loveyourbiggestfan: I got the idea for the talisman while replaying the end of Trials and Tribulations. I figured it was the best (and only) idea I had for breaking the Psyche-Lock. I wasn't sure if people were going to like it or not, though. XD

MorenoX25: Reading your review gave me an idea for a pun about Winston Payne's name. Now I'm wishing I did invite him so I could use it. :(

Kuchiki Jeanne: -gives icepack to numb the pain from the head slam- I'm sorry I didn't get to update before June 1. DD8 Damn school.

Brendan Aurabolt: Sequel? I'm going to have to make you wait until the Author's Note at the end of this chapter for a confirmation or denial about that. . . -smiles evilly-

Chapter 10


Phoenix and Maya entered Viola Hall unnoticed, looking around for a few seconds. Most of the guests were bunched up into groups (except for Will Powers, who was standing off by himself) and talking amongst themselves in low voices. By the looks on their faces, they were wondering where the two of them had disappeared to. In the back corner, Phoenix could see Trucy, Pearl, and Apollo sitting at a table. Pearl had stopped crying, but her face was wet and she was drying it with a napkin, while Trucy patted her on the shoulder comfortingly, though she looked worried. Apollo, who had succeeded in removing the bucket from his foot, was fiddling with his bracelet and looking around the room distractedly.

It was then that Apollo noticed Phoenix and Maya and, looking relieved, called across the room, "Mr. Wright!"

Everyone in the room turned to look, surprised. At the same moment, they all noticed the fact that Phoenix's arm was slung over Maya's shoulder, and, guessing the reason correctly, some began to clap, while others exchanged confused looks.

Phoenix ignored this; he was scanning the guests' faces, looking for Iris. He caught sight of her standing between Sister Bikini and Larry, watching him. Their eyes met for a moment, and Iris smiled sadly and nodded to him before looking away again.

"Let's go see Pearly," Maya whispered in Phoenix's ear, nodding to where her cousin was sitting. "She and Trucy must have been worried."

They drifted over to Pearl's table, but before they reached it, Trucy had jumped up from her seat and raced over to them, looking as excited as a kid on Christmas morning. "Daddy!" she cried excitedly. "Where did you find Maya? Are you really together? You're not just acting, right?"

"A restaurant, yes, and no, we're not," Phoenix replied, grinning at her.

"So, will you be my new Mommy?" Trucy asked, turning to Maya, who shrugged and looked at Phoenix.

"Who knows, Trucy?" she said with a laugh. "Who knows?"

Apollo was watching Phoenix, almost apologetically. "I was going to warn you about the announcement. . . but then those two–" He pointed at Trucy and Pearl before continuing, "locked me inside a closet."

"So you, a twenty-two-year-old man, let two teenaged girls push you into a broom closet?" Phoenix said, trying to keep a straight face as he raised an eyebrow at him. Apollo's face went as red as his suit.

At that moment, Larry appeared, grinning in a sheepish sort of way. "Hey, nice work, Nick! I didn't think you had it in you!" he said, looking at Maya. "I'm just wondering why you can land a chick and I can't. . ."

Phoenix let out an exasperated sigh. "Larry, go away," he said shortly.

Larry looked as if he'd just been punched in the stomach. "Why does everyone keep saying that?" he asked, hurt, before turning around and shuffling away, looking even more pitiful than usual.

Gumshoe and Maggey were just behind him. Gumshoe watched Larry walk away with a raised eyebrow before turning to Phoenix and Maya. "Where were you all this time, pal?" he asked, looking at them curiously. "We were considering looking for both of you, you took so long."

And so began a never-ending slew of questions from what seemed every guest in Viola Hall. Phoenix found himself answering the same questions six or seven times, and it was really beginning to wear down his patience; right now, all he wanted was to be alone with Maya, and going by the look on her face, that's what she wanted, too, but the others wanted to know what had happened, where they had been, why the had taken so long, and several confused individuals needed confirmation that, yes, they were together.

About forty minutes after the barrage of questions began, Trucy poked Phoenix while he was halfway through a recount of what had happened to Regina and Max. Grateful for an excuse to stop answering their questions, Phoenix turned to her.

"Yeah, Trucy?" he asked, scratching his chin absent-mindedly. It was then that he noticed there her eyes were as wide as saucers, and that her lower lip was bleeding, she had bitten it so much.

"Pearl's not here," Trucy whispered to him, looking around anxiously to make sure no one was listening. "She said she was going to the bathroom half an hour ago, but she's not back yet. Apollo and I have been looking for the past ten minutes."

"Not again, dammit," Phoenix muttered under his breath. The last thing he wanted to do was look all over the hotel for the second time in one night. Well, the second-last thing, I guess, he conceded. The last thing would be to stay here and keep answering everyone's questions. Coming to a decision, he nudged Maya and whispered into her ear, "Trucy said Pearls is missing."

Maya blinked in surprise. "She's probably in our room," she replied quietly, rummaging around in her pockets for her room key. To the room at large, she announced, "Nick and I have to, um, go somewhere. We'll be back in a little bit."

Ignoring people's comments, they pushed through the guests and left Viola Hall at a brisk pace, Maya still looking for her key. "I hope Pearly is in our room, and that she didn't pack up and go back to Kurain Village or something."

"Why would she go back to Kurain?" Phoenix asked, raising an eyebrow.

Maya shrugged, finally finding her key and extracting it from her pocket. "I don't know. Maybe she blames herself for me running off earlier?"

A few minutes later, Maya stopped him outside of Room 308. She unlocked the door and was about to grab the doorknob when it twisted, seemingly of its own accord. The door swung open to reveal Pearl standing inside, her eyes still red, carrying a couple of bags. Catching sight of Maya and Phoenix, she stopped, dropping the bags in surprise, and stared at them in silence with wide eyes.

"Pearls, what are you doing?" Phoenix asked, looking at the bags.

Pearl lowered her eyes to the floor and didn't respond.

"You weren't going to run away or something, right?" he pressed further.

Rather than say anything, Pearl nodded, beginning to blush a little.

Maya shot Phoenix a, "Ha! I told you so!" sort of look, then turned to Pearl. "Here, let's go inside for a minute," she said, gently leading Pearl back inside the hotel room.

Phoenix followed them inside, shutting the door behind him as Maya sat down on a nearby armchair, Pearl reluctantly settling down on the edge of one of the double beds. Phoenix perched on the arm of Maya's chair, watching as Pearl started playing with the Magatama around her neck so that she didn't have to look at either of them.

"Is this about when I left earlier, Pearly?" Maya asked, her voice gentle as she reached out to pat her cousin's shoulder.

Pearl, twirling her Magatama between her fingers, refused to look up as she nodded. "I didn't mean to," she said in a small voice. "I thought. . . I thought you really were getting married. And I hurt you again, Mystic Maya, so I thought it would be better for me to take the next train to Kurain Village than to stay here. I'm sorry, Mystic Maya, Mr. Nick."

"Sorry?" Phoenix said, a bit surprised. "Why should you be sorry?"

Pearl looked up, the expression on her face confused. "I hurt Mystic Maya again," she repeated, as if this was obvious. "I'm so. . . so stupid to have thought you really were engaged."

"You're not stupid, and there's nothing to be sorry about," Phoenix told her firmly. Turning to Maya for support, he added, "Right?"

"Right," Maya confirmed with a smile. "Pearly, it's okay. Because, you know what? If you hadn't made that announcement, sure, I wouldn't have run off. But then Nick and I wouldn't be dating, would we?"

Pearl sighed and nodded reluctantly. "But I hurt. . ."

"Pearly, it doesn't matter," Maya told her. "Sure, if you hadn't made that announcement, I wouldn't have run off. But then Nick and I wouldn't be dating, would we?"

Pearl nodded, a small smile unfolding on her face. Then, after a small pause, she hugged both of them, saying, "Thank you, Mystic Maya, Mr. Nick."

Maya looked from Pearl, who was now hugging Phoenix, to Phoenix himself. They smiled at each other, and Phoenix said, "No, Pearls. Thank you."

"Trucy, can you help me with the luggage?" Apollo asked, dropping an armload of bags onto the ground with a sigh of relief.

"Nope," Trucy replied with a grin. "You need the exercise!"

Apollo glared at her. "Pearl's helping," he said pointedly as Pearl entered the station, carrying cat Phoenix's cage.

Trucy turned to look at Phoenix, her eyes wide and innocent. "Daddy!" she said in a pleading voice, sounding as if she were a starving person begging for a scrap of bread rather than to be exempt from carrying bags.

Phoenix, smiling a little, nodded to the luggage at Apollo's feet. With a sigh, Trucy picked up two bags and walked away, leaving the rest for Apollo, who picked them up and followed her, swearing under his breath

It was the day of Maya and Pearl's departure, and Phoenix, Apollo, and Trucy had come to see them off. Maya, who had said many times that she would have stayed if she didn't have a heap of Master's duties to catch up on, promised to come back soon, but Phoenix didn't want her to go, despite the fact that they'd spent all of their time since the reunion together. Like Maya had said, they had a lot to catch up on. . .

At that moment, Phoenix became aware of the fact that Maya was poking him in the side and nodding to Pearl, who was looking at him expectantly.

"Sorry, what?" Phoenix asked, looking from Maya to Pearl and back again.

"I asked if you were going to come to Kurain sometime, Mr. Nick," Pearl said, trying not to laugh.

Phoenix shrugged. "I don't know," he admitted. He couldn't help but remember the last time he'd gone to Kurain, and how well that visit had turned out.

"Pearl!" Trucy called from where she and Apollo were standing by one of the train's doors, pointing at the cage that Pearl was holding. They must have spent the past few minutes loading the luggage onto the train, because there were no bags in sight. "We need to put Phoenix on the train!"

Confused, Pearl looked down at the cage she was holding, evidently having forgotten that she had it, then walked over to join Trucy and Apollo. When she was out of earshot, Maya grinned at him. "You should come to Kurain sometime." Then, as a thought struck her, her face fell. "Granted, the elders may not be to fond of it, but. . ."

"I thought they were all right with me now that the whole evidence thing was cleared up," Phoenix replied, feeling a bit confused.

Maya shrugged. "They are, but they aren't aware of this. . . development yet. And they don't like admitting they're wrong, so that might be a problem." Then her face brightened. "But who cares what they think?"

"Just don't call me at eleven thirty at night to inform me you're giving up the Master's seat again," Phoenix replied, half kidding, half serious. "Please."

"Deal," Maya said cheerfully.

At that moment, a whistle blew, alerting stragglers that the train was leaving soon. Maya gave a start, looking over her shoulder at the train, and Pearl cried, "Mystic Maya! We have to go!"

Turning back to Phoenix, Maya gave him an apologetic look. "Sorry, Nick," she said. "I'll be back in a week, though. Love you."

"Love you too," Phoenix replied. With a smile, Maya kissed him quickly, then ran to the train, looking over her shoulder and waving to him.

He followed her at a slower pace, watching heavy-heartedly as she boarded the train, Pearl right behind her. A minute later, the doors closed, and the train shuddered, then began to slowly chug out of the station. He could see Maya and Pearl, waving to Apollo, Trucy, and himself from behind a window as the train began to pick up speed. Not wanting to let them go, he walked beside the train, his eyes fixed on Maya's face. Their eyes met; she smiled at him, the same wildly happy smile she had worn that night in the restaurant two days ago, and he smiled back, his heart feeling a little lighter.

Soon, the train was going too quickly for him to keep up, so he stood still and watched as it pulled out of the station, hands in his pockets. Trucy came over to stand beside him, looking at him with concern, while Apollo kept a tactful distance away.

"Daddy?" she asked cautiously.

"Hmm?" he said, turning to look at her.

"You okay?" Trucy asked, biting her lip. "You look. . . sort of sad."

Phoenix smiled at her. "I just wish they could have stayed longer," he admitted.

"Especially Maya?" she pressed.

He nodded. "Especially Maya." Then, placing a hand on her shoulder, he said, in a voice loud enough for Apollo to hear, "Come on, Trucy, Closet Boy. Let's go back to the office."

Apollo grimaced. Phoenix, trying not to smile, led the way out of the building, but his thoughts were far from Apollo or Trucy. He was thinking about how long it had been since Maya and Pearl had arrived. It had seemed like weeks had passed since he had stood on the platform, waiting for their train to pull into the station, weeks since he had been anticipating the craziness their visit would entail (and there had been more than a healthy amount of craziness), weeks since Maya had called him and they'd spoken for the first time in a long time, not the seven days that had actually passed since then.

And as he mulled this over, he remembered what Maya had said, that day she'd called to inform him that she and Pearl were going to be coming. "It's been seven years since we saw each other face-to-face. Don't you think a little visit is overdue?

It wasn't just a visit that was overdue, he thought to himself. There was more. So much more.

On the one hand, I'm amazed that I actually managed to finish this before my trip at the end of the month. Actually, scrap the part about the trip; the fact that I actually finished it is something that makes my head spin. On the other hand, I'm sad that this is over. It was fun to write and to read the reviews (which were all appreciated; much thanks to all who wrote one).

Now, someone asked me if I were going to write a sequel. When I started this fic, the answer would have been no. It wasn't written with the intent of there being a sequel, and I'm not the kind of person who can commit to finishing one fic, let alone a second.

However, last month, when I started that mind-boggling update kick, I had an idea for a sequel. This one (I'm thinking of calling it Matchmaker) will take place in Kurain Village and will be from Maya's point of view, rather than Phoenix's. The second person will either be Trucy or Pearl. (I'm leaning on Trucy, but I still haven't made up my mind.) Expect it to be up in early August. 8D