Chapter 31: A Familiar Presence
Rei, who had been on his way back to his room for another round in the Animus, stopped suddenly as he felt a familiar presence.
Not a day had passed since he'd joined up with Daniel and friends that Rei didn't think of her, but it wasn't until now that he'd felt her presence this way. Perhaps it was because of the stupid trick Daniel pulled on him, pairing him up with Nena like that, but…
Remember why you accepted Daniel's offer in the first place, Rei.
Wasn't it because you wanted the power to protect her?
Gritting his teeth, Rei continued on to his room. He'd see her soon enough.
For now, he'd take out his frustrations in the Animus, if nothing else.
So, you couldn't resist, then.
"Welcome to Chateau Solange, Freya," Daniel gestured toward the mansion as though he was a tour guide welcoming her to some historic monument. "We've been expecting you, you know."
Which was literally true. As early as a week ago, Daniel had already been going outside every few hours, on the off-chance that Freya would try to retrieve Rei. She hadn't shown up, though, much to his mingled puzzlement and disappointment; in fact, he was beginning to think that the Nephilim had gotten to her first.
Guess I was wrong on that one, though.
"You…" Freya's voice was calm, but the hostility and the killing intent emanating from it were unmistakable. Indeed, Daniel was surprised she hadn't yet extended her hidden blades and tried to kill him. "Why did you kidnap Rei? We both know I'm the one you're after!" she demanded.
"Hey, Freya?" Daniel tilted his head in mock puzzlement. "What're you talking about?"
"I didn't kidnap him. I made him an offer and he freely accepted it, or didn't he tell you that?"
"There's really no need to be worried about Rei, Freya." Daniel's smile was one of mocking reassurance as he said this. "Your dear boyfriend is doing pretty well with us."
And then his smile contorted into a malicious smirk.
"We've been taking good care of him, too. Hell, we actually like him… some of us more than others, if you know what I mean."
At the words, Freya's eyes widened in horror.
Don't tell me –!
"I told her that Rei was already taken, and I've no doubts about his loyalty to you, but I'm not sure that'll stop her," Daniel remarked offhandedly. "Reina's never let things like that get in her way before…"
Daniel's laughter was loud and mocking, and this only intensified when Freya slapped him across the face, angry tears flowing down her cheeks. It wasn't until she grabbed him by the neck with one hand that he stopped, and even then, his smirk broadened instead.
"Oh, I'm sorry Freya, did I upset you…?" Daniel asked, both hands clamping onto Freya's right wrist as he tried to get her to release him. "C'mon, lighten up already! I was just joking!"
Freya ignored this.
Again Freya's tone was level, but she said his name as if it were a particularly nasty expletive. The fury radiating from her had by now become all but palpable. If looks could kill, he would have died at least nine thousand times over.
"You turned me into this monster and stole the one I love," she growled, her left arm drawn back as she extended her hidden blade, "Tell me why I shouldn't kill you right here?!"
Freya tensed up as she prepared to land the killing blow; she'd meant every word she said. She was fully ready to kill this smug bastard for what he'd done…
…but why was he grinning like that?
"Freya," Daniel said, as though admonishing a child for throwing a tantrum, "I've actually grown fond of Rei. Most of my comrades have, too. And besides, his training should be done in a few weeks, so there's really no reason for you to worry as far as he's concerned."
"But if you kill me here," Daniel went on, smirking as before, "I can't trust them not to take it out on him. I mean, my men might have grown fond of Rei, but the other guys at Abstergo might not be so forgiving…"
Freya continued to glare at him, even as she retracted her left arm hidden blade.
You scum –!
"I'm sure you understand, don't you, Freya?"
"They won't be able to hurt my dear subordinate while I'm still breathing, but I can't speak for what happens afterward."
Slowly, she let go of him.
Daniel fixed the collar of his shirt as though nothing happened.
"Don't worry, though; I'll tell Rei you came calling."
Freya made no verbal reply as she stalked away, throwing him one last look of deathless hatred before vanishing.
Finally, after breathing a sigh of relief, Daniel went back inside.
Good thing that went well…
Freya's found someone to love.
I'm sure you're happy wherever you are, right?
Chitose Hibiya thought of her late husband as she stood there, looking at their old family photo she kept on top of her dressing table while attending to today's chores. Just last night, Freya had come to her for assistance, even having to borrow her sister's body in order to do so.
Chitose being who she was, she was happy her daughter thought to visit her, even if she could have picked a better time. The fact that her daughter remembered her was already enough to make her happy. Between a Freya who thought nothing of disturbing her in the wee hours of the morning, and a Freya who didn't even recognize or remember her, she definitely preferred the former.
But despite that, she still seems rather sad…
That said, she could tell Freya was troubled.
And in more ways than one, too.
It wasn't just because of the attempt on Minoru's life, that much was certain. Freya was undoubtedly concerned about him, which was why she'd come here in the first place, but that was easily explained by a debt of gratitude she was sure her daughter felt driven to discharge, on top of her unlikely rapport with Yuzuki. And even then, she'd managed to remain perfectly calm and controlled all throughout.
It wasn't just because of her request to use GUNGNIR's power, either, although again, that in itself was enough to give Chitose pause. For one thing, Freya wasn't even supposed to know about GUNGNIR to begin with. And even granting that that person had programmed the information relating to GUNGNIR into her…
And then, Freya asked her that question.
Do you approve of Rei for me, mother?
Chitose had taken it for granted at the time, but Freya was crying as she said it.
It couldn't be that Rei Mikage treated her badly; the question itself ruled out that possibility. Freya quite obviously loved him very much to have asked that question, which probably meant that he treated her well. Indeed, if Mr. Motosuwa was to be believed, their relationship was not unlike that between him and Chii. Maybe even closer, judging from what he said about them going on dates with a baby in tow.
But if that was the case, why was her daughter crying like that?
A loud rapping on the door snapped Chitose out of her rambling thoughts.
"One moment, please," she called.
Chitose opened the door, only to find one of the people she least expected to see.
Standing in the hallway was a tall, dark and handsome Italian man in a sharp business suit, smiling at her as he let himself in her apartment.
The last time she'd met him was at least five years ago, back when her husband was still alive, but he didn't seem to have changed much. Sure, he'd become more rugged since then, and he seemed to have put on some muscle as well, but those changes were superficial at best. For one thing, the twinkle in his blue eyes was the same as it had always been, as had that winning smile that had once won the heart of her high school best friend.
"Hi there, Chitose," Lorenzo Auditore greeted, flashing a set of even, white teeth as he beamed at her. "You seem to be doing well these days."
"It's been way too long since we last met, wouldn't you say?"
Today was a school holiday for Hideki, who lay alone in his bed – Chii having gone to work for today – as he reflected on the events that had transpired recently.
To him, it was as if the whole world was slowly slipping into madness.
First it was Kojima coming over one early evening, just after he'd gotten home from college, begging for forgiveness for what he'd done and for Kotoko to be returned to him. Hideki acquiesced, once he'd gotten over the initial shock; he surmised that Kotoko must have been that important to him, for him to act so unlike himself back there. And if nothing else, Kojima had at least redeemed himself somewhat through his assistance to Minoru that time.
And then, not long after, Chii's sister came back from the dead.
Hideki had met Freya once before, but that one meeting was enough to emphasize the differences between Freya and her sister. Even back then, she'd struck Hideki as being the dark and moody twin, the night to Chii's day. If Chii was the light, Freya was the darkness.
Then again, 'dark' didn't necessarily mean 'evil'.
What did I give Chii?
You could say I gave her my soul – part of it, anyway.
Freya's words, from their little altercation at Tirol, suddenly came back to haunt him now.
Even now Hideki had some misgivings about what Freya had done, but even he knew that it was arguably the most practical thing to do in this situation. Chii's status as one of the Chobits was enough to attract unwanted attention by itself, and was further aggravated by the fact that her twin sister had been remodelled into arguably the most lethal persocom in existence. And despite his own vow to protect her, there wasn't much he could do if it came down to it.
Believe me, Motosuwa, I don't like this anymore than you do.
Regardless of his feelings on the matter, even Hideki had to admit that Chii becoming a lesser copy of her sister would at least allow her a substantial degree of safety. He just hoped it would be enough.
For Freya's sake, as well as for his own.
Meanwhile, back in the Mikage house…
"It's nice to see you both."
Ceres gazed warily at the two leather-clad persocoms – the National Databank and his bodyguard – seated on the couch right across them. She'd found them already waiting for them in the living room when she went to check, and so misidentified them as intruders, pulling out twin pistols from inside her apron and pointing them at the intruders. Had it not been for Freya - who had arrived in the meantime, and who now stood on the wall as she looked on - she would have blown their heads to pieces.
"Hey!" interjected the female, glaring back at her with red eyes, "who the hell do you think you are, anyway?"
"You make us come all this way, and this is how you welcome us?"
At which point her sister came down and cleared things up. Needless to say, it was a shock when Demeter introduced them as allies.
"Designation EDEN-01D/C," said the male aloud as he removed his headpiece, "otherwise known as Ceres and Demeter of the Eden series. By the way, Ceres, I saw what you did in that alleyway," he added, eliciting a suspicious stare from her and an exasperated facepalm from his partner.
"It was nice of you to save her," he inclined his head toward Nanako, who blushed, "back there. She probably thinks so, too, considering how she acts toward you," he went on with a mischievous grin, snickering to himself as Ceres pursed her lips.
"So, tell me, Ceres, are you an item, or what?"
"Get to the point already," Ceres demanded, one hand reaching into her apron where she'd kept her guns. "Who are you, how did you know my name, and what the hell do you want?"
Sure enough, his laughter faded. He cleared his throat as he put his headpiece back on. "I'm Zima, and this is Dita. Do excuse my earlier… impertinence, if you will."
"How about we help you get him back to make up for it?"
Even from where she was sitting, Ceres could see Freya glare hard at them, not that she could blame her.
Not in the least.