Chapter 17: Takeo’s Letter
~ Day Eight ~
Makoto was awoken by Zeke throwing wads of paper at her from his side of the room.
She moaned at him and tried to go back to sleep.
“Fine. Go into hyperglycemic shock if you must. See if I care.” He shot back childishly.
Makoto begrudgingly rolled over and sat up, feeling dizzy.
“Makoto.” Zeke’s voice was cautious, earning him a suspicious glance.
He nodded to her in gesture. “You’re bleeding.”
She looked down at her shirt and found a crimson stain spreading over her shoulder and down her arm. “I must have pulled the scar open in my sleep.” She mused distractedly.
The weakest my crimson gown.
“It’s an injury.” She realized, shooting up from her bed so quickly that dizziness fell over her like a thick blanket and she stumbled. Her hands caught hold of her desk and she held herself up, arms shaking.
“Zeke, I think I’m losing my mind in here.” She muttered.
He stood and built up the fire. “Don’t be so dramatic. You’re fine. It’s the bleeding and blood sugar that’ll get ya.”
“But aren’t you listening?” She slurred, reaching for the copy of the verses. “The crimson is blood. The guy is injured and it’s his weakness or whatever.”
“How is that relevant?” He questioned blankly, digging around in his things for her insulin.
“I don’t know. I didn’t write it.” She staggered back to her bed, hunger gnawing at her stomach. “Why can’t Hybrid come back?”
Zeke moved over to her, an almost guilty look on his face. He quietly administered her insulin and then stood back. “While still enslaved by Christina, I hurt Hybrid. It’s because of me that he doesn’t visit often. I’m sorry.”
She frowned up at him, wishing she knew what that meant. “Don’t worry about it.”
Fifteen minutes later, a snooty old lady came with breakfast. It was barely edible, but it was the hot tea and fresh water bottle that made it worth it.
Feeling stronger since she had eaten and wrapped up her bleeding shoulder, Makoto went through her daily training with Zeke.
Her sore muscles ached in protest, and invisible bruises were added to invisible inflammation as he threw her repeatedly around the tower.
He redeemed himself by teaching her to force herself into a downward roll rather than allow herself to get thrown on her head.
When at last she was sprawled out on her bed, panting and sweating, Makoto stared up at the ceiling with distaste. “They haven’t let me shower in a week.”
“They’ll probably come get you and clean you up before Christina’s friend gets here, whoever she is.” Zeke responded, looking over the verses again.
Makoto turned her head, but her ear brushed against something flat that produced a crinkling sound. She sat up slightly, her eyes falling on Takeo’s letter.
Her heart sank.
She had to read it.
It had been weeks.
She reached for it with shaking hands and gently peeled back the flap. The enclosed letter was written in Japanese, but it made no difference to her.
She read the words slowly, with careful concentration, not daring to miss a single syllable.
If I know you, you waited an obnoxious amount of time before opening this.
But if you have opened it, it either means I have died, or you’ve been snooping through my stuff.
You know what I’m going to say. Don’t be afraid to be happy. Don’t miss me, I’m just sleeping. I’ll see you again so don’t be so dramatic.
That’s not important as long as you already know it. It’s important that you know that I am sorry. I cannot apologize enough times for leaving you. I was selfish and immature and I decided that we could both make it alone.
Well, I was wrong. I’m not sure exactly how you’re doing, but I’m dead.
And I’m sorry that I protected you without ever teaching you to be strong for yourself. I’m gone now, so I suppose you’ve been learning it the hard way, but I have no doubt that you’ve been learning it.
Just because I’m gone doesn’t mean they can hurt you, Makoto.
A broken body doesn’t equal a broken spirit.
Be strong. Be tough. Show dad that he has been wrong about you for years. But be kind. Do not be malicious or intending to cause harm. Protect yourself but don’t look for revenge. Abuse goes both ways, Makoto. You can’t beat someone because they beat you. Be better than that. Take the beating or deflect the beating and show them that it won’t defeat you. That’s stronger than a bully could ever be.
In a time like this, though, Makoto, those words won’t matter to you. You probably feel alone and defeated and don’t care about being strong anymore. I know because that’s how I felt when Mom died.
But you have to keep this letter so you can read those words when you’re ready.
You’re not alone. You’re not defeated. And like me, you’ll learn that it’s a lot harder to be weak when you’ve found someone who needs you to be strong.
Knowing you as I do, you’re thinking about a million questions. How did I die? What was I Doing? Why did I never tell you about the dinosaurs?
Short answer—I don’t know.
I can’t tell the future, Makoto, I can’t answer all of your questions. If I’ve been killed on a mission, then my team was with me. The phone number at the bottom will reach one of them. Ask them your questions—presumably they lived to tell it better than I can.
But I assume that I was killed on the job. Unfortunately that means I was either mauled or eaten by a scaly beast. Don’t hurt yourself by dwelling on that, Makoto. Read my words and see that it’s alright with me. Whatever pain I’ve gone through, it’s over and my sleep is peaceful.
I understand that you know Chester Strapps. He’s a member of my team and he’s a good man. Don’t try to get him off the team, Makoto. If you love him the way he loves you, then you’ll want him as far away from death as possible.
I’m here to tell you that pulling him out would be more damaging than leaving him to possibly get killed. In his job he gets to protect the people and keep the animals from being mistreated. There is peace and honor in that. His life has been hard and we are his family now. Don’t take that away from him.
Walk God’s path, honor Father, and have mercy on Sakuza. He’s more damaged than you are. Anger is weakness, Makoto. The only reason you are not filled with his wrath is because you are stronger than he. Teach him the strength that I never got to teach you.
I love you.
Always remember that you healed me, Makoto.
Teardrops pattered down on the letter in slow motion as Makoto’s heart broke. She put the paper on her bed and dropped her face into her hands, shaking with emotion.
She had been right.
The letter had finalized his death. Reading it had been like having him back for a moment, but the moment she folded the pages he was gone again.
“Makoto?” Zeke asked quietly. “Are you okay?”
She shook her head, turning away from him and pressing her forehead against the cold wall, panic building in her chest. How could she live the way he wanted her to? How could she be that brave all alone?
“I’m not alone,” She whimpered to herself.
He left her and the world suddenly seemed empty.
“I’m not alone.”
Her chest clenched as ragged sobs broke loose and she curled into the wall, falling apart. “I’m not alone. I’m not alone.”
A blanket fell over her shoulders and the cold wall was replaced by Zeke’s gentle embraced. “You finally read it, huh?”
She sagged limply, and he barely kept her from falling to the floor.
“You aren’t alone,” He agreed carefully.
~ Day Twelve ~
“If you look at me like that one more time...”
“What, now you got a problem with the way I look at you?”
“How can you even tell she’s looking at you? She’s invisible for crying out loud.”
“I just know, okay? I can feel it.”
“The only thing you’re about to feel is my gun on the back of your head.”
“Would you idiots shut up and focus?” Tadashi interrupted the heated argument between Jered Springfield, Crystal Welsh, and Damian Zaharie. His angled eyes narrowed angrily at them, effectively relaying the message – they’re not there to act like children.
Jered was the only one who looked even slightly ashamed of himself. He shot Damian a guilty, sideways glance and then ducked lower beneath the bushes he was hiding behind.
“I’d like to point out for the record that I can’t actually see anything.” Crystal’s voice said snidely, ringing strangely through the forest.
“What?” Jered questioned, quickly growing distracted again.
“Yeah, man, it’s super scientific. There’s something about the light passing through—”
“If you two don’t start concentrating I’ll kill both of you.” Tadashi snapped, looking up from his phone. It would be extremely convenient if Makoto had a phone that he could text, to let her know they were coming, but as in most kidnapping situations the device had been confiscated.
Jered nodded. “Right. Got it. Alright, I’m going in.” He looked both ways as though crossing the street and took off at a low-crouching sprint.
“But wait – if Crystal can’t see, does one of us need to guide her?” Damian questioned, his actions frozen with his concerns.
“Nah, I’ve got all the tech I need to be able to get around and do the job. I’ve been running missions like this for years.” Crystal’s voice responded.
Tadashi didn’t bother addressing them again. If they didn’t catch up with him when he took off, they could deal with the consequences.
He glanced over his shoulder and caught Elijah Meyer’s eye.
The tall American nodded in signal and Tadashi nodded back. His eyes focused on Burned Brick Manor, keeping his target firmly in sight as he transformed into the massive black panther that elicited a gasp of delight from Crystal.
“So cool!” She whispered.
If he could have yelled at her again, he would have. Instead, he lowered himself nearly to the ground and eyed the window that was carved into the sky scraping tower in front of him. Just inside was Makoto.
All he had to do was make it up there and get her out. Nothing else mattered.
Deep within his heart of hearts even the other members of his ragtag team didn’t matter as much as getting her out did.
He never wanted to be a leader. He knew he wasn’t good for it. His loyalties were few and he would put nothing and no one above them.
That team didn’t deserve him but he needed them.
“On your signal, Hybrid.” Elijah murmured carefully, vigilantly waiting. He was strong, quiet, and focused.
Completely opposite of the idiots to Tadashi’s left.
But he hesitated no longer and launched from his crouch, sprinting and full, powerful speed toward the tower.
“Crystal, Damian, move in.” Elijah ordered through their earpieces. The team’s gadgets were by no means high tech spy gear. They got by using their hands-free devices and cellphones and hoped they wouldn’t need anything better than that.
As he neared the tower, Hybrid threw himself into the air and sunk his long, strong claws into the tower wall. He wasted no time and pushing himself up, his lithe body folding and extending with his mighty bounds as he scaled the vertical wall.
“They know we’re here. It’s game time.” Jered announced from below.
Says the only person sitting in the bushes who hasn’t actually done anything yet. Hybrid’s enormous paw curled around the bottom window frame as he reached it, pulling him up. He forced his body into the relatively tiny opening and crouched there.
He saw Zeke first, sitting against the wall by the fire, reading what looked to be a Sherlock Holmes novel. One of Makoto’s no doubt.
He looked up at the shadow that Hybrid cast into the room, and raised an eyebrow. “Most stalkers are more discreet.”
A low growl tumbled through Hybrid’s chest. His eyes trailed the room. He could smell her – he could hear her – but he hadn’t set his eyes on her yet.
“If you drool on me I’ll show you all the ways to skin a cat.” A small, lightly accented voice spoke from below him.
He looked down to find the little Japanese woman laying against the wall, a thin jacket covering her.
“Is it time to go?” She questioned, pushing her arms into the sleeves of the jacket. “We’re ready. Everything’s packed but my book.” Makoto shot a pointed glare at Zeke.
The dragon-hybrid in question widened his eyes guiltily and slowly closed the book. “Sorry,” he squeaked, which was a curious response from a dragon-hybrid to a tiny girl. “It’s a really good book.”
Makoto smirked as though she weren’t talking to the beast who kidnapped her and held her hostage for nearly two months. “I know.”
She did know. She’d read those books to Hybrid years ago. She’d read them to him in Japanese. And then as she was learning English, she’d read bits of the English editions to him as practice.
His heart hurt to think she didn’t remember.
But Makoto and Zeke were already up and moving – Makoto had her backpack slung over her shoulder, walking towards him. Her eyes narrowed at his quiet presence. “Daijoubu desu ka?” he asked carefully.
He nodded simply and waited. He couldn’t afford to take the time to switch back and forth between cat and human so he simply hoped the remembered enough of the plan to get by without his help.
She did, and she was out of the tower through a portal in no time at all.
When it was just Hybrid and Zeke alone in the room, they watched each other with wary eyes. Both of them hunters, both of them predators.
“Long time no see, kitty.” Zeke sniffed, the muscles of his forearms bulging as he clenched his hands into fists. “How’ve you been?”
A threatening yowl started from between Hybrid’s quivering rows of teeth. He toed into the room like a snake sliding from the ledge, his sleek body circling Zeke carefully, long tail twitching.
“Don’t forget our pact, Felix.” Zeke hissed. “If you try to kill me now you’ll be the one who is left bleeding out on the floor. Who will Makoto miss more? Me? Or you? Surely not you. Not you, who put her through so much grief.”
Hybrid’s wide eyes didn’t shift in their focus. He moved away from the door that Zeke just realized he’d been blocking.
Zeke shook his head. “You take the door. I’ll take the window.” And with that he sprinted across the room and threw himself out the window of the tower.
Hybrid bounded after him, and stared in mild annoyance as the flailing, pale, idiot of a man transformed into a massive, glittering, dragon and coasted gently to the ground.
Then he spun on his haunches and pounced out of the room. He flew down the stairs, cutting down every opponent in his path. There were dozens of them, diligently guarding Christina’s castle – not one of them stood a chance against him.
He was too angry, too determined, too annoyed that he hadn’t gotten his tail out from between his legs years ago.
If he’d stood up to Hiroshida a long time ago, Makoto wouldn’t have been in so much danger. She wouldn’t have been kidnapped twelve times, she wouldn’t have to find out about her diabetes when he carried her to his cousin’s office after she passed out, she wouldn’t have all of those glowing contusions and scars on her arms and throat from the very people she called family.
He could have saved her a long time ago.
When his coat was slick with sweat and his chest shook with his heavy breaths, he met Damian on the third floor.
He and Crystal had worked their way up to that point, clearing the floors of hostiles.
In a second, he’d shifted to human form. His face was red and gleaming with sweat that soaked his hair and plastered it to his forehead and nape. “Where is she?”
Damian shrugged and Crystal flickered into visible existence like a ghost. “She wasn’t on the lower floors. We know for sure – he checked.”
Tadashi raised an eyebrow at Damian, urging him to elaborate but the older man didn’t bother. “She’s not here, Tadashi.”
The Japanese man’s fists slammed into his hip. “We missed her?”
“No.” Crystal said, suddenly moving to the closest window. “But your boy in the rose bush is about to be missing his head.”
Both men in attendance hurried to her side. Below, on the manor grounds, Jered Springfield and Christina Redding faced off to each other, tense and ready to strike.
Tadashi crawled up into the window, pressing his palm to the glass.
Crystal glanced at Damian as though that wasn’t something normal people did.
“Meet us below. Use the conventional exit if you must, but hurry.” Tadashi muttered, before smashing his fist into the glass and hurling himself through the fractured pane.
Crystal yelped in alarm, her arm flung out to reel him back in. She was missed by a matter of yards, but she needn’t have bothered. His shinobi garb was smoothly replaced by the ebony coat of a panther and he landed in the grass as lightly as a cat jumping from a countertop.
Christina turned to face him just as Zeke’s enormous reptilian form burst from the front of the mansion, surrounding her from behind.
“Easy, guys, don’t kill her.” Jered called carefully, striding forward with extended arms.
Hybrid’s tail twitched, his eyes flicking to Zeke.
Christina circled quickly, her normally calm presence shaken and nervous. “Remember who I am, boys. Remember what exactly I can do.”
Hybrid’s paws danced eagerly in anticipation of pouncing, his teeth baring just slightly. She zeroed in on him, her hand going behind her back – for the gun in her waistband.
“Don’t think her family is safe just because you’ve gotten past me. Don’t think his family is safe.” Her eyes snapped to the side in reference to Zeke before returning piercingly to Hybrid. “Don’t think—”
She broke off suddenly as Zeke’s enormous, heavy tail slammed into the back of her skull, knocking her out cold.
Christina Redding crumpled to the ground, a glock falling from her hand.
Jered looked down at her forlornly. “Aw, Chrissy, what have you done?”