Her eyes fluttered open as she drifted slowly into consciousness. Soft satin sheets surrounded her, but beneath them she was bare. A sharp jolt of pain shot through her arm, recalling the events of the previous day. Awakening. Fighting. Running. Lost in a daze. Theresa's apartment, her arms. She felt numb all over, feelings twisting inside her to the point that they were all meaningless, leaving her hollow.
She slowly sat up, sheets held up to her chest. Her long hair draped down her front, framing her expressionless face. A sharp pop and an accompanying sizzle drew her attention. She turned to find Theresa standing over the counter, attacking something in a frying pan with gusto.
"Bacon and eggs," she said to answer the unspoken question. "Get some good, healthy cholesterol into you, that'll cheer you up." She looked up with a wink and a grin then turned her attention back to the pan. "Aaand we're done."
Aoi sat rock still, uncertain what to say, as Theresa brought over their plates and dropped herself down on the bed beside her. She tucked in at Theresa's prompting, quickly realizing that she hadn't eaten in over a day. They ate together in silence, Theresa seemingly enjoying the moment while Aoi's face remained unreadable.
"Well? How is it?" Theresa eventually asked.
"Terrible," Aoi intoned. "The egg tastes like cardboard, and the bacon's actually burnt."
Theresa stared at her for a second, trying to read something in her profile. Seeing the attention on her, Aoi slowly turned to face the other woman. She nodded slightly, smiling faintly. "But thanks for trying."
Theresa's face split in a wide grin. "Good to see some spirit in you." She reached past Aoi with her fork and speared a rasher on her plate.
"Hey!" Aoi yelled as the bacon escaped. She thrust with her own utensil, trying to pierce it in mid-air.
"Well you're not eating it." Theresa drew her hand up, dangling the strip of bacon above both their heads.
"I didn't say that!" Aoi yelled in outrage.
"But it's burnt," Theresa replied, her voice dripping sweet sarcasm.
"I'm still hungry!"
"Oh... Pffft. Fine." she presented the offending slice to Aoi who snatched it in her mouth, chomping down on half of it at once. Theresa similarly snapped on the other half, bringing their lips together. Aoi blinked in surprise, but quickly bit down and separated them.
"Taste good now?" Theresa asked.
Aoi nodded slowly. She leaned over, resting her head on Theresa's shoulder. "Thank you," she said simply.
Theresa wrapped an arm around her shoulders, and the pair sat still for a while. Eventually, she softly asked Aoi "What happened?"
Aoi gave a long, soft sigh. "Back... Then, back before I met Eve, I was... Well, basically a whole different person. I was violent and impulsive; I'd just lash out and hurt people for fun." Theresa could feel her shiver as she spoke, a stronger note of anger or despair growing in her voice. "I wouldn't give a second thought to hurting or killing someone to indulge my sick desires."
Theresa nodded and pulled her closer. Tears welled in Aoi's eyes as she continued. "Sometimes I feel like I'm her again; like I can do anything, hurt anyone I want and just get away with it."
Theresa gently stroked her hair. In a soft whisper, she asked "Does she have a name?"
"Rachel," Aoi breathed back.
"And Rachel was there yesterday?"
Aoi nodded solemnly. "Keiko came on to me." She paused, an odd memory coming to mind. Something Keiko had said? That morning felt so distant, as if it were in another life, that she couldn't grasp the thought. "I didn't want to go with her, but I... Well, I guess I lost control."
"What did you do?"
"When I came to, she was dead. She'd been hurt... Tortured, and..." She broke down, crying in Theresa's arms.
Theresa gently pushed her back, holding her at arms' length. Aoi looked up at her, puzzled, face streaked with tears. "You need to keep going," Theresa said solemnly. "Just get it all out."
Aoi nodded, wiping the tears from her eyes. "I killed her. I hurt her. I... Raped her."
"Rachel did," Theresa offered.
"I let her. I couldn't control myself."
"And Kami found you?"
Aoi nodded. "She tried to kill me."
Theresa jolted back, the shock evident on your face. "I never thought-" she began, but cut herself off.
"I made her promise, you see. That if I went out of control, she'd stop me."
Theresa watched her closely for long seconds, thoughts flitting through her head with great speed. She seemed to reach a conclusion, as she nodded. "But you got away."
"I hurt her too. I was just trying to escape."
"So you fought back." Aoi peered at Theresa as she continued. "You made a promise together, but you didn't let her carry it out. Even after what happened, you wanted to live on."
"What are you getting at?"
Theresa gripped her shoulders, watching her reaction closely. "Think about it. Whose idea was this promise?"
Aoi thought hard. It couldn't have been more than six months ago, but she had been through so much since then... It was between her and Eve, but which one had proposed it?
"Could she have put this to you? Demanded it from you?"
Aoi nodded slowly. "I guess so..."
"And she didn't hesitate to carry it out, did she?"
Aoi blinked in surprise. Theresa was exactly right, but how could she have known? True, they had fought together; Theresa could have seen how relentless Kami was. But surely not against me...
Theresa gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. "She was prepared for this, wasn't she? Always ready, in case you slipped."
"That's... Yeah. She's very methodical. She would have planned ahead."
"To get rid of you." Aoi nodded solemnly in response. "Could you do it? If you cared for someone, could you be prepared to kill them?"
"Never," Aoi replied without thinking. A strange swell of pride grew in her chest. It was true; she could never have contemplated hurting her friends, let alone plan their execution. Not Kami, nor the girls... Or Theresa. It was odd to find such inspiration in this dark hour. A reassurance that, despite what had happened the previous day, she could never be that heartless again.
"And yet she did." Theresa shook her head in sympathy. "Aoi, I'm sorry. But that can only mean..."
"She doesn't love me." She looked down and away, not focusing on anything. Her face was impassive once more.
"It's alright," she said, betraying no emotion in her voice. "I guess, in many ways, I had realized that already." She gave a remarkably nonchalant shrug and looked up once more. Theresa was surprised to find a faint smile on her face. "She means so much to me, you see. Our relationship, our understanding, was so important to me. I guess I didn't want to risk all that by looking too hard at it."
The sheets rustled and parted as she stood. Theresa looked up at her, stark naked, her modesty only barely preserved by her long hair draping down her front. She was a study of contrasts; strong muscle tone on such a small and slight frame, brilliant eyes peering out behind dark hair, strong in posture yet seemingly so fragile in voice. "You're beautiful," Theresa said abruptly.
"Thank you," she said quietly. Her frail smile turned away. "I should get cleaned up... And I really need something to wear."
"No worries," Theresa said. She gathered up the plates and bounced to her feet. From here she towered over Aoi, who seemed smaller than ever. "What say I pop out and get you some rags?"
"Sorry to impose."
Theresa waved her hand dismissively. "It's cool. I'm here for ya."
Aoi nodded and took her leave. The bathroom door locked behind her, and almost blocked out her long, pained wail.
Theresa frowned. Somehow, things weren't quite as she expected. Oh, certainly she had no idea what to expect when Aoi came running to her. Screaming. Terror. Trauma. Mad cackle. But somehow, heartbroken wasn't on the list. Sure she was upset about whatshername, thingy, Keiko! And yes, she admitted it was very 'Rachel.' But she should be excited! Thrilled at those old feelings, happy to be out from under Eve's thumb. But nothing.
Still, the sobby-needy sex was good.
Could she be wrong? Theresa pondered whether she could have misconstrued their relationship. Everything fit with her assessment—the fire, changing her appearance, Silver being her first girl—except for Aoi's behaviour. It grated on her.
Which is why she'd set up this meeting. She needed answers, and only one person could provide them. It helped that Aoi was still at her apartment—she didn't need to know that Theresa was meeting her ex.
Between them, they'd chosen the rooftop of Aoi's apartment block. The building was a bit dated, so it was fairly cluttered with all manner of structures and pipes. But one corner was remarkably clear, affording a view of the similar rooftops spread out around them.
Theresa turned from the view as she heard the opposite door open. Eve quietly stepped out, bundled up in a long coat and beret. All dark tones, with a mottled bodysuit underneath. Kami, no doubt. Theresa had closed her coat against the unseasonal chill, and enjoyed how the wind up here tossed her hair and let the coat's ends flap about her legs. With a long cigarillo in hand, she must have made quite the impression.
"What do you want?" Kami asked. Theresa couldn't help but feel a bit put out that her dramatic pose had been wasted.
"Just what happened yesterday?" She put simply.
"Aoi had a nervous breakdown," Kami replied, her voice remarkably clear and even. "She raped and strangled Keiko."
Theresa gave a low whistle. "What the heck brought that on?"
"I don't know," Kami replied. She tucked her hands into the coat’s pockets and started pacing around the edge of the roof. "They never really talked much, but Keiko confided in me that she quite liked Aoi. I can only think that Keiko provoked her somehow."
"Provoked? No, not our miss morals. She couldn't have."
Kami looked back up at Theresa, locking a piercing stare on her. "She's capable of a lot more than you think."
"This is about Rachel, right?" A wicked smile crossed Theresa's face as Kami started back. Finally, a reaction! "I heard the name around," she continued, closely watching for Kami's response. "They say Aoi used to work for a real spitfire by that name."
Kami stood silent for several seconds. Devising a lie, no doubt. Eventually she resumed her pacing, gazing out over the cityscape. "When she was under Rachel's thrall, Aoi was practically a monster. This sort of thing wasn't exceptional for her."
"And now she's Rachel's... Creature once more."
"I thought Rachel was dead."
I died. That was how Aoi had described the fire where she had been burnt. It matched up all too well—Kami's lie was the same Aoi had fed the Yakuza, and both claimed Rachel was a separate entity. Long dead, best forgotten.
It was too neat. This smacked of something they'd planned together, not something forced on Aoi. Was she giving Kami too much credit? Had Aoi really wanted to change? It made no sense.
"She's with you, isn't she?" Kami asked out of the blue. Theresa only shrugged in response. "You should realize by now just how dangerous she is. You'll be safer if you turn her over to me."
"So you can finish her off?" Kami opened her mouth to reply, but Theresa cut her off. "Yeah, I know you tried to axe her yesterday. Are you off your nut?"
"She made me promise to."
No. "Never." Not possible. "I don't believe you."
Kami nodded impassively. "This has happened before. She tried to trick me, then turned on me." She paced closer to Theresa, Amber eyes locked on the other's disbelieving face. "When she regained her senses, she was devastated by what she had done. That's when she made me promise to stop her if it ever happened again."
Kami came to a halt, bare inches from Theresa. The two stood still, framed against the gathering clouds over the city, a bare few pinpricks of light seeping through beyond them.
Theresa's scowl split apart. "And you were all too happy to carry out the sentence, right?" She could hear the bitterness in her voice, but didn't care.
"I didn't want to!" Kami burst out. "I..." For once, she faltered. A deep breath let her regain her composure and she continued, her voice steady once more. "I care for her. Honestly and deeply. We don't always get along and we disagree a lot, but we understand each other like nobody else can." She shook her head, and although her eyes seemed to quiver, they stayed dry. "I don't want to hurt her, but I know more than anything that she doesn't want to go back, wouldn't want to be... Like that any more."
Wouldn't want to be... Rachel. It made no sense to Theresa. Nobody would give up that glorious life of reckless abandon! It had to be Kami's fault. She had to be the one changing Aoi for her own ends. It made perfect sense...
And yet, Kami's words meshed perfectly with Aoi's behaviour. There was real love there, not just some trick. Her hand clenched and unclenched, the pressure in her palm matching her frustration. It had to be true, yet it made no sense. The old question came back to her: Why did Aoi save me? Why, if not for me to save her? What was there but self-interest?
She slowly shook her head. "No. I don't believe you. It makes no sense!" she all but roared.
Kami eased back, hands rising in guard ever so slightly. Her eyes narrowed as she focused on Theresa, gauging her movements. "Ask her. Go back to her and ask her. Ask what she wants now. And who she wants to be."
Theresa glared long and hard at Kami. Oh, how she wanted to finish things now! She had been ready this very morning; her special toy for Eve lay in her coat pocket this very instant. She could do it right here...
Don't, you fool.
"Why not?" Kami peered at her oddly for the out of place reply.
You're not ready. You haven't figured how to beat her yet.
Which was true. Every assessment she made showed Kami to be an even match for her. Any fight would likely be a fair one. She hated fair fights.
"Sure." She returned Kami's curious glance with a cunning smile. "I'll go see her." Theresa strolled casually past her, heading for the door. "And when she chooses me, we'll both be back for you."
Kami turned on her heel. "Choose you? This isn't about that..."
Theresa popped the door open. With a startled gasp, April stepped back, clearing the passage. Theresa winked at her, then turned back to Kami. "Sure it's not," she said, and was gone.
Theresa raged. Honestly, she didn't care who these people were. The alley was shadowed and they stood together, so that was enough to beat them up. A faster-than-light fist splintered one man's jaw even as she ducked under the pipe another swung at her.
It was so frustrating talking to that woman! Her heel flicked back and caught one in the shin. Her tone, her posture, everything displaying absolute righteousness. How could I possibly be wrong? it said, she swept one off his feet with a vicious low kick. I know everything, I am so much better, was the impression it gave. An incoming fist got tucked under her arm; she hauled back and drew his face into her forehead.
Worse still, she may just have been right. Admitting it would cheese her off, he staggered back, blood streaming from his nose. Not just because it messed up her plans, elbow meets solar plexus, but it would mean losing to her. And a major one at that. She spun, a massive right hook felling him with a crack.
She had to beat Kami now. Really, she hadn't thought of the blonde as a rival, spring back from a body blow and drop him with a spin kick, but just an obstacle until now. Finishing her off was to be a nice cap to the affair, but now it became vital. Strong arms wrapped around her from behind, as another drove in from the front. She hauled forwards, not that she could figure how to beat her, all but flipping over, dropping the one behind, she was shot in the back, she's just too tough, right on top of his compatriot. The two piled into a heap, and a freakish upgrade to boot, and she viciously kicked both of them as they lay.
Theresa had paid for the best cyberware. Her strength and speed were greatly enhanced, but she estimated Kami was almost on par with her. The other's bone reinforcement and vital sheathing made her very resilient, whereas Theresa had skipped such options. One gurgled beneath her, blood foaming between his lips as she kicked him again and again. Not to mention her precise way of fighting. There had to be a flaw somewhere she could exploit...
Focus, you idiot!
"What?" she blurted out, an instant before being struck. A hard blow across her back, feeling like an iron bar, sent her stumbling forwards. She felt as much as heard the next and turned from it, reducing it to a hard clip on her shoulder. By the time she was facing her opponent, he had lunged once more. She hopped back, a flash of chrome silver passing just by her nose.
He hadn't been with the others when she found them, as she certainly would have remembered him. Tanned, broad-shouldered and showing as much skin as metal. His only attire was a pair of loose pants that ended well above his bare metal feet. Metal braces crossed his muscular chest, showing where both chromed cyberarms had been anchored. Above his fierce scowl was a strip of a visor, implanted into his flesh where eyes should have been. His scalp was shaved, with strips of chrome steel crossing it.
"I don't care who you are," he began, "But nobody-"
She punched him square in the face. "Don't interrupt me!" Theresa yelled as she pressed her assault. She lashed out with a flurry of punches, but he quickly came up to speed. He weaved and ducked back, blocking the last one with a metal forearm.
Theresa gasped in pain as her hand rang off his metal arm. Her reaction provoked a wicked grin from him which only frustrated her more. She swept a kick at his midsection, only to be blocked by a raised leg. Even as she started back, her shin smarting from the impact, he turned the block into a thrust kick, driving into her abdomen. She staggered back, clutching her midsection, prompting his grin to widen.
"Can't best the iron angel," he said, arms raised and ready. Glancing around, Theresa saw she was being backed into a corner. With a scowl, she lunged at him, feinting high and striking low, catching him in the rubs. A follow-up was blocked, painfully, and he batted her arm aside. Caught off-balance, she took a sharp elbow blow to her side. She ducked a spinning hook, but caught him coming around with a back elbow. She instinctively raised her arms and caught the blow, but felt the sharp pain from the strike nonetheless.
You can't fight him conventionally.
"Yeah, thanks, I got that." She reached behind and drew out Mine in a blur, completing the arc with a slash across him. A thin trail of blood welled up on his chest, matched by Theresa's thin-lipped smile. She reversed her grip and thrust back, but he caught the blow on his forearm. The knife skidded down his metal skin, sending up sparks and scoring the metal finish. He lunged, seizing her wrist in a painfully tight grasp, but she was ready. She pulled in, driving her knee into his abdomen once, twice, until his grasp slackened and he staggered back.
"The flesh is weak," she said with a grin. Flesh... Her grin split open, mouth agape at the revelation. Of course! Even the plastic princess was still mostly organic, and that gave her weak points. Her muscles were genetically enhanced but they were still flesh and blood. It was...
She surged. The knife flicked up and down, erratically striking at his face and torso. He was on the defensive now, matching blow for block, his forearms traced with marks from her blade. He slipped a strike in which Theresa took on the shoulder, lunging past his guard and driving Mine into his side. He fell back with a yell, hand on the puncture, the other raised defensively.
Just a matter of getting the strike in.
She jabbed at his side, but Mine was gone. The blade flicked through the air between them, finding its way into her off hand even as it lunged down. Caught out, he couldn't stop the knife from plunging into his neck. Theresa pressed down, driving it deeper, and with a horrific gurgle he fell.
"Just like that?"
Clever. She fights very methodically. Confuse her, and the fight's yours.
"Of course." Theresa retrieved Mine and flicked the blood off it. She looked around at the carnage spread out before her and shrugged, an easy smile playing across her lips. "I can't even remember what I was so upset about."
For Aoi, the most frustrating part of her morning was the waiting. She did her best to keep active, between her jobs, personal training and so forth. So restrained to a comfortable apartment, stripped of any schedule or company had left her with nothing to do, and little experience with idle time to fall back on.
That and she had no clothes. She had fled wearing only her leather jacket and pants, and the latter were being cleaned. By the time she had showered, Theresa had left, so she borrowed one of the other woman's dress shirts. It hung loosely off her frame, more like a nightgown than anything else, but it was at least long enough to fall past her hips.
It seemed impossible that this could have happened. She thought she was rid of those old feelings, removed enough from her old life that they would never come back. When she had last 'been' Rachel, she had almost died—no, she felt as if that part of her had died, had been purged, letting her finally and fully become Aoi.
And then Theresa had appeared. It seemed almost impossible that she had created Rachel as an avatar without knowing about their connection, yet surely there was no way she could have known. But that sense of separation, of identifying more with her avatar than her body, had brought her old feelings back. It had been a long moment of confusion when she had returned to her body, but she had become Aoi once more.
Then she had killed Keiko. She couldn't deny it, no matter how hard she tried. She had made a move on the girl before, but stopped herself in time. And yet she was, or at least had been more in control just yesterday, when Keiko approached her. So why had she lost it?
The thought gnawed at her. Her memory was blurry before she had woken. She couldn't remember anything after Keiko's first advances. But the girl must have done or said something at the time to arouse those feelings once more. Something she'd said... Something Keiko had said stuck in her mind, but she couldn't figure it out. She gritted her teeth in frustration.
"I just want to remember."
"So you'll know how good it was?"
Aoi spun in place. There at the bar was Rachel. Her hair was damp and loose, draped over a wet white shirt, much like the one she was wearing. And much like Aoi's, it was obviously her only article of clothing. Their pistol dangled precariously from her hand, and as Aoi watched she flicked the safety on and off.
"You saw the evidence. Bruised, battered and swollen. Oh what fun it must have been." She flashed a cocky lopsided grin at Aoi.
"I don't... I don't do that sort of thing."
"But I do. Isn't that the point?" Aoi turned her head away, cheeks burning in shame. "It seems you're not in charge after all, hmm?"
It seems... Aoi's brow furrowed. That doesn't sound right. She looked back up at Rachel, fidgeting with their pistol. The blonde was studying her, just as intently as Aoi was watching her.
She had seen Rachel before, whenever she was at her lowest. Each time, her former self would taunt her, pointing out her failings and foibles. And yet...
"Checking me out?" Rachel's smile as she touched her own breast was downright perverse. "Don't you miss it?"
Each time Rachel had appeared, she would come to a realisation. When Eve had cheated on her, Rachel showed her it had been inevitable. Would she have escaped yesterday, without Rachel spurring her on?
The blonde tilted her head, the cocky grin fading from her lips. "What, not interested?"
And now... If she couldn't remember what had happened to Keiko...
"What did she do?" Aoi asked abruptly.
Rachel blinked back. "Who now?"
"Keiko." Aoi advanced on her double, who seemed to shrink back ever so slightly. "What did she say, what did she do to set me—no, us—off?"
"Don't you know?" The grin returned, although it seemed oddly forced.
"No. And I should." She seized her dopple's shoulders, and their green eyes met. "I remember everything you've done, but this time I blacked out."
"That can only mean...". Rachel's words echoed her own thoughts.
"It wasn't me." A wave of emotion crashed over her, and she felt as if she would drown. Relief, to be absolved of this crime, at least to herself. Remorse, for Keiko whose death had become a weapon against her. Bitterness, that she didn't realize sooner what had happened. And anger that someone would—could—have made taken a vile act.
"You didn't black out. You passed out." Rachel's voice seemed fainter, somehow.
"Someone else killed Keiko, and set me up."
"Someone who wanted to destroy you and Eve."
"Someone who wanted me alive and vulnerable."
"Someone was there, ready for me."
"She knew you had slept around."
"Who else was there?"
"Who told her?"
The door popped open. "Boy oh boy," Theresa exclaimed, beaming at Aoi, "You would not believe the morning I've had."
Aoi could only stare at Theresa. A million thoughts raced through her mind at once. Had she been framed? Was it Theresa who had killed Keiko? How? Why? What could she stand to gain from it?
She shook her head, trying to bring her thoughts to order. Keiko wasn't the target; no, they were posed to be found by someone else—almost certainly Eve. Theresa had seemed genuinely surprised that Eve had attacked her, so she had probably been expecting a less severe reaction. But what?
Theresa examined Aoi as she strolled into the room, designer bags in hand. She eyed the other woman up and down, smiling appreciatively at the effect the oversized blouse had draped over her slim form. "Did you miss me?" She asked out of the blue.
Aoi blinked, starting in surprise. What did she say? Could Theresa suspect she suspected... No, no, too early to second guess herself. Catching Theresa's smile, she stammered out a simple "Uh, yeah... I-I did."
In one motion, Theresa dumped the bags and booted the door closed. "Is that what's got you so worked up?"
Play it cool. You don't have anything yet.
Aoi nodded slowly. "Some of it. Just been thinking about what happened."
"Aaaw..." Theresa sighed and strode forwards, wrapping Aoi up in a generous hug. "You must be torn up."
Aoi reached around, gently wrapping her arms around Theresa. An image of Keiko's face sprang to mind, gaping and glassy-eyed. Was the one holding her really capable of that? The thought of touching Theresa suddenly revolted her, and she cautiously pulled back.
"You're okay," Theresa stated as the two parted. "And you're cute when you're worked up." She startled Aoi with a throaty chuckle. "Not to mention, that is the perfect morning after outfit. Way to justify my fashion sense."
Aoi glanced down at the blouse, then caught Theresa's leer. Of course, she was naked save for it... She backed off, trying to drag the blouse down to cover herself more. "It was all I could think of to... Sorry..."
Theresa's hungry stare stole the words from her mouth. "Don't be. I for one think a little enticement is better than full-frontal assault." She took a slow step forwards, closing on her prey.
Aoi shook her head, her expression suddenly stern. "Not now."
Theresa stopped dead in her tracks. She cast a long, lingering gaze over Aoi, then gave a simple shrug. "Fair enough." Aoi let out a sigh of relief, which prompted a giggle from Theresa who added "But you are cute."
Safe, for now. She had bought herself some time to think, at least. Theresa could answer all her fears, if only there was some way to make her admit it... Only she had no idea where to begin. Best to stall for time.
Aoi indicated to the bags settled by the door. "May I?" she asked.
"Hmm? Sure." Theresa parked herself on one of the bar stools and lit up a cigarette. "I just got some straightforward street wear. Good, rugged stuff."
"Thanks for these..." An idea popped into her head. "You've been so good to me."
"Shouldn't I?" Theresa asked nonchalantly.
Aoi forced a smirk. "It's not that. It's just that well; we'd only met once before. And yet now you're putting me up and buying me clothes..." She glanced down at the bags. "You just don't seem the type to go all out like this for someone else."
"Well duh," Theresa responded simply. "You saved my bacon. I couldn't stop thinking about it."
"You wanted to repay me?" Aoi's brow furrowed in puzzlement. How did ruining her life repay her?
"Sort of. I figured out why you did it." She gave a knowing smile that only confused Aoi further.
"Do I need a reason to help people?"
Theresa laughed out loud. "No, no! That's her talking. But you recognized me. You saw yourself, didn't you?"
A chill ran down her spine. It was true. Between her cocky attitude, her reckless assault on the gangers and her casual, almost wanton killing, Aoi had seen a reflection of herself in their first encounter. But if Theresa had known that before this morning, she must have known...
Theresa slid off the stool and sashayed towards Aoi. "It's alright. It took a while, but I understood. You saved me because I was like you. And if I was like you..."
It started to add up. The game avatar had been no coincidence. She had done it to provoke a reaction, to test if Aoi still had Rachel's feelings. And that hungry smile she saw when she had returned to her own body... Theresa must have been ecstatic, finally confirming her suspicions. That was why she had been so forceful later that evening. Had all this been to find Rachel?
Theresa draped her arms over Aoi's shoulders, wrapping them gently across her back. She leaned forwards, drawing ever closer to Aoi who now trembled in her grasp. Their bodies pressed together once more, Aoi took a hesitant step back, only to have Theresa lean in closer. With a hot and heavy breath, she whispered in Aoi's ear...
"I could save you."
Fear gripped her. Aoi surged forwards, suddenly shoving Theresa back. The taller woman lashed out on instinct, sending a stinging slap across Aoi's cheek. She lunged in once more, arms outstretched. Aoi turned inside her reach, intercepting her with a forceful shoulder block. Nonetheless Theresa wrapped her arms around Aoi even as she stumbled, and the two fell in a tangled lock of limbs.
Aoi rolled with the fall, landing them both side on. She glanced over at Theresa and gasped in shock. The other woman's eyes were ablaze with an intensity she had never seen before. Her mouth twisted into a wide, hungry grin that threatened to devour her. In her brief moment of stunned horror, Theresa lunged. She rolled on top of the smaller woman, straddling her and seizing her wrists.
As Aoi struggled, Theresa lunged forwards, locking their lips together. Aoi’s yelp of panic was muffled by the contact, and she squirmed under Theresa's weight, trying to wriggle free. One of Theresa's hands worked its way between them, groping roughly at Aoi's small breasts through the blouse. With one hand freed, Aoi reached around behind Theresa, seizing her hair and pulling up. Their mouths parted with agonizing slowness, and Theresa arched her back to look down at Aoi.
"Keep fighting!" she called out with manic glee. Aoi released her grip and grabbed for Theresa's free arm, locking them in a brief stalemate. "That's how I'll find Rachel again!"
Aoi heaved to her side, rolling and yanking at Theresa, tumbling them both over. In the confusion she slipped from Theresa's grip and sprang across the room, landing in a crouch. Theresa was already up, watching her with a perplexed gaze.
"Why?" Theresa asked softly. "Why won't you let me save you?"
Aoi glanced to her side. Her cane and pistol were across the room by the window, equidistant from both of them. And although Theresa was yet to draw, she was still armed. She could easily gun Aoi down before she reached her weapons.
"Save me?" Aoi asked. She tried to find a way out, as Theresa was between her and the door. She needed to make the other woman move first.
"Oh yes. To save you from being you."
Does she even realise what she's saying? "No. I don't want to go back-"
"She doesn't want you to go back." Theresa's face lit up as she was enlightened. "She still has a hold on you."
"What? No! This is my choice now, Theresa."
Theresa leaned over, wagging a finger at Aoi. "But don't you worry. I'll take her away, then you'll be free." The manic gleam in her eyes matched her twisted grin perfectly.
Aoi gaped at her. She's crazy, not even listening. She must be talking about Eve. And by 'take her away,' she must mean... No. It made no sense; then again, none of this does. She must really think killing Eve would make me become Rachel again.
I have to stop her.
Aoi leapt to her right, lunging for the cane. Theresa had sprung as well, and swiftly kicked it out if reach. Aoi bounded up from her landing, driving her knee at Theresa's face. The other deflected her strike and shoved at Aoi with a forearm blow that staggered her back.
"You'll thank me," Theresa said as she turned. She vaulted off the window sill, sliding under the open window and landing with a thud on the fire escape outside. Aoi scooped up her pistol and drew a bead, but Theresa was already bounding up the stairs three at a time to make her escape.
Up? Aoi didn't have time to question it. She slipped through the window out into the cooling breeze. Above her she could see Theresa's form between the metal slats, almost lost against the dark, rolling clouds above. As she started up after her quarry, she desperately wished she'd had time to get dressed.
Aoi pulled herself up onto the roof of the sub-building on Theresa's apartment block. There, just below and ahead of her was Theresa, casually strolling up to the building's edge. Hopefully I can stop this here and now... She drew a bead with her pistol and shouted out "Freeze!"
Theresa literally sprang into action. Aoi's finger tightened on the trigger, but froze. Her target had bounded up to the next roof and flipped herself over the ledge with one hand. All while I hesitated.
Aoi broke into a run. She hopped from the small rooftop onto a large AC block, and leapt from there to the next roof across. Theresa was well ahead of her, and as she closed, she saw her spring up then haul herself over a wire fence. She cursed her stupidity, having nowhere to stow her pistol. Seeing Theresa vanish around a corner, she sprang up at a wide pipe by the fence, kicked off it, and vaulted over the top of the fence. She landed in a roll and came up in a run, tearing around the corner to her left. A flash of Theresa's coat tails dropped out of sight ahead, and without thinking she ran up and jumped after her.
Aoi landed on the ledge below, but was immediately blindsided by a hard blow to her back. Off-balance from the landing, she fell forwards over the edge of the roof. With a desperate scramble she managed to catch the ledge with her free hand. Looking up, she could already see Theresa sprinting away from her. As she strained to pull herself up, Aoi heard Theresa call back "Can't have you catching me!"
By the time she was on her feet, Theresa had already leapt from the ledge and was running along a boxy ventilation duct on the side of the opposite building. Aoi leapt after her, landing unsteadily on the aluminum platform and steadied herself against the wall if the towering office complex. She started ahead, Theresa in clear view directly in front of her. It was the perfect shot, and she could end it right here. As she ran, she drew a bead on her quarry – and hesitated.
Why? Why couldn't she shoot? They had been so close, her and Theresa. Memories of the last few, mad days assaulted her. Laughing with her. Setting up for the ambush. The three of them, together, working in perfect unison. That night spent in her arms...
Keiko. Dead, agape, abused. It had all been an act for Theresa, to reach that goal. No, maybe the affection had been genuine, but not for her. For her other, hated self. Theresa had killed for her already, and would still-
Eve, lying cold and still. No. She couldn't let that happen. She fired.
The pistol in her hand roared, sending hypervelocity rounds tearing at her lover. Theresa cried out, her coat torn and a fine spray of blood flicking from her shoulder. Aoi called out for her to halt, pounding along the pipe all the while. Ahead of her, Theresa drew her own weapon and fired on the window before her. Even as Aoi shot, she kicked in the shattered glass and bounded into the office beyond.
Aoi tore ahead and bounded in through the same shattered window. Inside was chaos. She sprinted through a private office and leapt over its broken glass door out into an open, two level atrium. Workers scattered ahead of her, fleeing Theresa as she charged through the office. She fired blindly back over her shoulder, yelling out "Naked chick coming through!" to all around. Aoi flung herself behind a pillar as the firing continued, and popped out as soon as it ceased. Across the way, she could see Theresa ducking into an elevator. Aoi broke into a running, firing ahead of her, but she only managed to hit the swiftly closing doors. She saw Theresa's hand wave goodbye between them, before the Elevator started its way skywards.
Aoi cursed her luck. She reached the bank of elevators and hammered the call button. Hopefully, she would not be too far behind.
As the doors opened, Aoi cautiously peered out of the elevator. The chamber in front of her seemed empty, but the various scattered tools and bags of cement would provide plenty of opportunities for an ambush. Seeing no sign of life, she carefully stepped out of the elevator. Either this top floor was still under construction or it was being freshly renovated, as the walls and supports were laid bare.
A loud scrape made her turn, pistol raised. A solitary construction cyberdroid worked on one of the upper tiers, carefully ignoring her. The door beside it was open, and she could see stairs leading upwards beyond. She ran and leapt, pulling herself up alongside the worker, and quickly made her way up the stairs.
They ended on the roof, with a simple door opening out to the platform beyond. She felt herself closer to the rolling clouds above, as the ever increasing wind picked at the edges of her blouse. She spied Theresa across the roof, standing by the edge and delicately inhaling something off the back of her hand.
"Freeze!" Aoi shouted as she stepped out, pistol raised. Theresa looked up, snapping her pillbox shut and quickly stashing it in her coat. Aoi slowly advanced, keeping the gun trained on her. "Nowhere left to run."
"Oh, I've got an out," Theresa replied, pausing for a loud sniff. She flashed Aoi a daring grin and added "Just had to get ready." With that, she turned and jumped off the edge.
Aoi bolted up to look over. Beneath her, a massive sloped section of the roof lead to a spinner pad half-way up the building. Theresa was already well ahead, sliding down the roof with an enthusiastic holler. Cursing her stupidity, Aoi tucked the pistol into her blouse and pulled its back down as far as it could go. With what little protection she could muster, she dropped forwards, sliding down the roof with ever increasing speed.
The friction burned. Even through the sturdy fabric, the pain built up on her back. She angled herself to the left, towards the spinner pad and away from the sheer drop on the roof's edge. Ahead of her she saw Theresa come tumbling off her slide, ending in an awkward stagger and finally a dignified halt. As Aoi approached, she saw Theresa casually stroll up to a parked spinner and fire through its open door. Still mid-slide, Aoi drew her own gun and fired down wildly at Theresa. She ducked, letting the spinner slam its door and lift into the air. Theresa reached up and casually caught the edge of its body, looking for all the world as if she was going to hold it still on the ground. Nonetheless it gained altitude, Theresa trailing beneath it.
Aoi leapt. Still sliding, she hammered her feet down, halting her and sending her tipping and spilling wildly through the air. The spinner rushed at her and she threw out her spare hand, catching its front and all but wrapping herself around its hood. “Wow!” Theresa exclaimed from underneath, her admiration genuine even as she opened fire. Rounds scraped off the side of the spinner which lurched with the pilot’s panic as it started out over the city. Aoi pulled herself up and rolled onto the hood, out of Theresa’s line of fire. She held desperately onto the front of the spinner as it dipped, and spied Theresa hauling herself up out of the corner of her eye. Even as Theresa fired again, she rolled to the side, dropping off the hood and clutching onto the fender for dear life. The rounds instead puncture the vehicle’s front, causing it to suddenly drop.
“Whoops,” Theresa said, although her manic tone left little room for genuine resentment. She glanced down and casually dropped from the spinner’s side, tumbling onto the roof of a shopping centre and dropping out of sight amongst its ducts. Aoi glanced down then leapt, catching a hold of the back of a billboard and lowering herself from there. She looked up to find the spinner limping off, and hoped that it could at least make a safe landing. A noise to her left alerted her to Theresa ducking out from behind a water tank and making for the roof’s edge. Aoi wasted no time in starting off after her.
They leapt across to the next roof, one well after the other. Theresa ducked and wove through a network of pipes, while Aoi hopped and hauled herself up onto a long ventilation block. She fired down on Theresa as she ran along it, hypervelocity rounds tearing through the nightmare of pipes, spraying water and steam across the rooftop. For all the damage, Theresa seemed well ahead of her aim, and she only succeeded in obscuring her view. She paused briefly at the end of the block, looking out for her foe. Shots rang out from below her and she instinctively ducked, flattening herself against the block. Glancing up, she saw Theresa dashing out ahead of her, haphazardly firing over her shoulder. Aoi sprang up, but Theresa was already at the edge, bounding up a crate, leaping off the ledge and sailing out into open space.
Aoi gaped in surprise. She leapt down and ran up to the edge, peering over. Across the street stood an office block, its outside hidden by a lattice of scaffolding. Further down, a platform rose slowly on steel cables. She could see Theresa standing on it, pistol drawn on a terrified workman. "This is crazy," she muttered and backed up a few steps before launching into a run. Just as Theresa did, she stepped up the crate and launched herself off the ledge, out over the open street. The air roared past her as she sailed out, across and inevitably down; the blouse billowed up and flapped about her hips; and the platform rushed up at her. She caught its steel fence with one hand, her body crashing against it, driving the breath from her.
Theresa gaped in surprise as Aoi hauled herself over the railing, both from the audacity of her stunt and the generous view provided as she flipped forwards to land on the platform. She raised her pistol even as Aoi raised her own, and rushed in at her foe. "What were you thinking?" Theresa chided, knocking Aoi's pistol aside and bringing her own to bear. "You could have been killed!"
"Me?" Aoi twisted aside as Theresa fired, the round puncturing the corrugated metal floor. She brought her own gun around only to have Theresa catch her arm, but ducked under her reach and rolled to a stand, back to back with her. "You're trying to shoot me!"
Theresa hooked her free arm around Aoi's and hauled forwards, lifting them both off the ground. "Only a little!" she called out as she heaved. Aoi shifted forwards, unbalancing Theresa and almost pitching her forwards, giving her the chance to break the hold and roll from her back. She swung her pistol around to draw on Theresa, but her foe had already dropped to the floor and quickly swept Aoi's legs out from underneath her.
"I just want you to stop chasing me!" Theresa rolled back, regaining her feet as Aoi awkwardly picked herself up. She spied the workman crouching next to her, and lashed out with a sudden side kick. He was sent sprawling, slipping between the rails, and desperately scrambled to catch a hold of them. Theresa stepped aside as Aoi dove across the platform to catch the man, leaving her lying prone, hanging half over the edge. Unseen, Theresa waved a quick goodbye and delicately stepped off onto the scaffolding.
Aoi took precious seconds to haul the man back onto the platform, then turned back to look for Theresa. She had already climbed the outside of the scaffolding and disappeared onto the roof above. Aoi turned and hopped up the side of the platform, using the steel rungs to propel her upwards until she reached the roof’s edge. She hauled herself up and over, and took stock of the terrain before her.
A massive crane dominated the rooftop, its enormous arm stretching out well into the empty space beyond. It was surrounded by a mesh fence; topped with barbed wire, save for one side that was open to the edge. Across from that was a demountable block serving as an office for the construction. She saw Theresa duck into the supports beneath the crane. She couldn’t get a clear shot from here, but likewise Theresa was trapped, unless she dropped back off the edge of the roof. Confident she could at last stop her foe, Aoi scrambled up the side of the demountable and launched herself over the barbed wire, landing by the control cabin of the crane.
Theresa was just to her side, still half way up a service ladder. Aoi swung a low kick at her; although Theresa blocked, she still reeled from the impact and swayed out to the side. Aoi hopped past the ladder and lashed back at her, but this time Theresa swung in and propelled herself up onto the catwalk with Aoi.
“Having fun?” Theresa asked, striking out with a straight punch. Aoi ducked in and closed, pummelling her chest with a rapid trio of backhands. As Theresa staggered back, she followed up with a high kick. Recovering fast, Theresa surged back from the strike, then batted Aoi’s leg into the side of the crane, crashing it against the hard metal structure. Aoi yelped in pain and staggered, trying to regain her balance. Theresa pressed her advantage, leaping forwards and ramming a knee into Aoi’s chest. As Aoi stumbled from the blow, Theresa landed and struck low, kicking at her injured leg. Aoi tumbled down, tipping over the steel railing and falling hard to the roof.
Theresa flashed Aoi a quick salute. “Gotta fly,” she said. “But don’t worry your pretty little head. This’ll all be over soon.” As Aoi pulled herself up, Theresa clambered up onto the crane’s massive arm. She watched in horror as Theresa turned and sprinted out, over the edge of the roof, over the street far below, out to the very end of the crane’s arm and leapt into nothingness.
She soared out into empty sky, sailing beyond reach. The long frock coat billowed up around and behind her as she plunged through the air. Her hair trailed up, revealing the broad grin and eager gleam on her eyes. Aoi watched in horror as she dropped through the air, simultaneously frightened for her and relieved that the chase was over. Her eyes dropped as she followed Theresa down – to plunge into a rooftop swimming pool, seemingly half way across the city.
Time seemed to stop. Long seconds dragged by before Theresa surface, well beyond reach. Aoi could barely make her out, but could see her retreating indoors from there. Had she... Had she planned this whole route? It seemed impossible that this course had happened by accident, and yet equally as unlikely that she would have made such an outrageous jump purely by chance. Still... This was Theresa, after all.
Aoi turned, limping slightly, and looked for a way down. Theresa would be on her way to Eve from here, and Aoi had to take action. She had to warn her, had to get there and stop her. She glanced up at the blackened sky and shivered. But first, she had to put some clothes on.
Ruby red lips parted as the mobile phone rang, breathing out in a husky voice "Put her on speaker." A faint squeak of panic accompanied it, as the blade that prompted such drew a tiny bead of blood.
Kami gently laid her mobile on the table before her and keyed it on. A familiar voice emerged, rushed and panicked. "Eve?" it asked.
"Who am I speaking to?" came the calm reply. Seemingly ignoring the phone, Kami watched the person opposite her intently. She was met with a finger raised to said lips.
"Eve, it's Aoi! Really!"
Kami gave a faint nod. "You sound like her. Why are you-"
"It's Theresa, she framed me, I swear it." Kami's brows rose slightly in query, but she received no reply. "She knocked me out—somehow, I don't know. Then she must have posed us like that for you to find us."
"You and Keiko?" Kami's gaze narrowed.
"She knows about Rachel. She said she wanted to 'find' her, whatever that means." There was a growl of frustration on the other end. "She wanted us both to think I'd turned."
"How did she know all this?" Kami asked.
"I don't know at all. Eve, she's dangerous. She knows I've found her out, so she's coming for you."
"Why here?" Kami asked, her voice as cool as ever despite the obvious threat.
"She mad. She thinks you're controlling me."
"I see." Kami paused to look over her guest once more. "I'll handle her."
"Eve, I -" Although Aoi stopped abruptly, the phone still relayed the sounds of traffic around her. Whatever she was going to say, she hesitated.
"I'll handle her. Then we'll talk." She reached out slowly and switched the phone off.
"Well performed," Theresa said. "If I had another hand free, I'd applaud." For emphasis she tightened her grip on April, repositioning Mine as it sat against her throat. April gave a gasp of panic, to which Theresa chuckled. "Now now, you don't want to make Auntie nervous."
"Let her go," Kami demanded. "April has nothing to do with this."
"Keiko had nothing to do with this either. Hmm, no actually, I lie. Keiko was another of your projects, so she was in the way."
"My projects? I don't know what you mean," Kami said, although neither her voice nor face betrayed any confusion.
"Another one for you to mould to your desires, like you did to my Rachel. Tell me," she began, turning her attention to April, cradled in her arms, "Did you actually have a personality before Kamilyn here made you her minion?"
"You're insane," Kami growled.
"And Superman will stop me," she stated, matter-of-factly. "Or she might, if you can stall me long enough for her to get here."
"You have all the cards," Kami said, backing away slightly.
"Yes, but that doesn't get me what I want. See, I want you dead. I want Rachel to know you're dead, to know that she doesn't need to please you any more. Then she'll be her old self again."
Kami shook her head. "You're wrong. She loves me."
"Ahah, but you don't love her, do you?" Theresa turned her attention back to April. "You were there weren't you, B1? You saw just how fast Silverlyn here turned on 'her' Aoi, hmm?"
Before April could reply, Kami interjected "She made me promise-"
"And you were too happy to oblige." Theresa's grin broadened as Kami frowned. I'm getting to her, oooh yes. "Didn't hesitate, did you?" Kami's frown deepened, but she didn't reply.
"See, that's her main squeeze she tried to axe. Right in this room, too. You," And she gave April a squeeze for emphasis, "Are the also-ran. The backup. You're the one she gave up for her petite killer. In fact, I'll bet the only reason she hasn't attacked and let me stick you yet is that she's hoping the girl of the hour will show up.
"So here's the plan." Theresa turned her attention back to Kami. "We convince this girl that she's worthless to you before I get bored and perform an amateur tracheotomy and I'll let her go and kill you instead."
"What?" April finally squawked out.
"She knows." Although she addressed April, her eyes were locked on Kami. "You've seen her real feelings, or rather the lack thereof. Would someone capable of love be able to kill so casually in front of you?" April's wide-eyed gasp confirmed the truth of Theresa's statement.
"April... I do that to protect you. When you were threatened, in the Zone..."
"Protect your body, not your heart. Am I right?"
"Silver, please..." April seemed on the verge of tears.
"What was she like? Casual, very matter-of-fact about snuffing someone out?" It was an educated guess, having seen how Eve fought. "Did you cheer for her... Or were you afraid?"
Seconds ticked by as April sobbed, finally whispering out "Afraid."
"I've always done what I had to," Kami replied, the faintest hint of a waver in her voice. "But I would never hurt you."
"Because she's not a threat, right?" Theresa took Kami's silence as confirmation. "But the moment you turn on her... Well, look how Aoi was treated."
"April, don't listen..." Kami pleaded.
"Now is that love?"
April let out a loud, shuddering sob. "No..." Was all she could say. She turned her head, suddenly unable to even look at Kami.
"And me? I want to use you, to hurt you, and even that means you're more important to me than her." Her free hand cradled April's chin, and turned her back to look at Kami. "So then what does that make you, to her?"
April's answer was a long wail of despair. Across from her, Kami quivered with rage. Fists clenched and unclenched as she snarled at Theresa, impotent in her mounting fury. "I will kill you," she snarled, her ordinarily soft, calm voice now parched and ragged.
"Try me." Theresa turned, releasing April and shoving her aside with her free hand. Kami sprang into action, rounding the table with a single bound and closing on Theresa, her face distorted into an angry snarl. Theresa sprung back, her hand flicking up and propelling Mine at Kami. The knife stabbed into her upper arm, piercing flesh and jutting out like an off-skew handle. If she felt the pain, Kami ignored it, completing her charge with a hard cross that caught Theresa on the jaw, staggering her back against the kitchen counter.
"That's the spirit!" Theresa cried out. She raised her arms in a boxer's guard to fend off Kami's following strikes then threw them open to clear the path for a sudden head butt. Theresa herself reeled back at the impact, somehow noting through the pain that Kami's skull was reinforced as well.
"You're dead!" Kami screamed with uncharacteristic fury. She wrapped her hands around Theresa's throat and squeezed hard. Theresa rolled back over the counter, seizing it with both hands and kicking up with her knees, propelling her foe into the cramped kitchenette. She crashed into the raised cupboards and fell unceremoniously to the floor.
Theresa paused briefly to wipe her sweaty forehead; her hand came away stained red. Ignoring it for the moment, she rounded the counter to see Kami picking herself up off the floor. "I always wondered if you had any real emotions in there," she said as she stomped hard on the blonde's back. A second drove her to the floor once more, but Kami caught her foot at the third and pulled hard. Theresa slipped off her feet, grasping the counter to remain barely upright.
She lashed out at Kami with her free foot, striking her injured arm. She cried out in pain and released the hold. "Glad to hear it," Theresa purred. Each righted themselves, and immediately turned to the other; Kami with a spinning backhand that Theresa had to back away from. "I always wondered-" Theresa interrupted herself to fend off a follow-up blow, backing out of the kitchenette, "Just why it is you're so royally screwed up." She ducked a hook and rounded the corner, catching a hold of the railing for the stairs. "An emotionally stunted control freak."
"Like you can talk!" Kami hissed through clenched teeth. She turned to Theresa with a spinning side kick. Her foe pulled up on the railing, leaping over her strike and landing in the stairs above. Undeterred, she rounded the base of the stairs in hot pursuit.
"Trouble at home?" Kami's snarl was all the answer she needed. "What's the matter?" She stepped backwards up the stairs, kicking out at Kami's head. The blonde caught her incoming foot and pulled back, but Theresa held fast to the railing. Kami turned away, wrenching at Theresa's leg. Rather than resist, she leapt with it, rolling over the railing and out of her grasp, landing to balance precariously on the staircase's edge, her back to her opponent.
"Did mummy forget you were there?" Without looking, she blocked wild swings to her right and left. She ducked the third then sprung up, launching herself to the balcony railing. She caught it with one hand and hauled herself over, coming down on the landing that overlooked the apartment. "Or didn't daddy fuck you enough?"
Kami gave a roar of anger as she barreled up the stairs. She swung around the corner onto the landing with a fierce kick aimed at Theresa's head. She blocked with both arms but still recoiled from the force of the blow. Cackling with glee, she ducked a second lethal kick and moved, surging inside Kami's guard and past her. Kami turned with her as Theresa rolled past her, seizing her arm and extracting the knife with a twist and a pull. Kami yelped in pain and clutched her injured arms, blood welling between her fingers.
"Mine," Theresa said with a malicious grin and gave the blade a quick lick. She lunged at Kami who recoiled back, barely avoiding the blade. "Y'know, I've been trying to figure how to beat you,” Theresa began, even as she swiped Mine at her foe. "I'd say we're about matched for speed; my artificial muscles make me stronger, even with your upgrade; but you're really hard to stab."
Kami stepped into a high swing and seized Theresa's arm with both hands. Theresa grabbed Kami's wrist in response, leaving the pair locked for long moments. Grinning, Theresa continued her rant despite the struggle. "Reinforced bones and skull; vital sheathing; I've got no chance of puncturing a good organ."
Kami moved first, stepping back to pull Theresa off her feet and lashing out with a thrust kick straight to her gut. The impact sent Theresa sprawling, although she somehow retained a grip in her knife. Kami followed up, driving her combat boot into Theresa's abdomen as she sprawled on the floor. Looking up, Theresa caught the twisted snarl of pure rage that distorted Kami's beautiful face. Perfect. She rolled out of the way of a second kick, and leapt to her feet, springing past Theresa and placing them back to back.
"But you can bleed," Theresa said over her shoulder. Both spun, Theresa slashing up in a long arc to split her opponent from waist to neck. Kami barely sidestepped and caught her hand as it rose—then gasped in shock to find it empty.
Mine plunged deep into her thigh. Theresa withdrew her offhand, the blood-slicked blade in her grasp. Already the wound bled; thick, deep red arterial blood flowing forth. Kami staggered, visibly weakened already, and collapsed to her knees. She clutched her punctured leg with both hands, trying desperately to staunch the flow.
"Oh yes, can you bleed." Theresa casually stepped back as Kami struggled to keep pressure on the wound while fumbling for an impromptu bandage. She casually opened the bedroom door ahead if them and wandered inside, talking all the while.
"But you know, it's just not enough to kill you. When I first met you, I knew just how stupidly vain you must be. All you've done so you could have your own pets to lavish endless attention on you..." She leaned back out through the doorway to check up. Kami hadn't moved save to back against the railing, blood smearing along the floor to highlight her path. Her ashen face told Theresa that she was fading fast. "So I thought, 'what better way to hurt her than take away her pretty face?' Ah!"
The object of Theresa's search became apparent as she dragged a free-standing mirror into the doorway. Kami could see her terrified expression in the reflection, but was powerless to stop Theresa's advance. "I even had something special made for the occasion." She followed Kami's gaze to the knife in her belt. "This? Oh no, this one's Mine."
A second knife flicked out from her back. Theresa brought its thick blade against her jaw, the serrated edge already digging into Kami's cheek. She grasped the blonde's head in the other hand and turned her once more to look into the mirror.
"This one's Yours." With a cackle of delight, she ripped the blade straight up through her cheek. Kami's scream pierced the room, screeching out her pain and anguish. She collapsed to her side, clutching her ruined face, wailing in horror throughout. Theresa smiled at her handiwork and waved an unseen goodbye. She stepped slowly and purposefully downstairs, but paused a second to draw her antique pistol and carefully lay it at the base of the stairs.
It had been good for her too. She drew a cigarette and lit it, regulations be damned. Taking a puff, she casually sauntered out of the apartment as Kami's screams faded to erratic sobbing, then silence.
With so much running through her head, Aoi barely remembered the details of her mad dash to her home. Back to Theresa's, collecting her phone and weapons, getting dressed and finally tearing over here as fast as she could. She watched the floor counter on the elevator tick up with painful slowness, wishing it would deliver her faster to where she was needed most. Finally the elevator halted with a soft 'ping,' and as the doors slid open, she prayed that she was in time.
Theresa stood before her, lit cigarette dangling from her hand. She looked a mess—hair matted and scraggly, clothes still half-damp and clinging, blood smeared across her forehead from a fresh gash. Despite her dash, Aoi knew she must be pristine in comparison. The black jeans and grey tank top Theresa had brought were fresh off the rack, and she'd made sure to pin her hair back out of the way.
Aoi drew her pistol with lightning speed, holding a bead on Theresa. The other woman just inclined her head slightly to the door and said "You'll want to see her first." Aoi glanced from her to the doorway, and was met with an oddly reassuring nod. She cautiously stepped past Theresa and into the apartment. Behind her, Theresa stepped into the elevator and said "I'll see you on the roof," as the doors closed.
Looking about, Aoi stepped into the apartment. All was oddly still. A glance to her side showed that the kitchenette was a mess, but it was otherwise undisturbed. Not a sign of life was to be seen. She stepped carefully out into the main room, pistol still at the ready, cane tucked into her belt.
A droplet landed on her cheek from above. She curiously dabbed at it with her finger which came away red. With a gasp of realization, she turned and started up the stairs to the loft. A soft click from behind halted her dead in her tracks.
"Don't go near her." The voice was soft and wavering, but unmistakably April's. Aoi slowly raised her hands and turned to glance over her shoulder. The girl's face was streaked with tears, her eyes red from crying. But the pistol in her hands was cocked and steadily pointed straight at Aoi's back.
"Shut up!" The girl's screech cut through the apartment. "This is all because of you! You brought her in, and she killed Keiko, and she hurt Silver because of you! It's all your fault! You..." She trailed off into a loud sob, before continuing. "You've taken everything from me, piece by piece! I hate you!" Her ranting died at its apex, her screaming wearing her throat dry. Aoi could make out her face, twisted in hatred and dismay.
What could she do? What could she say? There was a ring of truth in her words, but she certainly hadn't intended to hurt her friends. She knew Theresa was dangerous, but she couldn't have predicted...
Surely, she couldn't have been expected to know...
Her employer's words came back to her. 'Just tell the truth,' Shion had said. For so long, it seemed she had done anything but.
"You're right." The sudden admission brought a gasp of surprise from April. "I am responsible for all this." The confession felt good, almost cleansing. "I brought Theresa into your life, and I knew she was dangerous." Seeing the uncertainty creeping into April's face, she slowly turned back towards the girl. "But I did it because she needed us. April, Eve and I were a lot like Theresa once. And just as surely as you saved Eve and she saved me, I thought I could save Theresa.
"But I loved her." Her conflicted feelings seemed so clear now. She could finally disentangle her emotions, bring them to the fore and speak them out loud. She had been so afraid of them before. "And I let that blind me to her obsession."
Aoi shook her head and slowly, gently took a step towards April. "I can't change what's been done, but I can fix things from here on. So please, April..." She slowly lowered her hands, reaching out one softly to the pistol in April's hands. "Let me save Eve."
The blonde girl shut her eyes and nodded with painful slowness. She relaxed her grip on the gun, and let Aoi gently take it from her unresisting fingers. By the time her eyes had opened, Aoi was already bounding up the stairs to the landing. She called back down to April "Get the medikit."
Eve was a mess. Her camouflage jumpsuit was cut and punctured, with one leg stained a deep crimson. She lay on her side with her back to Aoi and her face in a slowly spreading pool of blood. Aoi rushed to her side and knelt, gently holding her shoulder and calling her name.
"Aoi?" The reply came as little more than a breath, only barely audible. Her eyes remained closed, and aside drone the slightest movement of her mouth, she remained deathly still.
"It's me. Just hang in there." Aoi did her best to keep her voice still as she thumbed an emergency line on her phone. "Help is on its way. You'll be alright, I promise."
"She was right," came the faint whisper.
"Don't talk now. Save your strength."
"No..." Eve paused, shaking her head ever so slightly. "She was right. I didn't really... Feel. I was just going through the motions."
"I still loved you, though," Aoi replied earnestly. "And... I guess I knew you couldn't feel the same. But I was content." Not happy, just content.
"Then she came."
Aoi nodded. "In her sick way, her feelings are real. That's... That's why I let this happen." Tears began to flow down her cheeks, dropping onto Eve's prone form. "I'm so sorry!" Aoi finished with a shuddering sob.
Eve raised her hand ever so slowly. Aoi grasped it in both of hers, trying to return some warmth to her lover. "Aoi... Take care of her. Then go, and be truly happy."
Aoi heard footsteps on the stairs behind her. "I will, I promise." she stood from Eve and turned, gently stepping towards April.
"Is she..." Was all the girl could manage.
"Alive," Aoi said. "But barely. I need you to take care of her. Can you... For me?"
"For you?" April asked.
Aoi nodded solemnly. "She'll need someone to look after her for a while. And I..." She paused, and fought the temptation to look back to Eve. She would remember the woman, her first love, bright and happy, not hurt as she was. "I won't be coming back."
Theresa thought of Rachel. She stood on the rooftop, cradling a cigarette at her lips against the growing wind, and watched as a DocWagon spinner took off into the rolling black sky. No prizes for guessing who was being picked up today. Real Doll might just live after all. Didn't matter, as the damage was done. And she should be seeing the effects right about...
The door opened, framing the dark-haired girl as she strode out onto the rooftop. Her jacket whipped around wildly in the wind, but she held her arms straight to the side, hands clenched on the familiar cane. Her expression was carefully neutral, unreadable. Theresa couldn't recognize quite who she was.
"Just who am I speaking to?" She asked casually.
"You drugged me," came the only response.
Theresa sighed. Details, details. "Sure. In the tomato juice." She shrugged nonchalantly and continued. "You have your habits too, after all."
Theresa's grin broadened at the recollection. "Oh, all that was genuine. You should have seen her thrash around." Theresa nodded to herself in satisfaction. "Good times."
Theresa frowned. She had to realize by now. Maybe she just wanted to hear it out loud. Stroke the ego kind of thing. "For you, of course." When she remained expressionless, Theresa decided to elaborate. "I had to save you. From doubt and decency, from manners and morals, from modesty and humility and restraint. From being little miss perfect's perfect little miss. And so Rachel could be with me."
The girl remained silent, although she tilted her head in contemplation. "So who am I speaking to?" Theresa asked again.
"I don't know." She seemed more curious than anything else, her tone wistful and full of wonder. "Aoi's lost pretty much everything that matters to her, but Rachel wants to know if you'll take care of her."
"Eh? Oh, don't worry. I won't hold you down like she did." Theresa waved her hand dismissively.
"That's not what I mean." A crooked smile crept across her face. "I want to know if you'll clean up after me like she did."
"Clean up?" Theresa's brow furrowed in confusion as her smile faded. What was she going on about? If she didn't mean Evelyn, then... "Who are you talking about?" The girl across from her did the last thing Theresa expected.
Rolling waves of boisterous joy burst forth as she laughed out loud, echoing across the rooftops. She doubled up, clutching her sides and slapping her knee, all the while letting out the same joyous bellow. It seemed to be hours before she finally faded into fits and guffaws before straightening up and shaking her head in wonderment.
"You... Heh, for all that, you really don't know?"
"Know what?" The growing concern had crept into Theresa's voice. What had she missed? Why, even now, was her plan falling apart? She thought she understood everything about Rachel, Aoi, whoever. What could be so vital to have thrown her off?
"I had a sister." Thunder rolled.
Theresa froze, agape. How did she miss that? Why didn't Allman tell her? She strained to recall, but all it brought back was...
You didn't pay attention, did you?
"A doting, loving sister. We were twins, but she really acted the older of us. She always took care of me, covered for me, and fixed up all the trouble I got into." The dark-haired girl hugged herself, warmed by the memories. "I could do anything I wanted, because she would always be there to pick up afterwards. I used to go out and pick fights, just so she got dragged into them. But when I finally turned on her... Well, that's when I got burned."
She gave a contented smile as she gazed warmly into Theresa's eyes. "I became Aoi to get revenge on her. My whole life revolved around her, and hers around me. Without her..." She flicked a remarkably casual shrug. "I just couldn't be Rachel. Unless you want to do it?"
Theresa shook her head in furious denial. "No. No way. I didn't go through all this to become a glorified babysitter to some hyperactive brat. I wanted a partner! An equal, someone to wreck and ruin with. You're lying!"
She shook her head slowly. "Sorry. That's not me; it's someone you made up." She spared Theresa an enthusiastic smile, and practically purred out her proposal. "But if you want to take care of me for the rest of my life, I'm all yours."
"No way..." Theresa could only stare, dumbfounded. Problem was, it made sense. Now. Aoi had met Eve, and latched onto her. If Eve had tried to control her, then she would have just rebelled, like with her sister. But Eve had liked her as short, dark and angsty, so she suddenly became Aoi's new lifeline. Whether she'd gotten back at her sister or not didn't really matter; she had a new life and must have, at some point, made the conscious decision to change. Without this vital bit of information, this key to her whole behavior, she had read the whole situation wrong. And the result was staring her in the face.
"Forget it," Theresa spat back.
"Then I'm Aoi," the girl quietly replied. In a swift motion, she threw off her jacket and clutched the cane with both hands, holding it at her side ready to draw as she hunched down. An angry scowl etched itself on her face, and her brilliant green eyes blazed with pure fury.
The first drops of rain began to fall, pattering on the rooftop between them. Theresa knew what was coming. How could it be otherwise? And really, after having made such a mess of it, she wanted to be rid of the whole affair. And the way to that was standing right in front of her. Her hand snaked behind her back to grip Mine in its sheath.
"And I'm going to kill you for what you did to my friends."
Aoi and Theresa sprang into motion as the rain came down. Wired reflexes jolted into action, slowing down the world around them. Aoi dashed through the drops, booted feet pounding on the hard concrete rooftop as she closed with Theresa. Her foe had already pulled back into a defensive posture, one hand on her back sheathe, the other across her body in guard. Aoi strode the last few steps, and both drew.
Steel flashed and blade glanced off blade. Theresa sprang lightly back as Aoi followed through, her upwards stroke reversed and brought down, then a third across her chest. Each one kept Theresa on her back foot, each one flashing mere centimeters from drawing blood. Theresa leapt and lunged after the third, a straight stab which Aoi sidestepped. She brought her knife back around to follow her prey, but Aoi's sword caught the blow.
The two locked in place for a second, each straining against the other. Theresa suddenly dropped, leg sweeping out at Aoi's feet. She leapt over the swipe, twisting in mid-air and landed with a spinning backhand stroke, flashing down at Theresa. She rolled aside, the blade flicking through the thin layer of rainwater already formed on the roof and sending up a trail in its wake.
Theresa sprang up and in, slashing high. Aoi blocked high, but was open when Theresa suddenly dropped down, knife leading. Aoi drew her leg back, the slash only tearing through her now-soaked jeans. She brought the blade down at Theresa's back, only to have her rise within her reach, tangling her sword arm. Theresa heaved forwards, pitching them both back even as Aoi shot her knee up into the other's stomach. They fell back, separated once more.
Aoi kicked her legs up and sprang to her feet, turning to find Theresa already up and spinning on the spot. A flash of metal shot towards her which Aoi barely avoided, gritting her teeth as the blade drew a line of blood on her cheek. During the momentary distraction Theresa had advanced, and now scooped up a trail of water with a powerful roundhouse kick. Aoi desperately blocked with her forearms crossed in front of her face. Theresa continued to turn, her flapping coat hiding a glint of steel—a second knife!—until the last instant. She pitched backwards, throwing herself away from the thrust, lashing out low with her foot. She caught Theresa mid-lunge and unbalanced, leaving her stumbling and open. Aoi brought her canesword down as Theresa was regaining her footing. It bit into her collarbone, drawing a spray of blood that was quickly washed away in the driving rain. Theresa surged away from the follow-up, and hastily skipped back across the roof.
"Niiice," she said, clutching her wounded shoulder. Beneath her coat, the rain was soaking her blouse red. "That's pretty much how I finished off your precious. Of course, I got her angry first, and angry meant sloppy."
"I'm used to angry," Aoi said calmly. She returned her blade to its sheath and held them by her side, ready to draw.
Theresa gave a low whistle, and a smile began to creep back across her face. "Y'know, I just realized I might not walk away from this."
Thunder boomed overhead, the accompanying flash of lightning arcing behind Theresa, sending up blue and purple afterimages across Aoi's vision. She blinked involuntarily, trying to clear her sight. When her eyes opened, Theresa was already at her side, lunging with Mine. Aoi raised her cane and caught the knife, its point embedding in the haft. She twisted it between her hands, wrenching both weapons from their grip and sending them scattering separated across the rooftop. Theresa dropped into a legsweep as Aoi swept high, one passing clean under the other. Both spun into a side kick, each connecting with the other's abdomen, sending them both sprawling. Aoi landed in a crouch, her hand resting right by the hilt of Theresa's knife. Already on her feet, Theresa kicked up with her toes, launching the slender form of Aoi's cane into her hand in a spray of water.
Each stared at the other, through the pouring sheets of rain. Seemingly by unspoken consent, both moved at once. Theresa pitched the cane at Aoi with frightening velocity, while Aoi flicked the knife around in her hand and threw it straight at Theresa. Theresa caught the incoming weapon by its blade, raising and hurling it back in one smooth motion. In the same instant Aoi had caught her cane and drawn, catching the incoming blade with a spray of sparks and sending it hurtling away. Theresa dashed to the side, catching the knife as it arced back down. Aoi was already on the move, her blade's tip trailing behind her raising a wave in her wake as she charged. Theresa turned and leapt, artificial muscles straining to keep her ahead of the deadly upwards cut. She bounded up and across, catching hold of the ledge above the rooftop exit and hanging suspended above the battlefield.
Aoi stepped in and leapt, sword sweeping around to strike. Theresa kicked off the doorway and jumped back, arching her back to curve over Aoi's strike. She flipped in mid-air and landed in a crouch, one hand on the ground and coat spread out behind her. Aoi caught the ledge at the last minute and kicked up, swinging up and over, through a handstand to land perched just above the door. She crouched like a coiled snake and sprung once more. She came down at Theresa, sword raised above her with both hands, poised to split her in two. Just as the blade came down, Theresa stepped in, grabbed and twisted. Aoi was hurled aside, even as her sword slid down Theresa's arm, cutting clothes and flesh. She tried to tumble with the throw but landed hard, her legs folding beneath her. She let out a cry of pain as she collapsed, rolling into a heap, not even still when Theresa sprang. Grasping Mine in both hands, she bore down on Aoi's prone form. Dropping the sword, she grabbed Theresa's arms at the last second, leaving the blade suspended perilously close to her face as they struggled for control of it.
"Pretty even," Aoi grunted out as she strained against her foe.
"You," Theresa growled through gritted teeth, "Must be having the time of your life."
With a heave, Aoi hauled Theresa's hand aside, bringing it down hard on the concrete. Unbalanced, Theresa was thrown off Aoi who released her grip and sprang to her feet. By the time Theresa stood, Aoi was already airborne, spinning towards her and connecting with a powerful flying kick. Theresa stumbled back to crash against the pipes on the far side of the roof. Aoi landed and stumbled, one leg buckling and bringing a grunt of pain to her lips.
"Ah yes," Theresa purred. "Your leg, wasn't it? Guess it never fully healed." She kicked down at the pipes behind her, separating a section as long as her arm. She scooped it up out of the water and cave it a couple of swings, testing its weight. Seemingly satisfied, she retrieved Mine and raised both weapons at the ready.
Aoi shuffled back cautiously, sword held before her with both hands, putting her weight on her back leg. She watched as Theresa approached, metal pipe and knife raised. Theresa moved in a flash, a burst of water spraying up where she kicked off the rooftop. She came down swinging the pipe, skidding it of Aoi's hasty guard. The knife stabbed in, a quick backstep from Aoi turning a lethal thrust into a shallow slash along her side. Theresa brought Mine up at Aoi's face, turning with the slash as it was deflected to bring the pipe down low. Stepping back, Aoi turned away the low strike then slashed back at her foe. The strike tore at Theresa's coat as she backed off. Aoi pressed her attack, a crosswise slash sparking off the pipe, followed with a downwards stroke that Theresa barely sidestepped.
Theresa briefly hopped back before lunging in again. The knife aimed high, but caught on Aoi's blade as she swiftly brought it up. Blades locked, Aoi drew them both up, opening up Theresa's guard. She struck fast, three rapid side kicks smashing into Theresa's chest. As she fell back, she swept the pipe up, crashing it against Aoi's withdrawing leg. The loud impact was drowned out by Aoi's wail of pain, and both collapsed with a splash into the rainwater.
They lay still for long moments, rain beating down upon them. A wracking cough broke the stillness, and Theresa rolled over to cough as much as vomit up a red wad. Looking over, she saw Aoi slowly hauling herself to her feet.
"There goes a lung," Theresa said out loud. Her answer was a sharp shout as Aoi's leg buckled beneath her, and she fell to a crouch, clutching it with one hand. Invigorated by the sight, Theresa quickly hopped up and drew both club and blade to the ready.
She let Aoi struggle to her feet once more before closing in. A weak swing from the pipe was batted away by the sword, the slashing counter likewise deflected. Theresa stepped back, anticipating the follow-up. Aoi stepped into a downwards stroke which Theresa caught on Mine's miniscule guard. She watched the exertion evident on Aoi's face as they struggled, blades locked. Theresa suddenly yielded, backing away again, forcing Aoi to overextend herself to keep the pressure on. As she stumbled forwards, Theresa swept in with the pipe, crashing it against Aoi's wrist. The girl gasped in pain, her sword slipping from her grasp. A second, lightning-fast blow impacted with her injured leg, and she dropped to the ground with a howl of pain.
"Done yet?" Theresa asked looming over her. Aoi sprang up from her crouch, kicking out with both legs as she flipped over backwards. She caught Theresa under the chin as she arced up then came back down on her feet with deceptive grace. The weight of the landing strained her leg, and with a final gasp of pain she collapsed backwards into the rainwater.
Theresa stood still for a second, back arched, head snapped back from the impact. Her form tottered on the brink, ready to fall. At the last instant she suddenly snapped back up, standing perfectly straight, with a broad eager grin on her face. Seeing her still standing, Aoi struggled to her feet—only to collapse in a crumpled heap.
"Now you're done." Theresa glanced at the pipe in her hand and tossed it casually over her shoulder. She looked down on Aoi and shrugged. "Oh, don't worry," she said as she looked about on the roof. "After all the trouble I went to... Ah!" She stepped over and scooped up her second knife, its serrated tearing edge suddenly highlighted by a flash of lightning. Her grin sharpened and her voice deepened as she advanced on Aoi. "I'm gonna have a lot more fun with you."
Aoi turned in desperation, and crawled away. Hand over hand, legs trailing uselessly behind her, she inched across the roof, hearing Theresa gaining slowly but relentlessly on her. "I guess when we're done here, I'll just go back to my old ways. Seems like quite a missed opportunity, really."
Aoi's hand closed on something on the roof. She dragged herself forwards once more before reaching up, cold finger fumbling in the darkness. Behind her, Theresa came to a halt, both knives at the ready. "Any pithy last words?"
"Sorry," Aoi whispered.
"Huh?" Theresa leaned in, brow furrowed in confusion. At that moment, Aoi spun off the ground, flinging her discarded jacket at Theresa. She caught it with her knives, both stabbing into the armourcloth. With a loud shout she drew them aside, cutting through the jacket and tearing it apart.
Aoi's pistol pressed into her chest.
It was indescribable, so she didn't bother. Certainty was the only thing that came to mind, as everything else fled. Theresa folded up, collapsing forwards, tumbling down on top of her killer, into her lover's arms. What little feeling she had told her she was being held, as Aoi called out her name. Looking up, the girl's face was streaked with rain. Or tears. She couldn't tell.
"Ow." It was faint, hoarse. No strength left to it.
"Theresa, I... I had no choice."
Silly girl. "Don't worry. I guess Aoi wasn't that bad after all." She was forgiving, fun to tease, and only wanted the best for her. They could have been happy.
"I'm sorry it happened like this..." Aoi whispered out.
"Hey, shh..." Theresa reached up to wipe the tears from her eyes. Pointless, really. A shadow of a smile flickered onto her face. "You're so... Cute when you're sad..."
Theresa thought of Aoi no more.
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