Disclaimer: Furi Kuri is not mine. Probably just as well since I am sure this stuff coming outa my mind would be a warning sign of some deeply rooted mental disorder. Well yes, I still live. I'm sorry for the freakishly long wait between fics. And I am sorry some of you thought I died or something. I appreciate the emails. Well lets see... where to begin? Okay I wrote my outlaw star fic almost to the point of the first chapter. My computer then crashed. It crashed again as I once again started working on the fic. So I am taking it as divine judgement and dropping the outlaw star fic. I am also in the process of working on a JCA fic that I may or may not finish. I just kinda ran out of steam on it. I might post it just to see if it's deemed salvageable. You never know...

Okay onto the fun stuff. This series has inspired a massive cult following and I am proud to announce that I am part of it. (Thankfully the Furi-Kuri cult is lax on the requirement of being a eunuch and shaving your head. And hopefully on the whole mass suicide thing...) And me being me, felt the need to write about it. I like the Naouta and Mamimi pairing for a few reasons, but primarily because I feel bad for mamimi. She's one of the most messed up characters in anime and she's got a pretty big group that hate her. Also I am pretty sure that Haruko would eat Naouta after mating. ^_^'

this fic is first person virtually in its entirety, it's also a lemon. In accordance with fanfiction net's loyalty to the moronic soccer mom's who don't believe in paying attention to their children as opposed to just raising hell over stupid things involving them I am posting a neutered version of my fic on ffnet. The uncensored fic is on my mediaminer account. There is a lot of R dialogue and some mature themes regardless. So if you're a zygote and reading this fic... well don't tell your parents. ^_^ (Author name is Logan kale)

Okay well only one thing remains to be said before posting this fic. I would like to offer a heartfelt thank you to my editor. She started me writing and has never failed to help me with it. the fact that she can wade through my sea of typos and gramatical errors alone justifies her place in sainthood. I look forward to the day you re-find your voice, but until you are inspired to write again I just want to make sure you understand that I wouldn't have a voice at all were it not for you. thank you so much, Steph. I'd be lost without you.

Let me know what you think at: [email protected]

"Novocain for the Soul"

By: Logan

Edited By: Stephanie Gonzalez

Am I insane?

I wonder about that sometimes. Was six years ago a delusion? Some long-standing neurosis that finally turned into delusion, or maybe it was just brought on by eating bad curry. I wonder about that a lot when I walk to rehearsal. I hated those times so much, but I miss them too.

What's wrong with me?

Things erupting from my brain, tearing through my skull... for other people, that's just a nightmare. For me it is a memory. It hurt a lot to birth whatever came out of my head, but Haruko using me like that hurts more. I didn't realize when I was younger, but the more I think back on it, the more I see that to her, I was just a tool. The first girl I ever loved used me for my head. I'm sure that if she could have used just my head, I would have been separated from it a long time ago. But even that acrid betrayal means something to me. I've been unfeeling for so long, that I treasure every sensation I once knew, reliving it through painful recollections.


I close my eyes and see her. Wasp-yellow eyes, and teeth that were more like fangs. A savage angel with a halo of barbed wire: that's how I like to remember her. Does that make me a romantic? I force my mind from her because I know how harmful she is. Even as a memory she hurts me for fun.

I wish it were a hallucination. Hallucinations aren't real; they go away. Memories don't. They cling to you like smoke in the air. I hate the memories, but I treasure them, too. I have to remember. Forgetting would mean losing the last shadows of what it is to be alive.

I walk down the street, passing the upper scale apartments and then the slums. This city is an altar designed for human sacrifice, and I recognize that every day. The people work to maintain it, and in return, it systematically steals away their futures. The streets wind onward forever. I know that they do lead out of Madbase, but I've only known one person who really escaped this city of the damned. I dream that someday I could be free of it, but I know it's too late.

It was real. I can't play it off as a mental disorder, even though I think I would like that. But whether reality or fantasy... it ended. Madbase is still the same: dull and quiet in some places, loud and stupid in others. I walk because I don't have a ride, but also because when I see this city blurring, it looks larger then it is. Larger and more suffocating. Even without the steam.

Medical Mechanica is gone. The building is there, but the steam finally stopped. It was like the building was breathing; the steam went from familiar exhales on the hour, to irregular gasps, which wheezed out white smoke at random, and then finally it just stopped. I suppose that means that the world is saved, no big irons flattening out the wrinkles of our world. I don't know if that means anything to me; I don't really care for this life. But how do you know if the next one would be worse?

I look to the distance; the iron still remains. Overturned and dilapidated, it's a monument in the honor of Haruko, Atomsk, and myself, too, if you think about it. The three of us nearly destroyed a world that by all rights should have been. People build monuments in commemoration of far more trivial things.

A massive flock of birds take flight from one of the alcoves in the structure, their white forms erupting skyward, and then looping back to their nests. Had I blinked, I would have missed it. But seeing and understanding are very different things. I saw the explosion of seagulls, but that doesn't mean I know why so many took flight only to fly right back. I guess craziness isn't limited to human beings in this town.

I look back to the ground before me, stepping over a broken bottle on the dirty street as I continue to let my mind wander. What if Atomsk had won? We could all be gone by now, sucked up into a black hole. What if Haruko had won? I remember the way she looked, teeth pulled back in a snarl, amber eyes wide and crazed.

"I'm going to be the one who eats him!"

Her words were sharper then the shards of the broken bottle, dissecting parts of me like scalpels in my eardrums. She would have eaten him, though I can't begin to understand what that would mean. She would have killed me if it got her him... I wonder what it would have been like to die at her hands, savagely beaten to death with a guitar. Perhaps if he were in fact, hiding in me, she'd have eaten us both together. How or why, I don't know; but I do know that she would have killed me. Maybe she should have.

I turn my head from the sidewalk to the street as I hear the sound of an engine. The passing convertible doesn't slow for me, but as I look, I know two of the four occupants. Masashi is driving, blonde hair fluttering in the wind, he looks like a magazine ad for what a teenager is supposed to look like. A guy gets laid once in high school and all the sudden he forgets everybody else. Rude, I suppose, but I don't really want friends anymore. 'I outgrew childish things...' as the saying goes.

The girl in the passenger seat meets my gaze, holding it for a second. She doesn't smile at me, and I don't at her. Class president, honor student, all around princess of the universe, Ninamori is wearing something peach, she wears it well, just as she wears everything well.

Once upon a time she knew my name.

We dated in junior high, nothing sexual, just kissing. She tasted nice as I recall; better then some kisses I've taken and probably given. It lasted a few weeks. She wanted it to last longer, but the life of a class president is not complimentary with the life of a delinquent. Maybe we should have based it in mind-numbing animal sex? Those relationships seem to be immune to social circles.

It ended, and of course we said we'd stay friends. Surprise, surprise, we didn't. I care for her about as much as I care for anyone. The fact that she looked into my eyes for a few seconds longer then it took her to identify me meant that she feels something like that for me. I'd say that I felt misty as she looked away and the car picked up speed, taking her away that much faster; but I don't feel misty.

I don't feel sad. I don't feel relieved.

I don't feel.

I've been thinking about weird things lately: I read about phantom limb syndrome. When someone loses a leg or an arm or even a kidney, they still feel pain in it. It's like their body aches with the absence. I have four limbs, and I still own my kidneys, but I think I feel the same type of pain they do. The absence.

I don't know when the numbness came upon me exactly. It might have been when I first realized that Haruko was not coming back. Or maybe when that man in the crappy suit came to our apartment and told us how my brother died. It could be both, I suppose. However, I really think it might have been there all along, growing in me like a cancer. I guess everything with Haruko, Kanchi, and Atomsk made me forget for a while.

But now I can't forget anymore, no matter how much I'd like to. When other people wake up, do they feel alive? Fresh and new? Or do they feel numb?

I'm empty when I wake up, I'm empty when I walk to class (assuming I go), I'm empty when I touch a girl, I'm empty when I go to bed. The emptiness is always there, and I ache for feelings that I no longer experience.

Everything is the same. Everything is gray and hollow.

I wonder about my brother; how he felt when he woke up in the mornings. I used to think of him as some kind of god. He was radiant in everything he did. If ever there were someone who wasn't empty... it would have been him.

He died in America as a statistic. The blonde girl in the picture he sent me was a fledgling heroine junkie. She introduced him to it, taught him how to tie off and find a vein, but not how to stop. He was talented in so many things, but he fell short with common sense. He overdosed in a hotel room, leaving a body that once was cherished to fester on the shag green carpet.

He was the better brother, and when he died, Dad stopped talking to me. He works on his editorials; still not selling any. Sometimes I will lock myself in my room after making dinner and actually read them. They suck, but it's the only way I ever hear about what he feels anymore. I talk to Grandpa sometimes; the Alzheimer's has made conversation freakishly tedious. He forgets within minutes, thus a dialogue becomes really redundant. He can't remember my brother.

He's lucky. It seems like everyone who can remember is pretty messed up.

I don't carry his bat with me anymore. It was once a scepter, but when he died the magic it carried died too. It's just a bat that once had a great owner. I forget what happened to it now, maybe I threw it out with the trash one morning. Maybe I left it in the park, propped against a bleacher by the diamond. It's gone and I don't care. The magic was never mine, and the more I think about my brother, the more I am convinced that there never was any magic to begin with.

I carry a guitar now... Haruko's guitar. It's from another person who hurt me, but this person didn't lead me to think she wouldn't. In a crazy way that matters a lot.

My brother was an asshole. He left so many things for stupid reasons. He left the bat because he got a new one. He left me because he had a shot at becoming a star player. He left everyone because he got involved with some stupid whore with a needle. I don't remember anything about how dazzling he once was, just that at some point he must have been. He was stupid for doing that; stupid for dying in such a pointless way. He was an asshole who never cared enough about anyone. Hell, he left his brother to take care of the only girl he supposedly loved....


I speak the name aloud, but am surprised by it. I halt before the entrance to the bridge; the same bridge where I met her. I look around; almost convinced she would appear behind me. And as look to the water's edge under the outcropping steel beams of the bridge, she does.

For the instant I see her, she looks up from the water to me. Magenta hair that looks like rust in the sunshine, lips just a little too full, and eyes that reveal more then her lifetime's worth of melancholies. A cigarette dangles from her lips, the fiery ember casting slashes of orange light over her shadowed face. I look away and rub my eyes.

The riverbank is empty of everything except the garbage that lays strewn across the filthy concrete. Memories are all I have left with which to remember a world of texture and sensation. Memories are all I have.

The memories of her I would wish away.

The image of her standing there is still too vivid for me; too clear. I begin to walk slightly more briskly then I had been. Mamimi haunts me, her eyes above all else. Those eyes are more ceaseless then any others I have yet to see; limpid pools of darkness that hold no reflection but miss no detail. I remember when she looked at me, how I could feel her stare.

Women have used me before, and usually I don't mind. But when Mamimi used me, she violated me. She actually turned me into a replacement for my brother. She kissed me like she used to kiss him, touched me like she used to touch him, and made me want it just as he once did. I've never been Naota to her... I was Ta-kun, her pet name for him.

The guitar on my back is heavy, but I've bore it for so long now that without my burden, I would feel unbalanced and fall. I think the reason I can't shake her memory loose is for that same reason. I still feel her eyes on me, caressing me as her hands had once done.

My brisk walk turns into a run.


In two hours the club will be swarming with people, but now it's totally empty. I knock on the side door and am let in by the bartender. I don't remember his name, but he smiles at me as he lets me in.

"The rest of your group is already in. They're in the rehearsal room right now."

The club is pretty cool. I've played at worse to say the least. What makes this place the best is how the owner takes good care of the groups, particularly the ones that pull in the crowds. Right now my band is among his best draws, so he gives us free run over the back room, which he converted into a sound stage half a year ago. We have to pay a deposit, but that's pretty much it. He makes a good sell; we get a little advertising, a place to practice, a stage, and a throng of pierced and tattooed idiots to worship us. And all we have to do is play loud music as a backdrop to the bar.

I don't care about what fans we have, they're just there to kill brain cells and lay the groundwork for the fortunes of a new generation of Ontologists. I don't respect people who need loud music and hard drinks to live. Idiots who look for ways to turn down the volume on sensation are fools in my eyes. I've been numb for so long that the idea that anyone would want to desensitize themselves seems like lunacy to me.

As cliché as it sounds, the only thing I care about is the music. It's not that I love music, it's that it seems to be the key to unlocking sensations in me that I couldn't unlock any other way. I don't care if I suck in school--or anything else for that matter--but I do care about what music gives me. I pick it up surprisingly fast; I know how to play several instruments, and play them well enough to surprise more than a few people. They'd never expect a little punk-rocker Japanese boy to be anything special. I'm not special, but I have succeeded in convincing a few people to the contrary.

I look up and see the 'In Use' light dim. They wait for me even though I tell them not to. As I enter, I find them sprawled around the room, engaged in various tasks. The lead guitarist looks up at me, and smiles.

"Hey, Naota! Bout time you got here."

"I told you not to wait for me, Shouta." I reply as I take the bass guitar from its leather case. Haruko's weapon shines in the fluorescent light like a saber's edge. I play it half as well as she did, but half is more than enough.

"Can't play without the lead." I turn to him, watching him speak as he tightens the last string of his guitar.

"I'm not the lead anything, Shouta. You are."

"Bullshit if you ask me. I'd love to be the leader, but I'm not stupid, man. You're better. It doesn't make sense for you to always play backup."

"Do we have to go through this every day?" I frown as I sit on the same bench as he and give every string a quick strum. He raises an eye to me.

"Yeah we do. We're going to keep going through this until you either take the lead, or explain to me why the most talented member of the group will only go on stage playing backup. Damn, Naota! You carry a bass guitar and a regular guitar. You play both, but why won't you ever play the other on stage?" I look over at the other two members of our group, both are watching me; both are thinking the same thing.

"Look, just drop it already. Let's play a set?"

Shouta mutters something to himself, then picks up his guitar, slipping the strap over his shoulder. He gives in, but I know it isn't over.

"Anything in particular?"

"Wasp Woman?" Daisuke, our drummer, offers. I wrote the song a month ago and it seems to be his favorite. I wonder what he would think if he met the original wasp woman...

We start without further discussion.

We've been together for a year now, and we're pretty comfortable with each other. We mesh as a group, though I wish everyone didn't think I was the best. And as arrogant as it may sound, I wish I wasn't the best. I hate being constantly hounded over things that I can't change. I just want to understand why I can't.

The music to Wasp Woman is loud and fast just like all the other songs that I write. I never can lose myself in anything slow, so I never bother to attempt writing anything of that nature. I leave that to Shouta.

The song starts out in fluctuations between soft and almost folk music, to metal. The bouncing between the genres is hard, that's why everyone seems to like playing it. It seems to me that people either don't know how to play a song, or do. There's never a big middle ground, but this song is never really mastered. The fast parts can always be played faster, and the jumps can always be refined. As I pictured it, Wasp Woman is like Haruko: wild, fast, random, and undoubtedly crazed. We can't play it how I would like, but we play it well enough.

Technically a rhapsody, Wasp Woman is a little more alternative then the classification. There isn't an accelerando so much as a sharp leap between the soft to the nearly frantic. Soon, the softer notes die out altogether in favor of a vigorous riff by Shouta (the backup guitarist), Tetsuo, myself, and then accompanied by a roll from Daisuke at the climax. It almost feels like death metal when we're performing this song because Shouta tends to yell into the microphone, trying to compensate for the volume of the three guitars and drums. We're just playing the music now because we do have a show in a few hours and Shouta needs to save his voice.

I play along with them, but I don't hear them. I am looking down at the guitar, focusing only on my fingers as they flick across the strings like switchblades. I don't use a pick; it would be almost sacrilegious to me since it would rob me of the only reason I play at all.

I play fast from the start, letting my fingers slip against the strings and feeling the subtle resonance of each, then I start going faster, feeling the wires as they bite my fingertips. I push faster and faster, seeing only my hand as it darts against the strings. It soon starts to ache as I push for faster then I should, the others are casting darting glances at me as I rock on my heels, compelled by the speed and the pain. The wires are digging into my fingers now, carving slivers of skin away and lubricating themselves with thin trickles of blood. I play even though the others have stopped to watch, I play faster and harder then they, or anyone else, could ever think to match.

As the throbbing moves from my hand to my arm, I begin to feel it. It's subtle at first, but growing proportionately with how fast I play. I look up through my bangs at the others; they're watching me with looks that are too laden with concern. They act like they've never seen this before. I feel the pain in both my hand and my mind, searing and wondrously electric, but as I continue to play the mind numbing solo I start to feel other things.

My mind drifts to my father, and as it settles upon him, I feel spectrums of emotion bath over me like the colored lights in a rave. My loneliness, my loathing, anger directed at more people then him alone, and a strange sense of regret that I can't place.

Ninamori...I remember the look she gave me as she passed me in the car, vacant and sorrowful all at once. I wonder if she was my last chance at having something better then the life of a delinquent. I feel emotions when I think of her, they are different from when I think of my father, but still shades in the same bitter spectrum.

God my hand is killing me.

I look down for a moment and see my fingers almost blurring against the strings. I'm pressing down too hard, pushing too fast, but I still don't miss a note. As I play, my cuts flick blood onto the floor in tiny speckles. Everyone has stopped playing and has moved away, afraid of getting splattered.

My eyes start to un-focus, so I close them. I prefer seeing faces and places that once captivated something in me, anyway. I remember the bridge from this morning. Cluttered with debris it looked old and apocalyptic. Before I can help myself, the bridge leads to Mamimi.

I snap a string and yelp as the wire lashes against my arm, cutting a shallow trench along my forearm.

Tetsuo is about to run over and check me out, but Shouta grabs him by the shoulder and mutters something that stops him. I slump to a sitting position with the guitar in my lap. With a faint smile I turn my hand over and admire it. The snapped wire cut has bled worse then the tiny slivers in my finger, trickling down my wrist, as I make no effort to stop it. My arm is striped in tiny patterns by the scars. This one will be another soon.

I close my eyes and grin a little as I start to strum the remaining strings.


Our set ended seven minutes ago and I still feel, but even now it's fading. I buy the illusion of life with pain, but it's so fleeting. Daisuke and Tetsuo think I'm a masochist. Shouta just thinks I'm fucked up. Shouta knows me best out of anyone. I'm not a masochist; I can only exist in any useful capacity if I am hurting. I play fast, and while I do, I feel alive. I will continue to feel alive for as long as I am suffering the results of my 'sprees,' but when the pain dulls, they fade. Masochists take pleasure from the pain; they seek it out. I hurt myself to be alive. And what little pleasure I do feel comes from being alive again.

There will come a time when I can't play anymore; I'll eventually wear my fingers away to little bony nubs if this keeps going. But in a way that's life in its most simplistic form. Things wear away and then stop working. I'll play fast for as long as I can, and when I can't anymore, the last spark of life will fade away from me.

I sip the amber liquid from the glass. The ice falls and clicks against my teeth as I finish off the last of it. I hold the sip on my tongue as it warms in my mouth; the subtle textures and bitterness grow more distant with every minute.

We kicked ass tonight... plain and simple. I can still hear our group's name muttered in conversation. "The Atomsks" are always a big hit it seems. I wish we hadn't done so well; five minutes were sacrificed dealing with 'groupies'. They come to me after the shows, seeking an autograph, some chitchat, or in some cases, sex. I indulge them occasionally; tonight I don't feel like any pointless platitudes and they take the hint and leave.

The club has grown relatively quiet in the presence of the new band. It's mismanagement by the guy who plans the group order. Our group is metal; the current singer is far from it. If she weren't so good, she'd have been booed off stage or drowned out in the wake we left. She won them over, but in general, you don't have a softer group following a louder one.

She's talented in a smoky way, with a voice like an aphrodisiac. I watch the little punks touching one another in some manner. Most of them are imagining it's her they're groping.

I've met the singer; she's not like her stage persona. While her singing voice is sultry and rich, her true voice is soft and a little reminiscent of a little girl. She's a sex symbol, and she works at looking like one, but it's all a show. So many spend so much time imagining her in bed, but in truth they'd have to marry her long before she would even consider it. She has a guitarist, and a drummer; neither is playing louder then a fraction of her voice.

Aside from my group, hers is the most popular. I watch the enthralled crowd through smoky veils as each worships her in their own way. In theory this place should be a no smoking establishment, but technically I should be drinking seven-up and probably studying for some test, so… so much for theory; truth may be real, but it's far stranger.

I see Shouta staring up at her from a table in the front row. He's mooning over her like a little kid, and she's blushing ever so subtly because of it. Ayame and Shouta have been unofficially dating for the last two weeks. It makes sense to me, seeing as how she's a schoolgirl and he's a boy scout. They're sweet, but god their dates must be dull.

Tetsuo and Daisuke are drinking together in a farther corner. They're nice kids, but they're more likely to drown in a puddle of vomit then I would like to dwell on. They stare at Shouta's girlfriend too, but they try to be subtle about it just in case he notices.

Her set ends and I clap as she makes her dramatic exit. I prepare to make mine in anonymity, but stop as I notice someone beside me. I feel the soft puffs of breath on my neck as they exhale. The breathing inhales sharply and I can almost hear a murmur of pleasure.

"You better have a good reason for sniffing my neck, sicko." I feel a woman's fingernails run along my jaw.

"Just seeing if my mark has faded or not." My eyes shoot open and I go stiff. She laughs a little at me. Before I can move, I feel her lips over my neck, soon followed by a tongue and a nearly unpleasant suction. Then teeth. I hiss as she bites me, but I remain rigid, afraid and disbelieving. I wonder if I'm bleeding or not as the teeth release and are soon replaced by a quick kiss to my stinging skin.

I shoot upward and spin around to see her. Mamimi is smiling at me, laughing softly at my horrified expression.


"Hi Ta-kun!" She smiles at me and it sends a tremor of icy fear up my spine.

"What are you doing back? I thought you..."

"I came back," she replies simply as she reaches over to my table and takes my empty drink. She swirls the ice cubes around in the cup for a moment, then plops one into her mouth. She raises an eyebrow at me as I still gape at her.

"Ta-kun, sit down." I sat, but regretted it the second I did. Mamimi was always manipulating me; I should be rebelling instead of complying. That being true, I still did as I was told.

She looked at me, staring inside me with those velvety black eyes. They feel just as strong now as they did then, fathomless-ness and omnipotence bound in twin disks of ebony. She's older, she would have to be about twenty-three now, but she looks only marginally different from when she was eighteen. The club's lighting is doing strange things to her hair and skin; flashing it from blue to crimson.

"You've grown up, Ta-kun. You're handsome now," she remarks as she reaches over and touches my chin. Her fingers are cold from the ice; I shiver.

"Why are you back, Mamimi?"

"We aren't there yet."


"We aren't ready for reasons, if you ask again I'll just lie." She crunches the partially melted ice cube.

"You were drinking. It's bitter."

"I drink bitter things now." She eats another cube from my glass, putting her mouth where mine was.

"Just like a grown up... does it make you happy?"

"No one is happy." I reply sharply.

"You'll have to explain that philosophy to me when we get there."

"Get where? I'm not going anywhere with you!" I reply a little too loudly. People look over and frown at me; Mamimi is unfazed.

"You will... but that's not exactly what I meant. We aren't ready to understand yet. That's not what I'm here for tonight, Ta-kun."

"That's not my name."

"It's the name I gave you."

"I never wanted it." She looks at me with an expression I have never seen before on anyone. It's quizzical, yet understanding as well. She crunches the ice.

"I saw you up there… Does it hurt a lot?" She reaches out and takes my hand before I can pull it away. Turning my palm she examines my bandaged fingers, chewing on her lip as she does so.

"It's nothing." I take my hand back.

"You played so fast, the wires cut you. I saw when you were up there," she mused, "Tiny little sparkles under the stage lights."

She makes me so uncomfortable, the way she never seems to be paying attention, but never misses anything. She is a predator if ever I saw one. And I guess I'm the prey.

"I don't really want to talk anymore. Goodbye Mamimi." I rise up, but she seizes my wrist and pulls me back down with surprising force. I gasp as she yanks me toward her, into her arms and onto her lips. My eyes are wide and panicked as she holds my head to her, maintaining the kiss. People are gaping now. As I was pulled downward, I brushed against a chair, making a loud scraping sound. The next group on stage misses a beat, but continues. No one notices.

Her eyes are closed as I feel her lips pressing to mine, moving against mine. I have spent so long trying to forget Mamimi. I realize that I have succeeded in forgetting some things about her. She was always a good kisser but now it took me by surprise. Her hand slides from the back of my head to my jaw, pressing against me slightly, assured that I wouldn't try to run. The shock is keeping me frozen against her.

I'm leaning down for the kiss, and I suddenly feel myself moving, but in the wrong way. I lift a leg and actually slide onto her lap, still pressed to her mouth. I don't know how she was able to make me do that, what strange witchcraft bestowed such allure over me. My fists are aching from being clenched so long, I only notice because they uncurl and move to her. She's wearing a tight red top, and I feel her ribs as I run my hands along her side.

I don't understand anything anymore. I hate Mamimi, I hate her for my brother, and for what she made of me. I hate her, yet I'm touching her, and wanting to as well. With an act of sheer will, I try to push away, but find that my strength has left me. She opens her eyes lustfully and I feel her smile against my lips. I'm blushing, knowing that so many people are watching me right now. Daisuke, Tetsuo, Shouta, and everyone else is watching me, watching as I am once again used for some unknown purpose that makes sense only to one girl in the whole world.

I feel my heart in my chest, pounding painfully. Our faces are so close that I can feel her breath against my lip, the tiny strands of her hair as they brush against my face.

I feel dirty and sick, but also something else. I want to let her abuse me, I want to touch her and see if I make a ripple. People are watching, but I am feeling too drunk to notice now. Shouta and the others are fading away, leaving only Mamimi and myself. I hate her as she opens her mouth and I see her tongue protruding lightly. I hate myself as I open mine and touch our two tongues together, before swallowing both in the deepest kiss I have known in six years.

I don't understand it; I don't want to. I'm sure if I did comprehend, my loathing would only double.

I don't know how long we've been at it, just that now she's in my lap. God her mouth is amazing. Her kisses are butane and they taste like smoke, a flavor I have always hated but now hunger for. My hand slides up to her breast, seizing it as we kiss. She rumbles with low laughter as she slides her hand from my chest to my pants. She pulls back an inch from my face with an amused smirk on her face.

If she wanted to have sex right here I think I would, but instead, she slips off me and straightens her skirt. She casts a glance at the gawkers and offers them a quick wave before turning back to me. She leans down and kisses me chastely on the cheek, leaving me gaping.

"Goodnight, Ta-kun. Don't stay up too late." She turns to walk away leaving me as aroused as I am confused.

"You're leaving!? After all that?!" She pivots to look at me, her magenta hair shrouding her face in silken shadow.

"Demain soir," she replies before vanishing away into the gloomy oblivion. I didn't know she spoke other languages. I wonder what else I don't know.

I left the club five minutes later, and then made my way home; the frigid air hitting me like sleet. It's been getting colder by the hour, and what once was a brisk afternoon has turned into a chilly night. I ran, and then when I couldn't run any more, jogged. The encounter had left me so charged that I doubt I could have walked more then seven feet. I had to move, and if my body could, I would have sprinted the mile and a half to my house.

The night was cool, and vivid under the moon. I could see the faint silver silhouette of Medical Mechanica in the distance; I could feel the saltiness of the air that was being blown in from the bay. I felt my legs aching from my running, throbbing and twisting on the verge of cramping, I was wheezing for breath and my lungs burned.

I was still flushed from Mamimi, still more aroused by the thought of her than I would like. I felt so many things, a gamut of sensation ranging from loathing of myself to a strange kind of affection for her that I couldn't understand in the least.

But most of all, I felt alive.

I all but threw the door open and nearly slammed it shut as I jumped through the threshold, kicking my shoes off. People were asleep; I didn't care. Dad wouldn't be out until morning, and if Grandpa woke up to yell at me, he'd just forget why in twenty minutes.

It seems the only thing the man can honestly remember now is the bakery. He forgot the name of his son, his grandsons, and his wife who had left a long time before I came around. He forgot all that, but remembers his work vividly.

For some people I think that would be hell, but for him... I think it is heaven. He loves to bake; he loves the smells and the textures of fresh bread and dough. He remembers everything about his job, and when he works, he's thirty-five and content. I was scared of becoming him someday, a shell of wrinkled flesh with nothing inside. I don't really think that about him as much, I think he just forgot all that didn't give him pleasure. His world now doesn't matter unless he's baking. So in a way I think he found a kind of nirvana through forgetting.

It occurred to me that I was like him. I was choosing to forget. Everything about Mamimi, the girl who hurt me most, I have chosen to forget. But maybe that was a mistake. Something she did to me tonight gave me feeling again. I felt alive and complex with more emotion and sensation then I have had for years now. I didn't have to rip my fingers to shreds on the wires of my guitar to do it either. I hate her, but I need her. Can that be right?

I am like my grandfather in the respect that we both are slaves to memory. Some we forget, and some we enshrine. I'm just not sure if I have forgotten the wrong memories and saved the right ones.

I open the door to my room and find it dark, but when I flick on the light I find it not as I left it. A manila envelope and a folded piece of white paper are on my bed. I look and find the windows latched, so whoever was in had to leave through the main door. I suppose it could have been my dad, but I'd sooner believe the burglar theory. I lay my guitars by the door carefully. They are still sheathed in their black leather cases.

I approach the gift with minute trepidation. I've never been afraid of the dark, I've never been afraid of the boogeyman, I'm not even afraid of the aliens or robots that tear through my head and try to destroy the world. So I'm sure as hell not scared of little pieces of paper.

I go for the envelope first, out of habit. I never read cards before presents. The card is either phony, or it's something that matters more then the gift. The second I open it I know who broke in.

It's an eight by ten photograph of stunning quality. It's not the kind that you get at a drug store, or even a photo shop that sells reproductions of famous pictures. The print is rich in shades of gray. Blacks so deep that you could stare into them and see some measure of eternity and whites so vivid that they haze the mind. The detail is sharp and the contrast impressive. A professional photographer did this, and I am the subject.

I stand on a fragmented spire of stone and concrete, not as I am now but as I was then: a child who could be anyone at that age. I was indistinct and ordinary, but the picture shows more. I hold Haruko's guitar, staring up at an ashen sky of swirling clouds. I look like any other boy, but something in the photograph whispers distinctness in a way that I can't place. I was, for a moment, the axis of the world. As Atomsk I could have destroyed the world, as Naota I could have spared it. And in the end I chose mercy for reasons I still can't fathom. Then I was no longer the harbinger of destruction or salvation, just a boy. Mamimi took this photograph in the midst of such perfect chaos, and preserved a moment that would never come again in an eternity. The title still has me guessing though.

I look over at the card and unfold it.

"In four days you'll understand"

I read the note again, divining no more sense from it. Mamimi had agendas that I could never understand. She sends me a photograph of such beauty and such complexity. Is it meant to be cruel? A reminder of a choice I may very well regret, of a girl who hurt me, and a reality that was more a hybrid of nightmare and dream then of truth. Is that the action of an angel or a devil? She sends me a card that prophesies I will understand. I somehow doubt that.

I place the two items on my nightstand and strip down to my boxers before falling into bed. It's cold outside, especially at night. I want to feel the cold as it transforms my skin to gooseflesh. My door is unlocked, but I could care less about modesty. No one will come to my room anyway. I stare up at the ceiling fan as it revolves slowly and almost hypnotically. I fall asleep watching the dusty blades turning, and as I slip away into a blackness that is only marginally more detached then my daily life is, I murmur out to her:

"What do you want with me?"

It's just after noon when I wake up; groggy and stiff I rise to an empty house. Kanchi has already done the dishes from breakfast and is now out shopping for dinner, I suppose. Grandpa would be in the bakery and Dad is out peddling his toilet tissue editorials somewhere. The air is crisp inside, and a glance to the window finds it frosted. The temperature dropped considerably last night. I am not looking forward to the walk to the club.

There is a stillness to the house that strikes me as odd. I've lived here since I was a baby, but it's never been so peaceful. Tiny particles of dust floated on the still air like snowflakes as I listen to the creaking of the timbers and the faint sounds from the next door down. Each of us lives in the upper loft of our business, but since space is so limited and the buildings so cheap, I can usually hear them. Who would imagine that a florist could be so noisy in the sack?

I walk over to the bathroom and close the door out of habit instead of necessity. Reaching over I push the stopper into the tub and then crank the tarnished silver levers to give hot water. The whooshing water fills the apartment with noise, but I still hum to myself as I take my toothbrush from the caddy and start brushing my teeth.

Kanchi got a whitening paste as he always seems to. No one makes a thing out of it and no one except myself probably notices, but he always gets this kind. I wonder about why a robot that lacks both a mouth and the teeth to go with it, is so adamant about a white smile. But then again it's nowhere near as strange as the fact that he always manages to bring home some kind of pornographic magazine. I don't even want to begin guessing at what he's doing with them. It's strange having a robot housekeeper, discovering that even artificial life forms are at the mercy of a dozen little idiosyncrasies.

I brush as the water rises in the ivory white tub, listening to the song in my head. I've been milling over a new one for a while now, but I can already tell it's going to have to be scrapped. Shouta couldn't play it fast enough. He's an excellent guitarist, and would easily be the best of any of the other bands at the club, but the song is both complex and fast. Too fast and too demanding because if it isn't played right it will sound like shit.

The water is almost to the faintly discolored ring in the tub. I drop my boxers and spit into the sink, feeling the clammy heat from the water. Upon looking up from the sink I notice something odd about the mirror. The fogging is inconsistent in spots, and as the steam gathers, I start to make out lines. Someone traced a message with his finger on the glass, knowing that it would only be readable if the mirror was fogged over. I stare as the words become clear.

"We'll be waiting for you at the club, Ta-kun. Try to make it by five."

I blink at it. Mamimi was either very busy last night, or she was here again. Neither would surprise me. I stare at the mirror, reading the words again and making out the bordering doodles and smiley faces that have materialized along with the note. There are little guitars all over the mirror, some bass, some electric, some diesel powered.

I am pretty sure that this should bother me. A girl breaks into my house and uses my mirror as her message board. I simply step into the tub and sink. I'm going, if for nothing other then the chance that I might understand something about all this. And in part, I have to see what she's going to do next. The water feels good, and as I lay my head back, I think of her. I had tried so hard to forget her, to forget and hate her, but now I find myself intrigued by her actions, looking her way just to see what she's going to do now.

Is my life so pathetic that I am looking to a girl I despise for entertainment?

I walk down the street in a near run as I both try to keep the guitar strap straight, and align the various folds and zippers that make up what I'm wearing. It's a somewhat retro jacket made of distressed walnut brown lambskin. The temperature dropped a good deal over the night, catching everyone in Madbase by surprise. Beneath the jacket I have a mildly itchy olive turtleneck sweater that makes me look a little like a lizard. My top half is pleasantly warm, but I really wish I had something a little warmer then the blue jeans, which were cut by the cold gusts as if I were in shorts.

The city is dead at one, those at work are already at work, and those who aren't are huddling in their homes. Though caught off-guard by the freeze, the denizens of Madbase adapted and now hide indoors. I am the only one foolish enough to actually walk in it. Despite the biting cold on my cheeks, I make good progress. I pause on the street to fix my strap yet again, and look up to see the club emerge from a shroud of my own wintry breath. It looks like a dive in the daylight, no windows, just a bonelike whitewash over concrete. There is a large neon sign on the broad side of the building that now sleeps even though the club would be open by now. They make their money in the nights, but the place is still open during the days to anyone who is looking to hide from either daylight or cold.

I push through the front door that will be guarded by a bull of a man in a few hours. The rush of escaping hot air catches my breath as I breath out the last puff of smoky air. I don't linger as I cross the threshold and let the door fall back into place as though it were a bank vault.

It's dim inside, already veiled in the faint hazy scarves of smoke. I look from table to table for Mamimi, finding some couples and some singles that are both hunched over conspiratorially with their drinks. I find her to the left at a bigger table that seats five. She turns and waves.

I remember her in her old high school uniform as she washed it in the river. I never thought she could look anything other then dirty and abused, but apparently she can. She's wearing a very form fitting brown leather bomber with bell sleeves insulated in the same sheering trim as near the collar. The washed out khaki chinkos hang on her hips, giving the occasional whisper of her bare stomach as she waved me over. I complied once again to her whim, staring. Her hair spilled over her shoulders, shrouding her face under a veil of bangs. I could see part of her grin from under the tresses. She looked so different from how I knew her to really be.

"Hi, Ta-kun. You came!" She reaches over and hugs me, my cheek brushing over the slightly oily folds of her jacket. It smells like good leather and Mamimi, a strange union that sends a tremble through me. I calculate how long I should let the hug go on before I break away, but she beats me to it, keeping it demurely short.

It's only after the hug that I notice that she isn't alone at the table. Daisuke and Tetsuo are sitting there smirking at me in-between casting quick glances down to the curve of Mamimi's butt. They're bad as it is, but it seems that Mamimi brings something worse out of them. I watch as she reaches behind and waves at them with a smirk. They straighten immediately and look away.

"Ta-kun's friends are a little perverted."

"More then a little." I reply.

"So the ride-less wonder has finally graced us." Shouta laughs as he pushes me into a chair from behind me. I fall half on it and glower at him as Mamimi giggles. She sits next to me and takes a sip of what appears to be hot chocolate.

"What is this about?" I ask, but am ignored.

"So does she want to join us?" Mamimi asks.

"If she isn't intruding." Shouta replies.

"Of course she isn't! The more the merrier." I blink in confusion and look to Daisuke to explain, he doesn't. In a huff I slide the guitar from my shoulder and lay it beside my chair, watching as Ayame comes up and smiles sheepishly at the group.

"You're sure I'm not intruding?"

"Don't be so shy, grab a seat and have a drink." Mamimi offers as she leans back in the chair, reaching over and using my head for support. My brow twitches.

"I don't drink..." she mumbles as she sits next to Shouta.

"Not even cocoa?" she pushes her cup over to the girl who reddens a little.

"Oh, thank you." She reaches over and takes a sip before making a face and sliding the mug back to a grinning Mamimi.

"That isn't cocoa..." She replies as Tetsuo snorts in laughter.

"There's cocoa in it." Mamimi offers. I blink as Ayame suddenly starts laughing.

"You're a good sport." Shouta smirks a little as he slips an arm around her. Obviously relieved that she didn't mind being the butt of the joke.

"Provided one sip of Baileys is the extent of the hazing, I will be."

"I promise, I promise." Mamimi grins.

"So are we having an orgy or what?" Daisuke asks? Ayame blushes and I choke.

"I'm sure we will be in your sick little fantasies tonight." Shouta smirks as Daisuke pouts.

"I'm cursed, at a table with two super hot girls who are dating the two of you. God, I shoulda been a guitarist, drummers never get any!" Tetsuo laughs.

"Mamimi and I aren't dating." I say rather bluntly. They look at me like I sprouted a robot from my head. I run my hand over it to make sure I didn't.

"Really?" He looks over at Mamimi who nods in confirmation.

"Then what the hell was that last night? You two were practically mauling each other. Are you friends with benefits or something?" Mamimi laughed.

"Nothing like that!" I reply as arms slide around my neck.

"Ta-kun is my really good friend." She grins as she nuzzles my cheek. I push her away in annoyance.

"Want to be friends?" Daisuke asks Mamimi who grins in response.

"Umm... are you the photographer, Mamimi?" Ayame asks tentatively. I blink. I had forgotten that's what she left talking about doing. She smiles subtly.


"Oh my god! You're my favorite photographer! I bought your calendar!" we all stare at the normally subdued young girl. Mamimi seems the most shocked of all.

"You did?"

"Of course, and I have a few reproductions too. I thought you looked really familiar, and it just hit me."

"Wow, I've never had a fan before." It's the first time I have ever seen Mamimi caught off guard.

"Which do you like?"

"I like almost all of them. A few are a little strange, but they are all really amazing in one way or another. They've got a really terrific perspective. But I think the best is 'Furi Kuri' Beats the pants off Ansel Adams." She beamed.

"Furi kuri?" Tetsuo questions.

"Here." Before I realize it, she has a black tote bag on the table. I hadn't noticed it tucked at her side before, but now that surprises me since it is practically swelling with stuff. She fishes inside for a moment before finally pulling a leather case out. We all watch as she carefully unravels the black string that fastens the lips together. As the string is removed, she pulls the lips aside and uncovers the tiny white square of gauzy tissue that was protecting the image from being scratched.

I watch as everyone huddles over the image, all impressed. It surprises me to hear Daisuke or Tetsuo reveling in a photo that hasn't got a single naked woman on it. It surprises me more, however, to hear Ayame asking technical questions about the exposure and what filters were used, then hearing Mamimi answer effortlessly. It strikes me how much I must not know about her. I would have never dreamed she would be so informed on something other then the kama-sutra.

"This is really incredible, Mamimi." Shouta remarks as he looks up from the photo yet again. I've seen some of your pictures at Ayame's before, but they really didn't do it justice. Plus, this kid is a Rocker!" he laughed. "It'd make a killer poster for a band."

"Take a closer look at the little boy." She smiles like a Cheshire cat as each peered close.

I smiled nervously as all three of their gazes suddenly fixed on me in disbelief.

"Wasn't he a cutie!? He was such a adorable little boy. Always grumpy." Mamimi grabbed the corners of my mouth and pulled them up into a faux grin.

"You were the little boy in the picture?" Ayame gawked as the three band members conspired about how they thought that guitar looked familiar.

"That's awesome." Tetsuo finally commented.

"This was my big break. This was the first photo I sold. Rolling stone bought the next six because they liked that one so much. I wouldn't have ever gotten my break if it weren't for Ta-kun."

"Rolling stone?" I blink.

"Yeah..." She smiles sheepishly as I too now stare at her in amazement.

"Hey, what are these?" Daisuke asks as he holds up a small stack of prints. Shouta raps his hand against the back of his head.

"Don't go scrounging through her stuff, dumb ass."

"Oh it's ok. Those are some old pictures from my private collection." She turned to Daisuke directly. "Sorry but there's no nudity." He deflated, but started going through them all anyway. Mamimi and I sat in silence for half a moment before the three of them all suddenly look up at the two of us, and start laughing like mad.

"What?" Mamimi asks. They reply by turning a color print over so we could see. It's one of us from six years ago. Mamimi is draped around me with a broad grin on her face while I look mortified. She has little whiskers drawn onto her cheeks and is wearing cat ears.

"You still have that picture?"

"Of course!"

"You're embarrassing." I reply.

"Really?" She scrunched her face in mock bewilderment.

"You know not everyone can pull that look off...." Tetsuo remarks with a smile that is more friendly then I have ever seen him make toward a girl.

He is like Daisuke, a lover of the female form. But unlike Daisuke--who is at heart an amorous child--I think he also hates them, he sleeps with them and leaves immediately after, and if he isn't in the mood for sex, avoids them with a singularly abrupt cruelty. I've seen enough of his bare flesh to piece together a faint history. He's scarred in ways that even I, the proclaimed masochist, cannot match. The most chilling was the burned imprint of an iron, which had seared him just to the right of the navel. I personally think his mother, who was his only family, was the inflictor, and thus, the root of his bipolar attractions and hatreds to all women. Though, in his smile to Mamimi I see no malice just as there is no concealed disdain. He seems legitimately friendly, and to my surprise, I think he likes her more then I do.

I think of those things as I sit apart from them and watch their interactions. I catch myself feeling happy to be here, and that realization spurs bitterness toward her. She is up to something. The first night she was all over me, hot and wanting like I never thought anyone could be. Today she is all but platonic to me, casting only quick glances to make sure that I am still watching her.

The five of them talk, and after I shrug off a few offers to join in the conversation, they give up on trying to include me. They talk about lots of things that follow no apparent order. Mamimi asks about nearly every aspect of their lives while they hungrily inquire about her own.

Though I feign disinterest, I am quite curious to learn about what she has done since leaving here years ago. I am rewarded for my patience as the lines of dialogue diverge on her and her travels. I had expected an impressive story from what I already knew, but when the answers came, they were so stunning that my mask of disinterest nearly fell away, leaving me ready to join in the questioning of the young photographer.

Her life had blossomed after leaving Madbase; as I imagine anyone's might upon deserting this hell of a city. Where she once had nearly been a high school dropout, now she was on the verge of dazzling in her achievements. She spoke English and French in addition to her native Japanese, and was now making plans of taking up Italian. She betrayed her knowledge of life's inner workings with the occasional insight that caused all present to pause for a moment. She was smart, though I had never assumed that she was any less, hearing her be so concise with such heavy issues surprised me. She smiled softly as she spoke about Paris. How the world seemed slower there, and how people nursed the pleasure from life with an effort that so few other societies endeavored to make.

Paris gave way to New York. She had a studio apartment there that overlooked the Hudson River. She described the way the river caught the sunlight and how the city shimmered in a way that no Japanese city could match by night or by day. The magazines paid handsomely for her; keeping her as content as a pampered pet. She could fly anywhere, and if she liked it, wouldn't have to try too hard to persuade them to give her the money for an apartment there.

She worked prolifically and sometimes to the edge of exhaustion over the faintest detail of a project. She seemed to take a lot of purpose from her work, distilling the kind of pleasure that comes from hellish hours and near neurotic attention to the minute. Her camera hadn't left her side in six years, and she had portfolio after portfolio to prove it.

She had become a student of the human race during her globetrotting career. And when she described an amusing mistake she made when visiting a small country, or a particularly wonderful little place tucked away in the obscurity of a fast paced world, we were there with her. She spoke like a child to us, but when she talked about Maine or New York she spoke like an adult with a lifetime of experience.

And I was moved by that.

I want to hate her so badly, because above all question, I know she is using me for something. I know what she is... but still I am drawn to her. She smiled and laughed with my friends as I watched from the sidelines, feeling neither jealous nor annoyed. They've adopted her into their ranks as though she was always there, and she acts as though she has done the same for them.

I want to know what she's done since leaving, but I find that the more I listen, the fewer contexts there are. I hear her words, but they wash over me without penetrating as my mind wanders. All I have clearly is her image. The way her smile forms as first a slight upturning to the edge of her lips, the subtle waves in her hair. The satin blackness of her eyes... They all consume me, leaving words no more then fluctuating whispers.

Ayame is talking as Mamimi reaches to the center of the table and takes hold of the tiny red glass, which holds a lone candle. There are identical such candles at all the other tables, but she studies it as though it is singular in its beauty. She remarks to Ayame's words with no more then a brief eye contact over the glowing decoration. The red glass filters the flame's light into a crimson glow. She holds it close enough to her face so that her high cheekbones become slashes of red upon the exaggerated shadows of her cheekbones. Hey eyes burn in the red spectrum, and as they flick to me, there is almost an animal's eye shine. She catches my eyes for only a moment before looking back to Ayame, but my pulse quickens nonetheless. She looks like a devil from heaven or an angel in hell. Either incarnation is plausible, just as either is pleasing. She puts the candle back, and her face is no longer bathed in the phantasmal blood-red light. But as I look to her, I still see the alluring glow on her alabaster flesh.

I watch her as she laughs with them, hearing her voice not as words but as sounds, tones and pitches; pleasing without context. A part of me wants to be touching her while she talks with them, more then a part. I truly want her clinging to me as she laughs with my friends; wrapped within my arms.

I want to reach out and touch her bow lips as she smiles like that. And as my hand starts to move I quickly regain control. She's hard to hate, and perhaps getting harder. The more I am with her the more I feel her on me. Her smells, her sounds... they draw me deeper in; though I'm not sure if that's my doom or my fate in the workings.

"No thanks, I used to smoke. But the smoke kills camera equipment. Also, a lot of the darkroom chemicals are flammable. So I figured if I didn't quit, I'd end up blowing myself up." They laugh as she makes an explosion sound. But what they don't see is how after her dramatic flailing one hand slips under the table to take mine. She squeezes my hand and I blink in surprise over the gesture. She's still talking to them and not showing the fact that she's touching me, but she holds my hand with a tenderness that I didn't think her capable of.

She clings to my hand as I gape at her. She has a secret smile on her lips. She may be using me... she may be damning me... but as I hold her hand I come to a shocking realization:

I feel.

It came on me so quietly in the midst of her turbulence that I didn't see it, but it's true! I feel! Some part of me draws a kind of life from her presence; she's like the pain of the strings as they tear at my fingertips. Agony and ecstasy bound to one another. It's only now, as I hold her hand that I come to a decision with her. She has plans for me. She will hurt me. She could very well leave me worse then I was to start with. I knew all that this morning, but I still came. I can't fight her, thus I am destined to be her prey. I do, however, have the choice of being a victim or a volunteer.

I gave up trying to hate her.

I squeeze her hand before lifting it from under the table to on top, where it can be seen that we are holding hands. She seems surprised by this, but I just smile at her in the same secret grin that she uses for me. I see Ayame take Shouta's hand in a similar show. I see Tetsuo smiling shyly at us while his counterpart grins more broadly with a kind of happiness for us. But mostly I just see Mamimi and how her befuddled expression melts into a smile that is more dazzling then her life.

I join the conversation.

The chilly afternoon has matured into a cold night, but we remain. We stayed at the table for hours, getting a gratuitously unhealthy dinner in the process. I feel almost like Mamimi must feel normally: nearly bubbling. The conversation has gone on for hours, and I've learned more about all of them then I ever thought was possible. Mamimi is reclined in the crook of my arm laughing heartedly. I too am chuckling despite all the years of solemnity.

My friends seem more comfortable now than I've ever seen them in my presence alone. And I see changes in them too. Daisuke is talking to Mamimi about New York, and the topic of naked New Yorkers has yet to come up. Ayame is still enthralled with her hero, just as Shouta is enthralled with Ayame. In Tetsuo, I see the possibilities that a friend like Mamimi could make for him. She could help him just as she could help the others, just as she has started helping me. I realized a little earlier in the evening that I had already begun changing. I called them my friends. I didn't believe in friends before... maybe Mamimi is a poison that makes you stronger just before killing you?

"Hmmm.... my favorite song would have to be Wasp Woman." Daisuke decided.

"That's a big shock." Shouta laughs.

"Wasp Woman?" Mamimi questions.

"Yeah, it's a song Naota wrote a while back. It's fun. Also it's one of the few songs Naota writes that goes easy on the drummer. It picks on the guitarists more." he smiled.

"That's probably because he didn't figure you could handle it." Tetsuo smirked.

"You think?" he pouted.

"Wasp woman... Vespa woman... Haruko!" Mamimi suddenly erupts. "I thought that sounded funny. It's a song about Haruko, right Naota?" I nod.

"Wait... Haruko? There's a real wasp woman?!?" Daisuke nearly slips from his seat, reliving the lyrics to that particular song.

"Yeah." I reply nonchalantly.

"She was Naota's first love." Mamimi smiles. I feel a little weird over it.

"She...was?" Ayame questions; probably a little shocked that Mamimi wasn't my first and last anything.

"No, I was with Mamimi first." I wince as I say it, instantly seeing her eyes widen.

"We were kinda almost somewhat dating when Haruko came and ran him over with her bike. After that he was most assuredly smitten." She pinches my cheek a little and I swat at her.

"She ran you over?"

"Lotsa times. She also bludgeoned him over the head with her guitar a bunch." Mamimi's excited banter is met with truly blank stares. I hold my head as she continues 'explaining' and their stares grow more vacant.

We listen to the groups that come on that night and do a little shop talk that we have to explain to Mamimi. We've decided that the guy who lines up the acts needs to die. He's been putting together the worst lineups imaginable and the effects are being felt tonight. The booing is getting a little out of hand.

Mamimi looks up at the group with chagrin. We explain to her. Then she makes some comment about feeling bad for the little pierced people and makes a big show of applauding after they finish. She's the only one in the club clapping for them, but she does so with complete abandon.

She's braver then we are.

The night continues and more sucky groups go on. I'm glad we aren't scheduled for tonight, I doubt that even 'The Atomsks' could pull this crowd out of the funk they're in. We continue talking, but after each set we have to stop to let Mamimi cheer for the downtrodden musicians as they depart the stage. By the third group Ayame is doing it too, both girls calling out cheers and whistling to them as though the retreating performers were some strange cross between Gackt and Trent Reznor, and they, crazed groupies.

By the fourth group they've demanded we join in as well. And then of course, we all look like idiots. The girls, and curiously, Daisuke are really getting into it. Myself, Tetsuo, and Shouta--the sane ones--are just clapping to appease our female counterparts. Though I'd never admit to it, that too was a little fun, if nothing more then seeing Mamimi bouncing between personas.

I am expecting snow as Mamimi and myself wave goodbye to them. Shouta, Ayame, and Daisuke are riding together. Tetsuo rode his Kawasaki to the club and is not bitching like mad about freezing his ass off on the ride home. Mamimi makes some joke about getting her tongue stuck to it.

I don't ask.

As they disappear in opposite directions I turn to her. My cheeks must mirror her own; blushing from the cold winds. She pulls her jacket up so close to her neck that I almost expect her to continue until she burrows into herself like a wool-insulated turtle. She smiles a little, her breath wrapping around her like a wreath of mist.

"It got cold."

"A little." I reply as I wrap my arms around myself. She walks up to me and takes my head in her arms, shielding my bare neck from the cold as she presses my head to her throat. I smell the leather of her jacket and feel the wool on my cheek. Her eyes are closed but she's aware of every aspect of me.

"It's warmer now?"

"A little..." I reply as I feel her breath on my bare face. I close my eyes finally, and then feel the low chuckle that rumbles through her.

"Ta-kun is starting to trust me?"

"No..." I reply softly.

"No, but you can't help it." She laughs at my silence.

"No... I can't." I run my cheek over her shoulder, feeling where the slightly oily leather folds meet the furry down, reveling in the subtle sensations. She mimics the act on my neck and I shiver as her cold nose brushes my skin.

"You won't explain yet?" I ask, though I know the answer.

"In two nights." she replies somberly, as though she too wants to unravel this mystery of her own making. Perhaps her motives and her methods are an enigma to herself as well? The thought amused me for a moment before I grasped just how possible that was. She was so enshrouded in layers that I suppose it was possible that she was not in control of her actions. I felt her tongue touch my neck and once more I trembled, though this time it was not from the cold winds that bit at us, yet now went unfelt.

"Are you going to be able to get home alright?" The question caught me off-guard and I find myself just staring at her.

"It is cold, chief. You want me to give you a ride home?" I stare numbly at her even as she pulls away enough so that we are looking eye to eye. I mumble something so inaudible that my lips move in perfect silence. I think she heard me though.

I feel myself guided as though I were a child, lead by the hand to the side of the club where the lot was. I don't see anything, it's as though the cold and Mamimi have in unison, left me entranced. I remember sitting down on the vinyl fabric in the car I could not identify, I don't remember when she took the vehicle from park and into drive. I remember holding tightly to my guitars as I looked at a dashboard that could have been either gray or blue but was in undoubted disrepair. I could smell strange odors that were alien to me. An incense that was not repulsive, but also not pleasing.

She didn't speak to me as she drove quickly down the old and winding pavement. I listened to the heater as it rattled slightly while spewing hot air into my face. She could be either renting the car or own it, or she could have just stolen it; nothing would have surprised me. I felt stifled and strange as I sat there, feeling the headlights from oncoming traffic periodically wash over my face. Tonight had been good, just as the night before; the contexts were different, though. It was as though Mamimi were two different people, that she underwent some strange metamorphosis by day and returned to me anew and altered each night.

"Two nights." She repeated as she let me off at the curb of my apartment.

She drives away and I stare after her, watching the red of the taillights as if they were twin embers of lit and burning cigarettes. Even now I couldn't tell what color the car is; it's painted as a shadow amidst the naturally occurring shadows of both apartments and streets; camouflaged by the night around it. The muffler sputters gray and putrid mist in the cold air as the vehicle vanishes within the night.

As I stare after it, I realize how little of it I truly saw. It was as it was when Mamimi was talking to my friends; I became lost and beguiled by her and by the idea of her. She affected some hidden part of me that I only was aware of when she was stimulating it, some strange little gene within my cells that swooned for her. I had listened to her talk to them earlier, but all I can remember hearing was the sounds of her words as they reverberated against the drum of my ear. I sat in that car with her, but all I remember is the same questions and observation that I have made of her from before.

She made me like murky coffee with cream, swirling and obscured; but I didn't feel numbed by it. The sensations were so different, and this new beguilement was almost enjoyable. It's amazing, but since she returned to me, the numbness has been gone, replaced or filled over with sensation that was both old and new to me: trepidation, excitement, want. They were all things I had once known, but then lost. And now it seems they are being restored to me by this strange, and wondrously terrible, girl who was inside me like a splinter under my skin.

She hadn't told me where she would meet me tomorrow, and I wasn't expecting anymore mirror messages, I knew where to go now without her help. She would be waiting for me at the club tomorrow night. She would resume the game then, and once more I would sink into the strange and blissfully murky waters.

I turn from the empty street and open the door to our apartment. The room within is bathed in yellow light and as I enter, I find my father at the table. He's working at the kitchen table now, hunched amidst piles of paper before a typewriter. The overhead lighting casts his face into strange contortions as dark shadow makes his slack expression appear to be a mask without eyes. His hair is greasy and catches a luster from the light as he turns to look upon me. His glasses seize the light around the rim and become strangely luminous and somewhat sinister marriages of glass and wire.

His face is slack and empty as he stares into my eyes. I think of him as a long dead beetle, a dry husk of shell. His eyes are brown and dull. Mom's were black, I recall; just like my brother's. I stare back at him with my own blue eyes and know that he sees them in the same color as my brother's. His lip trembles as he looks at me, seeing me not as Naota, but as Tasuku. He's dead inside. I see that as he looks from me to the half written editorial.

I know that I can leave and never come back. I can vanish away and he won't notice. This house is a crypt for the living dead. My grandfather, lost in his world of bread and dough; my father, a shell. And then there's myself, empty as my father and as blinded as my grandfather.

But somewhere there is a girl who makes me alive for whatever reasons.

I walk away from him and for a moment think I hear him say my name. I turn and look, but it was only the keys of the typewriter as he plucked them. I turn away and go to my room, I don't care anymore if what she's going to do will wound me or even destroy me. I can't become him. Destruction would be better then deterioration. Let Mamimi take me. Let her burn me until I am ash; just let me feel the fire in that spectacular intensity. I want annihilation before I turn into him.

I fall asleep in my clothes with my door slightly open. My dreams are familiar and surreal: the child Atomsk standing at the threshold of annihilation. But where my dream diverges from my memory is in the following moment: when I chose to become Atomsk, and as Atomsk, destroy the world. The dream is strangely enthralling as I watch the city I have lived in my whole life tear apart at the seams in an inverted rainstorm of brick and earth. The clouds of debris swirl upwards into a great gaping hole that looks eerily like the dark of Mamimi's eyes.

People I know appear before me, only to fade again into the nothingness from which they materialized. My father, my friends, and my brother; all are consumed by the elliptical eye, and as each fade, they smile as though the resulting void were a euphoric place.

I turn and find myself staring into the nebulous and dark eyes of Mamimi. She's dressed as Haruko, but calmer then Haruko could ever be. She looks at me eerily and approaches while I bow my head in anticipation of something I both expect and am bewildered by. She smiles faintly, but as she does, I catch a glimpse of Haruko's fangs. And then I too smile as she sinks them into me, consuming me into her and the same blissful darkness that swallowed the others.

I wake to the more tangible of the various dream worlds I dwell in and find that it is already morning. Dream sleep is timeless, but it still feels like the hours vanished in the moment I closed my eyes. I remember my dream and the fact that I woke from it without a start, but with a gradual and pleasant rise to consciousness.

I dreamt that Mamimi killed me, but I felt good about it. Feeling my conscious mind become a distant whisper in the darkness as I was devoured by Mamimi and the dream death that she gave me. I've read that if you die in a dream you die in real life. I died in that dream, but I feel more alive this morning than the morning before it.

I change and bathe, then walk aimlessly through the house. I can smell the baking bread from downstairs as it rises through the open stairwell. The typewriter is sitting on the kitchen table where I left it with Dad, the paper is still pulled through its spindles and it remains as blank as it had been last night. I look away from it though I don't truly understand why. It's just a piece of out dated technology in an outdated house in a world that sunk into obsolescence a long time ago.

I toy with the notion of going to school for a moment, but decide that I could better spend my time practicing. And so I sat by the window on a chair, who's cushion had flattened to little more then a mat of fabric and prone stuffing. The window cast a golden yellow light over my lap as I played slowly, working on my latest piece. The royal blue guitar looks ethereal and ancient under the faint lights of day. Each string is a tiny fiber of gold as my fingers pluck it, sending mellifluent illusions as each string springs back to place in accompaniment of a note. Haruko's guitar was magic, just as I had thought my brother's bat to be. But unlike the old relic of Tasuku, this one can be magic in my hands.

The guitar's coloration shifts gradually from the sharp yellows of midday to the faint silvers and blues of the evening. And as it finally loses even the grayest luster, I rise from the chair and return the instrument to its case.

The streets are muted even though all the usual loud people inhabit them. Jets fly overhead, but I don't hear the soft roar of their distant engines. Cars pass in surreal silence as I listen only to the sound of my sneakers on the sidewalk. I have butterflies in my stomach, and I've never had them before.

The distant ruins of Medical Mechanica look as old as the pyramids as I pass the bridge that belongs to Mamimi and myself. The twilight is enigmatic and hints of something that is going to happen tonight. I never believed in astrology or destiny for the most part, but something in the faint oranges and lavenders of the night gives me the impression that Mamimi's game will elevate to a new level tonight. I wonder about the walk home. Will I think back on this in an introspective tone and acknowledge a degree of paranoia I didn't think I had, or will I say something to the effect of 'I had no idea how right I was'? I see the club in the distance, and either surprisingly or not surprisingly, I see Mamimi waiting by the front for me.

She meets my eyes and begins walking toward me in a way I had never seen her walk like before. The sinuousness of her motion is laced with a strange purpose that drives her forward in smooth but wide strides, closing the distance in such a way that if I were to run, she would surely pursue. Her arms are at her sides; though I could see the faintest semblance of restraint in the way she holds her hands. They're closed in twin fists where she normally would let each finger splay in a languid manner.

She wears a long sleeve white shirt that I'm sure is freezing as she strides through the chilly afternoon toward me. The fabric of her shirt is gaussian and almost transparent against the white of her flesh and the faint dark shape, which I imagine to be some undergarment. Her hair spills down her shoulders as she steps up onto the sidewalk from the street.

The closer I get to her the more notable her persona is. Driven and dark, she comes to me and without slowing, takes my face in her hands. One against my jaw and the other somewhere near my throat. She leans inward and closes her petal soft lips over mine.

It reminds me of the first time since she returned.

********* CENSOR BAR**********

****************end censor*******************

The morning came slowly, and when I woke, I found her still there. A part of me had expected her to be gone by now. But she remained. I've seen beauty before, but the image of her tangled amidst the covers was unabashed loveliness. She was curled against me as nude as she had been last night, and though there was still a faint crispness to the air it seemed warmer somehow. I rose from the bed and walked to the window, conscious of my nakedness for the first time. Taking hold of the rod, I pull the blinds open just enough so that they wouldn't cast her face into the brightness of morning. A part of me is enjoying this completely defenseless, sleeping, Mamimi.

It's still early; and I keep looking over at her as I retrieve my guitar case. She's partially enshrouded within the sheets, which cover her leg and dip just below her navel. The rest of her is shrouded in dappled sunlight that glows gold against her ivory skin. I haven't really looked at her in the daylight for years. The closest I have come is that first glimpse of her, and that could quite easily have been a delusion. There is a certain degree of intimacy we now share. We're lovers, but also more then that. I've never questioned so much of what passed between a girl and me from the club before. I've never wanted to see them in the morning.

Sitting cross-legged and naked amidst the tangles of fabric I slide the guitar from its case along with a small tablet and pen. I begin as quietly as I can. I've been working on this song for a while now. I have the music almost perfectly in my head, but a few bits of the lyrics were eluding me.

I make a few notes of key changes on the third, fifth, and sixth lines, and then look down at her. Her hair is pooled on the edge of the pillow, the tips just barley dangling in the sunshine. Her breasts are bare and alluring nestled so close to me. Each perfectly formed mound and tinny nub of pink attracts me in more ways then how a naked woman can attract a man. She looks like a devil and an angel all at once. A statue of rosy alabaster by the old master sculptors; the form of some biblical being that existed when angels of both the holy and the fallen were mingled in the twilight of heaven and hell. I don't know why I do it, but I whisper and hum to her as she sleeps. Somehow that makes the process easier. After each fragment of lyric comes to an end, the next seems to present itself.

"Each day moves on just like a dream

"Strange, surreal; I try to scream."

She stirs faintly and I strum a few chords in a whisper of the true melody. She makes a strange noise that is almost a whine and then draws closer to the nearest source of warmth, which happens to be me. I snort in reply 'She's clingy even in her sleep' I muse with a smirk. I scratch down the next line without speaking it, but when I look down at her, the next comes to me as if I were no more then a conduit for the words. I sing them softly in a voice that is more of a hushed whisper then it is a tune.

"Are you a prophet? Are you a saint?"

"What if I'm neither one?" She replies as she lets her eyes slip open to look at me. The darkness of her eyes is every bit as endless, but the perpetual depth doesn't leave me uncomfortable now.

"What are you then?" I ask as I reach over and touch her full lip.

"Does it matter to you if I'm a devil or an angel?" She smiles radiantly at me and I wonder if she read my mind somehow. She sits up and takes the rumpled blanket around both our shoulders. Her nakedness molded against my side is bliss in a way I've never known.

"Aren't you cold?" she asks. I shrug.

"New song?"

"Yeah..." I reply gently, drawing our fragmented dialogue out into something that is tortuous in the same way foreplay can be agony. We both want to talk now, pour ourselves out to the other, but this is kind of fun too.

"It's a song about me. Isn't it?" She reaches out and runs her finger along the length of the guitar. Somehow that almost is able to make me blush.

"I think a lot of things are about you, Mamimi. I don't understand them though..." Smiling never came easily to me, not with my brother gone and my dad, a lunatic, certainly not when my brother was dead and my dad disconnected me. I feel kinda like smiling now.

Mamimi... I tried so hard to hate her, but I couldn't. I don't want to anymore either. Somehow I'm sure that she is...

"I Love you, Ta-kun." I turn to look into her adoring eyes with horror that quickly freezes over into something else.

"Get off me." She recoils as if I just burned her. Stumbling around the room, I look for my pants, which I find hidden half under the bed. I dress mechanically while she looks at me in disbelief.

"What's wrong Ta-kun?"

"I'm going to the club. We've got a show later and I don't want to be late." even I am surprised by how cold my words are.

"I can drive you..."


"Why are you mad."

"I'm not mad."

"What did I do?" She pleads as she rises up from the bed, wrapped in the blanket we shared no more then a minute ago.


"Don't lie to me! You don't lie!" She grabbed my shoulder and I spun around on her with a white-hot fire inside me.

"I'm not him!"


"My brother is dead Mamimi! I don't want to fucking be called by his name anymore!" She stepped back, surprised by just how furious I was. I balled my fist and felt ready to pound something into pieces. She was looking at my fist as though I might choose to use it on her.

"How could you fucking say that to me!? You tell me you love me, but with his name!?"

"It's your name... it's the name I gave to you."

"Stop it. I have a name. I've had a name! I'm Naota."

She looked down and whispered: "I'm sorry."

"No you're not. You're never sorry for anything you do to me. You've always used me for whatever you want! I'm a game to you, all this is too." I motioned to the bed. My musings gave way to a question that caused me to take her by the shoulders and force her to look at me. She trembled at my touch.

"Explain it." I demanded.

"I… I can't. It's not ti-" her voice sounded so different, almost childlike.

"You told me that it would all be clear now 'in four days you'll understand' do you remember that? Well it's been four days. Tell me! Make me understand!" I watched as the resolve broke away from her and she became little more then a shadow of the person she was. She wore defeat badly.

"Do you remember when the three of us were together? Your brother, you, and me? It was kinda lame taking a little kid with us on our dates, but it was kinda fun too. It felt like we were a little pretend family. We used to sit together on the bleachers and watch your brother's games. You'd always fall asleep on me somehow. It sounds really bad, but I fell in love with you then.

"One day I asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up. You know what you said? 'I want to be Tasuku.' I thought it was cute so I started calling you Ta-kun. And you did like the name then... it wasn't meant to be what it became.

"You were just a little kid then, Naota. You made stupid jokes and ran around giggling at them. You were just a normal, happy kid. When your brother left us I stopped that." she paused, dwelling on a deeply rooted darkness that passed within her like a shark in still water.

"I turned you into Tasuku... I was the one who made you stop being a sweet little kid. I made you grow up before you should have, and I turned you into him because I was so sick of being alone. You were such a sweet boy." She looked at me and amended herself. "You still are. You let me do that to you, and you always took care of me even though you were miserable with it. And maybe the sickest thing is that I was happy like that. Happy pretending. But I wasn't completely pretending, Naota. You were just as precious to me as he was.

"Then Haruko came and I watched you change. You fell in love with her and started to be happy again. But even though you wanted to be free of me, you still stayed. You tried to take care of me, even though you hated it." She was smiling ruefully as she spoke, her eyes lost within the darkness of her bangs.

"I could have lived with that. As horrible as I am I know I could have." She hugged the blanket around her small and pale form tightly.

"Do you remember the hand of the god? The one that came after the lord of fear? That was the day I understood what I was. I saw you with her and you were doing Furi kuri. But when I asked you how much you liked her, you lied. You never lied about anything Naota... you were the last honest person in the whole world and I made you a liar.

"Do you know what it's like to look around you and loathe everything? To hate the world and everything in it? That's all I had after you chose Haruko. I felt betrayed and so empty inside that I hurt." The word 'empty' was a needle of ice in my spine the second I heard her say it.

"But then I saw you after you saved the city. I don't understand it even now, but you were something more then Naota. You were like Kanchi and Haruko. Kinda scary, but kinda beautiful too. You looked so unreal standing there holding that guitar, like a god. I took a picture and the emptiness went away for a while." I wasn't responding, but to hear her talk about emptiness and the temporary relief that creating something lent sent a tremor through me.

"I left the city for you, left the country for you, but I kept taking pictures for me. Every time I took a picture I got a little bit of relief; that's what I did for six years. I went from place to place taking pictures so I could feel something other then numbness. But I still thought of you.

"I traveled and I took my pictures, got my acclaim. All the stuff people dream about. But I never missed you any less. I couldn't forget all the things I did to you, how much I hated myself for hurting you like that. And then I met your brother in New York." There was bitterness in her voice, which mingled subtly into the nearly childlike tones.

I was looking at her, the rage had softened into anger and I was growing impatient with all these sweet words.

It didn't change anything.

"He saw me taking pictures in a park and stopped me. It was so weird, he was just like I remembered him: dashing and magnetic. We had lunch together and he asked me about what I was doing here, how my career was going, and then he asked me about my love life." I knew my brother well enough by then to know what he was looking for. He was seeing if there was a way to have Mamimi in addition to his 'American girlfriend'.

"For some reason I couldn't lie to him... He asked me and I told him that I was in love." she paused in her musings, a wistful smile on her lips. She wasn't looking at me, though I knew she wanted to. "He was happy for me up until he asked who the guy was. And when I told him it was you." she chuckled bitterly. "He hit me and called me some names."

I feel something move inside of me, a fluttering. I hope I'm not about to sprout another robot.

"The other people in the restaurant pulled him off me really fast, grabbed him and pulled him outside. Some of them came to me as I was sitting there, but I wasn't hurting because of it. I just looked over at him where they were dragging him out. Hearing what he was yelling as he fought them. 'You're going to ruin his life! Leave my brother the fuck alone!'" For the first time she looked up at me. Her eyes were dull.

"He did love you a lot... he wanted to protect you from me." I didn't say anything.

"Life went on like that for a while. I took my pictures and felt a piece of whatever the scene was: a lonely street... a tired little boy hugging to his daddy. I took my pictures and lived my little shadow of a life. I honored your brother's wishes. I swore I wouldn't go back and ruin your life." She cast her eyes to the floor in something that could have been a dozen things, but most likely was some form of shame.

"I got famous. I traveled farther. I learned some languages. And then when I came back to New York I read that 'Godzilla' as the Americans called your brother, had died. I felt then too, but I'm not sure what I felt exactly. I broke my vow when I heard that. I got on a plane and came straight here. I walked right up to your house and asked your dad where you were.

"He didn't say much, and made me buy one of his editorials, but finally he told me that you were probably at this club playing guitar. He said he sees you walking there sometimes.

"So I went to the club just before The Atomsks went on. I was going to come to talk to you and try and make you feel better after the show, but then I watched you play. Oh, Naota. I saw you playing for the first time up on stage. I watched them all cheering for you, cheering that you were doing that to yourself. You played so fast that I watched you hurt your hands on the guitar. I saw your eyes; they looked both dull and ready to cry all at once. Then when your group finished and you all were standing there, I saw how bloody your hands were. No one else was paying attention to them, but I saw how much you hurt yourself up there.

"I realized that it must be like it is with me. You've got to hurt yourself a little just to feel anything at all. Like you're empty of everything except pain. I just sat back there watching, I hid when you left through the people. And I went back to New York without even letting you know I came. I knew I had to try and help you, but I didn't have any idea how I could. So I just sat there and tried to figure out something I could do to make you happy again. I could send you money, but that's not the kinda thing that you would like. Since I didn't know how else I could try to fix you, I just kept on taking pictures and hating myself even more, but then I met someone there who told me how I could try to help you. That I could fix you inside if I was strong enough.

"So I came back and tried to do that. I tried to give you love. I wanted to be the perfect person for you, someone who could make you happy and get along with your friends. Someone who could be a lover and whatever else you needed. I knew that would make me happy, so I tried to become someone else for you." I felt colder now then I had even when we were outside in the wind last night.

"But I couldn't be that for you. I wasn't strong enough to stop hurting you. I'll give you anything I have to make you happy again, Naota! Just ask me and I'll do it." I closed my eyes and worked hard to keep my voice calm.

"Go away, Mamimi. That's all you can do for me." She laughed softly, and the tones of the laugh were all wrong.

"To much has happened for things to ever be right with us. All we can do is hurt each other. It's best for you to go back to New York. It's best that we don't see each other again." I finished dressing and walked to the door. It was as if I sunk into a depth beyond emptiness.

"I'll be gone tonight." I grabbed my guitar and notebook then left without a goodbye, the last sound I heard from her was by far the most chilling:

I heard crying from behind the door.

I had planned to go straight to the club, but instead found myself doing the far more bizarre. I went to school. I walked right into the office and after conniving her schedule from the secretary with some lie. Walked right into Ninamori's class.

The instructor hadn't arrived yet and the class was still dense with groups of non-delinquent students. I found Ninamori acting as the nucleus of a very dense little crowd. I pushed through them with a considerable amount of rudeness. She blinked when she saw me there.

"I need you to talk with me."


"Excuse me, but who exactly do you think you are-" one of the girls asked me with her hands on her hips. I assume she thought she looked important or something. She didn't even earn a response from me.

"Naota, I can't just walk out of class."

"Alright. Come to the club, I need to talk to you, Ninamori. It's... important." the little classroom monitor was making noises that reminded me of an irritated chicken. She looked like a moron in the little uniform and I had a momentary urge to reach over and grab her butt just to level her to nothing more then the shrieking that would by far be more fitting of what I already knew of her.

"You can't just barge in here and demand that she comes to talk to you!" Ninamori was looking at me while a young male student spoke.

"I'll be there, Naota."

I leave the little crowd of onlookers at that, then the school. I know I don't belong there, just as I know I don't belong anywhere. I run to the club with a strange detachment from the pain in my legs or the burning in my lungs. I feel like I did after the first night she came back. I felt like I would break apart if I wasn't running. Now I feel like I already am broken apart, but I'll fall to pieces if I stop.

When I burst into the practice room I am panting and looking so intent that everyone jumps and stares at me like I might be there to kill someone. I close the door and compose myself a little as I walk over to where my group is staring at me. I reach into my bag and toss the little notebook into Daisuke's lap. He glances down at the little page of musical notes.

"Novocain for the soul?"

"We're doing this one tonight. Learn it."

"Naota, come outside with me. I need to talk to you." Shouta takes me by the shoulder and stares at my face. We walk out of the soundproof room and into the empty hallway.

"What is it Shouta?" I ask, knowing that for us to be able to do this song it will take all the practice time we have.

"What happened to you?" He's looking at me like I've grown a third eye.

"Nothing." I assure him, though I know it's not over. I try to walk past him, but he steps into my way.

"Where's Mamimi? Is she coming tonight?" I feel my expression darken.

"She's leaving tonight." He nods thoughtfully in response.

"Who's idea was that?"

"Mine." He puts his hand on my shoulder and I feel almost capable of ripping it off me. I could strangle someone so easily after this morning.

"I'm saying this to you now, and I'm not saying it again. I don't believe in meddling with people's lives, especially lives I don't understand." He gives me an expression to emphasize his point. "But I do need to say this once. And then out of respect for you I'm never going to mention it again."

"Can we not do this?" I groan.

"I believe in people needing each other. I believe that there are certain people who fill voids in other people. Ayame does that for me. She completes some part of me that would be empty without her" I roll my eyes.

"Listen to this once, then you don't have to listen to me anymore. I don't know you Naota. That doesn't bother me like it used to, I believe you're the kind of person who likes being given their space. The only thing that makes me want to get involved is because I know you're miserable on your own. You can't live like that, no one could. I don't understand your entire story with her, but I do believe that Mamimi means something to you. After seeing you two the other night I think that she might be the thing you need to fix yourself, the person who could fill the emptiness I suppose." He looks capable of continuing, but as Tetsuo opens the door and turns to me I can tell his momentum was severed.

"Are you done?" Tetsuo asks.

"Yeah, we're finished."

"Naota, this song..."

"Can you play it?"

"Daisuke and I can. You certainly can. It'll kill lead guitar though. No offense Shouta, but there isn't enough speed pills in all Japan to get you to where some of this is." He hands Shouta the pad and waits as he reads through the notes.

"This is amazing... But he's right, way too complex and fast."

"You're not playing it." They both blink at me for a moment as if they hadn't heard me.

"I'm taking lead guitar." I reply with certain distaste over their gaping.

"Shouta, you don't play bass very-"

"I can do it." He looked over at Tetsuo with a sense of urgency. "You and Daisuke, you can have this song perfect by the time we go on? Not much of a practice."

"Naota's going to take the lead? Fuck yeah. No way we're going to miss seeing this because we get booed off stage." His spiky continence vanishes in the doorway soon followed by a near running Shouta. I don't join them in the practice. I don't understand why I need to play this song myself, or why I wrote it so that there would never be a chance for any of them to make it theirs.

I wrote this song because only I could play it.

I unsheathe the guitar I never use and look down it's sleek cherry red form. The chrome is polished so heavily that it's a mirror of metal running amidst the black dials. Every string is tweaked to the edge of snapping, leaving it damn near dangerous for anyone who doesn't know how to touch it correctly. This guitar was never Haruko's. This one is mine, and if there is any magic in it, it's my magic alone.

I slide down the wall with the guitar in my lap and wait for them to call us up. I can't go in there with them, as they get ready for this. I don't know why exactly, but tonight I am not really one of them. That's odd because in a different way of looking at it, tonight is the first night I ever really will be one of them. I just know that I have to believe that they can do this. Believe and keep away from them till they're ready.

Half an hour later they are sitting beside me on the wall, all quiet. They're following their leader. Mimicking my silence with their own. I guess this is the moment of truth for The Atomsks, but of all the things I could be thinking about, I am thinking of Haruko.

I remember Haruko, how she once was my batting coach. 'You never know how you'll do until you swing the bat.' I understand why I never have taken the lead before; I don't know when it came to me. But it's clear now as my band and I wait our turn.

The owner gives us the warning. We're next.

There is no excuse tonight, there can't be. Everything I am is crashing out of orbit and I know that if I don't do this now, I'm my father. When we go up there we're playing against fate. On one hand we could be fed to Madbase like a hundred others, we could live our lives in this little club and die old and senile. But if we can do this now, then we can potentially do anything, even escape the fucking joke fate set us up with. I've known this was coming for how long? That someday I would have to choose between the normal life I was allotted at the bakery, or the unknown that exists outside Madbase. I pin the microphone to my collar.

We take our places on stage and I can hear our name chanted: a pagan rite in worship of the pirate king. I wonder if he'd be flattered. Already I can hear some commotion over the fact that I am standing in the forefront now. That I'm the lead.

I'm afraid and yet not afraid. I look out over the crowd and see Ninamori in the front row. She's smiling at me. I smile back a little. Mamimi is not there.

She escaped Madbase; I can escape it too. If I'm strong enough to challenge fate, I can escape this city, then who knows. The child Atomsk stands with a choice. It's a different one this time, but it's epic all the same.

Fuck fate.

I swing the bat.

I cut the air with a sharp string of the guitar, one that is followed by another and another until the sound is like a dagger in the chest. My fingers run over the strings as they did before, but this time I am not pushing down so hard that I'm cutting myself. For all that's happened, I don't feel numb right now. There is a pause by design and everyone is watching me as I turn the guitar in my hands and take hold of the chord to the engine. Tetsuo gapes for a moment as I pull the choke and start the engine. The guitar's diesel engine roars for a second while I let the chord retract back inside. I guess most people don't see gas powered guitars too frequently? I spin it back into my hands and smirk a little over their reactions, which suddenly explode into a kind of cheer. I hear Daisuke mutter 'shit'.

The drums thunder behind me as I feel the vibration from the bass in my ribcage. Shouta is doing awesome on the bass. The stage lighting is blinding to me as I stand before the masses as an icon of sorts. They are bathed in red overhead lighting; they look like devils in hell. And I play to them with such fire that I could very well be the devil at his violin. This music is hard rock, almost metal. It's thundering around us like a big storm, but it's far more intricate then anything else these people will hear tonight. Loud and explosive with complex chords that it dazzles as it assaults. I start playing faster and harder, whipping them into a nearly frantic state, then just as they are ready to go ballistic, I drop the tones down below the backup guitar's softer music. I step forward and feel the stage light burning on my skin. They look all the more like devils now that the music has taken true flight and rolls across the throngs like crashing waves that surge up the walls and then back down.

As I begin to sing, my voice mingles between the demonic and angelic. It's the memory that floods over me as I play, but now while I sing, I think of her and ache. I may look just as much like a demon in the lighting as the crowd does, but I have yet to meet a devil who is as wracked with grief and confusion as I.

My pain, my anger, my sorrow…

My love.

"You look at me and see another.

"Look again; I'm not my brother.

"Does that even matter to you?"

I rock back and forth with the music. I've never sung anything more than backup and am fairly surprised to hear the low and dark words coming from me. I know that if I looked back at my band I would see them staring at me in surprise as they play. The lyrics sung in my borrowed voice flow from me like dark water.

"Touch me and I feel the pain.

"Speak to me; I'll go insane.

"Do you even hear a word I say?"

I'm moving on my own now, pacing on stage, periodically rocking on my heels slipping into a strange kind of dance that is mirrored by my band, then cutting off the lyrics with some of the fastest playing I have ever done. I notice trends to the music that I wasn't entirely aware of in my head. I don't understand how I could have written this only to be surprised by its nuances when it's being played. When it first started off it was loud and reckless in its nature, but the lyrics spur a fluctuation into a kind of dark gothic rock.

"The emptiness has taken me.

"The world I knew, forsaken me.

"Is this how it started out for you?

"Seek me out; I'll try to hide.

"Kiss me and I'll die inside.

"Is it wrong to love all that you hate?"

There is no doubt left in me how much Mamimi has changed me; how deeply I've been affected by her. I told her that a lot of things were really about her back in the hotel room. It's the truest thing I have ever said because here I am playing her song, changed by it. The music is Mamimi: a fluctuation between sadness and strength.

"It's been so long since I could feel.

"Can pain be all that makes life real?

"I look at you, but I can't look away..."

I slip into the chorus again, though only hearing it now for the first time.

"Each day moves on just like a dream

"Strange, surreal; I try to scream.

"But as I try, I just choke on words.

"Are you a prophet? Are you a saint?

"Savior or devil; have you come too late?"

The song has been going on for longer then I realized; the crowd is screaming for us, but I don't hear. All I hear and see is her; the changes she has made to me. How she's proven that there is escape if you are willing to take it. How you can be the strongest person in the world, but still be fragile. And as I feel my intact fingers against the strings I see that pain doesn't have to be the cornerstone of the universe. There are other ways to feel. Sinister or compassionate, love can be just as strong as pain.

The song climaxes.

"The world we know is a shade of gray.

"Cold and dark despite the day.

"I run to you, but I can't fathom why.

"You reach out and touch me.

"It's acid on the skin.

"But when I'm with you...

"I feel alive again!"

I step back and listen to their screaming, the song ending in a sharp high that mingled so perfectly with my own voice that I stopped being able to tell what the guitar contributed and what I did. The world was a roar of dark and demonic noise. It was beautiful in its savageness, wild and free, but also wistful. I walk so many lines, and in this song I step from one genre into another as though there were no gap that could take me even a step off track. The lights swirled and reel around us. The crowd is now bathed in blue light and they look unreal and vaguely magical.

I kill the engine on my guitar, and after disconnecting it from the amp, walk offstage. I turn my back on my group and my fans, but the group understands it and the fans seem even more pumped because of it. I am my music, a dervish of emotion, which swirls and rages internally and never cares if people applaud or not.

I feel so acutely sensitive to every emotion within, but I grasp none of them. I'm electrified and yet swallowed by a loneliness I have never felt before. I smile a little as my group passes me in the hall. I've stopped walking and now just hang there. As they pass they touch me, a brushed hand against my shoulder. A quick squeeze. No words. They are mine; my group, my brothers, and my friends. And they seem to know me better now. Words will be for later, now is best left to silence. I hand Shouta my guitar and he nods.

I let the next group go five minutes into their set before I slip into the crowd and seek out Ninamori. She's moved to a table in the back following our performance, trying to get enough distance from the speakers to make talking a possibility. I am just grateful that it is far enough away to keep me away from the majority of our fans.

I don't feel the need to indulge in their offers, and I don't think I will again. They're nothing more then pale shadows in my eyes. Ninamori smiles at me as she lets the candlelight bathe her face in shades that were reminiscent of Mamimi's hair. She did that the night she made my friends love her, and now this girl does the same. I don't know what I feel about that, just that Ninamori looks beautiful in the smoke and haze of the room. She's dressed in a suede jacket and a turtleneck that makes her look older than she is. Her hair is pulled tightly behind her exposing the warm browns and copper tones of her unmade up face. She's wearing her glasses.

"Do I need to tell you how awesome that was?" She smiles at me and I feel like I've never left her life. I sit and feel like an old friend in a story that doesn't revolve around misery, as so many do, in their mimicry of life.

"The classroom princess is complimenting the delinquent?" She laughs whimsically at me.

"I've done more then compliment you, Naota. I almost joined you once, but you wouldn't let me do that."

"This is my gutter, Nina. You've got to find your own place to live."

"Just as well. I am quite fond of hygiene you know." She reaches out and sticks a finger through a hole in my shirt that I hadn't noticed before.

"It's a look." I defend with a little laugh.

"Regardless, you've never been a delinquent to me. I'm not as stupid as people think, you chose the life you wanted most. I kinda envy that, ya know?"

"I miss being your...friend."

"You know the rules, Naota. You have your place to live and I have mine. We can't mingle well and still belong in our places." She smiles at me a little bitterly. "What did you want to talk with me about? Surely not this?"

"No, not this. I feel kinda dumb, but I needed to talk to someone and you're the only one who knew me before... knew me before she left."

"Now I'm interested..."

"Mamimi came back." She blinks and I watch the surprise melt into a commiseration.

"She's the big photographer now, right? She still like she was before?"

"More or less."

"And you have no clue how to respond now." She ran her fingers over the flame of the candle. Something about the way she looked when she did that scared me.

"I responded just like I always did." She raises her eyes to me and regards me with some great understanding.

"You let her use you?"

"I don't know anymore. It's different now. There were moments when she seemed changed. Like she was remade into something else. She cried."

"People don't change, Naota. Not in any of the big ways. So she's either playing a game, or that part of her was always the real thing. She's wearing a lie, but which one is it?"

"I don't know. And I told her to go back to New York this morning. I yelled at her."

"That's new." She didn't have any condemnations to that, just a kind of earnestness.

"But it's strange. I did what I always wanted to do. I told her no and wasn't manipulated. But now I feel like I'm torn apart inside."

"It's hard growing up sometimes. Outgrowing old things..."

"I made love with her last night, Nina." I blurt out and I catch a subtle reaction in her. A stab of pain that's different from the bitter humor she always seems to carry with her. I ache too as I see it.

"And things get more complex." She remarks bitterly.

"She said she loved me this morning." I continue softly. She is staring at me.

"And you wanted to say it back." I was silent as she reached out and touched my chin. She felt soft against me. I recognize that she looks beautiful in the dimness of the room, like a candle in the night. I ache for her in a way I have never for another. It's not a manifestation of lust, but a more vital need. I don't have a family, but in a half delirious instant I see her as the mother who left and the sister who never was. Ninamori is the closest thing I have to true family. The last shadow of the child I never really had time to be cries out to throw myself into her arms, to be embraced and held as if this one girl--who is no older then me--could become a family all on her own.

"What do you want to do Naota?"

"What can I do? I'm no better then I was before it all started. I hate her and love her. But I can't… I guess when it comes down to it, I just can't. So in a way this is simple." I stumbled with my words as I do with my thoughts. It's a wonder she has the slightest idea what I'm saying.

"I've known you long enough to understand that nothing is ever simple with you Naota. It's what makes you so alluring. The fact that everything is intense and epic even if it's just high school stuff." Her eyes could be onyx or violet in the light, but she looks ethereal either way.

"Intense and epic are overrated."

"I wouldn't know... and I don't know." She paused as if she fell into a thought as though it were a chasm. "You say you brought me here because I know you the best of anyone."

"Not really in those words."

"Close enough. But as I was saying, I don't know a whole lot Naota. I'm probably the person who knows you the best here, but I am in the dark on all of this. What does that say? You know, that you don't have anyone who understands."

"I don't want that."

"You need it, though. We all need someone who understands why we do what we do. Approve or not, we need someone who understands." she had that little self-important smirk from childhood. That look that made her look both childish and grown up all at once.

I contemplate what she says for a moment. It doesn't make sense to me, but then again there are a lot of things that don't make sense to me. I asked her here because of the things I didn't understand. How it's possible to love something passionately and hate something just as completely. I asked her here for the very reason she suggested. She does know me the best I suppose. Or at least is among those who know me best.

"So out with it. You want someone who can give you advice on how to deal with this. You need to inform me."

"It's not that easy, Ninamori-"

"Nothing is easy with you, but you still do it."

I looked away from her at the band on the stage. They were thrashing like drowning amputee patients. I winced at the image and cast a momentary question as to where it came from. They were obviously making a great deal of noise, but they were muted to me. It was eerily silent here, though I know that it was like so many things: in my head. I don't know how much time passed in perfect silence while Ninamori waited with utter patience. I felt a great weight swell inside me as I finally looked back at her.

"Once upon a time there was this prince..." She blinked a little in confusion as I went on begrudgingly. I don't understand exactly where this was coming from, but it felt a little easier this way.

"The prince lived in a sad kingdom. The fields were poor and the sea was devoid of fish. It scraped by, and it was a terrible place to live. But everyone was happy because the prince lived there. He made it all seem bearable since he was so wonderful himself. And no one loved him more than his little brother, who was not a prince himself, just a little boy.

"Now the prince was a kind man, and when he one day happened upon a little cat, he decided to take care of it. This cat had been treated cruelly since she was a kitten. She expected everyone she met to beat her or play mean tricks on her. She didn't trust people. However, after a long time the prince managed to change that. The cat grew to love the prince.

"The prince and the cat and the little boy were happy for a time, they didn't care that they lived in such a pathetic kingdom; as long as they were together, they were happy. But then one day the prince left for another kingdom that was more suited to him.

"The cat and the boy were heartbroken, and had to cling to each other just to survive the loneliness. The boy had never had to take care of a cat before, and this stray cat was hard to take care of. She was constantly afraid and sad, so she always needed to be held and cuddled. She was always terrified that the boy would leave her too, and on top of that, she was heartbroken that the prince had left without her. This life was hard for the boy, and with the cat it was almost unbearable.

"Then one day a new cat came. This one was a wild cat, one that had never had an owner and never needed to be taken care of. It came to the boy and played with him, never asking anything of him. Sometimes it scratched him, but that didn't matter. It was so much nicer not having to constantly cater to a cat when you could just play with one.

"The boy fell in love with this new, wild, cat and forgot about the old one. The old cat stopped trying to get attention since it never could get it from the boy after he met the wild cat. She just accepted it and stopped coming around. The boy didn't even notice until the wild cat had left him, and then it was too late.

"Both cats had left the young boy, and he realized how selfish and irresponsible he had been. He had forgotten the cat that needed him... abandoned her just like everyone else in the world had. And now she was gone, and he missed her. The boy grew cold and stopped liking cats all together..."

"Wow...." Ninamori chuckled. "That has got to be the most terrible story I have ever heard. Stick with the guitar, you'd have suicidal kids if you managed to get that published."

"Don't joke about it! I hate that story. I hate that boy!" My fist trembles with anger and I fully grasp how pathetic I am. How the fact that this bothers me so much must cast light on so many flaws of my person. I had told her this as a blatant parallel of my own story, maybe because she might answer hypothetically... Amazing how one pronoun could be so much more comforting then another.

"I don't hate that boy. I've never hated him." How could anyone be as condescending as she is, then as compassionate?

"He's an idiot. He was so irresponsible, so stupid. He had a chance to be as good as his brother, maybe even better! But he did what everyone else would have done."

"What bothers him isn't how he compares to his brother though-"

"It's how he failed her." I continue for her, knowing her words before they left her lips.

She leans over and kisses me. Her lips touch mine and I tremble at their nearly electric current. The kiss is just a contact, she doesn't linger. I stare after her, stunned by how fluidly she navigated the distance and also how tender her kiss was. Had they always been that gentle?

She looked at me with a sweet smile. the smile assured me that she had not meant the kiss in anything more than the kind of love that I have never felt before. Family love. I wonder if my mother ever kissed me like that before she left.

"You do love her, Naota. If you can't believe what you've been feeling since she came back, trust me in this." I was silent, but not the standoffish kind of silence which I had perfected over all this time. I was resigned to believing. Pretenses are the hardest thing we ever shed. Sitting in that dirty little bar and staring at this complex little high school girl, I feel like an atheist on a church's altar, finally giving in to the blind and irrefutable. I'm still not sure about God. But I guess I do believe in the kind of love that Shouta had tried explaining to me earlier.

"I can't Nina... how could I ever ask her to forgive me for leaving her like I did? I don't know enough words to find one that could apologize for abandoning her when she needed me the most."

"The boy in your story... he was just a kid then. And what she did to him was just as wrong as what he did to her. The cat and the boy were both victims... They need to forget the past if they have a chance at a good future." She got up without being motioned to do so. It was clear that she was done; assured that she had said enough.

"The boy never liked cats again?" She asked gently. I looked down with more then a little shame over the fact that I had been too damaged to give things with her a real chance. Had I been different, I think I would have tried to fight the forces that made us separate. Either way, I do love Ninamori.

She waited for a minute before smiling and turning. Her hair spilled down her back as I watched her unfold her glasses and slip them back into her purse. She spoke without facing me.

"I don't know if it's possible to make things up with her. There are things in life that can't be fixed. But even if the boy goes to the cat and she scratches him, he needs to forgive himself for what happened. He was just a kid after all." She makes a half-handed wave and vanishes from me; leaving me both enlightened and more confused than I have ever been before.

I was the deer in the road. My mind swam with great swirling rhapsodies of sound and image. Mamimi, a swirling vortex of memory and pain and love and sorrow bound together in a sheer primal agony that left me sitting there in utter bewilderment. I knew what I wanted, but I knew I couldn't do it. And it was only then in the heat of this swirling thought process that I noticed a change around me. There was no sound and no movement.

I gaped as it hit me, nothing in the club was moving. The band was locked in utter stillness as people chatted and yelled in perfect soundlessness. Not only was life stuck on "pause", the colors were muted and drab. Reds that once were vibrant as neon now hung there as dull as the brownish sepia of dried blood. Lights were dulled and everything was stopped except for me. I turned in my chair, nearly frantic. No movement no sound to the right of me. Have I just had an embolism? Did I just die? Oh god, did my brain burst inside my skull? Strokes and seizures and blood clots, oh my! I turned to my left and saw the dead color and crushing silence. And then in the pinnacle of my horror I heard the voice from right behind me.

"I've gotta ask.... how does the boy feel about dogs?" not only did Haruko's voice crest my fear, it elevated it to pure and complete terror.

"H...Haruko?" I trembled. I haven't heard her voice in so long...

"Don't tell me my little lover forgot me so quickly." I almost cover my ears as with each word I can hear her teeth scraping against each other like glass grinding on glass. My ears are popping with the pressure that wells within the room. Her presence is like being deep under the ocean or high in the sky.

"W-what did you think of the show?" I blurt out, doing my best to keep a brave front over a being that could kill me in a heartbeat if she wanted. I lean back in my chair; focusing everything I have on trying to be calm. I lean back and wince as my head hits hers. She had mirrored my movements exactly. She laughs.

"Lame... but for a monkey I am muy, muy impressed." she reaches behind herself and slips her arm around me in a strange embrace. "You've got nice chops kid."

"I'm still not as good as you... evil space alien..." I smile in spite of my fear. For what is Haruko if not scary and fun.

"No one is as good as me." She grins even though I can't see it.

"What did you do to them?"

"What did I do to you?"

"Okay, what did you do to me?"

"I sped you up to my level... try not to be too thrilled. This is how they look to me. Damn dirty apes." She laughs as she quotes the old American movie. "They're all so dull and slow... not like youuuuuuu."

She is enjoying herself, and it makes me smile a little. I remember how much I loved and hated this savage angel.

"Maybe you're a few rungs higher on the evolutionary footstool. That's pretty poetic for a person who uses less then half of their brain."



"It's evolutionary ladder, moron." She purrs at me, seemingly grateful that the years have not instilled a crippling fear of her. I can still be a smartass even though it might get me bludgeoned to death. I still think I am on the verge of losing bladder control though. I don't like that she just pulled my little nickname for her from my head.

"I thought I didn't have a brain? It was missing, ya know?"

"I put it back when I was done playing with it." She draws her words out in a childish attempt at being cute. "But yeah... this is the world as I see it; or at least your world. A thousand Taros and only one Naota...."

"Are you going to kill me, Haruko?"

"Is that a request or a question?"

"You wouldn't honor a request and you rarely give a straight answer with questions. It doesn't matter does it?"

"I knew I loved you for a reason." I felt her fingertips gliding along my neck, tracing the place Mamimi bit a few days ago with extra attention.

"I'm not going to hurt you any more then usual. In fact, I am here because of the opposite." Her manacle rattles faintly.


"Such a little rude boy... Who were your childhood role models?"

"You." I smirk.

"Mmmmm.... you see that's why I'm here again. You warrant it so much more then that little child man, Amarao. When his game ended he clung to it. He tried so hard to find me again... trying to get revenge... or maybe love from me. I never could understand him. Such a useless head which was so full of ambitions that no Taro could hope for. He's navel lint." She giggled maniacally and I knew that if I were looking at her, I would be seeing fangs in her smile.

"But you... when our game finished... well you just stopped trying. You didn't fight or cry over it. You just accepted it."

"I was... I am pretty fucked up because of it." I reply a little bitterly.

"That's going around I hear. But we decided that you warranted returning for."

"What do you mean we decided that I warranted returning for?"

"I mean I. And don't go getting all excited. I'm not taking you with me. Pets aren't allowed in my apartment...." She chuckled darkly.

"I'm crushed."

"You could be." I wince at the sudden sharpness of her words. I almost get the feeling of wisps of human emotion from her. She's an arrogant damn near demonic bitch. But she's got moments of tenderness too. And she does seem to get her feelings hurt.

"Moron." She blew a raspberry at me.

"Stay out of my head please. I remember that it's pretty painful when you play around in there."

"Taking all the fun out of my life."

"I doubt that."

"I wouldn't."

"I would." She laughs at me good-naturedly

"You were a kid then Naota... but you were special to me." She sounded so human when she said that. I reply softly.

"You were too."

"You've been sick inside for a long time. Right after I left and before I got there."

"Yeah, numb inside"

"But it didn't last when she came back?"

I blink.

"Did it? As soon as Mamimi came back, you've been like your old self again..."

"You knew?"

"Oh yes... you're one of my favorite soap operas." I felt an icy realization hit me. And as I realized it, I felt her stiffen with excitement behind me.

"You... you sent her!"

"Definitely a step up the evolutionary footstool."

"You were the one who she met in New York. The one who told her how she could 'fix me'."

"You were always my favorite, Naota. I didn't want you to be miserable the rest of your little life."

"But it didn't work! I'm not fixed! You sent her here and we hurt each other!" I raged.

"It didn't work huh? I owe him a dollar..." She grinned menacingly and for the first time I became aware that there was someone else beside her at the table. I dared not to look around to see. I knew that I couldn't look back there or something bad would happen; a pillar of salt or something to that effect.

"It didn't work...." I was near crying.

"Naota...." She was sitting on my lap. "Wanna know a secret?" I looked up into her wasp yellow eyes. The terrifying eyes that had once glowed with such viciousness were tender eyes now; a savage rhapsody that shifts wildly from the gentle to the insanely loud. I am such a kick ass songwriter.

"Secret?" I asked in the voice of a child.

"I wonderful secret... something that is the key to the whole universe. It's a little piece of wisdom from an advanced race. Though technically most races are advanced when compared to yours," she grinned.

"What do you mean?"

"Just say yes. How often does a superior being offer to tell you the secret of the cosmos?"

"Yes..." She smiled and kissed me. I didn't kiss back and she touched her forehead to mine.

"When you truly understand the question... when you know the solution to the problem..." she paused.



"That's it?"

"That's it. The hardest thing in the universe is the actual act of doing what you know is right. You can think and think until your species goes into extinction and the sun goes supernova, but that doesn't solve anything. When you know what to do, just do it and stop thinking about it." I felt the absence of the weight on my lap before I saw that she was gone. She was sitting behind me again as if she never left.

"Act." I repeated. She reached behind herself and dangled a pair of keys in my face. Their jingling sounded musical.

"Got you a present.... if you've got the balls to take it," she sneered. I snatched the keys to her Vespa from her hands and rushed from the bar even as it magically returned to normal speed and color. I pushed through a crowd of people and laughed as I jumped over a chair. I hit the door and burst out into the cold night, laughing with what could be either mirth or madness.

The numbness was gone.


"Furi Kuri...

"Such a strange phrase.

"It must be a cosmic abnormality that it seems to be the axis that they all exist upon. This reoccurring theme of their lives. I don't get it." the old man replied as he turned to Haruko. His features were gray like his hair, and his rumpled attire didn't match his surroundings in the least. He looked like an old monarch in an S&M club. However his apparel was by far less noticeable when held against his neon green eyes that quite literally glowed in the dimness of the room.

"I think it's a nice word. If there is one thing these primates have going for them it's the music of their language. It's so perfectly blunt." Haruko smiled wickedly as she watched Naota run out the door like a happy little lunatic.

"Don't you agree on that, 'pirate king'?" Atomsk glowered. As he made the sour face, his wrinkled visage rippled gently, as though his form were too immense to be held in a human guise.

"Please don't call me that. That's a very stupid wording even for these people. They dare to call a being that is oblivion itself a 'pirate king'?" He shuddered at the term. "That's so insulting to a being who has watched the stars explode outward from a single pinpoint of light and form the universe again and again over the eternities."

"I think it's pretty fitting for a giant glowing turkey with a nose ring." Haruko leaned in on her hands, smirking. Atomsk reached up and gingerly touched the dangling link of chain that pierced the underside of his imitation roman nose. He felt just as ridiculous as he looked.

"This is another insult."

"Yes, I know that you are the personification of death, Atomsk. What's that crap of yours? 'The spirit of destruction who returns all things to their origins'? Do you even listen to yourself when you spout this crap? You've never had any style. Just look at the form you chose for yourself!" She sounded bored as she admonished him.

"You didn't mind the last one I hid in. Plus, this was a temporary choice. I needed to be here for him." Haruko's feline smirk turned a shade gentler.

"Yes, your last incarnation was a good one." She looked after Naota even though he had already vanished through the door. "I never knew you cared about him."

"Don't lie to me Haruko... We've played this game far too long to be deceiving each other so simply. You know I love him just as I love all the forms I hide in. He's a light in a dark world full of... Taros is it?" She laughed.

"See it is a nice language. I love blunt things."

"You could have done it too you know? You could do it now... become that girl of his? You'd like that. Being his lover and being mortal for a while?" She laughed maniacally.

"I will never stop chasing you. Atomsk. I have fun playing in these simple lives... but always while hunting you. So what if I pass the time pretending to be a galaxy police officer or a housekeeper? It just makes the hunt more fun." She sneered with her ivory fangs.

"You can never catch me."

"Try me. Go ahead and run now. I'll be right on your ass just like I have always been."

"You're really content to be hunting something that can't be caught for all of time?"

"You can be caught. And once I do, I will be you. I'll be the spirit of oblivion... if that's what you really are."

"Why can't you give up?" he replied with an amused smirk, knowing full well her response but wanting to hear it just the same.

"Because love is never giving up. We'll be locked like this forever if you keep me amused enough to not just jump over this table and eat you right here and now. The black hole Atomsk..." She led off

"And his perpetual tormentor, Haruko." He continued

"You really think that you could just jump over this table and catch me?"

She smiled broadly in reply. He laughed.

"So what do you think, Haruko? Will Naota catch her?"

"On my Vespa?" She laughed so loudly that had the rest of the club heard her, their eardrums would explode like fireworks of blood.

"He'll catch her."

"The moment when the hero and the heroine come together and live happily ever after." His tone was whimsical as well as a little sardonic.

"You never do change, do you? They're not going to live happily ever after. They're going to get naked and do it right there on the ground, she'll tell him she'll call, then she'll leave and never come back. That's how these humans work." She sneered at him.

"You're fun, Haruko." He replied with a dry smirk.

"I'm still going to eat you."

"Of course, of course... but you seriously don't think they'll have a happy ending? You're expecting some angsty little tear jerker that will have her leaving on a plane while he watches from the terminal?"

"It's been done before."

"Too frequently. I think Naota will manage to make things work. It's all about free will, and that boy has a will like no one I have ever met. Except you of course."

"How do you know?"

"Because love is never giving up." He smiled as he vanished in a flash of crimson light with Haruko in hot pursuit.


I never thought such feelings could be real. I never thought that in no more then a moment everything could be changed. I never thought I could ride this Vespa and not wind up ground up in its spokes. The wind was lashing at me with icy teeth, but all I felt was a rising euphoria. I was laughing as I drove the moped like Haruko used to. I did wheelies and swerved madly down the road, taking turns too sharply and not slowing down in the least.

I was free, for the first time I was truly free, and for the first time I really knew what it was that I wanted.

I understood it all, and was reveling in that, I would find Mamimi and I would act. I wouldn't just sink into her whims and I wouldn't resort to meanness. I would be Naota for her, the real Naota. Or if she needed a Ta-kun, then I could be that too.

It didn't matter and I loved that.

I was terrified that I wouldn't find Mamimi, or that once I did I wouldn't be able to make her see that I was fixed. She had fixed me with Haruko's help. I wanted her to see me smiling and to know that I was ready to fix her now too.

We could save each other!

I was also afraid of later, what comes next... but that's a normal fear for a human. We're all afraid of tomorrow, of failing others and being failed ourselves. It's just that I haven't been preoccupied with those before; their silent desperation was a novelty to me, a joke when held against the ceaseless numbness of the world. My life was changing and it was the most exhilarating thing in the world.

I pushed the Vespa to eighty as I shot into oncoming traffic, only to weave back into the correct lane. I drove like Haruko.

I laugh and howl into the wind, letting it carry my words away before I even hear them. There are tears in my eyes and my cheeks are hurting from both the laughing and the cold.My laughter was as much nervousness as it was relief, and I know that if she's gone, I've lost this little fragment of ambition. I want to fix her like she tried to fix me. I look out over the city as it blurs around me in blinding speed and disproportionate height, and I realize Madbase doesn't bother me as much anymore. I'm sure it will soon enough, cause I still am Naota, a free Naota, but still the same at the core. Right now this city doesn't matter to me. Right now I am happy. I don't know when that will end, but I am happy now. And I want her happy too.

For so long I have been without hope, and now I have hope again. I know my place and I know my destination to a degree, and after drifting so long, a destination is as much cause for cheer as anything else.

Let her be there. Please don't let me lose this by having her gone before I had a chance to make things right with us. Please don't let this sense of purpose fade like everything else in my life. The words sounded a lot like prayers to me, and that surprised me more then a little.

The Vespa shreds a corner to gravel as a Volkswagen swerves onto the shoulder to avoid me. I catch sight of the bridge in the distance. The structure of iron and wood looks like a relic to long forgotten antiquity, darker then ebony against the faint shimmer of the flowing water. The structure was carved of darkness in a world that was carved of light, but amongst the radiance of a glowing city it looked all the more important in my little game against fate. It seemed fitting that this place should be important to me; that it should have some significance to my future as it has had such a varied place in my past.

I glide through the sensuous curves of the road like a serpent on water, the Vespa is dropping down to forty, and as it does I begin to see more and more of the shaded landscape. As I draw closer to the underside of the bridge, I note an ember of orange that looks like the cycloptic eye of some animal in the lightless woods, radiant and hypnotic. The flare burns for a second, flickering in the night, then fades away into the darkness. The light is the burning ash of a cigarette pinched between Mamimi's lips.

I slide the bike down the sloped incline of concrete and trash, coming to a rest next to the overturned metal skeleton of a shopping cart. The engine revs in protest as I let it die and grow silent. The headlight pierces the night and exaggerates the movements of tiny scraps of paper in the wind. She stands by the water, looking down into its murky fathoms with a troubled expression. The cigarette glows in the night, as paper and tobacco become gray ash on the air. She's wearing the same thing as last night, but it is now enveloped by the buttery folds of a brown leather jacket. I see smoke wafting around her head in what could be either the cold air or the fumes of the cigarette.

"It looks kinda dirty, ya know?" She turns to me and cocks her head. "Was it this polluted when we were kids?" She kicks a can across the concrete, watching as it gradually rolls into the quagmire of pollution and mud with more of a slurp than a splash. She doesn't really wait for me to answer her, so when she starts talking again I begin to walk up to her.

"Maybe things were always this bad, but they seemed cleaner back then?" She looks broken in the kind of way she was back then. How things have come full circle for us. First I was the strong one and she the weak, then we switched, and now we switched back to our original places. The only thing is that I suspect my newfound strength is directly the result of my need to fix her. Such is irrelevant though; the issue at hand is that she looks every bit as bleak as the water, and that makes for a troubling comparison to her beauty.

"Are you alright, Mamimi?" She laughed a little.

"The Vespa... You saw her too?"

"I saw her too."

"When I first saw her in New York I thought I died." She pouts with indifference as I have seen only her do. "She just walked up to me on the street and I didn't know what to think. She could have been a devil or an angel since I'm not sure which place I'm going to. But then she asked me if I wanted to help you. She must be your angel? Right?"

I walked up behind her and put my arms around her, feeling how cold she had let herself get.

"Maybe she's my devil?" I ask. She contemplates this a moment.

"What are you doing, Naota? I am leaving, I promised you I would. I just wanted to spend a little time here first. I wanted to see this place again before the garbage swallows it all up."

"I don't want you to go anymore."

"You want to hurt yourself on stage. Does this mean that you want to hurt yourself offstage too now? Only using me?" She steps out of my embrace and into the cold.

"I'm tired of hurting you. I'm leaving."

"Then stay with me for love?"

"Love?" The word was cold out of her mouth as it hit the air without fogging.

"You said you loved me this morning." I reminded her, feeling a little sick to my stomach.

"And then you asked me to leave. I'm leaving you because I love you, Naota." She looked like glass to me and I knew how apt that was. She was fragile in my hands but still capable of cutting me to ribbons.

"I met Haruko, she told me how I could fix you!" I implored, wincing at my stretch of the truth. I have lied before, but this time it matters so much more. In a way Haruko had told me how to fix her so it is more of a half-truth, but more then anything I needed her to believe in me enough to stay. How sad that I am relying on Haruko for credibility.

"Why do you want me to stay?" She finally asked.

"Because I'm in love with you."

"That's stupid Naota. It's a cruel lie or an even crueler truth." The swiftness of it hit me like a baseball bat. Mamimi may give off a lethargic aura, but no more so then a crocodile does just before it takes you down with blinding speed and accuracy.

"But you wanted to stay this morning! How could so much change over just one day?" I felt very outmatched all of the sudden. Having something you want means having something you can lose. I was scared of losing.

"Look, you were right. You've always been right. I do need to leave and not come back; you're just saying this now because you feel guilty. But you shouldn't. You're right about everything, I will just hurt you, and you'll hurt me. We're better apart. We would have to be better apart!" She smiled simply at me, as if all this was nothing to her but indifferent memory. "You don't have to be sad anymore."

"Stop this, Mamimi! I made a mistake this morning." I felt my eyes boiling over with water and I saw the reaction in her. I was crying for her, begging as I have begged for nothing in my whole life. That alone seemed to stir something in her.

"Why are you doing this?"

"Because I want you with me, idiot!" I snap.

"Even if things had gone differently, I was going to have to leave again, Naota. I have a job in New York... it's not like I would be able to just stay here forever. Why are you so upset?"

Words and I rarely get along, I have a fairly decent mastery of them when they aren't important; but now, when I need words more then ever before, they come to me reluctantly. I don't know how to sum up my life since she left six years ago, how she constantly hurts me but also makes me feel better then I can ever remember feeling. I have words enough for years of introspection, but when I need them, I am forced to settle with the cliché truths that make me sound as pathetic as I have ever sounded.

"I love you, Mamimi. You say that's cruel, and it is. I still love you though."

"You shouldn't." She replies bleakly

"Nothing that hurts this bad could be anything but love. Please..." I'm begging now. I'm sure Haruko is laughing at me somewhere. Damn alien helps me find her, but really slacks on helping me win her back.

The memories of that night flood through me I tremble with the faint memory of the warmth of our bed and her smell, which is some strange perfume of smoke and incense. I can smell that same perfume faintly here.

Her hair is caught by the wind and begins lashing a little at her neck and chin. Her pristine skin shines in the darkness as she lets the glowing cigarette fall to the dirty ground. As it falls, her eyes flash with its reflected light, illuminating them in queer radiance for the instant, then letting them rush back to their inky blackness. She purses her lips as she regards the tiny glowing stick, and then crushes it under her heel.

"Too much has happened for us to ever work, Naota." I can see a momentary glimmer of sadness in her as she speaks. But it's different from before, this time the sadness is not directed at me and how I've failed her but rather at the wheel of fate. It seems intent on keeping us apart if for nothing more then maintaining the momentum it has already mustered. She's mad at the world that says we've gone through too much to ever work. And that makes her sad.

A car passes overhead, it's speed evident as it whips down the old and dilapidated road, deeper into the city of Madbase. An idea is born within me and it is an idea bred throught the years by this strange and insane city. I walk over to her, smiling like a happy stranger, feeling almost capable of laughing madly into the cold air.

"Hello. I'm Ta-kun." she looks at me with utter perplexity.


"I'm Ta-kun, I saw you down here from the road. I wanted to say hello." She didn't know how to respond and I didn't know how to stop. This desperation in me has bred some truly strange solutions.

"Hello?" She blinks in confusion.

"This is the part where you tell me your name."

"This is dumb, Naota." she remarks with chagrin as she realizes what I'm trying to do. I must seem so childish to her now, playing in make-believe. This, however, is all i have left and so i run with it undeterred.

"You read minds? How did you know my real name is Naota?" She blinks at me in bewilderment.

"But don't call me that, I'm Ta-kun to my friends. What do your friends call you?"

"I don't have any, but I'm sure if I did they would call me Psychopathic Bitch."

"That's pretty hard to believe."

"Trust me, that's what they'd call me."

"Well, I meant both parts. First, you don't seem like a psychopathic bitch to me... Second I know you have friends. I saw you at the club the other night. You were the center of this group of musicians. They were all hanging on you." I laugh nervously.

"You're stalking me, now?"

"That's what guys do now, isn't it?"

"I suppose it is..." She replied thoughtfully.

"So what brings you to this dive of a town?"

"I was born here. But I left for a while."

"Sounds nice, I wish I could escape this place sometimes."

"You could..." I feel a jolt through me. Was that an offer?

"What brought you back?"

"A guy."

"Now it gets interesting... Who is this guy of yours? A little brother I would hope."

"He was a Naota too."

"Ta-kun." I glower.

"Sorry. But no... He was my--" She paused in search of the words, looking beautiful now that she was playing along. "He was my first love." Her smile was honest and it kindled a similar expression in me.

"How did things go?"

"I thought they blew up, but I don't know now..." She reached over and put her hand on my shoulder. I could still feel her hand there from last night.

"I'd like to hear about it." I offer as subtly as I can, given the day.

"Alright. Lets go talk. There's this club I know..." She trailed off as she circled behind me and laced her arms around my shoulders. It felt like the same embrace from when I was a child. She had held me like this and talked about overflowing and that something wonderful would happen if she did. I never understood that until now. And as she nestles her head against my shoulder, I think I'm overflowing too. It's the opposite of the numbness. It's like being so full of feeling that you think you'll explode. She's whispering to me and I hear it only as sound. The gentle tones, the playful raises, and the warm puffs of her breath; there's a poetry in that, a series of lyrics that I could never match.

I know the odds of all this. I'm a smartass, not an idiot. I know that it's crazy to think that you could just start over after years of hurting each other. I think about that as we get onto the Vespa, her arms tightening around my abdomen.

"I'm going to overflow." I whisper to her. In her private language, that means that I'm really happy. She kisses me quickly on my neck.

The engine starts and we ascend the slope and pull into the street.

"I think I am too." She nuzzles into my hair and we take off over the bridge and into the city.

It's absurd to think that two people can just rewrite history. In all likelihood we can't, and it's insane to even try. I smile at that thought. Mamimi and I were both born here in Madbase, and though we may very well escape it together, your hometown does always leave its mark on you.

Madbase is after all, a city of insanity.

With jaded eyes you'll come to see, with a twisted heart you'll come to be.

To this fate bow down and be so kept? Look around and then accept?

Or could you find the strength to fight, turn desperation into might?

in a world of madness who is flawed?