This is a work of fanfiction and a homage to Kiyohiko Azuma, who brought us Azumanga Daioh, and late Takashi Wada, director of animation. Thank you.

Thanks to H. K. Miller for invaluable Comments and Critique.

This is a dark azufic, with a character's death. I dislike such fanfics and growl publicly at Teris, Adrian Tymes, and other practitioners of the art. So posting this is not a little hypocritical of me. My excuse is that this fanfic is an answer to Q Illespont. I wanted to answer his/her "Tomo as a cop" fanfic "To Protect and Serve", and this was the only result I managed.


"All right, we're done for tonight. Everyone is dismissed," Chief announced and rose, an image of wise authority in his blue uniform covered in decorations and insignia. The room filled with noise as the motley crowd of the 2nd Dangerous Crime Investigation Task Group filtered out, bowing or shaking hands. Tomo stood up slowly. She started to feel tired now that the excitement of the chase has ended. Her body felt heavy; every move was difficult. She was the last in line to the door when she heard Chief's voice:

"Ms. Takino, please stay behind for a moment."

Tomo turned around. Chief waited for the door to close, then stood up and came to her along the length of the table. He pulled out one of the chairs, sat, and motioned for her to sit across the corner. Tomo complied and stared blankly at buttons on Chief's uniform. She was too tired to care what the admonishment was going to be about.

"Tomo, I am speaking personally, but I ask you to listen seriously for once," he began in a fatherly tone. "While the operation was a success, some small mopping up remains. Black Lightning is still at large. This is a dangerous situation. We do not know anything about him yet. Or even her. But he cannot be sure about us. He knows that we have ways to make his associates to talk, eventually. He will hasten to make his move."

Tomo nodded. So, she hadn't been chewed over this time. Dangerous situation? Old man's fantasy. But she did not have the energy to argue. Sleep, blissful sleep, that was what she needed. And a day off.

"The priority for Black Lightning and any remnant of his group is to leave the country quickly and safely. However, we are hot on their trail. They may consider a counterattack in order to confuse and weaken us, thus improving their chances of escape. Yes, I mean an assassination of key members of the team."

Tomo nodded again: "Possible."

"Recently, you were on TV and received a certain degree of fame. In fact, the news presented you as the leader of the investigation. Because you are a woman, I presume."

Tomo nodded for the third time.

"Listen, Tomo. This is not a joke. They may be able to find you. I have this hunch. I've been on the force for thirty years. I know how it happens. Be extremely cautious. You want rest, right? Take rest with Ken and make sure he has a weapon on him at all times. I'll cover it as duty."

Tomo jumped and looked Chief in the eye. "What? Why?"

Chief smirked. "I know about it, Tomo-baby. It's the Old Man's job - to know everything. Be a good little girl and listen to Papa. Don't become a bad, dead girl. Now, go."

"Have a good night, Chief. Thanks for the advice," replied Tomo and stood up. Well, that went better than she expected. How overprotective. Old lolicon... Actually, no, Chief meant well. Curious that he would let her know that he knew. Implied a degree of trust. But all the same... Tomo shook her head and closed the door carefully, expending a bit of her precious energy.

A woman walked from the train station to a high-rise apartment building along a well lit street. As she went up the stairs to the entrance, she smiled at a young man going in the opposite direction, and came in, sliding doors closing out the night. She seemed handsome and strong, eyeglasses giving her an air of intellect. She carried the briefcase of a woman who went through the glass ceiling.

A casual observer would never guess just how heavy the briefcase was. The woman knew how to carry a load inconspicuously, although she had to clutch the handle tightly. Her hands were covered with a Russian-made cream MSN-2, which prevented them from leaving fingerprints, but also made them a little slippery.

The woman exited the elevator at the top floor and walked up to the roof access door. She affixed a little magnet near the door opening sensor, then tinkered with the lock for a moment and disappeared inside, closing the door behind quietly.

At the roof, she went to the northern edge. Across the gulf of a courtyard, there was a twin of the high-rise at which she was standing. Sitting behind the low perimeter wall, she opened the briefcase and removed the stock, action, silencer, and barrel of a sniper rifle. She took off her glasses, and put on a black mask and black gloves. The sight of the rifle had an anti-reflection coating. The sniper would be all but invisible for anyone without infrared goggles. She assembled and loaded the rifle and carefully perched it on the wall, counting windows.

The window which she wanted was dark. But after a short while, a couple emerged from the elevator and walked to an apartment door. The woman opened it, they entered, and the light went on.

The sniper examined the newcomers. Her target, the woman, was easy to identify. The man was a complicating factor, however. He moved with a surety of someone trained well. It was easy to kill the woman now, but if the man were to take cover quickly and raise the alarm, the sniper's situation could become dangerous. As the couple was making out, she pondered if one bullet could do the job, but rejected that amateurish idea. The professional choice was to wait. She started to examine the room.

Her target's abode was not lavish. Basic furniture, littered with things. Bed area and closet on the left, kitchenette on the right. A chest of drawers at the far wall, with framed pictures and incense bases on top. As the sniper added magnification and examined the pictures, someone moved across the room and it became dark.

The light was out for half an hour. When it went on, the woman came to the window, opened it, and looked up into the night sky. Her face occupied almost all field of view of the high-magnification sight. A touch of a smile flickered on her lips. The sniper lowered the rifle a little, placing the reticle on the left breast. Shooting the target in the heart now was probably a good idea. Hit with a powerful bullet, the body would travel away from the window and the man ought to come to it. A quick follow-up shot would complete the job.

"Tomo, I meant to ask you something. Who are these people?" asked Ken as he pointed at one of the big framed pictures standing on top of the cabinet. Two 10-year old girls looked from it, one with glasses, one without.

Tomo turned away from the window. "Oh, that? Me and my school friend."

"I see. I didn't picture you as someone to keep pictures of friends. Maybe boyfriends. Or girlfriends? It almost looks like a shrine."

"I'll slap you, you rascal."

"Sorry. I am sorry, I really am."

Tomo came up to him and took the picture. "Was I cute?"

"I didn't recognize you. Yes... I think so."

"Liar," said Tomo and smiled. "I wasn't cute. Yomi wasn't either. This is her, see?"

"Woa, you stayed together for a while. It's her again, right? With glasses?"

"Yeah... That's all of us. We were one group. Not like a clique or anything, just friends. This is... umm... I forgot now. Dumb girl, but kinda nice. She was into sports. This is Osaka... Not the brightest bulb either, though a sweet girl. This tall one, eh... she actually had good marks. Also she was a little weird... And this is little Chiyo, a prodigy. You would not believe how many grades she skipped. She probably was even smarter than me." Tomo chuckled. "Can you believe that? And you can recognize Yomi here, surely."

Ken nodded. "Is this her also? What a bizarre picture. What is this? Are they playing paintball or something? And with real weapons, too?"

"It's a long story..." Tomo sighed. "I need another smoke."

Ken gave Tomo light and sat on the bed. Tomo mounted a chair within reach of an ash tray. She put her elbows on the backrest of the chair and smoked in silence for a while.

"As you astutely observed, this is a sort of a shrine. We were best friends, and we were together for a very long time. In fact, I became a cop because of her. But I'm getting ahead... We were together through all the school: grade school, high school; went to college. Never did anything separately. I would often come to her room in the night, she lived at the first floor strangely enough... Ah, that was fun. Yomi was a great friend, only short-tempered."

"Then, one day, she lost it with me. I don't understand how and why it happened, but she was scolding me for an hour. Like I said, she was short-tempered, but usually she just smacked me up the head or something, and that was it. She became angry often, I paid it no mind. But that time, and I am trying to remember it now, I think she was depressed. She said that I was a millstone over her neck, that I was drowning her, again and again. Lots of things, I do not remember what. It made no sense whatsoever."

"I thought that she would come to her senses the next morning, so I just exited through the window as usual, and went home. But the next morning she was gone. Left home and college without a word. Nobody knew where she went."

"I did not think it would happen to me, but I became depressed too. I dropped out of college. You know, I only went there just to show Yomi that I could. I had a bad time. I thought and thought about it. I asked myself, how could she do it to me?"

"Eventually, I understood that I had to regain her. That became my quest. Yomi was always giving me these quests. Before the college, she was accepted to an exclusive school and literally dared me to do it too. So I did!" Tomo smiled happily and let out the smoke in a thin column towards the ceiling.

"But this last quest was the hardest one, the only one where she made me to lay out a plan. You know, like a boss in video game? Anyway, the only way to find her was to use the power of government. So, I had to become a secret agent or a detective. I entered a police academy. Hah, I used to say in school that I was going to work for ICPO. Maybe that's why."

"I diligently worked on my career and made it into the Investigations Department, then onto the 2nd Task Group. You know, you cannot find a lost friend while writing parking tickets. But it was hard. Everyone wants to be a detective, it pays more."

"So, I have some power now. I found that she sends money to her parents sometimes. Not often, but sometimes. The money comes from inside Japan. She probably asks someone to send it. I actually doubt that she's in Japan right now. That's because of that picture... She sent it to me!"

Ken lifted an eyebrow. "Really?"

"Yes, she sent it to me after 12 years. Again, bogus return address... These people look like some sort of mercenaries. Anyhow, you know what is written on the other side?"

"No," said Ken, "What?"

"``Hi, Tomo! I'm still alive, dunno for how long. I forgive you. Yours forever, Y.'' Can you imagine? She tries to make it sound as if she went into some Solder of Fortune operation somewhere in Bosnia or something. This must be a joke, cruel like everything about her."

"Hmm..." Ken left the bed and went up to the picture to inspect it closer. "So, she's a sniper?"

"Why a sniper?" asked Tomo, coming closer.

"Well, you can see the Dragunov's stock kinda showing here a little behind her shoulder. Too bad this guy obscures the barrel, it would have been obvious. But also look at this pouch. It's too short for Kalashnikov mags. I think it's Dragunov. These two guys must be her bodyguards or spotters. Seriously, one has a spotter scope, look."

"Woa. A gun freak boyfriend can come useful sometimes, who would have thought? Too bad it won't help me find her. I wish you could guess her unit..." Tomo reached around Ken's waist and hid her face on his chest. She mumbled, "Are you staying tonight?"

"Definitely. Actually, Chief told me... I think you ought to keep blinds closed."

"What for? The gangway does not reach under my window and I like to spit out of it."

"You know what for. What if someone hires your sniper mercenary friend to kill you?"

"I don't mind if so. It would be destiny," said Tomo solemnly. She turned back to the cabinet, put her hands together and closed her eyes. "Listen," she said, "you go to bed, I'll be over in a sec."

Then she felt a strange chill in her spine, as if someone was watching her.

Only a week had passed since their triumph, when everything returned to normal, including the morning meetings at 08:00 sharp. It was the time to kick some criminal undersides again, and Tomo itched to do the damage. But no sooner had Tomo bounced into the briefing room, she saw Chief's dark stare.

"Gak! The Chief is in already! I am going to stay in the hallway! Where are my buckets?" she exclaimed happily.

"Takino... you..." growled someone.

Chief was unfazed. "Take your seat, Ms. Takino," he said. Once Tomo settled in, he continued: "Now that everyone is present, there's something I need to tell you all before the rest of the business. I have received a message from the Section 9."

A few detectives shuffled and twitched.

"Yes. Some of you may be aware that a business jet crashed at Haneda three days ago. Section 9 took over the investigation and there was no information made public. But this is what happened, in brief."

"A Japanese woman checked in for a domestic flight with a Canadian passport in name of Katrin Plainwater. When the passport scan was sent for archival, computers of Section 9 triggered an alert. Ms. Plainwater, as I will call her, was to be delayed and interviewed."

"However, she did not come to her gate. Instead, she bypassed security doors and entered the airport ramp area, where she proceeded to assault the captain of a business jet who was performing a pre-flight inspection. Then, she made a short work on the first officer and boarded the aircraft. She started the engines, taxied out to a runway in a hazardous manner, and attempted to take off. During the takeoff run, the jet collided with a fuel truck commandeered by an agent of Section 9."

"The agent sustained repairable damage. Ms. Plainwater died in the crash and her positive identification proved impossible due to the burns caused by the post-crash fire. However, Section 9 was able to recover data from computer media found in the airplane. It contained pairs of public and private cryptographic keys. When such pairs exist, it is exceedingly probable that the person who used public keys actually created them. So, Section 9 compared found keys against their database of known public keys."

Chief made a small pause to underscore the message. "Paired public keys recovered at the crash site matched those used by Black Lightning."

Tomo jumped to send her chair against the wall and slapped palms against the table. "No way! He was a man! I was supposed to capture him!"

"That's your fantasy, Tomo," said Major. Someone chuckled.

Chief cleared his throat. "The gender of Black Lightning was not reliably known. A lower level operative, who is in our custody, heard her voice as female. You, Ms. Takino, dismissed that testimony as a ruse, but perhaps it should have been accepted. I think you better sit down, by the way."

"We have to consider a strong possibility that Ms. Plainwater and Black Lightning were the same person," continued Chief. "Section 9 is certain of that. This is why they are sharing all the information they have about the case with us. The case will need paperwork and tying up all threads, so I want Ueda to take it over and do it carefully. Ms. Takino, you are reassigned to help Major with the Nerima case. Go in and shake things up, I want to know what is happening in that dojo. Any questions? Good, let's do updates then."

As the morning updates started, Tomo oscillated between the desire to protest her reassignment and knowledge that it was final. Then again, working with Major was not a bad lot. Essentially, a promotion. Black Lightning though... Granted, it was disappointing to be outsmarted several times by a girl, but hey, who was left standing now? Tomo Takino! Yes, she was number one! She shall solve the Nerima case for sure. Those martial artists just dumb jocks, and she might even get a chance to beat up a few. Nice indeed... And she needed successes for her career too. The higher she raised, the more leverage she had; more strings were available to pull in her search for Yomi.

A goofy grin stretched Tomo's face. Things were looking up.

A/N It was brought to my attention that this piece resembles the short story "Chapparal Christmas Present" by O'Henry. I was familiar with that, but forgot all about it. I read it 20 years ago in Russian translation. The bulk of the setup and ambience was provided by the novel "Terroristena" by Swedish couple Per Vale and May Seval (Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall).