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Distractions

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A/N: This is the sequel to One Hour at a Time.  It's set during season 1, picking up shortly after the end of the previous story.


"Bai! Bai!" Hei crashed through the underbrush, not caring about the noise he was making. There was no one left to hear.

"Bai!" There was a body on the ground ahead of him - red hair. Not her. Hei jumped over it, pushing his way through the dense jungle where it impeded his path. Another body, slumped against a tree - a man. Not her.

He passed two more corpses, and knew he was getting closer. The thick, steamy air pressed in on him, suffocating.

He almost missed her. Standing with her back to him, in her black uniform and black hair, she blended seamlessly into the night. Only the white skin of her neck stood out against the darkness. "Bai! Are you alright?"

"I can't see the stars."

Hei followed her gaze upwards. "There are too many trees."

"No. That's not it."

Bai turned her face towards him. Hei recoiled in horror. Blood covered her face, weeping from empty eye sockets.

"You said you'd always protect me, Brother," she said in a dead voice. "Where were you?"

Hei stumbled back until he felt hands on his back. Spinning, he came face to face with a sea of corpses, all eyeless and dripping thick black blood. The red-haired woman he'd passed on his way here, the blond contractor he'd killed yesterday; each bloodied face was one he'd seen die. They crowded in, pushing each other, reaching out with skeletal hands.

Behind him, Bai clutched his shoulder, claw-like fingers digging painfully into his flesh. She was going to kill him. He tore himself from her grasp, afraid to look into her eyeless, accusing face, and plunged into the horde of the dead.

Hei drew his knives and slashed at the nearest corpse, trying to clear a path of escape. But the face he cut, he saw in sudden shock, was Bai's. The corpse next to her bore her face as well, and looking into the dead crowd, he saw that they were all his sister, reaching, clawing, pulling him into a terrible embrace.

Another hand grasped his shoulder. Bai, Bai, I'm so sorry. Hei brought his knife up to the pale white throat of the thing that used to be his sister, and -

"Hei, wake up."

The blade stopped a mere millimeter from Amber's throat. She didn't flinch, didn't even blink. She never did.

"…Amber?" Hei managed, his breath coming in ragged gasps.

"You were having another nightmare." Her voice was impassive, bored even, but her eyes were soft as she leaned over him, giving his shoulder another gentle squeeze. Her pale yellow hair, limp in the thick fug of the jungle, brushed his face. He hated that.

Hei took in his surroundings, heart still pounding. He was lying on his sleeping pallet in a nylon tent that shut out most of the daylight. The shadowy outlines of trees shifted slowly on the walls amid a cacophony of birds and insects. Camp. It was just a dream, then.

Hei took the knife from Amber's throat and casually brushed her hand away. "Don't wake me up like that. One of these days I'm going to kill you."

"You won't," she said simply.

He hated how she always acted like she knew more than everyone else.

She didn't move when he tried to sit up, and he had to push her back himself, hands slipping up under the sleeves of her shirt to grip her upper arms. She didn't resist.

He hated how smooth her skin was.

Amber sat calmly at the edge of his sleeping pallet, her hip pressed against his thigh. His heart was still racing from the dream, and being so close to her didn't do much to slow it.

He avoided her eyes and turned to look at the pallet next to his. His sister lay sleeping peacefully, looking for all the world like a sweet, innocent fourteen year old girl, rather than the heartless killer she truly was.

"She's fine," Amber assured him. "You need to get some rest though, we have a mission tonight." She trailed a hand down his bare chest, slick with sweat from the stifling confines of the tent and the adrenaline released by the dream.

Hei felt an involuntary quiver at her touch. He hated how she could do that to him. "I'm fine."

"It's alright, Hei," Amber told him. He didn't need to look at her to know she was smiling gently, fake concern on her face. "You can't keep your emotions bottled up like this, you'll drive yourself mad - you're still human, after all. Let me help you." Her fingertips traversed the tensed muscles of his stomach to toy with the drawstring of his pants.

He hated how she was always right.

"Do we have time?" he asked, still not meeting her eyes.

"Time enough," she said, like she always did. An eerie blue glow briefly illuminated the tent's interior. In an instant Bai's breathing stopped - but so did the slowly drifting shadows on the wall, and silence now hung in the air.

Amber cupped his cheek and turned his face towards hers. He kissed her without hesitation, pulling her into his lap and channeling the horror and guilt he'd reaped over the past few days into a desperate passion.

He hated how much he needed her.

Amber answered in kind, running her hands down his back, tangling her fingers in his hair, slipping her tongue into his mouth to taste him, breaking off only long enough to let him pull her shirt up over her head.

He hated the way she came alive in his arms.

Hei pushed her back onto the mat, running his hands along the curves of her breasts, her hips. Amber wrapped herself around him, her body hot against his. Her kisses were becoming more insistent, almost frantic.

He hated the way her caresses smoothed the frayed edges of his soul.

Then he heard a gasp, that didn't come from either him or Amber. He turned his head and caught sight of his sister, still lying on the mat next to his. Bai's eyes were open and staring directly at him, but unseeing. A knife - his - was buried in her chest up to the hilt.

Bai! Gasping, Hei tried to move to her, but Amber held him fast. She gripped his lank hair and forced his face back to hers, biting his lip so hard she drew blood. It filled his mouth and fell in bright red splotches onto her pale breast.

His heart seized in sudden pain. Amber relinquished her grasp on him just enough for him to look down and see another of his knives - this one plunged deep into his own chest. Her hand was wrapped around the hilt, red with his blood. It ran down her arm, dripping from her elbow to pool with the rest.

"Really, Hei," she said with a sad smile. "What else did you expect?"

He loved her. He hated that most of all.

~~~~o~~~~

Hei woke with a start, his chest heaving in the light of early dawn. He was in his empty apartment in Tokyo, miles, and years, away from South America and the war. He squeezed his eyes shut and willed his breathing to slow back to normal, relaxing back onto the futon with an exhausted sigh.

He'd had vivid dreams like that all throughout the war. They'd been even worse in the beginning, before Amber had come to his bed. But they had stopped completely after he became a contractor. Contractors didn't dream.

Except now, in the past couple of weeks, he'd begun dreaming again. The dreams set his nerves on edge and left him feeling as if he hadn't slept at all. Had they started after he'd seen Amber at the shrine?

He thought back. No, they'd started after he had kissed Misaki.

No, he corrected himself. After Chief Kirihara kissed me. True, he had kissed her back. But only because he needed to convince her not to talk, convince her that she could trust him. Returning her kiss had been the logical way to do it.

She'd probably only done it out of the adrenaline fatigue that came with being kidnapped and threatened with death. It hadn't meant anything. Neither did the dreams.

Hei rose from his futon and paced to the kitchen sink, where he splashed cold water on his face to wash off the night sweat.

Focus on the job at hand. Forget the past. The future is meaningless. Emotions are unnecessary distractions.

As he started preparing breakfast, he heard a familiar jingling sound from the open window behind him.

"Good, you're up." Mao jumped down into the apartment. "We have a job tonight."