Title: 1000 Miles In 10 Seconds

Authoress: Ladya C. Maxine

Rating: T

Summary: see chapter one

Warnings: see chapter one

Disclaimer: I do not own Beyblade or any of its characters. Any and all unrecognizable characters belong solely to me and are not to be used without my consent. I am not making any money off of this and I write with the sole intent to entertain.

A/N: Missed the deadline. Big surprise. Had the chapter ready but when I went over it one last time on the 13th I decided that I HATED it so I ended up deleting most of it and I had to rewrite the whole thing. Plus I ended up being ill on Valentine's Day (and the entire weekend, and Monday and Tuesday), which meant that I was very nauseous, which meant that I was unable to enjoy any of the chocolates I'd bought myself and received on Valentine's, which meant that I was in the worst mood imaginable. Then I got a visit from writer's block and couldn't get rid of it until today.

So now, having overcome my cold, eaten all the chocolates and immediately regretted doing so, and finished off this one troublesome chapter. All I have to say now is…

YESSSS!!! Sweet mother of bagpipes, it's…the final chapter!! Two chapters shorter than Our First Noel, but it's done!! Two years after starting it, it's done. THANK GOD!!


Sorry about that. Believe me, I was getting frustrated with this story's slow progress myself. Love this storyline, but all good things must come to an end, for the author's sanity's sake.

And now, the grand finale!

Heart of the tiger. Will of the tiger. Balls of the tiger.

Remember that one? Seems like ages ago since I first came up with that one. Back then I'd been angsting (which some might argue is not a word) over chocolates and Kai. Boy, those were the good old days. Now I've got to survive dinner and the House of 1000 Corpses.

I turn the wrapped gift over and over in my hands. Naturally, I'm curious as to what it is. The size of the box would hint at a ring, but I know Kai and that's not his style, using such blatant symbols of love. Whatever it is, it's heavy enough to leave a nice bruise, if my aim is just right. Clutching it, I clear my mind, focus on the fact that it'll soon be over and push open the doors, walking my sorry ass right into the lion's den.

Well, at least my last night here will be a stylish one. You'd think we were hosting a party for the V8. Or is it G8? One of them has to do with international governments and the other is a drink, which I now realize I could do with because my throat is parched. Either way, this dining room has been decked out with every shiny piece of…stuff that belongs in a dining room. All that silver, crystal, floral (not shiny), porcelain, velvet and satin could generate enough money to feed a third world country for a better part of a century, but in the world of Hiwatari this is just another night around the table, except for the red slings of satin and red glass hearts that someone with a shrewd sense of humour has peppered about. Love? In this place? Ha!

Everyone's already seated, though hardly anyone is talking to one another. You can cut the tension with a sneeze. Don't know if that's possible but go with it. Apparently, I'm not the only one who doesn't want to be here, which merits the question as to why we're all gathered in this room filled with sharp and shiny silverware.

Let's see…

Voltaire's at one end of the table. On his right are the living (hardly) fossils and their caretakers, who stand behind their appointed corpse's wheelchair like the English Queen's Guards. On his left are Konstantin and Yelena, and if I were Konstantin I'd be keeping my eye on that fondue fork next to her hand. But she's not paying him much attention. Not when she's sitting next to dad, whereas mom is on the other side of the table, between Nana and Bryan, brewing a little dark rain cloud over her head as she watches the blonde goddess flirt openly with my flabbergasted dad. Dad knows his life is in peril so he's trying to mediate between Yelena on his right and Brooklyn and Hiro on his left. With Nana as mom's own distraction I'm hoping that between these their fellow diners and the strength of my parents' marriage this dinner will be relatively bloodless.

Or not. I've just noticed my seating.

Of course, Kai's at the other end of the table, way across from Voltaire, so those two can spend all the time in the world glaring at each other. The only available chair (mine) is on Kai's right. And on his left, opposite me, is Tala. Pretty, desirable Tala, with his stupid sense of good fashion and his stupid glasses and his stupid…self. Just great. If I don't tackle him with the silver and gold corkscrew by the time the main course is served I'd better be awarded a medal, or given a truckload of cash.

Ignoring all eyes (and mom taking time out from wishing evil on Yelena to applaud(??) me as I pass her), I stiffly take my appointed seat and purposefully place the silver-wrapped box on the table between me and Kai, closer to his plate. I don't look to see his reaction, instead turning my back to him to face Hiro, but out of the corner of my eyes I see Tala shake his head. My fingers inch towards my steak knife but it's already gone, confiscated by Hiro, who also takes every other knife and fork from around my plate.

"Settle for soup," he tells me when I try to get them back. "Don't want you doing anything stupid."

Maybe I'm just being paranoid, but again it sounds as if Hiro knows more than he's telling me. Why can't I ever know anything? There must be some secret information counter that everyone on this planet is hiding from me. Or maybe a website. Or maybe Hiro's part of some grand conspiracy. Or maybe it's all in my head. Let's just say it is because I can't take any more truths right now.

Well, at least Nana seems to be enjoying herself. She's ignorant of the zombie right next to her, which says much about her actual knowledge of spiritual powers, and I'm not sure what she did with the goat (parrot's still there, and it looks no more alive than the Hiwatari seniors), but she's carving the likeliness of Yelena into bread rolls and humming songs of praise as she works. It must be so nice, being stark raving mad in this world but so happy in one's own little mind space.

In come the servants and I'm betting they don't want to be here either, especially the two who have to serve Lord Vladimir and Lady Duscha, or as I'll call them from now on, Lord Ghastly Attired Hermit (or just Lord GAH) and Lady Enzyme Eye Killer (Lady EEK). The food is laid out at the most experienced and hurried speed, the wines are poured, the compulsory well wishes are made by the servants and then it's to hell with us as they hurry back out. I guess this means there won't be any desert after all. This night couldn't get any worse if the Almighty Above himself commanded it.

At least the food serves as another distraction to keep us from glowering at each other. Mom's cutting her meat a bit too ferociously for dad's sake but at least she has a knife. I look down at my admittedly delicious-looking plate but with Hiro—no Brooklyn safeguarding my knives and forks I can either eat with my hands, try and cut a three inch thick steak with a teaspoon, or just settle on soup after all. I hate Kai. No, I hate Tala more. Neither has anything to do with me being denied a fine meal, but I want to believe otherwise and who are you to deny me that?

A knife inches its way towards me. Living utensils? Did I inherit more from Nana than I already fear?

Thank goodness, no. Kai's simply offered me one of his knives, seeing how dejectedly I'm staring at my juicy steak. And it's still out of Hiro's reach so if I take it I can enjoy at least one thing about tonight…

Accepting it, I look at the blade (ooooh, so sharp and tempting)…and pass it to Hiro, who looks surprised as to where I could have possibly gotten it from but takes it and adds it to the little shining pile at Brooklyn's elbow. There. Now I can hate Kai twice as much for reasons that don't necessarily relate to him in this case. I'm going to eat this soup and no enjoy it at all and Kai will be even more sorry then.

Slowly, conversation begins to pop up around the table as the food mellows out everyone's mood but mine. Voltaire and Konstantin are plotting; Yelena and dad are flirting/trying desperately to sound like he's only being polite; Nana is filling mom in on some kind of structure she's building between her plate and her glass; Tala (hate him) and Bryan are whispering to each other; Brooklyn and Hiro are whispering to each other; Lord GAH and Lady EEK are speaking to each other from beyond the graves. I'm feeling left out here. So is a certain someone else.

"Ray," Kai calls to me softly.

"How's it going?" I ask Hiro, for once glad that I am not the master of subtlety. "What do you think of Russia so far?"

Hiro doesn't fall for it (Nana'sdead parrot wouldn't have fallen for it) but he allows me to join him and Brooklyn's little chat, though the attention is now on me.

"Silent treatment?" Hiro guesses, keeping the volume just audible between the three of us.

"Either I ignore him or I ram a chair leg up his—"

"Silent treatment it is then," he cuts me off.

Why does Brooklyn have all those knives? The guy isn't even eating steak! Or chicken! Or fish! He's got a salad, bread and something that I'm hoping is tofu. And yet he has enough knives to outfit a small army of guerrilla environmentalists. And I've just remembered that I do not even like soup that much.

"…What's he doing now?" I ask, fishing all kinds of unidentifiable floating bits out of my bowl. Did that stringy thing just move?

I think I'm trying Hiro's patience now. Good. Let him know what frustration feels like, for once. Relying heavily on his cool-headed nature, he humours me and looks over my shoulder. He shrugs.

"He's crying."


I twist in my seat. Kai looks up from his food. He's not in a jolly mood but he sure as hell isn't crying. Now he's probably thinking that I can't keep my eyes off him. I jab Hiro in the ribs with my spoon. It's blunt, but with enough force it can still hurt. He just smirks innocently, and he's the only person I know who can pull off such a paradox.

"He isn't?" he asks, surprised. "Well, good thing you checked."

How I wish I could make them all disappear. I stab my soup. It works better when that which is being stabbed is a bit more solid and that which is stabbing is a bit sharper, but if I look any angrier Hiro might take away my napkin ring as well.

Swirling my spoon in my soup (can't think of much else to do with it), I focus on the end of dinner, planning my ingenious exit. Stand before everyone else, give Kai a nasty look, march out of the room, grab my bags and Tiger, meet Hiro and Brooklyn outside, drive off into the night, forget everything else. A good, solid plan. That's all I need to know from now on. Nothing else matters. Just me and my plan. My plan and me…or my plan and I? Either way, it's just the two of us. No one else. Nothing at all.

…WHAT IS HIRO HIDING?! Dammit, he knows something and I'd slaughters lambs to find out what. It's driving me insane!

Calm down, Ray. If you can't focus on your plan you can distract myself by seeing what everyone else is up to.

Nana has built a cute little fortress around her plate that includes a shrine for Yelena and a 'tall' wall of breadsticks with anti-demon symbols scratched into them, meant to keep out the dark lord Bryan, I suppose. He's unaware of Nana's little Alamo, too occupied sharing soft words with Tala, who I hate more than ever (it keeps building, you see) because he makes wearing glasses look very stylish whereas I'd look like the kid everyone loves to shove in lockers if I ever slapped on a pair. Is Yelena still talking sultry to dad, who is still shell-shocked and scared of mom, who is still seeing red? Take a guess.

As we travel further down the table (and back in time) we encounter the world's first caveman and the prehistoric bags of bones he discovered. Lady EEK is being fed by her carer, but I don't think she's even aware of the mushy food that's being pried between her lips. Lord GAH's carer has it easy, seeing how his client/patient/experiment is 'enjoying' his liquid meal through a tube in his neck. Tasty. You know what, I think I do want to die young.

It's around this time I notice that the three more prominent members of this demonic dynasty are the least pompous at the table. Voltaire is eating with a purpose other than to get his daily nutrients; he's in a hurry to get somewhere. Konstantin isn't smirking or leering or sneering at anyone, not touching his food in favour of sipping from his tenth glass of wine. And he's as sober as I'm pissed, natch. Kai is so deep in thought you'd need an oil drill to get to the bottom of it.

I can't help thinking that there's something not right here, besides Lord GAH and Lady EEK. Something's gotta give…

"Ray, are you sure about this?" Brooklyn asks me as most of the diners are finishing their plates. My soup bowl is still pretty full.

I'm still simmering because you've got my knives and are so unaffected by the fact that you can't enjoy delicious steak, whereas I'm considering stealing pieces from Hiro's table, but the last thing I need right now is to alienate you or your boyfriend because you're my ticket out of this hell hole. All in all, yes, I think I will answer your question.

"What time is it?"

"Twenty to eleven," Hiro says, checking his watch, which reminds me: That the Cat ate my watch and Brooklyn owes me $500 for it. That feral feline has got expensive taste.

"When does the plane leave?"

"Whenever we want it to, actually."

"But only if you're sure," Brooklyn says, gnawing on his bottom lip. Yes, he looks adorable when he does that and yes, I'm convinced he knows more than I do. "You haven't even tried really talking to him."

"There's not much left to say."

"Maybe because you weren't listening."

"I've heard enough, thanks," I snap and steal a chunk of Hiro's steak, balancing it precariously on my spoon. I toss a dirty look at Kai, but he has the nerves to be talking to Tala, who has been rather low key so far. I turn back to Hiro and Brooklyn. "See? He's got all he needs right there. I'm going back with you guys and that is final."

Hiro goes for a final attempt but is interrupted when a voice is cleared at the other far end of the table. Oh goody. There's going to be a speech as well, because that's the perfect chicken soup for my soul right now. Chicken soup? Ironic: that's what I've been neglecting all this time in my bowl. The person who said that was an idiot anyway; everyone knows that chocolate is the only scientifically proven soul healer. And by "scientifically proven" I mean of course my years of experience in finding answers in the form of a dozen bonbons.

But hush, let's all sit up straight, shoulders back, and listen to what this jack-off as to say.

"Esteemed family and friends," Voltaire starts, standing because that will allow him to look down on the rest of us. "It is a pleasure to dine with you all on such a special night."

I don't know why he's willingly speaking English, or whether this is his idea of an opening joke, but let's assume that this is the kindest thing he'll have to say to any of us.

"It has come to my attention that tomorrow happens to be the 14th, St Valentine's Day."

'It has come to his attention'? How bothersome, having your busy schedule interrupted by a pesky holiday.

"Valentine's Day, a day of celebrating the beauty of love in all its purity," he continues, and you can guess who it is he looks at when he stresses that last word. "This love, this celebrated union, which has produced generations. At this table are four generations that owe their existence to the healthy union between a great man and woman."

The only ones who are buying into any of this are my parents. Maybe Nana too, but she's not really listening, too occupied with building a tiny statue of Yelena out of toothpicks and an olive. Dad is just glad that this gives him some reprieve from both Yelena and mom. I don't love the way mom's looking at Voltaire. No, she's not eyeing him up. If she were I'd gouge my eyes out with my own spoon and pour my lukewarm soup in my ears. But she's smiling as he speaks. She's beaming. If she glows any brighter shepherds and three Wise Men will soon find their way into the manor. Not that I don't like seeing my mother happy, but it's highly suspicious that the one bringing her such joy is Voltaire. The man wouldn't know happiness if it came in big fat checks worth billions.

Still, Voltaire practically steals mom's heart away when he continues.

"But I cannot forget our guests. The honourable Kons, another shining example of family values. You've done well," he tells mom, who puffs up her chest proudly. Odd, I now think, that she and dad aren't sitting together; Yelena sure works fast. But back to Voltaire, because we're all dying to hear more from him. "And I do believe you have some good news to share with the rest of us that relates to these romantic times, so I will pass the word over to you."

Mom stands, not very tall but beautiful, even in her hideous dress, and raises a glass. When dad doesn't do the same (hard to focus when Yelena's breasts are still pressed against his shoulder), mom clears her throat sharply and he stands, almost tripping over his swords. Can't he at least take off that helmet? I'd be so embarrassed right now if half the table didn't know that I'm a virgin and my boyfriend and his best friend have been going at it behind my back like rabbits. It's going to take something catastrophic to ever outshine that gem of humiliation. I'm talking Ashlee Simpson's SNL-level shame.

"We have been treated with nothing but respect and kindness ever since we got here," mom says, blissfully unaware that they'd been on Bryan's hit list a couple of days ago and that Voltaire thinks of us as being lower than slug slime. "We were ever so grateful when we got your message, King Voltaire, and that you so generously helped us to locate our child."

"He did what?!" I sit up and Hiro moves the lit candles out of my reach. "No, that was Mr Dickinson's doing! He flew you over here, remember?"

"Oh, Ray, don't shout; we're right here," mom giggles, then whispers to everyone present, as if I can't hear her, "He can get so excitable sometimes. You know how young boys are."

"Yes, sometimes they only need a bit of…training," Voltaire agrees, shooting a glare past me at his grandson. "But do continue. Your news may help tame him."

I'll tame you with frying pan in a second, you old… And who died and made him King? Someone please get me a medical update on Lord GAH because I'm counting on him to drag out his miserable existence long enough to keep Voltaire in line.

"Right. So then, when King Voltaire graciously invited us to come here he couldn't have picked a better time. And tonight, on the eve of this wonderful day I have never heard of before, I have some fittingly romantic news." She takes a deep breath, to heighten the tension I think, but is too excited and just blurts it out. "Ray,Mariahhasagreedtomarryyou!!"

What, did she just cast a spell on me or something? I have no idea what she just said, but those around me are apparently fluent in gibberish. Hiro's breath catches and Brooklyn's mouth falls open. I'm still hoping that whatever she said it's good news, but when Bryan (haven't heard from him in a while, for which I should have been more grateful) chuckles I fear the worst. And now that I replay her statement, I can make out a name that can only mean my death.


"—has agreed to marry you!" she repeats, fanning her flushed face.

"…No. Please tell me you're joking."

"I would never get your hopes up for nothing," she misinterprets my plea. "I have been corresponding with the village these past few days, informing them through a wonderful invention called a 'telegram' the progress we've been making and just this afternoon Mariah's parents sent their consent! And I heard that you are willing to leave as soon as tonight so I gave them the go-ahead to begin preparations back in the village! Your wedding will take place the moment we return! And Lee has offered to be your best man! Isn't this all wonderful, Ray?! It's what you always wanted!"

If I got what I'd always wanted none of you would be here, Kai would still be all mine and I would be getting his approval of my long-awaited red hot monkey sex right about now. Nowhere does Mariah figure into that dream. Nightmares, on the other hand…

Voltaire's clapping approvingly, with everyone else joining in with varying degrees of confidence. Even the leeches' caretakers are looking at mom as if she just fell out of a flying saucer, and they don't even know us! I'm so shocked I actually look at every other person, because maybe I'm just hearing things, or misinterpreting something. Bryan's shoulders are still shaking; Tala (hate him) has clenched hand before his mouth, eyes askew as he stares off to his right at… I'm jarred enough to stare Kai right in the face, and I'm getting nothing. His elbows on the table, fingers laced, those damn bangs of his obscuring his eyes, he has let the news wash over and past him, apparently. Easy for him.

"Mom, I did not agree to any of this," I say patiently as Hiro hands Brooklyn the cup of toothpicks he'd missed earlier.

"That's the beauty of fate!" she coos, rocking from side to side, hands clasped together. "And wait until you see your wedding clothes! And the decorations! And the float! Oh, wait here and we'll get them right now! Would you mind, King Voltaire, if we presented them to you all? I do value your opinion."

"I'd be honoured," he says with a humble nod of his head, secretly sending a victorious grin my way.

"Avast, I will fetch the mystical moo-cow!" Nana offers, hopping off her chair, abandoning the fort.

"Enough with the livestock! And I'm not going to marry—Listen to me, I won't—!!" I shout after them, but they are too excited to listen. My head hurts. Sinking back in my chair, I'm grateful for Hiro fanning me with a napkin but I need an undertaker right now. "…Why can't I ignore them?" I ask him pitifully, rubbing the sides of my head. "Why won't they just go away and leave me alone? I just can't get rid of them!"

Meanwhile, mom's so giddy she doesn't even glare at Yelena; she just pulls dad out of his seat and drags him out to help her and Nana with whatever monstrosity they managed to smuggle into the manor. If they put half an ounce of creativity into their skills they could be the world's most successful drug smugglers: look at all the shit they've already brought into the country unnoticed! And I'm afraid to find out what exactly a mystical moo-cow is.

"While we await their return, I have a small announcement of my own to make," Voltaire says, because that bitch fate doesn't think that I've suffered enough. "As I mentioned before, it has long been the custom of the Hiwatari bloodline to strengthen itself through strong unions between worthy partners. My dear father and mother, myself and my dearly departed wife, my son and his lovely soul mate: we have all found happiness and success at each other's side."

Let's recap for a moment: Voltaire's parents hate him so much they'd rather rot alive than give him the pleasure of burying them; Voltaire threw his homophobic wife out of the house and left her to die a miserable death on the icy winter streets of Russia; Konstantin and Yelena are divorced and hate each other, and Konstantin screwed Tala, and if she has her way Yelena will do the same to dad; and Kai is a flaming whore. But yeah, I'm sure I'm just nitpicking.

"And so, it is with great pride that I announce to all of you present that there will be another marriage: the holy union between my grandson, Kai Hiwatari, and my oldest business partner's wholesome daughter, Nikita Lefort, which is set to take place tomorrow, on Valentine's Day!"

Pardon my language, but…


…Erm, yeah, that was me. Having given everyone present a heart attack (and maybe even stopped Lady EEK's heart altogether), I stare between Voltaire and Kai as Hiro wisely relieves me of my only remaining utensil. And my soup bowl. The table before me is completely barren now.

What's with the outburst? I shouldn't care. It's not like Kai and I are a couple anymore. Let it go, Ray, let it go! I've got bigger things to worry about, like my wedding. Am I going to have to make a run for it, and keep running for the rest of my life to avoid my family? Looks like it. I should try to come up with a way to alert Hiro and Brooklyn of my plans. So deep breaths, Ray. That wedding isn't going to happen. I'll escape. Think ahead. Think about leaving. Don't care what happens here. Just think about…

"Congratulations are in order then?" Hiro speaks up, looking past my stunned face at Kai.

"Indeed," Voltaire answers, picking up his glass. "Let us toast on it!"

Glasses are raised, except mine. I couldn't raise it even if my mind was working because Hiro has taken my glass. I'd wonder why he isn't as gobsmacked as I am, but then again, I'm too gobsmacked to care.

"…I owe it to you, grandfather," Kai finally says, nodding emotionlessly as he holds up his glass.

Is this one of those dreams where you're invisible and all you can do is stand and watch everyone else have a really good time and the more you shout at them the farther away they get? My planned wedding to Mariah brightened Bryan's day, but Kai's announced nuptials wiped that smile clean off the falcon's face. Right now he's the only other person at the table who seems to understand how ridiculous things are becoming. He turns to Tala, but is silenced by a sharp hand gesture. Stupefied, he looks over at me and we have a shared moment of "WTF?!"

"To these future grooms!" Voltaire says proudly, grinning his wrinkled grin. "To their successful recovery! To their victory over their disease! To their bright and healthy future!"


I laugh.

It starts off as a snort, builds up to a high giggle, then just descends into uncontrollable laugher. Burying my face in my hands as I rest my elbows on the table, I gasp for air as tears streak down my face. I mean, it's so obvious, isn't it? I've gone mad! We've all gone stark-raving psycho! This isn't a mansion: this is a loony house and we've been in here all this time, thinking we were living our lives when really we are being contained for the sake of the public. Everything makes so much sense now!

"Ray?" Hiro asks carefully, taking me by the shoulder and pulling me back in my chair. "Ray, are you feeling alright?"

"Haha…of…course…I…haha…I'm fine! Everything's…okay now! Hahaha! I was getting so worked—hahaha—up over—haha—nothing! I'm nuts, Hiro!" I point out, feeling a burden lift off my shoulders. "Hahahahaha! Can you believe it? Hey, I bet you're not even here! Am I? I'm not, right, Kai?"

Kai puts down his glass loudly, plants his palms on the table and stands with a Russian curse.

"Let's go, Ray," he says, reaching out towards me.

"Perhaps it is for the best to let his friends look after him, Kai," Voltaire says, sitting once more, watching with stony eyes. "I think it's time you realized that he is no longer our burden."

Kai angrily replies in Russian, his eyes darkening dangerously. Voltaire answers, his voice raising as well. It doesn't take long before a shouting match is underway. Man, these hallucinations sure is loud.

"Where's the volume button, eh?" I laugh to Hiro, whose face is grim as he stares at me. Next to him Brooklyn looks dismayed, almost to the verge of tears. What's their problem? No need to look so sad. I'm in heaven!

"That's enough," Hiro says over the shouting Russians, getting to his feet and pulling me up with him. Brooklyn takes my other arm, whispering soothing words as if I'm some rabid animal. "You need to lie down, Ray."

"But I feel fiiiiiiiiiine! Better than ever! None of this is my fault: I'm just fucking insane!!"

"It's over. We're getting you out of here."

"Wait, no fair! I want to make a toast too!"

"You're not well," Hiro argues. "It's gone too far."

"It's about time! Get that street urchin off my property!" Voltaire shouts to them in English, noticing our slow exit. "Get that fag away from my family!"

That. Word.

With a sharp CLICK my sanity suddenly switches itself back on and the reality that hits me only serves to piss me off even more. I wrench myself free and grab up my dad's abandoned wine glass. I hold it up in a mock toast, sneering at everyone save for Hiro and Brooklyn.

I've been throwing the word 'hate' around rather loosely lately, but I've never really hated anyone like this before. Not even Mariah. She is extremely irritating and I'd rather tongue Lord GAH than marry her, but hate is such an extreme emotion that I never even considered. But now…now I know how it feels to hate someone. I know how it feels to want to scream at them till they're deaf and I'm hoarse; to try and convey even a portion of how much I hate just looking at them. It's frustrating, which only makes me hate them more and more. And it's different from the hate I've been feeling towards Kai and Tala; that is a mixture of hate, sorrow, self-pity and helplessness. But this. This is the real thing. This is pure and utter hate. And the most of it is focused on one man.

"Before I go I'd like to make a toast to the most pompous, most sadistic, most selfish bastards to have ever disgraced this world," I announce, challenging Voltaire with my most contemptuous glare ever. "Is this what you wanted, hm? Is this what you wanted to see, me losing my fucking mind?! Well guess what: you win! I've had it! I don't give a crap about how much money you have, or how much land you own, or how much companies you've bought, or how many employees you've traumatized into early retirements! I don't give a fuck who you parents are, or who your kids are! Your lineage's pedigree is nothing but purebred delusion!!"

"HOW DARE YOU?!" Voltaire rages, face turning purple.

"How dare I? How dare you?! How dare you stomp your way into my life and tell me that I'm not good enough?! Yes, I'm not perfect! None of us is perfect! Not you! Not your son! Not your grandson! My parents aren't perfect, and Nana can't even be considered a serious candidate for normalcy! But you know what, at least I accept my faults! At least I'm man enough to admit that I have them, while you're such a coward you deny yours!" I take a mouthful of wine and throw the glass aside. It shatters against the wall, splattering wine onto the expensive drapes. I can hear my boiling blood rushing in my ears. I'm just sick of them. Sick of everything. "A wedding…'curing' this so-called disease… Toasting your family…your success…What a load of shit! Who are you trying to kid?! You think if you repeat it long enough it might actually be true?!"

"What I do with my family is none of your business, boy," he hisses, putting down his glass hard enough to break its spindly stem. He sizes me up, being broader and much taller. "This has nothing to do with you. It never had anything to do with you. You were never meant to be here in the first place. But I'm an honest man so I will admit my gratitude that you have made Kai see the error of his ways by showing him your true fickle nature."

"Me?! You are blaming me for what happened?!"

"You're not very bright, are you? Don't they teach you anything in that mud puddle of a village? I'm not blaming you: I am thanking you. You have taught Kai the lesson I have been trying to instil in him for years. You cured him of his disease. He will marry a woman, as nature intended, not waste his life on your kind!"

I think I'm losing it again.


Yeah, I've definitely snapped, but whoa, didn't expect that to have such an effect on everyone. The silence that follows that bellow is suffocating. Why the horrified looks? Everyone in here knows that Kai and…Tala…and…um…well, shit.

"Bryan!" Tala shouts, just a fraction too slow as he tries to grab the falcon, who has already leapt out of his seat and onto the table.

I unwillingly gasp loudly when he lunges at Kai, going for his throat. Kai, as unprepared for the attack as he was for me blabbing their secret, is roughly thrown from his chair and the back of his head hits the floor with a sickening thud. Already disoriented, he can just barely fend off the punches Bryan's raining down on him. Bryan's hits are only growing faster, more determined, whereas Kai won't be able to keep up his defence for much longer. Hiro rushes to try and help Tala get Bryan off. Even Konstantin strides past me to assist them, but the three of them cannot calm or restrain Bryan. Konstantin even calls over the burly caretakers but Bryan shakes them all off, shouting down at Kai, tears actually gleaming in his eyes as he continues to wail on the person he'd once consider his closest friend.

My breath catches stubbornly in my throat when I spot red drops on the once clean floor.


Kai's bleeding from the mouth. And there's something else I notice that makes my stomach twist: he isn't fighting back. While he's deflecting the worst of the punches, he isn't making an attempt to hit Bryan, to try and stun him before he kills him.

I squeeze the hand holding mine, unaware that it is Brooklyn's or that he's even next to me. I just stare at the chaos. Again, I feel detached. Everything's moving slowly. Bryan's angry curses and the others' attempts to break through to him by shouting sound like distant thunder. Among the moving bodies, I can only stare at the almost motionless figure on the floor.

"…Kai…" I whisper.

No one, not even Brooklyn, could have heard it, but at that exact moment Kai turns his head towards me. He has to be in a world of pain, but you wouldn't be able to tell looking into his eyes. They are blank, until, for a moment, they brighten. …Relief? His bloody lips part and he wordlessly issues a simple order: "Go."

Why is he letting this happen?

"K-Kai?" I stutter, fear beginning to brew in my chest, wrapping itself around my heart. I am not being romantic here: the pain in my chest is reaching crushing levels.

The moment is broken when Bryan manages to yank his arm free from Konstantin's grip and brings it down with such a force that Kai's ribs don't stand a chance. The force expels a fountain of blood from his mouth and I hear Yelena, who's been sitting by uncertainly, scream as she gets to her feet. Even with his almost super-human strength and high threshold for pain, Kai cannot shrug the impact off and his eyes clamp shut as he curls in on himself. For the most terrifying moment in my life, I think that that killed him.

"Kai!" I yell, running over and ready to dig Bryan's eyes out with my thumbs. "KAI!!"

Yelena screams again as a gale of wind suddenly rips through the room, knocking me right off my feet. Above us the chandelier explodes, sending glassy shards and hot wax flying everywhere. The drapes flap loudly in the strong winds and with a horrible clatter everything is blown right off the table, before the entire table itself is upturned.

Have I just gone Carrie on everyone?!

No, I feel a brooding presence standing over me and finally realize that it's not I who has developed supernatural powers, but the Lord of Darkness himself has had enough. Brooklyn's eyes are giving off sparks of energy as he uses his control over the gale from hell to forcibly separate the struggling group, sending everyone flying back in opposite directions. Not even Bryan can fight it off as he's thrown back against the wall, more roughly than anyone else.

With a final howl, the gales die down as suddenly as they'd started up, leaving behind destruction but also peace. It looks like ten tornadoes had a hoedown in here.

Brooklyn lowers his arms.

"Violence never solves anything," he scolds us, channelling the master of the Underworld. With a slow blink his eyes return to their teal blue colour and he starts, as if waking up from a bad dream. He looks at everyone's shocked faces and sheepishly rubs the back of his head with a shy smile. "Ah, sorry about that. Perhaps I overreacted just a little…"

Bryan scowls and is already on his feet but this time Tala gets to him before he can try for another attack. I spare a pang of sympathy when I see that tears are still running down Bryan's face as he stares at his boyfriend, looking as hurt as I'd been when I had learned about them. But Tala refuses to let him go. Throwing his arms around Bryan's waist, he speaks in urgent Russian into the taller teen's ear, raising a hand to softly wipe the tears away. Whatever he's saying it's getting through to Bryan, who allows Tala to coax him out of the room, away from Kai.

Also vacating the room are the living fossils, wheeled out quickly by their shaken caretakers. If either of them even noticed the local change in the weather I'll give up chocolate forever.

While Hiro comes over to check on Brooklyn, I run past him to where Konstantin is kneeling next to Kai, who has managed to push himself up on his elbows. Blood is dripping from his lips, but there are no cuts: he's busted up inside. Only my enhanced vision allows me to see this much because Brooklyn blew out most of the light sources in the room. But even if it were too dark to see I can still hear Kai's painful breaths. Getting to my knees, I don't know what to do, what to say, or why I feel the need to do or say anything.

"Get away from him," Voltaire, whose chair was overturned unceremoniously and whose hair is now soaked with the wine from his own glass, says gruffly as he marches over. "Nothing but a nuisance, that's what you are! Leave him alone! You have done enough!"

Yelena, more serious than I've ever seen her, comes to stand next to Konstantin. She looks down at Kai, wringing her dainty hands. She's worried, but possessing absolutely no motherly instinct she doesn't know what to do help her only child. Finding herself to be useless here, she says something to Konstantin and hurries out, her heals clicking and crunching on floor and broken glass. I think she's going to call an ambulance.

Konstantin is watching his father's every move like a predator watching his prey as he kneels in an almost protective manner over Kai. Hiro and Brooklyn flank me as well, forming human shields between me and Voltaire, who is more agitated than ever, though not because Kai's hurt.

"I knew this would happen!" he shouts, waving his hands about as he paces. "I knew you were a danger! A risk to my grandson's health! Not only did you try to harm him mentally but now because of you his life might be at risk!"

"It's not that serious," Konstantin butts in, hand on Kai's lower back, refusing to let him get up any further before he does any more damage to his body.

"I didn't…" I stammer, blinking through the tears. Not this. I had wanted to hurt him back, to get my revenge on him, but not this. "…It was an accident…"

"You are the accident!" Voltaire barks. "That sinful liaison you forced onto my grandson was a sinful accident! You think he did what he did because of a lapse in judgement?! He never loved you! You mean NOTHING to him!!"

Kai stirs at that. He swallows with great difficulty, coughs and opens his mouth but has yet to find his voice. Unable to speak, he looks up at me with hazy eyes. Hazy, but focussed. Hazy, but there's something in them that is beginning to clear the hazardous feelings of anger, distress and confusion in my mind…

"Ray wouldn't have done this on purpose," Hiro speaks up for me, standing in Voltaire's path. "You were the one who planned for this to happen! You pushed him too far!"

"He let himself get pushed because he is a pathetic weakling! Kai is strong," Voltaire says, getting in Hiro's face. "Kai was able to overcome his sins. Kon, on the other hand, is a lost cause. You will forever give in to your sick faults, boy, but one would think that at least you had enough self-respect to not stay with one who cares nothing for you. Why do you think it happened? Anyone, anything is better than you and Kai knows this! You mean nothing to him. You are not worth our time!"

Kai's eyes are screaming at me. Something in them, something that has been trying to get my attention from the very beginning, is begging me to listen… To know… He couldn't tell me then, and he can't tell me now, but deep down I should have known…

"It was never meant to be!" Voltaire goes on, walking around Hiro to loom over me and Kai. "Now get the hell away from my grandson, my family before I drag you out myself!"

After being told what had happened, after shouting and fighting and crying and almost drinking myself to death, after all my anger and vengefulness began to wear itself out, after days, I'm still here… Why? Why does part of me refuse to give up? Why…because…

"FACE THE TRUTH!" Voltaire bellows.

Because…deep down…I always knew. Deep down, buried beneath my emotions before it had ever had a chance to make itself know, a part of me knew

"That wasn't the truth," I point out, saying it out loud for no one else but myself. Hearing my own voice say it only reinforces it.

"What?" Voltaire steps forward, face twisting.

Kai remains silent, not giving anything away but now I finally see what he'd been trying to say from the very beginning. All this time, he had been telling me the one thing that mattered, only I wouldn't listen.

"Kai does love me. I do matter to him. He loves me so much he'd never do something like that to me."

"Stop your disillusioned rambling!" Voltaire commands, a small pitch of concern in his voice.

I don't pay him any mind. I stare at Kai.

"You weren't coming clean to me that day. Instead of telling me the truth you were telling me a lie."

"Are you now calling him a liar?!" Voltaire accuses.

"Yes, I am," I say, growing more and more confident. "Because there never was an affair. "

Kai closes his eyes, shoulders sagging, finally unburdened. One little action and I know, definitely, that I'm right. Lowering myself onto the floor, I gently brush away his bangs, my heart beating faster and faster as it all begins to catch up with me.

Kai never betrayed me.

Kai has been faithful to me all this time.

"GET YOUR FILTHY HANDS OFF—!!" Voltaire's eyes bulge but he's cut off by Konstantin, who rises and gives him a firm shove back.

"My, my. What a surprise, isn't it?," Konstantin says, smirking jubilantly in Voltaire's face. "He passed. You lost. A deal is a deal."


"Just walk away," his son replies, smirk giving way to a cold look. "Walk away when you still have some dignity intact. You've been proven wrong. Again. If you go back on your end of the deal than Kai and I will do the same and you will lose everything and end up on the streets, just like mother. Is that what you want?"

Voltaire's bravado chips, then slowly begins to crumble. His fists are clenched so tight blood seeps from between his fingers as he digs his nail into his palms. His cheeks puff with every outraged breath as he glares from Konstantin down to me and Kai. His hair is almost standing on end.

"You cannot do this to me," he snarls between clenched teeth. "I AM YOUR FATHER! YOUR SUPERIOR!!"

"Grandpapa and grandmas should already be in the office with the lawyer. We will be along shortly to sign the documents. Leave now and I'll let you at least keep those insignificant illusions of superiority," Konstantin retorts, now matching his old man's anger, though in a more controlled manner. "This is but a legal scrap of paper, but I can do much worse and you know it. I am trouble enough for you as your son: you don't want me as an enemy, father."

Something brushes my hand and I grasp it, holding onto Kai's weak fingers as if they're my only lifeline. Touching him like this, so softly, something we used to do while lying in bed together, or on the couch. Just a touch. Just for contact. Staring down at him, I don't even know that I'm crying until I see him blink as a tear drop lands near his eye. I place my forehead against his.

"Why…?" I ask him, summing up all my thoughts in one word.

"…I…promised…you…" is all he can say.

Voltaire, with nothing else to say and no one left to threaten, having been stripped of some amount of his control, curses loudly in Russian but when Konstantin remains unmoved he stomps out, followed by a string of intelligible language and the slamming of a door.

"We have to get you to the hospital," I immediately say.

"No," Kai dismisses, finally finding a steady voice. "Nothing's…broken."

"Can you walk?" Konstantin asks, looking over a shoulder at Kai, who pushes himself up onto both knees and tests his strength before nodding. "The doctor should be here any minute. A quick look-over to make sure you'll live and then we'll go to the office to put our signatures on those documents, before Voltaire finds a loophole."

I have no idea what this is all about, and I don't care. I'm clueless, and it doesn't bother me, because the only thing I need to know I do and that's good enough for me. I help Kai into a sitting position. He's holding one side but otherwise he's managing surprisingly well.

"I swear, Kai, if you don't have a damn good explanation…" I threaten him softly, dying to hug him. "Because if there isn't one I think I might finish what Bryan started."

Wiping the last traces of blood from his mouth, he pauses in his actions and gives me…The Look #1 (my threat has been acknowledge but he doesn't give it much credit)! I used to hate getting that particular brand of The Look from him but seeing something so very Kai-like makes me want to hug and kiss him.

"So then…" I ask for confirmation, "you're not going to get married tomorrow?"

The Look #1, again.

"You two," Konstantin says, waving at Hiro and Brooklyn, "I think Kon is going to need some help moving all his rubbish back into the master bedroom. We might as well clear out of here to let the servants clean up this mess."

"Really sorry about that," Brooklyn insists. "I will pay you back for the damage."

Slowly the world returns to normal as Konstantin takes him delicately by the chin.

"I might be willing to negotiate…"

Bruised ribs and bloodied throat and all, Kai snorts as I roll my eyes. Hiro is a bit more openly about his thoughts on Konstantin's proposal. He intervenes, stepping between his boyfriend and the older man.

"Cash or check?" he asks bluntly.

"We'll see," Konstantin replies. He turns to Kai, who has already risen to one foot with my help. Konstantin takes over, not too gently pulling Kai up the rest of the way. At least he's able to stand. It's really impossible to tell whether Konstantin is doing this as a father or as the victor of this strange game they've been playing. "By the way, Kai I'm still waiting to see the bookcase back in the lounge. I want it back there before I leave tomorrow."

"Yes, father," Kai says after a grimace.

Once we establish that he's not going to wake up dead tomorrow. Or maybe not. Konstantin is still pretty much a mystery. Well, the world is still pretty much a loopy place.

Aaaaaaaand…cue my family.

"Everyone ready?" mom asks, breezing in dressed in what looks like a giant Venus flytrap that's trying to eat her head. "My, I didn't know we took so long preparing everything. Is dinner already over?"

Yes it is over. Over there…and there…and there…and there…basically it's all over the place.

Oh, this is reminds me: I'm still engaged to be married. And I'm 99.9 per cent sure that my folks were not in on whatever was happening here these past few days. I know because my mom is wearing her rabbit feet necklace, which she only brings out on really important occasions. Dang, and things were going so well.

I don't want to leave Kai but the good doctor will probably kick us out anyway when he shows up and this is as good a time as any to take on my folks. And I need to take Hiro and Brooklyn with me because although he's now physically supporting Kai Konstantin is still flirting with Brooklyn and there's a lot of broken glass around, any piece of which might be beckoning Hiro to bury it into Konstantin's throat. It's nice to see Hiro Granger losing his cool every now and then, but I don't want any more confrontations tonight.

"Gotta get rid of them," I tell Kai, tossing my head towards mom, who doesn't fully grasp the concept that a typhoon hit the dining room, being more concerned with whether they'll manage to fit something I'm sure is hideous through the doors. Cupping his face, I place a gentle kiss, and am delighted when, in typical Kai fashion, he deepens it. I trace his cheek with my fingertips, still not quite sure what has happened. "I missed you so much."

He kisses me again. Good answer.

"Ray, you're going to have to come out here to see the float!" mom informs, too busy relegating whatever dad and Nana are doing outside to notice that her plans are about to be brought to an abrupt halt.

Konstantin decides that he doesn't want to be bothered with my family's antics so he leads Kai out through a side door. Only because I have my pride (cough) do I not blow kisses after him. Not even the ominous mooing of Nana's moo-cow can weigh down the small spring in my steps as I'm accompanied by a relieved Hiro and a confused Brooklyn to the hall. I keep looking behind me until Hiro takes me by the shoulders and pushes me along.

"You two lovebirds will soon have all the time in the world," he sighs. "Told you waiting around for just a bit longer was a good idea."

"Were you in on it?"

"Kai called me yesterday and ordered me to come here because you were in dire need of some support." Which explains how they made it to the front door unharmed. "He didn't go into details but apparently he and Konstantin had wagered a bet with Voltaire: if he won, Kai would end your relationship and never contact you again, and marry a partner of Voltaire's choice; if they won Voltaire had to keep his nose out of your relationship for good and let Kai live with the partner of his choice."

"Why would Voltaire agree to that if he could just bully us into breaking up?"

"Like I said, Kai didn't go into details. At first it was only between him and his grandfather, but then Konstantin got himself involved as well and things got even more complicated."

"I think Kai's father is a caring man," Brooklyn shares, trying to rub a stain out of his shirt.

Hiro and I exchange unconvinced looks. I think it's high time Brooklyn stepped away from nature and took some lessons in understanding human nature. But now would be a bad time because even Hiro can not make sense of what awaits us outside the dining room.

A blue and pink cow with three—that's three—horns; a goat with bells on its horns; a giant…thing decked out with feathers, pelts and rocks—this is ridiculous: how did they get that thing in here?? Mom is standing proud in her English garden-inspired horror. Dad has exchanged his furry helmet for a bigger one with horns and a live squirrel (no, I'm not joking. I wish I were, but I'm not). Nana has painted her teeth black.

"How…interesting?" Brooklyn puts it nicely.

"Isn't it beautiful?" mom beams, wrapping her vine entwined arms around my torso. "Can you imagine how you and Mariah will look on top of that as you are paraded through the village?"

Like idiots. Do know that this is not in any way part of our village's wedding ceremonies: this creation came strictly from my family's mind. I have no idea where mom came up with this or why Nana went through the trouble of painting the goat's teeth black, but it's time to put a stop to this, before they break out drunken chickens, which are part of our village's wedding tradition. With the encouraging looks of Hiro and Brooklyn, I dare to pop mom's bubble of pride and step forward.

"Mom…dad…Nana…For once I really need you to listen—"

"Such a shame, then, that it will never happen," mom sighs.

"—to me. I am not going to…Wha?"

Wiping her wet eyes, mom takes both my hands and smiles up at me. Dad comes over to place a hand on her shoulder and mine. Nana has fallen asleep on top of the moo-cow.

"Oh be reasonable, Ray," mom tells me, lips quivering around her smile. "Your father and I aren't that thick. We did come here determined to bring you back with us, but it has become apparent to us that you are happy here. The happiest I've ever seen you."

This…is good. Too good to be true.

"Did Kai let you in on the bet too?"

"Bet?" mom blinks owlishly and looks to dad, who shrugs, just as clueless.

"What made you change your mind then?"

"I had an unexpected run-in with your friend."

"Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeviiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiil," Nana crones in her sleep.

"You talked…to Bryan? What did I tell you about staying away from him?"

"One must befriend an enemy if one wishes to catch it off guard," dad says.

…Ooookay. Thanks for the update.

"It was by accident that I walked into him while performing some spiritual cleansing upstairs and I was going to call Nana to perform an exorcism," mom continues, "but then I had a revelation!"

You realized that even though Nana has labelled him as an empty shell filled with demonic spirits he is in fact a person who is capable of caring for someone. And that if he is capable of love than so is Kai. And you finally understood that even though it isn't conventional it's still love and that's what finally got through to you?

"Because no being can generate so much darkness within them, your friend must have absorbed any and all wickedness in this stone village, leaving nothing but goodness behind. Therefore, there can't be anything wrong with you being in love with Kai before this village has been cleansed of all that is sinful!"

I would have been genuinely surprised if my presumptions had been correct.

"The signs were too overwhelming to deny any longer," mom continues, tears clinging to her lashes. "I asked Nana for a second opinion and she agreed and has even given you both her blessing! She spent all of last night performing the sacred binding ritual to protect the both of you, which is why she's so tired now. A part of me had hoped that you'd be thrilled with the news of marriage but your devotion to Kai is something that is set in the stars and it is not our place to go against such high wishes."

"Then what's all this?" I ask, motioning to the fright festival in the hall.

"Oh, these we'd brought with us when we first arrived."

How…? Ray, don't ask. Think of how much easier it'll be that way.

"So…what are you going to do now?" Brooklyn asks, petting the mystical holy moo-cow.

"There's nothing left for us to do here," mom says. "Gou is going to go outside and try to contact Mr Dickenson through smoke signals for him to send us another iron bird to carry us back home."

"I'm pretty sure that Mr Dickenson might have some troubles reading your signals," Hiro tells dad. "But if you like we just so happen to have three boarding passes for another iron bird. And I can call Mr Dickenson and ask him to arrange for further transport once you reach China."

"Hmm. A generous offer, young one," dad nods. "Then we'd best prepare to depart before the stars go out, else it will be difficult to navigate our way back."

"Dad, that's why planes come equipped with modern…" Hold on. Am I insane? I can get rid of them as early as tonight! "Yeah, you'd better hurry. Planes need to take off at night in order to orientate themselves."

Mom smiles at me. I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with enough oxygen before she crushes me in one of her embraces. She becomes supernaturally strong when she gets emotional.

"I love you, Ray," she tells me, sniffling. "We may not always agree on things, but you do know that I love you with every fibre of my body and every essence of my soul?"

"I know," I say, actually shedding a small tear. Family: can't live with them, can't live without them. But I'll try. Still, I think I might actually miss their hijinks. Especially Nana's. I lost ten pounds just chasing her around the place. With her gone I'll have to start hitting the gym again. "And…I want you to come visit us again, okay? Or maybe we can meet up somewhere during the summer."

Unable to speak, mom nods, her face buried in my shoulder.

Fifteen minutes later dad manages to gently pry mom off of me. The front of my shirt is soaked with her tears and I have tiny holes in my back where her nails had embedded themselves into my skin, but she is beginning to pull herself together. While dad begins to lead the holy moo-cow (with Nana still fast asleep on it) away mom looks between both Hiro and Brooklyn.

"Would either of you be interested in marrying a lovely young woman?"

"I'm afraid we're both already taken," Hiro saves the day.

"Are you sure?"

Yeah, because people make that mistake all the time.

"Why don't we help you pack your things?" Hiro offers, changing tactics. When Brooklyn clears his throat and nods towards me Hiro looks at him pointedly. "Well, seeing as Ray isn't going anywhere, and, for now, neither are we, we have more than enough time to move his things. Right now I'm thinking that Ray's family are eager to go back to their home."

No more than I'm eager to send them away, something Hiro has picked up on. I have to suffer through another extreme mom hug, only this time my dad joins in and I'm terrified because that squirrel looks like it wants to bite me.

"My boy. My beautiful, beautiful boy," mom croons, rocking me back and forth. "I will miss you so much."

"Not if you don't leave," I say pleasantly, keeping one eye on the squirrel and the other on the dagger in dad's belt that is dangerously close to my kidney. "And tell Lee and Mariah that Kai and I said hi."

"I'm sure they'll be happy to hear that."

Yeah, that'll make their day…

"And you two are okay, right?" I ask. They blink owlishly. "It's just, what with how Yelena was kinda flirting with dad and I was worried that you were upset, mom."

"That woman might be a bit loose," mom says, "but your father is faithful. Aren't you, dear?"

Did two horns and a forked tail just sprout from mom when she asked that?

"I would never consider sharing my life with anyone but you, my love," dad replies quickly.

I shouldn't worry: dad would never dare leave my mom.

Hiro's already on his cell phone while Brooklyn uses his gosh-darn cute charm to make mom almost forget all about me as they lead them back up the stairs. Watching them go, I'm surprisingly sad. They're old fashion, gullible, frustrating, humiliating and not all that bright, but they are my family. And…it feels really good, knowing that I have their blessing, even though their reasoning isn't all that accurate. Yes, I think that I will actually meet up with them again soon. Maybe not here, because I don't think the manor can survive another Kon family visit. We could come together in a more neutral environment, like a desert.

I slump against the wall, but this time it's not in defeat. I'm just tired…of WINNING!

I did it. I overcame everything and everyone. It took about 30 years off of my life, but at least I have finally earned control of my own life! I'm exhausted, but I can be whatever I want now and no one can say anything about it. The thought alone gives me strength and I push myself away from the wall and begin walking towards the stairs, mind set on one thing.

True to form, my attention span trails off as I pass the doorway a few halls down, just before reaching the staircase. I stop and take a few steps back and carefully peak inside.

Before the open hearth, curled together on the black couch, are Bryan and Tala. Tala's fast asleep, glasses askew on his nose, one arm around Bryan's chest while the other dangles over the couch, his hand clutching a dark red rose whose petals are stirred by the rumbling exhales of Chernie, who's also sleeping, a lumpy mat of muscle and fur on the floor. Bryan, chewing on a toothpick and twirling his own rose idly as he stares contently into the flames, cranes his head back when he picks up on my presence. On any other day this would have been where I hightailed it out of here, even as he sits up and carefully detangles himself from Tala, who's so deep in sleep he only turns in his sleep. I step back out of the room as Bryan approaches.

"Why didn't they tell you?" I ask him as he leans in the doorway.

He rolls the toothpick to the other side of his mouth and shrugs.

"The less people who knew about it, the better."

"So you really thought that Kai and Tala…You really cried."

The violet eyes narrow.

"What about it?" he sneers.

Again, I would have been ten miles away by now but now I return the shrug.

"Nothing at all. I'm just sorry you got hurt, if only for a couple of minutes. Didn't mean for that to happen at all."

"Which is why you didn't tell me when you found out about the 'fling'," Bryan puts together. He scoffs, almost grinning at the thought. "Aw. The little kitty was worried about my feelings."

"Wow. You sure make it so easy for me to not like you."

"Get lost, Kon."

"Hey, Bryan," I call after him softly as he returns to the couch. He looks back. "Happy Valentines."

"I hate Valentines."

He tosses the toothpick into the fire and pulls Tala back into his lap. In his sleep Tala turns his head in silent command and Bryan obligingly kisses the expectant mouth. Sighing, Tala returns to deeper slumber. Ignoring me, Bryan soon follows after him. I tiptoe away, up the stairs, longing to share a tender moment of my own with my long-lost lover.

Quietly opening the door to the master bedroom, I am disappointed to find it empty. It looks a lot bigger, seeing how most of the clutter that's usually in here is my junk, which is now elsewhere. Walking over to the bed, I sit down, feeling lonely but thrilled to be back in here. Hiwatari business is probably still being conducted somewhere.


"Used that sixth sense of yours?" I smile as Tiger, who'd been sleeping under the bed, jumps up next to me. "You knew everything was going to be alright, didn't you?"

Yawning, he pads over to the pillows and plops down. Not a bad idea. Crawling over, I lie down next to my pet, some of that earlier exhaustion returning. Oooh, have I missed this bed! This heavenly, stupidly comfortable bed. I don't have my pillows but there are still around twenty of them on here.

"Everything's going to be alright," I repeat as I watch Tiger's round belly rise and fall with every breath. "We're going to be alright…"

The night's excitement, heartache and shock finally catches up with me and despite my best efforts my eyes drift shut as Tiger purrs contently.

Blinking awake, I'm immediately aware that I'm not alone, mostly because there are a pair of arms around me and something warm pressed tight against my back. By the time I've managed to turn around with breaking the embrace Kai is already wide awake, staring at me like he's about to kill anything that tries to get between us. Except Tiger, but he's now sleeping in the window.

"…Hi…" I whisper, thinking that I might still be asleep and that this is all a cruel dream again. "Are you okay?"

"Nothing serious and painkillers are a blessing," he says, tracing my side with light fingers.

"Where have you been?"

He gives me a bemused look as I try to drag out the conversation.

"Does it matter?" he asks.

"No," I answer and pull him on top of me, allowing him to smother me. I'll probably get permanent brain damage from lack of oxygen, but I don't use my brain that much anyway so I'm willing to take the risk. His doctor must be a miracle worker because Kai is showing no signs of pain as he pins me down with his legs. Even his bruises aren't as bad as they should be.

This was who I had been ready to leave?! Did I seriously considered walking out on Kai, the greatest thing that had ever happened to me? Did I almost give up these lips against mine, this body, this scent and this hair? I wouldn't have lasted for more than a month. No matter how much I would have believed that he had wronged me, I would have thrown myself in front of something large and mobile after a few weeks alone.

"Why did you do it?" I ask when we've finally appeased our most carnal of urges (for now). "Why even bother with a stupid bet?"

Sighing, he pushes himself up onto his elbows, keeping me pinned beneath him. I run my fingers through his bangs, because gosh did I miss doing this. I don't think I'll ever let him out of my sight. From now on, wherever he goes, I go. I'll even give myself hypothermia all over again next year during Epiphany, so long as he's with me.

"I would have never been able to get rid of Voltaire otherwise. He threatened to have you taken away that day he came for lunch. I had to come up with something or you would have been kidnapped at night and shot somewhere deep in the woods."

Er. That killed the moment. I knew the man hated my guts, but I didn't know he hated me that much he wanted to hire assassins to put me down! Gently pushing Kai back a bit, I study him nervously.

"And now? He's going to stay away now because of a little bet? Why do I get the feeling that he's the type who does what he wants, no matter what the arrangement?"

"He can't go back on his word now," Kai says, more interested in undoing my dress shirt. "If he did I'd sell my entire inheritance back to my father. Voltaire would rather lick a public toilet than see my father get his hands on the family fortune. There's a reason why he disowned my father and wrote him entirely out of his will: my father jumped ship years ago and is now business partners with Voltaire's biggest cooperate rival. My grandfather has never forgiven him for that."

"Why did Konstantin do that?"

"To piss my grandfather off," Kai says, growing restless with just talking. "Those two hate each other more than I do them both combined. That's the only reason why my father sided with me on this: anything to get to Voltaire. Had my grandfather accepted you then my father would have been out to get you, just to get under Voltaire's skin. I didn't want to get my father involved, because he's not someone I like having around at all, and it was his idea to come up with the entire affair between Tala and me to test you, but if it weren't for him who knows what Voltaire would have done…"

We kiss again, seeing how the temperature keeps rising between us and every second we resist the hotter it gets. Still…

"What about the others?" I pry my lips off his, still not fully convinced that all our problems have been solved. "Why were your great-grandparents here? And your mom?"

Kai isn't liking these interruptions any more than I am. He blows his bangs out of his face and glares down at me.

"Legal matters. They had to sign the contract as well to ensure that Voltaire didn't try to weasel his way out of it by turning to them for help. That's the plus side to having a disorganized family: we can always count on each other to be on the look-out for our best interest. My great-grandparents don't want my father to get the inheritance either and my mother just hates them all so she took my side."


More kissing while Kai continues to disrobe me. I don't care what he does with me, just so long as he doesn't stop kissing…

"And another thing," I suddenly say, actually earning an annoyed groan as Kai is forced to sit back as I sit up. I smile and give him a teasing kiss on the tip of his nose. Just to be fair, I begin undoing the buttons on his shirt. "Hey, you owe me a lot of answers. What did Voltaire say to Tala that day after lunch?"

"You pretty much guessed it yourself," Kai says as he loosens my hair. "He's been holding what Tala and my father did over Tala's head for years. He threatened to finally spill the beans, but he lost his chance, luckily. Now he's no longer to tell anyone, including Bryan, under the same stipulations as those that prevent him from laying so much as a finger on you"

"Sad that you can only negotiate things in your family through politics and treaties," I point out, pulling his shirt off and tossing it somewhere to my left. "And no offence, but I am terrified of your great-grandparents. Brooklyn, Ex-Lord of Darkness, is afraid of them!"

"So is Bryan," Kai confides in me as he kisses my shoulder.

"No way. Bryan would groin the Grim Reaper if he had the chance."

"The Grim Reaper is dead. We're not always sure with my great-grandparents and that makes Bryan very uncomfortable."

Hee-hee. So the falcon is afraid of a couple old crows? This would be excellent blackmail/teasing material if I weren't an even bigger scaredy cat. On the matter of Bryan…

"I've gotta be honest with you," I say after a loud groan as Kai forces me back down on the bed to despoil me some more. This might not be the most ideal time, but I wanted to get this off my chest now, while we're coming clean. "Just remember that I was drunk and depressed and desperate: I almost slept with Bryan."

Kai stops and looks at me and I kinda regret saying it, until he scoffs and returns to kissing the sensitive skin of my neck. I can feel his body shaking, though. Now that's downright rude.

"It's not supposed to be funny! I'm not joking!"

"I know," he chuckles, spreading my legs and resting himself between them. "But it's still funny. You and Bryan? I'd sooner expect my grandfather to make a pass at you."

"GROSS!" I recoil, pushing him off me. "Aw man, Kai! Now I'm going to get nightmares of it!!" Seeing how my distress is only making him laugh more I cross my arms. "Well, if me making out with Bryan doesn't bother you at all you wouldn't mind if, by chance, in the future, we do end up sleeping together?"

"One: Bryan would never let it get that far. Two: if he did I'd kill him. I understand what happened between the two of you was a mistake, for which I am to blame, but if it ever happens again I won't be so forgiving."

Others would worry about how dead serious he's being, but I'm just feeling loopy that Kai's willing to kill someone over me. I'm like the friggin' centre of his universe! His life revolves around me! I don't think I even need to find a new religion: in Kai's world I am a god!

Look! He's even gotten me gifts of worship! Well, one gift.

"You forgot this," he says, reaching back to pick something off the nightstand. It's the little, silver-wrapped box. "I had hoped that you'd open it at the table and kinda get an idea what was going on but perhaps now's a better time."

I know we were just totally making out a while ago, but I'll take a time out of Armageddon to receive presents. Kinda shallow, but who doesn't like getting gifts? Okay, so I wasn't that thrilled earlier. What do you want from me? The universe I had built around me had almost collapsed from my point of view. Now that everything's back where it should be I will grab any gift within my gravitational field.

Fancy wrapping paper, probably worth more than my entire village. Pretty. But enough of that. I rip into it, tearing it to shreds and sending ribbons flying everywhere. Kai has a few Russian words for my appreciation of wrapping paper but I now have a box in my hand that is in dire need of opening. There's no mistake: this is a ring box. I still doubt that there's an actual ring in there. Kai has his sense of pride, after all. Besides, my sensitive nose picks up something that smells much more appealing than a ring. Popping it open, I cover my mouth.

"Just thought you needed a little reminder," Kai says, leaning back against the headrest next to me as I take out the single Swiss bonbon. "You never got to eat the ones I bought you back in December so I had this one made specially for you with a surprise filling."

I will kill you for this guy. You're probably a nice person who doesn't deserve it, but I will hunt you down and skin you alive if Kai ever asks it of me. It's not worth a billion dollars, and I can't drive it, or sail it, or even wear it, but this is…Had I opened this earlier I think I would have forgiven Kai all the same, but opening now makes it all the more special.

"Happy Valentines, Ray," Kai whispers, kissing me on the side of my head.

Throwing my arms around him, I hug him fiercely. He might still be sore and is just keeping up a brave face for me, but if he wants to act the tough guy then let him: I never want to let him go. Not for the next century or so. I haven't eaten anything all evening, though. And this chocolate looks like it is the best damn thing ever made since Kai. It's a present, and a token of our relationship, but its edible and its chocolate: Kai doesn't actually expect me not to eat it, does he?

…Oh. My. God. This thing is heaven in bite-size form! I don't even bother chewing it properly and swallow it in one gulp. That hit the spot.

Kai sits back and looks at my empty hands.

"Did you just swallow it whole?" he asks in disbelief.


His body jerks as he tries to hold in a snort but he can't hold it in and he starts laughing. I'm elated to hear that rare laugh once more, but being laughed at is never a nice thing.


"You…just ate…your…ring!" he says between breaths.

"My…ring?! You actually bought me a ring?!"

"It was hidden in the chocolate: that's why I had to have it specially made," he sniggers as he opens a drawer and produces a second ring box and out of it he pulls a simple silver band with white-gold Russian writing on the inside. Still shaking his head, he hands it to me. "This is mine. I had our names engraved in each ring. Mine in Russian and yours in Chinese."

"You actually bought us matching rings?! I thought you hated sappy things."

"Can't hate them that much seeing how much you love them," he says, just unable to stop chuckling as he takes it back and puts it out of reach of my mouth.

"That's beautiful and—Oh no…I ate mine!" I gasp, grabbing my stomach as if I could feel it through skin and flesh and intestines.

"Yes, you did. Try to keep up with the conversation, Ray."

I throw myself back into the pillows. Kai got me the sappiest, loviest-doviest present ever, and I ate it! He got me two great gifts in one and I just swallowed them without thought!

"I'll get you another one," Kai simply says, leaning over my shoulder for a kiss. "And this time I'll just give it to you outright. Should have kept in mind that you inhale chocolate on sight."

I mumble into the pillow.

"What?" he asks.

"I didn't get you anything," I repeat, turning my head to watch him out of the corner of my eye. "I never even got you those presents I owed you for Christmas! And I just ate my Valentine's present. I have absolutely nothing to give you and no way to make up for ingesting the ring."

"Actually…" Kai smirks, fingers trailing down my back to the waist of my pants, "the ring and chocolate were just the first half…"

"Two presents? Great. Now I feel even worse," I say, too preoccupied with feeling stingy to realize the implication he's going for here. "I swear, I'm going out tomorrow and getting you the best present ever! And then I—HELLO!" I jump when he cups me tightly to get my attention. "What was that for?!"

"Just reminding you of the one thing I want from you."


"Red hot monkey sex?!"

If he thinks I'm going to repay him for those presents by letting him do whatever he wants to with my body then move over Julia Roberts: there's a new whore on the block and at least my man doesn't look twice my age!

"Only if you stop calling it that," Kai says, yanking my pants off with a roguish grin. "Deal?"

Right now I don't care what it's called, just as long as I get it. Kai turns me over onto my back and cups my face. His pants are lying in a crumpled heap somewhere. Naked, we stare into each other's eyes, our chests touching with every deep breath.

"Remember that night at Tyson's house, outside in the snow?" I ask, tucking a sweaty lock of blue hair behind his ears. "You said you weren't that sure about us then? What about now?"

My eyelids flutter as he touches his lips against mine, deep red eyes boring into mine as his wet bangs tickle my face.

"What do you think?" he asks, sliding between my legs once more.

Feeling a thrill deep in my stomach, I smile as he rests his brow against mine.

"I think…we're going to be just fine. I mean, I know we would but this has really proven it, hasn't it. Your grandfather is out of our lives; my family should be on their way back home; Bryan and Tala don't seem as determined to bury me alive anymore. You know—"

"Ray?" Kai sighs, peering down at me from behind his long bangs.


"You want your red hot monkey sex or not?"

Happy Valentine's to me, indeed.



Oh, yeah, as if I'd actually end this story on a sad note! I'm not that sadistic. And no, I was never planning to actually include the red hot monkey sex. Sorry to those who had been looking forward to one. Hey, be creative and use your imaginations!

I discovered the perfect theme song for Ray and Kai while writing this chapter: "Before It's Too Late", by Goo Goo Dolls (from the Transformers movie). It really captures what they went through in this fic. Such a sweet song. I highly recommend it. Hell, I'm not a romantic, but this song actually makes me wish I had a boyfriend and that we were going through a rough patch in our relationship, just so that I could sit in the dark and listen to this song while crying my eyes out. Yeah, it's that sweet.

Well, that was it. No more multi-chapter stories in this universe for now, but I have plans for a few cute one shots. After all, Hiro and Brooklyn are still in Russia and they didn't get enough attention in this fic as I would have liked, so a few side-stories will hopefully make up for that.

People, readers, my eternal gratitude for your support and my deepest apologies for all those missed deadlines. Don't think I never tried to make them: I would stay up late at night trying to desperately finish a new chapter, typing until I went cross-eyed, but me and writer's block are unwilling BFF's. It came to the point where I was afraid to read my reviews because I was expecting a few flames for failing to keep my promise. I really did deserve them, but no one left any. Bless you, kind, kind souls.

Thank you and until the next one-shot, I bid you all happiness, success and bucket loads of chocolate!


Ladya C. Maxine