Katse was falling in love.
Stretching languidly in bed, the silk sheets caressing hir bare skin, s/he rolled over to look at the sleeping man lying beside hir. He breathed slowly and evenly, sweat still drying on his golden, scar flecked skin.
Six months s/he’d been with him, six months of a an increasingly intense relationship with a normal man who DIDN’T beat hir, and DIDN’T manipulate hir, and who thought s/he was the best thing to happen to him in his life.
S/he still couldn’t believe it actually happened.
Leaning down, remembering their wondrous love-making less than an hour before, s/he blew gently in his ear. He rumbled, brushing unconsciously at the disturbance and s/he smiled, leaning back. S/he had no real intention to wake him. He looked too beautiful sleeping.
S/he watched him for a time, until hir stomach rumbled, then slipped out of bed, picking up hir houserobe and putting it on.
"Where are you going?" came from the bed and s/he grinned. S/he never could slip by him.
"Breakfast," s/he told him. "Would you like some?" But he was already asleep again.
Katse went downstairs, yawning and scratching at hir long golden hair. It usually looked like a haystack when s/he first woke up. Usually itched like one too. Tying it into a somewhat more manageable ponytail until s/he had time to attend to it, s/he headed into the kitchen to find breakfast. Unlike at Kross Karakorum, there was no staff here to cook for hir. S/he had to do all the cooking and laundry by hirself, though the cleaning was done by someone else, a cleaning service that had nothing to do with Galactor.
Galactor didn’t even know about the house, and there was nothing to indicate hir involvement with Galactor in it, other than a direct line to Sosai’s throne room at Kross Karakorum. It was hir home away from home, and the place s/he came to be with Jack.
The smile returned as s/he pulled out eggs and bacon, unusual food indeed to be eating outside Japan, where Japanese breakfasts were more traditional. Originally, the house had been bought to sulk in, to get away from Sosai’s temper , to bitch around in after a defeat and thumb hir nose at ISO at the same time. I’m here, and you don’t even know it. Losers. It turned into a bit of a vacation home instead, then into hir love nest.
S/he shivered, again remembering Jack’s touch. Sex was definitely a large part of their relationship, but Jack was a young man, younger than s/he was and still controlled by his hormones. S/he chuckled at that concept, breaking an egg into a pan. Jack’s hormones had nothing on hirs.
Watching the egg turn brown, s/he tossed some bacon into the pan and went to get a glass of wine. S/he’d never expected to meet someone like Jack, not in a million years. S/he was Berg Katse, destined to rule the world, and s/he had no time for any young man, especially one who could take hir affections away from Sosai just by smiling at hir. As s/he poured the wine and went back to rescue hir breakfast, s/he remembered their first meeting.
"God damn it! You can go faster than that!"
Standing up in a box seat set by the finish line of the racetrack, Katse screamed hir rage at car number 13, which was lagging sadly behind the lead car. "I’ve got a thousand bucks bet on you! Shit!"
The 13 car made a valiant effort, pulling ahead and abreast of a yellow number 8 car that was struggling to get out of second place, then abruptly lurched towards it. Gifted by Sosai with eyes better than a human’s, Katse saw that 13’s tire had blown out and kissed hir money goodbye. The driver too. 13 slammed into 8, then flipped, turning into an exploding smear of wreckage on the track. 8 swerved towards the rail, rebounded off it, and swung the other way, straight towards the finish line post the lead car had already passed, and towards hir.
Before s/he could run, however, the driver swung the car around the other way, pointing it away from the stands and somehow keeping it from flipping through a 360 degree spin that took it right through the centre of the racing pack without so much as dinging another car and finally to a stop perfectly parked by the rail.
The crowd cheered, Katse along with them. That had been one incredible piece of driving, and s/he went down to see what kind of driver could pull it off. Maybe s/he’d invite him into Galactor. God knew they needed some more talent in the ranks.
Knowing no one would dare to stop hir, s/he went onto the track, picking hir feet up on the dusty ground and cursing hir decision to wear suede. The 13 car was so much wreckage now, surrounded by rescue teams, but the driver of 8 climbed out intact, swearing up a bluestreak. S/he grinned. Apparently he hated to lose as much as s/he did. Pulling off his helmet, he kicked the car’s fender and turned to regard hir, his eyes gray and cold.
S/he still hadn’t figured out how they ended up as lovers. He’d been handsome in a rugged sort of way and s/he was still horny after hir latest flux, so s/he invited him to dinner. He’d looked hir up and down, obviously liked what he saw, and agreed. Dinner led to dancing, something he was surprisingly good at, then walking and talking, then a drive back to hir house where he fucked every last vestige of the flux out of hir. No one had ever done that before, so s/he invited him back the next time s/he fluxed into a woman, and he did it again. Sosai accepted the relationship because of how rational it made hir, and didn’t say anything. The casual sex was all s/he was looking for, but somehow, during the talking and the laughing, it grew into something more.
Katse sighed, watching hir eggs burn while s/he pushed a disobedient lock of hair out of hir eyes. It had never been supposed to happen, and s/he knew s/he should have stopped it the instant it started to get out of hand, but now s/he wasn’t sure s/he could. Jack was in the back of hir thoughts all the time, invading hir dreams, distracting hir concentration. His kisses on hir neck, his laughter in hir ear. Some days, s/he just wanted to lie beside him, and damn Sosai and his plans.
Katse shuddered, pushing the thought away. it was dangerous. S/he was Berg Katse, creation of Sosai X and destined leader of the world. S/he was made for conquest, not love. Jack was a concubine, not hir boyfriend, or heaven help hir, hir soulmate. S/he thought of him on hir, in hir... Heaven help hir, he was.
The smoke alarm going off above hir head snapped hir out of hir ruminations. The eggs were on fire. Shrieking, s/he grabbed the pan, tossed it in the sink and turned on the water. Immediately, fire leaped for the ceiling. "Oh, crap!!"
Jack ran in, stark naked and tense, as though he was ready for combat. He saw the eggs and ran for the cupboard, which he knew as well as s/he for having spent almost as much time in the house as s/he. He grabbed the baking soda and upended it over the fire, putting it out. Katse breathed a sigh of relief and he grinned at hir.
"Like your eggs extra crispy, I see."
"Very funny." S/he looked at the ruins of the pan and grimaced. "So much for breakfast."
He chuckled lowly and put his arms around hir, burying his face in hir neck. "So we have toast. Mm, you smell good. And you’re warm..."
S/he should break this off right away. He was a weakness in hir, something hir enemies could exploit if they knew about him. So what if he eased the fluxes, s/he just wound up changing back to female all the time to be with him. So what if he respected hir. S/he didn’t need respect when s/he had power. This relationship was all wrong for hir.
Easing hir arms around him, s/he kissed him, not resisting as he carried hir to the tiled floor. So what if it was wrong. S/he didn’t care.
[WHAT IS ON YOUR THOUGHTS, KATSE? YOU ARE VERY QUIET TODAY.]
Katse bowed deeply, sweating under hir mask. It was a little too tight, chafing against hir forehead and itching. "Nothing, my lord."
[YOU ARE LYING TO ME, KATSE. I SEE THAT YOU ARE THINKING OF THAT YOUNG MAN AGAIN.]
S/he tried not to shiver. "He performs a useful service, my lord."
[I KNOW. I AM IN YOUR THOUGHTS AT TIMES WHILE HE IS IN YOU. HE IS VERY... PLEASURABLE.]
Beneath the mask, Katse’s eyes widened. S/he’d had no idea Sosai was linking to hir while s/he made love to Jack. Somehow, s/he felt violated.
"Whatever I can do to please you, my lord," s/he said instead.
[PLEASURE IS IRRELEVANT. ONLY THE RESULTS MATTER. HE MAKES YOU RATIONAL. YOU SHOULD USE HIM WHEN YOU FLUX TO MALE AS WELL.]
"Um, I’m afraid most humans aren’t very open about that. Jack wouldn’t want to."
[NONSENSE. BRING HIM HERE AND INSTALL HIM AS YOUR OFFICIAL CONCUBINE, BEFORE HE GAINS INTEREST IN A YOUNGER, MORE ATTRACTIVE HUMAN. I HAVE NO DESIRE TO NURSE YOU THROUGH HIS REJECTION.]
Even as s/he raged at the insult, Katse thought desperately. S/he talked with Jack a lot, sharing things s/he’d never told anyone else, including Sosai, and one thing that had come clear in his return confessions to hir was that there was nothing he hated more than Galactor. Knowing s/he was their leader would destroy him.
"I don’t think that’s such a good idea, my lord," s/he told him carefully. "If I bring the human here, ISO’s spies may learn of him, and try to use him against me."
[IF THEY TAKE HIM, FORGET HIM. HE IS ONLY ONE HUMAN.]
Hir sweating increased. "But, I am from human stock. If he’s destroyed, I’ll grieve a time and be of less use to you."
[THIS IS A WEAKNESS IN YOU, KATSE. PERHAPS I SHOULD HAVE HIM DESTROYED NOW.]
No! Oh, God, no! Not Jack! "That would be a waste of a resource, my lord. He serves me well where he is, does he not?"
[PERHAPS. VERY WELL, KATSE. YOU MAY CONTINUE TO HAVE HIM SERVICE YOU FROM WHERE HE IS FOR NOW. I WILL REVIEW MY DECISION LATER. NOW, EXPLAIN TO ME WHY YOU CONTINUALLY LOSE AGAINST THE KAGAKU NINJA TAI, IN SPITE OF THE WEAPONS I GIVE YOU.]
Katse breathed a sigh of relief. This was much easier to deal with.
The huge lizard mech flew over the city, lasers from its eyes tearing into the ground and buildings, bits of its tail falling off and exploding on impact. Much of the city was on fire already, but it wasn’t enough.
Katse’s eyes gleamed as s/he stood on the bridge of the mech, male, and leered at the viewscreen. "Keep firing!" s/he yelled. "I want that city in ruins!"
"Katse-sama, the God Phoenix approaches!"
Katse swung to look and cursed. S/he’d thought the God Phoenix destroyed earlier when it plunged into the sea, smoke trailing from it due to hir tail bombs. Only now it raced towards hir, its damage far less than s/he’d hoped. "Open fire on the God Phoenix!"
Lasers targeted on the approaching ship and it dodged, brilliant light grazing its underside. It swept out of sight around hir mech, then reappeared, racing out of range.
"They’re retreating, Katse-sama!"
"Good," s/he growled. Considering the power of hir mech’s lasers, that ship should have been slag. Nambu must have done something to it...
The mech rocked. "What’s happening?" s/he screamed.
"Explosion in the lower engine bay!"
They were on board, s/he realized. They’d done it to hir again! "Close off all hatchways and entrances. Lock this ship up tight!" S/he’d blow it up with them on board, s/he decided. S/he could certainly spare the crew and the crashing mech would wipe out the city anyway. S/he could still win.
"Five, acting as one. The white shadow that slips in unseen..."
The voice echoed out of nowhere and Katse cursed. Hir crew stared around them in terror, but s/he bolted for his escape hatch. S/he knew what was coming next.
"Oh, no, you don’t, Katse," the Condor growled, landing before hir. "Not this time."
Katse snarled and aimed a kick at his head. The Eagle had always intimidated hir, making hir too afraid to do more than run, but the Condor was someone s/he could get down and dirty with. He dodged the kick and tried to slam the butt of his cable gun against hir mask. As fast as he was, s/he dodged that was well and threw hirself at him, bowling him over and into a mainframe behind them.
Damaged by gunfire from hir panicked crew, the mainframe exploded. Flame and electricity battered them both, shocking hir into brief paralysis and tossing the Condor unconscious across the swiftly slanting floor. The Eagle swooped down to scoop him up in his arms and take to the air again, carrying his limp body to safety as Katse painfully dragged hirself through hir escape hatch. The hatch closed and locked behind hir and s/he launched the escape craft, shuddering in the painful change to female as the mech died behind hir.
Jack wasn’t at the house. Cursing to hirself, since s/he was in the grip of a major flux and seriously NEEDED him, Katse stumbled out to hir car. Jack owned a tiny trailer that he towed to races with him. He still lived there much of the time, especially when s/he was off on one of hir ‘business trips’. He didn’t want to be a sponge, which was part of the reason s/he loved him. Unfortunately, right now hir hormones were so out of control that s/he didn’t give a damn about his morality. S/he wanted him available NOW.
Jack’s trailer was in a tiny park outside Utoland, hooked up to a water and power source, the blue car that he sometimes raced in parked outside. Thank God for that, s/he hadn’t known what s/he’d do if he hadn’t been home.
Leaping out of the car, s/he ran over to the trailer and pounded on the door. There wasn’t an answer, so s/he dug the key he’d given hir out of hir purse and unlocked the door. Inside, the tiny trailer was meticulously neat, everything put away in its proper place. Katse ignored all that, slamming the door and turning towards the bed beneath the back window.
Lying on his stomach under a loose sheet and dressed in a white tank top, Jack didn’t look up at hir, breathing shallowly and slowly. Nor did he move. Somewhere under the bed, s/he could hear a beeper going off incessantly.
Katse frowned. "Jack?"
He didn’t say anything.
Hir hormones surged painfully inside hir, demanding relief. "Jack..." s/he cooed, starting towards him.
A few feet away, s/he stopped, staring at him in shock, hir flux forgotten. He wasn’t wearing a tank top. His chest and shoulders were bandaged and he was ashen gray.
"Jack!" S/he threw hirself at him, shaking him. "Jack, wake up!"
For a heartstopping second, there was nothing, then his eyes slowly opened, glazed and dilated. "Kathy?" he whispered.
S/he stared at him, so afraid s/he was shaking. S/he’d never dreamed anything like this would happen to him before. He wasn’t a Galactor or a soldier. Who’d want to hurt him? "Jack, what happened? Who did this to you?" S/he’d kill him. S/he’d tear out his throat and dance on his bones. Hir skin burned with rage.
Jack’s burned with fever. "...who?..." He licked his lips, obviously trying to remember. "...kats...kats...." He took a deep breath. "...crashed..." he said at last.
Katse blinked. "Crashed? Good God, Jack! You could have been killed!"
He grinned faintly. "...was fun... almost got him too..."
"Since when have you called a trophy him?" s/he snorted, putting a hand on his forehead. "You’re feverish. Why aren’t you in a hospital?"
"...left... hate them..."
"Well, tough." S/he looked around, trying to ignore the annoying beeping while s/he thought. He needed a hospital, but s/he wouldn’t trust him at anything other than a Galactor base. S/he had had too many bad experiences at human hospitals in the past. Besides, they’d probably be able to do a better job at keeping him from leaving. But Jack hated Galactor... The beeping was driving hir nuts. Fishing under the bed for the source, s/he found a wristband beeper and tossed it over hir shoulder without even looking at it.
Jack grinned at hir. "...always wan’ed... to do that..." He closed his eyes. "God... I feel like shit."
"I’m not surprised. Wait here." Leaping up, s/he ran out to hir car and grabbed the comm relay mike. "Base 885760, this is Katse-sama. I need a pickup for an injured man at these coordinates. I want your medical staff on board waiting for us and no questions asked. Is that understood?"
Hanging up, s/he went to get the medkit out of the trunk. It was larger than normal, filled with items s/he might need hirself, but there was more than enough to put a human to sleep long enough to get him to a Galactor base without protest.
S/he went back inside. For a second, s/he thought Jack was asleep, but his gaze flickered up at hir. "What’s... that?"
Carefully, s/he filled a needle from a tiny vial. "Something to make you sleep. You’ll feel better when you wake up."
S/he smiled at him lovingly. "Do you trust me, Jack?"
"Then be a good boy and take your medicine." Kneeling down, s/he swabbed his arm and carefully injected him. His eyes watched hir for a moment, then flickered shut and stayed that way. His breathing deepened.
While he slept and s/he waited, s/he went back to hir car and changed into hir uniform, breathing a prayer of thanks that it was the middle of the day and the trailer park was empty. Then s/he returned to his side and stroked his hair until the medical teams arrived to take them both to the closest base, a goon driving hir car back. It wasn’t until that night, while Jack was sleeping in intensive care, all of his doctors and nurses in white scrubs instead of green uniforms in case he woke, that s/he realized s/he’d completely forgotten about hir flux.
[ISO KNOWS YOU HAVE TAKEN A LOVER.]
Katse blinked, surprised at the news and forgetting hir respect for hir creator. "What? How?!"
Sosai let hir rudeness slide. [WHEN YOU BROUGHT HIM TO THE BASE OUTSIDE UTOLAND, WHISPERS STARTED. YOU TREATED HIM AS A LOVER. THE WHISPERS HAVE REACHED THE EARS OF SPIES. NOW OUR SPIES CLAIM THEY HAVE REACHED NAMBU. HE KNOWS OF YOUR JACK.]
Katse blanched. There was no way in hell that Nambu would ever let a lover slip through his fingers. He’d be drooling over getting his hands onto Jack. S/he thought of Jack, only a week recovered from his car crash and so beautiful. S/he thought of the Kagaku Ninja Tai hunting him down and shivered. "I understand, my lord."
[THEN YOU KNOW WHAT YOU MUST DO.]
S/he’d destroy ISO, kill the ninjas, blow the whole city up if s/he had to. S/he’d see Nambu’s beating heart in hir hand if that’s what it took to keep Jack safe. "I do, my lord."
[GOOD. I WANT HIM DEAD BY NIGHTFALL.]
Nambu, s/he thought to hirself desperately. He means Nambu. He wants Nambu dead, that was it. Nambu, the bane of hir existence, the threat to hir love.
It had to be him, because s/he’d die if it were anyone else.
The only mech available was a plasma shooting beetle. Katse stood on the command deck, so angry that even hir captain avoided hir. Nambu was going to die. S/he’d never been so sure about anything in hir life.
"Once we’re in range, target the ISO building," s/he ordered.
"Yes, Katse-sama," hir crew gulped. They’d never gone after the ISO building before for a very good reason. It was a veritable suicide mission to do so. Katse, however, didn’t care. S/he had a mission, one that had nothing to do with conquering the world, though destroying Nambu and his damned ninjas would definitely give hir that. S/he’d own the world after this day, and Jack would be hir king, safe from Nambu and Sosai both. S/he swore that, on everything s/he’d ever believed in. Mostly, s/he swore it on hir love for Jack.
"Katse-sama! I have the God Phoenix on the viewers!"
S/he stared at the approaching warship. "Ignore it," s/he ordered.
"IGNORE IT!" S/he screamed. "I don’t care about that damn ship. I want the ISO building in ruins! FULL SPEED!"
The ninjas opened fire, bird missiles exploding against their hull. The mech shuddered, but its armour was too tough for them to penetrate directly. They lost two legs and an antenna though, shorting out the targeting computer for the plasma bursts.
"Sir! We can’t keep this up! They’ll rip us apart in two minutes!"
"I only need one!" The ISO building appeared below. "Blow it up!"
"Starting manual targeting now..."
"Katse-sama! The God Phoenix is going to Hintori!"
Gasps of horror started at that as a bird of fire began to replace the God Phoenix. Katse threw hirself at the firing controls. "Blast that building!" s/he shrieked and slammed hir hand down on the firing button.
A beam of plasma a hundred feet thick speared out from the beetle mech, to the ISO building and past it, arcing towards the suburbs of the city and the hills beyond. Katse’s eyes widened, seeing only that explosion so many kilometres away and not the bird screaming towards hir ship.
"What was the location of that hit?" s/he whispered.
"Where did it land!??!" s/he screamed.
"Katse-sama, you have to evacuate!"
"90 degrees latitude, 55 degrees longitude."
Katse screamed in agony. S/he knew where that hit landed, what area it’d turned into dust. Strategically, it was nothing, emotionally it was everything. It was a tiny little trailer park.
"JACK!" s/he wailed.
Then the Hintori hit hir ship and everything was fire.
[KATSE, ANSWER ME. THE GOD PHOENIX IS AFTER YOU. WHY ARE YOU NOT TRYING TO ELUDE THEM?]
Katse didn’t answer, shutting off the voice coming through hir computer, not caring that he’d punish hir for it later. Nor did s/he care that the God Phoenix was closing in behind. All that mattered to hir was the patch of smoking dead earth that was coming into view on hir tiny escape ship’s viewscreen.
Jack was still alive, s/he kept telling hirself. He had to be alive. The universe wouldn’t be so cruel as to have him die on hir. S/he didn’t care how many millions s/he’d slaughtered. Nothing could be so cruel.
The ruins of the trailer park grew on hir screen and s/he choked down a sob. The God Phoenix only a kilometre behind hir and gaining, s/he dove for the ground and a near crash landing. Skidding to a stop on the burned ground, s/he leaped out and sprinted for where his trailer had stood when s/he last kissed him goodbye just that morning, tearing hir mask off to see better and let hir tears flow. S/he didn’t care anymore if the Kagaku Ninja Tai saw hir face either. Hir whole life waited in that trailer.
It wasn’t there. S/he screamed in horror as s/he came on its remains, no more than a dark patch of burning metal on the ground. Any sign that Jack had ever been there, had ever loved hir, was gone, and s/he dropped to hir knees, clawing at hir face and shrieking, hir blond hair and robes trailing in the ash around hir.
It was the sound of Nambu’s ninjas running across the rubble behind hir that brought hir back. Spinning around, s/he stared at them with wild eyes and they all skidded to a stop in shock, seeing hir face clearly for the first time. The Condor started to shake.
"I killed him," s/he gasped, laughing out of control. "I killed him myself. Sosai wanted him dead, Nambu wanted him dead and I wound up killing him myself. Oh God, I killed him!"
The horror of that death hit hir like none of the murders s/he’d committed, none of the families s/he’d destroyed, and with a wail, s/he leapt to hir feet and ran.
The Condor collapsed.
"Shit! Follow her, him, it!"
"Ken, he’s not breathing!"
Katse fled into the ruins and the city beyond, leaving the ninjas to try and save their wildly convulsing teammate.
The Condor was dying.
Katse barely reacted to the news when it came to hir from hir spies, sitting at the window of hir quarters and staring at the mountains outside. S/he didn’t care if all the ninjas died, if everyone on the planet curled up and turned to ash. S/he kept seeing Jack’s face, hearing his voice. His laugh, his touch, his love.
S/he’d killed him.
Katse closed hir eyes, a tear trickling down hir cheek. S/he didn’t want to kill anymore, not when it hurt this much.
A chime sounded at hir door. S/he glanced at hir masked reflection in the window, cursing it, but didn’t turn. "Yes?"
The door opened and a trooper bowed. "Lord Katse, Lord Sosai requests your presence immediately."
With a sigh, Katse rose to follow him.
[THE CONDOR LIES DYING, AND YOU DO NOTHING. YOU HAVE REVEALED YOURSELF TO THE NINJA. THEY KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR BUT YOU DO NOT CARE. EXPLAIN YOURSELF.]
Katse shrugged. "Why bother?"
[WHY BOTHER?! YOU ARE BERG KATSE. YOU ARE MY CREATION. I MADE YOU TO RULE THE WORLD.]
S/he looked down. "I don’t want it anymore."
Tears soaked the underside of hir mask. "Because I had my own little piece of heaven and I lost it." Hir voice dropped. "I destroyed it."
[YOU TURN YOUR BACK ON YOUR DESTINY FOR A MERE HUMAN?]
"Yes!" s/he screamed. "I do!"
Sosai regarded hir evenly and Katse braced hirself. When he destroyed hir for hir effrontery, s/he’d be with Jack again, s/he promised hirself. Even if he didn’t, s/he had special pills in the lining of hir cape that would kill hir in spite of hir healing ability. S/he would NOT live the rest of hir life like this, even if s/he were master of the world.
Instead, the alien snorted. [YOU ARE WEAK, KATSE, BUT I DO NOT HAVE THE TIME TO REPLACE YOU. I NEED YOU TO FINISH THE BLACK HOLE PROJECT. IF YOU WANT YOUR HUMAN SO BADLY, THEN TAKE HIM.]
Katse stared at him, confused. "What..?"
Colours swirled behind him. [OUR SPIES REPORT THAT NAMBU HAS YOUR LOVER IN CUSTODY SOMEWHERE AT THE ISO BUILDING. IF YOU WANT HIM, GO GET HIM. IF YOU FAIL, THEN YOU ARE NOT STRONG ENOUGH TO BE MY CHOSEN.]
Katse started to shake, hope s/he’d never thought s/he’d feel again filling hir. "He’s... alive?"
Not caring if he were lying just to keep hir pliable, Katse shrieked with joy and ran forward, hugging the alien’s screen. "Oh, THANK you!"
[GET OUT OF HERE!] he bellowed.
Katse turned and ran.
It took hir a week to get into the ISO building and past the security checkpoints. A week of careful, meticulous planning, the efforts of hundreds of Galactor Intelligence operatives and the releasing of at least a dozen blackmailed employees from their debts if they’d just do this one thing for hir. Katse barely tolerated the wait, knowing it was necessary, and trying not to think how Nambu was interrogating Jack while s/he delayed. He knew nothing about hir involvement with Galactor, but would Nambu believe that? S/he’d kill him if he’d hurt hir lover.
Finally, dressed in a nurse’s uniform and clutching a clipboard to hir chest, Katse stood in the ISO elevator as it rose towards the hospital ward. There was no record of a Jack, but a young man matching his description was in the infirmary. What he was admitted for was unavailable, but s/he swore a painful death on Nambu if he had anything to do with it.
The elevator arrived and s/he walked down the hall arrogantly, a nurse on hir rounds, nothing more, even if s/he was tall. Calmly, s/he walked to Jack’s room and flashed hir ID at the two Marines guarding the door. "I need to see the patient," s/he told them coolly.
They looked at one another, then opened the door for hir. Katse walked into the room and stopped.
It was dimly lit, the windows curtained. A single bed sat in the centre, surrounded by heart monitors, EKGs and an IV drip. Jack lay in that bed, pale and still, but Katse’s gaze didn’t immediately latch on him.
Gatchaman was in the room.
Why? s/he wailed inwardly. Why him now?
Gatchaman was sitting beside the bed, gently stroking Jack’s sweaty hair back from his forehead. Jack had tubes up his nose, s/he saw. And sensor patches taped to his skull where tiny patches of his hair had been shaved off. His eyes were closed.
Gatchaman looked up at hir. "Can I help you?" he asked, his throat thick.
Katse didn’t let any of hir concern show. "I need to examine the patient," s/he told him.
The Eagle looked down at Jack. "Again? It wears him out so badly..." He shook himself. "Of course. I’ll wait outside." He rose and left.
Katse almost collapsed against the wall in relief that he hadn’t recognized hir. Unbunning hir hair so that Jack would, s/he went over to his bed. The beeping of all the monitors and his own laboured breathing were the only sounds in the room. S/he knelt.
"What have they done to you?" s/he whispered, stroking his clammy cheek. "I’ll make them pay," s/he promised him.
What HAD they done? Rage filled hir as s/he lifted a chart from the side of the bed to see for sure. It had to be Nambu, damn him. First, s/he’d find a way to get Jack out and to a Galactor hospital where s/he could be sure he’d be properly cared for. Then s/he’d come back for Nambu.
He’d had a stroke. Katse blinked in surprise as s/he read that. A stroke in an eighteen year old man, due to a piece of shrapnel lodged in his brain from an old war wound involving a mole mech. His whole mind was breaking down, they couldn’t save him.
Katse shook hir head in confusion.
Why would Jack have run into a mole mech? Where? Galactor’d only used one and it never attacked Utoland.
Old war wound.
How could he be dying? Why would Nambu want to kill him? They’d want to keep him alive to blackmail hir, wouldn’t they? That’s what s/he would do.
Gatchaman had been in the room, upset. Concerned.
Why would he even care?
Katse began to shiver.
The spies said the Condor was dying.
Who fought a mole mech...
And took a shrapnel wound to the head...
Against hir will, Katse’s eyes moved down his dying body to his left wrist, and the communicator s/he’d never seen him wear when he was with hir, the communicator s/he’d once heard beeping under his bed and tossed away. The day when he was wounded at the same time the Condor was.
Jack hated Galactor.
Jack was the Condor.
Katse slumped down, sobbing. "Oh, God, no..."
Did Sosai know? Had he put the clues together and sent hir here to punish hir for loving the enemy? S/he could believe it of him.
Katse looked up at Jack’s glazed gray eyes. He couldn’t see hir very well, s/he realized. His sight was failing him. S/he swallowed. S/he didn’t care who he was. He was hir Jack and s/he still loved him. Would always love him.
Tenderly, s/he held his limp hand and knelt over him. "Yeah, it’s me."
"...I had this dream... they said you were Katse..."
Katse choked down a sob. "That’s silly."
He managed a weak laugh. "...yeah, silly..." He fought to breathe. "...I love you, katse..."
He called hir Katse. He did know. S/he held his hand tightly. "I’m sorry," s/he whispered. "for a lot of things."
S/he smiled at him. "You were always my own little piece of heaven, you know that."
"...cool... glad I’m... somebody’s..." His eyes closed. "...i’m tired..."
Katse stared in horror at the faltering lines on the monitor and what they told hir. "No, God, no, Jack, don’t leave me!" S/he pulled him up off the bed, holding him against hir chest as s/he sobbed. "Don’t leave me, don’t leave me, don’t leave me..."
A gloved hand gently came to rest on hir shoulder. "He’s gone, Katse," Gatchaman told hir quietly.
They were all in the room, the entire team, even Nambu, come to be with the Condor at the end. Katse could understand that, and didn’t even care that it meant s/he’d never escape. Most of them were crying as s/he cradled Jack’s body against hir, keeping hir eyes closed so s/he didn’t have to see him this way, but loath to give up his fading warmth. In hir mind, s/he could hear Sosai laughing at hir pain.
"Kross Karakorum," s/he said in a dull voice. "In the Himalayas. That’s where Sosai X is, and the Black Hole Project. You can destroy him if you destroy... his support system." Tenderly, s/he kissed Jack’s - Joe’s - forehead and laid him down, tucking the blanket up over him, covering his face. "He can’t survive without it and he’s the brain of Galactor."
The Eagle didn’t ask hir why s/he told them. None of them did, understanding. "Thank you," he said instead. "Can we be with him too?"
Without a word, s/he moved over, making room for them. They surrounded hir silently, kneeling down and not even looking at hir as they all said their goodbyes.