At the meeting about Mizer the next morning, Yamato was clearly gloating. All of them liked Hiro, although Keita would strongly deny it, and Yamato was the one Hiro wanted out of all of them. He was. If any of them wanted one of the remaining pieces of Hiro, they would have to either get past him or get his approval first.

Speaking of which, "Io Nitta, I want to speak with you after the meeting about the Dragon Stream. The rest of you, find something to do or parts of Mizer to kill. Just do whatever Hiro tells you," or else. Yamato got up and walked out, since the rest of what the civilians got up to wasn't his concern as long as they played their parts in the operation.

Keita smiled. He loved the way Yamato thought. When he grew up, he was totally working for JPs: it was even better than boxing because he had to hold back and avoid fatal moves in boxing. Sure, there wouldn't be as many demons around once this was over, but there were still lots of powerful ones sealed away, like Shiva and Lugh.

"Joe, would you mind going with Makoto to visit Ronaldo?" Hiro asked, taking over. "Daichi too, since you'll be working out supply transport and the supplies should have a demon tamer to guard them." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Since they'll handle Nagoya; Airi and Jungo, would you two mind going to Osaka and staying by the terminal? With Keita and Hinako, the four of you should be able to fight back any big breaches in the defense line Mizer makes, and if you're all in one place then you can be called in as soon as there's a threat too big for JPs to handle. That way, you'll get better fights than just roaming around like the regular officers and tamers," he added for Keita's benefit.

"Director Hotsuin?" Yamato's secretary said, hitting the intercom button. "Miss Nitta is here to see you."

"Send her in."

Io tried not to look down at her hands or twist them together nervously: he'd already said that annoyed him. Actually, what he'd said was that she cared about and was willing to work hard for others, and probably had good people skills like Hiro, but her fatal flaw was allowing her lack of courage to thwart her ambitions. Or something. Yamato had meant it as a compliment and as advice, she was certain, and Hiro, Airi and Hinako all agreed that she should speak her own mind more, but Yamato had been very… Yamato when she'd tried to work up the courage to ask him why he had wanted a world where the strong ruled. Although she thought it made more sense after last afternoon. Hearing Yamato talk about wanting Hiro to do things to him was, um… It made her wish that she'd worked up the courage to talk to Hiro months ago. If he was even interested in girls, especially girls like her. She'd heard Daichi say something like, "So that's why he wasn't all that interested in spying on the health exam," before Joe laughed and dragged him out of the room they'd played dodgeball in.

Even if he did like girls, she was so shy, and ordinary: she thought she'd heard him say that she was cute before they'd talked at the subway station, but that could have just been wistful thinking. It probably was.

"Nitta," Yamato said, nodding to her and putting his papers down. "Sit down."

She sat in the chair in front of his desk, crossing her legs at the ankles and realizing that this was Yamato being courteous, for Yamato. Otherwise, he probably would have wanted her to stay standing so that she would leave even a second faster.

"You don't have any outstanding betrothal contracts?"

"What?" she asked.

"You aren't engaged and your parents aren't pursuing any negotiations?"

"Well, no, but…" Io tried to find words to explain that it wasn't normal anymore, really. Well, outside things like traditional families, high-level businesses… the world Yamato would have been groomed for, which was apparently very different from the civilian world.

"Good. Look these over." He slid some papers across the desk to her. "There will be some objections: they've wanted me to make an alliance with another of the four great summoner clans, but your ability to channel and use the power of gods for yourself can't be argued with."

She blushed, because coming from Yamato it really was a compliment to be told that she was powerful and had a rare ability, but, "What is this?"

"A betrothal contract and prenuptial agreement. The terms are better for both of us than the ones people usually make as their opening proposals to me." Apparently they thought he was an idiot and wanted a wife who would have every reason to loathe him for being treated like more of a brood mare than necessary. "One child for my clan, one for your heir, and the rest of our relations are at your discretion. I've been told they have technology nowadays."

He'd been told about what she presumed was artificial insemination but not that this wasn't exactly a normal proposal to make?

That was when Io realized that this was a proposal. As in he'd just proposed to her? "Why? I thought you liked Hiro."

"Yes, and so do you," he pointed out. "I'm talking about marriage." Love was entirely different. "Since we're not creating a new world, the Hotsuin clan will continue to be needed to protect this country, even if it will still be full of ungrateful fools. Also, Dr. Otome tells me that Hiro likes and gets along well with children. Hiro is of no particular bloodline despite his superior quality, but there's no way your parents could object to a match to me." With his ancient clan and wealth. "Unless you think you'll have grown enough backbone by the time they're revived to overrule them?" Yamato seemed to think that was possible, so, "Keep the papers, this will give you another option."

"Thank you for the thought," she finally told him, because she was sure that was another compliment and giving her a means of getting out of an unwanted arranged marriage was kind of him, but, "It doesn't work that way anymore for most people. I don't have to marry who I'm told to marry. And I'm really too young to be thinking of that yet. You don't have to either." He did know that, right?

"Of course I do. I'm the last Hotsuin." He had a responsibility to the clan and to this nation.

"But you're a year younger than I am."

"And you're practically an old maid. You're lucky no one saw Hiro's potential before this." Otherwise, a clear-thinking patriarch would have had one of his younger daughters snap him up, and then where would she be? "Be grateful I'm willing to let you be my wife instead of just a concubine."

"Old maid? I'm not even out of high school yet." But a century ago… "And no one has concubines anymore."

"Maybe commoners don't, but the only reason I don't is that I don't have a wife yet and it's obvious that all of them would be trying to distract me by making me fall in love with them and grant them that status." Yamato rolled his eyes: as though he would allow something like that to sway him.

Hiro didn't count.

Io suddenly found herself beginning to grasp how big a problem Hiro was going to have explaining normal to Yamato. He really had no idea what the world outside JPs and his particular subculture and tutors was like, did he? He hadn't played with other kids, or gone over to their houses: there were all sorts of things about how the world worked that everyone knew but Yamato wouldn't, because when would he ever have found them out? He'd be interpreting everything everyone told him in the context of a view of the world that was just wrong, too. He'd learned dealing with people from subordinates and employees, plus old books from the time Japan still had what amounted to a caste system? That was based on birth, not merit? Where samurai could use farmers for killing practice?

No wonder Yamato thought the world was such a messed-up place, when he'd lost his parents too. She wanted to help him understand that it wasn't like that anymore, but where to start?

Well, she could ask Hiro, but since Hiro was Yamato's boyfriend now, for his sake she should start with how normal marriages and so on worked. On the other hand, well, would Yamato really care, since he and Hiro wouldn't be normal anyway? She really couldn't imagine Yamato as a normal person.

Yet even though he intimidated her, he was still… Yamato. "Yamato… I think that Hiro is right, that all of us have certainly lived this before. Isn't that why we all feel so close to each other? Daichi thinks it's why he was so brave the first day, crashing that truck off the railway to kill Dubhe. I'm certain that he would have grown brave before, but if Polaris kept overwriting it? I think… I feel certain that we've become friends before, don't you? Would you really have made an offer like this otherwise?" To a stranger, to a too-shy, too-weak civilian? "There's Keita, who is so standoffish, but I wonder if that is because he kept going from having us, having a family, to being a bitter orphan again. It must hurt him, I think, even if he doesn't remember it, so of course he doesn't want to make friends. That's why Jungo tries so hard for him, because he knows Keita is a good person. I know that I, I think I have feelings for Hiro," she said, hoping Yamato wouldn't be jealous, "And I wonder if I was ever brave enough some cycle that you had feelings for me." If she was ever the one to get through to Yamato, trying to stop the conflict, finding the bravery to confront him within herself.

"Maybe in some cycles Ronaldo joined JPs as a civilian volunteer, to understand and get close to you, become your friend like Hiro did and then he went back to thinking that you killed his mentor again. Felt betrayed by you because of those buried memories. When I think of all of us losing those bonds, over and over, of seeing my parents die again and again, I hate Polaris." She truly did, enough to call up the divine spear of light that killed Balor of the Evil Eye. "All of us are family, and I know we remembered that somehow. Maybe it was our bonds to each other that let Hiro remember the last cycle, and let you feel that he was important to you. I know I felt the same, but you were the one who did something different, let those bonds move you first. Bonds between people have to be important, or why would Alcor make the fate viewer? I don't think they're something that can be deleted so easily." Not when she had almost instantly become as close to Hiro as Daichi was.

Yamato seemed to think she was on to something, even if she seemed to think that insignificant Ronaldo could have ever taken Hiro's place by Yamato's side. "You are wise in interpersonal matters, despite your weakness in avoiding confrontation. We should ask Alcor about the significance of the fate viewer. I intend to kill Polaris this time, but if becoming closer to others would help Hiro succeed next time even if we fail now…" Yamato would have to share, but, "Right now… You're right, I felt willing to share like this," to let Io be connected to Hiro through him, "Only because it's you." Just like Hiro, a few days wouldn't be enough to convince him that the civilian schoolgirl was as worthy as all that.

She blushed a little, because that was quite a compliment. "Thank you."

Hinako looked at her cell phone, then at one of the Mizers. Then back to her cell phone. "Hey, Alcor?"

"Yes?" he said, floating closer to her. Hiro had eventually insisted on fighting the Mizers to stay in practice too.

"Do you know anything about the legends about your star?"


"Because I've noticed that the Ticos are purple and white, and you and Mizer used to be a symbol of marriage."

Alcor looked sad. "I was his companion star, but that was before I was separated and put to sleep because I disagreed with Polaris."

"So are they septentriones or AI?" Hinako wondered. Were they really Mizer's kids, was it a coincidence or wistful thinking?

"Yes," Alcor answered.


"Yes," he repeated himself, nodding. "Well, if our existence relies on the definition of artificial intelligences." After answering her question, he floated back over to Hiro.

Hinako gave up.

"No," Hiro told Ronaldo and Yamato firmly. Why, why had he ever thought getting the two fanatics to team up would be a good idea?

"But," Ronaldo protested.

"No," Hiro repeated himself. Again.

"We have control of Alcor, we can edit the moral system after it's implemented," Yamato pointed out.

"Still no. And I have control of Alcor, so stop trying to convince him to make me God-Emperor of mankind, dammit Yamato. And Japan already has an emperor descended from a god, and no, I'm not replacing him." Japan's dynasty had outlasted those of China and the fellow god-emperors of Egypt because they weren't just chosen by gods, they were living gods descended from Amaterasu and outsiders were allowed to marry in. They'd been overthrown and Japan ruled by other clans and warlords lots of times, but instead of the emperors getting executed they'd get married: the new rulers wanted that divine blood for themselves, after all, and emperors marrying, oh, Hotsuins for generation after generation would make the emperor a Hotsuin. Exactly whose brilliant idea had it been to teach Yamato traditional values? Even though in this case, it was the future shogun himself who wanted to marry the emperor.

Ronaldo almost swore: couldn't Hiro see that, "This is our chance to recreate the world as a paradise!"

"I don't want a paradise." Paradise would be boring. "I want the same world we built, and so does Alcor. If we want to change the world, we're going to have to do it the hard way, like everyone else."

"The Hotsuin clan has tried to change this country, has given their lives for this country, and the police have tried to clean up the streets, and we still have crime and a cowardly government ruled by short-sighted selfishness!" Yamato protested.

"No, Jungo," Airi said in the background, annoyed. "I don't want chawanmushi."

"Make us some damn popcorn!" Keita demanded.

Jungo smiled, happy to be asked to do something for his friend. He put the chawanmushi on the ground for his cat Jungo to eat. Jungo liked chawanmushi, and Jungo liked making it.

"Here you go," Airi said when it arrived, passing a bowl up to Alcor.

"Thank you, Child of Possibility," the septentrione said, watching the debate. "Humans are so interesting."

"What do you think, Keita?" Airi asked.

Keita nodded, then explained after he finished chewing his handful of popcorn, "I think Hiro's right: we shouldn't have Alcor do it, we should overthrow the government ourselves, with our demons."

"I don't think that's exactly what he meant, but…" When her father had to fake his death and go into hiding because the government he'd served as a cop was trying to have him killed? Airi would have fought her friends for the sake of a better world: she definitely didn't have any problems with fighting some politicians. "Now that I think about it…"

"Yamato knows how to run an army, and Ronaldo managed to get one together pretty quick and kick JPs out of your base," Keita said thoughtfully.

The issue wasn't whether or not they could take over the world: both of them were sure they could, with Hiro on their side. Nor was it whether or not they should. The question was whether or not Hiro would go along with it.

Maybe if someone kept him distracted so he didn't find out and stop them? They'd still need to figure out some way to convince him to actually rule it, though.

"…Let's go kill some more MIzers," Keita said finally. He was kind of wondering if they really had to use the dragon stream to wipe them out. An endless supply of punching bags was pretty fun. On the other hand, they were supposed to get an even tougher one tomorrow, and he was looking forward to that. He didn't want small fry distracting him while they fought. It was annoying that they had to take Jungo with them, but Airi had pointed out that when they didn't, Jungo would always run off and end up in a fight against way-too-tough opponents and nearly get himself killed and Keita didn't want all the good fights to be wasted on this idiot. Hopefully his stupidity would be useful and he'd drag them into some of the good training kind of trouble again.

The trouble with restoring the world and bringing people back to life somewhat gradually and with all their memories intact instead of just rewinding to the last restore point was that people noticed that the epicenter of no-longer-being-devoured-by-void was Japan's cities. Even though foreign nations hadn't known about Yamato Hotsuin or the dragon stream defense system before, Japan's government had to provide an explanation now. After more than ninety-nine percent of the world was destroyed by eldritch abominations, now everyone wanted barriers for their cities.

Hiro couldn't escape being dragged into the limelight with him, since Yamato wasn't going to take Hiro's credit (or miss the chance to brag about wonderful his Hiro was). It was obvious that they should try to hide Alcor, but equally obvious that Alcor's… Alcorness didn't lend itself very well to keeping secrets. It had been very obvious as soon as Hiro met him that he wasn't human, and before long it was obvious that he wasn't a demon either. Even though Io had been happy to return the favor of being taught how to control her levitation by teaching him how to walk properly instead of floating along.

Since hiding him wasn't really possible, they were lucky that 'demon' included so many categories that by just introducing him as though there wasn't anything to hide they had managed to escape saying anything besides that he was the Hotsuin clan's guardian kami, Hiro's contracted demon and the creator of Nicaea. The world assumed he had some power to see the future thanks to the death images on the site, and apparently oracles were supposed to be somewhat spacey. His inability to act human was explained by the fact he wasn't human, and most people didn't know demons well enough to know that there were degrees of inhumanity.

(Almost) Everyone's summon app accounts were frozen. Nicaea continued to function by popular demand, although everyone was warned that not only would it only work for the sensitive, but trying to cover the whole world when before the Hotsuin only guarded Japan and worked within Japan's energies would make deaths much harder to predict, especially for such a large population. Still, the amount of deaths caused by things like heart attacks and car crashes immediately dropped.

Hiro suddenly had no more need to worry about entrance exams, or for that matter university fees, even without taking advantage of Yamato's wealth or the donations Nicaea received. The people who saw him as some kind of messiah were worrying, but at least as long as they were worshipping him, they weren't figuring out the truth about Alcor and trying to make him do more with his power as administrator than put everyone back and give people the information they needed to change fate and save lives. It was annoying, but less annoying than the fact even his most powerful demons couldn't damage Dubhe until Daichi took a header off the train tracks.

His biggest problem was Yamato, and how to react to things like Yamato asking if he had any twin fantasies and then tying Alcor up in the seal again and bringing him to Hiro's bed. Of course, a crisis was composed of both danger and opportunity, in this case for a threesome and for showing some affection to a septentrione who was eager to learn and very eager to please such a kind master.

Life managed to be both eventful and peaceful, at least until almost a decade later when the New Genesis Evangelists began a holy crusade to conquer the world in his name and place its fate in his hands. He certainly agreed with Jungo that friends shouldn't fight, but that didn't stop him from kicking Airi, Keita and Ronaldo's asses and tying Yamato to his own bed for months. Without anyone else in that bed with him.

Most of the time.