Kitsune reached the top of the annex stairway and stepped out onto the flat portion of the roof. She moved to her right, away from the clothesline, so that Steve could exit the stairwell behind her. Her tired eyes opened wide at the majesty of the sky, framed in the skirling and luminous ghosts of clouds blown landward by the altitudinal breath of the nighttime onshore winds. The moon, benevolent and shining eye of Izunagi, again traversed the Bridge of Heaven, floating above a trackless river of stars. It seemed as if every flower bordering Hinata house was exhaling with perfumed breath soft devotions to the god of night.

Even she, armored as she was by experience against the unbridled urges of the heart, was tempted to swallow the questions and irritation she felt and embrace the romantic possibilities vibrating through her, carried by the currents of her senses. A breathless voice hummed "…this time, seize this moment, act and remember…"

Wait one goddamned minute, subconscious. Throttle it down a fricking notch, okay? It's not that romantic…all right, maybe it is… but if he doesn't tell me some truth, I'm going to kick his butt! She nodded sharply to herself in emphasis and set her jaw.

The warm evening breeze was trailing through the laundry hung on the clotheslines to her left. She looked over her shoulder, where through the wooden rails edging the deck the lights of the city of Hinata could be seen, mellow as a well – banked fire. Further beyond was the encompassing darkness of the Bay.

Steve took a breath and released it as a massive yawn, covering the lower half of his face with a big hand. "I think I'm losing that second wind." He turned in place, the flats and angles of his face a study in shadows cast from the single bulb lighting the base of the stairway. His green eyes turned to study her. "This is nice, if dark… this where you guys have your barbecues?"

Kitsune closed her eyes for a moment, and turned herself to face him. Ask the question! A moth fluttered between them and disappeared down the stairs. Steve was grinning at her, now, but the words she needed to say wouldn't release and her irritation began to build exponentially. "Sometimes." She answered him, grinding her teeth. He seemed oblivious to her internal tension and continued to examine his surroundings.

He gestured with his chin towards the waving sheets and other items suspended on hangers. "Someone forget to take their laundry in?"

Kitsune began to cross the short distance across the deck, and then stumbled when she remembered whose laundry was hanging there. Oh, shit! "Ah, I guess…" she endeavored to sound casual.

He squinted at the assortment in the dark and did a double take. "Nice taste in thongs… is that bra made of vinyl?" He made to walk closer. "Wow, panties to match..!"

"Steve," she said stridently, "it's very rude to be poking around in someone's laundry." Especially when it's MINE.

She paused to make sure he took the hint, and then sank down on the wood, turning so that her back was supported by the cross posts and struts in the railing. She extended her legs out before her, careless in her skirt, her slippered feet pigeon – toed in. Steve followed behind her, carefully placing the sake bottle down next to her hand and then dropping his backpack as he eased himself down. She could feel the railing flex slightly when his bulk leaned against it. "Nice night…" He commented.

She smiled woodenly and found her pack of cigarettes. She took her time with the lighting ritual, allowing her emotions to settle until she finally blew smoke upwards, obscuring the heavens from her view. "Steve," she turned to him, head tilted and one eyebrow cocked, cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth, "…before he passed out, Keitaro said that I should be on the look out for a friend of his coming to the Café tomorrow." She paused and let the silence grow between them. You jerk, what's the big mystery…

She crossed her legs at the knee and ticked off the seconds with flicks of her foot. The cigarette turned to ashes between her fingers. "Steeeeve?" She purred, saccharine sweet. Well, so much for getting rid of the anger…

His head was tilted and his eyes blinked as they met hers. Then, he grimaced. She noticed suddenly that his hand had been toying with a small object for several seconds, a button torn from the oxford he had been wearing when they had met earlier in the day. "Yeah. It's me." He admitted. "I'm a shit for not telling you." He pocketed the scrap of cloth and forced himself into a straighter position, eyes fixed on the rectangle of light across the deck. The sheets continued their nighttime dance, mindless and absorbing as a screensaver. His eyes shifted as he watched her out of the corner of his eye. "You're pretty pissed…"

"You think? You could have told me when you walked into the Café! You could have told me when Konaga- san left! You've had hours to fricking let me know that you were friends with Keitaro. Why the big goddamned mystery?" Well, at least I feel better! She lit another cigarette and heard the sound of a zipper. He was rooting around in his backpack and she was curious, but a childish impulse made her keep her eyes straight ahead, refusing to concede even a gaze to him. Maybe he's searching for some important thing that explains this weirdness, his lack of forthrightness… that's how it works in stories, right? The zip sound came again, and there was silence. And, more silence. "Am I going to get some kind of apology or what, Steve Seyama?" She frowned at the air directly in front of her.

"Hey." He said. She looked over, finally, to see him holding up a medium – length stub of cigar. "Can you give me a light?" Her eyes widened and then closed. She shook her head with a sigh and allowed it to fall backward, against the railing behind her.

"Oh, sure. Of course. How rude of me, not to think of you." She held out her lighter and their hands touched during the exchange. "How did you meet Keitaro, Steve, and why are you visiting? Are you here because of the baby?" He held up a finger, requesting a second's grace as he leaned his head forward.

The flare of the lighter provided a sudden still – life for her, Steve's head and hands limned in the golden – red glow of flame. Focusing on the miniature tableau again brought home how large he was, his hands alone as they made short, practiced movements manipulating the lighter and cigar were as large as her entire head. The wiry hairs on their backs, and his eyebrows and eyelashes, turned golden in the light.

He handed back the lighter and he seemed transfigured, a different creature. I'm so tired and irritated that I'm delusional, now. There should be some kind of plastic warning label wrapped around men: 'could be dangerous if approached when exhausted. Do not converse with when on medication. Consult your physician if exposed for extended length of time.'

Come to think of it, the plastic should be wrapped around their mouths… then, a good beating. She smiled, suddenly.

The smell of his cigar was calming. He stifled a yawn with the back of his hand and took a puff, exhaling with a small and pleased grunt. "How do I know Keitaroooo..?" He posed the question to the dancing laundry, drawling out the end vowel sound as he spoke around the cigar in his mouth

"Yes! You are so damned irritating, Steve!" Her hand curved around in a short arc and thwacked solidly into his shoulder, a flat meaty sound. A good beating.

"Urk. Okay, okay." Damn him! She knew he was smiling. "I met him in Mexico when his South Pacific Studies course at Berkeley took a sidetrack. We were both working for Seta on a small dig near Creel, about four hours out from Chihuahua. We lived in the same tent for about three weeks at the site, and before he went back to Japan he spent a few days at my house."

"Oh." That's it? "You're an archeologist?" The cigarette was nearly out and, worse, the nicotine wasn't helping keep her alert. What an anticlimax. The edge of her frustration was blunted by… by mundanity. She reached back behind her and stubbed the cigarette out on the underside of one of the wooden deck slats, then placed the remains beside her. Her eyes were dry and she rubbed at them. "I mean, I'm sure that you guys come in all shapes and sizes, and Harrison Ford's very humpable, but… I would have never thought that you were a… a scientist." The trees surrounding the annex rustled their own soft commentary on the conversation.

He chuckled. "Nope." She saw the shadowed forms of his hands rise into the air as he held them in front of himself. "I was pretty much there to use these. Just a strong back. Definitely not my thing. I followed Seta or Bones around…"

There it was again! "Bones? You've been saying that all day…"

"Bones is the nickname we gave Keitaro. The Tarahumara Indians we worked with called Seta 'El Arqueólogo.' They called Keitaro 'El Poco Hueso.' That means 'little bone…'"

What? She started to laugh. "Oh! Oh, no! Poor Kietaro… half a world away and he still can't get respect! 'Little bone!'" That's perfect, oh yeah! Her laughter took a decidedly evil turn. "That's going right to tape." She grabbed for the sake bottle and took a sip, still laughing so that the liquor nearly escaped from the edges of her grinning lips. "I bet he never told Naru!"

Steve was smiling as well, if uneasily. "Wait, wait, God, where's your mind going? I don't want to make him a target or anything… originally they were calling him, ah, 'el pequeño colector del hueso,' 'little bone collector guy,' because of a find he made early on in the dig. But, that got shortened over time." He started laughing. "Oh, man, this is too sad… 'little bone' was shortened over time…." He reached up rubbed at his forehead, the action visible to her more from the negative space in their strange, monochrome environment, and then stopped. He cocked his head and frowned. "Do you hear something? Or am I so tired I'm imagining things?"

The indistinct sounds of voices and laughter drifted to her ears from over the rooftop. Someone's home.

"…And…soccer player… sooooo cute! But then… studying…" That was Shinobu's giggle, no mistaking it.

"Ooh, my! And… friends? Studying in the library… very hard course." The response had to be Mutsumi.

Kitsune smiled. "No, you're okay. The late train came in."

"I swear, there's some kind of noise, like a whistle." He wiggled his pinky finger in his ear.

"Maybe you're being punished for being such a secretive jerk?"

The voices disappeared, blending into the night sounds. Steve was silent and she wondered if she had offended him. That would make us even, then. She tried passing him the bottle and he took it, but she still felt awkward. Time slowed, the both of them content to simply sit under the stars. Now she herself heard a distant whistling sound. Was that a plane? It seemed to be getting closer… Oop, it's gone.

Steve still hadn't come clean with why he was in Hinata, but for the moment it was comfortable to feel his presence next to her. Her eyes were half - lidded as she considered really pressing him or giving in to the lassitude brought on by the rigors of the day. I never would have dreamed of the day I've had, yesterday at this time. He passed the bottle back to her, his face wreathed in smoke, just barely visible to her night – adjusted eyes.

A high – pitched whistle ripped through the darkness above them. Echoing from the hills that cupped the Hinata House complex, the sound dopplered down the scale and then, just as suddenly as it began, it diminished to silence. Minutes passed. Startled frogs tentatively restarted their gossip and Steve turned towards her, his mouth open to speak. His face clenched as a nova of blue – white radiance flared from the backside of the Hinata House. Then, just like the whistle, the pervasive light was gone. Kitsune could feel her hair settling back with the conclusion of the event. She and Steve both blinked urgently to dispel afterimages as, somewhere in the middle distance, a siren in the town began to blat out an alert, then ceased.

"What the hell was that?" Steve demanded, on his feet and halfway to the stairs. "Was that an explosion?"

"Kaolla Su." Kitsune replied. "Got to be." She sighed and threw up her hands. "Don't worry, I'm sure that exposure's not lethal. She does have Naru and the baby to consider… she's usually very good about that kind of stuff."

She made out his expression and began to laugh, despite how she felt. Or, perhaps because of how she felt. It's been a really long time since someone got under my skin this way. In less than a day…!

Idly, she began to think about the shared bottle as an indirect kiss and was surprised to feel heat rushing to her cheeks. This is messed up… I'm the bold one, I'm the wild one, I'm the one who tempts the guy with indirect kisses and flirtatious shit. Hell, I haven't had much to drink at ALL… maybe I'm sick? She pursed her lips in thought and tried to detect cold symptoms. She discreetly felt her forehead… no fever… then took a meditative pull at the sake.

"The Tarahumara hombres," Steve stated, sitting back down and breaking the silence uncertainly as he attempted to restart an explanation, "were really friendly with Bo… Keitaro. They liked him a lot because, well, you know how he is. He was friendly and approachable, didn't intimidate them because he was about the same size, not as big as Seta and definitely smaller than me… they felt a whole lot more comfortable around him. " He raised a hand for the sake bottle. "Hrmph, almost gone." He nodded his head towards Kitsune. "You said that you thought Kietaro had a 'true soul.' Should it surprise you that an Indian tribe half a world away could sense what a nice guy he is? It took me about ten minutes of talking with him to feel like I'd known him forever." He grinned again. "'Bones' seemed like a logical extension of what they were calling him already… I mean, what else are you going to call a stick figure like Keitaro who pulls a burial jar full of bones out of the ground in front of you?" He snorted and waggled the bottle in the air. He held it out to her. "Just a mouthful left…"

She took the final sip, the dry Karatamba running across her tongue and down her throat, warmer now than she enjoyed, usually. I put this bottle to good use. She placed it down next to the cigarette butt. My collection of used – up things. She frowned. That wasn't a nice thought, was it?

She rubbed her nose and breathed in sharply. Okay, time for the other hard question. "Fine, you know Keitaro, you decide to be all 'mystery guy' and don't let on to me. So… he must have told you a ton of stories. Single guy, landlord of a girl's dorm…" She stretched and elbowed him in the ribs, forcing herself to chuckle. "Pretty single girls around all the time. Lots of stories, oh, yeah…"

How obvious am I being, here?

Steve was silent, the flaring end of his cigar revealing a composed expression, eyes looking in the distance, mouth turned up slightly at the edges. He almost looked… embarrassed?

Kitsune's laugh was a bit ragged, even as her mind slipped into angst overdrive. Was Steve looking at me or was he looking at a human embodiment of Kitsune stories when he smiled at me the first time? When he asked me out? She felt nauseous as the seconds dragged in real time. When he defended me and gave up the money for me? I thought it was because he was enamored… but he was standing up for Keitaro's friend Kitsune.

What did Keitaro tell him? Why is he here, then, with me?

A bolt of ice – cold clarity, like an icicle through her chest: When it really seems to matter to me, am I going to have to answer for all the partying, all the flirting and manipulation? Did he make me dinner because he thought he could…, because some story made him think… She clutched at the edges of her skirt with white knuckles. The more her mind whirled through the question, the more her emotions became dependent on the answer. I've got to know… he might not be interested in ME at all!

"Well, as for stories... " Steve began, but before he could continue she rolled up onto her knees, facing him, her ankle contacting the empty sake bottle and making it wobble in place, the rattling sound quite loud as it settled. Even sitting, due to his height she was only just eye - to - eye with him in her kneeling position. He reached up and took the nearly – finished cigar out of his mouth. "Kitsune…"

Her mouth twisted into a self – mocking smile, eyes feeling as if they were full of sand. She again forced a laugh. It sounded bitter to her ears. "So, big boy, what did Keitaro say about me in these stories? Do I live up to the hype?"

He frowned in puzzlement at the question, and then slowly smiled, reaching out with a hand to touch her wrist. "Kitsune," He shrugged. "It doesn't matter what Keitaro said…"

His smile froze at her expression. Slowly, he drew his hand back. "Ah, wait, that really came out wrong… what I meant was…"

She grinned a slow, cold grin and it seemed even the encircling clouds above Hinata drew back in their tropospheric tracks. Her eyebrow began to twitch. "What Keitaro… said? Said, about me?"

"No, wait… let me explain…" Steve held out his other hand, forgetting the cigar in it. A thread of smoke twisted in the air between them.

The complicated streams of emotions from the day, attraction and hope, fear and frustration, irritation and self - consciousness, coagulated in her gut with the booze and, because she was who she was, they ignited. In her mind the stuttering sound of revving chainsaws and the clash of metal sang an industrial aria.

doesn't matter…


what Keitaro…




The cry was short and very loud, starting deep in her chest and ending as something between a hiccup and a sob. She didn't remember moving but suddenly she was on top of Steve, her hands filled with his thick black hair, her feet in the Bonta - Kun slippers scrambling for leverage under his body, as she began forcing his head repeatedly against the railing behind him. "You… condescending … asshole … sonovabitch!"

"Hey, hey, hey! Kitsune… Ow! Jesus Christ!"

She leaned forward and gasped raggedly into his ear, still grasping his hair tightly and bearing down with all of her weight. "I don't care what the hell… Keitaro told you about… " Only blood felt this hot, she must be bleeding down her cheeks, drops burning her arms. "I've got no goddamned regrets and if y - you think… that care what you think of me… I…I…" She couldn't say any more, she could only hang on with frantic strength and in the back of her mind wonder why she had snapped.

"Enough!" He said. He reached up and detached her hands with effortless strength, holding her wrists even as her fingers came away clutching hair. Now that her balance had shifted, she was intensely aware that her weight waspressed against his body, straddling him in her skirt, her breasts tight against his chest. Her eyes opened wide as they looked into his, expressionless as a moss covered rock, inches away. Her face was covered with… it must be tears, not blood. And, her nose was running.

Just as quickly as the flames of emotion exploded, they flickered and turned to ash. The nausea was back. She closed her eyes. Lost it, Kitsune, you hysterical idiot…

"Mitsune Konno," He said, slowly, his deep voice whispering, "I'm sorry that you don't care what I think of you."

She winced and bit her lip. Does Naru know this horrible feeling?

"I apologize for misspeaking a moment ago. I should have phrased things differently. Because," he raised an eyebrow, "you asked so politely… nearly everything that Keitaro told me about his life in Japan centered on his lovely bride, Naru. Sure, he told me stories about some of the parties at Hinata house and the craziness of life here…"

Steve stopped. There was a noise in the night sky, not the whistle again, but something… a flapping sound, like a flag in a high wind, and it was getting louder. It was not the laundry, which continued to billow gently within their sight. Kitsune raised her moist face to the moon and gasped. A silhouette was visible against the glowing circle, a slim figure, blurred with motion along the edges, was falling towards them. It raised something in both black arms, a sliver of glowing ebony, spiked green fire like an electrical discharge dancing along its length.

She rolled her eyes. Oh, shit, this is all I need! "It's Motoko!" She attempted to pitch herself off of him but Steve held gently firm to her wrists. "Let go!"

There was a soft thump and a swordswoman stood before them, silhouetted now by the rectangle of light coming from the stairs. "Let her go, villain!" the figure said, pointing a black katana at the pair. "Or I will make you pay." Green sparks spit from the length of the katana, reflected in the woman's eyes.

Steve raised his eyebrows. "Huh? Attacking an innocent guy doesn't sound like the 'sword of justice' Motoko that Keitaro described to me."

The dark haired woman slid a step closer, her sword rising to eye level and tilting to the horizontal plane as she settled into a thrusting crouch. "Flattery and deception will not sway me. Let Kitsune go! I won't allow you to keep her as a hostage…"

Kitsune pivoted as much as she could in her position to see her friend. "Motoko, it's… it's not what you think."

"Look, ladies…" Steve said, raising himself and Kitsune into a straighter position with one convulsive jerk of his stomach and hips. Kitsune yelped and Motoko slid forward another half – step.

"No, Motoko!"

"Do not move!" A new voice spoke, loud and electronically projected, sourcing from the air behind them. Suddenly the deck above the annex was illuminated in a wash of halogen whiteness,pouring from a large turtle – shaped aircraft hovering above the trees. "Hinata House security plan 'Ikari' has been executed. Any further hostile actions, or if you act like a whiny bitch EVA pilot, and you will be tazed unmercifully…"

"ENOUGH!" Steve bellowed, his voice immense. "Give a guy a chance here, okay!" He released Kitsune's wrists and she fell against his chest. She stayed that way for a second, eyes closed, smelling him, and then she turned, still sitting on top of his stomach. She wiped at her nose and cheeks with a sleeve and then attempted a grin and wink.

"I'm okay!" Kitsune started, voice cracking. "I'm OKAY." She yelled, when Motoko did not move. She stood up from Steve, stumbling slightly, and stepped away. She held up her arms for emphasis. "Viola! All good!"

Motoko, hair falling down her back in a midnight waterfall, dressed in jeans and a leather fringed jacket, red scarf around her neck, dipped her head in acknowledgement. Black leather bowling shoes slid back as she shifted her weight. Then came the formal movements and the scraping sound as the cursed Urashima blade was sheathed. "We heard a scream. The security system said that you were up here with a question mark." Her eyes, intense chips of gleaming onyx, shifted to Steve. Motoko was sounding less pissed than resigned. Just great.

"Steve Seyama." Steve said, dryly, and waved a hand. "Nice to meetcha." He added in English.

"Hrmm." Motoko grumbled, tossing her hair. Then, awkwardly, she gave an acknowledging wave. "Hi."

"Steve is a friend of Keitaro's from the United States." The words spilled out in a stream of unburdening. "He stopped by the Café and I brought him here and he made dinner and we were just having a discussion about Urashima's experiences in America," she was talking as fast as she could, "and about some events from earlier in the day and I got a little…" she looked around to see reactions, "a little upset."

Silence. Motoko shifted uncomfortably, then shrugged. "So," she said, "You were up here with this man that you just met…"

"Were you getting some?" Kaolla Su's voice boomed from her aircraft. "If we interrupted your action, we can go…" Motoko nodded, turning her head away.

Kitsune's heart dropped. I try to deny my past, but it catches up with me. My own friends are telling him I'm a slut! Her chest was tight with emotion. She couldn't bring herself to look at Steve after her dramatics. Then, she heard him start to chuckle and she turned to face him.

Steve rose to his feet. Motoko edged back a step. "Benkei…" she whispered within Kitsune's hearing, and her hand sought her blade hilt.

"Holy shit! Kitsune, you're getting it on with a humanoform Boomer?" Su's amazed voice again shook the trees. "Is that what you've been keeping in that closet of yours? Where did you fit him?"

The turtle - craft started to bounce up and down. "Y'know, that's way more advanced than my kissing machine…" The eagerness in her voice was palpable. "Can I disassemble it when you're done?"

Steve stepped closer to Kitsune. "I don't know why you freaked out, Kitsune, but I can tell you that you need to have more faith in Keitaro. He trusts you." Steve shook his head slightly, and she gasped, a numbness rising through her limbs. "You want to know what he said about you? He said you're one of his best friends. He said that you were the one who convinced everyone to let him stay at Hinata House on the first day he arrived. He said that you told him to think of you as his big sister and that the gesture meant a great deal to him."

Motoko mouthed the words "big sister" with raised eyebrows and dawning interest. In her mind's eye, Kitsune remembered Keitaro's first day as well… how she wanted him to stay so that she could seduce him. Blood rushed to her cheeks.

Steve moved even closer, his mouth just inches away from her ear. She could see nothing but his face, hear nothing but his words. "Just like you said earlier today, he said that you were one of his family, the people he truly loves to be with."

He stepped back and his head turned as he regarded her, Motoko, and the hovering Kaolla. He covered his eyes with a hand and looked out of the halogen envelope lighting the deck, towards the darkness and city by the shore. His head swung back to Kitsune. "I know you don't care what I feel, Kitsune, but…" He stepped forward slowly until he was towering directly over her. After a moment he leaned forward, took the bottom of his t- shirt and began to dab at her face, under her nose. She could feel heat rising through her entire body and she wanted very badly to lean into him as he stood there, to reach up, grab the back of his neck and hold on.

He raised his eyebrows and grinned, as if he knew what she was thinking. "You probably believed that I was going to kiss you…" The grin expanded into a dimple – framed smile. "Maybe later." He turned, reached down and grabbed his backpack. "I'm going to go. Thanks for the hospitality."

"Steve?" She said, dumbfounded. He's just…leaving?

"I think I need to leave, Kitsune. You're working at the Café tomorrow, yes? Okay, I'll stop by to visit." He turned to face her, blocking the light with his height and wide shoulders. "I promise you, I'll explain as much as I can about why I'm visiting." He gave a small bow to Motoko. "It was wonderful to finally meet you, Motoko. Thanks for not killing me." He winced and rubbed at the back of his head. "Kitsune came close enough. Ladies, I can find my own way out." He turned and, chuckling, he walked across the deck and disappeared down the stairway.

How did this happen… all this intensity and time spent and now, he's gone?

"You look like you've been lobotomized." Motoko observed, her lips curving.

"Preeetty much…" Kitsune agreed, inhaling deeply of the night air. She raised her arms, fingers interlaced on top of her head and her cheeks puffed as she exhaled.

The aircraft dipped its shell and turned off the floodlights. "Guys, I'm shutting down the 'Ikari' and heading back to the barn… sensors say that the big man is out of the building and I've got to get that Mark 12 away from Emma." With a whir and the grinding sound made by the shift of VTOL fans, the now invisible craft moved away.

"You gave a gun to Emma?" Kitsune gaped at Motoko, an expression wasted in the now dim light.

"She's been certified," the other woman replied, defensively. "Besides, it's only a stun – rifle. Someone had to back Shinobu up and I don't feel that she's sufficiently far along in her martial arts studies to utilize more… elegant defensive measures." Motoko's hand fell on her sword hilt as she paced along the deck for several feet, then she turned back towards Kitsune. "So, what's up with that guy. That huge guy. That huge cute guy?"

Kitsune flopped to the deck, eyes troubled. "I don't know. I can't remember the last time I've been this screwed up about a man."

Motoko began to laugh, doubling over with the intensity.

"Oh, shut up you shojo – loving romance novelist." Laughter in the darkness. "You suck." More laughter, an honest – to – goodness snort. From Motoko.

Is this day over yet? I've got to open the Café tomorrow…!

Kitsune's cel phone began to ring, chiming out the clockwork notes of Yoko Kanno's "Hemisphere." Motoko muffled her laughter as Kitsune fumbled through her small purse for the phone.

"Hello? Steve?" Maybe he..?

A man's voice spoke through a flurry of background noise. "Kitsune – san? This is Konaga- san."

Her heart rose up in her throat, surprise and sudden nervousness combining. I'm too tired for this shit, damnit! Leave me alone! "Hello, Konaga- san… so, ah, how did everything go?"

There was singing in the background and the man spoke loudly to make himself heard. "Saiga – sama no longer owns your note… someone has bought out the debt. Someone who wants to collect it personally."


"What the hell does that mean, Konaga- san? Who bought what?"

"Kitsune – san, this no longer concerns you. It is Seyama – san." The noise in the background rose to a crescendo and the sound of applause could be heard. "Can you hear me, Kitsune – san? Your debt has been sold and the buyer is looking for Seyama – san. Do you understand?"

What the hell is going on? "I understand, Konaga- san…" She repeated back his words to him, her tone stilted with disbelief. Motoko moved closer, listening attentively.

"Who," Kitsune began, her throat dry, "Who bought the debt?"

Konaga was silent for a moment, the background noise on the phone incongruently merry. "Tell Seyama – san… tell him that the Brave Blossoms are coming to see him. In Hinata."

"The who?"

Konaga raised his voice for emphasis. "Tell Seyama – san. The Brave Blossoms."


Thanks to KS, Naruflip, Black Rose, Mr.Quette and Flak. And, to those members of the Burnham crew who have had the opportunity to review - yes, Guinness IS a part of the food pyramid… the most important part!

As you might have seen, this is fanfic 1A for me. I appreciate your help, comments and criticism. Please, continue to let me know what you think.