"So you really are that 'Sliver' chick?" Han asked, sounding somewhat skeptical. His eyes traced her figure again underneath her clothes. He still was having trouble getting used to the idea of her being so pretty and tough at the same time. The fact that she was tough made her more attractive, he reasoned.
"Hai," Makoto confirmed with some measure of ill ease.
"What are you?" He gazed at at her.
She was silent a moment, nearly expectant. Han looked puzzled. Then he clued in; the fight, the kiss. He frowned, almost looking sheepish.
"I'm not used to girls like you," he started. Makoto indicated to him that she was listening by raising an eyebrow. "Every single one I've been with couldn't fight. They hated violence. I don't know why I even bothered with those technocrats."
Even though he seemed finished, Makoto said nothing in reply. Again, he took a moment to say anything. "What can I say about the kiss, Mako? Maybe I did it because I don't know how else to say I find you attractive."
Something grabbed her. She couldn't be sure exactly what it was, at first. She knew, however, that it was something about him. She regarded him, wanting, for a reason she couldn't quite understand, to hold him, to kiss him again. She closed her eyes and tried to clear her mind of the thought. Stubbornly, the desire remained.
"Hey, you okay?" He asked. She looked at him and nodded.
What is it about him? She asked herself. Why do IŠ a knot tightened in her stomach. Even thinking of it brought the desire forth, like a lure. What is the difference between Han and the other menŠ no, boys. She realized that this was the first man that she was attracted to. That's what it was. She was uncertain. AlmostŠ afraid.
Makoto snapped out of her trance of thought. "Um, hai. I was just thinking."
He smirked. "I kinda got the feeling you were like me when it came to thinking. I usually go for the trouble first. Even if I know it."
Makoto wasn't sure what to say. "I guess so."
He leaned forward. "We can't stay here too long, but maybe you could tell me something about being aŠ uh, what is it?"
"Cyber-Knight," she supplied. "I guess I could."
"It started with my slavery," Makoto began, somewhat hesitant, "When we came out of the portal, the last thing we expected were the Splugorth."
Han gazed at her, not quite sure what he was hearing. "They really exist?"
"You saw the scars on my back? Where did you think I got them from?" She smirked sourly.
"Kinky sex life?"
Makoto sighed. She began to wonder what she saw in him until she looked at him again. The thoughts of his ill-humour faded. Every time she thought about it, she realized that she was falling deeper in love with him.
"The slave master who kept me." She said, the words bitter as they left her mouth. "When he bought me, he saw me as a challenge. I caused him so much trouble that he put me to work in the mines rather than deal with me." She seemed pleased by that fact. "I spent the better part of two months in the mines. Near the end of the two months, one the slaves I worked with told me she was going to escape."
Makoto closed her eyes for a moment, as if watching an unpleasant scene play in her mind. "She died," she said, her voice hushed with emotion. "I swore then that he would pay. I did it, too. I took a stance against the slave-drivers one day, just to get his attention. It worked. I refused to speak to anyone but masŠ UmŠ" her eyes fell at the reference. A moment passed, and her upper lip tightened in a snarl. "When I finally saw him, he was prepared to beat the living daylights out of me. He tried, but I turned it back on him." There was a brief darkness in her eyes as she said those words. It faded sooner than Han could get words out of his mouth.
"Mako, how did he manage to get you in the first place if you could take him like that?" Han asked, sounding somewhat impressed, and mortified.
"They sedated me," her eyes wandered to the ceiling. "It's a good thing they did, too. They didn't have a chance to discover how strong I am."
Han's eyebrows knitted. "And just how did you escape from Neo-Tech anyway? Did someone help you?"
Makoto smirked. "No. I broke out of there myself. They blocked everything but my strength. They thought I was just human."
"Well you look it," Han smiled appreciatively. Makoto smiled in reply, taking the compliment from the rough-hewn bruiser. "Strength? How strong are you?" Han asked, the smile disappearing.
"I could put my fist through that wall if I wanted to, easy." She gestured to the wall behind Han. "I can dent CS armour too."
Han was silently terrified. Not a girl you want pissed off at you, he thought. "So what did you do to him?"
"What? Oh," she paused. "I killed him."
"Did he actually get a chance toŠ"
Makoto averted her eyes as Han sought them. She said nothing.
"He did, didn't he."
Makoto fell against him and began sobbing loudly. Han immediately felt bad for saying anything. He put an uncertain hand on her head, not sure how to deal with her crying, again. All he knew was to be silent. He'd learned that from Astin. She had been very clear about that. You don't talk when a girl is shedding tears, she had said. Shedding tears. She actually said that.
"HanŠ?" An emotion choked voice whispered. Han snapped back into reality. He was with Makoto, not Astin.
She was still crying softly, so Han did not say anything.
"Hanlan?" The heaving of her sobbing stopped.
"Yes Mako?" Han said, voice also hushed cautiously.
"Are youŠ" she hesitated for a half-instant, "going out with anyone?"
The bruiser suddenly remembered he was dealing with a girl in her early twenties. "Uh, no. Listen babe, you okay? Can I ask why you were crying like that? If it was something I saidŠ"
Makoto shook her head. "It wasn't you. It was me. IŠ" she swore. "I can't. I can't say it."
"You mean what he did? That's okay. If it hurts too much justŠ" he stopped, struggling for words. "Oh hell with it." He took her face in his hands and kissed her softly.
Makoto looked down for a moment after their lips parted. "IŠ Han," she started. He kissed her again.
"Don't talk if you don't know what to say," he said, sounding unusually sweet and intelligent. She nodded, running a hand over his chest lightly, realizing just how much she liked the hardness of his muscles.
"HanŠ are you sure we shouldŠ umŠ"
"Only if you want to," Han assured her gently. "I won't hurt you. I swear."
With that, she kissed him passionately.
After some time, she realized she was naked with him again. This time, however, she did not really mind. It was not that he was naked as well, it was that, she had gained some amount of certainty - and control, having made love with him like this.
She looked up at the hard features of his face. He looked so, calm, almost peaceful. She ran a hand over his cheek, and then kissed it softly.
Carefully, she stood, trying her best not to wake him. She almost regretted what she knew must be done. The emotions she felt for him were more certain now, and felt all the more like love. She felt a pang.
I know you wouldn't want me to do this, she thought. But I'm going anyway. My friends are still out there. I can't give up. Not yet.
She slipped on the blouse, and other clothes he had given to her earlier. For a bruiser, he was rather sweet.
I know you won't understand.
The leather jacket slipped easily around her shoulders, fitting perfectly.
He groaned, shifting in his slumber. Makoto froze, watching his eyes carefully. They did not open. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he relaxed, snoring quietly.
Makoto noted that his two room apartment was not much, but it was more than she had now. It was more than she ever had since arriving here.
Makoto had almost discarded the desire to settle down, having joined the Cyber-Knights. She let herself be consumed by the war against the D-bees, the demons, the evil. There was so much of it. There was more every day. Not all of it came from the rifts, she knew. There was one man who was a great source of it. Prozek, and his son. To think a man of such corrupt power had procreated sent shivers through her.
Rumours told her that Prozek had Rei. Or at least, a girl who sounded a great deal like her. Then there were the rumours of Ami's capture, of the violence she endured, that perhaps she was dead.
Makoto walked into the kitchen, or that which passed for it. She gazed at the section of wall, and realized just how much she missed cooking. Well, she thought, pick one; food, and death, or fight evil, andŠ what?
The lack of an answer for the latter choice scared her. It always had.
"Hungry? I suppose you where just running out to the store for a snack, eh Mako?"
She turned on one foot, tense as a drawn bowstring. There was a sour expression on his face. Her tension drifted to the floor as her eyes did, and she found herself wanting for words.
"What do you suppose you were gonna do? Save me trouble by takin' off?" He was angry, and rightfully so. Still Makoto could say nothing.
She gazed at him as he stood there, and strangely, despite the fact he was angry at her, she felt drawn to him again.
"My friends are out there, Han," she started. "I can't let them go."
The anger drained from his face, and in the place of it was understanding. A boyishly quiet look came to his face.
"I haven't had a lot of friends in my life," he said softly. He stopped for a moment, clearly thinking on his next words. "I guess I'm not so mad at you for wanting to help them."
Makoto felt herself near tears again, and hated herself for it. She cursed under her breath. Han walked up to her, and took her in his arms. She let her head rest on his chest as tears flowed.
"I think I love you," he said. "I guess that's why I don't want you to take off. I think maybe I can help. I think maybe I want to."
They were silent for a time. He continued talking. Makoto was not sure of most of what he said, but found it comforting. She wondered why it was her crying, and not Usagi. She did not know. Maybe Usagi was crying a lot still. SheŠ no, they - Han kept on stressing that - would find her friends. Then what? Makoto thought for sure they were not the same as they used to be, or that they would not be. But what would happen after they found them?
"Mako? Are you okay?" She heard his voice ask. She nodded against his chest. He pushed her away slightly so he could look into her eyes. "Are you sure? You seem to be doin' alot of crying."
"I think so," but her face did not share the conviction of her words. She looked away. "Oh Han, I'mŠ"
He looked concerned. "What, babeŠ? What?" His voice was soft, gentle. She wanted to say it, but found the words blocked in her throat.
He was silent. In his eyes she could read he wanted to help her, but did not know what to say, or how to say it.
"I'm scaredŠ" she said, and leaned against him, fear welling inside of her.
In his mind he wondered what there was she had to be afraid of. His eyes narrowed, he felt himself grow angry at the thought of her being fearful. He paused, and wondered at this feeling. Sure he had protected women before, but not because he cared about them. Rather, because it was his job. This was different. He cared about Makoto, and wanted to see her happy. That was all that mattered to him now, he realized. If fighting made her happy, then she could fight. If being with him made her happyŠ he did not mind that at all. He smiled gently.
"Makoto," he said, breaking Astin's rule. She was silent. He pushed her away slightly again, kissing her softly, to reassure her. "We're gonna see a friend of mine. I think he can help us."
"What? Who?" She asked, sounding startled. "You mean Laray?"
He shook his head. "No. Laray's just a techie. He a good guy, but just a techie." He let go of her, and headed towards the other room. Makoto looked tired and afraid.
"What's his name?" She asked.
Han stopped just before the leaving the room. He smiled and said, "Conroy."
They had been on the road for a while. Nothing much had happened. Makoto had tripped up a couple of black market thugs looking for a quick credit-hit.
"So you never really told me much about being a Cyber-Knight," Han said, smiling at Makoto. "And all those monsters you fought."
She shrugged. "I just defended a couple towns from some demons."
"No wonder you took out those guys like that," he smirked, thumbing behind him.
"Humans are easy to fight, most of the time. Unless they have magic, or cybernetics. I like fighting Juicers," she smiled darkly, "they're a little tougher, but they're all human."
Han blanched. "You mean you fight Juicers for fun?"
She eyed him. "What, they aren't that tough."
He bruiser looked amazed. "You're not nuts. At least, you don't look like a crazy. You don't have those knobs that stick out of your head."
"I guess that makes me a little more than human, eh?" She grinned, enjoying this.
Han scratched the back of his head, still unbelieving. "Okay, so maybe I don't wanna know."
Makoto shrugged. "Whatever, hon."
Han gazed at her. "Hon?"
She smiled and nodded. Han still could not quite believe he was falling in love with the tough girl he had never dreamed existed. Yet, here she was, accepting him with little argument.
"Uh, okay, maybe I do."
She shrugged, saying nothing. Han waited.
"Are you going to say anything?" He asked, incredulous.
"Are you sure you want to hear it? Fighting Juicers is the least of it, if that give you any idea of what I've dealt with." She did not look at him, seeming to concentrate on where they were. "How much farther is it anyway?"
"New Quebec is pretty big, and alleys aren't the fastest way to get around. We still got awhile." He paused. "Yeah I'm sure. I can handle it."
She smirked, then her face assumed a more serious expression. "I became a Cyber-Knight one year ago because I didn't know what else to do. I did it to repay a favour, and for my friends."
"What kind of favour?"
Makoto hesitated. She did not want to mention that in the light of her current situation.
"Well?" He looked expectant.
"A Cyber-Knight saved my life. I thought becoming a Cyber-Knight might help me to find a direction. Besides," she giggled lightly, "he was so cute! It was worth it just to train under him."
"Wasn't easy, was it?" Han was watching something ahead of them. It looked a like a fire had broken out in a small industrial building. People were scrambling about like headless chickens.
"Uh," he swore, "Coalition. I won't have a problem wit'em. I don't think we wanna get you mixed up with them, though."
Makoto nodded. "I want to avoid any of the ISS Ants, if I can."
"Okay. We're going to have to take the long way around." He indicated the adjoining alley to his right. "This'll get us there, but it'll be a while."
"You want to know why I like fighting Juicers? 'Cause one almost killed me."
"Makes sense to me," Han shrugged. "Do'ya think you'd mind telling me how?"
She shrugged. "I guess he was just a rouge. It was just after I'd arrived here. I almost wishŠ" she closed her eyes. "Um, nevermind. Anyway, I was lost in the woods, wandering, and wounded. I was hoping to find a city. What I ran into was the Juicer and his pals.
"One of them just looked at me and said, 'Squishy.' He laughed.
"I don't know if he saw me bleeding, but he must have figured me for a normal human. Maybe he was looking for credits. Or fun. I don't know.
"'C'mere pretty thing,' he sneered. I did. I was going to give him something he wasn't going to expect.
"I didn't know what he was then. I just swung at him. He seemed to know it was coming. He side stepped the punch and laughed again. I never saw anyone move so fast before! He didn't move to hit me, he just stood there and laughed.
"I was getting really pissed off. So I tried to hit him again. I was weak, and was bleeding pretty badly. I guess I wasn't thinking straight either, trying to fight him like that.
"I tried a few times, and missed him on each one. He made a joke of it, dodging before I threw my punches, and commenting on my swings.
"I fight like a girl, he said. He was looking at his pals and laughing loudly. I don't know what happened after that. I was so pissed off I barely saw what was going on.
"I don't know if he was careless, drunk, or what, but I tagged him. I can't have hit him that hard. I was practically dying. I ripped his shoulder open." Makoto closed her eyes, remembering, a look of pain, and distaste passing over her face. "He didn't even scream. He pals just looked scared, and then took off. One of them muttered something about him being 'juiced.' I saw a crazed look in his eyes, and knew, no matter how fast I ran, he was going to kill me.
"He nearly beat me to death."
Han looked concerned, but lost for words. "I'm sorry Makoto."
"Um, thanks." After a moment, she continued. "That's when the Cyber-Knight came. All I heard was a scuffle. I felt his presence, and heard his voice. That's when I fell in love with him."
Han shot her a look. She smiled, "More of a crush, really. He saved my life. Took me back to his house, healed me, and eventually taught me the ways of the Cyber-Knight."
Han looked chagrined. "Is that it? You just learned it all?"
"Well no, of course not. Do you really want me to get into philosophy?"
"Philo-what?" Han started, nonplused. "Uh, I guess not."
They walked for a while in silence. Makoto watched the area around her. Somehow they were managing to avoid a lot of Coalition troopers. She watched Han, too. He seemed to be very aware of what was going around him, and he seemed to want to stay out of the way of the Coalition as well. Makoto slowly worked up the nerve to speak.
"So what do you do?" She asked.
"Do? Uh, I'm a Bodyguard."
"Depends on who's still alive," he stated flatly. "I was really good at my job, I kept my clients alive. The others guys weren't so good. They were messy. Some of them even worked for the black market, too. So if a client died in an accident, no one really noticed."
Makoto looked a little shocked. "You don't care?"
He shrugged. "I guess I do care. But I'm not gonna get the black market on my case, right? I'm just one guy. I like my life just fine."
"Before, or after?" Makoto asked with a smirk.
"What? Oh," he smiled. "After, of course. And I'm thinkin' maybe I'll just quit the bodyguard biz. I mean, I think we'll find plenty of action lookin' for your friends." He looked at her. "Speakin' of which, who are they?"
"You heard of the girls down in Lone Star?"
"What? You mean the one who's dead? And whatŠ the other one, she's some kind of mutant or something? Those are your friends?" Han had an expression of distaste written on his face.
"Those are exaggerations. I'm pretty sure that those two are Rei and Ami. Ami was, well, still human when we, um, parted companyŠ So I don't think that's changed. I think it's a lie."
"Rei, Ami. That explains it," he sighed, "yeah. All of it."
"Where I come from we fought the NegaVerse. They wanted to take over the universe, starting with earth. The five of usŠ"
"Wait," Han interrupted her, "five?"
She nodded. "Five, including me."
"And you saved the whole planet? I mean, where you come from." He sounded skeptical.
"Well, there weren't very many of them, and they only tried to take over Tokyo. I'm not really human, if that helps to explain it. I'm from the Moon. I'm a princess of Jupiter. Well, I was, anyway."
Han rather liked the idea of her being a princess. "Pretty tough for a princess," he remarked with a grin.
"We protected the Moon Princess. We were all Senshi, warriors. It was our job, our destiny."
"Pretty cool job, if you ask me," he said, still grinning.
She shrugged. "Only we didn't do so well. Uh, well, we beat Queen Beryl, and Allan and Anne from the NegaMoon, but then we were brought here."
"I guess you didn't have a choice, right?"
"Well, no! Do you think I would've chosen to be here?"
Han's face suddenly darkened. "No, I guess not."
"Um, that isŠ I'm okay now, butŠ"
"Listen Mako, you don't have to say anything else if you don't want to. I get the point."
She grabbed his arm and stopped him, looking vaguely upset. "Han, don't think you haven't made me happy. You haveŠ but I miss my friends. I don't think I can really be happy until I know what's happened to them."
Han frowned, still unsatisfied.
"I don't think I really want to go back now anyway. I mean, I guess the NegaForce took over by now without us there to stop it." She suddenly looked angry.
Han turned to her and took her in his arms again. "I'm sorry. I guess I was being selfish. They're your friendsŠ I know I miss mine."
Makoto's anger faded. "What happened to them?"
Han sighed. "Like I said, I haven't had alot of friends. Mostly just one or two along the way. Most of 'em are dead. Others, wellŠ enemies make life interesting, I guess, eh?"
Makoto looked to the ground for a moment, then to his eyes. "I just like to crush 'em," she smiled darkly.
Han smiled, "I love that about you." He squeezed her gently. "It's gonna be okay. Really."
Makoto leaned her head on his shoulder. "Oh god I hope so."