Chapter 9

Four large men rushed at the couple. Without time to turn or even draw a weapon Kougami braced himself against the wall and delivered a devastating back kick to the stomach of the first thug to reach them. He landed five feet away, winded. He won't be down for long though the Enforcer had time to think before a fist came hurtling towards his face. He pushed Akane out of the way and moved to dodge, but he had wasted precious moments protecting the Inspector and he caught part of the blow in the ear. His balance impaired from the hit he stumbled to the left, away from Akane. She felt a surge of terror, he was leaving her alone... Then she saw him swinging wildly at the other three men, not at all in his usual style. He was provoking them, drawing them away from her. She wanted to run towards him, protect him shield him. But the best way to do that, she knew, was to use her Dominator. Fighting all instincts she rolled herself to the right and got to her feet planning to launch herself into the open courtyard around the ware house where she's have more room to move. Instead, the face of the man with the nicotine stained teeth loomed suddenly in front of her.

Akane's eyes flicked to the left and she saw Kougami still trapped against the wall as well. He was dodging and blocking the blows directed at him as best he could. There would be no help coming from him for a while. She reached for her Dominator but the man with the yellow smile was faster. He grabbed her wrist, then the other and pinned them above her head. "Don't go looking over there sweetheart" he crooned, "you're dealing with me." He licked his lips and shot a look over his shoulder. "Hori's boss said we had to kill you, but he didn't say we couldn't have some fun first..."

Kougami focused deflecting as many of the punches as he could. These men weren't trained and they were slow, but from the size of their enormous fists, if they landed even one blow he would go down. Permanently. From the corner of his eye he saw Akane trapped as well, a panic like he had never known, stronger than the concern he had for his own safety welled up inside him. He forced it down telling himself that the way to help her was to help himself. There would be no saving her if he was dead. His arms occupied with defense and throwing out a few strikes of his own he was unable to draw his Dominator from where it was holstered at his back. Things had gone about as sour as it was possible to go and he hoped their backup would twig to the fact soon.

Akane felt bile burn her throat. The man's rancid breath filled her mouth and nose. She felt his tongue draw slowly up her neck and every fiber of her being screamed NO. She wanted to cry and struggle and try to free her hands but instead she remained very still. She was attempting asses her options and figure out what tools she had at her disposal. Just like training. A tiny and ludicrously calm part of her mind was proud that she was still able to do this despite the circumstances. The man removed one of his hands from her wrists and transferred the other to her waist. I still can't free my hands she thought. His hand moved upward and he cupped her breast painfully through the dress and jacket. I can't draw my neck back to head-butt him she her mind raced. He pressed his pelvis against her. What if I...yes! She pushed off the wall with all her might, against his strength she was only able to put a small gap between their bodies for a split second. But that was all she needed. She knee shot up and into his groin and she followed up with a push kick, straight out in front of her. Even braced against the wall her kick had no where near the power of Kougami's. Still it caused the man to stumble back a few steps further still. The last part of her attacker she saw was a look of mingled pain and surprised on his face as she drew her Dominator and fired in one smooth motion. In the close quarters of the decomposition, body matter flecked her clothing and face though she hardly noticed- her brain took the events of the last minute and put them in a box labelled 'Later'. She turned to where she last saw Kougami.

The Enforcer was losing consciousness. Catching the strike to the side the of the head was making balance difficult and a vicious strike directed at his chin had caused him to dodge awkwardly. He stumbled a few feet to the side but before he could regain balance he was yanked forward, one large meaty hand at his throat. The hands moved to his arms, pinning them behind his back. Before he could draw breath or even cough from being held by neck the other man hit him in the stomach. He felt a rib crack and lights exploded in front of his eyes. On the second blow there were no lights, the edges of his vision began to go dark. He kicked out and connected with that felt like a knee cap. Not hard enough his sluggish mind thought. Sure enough there was a grunt of pain and he received another blow to the stomach in reply to his kick. "Stop fucking around" a harsh command issued from the man holding his arms. His comrade said nothing, but produced a knife from somewhere Kougami's fuzzy vision couldn't make out. Palming it he made to slash at the Enforcer. The knife arced down for what seemed like an eternity. Kougami hoped in a detached sort of way, that Akane had managed to get away somehow. He closed his eyes.

He opened them again, blood was coursing down his front, but it was not his own. Akane stood, Dominator raised and expressionless. She turned her gaze slowly to the man holding Kougami's arms and he dropped them, raising his own arms and backing away. The large man seemed suddenly small, eyes wide in terror and almost rolling back into his head under the unforgiving gaze of the Inspector. He stumbled backwards, towards the entrance of the warehouse, spluttering and half sobbing about how they were only supposed to shoot if he was a threat. "I-I'm no going to hurt you," he sniveled, "just don't shoot" his eyes flicked between the small woman and the pile of fluids and flesh that had once been his comrade. Akane said nothing and stepped towards him. He shuffled backwards, now unable to tear his eyes away from Akane's, tinted an unnatural green by the Dominator and boring into his.

"Don't take another fucking step." Standing in the entrance to the warehouse was the man Kougami had winded. He had a shotgun leveled at the Enforcer who was standing, barely, where he had been when Akane decomposed his attacker. Kougami cursed himself inwardly, he had forgotten all about this man. He must have crawled away during the confusion. The gun toting guard walked up to the other thug and pressed a hand-gun into his chest. "Pathetic" he grumbled, all the time keeping the heavy shotgun aimed at Kougami. He addressed Akane "you can try to shoot one of us, but the other one will get you and your mutt there. Why don't you go stand next to him. Hands in the air, both of you." There was only one thing Akane could think to do so she did it. She walked over to Kougami and stood a little behind him, like a scared child. She allowed her arm to fall to her side and the Dominator to slip from her grasp, feeling it thud to the ground near her feet. Tears began to course down her face making tracks in the blood and gore. Knees giving way she sank to the ground burying her hands and face in the back of Kougami's jacket. The two thug's laughter mingled with her sobs and bounced off the concrete walls. The man with the handgun seemed to have regained his bravado now he had a weapon in hand once more. Kougami had a fleeting thought that he would like to turn and comfort her, but it was cut short as two simultaneous shots rang out in the night.

For the third time that evening a, human bodies ceased to be whole and became a mass of steaming cells barely holding together. Kougami spun on the spot to find Akane kneeling behind him, a Dominator in each hand. Her own, picked up from the ground were it lay, and his, un-holstered from his back as she sank to her knees. She still held them as she had fired them, arms outstretched in a wide V. He plucked them from her hands and placed her arms gently by her sides. She heard, as though deep underwater the rest of Division 1 arriving on the scene. She heard Kougami telling them to check the warehouse for Choe and them coming back a short time later with the news that the place was deserted. All the time she knelt on the ground feeling exhausted and empty.

The next morning she awoke feeling disoriented and unsettled. Candy, the AI housekeeper tsked, in her usual buoyant manner, at Akane's lilac pass. Lilac, still well within the healthy range but darker certainly than Akane's norm. The events of the previous night returned to the Inspector slowly, like water flowing in slow motion. The memory was unsettling. She wasn't afraid or traumatized (as far as she could tell) but she felt churned up inside and opted out of breakfast in favor of a long shower before reporting in to work.

Empty. Kougami finally put the right word to it. Empty. He let it bounce around in his mind and finally settle over all his experiences the last few days. From the night of the mission, to today four days later. He sat on one of the benches lining the gym and his surroundings mirrored what he was feeling inside. Empty. This was the second training Akane had failed to show up to, the place felt cavernous and cold. So accustomed had he become to her presence, her warmth and the sound of her breath next to his while training, it felt wrong to do it without her. Especially not now things were so...complicated.

Yet it wasn't just her absence from training that was getting to him. She had appeared at work the morning after the incident to all appearances a functioning and efficient Inspector but Kougami sensed she wasn't all there. Her smiles didn't reach her eyes and when she spoke he had the feeling her mind was only half there, the rest of her was somewhere else, somewhere unreachable. He had watched her when Ginoza took them aside for the operation debrief. Ginoza had removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, but informed them that they were not held responsible for the disastrous turn the mission had taken. "Obviously you did not leave any of the men alive to be taken in for questioning about Gu-Sung. Then again you confirmed for us yourselves that he is in the country. The Director is pleased with your efforts." The little Inspector had simply nodded and silently handed over her report of the incident. She had acted according to protocol in every instance and according to CID guidelines she had done nothing wrong. But the Enforcer had seen a constriction of the muscles around her mouth when she handed it over. Then she and Ginoza had left the room, and he had remained at the table, brooding.

Coming back to himself and his surroundings Kougami stood and began pacing. He was coming to the crux of what was bothering him. It wasn't just Akane's absence both physically and mentally, it was the emptiness between them. The day before the mission...the last time they had trained...they had been connected by a tension like an electrical current running between them. And now it was gone. Gone, not in the way a fatuous love affair fizzles out but gone in a sudden wrenching way like it had been blocked. That was it. He felt the Inspector, his Little Inspector, was blocking the connection they shared intentionally. Not blocking him out, but blocking...any feeling at all. Moreover, what was equally startling as this sudden emptiness, was the knowledge that he must have been feeling fulfilled. His life had become empty when he became an Enforcer and he had assumed it would always be that way. But the loss he was feeling now showed him this wasn't true. He turned his steps to the exit and began making his way back to his quarters. A shower would soothe his agitation.

Knock, knock...knock, knock, knock...Through the sound of the water and his occupied mind it took a while for the rapping on his door to register. Turning off the water he cocked an ear, there it was, a persistent knocking definitely coming from the door to his quarters. He toweled off quickly, careful of the dark bruises still covering much of his torso, and threw on a pair of slacks calling out for the person on the other side of the door to wait. Shit. Ginoza's probably working late and found a mistake in my report, he sighed, living at the CID meant he was always on call, and always at the mercy of his meticulous handler. Kougami yanked open the door and blinked. Standing before him was not a stony eyed Ginoza, brandishing a report. It was a wide and watery eyed Akane.

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