Author's Note: Hi, guys. Again, sorry for the late update.. damned lack of inspiration. :( Quite short, pretty much filler, but I'm preparing for the next few chapters where things will be hectic. XD One minute it'll be calm, the next minute it'll be an all out war. Expect the unexpected now. :)

I had a question from a reviewer asking why I made Dave's name an American name as opposed to a Japanese name. The thing is that this character, as well as the hotel attendants, have hardly any relevance to the plot and are just there as side characters. So I didn't put much thought into them, and just gave them any old name. Since I don't know many Japanese names, I gave them American names for the hell of it. But there will probably not be any more side characters introduced. The rest are all from the canon. :)

----

CHAPTER 14: 30 MINUTES OF COMFORT

Dawn was approaching, the sun beginning to appear on the edge of the horizon. Hours had passed since the director's chilling phone call, announcing he had Utau in his grasp. Ikuto had not said a word since, sitting despairingly beside Amu on the couch with his hands covering his face. His body was rigid, and he gave no sign of moving soon. Amu wondered whether he had fallen asleep or not, but did not even try and see. She barely looked at him, chancing a glance out of the corner of her eye when the silence became too much. Dave had gone to bed an hour ago, though he, too, seemed unnerved by the news that the director of Easter had given them. For the first time, Amu knew Ikuto was at a loss of what to do now; they were without a plan, no prominent direction. No alternative but to give themselves over. Leaning her head on her knees, Amu sighed quietly and Ikuto finally made a stiff movement, removing his hands that were covering his eyes slowly to gaze at Amu. Catching his eye, they simply stare at each other, and Amu could see the tiredness in his blood shot eyes, how tired he was simply not from staying up into the early morning hours, but tired of this chase Easter was unrelenting in giving. He was tired of running, and his decision was etched in his dark, blue eyes much like the pain was clearly written in them.

"We're going back.." Amu stated slowly, not questioning. There was no reason to question his intentions. He simply nodded, removing his gaze from her to the sandy carpet.

"We really don't have a choice," He whispered. "I knew from the start that they'd get fed up with us and go after one of our family members. It was inevitable. They want us, they'll use who ever and what ever they can to get us handed to them on a silver platter. Utau.. she doesn't know where we ran off to. So when they don't get the answer out of her... and if I don't go... she'll be..." His voice cracked slightly, and he lowered his head so that his midnight blue hair was shielding his face from Amu again.

Narrowing her eyes, the pink-haired girl slowly got up from the couch and positioned herself so that she was directly in front of Ikuto. Her hands cupped his face, lifting it to meet her eyes. Ikuto's eyes widened slightly at the determined look on her face. "Ikuto... I know you're upset right now, but... this could very well be a trap from Easter.."

He considered her for a moment. "It could be," He admitted, "But that scream..."

"They have many tapes from her performances. How hard would it be for them to alter the sound so that it sounds as if she's screaming? I think... we need to get real confirmation she's with them before we go back. If she's safely at home, there's no need to go back." Amu's expression did not waver.

Ikuto smirked slightly. "Good thinking. This is probably a trap. We should get a hold of someone and --" But he was cut short when the sound of his cell phone emanated a loud, recurring ring. Glaring, Ikuto seized it from his bag and, with his hands shaking, answered.

"Figures you would have this." He said shortly. He removed the phone from his ear and held up a finger at Amu's inquring expresion, and pressed a button at the bottom, and seconds later, the director's voice was emanating through the speaker phone.

"It would be stupid of me to not have it," The director said coldly. "Like I said before, I know everything about you. Every where you hide, every where you run. I have access to everything."

Ikuto grit his teeth. "Yeah, so you think. You don't seem to have access to where I am right now, though, do you? Seems as if you don't know every where I go."

The director chuckled evilly. "That's irrelevant, because soon you will come to me. Why chase after you when you'll come to me like an obedient dog?"

It was Ikuto's turn to chuckle, a bitter laugh that made Amu's neck hair stand on end for a single moment. "Oh, what makes you think I'll be coming to you, Mr. Director? You're really going to have to do better than pretend you kidnapped my sister in a plan to trap Amu and me. Really, I knew you were stupid, but I didn't think you were that damn stupid."

Amu stifled a laugh as the director growled. "It seems the stupid one is you, Ikuto. I really do have your sister, and in less than.. 19 hours, I will slit her throat if you choose not to come. But that weight will be on your shoulders, not mine. You will be responsible for your sister's death, and the death of your litle girlfriend. I'll make you suffer. Suffer more than you've ever suffered."

"I think you've made that clear before," Ikuto responded in a bored tone. There was a sudden beeping through the phone, a small green light blinking rapidly. "If you want to continue this conversation, you'll have to call back. I have another call." He pressed the green button. "Hello? Oh... Tadase."

Amu's head perked up at the sound of Tadase's voice. "Ikuto, we failed." His voice sounded terrified.

"What are you talking --?"

"They got Utau! Easter! We saw them overpower her and shove her in a car and drive off before we could even get a chance to move! Ikuto, they're... they're going to kill her!"

Ikuto's eyes had never been so wide in fright. His blood ran cold, the phone slipping from his fingers and to the carpet, where Tadase's voice continued to ring out. Amu, knowing Ikuto was too overwhelmed to say anything, seized the phone.

"Tadase, it's Amu. Sorry, he can't talk right now... did they say where they were taking her? What exactly happened?"

"It's nice to hear you, Hinamori-san. Anyway, the other Guardians and I were watching from hidden view, keeping tabs on Utau to make sure she was safe just like Ikuto asked. A black car drove up to her with tires screeching and we automatically knew it was Easter, but we waited to see what would happen. Utau didn't seem to know what was going on until Yukari-san came out and said that Utau was needed at Easter for something. Having to do with you and Ikuto. Utau was saying she didn't know anything, but Yukari grabbed her and put a gun to her head and said that she was going to be used as bait to get you and Ikuto there and if she didn't talk when they got back to headquarters and you two didn't come to them by Midnight tonight, they would kill her." Tadase finished explaining, his voice filled with fright. "I'm so sorry, Ikuto, if you can hear me.."

"It's on speaker," Amu told him, looking up at Ikuto who still stood frozen in front of her. "We're going to let you go, Tadase. We'll call you back in a bit when we decide what to do."

"Okay. Be careful, Hinamori-san. Tell Ikuto to be, too..."

"I will." Amu promised, though she was sure Ikuto had heard. Hanging up, she placed the phone back in his bag and joined Ikuto on the couch again where it appeared his limbs had given out. "Ikuto..." She reached out and squeezed his shoulder, and without warning, he suddenly swept her into his arms, holding her close to his chest tightly, but enough to prevent from hurting her.

"My heart.. aches so badly.." He whispered, his voice overcome with emotion. "She must be... so brave. She'll never tell them anything, even if there were something to tell them. She'll protect me until the end, even though I should be the one protecting her right now. Like I should be protecting you..."

"You are protecting me," Amu told him sternly. "You've protected me too much. So much that you've gotten yourself hurt badly. You've got battle scars from it all. Thank you for protecting me, Ikuto... but... I want to protect you, now.."

Ikuto pulled her slightly away so that he could look at her face. "Amu... not under any circumstance will allow you to --"

"Allow me?" Amu growled, removing herself from his arms. Ikuto realized he must have said something offending.

"Amu, I didn't mean it like --"

But her glare did not soften. "I am allowed to do anything, no matter what you say. I love you, and I will do anything it takes to protect you as much as you would protect me. Love is a two-way street, isn't it? We have to protect each other, and I won't let you prevent me from it. I know you would die for me, but you need to wake up and realize I will die for you, too!"

"No," Ikuto's eyes became cold. "You will not die because of m--"

"You idiot!" Amu shrieked, and without even realizing it, smacked him clean across the face. Ikuto's eyes widened in disbelief, pressing his finger tips to his red cheek. Amu was breathing heavily, angrily. "If it comes to that, I will do it! I will do what you do for me! And you're not going to stop me! If you're so selfish to think I'll just let you protect me and not the other way around, maybe you should have never tried to save me! This is something I want to do, something I have to do! I need to know just how much I can protect you! I'm tired of seeing you suffering, and I want to do something about it, Ikuto!"

"But if you die because you were protecting me, that will only make me suffer more," Ikuto said harshly. "I do not want Easter to lay a single finger on you, who is innocent in all of this and did not ask for it. I made the mess, I'll get us out of it."

"You really are stupid," Amu growled coldly. "Don't be so damned stubborn, Ikuto! Let me help you!" As he opened his mouth to reply, Amu silenced him with a hard glare. "Don't argue with me, I'll win. You should know that about me."

He said nothing, looking at the carpet again. Amu stared at him, waiting for him to say something.

"I just don't want to lose you... the only good thing I have in my life." His voice was so low it was almost inaudible.

"I know," Amu's expression softened slightly and she climbed onto his lap, leaning her head on his shoulder. "I don't want to lose you, either..." Tears formed in her eyes, leaking down her face. "We need to decide what we're going to do now.."

"I think it's obvious what we have to do," Ikuto said quietly. "We have to go back... no more running. It's time to fight them face to face..."

"You're right," Amu agreed. "As dangerous as this will be... we have to fight them."

The sun had completely risen now. The light burst through the open window with the crispy, cold air. Amu shivered slightly but not even the renewed cold temperatures could make her lose her resolve; there was no going back now. There had never been any going back from the start of this. The end was only the beginning to the end. It all would become full circle. She and Ikuto were doomed, inevitably, to die. And there was no use trying to fight it. But they would not die without a fight; they would die boldly, proudly, protecting each other, until their very last breath, until their synchronized hearts stopped beating, until their soul's exited their bodies together. Neither of them would have it any other way.