In the Defenders' HQ...
Carlos: So basically, we just need to know if you're on island or off island.
The Defenders' legal VP said with a friendly smile to finish his lengthy description of the legal issues facing them given their situation. Many countries Port Matthew had relations with required documentation of super-powered beings, but in cases such as Kari's where there was a desire to remain a civilian for the time being, there were loopholes the Defenders' lawyers were happy to exploit.
Kari's Dad: You won't need her address or anything?
Carlos: No, Professor Wilson. This is a very delicate business we're in, so delicate, in fact, that we receive state funding to kelp keep us in the black.* As such, we need to keep paperwork and on-site digital information at the absolute minimum. Occasionally, this puts us at a military disadvantage, but it protects more or less defenseless civilians, so we accept that.
Kari: You're not upset that we won't join?
Fearless: While in time we believe you could become a great asset to us, especially if we can teach you to control your ability, you are also just a teenage girl who doesn't play sports and who doesn't have a military background. You need to make your own choices in life. Something this important and this dangerous cannot be forced upon someone who is unwilling or unable to devote themselves completely to it. We are committed to defending PMers' freedom, and if we don't protect it amongst ourselves, what does that say to everyone else?
Dr. Brooks: Of course, should you change your mind we will do our best to find you a place with us.
Kari: Hehe, well, I suppose I'll keep it in mind.
Carlos: Now Kari, whenever you renew your passport, ID cards, change your name, or get married, you must come here to file your paperwork. This is very important. Your personal information will have a special status and cannot be processed normally. Your friend's parents have the same status. Your parents, however, will not be subect to the same requirements. I would also advise you to keep the secret of your abilities to yourself. I would advise against establishing permanent residency off-island, as many nations would require full disclosure of super-powered beings living within their borders.
Kari: So I can't travel abroad or go sightseeing?
Carlos: Friendly countries do not require travel visas, so you would not have to reveal yourself. Living off-island, however, even as a student, would require public disclosure of your gift.
Dr. Brooks: Thank you for allowing us to run our assessments today, Kari.
Fearless: Yes, it is a shame we can't add you to our roster today, Kari. But we understand the circumstances. Good luck with school.
Kari and her parents exchanged good byes with the Defenders' leader and officials and were led away to meet Nina.
Nina took a moment to take in her surroundings, marveling at where she was.
Nina: This is totally amazing. They're going to give me the food they eat, too! It's like I'm a Defender, too!
Eikyou motioned at a chair near the window looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows at East Bank.
Eikyou: Nina, please sit here. I'll be back in a moment with something to eat.
Nina smiled and nodded and then lowered herself painfully into the chair. She closed her eyes and sighed, then took a glance at East Bank. She closed her eyes once again, surprised at how good it felt to rest them. She laid her head back gently, deciding to take a momentary rest before the refreshments arrived. Consciousness quickly faded, though, and she was soon floating weightlessly in the void...
Victory: So that's Professor Stark's daughter?
Victory stood with Pierce behind Eikyou who was setting a tray down on the small table in front of where Nina had fallen asleep.
Eikyou: Yes, it was her school that was attacked, and her friend talking with Fearless and Carlos right now.
The three of them looked at her for a moment, all painfully aware that that was not the face of a peaceful sleep.
Pierce: *sits on couch* She's hurt worse than she lets on. She's gotta be pretty tough, huh?
Victory: *sits next to Pierce* I think she knows something about Hoshi-Hime, too. She was pretty agitated after this girl seemed to recognize her.
Eikyou: They dated the same boy.
After the funny looks from her teammates she felt it necessary to defend herself.
Eikyou: They're teenage girls, and when Kari, the blonde girl, is near me I can hear EVERYTHING.
Victory: Should we wake her up?
Victory leaned forward to analyze the pained expression on Nina's face.
Eikyou: She needs rest. I'll wake her in a few minutes.
Pierce: Why did Professor Stark even let her come out here in the first place if she's injured this badly?
Eikyou: I do not think that anyone but Nina and maybe her doctors know. Any other girl her age would probably still be in the hospital right now, but she is certainly tough.
Pierce: She was in that accident last year, right?
Victory: You remember that??
Pierce: *overly defensive* I'm a sensitive [expletive], Legs, I remember these things.
Victory: Right, I am sure it had nothing to do with Professor Stark being rushed out of our meeting and his presentation being canceled.
Pierce: *shrugs* Coincidence.
Eikyou: Now try to be nice, I am going to try to wake her.
Pierce: *mumbles* Yeah, Legs, try to be nice.
Victory: *mumbles back* I think she was talking to you.
Pierce: This is what I'm talking about, you getting all accusatory towards me, a perfect gentleman-
Eikyou: Both of you, hush!
Eikyou shot them a glare and they both quieted down, although still maintained dirty looks at each other. Eikyou rolled her eyes and looked over at Nina. She concentrated for a moment and suddenly Nina woke with a start, blinking at the light pouring in through the window.
Nina: *CAREFULLY leans forward* Oh, wow! I love mugi-cha! And Chex Mix!
Pierce: It's like we have the power to read your mind.
Nina's pain prevented her from jumping up in surprise, but she pulled herself back slightly as Pierce and Victory stepped towards her.
Victory: I'm Victory and this is Pierce.
Victory extended her hand towards Nina. Nina braced herself to stand up, but felt Pierce's hands on her shoulders and heard his warm laughter.
Pierce: Hahaha! No need to stand up for us!
He waited for a moment for Nina to shake Victory's hand then took his turn.
Nina: I'm, uh, Nina.
Pierce: *casually* That was a pretty awesome battle at your school the other day, wasn't it?
Victory: Shut up, Pierce, you weren't even there!
Pierce: I was there in spirit.
His reply was mumbled around the mouthful of Chex Mix he had tossed into his mouth.
Victory: You were lounging on some beach in Thailand on some ridiculous “bodyguard” duty for Juri!
Pierce: Hey, running security for that traveling circus is grueling work!
Victory: Yeah, I'll bet it's so difficult to sit on a chair drinking muay thais all day long!
Nina: Are- uh...
Nina suddenly faltered as the three heroes' attention suddenlly fell upon her.
Eikyou: *kind smile* Go ahead. We don't bite.
Pierce grinned the sound of disgust that came from Victory.
Nina: *quietly* Are they, uh, like, uh, always like this?
Pierce roared with laughter at the question and Victory launched into her well-rehearsed favorite speech with which she always used to scold Pierce.
Victory: See?! This is the kind of impression you make, Pierce! Aren't you embarrassed? Even a little? You act like such a child that even children are surprised and disappointed! You should be ashamed of yourself, Pierce! *crosses her arms, looks away*
Eikyou: Everyday, Nina.
Eikyou was delighted to see a real smile lighting up the girl's face.
Eikyou: She has that speech memorized perfectly.
Nina: She, um, she said you were doing security for Juri's tour, right Mr. Pierce?
Pierce: Hah! Yeah, you can just call me Pierce. But yeah, I do that when PM VIPs go off-island. Makes the process smoother and more official when we're involved.
Nina: So you know her? What's she like?
Nina was suddenly excited. Erisa had teased her for it, but she couldn't help liking the cheesy pop idol's “music.” Pierce decided to give his answer some real thought (for once).
Pierce: She's nice enough, I guess. She's pretty professional and she sings well enough. She doesn't joke around a whole lot, doesn't really attend any after-parties, doesn't drink, doesn't smoke. She puts her fans above everything else and it really makes my job tough because we have to watch all the fans all the time.
Victory: You mean, you have your people watching everything.
Pierce: You're coming with me next month, Legs. Then we can fix that image of me you have in your head!
Eikyou: So Nina, tell me why you haven't told anyone how badly you're hurt.
Eikyou was quiet as Pierce and Victory continued their customary verbal sparring.
Nina: I'm not hurt that badly.
Nina avoided Eikyou's eyes and fidgeted with her shirt.
Eikyou: Nina, I know you can handle it, there's nobody who would say otherwise. Especially given your experiences over the last year. That doesn't mean it gives you license to block everyone else out and do it all on your own.
Nina: *sighs* I know, I know my friends and family care.
Pierce: Besides, look who you're talking to. We've all been battered and beaten to within inches of our lives. No shame in telling us your injuries.
Victory: It's very brave of you to try and protect your friend, too.
Nina: What, Kari? I just wanted to-
Nina looked confused. Kari was the one with the powers, after all. She just felt as though she was along for the ride.
Eikyou: No, in the gym. We're veterans, we see it all.
Nina: Oh, you mean, Ayumi?
Nina was surprised anyone could see anything in the chaos of the gym that day.
Eikyou: In battle, we have to see everything. So we notice things. Anyways, the original question remains as yet unanswered.
Nina looked at each of them. She saw concern on Victory's face, empathy on Eikyou's, and (predictably) amusement on Pierce's. She sighed and thought for a moment how to answer.
Nina: I already went through the whole terrible injury thing last year. I don't need people to worry about me like that. Everybody thinks I'm a drama queen anyways, and I don't wanna add to that reputation anymore.
Pierce: Pff, all girls are drama queens.
Pierce laughed. At a look from Eikyou he leaned forward very seriously and said:
Nina: So, okay, we're all like, drama queens, but whatever.
Nina sighed and looked at East Bank again and thought about last summer, compared it to this week.
Nina: I lost someone I loved very deeply last summer. That hurt like, way worse than any of my injuries. I didn't lose anyone this time, it's just physical pain, and that'll like, go away. It did last year.
Pierce: I was right, you are one tough chick.
Pierce smiled at her, earning a bright one from her in return.
Pierce: You'd make a kick-ass Defender.
Nina: *big smile* Oo, you think so?
Nina's eyes sparkled with happiness.
Eikyou: Stop thinking about Titus' armor, Nina.
Victory: *sighs* You should be glad to have your teenage years free from all this chaos and nonsense, though. There's something to be said for normalcy, or at least what passes for it.
Nina: I don't know, I think I'd be totally willing to trade into it.
Nina's imagination was alight with the possibilities of powers.
Eikyou: *half to herself* Everyone wants what everyone else has.
Her face went blank for a moment, and she looked over to Nina as she stood.
Eikyou: The meeting is over, Nina. We will go now and meet them in the lobby.
Nina: Oh, already?
Eikyou: Sorry, Nina. Fearless' orders.
Victory: It was fun, Miss Stark.
Victory and Pierce helped her to her feet and settled her on her crutches.
Pierce: Definitely. Tell your dad we said hello and to try to keep his next speech or presentation down around like two to three minutes or so- OW!
Victory had clubbed him across the back of his head.
Victory: That was incredibly rude, Pierce!
Pierce: So was that, Miss Manners!
Nina: Uh, it was like, nice to meet you, too.
Nina looked up at them timidly as they eyed each other hatefully over her head.
Eikyou: This way please.
Eikyou swept Nina towards the exit and they could hear the pair continue their argument behind them. They stepped into the elevator and waited for the doors to close before speaking again.
Nina: *mumbles without thinking about it* They should just like, sleep together and like, get it over with.
Eikyou: You think so, too, eh?
Eikyou surprised Nina with her comment.
Nina: Oh no, I said that out loud, didn't I?!
Eikyou: Hahaha, do not worry, Nina. Titus and Cosmette have a running bet about it. It is just part of the team's dynamic. I can tell your group has had plenty of that go on as well.
Nina: Yeah, I suppose...
Eikyou: Now from here on, are you going to be alright?
Nina: Of course I am, I get better every day.
Eikyou: Not just your body, but your stress as well.
Nina didn't want to think about how difficult the past year had been and considered her weekend with Kana and Ayumi instead. It wasn't in her nature to be mopey and depressed all the time. She knew, however, that she would have to make a conscious effort to stay optimistic for a while, given her recent luck.
Eikyou: Well, if you need it, have your father schedule an appointment with me and I can help you. Defenders take care of their own.
Nina smiled happily at Eikyou as she stepped off the elevator and the doors closed, removing Eikyou from sight. The answer to Nina's question felt beamed directly into her ears.
Eikyou: Fearless ordered me to keep distance between me and your friend. I'll see you again someday! Gambatte!
Nina found her way back to the lobby and allowed herself to be carefully placed in the back of Kari's dad's Alfa Romeo sedan to re-join her family and their friends for home-made pizza dinner.