Disclaimer: It's someone else's sandbox. I just play here because it's fun.

Author's Note: Catharsis… I don't really have anything to say except for a recent revelation. I almost always put that 'reviews are appreciated' in my notes, but, now, I really don't care if you review or not. That's entirely up to you.

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THE MIND REELS

By Etcetera Kit

As you lie awake in bed,
And there's no one there to stroke your head,
And your mind reels.

She sank into a chair at the kitchen table. No, she wouldn't let this bother her. This wasn't worth the tears and the mental anguish, turning things over and over in her mind and analyzing her life until she felt nothing but despair. But she felt awful and wanted to analyze her life. Where had she gone wrong when the others had seemed to go so right? Houka had more date offers than she could possibly accept in this lifetime. Kai went out with his friends from school or Yamazaki-san. Tsubasa spent time at the gym, intermittently teaching boxing lessons and going out with a group from the gym. Even Makito had an old group of university friends he roamed with when he wasn't on a date with Eriko-san.

And here she was. Alone.

Her throat burned and her eyes watered with unshed tears. Dinner simmered on the stove and she had set the dining room table… then everyone came by in ones and two explaining that they had plans and wouldn't be eating dinner at home that night.

Saints, she hated the weekends. They reminded her that all her friends from high school had faded and that all she had left was family. For two years that hadn't bothered her. She and Kaa-san would be home when the others went out, and she found herself looking forward to the evenings that she spent with her mother.

Now, the others left and she was alone.

She buried her face in her hands, trying to stop the sobs and failing. She wanted to have a social life like her siblings. She wanted to go out to parties or clubs, and actually have a love life like Houka had. She just wanted to be… normal. Why did she feel like such a freak for being the one left at home without a date? Didn't normal people go to parties and clubs and have dates? There had to be something wrong with her. Something horribly wrong…

The sobs came harder. Saints, this was ridiculous, yet she couldn't stop. She never went anywhere, never did anything—didn't have social life! This wasn't any kind of life. Everyone took her for granted, with all the things she did around the house. If she weren't a Magiranger, she'd be tempted to pack up and leave, go somewhere where no one knew her and start over again, reinvent herself. Maybe if their battle with Infershia ever ended, she would. The others would never know what hit them—they'd have to cook and clean and do laundry for themselves.

She was invisible. Invisible and alone.

"Is dinner read—"

She gasped and quickly tried to wipe her eyes. Hikaru-sensei stopped just inside the door to the kitchen, his expression going from bewildered to concerned quickly. She had forgotten that their magic teacher was still in the house. He managed to miss so many meals that she hardly ever expected him to show up, but still set out a place just in case he'd remember there were more meals than tea. He moved swiftly into the kitchen, pulling out the chair next to her. One hand was on her back, moving in soothing circles and the other held her hand.

"What's wrong, Urara?" he said softly.

"Nothing," she replied a little too quickly, wiping at her eyes again. She tried to smile and failed miserably.

"It's not nothing, if you're this upset," he responded. He frowned and glanced into the dining room. "Where are the others? I thought it was dinnertime."

"They all went out," she stated, trying to sound ambivalent but failing. Her statement sounded flat and her voice wobbled. Saints, she did not want to break down in front of Hikaru-sensei. She clapped a hand to her mouth, trying to stifle the emerging sobs.

"Hey," he said softly, his tone of voice soothing and worried.

"I'm sorry," Urara cried, standing up. "I'll just—"

Hikaru-sensei stood up as well, his hands going to her shoulders. He frowned. "What's going on?" he asked, dark eyes boring into her. His gaze felt as if he could read her mind and divine the current reason for her distress. But he remained puzzled and concerned, like he genuinely wanted to know what had upset her. No one ever wanted to know why she was upset.

And yet, she couldn't reply to his question. She just stood there, sobbing, making noises like a dying bird. He looked like his heart was breaking for her as he pulled her into his embrace, one arm holding her tightly against his chest, while his other hand gently stroked her hair. He rocked her slowly, making soothing noises in her ear. His breath was warm against her skin and his lips grazed her temple in the most innocent of kisses.

It was strangely comforting, being in his embrace. Hikaru-sensei drove her crazy, first his insistence that she must like him because she had kissed him—when he'd been frog. Then he'd allowed Houka to drag him off to Kyoto. She was the one that had rescued him from his cursed form and he, like everyone else, had forgotten her, left her alone. He ignored her most of the time, as did all the others in the house.

But why was he comforting her like this?

He eased her back from his chest now that she had stopped crying. He gently wiped away the remnants of her tears with his thumb. "Is it because you're alone?" he asked softly.

"How did you—"

He shook his head, stopping her questions. How did he figure that out? "It's not important," he replied, his voice still soft. "Just suffice it to say that I know how you feel."

When was Hikaru-sensei ever alone or lonely? She stared into his eyes. He carefully masked his emotions most of the time, but she could see his own pain and isolation shining through the barriers he'd erected. Then it occurred to her, he was a Heavenly Saint, yet he'd wandered the surface for fifteen years as a frog. He couldn't be with other frogs and he couldn't be where he belonged. Now he'd chosen to stay on surface with them, once again forsaking his home and his nature. He didn't know anyone on the surface, so he couldn't be having a social life during those times when he seemed to disappear. Was he isolating himself to avoid getting hurt?

He planted a gentle kiss on her forehead, then gestured to the food on the stove. "Want me to help you put this away? It seems wasteful for just the two of us."

She nodded. "Can you get the plates from the table?"

He mirrored her nod, but his hands were still on her shoulders. "We can go out," he said carefully. "I have money and I haven't been to Tokyo in a long time. I'm sure you know of some place that we can go."

"I'd like that."

His next move surprised her. He stepped forward, closing the space between them and gave her a quick, but firm kiss on the lips. As soon as it started, it was over. He smiled and walked into the dining room, collecting the plates and chopsticks. She resisted the urge to touch her lips. In that single instant, she realized how soft his lips were… and that had been her first kiss.

Life seemed to go back to normal after that. He hadn't forgotten the kiss, but he also didn't make any moves towards another one. Urara watched him go through the motions, watched him disappear into Travelion to nurse his isolation, and barriers, and loneliness. The others didn't change their ways and didn't realize, but that didn't bother her. Hikaru-sensei, after that evening, never missed another meal. He showed up early to set the table and stayed afterwards to help clean up, becoming a kindred spirit. One person understood and, perhaps, that was enough.

The End
4 November 2006