"Did you hear?"

"Oh, I did!"

"That ex-detective, the security guard. He was attacked last night!"

Sakura passes the group of housewives outside her apartment complex. Her face is blank, but the women stare anyway. They whisper behind their hands and glance at Sakura's retreating figure with expressions of distaste and suspicion.

"She's a strange one, Sakura."

"Is that her name? She doesn't remind me of cherry blossoms at all, that's for sure."

"She looks unbalanced."

"You don't think she'll--"

"You never do know. Her mother, you know--"

"You mean the one who--"

"Killed herself a year ago, didn't she?"

"And her father remarried, It was a dreadful scandal!"

"You mean that was Akumi's daughter?"

"I heard..."

Sakura puts on her headphones and is lost to the world.


Can I attack them for you?

No. You want some of them for yourself. I forgot about that for a second. They hurt you, too.

The security guard is gone now.

Don't look at me like that. Your eyes are so cold. It scares me.

Tell me what to do. I'm sorry. I won't ask you to smile again. But please, please tell me what to do, Shonen Batto.

Tell me what to do.


The bars of the golden cage bend.

When the little mouse springs him from his cell. what will the golden fox do?

A little mouse has lost its way, and only the radio can capture her thoughts.

Where is the moon tonight?

And then...

"I'm so depressed!"

Yumi proceeds to relate every one of her troubles to Sakura, who listens sympathetically. Or at least, that is the outward appearance. Yumi, it seems, is failing several classes, and her mother found out the night before that Yumi skips study sessions to hang out with her boyfriend.

"I wish I could just...I don't know," she sighs. "Just get a free pass out of all this, you know?"

Sakura resists the urge to smirk. She turns the grin into a pout of agreement.

"You know, it's too bad that Shonen Batto isn't around anymore," Sakura sighs. "Remember him? He'd help you in a minute."

"Yeah..." Yumi brightens. "But he is back, isn't he? Her attacked that security guard. And your neighbor. Maybe he'd..."

Sakura lets her smile show. Yumi laughs and goes back to her homework. The mood is broken, but the seeds have been planted nonetheless.

The whispers continue throughout the week. Sakura spreads the infection as far as she can, subtly suggesting that a supernatural presence can free the minds--if not bodies--of the suffering.

And the sickness spreads.


Almost, Shonen Batto. We're almost there. They're calling you, aren't they? It's almost time.

You're smiling of your own accord now. I'm sad to see that note of malice, but at least you're happy.

But your eyes...don't let them go so cold...it makes me so sad...I know I have no power over you, but if I had one wish, it would be to see those eyes blue again.

I have a plan. No, not for your eyes. To set you free. You'll have to make do with a meaningless victim, I'm afraid. Though if she sets you free, she's not really that meaningless, I suppose.

I'll take you to her. You know her already. I'll take you to her home tomorrow. She'll be weak enough by then.

So close. She's almost ready. Tomorrow. You'll be free by this time tomorrow, Shonen Batto.

You'll be free...


Yumi opens the door to her room early the next evening. Sakura, smiling, enters the room. She carries her stuffed cat and a scratched record.

"This record is really creepy," she laughs. "I found it in my room after Shonen Batto was caught."

She puts the record on the phonograph and plucks the needle from its arm.

"It only plays without the needle."


Yumi's eyes grow wider the longer the record plays. Her pupils constrict, shrink to pinpricks. Her breath grows shallow, and sweat forms on her brow.

"Must not think about him." crackles the record. "Must not think about him."
"Yumi, what's wrong?" Sakura puts on a concerned face. "You look pale."

Yumi suddenly starts backwards. She is staring at the cat, who is grinning madly at her.

The cat grows. Its eyes flash gold, and it shudders in Sakura's hands. Sakura smirks and holds the cat out to her.

"What's the matter? It's just a stuffed kitten," she laughs. "Don't tell me you're scared of it!"

An arm erupts from the wide face of the cat. Then another. Hands grasp at the air, then at Sakura, and a baseball cap rips the cat apart as it forces its way through.

Lithely, a boy dives from the space previously occupied by the stuffed cat. He lands in a crouch but recovers quickly, standing and reaching back into the ruins of the stuffed animal. Out come a pair of roller blades and a metal baseball bat, both golden.

Yumi gives a small squeak of terror as she watches him calmly put on the roller blades. Sakura relishes the fear she sees in her eyes. She puts out an arm to keep Yumi from leaving the room, but she needn't have bothered. Yumi's legs give out even before she's taken a single step towards freedom.

Shonen Batto grins and stands. The roller blades on his feet glint in the dull glow of a computer screen. He taps the bat idly on the side of Yumi's bed, waiting.

Yumi bolts. She is dead before she reaches the door.

Sakura wipes blood from her lips. She smiles at the mess of bones and skin and scarlet on the ground. Then she turns to Shonen Batto.

"How does it feel to be out again?" she asks, stepping around the body to stand at his side.

"Pretty damn good," he laughs.

He draws back, startled by the sound of his own voice. It is the first time he has spoken since his farewell to Tsukiko, and his words are rusted. In truth, he hadn't expected himself to answer her.

"Thank you," Sakura breathes, wiping at her eyes. "Thank you so much. Thank you!"

She reaches out to him, and he recoils. Sakura lets out a small wounded gasp.


"Get away from me," he orders, sitting on the bed.

Sakura feels a rush of heat come into her face. She sits next to him and crosses her arms over her chest.

"I helped set you free!" she cries.

"So you did." Shonen Batto inspects his reflection in a mirror he's seized from Yumi's desk. "My eyes are blue again. Does that make you happy?"

"You're talking a lot."

"So I am." He glances at the body. "Aren't you afraid that someone will come in here and find the body?"

"Not really. There was no sound, and anyway, her parents aren't due back for at least another hour."

Sakura gazes down at the wreckage of the stuffed cat in her hands. She lets out a bark of laughter, then drops it.

"You owe me, you know," she insists. I set you free. You know you owe me."

"Do I?" He stares at her, and his eyes begin to turn to gold. "What payment do you expect?"

"I--" She averts her gaze. "I need you to attack someone else for me."

"Then will you leave me alone?" He waits for a second and, receiving no answer, sighs. "Take me to them."

No one notices the boy following her. Sakura leads him out of the apartment building and down the street to her own. The elevator takes them right outside the door to Sakura's apartment.

She unlocks it, though she knows full-well that Shonen Batto could have passed right through the door. He smirks and follows her in.

"Them," she whispers. "Both of them. I want them both to disappear."


He taps the bat twice on the floor and is gone. The scrape of inline skates on wooden floorboards fades, and Sakura is left to stand alone in the entryway. She locks the door and waits.

This time, there is a scream. Short, strangled. It is abruptly cut off in a gurgle as the screamer drowns in their own blood. Or at least, that is what Sakura imagines it to mean.

A second thud, though Sakura doesn't quite remember a first, and then another. She winces involuntarily but walks into the kitchen anyway. Instinctively, she knows she will find them there.

And so she does. Scarlet everywhere. Shonen Batto did a good job this time. Sakura pauses to marvel at a perfect crimson heart on the wall. Then her attention is drawn to the floor.

"Which one is my stepmother?" she asks blandly, nudging one of the corpses with her shoe.

"The other one, I think." Shonen Batto smiles apologetically. "I lost track of them after the first few hits."

"My father was going to leave anyway, you know."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"No, you're not."

"You're right. But it seemed the right response."

"You're going to leave now, aren't you?"

"You're not going to thank me?"

"I like your eyes better now. You're warming up again."

"You women are never satisfied."

"You talk too much."

"So do you."

Shonen Batto grins again. Sakura reaches out to him, and this time he does not recoil. She manages to get one arm around his shoulders before her legs give out on her.

He catches her, kneels down and sets her on a clean spot on the floor. His bat scrapes against the bloody hand of one of the corpses, sending the limb rolling into the torso.

He looks at Sakura, whose eyelids flutter over golden-brown irises. She reaches out to him again, but her hand falls to her side as soon as she raises it.

"I'm sorry," sighs Shonen Batto, fixing his sky-blue eyes on hers.

And he fades away, leaving Sakura alone in her kitchen.

Clutched loosely in her hands is a bloody metal bat.

(Author's Note: so, kids, how did you like that one? I know it went rather OOC, but try telling my muses that. I wrote that one MONTHS ago, but I only got around to typing it a couple days ago. There's another story arc to follow this one, though whether I add it to this story or start another for it remains to be seen. Again, sorry about the lag. I promise I'll be better about that. Do take care, mes amis! Ave Atque Vale::Raven::)