Disclaimer: I do not own To LOVE-Ru.
The Twenty-Three Signs
Steam rose into the air as dark liquid poured from the mouth of a silver-rimmed pot. It cascade down in a single, almost black stream that pooled into the hollow of a white mug. The slender hand that held the pot raised its rim and set it down gently. Her green eyes touched upon the small mug as she picked it up with both hands and brought it to rest beneath her nose. The rich scent of almonds filled her senses. It wafted into the air on the currents of steam that emanated from the ceramic cup, Rising steady upward to tickle her nose. She breathed the aroma in, her eyes shutting as she reveled in it—the scent, the pleasure it elicited from her—and she sighed in appreciation.
"So," she said, opening her eyes and turning to her guests, "it's not very often I see you two together. What can I do for you?" She smiled at the two of them as she raised the cup and took the first sip of her coffee. It trickled down her throat, sending out waves of warmth that caused a small shiver to course through her spine. Her eyes closed in a most satisfied way. When she opened them again, she found that neither of her guests were smiling.
"I'm sorry. Would you like some? It's excellent."
"Not right now, Mikado-san," the taller of the two said, glancing down briefly at the young girl sitting beside him. "Thank you, though."
"Oh, Zastin-kun," the woman pouted, shaking her head disappointingly. "We've known each other a while now; why don't you call me Ryouko?"
The gray-haired captain fidgeted slightly in his seat. "Ah, Mikado-san... we—"
"We need to talk to you about something urgent," Zastin's companion said, her voice quiet and still.
Mikado gazed down at the girl searchingly for a moment, then nodded slowly and made her way to her desk. "This is about Rito-kun, then," she said as she sat down. The chair squeaked slightly as she swiveled around to face them, and draped one black-stockinged leg over the other. "Right, Mikan-chan?"
The girl nodded. "You said his condition might be reversible."
"Mm." The doctor took another sip of her coffee and nodded. "It's possible."
"How?" She asked the question quickly, and even leaned forward in her chair as she awaited a response.
Mikado considered her question quietly as she took a third sip, then glanced at Zastin. She smiled behind her cup at what she saw. "Well, there are certain triggers that can reawaken lost memories," she said as she set her mug down on her desk, twisting her body instead of swiveling the chair, so that her upper torso protruded at an angle just so.
"Oh, yes. Certain things that... arouse feelings and images that might unlock his memories." She uncrossed her legs briefly, keeping them close together in her chair as she recrossed them opposite the way they had been. "Like a song or a sound, a smell, a location, a person, even an image, if one found it so appealing before they lost their memories."
A coughing sounded through the room as Zastin repositioned himself in his chair. His hand over his mouth, he cast his eyes off to the side of the room where his gaze would be far away from anything he might find... appealing.
"So you're saying," Mikan began slowly, Zastin's behavior having gone by completely unnoticed by her, "that he might regain his memories just by being around things that should be familiar to him?"
"Mm-hm. You never know what just might trigger those sensations that will reawaken his memories."
"Is there anything that might... have a strong chance of triggering them?"
"Not necessarily, no. Although I imagine that the triggers with the deepest connection to Rito-kun will act the fastest."
"The deepest connection..." Mikan considered this carefully, her eyes lost in the haze of thought. When they lifted again, there was a curious light in her eyes. "The deepest connections, if we were to guess what they might be, and go from there... would that work?"
"It might," the doctor mused, leaning back against her chair. "Assuming you could guess right."
The corners of Mikan's lips twitched, just a little, and that curious light flared into a blaze. "I don't think that'll be a problem."
It was cool, soft to the touch. It smeared across his skin as he dug his fingers into it. It was... odd, yet interestingly cathartic. But... he had absolutely no idea what he was doing.
He sighed as he sat back to look at his work. Newly planted flowers lay in two rows before him, the dirt in which they were planted bearing the treads and marks his fingers had left when he slid the dirt back into place. That girl... Mikan had suggested he spend some time gardening. Apparently, it was something Rito enjoyed doing.
He picked up the watering can that sat next to him and angled it over the newest flower with a sigh. Pipes of water flowed from its round top, and sprinkled gently down upon the yellow petals like the first drops of a coming rain. He could feel the water sloshing around in the can as he tipped it just a bit further.
It was odd, this watering can. He stared at it curiously, not for the first time that day, as he continued to water the flower. Its design seemed almost decorative by nature, and its surface was pained with the image of a hen and her chic walking along a green path set against a field of blue pastel. There wasn't anything wrong with it, but... He could see no evidence of any other items similar to this one among Rito's possessions. Not even close. Although... there was that weird, dog-like ornament with a fish in its mouth stationed on one of Rito's shelves. It looked like a dog in an alien space suit, in all honesty. But aside from that, there was nothing to suggest Rito would own something like this. And from what Mikan had told him, no one else took care of the gardening. Perhaps they were gifts?
He didn't know. He couldn't ask, either, for no one else was home. They had all gone out earlier. For what, they hadn't said. It wouldn't have mattered though, he supposed. He had too many questions to ask as it was. The mysteries of a watering can and an ornament were at the bottom of his list of curiosities. Maybe it was because he had amnesia, but he didn't find anything odd about the three girls with tails. It was easily noticeable that no one else seemed to have them, except for that gray-haired man, anyway. What was the significance? And what of their hair? Pink hardly seemed a natural hair color, but when he looked at them, their hair didn't appear to be dyed. In fact their hair color seemed very natural on them. There was also that girl with pale green hair, but like the other three, there didn't seem to be anything fake about it. Everyone else he saw had much more down to earth hair colors. Black, brown, red... even gold. The most insistent oddity, however, by her very nature, was the little girl. Her hair was green, and the pink-tinged flower on her head... it wasn't a hat or hair decoration. It was a very real, albeit somewhat large, flower.
The past few days had been rather strained for the people of this house, though, so he had kept his questions to himself, and tried to stay out of their way. It was hard to do this, however, when the obvious cause of their strain was him. They had given him space, but he could tell, when they did speak to him, when they did spend time with him, and even when they didn't, they were looking for something. Hoping, even.
He sighed as he set the can back down. They were looking for Rito. And he still wasn't there.
It was, perhaps, not in the cafe's usual duties, but when a large party such as this entered the shop, its employees took it all in stride. They had pulled together five tables from their regular stations and set them in a single row beside a window-lined wall in short order. When everyone had been seated, and their orders taken, the staff dispersed to tend to their other duties, leaving the large group to themselves.
"Now then. Why exactly are we here, Yuuki-chan?"
Mikan glanced at the blond heiress briefly before clearing her throat and turning to the rest of the people gathered. "Thank you all for coming. I want to talk to you all about my brother."
The Tenjoin girl scoffed at this. "I think we'll be leaving." As one, she and her closest friends and confidants rose from their seats.
"Tenjoin-san..." Mikan's voice was cool and controlled, but her fingers fidgeted under the table, and she gnawed at her lower lip despite herself. "I wouldn't have asked you here unless it was important. Won't you please stay... and listen to what I have to say before you decide to leave?"
When the Yuuki girl looked up, it was with clear, yet burdened eyes. Saki stared at her from across the table, taken somewhat aback by what she saw, and nodded slowly.
"I owe you and your brother a debt," she said, sitting down once more. "This will pay it."
Mikan watched as Aya and Rin followed suit, and when they were all seated, she let out a small sigh. "Thank you."
"As many of you know, Rito has recently lost all of his memories."
Mikan glanced up at her father as he folded his arms against the table. Indeed, most of the people gathered here had known about Rito's condition, but for those that hadn't, the news...
"What?! When was this?!"
Suffice it to say, the news came as a bit of a shock. She turned her gaze to her brother's best friend. His chair had fallen to the ground when he sprang to his feet. His hands slammed against the table in outrage.
"Why wasn't I told?!"
"Sir, please. Control yourself or you'll be forced to leave."
Saruyama turned his narrowed eyes upon the waitress menacingly, but nodded and muttered an apology before turning to pick up his chair.
"Yeah, why weren't we told either?"
"It's so sudden."
Risa and Mio hadn't been told either, Mikan reflected, but they were taking this much better than Saruyama was. The Tenjoin group were the only others present who hadn't known, and they, while visibly startled, said nothing.
"How did this happen? When?" Once again seated, Saruyama breathed the questions through clenched teeth. The answer came not from Mikan, however, but from the opposite end of the table.
"Less than a week ago, Rito received a severe trauma to the back of his head that brought on his current condition."
All eyes turned towards the auburn-haired doctor.
"Trauma? So he got hit in the head? How?"
The question hung in the air, creating an uncomfortable silence that no one dared break. Mikan shifted her gaze to the end of the table where Lala sat. She was being uncharacteristically quiet. She had been ever since...
Mikan shook her head. "It doesn't matter. The point is he has amnesia. But Mikado-san has told me that his memories can be restored."
The servers returned then, bearing trays of drinks. They did not speak as the servers distributed their orders, but mulled over what Mikan had said.
"It's possible," Oshizu said slowly, pulling her drink towards her after the servers had left. She looked up at the doctor sitting next to her with tilted head. "But not guaranteed."
"But possible, right? Rito-kun might be able to remember again?"
Oshiuzu looked down the table at Haruna. There was pain etched on her face. Oshizu bit her lip. She had said too much.
"Of course." Mikado pat her student's shoulder lightly as she lifted her glass. "The only questions to consider are how and when."
"And the 'how' has already been addressed."
Mikan nodded at Run's question. "Triggers."
"What kind of triggers, exactly?" Yui asked. She had yet to touched her drink, and wasn't likely too any time soon. Not until they told her what was going on.
"Things Rito-dono had strong connections to before he lost his memory," Zastin said. He was seated beside Saibai, and like Yui, he hadn't the mind for food or drink.
"Like us?" Momo considered the notion with a slight frown. "Mikan-chan, Rito-san has already been home for a few days now, and seeing us hasn't caused any memories to resurface."
"But we haven't been spending that much time with him. We didn't want to overwhelm him. This is different."
"I suppose," Momo said, sliding her drink away from the reaching arms of the child sitting next to her in a highchair. She ran a hand through her green hair affectionately as she thought over the idea. "Maybe if we were to spend some time alone with Rito-san..."
"Momo..." Across the table from her, her twin's tone took a dangerous edge.
"I'm serious, Nana. Mikan-chan's right; we haven't spent any time talking about real things with Rito-san. We've just been trying to make sure he's comfortable. If we got serious, maybe..."
"So, what, we each take a day to spend time with Yuuki-san?"
Mikan nodded. "Maybe not a whole day, Tenjoin-san, but a large part of one."
"And what makes you think that'll work?"
Mikan's voice became almost toneless. "I asked you all here today... because everyone at these tables has made an impact on Onii-chan's life. Every one of you."
Beside her, watching her with eyes full of concern, sat Yami. She could see what no one else could at that table. She could see the shaking fists Mikan hid beneath the tablecloth, she could see the marks that had been left on her skin from all the pressure Mikan had exerted wringing her hands together, she could see the pain that wracked her body, that threatened to overwhelm her and leave her broken. And it worried her.
"Everyone here is a potential trigger for Rito-kun," Mikado said, filling the void Mikan's voice had left. "She's asking you for help."
"Yes." Mikan breathed in deep and let her gaze fall over everyone gathered before her. "Will you help my brother regain his memories?"
Her gaze finally fell upon Saki, and there it stayed until the heiress answered her.
"My debt to you is paid. My debt to your brother... I will pay." Beside her, Aya and Rin nodded.
Nods and murmurs of affirmation sounded from everyone gathered, and Mikan, filled with relief, leaned back against her chair. She felt a hand squeeze hers. She turned to her best friend, a smile gracing her lips. It was the first one Yami had seen in some time. She could only nod, though, for fear of what failure might do to the young girl.
"All that's left to decide then, is in what order we all spend time with him, trying to trigger his memories." Saibai sat back in his seat with crossed arms as he said this, his eyes lifted in thought.
Mikan nodded. "Right. There are... nineteen of us here. If we—." She looked up as her father's hand fell upon her shoulder. "Perhaps we should make accommodations for those who aren't here as well."
She stared up at him quietly as understanding caused her head to nod once more. "You're right." She looked around the table, her eyes stopping on certain people, most noticeably Lala, and closed her eyes. "Alright. The total count is..."
-END Ch. 3-
"Then they came to him,
The Twenty-Three signs.
In ones and two and even threes,
They came to him.
Though he recognized them not for what they really were.
He recognized them not for what they had meant to him,
Or for what he had meant to them,
But still they came,
In ones and twos and even threes,
In hopes that he would remember."
A/N: For those of you who don't remember, the items Rito describes in the garden scene are all from the manga. The watering can was a birthday present from Haruna to Rito in chapter 27, and the alien dog ornament is a gift Rito received from Lala when thy went to the Tenjoin Christmas party in chapters 33 and 34.
The debt Saki is referring to during the cafe scene is a reference to when Rito and Mikan took her in when she wanted to run away from home in chapters 131 and 132.