The Other Tendo Girl

Chapter 2

The Other Tendo Girl

Chapter 2

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Kasumi had never understood relationships. She never understood why anyone would want to expose themselves like that, why they would deliberately open a door that left them vulnerable and weak.

Love is giving someone the power to destroy you...

Love had already given her enough trouble in her life, and she couldn't understand how anyone would actively seek more of it.

.

It started out as a relatively simple mission; a drug gang who was using the chaos of a carnival to cover up seedy dealings. Really, it wasn't a mission that required someone of her caliber to investigate, and compared to her usual requests, it initially appeared to be surprisingly straightforward.

However, there was something off about the whole scenario; something that didn't quite fit the usual gang enterprise, and it drew her in for a closer look. She had scouted the area carefully, eavesdropping on conversations, and keeping a close eye on the known gang members.

"Hey have you seen Molly?"

"I haven't seen Sarah since she left to get cotton candy?"

"She's not answering her phone. Where is that girl?"

"I can't find Tracy anywhere? And we were supposed to leave over an hour ago."

Missing, gone, separated from their friends. Where were these girls going? Why were they being targeted?

There was something very strange about this whole case, and it pulled at her irritably. There was just something she was missing, come critical puzzle piece that was preventing her from seeing the whole picture. This particular gang did not have a reputation for abduction, and while they did have a history of "roughing up" customers who didn't complete their transactions, they had never targeted women previously.

Innocent bystanders with no contacts with any rival gangs or any known association with any current gang members, customers, or otherwise. They were just young, attractive girls who happened to get separated from their group of friends in the confusion of the carnival.

Despite all her information gathering, she hadn't really drawn any conclusions. The only information she had to show for it was that the girls, the targets, were being lured to the house of mirrors by one of the employees. Two would enter, one would leave; the rest wasn't hard to piece together.

But what were they doing with the girls?

Kasumi didn't have all the answers and her supervisor was less than impressed at her rate of progress.

"We don't have time for this Agent. Find the girls and get me a sample of those drugs. Stop dragging your heels."

There were only a few more days before the carnival would pack up and migrate to a different city. She had no support, no backup, and a supervisor who was already overworked with trying to track down all the missing inmates from a recent prison break.

And she was going to deliberately make herself a target.

Akane had whined and begged when she had learned that Kasumi was going out, but the older Tendo had been firm in the matter. This was no place for her bright and beautiful Akane. No place at all.

Reluctantly, Kasumi found herself wandering through the parade of smiling faces and flashing lights wearing more make up and less conservative clothing than she was comfortable with. She was careful not to put on anything bright or colorful that would make her stand out, but left enough of her figure exposed that if someone was looking for a pretty girl, she would not be difficult to find.

It was not a position she was overly pleased with. Exposed, out in the open, no, Kasumi was much more comfortable fading into the background, invisible and forgettable. She didn't like being seen; no agent did. It was too dangerous and risky, and she could not afford to have her cover blown.

But she had a job to do and hid those fears behind a dark shade of lipstick and an inviting smile. When the sun dipped below the horizon, she entered the carnival grounds tentatively as though she was meeting a friend. When no such friend arrived, she edged into the crowd, glancing about as though she were trying to find them among the throng of people.

A few glances were cast her way, but she slid past, her target already in mind. Last night, one stand in particular had caught her eye, and she recognized the man working it as one of the more prominent gang members.

In truth, it was the large stuffed animal prizes which grabbed her attention. They weren't particularly cute or desirable, and they appeared unsymmetrical as though the stuffing hadn't been distributed properly. 'Or had been re-stuffed with certain goods,' she thought.

As she approached, there was a couple loudly bickering in front of the stand, and Kasumi took the opportunity to slide in seamlessly behind them. The girl was yelling about how much money her boyfriend was spending on a stupid game while the young man grumbled that if she would just let him concentrate he wouldn't keep losing.

The game looked deceptively easy, knock over the milk bottle pyramid and win the prize. Simple, but it quickly became obvious as to why the young man was having so much trouble with it.

"If you were a real man," the girlfriend accused, "you would have knocked them over by now! Just give it up already."

The bottom two bottles were likely filled with lead or some other substance to weigh them down, and the softballs the man was given to throw were likely filled with cork to make them lighter than regulation balls. Add that in with the bottles being stacked against a backdrop curtain to help prevent them from falling, and you had a lose-lose situation.

While the couple continued bickering and occupying the vendors attention, the brunette eyed the stuffed animals thoughtfully, taking careful note of the poor quality stitches in the scruff of the neck. For a while, she debated whether she should make her presence known by playing for a prize and "accidentally" winning or if it would be less conspicuous if she just grabbed one off the shelf. Experimentally, she tugged on the leg of a rabbit, testing its weight.

Apparently the stall owner was paying more attention than she gave him credit for as the slight movement of the stuffed rabbit immediately drew his attention. Sharp eyes penetrated through her, which was just as telling as the altered weight and the likely contents therein.

Kasumi sent him her best disarming smile, flushing slightly as though she was embarrassed. "My sister loves rabbits."

The man eased back slightly as the mask of an eager salesman slipped back on his face. "Would you like to try your luck?"

"Oh my!" Kasumi exclaimed, "I am not very good at these games. Could I just buy it from you instead?"

He eyed her warily even as he shrugged his shoulders somewhat helplessly. "I'm sorry miss, but rules are rules."

Kasumi made a show of pouting and looking at the rabbit with great longing. By this time, she had drawn the attention of the quarreling couple.

"What gives old man?" the irritated boyfriend accused, "just give her the rabbit already."

The girl beside him grunted in agreement. "It's not like you needs the extra money after the wad this dumb-dumb threw at you."

Heads were turning, and more ears were keyed in with growing interest. While everyone's gaze was focused on the building tension between the vendor and the irate couple, Kasumi again tugged on the rabbit's foot as though she were trying to pull it down from the shelf, and the hastily made seams began to rip.

"All I'm saying," the girlfriend argued with an accusatory finger pointed at the vendor, "is that you've made quite the haul today just from this loser" she jerked her chin at her boyfriend, "Now why can't you let the nice girl pay for the stupid stuffed animal so she doesn't end up looking like this moron."

"Oh my!" Kasumi exclaimed dramatically as a wad of stuffing and something else tumbled from the bunny's interior. "I think Mr. Rabbit has a tear somewhere."

"You see!" the girlfriend shouted, "This is exactly what I'm talking about! Even you're prizes are cheap!"

"What are you trying to pull old man?!"

Kasumi put on her best innocent, doe-eyed expression as she looked at the poor stuffed animal forlornly. Bending forward as though she meant to pick up the escaped cotton, her long skirt draped over the plastic-wrapped package. Clenching her legs together, she held the package tightly between her knees.

Standing back up carefully with a handful of cotton, she looked helplessly at the alarmed stall vendor. "I don't suppose you have any other rabbits?" she asked imploringly as she handed over the stuffing.

He shook his head rapidly, eyes scanning the ground anxiously to see if he lost any of the goods. Feeling pity on him, Kasumi offered to play a few rounds for a different stuffed animal when the angry couple (and her convenient cover) stomped off in a huff. It was a good idea anyways, to lower his suspicious about her picking up anything more than just cotton.

She could still feel a fair bit of attention on herself, more so than would be beneficial for her cause so she made a show of being no better at throwing the softballs than the boy who played before her. She paid for an extra round acting hopeful about getting a prize (her last ball had knocked off the top bottle), and by the time the last ball left her hand, the crowd's attention had shifted and the vendor appeared more cheery with his winnings.

"Are you sure you don't want to try again?" he offered her, "I thought you almost had it that last time."

Kasumi shrugged helplessly, "I told you I'm not any good at this." The package's plastic edges were beginning to dig somewhat painfully into her legs, and she was more than eager to move on.

"If you're sure…" he trailed off.

"It's fine," Kasumi affirmed with a reassuring smile. "I'll just have to get my sister a different present."

She walked slowly, doing her best not to waddle as the rough plastic grated against her thighs. Her eyes lingered on the different goods at the stalls as she struggled to appear unrushed and unhurried. Finally, she located a bathroom and was all too relieved to move the annoying substance to an inner pocket.

Part one complete; Drug sample acquired. Now on to step two.

She rolled the waistband on her skirt leaving more of her legs exposed. After reapplying her lipstick, she pinched her cheeks to bring out the rosy color. Finally, she tugged on her hair tie, loosening it so that her hair draped more naturally over shoulders, and then she swept it all over her shoulder leaving her neck exposed.

It was said that a woman's bare neck elicited excitement in men, that it brought out their more primal nature. While Kasumi didn't know whether such a thing was true, there wasn't much else she could do to further alter her appearance in an appeasing manner.

They went after pretty young girls who had been separated from their group. She was young, she was alone, and she hoped for the sake of all the missing girls that someone thought she was pretty.

Two minutes were up, and she flushed the toilet and vacated the stall.

She continued to walk slowly through the carnival, careful not to change from her pre-bathroom pace on the off chance someone was watching. Idly, she noted that the crowd has thinned somewhat, wondered where the crowd had run off to.

'This is good,' she tried to reassure herself, 'I need them to notice me. I'm the bait.'

Still feeling self-conscious, she wandered a bit, keeping an eye out for the gang members. Indulging on a whim, she let herself win a goldfish game. She was just leaving the stall with her prize when suddenly she was tapped on the shoulder.

Kasumi stiffened and fought down the instinct to convert her goldfish bag into a weapon and smack whoever dared invade her personal space. 'Deep Breath, I can do this.' She forced her lips to curve in a pleasant smile as her head tilted cutely to the side to see who was seeking her attention.

It was the vendor from before, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly with an expression that was meant to be disarming and yet was somehow off.

"Ah Miss, I'm sorry about the whole rabbit thing, but I was wondering," he shyly looked down at his toes, "if you would, maybe, like to go on a ride together?"

Kasumi wasn't some naïve schoolgirl; she knew what it looked like when a boy asked a girl out. The routine was pretty typical; first the nervousness: stuttering, a subtle blush on the cheeks. Then the fight or flight response would kick in: dilated pupils, fidgeting, increased heart rate, the classic sweaty palms. Really, it was all biology.

The vendor may have read the book on how to act shy and express false interest in a girl, but the physiological factors were hard to fake even for a professional.

Kasumi smiled in barely concealed relief. Finally she could get this over with and would be able to stop parading around like some airhead. Kami what she would give for normal clothes again.

"I'd love to. Which one do you recommend?"

"How about the mirror maze?" his expression darkened minutely, "that one's always a hoot and a hat."

Kasumi had difficulty suppressing her smirk. "Sounds delightful."

.

She pretended to nervous, clutching his arm as though she was afraid. "Oh my, it's so dark in here."

The vendor or—as he was now known—"Hokaku-kun" smiled reassuringly, placing his hand on the small of her back. He chuckled lightly as she squeezed his arm, "You're not afraid of the dark are you Rei-chan?"

Kasumi wasn't afraid of the dark, but Rei, the poor frightened thing, was so terrified of this whole experience that she kept squeezing and squeezing Hokaku's arm, tighter and tighter.

"Hey go easy there with the arm holding," Hokaku admonished her, "my hand's starting to go numb."

'That,' Kasumi thought, 'was the idea.'

"Sorry Hokaku-kun, but all these strange mirrors are making me nervous. He grunted in annoyed acceptance (figures that he'd get the clingy one) as he led her deeper into the maze.

Kasumi watched her feet, noting the series of tram tracks along the floor. It looks like they were used to arrange the mirrors, changing the pattern of the maze either to keep things fresh for repeat customers, to increase the difficulty, or to make it impossible to escape. Kasumi counted her steps, constantly monitoring of the exact distance between herself and the door.

She pretended not to notice as Hokaku's hand slid underneath one of the glass panels. With a jerk, he tore it open, grabbing the petite girl with the intention of throwing her inside. Kasumi, however, was still holding his arm with quite some force, and instead of flinging the girl into the room, Hokaku found himself flipped over and landing on his back.

Kasumi grunted, flipping her hair out of her face.

He was a thug, garbage. For someone with Kasumi's skill set, the overkill was the equivalent of using a tank missile where a toothpick would have sufficed. He went down hard, and he wasn't getting back up. Even so, she stomped down on his neck, not stopping until she heard vertebra crack.

All it took as 16 pounds of well placed pressure to get the job done. If he was lucky, he would be paralyzed. Unlucky if she managed to damage the phrenic nerve which innervated the muscles responsible for breathing. It really wouldn't take long either way; all Kasumi would have to do is wait around for a minute and see the results for herself, but she had given up counting bodies long ago. She had a mission to complete, and he was just another obstacle.

Shoving the body out of view, she quickly replaced the mirror. Darkness boxed in around her, and if it hadn't been for the faint light under the mirror, her world would have been completely engulfed in blackness.

Her shoes clicked softly against the floor of the musty cellar. There was a nauseating smell in the air of rot and decay, and it wrapped around her, sticking to the back of her throat and clinging to her clothes.

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Yellow light rolled out into the dark corridor from an adjacent room. Edging up to the entranceway, Kasumi wrinkled her nose as the unholy stench slapped her in the face.

Subtly peering around the corner, she caught sight of a short man in a dingy lab coat hunched over a simmering pot. She studied his profile for a moment, taking in his thin frame and greasy hair.

Her eyes widened as realization struck her. "Doctor" Sayue, she had worked on his case years ago when he had been attempting to drop neurotoxins into the water supply.

"Destroy the lab. Eliminate all sources of contamination. Let nothing," her handler jabbed his finger pointedly, "nothing the doc has concocted escape that lab."

Those had been her orders, and she had burned that place to the ground, toxins, manuscripts and all. It was back in the early days when she had been soft and kind where criminals were sent to prison instead of the morgue. He must have been one of men who escaped in that prison break her supervisor was all ruffled about, and here he was, back to his old ways.

This was her fault. She should have killed him back when she had the chance, but she had been too new and green and sensei hadn't taught her the meaning of obstacles yet. Those girls that had been kidnapped… if they were dead, then the blood was on her.

Gritting her teeth in fury, she stepped into the light, making her presence known.

Compare to his old facility wasn't much of a lab, Kasumi decided. Broken beakers, an open flame, jars to chemical solutions left open to room air. It was a chemistry experiment just waiting to go wrong.

The doctor himself was not much to look at either. The years had not treated him well as he wasted away down to his bones, skin hanging off hollow cheek bones, and a crooked spine that seemed to creak and snack as he truned towards her. Dark eyes gleamed at her maliciously as Kasumi stumbled into the room, wringing her hands as though she was afraid.

"Oh goodie, the boys finally sent me another present, and here I was starting to think they had forgotten about little old me."

He didn't recognize her.

She couldn't believe it. After all these years and all that time spent wasting away behind bars, she thought he would have had her face burned into his memory. She had been a child then, yes, but he couldn't imagine she would have stayed that way. Despite the somewhat provocative clothing, surely she wasn't that different.

Was she?

His teeth were yellow, a testament to a lifetime of coffee stains and poor hygiene, and a thick, greasy substance coated his arms up to his elbows. A filthy man in a disgusting place. He was a mockery to all the real scientists and doctors who used their knowledge and skill-sets for beneficial causes.

'What an arrogant ass,' she thought, 'a repugnant, despicable donkey.'

He was not a large man by any stretch, but one didn't always need to be large and powerful to subdue someone who was stumbling along in the dark. Besides, Kasumi imagined he had more than a few tools at his disposal for such a thing.

Still it was just the two of them in this tiny room, and Kasumi could see no signs of the other missing girls.

She actually had to resist the natural instinct to break his nose when he snaked up to her, but instead she flinched, dancing out of the reach of those greasy hands.

"Now, now my dear," he said in a mocking paternal tone, "there's no need for any of that. How about we cooperate hmm?"

Kasumi offered him her best "bunny-eyed" expression. "Wh-what to you want from me?"

"Oh this and that," the deranged criminal answered unhelpfully, "Don't fret my dear. There's no need to worry."

Once more those greasy hands reached for her, and once more, she spun out of the way, this time pivoting on her foot. For a moment his gazed flickered with dangerous suspicion, his eyes lingering on her characteristic bow.

She needed to distract him. Fast.

Feigning making a discovery, she slapped her fist against her open palm. "Oh I see. I must have gotten lost and ended up in the haunted house!" Butterfly lashes blinked at him innocently. "That's where we are right?"

"Yes, yes, of course my dear," he rubbed his fingers over his knuckles nervously, "The haunted house, and I'm, um… the mad scientist!"

Kasumi nodded with a blissfully unaware expression. "Oh my! I seem to have gotten lost! Oh dear!" she fretted, "I hope little sister isn't worried."

"Little sister?" the 'mad scientist repeated dumbly.

"Oh yes!" Kasumi gushed, "Nii-chan loves haunted houses. I bet she is around her somewhere… Mr. Scientist have you seen her pass by?"

"Er…" the filthy man stuttered, "no?"

Kasumi's false smile almost faltered right there. Really? Was he this dense? Here she was, giving him a golden opportunity to lead a sheep to the slaughter and he was just standing there like an idiot being no help whatsoever.

"Oh good," she tried again, "I haven't missed her." She let her smile drop slightly, a sense of uncertainty creeping into her tone. "But I get lost so easily…" then her head snapped to him, eye alighting with shimmering hope. She clasped her hands together meaningfully. "Oh Scientist-san, would you please help me find her?"

She could see the cogs in his head slowly wrap around this new development. His hands still twitched as though he wanted to grab her and sink his nails deep into her shoulders, but then the fog of insanity lifted slightly. He eyed her in a new light, like a goose that lays the golden eggs.

"Yes, of course my lovely. If you would follow me."

.

"Oh my, this is so exciting," Kasumi cheerfully reiterated as she walked behind the temporary guide. Although he walked with a shuffling gait and the back of his head looked like a birds nest, it was still easier to follow after the crazed man than search the dark underbelly alone. Hopefully, he'd lead her straight to the other girls.

"I've never been in a haunted house before," Kasumi chatted, filling the silence with pleasant sounding remarks, "and I must sat the experience so far has been enthralling."

"Yes, indeed," the lanky man rumbled, "quite enthralling."

Finally after several more minutes of this pretense (during which Kasumi was certain her IQ dropped at least 15 points), they reached an iron door.

"You're sister is in here," he gestured before removing a key from his thick waistcoat. Kasumi waited patiently as he struggled to unlock the heavy door, subtly slipping on a pair or rubber gloves in the process.

It swung open with a creak, and the sound of wet hacking could be heard within. In the dim light, Kasumi was able to make out three figures huddled together under a ratty, moth-eaten blanket.

Her cheerful façade slipped off her shoulders, settling like a cloak at her feet. "Thank you doctor, for your assistance," she stated coolly.

She didn't hesitate, her movements fluid as her hand raised upwards in a graceful arc before slamming down on his cervical vertebrae. Crack! And one more disgusting criminal landed on the ground, blank, unblinking eyes staring at her feet.

Stepping over him as though he were nothing more than trash, she entered the musty room. The first thing to hit her was the pungent aroma or rotting flesh and decay, and a hand automatically flew up to her nose to block out the overpowering stench.

Quickly scanning the room, her eyes took in to two unmoving bodies in the corner before drifting back to the huddled mass of three girls, shaking in fear. A pang of regret passed through her the instant she took in their features, and Kasumi couldn't hide the wince as she noted the patchy grey skin and the blood red eyes.

'They're contaminated,' she realized sadly. 'I can't let them leave."

Her audience watched in a cross of curiosity and fear as she raised up her skirt and revealed a gun strapped to her side. She had never used a gun outside of the shooting range, never had to. She knew some agents preferred it, thought it made the kills less personal somehow.

Kasum had never liked the feel of it in her hand, the solid weight, the knowledge of what it could do. "It is a tool," her sensei had told her, "That's all it is Kasumi."

He had told her there would come a time where she couldn't just slip in next to someone and finish the job quietly. Sometimes she would need the threat of a gun to get her point across, to show that she was serious. Sometimes she needed it, like her pole arm, to give her longer reach.

She couldn't go near them. She couldn't help them, and she couldn't let them leave.

"Let nothing, nothing, escape that lab."

She held her gun up, arms held loose but steady, and met their eyes.

For a moment, those terrified wide eyes made her index finger stiffen in hesitation. It was a standoff. She could not let them leave, could not let them go out into the world and contaminate others with such a disease. They were dying anyways—she tried to reason with herself—slowly painfully. This way is better.

Still she hesitated. These girls were no older than Akane and could have easily been one of her classmates. They didn't deserve to die this way, in a basement covered in soot and grime, dying because some sick man thought he had the "cure" for the problematic existence of mankind.

Her hand felt heavy.

This, all of this, was her fault, not theirs. They were just innocent girls that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She should have stopped him the first time. She should have listened to her supervisor and acted when she first started having suspicions that something was wrong. The last thing they deserved was to have a gun pointed at them, by her of all people.

Her wrist started to drop.

She should take them to a hospital, or at least somewhere safe and clean. She should try and help them.

But then she saw Akane, bright beautiful Akane, hunched over, hair matted and her skin turning a mottled grey. Her sister's beautiful brown eyes becoming blood shot. She saw Akane wobble on her feet, her blue hair tumbling over her shoulder as she struggled to remain standing.

She could even hear the lies her sister would tell, warm whispers to keep her safe, "It's okay Kasumi. I'm fine see? Just a little cold is all. Don't worry about me."

"This is not a person." Her sensei had said all those years ago, "This is an obstacle. It has no feelings. It has no family."

Her grip on the gun tightened, her hand raising until it pointed at the first girl's head. She flinched, her eyes brimming with tears.

"Please don't," she begged, her voice hoarse and raspy and desperate, "Please!"

"Say it with me Kasumi, this is an obstacle. It is standing in my way."

Kasumi's hand was steady, her resolve unwavering, and she looked the three young girls with as much sympathy as she could offer.

"I am sorry."

.

Soun Tendo was deeply troubled by his eldest's behavior of late. Ever since she had returned from that carnival, she just hadn't seemed herself, and even her trademark smile was more dimmed than usual.

Why just yesterday, he caught her polishing the kitchen table three times, then later after she finished rinsing the laundry, she set the basket outside, forgetting to hang it on the line, before wandering off as if in a daze.

Over the years, Soun had noticed that very little could pierce Kasumi's unwavering upbeat outlook. In many ways, she was like tinted glass, absorbing all the foul and negative colors that the family didn't want to see, and reflecting back a warm, rosy glow. She swallowed up Akane's problems and assured her that all would be well, and she kept Nabiki's business practices honorable.

They depended on Kasumi like a house depends on its foundation, and her recent behavior was highly worrisome.

Moving from where he had been filing paperwork and paying bills, he quickly took the forgotten teapot that had been whistling for he past ten minutes off the stove before moving outside to fold up the forgotten laundry.

The sheets snapped taught as he whipped them through the air, and droplets of water sparkled the morning light. Soun's face was set in deep thought, his brow furrowed grimly. Something was hurting his little girl.

And he didn't know what to do.

Lost in his thoughts as he was, he nearly missed the new postcard sitting on his desk, but when he finally did flip the card over, his previous concerns about Kasumi's welfare were abruptly derailed.

.

Spying is the loneliest profession, Kasumi decided as she sat stiffly on a park bench. It's hard to become visible after spending so many years cutting off ties and perfecting the art of invisibility. People just passed her by, lost in worlds all their own, never seeing the young woman on the park bench.

Sometimes she wondered if she still did this for her family or if her family had just become her cover. She still loved Akane and Nabiki dearly, but in the whirlwind of their day, she was often pushed into the background. Not that she blamed them, she had put herself in that position, and besides, how interesting could a day of cleaning and folding laundry be in comparison to Akane's duels with that Kuno boy or Nabiki's latest gossip?

Her father, bless him, still tried to include her, but he just couldn't understand what had caused her to be so… sullen of late.

As she sat on the bench idly kicking her feet, people moved past her—joggers, couples holding hands, a little boy chasing a balloon—and while she watched them with varying levels of amusement, not one person returned her gaze. No smiles, no nods, no acknowledgement of her existence.

No one saw the young woman sitting on the park bench, and if she sat still long enough, Kasumi imagined she got the same regard as a statue. Invisible and unrecognized outside of the hub of daily life.

It started to drizzle.

Rain is an earthly thing: the sound, the feel the smell. It is fundamental to the human experience. Everyone had the memory of thunderstorms on a warm day or getting caught in a particular storm without an umbrella, water soaking through footwear down to their feet, clothes that became heavy and waterlogged. Everyone knew what that was like.

Most people found the sound soothing, and many a sleepy day has drawn a lazy yawn, with the urge to cuddle under the covers nearly overpowering the need to get up.

Normally, Kasumi loved the rain, loved the feel of it on her skin, loved the way she shoes squeaked on tile when she came inside after splashing through puddles. But for once, the rain was more of an irritation than a balm, soaking through her cotton dress and ruining her carefully curled hair.

She sighed, hating her own mood. It's not as though she wanted to feel this way, yet after all that had happened she would rather sit through a hailstorm than loose those fragile emotional ties that still marked her as human. Not feeling at all would be far worse.

'Those poor girls…'

Umbrellas snapped open, a jogger rushed faster, and a couple ducked under a tree for cover. Still no one saw her, and Kasumi stared at her feet.

She had no one she could talk to, no one she could share her experiences with or go to for advice. She didn't really have much contact with the other agents in her field, and this was not exactly something she could bring up to her handler without getting sent in for a psych evaluation.

'Look at you,' Kasumi scolded herself, 'sitting in the rain feeling sorry for yourself. Come on Kasumi you are better than that.'

She was about to stand when suddenly she felt it. Something she had only felt twice before in her life, but something she had given more times than she could count on those long nights where she pursued her quarry through winding alleys and back-turn streets.

The stare.

The prickling sensation of eyes zeroing in on your blind spot.

The pressing urge to look behind you, but the morbid fear of what you would see.

Taking a deep breath and wondering who could have possible snuck up on her, she whirled around, naturally sinking into her familiar defensive stance, as wet skirts spun and slapped against her thighs.

She froze. It was a girl not much older than Akane. Kasumi's stance wavered before she remembered herself; she was in a park not in the training center. She didn't have to fight this girl.

Damp red hair clumped to the girl's forehead as she squinted at Kasumi in confusion. "How did ya sense me?"

Kasumi couldn't move as her own head was screaming in confusion. This girl… who was she? Another agent? Someone else with the company maybe?

Because no one saw her.

"You were staring" Kasumi allotted after a long moment of awkward silence. The two continued observing the other, watching for ticks and tells.

Who was this girl? Even if she had been lost in thought, she still should not have been able to sneak up on a trained agent, much less one that specialized in stealth.

"Why?" Kasumi finally asked.

"Huh? Why what?" the red haired pigtailed girl looked confused, tilting her head cutely to the side.

"Why were you staring at me?" Kasumi clarified.

"Oh," the shorter girl scratched the back of her head looking sheepish, "sorry, I just… well, you were sitting in the rain all by yourself…" she trailed off as if that was an explanation in and of itself.

And who knows, maybe it was. Lord knows if it had been Akane sitting alone in the middle of the rain, someone would have noticed. It was not like Kasumi was trying to hide or anything, but she just had this way of blending into her surroundings as if her aura exuded 'notice-me-not.'

Kasumi had more questions, was bursting to ask them, but before she could settle her thoughts in a coherent manner, the strangest of things happened: A giant panda leapt from the foliage with a roar, it's beady eyes fixed on the short red head.

Before Kasumi could move to intervene, the other girl spun on the ball of her foot, kicking the panda in the sternum. "Hey! Cut it out! Can't you see I'm talking to someone?!"

The massive bear growled something deep in his throat, and Kasumi wondered if she was hallucinating when the panda made a series of jabs and thrusts at the young woman, all of which she managed to dodge.

"Don't tell me you're still fixed on that marriage thing," the pigtailed girl shouted at the massive bear, "cause I already told you I'm not interested."

Kasumi blinked, pinched herself, then blinked again. Nope, that girl was still talking to a panda, a panda, about weddings while dodging its uppercut, and Kasumi took that as her cue to return home.

Maybe she should get that psych evaluation after all…

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A/N: And that's a wrap for chapter two. I'm excited about Ranma entering the story. What do you think his role is going to be this time around? Same old thing or a different twist?

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