It was four a.m. In the morning, and I couldn't sleep.
For the past two weeks, I had several nights outside under the streetlights in Osaka, patrolling the sparsely populated sidewalks and past the tall buildings, searching for the monster that I was destined to battle. The sleepless nights had been hard, and yet I couldn't bring myself to sleep, no matter how I tried.
It was the fear, I guessed; the fear of this dark, evil thing that attacked innocent people, especially children. This thing that would drown you in acidic blood, with unimaginable speed and fury. The thing that, as some Guardian pulled straight out of a myth, I was supposed to battle alongside Ikuto, and win to save our city.
It felt as if the weight of the world had been placed upon my shoulders, and no one could be permitted to help me bear the weight. It was lonely, cold, and more than anything, I didn't want this. I didn't want to be the one to defeat this horrid monster, and I definitely didn't want to be some legendary protector that saved the world. I'd already done that once. But how could you escape from such a duty when you are the only one who can do so? So every night I lay awake, trying to sleep though terrifying images flashed through my mind and Fear clawed at my stomach, my heart, my throat, until I knew it was impossible.
I had tried my best during the few hours my friends and I could set aside to work with our allies. Done my best to transform with my guardian characters flawlessly, and try to do so without the help of the Lock. But try as I might, as desperately as I needed this, I couldn't. I told myself that of course I could; Rima, Nadeshiko and Utau had all been able to do so without the help of the Lock or the Key. What could I be missing?
I groaned quietly and rolled over, muffling my face in my pillow and trying to sleep. Something was tugging at me, like I had reached to grab something, a tiny slip that meant the difference between Life and Death. It seemed almost as if a tiny voice inside my head was whispering something important, something that was just within reach. And under the pure, chaste light of the moon, I fell into a restless, dreaming sleep.
"Within the moon's high, the darkness shall rise...Prepare, Lock and Key, to meet your demise..."
I woke in a cold sweat, panting slightly. The alarm clock was ringing, the shrill noise piercing my ears, and I slammed the snooze button, sighing in frustration. I felt like I'd caught just a little of it, and then with the stupid alarm clock it had slipped away again. But this time, I had a start.
As I dressed, I repeated the rhyme, knowing full well that whatever it meant, it was bound to be important. I grabbed my unfinished homework and stuffed it into my bag, tossing it over my shoulder and racing down the stairs, scarfing down my breakfast without another word and rushing into the early fall air.
Rima walked up to me, smiling weakly. "Hey Amu."
The second I hear my name, I felt myself freeze up. Without warning, my body was under lockdown mode; I couldn't move, couldn't breathe. It was like I had lost control of my body, trapped inside my head as someone, something controlled my body.
"Something wrong, Amu?"
I felt my lips move, and heard my voice begin to chant. "Within the moon's high, the darkness shall rise...Prepare, Lock and Key, to meet your demise..."
"Amu?" Rima took a step forward, alarmed. "What's going on? What are you saying?"
I tried to stop it in fear, control my suddenly wild body, but they were utterly resistant, stubbornly still, and inside my mind I sobbed, trying to stop the madness. "...Disaster will strike; the Curse shall prevail...And all Life shall end when two alone fail..."
"What are you saying?" She was frightened. "Amu, what's going on? Are you okay?!"
"Hey, Rima." Nagihiko sauntered up to her, throwing a careless arm over her shoulder. "'Sup, Amu?...Amu?"
Nadeshiko appeared by his side, grumbling as she stuffed papers into her bag, carrying it strangely with her hands. "So my bag splits again, and you just keep walking? Thanks for helping me back there, brother dear. Hey, Rima, Amu."
"...Against will and reason Death shall be undone...The demon of ink has only begun..."
"Amu?" I heard Nadeshiko's voice, uncertain and worried, seeming to pierce through a veil, and suddenly I could move again, and I had collapsed, breathing hard with wide eyes.
"Amu!" Rima crouched down next to me. "What's going on? Are you okay?"
"—I—I—" I took in a shuddering breath. "What just happened? I just..."
Nadeshiko fell to her knees beside me. "What the hell was that? You...It was like you..."
"I...lost...control." My voice broke on the last word, and I felt tears flowing down my face. "It was like someone was controlling me, and I was trapped."
"Oh, God. Do you think—?"
"I don't know," I said helplessly. "I don't feel any different now, just... scared. Confused..."
Nadeshiko thought for a moment. "Where are Ran, Miki, Su and Dia?"
"...I don't know." Sudden panic filled me. "Oh, God, I don't know!"
"Should we go look for them?" Nagihiko seemed concerned.
"Their eggs, where were their eggs?" Rima pressed me urgently. "If they weren't there..."
"I don't remember!" I wailed. "God, if something happened—"
"That won't happen," Nadeshiko insisted. "We'll find them."
"Y-Yeah," I looked up at her tremulously, then choked.
"What? What's wrong?"
"Where's... where's Azumi?" I whispered.
"Azumi? She was... here just a.. second ago..." A terrified look crossed her face, one that I knew had to be mirrored in my own.
Rima swore. "I sent KusuKusu to get my lunch that I'd left at home... what if—"
"Hello!" Nagihiko's characters called, floating over with strange, almost abnormal cheer. My guardian characters—no, everyone's guardian characters—were floating behind them with weird, dreamy looks on their faces.
"Hello, Amu," Ran said in a creepy, monotone voice. "Temari and Rhythm wanted to play."
"We hope we didn't worry you," Miki's expression was empty.
Su settled herself on my shoulder, floating there with not an ounce of her usual cheer, only a bland smile. "We're back."
"Hello, Amu," Dia repeated Ran's words, and though her voice was dull, her face was filled with warning.
"Thank goodness, they're all safe!" Nagihiko laughed. "And we were all so worried!"
I wanted to scream, wanted to shout that this was wrong, that these were not my guardian characters, because they couldn't be, and why was Nagihiko acting like everything was fine?
"KusuKusu?" Rima asked in a tiny voice.
Rima's bouncy guardian character blinked at her vapidly. "Yes, Rima?"
Nadeshiko reached a tentative finger to Azumi. "Azumi...?"
I couldn't see the little chara's face, but from the horrified, broken look on Nadeshiko's, I knew it had to be bad.
And with that, Tadase came hurtling towards us with a look of absolute terror on his face. "GUYS! GUYS, KISEKI IS—!" He skidded to a halt, immediately spotting his character among us. "Oh, thank goodness, Kiseki! I thought—"
"Hello, my king," Kiseki's eyes were dull, and I shuddered. The bossy, domineering character was like a lifeless parody of himself, an empty, emotionless doll. Even his annoying nature was preferable to this... grotesque, zombified state.
"See? Everything is fine." Nagihiko broke our silence of horror, smiling brightly, as if the wrongness of this didn't even occur to him, as if this strange evil did not even reach him.
Rima sat in a ball on her bed, hunched away as she stared blankly through the window in the late morning. It had been over two weeks since KusuKusu had disappeared. Since her adorable, funny little friend had become empty and soulless, like she had been drained of all emotion. In the few weeks since the event, the ten had found it was impossible to undergo a character transformation. Not even a chara-change. They might as well have been carrying around dolls. And for the past two weeks, Rima had hoped, hoping with all her might that this was a dream, because that was the only explanation for this horror. Anything seemed better than this version of KusuKusu.
And it didn't even truly make any sense, because wasn't any change in a guardian character affect the bearer? Why wasn't she dead to the world as well? Because truly, feeling nothing seemed a better way to deal with this pain, like whatever bond between the two had been severed, like Rima was a planet and her moon, her only moon, had been shattered, and she was completely, utterly alone as she hurtled through space.
What had happened? In the short, fifteen-minute space of time since the last time she had seen the real KusuKusu, what on earth could have happened to change? She had left the house with a cheerful KusuKusu, and forgotten her lunch... and then she'd sent her back to get it after promising to get her candy... and the next time she'd seen her was with...
Rhythm and Temari.
Rima closed her eyes. No. No, it couldn't be. If it was Nagihiko, if for whatever reason he had done it... then he would be different, wouldn't he? He would act differently. He would act like he was possessed.
But he has been acting differently, a tiny voice in her head said. He's ruder, more forgetful, meaner, and he's a pervert. He's less forgiving when you two argue, and gets jealous easily. Nagihiko would never do that.
But maybe that's just the way he is when he dates girls, Rima argued miserably. Neither idea was anything but gloomy and filled with despair. If he wasn't possessed, then that would mean that he would be a terrible boyfriend, a fake friend and probably both. And if he was possessed...
Wouldn't that mean that any ounce of romantic feelings would be a farce?
Rima buried her face in her pillow once more, hoping with all her might. But what she was hoping for, she no longer truly knew.
I nodded, staring blankly at the seventeen bright, flickering candles that stood at attention on the fluffy white cake topped with strawberries. My eyes fluttered shut, and I took a deep breath in, pausing, hesitating for a moment and making a wish, before releasing the pent-up air in a great gust that blew out all the candles.
"My little Amu's seventeen!" Papa sobbed, throwing his arms around me and sobbing into my neck.
I sweat-dropped. "Calm down, Papa."
"But it's such a big event!" Mama said excitedly. "And you get to celebrate it with all your family and friends!"
"Uhm..." I glanced around the living room, where literally all of my friends and family stood cramped. "This is a really good party, thanks so much," I said hurriedly.
"All right!" My sister managed to shove her way through the crowd and came flying out with a pop. "WHO WANTS CAKE?!" She yelled.
The crowd (well, kind of a mob, to be honest) cheered, and the huge sheet cake had begun slicing.
"I have to go to the bathroom," I said hastily, and hurried upstairs, slamming the door to my room and rushing into my bathroom, locking the door with a sigh.
It was evening on the 20th, a day before my real birthday, and I was having a huge party to celebrate becoming seventeen. It was my last birthday before I graduated.
I knew I was being extremely antisocial. Very ungrateful, for that matter. I mean, all of my friends and family had all come to the birthday party my parents had planned for me, and even in the extremely crowded way they were stuck, most of them seemed really happy to be here. I was supposed to be opening the large amount of presents from them. I slid guiltily out of my bathroom and paused at the door to my room.
And yet... I glanced at the four eggs that rested on my nightstand, motionless and silent, and hid my face in my hands. They were so cold, so distant, and it hurt so badly. When her guardian characters had gone back into their eggs, even when Dia had abandoned her, it hadn't been so painful, because these guardian characters were wrong, they weren't mine, they weren't really my Ran, or my Miki, not my Su or my Dia.
But in this moment, it didn't matter. Not when I had to go back downstairs to join the crowd. "What could I do for them, anyways?" I said aloud.
"Talking to yourself again, are we, Amu-koi?"
I gasped and whirled around. There, leaning against my balcony door, was Ikuto, smiling at me. Beside him stood Utau, who was covering her mouth like she was trying to hold in her laughter.
"Sorry, we're a little late," Utau said brightly. "I'll admit it took me forever to find you the perfect gift, but inspiration just... well, appeared on my doorstep out of the blue."
I flung myself forward and attacked my boyfriend, throwing my arms around his neck and kissing him. "I missed you I missed you I missed you—"
"Wow, if I'd known I was going to get such an enthusiastic welcome, I would've come back ages ago," Ikuto laughed. "I missed you too, Amu-koi."
I addressed my best friend. "How did he get back? I thought the orchestra was staying for a month!"
"...Amu, it's been over nine weeks since I've been gone."
I frowned in confusion. "Really? That long? I guess I just lost track of time after..." My voice trailed off as I remembered exactly what Ikuto had returned home to. "Does he know?"
"Well, Amu..." Utau sighed. "When I said that he arrived on my doorstep, I mean that he arrived battered and bruised, breaking down my door and demanding to see me. And then attacking me and bombarding me with about a thousand questions about why... um, why he'd been ambushed by a bunch of people at the airport."
"Ambushed?!" My eyes widened. "Why would he be ambushed?!"
"That's something we need to talk about. Where are the others?" Utau asked. "I've got a hunch about what's going on, and it's not good." Her face was grim.
"They're downstairs. I'll go get them." I opened the door. "And... maybe it would be best if you guys came in through the front door."
"Oh, yeah. Haven't done that in so long," I heard my boyfriend say.
"Stop being a pervert and let's go."
"Amu sure is taking a long time in the bathroom," Nagihiko glanced upstairs. "Maybe I should go check on her."
Rima stared at her boyfriend for a second. A strange tingle of doubt and jealousy tickled her chest, but she shoved it down, telling herself she was being stupid.
"Ah, speak of the devil," Kairi said, as Amu came flying down the stairs, panting. "We saved you some cake, Amu."
"You're lucky I didn't eat it," Yaya said through a mouthful of cake. "This stuff is really good."
Through all their casual talk, Rima had noticed, each had reacted differently to the change in their guardian characters. Yaya was binge-eating, Kairi couldn't eat at all, Amu couldn't sleep, Kukai was aggressive... Rima herself often found herself silently crying with no idea that she had been doing so in the first place. Nadeshiko, however, was the worst; she hadn't spoken a single word since the event.
Nagihiko continually insisted that he couldn't see anything wrong, using his own guardian characters as an example and convinced that everything was fine. His actions were drawing suspicion from the others, and, Rima admitted, even herself. The rest had even begun to avoid them, even Nadeshiko, who lived in the same house as her twin.
"...to talk about. Upstairs," Amu was saying, ushering them in the direction of her staircase.
"But we're partying here!" Nagihiko protested, lifting his punch and his cake. "I'm eating!"
"It's seriously important. I have to go talk to my parents. The rest of you, go upstairs, okay?"
In the tightly packed room, Rima heard the doorbell ring, and shoved herself through the bodies and reaching the door, opening it as far as she could. "Hey, Utau, you're here. Back already, Tsukiyomi?"
"I couldn't miss my girlfriend's birthday party, of course." The blue-haired man chuckled, though his eyes were scrunched in worry.
"We have something to talk to talk to you guys about," Utau glanced around her and through the door. "We need to go upstairs." She paused. "All ten of us."
"...Yeah, Amu said. Come in."
"Where is she now?" Utau questioned, trying to see over the heads and failing.
"She went to talk to her parents, wherever they are."
"'Kay. See you upstairs."
Rima nodded, then turned as the two disappeared into the crowd. She started in surprise. "Nagihiko? Why are you still down here?"
He shrugged. "Finishing my food. Why?"
"We have to go upstairs to Amu's room," Rima said in disbelief.
"I'll go up when I'm done eating, keep your hair on," Nagihiko said dismissively.
Rima stared at him, astonished. Did... he seriously just act as if she was his mother? She let out a choked laugh. Who the hell did he think he was? And why was he treating her like this?
But for the first time as Rima looked at him, she finally saw how wrong, how off his expression was. Gone was the calm, compassionate prince. There was no easy, harmless mischief in his eyes when his gaze fell upon his sister, no love as he looked upon her. His smile did not reach his eyes, which were cold and dark.
Nagihiko had amber eyes. Golden eyes like Amu's, like Yaya's and Nadeshiko's. This thing that was embodying Nagihiko, this was not him, because Nagihiko was gone.
"You thing," She hissed in horror, stumbling away.
He blinked, and took a step back, raising his hands defensively with a chuckled. "Whoa, there, Rima, back down. I was just joking, okay?"
"I—I need to go to the bathroom." Rima turn on her heels and rammed her way as hard as possible through the crowd, breathing hard. No, no, this couldn't be happening...
He was possessed. Nagihiko was possessed. The thought seemed to rip her mind from the inside.
"Amu!" She called, trying not to scream. "Amu, where are you?!"
The pink-haired teen appeared in an instant. "Rima? Rima, why are you crying? What's wrong?" She looked concerned.
"N-Nagihiko," Rima said helplessly. "He, he isn't—Nagihiko is—"
"He's possessed, that's what he is." Nadeshiko appeared behind Rima with Azumi floating by her side.
"What?!" Amu grabbed Nadeshiko's shoulders. "Oh, my God!"
"How did you find out?" Rima asked her friend tremulously.
"I guessed after the thing with our guardian characters." Her expression was both frightened and fierce. "Azumi told me that's what happened. She and Dia just managed to escape after his guardian characters managed to put the others under their control. Nagihiko's watching all of us." Her voice broke.
"We need to get upstairs. Now!" Amu said urgently. "Hurry!"
In Amu's room, the rest except for Nagihiko were waiting. "Good, you guys are finally here," Utau said. "We—"
"Who has their guardian characters with them right now?" Nadeshiko shouted as Rima and Amu rushed around locking all the doors.
Stunned silence, then: "...I have Kiseki in his egg in my pocket..."
"...I have Pepe..."
"...Musashi's in here..."
With that, the three frantic girls snatched the eggs: Amu's, Yaya's, Tadase's, Kairi's; and against the astounded and angry protests of their friends, locked them out on the balcony.
"We don't have much time," Nadeshiko whispered quickly. "This is really important, nothing else matters right now."
"Nagihiko is possessed." Amu's hushed voice rang out through the room.
"We just found out," Rima murmured. "The Dream Thief has possessed Nagihiko, his guardian characters have taken control over the rest of ours and—"
"And turned us into spies so he can watch us every second of the day," A tiny voice said. Dia popped up from her egg. "Azumi and I guessed this a while back," She explained. "We knew something was up, so we were secretly spying on Nagihiko and figured it out."
"How did you tell?" Utau questioned.
"His eyes aren't the same color they used to be, the way he acts is different, and at night if you go into his room, you see him squirming and flailing about on his bed while he shouts and screams at something you can't see," Azumi said quietly.
"I couldn't tell you because Rhythm and Temari are suspicious of me and have Ran, Miki and Su watching me at all times," Dia told Amu, who was fighting back tears.
"Since I'm Nade's only guardian character and Rhythm and Temari are convinced they have control over me, I told Nadeshiko everything and warned her when she tried to go investigating."
"From what we can figure out, Nagihiko was possessed sometime before his and Nade's birthday. Since then, he's being used to spy on you guys."
"No," Utau breathed. "That means—"
"The Demon of Hearts knows everything we know. It knows about the Lock and Key Guardians, it knows what we're trying to do to stop it, and it knows everything about us."
And suddenly there were screams downstairs, a horrible discordance of terror and chaos. The nine froze. "Oh, no," Amu moaned. "Oh, no, oh, no... Please, no..."
Suddenly the noise stopped. There was a knock on the door, and Nagihiko's voice rang out from the other side. "Yo, I'm done eating. Let me in."
"Um—Just a minute!" Amu called, and hissed, terrified, "What do I do?!"
"He knows that we know," Dia said softly. "Don't let him in."
"I'm waiting," The violet-haired twin called in a sing-song voice. "Let me in!"
A black, smoky substance had begun to leak in from the crack between the floor and the bottom of the door, seeping into the room as the nine skittered back from the door. A disgusting stench of rot and death grew stronger and stronger.
"We need to get out of here!" Azumi flew towards the balcony, and Amu unlocked the doors, throwing them open with a bang.
I leapt wildly off the balcony, waving my arms and legs as I plummeted to the ground like a stone and landing with stinging feet, stumbling forward with momentum. I glanced back at my house, through the open windows, and shuddered with horror and sorrow, seeing every single body lying motionless in a heap on the ground. From a distance I heard sobs rip from my throat, and I staggered backwards.
"Amu!" I gasped as Ikuto grabbed my hand. "Run!"
And with that, I sprinted as fast as I could, hearing the footsteps behind me, terrified to look back and see if it were friend or foe that pursued. The thick, sticky terror that had clung in the pit of my stomach, in my throat and my heart, for weeks, had swelled like some monstrous growth.
I heard a thump of noise in the distance, and Nagihiko called out from somewhere behind me playfully, "Where are you guys going! Come back!"
"Amu!" Dia cried from beside me.
I took a deep breath and gathered up all my courage, and nodded.
"My own heart... unlock!" I called, and was borne into the thrum and rush of pulsing golden energy. With a blinding array of diamonds and light, I had character-transformed. Chara-nari: Amulet Diamond!
I whirled around, and there were my friends, all sprinting towards me with looks of pure fear. Nadeshiko was sprinting headlong towards me. She yelled, "Azumi!" and dissolved in a rosy light; a blinding flash, and she was Heart's Desire.
"Why are you guys running from me?" The Nagihiko appeared out of nowhere, grinning malevolently. His eyes were flat black. "I only want to play."
"It's over, Demon," I told him, joining Nadeshiko and standing protectively in front of our friends.
"What's over, Amu?" He smiled innocently, but the curve did not reach his cold, empty eyes. "What are you doing?"
"You thing," Nadeshiko hissed. "Get OUT OF MY BROTHER!"
He cackled, and disappeared. I gasped, and the nine of us whirled around. "Where did he go?"
I froze as I felt a presence beside me. "You guys are so mean," His breath tickled my ear. "I just want to be friends."
Nadeshiko was there beside me in a flash, pushing him away from me, and with surprising strength she had shoved her twin to the ground. "Get out of him," She seethed, and he laughed. With a kick, he sent her flying, up, up, until she was impossibly high, a tiny figure in the clouds that began to fall.
"Nadeshiko!" I screamed as she plummeted towards the ground, flying up to catch her—
But she wasn't falling. Shimmering angel's wings with long, glimmering feathers had sprouted from her back, unfolding and spreading, and her descent slowed, lowered gracefully. The soft breeze picked up as she landed on the ground.
"Give me back my brother!" She yelled.
And suddenly the air seemed to erupt, shoving the rest of us to the ground, bolts of air swirling around our friend in a vortex and forcing Nagihiko against the ground preventing him from movement. She lifted her arms in an arc, and the winds howled, trapping her twin.
"Give him back to me!" Nadeshiko screamed, tears pouring down her cheeks. "GIVE HIM BACK!"
And Nagihiko, whose clothes were ripping to shreds and hair fanning, twisting in a wild, violent dance, laughed with insane eyes, and the attack stopped, forcing an exhausted Nadeshiko to her knees.
The other eight sprinted towards her, Tadase in the lead, and I joined them. "Nadeshiko!"
Nagihiko got to his feet, no longer smiling. "I should've known," He mused. "How could I not have seen you were an elemental?"
The others murmured. "An elemental?" Yaya stared at her friend.
"Nadeshiko... You're supernatural?" I asked uncertainly.
"But what's this?" Nagihiko smiled. "You have not told your companions?"
"I—" Nadeshiko was at a loss for words, eyes passing over each of ours. "—I didn't—"
"She's lied to all of you all this time," Nagihiko said softly. "She used you all."
"No, she didn't!" Tadase stood, his hands balled into fists. "Shut up!"
Nagihiko gave him a terrible smile. "I see you lo—"
"I don't care what you see!" Tadase shouted. "Give us back our friend and leave!"
He began to laugh, a horrible sound that grew higher and higher into a shrill, mad cackle, and he disappeared once more, his insane laugh echoing all around us. He was everywhere.
"But I'm having so much fun," His voice echoed gleefully. "I love fun. Do you want to play with me?"
I trembled, shivers coursing down my spine as Nagihiko's voice was drowned out by another.
"Nagihiko," Rima stood, and as I turned to her, I felt him do so as well. "Nagihiko, are you in there?"
"Rima!" Nagihiko sang, and appeared at her side, pulling her close to him.
I saw tears spill down her cheeks. "Stop," She whispered. "Please stop."
Nagihiko chuckled, but now it was not him, the demon bleeding through his words. "You truly love me, don't you?"
"Please, stop," Rima's voice shook. "Stop!"
He smirked and buried his face in her neck. She closed her eyes, raising her hands and winding them through his hair, crying silently. I sprinted forward, shouting, "HEY!"
He looked up at me, and his mouth curled up in a grotesque grin. Suddenly an invisible force hit me square in the chest, and I flew backwards, skidding across the ground. Immediately stinging pain flared up along my entire back. I cried out.
"Can't you see we're having a moment?" Nagihiko's grip on Rima tightened, and he pulled her face up to his, caressing her face with a hand. "I love you, Rima."
"Stop," She begged.
"But isn't that what you've always wanted to hear?" Suddenly Nagihiko smiled, and it was him again, smiling his calm, princely smile that sent a terrible pain into my heart. "I love you, Rima."
Rima was sobbing now, clutching the front of Nagihiko's shirt, staring at him pleadingly, desperately. "Nagihiko, please, I need the real you!"
Nagihiko smiled. "This is me," He murmured, and kissed her, and it was sweet, it was sickening and so wrong as he pressed his lips to hers, muffling her broken sobs and pulling her close in a nightmarish parody of love and romance.
Nagihiko lifted his head, releasing a shivering Rima from her kiss, and Nadeshiko got to her feet, stepping towards him. "Nagihiko, stop."
"Stop what?" Nagihiko said innocently, pulling Rima closer to him.
"You took me in off the streets," Nadeshiko whispered.
"What did I do?" Nagihiko asked, and for the quickest, barest moment, I saw the real Nagihiko.
She took a step forward. "You gave me a home. You let me be your friend. You gave me food and clothes and a family."
"What nonsense are you speaking?" He spat, and I saw a flicker of fear in his eyes.
Another step. Closer now. "You trusted me. You knew I could've run away, you knew I was dangerous. You let me stay. You let me into your life without any questions asked, and you would do it again. You trust me with every bit of your soul."
"Stop it!" Nagihiko screamed, now terrified. "STOP IT!"
Nadeshiko's voice shook. She was not two feet from him. "You listened when I told you my deepest, darkest secrets. You comforted me every night when I woke up crying and stayed with me even after I had fallen asleep. You are the closest person I have ever known, and you are the dearest to me."
"NO!" Nagihiko shrieked.
"You will always be there for me, and you know I would do the same for you." Nadeshiko paused for a moment, then took another step, and she whispered in his ear, "You are a Fujisaki. You love to dance. Your favorite color is blue. You are a friend of Amu, of Tadase, of Kukai and Yaya and Kairi, of Ikuto and Utau. You are in love with Rima Mashiro. You are my best friend. You are my brother, my twin. You are Nagihiko, my other half."
And Nagihiko blinked, and his eyes were amber again, his face filled with wonder and pain as he released Rima, who stumbled back. "Nadeshiko?" He whispered.
Nadeshiko took both his hands in hers, pressing their palms together. "You will always love me." She took in a quavering breath. "And I will always love you."
"Nadeshiko," Nagihiko breathed, and Nadeshiko closed her eyes, breathing slowly and deeply.
And she yelled, "Amu, now!"
Quick as light, I flew, shoving Nadeshiko out of the way. And I yelled, "Open Heart!"
Nagihiko screamed, and it was a terrible, terrifying, inhuman sound, one that screeched like metal on metal, and as white light flooded into Nagihiko, thick black shards erupted from his chest, rising towards the sky with a wail and disappearing into the night.
Nagihiko collapsed in a heap on the ground, and all nine of us rushed to his side immediately. "Nagihiko?" Rima choked, taking his face in her hands.
No answer. He was utterly still, with not an intake of breath or a rise of his chest. She placed a hand over his heart, and withdrew her hand, her face falling. "No," She whispered. "No, no!"
"Nagihiko," Nadeshiko murmured, tears spilling down her cheeks as she embraced her dead twin, shaking uncontrollably.
Rima sobbed, burying her face in his neck. "Please, Nagihiko, wake up! You're not gone, I know you're not, wake up! Wake up!" Her cries rose to a wail, and we cried with her, lamenting. I felt Ikuto's arms around me and buried my face into his chest, weeping, and felt teardrops fall onto the top of my head.
"Nagihiko, please," Rima cupped his cheeks, resting her forehead on his. "Nagihiko, I love you."
Then Nadeshiko gasped, eyes widening as her ear, just over his heart, heard a tiny, faint beat, and with a tiny, hoarse hiss, he breathed, in, out, and his eyelids fluttered.
"Nagihiko?" Rima breathed, and he opened his eyes, blinking once, and it was him, those deep amber eyes were clear, true, real...
Nagihiko was back.