THE REUNION

Main: Fuuko Kirisawa

* Fuuko's thoughts are expressed through these brackets..

Houses and familiar landmarks passed by Fuuko Kirisawa, bringing forth long forgotten memories of an extremely interesting, if not abnormal, childhood. Now, back in her hometown in Japan after ten, long, normal years, Fuuko was hit by a wave of nostalgia for her dangerous yet exciting youth. She had always lived for the thrills of life, what had ever possessed her to give it all up? My paranoid parents, Fuuko smiled wryly, then she sobered up,And death. Fuuko could never forget the pure terror that paralyzed her when Siacho was injured so badly that she thought he would die. I needed a break from everything, that's why I agreed to leave. In her mind was etched vividly of the farewell at the airport exactly ten years back....

~10 YEARS AGO~

" Take care, Fuuko. I'm really going to miss you," Yanagi was crying as she hugged Fuuko. "Yanagi," Fuuko was exasperated," I'm just leaving, not dying. So stop crying, it's so embarrassing." True enough, passers-by were giving the two girls queer looks. "You'd better hurry," a cold voice chipped in, " Or else you're going to miss the plane." "Don't be a stupid idiot Mikagami," Recca yelled," We're never going to see each other for the next ten years, so why don't you just shut up!" You'd think after going through thick and thin, those two would at least try not to kill each other. Fuuko mused, seeing Recca getting all riled up, while the cool and calm Tokiya looked extremely bored. " Fuuko," Domon caught her attention, " Why don't you want us to contact you? I mean I understand why Mikagami does not want, but you're not as distant as him and have been our friend all your life." "Domon," Fuuko started gently, " After so much, we all need a break from each other. Besides, wouldn't it be fun to see each other only after ten years?" Domon nodded his understanding. " And," after some thought, " I'm sure there is some other girl more worthy of your attentions than me. Ok?" Domon blushed but furiously nodded his head. Koganei hugged Fuuko and whispered, "Don't forget me, ok?" "Never. I promise," was Fuuko's solid reply.

" Mikagami, let's go. I think my parents are getting impatient."

"They are, and Hanabishi's giving me a bad headache."

Yanagi and the others waved farewell, and she cried," Remember to return in ten years, Fuuko. Don't forget, and that includes you too, Mikagami." At they neared the checkpoint, Fuuko noticed that Tokiya's eyes were a little too bright and his mouth was actually curled up in a slight smile. Was Mikagami actually feeling upset? Incredible. As they left for different planes, Tokiya held out a hand. Fuuko took it and gave a firm shake. " Oh come on, we've been through so much," Fuuko couldn't help teasing, "Give me a hug instead." Yeah, and pigs will fly. Amazingly, he actually gave Fuuko an awkward embrace and muttered, " You're a decent girl, Fuuko. Much more than Recca." Pigs do fly! "I'll be going to Boston, rather far from Florida, so I guess we'll not meet each other." Tokiya remarked, this time with his usual hostility intact. Well, at least pigs flew, even if it was for a short while. Then they parted....



Fuuko would never forget that day, or how she was always looking over her shoulder hoping to spot a familiar shadow. *Note: You should know who that shadow is..* Even in America, her hopes were dashed as day after day went by without any news. Days became weeks, then months, then years, and Fuuko realized she should never had held on to futile dreams, and finally decided to let them all go, to pursue a normal human life. No, it was and is still all over. I won't remember that pining and hoping for something totally out of my reach. My life is perfect now, and I don't need anyone wrecking it. So just like that, with steel in her heart, Fuuko once again suppressed the insistent longing in her heart once again. Just because I am back where everything all started doesn't mean that I will allow painful memories to just come flooding back or that I've become the naive girl I once was. No memories I don't want will resurface; and I'm in control now!

The taxi jolted to a stop, jerking Fuuko out of her thoughts. She paid the fare, got out of the taxi, and carrying a small luggage carrier, (since she was going to stay a day or two only), walked towards the main entrance of the hotel. As she made her way through the bustling crowd of tourists and hotel staff, someone bumped onto her as she passed, shoving her aside with so much force she almost lost her balance. What the... An elegant young man with long gray hair and wearing a suit just resumed his path, muttering an emotionless "Sorry" at Fuuko. He got into the same taxi that Fuuko took to the hotel and went off. Fuuko stared at his profile as the taxi drove off. That rude and cold idiot looked quite familiar, actually. Then things began to click in Fuuko's mind... tourist... long grey hair... suit with no tie... elegant... rude... cold... COLD! Fuuko mentally cursed herself, All that American junk food must have made my brain go soft. How could I not recognise our dear ice-man Mikagami? I guess I'll go take revenge later on. But first I'll go check into the hotel than go to Recca's house. I wonder how are all of them now. Well, at least I know that Mikagami has not changed one bit.

As Fuuko got out the taxi, she was greeted by the house of her once- greatest enemy, freshly painted. Since Mikagami left before me, I guess that makes me the latecomer. Fuuko strode to the door, her heart was thumping with joy, and rang the doorbell. She was barely braced for the attack as the door was flung opened, and someone hugged her and screamed. " Fuuko, you came, you finally arrived!" Yanagi's arms were so tight around Fuuko she could barely breath. " Yanagi, let Fuuko go. That poor girl is turning blue," A deep, warm voice suddenly boomed out, "I know you are excited, but a dead Fuuko isn't going to help anyone." Fuuko glanced up to see the source and met a lean, tanned face with a longgish hair, laughing eyes and a big grin plastered on. " Recca! My, what a big boy you've become," she teased back. " Children, you should all go back into the house. I'm sure Fuuko's very tired after such a long journey," A high sweet voice chimed in. Although it was soft and gentle, it nevertherless had a motherly authority ring to it, and like obedient children, Yanagi and Recca led Fuuko into the house. Kagerou eyes met Fuuko's with understanding. As Fuuko passed by her, Kagerou smiled and whispered, "Welcome home Fuuko, you won't believe how much everyone missed you." The welcome was ended with a brief hug.

People were gathered around a low table, but as Fuuko walked into the hall, one by one faces turned towards her and she was once again embraced by her friends. " Ganko, you've grown so much, and you're so lovely." Fuuko's vision was slightly blurred as Ganko, now a high school student with long blonde hair and dark blue eyes, smiled shyly. " I missed you so badly Fuuko, and so did everyone else." Fuuko glanced behind Ganko and met the gazes of Yanagi, Recca, Domon, Koganei, Mikagami and Saicho. Saicho?! Fuuko did a double take, but Saicho must have guessed her surprise, as he smiled and said, "I kept in contact with Recca all these years, and even dropped in when I was in this area. So when Recca invited me to this reunion, how could I refuse a chance to meet the girl I once slammed into ten years ago?" Referring to the chance accident cum introductory meeting at the Urabutousatoujin. " If you did," Fuuko faked a pout, "I would never have forgiven you." The room erupted in laughter, but everyone was recalling Fuuko's first duel, where she destroyed Fujimaru, a team mate Saicho despised, out of pure anger, when the former humiliated her. At that time, Recca, Domon and Tokiya had mentally reminded themselves never to incur Fuuko's wrath. Ever. " Hey Mikagami," Fuuko called out, changing the subject, "You bumped into me at the hotel, but didn't bother to apologize properly. Worse still, you didn't even recognize me." "I thought it was you, and I am right," he mused, "I was too preoccupied with work to notice. Sorry." A cold abrupt apology closed the subject.

" Well, since I am the latest to arrive, I am the least informed about the past ten years of your lives. Let's get started reacquainting ourselves, ok?" Fuuko's suggestion was met with nods and murmurs of approval.

" Recca, as the host, why don't you go first?"

" No, you go first Fuuko. No, don't cut in. You came the latest, so you should be punished. Besides, out of all of us, you are the only one whose last ten years is still a mystery. It's only fair that you should be held in suspense, rather than the rest of us."

" Since when have you become so reasonable, Recca?" Fuuko laughed, " Well, since I'm so desired, I will give in." A chorus of laughter broke through the house.

" My parents settled in Florida quite well. I attended a local school, and was quite accepted since martial arts were quite the 'in' thing then. I never used the fuujin in public, though. I know better than that. Well, I became part of the community and lived life like a normal teenager from then. I furthered my studies at the local university and am now a meteorologist. You know, weather and stuff. My forte is, as you all guess, wind. For the past five years on the job, I've traveled with my team throughout the States and the world, to gather information about all kinds of weather. Florida always had storms and hurricanes, I guess that also attracted me."

After Fuuko finished her summarized version of her life, the rest started breaking into small groups, discussing their lives in greater detail. She noticed this fact with detached regret and sadness. It's like we're no longer close. Ten years ago, we would have partied and discuss anything and everything together, no matter how trivial. It's as though we've all grown up and left our childhood memories and dreams behind, and in doing so, distancing ourselves from each other. We'll never have the same relationship again. Well, I've better try go bridge this gigantic gap.

Fuuko spied Yanagi and Recca in a corner, and approached them.

"So, I've told my story, what's yours? Yanagi?"

"I'm now a pediatrition, and I am still helping out in the kindergarten in my free time. Umm, and I am married to Recca."

"Married to Recca?! Well, girl, don't say I didn't warn you. He'll get worse as time goes by." Fuuko couldn't help rubbing a little salt in Recca's wounds. As a childhood rival, Fuuko was open to Recca's deepest and darkest secrets and faults. However, no one could mistake the gaze in Yanagi's bright brown eyes as anything other than love. Now ten years later, she still retained she child-like innocence and docile character. Yanagi was slim and her features were pleasant Beautiful, kind and talented. Recca was lucky to have married her.

"Aren't I a lucky man to have married Yanagi?" Recca asked, echoing her thoughts.

"So what are you doing now Recca? Still taming those dragons of yours?"

" Nope, I took over my father's business."

"You're making fire-crackers?"

"Yes, and I've got a booming business."

"Good for you."

"Koganei, how are you getting along?" Fuuko turned her attentions to the young man sipping his tea. "Fine, Fuuko. I'm an engineering student at the local university now."

"You've really grown into a handsome young man, Koganei. How I wish I was ten years younger." Taking in a lean, muscled but somewhat studious youth, Fuuko just had to add, "So, any girlfriends yet?"

"Plenty," Recca butted in, "So many we had to chase them away with my firecrackers." This remark put a rose blush on Koganei'sface.

" Oh stop it Recca, you big idiot. Stop embarassing Koganei." Fuuko mock- scolded. Recca only stuck a tongue out, pulled a funny face and stalked off, apparently to disturb the other guests. We've all grown up, but some things will never change. Fuuko just shook her head.

Fuuko then searched Domon out, and demanded he tell her his last ten years of history.

"I'm a contractor now. Something like you and wind. My affinity is with earth, remember?"

"How could silly me have forgotten. So, made any close female friends yet?"

Domon just reddened and murmured something incomprehensible into his plate.

"Stop blushing and blubbering, Domon, I thought I told you to get over me!"

He just never gives up! What am I going to do?

" Well... er... I have to tell you something, Fuuko." Then, suddenly full of gusto...

Please don't make him confess his love..., Fuuko silently pleaded...

"Fuuko, I'm married. With two kids."

"Huh?!"

"To a florist. Actually a supplier of my mother's shop. I'll introduce all of them to you one day."

"Sure." Fuuko, rather stunned, could only reply with a monosyllable. Over the din, Yanagi suddenly called Domon, stating that his wife was on the phone. Domon excused himself, leaving Fuuko to her thoughts. Saved by the bell, no, the ring. Wow, Domon's married. Seems like I'm the only one, nope, only warm blooded adult, not married yet. What is going on? I must have missed alot of fireworks though... What a corny pun... Fuuko let her thoughts trailed off as the shy, slight and quiet Saicho made his way towards her.

"It's been a long time Fuuko. We're really happy to have you back."

"Or so everyone tells me. It's good to see you too. Have you totally recovered from your wounds yet?" He was so badly injured by Joker he couldn't see me off. How I wish I left only after he had recovered, that would have save me some worrying.

"It's been ten years, of course I have recovered. However, I've stop fighting professionally, although I still work out and exercise."

"Well, you couldn't keep fighting forever. Not in your vulnerable condition. So, what do you do now?"

"I'm a school teacher."

"You are definitely suited for that job, Saicho. Do you enjoy it?" A perfect job, in fact. Saicho was always so kind, polite, sweet ,affectionate and upright. He tried so hard not to kill. Well, at least he found a worthwhile occupation.

"Oh yes, I love teaching. Misaki also teaches in the same school. Did I mention that she is..."

" Let me guess. Your wife."

"Brilliant, Fuuko. You're still so smart."

"Something is seriously wrong here, Saicho. Everyone who can marry is married. What's wrong with me?" Fuuko mock-lamented.

"Well... Mikagami is still single and highly qualified..."

"What?!" Fuuko choked on her tea, "You're nuts, Saicho. Or else being married has made you so lovey dovey you need to match-make others. You should know very well that Mikagami and I are light years apart, practically living in different solar systems!"

To think that I thought Saicho was shy and sweet. He's practically taking joy in teasing me.

" Yes, yes, I know. Just kidding. Seriously Fuuko, you're such a nice girl, surely you have a special someone."

I did. Once. And I'll never make the same mistake twice.

"Look, Mikagami is over there. I'm going over to speak to him. Bye." Fuuko avoided the dreaded question by quickly moving over to intercept the latter.

"Oh well," Saicho watched Fuuko move away, "At least I did as Yanagi told me." Saicho looked across the room to find Yanagi's intense gaze on him, and presumably, his earlier conversation with Fuuko. He just gave a slight nod to affirm he had completed his mission.

Recca dragged Yanagi to the privacy of the kitchen, where he expressed his doubts.

"Kurei just called me, he's on his way right now and will be arriving in about ten minutes. Yanagi, are you sure this is going to work out? You should not have dragged everyone into this scheme of yours."

"You're not a woman, in fact you all are not," gesturing at the others, "And that's why you will never understand how a woman feels and thinks. Trust me, it's going to succeed, and Fuuko's going to get the best reunion present ever. All I need is everyone's cooperation."

"You've already got it. Still, I have a nagging doubt about this. You know Fuuko's temper, and besides, it's been ten years after all. She is not the same Fuuko anymore. Who knows how she might react?"

"But it is still worth a shot, isn't it... "

Cool, calm and still utterly emotionless, Tokiya was now presenting his story to Fuuko.

"...so I graduated from Harvard, joined a large firm, and am now a partner."

" I'm impressed Mikagami, a masters in law. Not bad."

"It was a piece of cake actually, not much challenge at all. Quarrelling with Hanabishi was more entertaining actually."

What a conceited pig. I'm right. He hasn't changed one bit.

"So, have you noticed everyone here is hitched except us?"

"Actually...," Is Mikagami blushing? Wait, it can't be. No, no. not even him..., "I have a girlfriend."

Fuuko just groaned. Even the Iceman has a girlfriend. I must have the plague or something...

"Well, Mikagami, congratulations. But doesn't the others know?"

" Errr... no. Um, you see, I am quite embarrassed about it, actually. I know you people, especially Hanabishi, will tease me, and I couldn't bear it."

Mikagami sounds more like he's trying to convince himself. Then, suspicion descended on Fuuko. I'm not his best friend. Why is he letting me on his private life? And when was the last time he flushed and looked uncomfortable? Never, actually. He always has a retort to make and never cares what people, especially Recca, says or teases. Something fishy is going on here...

Just as Fuuko was about to voice her doubts, the doorbell rang and Recca yelled that Kurei had arrived. Without missing a beat, Tokiya ushered Fuuko towards Kurei, saying that it had been a long time, so she should renew their friendship now. Mikagami had never met Kurei in the last ten years, too. And why is he so eager to get rid of me? Still, she could not get in a word edgewise. After leaving Fuuko among the other guests, Tokiya escaped to the kitchen. Yanagi was already there to enquire on his progress.

"Well, did she buy it?"

"I don't know. She looked like she did not."

"Mikagami, you are a lawyer. You are supposed to lie convincingly."

"I agreed to help you, but I was forced by those idiots outside. And you never told me that I was suppose to admit that I have a girlfriend who does not even exist!" Tokiya let burst his annoyance in one breath." Yanagi, Fuuko isn't stupid. In fact, she's very smart. Frankly, I don't know what is she going to do when she finds out. You shouldn't have meddled in her affairs right from the beginning."

"You are similar to Recca in more ways then you know, Mikagami. You just echoed what he said."

"Any one in the right mind will feel the same. Siacho is starting to have serious doubts, and so is Kurei. Domon feels that he is betraying Fuuko."

"But we all have discussed that it would be a good idea and you all agreed to help me."

"We thought that since you are a woman you would understand Fuuko better, but that was before we met Fuuko again. She has changed, Yanagi, more than any of us had expected. She has already distanced herself from us, despite her outward behavior. You could never understand Fuuko now. And you didn't bother to tell him either. He was just dragged down here without the least notion of what's going to happen."

"But he misses her so, Kurei told me. It'll be just perfect, for both of them."

"But neither of them are prepared at all to deal with this situation."

"Still, Mikagami, it's too late. He's already arrived."

"I know. And Yanagi, you aren't the least bit sorry, are you?.

"You're right Mikagami, I'm not." Yanagi gave him a cheeky grin as they walked out to join the party and unveil Fuuko's ultimate present and surprise.

Fuuko shook Kurei's hand as he walk through the door. She dare not hug him as they were not close enough. Even as Koganei, Recca and Domon gave him affectionate pats on the back and bear hugs, Fuuko preferred to maintain her distance. Although Kurei isn't evil anymore and he was on our side against his step-father in the end, I'm only an acquaintance, not like Domon or Koganei. Strange enough, after exchanging only a few words with his brother, Kurei focused his attentions on Fuuko. Fuuko tried hard not to stare at the obvious scar that was peeking out from underneath Kurei's fringe. That twisted father of his is all to blame for his misery and suffering; and all our misery and sufferings too. If not for Mori Kouran, I'll still be living in Japan surrounded by all my friends... Kurei touched Fuuko's sleeve lightly, which sent her hurling back to Earth from space.

"You seem slightly distracted, is anything bothering you? Me, for example?" This was followed by a hearty laugh. Fuuko could only give a polite smile and concentrate on her tea.

"It's nothing really, it's just the shock of being back after such a long time." Then hesitantly, she added, "It's good to see you back too, Kurei."

I mean, goodness knows how many times I wanted to strangle him with my own two hands; he was so cold and cruel.

As if reading her mind, Kurei jokingly added, "Or just afraid of me, the once cold-blooded murderer? I don't blame you. You have been away for so long, asking you to accept me now is a bit too much, isn't it?"

"Actually, no. We fought on the same side before, Kurei. I already accepted you. Perhaps you should work on Mikagami. He's the tough one, not me." Fuuko attempted a jest, but not before she noticed something like discomfort flickering across Kurei's face.

"... I specialize in managing transport for all kinds and goods, but I have other smaller businesses too. I studied business management in Cambridge with a friend who is now my partner."

"Is that friend Neon?" Fuuko had a devious grin plastered on her face.

"Er.. yes and no. Neon has been with me all these years, and we're.. um.. getting married next year. She is also helping me in my company. So, she is considered my business and life-long partner." Kurei's face was now a burning shade of red, similar to Recca's flames. Fuuko took that in with a shadow cast over her mind.

Even Kurei is hitched, but there is something else wrong here. Kurei and Mikagami are the coldest people I know; they never show their emotions. In fact, they think that is a weakness. It doesn't really matter that Mikagami's looked forced, while Kurei's was genuine. What counts is that both of them let slip their defense to show me that they actually have feelings. ... or could it be that they have changed? Like everyone else? Fuuko didn't know what to make of her suspicions. During this period, Fuuko let her guard down and did not notice Yanagi gesturing wildly at Kurei. He took the hint and continued, once again preventing Fuuko from venturing too far into space.

"But Neon is not the partner I was talking about. Recca and the others know him very well. Every time I visit Recca, he also comes along. In fact, he's here right now. Both of you have so much in common, I'm sure you two will hit it off." With that, Fuuko was steered back into the living room, where Kurei's friend was obviously bound to be.

Everyone knows him very well... So that's what they have been planning. Fuuko was extremely annoyed. It's as if they think I can't find a boyfriend on my own. Maybe I can't. But still, they should have minded their own business and not be so sneaky... Everyone was already assembled there, as though for some inspection of some sort. Mine, obviously, to see if Kurei's friend and I are compatible. Well, first, they are going to get a piece of my mind...

"I can't believe all of you ganged up against me. Even you, Mikagami. I know that I'm the last one left on the shelf, but that does not mean I need match-makers..." Although Fuuko acted as though she was angry, everyone knew that she was only acting and only felt annoyed. And that was bad. She was not expecting the real surprise. Everyone glanced at each other, at the table and the paintings hanging on the wall. They looked anywhere and everywhere except at Fuuko. She sensed the discomfort immediately. Good that everyone is guilty. They ought to be. They thought that they could fool me, but I already figured it out.

Yanagi took it upon herself to undo the mess she created.

"You guessed it right, Fuuko. We tried to set you up with R... Kurei's friend, and we shouldn't have done that." Yanagi hoped Fuuko didn't realize her slip, although she would in a few minutes time. "We just wanted the best for you. We're very sorry."

" You all just wanted the best for me. How could I every blame you all? You, my friends, went through thick and thin with me, and nothing can ever change that." Fuuko's annoyance changed to warm feelings instantly. Who could argue with logic, and friends like that... I'm wrong, they have not changed at all. Fuuko was so preoccupied with feeling touched with her friends, she did not notice the intense guilt everyone was displaying. Yanagai, Recca, Domon, Mikagami, Saicho and Kurei was looking helpessly at each other, while Fuuko was basking in her glow of happiness. Kagerou, who refused to get involved, had brought Ganko and Koganei, both absolutely innocent, to the market, on the pretext of needing more food. Although nothing was spoken, all of them had the same notion in their minds. If Fuuko was annoyed with a set-up with only a friend, she would be furious when she discovered the truth. After speaking with Fuuko, they all figured out that although she presented a strong and tough front, she was still nursing old wounds that could upset her temper and turn her really nasty. But it was too late. They did not gauge her reaction properly and now they had to go through with the whole plan whether they liked it or not.

"Fuuko, please don't forgive us yet. You have not met him."

This snapped Fuuko out of her trance. She caught up with the emotions everyone was displaying like a sensor and a heavy feeling weighed down upon her heart.

"Yanagi, what exactly do you mean?"

Nobody looked at her but through her, directing gazes of guilt and pleads of help to something or someone behind her. Apprehension and dread filled her body, as she mechanically turned around, slowly.

No, it can't be. It must be my parents or someone else... Wait, I don't want it to be someone else. Please, just don't let it be him... Her ears provided her with the answer before her eyes did. A soft "Fuuko" reached her ears, and memories came flooding back like the rapids, blocking all thoughts save one. Raiha... Fuuko was in such a state of shock that she did not even realized she had voiced her one thought out loud. But she didn't care. She was now only in herself, listening to the raging war between her inner voices. Oh god, he's finally back... All those nights of wishing and praying... I hate him! How could he just leave me... He didn't leave you, you left Japan. He broke up with me... He did it so that you would be safe... He never came to the airport to say goodbye... You said that you never wanted to see him again. I gave him my address to write to me, yet he did not. But he came back for you, he still loves you... He can't just waltz back into my life... You never gave him a chance... I don't need him, I'm just fine... You still love him, very much indeed... I loved him, it's now all over... I don't know!!! How could they put me through this again... What do I do?! Fuuko was extremely confused, and her mind was engulfed in between accepting and rejecting Raiha. One thing that nobody, except Fuuko and Raiha, knew was that the night before Fuuko's departure, Raiha had broken up with Fuuko, saying that he was too dangerous for her, and that they came from two different worlds and therefore were not compatible. She had given Raiha her new address earlier in the evening, but the later incident was the main cause of Fuuko's decision to withhold her contact information from her friends. It was a rash, stupid resolution at that time, a young girl's petty behavior, but Fuuko didn't want anyone writing to her about how Raiha was doing, or whether he was getting along just fine, popular with all his new friends. Yeah, his assassin friends. She had so angrily thought at that time. Caught up with building a totally new life, a hectic schedule and mourning yet slowly accepting the loss of Raiha, Fuuko never really had the time nor the frame or mind to regret that impulsive decision that bound her friendless in a strange new world. She had, however waited in vain for a letter, and the fact it never arrived made her doubly angry.

Fuuko was standing as still as a statue, her heaving chest the only one sign of life. Suspended in a dark place between love and hate, Fuuko's state of mind was scaring the wits out of her friends, especially Raiha. For a while, there was stillness and silence, everyone's attention focused on Fuuko. Then, Yanagi flew to Fuuko, prompting the rest to scatter to the other rooms for tea and smelling salts. Yanagi wrapped her arms around the rigid Fuuko, whispering apologies over and over again. Fuuko broke away from her inner turmoil, to gaze into a pair of very, very worried and upset grey eyes. Caught between pure joy and pure pain, and not trusting herself to speak for fear of losing control of her emotions, Fuuko only mutely shook her head, a movement that no one could define. Except Fuuko, and she was not telling. Finally, after what seemed to be eternity, Fuuko raised her eyes and met the worried gazes all of those around her and quietly, with a touch sadness,

"Why? Why did all of you do this to me? Why do you want me to re-live this pain?"

"And you. Why did you just enter my life again? When I needed you the very least?" This was directed at Raiha.

"I'm sorry Fuuko. I did not know that you were going to be here. If I did, I never would have come. I'm really sorry."

Yanagi cut in nervously, "No, it's not Raiha's fault. We made him come without telling him the truth. We thought it would be such a beautiful surprise for you, since you and Raiha." Yanagi trailed of as Fuuko shook her head slowly, eyes brimming with unshed tears.

"Yanagi, I warned you about this. Fuuko, forgive us, we would never have schemed this if we knew it would cost you pain." Tokiya felt it was high time things came to a close.

"You and Raiha. It was such a pity. But why aren't you happy?" Saicho asked the question Fuuko had been dreading for ten years. Swallowing her tears, Fuuko gathered up all her inner strength and anger to face her personal demons.

"Why don't you tell them, Raiha. About what happened that night before I left." Fuuko's tone was challenging and sarcastic. Sadness, grief and shock had finally settled in, Fuuko had accepted them, and they gave way to anger and fury.

"I broke up with Fuuko the day before she left. That was why." Raiha could not bring himself to continue. The shock and guilt on everyone's face was overwhelming. Yanagi gave a startled gasp as Domon, Saicho, Tokiya, Recca and Kurei's faces dawned with understanding, and embarrassment.

Rage, anger, confusion and pain was building inside Fuuko, determined to be let out. She could not control her fraying temper, and let burst her feelings.

"HOW COULD ALL OF YOU DO THIS!?" Fuuko practically yelled. Tears now flowed freely down her face, as she tried to dry her tears in vain.

"You have no right to mess in my own business! Do you know how I feel right now? My heart is filled with so much pain it's about to burst. It's all your fault. Why did you have to put me through this? Did you all think I would truly appreciate it? Did you ever stop to think exactly what happened that I would not want to see Raiha again? NO! And I thought tonight would be the best day of the past ten years! How wrong could I be?" Mikagami cut in at that point.

"Fuuko, I know this reunion present is rather extreme, but there is a really good reason."

Fuuko glared at Tokiya through blurry eyes, but did not say a word. He took this as a consent and went on,

"I have to confess that I have withheld something from you. I have been in contact with Hanabishi and the others for about five years now."

This evoked a response from Fuuko. Turning her head sharply, she shifted her glare to the other guilty parties. No wonder they were all so. in tune, so familiar.

"I told you I was studying in Harvard then. Well, that is true. However, on an exchange trip to England, Cambridge to be exact, I met Kurei and Raiha, who were students there. By that time, I had grown up, matured enough to start feeling and caring for others, and knowing that friends are a necessity in life."

My goodness, Mikagami does have feelings.

"I decided to allow Hanabishi and the others back in my life. And although he can be really irritating at times, Recca here is a really good friend." The world stopped spinning to a second, as everyone's' mouths dropped open, Fuuko's included, and stared at Tokiya as though he had grown an extra head. Anger and guilty vanished as shock and surprise settled in. Recca?! Mikagami called Recca Recca, and not Hanabishi?! Dear lord, the world is going mad! Then the moment passed, and the atmosphere became serious once again. Fuuko regained her wrath and hostility.

"What I am trying to say Fuuko, is that we all need friends. I know amongst all of you I am the coldest, and being apart for ten years would not have affected me, as I am used to being alone. But the fact that even I have accepted warmth and care shows how much you, an extremely social person, has lost out. And therefore have changed. You are different now, Fuuko. Less caring, less warm, less affectionate. More cold, more shut away, more afraid to care, more hurt, more like the old-Tokiya. We knew this, even if you did not. So we arranged for Raiha's arrival. What we did not expect was that."

"Stop it! I don't want to hear anymore." I was wrong; they did not change. I did. "People change. Even if I had not left, I would still be who I am now! This is just an excuse. You are trying to change the subject. You still should have minded your own business, you nosey-parkers! So, you all think I am cold, uncaring, unaffectionate huh? So I'm not worthy enough to be Team Hokage's friend, is that it?"

Fuuko was so full of fury that she barely control what came out of her own mouth.

"Well, I hate all of you! I wish we were never friends! I wish I was never involved in the fuujin or whatever! And. and I never want to see all of you again!" Shocked at what she had just said, and the pain and hurt obvious on everyone's face made Fuuko so ashamed of herself. Unable to deal with the emotional overload at that point of time, Fuuko did the only thing she would do when facing an unbeatable adversary. She escaped. Clasping a hand around her moth to stifle her sobs, yank the front door open and ran out into the night, into freedom, into solace.

"Fuuko!" Raiha shouted behind her, the others echoing him. As he tried to run after Fuuko into the night, Tokiya grabbed him.

"Let me go, Mikagami! I need to catch up with Fuuko. "

"Mikagami, let Raiha go chase after Fuuko." Yanagi tugged at his arm.

"I thought you would understand how Fuuko would be feeling now, since you're a women and we're not, Yanagi." Tokiya could not prevent a hint of sarcasm from entering his voice, "Fuuko has been through so many shocks. She just needs to cool down. Trust me, she is smart, she'll think it over and return after some time."

"Since when have you become an expert on women Tokiya?" Even though in the middle of a crisis, Recca could not help teasing his old nemesis."

"Hanabishi, I used your first name only to make a point. I switching back to Hanabishi, and so will you. Besides, it's been a long day. We all need to rest."

"Yeah. You too, Raiha." Saicho chipped in. Raiha attempted a weak smile, but looked outside the window, eyes searching, mouth silently forming the word "Fuuko". The wind mourned pitifully as it swept dead leaves into a whirlwind, reminding the world that Autumn had passed and Winter was making its grand entrance soon.

". what?! Never mind. Thank you." Mikagami slowly placed down the receiver.

"She has checked out. The hotel already given her our message, but there was nothing else they could do. They refuse to give Fuuko's address, saying it is confidential."

"Mikagami, you stayed in the same hotel as Fuuko. How could you have missed her?!"

"When I returned last night, she was still out. That's what the manger said. This morning, I checked again, but no change. Then I rushed here. What else was I suppose to do?"

"It was my fault, right from the beginning. If only." Raiha eyes held infinite sadness.

"Raiha, stop blaming yourself. We are responsible too. You were right Mikagami, this plan is so foolish. Now I've lost dear Fuuko." Yanagi started weeping silently. Recca put his arms around his wife to comfort her.

"Mikagami, are you sure that she'll forgive us? She probably has already left Japan."

"Maybe she has. I don't know. But I know she'll return. I'm certain of it."

"What do you mean you're certain?"

"I told you last nigh that Fuuko has adopted my old behavior. The old Tokiya would also be mad, furious. But he would return. I know."

Carols were heard from all houses as Christmas was celebrated throughout the street. In the Hanabishi residence, the mood was, however, anything but cheery.

"Mikagami, you said she would come back. It's been three months now, and still no sign of Fuuko. No phone call, email, fax, letter or postcards. Nothing, not even a shadow. A re you sure you're right?" Recca couldn't take it anymore. Everyone had gathered at his house for Christmas, hoping that a miracle would happen. So far, there was nil results.

She shivered slightly, it was cold all right. Snow had began to fall. A beautiful piece of scenery. But she didn't come to admire her surroundings. A gloved finger lightly pressed the bell. She heard people's excited voices and scrambling movements. The door was flung open, and Yanagi and many other faces framed the doorway.

"Fuu. Neon, it's you. We all thought." Yanagi couldn't hide the disappointment in her voice, or her face. The others lost their hopeful expression, but welcomed Neon warmly.

"Hi, everyone. I heard about Fuuko. I'm sure she'll come." Neon was brought into the living room where she hugged and kissed her husband.

"I brought the other presents, like you told ." A soft and tentative voice had cut in then.

"You should not leave the front door wide open. Who knows what else besides snow might get in." Everyone turned their heads towards the source, like sunflowers to the sun. And they were not disappointed. Overwhelmed with passion, Raiha could only say one word to his one dream and one vision,

"Fuuko."

"Merry Christmas."

Amidst the laughter and chatter finally filling the house, someone heard was chuckling to himself, "I knew she would return." Retorting back was the wind outside, roaring with happiness and joy, as it ushered it the hopes and dreams of a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

LE FIN