd given it up as a bad job; although she still punished Rei when he went too far, Shana had, for the most part, accepted him for who he was.
The chastisements Ceres had subjected him too were marginally more successful, especially when she invoked his responsibility as Oyuki's uncle, and he did tone down some of his most undesirable habits and affectations. But even then, all of them, including Rei himself, were convinced that he wasn't likely to straighten up anytime soon.
And then, one fateful day, she came into his life.
It was only when they took her in that he'd finally begun to understand what Ceres had been trying to tell him. Granted, Oyuki was his beloved niece, and Freya was, at the time, just a persocom that they found passed out just outside their house. Even so, it was Freya who Rei had taken care of himself. Even during her early days as part of their little family, he'd already sensed that she was somehow… broken, haunted by repressed trauma.
In effect, Freya had sparked a change in him, one just as real as the one in her.
Even as Rei learned of her dark past, he was certain that Freya's place was with them now. It still wasn't all rainbows and butterflies – he still had bad dreams some nights where he witnessed her lethality firsthand – but he'd committed himself to this path, and he wasn't about to go astray. Even then, he knew full well that some very bad men were after Freya, and so they'd sworn to protect each other.
Easier said than done, though.
Rei knew his course. He knew perfectly well she wouldn't go down so easily, but even then, he refused to stand by and wait for another attempt by Freya's former owners at repossessing her. Anyone seeking to take her against her will would do so only after stepping over his dead body, because there was no way he'd just move aside for them and leave her to her fate.
The problem was that those words didn't mean much, considering his current state. His girlfriend –
Wait a minute. Since when did I think of Freya as my girlfriend?
Rei wasted no time ditching that train of thought. The point was that Freya, regardless of what she was to him, was a superpowered robot assassin. Frightening and brutal as it was, she exuded a kind of grace and poise even as she mercilessly cut down the ones responsible for turning her into a mechanized angel of death. Though her parents surely hadn't intended it, she now channelled her mythological namesake very well.
Rei, on the other hand...
I'm not strong enough.
He knew and had accepted it, but neither knowledge nor acceptance helped to make Rei feel better.
As he was now, Rei was not only weak, but powerless.
It was like that guy Daniel had said; it was normally the man who protected the woman, but in this scenario, there wasn't much he could do. Freya was the deadliest persocom in the world, and he was but a mortal man. He'd sworn to uphold his oath or die trying, but more likely than not, it'd end up being the latter.
The thought of being powerless to protect his loved ones at all left a bitter taste in Rei's mouth.
I could help you fix that, if only you'd let me.
Don't you want to be able to protect your loved ones yourself?
Those words came back to him now. Rei recalled the aura that seemed to emanate from the older man: one of toughness and strength, one that spoke of more than just a passing familiarity with the harder and more painful facts of life. He'd seen his share of battles, and had tasted, and survived the world's worst.
Clearly, then, the power of which Daniel spoke of was one he could give him.
So why was Rei still having his doubts?
For what was possibly the first time ever, Freya had gone into standby mode, and was sleeping peacefully beside him. She hadn't even wanted to do so, at first, but it was he who convinced her that she'd earned a break after everything that had happened. If nothing else, thought Rei, she looked positively adorable with the smile on her face.
After a while, Rei turned away from her, to the clock on his bedside table: 10:39 PM. Slowly he stood up and put on what he called his night outfit: a black hoody, matching cargo pants and sneakers.
A little fresh air would be nice.
Hell, I haven't stopped by at 'that' place in a while.
Rei knelt at Freya's side of the bed after dressing up, gently caressing her face as he looked tenderly at her.
I won't be long, Freya. Don't worry, I'll be fine.
Finally, after planting a gentle kiss on her forehead, Rei swiftly and silently made his way out of the house.
At a certain restaurant in the commercial district, Daniel sat together with his comrades Pinocchio and Mancini as they waited for their orders to arrive.
Actually, it was his entire team that Daniel treated to dinner tonight, giving them money to buy their own food and then dispersing them all over the district in twos and in threes. They still hadn't accomplished their goal of capturing or eliminating the persocom, but they'd made progress, and that, at least, was something.
After all, thought Daniel as he brought a glass of water to his lips, if making contact with her boyfriend didn't count as progress, he didn't know what did.
It truly did boggle his mind to fathom how those two had gotten together. For one thing, not only was lethality not usually something young men looked for in potential girlfriends, it wasn't exactly common to hook up with persocoms, however cute, pretty or otherwise attractive they might have been. As a matter of fact, there was a time when persocom lovers were openly mocked and derided by society.
But even he, Daniel, could see that the thing between his target and Rei was real. He'd seen her all but get in the face of their school physician as she carried him, bridal style, into the infirmary, demanding that he be treated right away. The way they looked when he took a peek into the ward really wasn't unlike how a young married couple would have acted, either.
That there was something between them was obvious, and it certainly served to complicate the situation.
Whether or not he meant for it to happen, he, Daniel, had betrayed the Assassin Order when he killed the Mentor. And in the process, he had irrevocably alienated himself from those he once called comrades. But even then, he still took to heart some of the things the Assassin's Creed stood for, especially the part about not killing or involving innocents.
While justice demanded that the persocom be eliminated for her crimes, Rei Mikage was another matter entirely. As far as Daniel and his team were concerned, he was just a kid who happened to be involved in something he didn't understand. It was fortunate for the boy that it was he, Daniel, and his team, who were assigned to hunt down Abstergo's Platinum Angel. Vidic and the others surely wouldn't have been as forgiving.
Of course, he did mean that entire business about training him in their ways; in fact, from their first impression, Daniel suspected that the boy would have made for a good Agent, if ever they were able to recruit him to their side. Rei Mikage possessed not only strength of character, but also the will to use it.
More than anything else, though, the important thing was to get him out of the way when he and his team – or, even worse, their latest science project, thought Daniel disgustedly – moved in for the kill.
Just then, he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. Snapping back to reality, Daniel donned his wireless headset and took the call.
"Cross here. What's up?"
He listened, eyes growing narrower with each line. It seemed that, somewhere else in the district, things were getting to be quite interesting…
"Understood. I'll be right there."
Daniel stood up abruptly, much to the confusion of his comrades who'd already begun eating. Both Pinocchio and Mancini knew from the look on his face that it was serious, but what could it possibly be at this time of night?
"I'll be right back, Matt," Daniel addressed Mancini specifically as he left their table and headed to the exit. Pinocchio likewise looked up at his superior, puzzled at this abrupt decision on his part. "Just try not to hog the food, alright?"
"A friend of ours needs me just now."
With that, Daniel Cross made haste to where that particular 'friend' was waiting.
He'd begun to like the kid, after all; it wouldn't do to just abandon him like that.
And besides, don't actions speak louder than words?
"Well, well. Fancy meeting you here, Mikage."
Rei looked around and saw that he had been surrounded. He didn't understand it; back when he was gambling, going out late and generally making an ass of himself, he'd always managed to get around unscathed. Some of his defeated opponents did talk of inflicting immense bodily harm on him, but that was all it was, just talk. Nothing like this had ever happened to him before.
And yet, just when he'd reformed and turned over a new leaf, this had to happen.
"Aren't you Asakura's brother?" Rei addressed the guy in front of him, the one wearing shades and wielding a large butterfly knife. He thought to himself that he sounded much braver than he actually felt, but then he was being accosted by a gang of delinquents with knives and knuckles. He chuckled to himself as he felt a macabre sort of amusement at this recent development.
"I suppose he'd need a backup plan after knocking me down the stairs didn't work…"
In truth, Rei didn't know that. It was a gamble on his part, his own way of telling if Asakura was responsible for his little 'accident' a few days ago. Jackass though he was, surely Asakura wasn't –?
But as Rei said that, the blood appeared to drain from the face of his personal tormentor's older brother. Smiling grimly, he shook his head at the revelation that he was right after all.
"Why though? In the first place, we aren't even supposed to be enemies!"
This one, on the other hand, was true. Their conflict was not a result of anything that happened between them. Rather, it was Asakura's buddy with whom Rei first butted heads in the course of his gambling spree. He, Rei, had beaten him in one of their games, and the pot he got was enough for him to get new clothes for himself.
This didn't sit well with them, predictably enough. Not only had the match been recorded for their peers' future viewing, Rei had all but taken their words and forced it back down their throats.
"I wonder, Mikage," Asakura's brother sneered. "Why're you out this late at night on your own? Could it be," he asked aloud in mock wonder, "you broke up with your girlfriend, didn't you?"
The way Freya was mentioned set his nerves on edge. It was bad enough that everyone and their mother seemed to see right through him, and even worse that he had that voice at the back of his head join in as well. But for this jackass to mention her in front of him…
Rei tensed up, preparing for the fight to inevitably break out.
And then –
"Yeah, well," said a new voice from somewhere above them. "I'm sure that's more than can be said for you."
Rei jumped back, just in time for Daniel Cross to drop in on the scene and land right in front of him. The older man stood up and cast a glance at him before giving a thumbs-up.
"Run along home if you want too, I got this."