Disclaimer: Shin Kimagure Orange Road characters © Matsumoto Izumi/ Terada Kenji/ Shueisha. This work is not intended for commercial gain or to infringe or otherwise challenge the status of these copyrights.

Author's Note: Tokyo, November-December 2004: Madoka is injured in a car crash, and she and Kyousuke must find a way to deal with her amnesia, which is threatening to tear them apart. Written in honor of the 20th anniversary of Kimagure Orange Road.

For Naoe Tedoriya, wherever you are now.

SHIN KOR 2004: LOVE LOST, LOVE REDISCOVERED

Part I: Love Lost

Kyousuke Kasuga looked sleepily at the passing scenery. He had just arrived from the train station and was taking a cab home, having been away from home for some weeks. He had just finished a long assignment in the country photographing farms and other rural locations for a government client. He was eager to return, as he had planned many things for his annual family reunion, which was coming up in two weeks.

The cab dropped him off in front of his house, which he and his wife had built near her old home. They had been lucky enough to come upon the lot just as it was put on the market, and with a little help from his father and her parents, they were able to buy it outright. Construction had just finished several months ago, and it was everything they had hoped for, the house of their dreams.

His nose wrinkled as he got out of the cab. It certainly was chilly today. He pulled his denim jacket tighter around him and adjusted his bag on his shoulder as he walked to the front door. He rang the doorbell.

The door was opened by a small figure wearing a white t-shirt and, over it, a red jumper. Her big round eyes glared at him, then turned friendly as she recognized him.

"Papa!" She reached out for him, and he scooped her up in his arms.

"Hey, Naoe! How's my little girl?" he greeted her, smiling, stepping over the threshold, coming in from the cold and damp. She had her mother's emerald eyes.

"Mama!" the child called out. "Papa's here!"

Soft footsteps padded down the stairs leading to the second floor of the newly built house.

Kyousuke halted in his tracks as his wife came down the last flight of steps. Still as beautiful as ever, Madoka Kasuga, formerly Ayukawa, smiled down at him, with those gorgeous green eyes of hers sparkling, and her hair falling to her waist in a silky black wave. She wore a long-sleeved red turtlenecked sweater, and white leggings highlighted her slender legs. Little had changed about her over the years. Perhaps she was a bit more mellow than she used to be, her body was possibly a bit more voluptuous than it was before, and maybe her eyes had some more wrinkles and laugh lines at the edges, but inside, she was pretty much the same Madoka he had fallen in love with way back in junior high at Kouryou Gakuen. If anything had changed about her, it was that she displayed much less of the hard shell that had characterized her when he first met her, the same thing that led her to be classified by the majority of the people who met her then as a 'bad girl'. She was kind and gentle most of the time when she was with her family, and much less snappish with Kyousuke—a development that thrilled him to no end.

"I thought you weren't going to make it," she said.

"Are you kidding?" he exclaimed, giving her a kiss as she got off the last step. "Of course I was going to make it." He ruffled his daughter's hair, causing her to grimace.

"Papa!" she complained, shaking her head. "Don't mess my hair up! Mama just fixed it!"

"Oh, sorry." Kyousuke looked at the little braids on the back of his daughter's head.

"Did you get me a present?"

Setting his daughter down on the floor, Kyousuke grinned at her. "Of course I did. I'll give it to you later, okay?"

Nodding gleefully, the little girl ran off into the dining room.

Kyousuke took his wife in his arms and kissed her more thoroughly. "Welcome home," she murmured.

"How've you been doing, Madoka?"

"Oh, fine. A bit busy with work, lately, but Kazuya's been unusually helpful with Naoe."

"Kazuya?"

A head crowned with unruly black hair peeked out from hallway leading into the dining room. "Hi, Kyousuke-niichan." Then it disappeared.

"I wonder what he's up to," muttered Kyousuke.

Madoka laughed. "Come on, don't be suspicious. He's asking for my help in one of his projects."

Yeah, don't be such a worrywart, Kyousuke.

Hey, you twerp, get out of my mind!

There was an echo of laughter in Kyousuke's mind as Kazuya broke the telepathic connection.

"What are you thinking?" Madoka asked, puzzled at his frowning expression and the way he was staring intensely into the dining room.

"Huh? Oh, nothing. Kazuya." He looked into her eyes. "Aren't you bothered by his reading your mind?"

She smirked at him. "I've got nothing to hide. Maybe you have."

"All I'm thinking about now is having a long hot bath."

"Done," said his wife. Calling out to Kazuya to look after Naoe for a while, Madoka started to lead her husband upstairs, but paused at the bottom of the first flight. Kyousuke watched her cheeks turn red.

"What's wrong?"

Her eyebrows came together for an instant. "You know, you may be right about being bothered by your cousin's mind-reading."

"What did he say?"

Madoka told him, which elicited a yell of outrage. "Kazuya!"

I was just kidding, Kyousuke-niichan! Lighten up! Geez, where Madoka-neechan's concerned, you sure have the skin of an onion.

I don't want you to get too fresh with her, you hear? You can't claim the excuse of being a little kid anymore.

There was the mental equivalent of a shrug. Alright, sorry. Sorry, Madoka-neechan.

Kyousuke's focus returned to the outside world, and his wife. She was looking at him with a smile on her face.

"What?"

"You know, you really look jealous when you get mad at him like that."

"Oh? That's because I am. You're mine and mine only."

Madoka chuckled. "Yes, my master." She tugged at his arm. "Now come on, or the water will get cold."

"Wait a second." He sniffed at the air, which was redolent with the scent of cooking. "If you're here, then who's in the kitchen?" He marched away, anxious to find out.

Standing at the doorway into the kitchen, which was beyond the dining room, which was beyond the living room, he found…

"Kurumi."

"Hi, onii-chan!" Kyousuke's younger sister, wearing an apron and with her netted hair stuffed into a chef's hat, beamed at him. "I hope you're hungry."

He groaned. "Hi. I'm famished, to tell you the truth."

"Good. What's the matter, then?" The only remaining single Kasuga sibling frowned—she had a good idea what the expression on her elder brother's face was all about, and she felt annoyed at the old family joke.

"Nothing, nothing." Returning to Madoka, he allowed her to lead him upstairs.

"You had Kurumi do the cooking?"

"Don't be so unkind. You know she's not a bad cook anymore," Madoka reprimanded him. "And she really wanted to show off for today, so she could prepare for the party."

"Yeah, I know. I was just joking." They paused outside the door to the bathroom. "By the way, how about Manami?" His other sister had attended a convention in the US.

Madoka looked up at the wall clock at the end of the corridor. "Oh, I told her I was picking her up at Narita in around two hours or so. She said she'd call if her schedule changed." She started to unbutton Kyousuke's shirt. "Now, are we going to stand here until I've undressed you, or are you going into the bath?"

"I'm going, I'm going."

-----oOo-----

"I'm going!" Madoka called, snatching the car keys from the kitchen countertop.

"Where to?" asked Kurumi, setting down a bowl of osso buco on the kitchen table.

"Manami just called. I'm going to fetch her. Want to come?"

Kurumi shook her head. "Bun-bun. No, thanks, I'm still not finished here."

"Naoe, want to come with Mama and fetch Aunt Manami?"

Madoka's little girl shook her head. "No, Mama, I'm busy playing with Kazuya-niichan."

Kazuya emerged from the kitchen, where he had been helping Kurumi. "Sorry, Naoe, I've got to leave in a short while." Seeing the questioning look on Madoka's face, he explained, "I've got to see a friend. I'll be back quickly."

"Ooh, a friend," said Kurumi teasingly. "I wonder which one, the blond one or the black-haired one?"

"I-it's nothing like that!" Kazuya protested.

Madoka chuckled, seeing in him the very image of Kyousuke as he continued to contend with Kurumi's taunting. Her husband and his cousin both looked alike, same spiky hair, similar height, same eyes; they even acted alike sometimes.

"Well, I'll be going now. Naoe, you take care of your father while I'm gone, okay?"

Naoe nodded.

"Bye."

-----oOo-----

Kyousuke Kasuga gazed out the bedroom window. Beyond it, he could see the distant river. Normally it was a highlight in the scenery, sparkling as it flowed under the noonday sun. He had brought Naoe there sometimes, angling for the sweetfish that abounded in its waters. But now it seemed dark and lifeless under the cloudy winter sky, and the world, despite the shining sun, cold and grey.

He sat on their bed, Madoka's and his, refreshed by his bath, but somehow depressed by the sight. He shrugged on his happi coat and returned downstairs.

At the last stairstep, he inexplicably tripped and went flying forward, losing one of his zori sandals in the process. As his hands flung out automatically, to protect him in case he fell, his right hand snagged the photo on top of the bureau beside the landing. It went crashing to the floor, skittering in front of him. To make matters worse, as he regained his balance, he stepped on it. There was a loud cracking sound, and Kyousuke swore as he gingerly hopped off it.

Kurumi and Kazuya appeared at the entrance to the dining room.

"What happened? You alright, big brother?"

Kyousuke, who had knelt down to pick up the photograph, nodded. "Yeah. Damn." He held up the bent photo frame. The glass had shattered, and the picture inside it—the first picture ever taken of them as a family, with him, Madoka, and baby Naoe in her arms—was damaged.

He carefully pulled the picture out of the frame, cursing his ineptitude. A piece of glass had cut a wide, accordion-folded swath across Madoka's face.

"Well," he grumbled, "I guess that's it for this photo."

Kazuya walked to him and looked closer at the family portrait. "Aww, nii-chan, how could you be so clumsy?"

"Stow it, Kazuya." He stood up. "Anyway, I've got copies of it somewhere." He pocketed the photo.

There was a loud meow, and Kyousuke saw that the family cat, Jingoro II—whom everybody called Jingoro, the original having died long ago, after living an adventurously escapist life, what with Kurumi and Manami drowning him with affection—was batting the old red straw hat Madoka had given him when they had first met around on the floor. It had somehow fallen from its peg on the wall.

"Shoo! Go play with something else!" As he reached for the hat, the cat took it in its jaws and ran off with it into the dining room.

"Hey, come back with that!"

"I've got it," Kazuya said, running after Jingoro.

The doorbell chimed loudly, and Kurumi went to answer it.

"Hello, everyone!" Takashi Kasuga, Kyousuke's father, gray-haired and face lined with age, stepped into the genkan.

"Hi, pop!" greeted Kurumi. "You're early."

"You said you weren't going to arrive until late at night," Kazuya reminded him, returning from the chase with the hat in one hand and the struggling cat in another. He replaced the hat on the wall, but it fell again to the floor. Frowning, he picked it up.

"The person I was working for told me to cut the session short, seeing as how it was snowing heavily."

Naoe came bounding into the room. "Good afternoon, Grampa!" She gave him a comically serious little bow.

Takashi's expression and return bow was just as solemn. "Good afternoon, Naoe. Come here." He lifted her up. "Unh… you're getting heavy. Kyousuke, you're feeding her too much."

"Oh, come off it, pop," his son said. "You're just tired." Many times Kyousuke and Madoka had told him to come live with them, but strangely Takashi was insistent on living in a small apartment all by himself. "At long last, peace and quiet," he had said. "I won't have to worry about flying cabinets and such things any more."

After warning them not to step on the broken glass on the floor, Kyousuke went to fetch a broom and dustpan. Rummaging around in the kitchen closet, he heard the phone ring.

"Hello?" Kurumi answered it. "Yes, it is. Yes, he's here. Onii-chan, it's for you."

"Who is it?"

"The police."

Kyousuke raised his eyebrows. He went and took the receiver from Kurumi, who was looking at him with mystification on her face. "Hello?"

"Mr. Kasuga?" The voice was male.

"Yes?"

As the person on the other end of the line spoke, Kurumi watched her brother turn pale. "What?" he fairly shouted into the phone. "Where? Yes, I'll be there! Thank you."

He set it down, and she could see his hand was trembling.

"Kyousuke? What was it about?" his father asked.

"M-Madoka… she's been in a car accident. They're taking her to the hospital."

The red straw hat fell from Kazuya's hand and fluttered to the floor.

-----oOo-----

Thirteen years ago, it had been the other way around: Madoka running through the hospital corridors, while he lay fighting for his life in the operating room after being hit by a car. Now he found himself in her position, and the bite of care and fear in his heart sent the adrenalin rushing through his body. Kazuya and Takashi had to stop him from charging into the emergency room, just as Master had to stop Madoka from barging into the operating room so many years before.

"Let me go! I have to see her!"

"Son." Takashi's voice was calm. "There's nothing you can do for her now. Let the doctors do what they have to."

"Nii-chan…" Kazuya pleaded.

Slowly Kyousuke calmed down, enough for his father and cousin to release him. His body seemed to shake with anxiety as he stood there, gazing intensely at the emergency room doors.

Kurumi came running up to them, her brown hair flying. "She's still in there," she told them. "They just brought her in two minutes ago." They had arrived quickly at the hospital thanks to Kyousuke's immediate use of his Power, teleporting everyone with him into an alleyway near the building.

"Kyousuke, go sit down," said his father. "Kurumi, Kazuya, stay with him. I'll see if I can contact your grandfather."

The wait was interminable. Various awful scenarios ran through Kyousuke's head, driving him nearly mad with worry. It was over an hour before a doctor came out of the emergency room and asked for him.

The old man wearing the stained green smocks and white surgical cap pulled his mask off. "I'm Doctor Itazuki," he said in a quiet voice. "Are you Mr. Kasuga?"

Kyousuke stood up. "Yes."

"Please sit down." He did as told, and the doctor took the empty seat beside him, everyone leaning closer to hear what he had to say.

"Your wife is in rather poor shape…" he began.

"What do you mean?" Kyousuke snapped, impatient for him to get to the point.

Dr. Itazuki cleared his throat, unperturbed by Kyousuke's outburst, having experienced the same thing many times before. A kind man, he sympathized totally with his patients and their families.

"She has a broken right arm, bruised ribs, a hairline fracture of the skull, and her brain is bruised and swelling. We need your permission to operate on her, just in case it's needed."

Kyousuke's face had fallen as the doctor talked. "Needed?"

The doctor massaged his stiff right shoulder with a hand. "Well, the swelling isn't as bad as we had feared at first. We'll let an hour or two go by, then we'll see if we need to relieve the pressure inside her skull. I'd rather not operate if it isn't necessary."

"Yes, do whatever is needed, just save her. Please."

The doctor motioned to a waiting nurse, who handed him a clipboard. He turned it over to Kyousuke. "We need you to sign these forms. It's standard procedure."

Kyousuke went over the papers, then took the pen from the clipboard and signed. Handing it back to the nurse, he asked, "Can I see her?"

"No, I'm sorry, you can't just now. Maybe after a few hours, after we've done the next batch of tests." He put a hand on Kyousuke's shoulder. "We're doing all we can. You have my word on that."

Kyousuke nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

"Doctor," said Kazuya, reading Kyousuke's mind and bringing himself to ask what the other Kasuga couldn't say, "is she going to be alright?"

"I believe so," said Dr. Itazuki. "If there are no complications, then there's a good chance she'll recover perfectly." He frowned. "But I must tell you… there's no way to tell how brain damage will affect her."

"Is there any?" Kurumi asked.

"None we could detect, aside from the swelling and bruising. But the concussion she received could have consequences we aren't able to spot yet. Sometimes they appear weeks after the initial injury."

Kyousuke put his face in his hands.

"I must leave now. Do you have any other questions?"

Kurumi looked at Kyousuke, then Kazuya, and shook her head. "No. Thank you, Doctor."

"I'll see you later." Dr. Itazuki stood and left, the nurse trailing in his wake.

Kazuya watched them go, then stood up from his seat and leaned against the opposite wall of the corridor.

"No, no, no," Kyousuke moaned, his face still covered by his hands.

"Onii-chan, don't lose heart," said Kurumi. "We all know Madoka-san's a fighter."

"Yeah," agreed Kazuya.

Just then Takashi came back, shaking his head.

"The lines are down," he said. Their grandfather, that irascible old man, had begrudgingly installed a telephone in their home in the province. "Snowstorm."

"I'll see if I can reach him," said Kazuya, who then departed to find a quiet place where he could practice his powerful ability.

"The doctor just passed by," said Kurumi, filling her father in on what Dr. Itazuki had said.

"Kyousuke," said Takashi. "I'm sure she'll be alright."

Looking up at him, Kyousuke nodded in agreement. She would be alright. The alternative was unthinkable.

-----oOo-----

Staring at the figure in the bed, Kyousuke wanted to weep, wanted to believe it was all a nightmare, and he was going to wake up shortly from it.

Madoka was unrecognizable, lying there covered by a bedsheet and by so much bandaging on the head that no part of her was visible except her eyes and mouth. She was awake, and it hurt him to see her in so much pain. She couldn't speak because she had been intubated; a plastic tube ran into her mouth and down her throat, connected to a respirator which had helped her breathe, in a hateful, painful process, by pumping air into and out of her lungs. The respirator was off now, no longer necessary, but the tube was still there, in case it was ever needed again. A varied panoply of medical devices surrounded her bed, watching her silently, playing their own idiosyncratic beeps and noises.

She hardly ever moved; Kyousuke knew how she must be feeling, having gone through much the same thing while recovering from his own accident. He wished there was some way of getting her out of her plight. He had even, in his desperation, considered switching bodies with her, using his grandfather's soul-switching rope, but the fact that it took time for one's soul to adjust to a new body—and a healthy one at that—prevented him. It was just possible that the process might throw the healing process out of whack and aggravate her injuries or, even worse, shock her body and kill her. He didn't want to take the risk, although to him the need seemed great enough, since she was doing as well as could be expected.

It had been four terrible days and nights since the accident. The swelling in her brain had gone down rapidly, negating the need for surgery, and she had woken up on the second day. On the third night, the medical team assigned to her had decided she was well enough to be transferred from the intensive care unit to the private room Kyousuke had gotten for her. He had left her side only to visit Naoe, whom he had left at home in the care of Manami. He took showers in the room's bathroom; he slept on the provided couch. The number of people helping them had slowly increased: Akane, Kazuya's older sister, had heard from him about the accident and had posted herself with Manami, taking care of Naoe and running the house; Madoka's parents were flying in from Seattle, having resorted to borrowing a private jet from a friend since the airlines were fully booked; her older sister was even now downstairs fixing the paperwork needed for her stay at the hospital and the release of the medicines she needed; and even the graying and aged Master of the old ABCB pub where she used to work back when she was in high school had dropped by, saying he was going to pray for her recovery and would inform as many of her old friends as possible. Kazuya had not been able to contact Ojii-chan, so they had to cope without him and the possible help he could have brought them. Kyousuke could not help feeling resentful towards his grandfather: none of the espers present had any ability to help Madoka, either to heal her or ease her agony; and Kazuya, who had tried to read her mind once, was rewarded with a debilitating wave of pain and refused to attempt it any more.

Those four days and nights were like a stay in hell. Kyousuke could barely contain himself during the three times Madoka had, out of nausea and sheer reaction to her pain and injuries and the various drugs they were pumping into her system, vomited and tried to cough up the intubation tube. He had to call the nurses, who pinned down his thrashing wife as they cleaned her up and reset the tube, causing her more pain. He forced himself to stay and try to calm her, squeezing her hand and speaking, in a level, soothing voice, words of encouragement to her. Then, after each episode, he went out into the corridor and wept bitterly, his heart torn by her suffering and by his inability to do anything about it. Madoka, oh God, he had cried within himself. Please spare her! Only give her strength!

Now, as Kyousuke sat on the couch, he held the scratchpad which he had used to communicate with his wife, by pointing out syllables to her until they had formed a sentence. It was an arduous process he had just started that morning, through which he had just made a horrible discovery. Reading what he had written, what she had indicated to him with eyeblinks and head nods and arm taps, he felt despondent, and didn't want to believe it.

Where am I? Who are you?

-----oOo-----

"Amnesia? Are you sure?" Manami asked.

Takashi nodded. "Partial. She seems to remember some things. A great many others, she doesn't." He looked at his daughter with sadness in his eyes. "Unfortunately, one of them is Kyousuke."

Manami took Naoe's bottle from the sterilizer. The kid still insisted on her milk as well as her baby food. "Poor onii-chan." She went to the cabinet where the formula was kept and took a can out, setting it on the countertop. She fidgeted with her glasses.

"Dad," she said, bowing her head, "I feel guilty. If she hadn't gone out to fetch me…"

"It's not your fault. Accidents happen." He tried to comfort her by patting her shoulder. "We can be thankful that she's going to be okay physically, at least."

Brown-haired Akane galloped into the kitchen, carrying a laughing Naoe on her back. "And the horse lived happily ever after with her rider," she said, concluding the story she had been acting out for an hour now to please her cousin's angelic little girl. She took Naoe in her arms and put her on the floor.

"Let's stop for now, kiddo," she said. "I'm bushed."

"Auntie Akane, when are Mama and Papa going to come home?"

Akane's smile instantly turned into a frown. "I don't know."

"I'm sure it will be soon," said Manami quickly. "They're pretty busy right now."

"Anyway, we're here," said Takashi.

"But why can't they come home?"

"They're… busy with their jobs, Naoe. Have patience." Kyousuke had instructed them not to tell his daughter what had happened. If it ever needed to be done, he said, he would do it himself.

Naoe nodded. "Okay. But I'm lonely without them here."

Takashi glanced Manami's way. She saw the pity in his eyes. "Don't worry, we're here, we'll stay with you, and you can play with us."

-----oOo-----

"Yes, I remember you, Mama," Madoka said, sitting up in her bed, her bedcover over her legs, her right arm in a cast. It was the sixth day of the second week of her stay in the hospital, and her parents were with her, giving the Kasuga family a much-needed rest. "But I can't remember a lot of other things, including that man they said was my husband." She looked at them and asked with a straight face, "Do I love him?"

Mr. and Mrs. Ayukawa traded looks. Her mother spoke up. "Yes, my dear, you do."

"And, if I'm any judge of human nature," added Mr. Ayukawa, "very much so. Madoka, are you sure you can't remember?"

A frown appeared on their younger daughter's face, and she shook her head. "No, Papa, I can't. I'm sorry."

"I'm just surprised that of all the things you could forget, you had to forget Kyousuke," remarked her father. "I'd have thought his memory would have been buried within the very fiber of your being." Unlike most men of his generation, Maestro Ayukawa could say such things and not seem one iota less manly for it. "Otherwise, I'm sure you wouldn't have defied my wish for you to live with us, and married him."

"Well, I'm sure when you get better you'll remember everything," her mother said. "In the meantime, leave everything to us and the Kasugas. We'll take care of you."

Madoka leaned back against her fluffed-up pillows, tired with the effort of sitting up. She recalled the pained expression on the man's face two days ago as they removed her breathing tube. She had felt a vague feeling of wanting to ease the hurt that he must have been experiencing, a feeling that stayed with her even now. "I hope you're right."

-----oOo-----

What was supposed to be a reunion turned into a welcoming-home party for Kyousuke's wife. The house had been decorated for the occasion, with a large Welcome Home! banner out front, and a lot of relatives and friends had arrived just to greet her and wish her well.

Kyousuke watched the milling throng in the living room as they gathered around the newly-arrived Madoka. They had monopolized her attention; he hadn't had a chance to speak to her yet, much less be with her.

He recalled the previous week, when he had gone to the police station with his father, to meet again the driver of the car which had smashed into Madoka's Mini, and to tell the police he wasn't pressing charges against him. According to eyewitnesses, and the police themselves, it hadn't really been his fault; the road at the intersection had simply turned too icy in the unusually cold weather, and both cars had ended up sliding uncontrollably into each other. It was just bad luck that Madoka's car had turned to the left just before it was rammed by the other car, which had been traveling at a higher speed.

Bad luck, huh, growled Kyousuke to himself. Their first meeting with the hapless driver hadn't been so amiable: Kyousuke had flattened him with one punch to the nose, then subsided as Takashi held him back. The man simply sat there on the ground, blood streaming from his nostrils, and said he understood, and wouldn't press charges against Madoka's angry husband.

They had also visited the police impound yard, where the smashed-up Mini was being stored. Kyousuke had made arrangements for the car to be brought to the scrap heap. He had taken one look at the vehicle, driver's side all crumpled, spots of blood still on the dash and seat, and decided he never wanted to see it again.

A clearing of the throat brought him out of his reverie. Kazuya stood in front of him, smiling. Don't zone out now, Kyousuke-niichan. He stepped aside, and there she was, standing demurely in her simple pink dress, and—notwithstanding the bruise on her cheek, the bandage on the side of her head, the set right arm, and the many little scratches and abrasions on her body—still as lovely in his eyes as a wildflower in a mountain hollow. And, he thought with grief, just as unreachable.

"Hello, Madoka," he greeted her, bowing. "Welcome home."

Naoe, who had been standing quietly enough at his side, intimidated by the many strangers in their home, ran to her. "Mama! What happened to you?"

There was a tense moment as Madoka regarded the little doll-like person in front of her, made up in a frilly red dress and pink buckled shoes that she herself had bought just one month ago.

"Hi, Naoe," she said, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. She bent down and kissed her daughter on the head. "I had a little accident, but I'm okay now." She straightened up and took Naoe's hand in her own free one. "Mostly."

She looked at Kyousuke. "Hello, my husband."

Her formality only added to his sorrow. He already missed her encouragement, her kind and gentle ways, and her saucy double-talk when they were alone; it seemed like he would miss them a lot more, before everything was through.

He went to her and linked his arm around her cast-shod one. She smiled up at him, a shy, nervous gesture.

"Hey, everybody," called a voice that Kyousuke recognized as Oryu's. The former sukeban rival of Madoka, still dressed in her police officer's uniform, held a plate in her hand. "The food's ready. Time to eat."

People began to file into the dining room, leaving the couple alone.

Kyousuke felt acutely awkward. There were a million things he wanted to say to her, this stranger beside him. But he didn't know where to start, or how she would react. Doubtless she felt the same.

He looked at Madoka. "How are you?"

"I'm fine. What about you? You didn't look so good the last time."

"Well, what do you expect? You were lying there all messed up. How was I supposed to react?"

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to become a burden to you."

"No, no, you've got it all wrong. I didn't mean it that way." Kyousuke sighed and stopped talking, instead leading them to the dining room buffet.

-----oOo-----

Later that night, when all the guests had gone, Kyousuke suggested to her that she might be tired and want to rest.

"In a minute," she had answered, and went to the upright piano in the corner of the living room, standing in front of it.

"Now this," she declared, "I remember perfectly." She opened the lid, and played a few notes with her left hand. Then she put it back.

She looked at Kyousuke. "Some of the songs I wrote…" she said, a questioning look on her face. "They were for you?"

Kyousuke shook his head. "I wouldn't know. You never told me. You were always so private about them, you wouldn't even discuss them with me."

Madoka blushed and turned away from him, thinking she had inadvertently revealed something to him she shouldn't have.

"I think I'm tired," she told him then. "I guess going to bed would be best."

"Okay." He went and bade everyone a good night, then accompanied her upstairs. Naoe had already fallen asleep earlier and had been put to bed by Manami.

The elder Kasuga twin watched from the dining room as Kyousuke and Madoka disappeared up the stairs. "You know," she said, "I wouldn't want to be in onii-chan's shoes for all the money in the world."

"Yeah," concurred Kurumi, who with Manami and Kazuya was carrying dirty dishes and utensils to the kitchen sink for Akane to wash. "I was looking at him when he talked to Madoka-san, and all I could see was how sad he was every time she couldn't remember something." She turned to Kazuya. "See, I told you I was right in not getting married yet. You shouldn't be so serious with Emi-chan."

Kazuya stifled a yawn. "Kurumi-neechan, if I want your opinion, I'll ask for it first."

Kurumi, peeved, stuck a tongue out at him and disappeared into the kitchen.

-----oOo-----

That night sleep avoided Madoka like the plague. She was lying in bed beside Kyousuke, after a brief impasse earlier, about being reluctant to sleep with a strange man, something that she decided was the ultimate in silliness. Didn't the very existence of Naoe prove that she had done much more than simply lie unconscious beside Kyousuke? But the unfamiliar room, with its alien smells and absent memories, kept her awake. She tried to use the time to retrieve what she could, but frequently all her mind could come up with was a blank.

She rolled and faced towards him. Like strangers, they had been facing away from each other. "Kyousuke-san? Are you awake?"

"Mmm? Yes, Ayukawa, I'm here." Inwardly, Kyousuke was disappointed and piqued every time she added the '-san' when she called him by his first name, remembering their intimacies: how she would cry out "Kyou-chan!" sometimes when they made love; how she, in the twenty years they had known each other, had never called him anything but 'Kasuga-kun' or 'Kyousuke' or 'anata'. Not once had she called him 'Kyousuke-san.' He knew she was just trying to find her footing with him, and that he could have corrected her easily and be done with it; but he still couldn't help being annoyed, and decided that if she was going to distance herself from him, then he too would distance himself from her by calling her the way he used to, when they were still students. What he had called her by for the longest time—her maiden surname, Ayukawa.

Madoka was silent for a moment. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Yes?" He rolled towards her.

The dim night light reflected off her eyes. "Did we ever… I mean, did I ever ask you to… to hold me? I know it's probably a stupid question, but…"

Without a word Kyousuke snaked his arms around her and held her in a fierce embrace.

She blushed, thankful for the darkness, and rested the side of her head against him. "Thank you. I couldn't sleep."

She felt him kiss her hair. "You can go to sleep now."

Kyousuke held her, waiting, feeling her breathing even out as she fell asleep, her mind worn with fatigue and frustration.

"You can go to sleep now," he whispered. "Madoka."

-----oOo-----

The days passed by in a haze of remembered thoughts and more unremembered ones, of little faux pas and big ones that necessitated intervention, and more pain for both members of the couple. Not just physical pain, though they knew Madoka had enough of it to deal with: she suffered sometimes from fainting spells, an aftereffect, the doctor said, of the blow her brain received, one that would disappear in time; and she sometimes complained about her broken arm being painful. Kyousuke was starting to lose hope that she would ever remember him and all they had shared. It was as if, he told himself, lying awake in bed one night staring at the ceiling, they were starting again from scratch. He could remember her, standing there unable to answer a question posed by him or someone else, and each time that happened a little knife twisted itself deeper into his heart.

The various blunders Madoka had committed served to turn her into a silent, hesitant presence in the house, often avoiding the other members of her family, seeking refuge at the piano and forcing herself to play it, broken arm and all. In the intervening days, her cast had been replaced by a lightweight sheath, which helped her playing, but not her healing. The loud strains of her music filled the house with her anger and anguish at being adrift in what had previously been a safe, loving harbor for her. Everyone who heard it could feel what she was trying to express, and were in turn made miserable by their powerlessness to help her. Even little Naoe, innocent as she was, could sense the disquiet in her mother, often clambering up on the piano bench beside her, and watching her play. Often she would ask, "Mama, what's wrong? Why aren't you happy?" To which Madoka would answer, "It's nothing, Naoe. I've just got a lot on my mind." A reply which seemed ironic to her, given the barriers that were standing between her and her memory.

November had passed and turned into the Christmas month when she decided to return to work. She knew she was turning the house of joy into a house of gloom, and decided her absence would lighten things somewhat for those who had to stay with her.

She did well enough at her job, taking care of some important business matters, before Kyousuke turned up at the studio where she worked to accompany her home.

"Hello, dear," she had greeted him, putting on a heavy leather coat.

"Hi, yourself," replied Kyousuke, glad to see her happy. "Let's go, eh? The bus will be along in a few minutes."

She nodded and departed on his arm.

"Kyousuke-san?" she had asked as they walked to the bus stop. "What do we usually do at Christmas?"

"Huh? Oh, this year we were planning to have a party around Christmas Eve."

"I see." Which meant she didn't remember. "Could we stop by somewhere first, before we go home?"

"Sure. Where are we going?"

To his surprise she took him to a small temple, where he stood by watching as she rang the bell, threw an offering into the slotted receptacle, clapped her hands three times, and prayed, an earnest expression on her face. When she was through, she turned to him. "Let's go."

"Wait, I think I want to do this too." He repeated what she had done, then said, "Okay, let's go."

Snow had begun to fall, and Kyousuke opened the Chinese umbrella he had brought for just such a situation, placing it over her. She responded by snuggling closer to him. "Hey, you're going to get soaked walking in the snow like that."

Kyousuke hungered for moments like this, when her seeming lucidity enabled him to pretend that everything was alright between them, that the accident had never occurred, that Madoka had not forgotten him or the years they had journeyed through together. He put an arm around her waist.

"Hey, could you tell me?" he asked. "What was it you prayed for?"

She shook her head. "You know I can't do that."

"Why not?"

"It won't come true then."

"Oh, come on, Ayukawa."

She looked up at him, and her green eyes flashed irritation. "How come you always call me that?"

He raised his eyebrows. "It's what I used to call you, before we… made love for the first time."

"Well, I remember you in the hospital," she said, looking back down at the sidewalk. "When you thought I was asleep, I could hear you calling me 'Madoka, Madoka.' Why won't you call me that anymore?"

"Do you want me to?"

"Of course! I'm your wife, aren't I?"

"Okay," Kyousuke replied, smiling, glad that this matter was being cleared up. "But one thing?"

"What?"

"Call me Kyousuke, okay? Just… Kyousuke."

She nodded. Then her eyes flashed again, as a thought struck her.

"Yuujuufudan," Kyousuke heard her intone. "Yuujuufudan." She looked at him. "Indecisive. Indecisive. That's you, isn't it?"

He laughed sheepishly. "Yeah, that's me. I wish you didn't remember that."

Madoka smiled back at him. "I might just get everything back. I really hope I will."

Kyousuke, spirits raised, agreed with her. He hugged her closer as they walked down the street and back to the bus station.

-----oOo-----

The next morning, Kurumi was mixing herself a cup of coffee when her older brother ambled into the dining room, bleary-eyed.

"Morning, onii-chan. You look like hell."

"Good morning, Kurumi. Yeah, I didn't sleep much last night."

"Oh?"

"Yeah." He opened the refrigerator and took out a can of orange juice. "You know, I think we should keep our power a secret from Madoka for now," he said.

"Why?"

Kyousuke sighed. "Last night while I was in bed I felt my throat itch. I didn't want to get up anymore, so I used my power to pull the lozenge packet on my desk to me. In the middle of doing so I heard a gasp, and there she was, sitting up in bed, staring at it, white as a sheet." He opened the can and took a swallow, then continued. "She thinks the house is haunted now. I had to spend the night sitting up with her, trying to convince her that she must have been dreaming."

Kurumi chuckled. "So it looks like she hasn't forgotten that she's afraid of ghosts."

He nodded. "I guess we have to treat her like a stranger, when it comes to the Power. At least for now."

Kurumi put the box of coffee back into the little cabinet on the countertop. "What'll you be having for breakfast, onii-chan?"

"An egg or two would be nice."

As Kurumi began to assemble the things she needed to cook the morning meal, she asked, "Say, onii-chan?"

Kyousuke looked up from the refrigerator, where he had been noting the contents for the next trip to the grocery. "What?"

"Are you two, um, alright?" Her eyebrows pumped up and down suggestively. "You know, as husband and wife."

Kyousuke sighed. "Is it that obvious?" For all her irresponsibleness, Kurumi had a knack of figuring out what was bothering him with discomfiting accuracy. The same went for Manami. "No, we're not alright. At least, I'm not." He recollected the day he had accidentally walked into the bath upstairs. Madoka had forgotten to lock the door. Upon seeing him, she had shrieked and almost pelted him with the plastic dipper she was using. Then she realized that what she was doing was stupid, that she was panicking for no reason, and actually invited him in. But the awkwardness between them was so tangible, and Madoka so painfully shy, that Kyousuke cut his stay short, covering it up by washing her back quickly, then leaving.

His hands clenched as he recalled her lovely alabaster skin and the way it felt under his touch. Kurumi saw his troubled expression, and decided to stop talking to him about it, leaving him to wrestle with his own demons.