I know, I KNOW. I have GOT to stop doing this! But all the usual reaons I haven't been writing have applied, exams, social life, jobs, etc, etc. Also, I've been re-reading my notes for this fic and I've realised it's going to be longer then I thought. XD It's my own fault for introducing so many characters, but I've realised that certain things have to happen at certain points over the story, so it'll take me a bit longer to cram it all in. Oh well, this story has been going for, what, five/six years, what's a couple more? (ps: Guys, the fic is rated T for a REASON. Rin says the F-word, she's a teenager. Okay? Kay.)


Rin woke up to the sound of something beeping.

At first, she didn't move. She was content to just lie there, listening. Normally, such a repetitive noise would irritate her, but right now, it was strangely comforting, something to hold on to. At least for the time being.

Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

Eventually, though, she got an itch in her back, and shifted a bit, trying to itch it without having to sit up entirely. The room smelled like citrus, even though there wasn't an actual fruit in sight. Rin wondered if she was just dreaming, but she felt so sleepy that she hardly cared one way or another.

An indeterminable amount of time passed. Rin vaguely picked up the fact that she could hear two voices, mumbling on the other side of the door. She didn't even try to catch what they were saying- she was more interested in watching a dragonfly that had temporarily fluttered in through the open window. She chuckled softly to herself as she watched it, half the time it just looked like a small glint of blue in the air before it darted off, out of sight.

The door opened and light footsteps alerted Rin to the fact she had a visitor.

"You..." Rin said. "What're you doin' here?"

"I just..."

Kado swallowed.

"I saw what happened. You..."

He shook his head.

You're lucky you didn't break something.

In the brightly-lit hospital room, Rin could see the sun reflecting off Kado's tomato-red hair, which gleamed enticingly, making her want to ruffle it up even more, to see if it felt as fiery as it looked. She was blissfully ignorant of Kado's discomfort, just as she was blithely unaware of the fact that normally, she'd be feeling very defensive. After all, her asthma was not something she enjoyed being publicly advertised, let alone the fact that it was largely the reason she had ended up splayed across the Layer like a bug on a car windshield.

"Cherries." she blurted out.

"What?" Kado asked, uncertainly.

Rin looked at him, eyes somewhat half-lidded. Her mouth felt funny, like it was taking a monumental effort to keep her lower jaw from falling open. Her tongue felt thick and numb in her mouth.

"Your hair." Rin explained dreamily. "That's what it reminds me of. Cherries."

She smiled ruefully.

"Or maybe apples."

Kado looked baffled, but Rin remained totally unperturbed. She felt so light that she might just float away out of the window, and drift out into the endless blue yonder of the sky. She'd like that, just to let go of all her troubles weighing her down and just fly away...

...Or maybe it was just that her head seemed like it was stuffed with cotton wool. Rin chuckled.

"Of course, I have a bit of a fixation on hair." she added, conspiratorially.

She might have either spaced out for a few moments or the drugs were messing with her perception more then she realized, because it suddenly registered to her that Kado was now perched on the edge of the bed beside her, and Rin found herself suddenly gazing into the liquid-metal grey of his eyes.

"I think you need to get some rest, Rin."

At these words, Rin smiled, this slow, soft smile that nobody had seen on her face in a long time.

"Hey," she said, tugging slightly on his sleeve. "You called me Rin! Normally it's Furishine, in that totally obnoxious way you always say it."

Kado blushed slightly.

"Um, well, I-"

"God, you're soannoying." Rin burst out, but she was still smiling beatifically. "Annoying."

She slowly leant towards him, a playful gleam in her eyes, and the barest hint of a smirk upon her lips as she whispered to him, her mouth close to his skin.

"But that's okay. In fact...if I didn't know better...I'd almost say that I actually...like it..."

Then, with no warning at all, her eyes suddenly crashed shut, and she could easily have slipped off the bed if Kado hadn't flung hid arms around her shoulders. He sighed and stared at Rin's face and smiled ruefully.

"Funny, Rin Furishine, I could say the same thing about you."

"You're serious about this?"

A shaky sigh.

"I've been thinking about this for almost a year. It's just not going to work."

Kata, despite not having done so since she was a teenager, suddenly found herself desperately wanting a cigarette. She shifted slightly against her precarious seat on the kitchen table, one foot propped up against a cupboard, phone cocked between her ear and her shoulder.

"I'm flattered that you wanted to let me know, but...Kura, what about Yukiko? What about Rin? This is going to come as a shock, you know."

"I was going to tell them tonight." Kura said, sounding a little uneasy. "But I don't know how much this will change things. It has the potential to make things very different, but maybe not in the good way."

"You think the girls will want to move back with you?" Kata asked, and for some reason, the thought made her feel strange. Hollow.

"I don't know." Kura sighed. "They seem to prefer living with you. Especially Rin."

Kata said nothing to that, but she couldn't help but think about how strange things were. Kura had always been the one out of the two of them to want a family, even when they were in high school together, and Kata was the one who wanted a career. But the idea of her strange, temperamental niece leaving, the girl who was so much like her brother that it was almost physically painful at times, made a lump appear in Kata's throat.

"Kura-" she began, not really sure what she was going to say.

"Kata...I can't thank you enough." Kura said, suddenly. "I know that it's been hard for you as well, and I know that the girls...well, they aren't always the easiest people to get on with, but I swear I will make it up to you. One day."

"That's not what I was going to say. You guys are my family." Kata sighed.

Kura made a sound like she was preparing to speak, when the clear sound of another phone went off.

"Ugh. I'm so sorry; I'll just see what they want..."

Kata glanced out of the window as she heard Kura rummaging around in the background, wincing slightly as a particularly harsh crackle came zipping down the line into her ear. For some reason, she found herself thinking about the day Rin had turned up on her doorstep, a whole weekend earlier than expected. At the time, Kata had thought nothing of it beyond it being pure teenaged impulsiveness, but now, she wondered if it had been some kind of sign of just how quickly she would get used to having her around.

Suddenly, however, her train of thought was derailed by Kura letting out a panicked gasp.

"What?" Kata said loudly, even if she wasn't sure if Kura was speaking to her or whatever other person had called. "Kur?"

"It's Rin," Kura said, and the way she said it immediately made Kata's stomach drop. "She's in hospital."

"What happened?" Kata said, trying to keep her composure for Kura's sake. About a million ideas flashed through her mind.

"I didn't get the full details...they just say that she's..."



It felt good to be out of the hospital. There was just something about them that made you instinctively want to get out as soon as possible. Not just because of all the sick people, although that was obviously a contributing factor, but there was something about it that made him feel claustrophobic.

Kado yanked the top off his soda can with unnecessary force before taking several deep gulps. When he wiped his mouth with his sleeve, he turns to see Arata standing behind him, arms folded.

"Do you have to sneak up on me like that?" Kado grumbled.

"You were drinking so loudly, I could have run down the street and you wouldn't have heard it." Arata responded. "So? What happened?"

"The Doctors just said they were checking her head."

Arata clicked his tongue.


"It's not funny!" Kado snapped. "Jesus."

"I didn't say it was funny, I'm just saying."

Kado gave his friend a stormy look, but Arata merely gazed at him impassively, and eventually Kado turned away, huffing under his breath. Arata was always like that. What was the word...? Inscrutable, that was it.

This was kind of the opposite of Makoto, who came up to them at that moment, as if he had all the time in the world.

"Hey, guys." He greeted calmly, falling in step with the other two as they began walking down the road. "Am I late or something?"

"I wouldn't say that." Arata answered. "Kado here is just a bit touchy."

"Bite me." Kado grunted.

"Oh, so you did visit?" Makoto asked, although it was obvious. "How'd you get in anyway?"

"With my irresistible charm, obviously." Kado smirked. "The nurse there seemed to like it, anyways."

"So you visit one girl in hospital that you may or may not have a weird thing for, and then you go in and sleaze over the nurses?" Arata asked, archly. "I can't decide if that makes you disgusting or just a good multi-tasker."

"Hey, like you wouldn't have looked either!" Kado retorted.

"I'm sure you did more then look." Arata snorted.

"So, how was she?" Makoto asked. "There've been reporters around the Stadium almost all day because of that...whatever it was. First match of the Regionals and one of the contestants collapses. It's the kinda thing the press eat up, y'know?"

Kado shrugged.

"She was okay, I guess. I don't know whatthey gave her, but whatever it was, it was pretty powerful. She was just...really, really spaced out."

Now Arata and Makoto looked a little intrigued. Possibly because they, like everyone else, had only ever seen Rin Furishine in two phases; either her usual brash, I-don't-care-I-do-what-I-want attitude, or the rather alarming sickness they, like almost all the other Deus in the tournament, had seen. Even the unshakeable Arata and the chronically laid-back Makoto had been shocked when Rin landed on the Layer, out cold, like she had simply fallen out of the sky.

"Well, do you think she'll be able to compete in the Tournament?" Arata asked. "It's not the first time the stress has meant some Deus have had no choice but to drop out."

"I don't know, but I don't think she'd drop out. No way." Kado said. He might not be Rin's friend exactly, but he knew that no matter what, Rin would do anything she could stay being fiercely independent. "They'll have to give her some X-rays and stuff, but the helmet took most of the impact, apparently."

Arata looked thoughtful.


"So, did you see her friends there at all?" Makoto suddenly asked.

The other two males groaned.

"Not this again..." Arata grumbled, massaging the bridge of his nose.

"You're stillgoing to ask her out?" Kado asked Makoto, who didn't even look annoyed or embarrassed by his friends' exasperation, but simply smiled a little bit.

"Yeah, why not?" he said.

"She'll probably shoot you down in flames, you know." Kado told him. "Sorry man, but she will."

"If she does, she does." Makoto shrugged. "At least I'll have tried, right?"

"Got to admire that enthusiasm, I guess." Arata smirked. Makoto nudged him slightly with his elbow, chuckling.

Kado shook his head and cracked a joke about the two of them flirting, with was met with cries of, "Hypocrit!" and the boys continued up a stream of light-hearted banter as they walked away, the streets of Tokyo beginning to glow as the neon lights slowly came to life, the sun creeping away into the distance.

"I swear to god, if one more person either sticks a camera in my face or asks me in that stupid voice how I'm doing, I WILL spontaneously combust."

Kata rolled her eyes.

"It's nice to know you're starting to sound like your normal self." She teased.

Rin huffed. It had taken longer then she expected to get out of hospital, much to her chagrin, and to make matters worse, her collapsing had attracted an unexpected amount of media attention. She had managed to do a decent job of evading reporters (mostly by being chivvied along by security or Kata and throwing them the evil eye), but even so, it was beginning to take its toll.

"You'd think I did it for attention, they way they've been acting." Rin complained loudly, winding a ribbon from one of her flower gifts, the tip of her ring finger slowly turning mauve at the tip. "Christ, it's not like I enjoyhaving to carry around a stupid inhaler and get all dizzy and shit."

"I know, sweetie." Kata said, soothingly, deciding it would be best to humor Rin and not provoke her into a further funk.

The truth was, though, although Kura had gone to Tokyo straight away after she heard about Rin's accident, Rin had no apparent recollection of it, which made sense as she fell asleep within about ten minutes. However, this meant that Kura's news had taken yet another rain check, and Kata knew that the longer Kura kept it to herself, the more Rin would resent her for it later.

"Where's Yukiko, anyways?" Rin asked abruptly (her finger had now gone an alarming shade of violet) "It's quiet in here without her yammering on or watching the Bimbo on TV."

"Actually, she's playing with a friend." Kata told Rin, keeping it deliberately vague.

"Oh yeah? What, do they have joint Bimbo-watching sessions?" Rin snorted. "Great, she'll start watching even more awful TV because her equally annoying friends watch it. I bet they all think she's actually talented or something."

"Well, Chisachi seems quite mature, so who knows, maybe she'll be a good influence." Kata said, smirking as she waited for the explosion.

She wasn't disappointed.

"WHAT?!" Rin yelled, finally letting go of her ribbon tourniquet and leaping up. "My sister is hanging out with CHISACHI AKIYAMA?!"

"As far as I'm aware." Kata replied, calmly.

"She is NOT to spend time with her!" Rin ranted, sounding alarmingly like a disapproving parent. "Jeez! Why did you wait so long to tell me? What, it couldn't come until beforeI got a concussion?"

The words, although said rather melodramatically, halted Kata's amusement in its tracks. Sighing as Rin continued ranting on; Kata bit her lip, unusually nervous.

"Rin, there's something I-"

But, like the world was conspiring for Kata to remain an accomplice for a little while longer, the doorbell rang.

"I don't care if I get in trouble, if it's anotherreporter; I'm punching him in the face." Rin announced, stomping towards the front door and flinging it open. "What?!"

"Is that any way to greet your best friends?" Sorako said, rolling her eyes.

"Sorako? Shirushi?" Rin blinked, staring at them. "What're you doing here at this time?"

"Visiting you, duh." Sorako replied, kicking off her ballet pumps and stepping over the threshold.

"You're looking well, Rin." Greeted Shirushi, carefully sliding off her jacket.

"Pfft. I guess."

Rin closed the door and directed her friends towards her room, leaving Kata alone with her thoughts. Rin flopped onto her bed with a sigh – she was still a bit low on energy at the moment.

"Kasuga and Mitsuru wanted to come, but we thought it might be easier on you if you didn't have too many people around." Shirushi told Rin. Sorako, who had sat herself in at Rin's desk, snorted, flipping a novelty pencil between her fingers.

"She's getting awfully buddy-buddy with us, isn't she?" Sorako asked. "I mean, we've only just started talking to her, you'd think she wouldn't be so desperate to hang around with us."

Rin smirked in Sorako's direction.

"What, are you jealous?" Rin asked her. "Do you feel threatened you're not the new friend of the group or something?"

Sorako huffed indignantly.

"Jealous of Kasuga Kimuya? Please, tell me that's just a head trauma-induced joke!"

"Sorako." Shirushi chided.

"Wait, did you say Mitsuru? Why would she want to come here?" Rin asked, after flipping Sorako the bird.

"She was really upset." Sorako said. "You know, after you fainted. She was crying and everything. They had to give her a mild sedative just so she'd calm down."

"Why? It's not like it's her fault I had asthma." Rin pointed out, baffled. "Besides, she doesn't even know me."

There was a small silence as the girls considered this.

"It came as a shock, I think." Shirushi volunteered after a few moments. "Normally, you seem so...well..."

"Obnoxious?" Rin asked, idly, and Sorako giggled.

"Hm. The word would probably be tough, I suppose. Nobody even realized you were having an attack until it was too late."

Rin avoided eye contact for a moment, feeling a bit ashamed of such a display of weakness, not to mention the fact that the idea of her plummeting down towards the Layer made her feel a little odd, like she was made out of something breakable.

"We didn't even know you hadasthma." Sorako added, pointedly. "Why didn't you tell us?"

"Hey, it's private, alright?" Rin snapped. "Anyway, it's not a big deal; I just was stupid and tried ignoring the warning signs. It's not like it dictates my whole existence or anything. Anyway, Sorako, don't forget who you used to hang out with, I wasn't just going to sit down with you and say, 'Hey, guess what, I have weak lungs!'"

Sorako blushed a bit.

"Speaking of which..."

"Huh? You have a weak kidney or something?"

"No, you idiot. But...well, because you and Mitsuru's match got cancelled-"

"Hey!" Rin burst out, making her two friends jump. "Fuck, I just realized, I lost! Have I been kicked out of the Tournament now? Is that what you two are trying to tell me?"

"No, no, the match just got declared void! It's not like you forfeited willingly or had any control over what happened." Sorako said quickly. "Both you and Mitsuru are still in, you've just been moved a bit to accommodate."

Rin nodded, settling back down against the cushions. The relief that was spreading through her confused her – for a second there, thinking she was out of the Regionals, made a bolt of pure panic shoot down her spine. Sure, she had her own reasons for wanting to win this stupid Tournament, but she hadn't expected to take the news with such...emotion. But Rin being Rin, she quickly brushed aside these errant thoughts, hoping they would stay away until she was actually willing to consider it.

"Okay, gotcha. Go on."

"Well, anyway...they're keeping the roster under wraps so far, want to make it a bit more exciting for everyone and stop the Deus' from learning too much about each other yet to keep it interesting. But it turns out my match is up next and, well, I'm against Reiko."

Another silence fell, as Rin sat there in apparent shock.

"She's in the Regionals? How did she even get in when she cheated last time?"

"She got a warning, but that's it." Shirushi explained.

"What about Tanaruchi and that red-haired chick?" Rin asked quickly- although she had had more pressing things to think about, she had not forgotten her overdue confrontation with Kohaku, and if she could meet her in the Layer, she could reallyget even.

"No," Sorako said, and Rin's revenge scheme was instantly shattered. "Neither of them made the cut, but Aimi's never really been into the competitive side of it anyway. She and Reiko had a huge fight about it, apparently."

Rin snorted.

"Losing friends pretty quickly, isn't she? Well, I guess if you're up against Bitchface, you've definitely passed the final friendship test, Sorako. I'm kind of surprised Reiko didn't try clawing your eyes out at Mitsuru's party."

"She was too busy with you."

"That sounds dirty..." Rin mused.

"Yes, well, I suppose a dramatic match was inevitable, given this is Regionals and given the first one." Shirushi remarked, with a slight smile.

"Okay, I get it, I faint, it's a huge deal, teeheehee. Can we move on please?" Rin sniped.
Sorako rolled her eyes.

"I'd asked you if you're always this cranky, but I think I already know the answer."

Rin hit her with a pillow.

"Shut up!"

Later, after her friends departed and Kata made the two of them dinner (Yukiko was having a sleepover, apparently, which had been met with Rin pretending to shove her fingers down her throat.) Rin found herself feeling considerably better, better then she'd felt in a couple of weeks.

When she went to her room for the night, though, she sat down to play some game when her computer informed her she had an email. The subject simply read N/A.

The sender?

Tokudaiji Eiri.

Incidentally, it's annoying people who don't label emails. I mean, it's okay if you only do it SOMETIMES, but it's irritating if it's all the time. XD Can you guess who Makoto wants to ask out? I think some of you might be surprised. :P (And some of you may see it coming a mile, but I can dream, right?)

Also, there are no fights in this chapter. This is mostly because of Rin's head injury, but I'm curious to know who you guys think will fight/want to see fight. And I don't just mean Rin, supporting and minor characters too! I have three future fights DEFINITELY going to happen, but as for my other ideas, we'll have to see. :D I'll try to be more punctual in future.

Thanks for reading!