enough that morning, sure... until
he realized there were five different blues. Two purples. Three
reds. About eight greens, though some of them were color to blue and
much too hard to organize that way. He just couldn't make heads or
tails of the yellows... and by the time evening came, there was one
rogue orange that he just could not for the life of him comprehend.
It was the dismissive drawer slam
caught his attention. "You can clean up and take off, if you'd
like. I'm going myself, so use the security lock on your way out."
The way she'd sounded so damn drained,
worn out and tired got Rean to look up. Despite her assurance that
she was leaving, she was draped over her desk, head
uncharacteristically in her hands in what appeared to be complete
exhaustion. Maybe just frustration. Part of him was perfectly ready
to throw those papers and run for it. The other part... was still an
idiot. "Something wrong, sir?"
through her fingers, not bothering to lift her head. "Some
damn... ceremony... thing." She muttered with annoyance,
bleeding slowly into something a little more raw. "For the
victims of the Rush. Every year, I just can't manage to hide. It's
not as if I want anyone to come looking for me..." If someone
found the abandoned area, that wasn't really so bad; no one would
think twice. If someone found it while she was there, it was quite
likely to be taken away entirely.
His throat went
dry for a moment. The way she'd said it was just... too unlike her.
Painful and tortured and wanting to get away... but he had a
collision with genius. Hopefully.
Rakashi felt the
light tapping on her arm, quickly raising her head to look out of the
sheer surprise of physical contact. Actually seeing the object
tapping her arm offered no more answers.
card." Rean informed her, shrugging like it were nothing. "My
room's 472. I don't think they'll find you in there."
She stared at him
in something he first thought might be horror. Her eyes were too
revealing--but whatever emotion had been there was quickly hidden
once again. "Rean..?"
couldn't swallow. He couldn't even speak. He didn't really know what the hell was
going on, but... he knew that she must have expected some kind of
The general looked
like there was a great deal more to say, like she wanted to express
something... but it fell from her eyes as a learned mask of
indifference went up like a shield. "Thank you."
on him. It was late, and wonder
of wonders, he seemed too tired to be quite as much of an irritation.
"What the hell are you doing wandering the halls so late?"
was a very good question. One that Rean had no desire to answer. "Mrm."
He responded, and kept walking.
was clearly not one to give up so easily. "You did something,
didn't you? Lost your key? Accidentally wielded your door shut?"
"Only you would do
something like that." His friend mumbled,
unfortunately feeling a bit more awake. Dammit, the captain made him think.
come on. You should be fast asleep by now. Rakashi isn't keeping
you, is she?"
he thought he had a chance in hell of escaping, he most definitely
would have tried. As it was, he was already a little concerned about
stumbling over his own feet and winding up in the infirmary. "My
room is... occupied."
captain graced him with a moment's most bizarre and precious thing:
silent shock. "Wh..?" escaped first, quietly. Several
paces later, he found the coherency to speak a half-decent, "What?"
don't want to deal with your damn 'good-natured bullshit' right now,
okay?" Rean tried to shout. He really gave it a decent shot. He could
never really manage to yell at Demi, because despite the
teasing and the surface idiocy, the man had really never meant ill at
any point in his life. "I gave her my key card."
very odd silence passed, rendering Captain Dulce expressionless for
quite a surprising while. "Wait. You gave... Rakashi...
your key card?"
"Yes." His friend hissed quietly,
steps getting faster.
yet one more uncharacteristic pause. All of a sudden, there was that
damned grin again. "Oh, Rean. Rean, you poor boy."
did not ask. He did not want to know. He just kept walking.
has the Skeleton." Demi informed him.
now that got him to stop with a bit of a skid. "Wh--does that
mean what I think it means?"
grin only brightened. "Yup. She's got the only card in the
Tower that opens every door on every level. The idiots only made one,
she got her hands on it."
information had a slight time-stopping effect. Rean's brain took a
bit to digest the information. Then the implications. Well, really
that had meant nothing, right? The general already had her places to
hide, and the offer of his quarters was totally insignificant.
for the fact that he'd offered in the first place. And she'd
accepted with a simple thanks. No argument, no information divulged.
She had his card for no reason then, dammit.
was too late and he was too tired to try and wrap his mind around
anything at that point. He couldn't even manage to make excuses for
his still-grinning idiot friend. "Fine. I'm going to go sleep
on Rakashi's desk, then."
only fair." Demi agreed, still grinning.
all the way to the
general's office, mostly to see if he really would sleep on the desk.
It was a touch of sick fascination, maybe, and a need for amusement
at that time of night. What neither of them were prepared for was to
run into Rakashi herself on her way out of the office.
Rean asked softly, doing everything in his power to pretend that Demi
didn't exist just then.
of any real response or explanation, she reached into her pocket and
held out his card. "Thanks for the thought. But I found
another way out."
blinked slowly before reaching for the offered card, mentally
swearing that if his friend elbowed him in the ribs at that point, he
would not hesitate to punch him in the face. "Oh." He
made a sudden and very surprising move by initializing conversation
without insult. "So... you're technically off duty and still here,
regarded him with the same sort of slightly startled pause that Rean
was feeling. "Technically speaking, I am never off duty,
Captain. I simply elect to choose my own working hours."
them more still, the raven-haired man laughed pleasantly as if he and
Rakashi talked all the time. "Well then. Care to follow us
down to the cafeteria for a way-past-midnight snack?"
was utterly mortified. The general, on the other hand, gave a soft
snort of amusement. "I really don't think I'd be welcome there,
I'm sure you understand."
right." Demi grinned. "Banned and all."
conversation (such as it was) was interrupted by a call from down the
hallway. "I really don't think the admiral is going to
appreciate what you wrote on the side of his rental car."
group looked over at who had spoken--and Rean was a little surprised
to recognize the man. It was that janitor from a few days ago that
had been talking to Demi in the cafeteria. He supposed "small
world" didn't apply to the Tower. More like, "small
that seemed confirmed when Rakashi just grinned at the man. "I'm
sure I could say something wise about sacrifice right now, but...
'two birds with one stone' seems more apt."
janitor rolled his eyes. "So much for behaving yourself."
grin turned just a little vicious. "Sorry, boys, I've
got to go be reprimanded."
waited until the general and the janitor had both disappeared in
opposite directions before he spoke up softly, "Do they know
each other or something?"
shrugged. "He works this area, so I assume they know each
other, yeah. Always best to get in good with the staff, you know?"
that was... interesting. "But not superior officers?"
captain slapped him on the back, effectively getting him moving
toward his own quarters. "Are you trying to find logic
that was a good point. Damn, he really did need some sleep.
Coming across an open lift that would be a faster route to his bed
than walking, he slipped his key card in and waited for it to
thought you only had level 6 clearance."
his eyes, Rean turned back tiredly to try and figure out what the
hell his friend was talking about that time. "Yeah..?"
there you've got All-Level Clear." Demi's grin was getting
dangerous. "Oh, Rean. You poor, poor boy, Rean."
was too late for this. To make his brain wrap around what the hell
had happened. And yet he was just awake enough to turn back and see
what the captain was referring to on the panel read-out.
All-Level Clear. With his name beneath. It was his key card,
yeah... but it was also a copy of the Skeleton. Rakashi had
reprogrammed his card.
"Well." The raven-haired man
patted his shoulder. "Good luck there,
was no verbal response. He just took his card back, stepped into the
lift and prayed that everything would make sense in the morning.
any particular reason,
exactly; it was just that he couldn't sleep. When he had first
realized his affliction, he'd cursed quite loudly then turned over
and tried to clear his mind. When that clearly wasn't working, Rean
counted. Whatever he could think of. Nothing. Nearly three hours
of sleep that weren't happening. Considering the way his mind kept
running back to that fact, he was pretty sure that the rest of the
night was going to be a loss as well.
up with a ragged sigh, he stared at the clock with accusation. Well...
he could go bother Demi. The man had it coming to him, for
one, and if sleep wasn't going to happen anyway... It was a very
Rakashi thing to do, he imagined. Then tried very hard to ignore
that idea as he got dressed.
Captain's quarters were on a different floor than his, and a damn lot
nicer. That was to be expected. For there to be activity around the
bend as he was walking through the hallway really wasn't expected,
slowed when the conversation started to sound particularly heated,
you dare." Rean had been sure that he was hearing
things, that he was actually a lot more tired than he thought and was
just looking forward to annoying his friend, but... pressing up
against the wall, he really listened. "Don't you fucking dare
go neither either of them, do you hear
was... Demi. That was a snarl that he didn't think the captain was
in the least bit capable of. What could he possibly be talking
about? And who the hell could he ever be talking to? The man was
friendly with everyone...
voice, then. Unfamiliar and accented, soft and hard to make out. Rean
held his breath and strained his ears, trying to make out the
words. It only took a few seconds for him to wish he hadn't. "No
motion has been made for a very long time. We would not want this
entire operation to be a waste, would we?"
"I'm warning you."
Captain Dulce hissed, sounding every bit
as though that wasn't a threat; sounding nothing like Demi. "I
don't give a damn what the Control Room does to me--"
think of what she will do to you when she finds out. Or that
boy you've become so adept at protecting. Captain."
blood ran cold, not sure if his heart was beating too quickly to
follow or had stopped altogether. He could have heard wrong. He
might just be somehow flattering himself by thinking he'd actually
been mentioned in that conversation. Of course, this could all be a
giant hallucination. Please be a hallucination, please be a
you'd ever tell her the truth anyway." Demi's voice was a great
deal more tired, then. It seemed like he had something else to say,
the pause spanning quite a chasm of time--but all he did was turn and
not toward the hiding brunet. Thank whatever powers existed; Rean
was able to force his feet to move, quietly walking back along the
wall from where he'd come, headed for the lift and then straight back
to his room.
dammit. There was a back way to the captain's quarters. He
really should go make sure that his friend was alright, even
if it might mean admitting what he'd heard. Whatever that had been
about, it was serious and quite possibly extremely dangerous. Which
he was sure that even Demi would agree he should stay out of. Since
when had he listened to that idiot's advice?
stopped for a moment to glance at that key card. Having every level
open in the Tower also meant that he could go report this. A
sardonic smile appeared on his lips at the very thought. Rakashi
hadn't held back in telling him that he was pretty much useless here
as he was. Making trouble, reporting something that clearly wasn't
his business, might well be the last decision he would ever make.
the card over before placing it back in his pocket, Rean sighed.
"Dammit." Turning, he decided that the back way was
definitely his best bet.
hadn't made it three steps down the hall before he stopped short with
surprise. "I know I've said this before, but what the hell
are you doing wandering the halls so late?"
Demi. Just... regular, smiling,
jovial idiot Demi. Like a few minutes ago
didn't even happen... "Um..."
captain snorted and caught Rean by the shoulders, turning him around.
"Uh-uh. No way I'm going to let you wander around half-awake
and then get blamed for you falling asleep in the middle of whatever
Rakashi's having you sort through tomorrow. Have a few shots if you
need to, but go to sleep. Captain's orders."
was a numb pause before the brunet laughed in spite of himself.
totally legitimate, too." Demi grinned.
was sort of amazed that his jaw didn't unhinge. After what he was sure
he'd heard, and then his friend just acting
fine... The turn was dizzying, to put it mildly. And maybe he was
too damn tired to make any sense of it. "Okay, fine. But
tomorrow, I have something to talk to you about."
older man did the worst possible thing that he could have done in
that moment: he was simply himself. "You can buy condoms pretty
much anywhere, kid."
don't wake the rest of the world up on your account." With
another grin, he lightly shoved Rean into the lift and mock-saluted
as the doors closed.
went a little further than just "not right"... but the
bastard was right. He really did need the sleep. He was just
pretty sure that he needed a more complicated lock on his door. If
all else failed, he really could crash on Rakashi's desk...
really was kind of a stupid idea to seek out the general. Even with
the quick ride down a couple of floors, there was time to absorb the wrong
of Demi's angry words, the possibilities of what
might mean... Though maybe he simply shouldn't assume who was being
talked about. It was quite a bit of ego to do so. Then again... who
else could it be?
his head as he stepped off, he knew he'd only drive himself crazy
trying to figure it out. Even so... he honestly doubted that the
general would lie to him if he asked directly about this. Maybe she
didn't know, maybe--
she was the "she" who was being discussed. The pit
of his stomach clenched and dropped, and for a moment he had to reach
out for a wall just to be sure he wouldn't weave. This was all
probably silly. In his head. The "she" could be a
psychotic ex of Demi's for all he knew.
was a feeling that Rean couldn't shake, however. Something
was slipping, had already been slipping, and now at this point...
thought his heart was going to stop with that sound. Panicked,
high-pitched blaring as the lights started to flash--a
siren of some kind. All the years he'd been there, he'd never heard
a thing like it, never remembered it being mentioned. The siren
wasn't the worst part, though.
THE TOWER IS BEING INVADED. BATTLE MODE ACTIVATION. TAKE YOUR
POSITIONS." Over and over
against the siren, barely above it, both screaming to him in
different ways and in different tones.
was just enough coherent thought left to wonder how the fuck
something as fortified and important as the Tower could possibly be
invaded... but that wasn't really what he was focused on. He had to
find Rakashi, and he would have bet money that she was in her office.
past him. There were more than just
night shifters, the siren having thrown a lot of people out of bed
and half-ready for whatever it was they were rushing off to. Rean
supposed that he just plain didn't want to know, slipping between the
waves of people toward... well, whatever it was he expected to get
to. The general's office, that was all he really thought about. It
was a good focus, leading him to hug the wall on the side of her
office door so he wouldn't have to cross the streams of people who
didn't even seem to acknowledge his existence. Well, just like
the last turn in the hall just before the office revealed... no one.
Not a single person moving or coming from that direction. Not
surprising, considering the time of night, but it was still
unsettling. Far too still, too silent.
the loud crashing sound--two things meeting at high speed with great
power. Why he felt the need to run toward it, he didn't know;
until he realized that the sound had come from Rakashi's office, the
aren't you telling me?"
incredibly unfortunate that he recognized General Vrunai's yelling
voice... but it was quite different that time. There had still been
some restraint when she'd yelled in the Control Room. Here, that
demand was something vicious, animalistic, barely human...
grasped the door frame to stop himself so that his momentum wouldn't
carry him past. He was ready for a fight, or at least to offer a
distraction--or so he'd thought.
could swear that Rakasi's eyes were glowing. Rings of pure shining gold that hurt his own eyes to look
at; a pain
beyond physical. It was absolutely unique, something he'd never
touched or experienced before, but it was quite clearly negative.
Something he didn't want to endure.
that he could look away from it, either. Whether it was just plain
shock rooting him to the spot, keeping his eyes wide and focused,
Rean just didn't have the ability to work out. Especially not when
he noticed that Rakashi had someone pinned against the wall. Of
course he'd only noticed because she'd pulled that someone away just
them back against it... "What
is going on?"
was where the shock really seeped into him, leaving him cold and
completely numb. He saw the face of the receiving end of the
general's surprisingly brutal rage. Utterly unmistakable. But it
couldn't be, it just... it couldn't...
noticed one another at the same time, the captain looking like some
combination of relieved, terrified and sorrowful all at once. "Wrong"
was a word that no longer held meaning enough to
describe. The man opened his mouth to speak, unable at first. Whether
it was a mix of emotions or those hands clutching onto his
collar to hold him above the ground and against the wall was unclear.
When the words finally did tumble awkwardly from his friend's mouth,
he wished they hadn't.
out, Rean." His voice was shaking,
surprisingly, rough and weak--but demanding. Certain. "Leave
the Tower. Now."
just... he couldn't understand... "D-Demi..?
is it?" General
Vrunai hissed, ignoring the rest, pressing up hard against the man's
rib cage. If she had to systematically break every last one...
Dulce surprised them both by shaking his head and sighing unevenly.
"I'm afraid... this is for your own good, Rakashi."
to follow. Too many things happened at once. The general's hold
suddenly slipped, her body tensing before falling limply. There was
something in Demi's hand, glowing with electricity--
eyes felt altogether too large. As did everything... everything
happening, everything unfolding around him. He couldn't even back
away as his friend approached.
chance for questions. No room even for gasping with the suddenness
of the enormous emptiness that surrounded him as all went black and