In the end, I decided, "Why not?" This is a prequel to the story, Operator, but you don't have to read it to understand this story. In fact, this story will lead up to Operator. So if you've already read it, then you know how this story will end. Despite that, please enjoy this story!

Please note that this is AU. Mikado, Anri, and Kida just graduated from high school (and they went to the same school in a small town, NOT Ikebukuro). Everyone is older than they are in the anime. And yes, I'm basing this on the anime.

Please enjoy!

Warning: Eventual yaoi. AU. Based on Anime.

I don't own anything.

If one asked Ryugamine Mikado if he had a crush on someone, he would blush and stutter, much to his best friend's annoyance. It would take exactly fifteen minutes for Mikado to calm down long enough to say, "Maybe." And Kida Masaomi, the said-best friend, would throw his arms up in the air and exclaim, "You're hopeless!"

Watching this interaction, Sonohara Anri, a cute girl who hung around the two boys, would smile calmly or maybe giggle a bit. Then she'd say, "You two sure are close."

The two would look at Anri, one with a blush on his face and the other with a confident grin, and reply simultaneously, "Of course!"

And when Anri isn't looking, Masaomi would pull Mikado close and whisper, "If you don't tell her, she'll fly away from you."

Mikado would glance at Anri and shake his head. "I can't tell her! I'm-"

"Graduation. You have to tell her then."

And by then, Anri would look over and the two boys would pretend the conversation never happened. The three would look at each other and all laugh. Because they were happy teenagers. Because nothing could go wrong in their world. Because the three did not have secrets from one another. They were just close friends hanging out.

That's how the three interacted with one another all through high school. And Mikado thought that would never change. But hope is a fragile thing. And things like friendship never lasted.

The first time Mikado and Masaomi met was in preschool.

Because of his outlandish name, Mikado was often subjected to bullying. After all, what kind of name was "Dragon Peak Emperor"? The other kids thought Mikado was trying to show off. That he was trying to brag to the world with his cool name. And the other kids, quick to jealousy, shunned Mikado. And the poor boy was too shy to do anything but cry.

"Why's there a guy crying here?" was Kida Masaomi's first words to Mikado.

Mikado's face flushed and he looked away from the other's eyes. "B-because!" Mikado said, trying not to let the tears fall from his eyes. "I have a weird name!"

"How so?" the other boy asked, leaning closely to Mikado's face.

"It… It means… Dr-dragon peak emperor…" Mikado said softly, allowing a single tear to escape his eyes. "And it's… embarrassing."

"Hey!" Masaomi exclaimed suddenly, surprising Mikado. The darker haired boy stared dumbfounded as Masaomi wrapped his arms around Mikado's shoulders. "Then aren't we perfect for each other?"

Not understanding, Mikado asked the blonde boy. The blonde boy tutted and wagged a finger at Mikado.

"Don't you know? I'm Kida Masaomi! The righteous vassal."

Mikado sniffed. "What does vassal mean?"

"No clue!" Masaomi answered with his usual bright happiness. "But mom said that if I ever find someone worth following, I should dedicate my life to them!"

By now, Mikado had stopped crying. He looked at Masaomi with wide eyes. "You mean like a… samurai?"

Masaomi brightened at the thought. "Hey! I like the sound of that! Done! You can be the Dragon Emperor, and I'll be your samurai!"

"It's actually Dragon Peak Emperor…"

Masaomi waved his hand as if the actual meaning was of little value. He then stared at Mikado expectantly. Mikado frowned. What does he want from me? Maybe he's actually some sort of a bully. And he's going to make fun of me for believing him and...

Noticing the hesitation, Masaomi dropped to one knee. And with his confident grin pasted on his face, Masaomi made a grand show of bowing to Mikado. "I, Kida Masaomi, swear my loyalty to the one and only Dragon Emperor!"

It's Dragon Peak Emperor!

Despite the error, Mikado couldn't help but to smile. He's not a bad person. "Thank you."

Everything began two weeks before graduation.

Mikado walked into the classroom just in time to see Anri and Masaomi stand close to one another. But as soon as they saw Mikado, they broke away from one another, as if trying to hide some evidence. Mikado wasn't too worried at first. After all, it was Masaomi, who had been his best friend since preschool. But when the two's dynamic didn't return to their usual ones, Mikado began to suspect something was up.

Mikado and Masaomi actually didn't meet Anri until freshmen year of high school.

The two had been a duo for a very long time. And they had never considered changing it. There was no one in the small town that interested them. They had each other and that was enough for the two boys. And in the small town that they've lived in, they were all ready rumored to be a strange pair. Not many bothered the two. Almost as if they were a curse to be around. After all, who wanted to catch their germs?

All this changed the day Anri moved into town.

"Hello, I am Sonohara Anri. Please treat me well," the girl had told the class on the first day of school. Her voice was so quiet that Mikado had to strain to hear it. But once he heard it, he couldn't get the voice out of his head. He couldn't get Anri out of his head.

"You little player!" Masaomi had exclaimed when he heard his best friend's dilemma. "Even though you have me, you're hitting on Sonohara-san!"

"What? What kind of talk is that?" Mikado said, trying to wave this uncomfortable notion away.

But Masaomi was relentless. He would somehow set things up so that Anri and Mikado would end up in awkward positions. So that the two would end up talking to one another, and some how interact. And before the two boys knew it, Anri became a critical part of their lives. The duo had opened up to a trio. And Anri welcomed this change.

Through their high school years, two things never changed. Mikado's crush on Anri never went away and Masaomi never broke his vow of loyalty. Or so Mikado thought.

It was official.

Mikado was worried for his two best friends. Every time the two were left to their own devices, Mikado noticed a strange interaction between them. There was tension between them that wasn't there before. Hushed whispers with one another and strained silence when Mikado entered the conversation. It was suffocating for Mikado. They didn't want him there.

The two were close, Mikado realized. More close than he would ever be to either of them. And the thought scared him. Whatever happened to their friendship? Weren't they supposed to be a trio? But more than anything, he was hurt. He wasn't good enough for their trust. He wasn't sure why, but they couldn't trust him. And that thought tore Mikado apart. They had a secret between the two that he would never know. Almost as if he must never know.

And Mikado had an inkling of an idea of what that secret might be.

"Masaomi!" Mikado called to his best friend one day during lunch break.

Usually, once lunch started, the three would gather together and go to the rooftop to eat their lunches. Recently, however, Anri and Masaomi would run off together before Mikado could catch up to them. So today, Mikado did the only thing he could think of. He skipped his class and waited for Masaomi in front of his class.

Masaomi, surprised by the sudden call, flinched. He turned and looked at Mikado, his face paling slightly. Then, he turned back around. Mikado frowned. That wasn't like Masaomi at all. Masaomi, whenever he saw Mikado, would always brighten and shout, "Mikado! Let's go hit on girls today!" What could have possibly happened to cause Masaomi to behave in such a manner? Whatever it was, Mikado did not like it at all.

"Is something wrong, Mikado?" Masaomi asked, turning back around with a goofy grin on his face.

He's faking it…

"Ah…" Suddenly, his throat felt dry and Mikado wasn't sure why he came there in the first place. He cleared his throat. Then began again. "Do you want to go hitting on girls with me?" Mikado asked, his face turning red.

Masaomi's eyes widened. His mouth dropped open. Then with a shaky hand, he held up an accusing finger. "Who are you and what have you done to my beloved friend?"

Although this behavior was more like the Masaomi that Mikado knew, it felt cloying. Almost as if Masaomi wasn't sure how to be himself around Mikado anymore and was overdoing it. Why are you like this? Mikado dropped his pretense and got straight to the point.

"What's bothering you?" Mikado asked. "Why don't you talk to me anymore?"

Cold calm. That was how Mikado described it. Masaomi's face was calm with a cold expression that he'd never seen on his best friend's face before. Mikado unconsciously took a step back. I've never seen him glare before… He gulped. Is this really the Masaomi that I knew?

Then all of a sudden, Masaomi's face softened. He looked down at the ground, avoiding Mikado's earnest eyes. "Sorry," he whispered. "It appears that I broke my vow. I'm sorry. But you won't be able to ask Anri-chan out on Graduation."

With that soft apology, Masaomi walked away from Mikado.

Mikado didn't know then, but that would be the last time he'd ever talk with the best friend that he knew since preschool.

There were many names people had for that year's graduation. One was Hellish Graduation, another was Bloody Graduation. There were a few other vulgar names, but Mikado didn't care about that. Because none of these names had anything to do with him. These names stemmed from a random teacher, whose corpse was found in the school's unused storage shed. There had been complaints from the students that there was an unusual stench coming from the shed. And when the janitors went to visit… well, they sure received a surprise.

But whatever name they gave it to the graduation, they forgot about two students. Two students who seemed to have disappeared during the brouhaha. Two students, without saying goodbyes to their families, disappeared. Two students, who without considering their friend, left him all alone in the small town that they've called home.

And much to Mikado's chagrin, he had been the one who was left behind.

-Six Months Later…-

Mikado did not bother with college. He had always been certain that he, Anri, and Masaomi would go off traveling the world together after high school. All three of them had wanted to get out of the small town. So they had made travel plans together. They were supposed to have been in France by now. And by next week, they would have moved onto Belgium. They were going to visit all the famous landmarks. They were supposed to have…

I live such a lame life…

He had not moved out from his parent's house. He still lived in that small house that he swore he'd leave, as soon as he graduated. His room was still that small room upstairs. His closet, desk, and everything else remained the same. The only thing that actually changed was his collection of mangas, which seemed to grow daily. But otherwise, everything was the same. There was his computer there, same as always. And as same as always, he logged into his chat.

Setton has logged on.

Tanaka Taro has logged on.

Tanaka Taro: Hello.

Setton: Good afternoon.

Tanaka Taro: Is it just us today?

Setton: It appears so. Kanra-san said something about being busy, didn't she?

Tanaka Taro: Ah. That's true.

Setton: Are you feeling better?

Tanaka Taro: Yeah. Sorry for worrying you.

Setton: This isn't much but… would you like to meet offline?

His parents were worried about him. But Mikado couldn't tell them anything. Not about Anri and not about Masaomi. All they knew was that Mikado had retreated to his shell. And despite their concern, they never voiced anything out loud. They were willing to trust Mikado. With that thought in mind, Mikado left the house that day to meet up with Setton.

Setton: Please don't be surprised, but I'm actually a girl.

Tanaka Taro: Eh? Really? I would've never thought!

Setton: And uh… this is rather embarrassing but…

Tanaka Taro: It's all right. I'll listen.

Setton: Well… See, I just got married and… well…

Tanaka Taro: Really? Congratulations!

Setton: Thanks. And… uh… I'm going on a honey moon with my husband and well… I'll tell you when we meet. Where and what time should we meet?

Mikado arrived at the park with time to spare. Maybe I should have stopped by a manga shop. He shook his head. Ever since graduation, Mikado had been coped up in his room, reading manga or chatting with Setton and Kanra. To say that he's completely caught up on few mangas would be an understatement. He had so much manga knowledge stuffed in his head that he couldn't help but to wonder how that was going to help him in real life.

Lost in his contemplation, he almost missed the shout of, "Watch out!"

Mikado ducked just in time to see a black motorbike fly over where he used to stand. He gulped. If I hadn't moved…

"Sorry about that," a guy said. He was wearing a black motorbike helmet with kitty years on them. He was wearing something akin to a lab coat. Is he a scientist? "Are you Tanaka Taro?"

Mikado blinked. "Eh? Setton-san?" I thought Setton was a girl..?

"No, no," the guy said waving his hand. "I'm her husband. Setton-chan is here."

Now that Mikado looked closer, the driver of the motorbike was obviously a girl. There was no way Mikado could miss or mistake that. She was wearing tight black leather, or what Mikado assumed was leather (He wasn't an expert on the topic but he figured he knew enough about it). And she had a yellow helmet with kitty ears on them. Someone really likes cats. And wha was interesting to Mikado was the fact that the driver had a cell phone out.

"Nice to meet you, Setton-san. I'm Tanaka Taro online, but my real name is Mikado," Mikado said, politely bowing.

Setton typed something on her cell phone and held it up for Mikado to see.

Nice to meet you. You can call me Celty. And this idiot next to me is called Shinra.

Mikado looked questioningly at the cell. Noticing the look, Celty took the phone back and typed more before showing it to Mikado.

I can't talk. That's why I have to use this.

"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that," Mikado said. "Uh… I'm sorry for getting straight to business, but… why did you want to meet me today?"

Celty scratched her helmet, as if she was embarrassed by what she was about to type. Seeing this, her husband spoke up. "Ah, Celty and I just got married."


"Thanks. And, well… we're going on a honey moon, see? But we decided to visit Celty's homeland and travel around for a while as well. And all this traveling… well… it's bound to take a long time," Shinra said, waving his arms around to emphasize his points.

Mikado nodded, confused. "I still don't see what that has to do with me."

Despite the fact that Shinra was wearing a helmet, Mikado could feel the older man's grin. Celty smacked her helmet. "What do you think will happen to our living quarters if it was left empty for a long time?"

Mikado blinked. He's not saying…?

"That's right! It's going to get dusty! So what I'm offering is simple. Go to Ikebukuro! I'll allow you to stay at our place until we return. But you have to keep everything clean and neat, got it?"

Celty shook her hands in front of her as if to denying all of this.

I just thought that you'll be lonely here by yourself. Didn't you say you wanted to travel? It's not much, but Ikebukuro is a large city. You'll be able to restart your life.

Mikado's eyes widened at the text. Someone cares… "Ah.. but I couldn't possibly intrude!"

"Don't worry!" Shinra exclaimed. "We won't be there! Just make sure to keep everything clean. Especially the computers."

Celty bowed her helmet a bit, as if to apologize. You don't have to accept if you don't want to, she typed on her cell.

But Mikado's brain was reeling. Go to Ikebukuro? Ikebukuro was a place he's only heard of. A city of brilliant lights and people. Thousands of people lived and died there every day. It was a place where a country boy like him would easily get lost in. A place where he would easily be overwhelmed by. Besides, weren't there scary gangs in Ikebukuro as well? He wouldn't be able to adjust at all! Ikebukuro would be too different! Too big! Too violent! Too…

But did he want to stay here?

Mikado reflected back to his six months. Nothing but chatting online and reading manga. Every day, as if he was some sort of a robot. Nothing new, nothing changing. Always stuck in that same time period. Waiting for his two friends to come back. Waiting for Masaomi to come to him and say, "You should've seen the look on your face! It was a prank, stupid!" and for Anri to appear and apologetically bow while saying, "I'm sorry, Mikado-kun. But Masaomi-kun insisted."

But Masaomi and Anri were no longer there. And most likely, they would never come back to this town. After all, the three of them had been planning to leave...

He was alone. Alone in this small town that he didn't want to stay in. Alone in this giant world. Alone with nothing but the computer and few flimsy comic books to keep him company. Alone forever…

From the beginning, there had been one choice, really.

Mikado looked up with a determined glint in his eyes. "All right," he said. "I accept!"

And thus one Ryugamine Mikado sealed his fate.