The rest of the afternoon moved by quickly as Jun helped Kathy prepare for the evening rush at the Snack J. As time went by, Jun occasionally glanced out the kitchen door hoping to catch a glimpse of Jinpei. Though she desperately wanted to see him, she saw no sign of him.
Around five thirty, Jun rushed upstairs and set up the common area for dinner for five. Feeling the tension inside her growing stronger as the time drew near, she brought the food up at five minutes to six and fidgeted around as she waited for them to arrive.
When she heard footsteps on the stairs, Jun jumped to her feet and rushed forward to meet whoever was there. Taking a deep breath, she tried to still her quivering nerves as she leaned out to take a peek down the stairwell.
Right away, Jun spotted Ryu's broad form slowly moving up the stairs. Behind him, talking quietly, was Ken. As soon as the two of them spotted her, Ryu stared woodenly at the steps and slowed his pace even further. Ken sent her a broad smile.
Continuing to prod his teammate gently from behind, Ken was eventually able to get Ryu to the top of the stairs.
"Good evening, Ryu, Ken." Jun moved out of the way. "I have dinner for us. Won't you sit?"
Ken enthusiastically returned Jun's greeting while Ryu barely murmured his while staring only at the floor. Jun looked up questioningly at Ken and the latter shrugged. After a moment, Ken steadily led Ryu towards a place at the food laden table in the common room.
Sighing lightly, wondering now that it had started how she was going to make this work, Jun moved to offer the two of them tea.
"Are Jinpei and Joe not coming," she asked.
"They should be here any minute. The two of them were coming over together."
There was something about the way he said it and the fact that he himself had come escorting Ryu that screamed of conspiracy. Ken must have had more resistance to this meeting that Jun thought he would.
A loud thump from the bottom of the stairwell made them all look towards its opening even as the sound was repeated again. Hearing a subdued curse, the three of them continued to wait silently until ultimately Jinpei stumbled from it into the room.
Seeing them looking at him, Jinpei's face turned into a deep scowl and he abruptly turned to go back the way he'd come. He stepped back, however, as Joe moved to fill the top of the stairs. His arm snaked out attaching itself to the teenager's shoulder and roughly turned him around. Joe's face was also scowling and looked angry. He glared out at the rest of them before forcing Jinpei farther into the room.
Under Joe's continued and insistent guidance, Jinpei sat down at the table. Jun got up and moved quickly to serve them tea, noticing with some chagrin that the scowls weren't leaving their faces. She was trying to figure out if she should start serving dinner or if she should delay it when Joe spoke.
"Something funny happened to me on the way to this nice little meeting. Jinpei here decided to try and use me as his own personal punching bag." Joe's harsh tone belied his words even as he turned a hard glare on the boy.
Even Ryu managed to come out of his subdued state enough to stare at Jinpei in shock as the magnitude of Joe's words sunk in.
"Jinpei?" Jun frowned wondering what in the world could have driven her brother to do such a thing.
At the sound of her voice, Jinpei started to rise to his feet. Before he'd even gotten half way, however, Joe's hand had darted out, clamped on to his arm, and yanked him forcibly back onto the floor.
Jinpei glared death at him. "Let me go! You've no right to try and keep me here. It's a free country!"
Joe's flame angered eyes turned to stare into Jinpei's own and said not a word. The rest of them sat still as the battle of wills ensued before them. Jinpei finally broke eye contact and looked away not able to quite reach Joe's level of intensity. Joe never once eased his hold on the other's arm.
Jun couldn't breathe as she watched the silent struggle happening before her. Never had she seen such animosity in her brother before. It sent a tendril of fear running through her.
"All right, Jinpei, we need only one malcontent in this group and I don't think Joe's quite yet willing to give up the honor." Ken leaned forward. "Why don't you just tell us what's eating you?" He moved over as he spoke, closing in on Jinpei's unguarded side. "Whatever it is, I'm sure we can all help work it out. We're a team, and team members always help one another. Won't you let us help you now?"
Jinpei didn't say a word, his face angry and his eyes riveted in his lap. His back was stiff and he kept his left arm limp, where Joe's painful hold still held.
Jun stared at him, her heart crying out, sure that if she said anything he'd only try to bolt again. That he was acting this way, and that it was somehow connected to her in some mysterious way, hurt her more deeply than she dared show.
"Whatever has happened between you and Ryu isn't terminal and can be worked out if you try. Whatever it is, it couldn't be so serious that you'd have to shun the rest of us to the point where you'd even attack us as well." Ken's tone turned serious. "Your actions are not indicative of someone we want on this team."
Jinpei's hands bunched into fists on his lap but he still said nothing.
"I - I'll tell you what's wrong." Ryu's whisper cut across the table.
Jinpei's eyes snapped up to stare in horror at him. "NO! You promised me!"
Ryu's tear filled eyes stared back at him and didn't back down.
"No! I won't let you!" Jinpei tried to lunge forward while simultaneously trying to disengage Joe from his arm. Jinpei was whipped backward as Joe's hold didn't loosen and Ken grabbed his other arm.
Jun gasped as Ken slapped her brother's face hard even as the latter had continued to struggle in their grip. The sound of the blow resounded across the room.
"Don't you realize what you're doing?" Ken asked him.
Misting brown eyes turned to stare at him even as the sting from the blow turned Jinpei's cheek red. "Why are you asking me? Why doesn't anyone ask her if she knows what she's doing? Why aren't you slapping the traitor instead of me?"
Everyone but Ryu stared at Jinpei as if he'd suddenly gone insane. Jun's stared at him wide eyed even as her numbed mind tried to make some sense out of what he'd just said.
"Are you totally out of your mind?" Joe's previous anger splintered and fell.
"Ask her! I dare you! Ask her about the man that we saw at the shop and the meeting she had with him last night. Ask her why she acted like she didn't know him and then went off later to meet him as the Swan! Ask her."
Jun only had eyes for her brother as Joe and Ken sent their puzzled stares in her direction. Slow comprehension slowly trickled inside her as she met his burning gaze.
She couldn't believe it. Her own brother actually thought her to be a traitor to the ISO, a traitor to him, a traitor to all they stood for! Unable to stop herself, tears gathered in her eyes and quickly overflowed. She didn't feel them fall as her vision blurred, her throat constricting as she whispered a reply to Jinpei's accusing stare. "It's not, it's not what you think."
Jinpei looked away, something breaking through his glare that she couldn't immediately identify.
"We saw her, aniki," he said accusingly. "Ryu and I. It was the same man and he knew her secret identity!"
Jun continued to stare at her brother though he no longer returned her gaze.
Ken turned to look at Ryu. "Is what he says true?"
"Y - yes... But I don't think she's a traitor! Just because we found a Galactor agent watching them, and just because he said some stupid words..." Ryu's own torturted eyes ventured a glimpse in Jun's direction begging her to prove Jinpei wrong.
Jun wasn't listening. All there was for her was the fact that the closest person in her life was actually capable of believing her a traitor. It wasn't a gag, it wasn't a mistake; he firmly believed her to be guilty of something she had never done.
"Jun... Jun... Please make sense of this for us. Jun." Ken reached across the table and shook her lightly when she didn't respond.
Jun blinked several times, coming out from within herself, her face turning hard as she realized what it was they were asking for. "I'm not a traitor, Ken!"
"I believe you." His clear blue eyes met her own. "But Jinpei obviously doesn't and even Ryu seems to have his doubts."
Jun tried not to cringe as the words stabbed her in the heart.
Ken squeezed her hand. "I'm not accusing you. I just want to try and make things clearer, to take away the - the negative assumptions that may have been made."
Roughly, trying to quickly gain control, Jun wiped away the warm tears still on her face. "I don't have to explain anything. Obviously it won't make any difference. My brother has already judged, tried, and convicted me. What difference would it make?" Jun glanced at Jinpei, her eyes trying to betray her again with more tears.
Jinpei wouldn't look at her, going out of his way to make sure their eyes wouldn't connect.
"Dammit, Jun, it makes a difference to the rest of us!" Joe pounded a heavy fist on the table. "Ken and I have come into this blind and are confused as hell. I for one would like some of this stuff explained!"
When she said nothing, Joe abruptly stood up and headed for the stairs. Reaching it's opening, he turned back around and leaned against the wall there crossing his arms in the process. His burning stare raked across them all daring them to try and leave without giving him what he wanted.
Jun sighed for a long moment, riveting her gaze to her hands. "The man I was with is an old friend of mine. He wanted to meet with me, so I did."
"Is Jinpei right," Ken asked softly. "Was it the same man at the J?"
Jun sighed again. "Yes, it was him, though I hadn't been entirely sure at the time. I didn't ask him because I wasn't sure and he didn't seem to recognize me. He left a note for me though, and then I knew. But by then, he'd already gone." Jun fingered Frost's note where she still held it in her pocket.
"Then why did you go meet him in uniform?" Jinpei leaned up against the table. "Why did you take papers from the ISO files? Why was there a Galactor watching your meeting and talking about Gatchaman defectors?"
Jun stared in surprise at Jinpei's livid face, her mind reeling from his last remark. "We were being watched?"
Even as the dark meaning of this revelation meandered through her mind, the phone rang startling them all.
For a moment, Jun didn't even consider answering it. Her confusion and slowly rising despair were trying to crowd in close. As the phone rang again though, she got up, suddenly seeing the mundane role as a temporary means of escape.
None of the others moved to stop her as she reached for it.
"Hello?" Jun's muddled brain slowly focused one the phone as no one answered on the other end. "Hello?"
"Beautiful One -"
Jun gasped lightly as she recognized the soft masculine voice. Without thinking about it, she turned her back on her teammates.
"I can't talk for long... Something's gone wrong. I'm not going to be able to stay as I'd planned." Frost sounded fatigued. Jun could faintly hear the sounds of traffic in the background. "I think they've figured out who I am. I need to return home and warn the others that our cover is blown." He paused for a moment. "I regret to say that you will probably not hear from me again for sometime and would like to ask a favor of you, if I could."
"Yes? What is it?" Jun found her heart beating loudly in her ears.
"Please, if you can, convince your superiors to try a rescue attempt on the Galactor camp. Those people truly need help and I can think of no one better for the job. I'd be forever grateful."
He was leaving? No, he couldn't.
"I have to go."
She heard him laugh lightly over the phone. "Don't worry, I'll contact you again when I can. I'm not about to let you out of my life so easily again. I - Damn! -"
Jun thought she heard the sound of glass breaking before the line suddenly went dead. "Frost? Frost!"
Panicking, Jun hit the disconnect button several times in succession hoping to somehow restore the line. Still getting nothing, she dropped the receiver back on the hook.
Biting her lip, Jun turned away from the phone, and made as if to rush out of the room.
Ken moved away from the table and reached out to stop her. "Jun, wait!"
"What?" Jun turned around and stared at Ken having totally forgotten that he was even there.
"What's going on?"
"I - I have to go. Frost's in trouble." As if that explained everything, Jun turned away and headed once more towards the stairs. Joe pushed off the wall to block her path even as Ken followed after her.
"Where do you think you're going," Joe asked.
Jun stopped before him, the answer not at all clear in her mind. "I - I don't know, but I've got to try and find him." Panic rose inside her. "Galactor is after him. They're trying to kill him, and I just can't let it happen. I owe him my life!"
Ken signaled Joe to move out of her way and he complied. Jun instantly shot through the opening and ran down the stairs. Joe moved to follow.
"Come on you two!" Ken waved for Jinpei and Ryu to come and then also plunged down the stairs.
Ryu shot Jinpei an odd glance before rapidly moving as well.
Jinpei hesitated, his face contorting with clashing emotions. He finally drove his fist into the side of his leg and now able to move ran after the others.
Jun tore away from the garage and roared down the alley in her motorcycle onto the street. She had no idea where Frost was or even if he was still alive. But it wasn't going to stop her - she had to find him!
Hoping that he might be staying somewhere close to where they'd had their meeting, Jun headed off in that direction. With any luck, she could circle from there and possibly spot the broken phone booth he had called from.
The fact that he was most likely already dead continued nagging her no matter how hard she tried not to think about it. Careening down the road, her heart seemed to hammer inside her at the same pace as the white lines passing on the road.
As she came close to the park, a thundering noise accompanied by smoke and a shudder through the street, forced her to slow down. Jun turned in the direction of the smoke just as a large, colorful, multi-pronged ship hovered up over the buildings into view.
As one, all four prongs jettisoned from the central hub of the ship and sprang long metallic wings as engines roared behind them. All four of the small crafts pulled away from the mother ship and dived behind buildings several blocks away.
Jun's wrist communicator beeped, but she ignored it as her heart soared with the proof of Frost's possible continued existence. The ship above them was a Devil Star's ship, Galactor's female assassins. Jun pushed her cycle back up to speed as she raised her right wrist above her head and brought it down. "Bird go!"
As her form and that of her motorcycle shimmered in the coming darkness, Jun switched from her civilian guise to her uniform.
A number of loud explosions rocked the street beneath her even as the four yellow ships dipped back up into view. Screams of terror poured towards her soon followed by a sea of terrified people trying to escape the barraged area. Jun had no choice but to slow down, even as with practiced movements she brought up her cycle's weapon system on line. She kept her gaze facing straight ahead looking for Frost and the enemy, trying hard to ignore the panicked eyes that moved past her and the smell of their fear.
As Jun wove into the outskirts of the stricken area, it grew harder to see. She quickly raised her hand to her mouth, trying not to breathe the thick smoke and dust that permeated the air.
Jun half glimpsed the rubble around her, most of her attention still fixed on the sky. A few people still streamed past her, some wounded, some not, but Jun didn't really see or hear them, her mind at the moment only capable of dealing with the greater problem hiding somewhere above.
A high pitched sound drew her eyes to the north as she noted with detached horror that the four needle like ships had decided on another run. Bracing her motorcycle in the middle of the street, Jun submerged her worry and troubled feeling for Frost and became solely the Swan. She fired her gun even as her enemies own weapons came to life.
A loud sound rebounded behind her as more firepower was added to her own. Looking back while still crouched behind the protective shield of her cycle, Jun's eyes widened momentarily as she spotted the Condor Machine propped up not too far behind her busily discharging ammo from its Vulcan machine gun.
All four of the Galactor ships, swerved upwards under the onslaught, but not before one of them had begun to sway badly even as two others spewed thin trails of smoke.
Abruptly, Jun gunned her motorcycle to full speed and turned down the nearest street even as Joe stomped his car into reverse. The mother ship blocked the sky above them as it dropped a barrage of beautiful, blood red roses towards the street below. Explosions racked the street and the already partially damaged buildings around them as the delicate blossoms touched ground.
Under the cover of the ensuing explosions, three of the four small vessels reattached themselves to the mother ship. The fourth swerved off uncontrollably to the right and quickly disappeared from view. Fighters appeared over head from Utolands' defense force and gave chase.
As Jun made her way carefully back to the main thoroughfare, Joe continued his mad dash backwards as he screamed loudly for the pedestrians to get out of his way as he caught up to the running mob. Once he'd found a relatively debris and refugee free area, he whipped the car about one hundred and eighty degrees. Gunning the car, he headed off in the direction of the falling ship and its trailing mother.
Ryu and Ken, both in uniform, pressed through the sidewalks where Joe had dropped them off before transforming his sedan into the Condor Machine. Jun saw Ken bring his wrist communicator to his lips, as he watched after the departing car, but never actually activated it. After a moment, he followed Ryu and joined her in the street.
"I've put in a call to Nambu. Emergency vehicles are on their way," Ken said.
Jun nodded quickly, her eyes scanning the area.
Ken continued. "As things stand, we wouldn't have a prayer of getting to the God Phoenix before Galactor has made good their escape, so we're to help here."
Jun glanced at him quickly. "I can help best by going further in and looking for survivors."
She started to move away, Ken's set his hand on her arm stopping her. Jun looked back at him in surprise. She found that she couldn't read his veiled expression.
"Look, I know your friend is in there. And I know you want to go find him. But we can't help if you don't verify for us what he looks like."
Jun felt her heart swell with gratitude. "It's the man you saw at the J yesterday." The one Jinpei insists I've turned into a traitor for... Jun felt bitterness rise in her throat. She thrust the thought aside. Quickly she described Frost's likeness to them in detail. She felt a pang inside as she realized that she'd yet to see any sign of her brother.
"Okay, I'll pass the description on. If he's found, I'll contact you immediately."
"Thank you." Jun gave him a half smile. "I really appreciate this."
Ken nodded his expression still unreadable. "The call in schedule is every half hour."
Jun was about to get underway as Ken turned to go, when she found Ryu barring her way. His expression was troubled, but he said nothing until Ken had moved out of earshot.
"J - Jun, I, I wanted you to know how, how sorry I am about, about not having come to you about all this and asked before it got so far. I told Jinpei over and over that he just had to be wrong, but I still couldn't..." His voice shook drowing out the words.
Jun propped her cycle on its kickstand and got off, though every cell in her body screamed for her to hurry. "Ryu, it's all right."
Tear stained eyes lifted momentarily to stare shyly into her face. "I know it was wrong. Can you ever forgive me?" He choked for a moment. "I'll understand if you say no." He looked away, his shoulders bent as if under a heavy burden.
"Ryu..." Jun felt tears rise in her own eyes. Everything was happening so fast, one thing on top of another. "There's nothing to forgive. I... understand. Just please come to me if anything like this ever happens again, all right?" She gave him a hard hug.
Her friend almost collapsed into her as he gently began to cry. Jun tried hard to keep from joining him, her heart aching to see Ryu like this, while at the same time that sense of urgency kept pounding against her.
After a long moment, Ryu disengaged himself from her arms and tried hard to smile even as silent tears continued to course down his wide face. "I'll try my best to find him for you, Jun. I really will!"
Jun found it hard to speak. "I know you will. And I really appreciate it. Be careful, all right?"
Quickly nodding, Ryu left her to begin his search.
Feeling tired though her search had yet to begin, Jun climbed back on her cycle and tried not to think about the stress this horrible misunderstanding had already placed on them all. Turning on her large headlight, Jun drove forward towards where the Galactor attack had first fallen.
The cries of pain and misery that softly assailed her here and there at the fringes of the attack area slowly lessened until there were no more. Pieces of buildings littered the street in ever thicker and larger clumps, which at times forced Jun to dismount and push her bike over or around them. The smoke here had mostly dissipated, but the coming of night had become even more of a hindrance than before. Jun's headlight cut through it, giving an eerie look to the broken buildings and shattered windows. The unmistakable stench of spilled blood drifted in and out of the air.
As she found bodies on the street, Jun checked them, but all she found were dead. With shaking hands but grim determination, she looked at each one and set them out gently, trying hard to detach herself from the carnage. She expected it to only get worse the further she went on. She dared not think about the number of passes the Galactor ship had made before they'd gotten there and stopped them.
Jun's lip bled slightly as she unconsciously kept biting on it, finding the kind of death spread here different from what she'd seen before. In their fight against Galactor, the deaths they dealt were mostly clean, quick, and in combat. The damage normally caused by their own explosives so extensive that nothing normally remained - or so she'd always thought. Was this what the ISO clean up crews found in the bases they destroyed when they came in after them? Jun felt herself shudder.
The scent of blood grew heavier as the stench of burned and torn flesh also invaded her nostrils, making her stomach tighten in revulsion. Every sweep of her light swept over more and more spots darkened on the ground by spilled blood. The sights ate at her soul.
Even as she cried inside with barely restrained horror, Jun continued on in the interminably, deathly silence, checking every mangled corpse she came across for even the barest trace of life.
Jun called in periodically as she was supposed to, though time seemed meaningless and unchanging. She never did later quite remember what she said in those calls, her mind erased as she stared at the strewn body parts across what had once been vibrant streets with thriving hotels, shops, and restaurants. Small fires dotted the area here and there, burning on what little fuel they could still find. The stench of burning plastic, hair, and flesh, multiplied, making Jun's stomach curl in upon itself until she thought it might stay that way forever.
But through all she'd seen, she'd still found no clue as to Frost's whereabouts. She continued to check everyone she came across, though the next mangled form she looked upon could lead her to face the inevitable. The farther she went, the less hope kindled inside her that he had somehow managed to survive this glaringly overdone assassination attempt. How could anyone doubt the need for the team's ruthlessness when it helped to thwart atrocities like these?
Jun stopped for a moment to rest, pointing the cycle's light towards what might at one time, been a souvenir shop. Suddenly she froze in place, a chill coursing through her, positive that she'd just heard a moaning cry.
Forcing herself to move, Jun quickly left the cycle and followed the beam of light to the partially collapsed building.
Even as her heart dared flare with hope, she arrived at the broken doorway and looked inside. She turned away almost immediately, vile rising in her throat. Within, a decapitated head stared solidly at her, it's mouth open in a silenced scream. Drying blood covered the floor, dribbling from beneath the pillar that had buried the body beneath it.
A sudden gust of wind, which whistled through the building almost like a human sound, curled the stench of death from inside around her as if trying to invite her in. Jun's stomach heaved. She staggered hastily away.
Tripping and almost falling down on the ever present rubble, Jun gasped for fresher air, trying without much success to dispel the grim image she'd just witnessed. She hung onto her cycle for support as her stomach cramped hard, a small moan escaping her lips.
After a few minutes, Jun was able to stand again though her hands still shook badly. Slowly she gazed wearily at the devastation around her no longer sure if she'd be able to go on. And Frost was more than likely long dead...
Tears stinging her eyes, Jun pushed her motorcycle forward to find a place to turn it around that was relatively debris free. She suddenly slowed, as her eyes fixed themselves on what she'd at first thought was an irregular piece of broken concrete about thirty feet from her. She stared at the rubble intently, her mind insisting that she'd just seen it move. The tempo of her pulse beat loudly inside her head as she waited to see if it would move again. A bead of sweat made its way unhindered down the side of her face, feeling very warm to her cold skin.
With unsteady hands, Jun gingerly moved the light to aim in the direction of the block. Taking small, faltering steps, her brow knit together as she realized that what was before her might actually be a cloaked figure. With little relish, she approached the unmoving form, the back of her mind screaming at her that this body might be an even more grisly spectacle than the last.
The closer she came, the more distinct the figure appeared. What she was sure now was a cloak, looked to have been a soft gray color at one time. Now, grime and drying goo covered almost every inch of it, flaring here and there with drying blood and gore.
Jun stopped, her breath catching in her throat, unable for the moment to take another step towards the stooped figure but also not able to take her eyes away from it. A shiver moved through her, her already terrified imagination horrifying her with images of what might be laying in wait for her underneath the grisly sight.
She jumped back abruptly, her yo-yo appearing unthinkingly into her hand, as the stooped figure before her suddenly straightened and moved to stand.
Her breath almost painful as it rasped violently in and out of her mouth, Jun staggered back, unreasoning fear filling her soul as the cloaked figure swayed where it stood with it's back to her.
Her yo-yo clasped much too tightly in her hand, Jun forced herself to move as the shambling being stepped forward away from her and the light out into the greedy darkness.
One miraculously untouched street lamp flicked on even as the cloaked figure fell to one knee. A pair of covered legs escaped the cloak and dangled out to the side.
Realizing with a jolt that the person before her was carrying another, Jun pushed forward even as the cloaked figure shakily rose once more to its feet and started again towards the lone street lamp.
Jun had almost reached them by the time the figure stumbled into the circle of the lamp's light. The figure looked up as if noticing the light for the first time. The head rose above the grim covered collar, the bright light reflecting momentarily from the upturned face.
Jun faltered with shocked recognition as she realized that she'd somehow found the very person she'd been trying to find. "Frost!"
She went after him even as he carefully stepped up over the curve and gently set his burden down. He had yet to respond to Jun's frantic call as he got back up on his feet.
Exposed to the light, Jun for the first time got a good look at who he'd been carrying. It was a man. Part of one arm was gone, a crude tourniquet stopping the blood from flowing out the rough, jagged end of flesh and bone. The man's clothes were torn and partially singed, blood drying on it from a number of smaller wounds. With a sad sense of relief, Jun noticed that the man's chest was actually rising and falling.
With some trepidation, Jun looked away from the wounded man to study the actual object of her search. Frost's face was pale and had a number of minor scrapes here and there. His eyes stared at the wounded man below him, his gaze unfocused, a torrent of silent tears coursing down his dirt streaked face. A small cut prominently decorated the left side of his forehead, a trickle of blood from it moving past his eyebrow to mix with the falling tears.
Like his cloak, Frost was covered in dirt, grime, and gore. If he had serious injuries, Jun couldn't tell. She was strangely relieved, however, at the realization that there was too much blood on him for it all to be his own. "Frost?"
Glazed, gray eyes turned slowly to look up at her as if for the first time becoming aware that she was there. Frost stared at her for several long moments, a small frown creasing his forehead.
"Frost, are you all right?"
Tears continued falling from his eyes, even as his gaze started to focus. "Beautiful One...?"
"Frost!" Jun lunged forward to grab him as he suddenly swayed to the side and started to fall.
"Will you never call me Michael?"
Jun held on to him, startled at the odd question, even as he gave her a fragile smile. A part of her was relieved, knowing that if he could do this to her here after all that had happened that maybe he might just be all right.
Frost's smile abruptly disappeared. "You... shouldn't be here. It isn't safe." His brow creased with concern. "They'll, they'll be coming back to look for me soon."
Jun shook her head. "No they won't. We drove them away. There's nothing for you to worry about anymore."
He smiled at her again, but this time it was entirely devoid of humor. "They won't give up. They know who I am or they wouldn't have gone to such lengths to get me. I know too much..." His gaze moved from her to the wounded stranger on the ground. "I should have never come here. And you shouldn't be here seeing what I've done."
"This isn't you fault!" Jun couldn't stop her voice from shaking. "How were you to know they'd do this? You were just trying to help people."
He slowly shook his head. "No, you're wrong..." His eyes looked haunted. It tore at her heart. "Do you realize this man is the first living thing I've found since..." He swallowed hard. "They killed their own agents in their hurry to get at me. Are you so blind you can't see the deaths I've caused, when I didn't really have to come here but just wished to?" He looked up at her his eyes full of pain.
It was all Jun could do not to cry. "Frost - stop this! You're in shock. None of this is your fault."
He tried to pull away from her as he looked away in denial but Jun held on to him, wanting to find some way to make him accept what she was saying. Frost face abruptly blanched with pain. Not sure if she'd caused it, Jun let go but then was forced to reach for him again as his legs failed him.
As gently as she could, Jun helped him to the ground and set him to sit with his back against the light pole. She stared at him with rising concern, as he sat with his eyes closed his face grimaced with pain.
Gingerly, she pushed back his cloak and found his arm bandaged beneath. She tried to inspect the hastily bandaged mess as his labored breathing rang in her ears. From the amount of blood she could see soaked into the bindings, she guessed it was probably pretty serious. It surprised her that if it gave him this much pain, that he'd been able to carry the wounded man at all.
Jun brought her bracelet to her lips. "G-1, please answer. It's Jun."
Frost's eyes abruptly snapped open, his pain filled gray gaze moving to look at her.
Jun glanced at his silent stare and then forced her eyes away trying to think. "Ken, I've found my friend and one other survivor. I need transportation to get them out of here, they're in pretty bad shape." She turned to look around here. "We're at - uh - the corner of Principal and Fifth I think. The street light is on. It's the only one working in the entire block."
"Roger. I'll get someone out to you in just a few minutes." She heard Ken hesitate. "Are you holding up all right?" The worry in his tone was unmistakable.
The question pleased her in an odd sort of way. "Yes, I'm all right. Thanks."
A small grunt beside her made Jun look up in surprise. Frost was standing, hanging on to the lamp post for support.
"What are you doing?"
He stared down at her. "I'm - leaving. It's no longer safe for me to remain here." Frost swayed before her looking as if the mildest touch of breeze would knock him over where he stood.
"Help is on the way. There's no reason to go anywhere!"
He shook his head lightly. "I can't afford to get involved with the ISO. You know that. I can't take the risk."
Jun rose quickly to her feet as he pushed away from the pole and turned away from her. "They don't know who you are, only that you're my friend and that you're in trouble." Anger, frustration, and worry battled inside her. "Dammit, Frost, why can't you trust me? And how can you expect me to just watch you leave so you can go crawl off somewhere and die?"
Frost stopped, swaying a little, but didn't turn back. "I have no intention of dying, Beautiful One. But I can't stay here." He started walking away again.
Jun rushed past him and blocked his way. "Forget it! You're not going anywhere. You're always leaving me when you feel like it, but not this time." She glared at him angry that he was being so unreasonable. "I'm not going to let you go, so you might as well stop being so stubborn about this!"
He smiled softly in the midst of her anger as if it were a thing of joy. "Is that what it is about me that you find most appealing?"
"Frost!" Jun tensed inside. He was trying to distract her, a new ploy to still get his way. She knew he was stubborn. No one went through the things he had and survived without being that way. Well, he'd soon find that he'd met his match. "Please be reasonable. Think about what you're doing. Whether you like it or not I'm going to help you."
He stared at her for a long time, his eyes gazing directly into her own. Jun stared back, not willing to back down and wanting to make sure he knew it. If she had to fight him to keep him from going she would.
"All right. I'll stay," he said.
Relied washed through her at his words, glad that she wouldn't have to overpower him after all. A small smile touched her lips at her victory, but at the same time she made sure not to get to close in case this was only a ruse to put her off guard.
Turning back to look at her, a sudden smile flared with mischief on Frost's pale face as if he'd guessed her thoughts. Moving gingerly back to where the wounded man lay, Frost removed his cloak and placed it over him. Cradling his arm, he sat down and pushed back until he was once more resting against the lamp post.
Without thinking about it, Jun removed her own cloak and placed it about Frost's shoulders before he could protest.
"There was a time when you wouldn't have been this nice to me," he said.
Jun's eyes returned to him, breaking off her inspection of the surrounding streets. "That was a long time ago. I've had time to figure some things out since then."
His eyes closed, Frost now wore a strange little grin. "Hm, I wonder what you would make of me given more time?"
Not sure what he'd exactly meant by that, Jun was distracted as a thundering sound accompanied by a bright light glided towards them from down the street. She stared at the vehicle with a little surprise as she recognized the craft as her brother's.
The small orange colored craft settled on the street, it's front hatch opening like a large mouth. Jinpei slid out the opening a few moments later and stood in the street never looking directly at her. "Ken said you needed somebody out of here fast. None of the ambulances could make it over all the rubble." His nervousness stood out like a banner.
"I'm glad you came, Jinpei. Thanks."
He didn't respond to her words. He only stood there and looked at everything but her.
Jun tried not to let that bother her. "Can you move your ship closer? It would make it easier to get them on board."
Only a slight nod met her suggestion before Jinpei swept back into the interior of his craft. Within seconds, the wide tracks in front of the vehicle carried it over the debris littered terrain to the edge of the curve. As the large engines once more became silent, Jinpei hesitantly made his way outside again.
"Have they found many survivors so far?" she asked him.
Jinpei nodded yes once.
"Has Joe come back yet?"
Her brother shrugged his shoulders even as his gaze stared at Frost's silent form. Seeing his blank expression as he did so, pained her, bringing back only too vividly the accusations he'd made earlier that day. It also made her angry and reminded her that she shouldn't be the one trying to make up with him. "Give me a hand, Jinpei."
Jun moved to the unconscious man on the sidewalk, not waiting to see if her brother would follow. Silently, he helped her lift him over into the mouth-like opening in his ship. Placing him inside as gently as possible, they pushed him towards the back to leave room for another.
Ignoring her brother, Jun moved to Frost's side who'd yet to say a word since Jinpei had arrived. "Frost?"
A stab of fear flowing through her, Jun knelt down before him. "Frost?"
Still getting no response, she reached for his neck to feel for a pulse. Reassured by the strong flow beneath her fingertips, Jun moved behind him and grabbed him beneath his arms. Glancing up expectantly, she noticed that her brother had yet to take a step towards them to help. "Jinpei! I need you now!"
Surprised eyes met her own momentarily at the sound of her annoyed command. Immediately breaking the unintended eye contact, Jinpei moved forward to take his place at Frost's legs. Between the two of them, they lifted him to the ship and settled him inside beside the other man.
"I - I guess I'll be leaving now." He still wouldn't look at her.
Jun took a step towards her brother, but he quickly moved away. He clambered up onto the hatch, deftly avoiding stepping on either of the two men there and disappeared inside.
Jun hastily stepped back as the ship's twin engines roared to life, sending out a blast of hot air. The ship gently rose from the ground and then swiveled away from her and went off back the way it had come.
With a sigh and a wave of sadness she didn't really want to face, Jun stared after the departing ship. Once it had gone completely out of view, Jun turned towards her cycle to continue her search for other survivors.
Jun snapped open her eyes even as she realized that she'd inadvertently fallen asleep again. Gingerly, she straightened out her slouching body in the uncomfortable chair but stopped as she noticed a pair of gray eyes studying her from across the room with a wide smile.
She finished stretching, horribly conscious of Frost's intent gaze lingering on her from the nearby bed. Jun felt her cheeks grow hot under the continued silent scrutiny.
Mercifully, Frost finally released her from his stare and looked about the room instead. Jun watched silently as he used his good arm to prop himself up a little higher on the pillow, leaving his bandaged arm quietly where it lay.
"I take it this isn't a hospital?" His gray gaze traveled back towards her, but this time without the previous single minded intensity.
Jun still felt herself blush. "No, you're in my home," she answered. "The doctors said you were well enough to leave if I'd make sure you took it easy and got plenty of rest." She met his gaze momentarily. "I thought you'd find it more comfortable here." She left it unsaid that it would also make it a little harder for his pursuers to trace him.
"I appreciate that. Certainly the view when I woke couldn't have been better."
Before she could stop herself, Jun blushed deeply. She quickly got to her feet and turned away in an attempt to keep Frost from seeing it. She moved to the set of windows on the west wall and opened up the shutters to allow in the warm, afternoon sun.
"So, what do you intend to do with me?"
Jun turned back around her brows drawn slightly together. "Do with you?"
"Of course," he said. "I'm now totally at your mercy, am I not?"
Jun could only stare at him, not able to read his expression to tell how serious he was being, and worst of all not sure if she shouldn't be mad if he was. "Well, I could feed you some of my cooking and see if you'd die of food poisoning." She put her fists on her hips, sounding as serious as he had a moment before. "But other than that, I hadn't really made any plans yet."
Frost stared at her, his eyes wide with surprise, in silence for a few moments. Suddenly, he doubled over in a fit of uncontrollable laughter.
For several minutes, Jun stood there facing him wondering if he was hurting himself. Whenever she thought he was growing calm, he'd glance up at her and lose control again. "It wasn't that funny."
Frost laid back, still laughing, grabbing at his sides and tried to breathe even as tears gathered in his eyes.
"It really wasn't..." Jun gave up and sat back down on her chair to wait it out, a half-pleased smile tugging at her lips.
When he finally stopped, his laughter still shinning in his eyes, Frost propped himself up further and swept his fine white blond hair away from his eyes.
"You really don't have anything to worry about. I mean that." Jun sought his eyes so that he would see her sincerity. "All anyone knows about you is that you're my friend and that you're in some kind of trouble with Galactor. I would never willingly betray your confidence."
Frost gave Jun a soft smile. "I know that. It's just not that easy to place your fate meekly into someone else's hands. Not when you have so much to lose." His gaze suddenly turned hard and pined her where she sat. "What was the death count?"
Jun looked away caught totally off guard by the question. "It, it really isn't all that important. What difference would it make?" The words sounded lame to her own ears, but she knew she had to try. She didn't want to put that kind of burden on him.
"If you won't tell me, there are others ways I can use to find out. I would just rather hear it from you."
The sincerity in his voice touched Jun deeply, but she still wished it didn't have to be that way. She didn't look at him, not wanting to see the pain she would inadvertently be inflicting upon him. "Thankfully the original strike was somewhat localized. A great number of people were alerted by the commotion and tried to immediately leave the area. It was also early enough in the evening that there weren't as many there as would have been later."
"How many?" His voice whispered towards her like a chilling breeze.
"The largest number of casualties were in the center of the attack area - close to one hundred dead," Jun forceed herself to continue. "The injured numbered in at over two hundred, and most of these were in the outer edges of the attack zone and not all were caused by Galactor at all." She took a deep breath as he said nothing. "The man you found... you saved his life."
Getting no response, Jun finally braved herself to look at him. Frost's expression was unreadable, only his profile facing her as he stared at the far wall.
"It wasn't your fault."
Frost still said nothing, sending a shaft of worry through Jun's mind. Wanting desperately to help him but not sure how, Jun stood up and walked over to the bed. She raised her hand to touch his arm, but hesitated and finally let it fall back to her side.
"I'll need to leave as soon as possible." There was no emotion in his voice. "I need to get back home."
Jun's brow furrowed as he spoke, and noticed that his eyes didn't move to meet her own. "You're hurt, you're in no condition to go anywhere."
"After, after what's happened, I can't afford to stay. Even if they believe I'm dead, Galactor will now go after my home. They can't afford to lose that munitions factory and I just can't afford to let them have it back." He turned to face her, his eyes hard. "None of this has turned out at all as I'd intended. I'm very sorry for that."
Jun was trapped by his intent gaze and found herself unwilling to even try to get away. Her throat grew tight as she realized that he had every intention of leaving despite anything she might say and somewhere deep down she suspected that it would be forever. "Frost, you don't have to leave alone. You came her to get my help and I'm still willing to give it to you. You don't have to go at this by yourself."
Jun saw his eyes brighten for a moment before he suddenly turned away an odd, sad smile on his lips. "We can talk about that later. Right now, what I really need is my clothes." He looked back up at her, his eyes shinning. "I'm rather surprised that they've allowed you to spend all this time unsupervised in the company of an unknown and rather unclothed man."
Hearing him say it, made Jun realize that it was true. Frost's lit eyes stared mischievously at her even as she glanced involuntarily at his smooth and well formed chest and continued downwards to where the crisp sheets hid him from view. Jun felt a rush of heat course through her as she forced her gaze away. She turned away to cut out the temptation to look at him again, even as her cheeks darkened in embarrassment. Jun swore she could feel Frost's amusement following behind her.
"I'll, I'll need to get your sizes to get you some new clothes. The hospital got rid of yours and I wouldn't want to get you something too tight." Jun bit her lip hard as the words left her lips and she realized what she'd actually said and how he'd probably take it.
Though Frost didn't laugh at her outright, his tone was sprinkled with amusement as he quickly told her what she needed to know.
"Would it also be too much trouble to ask for something to eat? I'm willing to try whatever you like, even with the risk of food poisoning."
Jun felt her cheeks burn though until that moment she hadn't thought she could be any more embarrassed than she already was. Only trusting herself to nod in answer, she walked out of the room trying to hold back on the impulse to run instead.
Closing the door behind her, Jun leaned back against it trying to deal with the odd set of feelings moving within her. Taking a deep breath, she tried to put everything aside for the moment, and went on down the hall. She stopped abruptly when she noticed Ken and Joe waiting for her in the common room. Frost's teasing words rose up to haunt her, abruptly making her feel guilty over a lack of supervision that had never mattered before.
Maybe she could try to avoid them? But before the thought had fully formed, Ken had already spotted her. His blue eyes locked on her, Jun walked slowly out into the common room. Joe was laying on the couch his eyes closed.
"Ken, Joe... I'm surprised to see you here." She saw an odd flicker flash in Ken's face but had absolutely no clue as to what it meant.
"The hospital said that they'd had a volunteer take one of the unidentified victims to their home early this morning."
Though Ken hadn't put it like a question, Jun realized that it was one. She tried to read his neutral tone, but couldn't.
"Yes, that's right. The hospital was having a bed shortage and since his condition wasn't critical, I brought my friend home." Jun tried to harden herself, feeling defensive and not knowing what to do about it. "There was no where else he could go, and I thought it'd be safer for him here." Maybe they were here to check up on her, didn't they trust her anymore? "You could have saved yourself the trip and just called me on the phone." Though she tried, Jun couldn't keep a slight tinge of bitterness from creeping into her voice.
Ken didn't say anything immediately, but instead turned away and collapsed into a nearby chair. "We've all had a long busy night, Jun, you know that. Do we really have to have a reason to come here?"
Ken wouldn't look at her, he stubbornly wouldn't look at her. What were they really up to? Were they here to chaperone her? What did they believe she had done now? "Don't you dare! Don't you dare treat me like this! Just say what you really want or get out. I've had too much done behind my back recently for it to sit well with me anymore!"
Joe momentarily opened one dark blue eye to glance in their direction and seemingly seeing all he wanted to see, closed it back again.
"Jun, there's too many unanswered questions still hanging about all this," Ken said. "Is it too much to ask for a little explanation of what's going on?" His eyes did what his words couldn't, they implored her, begged her to explain.
In that one moment, Jun saw his growing doubt at her persistent evasiveness - his worry that something truly was going on. With a sigh, Jun suddenly felt exhausted. With her eyes thinking of betraying her, she turned towards one of the other chairs in the room and sat down. "I'll... tell you what I can. What do you want to know?"
Ken sounded relieved as he took her on her offer. "Who is this guy?"
Jun sighed again. "His name is Michael Frost. I don't think it's his real name, but it's what I know him by." She took a deep breath and went on without being prompted. "His homeland had been at one point overrun by Galactor but now the people have taken it back. Frost is trying to hold on to what is his while at the same time wanting to strike a blow to help others who are under the organization's heel. He came to me in secret so that I could quietly get some information for him to carry out his plan." Jun kept her eyes centered on her hands as they sat on her lap.
"How did he learn you were part of the Ninja Team?"
Jun sighed a third time. "He figured it out on his own. He'd only met me previously as the Swan."
"All right." Ken's tone was low. "The attack yesterday, did that directly have something to do with him?"
"Yes. Galactor had thought he was dead, which was one of the reasons he'd been able to retake his home from them." Jun felt numb inside. "Up to now, they'd been able to keep the fact that they'd taken it back a secret. Frost risked that secrecy when he decided to come here."
Jun could feel the weight of Ken's gaze on her but couldn't bring herself to look at him. He shouldn't be doing this to her. "It seems that he was followed and I'm assuming that the moment he was seen in a meeting with a member of the Ninja Team they immediately labeled him for termination." She looked up at him. "It's very possible that they'll soon be doing this to his home."
Jun hoped and prayed he'd ask no more questions.
"So, what's this plan of his that was worth all this risk?" Joe spoke, his eyes still closed, his arms crossed over his chest.
Jun glanced at Ken who nodded, also wanting to know the answer.
"From information Frost and some others were able to gather, he learned of the whereabouts of a camp where Galactor is housing the families of their operatives. It was his hope that by going there, he could free as many of them as possible and thus give a chance to the operatives who may have been coerced into the organization to leave."
Joe's eyes slowly opened. "It'd never work. No one just ups and leaves Galactor. They don't allow it. They'd hunt all those families down one by one and butcher them all." His voice grew low. "And if somehow there were Galactors who were being held by tricks and threats, the organization would rather kill them than take the chance that they might somehow escape."
"That's all very true, but only if you do half a job."
Joe snapped up as the new voice filled the room. All three of them turned to look back towards the hallway to stare at the figure standing there, draped only in a light blue sheet.
His gray eyes stared steadily at them. "Free the people, yes, and then hold them together, give them a place to defend themselves, a place to call their own.
"Galactor won't tell their operatives that their families have been liberated, that would be bad PR. But though the organization wouldn't tell them, the information still could be leaked to those who need to know. There are ways to get away, you only need find them."
"Do you realized the kind of long term commitment that would be demanded to do such a thing?"
Frost's gaze locked with Ken's own.
"Yes, I'm very well aware of what it would demand from me, yet I'm willing to make that commitment. I have the means to make a difference and I intend to do just that."
The two men stared silently at one another. Almost as if they were sizing each other. Ken finally nodded once, admitting to the willingness he saw in the other.
Frost nodded back and then smoothly picked up the trailing end of his sheet and headed for the couch. Ignoring Joe's blatant distrusting looks, he dropped into the seat next to him.
"Beautiful One, aren't you going to introduce us?"
Jun instantly blushed as Frost used his nickname for her in front of the others. Her cheeks burned as she noticed the sudden amusement in Joe's eyes and the open shock on Ken's face. She had to look away before she could become composed enough to speak. "Yes - um, I'm sorry." She pointed to her guest. "Ken, Joe, this is Michael Frost." She then pointed to her friends in turn. "That's Ken and that's Joe, two of my team mates."
Frost leaned back in the couch sending both an acknowledging nod before tucking his legs up amidst the loose coils of the sheet. He didn't seem at all self conscious at his obvious lack of proper attire. "I'm very pleased to meet you. I must admit though, I hadn't expected the pleasure."
"Where about are you from?" Joe folded one leg up on the couch so that he could turn enough to face their new acquaintance.
"It's an obscure little country in Asia." Frost's eyes danced. "A doubt you've ever heard of it. It's called Linthinium."
Joe's face was expectantly blank.
"Linthinium!" Ken almost jumped from his seat. "The suspected Galactor munitions factory?"
Frost turned towards Ken an amused smile on his face. "I see you've heard of it."
"Are the reports true? Is that country a supplier of munitions for the organization?" Ken's gaze was rapt.
"It was at one time, but is no longer."
"What, all thanks to you?" Joe's voice dripped with sarcasm.
Jun sat quietly in her seat absorbing everything that was being said and done.
"No, not all thanks to me, but to her people." Frost humored him with an askew smile. "I was only a small encouraging factor behind the overdue affair."
Joe humphed. "I bet."
Frost's smile grew for a moment and then turned serious. "None of it really matters anyway, as I won't be remaining in your lovely country much longer. Before long, you'll forget that I was ever here."
Jun tensed as Frost abruptly stood and headed back towards his room. He stopped before he had gone too far and looked at Jun. "If you could get those clothes for me? I don't want to be a bother to you any longer than I have to." He started to turn away again.
"Wait!" Jun got out of her chair and started towards as he stopped again. "I was going to mention it to you later but... I, I want you to let us all go back with you. If Galactor is going to try something in your homeland, we're the best equipped to handle them. We might even be able to go on and help you carry out your original plan." She spoke faster sure that at any moment he would turn away. "We would be a great help to you, and striking blows to Galactor, no matter what kind, is what the Science Ninja Team is all about."
Frost stared at her in surprise. Indecision clouded his eyes even as her own begged him to accept her offer.
"You haven't asked them if they're willing, have you?"
For once, Jun was prepared for his evasion. She wasn't about to let him out of this that easily. "No, I haven't had a chance to, but I know they will be. There's too much at stake here for them to turn this down. Even the ISO won't be able to deny that we may never get another opportunity like this. Please, take us with you."
His gaze broke away from her own to look at the men behind her.
"Jun's right," Ken said. "Just the fact that you're trying to tear Galactor away from one of its major munitions factories is more than enough cause for us to lend you direct aid."
"Yeah," Joe added. "Besides, we'll do anything to get to kick some extra Galactor butt." He stretched back out on the couch a smug look on his face.
Frost was silent, and Jun looked up into his face. His expression was blank as he continued to stare at the others. "If that is your wish, I would appreciate any help you deign to give me."
With that said, he turned away from them and moved off down the hall. Jun stared after him until he'd gone into his room. She then turned to study her team mates. "Thank you. I really appreciate this."
Ken shrugged, his eyes not meeting hers. "I meant what I said. And it would be stupid to pass this up. I'll go talk to hakase and get it all set up. I doubt he'll have any problems with it." His gaze locked with her own. "The sooner we can set out the better. I'll inform the others on the way."
With a last look down the hallway Jun's guest had taken, Ken headed for the stairs.
"Joe, I have to go out and get a few things. Would you mind waiting here till I got back?"
Eyes closed again, he gave her a small nod. His breath was already deepening as she left the room.
Jun rushed downstairs trying to remember all she'd need to get for Frost. She stopped as her mind wondered if there was anything she should pick up for Jinpei as well. With guilty clarity, Jun realized that until that moment, she'd totally pushed her young brother from her thoughts.
She brought her communicator to her lips to call him but then changed her mind. She'd not seen him all night or all day, and when she had seen him last, he'd been extremely uncommunicative. Perhaps she should wait until he at least seemed more willing to hash things out. Besides, if she did call and he didn't answer, she really didn't want to face the fact he might be ignoring her call. She'd wait until she actually saw him and then test how he felt.
Jun hurried through her shopping and was back in less than an hour. Spotting Kathy at the counter, she quickly asked her if she'd seen or heard anything from Jinpei. Getting less that she'd hoped, Jun delayed taking Frost his clothes and moved past a still sleeping Joe to go peek into her brother's room.
She knocked on his door, softly biting her lip, unsure of what she'd do if he was there. Getting no answer, she opened the door.
The room was empty, her brother nowhere in sight. And it was clean -- too clean. A creeping fear rising in the back of her mind, Jun's eyes roamed about her brother's room abruptly noticing all the little things that were missing.
Jinpei's posters were still there, but his prize skateboard was gone. His alarm clock was not there either, and neither was his butterfly collection. All the small, little things that spoke of her brother's individual personality had disappeared.
A large uncomfortable lump settled in Jun's throat as she tried not to think about what had obviously happened here. With a helplessness she'd not known before, Jun moved like one in a trance to her brother's dresser and opened the first of the drawers there. She found the inside to be almost totally empty.
Going faster and faster as she moved to look in the rest of the drawers, Jun found that they were all virtually empty as well. "Jinpei..." Her heart screamed within her even as she tried to lock her emotions out. Jun left the room, not looking at anything, and closed the door behind her.
As she moved slowly across the common room, she never noticed Joe staring at her from the couch.
Jun held on to her packages as she walked into the other hallway and knocked gently on her guest's door. Before she could raise her hand to knock on it a second time, the door opened suddenly before her. A bright smile greeted her there, and though she tried, she was unable to return it with one of her own.
"I'm sorry I took so long. I hope this will do." Jun extended the packages out to Frost making no attempt to enter his room.
"I'm sure they'll be fine." Frost took the packages from her.
His eyes then locked with her own a look of concern passing between them. Jun quickly looked away.
"Have you heard from Ken as to when we might depart?"
"No, not yet. But I'm sure we'll hear soon." She still wouldn't meet his eyes. "In the God Phoenix it won't take long to get you home."
Frost smiled again, still staring at her, leaving the conversation open for anything she might want to say. Jun stared at the floor, grateful for the opening, but not willing to take advantage of it. She was only too aware of the problems he was already having to deal with. She had no intention of burdening him with more.
Surprisingly, Frost gave her an out even as she was fervently trying to think of one.
"I guess I really should get dressed. I'm not all that used to having drafts up my legs. Though in a way these sheets are somewhat becoming. Perhaps I could start a trend." He gave her a small pose. "What do you think?"
Jun looked up and half smiled. "I'll bring something from downstairs so you can eat after you're dressed."
"That would be wonderful. Thank you."
Jun nodded slightly and started to turn away until a soft touch caressed her turning cheek.
"Thank you, Beautiful One, for everything."
When she turned back to look at him, all she caught was the edge of a smile as Frost closed the door. Staring at it for a long time, Jun finally shook her head and walked away. Though she tried, she couldn't dispel the oddly comforting feeling that remained with her where he'd touched her cheek.
Jun was halfway into the common room, heading for the stairs before she realized that Joe was sitting up staring at her.
"Oh! I didn't wake you, did I?"
Joe leaned back, stretching as he did so. "No, Ken took care of that a little while ago. He said that Nambu was quite receptive to the whole idea. They're haggling the finer points now. Lucky guy."
The grin Jun saw spreading on his face amptly conveyed how happy he was not to be at all involved in that phase of things.
"Oh, there was one other thing..."
Jun watched a little worriedly as his grin quickly disappeared.
"Nambu told Ken that Jinpei's asked permission to stay at headquarters for a few days. Knowing the mood the little twirp's been in lately, Ken and I both had the sneaking suspicion that he probably hadn't told you about it."
Jun avoided her teammates gaze, not quite sure what to make of what he'd just said. "No, I had no idea," she said cautiously. "I didn't even know he was gone until this afternoon." Jun headed once more towards the stairs. "I'm not sure what to do about it... I'm not sure if I even want to..."
Jun ran down the stairs tears rising in her eyes as she felt herself starting to lose control. Quickly and quietly, she sneaked off into the garage and locked herself inside. Standing alone in the semi-darkness, she stared at the empty place where her brother's buggy normally sat. The tears ran down her face as the inevitable tide of pain she'd been hiding from for days abruptly ruptured through as the realization that he'd really left her sunk in.
Sobbing quietly, Jun slowly sank onto the cold unforgiving floor beneath her.
End of Part 1