Chapter 21: Inner Turmoil
"Relax, kid. Run along if you want to, I got this."
Daniel Cross couldn't help but narrow his eyes in disgust at the punks surrounding Rei and himself. Even leaving out the fact that they were ganging up on someone who was all too obviously defenseless, their mere presence here indicated that they went around at night doing all sorts of crap. And they'd obviously thought Rei was a good target without his persocom around to protect him.
Not that he was one to talk. The Assassin's Creed that he took to heart even now, decades after having irreversibly severed himself from them, had one maxim at its core: Nothing is true. Everything is permitted. There was always more than one way to go about things, but once one had embarked on a certain path, he would then have to live with the consequences - good, or bad. And if these guys wanted an unfair fight, then he, Daniel, would be happy to oblige them.
"Hey now, what're you waiting for?" he called out the delinquents surrounding him. "A written invitation? Or could it be that you're all a bunch of stinking pussies?"
Daniel anticipated the move even before it began. So it was just as he thought; rats were dangerous en masse, but a rat on its own was nearly harmless. Somewhere down the line, the pieces of monkey excrement before him had deluded themselves into thinking that they could hide their incompetence and ineptitude behind strength in numbers.
To a certain extent, it does.
But the thing is, it's me they're fucking with now.
One of the thugs charged, drawing back his left fist as he prepared to score a devastating hit with his brass knuckles. Rei put his hands up in a guard, only to be practically thrown by Daniel against the wall of a nearby building. He hadn't put too much force into it, but even then, the youth nearly landed hard on his backside as he hit the wall.
Barely managing to not fall over, Rei watched the older man duck step to the outside of the blow, simultaneously grabbing his attacker's left wrist and right hip to toss him at his comrades.
"This doesn't seem fair, now, does it?" Daniel noted conversationally to their assailants. "There's seven of you, and only one of me."
He laughed at this, a boyish laugh that exuded bravado and confidence in himself and his abilities. While such behaviour on his part might have been called suicidal overconfidence, one look at him was enough to tell Rei that he could more than walk the talk. The feral grin on his face conveyed nothing but exhilaration and excitement on his part.
"Would it be even if I only used one arm?"
At first this came of as a bluff to the delinquents, a mere boast. Didn't he see the odds stacked against him? But no sooner had these thoughts formed in their heads, than they were baffled when Daniel really did take off the right sleeve of his jacket and pinned his arm to his side. This done, he zipped his jacket back up in such a way that only his left arm would be usable.
The gang's leader ground their teeth at the sight. So this bastard was mocking them, huh…?
One of the thugs tried to blindside Daniel, brandishing his knife threateningly, but he expected this, sidestepping the blow and crushing his throat with a devastating heel kick. Another made his move right then, but a rising block from Daniel ensured that the attempt at a punch hit nothing but air.
Then, before he could pull away, Daniel bashed his head against his opponent's chin, disorienting him, before releasing his hidden blade and driving it straight through the man's neck.
He's just like Freya…
The familiarity of Daniel's fighting style was not lost on Rei, nor was the weapon mounted on his arm. Sure, Daniel did have his own quirks – such as his apparent preference of humiliating and toying with opponents – but even someone like Rei knew what he was seeing. For the most part, he fought pretty much the same way Freya did, and even shared her weapon preference.
"Well, what now? You're the only one left, buddy."
Eventually only Asakura's older brother was left, his lackeys all lying incapacitated or dead around him. And as he made his own desperate lunge, Daniel dodged lazily to the inside of the blow, before nailing him with a punch to the gut that knocked him unconscious.
And when the dust had cleared, Daniel walked over to where Rei sat and watched the melee unfold, before offering a hand to help him up.
"You alright, kid?"
Rei nodded, albeit absently, as he grabbed Daniel's hand and was pulled to his feet. He was still in awe at what he had seen, though one could hardly blame him. He'd just watched a man beat the crap out of a gang of delinquents, all despite having deprived himself the use of one of his arms. If that wasn't awesome, he didn't know what was.
In Rei's book, Daniel Cross was, as of this moment, a certified badass.
And if he was willing to teach, Rei was willing to learn.
Just then, both their stomachs emitted identical growls of hunger, somewhat ruining the moment.
"C'mon, kid, let's get you something to eat. I don't know about you, but I'm hungry."
It was nearly midnight when Rei set about on his way home, parting ways with Daniel and his crew after the midnight dinner they shared. He was taken by surprise, too; like their leader, they were a surprisingly fun and personable bunch. Mancini reminded him strongly of his brother-in-law, while Pinocchio seemed to be fond of gaming just as much as he was. It seemed incredible that these guys shared Daniel's fighting skills, but Rei took his word for it.
In fact, if he was to be believed, there were more of them, and they all lived in one compound on top of that.
You'll get to meet the rest of the bunch, too, if you join us.
He'd been sceptical when Daniel first made that offer, but after tonight, Rei's doubt had begun to evaporate very fast. While he lacked some of the grace and poise Freya displayed while fighting, he was every bit as deadly and lethal as she was. And the crazy thing was that Daniel had told him that he, Rei, had potential to not only become one of them, but even the best of them.
Don't worry about school, either. I'll use my connections to make sure you get high marks.
As he walked home, Rei had to admit to himself that he was sorely tempted by the offer.
With power like that…
What then? Do I accept?
The answer would most definitely be a yes… or at least, it should have been. Yet Rei, determined as he was to become more than just an emotional protector to Freya, knew full well that none of the ones closest to him would be likely to be amused at such a decision on his part.
If he were to just vanish, thought Rei as he quietly snuck back into the house, they might think he'd been abducted. Even worse, they might think he'd abandon them, and he didn't want that.
What now, then?
When he got to his bedroom, he saw that things were exactly as he'd left them. Freya still lay on the bed in the exact same position he'd left her in, and the nightclothes he'd changed out of still hung from his closet door. Rei breathed a sigh of relief; it was a good thing his disappearance hadn't been noticed.
I'm home, Rei whispered to Freya, before repeating his earlier action and kissing her on the forehead.
Finally, Rei changed out of his street clothes, taking care not to make any noise as he did so, before lying down gently on the bed.
He stared up at the ceiling for a while longer, contemplating Daniel and his offer, before sleep finally claimed him.
Wake up already, you idiot. It's morning.
Rei silenced his inner voice and told it in no uncertain terms to shut up. He knew it was his own fault he hadn't gotten enough sleep, seeing as he'd snuck out in the middle of the night, and he wasn't about to argue with that. But even then, he wanted to stay in bed a little while longer; he did have a lot on his mind, after all, and he wanted to be able to think of it in the comfort of his own bed.
"Just a little bit longer, gimme a break…" he slurred as he rolled over to face the wall.
Try as he might, Rei couldn't take his mind off of Daniel's offer. He was being asked to stay with them in their compound for at least a month, if only so he could at least learn the basics of their rather esoteric fighting style. When he questioned why, Daniel pointed out that the moves he'd pulled off in that skirmish were harder to pull off than they looked. Even a month, he said, would be enough only for the basics, if at all.
Rei himself didn't have any problems with it, but he highly doubted his loved ones would be as receptive to such an arrangement. His sister wouldn't be very happy, nor would Ceres. For that matter, Oyuki wouldn't take her uncle's sudden disappearance very well, either.
And the less he thought of how Freya would react, the better.
Wake up, Rei!
For some reason, his inner voice was very persistent today – unusually so, in fact, much to his chagrin. He knew it wasn't exactly obedient, given how it kept tormenting him about feelings he may or may not have felt for Freya, but right now it was being so obnoxious it wasn't even funny anymore. Rei grunted as he squeezed his eyes shut.
Right now, all he wanted was to lay in his bed.
He didn't feel like doing anything.
"Rei, you have to wake up, please!"
At her voice, Rei wasted no time getting up. No sooner had he sat up in bed than he was promptly knocked back down in her embrace. It was Freya, and the way she was shaking – and, for that matter, the tremor in her voice earlier – suggested some level of distress.
"Err, good morning to you, too, Freya," he began awkwardly, "What's wrong, though! I thought we were clear that I wasn't gonna die?"
At this, Freya let go immediately, visibly gathering herself in front of him. Clearly there was something bothering her, and whatever it was, she felt it important enough to rouse him from his sleep. Rei waited for her to say something.
"I had a bad dream, Rei," she began, slowly. "I woke up in my dream to find you disappeared forever…"
Outwardly, Rei reassured her, categorically saying that there was absolutely no way in hell that dream of hers would never come true. With great effort, he told her that he cared for her too much to just up and leave the way she'd just described.
"And besides," he added, "Between you, my sister and Ceres, there'd be nothing left of me if I did something like that."
Freya flashed him that beautiful smile of hers, so he smiled back.
In reality, though, Rei couldn't help but feel a certain disquiet and guilt at what Freya had just confided in him. Though he knew perfectly well that she had no way of knowing what was going on in his head, the fact remained that her words hit it a little too close for comfort. She gripped his shoulders tightly so that her amber orbs were locked onto his own amethyst ones.
"Promise me, Rei," Freya practically pleaded with him. "Don't ever vanish like that, okay?"
Rei hesitated. There was no way she'd understand if he came clean and admitted to her that he was, in fact, contemplating something along those lines, even if he did tell her it was so he could protect her. She'd be devastated if ever he were to disappear the way she described, and he wasn't sure he could handle that.
On the other hand, given the exact words of her request...
"...Yes, dear Freya. I promise."
Rei squeezed his eyes shut as Freya happily embraced him, thankful that she was unaware of his inner turmoil.
If anything should happen, I won't be breaking that promise...