Anime/Manga Fan Fiction >> Kimagure Orange Road
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Life So Dear
By Richard Lawson
Life So Dear
By Richard Lawson
Amano was of average height and average build. He appeared to be
somewhere in his thirties. His hair was short and neat, his
off-the-rack suit of a conservative cut. The best word to
describe him was "nondescript". It was an image he had worked
hard to cultivate.
If there was anything remarkable about him, it was his eyes.
They never appeared to be in focus, and were slow to move from
point to point. But very little got by those eyes.
Right now the eyes were focused on the back of a chair. The
chair was behind a large, well-polished desk. Amano admired the
desk very much. He was certain that he had the talent to
eventually sit behind one. It would take years, perhaps decades,
before he would. But he could wait. Amano was a patient, loyal
man. He'd seen what had happened to those who weren't.
Finally a voice floated from the chair. "You are certain?"
An almost-insulting question; Amano had a well-deserved
reputation for accuracy, and for not making assumptions. Still,
given the circumstances, Amano could understand the disbelief.
"Yes. Absolutely certain."
"Most interesting. Your recommendation?"
There was no hesitation in Amano's voice. "Too dangerous."
Another long silence. Then a hand waved negligently.
Amano bowed deeply, then turned and left.
He was met outside by his associate. The man was tall, slim,
with long hair that flowed down his back. The trenchcoat he
always wore was almost stereotypical, but Amano respected what
was hidden beneath that coat. They had worked together for
years, and Amano still didn't know his name.
The tall man raised an eyebrow. Amano nodded. The tall man
smiled widely. "This I am looking forward to."
Amano walked down the corridor. The tall man stalked slightly
behind him. Amano allowed a tinge of doubt into his voice. "Are
you up to this? This one will be a challenge unlike any you've
"Challenge?" The tall man's voice was a sneer. "He's just a
This didn't sound good. The last thing Amano needed was
succumbing to overconfidence. Too many others had already made
that same mistake. "He is more than just a boy," he said
The tall man waited a moment to respond. "You are right. He
might have been a challenge when his talents were hidden. But he
was foolish, and overused them. Now we know his weapons. As
long as we are careful, he will be overcome."
"Good." Amano nodded, satisfied. "We must make an example of
"I will make the preparations."
"Very well." A car door was being held open for him. He climbed
in. The tall man walked once around the car before opening the
door opposite and entering.
Amano settled back as the car pulled away. "Unfortunate,
really," he mused. "If we could only have discovered this ESP of
his earlier. He might have been of help."
The tall man shrugged. "Perhaps. But he was disloyal."
Amano smiled. His feelings exactly. And they both knew there
was only one answer for disloyalty.
Kasuga Kyosuke woke to the sound of water running in the shower.
He immediately smiled, knowing what form the water was running
over. He could trace the image from memory.
He yawned and sat up on the edge of the bed. He blinked around
at his bedroom. His home for the past four years was slowly
being disassembled. Boxes were packed, stacked, and labeled.
The studio apartment was mostly bare, and the sounds of the
running water echoed strangely through it. He was now down to
the bare essentials, and those would be packed up in three days.
Three days. As was happening with increasing frequency, his mind
locked up at the thought. Three days.
Too full of adrenaline to sit still, he stood up and started
pacing. Not that there was a lot of room to pace; the apartment
was *very* small. Even when he'd been looking for a place of his
own, he'd done so with the full knowledge that all he really
needed was a kind of staging area between his life with his
father and sisters, and the life that was to come in three days.
He stopped in front of a bare wall and leaned forward to rest his
forehead against it. It was all he could do to keep from banging
his head on it.
A mischievous voice spoke from across the room. "Beating your
head against the wall will not make the time pass any more
He turned, slightly startled. He'd been so caught up in his own
tension that he'd failed to notice that the shower had stopped.
Standing in the bathroom doorway was the half-clothed figure of
Ayukawa Madoka. Her smile was full of humor, her eyes full of
Kyosuke couldn't help but smile back. "How is it I'm the one
with the Power, and you're the one who's always reading my mind?"
She laughed. "It doesn't take telepathy to read your thoughts,
Kasuga-kun." She walked over to the bed, bent to the floor,
grabbed the rest of her clothes, and began to put them on.
Kasuga, still full of energy, walked up behind her and slipped
his arms around her waist. "Can you tell what I'm thinking now?"
"Of course. Pervert. That part of Kyosuke I could read from
almost the very first day." She turned in his arms and kissed
He kissed her back, breathing in her fragrance. Ten years he had
known her, and the smell of her still intoxicated him. He hugged
her more tightly, deepening the kiss.
She pushed him away after a moment. "You are brave today," she
said teasingly. "One would almost think you'd forgotten about
the fact that we're getting married in three days."
"Urk." His stomach flip-flopped. "You *had* to remind me." He
tried a smile. "Now you have to make me forget again." He began
to draw her in.
Madoka pushed him back again. "Kyosuke, I don't have much time
before I have to leave for the airport. There's something I need
to tell you. I was going to tell you last night, but I was too
busy distracting you then as well."
Kyosuke couldn't help chuckling. "And you did a magnificent job,
"Yes, yes, you keep mentioning that." She flipped her hair over
her shoulder. "One might think that's the only reason you're
He was still a little heady. "Yep, it is. I mean, what other
reason could I have? Hmm... nope, can't think of anything.
Perhaps you helped me forget *too* well." He grinned.
"Kyosuke!" She dragged his name out in shock and dismay. She
stepped outside his arms and turned her back to him. "Is that
what you think of me?"
Pure panic gripped him. "Madoka, no!" He put a hand on her
shoulder. "I'm sorry. I- I was just teasing. There's... oh
Madoka, I can't begin to say how many different ways I love you,
Madoka sighed and squeezed his hand between her head and
shoulder. "I know, Kyosuke, really. You just hit a sore spot."
"I did? What?"
"Not now." She turned around, took his hands in hers, and sat
him on the bed next to her. "Later, I promise."
This touched on something that had disturbed Kyosuke for a long
time. He was closer to Madoka than anyone else was, yet there
were still things she kept secret from him. It shouldn't be that
way, he thought. He should be able to help her with things that
bothered her. But all too often when she had a problem, she
dealt with it by herself, without asking him - or anyone - for
help. Kyosuke was bothered by that - part of getting married
meant that they dealt with problems together. She shouldn't be
keeping things from him.
And yet, now as always, he failed to generate sufficient courage
to bring up the subject. Madoka was intensely private, and the
fact that she had allowed him into her life was enough of a
blessing. He kept hoping that time would allow her to open more
of herself up to him. It had worked, to an extent. Yet there
were still walls she hid behind. Hopefully the marriage would
break the last of them down.
He forced a smile. "All right. What *did* you want to talk
"It's Hikaru." Madoka sighed sadly. "She's not coming."
"Oh man." Kyosuke grimaced and closed his eyes.
"I know you were looking forward to seeing her," Madoka said
softly. "She knew that too. She kept begging for our
forgiveness in her letter. She's got to prepare for an audition,
she said, and she's too busy to come back to Japan."
"Hikaru-chan." She'd tried so hard to stay friends with them.
After that painful revelation during his last year in high
school, he and Hikaru and Madoka had maintained a facade of
friendship. But there had been too much pain behind Hikaru's
over-cheerfulness. Too often her eyes had flicked back and forth
between Madoka and Kyosuke. With Madoka and Kyosuke in college,
and Hikaru concentrating more and more on her dancing, it had
become easy for them not to spend a lot of time together. When
Hikaru had gotten the chance to study in New York, she'd taken it
They'd spent one last dinner together at Madoka's house. The
evening had been pleasant, full of lively conversation and funny
reminiscences. But the atmosphere had been bittersweet, and
Kyosuke had sensed that Hikaru was relieved when the evening had
come to an end. She'd left Japan five years ago, and he hadn't
seen her since.
"Tell me." Madoka squeezed his hands. "Tell me what you're
"I... I wanted..." He shook his head. "I wanted to see her, to
know... to know that she was doing okay."
"Kyosuke." Madoka sounded serious now. "She *is* doing okay.
She's got a good life in New York. She loves dancing, and she's
good enough and lucky enough to make a living out of it. I think
that... that she's put this part of her life behind her and wants
to focus exclusively on her new life."
"But it's just for one day." Kyosuke clamped his mouth shut
before he could whine some more. He knew that he was acting a
Of course, Madoka was there to point it out, too. "And what a
day it is, eh? To see the man she fell madly in love with marry
someone else. To see the union of two people who hid the secret
of their relationship from her for so long, until it was
guaranteed to devastate her when it was revealed. I don't know,
Kyosuke. Avoiding that pain just might be more important to her
than making sure you feel good about yourself."
Kyosuke swore. "That's easy enough for you to say. I could
have... could have let her know... before it got so bad."
"I *know*, Kyosuke." Madoka glared at him. "I *know*. We all
do. Don't you think I haven't lived with that guilt, too? But
this isn't about *us*. It's about Hikaru. She had to be the one
who decides when she's ready to let us be her friends again. And
that might never happen."
Kyosuke opened his eyes and raised his head. "But dammit, if I
hadn't used the Power, she would have known *years* before.
And... and maybe..."
Puzzlement settled onto Madoka's face. "What? What did you do?
Do you mean that teleportation trick you used to date both of us
"No." He swallowed, the pain still almost overwhelming. "One
Christmas, back in high school. I... I took you to a Christmas
party. And... Hikaru saw us there. And she knew. She knew
Madoka's puzzled frown increased. "When was this?"
"And... and I couldn't stand to see her in such pain." Kyosuke's
voice cracked. He paused a second, then continued. "So I went
back. I started the day over, and I took both of you to the
party. And... and you were both happy. I thought I'd done the
right thing. But... but maybe... maybe the pain she felt then
would have been less than the pain she felt later when she *did*
Madoka's eyes were wide. "You did that? You used your Power
to... to..." Her face was darkening. "Three days before we get
married, and I'm just *now* finding out about this?"
"M-Madoka!" For some reason, it had never occurred to him that
Madoka would get angry. "I... I wish I hadn't-"
"I'll bet." She almost leapt to her feet. "I have to get to the
"Wait!" He rose to his feet, watching as she angrily put on her
coat. "I'll come with you."
"Not in your underwear you won't. Unless you want to go back in
time and get dressed." She shot a look at him, then opened the
door and stalked through it, closing it firmly behind her.
Kyosuke sat back down on the bed. Well, *this* day had gotten
off to a good start. That was the last he would see of her
before the wedding - she was flying to Seattle to meet her
parents. She'd spend a couple of days with them before they all
came back to Japan together. And rather than part on good terms,
full of expectations for the wedding to come, Madoka's final
words to him had been angry ones.
He was angry, too. Madoka was being a little unfair - it wasn't
like she didn't have her little secrets, too. Where'd she get
off judging him like that?
He was having enough problems harshly judging himself.
Kyosuke stood up, walked over to the wall, and pounded his head
softly against it. It didn't help.
He left school, wondering why he bothered. It was such a waste
of his time. He had other, more profitable pursuits. Stuff that
was a *lot* more fun.
"Kasuga-san!" He frowned at the voice behind him. He turned to
see one of his classmates - what was her name? Yuki? - running
up behind him. She stopped, flushing from either the exertion or
being in his presence.
She bowed. "Kasuga-san, I... I am having a party tomorrow night
and... and I wanted to know if... if you'd like to come?"
He looked into her mind. She was quite attracted to him. She'd
heard of his reputation, and it excited her. She had a fantasy
about being his girlfriend, where he showered her with attention
and expensive gifts.
He curled his lip slightly. Too easy. Far too easy. It
wouldn't be a challenge at all. "Sorry, can't. Too busy doing
interesting things. No time to play with children."
In her mind he could see it - sharp, deep embarrassment.
"S-sorry." She turned and fled.
Gee, that hadn't been any fun. She hadn't begged or anything.
He frowned as he turned, wondering if he maybe shouldn't have
strung her along a little.
"Gee, Kazuya." This was the cynical voice of his best friend,
Yokio. "If you're gonna turn down the cute ones, can't you at
least send a couple of them my way?"
Kazuya darted into Yokio's mind and found the appropriate envy in
the foreground. "I've had hotter than that. Much hotter. Even
you could do better than what's-her-name."
"Maybe." Yokio looked after the girl and sighed. "Anyway, wanna
go to the mall?"
Kazuya repressed a sneer. Children, he was surrounded by
children. "Not today. I'm going to the club."
"Lucky." Yokio slapped him on the shoulder. "Say, can you help
me with the test tomorrow? Maybe send a few answers my way?"
Kazuya shrugged. Tests were easy for him. He got the answers
from the teacher's mind. Sometimes he broadcast those answers to
his friends. "What's in it for me?"
"Um..." Yokio thought it over. "Can I make you an offer
"Sure." Kazuya turned away. "Make it good."
"Will do. See ya."
"Bye." Kazuya ran off, anxious to leave school behind him. He
had more important things to focus on.
Kyosuke wandered around the city, looking for something to shoot.
His sporadic work as a freelance photojournalist had slowed down
considerably of late. Preparing for the wedding (emotionally
more than anything else) had drained him of creative impulses.
He didn't need money; Madoka made plenty from her songwriting,
and she was well-endowed anyway by her world-famous parents.
Kyosuke would never want for money as long as he was with her.
During his childhood, his father's sometimes-sporadic income had
not always been enough to meet expenses. After years of living
on the edge financially as his family had moved from place to
place, Kyosuke was beginning to very much appreciate financial
But he needed to *do* something. He had more ambition than to
sit and watch Madoka compose all day. While that was fun in and
of itself, it was not a full life. He wanted to contribute to
the world somehow.
Following in his father's footsteps had been easy - he'd learned
a lot about photography while growing up, almost without
realizing it. Learning how to apply that knowledge, though, had
turned out to be a lot tougher. College had helped some.
Mostly, though, it was as his father had said: photography was a
personal experience. You only got better by doing.
He hadn't been taking a lot of pictures lately. He needed to.
Getting out of practice was not a good thing. Also, he had to
get the foul taste of this morning's argument with Madoka out of
his mouth. Somehow, he needed to make everything all better.
How about going back in time, just like she'd suggested? He
could keep the argument from happening. Then he wouldn't feel so
bad now. Things between them would be good.
He sighed and looked through his viewfinder, focusing on a tree a
hundred yards away. He'd tried that once before. It had worked
for the short term, but it had had devastating consequences in
the long run. He couldn't use the Power to try and correct all
his mistakes; he might end up making things worse. He had to
muddle on like any other human being.
Plus he wasn't exactly sure *how* to go back in time. Every time
he'd done it, it had been by accident. A repeatable accident in
one case, but an accident nonetheless.
A figure stepped in front of the camera. He lowered it to see
Madoka staring at him angrily. "Kyosuke, I think you should
know. I've decided. We aren't going to get married. Ever."
Kyosuke sighed again. "Cut it out," he said with a small, tired
"I mean it!" Her frown deepened. "I don't know what I was
thinking in the first place! I can do *much* better than you.
And you certainly don't deserve anyone wonderful like me."
Kyosuke shook his head. "She left for America hours ago."
"I... I changed my flight! Because I had to come and tell you-"
"Damn." The figure in front of him shimmered, to be replaced by
the appearance of his cousin. "Although everything I said was
true. You should have stuck with Hikaru. She was much more your
Kyosuke snorted. "While you helped Madoka accept herself for
what she is and took her to live happily ever after in your love
nest in America?"
An upset look was shot his way. "Kyosuke!"
He shrugged, slightly abashed.
Akane continued in a stern tone of voice. "I mean, indulging in
such elaborate fantasies about your own cousin? I mean I figured
you thought I was kind of cute, but isn't that a tiny bit
Kyosuke blinked at her in surprise.
She was now smirking visibly. "And the family calls *me*
Kyosuke started slightly, knowing there was more truth to that
phrase than came across in her teasing tone of voice. Ever since
openly declaring her preferences to her parents, her father had
been on her mercilessly, insisting that she get married to a man
right away. Akane had steadfastly resisted all his efforts, and
her relationship with her family wasn't so good right now.
Kyosuke felt for her, but there was little he could do to help
Akane continued teasing him mercilessly. "I think Madoka should
be told, don't you? I don't think she has the slightest idea
what she's getting into here. The fantasy life you lead must be
Kyosuke shook his head, somewhere between amusement and
embarrassment. "You know, Akane, in a minute I really am going
to have to kick your butt as a matter of principle."
"You?" Akane looked him up and down. "The guy who had to have
Madoka come to *his* rescue in a fight? Surely you jest, cousin
Kyosuke smirked. "I've also repeatedly taken her best right
crosses, Akane. Trust me, I've learned from the experience."
Akane began laughing, and Kyosuke joined her. After a moment,
they lapsed into silence. Akane's expression became neutral as
she considered him.
Kyosuke lifted his camera. "You do look good like that. Hold
She managed to stick out her tongue and cross her eyes just as he
snapped the picture. He laughed as he lowered the camera. "I'll
be sure to make a whole set of prints out of that. I'll pass
them out at the wedding."
Akane grinned, then sobered. "Say, Kyosuke, have you seen my
Kyosuke's own smile vanished. Kazuya. He'd caused Kyosuke no
end of trouble growing up, abusing his Power endlessly,
delighting in causing as much mischief as possible. Kyosuke only
tolerated him at all because he had once helped him help Madoka
when she had fallen ill during finals. As far as Kyosuke knew,
that was one of the very few nice things Kazuya had ever done.
For the most part he was an evil little brat, and Kyosuke was
happiest when he wasn't around.
"No. Why, should I have? Don't you walk him home from school or
Akane looked at him quizzically. "Kyosuke, he's in high school."
"High school?" Kyosuke's reeled slightly. He mostly remembered
Kazuya as a precocious six-year-old. A lot of time had passed
since then. For the first time in his life, Kyosuke felt old.
"Oh. Uh, well, I don't know if I'd recognize him if I saw him."
"You would; he still looks a lot like you." Akane sighed. "He
keeps disappearing after school. Sometimes he doesn't come back
until very late at night, or the next day. Mom and Dad are
really worried about him." She looked down and spoke quite
softly. "I am, too."
Kyosuke sighed and tried to put his personal distaste behind.
Certainly he'd be worried sick if Kurumi acted this way. She
never did, of course; while a bit of a flake and somewhat
irresponsible, she didn't have a malicious bone in her body.
Kyosuke grunted; Kazuya had an entire skeletal structure composed
of them. But now was not the time or the place. Akane needed
help, and Kyosuke would do what he could for her.
"Uh, look, I'm sorry for what I said just now. Point didn't need
to be made. Let's go looking."
Akane looked up and smiled brilliantly. "Okay. Thanks,
He nodded. They turned together to walk down the road.
The Perverted Samurai was in one of the less-reputable sections
of town. There was bad topless dancing and drinks of
questionable vintage to be found within. There was also a
high-stakes poker game that took place in the back room. Along
with other, higher-risk bits of action.
Kazuya nodded affably at the doorman. The doorman had tried to
stop him, once, long ago. Now his left eye twitched every time
he saw Kazuya. Kazuya sauntered into the club, watching as the
center of attention slowly turned to him. They knew him, and
knew who he was connected with and what he could do.
The bartender met him at the bar. "Whaddya want, kid?"
"Whiskey, rocks." He looked around the bar. "Anything happening
"Nope, not that I heard of." A drink appeared on the bar.
Kazuya frowned and looked into the bartender's mind. He was
telling the truth; no game tonight. Kazuya picked up his drink,
mentally shrugging. Just as well, perhaps. He'd been winning a
bit too much in those games anyway. He took a sip and winced; he
really didn't hold alcohol well. He ordered a drink mostly for
appearance, and nursed it most of the night. The last thing he
needed to do was lose control of his faculties.
He saw none of the regulars he was looking for. He could use
some action. He'd helped collect on some debts - quite fun, that
was. Helping much larger, bulkier men find people who owed
money. Finding out from the minds of those debtors how much
money they had, and where it was hidden. He'd get a cut of what
was collected. Sometimes, he'd make the bulky men forget exactly
how much was collected, and increase his cut all that much more.
It was a heady experience, manipulating people twice his age or
more with such ease. And this was only the beginning. Soon he'd
move up in the organization. Soon *he* would be the one giving
orders. Soon he'd show them what the Power could *really*
Kazuya cleared his mind of these fantasies. Now the question was
how to spend the rest of the evening. No one was dancing right
at the moment, but one of the waitresses was moving listlessly
among the tables, selling drinks to the few people who were
there. Real action wouldn't begin for another few hours yet.
He examined the waitress. Tall, blonde (although that hair was
surely a wig) and nicely trim. Her eyes were tired behind the
makeup. Still, she was quite attractive. And more importantly,
he'd never had her before. What the hell, he decided. It would
be an amusing way to spend the night. He felt for the roll of
money he kept in his pockets. Plenty for a nice hotel room.
Setting his drink down at the bar, he sauntered up to her. He
reached into her mind, preparing to make her receptive. It was a
skill he'd mastered. "Hello there. You look like you could use
She turned and saw him. He flinched; fear bolted through her
mind. Almost terror. Apprehension he was used to, but not
*this* extreme a reaction. She stammered a reply. "I-I-I'm
Kazuya frowned and looked deeper into her mind. She wanted
nothing to do with him. She was afraid for her life if she was
seen with him. Because she had overheard some men talking at a
table earlier tonight.
The word was on the street. Kasuga Kazuya was a marked man. He
was going to be killed in the most painful way possible, and
anyone trying to hide him would meet a similar fate.
That wasn't right. He looked into her mind again. The same
information was there. He swallowed once, hard, and looked
again. And the knowledge was still there. Something cold washed
through his chest. They were after him.
Kazuya began to tremble. Dead. They wanted him dead. He looked
around the bar again. Those that knew him were avoiding his
eyes. The bartender was removing what remained of Kazuya's drink
and emptying it, turning deliberately away from him.
With a flick of his mind, he froze the waitress's mind. He made
her forget that she'd ever seen him tonight. He looked around,
preparing to do the same to everyone. And stopped, wondering
who'd already left to tell others that he was here.
He ran from the bar, fear crushing his heart. Dead. They wanted
him dead. He'd done nothing wrong. Nothing. And they wanted
He had to straighten things out. He'd make it better and then
they wouldn't want him dead. He'd make it so they wouldn't
*want* him dead. He'd change their minds and they'd never know.
Oh God, they wanted him dead.
Kazuya kept running.
Amano sat back from the monitor. "Very well done. He looks
The tall man shut down the monitoring device. "As well he
should. He will likely try and see Kazuki next."
"Kazuki has his instructions?"
"Yes. All is in readiness."
"Excellent." Amano moved his gaze slowly over to the tall man.
"Be careful. You must not get close to him until he is subdued."
"I am aware of that." The tall man smiled slowly. "But I will
be there when he falls. That is matter of personal honor, after
"As you will." Amano stood. "I will be happy when he is dead.
He is still too much of an unknown element for my comfort."
"Do not worry. He is ours." The tall man's smile grew. "He is
Kazuya ran up to the building. He paused, taking deep breaths.
He was not used to all this exercise. A cramp in his side made
it hard for him to stay upright. He fell against the door,
accidentally crashing through it.
He looked around in a panic. A shape to one side; he darted out
into its mind and seized it. Pulling himself carefully up, he
tried to peer through the gloom. No one else was evident.
Kazuya looked into the mind of the guard. He was the only one on
duty. The rest had been called away by a man named Amano -
someone very high up in the organization. For what purpose, the
guard didn't know and didn't want to know unless told. But the
guard had speculations, and high among them had been the brash
teenager who had been making too much noise and must now be
Kazuya withdrew his mind. The guard collapsed; very few could
withstand the intense probing he'd just been subjected to.
Kazuya looked down at the body, hoping there was no permanent
damage. If he was going to get back into everyone's good graces,
he had better not turn too many people into vegetables.
He made his way down the hallway and pushed open an unremarkable
door towards the center of the building.
A heavyset man sat behind a shabby desk. He looked at Kazuya
through heavily lidded eyes. "Ah, Kasuga. I've been expecting
Kazuya restrained himself from seizing the man's mind. He bowed
deeply, something he rarely did. "Kazuki-san. Please forgive my
He waited, but no reply was forthcoming. He lightly scanned
Kazuki's mind, and found contempt there. With a massive effort
at composure, Kazuya straightened and looked calmly at Kazuki.
"If I have given offense, please allow me to make up for it. I
will do anything I can to make amends. I can be very useful."
"Indeed. You can be useful. Very well." He tossed a knife
across the table. "Prove your loyalty."
Kazuya picked up the blade, his whole arm shaking badly. Did
they really expect him to... He looked down at his pinky finger,
"Be quick, Kasuga. Hesitation may yet kill you."
Kazuya looked up and into Kazuki. What he saw there made him
gasp. It made no difference whether or not he cut off his
finger. Kazuki's orders were to detain him until others could
come and capture him.
He reached deeper into Kazuki's mind and squeezed. Kazuki
screamed, clutched his head, then fell forward on the desk.
That brought no satisfaction at all to Kazuya. He turned back to
the door, then stopped. He tried to visualize the other side of
the door, but he didn't have clairvoyance. Dad could do that a
little, but although Kazuya was a much stronger ESPer, there were
some things he couldn't do. Yet.
And he'd never find out, now.
He tried to crush that thought, but it kept bubbling up in a
panic. There were people on the other side of that door who were
going to try and kill him.
With a shout, he crashed through the door. A man raising
something at him. Snap, and the man fell. Kazuya dropped to the
ground, more because he was terribly afraid of being shot than
any coherent plan. He heard something zing above his head. He
reached out with his mind, found another, squeezed it, and down
He scrambled forward on his hands and knees, reached a corner,
peeked around it. Empty, but three windows leading outside.
Move quickly up to one, peek quickly through, nothing, drop back
down. Safe? Surely not. Crawl quickly down the hallway, around
another corner, a man, pointing something at him.
Grabbing the man's mind. Freezing him this time, looking in.
They have orders to incapacitate him, but not kill him; Amano
wants the pleasure of killing him personally. They know -
*know* - that he has ESP, and thought they were ready for it.
This man certainly thought that his mind could never be taken
The tall man listened to something in his ear. "They have him."
Amano smiled. "Excellent. Show me."
The tall man spoke softly into a microphone. The monitor came to
life, showing the limp form of the boy being held by one of the
tall man's operatives. The others were rising, gathering around
Amano nodded. "Bring him here."
On the monitor, someone was trying to talk to the operative
carrying the boy. The operative was not responding.
The tall man was speaking into the microphone again, giving
instructions for delivery. Amano grabbed his arm. "Tell them to
be careful, he may be-"
Suddenly the picture on the monitor tilted wildly. When it came
to rest, it showed a good picture of two of the tall man's
operatives curled on the ground, clutching at their heads.
Behind them, the boy stood, wincing as if in pain, looking very
pale. The boy moved to one of the men on the ground, stooped
over him, and took a transmitter from him.
The boy spoke into it. Amano looked over at the tall man. His
face was red and his jaw was clenched tightly; Amano had never
seen the tall man this angry before. Amano gestured imperiously,
and the tall man savagely flipped a switch.
"-don't want to do this." The boy's voice coming from the
monitor was clearly strained and frightened. "Please, I'll do
anything, pay you any money. I can do a lot for you. Let me
prove my loyalty."
"You have already proven your loyalty, you freak." Amano blinked
at the hate in the tall man's voice. "I will see your blood
Amano calmly reached over to take the microphone from the tall
man. The tall man at first tightened his grip on it, then
released it to him. Amano spoke in a pleasant monotone. "Young
Kasuga, if you want to prove your loyalty, allow my associates to
take you in. Your life is forfeit for your crimes, but you may
yet spare the lives of your lovely older sister and your parents.
And if they mean as little to you as everyone else apparently
does, we can keep removing those whom you associate with until we
find someone you *do* care for."
Amano smiled softly at the shock on the boy's face. "Do the
honorable thing, Kasuga-kun. Turn yourself in and meet a
The boy dropped the transmitter, turned, and fled.
The tall man cursed profusely. "I swear to you, I will have the
lives of every incompetent who partook of tonight's operation."
"Be easy." Amano settled back in his chair. "I did not expect
them to succeed. The boy does have powers greater than he had
shown before. But we have learned valuable lessons here. Your
men - those that survived - now know what it is like to feel his
mind in theirs, and they will be better prepared. And we must
make sure they are prepared; if this boy has such gifts, others
in his family may as well. If they can be properly motivated,
they can be valuable additions."
The tall man growled. "You expected my agents to fail?" Yet,
even as he said that, his tone contained more of the respect that
was Amano's due.
"The young man had yet to show the full extent of his powers, of
that I was certain. Now he has. Now he know what he is capable
of. Next time, he won't escape."
"And we will know how to deal with others like him." The tall
man's voice contained grudging acknowledgment of the validity of
Amano's plans. "Very well. I will consult with my agents and
present to you another plan for capturing Kasuga."
"Do that." Amano rose slowly. "And make sure Kazuki is rewarded
appropriately. I will be at my home."
"Yes." The tall man stood as well. "You have no objection if I
do make an example or two of my men?"
"Do as you think necessary. Just make sure the rest are ready
for the next confrontation."
Kyosuke loaded the last of the boxes into the van. He closed the
doors, turned, and leaned back against them, wiping his brow. "I
"I hate moving *you*!" Kurumi was sprawled gracelessly on the
sidewalk. "If you had just let us use the Power this would have
been, like, *so* easy."
"You're beginning to sound like Grandfather." Manami stood up
from where she had been sitting on the steps and stood over
Kurumi, waving a finger down at her. "If someone had seen us,
what would that have done to our older brother's wedding?"
Kurumi growled. "Stop being so serious, Manami!" She waved with
her hand, and Manami's glasses went flying before settling gently
on the small lawn in front of the apartment building
"Hey!" Manami whirled and peered around.
Kyosuke sighed the sigh of long suffering. He pushed himself off
the van and walked over to where Manami's glasses lay in the
grass. He picked them up and held them out to Manami.
Manami put them on and glared down at Kurumi. "Really! That's
very rude! Aren't you a little old to be making such childish
Kurumi's eyes narrowed, and Kyosuke could see her considering a
repeat performance. He stepped over her, next to Manami. "That
wasn't nice, Kurumi. You have to take these things more
seriously. Or have you forgotten how awful it was when we had to
keep moving from town to town, year after year?"
"Yes!" Manami put her hands on her hips. "I was in the same
room with you when you cried over the friends you kept having to
leave behind. Now we've been in one place for ten years, and it
feels like *home*. For the first time! Do you really want to
Kurumi looked back and forth between her siblings, then sighed
heavily. "No. Sorry, Kyosuke. Sorry, Manami."
"Good. Now, get up and let's get this stuff into Madoka's house.
Then maybe we can go eat, finally."
Kurumi's slightly abashed expression was quickly replaced with a
smiling one. "I hear ice-cream calling my name..." She
Kyosuke couldn't help smiling himself. "Aren't you a bit old for
Kurumi shook her head as she lay on the ground. "Nobody's too
old for ice cream!"
Manami nodded. "Besides, why do you care? Don't you have
somewhere _else_ to go?"
"What?" Kyosuke tried to remember his list of things to be
accomplished before the wedding. "I do?"
Kurumi jumped to her feet. She grinned wickedly at him. "You're
getting married tomorrow, right?"
"Um..." Oh God, tomorrow. "Yes."
"Then don't you have something you should be doing tonight?"
Kurumi jumped up and down and waved her arms.
Kyosuke frowned at her. "What are you doing?"
"We'll move the boxes into Madoka-san's house." Manami was
grinning affectionately. "You go have fun."
This was so strange. "Doing what?"
Hands grabbed his arms roughly from behind. A sack was thrown
over his head and more arms wrapped themselves around his feet.
"Got him! Run for it, guys!"
Kyosuke was about to teleport away in a panic before he
recognized the voice. Komatsu. A friend since high school, and
a confirmed pervert. Which meant that one of the other pairs of
arms that was carrying him down the sidewalk had to belong to
"Bye, Kyosuke!" Kurumi's voice was full of glee. "Don't forget
"Don't listen to her." Komatsu sounded evilly mischievous. "For
this one last night, you are going to forget all about Madoka.
Because it's your..."
Several voices echoed in unison. "...Bachelor Party!"
Kyosuke was thrown headfirst onto something padded. Probably a
limousine, because all the voices clambered in behind them and
settled themselves around him before a door slammed and he felt
himself being driven away.
Kazuya woke slowly, hoping the nightmare was over. He looked
around and realized that we was in an alley somewhere, huddled
behind a trash bin. The nightmare continued.
He stood and wrapped his arms around himself. He wasn't cold,
but he felt something inside him that chilled his bones. He'd
been running for... hours? days? He'd lost track of time.
He couldn't go home. They'd find him there. He couldn't check
into a hotel. They'd find him there, too. He had to stay as
hidden as possible. And they'd find him eventually anyway.
Kazuya stumbled down the alley for lack of anything more
intelligent to do. And his mind began to go into the familiar
vicious cycle of wondering what he could do, how he could escape,
trying desperately to get back to a normal life where no one
wanted him dead.
The woman on the stage was unbelievably proportioned. Kyosuke
stared at her goggle-eyed. As he did, another drink was slapped
into his hand. He downed it in three gulps, not taking his eyes
off the woman.
Finally her dance ended. She smiled, waved at the crowd, then
came up to Kyosuke. She bent down and kissed him. Kyosuke
didn't kiss her back, instead trying to look down his nose at
what was just out of eyesight. The woman straightened, winked at
him, then walked off the stage to the sound of raucous cheers.
"Damn, Kasuga." Komatsu slapped his back hard. "You could have
at least enjoyed that."
"Yeah!" Hatta put his arm around Kyosuke's shoulders. "I'll bet
Ma-do-ka doesn't have a pair like those!"
"Hey!" Something about that should bother Kyosuke, but he
couldn't figure out what it should be. He thought about it for a
few seconds, then gave up. "You're right. Hers aren't like that
The table broke up in laughter. Kyosuke laughed with them,
wondering what the joke was.
Komatsu shook his head. "Kasuga, Kasuga, Kasuga. Why'd you have
to go and get married?"
"Not married yet." Kyosuke looked around for a full glass. "Not
"That's right!" Hatta crowed. "There's still time to repent!
Marriage is so dull! Bachelorhood is the only *pure* form of
The people around the table cheered in agreement. Kyosuke shook
his head. "Why? Wha's wrong with marriage?"
"You don't get to have sex with lots of young women!" Komatsu's
eyes glistened in excitement.
"You don't get to have wild parties every night!" Hatta was
"No staying out as late as you want!"
"No fun no fun no fun at all."
Kyosuke was still confused. "But, you don't have sex with lots
of young women. You don't have wild parties every night. You're
always complaining 'bout having nothing better to do than read
perverted comics every night. Wha's so great 'bout that?"
Komatsu frowned for a long moment. "You're right. Our lives
Hatta began crying. "Why can't we get all the women you do,
"Yeah!" Komatsu glared at him. "You had Madoka, and Hikaru,
and... and... wha's her name? Yuri-something."
"Sayuri." Hatta sighed sadly. "Sweet, sweet Sayuri."
"Right!" Komatsu beamed. "And Hiromi. And that cute cousin of
yours, too. Akane."
"Can' marry cousin." Hatta waved a finger at Kyosuke. "Have
kids with three heads, you do."
Kyosuke frowned. "Is Madoka my cousin?"
Hatta frowned. "Dunno. Don' think so."
Komatsu shook his head. "No, no, stupid. Yuri's the cousin."
"Oh, right." Hatta looked sheepish. "Sorry."
The music started, and another dancer stepped onto the stage.
Kyosuke for some reason found little interest in her this time.
"Madoka. I'm marrying Madoka."
"Ayukawa!" Komatsu almost shouted the name. He continued in a
just-slightly-less-loud tone of voice. "She's too good for you."
"S'not!" Kyosuke reached forward and grabbed Komatsu's shirt.
"Yuri.. no, 'kane... uh, my cousin said the same thing. S'not
too good for me. Gonna be my wife."
"Why she wanna marry you?" Hatta peered at Kyosuke closely.
"Not any smarter 'n us. Not any better looking 'n us. Don' got
more money 'n us. Ayukawa's smart. Ayukawa's beautiful.
Ayukawa's rich. Why she wanna marry you? We coulda shown babe
like her a good time."
Kyosuke tried to think about that. "Dunno. Maybe 'cuz I didn'
call her 'babe'. Maybe 'cuz didn' try to show her a 'good time'.
Maybe 'cuz... 'cuz... 'cuz I never wanted nothin' from her but
Silence lasted for almost a minute. Finally Hatta looked down
into the empty drink he was holding. "You're lucky, Kasuga.
Damn lucky. Ayukawa's lucky, too."
Komatsu slapped the table. "Shut up, alla you. Too much sappy
moralizing! No morals, not tonight!" He stood up and waved at
the bar. "Another round! Hurry!"
Another drink soon appeared in front of Kyosuke. He smiled at
it, at the new woman on the stage, and at the world in general.
He was marrying Madoka tomorrow, and everything was great and
He grabbed the drink and began sipping it as the music blared
Amano was a very patient man. Usually.
He steepled his fingers as he sat across from the tall man. "How
goes the search?"
The tall man seemed quite frustrated. "He has not been to his
home, or his school, or any of the regular places. We're fairly
certain he hasn't left the city, although we can't guarantee
"Hmm." Amano mulled it over. "He's on the run, hiding
somewhere. He's young, and he's panicking. Something will give
The tall man raised an eyebrow. "Should I give him some extra
motivation? His sister perhaps?"
"No. We should not bring that kind of attention upon ourselves.
The murder of a delinquent no one will question, but the death of
a beautiful young woman will bring unnecessary scrutiny onto our
"So..." The tall man looked surprised. "Your threat was
"No." Amano frowned at the tall man. "I am merely stating that
circumstances have not yet reached that drastic a point. And the
boy will break soon."
The tall man grimaced. "Very well. As always, I trust your
judgment. But it had better be soon. My men are impatient."
Amano smiled. "You mean *you* are impatient."
"Yes." The tall man scowled. "He made me lose face. I will
recover it in his blood."
Kazuya leaned against the lamppost. His eyes ached fiercely.
His strength was running out and his rationality was leaving him.
There had to be a way out. Had to be.
But there wasn't. They wanted him dead. They wouldn't stop
until they saw him dead.
Kazuya blinked. There was his answer.
Using the last of his reserves, he ran off.
Kyosuke stumbled down the street. The apartment was around here
somewhere. He was going to spend one last night in his father's
apartment. From then on, he'd live in Madoka's house, the one
she'd lived in by herself for years, the one her parents had
given her as a wedding present.
But tonight it was the old apartment, and he couldn't find it.
Damn Komatsu and the others, dropping him off in the middle of
nowhere, a funny joke to play on him, ha ha ha.
He peered around. He appeared to be in a playground. His brow
cleared; it was *the* playground. The one he and Madoka had
talked together in, that one night before she was to go to
America. Four in the morning it had been then, just as now.
She'd sat on the swing and he'd stood behind her and told her how
much he liked the town he'd moved to. How much he'd liked it
because *she* was in it. And she'd laughed, and told him that
she wasn't going anywhere, that moving to America had been a
joke, but he'd known, he'd known it wasn't a joke, that she'd
needed to hear him say that. It had been one of the critical
junctures in the early part of their relationship, and he'd
managed to get it right.
He smiled at the memory and walked up to the swing. He sat in
it, remembering how Madoka had looked in it, the pretty teenager
before she'd grown into the stunning young woman. The sound of
her laughter, that joyful music she rarely let anyone hear,
including him. This was a special playground, a special swing,
and he hoped one day to bring his own children here. His
children, and Madoka's.
Tomorrow was going to be great. The beginning of the best that
life could possibly have to offer.
A shadow loomed over him. Kyosuke looked up, startled. A boy, a
teenager, stood in front of him. He looked to be in very bad
shape. His clothes - a school uniform - were dirty and smelled a
bit. His hair was unkempt and his face was gaunt. And the
eyes... the eyes were the worst of all. Sunken, bloodshot, wild.
The boy smiled. "I've been looking for you."
Kyosuke frowned. "Kazuya?"
Suddenly Kazuya moved towards him. And the world exploded.
Kazuya stood unsteadily. His winced and grabbed at his head. He
was dizzy, very dizzy. His stomach was queasy and he was having
trouble thinking clearly.
He was drunk.
He looked down at the body lying under the swing. *His* body.
Kazuya smiled. It had worked. Now, he had to finish it. If
only he could think.
He grabbed on to the chain of the swing and held himself up. He
concentrated fiercely on the body below him, sending his mind
inside it. With all of the alcohol inside of him his
concentration kept wavering. He had to get this right. Had to.
He felt the unconscious mind, felt for the part of the mind that
*kept* it unconscious, and tweaked it.
Kazuya withdrew his mind and clung to the swing for dear life as
dizziness consumed him. His stomach roiled violently, and he
leaned over and threw up. He stood there for a long time, trying
to recover himself.
Damn, Kyosuke, how could you do this to yourself? You know you
can't handle alcohol.
Kazuya turned in the direction of the apartment building he'd
been waiting at for hours. He'd been terrified, because someone
would surely see him, this *had* to be one of the places they
were looking for him.
Now they would find him. But he'd fooled them. He was safe,
he'd get away with it. Eventually, he would make them pay.
But right now he was just tired. He stumbled towards the
apartment, wanting nothing more than to get into bed and sleep.
Amano woke instantly at the sound of his phone ringing. He
glanced at the clock: almost five in the morning. This had to be
important. He smiled; he knew what it had to be.
He picked up the phone. "You have him."
"He is being prepared now." The tall man sounded extremely
"I will meet you there." Amano hung up the phone, then got out
of bed and headed towards the shower. He had an enjoyable day
ahead of him, and he wanted to make sure he looked his best.
"Kyosuke! Wake up, Kyosuke!"
Kazuya frowned with his eyes closed. His head hurt something
awful and he needed more sleep. "Go away."
"Kyosuke! Get up *now*! You'll be late for the wedding."
"I'm not-" Not Kyosuke. Suddenly he realized that maybe he
shouldn't say that.
He sat bolt upright. He was in a bed, one he vaguely remembered
being helped into last night. He leapt out from underneath the
covers and ran into the bathroom. He stared at the reflection.
The reflection of Kyosuke.
He sagged in relief. The nightmare was over. They weren't
looking for him any more. He was going to live.
"That's good, but keep hurrying. I'll get your tuxedo ready."
"Tuxedo?" He looked over at his uncle, standing in the bathroom
"Yes. You can't get married without one."
"Married." Kyosuke was marrying Madoka today. Which meant *he*
was marrying Madoka today.
"Yes. Now, hurry!" Uncle left the doorway.
Married. To Madoka. Certainly a far cry from a death sentence.
He grinned at his reflection. Life was so... *good*. To *be*
alive was a wonderful, beautiful thing.
No matter what the cost.
He frowned for a second, then shook his head. Heeding his
uncle's - his *father's* - words, he stripped off his clothes and
jumped into the shower, eager to get to his wedding.
"He's still unconscious?"
"We cannot wake him."
"What did he do to himself?"
"We're not sure. But it won't last. He'll be awake soon."
"Good. It won't mean anything if he's not awake to enjoy it."
Kazuya stood in front of a large number of people. All of them
were studying him closely. The most powerful ESPers in the
world, all gathered together in one place. All it would take is
one stray thought and he'd be found out. What had he been
And there were a *lot* of people here. The whole Kasuga clan, a
lot of people. And the Ayukawas, who were much more numerous
than Kazuya had realized. The church was quite large, but it was
packed. And they were *still* all looking at him.
Someone pulled on his arm. He turned and flinched. His sister
was looking at him. She was one of Madoka's bridesmaids, and she
might have actually looked kinda nice if her eyes weren't so
"What's wrong- uh, Akane?" He'd almost called her 'Sis'; he had
to be careful.
She evidently missed it. She looked down, and her voice was
shaking. "We still haven't found Kazuya. It's been three days.
I'm... I'm so scared..." She choked herself off.
Kazuya felt something cold and hard settle into his stomach.
"It's, uh, okay. I'm sure he's okay. In fact, I know he is.
She lifted her head and smiled at him. "Thanks, Kyosuke. You've
always been so nice."
He swallowed and found that he had nothing to say.
"Anyway, this isn't about me or my brother," Akane said in a
suddenly cheerful tone of voice. She turned around. "Follow
Kazuya did, warily. Maybe Akane had found out about him after
all. Maybe she was taking him away to confront him. He'd better
She led him to a door at the back of a church. Akane smiled at
him again. "Wait here." She shook her finger. "Don't move.
That's very important." She went opened the door and walked
outside into the sunshine, leaving the door propped open.
Kazuya stood still, his anxiety growing. What was going on?
What were they up to?
He heard a rustling from the other side of the door, from outside
his field of vision. Kazuya gathered himself, ready to bring his
Power to bear. They wouldn't catch him unaware.
A voice called softly from the doorway. "Kyosuke?"
Kazuya blinked. "M... Madoka?" He guessed it was all right to
call her that.
"Don't come any closer. It's bad luck for the groom to see the
bride before the wedding."
He boggled. What did she want? At least she wasn't an ESPer;
she couldn't threaten him.
When he didn't say anything, she went on. "Anyway, I wanted to
say... I'm sorry. I was mean to you when we left. I got angry
at you for... for hiding something from me. But we both know I
hide a lot from you, too. Still. It's not that I don't trust
you, it's just that... that I'd been alone for so long that...
that I'm still getting used to the idea of sharing my life with
someone. Of sharing *everything* with them."
He could hear her sigh. "That's so hard for me, that sharing.
Part of the reason I got so angry was that I was angry at myself
for acting in much the same way."
Cloth rustled. "I needed to tell you that, Kyosuke. I don't
want us to get married with that kind of... unresolved conflict
hanging over us. So I apologize. And I promise... no more
hiding. No more withholding. There are some things... that have
happened to me... things I need to tell you. Later, I promise.
After we're married."
She stopped talking. Kazuya had no idea what to make of that.
He racked his brains, trying to figure out what Kyosuke would
say. Something wimpy, Kazuya was sure.
The cloth rustled again. "Kyosuke?"
"Uh... I forgive you. No more holding back stuff, that sounds
great. Look forward to the stories."
After a while the cloth rustled again. "Okay. I'll see you
"Right." He listened as she moved off. He shrugged and went
back to his place next to that friend of Kyosuke's whose name he
Almost as soon as he did, music began playing. Everyone in the
wedding hall stood and looked down the aisle. Kazuya looked,
Some girl - Madoka's niece, he thought - was dropping rose petals
on the ground. Behind her was... Madoka.
Kazuya's jaw dropped open. Madoka was *gorgeous*. She had this
frilly wedding dress on, with lots of lace and stuff. Her figure
filled out the dress beautifully - there were some *very*
interesting curves showing in different places. Her long black
hair was arrayed perfectly around her head and shoulders. He
couldn't see her eyes too well behind the veil, but she was
smiling very widely.
Kazuya looked quickly around. This was *great*. He was about to
marry this chick. His lip wanted to sneer, and he held it in
place. Not now, not in front of these people.
Some older man Kazuya was totally ignoring released Madoka's arm.
She stood next to him, looking at him, her smile the huge smile o
f someone who is as frightened as she is happy.
He looked her up and down, getting a better look at the curves.
As he did, her smile faltered a bit. In a panic, he reached into
her mind, saw a bit of doubt beginning to form. Indeed,
something about the conversation at the door had bothered her
before, and her concern was growing.
It was easy to overcome. He'd been manipulating women's minds
since he was thirteen. Plus so much of her mind was filled with
love for Kyosuke; it took no effort to use those emotions to
erase her doubts. Her smile returned in full force.
Kazuya grinned back at her. Then she turned forward, and he
looked at the minister.
The ceremony didn't go so well. He had no idea what to do, and
had to be constantly prompted by the minister or the best man.
Fortunately, the audience seemed to put it down to wedding
jitters, and laughed gently at his constant bumbling.
He had one moment of panic, when the minister asked the question
about anyone having some objections. For some reason, Kazuya
expected Kyosuke to come bursting through the doors at just that
moment. But he didn't, and the minister quickly moved on.
Finally the exchange of vows and rings. The metal felt strange
on Kazuya's finger. Almost confining. He ignored it for now.
Madoka, with his subtle mental prompting, had not lost her huge
smile, and she spoke her vows with a passion he'd never seen in
her - she'd always struck him as being a cold fish. He had a
little trouble putting on the ring, but finally it stuck on her
Then the priest said something about "husband and wife". With
that, Madoka threw her arms around Kazuya and kissed him deeply.
Kazuya, startled, kissed her back as the church resounded with
applause. Madoka seemed to want the kissing to go on and on, and
Kazuya had to push her away. He looked at her in triumph. She
was *his*, and she'd do anything for him. *Anything*. The first
part of which would start tonight.
He swept his gaze around the crowd. Strong ESPers, all of them.
He spotted Grandma and Grandpa. The only two who were stronger
than Kazuya, but they were both more than a little senile. No
He'd fooled them all. Contempt washed over him; they had no idea
what the Power could really achieve. He'd show them. With this
new body (and after having learned some important lessons) he'd
do it right.
But first... he looked at Madoka's wide, vacant smile. First
he'd enjoy himself with Madoka. Enjoy himself thoroughly.
He headed down the aisle with his wife, through the smiles and
applause of everyone present.
Kyosuke clawed his way back to consciousness. Something didn't
want him to wake up. Something wanted him to wake up. *He*
wanted to wake up. He needed to wake up.
A part of his mind seemed to snap, and he brought himself more
fully awake. But it was wrong. He was fuzzy, his head muddled
and not able to think. He tried to bring his hands to his
forehead and found that he couldn't. His hands wouldn't move.
They were tied. Tied to the table he was lying on.
A bright light was shining in his eyes. He tried to squint
through it. "Wha... what's happening?"
"Awake at last, Kasuga?" A cultured, quiet voice. A voice that
somehow conveyed enormous menace. "It took us a long time to
wake you up. Did you try to kill yourself?"
"What?" Something was wrong. It didn't make sense. None of it
did. He just couldn't *think*.
"No matter. You didn't succeed." A hand grabbed his chin.
"Now, it's important for you to understand what's about to happen
to you. You betrayed the trust that was extended to you. You
cheated at games of chance by using your ESP. You took money
that didn't belong to you, and tried to cover that fact by
altering the memories of those around you. You also bedded many
women, some of which were... changed when you were done with
The grip on his jaw tightened. "That displeased many people.
Including me. An example must be made."
The hand was removed. "Now, you might be having a little
difficulty thinking clearly. We have given you several drugs.
Drugs that will keep you awake, but unable to concentrate. We
don't want you using your ESP to try and alter our minds, after
all. But you'll still be able to feel pain. As I was telling my
associate here, the example won't mean anything if you aren't
made to suffer."
Kyosuke shook his head. It was all so wrong. He was supposed to
be getting married. What had happened to that? Where was
Strong hands grabbed one of his hands. His pinky was separated
from the other fingers, then wrenched. He heard a snap, and pain
flared in his mind. He screamed.
Another, harsher voice spoke over him. "That was just the
beginning, boy. You turned some of my best men into blubbering
idiots. You have to pay for that. And you will."
Kyosuke screamed again. And kept on screaming.
A woman sat in the back of the now-empty hall. She had felt the
crowds leave around her, and one or two people had given her a
curious look, but no one had approached her. Which was just as
well. She had not come here to talk to anyone. She had come for
one purpose and one purpose only: to see the wedding of the bride
and groom. Then she was going to leave.
She'd had a very clear image of how the wedding was supposed to
go. And at first things had seemed to go exactly right. The
hall was very nice, the dresses were beautiful, the day was
perfect. And then the bride and groom had stood together, and it
had all gone horribly wrong.
The bride had acted like a total ditz. That was not how the
bride acted, not the way the bride *was*, even excusing the
tension of getting married. The bride had behaved like a
Something the woman was all too familiar with.
The woman stood and looked at the altar where the groom had
stood. Where the groom had acted like a complete jerk, staring
at the bride like a *thing*, an object to be possessed. The
groom had actually leered at the bride - leered! - and had
smirked throughout most of the ceremony.
Everything was just so wrong. The bride was not acting at all
"And that man," the woman said out loud, with utter conviction,
"was definitely not Sempai."
She thought things over for a while, then nodded to herself.
Whirling on her heel, she strode purposefully from the wedding
Kyosuke had cried in pain before in his life. Several times,
actually. Dressers had been known to fall on him for no readily
apparent reason. But never had he traveled beyond screaming, to
a place where each new flare of pain only caused him to whimper
His entire left hand was agony, a constant sharp and throbbing
pain. His right hand was slowly coming to match it. A wrench, a
whimper, and another one of his fingers was broken.
"You break easily, Kasuga." The shape bent over him spoke in a
mocking, cruel tone. "I thought you were made of stronger stuff.
I am... disappointed." Another snap, and this time Kyosuke
managed a plaintive gasp.
He had to *think*. If he could think, he could do something.
But he couldn't, his mind was clouded and the pain was
overwhelming and he couldn't think. This was a nightmare, he
should be waking up, oh God please let me wake up.
The torturer paused in his work. "Oh? Who is this?"
Kyosuke sobbed. "Why? Madoka, why?"
"Madoka? Who is this... a girlfriend?" The torturer leaned over
Kyosuke's face, his expression one of interest. "Could it
possibly be that, among the many women you've bedded, there's one
you actually cared for?"
It didn't make sense, none of it did. Madoka, he could see her,
smell her, she was turning in his arms and kissing him, where was
"Well, first things first." With a sharp tug, Kyosuke's
forefinger was broken.
Kyosuke cried out again, and he felt his sanity slipping.
Slipping somewhere underneath the drugs and the pain. It was a
relief, he was scared, he'd never come back and never see Madoka
but it was worth escaping the pain.
"You'll answer all my questions in time. You'll feel pain as
you've never felt it before. Days of it maybe, although I don't
think you're that strong. We'll see what we can do." The dark
shape grabbed Kyosuke's thumb firmly.
Madoka... he couldn't give up on Madoka. He'd do anything for
her, anything. Pain, pain, he hated the pain but he needed
Madoka, but his mind couldn't stand the pain, it was too much, he
needed her he needed her. The pain, the loss, his mind, it was
*his* mind, and he loved her. "MADOKA!"
And his mind... went elsewhere. And took his body with it.
Amano shot to his feet. "Where did he go?"
The tall man was staring blankly at the empty table, shock on his
face. His hands blurred, and a knife stabbed at the center of
the table, deeply imbedding itself in the wood.
Amano wanted to swear profusely, but he couldn't. He had an
image to maintain even now. "Find him. Find him and kill him
immediately. He's more dangerous than we thought."
The tall man produced a walkie-talkie. He spoke softly but
urgently into it while moving towards the door.
"Also," Amano called out as the tall man was leaving, "find out
who this 'Madoka' is."
Hiyama Hikaru approached the familiar house with dread. She'd
wanted to avoid this. She was supposed to be on a plane back to
New York by now. Not here, not in places that reminded her of
the pain of her dreams shattered, the pain of her
sixteen-year-old heart being broken, the pain of her two best
friends in the world betraying the absolute trust she had put in
Even now, she felt her eyes beginning to water with the hurt
But her friends were in trouble. Something was wrong, and she
needed to figure out what it was. Watching the wedding was
supposed to have been a catharsis, and instead it had fed a fear.
A fear that something bad was happening to Madoka and Kyosuke. A
fear that all the pain and sacrifice she had endured seven years
ago had been for nothing.
Gathering herself as best she could, she strode towards the
The front door was open, and people were wandering in and out of
the house. There were so many of them; the interior was
literally packed. Conversation buzzed loudly in her ears, along
with the occasional bark of laughter. Somewhere a baby was
wailing while several adults tried to coo it into silence.
Hikaru stopped just inside the door, hoping no one would
recognize her. And she fervently hoped that nobody would try and
take her to see the bride and groom. She wasn't prepared for
She sidled along the wall, looking for the pink dresses of the
bridesmaids. Madoka had a lot of them, unfortunately, and pink
satin abounded. This might be more difficult than Hikaru had
And then she saw her, walking down the stairs, looking around
faintly bored. Hikaru raised her arm and gave half a wave.
After blinking several times, recognition washed over Kurumi's
face. She grinned and pushed her way through the crowd.
"Hikaru! I didn't think you were coming! Oh, Kyosuke will
definitely want to see you."
"Kurumi, please." Hikaru quickly looked both ways, afraid that
Kyosuke would suddenly pop up out of nowhere. "Don't. I... I
didn't come here to... to talk to him."
"You didn't?" Kurumi peered at her. "Hikaru, why *are* you
Hikaru stared back at her former classmate. She and Kurumi had
managed to be in the same homeroom all during junior high and
high school. They'd been friends, although not particularly
close friends. Kurumi's biggest charm had been her unwavering
support for Hikaru's relationship with Kyosuke. But she, too,
had been among those who had known about Madoka and hadn't told
She shook her head to clear it of extraneous thought. Right now,
Kurumi was the person Hikaru trusted the most. "Um... do you
remember when... when I went around seducing men?"
The effect of this question on Kurumi has anything but
understated. Her jaw dropped open and her eyes grew wide.
"Don't you remember?" Hikaru pointed to her mouth. "I went
around late at night and attacked them all with lipstick."
Kurumi blushed. "Um... why would you bring this up all of a
"Something happened to me," Hikaru persisted. "I... I didn't
remember acting that way. It was as if I was a different
A nervous smile appeared on Kurumi's face. She looked from side
to side. "Well, that was an interesting thing, wasn't it? But
you got over it. Um, I have to go, uh, help with the food."
Hikaru frowned, leaned forward, and grabbed Kurumi's wrist.
"Kurumi, please listen to me. Something like that's happened to
Kasuga-sempai. And Madoka-san. They weren't themselves at the
Kurumi giggled nervously. "I'm sure it was your imagination.
They were under stress because they were getting married. That's
Hikaru shook her head violently. "No! Did you see how your
brother behaved? The way he acted? Did it seem normal to you?"
"He just forgot what he was supposed to be doing. He's like
that. He's a little high-strung sometimes."
"Not that!" Desperation was welling up in Hikaru. Couldn't
anyone else *see*? "The way he looked at her, the way he treated
her! It wasn't *him*!"
Another denial began to form on Kurumi's lips. It froze there,
then faded away as her expression turned thoughtful. "Hmm." She
touched her finger to her pursed lips, then turned to look into
Hikaru did her best to will belief into Kurumi. She'd had
experience doing this. Not *good* experience; all her efforts to
will reciprocal affection into Kyosuke had come to naught. But
this time she seemed to have a better chance of success.
Kurumi looked back at Hikaru, then apparently decided something.
"Come with me." She reversed Hikaru's grip on her wrist and
pulled her into the crowd.
"No!" Hikaru dug in her heels. "I don't want to see him!"
"Silly." Kurumi released Hikaru's wrist and jumped up into the
Hikaru was normally not one to shy from attention. But this was
not the place she wanted to be nor the attention she wanted to
receive. She did her best to fade from sight right where she
stood. The best she could do was to duck her head and hunch her
"Kurumi!" This voice sounded cross as it approached. "Don't be
"It's not *my* fault. She wouldn't let me go look for you."
Hikaru finally raised her head. A woman wearing another
bridesmaid's gown stood next to Kurumi. She had long hair
flowing down her shoulders. Intelligent brown eyes looked out
from a very attractive face.
They blinked at each other for a moment. Then the woman smiled.
Hikaru was a little slower on the uptake. Then she realized...
tie the hair in a ponytail, put some glasses on the face...
Manami's smile grew wider. "I'm so glad you came! Kyosuke will
be very happy to see you."
"Um..." Hikaru sighed.
"She's not here to see him. She thinks he and Madoka-san have
been hypnotized or something. Do you think he's been acting
Manami looked at Kurumi steadily for a second. Then her eyes
lost focus. "Hmm." She turned to look off somewhere to her
Hikaru followed her gaze and blanched. Standing together in
front of the fireplace were Madoka and Kyosuke. Madoka was still
smiling blankly and nodding at something a woman was saying to
her. Kyosuke was slightly behind her shoulder, as if using her
as a shield. His expression seemed to be a mixture of anxiety
and contempt. He was holding a mostly-full glass of champagne in
front of his mouth but didn't appear to be attempting to drink
it. His eyes were scanning the crowd.
And then his eyes met hers.
Hikaru eeped and looked hastily down, her face burning, all
rationality leaving her in a rush of embarrassment. Oh God, he'd
seen her, he'd seen her *here*. He'd think she'd come here to
try and win him away one last time, and he'd be friendly and nice
like he always was but underneath she'd feel the pity, the
sincere regret that Hikaru had grown infatuated with him, and she
couldn't stand that, not then and not now. Oh God, he'd seen her
and she'd never live this down. She waited, waited for him to
come up to her and call her "Hikaru-chan", for her humiliation to
She slowly raised her head. Kyosuke was now looking off
somewhere else, the champagne glass still in front of his mouth.
He was ignoring her.
Hikaru's fear subsided, replaced by her original certainty -
something was very wrong with Kyosuke.
She looked at the twins. They were both staring at Kyosuke,
various degrees of incredulity on their faces. Then they looked
at each for a moment, and Hikaru could almost feel a silent
communication taking place.
Hikaru felt a preternatural need to say something verbal. "That
isn't Sempai. At least, not the Sempai I knew five years ago."
Manami broke her gaze away from Kurumi. "No. It's not. There
*is* something wrong."
"Madoka-san, too." Hikaru waved in her general direction without
looking. "She shouldn't be acting that way."
Manami seemed to consider that. "Hmm. What do you think,
Kurumi appeared to be getting angry. "I say that *isn't*
Kyosuke. And whoever it is..." She scowled. "He won't get away
with it." She began to stalk towards the couple.
"Kurumi!" Hikaru hissed. She began to move after Kurumi.
She looked down at herself. Something was pushing against her
torso, keeping her from going forward. A pillow covering a steel
plate. But nothing was there.
Hikaru gaped after Kurumi. She was striding directly towards
Kyosuke. Kyosuke saw her coming, and his face grew wary.
"Kurumi, what are you doing?" Manami seemed utterly shocked.
She, too, appeared to be trying to move forward but not
Just as it seemed Kurumi would run into Kyosuke, she swerved and
greeted Madoka. Madoka responded gaily, and they were soon
Kyosuke watched her for a minute, his face slowly relaxing. He
began to sweep the room again, and Hikaru quickly averted her
eyes. She looked over at Manami. She had a thousand questions
to ask but she was frightened out of her mind.
Suddenly the force holding her in place vanished. She took an
involuntary step forward and quickly regained her balance. She
looked back at Kurumi, who was rocking back and forth on her
heels while talking to Madoka. Her hands were clasped behind her
back; one was gesturing urgently.
Hikaru spoke in a small, quiet voice. "What's she trying to
"She needs a distraction." Manami grimaced, then stepped forward
"Wait!" But it was too late, and Hikaru was alone. She could
only watch with a kind of horrified fascination as Manami walked
up to Kyosuke and began a conversation.
The wary expression returned to Kyosuke's face. He appeared to
try and brush Manami off but she was cheerfully insistent. She
laughed once and kept touching him, punching him playfully on the
shoulder or grabbing his hand to examine his wedding ring.
It took a while for Hikaru to figure it out. Manami was slowly
turning Kyosuke away from Madoka. To what purpose, Hikaru
Kurumi had stopped rocking and was now leaning forward slightly,
still chatting brightly. Madoka was giggling at something. Then
Kurumi reached up one of her hands and poked Madoka in the middle
of her forehead.
Madoka's face went slack. Kurumi said something into her ear.
After a few seconds, Kurumi whirled and walked off, leaving
Madoka staring blankly into space.
Manami left Kyosuke a few seconds later. Kyosuke frowned after
her, then turned to Madoka. He squeezed her shoulder. She
looked up at him, and her smile returned in full force. He asked
her a question and she nodded energetically. They began to move
towards the stairs.
Manami came, trailing Kurumi behind her. She whisked Hikaru in
her wake, and they all made their way to the front door.
When they were outside and a reasonable distance from the door,
Manami whirled on Kurumi. "All right, what were you doing?"
Kurumi smiled mischievously. "Protecting Madoka-san."
"Please." Hikaru felt like something was choking her. "What did
you do to me? How did you paralyze me? What did you do to
Madoka? What's happened to Kyosuke?" Fear bubbled up inside
her. "Please tell me... what's going on?"
Kurumi and Manami looked at each other once again. Kurumi
nodded. Manami grimaced, turned, and took Hikaru's hands.
"Hikaru... I think it's time you knew about our family."
His whole world was pain. His hands were on fire. Every beat of
his heart caused the pain to flare up. Agony was his constant
Something, however, was better. This was good, and he couldn't
exactly say why. He tried to concentrate, to bring some
coherency to his thoughts. All he could come up with was that
the pain was no longer increasing. It was lessening, in fact.
His right hand felt better than his left hand. He tried to open
his eyes so he could look at his hands, but the pain was too
"Are you awake?" A harsh voice, and the harshness made him
flinch. But it was also a familiar voice, one that immediately
calmed him down. He managed a nod.
"All right. Now, for this last finger I'm going to need to set
the bone. This is going to hurt. A lot. You're going to have
to lie at still as possible. Do you understand?"
"Y-yes." He tried to brace himself as well as he could.
Hands gripped his finger in a way that called to mind all sorts
of horrible memories he was trying desperately to suppress. He
cried out in fear, then clenched his jaw.
Something pulled his finger, and the pain climbed to new levels.
He screamed but did his best to freeze his arm in place. Tears
streamed from his eyes. He managed to choke off the scream and
bite his tongue instead.
"Okay, just a minute longer." Something was being applied to his
finger - a splint? - and then his hand was gently put by his
side. "That's the best I can do."
Kyosuke took ragged breaths, trying desperately to adjust to the
pain. After several long minutes, he felt sufficiently fortified
to open his eyes. His vision was a little blurred, possibly the
result of how tightly clenched he'd kept his eyes shut. He was
going to lift one of his hands so he could look at it, but his
muscles gave him a warning twitch of pain as he began to move his
hand. He wanted to sit up, but couldn't think of a way to
accomplish that without using his arms. He turned his head from
side to side, trying to figure out where he was.
The room was cramped and dingy. There were no windows, and the
only light source was a lantern hung on the ceiling. He was
lying on a futon in the middle of the room. Several crates
evidently substituted for furniture; they were being used not
only to store clothes and other items, but the tops were used to
put other objects like a mirror or a vase of artificial flowers.
One wall of the room was practically covered by stacks of tin
cans. Food, he realized.
Somebody was kneeling at his feet, where he had difficulty seeing
without raising his head. "Hello?" No response. "Um... where
Whoever had tended to his broken fingers was not being
responsive. Kyosuke sighed. "Whoever you are... thank you. Can
you take me to a hospital now?"
After another moment of silence, he was favored with a response.
"They'd never let us inside. We'd be shot down before we could
even get close."
Now, at last, he figured out who the voice belonged to. In a
convulsive effort, he used his elbows to prop himself up
She was kneeling with her hands on her thighs, staring at him
impassively. She appeared to be wearing her old high school
uniform for some reason. And that wasn't the only thing odd
about her. A thousand little things were wrong. Her hair wasn't
the right length and was cut a little unevenly. Her nails were
cut to the quick, her face was a little rougher, she was wearing
no jewelry or makeup... it was all out of sorts. Most of all,
her eyes were... cold. Hard emerald rocks that contained none of
the life Kyosuke expected in them.
One of his elbows slipped and he fell back against the futon.
The impact traveled up his arm and triggered a new wave of pain
from his hands. Kyosuke closed his eyes and groaned, riding out
the pain again.
He heard her get up and shuffle through her things. She then
knelt by his head and put a pill on his lips. Surprised, he took
it into his mouth, recognizing the bitter taste of aspirin. She
reached her arm underneath his shoulders, lifted him up a little,
and put a cup to his lips. He took a sip of the water,
swallowing the pill. The water made him realize how dry his
throat was, and he eagerly drank down the rest of the water as
she slowly tilted the cup.
Kyosuke gasped as the cup was lifted away. He managed to smile
at the still-impassive face very close to his. "Thank you."
She inclined her head, then lay him back down. He turned his
head so he could see her face as it gazed down on him. They
stared at each other for a while.
Finally, he couldn't stand it any longer. "What's happened,
Madoka? Where are we?"
She held up two fingers of her hand. "That's twice you've called
"Called you what?" He frowned. "Madoka?"
A third finger joined the other two. "How is it that you can
address me in such a familiar fashion?"
Now all four fingers were raised. "You don't want to know what
happens on the fifth occurrence."
Oh God, something was horribly wrong. He swallowed. "I'm
She lowered her hand again. "Who are you?"
Kyosuke closed his eyes in dismay. "You don't know me?"
No answer. Kyosuke felt the throbbing of pain in his hands
coursing through his body. His mind, still a little groggy, was
utterly confused by what was happening. A full-scale depression
was settling over him. This was supposed to have been the
happiest day of his life. Instead it was an utter nightmare.
"You saved my life once, I think."
Kyosuke's eyes flew open. "What?"
Still no expression on her face, but her voice was a little
softer. "Years ago. Of course, it was your fault I was in that
situation in the first place."
"I... I don't understand."
Ayukawa cocked her head. "Maybe it wasn't you. But you look
like him. And you can teleport like he did."
"Uh... who is 'he'?"
Her gaze turned inward. "Eight years ago. When Akane's gang
attacked. They saw me as a threat to their control of the
school, so they captured me and planned to make an example of me.
Then he came. He had ESP. He spoke to me telepathically. Along
with Hikaru and the Kasuga twins, he came and rescued me."
Her eyes focused on him again. "He never gave me his name.
When... when I tried to be friendly to him, he... left." Her
brow lowered slightly and her voice could freeze lava. "He
teleported away without saying a word and left me behind. I
looked for him for a long time. He obviously found the idea of
being with me repugnant, and fled."
Kyosuke shivered. Now he remembered. "Th-that *was* me."
"Y-yes. I met you at the Abcb. You hid me in your coat when
Komatsu- when the police were after me."
Ayukawa leaned forward so that her face was inches away from him.
"Where do you come from? Why did you leave? Why did you come
back?" She barked the questions at him. "Answer me!"
Kyosuke swallowed hard. "I... I come from... from an alternate
world. A parallel universe. I teleported here accidentally
eight years ago. I'm not sure how I got here this time."
She leaned back, her face still angry but a trace of puzzlement
in her voice. "Parallel universe?"
"Yes. It's like yours, but different. It's because I have the
Power that I'm able to move from one universe to another."
"Hmm." Now she sounded thoughtful. "The Kasuga twins said that
you claimed to be their older brother."
He nodded. "In my universe, they're my sisters. My name is
"Kyosuke." She said his name slowly and thoughtfully. "I
"Can you tell me how you found me?" Kyosuke looked down at his
hands. "I'm not sure if this happened to me before or after."
Ayukawa considered him for a moment, then shrugged. "I was here
reading. Suddenly there was a 'whoosh' and you appeared next to
me on the futon. I almost killed you."
Kyosuke looked into at her stony features and knew that this was
no idle comment. "But you didn't. You fixed me up. Thanks."
"You're welcome." She stood up abruptly. "I'm going to collect
some water so we can have dinner." Picking up a plastic pitcher,
she moved towards the door. She hesitated, and looked at him
over her shoulder. "I don't know what it's like in your
universe. Here, it is very dangerous outside. If you value your
life, don't leave. This room is fairly soundproof, but I
wouldn't make a lot of noise either. Just to be safe."
He remembered what a dark, grim place this world had been like
last time. "Uh... maybe you should contact my, er, sisters.
They could help me out."
Ayukawa shook her head. "They're dead." With that, she
manipulated some locks on the door, opened it, and walked
through. As the door closed behind her, the locks clicked back
Kyosuke was oblivious to it all. Dead. Kurumi and Manami. For
some reason, it didn't make a lot of difference that they weren't
the women from his universe. His sisters were dead.
Tears of a different nature streamed from his eyes. He was more
alone than he could possibly have imagined, and it hurt in a way
that made the pain from his hands seem pleasant by comparison.
Hikaru stared at nothing at all for a long time after Manami
Kurumi eventually poked Hikaru in the shoulder. "Are you okay?"
Hikaru focused on her. Slowly, a smile appeared on her face.
"Really?" Kurumi tilted her head. "How... What do you think?"
"It makes sense." Hikaru waved her arms above her head. "That
Kurumi blinked. "What?"
She laughed. "I understand now. All the strange things that
kept happening. Kyosuke disappearing and reappearing. My watch
suddenly ninety minutes fast. All the little mysteries about
Kyosuke." She brought her hands down and clasped them in front
of her. "You don't know what a relief it is to... to *know*."
"Please, Hikaru." Manami's voice was very serious. "You mustn't
tell anyone. *Anyone*. Do you know what would happen if someone
The smile left Hikaru's face. "Does Madoka-san know?"
"How long? When did she know?"
"Um... Not until after she came back from America. Kyosuke told
Hikaru digested that. Madoka hadn't known during high school
either. For some reason, that made Hikaru feel a little better.
She suddenly remembered what had prompted the revelation. "So,
can you explain what's happened to Sempai? And Madoka-san?"
"Madoka-san's been hypnotized." Kurumi nodded firmly. "I'm sure
"But why?" Manami put a finger alongside her nose in a portrait
of deep thought. "Why make Madoka act like that? For what
"So she wouldn't call attention to Kasuga-sempai," Hikaru shot
right back. "Because he's acting weird, and someone doesn't want
anyone to notice. And Madoka-san, more than anyone else, *would*
The twins looked at her in surprise. She looked back at them.
"Don't you think?"
"Okay," Kurumi said hesitantly. "Then who's hypnotized Kyosuke,
Manami's eyes widened. "Kazuya!"
Kurumi frowned. "Why would Kazuya hypnotize him?"
"Not *hypnotize* him, Kurumi."
For a moment Kurumi looked at her sister blankly. Then her eyes,
Hikaru was mostly drawing a blank, although the name sounded
familiar. "Who's Kazuya?"
"Our cousin." Manami's eyes were still wide. "He's been missing
for three days. We've heard rumors that... that's he been mixed
up with some bad people."
Something still didn't add up. "And how does this all relate to
Kurumi grimaced. "Kazuya's got the Power, too."
A sudden cheering came from the front door. People were pouring
out of it at a rate and volume that astounded Hikaru. They
turned back to face the door, still shouting loudly.
Hikaru leaned in closely towards the twins, trying to get herself
heard. "And what does that mean? What did he do to Sempai?"
Manami shouted, her eyes watching the door. "He has the ability
to swap minds with other ESPers. And... and he's not the nicest
person I know."
Madoka and Kyosuke appeared at the front door. They had changed
clothes. Kyosuke was wearing jeans and a short-sleeved shirt;
Madoka a simple skirt and blouse. She grinned widely at the mass
of people, who immediately began showering the two with rice.
Kyosuke looked mildly annoyed at first, but quickly forced a
smile on his face.
Hikaru began to panic. "If that's Kazuya, we have to stop him!"
Kurumi nodded. "Yes! We should talk to Grandma and Grandpa when
things calm down."
"No, no, no!" Hikaru shook her head violently. "We have to stop
"We have time. They don't leave for Hawaii until tomorrow."
"Tomorrow!" The panic grew. "We can't wait that long! He have
to keep him from... from..."
A strange smile covered Kurumi's face. "Don't worry. We're safe
Manami frowned. "What did you do, Kurumi?"
"I was just protecting Madoka-san."
As Hikaru watched, Madoka and Kyosuke pushed their way through
the smiling, noisy crowd. A white limousine waited for them on
the other side of the gate. They ran towards the open car door
the chauffeur had opened. Madoka stopped, turned, and waved
excitedly. Kyosuke almost yanked her into the limo with him.
Chorused goodbyes filled the yard as the limousine pulled away.
Manami shook her head. "I hope you know what you're doing,
"Trust me." Kurumi's eyes twinkled mischievously.
Hikaru drew in a deep breath. This had been an emotionally
exhausting day so far. She'd received more shocks, dramatic
revelations, and blows to her psyche in the past few hours than
she'd received in... in the past seven years. And the day wasn't
over yet. "What do we do now?"
Manami did the finger on the nose thing again. "I'd say we need
to bring Akane in on this. We don't *know* that Kazuya's taken
over Kyosuke's body. We need to find Kazuya *now*."
Kurumi wiggled her nose. "Grandma and Grandpa."
"Grandma and Grandpa," Manami said almost grudgingly. "They
might be our best bet."
"Might be?" Something in Manami's voice confused Hikaru.
"Grandma and Grandpa have the strongest Power in the family."
Kurumi turned her mouth down. "Or do have when they're... here."
"First things first," Manami said decisively. "Let's find
Kyosuke's nostrils brought him slowly awake. Something smelled
good. At least, it smelled hot and edible, which to his rumbling
stomach *had* to be good.
Realization washed over him, of where he remembered being and
what had apparently happened to him. His eyes shot open and he
raised his left hand. Pain shot down his arm, although not as
intense as before. Crude but effective splints had been applied
to all four fingers and his thumb, and his whole hand wrapped
heavily in bandages. His hand still hurt a lot, but it was
He raised his right hand, which was in similar condition,
although his thumb was unbroken. He flexed it experimentally,
and found that moving it sent sharp slivers of pain through his
broken fingers. Best to keep it still for a while, he decided.
Something else was different, he realized as he carefully lowered
his arms back onto the futon. His head was clearer. He could
think a lot better. Enough to seriously wonder what the heck had
happened to him. While his present thoughts were coherent, his
memories of the past twenty-four hours were a blur. His last
clear memory was moving out of his old apartment. Then there
were flashes: getting drunk with the guys, being strapped to a
table while men spoke to him, his fingers being broken - his mind
skittered around those memories - and waking up here with...
He turned his head. Ayukawa was heating a pot over what looked
like a Bunsen burner. The smell was emanating from the pot -
some kind of stew, Kyosuke guessed. His mouth drooled
involuntarily. He was famished.
"Awake at last?" Ayukawa spoke without turning.
"Yes." He frowned. His voice sounded strange. He decided to
experiment a bit. "I'm quite hungry, too." Something definitely
weird. Perhaps it had something to do with how much he'd been
screaming before. He vividly remembered screaming.
Shuddering, he experimented with sitting up to distract himself.
By using his elbows and wiggling in place, he managed to sit up
against the wall. The concrete was cool and rough even through
Ayukawa tossed her head and looked over her shoulder at him.
"Feeling better, I see."
"Yes, thanks." He looked down at his hands. "I really should
see a doctor, I think."
"Hmm." She turned back to the pot, stirring its contents. "What
is your world like, Kasuga-kun?"
Kasuga-kun. The words shook him. Madoka - *his* Madoka - had
called him that at the very beginning of their relationship. It
had taken him a while to figure out, but the slightly
condescending form of address was actually her way of showing a
degree of affection. Those that she truly despised she ignored
Kyosuke took a breath. "Uh, I dunno. It's... well, there's a
lot more order. Not a lot of crime. I mean, there's crime, but
not so much that... that..."
"That businesses are destroyed, schools shut down, and the elite
barricade themselves in the heart of the cities and the unwashed
masses are left to fend for themselves?"
Kyosuke blinked at the cool, detached tone of her voice. Despite
all the pain he'd felt in the past few hours, this managed to
make him feel a bit of horror. "Is that what your world is like,
She didn't answer, except to ladle some of the stew into a bowl.
She turned to face him, the bowl held in her hands. Kyosuke
raised his hands, stared at the bandages, and back to Ayukawa.
She calmly took a spoon, scooped up some of the stew, and brought
it to his mouth. He carefully ate from the spoon, all the time
meeting Ayukawa's dispassionate gaze.
The stew felt good going down. He was quite hungry, and couldn't
help looking back at the bowl. Ayukawa continued to feed him,
and he did nothing but concentrate on the stew until the bowl was
He sighed when it was gone. "Thank you."
She nodded and ladled the rest of the stew into the same bowl.
She ate mechanically, all the time staring at him with a kind of
Kyosuke waited until she was done. "Ayukawa... can you tell me
what happened to my... my sisters?"
She nodded towards the cases of food. "They died in a raid we
made on a warehouse, just before the last of the barricades went
up. Twenty-five of us went in. Twelve came out, but with a
whole trailer full of food." She set her bowl on the ground.
"Enough to last each surviving member for two or three years,
depending on how many mouths they had to feed."
Kyosuke had to blink back tears. All too vividly his imagination
called up images of Kurumi and Manami fighting and dying just so
they could have food. And yesterday - had it been only
yesterday? - the talk had been of ice cream.
He tried to wipe his tears away, but the mere movement of his
hands reminded him why that would be impossible. Instead he
blinked his eyes rapidly and shook his head a little.
Ayukawa peered closely at him. "You really did care for them."
"They were my *sisters*!" He was a bit taken aback by the
vehemence in his own voice.
She cocked her head. "Not really. If what you say is true, they
weren't your sisters."
"Close enough." His brow furrowed slightly. "You have a sister,
"Yes." The ice in her voice and on her face made it clear that
this was a subject not to be pursued.
Kyosuke let out a sigh of frustration. Damn it all anyway. What
had *happened*? He pushed himself with his elbows so he was
sitting upright, then tried to stand.
Ayukawa raised an eyebrow. "What do you think you're doing?"
He was getting more than a little fed up with this Madoka's
attitude. He growled, preparing to give her back some of the
same. Then he remembered - the bandages she had used, the
aspirin she had given him. Surely very rare commodities. And
the food. "What will you do when you run out of cans?"
Something like surprise flitted across her face. "I don't know.
Maybe try to move out to the country; surely they're still
growing rice there. Maybe try to organize another raid, with
more people. If I can find any that I trust." She shrugged.
"Maybe I'll just starve," she said noncommittally.
"So...," he said softly, "every can of food you give me could be
a day of your life?"
She shrugged again. "I struggle enough these days to find a
reason to live. What's a few days more or less?"
Her calm, even tone sent prickles along Kyosuke's skin. This
*was* an evil world she lived in. He tried to regain a measure
of calm. "I need to go to the bathroom."
Ayukawa nodded, stood, and helped him to his feet. "Through
here." She pushed on one wall, which opened up to reveal a crude
toilet, much like an outhouse. Where the hole lead, Kyosuke had
no idea. He nodded his thanks and made his way there.
"Need any help?"
"No!" Kyosuke growled. "This I can do by myself."
"Are you sure?" Somewhere, far beneath the cool delivery of her
words, some humor was beginning to show. "You don't have any
He held up his right hand and carefully flexed his thumb. "I'll
"You're sure? It won't bother me, I assure you."
"It would bother *me*." He looked over his shoulder at her.
"What would *you* do if the situation was reversed?"
"Kill myself for being stupid enough to get my fingers broken,"
she shot back promptly. A corner of her mouth lifted slightly.
"Very well. Let me know when you're done." She turned back and
began to clean up after dinner.
Kyosuke studied her for a few seconds, lost in thought. There
was something... familiar in her bearing. Beneath the ice and
granite loomed the woman *he* knew as Madoka. She was just
beginning to come out of her shell - a process he had witnessed
once before. There was something... tantalizing in seeing it
happen again. Because of him.
Cutting off that train of thought, he turned back towards what
passed for the bathroom.
Akane looked around the table. "No."
"Yes," Kurumi answered right back.
"No!" To Hikaru's eyes, Akane was looking more and more frantic.
"It's not possible!"
Hikaru leaned forward. "You saw Sempai at the wedding. Was that
"It wasn't my brother!" Akane slapped the table. "He wouldn't
do anything like that! Why would he?"
"We don't know, Akane." Manami's voice was soft and calm. "We
need to find out."
"SHUT UP!" Akane shot to her feet. "YOU'RE WRONG, YOU'RE ALL
WRONG!" She stalked towards the door.
Hikaru jumped up and stepped in front of Akane. "Please... we
want you to be right, for your brother to be whole and safe. But
no matter what, the answer to what happened to him lies in
Kyosuke. Help us help your brother."
Akane's eyes were a little glazed over, her voice strident.
"You're saying... my brother is a horrible person. That he took
over Kyosuke just so he could marry Madoka instead. That's
horrible! He'd never do that!"
"We're not saying he did. We don't *know*, Akane. There may be
a lot of things that can explain what's happened. We just have
to find them. That's all."
Akane shook her head. "No. No." She closed her eyes as tears
began to come flow from them. "No no no no..."
Hikaru reached out and hugged her gently. Akane began sobbing on
her shoulder as Hikaru stroked her hair and spoke soothingly to
Manami stepped up to speak into Akane's ear. "We'll get your
brother back, Akane. Trust us."
Akane lifted her head to look with mascara-streaked cheeks at
Manami. "Oh God, I hope so. He really... wouldn't..."
Kurumi bounded over to them. "Okay! Let's go see Grandma and
Everyone blinked at Kurumi. She smiled cheerfully back at them.
Manami spoke with a hint of irritation. "Subtlety has never been
one of your strong points, sister."
"And knowing when to shut up has never been one of yours."
Kurumi pulled on Akane's arm and dragged her over to the sink.
"Let's get you cleaned up first."
Hikaru sighed as Kurumi wiped Akane's face with a washcloth.
Manami heard, and their eyes met. Hikaru gestured expressively.
"Do you have the feeling that we've just begun to scratch the
surface here? That there's going to be a lot more pain before
it's all over?"
Manami seemed to think it over for a while. "I can't say for
sure. But I do know that there would be more pain if we did
Hikaru couldn't help laughing once. "Yes. I'm well aware of
"Okay!" Kurumi, almost dragging Akane behind her, appeared in
their midst. "Let's go!"
They all moved en masse down the hall. The house had mostly
emptied of people, leaving family members behind. Manami went up
to an older couple. Hikaru recognized them as Kyosuke's
grandparents. They looked a little more frail than the last time
she'd seen them. She frowned slightly, hoping the twins knew
what they were doing.
Manami lifted Grandpa to his feet as the rest of the family began
to exclaim. Manami seemed to be trying to reassure them at the
same time she was talking softly to Grandpa. Finally, Grandma
rose shakily to her feet, said something that apparently ended
all debate, and walked with Grandpa and Manami back towards
Hikaru and company.
Grandpa's eyes were shining. "My, you all look so pretty!
Akane-chan, heavens, you've grown so beautiful since the last
time I saw you!"
Akane smiled wanly. "That was an hour ago, Grandpa."
"Was it?" Grandpa frowned for a moment in puzzlement, then
turned towards Hikaru. "And don't you look lovely, um, dear!
You should show more of that attractive bosom of yours, get all
the men's attention!"
Hikaru blushed scarlet. Grandma reached over to pat Grandpa's
shoulder. "Dear, you're embarrassing her."
"Nonsense!" Grandpa seemed offended. "She's an attractive lady
"Grandpa!" Kurumi growled and pushed him down the hallway back
towards the kitchen. "Quiet!"
"Have you found a boyfriend yet, Kurumi-chan?" Grandpa seemed
undeterred. "I know this young man in our village who-"
"GrandPA!" Kurumi almost shoved him into a chair. "For the last
time, I am *not* moving back to the village! No one is!"
"But dear," Grandma smoothly picked up the attack as she sat at
the table, "you know that the outside world isn't ready for us.
Better that we stay close to home before-"
"Grandma. Grandpa." Manami's soft voice was nevertheless
effective at cutting off debate. "We have a greater problem
right now. We need to find Kazuya."
"Kazuya?" Grandpa frowned. "Kazuya?"
"You know, dear." Grandma smiled. "Our grandson."
"Oh!" Grandpa rubbed his mostly-bald head in apparent
embarrassment. "Yes, Kazuya, of course! How could I forget?"
Akane leaned in. "Remember that we asked for your help finding
him before? Could you try again? We..." She paused and
swallowed. "We need to find him."
"Kazuya?" Grandpa blinked at her. "But he was just here, wasn't
"Really?" Akane's eyes lit up. "Where?"
Grandpa rolled his eyes thoughtfully. "He... he was... I...
Mother, where is he?"
"I don't know, dear." Grandma smiled apologetically.
Hikaru bit down hard on her frustration. This wasn't getting
them anywhere. She turned towards Kurumi. "Maybe we should-"
Grandma continued unheeding. "But he left with Madoka-chan.
She's going to be a wonderful granddaughter, don't you think,
The young women in the kitchen all stared at the smiling visage
of the Kasuga family matriarch. Hikaru felt a cold, hard lump
form in the pit of her stomach. "Sempai..." She sat down
heavily on a chair, the last of her strength leaving her in a
surge of fear.
Kyosuke sat against the wall, trying to be as still as possible.
His hands had begun to throb again, and he didn't want to ask for
Ayukawa was sitting opposite, reading a book. She didn't seem to
be doing a good job of it; she hadn't turned the page in ten
He ventured a question. "What do you do during the day?"
She looked up at him, her gaze hard. "Live."
Kyosuke suppressed a grimace. "Anything else?"
"No." She looked down at the book again.
"Ayukawa." He waited until she looked up again. "I... is there
anything I can do? To... repay you for what you've done to help
She stared at him expressionlessly and said nothing.
He shifted slightly. "I've got the Power, after all. I can use
it to help you... I dunno... get more food or something."
Her gaze remained steady for another minute. Then she looked
down at her book.
Kyosuke swore silently. She was so cold and closed. He was
certain there was something he could do for her. If only he
could tell what she was thinking. He focused on what he could
see of her face, half-hidden by the hair falling around it.
Kyosuke jerked his head back so sharply it hit the wall. He
cried out and squeezed his eyes shut. After the initial
dizziness passed, he opened them again to see Ayukawa looking at
him in concern.
He grinned weakly at her. "Sorry."
She half-closed the book in her lap while staring at him
curiously. "Why did you do that?"
He blinked once. He'd been surprised because...
_he had read her mind_.
Kyosuke trembled once in reaction. He'd completely forgotten
that in this universe he could read minds and project thoughts.
He'd only had a couple of opportunities to try it out the last
time. One time he had been able to communicate with Ayukawa from
outside the school building when she'd been held captive inside.
He could do it again. He could read her thoughts. He'd done it
He gathered himself and tried to answer her. "Uh, I was, uh,
just surprised by, er, the book you're reading."
She raised an eyebrow and looked at the cover. "You can read
Oops. "Er, no. That's why I was surprised, because I didn't
know you could."
"Hmm." She looked at him evenly for a few seconds - flat stares
seemed to be her favorite means of communication - then shrugged
and opened the book again.
Kyosuke sat still for a few minutes. During that time Ayukawa
managed to flip a page. Then he focused himself again and tried
to enter her mind. Her thoughts were less than words and more
than images. They flitted by so fast, and the best his mind
could do was to record them and play them back with whatever
meaning he could deduce.
This last thought was accompanied by a memory of just an hour
ago, of a young man with a slightly affronted look on his face.
A teenager, definitely the worse for the wear, with bandages on
Kyosuke's whole being froze. For over a minute his mind refused
Finally he looked down at himself. For some reason the fact that
he was wearing a school uniform hadn't fully registered on him.
It had been the least of weirdnesses around him, and he hadn't
considered the implications. He hadn't worn a school uniform in
"Ayukawa." His voice was soft, very soft, and tense. She looked
up at him in surprise. "Do you have a mirror?"
She lifted her eyebrows slightly. She seemed to be on the verge
of a question, then reconsidered. She stood up, placing the book
carefully on the floor, and walked to one side of the room. She
took a small mirror off of a crate, turned, and knelt beside him,
holding it out in front of him. Although the mirror was rather
small, he could see a fairly good image of himself.
Except it *wasn't* himself.
Anger began to build in him. In leaps and bounds it grew,
causing his heart to pound and his vision to turn red. He jumped
to his feet, banging one of his hands against the wall and
sending spasms of pain through his arm. He shouted in pain,
turning it into a name. "KAZUYA!"
Amano stopped pacing as the tall man entered. "Well?"
The tall man looked very grim. "We have been unable to locate
"Damn!" Amano pounded his desk in frustration. He stopped
himself and soothed his mind. The situation was getting to him.
The longer the boy was free, the more Amano began peering into
shadows and suddenly whirling around at the smallest sound. The
thought of what an angry ESPer that could appear and disappear at
will could do to him made Amano very nervous.
The tall man raised an eyebrow. "However, the name he gave
Amano looked up at him. "Madoka?"
The tall man nodded. "I believe it may refer to Ayukawa Madoka.
She married a cousin of the boy's just today."
"Hmm." Amano considered that. "Is it possible that she and
Kasuga have had a... relationship?"
"She is very beautiful," the tall man said dryly.
Amano nodded. "Very well. Take her. I very much have the
feeling that if we threaten her, the boy will quickly show
The tall man nodded. "Yes. And this time..." The tall man gave
Amano a hard look. "He will die. I will shoot him in the head
and it will be over."
Amano grimaced, considered, and nodded. "Very well. Just don't
"I never do." The tall man turned and left.
Amano sighed. He had to admit to the wisdom of the tall man's
decision. The sooner the ESPer was dead, the better they all
Kazuya lay in bed, eagerly anticipating the moments to come.
Madoka was in the bathroom, "preparing herself" as she put it.
Kazuya couldn't wait.
The hotel room was quite luxurious. Kazuya let his gaze wander
around the room, taking in the soft elegance. After tonight, it
would be off to Hawaii for the extended honeymoon. But here in
Tokyo... tonight would be the beginning.
A leer spread his lips, and he didn't feel like stopping it.
After all the pain and terror he'd gone through in the past few
days, he *deserved* a night like tonight.
He suddenly sat bolt upright, startled. "What?"
"What?" The voice of Madoka called out to him from behind the
"Did you call me?"
"No! Did you need something?"
"No." He lay back, puzzled. He was sure he'd heard something.
The light from underneath the bathroom door went out. The door
opened, and the shape of Madoka moved towards the bed. In the
darkness Kazuya couldn't make out what she was wearing, but he
felt certain it was going to be very... interesting. The leer
Madoka lifted the covers and crawled into bed. She lay on her
side with her back away from him, covering herself up to her
shoulders with the sheets. "Good night, Kyosuke."
Kazuya blinked. Well, this was different. He smiled again and
reached his hand underneath the covers to touch her back, trying
to guess her outfit by the feel of it. His hand touched part of
the sheets, and he tried to move them aside so that he could get
to Madoka's body. After a few seconds, he realized it wasn't the
sheets. It was Madoka. She was wearing pajamas. Flannel
"What the...?" He moved over so that he was right next to her.
"Madoka, aren't we... going to...?"
"Love you, Kyo-chan." She sounded half-asleep. "Nighty-night."
Her breathing immediately became deep and regular.
Kazuya frowned. He reached out with his mind to discover that
she *was* asleep. The more he probed, the deeper her sleep
became. He shook her slightly once, then harder, but she didn't
stir, instead settling into even a deeper slumber. He tried to
dart in with his mind, but he knew from experience that the
subconscious mind was almost impossible to manipulate. She
needed to *see* him, *think* of him, to be easily manipulated.
Asleep, there was little he could influence. He could still
force her, but he might damage her brain too much while doing it.
Kazuya moved violently away from her in disgust. What kind of
perverted arrangement did these two have? He'd known Kyosuke was
a wimp, but he'd never imagined that his relationship with Madoka
was quite so... tame. Hell, Kyosuke was probably *still* a
virgin. What a jerk.
Kazuya stared at the ceiling, quite frustrated. He'd try again
tomorrow. If she resisted, he'd tweak her mind and make her...
He smiled in anticipation, and began to drift off to sleep
himself, comforting himself with wonderful fantasies of what he
and Madoka would do tomorrow.
Hikaru pressed her hand to her forehead, still trying to adjust
to all the new concepts. "So tell me again about how this body
"The bodies stay put, sweetie. It's the minds that go wandering
off." Kyosuke's grandfather sat next to her in the backseat of
Kurumi's car. He chattered brightly. "And not really the minds,
really. It's the essence of a person's psychic energy, 'soul' is
the term that usually conveys the concept best, although that is
"Grandpa." Akane spoke in a distracted, irritated tone of voice.
"This isn't the time for lectures on the Power."
Manami turned from where she sat in the front seat. "Akane."
Akane shot her a glare, then looked down at her lap.
Hikaru reached across Grandpa and took Akane's hand. "Hey, your
brother will be okay. Sempai, too. You'll see!"
Akane looked at her out of the corner of her eye and offered a
quick smile of appreciation. Then her face dissolved back into a
haunted, frightened expression.
It echoed emotions Hikaru herself was feeling. This was quite a
scary situation. Two of the people she cared about most in the
world had somehow become involved in a macabre nightmare of
bizarre powers. And somehow she had to help get them out of it.
*Had* to. She loved them both a lot, and if it all ended in
tears, then all the sacrifices she'd made for them would be for
Damn, she thought to herself. You're so selfish. Is that all
you care about, how this all affects *you*?
It was a question that had haunted her for years. Kyosuke had
done very little over the years to give her reason to think he
was in love with her. But she'd persisted and persisted,
*certain* that he would be hers. And she'd wanted him, ever
since seeing him throw a basketball into a basket a hundred feet
away. Someone who could do *that* - and so effortlessly, too -
had to be a prize catch. So she'd set her sights on him, little
caring what he wanted.
She'd had so many hints that Kyosuke only wanted her friendship.
So many clues that he had really liked Madoka. But it wasn't the
reality she'd wanted, so she'd ignored those things, ignored
everything but the goal she wanted: Kyosuke.
And she'd paid the price for her selfishness. Paid heavily. Not
only had she lost Kyosuke; she'd been unable to hold on to her
friendship with Madoka. She'd practically run to New York to
take advantage of the dancing class. Anything so that she
wouldn't have to face the consequences of her selfishness.
She suppressed a heavy sigh. Now was not the time for self-pity.
Plenty of time for that later.
Almost on cue, Kurumi brought the car to a halt in front of the
hotel. They all looked through the windows into the lavish
There was a silence for a minute until Kurumi spoke up. "Now
"I don't think we should do anything right away." Manami bit her
lip, then looked around the car. "I think we need to talk about
a strategy for dealing with Kazuya. If we can-"
"What?" Akane said sharply. "Knock him out? Subdue him?"
Hikaru squeezed her hand. "He's the only one who knows where
Kyosuke is. And if Kyosuke hasn't gotten in touch with anyone by
this point, he must be in serious trouble."
Akane sighed, somewhere between fear and anguish. "Okay.
Just... please, let's not hurt him."
Manami rubbed her forehead. "Oh, this is so complicated. We've
got a lot to work out."
"Then do it." Hikaru released Akane's hand and opened the door.
"I'll keep watch here. Come get me when you're ready."
"Here." Kurumi rummaged through her purse and produced a
business card and a cell phone. "Page me when you see him, and
I'll call you back. Don't try to talk to him or anything."
"I know." Hikaru took the offerings.
"It may be a while," Manami warned. She looked at Grandma and
Grandpa, who both appeared to be nodding off.
Hikaru shrugged. "I can stay up all night. I'm still on New
York time." She got out of the car. "Think up something good."
"Right." Kurumi waited for the door to close, then took off.
Hikaru wandered into the hotel lobby and went into the all-night
cafe. She took a seat where she could see the elevator, then
ordered coffee. Making herself comfortable, she focused all of
her attention on the elevator doors and waited for something to
happen. Redemption or damnation, whichever came first.
Ayukawa looked at him with more than a bit of skepticism. "Your
"Yes." The venom in his voice still surprised him. He was angry
almost beyond his ability to contain. It took considerable
effort on his part not to clench his fists.
"But... you look just... just like you did when I first met you."
"We've always looked a lot alike."
"Identical cousins?" Ayukawa shook her head. "That's almost as
unbelievable as ESP."
"I don't care how unbelievable it is." Kyosuke grit his teeth,
both in anger and to keep himself from saying anything that would
expose him to an Ayukawa slap. After a second, he continued.
"My fingers... someone was after *him*. He stole my body so that
he could escape them."
He looked into the mirror, at the features that weren't his. "He
stole my *life*. And I won't forgive him for that. Ever."
Ayukawa was oddly silent. When he finally looked up at her, she
was looking at him with a curious expression. Her voice was
slightly hesitant as she asked, "Did he send you here?"
"Ummm... no." The images of torture were still blurred in his
mind, but his anger was sharpening them. "I'm pretty sure I did
that myself. I was being tortured, and I had to escape."
More silence as Ayukawa continued to say nothing, which appeared
to be her specialty. Then she looked down and said in a
surprisingly docile voice, "It's getting late. You need rest."
"Rest?" Incredulity flooded Kyosuke's awareness. "How can I
sleep! He- he's out there with *my* body. God knows what he's
doing with it!"
"You need rest," she said with slightly more force. "If he's an
ESPer like you, then he's certainly in better shape than you are.
The only way you're going to be able to fight him is if you've
given yourself a chance to heal a bit first."
Kyosuke's mind spun in circles for a full minute under Ayukawa's
persistent gaze. Finally, he had to admit the validity of her
observation. Kazuya was going to pay, of that there was no
doubt - but Kyosuke was in no condition to fight him. Maybe
never was, a fearful part of his mind said to him. Kazuya had
always been the stronger ESPer, perhaps the strongest in the
With a sigh, Kyosuke lowered himself to the ground against the
wall. Ayukawa reached over and turned off the lamp, plunging the
room into not-quite-total darkness.
Kyosuke heard rustling sounds, which he knew to be Ayukawa
undressing. And it occurred to him that the room was rather
small, and that there was only one place to sleep, and he was
currently occupying it, and when had it become so hot in here?
There was more shuffling, and Kyosuke felt Ayukawa standing over
him. She was engaged in some activity he couldn't fathom. With
a snapping sound a cloth sheet was draped over him, then lifted
It wasn't until he heard her lay down that he got it. She had
somehow arranged for a sheet to be hung as a curtain between
them. Kyosuke was both relieved and disappointed at the same
Silence for a time as he totally failed to fall asleep.
Finally a soft voice from the other side of the curtain, without
a harsh edge. "Tell me more about your world."
Kyosuke swallowed. "What can I tell you?"
"Tell me... about your family."
There was definitely a hint of yearning there. Kyosuke shifted,
very careful of his hands. "Well... I mean, you know about my
twin sisters. I've got a good father, he raised us all by
"Yes. My mother died giving birth." He swallowed, for some
reason the memory bringing him more pain than usual. He didn't
remember much of her, just vague images. "I was the oldest, so I
had to help raise the twins. Not much, since I was only a couple
of years older than them. Actually, Manami did quite a bit when
she was old enough."
"Manami?" Ayukawa sounded thoughtful. "She was always the more
Another icy stab in his gut. "Yeah, she is." He paused a moment
before going on. "I kinda acted like a judge between them
sometimes. They were always fighting when they were kids. So
they'd come to me, only I wasn't very good. I hated having to
take sides. They'd both been through so much, I hated to hurt
either one of 'em."
"What exactly had they been through?"
Kyosuke bit his lip, organizing his thoughts. "Well... us three
kids all had ESP."
"Not your father?"
"Naw. Mom was the one we got it from. Anyway, we couldn't let
anyone know that we were ESPers."
"Because." He frowned. Actually, come to think of it, he didn't
have a well-defined reason. "All my life, Dad was telling us not
to let anyone know we had the Power. I guess because if someone
found out, they'd take us away to do experiments or something."
"I see." Ayukawa sounded slightly troubled. "So hiding your
powers was difficult?"
"Yeah. Every once in a while, one of us would slip - usually one
of the twins. Then we'd have to move far away. I don't think we
stayed in any place longer for a year up until I was fifteen."
He frowned slightly; had he been fourteen or fifteen? He
"So you didn't have many friends." There was a peculiar distant
quality to Ayukawa's voice. "No one to grow close to."
"Well, we had each other." He stopped and considered it. The
family *had* been close. They fought from time to time, but they
always stuck together. "That helped a lot."
"Yes. Family *would* help."
Now she sounded bitter. Kyosuke paused, then spoke gently. "And
"Mind your own business, Kasuga," Ayukawa snapped.
Kyosuke made no effort to stifle a sigh of frustration. He
desperately wanted to roll onto his side away from her, but
didn't want to move his hands.
He was on the verge of falling asleep when a voice, so soft he
barely heard it, drifted into his ears. "I was a mistake."
The words jolted him back to awareness. "A what?"
"Mistake." Real pain there. "My parents are world-famous
musicians. They'd had their one child and that was all they
needed for social acceptance. I did not fit into their plans.
My mother gave birth to me, although she seriously considered an
abortion. I was given to my sister to raise while my parents
went on to further their own careers. Unfortunately, my sister
was not necessarily skilled enough to raise a child on her own.
She often let me know her displeasure at being burdened with my
The words twisted his gut. He wondered how much they applied to
his Madoka. They very easily could. "Surely they loved you?"
"Love?" Ayukawa sounded indifferent. "I have difficulty finding
a frame of reference. I sometimes would lie awake at night,
crying and crying because I wanted my mother or father to be
there with me, to hug me or smile at me or give me *some*
indication that they liked me. Tell me, Kasuga-kun, is that
Kyosuke couldn't help a bit of irritation from leaking through.
"No, and you know that it's not."
She returned the irritation in full measure. "So sure are you?
Tell me, telepath from another world, what *is* love?"
"It's..." He sighed. "If I have to try and explain it, you'll
never understand. Haven't you ever felt passionate about
something, where just thinking about it would give you peace?"
A moment of silence before she spoke again. "Music. I like
music. I could always make good music, certainly better than my
sister and maybe even better than my parents."
That was good to hear. He smiled in the darkness. "See? You
*do* know what love is. And I bet it drew you closer to your
She barked a single, bitter laugh. "How little you know. True,
my parents found a degree of interest in my music. They even
wanted me to perform with them. I refused."
Kyosuke blinked. Come to think of it, in all the time he'd been
with Madoka, he'd never seen her play with her parents. "Why?"
"Because I didn't want to become like them." Now Ayukawa's voice
was hard and angry. "Because I saw what their obsession with
music, and the fame and money that came with it, did to them.
The world was going to hell, and they didn't care as long as they
could play their music to the elite and get rewarded for it. If
all they want from me is my ability to play music so I can
enhance their standing in the eyes of their peers, then I want
nothing to do with them. Or their music."
And suddenly it all came clear to him. Why Madoka resisted all
efforts to be pushed into the spotlight. She'd joined her
cousin's band only when he needed help, and had quit as soon as
that help was no longer needed. In fact, now that he thought
about it, perhaps a large part of her desire to leave Japan
during their last year in high school had been to escape from all
the record companies hounding her, trying to launch her career.
All she'd ever wanted was to write songs in the background and
let others find fame from them.
It all sounded horrible. He'd always thought of his life as
tough and Madoka's as easy. Wealthy and secure, two parents, and
she had intelligence, beauty, and talent besides. Who wouldn't
want those things?
But now, at last, he could begin to understand why Madoka had
chosen to live life the way she had. In a way, it was remarkable
that she had become as well-adjusted as she was.
He floundered for something to say. "Is... is that why you
aren't with your parents now?"
"When the barricades went up, my parents begged me to come with
them. For the first time they desperately wanted something from
me. It felt good to refuse them." She paused a second. "I
don't want to be a part of their world. The elite of the elite,
caring nothing for the rest of the world, caring nothing about
their future, only wanting to live the day in comfort. Quite
frankly, they disgust me, all of them. I felt closer to your
'sisters' than I did my own family. Hell, I felt closer to
*Akane* than I did to my parents, and she nearly killed me."
Kyosuke tried to think of what he could do to make her feel
better. Nothing was coming to mind.
After a moment she continued. "I'm sorry I was so... brusque
about the death of your sisters in this world. I... would
like... I wish..." She sighed. "I wish I loved my family as
much as you love yours. And vice versa."
This was horrible. He heard such pain from her, such *needing*.
Carefully he moved his hand towards the curtain. With a bit of
effort, he lifted it. He reached underneath it and fumbled about
slightly until he had his bandaged fingers resting on her
A soft sigh escaped her lips. He'd heard this sound from time to
time before, always at the beginning of intimacies between him
and Madoka, at the first touch of his hand on her skin or his
lips first brushing hers.
It had never occurred to him to wonder exactly why she'd made
that sound. Now, at last, he could understand a little.
Almost subconsciously, with surprisingly little effort, his mind
reached into hers. He wanted to give her comfort, reassurances
that words could not adequately convey. He felt her mind recoil
at his touch, fear and pain effectively blocking him out. He
just kept up a steady stream of warm, happy thoughts, amazingly
easy to do given that he didn't have telepathic abilities back in
his home universe.
And then, as if she had hesitantly swung wide the front door, her
mind opened to him. She grabbed on to his comfort like a life
preserver. And he felt it inside her, her desperate loneliness.
She'd rejected her family, and all of her close friends had died
in the battles that had followed, and for long months stretching
into years she'd had no one to talk to, to share any kind of
Now she had *him*, someone she'd actually felt a bit of affection
for years ago, suddenly reappearing, vulnerable and needing her
help, and when he'd awaken he'd wanted nothing from her, had
thanked her profusely and talked to her, tried to break through
her walls, offered friendship and expected nothing in return, and
she'd resisted but it had only been token, she wanted him, wanted
him to love her as no one ever had...
And then desire blooming through her, through her and into him.
And it felt wonderful. They were two minds intertwined, filling
each other with love and lust. He'd never felt either so
strongly before, and he drew her in more deeply, they became
inseparable, and the passionate kiss they were sharing seemed
wholly inadequate by comparison but it nevertheless helped
intensify the desire they felt. It had never felt like this
before, he and Madoka had never been able to share with each
other these feelings, not like *this*, and he wanted-
With a wrench he pushed Ayukawa away. The pain that flared in
his arms was strong enough to sever the link to her mind. He
suddenly became aware of his surroundings, Ayukawa lying on top
of him, the ersatz curtain tangled around them. With frantic
efforts that made the pain worse, he was able to rise to his
feet, his back to her.
"Kyouske!" She sounded surprised. Surprised, and hurt. "What
is it? What's wrong?"
"I... can't." He closed his eyes tightly. "I'm sorry."
He swallowed heavily. "I can't... I can't betray..."
"But you love me!" Her voice was almost a plea. "I saw it in
your mind. You love me, I know you do!"
"No, you don't understand." His heart was hammering in his
chest. "I don't love... you, exactly."
One heartbeat of dead silence. Two.
"Oh God. Oh God oh God oh God oh God." He heard her standing
up. "I'm an idiot, I'm such an idiot. That's how you knew I had
a sister. That's why you called me Madoka. It was so *obvious*.
But like an idiot, I left myself open *again*, and you walked all
over me. Oh God."
He turned around, peering at her dark shape. "Please, Ayukawa.
I'm sorry. I didn't mean for... for *that* to happen. I only...
wanted to... help you. Because... because I know you... you
deserve better than what's happened to you."
"Spare me, Kasuga. Spare me the condescending speeches. I got
enough of them from my parents." She reached down for something
at her feet. He watched as her outline began to put on some
Kyosuke shook his head in denial. "I wasn't trying to be
condescending. I... if things were just a little different-"
"It things were just a little different, I'd've been born in your
world and your Madoka would be the one stuck in this hell of a
universe." She evidently finished dressing. She moved away, and
he heard the sound of the door being unlocked. She opened it,
took one step through it, then turned to face him. "Don't try to
leave. Even if the gangs don't find you stumbling about, if I
see you I'll kill you myself."
The door was slammed shut, and the locks were reapplied from the
outside. Kyosuke stared at it numbly, his whole being agony,
from the throbbing of his hands to the cold lump in the pit of
"I'm sorry," he whispered into the darkness.
The darkness didn't answer. Eventually, he lay on the mat and
went to sleep, the sound of her words echoing through his skull.
The tall man stood in the cool night air and considered the
problem of taking the girl.
The hotel was popular and crowded, that couldn't be helped. This
young bride of Kazuya's cousin would be taking an early flight to
Hawaii in the morning, and it would not do to have to try and
kidnap her in America. It had to be here.
Still, it would be easy enough, with the right operatives in
place. The only problem might be if her new husband also
happened to be an ESPer. Still, he had some ideas.
An idea forming in his mind, he strode down the street. He
couldn't help the smile that spread across his face. Kazuya
would soon be his, and he'd have his vengeance.
Kyosuke, as before, woke to the smell of food cooking.
He opened his eyes to see Ayukawa sitting with her back to him.
She was evidently fixing more stew. He realized that her food
options were probably severely limited.
"Good morning," he ventured.
No response. Not that he really expected any. He lifted his
hands and looked at them. What skin he could see under the
bandages was interesting colors. They ached horribly, but the
pain wasn't as sharp as it had been yesterday. He moved his one
good thumb experimentally and decided it was still somewhat
functional. Still, his hands were useless and would remain so
for some time.
But it wasn't his hands he would need in the near future.
He moved his thoughts around and decided he was thinking as
clearly as he ever did. As an experiment, he used the Power to
lift himself into a sitting position. It was surprisingly easy.
He grunted in satisfaction.
Ayukawa turned, a bowl of stew in her hand. Kyosuke recoiled
slightly; her face was frightening. Her eyes were red and her
cheeks were a little hollow. She seemed exhausted and angry at
the same time. A horrible feeling of guilt stabbed through him.
What he'd put her through - not just last night but eight years
ago - had to devastating.
They stared at each other for a few moments. Without a word, she
began to feed him the stew. He took it in gratefully, feeling
the warmth spread through his stomach, feeling the nourishment
bolster his reserves.
When he was finished, she set the bowl down without serving any
for herself. "You're going to leave now."
He nodded. "Yes. You- Madoka might be in trouble."
"Naturally." Her voice was neutral with just a hint of
"Umm..." He thought for a minute. "Can you take me to the
She lifted her eyebrows slightly. "Why?"
"I think I'm going to jump off of it. I... seem to only be able
to teleport between worlds or through time when I'm in a panic."
"Ridiculous." Now her voice was contemptuous. "And if you're
wrong? What good will you do your Madoka if you're lying in
pieces on the ground?"
"Yeah, I know. What choice do I have? I've never been able to
do this voluntarily. Only Grandpa could."
"If your grandfather can, then you can too." She folded her
arms. "What is it that allows you to do this teleportation?"
"I don't know!" She was beginning to irritate him. Still, she
was trying to help, which was much more than he expected after
last night. He considered for a moment. "Panic. Sheer panic."
"Self-preservation. Need." She nodded. "The trick, then, is to
try and recreate those emotions without putting yourself in
Kyosuke poked his tongue in his cheek thoughtfully. "Yes.
Plus... I think I need to be thinking of Madoka. I always seem
to be driven by a need to be... near her. I think it's how I
found you this last time, even if you weren't exactly the Ma...
Ayukawa I was looking for."
She snorted. "Well, I suppose I should be flattered. But I'm
not." She stood up and helped him to his feet.
They stood facing each other, very close. Kyosuke swallowed
against the ache in his throat. This was going to be difficult.
He liked Ayukawa a lot, and would miss her. He opened his mouth
to thank her.
"Take me with you."
Kyosuke's mouth froze in the open position.
His surprise seemed to irritate her. "You owe it to me,
Kasuga-kun. I've got nothing here, nothing at all. My one
attempt at rebellion left most everyone dead. There's no future
for a woman on her own on this side of the barricade. I've been
studying ways to fight back, but nothing will work, not for years
anyway. I want out, and you can provide a way."
Kyosuke finally found his voice. "I... I can't."
Her face mottled in rage. "Why the hell not?"
"I... I've never teleported more than one person across time or
dimensions or whatever it is that separates my world from yours."
"Have you ever teleported more than one person from place to
"Well..." The bolt of lightning striking the boat, Kyosuke
grabbing Madoka and hurriedly teleporting with her to the island.
"Then this should be no different." She grabbed his shirt.
"Like I said, you *owe* me."
"B-but..." He swallowed. "This is different. It's going to
take a lot of concentration to accomplish this. I don't... know
if it'll be safe to do it with someone else, too. And I'm not in
the best condition right now anyway."
Ayukawa growled and pulled him down until their faces were very
close. "The truth, Kasuga-kun. Tell me the truth."
Half-formed protestations died on his lips. She was right, he
did owe her - and himself - the truth. "I... I don't think it
would be a good idea for you to... exist in the same universe
"I see." She shoved him violently away. He nearly fell over
backwards and used the Power to right himself. Ayukawa spoke
through clenched teeth. "Can't have the ugly stepsister ruining
the fairy tale, can we?"
Would someone please stop twisting his stomach so tightly? "I...
my grandfather is very good at this kind of thing. He's taken me
through time before. When... when I get everything worked out
back home I... we'll come find you."
She grunted. "*If* you beat this cousin of yours. *If* your
grandfather can find my world again. *If* I'm not killed before
you get around to rescuing me."
He swallowed. "Yes. But I think-"
"Spare me, Kasuga." She whirled and savagely opened the locks on
the door. She flung the door open. "Get out and never, ever
come back. If I see you again I will kill you, that's a promise.
I hope you and your Madoka rot in hell."
Ayukawa ran out the door, leaving it open behind her. Kyosuke
stared after her, feeling as wretched as he had that one day in
the airport. How did he keep managing to put himself in these
kind of situations? If he could find the answer to that, one of
the great mysteries of his life would be solved.
He shook his eyes to clear them of the tears. He needed to
concentrate, on his world, on Madoka. He needed to return to
her. He needed-
He needed to straighten out all that had gone so wrong in his
With a terrible resolve, he strode out of the room.
Kazuya woke up with a start.
He was lying in a very large bed. Alone. A glance around the
hotel room told him that Madoka was nowhere to be found. Damn.
He'd been hoping to have some fun with her.
On the bedside table was a note. He picked it up and read a
syrupy plea for him to meet Madoka down at the hotel restaurant
Kazuya growled. He'd have to try and adjust her attitude a bit
more; this childlike affection was annoying him greatly. Still,
he did have to be careful and not burn her out too quickly. He
needed time to adjust to this new body, this new life, before he
made any radical changes.
He showered and dressed, luxuriating in the freedom of it all.
Not having anyone trying to kill him was a wonderful feeling.
Kazuya surprised himself by whistling as he rode down the
elevator. This was an okay life. Once he made Madoka more
agreeable, it would be even better.
The doors opened and he strode out into the lobby. He heard
Madoka before he saw her; the delighted squeal she made grated
his nerves. She would definitely need adjusting. Madoka flung
herself into his arms. "Good morning, Kyo-chan!" She kissed him
quickly. "I've got a wonderful table and a great breakfast ready
for you, only you have to hurry because our plane leaves in three
hours and we still have to check out and get over to the
Kazuya sighed. Maybe not this morning, then. Definitely when
they got to Hawaii, though. He smiled and walked with his arm
around her waist towards the restaurant.
Someone came between him and Madoka. With surprising ease, that
person separated them and put his arms around each of them. The
man began to move them towards the hotel's front door. He tilted
his head down - the man was very tall - and spoke
conversationally to Kazuya. "I have two guns, one pointed at
your head, the other pointed at your pretty wife's heart. I've
had them specially modified. I've got the triggers fully
engaged; all I have to do is relax my grip the slightest bit and
the guns will fire. So if, for example, someone tries to knock
me unconscious or take over my mind, I fear what will happen to
His heart pounding, Kazuya turned his head slightly. The man did
have a gun in his hand, and it was pointing right at Kazuya's
forehead. He broke out in a sweat. His mind raced with
possibilities? Fling the gun away with telekinesis? Could he do
it fast enough to keep the gun from firing? Take over the man's
mind? Could he gain fine enough control to keep the gun from
firing? Probably not in time. Teleport away? It was the one
think Kyosuke could do that Kazuya couldn't.
And all the time his mind was racing, the tall man was quickly
guiding them out of the hotel. At the curb, a car stood waiting.
Another man took the confused and frightened Madoka and put her
in the front seat. The tall man indicated that he should sit in
the back. Kazuya, dazed, complied.
The tall man got in and arranged himself so that he sitting
against the car door, both eyes and both guns trained on Kazuya.
The car was driven away.
The tall man spoke in an even tone of voice. "Don't panic,
Kasuga, and don't try anything stupid. We don't want to hurt you
or your wife. In fact, you may be useful to us. Do so much as
breathe the wrong way, however, and my underlings have a long,
arduous task in front of them cleaning out the insides of this
Kazuya forced himself to remain still. Amano's men had found
him, but they thought he was Kyosuke. They needed him for some
reason. *What* they wanted he wasn't sure. At a guess, Kyosuke
had told them that the whole Kasuga clan had ESP. Amano was just
making sure that people with the Power were either serving him or
Kazuya's heart finally began to slow down. If he played his
cards right, he could actually parlay this into a useful position
within Amano's organization. And he wouldn't make the same
mistakes as last time.
Still, he definitely did not like the feeling of those two guns
pointed at him. He was still at quite a bit of risk right at the
moment. But at some point in the future the tall man's guard
would be down, and Kazuya would make him pay.
"Um... this is going to sound strange, but... could you follow
The car driver turned around and gave her a look. "We don't do
Hikaru sighed and dug through her purse. She pulled out a
crumpled wad of twenties. "Would you take a hundred dollars
The cab driver considered this for a moment. "Two hundred."
Hikaru quickly sifted through the money. It would about bankrupt
her, but she could do it. "Okay."
With a satisfied grunt, the cab driver pulled the cab away from
the hotel and fell behind a dark sedan a hundred feet ahead.
Hikaru sat back and tried to think. She was *so* tired, but the
sight of Madoka ordering breakfast for two had managed to infuse
her with a bit of energy. As had the sight of Kyosuke - or
Kazuya in Kyosuke's body, anyway. That had all paled, though,
before the panic that had coursed through her veins as some
sinister-looking man had taken Kazuya and Madoka out of the
hotel. She'd been so afraid that she was going to lose them.
Fortunately, she hadn't.
Now that the first rush of panic was over, she felt like falling
asleep. But she couldn't afford to, not yet.
Hikaru forced herself to keep her eyes open. She dug Kurumi's
cell phone out of her purse and made a page.
Kazuya examined the men surrounding him in the small, dusty
office. They all had their attention fully focused on him.
Including the tall man, who always kept at least one of his
modified guns trained on him.
Kazuya had come up with a couple different ways he could attempt
to escape. He would probably succeed if he didn't care what
happened to Madoka. But he didn't want to abandon her, not
unless he had no other choice. Best to see what they wanted, and
how he could turn it to his advantage.
The door opened, and an average-looking man walked in. Kazuya's
eyes widened in surprise; he knew this face from the minds he'd
probed during his nightmarish flight. Amano. Amano himself was
braving the possible wrath of an ESPer. Which meant they wanted
something from him. Something badly.
"Kasuga Kyosuke." Amano spoke in a cultured, pleasant tone of
voice. "You come from a remarkably talented family. Or so we
suppose. Your cousin, at least, can do some amazing things. I
was wondering if you know some of those same tricks."
Kazuya studied Amano carefully. He wanted to try and slip inside
his mind, but was afraid that they'd somehow find out he was
doing it and shoot him. Best to play it safe. Also best to play
it cagey and not give in too easily. "I... I don't know what you
Amano smiled. "Perhaps not. But you *do* know where your cousin
is, don't you?"
Kazuya blinked rapidly. They didn't know where Kyosuke was? If
they didn't have him, where was he? The knowledge that Kyosuke
was unaccounted for was... disturbing.
His reaction was not lost on Amano. "You do know something,
don't you? Tell me. Tell me now."
Kazuya's mind was spinning in circles again. He had to come up
with something. He couldn't tell them the truth, obviously. But
he had to find a plausible lie, and quickly.
Amano gestured, and one of the men walked over to where a very
frightened Madoka was sitting in a chair. "Your new wife is very
beautiful," Amano said casually. "It would be a terrible shame
if something were to mar that beauty." The man standing over
Madoka produced a long, thin knife and began to caress her cheek
with it while Madoka whimpered.
Thoughts flew through Kazuya's mind. If it came down to him or
Madoka, then he didn't much care what happened to her. But if he
seemed too unconcerned with her welfare, they'd begin to suspect
something. So he had to do something to keep her from being
No choice, as he saw it. There really was no way they should be
able to fight him off. He began to spread his mind, bringing it
in contact with everyone around him. Madoka's was locked in a
loop of fright over what might happen to her 'Kyo-chan'. Most of
the men were split between enjoying their feeling of power over
helpless prisoners and careful observation of an ESPer's
movements. Amano's thoughts were filled with plans, strategies
for dealing with the dangerous ESPer in front of him and the even
more dangerous ESPer that was unaccounted for. Kazuya began to
probe gently, more deeply into Amano's thoughts, trying to find
something that would satisfy him.
His attention was ripped from Amano. Someone, another mind
nearby, had spoken to him. Spoken to *him*, not to Kyosuke.
He focused his attention a little more carefully, and found the
familiar shape of his sister's mind. _Kazuya, be ready._
Through her, he felt the thoughts of others of the Kasuga clan,
perhaps half a dozen people very nearby. _We'll get you out of
He felt someone's mind link with his, look through his eyes.
And, without further ado, all of the guns in the room vanished.
Most of the men in the room cried out in surprise, but the tall
man didn't waste any effort. As quick as a cat, he had a knife
out and was swinging it at Kazuya.
As quick as a cat, but not as quick as thought.
Kazuya reached out and seized the tall man's mind. With a gasp
the tall man collapsed, his blow going wide.
Kazuya stood up to see two other men also collapsing. Three
appeared to be held in place by invisible bonds. Amano himself
was being attacked by a particularly tenacious broom. Kazuya
brought that battle to an end by rendering Amano unconscious.
That quickly it was over.
Kazuya's relief was short-lived. Various Kasugas entered the
office. His twin cousins. His father. Two great-uncles. And
his sister. All looking at him warily. And angrily. They knew.
He tried to speak with a mouth gone dry. "I... it's not what you
"Where is he, Kazuya?" Kurumi sounded absolutely furious.
A twinge in his gut. "I don't know, I swear." He looked at his
sister, who thinned her lips and looked away from him. He
swallowed. "I'll help you find him, I swear."
They all felt it at the same time. A strong psychic backlash.
Reality being ripped asunder by the Power. Somewhere very close.
The others turned in surprise, and Kazuya took his chance. He'd
had long experience rendering people unconscious, sometimes
quickly. The people around him, while on guard and wary, weren't
prepared for the strength and quickness of his attack. One by
one they fell. The great-uncles, the most dangerous. His
father, strong if limited in what he could do. They fell to the
floor where they stood.
His mistake was in trying for Akane next. But she, more than
anyone, knew his mind and what it was capable of. She withstood
the initial assault, then he felt Kurumi joining the remaining
They were strong, these girls. Much more so than he had
realized. The twins especially seemed to be bright poles of
energy that enhanced each other's Power. And Akane had special
knowledge of Kazuya's mind, and guided the counter-attack. For
the very first time in his life, Kazuya felt daunted by someone
But he was Kasuga Kazuya, and was the strongest ESPer of this or
any other generation. And he had used and trained his mind while
the others had tried to hide their skills, letting their Power
lie dormant. He focused his will and beat them back and pressed
Kazuya opened his eyes - he'd shut them tight somewhere along the
way - and looked at the women standing motionless before him. He
supposed that someone watching them would assume they were
playing a game of Statues or something. But he smiled in the
knowledge that the war was going his way. He heard Manami groan
softly and Kurumi whisper, "Don't give up. It's for Kyosuke."
There was desperation there and it made him feel better, more
The shout was more than sound; he could hear it in his mind.
Kazuya looked behind the twins to see himself standing in the
doorway. His confidence faltered, and he nearly let his defenses
drop. He beat back a momentary, faltering surge and braced
himself, looking at the person standing in the doorway.
His body looked to be in horrible shape. His hands were horribly
mangled, swollen and swathed in bandages. He was dirty and
unshaven. But his eyes... his eyes burned with fury.
Not his eyes any more. Kyosuke's.
Kyosuke looked around the room, his fury growing at the sight of
his sisters standing rigid, obviously in pain and fighting for
their lives. "One warning only. Let them go. Now."
Pure fear shot through his nerves. The fear fueled irrational
anger. "SHUT UP! This is all *your* fault, Kyosuke! If you
weren't such a wimp, I'd never have had to... to..." He couldn't
find a way to end the accusation, so he launched a preemptive
strike against Kyosuke instead.
Kyosuke's mind nearly succumbed to his initial rush. And he
*should* have succumbed, but Kyosuke was much more powerful than
Kazuya had thought. Anger, unchecked anger, powered Kyosuke's
thoughts, gave his counterattack a devastating force.
Kazuya beat it off and felt Kyosuke's mind joining in the link.
And through the link he felt a brief surge of pure joy, some from
Akane but most of it coming from the twins as they accepted
Kyosuke into their minds. And if they were bright lights,
Kyosuke was a blazing star of Power. Kazuya could see the twins'
minds assuming a kind of orbit around Kyosuke, letting him be
their center while they continued to reinforce each other and
Kyosuke. Akane was a part of it, too, but there was no doubt
that the center of the structure was Kyosuke and Manami and
Kurumi. The Power they shaped was beautiful and frighteningly
They gathered themselves, holding off Kazuya's attacks which
seemed feeble by comparison, and struck.
The force was so overwhelming that Kazuya felt like a leaf in a
hurricane. He drew himself in as deeply as he could, protecting
the core of his Power from the onslaught. They beat at him and
beat at him, and Kazuya called up the last reserves of his
strength to shield his mind from them. But it wasn't enough, he
knew that. Way too soon they would have him.
But then Kyosuke stumbled and faltered, and the attack faltered
with him. Kazuya rose from his psychic bunker and saw that
Kyosuke was weakening rapidly. He had just performed some act
with the Power that had left him drained. The others cried out
in concern and rushed to support him.
And left themselves open.
Kazuya rushed in with his Power, only to be turned aside at the
last minute by Akane, who'd remained alert. She shielded the
others while they tried to regroup. Kazuya growled deep in his
throat and savagely beat down Akane's shield. It splintered
under his attack and she slumped to the ground.
All that was left were his cousins. And they were all tired,
Kyosuke especially. He felt in them a grim determination,
centering mostly on Kyosuke. They presented themselves to him,
showing their total unity and total resolve. They would not
submit, and would fight him with the last of their strength.
Kazuya grinned and presented his own psychic face. Strong and
overwhelmingly powerful. They'd given him their best shot and
he'd withstood it. Quite simply nothing could ever overcome him.
The sooner they recognized that, the easier their lives would be.
If had to give them a demonstration, he would. Right now.
The remaining Kasugas readied themselves for one final battle.
Kazuya's lips parted as his grin grew into a wide smile. This
would all end now, and in his favor.
A movement behind Kyosuke drew Kazuya's attention. Madoka walked
into the room.
Kazuya's jaw dropped open. He looked to the side, to see Madoka
still sitting on the chair, looking at him with adoration mixed
with fear. He looked back towards Kyosuke, and Madoka was
striding towards him, her face angry and determined.
In a panic he reached out to seize her mind - and it was *wrong*.
He couldn't explain it. There was something odd about the way
her mind worked. It terrified him for a reason he couldn't
understand. But a mind was still a mind, and he could see how it
worked and began frantically to find a way to shut it down before
its wrongness overwhelmed him.
As he did this, Kyosuke and his sisters struck.
They lashed at his mind with the last of their strength. Kazuya
reeled; he'd left himself too open in his rush to shut down this
Madoka-clone's mind. He tried to intercept their attack, keep
them from shutting down his mind, but they were everywhere,
seeping into everything. Kazuya kept himself conscious and his
Power operating, but somewhere along the way he'd lost the
ability to physically control his body. He could only stare in
fright as Madoka stood before him.
"Kasuga-kun." The new Madoka's voice could freeze lava. "I've
been wanting to do this for eight years." She reached her hand
back, formed a fist, and punched him in the jaw.
And Kazuya's world came crashing down around him.
Ayukawa looked at the crumpled form on the ground. She felt as
if all the anger and regret she'd felt all her life had been
concentrated in her fist, and it had felt very, very good to
release that energy. Her hand was hurting quite badly, which she
supposed was just as well. Such actions should not be without
"Kyo-chan!" A woman knelt over the unconscious body at her feet
and cradled it. "Kyo-chan, speak to me!"
Ayukawa dropped her gaze and examined the panicky, distraught
figure beneath her. She sniffed, spun on one foot, and strode
Amano and the tall man sat in the car, heading back towards Tokyo
proper. Amano looked out the window, frankly bored.
The tall man shifted in the seat next to him. "A shame, all that
Amano nodded. "Yes. A shame to discover that the boy was dead
already. Still, the object lesson is valid. No one may cross us
"And what of the other?" The tall man appeared to be struggling
to form a thought. "This... Kyosuke and his wife?"
"Harmless." Amano spoke with utter conviction. "We don't need
to worry about them at all. It's best to quickly forget them and
move on to other business."
The tall man nodded. "Yes, that does sound right."
Amano shook his head. "Still, it is a pity we could not have
caught the boy sooner and turned him to our purposes. Imagine
all the time and effort he put into making us think he had ESP."
The tall man snorted. "I don't know why he expected us to
believe such a ludicrous thing."
"I know. But he was able to fool a lot of less observant people
than you and I. Imagine if we could have harnessed such creative
"Perhaps." The tall man shrugged. "But he was disloyal."
"Yes," Amano said as he settled back, already thinking of the
other things he had to do when he got back. "And he paid the
Kasuga Akane felt safe. For the first time in what seemed like
She looked around the house. More a cabin than a house, really;
the dwellings of the village were quite often over a century old.
Earthquakes and typhoons were less a hardship here than anywhere
else in Japan. A few minds working in concert could repair a lot
What, then, to do when the mind itself was damaged?
She sat on the floor, drawing her knees up to her chest and
wrapping her arms around them. She rested her chin on her knees
and considered the form of her brother.
He had been considerably cleaned up. The bandages on his hands
had been more professionally applied. The look on his face was
peaceful. She remembered all those years ago when her mother
presenting to Akane a new addition to the household: a tiny form,
cradled in her arms, sleeping. She remembered the incredible
feeling of affection that had come over her. And love. And
responsibility. *This* was her baby brother, and she'd have to
help raise him. And she'd sworn then to do as good a job as
Somewhere along the way, she'd lost sight of that. Somewhere
along the way, she'd become so focused on her own problems that
she'd overlooked the signs that her brother was succumbing to
temptations that were warping him. Kyosuke had actively disliked
her brother, and she'd decided that Kyosuke was being unfair
rather than admit that he might have good reason for his dislike.
She'd failed. So badly it hurt. What had nearly happened to
Kyosuke - what *had* happened to Madoka - those things were as
much her fault as Kazuya's. And she was going to do all she
could to make up for it.
Kazuya stirred. Akane brought her mind back from the years and
the shame and the guilt and focused on her brother.
He opened his eyes. He stared at the ceiling and tried to sit
up. Unfortunately, he tried to use his hands. He shouted in
pain and fell back to the mat, holding his hands and staring at
Akane cleared her throat slightly. "They'll heal. In time.
Then, of course, you'll have some physical therapy. Great Aunt
Mariko thinks it will be three months before you can properly use
them again. But don't worry, you will regain full use."
Kazuya looked at her, his eyes wide with confusion and panic.
After a few seconds, they widened even further.
Akane smiled in apology. "They took away your access to the
Power. Right now you won't be able to do the slightest thing
with it. I'm told that you can get it back. Eventually. If
they let you."
His eyes narrowed, and she could see a calculating look in them.
"Sis, there are people after me, trying to kill me. If I don't
have the Power-"
She shook her head. "They're not after you any more. We made
them think you were dead, and that you never really had the Power
to begin with. No one will come after you. Not that they could
do anything here in the village."
The conniving look left his face, to be replaced with
uncertainty. And a fair amount of fear. Akane sighed slightly;
he shouldn't be afraid. Of the Kasuga clan. Of her. "Kazuya,
we- *I* am going to guide you through this. You... made some
"What the hell are you talking about!" The anger in his voice
had a tinge of panic. "I... was just... making a living.
Protecting the Kasuga family interests. It's not like you
haven't done lots of stuff like that before. I've seen you use
your Power to fool people all the time. Why don't they take away
"Perhaps they should." She looked down at her feet. "Kazuya,
I'm not about to cast stones here. Believe it or not, taking the
Power away from you isn't about punishment. It's about healing.
Healing for you. Healing for me." She gazed into his eyes once
more. "What I hope is that we can talk about what happened
together and help each other figure out the mistakes we both made
along the way."
Kazuya growled. Once again he tried to sit up and failed.
"Games. I won't let any of you play any mind games with me. I
did what I had to do. You'd do the same."
She sighed. "Would I?" The question was not exactly rhetorical.
He stared at her in surprise. For a long time they held that
tableau. Akane felt her eyes burning with the effort to keep
them locked on his eyes, but on this she was not going to back
down. She needed an answer from him.
With a sound of disgust he turned his head away. "Hell, of
course you wouldn't. You don't have the guts."
Beneath the contempt, Akane heard a sliver of... envy?
Reconciliation? She wasn't sure. What she was sure of was that
she was going to stay here in the village as long as it took to
find that part of her brother and bring it to life again. For
his sake and her own.
For now she sat next to him, and they said nothing, and that was
Kyosuke stared at his hands, flexing them over and over again.
Strange how he had never appreciated their mobility until it had
been taken from him. Unfortunately there was a trade-off; his
jaw ached. Still, it was a small price to pay.
"I don't understand." Kurumi was sitting across the bonfire from
him. A large number of people, including residents of the ESPer
village they'd teleported to after the battle, were sitting
around it, waiting. "Why did you let them go? Why didn't you...
I dunno... turn them into good guys or something?"
Great-Uncle Kaneto spoke from where he stood near the fire. "And
what would that have accomplished? If others had seen them so
radically changed, after having been told about a boy with ESP,
what conclusion would they have come to? Or if they had shown up
dead or with no memory whatsoever?" He sighed. "What choice did
we have? All we can do is hope that they believe this all to be
an elaborate hoax and to allow them to return to the lives
they've chosen to lead. Anything more threatens to destroy the
life we've made for ourselves here."
Great-Aunt Mariko stirred from where she sat near to Kurumi.
"Why is it that you think we want you all to return here to the
village? The longer you spend in the outside world, the more
certain it becomes that someone will discover the Power and
destroy our clan trying to acquire it for themselves."
"And what are we supposed to do?" Manami had her head cupped in
her hands. "Hide forever from the world? Allow fear and
uncertainty to confine us to this village? If the world is not
yet ready to accept our ability, we must *make* it ready?"
Akane lifted her head from where she'd had it hung between her
knees as she sat on the ground. She'd spent much of the
afternoon with her brother, and Kyosuke could see the strain in
her face. "How? By forcibly altering the mind of everyone who
disagrees with us? Do we all become like my brother?"
"No." Manami frowned at Akane. "I wasn't saying that at all.
There are people who find out about us but treat us with kindness
Kurumi nodded. "Dad was one. He fell in love with Mom even
knowing she had the Power."
"Madoka is one of those people, too," Kyosuke murmured. "And
"Um." Hikaru was sitting next to him. They hadn't spoken more
than a dozen words to each other since coming back to the
village. Kurumi had been the one to tell him the whole story of
what occurred while Kazuya had taken over his body, and Hikaru's
role in events and what she'd been told. "Is... is anyone going
to change my mind? Make me forget?"
Kyosuke looked up at Great-Uncle Kaneto. "Well? If it hadn't
been for Hikaru, my body might be dead now, and Madoka... and
other bad things might have happened. Do we reward her by
altering her mind?"
Great-Uncle Kaneto sighed. "You all misunderstand me. And, at
the same time, reinforce my argument. I agree that altering
someone's mind is evil, and should be done only out of the
greatest need. But when one is young, and growing into the
Power... temptations happen." He looked around the bonfire.
"Tell me that at one time or another, you have all not used your
Power to play with an innocent's mind."
No one met his gaze. Kyosuke drew a line in the dirt with his
shoe. "When... when I had the ability to read minds, I... found
great delight in... in delving inside and feeling what they felt,
especially when it was good. I... I think I could see myself...
abusing that power. Becoming like Kazuya."
"Sempai!" Hikaru clutched his arm. "You'd never become like
that jerk! I *know* you, Sempai! You're too nice to do bad
things like that."
Kyosuke looked at her and cocked a self-deprecating grin. "Can
you say that truthfully, Hikaru? After all I did to you? You
don't know half of what I did with the Power that ended up
hurting you so badly."
Hikaru flushed but pressed on. "Sempai, you only did those
things because you didn't want to hurt my feelings. You spend a
lot of time feeling what other people, and you do whatever you
can to make them feel as good as possible! I... know that you
never meant to hurt me. I mean... yes, what you did hurt, but it
wasn't your intention, you didn't know that it would all end so
badly. Kazuya... from what little I saw of him, he never had a
thought for anyone but himself."
Kyosuke's smile was a little wider, a little more genuine. "You
really believe that, Hikaru-chan?"
"I believe it because it's true." She looked around, her manner
at once pleading and peremptory. "Everyone, tell him it's true!"
Akane chuckled ruefully. "It *is* true, Kyosuke." Her smile
faded. "I... know the difference between you and my brother.
Kazuya... for various reasons, he couldn't figure out what he was
doing was wrong. At least you knew when you made mistakes, and
tried to correct them. What Hikaru says is absolutely right."
"See!" Hikaru's voice rang with triumph. "I wouldn't have
fallen for anything less than the best possible guy around!"
Gentle laughter greeted her statement. Great-Uncle Kaneto,
however, didn't join in. "This is why the village is the best
place for those with the Power. We could have taught you the
right and wrong ways to use Power. We could have detected and
disciplined those who tried to use the Power to alter other
people's mind. If Kazuya had been raised in this village, none
of this would ever have happened."
Kurumi sounded a little unsure. "What's going to happen to him?"
"He'll stay here while his hands heal." Great-Aunt Mariko
sounded grim. "We'll also work on mending his mind, on undoing
what years of undisciplined upbringing have done to his psyche.
I won't lie to you, dear; he may be here for years. Maybe for
the rest of his life. He may never be allowed the use of his
Power again, and that is a very difficult thing for one with the
Power to accept."
"It's no less than he deserves," Kyosuke couldn't help growling.
Great-Aunt Mariko sighed. "Perhaps. But he's still young.
There's still hope that he can be taught responsibility and
discipline. In time."
Akane wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "I'm going to
stay and help. For as long as it takes."
Kyosuke immediately softened his voice. "Sorry, Akane. I didn't
"You've got good reason to feel the way you do, Kyosuke," Akane
said seriously. "Don't apologize. You have cause. I'm not
going to try and excuse Kazuya for what he did. But I am going
to be here for him."
Great-Aunt Mariko smiled. "Of course, dear. I think Kazuya will
come to appreciate that."
The front door of a nearby cabin opened. Kyosuke looked up to
see Grandma walk out. He surged to his feet. "Grandma?"
Grandma smiled. "Hello, Grandson. It's good to see you back in
"Grandma," he said patiently. "How is Madoka?"
"She's fine." Grandma sounded happy. "We've undone all the
alterations - well-intentioned or otherwise - that were done to
Kyosuke closed his eyes and muttered a prayer. A sound like a
breath being released passed through the people sitting around
Then Kyosuke felt something grip his mind just strongly enough to
get his attention, like a hand grabbing his chin. "But no one is
to ever tamper with Madoka-chan's mind again. Do you
From the hurried agreements behind him, Kyosuke guessed that
everyone with the Power had felt the same pressure.
He shook it off and opened his eyes. "Can I see her now?"
"Of course, Kyosuke." She smiled and patted his arm as he walked
Kyosuke stepped into the small cabin. He paid little attention
to the simple furnishings, concentrating solely on the figure
lying atop the covers on the bed across the room. He moved
quickly to her side, sitting on the chair next to the bed.
He watched her face for some timeless period. Then she stirred,
woke. Looked around in confusion, focused on his face. And
Kyosuke immediately reached out for her, only to see her shrink
away. He pulled his hands back and swallowed down his anguish.
"It's me, Madoka. It's Kyosuke."
Madoka sat up in the bed and looked away. He could see her
gather herself. "Yes. Kyosuke."
"It wasn't me who did those things to you. It was Kazuya."
He watched her face set into an all-too-familiar mask. "Yes. It
was Kazuya. I know that."
Kyosuke sighed. "I'm so sorry, Madoka."
She looked over at him. "Sorry for what?"
"I dunno. For not protecting you."
She quirked a smile. "How positively medieval of you. Is that
what you consider to be your husbandly duty?"
He held up his hand and looked at the ring on his finger. "Our
wedding... I have no memory of it. It's the one thing I didn't
want to miss, more than anything. For that, I'm sorry."
She sobered. "I'm the one who should apologize, Kyosuke. I
shouldn't have made light of that farce of a marriage I went
"They... the clan wants us to marry here. A traditional Kasuga
Madoka nodded slowly. "Yes. That would be good. Anything-,"
she flinched, "-to put that last wedding behind us."
"Madoka..." The words were incredibly difficult to say. "Are
you sure? You saw what being this close to the Power can do.
And someone may find out one day, perhaps take me away. Or
worse, take our children away. Do you want to risk that?"
She looked at him steadily, her face blank. Kyosuke felt the
blood leaving his face but tried to keep his eyes on hers.
Her gaze faltered, and she shook her head violently. "No."
The word had the force of a bullet. He squeezed his eyes shut
against the sudden burning.
A hand grabbed his forearm. "Kyosuke."
He opened them again, to see that Madoka had swung her legs
around and was now sitting on the edge of the bed.
She spoke with intensity. "I wasn't answering your question. I
was talking to myself. I-" Suddenly she squeezed his arm
tightly. "I'm not going to shut myself away again. I could feel
the walls going back up, and I am not going to allow that."
Her voice caught. "I am not going to shut the world out ever
again. Because... if I do I'll lose you and... and everything
good that's happened to me these past few years has begun with
you, because I... opened myself the tiniest bit to you." She
looked steadily at him, and she began to tremble. Kyosuke
reached out for her again, and this time she fell into his arms,
hugging him tightly.
She spoke in a soft but still intense voice. "I was so scared.
You have no idea. I couldn't think my own thoughts, my mind was
so twisted around, because of that damn Power."
"Oh, Madoka..." he breathed. "I... if only..."
"And the thought of one of my children perhaps going through
something like that... yes, it worries me, Kyosuke. But..." She
looked up at him. "Will you believe me when I say that you're
worth the risk?"
He couldn't help smiling. He'd learned something through all
this. The conversations he'd had with the other Ayukawa had
answered a lingering doubt raised by his friends at the bachelor
party. Actually not so much raised as reawakened. Truth be
told, he'd always felt a little inadequate in comparison to
Madoka, ESP notwithstanding. She outclassed him in so many ways,
he had difficulty sometimes accepting that she could really love
*him*. Then, through Ayukawa's tales of what her family life had
been like, he'd found a glimpse about what in him Madoka could
"Yes, Madoka. I believe you. I love you. Let's get married and
make it real."
She smiled. "I want nothing more in the world right now." She
reached up and kissed him.
He kissed her back, and let the nightmare of the past few days
slip away, and gave thanks that Madoka still loved him.
Ayukawa leaned against a tree at the edge of the village, looking
through a window a fair distance away and watched herself kiss
Kyosuke. It filled her with equal parts anger and longing, and
she turned her head away.
"Madoka-chan, you look sexy even when you're angry. No wonder my
grandson fell in love with you."
She glared at Kyosuke's grandfather, wondering which part of his
statement she should yell at him about first. She gave it up
with a tsk. "He was right, it was a mistake to come here. I
don't belong in this world any more than he belonged in mine."
The older man sobered. "Yes, you're right. Your mind... it
doesn't belong here. I can take you home."
"Home?" She shook her head. "I left my door open. My home's
surely been ransacked. My only choice would be to go back to my
parents, and what kind of choice is that?" She sighed. "What is
it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear,
or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and
slavery?" She shook her head. "May almighty God forbid."
Kyosuke's grandfather looked confused. "Eh?"
"Something someone said long ago. In my world, anyway. But it
has applications even here. This cousin of Kyosuke's, for
example. He decided that his life was so important that he'd
sacrifice Kyosuke's life and my... Madoka's sanity to keep it."
She turned to face him. "Me, I know that I'd rather die than
force myself to accept certain things."
"Dear, dear, you needn't say such things." He smiled widely.
"Come with me. We can find a place for you."
She looked back over at Kyosuke, who was still liplocked with his
soon-to-be wife. She shrugged. "Oh, what the hell. What have I
got to lose at this point?"
Kyosuke's grandfather grinned. "There you go, have a positive
outlook on life!" With a merry laugh, he led her from the
Hikaru helped Madoka with the wedding dress. It wasn't much
compared to the one she'd worn back in Tokyo. Simpler, more
traditional. But because Hikaru was one of those helping Madoka
into it, it seemed infinitely more precious.
Hikaru blinked through sudden tears and looked up into Madoka's
eyes. "I'm sorry," she blurted out.
Madoka smiled gently. "Everyone seems to be apologizing for
reasons I cannot fathom. What grievous sin do you think you've
"I was afraid." Hikaru looked down. "Afraid of meeting you and
Sempai. I know Sempai wanted me to be at his wedding but... but
I couldn't be there for him. I could only be there for myself.
And I'm sorry."
"Hikaru..." Madoka sighed softly. "There are so many mistakes
we all made growing up. So often in the past few days I've
wished I had Kyosuke's ability to travel back in time and correct
mistakes. There's so much I'd want to change in how things went
between you and I."
"But..." Hikaru frowned. "If you changed things, you might not
be marrying Sempai."
"And if you hadn't come to the wedding without announcing
yourself, you might not have been able to catch Kazuya... doing
what he did." Madoka tilted her head, evidently thinking hard.
"Trying to constantly second-guess ourselves is ultimately
fruitless. We can only try to make up for past mistakes and not
try to repeat them."
Madoka tapped her chin. "It... how to say this? It didn't
matter why you came to our wedding, Hikaru. Only that you were
there. If our wedding could have helped you find some peace,
then that's all I could ever wish for you."
Madoka reached out and clasped Hikaru's hands. "Hikaru, you were
my friend when no one else would be, and you kept me sane at a
time when I was sure I would go mad. You were closer to me than
anyone else was. That also means that we did things that hurt
each other. But... you and I were... *are* so close that we can
understand and forgive the occasional transgression of the
It was Hikaru's turn to smile softly. "Love means never having
to say you're sorry?"
"I suppose." Madoka's brow furrowed. "Is that a quote of some
sort from one of your plays?"
"Yeah. One of the sillier ones. I preferred the movie I did
Madoka laughed. "Oh, that was so funny. At the time I wondered
how you could be so romantic with her."
Hikaru grinned. "And I wondered when it was that Kyosuke's
acting had become so good."
They laughed together for a bit. Hikaru felt incredibly good to
be standing here with Madoka, laughing with her like this.
Madoka sobered first. She looked steadily at Hikaru. "I missed
Hikaru nodded slowly. "Me too. Do you think... would it be too
awkward if... if I moved back to Japan?"
Madoka's eyes widened. "But your play-"
"I was supposed to be on stage for rehersals this morning.
They've surely fired me by now. Anyway, I was getting tired of
New York." Hikaru struck a pose. "Besides, think of what a hit
I'll be on the Tokyo stage!"
Madoka grinned widely. "I'll write a song for you to dance to.
Maybe I'll write a whole musical. 'Hikaru's Story'."
Hikaru giggled. "The tragic story of a beautiful maiden-" she
did a pirouette, getting more and more in the mood, "-who falls
in love with a magic prince, but is betrayed by him and her best
friend-" She ground abruptly to a halt. That didn't come across
in the best possible way.
Madoka, however, seemed to understand. She smiled in good humor.
"But the heroine, through her own great love, saves them both
from tragedy, and they all lived happily ever after."
Hikaru smiled in relief. "I like that ending."
Madoka reached out to put her palm on Hikaru's cheek. "Me too."
They smiled at each other for a while. Then Hikaru took a step
back. "Okay, you look good enough, although I suspect Sempai
wouldn't care if you came to the altar in a burlap sack. Let's
go. And when you throw the bouquet, remember that I'll be
standing front row, center."
Madoka laughed. Together, they left to go take part in the
Kasuga Kyosuke wiped the cup clean. He put it down, then picked
up another immaculate cup and began to wipe it clean.
It didn't help.
With a frustrated sigh, he looked around the empty room. The
AbCb was normally quite busy, but today was very slow. Which was
terribly ironic. The one day he wanted to be distracted, he was
left alone with his thoughts.
*She* had gone. They'd been dating for five years now, and then
all of a sudden she'd grown tired of him and decided she wanted
to pursue a dancing career overseas. So she'd dumped him, just
like that. He hadn't wanted to believe that it was over, but her
plane had left last night, and he had watched as it had taken
off. That was when it finally sunk in that she was really
He picked up another cup and had to resist every impulse to keep
from smashing it to the floor.
The bell over the door jingled. He looked up to see one of the
most beautiful women he had ever seen walk into the AbCb. She
had long black hair, gorgeous green eyes, a figure that sent his
..and she was a customer. He barely remembered that in time.
"Good afternoon! Please have a seat!"
She'd been looking around the cafe, an odd expression on her
face. Now she looked into his eyes. Kyosuke felt definitely
uncomfortable under her gaze. There was a strange intensity to
it, as if she knew his every secret just by looking at him.
It was times like these that he wished there was such a thing as
ESP. Wouldn't it be neat if he could read her mind and tell
exactly what she was thinking? He mentally chided himself for
thinking such silly thoughts. ESP was a child's fancy.
After a moment she took a seat at the counter. Kyosuke walked up
to her and smiled. "What can I get you?"
"Double espresso." She was *still* looking at him.
Trying not to look self-conscious, he went about making the
espresso. He put it in front of her. She picked it up and took
a sip, still not taking her eyes off of him.
He felt his face burning slightly. He tried to distract himself.
"So how does it taste?"
She looked down at it, frowning. "I... I used to drink another
espresso at... at a different cafe. And... and I like that
espresso very much. Now I wonder if I can have the exact same
espresso and not be able to enjoy it without thinking about what
I used to have."
Kyosuke frowned. Rather an odd statement. He thought about it
for a while, then brightened. "I have an idea."
He rummaged around behind the counter and came up with a jar of
cinnamon. He took a teaspoon and sprinkled it over the espresso.
"There. Now it's a little different. Still the same espresso,
but with just a touch of a different kind of flavoring to make it
unique to this cafe. Now you can enjoy it and not be reminded of
your old cafe."
She looked up at him again, her eyes widening. He kept the smile
on his face even as he was a bit overwhelmed by her reaction.
There was something going on here he didn't quite understand.
After a long moment, a small smile appeared on her face. "As you
say. A very good idea." She sipped the espresso. "I may have
to come back for more."
"Good." He began to turn away to give her a bit of privacy.
"My name is Ayukawa Madoka."
He turned back towards her. She was still smiling, and she
looked a bit more relaxed. He inclined his head. "I am Kasuga
She bowed her head in return. "A pleasure to meet you,
Kasuga-kun. I have just moved into this area. Do you suppose I
could find someone who could help guide me around?"
He grinned, feeling almost uncharacteristically self-confident.
There was something about this woman... "Yes, I think I could
find someone who could be persuaded to show you this
She laughed, and they continued to chat brightly over a cup of
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