Disclaimer: Skip Beat! and its characters are not mine...but that doesn't seem to stop me from torturing them.


Ludwig's Metronome

Chapter 5: The Physician's Temperament

"…Heee's an alien."

The burly looking reporter glanced down at the wide-eyed neophyte. "Old news, newbie. Everyone knows he's foreign born. That story won't even make the lifestyle section."

"No! I mean the rocketed to earth, terrified of green rocks, club house in the North Pole type of alien. He just spent an hour performing feats that would bring any stunt man to shame and now he is walking around like he just had a relaxing spot of tea with the British prime minister. There is definitely something inhuman about THAT!"

"That's Tsuruga Ren for you. Nothing like us normal people. The untouchable god of the acting world. We would be barking up the wrong tree if we thought we could catch him being anything other than 150% perfect."

Ren glanced over to the infestation of reporters calling to him as he entered the trailer. He gave them a gentlemanly smile and nod before he shut the door. …Breathe. One…two…three. No good. All it took was one imaginary voice to yell "Timber!" and Ren went crashing face first to the floor. …Nostalgic…the grime on the ground tasted like his mother's cooking. Ren used all his strength to turn his head. Was it his imagination or was jumping off the top of a speeding subway car, rolling down a six meter mud embankment, and then immediately pulling himself up to sprint away in a high speed chase scene much more painful than before? Muscles he did not know he had ached and cursed him for his reckless career choice. …Maybe he would not be hurting so much if he were not so exhausted. He could count on one hand the hours of sleep he had since he woke up in this future, but last night was the worst. Ren spent the totality of the night with his back flat on the living room couch, eyes firmly glued to the ceiling, and his mind racing frantically in circles like a coyote and roadrunner cartoon. What the heck was he thinking? His chest clenched almost painfully as his mind recalled his earlier escapade with Kyoko. Was he that much of a selfish beast that he lost control over things so completely? He felt like he was steadily losing track of who he was. This was not his time! He knew now that it was not just Kyoko he was attempting to protect by not becoming too close; it was himself. At any moment he could pop back to his normal timeline. There, he would be in control, independent, and alone. Every crazy moment he spent with Kyoko here made the thought of that silent, empty apartment of his that much more unbearable. But the worst thing of all, as he stared at the ceiling and imagined the girl in the room above it, was how, despite knowing all this, he was still having to fight with himself each moment to not race back into that bedroom and forget everything else. Why did his mind keep replaying every moment of that brief interlude in slow motion inside his brain? And why could he not stop his lips from tingling as if they were still being softly caressed?

Ughh… so pathetic. From now on, Ren needed to keep himself at a five meter distance from Kyoko at all times. He could not trust himself not to lose control and turn into a reasonless animal again. Enough with resting. He needed to get on with his job. With great effort Ren rolled across the floor to a wall and pulled himself to standing position. With zombie dance moves, Ren shook his clothes off. As he twisted his upper body to grab the pair of clean jeans lying on the chair behind him, Ren caught sight of something in the mirror that made him pause. …"1:50 pm"? Since when was that there? Ren flipped his head down to stare at the front of his boxers. Embroidered with dark, menacing letters were "Remember, Ren, or Else". How was Kyoko able to do this? He made sure that he got ready and left the house before she even awoke. He had just grabbed this set randomly from his drawer as he dressed in the darkness. A small smirk slid on half of Ren's mouth. That girl… She was extremely talented but some of her talents were down right scary. Ren examined the great amount of work and craftsmanship Kyoko had spent on this endeavor and then blinked. …Remember, Ren…

Remember… Wait…Amnesia? Could it possibly be…that he was suffering from amnesia? That he was this future Ren and that the life he had been living these last couple of days was his own. In the back of his mind, Ren knew his attraction to this idea was biased. Amnesia would mean that this illusive reality he was faced with would be real. A world where he was universally acknowledged and respected. A world where Kyoko was his to have and to hold until the end of time. No more holding back. No more placating himself with dreams of happiness for tomorrow. Everything was his now. All of this might be a possibility. No, it was a very good possibility. Though nothing felt like what he always imagined amnesia should feel like (shouldn't something feel a bit familiar after three days?) and…quite frankly this type of amnesia sounded like a corny plot twist of some romantic melodrama…it was still a more legitimate explanation than time travel of all things!

Ren slowly brought his fingers to his lips and smiled, as a small burst of excitement seemed to energize his weary limbs, but then paused. There was something else there. Now that amnesia was looking more and more like the truth, an unexplainable nervousness was growing in his stomach. What was with this sense of foreboding? Why when the fairy tale seemed real did he feel that a nightmare was brewing underneath?

This fear was unsettling, and it forced Ren to make a realization. He was not as confident in himself as he once thought. There had been a matter that he needed to take care of which he had been putting off all morning. Ren quickly threw the rest of the clothes on, shook some of the dirt out of his hair, and left the trailer in search of his manager.

Yashiro lifted his head when he heard the heavy, widespread footsteps of his long-term client. "Ren…you got dressed already? You should have taken your time. That last scene looked painful. Have a drink of water, at least." Yashiro pulled out the water bottle he held in his briefcase, but Ren ignored it.

"I have a favor to ask," Ren spoke. "I need a copy of 'Shut Your Eyes'. Can you get it for me before my next scene ends?"

Yashiro looked startled. "…What?" he asked hesitantly.

"The American film 'Shut Your Eyes' that I was in about a year ago…Can you get me a copy? I checked through all the movies at my house, and I don't have it."

Yashiro's face morphed into a grave expression. He spoke this time in a whisper, "Ren, I know you thought I was playing around with you yesterday, but I'm serious. I might be your manager, but I am also your friend. What is going on? If something is bothering you, we need to talk about things now before there is a problem."

Ren was taken aback by Yashiro's seriousness. "Nothing is wrong," he defended. "I just wanted to watch the movie, that's all. …To make sure that I am acting Sato out in a unique way. I…want to keep the viewers on their toes."

Yashiro's eyes searched Ren's face. "…All right," he finally spoke. "If you are sure about this… I'll get you a copy before you finish up here."

The two stood together silent for a moment before Ren glanced hesitantly over to his manager again. "Yashiro…I…Did I ever act…close to Ms. Nox before?"

Yashiro looked over at the actor confused. "Caitlyn Nox? No. You've always treated her professionally. In fact, you always seemed rather irritated whenever she was around. Why do you ask?"

Ren flipped his eyes back to the shoot. "…No reason. It looks like they're ready for me. Thanks for taking care of the movie for me," and he left.


Ren checked his watch as he walked through the doorway into his house. 11:02 am. He arrived here much earlier than he expected. He looked around the house. No sign of life. Kyoko must be out. Ren looked down at the round disk in his hand. Well, now was as good of a time as any. Still, Ren's hand hesitated for an instant before he inserted it into the machine.

With the grace of a dead fish being thrown onto a sushi chef's cutting board Ren collapsed into the couch. Though he was half tempted to let his struggling eyes go on the strike that they had been threatening all day, Ren forced himself to sit up straight and press the play button on the remote. After halfway into the film, however, Ren's eyes were glued to the screen and unwilling to close. Impressive. He could see why everyone made a big deal about his acting in this movie. It was…genius, for lack of a better word…and terrifying all at the same time. It was obvious why no other actor wanted this part. The movie was about a woman struggling with the decision of leaving her abusive CEO husband. A low level police officer, the hero of the story, does everything he can to convince her to escape him and to protect her from the husband's increasingly violent mistress. Ren was cast as the husband. Though he did not have as much screen time as the wife and the officer, his character was easily the one that haunted the darkness behind your eyelids. The most difficult part by far. If he played his character too hard, the audience would see the female lead as weak and unappealing in her wavering of her decision. Too soft, and it would completely disregard the potential impact of the film. The result that Ren seemed to have invented was…disturbing. His character was unpredictable, obsessive, and self-destructive. Indoctrinated at a young age by his abusive father, he was a man who knew nothing but to view people in terms of power and control. A man who reveled in debauchery but at the same time yearned for salvation. Detestable but strangely sympathetic. Watching him was like being pushed under water and struggling with all one's might for a breath of air.

How was he able to do it? No part he had was anything like this. Even the role of his up and coming part of the murderous BJ was nothing to this. BJ was pure darkness, but this character was…sick. He really needed to step up his game if his audience expected this caliber of acting from him.

Caitlyn Nox's image flashed in front of his eyes, and Ren quickly switched his full attention to the screen.

"Took you long enough to visit here," she spoke with mild irritation in her voice. She opened the door wider to let him in. She wore a diamond studded black dress and heavy makeup.

Ren's character brushed past her, pulled off his jacket and let it fall to the floor. "I see you got my gifts," he spoke gruffly as he loosened his tie.

"The dress fits perfectly as you can see, but this apartment… Why did it have to be this one? Apartment 30 has a better view." She walked up close to him and began to unbutton his shirt. Ren's character stared at the top of her head with a frown. "You should have come sooner," she continued. "I was getting so lonely in this apartment by myself, and you must have had it hard with only your wife around. Did I tell you? I saw her in the supermarket earlier today. What a naive idiot! I can see why you don't feel comfortable around her. …I've been thinking. Wouldn't it be better if you just left her and moved in with m…mmphh!"

Ren's character shoved his hand over her mouth and yanked her hair down so roughly that she was forced to stare up at him. She winced in pain. "You aren't allowed to speak about my wife with your dirty little mouth. You asked why I put you in Apartment 31. It's because I put all my whores in prime numbers, and you want to know the reason?" Caitlyn Nox's character shivered in fear as a hint of madness flickered through his glaring eyes. "Prime numbers can only be divided by themselves and one. They are pathetic little numbers that are cursed to look out for no one but themselves. You and I and every other woman I messed around with are covered in so much slime that we will never break out of our own darkness. We are worthless from the day we are born. We live for ourselves, and we die alone. But my wife is different." He pulled down her hair even harder, and she whimpered. "You are not worthy enough to lick her shoes. Don't you know what you are to me? My punishment. Every time I look at you it reminds me that I'm just an eternally damned pile of flesh without a soul." With that he released his hand and shoved his mouth forcefully to hers.

As Ren watched the violent scene unravel in front of his eyes, his mind flew to processing what he just heard. "Apartment 31 mistress." This is where it came from. Ren breathed out and laid his forehead onto the palm of his hand. He knew that it must have been a game with words, but he felt more relieved than he expected. If Ms. Nox was not a woman, he would… Ughh, she was not even worth thinking about…

The scene flipped to the front of his mansion-like house as his character entered through the front door. The house was completely dark except for shards of moonlight that made its way in through the windows. There, huddled on the stair steps, was his wife with a broken expression.

"…Whe…Where were you?" she asked quietly.

Ren's character looked up at her and then flipped his eyes down. "Nowhere you need to concern yourself with."

Slowly the woman stood up as she used the banister for support. "Gareth, I…I think we need to talk. I…I don't think I can do this anymore. I…I'm…"

Screen Ren shot his eyes towards hers in an intense glare. "…Don't speak. Don't you dare say anything!"

The woman shook as she looked away from him. "I'm going to fall apart any second, and you just tear yourself up whenever you're around me. Please…it's time to let me go."

Ren's character dropped the briefcase from his hands. He rushed to the stairs and roughly clenched her shoulders. "You aren't allowed to say this, you hear me? You love me! You promised. You promised when we got married that you would never leave my side."

She stared at him shocked and then turned her face to the side. "I was too young when we got married. I believed that all one needed in marriage was love. I thought that somehow you would change, that overtime my love would reach you."

Screen Ren pulled the woman close to him and started kissing her forehead. "If you go, I die! I love you. You are the one thing in my polluted life that has any meaning. I'll give you anything you want. I'll change into anything you want me to be. I just need you near me."

Gently the woman pushed herself out of his arms. "You've said that all before. The only thing I want is my freedom. …I've already packed my bags. Please…take care of yourself." She turned to leave. The eyes of Ren's character narrowed.

Ka-chink. The house door opened, and Ren turned himself away from the screen. What he saw made him rub his eyes in disbelief. Hallucination? Magnum, P.I., strolled into the house juggling four overflowing bags of groceries in his strangely thin arms. With the pliability of a Gumby doll the Hawaiian shirt clad man managed to use his teeth to disentangle the key from the lock and force off his white sneakers in a dance with his heels. Then he slammed the door closed with his backside. Keys hanging from the side of his mouth the man flipped his head over to Ren and smiled. His brown aviator sunglasses slipped some when he turned and very familiar golden eyes peaked out.

"You're here! I just stopped by the store to pick up some groceries. Let me go set these down. Hopefully I didn't make us late." The person spat out the keys on the small table by the door and headed into the kitchen. Ren heard a brief rustling of a paper bag and then a pause. "The clock says we have another half hour before we leave. That's good." Back in view, the person winced as he peeled off the caterpillar mustache stationed on his lip. "I didn't think I would make it in time. It was fierce at the grocery store today. I was ambushed in a five car Blitzkrieg for a parking spot, an old lady pelted me with bamboo shoots to keep me from picking up the last melon bread, and a five year old kid actually mooned me when his mother cut in front of me in the checkout line." The man's eyes narrowed to a menacing glare as he pulled off the fluffy fake chest hair glued to his chest. "It makes my blood boil to think that I let those actions go unavenged, but only the strongest ones survive in grocery store warfare, and I was in too much of a rush to pick fights. …But I figured out the answer to all our problems. An XXXG-01W Wing Gundam mobile suit with explosive fighting capabilities. I know it would take a lot of our savings to fund the development of something like that, not to mention a ton of legal hassle to allow it in public, but an eighteen meter high steel suit that could crush cars with its bare fists and turn annoying shoppers into dust with its laser beam eyes would make my life a lot less stressful. Oh yes…I'll teach that bratty kid the importance of respecting his elders… Oh, and you can use it as protection from your fans...although, knowing them, they will probably find a way to crawl in through the suit's cracks and chew through the wires like rats." The person pulled off the curly hair wig and let the longer locks hidden underneath fall to the shoulders. The glasses were pulled completely off, and Kyoko's whole face appeared in view. "You know, LME probably has a hidden prototype somewhere in its storage. Should we go on a treasure hunt?"

Ren was still staring at Kyoko's transformed face. "…What?"

"…You don't think it's a good idea? Come to think of it…I guess you can do the same things. Are you worried about being replac—"

A scream broke through her sentence.

"What are you watching?" Kyoko asked as she turned her head. Ren's eyes followed hers to the television.

On screen Ren's character was hovering over the woman he had just flung across the room. The woman reached up to her forehead and brought her hand back down to her eyes. Her fingers were coated in blood. The man clutched hold of that hand and used it to yank her body close.

"You are mine!" Screen Ren roared into the woman's face as he ground his fingers into her wrist. Pearls of blood appeared. "You aren't allowed to leave me, you selfish witch! Don't think that I don't know of that baby-faced cop that you've been meeting behind my back! Did you think I would let MY WIFE run into the arms of another man? It's my love for you that turns me into this, and now you leave me here to rot?" The man threw his wife to the wall. The force made her crumple to the ground. Seeing her quivering form below him, the man seemed shocked by his actions. Gently he bent down beside her and brushed her blood matted bangs away from her face. "Why is it that the only way of keeping you is by chaining you to my side?" The man clenched his teeth, closed his eyes in self-disgust, and began to yank the sobbing wife up the stairs.

Ren blinked. Oh right, the question. That scene had him dazed for a bit. "It's 'Shut Your Eyes'," Ren spoke as he forced his head away from the screen. "Do you want to watch it with me for a bit? The movie's already halfway thr…" Ren sputtered to a stop when he spotted Kyoko's expression. All color had drained out of her face as she stared at the screen. Ren noticed that her fingers were quivering.

Something was definitely wrong. "…Kyoko?" Ren asked tentatively. "…Are you alright?"

Kyoko's eyes flipped to Ren. They were stretched wide as they scrutinized his whole being. Ren was used to Kyoko being as easy to read as a billboard sign, but seeing her incomprehensible expression now…

Kyoko blinked, and a wide, vacant smile fabricated itself on her lips. "Oh…sorry...I think I'm feeling a bit nauseous. I'm just gonna…I'm going to go lie down for a bit before we have to leave. …You…can go back to watching the movie."

"Sick?" Ren searched Kyoko's face more closely. "Your face was like a ghost a second ago." Ren looked down at her stomach. "Do you think the baby is okay? Maybe we should—"

"No, no, no. Everything's fine. …I'll just go take a nap, and everything'll be okay." Kyoko flipped her face away and began to rush up the stairs.

"Is there anything you need? An ice pack? Shaved honey ice? One of those green sludge smoothies?"

Kyoko paused half way up the staircase and then looked back with a smile. "I'm fine. Really! …Just wake me up when its time to leave."

Ren watched her finish her way up the stairs. Maybe she really was all right. Near the top though Ren swore he saw Kyoko's smile start to crumble away as she took a brief painful glance back at the living room.


Ren was never a twiddler, but at this moment, not only were his thumbs anxiously orbiting each other, his foot was tapping out its own drum solo and his teeth were gnawing an escape route through his cheek. How much longer did they have to wait? Ren glanced over to Kyoko who sat still near the other side of the tiny office as she gazed out the window. Her pensive form was a charming sight to gaze upon, and Ren felt another surge of possessiveness engulf him.

Here, by some circumstance he had no idea what was, he now was in charge of the welfare of a lovely wife and child—(okay, not so much a child yet…more a blurry jellybean according to its first mug shot, but beautiful nonetheless)—and he had absolutely no idea what to expect or what he should be doing. Whatever force shoved him here should have at least left him a handbook or something. If all this was amnesia, he should have left a letter explaining everything, so that he right now would not be floundering in anxiety. A mental image came to his mind of himself lying on the ground struggling to write out a step by step guide of what to expect in his new life on the carpet with the blood that gushed out of his massive head wound. …"Step 5942: How to properly administer a new diaper without the use of duct tape"…Okay…maybe that amount of forethought was a bit too much to expect, but he hated this feeling of not knowing how to protect the people most important to him.

Ren's right hand forcibly grabbed the other to still it from its restless movement. Maybe he was making a bit deal out of nothing. Kyoko had been acting pretty energetic these few days he had memory of. Surely that meant that everything was perfectly right and healthy with her. On the other hand she had been throwing up an awful lot and from the corner of his eyes he had spotted her wincing in pain as she shifted her body. Was that normal? Or was it some sign that something was seriously wrong, and he, like some ignorant fool, ignored the warning signs, and now it has progressed into some kind of life threatening disease ready to rip his whole world out of existence? Ren glanced once again to his side and stared at Kyoko's still form. Well, she did not seem to be in any pain at this moment. He was probably just making a huge deal out of nothing. It was just…her expression earlier…it seemed so painful. She said it was nothing, and when she came back down from her room, she seemed normal again, but Ren's mind had already been put on guard. He should have been watching Kyoko more closely. How could he be so negligent?

Ren's thoughts were interrupted when the seventy three year old tottering doctor entered the room once again as his eyes scanned the charts on the clipboard in his hand. With Ren's frenzied mind, the doctor seemed to creep to his seat with the speed of a snail with chewing gun stuck to its foot.

The moment the man's bottom touched the chair, Ren's mouth was open. "Well? Did all the tests come in? How are they?"

The man slowly looked up at Ren. "Oh, all the results are in…," he said dismissively and then turned to Kyoko. "But what didn't come through was that Yuba recipe you gave me last time. It wasn't like all your other recipes. For some reason it tasted like an old shoe."

Kyoko, who had been staring at the floor with clenched hands, slowly raised her head. Her eyes gradually focused on the doctor. "…What type of shoe was it? A sweaty gym shoe or a musky lady's pump?"

"More like moldy wet goulashes with a touch of Armani and a hint of fermented soybean."

"Doctor Iwasa, I told you not to use the 'Udderful Pass of Grass' brand. Their soymilk is cheap quality and more expensive than the others. I don't even know how that company stays in business."

"But their commercial is so cute with the dancing cow wearing the toupee. And the commercials say that their brand gives you a youthful tightening and glow to your skin."

"You're a doctor! You should know better than to believe every crackpot advertising scam out there."

"But I'm getting a double chin. You have no idea how badly you feel your age when you are around babies all d—"

"The results! How are the results?" Ren interrupted.

The doctor stared at him, then back at Kyoko, and then chuckled. "You're a lucky woman to have such a caring husband. …Well, both the blood test and urine sample look good. The levels of your AFP are right where they should be. P4 and PAPP-A are normal. Nothing unusual in the hCG tests."

Ren let out a sigh of relief. Though he had absolutely no idea what any of those acronyms meant, everything sounded fine. He glanced at Kyoko. Her eyes were closed and she was breathing deeply. He looked up and noticed that the doctor had paused from looking through his notes and was concentrating on her. When the doctor caught Ren watching him, he jolted his head back to the clipboard and resumed speaking.

"The only thing that gives me concern is your weight. At this point in your pregnancy, you're not expected to gain too much weight, but it seems like you have lost a half a kilo since I last saw you, and that makes me nervous. Remember, you are eating for two now. The baby inside you does not care if your measurements match that stick-figured Chi-chi model."

The doctor continued to chide Kyoko on her eating habits—ironically using the same arguments she often berated Ren with—as she sat quietly accepting the censure. Odd, whenever she was around Ren, she always seemed to eat, albeit sometimes unenthusiastically, and she was not the type of girl to be so superficial as to care more about looking thin than having a healthy pregnancy. Ren closed his eyes for a moment. So he had been missing something important. Unspoken worries that had been lurking in the back of his mind for a while began to slam their fists on the front of his brain. What a fool he was to hope that his problem was amnesia! Was he really ready for this whole family thing? How was he supposed to take care of others when he was barely able to take care of himself? How could he possibly be ready to be a father? He was too selfish, too unaware, too ignorant, too much a workaholic, too…terrified. He would destroy that innocent child for sure.

"Well, that seems to be everything. It was a pleasure as always to see you, Tsuruga-san. Your next appointment will be in a couple weeks. Now after you sign on this form here, you will be free to go."

Kyoko took the form. "What is this?" she asked.

"Oh, just medical red tape rubbish. Just be sure to press really hard with your pen and sign your signature nice and large."

Kyoko handed him the clipboard back, rose as she thanked the doctor for his time, and waited for Ren by the door. Ren remained seated.

"You go on ahead. I've got some personal matters I want to discuss with the doctor."

Kyoko shot her eyes over to Ren. "…Huh?"

"Go and take the car. I know you need to be going to work soon. I'll take a taxi home when I'm done."

Kyoko stared at him oddly but then quickly flipped her eyes back down. "…If that's what you think is best. …I'll see you at home later," she muttered as she exited the room.

It was now time to speak up, but Ren found that that nervous ache in his stomach was still throbbing away. Ren gulped in a breath of air. "So about my prob—"

"Did I give you permission to speak?"

Ren stopped dumbfounded. Was he hearing things? The doctor in front of him paid little attention as he fuddled with something in the hidden nook of his desk.

Ren cleared his throat. "I know this actually isn't under your expertise, but since you are trusted enough to keep quiet about my wife's pregnancy, you are really the only one I can think of to tur—"

"Can't you see that I am busy? Now why don't you keep your yappy American mouth shut while I take care of more important things first?"

Ren was sure of it. Those words came from that grandpa-like doctor who had been beaming at he and his wife just moments ago. Having not encountered this type of blatant disrespect from an elder in a long time, Ren was at a loss for words. The man continued to work behind his desk. At odd moments the old man would smile and chuckle to himself. Curious, Ren quietly positioned himself in a different angle to see what he was so concentrated on. Ren was surprised to catch a glimpse of Kyoko's image. On the portrait size fan shot was scribbled in girly-like handwriting (though nothing like Kyoko's) "To my sweet, sexy, most wonderful doctor in the whole wide world. No one will ever understand me as well as you do." Ren noticed that the man was in the process of pressing the "medical form" onto the picture to leave her signature under the note. "…Darn it…Forgot it would come out backwards," the man muttered to himself. …By the look of things his wife's gynecologist was some hardcore believer fan. …Ren was not too sure he was okay with that.

The man caught Ren looking at him and quickly stashed the picture into a desk drawer. With dignity that did not seem appropriate following what he was caught doing, he scanned Ren's whole body and then brusquely spoke, "In my medical opinion, it's just constipation. The bloating, cramps, and dizziness come from not drinking enough water. Don't bother me with questions like this in the future."

Ren stared at him for a moment. Constipation? "…I'm not asking you to check if I'm pregnant!"

"I'm an Ob/Gyn. As you are neither a woman nor pregnant then we have little to talk about. Go talk to a family physician."

"But that's what I wanted to ask you about. I need a doctor's referral. One with a good background in head trauma and psychiatry, but most importantly someone who can be trusted with not disclosing anything."

"I don't see why you would need to hassle me for that."

Ren gritted his teeth in irritation. Opening his mouth to this two-faced doctor made him incredibly apprehensive, but he knew that saying nothing would leave him in the same clueless, powerless position he had been wallowing in for the last few days. Cautiously, Ren recounted that unusual morning he had a few days before. He described his lack of memory of the past seven years, explained how damaging it would be if his situation were found out, and expounded his dilemma of having no idea who his regular doctor was or whom he could trust.

The doctor's expression had not changed at all as Ren forced out this confession. When Ren finally ended, the doctor leaned his mouth up to his clasped hands and sighed. "You…really are not that good of an actor. Your April fool's day joke is as unbelievable as it is uncreative. Now don't talk to me until you think of one I might actually fall for…like your struggles with your nymphomania or a botched sex change operation."

Ren groaned. "It's bad timing, I know, but I'm serious. You don't have to believe me. Just give me a name."

The man stared at Ren for a long period of time. Finally he moved his face away from his fists and spoke, "…So…you are really telling the truth. You really woke up one morning with some ridiculously rare form of retrograde amnesia."

"That's what I want to find out."

"…You can't remember anything about your marriage to Kyoko? …Or of the time you were working on that American movie of yours?"

"Not at all."

The old man continued to stare at him intently. Finally, he broke eye contact with Ren and leaned back in his chair. "All right," he spoke after a contemplative moment. "I know of a doctor who can help you, but you seem to be mistaken about a rather important fact."

Ren looked at him surprised. "What is that?"

"I keep my mouth firmly closed for Kyoko because I am an honorable doctor who strives to follow the tenets of the Hippocratic Oath. I keep my mouth shut for you because you're going to pay me twice as much as any reporter would for your little story."

Ren's brows furrowed into a straight line. He knew he should never have trusted this creepy, stalker-like man. "Will a check do?" he spoke crossly as he pulled out a checkbook and a pen.

"Old fashioned but acceptable. …Oh and add a few 0's to that. …To the end of the number, not the front, brat. Thank you. …Now write a similar check to the doctor I will refer you to in order to buy his silence as well."

Ren looked up and smiled. "I doubt that there is another doctor who is as unprincipled as you are."

The doctor smiled in return. "You're probably right." He yanked both checks from Ren's hands, examined them, and then stuffed both in his pocket. "Congratulations. You are talking to a man who was one of the preeminent physicians of head trauma in his younger years. I'll prescribe some tests for the lab to figure out exactly what happened to you. Prepare to spend the rest of the day in excruciating pain and agonizing boredom."

Ren glared at the doctor as the man began to write out the orders for the lab work. Without a comment Ren rose and turned to leave, but stopped when he heard the man's voice once again.

"Hey, …what was up with the weird atmosphere between you and Kyoko-chan today?"

Ren rolled his eyes. "Didn't I already explain that I lost my memory? Of course I would be a bit off."

A snort from behind. "I wasn't talking about you being the weird one, idiot. Such fantastic observational skills. Did you not even notice how Kyoko-chan avoided looking at you through almost all of today's meeting?"

Ren head turned back to the doctor.


That woman was acting odd, and not her usual caffeinated fruitcake weird either. Something was definitely up. Kudo Aoki observed Kyoko as she remained silent to the director's threats.

"As an actress, you should know how important it is that the main actors not be switched out in the midst of a drama. You begged me last time to let this matter rest for the day, but you know as well as I do that if Emi-chan refuses to work with you, the drama is finished unless you are replaced. It doesn't matter how good an actor you are. Your scene with her will start in fifteen minutes. If the two of you still can't act together, you're out. …This has nothing to do with me, so don't turn your black magic ways over here."

The director flipped around and stomped off. He acted tough, but Kudo could see that he could not help glancing fearfully over his shoulder and touching his head to make sure things were still attached. Kudo turned to Kyoko. Her form was bent, and she stared at the ground with a pensive expression. Where was the fire or the ignorant courage of hers? This silence was unnerving. Kudo wanted to touch her, wanted to break her out of this unfamiliar despondency. His foot stepped forward on its own accord. No! He shook his head. This was exactly what he had been working for. He straightened his shoulders and slipped back on a cocky smirk.

"What a pathetic look on your face. Looks like you finally figured out that all your efforts till now have been pointless," Kudo mocked as he sauntered over to Kyoko's side.

Her face flipped up with an eyebrow cocked. "Huh? What are you talking a… Oh, the whole being fired thing. …Well, you look happy. You're still upset about me calling you a coward a couple of weeks ago?"

"'A pathetic, little groundhog actor who hides away from his own shadow like a lazy, self absorbed sissy. An actor like you is popular now but has the same worth as expired squid unless you take responsibility for your part and use all your ability to perform it well' were your exact words. But look at now. Here I am well loved by my public and the director, and you are there, a friend to no one and about to be jobless in a few minutes. Didn't I tell you it was better just to give in?"

Kyoko snorted. "I overestimated you. I had thought a couple weeks ago that you could drum up the last bit of courage in your sorry hide and transform yourself into an actual actor, but instead, you're still a coward who attacks others to protect your own ego. But you're right this time." Kyoko sighed and glanced around the room. "It looks like I can't get everything I want just by fighting. I thought I could avoid doing this. Come on." Kyoko's fingers shot out like a lobster, pinched Kudo's ear, and dragged him across the set.

"Ahh…oww…Watch it! If I have a psychological breakdown because one half of my face looks like Dumbo, it'll be your fault."

"Stop whining. A breakdown would only improve your personality."

Emi's face was frozen in shock as Kudo was dragged in front of her and shoved down to a deep 120 degree saikeirei bow.

Kyoko's voice rang out loud and clear. "Sorry to interrupt. Kudo-san just came here to apologize for the lie he told you yesterday."

What did she say? Kudo tried to pick his head up, but Kyoko yanked his ear down farther.

"If…if you think this kind of forceful display is going to convince me that you are not manipulating him, you are seriously cracked," Emi-chan spoke in a harsh whisper. "To think I was really starting to admire you! You're just some siren hag who forces men to bend to your will. Well, I'm not going to allow it! I'm going to make sure that the entire entertainment business never gives you a job again. As soon as you are fired, everyone you ever misled is going to see what you truly—"

"Wait a minute," Kyoko interrupted, her voice still louder than normal, but still calm and friendly. "You seem to have gotten the wrong idea. He's definitely my little boy toy. There was no lie about that. What he's apologizing for is for claiming that I am jealous of you."

Unable to stare at anything but his kneecaps because of Kyoko's pinch of steel, Kudo's mouth was now a makeshift birdhouse. Emi seemed just as shocked. It was a good minute before she was finally able to retort back with "…What?"

"It's ridiculous if you think about it. I use million yen bills as toilet paper, I've won so many Japanese academy prizes that I use them as bowling pins, and I have the sexiest man alive as my husband who believes every little thing I say. What in the world do you have that I would be jealous of?"

Did Kyoko go mental? Kudo noticed Emi's voice was rising. "Be…because I have the lead role in the drama and because Kudo-san likes me. He told me that himself."

Kyoko's fingers finally loosened, and Kudo was able to raise his head. He was surprised to see the eyes of practically everyone on set on the two girls. All right. Time to take things under control. He had absolutely no idea what Kyoko was planning, but he knew it was in his best interest to interfere. Rubbing his sore appendage, he opened his mouth. "Now lad—"

"Why should I be jealous of your role? Excuse me for saying this, but your acting level is too amateur to consider you a rival. After the producers watched the difference between our skills, they would have forced the director to replace you with me, anyway. But this way is better. I'll be mocked in the beginning for being forced out, but when your drama airs and the audience sees how pathetic your act is, the first thing they will talk about is how the drama could have been salvaged if I was in it. I'll build up my fame and reputation but won't have to put in any of the work. And it's all thanks to you."

Kudo watched Emi's face as it slowly morphed into a bright red puffer fish.

"I could get to your level easily if I work hard!"

Kyoko smirked and then turned to Kudo. "Well Aoki, haven't you been a naughty boy? Confessing love to another woman while owned by me? What do you have to say to fix this mess?"

Kudo, who had been trying to find a way to break into this Twilight zone dialogue, now found himself tongue tied as the two girls and everyone on set eyed him expectantly. No, he could not leave it like this. Though the women's eyes showed sympathy, the men on set were staring at him like he is an emasculated Ken doll ready to beg like a dog and bark "God Save the Queen" at Kyoko's command.

"Ha…ha ha…don't take Tsuruga-san seriously, Emi-chan. She's just trying to provoke you for getting her fired. …And I wouldn't really call myself her 'boy toy'. She has been forcing me to pretend I like her through blackmail…of really manly stuff…too coarse to tell a delicate girl such as—"

"Oh Blubbercheeks, there's no point in forcing you to pretend for me anymore. I'm getting fired anyway. I've tried pretending to be a good girl, but I don't think I'm cut out for it. What's the point of sticking with just steak when a buffet is for the taking?"

"My cheeks are youthfully puffy! No way are you allowed to call me Blub—" One passing glance at Kyoko's eyes and Kudo lost his ability to speak. As hard as he tried, only awkward gurgles escaped his throat. Her stare! Like a succubus looking at her next meal. He wanted to run away, but his body stood stubbornly stiff like a rusted Tin man. With eyes still hooked to her prey, Kyoko slowly moved closer to him.

"You know the fundamental thing that I have and you don't, Emi-chan?" she spoke as she slowly brushed her thumb across Kudo's lips. Kudo's face turned hot pink.

Kyoko twisted her hand around the collar of his shirt—her fingers grazed his collarbone—and pulled his face down to hers. Kudo's wide eyes watched Kyoko inch closer till he could feel the heat of her lips. His heartbeat was pumping so loud that no thought could enter his mind. Looking at her frozen meat popsicle, Kyoko smirked and blew hot air teasingly across his lips. Then she lifted herself up and turned back to Emi.

In a whisper that everyone on set had to bend in closer to hear, she spoke, "The charisma of a real actor, and that is something you are born with, not taught."

Kyoko turned back and inspected her scene of crime. He was still crouched over and looked as if a hairdryer fell into his bath water. Kyoko used her fingers to wipe the drool off his face and brush it off on his clothes.

"Don't worry," she spoke as she glanced back to Emi and smirked. "I always put them back where I found them when they are all used up." With that she grabbed the arm of Kudo's useless carcass and dragged it away.

It was not until Kyoko kicked him squarely in the shin that he blinked out from his daze. Kudo spat out obscenities as he bent over his leg. Kyoko just rolled her eyes. As the pain dissipated Kudo glanced up at her.

"…How did you know what I said to Emi-chan yesterday?" he finally spoke.

Kyoko snorted in a tired sort of way. "Your revenge plans are as predictable as your ego is warped."

Kudo glanced over to the other side of the building where Emi was being surrounded. "Well, your revenge plans suck too. You might have made me look like an idiot, but you lost any type of respect you earned here as well."

Kyoko remained silent. He was a bit insulted by her lack of attention.

"I was surprised to see you aren't running away from your true self anymore."

Kyoko frowned as she stared at the far off scene. "…Don't try to assume that I am anything so simple."

Kudo was surprised. He had never heard Kyoko make a comment to anything that suggested that event before. "…Well, don't assume that Emi is going to stop you from being fired. She's not the type to have enough guts to rise up to your challe—"

"All right you old hag, are you coming or not?"

…What? Kudo watched as Kyoko took a deep breath and walked up onto the set opposite the fuming cell phone star.

Emi began to roll up her sleeves. "All right. Let's do this scene. I'll show you 'actor's charisma' as a farewell present as you move on to unemployment. Director! Where are you?"

As Kudo watched the scene begin to unfold, he frantically replayed the earlier farce in his mind. This was not right! To be able to be bated into such a ridiculous contest, a person had to have a pride easily pricked and the tenacity to actually fight for something, but Kudo knew that Emi had neither…that is what made her so easy to seduce and manipulate. She was a woman willing to wear and do any degrading thing in the desperate attempt to be noticed by others. Always willing to agree and parrot others' ideas in the hope of being accepted. Emi had no confidence in herself. In a confrontation with Kyoko, after her initial outrage, she should have just locked herself in her dressing room and cried.

But look at her now! Her acting was the best it had ever been. Hints of anger, jealousy, confusion, longing all mingled about in her character. Kudo was surprised to see her chuck the vase of flowers she was supposed to be giving as an engagement present at Kyoko's head. When did her acting become so good? No, Emi was a mess. He could see now that it was Kyoko controlling and bringing out the subtleties of her character. Why was she letting Emi win? Didn't she want to humiliate the girl who was forcing her to be fired? From the corner of his eye Kudo saw Kyoko's eyes flash, and his mind finally clicked the pieces together. Kyoko was the puppet master of this whole charade! She knew that Emi would not rise up to fight on her own powers; that is why Kyoko made sure that everyone in the building heard their conversation. Imagine having everyone who was muttering about how much better the other actress is than you suddenly surround you in passionate support. Emi had to rise to face off Kyoko. She would do anything to keep the attention and support of her onlookers. But Kudo had seen Kyoko's eyes. Kyoko was not about to let Emi win until her character looses to Emi's in the script, ten episodes away. With the pressure of her onlookers, Emi could not force Kyoko to be fired until she won. Furthermore, against Emi's more passionate character, only Kyoko's complex Chouko would fit. The director would be forced to accept Kyoko's acting. Kyoko's role was now secure.

The only thing…for Kyoko's plan to keep working, she would have to remain the villain off stage. There would be no hope of earning the respect of her coworkers here, and when she was done with the drama, her name would be the first in the interviews to be ground into the dirt. That was her sacrifice. Kudo's hand rose to cup his lips. He could still feel Kyoko's warmth. That's right…this was not enough. Despite her sacrifice she was still able save her pride as an actress. Kudo needed her broken. Looking around, everyone's eyes were glued to the set. Careful not to catch anyone's attention, Kudo sneaked out of the studio and into the director's empty office. Rifling through the file drawer, he spotted it. The payroll information. He opened the file up and there it was. The home address that the Tsurugas worked so hard in keeping a secret from the public. Kudo smiled. He was going to make her pay.


On the other side of Tokyo two strong willed men were in the midst of a staring war. Perhaps if Ren was in normal circumstances, he could have formed his characteristic glare that would have made everyone around him shudder with fear and kowtow to his demonic excellence, but as it was, the man in front of him had a heart of sadistic steel and Ren was so exhausted, it was taking all of his effort to keep his eyelids open. Still, Ren had plenty to be angry about. Six long hours of being prodded, poked, and publicly humiliated, namely.

"...You are purposely torturing me. I might be able to understand the ridiculous amount of x-rays and scans I had to go through, but most of the tests you prescribed had no point at all."

"Stop being a whiny patient. You're just too ignorant to see the tests' benefits."

"Making me run thirty miles on an uphill treadmill."

"To check your heart and lung conditions. Amnesia is sometimes paired with not getting enough oxygen to the brain."

"The invasive colonoscopy."

"To give me something to laugh about when I go to sleep tonight. A happy doctor means a better prognosis."

Strangling this doctor would give Ren something to laugh about.

"Now about the results of the tests. The scans show no sign of head trauma, except for the small lesion on your forehead."

"That…happened after I woke up."

The doctor continued to scan the charts. "Did you drown on the 28th of March?"

"…I woke up in bed."

"Was the bed under water?"

"No…" Ren growled. He was not in the mood for stupid questions. "Both the bed and I were dry."

"Well, I've already ruled out the memory loss as a complication of another medical condition, but I think I have the answer you are looking for."

Ren leaned forward in his chair.

The doctor eyed him seriously and spoke in a grave voice. "You're a dipsomaniac."

"…What does that mean?"

"It means you're a lampshade donning, policeman kissing, naked on the rooftop, flaming alcoholic. Lay off the booze, and your memories will eventually return."

"I am not a drunk."

The doctor snorted. "I thought you said you couldn't remember anything for the last seven years."

Ren's mind flashed to the first morning and the decanter of scotch he reportedly emptied the night before. "...I'm not that type of person."

The doctor looked skeptical. "... I suppose another explanation would be psychological distress. Maybe you spotted wrinkles on your perfect face. Or maybe Kyoko told you that she can't remember why she decided to marry you and she wants a d—"

"It's NOT that," Ren interrupted hastily. "What's another option?"

The doctor slowly closed his mouth and stared at him critically.

Ren cleared his throat. "…You do think this is amnesia?"

The doctor continued his intent gaze. After a long pause he spoke once again. "With no physical evidence whatsoever of explanation, most doctors would conclude that you are lying. As for me, I am much more interested in the question of why you become adamentally defensive and dismissive about issues that do not fit your ideal percieved life. Whether it's on purpose or subconscious, I can't quite tell, but pretending something does not exist won't work for long."

His stomach was hurting again. This was a stupid waste of his time. He was a fool to think he could get answers here. Ren rose to leave, but the doctor's voice made him pause.

"Umeboshi rice balls."

Ren froze. The doctor continued to gaze out the window. "What?"

"Make that for dinner tonight. It will help with nausea, and your wife might be able to keep it down."

The doctor turned his eyes to Ren.

"She made us wait three hours before we did the ultrasound last time. She kept saying that she wanted to wait for you. You want my advice? Don't be too confident in the fact that you're married. A better man than you is going to whisk her away if you are not too careful."


"He…he was the best husband anyone could ask for! Loyal…sniff…always made sure that his family was well provided for." The woman—middle-aged, somewhat chubby, with a desperate, ruddy face—threw herself onto the covered lump in front of her. From the white sheet a stiff hand flopped out. "Why…why did such a good man have to die?"

The daughter—pale, tearstained face, wearing a rumpled high school uniform with a skirt with as much function as Tarzan's loincloth—rose up and hung onto the woman's arm. "Mom…we…we didn't even have a chance to say goodbye."

Beside the two women a man looked helplessly on. Though his looks were like a typical Japanese salary man, certain things set him apart. His skin glowed blue, his feet were missing, and his comb over defied all laws of nature. He reached out his arm to touch the two women, but it slid right through them. "I'm right here. Can't you hear me? I haven't left yet!"

The older woman slowly rose up and started petting the sheet. "He was such…sniff…a friendly man. Everyone loved him."

"I'm here. Don't cry. Our unbreakable love must have let me stay here with you."

Someone snorted, and the man shot his head around to see it was the nurse, who leaned against the dissection table with a bored expression.

The man stared at the nurse stunned. "You can hear me…" he breathed. The nurse did not react. "No! You can hear me. Tell them. Tell them I'm here. Please, help an old man say goodbye to his family before he moves on to the other side."

The person in white's eyes rose and stared apathetically at the pleading man. "…I'm just here to record what type of burial is to be done and if the hospital staff should purify the body. I have no interest in the shallow problems of boring people like you and your family."

The mother looked up from the lump. "...Did…sniff…someone just say something?"

"Mom!" the girl whispered. "I've been thinking for awhile that this nurse seemed familiar. Remember the poster of the singer I had over my bed in elementary school? You said it would curse me to have an early death and made me take it down…"

The man was now shaking, and he shot his arms out in an attempt to strangle the uncaring figure. "You…shallow pretty boy…if you don't help me talk to my family for the last time and let me peacefully join my ancestors, I will haunt you for the rest of your life and make it a living hell!"

The nurse glanced back at the man. "…For life?"

Suddenly the nurse stood up straight and walked over to the mourning family. Both the wife and daughter blushed as he stopped a half a meter away from them. "The corpse has something to say to you."

The two looked dazed. The man, now excited, floated over to the nurse's ear and began to recite his final bittersweet farewell to his family.

"He says that he will miss you two terribly, but he will be watching down on you for the rest of your lives. He says not to grieve for him too much, and that he is sure that the two of you will take care of his funeral rites perfectly. He has tried to be a good husband and father and hopes that you will remember him now that he is gone. To his wife he wishes her the best and he is sorry for whatever financial difficulties she will face in the future. To his little bunny, he says to try to marry someone like him and to stop ogling the delinquent nurse."

The two women's faces looked like they were hit by lightening. In the silence the nurse reached down and grabbed hold of the dangling hand. Astounded, the wife began in a whisper, "…That…that's really him. No one but your dad called you bunny. He's…sniff…really here. Hunny! Can you hear me? I love you forever. I'll throw you the biggest funer—"

"He has something else to say," the nurse interrupted.

The man flipped his head to the nurse. "I didn't say any—"

"He wants to apologize for cashing out his Life Insurance policy to invest in a secret yacht named after his ex-girlfriend."

The ghost's eyes opened wide. "How…how did you…"

"He suggests that you can ask the girls in 'Club Big Jugs' for financial help in putting 'Uncle Snuggle Bear' to rest. Oh, and make sure to call his Mother for cooking tips because the bunny deserves to eat food fit for human consumption once in her life."

Silence in the room.

The nurse turned to the mother. "Now, about the body…"

"…Chuck it in the dumpster."

"Do you have a preference of the religious affiliation of the dumpster? No? Well, that makes the paper work easy then. Be sure to file the death certificate within a few days."

Reino, the former lead singer of the once famous band "Vie Ghoul"— whose legacy now survived mostly in "Remember that Band" quiz questions and antique bobble head collectables—smiled as he turned and began to exit the room. He could see how the aura around the man had turned red, his hands began to become twisted, and his face began to distort into something not human. He saw the figure flying towards him with looks that could kill as the door slammed shut. Finally, something to make his life more entertaining.

Bam! Reino turned around and stared at the closed door in disbelief. This ghost could not even control basic transmutability. …With pathetic ghost skills like that, how was he supposed to be able to haunt Reino like he promised? Reino hung his head in disappointment. The recently departed were not of the quality they used to be. He had taken this job in the hospital in the hopes of finding someone…anyone who could match him, but no one could ever captivate him, not like her.

In his mind he could still remember the day he saw her in perfection. Scar on head, black dress twisting around, hate waves flowing around her. Such fierceness, such raw power. A woman with the potential to rise above the shallow existence he always observed around him. If he could make her hate him, he knew that she would have the drive to not quit fighting until she wiped him off the planet. Beautiful.

But in the end, it was all for disappointment. Reino still remembered his last meeting with her.

.

"It's stuffy in here. Why did you have to wear such a common, frilly dress?"

"Look idiot. I don't take my fashion tips from you. And you were the one who pushed me in the closet and locked both of us in here!"

"Ah, but there is something you don't seem to understand no matter how many times I tell you. I like you."

"…I'm getting married in three minutes."

"…So?"

"…'So?'?"

"What does you getting married have anything to do with what we're talking about?"

"…urghh…Beagle, we have been playing this cat and mouse game for a couple of years now, but today it ends."

Reino snorted. "It's not your choice to end things. Marriage does not necessarily mean monogamy. It's just some silly superstition of the shallow minded. We have something more. Both of us are of the same kind. We are fated to remain in this hunt until we rip each other's throats out."

Kyoko closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "No…I know a way to end it. All my married life I'm going to stay dull and boring, you got that? I'll call my husband sappy pet names, I'll raise tons of runny nosed babies, I'll make them lunchboxes with masochistically smiling octopus wieners, and the whole lot of us will wear matching t-shirts on vacations. Take that, you dumb dog!"

Reino stared at her horrified. She wouldn't…

"And listen very carefully! As long as I am married, there is no way I'm going to be involved with you or any other man for that matter! Go back to hell, demon!" Lifting up her skirt she slammed her high heel clad foot powerfully against the door. As the door collapsed forward, she brushed off her outfit, straightened her tiara, and strode gracefully through the open arch a few meters off. Reino walked over as he watched her slowly progress down the aisle. He spotted Kyoko's final farewell. One arm was tucked elegantly behind her back as her hand discreetly flipped him off.

.

Not that it seemed too much of a loss at that point anyway. By that time almost all of Kyoko's hate demons had been dried up, interest in love had overshadowed her drive to kill, and the uncanny way her gorilla fiancé seemed to interrupt any of their meetings was increasingly painful. What a waste…

But then more than a year ago he spotted her once again. What a change! Eyes of cold steel. A face of agonizing pain. Deeper and darker than her simple hatred of Fuwa Sho. One that was facing off the whole world with fury and anguish. Her demons were back and guarding her on all sides. So beautiful… So untouchable… If only she was not pulled away by that—

Slam! …Well, speak of the devil… Reino watched as the tall lump of a man continued down the hospital hall with an agitated expression and with little attention to the world around him. That hurt, Reino thought as he rubbed his shoulder. Still, that moment of contact did give him some very interesting news. Why, that hag must have been busy. It was the same face, but that was not Kyoko's husband. …No husband meant that Kyoko was not married. And using her own words, not married meant that she was free game. Reino smiled. Things were about to become interesting again.


Notes:

Not too happy with this chapter, but it is time for me to put something out and move on. Sorry about the errors of the previous chapter. I changed the note a little bit, and I later realized that I had written Kudo's name out to be Kato (his drama character's name) in most of the story (making a confusing story even more confusing). This is actually funny, because I spent a great deal of effort in picking out the name for Kudo. Kudo Aoki's name is a stage name. He was born Aoki Masaki but got made fun of a whole bunch as a child because his first name was the same as the talento/wrestler Sumitani Masaki (AKA: Razer Ramen HG-real person, look him up if you want to see what Aoki had to go through). He used his last name as a first name (which is a "cool" thing to do seven years in the future) and picked Kudo as a surname because it is so close to the Ancient Greek word kudos which is glory, honor, and fame . This whole thing, of course won't make it into the story. It was just part of the character sketch. Anyway, despite all this I totally faze out and call him Kato. Sorry guys.

I knew first hand that this section (namely chapters 2 through 6) would be incredibly disorienting, slow, and confusing. I considered condensing this part from the very beginning, but I felt that the whole "answers in front face but can't make sense of it all" section for Ren was extremely important. With more chapters, I felt this section would feel less slow, because you can pass right through it. That meant that you, the readers of now, were my sacrifices, and I apologize. Things that are slow seem even slower when chapters are uploaded months apart. But you all have been very sweet and have not written in complaints about how the tediousness of my story made you chuck you computer out the window...Come to think of it, if you did chuck your computer out the window, you could not type a complaint. ...So I live in blissful unawareness of my torture in your life. Saying that, I am welcome to all reviews, positive and negative. They really help me fine tune my writing skill, and they keep me motivated to write. Good news is that the middle of six begins the more directed (though admittedly still confusing) storyline.

As a thank you to the reviewers, I put up another sketch on my author's page. Don't expect too much. Still, thank you so much for your comments!