Disclaimer: Clannad the visual novel is the property of Key and their respective partners. I'm not sure how much of Clannad the anime belongs to Key and how much belongs to Kyoto Animation, but nonetheless none of its content belongs to me. I'm not making any money with this fic.
Author's notes: Vive, vale is a Latin farewell greeting, which translates to 'Live, be well'. Due to the nature of this story, I saw it fitting to add gaude, 'rejoice' to that ancient phrase. So, practically 'Vive, vale, gaude' stands for a farewell combined with best wishes for the future.
Many thanks to my beta-reader, Anya Anthony, for all her help.
Read and enjoy.
The halls of Hikarizaka general hospital were quiet and murky, the only light shining from the vending machines and lamp posts outside. The tiled, glistening floor reflected the artificial light, forming an impression of sterile, tranquil atmosphere. Rows of closed white doors leading to the patients' rooms decorated the otherwise plain empty walls, and save for an occasional cough or snore from behind the doors; nothing disrupted the hospital's nocturnal harmony.
A sudden click could be heard as one of the doors' handles' pressed down and the door swung open silently yet swiftly. A figure, clad in white and blue nurse's uniform stepped outside, pressed the door shut in her wake, and began to walk down the hallway, her shoes making a barely audible sound against the floor.
Fujibayashi Ryou stifled a yawn and checked her watch. Now that she had completed her final round, there was only an hour of her shift left. By the time it was over and she could go back home, the day should've already dawned, too.
Ryou sighed softly and rubbed her eyes, trying to ward off the approaching sleep. She didn't particularly dislike the night shift, but she had to admit it didn't do exactly wonders to her sleep pattern.
Well, she reminded herself silently with a small smile. At least I'm not as bad as onee-chan. Fujibayashi Kyou's ability to sleep in remarkably well, as well as having severe headache due to insomnia – which some claimed was a big factor behind her temper – was nothing short of legendary amongst the twins' friends and family. Ryou was grateful for the fact that her sister had chosen to become a kindergarten teacher instead of a shift-worker like her.
Ryou, herself, had become a nurse like she had always wanted. For her, taking care of others welfare was like natural instinct, and the years she had spent studying to become a nurse had only strengthened that trait. Her twin sister often said that her studies had done wonders to her self-esteem, too, at least in comparison to her high school years; No longer did she need to hide behind Kyou's back, stuttering and blushing. Although, Ryou often thought it was simply because she had grown up - she was, after all, twenty-five already – and there were still going to be situations where she needed her big sister's support.
Fujibayashi Ryou sighed, suddenly feeling old and nostalgic. She really had grown, hadn't she? Graduating from high school, graduating from nursery school, moving out of her childhood home, getting a job in the recently built hospital... The last six years had seemed to float by. At some point, she had realized her life had deviated of her twin sister's – even though they still shared the same apartment – and that her mother had started to urge her to find a decent husband to spend the rest of her life with. It had been a shock to see how much had passed by, and how much more would be waiting ahead.
Still, Ryou was happy with her life. She was content on how things had turned out so far; in high school, nursery school, and working in society – she had made many good friends, graduated with good grades, and managed to get an occupation she had wanted. She was positive about the future; how she would find a good, understanding husband through either chance encounter or arranged marriage. She was grateful for having her friends, her dear parents, and her beloved sister.
She was happy.
She saw him when she was passing through the intensive care unit on her way out. At first glance, she couldn't recognize him; slumped down in a hallway chair in a miserable posture, draped in a soaking wet, brown coat and worn-out jeans, messy dark hair plastered on the side of his face - the image belonged to no one she could recognize.
But, upon closer inspection, her eyes widened.
"O-Okazaki Tomoya?" She couldn't believe it herself. This miserable-looking man was nothing like the Okazaki Tomoya she remembered; the cool, easy-going delinquent she had had eyes for during her high school days.
Of course, those days were in the far past. In the end, Tomoya had chosen Nagisa, and as far as Ryou could tell, hadn't even noticed she had been after him as well. Promptly after that, she had settled as his friend - as Nagisa's friend, she simply couldn't bring herself to step between those two, especially when they seemed so perfectly suited for each other. She hadn't come to regret it; Tomoya had become a dear friend to him, especially after Nagisa had managed to 'hammer some manners into him', as Kyou had put it.
Suddenly, a lump rose into her throat, and she could feel a tear forming in the corner of her eye before she hastily wiped it away. Even five years after Nagisa's tragic childbirth which had claimed her life, Ryou still found it unbearably sad and unfair - why had such a sweet girl had to die, and in such a sorrowful way, too? Her chest constricted painfully as she thought of what Tomoya and Nagisa's parents must have felt like - must still feel like.
"Okazaki-kun?" Breaking out of her reverie, she called his name again, this time like she had used to all those years ago. No response. "Okazaki-kun, are you alright? Why are you here in the hospital?" Perhaps it wasn't the best way to start a conversation with a friend you hadn't seen in many years, but the fact that he was here in the intensive care unit in the early hours of the morning was enough to tell Ryou things definitely weren't alright.
When he still didn't reply, she hastily made her way to his side.
"Okazaki-kun?" Crouching low so that her eyes were on the same level as Tomoya's, Ryou repeated his name softly. His face was cast down, the only visible feature the tip of his nose, and he showed no reaction - much less intention of raising his head. "It's me, Fujibayashi Ryou. Has something happened?"
His complete lack of reaction, even to the mentioning of her name, was enough of a trigger to act.
"Okazaki-kun!" Acting on instinct, Ryou firmly grasped his wrist and began to search for a pulse. A small part of her mortified: She, grasping Tomoya's hand forcefully? Such a thing would've been nigh impossible the last time she had seen him. In this situation, however, she was a professional nurse, and he was but another patient to him.
Confirming that he had a pulse did little to ease her worry: Tomoya hadn't, despite her yell and action, moved a muscle. She was about to check his breathing and call for active duty nurses when suddenly the nearby operation room door opened, causing her to stand up quickly.
"Oh, Fujibayashi-san?" called out the doctor who had stepped out of the room, removing his white gloves. "I thought your shift had already ended?"
"Tanuka-san," she greeted him with a small bow. "That's right, I was just leaving. However, I noticed my friend here, and grew worried because he didn't react to my calls." Throwing a sideways glance at Tomoya, Ryou confirmed that he was still as passive as ever. "He has a pulse and seems to be conscious, but he's not reacting to stimulus. Please, if you could take a better look at him..."
"Fujibayashi-san," he interrupted, a frown marring his face. Nurses and doctors weren't supposed to take care of their friends and family - attachment to the patient wasn't healthy for either party. "Now might not be the best time to talk with him. In fact, I think it'd be best for you to leave." Ryou took a step backwards from Tomoya, an ashamed blush on her face - but she didn't leave yet. The doctor arched an eyebrow.
"Uhm, as his friend, I would like to hear what is wrong. That way, I can perhaps be of help and support." She glanced quickly at Tomoya. "Ah, but only if it's okay with Okazaki-kun," she added as an afterthought. As she had expected, the abnormally passive Tomoya didn't react in any way.
"Very well," the doctor sighed, turning to Tomoya. "Okazaki-san, I'm sorry to bring this up at this situation, but we need you to fill in some papers, as well as question you for a clear image of what happened last night. I'm terribly sorry, but it's the protocol." Ryou brought her arms together and clenched her hands, a cold feeling of dread settling in her stomach. She recognized those words, knew in what kind of situation they were used. "Of course, if you wish to go see your daughter, take your time."
Tomoya drew in a wavering breath, and then let it out, a visible shudder running through his body. Ryou brought her hands in front of her mouth, biting her lip as she struggled against tears. No, no, no, no, please don't let it be true. Please, tell me I've misunderstood.
"Thank you, doctor," Okazaki Tomoya said, his voice hollow and quiet, confirming her fear. "But I'd rather remember her alive."
As her friend was led away by the doctor, Fujibayashi Ryou wept bitterly for the family that had lost everything. She wept for Nagisa, for Tomoya, for Ushio.
She wept for the unfairness of it all.
Ryou wandered through the streets, navigating past the swarming pedestrians hurrying to their work. It had finally stopped snowing, and rays of sunlight were beginning to pierce through the dissipating clouds, already melting the early snow that had fallen during the night. Familiar shops and streets passed by without her even glancing at their direction, and even acquaintances who called out their greeting were left without reply.
Ryou was virtually blind and deaf to her surroundings, staring off to the distance with glazed eyes as her legs carried her onwards. In the end, she hadn't been of any help, much less support to Tomoya. By the time she had gotten a hold of herself and stopped crying, he had already been gone. After that, she had wandered off, her mind wiped blank. She knew she couldn't return to the apartment she shared with her sister - she would immediately see something was troubling her, and Ryou simply couldn't lie to her sister, especially not because she was Ushio's teacher.
Ryou felt a pang in her chest as she thought of how Kyou would react to the news. She almost began crying again, but somehow managed to keep the tears in.
Why? she questioned silently for the umpteenth time. Why did it turn out like this? She knew well what Tomoya had been like ever since Nagisa's death, being informed about it by her sister who in turn got some insight via Nagisa's parents. She, Kyou, all of his friends had been uneasy to hear what kind of emotional wreck he had become - he had not even kept in touch with his daughter, leaving her to the care of her grand-parents. Even the ever-cheerful, joking Sunohara had been at serious loss of what to do to help his friend. In the end, they had left him be, not coming up with any kind of way to aid him, and prayed for time to heal his wounds.
Then, a few months ago, Tomoya had apparently pulled himself together. Ryou remembered how her sister had come home cheerful that day, claiming 'Okazaki Tomoya is back!', and then going into a lengthy, detailed explanation on how he had become a responsible father for Ushio-chan, working hard for her sake and devoting his free time for her welfare. Kyou had claimed that his awakening must've been thanks to Ushio's sweet influence, and she had found herself agreeing - call it maiden's inspiration if you like. Needless to say, she had been overjoyed as well for having her friend back.
Ryou clenched her fists, tears rolling down her cheeks again: Ushio-chan. She knew. She knew that without his daughter, there wasn't much - if any - hope left for Okazaki to pull out of his misery. No matter how many times she thought the situation over, she couldn't come up with any words or actions that could've helped him. Just like when Nagisa had passed away, there was nothing that could be done for him.
There was nothing she could do for him.
Ryou's feet stopped abruptly, and she was temporarily shaken off her thoughts. She realized she must've walked for quite a distance, for she had ended in the smaller streets she didn't know very well. Just when she was about to turn around and head back, her eyes caught the sight of a strange shop.
Strange, for it didn't seem like a shop at all: There was no display glass, no signs or nameplates, no picture or logo of what kind of items the shop traded in - not even the name of the boutique could be seen anywhere.
Yet still, Fujibayashi Ryou knew it was a shop the moment she saw it.
Before she knew what she was doing, she opened the door and stepped inside.
The interior was even more peculiar than the outside. The room she stepped in was wide and spacious, walls painted clean white. There were a few armchairs placed on one side of the room, and a table with two high chairs around it was situated in the middle of the room. Two sliding doors on the far side of the room seemed to be the only way deeper into the building. Had she not known it to be a shop, Ryou would've thought she had accidentally stumbled into an office lounge - the only thing missing was the reception desk.
"Yes? How can I help you?" Ryou turned quickly around, her heart skipping a beat.
"Ah, I'm terribly sorry for coming in without a notice," she stammered, instinctively bowing low in apology. "I didn't mean to sneak around..."
"It's fine, it's fine," the feminine voice told her, and she raised her gaze from the floor. In front of her stood a tall, beautiful woman in an exquisite, decorated kimono. Her raven-black hair cascaded half-way down her back, strands of it tucked behind her ears or twirled around frail-looking, beautiful hair ornaments. "If you have managed to step inside, it means you were supposed to come, so it's fine." Ryou's confusion over her words was over-lapped by the amazement of how young yet old, fresh yet archaic she sounded. The small smile she wore, accompanied by the sparkle in her eyes further deepened her awe.
To Fujibayashi, she seemed like some other-worldly queen, dignified and mysterious. At the same time, she realized how plain she must've looked in comparison.
"I, I was supposed to come?" That was the first thing she managed to get out of her mouth. The woman's smile spoke of amusement.
"Quite. Only those who have business in this shop may enter, and every customer has been pre-destined."
"So it is a shop after all..." Ryou mused, half to herself and half to the mysterious woman. "But what do you mean, 'pre-destined'? You knew I was coming?" The woman simply smiled, and sat down in a chair next to the table, gesturing her to come over and do the same.
"I knew someone like you was coming at some point, yes," she gave her a vague answer, and before Ryou could ask what she meant by 'someone like you', the woman clasped her hands together. "But we're drifting away from the actual subject. We're here to do business, not to talk philosophically." The woman's smile became a little bit more cryptic. "At least, not to solemnly talk philosophically. Do sit down, please."
The Fujibayashi twin complied, seating herself on the other side of the table, her confusion not clearing up one bit by the mysterious woman's words. "Umm, what kind of business do you mean? What kind of shop is this?" Although strange, the woman didn't seem threatening in any way, but Ryou knew that there were many kinds of shady dealers around the world. She hoped she hadn't accidentally stumbled into a shop that traded on organs.
As if sensing her distress, the woman smiled warmly. "This is a wish-fulfilling shop, a place where you can make your wish come true."
Ryou blinked. "What?" The woman's smile didn't falter.
"Believe me or not, but the fact that you managed to find this place means you have a wish you wish to be fulfilled. Given, of course, that you're willing to pay the price for it." Now she was simply lost. Was the woman speaking on a metaphorical level? For the sake of any kind of sensible discussion, she decided to presume she was.
"Price?" Not that her responses became any more intelligent after presuming so, but at least she managed to somehow keep herself on the map.
"Nothing in this world is free; Everything you obtain comes with an equal price," the woman said, nodding. "This includes trading of wishes and dreams, too." Her softly-spoken words hung in the air for a while, swirling around the two women as if creating a barrier between them and reality. The whole situation was beginning to feel like a dream. Ryou found herself nodding in understanding, before she frowned.
"But, how do you know how much something abstract like a wish is worth, and how would you pay for something like that?" In the woman's smile, she thought she could catch a trace of something that resembled weariness.
"You don't need to bother yourself with that question; that is something for me to worry about. All you need to do is to voice your wish, and I'll tell you the cost."
Ryou fell silent. She certainly hadn't had anything like this in mind when she had entered the shop. More so, she still suspected the woman was talking on some metaphorical level rather than concrete, and that 'making wishes come true' was just another way to phrase some shady goods or something like that.
Then again, if the woman meant literally what she said and dreams could come true in this shop... Perhaps, she could...
"Uhm," she began hesitantly. "I, I met an old friend today." Perhaps, this way, she could help Tomoya. "He has had much misfortune, and he has lost two very dear people to him. He is... very sad." Her voice faded towards the end, and her gaze turned downwards. "There's nothing I can do for him." Suddenly, she straightened herself, and fixated her gaze on the woman's unreadable eyes.
"My wish is for him to find happiness again." The woman stared at her, the burgundy eyes staring deep into Ryou's teal orbs. For a long while, neither spoke a word, until suddenly:
"Eh?" The woman sighed and stood up. Ryou's widened eyes trailed her as she walked away from the table. "But... But, didn't you say you could make my wish come true?" For a short while, she had truly believed she could help her; she had allowed herself to believe that wishes could really become true. Now, when it became obvious that it wouldn't happen, she felt ashamed that she had believed it in the first place.
"I did, and now I'm telling you to forget it," the woman replied curtly with her back turned to her. When it became obvious she wouldn't talk anymore, Ryou pressed on.
"Why?" A very child-like question, she absently realized, but right now she felt like a tricked child anyway. The cryptic woman sighed again.
"Because it's impossible. Your friend's fate has already been decided, and there's nothing that can be done about it." There weren't many situations where Fujibayashi Ryou felt irritated - some would even debate there was no such a thing as 'angry Ryou' - but right now, she felt herself very vexed. She had been humiliated, tricked into believing that some kind of impossible miracle could happen and then had the truth slammed into her face - hard. And now, she was told that it was all because of 'fate'.
"I don't believe in fate," she responded crisply. The woman glanced at her over her shoulder, her eyes reflecting something between pity and amusement. She challenged that gaze with her own, and continued on. "I don't believe there's just one future or destiny. There are several choices we can make, leading us to different places via different paths - we make our own fate, choose our own future. That's what I believe." The words came out smoothly, without any hesitation. Numerous times, she had told the exact same words to people who had come to ask for her fortune telling - and repeated them every time afterwards, when her fortune telling had turned out inaccurate.
The woman stared at her for a while longer, and then suddenly burst out laughing.
"It, it isn't polite to laugh at other people's beliefs," Ryou stammered, startled by the unexpected reaction. Eventually, the raven-haired woman's laughter died down a bit.
"Little girl," she said, sounding like she was stating a fact rather than insulting her. "We're talking of the exact same thing." She laughed a bit more at her empty expression. "What would you call someone who has reached a dead end, who has no more choices to make, no more options to take? Someone whose choices have brought him in a situation where there's nothing that can be done anymore?"
Ryou blinked. There was no way she could find an answer to such a deep question in such a short time. Yet, as she thought it over, she felt something click in her mind - as if a gate had just been opened. Her answer came out on its own.
"Someone who has met his fate." Eyes widening, she clasped her hands over her mouth. A wave of sorrow swept over her again, and she couldn't stop the tears pooling in her eyes. "What... What did I just..."
"That's right," the woman said, clasping her hands together with a cryptic smile. "You were able to figure it out. Turns out I wasn't wrong about you after all."
"F-figure out what?" Ryou tried to stop the tears, but to no avail. She knew the answer even without asking - she had just said it herself. There were no more options. There was nothing she could do.
There's no way I can help Okazaki-kun.
At some point during her crying, the woman seated herself again. Patiently, she waited for the Fujibayashi to finish, and finally:
"Now that you have accepted this, you should also realize something else."
"What's that?" She asked, wiping her tears away with a handkerchief. Was there something even more tragic she hadn't yet realized?
"That somewhere out there is a world where your friend is happy," the woman told her, smiling.
"You said it yourself, remember," she said, sighing. "'There's not just one future, but several choices that lead us to different destinations'. Following that logic, there's not just one world, either, because there must exist a world for each different future. Do you understand where I'm getting at?" She didn't - at least, not intentionally. Again, the words seemed to ring true in some deeper part of her mind, and she found herself answering again.
"You mean to say that... That because we can make so many decisions, there must exist a huge number of worlds." The woman seemed pleased.
"Yes, but I think 'infinite' is a better word." The thought made Ryou's eyes widen and her mind swirl. An infinite number of worlds, each different from the others - it wasn't a concept you could picture clearly with human mind. "Go on," she nonetheless urged her.
"And..." she continued hesitantly, feeling how she slipped further and further away from reality. "And because there exists a world for each different future..." Squinting her eyes, Ryou could feel a headache approaching her at mach speed, but ignored it. She was very close to realizing something, but what? "Then there must also be a world where..." Her eyes widened. The woman broke into a wide smile.
"There must also exist a world where Okazaki-kun is happy! A world where he made the right decisions, and Nagisa-chan and Ushio-chan never died!"
"Spot on, little girl," she said, applauding. For a brief while, she felt proud for solving the mystery the woman had laid before her - and then reality came crashing down on her, and her frustration returned. She had been tricked again.
How's that supposed to make me feel any better? It won't matter even if there is a world where everything is happy if the reality is this! Before she had a chance to voice out any of this, the woman continued.
"At least, in theory." Ryou resisted a very strong urge to stand up and leave the shop.
"... So you admit it being just a theory." The woman shook her head.
"Hmm, no, that's not it. It's just that Okazaki Tomoya isn't quite your average person. He's a bit special - or rather, very special. Normal rules don't really apply in his case," she replied cryptically, causing Ryou held her head in her hands. How much longer was she going to continue this? And just how did she know Okazaki's whole name? This whole thing was really giving her a headache.
"Just, just say what you mean, please. I don't think I can figure out any more riddles." She could hear the woman sigh.
"I am saying what I mean. If I worded it in a clearer way, you wouldn't understand - or wouldn't want to understand - what I mean." Again, a sigh. "Fine. Listen, then." Ryou raised her head and faced the woman again, looking deep into her eyes.
"It's unlikely for Okazaki Tomoya to obtain happiness, because this town won't let him - at least not until he has paid the price. He will succeed, eventually, but he must go through a lot of pain and sorrow before that." The woman stood up and looked down upon her, her gaze hard and unyielding. "That's his fate." With that, she turned around and made her way towards the sliding doors, leaving Ryou sitting still.
The woman was right about one thing; She really didn't understand what she was talking about. The talk about town not letting him didn't make any sense, she couldn't fathom what she meant by paying the price, and all that blabber about eventually succeeding went totally over her head.
But, there was one thing Ryou did understand. Her friend would go through all the sorrow, all the pain, again and again.
She wouldn't, couldn't let that happen.
"Wait!" The woman stopped. "I, I have a wish I want you to fulfil." As she glanced over her shoulder, Ryou thought she could briefly see curiosity in her burgundy eyes. She drew a deep breath, mustering her courage.
"Take me there." It was just slightly, but she could see how the woman's eyes widened. "Take me there where I can help him make the right decisions, where I can make his happiness come true." Silence reigned for a while.
"Why are you so persistent about this?" The woman inquired eventually, sighing. "Isn't your happiness here enough for you?" Ryou shook her head gently.
"It's not that. I'm grateful, really grateful for all the good things that have happened to me - for all my friends and my family, for my happy past and future. And, if possible, I want people around me to be happy as well. I want to do what I can to help my friends, my family." Biting her lip, she pressed on. "When... When Nagisa-chan's condition worsened, there was nothing I could do. I could do nothing to her condition - even though I studied to become a nurse, there was nothing I could to help her. And, and when she passed away... There was still nothing I could do. There was no way I could help Okazaki-kun." Back at that time, she had been told that there was nothing anyone could do about it - not that it had made her feel any better.
"And now... Now..." she stammered, wiping away tears. Why am I such a cry-baby? "Now Ushio-chan is dead, too, and there's still nothing I can do." Ryou shook her head violently. "That's why I want to do anything I can! Please, fulfil my wish!" Clasping together her hands, she bowed low at the woman's direction.
"... You don't have to beg," came out the reply after a while. "Raise your head." As she did so, she could see that the woman was smiling. "All you need to do is to pay the price. I warn you, though: it will be heavy." She shook her head again.
"It doesn't matter. I'm prepared." The woman tossed her shoulders.
"Very well, then." She coughed, and her voice gained a hard, official tone in it. "The price for Okazaki Tomoya's happiness will be an equal amount of happiness taken from you. Do you accept?" Ryou's reply came without a trace of hesitation.
"I accept." Again, the woman sighed.
"I really can't tell whether you're a saint or a fool. To think you're willing to pay such a heavy price, and for such reasons..." She shook her head once more, and when she looked up again, she was smiling. "You must really love him."
"Yes," she answered steadily, with a gentle smile of her own. Six years ago, such a statement would've made her stutter and blush uncontrollably like a schoolgirl - which she had actually been. Now, however, there was no need for such things. She was perfectly honest with her feelings - of course she loved him. "He is my dear friend, after all. Same goes with Nagisa-chan and Ushio-chan. All my friends are precious to me."
"I see your heart is already set," the woman said, a smile dancing on her lips. "The transaction is now complete. When you step out of that door, your wish will be granted. After that, it will be up to you."
Ryou stood up, the room becoming more and more blurry with every passing second. Was this caused by her wish? She took a few staggering step towards the door - or at least where she thought she could see the door -, and then stopped abruptly. She turned around to face the woman who was now only a misty, ethereal figure dancing on the edges of her vision.
"T-thank you," she told her, bowing low. "Thank you very much." With that, she pulled open the door and stepped into the morning sun.
The mysterious woman looked at Ryou's figure that evaporated into hundreds of small lights in the sunlight. Those orbs in turn rose up, up, into the sky until they, too, disappeared. She remained there for a while, staring outside even after nothing remained, until she closed her eyes and sighed.
"You won't be thanking me when you're done paying."
Author's notes: I've never considered myself a real fan of Ryou, and I haven't had a sudden change of heart during writing this story. However, when I saw how minor role she played in the anime and how little of the Ryou-centric content from the visual novel was put into it, I decided to write a story with her as the protagonist. My aim is to give her a story as deep and issue-filled as Okazaki Tomoya's, build her character and background, and portray her in a way she rightfully deserves. And so far, I've had a great time doing so.
With that said, I believe you already have a hunch that this story isn't the jolliest one out there. I wish to stay true to the game's and anime's theme, meaning you can expect some crying, a lot of issues, a few supernatural elements, and some humour mixed into all of it (which is so dry you probably won't laugh anyway). If possible, I would've chosen the genre to be Drama/Friendship/Romance/Angst, but since I'm not allowed to have that many, I just had to go with the ones that are present the most.
I'll be using author's notes like this in the future, too: to sum up my thoughts and explain some of my decisions. I'll be placing them at the end of each chapter, so if you don't wish to read them, you can easily skip them.
I hope you'll enjoy reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
EDIT (9/10/10): I noted that for some reason, the *'s I kept using to mark the change between scenes have vanished, making the story almost impossible to read. I've re-added them as lines - hopefully, the story is more readable now.