Chapter 12: Number 12
“I want you to turn to the person next to you and try to deduce who they are simply from what you know about them. If you know them really well, find a different partner.” Makoto’s third period professor instructed before sitting at his desk and pulling out his phone, effectively zoning out in the most unprofessional manner.
Makoto stared at him, unimpressed.
When his order was met with silence, the professor glanced up. “Now. Or you all get knocked down a grade.”
With a sigh of disbelief, Makoto turned, readily hating the smug face that was already smiling in her direction. “Tadashi,” She started brightly.
He spread his hands across the table welcomingly. “Alright, oh wonderful detective. Who am I?”
“A cat.” She said flatly, watching surprise flicker across his face with well-hidden amusement.
“Um—” He started, confused. He glanced at the ceiling, one eye closed in befuddlement. “Care to...um...elaborate?”
Completely enjoying and slightly wondering about his strange reaction, Makoto basked in the glory of catching him off guard for one incredible second.
“You play with my pens.” She tossed the aforementioned utensil across his notebook, eyebrows raising as his eyes actually tracked it with intense interest.
“You’re a jerk.”
He gave her a smug, lazy smirk.
She pointed at it. “And that stupid lazy grin. I’ve never seen so much cat in one human expression. You’re offensively standoffish. The world is your playground. You follow me around but you don’t care about me. Your smother me for absolutely no reason. See? Cat. I’m done.” She flipped her book shut and winked at him.
Tadashi shrugged. “Cat.” He raised an eyebrow. “Now that you mention it, you got any string handy?”
Makoto collected her pen from his notebook and threw it at him. “Don’t make me catnip you.”
He narrowed his eyes.
“What about me?” She asked, bending down to pick up the pen off the floor.
“You?” Tadashi repeated. “You sure you want to know?”
Makoto smirked. “It’s me, Kido. Trust me—I already know.”
He shrugged again and leaned forward. “Okay. You’re boring. You’re stuck up. A diplomat’s daughter with your face in every teen and young adult business magazine you can find at the local gas station. You write your personal notes in Japanese because you have freakish subconscious privacy issues. You get mad at me for walking around campus, coincidentally next to you even though we’re in all of the same classes—”
Makoto pursed her lips, so very relieved that she left such an unimpressive impression that one day she could easily get the drop on him and knock him out cold. Depending on his attitude, she might end up throwing him off a bridge.
He really brought the worst out in people, didn’t he?
“—You’re immensely insecure, angry, and wounded. My deduction of you, Akari? You’re a mentally damaged diabetic.”
Makoto leaned back in her chair, her arms crossed and trying desperately hard not to overreact and be sensitive about it, despite how much it hurt. “Thanks, Kido, you’re a real friend.”
He gave her a long, slow smile. “Friend?”
She felt panic rising in her chest, suffocating her. He was right, but she didn’t have to give him the pleasure of letting him see her cry over it.
Overly angry? Constantly abused physically and emotionally by just about everybody? Dealing with the loss of her mother and brother?
Yeah. Mentally damaged.
She glanced up at the professor, who was looking more like he’d rather everybody just walked out and let him go home. She couldn’t control everyone in the classroom, but she could do her part.
Makoto stuffed her things into her backpack, grabbed her jacket, and stood up. The instructor didn’t even look at her.
Tadashi looked pleased to see her running away like a coward. “Where are you going?”
She practically threw the bag over her shoulders. “To visit my only friend left in the world. Is that a problem with you?”
He shook his head with a laugh. “I don’t care. Why would I?” He leaned forward. “And as far as friends go—” He looked at her jacket in distaste and for a minute Makoto thought he was going to insult her taste in denim or something. “I just can’t bring myself to respect someone so disabled and so sensitive that she can’t even take a few harsh words.”
“A few?” Makoto laughed at him, moving backwards out of reach before she could punch him. “I think I’ve taken a few too many.” With that she stormed out of the room and down the hall.
She had two classes left but she didn’t care. For once she would risk her grade to get away from the people who made her consider giving up on everything.
Her hand was on her car’s door when someone seized her arms from behind. “Keep quiet.” A deep, raspy voice growled. She lurched forward, doubling over and meaning to crack his skull on her car roof.
He jerked her back and wrapped one arm around her throat and spun her around. “Makoto.” The man was tall, American, and strangely willing to show her his face.
Which she promptly spat in.
He groaned and wiped his face on his shoulder. “You gotta come with me or we’re both dead.” He said, dragging her backwards.
“Are you nuts?” She shot back, stepping on his feet at every convenience. “Oh, yeah, sure, I’m going to come with you because I really care about you and whoever’s holding your leash.”
“Great.” The man smiled brightly. “So we’re good then.”
His words were the last things she heard before she blacked out.
XIV // Towers and Dragons
“Makoto, calm down.”
“I’m completely calm.”
“Seriously, you need to relax.”
“Dude. I’m just sitting here.” Makoto gave the man in front of her a weird look. She couldn’t do much else—she was tied to a chair.
In an ominously creepy hallway that looked like it may have been built for Queen Victoria.
“I know. I can see that.” The American man who grabbed her looked as confused as she did. “I’m just running through what I planned to say because honestly I don’t really know how to deal with this.” He gestured to her.
Makoto raised an eyebrow. “I’m sorry, am I not reacting the way you expected?”
“Not at all...no.” The man said carefully, narrowing one eye kind of like Tadashi did, as though it would help me think better.
“Ah.” Makoto nodded reassuringly. “That’s because this isn’t my first rodeo, pal. I’ve been kidnapped before.”
The American crossed his arms. “By someone who had to do it to save himself?”
“Third time—the guy’s wife and kids were on the chopping block.” She said, bored.
“Someone as chatty as me?”
“Sixth time—I let him borrow my gag.” She rolled her eyes to the ceiling, breathing in deeply. Rotten meat. “Ugh—Burned Brick? Am I at Burned Brick Manor?” She slapped the arm of the chair she was strapped to. “Great.”
“How about someone as different as me?”
Makoto looked up right as the 5′11 man morphed into a giant 25′ silver dragon.
So that’s why they built those hallways so tall.
Makoto stared up at him, admittedly taken aback. If she weren’t kidnapped by him, she would have been geeking out over the magnificent beast. But as it was, she had to make sure she didn’t get herself eaten. “Tenth time—half human, half shark.”
Oh, way to go, Makoto. Why not print your name on the menu yourself?
The American transformed back into a man, an almost disappointed look on his face. “Way to make a guy feel special.” He muttered, looking genuinely disheartened.
Makoto stared at him strangely. “Uh, dude—”
“Akari. Portal generation, defect invisibility, PTSD, diabetes, political foothold.”
The echoing voice was accompanied by the clicking of heels that generally meant the arrival of a woman who cared more about her shoes than the feelings of the people she kidnapped.
Call it a hunch.
Makoto twisted her head around but could not see the woman. If only her head were on a 360° rotation.
“Are you writing my biography? If you wanted an interview, just ask. Really, I’m used to it.” She smirked as the woman crossed around in front of her. She was wearing a white shirt and a black skirt with a gray trench coat over it and—most noticeable to at least four of Makoto’s senses—ugly stilettos.
The woman smiled, but looked less than amused. “Unfortunately, no. They don’t consider books big enough to cover how boring you are.”
“Hmm,” Makoto couldn’t have cared less about that lady’s opinion of her. “So who are you and lizard boy?”
The woman tucked one hand into her pocket. “I’m Christina. This is Zeke. He’ll be watching over you during your stay.”
“My stay?” Makoto chortled. “How long do you think you’ll be able to keep me here?”
Christina’s eyebrows raised slowly. “As long as it takes for her to get here.” She pulled out her hand to reveal a silver pocket knife.
Makoto paused, suddenly wishing she weren’t so restrained. Who was coming, exactly?
Christina leaned down and swiftly untied Makoto, pulling her up. She brushed imaginary lint or something off of the younger woman’s shoulders and sighed impatiently. “Here’s the deal. You’re on twenty-four hour watch and you have to be kept calmly and quietly. In exchange we leave you to your own devices and provide you with just about everything you need except—”
“Contact with the outside world?” Makoto guessed.
Christina winked at her. “Exactly.”
Makoto nodded grimly, shrugging the woman’s hands off of her. “You do realize your guy grabbed me off of my college campus, right? And that I was just tied to a chair. And that you’re holding me captive. Seriously, why would I cooperate?”
Christina gave her a long, cold glare. “I do realize that, actually, I orchestrated it. And you’re going to cooperate because if you don’t, I’m going to kill Tadashi.”
Makoto raised an eyebrow. While she had dreamt of nothing but killing Tadashi herself, she despised the thought of the arrogant woman in the trench coat ending his reign of terror.
“And your little brother, Sakuza.”
There probably wasn’t anyone on earth who had more reason to hate Sakuza than Makoto, but there also probably wasn’t anyone on earth who would keep Christina from killing him than her.
“And your father, Hiroshida.”
Christina was rapidly weaseling her way onto Makoto’s hit list. There was no way she could even imagine letting that woman close enough to her family to even breathe angrily in their direction.
“And then I’ll bring Chester here.”
Makoto’s eyes slowly travelled upwards until they were staring straight through Christina’s. The woman merely smiled in triumph at the rise she was getting out of her captive.
“And I’ll let Zeke have at him.” Christina finished.
“You win, Chrissy.” Makoto said shortly. “You got me and you can do whatever you want with me. But the moment you go after anyone I care about—”
“What are you going to do? Cry me to death? Makoto, you’re the least intimidating person I know.” Christina actually laughed at her.
Makoto’s blank expression turned into a glare. “Your mistake.”
Christina shrugged and pushed her toward Zeke, who took one of her arms. “House arrest starts now.” She said. “Remember what’s at stake here.”
Makoto got the slightest feeling that she wasn’t talking to her.
She felt Zeke give her a jerk and then she was following him away from the psycho lady.
“You know you’re half dragon, right?” Makoto asked quietly.
Zeke gave her a weird look. “I’ve had my suspicions, but now that you’ve confirmed it for me—”
He broke off when Makoto gave him an unimpressed look. “All I’m saying is that based on that teeny tiny fact, I want you to know that I don’t believe your own life is in jeopardy and you can switch to bad cop now.”
Zeke laughed shortly, pulling her along more strongly. “There’s a lot that you don’t understand, Makoto. If we were meeting on my terms, you’d never know I was a guy who nabs kids. Oh, wait, because I’m not.”
He turned to her, shoving open a heavy wooden door and pushing her up a long, never ending spiral staircase.
“I’ll be out of here by tomorrow, tops.” Makoto responded. “I’ve kinda got a top notch bodyguard.”
“Actually, you’ll be gaining a whole lot of quiet time.” Zeke responded matter-of-factly. “Maybe if you do enough deep-brain-diving you can deduce your way behind the masks of your crime fighting stalkers.”
She glanced down at him in confusion. “Huh?”
“You’re not stupid, Akari. So I’m guessing the only reason you haven’t figured out who your best friends in disguise are is because you respect them enough not to care. I admire that. But as someone who is constantly getting plucked off the streets, I would recommend you gather as many details as you can about every single person you come across. Might save your life.”
Okay, first of all, how did he know about her kidnap record? And how did he know about Hybrid and Ronin? Who were these people and how long had they been watching her?
Then she rolled her eyes. Like Hybrid and Ronin wanted her dead. They sure went to a lot of trouble to get her out of trouble. “Here’s a detail for you—does it smell like rotten meat in here because of all the protein you gotta eat, Lizard Tail?”
Zeke shrugged. “About one eighth of that smell can be blamed on my dietary needs.”
Makoto paused her ascent to take a breath, glancing at him. Half of her was wondering why the bad guy couldn’t keep his trap shut. The other half was dreading the answer to her next question. “And the other seven?”
Zeke’s eyes looked pained as he met her gaze. “Trust me. You don’t want to know.”
She scoffed. “I don’t scare easy, Scales.”
“Neither do I.” He returned briefly. “But it’s just downright bad.”
Makoto felt his hand on her arm tighten and felt a surge of unease. This was a strange situation that she was in.
“So. I’m a diplomat’s daughter being held captive in a tower by a dragon.” She mused.
“You got it, princess.”
“Bad news, boss.”
“Let me guess—number 12.”
“Looks like it.”
“Grounds?” Hiroshida sounded completely calm and entirely unsurprised. Which, of course, Tadashi learned early meant that he was absolutely everything but.
“Makoto walked out during third period to go visit Chester Strapps in the hospital.” Tadashi began leaning against the hood of Makoto’s car.
“Strapps is in the hospital? Why?” Hiroshida demanded.
Tadashi raised his eyebrows. “She didn’t tell you? She’s been broken over it ever since it happened.”
Hiroshida sighed raggedly. “I’ve been very efficient in giving the impression that I don’t care.”
Tadashi’s anger boiled in his chest and he felt a low growl automatically reverberate in his throat. “Good plan. You don’t care about her feelings? She holds them in and damages herself. You don’t care where she goes? She realizes she won’t be missed until you get downstairs and there’s no food on the table, and even then your first call is to the local pizza place. You don’t like that she’s a detective—which is a very intelligent and incredible job, by the way—so she stays up late to work on her case without worrying about you kicking her head in and boom—insomnia plus emotional damage equals mental damage, Hiroshida.”
There was a long pause. “You done?”
“Yeah. I’m done. I’m done kicking her through the mud and so are you. This isn’t working, Hiroshida. Your master plan to lower her confidence and get her to hide from her ambitions would be great for an already timid woman. But it’s pushing Makoto farther and killing her a lot more painfully than anything else in a dangerous life could do.” Tadashi snapped harshly, banging his fist into the hood.
“I’m not going to tell her, Tadashi. I’m not going to train her. I’m not going to let her be a detective. When she’s out of college, I’m going to make sure she never gets a real case.”
“A real case?” Tadashi laughed out loud. “She’s had a dozen real cases already. We’re both going to tell her. We’re both going to train her. Either she keeps getting kidnapped until she goes crazy and her brain shuts down because the only person who helps her deal is melted to his hospital bed, or we can give her the option of joining up and giving her a leg up on self-defense.”
Hiroshida sounded extremely angry. “She won’t be safe.”
“She’s never been safe! Don’t you think she’ll be a little slower on the trigger if she knows that we actually care if she lives or dies? Or maybe if she knows the severity of what she’s running into? Or maybe if she actually knows how to fight?” Tadashi wished he could reach through the phone and wring his master’s neck.
He had spent all day listening to Makoto share her argument for women and it sickened him. To hear that she felt that way? To know that he had contributed to her feeling that way? To know that with every word he said to her he was violating his whole belief? He shot insult after insult after insult but behind the scripted arrogance, Tadashi was with her one hundred percent.
“Fine. We’ll try it your way. But if she ends up getting killed on a job correlating to what we’ve told her, I’m laying you next to your brother. Got it?” Hiroshida bargained.
Tadashi’s eyes closed and he felt as if a nine hundred pound weight had flown off his chest. “Agreed.”
“Now tell me why you think she’s been kidnapped again.” He barked viciously. Tadashi would have jumped if he weren’t so distracted by the glory of his own victory.
“She left and never came back, but I’m out here sitting on her car. Her backpack’s on the ground beside the wheel. I know she didn’t just wander off because her insulin pen is still inside.” Tadashi glanced around the scene, dread rotting at his insides.
“Wait, what insulin pen?” Hiroshida asked, voice hesitant.
Tadashi smiled humorlessly. “She’s got diabetes, Hiroshida.”
“No she doesn’t.”
“Trust me. She does. And now she’s without her insulin, which shaves her current survival rate down by about fifty percent.”