Description: With the refuges stationed at Hotaru's home being moved off to Seijyun High, Hotaru and the other fighters that have been helping keep the sanctuary are free to launch a counter attack against one of the invasion force bases in the heart of Southtown. Hoping to spare her young student the risks associated with such an undertaking, Hotaru tries to convince Kentou to go with the refuges to the new location.
Worn slippers race across dirty cobblestones, pounding with light fury as the runner virtually blurs through the twisting and turning maze of Southtown's village back-alleys. Breath heaving as bleeding and filthy arms flail at the youth's sides, upper body nearly parallel to the rushing ground in his mad dash. Rather than take the curving, faux-European alley turns on his heels - The nimble youth vaults high, running along the side of the wall for several gravity-defying seconds until momentum obeys physics once more and the youth dashes upon the stone once more. Veering to the left and right, evading piles of trash which has steadily grown higher and more rancid since basic services broke down during this War.
Long braids flail in the boy's wake, his kenpo uniform torn and slashed in uncounted places. Stealth may have been a wiser course of action, but with his home away from home this near ... Kentou finds he cannot delay. The feeling of Hell itself ten steps behind drives him to his top speed, a healthy mix of fear and determination. He's been away from the Estate for several days only narrowly escaping several hunter seeker patrols. Moving around in the city has gotten considerably more dangerous as the strangle-hold of the Invasion force has gotten tighter. Especially with its eye turned towards the Futaba Estate on more than one occasion.
Coupled with the fact that the boy had to return to Chinatown and make certain his guardian was doing well. It's been nearly two weeks since he'd been home and as dangerous as it was ... He just had to make sure that old curmudgeon was fine.
In truth, Kentou shouldn't have worried. While the harbor was locked down tighter than a drum, there was little the invaders wanted from the old, poor bait shop. Knowing his presence endangered Ol' Sak, Kentou once again fled downtown. Anyone who even vaguely looked like a martial artist roaming the streets was being contained and questioned at the very best.
With Kentou, it was shoot on sight.
But most of all ... Kentou was determined to return to the Estate to know if Hotaru came home. His life has been a perpetual state of worry for the last several days. He had ran out, himself, looking for her. Heard conflicting reports of her on the move in the town.
The boy, unfortunately, is no detective and his hunches proved wrong time after time. Now? He can only hope. He can only have faith.
If Frei managed to fight their control... So can Hotaru-sensei.
Almost ... There ...
As the last corner is rounded, the Estate is in sight. Such as it is, anymore.
Upon a time, it was a marvel. The most beautiful and elegant home Kentou had ever seen. He has never been familiar with wealth or fame in his life previously. To first walk the halls of the estate felt like being a country bumpkin stumbling about in Taj Mahal. And now? The glorious Futaba estate is nearly a ruined fortress. Buttressed with all manner of junk from cars to fiberglass plates ... It's fully been transformed into a refugee camp. It saddened him to see the place so ... Akin to staring at the remains of a shattered stain glass window. But these are practical times.
War creates only ugliness.
Kentou dashes out into the open. A few spotters on the walls see him immediately and stand down. The boy makes no attempt at stealth, all here know who he is. That is, the ones on guard anyway. Nobody bothers to open the gates.
Kentou veers to the sidewalk down the open road, gaining a fraction more momentum before -leaping- high up onto a street lamp. Planted against the cool, dented steel for a full second before springing in a right angle. Sailing clear over the wall in a slow, spiralling flip.
The youth -lands- in the grass in a hard roll, sliding to a spinning halt in a low three-point stance.
"....Made.. it..." The youth manages between gasps for air, sweat rolling down his grimy face.
Thirty-six hours had passed since Hotaru awoke from a deep, cleansing sleep. Exhausted from days of wandering, driven by the drugs poisoning her body and corrupting the very flow of the breath of life through her, she had been on the precipice of the abyss when she was laid down onto one of the few free beds reserved for the sick. She knew that feeling well - the sense of encroaching death - for she had drawn upon it dangerously in a weaker time. But the unexpected happened and her life was saved.
It seemed too strange to be real. When she regained consciousness twenty-four hours later, she was in a confused daze. She thought she knew what happened, but thinking back on it caused logic and reason to recoil from the thought. But she was reluctant to talk to anyone else about it. If it hadn't really happened she would sound mad suggesting that the very Devil of Koga saved her life.
For the next day and a half, she has been awake. Organizing the camp, bolstering the fortifications that keep those within safe as possible, and trying to figure out how to stretch the dwindling supplies a little bit longer. That was up until twelve hours ago. Twelve hours ago a certain woman appeared on the sidewalk and asked to speak with the Futaba girl and the duo disappeared into one of the mansion for the space of an hour.
Since then? Since then the camp has been busy. With promise of a new, safer place to relocate to, Hotaru organized the different divisions of the camp to begin preparations to move out. Pack up everything useful, leave behind anything that isn't essential, and don't wander off into the city. Those who are not on site when the trucks arrive... will be left behind. Thus it is that by the time Kentou vaults over the makeshift fort wall, he'll find the camp a bustle of activity. Clothing lines being taken down, blankets and bedding bundled up, hopeful chatter and murmuring going on admist those gathered. The refuges, so deprived of hope, seem to move with a certain purposeful direction.
'ey, kiddo!' exclaims one of the men in the process of piling up what food supplies where stashed in the basement into boxes located on the lawn. "Kentou!" chirps one of the kids helping take down one of the tents on the lawn.
The girl trying to pull this operation together steps onto the front steps then. Clipboard in hand, Hotaru is clad in a dusty combination of Chinese-styled blouse and jeans. The long sleeves of her top do well to hide the scabs covering her right arm but nothing hides the look of exhaustion in her eyes as she surveys the front lawn activity.
That changes when she sees the boy, however. "Kentou..." Her eyes brighten, her mouth curling into a smile, the clipboard in her right hand falling to the step at her feet. At last - the final piece returns home. Just in time. She has to know that he's safe. "Kentou!" The young fighter moves from the front door, crossing the lawn to approach him, looking suddenly more alive with each footfall.
For several moments, all the boy can do is catch his breath. Gently lowering himself to the dying grass of the lawn, Kentou forces himself to control his breathing. Closing his eyes and mouth, forcing the air through his nostrils like a track-runner might. Controlling his heart-rate and letting clean air circulate within him. Allow the tension to slowly ebb from his weary limbs a little at a time.
The boy wonder nearly ran a marathon to escape the Southtown warzone and had more close-calls than he cared to think about. It takes several moments for details of his surroundings to filter into his thoughts.
Chief among them .... Where's everyone going?
The call of Kiddo and his name starts to grab his attention. The boy nods in acknowledgement of the man and hazards a hasty smile in the direction of the younger kid. "..Wuh? Whats..." Kentou murmurs slowly. Mousy eyes gaining clarity as he spies piles of supplies being bundled up and shipped out box after box. "Where's... Where's everyone going? What the.."
The logic of this comes slowly. Don't they know there's a war going on out there?! Where are they going.. Where CAN they go? "H.. Hey.."
Kentou trundles to his feet, absently brushing the crushed crass from his knees - A comical gesture considering the rest of his uniform is in dirty shambles - as he approaches the nearest mover, "Um.. Excuse me? But.. Where do you guys think you're going? What's going on here.. I don't.."
The sight of a clipboard catches Kentou's attention. The face behind it hidden at the moment but the old chinese-style blouse and jeans present a clue.
His expression slackens, glimmering eyes expanding as his heart freezes in time.
The clipboard falls away, clattering to the paved step and completely forgotten. Hotaru calls his name, looking bright and healthy .. As if she was never kidnapped or brutalized at all.
"Hota-" His voice chokes. The first few steps unconscious movements, drunken in their tired gait. The apprentice could only think about three things over the last week. Only three.
Ol' Sak was safe. Frei was safe. But of them all ... One fate continued to elude him. One fate that drove him to run out every night, to brave soldiers and nearly certain death ... Just on the hopeless chance that she might be alright. Somewhere.
His hands lift, reaching awkwardly as his footfalls gain speed. Matching Hotaru's increased pace as his voice also gains vigor, "... Hotaru! ..."
Completely forgetting appearances, surrounded by his impromptu family of survivors, Kentou all but dives against Hotaru and embraces his sensei firmly. Burying his face into her shoulder and squeezing her tightly.
She's safe... She's alright. Thank God. Thank God.
Kentou didn't give up hope. Even in the darkest moments ... After everything Hotaru had been through, he knew somehow... Somehow she'd endure, like she always does. But despite it all ... Seeing her in the flesh and holding her, fills him with overwhelming relief. A gleeful laugh escapes his lips, gleaming eyes threatening tears that he only barely manages to fight back.
"Y..You're okay... You're okay.." He repeats softly, stating the obvious as it runs through his mind over and over.
As he bolts forward and embrasses his young teacher, Hotaru returns the gesture, one arm resting over his shoulder, her other at his back, sharp, azure eyes studying the young, growing kid intensely as she inspects him for signs of injuries. She had been made aware of his risky trip across Southtown to check on Ol' Sak but that had been a little while ago. People hadn't seen the young fighter for a while and the uncertainty had left a nagging worry in the back of her mind since the moment she had regained consciousness.
He's okay. Tension bleeds from her, the change accompanied by a slow exhale of relief. She'll be able to get him to safety. She's okay, he declares, and Hotaru closes her eyes, feeling the unbidden tears at the corner of her eyes. "I am," she whispers. "I'm okay." she assures. The injury to the flesh of her right arm is healing and but for her exhaustion, she is physically fit. The stress and fatigue from being conscious for thirty-six hours straight and the emotional fraying as a result of the actions she did while under the influence of horrific chemicals are still taking their toll, however.
Her hands shift to rest against his shoulders as she takes a step back, facing him directly, the girl's eyes open once again. Her mouth is curled into a smile of relief. He's going to be safe. "Kentou." A thought flickers through her mind. She should ask how Ol' Sak is faring. She should ask him to tell her about the harrowing experiences he's had so that she might better understand what he has been through in her absense. She should, perhaps, tell him some of what she went through. He'll find out eventually somehow anyway.
But there's no time. Each passing minute in this warzone is priceless. "Kentou, we're moving everyone to a safer location. A woman I know... she'll be bringing armored trucks and helping us get across Southtown. I've learned that Seijyun High is a safe zone and those gathering there are well cared for and protected. We're going to get everyone there safely." She sounds eager to impart the news. Being freed of the responsibility of the refuge camp is a relieving feeling - one that is still slowly sinking in. Having these people be safe will let her focus on the mission ahead. That's all that matters now. The grim deed she and the other fighters will need to do in only a few hours hence.
Hotaru glances to the side, staring at the preparations being made, a thoughtful look in her eyes. It won't be easy, but it's the right thing. If anything... /anything/ happened to him... "Kentou, I-" She blinks, shifting her focus back to him. He just got here; just now reunited with his dear teacher, and here she is sending him away again... "I want you to go with them. They will need someone strong like you to help out..."
Her hands tighten on his shoulders, the girl leaning forward just a little, studying his grimy face and wondering how bad she must look as well. How can she make him understand what she has to do? "I won't be going though. Some of us... have something else we need to do."
The apprentice basks in the embarrassed embrace of his master for a good several moments. Just long enough to border on the uncomfortable both for blushing spectators and participants alike. Not that Kentou cares, particularly - He was never very self-conscious that way. The boy is boundlessly relieved to see her back home and safe, though upon closer inspection it seems she has had a harrowing experience.
He knows she was taken and he knows what they did to Frei ... But he did not allow himself to fear the worst. Thankfully, the worst had not come to pass.
Or has it?
With one last exhale, the boy likewise breaks the embrace to stand a pace away and look his teacher over. Blinking back the wetness in his eyes, the boy breathes. "T.. They didn't hurt you.. Did they? How did you get away? WherehaveyoubeenareyoualrightdidyouhearwhathappenedtoFreiareyousureyou'refeelingokay.." The youth quickly starts rambling, words picking up speed rapidly as literally a weeks worth of questions and worries come pouring out of him in seconds. The second 'Kentou' snaps him out of his moment of nigh-panicked inquisition with an audible blink, straightening his posture a bit more and listening intently now. Nodding with every word as the situation is explained in calm detail.
A woman? A safe place? Armored Trucks?
As his master states that Seijyun is a safe zone in this war, a bright smile crosses his lips and his eyes alight.
That means Yurika-sempai must be okay too! Fwew .. He was beginning to worry about her in all this. At least that's one bit of good news!
"I'm .. I'm glad there's some where in this city where people can go-"
Wait what? What now?
As the boy's vision was beginning to drift, looking around at the mobilizing war survivors his eyes freeze as she hesitatingly speaks her mind.
The word leaves Kentou's mouth without a fraction of hesitation. Chocolate eyes glaring back at his master with a defiant intensity the youth had never before delivered unto his master. The joy subsumed within his stone-resolved expression, bordering upon outrage. Hands quickly rise to her shoulders, tightening his own grip in turn as he all but tries to shake her, "I will NOT leave you again! I won't! I won't do that anymore! Not like last time! I won't fail you again! Never again!" Blurting out every word as they pour from him, riding out with the rest of his bottled emotions. Kentou won't forget the last time Hotaru was kidnapped.. Or the time before that.
Kentou remembers feeling so helpless during Jinchuu. Watching the TV from afar. Not knowing if she was alive or dead. Not being there for her.
Kentou remembers being helpless during the Raid. Running through the streets. Not knowing if she was alive or dead. Not being there for her.
What hurt the most was not that Zero nearly sawed him in half. It was not all the wounds and beatings he's taken. What hurt the most is that the people he cared for ... He did not help because he was not there for them.
The boy nearly shakes in impotent rage, wetness again building at the corners of his frantic eyes, "I am going WITH you. I will NOT abandon you! Not again!"
She had expected reluctance, resistance, and maybe that the boy would be upset. Of course he would want to be there - at her side - not even flinching or carefully asking what it was she was trying to spare him from. She knew that before she even voiced what was going to happen.
But the response comes swifter than she had expected even still. The girl blinks, focused on his brown eyes, forgetting his dirty, sweaty face, or frayed hair. What she hadn't figured out ahead of time was how to respond to the expected response. Of course he would argue. Then what? When she spoke back to her father with the same sort of defiance, she found herself slapped clear across the room with nary a hesitation. That was discipline in the Futaba household. But she had never once thought to raise her hand against the boy in any manner that wasn't part of his combat training and the very idea is rejected in the same moment she imagines what her father would do. "B-but..."
He grips her shoulders, shaking the girl. He's been growing. Catching up with her in height. Physically fit, even in his winded condition, his arms are strong and she doesn't fight back, standing where she is, a suddenly dazed and uncertain look crossing her eyes as the Kenpo artist stares back at him. She hadn't pictured him so grown up in her mind when she was preparing to deliver the plan to him. Just a little boy in need of protection; a child to be sheltered from the bitterness of soul-rending war as much as possible.
But she hasn't been there to shelter him. He's been out there. He's seen what's at stake. He understands the graveness of the invasion forces. His words as he continues to speak capture her attention and Hotaru shakes her head quickly, blinking. "Kentou - you never..." she swallows. The attention of the refuges paused in their preparations don't even cross her mind. All that matters is her one and only student standing in front of her.
He raises his voice louder and she falls quiet again, eyes widening slightly. She's never seen him quite like this. She thought she had thought it through, thought she knew what was going to happen, but now she just doesn't know. "Y-you... I... you've never abandoned me, Kentou. It isn't your fault. The things that have happened. They just happen." Her own voice is skaken, her failing certainty written on her face.
She can't make him do this. He deserves the right to chose, she realizes. "Kentou," she speaks his name again, her right hand shifting from his shoulder to the back of his head as she pulls him forward again into her shoulder, staring unseeing over his back, "I just wanted to keep you safe," she tries to explain, her tone apologetic, her right arm trembling.
"We're... we're going to fight back. It's dangerous. The thought of what might happen to you..." She swallows, cutting herself off. Hadn't she been preparing him for this very thing? Hadn't she been teaching him to fight but not just fight for the sake of exercising his skill but to teach him how to use that strength? She wanted him to be strong enough to face the world, but didn't want him to ultimately have to do so. Maybe when he was older... maybe when he was further along... yes.. then it would be okay. Older. It doesn't matter how much older. Just. Older than he is now.
She takes in her breath, tears rolling along her cheeks. "I won't make you leave." she whispers, her voice softer, audible only to him. "I can't do that." She doesn't ask him if he still wants to come, even knowing that they are going to try and fight their way back into the heart of the war machine holding the city hostage. To question if his resolve had been shaken by her warning would be an insult to that self-same resolve.
"Then fight at my side, Kentou," Hotaru continues, her voice gathering strength as she releases him. "You've never abandoned me before. If fate seeks to seperate us when we need each other most, then we'll fight back against fate itself." This feels right. The awkwardness, the hesitance is melting from her even as the decision seems to be made. This must be the right thing, she tells herself. Would Ryu send Sakura away before fighting a common enemy? She decides that no, he wouldn't. It is the burden of the teacher to know that their students will fight alongside them against any risk, without any thought of self-preservation. Knowing that her student may be harmed or even worse by staying at her side... it's part of the burden she shouldered when she agreed to teach him, she decides in the silent chambers of her heart.
"We will be going as soon as we have everyone loaded onto the trucks. We will be going..." She closes her eyes for a moment, a soft exhale following. "Back to where they kept me for a while. We will be going to destroy it."
Growing up is something that happens when you aren't looking. It is an epiphany, A revelation, that occurs at once.
In one moment, there's a frustrated, lost youth with no one left to turn to. A young thing that needs protection and guidance in a cruel world.
The next, he's a handsome young man, looking you in the eye and standing tall. The time in between - ephemeral. He's grown so much in the past year. Not only in stature, but emotionally. In confidence and in his resolve. He's come to know more about what truly matters to him and what true failure is.
Failure is not losing a fight, like he once thought.
Failure is not being there to help people you care for.
But for all his growth, Kentou is still Kentou. He does not mince words nor does he hold his feelings in check ... Especially not when the lives of his family are on the line. His lips tremble as he speaks, emotions boiling to the surface in the wake of that first outburst. So much has transpired here in this war ... And the wars of the past.
His eyes squeeze closed, head bowing a moment as she refutes his claim of abandonment. Sharply breathing in, "Happen. They just.."
A moment passes, like the eye of a storm. But only a moment. His eyes opening again with exasperation, his voice would be a laugh if it wasn't so filled with sorrow, "Why... Why do these things just... keep happening to you?" Just out and saying the thing burning in his mind. Face scrunching in a mixture of apology and worry, "..You've never done anything to deserve this.. I don't... I don't even know why this is happening.. I don't even know.. Anything."
Yamazaki's attack. Jinchuu. Thailand. Kurow. Her dark turn. This invasion. Her brother. Her father. So many things even Kentou doesn't know all of them. How much can one girl take? How much suffering can one person endure?
He emotes the very things Hotaru likely doesn't allow herself to feel. So much pain in a tortured life, and she has to bare it all.
His grip tightens a fraction upon her shoulders, dirty fingers clutching the fabric of her blouse. More words well at the tip of his tongue before the touch of her hand to his hair finally silences him.
Pulled once more into that embrace, Kentou resigns to it. Exhaling the exponential worries over her shoulder, eyes closing once again. His grip slips from her shoulders to her upper back, silently comforting her in turn even as she speaks.
The true evil of war is the destruction of innocence. Its horrors do not observe mercy to any age, race or gender. As long as it exists, children like Kentou or the uncounted others hiding in this refuge will never be safe. Even Seijyun will not hold out forever if the dark heart of this invasion is not conquered. Kentou knows this, he accepts this.
As he again is released from her embrace and gently pulls away ... He can only wonder why it has to be her.
"I will." Kentou answers solemnly. Lips pressing firmly as he nods his head in keen acknowledgement of the gravity of the thing she asked. His hand returning to her shoulder, this time in a pledge. Reddened eyes burning with their resolve, "I ... I don't want to be safe. I would rather die... Than live knowing I didn't do everything in my power to be there for you. I swear to you ... You will never be alone again."
The next time some evil bastard wants Hotaru ... Kentou will defeat them. Even if they killed him, he'll claw his way out of Hell itself to fight again at her side. He owes her everything. Even on the day she nearly killed him - if she had just asked for his life he would have offered it gladly. So many people may have abandoned her in her life, left her to face these horrible things alone... But Kentou won't be one of them.
"Yosh." A firm reply as righteous anger flares upon his features. The source of those who captured Hotaru.. Who tortured and spiritually maimed Frei... Who've ruined this city. Kentou will see them face justice.
Log created on 22:45:33 05/21/2009 by Hotaru, and last modified on 01:55:02 05/23/2009.