Title: The Best of Mistakes

Anime: Gatekeepers 21

Rating: K+

Author: Death Mountain

Disclaimer: I don't own Gatekeepers 21. If I did, weeeeell . . . :chuckles with an evil gleam in her eye:

"I think I may have made a terrible mistake."

Kageyama Reiji looked questioningly at his young protégée as he set a steaming cup of tea down in a saucer on the coffee table. Concerned, and as usual feeling fatherly towards the teenager, he took a seat the armchair perpendicular to the sofa, his own cup firmly in hand.

Though he waited for her to go on and did not reply, Ayane made no further statements for the moment, choosing to sit and stare into her cup. This silence was not unusual, but nevertheless, Kageyama sought to fill it.

"Did you say a 'mistake?'" he echoed carefully.

Ayane picked her cup up and sipped from it. "Yes," she muttered.

Kageyama leaned back. "Well, it can't have been all that bad, if you came to me about it," he joked pointedly, not expecting laughter or even a smile.

The girl persisted, shaking her head. "It was bad."

"Did you fight with Satoka again?" he asked warily. The time since the Ghost Girl's defeat had seen a series of minor tussles between the Gatekeepers of Wind and Blade, mostly started by Satoka. The girl had a penchant for picking fights with her "rival" at least once a week.

Ayane looked up sharply. "On a first-name basis, are you?" she questioned with precise cynicism. As she anticipated, he twitched, and shifted in his seat.

"We're not talking about Satoka and I," Kageyama pointed out, controlling his reaction. "We're talking about you."

"Stop making those childish jokes about me, then," Ayane said coolly. She pushed her eyeglasses up her nose. When Kageyama looked at her expectantly, she sighed. "It's not Tachikawa. It's Miu."

I should have known, Kageyama mused, unsurprised. "You made a mistake involving Miu-san," he summarized.

"Yes," Ayane said tersely. "She didn't do anything—not anything wrong, anyway. This was my fault." She placed both hands around her cup, feeling its warmth. "I think I may have . . .hurt her . . ."

Ayane pushed the door at the top of the stairs open and stepped out onto the roof. Miu was sitting by the swimming pool, her legs dangling over the edge and swinging back and forth like a child's.

"You'll get your shoes wet," Ayane warned, shutting the door.

Miu looked over her shoulder and smiled. "Isuzu-san!" she greeted happily, pulling herself to her feet.

"Yes, me," the shorter girl replied impatiently. "You wanted to talk to me?"

Her partner blinked and then seemed to recall that she had asked Ayane earlier to join her on the roof. "Oh, yes! I did. Thank you for coming," she said, bowing quickly.

Sometimes the brunette could a little more scatter-brained than was tolerable, but she had practice at this, thankfully. "There's no need to thank me, Miu. Did you have something to tell me?" Ayane asked slowly.

Miu thought for a few seconds, clasping her hands behind her back and rocking on the balls of her heels. Then she looked at Ayane again and beamed. "Oh, yes! I love you."

In the silence that passed between them, Ayane's feet suddenly felt as though they were standing on unsteady ground. Her cheeks flushed red as she digested Miu's statement, uttered so casually that the gravity of the words took a moment to sink in.

Miu's smile faded. "Isuzu-san?"

Trembling, Ayane backpedaled away from the other girl and bolted through the door to the safety of the stairs, which she took two at a time in her distress. Though the bell rang, she did not go back to check on Miu. Instead she continued down the stairs for a time that seemed to drag on to forever.

Kageyama sat back in his chair, absorbing the story. "You just left her there?"

Ayane looked down. "Um, yes."

The older man set his cup down and rubbed the back of his neck. "Well . . ." He thought himself that this had been a long time coming. The girls' attraction to each other was obvious, but perhaps Ayane, who tried so hard not to see these things, really had remained clueless. "And you came to me with this?"

She glared at him. "Do you think I would have gone to Tachikawa? Or Yukino?" she suggested dryly.

"Point taken. But it's been a long time since I experienced the 'youthful flings' of teenage romance." Come to think of it, she's a bit like Megumi. Of course, we know how that turned out. Kageyama leveled his gaze. "You know, this may sound crazy, but maybe the first thing you should do is apologize." And that's not crazy at all.

Ayane's scowl did not go away. "You're right, of course, but what I am I supposed to tell her? 'Sorry, Miu, that you love me? That I ran away like a frightened child? That I don't know how to love?'"

"That's not true at all," Kageyama discounted.

"It is. It's pointless to think anything would come of it, anyway."

Kageyama smiled faintly. "Don't say that. I think you've loved Miu-san for a while, but you're scared to admit it." As you always have been scared to admit when you held something dear to you.

The sullen Gatekeeper pushed herself off the couch and grabbed her bookbag. "I'm not scared, Kageyama." She turned and headed for the door. "Thank you for the tea." On that crisp note she exited the room, shutting the door forcefully.

He took another sip of tea and sighed, feeling even more aged than usual. "Of course you're scared. Because if you lost your father so early, then who knows how soon it could be that you lose the girl you are madly in love with?"

Several days later . . .

"So, did you two break up or something?" Satoka asked out of the blue, struggling to free one of her blades from a wall.

Ayane picked up a smoking cell phone and slipped it into her backpack. "I don't know what you're talking about," she answered carefully.

The blade popped out with a "schnick" and the taller girl dropped it inside the crimson rings of her Gate, which swallowed the weapon and disappeared. "Come on, don't play dumb with me." Satoka glanced around at their profit, the multi-faceted crystals littering the battleground. "The small ones again. Oh, well, you win some, you lose some. Well, what about it? Did you break up with Manazuru?"

Ayane tensed and turned her attention to the crystals, so as not to lose her cool. Something like this from Satoka was inevitable, but that made it no easier to face. "We're partners, not . . .that. Miu and I were never . . .together in the first place," she attested calmly.

Her companion scratched her head thoughtfully. "You said something like that before, didn't you? To Kageyama."

"Make up . . .? We were never friends in the first place."

He told her about that? Since when have they had the free time to exchange anecdotes? Maybe there is something going on with them, after all . . . "That was different. It means nothing." She gazed at a crystal in her hand. "Nothing . . ."

"Awww." Satoka made a helpless, "Well, I tried," gesture. "It sounds to me like one of you let the cat out of the bag."

The cat out of . . .oh, that's what she means. "You're talking nonsense," Ayane muttered.

"I'm right, aren't I?" The Blade Gatekeeper shook her head. "It must have been Manazuru. Did she say it?"

Very calmly, she said, "Shut up."

"She did say it!" Satoka crowed triumphantly, pointing an accusing finger at the shorter girl. "Let me guess—she told you, and you just left her hanging." She stuck her hands on her hips and leaned forward. "You blew it."

Ayane continued shoveling crystals into her backpack with her hands, doing her very best to ignore Satoka. She is right, though. I took off without giving Miu an answer. An answer—if she had anything in the way of answers. What could I possibly say?

Satoka shook her head. "What a bummer. You know, you can call Manazuru a wuss, but at least she had the guts to come straight. If it were the other way around, she wouldn't have snubbed you, either." She shrugged. "But you're a lost cause. You let her get away, and now she'll run off to some boy and you'll be left out of the loop."

Miu wouldn't do that. She's not like that! She was serious; there's no way she would just forget about it. That's just not going to happen.

This isn't good enough . . .you can't hop like a rabbit; you have to fly like a bird . . .

"Oh!" Ayane whispered, standing up. The bell on her backpack jingled tinnily. That's what Kageyama was talking about. Maybe he was . . .right.

If I am afraid . . .

"It only causes trouble for the rest of us, if you two keep this game up all the time," Satoka continued. Ayane, forgetting about her completely, hurried off, leaving the other girl to rant on her own for another minute before realizing that her listener had disappeared, once again.

Miu gazed aimlessly at the sliding doors of Athento, not really seeing anything. One of her seniors poked her in the back of the head to get her attention, and she snapped dazedly into focus. "Miu-chan! Quit zoning out," the older girl chastised. "You'll scare people away. You're the cashier, girlie!"

"Oh, yes! Sorry, senpai!" Miu smiled absently but forgot her co-worker's words as soon as she looked forward again. A blank expression settled over her face and stuck, leaving her to stare dimly at the opposite wall.

"Geez!" The co-worker threw up her hands and disappeared into the back room.

The doors slid open and Miu looked up automatically, putting a practiced smile on. "Welco—" She stopped short when she saw Ayane standing in the doorway, breathing heavily.

"Miu!" Ayane blurted out. She sprinted up to the counter and leaned over it, her face flushed red. "I'm sorry!"

Miu blinked and cocked her head. "Eh?"

"I didn't mean to be rude, and I'm not afraid! Well, maybe I am," Ayane continued without pausing to breathe. "But no one's ever told me something like that, so I don't know how I'm supposed to react or what to say. But Kageyama's probably right and Tachikawa, too, even if I don't think so, and I did something wrong, so—I'm very sorry, Miu!" She bowed hastily and waited for the other girl's response.

Miu just looked puzzled. "You're not mad at me? Isuzu-san."

"Of course not! That's not it! That's not it at all," Ayane blathered. "I wasn't angry, it was just—"

Miu gave a happy cry. She scrambled out from behind the counter and threw her arms around the shorter girl in an enthusiastic hug. "Oh, Isuzu-san, I'm so glad!"

Ayane sighed, suddenly feeling a whole lot lighter, and strangely at ease in Miu's embrace. She reached up and took off her eyeglasses, something she would only do around Miu. "You know, Miu, I . . ." She blushed. "I really don't know . . .that is, I think I might . . . you know. I just can't say it, that I feel that way. But . . ."

"That's okay, Isuzu-san!" Miu exclaimed cheerfully. "I love you. That's enough, isn't it?"

"For now, maybe. But . . ." Ayane pocketed her glasses. "I'll be able to say it. I promise I will."

Miu nodded. "Yes!"

Only then did they notice that everyone in the shop was staring at them curiously, including patrons and workers. Miu realized suddenly that she was supposed to be at the cash register, but she was really too happy to care. Ayane wasn't mad at her! And she promised to say what she felt one day!

"Oooh!" Miu squealed and pressed her hands to her red cheeks. "Gee, they saw everything! I'm embarrassed!"

Ayane, blushing even more furiously, palmed her forehead and sighed.

I promise, I'll say it. Someday I will.

For now, I'll move forward with you, leaving us free to make all the mistakes we want.

Owari

The end! There, an impromptu GK21 fic. Ayane/Miu again. I know I should be working on my other stuff, but . . .

Who is Megumi? She's a character from Gatekeepers, which preceded Gatekeepers 21 as a full series, in which she and Kageyama—as a teenager—have a possibly romantic relationship. I thought that Ayane and Megumi were similar in personality, which might lead Kageyama to compare them idly.