Note: This occurs immediately after Final Vengeance.
The sun had long since set on the odd quartet that made their way from the abandoned church to the small dojo nearby. It had taken a few brief explanations, but Master Gen had been more than happy to look after Midori, who was still unconscious.
Kami watched him as he quietly went to work, setting her up on a mat and fetching her a blanket. Nicole stood by ready to help, but suddenly stiffened and made her way up to the rooftop garden. Glancing around, Kami saw the reason—Rachel had just stepped into view. She sighed, and stepped up to Gen, greeting him formally.
"Busy day, I see," he said offhandedly as he prepared a wet cloth for Midori's forehead.
Kami gave him a smile. "I think we're well on the way to getting things taken care of."
"That's good, that's good," he replied, nodding. "I'm glad to hear you're getting on well."
"Thank you." Kami nodded and looked over at Rachel.
Gen followed her gaze, and his face lit up in a happy smile. "Ah, Rachel. It has been so long since I last saw you." Rachel only started and turned away, clearly embarrassed.
"It's okay," Kami said. She then turned to Master Gen, and added "I think we need to go for a walk."
He scratched his chin and nodded, before turning back to Midori. "Yes. Yes, I think that's for the best."
Kami walked over to Rachel, and nodded out into the street. "Shall we?" She asked, not sure what to call her. The girl kept her back turned to Kami, nodded awkwardly and set off.
Following her, Kami sighed, and asked, "Why don't we start someplace simple? What do you want me to call you?"
"I don't know," she said quietly.
"I can understand that." Kami's expression was quite comfortable and relaxed, albeit forced. "You're really confused right now, aren't you?"
"Very," she said quietly in response.
They walked in silence until they reached a low wall, which had been cleaned up and cleared for the locals to sit on. The girl sat awkwardly, keeping her face turned away from Kami who sat next to her, looking out into the street.
A few moments passed until Kami finally spoke up again. "I admit I don't know Rachel very well, but I think I know enough about her to understand a few things."
"You didn't want to know her," she said, head hung low.
"I think I've met her a couple of times, haven't I?" Kami asked. She turned to watch as the girl nodded slowly. "No need to be embarrassed. I think it was Rachel I met on our first night together."
"It was. It almost was the second time, but she... I..." she trailed off, and sighed in frustration.
Kami nodded. "I also said that I wouldn't mind finding out what you were like."
"But you see... That's not what Gem was like. The two were, well... Different."
"Much like Silver and Kami only more extreme?"
She nodded. "Much more extreme. Gem thought about things that Rachel did and... she was ashamed. Terribly ashamed."
Kami nodded. "Was Gem around before?"
She shook her head quickly. "No, never before."
"I kinda guessed that," Kami muttered almost to herself. She looked out into the street again, seeing the places where the Zone dwellers had managed to build almost normal lives.
The pair sat in silence for a while, until the girl spoke up again. "Gem... I don't know where she came from. I just started seeing things differently after I was burned."
"Kinda like being reborn?" Kami asked, turning back to her.
"I guess." She thought for a second, before adding "I just didn't see it like that before."
"The little phoenix girl." Kami pined.
"It's not that funny when you think about it."
"I was thinking more poetic, than funny."
"Well..." She sighed and shuffled along the wall, inching away from Kami.
"Let's not dwell on those details." Kami replied. "It was a traumatic event the likes of which I'm not sure I will never be able to fathom."
"Both times," she added.
Kami nodded in agreement. "Gem taught me a lesson awhile back, do you mind me repeating it?"
The girl perked up. "She- I did?" She asked. Kami nodded, and she continued. "How—When—What was it?"
Kami stood and started to wander as she told her story. "There was this guy Eve knew. He came into the Zone, started causing Silver trouble and got himself killed. His dad sent some goons to grab me. They screwed up. Next his obnoxious big brother shows up and tries to kill me."
Kami paused to stretch out, and took stock of her companion's reaction. Seeing that she hadn't moved, she continued. "Anyway when I caught the big brother, I was just gonna kill him to get him out of the way. Gem stepped in and interceded on his behalf for me to let him live and put an end to the cycle of revenge."
"And now?" she quietly asked.
"There's no point to revenge, at least not revenge like that," Kami finished and turned back to her view of the street.
She swallowed and nodded slowly. "I see your point. Gem had given up long ago. Rachel... she never quite gave up."
Kami nodded. "Exactly."
"But I don't think I'll go after Nicole any more... I don't want to."
Kami walked over and sat next to her. "Now all that's left is the future."
"Do I even have one?"
"Sure, I think you have the potential for a very bright future."
"How? I don't even know who I am any more."
Kami thought for a second, before clearly stating "You now have to power to decide who you're going to be."
"But that's just it—I don't want to be either of them."
"Why not?" Kami asked.
"Rachel was- IS a monster. But Gem's just one big lie. I don't want to feel like that any more; like I'm pretending to be someone."
"Gem's history may have been a lie, but were her feelings true?"
She sat in silence, pondering the question before she slowly nodded and said "They were."
Kami smiled, "Then Gem wasn't entirely a lie now was she."
"You're right," she replied with a hint of joy in her voice.
"I think Gem was more genuine than Rachel is."
"That doesn't make any sense," she said, but was clearly happy.
"Its not whether it makes sense. Gem appeared because you needed to move beyond Rachel."
She blinked a few times, more than a touch startled. "I guess you could see it like that..."
"That's the way I see it. And I think Gem has the potential for a great future. Look at who she has backing her."
"You're right. Thank you."
Kami hopped up on the ledge. "I want to see Gem come back to me," she said boldly.
"I think she will, soon," the girl replied.
"I know its really tough now..." Kami added, looking down at her.
She finally turned her face to Kami, showing the tears welling in her eyes. "Thank you," she said quietly. "You've helped me so much." Kami nodded, and just smiled at her.
"Just one request, please?" she said abruptly.
She hesitated for a second, before blurting out "I don't want to be called Gem any more."
Kami furrowed her brow in confusion. "Well what do you want to be called?"
"Well you gave me a perfectly fine name, didn't you?" She said, a slight smile breaking across her face.
"Phoenix?" Kami gave her a slightly confused look.
"Aoi. I've been using it with Midori for some time."
"Whew!" Kami sighed, then suddenly asked "Who's Midori?"
"Oh, sorry. My—er, Gem's boss. You probably know her as Zenshou."
Kami nodded. "Aoi's a nice name."
"So I'll use that."
"It may take a little getting used to, but I'll manage." Kami seemed quite relieved.
"All of this will take getting used to. Better start now," she said as her smile broadened.
"Certainly," Kami replied enthusiastically.
The girl's smile suddenly vanished. "Big problem though."
"What's that?" Kami asked.
"Well, changing face again and again isn't exactly cheap." Kami laughed. "What? What's so funny about it?"
"Some things never change," Kami said and giggled. "How much do you need?"
She sighed. "Lots. Lots more than we could raise between us."
"It's that expensive?" Kami asked.
She nodded. "All I can do is hope to ask Midori."
As Midori's eyes flickered open she could hear a sharp intake of breath nearby. Looking up, she saw Rachel leaning over her, a relieved look spreading across her face. She heard footsteps, and glanced over to see Nicole retreating upstairs.
"Are you okay," she muttered to Rachel as she turned back to her.
"That's my line," the girl said tenderly. "What did you go and do something stupid like that for?"
"I did what I had to do," Midori replied simply.
She fumbled for a second, before finally starting again. "I, um... I owe you a big apology." Midori remained silent, looking at Rachel. She sighed, and continued, looking down. "I'm sorry I lied to you, about who I was, and what was going on."
"Were you ever going to tell me the truth?" Midori asked in a carefully neutral tone.
"I was going to at first, but later I was afraid to," she replied quietly.
"Why were you afraid to?"
"I thought, if I told you, that you'd turn me away." She paused for a second, before finishing "It's what I would have done."
"I'm not you," Midori replied simply. The girl hung her head in shame. "Is that all you have to say," Midori asked softly.
"I'm also sorry I got you involved in all this."
"It was my choice," Midori answered.
"Can you forgive me?"
"The question is, do you want me to."
She nodded slowly. "I don't want to go after her any more... I'm sick of living like that."
Midori reached up and smoothed Rachel's hair. "What do you want to do?"
"I don't know," she said, sitting back. "I'd like to go back home with you... But I don't think I could face everyone."
"I've moved back home," Midori replied. "To my family's estate. Jason and Moira are there, as are the servants, but none of them know anything about what's happened."
"We'll know," She replied bitterly.
"We all have to live with the mistakes that we make," Midori replied. "The key is with how we deal with it."
"Would you have me back?" she asked quietly.
"Can I trust you?" Midori asked. She didn't reply; she simply turned away from Midori. "Are you going to answer my question?"
"I don't know," she said quietly.
"Are you going to start going after S-T again for what happened?"
"I could never do it alone," she said, keeping her face turned away from Midori. "And I don't want to get you involved again."
"You don't have much of a choice about that," Midori replied. "I'm already involved."
"But you can stop here. We can both just give up and forget about it."
"Has your desire for revenge been sated?"
"That's just not me anymore. I... I don't want to be her."
"Then stop being her." She only nodded her reply.
Midori looked at Rachel for a moment. "It'd be much nicer if I could talk to your face," Midori said softly.
She turned around, looking more than a touch embarrassed, yet she still didn't look Midori in the eye. "Sorry," she said.
"Gem," Midori said, reaching out to gently touch the side of Rachel's face. "I still mean everything that I said to you, that I promised you, before this happened."
"But it was all a lie," she replied, tears welling in her eyes. "Everything. Gem... She isn't real."
"Yes, she is," Midori replied, gently wiping a tear from Rachel's face. "The personality you created had to come from somewhere. Even the greatest of actors say that every character they play is, in some way, a reflection of some part of themselves."
She nodded slowly. "Then... can you do me a favor?"
"If it's in my power to do so."
"Can you not call me Rachel... or Gem? I don't think either name really suits me any more."
"What do you want me to call you?"
Midori nodded. "Alright, Aoi," she said with a small smile.
"Thanks," she replied, her face breaking into a grin. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you another favor," she continued, beginning to cringe. Midori raised an eyebrow.
She spoke slowly, as if choosing her words carefully. "It involves quite a bit of money, I'm afraid."
"You want to get your appearance changed again," Midori asked. She nodded slowly, grinning apologetically. "What's in it for me," Midori asked, a teasing and mischievous look in her eyes.
"Um... for one thing, you don't have to explain all this to Moira."
"I thought I would leave that to you," Midori replied.
"That kid is out of my league," she replied, almost chuckling.
"What are we going to tell Jason and Moira, then, about you? Jason's not going to just accept my decision to hire Aoi. He's going to want to check you out. And know what happened to Gem."
"I'll look the same as Gem... It's just my "real" name."
Midori nodded. "When did you want to do this?"
"Very soon. I think..." She looked around the small room. "I think it's time I said my goodbyes."
"Did you talk with Nicole and Kami," Midori asked.
"I talked to Kami."
"Did it go well?"
She nodded. "She'll be glad to have Aoi back."
"And your... relationship with her?"
Rachel couldn't help but blush furiously at Midori's words. "Um... That... Well..."
Midori put her hands up in a placating gesture. "I'm not judging you on that. If being lovers makes you happy, then do what you want—and need—to do."
"You mean that? I thought... Well, I had no idea what you'd think."
"Just because I don't think it's right for me doesn't mean I condemn other people for it. If anything," Midori said, as if talking to herself, "you're more likely to disapprove of some of the things that I've done."
"Hey, leave that for later. I'm not your bodyguard again yet."
"I'm not talking about running around in the Zone unprotected," Midori replied. "I'm talking about sex."
"I think that's your business," She said simply.
Midori nodded. "Are you going to talk to Nicole now, or are you going to leave that until last?"
"I think I need to... She deserves that, at least."
Midori nodded. "I want to talk to her, and to Kami, before we leave. There's some explaining I need to do too."
"She's, um..." She nodded towards the ladder. "She retreated pretty much as soon as I returned."
Midori nodded. "Do you want me to talk to her before you do?"
She nodded. "She made it pretty clear that she doesn't want to talk to me."
"Okay," Midori said, and gave a soft exclamation of surprise when she moved to sit up. She looked down at herself and frowned when she saw she was still blistered and burned. "Dammit," she swore. "I should have taken that into account." She concentrated for a moment, and the remaining injuries she bore healed before Rachel's eyes, leaving no trace of their ever having been there.
"You never cease to amaze me, sis," she said softly.
Midori blushed slightly. "It's nothing," she replied, standing up quickly. "I've healed worse, but that's another story for another time." She looked over at the ladder, then back at Aoi. "I'll see if I can convince her to at least listen to what you have to say."
She shook her head. "You don't have to... It may be better for her not to."
"Perhaps, but I still need to talk to her." The girl nodded and sat back. Midori turned and headed for the ladder. She climbed it then knocked on the trap door. "Nicole? Can I come up?"
When there was no reply, Midori slowly pushed it upwards and looked around to see if she could spot Nicole. She was standing at the other end of the garden with her back to the trapdoor, looking out into the desolation of the Zone. Midori climbed all the way up the ladder and closed the trapdoor, then moved over to stand next to her.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"I'm not hurt," Nicole replied.
"I wasn't just talking about physical injuries," Midori said softly.
"Then it gets tricky," she said at length.
"I want to apologize." Midori looked out over the Zone.
"There's no need," she replied, folding her arms. "None of this is your fault. In fact, I should thank you for helping me out."
"I still feel responsible."
"What for, then?"
"I had hoped that in getting you involved with stopping Rachel, by warning you, that something could be done to bring the two of you back together. The two of you need to talk about what happened, but there's now this huge wall between you." Midori turned her head away, hiding her face. "If I had acted sooner, done something differently, Reno might still be alive."
"There's no point thinking like that," Nicole said and sighed. "If I started, I'd just never stop."
Midori shook her head. "It's hard not to. I am personally responsible for the lives of so many people, and my powers..." Her voice trailed off.
"You can't do everything," she said coldly. "If you consider this a failure, then I envy you."
"Why?" Midori asked bluntly as she turned to face Nicole.
"Two agents died. They were on a mission, thus their death is acceptable." She paused, swallowed hard, and continued. "One man died, but only one person will miss him. Not bad at all."
"That's an unfortunate way to think about Reno," Midori replied.
Midori could barely make out her reply. "It makes life bearable."
"Life should be more than bearable," Midori said. "Remember what we talked about before? About you getting out?"
She scoffed in apparent amusement. "I am out now. Those snipers were from my old team, and they had orders to kill me. I doubt I'd be welcome back."
"Are you still interested in the offer I made you, about work?"
"No offense, but I'll pass." She turned to look Midori in the eye. "I've had enough of corporations."
Midori shook her head. "What I'm offering doesn't work that way. Most of his people will be freelancers, working on a contract by contract basis. You get to accept or refuse a contract."
"Then I'll refuse now and save you the bother." She shook her head, and looked back out into the Zone. "I want to stay here."
"As you wish," Midori said, without judgment in her voice. "If you ever change your mind, contact me or Jason Stone at SpyCorp." She paused. "Is there anything I can do to help you out now? No strings attached," she added.
"Just one thing." She fixed Midori with a cold, harsh look. "Take her away." Midori nodded, her face calm. She turned back out to silently watch the Zone.
"Am I to avoid you as well," Midori asked softly.
She shook her head with a faint smile. "You'll forgive me if I'm being a little... rude here. I've had a bad day."
"No offense taken," Midori replied, returning the smile. She reached inside the top of her jumpsuit, withdrew a credit card and offered it to Nicole. "To help with Reno's arrangements, and until you get back on your feet. If you feel the need to pay me back, then you can do so as you can."
She looked down at the card and nodded. "Thanks. Thanks for... Well, for caring at least."
"We all need help from time to time," Midori replied gently, "and I'd like to think that friends do it without hesitation."
"So would I."
"The card's under the name of Zenshou Shinju," Midori explained, "In case someone asks. If you need more, let me know and I'll transfer more to the card." She handed over a small card, and continued. "And if you need a place to stay, check out this hotel, ask for Shades or Alice, and tell them Jack's little girl would vouch for you."
"I've got a good place now, actually."
Midori nodded. "Great. But if you ever need a change, you know where you can go."
"Thanks again." She shook her head. "How can you be so generous?"
"When I was growing up, I was taught that you reap what you sow," Midori explained softly. "And that every action has an effect, good or bad. I'm willing to take risks on people I care about. I'd like to think that you're a good risk," Midori added with a wry smile.
"We're so very different, you and I. I think we'd make good friends."
"I'd like to think so too." Midori then shook her head. "It can be really lonely, being me. I need all the friends I can get."
There was a long pause before Nicole finally asked "What are you going to do with her?"
"She wants to bury what was Rachel and try to move on. She's finally broken free of the obsession that was driving her, and she's asked for my help. I'm going to do what I can for her, and make sure she doesn't relapse. If she does, I'll make sure the burial plot has a body in it." Midori replied simply.
"Good," she said simply.
Midori looked at Nicole one last time. "I'd better go. There's a lot of stuff I have to get done today, and I need to get back before Jason finds out I came into the Zone without a bodyguard." She chuckled softly.
"I'll let you, then."
"You'll keep in touch?"
She nodded slowly. "I will. Tell me how she's going. Oh—and I'd love to meet this "Gem" some day." She chuckled to herself and added "People keep telling me she's a nice girl."
"Gem is going to be buried too," Midori replied softly. "She wants a brand new start—new looks, new name, everything. She's going to be known as Aoi Hari."
"Odd. But it's her choice."
"As long as it works," Midori replied. "I'll see you around, maybe at 93U?"
"Are you quitting your lessons, then?"
Midori shook her head. "No, but things are a bit... complicated right now. I'm not sure when I'll be back again."
"Well, I'll probably be teaching here from now on. So I'll see you eventually."
"Promise to be gentle with me?" Midori asked with a chuckle and a grin.
"No. How would you ever learn?"
"Well, can't blame for me trying," Midori said with a laugh as she headed towards the trap door.
"Goodbye," Nicole said quietly, and looked out into the Zone again.
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