Sunday, March 17, 2013

TAOM: Cristoph - Everything and a Bag of Potato Chips

One Week Earlier

Cristoph Asahina of the Anti-Cliché and Mary-Sue Elimination Society was no stranger to the dark. He was a ninja, after. His domain was the dark. But that's not to say all darkness was not created equal. Call it what you like, but Cristoph had an uncanny ability of sensing things about the dark. Take the darkness that struck the Library Arcanium. All of a sudden, all was dark. Cristoph knew that this darkness was a sign that all was not well, and he needed to be prepared for whatever came next.

Okay, so anybody could've been able to tell that. Don't be so snippy.

Cristoph burst out of his room fully-armed for battle, looking around to see where the commotion was, weaving in and out of the books, but suddenly, the lights came on again and people were cheering for Phoenixia and her computer prowess. He sighed. So much for that, then. Nonetheless, he followed the gaggle of Agents to where he found Emotion Marcus keeping them away from something and Thought Marcus, his other half, was in the corner, shaking like a leaf.

"What's the holdup?" Michael, veteran Sue hunter and Chief Agent, called from the back.

"YOU NEED TO SEE THIS," Emotion Marcus called, his voice like a bullhorn in the hubbub. "TASH, HARRIET, VALERIE, AND CRISTOPH SHOULD SEE THIS, TOO."

All at once, Cristoph was struck with more dread than facing Melanie in his nightmares for a second round. People were murmuring to themselves as Michael made a hole and allowed Cristoph to follow him, as Tash, Harriet, and Valerie were already on the way into… Rhia's kitchen.

Oh no…

Harriet was first in, and immediately stumbled against a wall, a clatter of pots and pans ringing out. Valerie was next, and she immediately went in, stony-faced. Tash was third, and she followed Harriet's lead. Then came Michael, who breathed something under his breath. Cristoph made to come in, but Michael put an arm out and only spoke three words.

"Brace yourself, Cristoph."

He moved aside, and the ninja felt all the blood leave his face. Rhia was dead, lying in a pool of her own blood, pots and pans all over the floor and her best kitchen knife stained in blood.

No… no… no, no, no, no!

"Milady Rhiannon…" the words escaped his lips. Disbelief. Anger. And sorrow, too.

He knelt down, touching her face. It was still warm, meaning that this was recent. And her blood on her hands told him this was real…

"Who did this?" Cristoph asked, clutching a bloodied fist and his voice like a storm on the horizon. "I will find them, and they will regret this. They will regret this, and they'll pay."

He abruptly left the kitchen, the other Agents giving him lots of space until, stopping in some corner of the Library, he finally gave the wall a hard punch and the most heart-wrenching howl of sorrow left his lips.


Five Days Earlier

First Adrian was dead, and now Rhia. His life was going to hell in a hand-basket.

At first, he wanted to believe he was having another nightmare. Heaven knows it would certainly explain it, that perhaps he had fallen asleep again in the hospital ward, and that any second Valerie or (kami willing) Rhia would burst through, trying to wake him up. Two days later, he was attending Rhia's wake. Simple, clean, and closed-casket.

It was there, as he was placing a single white rose on Rhia's casket, that he realized she was gone. Forever. Only flicking Algazdun's helmet, thus causing the armored red-tailed hawk to peck him on the head a couple times in retaliation, was enough to stop him from breaking down right then and there. He returned to his seat, stony-faced and pensive.

It only got worse as the day went on. Eventually, Algazdun got fed up with the ninja messing with his helmet every five minutes and flew off back to his nest back in Cristoph's room. And wouldn't you know? Next came the reading of Rhia's last will.

No, no, no, no… kami, wake me up from this nightmare…!

The will was not necessarily a somber affair, as befitting Rhia's personality. But the last part… oh the last part. That was the last nail in his own coffin, right there.

"Well, I'm gonna say it now, even if it's too late, it should be said… Cristoph Asahina. I love you."

Cristoph's pupils dilated. No no no no no no! This cannot be happening! This cannot be happening!

"Goodbye, my gallant knight-errant."

He could've sworn he could've reached out and touched her face, right then and there. His hand reached and came back empty. His mouth didn't move, but his mind was in panic mode.

Rhia! Rhia! Don't leave me here! Don't leave me all alone!

"This concludes my final will and testament."

Rhia! RHIA!

And the rest was silence, as Cristoph, alone in front of the TV, got on his hands and knees and wept bitterly for the loss of one of the one true friend he had ever had in the Library, the Society, and all.


Thirty-Six Hours Earlier

A week had gone by. Cristoph hadn't left his room for at least a couple days, tired of having to have people talk to him about… recent events. It was nearing sunset now, by the orange light filtering in through his window.


Something was nibbling his ear. Cristoph made to swat it away, thinking it was one of those infernal tribbles that Jared had brought into the Library a few weeks back, only to find it was Algazdun. The hawk was now in his enlarged form, now about the size of a large dog. In its talons was the one thing he didn't want to see: his journal. A gift from Rhia for Christmas.

"Go on, get out of here!" he snapped at the bird, chasing it out of his room to squawks and screeches of defiance and confusion. It still dropped the journal on the floor, so Cristoph just tossed it on the futon he didn't use, only to remember that Rhia had slept there when she came to seek him for advice, and instead tossed onto the table where his still-as-of-yet-unfinished yari was placed in two pieces on a nearby table so he could go back to brooding.

"The brooding ninja. How stereotypical."

"Oh, hell, not you," Cristoph groaned at Phoenixia's voice wafting over Cristoph's Communicator.

"Come on, Cristoph, you need to come out sometime," Phoenixia stated firmly. "You just can't lock yourself in your room."

"I can sure as hell try."

"Look at you, Cristoph, you're a mess. We don't want to see you beating yourself up over this all by yourself."

"Not like it'd matter."

"Rhia wouldn't want you to, either."

She touched a nerve. Cristoph pulled out his ninjato, swinging it at the Communicator with a loud yell. A section of the bookcase it was sitting on slid off and fell to the ground with a clatter. The Communicator remained.

"You missed, didn't you?" Phoenixia herself entered the room, folding her arms.

"Why do you torture me?" Cristoph didn't even bother sheathing the weapon, just tossed it aside like a forgotten sack of potatoes. "I don't need you to add to this! Everything is going to pieces around me!"

"Cristoph, I-" Phoenixia was suddenly interrupted by the voice of Michael on her Communicator.

"Phoenixia, call an emergency Society meeting. We have a Sue in the Kick-Ass fandom."

"Am I authorized to drag Cristoph out of his room?" Phoenixia asked.

"Use any means necessary. We might need him for this one. I'll explain when you bring him in."

"Gotcha," said Phoenixia, grabbing the ninja by the arm and pulling him out of his room. "Come on, ninja-boy, we've got a job to do and it's likely you'll be needed for this one."

Cristoph had a sudden flash of Melanie in his mind, but at this point, he didn't care and just dumbly followed the buxom Agent out of the room.


One Day Earlier

Cristoph could barely see anything in the crate. In fact, the only light was an orange light bulb overhead. Again, there was something about the darkness here. Normally, he felt alright in shadows, but it was so reminiscent of where he had ended up during the Sue invasion so many months before that he almost expected hearing voices again. No such luck, though. All that was here was the shadows that felt more like a giant black ooze rather than a great big cloak.

The crate was empty, save for two chairs, rope, a five-inch knife, and some unrecognizable shape somewhere in the corner. He began to creep forward, just as his eyes began to adjust to the light…

The lump was a person, huddled in a corner like a caged animal. He blinked, rubbing his eyes to make sure Melanie, wherever she was, wasn't pulling another fast one on him.


No reply, not even a gesture. He put a hand on her shoulder, but she cringed and shied away, like a beaten dog. He pulled it back, tilting his head. This was definitely Rhia, but…something was wrong. Very wrong. What in all that is holy was going on here?

He sat down in the crate next to her, as close to her as he would dare, and slowly intertwined his hands with hers. Slowly, she began to feel his palms, scarred and callused through the extensive training he'd put himself through to take his mind off the events of the past week. It was here that he noticed how large his hands were compared to Rhia's. His palm alone was about the size of her whole hand.

She began to uncurl, like a lotus, and Cristoph began to see the damage Roxelana had wrought.

Oh, kami, Rhia, what did she do to you?

Rhia began to reach out to something, looking for some kind of surface to put it on, something to tell her it was the one she'd been calling for all this time… without a second thought, he took the hand and placed it on his face. Her thumb traced the edge of his cowl while her fingers traced his face, until she finally embraced him, clutching to his shoulders like a vice.

Rhia was definitely blind, more than likely deaf, and possibly mute. But she was alive.

And for Cristoph, that was the only thing that mattered.


Eighteen Hours Earlier

"She's not going to recover with all of you hanging around here!" Tash shouted over the hubbub of Agents trying to see if Rhia really was alive. "If your name's not Valerie, Michael, or Cristoph, get out! Or I will start chucking things at you!"

The Agents began to disperse, slowly, chattering amongst themselves.

Cristoph started reaching for the shuriken in his shirt as he stood alongside Tash. "Very. Very. Sharp. Things."

Ten seconds later, there wasn't another soul in sight.

"I believe that's my line, Mister Asahina," Tash said to the ninja.

As always, Cristoph pulled down his cowl in respect to the ACMSES leader as he bowed apologetically. "I apologize, Lady Tash. I just… acted, without thought."

Tash put a hand on his shoulder. "Only to be expected. You've had a rough week. I know, I have, too."

"Damn, what a mess," breathed Michael, watching as Valerie continued to work on the wounded Agent before her. "What'd you do with Roxelana?"

"I don't know, I left her in Lord Willie's charge when I went to explore the crate she was in. But if there's one thing I'm sure of, Roxelana is certifiably insane. She actually laughed when I threatened her with my fubukari after I got the Prohibitor on her. And I lace those with neurotoxins," Cristoph explained, joining him at Rhia's bedside.

"Great, another insane one…" Tash shook her head. "We seem to be getting a lot of those lately."


Twelve Hours Earlier

Cristoph dashed through the corridors of the Library, heading for the medical ward. He had left Rhia's side only to go look for Algazdun, knowing he owed his feathered ally an apology after the events of earlier that day, managing to find him with Jared, of all people, watching as he worked on his truck. Why the bird happened to be there was a total mystery, but the good news was, he and Algazdun were back on friendly terms.

The only thing was, leaving Rhia's side may not have been such a good idea, because Valerie came looking for him and stated that Rhia was having a panic attack, most likely because being deaf, blind, and mute and not knowing where anybody or anything was definitely cause for alarm in these circumstances.

Rounding the corner and turning into her room, he found Rhia reaching wildly at the air, hyperventilating, and thus confirming his thoughts that perhaps leaving her side to find his hawk was not such a good idea, and with no better idea in mind, immediately threw his arms around her. Rhia stiffened, but then relaxed when she realized who had come back.

"…istoph?" her voice was cracked, high-pitched, and barely audible. Cristoph tightened his embrace in answer. "…water."

Cristoph turned his head, looking around for some, and was graciously supplied by Valerie before she left the pair of them alone. Cristoph guided the cup in Rhia's hands to her mouth before she spoke again.

Cristoph reached for a chair, watching as Algazdun flew in, the rope Cristoph used for his nightly meditations in its talons. Then…

"Stay with me, up here? Please?"

Cristoph instinctively found himself raising the front half of the bed and joining her. Algazdun understandingly dropped the rope on the chair Cristoph had brought over and perched on it, watching as Cristoph let Rhia sit in his lap, putting his arms around her. He wondered why his body was reacting on its own, but he let it pass, preferring to just consider himself blessed and take his miracle as he melted into her embrace.

He listened to her tale, of how Roxelana had taken her, how she took everything from her, piece by piece, how she screamed for him for two days before her voice vanished. Her hearing was next to go, and then she began to see less and less until she could see nothing more. She was still deeply disturbed by what had happened, even though she was now safe in the ninja's embrace.

When she fell asleep, Cristoph looked over at Algazdun. The hawk blinked, then seemingly nodded and flew off the chair back to his nest in Cristoph's room, leaving him alone with Rhia. It seemed like Algazdun was suggesting he…

"Rhiannon. I know you can't hear me, but I need to say this, because if I don't, I fear I'll never get another chance. In a sea of nothingness, you took my hand…" he began to speak, his voice strained and quavering at first, but gaining strength with each word. "And you led me out across the waves of darkness into the light… you gave me a reason to be. Not to live, but to simply be. To exist. And it's the greatest gift I could ever have asked for. You… you're everything to me. No, you're more than that… you are everything, and a bag of potato chips.

"I know it sounds silly… but truly, how do you describe someone who gives you the strength to carry on, even when you have nothing more than a name, a deck of cards, and a giant armored bird to rely on and your mind is a blank slate? The answer is simply… everything, and something else. As for why I chose a bag of potato chips… I honestly don't know. I guess it's because I'm hungry after avoiding the kitchens as much as I have this past week. I really have missed your cooking.

"But I'm getting off track. I guess what I mean to say is…" he gulped, and then spoke the words he'd wanted to say, perhaps since meeting her. "You called me your knight-errant. If that is what you see me as, then your knight-errant I will be. For you. Because… I love you."

He didn't bother using the rope that night. He just stayed in the bed next to her all through the rest of the night.


Present Time

"Rhiannon. If you didn't have the courage to say it then, then take the courage now, and say it here. You should have no regrets. Not with that."

Cristoph mentally facepalmed. He'd been practicing that line for a few hours, while he waited for Rhia to wake up this morning, and again, he sounded like he was forcing her to say it. Of course he wanted to hear it, but was he saying it like that? And the grabbing the chin with his fingers? How the devil was that romantic?

Rhia was just surprised in general about it, but eventually he heard what he was looking for. "Cristoph Asahina, I love you."

Okay, don't screw this up; you've only got one good shot at it, easy, easy, easy…

Cristoph put his lips to Rhia's and held.

At last. Catharsis. The emotions that he'd been holding within him just… vanished. In fact, it seemed like everything vanished. All that remained was him, and Rhia, and the fact that he was kissing her. A million little lightning bolts began to surge through his body, even after he managed to pull away, the pair of them both breathless… and red as cherries.

"I lost you, and then by complete and total luck I have you back. I'm not going to waste that."

They kissed again, longer and deeper than before, before coming away. Cristoph rested his forehead on Rhia's, just… savoring the moment. Why it took this long for him to realize this feeling, he'd probably never know.

Another thing I don't know about myself to add to the list.

"That was… really, really, nice," Rhia said finally.

Cristoph smiled, placing a hand on her face and tracing her cheek with his thumb.

"One thing, though…"


"Wish I could see you. Would make this more enjoyable."

Cristoph laughed… actually laughed. "It won't be too difficult to start this up again, Rhiannon."

"Mm… sounds good."

Just as they were about to go for the rule of threes, however, a voice interrupted them.


The ninja panicked, wondering what Valerie would say if she found them like this, but he felt a finger on his nose, which then was lowered to his mouth. Rhia smiled and mouthed "it's okay." Turning his head, he found Valerie in the doorway. The healer smiled, and then continued. "Michael's looking for you. He wants your mission statement from last night."

Nodding, he turned to Rhia and instead settled for a kiss on the forehead. "I'll be back to check on you tonight, okay?"

Rhia nodded, sliding off Cristoph's lap and back onto the bed as Cristoph swung off the bed, grabbing the rope he didn't need and left the room. Once out of earshot, he looked around to make sure no one was watching, then breathed a loud, long, and triumphant…


And he went off to Michael's office with a bit of spring in his step and triumphantly humming the chorus of "Strike of the Ninja."

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