When I came to my wrists were bound to a metal pipe on the roof of a building. My legs were bent under me and the rope dug into my wrists.
"About time you woke up." I tried to focus on the figure in front of me, force my mind to remember what had happened and who this person was.
However my companion was not one I wanted to see.
"Kish?" I asked even though it was obvious that it was the alien boy. My mouth was dry and my throat sore.
"You Mews aren't any fun unconscious," he said, floating somewhere above my head. "Kidnapping you and watching your little bird scream gave me a kick though."
"Where is she?" I demanded. The fact that I was tied in an unknown location at the mercy of this despicable creature meant nothing: only that I didn't have Minto with me, I didn't know if she was safe.
"God, if I'd known you were so obsessed with each other I would have done this months ago," Kish muttered, still lazing on his back in the air.
"Your little bird is fine. I think. She didn't seem to like me taking you away. It was nauseating..."
I slumped against the pole, relieved. She was safe. Please don't let her come looking for me alone. Don't be stupid and headstrong like you always are, Minto.
"But she's only ok for now..." I jerked as if I'd been slapped. I hadn't thought that just because she was safe now didn't mean that Kish wouldn't exploit it to make sure I did what he wanted me to.
"What do you mean?" I spat.
He flipped over lazily and then floated to the ground and sat cross-legged in front of me. "Well, as much fun as it is teasing Ichigo I have to admit this works to my advantage. Aside from that time in the TV station I never saw much point in going for you. If I took out your leader the whole group crumbles. But I found your weakness." He smirked happily. He was enjoying my obvious pain.
"I'm going to give you a choice. You can either have Minto, alive and well...or all the other Mews. Including those two who work at the café."
It happened like a wave of understanding washing over me. If Minto lived...everyone else would die.
I pulled on my bonds, hissing like a mad cat. He jerked out of my reach, delighted at my reaction.
"You're disgusting," I growled. He laughed, the sound making my stomach turn. Everyone I loved was in the hands of this madman.
He shrugged and held his hands out, palm up to me. "It's your choice. Either five people die...or just one dies. You have 3 hours...but if your friends haven't found you by then or you haven't made a decision...they all have to go." My eyes closed, unable to take in what had happened and when I opened them again he was gone.
My legs had pins and needles and I was sure I had rope burns on my wrists but I didn't relent, tugging and twisting. They were looser but it wasn't enough. I was still trapped here.
Frustrated, I wrenched hard enough to nearly pull my arms out of their sockets and screamed. "God, get me out of here!!"
I slumped back. Without a clock or even a watch, I had no idea how long it had been. An hour? Two? How close was it to my deadline? Would Kish be back any second, asking who I was going to sacrifice?
I pictured each one of them in my mind, breathing in and out slowly. I felt the rope with my fingers. It wasn't very well tied but it was enough to keep me retrained for the amount of time Kish needed me for. If I tried hard enough I could slip out of it.
Or I could be totally wrong.
I know I missed someone out of that list but if I thought of her now I'd break. Her dark hair and beautiful eyes and even more beautiful smile. I could hear her laughing and calling 'Onee-sama!' God. My heart just twisted in pain to think of her.
Minto. My most precious friend. How could we have been in an argument? Just when something like this happened. What if I never got a chance to apologise? Or to say...
Well, what could I say? I need to know, Minto. I need to you tell me. You never answered my question so just tell me. Please.
I tug again and my left hand slips a little. This gives me hope, the tiniest flicker, that I can see Minto again. Just once. It would be enough. Come on, I will silently. Come on!! Little by little my hand moves, even though the rope against my skin is causing me agonising pain. Like a really bad carpet burn. Summoning up a picture of Minto I pull my hand back as far as it will go.
The pain kicks in instantly and I know my hand will be red raw but bit by bit my hands slides free. I inspect my sore hand and set to work on freeing my right hand.
It takes longer but finally I'm free. I sit down for a moment, wincing a little – damn, it hurts – but it'll be worth it. I'm sure. Kish hasn't arrived yet so I want to be out of here before he gets back. On the other hand...I smirk a little as I eye the loose rope on the ground.
I don't see Kish arrive as my eyes are closed, the picture of lost hope and resigned to my fate.
"Time's up," he called. I open my eyes to see him standing in front of me, obnoxiously invading my space. I clenched my hands behind my back, wanting more than anything – no, not quite anything – to throttle him.
"Come on, I want to get started here," he laughed. "Am I going to end up wiping out all your pathetic friends? Or do you have something to say to me?" His smile faded as he saw my face, the set of my jaw, the burning in my eyes and most of all the dangerous twist in my smile. Then I let the ropes I'd been holding onto fall away and revealed my weapon.
"No. Nothing to say," I said calmly. "But actions speak louder than words."
I didn't have any pity for the pathetic creature in front of me. I'd left him slumped on the floor, bent over, bleeding. From experience I knew nothing could keep Kish down for long but if he got up again I'd make him stay down.
"You're...mad, huh?" Kish joked, blood trickling down his forehead.
I turned to him. "What's your problem? Couldn't you just leave already? We're not letting you have this planet. And I'll never let you near my friends." Kish coughed, the sound grating in my ears. I wasn't so harsh that his pain made me happy: I wasn't him. But he'd threatened Minto. I'd never had a best friend before, not a real one. I needed her. She cared about me so much.
"Pie and Tart are still after them," he coughed.
"Then I'll stop them too," I said coldly. He laughed softly.
"I gave you a hard choice, didn't I? Does she weigh that much against five other people? Why?"
"I don't need to explain to you," I said quietly.
"No, not really. I can guess."
"She's my best friend." He snorted.
"You're an idiot." He let his head rest on the ground as if it was too tiring to hold it up to look at me. I tightened my grip on my whip. I turned my back, unable to take anymore cryptic nonsense.
"Leave it, Kish. You've lost."
I broke into a run when I reached the stairs. I took them three at a time, jumping as fast as I could go. But on the fourth floor I only just skidded to a halt before I crashed into a familiar someone. He held up a dagger in front of him before he saw it was me.
"You're ok?" he checked.
I nodded. "Kish is on the roof. We don't have to worry about him though. Er..." I eyed the dagger held in Ryou's hands. "You know that no one is going to take you seriously with that, right?"
He scowled, his relief I was unharmed apparently short lived.
"How did you know I was here?"
"Masha got a signal. It took a while but we managed to track you. Not..." he took in my apparently undamaged appearance. "That you needed it."
"Ryou, is everyone ok? Where's Minto?"
He started. "Everyone's fine, I think. Why are you...hey!" I grabbed hold of his wrist and pulled him after me.
We skidded out onto the street, Ryou bent over when we came to a stop outside the fire escape door. "Don't do that again."
He straightened up, breathing hard. "Why are you asking?"
"Pie and Tart! Ryou, I don't have time for this..."
He ruffled his blonde hair. "Lettuce and Pudding are at the café with Keichiro. Mint and Ichigo went searching for you. Not that it would have helped until we had a signal of at least a five block radius but Minto has been hysterical since we found her outside the café yesterday...hey! Where are you going?"
"I need to find Minto!" I called over my shoulder. He continued to yell at me but he got further away as I hurtled at breathtaking speed past shoppers and pedestrians. On a hunch I decided to stay in the area: Keichiro or someone would have called Ichigo's cell, told her I'd been found. Minto – determined, stubborn, reckless Minto – would have turned and headed here before Ichigo had put the phone down.
I slowed down and then stopped in the middle of the street, startling pedestrians with a Mew mew suddenly frozen in the middle of the pavement.
Wouldn't she? If I was in her place and she was taken from me I'd do anything to find her. If she felt about me the way I thought she did.
God, what did that mean? What the hell was I feeling?
I went from 0 to about 60 miles an hour from a stop leaving the staring onlookers in my dust.
I didn't get very far.
"Minto." It was a relief to say her name aloud. To say it to her face.
She was frozen, staring at me like I was a ghost that would disappear if she spoke or even moved. Her face was pale and she looked tired and stressed. Her eyes – normally brown, now crystal blue in Mew form – were wide, disbelieving.
"Say something. Minto!" God, was she hurt? Did she not want to see me? Was every feeling I'd ever had from that afternoon in the rain to our 'date' absolutely wrong?
My inner monologue was cut off as Minto flung herself at me, arms around my neck. Her eyes were flooded. "Onee-sama!"
I rested my head against hers, a hand stroking her dark hair. She was here, safe. She was a real weight in my arms, warm and solid. She leant her head against my shoulder, sobbing. I caught tiny fragments of hiccupping speech. I moved my hand from her hair to her back.
"I'm here. It's ok." But the tears kept coming, clinging onto me like she was afraid I'd disappear again.
"Minto! We have to talk." She pulled back a little, her cheeks wet.
I paused lost for words. What should I say? Us. This. Whatever we have. The odd and confusing feeling I'm getting that I might actually lo...
Much to her surprise I tilted her chin up and kissed her. Her eyes expressed several emotions I couldn't read.
"I love you," I clarified, just in case she didn't understand. "Is that...ok?"
For a moment she was silent and still. I waited impatiently. Now that I realised it I wanted to know, dammit!
I panicked when I saw fresh tears pooling in her eyes. "Minto?"
"Onee-sama!" She tugged on a handful of my long hair and pulled my head down and I knew as we kissed again that she loved me for sure.
A month later from that day and it was raining again. I clutched my umbrella tightly and even with the darkness of the day I made sure to hide my face as I approached the building. Figures ran screaming from it's depths in groups or hand in hand into the rain. I waited at the foot of the concrete staircase.
My mind flickered back as I waited. I remembered turning around when I heard giggles, hand in hand with Minto to find Ichigo, Lettuce and Pudding standing a few feet away.
"We saw everything!" they chorused like schoolchildren.
I smiled, happy to see my friends. Ichigo hugged Minto tightly, momentarily taking her away from me. "Finally! It took you forever!!" Minto blushed and it did something funny to my stomach.
"Oh, by the way we took care of Pie and Tart!" Ichigo cheered. "So we can go back to the café for cakes as a celebration!"
When no one said anything sarky she stopped bouncing and turned to Mint with a startled expression on her face. "You must be in love. You didn't even say what a pig I am!"
Minto smiled and took hold of my hand again. "You're let off this once."
Pudding did a cartwheel. "Cakes!" Lettuce smiled and congratulated us. They walked ahead of us back to the café while Minto and I stood side by side, wanting to be alone for a few more moments.
I kissed her forehead and brushed aside a stray hair. "Minto. Let's go on another date soon."
"A real one?" Her fingers rubbed against mine gently.
I smiled. "A real one." She paused, thinking about something.
"Tomorrow!" she said suddenly. "I have something to give you."
I fingered the friendship bracelet around my wrist lovingly. Nothing could tear us apart now. Not ever.
"Zakuro!" A figure with a blue umbrella skittered down the stairs. We stood in the rain staring at each other adoringly as we do whenever we see each other nowadays.
"Hi," she said breathlessly.
"Hi," I said a lot more calmly than I felt.
We silently held hands and walked away. We were going back to Minto's house where her mother would be sweet and kind and then we'd be alone again and thinking about those times alone made my heart almost break with excitement.
"Hey, you know that essay I had to write a while back?" Mint's voice broke our lover's walk silence. I nodded, remembering Minto panicking about it for a few days then being strangely smug when she'd handed it in. A few days later she'd skipped out of school, delighted that she'd gotten an A. But she'd never told me what it was about.
"Well, the teacher said we had to write about someone we considered precious to us." Her voice was casual but I knew she was waiting for my answer.
"Oh, what did you write about?"
"Someone I've been in love with for ages but never seemed to notice me. Y'know." I smiled, squeezing her palm lightly.
Minto looked up at me suddenly, her eyes full of mischief. "I love my umbrella but..." I looked up at the dark sky and the puddles about as deep as my ankles, knowing she was thinking of that time we ran in the rain together.
But it was ok. Anything with her was ok.
I kissed her in the rain then, our umbrellas falling to the ground and we stood there until we were both soaked to the skin.