I really, really couldn't figure out how to edit when I first posted this, so it's re-done. And thank you to the people who commented. I changed this story a bit because of it (thanks especially to the people who told me certain things were physically impossible and to the person who pointed out that Soldats was most likely not a huge threat anymore).
Kirika had never felt more alive than on her return from the manor. It was a fresh, vibrant feeling, and it snaked itself into her, settling down in her dark places where it grew like a parasite, sapping away all her defense, leaving her open to the world.
It was a feeling that could make her believe this was first day of a new life; the first day when she was honestly herself, liberated from previous ties to Soldats, finished with the search for her past. As she watched the trees speeding by out the window of the jeep Mireille was driving with an intense, almost maniacal determination, Kirika realized that she was completely and utterly free. There were no more false clues, no hidden uncertainties in the night, just a winding dirt road, and two woman who might never quite evade the scent of death, but had currently escaped it for a while.
In truth the events following the attack at the manor were nothing more than a blur of vibrant colors and emotions. Kirika spent an entire lifetime in that hospital room Mireille had dragged her to, hanging between a consuming black that swirled from her eyelids when she shut her eyes, and the sterile whiteness of the walls and doors that burned her corneas when they were open.
Mireille floated in and out of her consciousness a disembodied angel drifting somewhere on the edge of the nausea and vertigo that were always at the foremost of her few rational thoughts. Kirika couldn't remember her dreams from those few nights but she always woke screaming, the sound dying deep in her heart.
Kirika never told Mireille, but she had died in that hospital room. And when she woke screaming, it hadn't been from pain or fear of death, but from the renewed fear of the life that was being infused back to her.
A week, Mireille said, that's how long it took her to return to life. And her first teetering steps had been pushed up against Mireille as the ragged, blonde woman had led her to the jeep still outside the city.
Kirika head hadn't quite woken up from the echoes of her fever dreams, and Mireille skin had been cold as death against hers, but when the older woman had grasped tight and strong around her hand it had anchored her back to this world.
Getting into that car next to Mireille had been like life suddenly springing back into color.
There were dark purple lines of exhaustion under Mireille's still ocean calm blue eyes, and her skin was glowing gold with sweat and amber with exhaustion. It should have been a hellish trip as both women were injured and emotionally drained, but that wasn't how Kirika would remember it on later occasions.
Instead, she would recall vividly the coffee color of the peeling vinyl of her seat, the gritty, sand-paper texture of the metal door handle underneath her exhausted fingers, the sighs of pain Mireille made every so often, short quick stabs that interrupted the otherwise perfect serenity of silence enveloping them. Every thing about that evening pushed its' way into her mind, and announced itself as something somehow new and significant.
The images spun in her head, whirling in front of her eyes as she gripped into the felt seat covers to keep balance. The heat was pushing against her now, and she could feel her head starting to leave her body when Mireille touched her arm, the unfamiliar clink of the of keys glinting in her hand balanced by the worn silencer of her gun pushed against the leather edges of her purse. The car was no longer humming in urgency, and Mireille was gesturing towards a row of gray, indistinguishable buildings.
"We should really hurry," Mirielle continued, when Kirika continued to sit, unmoving, strapped to the car seat. There was a note of urgency in her voice that Kirika couldn't help but note, so the girl turned to face her partner. Mirelle's face was pulled tight in a smile that Kirika also couldn't help but recognize. She wasn't saying what she was feeling.
It didn't matter because Kirika followed her anyway. She always would.
Once safely seated in the small examination room in the back of the building, Kirika was acutely aware of the rough texture and tightness of the gauze as the doctor bandaged her side under Mireille's watchful gaze. She listened to the doctor's instructions against strenuous activity, although she was focusing more on his the deep rumble of his voice, the slight intonation which marked a distinctive Paris accent, than his words.
She wondered if her own voice carried any distinctive traits. Probably not, that would be a liability. Mireille's voice carried them. Not in her accent so much, but there was a teasing uniqueness to the way she said certain words. Kirika would always recognize Mireille's voice, she knew. Maybe that was a liability. Maybe she allowed it anyway. For all Mireille's talk of professionalism, she had a tendency to break her own rules. After all, Kirika was still breathing.
Was it a liability to pause when Mireille turned abruptly from the parked car and walked down the empty street.
"Mireille?" She didn't know why she bothered to question since nothing made sense anymore anyway.
"I know a place. We can sleep there for a few hours." When Kirika still didn't move she continued, "I think it would be good to get our strength back before we return and have to deal with whatever's there waiting for us."
Kirika couldn't quite work out whether or not there was sense behind the words, but it wasn't as if the answer had mattered anyway, so she followed Mireille down the street and into another building, and listened with renewed interest to Mirielle, as the woman exchanged quick French with the owner who had ran down to greet them, quickly procuring a key in exchange for a few concealed bills.
It was only after they got to the room that Kirika's mind slowly began to return to the events at the manor: Chloe's body laying so vulnerable and childlike in death, white hot fear echoing from a gun shot that for a brief moment she thought had connected, acidic tears that had dripped off Mireille's face to Kirika's arm, burning through the callused flesh and leaving her raw and exposed as her partner begged her to live.
The memories stung at her, lightning fast and venomous. By the time Kirika realized she was shaking Mireille's arms were around her shoulders, restraining, and she could hear the blonde's low voice whispering. Probably Corsican, the analytical part of her mind decided. Although they normally spoke French or Japanese when they were together, Kirika had heard Mireille speaking her mother tongue to herself a few rare moments.
The lilting melody of Mireille's words remembered her of the long ago encounter with the Intoccabile. It had been hard for them both. Mirelle was not used to showing her weakness, and Kirika was not use to seeing it. The night after the older woman had failed to kill the brutal princess, Kirika had woken to find the blonde shaking on the bed next to her speaking to herself in the same soft, quiet language she was speaking now.
Kirika hadn't known what to do to such a situation, feeling she was quite ill equipped to offer comfort, and almost without thinking she had placed one hand on the older girl's shoulder. She still couldn't express what she had hoped to accomplish with the gesture, but the effect was that Mireille instantly stopped her oration, as her whole body stiffened against Kirika's touch. Kirika had instantly retracted the offending hand but, Mireille had left her anyway, disappearing into the bathroom for the better part of an hour.
Kirika hadn't heard the tears, but she could smell the salty remains when Mireille returned to the bed, and the hands that pulled the sheets around them had still not quite stopped shaking.
As time passed Mireille divulged pieces, of both the story and of her own pain, but the memory of what she wouldn't and couldn't share remained. It was a reminder of the distance between them.
A distance that Mireille was now rapidly closing. Tired beyond belief and the memory of too many past incidents burning in her mind, Kirika was unsure how to act, unsure, once again, what would be considered acceptable behavior in such a situation. Nonetheless she leaned into Mireille, breathing in the comforting smell of her hair, the scent of the botanical shampoo she always used overpowering the scent of blood. She felt Mireille's arms slowly leading her towards the bed, leaning her back on to it.
"Mireille." It hurt Kirika to hear her own voice. It was too desperate of a whisper, too many questions and regrets.
"It's okay. Let's just go to sleep now," the blonde said, her hands on Kirika's shoulders, her body almost suffocating close. Her tears stopped, and she felt Mireille's weight shift of her. She could still sense the blonde next to her, near enough that she could almost hear the slow steady rhythm of her heart beat, and her body relaxed in the knowledge. The heat of the tears on her face combined with proximity of the calm figure. It made her so dizzy. So dizzy that she was falling inside of herself again. Tears, and itching feeling of a few strands of hair, and the dry, dust air of the room, all formed a spiral of darkness in her mind. Reality being much too confusing at the moment, she submerged herself in it.
The next thing Kirika remembered was waking up with a start, Mireille lying next to her, dead asleep, in what she assumed must be a fairly uncomfortable position even without her injuries. Her hair was mused and tangled, and her body was still tense, one hand gripping at the sheets, the other curled into a fist.
Kirika slipped out of the bed and over to the dirty window. The cobwebs and dust clung to it, but if she focused she could still see through it. It was still dark outside, and she wondered if it was morning or, they had slept through until last night. Before she could pursue the thoughts, Mireille's voice cut across the room, so clear and sharp that Kirika wondered if she had truly been sleeping at all.
"I've never understood what you see by staring out the window like that."
"Sorry, did I wake you?" Kirika didn't move. This conversation was normal; the sight she might see if she turned was not.
"It's okay," the blonde said with a rustle of fabric. "We should leave while it's still dark anyway." She didn't leave the bed; Kirika didn't leave the window.
"It's something I can't have." Kirika said after several moments of silence.
"What?" Kirika could hear the sharp confusion of Mireille's voice, and the soft stomp of a foot landing on the floor.
"Out there," she explained, clarifying for the benefit of her partner by resting her head against the window. She searched for a way to explain, but the words wouldn't quite fit. Then she remembered something from several lifetimes ago, so long ago it was almost hard to believe it was her memory, not something artificially injected in.
"When I first went to the school, everyone left for home at the end of the day. I didn't have anything to go home to, so I watched them from the window until there was no one left. And I thought, that maybe I could imagine what it would be like."
Eyes were on her. She couldn't tell what they meant without turning around, and she couldn't turn around without losing the thought, so she finished it before she could trip over any more words, "Even though I exist in darkness, I can still see the light from a distance."
"Kirika." The voice was soft, but it went nowhere. Footsteps came near though, and Mireille voice appeared next to her after several moments adding, "We can be whoever we want to be. Just because we were born from darkness, doesn't mean we can't see the sun."
There was no reply for that, and nothing else to do but turn from the window where imagined possibility might still lurk, and watch her partner where fluid reality was grasping for her. The blonde's was smiling, and this time it was a real smile which was spilling over into her, and within seconds a shy smile had crept onto the younger girl's face as well. Neither one of them moved for several moments, and if it had been an option, Kirika might have elected to never leave that place.
"Anyway," Mireille continued, brusquely interrupting the silence as walked back to the bed and began to gather their things, "We should leave." She turned to flash an impish smile at the girl, "You have no idea how much I need a shower right now."
The serenity from their moment by the window stayed with Kirika until they reached the car. From the light that blinked on when she open the door, she could see traces of her blood on the seat. Unreal and fake to her, despite the ache in her side that attested to the veracity of the injury.
"We'll have to clean that before we get rid of the car," Mireille merely noted before sliding into her seat.
Mireille glanced at her partner, and seeming to note that her silence was different than normal, "We'll sort everything out when we get back. You'll see."
The car ride to the apartment seemed to last an eternity, the walk from the garage to the complex seemed a never ending trek, and the stairs to the apartment seemed an infinite climb, but they eventually arrived. Mireille walked in first, surveying the room in that confident brash way Kirika had grown to associate with her. Kirika had know the moment she stepped through the door that there was nothing, no hidden attackers behind the sparse furniture, no silent gun to come screaming and blazing condemnation on them both, no hidden messages or cleverly disguised clues, just a slightly damaged apartment with too many memories.
But she watched Mireille in silence. Watched the familiar twists of her body as she slid into the next room, darting from side to side, performing a seductive dance with the shadows. Her face frozen like a marble sculpture of concentration, her eyes narrowed in determination, every muscle ready to spring into action.
Kirika realized without nearly as much detachment as she would have thought, that her partner was beautiful in this aspect. Ravishing and frightening at the same time, a dark angel that was both a curse and a blessing. Kirika had always thought that in the back of her head, and now admitting it now gave her some form of relief. Not everything that had gone between them in the past was now gone.
She clang to the memory, as the older girl slipped from her sight to inspect a closet, suddenly aware how foreign the room felt at the moment. She had entered Altena's manor expecting never to see those walls again, and once she was back there she found that the image of her memory and the reality laying in front of her were different in a way she couldn't pinpoint. That apartment was the only place she had ever truly felt comfortable, even if briefly, and at that moment, watching Mireille prowl as if in the middle of a mission, she realized she was once again a stranger in that house.
She didn't think she was the same person she had been before leaving, and she realized that, on some level, that was the difference. She had been reborn, and she wasn't sure how to see the world through her new eyes, just as she wasn't sure how exactly it had appeared t her before. She hadn't know, and still didn't, who exactly she had been, just as she didn't know who she was now. Or what she was suppose to be, she mused glancing at the direction Mireille had disappeared.
There relationship before had been anything but straight forward, but if at least had the facade of being so. They looked for their mutual past together. They relentlessly hunted down any information of the Soldats. And at the end of it all the contract was terminated. Mireille would shoot Kirika, end Noir, and walk away to whatever her life had been before Kirika and her assorted baggage had, rather clumsily, intruded on it. It was, like everything in Kirika's life, temporary and with a definite ending.
She didn't have that anymore. There were no more promises. No more business contracts with set conditions and a definite date of expiration. There was nothing at all to keep them together, except perhaps each other.
Kirika hadn't been sure she could return to life outside of Mireille, and at that moment, watching the walls that remained hauntingly familiar despite the change, noting the missing flower pot, the pool table at which they had spent so many nights not conversing, but merely understanding, she knew that a life outside of this place would be a fate she could not endure.
It was the closest she had ever come to belonging.
There were no guidelines here. No carefully spelled out plan. And yet she knew. She would stay as long as she was allowed to. Whatever death, or life happened after that, was inevitable.
Mireille's head popped back into sight, jostling Kirkia out of her musings. Mireille, perhaps noting how close she had come to truly catching Kirika off guard smiled, one of her rare, true smile.
"Weren't you supposed to be making tea?"
Kirika didn't move. Mireille slipped towards her, her were steps light and wary, but her smile, if anything grew a little deeper. Their bodies were inches away now, and their proximity filled Kirika with a sudden desire to burst into tears.
"It's okay, Kirika." And with that Kirika melted against her body. It was stiff at first; too many angles, and tense edges that didn't quite fit together. Slowly, however, the hug pulled them both in, and maybe the pieces of their body still didn't quite fit the puzzle, but it didn't matter because that metaphor was no longer valid and there was just Mirille.
Slowly, however, they both sank into it. Kirika could feel Mireille's body pull closer to hers as her muscles relaxed and almost pulled away as she felt the known kiss of cold metal on her shoulder as the hand Mirelle held her gun in came to rest there.
"Kirika," Mireille murmured after several moments. The younger girl had always been inclined to think of her name more as a code, a marker of where she came from, rather than who she was. At that moment, hearing the way Mireille said her name, she decided that it was hers. More than that tightly guarded ID card, more than the deadly knowledge in her hands and her mind, that name, and the way Mireille said it right then belonged to Kirika.
"Let's go clean up," Mireille said simply, starting towards the bathroom, after shooting Kirika the same impish smile from the hotel. "Then I'll make the tea and we can decide what comes next."
As Kirika followed her, she noted, with her new born eyes, that the future just might contain light for them both.