AN: This is a very strange one, even by my standards. It's based on a story I heard a long, long, long time ago. Hope it came out okay, 'cause I'm a terrible judge of my own work. Feel free to let me know, okey dokers? Enjoy ^_^ I don't own MKR.

Footprints in the Snow

He watched intently. She was out walking with a friend. Said friend was stunningly beautiful, but he really didn't pay her much mind. His attention was focused entirely on the shorter of the two.

Anyone else who looked at them would simply see two girls in school uniforms out, enjoying a walk in the brisk afternoon air. Someone who knew the city's schools would recognize the uniform's: one was the red and black of a public school, while the other was the monochromatic blue of a wealthier, more exclusive establishment, leaving one to wonder how two girls from obviously different backgrounds would seem to be such close friends.

He didn't know how they knew each other, and he didn't care. His attention was on the red one. The girl he had been watching for so very long.

She was right on the knife-edge between being cute and being beautiful. Long hair, eternally braided behind her. Eyes like ruby chips that sparkled with something defying words. Coupled with her red school uniform, she was like a pillar of flame: red, warm, beautiful, and dangerous. The perfect blend of child and adult, in his eyes.

And he had seen her with her friends. She was cheerful, energetic, and outgoing. But sometimes, around those she was closest to, let down those facades, if they could be called facades, and let out a little darker side. A very delicate balance that never shifted.

In short, she was perfection.

And he had to have her.

Now.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The hair on the back of her neck suddenly stood straight up; her skin prickled, and a chill ran down her spine. But it had absolutely nothing to do with winter's cold. It was that feeling again. The eerie sensation of being watched by unseen eyes.

Shidou Hikaru reached out with one hand and grabbed her friend's arm. "Umi, do you feel that?"

Ryuuzaki Umi looked down at her diminuative friend, confusion writing itself across her pretty features. "Feel what?"

Hikaru's grip on Umi's arm loosened, and her hand dropped limply to her side. "Maybe I'm imagining things or something, but lately I've been getting this feeling that someone's watching me."

"It's happened before?"

"Hai. Quite a few times, lately."

"Have you seen anything?" Umi asked, concerned. "Heard anything? Anyone following you?"

"Iie," the little redhead breathed a heavy sigh. "It's just kind of instinct, I guess."

"Well, I would say you're just imagining things, except for one thing," Umi tossed her hair absently, a nervous habit of hers. "You were a Magic Knight. During our time in Cephiro, we had to rely on our instincts a lot, so they've had a lot of practice. They're sharper than most people's, so I wouldn't discard something as just a feeling. If your gut says there's something wrong, then I'd trust it, and keep my eyes open for anything suspicious."

Hikaru nodded slowly, and a little bit of her normal cheerfulness returned as she seemed to brush off the strange sensation. "So it's supposed to snow tonight, right?"

Umi giggled at her friend's sudden mood change, but didn't question it. That was just typical Hikaru: completely unpredictable. "We're in for a storm. Maybe we could go sledding tomorrow!"

"Yeah yeah yeah!!!" Hikaru squealed, jumping up and down and clapping her hands together; her long red braid swung behind her like a deranged pendulum. "You and me and Fuu-chan!!"

"All right, we'll talk tomorrow," Umi nodded, actually looking forward to it. "But I go this way. I'll talk to you soon, okay?" With a wave, she turned and darted down the street that led towards her home.

"Ja ne!" Hikaru called, waving back before heading towards her own home. Her brothers were probably waiting for her so they could all eat dinner together. And besides, she was starving.

Something continued to prickle at her, like an ill omen. She shivered involuntarily, and broke into a jog towards the Kendo school where she and her brothers made their home.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

He watched as they bid farewell to each other and seperated, going their own ways with a promise to talk the next day. He waited a moment, then followed the object of his obsession. He already knew where her home was, at the Kendo school. He had been there many times, following her, peering in windows to watch her sleep. He knew the way by heart. But he remained a careful distance behind her, and continued to follow and watch.

As they drew near, he realized something. There was no one else around. The evening rush wouldn't hit for a few minutes still, and even then, this was a side street. The timing was perfect. She was alone, the street was deserted, and the sun was setting. No one would see. It was now or never.

And he chose now.

Without a second's hesitation, he leapt from his hiding place. And struck.

No one else would ever have her.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Home sweet home, Hikaru smiled to herself. Satoru would be making dinner, Masaru would probably be helping in some way, and Kakeru would most likely be bothering everyone in lieu of being helpful. A typical night in the Shidou household, but she never would have had it any other way.

Suddenly, Hikaru's intuition screamed at her, and every instinct in her body jumped onto full red alert. She whirled around, her hair snapping around her like a whip.

But she didn't have time to scream or put up a defense as the blow fell, and everything went black.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

The phone rang early the next morning. Well, it was early by Umi's standards, especially on a Sunday. With her parents out of town, there was no one else to answer it. So the cursed ringing went on and on until Umi finally hauled herself out of bed and across the room to her desk, where her phone was happily screeching at her.

"Yeah, yeah," she muttered, lifting the receiver and leaning against her desk, ignoring the chair. She had every intention of crawling right back into bed when this call was over. "Moshi moshi."

"Umi-san!"

"Fuu!" Umi woke up a little. "What's up?"

"Have you seen Hikaru-san?" Fuu's voice was frantic.

"Iie, not since yesterday afternoon," Umi replied. Suddenly, she felt very tense. "We ran a couple of errands yesterday after school. We split at about five-thirty. She said she was going right home. Why? What happened?"

Fuu's next words were teary and strangled. "She's missing."

"NANI?!?" Umi half-shrieked into the phone, now fully awake.

"She never came home last night," Fuu was crying into the phone. "Satoru-san called me. He wanted to know if I'd seen her. I said I'd call you, to see if maybe she'd stayed over with you last night." She hiccuped. "I knew she wasn't, though. She would have called if she was going to be somewhere."

A few words later, they said goodbye with a promise to talk again later, and ended the phone call. Fuu was crying too hard to speak much, and Umi was too stunned to be much conversation to anyone. The receiver fell from Umi's hand back into its place on the cradle with a soft click.

Umi dropped into her desk chair, all traces of drowsiness completely gone. It was as though someone had just dropped a boulder into the very pit of her stomach and thrown her in a lake. She could barely breath or move.

"Maybe I'm imagining things or something, but lately I've been getting this feeling that someone's watching me." Hikaru's words, the day before, came back to Umi.

Hikaru had been almost a little frightened that she might be followed, but Umi had told her not to worry about it and just keep her eyes open. And now, Hikaru was gone. Umi would have been willing to bet money that this mystery watcher was behind the disappearance.

A million 'what if's' and 'if only's' scrolled rapidly through Umi's mind, one right after the other, running into one long blur of thoughts and emotions that left her too exhausted to do anything but break down and cry like an infant.

There was nothing she could do now except wait for word to come.

Days passed. The days turned into weeks, and the weeks grew into months. And the months went by. Before anyone really realized it, a year had passed. One year since Shidou Hikaru had vanished without a trace. And still the police had no leads, no clues, no suspects. It was as if she had just walked off the face of the Earth, into oblivion, and simply ceased to exist.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Umi sat at her desk, book open in front of her. A pencil was entwined in her fingers, and she rapped the eraser against the pages with a regular rhythm. Her mind was everywhere but on her studies. She was thinking more about how it had been one year. One year without Hikaru, her little sister.

It was suddenly so stuffy in there, she couldn't breathe. Against most better judgement, she reached over and cracked open the window, shivering a little at first as the icy breeze blew in. It was cold out, but the chill felt much better than how hot the room had been before.

She dropped back into her desk chair and tried to force herself to focus on whatever it was she was trying to study. That was a definite sign of how out of it she was—she didn't even know what subject the book in front of her covered!

It was hopeless. Not just studying, but Hikaru as well. A full year, and not a trace of her had turned up. It was pretty evident by then that the little redheaded Knight of Fire wasn't coming back. But Umi secretly held to that tiniest flicker of hope, though she knew it was absurd to think there was any possibility. Nothing but wishful thinking.

Suddenly, something, some unknown impulse, seized her. Her intuition was sending up flares,  and as she had told Hikaru so long ago, a Magic Knight's intuition was not something to be merely written off as foolish. So Umi obeyed, and looked up, letting her unseeing gaze shift from the words on the page to what was going on outside the window.

It was stupid. Really. Why would her intuition be telling her to look out the window? It was just after sunset in winter, and the snow was falling in big, fat flakes like confetti at a New Year's party. It had been a cold, wet season, and the current snowfall was adding onto drifts that in some areas already reached nearly waist high.

Then she heard it. Laughter. It drifted up from somewhere outside. A sound like bells.

Her blood froze in her veins, but it had nothing to do with the cold outside.

That was Hikaru's laugh.

Umi leapt to her feet and actually climbed onto her knees on top of her desk to look out the window; she actually pressed her face and hands against the glass to get a better view, like she had done as a child during storms.

Her heart stopped.

Outside, in the falling snow, was a figure. From the way this person was jumping around, it almost looked as though it was playing hopscotch with no regard for the weather. And no coat, either, for protection against the cold. Strange, though. It was dark out there, yet the girl (for she quickly determined it was female) was clearly visible. She was wearing red, and had long hair swinging behind her.

Umi let out a little cry and pulled back from the window. "Hikaru!"

Without another thought, the former Magic Knight jumped from her desk, managing to go halfway across the room in the process, and tore down the stairs. Hikaru was back! She was okay!

"Umi, what is it?" she heard her mother's voice calling after her, but she ignored it. She flew out the front door, nearly knocking it from its hinges from the force of her passing. If it had been locked, she probably would have simply gone through the thick wooden panel. She heard exclamations from her parents behind her, and paid no heed. Hikaru was out there!

The cold night air slapped her across the face like an impious hand; it physically hurt. In her rush, she hadn't even bothered to grab a jacket or sweater. She was wearing her school uniform without the necktie or jacket, so there was nothing to keep her warm.

She slid to a stop, her feet barely finding any traction on the snow-covered ground, and looked up and down the street, squinting to see through the snow; the faint glow of the streetlamps was the only light.

The sidewalk was empty.

Umi looked around frantically, confused. Where had she gone? Why had Hikaru run off, instead of knocking on the door? She had been right there!

Umi's gaze drifted downwards, to the ground right in front of her, and she clasped both hands over her mouth to keep from screaming out loud.

There, in the freshly fallen snow, were footprints. A whole clustering of footprints in the middle of the sidewalk. But there were no prints leading up to them, or away from them, save for her own behind her. No others. These were just…there.

But that wasn't what nearly made her let out a shriek of horror.

The footprints were scarlet, as red as ripe cherries.

The same vibrant crimson as blood…

Umi kept one hand over her mouth, and wrapped her other one around her stomach, desperately trying to fight off nausea. Fear, like bile, rose in the back of her throat.

"Umi!" her mother's voice called to her, but she barely heard anything. She heard her parents come up behind her, and felt something heavy being thrown over her shoulders, but her eyes remained transfixed on those ghastly footprints, standing out dark red against the pale snow.

"Oh my Lord…" her father cursed from her left. Obviously, he was staring at the same thing she was. "What in God's name did that?"

Umi swallowed hard and managed to find her voice. "Hikaru…"

"Nani?"

"Hikaru was out here. She was dancing around…in the snow," Umi half-sobbed. "I saw her! That's why I came out here! I saw her from my window! She was right here! These are her footprints! I know it!" She turned her head to look up at her father with tear-blurred eyes. "Please don't think I'm crazy, Papa. I know what I saw."

He looked back at her for a long, silent moment, then wrapped an arm around her. "I don't know, honey. I don't know…" He sounded doubtful.

Umi didn't have the strength to argue anymore, and she let herself be led back inside and up the stairs to her room, where she allowed herself to be tucked into bed.

That night, in her dreams, she saw Hikaru laughing dancing in falling snow. And where the redhead's feet touched the ground, there was nothing but red, red, red.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"They think I'm crazy," Umi sighed, letting her head rest heavily on Fuu's shoulder. "I know they do. They saw the footprints, but they don't believe that it was Hikaru out there who made them."

Fuu gave her friend a quick squeeze, then stood up, forcing Umi to sit up on her own. "I don't think you're crazy, Umi-san, for what it's worth. If you're that sure that you saw her, then I believe you did. You wouldn't be this freaked out if you hadn't."

"Arigatou!" Umi looked immensely relieved. "At least someone believes me."

"There's another reason I believe you," Fuu continued, fiddling with something on her desk. "I mean, I know you well enough to know that you're telling the truth, but there's something else."

"Nani?"

Fuu turned around, holding what appeared to be a small piece of paper, which she held out to her friend. Umi took it and flipped it over; it proved to be a photograph from an instant camera, and what it pictured made Umi have to bite back yet another scream.

The picture was of footprints, stained blood-red, in the snow. They were spread out haphazardly, as though someone had been dancing in the whiteness with paint on their shoes.

"I saw her, too," Fuu whispered.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

It was a week later that the news came.

They found Hikaru. Or what was left of her.

Two men, out for a walk during a break in the weather, stumbled across a wild animal knawing on something. The animal fled as they approached, and they were beyond startled to discover that the animal's food source was actually the remains of a human being. A small, badly decomposed body, wrapped in tattered shreds of red and black cloth. From the looks of it, the corpse had been unearthed, and the scavenger had most likely dug through the snow to find it.

Alarmed, they summoned police. After running tests, it was determined that the remains were, in fact, Shidou Hikaru, missing over a year. From the looks of it, she had most likely been killed the night she had disappeared. There was no real way of telling what had happened to her, the decomposition was so bad. They weren't even able to ascertain how she had died.

But they did make note of one thing: both her legs had been broken.

Umi and Fuu took that particular news silently, and buried their friend, mourning a second time. There was still no suspect, and therefore, still no justice. But family and friends took a certain amount of closure simply from knowing the truth.

With the truth of Hikaru's disappearance finally revealed, life went on. Time continued to pass.

Another year came and went.

The anniversary of Hikaru's disappearance rolled around again, and again, it snowed. Umi and Fuu decided to spend the day together, for their own sake. It was easier than grieving alone.

"Two years without her," Fuu murmured from her perch on Umi's bed.

"I know," Umi replied softly. She was sitting on her desk chair, with her knees pulled up to her chest and her chin resting on her knees. "But at least we know what happened."

"To an extent," Fuu's eyes were distant. "But we still don't know what—"

Laughter made her stop in mid-sentence. Hikaru's laugh. Again. But the window was closed…

They looked at each other, then jumped up and looked outside. Sure enough, the small figure in red was dancing around in the falling snow. The two young women tore away from the window and dashed down the stairs and out into the snow. Both already knew what they were going to find out there.

And they were right. The sidewalk was void of people.

But they knew that Hikaru had been there.

They knew by the fresh crimson footprints in the snow.

AN: Candyland's not in a very good mood, and when she's not in a good mood, anime characters tend to be killed off in very nasty ways. This'll probably sound morbid or disturbed, but I actually feel better sometimes when I write about people who are having a worse time than me *sweatdrop*

I know there was no "closure" to this, and I know I didn't actually pin the crime on anyway. I planned it that way, and I'm not going to change it. Gomen ne, but that's the way it's going to stay ^_^

I also extend an apology to any Hikaru fans who might be offended by this for whatever reason. I love her character, I really do. But red footprints, Red Knight, you know? It just worked best for her. So please don't hurt me! I bruise easily ^_^ And any/all flames will be used to keep warm. It's February, and the snow continues to fall. Nonstop. In large amounts. Burying my car. *grumble* It's cold, to say the least. But anyway, thanks for reading/reviewing. Ja ne!