"He loves me, he loves me not. He loves me, he loves me not…"  Ren Tao watched in astonishment as Pirika mutilated the petals of a flower one by one as she spoke.

"What did that plant do to you to deserve dying like that?" asked Ren, rolling his eyes.

Pirika smiled and continued tearing the flower petals apart mercilessly. "It let me found it."

Ren groaned, then looked at the clock. It had been an hour since Horo Horo left him to hide from his younger sister.

He remembered what the blue-haired idiot said before doing his disappearing act. "You're Ren Tao, and you're a strong shaman. You can survive my sister. Don't worry, I'll make it up to you somehow. I'll bring you milk…I'll bring you a cow even! Just don't tell my sister that I'm here." Horo Horo winked. "I had enough training programs to last two lifetimes…and my sister has this strange respect for you."

So here he was, Ren Tao, head of the much-revered Tao clan, playing babysitter-cum-decoy to the bubbly Ainu girl.

"He loves me…he loves me not…he loves me…" continued Pirika.

Ren sighed. "What does a flower know about his feelings anyway?"

"You wouldn't understand," she said proudly.

"If you really want to know what his feelings are for you, go ask him," he suggested.

To his shock, the girl blushed profusely. Her eyes suddenly went back to the flower. "I-I…I don't think he would appreciate knowing it."

The Chinese shaman shrugged. "You will never know until you try."

"If you say so." She faced him bravely. "Do you love me, or do you love me not, Ren Tao?"

There and then, Ren was rendered speechless.

:: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not :: P R O L O G U E

a Ren/Pirika dedicated to Miko-chan's kapatid and other people who support the said coupling. I'm soon finishing Promises, so I decided to come up with a new AU mini-series. Hope you guys enjoy it!

- Syaoran no Hime

"Onii-chan, I'm going to school already!" said sixteen-year-old Pirika, giving her brother a quick wave as she slipped her school shoes on.

Horo Horo couldn't reply- he was too busy savoring the juiciness of the tender chicken breast she knew he slaved over in the kitchen this morning. Between the two of them, he was the better cook, and lately, he was getting even better, all thanks to Tamamura Tamao.

"Onii-chan, my allowance!" she screamed on her way out.

This time, her brother took the time to reply. "Lend me ten bucks!"

She looked at her wallet. "Onii-chan, I've got eight bucks only." She gave them all to her brother, and he handed her five.

"Very well, you owe me a buck, ok?" he said as he pocketed the three bucks.

"OK," she agreed. She dashed out of the makeshift house, sighing. What would she do without her ever-supportive brother who would do anything for her, even sacrificing his money…

She frowned. "Heeey…wait a minute…" There was something wrong with the money deal she and her brother had. She dashed back to her brother. "Onii-chan, I owe you two bucks!!!"

"You skipped your classes yet again, Ren," sighed Jun Tao as she eyed her younger brother warily.

"I was bored. You know that I don't like being chained to a study desk. I want to fight!" insisted Ren, his pointed hair vibrating in annoyance.

Jun rubbed her aching temple. "But I don't want you to become a ragtag martial artist all your life! I know that our wealth is enough to fund your caprices for two lifetimes, but the point is, you won't learn the value of R-E-S-P-O-N-S-I-B-I-L-I-T-Y," said his sister.

"Don't make fun of my spelling prowess!" snapped Ren. "And I am the head of the clan! I can do whatever I want! And I want to not want studying! I want to not want responsibility! Responsibility is for beggars only who can't be choosers," he said through gritted teeth. "I have options. I will not go back to the classroom!"

"I am your elder sister!" snapped Jun, voice rising. "Don't disrespect me by talking that way to me, young man!"

Both Pailong and Ren blinked.

"You will finish high school whether you like it or not," she said.

"But Yoh and the others…what will they say when they learn that I'm still in high school!" he whined.

"You should have thought of that earlier before you wasted all those years." Jun smiled. "Besides, you look every inch a high school student, literally," she said, mouth twitching.

"You just had to pick on my height," said Ren, grumbling. He had dedicated his taste buds to milk and other calcium-rich food in his puberty years, with little success. He wouldn't be surprised if Manta Oyamada would even outgrow him.

"Damn, damn," he muttered. How anticlimactic his situation was after the fateful shaman fight. Nobody knew about how he and his friends risked their lives to keep Hao from destroying the world. And now he was even going back to high school!

"Your classmates won't even know how old you are," cajoled Jun. I would talk to your principal."

When she says she would talk, she would talk money. Saves her the breath.

"Do what you want!" He marched back into his room, followed by Bason.

"Ren, I'm taking you to school today," she informed him.

Ren rolled his eyes.

"Master Ren, you know you can't say no to your sister," said Bason.

"I know," said the Tao miserably. "And she knows that too, so she's so confident."

"You didn't say 'no' to her too," smiled the power spirit.

His eyes blazed. "Don't remind me that. It happened years ago already."

"I wonder…what will my master do if they meet again?"

Ren wanted to bite Bason's head off, but decided to save his energy for school today. "Unlikely."

"Who knows?" shrugged the Spirit.

Pailong knocked on the door outside his bedroom. "Master Ren, the car is ready. Jun is waiting for you already."

"Tell her I'm dying!" he yelled. "Tell her that my last will is for her to leave me alone!"

"Ms. Jun told me that she knew you would say that. She told me to ask you to come down so she can drop you to your funeral already!" said the kyoshin.

Bason snickered as Ren seethed some more.

Pirika was biting on her toasted bread she bought in a bakery as she read her English book as she skipped down the sidewalk merrily. She was the best English student in class, the only one who could quickly grasp the grammar lessons well, and she was the star student everytime. She was feeling extra cheerful today because she would be asked to recite a poem in front of the class today that she had memorized by heart already.

"How do I love thee…" She smiled at Elizabeth Barett Browning's poetry and bit on the bread again. She started to fantasize herself as Elizabeth reading her poetry out loud to Robert.

Just as she was about to drift off to her dreamy state, she heard a car engine behind her, and the next thing she knew, she was splattered sideways by mud.

She looked at her drenched uniform. "Aaah!!!" Her eyes crinkled in anger. "Come back here!!!" she yelled at the limousine that accelerated its speed.

"Master Ren, we should have checked on the student we got dirty," said Pailong politely.

"My sister told you to drive, not to argue with me. She asked you to make sure that I won't be late," shrugged Ren.

Bason, on the other hand, looked thoughtful. The girl he saw in the sidewalk looked so oddly familiar.

Pirika hurried into the classroom just as the teacher was about to close the door.

"Ms. Pirika! This was the first time you were late-- what happened to you?" asked the teacher in surprise when she saw the mud on the girl's uniform.

"Some thoughtless driver," she said, bowing. "Gomen, sensei."

"Alright, you are excused. Take the seat behind our new student."

She blinked. "N-New student?" Her eyes roved around the room, and all she saw was familiar faces of her amused classmates looking at her uniform.

Then she noticed a pointed hair. Her heartbeat started to race.

I-It couldn't be…

The same boy whom she confessed her love to years ago, and had told her to go to hell.

Ren Tao.