Chapter 22: Ambushed
~ Tadashi ~
Makoto was stiff and shaky as she lay draped over his lap. But she was relaxing and getting herself under control in mere minutes. She had taken the stress and pain from her family, Christina, the college, and ENIGMA and she had brashly followed a lead without telling anyone.
Then she’d thrashed her opponent with a confidence and ability that she shouldn’t have had with that gut wound.
She had every reason in the world to break.
And yet she never shattered.
“Christina has people everywhere, Akari. Intelligence, military, pentagon, grocery stores, high school, restaurants—anyone giving you a funny look is more than likely on her payroll. Her reign of terror expands over the globe, through Russia, Romania, Africa, Europe—anywhere she’s had time to visit. Be careful. And I mean, no public WiFi, no walks on the beach careful.” Hybrid told her.
“Have you been tracking her?” Makoto asked slowly.
“I haven’t been able to keep tabs on her for any period of time, but I’ve been able to sift through her followers enough to find a few people here and there who know something.”
When she indicated that she was ready to stand, Hybrid got to his feet and helped her up.
“Thank you.” She said. Her hands ran shakily through her hair. She straightened her shirt and tugged it down over the exposed handle of her pistol. She cleared her throat and took deep, calming breaths. “Thank you for keeping me informed.”
He leaned back against a tree, amused. “It’s kind of my job.”
She shrugged. “Still appreciated.”
He was silent for a long minute, and then studied her carefully. “You seemed upset today. I couldn’t follow you on your run, but I watched you leave before I got called away. Everything alright?”
She sighed deeply and shook her head.
He thought for a moment that tears were filling her eyes, but then she blinked and they were gone.
“My dad has arranged for Sakuza’s release.” Makoto explained.
Hybrid stiffened. “What was he thinking?” He demanded.
She scoffed. “Where’s Ronin? Think you and he can show my brother a little what for?”
“I’m not working with Ronin anymore.” Hybrid responded flatly.
Makoto glanced at him curiously. “Why not?”
He gave her a long, considering look. How was he supposed to tell her that her father would rather have her imprisoned? Eventually she would find out who they were, whether they told her or she deduced it for herself. She was a detective, after all.
Her father was the reason Hybrid had strayed from his original plan to let her in on all their secrets.
He wasn’t obligated to treat her like dirt anymore, so he didn’t. But Ronin’s identity wasn’t his secret to tell. Once he told her who he, himself was, he’d have to sell out his former partner, too, but he couldn’t do that.
Makoto was still watching him expectantly.
Hybrid finally shook himself out of his thoughts. “Ronin and I disagreed on many things. The care and protection of you was first and foremost on the list.”
“He didn’t think it was necessary to pull me out of the tower, did he?” Makoto guessed, surprising her companion.
Hybrid blinked. “How did you know?”
She shrugged lightly and looked around her searchingly, wary of people calling attention to her masked bodyguard. “The two of you went your separate ways while I was in captivity. If your main dispute was over me, then it probably had something to do with my situation. There were really only two options—leave me in or get me out. Ronin disappeared and you got me out.”
He was proud of her. She was so smart and observant and calculative that, even as a student, she reached complicated conclusions and solved difficult problems.
She may be a slow learner in PE, but she didn’t deserve to be removed from Chester’s team.
Hybrid nodded in response. “He thought you were safer in there. If you were already in captivity, you couldn’t go getting yourself into trouble. Granted, he doesn’t know Christina like I do. I couldn’t serve with Ronin anymore with a clean conscience so I severed our partnership.”
Makoto looked hurt.
Her eyes were glued to the ground and her shoulders went stiff. “Well, I’m relieved that you had your way.” She said, stuffing her hands glumly into her pockets.
Hybrid watched her fidget, wondering what could possibly be eating at her. “Are you going to be okay?”
She nodded easily, and rolled her shoulders. “Yeah, thanks. I gotta get back, though. I think I’ve left the impression that I hate my friends.” Makoto gave him a sheepish look.
Hybrid smiled to himself. The woman needed a break.
He was about to bid her farewell when a curious melody sang from Makoto’s pocket. She gave him an apologetic look, but he merely shrugged it off. “You be careful, Akari Makoto.” He said, and then he lifted himself into the tree and from there leapt away.
~ Makoto ~
He was gone before she could answer, so she wasted no time in looking after him wistfully. Longing for the abilities to run and climb as she pleased was only a sorry use of brain space. Makoto pulled out her phone and accepted the call.
“Makoto—I think I have what you need.” The dragon-man responded.
Spirits rising, Makoto made her way back through the park. “Awesome. Wanna let me in on it?” She was relieved to get at least something out of the whole ordeal—oh.
Wait a minute.
Makoto spun on her heel, seeing the two unconscious men lying beside the bench. She’d forgotten about them. She’d almost walked away and left two unconscious leads in the middle of the park.
She groaned to herself and backtracked, parking herself on the bench with her badge in her lap, in case someone walked past and asked her why she was spending a lovely afternoon with a couple of bodies.
“So, after a quick Internet search—”
“Didn’t feel quick.” Makoto interrupted.
“I had to shake a few tails before I could get back to you.” Zeke said.
“Is that dragon lingo for dancing or did you actually have to get rid of someone following you?”
There were a few minutes of silence. “I just remembered that I actually have a tail.”
Makoto grinned. “Don’t feel bad—I’ve been forgetting things recently. Go ahead.”
“Right. After a quick Database query, I found four names that catch us up to the ‘currently living’ category.” Zeke informed her.
Makoto reached for her notebook and grabbed her pen, pinching her phone between her ear and shoulder. “Great. Read them off to me.”
“The guy it was awarded to was an Kido Iesu. He had a son who had two sons and now the surviving descendant is the one and only Kido Tadashi. Don’t you know that guy?” Zeke finished.
Makoto sat back, thinking at hyper speed. Tadashi’s grandfather was given an honorary award for his service in Dimension X. Further proof that Tadashi was Hybrid. Kido Iesu had two grandsons, which lined up perfectly with Hybrid’s dead brother, Crossfire.
And if Savannah or Tadashi knew of his connection to the Quarter Piece, that explained why he had become her temporary partner after Chester was briefly out of commission.
“Thanks, Zeke.” Makoto murmured. “Be careful.”
Roughly half an hour later, Chester and Uriel showed up to help haul the two guys back to ENIGMA for questioning.
They had awoken once, but Makoto had swiftly returned them to la-la land.
After he finished loading them into his truck, Chester turned to Makoto with a hesitant. “How—”
She laughed shortly. “I knowingly walked into a trap and took one of them out. Hybrid took care of the other guy.”
“You walked into a trap alone?” Chester repeated.
“What’s done is done.” Makoto responded firmly, refusing to argue about it. She had to tell him about the Quarter Piece and then ask Savannah if they could deliver it to its rightful owner.
The next morning, Makoto felt incredibly stiff from the previous day’s exercise.
She barely recognized herself when she looked in the mirror. It had been like that ever since she escaped Christina’s clutches. Her eyes were hard and emotionless, besides the pain.
Pain of her body.
Pain of her mind.
Her cheeks were gaunt and the skin clung to her cheekbones.
She could count her ribs.
She wondered grimly if she was always going to look like a zombie. It didn’t help that her hair was still damaged and stringy.
In the dark, Makoto could see that her abdomen had healed enough to become an ugly, knotted scar that was discolored from all of the mistreatment.
Makoto clenched her jaw as she forced a brush through her hair. She wished Christina had just killed her.
Left to live, she had become a stranger.
She slipped on a long sleeved shirt and a pair of jeans. She set her jaw and walked stiffly out of the bathroom, trying to ignore the pain.
Uriel watched her as she walked down the hall, knowing better than to show sympathy. “You look like the Terminator.” She commented over a cup of coffee, one slender eyebrow raised.
Makoto knew she wanted to make her smile.
But the Japanese woman merely pinched her lips into a thin line and glared darkly until Uriel was fidgeting nervously.
“What?” The agent demanded.
Makoto slung her backpack over her shoulders. “Get your heater fixed.” Despite the late summer month, it got so cold at night that, without the heater going, the human body was in danger of going into shock.
Uriel smirked. “Yeah, sorry about that. I’ll get you another blanket.”
By the time Makoto got into Active Operations that evening, she was eager to sit down and focus on the task at hand. First, though, she had to present the Quarter Piece to Tadashi.
“Did we get anything out of the guys we brought in yesterday?” Makoto wondered, shutting the door behind her.
Chester glanced up from his computer. “Not as far as I know. They’re still interrogating.” He got up and joined her as she came to stand in front of Tadashi’s desk.
The Japanese man gave them both a suspicious look. “What?”
Makoto pulled a slip of paper out of her bag. “Today concludes our original case of the Quarter Piece. “Which means this is yours.”
He took the box slowly. “Thank you.”
She nodded with a small smile. “Sorry it took us so long to find it.”
He didn’t seem bothered by that. He merely tucked the box gently into his backpack. “I appreciate that you tracked it back to me.” He gave both her and Chester a small bow.
They returned it gladly. Makoto felt relieved, but only because the case was over. She found in herself no reaction to returning the medal of honor, or raising her grade, or even the success of a solution. It was like she was in a hard shell. She tried to be nice, but everything visible about her said she was blind and heartless.
Even her tone seemed flat and unfeeling.
Of course, part of her longed to be silly and joke around with Chester as she used to, but she just couldn’t find the willpower to act upon it.
Plus, the general feeling she got when she was around her new team was almost fear. She didn’t quite understand how, but her best guess was that it was an emotion more akin to intimidation. Everyone in that room was completely competent and capable, while she was failing PE.
And though her pride denied her any dramatic outbursts, Makoto constantly felt as though she were cowering in the shadows of everyone else.
Chester even seemed to think she would break like an egg.
Makoto refused to accept that he could be right.
She may pop her stitches and bleed out at any moment, but that didn’t make her too weak to take down that guy the day before. She may not have been at their level of operations, but she knew that she absolutely had the possibility and potential to get there.
Of course, it didn’t help that every time she got within reach, Chester insisted on taking her arm and helping her everywhere. Despite how much she wanted to shove him off for the sake of proving herself, Makoto never did. He only wanted her safe and comfortable.
And she couldn’t help but like the feeling of someone holding her arm without the intention of hurting her in some way.
And Hiroshida wasn’t exactly touchy-feely.
“Hey,” Uriel called, her eyes fixing on Makoto. “Get back to your station. You need to check this out.”
Makoto turned immediately and strode mechanically to her computer. Every eye seemed to be on her as she went to her desk and got seated. She ignored them, though she couldn’t help but wonder what they thought when they looked at her.
A damaged child?
A tortured soul?
A twisted monster?
To be honest with herself, she was afraid to think about it too deeply.
She cleared her throat quietly, with the intention of dislodging the distracting thoughts from her mind so she could concentrate on her work.
Makoto frowned down at her computer screen.
The facial recognition program had finally turned up some results. She was no expert, but it looked promising. “Looks like we’ve got a match.” She glanced up at the field team. “She’s close. Get your gear.”
Both Chester and Tadashi got to their feet and set to getting ready.
Uriel crossed the room from her computer and glanced at Makoto’s. “What’s the threat level?”
“I don’t know yet. I’m still checking it out.” Makoto responded busily. “Why do you ask?”
“Do you think I need to go in with them?”
Makoto considered the question but didn’t pause in her work. “I’d say yes, but I’d consult the guys. You know how uneasy Chess gets.”
“I don’t, actually, but thanks for the heads up.” Uriel quipped, grabbing her jacket. “I’ll try to think of a good reason why he should let me in the field while I’m bench pressing trailer houses.”
Makoto smirked. A second later, she glanced up. “Wait, do you actually—”
Uriel scoffed cheerily. “Of course not. The Director took those privileges away from me three years ago.”
Once again not entirely sure if she was kidding, Makoto nodded slowly with a hesitant smile. “Okay.” Way out of her depth in that particular conversation, she switched her attention back to the task at hand and tried to ignore her overwhelming discomfort.
The field team passed back through the room, but Makoto didn’t dare look up. She hadn’t gathered nearly enough information to be able to afford getting distracted.
She noticed Tadashi lingering by her shoulder, watching her work.
Makoto almost flinched with unease, but somehow managed to maintain swift fluidity with her hands. The first thing she realized was that, for the first time, it wasn’t the pungent smell of his cologne that bothered her so much—it was simply the fact that he was standing there.
The second thing she realized was that she didn’t like it because she had a horrible gut feeling that he was a stalking cat, waiting for the perfect opportunity to pounce.
It didn’t help that his alter ego was actually a very large predator.
Before she could calm herself, she felt her pulse race and a cold sweat settle over her skin.
She sure was skittish recently.
Makoto bit her lip hard enough to bring tears to her eyes, forcing herself to focus on her work.
But then he leaned slightly closer and she jumped.
She was already staring at him, wide-eyed, when she realized that he had only been fastening his sidearm into his belt holster.
His eyes flashed to her at her erratic behavior and he studied her very carefully, drinking in every available fact that he could glean from her presence.
She remembered with slight dread that, as a cat, he almost definitely had heightened senses.
Tadashi had apparently learned enough from her to know not to move any closer. “You okay?” He asked carefully, being considerate enough to not alert the entire room that she was having a nervous breakdown.
That’s what that was.
His words jerked her out of her panicked state and she went back to glaring at her monitor. “I’m not a China doll, Kido.” Makoto snapped. She really wasn’t.
Sure, she was on edge that day.
But she had every reason in the world to be, so they could get off her case and let her ride out the storm.
Tadashi was quiet for a second. “You’re certainly not.” He agreed, somehow managing a full sentence that didn’t include a single ounce of degradation. “See you on the other side.” He quipped cryptically, and moved away, going for his bulletproof vest.