New to the story? If so, please read the previous parts first! At this point, you REALLY should!
One week later...
"All righty then, show me what you've got!" Harry triumphantly yelled, holding up his cards in a way that would make Kazuki Takahashi roll over in his grave.
After a collective groan from all of us at the table, Smith went first. "Two pairs, Eights and Jacks." He seemed happy enough with his hand.
Second was Cali, with a smug smile that instantly dashed Smith's hopes. "Sorry, Arty, but mine are better than yours. Two pairs, Tens and Kings."
I was next, but my cards weren't nearly up to par with theirs. "Ah, I got nothin'. Junk hand, fourth time in a row. Huzzah..."
Kyla giggled and patted me on the back. "Don't worry, Greg. As long as someone ends Harry's winning streak, it's a win for everyone. And my three-Ace, two Queen full house'll do just that!" She held her cards up to Harry's face, certain that the self-titled 'King of Poker' had finally been dethroned.
But Harry brushed them off, still grinning like an idiot. An idiot that probably had the winning hand yet again.
"Three Aces, huh? I've got that last one right here" he said while tossing the aforementioned card onto the table. "Along with a Ten, Jack, Queen, and King, ALL THE SAME SUIT!" He laughed as he repeated the process with the other four cards, taking his time in showing us that he got the best possible hand in the game.
Me, Cali, and Smith shared another groan, while Kyla stared in disbelief. "Okay, I KNOW you're cheating, Harrison. I don't know how, but I KNOW you are. Nobody gets a Royal Flush three times in under an hour!"
Harry was unfazed as he gathered everyone's cards and shuffled them back together. "What can I say? I'm just THAT good!"
"...At cheating?" I quickly added.
"YEAH! Wait... No!"
This time, the four of us laughed at Harry's expense. However, despite getting dealt crappy cards way too frequently in one game, I'd been laughing the entire time in my head. Here we were; sitting together and playing a game as friends, all without a care in the world. Nobody was bothered by anyone else's presence, and there was no tension between any of us at all. Ever since Smith left OGD and joined HAC, he's been beloved by everyone here, while Cali and Harry had become fast friends. And even though he and Kyla still fought like siblings, I could tell that deep down, one of them would take a bullet for the other. As for myself, I was finally at peace now that me and my girls had worked out an agreement concerning our personal lives.
At least until I make a decision on which one to keep as a friend and which one to keep as a lover...
After a few more hands (and by extension, getting our assed kicked by Harry), Cali was summoned by Curtis for more testing, while Smith and Kyla left to help with a computer issue. That just left me and Harry alone at the table, free to talk about anything we wanted. But I'd bet any amount of money that he'd ask how I was holding up with my---
"So Greg, how did it feel, sitting between girlfriend one and girlfriend two at the same time, considering you've had them both in the sack and they both know it?"
Subtle as always, Harry. Subtle as always...
I chuckled. "First, admit you've been cheating this whole time. For a game that's mostly luck, you seemed to have a lot of it."
Harry's smug expression didn't change. "Duh, of course I was. You guys made it too easy." He re-shuffled the cards and put them back in the box. "Now answer my question, Ossland."
"All right... The truth is," I said as I closed the gap between us to prevent anyone else from hearing, "I'm aware that one day it'll be either Cali or Kyla, and they know it too. But for now, I'm enjoying having them as just friends. I'm happy that my relationships with both of them aren't over because they both understand how unwinnable the entire situation is. Cali knows why I like Kyla, Kyla knows why I like Cali, and they're both cool with it."
"I envy you, man" Harry said. "Two beautiful cat-women that both love you? And that haven't torn each other to pieces already? Where the hell do I get two of those!?"
"Ha ha. Remind me to think of a more sarcastic response later."
He also laughed. "Will do, Greg. But if I were you, I'd enjoy what you have right now and not worry about the future so much. Be happy. I mean hell, you're half-hyena after all. Laughing should be in your blood."
At that point, Francis came over to where we were and motioned for us to follow him. Neither me nor Harry had seen him all day, but it was fair to assume that whatever he wanted us for was important. I pretty much gave him the title of team leader a few days ago, since he's been working so well with the other leaders while I was taking too much time trying to sort out my personal life. He leapt at the opportunity, and so far has failed to disappoint.
As the three of us were walking out of the safehouse and into a destroyed hallway, Harry kept asking Francis what was going on, though every single one of his questions was shot down.
"Can you at LEAST tell me where we're going?" he asked.
"Geez, Harry! It's not anywhere specific, just a room we found that's not completely destroyed. I'm not answering any more of your questions, so shut up already!"
By then we had arrived at what used to be a break room for the HAC employees. Francis opened the door and the three of us walked in, seeing Smith, Ross, a still-recovering Brent, and three other hybrids sitting across from us at a long table. There was one free seat between Ross and Brent that Francis took, though there weren't any seats for us. Evan was also present in the room, telekinetically juggling a few rocks to pass the time spent waiting for Harry and I.
"All right, they're finally here" he said while letting the rocks fall to the floor. "Can we start now?"
"Yes" Ross answered. "Here's what this is all about: the three of you are here to enlist for the HAC strike team, should you choose to. We've gotten through all of the data Smith stole, and now we know enough to infiltrate OGD's base and destroy them for good. This is the retaliation that so many of us here want."
"And the timing couldn't be better," Francis added, "because we now know what they've got in store for us next. In addition to mind control and power augmentation, they've been experimenting with the zombies. The data shows that their products somehow also work on the living dead, and a super-powered obedient zombie army is their ultimate weapon against us. When we learned that there was no third wave of attackers coming, we didn't know it only applied to their hybrid soldiers. These new, advanced zombies are a completely different story."
One of the other hybrids, a female fox took over. "To make a long story short guys, we're gonna hit them before they sic those things on us. Right now, the official mobilization date is in two days. Are you three interested in joining?" She drew our attention to the sign-up list on their table and handed a pen to Harry. I took the list and gave it a quick read, just out of sheer curiosity. But when I got about halfway through, I stopped dead in my tracks.
Like so many others, Kyla's name was on there as well.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK.
Ughhh... Morning already? Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck...
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK. "Greeeeeg? I'm sorry to wake you, but I really need to talk..."
I opened one eye and saw that my clock said 1:15am, and in my frazzled state it took a considerable moment for me to realize that someone was outside. I rubbed the sleep (or lack thereof) out of my eyes, turned on the lamp next to my bed, and walked towards the door while groggily moaning "Hang on... One second..."
After tripping over my discarded armor and nearly impaling myself with my recently re-formed zweihander sword, I grabbed the doorknob and opened the door, revealing a very worried looking Kyla standing outside. Her uneasy expression brightened a little bit upon seeing me, despite the fact that I was currently a sleep-deprived zombie. But I was definitely awake enough to realize why she was here right now, though. It was no secret that I had no problem with leaping back into battle against OGD within the next few days, that was a given. And me, Harry, and Evan did join the team with everyone else. But judging from what Kyla told me about the initial attack two weeks ago, she must be having second thoughts about joining the strike team. Even now, I was still surprised at her initial decision.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
Christ, does she LOOK okay, Greg? That was such a dumb question...
She had shifted her gaze down towards the floor, most likely trying to avoid eye contact to hide her shame. "Yeah... Well, no. No I'm not. Can I please come in?"
I couldn't bear to see Kyla like this. Slowly, I reached down to under her chin, and tilted her head upwards so I could see that pretty, furry face of hers. I could tell that she'd been crying, as her blue eyes were tinted red all over. But once her gaze met mine again and she could see my sincerity and concern, Kyla instantly lightened up and hugged me tight, closing the door with her foot while pushing us back towards my bed. We lay down and cuddled until she got her fill and seemed ready to tell me what was wrong. It was as if my loving embrace alone had the power to rid Kyla of any problem, no matter what it was.
"Oh, Greg... This is why I wanted to talk to you and not my teammates right now. I love them like brothers, but I need my boyfriend's company right now."
This was a shocker. "But you said last week that---"
"I know what I said, Greg. And frankly, I'm still not used to it. Don't get me wrong, though; I've had fun getting to know you better on a non-relationship level, and I've even enjoyed getting to know Cali. I'm not angry, jealous, or anything like that either. But just for tonight, I need you to myself."
Clearly, this was unavoidable. But what kind of person would I be if I didn't comfort her?
"All right, it's a deal. But in all good conscience, I can't---"
"I know. It's okay, I don't want you to physically comfort me with everything you've got on your plate. You'll cross that bridge when you come to it."
Whew. "Again, thank you for understanding, Kyla."
She gave me a warm 'you're welcome' hug, and then finally began to come clean. "You've probably already guessed, but I feel like I jumped aboard the HAC strike team way too quickly. It... It's just like when I had to give up my little sister on Z-Day; I didn't think, I just acted on what I knew was the right thing to do."
"And let me guess" I responded with, "You know you should help because you can, but you're still petrified at what might happen to you---"
Wait a second...
"---Or to me?"
The sad, acknowledging expression on Kyla's face confirmed my new theory. "Greg... After Psycho-Cali nearly killed you, I sat there for hours, wondering if it would've gone differently if I was out there, fighting by your side. And when you finally woke up, I promised to myself that if I could help it, I'd never let the two of us be separated again. So the truth is, I'm not just going with you because I could potentially help others, but also because I can't bear the thought of not knowing if you're okay or not."
Strangely, I felt flattered above all else. "I mean, I was happy when I found out you'd join us and everything, don't get me wrong, but I had no idea you felt this way about it... and me."
Kyla responded with a nervous laugh. "Well, it doesn't matter right now, does it? I know I can't keep you from going with everyone else to finish the fight, and I won't back out because I'd never forgive myself if I did. Whether I like it or not, we're in this together, until OGD is dead and gone. I just... I just wish I was as strong as you are, Greg..."
That suddenly gave me an idea. "You know what we'll do tomorrow? We've got one more day before moving out, so I'll use it to help you practice and improve your ice abilities. If you switch from defensive to offensive fighting, you'll never be afraid to confront anyone ever again. That's something I learned from experience years and years ago when I was struggling with my sword karate. Even with only one day, I'm sure I can make a fighter out of you."
In an instant, Kyla's eyes lit up like fireworks. "You'd do that for me? You'd teach me to not be afraid?"
"I'd love to" I replied. "Current girlfriend or not, I'd do anything to help you. Because that's how I roll."
She giggled and gave me a kiss. "Oh, you..."
And just like our first wonderful night together, we fell asleep in each other's comfortable embrace, both of us now feeling a little more optimistic about the future.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK.
Mmmmrghhh... It BETTER actually be time to get up right now, or I swear to God I'm going to stab someone...
I chose not to acknowledge this second unpleasant wake-up call, but Kyla was enough of a morning person to get up and answer the door. However, opening my eyes proved to be enough of challenge already. Figuring it was probably Francis or Harry, I decided to pretend to be asleep, just long enough to wake myself up calmly.
I heard the door open. "Oh, uh.... Hey, Cali."
"This... isn't what it looks like, I---"
But then I heard Cali giggle. "Don't worry, I know. I got back late last night from my final lab test, and I overheard some of your conversation. I was gonna come in, but I decided to let you two have some alone time."
Kyla sighed with relief. "Thanks, Cali. Talking with him last night meant a lot to me."
"I'm sorry you're scared to all hell, and believe me, I'm not too hot on this either" Cali continued in a hushed voice. "But I'm going too, and I'm going for blood. OGD's gonna pay for what they did to me and everyone else under their control, and I'm sure Greg would agree if he was awake." I could feel Cali staring at me, trying to figure that one out for herself. "Is he awake?"
Well, too late to suddenly 'wake up' now...
Still believing I was asleep and not eavesdropping, Kyla laughed quietly. "When everyone told me he's not a morning person, they weren't kidding. Has he always been a late sleeper?"
"Ooooooh YES" Cali answered. "Even with a different body, it looks like not everything changes. I'll tell you though, he's just like Sleeping Beauty; one kiss will wake him up for SURE. But... I'm getting off-topic. When he does wake up, can you tell him to come find me outside? I've got a surprise for him that I think he'll like."
Suddenly, though I still had my eyes closed to maintain my little charade and couldn't see what was going on, I could feel the room getting much warmer. Almost like there was a fire three feet away from me that suddenly sprung into existence. I didn't know what to think at first, but a sudden gasp and "Wow!" from Kyla made me put two and two together.
Today's gonna be another interesting day, that's for sure.
"Does this mean that... You and Dr. Jackson... Found it?"
"Yes, yes we did" Cali answered triumphantly. "Now, all I have to do is learn to control it. Master it. I just hope it's not too late though..."
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