By Your Side
By Laura Schiller
Series: Shugo Chara
Copyright: Peach Pit
White light flooded the café – beautiful, but not blinding as natural light would be. Wrapped in its sheltering warmth, Amu and Tadase held hands and faced each other as their first joint transformation took place. They did not know how long they floated there – a few seconds or a few hours – with the Lock and Key glowing between them. Kiseki, Ran, Miki, Suu and even Dia went into their eggs, then became absorbed into the combined Lock and Key, which bathed Amu and Tadase in sparkling beams of light in every rainbow color.
When the lights faded and their feet touched the floor again, they were dressed in white, Tadase in his Platinum Royal outfit without the crown and scepter, Amu in the lacy gown she had worn as Amulet Angel without the wings, and with a white snowflake clip in her hair; the Key had become a brooch on Tadase's collar and the Lock, as usual, a pendant on Amu's necklace.
They spoke in unison: "Chara-Nari – Shining Pair!"
Suddenly Amu woke up from her magical trance and gasped.
"Wha – what was that? Did we just - ?"
Tadase, feeling rather disoriented himself, squeezed her hand. "We did. It's okay. Now, what do we do?"
Amu looked around at Baker Dream, the flamethrower, her robot-like employees, the panicked people trying to put out the fire, and the general mess of spilled food, overturned tables, scorch marks and smoke – and took a deep breath. She felt strong and confident like never before; power was pounding in her veins, calling for release. She felt a tangible connection, like an electric current, flowing through her and Tadase's joined hands. And she knew he felt the same way.
"Let's fix this," she said. "Ready?"
"White Restoration," they said, quietly and clearly
The spell-light floated downward in glittering flakes like cool, healing snow, extinguishing flames, cleaning stains, repairing damaged walls, tables etc. and leaving calm and tranquility in its wake.
When the light-flakes fell on Baker Dream, she collapsed on the floor, her knees giving way; her costume faded into became her regular work clothes. The question mark on her forehead vanished; the Question Egg slipped out of her chest, turned into a light lavender egg decorated with pink and white slices of cake, and retreated inside her again.
The civilians looked around, confused; they had a blank spot in their memories. What had just happened? Finding everything perfectly normal, however, they shook their heads and went right on eating and drinking. Nobody admitted out loud that something felt strange, because there was no reason and they were afraid of being made fun of by their companions. The human mind will always try to get things to make sense, no matter how nonsensical they are, so that night's customers at Café Sachiko dismissed the strangeness directly from their minds.
Amu and Tadase hurried to help Sachiko to her feet.
"Oh, thanks," she gasped. "I don't know what came over me...not enough sleep, I guess." The last thing she remembered was hiding in the walk-in fridge; she must have come back out, ready to get back to work, but then become overwhelmed by the combined effects of angst and overexertion.
"You should take care of yourself, Sachiko-san," said Amu. "Don't forget, we Hinamoris are counting on you."
Sachiko smiled. "I know," she joked, in a rather unsteady voice. "Where would you be without your cheesecake fix?"
"I can get cheesecake anywhere," Amu said, dismissively waving her hand. "It's Sachiko-san's joy and enthusiasm that really make this place special."
Sachiko wiped something from her eye and gave Amu a long, warm, flour-dusted hug. "Oh, Amu-chan...the sweetest thing in this whole place is you. And you're right. Maybe I should take a vacation."
Ikuto felt a purr from inside his breast pocket and smiled crookedly as he watched Amu and Tadase saying goodbye to the cute café owner.
"If the boss asks," he whispered to Yoru, "Tell him we lost it, okay?"
"Roger, nya!" No need to ask what 'it' was.
He was just about to slip away unnoticed – he was an expert at that – when somebody called his name.
It was Amu. He froze in his tracks, then, slowly, turned around. He didn't know which was worse – getting caught in mischief, or getting caught doing a good deed for people who detested him as much as these two did.
"The Dumpty Key...did you..." stammered Tadase, looking much less hostile than before.
"It was Yoru," muttered Ikuto, jamming his hands in his pockets and not knowing where to look. "It was his idea."
"Why am I always the scapegoat, nya?" Yoru whined, but nobody answered him.
Then, to Ikuto's surprise, Tadase held out the Key. "Um, thanks...for lending it...you saved our lives. Um, you can have it back now."
This was the same boy who had come pounding on Amakawa-san's door at midnight, crying and swearing, demanding to know where the thieving, lying, traitorous piece of scum had gone. Ikuto blinked twice, to make sure his eyes were not deceiving him.
"It was yours to begin with," he said gruffly. "And it's useless to me anyway. You keep it."
It wasn't as if he could set off a joint transformation with Amu. They'd tried it already, after all, and the Key hadn't fit.
"So, Amu-chan," he said casually, padding out the dangerous edges of her given name with a harmless endearment. "Guess I'll have to find a new toy, ne?"
"Please do," Amu and Tadase chorused, glancing at each other and laughing.
"Good luck to you both."
He nodded at them, prepared to saunter off into the winter night as if he didn't have a care in the world, but he couldn't resist looking back just once. There they were, framed in one of the café's windows, Amu blushing as Tadase helped her into her fluffy pink coat. Shining Pair. It was a silly name, but he had to admit it suited them.
Ikuto exhaled a cloud of white steam which was not a sigh, buttoned the collar on his long black pea coat, and headed out onto the icy street.
He couldn't believe his ears. An obnoxious little voice inside him remarked, So! Guess he can pronounce it properly at last.
He turned around just in time before Tadase skidded to a stop on the sidewalk, his coat flapping open, his scarf stuffed into one pocket and trailing on the ground.
"I'm sorry," Tadase blurted out. "For shouting at you, for mistrusting you...everything!"
Ikuto was not sentimental. His heart was a tough, manly organ which did not melt at the slightest provocation. This, however, was a bit much even for him.
"I'm the one who should apologize," he said quietly. "Stealing the Lock and Key was – as you said – deplorable. Just be glad you don't have the Director of Easter for a stepfather."
Tadase's eyes had that shimmering look, the one he used to give as a weapon of persuasion when he wanted cookies or a later bedtime. Right now, however, the shimmer was real. Regret, pity, affection...any moment, those eyes were going to flow over and embarrass them both.
"C'mere, you," growled Ikuto, grabbing his young friend for a rough, one-armed hug and a thorough disarrangement of his tidy hair. Forgive and forget. It was nearly Christmas, after all.
Amu, who had followed at a slower pace so as not to slip on the ice, beamed with satisfaction.
"Finally they'll stop bickering!" said Ran. "It was getting really annoying, right, Amu-chan?"
"Don't be too sure," said Miki. "You know how boys are. They'll be squabbling as much as ever."
"But not over me," Amu concluded with some satisfaction. "Because I know whom I want, and it's Tadase. Not that I've forgiven you, Ran," with a meaningful glare at her most tactless Shugo Chara.
To her surprise, all three of the girls burst into laughter – Suu with her hand over her mouth, Ran snorting into her pompoms, and Miki howling louder than any of them.
"What's so funny? What, what?"
"I stopped – the chara-change – right after you escaped Ikuto!" Ran gasped. "What you said – was all you, Amu-chan!"
It took a few seconds for the information to sink in. Slowly, Amu felt her cheeks heating up. All her? So that meant....
"You confessed your love all on your own!" sniffed Suu. "We're so proud of you, desu!"
They fluttered around her like happy little moths, kissing her cheeks, ruffling her hair and perching on her shoulders. A sparkling smile lit up Amu's face as she ran forward to join the boys – Ikuto, her friend, and Tadase, the love of her life.
"So there you are – Amu," said Tadase, smiling back at her over his shoulder. "Um...is it okay if I call you that?"
Amu's laugh rang out across the brightly lit street like Christmas sleigh bells. "Of course it's okay!"
Tadase's way of saying her name couldn't be more different from Ikuto's – softly, shyly, with a small smile at the corners of his lips and a warm glow in his eyes.
They walked together arm in arm, as comfortably as if they'd been doing it all their lives, as Tadase escorted his lady home.