Drifting through a murky sea of disconnected scenes, Hayama suddenly focused unexpectedly on a familiar face lazily drifting past his line of sight. He attempted to focus on the details, her flushed pink cheeks, soft parted lips, and red glossy hair waving around her visage erratically. Slowly he took notice that her eyes were closed, and a sudden strong impulse took hold of him, a desperate need to see conscious expression in those eyes as she gazed back at him. At his first attempt to draw closer to her, he noticed that his body felt weighed down, impossible to move forward by whatever invisible force that was holding him back. Upon this realization, Hayama felt panic seize his heart, and he tried to call out to her instead, but he couldn't seem to shake the lethargy from his mind or form any type of words with his mouth. Only able to croak a few sounds, the dark matrix swimming around them both mockingly threw the noise back into his face. To his horror, he could only watch as new dark specters appeared, malevolent shapeless forms that closed in around her. Suddenly, her eyes shot open and stared unseeingly out into the dark, terror and confusion distorting her features. Her mouth seemed to be forming words, calling for help.

'No!' Hayama thought desperately as the specters permanently removed her from his view. 'No, she belongs with me! You can't take her!'

Without warning, the scene shifted before his eyes and he beheld the wicked smirk of a familiar man, his salt and pepper hair standing out against his deathly pale skin. His eyes shone with a merciless light, delighting in Hayama's frustration and panic.

'Bring her back!' he tried to scream, but only a croaking sound came out of his uncooperative throat.

The man's face only hardened further at this. He was steel and iron, forged from some demonic hell-fire furnace. Hayama looked in vain for any cracks in his face that could possibly reveal some sort of humanity lying beneath the surface. He could see none.

Now in complete desperation, the young teen thrashed wildly against his invisible restraints, willing away the paralysis from his mind and body.

"Sana! Sana! SANAAA!!"

With a desperate gasp of breath, Hayama Akito suddenly bolted upright from his futon. Wildly out of control heartbeats ringing in his ears, he distractedly rubbed his face as he attempted to regain his bearings. He was in bed, damp sweaty sheets wrapped in a constricted manner around his body, the first light of dawn peeking through his window.

'A dream…' he thought to himself willing his heart rate and breathing to return to normal. Oh but what a dream it had been! His wet bangs hanging in his eyes, he purposefully blanked his mind with the same discipline he used in his karate. Instead of drifting through a swimming darkness of confusion like in his nightmare, he embraced a new white nothingness of peace and calm.

A knock on the door.

"Hai" Hayama answered in his normal calm voice.

His bedroom door cracked open and his father stood in the entryway.

"Akito, I thought I heard you call out. Were you having a nightmare?" he asked with that quiet way of his.

"It was nothing…" he shrugged off.

His father nodded, but his perceptive eyes narrowed a bit, acknowledging his son's uncomfortable dismissal of the topic.

"Well…I am on my way to the airport now, and your sister will probably sleep for a while longer. Please remember what we talked about at dinner the night before…"

Hayama nodded, hearing the unspoken reminder to act as the man of the family during his father's absence.

"And Akito?"

Hayama looked his father in the eye, raising his eyebrow in question.

"Take care of yourself son. Try and have fun as well this weekend, perhaps with Kurata Sana. I do not like to see you looking so stressed."

Hayama allowed himself a slight upturn of the corner of his mouth.


"Plop plop plop" cheeks inflating and deflating reminiscent of a fish and eyes squinted closed.

"Blaaaaaaaaaaah" tounge-lolling to the side, hanging out of a mouth with eyes crossed stupidly.

"Eeeeeeeeee" lip curled up over the top teeth and eyes pulled down revealing the whites of the eyes.

"GAAAH!" screeched Rei as he suddenly entered Sana's confectionary pink bedroom, only to find the little princess of the house sitting in front of her mirror, her reflection a ghoulish looking face and banshee like noise nearly scaring his morning coffee out of him involuntarily.

"Heeeey Reeeiii-kuuuun!" Sana hissed, still exposing her white teeth and eyeballs, looking very skeletal in the process.

The pale and sweating manager leaned heavily against the door frame. "Sana-chan! Breakfast has been ready for almost fifteen minutes and you KNOW we have to discuss several job offers this morning and I find you making faces in the mirror? Do you WANT me to die from a heart attack by age 40?!"

"Haha!" Sana rolled onto the floor holding her sides as she laughed at her silly manager hyperventilating with stress. "Oh Rei-kun, settle down! I was getting ready, only I've been having trouble trying to decide what I want to do with my hair lately….and then I started thinking about spiking it all over my head, and THEN I started thinking about what fun it would be to play a hideous demon in a monster movie!"

Sana quickly stood up, pulling her loose hair in front of her face and doing a good impersonation of a zombie. She swayed back and forth, her muscles relaxed and limbs flailing as her tongue hung out of her mouth and her eyes stared straight ahead in a dead unfocused way.

"Noooooo!" Rei-kun whimpered, holding what appeared to be three different scripts in front of his face as he kneeled in a corner of the room, trying to shield himself from the gruesome image.

"Why do you want to do something different with your hair anyway? You've had those pigtails since you were a little girl and you know you look cute with them. They're your TRADEMARK!" Rei desperately asked, hoping to deflect the conversation.

From his position on the floor, shielding his face, Rei noticed how quiet the room suddenly became.

"Huh?" he squeaked?

"Yeah….sure I've had it always." Sana replied absent mindedly, staring back at herself in the mirror as she held her hair up in the traditional pigtails with her hands.

"Well!" Rei started, brushing off Sana's sudden change in mood, "Hurry down because I really want you to look at this radio show offer. I know you don't want any work to interfere with school right now and this would be a much more low stress gig…" he trailed off as he wandered back down the hall.

"Hmmmmmm" Sana concentrated on the face looking back at her seriously in the mirror. Rei-kun had been partially right. She had worn the pigtails since early childhood and they were her recognizable trademark. But….

On a whim she let go of the hair she was holding up, grabbed her brush and fluffed her soft shiny red hair into flattering waves around her face. Slowly she brought the tips of her fingers to her lips, drifting into memory and savoring the sensations that they evoked.


He had loved her as an infatuated child with a steadfast fidelity years ahead of his time. He had always been the perfect dichotomy of boy and adult in her eyes, a youth forced to grow up too soon. He was strong, mature, responsible, and independent. She had resisted initially the terrifying notion of an even closer relationship with him, the boy who could pierce her façade, her soul, with one look of those deep hazel eyes. Now she feared it no longer. Already she felt the effects. She was learning to lean on him more just as he had learned to gain comfort from her support early in their relationship. Not only was she getting older, she felt like she was becoming something more than she was before. At such a turning point in her life, the pigtails seemed too girlish. At thirteen and a junior high student she had the dilemma of wanting to hold onto her carefree childhood, but also wanting to see what else she could grow into.

With a sudden and impulsive decisiveness, she ran her fingers through her loose hair and then skipped happily down the stairs to the dining room, singing out her greetings to the household like always.

Hayama stumbled a bit drowsily into the kitchen, his backpack with karate uniform folded neatly inside slung over one shoulder. He noticed a small pot of miso soup still warming on the stove and quickly made a grab for it, hoping to get something on his stomach before he headed to the dojo for some extra practice time.

"Good morning dear little brother," an equally groggy Natsumi greeted while digging around in the refrigerator.

"Yo," he replied while quickly gulping down the broth. "Got any rice made?"

"Here, there are these leftovers from dinner last night. Oh! And before you take off, someone left this for you under the door this morning sometime after Dad left," she said, handing him a small bowl of cold rice, as well as a long envelope with only his name scribbled in kanji across the seal.

Hayama's eyebrows furrowed as he examined the plain envelope. He was about to open it right away when he noticed Natsumi flicking her eyes in his direction as she finished putting together an informal breakfast. He'd leave perusal of the envelope's contents for a more private setting. Slipping it quickly into his back pocket, he went back to devouring the rice, chopsticks in one hand, bowl in the other as he casually leaned against the counter. While their father was in town, the Hayama family usually practiced more formal dinners, with their dad making every effort to come home at a reasonable hour for the meal. Whenever he really was too busy or out of town however, the two siblings reverted back to grabbing whatever food Natsumi felt like throwing together on their own time.

"Hey, I'm going to be studying most of the day here for a big test coming up next week. Try and keep it down when you get back from practice. I'll leave food in the fridge for you to scrounge for later," Natsumi said before shuffling off to the bathroom for a shower.

After he heard the door close down the hall, Hayama pulled out the envelope from his pocket, chopsticks thoughtfully dangling from his mouth, and the half-eaten bowl of rice almost forgotten in his left hand. He placed it in front on him on the counter as we casually went back to eating, staring at the piece of ordinary paper and his name written on it, almost sizing it up. After rinsing out his bowl, he slowly and deliberately reached for the envelope, sliced it open with a kitchen knife, and dumped out the contents on the bare counter.

His eyes narrowed.

Quickly shoving the items back into the envelope, he then angrily crammed the whole thing into his pants' back pocket and jerkily ran his fingers through his brown hair in complete frustration. With his jaw clenched tightly together and his breath moving quickly in and out through his flaring nostrils, he tried to control the bubbling rage within with the familiar mental exercises of karate so that he wouldn't lose complete control and put his fist through the drywall.

This couldn't be happening. How could his precious, hard earned relationship with his beautiful, loving, selfless Sana be construed and manipulated in such a crude way. With every ounce of his self-control, he forced the red swimming before his eyes to drain away leaving the mind-numbing white of meditation. His breaths evened into deliberate controlled inhales and exhales. After his extremities fully released all of their tension, his eyes opened with their familiar detached expression, only now with the kind of determination that would give even the most seasoned professional assassin chilling nightmares. Rage had left Hayama Akito's lanky 14 year old frame, but murderous intent remained.

Several hours later, Hayama exited his karate dojo still wearing his sweaty uniform from the more vigorous than usual workout. His disheveled hair swayed slightly in the chilly air, the sharpness of the breeze cooling his blood as it plastered his damp uniform even closer to his tightly muscular body. He refused to shiver in the air, perversely enjoying the brutal contrast to the oppressive warmth of the dojo. His backpack with his street clothes hung haphazardly over one shoulder which he impatiently readjusted as he prepared to walk straight home, shower, and then put his budding plan into action.

Before he could take three steps down the sidewalk however, he glanced up and stood still in surprise.

"Akito!" Sana stood not thirty feet away, her red hair waving enticingly in the breeze from under a beret sitting at a fashionably jaunty angle on her head. Her skirt also rustled in the wind, almost taunting him to come closer and touch her long legs, beautiful in white knee socks.

Sana, seeing that she had caught her boyfriend's attention, rushed forward in the excitement of seeing him for the first time that day, and launched herself into his arms.

"Akito! Why haven't you changed into your clothes! You'll catch a cold out here in this wind! C'mon let's go back to your house. Did you have fun doing all your super-cool karate moves this morning?" Sana fired off one sentence after the other not pausing for a response. She finally focused her attention at Hayama's face, seeing for the first time that day the growing look of passion in his eyes that she now recognized he held only for her. A blush staining her cheeks, she asked in an awkward voice, "What Akito? Why are you looking at me like that? Is it what I'm wearing?"

Although his face never faltered from his normal stoic expression, his eyes narrowed with her question, and in a sudden rush of breath he said with passion beyond his years, "What you're wearing? Yes, it's what you're wearing! That skirt, those socks, that adorable jacket and hat, your hair blowing free in the wind…" he ran one hand through her tresses while the other suddenly grabbed her hip. "But it's not just that, it's your voice, your loving heart, and those expressive eyes….your eyes haunt my dreams Sana!" And with that, the stress he had been fighting against for the last 24 hours finally broke him into sharp ragged pieces and he crushed his girlfriend against his chest, leaned down, and took complete possession of her mouth with his.

Shocked by his suddenness, Sana knew something terrible had happened this morning to cause Hayama to react so wildly, lowering his inhibitions so thoroughly, but she couldn't bring herself to move away from him and ask him what was wrong. Instead, everything inside of her melted upon hearing his words and feeling his lips against hers. She couldn't help but gasp when he suddenly snatched her up into his arms and ducked behind a tall wooden fence bordering the street. He pressed his advantage and snuck his tongue into her mouth, caressing her from within while his hands glided passionately over her flared hips, small waist, and arched back.

All Sana could do was lean heavily against him, clutching the back of his uniform in one small fist while her other hand stroked the skin of his chest revealed between the low vee of his top. Finally, she forcibly turned her face away to breathe in the cool air, moaning lightly when Hayama refused to stop kissing her, turning his lips instead to her neck and ending with a small bite to the skin just below her ear.

Hayama, hearing the sweet sound of Sana breathing his name whispered feverishly into her hair. "Oh Sana….I love you! I'll never let anyone take you from me…."

"Akito…what do you mean?" Sana gasped, trying to make her mind focus on his words. "I'm not going anywhere. I promise I'll always be with you from now on. We're going to grow up together." Though Hayama's kisses had almost reduced Sana to an incoherent pile of mush, a flash of unexpected insight passed suddenly through her mind, seeing images of a young scared Akito as a child desperately reaching out to hold onto the mother he never knew. The boy who worked all his life for control, lost it only when his need for those he loved was threatened….His soul was dark, throbbing with an angst she had never felt herself but was coming to understand as she saw more of his vulnerable heart.

Hayama's response to Sana's words was to tighten his hold even more, his hands stroking her from neck down to hip and back again, his lips desperately peppering her as he tried to reign in the confusing rush of love, lust, fear, and possessiveness that his young mind was almost incapable of processing.

"Yes, we are going to grow up together my Sana," he whispered, "You know you have taken control of my heart since I met you, you made it live again and it can't survive without you. But Sana….we have to talk, I don't have good news."

Pulling back to look her boyfriend in the eyes, Sana saw the tightening of anger and frustration in his normally blank face and whispered back, "Akito….tell me everything."

A/N: Surprise!! Several years older and determined to bring closure to this heart-felt project of mine, I have fabulous plot-bunnies in store for all of you if you are still interested.