Chapter 3

By Aaronica

For the record, Stacy liked talking to her mother, but the woman had a habit of talking Stacy's ear off without really saying anything at all. She drifted about the empty store with the phone pinned between her shoulder and ear, turning off the air conditioning and shutting the blinds on all the windows. "Uh huh. ... Uh huh. ... Oh wow. ... Uh huh. ... ... Yeah." Turning her wrist, she glanced at her watch and interjected casually, "Hey mom, I just noticed it's past eleven, so I'm gonna close up and head home for the night. ... Yeah, it was pretty quiet today. ... Yes, I still like managing a used music store. ... Yes, I'm making enough money to support myself. ... Yes, honestly..."

Ducking into the office Stacy plucked her old green baseball cap from the rack and pulled it on, then scooped her keys from the desk. She rattled them to make their jingling extra loud. "... Uh huh. I really do need to head on out, though, so I'll give you a call this weekend, okay? ... Great. Bye mom." She clicked off the phone and returned it to the cradle with a loud, sigh-laced "Jeez Louise." Flicking off all the building's lights except a row above the office door, Stacy locked the office and then finally left the store, locking the entrance behind herself. With her hands in her pockets she headed for her truck.

It was a dream that Jin had often, of his mother in the heart of the forest. She was sitting on a giant, ancient log in her favorite white linen dress, her feet bare, her pale hands folded in her lap. She was serene and loving.

As always Jin stood mere paces away but was unable to move towards her, as though his feet were rooted into the soil upon which he stood, like the innumerable trees that surrounded them. "Mother, I'm alone here. I can't tell them who I am, and I have nowhere to go."

"You know they'll be looking for you," Jun said gently.

"Because I'm their puppet." Jin glanced away, murmuring, "I'm not a grandson, I'm a weapon. I'm a marvel for tournaments. They know He thrives on my anger and they coax Him from me, and--. And I'm not strong enough to fight Him anymore. He's eating through me, Mother."

"If anger is the source of your weakness, then love is what fuels your strength. It always has been, Jin."

"Why is it failing me now? Why isn't it enough know, when it was before?"

And as always the Darkness was speeding towards them from behind Jun, a shapeless, silent, unstoppable mass darting through the forest, obliterating the trees in its path.

Jun smiled slowly, her eyes knowing and tinged with sadness. "Maybe it isn't your love-- your strength-- that's failing you."

"Please, Mother, get out of His path!" Jin pleaded desperately, as he did every time. "Please!"

The Darkness was almost upon them.

"Maybe it is you that's failing your love." Jun bowed her head, black shrouds of hair spilling about her peaceful face. And then the Darkness exploded forth.

With a gasp Jin started awake. He pushed his torso up from the bed, wiping the sweat from his face with his palms and sighing to slow the pounding of his heart. He turned on the bed, his stare drifting dully over the room. The clock perched high on the opposite wall read 11:04. Someone had removed the remnants of his dinner from the bedside table while he slept. Many of the machines and wires attached to him had been removed since he'd first awakened, and he realized now how quiet the room had become without them.

"'Maybe it is you that's failing your love,'" Jin echoed to himself. For a long moment he sat motionlessly, enveloped in the stillness of the room.

Carefully lowering a bare foot to the floor, he winced occaisionally from a pang of discomfort in his injuries. Only the IV of painkillers remained embedded in an arm, hanging from a rolling metal stand; catching hold of it he used it for support as he battled a brief dizziness, and then brought it with him on his slow tread to the window. Three thin wires trailed behind him, joining his chest to a monitoring device like electronic leeches. He lifted a hand, hooking a finger over the blinds and pulling them down enough to see out.

A plain, black car was parked in front of the building. The driver's door was pushed open and a moment later Takeda climbed out.

Jin backed away from the window, almost tripping on the IV stand. Panic chilled his heart and numbed his fingers as his eyes darted feverishly over the room. He had to get out; there was no time to debate or worry. He had to leave now.

Hurrying to the door as best he could he turned its handle as silently as possible and cracked it open, holding his breath as he peered out. To his left the hallway quickly grew wider; he could see a sliver of the circular nurse's station, but not enough to know if anyone was behind it. Jin opened the door further to see down the hall to the right; a short spanse of closed doors and framed artwork, and then it dead-ended in a metal door.

They're coming. No time left.

Jin sucked in a breath. He snatched up the wires glued to his chest in a fist and yanked them free. With a careful but quick pull, he dislodged the IV from his arm, hissing at the sting.


His pulse thundering in his ears and his fear muffling the constant cries of his body, Jin pushed open the door and crept into the hall. It was vacant. With one last, fleeting glance at the nurse's station he turned from it and sprinted quietly down the hall, the tile cold and smooth under his bare feet. Yanking the handle of the metal door, he bolted into the hot night.


Jin did not feel the warm pavement of the helicopter landing deck as he sprinted across it. He did not feel the twists and stretches of his injuries as he raced across a strip of grass and through the dim, quiet parking lot behind the building next to the tiny hospital.


The heat and fear were suffocating. Jin heard himself panting as he crossed a second parking lot, then a third. 'Away' was the only direction he knew.


He stumbled, forcing himself to a halt in the fourth lot as his heart leapt into his throat. It was small and lit by a single street light, and it held only one vehicle, directly in front of him, and a tiny woman in a baseball cap who stood frozen with her key in the lock, staring at him blankly.

Time lost all meaning and fell away. Jin was paralyzed, swallowing in a dry throat and staring back.

With a flick of the woman's wrist the doors were unlocked.

"Well hurry up and get in!"

In an instant Jin was leaping at the passenger door, tearing it open, climbing inside and slamming it shut. By then Stacy had the truck started, and jerking out of the parking space they pulled onto the street a moment later, fleeing through the city.

Takeda settled calmly into the car once more and turned on his microphone. "Report," his commander's voice stated in his ear.

"Target followed. Exited building by side door, fled on foot, now in a blue Ford pick-up driven by an unknown woman, heading east."

"Plate number?"

"Photographed, sir."

"Retreat. Let's give him some time to breathe."

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