A/N: YOU CAN SKIP OVER THIS BUT! I don't think I really need to say this, but featuring the newest Vocaloids in this story won't be a huge priority. We're already so into the story that I think adding more characters to the mix would be too confusing. No, I mean, I don't mind featuring them as minor characters, but I'm sorry to disappoint whoever wanted to see their new favorites featured in P:V. I hardly pay much attention to Vocaloid anymore, let alone the newest ones. But then again, I don't know. I'll try as hard as I can to balance everything out!

I'm sorry! D:

Mah god. The feels of this story. Writing in Len's and Kaito's POV are really fun, and I find writing in Rin's POV can be downright frustrating and challenging, but the results are worth it. Miku and I can relate to each other well; we're misunderstood in reality despite our good intentions. I feel badass when I'm writing in Meiko's POV, but! Teto is just damn hilarious.

I love how you guys are like, "This story is the best ever!" It makes me wanna cry man-tears, for real. Most of you really like Len for some reason, and I dunno why…? XD At the beginning I was scared readers wouldn't like him because of his "normal nice guy" personality, but it turns writing Len in awkward situations is like, the main attraction. It's hella fun though sometimes, I feel like I'm being mean to him D:

Mmmm… I wanna say that sistercon!Len is funnier to write about than shota!Len, but I'm not really sure what kind of "Len" mine really is in P:V. I mean, I'm not that big on stereotyping anime characters… but hmmm…. I personally think he has a mix of tsundere and yandere traits.

Anyway, I can't help but blush at the amount of attention this story's gotten over the years. P:V will always have its beloved fan base, it seems. Thank you so much for reading P:V, everyone. To stick with it through thick and thin despite technicalities makes y'all loyal fans! I can't ask for any better readers!

I remember thinking to myself, "Wow! Look at all the people messaging me about how cool my story is! This is so cool!" :D Other days, I'm like, "Goddammit, how the &*()&)( do I write this next chapter?" I planned things out on paper and re-edited everything just to see which story path would be more interesting.

Haha. Once this story is over, I can't help but wonder if it'll go down in glorious history. I felt so silly for writing it in the beginning, due to me being a novice fan girl at the time, but writing P:V really takes me back. I met some awesome people on FF because of P:V who helped me out. I hope Auntie Cliché, Miko A. Kimura, alphaprincess0803 (my onee-chan~!), Bluejay, and many more are doing well in their lives!

Naty17. If you're reading this, I'm sorry for flaming your Puppy Mill during that time. I already apologized, yes, but I do regret being mean to you that time. I guess somewhere deep in my heart I was jealous of you. Surprised? Well… you just kind of reminded me of myself when I was younger. Your passion and love for writing exceeds mine, but it's okay. Your stories will always have that special "something" mine never will… and that's also fine. Because I also have something no other author has: my own passion for P:V. You are a really good writer.

Everyone. This story I've written since middle school has blossomed beautifully into something even more heart wrenching. You may not understand, but it's because of this story that gave me the will to live. At one point, I was so depressed that I wanted to kill myself… but it's because of P:V that I kept writing and learning from others around me. It was really fun writing up til now!

Now that I'm a senior in high school, I no longer cower in fear at the future's possibilities. I can now look over the horizon and keep my eyes ahead, waiting for whatever lies beyond the horizon.

This story will always represent my love for Vocaloids.

More importantly, my love for all of you.

Please never give up your dreams.

Anyway, for those of you who are a teensy bit lost on the storyline… this basically sums it up:

Part I: Len and co. meet coughdanderecough Rin. She tries to remember what her life was like before she met them. Meanwhile Leon watches her interact with humans and sends his trope to test her powers

Part II: After multiple VOCALOID mode disasters, the main characters attempt to pursue the true meaning behind this "Project: VOCALOID" and how it'll affect everyone around them. More importantly, how it all revolves around Rin. Len, in order to protect those he loves, gets heavily involved and tries very hard to keep his promise to protect Rin no matter what happens, but… to what cost?

Will they solve everything once and for all before time runs out?


Tokyo Metropolitan Police Station: Training Area

08:11 PM

Miku's POV

BANG. BANG. BANG.

Bullets penetrated the moving targets, and I quickly reloaded my gun before aiming again. I fired five rounds, and bullet shells collapsed to the floor. Wiping off beads of sweat from my forehead with my sleeve, I forced myself to relax and took a break.

I'd long gotten used to the loud noises ringing in my ears. I drank from my water bottle and continued practice until the clock struck 10. After putting everything away, I showered, changed, and headed out.

"Ah, merry Christmas, Miku-chan. Did you work again today?" A female coworker ran up to me, breathless from working in the patrol force.

"Mm. Yes. Merry Christmas." I managed a tired smile as I properly fitted my favorite rhinestone boots. "I need to improve a little more though."

The older woman laughed and followed me down to the bus station, "I'm amazed with your tenacity. I don't know how you're able to balance school, family, and work all together. Take a break sometime. Find a boyfriend." She patted my shoulder with a smirk, "So, where you off to now?"

"I'm heading to the airport right now. There's someone I need to pick up, and it's important I get there on time." I stated matter-of-factly, trying not to be rude as to completely brush her off. Still, I didn't want to make SeeU wait; I don't want to set her off by making stupid errors… I have to do whatever it takes to secure our deal. That fickle Korean always kept me on my toes, so I didn't want to upset her by any means.

Checking my Iphone, my jaw dropped at the time and I began to panic, "Oh no! I already missed the first stop?! I'm gonna to be so late!" Smiling sheepishly at my friend, I waved frantically, "I have to go! Let's meet up some other time!"

Pretty lights lit up the streets like a giant runway, and merry Christmas songs blasted throughout the shopping area.

Christmas specialty items sold like hot cakes. Toys, candy, hot clothes… you name it, and it was listed on the map hanging on the giant billboard above the rest stop. Wherever I looked, there were people bundled up and carried ridiculous mountains of wrapped gifts with price tags dangling in the wind and rolls of receipts trailing behind.

I smiled slightly while rounding corners and skidding through ice. Pulling up a holographic map on my phone, I slid down a banister. Just as I was jogging through the pedestrian bridge, all the lights from below suddenly went dead, and the world was enveloped in pure darkness.

I stopped and glanced around in confusion. What's going on?

Murmurs of collaborative bewilderment filled the area, and people stopped what they were doing. The shoppers disappointedly dropped their bulging bags, and the couples by the giant tree-trimmed park sagged their shoulders.

"Huh? A power outage?"

"That's no good. We can't see the light show anymore."

"I hope it gets fixed soon! I'm freezing!"

Hanging onto the railing, I blinked down at the flickering light arrangements and narrowed my eyes. It was highly unusual for a power outage to be happening here of all places, especially where all the shopping areas bustled with activity and money-making promises. I knew this area well enough to know how carefully the place was regulated to avoid setbacks; the market wanted to keep this place alive as much as possible (at least until the big holidays ended).

Something wasn't right.

My suspicions were confirmed right when a teal blur flashed in her peripheral vision. Whirring noises resonated, and I whirled to find a silhouette of a young man dashing across the store roofs.

My hands flew up to my mouth in shock at first, and then I quickly recovered.

Booting up my hyper sneakers, I leaped off the bridge, landed perfectly in a crouch, and took off in hot pursuit. There were many obstacles that stood in my way in the seediest parts of Tokyo, but I didn't let any of the images deter my from my goal. I knew that he knew I was following him and was trying to shake me off. I ignored the stop signals and promptly crossed the traffic, moving like a cheetah as I leaped over cars and slid under tight spaces.

The neon lights flashed in my wake as I weaved my way through crowds, increasing my adrenaline as I fought to keep up with my flighty brother, who occasionally glanced back at me with pensive, hard looks. I kept my eyes on him the entire time, fixating him with a stubborn glare of my own. I watched in bitter annoyance as he practically soared from roof to roof of local restaurants, popping out from shadows from time to time. At one point, I could've sworn there were several Crypton robots tailing him.

"Mikuo…" I hissed, my muscles and mind energized with rage. I pulled out my gun, adjusting the scope until he was in clear sight, "This time, I won't let you escape!"


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Project: VOCALOID

Chapter 23

Love Song Medley

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Christmas night was unlike any other for me. Here I was, shooting at my own sibling when I could be home with mother, drinking hot cocoa and watching holiday classics on our old television.

Bullets frayed the area as I fired round after round at the fast moving target who became like a shadow himself, always one step ahead of me. "Tch!" I bolted after him through the empty freeway tunnel, witnessing him wall run to avoid the oncoming bullets. His body twisted through the air like a flash of lightning, and he glared back at me.

Oh no. You don't scare me!

I clenched my teeth and fired again. Before we reached the end of the tunnel, I brought my arm back and launched a flash grenade, the lights lit up his enraged irises.

Everything lit up in an blinding instant.

"…!"

Yes! I caught him off-guard!

Taking advantage of his shock, I closed the last few yards between us and thrust the muzzle forward, digging into his hamstrings.

"Mikuo…!" I panted, cursing how fast he was. It seemed whenever I got closer to him, he'd find a way to evade and slow me down. I furrowed her eyebrows angrily, "Why are you always running away from me?!"

"MIKUO!" I screamed at the top of lungs once he brought the chase to a two-way tunnel. I scaled the wall and pulled out my gun, aiming directly at his hamstrings.

CLANG!

Mikuo brutally deflected the muzzle milliseconds before I even pulled the trigger. Blood flew like crimson petals before my very eyes, suddenly reminding me of the time when he dove in front of me to sacrifice his life in the staged car wreck.

For an instant, I suddenly knew what it was like to have her air supply cut off without choking or drowning. I couldn't move or breathe in that moment, but then I thought of my mother. I forced myself to get it together, refusing to let myself lose it!

Instead, I improvised.

I whipped out another gun from my thigh strap and fired at him again. A hiss escaped the muzzle, and I knew I got him. Still, he was fast enough to dodge, but then a horrifying scene unfolded right before my very eyes.

I watched in horror as Mikuo's sleeves burned off, and I saw the wires of his prosthetic arms, crackling with green sparks and glowing a menacing green energy. His skin had completely rotted off, revealing the true form of my "brother".

I gasped.

Then the light hit him.

"Mi…kuo." I managed, my throat running dry. "What happened to you?" We were still in mid-air when I discovered this revelation, but the calm, malevolent expression on his marred face shocked me more than anything.

"It's nothing a little surgery can't fix."

Throwing his weight forward, he slammed his fist against the wall beside me, making me gasp. I jerked my head out of the way and threw my guns out, firing wherever I saw teal. The dark tunnel lit up with the lights of our battle, even as we exited, the smell of gunpowder and blood reeked the area, marking where we clashed.

Pieces of flesh fell off his body as I chased him further into the night, further revealing his true form. He didn't bleed, no. It was strange and horrifying at the same time each time he glanced back at me and fired green heat blasts in my path, purposely missing. When he came to a giant drop in the middle of an abandoned train station overlooking the giant buildings, I seriously thought I had him now.

Instead, he leaped off.

"What?!" Shocked and frustrated, I followed. Our bodies tumbled and flailed mid-air, and the instant I switched my guns, he was already ahead of me.

BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG!

An array of bullets pierced the air towards Mikuo, who already shot multiple blasts to intercept them. The bullets disintegrated into smoke before they could even graze him, so I launched grenades at him instead.

The devices exploded as soon as they touched him, but with inhuman speed, he either twisted away or managed to melt them down. I screamed shortly when he managed to catch one and threw it right back at me.

"AAAGAHH!" My body reacted before I had time to think: I immediately pulled a fast one and managed to set it off before it came within range.

"Good aim!" Mikuo cruelly laughed in a rough, edgy voice that sounded inhumane, causing me to tremble, even as our bodies tumbled through the air relentlessly. The moonlight hit his face, and the glass building that reflected our action revealed what he'd be become within the short weeks that passed between us.

The upper half of his face had fallen off, revealing a metal cranium and glowing, bulging eye that flickered between red and green. Blood ran down his wounded face like red tears; he looked like he'd been crying to death. Gruesome appendages had grown and torn through his rusted clothing, bubbling with a strange chemical substance. Wires stuck out of his body like electric rods, and a cable had completely ejected from his lower spine. Blood dripped from his matted hair, which was usually combed and tidy. He twitched erratically as he stared through me, as if malfunctioning like a broken… machine.

What disturbed me most of all, however, was the maniacal grin that'd completely eaten up his entire face, and he looked completely lost in his own world of madness.

We finally landed, high on top of a tower that stood in the middle of another empty rail yard. Distantly, I could hear the trains running towards the neighborhood surrounding the city, the shadows dancing across his dark face.

"Well, it seems we couldn't get anywhere." Mikuo commented casually, a bored expression in place of his man-eating grin, acting as though we hadn't been battling to the death seconds ago. He nonchalantly regarded my guns in my trembling, clenched hands and showed a sign of surrender by deactivating the lasers in his arms. Still, I made no move to reciprocate.

"DON'T MOVE!" I screamed right as he turned around to leave. I knew he was playing me, but to hell with it, not this time!

Bloody sweat cascaded down the back of my neck, but I made no move to wipe it. Instead, I took deep breaths to calm myself as much as I could. My entire body shook with fear. My sociopath, superhuman younger brother stood before me bleeding chemicals and sprouting appendages, so I obviously wouldn't let him off like this.

"Hm. You're on edge today, it seems." Mikuo dryly commented, daring to crane his head to look at me, "Bad week?"

"I said: don't move!" I shrieked, aiming for his head. My pigtails had gone completely undone, allowing my annoyingly long hair to get caught in the wind. "Look at you… look at what those freaks have done to you!" My breathing became harsh, "You've avoided me long enough, Mikuo. It was all fun and games to you watching all those people get killed, wasn't it? You and that power hungry company. At least now I know what you both have in common: you're monsters!" My words rang loud and clear like spitfire, and my rage boiled over to the point where I saw nothing but red: "What could be worth having all those innocent lives lost? Power and money has driven those motherfuckers off the cliff! I can't even imagine what they offered you in return for your service! You backstabbing coward! YOU'RE NOTHING BUT A COWARD DAMN YOU!"

By now, I lost it completely. Tears flooded and burned my eyes when I thought back to the time when I came home covered in bruises and scratches after the train fiasco. I remembered how mom, stricken with grief and tears, practically fell out of her wheelchair when she greeted me; she nearly had a mental breakdown seeing all the injuries I obtained from fighting Rin and the robots. She begged and cried to me to never go out like that again, asking me if I changed because she was such a bad, unreliable mother now.

No. No, no, no, no!

Distantly, I noticed someone was screaming at the top of their lungs to the point where it sounded painful. I took one look into Mikuo's eyes and suddenly realized it was me.

"TELL ME, MIKUO! WHY DID LEON SEND THAT GIRL TO GET RIN ON A GODDAMN TRAIN? IN PUBLIC OF ALL THINGS?! DO YOU KNOW WHAT'S HAPPENED THEN? THERE'S BEEN VIOLENT PROTESTS SINCE THEN, AND THE TOKYO POLICE HAS GOTTEN NOTHING BUT TROUBLE FROM FAMILIES OF THE VICTIM WHO WERE EITHER HOSPITALIZED OR KILLED! THEY WANT RIN! SOON THEY'LL BE AFTER YOU AND YOU BASTARDS WILL PAY FOR WHAT YOU'VE DONE!"

Mikuo only stared at me, completely calm and undeterred by the rage and stress that shook me to the very bone.

"Goddammit, Mikuo! I'M TALKING TO YOU! Victims pushed around by that cold-hearted bastard Leon, family and subordinates don't matter to him! You're dead meat, you hear me?!" I threw at him, my rage only increasing to the point where the gun in my hands started shaking, "You play around with lives like a cat playing with its food before completely devouring it whole, you monster! You might be valuable as of now because you're going along with this ploy, but what'll happen to you in the aftermath? Do you really think they'll let you off just like that? Knowing that you're just as violent and powerful as Rin?" I kept shrieking at him, telling him over and over how much of a cold, heartless bastard he was and laying waste to him. Still, no matter what I said, he didn't say a word, and his facial expression barely changed. It infuriated me to no end, and I wanted to pull my hair out.

What could I to make him feel how angry I truly was? I wanted to see him scream back, yell, or anything that would assure me that I wasn't the only one being tormented. An idea hit me, and I pulled out a folder chock full of classified files I smuggled from the department earlier, brandishing them for him to see.

"I know all about Project: VOCALOID, Mikuo!" I practically thrust the folder in his face while pushing the muzzle of my gun against his chest, "Look! These are the files you emailed to uncle Kiyoteru before you arrived at my school!" To prove that I wasn't bluffing, I scattered the papers to the floor. His eyes followed.

Photos of various equipment, blueprints, and the corrupted test subjects littered the floor. The wind blew suddenly, forcing Leon's online journal open and revealing two photos: one of Takashi Rin and…

"Miriam…" Something flickered across Mikuo's face as he ran his eyes across the photos, notably the one with Miriam's forlorn expression. He pulled something from his pocket: it was a dangling gold locket, hanging it high and letting it glimmer in the pale moon. My mouth moved to lecture him further, but something inside stopped me from doing so. Instead I watched him stare at the dangling locket for five minutes straight; he was in a deep trance. My eyes wandered down to Miriam's photo, and I saw the same locket wound around her neck. Then I looked at Mikuo again.

Somehow… that expression of his looks so lonely.

"Hmmm. That expression of yours… you look like you're watching a dramatic tearjerker scene." Mikuo suddenly glanced over at me with a belittling smile, dropping the locket into the crook of his shirt before fully turning to face me with a sardonic laugh, "Were you expecting me to cry or maybe confess my true feelings?"

Just like that, my patience snapped, and I slapped him across the face. Quivering, I brought my hand back and glared hatefully at him. He turned his face, a red mark forming from where I hit him.

"You really are… a spoiled, nosy princess who thinks she can do whatever she wants, aren't you?" He drawled icily, his pupils piercing my soul as his face shifted into a blank state, scaring me. He cocked his head, "Humor me a little more, what could a self-centered and lonesome princess understand about Project: VOCALOID?" His words cut deep like knives, but I refused to show him how much they affected me.

"As we both know, Crypton's genius and brilliant CEO, Leon Takashi, launched Project: VOCALOID. Deriving DNA from his late daughter, he created a synthetic test subject made to carry out the rest of the plans." I began, narrowing my eyes, "The cyborg clone, Project Rin… who is also known as the VOCALOID. Of course, she became official after the prototype was supposedly shot to death."

A clone.

The Rin me and the others knew… is a clone.

A clone with no past nor a true identity.

Or a future…

"Indeed, and here I am." Mikuo decided to cut in, "Before Project: VOCALOID, Leon originally followed his forefather's steps by attempting to create the perfect manmade element to promote clean energy, but instead, he and his troupe created a long line of highly hazardous drugs which he tested on trafficked children from foreign countries; the Crypton failures." He then gestured at me to continue.

I frowned sternly.

Yes… it was exactly like Mikuo said; Leon and his board eventually discovered their 'perfect' element, but by then, he'd already gone over the edge due to his power obsession, the loss of his only daughter, and heavy exposure to dangerous elements. He abandoned all thoughts of clean energy and decided to create something much more dangerous… a threat to the humane society and the world.

"The second and final stage was to give birth to a living force that rivals nature itself and bend anything to its will… perhaps even reality." I elaborated, "By mixing the most hazardous manmade element in the world along with a synthetic vessel made of hydrogen isotopes and heavy reactants, Project Rin in other words, they hope to accomplish this goal." I said, looking towards the horizon where Tokyo's night life went on, "The birthplace will occur in Tokyo itself, where the family fusion reactor lies sleeping… until the time comes when Leon decides to make his next move."

"In hopes to create a 'God' borne and bred from science and technology, that is Crypton's purpose. To them, that is their ideal product: A force rivaling nature and transcending reality and beyond… yes, that is exactly what Project: VOCALOID is all about." Mikuo stated with a pleasant smile, his metal skull ruining the image, "You may think it's crazy, but in reality, many people create their own gods anyway, don't you think?"

I glared at him, pushing the muzzle further into his chest, and he laughed.

"Throwing Rin into the reactor will trigger a meltdown because the reaction will be far too powerful and destructive, and consequently, cause Japan's islands to divide. Rin will lose her human form and become fusion power itself, like the sun, mindlessly destroying anything at will. This will cost Japan thousands of dollars."

"A plan like that will destroy our planet!" I shouted, angry at everything, "Whether or not she becomes 'God', there's still the massive dose of radiation that'll pollute the Earth! People will get sick and our environment will be poisoned! The water we drink! The air will breathe!" Shakily, I put away my gun and looked down at my feet, tears blurring my vision. If it got worse enough, we'd probably have to live underground! My voice broke into sniffles, "That's why… I treated Rin like an enemy…. If she lives long enough then who knows when Leon will control her and complete the final stage." I cried bitterly into my hands, abandoning my weapon, "I… even though the others see me as the enemy, I wish they knew how I really feel? I'm only trying to help them! I… I don't hate Rin… I-I-I don't, but," My entire body swayed before I collapsed to my knees entirely, my shoulders shaking, "As long as she's alive, then everyone's lives are at risk! This isn't a gamble our nation can afford to have!" I cried, "I can't allow someone who'll willingly let people die on her watch, to walk among us! Overall, everyone will come to hate and fear Rin in the end… this kind of decision wouldn't make anyone happy!"

A silence prolonged, blending into the wintry air. Snow fell in cascades like white teardrops, reflecting the mood of my despair. Hot tears poured down my face as I retreated further into the confines of my swelling hands, sobbing fearfully and bitterly.

"Len… Meiko… Mother… everyone will…"

Die.

"That's why I tried to kill her." I hiccupped uncontrollably, not bothering to wipe my tears. My dignity had already been shattered in the first place, and I went so far as to bawl like a little girl. "Even if Len or anyone comes to hate me, the only thing that matters is that they stay alive…!"

"How very noble of you. You fight like a true knight with nothing holding you back. Admirable, but mistaken." Mikuo hummed thoughtfully, "Death, however, is inevitable. Leon's greatest wish was to break the repetition of ordinary human life, to advance…" he said with another cold chuckle, "but I suppose humans aren't ready to change yet. Honestly, what procrastination."

I froze and glared up at him, "You… how can you say that like it's nothing?! How can you be so heartless?!"

"Heartless, huh?" Mikuo echoed. His eyes glazed over with indifference, and the single red pupil dulled, he stared at his wired hands, "Probably because… I'm not even human anymore." My eyes went wide at this sudden declaration. "It's only after my body was rebuilt that I sustain damage and dwell little on tedious things like eating or sleeping. It takes quite some effort to fake emotions."

No, no. Stop saying those things. Stop it!

"Even when you're crying right now, I can't seem to feel anything." He stated softly, almost piteously, yet I knew better. "Knowing how much Leon's plans will harm humanity and understanding how much pain I put everyone through… doesn't make me feel a thing." He took two steps closer and hovered over me, our eyes meeting, "I can no longer feel anything. Emotions or pain, there is nothing. My body is expiring as well." Unwilling to believe him, I searched his eyes for something, anything… but he remained impassive. His eyes looked strangely hollow. "Whether I live or die or kill everything in my wake… I no longer care."

Once again, my eyes welled up with tears.

Mikuo regarded me with vague interest before clutching his head with a hiss, "It's… getting harder to remember you, Miku. I can no longer recall… our memories together, the ones that were most important to me." His words struck a chord within me, and I instantly remembered our good and bad times, so hearing him say he didn't remember me anymore made me want to hit him and cry. "Now, whether or not Rin lives… who cares. I tried to convince her to escape to Germany once, but I am not doing it again." He chuckled coldly, "She's decided to stay here and die."

"That's…" I uttered through dry sobs, unable to even finish my sentence. I shook my head, shrieking, "That can't be! YOU'RE LYING!"

"No... not this time, but I really… meant to kill you earlier…" he stated slowly, wincing again before smirking halfheartedly, "but for that one time, I just didn't feel like doing so."

So cruel…!

Mikuo grabbed my chin and forced me to meet his unwavering gaze, "I can't guarantee what will happen the next time you decide to cross blades with me, but you'll never see mother again if you keep interfering with the project. The Crypton products will definitely kill you." His voice became low and threatening, frightening me out of my wits, "This is your last warning. Stop chasing me."

Mi…kuo.

What on Earth had these Crypton freaks done to you?

"Who are you, really?" I managed hoarsely, reaching for his face, "You… my brother died saving my life years ago. Are you the same person I knew from back then? My brother was a kind and gentle person who always wrote me songs and played on the piano. My brother was always the one who'd do good things without expecting anything in return. My brother always kept to himself and loved to read books…!" Before I knew it, I grabbed onto his torn shirt and pushed my head against his chest, "I had a brother once, and he would take a bullet for the weak because he was always too kind for his own good!" I choked out in a small voice, refusing to let Mikuo stand, "Who are you, and what have you done to my little brother?!"

Mikuo only stared at me expressionlessly.

My teeth nipped at my bottom lip to prevent another sob from coming out, almost drawing blood, "Please, Mikuo! Stop this! This Project: VOCALOID and your façade. You're lying to me about your feelings… stop hurting yourself." I reached out and took his hand, squeezing his fingers in a vice-like grip. My shoulders shook as I swallowed and pleaded, "Help me stop this… please…"

Mikuo sat there for a moment before pulling away with a shake of his head, "Your little brother died a long time ago. I'm not him, so you should just accept that and move on. Move somewhere else and find a new life." He traced his cool fingers up my neck intimately, causing me to stifle a gasp. I nearly doubled over in shock when he wiped away my tears.

"In truth, the value of a miracle outweighs a single human life. That's why all these lives are being spent in order to make this miracle happen, this… Project: VOCALOID." he spoke softly, covering his flashing eye with a single hand, "But rest easy, sister… Project: VOCALOID is doomed to fail. You and your friends can rest easy; your normal lives will return to you."

I stared at him, shaking my head, "H-How can you assume that? What makes you think everything will be alright?" He tilted his head at me with a chuckle, his eye flashing red again, and his smile becoming grim. He refused to answer me as he suddenly transported to the railing, his feet apart on the railing and his clothes ruffling in the wind. He stood there like an alley cat looking down on the city.

"Because it's Miriam's will," he trailed off with another faint chuckle, tilting his head towards the moon and reaching for it with an outstretched hand, "It's by her order that I came here. She wants nothing more than to have Rin, broken and battered, in her arms in a cold, eternal embrace… this time, she will definitely stop Leon… and Project: VOCALOID." he said, "Her goal will be realized."

"Miriam?" I echoed, now convinced that he'd seriously gone off the deep end, "But she's already dead!"

"I made a promise to her: to make sure Rin dies along with the reactor, to end Project: VOCALOID." Mikuo continued, ignoring me, "It doesn't matter what it takes as long as I can fulfill it, whether numerous people die or get hurt doesn't concern me. I, too, came here to die, and that is all."

"MIKUO!" I stood to my feet, picking up my fallen gun, "Stop saying those things! You might be fine taking on a suicide mission, but don't you dare drag others down with you! Especially not Len-kun and his friends!" I shakily got to my feet, panting, "In any case, how do you even plan on stopping them? If you don't want me to get involved, then what will you do? About Leon? About Rin?"

"You'll see…" he laughed airily, tossing his hair, "The grand finale will arrive very soon. To witness a God's birth here in Tokyo… is a wonderful ending to this story, I believe. Even I get worked up in spite of myself." He spun once, twice, no… three times before throwing the necklace up into the air and catching it between his fingers, "I will use KOKORO program when the time comes: the program Miriam originally designed for Takashi Rin… but now…" He laughed again, hollowly than ever before, "To be or not to be, that is the question." His voice became distant, "Is it better to bear the painful burden of life, or to refuse the burden by killing yourself… I wonder."

Bastard…!

Gritting my teeth, I squeezed my eyes shut and lowered my head.

"…The number one princess in the whole entire world

I know by heart how to treat you like that…" He suddenly sang, making me glance up with a sharp gasp and recall our childhood memories.

Small hands played the keys of our family piano, and our parents sat by to watch as I, dressed in my frilly princess gown, sang along with Mikuo's playing.

"I'm the number one princess in the whole entire world,

So make sure you know by heart how to treat me~~!"

"Mi…kuo." I uttered, quivering with helplessness and anguish. Why was he doing this to me?

For a moment, I could've sworn there was a flicker of remorse in his eyes, but it vanished when I blinked. My breath caught in her throat as he gave me a ghost of a smile. He chuckled emotionlessly, waving goodbye and finishing the last line.

"Right?" With that, he raised his arms and dropped himself off the banister.

"NO! MIKUO…!" I shrieked, flinging my body halfway over the railing and reaching out to his falling body. He wasn't going to make it! Then he abruptly landed on his feet and sprinted off into the darkness, vanishing from sight.

My fists clenched around the railing, and I shuddered uncontrollably. Staring at the spot where he vanished, the last of my composure crumbled before ultimately breaking down and slid down. It became hard to breathe all of a sudden, and my senses went numb as I grasped onto the fencing, staring beyond where Mikuo fled.

"Don't leave me… alone." My weak voice pierced through the howling wind, and I slumped my head against the fence, warm tears running down my cheeks. "Not again."


Urban River Path, Tokyo

07:20 AM

Len's POV

"Oh, it's you again!" A laughing blonde girl outstretched her arm through the iron fencing that surrounded her grandfather's garden, under the care of her pretty mama. She reached out and gently tugged my hand, "Teach me that game you play! Eh? It's called soccer? Oh fine, just teach me so I can play with you more!"

.

.

"Tokyo's awfully big. Mama says she'll take us out there! I mean, I know you visited there already, but I wanna see it with you!" She pointed directly at Tokyo Tower, giggling. "I'm not scared! Let's climb that thing!"

.

.

"My daddy is a bad man," She pouted, kicking her feet against the garden chair and taking a sip of tea that her mother served us. She made a disgusted face, pushing the cup away and going for the cake instead. "Do you know what a reactor is, Len? I have no idea, but the adults used to talk about it with my Daddy all the time, but no one ever told me what it meant." An exasperated sigh escaped from the girl as she crossed her arms, fuming, "Even Mommy won't tell me."

.

.

"I guess... we can't get married... after all."

Her tiny hand reached up to caress my cheek. She coughed up blood, her eyes dimming. Blood tainted her shaky smile, "So tell me. What did you wish for in that bottle?" She pleaded weakly, which was so unlike her usual vibrancy. The sloshing waters carried her body towards the ocean as life started to fade away from her teary eyes, "Please... what did you wish for?"

She never got a reply.

...

..

.

You were my first love. I remember all sorts of games we used to play, with you dragging me wherever and whenever. You, bright with hope and joy, and I, blinded by my longing to be with you.

But...

What was your name... again?

.

..

...

Yawning, I blinked awake, staring out the window and thinking hard, trying to remember what I'd been dreaming about but couldn't. The morning rays glowed over the horizon, making the ocean glitter like numerous jewels. People clamored around deck, exclaiming and pointing at the newly fallen snow. I, on the other hand, turned away and tried to preserve my warmth by using an electric blanket.

Well, my rehab is finally over, and thanks to Dell's advanced medicine, my nerves healed up pretty quickly. By the time Christmas ended, I got off my crutches and celebrated like crazy with my friends.

Here I was, sitting on a water bus, alongside many people, scheduled to arrive in Tokyo. I kept fidgeting in my seat, earning some annoyed looks from the people who sat beside me, but for some reason, I just couldn't keep still.

Wanna know why?

Well… that's a long story.

I groaned, throwing my entire body around in my seat, giving up on trying to get shuteye. I just wasn't comfortable. All I wanted was go home and sleep all day today, not forced to go to the city on a day like this! It was freaking cold! I miss my bed, and I miss my Xbox. Most of all, I miss stuffing my face at our kotatsu.

Today was one of those days when I felt like being holed up in my house and doing nothing but play video games and stuff my face with food. For the past few weeks, I've been really busy with holiday shopping, preparing for my soccer team's last games, staying on top of my classes, and most of all, preparing for the live opening of the upcoming play, "Story of Evil". I sighed, banging my head against the armrest. Just two days ago, we'd finally finished one of our last rehearsals, and believe me, I thought I was going to die. Memorizing all those lines, being yelled at by Momoko, and having been chased by crazy girls begging me to wear Rin's princess outfit (as a 'fitting' session, my butt). The backdrops and costumes looked really great though, and I was actually looking forward to the actual performance despite my nervousness.

So for the next two days, everyone is on break from rehearsals. Teacher Yowane was surprisingly nice enough to let us sleepover at our homes, as staying in Crane Hotel would be a helluva lot pricier.

"Attention, passengers. Our stop will arrive in less than ten minutes. We are not accounted for lost items. Please enjoy the rest of the ride, and thank you for experiencing our service."

Frustrated, I closed my eyes and exhaled deeply. Jeez, mom. Why did you kick me out on a day like this?

It all happened over an hour ago.

Slamming the door shut and tossing my shoes into the corner, I put my stuff up and yelled, "I'm home!" I braced myself for the impact of an overly doting mother to rush over and squeeze the life out of me with one of her bear hugs, all the while showering me with kisses and overly dramatic wails about how much she missed me.

It never came.

Raising a brow, I shrugged off my jacket and peered into the hall. The lights were off, and the house was quiet. The cars were gone, too, so no one was home. Shrugging, I went upstairs to chill. After showering, I did things like read comics and listened to music before hitting the sack.

BOOM!

I woke up to the screeching of the noisy smoke detector and high-pitched shrieking coming from downstairs. Wide awake, I threw the covers off and bolted out the door. I was trying to get my pants on while hurrying down the stairs, and the screaming became clear.

"AWWW NOOO! The cake!"

"Nami! Luka! I h-hadn't meant for this to happen, I-!"

"Never mind that, Rin-san! Put out the fire before your broth-, er, I mean, L-Len-san wakes up!"

Coughing noises resonated throughout the hall, and my worry increased as I sprinted into the kitchen, yelling, "Mom! Is everything okay? I heard screaming, and I-" I froze on the spot, tempted to rub my eyes at the horrible catastrophe that unfolded before me.

The stove was on fire, and the smoke thickened throughout the room like storm clouds. Flour, sugar, and a bunch of other ingredients were strewn about the place, splattering the cabinets and walls. Moreover, it looked like a tornado hit the kitchen; I barely recognized it. Rin stood in the middle of it all, covered in flour from head to toe in one of mom's frilly heart aprons. The spatula she'd been holding clattered to the ground when she saw me. Her lips formed a trembling pout as she ashamedly looked away, trying to hide her face with her oven mitts.

I would've raced over and swept her into my arms if not for my current disbelief.

"What happened here?" I gaped, looking over place, "It looks like someone had a food fight in here!" Just as I was about to question Rin, she started sniffling and trembling, instantly making me feel horrible. To my shock, Megurine rushed to her side and dabbed at her sticky, crying face with a dish towel.

"There, there, Look! It's okay…!" The gentle librarian shushed, bringing the towel to her eyes, "No one got hurt, so there's no need to cry!"

Rin's face went bright red. She hiccupped and wiped her eyes with clenched fists, stammering uncontrollably between gasps, "B-but…! B-because of me, I-I ru… ruined it! I-It took so long f-for us t-to make, and I-I got so ca-ca-carried away and…!" Unable to contain herself, she flung her arms around Luka's neck, "I am sorry for ruining everything!" She bawled and melted into her arms like a Popsicle. "Please don't b-be mad!"

I was shocked. I haven't seen Rin look this upset in weeks, so what just happened while I was sleeping? Just as I was about to ask, however, mom immediately blocked my view of them while grinning nervously.

"Len-kun! What a surprise to see you up and awake! We're so sorry. We didn't mean to wake you." Mom stretched her form over me, purposely blocking my view every time I tried to get a glimpse of the kitchen.

"Uh, yeah. What happened, mom? Why's Rin so upset?" I tried to move around her, but she kept blocking me, her grin becoming strained as she laughed somewhat uncomfortably.

"I-It's nothing, Baby! Don't worry! Y-You know how Rin gets when she tries new things her own way… um, yeah. She got a teensy bit carried away…" Her voice trailed off with a sigh. I nodded wholeheartedly, knowing exactly what she meant. Then my eyes landed on something burnt and round in the oven. I pointed at it, suddenly curious.

"Hey, what's that?"

With a horrified shriek, she blocked my view, practically pushing me out of the kitchen by the shoulders. "Like I said, it's nothing! Go on, shoo! We're having a… uh, tea party, so boys aren't allowed to come in here right now!" She ushered me into the hallway with another laugh.

I rose my brow indignantly, crossing my arms, "I didn't see any tea. Come on, let me through." I then tried to move past her, only to be prevented from going into the kitchen. "Also, why is Megurine at our house? I don't remember anyone inviting her over…" I trailed thoughtfully before blinking, "Also, where's Kaito?" Weirdly enough, I hadn't seen him all day.

"H-Here's water! I'll put it out!"

"N-n-n-no wait, Rin-san! Don't use that! That's vinegar-!"

KABOOM!

"KYAAA!"

"Oh, uh… he's, um, with Meiko-chan! Yeah! He and Meiko-chan are hanging out!" Mom laughed, waving dismissively at the smoke coming from the kitchen. I frowned suspiciously. Something was up; I just knew it.

"What about Dell?"

Mom looked like a deer caught in headlights, but she quickly recovered, "He's out! At a meeting! With his friends! Drinking at a bar, s-so he'll be there all day! It's a men's outing!" My frown deepened as I narrowed my eyes. She kept averting her eyes and humming frantically, all the while glancing over her shoulder towards the kitchen, looking like an animal ready to bolt.

"Mom, you know how you act all jittery when you're nervous or trying to keep a secret? Well, something tells me you're up to something." I told her, unable to help the sarcasm dripping from my voice, "I wonder what it could be."

Mom immediately pouted and placed a hand over her chest in mock hurt, "Len-kun, you're so mean!"

I shrugged, suppressing my urge to grin, "Sorry, but you're pretty easy to read." Crashing and shattering of glass echoed in the background, making us both wince. Megurine began calling Mom in a squeaky voice, sounding urgent.

"N-Nami-saaaaan! R-Rin-san needs some help c-cleaning up, I'm afraid! AH! NO RIN-SAN DON'T PUT EGGS IN THE MICROWA-!" Another explosion sounded from the kitchen, causing pots and pans to go flying, along with the microwave door. "KYAAA!" My jaw dropped, and I rushed to help, only to have mom grab me by the collar and drag me up the stairs.

"Actually, mom…" I trailed, raising a brow further when she started making a face like she wanted to bury herself underground. "Since it's my day off, I was wondering if you wanted to go the art museum with me. You know, the one you've been wanting to visit since Spring, but you didn't have time-"

"OH LEN YOU SHOULDN'T'VE HAVE!" She promptly bawled when I showed her the tickets I got from a classmate, crushing me into a loving hug. "I can't though, and I'm sorry! I'm already booked today!" I sagged my shoulders in disappointment. Reeling away, she frowned and stroked my cheek in a oddly apologetic manner, "But you are so sweet for thinking of me… so instead!" She started shoving me up the stairs again, "Since you're so thoughtful, you'll be a good boy for Mommy and get out of the house for awhile, right?"

"Say what?!" I exclaimed in disbelief, my eyes popping out. "You're kicking me out?" Once we got to my room, she promptly started throwing my clothes around in effort to find a decent outfit for me . I snatched my clothes back and threw them in the closet, blocking the doors from her nabbing fingers, crossing my arms. "I thought you'd be happy to see me, but now you want me gone. Huh."

"Oh, Len-kun, don't think of it like that! I am happy! It's just that… !" Mom made helpless gestures before dropping her arms in defeat, sighing, "Look, I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I have too many things going on right now, so I can't have any distractions. Megurine only stopped by to help me out a little, but… um," she paused, "Rin came along and wanted to help, but I'm afraid she's just getting in the way." she glanced up at me hopefully, "So… would you mind taking her out somewhere? Just before dinnertime? I'll give you money."

Huh? Me taking Rin out?

Trying to ignore how my heart skipped a beat at her request, I self-consciously rubbed my neck, "Whatever you're doing must be pretty important to kick both of us out. I'd like to know what it is."

Mom smiled sheepishly, winking slyly, "That's a secret."

I narrowed my eyes, studying her for a few moments before sighing, "Fine, whatever you want. Girls are weird." Mom laughed and ushered me into the bathroom, cleaning me up and forcing me into nice clothes. She even straightened my hair, which I didn't like at first. She positively gushed over my new appearance and thanked me a million times.

"Oh, I have such a sweet boy~ and he looks so darling with the latest winter edition from my favorite magazine! Dolling you up is so much fun~!" Giggling, she cupped her cheeks and twirled her hips girlishly.

I blushed furiously, gritting my teeth slamming the comb on the sink, "D-Don't say 'dolling up' like you think I'm a girl!"

Mom happily skipped away, "In any case, I'll go and dress Rin up right away! A handsome young man can't be seen without his sweet, little darling~! RIN DAAARLING~!"

"Ugh," I grumbled and turned back to the mirror, ruffling my hair to its usual style so I wouldn't look like some stuck up weirdo, "Tch. How can she keep saying embarrassing stuff like that? People are going to get the wrong idea about us."

"…en? Len?"

I blinked, returning to reality when powder-blue eyes stared in mine, and I felt someone's warmth breath fanning over my face, causing me to flush at our sudden proximity. It then occurred to me that Rin was currently on my lap with both legs on either side of my outer thighs, leaning in way too close for comfort and her arms loosely wrapped around my neck. She wriggled in my lap to adjust to a more settled position before nuzzling our cheeks together in quiet adoration. It took me three seconds for my brain to function and for me to react.

"AGAAH! R-Rin! Don't sit on me! Get off! OFF!" Blushing furiously, I tried to get her off without actually pushing her, trying to turn away. Her face scrunched in confusion as she tilted her head sideways, completely oblivious to the looks other people were giving us.

"But you wouldn't answer even though I called you many times, so it seems this is the only way to get your attention." Rin softly explained, straddling me even more and hitting her boots against the seat. She then frowned in concern, "Could it be that you're sick? You have been awfully grumpy since we stepped on the bus. You wouldn't talk to me either." She lowered her gaze before cautiously glancing upwards, "… Or could it be that you're angry at me again?"

Fire rushed to my cheeks. No good, my heart's beating like crazy, and I feel way too warm. This girl. She's going to be the death of me. I shifted awkwardly, trying to hide a certain part from her view.

"I-I'm not mad! I feel fine! Can you get off now, please?" My voice came out in a squeak, adding to my mortification.

Cranky and moody, Rin puffed her cheeks, "I've decided that it's no good if Len is too quiet. You insist on ignoring me, and I am horribly bored." She bumped our foreheads together, trying to look stern and serious, "So please entertain me." My thoughts ran into a dead-end at the sight of her plush lips moving, and I broke into a sweat.

"O-Okay, okay! Fine! Just…" Grabbing her by the shoulders, I finally managed to pry her off, grimacing all the while, "There. I'm not ignoring you now, am I?" Rin nodded, apparently satisfied. I sighed in exasperation. "Man, you're feistier lately. What have I done lately to be on the receiving end of your temper?"

Rin frowned, straightening her shoulders and facing the other way, "I see, so you would rather be with Miku instead?" My eyebrow twitched, and I forced a harsh laugh.

Honestly, I feel like I've been spoiling Rin too much lately. Since our last kiss, she's gotten more sensitive. If I ignore her for too long when I'm busy, she gets upset and gives me the cold shoulder. Sometimes I say the wrong words, she'll get all mad and defensive and ignore me for the rest of the day until I apologize. Sometimes, when I go somewhere without telling her, she'll sulk and give me these betrayed eyes going, 'how could you?'. Also, it seems she's gotten back into her old habit of following me around again.

I sighed, trying not to think about the last few days.

Then there's my admirers. See, she doesn't like them hanging around me, not that I blame her, but it's not okay to just drag me off when they're asking me simple questions or starting up small talk. I've already talked to her about it, and she seems to understand, but the other girls seem a bit more wary of Rin now, judging by their nervous smiles whenever they catch her eye. I dunno, but I guess Rin is still distrusting of them.

Sigh. She should just have confidence in me, y'know? It wouldn't hurt to actually listen to me for once about what I think. I mean, it's kind of cute how jealous she gets and all, but come on, I'm not that kind of guy: a player. Who has time for that anyway? You don't see me putting my groin up for STDS or babies. Hmph.

But I swear lately she's been driving me crazy. When she's not getting upset at me or throwing tantrums, she's making herself comfy by snuggling up to me or holding my hand like I'm her teddy bear… or boyfriend, I guess. Other times, she's giving me the cutest puppy eyes or shyly tugging on my sleeve when she wants something other than my attention. She'll speak to me in her best "I'm cute. Please love me." Man, I gotta stop falling for that. Hell, she even plays with my hair.

And I don't let anyone play with my hair.

I MEAN WHAT'S WITH THIS SUDDEN DEVELOPMENT I SWEAR-

"Len…!" She pouted and fumed, "You are doing it again!" She tilted her head with a bemused frown before self-consciously looking away, "M-More so, you have been staring at me this entire time. Why, I wonder." I didn't bother to reply right away, as my eyes were already glued to her form. I frowned and stroked my chin thoughtfully.

"There's something different about you today." I said slowly, running my eyes up and down her body. Maybe I'm imagining things, but she looked more eye-catching than usual. I took in her new appearance.

Her now curled hair fell past her delicate shoulders, partially tied back with laced black ribbon instead of her usual bow. Pom poms dangled from her mitten-covered hands as she fiddled with the large buttons on her long coat. She relentlessly kicked the table with her fur boots like a bored child. She pursed her glossy and plush lips thoughtfully as she stared towards the river, now ignoring me.

My cheeks grew warmer at the sight of her sneezing. It was heartbreakingly cute, seeing her nose wrinkling before she squeaked in surprise, immediately ducking her head. I stared intensely at the way she rubbed at her eyes sleepily, fighting back a yawn.

Suddenly feeling lightheaded and tingly, I sighed and rested my chin, "So cute… right down to the boots." Oops. I hadn't realized I said my thoughts out loud until Rin glanced back at me curiously.

"Cute…?"

"Rin… cute?"

Once her eyes caught mine, I went rigid and quickly averted my gaze, "Nothing, nothing!" Just now, why did I suddenly remember that time? I tried to distract myself by looking out the other window, but Rin's gaze penetrated my back. Out of the corner of my eye, she tilted her head even further at me. Oh Lord, this isn't good. I can't calm down no matter how hard I'm trying. I stole a glance at her again, and this time, she tilted her head even further until she was practically hanging off the seat. My eyes widened. "Hey, Rin. You're going to fall over if you keep doing that." I chided, trying to get her up, "Besides, are you okay? Earlier, you were crying before we left."

"I-I hadn't done anything to ruin anything especially important for today." Rin immediately denied, looking away, "H-how silly of you, Len. Assuming such things…" A pang of hurt and suspicion hit my chest, and I drew back, narrowing my eyes.

"Isn't he always?" Someone gruffed, and the nice mood suddenly fell apart when a tiny dinosaur kid stomped up to us with a disgusted scowl, "I leave you two alone for ten minutes, and here you are, openly displaying your affections for each other. How shameless." He shoved us apart and sat between us, making himself comfortable in our booth. "Moreover, you're just like any other thoughtless gorilla boy out there, Kagamine. To think you'd take Mistress Rin out on a freezing day like this, to a grimy and noisy city no less." He closed his eyes, growling in annoyance and turning to Rin, "It's no wonder you're courting that Utatane boy; at least he's bright enough to act like a gentleman around you. Whatever you see in this uncouth boy, however, remains a mystery to me." He cocked his head at me, eyes narrowing.

I pointedly glared back. Oh right. Then there was this guy.

"Okay. Nobody's forcing you to come along to a grimy, human populated city, so you should keep your trap shut." I tried to scoot over, shaking my head, "Also, Rin doesn't even like Utatane; he pretty much confirmed this 'boyfriend-girlfriend' relationship on his own, worse yet, to Akita Neru: she told the entire school in less than two hours! Damn Facebook." I grumbled the last part, remembering Rin's and Utatane's terrible date episode. "Anyway, Rin," She perked up when I called her and frowned worriedly, "I think you should break it off before he gets any weird ideas. I mean, him actually becoming your boyfriend would be pretty bad, I think." I then grinned, pointed at myself, "Find someone cool like me!"

Gachapoid snorted, "Hmph, so you're saying that you're more qualified for that role? Give it a rest. My mistress has standards." Those words made me snap, and I slammed my fists against the table, growling.

"What'd you say, you sharp-tongued lizard? Who's to say that I don't fit anyone's standards? Let alone Rin's?" I shoved my face closer to his, causing Gachapoid to bare his teeth, "I'll have you know that Rin and I have been together way longer than you showed up! She obviously prefers me over that you or awkward albino any day!"

Gachapoid flared his nostrils, "Is that so? Well then, since you're being possessive, I suppose that means you two are already in a relationship." My throat dropped to my stomach, and my face went blue.

"W-WE'RE NOT DATING, AND I'M NOT BEING POSESSIVE!" I shouted, attracting attention from curious or annoyed passengers. "I only want what's best for her like you!" I said, pointing a finger at him, "I…! I feel the same way you do when it comes to her!"

"Like me?" Gachapoid repeated, looking offended and annoyed, "So you're wrapped around her finger, head over heels in love? Like me then?" Gasping, I reared back, flabbergasted.

W-What's this? Is that how he feels about her? Moreover, how can he say embarrassing things like that like it's nothing? Then I noticed the twinkle in his eye, and I immediately knew that he was messing with me. UGH!

"In love…?" At the sound of her soft voice, we immediately stopped arguing. She tilted her head at us, frowning, "In love with…" I froze on the spot, her eyes scanning me so critically that I wanted to run away on the spot. Then her eyes widened in realization, and she gasped. I gulped, the temperature within me rising several hundred degrees when she brought her hand to her mouth, blinking, "Len, you are in love with someone?" She was looking at us confusedly and cluelessly, appearing somewhat frustrated with the entire situation. She looked totally lost.

Flustered, I buried my hands in my hands, unable to take her obliviousness once again. I reddened when she stared at me inquisitively, "P-Pay more attention to your surroundings so I won't have to explain everything!"

"Eh?"

Gacha's annoyed look morphed into surprise, "You still haven't told her anything?" He then rolled his eyes and sighed, melting further into his seat, "Ugh. Understand that the first step to getting out of denial is admitting you're in denial." Gritting my teeth, I reared back and glared at him again.

"I'm not in den-!" My mouth went dry, and I quickly backtracked, "Who's in denial of what, exactly?!"

"How horrible, Len…," I turned to Rin once again, and she looked unhappy, "How could you not tell me something like this? You told me that I was special to you, and you fall in love with someone else at a time like this?"

My eyes widened, and I began to sputter, "R-Rin, it's not what you think!"

Rin immediately puffed her cheeks, bringing up her clenched fists to her chest, "Well, that's wonderful news, but I would've appreciated it if you had told me sooner. Meiko-nee says it's unhealthy to keep your thoughts to yourself all the time! Therefore, it's best to talk to someone who will listen."

I stared at her, "…What?" Clenching my fists at my side, I forced a laugh, "S-Stop it, Rin."

Rin's smile thinned, "Eh… stop what? I really am happy for you though," She looked down at her feet, her shoulders visibly trembling, "I…I won't get in the way. I won't cling to you or drag you away even if I don't like her… that way, I won't trouble you." She took a deep breath, "If it's Miku or Akita-san, then I-" I slammed my fists against the table, hovering over the table so we could make eye contact. She blinked up at me in surprise. "L-Len?"

"I told you before that I don't mind you being around me! Come to me whenever you want!" I told her seriously: "If it were any other girl, then it'd really suck! The only girl I want is you, Rin!" Unbelievable. "Don't decide what I'm thinking, because you're totally wrong. If you feel like hugging me or holding my hand, then I don't mind a bit. I mean, sure, I don't like it when you drag me away from other girls sometimes, but you know by now that you shouldn't do that, right?" She nodded slowly, "Good. The thing that sets you apart from other girls is that you're my princess. We already learned this in English. You can't spell princess without 'Rin." I exhaled slowly, trying to catch my breath from my rant. I then seriously glared down at her, "If you don't understand, I'll have to punish you."

Rin stared at me before beaming and nodding, "I'm Len's princess… how wonderful. I still really am special you after all." She gave me a heart melting smile, "Whoever Len loves is a really fortunate person."

That's…

"You." I groaned, shaking my head, "You still haven't caught on?" Letting out a deep breath, I prepared myself before slamming my head on the table multiple times, "I'm not in love with anyone, Rin! Not Miku! Not Akita! Not Megurine or Teto or Meiko…!" I told her as soon as I was done emptying my thoughts, raising my head and accidentally looking into her big blue eyes again, brushing her hand by mistake. I proceeded to scream like a little girl. "A-And definitely not you!"

A baffled Rin fluttered her eyelashes at me, frowning and lowering her eyes, whispering, "I never said…" I caught Gachapoid rolling his eyes at me, and I immediately went red.

"And another thing! You don't know anything about how I feel or think! So you should stop guessing and pointing fingers like we're on Jeopardy! Geez, Rin. We're too different, you and I, so stop trying to act like you can read my every thought! We're not telepathic twins or anything!" At her adorable, confused expression, I hastily averted my gaze and crossed my arms, clearing my throat so I wouldn't get distracted, "I-In the first place, why would I even be in love with you? I-It's not like I've been denying my feelings and keeping it a secret from you this entire time! H-Haha!" I want to stop talking right now, aware I was making a complete idiot out of myself, but my mouth had a mind of its own, and I kept blurting things out so Rin didn't have time to interject, "I-I'd never feel like that towards y-you! Who would, anyway! U-Utatane sure has weird taste to go out with a girl who can't even cook or act like a lady!" I broke into a nervous fit of chuckles, buckets of sweat running down the back of my neck and my heart pounding like crazy. My hands went clammy, and my brain went dead.

Reddening, Rin pursed her lips and reached for my arm, but instead, I reeled away without even thinking. Slowly, she dropped her hand.

"Being all lovey-dovey with girls like that, acting totally whipped, and saying embarrassing things every waking moment! Shut up! I'd never do those things, not to you especially. You're the princess after all." I barked, finally regaining my dignity and taking control of my own feelings.

Gachapoid threw his arms up in the air, "Wonderful. Now you've said it." Noticing my confused expression, he exasperatedly pointed at Rin's empty seat. A feeling of dread filled me, and I suddenly realized what I just did.

"Oh no… oh great…" I groaned, burying my hands in my face.

"You shouldn't have said all those things. There are other ways to defend yourself without hurting Mistress's feelings." Glancing up, I saw her hovering near the opposite side, staring out the window. At first glance, you'd think she seemed fine on the outside, but I knew better. She didn't dare look our way and shivered, trying her best to warm herself up. I noticed her eyes were glued to the window, misting over with hurt and anger.

…Good going, Len. You've really messed things up this time.

"Coward." Gachapoid blandly stated, probably aware of how he was twisting the already deep knife in my heart. "If you keep pushing her away like that, then neither of you will be happy. In addition, you're exhausting her efforts at trying to understand you." He then rolled his scaly neck, "Even though you promised that you would become strong enough to protect her and make her happy, aren't you doing the complete opposite?" I visibly tensed.

"That's…!" I angrily moved to protest, but he beat me to the punch.

Gachapoid closed his eyes, calmly stating, "You are in love with her, aren't you? Then you just have to confess to her."

My eyes shot open, and I started hissing and bristling like a cat, "W-What?! Are you seriously still going on about that?! I-I already said-!"

"That you only consider Rin one of your closest friend whom you care deeply for?" Ugh! Why does he keep interrupting me? Irritating!

"Exactly!" I replied nonetheless, crossing my arms, "Rin's one the few girls who are actually close to me, apart from Miku and Meiko-nee, and I've had feelings for both of them at some points! So just because I've felt attracted to Rin at times doesn't mean I'm seriously in love!" I then laughed, shrugging, But then, I guess we're inseparable, like twins or handcuffed convicts, I guess…

I mean, I've never cared so much about anyone like this before…

"Is that really all there is?"

I narrowed my eyes, starting to get irritated again, "What else could it be?"

Love is a totally different topic I don't even touch on, and people my age hardly take it seriously. Those short-lived romances at my school? Those are just flings that people eventually tire of when they learn that actual love is a 'give-and-take' relationship."

Am I in love with Rin? I don't have a clue. Do I feel attracted to her at times? Well yeah, no straight guy wouldn't. She's the cutest damn thing in the world besides bananas.

Gachapoid's eyes pierced into mine, "… You're trying too hard." My vein popped, and just I was about to retort, he continued, "I don't really approve of you being attracted to her, but I don't see why you persist beating around the bush when your actions clearly prove otherwise. I suppose the idea of being Rin's boyfriend greatly embarrasses you. I mean, she's stronger and smarter than you are… not to mention she's much cuter."

I clenched my teeth, completely put off by the way he kept lecturing me, "H-Hey, she's only stronger than me when she's in VOCALOID mode. That aside, her ridiculously high IQ comes from her being a cyborg, so that doesn't count either!"

And cuter? Well… she's a girl. What kind of guy likes being called cute? Ugh. That'd be just wrong.

"So, basically, the way you feel about mistress is just too complicated to describe? You'd feel alright if another boy sweeps her off her feet?"

"I didn't say that!" I protested, narrowing my eyes before ultimately deflating in defeat, "… Ugh. If it makes her happy, then whatever."

"See? You're trying so hard to defend yourself and stay low-key about your feelings, but it's evident just how hard you've fallen for her. Rin's feelings and well-being affects you, and vice versa." He stated casually as if discussing the weather, trilling his claws. Yawning, he rolled his eyes at me. "Lying gets you nowhere."

I tousled my hair with a frustrated groan, "Fine. I care about her more than any normal friend would. There, you happy?" He snorted, and I rubbed my temple in growing irritation, "Look, I'm starting to get a headache. Can we talk about something else?"

He shook his head, "Kagamine, it's because you love Rin that you're willing to fight for her happiness, even if it means her seeing her happy with another guy, correct?"

I grimaced at the thought, not particularly liking the idea, "No… well… maybe."

"You're not being honest with yourself."

I tousled my hair, groaning, "How can I!? I still don't even know how I really feel! I haven't been with her that long enough to figure it out!"

Something flashed in his eyes, and he nodded towards the window in understanding, "I see now." He slid down the booth and rested fully against the windowsill, "… You're afraid of facing your true feelings. You don't want to get your hopes up only to be crushed in the end. You think you're not good enough for her."

My fists clenched.

"You often think, 'what if it turns out that I love her, but she doesn't love me back?" he leaned fully against the windowsill, his breath coming out in vapors, "Since a lot has happened between the two of you, it's only natural your relationship would bloom, but to what extent?" He pondered and stroked his chin, looking like a modern philosopher, "The truth is, you want something more between you… but you have no idea if she feels the same way. Thus, you're left feeling frustrated and unsatisfied, and your feelings keep growing. You're too scared to move forward, but truthfully, you're not okay with just sitting around, acting like a coward."

I cringed. Why can't I say something? Anything? Moreover, why do his words feel dead-on target?

"… Ugh."

No good. I can't deny what he's throwing at me…

"But see, this is my mistress we're talking about," The reptilian boy sat up straight and looked me in the eye, "She still doesn't comprehend things the way you humans do. Granted, she's moved on from her babyish mindset from when you first met her, but there are still many things she does not understand. Unlike you, she does not understand the romantic meaning behind kissing, holding hands, or the taking relationships to the next level. The reason why she probably hasn't confessed to you is because it's not something she thinks about. Most likely, she has already come to terms with these feelings and worries about other things instead." he then sighed exasperatedly, "She probably doesn't isn't even aware she's that white-haired boy's 'girlfriend."

Glancing over at Rin, we saw her becoming friends with an blind woman's dog, marveling and tugging his ears in pure fascination.

"Judging by the way you're talking, you're making it sound like she's actually interested in me…" I grumbled, scratching my cheek nervously. Not that I hated the idea, but… sigh. "T-There's just no way. I'm not her type. I doubt she feels the same way about me…"

"If that were true, then I wouldn't've had to go through many hectic situations she puts me through in the first place…" Gachapoid muttered under his breath, sounding wistful. "In any case, all you have to do is be honest with yourself and confess. Once you do, then even mistress Rin will understand your desires."

My eyebrow twitched, "H-Hey… don't you think you're oversimplifying things a tad bit much?" Does this kid even know about love? He has no idea how hard it is to confess like a man, really. I'm at an impasse here. Telling Rin how I feel wouldn't be good; who knows how she'll react. On the other hand, if I don't say anything then it's only a matter of time before some guy like Utatane or Hatsune waltzes in and sweeps her off her feet.

Staying as friends and watching her get taken away by other guys… is that really fine with me?

Ugh… I've been such a moron all this time.

I should just… take a chance. I don't want to look back later in life and regret what I could've done.

"There's no point in worrying that much. In my opinion, you have a ridiculous tendency to get all defensive over the silliest things and overcomplicate everything. Dear me, you're even worse than mistress Rin sometimes." He deadpanned, childishly kicking his feet against the table, "Never mind though. Let's make a wager."

I made a face and furrowed my brows at this sudden change of subject, "Heeeeh? You mean like a bet?"

He nodded, "If you can prompt Rin to confess her feelings to you by the end of the day, then I will have Dell and the NND fully take you under their wing as a trainee. You'll have full access to their equipment, databases, and physical training." He then shrugged his shoulders with an ear-splitting yawn, looking like a kid just now, "You'll become as strong as you want. In addition, it will look very good on your graduate resume."

I snorted. Right, right. Like putting "classified government work" on my resume sounds believable, sure.

Also, isn't it bad to make a girl confess first?…. eh. I guess it doesn't matter right now.

"Sounds like there's a catch." I replied, leaning on the table.

Gachapoid smirked a little, probably amused how motivated I was, "At least your observation skills remain average. Yes, there are three conditions: you can't say anything about how you feel, you can't ask her about how she feels about you, and you can't tell her about our deal."

Scoffing, I sat up and studied him pensively, "Didn't you just tell me earlier that Rin doesn't feel inclined to do things like confess? Plus, under those conditions, it seems pretty unfair."

"You really should have more faith in her, for Miriam's sake. I never said she was incapable of doing such a mundane task."

Just now… he completely contradicted himself.

"I never said you couldn't show her how you feel. Just improvise." Gachapoid waved dismissively, ignoring my bumbling protests, "But if you lose, then I won't protect you from your rabid fan girls anymore. Plus, you'll owe me all your lunches, desserts included. Also, I will find someone else to marry mistress Rin when I expire." His eyes glimmered evilly and impishly, and he flashed me a jagged grin akin to a shark in a hot pursuit for his prey, "Do you accept my challenge?"

I wanted to complain due to the number of ridiculous penalties but instead kept my mouth shut.

I narrowed my eyes, getting fired up despite myself. I didn't like backing down from challenges, no matter how petty, but this one was pretty serious. I shuddered at the thought of dealing with those crazy hyenas alone. Girls are terrifying creatures. It's only because of Gachapoid that I managed to recover quickly and safely.

"Fine. You're on."

We shook on it, and he smiled condescendingly at me, "Forcing a girl to confess on her own just so you can figure out your own feelings… you really are an awful, unmanly human." I stiffened but refused to answer, getting up when our stop finally arrived. We followed Rin, who apparently decided to take on the role as line leader. Still, I couldn't help but wonder if she knew where we were going, judging by how she kept glancing around and stopping.

The snowy streets were full of people today, and everyone hurried to get out of the snowfall. I shivered, wondering how Rin and Gachapoid managed to pull of looking perfectly fine in this freezing weather. I felt like icicles were hanging off my face.

"Uhh… n-not to rain on your parade or anything, guys, but…" My teeth chattered, hunching my shoulders, "Do either of you have any idea where we're heading?"

A noisy line of people pushed past us, almost causing us to fall down. I regained my footing and brushed down my jacket, raising a brow at the dispersing crowd. In the middle of the plaza, I saw a bunch of people lining up dress as anime characters, all of them hanging out or laughing, waving high quality merchandise in each other's faces. My eyes went wide.

"Whoa! It's the annual anime convention." I uttered, eating up the sight of all the adorable magical girls reenacting scenes from some of my favorite anime, and others were singing popular songs at the top of their lungs, totally off-key but still enjoying themselves. My heart swelled with longing and excitement when I caught sight of a cute Sailor V cosplayer having photos with lovestruck middle-aged guys, beaming like the sun as she posed for the flashing cameras. Inwardly, I wanted to run over there and gain entry, but when my eyes dropped on the ticket prices, my excitement deflated like a balloon. Gachapoid watched me sag to the floor in anguish.

"I forgot it was this month! I should've bought tickets after midterms!" I groaned miserably, hanging my head, "This is so unfair." Guessing Rin was way ahead of me by now, I quickly pulled myself together and glanced down at the street, but there was no sign of her. "Huh? Rin, where'd you go?!" People were filling up the streets by the minute, and I looked around frantically. "RIN!"

"LEN!" Rin called me over to the entry booth, waving tickets at me, "Here I am, Len! Come with me!" Rendered speechless, my mouth closed automatically as I rigidly followed her through the crowd. H-How'd she get those tickets? Those are super expensive!

Rin paused and pointed at a random building, "… Over there, you… ah, no, I mean we… can purchase as many specialty items as you'd like. I wanted us to hurry so we could arrive here as soon as it opened. You always seem disappointed that the magical girl special merchandise runs out of stock so quickly from the internet, so… I thought we could look here." She blinked at me, totally accepting and nonjudgmental of my inner otaku, "I hope we can find that Sailor Moon figurine collection you've been searching for so long. Ah, and then there's the interview with the Madoka Magica voice actresses…"

"When Rin becomes curious, it's impossible to hide your well-guarded secrets for long." Gachapoid explained, gesturing at Rin, who suddenly veered away from me and walking next to her nanny instead, back to blatantly ignoring me, "Last month, she informed me of your incurable fixation on anime, so I told her about this convention. Consequently, she bought early season tickets for us. According to her, she says there are many 'magical girls' from your favorite shows." I blushed and gaped at this news, totally caught off guard. He then shook his head disapprovingly at Rin, "Honestly, I don't understand why you insist on doing these tedious tasks for this boy. Remember how much trouble you went through because of him?"

Rin merely puffed her cheeks and raised her chin in defiance, stomping several meters ahead of us.

I stared after her retreating form, my jaw slowly slacking open. An arrow went straight through my heart, and I clutched my throbbing chest. I wanted to fall on my knees kiss the ground she walked on.

She did this all for me… no matter how much I vehemently denied my secret obsession with shoujo anime, she still saw through me and took me here despite the costs?

I started to choke up, tears welling up in my eyes. I was three seconds away from running up and hugging her. My simple affections evolved into silent worship.

Kami-sama… I think…

I'm in love.


Kaito's POV

"Toss it, senpai! I got it!" Ted called, waving his hands furiously. He asked for it. I grinned, not holding back as I hurled the Frisbee across the rec. field, our spiked sneakers uprooting the grass and snow. With long strides and his especially long limbs, he caught the toy easily and smirked over his shoulder, whooping like a war fanatic. I panted and grinned back, shaking my head. It wasn't every day you got to see this guy act other than his normally stoic self. When given the chance, he could be even worse than the other redhead.

"Not bad!" I called, gesturing for him to throw, "Let's see if you can throw farther this time!" Ted nodded.

"WHAT DO YOU TWO THINK YOU'RE DOING?!"

"Huh?"

As soon as my head was turned, the Frisbee nearly knocked my brain out of my head, and I clutched my head with a sharp hiss, cursing. Ted ran over in concern. Meanwhile, an angry brunette came storming up to us.

"I can't believe you two just ran off without telli-" She blinked, her eyes widening at the sight of me on the ground, "Oh no! Did you get hurt when I called you out?!" She immediately got on her knees and began patting at the cut on my head with her jacket sleeve, looking guilty. "I'm sorry. I'm sure I have a band-aid in my bag somewhere…" Hissing lightly when she rubbed alcohol on my forehead, I then blinked when the pain immediately went away, replaced with a large band-aid on my throbbing cut. She stepped away with a satisfied hum, "There!"

"Did you want something, Meiko-senpai?" Ted asked and got to his feet, back to his detached self. He pulled me up without hassle.

Meiko blinked before suddenly narrowing her eyes with a huff, "We were in the middle of decorating Len's party, but then you two ran off without telling any of us! Nami got worried." She then crossed her arms over her chest, fuming, "We could've used your help with the streamers."

I sheepishly grinned, rubbing the back of my neck, "Uh, sorry. It slipped my mind." Ted nodded as well, apologetically patting my head. I laughingly batted him away, "It's okay, man. I wasn't looking anyway."

Meiko's eyes flitted between us, and I shot her another pleading look accompanied with clasped hands, and she sighed in defeat, "Honestly. It wouldn't hurt to say something next time." She then blushingly averted her gaze, immediately defending herself, "I-It's not like I was running around everywhere because I was worried about you. I just…" she then hit me, causing me to yelp, "You're just reckless enough to get into trouble, t-that's all! Don't get the wrong idea!"

Liar. I frowned a bit, starting to get uncomfortable with how red her face was getting, "…Yeah, okay." Somehow, I couldn't help getting embarrassed myself. As if noticing my discomfort, Meiko suddenly whipped around and cleared her throat.

"A-Anyway, as punishment!" She pointed her finger at us, scowling, "You two are coming with me to get Len's cake!" We blinked before groaning, feeling utterly spent at this point. After getting hit with that Frisbee, I don't even feel like moving.

"Whaaat? Why? Didn't Luka and Rin finish making one already?"

Meiko snorted, "Yeah, but you know Rin. The kitchen is pretty much destroyed. She can't cook squat to save her life." She then noticed our stifled snickers before hastily adding, "Don't tell her I said that." We burst into laughter. "Anyway, c'mon. Nami already ordered a cake, so we're picking it up."

Wiping a tear from my eye, I then pouted, "I don't waaannnaaa. Why bother? Shota is dumb enough to forget today's his birthday. Why do we have to go through such trouble throwing a dumb surprise for him?"

"Look here, you," She started, rolling her eyes: "It was Rin's idea to throw this celebration, and a pretty sweet one at that. She's the one taking him out to the city until we're ready, so we gotta make this party happen with as many helping hands as we can get. Weirdly enough, Len's got a lot of friends, and then there's this big, nice expensive suite accompanied with an arcade and a rec. room that should be put to use." It hit me then how she kept trying to avoid my eyes, her cheeks pinking, "A-Anyway, you owe it to Len! Think of how mean you were to him last week before rehearsals!"

"Hey, Kaito," Shota waved a hand from a few meters away, sitting between his swooning admirers. He then gestured to whatever what was on the ground with his crutch, "Can you hand me my pencil?" My left eyebrow twitched, and I fought back a groan.

Oh. Oh, I see how it is. Shota's not only a girly tsundere with double standards and bunny fetishes, but he's also a lazy ass too?

I wanted to remind him that he could go pick it up himself and shove it up his scrawny ass for bothering me over a tiny thing. What was his problem today, making me do everything for him? Do I look like his personal bitch? I mean, oh my god, I have a life too.

And no, him being on crutches is no excuse.

Len gave me this look, the kind of look you'd get when judgmental asses like him thought you were stupid. I must've been giving him a nasty glare of my own, because he sighed and ran a hand through his hair irritably.

"Kaito. It's right. Next to you." He prodded, and his eyes narrowed. "Do you really want to make a handicap get it? C'mon, I'm asking you nicely." He gestured at me impatiently. I looked down at his pencil on my left and groaned, rolling my eyes for added effect.

"Ugh… fiiiine." Sprawling on my belly, I barely attempted to reach for it before giving up. "You know what. You're asking too much… I'm dead tired." I grumbled and turned away from a now annoyed Shota. I snickered at his annoyed expression, stifled my grin, and maintained a pout.

"Don't give me that shit, you lazy bastard. Just toss it over!"

Rolling my eyes, I merely flipped him the birdie and finally grabbed his pencil… and chucked it across the room. It landed on an oblivious Rin, who squeaked and rubbed her head sorely.

"O…Ow."

Shota's face went beet-red. I waggled my eyebrows at him, and he screamed.

"DIE!" In a flash, Len pushed his chair back with deliberate strength before launching himself at me in a fit of rage, causing the girls around us to scream and squeal excitedly.

"That… was my…. only pencil, you jerk!"

"Should've thought twice before you asked me to get it! You ought to know by now what happens when you ask me for favors!"

"I'M ON CRUTCHES, YOU FREAK! GROW UP A LITTLE!"

"HAH, WHAT'S THAT YOU LITTLE SHOTA BRAT?! HOW 'BOUT YOU GROW A PAIR FIRST?!"

I snickered at the memory before shrugging, "Nope, sorry. I don't remember." I barely noticed Ted slinking away after Meiko tossed him the keys, intent on starting the van.

She tried to glare at me, suppressing a laugh while deadpanning, "Liar."

I threw up my hands in defense, inwardly jeering at her surmise, "Haha! I-I'm serious!" It was times like these we could just chill out and shoot the breeze even when things have changed between us. I had to admit, I was really relieved things were finally starting to go back to normal between us. I knew this once she made a grab for me, intending to playfully slap my face like she used to when we were little, but then her eyes fell on my neck, widening considerably. Confused, I followed her gaze and immediately understood why she went silent.

"Your scarf…"

Tugging self-consciously at my said item, I coughed to hide my embarrassment while turning away, "Uh, yeah…! I- uh, I'm not that great at sewing like you are, but I tried, okay? Don't make fun of me!" Blushing, I frowned and crossed my arms, expecting her to belt out laughter or call me stupid, but instead, she went teary-eyed and flustered in a matter of seconds. She met my eyes, looking incredibly touched. For some weird reason, my cheeks became warmer, and I began to sputter, "H-Hey, moooron! What are you getting all emotional for?" Quickly maneuvering past her, I started up the hill but something caught the hem of my coat, and I spun around.

"Thank you, Kaito." Meiko stood there, smiling while wiping her eyes, tugging even harder at my jacket. I hesitated, shuffling my feet. There were different meanings behind those words, I know that, but I knew she was happy that I at least made the attempt to fix the scarf she gave me, not really because I saved her life by using it.

Heh, she really is a girl after all. Jeez, Meiko…

With a sigh, I couldn't help but smile sheepishly, reaching out to tuck a chocolate lock of hair behind her flushed ear, making her wince. I chuckled, "Anything for you." The snow kept falling into her hair, making her look like the angel she really was, and for a moment, I just stared. My trance broke when she suddenly sneezed, shivering violently in the cold until I bundled her up with my coat, taking in her surprised expression before adding my worn out scarf around her neck.

The atmosphere felt nice, somehow. With her staring up at me with chocolaty eyes, she suddenly smiled and pulled my coat closer to her body, snuggling for warmth. Now, I couldn't help thinking how that was sort of cute.

Coughing to hide my embarrassment, I then flicked her nose before running off towards the van. "Last one's a rotten egg!"

"H-Hey…!" Snapping out of her daze, she indignantly called after me, sounding embarrassed. "Wait up!" I laughed, looking back over my shoulder as I watched her practically waddle after me in my oversized coat.

"You look like a penguin!" I shouted, my grin widening when she fumed. Yeah. I snickered when she sprint the last few meters to tackle me.

"Are you calling me fat?!"

Eh, she's cute even when she's mad.


I made a face at the cake, rubbing my ear, "Ugh… banana cake. Gross."

"It's better than what you'd want for your birthday! Seriously, who'd want to eat an ice cream cake in the middle of winter?"

"Cake…"

"Right, right! See? Ted agrees with me!"

I took a bite out of my triple scooped cone, rolling my eyes. We walked out of the bakery shop and headed towards the parking lot. Meiko cradled the wrapped cake against her chest like carrying a child, making sure she didn't drop it.

"Yeah, sure," I leaned forward so I could see the passive redhead, "So, Ted. What happened to Akaito earlier? It was kind of weird seeing him rush out like that." The boisterous redhead had bailed on us, saying he was late for something while hurrying out the door. Meiko nodded with me in agreement as we crossed the street.

Ted shrugged, "He said he had a date, but he wouldn't tell me who it was." He reached into his bag and began eating a jelly roll, munching between thoughtful bites, "I guess he's too embarrassed…"

Meiko snorted, "Yeah right. A guy like him would be rubbing it in our faces by now. I bet he's being blackmailed." She then grinned mischievously, nudging him, "Say. Why don't you have a girl by now? You're a nice guy."

Not answering, Ted looked up at the sky in a seemingly distracted daze. I stared at him, wondering what he was thinking. Hm. Maybe he was daydreaming about a girl. I chuckled to myself, shaking my head. There were too many moments when I thought Ted was seriously asexual, but there's probably still hope after all.

"Oooooh!" Meiko yanked him into a headlock after setting the cake down on a bench, snickering, "You like someone! Tell us!" We were met with surprising resistance when he shifted somewhat, grumbling.

"…No."

Whoa! I nearly dropped my cone. Is he blushing?

I leaned over them, grinning maniacally and now bent out finding out who this mystery girl was, "C'mon! Tell your seniors, and we won't say a word to anyone else! Do we know her?" Seeming annoyed, he stubbornly refused to answer, so we messed around with him a bit more until an animalistic growl reverberated throughout the park.

We turned our heads and witnessed the awakening of a demon. Apparently, there'd been a girl just sleeping on the bench the entire time while we were messing around, and she staggered like a zombie before eying the two tiered cake like fresh meat hanging in the butchery. Her mouth watered, and she pounced. "RAAAAHH!" Ripping noises reached my ears, and gift wrapper shreds flew everywhere, followed by a monstrous roar as she, on all fours, feasted on the cake, gobbling everything down.

We all stood there with our mouths hanging open like the intelligent people we were, not sure what kind of crazy scene just unfolded. Meiko pointed at the girl, "W-What in the world… hey! Who're you?"

Just like that, the demon girl snapped her head towards us, growling like a untamed beast. Frosting dripped from her snarling mouth as she eyed us dangerously, her ears flattening and bristling every time we tried to take a step forward.

Being the coolest one out of the bunch, I took a risk and stomped towards her, angry because I'm the one who paid for the cake, "Hey! That came out of my wallet!" I didn't count on the fact that she looked like a humanoid cat from a sci-fi movie, or the enraged foreign language that escaped her in a single hiss, or how she suddenly unsheathed claws and lunged at me, roaring like a wildcat.

"NYAAAA!"

MUNCH.

"W-WHAT THE HELL? OW! SHE'S BITING MY FACE! HELP, GUYS!"

I toppled to the ground with the psycho foreigner on top of me, screaming everyone's ears off. Just my luck. Why am I always stuck with the violent chicks?

Tears welled up in my as I witnessed my cone tragically meet the ground with a resounding splat, a noise that would forever haunt me in my sleep.


"Korean, huh? Well, she seems different enough." Ted murmured as we fully relaxed in the onsen, leaning against the rocks and watching the snow fall. "What did she say her name was, again…?" I winced, rubbing at the bite marks scattered across my face, shaking out my wet hair.

"SeeU, I think." I hissed, massaging my temples. Apparently, the girl who attacked me earlier claimed to be Miku's friend. The way she acted earlier convinced us otherwise. She practically seethed with rage when Ted helpfully mentioned that we knew Miku from school, and she looked like she was about ready to kill someone. According to her, miss secret agent was supposed to pick her up at the airport but somehow forgot about her, and the little Korean kept getting lost on the way here, trying to find her penthouse. Then she collapsed on some random bench after hours of traveling without sleeping or eating.

"…She seems nice enough."

I wanted to wring his neck for saying that. Hello? That psycho attacked me without reason! I mean, I would've felt bad for her otherwise!

"In any case, shouldn't we buy another cake soon? It's not a good time to be relaxing now." Ted thought aloud, randomly pulling out one of Kasane's yaoi comics and reading. He made a disgusted face, "How can she even read these during class without getting in trouble? I don't get why she's into this kind of stuff…"

I stared at him, unsure how I should respond. Moreover, why does he even have that?

Just then, voices clamored from over the rocks.

"You're kidding! Aw, you poor thing!"

"No, I serious. That Miku is horrible, forgetting me like that. Hah! I show her who's boss when I see her, see!"

Oh no, this is just want I need. Is Meiko on the other side?! My nerves went haywire, and I nearly had a heart attack when I heard water splashing from the other side, accompanied with feminine giggles.

"Oh shit! Don't tell me this is a mixed bath?!" I panicked, cursing and zooming over to Ted, angrily shaking him by the shoulders, "Hey! You're the one who directed us here, so why didn't you mention these weren't separate baths!?" If Meiko hears, then we're gonna face her wrath! She'll clobber us!

Ted shifted his eyes, lazily shrugging, "…Ah, sorry. I forgot."

I gritted my teeth, my fists itching to punch this guy, "Why, you…! How can you forget something so basic?!"

"CANNONBALL!" A familiar voice shrieked, and a mini tsunami wafted over the rocks, immediately soaking us on the spot. Ted blinked, looking at the wet comic with wide eyes.

Great! How are we going to get out now?! I kept pulling the towel over my head in pure shame, paling and heaving like a fish out of water. I wanted to kill myself right now. Drown or whatever, anything was better than facing Meiko like this! She'll kill me!

Coughing noises erupted from the other side, along with a resounding, sharp slap.

"Teto! Don't jump in like that, or you'll fall! Plus, shouldn't you be with Luka instead?"

"Ow! You hit hard, jeez! I just happened to be here with my mom is all, so I didn't get any calls from Luka-trout!" Kasane whined from the other side, whimpering, "B-Besides, I still need to freshen up for Ted-kun! He's gonna be at the party, too!" Some splashing, and then she snickered, "Huh? Wait, who's this girl? Your date?"

"I-I-I-IDIOT! IT'S NOT LIKE THAT!" Man, she's loud enough to wake a volcano up. Another violent slap resonated, followed by an ear-piercing wail.

"Meiko-senpai's pretty scary…" Ted murmured to me, trying not to be heard from the other girls. I shuddered in reply, feeling chills run up and down my spine.

"I SeeU."

Kasane laughed, "I see you, too."

"No! My name is SeeU! SeeU! I from South Korea, and this my first time in Japan." She answered with a huff, "A girl named Hatsune Miku told me she can give me work here. See, I looking for someone… have you heard of Kagamine Rin? She hire me to correct her behavior."

Huh? I rose a brow, my fears momentarily subsiding. Why'd she bring up Bunny-chan just now?

"…Wait a second. Are you the one Miku offered money to in exchange for taking her out of the country?!" We heard more splashing, along with a sharp gasp of surprise from the Korean. Meiko must've grabbed her or something. "There's no way I'm letting you laying a hand on her!"

"Hey, uh! Meiko, calm down!"

My eyes widened. Uh oh. Don't tell me she was picking fights again just after director Haku discharged her and Pigtails after their own little spat. Whether or not it concerned Bunny-chan didn't matter right now…! I was about to get up and stop them until SeeU gasped out.

"I… I not intend to harm her, see! Miku tell me she very violent and unstable, so she called me…!" She continued frantically, mustering all the Japanese she knew, "I… I not aware she very cared for by friends! Please, see…! A-allow me to explain!" After some yelling from Kasane and begging from the strange girl, I heard Meiko finally release her.

"You have one minute." My ass-kicking friend ordered calmly.

By now, I could visualize the Korean sweating bullets, "A-Ah, of course." She nervously laughed and cleared her throat: "I is very renowned animal behaviorist in my country; my family owns veterinary clinic. I love animals, see, because they are my siblings, and to them, I much more than their master. I their friend." We could hear the pride emanating from her unusually chirpy voice, but then she sounded serious, "But… secret is: my family is involved with a party to scare North Korea off once and for all: then we may live in peace. By taming this biological weapon known as 'Project Rin', we hope to understand and treat her with respect, so that she will come to return the favor by joining our cause."

The weirdos keep coming even stranger by the minute. God, Rin. Why.

"What kind of party… oh never mind, I don't even want to know." Meiko huffed, and I could see her shaking her head, "Whatever. You seem like a nice girl and all, but it's wrong to use people like that."

"Plus! Rin already has a master!" Teto chimed in, cackling perversely, "Oh god, the sexiness. Anyway, his name is Le-AGH!"

"STOP DROOLING! RIN ISN'T SOME KIND OF LEWD PET, STUPID!"

SeeU sounded confused, "But Project Rin not a person, see? She is a cyborg, see?"

"Cyborg…?" Ted repeated, glancing over at me confusedly, and I laughed nervously. Great, so much for keeping everything a secret.

"Yes, she is, but there's more to her than many people realize. She isn't some baby-faced terminator others make her out to be." Cough, cough. Yes, she is. "She's sweet, caring, and she's the type of person who'll do kind things without expecting anything in return. She understands how we, as her friends, feel and doesn't force us into staying with her; we choose to because she's our friend. I treat her like I treat any of my other friends." Meiko stated confidently, using the tone when she refuses to back down. I stopped and listened, unable to help myself for admiring her, "And I, as her senior and best friend, am sworn to protect her."

"…Meiko." I uttered, surprised and happy to hear this. I speechlessly grinned down at the water that reflected her form, standing in her bathing suit, surrounded by steam. To me, she never looked so pretty: her cheeks flushed and her eyes full of fire. My mouth twitched into a grin. Stubborn as a mule, no- probably even more so.

That's my girl.

I hastily averted my eyes when the platinum-haired girl bounced into view, my blush increasing tenfold.

"I not wish to fight you or friends of Rin, but I must do job, see. I already decide to make Rin my pet; I already make contract with Honne Dell; I paid to correct her behavior once and for all." I blinked and narrowed my eyes at the mention of my dad; what's he up to this time? Some splashing noises sounded. "Not worry, see. My methods are humane, so I not plan to harm her like company did; Rin very delicate and beautiful creature, it seems. See?" More splashing. "However, it come to my attention that maybe I misunderstand some things, as it seems Rin does not sound like dangerous animal… only a misunderstood girl?"

"Well, yeah… I guess you could say that." Meiko sounded relieved at this point. Then she began

"SeeU understands. I do best to understand this Rin, and I decide where I stand in the end." She said firmly, unwavering, "I against forcing animals against will, but ultimately she will choose me to become mine pet. My plans have not changed…"

My brow twitched. Rabbit girl is no animal, that's for sure.

"Okay, then we won't get in your way so long as you don't hurt Rin." Meiko answered, sounding miffed, "… I don't want us to end up as enemies, SeeU-chan."

"Likewise, Mei-mei. I think you a good person; you feed me good food after I rudely attacked you earlier, and you take me here to recover. I wish to repay your kindness." We heard some splashing and assumed she had climbed out of the water. A cellphone went off. "Ah! Is Miku! She wish to see me now!" I heard Meiko growl at the mentioned name. "Thank you. We meet again, and I make sure to bring food as proper introduction. Give regards to Rin, see?"

Kasane giggled nervously, "O-Oh, right… bye."

"Hmph." I rubbed my swelling face, scoffing. So she was finally leaving? Good riddance.

"See you around, see?" And with that, she left. Ted and I sighed in relief, about to climb out while the other girls were distracted in a deep conversation until Kasane brought something interesting up.

"That SeeU girl is even weirder than teacher Yowane and Sukone combined."

Meiko laughed, "Oh stop, Teto. No one beats Sukone Tei by a landslide! You should've seen her stalking Len the other day at Crane Hotel. I felt so bad for him."

"Oh yeah, you're right." Kasane hummed thoughtfully, "But anyway, you're sure we can trust SeeU? She doesn't seem like a bad person or anything, but don't you think her whole 'Rin's my pet' thing is a bit… sketchy?"

"Everything is sketchy nowadays." Meiko answered, sighing, "But I think we can let her go for now. Sometimes you just got to take risks." Eyebrows furrowing, I leaned closer against the rock so I could hear better, "For example, I finally told Kaito my feelings." If I could get a heart attack, now would be the time. Blood rushed to my face.

"You told him?! YOU TOLD HIM YOU LOVE H-MMMFF!" Kasane shouted loud enough to cause an avalanche. Heh heh, it's funny because we're surrounded by mountains. Her cry echoed throughout the area, causing the birds to erupt from nearby trees. Embarrassed beyond belief, I was sorely tempted to drown myself before I heard any more of their horrible discussion. Ted apparently decided to stay, as he shot me an inquisitive look, prompting me to bury my face in my hands in shame.

"Keep your voice down!" Meiko hissed, annoyed. "Yes, I told him, okay? Whatever. It doesn't matter anymore."

"Huh? But you used to get so worked over every time you tried to confess, didn't you? You loved him for over a decade."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

"In life, there are doors leading to different possibilities; there's nothing worse than watching them close when you hesitate too long, and you miss your chance." A deep sigh escaped from my childhood friend, and for the first time since we were kids, she sounded sad but also accepting. I could imagine the smile she was forcing. Ted and me awkwardly glanced at each other, and Kasane apparently felt the same way we did.

"So… what happened?" She sounded unsure whether to test these waters with Meiko, not knowing what had already transpired between us.

Meiko, clearing her throat, laughed embarrassedly, "I got rejected." Biting the inside of my cheek, my face fell at her awkward laughter, remembering how she confessed to me after letting go of my hand. Then I remembered how I rejected her. I dropped my gaze to the boiling water. I hated the look on her face, so understanding but sad and broken at the same time. Finding out about her feelings was like taking a blow to my chest. It hurt. Not knowing how she felt and unknowingly hurting her this entire time made me feel worse than I've ever felt in my whole life.

It never crossed my mind about how she might've felt about me; I never once thought about it. I never saw her that way about her… like how she sees me. Without meaning to, I broke my best friend's heart; the last person I ever wanted to hurt. Even now, she was hurt because of me. My chest constricted painfully when I remembered how much she cried that day. It was like rocks were crushing my lungs; I couldn't breathe.

"Hey, I'm a pretty horrible guy, huh?" I grumbled aloud, loud enough for only Ted to hear. He shook his head sympathetically.

"Meiko…" Kasane sounded shocked, saddened, and she swallowed, "Ah… um… you… know, even though I'm kinda bad at being a friend… I'm here for you!"

"Mm. Thanks," Meiko laughed, sounding more at ease, "In the back of my head, I think I always knew Kaito didn't see me anything more than a sister, so I shouldn't have expected too much from him. It just was hard to accept for me because I wanted something more between us."

Something more…

"But truthfully, I'm the idiot for making such a huge deal about it afterwards. I mean, I should've just told him sooner, you know? That way things wouldn't have to be so awkward now… eheh." She sounded genuinely happy now, making me confused, "I mean, yeah, it sucks that he doesn't return my feelings, but mulling over it won't do anything. Besides, I don't want to let that get between us anymore. Time to move on."

"Meiko…"

My breath hitched, and I kept listening, "After telling him, I feel a burden has been lifted off my shoulders. I've wanted to tell him for a long time, and I got my answer." Meiko chuckled, probably shrugging, "Now, all I can do is be there for him when he needs me, and vice versa. When I strayed off in a dark path, he's the only one who ran after me. That's why I love Kaito." Her voice softened, and I was finally able to comprehend the confidence and affection from her words, "That mouthy and sarcastic person is my best friend. All I want for him is to be happy."

My jaw dropped, and I was immensely touched, feeling my eyes water despite myself so I looked away. Mei-chan. She understands me, and she doesn't resent me… I…

I can't believe it. I'm no saint, so what on Earth have I done to deserve this great girl?

Kasane started bawling at the top of her lungs, sniffling and gasping uncontrollably. Water splashed, and given Meiko's choking noises, I assumed the red-haired girl was probably squeezing the life out of her in a well-meant hug.

"MARRY ME, MEIKO! YOU'RE SUCH A SWEETHEART! THAT ICE CREAM ALIEN DON'T KNOW WHAT HE'S MISSING! BWAAAAAAAAA!"

"Kh… Can't breathe…!"

"But it's alright!" Kasane assured boldly, her voice still thick with tears, "Even though he's an idiot, he's a lucky idiot! Someday, he'll fall in love with you, but by that time you'll be waaaay too sexy for him, Meiko! You're gonna be a badass chick who don't need men! Aw yeah!" Drops of sweat prickled down my neck as Kasane's boisterous laughter rang out, mocking me. I grinned weakly, laughing quietly.

Well, it'll be my loss… though I somehow doubt things will turn out that way. Meiko obviously can't resist my sexy body. As if she'll be looking at other men now that she has me. Who knows. I exhaled in relief and smiled, rubbing the back of my neck. I'm just glad she's finally feeling better. She really worried me back there.

"In any case! Hearing you pour your heart out like that gets my brain pumping! My heart racing! You've inspired me to take my chances! Tomorrow, I'll seduce Ted-kun with my beautifully ravishing voice and sing him love songs, confess my undying love for him, and beg him on my knees to go out with me or else!" Kasane announced bravely, sounding determined, "We'll be the sexiest couple alive!"

Slowly and painfully, I turned to Ted with my face threatening to split in two, my smile widening into a leering grin. Ted went completely silent, his eyes staring holes into the water. I poked him, and he nearly fell over if not for me grabbing him and propping him against the rocks.

He was completely out of it.

"In fact, I'll practice. Right. NOW!" There was clambering on the other side, along with Meiko sputtering protests until Kasane Teto stood there right on top of the rocks where we were currently hiding against, cackling in her (almost) naked glory as she raised her head towards the mountain and squealed, "TED-KUUUUUUUUUUN~! I'VE LOVED YOU SINCE THIRD GRADE!" She then posed dramatically, using her shampoo as a microphone and signifying a musician's beat before belting out in a surprisingly melodious voice:

"Like always I love you~ For you TAKE KISS ME

Because I can never forget, my precious MEMORY~!

If dorayaki cannot become my main diet,

I'll just have to overwrite it my way!"

She kept singing, unaware of the free show she was giving us. All Ted had to do was glance up to see whatever was under her towel. Apparently, it was a sight he liked. Blood dribbled from his nose as he finally cleared his throat, her performance was abruptly cut short once he started clapping slowly.

"Wow. What a lewd girl you are, shamelessly flaunting your body in front of a naked man like that." He monotonously said, laying back and fully relaxing with his arms behind his head. Kasane went three shades redder, and her entire body went scarlet as she screamed bloody murder, not knowing what the hell just transpired.

"T-T-T-TED-KUN? YOU WERE THERE THE WHOLE TIME!?"

Meiko shot up from the waters, a bucket in hand. When I saw her flushed form, I nearly fainted. She screamed when she saw me and chucked her toiletries at me, so I ducked under the water in pure mortification.

A ghost of a smirk appeared on Ted's lips as he chuckled rather deeply. He shot his arm out and yanked her down, causing her to shriek and fall into his lap with a big splash. Meiko and me, suddenly lost in the moment, gaped at this surprising turn of events, especially when Ted leaned in close with burning red eyes, his fingers playing with a curl hanging off her shoulder. He brought it to his lips and inhaled softly.

By now, I think Kasane was close to fainting. A shocked expression twisted her features, and she kept trying to run away, only to be quickly pulled back down. She covered her face with both hands, reduced to a helpless, sputtering girl squirming in humiliation from being caught in the act.

"Pervert girl. Don't squirm like that. You're getting me excited." Ted pulled her hands away from her face with a serious expression which eventually shattered once he chuckled, deeply staring into her eyes, "What's with the shy attitude all of the sudden? You want us to become the sexiest couple alive, right? Okay, I'll accept your feelings." He grasped her by the back of her neck and began tugging at her towel, looking like a naughty child and breathing in her ear, "Don't expect me to go easy on you."

"HNNNGKKH…!" Teto's eyes went wide before rolling to the back of her head. She fainted in his arms, making him blink.

"Ted!" Meiko and me gasped, our faces twisted in shock and disbelief. She was the first one to recover and frantically gestured to us naked men. "I-IDIOTS! Put some clothes on! Hurry up! Teto! TETO!"


"Hah… I can't believe it. Who would've guessed that Ted-kun is just as perverted as Teto? Maybe even worse?" Meiko sighed, wringing her hair out when she came out of the dressing room, wincing at the sight of the said couple playing around near the entrance. Already, they were getting steamy.

I rubbed the spot where Meiko hit me, glaring at my shoes, "Yeah, well… I didn't do anything lewd, so why'd you have to go and hit me, too?"

Meiko flushed and stomped her foot, "Y-You saw me naked!"

My face broke into a blush, and I sputtered uncontrollably, "I-I didn't see anything! Shut up!"

"Liar! Pervert!"

"You were in a towel! T-t-there wasn't anything to see!"

"AHA! So you did look then!"

"I said I didn't see anything! SIDES! It's not like we've never bathed together before!"

Meiko went burgundy, staring at me angrily before slapping the back of my head, "M-M-M-MORON! MORON! MORON! STOP MAKING IT SOUND SO CASUAL! WE WERE KIDS THEN!"

I reared back and hissed, rubbing my aching head, "I already told you that I didn't look, so quit your nagging, woman!" I shouted back in her face, flinging my scarf around my neck in my raving. Meiko huffed indignantly and looked away. I tried to will the image of her sleek legs and busty body out of my head, along with her parted lips and tight ass-NOOOOO!

I promptly banged my head against the doorframe. Shit. How come I never realized my best friend had a drop-dead figure that most guys drool over? That I had a hot friend this entire time?

I really am an idiot.

"Fine, fine, I'm sorry if you didn't look then. It's just that men are so dangerous nowadays."

I scoffed and rolled my eyes, "Any guy who's messed with you would wet themselves if they saw you again, Mei-chan."

Meiko snorted, purposely but playfully bumping me aside with her hip as she sashayed past. Not that I was watching her flaunt her body like that. She called the red-haired couple over, and we headed to the grocery market to pick up another cake. After driving and singing off-key with the hottest songs in the van, we headed back to the suite where Nami nagged us for being late before pushing us inside to finish decorate.

We were the last ones to head in, but instead, I pulled her aside under the starry night and asked if I could talk to her for a second.

Meiko shot me a questioning look, tapping her foot expectantly. She rubbed her arms with both hands, huffing.

Nervously, I cleared my throat, "I heard what you said in the onsen earlier." I looked at her helplessly, trying to search her eyes, "A guy like me doesn't deserve a great girl like you." I told her seriously, raising my clenched fist. She stared and blinked at me.

"Kaito…"

Taking a deep, shuddering breath, I abruptly closed the distance between us and pulled her into a desperate embrace. She gasped in surprise when I threaded my fingers in her brown hair, burying my head in her shoulder.

"W-W-What are you doing? This all of a sudden…!" Meiko stammered, sounding flustered, grabbing my bicep and trying to push me away. Instead, I pulled her tightly against my chest so she couldn't fight me, causing her to squeak.

"Meiko…" I whispered against her shoulder, closing my eyes, "Hear me out." I could sense her hesitance when she finally relented and awkwardly patted my back. The snow fell around us, lighting up the dark world like a candle itself. We stood there, clinging to each other for warmth.

"I don't know what I'd do without you," I murmured, taking note of her shiver, so I pulled her closer, taking in her sweet scent, "It's only because of you that I even bothered thinking about the future. Even when I acted like a brat when Nami and Len became part of my life, you still encouraged me…" Damn it, my voice's breaking. I started shaking, whether because it was cold or how my thoughts collided with my bursting emotions, I had no idea. The only thing I did was pull Meiko even closer, probably smothering her at this point. "It's because you've been here that I've, some way or another, been able to keep pushing myself!"

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Meiko's face morph into surprise.

Funny. I used to think there were no secrets between us, that I knew everything about this girl… until now. I guess there's some things that'll never be said even between the closest of friends.

"When I saw you falling off the train that time, it only hit me then just how important you are to me." I gritted out, shuddering, "I couldn't lose you. I didn't even want to think what life would've been like if you just left like that! You mean too much to me, so before you start taking everything on your own, you better not forget me." The lamplight flickered on and off, making our shadows dance. "Don't ever pull a stunt like that again. I don't know why, but for some reason, I don't ever want to see you being selfish like that again, sacrificing yourself for someone else like that… you think it'll make others happy? Well, it doesn't! Think about the others who care and need you almost as much as I do!" I grasped her shoulders and pulled her back so I could look her in the eyes. She seemed so small all of a sudden, shivering like that in my arms. Her eyes watered, and her face bloomed apple-red, but she didn't say anything, so I continued hastily, "Look, I'm sorry! I'm sorry for what I said back then! I meant to say that you're the best thing that's ever happened to me."

"Kai… to…" Her brown eyes grew big, and her mouth parted in a shocked gasp. If anything, her cheeks went redder.

"I don't get why you consider a guy like me as boyfriend material." I grumbled, dropping my eyes momentarily to hide my embarrassment. Then I grinned, shaking my head, "You have… really weird taste. It never ceases to amaze me," She looked annoyed and began to say something, but I pushed a single finger against her pillowed lips, my grin wavering at how soft they felt, "Getting together with me wouldn't be a good thing, Mei-chan. I'd only hold you back."

Meiko seemed to hold her breath until she gasped soundlessly, sounding baffled, "What? Kaito-"

"No, I know that's not what you think, but it's true." I took a deep breath, sighing, "You deserve someone better than me. I mess around most of the time, and I say stupid things that hurt people even when I don't mean it. I'm too much of an idiot for you… I mean, I…"

Meiko looked at me like I was losing my mind, and then she shook her head with a lopsided smile, one that made my chest tighten and my breath to catch in my throat, especially when her eyes lit up with laughter.

"No, Kaito. You're wrong." She replied gently, looking up at me, pulling my scarf from her throat and sharing it with me, tying it loosely around our necks. "Like I said before, you can come off as obnoxious or badmouthed, but that's just a part of you that I love." My tongue went limp in my mouth as she continued to surprise me, "You're really caring though you don't show it sometimes, and you go out of your way to make people laugh." Rolling her shoulders back with a sigh, she smiled again, "You're the cool guy I fell in love with, so just accept it already."

I blushed and scowled, tempted to tell her off about carelessly saying things, "Stupid, I-"

In a fleeting moment, she leaned in and kissed my cheek. I couldn't speak or move, eyes wide and entranced by the warmth of her lips. Butterflies swarmed in my stomach, and my mind went into a blank.

Then she reeled away before I could actually respond, leaving me gaping at the spot, rendered speechless.

"We should head inside since it's getting cold." Meiko laughed teasingly, heading towards the door. I stood there, ashamed and beating myself up for being such a coward. I clenched my fists at my side. Before Meiko walked into the door, she stopped, "…It's okay, Kaito. I know you're not ready for a relationship; you already went through a lot with your family, so I understand. I've been there." She craned her head towards me with a click of her tongue, "But don't try to convince me that I should find someone else. No one can replace you, Silly." She turned her head back before I could say anything, "I don't mind if you don't feel the same way about me. All I want is to stay by your side no matter what the future holds in store for us, for both of us to be happy. That's my only wish."

"Meiko…"

"My feelings for you won't change anytime soon. So whatever happens," she glanced back at me with a wink, "I got your back." With that, she went inside to join the others, laughing and smiling. I watched her from the window as she teased Megurine-chan, who blushed and vehemently defended herself.

I hung my head, closing my eyes. "Meiko…" My hand hovered over the doorknob for a few seconds, but when I heard Meiko laugh… something was off: she didn't sound as cheerful now. I clenched my teeth and kicked the snow.

"Damn it…!"

Instead of going inside, I turned around and ran. Jogging up a few blocks where Crane Hotel was, I burst through the doors and shook the snow out of my hair like a dog, startling the girl at the desk. I flashed her my room card and ran towards the opposite wing. After a climbing a ridiculously long flight of stairs and avoiding my roommates, I finally stopped at a familiar door. As I leaned over to catch my breath, I stared at the doorknob.

"If you ever need to talk, I'll be waiting behind these doors for you. Don't hesitate to see me."

Without wasting another moment, I swung open the door and found who I was looking for. Teacher Haku sat near the window, curled up on the rug by the fire, painting the flames. Apparently, she already knew who had interrupted her private time.

"I was wondering when you'd drop by," Her voice, soothing and gentle, resonated in my ears, immediately calming the storm inside me. I felt my muscles relax as her warm red eyes fell on my shivering form, and she laughed, ushering me to sit down beside her and gently stroking my arm only in the way a caretaker would. I collapsed on the floor and stared into the fire, my emotions swelling up like a balloon ready to pop.

"Sorry. I didn't know what else to do." I grumbled with a sigh. Haku poked a log into the fire, making the sparks crackle and flare. She frowned at me sympathetically, offering me a warm mug of cocoa, and I took it gratefully. She's so great, this woman, even though she's a counselor to help other people, I can't help believing that she actually cares about me. Lately, I've been stopping by her place to just rant about whatever's on my mind or worries about graduating this year.

"What's on your mind?"

After several gulps, my throat started to burn. I wiped my mouth with a sleeve and gazed deep into the fire, which vaguely reminded me of Meiko.

"Well…," I began unsurely, totally embarrassed at what I was about to bring up, but the encouraging nod Haku prompted me to continue, so I exhaled slowly, "There's… this girl." My eyes then fell on the leaf patterned lintel, and a memory reawakened within me.

"Mei-chaaaan!"

"UWAH! Stupid, you scared me!"

Me, being eight years old and easygoing, laughed embarrassedly, shrugging.

"Sorry! I was just happy to see you!" Guiding and pulling her by the hand through the playground, we brushed past our classmates who were either playing tag or tetherball until we stopped at the withering oak tree that we claimed as our secret spot. Eagerly, I turned to her and grinned excitedly, "Come on! Let's practice our parts for music class!"

"Eh… but I want to catch leaves before it snows tomorrow!" Meiko scrunched her face in replay, "Can't we do that later?"

"But, Mei-chan!" I whined, allowing my knees to go limp, "You've got the best voice out of all of us, so I wanna tell Kaiko-nee we sang together! She'll be so jealous!" I didn't want to mention that I'd forgotten what we were supposed to be singing later, if I did, then Meiko would yell at me.

"R-Really? You think I'm the best?" Meiko sounded shy all of a sudden, and she ducked her head while twiddling her fingers. "You like my voice?"

I nodded eagerly, "Yeah! You got the prettiest voice ever!" She blushed and hesitated, so I grabbed her hand and looked at her seriously, "Please! Then we can do whatever you want!"

At the prospect of what I said, Meiko's eyes lit up, and she agreed. She inhaled deeply and began:

"A dry wintry wind was breezing…"

Unable to contain my victorious grin, I inwardly did a victory dance and happily joined in:

"A dry leaf was fluttering…"

Meiko closed her eyes and gripped my hand tightly, "Waiting for the day we would come across, we went through our times~

Colored with the gathering leaves, a leaf turned red and flew up in the wind by the moment,

It fell into the hand and told… Led by the leaf's hand, the wind ran off.

Even there was no time to feel fears for the unknown future…"

Fully relaxed at this point, she smiled and danced with me as we continued singing under the dying oak. At the end of our song, we repeated it again… and again… and again.

Under the dying leaves, two childhood friends sat against the bark and sang joyful songs. So lost in their fun, they never heard the bell ring.


A/N: EDIT! Missing chapter part? It's on the next one! I made it shorter so you could read easier.

Hey, guys! So glad to see you made it to the end. :D Good job. Anyway, Len turned fifteen... also Rin as well, huh? Uhm. Yeah. I hope you guys liked this chapter. Full of... fanservice and whatnot. It was more like a fun chapter, I guess? Personally, I think there's going to be around at least 5 or 6 chapters left of P:V. More or less, but it's almost done! :D

Ahem.

I feel like that sometimes we all want to have our own "Len" or "Rin". Just having someone always beside you is enough to make you complete, even if you get annoyed with that person. I don't know, but sometimes, I wish I had someone like Len to talk to and be close with. Well, I think I did at one point, but it's always easiest to lose the things close to you. Once that happens, well, then you feel like you're taking on the world alone.

... But hang in there! Life is about overcoming these challenges~ waiting just beyond the river bend~!

Extra thoughts: I feel kind of bad for cutting Miku off here... D; I was sort of thinking about including Piko in here, but I got lazy. Anyway, I'm still alive and kicking, just so you know. If you guys are confused about some parts in the story, just ask! Plus, if you think I can improve the story in any way, please let me know! I'm open to suggestions.

sleepsleepsleep.

My writing fuel consists of two things: coffee and reviews. Unless you have a way to mail coffee to me, then leave me for reviews!