Please note: this is the follow-up to my fic "BGC The Next Generation." If you haven't read it yet, GO BACK AND READ IT FIRST.

I hadn't intended to write a sequel to Next Gen, but my mind wouldn't let me stop writing. So here is the sequel, "A Farewell to Arms." Part 1 here was written between January and May of 2002.


"Attention all passengers, we will be landing at San Francisco International Airport in ten minutes. Please turn off all electrical devices and remain in your seats with your seat belts fastened until we touch down. We hope you have enjoyed your flight, and thank you for choosing Japan Airlines."

The brown-haired girl sitting near the middle of the plane yawned and turned off her CD player, putting it away in her bag. She stretched her arms and legs, then took a look out the window. In the distance, San Francisco Bay could be seen, glittering under the moonlight. The Golden Gate Bridge stretched across it, full of passing cars even at this late hour. Thousands of lights filled the area around the bay, coloring it an array of reds, whites, and oranges.

The girl didn't look impressed. It was nothing compared to what her hometown was like. She yawned and leaned back in her seat as the "Seat Belts Fastened" sign above her turned on, signaling the plane was about to land.

Sunny California. This was where 17-year-old Yumeko Asagiri was going to start her new life as a normal teenager.


"Bubblegum Crisis – A Farewell to Arms"

Written by Amanda Stair


"We have arrived at San Francisco International Airport," the flight attendant said over the intercom. "The time is 3:48 AM, and it is 44 degrees outside. We hope you have enjoyed your flight."

I think she said that a few minutes ago, I thought as I unfastened my seat belt and stood up, picking up my bag. I've only heard that about ten billion times in my life! Even after all the years of listening to that, I could never understand why they had to declare the temperature outside. I could understand the time – we'd just crossed several time zones, after all – but the temperature? Oh well I guess it was just to prepare people in case it was colder outside than it looked.

I reached above my seat and opened the storage compartment, taking out my jacket and baseball cap. I put on the jacket, tied back my hair, and put on the cap, picking up my bag at the same time. Once the initial crush of people was past me, I stepped into the aisle and made my way to the front of the plane, grimacing whenever I'd get crushed in the small mob; a few of my recent wounds hadn't quite healed yet, especially the ones I'd sustained just four days earlier during the battle at Genom Tower.

"Thank you," the flight attendant said as I stepped off the plane. I nodded to her in response and walked past, and suddenly, a wall of noise hit me. People bustling around to this gate or that, running to make sure they didn't miss their flight, combined with the noise of people announcing stuff on the intercom about when flights would be leaving every airport was like this, I guess. I looked up at the gate number I was at: Gate 375. Ok, Nene told me to stay here so I could meet that lady, I thought as I searched for a seat to sit myself down in. Once I found a free seat, I sat down and scanned the crowds passing by. Nene had said the lady coming to pick me up would be a redhead, like her, and had blue eyes. Like that would help.

A few minutes later, I could see a petite lady running towards the gate I was at. I wondered if it was her; she did have red hair and blue eyes, but I stayed put, just in case.

"You must be Rocío!" she exclaimed as she jogged up to me. She leaned forward and gave me a hug. "It's so nice to meet you!"

God, I wish Nene had picked a better name for me!, I thought. This definitely was the woman Nene was talking about; she and this lady almost could've been twins, except this lady's hair was more red than pink. I stood up and said, "Yeah, I'm Rocío. How do you do?" I bowed, and she returned the bow.

"You must be tired from your flight," she said.

"Nah, it was alright. I've had better, but I've had way worse, too."

"Did Nene tell you my name?"

"Um, yeah. Wasn't it, uh, Iris or something?" She had told me some fancy I-name, but I couldn't remember it for the life of me.

She laughed. "Irodia. I'm Irodia."

I grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, that's the name!"

"I'm Nene's cousin. Did she tell you that?"

"I THOUGHT you two looked a bit alike!" I joked, laughing. "No, I think she skipped that little detail."

"Well, how about we get away from this crush of humanity?" she asked, smiling gently. "All we have to do is get your luggage and we'll be on our way!"

"Ok!"

Irodia led me away from the gate, and after a short ride on the airport subway, we reached the baggage claim and grabbed my suitcases, five in all. Good thing most of them were roller suitcases; we would've been quite a sight, us two trying to lug around five suitcases. After another short ride on the subway, we dragged my stuff out into the parking garage and to Irodia's car. Once we managed to get my things into the car, we climbed in and were on our way.

"So, has Nene told you anything about me?" Irodia asked as we reached the highway.

"No," I replied, taking off my cap.

"Well, my family used to live in Japan, and Nene and I would hang out together all the time, playing with dolls and stuff. Then after the '25 quake, my family decided to move to a less earthquake-prone area, while Nene's decided to stay."

"So you came to California, of all places?" She laughed.

"That's what I thought, too! I mean, California and Japan are two of the world's most earthquake-prone places! As if moving from one to another is really gonna make a difference!"

I laughed; yes, this was definitely Nene's cousin. They had much the same attitudes, and they both even had red hair, even if they were different shades.

"Well, now that there's nobody around," Irodia said, "you can tell me more about yourself." And suddenly, she switched from English to Japanese. "How have you been holding up through all this, Yumeko?"

"Huh?" She knew my real name?

"It's ok," she assured me, noting the look on my face. "Nene told me everything. She said she figured it would be easier for you this way if somebody knew."

"So so you know EVERY little thing?"

"She told me you've been through a lot, and you needed to get away for a little while to recover emotionally."

I heaved a sigh. Good, she probably doesn't know I'm a Knight Saber then, I thought, my heart slowing down, just a few seconds before having been beating like crazy. "So what has she told you?" I asked.

"She said you were shot through the leg, and that you're still recovering from that. She also mentioned you were stabbed recently and a close friend of yours was murdered." Irodia looked remorseful. "I'm sorry."

"Michiko..." I sighed. "It's only been two weeks, but it seems like it's been so much longer than that." My hand instinctively reached for the necklace chain around my neck.

"Was that her necklace?"

"Yeah..."

"I wish I could say I can relate, but I can't." She sighed. "I'll do whatever I can to help you through this, though. I want you to know that you can stay at my house as long as you need to, ok? You're always welcome at my house."

I smiled weakly. "Thanks, Irodia..."

She brightened. "Oh, and Nene also mentioned you're aiming for the Olympics next summer! I can help you out with that!"

"You can?" I raised an eyebrow; she didn't seem like the athletic type.

"I know a guy at the local gym that's a black belt in tai chi and karate and all that stuff! He can help you get your leg back in shape, and tone all your muscles so you can do those flips easier! I could set up an appointment if you want!"

"You seem more excited about this than I am." I chuckled. "But I can't do the full-blown stuff right away. I'm still kinda beat up."

"Well, tai chi helps to stretch the muscles. It won't be that hard on you while you're trying to recover." She thought for a moment. "Nene mentioned something else too, about blackouts or something?"

I sighed. "Yeah. Sometimes someone'll do something, or something'll happen, that'll make me remember something from when the convention center exploded, and I black out. And when I come out of it, I find out I nearly killed someone."

"I know a good therapist that can—"

"No!" I said emphatically, shaking my head vigorously. "I can't stand doctors! I know you're trying to help me, but but I don't want to see no shrink about my panic attacks! They don't happen as often as they used to, anyway."

"Ok, ok. I won't make you do anything you don't want to do."

"How far away IS your house, anyway?" I asked. "We've been on the highway for a while."

"It's in Sacramento. There's no international airport there, so I had to drive all the way out here to pick you up. It'll be about an hour's drive or so, so you can go ahead and fall asleep in here if you want," she suggested.

"Nah, I'll be ok. Can you turn on the radio?"

"Sure. What station?"

"Whatever one that plays rock," I said, grinning. "Anything but rap or country!"

Irodia laughed as she turned on the radio and turned it to a rock station. And coincidentally, the song that was playing was by Priss and the Replicants. It was one of Mom's very few all-English songs.

"I helped Mom write this song!" I exclaimed.

"You did?" Irodia asked, wide-eyed.

"Yeah! She admits her English is bad, so she asked me to help correct it!"

"I know this song!" she admitted, laughing. "I'm not the biggest fan of your mom, but this is one of my favorite songs by her and her band!"

We both started singing along to the song, which Mom had called A Dance in the Stars:

Have you ever had a day when you wanted to float away?
Ever had a day when your cares just won't go away?
Well, come on babe, and come dance with me.
Dance with me in the stars of the night sky.

Forget the hell that you've gone through
since the day everything went down the tube.
For a moment, let those bad memories drift away
as you dance in the sky, dance way way away.

I wished I could just dance away, get away from all the memories that haunted me. But I knew that wasn't possible, even as I practically screamed the first two lines in the chorus as they came on:

"Come on, babe! Just dance away the pain! Dance away the night in the starry sky!"


After an hour or so of driving, Irodia and I drove into a quiet little neighborhood, and I looked out the window at all the houses and spacious lawns that lined the street.

"You act like you've never seen a house before," Irodia joked.

"There's no room for houses that size in the part of Tokyo Mom and I live in. You're lucky if you can even see grass, let alone patches of 'em the size of those lawns," I quipped. "Hell, you're lucky if you can get an apartment that's bigger than two or three rooms!"

"I believe it," she concurred.

"Mom and I have to share the one bedroom that's in our apartment, but it's not as bad as it sounds. I've lived with it my whole life."

"Ok, here we are," Irodia said as she pulled the car into the driveway. "Home sweet home."

As we both stepped out of the car, she went and unlocked the trunk while I opened the passenger-side door and dragged out two of my suitcases. Irodia aimed her keychain at the front door, and after pressing a button, I heard the lock click. I should ask Mom to get one of those, I thought as I staggered towards the door with the suitcases.

"Let me get the door," Irodia said, opening it for me.

"Thanks," I said, stumbling through while she went back to get the other suitcases. And suddenly, a ripping pain gripped my stomach. I let out a strangled groan and instantly dropped to my knees, squeezing my eyes shut in the effort to try to block it out. It still hurts so much!, I thought, taking deep breaths. The stab wounds had been like this ever since I'd accidentally reopened them during the battle at Genom Tower. Suddenly, for no reason, this pain would grip me and leave me gasping for breath, the pain would be so great.

It had done this during my final battle with Mom and the others, not even twelve hours before; I'd gone out and fought decently, then in the van, on the way back, I crumpled to the floor in pain. Sylia suggested I just take it easy for a while, but I hadn't known just lugging suitcases into the house was gonna make me drop in pain again.

"Ok, just one suitcase left in the car, then we're done!" Irodia announced as she lugged in two of them. She looked down at me and gasped, dropping the suitcases and bending down. "Yumeko, are you ok?"

"I think I pushed myself too much," I groaned, trembling, it hurt so much.

She sighed. "That was my fault. I should've just gotten the suitcases myself."

"No, it's ok," I assured her, still grimacing.

"No, it's not. You were stabbed two weeks ago, Nene said. I shouldn't have let you exert yourself. You're supposed to let yourself recover." She helped me to my feet, my legs wobbling underneath me. "I can show you to your room if you want."

"Where is it?" I asked, brushing the bangs out of my eyes.

"Um, what's that?" Irodia asked, moving my bangs out of the way. "You have a cut up near your hairline."

"Oh, that. It's not bugging me too much."

"I suppose that's an injury you got up on Genom Tower?"

I paled in shock; Irodia DID know!

"Hey, hey, it's ok," she said. "I said that Nene told me everything."

"I didn't know she told you THAT though..."

"C'mon, why else would she have made you a fake name as long as you're over here? You're hiding out from Genom as well as recovering emotionally. I guess being a Knight Saber will do that to you."

I felt like I was going to throw up. "Nobody else knows, right?"

"Nah. My husband and daughter know nothing about you. As far as Tyler's concerned, you're just a foster child."

I frowned. "Foster child? And who's Tyler? Your husband?"

"Yes. And Mikhaila's my daughter. She's your age. She doesn't even know we're expecting you. They're still asleep right now, so we gotta be quiet."

I looked at my watch; it was 5:23 AM. No wonder they were still asleep.

"Oh, and when you're around them, don't speak Japanese like you're doing with me right now, ok? They don't know you're from Japan. Tyler thinks you're from Mexico, and with that fake name, no wonder he thinks that."

"But I dunno much Spanish..."

Irodia grinned. "Neither does he. So just speak English and you'll be fine. With that cute accent of yours, he won't be able to tell you're not from Mexico anyway."

"Accent?" I hadn't even known I had one. She nodded, a mischievous smile on her face.

"I should show you to your room now. You look tired."

I nodded. "Yeah, I'm not usually up at this hour."

"C'mon." She led me down the hallway, and as we came to the first room on the left, Irodia turned and led me into it. "This is our guest room. As long as you're staying with us, this will be your bedroom. The room across from you is the bathroom, the room further down the hallway on the right is Tyler's and my bedroom, and the room at the end is Mikhaila's. Do you need anything right now?" she added.

"No, that's ok." I suddenly grabbed my stomach; it was starting to hurt again. "Except some aspirin, maybe."

"Ok." She left and a moment later, came back with two pills in her hand. After I took them and swallowed them, she said, "Do you want me to get your pajamas or anything?"

"Nah. I'm too tired to change."

She grinned. "Ok. I guess I'll leave you to sleep, then." As she turned to leave, she said, "Yumeko?"

"Yeah?"

"Welcome to the Brunstein household. I hope you feel welcome here."

I smiled softly and laid down on the bed. "I do, thanks."

"Good night." She laughed and corrected herself. "Or should I say 'good day'?"

I laughed. "Good night, Irodia."

After she left and closed the door, I laid my head on the pillow and closed my eyes. My first day in a new house was off to an ok start. As I drifted off to sleep, I started to wonder just how different things would be here than they were back home. Sure, probably no Boomers running around, and no reporters hounding at my door first thing in the morning, but what else? What laid ahead of me for the length of time I was going to be here? All of those things crossed my mind briefly, but at the moment, all I wanted was to get some sleep.

I could worry about that other bullshit later.


As I opened my eyes, for a moment, I thought I was still back home. I sat up, stretched, then as I scratched the back of my head, I suddenly realized I wasn't in my bedroom. I snapped my head in every direction in panic, then heaved a sigh. Oh yeah... I was at Irodia's house. This was going to take some getting used to.

I got up off the bed, walking towards the door, when out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something at the foot of my bed. I took a step forward, then saw it was my suitcases. Irodia must've put them in here while I was asleep. Gee, she didn't have to do that, I thought, smiling softly as I walked out of the room and down to the kitchen.

"Oh, you're awake!" Irodia exclaimed. "How did you sleep?"

"Like a rock," I said, grinning, then took a look at the clock. "Shit, two in the afternoon?"

"It's alright. You were up till 5:30 in the morning, so I figured you needed your rest." She looked at me for a moment and asked, "What's wrong?"

"I'm just not used to anyone being here at this time. Don't you have a day job?"

"Nope, I'm just your classic stay-at-home mom, keeping the house clean and the meals cooked while the man of the house earns the money."

"Mom could never stay home for long," I said, getting a goofy grin. "She either had to go recording, or do a charity concert, or whatever. She could've cared less if reporters mobbed her; she wasn't going to let them scare her into being cooped up in our apartment."

"And what about you? You're a gymnast, right?"

"Yeah, but they didn't bug me nearly as much. They'd only bug me if they wanted to know something about Mom. They coulda cared less about gymnastics." I shrugged. "Oh well, better for me, I guess."

"Gymnastics is under-appreciated," she groaned as she put some dishes in the dishwasher. "What's so great about watching men beat each other up with padded gloves, anyway? Gymnastics is so much more graceful than that stuff."

I shrugged again. "To each his own. I'm gonna go take a shower now, is that ok?"

She brightened. "Sure! I can fix you some lunch if you want."

"Ok, thanks!"

I turned and walked back to my room, opening up the largest suitcase and grabbing some clothes out of it before walking to the bathroom. After grabbing a towel out of the bathroom closet, I set it down, locked the bathroom door, and stripped my clothes. I stepped into the shower stall and turned on the water nice and hot, and let it pour over my body. I grimaced when it hit my stab wounds, and when I looked down, I sighed. Just look at what my body's been through, I thought. I looked at the orange-sized scar on my left thigh, then my eyes wandered to the long scar across my stomach, accompanied by the four scabs that would soon become four scars, four more scars on my battle-ravaged body. I instinctively rubbed my shoulder – where another scar sat – before reaching for the shampoo and scrubbing it into my hair.

I sighed and turned around to let the water beat on my back, before I yelped in pain as well as surprise. I'd forgotten all about the gash on the upper part of my back that hadn't quite healed yet. I cursed under my breath and rinsed the shampoo out of my hair, then put conditioner in it as I tried to ignore the steadily growing pain.

Sylia told me to take it easy, I thought as my stab wounds started to hurt as well. But how the hell am I supposed to do that after all that's gone on lately? I can't just snap my fingers and pretend everything's just peachy. Especially since Michiko was gone...

At just the thought of Michiko, I could feel the anger start to boil up in me. It was because of Boh she was gone... it was HIS fault! I'd killed him, but that wouldn't bring my friend Michiko back. Even an idiot would know that.

"Damn you, Boh..." I grumbled, my anger as well as the pain of my lingering wounds growing in intensity. "Why did you kill her? I was your target...!" The tears started to run down my face, and I didn't wipe them away. "I could kill you a thousand times, and it still wouldn't make up for what you did "

I finally screamed in rage and started to pound away at the tile wall. "You son of a bitch!" I yelled, pounding my fists. My wounds started to hurt all the more, which in turn brought back the memories all the more vividly. Boh ambushing me as I left Linna's place, stabbing me me confronting him when I found out Michiko was missing and then, the moment I found out she was dead. All of those played back in my head, and as I fell to my knees with the pain that wracked my body all over again, I screamed and pounded the wall again.

"Damn you, Boh! I hope you're rotting in hell at this moment, I really do!" I cried out in pain and grabbed my stomach, then started to cry again. "Michiko, I'm sorry... I'm so sorry..."

I heard a knocking on the door. "Yumeko?" I heard Irodia ask. "Are you ok?"

"No!"

"Do you want to talk?"

I sat there for a moment, thinking, then answered, "Sure... just lemme get changed."

I rinsed what was left of the conditioner out of my hair, then turned off the water, dried myself off, and got dressed. When I looked at the mirror, I was tempted to punch it, just like I'd done back home, but I resisted the urge. Killing Boh had made me feel good for a moment, but eventually it felt like it hadn't done a thing. I still felt he hadn't paid enough, but what could I do?

After I stepped out of the bathroom, I walked out to the living room, where Irodia was sitting on the couch. She looked at me, then patted the spot next to her, beckoning me to sit down.

"This may sound stupid, but what were you yelling about in the bathroom?" Irodia inquired.

I started to cry again, leaning forward and burying my face in my hands. "Everything... every damn thing that's happened since I got stabbed..."

"Who's Boh, if it's ok for me to ask?"

"He's..." I took a breath. "He's the one that stabbed me and killed Michiko. I hate him!"

"I think Nene mentioned something about him... that he was a Boomer?"

"Yeah. Up on Genom Tower, I killed him, but but it doesn't make me feel any better! I can't bring Michiko back, and I can't forgive him for killing her! She was my best friend!"

Irodia sighed and hugged me, and I even hugged her back, and started to cry on her shoulder. "I'm so sorry about everything, Yumeko."

"It still hurts so much..."

"Pain never goes away when you want it to. Michiko was your best friend, so of course you're hurting a lot, and you'll be hurting for a while. So if you ever want to cry, just cry. Don't be embarrassed about it."

"Everything hurts..." I whimpered when my stab wounds flared up in pain again.

"I know, I know," she whispered, rocking me. "It'll take some time."

Irodia just held me like that for a while, rocking me and whispering that it would be all right. I felt safe in her arms; this was like how Mom had held me when I was little, whenever I was upset about something. I hadn't been held like this for a long time, because as I'd gotten older, I'd pretend to be tough, saying that only babies would need to be coddled by their moms. I HAD to act tough; I was the daughter of Priss Asagiri, after all! But after what happened at the summit, everything came crashing down. I was emotionally a total wreck, and had been that way ever since that hellish night. And just when I thought I was getting back to normal, Boh had killed Michiko, and reminded me once again, the hard way, that I was only mortal.

I stood up and walked to my room, opening up one of the smaller suitcases. On the very top was a framed picture of me and Michiko, taken one spring day shortly before the summit incident. I showed it to Irodia.

"That's Michiko?" she asked.

"Yeah..."

"I'm sure you two just loved each other to pieces," she said, smiling softly.

I smiled the same way as I set the picture on the desk. "We did."

"She looks like she was very special to you. And what person isn't special to their friends? I suppose if a friend of mine were killed, I would react much the same way." She sighed and smiled. "Well, how about we unpack your things now? Can't live out of your suitcase forever."

I agreed, and so for the next half-hour or so, unzipped my suitcases, putting the clothes away in the dresser drawers and deciding where to put everything else. When Irodia came upon the last suitcase we hadn't touched, she opened it, then reached into it and held up a dried cherry blossom branch.

"How'd this get in here?" she asked. I gasped when I recognized it.

"Michiko she gave that to Mom for her birthday!"

"There's a note too," she said, handing it to me. I took it from her and read it.

I guess you know where this is from, right? Just a little something to keep you company while you're away from home.

Mom

"Where should I set this?" Irodia asked.

"On the desk," I said, "next to Micchan's picture." She smiled and set it down gently, then continued to go through the suitcases. That suitcase happened to be the one I packed pictures and memorabilia in, so whenever Irodia picked up a picture, she'd look at it, then ask who was in it if she didn't know. I musta spent at least half an hour explaining the pictures, and whatever stories were behind them.

"Why are you clinging to Linna like that in this picture?" Irodia asked, laughing. I looked at the picture and laughed.

"Oh, that! That was when I was ten or so. She and Nene had taken me to an indoor pool, and there were a lot of people there. Linna was trying to get me to go into the water, trying to assure me that everything would be ok, that nobody was going to dunk me, but I just wouldn't let go of her!"

"You're afraid of water?"

I flushed. "I'm a little hydrophobic, yes, and I'd rather not have the whole world know about it. It's kinda embarrassing."

"And what about this picture?" She held up one of me on the uneven bars, doing my thing. I recognized that blue leotard.

"That was that was my first gymnastics competition."

"You look pretty young in that picture."

"I was twelve. My first taste of what it was like to perform in front of hundreds of people. Before that, Linna had only trained me in her gym. I had no idea what it would be like to do my flips in front of so many people."

"Did you win?"

"I got second place," I said, practically boasting. I was filled with a strangely good-feeling fuzzy sensation all of a sudden. It happened whenever I started talking about my accomplishments in gymnastics. And now, I was hoping that I could add 'Olympian' to that list, but I knew it wouldn't be easy to do that.

Irodia put the photo albums and pictures away in the bottom drawer of the desk, then stood up and stretched. "How about some lunch now? I'm sure you're starving."

"I am," I admitted, laughing as my stomach rumbled on cue.

We walked out to the kitchen and fixed ourselves some sandwiches. Irodia made a ham-and-cheese one, while I made a turkey one. I took my sandwich into the living room with me and turned on the TV, and after flipping through the channels, settled on a lousy talk show. It's all staged, but it's mindless entertainment anyhoo, I thought as two squabbling lovers yelled at each other.

Irodia walked into the kitchen to make a phone call, and I remained sitting on the couch, letting the TV suck me in. This wasn't so bad, sitting around and relaxing. It was better than looking behind my back worrying if anybody from Genom was stalking me, that's for sure.

As I reached for some potato chips, I heard the faint sound of music coming from outside. As it got closer, I realized it was somebody in their car with the radio cranked up.

"That's Mikhaila with her friends," Irodia sighed, hanging up the phone. "Remember what I said?"

"Yeah, don't speak Japanese in front of her."

"Right, just English."

"Will do," I said, doing a mock salute as I shoved a potato chip into my mouth. As I heard the car pull to a stop in front of the house, my heart started to pound; what was this Mikhaila girl like?

"C'mon, c'mon!" I heard a girl yell. A moment later, I could hear several people walk up the steps, and then, the front door opened, and I saw Mikhaila Brunstein for the first time.

Whoa! Evil Nene!, I thought, managing to keep a straight face as I looked at her and put another potato chip in my mouth. Her hair was exactly the same color as Nene's, but her eyes instead of being a bluish-green like Nene's, they were practically jade.

"Who the hell are you?" she said, looking at me with interest.

"Your would-be adopted sister," I quipped, smirking.

"Huh?" Mikhaila turned to look at Irodia. "Mom, who is she?"

"This is Rocío," she said, gesturing to me. "She'll be staying with us for a while."

"Got a guest?" one of Mikhaila's friends inquired, walking up behind her, followed by two more girls.

"I guess so," Mikhaila replied dryly.

"Rocío, this is my daughter Mikhaila," Irodia said, gesturing to the redhead frowning at me.

"Hi," I said.

"Introduce your friends to her, Mikhaila," she said.

"Ok, ok," Mikhaila groaned. "This girl with the blond hair is Juliana. The brunette is Sara, and the girl with the tail is Xania."

"Tail?" I asked. I looked over at the girl next to the door, Xania, and gasped when I saw Mikhaila was speaking the truth. There was what looked like a monkey tail behind her. "Is that real?"

"Not really," Xania said, grinning behind her John Lennon-like shades. "It's cybernetic."

"I've never seen one of those before!" I exclaimed, standing up and slowly making my way towards her.

"Really?" She wagged her tail like a dog.

"Uh, well, where I'm from, cybernetics can only be used for medical stuff. They can't be used for fun."

"That's the beauty of living in Cali," Xania said, grinning again. "We've got some of the most lenient laws about cybernetic stuff in the whole country."

"Look at her, drooling over that tail like a five-year-old," Mikhaila joked. "What was your name?"

"Rocío," I replied.

"I'll just call you Rosho," Xania said. "That ok?"

"Sure."

Suddenly, Sara walked up to me and asked something in Spanish. "¿Cómo fue tu viaje, muchacha?"

I smirked. I knew somebody would think I was from Mexico eventually. "Bien. Soy cansada, pero está bien. No se importa."

She nodded, while everyone else stood there with their mouths open. "Espero que te gustas este lugar. Es divertido si sabes a dónde ir."

"Supongo que sí."

"Ok, Mexicans," Mikhaila quipped, "we gonna go to the mall or not?"

"Yeah," Sara replied, instantly switching to English again.

"Wanna come, Rosho?" Xania asked.

"Nah."

"Ok."

"Weren't you gonna go grab some CDs?" Juliana asked Mikhaila.

"Right. C'mon and help me choose!"

Mikhaila and her buddies ran back to her bedroom, and after another minute, came back and went running out the door. "See ya, Rosho!" I heard Xania call out as she shut the door.

"I just might get used to that name yet," I muttered aloud.

"I thought you said you didn't know much Spanish," Irodia spoke up, chuckling.

"I don't! I just know the basics!"

She just chuckled again. "So, what should we do about school? Do you want to start tomorrow, or rest for another day?"

"I think I'll start tomorrow. May as well get it over with." I winced when my back wound started to make itself known again.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah." I thought for a moment, then said, "Does she always do that? Run in and out of the house?"

"Yeah. You rarely see her without her mob of friends around her. The only time she's ever really at home is when she's eating dinner or sleeping," she sighed.

"When's Tyler supposed to be home?"

"He'll be home in about two hours. Don't worry, I'm sure he'll love you."

I sighed and went back to watching the cheesy talk show on TV. I'd never eaten a meal with a guy at the table, just Mom or Nene or the others. I wondered if Irodia knew that I didn't really have a dad, but I decided not to ask. I figured I'd have to get used to having a man around the table instead of just girls like it had been my whole life. Seems basic enough, right? Everyone else had a dad to eat dinner with, right? Well, not me; there'd been no real male figures in my life, and well, I liked it that way.

But I wondered if this Tyler guy would understand how weary I was of guys. After all, only two guys had ever taken interest in me. One only wanted to sleep with me, and the other was out to kill me. Who could blame me for my feelings about guys? Of course, those two were about my age, and Tyler was a grown man, but I was still weary, somehow. What was I supposed to expect when I met him?


"Rocío, can you mash the potatoes for me?" Irodia asked, pointing at the boiling pot of potatoes sitting on the stove.

"Sure," I said. "Um, which cabinet is the masher in?"

"In the one to the right of the dishwasher."

"Ok."

After draining the water from the pot, I bent down and took the masher out of the cabinet, plugged it in, and turned it on, watching as the metal parts of the masher moved up and down rapidly, turning the soft chunks of potatoes into mush.

"Did you ever cook with your mom?" she suddenly asked.

"Sometimes. She wasn't really much of a cook; she preferred things that were quick and easy, and with as busy as we both were, I guess it was understandable."

"How long should I let them sit?" Mikhaila asked, referring to the chicken she was frying.

"Just check them every minute and make sure they don't burn, hon," Irodia said.

I guess I'm not the only one that doesn't cook very often, I thought, smirking. This was kind of weird, actually, standing here and cooking dinner with other people. For most families, it was probably normal, but it wasn't normal for me.

"Hey, we like our potatoes mashed, not pulverized," Mikhaila quipped, eyeing me. I looked down and saw that the potatoes were almost beyond mashed. I turned off the masher, unplugged it, and set it aside.

"I could say the same about the chicken," I imitated. She looked down, gulped as she saw the chicken legs and thighs were starting to burn, then grabbed the tongs and quickly turned them over.

"So, how long you gonna be here?" she asked.

"Me? A little while."

"Define a 'little while'."

"Mikhaila, I thought I told you not to be rude," Irodia interrupted, frowning as she stirred the green beans.

"It was just a question!" she protested.

"Rocío will be here as long as she needs to be. She's been through a lot, so don't press it, all right?" She turned to me and grinned, handing me a large serving bowl. "Rocío, will you put the mashed potatoes in this, please?"

"S sure," I said, taking it. I was just starting to scoop them into the bowl when suddenly, I heard the front door get thrust open.

"I'm home!" I heard a man call out.

"Dad!" Mikhaila yelled, racing out of the kitchen. I peeked my head out into the living room and saw her run into a blond-haired man's arms.

"Hey, kiddo! How are you?"

"I'm ok."

The man looked up from his daughter and caught sight of me. "Ah, you must be Rocío." He walked over to me while I just stood there, frozen. "I hope you had a nice trip here. Do you like it here so far?"

"It's it's ok," I stammered, taking a step back.

"Hm? What's wrong?"

"Oh, Tyler!" Irodia exclaimed, walking up next to me. "Dinner's almost ready."

"Great! I'm starved!" He sniffed the air. "Makin' chicken?"

Mikhaila gasped and shoved her way through us and back to the kitchen; she'd forgotten she was the one tending to the chicken.

"Rocío, this is Tyler," Irodia said, gesturing to him.

"Hi," I said.

"Why so pale?" Tyler asked.

"I'm just tired," I blurted; it was the first thing that came to mind.

"Aw, well, that's no biggie. After that plane ride, I'm sure you're wiped out."

I just nodded and looked down at my feet. Why the hell was I so nervous?

"I hope you're hungry," Irodia said, smiling.

"Oh, I am!" Tyler said, beating on his stomach with his hands.

Once the chicken was finished, Irodia set the table and brought out the food. As we all sat down, everybody started to join hands. I raised an eyebrow, confused.

"We're saying grace," Irodia whispered, taking my hand.

"Oh " Wonderful, a religious family, I thought dryly. Mikhaila reluctantly took my other hand into hers, and as I saw everyone bow their heads and close their eyes, I figured I should do likewise, so I did.

"Dear Lord," Tyler said, "thank you for this meal we are about to receive. Thank you for delivering Rocío to our household for us to watch over. We hope that you will continue to watch over this family as you have. In Lord's name, Amen."

"Amen," Irodia and Mikhaila repeated.

"Uh, Amen," I said quickly. What did he say? Me being delivered here? I'm not a freakin' package!, I thought, wrinkling my nose at the thought.

"What's wrong?" Mikhaila asked dryly as we started to eat. "You act like you've never known religion."

I bit my lip to keep from saying something stupid. "Well my family was never very religious. Not every family says grace before dinner." I wondered what she'd say if she found out I wasn't even a Christian. I was more in the neutral zone when it came to religion than anything else.

"So how was your day, Mikhaila?" Irodia asked as she put a forkful of mashed potatoes in her mouth.

"Had a stupid science test today."

"How'd it go?"

"Dunno. The teacher'll hand 'em back on Friday."

"I hope you studied," Tyler said.

Mikhaila merely grunted in response.

"Oh, Mikhaila," Irodia said, "Rocío is going to be starting school tomorrow, so when you two get there, could you pick up her schedule and show her to her classes?"

"I guess," she answered grudgingly, turning to me. "Ok, Rocío, listen. I usually leave at seven for school, and Sara usually picks me up on the way there. So better get up early."

I'm normally still asleep at seven, I thought.

"What, did you go mute?" she snapped.

I grinned sheepishly. "No, my voice works fine. And apparently so does yours."

Tyler chuckled while Mikhaila grumbled under her breath. "I haven't known you for that long, but already I can tell you're a real smart-ass," she said, biting into her chicken leg.

"I see my reputation precedes me," I joked.

"I'll show you around at school tomorrow, but don't follow me around like a lost puppy, ok?"

My eyebrow twitched. "I'm sure I'll be able to navigate the school on my own within a few days, don't worry about li'l ol' me."

"Well, enough about school," Tyler spoke up. "Rocío, how about you tell us a little about yourself, huh?"

"Like what?"

"Family, interests, that sort of thing."

"Uh..."

"Ok, let's just start with your family. What do your parents do?"

How was I supposed to answer this? Seemed simple enough, but then again, I was trying to keep the truth about me a secret. "Well... my mom likes to race her motorcycle."

"She a racer?"

"Something like that..."

"What about your dad?"

"What dad?" I blurted, then realized what I just said, and flushed.

"You know, your dad. What does he do?"

"I don't have a dad. It's just me and Mom."

Irodia started to look worried; I was probably already saying too much as it was. "Irodia, you know about her," Tyler said, looking at her. "She doesn't have a dad?"

"Not much of one..." she said.

"What'd you do, swallow a bone?" Mikhaila quipped as she saw me grimace in pain; my stomach wounds were hurting again.

"Excuse me," I said abruptly, standing up and marching to my room. Irodia followed.

"What're you doing?" she loudly whispered as I sat on my bed.

"He wanted to know about my dad! What was I supposed to say?"

"Just make something up!"

"Maybe I'll just say the truth. That the only role he played in my life was playing sperm donor! I don't even know who he is!" I groaned and grabbed my stomach.

"Need some aspirin?" she asked.

"That'd be great..."

"What's going on?" Tyler asked, walking into the room. "Something wrong with your stomach, Rocío?"

"Just a stomachache," I said, still grimacing.

"Sure it's not cramps?" I heard Mikhaila quip from the hallway.

"Stuff it!" I yelled.

"Let me get the aspirin," Irodia said, leaving the room.

"So what do you mean you don't have a dad?" Tyler asked, sitting on the bed next to me.

"He's never around," I said.

"Well, I guess that would explain why you looked so nervous when you first saw me. You don't even have a real father figure in your life."

"Sure don't..."

"Here's the aspirin, Rocío," Irodia said, returning with the pills in her hand. I took them from her and swallowed them quickly.

"Thanks."

"Mikhaila," Tyler said, turning to her, "why don't you go do your homework or something? I'd like to spend some time with Rocío."

Mikhaila grunted and went to her room while Irodia went back to the kitchen.

"Is there any way I can help you?" he asked when it was just the two of us in the room.

"What do you mean?" I responded.

"Well, you know, just stuff. Like do you want me to hang out with you, help with homework, anything?"

"I'd ask if you could erase my memory of the past five months, but you can't do that."

"Why? What's happened in the last five months?"

I sighed and put my hand on my leg, feeling the sleeve underneath my jeans. "A hell of a lot... stuff I just wish I could forget..."

But I can't forget, I thought as Tyler looked at me, confused. Damn scars, damn panic attacksit's impossible to forget! And the nightmares I've had since thenthey never leave me in peace! And the fact that Michiko's deadI can't reverse that!

"So what's happened in the past five months?" Tyler repeated, snapping me out of my own little world.

"A few weeks ago, my best friend was killed..." I jabbed my thumb in the direction of the picture of Michiko and me that sat on the desk. "And so much more than that happened before that. I'd rather not talk about it."

"That's ok," he said. "If you ever want to talk about anything, I'm here."

Everyone here is willing to lend an ear, I thought as Tyler left. But back home, I couldn't talk about it at all. Nobody cared, outside of the Knight Saber circle and Michiko, anyway. Even the principal at Kihi just wanted to get me psychiatric help so I wouldn't end up back in his office again.

It was weird to have everyone focus on me instead of their jobs or something. I wasn't used to this kind of attention. But, I guess I'd have to get used to it; I was the new kid on the block, after all. Of course everyone was going to be curious about me...


"Rocío, wake your ass up!" was the first thing I heard when I woke up the next morning.

"Hwah ?" I sat up, rubbed my eyes, and looked at the clock on the nightstand. It said 6:34 AM. What an ungodly hour to wake up at.

"Did you hear me?" Mikhaila snapped again. I looked towards the door and saw her standing there, a frown on her face.

"Yeah, don't need to yell."

"Hurry up already! We leave at seven, remember?"

"I think you mentioned that sometime yesterday, yeah..."

"Just c'mon," she grumbled, slamming the door. I yawned and got out of bed, made the bed, and picked out some clothes to wear today: my favorite blue sweatshirt and some jeans. After I stripped my pajamas, I put on my leg sleeve and got dressed, snatching Michiko's necklace off the desk and putting it on. I brushed my hair and walked out to the kitchen to fix myself a bagel. I was quick to notice Mikhaila wasn't in the kitchen making herself breakfast. Damn, why isn't she out here if she was in so much of a rush?, I thought, shrugging it off as I buttered my bagel after it popped out of the toaster.

"What're you doing in there?" I yelled down the hallway.

"Putting on make-up, what else?" Mikhaila yelled back.

"You're gonna spend the next twenty minutes putting make-up on?"

"Well, duh!"

I never bothered much with make-up; I wasn't gonna pretty myself up for anybody. All I figured someone had to do was wash their face and brush their teeth, and then they'd be fine. Mom was the same way, except when putting on a concert.

I walked down the hallway and knocked on the door to Tyler and Irodia's bedroom. After a moment, Irodia opened it, still dressed in her pajamas.

"Sorry to wake you up, but do you know where my backpack is?" I asked.

"It's in the closet," she replied, yawning. "It's the green one. I already put your school supplies in there, if you don't mind."

"No, I don't," I joked. "Thanks."

"Have fun at school. Oh, when you get there, you need to stop by the financial office and pick up your schedule."

"Ok."

"There's also a note in the front pocket of your backpack that you need to give to your gym teacher."

"What for?"

Irodia lowered her voice and said, "You can't possibly play all those games when you're still recovering from your stab wounds, right? The note is to excuse you from anything too strenuous."

"You didn't have to do that."

"Yes, I did," she sighed. "You don't want those to keep reopening, right?"

"Right..."

"Exactly. Need I go on?"

"No," I said, grinning. "Thanks again. One less thing to worry about." I looked towards Mikhaila's bedroom and dryly asked, "Geez, does she always spend half an hour just dolling herself up?"

"Yes. She's quite vain, even though I tell her she's prettier without all of her make-up and hair spray. She thinks she has an image to maintain."

"What, being a snobby smart-ass?" I quipped. She laughed.

"What's so funny?" Mikhaila inquired from her bedroom.

"About how you're going to be late for school again if you don't stop playing with your make-up," Irodia remarked.

"Huh?" There was a pause, and then Mikhaila came running out of her bedroom, past Irodia and me, and down the hallway to the closet, where she snatched her backpack and tossed it over her shoulder. "C'mon, Rocío, gotta go!" she yelled to me.

"Not gonna eat breakfast?" Irodia asked.

"I can grab something at school."

"Better go," she said, shoving me playfully down the hallway. "Have fun."

"I'll try," I said, walking to the living room and to the closet to get my backpack. After putting on my shoes, me and Mikhaila walked out the door and down the street.

"How can you walk around without make-up?" Mikhaila asked, raising an eyebrow as we turned the corner and onto another street.

"I don't like make-up, that's all. Have a problem with that?"

"Tomboy," she muttered.

"You have no idea," I joked.

We walked down the street in total silence, and as we did, I started wondering what this school was going to be like. Was it going to be full of snobby kids, or was it one of those schools that had a reputation for having fights, kinda like Kihi did? I decided not to ask Mikhaila about it; I'd rather find it out for myself.

"Something wrong with your leg?" Mikhaila suddenly asked. "You're kinda limping."

"Hurt my leg a while back. I used to have to walk with a brace, but only recently got it off."

"What happened to it to make you need a lousy brace?"

"Got shot."

"That's it?"

I raised an eyebrow. "Whaddaya mean 'that's it?' It went through my leg. I'll show you the scar if you want."

She flushed and walked ahead of me. "No thanks."

"Oh wait, I have TWO from it," I added wryly.

"I said no thanks!" she snapped. "You're enjoying this, aren't you!"

"What makes you say that?" I asked, a goofy grin on my face.

"I don't care about no scars! Besides, if it's really THAT ugly, you can just get it removed."

It took all my willpower to not punch Mikhaila across the face. She had no damn clue about the story behind the leg scars, let alone the ones behind my other scars and the four marks on my stomach and the mark on my back that would become scars as well.

"You can't say the scars are ugly unless you've seen 'em," I said slowly, my body having tensed up. "Besides, the story behind them is way uglier."

She frowned and was about to answer when she heard a car pulling to a stop besides us. I turned to look, and saw Mikhaila's three friends – Juliana, Xania, and Sara – in it, with Sara behind the wheel.

"Yo, Rosho!" Xania exclaimed, waving to me. I shyly waved back.

"C'mon, get in, you guys," Juliana said. Mikhaila ran up and leaped over the side of the car – it was a convertible – and sat next to Xania in the back seat. I just stood there; there didn't seem to be much more room.

"You can sit on my lap," Xania said quickly.

"If you insist," I replied, shrugging. I walked to the other side of the car and leaped over the side in much the same manner Mikhaila did, sitting in Xania's lap.

As Sara started up the car again and drove us down the street, Mikhaila groaned, "Must you have your legs stretched across my lap?"

"Aw, cut 'er some slack," Juliana said. "Unless YOU wanna sit in Xania's lap."

"No thanks."

"Rocío, espero que estás lista," Sara suddenly said to me.

"Estoy lista," I replied. "You don't need to speak Spanish with me, y'know."

"I know, but it's fun, and 'sides, I need practice," she joked.

"What year of Spanish are you in?"

"This is my third year in the class. ¡Es divertida!"

"Spanish is boring," Mikhaila said. "French is way more exotic." She looked down at my legs and snapped, "Could you take your feet off my lap?"

"Got nowhere else to put 'em," I said dryly.

"Well, these are brand-new pants, and I don't want your shoes all over 'em! So sue me!"

"For how much?" Xania quipped. I laughed, then held my stomach and groaned in pain when my stab wounds started to hurt again. "What's wrong?"

"Stomachache," I said.

"Again? You had one last night too," Mikhaila said.

"What's wrong with having a stomachache? Is it against the law to have one?"

"No, but at least take some damn aspirin for it if it's bugging you so much!"

"I've had it for the past two weeks," I said dryly. "I'll live."

After Sara pulled into the school parking lot, we all piled out and headed towards the front doors. I held my stomach the whole way, Xania staying close by my side in case I suddenly dropped to the ground or something.

"Sure you don't need to go to the nurse?" she asked.

"I'm sure," I said. "D'you know where the financial office is? I gotta pick up my schedule."

"Sure. I can take you there myself."

Before I could protest, she walked past me and through the doors. As I walked through, I casually plugged my ears, fully expecting the metal detector to go off. I was surprised, however, when no loud blare greeted me.

"Whatcha pluggin' your ears for?" Xania asked, looking back at me.

"There's no metal detector here?" I asked.

"Nope. Why, got somethin' metal on ya?"

"More like IN me. I have some plates in my leg and one in my face," I responded as she led me to the financial office.

"What from?"

"A nasty fight I got into a while back."

"Sounds fun," Xania said dryly.

"Not really," I mumbled to myself as we walked into the office.

"Hi, we need to get the schedule for my friend here," Xania told the secretary, gesturing to me.

Oh wow, she's already calling me her friend, I thought.

"What's your name?" the secretary asked me.

"Rocío Monterrey."

"Ok." After typing my name into the computer, she took a look at the screen and said, "Oh, today's your first day, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is."

"Let me print out your schedule for ya," she said, typing a little more. "I'll print out a map of the school for you too, if that's ok."

"Fine by me."

"Here you go," she said after printing up my schedule and the map, handing them to me. "Good luck."

"Thanks," I said, taking them.

"Lemme look at your schedule," Xania said after we walked out of the office, looking over my shoulder. "Hey, you have the same first-period class as me!" She wagged her tail in excitement.

"How long have you had that thing, anyway?" I asked, pointing to her tail.

"Five years. Had it since I was thirteen."

"So you're eighteen?"

"Yep. How old are you?"

"Seventeen."

"My mom didn't want me to get it put on, and we fought about it for months before she finally gave in, just to get me off her back about it."

"Do you have feeling in it?"

"Sure do. If you want your own tail, I know where you can get one."

"No thanks," I said quickly as we reached our first class. "They don't allow cybernetic add-ons or implants in the Olympics anyway."

"Hm? You wanna go to the Olympics?"

"Yeah."

"Heh, don't all athletes," she quipped as she sat down at her desk, me sitting in the one next to her. "So what do you wanna go to the Olympics for?"

"Gymnastics."

"Good luck. I bet that area's full of stiff competition."

"I'm sure it is."

"Good morning, everyone!" the teacher said loudly as she walked into the classroom. "Let's get started, shall we?"

The only response from the students in the room was a collective groan.

The teacher cleared her throat and said, "We have a new student today." She turned her head towards me and asked, "You're Rocío, right?"

"Y-yeah," I stammered, looking down at the desk.

"Class, this is Rocío Monterrey. She's new to our school, and I hope you all make her feel welcome."

"Hi," several kids muttered.

Sure, single me out, why dontcha, I thought dryly, flushing in embarrassment. "Uh hi," I said quickly, wanting to dig a hole and hide at this moment.

"Everyone, take out your Tess books so we can go over the assigned chapter from last night," the teacher said.

"Tess books?" I wondered aloud.

The teacher walked over to me and handed me a copy of the book she was talking about. "We're reading Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Have you read it?"

"Haven't even heard of it," I admitted, looking at the cover.

"A lot of people haven't," she sighed. "But I'm sure you'll like it. I'm Mrs. Hoover, by the way."

"I'll have to remember that," I said, smiling shyly. She reminds me of Mrs. Sasaki, I thought as she told everyone to turn to chapter 2. Maybe things aren't so different at this school than they were at Kihi, after all.