Chapter 27: Peer Evaluation
The jet lifted into the air, Tobias and Uriel piloting them safely out of New Mexico.
Before taking his seat, Jered roamed the area with a notepad and pen. “Casualty reports.” He requested, sounding utterly exhausted. He made deliberate eye contact with Makoto and waited.
Since she couldn’t look at her skin to determine her injures like a normal human being, she felt around for blood. “Minor gashes on my face, a few good cuts on my arms, and—I can’t tell for sure, but I think I broke a rib and filleted my right side.”
Jered scribbled quickly on his notepad and then turned to Tadashi. Before he could ask, Tadashi gave him a withering look. A few seconds passed in tense silence.
Without taking his eyes off of Jered, Tadashi pulled a first aid kit off the wall next to him and set it on Makoto’s lap.
Jered watched hesitantly.
Tobias and Uriel watched from the rearview mirror.
Christina rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.
Finally, Tadashi spoke, his tone flat and unimpressed. “What are you doing?”
A few more seconds ticked by.
Makoto set the unopen first aid kit aside and began cleaning her gun. The pain in her side was almost unbearable, and she wanted more than anything to clean and wrap it, but she couldn’t.
She only had her task to distract her.
“It’s his turn to write the field report.” Christina responded in a monotone.
It was like she and Tadashi were made for each other.
“He has to include everyone’s injuries.”
Jered raised an eyebrow at Tadashi. “Now’s where you make yourself useful and tell me where you’re hurt.”
Makoto glanced up in the middle of scraping her fingernail through a groove in the slide, loosening a layer of grime. “It’s not that hard, Tadashi. He won’t bite.”
The Japanese crime fighter nodded agreeably. “Right. I broke two fingers and stubbed my toe. That good enough?” His teeth flashed as he shot the ENIGMA agent a snide grin.
Jered peered over his paper to scrutinize Tadashi. “And a laceration in the shoulder.” He added.
Makoto shot her kind-of friend a careful look. He looked calm and put together, but the trained eye would take note of the way he was sitting with his weight on his left side.
His left foot was settled firmly on the floor, knee bent, while his right leg was extended, foot leaning lazily inward.
He had both elbows propped on his arm rests, his hands clasped and a good deal of weight supported by his arms.
“And a dislocated hip.” Makoto supplied helpfully, returning to busily cleaning her gun. As Jered moved on, Tadashi switched his glare to her, not appreciating her observation and contribution,.
After a few minutes of him still watching her, she gave him an innocent look. “What?” She couldn’t help but be concerned—who wanted to suffer through a dislocated hip?
And on top of that, he was handling it magnificently.
What kind of injuries had he been dealt in his time as Hybrid?
But his expression was hooded and his lips were in a tight line, and Makoto suspected it had nothing to do with her ratting him out.
She didn’t stop cleaning, but she gave him her attention.
“I need to talk to you.” He announced quietly, his voice too low to be carried across to Christina or Tobias and Uriel. Jered might have heard, but he seemed to be concentrating on his task of recording Uriel’s injuries.
Makoto ripped her eyes away from his to nervously glance around the jet. She assumed he was referring to her ability to hide physical wounds. Did he know that she could generate interdimensional portals at will?
She half-hoped Christina wanted to gloat about the act they’d played off, but she was settled back for a nap, so Makoto was stuck with the talk.
“I also glow in the dark. My injuries do, anyway. You can only see blood in daylight. Maybe infectious secretion, too, now that I think about it, but that’s gross.”
Stupid shaky voice.
Get it together, Akari.
There was a pause as Tadashi’s eyes rolled to the ceiling as though he were asking God why on earth, of all people, he got stuck with Akari Makoto. “Could you chill?” He asked somewhat sourly. “I really don’t care that you can hide injuries. That’s the weirdest supernatural ability ever, by the way, but who cares?”
She had to mentally rewind and replay his words in slow motion. “Okay?”
He caught her panicked look and narrowed his eyes. “I had to pull you out of the fire at least three times today—once literally.”
I’m a burden.
I’m a burden.
I’m a burden.
“I know. I’m sorry. I’m not very good at this but I’m getting better, I promise. I’m working really hard at this—” She shouldn’t have felt it, but it felt so horrible to be reprimanded by Hybrid.
Makoto’s gaze, though firm and steadfast, hid the pain that burned within her body as though Christina’s army had ignited a torturous flame between her ribs.
Is it just me, or does pain inspire poetry?
Deal with it, Makoto. Kido is sitting there with a dislocated hip. You can handle a little concussive force.
Someone should send a note to Director Barton: Please stop allowing Christina Redding to wear high heels.
Makoto rose on the defensive – after all, who liked being stared down by a hormonal cat? “What? Am I sitting on your positive attitude?” She made a show of checking her seat, at the costly expense of stabbing pain through her pitiful, aching body.
“Akari.” His voice tightened to cease her incessant yammering. It came as no surprise that he had limited patience for a babbling fool and a dislocated hip. “Your combat abilities are fine. Greatly improved. But your timing and strategy could not be worse.”
Makoto frowned down at her progressively cleaner weapon. While she appreciated his rare compliment, she couldn’t help but wonder why he didn’t tell her what he really thought rather than stroke her wounded ego. “Well, thanks, Kido, you know how girls love to hear things like that—”
Tadashi was still watching her, his expression becoming a scowl. His dark brown eyes seemed to be filling with the easily recognizable emotion commonly known as homicidal.
Then again, Makoto thought to herself. That was relatively normal for cats. Finally, she succumbed to her terror. “Whatcha wanna talk about?” She chirped cheekily.
There went any hope of convincing anyone on that jet to give her painkillers.
Get it together, baka.
“I want to talk about you running in and out of fights without a care, nearly killing yourself multiple times, simply on the grounds that you’re not important enough to be worried about.” Tadashi deadpanned.
Makoto’s expression melted into a flat, piercing stare. “Say that again. I need to make sure my gun’s not jammed before I give it back.”
Tadashi gave her a levelling stare. “Defensive.”
Who did he think he was?
Why did he insist on making her feel utterly useless?
It was like he was trying to force her to become some self-pitying damsel in distress. Makoto bristled, anger flaring in her blood, heating her face. “First of all, how dare you?”
He shrugged off her fury like she didn’t pose a serious threat to his existence. “I need to know that when you’re out here in the field, you’re not looking for an easy way out.” He uttered bluntly.
Makoto’s mouth fell open. There were certain things that people had said to her that were definitely meant to uproot any shred of confidence she had in herself; but what he just said sounded like a whole new level of jerk.
She eyed his wounded hip, suddenly having the desire to finish the job and detach his leg entirely. She blinked at him slowly. “Excuse me?”
He gave her a look that was borderline condescending.
She couldn’t understand him.
Wasn’t he the one who stood up for her in front of Chester?
She glanced around. Still, no one noticed. She really needed them to notice so that she would have eye-witnesses for Tadashi’s bipolar tendencies.
“Come on, Akari, it doesn’t take a detective to see this.” He chided, his deep voice lilting slightly higher as though he were trying to seem like less of a threat to her.
He was trying in vain, though, because she was already mentally calculating how much more pain she would be in if she poked her fist through his face.
He was disgusting.
“Your disregard for your own life is evident even to a child.”
Makoto’s first instinct was to screech ‘excuse me’ again, but for the sake of intelligent communication and original thought, she instead muttered: “Excuse you.”
He just shook his head at her. As every second passed, he looked more and more sympathetic toward her.
So it wasn’t enough for him to beat her down and try to break her like any one of Christina’s men. It wasn’t enough for him to cast every vile thought her way as an attempt to deal with whatever anger he harbored from his own life.
Oh, no, he had to watch her fight; watch her formulate a plan that essentially won their battle in one fell swoop; he had to be offended by her competence; he had to feel – possibly even threatened – by her taking of action; and then, to satisfy whatever sick need he had to be better than her, he had to turn her into a victim.
Not only that, he had to try to convince her that she was a victim.
“Go ahead, Holmes.” She snapped. “Explain your observations but keep in mind I can hurt you and make it look like an accident.”
He nodded obligingly and whipped out his hand, ready to tick facts off of his fingers. “Based on merely today, your willingness to rush into the line of fire suggests you value your task more than your own safety. You left your guard dog with Chester because, despite how he was trained to protect you, you’d rather be without him than put him in danger. Add that to your current relationship status, family, and general attitude, it’s easy to surmise that you don’t much care for yourself. Your life has been full of emotional trauma, up to and through this point. I suppose it all started when your mother died. That alone would be enough to damage you.”
Makoto’s teeth ground together and she began to make a list in her head of all human bones so that she could rearrange his in alphabetical order. “Oh, do go on, Kido, you know how much I love our talks.”
Recognizing sarcasm but doing as she said anyway, Tadashi continued eagerly. “And then the abuse you receive from your remaining family, coupled with the brutal death of your brother – it’s incredibly emotionally debilitating. You’re a twenty-two year old woman of fit build and fair beauty, with a kind enough heart to put up with your family, forgive the man who abducted you, and guard your guard dog and yet you have no boyfriend. In your situation it would be more than likely and even recommended that you have someone you can talk to about your hardships with your abusive brother, challenging father, and dead mother and brother. Even more likely that you would have someone to love you when you feel unloved by the people who should love you most. But you have no boyfriend because it never occurred to you that you need emotional fulfillment.”
Silence echoed through the jet.
The others had finally noticed.
Makoto shook her head, tears brimming in her eyes.
How dare he?
She turned back to her gun and began furiously scrubbing once more.
He was trying to shove her into a box she didn’t belong in just do he could demean her by trying to convince her to demean herself.
He was the most loathsome person she’d ever met.
“Any normal girl in your situation would be in a steady relationship to compensate for the lack of attention and affection she gets from her own family. But you – you don’t even have friends. You have Chester, sure, but do you ever spend time with him outside of college? No. it is a privilege you have denied yourself. And you still live with your family. Even though your father cruelly strips you of your confidence and your brother seeks you out at school to attack you. Your mother died and your brother was killed, but nothing changes – you, a legal adult – you stay and do everything they tell you. You’re hurt and you feel defeated, but you don’t leave because why on earth would you leave your family?”
Makoto actually laughed. He had no idea what he was talking about.
He had no right to speak as though he knew something.
She drew back the slide with a low growl, but as it snapped back into place, the skin of her forefinger got caught and pinched, slicing a clean cut that was not visible in the well-lit room.
Blood spilled over her hand and dripped on the gun she was just cleaning.
Because she needed something else to go wrong.
With a sigh of anger, Makoto turned her rag over and cleaned the gun all over again, hoping Tadashi would just zip it.
“And yet you never complain.” He said, absolutely aware of her desire to throw him out of the plane. “Because you’ve got no reason to do anything about it. You’re ridiculous and obnoxiously talkative. It’s a fallback defense mechanism to keep yourself from falling apart. You laugh at things that aren’t funny. You appreciate the smallest things. You became a detective. Distractions. You built your entire personality solely to distract yourself and it’s what I hate about you. You are the physical embodiment of a lie.”
Makoto felt the tears sliding down her cheeks, but all she could think about was shooting him in the face.
“Whoa.” Jered muttered, obviously having heard.
“Stop it.” Makoto growled through her teeth. “Stop talking. None of this is true – you are trying to turn me into someone I’m not. This isn’t true.”
It sounded so much like denial.
But it wasn’t just denial.
He was spouting off lies like he was Sherlock Holmes, knowing everything – and he was a detective, he must be right.
He needed a fist through his eye socket.
“But you know, I think I understand now—” Tadashi met her gaze. Her eyes were a storm, holding tears and ferocity, while his were a fire: no mercy, no sympathy, burning away at her walls with blazing strength, an unstoppable force. “Your ability to hide any physical defect has reprogrammed a human tendency that you no longer have. Hide the pain. No one can see it. No one would believe it was real if you told them about it. You can analyze it when you get home and turn off the lights. Ignore the pain and focus on what’s real. You’ll deal with it later. You are cold and heartless because you don’t matter.”
Makoto didn’t pull away from his gaze. She wanted him to see her anger. He needed to see how wrong he was. And he needed to see her pain before he died.
“Okay, you know what?” Jered unbuckled his seat belt and stood up sharply, headed for Tadashi in a rage.
But Christina was at his side in a second, her arm blocking his way. “I’ll deal with this.” She told him lowly. At Jered’s nod, she spun on her heel and marched straight up to the incredibly offensive man and hauled him out of his seat by his throat.
Tadashi caught her wrist and twisted out of her grip, holding her at arms’s length.
Makoto watched in satisfaction as Christina simply feigned a double-fisted punch to his gut and then swung around and drove her heel into his bad hip.
Tadashi fell to the floor, in too much pain and structural disarray to stand.
Christina knelt and stuck her thumb in the knife wound on his shoulder. “I don’t know you. I don’t have much friendly experience with Makoto. But speaking as someone who used to torture innocent people, I want you to know that if you ever speak to anyone like that again I will hospitalize you.” Her humming voice was music to Makoto’s ears.
He was right.
She could have screamed at herself. He was absolutely wrong.
But everything he’d said was true.
Nothing he’d said was a lie.
He’d just gotten the conclusion wrong.
And then, from his place in a pool of blood on the floor, Tadashi looked at her and nodded to the gun. “I handed you a first aid kit because you are white with pain and blood loss. But instead you’re cleaning your gun because you mistreated it and let it get scratched and dirty. You cut yourself on the slide and you cleaned the gun again.”
Christina laughed in awe. “I will kill you.”
However, Makoto smiled softly and put the gun on her knees, drying her tears of frustration and taking a deep breath. “You’re right.” She admitted. “I mistreated a gun that does not belong to me and now I’m claiming responsibility for my actions. Obviously that means I wish I were dead. I’m not an ENIGMA agent. That’s why I don’t shy away from dangerous assignments. Because I’m the replaceable suicide squad, ready to die for the protection of human beings. That’s how it works. I’m a somewhat capable, less-than-unimportant college girl with half a family and no emotional fulfillment, ready to die. No big deal. Obviously I want to die and take even more away from my family.” She was shaking with passion, her rage a volcano within her that threatened to erupt and overtake her entirely.
Her voice was poison.
He was so wrong it was funny.
Tadashi laughed at her.
He. Laughed. At. Her.
“You are so fake.” He shot back. “Do you hear yourself? Try being real for once in your life—” Tadashi was cut off by Christina’s solid right hook to his eye.
“Thanks for the concern.” Makoto spat. “I’m not the self-loathing, self-pitying damsel in distress you want me to be.” She glared at him with all the rage she had at hand. The man just wanted to die, didn’t he?
If Christina can’t kill a man for injuring Jared, I can’t kill one for being a jerk.
She needed insulin. Her body was winding down, but she wouldn’t let him see her weakness. She wasn’t the suicide squad. She may be expendable, but only because everyone else on the team had a clear purpose, and her job was to fill in the blanks.
And maybe she felt defeated about her schooling – everyone does. Last time she really talked to Anderson about being reassigned to a partner, she’d told her to keep doing the ugly jobs and try to earn the rank she wanted.
It was a twisted pep talk.
That was it.
Tadashi was a psycho jerk.
“Listen to yourself.” He argued. “Just listen to yourself. You tried persistently to get yourself killed today. You even let Christina torture you – you asked her to.”
Makoto was that close to using the gun in her lap to pop a hole in his windbag.
Jared cleared his throat awkwardly.
Christina drew back to cave his face in, but Makoto stopped her. “It’s alright.” She muttered. “I’ll deal with it.” She met his eyes, sweating with the effort of keeping her nails out of his throat.
His expression was compassionate and pitying
What is his game? Why must he victimize me? I knew this was coming. He was too nice for too long. Once a deadbeat, always a deadbeat, it would appear.
“Let me know when you want him dead.” Christina muttered, returning to her seat.
Jered had a long way to go with her, poor guy.
When both ENIGMA agents were back in their seats, Makoto got down and sat on her knees next to Tadashi. “What are you doing?” She whispered, heart open and vulnerable. “What do you want from me, Kido? Why are you doing this?”
He stared at her. “You are lying to yourself. You are playing with your head and you don’t even know it.” He said seriously, tone hard.
She shook her head. “Ask Chester. Or my dad – or don’t. He’ll believe you and tell you I’m crying for attention. I get sent on difficult and ugly cases because I lost my privileges. I’m the reason my grades and abilities fell. Ask Savannah.”
Tadashi’s jaw clenched and he stared up at the ceiling. “It won’t be as polite as asking.”
Makoto ground her fists into her eyeballs with a growl. “Why? What do you want from me? Why can’t you leave me alone?”
He’d talk to someone and they’d think she were complaining.
They’d drop her grades.
They’d send her to therapy.
She was getting what she deserved. She’d let her grades fall.
“It’s not right.” He shot back. “You’re worth better.”
Makoto slammed her fist into the floor. “This has nothing to do with what I’m worth!” He was such a stupid meathead. When he put his hand on her arm, she turned back to him right as he finished: “You don’t have to feel this way. You don’t have to punish yourself. You are stronger than this.”
“First of all, I care enough about myself to protect my skin from your slimy, diseased hand so please remove it.” She threw his hand off with disgust. “And secondly – who do you think you are? You call yourself a detective? All you get to know about my emotions is that they are not yours to manipulate, you akunin.”
Tobias, the only other person on the jet who understood Japanese, whistled softly.
Tadashi only looked more sympathetic. “You’re only denying it.”
Makoto resisted a powerful urge to kick his dislocated hip, but unfortunately. Christina had beat her to it. “Be quiet. You’ve said your piece; it’s my turn. You have been bullying me from day one, so don’t try to pretend to be my friend. You don’t get to turn me into a damsel in distress. You don’t get to victimize me.”
Tadashi flinched as she leaned closer, her glare poisonous.
“You don’t get to turn my life into a weapon against me. Try minding your own business. Pain doesn’t crush everyone, contrary to popular belief. Not everyone needs a lot of friends. And don’t you dare marginalize Chester, you noroma.” Makoto had to clench her hands around the gun to keep them from striking Tadashi.
In retrospect, that was not a safe place to put them either.
She caught a glimpse of Christina’s approving smile.
It boosted her confidence. “Furthermore, analyzing my relationships and lack thereof is definitely your choice. Using your deductions to tell me that the fact I don’t have a boyfriend means I have a mental illness is completely uncalled for.”
Makoto put the clean gun down. “And as for my behavior this afternoon – it’s none of your business. All you need to care about is that my actions saved us a lot of time and blood. And yes, I’ve neglected my injuries for the moment. Because I was given the responsibility of this weapon. I dropped it – I lost it. So I’m taking care of my mistake by returning it to the team in perfect condition. Not because the gun is more important than my life.”
Not to mention that her injuries weren’t life threatening.
Plus – he had sustained far worse injuries than she and had given up the med kit and not once asked for help.
It was probably because he hated himself.
He probably thought her life was more important than his.
He probably thought his life was meaningless.
Makoto stood, collected the gun and the med kit. “Thank you for your concern, Kido. Never try to force self-degradation on me ever again.” She spun on her heel and went to find a seat that didn’t put her next to the bipolar control freak.
Tadashi jumped to his feet, stumbling and coming to rest on one foot. “Hey—” He caught her arm. “There’s bravery in keeping a strong face. But sometimes you just need to talk about it.”
No one raised an eyebrow when Makoto’s fist bloodied Tadashi’s lip.
Tadashi was the first one off the jet when they landed in the school’s parking lot, muttering something about talking to the president.
Makoto ignored him and turned to the others aboard the ship. Uriel was at her side first. “Good to work with you, Akari. Take care.” She bowed.
Returning the gesture, Makoto bid the rest of them farewell and exited the aircraft. Chester was waiting for her with Aikido.
He handed her the leash, hooking a thumb back toward Tadashi. “What’s his problem?” He gave all of her new bandages a cursory glance.
She had long since cleaned herself up and administered insulin, lessening the severity of Chester’s concern. Makoto didn’t want to waste another breath on the absolutely wicked Kido Tadashi. “Oh, he’s probably going to inflate his ego in some way or another. Who could say? He’s got chronic bitterness. What are you doing here so late?”
The sun was setting and most of the students were already tucked away in their dorms.
Chester raised an eyebrow. “Did everything go okay?” Then he gestured to the retreating jet. “I came out when I saw it coming in. I brought your car in.” He pointed towards the vehicle.
Makoto took Aikido and stroked his ears absently. “It went fine. Accomplished our task. Mr. Happy Sleuth over there tried to convince me that I’m some doe-eyed damsel in distress. Other than that, it was great.”
Chester’s expression darkened. “Oh he did, did he?”
Makoto glanced up at her friend. “Leave him be. I dealt with it.”
Chester raised an eyebrow. “That would be a first.”
“Hey!” She punched him in the chest, eliciting a short laugh from him.