Christmas In The Lost Ground

Chapter 1: Daydreams

By Nanaki

"I was... I was dreaming. The person who was in my dream was very angry. He screamed the name of someone very important... destroyed things, and roared like never before. I was wondering... I couldn't help it... and even though I had no idea who was on his mind... I was just so jealous of the person anyway. I was wishing that the important person he was thinking of was me. I wish it was me!" - Kanami Yuta, Age 12


Kazuma lay on his bed, unmoving, staring at the overhead light on the ceiling. It was a just a bit too bright to look at comfortably, so that it hurt his eyes a little, but it wasn't so bright that he felt the need to get up and turn it off. He'd been laying here for about two hours, trying to sort out his thoughts, which was more than a little unusual for him. He kept trying to think about other things, and there were plenty of other things that needed his attention, but his mind just wouldn't stop coming back to the phone call.

"Hey, this is Kazuma." He'd answered in the same bored monotone he'd used ever since he'd been stupid enough to give his cell phone number to someone other than Kanami. Fortunately, the reason he'd agreed to get the phone in the first place was on the other end.

"Kazu-kun! What's happening?"

"Oh, not much. It's pretty boring without you around." They both knew this was only true from Kazuma's point of view, since something relating to the Lost Ground was on the news on the mainland almost every night.

"Well, you won't have to worry about that for a little while after tonight." There was mischief in her voice.

"What?" Kazuma's voice wasn't bored anymore. "I thought you weren't coming home until Christmas Day, if they even let you."

"Turns out all my finals were on the first two days of the week, so I'm good to go."

"You could have called me before now, you know."

He could practically see her smirking on the other end. "Surprise."

"You know, you enjoy teasing me just a little bit too much." He'd said, not meaning it.

"Anyway, to get a flight on such short notice, I had to take the red eye." She could hear Kazuma's groan on the other end.

"So you're gonna make me get up early, huh?"

"Well, I could always ask Ryuho and Mimori to pick me up..." She knew what response that would get.

"Over my dead body." The feigned exhaustion in his voice disappeared.

"Then yes, you'll have to get up early. The flight arrives at Adjani Memorial at 5:45."

"Yeesh, that's REALLY early. It might be easier to just stay up." 'Not like I'll be able to sleep anyway, now that I know you're coming.' Was his unspoken reason. "Why aren't you asleep yet, then?"

"You know, it's college. Nobody around here goes to bed before midnight, at least." 'Not like I could sleep anyway, knowing I'll be seeing you tomorrow.' She admitted to herself. "Anyway, I'm on flight 707, Japan International Airlines. Oh, and I'm bringing a friend too, so get ready to limit Cougar's opportunities to hit on her."

He laughed. "Well sure, but I'd think any mainlander brave enough to come to the Lost Ground can take care of herself. I'd be just as worried about you."

"Oh please, Cougar knows you'd kill him if he tried anything." That line gave him more hope than anything else in the call. "I better get packing, anyway. Bye for..." She groaned. "Ugh. Ten hours. I may sleep most of tomorrow."

"S'okay. My schedule's wide open." This wasn't technically true, but for her, it would be.

"All right. G'night Kazu-kun." And she hung up.

Kazuma had just been lying on his bed since then, replaying the call in his head over and over again, completely overanalyzing it before he decided that it wasn't of any great significance. But by that point, his thoughts had been too focused on Kanami to go anywhere else. "I should have just told her before she left." He mumbled to himself, for at least the hundredth time.

In his most selfish moments, he wished that she HADN'T gone, but Ryuho had brokered a deal with the mainland to allow qualified students to attend their universities pretty much just for her sake, and he was covering all of her expenses that weren't paid for by her various scholarships straight out of his personal bank account. Kazuma knew he would have tried to put her through college himself if Ryuho hadn't; if anyone deserved a good education, it was her. It was just... he was afraid she wouldn't want to come home after four years on the mainland. There was no way in hell HE was ever going to the mainland. If it was possible, the mainland higher-ups hated him even more than Ryuho. If they ever allowed him to leave the Lost Ground, it would only be for an assassination attempt disguised as a diplomatic gesture.

Kazuma momentarily forced his mind to empty of all thought. He listened to the wind driving the blowing snow past his window, mixed in with the comforting whir of the space heater on the stand next to his bed. "What idiot couldn't figure out how to put central heating in this house?" Cougar was always complaining. Secretly though, Kazuma kind of liked it. The house he shared with Cougar was way out in the boonies, even by Lost Ground standards, partially hidden by a large rocky outcropping. This was an area of secret residences for "high priority targets", and even though Kazuma was one of the Lost Ground's great heroes, he had still been informed that if he wanted his own house, he needed "three people at least." Needless to say, he and Cougar hadn't bothered to tell the landlords when Kanami moved out.

Finally satisfied that his train of thought had gone off in a nice, boring direction, Kazuma turned off the heater, got up, and turned out the light. He headed downstairs to the living room, where Cougar was watching some kind of game show on an absurdly large TV, half asleep in the middle of the three recliners. Kazuma sank down into the left recliner, not saying a word.

Cougar lazily lifted the remote and turned the volume down. "So how's Kanami?"

"Who said anything about Kanami?" Kazuma said crankily, not taking his eyes off the TV.

"Oh please, little brother. You get a two minute phone call and then stay in your room brooding for two hours. Who else is it gonna be?" Cougar's expression looked even more smug than usual, and that was saying something. Kazuma tried hard to come up with a good retort, and came up with nothing. "Why don't you just DECIDE already, instead of constantly torturing yourself?" Cougar turned his attention back to the TV.

"I HAVE decided." Kazuma said in a steely voice, earning him a rare look of surprise from Cougar.

"Really? Well, that's some good news." Cougar reached up to pull his sunglasses down from his forehead, before realizing that they weren't there. "It's about damn time."

"Actually, I decided back in September." Kazuma admitted.

"Oh, so that's why you've been so mopey since she left!" Cougar nodded in understanding. "I just have one question then. Why the hell didn't you TELL HER?!"

"Look, it's not as easy as you make it sound!" Kazuma turned to meet Cougar's glare. The glare didn't waver. "Well, I guess I got scared."

"Finally, some honesty." Cougar nodded, his smile returning. "Just be honest with her, and everything'll work out fine." Now, he caught a glimpse of the clock, and raised his eyebrows. "It's after 9:30 already. What say we skip the argument about whose turn it is to cook, and just head straight for McDonald's?"

"Sounds fine with me." Kazuma shrugged, and went to get his coat. Ever since Kanami left, there'd been an argument every night about who had to make dinner, that usually ended with both of them giving up and heading into the city to get something to eat. The drive from their house to the city took about fifteen minutes, then another five to actually pull up in the parking lot of any of the fast food joints sandwiched between the residential and industrial areas. Since McDonald's was the only one open past ten, that was where they usually ended up. Of course, the drive to the city only took about three minutes if Cougar used his alter, but since Cougar had ended up completely destroying Kazuma's first car that way, that wasn't an option anymore.

"Yeesh, it's cold out." Cougar complained as he opened the door, and the freezing wind instantly numbed his face. Kazuma remained quiet, and Cougar turned to him, surprised. "Aw man, are you gonna be brooding all night?"

Kazuma smiled at that. "Probably." He nodded as he got in the passenger side of their van. He wasn't thinking about the phone call though, he was thinking about that fateful last night...

.

(Nanaki's note: Hey everyone! I just wanted to go over one important detail at the beginning. Namely, Kazuma and Kanami's ages, respectively. I wanted to minimize the age difference as much as possible, while still keeping it believable. Plus, when I started writing this story, I was offline, and had no way of looking up the what the characters' "official" ages were. So, I figured that at the end of the series, Kanami was twelve, and Kazuma had just turned seventeen. Thus, in this story, Kanami is eighteen, and Kazuma just turned twenty three. I also figured that Cougar was twenty one at the end of the series, so he's twenty seven here. As it turns out, I was pretty much on the money with Kazuma and Cougar, but I was off a bit on Kanami. Oh well, think of this story as AU if you have to, but I'm not changing it. Enjoy.)