Wabi Sabi

Author's Notes: Well, as I mentioned in the forums, sometimes I just gotta sit down and do a freewrite in order to get the juices flowing, and this ended up happening. Part 1 was just for gags. When I hit Part 2, I was starting to get into it, and by Part 3 I knew I was gonna have to finish this whole thing off. So, much like with Debt of a Sword, what was meant to be just a little fun ended up being a whole new story!

Though this one... yeah, a lot different from my usual.

So, for the first time ever, Air Gear and Sankarea have been joined in unholy matrimony. Fear.

Since I was using some pretty bizarre themes in this story, some of which have the potential for enormous 'Squickage', I decided this story also needs a warning label up front.



This story contains mature language and themes, including but not limited to violence, vulgarity, bondage, cannibalism, implied necrophilia, nihilism, self destruction, and absolutely no yaoi.

That's right. An Air Gear story with Itsuki and Agito both being prominent characters, and they don't mysteriously fall in love with each other for no discernible reason other than the author's perverse sexual lusts.

That's like a first for Air Gear stories, ever.

Bit more at the end, but don't wanna spoil the story at the beginning. So I'm gonna go ahead and start it off.

Part 1

My first taste of ATs went something like this:

I got my ass kicked.

It was supposed to be a normal fight. My school wasn't the best, pretty low on the academic scale compared to a lot the city had to offer, and places like that tended to have a lot in the way of gangs going on. Middle East had a pretty pronounced gangster history, and a couple of Yakuza families tended to recruit directly out of it. When I had first showed up there, back as a first year in middle school I managed to catch the attention of the strongest gang there, West Gang Guys.

They didn't take it well when I turned down the invitation. They took it less well when it turned out I was tougher than most of them put together. They did take it well when they found out that even if I wasn't interested in joining, I was up for hire.

I needed the money in a pretty bad way at the time.

Anyway, the fight was supposed to be simple enough. I'd just been hired to help out with a particular turf war, nothing too special. I didn't even bother to remember their names. It's pointless to recall the small fries.

Turns out that these bastards lacked the dignity to lose in grace. Also turns out that they happened to be an affiliate with another gang, the Skull Saders.

So when I get the call that I was needed in a hurry for a fight at double the rate, I showed up.

Alone. Against a gang of Air Treckers.

Yeah. It doesn't take a genius like me to know where that's going to go.

I tried to run, then hold one of them hostage. Didn't really expect it to work, but hey, desperate is as desperate does. I also didn't expect the guy I was choking out to flip over, kick off the wall, and drag me three stories up into the air by freaking rolling up the goddamn wall!

"Hey," the guy told me, and even with a mask on I could tell he was grinning. "I heard your good with wrestling. Then you know, right? What will happen if you get slammed on the ground from this height, right?"

I couldn't move at that moment, could barely breathe, could only watch as the ground came rushing at me, and I knew, KNEW that I was about to die. When the other guy stopped, catching me less than a foot from the ground, the only thing I could do was stare at the pavement that I had nearly splattered into.

Even when he dropped me, and started blabbing on about some sort of reputation, I could do nothing but stay frozen. During the asskicking I got after that when the gang I had beaten up before decided to work off some frustration on my prone body I barely even noticed. After the trip home, with my sisters giving me first aid and grief at the same time, I could only see that concrete coming at me, that realization that I was gonna die.

Over and over that concrete came at my head, my death right in front of me.

It was the most intoxicatingly beautiful feeling I'd ever had. I knew right then that I would do anything to feel it again.

*Scene Break*

It was later that night, once Mikan, Ringo, and Ume had gone out, that I finally got myself out of bed as well. I was never quite sure what those three were getting up to, but for some reason they tended to leave the house altogether two or three times a week. Strangely, this always seemed to happen whenever we had meat for dinner. I guess it was alright to react to meat in a weird way, seeing as whenever I get some I always end up napping for an hour or two. Whenever I woke up, they're always gone.

Well, weirdness aside, I wasn't going to complain. It made it easy for me to sneak out as well. I always seemed to make it back before them too, so they probably still had no idea I've ever even woke up.

Anyway, sneakiness aside, it looked like I had the prime opportunity to go about my secret business at the moment. I was still pretty bruised up from the beat down earlier and it hurt to stand and walk, so in the end I broke down and decided to use it for once.

It only took a few groaning minutes for me to pry up the floorboard under my bed and grab the small crystal decanter from the moldy cardboard box I kept it in, but once I managed to drink it down and the numbness of the poison started to seep into my body I felt better.

I could probably have kept it in some other sort of container, but since this little flask had sentimental meaning to me I stuck to it for my 'emergency poison supply'.

You never knew when you might need some I'd discovered in the past.

The night was probably a bit cool and I made sure to grab a coat, though I wasn't able to feel the temperature properly at the moment. From there, I began the trip to the secret path. It only takes about twenty minutes by foot from our house. I had needed the destination to be close by back when time had been a factor in my research.

Now though, it just made sneaking out easier.

Where me and my sisters lived wasn't exactly a high class neighborhood. With Rika being the breadwinner in the family, and the cost of supporting our strange little gathering of hungry mouths, we just didn't have enough money to live in a better place. Some of the buildings were a bit rundown, and some of them were outright abandoned at that.

It had been in one of those gutted shells of houses past that I had actually met her. My girlfriend that is.

It wasn't that building I was heading to though. Instead, it was to the abandoned access shaft which led to the equally abandoned rail line. I was never sure why, but for some reason this city had a lot in the way of underground construction that never seemed to serve any purpose. I had found vast tubes and lines that seemed to run all over the place during my exploring.

When I had first found them, the most important part was that for some reason, no matter the season, it was always unusually cold in a lot of these lines.

It was down one of these tubes that I made my way, not even bothering with a flashlight considering just how well I knew this area. The entrance to my destination was well hidden, partly behind a collapsed wall and through a cramped and cobwebbed alley. At the end was a nondescript door with a thin band of light appearing from beneath it.

"Rea," I called as I opened the door, not able to feel the flood of warmth which was probably buffeting me. While the path down here was a shambled and chilled mess, the room I was stepping into was as different as night and day.

"Ah! Welcome home, Ikki-kun!" my girlfriend cheered happily, waving happily from where she was tending the hydrangea. "How was your… Ikki-kun!" she gasped as she turned and took in my bruises. "What happened?"

"Well, it's the weirdest thing," I proclaimed rubbing my chin as I spoke with as much solemnness as I could fake. "I was walking along and I took a shortcut through an alley, when suddenly a hoard of cats started to appear!"

"Really?" Rea cocked her head to the side as she stood, brushing some of the dirt from her knees. I nodded gravely.

"First one, then another, and then there were dozens of them! Before I knew it the alley was completely full." Rea's eyes were wide as she bought everything I said with innocent naivety. "Then, the all started attacking me!"

"No!" Rea gasped in dismay as I nodded again.

"At first I had no idea what was going on, but soon I realized that they were after this!" With a dramatic flourish I pulled Kuu, the crow that lived in my hair, out and Rea's eyes widened as she tapped a closed fist against an open one in comprehension.

"Oh no! They must have wanted to eat poor little Kuu!" she declared, looking properly worried about the crow's good health. Kuu gave a squak as the bird gave the innocent girl a dull look. It looked like he wanted to scold the other girl for buying my story.

"Yes," I agreed letting my voice drop off. "But just when I had fought them all off, well, that was when the piranhas arrived…"

"Even piranhas?" Rea started to sound confused, before she finally realized that I was lying to her. "Ikki-kun!" she pouted, puffing her cheeks and stomping one foot against the ground in girlish dismay. "You're teasing me again!"

"Yup," I nodded grinning easily at her. "Hugs?" I offered, and she folded her arms and turned her nose up to spurn me.

The girl in front of me should be the very definition of the word 'Yamato Nadeshiko', a personification of Japanese beauty. Her skin was pale, her hair black and long, her body slim and graceful, Sanka Rea had all proper features she needed for that ideal.

At least, she would have if it wasn't for all the scars on her. She was wearing some brief shorts with a tank top cut in the middle to show off her hips and waist, but by doing so she also showed off the enormous gash that spread from just below her chest to just above the opposite hip.

That was where she had fallen from a cliff and landed on a jagged tree stump. It had been the injury that killed her, in the end.

That's right, my girlfriend was dead. She got better though.

Besides that mostly noticeable former wound there were others, some obvious, some not. The slim white line where her arm had once been ripped off was easily overlooked, but the roughness of the skin around her fingers and toes was easy to see because of the darkness of the discoloration. That had been where the rot had started to set in back in the day, and even if it healed mostly up 'mostly' just didn't cut it sometimes. There were others too, lots of them all over her body. Some of them were places where her body had rotted or been injured through everyday existence, and others were left by me while I had been studying her.

They had been necessary to get where we were today, but I still didn't like the fact that it had been me who left them there.

Then again, after accidently reanimating the girl in front of me as a zombie and then having to desperately race against decomposition to find a way to fully resurrect her while starting from scratch I like to think I'd managed to do alright by her. Rea actually kind of liked her new appearance.

She claimed it made her feel like a new girl. And considering what the old Rea had had to deal with, new was fine too.

"Ah, don't be like that Rea-chan," I whined at her, trying to sooth her injured pride. I put my arms around her, and despite her starting to wiggle free I managed to hold her anyway. I could tell she was surprised that I was able to keep her still.

Rea was a lot stronger than she looked.

"Ikki-kun," she began, worry starting to creep into her voice. "Did you take some of the poison again?" She had a reason to be concerned. A lotta times in ninja comics or shows they like to talk about someone exposing themselves to a poison so much that they get immune to it.

Yeah, a nice concept, but this is reality. Taking regular small doses of poison doesn't let you become immune. You're still getting poisoned, after all. Eventually the damage starts to add up. It does let you ignore the side effects of the poison, but poison is poison. It will kill you in the end.

"Just a bit," I admitted, shrugging. "I got beat up pretty bad today."

"Really?" Rea was back to being concerned as she started to poke at me a bit, tugging on my shirt so she could look down it and make out the rest of the damage. "This does look pretty bad! Just tell me who did, Ikki-kun, and I'll beat them up for you!" she declared cutely, fuming at the thought of someone bullying me.

I never actually told her how I got all the money I used to help support her.

"It's fine," I told her, before pausing. Long experience let me tell when the warning signs kicked in, and lots of practice let me stick the ball gag I always carried with me in her mouth right before her teeth came clacking down on the flesh of my shoulder. I muttered to myself, "I'm the only boyfriend in the world that carries a gag around for self-protection instead of kinkiness."

Rea grunted out something around the gag, before her dilated eyes came back into focus and she realized what she had almost done. She mumbled something again, knuckling her forehead as she pulled the gag free. "Oops!" she giggled as though she hadn't just seriously tried to rip a chunk of my flesh out with her bare teeth.

I was used to it. Hey, if coming back from the dead was easy and foolproof, it wouldn't have needed me to figure it out. It's a pretty small side effect, in the end.

"But really, Crow-chan," I never should have told Rea my nickname, 'cause now she liked using it way too much, "if you're hurt you shouldn't be out and about! You should have just called me and let me know you were staying home." Rea's eyes widened and she stepped back, suddenly blushing. "Unless you wanted me to wear the nurse outfit again….?"

"Uh," I began, before realizing that whatever other reason I had come here before that yes, yes I did want the nurse outfit again. "Do you mind?" I asked hopefully.

Still blushing, Rea shook her head before she shyly started to head towards the wardrobe I had dragged in here a while back.

This was where Rea lived, after all. Just like with the tunnels, I had no idea what reason this cavernous room had been made for, but now it had become something of a cross between a girl's room and a mad scientist's laboratory. A bed, a couch, a few wardrobes, a fridge, it had taken me a while to get all this stuff down here, and the larger stuff was a freaking nightmare to maneuver in, but I had managed with Rea's help. The other stuff, well, I had had to get creative when I was trying to resurrect Rea, and I had managed to get together some pretty outlandish supplies through a combination of a lot of illegal activities and the money Rea's old man had let me have while I was trying to cure his daughter.

I don't think I would have been able to afford a defibulator or centrifuge on my own, but Rea's old man had been VERY generous in getting his daughter back to life. He hadn't been as taken with her new appearance as he had with her old one, which was why she was allowed to live on her own down here, but he still had been grateful enough to leave an account open for her to use.

Still, it didn't sit right by me to just mooch off the old man, so I had tried to chip in on the support, but I doubt I'll be getting any more mercenary work for a while.

Still, even as Rea moved out of sight to get ready for what would most likely end up being her pampering me until she accidently hurt me, I remembered the real reason I had come down here.

"Hey, Rea," I began, my voice nonchalant as I began. "Have you ever thought about taking up AT with me?"

"AT?" Rea called back, voice muffled as she changed clothes. "What's that? Is it fun?"

"Oh yeah," I assured her, the feeling of my imminent death causing me to give a small shudder of pleasure. "I tried it for the first time today, and it was amazing."

I definitely had issues of some sort. Any sane man would be going out of their way to never be near an AT ever again after something like that. Then again, I was dating a girl that had as many scars as Frankenstein's monster and had an involuntary cannibalistic urge that sometimes required me to gag her in my presence for my own safety.

And I found both of those aspects of her to be hot.

Yeah, definitely issues.

And then Rea shyly peaked from behind the wardrobe, her scars peeking out from beneath her uniform and reaffirmed that zombie nurses were still as cute as they were the first time I saw her like this, and I decided that I could live with my issues.

Part 2

Things had been going pretty good in my life, before something happened to change all that.

For instance, even if I already have Rea, I gotta admit that having a naked Simca around was definitely a guilty pleasure. I have no idea why that girl likes nude so much, even when I told her I already have a girlfriend, but Mikan was probably to blame for it. I had told everyone before, back when I first managed to resurrect Rea properly that I was dating, but for some reason the four girls I lived with always seemed to dismiss me out of hand. Ringo used to get upset at first, but even she had calmed down, and now whenever I insisted I really was dating, she smiled sympathetically and just patted my head.

I have zero stock with my housemates, apparently. With all the pile drivers I have to put up with, and the leg locks, and back breakers, I was beginning to think that I wasn't being taken seriously.

Man that pisses me off! I should totally show up with Rea one of these days, but I feared for her safety if she was ever exposed to those mad women!

Still, outside of me being the low end of the totem pole to those girls, the rest of my life had been going pretty damn good.

Specifically, in the AT department, but since that pretty much was the rest of my life at this point, my earlier statement was kinda right anyway.

I had managed to get a pair early on, from the girls actually. I had no idea that they were all AT users, or storm riders as they call it out on the streets, but apparently they'd all been at it for a while. Makes me wonder why they never invited me along, but hey, I guess girl time has to happen sometime. After I started getting used to them, I started to learn some tricks, I even made my own team: Kogarasumaru. With Onigiri, Kazu, that big pig Buccha, and that little shrimp Agito we had a pretty good start going on!

Now if only that little pretty boy would stop crawling into my bed, things would be damn near perfect at the moment: an awesome girlfriend, a weird but functional family, a great hobby, I had it all working out for me!

At least, that's what I thought anyway.

Until Rika ripped everything apart.

For a moment, I couldn't understand her words. I wasn't sure if that was the concussion after she pile drived me through a wall, or if it was because they were so unbelievable that even my genius brain had to take a second to process them.

"What do you mean you made her promise to never let me use ATs?" I repeated, staring at the upside down scene of Rika in her work clothes folding Ringo in half. At my words Rika paused, and she started to look a little upset. When I looked at Ringo, trying to see if she knew what Rika was talking about, I realized she did too. Hell, even Ume and Mikan both looked like they had to piss.

Just what the hell is going on here?

I got that answer just a few minutes later.

"I'm confiscating your ATs," Rika told me, bluntly, my wheels already in front of her. I felt like whining at how close they were to danger at the moment. Rika can be seriously scary sometimes, and the thought of my babies so close to harm…

"Sit properly!" she snapped, and I grumbled even as I forced my brain away from the danger to my babies. If I was gonna figure out what the hell is going on, then I gotta at least try to play along for now.

"Look," I muttered. "Even if you just tell me 'and so' I still don't get it! Why did Rika-nee tell everyone not to talk about ATs? It's like everyone in the family does it! Ringo and Mikan, even Ume who's just an elementary school student. Why am I the only one that can't?"

"It's okay for Ringo and the others, as they are members of the Noyamano household," Rika declared, and again, it took a second for me to really understand what she meant. I just could believe what I had just heard her say so casually. Rika wasn't usually mean, outside of the body slamming and junk, so she had to have had a reason to say what she just had. Maybe she just didn't realize how much what she said really hurt. I moved on anyway, trying to at least figure out just why she was so dead set on me not being able to AT.

"Look, I know that ATs are expensive and I'm eating off the money you earn," I tried again, starting to get angry now. "But I have a part time job now, and I'm earning enough to pay for my own hobbies."

Rika scowled, not having a real counter to that argument. "Fine," she said, and I felt a brief stab of hope that Rika would back down about ATs. "If you want another reason, Ringo and the rest have potential, so it's alright for them."

I flinched, and felt my hand begin to shake as I realized that Rika hadn't included me in the list of those with potential.

"Are you trying to say…" I began, and now I was definitely getting mad, because it was the only thing I could do to keep just how upset I was from showing.

"And finally, you can't use ATs because for you, they're just a tool for running," Rika finished up, snapping as she interrupted me.

My jaw snapped shut. I glared at the older woman in front of me, knowing that if I did say anything at this point, then the only way this would end is with me trying to hit her. And there was like no way in hell that I was going to win that fight, or have any dignity left afterwards by the time she was done with me.

"You'll be over this in no time," Rika continued, apparently thinking my silence was acceptance as she sat straighter, looking happy that she had apparently won this fight without actually having to fight. "Just like with your silly zombie craze. You finally grew out of that a year ago, and why bother wasting time and money on this new fad of yours when you're just going to give it up in a bit anyway?"

"Yeah, Noyamono-san," I told her clenching my teeth to keep myself from shouting at her. Rika paused, a scowl coming back on her face at the name I used. "I'll get over this just like I did zombies. You made your point." Hovering in the kitchen I could see Ringo flinch and shift to stare at the ground guiltily, while Mikan seemed too uncomfortable to look at Noyamono and I and Ume started to hug her teddy tighter.

"Good," Rika nodded, looking relieved for some reason. "Now go to your room for now. I'll come fetch you when it's time for dinner. We can have meat tonight." The last bit was probably supposed to be some sort of concession, seeing as I love meat and generally they didn't have enough money to afford it. With a grim nod, I followed her orders, heading to my room.

It only took me about five minutes to gather everything I needed, fitting a few changes of clothes into a back pack. I thought about bringing some of my books, but they were just school books for the most part. All of the really important ones that I used back when I was researching resurrection were already where I was heading. On a whim, I took those two AT wheels that the old man vendor I had come across once had gave me, though I had already figured out that they were broken.

I was out the window after that. Since no one came after me, I doubt they heard as I left.

*Scene Break*

I managed to hold off on channeling my inner Agito until I was in the tunnels, but once there I couldn't stop myself from screaming, "Fuck!" and slamming my foot into a wall. It was solid concrete, but kicking it sure made me feel better.

I couldn't believe that Rik- no, that Noyamono I corrected myself, would do something like that! I couldn't believe it! Just how fucking… Agghhh!

'Get over it like I did zombies'? Don't make me laugh! I never got over zombies! It was just that once I found real ones I didn't need any of that old junk anymore! I was freaking dating a former zombie! I still did experiments on perfecting the resurrection process, still tried to make it faster and better! Just taking one look at the ATs and thinking that I would get bored with them? What the hell!

And 'they're just a tool for running'? As if ATs were something so boring! They were the link, that way for me to find that beautiful moment where I was hovering between life and death! They were even more! Even if I had started them because of that moment, the way it felt to leap through the air, the sheer exhilarating speed, the flutter of the wind as I twisted and cut through it like a knife! To have all that dismissed as just a 'tool for running'?

And that bit about potential! Don't make me laugh! You want to tell someone who can raise the fucking dead that they don't have potential? I am a genius! When I stand up in class and announce myself as a god, I'm not just grandstanding, because not even the gods could raise the dead!

And finally… I felt the anger leave me and turned to slump back against the wall I had been kicking, thunking my head against the concrete behind me as I slid down to slouch on the floor.

Finally, 'they're members of the Noyamono household'. They were, but not you. Oh no, not Itsuki. You're not a Noyamono. You're not a part of this household. You're just the kid that we took in out of the kindness of our hearts, that extra mouth to feed. It didn't take a genius to see that AT's were a big part of the Noyamono clan. I'd followed Ringo, Mikan, and Ume, and seen them doing their tricks in that weird hole in the ground. It was obvious that they all loved ATs, that it was a part of their family. Noyamono had even said that she had specifically ordered them not to tell me, which meant she knew about ATs too, so it wouldn't surprise me if she was a storm rider as well!

But not you, Crow-kun. Looks like I was wrong, all these years, when I thought of that place as home, and those people as family.

"Who's there?" I heard a familiar female voice, and was greeted to the sight of Rea as she poked her head out of the blind alley that led to her room. "If it's a salesperson, then we don't want any! And if it's a thug, I have a rock!"

It would have been funny, if it wasn't for the fact that yes, Rea really was holding a rock. The boulder was nearly five times the size of her head, and must have weighed at least a hundred pounds and she was holding it above her head with no visible effort.

Yeah, Rea was definitely a lot stronger than she looked. Side effect of the zombie process.

"Ah, Ikki-kun!" Rea caught sight of me and casually threw the rock nearly two dozen yards behind her as she started to skip towards me. It landed with a thunderous crash at just about the time when she paused, catching sight of my face. "Ikki-kun, are you okay?" Rea yelped, starting to rush over to me and pat me down. "You're crying! Did those mean bullies pick on you again?"

"I'm not crying," I told her, sniffing and looking away, rubbing my eyes with the back of my sleeve. "I just have something in my eye!" Even Rea didn't buy that, but she did help me to my feet with a worried look on her face. Finally, I gave in. "I had a pretty big fight with the Noyamonos," I admitted, sniffing a bit. "I kind of moved out."

"But Ikki-kun," Rea began, giving me a sympathetic hug which creaked my ribs. She had trouble controlling her own strength sometimes. I'd have to remind her to take it easy on her body later. "If you got in a fight with your family…"

"I don't have a family," I snapped, cutting Rea off. She flinched, but didn't get upset about it. Instead she took my hand and started to lead me back to the room. "They made that pretty clear," I muttered, not meeting her eyes as I rubbed my own again.

"That's too bad," Rea said softly, though it sounded like she was a little doubtful about my claim. "It doesn't seem right for family to fight, but sometimes…"

I think a normal girl might have tried to get me to reconcile with the household I had just left, but Rea wasn't a normal girl. After all, she had run away from her home too, and she knew that sometimes just because it was a place you lived at doesn't mean that you need to stay there.

"I never did get to meet them either," she grumbled, puffing out her cheeks in disappointment. "Why did you never introduce us, anyway Crow-chan?" She gave me a suspicious look and I took a moment to imagine just what would happen if Rea had ever had a chance to bond with Mikan or Ume.

"You have enough bad habits as it is," I told her bluntly, before intercepting another attempt to gnaw on me with the ball gag. Rea pouted at me, but seeing as she had just tried to eat me again it looked like she had gotten my point well enough.

"So where are you going to stay then, Ikki-kun?" Rea asked me as she backed away from the gag, looking curious.

"With you, of course," I told her, not really getting why the question even needed to be asked.

"Itsuki!" Rea yelped, blushing bright red, one hand coming up to cradle her cheeks as she fidgeted. "But… a boy and a girl living together… and…" she started to stammer, waving her hands around as though to chase away bad thoughts. "It would be like we were married!"

It was my turn to blush, though more at the way she said it then what she said. I had just been thinking that it would be easier for me to be by my research and half a roof over my head, and hadn't really thought about how I'd also be moving in with my girlfriend as well.

"Well," I began, before I started to smile. Ya know, this might have potential! "Since we're married and all," I began, one hand coming up to grope her boob.


"Etchi!" Rea squealed, blushing even brighter as she gave me a playful shove that sent me nearly as far as that first boulder had gone. "Ah! Itsuki-kun!"

"I'm alright!" I declared, shaking my head as I got back up. Ya know, this might just work out after all.

But first, I was going to have to get a new set of ATs. Brand new wheels for a brand new start.

Part 3

"Fuck," Agito said bluntly, giving Rea a baleful eye. "So you really did have a girlfriend. Akito's gonna be crying about this for hours."

"Why does everyone think I was just making it up?" I growled, fuming as the younger pretty boy continued to glare at Rea as though it was her fault that no one took me seriously.

"Hello!" Rea greeted the boy cheerfully, dismissing his dark look without any real effort. "It's so nice to meet you! My name is Sanka Rea."

"Another bitch that can't read the mood?" the foul mouthed blade king grumbled, giving the girl a strange look. "Just what the fuck are you so happy about?"

"It's my first time meeting any of Ikki-kun's friends!" Rea waved her arms in a victory sign. "I hope I leave a good impression!"

"Yeah, so far, not really," Agito told her, before turning to give me another look. "So this is who you do in your spare time?"

"Well, her and AT," I shrugged, already used to Agito's vicious nature. "Since I quite school, I have a lot of time on my hand."

"Still trying to dodge that crazy lady?" the boy muttered, though even he seemed a little nervous at the mention of Noyamono.

I hadn't bothered to go back to school since I moved in with Rea three months ago. That would probably be the first place that Noyamono looked for me, and quite frankly I didn't want to have to put up with her. Once, a while back when Mikan had gotten sick of living in near poverty and ran off to try and make her fortune alone Noyamono had torn the city apart in order to find her and convince her to come home. Mikan might have gone back willingly, but since heading back would mean no more AT, I wasn't willing to go quite so easily.

It wasn't like school was too important to me anyway. It had always more been a place to hang out then to prepare for my future. I never really considered having a normal job, so having a conventional education was kinda pointless. Still, I had had to contact the rest of Kogarasumaru so they'd know what why I wasn't gonna be able to make it to practice for a while and to let Ringo know I was alright.

For now, I was kinda doing the whole training sabbatical thing, like some monk that just comes down from a mountain to kick ass every once in a while. Like when Kogarasumaru had taken out Behemoth.

Considering all the training I had been doing, a cage fight was almost becoming a specialty for me.

Still, after that had been finished up with I had had to run pretty damn fast in order to get away from an angry Noyamono. Luckily there had been a riot, so I had managed to get out of there while she was fighting her way through, but I literally could see people being lifted up and thrown through the air as she closed in.

Rea had absolutely loved it at least. She had always been a sheltered girl, so a rave as wild as that one had turned out to be had been a real new experience for her. She mentioned that a few of the guys in the crowd had tried to get frisky with her, but considering her inhuman strength she had had no problem shutting them down.

She did pout over how many girls had tried to make fun of all her scars though. That didn't last long after I told her that I really liked those scars.

I am such an awesome boyfriend.

"Well if you're trying to keep away from that bitch, why the hell did you come someplace like this?" Agito glared, looking around at the gathered storm riders. "Fuck," he added on a moment later, probably just 'cause he felt like it.

"'Cause I got these wheels here that I want to get looked at," I patted the pocket that I had stuck the two broken wheels into that I had taken to carrying around as a sort of good luck charm. "And 'cause I need to get a few new parts for my ATs."

"And so we can go on a date!" Rea chimed enthusiastically, latching onto my arm as she cuddled. A few of the other riders were giving either jealous looks at me or appreciative ones at her.

Couldn't blame them. My girlfriend was hot.

Rea had spent most of her life living the life of a privileged and damn near imprisoned princess. Now that she had finally gotten out to live her own life, she tended to go a little wild with her new freedom. Going to raves, purposefully squatting in an abandoned railway, eating lots of junk food, and also dressing in outrageous clothes. She was currently sporting a pair of hot pants, thigh high boots, suspenders, and a bikini top.

She looked positively ghettotastic, and her wild scars just adding to the image.

Still, the looks she was getting turned confused and outraged when I quite suddenly shoved a ball gag into her mouth.

"Why the hell do you have a gag, Crow?" Agito demanded, giving the bondage gear a weird look. "And why are you using it in public."

"Cause we're reaaaaaally kinky," I told him, and Rea giggled behind the gag. Agito scowled, but decided to let it go as we started to reach the front of the line.

Now that I was spending more time on the ATs, I was starting to have the time to pick up a little bit more about the AT scene in general. And that was what led me to Tool Toul To.

Tool Toul To was another team, one of the biggest in the city. Unlike most teams though, rather than competing they focused on upkeep. When Tool Toul To met it was to help amateur riders learn how to take care of their ATs, check ATs for damage, and sometimes they'd sell rare parts for customization. This was actually the third meet I've been to, and I've managed to get some pretty sweet parts for my new ATs. My new wheels were starting to look pretty badass, all black and sleek and with real leather in places.

Maybe I could find a crow decal here somewhere?

"Did I hear someone talking about me?" a new voice interrupted the three of us, and I had just a sec to look around before my other arm found itself up to its elbows in something nice and soft. "I swore I just heard someone talking about kinky."


"Pervert Swallow," Agito growled, before rubbing at his eye patch and wincing at something. I think that probably meant Akito, his other personality, was talking to him or something, but I was busy enjoying the feeling of having both my arms sandwiched by boobies as Simca made her appearance.

"You're a hard man to find, Crow-kun," the Migratory Bird purred at me, rubbing against my arm as she leaned on me. She was dressed in her usual outfit, a pair of hot pants so short they might as well have been panties and a long shirt and hat. "I've been looking for you ever since the match with Behemoth. Nobody told me you ran away from home!"

"I didn't run away," I snorted, not liking the way that sounded. "I just moved in with my girlfriend is all." Again, Agito rubbed at his head as he winced.

"Of course you did," Simca told me condescendingly, patting my head the same way Ringo always did whenever I brought up dating. Simca leaned forward a bit, and I got a goofy grin as that gave me more booby time. "And who might this be?" she purred, giving Rea a measuring look as she took in the other girl.

"'ero," Rea began, before realizing she still had the gag in. She took it out and let me had it back before she tried again. "Hello! I'm Sanka Rea, Ikki-kun's girlfriend!"

"Eh?" Simca blinked, looking stunned. "Wait, you really do have a girlfriend, Crow-kun? But Mikan said…"

"I knew it was Mikan who was behind it all!" I declared, fuming as I finally had proof of the vile slander I had been forced to endure all these years! "I knew it all along!"

"Huh," Simca blinked, before shrugging and giving the other girl a smug smile. "I hope you don't mind sharing your boyfriend, Rea-chan." Even I could tell that she was trying to get a rise out of Rea, and I've been told I'm pretty dumb about that kinda stuff. However, I was too busy imagining Simca, Rea, and me, all 'getting along' really well.

"Of course!" Rea beamed happily at the other girl. "Let's all get along as good friends!"

"Ah," Simca began, obviously not having expected that response. I was pretty sure that Rea honestly had no idea that Simca was trying to imply either a threesome, but her agreeing just made me imagine all the harder. "I guess you are really kinky," she finally admitted. "I kinda like that!"

"Oh for fuck's sake would you just shut up already, Akito?" Agito finally snapped, before reaching up to slide his eye patch over, the move which switched whichever personality was in charge. "Fine, just leave me out of it!" he told his other self, before instantly switching tones.

"Me too, Itsuki-kun!" Akito declared happily launching himself at my back so he could start nuzzling my neck.

Okay, there went the happy thoughts. I tried to shake him loose while I shouted, "Would you get off already?"

I was proud to note that the number of jealous stares had gotten a lot higher. It was good to be envious of a genius like me!

*Scene Break*

"Well, everything seems to be in order," the member of Tool Toul To declared, giving my AT a measuring look.

"Did you really just disassemble my entire AT, while I was wearing them, in under two seconds, without me even noticing?" I asked, gaping at just how good the girl was. She had light purple hair and was wearing some overalls and a shirt, but beyond that she was cute. "That was so cool!"

"It was nothing," the girl blushed slightly. "Hm," she began, still studying the pieces of my AT. "This looks really well taken care of, but it definitely has a lot of signs of use. You must ride a lot."

"Just about all day, every day," I boasted, puffing my chest. Still, I had something that I was curious about. "Hey, that hat looks a lot like the one Simca usually wears," I pointed at the cap on the other girl's head, before glancing around. Just about all the Tool Toul To members were wearing one, now that I think about it. I gave Simca another look, just to make sure.

Simca and Rea were off a little bit, the migratory bird leaning forward to whisper in the scarred girl's ear with a devious smile. It had taken Simca only five minutes before she realized that every time Rea responded to one of Simca's leading remarks with sincerity it wasn't because Rea was really sarcastic or really kinky, but rather that she was really naïve.

Judging from how brightly Rea was blushing, I think Simca was taking the time to explain things to her properly now.

"Of course," the other girl nodded, giving me a curious look. "Simca used to be in Tool Toul To, after all. Didn't you know?" she started to blush lightly. "It looked like Simca was trying to give you a brief tuning when you were in line."

"Eh?" I cocked my head to the side confused. "What's tuning?"

"Fuck," Agito muttered, the evil side once more back in control. I don't think he was really adding to the conversation, and was just saying the word 'cause he liked saying it.

"Well, when dealing with some of the more customized ATs, sometimes highspec parts can operate outside of their parameters or need synchronizing with the rider's specifics," the girl's cute blush was growing as she began to awkwardly play with some of the pieces of my AT. "Tuners wear special clothes that allow them to analyze the rider's body and can adjust the AT to maximize their specs."

"Huh," I grunted, impressed. "So do you do that kind of stuff too?" For some reason the girl started to blush even more.

"The suit they wear is skin tight and see through," Agito muttered, giving the girl a leer. "It's like being naked. The rider has to be naked too for that matter. I hear it's hotter than fucking."

"Oh," I blinked, cocking my head to the side, before I started to grin. "So," I began, joining in on giving the girl a leer, "do you tune?"

"No!" the girl yelped, waving her hands in front of her before turning back to my AT. "I mean, that is, I might, if I liked the rider…"

"Heh," I grinned again before shrugging. "Not something I'll ever have to worry about," I dismissed the whole topic out of hand.

If the tuner really did what she said it did then there was no way I'd ever let one near me. I don't think I could explain some of the things they'd find out about my body, not without lying my teeth off anyway.

"Ikki-kun!" The conversation was interrupted by Rea who latched onto my arm and gave me an accusing glare, cheeks puffed out. "Is it true that you want to have sex with both me and Simca at the same time!"

"Eep," the Tool Toul To girl declared, hiding her flush behind a pair of pliers and a screwdriver.

"Er," I began, not sure how to honest. I mean, yeah, there is no straight man who wouldn't want to do just that, but honestly I was fine with just Rea. I could see Simca smirking from behind Rea, and I glared at her.

Just what had she been telling my innocent girlfriend?

"Well, I suppose we could," Rea took my grunt as agreement, and pouted even as she agreed to everyman's dream. Simca blinked again, looking like she was caught off guard by Rea's agreement as well. "But not until we get to do it alone first!" Rea stomped and folded her arms as she nodded at her conclusion.

"Rea-chan," I began, not sure how to deal with the approval. On one hand… but on the other hand…

"Your girlfriend is a freak," Agito muttered, and I glared at him. Around us I could make out the jealous glares increasing.

It was probably because I was too distracted by the thought of boobies that I missed it. The only warning I got was the girl working on my AT giving a startled, "Uh, what are you…" before I felt the sharp lance of pain as a set of incisors sank down on the meat of my shoulder.

"Goddamnit!" I swore, turning to find that yes, Rea really had finally managed to get her jaws on me. "Rea! Not in public!" Kuu, probably shaken awake as I tried to pry my girlfriend off of me launched himself into the air before dive bombing the dazed Rea to peck her on the forehead repeatedly.

"Fuck!" Agito swore, the kid actually falling backwards as a spurt of blood hit my girlfriend in the cheek and started to drip down to her chin when she pulled back, taking a piece of me with her. The Tool Toul To girl screamed, and even Simca took a step back in surprise.

Well, at least the guys in the crowd didn't look like they were about to launch a mob beating on me anymore.

*Scene Break*

"I swear," I muttered, swiping at the new set of teeth marks and the little avulsed flesh on my shoulder with antibiotics. "If this gets infected again, I'm gonna keep that gag on you permanently!"

"Sorry, Ikki-kun!" Rea stuck her tongue out as she bowed to me, sounding apologetic at least. "It's just, I started thinking about, you know…" she trailed off, pushing her fingers together as she blushed again, and I sighed. Yeah, that would bring out the instinct in her.

"Fuck," Agito swore again, giving Rea an incredulous look. "You fucking ate a piece of him! Are you fucking insane?"

"Oh my god," the Tool Toul To member was hyperventilating, giving Rea nervous looks as she scrambled about the back of the truck that held her team's spare parts as pulled out a first aid kit. We had headed back past the crowd to the private areas of the meet to take a look at my wounds. "Why would she do something like that?"

"Sorry," Rea said again, still twiddling her fingers. "It's just, when I get excited I just can't help myself from taking a nibble."

"You must get excited a lot," Simca noted, leaning over my back as she studied me. I had taken my shirt of earlier as I treated the wound, and she was taking advantage of the view. "I've seen it before when we took a bath together, but I didn't really know what they were all from."

"You get used to it after a while," I shrugged, knowing what she was talking about. The scars were strange looking, so it was unlikely that anyone had ever figured out that they were bite marks before they got to see one being made first hand, but I did have a lot of them. Dotting my shoulders, a few close calls around my neck, a few on my abs as well. I even had one dead center on my pecs where a nipple used to be. That had been a fun little occasion, let me tell you.

"Are you fucking insane, or just retarded?" Agito demanded, scowling at the scars.

"I'm not retarded!" Rea declared, stomping her foot angrily as she puffed her cheeks. "It's just a little brain damage is all!"

"I was talking to Crow, but now, again, I have to say, what the fuck?" Agito deadpanned, giving Rea a flat look.

"Why would you do such a thing?" the still nameless girl gave Rea an incredulous look and Rea flushed again.

"It's just, well, so romantic!" she sighed, hands cradling her cheeks as her eyes went distant. "I just keep thinking about how he's inside of me, and how he'll always be a part of me and we'll never be apart, and I start…"

She trailed off as I shoved the gag back in.

"If you get her started on it she'll just try again," I muttered. "Keep that on until you calm down." Rea slumped, but obediently took the actual straps of the gag and started to tighten them around the back of her skull.

"Really, really kinky," Simca blinked, giving both of us once overs. The two of us were pretty scarred up, I suppose. "You two are into some pretty hard play, aren't you?" She reached out and touched my side, tracing what she found there with one finger.

"Hmm?" I looked down, seeing what she was focusing on and shrugged again. "Actually, that's from AT training," I told Simca as she took note of the series of long scratches that circled most of my torso. "Though I suppose they do kinda look like whip marks, don't they?"

"AT training isn't supposed to leave injuries like that," the nameless girl declared, hurriedly fussing over the wounds. Most of the scratches were older, well on their way to healing, but some of the fresher ones stung as she started dabbing it with an alcohol soaked cotton ball.

"It does when you do it right!" I declared proudly, giving the wounds a satisfied look.

"I'll stick to carving my path on the enemy, not myself," Agito muttered, still giving Rea a harsh look.

"Are you sure you're alright?" the girl asked again, also still giving Rea a nervous look. When Rea waved back, the girl shrank away a bit. Rea slumped, obviously disappointed that she hadn't made a good first impression.

"Yeah, I'm cool," I told her, before remembering the other reason I had come out here. "Hey, I have a couple of old AT wheels," I began, slapping on a bit of gauze and taping it to my shoulder. Experience said that should be enough for now; just had to remember to disinfect it regularly. The human mouth is one of the most bacteria soaked places in the world, so infection was a serious risk. "They don't work, so I was wondering if you could take a look at them for me?"

"Uh, if you're sure," the girl began, though she hesitated as she stared at my body a bit longer. Finally, it looked like she remembered that she had to stop looking at me if she was gonna look at those wheels.

I am so awesome! Worship my humble manliness!

Still, even as I was starting to shrug on my bloodied shirt, the sudden gasp caught my keen attention. When I finally got my head through, it was to discover that the girl had frozen, and that even Simca and Agito were apparently shocked at something.

"What?" I demanded, not liking to be left out of the loop. They were all staring at the wheels as though they were gonna turn into snakes and bite them.

"The Wind Regalia," Simca murmured, awe in her voice as she looked at the ratty old wheels. She started to smile, turning to give me a heated look. "You really are the one destined to be the Wind King, aren't you?"

"The Wind-what-now?" I repeated, scratching the back of my head cluelessly. Rea huffed as the other storm riders all seemed entranced by the wheels.

"'n' 'oo 'ink ah' e'a'd'd," she muttered behind her gag as she gave an exasperated look at the awestruck storm riders, missing whatever it was I was missing as well it looked. Long experience allowed me to interpret the sounds as 'And you think I'm retarded?'

*Scene Break*

"Well, that went well enough," I muttered, scratching at my head as Rea and me made our way out of the meet. I never managed to find a crow decal, but I had managed to get the tuner girl's name:

Sumeragi Kururu.

She told me that she'd be happy to take a look at my AT's anytime, so I figured that I would drop by again sometime so she could help keep an eye on them. Girl new her stuff better than I did at this point.

"Do you think I made a good impression?" Rea asked me, wide eyes open and pleading for reassurance. Actually, she said something like ''o 'u 'im 'a 'ei 'eh 'oo' i'e'io', but we'd been using the gag system for so long that I could get the gist of it.

"You ate a piece of me in front of them," I reminded her gently, and Rea sagged, knowing without prompting that no, she hadn't made a good impression at all. "Don't worry," I told her awkwardly, rubbing her hair nervously. "I'm sure they'll warm up to you eventually!"

Rea whimpered, and latched onto my arm for comfort. I felt my bones creak slightly, but let her do it. She was wearing nothing but a bikini top up there anyway.

"Crow, you are a fucking moron," Agito told me bluntly. "And your girlfriend is a psycho with a cannibalism fetish. You're both fucking insane."

"And you have a gay split personality, but you don't see me going around making a big deal of it," I reminded him with a glare as Rea started to squeeze harder.

"Fuck," Agito countered, and I grinned. Victory for Itsuki again!

Still, there was something I was wondering about.

"So, why are you following me again?" I asked Agito as he continued to trudge along behind the two of us.

"Because I just got out of the hospital, and I don't know where you live yet," he told me flatly. He'd spent the last couple of months healing up from the broken bones he got during the Behemoth fight, and it seemed that he was finally ready to be released back into the wild. Be free, little shark, be free!

"Wait," I stopped, blinking. "You're planning on living with us?" That… that could be bad.

It might get in the way of our newlywed lifestyle! Well, not exactly newlywed, seeing as we hadn't actually done it yet, but still, same dif.

It turns out that living alone with the girl you're romantically involved with is awesome. That is all.

"Where the hell else am I gonna live?" Agito pointed out, rolling his eyes again. I winced, and chalked that win up to Agito. He had run away from his psycho brother, and he was basically living with me cause he had nowhere else to go.

Right, this is gonna get weird, isn't it?

"Is this another of those threesome things?" Rea asked curiously, giving the boy a suspicious look from where she had tugged the gag back enough to speak somewhat clearly. "If it is, than same deal applies! Wait your turn!"

Oh god, Rea, there really was such a thing as being too damn naïve!

"Heh," Agito grinned, showing his teeth before he took a bite like any real shark would when they knew blood was in the water. "In that case…," he trailed off, still grinning viciously as he pulled his eye patch back over.

"Oh!" Akito declared, blushing like the innocent maiden he was at heart, "thank you for accepting me as a mistress." He even bowed afterwards.

Okay, yeah, I think Agito needs to have an accident of some kind. Nothing serious, just enough to get him out of my house and back in the hospital for a few more months.

Part 4

"You're fucking crazy," Agito told me, glaring as I took a break to chug some water down, shrugging on a hoody as I did so.

I had started using these tunnels because they're cold, and at the time Rea had needed to live some place refrigerated in order to slow the rot. I kept using these tunnels because no one else ever seemed to be here. These tunnels make a great place to practice my tricks as well.

But man, you definitely started to feel the chill if you weren't careful here. Work up a hard sweat with all the AT practice only to hang out in a cold tunnel? That's just asking for pneumonia.

"Crazy is as crazy does," I reminded the other boy, dismissing his probably valid point.

"You're proving that well enough," Agito countered with a snort. "Because what you're doing is so crazy that even a crazy person would look at it and think you're crazy. Since you're doing it, that means you're so fucking crazy that you have to be as fucking brain damaged as that crazy girlfriend of yours."

"Probably why we get along so well!" Well, there's the reason Rea and I get along so well! Maybe Agito should take up relationship counseling someday? Wait, he always likes to say 'Fuck'. It would be a drag if all his patients thought he was telling them to go do that. Might cut down on counseling time though…

"Fuck," Agito proved my point bluntly, before taking a large chug of his own water bottle. Just because he was mocking my AT practice didn't mean he wasn't getting some of his own in.

Truthfully, I'd probably explored more of the tunnels since I moved down here with Rea than I had thought I would. Mostly because there are way more tunnels down here than I ever even dreamed of. Literally kilometers of endless stretching holes in the ground. It's a wonder this city hasn't collapsed in on itself with this much of the ground beneath it looking like swiss cheese.

And most of those tunnels were in damn good condition too. Smooth cement on the side, railing in the middle, occasional patches of fallen rock…

Ever gone a hundred kilometers an hour through a dark tunnel, the patch of light in front of you from the flashlight the only thing letting you see what's coming three seconds before you'll run into it?

I shivered in my hoodie, trying my best not to pop a woodie.

If this was what Rea felt when she went for my meat, well, I would have no choice but to let her get her chunks of flesh whenever she was hungry.

Still, sudden death tunnel rushes aside, there were a few places with more light and space to work on other tricks. Right now Agito and I were in the best one we'd found so far. It stretched on for about two or three hundred meters, a gaping chamber that actually opened to the sky above. There were large pools of water all over the irregular floor, spots where concrete had shattered over the years thanks to the actual exposure to the sky. Places actually had shrubbery growing up in it. I think this giant room might have once been divided up, thanks to the large mountains of rubble and exposed rebar that sprouted from the ground like steel bamboo forests. At the far side from where Agito and I were cooling down there was literally a wall of the twisted steel bars, a giant freaking mess of probably thousands of rusting poles of steel.

This place was awesome.

Agito agreed.

So did Rea.

"Wheeee!" my girlfriend shrieked happily as she spun by the two of us. Just because I had my own obsession with AT didn't mean I was alone with it. Rea had been looking for ways to escape her past of imprisonment for years now, and when I had shown up with the idea of trying air trecks…

"Ikki-kun! Watch! Watch!" Rea demanded, before she flashed by me, hit a pile of broken cement blocks at just the right angle to send her rocketing into the air, twisted into a flip that managed to last for five freaking rotations and spun on three discreet axis, all to come down on a particular large bar near the middle of the room so that she could grind it all the way to the bottom. "Tadaa!"

"That was so hot," I said, unable to give anything but unvarnished truth in the face of such awesomeness. Rea beamed happily at the complement before turning with a giggle as she made her way to what we started to call the 'bamboo hell', a particular patch of rebar that was maybe twenty meters long and thirty more wide. It was a great place to work on you turns.

"Your girlfriend is a cannibalistic freak," Agito declared. "But she knows her AT."

"So. Hot." I just repeated those two words. Nothing else needed to be said.

"You ever gonna tell me what all that shit in your room is, or you gonna keep on telling me to fuck off?" Agito added a moment later, and I shrugged.

"The 'fuck off' one," I told him bluntly.

So far, having Agito live with Rea and I had worked out pretty well.

Mostly because Agito wasn't really living with Rea and I.

There were a lot of rooms down here in the underbelly of the city, weird places full of pipes and tubing, some of them functional and some of them not. It had only taken a day or two after Agito and Akito had moved in with Rea and me to find one that was spacious, had actual electricity pushing through it, and wasn't surrounded by corpses of dozens of small animals that had choked or been poisoned to death by those pipes leaking something unhealthy. The room itself was reasonably close by, and with Rea and Ag/kito helping we had managed to get him stocked up with enough furniture and supplies to be comfortable.

Unfortunately, it was also close enough for Akito to occasionally wake up in the middle of the night and sneak into bed with Rea and I. The first time he did that he tried to get between Rea and I only for Rea to latch onto him and squeeze. When he realized just how strong my girlfriend really was, Akito always made sure to keep me between him and her.

Rea's night cuddles were pretty intense.

The other aspect of having Ag/kito around was, well, I had a lot of stuff that couldn't really just be shrugged off: complex medical equipment, fridges that were stocked with all kinds of weird fluids and bottles, a bathtub full of strange looking gooey stuff, and some pretty state of the art computers full of some heavy medical electronic files. It didn't take a genius to realize that something was going on, and Agito was pretty damn close to being a genius like me.

I hear it's important to lay some ground rules in a relationship, and even if I'm not really dating Akito, I made sure that I laid some of my own.

Rule one: don't ask about the weird stuff.

Rule two: don't ask about the weird stuff.

And Rule Three: if I have a sock hanging on the handle to my door, don't come in.

So far, the rules have been working!

Even if Rule Three has been more about keeping Ag/kito away from the room while I'm trying to find more efficient way to resurrect dissected rats, but eh, I'm already pretty sure I could get that shrugged off as Rea and I being extra kinky again.

Well, even as Agito and me were getting some rest and Rea was getting some practice, something new happened that just had to mess up my new perfect life.

"Well, well," a new male voice cut in, causing me to blink and Agito to tense up as someone had managed to sneak up on us. "So this is where the little Crow that Rika talks about so much has made his nest."

"Oh god damn it," I swore with a sigh. Things had been going so well. "Who the hell are you?" I demanded, jumping to my feet so I could turn and point at whatever weirdo had shown up now.

Then I adjusted my finger so it was going at the guy in the wheelchair instead of over him.

"Eh?" the new guy said, grinning as he pointed a finger at himself too. "Well, the names Takeuchi Sora," he introduced himself, and then stopped for a second. "I'm the guy who almost ended up being your older brother.

"Oh," I said, blinking as I kinda lost momentum after that. I scratched the back of my head, feeling a little awkward. "Well, I can't really point fingers when it comes to strange relationships, but aren't you a little old for Mikan? I mean, hey, if gorilla girls are your thing, that's fine," I hurriedly waved my hand, not meaning to judge or anything. "But if she was already violent enough to get you in a chair…"

Sora blinked, looking confused for a second, before he finally started laughing. The other man pulled off his baseball cap showing off his face properly. He was a decent looking guy I guess. I mean, sure he didn't compare to my manly good looks, but not everyone could be me. He had a pretty relaxed expression on and was wearing some casual clothes, jeans and a long sleeve.

"Rika's right," he declared still chuckling. "You really can't tell just what you're gonna do at any time, can you, Crow-kun."

"Oh!" I nodded solemnly, clapping a fist in a palm as I realized where I had messed up. "You mean Rik- er, Noyamono." I managed to correct myself before I realized what that meant. "Ah hell, you're with Noyamono," I muttered. Curses, found at last! I began to tense, getting ready to run. If she was already here, then the only chance to protect my ATs was to run! Now, where was she hiding…

"Behind!" I declared whirling to prevent the ambush, only to see Agito giving me a blank look.

"Moron," he muttered rolling his eyes.

"Oi, oi," Sora called out, sounding amused still. "Relax. I'm here by myself. I ain't told Rika nothing yet."

"Safe!" I declared, holding up my hands in victory. Still, he did put that 'yet' on there. "So," I began giving him a shifty glare, "why are you here again?"

"Well," he began scratching his head sheepishly. "I'll be honest. When Rika showed up a few months back in tears, I did sort of promise to keep an eye out for you if I could. She was bawling so hard that I couldn't say no." Wait, Noyamono was crying? Was she that mad that I decided to stick to ATs? "But as for right here, right now? I was just checking out this mythic new team I keep hearing about: the one that slaughters its enemies, and makes decorations out of their bones." He gave me a dry look. "Not quite what I was expecting from Rika's lost lil bro."

"Hey," I grunted, folding my arms indignantly. "We're not really a team, and we haven't killed anyone! And, well, they took the body so I didn't get to use his skull as a door piece either!"

"Oh, I just know I'm gonna love hearing this story," Sora declared, sitting up in his wheelchair as he started to cross the rough, rubble strewn ground. When a particularly large piece of rubble got in his way, he actually managed to hop nearly a dozen feet, wall ride off a slab like Rea had earlier, and then spin to a stop maybe half a dozen meters away.

Wow. I had thought this guy was just a cripple, but those were some pretty nice moves he was pulling off in that chair of his. Was that actually some kind of giant AT?

"Oh," Rea declared finally having made it back across the room so she could join the rest of us, casually plopping her arms on my shoulder and resting her chest against my head. I couldn't hold back a grin at the feeling of so much nice and bouncy skin. Rea was again indulging in the art of dressing down and at the moment was wearing a tight one piece body suit, the front unzipped low enough that anyone watching could tell she'd only bothered with some panties for underwear today. "Is it story time? I love story time!"

Sora let loose a low whistle. "Well, if that lil lady is the reason you left, I can't say I blame ya anymore," he gave a wolfish leer at my girlfriend, and I nodded proudly. It seems Sora had a good eye for gorgeous!

"Focus you freaks," Agito muttered reminding me that there was a topic that I was supposed to be on.

"Well, actually, we're not really a team," I told Sora, shaking my head back and forth in Rea's cleavage causing her to giggle. "There's only three of us, and Agito and I are already with Kogarasumaru. Rea just likes to AT, she's not interested in a team or anything."

"That so?" Sora scratched the back of his head, looking confused. "Then what was with all those team stickers I saw on the way down here? Team, whichamacallit, Wabi-something or other?"

"Wabi Sabi," I corrected him, rather proud of the name of the unofficial team we'd sort of thrown together. It was something I had come across back when I was still curing Rea, and I couldn't help but think it described Rea and I perfectly. Even Agito fit it, considering what his path was. "And even if we aren't a team, there were a few other storm riders that started poking their nose around here. We just stuck those stickers ups so that they'd know that this place was already called, and if they wanted to make a deal of it they'd at least know that they had a fight coming first."

"Makes sense," Sora nodded thoughtfully, before giving Rea another leer. "So that makes you the lovely 'Izanami'? The goddess of death that leads the damned to hell?"

"Oh that's so silly," Rea laughed, waving a hand at the ominous title. "I don't know why people would start saying something like that." I could feel her lean forward, the wind of her breath on my cheek, and the ball gag made yet another appearance in time to preserve what was left of my meat. Sora blinked, and Rea continued speaking for a few minutes before she even realized that no one could understand her. Rather than just get upset, she just tightened the straps and started nuzzling the back of my neck.

Looks like Rea was starting to feel frisky again.

"Did you just…" Sora began, giving the gag a disturbed look before Agito cut him off.

"Don't ask," the boy declared, flushing slightly. "You don't want to know what those two freaks get up to."

"Oh Rika's just gonna love hearing about this," he started to laugh, before giving the gag a measuring look. "Then again, I wonder if I can get her to give it a shot herself…"

"Yeah, whatever," I cut him off this time, trying not to think of Noyamono in some of the situations that Rea and I got in. Even if I was mad at her, it didn't change the fact that my former older sister was fine, and we already knew we weren't related by blood…

But I have Rea, and that's enough for me!

"Anyway, so it's not like we kill anyone or anything," I continued, before nodding at the track. "It's just when an enemy team shows up, some of them aren't as good as they think they are and screw up. And this place ain't the best place to screw up in."

And wasn't that the truth. The rebar which sprung up all over the place was often sharp and rusty, and sometimes it was well hidden. Most matches took place at night, and with the limited light from the open ceiling it was easy for a newcomer to miss some of the more dangerous hazards.

AT had always been dangerous, and in this hellish pit that danger was just that much greater.

It was no wonder I loved this place so much.

"I can guess," Sora at least seemed to understand what I was implying. "How many have died so far?"

"Just three," I admitted, thinking about the three poor bastards who had been too cocky to know when to quit. "And another dozen got hurt pretty bad."

"And from there the rumors just kinda got out of hand," Sora confirmed, laughing again. He gave me a commiserating look. "So the part about you making furniture out of corpses?"

I shrugged uncomfortably. Agito gave me a flat look as I didn't answer.

"That idiot asked him if he could keep the body," he muttered.

"It wasn't like they were going to use it for anything," I defended myself, folding my arms and pouting.

"What the hell would you need a body for…" Sora began, before Agito cut him off.

"Don't ask. You don't want to know what those freaks get up to," he repeated harshly, before spitting. "Fuck."

"Ya know, I might leave this part off when I tell Rika about this," Sora declared after a moment, looking as though he really didn't want to know any more. I huffed again, and Rea giggled behind her mask.

It's not like I was planning anything kinky with the body. I just wanted to dissect it and perform hideous illegal medical experiments on it…

Hell, the guy might even had been able to go about his life afterwards. It was only fair to resurrect him after I was done studying him.

"So now that I got the background stuff out of the way," Sora went on, giving Agito and Rea a quick apologetic grin, "y'all mind if I have a private chat with lil bro over there?"

"Come on," Agito sighed, pushing himself up and latching on to the back of Rea's suit. My girlfriend made a protesting noise as she was dragged away. "You two can screw around later. Fuck."

"So," Sora began once we were alone. "Any reason I shouldn't head right back home and tell Rika exactly where she can find her little lost lamb?"

For a moment I gave some serious thought to the question. Finally, I did the first thing that came to mind.

"I beg you not to!" I barked, dropping to my knees and groveling shamelessly. "Please, please, don't do it! She wants to take away my ATs! I can't let that happen! Ever!"

Sora looked honestly surprised at my shamelessness, and finally he started to laugh helplessly again. "Oi, oi," he told me, waving a hand at me. "Enough of that. I can get why you'd try to keep your ATs, but come on, running away from home is pretty childish, ya know?"

"I didn't run away from home, I moved in with my girlfriend," I muttered childishly. "And besides," I added, feeling bitter, "it's not like she cares or anything. She already said I wasn't really part of the family anyway. Why the hell should I have to put up with her rules if I'm not her really her brother?"

Sora seemed surprised at my answer, before he sighed and rubbed his forehead. "You really are a cute little brat, aren't you?" he muttered, shaking his head. "Still, I can see why Rika was worried about you." He looked around at my territory, taking in the dangerous hazards. "If this was what you were planning, than she was probably spot on with her worries."

"And what's that supposed to mean?" I grumbled, giving the man a glare. He grinned bitterly and reached down to pat his legs.

"Ya know, way back in the day your sis used to be a storm rider herself, right?" he asked, and I nodded. No one had ever told me, but it looked like I had been right that ATs were a Noyamono family tradition after all. "Well so was I, back in the day. We were in a team, your sister and I." He sighed. "She never got over it when I lost my legs."

"Huh," I muttered, giving the aforementioned limbs a once over. "Compound fractures, starting in the lower fibula and tibia, improperly set but reconstructed afterwards. Severing of the extensor and soleus muscles, in concurrent locations. Yeah, looks like someone ran you over a couple times." Sora blinked, looking confused. "But why are you using your wheelchair? The reconstructive surgery seems to have gone off without a hitch, and the prosthetic ATs seem to be functional. You could probably walk around like anyone else at this point."

"The fuck?" Sora declared, staring at me in surprise. "How the hell you know all that, kid?" He seemed nervous for some reason, but I shrugged it off.

"I'm a genius," I told him, puffing my chest and raising my head high.

Sora looked at me a second before finally musing, to himself I think, "Ya know, maybe ya are kid."

I puffed my chest higher.

"Still, Rika took it pretty hard when it happened," Sora went on, getting back to his original story. "She swore to never wear ATs again. When you started growing up, whenever she was giving me a visit the only thing she always would talk about was you, ya know." I let my chest depuff, staring at the man as he told me about Noyamono. "About how you were getting so big, about how you were always looking at the sky or at zombies, about how worried she was that someday you'd end up with ATs, that someday you'd also end up like, well, like this," he gestured at his legs. "And judging from the territory you practice in, she might have been right."

I was silent, suddenly not feeling any of that pride that I had before. I hadn't known. I hadn't known that Rik- er, Noyamono had felt like that. If she just wanted to protect me, to keep me from harm…

Well, she had failed. Sora had hit it dead on. The moment I had tasted that second between the sky and earth, I had known that someday ATs would be the death of me. I knew it in my bones, and it thrilled me almost as much as boobies did at this point.

All anyone had to do to figure that out was watch me make a run of this pit.

"So, knowing all that now, lil bro," Sora continued, giving me a patient look. "How about heading home? Rika's been worried sick about you, nearly got fired cause she was too busy looking high and low and missed a few matches. Isn't it time that ya faced the music?"

"Don't wanna," I declared immediately, folding my arms and turning my head to the side. "I don't care. I don't care if it's dangerous, or if she's trying to look out for me. If making Rika happy means that I can't use ATs anymore, than I'd never be happy again. It's not fair that if one person is gonna be happy the other has to be miserable, but if that's the case then I'll just have to get used to crushing other peoples' dreams."

Sora gave me an even look, before giving a grim laugh. "Spoken like a true Wind King, lil bro." He seemed almost proud of me at the moment. "Tell ya what. I'll let Rika know that you're alright, and what we talked about, but I won't tell her where you are." I grinned at the other man, happy that I was still safe for the moment. "How about I show you a little trick too," he offered, before holding his hand up in front of him.

Without warning a sudden violent eruption of wind just came out of nowhere, nearly nocking me off my feet.

"The hell?" I groaned, barely keeping my balance as Sora grinned. "That was so cool!" I declared a second later, eager as a puppy to pick up that awesome skill!

"Here, ya go, kiddo. Ya see it goes something like this…"

*Scene Break*

"Awesome!" I declared, before throwing another puff of air at a patch of hydrangea. Rea had a lot of spare time on her hands down here, especially back when I was still going to school and she had to spend most of the day by herself. She had taken to planting the flowers all over, and it wasn't uncommon to find them just about anywhere there was a patch of light in a big circle around our home.

"Ain't it?" Sora seemed surprised how fast I had managed to figure out the trick he had shown me an hour ago, but I wasn't. It was done by flexing your hands in just the right way, and when it came to air and my body I was a genius in both fields. It was just a matter of properly flexing the adductor pollicis while maintaining a steady tension of the carpal ligaments while…

Okay, maybe it wasn't that simple, but I was a genius after all.

"Kid, it was like you were born to be the Wind King," he chuckled, and I gave him a weird look.

"The hells a Wind King?" I asked, but I couldn't stay mad when I had finally developed the ability to shoot balls of air out of my hand at will. So cooool!

"The Wind King? Ya don't know already?" Sora seemed surprised by that too. "I thought Simca already told you about that kinda thing. It's the name of the man who inherited the Wind Regalia, the one closest to being the Sky King."

"Think someone mentioned it before, but I stopped paying attention," I shrugged. "Hya!" Another blast of air. Isn't there a pokemon move that does something like this? Should I start shouting it whenever I used it? Or maybe I should look into gundamm for move name inspiration…

"Didn't even pay attention when someone tells you you're the closest to achieving humanity's dream," Sora shook his head, clucking his tongue. "I think Rika might have understated how weird you are."

"Oi! I'm not… okay, yeah, I'm a bit weird," I admitted, losing momentum halfway through the protest. "So what's humanity's dream?"

"To fly," Sora looked up, taking in the blue sky and clouds above us. He had such a peaceful expression on his face that I couldn't help but look up at it too. It really was beautiful.

Just not as beautiful as the trip up, or the trip back down.

"Humanity has been looking at the sky since before it was even humanity. It was the sky that made our ancestors crawl out of the ocean, to walk on two legs. Everything we've ever done was to make it there. The dinosaurs did it, so we can too. It's just a matter of time," Sora told me solemnly, and despite myself I smiled.

"It's a beautiful dream," I admitted, closing my eyes and feeling the wind. I'd been getting so much better at that lately, and I could feel the different pressures of the breeze around me as I stood there.

A beautiful dream, but I knew what happened when the sleeper woke up. Maybe that was why I loved AT so much. When I was wearing them, I could dream that much harder.

"Well," Sora finally broke the moment, turning to wheel his chair away. "I'm done here. Take care, lil bro."

"Absolutely, bro," I called after him, getting ready to get back to practicing. "Just remember you promised not to tell Noyamono where I was!"

Part 5

"There's another one out there, Ikki-kun," Rea called to me after knocking on the door. She tapped out 'shave and a haircut' so I sighed as I took the reanimated rat that I had caught earlier and quickly shoved it into a drawer.

"Come in," I called, and turned to look at Rea as she entered, pulling the sock off the handle and led Agito into the room. The boy narrowed his eyes as he took in the sight of me alone.

"Wait," he began slowly. "You had the sock on, but you were by yourself… Crow, why are you covered in blood, surrounded by pliers and scalpels, and trying to look innocent…" Agito trailed off, and then grimaced, holding one hand up. "You know what. Never mind. I don't think I wanna know."

"Smart little shark," I told him, grinning as the secret plan to keep my medical hobbies a secret via a reputation of ultra-kinkiness proved successful once more. "Yeah, you really don't wanna know." I turned to Rea, giving her a curious look. "Another what?"

"Another challenger! They put a sticker on top of ours and everything!" Rea pumped a fist in the air, grinning as she did so. She was really starting to get into this 'AT gang fight' thing that we had going. She hadn't actually made a run against them yet, but she didn't have to at this point. We were still not officially a gang, so we could slide by the rules a bit. Besides, she had more than enough fun with her unofficial role anyway.

Mascot is a role. It totally counted. Hot mascots counted double in fact.

"Eh," I shrugged, not really caring. Anything short of another King wasn't really worth getting stressed about, and even then Agito was the Blade king, so we had an even. Hell, if what Sora and Simca kept trying to talk to me about was right I probably counted as a King at this point. Even if I didn't use the Regalia. Or if I even didn't care one bit about this King bullshit.

"I can't wait! I'll be out to meet them tonight and show them the way!" Rea was actually gushing as she ran about the room, using her AT's to zip from wardrobe to wardrobe, occasionally launching explosions of hydrangea as she clipped a bush or two.

"What's got her so fired up?" I asked, giving my excited girlfriend a confused look as she bubbled about. Agito looked disgusted at the sight.

"Fuck," he muttered. "She keeps going on about how cute the challenge sticker is. Something about a cute little caterpillar." He shrugged again, giving another careless shrug as he dismissed the girl.

"Are you gay too?" I squinted at him, trying to figure out just why he was being so casual. I mean, Rea was practically stripping right there, and let me tell you, it was something that was hard to not look at. She was even putting on her special costume that she had started working on for when she led enemy teams into our territory for the match.

"No," Agito said flatly, glaring at me. "I'm just smart enough not to ogle my friend's girl. Not one that kinky anyway. I like my pieces of ass a little more modest."

"Huh." I cocked my head to the side. "Modest, modest… I swear I heard that word before. I think it bored me. Can't be too important." Agito rolled his eyes again.

"Fuck," he told me, and I think this counted as a tie actually.

Still, a team with a caterpillar sticker. I swear I'd seen that before somewhere.

Meh. Couldn't be that important.

*Scene Break*

So far, since I moved in with Rea and we started using the pit as our territory, there had been thirteen teams to challenge us. When Sora had sniffed me out and taught me that awesome trick it had just been nine.

Since then there had been four more matches. In each of them, someone died. I ain't quite sure if that was because the first couple of teams had just been really awesome and smart enough to not do stupid shit, or if it was the fact that Wabi Sabi was starting to get a bit famous and start attracting all the losers.

It was the second one, I decided as I pulled my hoodie closer. Because if we were starting to get famous, it was just further proof of how awesome I was. Now I had two teams that were badass! Well, one and a half teams.

Wabi Sabi still wasn't street legal. Not enough members.

"Fuck," Agito muttered yet again, before growling and reaching for his eye patch slightly. He stopped himself in time. "Akito, no, you can't fucking cuddle with Crow. I don't care how cold it is."

"Listen to Agito, Akito," I declared solemnly. "He is wise beyond his years."

"You gotta wait till after the match," Agito added, giving me a glare. "Then you can go wild." Another pause and he palmed his forehead, smacking it hard enough form to hear it. "Now, I won't distract that bitch so you can rape him! God, what has gotten into you!"

"Wait, what are you…" I began before Agito cut me off again.

"I can't distract her because we have the same damn body! Figure out your own way to rape him!" Agito started to message his head glaring at the ground. "Crow, you and your freak girlfriend have gotta stop fucking around my other personality! This is getting fucking weird now!"

"Yeah," I began, shifting nervously, edging away. "I think I'm gonna go over hear and let you deal with that. Good luck!" I shouted, gunning my ATs like the hounds of hell were after my ass. Akito wasn't really a hound from hell, but well, he was definitely after my ass.

And people think I'm weird.

Still, I was all hyped up about this! Even if the matches weren't official in the trophi-whichamacalit, it was still a battle, and it was still awesome.

Countless growing casualties aside anyway…

Why the hell hasn't the other team made it here yet? Rea was supposed to meet up with them and show them the way down. It was what she liked doing for god's sake. Get all dressed up, act spooky, lead the other team down through some dark tunnels, freak em out, and then set me loose on them.

My girlfriend had gotten a hellova lot less gentle over the years.

This, I decided after solemn thought, was also hot.

When I finally heard the sound of voices coming, Rea's happy one definitely there, I nearly giggled. Right, time for another match!

And then I saw who the other team was, and I think I shat myself a little.

"It's so nice to finally get the chance to meet you, one-chan!" Rea was gushing as she led a gaping Mikan, a giggling Ume, and a fuming Ringo to the pit. "Ikki-kun's told me so much about you! Please, I hope someday we can be like family! Only, not quite like family, more like good friends!"

"Fuck," I deadpanned, and Agito gave me a wry look.

"Feels good, doesn't it?" he muttered, though he was starting to back off towards a dark corner. Little bastard had a good 'fight or flee' instinct, and he was definitely pinging towards 'flee' at the moment.

"What the hell? What the hell?" Mikan seemed to be having trouble coping with the reality before her. "Itsuki had a girl like this for all this time, and he never told us? What the hell?"

Now that was just clean out of line!

"I did tell you," I shouted at the gaping orange, chucking a rock at the gorilla girl's head. "I told you the day it happened! What the hell do you mean 'what the hell'!?"

I get no goddamn respect here!

"Itsuki-kun!" Ringo at least managed to drag her attention away from the prancing Rea. She seemed actually happy to see me for a sec. Then she started to scowl. "Itsuki, where the hell have you been!"

"Forget that!" Mikan roared, the fires of rage already burning in her eyes. "Why the hell you throw a rock at me! And when were you going to tell us that you'd hooked up with a sweet little honey to live in sin!"

"I already said that I told you that I had a girlfriend!" I bellowed back, pointing an angry finger at my one time older sister. "You're the one who started telling everyone that I was lying! Simca already told me! Admit it, you goddamn gorilla!"

"Stop calling me a gorilla, you shitty Crow!" Mikan looked pretty pissed by now, but then she froze.

So did I.

The iron claw on my head was enough to make even me sweat.

"Itsuki-san," Ringo began, a very disturbing grin on her face. "What's this about living in sin? With that bitch nonetheless?"

"Oh," Mikan whimpered. "The spurned wife finds the mistress. This can't end well."

"The hell?" I whimpered. "I told you that I was going out years ago. When I left that old shit hole, I just moved in with my girlfriend." I wondered if maybe I should've just shut up. I think I might have some kind of vocal restraint disability. Maybe in the Broca or Wernicke's regions of the brain?

Ringo started to growl, but she cut off after a second or so. "I guess you did," she whispered, deflating and letting go of my skull. "I just… I never really thought…"

"Ah! Onee-chan! Please! Don't look down on us!" Rea somehow managed to get between Ringo and I, whipping about in a cloud of dust as she kneeled before my strangely violent sister/childhood friend/ fellow ATer. "Please! Don't dismiss our love!" Rea bowed formally to Ringo, and the girl I grew up with flinched, stumbling backwards as she looked at my girlfriend with wide eyes.

"L-l-love?" Ringo repeated dully. I wondered just what the hell was up with that. Ringo really seemed to be going a bit sideways here. I mean, yeah, I disappeared and hadn't talked to her in person in months, but I'd been having the other members of Kogarasumaru passing messages and shit.

"Uh," Rea paused, finally raising her head from her formal bow, looking confused. "Unless this is another one of those threesome things that Simca was telling me about. Am I doing this right?" she started to fret, rubbing her head furiously as she tried to figure out where she was going with this.

Let me rephrase that. Rea had started to dress up to lead challenging teams down to the pit. I'm still not sure where the title 'Izanami' came from, but apparently a beautiful girl appearing to lead the challengers to near certain death had started its own craze, and Rea as the guide had gotten the nickname along the way. In response, Rea had started to get into the role, dolling herself up with white scanty kimono's and formal burial headdresses.

So, Rea, looking like some kinda fetish star in white, sporting a lot of weird scars, asking my oldest friend Ringo if she was interested in a threesome was a little bit weird even for me.

I mean… it was RINGO.

That's just… well, not wrong. I mean, I like Ringo and everything, but this felt a bit weird, even for me.

"Threesomes!" Ringo shrieked, launching herself backwards as her eyes went wide and she covered her mouth with both hands.

"Rea," I began slowly, rubbing the confused girl's hair gently. "We've had this talk before. Simca is not a respectable role model, and you should never listen to her advice." I paused, and couldn't stand by my earlier words. "Except from when she's just talking about the two of you."

Thoughts of the male's dream aside, it just was simpler not to try to put too much in Rea's head at once.

I loved my girlfriend, but after everything she's been through she wasn't exactly a stellar example of how to live normally.

"Oh," Rea nodded firmly. "So I'm supposed to wait until the third date then?"

"Also, Agito is a dirty, filthy liar," I sighed.

"Wasn't me," said liar shrugged from where he was out of the firing zone. "Blame Akito."

"Akito is a sweet and gentle soul who doesn't know what the negative influence which is Agito does to him, and should be treated kindly while his words are never heeded," I amended. "Also, Agito is a dirty filthy liar."

"Fuck," Agito countered, and I guess this one goes to Agito.

"Okay!" Rea beamed happily at me, rising to her feet so she could skate backwards a few feet and hit my chest with her back. "Cuddles!" she declared happily, wrapping my arms around her so she could snuggle happily.

I tried not to melt. She was just so cute!

"Cuddles she says," Ringo sounded like she couldn't quite decide between growling and sniffling. "And she gets to nuzzle with my Ikki-kun…"

"Jealous wife mode is go," Mikan mumbled, burying her head in her hands for some reason. Still don't know what was going on here, but eh. I get to hug my girlfriend and meet up with the members of the Noyamono household I don't have a beef with.

"S'up, Ringo, Mikan, Ume," I greeted cheerfully, giving a happy salute with one hand before pausing. "Just a sec…"

"Ommmm," Rea moaned, trying to force the arm still around her up to where she could get a chunk of it. With the saluting hand I managed to snag the gag in time to preserve my flesh. "Oghhhh."

"Uh, Ikki-nii-chan," Ume raised her stuffed animal like she was asking a teacher something. "What's that for?"

"Ask me again when you're older," I told her.

"Shit," Agito muttered. "Can't you two lay off the kinky shit for even a second? There are other people here."

"Eh?" I was gonna say something about Akito, but I realized that yeah, Agito wasn't just being a whiny little bitch. Even if the three Noyamono girls had been taking center stage, there was still a couple others in the team as well.

I felt like smacking my head as I finally got it. A team with a caterpillar sticker. I'd seen it before, right after I got my first taste of AT.

Sleeping Forest.

There were eight of them, in total. Beyond Mikan, Ringo, and Ume, there were four other weirdoes: some tall grasshopper guy, some short fat guy, some skull mask guy, and some caution tape dude. There was some other guy too, all done up in some sort of priest thing.

Naturally, I couldn't resist.

"So," I began, giving the priest dude a once over. "Do I gotta tell Agito here to run? He is an underage boy and all…"

Ah, priest jokes. They never get old!

"For having good taste in women, plus five points," my target noted calmly, flipping page of the weird book he was glancing through. "Sense of crisis is dull. Lack of ability being a fighter. Minus ten points." The weirdo shut his book, giving me a weird look. "You now have ninety five points. When your points reach zero, there will be no further need for speaking." The weirdo actually let go of his book, and the thing floated in front of him for some reason.

"Some kind of wire trick?" Agito muttered, sounding tense. I had more important things to focus on.

"Did you just hit on Rea-chan?" I asked, scratching my head in confusion. "It definitely sounded like you were hitting on my girl."

"Emphasis on the lack of crisis, another minus ten," the missionary dude told me, and then…

His eyes changed.

I'd never seen it before. Nothing like it. It was amazing. One second they looked like anyone else's, then bam, they violated all conventional logic and biology.

It was kinda cool.

"Did you just dilate your eyes in a convex shape?" I couldn't stop myself from asking, and the missionary actually blinked as he watched me hunch over to peer up at him. "Nah, that's impossible. Retina muscular structure is too limited. Some sort of cosmetic surgery? No, never heard of it. Wait… the shape, it's white. Some kind of sclera diffusion? But then wouldn't there be blood loss or color dilation in the cornea… Wait," I straightened, giving the missionary a hard glare. "Is that a second pupil? What are you, some kind of alien?"

The room was kinda quite for a few seconds, and I glanced around wondering what had happened behind me.

"Huh," I noted. "You got one too, Ringo?" Sure enough, my oldest friend was also peering at me with that strange crucifix eye. As were my other pseudo-sisters. And the rest of the team that arrived.

"Oh god!" I screamed, finally realizing what stood before me and knowing I was doomed. "You're all aliens! The bodysnatchers have arrived! We're all doomed! Quick, Rea, Agito! We gotta find some germs!"

"Fuck," Agito told me, giving me a weird look. "If I had to say anyone was bodysnatched, it'd be you, Crow. What the fuck was all that just now?"

"Oh no!" Rea on the other hand took my warning seriously. "Quick! Run away, Ikki-kun! I'll keep you from being probed!"

"Oh shut up already!" Mikan shouted, the gorilla woman snapping for some reason. It must be alien hormones! There was no other way to explain how she was so brutish in the first place! "We're not aliens, we're freaking lab projects! And what the hell was all that a second ago!"

"Oh," I sighed in relief. "Just lab projects." That made so much more sense. Man, I was feeling kinda silly about that alien thing now. "So what did you want to talk about again?"

"Unexpectedly acute analysis abilities. Willingness to embrace unexpected situations. Plus fifteen points." The missionary guy seemed a little surprised. "Superficial response to unexpected stimuli. Minus ten more."

"Itsuki," Ringo began, still looking worried despite the weird eyes. "Are you okay? I've never seen you so… so…"

"Smart?" Ume suggested, giggling while she did so.

"Yeah, that," Ringo agreed, before she slapped her hands over her lips. "Not that I mean that Ikki-kun isn't intelligent in his own way, it's just…"

"You're dumb as a box of rocks?" Mikan grumbled, giving me a suspicious look.

"Says the gorilla who wouldn't believe that I had a girlfriend until I had to gag her in front of you?" I snapped back, and I wasn't sure if Mikan blushed because I was right or because I was gagging my girlfriend in front of her.

"So she is the other girl," Ringo muttered, looking a little spaced as she started to crush a nearby rock to gravel with her bare hands. "All this time, I thought I was safe, and he was already being snatched up by some hussy…"

"Jealous wife mode activate," Mikan muttered.

I wondered what the hell they were talking about, but decided that it was probably something stupid and turned back to the missionary dude.

"So?" I grumbled, folding my arms. "I'm kinda getting the impression that this isn't about you guys wanting my turf. Whassup?"

"We at sleeping forest had heard about an unusual team that had appeared," the missionary continued, though he didn't' seem to like my easy speakin'. "A team which seemed to embrace death, which trained in the harshest of conditions, and had no hesitation in killing those who stood against them."

"And you hear about some kinda psycho badass and went to go challenge them or something?" I prompted the other guy, wondering if he was really badass enough to go around playing vigilante and all.

"No. We came here to see if you were worth recruiting."

Ah. That kinda made sense. Wait? Recruiting?

"Ikki-kun," Ringo began, sounding as though she wasn't certain if she wanted to be saying what she was about to be saying. "Is it true, that you've killed two dozen men since you started this team?"

"Goddamn rumors," I muttered, palming my forehead as I grumbled about the way things got out of hand so fast. "No, I haven't killed two dozen men. Only seven got themselves killed, and it wasn't any of us that did it. They just couldn't handle the track."

"This isn't a track, it's a death trap," Mikan muttered. It looked like even the orange had relaxed though.

I really have no credit with my family. Thinking I was killing people and stuff…

Well, not killing, though I guess I was around more dead bodies than was normal…

"I know," I agreed with Mikan anyway, smiling proudly at the track. "Ain't it awesome!"

"No it's not!" Ringo finally snapped, stomping and sending up a small puff of wind out from her ATs as she did so. "What do you think Rika-neechan is going to do when she hears about this place?"

"Beat his ass until it has three new cracks, I'll bet," Mikan muttered. Crazy gorilla girl sounded like she was looking forward to it.

"Yeah, about that," I hemmed, scratching the back of my neck awkwardly. "Please don't tell her where I am?"

"Like hell!" Ringo actually swore as she growled at me. Wait, not me, at Rea for some reason. "I'm taking you home and getting you out of the claws of that… that… mazo-bimbo!"

"Well, at least now you know what kinda kinks Ikki is into," Mikan told her. "I guess that can jump start your married life at least."

Ringo started blushing almost immediately, and I wondered what the hell they were talking about again. Rea was pouting again, slumped over in my arms and sniffling at having failed to make a good impression with my family yet again.

"I'm not going back," I said, narrowing my eyes, and Ringo seemed to recover enough to glare at me. If I had known she was gonna take me moving out so personally, I woulda left a note or something.

"Yes, you are," Ringo insisted, bristling again. This was gonna get nowhere fast.

"What is this, some kind of soap opera?" the tall skinny guy that looked like a grasshopper seemed bored by the ongoings, but he was obviously a bit character so screw that guy. He still had a point at least.

"A match," I said bluntly to Ringo, and the girl paused, losing some of her steam. "If you win, then I go back to the house and face the music." I shuddered at that, not sure what would happen then. Just what horrors had Rika come up with in the long months since I'd moved out? What new terrors were waiting for me? Still, it was time to be brave and forge on! I could always just throw myself into the pit and hope for a clean death, I decided optimistically.

"And if you win?" Ringo demanded, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at me with those weird cross eyes. I was gonna have to get the full story about those sometimes.

"Then you can't tell your sister where I am."

"Hey, Ringo, maybe you should calm down a bit…" Mikan gulped, looking just as nervous as I was. Hey, if my bet had to be scary, so should theirs! I figured holding out on Rika will get them at least as much pain as going back would get me.

"Crazy Apple of Sleeping Forest accepts these conditions," Ringo declared, standing straight as she glared at me.

"Are we really just gonna stand here for all of this?" the really fat one muttered to the missionary.

"While foolish, it does fill the need we came here for," the missionary declared. "We wanted to see this Izanagi race. With Crazy Apple as his opponent, we should be able to see his best."

"Oi," I snapped, glaring at the missionary suddenly, forgetting about wondering why someone would add crazy to Ringo's name. Her normal name meant apple anyway. "Ya just said something I can't let slide."

"Oh?" the missionary raised an eyebrow, sounding annoyed himself. "Excessive pride in the face of justified dismissal? Minus fifteen points."

"No, not that bullshit," I waved it off. "That Izanagi crack. Izanagi broke up with his girl when he saw what happened to her. Guy was a flaky jerk. He should of stuck with Izanami all the way, like I did."

In my arms, Rea perked, and with a warm smile leaned up to peck me with the gag in a makeshift kiss. I'm not sure how it happened, but I swear I saw steam coming out of Ringo's ears for a second.

"Hmmm," the missionary at least seemed satisfied. "Knowledgeable about ancient myths, displaying superior relationship ethics. Plus twenty."

I nodded. Damn right I had superior relationship ethics! I'd never just go around playing with girls' hearts.

Now, time for that match with Ringo!

*Scene Break*

"Rules are simple," I said leading Ringo to the starting point for the course. "We don't have a full team and aren't registered, so this ain't an official match. No penalties apply for losing, so you can drop out whenever you want without having to worry about it."

"Some little Crow got pretty full of himself when he fell out of the nest," Ringo muttered, glaring at me as I gave her the standard escape clause. I gave her a grim grin.

"You should pay attention. If those other idiots had, they wouldn't have gotten themselves killed out here," I told her seriously. "This track's eaten like two thirds of the teams who tried it." Ringo still seemed annoyed by my attitude, but she nodded seriously at the warning. It looks like she was smart enough not to get too full of herself.

"So," I heard Mikan from the side of the tracks. "Looking forward to moving back in, pretty boy?"

"Fuck," Agito muttered. "Will that monster lady keep those two kinky freaks apart? I swear, some of the stuff they get up to should be illegal." For some reason Ringo twitched at that.

"Huh. So Ikki really is into the weird stuff," Mikan muttered, scratching her head. "Ringo's gonna have a hell of a time retraining him." Another twitch.

"It's not weird," Rea huffed, folding her arms. Now that I was a safe distance away she had pulled out the gag and was frowning at Agito. She apparently hadn't realized that Mikan was trying to rile her up. Implying me and Ringo together? Like that would ever happen! "It's just, the feel of him as he drips down my chin, so warm in my mouth…" Rea paused to lick her lips, blushing furiously. She was imagining eating me again, but even I knew that the way she was phrasing it was coming out wrong. "And when I have a piece of him inside of me…"

"Nobody wants to know," Agito told the girl, and a blushing Mikan nodded quickly.

"Really kinky stuff," she muttered. "Well, fight on Ringo-chan! You just gotta learn your husband's secret desires is all!"

"Shut up!" Ringo finally snapped, glaring at the peanut gallery before turning that glare back at me. "What kinda match is this?"

"Simple dash," I told her, unzipping my hoodie as I did so. "We don't have rooms for cage fighting, enough people for a Frisbee game, and this place is too small for balloons. All you gotta do is get to the other side of the room and tag that wall first to win," I pointed at the far wall, the one behind the massive tower of rebar as I tossed my hoodie aside. I was bare-chested under it, but it wasn't really cold enough to affect me at this point.

"Good god," Mikan blinked, looking really surprised. "Holy shit. Whip marks? Just what kind of stuff do you get into?"

"Don't ask," Agito told her bluntly. "You don't want to know."

"Ah," Ringo swallowed, staring at my chest. "Are you really into that kind of thing, Ikki-chan?"

"Hmm?" I looked down. The number of long scratches that ran sideways on my body had increased over the past few months. The older ones had started to heal, leaving faint scars, but the newer ones were still pretty scabby. I was starting to look as patched up as Rea was at this point.

"Whatever," I shrugged, not bothering to tell them that these weren't from whips. Instead, I gave Ringo a quick look. She was dressed in a jacket and jeans, with a hat with cat ears on it supported by some goggles. Her hair was loose underneath it. "You should strip," I told her seriously, pulling some tape out from my pocket. "I'll let you borrow the tape afterwards. "

"S-s-strip!" Ringo stuttered, blushing as she repeated the word. I rolled my eyes.

"This isn't the kinda run you wanna make with loose clothes," I told her seriously, already wrapping the tape around my jeans at the thighs, pulling the looser fabric tight. I'd need another set around the ankles to make sure that everything was good and tight.

"I'll take my chances!" Ringo snapped, still blushing as she pulled her jacket tighter at her chest, and I shrugged.

"My win then," I called it. Ringo's eyes narrowed.

"I'm not sure how you think this will go down, Itsuki," she told me sounding all serious and stuff. "But I don't think it will go the way you think it will. You might have talent, and you might have been working hard these last few months, but I've spent years doing this. I'm not as easy a challenger as you think I am."

"Years, eh," I grimaced, and felt a new spike of anger at Noyamono. Years she let her sisters practice AT, while deliberately locking me out.

It kinda made me feel robbed. How good could I be by now, if I had had years to practice? How many times could I have stood at the border and laughed? How many more tricks could I have made?

Then again, if I had AT back then, would I ever have found Rea?

Whatever. I never really thought about hard stuff like that.

Instead, I focused on the path ahead of me.

It was time to do my favorite run.

"Ready?" I asked my opponent, and she gave me an odd look. It must have been because of my grin. Agito gave it weird looks sometimes too, right before I made a run.

"Ready," Ringo told me, leaning forward to a start position.

"Then if there are no objections, I shall officiate," the missionary dude said, sounding pompous even when he was just starting a match. "When my book strikes the ground, begin." He held that weird book he was always glancing at out, and let it go.

The howl of the wind as Ringo and I kicked off with our AT was like music too my ears.

It was gonna be a short match I decided even as the two of us began weaving through the rubble. Ringo had already started going high, probably to get clear of tripping hazards. At this point, advantage was mine, since I knew the home ground. She had started to pull ahead a bit, finding an ibeam at some point and grinding it to give her a straight run down, but I wasn't worried yet.

There, that bit of rubble, buried in the dark. Ringo probably couldn't see it, hell, I couldn't see it, but I knew it was there anyway. It was at just the right angle to ramp me up, and from there I could kick off the back of the same I beam Ringo was grinding. She shook lightly, but kept her balance like a pro as I kicked off again.

"Trick Pass and Hawk Eye," missionary noted in the background as I used the force I got from the jump to push myself ahead of Ringo. "Traits of a King. Plus ten points." Wasn't quite sure what he was talking about, but I pushed on anyway. I had started to overtake Ringo, when suddenly she put on a new burst of speed, pulling ahead of me in return. My eyes narrowed as I took in her trick, what she was doing to her body in order to win. Then I dismissed it and turned my attention forward.

The next part was going to require all my concentration.

I wasn't sure if Ringo had figured it out yet, but this entire track was pretty much the set up to one final trick. Sure you could just go around the obstacles, but if you did that it ate time, a lot of time. If I wanted to win this I had to go for the one trick that would guarantee I could surpass even the bizarre technique and experience that Ringo had accumulated over the years.

"Shit, Ikki, what the hell are you doing?" Mikan shouted from the sidelines as I made my way to the next part of the track: bamboo hell. This trick was three parts, and this here was the second.

"Just shut up and watch, bitch," Agito muttered, already knowing what came next. He had been freaking out the first time I pulled it off too, the little brat.

Even as Ringo darted wide, skirting the hazard as she pushed on speed to clear the obstacle at a freaking unreal speed, I darted in. Bamboo hell was full of steel spikes of rebar shooting out at spaces as wide as a meter and a close as half of one. It was a twisted patch of death, jagged and bent spears of metal shooting out of the ground at every conceivable angle, a thousand daggers waiting to tear you apart.

I laughed when I started twisting through it.

It wasn't a matter of dodging or weaving. There just wasn't enough space to even think about going through it like that at this kind of speed. No, the trick came from the ATs.

ATs were in effect self-propelling machines, the wheels on the bottom of our rigs picking up impact and reacting to it with greater force. To push off with an AT was just a matter of putting force into the ground and having just as much force returned back to you. It was crazy sort of inversely proportional inertia. It was no surprise that an AT ate through its batteries like no one's business.

But because it was a matter of force and counter force, I was able to spin through the spikes. It was insane. It was unreal. It was that moment in the sky when I first gotta feel ATs, only a dozen, no, a hundred times more! The trick was the spin. Start by turning to your left, and let the rebar that would have torn out your liver miss you as you twisted around it. Then, make sure you had your AT core ready to tap, hitting the ground with all of the momentum of the spin only for that momentum to get reversed by the AT's reaction. Suddenly, you were spinning to the right, just in time to avoid the rusty shiv that would have carved out your kidney. Have that kick ready to do the same to dodge the next steel death waiting for you…

The best part was, that even as I weaved through bamboo hell, whipping back and forth with ever increasing velocity behind me, the G force building with each half turn, that the entire time I didn't lose a bit of velocity! I was spinning like a drunk top outta hell, the force enough to crack my neck if I screwed up even once, the rusty swords ready to tear me apart, and I was still picking up speed! Each spin or half spin was going faster and faster!

That was the important part of the second bit of the trick. I needed all the speed I could get for what came next!

"Axis legs!" Missionary sounded impressed. "The ability to increase speed without large motions or wasting directed momentum." He paused, his voice lowering. "More than that. Speed like that means he can't see what he's dodging. He's using the air to sense his surroundings…"

"Fucking insane is what it is," Agito muttered, not sounding like he cared, about whether I died or whatever trick I was using. He'd gotten used to seeing me make this run.

I broke free from bamboo hell, running even with Ringo as I did so. My oldest friend was staring at me with hard eyes, even as she broke towards the edge of the next obstacle.

The wall of steel. The twisted mass of concrete and rebar which stretched past the edges of the ceiling of this pit. I was pretty sure it must have been a part of something bigger once, though where the rest of whatever it came from was anyone's guest. What mattered was that it was a nearly impenetrable hazard for this course, something that you had almost no choice but to go around.

Almost no choice.

Because up there, so high it was hard for even the best storm rider to reach, was a gap. A hole where just small enough the wreckage had spread for a person to make it through waited.

If you were willing to risk it all.

"Stop, Ikki!" Mikan screamed, but it was too late to stop.

It was way too late to stop.

This run had a three part trick. The first, to get past the wreckage to hit the bamboo forest. The second, to use the spin trick to gather even more speed when you were dodging getting skewered like a shishkabob.

And the third, was to use that speed.

I stomped, hard. Every spin and counter spin I'd done to this point had just been building momentum. Once I cleared bamboo hell, I had to focus all that speed, point it towards the goal. My neck creaked as my body tried to keep from twisting in half, but I shrugged it off, and launched like a rocket to the final patch of rubble, and the long beam of steel that would be my ramp.

I launched off it, and flew like a god. Ringo had slowed down, forgetting to try and beat me around as she stared with wide eyes, actually pulling herself short as she watched me launch my trick.

And it was a trick.

The patch was too high to jump to. I'd known it the second I saw it.

You couldn't jump. You had to twist. You had to fly.

"Gravity Control," I heard missionary declare, but I didn't care about that now. "And Wing Road."

Now I was in the sky, soaring, death a second away. I twisted, my body whipping about as I forced my legs and arms to spin me, spinning until I could reach that small, insignificant hole…!

I made it! I made it the first time I tried it, and every time after, but all those times didn't matter. It was only the time I was doing the trick that mattered, because that was the time when I could die if I slipped even a second!

The gap was too small though, no matter how hard I twisted. Ain't nothing wrong with my execution, just that no matter how I squeezed myself, the gap was too small. So even as I spun, even though I emptied my lungs and sucked in my gut, three of those rebar edges managed to find me. They cut hard, tearing through my skin but missing anything important beneath. If I had been off by even a second, by an inch, it wouldn't have just been my skin that got cut.

I'd have been gutted like a fish.

Even though I taped my pants down, even though I took off my shirt, it was still a close thing. It was always a close thing.

That was why I loved this track and this trick.

Just like normal, I nearly forgot that I had to catch myself afterwards. I was an insane height up, and only had a few seconds to get my ATs between me and the wall so I could ride it down and not just splat on it.

When I made it to the bottom I was panting, my grin so wide it was splitting my face. The whole run had only lasted like thirty seconds from beginning to end, and despite that I was out of breath and bleeding from a whole new set of angry red lines carved in my flesh, a new set to match the ones that were already there.

And it was fucking awesome.

"Hell yeah," I moaned, shifting to try and keep from poking anything. Ringo hadn't even finished the course, just standing on the side of the dead wall, staring at me, white as a sheet. "No telling Ri… Noyamono. I win."

"Ikki… Your wings…" Ringo whispered, looking properly defeated after having been owned so hard! Pound the powndage! "Were they always so bloody..."

"Ikki you fucking moron!" I was probably still a little fuzzy after my trick, so when Mikan decked me in the snoz I probably lost some cool points by not dodging. "What the fuck! I mean, what the fuck! You could have died you fucking moron! Fuck! I'll kill you myself, then find some way to bring you back so I can let Rika have a turn! Fuuuuuuckl!"

My heavily developed sense of all things with ovaries let me know that I had apparently upset Mikan at some point.

When the hell did that happen?

"Ya know," Agito grinned. "I'm starting to like your sister a bit, Crow."

"Stupid fucking Ikki-nii-chan!" I appear to have annoyed Ume as well. How quaint. Her kicks at my shins were somehow both painful and humiliating as Mikan continued to pummel me like a pro. "What the fuck!"

"Both your sisters," Agito grinned wider. I swear, I could count that shark's teeth.

*Scene Break*

Ya know, it felt a bit less like you were a winner when you had two black eyes, a bloody nose, and a slightly deformed cheek.

Still, despite those setbacks, I fought on, proudly gloating in having won the dash!

"There, there!" Rea hummed happily, even as she finished wrapping my ribs from my latest set of scratches so she could start working on my face. She had loosened her gag enough so she could push it forward with her lips while still managing to speak clearly, but if she lost control and opened her mouth to far it would slip back in to block those pearly whites.

Ah, the wisdom of experience.

"An impressive run," missionary guy admitted, sounding like he was actually awed despite himself. "It's hard to imagine you've only been using AT's for less than half a year."

"Itsh caush I'm a geniush," I assured him benevolently, allowing the mortals in my presence to bask in my awesome. Slur due to fat lip was no reason not to proclaim my godliness. Thus was the path of those who stood above!

"Stop moving, Ikki-kun," Ringo scolded me, glaring at Rea as my oldest friend tried to nudge my girlfriend away from the wounds she was treating. Those two really should get along better. It's not like they had any reason to fight or anything.

"You lacked the long practice of many other storm riders," missionary continued, still giving me a measuring look. It kinda pissed me off. Not like he had any right to judge me. "But you've made up for it through pure brutality. Those wounds," he took stock of the sheer number of scratches doting my chest. "You got some of those in the patch of wreckage." I think he was talking about bamboo hell there.

"Well, yeah," I muttered. "If you don't bleed, you ain't trying."

"Indeed," the missionary muttered, cutting off Mikan mid growl. "They say that those who put themselves in life or death situations can surpass their normal boundaries. By risking your life in this pit you have advanced far beyond your time with ATs should suggest."

"Yeah," Mikan growled, glaring at me like it was my fault I'd been risking my life. "And what happens to those who don't 'surpass their normal boundaries'?"

"They die." Missionary paused when he realized that he had managed to say the same thing I was about to say at the same time. I shrugged and continued alone. "What do you think happened to most of the people who try this track?"

"Purposefully risking your life in order to surpass your normal limitations," missionary muttered, but I had trouble paying attention as Ringo started to wrap the gauze around my face a lot tighter than she had a second ago. "Blatant disregard for self-survival. Minus twenty points."

"Minus a million points!" Ringo growled, still glaring at Rea for some reason. I bristled a bit at that.

Not the Rea thing. The hypocrisy thing.

"Didn't you force nitrogen into your bloodstream to cushion your joints during that ride?" I pointed out, giving Ringo a flat look. "And doesn't nitrogen in the blood stream cause unimaginable pain with the risks of violent decompression and instant death?"

Ringo froze, and I nodded.

"Yeah," I told her dryly. "I don't think you get to tell me who's being reckless or not."

"Comprehension and analysis of the Sonia Road while mid run, immediate comprehension of full risks. Plus ten more points." I was kinda getting bored with missionary over there and his point thingie. "Failure to comprehend underlying reasons behind such choice… only minus five points."

Huh. Only minus five? That didn't sound so bad.

"Do those underlying reasons have something to do with why all you weirdoes have been spending time in super dense environments?" I asked, kinda curious. "You guys have gotta be dealing with a barometric pressure two or three times bigger than normal."

"That…" the missionary seemed honestly shocked by that, and again, I got to be center row for the cricket concert.

"What?" I asked, feeling a little self-conscious. "You all have massively developed intercostal musculature. Unless you're snorting pudding you gotta be training somewhere with a higher atmospheric density." The pause stretched on. I was getting a bit uncomfortable here. Someone, throw me a bone! "What?" I finally grumbled, trying not to get embarrassed.

"This is Ikki, isn't it?" Mikan finally asked. She looked a little freaked out about something for some reason. "Maybe that bodysnatcher theory was right? Do you think aliens got him?"

"Fuck," Agito muttered. Couldn't tell if he was agreeing or not, but I figured he was probably on my side.

"Hmm," missionary at least seemed to come to a conclusion. "Keen skills of observation. Plus ten. Yes, you would do well in Sleeping Forest." The guy adjusted his glasses and it looked like he decided something. "Tell me, would you like to hear the secret truth of ATs, storm riders, and even of Trophaeum?"

"Secret truth?" I repeated, sticking my pinky in my ear and scratching. "Sure, why not?"

"More stories!" Rea cheered happily

I shrugged, sitting back to let the weirdo talk. He sure seemed like a drama whore with all that cryptic bull. It's not like he had some super world changing secret of anything?

*Scene Break*

By the time missionary dude, Kilik he finally introduced himself as, finished, there wasn't much I could do except sit still, trying not to scream. Rea had her head cocked to the side, a small frown on as she also took the whole car wreck which was the source behind my beloved ATs.

My mind was racing, trying to categorize all this new info. ATs were the result of massive gravitational studies originally meant for deep space travel but later segueing into ultra-efficient energy production. That kinda made sense when you thought about it. AT's did have that whole 'greater return than input' thing going for acceleration. I'd been using that earlier in the bamboo hell, and the being able to travel in zero gravity also made sense. ATs were made to fly, after all.

The fact that nearly everyone in the room were experimental test subjects from that research was also interesting. From what I could tell none of them looked that weird. Outside the eyes they seemed mostly human, no weird new organs or funny colored skin or anything. It was probably why they had managed to train so well in barometric chambers, but hey, if some weirdo in a lab coat decided to make you a freak of nature why not take advantage of it?

Rea sure had, after all. So had I, though I resented the thought of me being a freak in a lab coat!

I was too damn cool for that stuff.

Now, here's where things start being a lot less cool. Turns out the sum of all the research was kinda stuck in some super hostile environment, after these Gravity Children had made their escape. Then one of their own decided he wanted to get that research so he could make a cool mint and rule the world and all that jazz. I could get that. Really, I could.

The fact that it was Sora, the cool bro from before, didn't really set me back to much. I mean, the guy was cool, and if he wasn't blowing smoke up my ass he could have been my actual brother at some point, if he and Noyamono ever managed to hook up for real. Er, if Noyamono had been my sister, that is.

So then this Kilik dude stops him, which probably explains why it looked like Sora had been run over by ATs a few times, now that I think about it. But here, well, here's where things start to stop being all peaches and cream in my book.

"Itsuki," Ringo muttered, looking down at me. As the whole story went on she had finished wrapping me up and skated back over to where the rest of the group was chillin'. Mikan and Ume had gone too, and now all of Sleeping Forest had chosen high points where they could look down on me. Kinda pissed me off, but eh, let them think they were cooler if they wanted. It wouldn't change anything in the long run.

Still, Ringo seemed sad that I was finding all this stuff out. Couldn't help but wonder why, before I had to do that whole focus thing.

"So, let me see if I get this straight," I finally said, scratching my head slowly. "You had this world ending, literally end of the world stuff going on. You'd lost the keys to the apocalypse, had no way of making sure that no one would ever see them again. And when you finally get around to stopping the guy, you just run over his legs a few times?"

"Indeed," Kilik narrowed his eyes, not liking my tone. Don't blame him. He definitely wouldn't like what comes next.

"You're a moron," I told him bluntly. "Letting the bad guy go free? Letting the Regalia go lose without doing anything about it? Hell, you said that the research is just sitting at the bottom of a shaft, above a freaking pool of lava, and you just let it sit there?" I shook my head, wondering just how dumb someone could be.

"Itsuki," Ringo warned me, giving a glowering Kilik a nervous look. "It's not that simple…"

"Yes it is," I interrupted. "You should have killed him on the spot, tracked down every last one of the Regalia and crushed them, and then poked the research case with a stick until it fell into the lava for real. It doesn't take a genius like me to see that!"

"Yeah," Rea nodded, pursing her lips. "It does seem kind of dumb. Are you brain damaged like me too, Kilik-san?"

"'Like me'?" Mikan parroted, giving Agito a bewildered look. "Is she being serious?"

"Don't ask," Agito told her. The shrimp looked a little shook up by all this exposition and stuff. He probably had a good idea how serious this really was, seeing as he used to be a cop and all. "Just don't ask."

"Irreverence in the face of your superiors," Kilik told me with narrowed eyes. "Minus fourty points. Proper comprehension of the relevance of the situation, and direct plan for negating it. Plus forty back." So it looked like Kilik over there wasn't too happy with me calling him out on being stupid, but also recognized my point. Victory, Itsuki again. "So tell me, Minami Itsuki, do you aim for the Tropheum, even knowing all of this? Do you still aspire to the top, knowing just what awaits there?"

"Aspire to the top?" I repeated, snorting as I grinned at him. "Why would I do that? I already am at the top?" I snuck an arm around Rea, pulling my girl close as I did so. "Why would I need some weirdo's doomsday toys? Not like I could get any higher with those things. Nah. The only reason I use AT is to fly, not cause I need some super item or anything."

Kilik seemed to relax as I turned down the whole Tropheum/regalia/research bit, and even though Ringo looked relieved she still spared a glare at Rea as my girl got comfortable against me. It looks like they thought I was talking about Rea when I said I was already at the top.

And I guess I was, in more ways than one.

After all, why would I need some forbidden, potentially world ending research based around gravity and more efficient energy output?

I already had the forbidden, potentially world ending research based around surpassing death itself. And what's more, I'd already reached the top of that. I could literally raise the dead. Rea was proof of that.

Like I said, I was already at the top.

"Good answer. Plus ten," Kilik allowed, adjusting his glasses as he gave me a contemplative look. "Though I think I know the answer already, I'll ask anyway. Minami Itsuki, would you join Sleeping Forest, become one of the beasts that hunt those who aspire for the top, and protect the world from the dangers of the Sky Regalia?"

"Hell no," I told him bluntly. "The only thing I wanna use my ATs for is to fly. The rest of that stuff is just a bunch of bull."

"Disappointing," Kilik accepted my response with a nod, "but acceptable. The offer will remain open, for now. If you ever wish to join, then you need only contact your sisters."

"An open offer," the big dude muttered, sounding impressed. "I'd swear it's impossible, but Kilik must really like this brat."

"Hmph," Kilik muttered, turning to leave. "I was surprised, but in the end, for the first time since Noyamono Riki, someone managed to make one hundred points again."

With those words, Kilik led the rest of Sleeping Forest out of the pit. Well, all of them accept Ringo, Mikan, and Ume.

"Ikki-kun," Ringo began, relaxing when the douchebag and the weirdoes finally left. Didn't blame her. Having to put up with freaks like that would make anyone tense. "Is this really what you want? Is this the freedom you were looking for?"

"Mm," I told her, giving her a gentle grin. Living my days with my girl and my ATs, risking my life to get the taste of the sky I'd never known I'd always wanted; for the second time in my life, I felt absolutely content with how things were going.

Well, almost absolutely.

"I," Ringo swallowed, giving Rea a sad look. "I, even if you already have a girlfriend, we, we're still friends at least, right?"

"Absolutely!" I declared, grinning brightly. Stupid girl. What, she thought we'd ever be anything but friends? No chance of us ever being less!

"Right!" Rea chirped happily, grinning at Ringo. "So, does this count as the third date yet, cause if it does, then still no threesomes until I get to go first!"

Ringo blinked, then started to go as red as her name implied. Mikan whistled, looking a little wierded out but smiling anyway.

"Well, it might not be the happy married lifestyle you thought, but you still have a chance, right?" the older sister told the younger one, giving her a conciliatory pat on the shoulder.

"I… but I… I never…" Ringo started to steam like a tea pot, waving her arms around wildly for a moment before she turned and ran, hands covering her cheeks. "But I don't wanna be tied up by another girl!"

"So you do want to be tied up by Ikki then?" Mikan called after the fleeing sister, and Ringo started running faster. "Too easy," the orange grinned, before turning back to give me a quick look. "So, are you okay here, Crow. Really okay?"

"Yeah," I nodded, giving the older sister a smile too. "I'm right where I want to be."

"Well, I guess the Crow would have to fly eventually," Mikan sighed. She gave me a stern look. "Just, come back some time, okay? Rika really misses you, and she hasn't stopped beating herself up over this. I don't think she'll try to take your ATs anymore."

"I'll," I rubbed the back of my head, pouting. "I'll think about it," I told her.

"Well, don't be a stranger," Mikan waived as she started to follow after Ringo. "Maybe I'll show up some time to make a run down here. It looks like it has some pretty sweet tricks here."


Mikan made it like twenty feet before she realized something. "Oi, Ume," she called at the younger sister. Ume hadn't started to move, just standing where she had been since the conversation ended. "It's time to go home."

"Home," Ume repeated, in a dead voice. It reminded me of back when I was still on my zombie craze. "Home, where Rika-nee is. Where Rika-nee, who we just promised to lie to about Ikki-nii, is."

Mikan froze, and I grinned at them. Suffer!

"Please let me stay here, Ikki-nii!" Ume finally started crying, latching onto my leg as she stared up at me with wide, pleading eyes. "Please! You know what Rika-nee will do when we get back! Pleaaase!"

"Hah! Go and face the… Mikan?" I blinked, finding my other sister had joined the younger one.

"Ume has a point," the orange told me, looking a little pale. "So, mind if we move in too?"

"Hell no!" I snapped. "It's hard enough with the shark over there, always getting in our way. I don't want two more always interrupting my Rea-time!"

"Fuck," Agito muttered. "I'm more worried about those two finding out just what you two get up to."

"Idiots!" It seemed Ringo hadn't gotten that far as she appeared behind the two groveling sisters, knocking them both on the back of the head before grabbing their collars and dragging them off. "If I gotta face Rika, then so do you!"

Still, even as my three sisters headed out, I felt my grin fading.

This… this was a lot to take in. As one researcher who knew the full danger of his research, seeing another avenue of dangerous research left so open was… worrying.

Part Six

"Hey, Ikki-kun," Rea said, talking quietly. "Are you alright?" She didn't have to talk loud, seeing how close we were. It was officially cuddle time in Rea and Itsuki's love nest.

"Whatcha mean?" I asked back, trying to play innocent. Rea nudged me in the side with her elbow. Whenever we cuddled, it always had to be spooning with her back to my front. At least, if we wanted to talk while we were cuddling. If we did it any other way there was just too many ways that the conversation could end with gags or dislocated shoulders.

"About what happened the other day, with Simca-chan wanting you to be the new boss and stuff," Rea didn't seem to care one way or the other, but I had to admit I was a little miffed when the Migratory Bird had shown up at Kogarasumaru's super-secret headquarters, our school, the other day and made the proposition that I should take over as big boss of the entire Tokyo region's coalition of storm riders.

I'd told her I'd think about it, and even if the party afterwards was kinda cool, I still wasn't sure about whether I wanted to be the boss of the whole region.

It just sounded like such a hassle. Not to mention I had other things to worry about.

"What about what your sisters' team, those Sleeping Forest guys," Rea prompted me, and I shifted. "I knew it," she muttered, squeezing my arms lightly. "You always try to take care of things by yourself, and if something really worries you, then you just keep it in. You're supposed to let your girlfriend help take care of you, Ikki-chan."

I sighed, trying to get my thoughts together. "Yeah," I told her, giving her a peck on the back of her head. Rea squirmed happily, before sticking her gag in so she could turn around and look up at me, face to face. I guess she knew me well enough to know that I was gonna spill. "It's about the Tropheum. About the Sky Regalia."

Even if I had blown it off back when Kilik had been telling me about it didn't mean I didn't think about it a lot afterwards. When I had been trying to fix Rea I had had to take in a whole lot real quick. It had been a race against time, it was only because I busted my ass to figure out a treatment that would work. That, and that I was a genius.

It was afterwards, once Rea was finally alive again and I was able to just fiddle around with everything I had learned, messing around with rats and pigeons and animals that I was able to really think about what I had done.

Sometimes it was a little scary, just what I might accomplish with the ability to raise the dead.

"I, I don't like the idea of all that being out there for just anyone to take," I admitted softly, roughing her hair a bit. Even though she was listening closely, peering up at me with those cute wide eyes, she still mumbled happily at the touch, bumping her gag against my chest coyly.

"I just keep thinking about it, like, what would happen if it was my research out there, and that someone was willing to do anything to get it, and then they'd use it for whatever they want," I continued, squeezing her as I started to get a little pissed at the thought. Rea groaned happily, though she tried her best to keep giving me a serious look. "And that idiot, Kilik. He's just letting it happen! He even helps it around, with that incredibly dumbass Gram Scale thing! What the hell was he thinking?"

The Gram Scale was apparently Kilik's utterly idiotic attempt to sort of gather all the people who want the Regalia in one place, just so he can get them all at once with Sleeping Forest. I could sorta get the idea, but if he actually thought that anyone who really wanted the Regalia would follow the rules, I mean REALLY wanted them as in ready to do anything to get them instead of just wanting to claim the trophy as a prize for bragging rights, then Kilik was as stupid as his name.

I mean, really. Kilik? Where did he get that stupid name from? Soul Caliber?

Even if Rea was starting to get frisky, she managed to keep herself serious enough to pull the gag back far enough to be able to ask, "So what are you gonna do, Ikki-kun?" She knew me well enough to know that if I was sulking then I was planning.

"Well," I began, looking away as I tried to avoid answering only to get another elbow to the side. I sighed and gave in. "Something probably really stupid."

Rea gave me a big hug, and I could tell she had already guessed what I was planning. Rea might be a bit of a ditz sometimes, and she had more impulse control issues then schizophrenic monkey with ADD on a sugar high, but she wasn't stupid. She had been the top student in one of those top private schools before the whole dying thing happened.

So far, well, I'd been weighing the pros and cons of what I was thinking about in my head and coming out pretty even. Pros, I'd protect the Sky Regalia from the most persistent and dangerous of the weirdoes out there looking for it. Cons…

Well. I'd probably die doing it.

For now, it was fine to just let things go like they had been. Even if it was dumb, the Gram Scale scheme of Kilik's seemed to be working. For now, I could just sit back and have my fun with my ATs and my girl.

Speaking of my girlfriend…

The click sound that brought me back from my depressing thoughts was the sound of my incredibly hot girlfriend handcuffing her hands to the headboard. Rea gave me an impish grin, sprawling on her back as she laid out in an innocent way which actually had nothing innocent about it. We'd found out the hard way that besides the whole gag thing, if we ever really started to get into it either handcuffs or ropes were a need too. My girlfriend was a lot stronger than she looked, and if she forgot to control herself while she had her arms around me…

One broke rib was enough, thanks.

Still, voluntarily cuffing herself like that… My girlfriend's appetite for my flesh wasn't the only thing she had impulse control issues with. It's a wonder we still hadn't gone all the way yet.

My love for my zombie girlfriend was pure! Despite the other sexiness that was Sanka Rea, we were still kinda young when we first hooked up, and we'd both been fine with taking our time with the relationship.

Still, we'd hit most of the bases by this point, and we were both closing in on sixteen. I don't think we were gonna be virgins for much longer.

Still, even as I was rolling over to start making out with my bondaged girlfriend, the door to the room slammed open, causing my eye to twitch.

"Agito, I am gonna murder you," I declared solemnly. "The sock was totally up! And if that's Akito, no, you can't join in!"

"Fuck," well at least I knew it wasn't Akito. "Will you two cut out the kinky shit for just one… are those leopard print handcuffs?" Agito blinked, catching sight of the blushing Rea as she tried to wiggle her skirt down a bit on her thighs with her hands locked up like that. "Ya know what, don't answer that," the little shark was blushing, and started to look anywhere but at where Rea and I were. "Here, this is more important than your weirdo fetishes."

"What could possibly be more important than what I was about to do?" I demanded, pointing at Rea angrily as I glared at the boy. "Look at her, and tell me with a straight face that this isn't the most important thing in the world!"

Rea blushed more, mumbling into her gag, and the more she wiggled to try and get descent again the less she ended up.

"Takeuchi Sora just declared war against Sleeping Forest and invaded the Kansai region," Agito said bluntly. "He set fire to most of Osaka, and the death count is estimated in the hundreds of thousands."

I blinked. "Okay…" I began slowly. "That might… just might that is, be more important…."

Agito gave me a flat look. "Fuck." With a sigh he went on, hitting a few buttons on his phone. I don't even know how it got reception down here. He held it up, letting it show a news report. Yeah, that was Osaka burning alright. "He's declared war on all Kings, and has already killed and then stole the Regalia of the Head of the Kansai region, Yoshitsune of the Rumble Road, and then did it again with the Regalia of Spitfire of the Flame Road."

"Hmmm…." Okay, this was also very bad. Still...

"Agito, is there anything I can do in response to this that can't be done in about an hour," I asked seriously. Rea perked up at that, giving Agito an expectant look too. The shark gave Rea a flat look, before blushing even brighter.

"Fuck," he declared, spinning around. Yeah, Rea had wiggled herself into quite a position by now. "You're both fucking insane. Kinky fucking fucks…"

"Yeah, that's what I thought," I told the shark. "Close the door on the way out."

"Fuck!" Agito yelled over his shoulder, though he did beat a hasty retreat, slamming the door behind him when he left.

Despite the teasing I had been giving Agito, the moment he was gone I didn't get right back to what I was about to do before. With a sigh, I pushed to the edge of the bed, sitting on it and sinking my head in my hands.

The clink noise behind me as Rea strained and broke the handcuffs was followed by her putting her hands around me, hugging me gently from behind. Those handcuffs did good for keeping her from going out of hand in the heat of things, but when she actually focused, they weren't really up to grade. "Ikki-chan," Rea whispered softly.

"Fuck," I said bluntly. "Is he trying to make me kill him?" I muttered. I kind of liked Sora. He was an okay guy, well, an okay guy with megalomaniacal dreams, but eh, no one's perfect. More than that, he was an okay guy with megalomaniacal dreams that was currently dating Ri… Noyamono. Even if I was still kinda on the outs with Noyamono, I didn't want to be a total dick and kill her boyfriend.

That was just not cool.

"Are you… are you going to do that stupid thing?" Rea asked me. My girlfriend started rubbing my shoulders, trying to get me to relax.

"I… I think I might…" I admitted. "It's… I don't really see any other way out of this."

"Itsuki," Rea put the back of her forehead on my back. She hugged me again. I sighed one last time, before turning back. "Crow-chan!" Rea yelped as I pushed her back down on the bed.

"World crisis aside," I said, grinning slightly as I reached for the emergency handcuffs. Rea squealed happily as I clicked them into place. "Nothing I can do now that can't wait that hour."

*Scene Break*

For all that Sora and his team, Genesis I think it was called, was supposed to be the incoming apocalypse of the storm rider world, he was kinda slow. It'd been a week or so since his bold announcement of war on all Kings, and still he was laying low.

Probably had some sort of ultra-complicated plot or something going on.

What a prima dona.

Still, I wasn't going to let the downtime go. Even if I was thinking about something suicidal, until I pull a Kevorkian there ain't no reason I can't have fun.

Which led to this particular scene of madness:

I'd just introduced Rea to the rest of Kogarasumaru.

Cue the hijinks!

"To think… All this time… Crow…" Onigiri was literally crying. It was beautiful. The little fat guy kept rolling around on the AT he liked to put his head in, bawling like a girl.

"Uh, wow," Kazu muttered. "I mean, Crow always said he had a girlfriend, but I always figured her name was 'Rosy Palm'…"

He trailed off after I decked him in the snoz. Fucking Flame Road following dick! Still, he'd been a bit off since Spitfire bit it, so I decided the one hit would be enough.

"Hehehe!" Rea tittered, happy that finally she had managed to make a good impression on some of my friends. Never mind that these friends in particular would have a good impression of a monkey as long as it had boobs.

Man, how immature. Couldn't they think of anything else besides breasts?

"Hey! Rea-chan!" Simca crowed, and her and Rea gave girlish squeals as they hugged dramatically. It was freaking awesome.

Allow me to explain.

I ain't sure where it came from, but if I had to guess, I'd say that all the prudes out there kept complaining about how freaky Rea and I always were, Rea started to get curious.

End result, Rea had embraced her bondage fetish heritage. I ain't sure where she got the leather straps from, or how they managed to stay on her body, but it was obviously a miracle; a miracle given by a god truly greater than even me.

Simca too had started to get in on it. I was glad, objectively speaking, that Rea was finally starting to make friends. I really was. She had spent a long time alone, before I met her. She spent a long time after I met her with no one but me. I loved Rea. I would happily spend the rest of my days with no one else but her and I, fuck the rest of the world.

But Rea, out with other girls, doing things that a normal girl would do… okay, normal was kinda stretching at this point, but getting the chance to really spread her wings and hang out with other people…

This made everything I'd ever done worthwhile.

That and the fact that Simca had started to really dress down herself, ever since Rea started to try for it. I mean, seriously. Simca. Vest. Panties. That's about it.

Heh. Simca. Boobies. Rea. Boobies. Simca and Rea. Double boobies.

"I should be begging Buddha for forgiveness," Buccha muttered as he watched my kinky girlfriend and my kinky friend who was a girl hug in moment which should be preserved in slow motion until the end of time. "But if this happened to Buddha at the side of the road, then by the time it was done Buddha wouldn't be sitting no more."

"Amen," I said in English, and the two of us basked.

Buccha had been one of my first real foes since I joined the AT world, and it had been fun before I kicked his ass. Since then, the big black pig had been on my side. His dad was all Buddhist and stuff, and even if I was Shinto, I didn't hold it against him.

Guy loved his ATs. That alone was enough in my book.

"You guys…" Ringo growled, and I gave her a curious look. Ever since she'd promised to keep a secret… oh, sorry, ever since I KICKED HER ASS and made her keep a secret…

Yeah, that still felt good to say.

…Anyway, ever since then, she'd started to show up at Kogarasumaru team meetings more. It was officially safe, since she had to keep it a secret.

Still, I don't think she took losing well. She kept being mean to Rea! I mean, yeah, she couldn't really take it out on me, due to awesomeness. But taking it out on my girl? Ringo was obviously trying not to, but still, it happened from time to time.

I mean, always getting between Rea and I when we were hanging out? That's just mean, Ringo. I thought you were above such petty things. Sigh.

Still, I had to hold out hope. Ringo would settle down eventually. She was probably just tense, what with the whole 'sworn enemy of my team attempting to make a move for world domination' and all. That would get anybody's panties in a twist.

Even I was tense.

Anyway, getting my friends and my girls to get along aside, there was another reason we were out here today. Even if it was just a maybe now, there was still the possibility that I might end up doing something stupid soon, so I figured I should start getting ready just in case that stupid actually happened. And one of the things I needed to get ready happened to be my ATs.

And there was only one place to go if you were gonna do something extreme with your ATs: a Tool Toul To meet.

"Where did you find that girl, anyway," Emily muttered, the track girl glaring at Rea. It looked like Rea's new wardrobe might make her popular with guys, but outside of Simca it looked like most girls were jealous that she pulled it off so well. When Kazu began to blush at something Rea said, Emily glared more.

"Well, I'm sure she's a nice girl," Yayoi put her hands on her friends shoulder to calm her down. The other girl didn't seem too interested in the growing drama as a few of the other weirdoes started to hit on Rea. "You know her better, right Agito-kun?"

"Fuck," the shark muttered glaring suspiciously at the girl. "Who the fuck are you?"

Yayoi didn't seem too surprised, and pulled her her from where it was loose until it resembled pig tails. "Now do you remember?"

"Oh yeah, the other useless one," Agito muttered, and Yayoi smiled even though the brat was being rude. I guess everyone had their own play. Wonder when those two hooked up?

"Ikki," Ringo grumbled, giving Rea another glare. A bunch of the other weirdoes that had been waiting around were really starting to swarm Rea. The bondage girl didn't look too worried despite all the freaks around her. Huh. I just noticed. When compared to a lot of the other storm riders out there, Rea's new wardrobe really didn't stick out too much at all. I was starting to wonder if I was the only modest guy on an AT in the city. "Shouldn't you be worried about your girlfriend? All those strangers…"

And right about then it looked like one of those guys got a little bold. Rea jumped with a girlish yelp, and turned to glare at the perv who touched my girl. With a cry of 'Kya!' she reached out and pushed the grinning molestor…

Who then proceeded to fly backwards, smashing into some of the other circling vultures and toppling them like dominoes before the guy ended up smashing into a wall behind him with bruising force.

"That…" Emily seemed surprised, her eyes softening. "That was my secret technique, the 'Power of Love'!"

"Yeah, something like that," I told the banana heiress. Ringo looked shocked, taking in the unexpected strength in Rea's slim body with wide eyes. It looked like my oldest friend hadn't expected Rea to be so tough. "Rea can take care of herself."

"Ikki-kun," Rea yelled, skating up to me with wide, moist, adorable eyes. "That mean man touched my butt! Am I still fit to be your bride?"

"Of course," I nodded, putting on a stern face. "But first, I must erase his presence on your rear by touching it more myself!"

"Ikki!" Ringo snapped, glaring at me, but Rea interrupted her with a happy cheer.

"Okay! Just let me get my gag on!" my girlfriend was already turning around so I could reach. "Simca-chan said I should mention something about spanking…?"

"Crow," Buccha said in a strained voice as both Kazu and Onigiri appear to have fallen to their knees to worship me. "Where did you find her and where can I get one of my own? Girls like that don't just grow on trees."

"Well, believe it or not, I guess you could say I found her on a tree," I shrugged, reaching out to help my girlfriend get over her trauma before Ringo smacked me upside the head, knocking me over. See, right there. Being mean to Rea by not letting me help her in her time of need. That Ringo…

*Scene Break*

"Crow," Kururu hummed, giving my AT a once over as she worked her magic. Ever since the first time, whenever I came out here to get my ATs serviced I always made sure to use the lavender haired girl. She was damn good at what she did, was able to help me track down some of the more specialty pieces for customization that I sometimes went hunting for, and she was cute to boot.

"How's it looking?" I asked the tuner, leaning over her shoulder so I could look down on the pieces spread out in front of her. I was able to name them all, but I still hadn't finished studying them properly and only knew what about half of them did. I had no idea how to tweak them properly to get the full range of function out of them, like some of the riders I'd come across could.

"You've been putting a lot of wear on them, but you've been keeping up with maintenance, so they should be fine for now." She hummed softly to herself, a weird habit of hers whenever she was dealing with ATs. "And it looks like you've tried to do some adjusting of your own: several of these pieces have had their output maximized…"

"So I was right?" I asked, grinning as she told me my guesses were spot on. "I am a genius!"

"Well, everything looks like it's been working alright, but you should be careful," Kururu pursed her lips, still humming as she looked over at me seriously. "If you raise the AT function too high it might become too powerful and hard to control. A lot of riders get seriously hurt when they put the settings to high and their ATs go out of control…"

For some reason Kururu trailed off. Since our faces were only a few inches apart cause of the way I was leaning over her I could tell when she started blushing immediately. Guess being this close was making her warm or something. It was starting to get hotter out these days.

"Don't worry about it," I told her, standing up as Kururu started to fidget, still blushing. "I have a good idea how much I can handle. I'll make sure I can deal with anything my ATs can throw at me."

"Uh…" Kururu swallowed, giving me little looks from the corner of her eyes. "If you'd like… I could… um… help tune them for you…" I barely heard the last bit cause of the way she kept getting softer and softer until she was like barely whispering at the end of it, but I shrugged it off.

"No thanks," I told her bluntly, picking at my ear with a pinky. "I already said I'm never gonna get tuned. But thanks for the offer!" For some reason Kururu just blushed even more.

"Fuck," Agito muttered. He and Ringo were the only ones hanging around as I got my gear checked. Rea was over with Simca, the older girl giving my girlfriend's ATs a look of her own, the two of them whispering and giggling as the checkup went on. Nearby, Onigiri was still eye-screwing my girl, but Kazu and Emily were both talking with another member of Tool Toul To, and Buccha was off with like three of the maintenance girls. Apparently his way of double lining his ATs was really inventive or something so he was getting a lot of excited questions. Big pig looked happy at least. "You forgot what happens in a tuning, didn't you?"

"Whaddya mean what ha…" I trailed off, blinking as it came back to me. "Oh yeah, naked and hot. Hmmm…." I turned to give Kururu a once over, and the girl blushed even more. "Well… I mean… the naked part sure, if you run it by Rea first. But the tuning…" I shook my head again. "Nah. Thanks for the offer though."

"I… uh…" Kururu stammered as she started to fidget her fingers. "I don't mind that kind of thing, er, normally, but well, Rea-chan is kind of… that is…"

"Don't mind that kind of thing?" Okay, now I was definitely grinning. "Something you wanna tell us, Kururu-chan?"

"It's not like that!" the tuner's lower lip was trembling as she just kept getting redder and redder. "It's just, well, sometimes we practice on each other…"

"Yeah," Ringo muttered, shaking her head. At least she didn't sound too upset this time. "That sounds like Tool Toul To. They're all a bit weird like that."

"So," Agito grinned like a shark, giving Ringo a look too. "That means you've been tuned too?"

"So hot…" I muttered, giving Ringo a grin. Hey, she might be my oldest friend, but that didn't mean she wasn't cute. Maybe if she was into me or something we might have gone out, and it would definitely been awesome.

"Not like that!" Ringo yelped, waving her arms frantically. "My tuner is a boy… and oh god that's even worse, isn't it?"

"Ringo-chan," Kururu muttered, giving the now slumped over other girl a sympathetic look.

"Fuck," Agito grinned, but I was too busy staring at Ringo to really keep score.

Huh. Ringo, naked with another boy… rubbing against each other?

The fuck? Why is that making me jealous? I shook my head quickly. Not my place to get all upset or anything. Ringo was her own person, and if she was willing to support my girlfriend I should be willing to support her.

Alright, she hasn't exactly been supportive so far, so I guess I could be a little pissed.

"Well, as long as you're using protection," I grumbled at Ringo, and she turned to give a glare at me.

"Like you're one to talk, the way you and that mazo-bimbo go at each other. If you get an STD from her then promise or not I'm telling Rika-neechan so she can drag your ass to the doctor," she snapped at me, glaring like I had insulted her or something. "And if you get her pregnant like Nee-chan, I swear I'll…"

"Impossible," I told her bluntly. "Rea can't have kids. And neither of us have ever been with anyone else, so STDs are like almost zero percent possible. Hell, we haven't even been with each other yet, so there ain't nothing to worry about."

"She can't have children?" Kururu looked shocked, before giving my girlfriend a sympathetic look. I guess she was finally realizing just what some of those scars might mean. I'd been able to do a lot for Rea when I finally started to make progress on resurrection, but some things… well… if I had only been quicker!

Fuck. There goes my good mood.

Wait a sec. I feel like I'm missing something.

"Wait, what do you mean 'pregnant like nee-chan'?" I turned to Ringo who seemed to have calmed down a lot and was touching her lips in serious thought.

"Haven't even done it yet?" Ringo repeated herself, giving me a thoughtful look, and I blinked, realizing what I had let slip.

"Neither of us are ready yet," I defended my virginity with folded arms and a huff. So what if we were taking our time! "Now, back to the important stuff. Just who's pregnant? Oh god," I grimaced, massaging my forehead. "Mikan got knocked up, didn't she? Who the hell would wanna do a gorilla like her…"

"Not Mikan, Rika-neechan," Ringo corrected absently before she blinked and slapped her hands over her mouth. "And I shouldn't have said that either!"

"Noyamono is pregers?" I blinked, never having seen that one coming. "Wait, but that means… and if that's the case then…" my eyes narrowed as I started connecting dots.

Noyamono was pregnant. The one Noyamono was dating was Takeuchi Sora. Thus, Takeuchi Sora was the dad. And Sora was also currently trying to take over the world in a campaign of blood and death.

Something in me clicked. That stupid thing I was thinking about, I hadn't really decided if I was gonna do it before today. I mean, it was pretty damn stupid, even by my standards. It was insane, and risky, and even if I didn't do it there was still the chance that Sleeping Forest would have been able to take care of things on their own.

Now though… Now there were other factors.

I guess I'm gonna have to be an idiot.

Part Seven

"Itsuki-kun," Rea started slowly. "Are you sure about this? I mean, really, really sure?"

"Yeah," I nodded, and for some reason Rea blushed.

"I can't get in your way when your face gets like that, Crow-kun," Rea pouted, fidgeting with her fingers as she watched me finish assembling my ATs.

"Like what?" I mumbled, only half paying attention as I continued to attach the newest pieces that I modified back to my ATs. They really had shaped up, since I started. The whole things looked sleek, dark and glossy as they shined in the light of our room. I'd even managed to get some functional air intake directors that had nice little gothic horror biomechanical design to them, like that one artist whose name I could never remember. Gig-something other.

Whatever. The point was, my ATs looked awesome. And with the final modifications I'd done to them, they'd roll awesome too.

"When you stop messing around, and your face gets so serious," Rea told me, still lying on the bed a bit from me where she was watching me on her stomach, kicking her feet idly in the air above her. It was bed time, and she had changed into an absolutely adorable little bit of girly sleep clothes which obviously had to have been designed just to drive men mad: all that see through silk, clinging to her body in just the right way, and those panties under it….

It was enough to make a man's blood pump! Enough to make them throw their ATs on the ground and get down to the important stuff!

Luckily, I knew she'd be there when I was done here, so I could take the time to enjoy my ATs before I enjoyed my girlfriend.

"I don't really get it," I told her shrugging. It wasn't like I could see my face or anything. It's not like I went around making weird expressions all the time. I just looked like what I looked like, and all that jazz.

"You know what might happen," Rea reminded me, still talking softly. "Even if it's you, it might still happen."

"Yeah," I shrugged again, clicking one of the final pieces into my ATs. "But since it's me, I'm the only one who can do it, ya know?"

"I know," Rea agreed smiling as she rolled over. She was kinda hanging off the bed now, and the view was even awesomer than it had been a second ago. "Ikki-kun has a strong sense of duty. If he believes that it is something he has to do, than he won't stop until he does it. Just like with me…"

"Oi," I interrupted, turning to glare at my girl when she said something silly. "I never had to do what I did for you. I wanted to do it! And don't forget that! Ever!"

Rea blushed, but looked happy when she nodded eagerly. "Okay, Ikki-kun. Teehee," she giggled again. "I'm a lucky girl."

"Damn straight you are!" I told her nodding solemnly. "Not everyone gets to date the genius and godly Minami Itsuki!" I grinned, happy that the mood wasn't getting all depressing and shit. I gave my ATs one last look, before finally deciding on the finishing touch.

I never had found that crow decal I was looking for, but I did have the Wabi Sabi stickers that we had made almost as a joke: the corpse of a woman from the torso up, rotting and zombie like, with arms up like she was hugging the team name that was formed out of bones.

It would have to do. I stuck one on each AT so that they'd be on my outside when I was using them.

"I guess I am really lucky," Rea admitted, sounding happy again. She stopped for a second, then started again, this time in a lower voice. "Itsuki. How would you like to get really lucky too?"

"As if I need luck," I began before looking back at my girlfriend and spit taking. Ah. Uh, yeah. So it turns out that that hot silk thing looked even hotter when it was on the floor next to her. Who'd have thought it? "Oh." I swallowed. "You mean, that kind of lucky."

Rea was blushing too, thankfully, sitting on the bed in her panties with her arm up to cover the boobies. "Yeah," she nodded shyly. "We've been dating for two years now, and with you maybe not coming back…" She gave me a shy look. "Would you like to?"

"Fuck yeah," I deadpanned, still blushing myself. Goddamnit, the guy isn't supposed to be shy! I started to walk to the bed, a little nervous but happy anyway when I paused. "Wait a sec," I told her suddenly, putting another serious look on.

"Wait for…" Rea began, but I had already turned and headed to the door, hopping as I pulled off one of my socks so I could stick it on the door handle. Then, just to make sure, I took one of the dressers and pushed it in front of the door too.

No way in hell I'm taking chances with Agito at a time like this!

Rea giggled, as I finished grunting and pushing the stupid heavy thing in place. "Ready now, Itsuki?" she said, and it looked like the interruption had loosened her up a bit, 'cause this time she didn't blush when she held her arms out to hug me.

"Oh yeah," I grinned.

*Scene Break*

"So where's Rea-chan?" Simca asked, glancing around as she met up with us outside of the team Jiggy match. "Usually you two are all lovey dovey at times like this.

"Yeah, well, she was a little tired so she stayed home today," I couldn't keep the grin off my face. That had been… yeah, that was like…

I'm so glad I have a girlfriend!

"What the hell's gotten into him?" Kazu muttered to Onigiri, the pig sniffling for some reason.

"The smell… a perverted odor… I smell it," the little fattie mumbled, crying again. It was glorious. The pain of that little perv was almost as satisfying as finally having been with Rea.

Okay, that's a lie. Rea totally took the cake!

Too bad that the first time might be the last time.

Gram Scale had started, and it was time for me to make my move.

"Are you sure," Buccha muttered to me one more time, giving me a doubtful look. "About not participating this time?" We'd had a bit of a fight when I told Kogarasumaru that I wasn't interested in tournament for Tropheum. In the end, Kazu had shaped up nicely, and even if I said I wasn't going to join in the flame groupie ended up stepping up and leading the others to a bunch of matches I never showed up for. Somehow, Kogarasumaru had managed to make it to Gram Scale even without me.

It was like watching kids grow up or something.

Still, I had other things to do. I didn't have time to play around with some tournament I didn't care about for a prize that didn't matter.

I had another goal in mind.

"Nah, it's cool Pig," I told Buccha. "You guys kick some ass. I got something else planned."

"It's fine, if Ikki-kun doesn't want to participate," Ringo agreed, smiling in relief. She had really like it when I made my announcement. I think the apple had been really worried about me getting into the mix of things, with all this King killing and evil plotting going on. "I think that waiting another year isn't a bad thing! His tricks are already amazing, and in a year he'll be even better!"

"Who cares about that?" Kazu muttered. "If he's a man, he should aim for the top. Just dropping out like this… what about what happened to Spitfire?"

"He died," I shrugged. "It happens. If you wanna get all butthurt about it, be my guest. I got other things to do." Other things to do…

Like Rea…

"Oh that's it," Simca snapped her finger, suddenly beaming at me as though she had just figured something out. "You and Rea finally did it!" she stuck out her hand with her pointer finger over her thumb.

"What!" Ringo yelped, giving Simca a shocked look.

"You mean you and Rea-chan really…" Kururu also sounded surprised, blushing to the roots of her hair as she gave me a shy look.

"Hmmm," I didn't say anything, but I could feel my nose lifting.

"Isn't that great girls!" Simca chirped happily, hugging my arm. "Now that she's had her turn, threesomes are go!"

"W-w-what!" Ringo was going that shade of red that she only got when she was really embarrassed. Kururu was matching.

That Simca. Always teasing. As if anybody here was really thinking about threesomes. Sometimes Simca really took a joke too far.

Still funny though!

"Oi," I turned to give the rest of Kogarasumaru a check when I realized that they had all fallen behind even as Simca and I were walking. "We paid for these tickets. What are you sitting around for?"

"He…Crow… him… and that girl…" Kazu was frozen his eye twitching.

"That scent…" Onigiri had a weird look on his face, like he had finally took a giant dump or something. "So that's what it is…"

Huh. Looks like he achieved enlightment or something.

"Well, I guess if that was what you were up to its cool that you didn't want to do the Gram Scale," Buccha was blushing a bit too, but beyond that he didn't seem too affected. He was kinda cool like that actually.

"Fuck," Agito muttered, the only one besides Simca and I that hadn't seemed too surprised by the Migratory Bird's bombshell. "They were kinky before. Who fucking knows what they'll get up to now?" He sighed again. "Shut up Akito. No I'm not gonna ask if you can watch. Do it yourself!"

"Maybe we should take Rea out for a bit?" Emily muttered to Yayoi. "Have a girl's nights out in celebration of something."

"Might be fun," Yayoi muttered back, grinning crookedly. "If we bring Ringo-chan and Kururu-chan as well…."

"Oh, that's mean!" Emily grinned at the thought. Couldn't help but wonder what they were getting on about.

It wasn't mean to take those two out. It was just them hanging out with their friends. What could be mean about that?

Anyway, leaving the broken ones behind, I led the rest of my friends up towards the first match of Gram Scale. I didn't even know who the groups were. The one team, Jiggy, had charged tickets to the match and stuff, and I just wanted to be there for my own reasons.

Might be fun to watch for a bit.

*Scene Break*

"Wow!" I grinned, watching as the head Jiggy dude, some guy called 'Tiger Eater', totally pile drived this tattooed chick into a wall. Noyamono was a pro wrestler too, so I'd grown up with this shit. This Tiger Eater guy was pretty good!

"Man, this is painful to watch," Kazu muttered, and beside him Emily nodded. The two had been pretty close lately. "Those chicks are getting slaughtered."

"Yeah," Ringo looked like she was enjoying the match at least. Hey, she's from a family of wrestlers too, so it looked like she could enjoy a good match. "Get em!" she yelled happily throwing a fist in the air as she launched popcorn everywhere by accident from where she was sitting on my right.

"Calm down, Ringo-chan," Simca giggled, looking like she didn't care one bit about the match. Instead the Migratory Bird had taken the seat behind me and was having fun propping herself up on my shoulders as she leaned forward.

Ah, the feel of boobies. Now that I knew them well, it just made the ones on my back even better!

"This is, this is quite violent," Kururu seemed scared, and she had latched onto me on the left. I gave her a grin. She kinda reminded me of Rea before she had died: cute, innocent, a bit sheltered, but nice anyway.

"Yeah," I grinned again, watching as one of the other Jiggy fighters managed to get another of the all-girl team in a full nelson. "It's great!"

"Ikki-kun," Kururu muttered, but she gave me a glance. "Hey, Crow," she began. "While we're here, I was wondering. You see… I've been researching the Wind Regalia for a while, ever since you showed them to me. I think… I think I might be able to make a replacement…

"Now, now," Simca interrupted leaning forward to put her head between me and Kururu. "We can talk about that later! After all, Crow-kun still hasn't accepted his crown yet! Don't you know it's rude to keep a girl waiting for an answer, Ikki-chan?"

"Hmph," Ringo seemed to settle down a bit, glaring at the two other girls who were teasing me. "If Ikki was to join any team, it sure wouldn't be yours, perverted swallow. He already has a standing invitation…"

Ya know, it was weird, but I suddenly felt as though I got struck by lightning. Like in an anime, when two people glare at each other and electricity shoots out. Like if something like that had happened, only someone happened to be in the middle of the lightning.

Weird. I checked my ATs to make sure nothing was shorted.

"Goddamn bastard shitty crow," Onigiri muttered, still standing on his head as he grumbled. "When the hell did that shitty crow get so good with women? Shitty, piss covered goddamn crow."

I wasn't quite sure what he was talking about, but he was crying again for some reason, so it must be something awesome.

"Anyway," Yayoi interrupted, giving the three girls leaning on me a weird look. "Looks like this match is almost over. Guess it's a win for Jiggy then."

I perked, looking back up at the cage match. Yeah, it looked like it was almost done.

"Okay," I nodded my head standing up. Simca huffed as she had to sit back down. "I gotta go take care of something real quick. Watch my seat for me!"

"Okay," Ringo said, still giving weird looks at Kururu and Simca. "Take your time. We girls can have a little chat."

"Now would be as good a time as any," Simca agreed, smiling as she did so.

"I suppose so," Kururu also got in on it.

"Great!" I nodded, "it's good to see you all getting along so well! Have fun while I'm taking care of this."

"Fuck," Agito muttered, giving me a weird look. "You really have no idea, do you Crow. Fuck."

"Idea about what?" I asked, picking at my ear while I gave the shark a weird look. What the hell was he talking about? Crazy little kid.

Anyway, no time to hang around figuring out the crazies. Time to get what I came here for done.

It wasn't hard getting down to the edge of the ring, and I was about to jump over it and get to the center of the ring under the cage matches when I was interrupted by some other weirdo. Guy was tall, had a top hat and a scarf on, and had two microphones on him for some reason. Guess he was supposed to be the referee or something.

"And where are you going, young man?" the older guy was grinning, but he sounded pretty cool even though I had just tried to jump the ring.

"Eh," I shrugged. "This is a wrestling ring, right? I was gonna jump on at the end of the match so that I could challenge a fighter. Isn't that the way you're supposed to do it?"

The guy snorted. "Yeah, but didn't you know that those kinda things are planned ahead of time?" I blinked, having no idea that they really were. "That way the wrestlers can have a proper speech ready in response to the challenge. Most wrestlers aren't that good at coming up with things on the spot."

"Huh," I scratched my head. "That makes sense. But I'm not challenging any of those guys," I pointed at the wrestlers of team Jiggy. "I was gonna challenge someone else, and like the only way I'll know he gets the message is if I do at a televised match. He's kinda hard to find."

"Oooh," the guy winced, but his grin remained. "That's bad. It's rude to not even challenge the team whose match you're crashing. Maybe you should add something like 'first I'll go through these guys, then I'm coming for you'. That way Jiggy can get some good screen time too."

"Ah," I scratched my chin this time. "That makes sense. Okay, give me a sec to come up with something."

"No problem, Minami Itsuki," the cool uncle type said, still grinning. "I'll get Tiger on the line so he can get an impromptu speech ready."

"Sweet! Thanks uncle," I told him, flashing him a grin and a thumbs up. As the older guy walked away I realized something. "Hey, how did he know my name?" I wondered, before shrugging. "I guess it's good that genius like me is famous!"

It only took like five minutes, but when the loudspeaker uncle came back he grinned and flashed me a thumbs up while handing me one of this loudspeakers.

"Wait till my signal, and then take it away," he told me. "The cameras over there, so make sure you're looking at it when you make your challenge."

"Hey, thanks!" I grinned and the guy nodded back before holding up his hand with all his fingers up. Slowly, he counted down with them, and when he reached zero I jumped the ring, easily landing dead center.

Just as I did, all the lights in the building went out except for a spotlight centered dead on me. This was so cool!

"Listen up, all you chumps!" I declared, dramatically posing as I started my speech. "I'm Minami Itsuki, of team Wabi Sabi. And this here is a challenge." I pointed at the camera.

"Takeuchi Sora. You and I need to have words," I declared, taking on that same dead serious expression that Rea had called me on earlier. This was it.

"I've heard all about what you've been up to," I continued, the crowd growing silent as they took in the spectacle. God, it was awesome being the center of attention. "All those Kings you've killed, all those Regalia you stole. It's time that you and I have a long talk about what you've been doing." I reached for my pocket as I continued. "I don't know where you're hiding, but I have just the thing to get you out of there."

I pulled free one of the wheels in my pocket, the good luck charms I'd gotten so long ago from an old man at an AT store.

"Recognize these, bro?" I declared, lifting the wheel in front of me. "You should. These used to be your Regalia, after all, back when you were the Wind King. All this time you've been hiding, I bet you've been looking for these, haven't you? Well, here they are."

I let the wheel in my hand drop, and it was so quiet in the house that the noise it made when it hit the ring was actually audible.

And then I brought my right AT down on it. The sound my ATs made was like a chainsaw as the violent force of the impact burst them to life. They ground down, shattering the legendary Regalia, the friction so hot that pieces were actually melting and catching fire as they sprayed out behind me.

"One down," I declared in the silence. I pulled out the second one, and held it up. "When it's time for Genesis and Kogarasumaru to have their match I'll be there too, and if you don't show up in person, then it's gonna be two down and you're shit out of luck."

That was all I really wanted to say, but the microphone uncle had a good point, so then I whirled to point at the cage where Tiger Eater had been. A second spotlight lit him up, and it looked like the uncle had given him the second loudspeaker.

"And to make it to that match, Kogarasumaru will take down every team in their way! When the second tier happens, I'll be there to help them take you out too, Tiger Eater!"

There. It was a bit on the spot, but I think it turned out well. I was gonna leave at that point, but the uncle held out a hand to have me stay, a serious look on his face as he looked at where the broken Regalia was. Right, I guess I had to be there for the other guy's speech too.

Tiger Eater looked a little out of his depth as he stared at the shattered Regalia. I guess they were kinda the holy grail to the Tropheum, so it made sense he'd be a little tweaked. He got a hold of himself soon enough, and started his own counter challenge. I kinda stopped paying attention, but by the time he was done the audience was roaring, so I guess he knew his stuff.

Once the announcer took over, already promoting the match between Jiggy and Kogarasumaru, I shrugged and headed back to where everyone else was sitting.

"There," I said with a nod. "Job's done. Who's up for getting some take out?"

I waited a second, picking at my ear before I finally had to ask, "What?"

Ringo had her jaw open, gaping as she sat there frozen. Simca had pulled back, wide eyed as she stared at the place where I broke the Wind Regalia. Kururu had her arms hanging limply at her side, white as a ghost as she stared at the same place. Kazu, Onigiri, and Bucha were all looking like dumbass statues as they pointed at me. Agito was gaping, hands in front of him as he twitched.

Even Emily and Yayoi looked a little surprised.

I gave them another second, before shrugging again. "Weirdoes. I'm getting some beef bowl. Whenever you're done being creepy, you can come along."

*Scene Break*

"Itsuki," Ringo was freaking out as she paced back and forth, pulling at her hair. "What have you done?"

"What?" I asked around a full mouth. "I like egg in my beef bowl. I thought you did too?"

"Not that you idiot!" Ringo grabbed me by my shirt and started shaking me. "You just challenged Takeuchi Sora, the most dangerous man in the world, the sworn enemy of Sleeping Forest. Are you fucking insane!"

"What she said," Agito muttered, though he was busy working his way through a beef bowl too. Kid knew when to eat and when to talk.

"And what was with all that 'Kogarasumaru will take down any team' shit!" Kazu was fuming as he shoveled food in his mouth. "You're practically not even on the team anymore! You even introduced yourself as team 'Wabi Sabi'! The fuck dude, the fuck!"

"You can handle it," I shrugged, not caring. "Kogarasumaru is pretty tough. Just wanted to make sure that Sora focused more on me than the team in general."

"So you'd rather have a psychopath after you specifically, rather than us in general," Emily muttered, sipping at a soda. "That's thoughtful of you."

My ovary sense, only grown stronger with time, allowed me to determine that that had been sarcasm.

"You're welcome," I told her sourly. Nobody appreciates the things I do for them. The fate of the genius is to be misunderstood, I guess.

"Crow," Kururu began, the girl looking a little shaky. "You… that was the Wind Regalia! Even if it was broken, it still could have been fixed, or studied, or anything! You… why did you break something like that?" She gave me a hopelessly confused look, the poor cute thing looking like a lost cat at this point. "Why? You, you could be the Wind King with that!"

"I've never once wanted to be the Wind King," I told her, tone lowering. "I don't give two fucks about Regalia, or Kings. I don't give a rat's ass about Tropheum, or even the Sky Regalia. I've always said all I want to do is fly with my ATs, doing whatever I like. Now, I really want to have a chat with bro. If breaking a couple of useless relics is what it takes, than I'd smash every last one of them until he showed up."

"You," Simca murmured, taking off her hat. "You really mean that, don't you Crow-chan." She smiled, and it looked kinda gentle. "All these people trying to get you to do things, and in the end you're just going to do your own thing no matter what."

"Damn straight," I agreed, nodding firmly. I was about to turn back to my food when two soft hands gently took my cheeks. I turned in surprise, and then froze when Simca kissed me.

Okay. Uh. Wow. This is… this is almost as good as Rea actually. Honestly, it might actually be the first kiss I ever had. Even if Rea and I had messed around and finally done the deed, we still hadn't kissed. That would probably end up with me losing my tongue and lips to my girlfriend's teeth.

I think I was blushing when Simca finally pulled away.

"I really like that about you, Crow-chan," Simca whispered, licking her lips as she gave me a wink. "That you're free no matter what tries to chain you."

"You…." Ringo growled, a shaking fist coming up as she growled. "You perverted swallow!"

"Hehe!" Simca giggled, before kicking off on her ATs and jumping to the top of a nearby wall. "Make sure you tell Rea that the threesome thing is definitely a go! Even if I can't catch the wind by myself, I have no problem sharing!" She stuck out her tongue and vanished, jumping to a nearby roof.

"Uh…." I swallowed. "Um. Ya know, I always thought she was just joking. Do you think she might actually be serious?" I asked the world around me.

"Hate you… so much…" Onigiri was crying for some reason.

"Idiot," Buccha muttered, also looking a little weird as he stared after the Migratory Bird.

"Fuck," Agito added formally.

"Anyway," Kazu broke in, blushing as he swallowed. At his side, Emily was scowling again for some reason. "What the hell are we supposed to do now? This idiot Crow just made us prime targets for every team in the league."

"Well, that should be obvious," I told him, rolling my eyes as I started to imagine once more the idea of Simca joining Rea and me. This time, I was taking it seriously. "You train till your asses fall off. After all, you still have all the matches for tier one, and then a bunch more from tier two. That's plenty of time for you to get tough enough to take them all on!"

I wondered if anyone realized that I wasn't including myself in the plan to train.

*Scene Break*

Even after we broke up for the night, Ringo looking unusually serious as she vanished off to where ever it was she was heading, I didn't go home. I thought about it. I really did. Rea was there, and we could pick up where we left off last night. The thought of just being with my girlfriend was kinda tempting.

But no. Too late for that.

Instead of heading back home, I went to the pit instead. I looked out at it, the rebar and rubble all dark and covered in shadows.

"So I hear you wanted to talk to me?" Sora asked, and I looked up to where the other man was standing at the top of the pit, looking down at me. He had his hat off and his arms folded, and he was standing, the AT prosthetics he had implanted to his shattered feet glimmering in the moon.

"Kinda," I rubbed the back of my head, kicking a stone as I did so. "There is one question I want answered, but in the end I knew this was gonna end up as a match."

Sora was serious about the Tropheum. He had bet his life on gaining the Sky Regalia, on getting the power at the peak of Tropheum. There was no way in hell he'd wait for all those matches, just sitting back and letting the tournament go on. He wasn't going to leave that much to chance.

So I had come here, the only place where anyone besides Agito knew that I could usually be found, and just like I thought Sora had been waiting.

"Stupid little shit," Sora told me bluntly, eyes cold as he looked down on me. It kinda pissed me off. "You think this is gonna be settled with some stupid little race?"

"Hell no, bro," I grinned up at him. "But a death match is also a match, when you get right down to it."

He actually smiled a bit at that. "Not bad. You were a failure as a distraction, you're a failure as a guard for the Wind Regalia, and soon you'll be a failure at living too."

"Heh," I snorted, unzipping my hoody. Inside, a crystal flask with sentimental value was sitting against my heart. I shot it down, and the feel of poison through my body rushed me. "Just a sec," I told him, pulling out my cell phone. I dialed the number on it quickly,

"Who the hell is calling at this time of night…" the voice on the other side sounded pissed, but I interrupted them.

"Noyamono," I said, and I heard them gasp.

"Ikki? Is that you, Ikki?" Noyamono started to talk quicker, rushing her words. "Where are you? You tell me where you are, and so help me if you aren't there when I get there I'm gonna…"

"Me and Sora are going to kill each other now," I interrupted her bluntly. Silence.

"What did you say…" she whispered, and I grinned.

"Just wanted to say thanks," I told her. "Even if you never really thought I was part of the family, I did. So, thanks for looking after me for all these years."

Then I hung up.

"Oh? Making peace?" Sora didn't seem the least bit moved, one way or the other.

"Something like that," I grinned, tossing my hoody aside. "Now, let's get on with killing each other!"

That man standing above me was death incarnate. He had years of training, more resources and skill than I could probably ever get on my own, and he had no problem killing anything that stood in his way.

This was a thousand times better than that first time in the air. Time to walk that line again!

God I loved this!

Part Eight

I was laughing. Concrete was shattering around me, lethal lumps of cement and steel flying around, every one of them potentially deadly shrapnel, and I was laughing!

"Oi, bro! Why don't you come down here?" I shouted, flipping through the air. My ATs found a patch of rock and roared as they kicked me off. My body twisted and I missed getting a piece of the former bamboo hell. I could feel it around me, the wind as it roared by. Even with the poison numbing me, I still felt the change in pressure as the sharp steel around me approached, and I dodged it with time to spare. "What are you waiting for? Come at me, bro!"

"I have no need to go to a death trap," Sora said bluntly. "Just stay down there and die like a good little thing."

"Really, you don't know what you're missing, bro!" I called out, before shrugging and letting myself get tossed higher. It looks like I wasn't going to lead Sora down here into the pit. He was standing at the top, just kinda looking down with his hands held out, but I knew that trick. He showed me it himself. I used the same trick, flexing my palm and using the gust to launch me towards the wall. Wall climbing was a staple for an AT rider, and soon I was launching up, out of the pit and into the sky above Sora.

It was actually the first time I'd seen what was above the pit.

"Seriously?" I gaped, looking around. "Who the hell leaves a pit of spikes around a school?" I recognized this place! It was some kind of Catholic school or something, one of those places where the girls wore those hot plaid skirts and they had nuns for teachers. The pit was on the outskirts, and it was heavily fenced off, but it was still close enough to almost be a part of the school grounds.

Then I saw something else, and I gave Sora a glare. "You brought helicopters? What the hell, bro!"

"This isn't some sort of match, or childish fight," Sora gave me that cool glare even as like a half dozen helicopters circled. They were those weird long ones that you see in military movies sometimes. "This is a war. You will die, and I'll take the remaining Wind Regalia off your corpse."

"Hell yeah!" I grinned. "That's what I was expecting out of you, bro!" I was so amped I nearly missed it, but when you see something in a military movie it was probably cause its military. "Oh shit!" I yelped as one of the helicopters actually fired missiles at me!

I was already getting ready to push off the wind, when just as suddenly the missiles exploded, something long and whip like cutting them in half before they could get close.

"Ikki," Ringo shouted, wearing that outfit she had on the last time she had been in the pit. "You alright?"

"Oi, Ringo!" I shouted, still laughing as I twisted. A second helicopter had unleashed a freaking machine gun, and I was twirling like a top to keep out of its line of fire. It only lasted a second before that one blew up too. "What are you doing here?"

"We knew there was no way that Sora was gonna wait until the match to make a move!" my oldest friend shouted. "I called Sleeping Forest the second I could! What were you thinking, challenging him, you idiot!"

"That there was no way that he'd pass up the chance to come get me, and that I could kill him happily in the pit," I told her, rolling my eyes. I saw Mikan jumping off the other helicopter, carrying the pilot under one arm as she aimed leapt to the next one. "Duh," I added. "Why the hell else would I have done it?"

"Creating a plan to force Sora to move in the open, plus ten points," I rolled my eyes as the missionary made an appearance. "Failing to properly plan an assault once he did, minus thirty."

"Oh fuck off, Kilik," I told the pompous ass as I finally hit the ground, skidding in a circle as my ATs roared. "What are you doing here? I was gonna kill him on my own!"

"Withdraw," he had his weird eyes out and shining as he glared over at Sora, the two of them staring each other down. "It's time for me to finish what I should have a long time ago."

"Eh?" I picked at my ear again, before spinning off as yet another helicopter got gun happy. "You sure you're gonna be able to do it? Last time you flaked off, after all."

"This time, there will be no flaking," Kilik glared at me as I called him on the dumb, but I shrugged. I had just been planning on killing Sora on my own, but eh. If this was the way things turned out, I guess I can let it slide.

"Crow," Mikan snapped, landing with two armfuls of dazed soldiers as she cleared half of the helicopters. "When this is over, I'm gonna smack you so hard that the smack is gonna go back in time and hit you right when you come up with this dumbass idea!"

"It's sad to see you flinch in the face of genius," I told her, shaking my head as I dodged. That helicopter was starting to get annoying. I twisted, hitting one of the fences at an angle and using it to launch myself up at the shooting one. "Just sad."

The jump was a high one, and my ATs kicked so hard that I nearly ended up flubbing it, but I managed to keep the jump under control. They were really roaring now, my babies.

"Where's Ume and the rest?" Ringo shouted at Mikan while I closed in on the helicopter. I twisted, hitting the side hard as my ATs tore into it like a chainsaw, a blast of air hitting the rotor above me and sending it flying off.

"That bastard Sora actually brought soldiers!" the gorilla girl shouted back as she tossed the pilots aside. "They're taking care of them first."

Sweet! This was turning out a lot better than I thought it would! Maybe I should have just brought all of them in on in from the start?

Like something out there was telling me that yeah, I had been a dumbass, another flash shot through the sky, and the second to last helicopter literally cut in half.

I recognized that little trick anywhere.

"Oi, Agito," I shouted, already launching myself to the last helicopter. "I thought you were heading back?"

"Fuck, you fucking moron," the Blade King growled, glaring from the ground where he had shot his Blade Fang technique at the helicopter. "I don't think there was a fucking soul who didn't fucking see what you were trying to do. Are you fucking retarded?"

"Hey," I pouted. "Kazu didn't figure it out, did he?"

"He's helping with the soldiers," the shark told me bluntly. I sighed. Man. I thought I was being sneaky too. "And Simca showed up as well, with a bunch of those other small fries too."

"Oh goddamnit!" I snapped, glaring as I launched myself towards the final helicopter. "I should have just sent out invitations or something!" I found the Air Road, soaring through the sky hundreds of feet above the waiting cement. Beneath me, Sora and Kilik were still glaring at each other, and around me the flaming wreckage of the helicopters were plummeting to the ground, most of them falling into the pit. So much for training there any more I guess.

Still, I couldn't stop from grinning. This. This was the best run yet. I might even get to run another one after this too! Maybe I would live though this…

Just as I was about to land on the side of the last helicopter, it exploded from the inside. I managed to dodge the broken pieces, but the dark shape that launched itself out was too fast, too unexpected, and I had only a second to open my mouth when five sharp blades sank into my chest.

"The fuck?" I whispered, looking down to see that whoever this was, they had just stuck their hand into my chest, cutting through my heart.

"Nike," Sora said coldly. "Toss that thing down here. I still need what it has."

I felt my body move as this new weirdo, wearing a giant hat shaped like wings and with a funky name, just shrugged and threw me towards bro. I felt as my heart tried to thump one last time, and then stopped.

Well. Well shit.

I guess it was back to Plan A again. Bummer.

I let myself go limp, relaxing every muscle in my body as I hurled through the air. I managed to make out a few flashes as I went down: Ringo putting her hands to her mouth in horror, Mikan falling to her knees, Agito screaming. That kind of thing.

And then Sora appeared before me, catching me by the throat. That would have hurt like hell if I had still been alive.

"Too bad, little baby," he said, reaching with his other hand for the pocket where I kept the Wind Regalia. "At least this way I won't have to watch you cry."

The moment his hand came in range, I snatched it by the wrist. Sora's eyes widened in surprise, but by then it was too late.

I dragged the arm to my mouth, sank my teeth into the wrist, and bit a chunk of him clean out.

"Wha-" Sora started to shout, either from the surprise or the pain. I didn't wait for him though. I let go of his wrist, reached out with both hands, wrapped them around his neck, and pulled. He tried to force me back, but he wasn't ready for just how hard I could pull like this.

I got my teeth into his neck too, and another piece of him came out.

I had to let go, cause at that point a plane of wind came out of nowhere, and I only managed to get out of the way at the last second, twisting as I did so. Still, I wasn't letting up yet. Using that wind trick of his, I forced my palms to stick to the ground, and twisted. My ATs roared as they slammed into that plane of wind of his, and Sora had to jump as I crushed it. It managed to block most of the force, but I still managed to land a hit to his chest, and he went flying backwards, scampering as he tried to get his AT feet under him.

"Sora!" the guy who stabbed me shouted, sounding angry about something.

"Okay," I said, straightening as I wiped blood from my chin. "Who's king jackass over there?"

"Nike, the Gem King of the Jade Road," Kilik declared, giving me a cautious look. "You… what just happened there?" he demanded, and I shrugged. Didn't get to answer as I was suddenly knocked over from the side by Ringo.

"Ikki!" she was actually crying in relief. "You're okay!" I shrugged again, brushing her off.

"Yeah, okay," I repeated. "That's how I am. Yup."

"Crow!" another voice came, and I stared in surprise as Kururu of all people came running down the cement.

"Wait, is everyone I know going to show up tonight or something?" I demanded, throwing my hands in the air in frustration. "I mean, I could see Sleeping Forest, and maybe even Kogarasumaru, but even Kururu-chan?"

"I could see the fight from my room at school!" the pink haired girl panted, pointing to the school behind her as she raced towards where Ringo and I were standing. "Please! I've been working to make a replacement Wind Regalia! Before Nike gets up, we have to…"

"Hold that thought," I told her, and raised one hand up to catch the kick that the new guy threw at me. I felt my muscles strain, but I stopped it cold.

Then I squeezed. I forced my fingers into the soleus and extensor muscles, separating the tibia and fibula as I did so, forcing them apart with a crack. I took my free hand and struck at knee, crushing the patella and squeezing to cause the patellar ligaments to rip. I let go of the ankle, brought my hand up, and just plain crushed the femur, making sure to take all the adductor type muscles that I could along the way.

He'd probably never use that leg again, if the broken femur didn't kill him in a matter of minutes.

Then I threw him at Sora, who was starting to look a little white, his hands shaking as he tried to stop the blood loss. The former Wind King barely saw the flying body in time for him to get his good hand up, and the new guy was hit hard by another blast of wind, sending him flying off to the side.

It kept Sora from stopping the blood flow though. Even as I watched, I could see the bleeding starting to slow.

"…we have to…" Kururu repeated, slowing to a halt as she tried to process the sight of me issuing a prime beat down.

"I-I-Ikki," Ringo stammered, watching as I tossed the King like a hundred feet without really trying.

"Asshole had it coming," I declared, shrugging. I was watching Sora now. The other man was finally straightening, looking at his wrist and feeling his neck with his good hand cautiously. He seemed surprised by something, before his eyes shot up and locked on to me.

He began to smile.

"Um, I don't mean to alarm anyone but maybe you should grab hold of something real quick," I declared, already bracing myself.

"Grab hold of something…" Ringo repeated, and then the world exploded.

It was like a cyclone had gone off, some stealth tornado that was like level seven on a scale of one to five. And dead center of it was Sora.

"Interesting," he declared, his smile widening. "That flask earlier, the one you drank before we began. So you were doping ahead of the fight?"

I gave a wry grin, gunning my ATs to keep the wind from knocking me back. Ringo hadn't been expecting it, and had been tossed aside like a leaf, flying back towards Kururu. "Something like that."

"You shouldn't have taken it orally," Sora informed me. "At least that way it wouldn't have entered my bloodstream when you bit me."

"Oh, I don't know about that," my grin was getting wider.

"Crow," Kilik snapped, somehow managing to stay on his feet as well. "What did you do?"

"Something reeeeeeally stupid," I admitted, shrugging. "Try not to die, k?"

The first blast that the new super powered Sora sent hit Kilik dead on. The missionary managed to stay upright, but his clothes were like literally shredded, and a few nicks opened up on his skin as well. The jerk was panting by the time it was done, staring with shock at how easily Sora just kicked is ass.

Then the second blast came, and away he went.

"Dude," I shook my head, clucking my tongue. "Pitiful." I dodged, streaking away as a blast came at me too. "Whoops!"

What came next reminded me of the first time I had ever ran into ATs:

It was a genuine asskicking.

I could feel Sora's wind coming at me, and I knew how to dodge it, but that didn't change the fact that I wasn't always able to get my ass out of the way in time. He chained a seven hit combo of whirlwind lances at me, and I only managed to dodge five of them. The last two, I had to block, using my left hand. I managed to get the sixth one away, but the seventh tore into my arm, opening a good bit of my forearm.

Then there was the giant wall of pressure. You could literally see trees getting all their leaves torn off, limbs cracking and flying, even just getting torn up by the roots. By the time it hit me it was like a wall made up of forest, and I had to use my left arm there too. I managed to spin to help build up some momentum, but in the end it came down to me just throwing enough force at it to open up a hole for me to slip through. Again, my left arm took a few hits.

Then there was the giant, multi-headed streams of conical pressure he was throwing around, the damn things twisting and turning, trying to force me into walls and the ground. I rode those things like a surfer on a wave, the air road twisting and turning, sometimes I had to push off of things. Guess which arm I used?

And it was awesome. It was… I think it was the greatest fucking moment of my life. That fight, that ride, those tricks… I think the fight went on for like twenty minutes, twenty minutes of straight thrills from the best amusement park in all of existence.

Still, it couldn't go on forever.

The whole time it was happening, all my dodging and weaving, every desperate stupid idea that I managed to make work, the whole time Sora was moving closer and closer to the fires. He was standing on the edge of the pit at this point, the fires of the still burning helicopters some kinda scene from hell.

He wasn't smiling anymore.

He had one last trick, some kinda giant ball of compressed air that expanded, tearing the concrete apart as it passed. Everyone else had cleared well the fuck back by this point, no one else able to keep up with this kinda madness, no one but Sora and me. My left arm was mostly gone by this point, all cut the hell up, pieces of bone sticking out, and sticks and rock sticking in.

"Why are you laughing!" Sora demanded. He didn't even look out of breath, but that didn't surprise me. Instead, he just seemed tense, that smile of his having faded a long time ago.

"Ha," I was still grinning. I didn't even realize until he pointed it out, but this whole wild ride, I had been laughing my ass off. "This is fucking great! Come one! You gotta have more in you! Show me all your tricks, bro!"

"Crow," I could make out Kururu, and she sounded like she was sick. I glanced over, still grinning, and saw her with the rest of the crowd. At some point, it looked like most of the fighting had finished up. I could make out Sleeping Forest, Rika green and with her hands on her mouth as though to force back a puke. Kogarasumaru was there, Kazu clenching his hat in hand and Buccha snarling in rage. There was Simca too, a whole host of loonys behind her. She was just standing there, but unlike the others, she wasn't looking at me.

Ah yeah, the weirdo with the hat. Nike was his name. Looks like he was dead, Kilik standing over him. The missionary was watching the fight just like the others. He looked genuinely pissed at having seen just what it was that Sora could do. Guess he didn't think the other guy had that much left in him. Or maybe he was pissed that I had taken everything that Sora could throw at me, and he hadn't even taken the second hit.

The only thing it had cost me was an arm too!

"What did you do?" Sora demanded coldly, glaring at me. "What was that drug…"

I actually had to think about what he was talking about for a second, too high on the fight to figure out what he meant. I couldn't even blame adrenaline on this. This high, this drunk feeling, that was all me.

I realized that I was starting to drool staring back at everyone else, and made myself look away, back to Sora. Yeah, if I was starting to feel it, then there was no way he wasn't. I was definitely starting to get hungry now.

"Ah, you curious now, bro?" I taunted him, still laughing. "Come on, why don't you beat it out of me?" My grin turned feral as Sora finally lost his cool look and snarled at me.

I could feel the wind tensing, and knew that whatever came next was gonna be fucking fantastic when Noyamono finally showed up.

"Stop!" she screamed, face white as she landed from a jump in front of the gathered storm riders. "Stop…" she trailed off, staring at the two of us. "Ikki… your arm… Sora… you…"

"Hi," I called out, still chuckling. I waved the battered limb at her in greeting, and she flinched looking away. I started skating, none of that fancy shit, just using the ATs slowly as I weaved between her and Sora.

"Sora, what have you done," Noyamono demanded, sounding horrified. "Oh, what have you done?"

"I don't recall needing you yet," he told her coldly, giving her a single glance before he focused back on me. "You. That drug. What was it?"

I caught that look, and I saw what he did after, and I didn't feel like laughing any more.

"Oh. You sure I should be the one you focus on?" I asked him, all my good mood gone. I heard Onigiri hiss as finally got serious. Little fat man knew just what it meant when I stopped grinning. "Noyamono is right over there. Aren't you the tiniest bit interested?"

"No, now tell me before I lose my patience: what was that drug? What did it do to me?" Sora definitely sounded on edge, and he never took his eyes off me.

"Fuck," I muttered. "There goes the mood." Finally, I sighed, using my good arm to push some hair back. "You really want to know what it does? Go like this?" I put the fingers of my good hand up to my neck, miming taking a pulse.

"You think this is some kind of game?" Sora demanded, but I cut him off.

"It was until a second ago. Now, just do this." I continued to put my fingers to my neck, and with a scowl Sora finally did just that.

He froze after only a second.

"This is…" he began, trailing off.

"Why did you keep getting closer to the fire, Sora?" I prompted him, still skating idly. I just didn't feel it anymore. The good times were over, and it was time to get serious. "You must have sensed it, bit by bit, when you stopped feeling the wind. For someone like us, it must have been subconscious, but you just kept getting closer to the warmth. All that heat made the air agitated, exciting the particles enough so that even we would be able to feel it. Now though, now you finally stopped. You must have realized that no matter how close you get, you just can't feel it anymore." I shook my head. "I stopped feeling the wind like five minutes into the fight, but I'm more used to not relying on it."

"This…" Sora stared at me, and then brought the wrist I mauled on earlier up, staring at it. His hand came to his neck, feeling that one too. "But this is…"

"By now, you can't really feel anything," I continued. "Sensitivity decreases the longer it's been since…" I trailed off, shrugging. "Don't worry. It's normal. You can still feel some pressure, but it's just not the same, ya know?"

"What did you do to me?" Sora demanded, his temper snapping.

"Hey," I continued, not even getting worked up. "You told me something nice once. You remember? You said that humanity's dream was to fly. That we've been looking at the sky to since we crawled out of the ocean. That someday, humanity would finally reach it, that we would reach that dream." I cocked my head to the side, and this time I did smile. It wasn't nice. "Well, if humanity's greatest dream was to fly, then, well, what has always been its worst fear?"

"What are they talking about?" I could hear Simca finally come back to the present, looking away from that other dead guy.

"I don't know," Mikan told her. The gorilla girl looked pissed, her jump suit opened to show off her bikini underneath. It was like something Rea would have worn, without the bikini. "They're just blathering about stupid stuff. We need to do something, and fast. Ikki, Ikki needs help and if he doesn't get it soon…"

"There is no chance of victory, so long as Sora remains under the influence of whatever stimulant the Crow has used," Kilik cut in. "So far, Crow has managed to hold him at bay. For now, we must wait until either the drug wears off, or Crow manages to create an opening."

"Fuck," Agito swore, and a portion of concrete around him shattered as he kicked out in frustration. "Fuck!"

I guess they could hear us alright. Probably cause Sora and me were shouting at each other from across the field.

Well, there goes the whole secrecy thing. Meh. So far the plan had gone more or less the way I thought it would. Just with witnesses.

"The greatest fear of man is death," I went on, facing Sora directly. "If man crawled out of the ocean looking at the sky, they were also running from death. They look to the sky to try and fly, but when they hit the ground it's to find a grave waiting for them. And if mankind is so willing to spend so much time and money on their dream, well, just how much are they willing to spend on their fear?"

"The Haiti Institute," Sora swore, snarling as he finally got what I was leading him to. I blinked.

"How the hell did you know about them?" I huffed, before shrugging. "Man, you really did have your fingers in every pie, didn't you? Too bad," my smile was cold again. "Looks like it's too late for us."

"You…" Sora growled, glaring at me as he finally realized what had happened to him, to both of us. "You!"

"What the fuck is the whatever Institute?" Agito demanded, glaring around at the crowd to see if anyone knew what was going on. Nobody, even Kilik, seemed to have a clue.

"Nearly forty years ago, doctor by the name of Professor Boil managed to create a drug which allowed for the reanimation of the dead," I supplied for the peanut gallery. If they were gonna be here, the might as well know. Better they hear it from me then find out about it on the streets, just like sex, drugs, and rock and roll. "In the recently deceased, it allowed for a near full return to human functionality, with limited return of biological functions as well." I shrugged. "In other words, it could raise the dead."

"That's bullshit!" Mikan shouted, not believing for a second. Stupid gorilla girl. "I thought you finally got over that zombie craze!"

"Nah," I shook my head, remembering what I had been like when I was a kid fondly. "I just found the real thing, so why should I watch movies anymore? Sora, you and I are already dead. Your friend over there nailed me in the right atrium and the superior vena cava. I had heart failure in seconds, and died before I hit the ground. You," I grinned at him. "You, well, I bit right through the median vein on your arm, and then got the common carotid in your neck. No fresh blood could make it to your brain, and anything coming back from your arm ended up all over the ground. You bled out in seconds."

"You're lying!" Sora shouted, finally freaking out properly as I spelled it out for him. I snorted.

"Yeah, right," I flopped my left arm at him, giving it a once over. "Look at this thing. Even though it's useless, I ain't bleeding a drop from it. I should be going into hemorrhagic shock at this point, maybe even psychogenic as well. My arm is gone, bro. And yet I'm still standing here, talking like anyone else." I gave the thing another shake, before shrugging my shoulders.

It was just getting in the way at this point.

Reaching over with my right hand, I grabbed the ruined thing just above the elbow, the cut off for the worst of the damage. I gave it a tug, and tore the whole thing off.

I think someone puked a little in the background, but Sora just stared at me.

"See?" I held it up for him, then used the severed appendage to scratch my back idly. "It's just meat and bone at this point. That's all the two of us are. Just meat and bone too stupid to know it's already dead."

"Ikki," I heard Ringo start to cry. "No! This… this can't be!"

"You," Sora growled, starting to calm himself down. I guess once he knew what was going on he could get himself back in control. "You. Why are you here? Why are you stopping me? If what you say is true, then you're just like the rest of the Gravity Children. You're a subject, a freak, an experiment. You should hate the ones who made you this way! Why are you getting in my way!"

"Eh? Experiment?" I grinned. "See, that's where you're wrong. I might be a test subject, now, yeah. But you see, before all this happened?" I waved my arm, both of them around. "Before this? I was the researcher!"

"You…" Sora seemed like he really couldn't wrap his mind around that. I grinned more.

"So, for the sake of science, let me just ask you a few questions. As the first Gravity Child to undergo successful reanimation, can you describe the process for me? Was it painful, feeling yourself die like the rest of us, like all those you killed in the past? Tell me, were you scared, bleeding out like that? Tell me, was it fucking worth it!" I demanded, still cold. "Hey, just for the sake of science: did you cry?"

"You little shit," Sora growled, and I could feel the pressure increase as he tried to do something, anything, and then he froze.

"Ah," I nodded. "Finally noticed. Hey, just a little bit of trivia for you. Did you know that decay is instant after death? The moment your body stops pumping blood, cells cease to receive oxygen. Without fresh air, the cells begin to undergo autolysis, the process of releasing digestive enzymes into the cytoplasm. It's caused by the lack of activity by the rest of the cell as it dies. Right now, our bodies are eating themselves, slowly breaking down. Normally, it's a slow process, but in one particular organ, it's accelerated."

I tapped my skull with my severed hand.

"The brain," I continued, still grinning. "Lack of oxygen in the brain can make someone brain dead normally. Even if you get their body running, if it's been too long, well, they never come back. It's a bit different for us though. You see, we're still moving, still thinking, even though we're already breaking down. But even if we are, we're still rotting. The brain is still breaking apart. What do you think that means for zombies like us?"

"This can't be real," I heard Kazu swear, the poor guy sounding traumatized. "This just can't be!"

"What, because our old friend is some kind of psycho necromancer mad scientist?" Onigiri sounded a little freaked out too.

"That too, but because Itsuki actually sound smart right now!"

I paused, turned, and glared at the follower of the Flame Path. Kazu shut up.

Good. Still got it.

"Normally, people only use a small fraction of their potential. It's our brains, you see. We can only use about ten percent of it at once. Because of that, we can only use a small fraction of our body's potential as well. But you get times when something dangerous happens, where you have to exceed what you normally can do. Like a parent lifting a car to save their kid or something. Usually, you have to have enough adrenaline to get that kind of massive increase. But us, right now?" I tapped the side of my head. "No limiter. We can use our bodies however we want. It tears us apart, but we can do it. Normally we don't use our full potential cause we'd break. And that's just what you've been doing the last half hour: breaking."

I waved my hand at the devastation around us. This place was wrecked. Whole slabs of concrete had been torn out, trees and rocks thrown all over the place, all of it; this was some kind of post-apocalyptic suburban wasteland.

"You've been over there, flexing your new zombie muscles, ripping shit up, and all the while you've been breaking yourself down that much faster. Me," I shrugged and held up my arm, pointing at it with the stump. "I've lost an arm, that's about it. Why the hell you think I've been doing nothing but dodging this whole time?"

"It seems that Crow has been purposefully creating an opening. Prepare yourselves, Sleeping Forest," Kilik announced. Smart guy. Even if this whole thing was something out of bad horror, he was still paying attention.

"How can you say that!" Ringo shouted, falling to her knees. "This can't be true! If it is.. then Ikki… Ikki is…!"

"Dead," Kilik announced, turning to give Ringo a flat look. "And he died solely to bring Sora to point of vulnerability. He deliberately engineered a situation where there was no possible chance of victory for the greatest enemy of Sleeping Forest, no, of the world. We should not let his sacrifice be in vein!"

It looked like he was about to say something more, but then Noyamono appeared and decked him with a growl. Hard. I blinked, and only then realized that Noyamono was using ATs. Familiar ATs at that…

Those were the ones she confiscated from me! What the hell! Stealing bitch! If she wanted a pair of her own that bad, she could have just bought some!

"Is that why you're here then?" Sora demanded. Looks like he heard Kilik's little motivational speech too. "To stop me? Is that why you killed yourself as well?" He was stalling now. Looks like he finally realized how screwed he was.

"Nah," I shrugged again. I reached behind me to start tucking my broken limb into my belt. "I mean, yeah, as a fellow researcher I couldn't just stand by and let someone else's research be abused. It kinda goes against my professional code. And yeah, I did kinda want to stop you from that whole slaughtering hundreds of thousands and all. But I'm gonna be honest. I'm a selfish bastard. I don't really care about someone else's research, or about the faceless masses. I'd much rather be chillin' with my girl or flying on my ATs."

I finally managed to get the flopping thing that was once my arm tucked away securely. Man, who knew shattered limbs could be such a pain?

"But honestly, the only reason I went ahead and dragged you out here was because I had a question for you that needed answering," I continued. "And I got that answer already. So yeah, the run was fun, bro, but it's time for me to finish this."

"And what question was that?" Sora demanded, obviously trying to find something to bargain with, something to try and get me to back off.

I was silent, before sighing. I brushed my hair back one more time. Maybe I should have gotten it cut before? Meh. Who cares now?

"Do you know what's going to happen to us now?" I asked Sora, voice fading a bit. "You know about Haiti, so you could know what happens after this."

"The Haiti Institute is legendary for its reclusiveness," Sora informed me, still trying to get something out of me. "Even with my influence, they were still closed to me."

I was quiet for a few seconds.

"Our brains are rotting," I finally told him. "Normally, a zombie can stay sane for a bit of time, depending on how well cared for they are. But in the end, the signals up here start to get crossed," I tapped my head. "Eventually a zombie stops being able to differentiate between its impulses. The wires just get too crossed as more and more cells in the brain start to break down. Eventually, the brain damage gets too much, and all impulses are crossed with the one most fundamental impulse in the human mind: hunger."

I think Sora was starting to get it now.

"The weather is nice, I'm hungry," I continued. "That dog is cute, I'm hungry. This person is my friend, I'm hungry. That girl is hot, I'm hungry. It's called the 'Confused Eater' state, where the zombie eventually stops being able to separate any impulse from hunger. Then, they eat whatever causes that impulse."

"Like in the movies?" I heard Mikan mutter, sounding nervous. Heh. Ya know, I had almost forgot, but Mikan never like all those zombie movies I had got back when I was still in my pre-resurrection zombie craze. I should have teased her more about it back then.

"Like…" Agito began, but cut off suddenly.

"Normally, it takes a few days, maybe even a few weeks before a zombie hits 'Confused Eater'," I continued. "Normally, a zombie isn't having a high powered AT fight either. ATs are horrible things to use. The massive force they put us under, the constant damage just using an AT inflicts on the rider…" I tapped my AT on the ground again, and it roared like a buzz saw. "These things are lethal. One slip, and they can kill you. Just using one is slow death. Anyone who straps an AT on their feet is someone with a death wish."

I grinned, giving mine a fond look. I knew the day I first flew that ATs would kill me some day. Looks like I was right.

"The two of us, you more than me, have spent the last hour subjecting ourselves to super human stress. All those attacks of yours, all that running for me, we've been cutting our sane time apart. I mean, I just look over there, at my team, my friends, hell, even all those cute girls," I shrugged again, this time shivering while I did so. "I look at them, and I just get so HUNGRY."

"Oh shit," Buccha muttered, the big pig looking nervous. Don't blame him. That was a lot of meat on his bones… I shook my head. Bad thoughts! If you're gonna eat someone, go for one of the cute girls… ALSO BAD THOUGHTS!

"But you, bro," it was easier to focus on him now then the others. I could feel my gut gnawing at itself, but if I just looked at Sora I could ignore it. "Just now, when you saw Noyamono, you didn't feel a thing. That's your old teammate. Your girlfriend. The mother of your unborn child. And you… didn't… feel… a thing…"

Sora just looked at me, his expression never changing. I was having trouble keeping myself from going over there and just… just biting something. And he just sat there. Unmoving. Not an ounce of hunger on him.

"Itsuki," Noyamono said, sounding shocked. I ignored her.

"Even if we aren't family, I will never forgive you for that. I won't say something cliché, like, 'I'll kill you for what you did,' or anything like that," I told Sora, deadly serious. "After all. I've already killed you. No. What I'm going to do now is rend you. I'm gonna rip your limbs off, smash your organs, and shatter your bones. When there's nothing left of you but your severed head, mindlessly biting at the air after I liquefied most of your brain, then, only then, am I gonna finish putting you down."

What came next, was, well, almost exactly like I said it was gonna be.

Sora tried to fight, but he'd been wearing himself out, thinking he was doped up and fine while he was really ripping his own body to shreds. More than that, he had been getting closer and closer to the fire, using the air pressure to fuel his moves. It might work out well in a normal fight, but that fire was just accelerating the production of methane in his body, fueling the rot that was ripping him apart. His moves were starting to get stiffer as the heat sped up the onset of rigor mortis.

More than that, I could tell he had probably been tuned lately. It made sense for most storm riders. They needed to optimize their parts to get the most out of them, getting them synched with their bodies as they tried to milk the most out of their ATs.

On a corpse though, a zombie, it was useless. His ATs had been set for a state that he had before he died, before he started breaking himself down. Now they were only getting in his way.

Me, well, I'd never been tuned. Never will. Instead, I had maxed my ATs. The way they were roaring through the night, I felt like Bruce Cambell fighting his way through an over the top B-movie zombie hoard. Mine were meant for someone who was using their full potential, a body that surpassed a human's capabilities.

It was over so quick. Sora tried to fight back, but I was done having fun. I was killing now. His legs went first, but I ended up ripping out most of his intestines before I made it to his arms. Felt a little silly about that, seeing as I just had a badass speech about the pecking order.

Meh. I was tired, and hungry, and just wanted this over with.

Finally, just like I had said, it ended with me holding up Sora's head, his neck a ragged stump.

"Well, bro," I asked, feeling hollow and hungry. So hungry. "This is it. The end. This was what you fought for so hard, the result of everything you ever did. Was it worth it?"

I got nothing out of him but the clacking of teeth as the mindless thing that could have been my older brother, if Noyamono had really been a sister, someone who could have been a leader, a great guy, someone to inspire everyone around him, just bit soundlessly at the air.

"This wasn't fun at all," I muttered, dropping the head. It bounced like a ball before I stopped it with one foot. "Really. Not fun at all." I sighed, pushing my hair again. "Here. You wanted this at least." I fished the final Wind Regalia from my pocket, carefully putting it into the clacking jaws. Something seemed to click there, and the thing which had once been Sora clamped down, biting tightly into the broken AT piece.

Well, at least I had given him that much I suppose.

My AT came down, and all that was left of Sora and the Wind Regalia splattered behind me in a fine red mist littered with burning pieces of AT.


The voice behind me caused me to shudder. I knew that voice. I'd been hearing it for a long time. It was one of the oldest voices I knew, and just the sound of it…

"Ikki," Ringo said again from where she was behind me. She looked so lost, so sad. She was shaking. "Ikki, are you alright?"

"Ringo," I muttered turning to look at her. She seemed to relax, only to tense as I smiled at her. "You look DELICIOUS…"

Things faded for a second, and the only thing I could think about was how wonderful Ringo looked, how full and healthy and plump… and how much I just wanted to sink my teeth into her, to tear, to chew, to gnaw…

I don't know what interrupted me, but for some reason I threw myself backwards, right before a flash of flame appeared before me.

"Itsuki," Kazu demanded, panting as he stared at me. "Itsuki, is that you? Is there anything left?"

"Fuck you!" I shouted, stumbling as I slumped. I was… I was having trouble thinking. I was having trouble standing. "What the hell, Miscellaneous Errand Runner Two! Is this how you treat your boss!" I flinched, and shook my head. "Wait, I'm not the boss anymore… am I?"

I shook again, trying to remember. Something. Something was happening. I was… I had…

My head shot up as it clicked. "Ringo!" I tried to find her, honestly fucking terrified that I had… that I had…!

There. She was fine. No, she was scared, falling backwards, staring at me, but she was at least unhurt.

"Fuck," I said again, pushing myself upwards. A glint caught my eye, and I turned. It was glass. Somehow a large pane of it had managed to live through Sora and mine's mad raucous. I could see myself in it, my reflection.

My arm was off, just a ragged stump. My torso was red with scratches, had a few large gashes in it where I hadn't dodged fast enough, and those five holes where Nike had killed me were dark black with dried blood. My hair was a bird's nest, and I didn't mean just Kuu there. My eyes were dilated, so much that they just looked black. And my teeth and chin were also dark, stained from where I had killed Sora.

"Fuck," I wheezed, and started giggling. "So this is what it's like for a zombie fanatic to live the dream!" It wasn't really funny, but hey, take what you can get.

"Ikki!" I heard Noyamono shouting in the background, and even though I was still reeling, I could see everyone, Kogarasumaru, Simca and her flock, Sleeping Forest, even Kururu all rushing towards me.

This was the worst thing that could happen to a zombie like me. All these people I loved and cared for, all my friends and allies. Hell, all these hot chicks!

This wasn't a reunion. This was a banquet.

"Right," I sighed, getting back to my feet. "I guess it's time for me to get out of here." I raised my hand in a salute, giving the still wary Kazu and the staring Ringo a crooked smile. "Take care of yourselves, ya hear?"

And with that I turned, and plunged myself into the still burning fires of the helicopters littering the pit I had trained in.

I heard some people shout after me, but didn't look. If I did, I might not be able to stop myself from going back.

*Scene Break*

I had never been so thankful before for Rea's gardening habit. I had made it down through the flames, and into the tunnel that led back to our home. Along the way, I found just the thing I needed.


It was one of the key ingredients to the poison which let the dead walk, the one I had the most trouble figuring out back when I was first getting into the whole zombie thing.

More importantly, if a zombie ate some hydrangea leaves it took the edge of the hunger, helped keep them sane a little longer.

These little babies had held off a rampaging Rea more times than I could count. I think I ate half of the first bush I came across.

I had a fresh leaf dangling in my mouth when I finally made it back home. I had managed to beat the onset of rigor mortis at least, but it would probably hit me soon.

"Stop!" Rea declared as I opened the door. "One more move and I'll… Ikki-chan!" Rea switched tones halfway through her rant, casually tossing the thing in her hands aside as she greeted me happily. "You look like everything turned out alright… Ikki-chan?"

I had discovered a new use for my super zombie powers when I shot across the room and caught the detonator that Rea had thrown away before it hit the ground button first.

"Rea," I sighed, palming my head with the only hand I had, keeping the button away from my forehead. With all the explosives we'd rigged this place with, well, that would be a stupid way to end this story. "Turn it off before you throw it!"

"Ahhhh," Rea nodded sagely. "Yeah, that makes sense!"

I sighed, disarming the bombs which would have blown my lab sky high. If things had gone bad up top, well, I didn't want my research getting out. And Rea, well, she didn't want to go on without me.

If anyone but me had shown up, that would have been the end of all things related to 'Itsuki the Resurrectionist'.

I had wanted for Rea to not be in that list, but she had insisted. In the end, I didn't blame her. She had her own choices to make, and she honestly couldn't stand the thought of going on without me.

It was kinda touching, in a creepy co-dependent kind of way.

"So everything worked out?" Rea prompted me again, leaning forward to look at the new holes on my chest and my stump of an arm.

"Yeah, about like I thought it would," I admitted, before stopping. "Rea… what are you doing?" I asked, wondering just why my girlfriend suddenly looked a lot like Simca right before she…

"Tadaaa!" Rea declared, taking her shirt off with one hand to show me her boobies.

It took me a few seconds to realize what happened after that, but when I finally came to it was to discover a giggling Rea holding me off with one hand while the other held a gag in my mouth.

I tried to say 'not funny', but it came out more like 'o'u'i''.

"Success!" Rea giggled, relaxing as she saw me coming back to myself. "Operation 'Prove Itsuki Loves Me As Much As I Love Him' has come to a conclusion!"

I'd have been madder, but well, after that it was cuddle time. She still hadn't put her shirt on either.

I made sure to keep the gag in, just in case.

"What the fuck," a new voice interrupted our snuggles. "Seriously. What. The. FUCK!"

"Oh," Rea blinked, looking over. "Crow-kun, did you forget to put the sock up?"

"Fuck the sock," Agito screamed, standing by the door where he was panting. It looked like he was out of breath. I guess since he got here so fast, he must have run pretty hard, to make it only just a bit after I did. "What the fuck!" He whirled, pointing at Rea. "You. You and your cannibalism fetish. I'm not an idiot! Are you trying to say that you're also… that you're…"

"A zombie?" Rea supplied helpfully. "Yeah, once. I got better though!"

"Got better," Agito repeated dully. "You got… better…" he looked around, and I think for the first time he finally got just what half this room was dedicated to: the medical equipment, the strange surgery tools, everything.

"Crow," Agito sounded a little lost. "Your girlfriend was a zombie. But I've been here for months, and she doesn't look like she's all rotting and stuff. She can't resist eating you, she's covered in scars, but she's still alive. She has a pulse and everything. Are you trying to say…"

I couldn't really say anything, given the gag and all, but I gave Agito a thumbs up. He stared at me.

"You can fix yourself?" he asked, sounding like he couldn't believe it. "You… you can be alive again?"

I gave another thumbs up, but paused when Agito spun, wiping at his eyes furiously with his back to us.

Was he crying?

"Fuuuuccckk!" Agito finally swore, turning back and glaring at me. "What do you need me to do?"

Then he twitched. "No, Akito, I don't think he looks cute in a gag! Fuck!"

I grinned. Looks like I just got a new lab assistant. Awesome.

Part Nine

The world was warm and soft. I floated, the only connection I had to the outside world themask around my mouth and nose. I forced myself to breathe evenly, air in and air out of my lungs. This… this was what the infant felt like in the womb, floating their mother's uterus.


I had a new appreciation for the shit I had put Rea through back when I was fumbling my way through this whole 'turn zombie back to alive' thing.

Man, that girl was a saint.

Still, even if it was boring, it was necessary. Treatments had been going well, the process was advancing way better than it had when I had been trying to un-kill Rea.

But yeah. Boring.

When I felt the liquid around me start to shake, and heard the dull muffled sound of voices, I would have sighed in relief if I wasn't focused on keeping my breathing even.

I pushed myself out of the thick fluid, glad to finally get out of the tub. I knew the stuff was necessary, but damn was it annoying.

"Oi, Rea," I said, pulling the face mask off of me, reaching out to scrub at my eyes. It didn't work, seeing as my hand was just as covered with the junk as my face was. "You back already? Pass me a towel, would ya?"

I held out my hand, waiting for a towel, but when none came I got a little confused.

"Rea? Towel? Seriously, I can't see shit like this."

"Itsuki." That was not Rea, I realized. "Did you seriously just come out of a giant vat of lube? And with a butt plug?" Definitely not Rea. "Just how kinky are you? Ringo, you might want to think twice about this."

"Oh. Mikan. Glad to see you again," I muttered. "Only, you know, not." Finally, I felt someone put a towel into my hand and I was able to scrub a bit at my face, getting some of the shit off me. When I could finally look at just who had come into the room, I sighed.

"Again," I muttered, looking at the freaking crowd of gawkers staring at my naked ass. "What is with everyone I know showing up at the worst times?"

Rea was here happily chatting away with Simca again, though the Migratory Bird was keeping a closer eye on me then her friend. She had one of her minions with her, that Sano Yasuyoshi if I remembered right, the tall thin guy from Behemoth who called himself Aeon Clock. Besides Mikan there was Ringo and Ume as well. Mikan and Ume looked a little nervous, but Ringo was definitely on edge. Didn't blame her, considering the last time we met I tried to take a chunk out of her throat.

Between Ringo and Simca was Kururu, the tuner girl clutching a back pack tightly like she as gonna use it as a club if she needed to. Kazu, Onigiri, and Buccha had all came along too, though they'd left the girl groupies off for some reason. Nearby that ass Kilik was glaring at me, holding his book, and standing a bit behind the rest was Noyamono. She had her arms folded, and looked a little grim, kinda hunched over and scowling as she stared at me.

"Everyone was just so excited to see you again, Ikki-kun," Rea chirped, already skipping away from where she had given me a towel to the corner of the room where we had set up the impromptu shower. She started humming while she ran the water, checking it with one hand.

"What happened, were they all just chillin' on the street talking about how much they wanted to see their zombie friend after he nearly ate one of them, and so you invited them along?" I shook my head, still not sure just how they had found the lab in the first place.

"No, it was just Ringo-chan and your other AT friends," Rea corrected me, not catching the sarcasm at all. "And after I told them you were fine, they all started calling people and stuff! Isn't that nice, Crow-kun! You have so many people worried about you!"

"And what happened to our plans of faking my death, moving to Izumo Province, opening a shrine, and spending all day making out and ATing?" I asked dryly, and Rea shrugged.

"They were kinda silly plans," she pointed out. I sighed.

"Is the water ready yet?" I just asked, stepping all the way out of the tub and making my way towards it. Yeah, those plans were kinda dumb. Can't blame a guy for dreaming, right?

"Uh," Kururu finally broke in, and the girl was blushing to the roots of her hair as I walked by. You'd think someone who stripped down and rubbed against people for a living would be a bit more used to nekkid time. "What is that stuff, Ikki-san?"

"Adipocerous fluid, the result of collected saponification of natural fatty tissues," I supplied for her helpfully. She blinked, looking completely lost.

"Uh…" Kazu spoke up, still watching me carefully. He'd been the one quick enough to stop me from doing something I'd never forgive myself for, so I held back on any gay jokes. Kazu just got promoted form Miscellaneous Errand Boy forever. Wasn't gonna tell him that anytime soon so I could keep screwing with him, but eh, that's half the fun. "What the hell is adipo-whatever you just said?" His eyes narrowed. "And Ikki… wasn't your arm… you know…"

"Adipocere is technical term for corpse wax," I told him with a sigh, stepping under the shower. The wax was actually water insoluble, but the heat would at least melt it so I could strip off the thin coating that had stuck to me. "It's what happens when the fat tissues in a dead body get stuck somewhere cold, damp, and anaerobic and start breaking down into a soapy wax. It's the best method for preserving corpses naturally."

"Corpse…wax," Mikan repeated, the gorilla sounding a little faint. She was looking at the bathtub I had just stepped out of, full almost to the grim with the stuff, a bunch of heaters stuck to the side warming it to a slow bubble. "You mean… all of that… Where the hell did you get that much of the stuff?"

"Mikan," I began slowly, giving her a dry look. "I want you to think really hard about that question for a second or two, and then ask yourself, 'Do I really want to know'?"

Mikan was quiet for a second, then shuddered, shaking her head quickly.

"I thought so," I grinned, turning back to getting the rest of the wax off of me.

"You seem much more coherent than the last time we saw you," Kilik noted, looking at me a little too hard for anyone who was naked in the shower to be comfortable with. "And I recall your arm being far less functional than it is now."

"I've had a month to stitch myself back together," I shrugged, holding the arm out so they could see it. I had managed to reattach it, and treat most of the damage, but the thing still looked like I had stuck it in a blender and counted to ten. "One of the biggest elements of reanimation research is preservation and repair of affected subjects. I can fix most damage if I have enough time and resources. Also, I had a chance to start taking the necessary medication and appetite suppressants to help keep me from going out of control. It'll take something pretty impressive to make me snap like I did earlier at this point."

The appetite suppressants were mostly just hydrangea leaves, but I had picked up a few other tricks to help the body recover. Back when it had been me working on Rea it had been mostly guess work, but I've had a chance to work on a bunch of lab animals by now, so I had a pretty good idea what I was doing.

"To recover from that level of injury," Sano murmured, sounding impressed.

"All that aside," Ume made a little gesture with her long sleeves, wrinkling her nose up as she did so. "Why do you have something stuck up your butt, Ikki-nii?"

"Cause they're reaaaally kinky," a new voice came from the doorway. Most of the crowd looked over to see Agito as he let himself in. The guy was carrying a few shopping bags full of supplies, and was wearing a lab coat, just like Rea was. She had insisted on it, and Akito had agreed so Agito just went along with it. "Seriously. Don't ask. If you see something here you don't understand, just don't fucking ask."

"Agito," Buccha growled, glaring at the little guy. "You knew! All this time, we were all worried sick, and you knew?"

"I'm Crow's roommate," he said flatly. "Of course I knew."

"You knew," Noyamono spoke up, and suddenly Agito seemed a lot more nervous, "and you never told anyone?"

"Fuck," Agito shied away a bit from the suddenly really scary older girl. "I knew, but I had no idea if the Crow would actually be able to pull it off! I thought he was just blowing air up my ass when he said he could fix himself! I had no idea he could actually do it! I didn't wanna be the one who told everyone that he was fine, only for him to go all to hell."

"A wise precaution," Kilik noted, adjusting his glasses. "Now, the course of action remains: what to do with the Crow?"

"Kilik," Noyamono growled, and despite running being a smart move when she started talking like that, the missionary held his ground.

"Even if he has managed to care for himself admirably, it doesn't change the fact that he is dead," Kilik noted firmly. "He died to make sure that the fruits of one terrible research were never made public. And now he stands poised to unleash something even worse on the world. Have you thought about what it would be like if the ability to raise the dead was made available to the world?"

"Yeah," I nodded, giving the missionary his dues. Guy knew his paranoia. "Listen to the missionary. He's got a good point."

"Itsuki!" Ringo shouted, and even if she still looked nervous she sounded shocked that I was agreeing with the guy saying I was dangerous. "You can't mean that!"

"Why not?" I shrugged again, more of the wax starting to strip off me. "I know better than anyone else just how bad this could get. Hell, why do you think I was willing to die just to keep something else like it from getting out?" I gave Kilik a wave with one hand. "Go on. You've obviously been thinking about this, let me hear what you've come up with."

"A resolution to follow your ideal through even to death," Kilik muttered, "Plus thirty points. If this drug were to be made public, the military uses alone could be devastating. If used to contaminate a drinking supply, then it could infect a majority of the population. Moreover, Crow has already demonstrated that the effect could be spread upon oral contact. An infection could spread at frightening rates."

"That… just like the movies," Mikan shuddered again. I was so gonna go find some of my classic movies and start leaving them on late at night outside her door.

"That's pretty basic," I confirmed. "You didn't even mention its use for a battlefield doping. Soldiers that could die, get back up, and keep fighting? Yeah, pretty hard core. But have you thought of the other side? What it would just mean for society alone?"

"Explain," Kilik invited me, narrowing his eyebrows as he realized I had more insight. Shouldn't be a surprise. I'd had longer to think about it.

"Think about it. Even if it's temporary, it lets someone exist past their death for a bit. If some rich old dude was about to kick it, he could use it to keep on for months after he died, good science keeping him in decent shape until he finally snapped and killed everyone around him. Not just rich guys either. All those desperate folks with terminal conditions, or even people who just got in bad accidents. Even if they don't take the poison, their family members might give em it just cause they're desperate. Every death could potentially become a time bomb, waiting to go off."

"Fuck," Agito muttered. We'd never really talked about just what reanimation meant for the world, and I guess as a former cop he could appreciate just what a cluster fuck this kinda thing could be.

"And then there's the poison itself," I continued, the last of the corpse wax finally coming off. I took a towel from Rea, who had at some point or another changed into her sexy nurse outfit again. That girl had really taken to cosplaying lately. "You wouldn't know it, but even if you aren't dead and take the stuff, it's like the ultimate doping drug. It numbs all pain, and lets the user temporarily ignore their body's limitations. Every athlete in the world will start taking it for that edge. But I call it a poison for a reason: it's fucking toxic. It eats away at the liver, causes damage to the kidneys, the brain, just about every major organ. Before you know it, every junky on the street will be taking the stuff, and then bam, every slum in the world turns into a mass of undead cannibals."

"This," Ringo slumped. "This could be even worse than if the Sky Regalia was realized."

"You know, Crow-kun," Simca finally interrupted, still watching me carefully. I felt like I should be embarrassed, what with the naked and all, but since she was wearing that whole vest and panty outfit again, I guess it was only fair. "For someone who has thought about this so well, you seem rather calm. Shouldn't you be more worried? After all, even if you're fine now, you could end up like that too. Unless," she trailed off. "Unless you have some method of curing yourself?"

"The Haiti institute has spent forty years studying reanimation," I told her. "It's an internationally regulated institute, just so that if they ever find a cure it wouldn't be hogged by just one country. In all that time, they never once found a way to stop progression to the 'Confused Eater' state and eventual cessation of function due to general decline."

I finished drying myself, and reached down. With a grimace, I pulled the thing out of my butt. It was just a thermometer, and I needed it to take my core temperature, but damn if it wasn't uncomfortable. I double checked my temperature, and found it to be in the acceptable range. With a nod at Rea I started putting the electronic sensors on my chest.

"So there is no hope?" Kururu asked quietly. "This… Ikki-kun, is this really the end?"

"I said they never figured it out," I told her bluntly. "None of them are geniuses like I am. Rea. Hit it."

"Right away, doctor!" the sexy nurse chirped happily, and without another word stuck the defib paddles on my chest and sent a bolt of lightning into my chest.

"Hrk!" I convulses slightly as the current ran through me, causing me to twitch. I really should have done this lying down. Finally, I fell to my knees, and the next gasp of breath I sucked in was ragged, a sharp agony shooting through me as I felt my nerves again for the first time in months.

On the monitor I was strapped to, a pulse began to beep. Slow. Faint. But there.

"Resurrection operation, success," I panted. "Heartbeats. You don't know how much you miss em until they're gone. You don't know how much you hate them until they're back."

"Congratulations, doctor!" Rea chirped happily holding up a clipboard as she really got into the act. "Any notes?"

"Yes," I told her bluntly. "I seem to have rediscovered pain. Tell me, did this happen to you too?"

"Mmhmm," she hummed cheerfully, checking something off on the clipboard. "Proscribed treatment?"

"Get me some poison," I groaned. "Until then, I'm gonna engage in some therapeutic screaming."

"Very well, doctor," she flounced off cheerfully. I took a moment to enjoy the view. I was in pain, not dead. Anymore anyway.

"Fuck," Agito managed to get out, the rest of the room stunned into silence as I just performed a miracle in front of them. "Just. Fuck."

"Yup," I nodded, and then got down to that screaming. "FUCK THIS FUCKING HURTS SO FUCKING MUCH!"

*Scene Break*

"Unbelievable," Kazu swore, staring at me as I finally managed to calm down enough to talk normally again. I sighed in relief as the poison numbed all the aches that a month of pseudo surgery on my numb body had put in me. I was slumping in a chair near the monitor, a towel wrapped around my waist as I let myself recover a bit. "You… So you're alive again? You really did it?"

"For now," I groaned. "I'll probably die two or three more times before I'm back up completely, but this is a good sign."

"Die again?" Ringo demanded, hovering over me. My oldest friend looked like she was desperate to touch me, to make sure I was really alive again, but was also scared to try it again. The first time had gotten me screaming even louder than normal.

"My body has undergone extensive reconstruction," I explained tiredly. "Even if I'm up again, those surgeries haven't really healed yet. I wasn't alive to recover from them. I might go into shock a few more times until I've had enough time healing to move about normally. Also, I've been dead for almost a month. Most of the natural bacterial flora in my body has also died. I'll have to reintroduce a lot of it before I can safely say I can live off the poison…" I grimaced, and shuddered. "Oh god, it's gonna be horrible."

"Reintroduce your natural bacterial flora?" Kururu asked, sounding like she was equal parts nervous as interested. "How do you do…"

She trailed off as Rea gently put her hands on the pink haired girls shoulders, shaking her head solemnly. "Kururu-chan," Rea said in an unusually serious tone. "There are some things you'll just be happier not knowing."

"Uh…" Kururu seemed a little freaked out as even Rea shuddered. "Ah, okay then."

"Unbelievable," Kilik seemed honestly at a loss for words. "Didn't you say that the Haiti Institute hasn't successfully managed a resurrection process? Then how is it that you have one?"

"Because I'm a genius," I told him, managing a smug grin as I gloated. His glare just got hotter at that.

"You mean to tell me that a boy barely sixteen managed to do what professionals worldwide have been unable to?" He scoffed, giving me one of those holier-then-though looks. "As if I would believe that impossibility!" He glared again before finally getting to what I had kinda been expecting of him since the moment he walked in here. "While your contributions to the world are noteworthy, Minami Itsuki, I will have you hand over the research you received so that it can be properly safeguarded."

"Oi," Buccha seemed pissed as the missionary made his move. "What the hell are you talking about you…"

"This was not what we agreed to come here for," Simca also sounded upset, and even the Noyamono sisters bristled as the leader of Sleeping Forest made his move.

"Oh?" I said softly. "The research I received?" I shrugged. "Alright," I agreed, picking at my ears. "Rea, go ahead and give him the book."

"Ikki-kun!" Kururu gasped. "You don't really have to do this! We, we'll support you if you want us!"

"It's fine, Kururu-chan," I told her. "I'm just giving him the same thing I got years ago. He can do with it what he wants."

Kilik seemed satisfied that I was rolling over, until Rea came up to him and handed him the moldy old book. "Here you go!" she told him happily.

"What is this?" Kilik demanded, crinkling his nose as he flipped through the old book.

"That's it," I told him. "That's all the research I received from anyone else. That's what started all of this," I waved at the lab, at myself, at everything.

"You can't have me believe that this musty rag could possibly be the source of your ability to raise the dead!" Kilik snapped, throwing the old tome on the ground. It shattered, and the book was lost to the world forever.

"Those were the actual notes of Professor Boil," I told him, watching the old thing crumble away. "It detailed his original attempt at designing a reanimation serum, and gave the recipe for the final successful solution." Kilik's eyes widened as he realized just what he had destroyed, staring at the shattered manuscript with surprise. I sighed. "Yeah, it was probably better of destroyed. Doesn't matter anyway. The Haiti institute already has the formula."

"So if that was all you had to begin with, then how did you get all of this?" Simca gently nudged the bathtub of corpse wax with her foot as she looked around at all the weirdness I had managed to get through the years. "Were you in contact with the Institute?"

"Once," I shrugged. "They offered to let me join, but I turned them down. I didn't like the way they talked about Rea. They don't even know that I already figured it out."

"You can't expect me to believe…" Kilik began, and finally I got sick of his whining.

"I don't give a fuck what you want to believe, you ass," I told him bluntly. "Entire nations have spent hundreds of billions on resurrection research. They have had forty years starting from the same spot I did, and have had hundreds of thousands of man hours from some of the most brilliant scientists in the world."

I stood up, voice going cold as I got into serious mode.

"And I managed to do what they couldn't. I did it in a matter of months, spending one ten millionth of the amount of cash on it, and all by myself, and starting from the exact same point they did. So I don't give two flying fucks what you think. I am a fucking genius. I have done what even the gods weren't able to do. And if you have a problem with that, I have a thermometer over there you can go shove up your ass, cause I just don't fucking care."

"Uh," Kazu gulped. "You know, I think he was being serious all those times he called himself a genius before."

"I think that kinda scares me," Onigiri muttered as well, the perv looking nervous too.

"How?" Kilik was cut off as Noyamono finally spoke up. She had been sticking to the back of the crowd, just kinda watching as everything went on. I gave her a quick glance, before shrugging, turning to pick at my ear again. She didn't seem to like that too much, and spoke up again. "How did you do all this Itsuki? Just how did you get into something so… so dangerous without me ever noticing?"

I sighed, scratching my head a bit, before I suddenly looked over at Rea. "Oi, Rea," I began pursing my lips. "I think we're out of leaves. Could you go get me some?"

"Eh?" Rea blinked, looking surprised. "But we have some right over there," she pointed at the corner of the room she had turned into a garden. I pouted at her.

"But those ones have pink flowers!" I whined. "Pink ain't manly at all! I need ones with blue flowers, blue!" I started to kick my feet and wave my arms, throwing a tantrum at having to deal with unmanly flowers, and Rea giggled.

"Oh, you silly boy!" She gave me a brief kiss on the forehead before turning to skate off happily. "Agito-kun! Keep an eye on Crow while I'm getting his leaves! Don't let him strain himself!"

"The fuck?" Agito muttered, wondering just what had happened.

"Seriously," Buccha muttered. "Where did you find that girl, and where can I get one of my own?"

"That girl is a walking tragedy," I said bluntly. "It's a goddamn miracle she turned out as well as she did."

"What do you mean?" Ringo asked, sounding confused. "Rea-chan is a little weird…and a mazo-bimbo," she muttered that last bit with a growl. "But she seems like a nice girl."

I sighed, and figured what the hell. In for a penny, in for a pound, and all that crap.

"Rea is the second successful resurrection I ever made," I said seriously. Ringo seemed surprised, but most of the crowd already seemed to have figured that out. "I'm the third. And this…" With a flourish I reached for my hair and pulled something out, "is the first."

Kuu, the crow that nested in my hair, squawked at the introduction, making a little salute with his wings.

"Ah, he's so cute!" Kururu giggled, before she blinked. "Wait, you mean he was also…"

"Yup," I nodded. "The secret origin behind me becoming a genius capable of surpassing the gods is because this dumb little guy couldn't tell I had closed my window."

I could tell that this wasn't quite what anybody was expecting at this point.

"It started when I got back home from the first day of middle school and found this guy outside. He'd broken his neck after flying into my window." Kuu squawked again, before making his way back to my hair. The little guy spent a lot of time sleeping ever since he was resurrected. "I was broken up about it, so I went to a bookstore to try and find something on burial rites and stuff. It was kinda childish, but I just wanted to give him a good funeral. While I was looking, I found that in the bargain used book section." I pointed at the broken tome of Professor Boil.

"You remember what I was like back then," I reminded the Noyamonos. "I loved zombies. Had all those posters and movies and stuff. When I saw that, I figured I'd give it a try. Didn't really think it would work, but hey, closure is closure. I put Kuu on ice, waited till you girls were out practicing your ATs, then would sneak off to an abandoned building to try and make the poison."

"You knew that we were practicing ATs?" Mikan blinked. "But you always passed out the moment we gave you meat! You were supposed to sleep through that!"

"Well, yeah, I'd take an hour nap," I shrugged. "I'd always wake up and you all would be gone. Didn't know it was ATs at the time, true, but you guys were always gone, so I'd get off on my own. The book was pretty old, even when I first got it, and the final ingredient was missing, so I was just dicking around, trying stuff out, when I met Rea."

"You met Rea at an abandoned house," Ringo muttered. "Why am I not surprised, when she lives in a freaking sewer."

"Actually, back then she lived in a mansion," I scratched my head. "Sanka Rea, daughter of the Sanka family, owner of the Sanka Academy, one of the richest families in town. Haven't you heard of them?"

"Wait, she's that Sanka?" Mikan huffed. "Then why is she living in a hole like this?"

"Her mother was already dead, and her dad really loved her mother when we met," I glanced to the side, still a little uncomfortable with the whole story. "Back then, well, Rea looked a lot like her mother. And when I say her dad really loved her mother, I mean REALLY loved her mother, get what I'm saying?"

"Oh," Simca sighed, looking like she got it.

"So?" Kazy hadn't though, and I sighed.

"I met Rea when she had snuck out of her house to yell down a well about how much she hated her dad taking naked pictures of her," I said bluntly, and the flame path got it.

"Oh," he said. Then he scowled. "Ooooh."

"Well shit," Mikan swore, scowling at the thought.

"Oh Rea," Ringo had her hands on her mouth, and it looked like she wasn't quite as upset with my girlfriend as she had been a few seconds ago.

"Yeah, well, we ran into each other and started hanging out from there," I moved the story on, not wanting to think about it too much. I still wanted to deck Rea's old man in the face when I did. "She'd never hung out with a boy before, being the sheltered princess type back then, and she'd help me out with the experiments or watch zombie movies and stuff. Finally, I tried one last time to reanimate Kuu, and decided that I had enough. I'd done my best, but it was time to go ahead and bury Kuu and move on. Rea, well, she didn't like the thought of us not hanging out anymore…"

I tried to think of some way to put this in a good way, and when I couldn't, I just got it out.

"Most of the stuff needed for the serum is poisonous in nature. It's why I call it a poison and not a drug. Rea stole the last attempt, and then drank it to try and kill herself."

Yeah. No easy way to say that.

"It didn't work," I added, kinda pointlessly, but hey, it's my story. "And the next day she heard about how her dad had found out about us hanging out and had ordered a bunch of his flunkies to fuck me up. She tried to find me to give me a warning, and it ended up with her and her dad standing on the top of a cliff. There was a fight, she fell, and she gutted herself when she landed on a sharp log. Died almost instantly."

"Fuck," Agito swore.

"And then it turns out that the last try I had at the poison had worked, and she got back up." I shrugged. It wasn't the coolest way to get started on resurrection, but that's the way it goes sometimes. "I promised her I'd help take care of her, and after that, well, I started busting my ass to find a way to get her alive again."

"How?" Noyamono demanded, though she seemed a lot less pissed then she had earlier. I guess me getting into reanimation hadn't been as bad as she thought it was. "Itsuki, you barely passed your first year. You had the worst grades in your school. How did you manage to come up with all this?"

"I have the worst grades in my school cause I was only attending like one out of three days," I huffed. "I wasn't studying stupid shit like history or geography or anything. I was busting my ass cramming as much medical shit in my brain as I could. I sold all my zombie shit to stock up on them, even started renting myself out to the gangs so I could get more cash. I was obsessed back then. I… I didn't know anything, and the girl I liked and promised to help was slowly rotting away in front of me…"

"Oh Ikki-kun," Ringo was biting her lip now, giving me a sad look.

"It took me two months, but I learned every piece of the human body, every bone, muscle, nerve, organ, everything." I shrugged, brushing it off. "That gave me enough to start slowing Rea's rot down, but it wasn't enough. I spent the next month on preservation techniques: mummification, saponification, embalming, anything that could help keep her in one piece. That was when I found these tunnels. It was cold enough in here for her to live and slow down the decomposition. By then, well things had gotten pretty bad."

I gestured at my body. I was pretty raw at this point, all the scratches from AT, my arm looking shredded, and the bites. All over my body, chunks and pieces of me gone. It looks like the crowd finally understood that not all of these were just the two of us being kinky. Some of these had nearly killed me.

"She was hovering on the Confused Eater state by then. I had to keep her gagged most of the time, tied up the rest. Sometimes she'd be lucid, and we could talk, but at that point, I was getting pretty desperate. I started getting creative, trying to find ways to get her back to the way she used to be." I didn't like thinking about those times. "I even was desperate enough to go to her dad. He had given up most hope of Rea ever being okay, but he went ahead and bought me some of the more expensive shit here." I kicked the heart monitor I was still hooked up to.

"Finally, I started making progress," I finished. "It was slow, and some of it was bat shit crazy, but I started to find ways to reverse the process. In the end, it took me six months, but finally the same thing that happened today, happened to her. I got her heart up and running again. After that, well, I learned the hard way how to keep it up and running. And that leads us to here," I gestured at the current surroundings.

"That…" Sano was the only one who seemed capable of giving a response at that point. "That is astounding, Itsuki-sama. Truly, you are a genius, to have managed what you have."

I grinned. Finally. A little goddamn recognition!

"But still," Simca seemed sad. "Are you sure you did the right thing, Crow-kun? Even if you managed to resurrect Rea, it must have been at a horrible cost. Those scars, the gag…"

"It's fine, Simca-chan," the migratory bird jumped as she realized that at some point in the story Rea had come back, bearing blue flowers and all. Rea smiled happily at the crowd, not seeming to mind that her dirty laundry was getting put on show.

"Rea-chan," Ringo gulped, also looking surprised at the girl showing up.

"When I died," Rea went on, still smiling. "I was so happy. For the first time I was able to get away from my father. Ikki-chan let me do so many things that I was never able to do before. I was able to feel like a normal girl for a while, and that would have been enough for me. But he never gave up. Even when things got bad, even when I gave up, even when I hurt him, Ikki-chan never stopped trying to help me. I never really thought I'd be able to live my life like I want to, and yet thanks to him I can."

She giggled, showing off some of her scars.

"I love every one of these, because they're proof that Ikki-chan loves me enough to do anything for me. I love Itsuki so much that I can't stop myself from wanting him inside of me," she licked her lips, and I think most of the crowd wasn't sure just what kind of inside she was talking about. "And I love Itsuki the most, because when he sets his mind to it he can do anything, anything at all. Whether it's flying, or raising the dead, Itsuki can do it all!"

"Rea-chan," Ringo gulped, staring at the other girl. "I thought I was the only one who knew how big Itsuki's wings were," she whispered. Finally, Ringo stood up, looking determined. "Rea-chan!" she declared loudly as she bowed. "My name is Noyamono Ringo! Let's be friends!"

"Ah!" Rea's eyes sparkled as she finally got proper acknowledgement from one of the girls I think of as my closest friend. "Please! I'm Sanka Rea. Let's get along!"

"Shit," Mikan rubbed her forehead, sounding resigned. "Now I can't tell which one is the wife and which one is the mistress."

"Oh?" Simca also seemed amused. "Is this an invitation for threesomes then?" The Migratory Bird tugged at her vest, showing off some of those boobies that I loved so much.

"Perverted swallow…" Ringo began, before Rea happily nodded again.

"Yup! Now that I've had my first time, I don't mind sharing!" Rea didn't even notice the way Ringo gulped, blushing again.

"Rea-chan," Ringo began, twiddling her fingers. "I don't think that kind of thing is normal…"

"That's fine," Rea shrugged. "I'm not normal. I might be alive again, but I still have a lot of brain damage," she admitted casually. "I love Ikki-chan so much, that I worry I might hurt him someday. So if there was someone else around to help stop me, I don't mind sharing!" Ringo flushed even brighter, but Simca seemed surprised that Rea actually had a reason to go along with the threesome angle. "Besides," Rea had a type of smile on I didn't see much, a sneaky one that looked weird on her. "It would piss my father off so much if he found out!"

"Okay, daddy issues make sense," Mikan flushed, though she was starting to grin as well. Looks like Rea was finally getting accepted!

Yeah, focus on that, and not on the potential double boobies. I grinned. Oh, the boobies!

"Well then," Simca declared, chirping as she hugged me from the side. "Let's all get along!"

"Hey!" Rea declared, glaring at the migratory bird. "No getting ahead!" It wasn't until Rea started to take off her nurse outfit that I realized that the Simca hugging me was a naked Simca.

I cursed the numbing effect of the poison for denying me this moment. A second later I blinked, and looked to the other side.

"Kururu!" I gasped as I found yet another naked body pressing against me. Oh, damn you poison!

"What are you two doing!" Ringo declared, staring at the two naked girls pressing against me. "You can't just… oh?" she trailed off, apparently realizing something. I rejoiced that Ringo would not get in the way of my happiness, before I noticed something too.

"Why do you two have plugs coming out of your backs?" I asked suspiciously, following the cables back to where Sano was diligently studying some computer screen… "You two are tuning me!" I gasped, before trying to shake them off. "Stop that! Stop that right now!"

"Hehe," Simca declared, giving me a sultry grin that normally would have been awesome, but just kinda annoyed me at the moment. "Just lie still little boy, and little Simca-oneechan make you feel good!"

"Just bear with it, Crow-kun," Kururu blushed, but sounded like she wasn't gonna back off either. "We just want to make sure that your body is really alright!"

"Of course it isn't," I snapped at them, wondering if I should put a little more effort in getting them off. I didn't want to shake too hard. It might make my recovery take longer. That and I had two set of gorgeous on either side of me, and I was a guy.

Was this gonna be what it's like if Rea ever gets her way about threesomes? If so, then I must truly be a god to be this awesome!

"The Crow is so shy!" Simca giggled, and started to really get into it before she was interrupted.

"Simca-sama," Sano interrupted, his voice worried. The tall guy looked a little pale. "This is…" he trailed off. "Itsuki-sama. What has been done to you?"

"Wait," Ringo spoke up, and if I didn't know any better I'd think she'd been fuming a second ago. Now she just looked worried. "What is it?"

"Itsuki-sama," Sano began, "his body…"

"I've lost twenty percent of my vision in both eyes, and seven degrees worth of perception," I muttered. "My left arm has lost thirty percent of its mobility, and my heart has been reduced by ten percent of its capacity. My joints are developing cartilage deposits, and all of my ribs have been broken at least once. I'm missing three inches of my small intestines, and about an ounce of my left lung. I don't even want to know what my liver and kidneys look like." I huffed. "Why do you think I never wanted to be tuned, you two?"

"I've seen some impressive damage back when I was in Toul Tool to," Simca sighed. "But most of those had been riding for years. For Crow to have so much so soon…"

"Only the cartilage really comes from ATs," I grumbled. "That and probably a little brain damage. The rest came from the resurrection stuff."

"Dude," Kazu scowled. "Sora really fucked you up, didn't he?"

"Nah, he's only responsible for the arm, the heart, and a bit of the intestines," I corrected. "The rest came before." I looked around and saw a lot of disapproving looks at that point. "What?" I demanded. "You didn't think resurrection would be safe or easy, or that it would make you immortal or something? The poison is a poison, and I've been exposed to it for years now. Back when Rea was confused she must have given me at least a dozen fractures and I couldn't exactly go to a hospital for them. It was easier just to use some of the poison to hide it. And then there were all the times she actually bit me."

"How can you just be so casual about it?" Kururu demanded, though she still hadn't stopped the tuning. She seemed determined to get it done, one way or the other.

"It's no different from what every other AT user does," I mumbled. "All major athletes end up going through that kind of thing. The strain on our bodies is just too much, and we start breaking down. In the end, it's just wabi sabi." I grimaced. "Except for maybe you Gravity Children."

Race car drivers who had bones shattered by the g-force of their turns. Boxers who ended up brain damaged from repeated concussions. Sports stars that wore out the cartilage in their joints and spent the rest of their lives suffering for every move they made. All around the world, thousands of people were doing the same thing as I had already done.

"Just what does the term 'wabi sabi' mean?" Kilik demanded. He'd been pretty quiet up to this point, and I wasn't quite sure what he had been thinking about. "I had thought it just a random name, but it seems to mean something else."

"It's Shinto," Buccha spoke up, the big pig rubbing his bald head. "It's the principle behind the concept that all things are destroyed in the end, and that everything decays naturally. Wabi sabi is the belief that rather than being disgusted by decay, we should revere it instead. The decomposition is something beautiful and not something horrible. Sometimes a shrine will build the roof of their buildings with sticks and mud, and then let the plants and weeds grow out of them as they break down." He shook his head. "I never knew you were Shinto, Crow."

"You never asked, you Buddhist," I muttered.

Wabi sabi. It had found it during those bad times when Rea had been only getting worse, and it had come to mean a lot of me. The thought that everything that we were going through, the things that time was doing to her and she was doing to me, that they weren't bad, but that they were beautiful in their own way.

I looked at the scars on Rea, and now on myself, and I was comfortable with them. No, I like them. They were natural, the result of the choices we made, and I don't regret a single choice that left one on me. We were breaking down, bit by bit. We were dying slowly.

But everyone is dying slowly. Even with the ability to raise the dead, that wasn't something that could stave off death forever. It was just a little more time to enjoy life, to live while you could.

I guess that was why I loved ATs so much too. I'd spent a lot of time learning about death, fighting against it, defying it. I knew as much or more about death as anyone else in the world. I might have gotten a bit too used to death, not seeing it the same way everyone else did anymore.

But ATs, when I had them on and was roaring through whatever trick I was doing, that was me being able to see my own death, to be awed by it once more.

Healthy? Nah. Even I ain't dumb enough to think that. But could I do without them? No, no way in hell.

"Alright, enough is enough," Noyamono finally declared. She'd been quiet most of the time, just hanging out in the back. But it looked like she finally had enough with the shenanigans. "Itsuki," she said, pushing to the front so she could stand over me, glaring. "It's time to come home."

"Uh," I began, reminding myself that I wasn't scared… er… intimidated by the woman in front of me. It didn't matter how many years she had been beating me up, or pile driving me into the ground whenever I stood up to her. It didn't matter in the least. I was… er, yeah, I was just cold! That was why I was shivering. "I can't really leave," I muttered. "I still need to finish the whole resurrection thing. Besides," I swallowed, summoning up my courage, "you already said I ain't a member of the Noyamono, and I already moved out. You can't tell me what to do anymore!"

Noyamono flinched, and then she clenched her teeth and lashed out to smack me upside the head.

I caught the blow with my good hand, stopping it cold. Simca yelped when I pulled free from her, and Noyamono's eyes widened, as I held her off without straining.

"Even if I came back from the dead, even if I repaired most of myself," I said softly. "Some things just can't be fixed. Maybe if I had an MRI or something down here, but those are way too freaking expensive. In the end, most of the damage to the brain never recovers. I don't really have that limitation on my body anymore."

Yeah, threatening the terror of the female wrestling world. Good idea Crow! Maybe after this I could go play in traffic with a blindfold on!

"You…" Noyamono growled, gritting her teeth. "You little brat! You're coming home now, if I have to knock you out and drag you there!"

"Please, one-sama!" Rea tried to interject, still holding her nurse out fit in front of her though she was just wearing her panties at this point, never quite having finished the whole stripping to join in thing before things had gotten weird. "Please don't disapprove of our love!"

"Rea-chan, you're a nice girl, and I have no problem with you dating Itsuki," Rika snapped. "You're obviously the smart one in the relationship because you had the common sense to tell his family he was alright! I have no problem with you two seeing each other, but for now Itsuki needs to come home."

"Ah!" Rea smiled happily. It looked like she had finally made a good first impression. I'd be happy for her if I wasn't sweating on the inside. I just got over an asskicking! I don't need another one! "In that case, please be careful one-sama! Itsuki is still very delicate right now!"

"Oh, he'll be even more delicate once I'm done with him," she declared, and I very carefully did not let loose an unmanly 'eep' as she grabbed the hand grabbing her hand and started to throw me. I broke loose, but it took a lot of force. I forgot just how damn strong Noyamono was!

We locked grips for a second, me finally getting up and the heart monitor starting to beep baster as I strained against her. It looked like I was winning for a sec or two, and then she grit her teeth and really started pushing!

Oh yeah. Noyamono was the original one to use that doping technique I'd seen Ringo use before, the Sonya whichamacallit.

Oh crap…

Even as she tried broke free and tried to put me in a head lock, which I blocked by twisting her arm and taking tried to reverse into a full nelson, I started to get pissed at Noyamono. Wasn't it enough that she chased me out of the house? That she had tried to steal my ATs and lock me up? I mean, even if she didn't care that much, I'd still gone out of my way to try and keep an eye on her with the Sora thing! What the hell! This was just too one sided, and unfair, and even as I was tossed over her shoulder I whirled, still so mad at how unfair it was that I still cared for her when she didn't seem to give a damn as I lunged, pushing, the world blurring as I…

"Stay back," Noyamono's shout brought me back to the world as I felt something hot and chewy in my mouth, sliding back down my throat. "Just all of you, stay back!" Something warm was on my face, dripping down, and I blinked, wondering what had happened, what this delicious thing in front of me was…

It was about then that I realized that it wasn't what, but who.

"Rika-nee!" I gasped, trying to pull back. I don't even remember when I had pinned her to the wall or torn open her blouse. I definitely don't remember when I had sank my teeth into one of her boobs and bit off a nipple! "What are you…!" I tried to back off, smacking myself upside the head for doing something so dumbshit retarded stupid. She was pregnant for god's sake!

That was as far as I got before Rika put her arms around me and pulled me back face first into her bloody tit.

"Rea said that only strong emotions of affection can bring out the Confused Eater state in a properly treated case," Rika smiled down at me, looking way to happy for someone who just had a pretty important chunk taken out of a pretty important place. She actually was starting to tear up a bit. "That means you do care."

"Huh?" was the best I could get out. I was trying to pull like triple duty here, what with not taking another bite, trying to see if I hurt her too much, and, well… boobies!

"When you just disappeared I was so worried," yeah, she was definitely crying now, and seeing Rika-nee crying was making me feel like the world's biggest dick. "You even stopped using my name. I was so sure… so sure that I had driven you away. I was just trying to keep you safe, and instead I just chased you out and put you in more danger! I was sure you hated me…"

Ugh. What do I do, what do I do, what do I do? Rika-nee is crying!

"Uh," I finally tried for a hug, and she squeezed me tighter when I did. "I don't hate you, Rika-nee," I mumbled, blushing. I was a guy, god damn it. I don't do touchy feelie! "But when you said I wasn't part of the family… that… well, that really hurt," I mumbled.

"I said that to try and keep you from doing ATs," she scolded, still sniffing and squeezing me pretty hard. I'm pretty sure I might add another rib to the list if this kept up. "I didn't mean it, you idiot! Stupid brat! I'm sorry, alright. Just please. Come home now. I promise, even if I'll still try to keep you from going overboard, I won't stop you from doing what you love. Please?"

"Fine," I blushed, giving in. Stupid crying big sis. If you keep getting all teary eyed… you're gonna make me… that is even me…

Ah god damn it. I'm totally crying right now, aren't I?

"That's so beautiful," Rea sighed, sniffing a bit too as me and Rika had a bonding moment and broke down.

"Beautiful?" Mikan demanded, though she looked relieved as well. "They're covered in blood and Rika-nee is only gonna be able to breast feed from one side. How is that beautiful?"

"Because now they'll always be connected," Rea sighed, starting to blush a bit. "No matter what happens, Onee-sama will always know that Ikki-chan really cares for her, that he loves her so much that he can't stop himself around her. And no matter where he goes Ikki-chan will always have a piece of her with him, a part that he will always have close and will never leave. It's an irreversible connection between two bodies. How is that not romantic?"

"The hell?" Kazu muttered, staring back and forth between Rea and where Rika-nee and I were. "Did she just somehow manage to make cannibalism seem like a good thing?"

"Fuck," Agito told him. "Don't ask. I've been living with them for months, and this isn't even the worst of it."

"Hmmm," Simca was touching her lips, looking like she was really thinking about it. "It does sound kind of hot," she admitted, tittering a bit. "When you put it like that, it sort of makes me want to give it a try!"

"N-n-no way!" Ringo declared, blushing like an apple again. "I don't want… I mean… even if it's Ikki… well, maybe… no!" Ya know, if I wasn't too busy trying not to take another nibble at Rika-nee, I might have said something about my kinky girlfriend corrupting my childhood friend. "How are we supposed to… do things," she muttered really quiet like, "if he keeps trying to bite me… I mean us!"

"Oh, that's easy," Rea told her, flouncing over to a drawer. "You can borrow one of my gags! I have a collection!"

"Um," Kururu began, still naked, blushing, and looking back and forth between Rea and I. "Do you mind if I… um… have a look?"

"He might eat them at any time, and they still flock to him," Onigiri was crying again, and that always made me feel good. "Goddamn that shitty crow!"

"You know what, I don't think I want Rea hanging around with Emily if I can help it," Kazu grunted.

"Are you ready to go home now, Itsuki?" Rika asked, reminding me that I still had other things to do.

"I can't right now," I told her, and sped up a bit when she started to glare. "I mean I really can't! I'm still recovering, and if I'm not careful than I might die in my sleep if I'm not around my equipment. It happened to Rea a few times, when she forgot to breathe in the middle of the night. I still have a lot of recovering to do!"

"Fine," Rika-nee sighed, accepting that I still couldn't leave yet. "But I'm coming here every day to check on you. You have a lot of homework to catch up on so you can get back to school once you're better."

"Eh?" I grimaced. "School? But I kind of dropped out ya know…"

Oh, that might have been the wrong thing to say. I had forgot that she still had her arms around me, and she still had a hell of a grip.

"No brother of mine is dropping out," she told me bluntly. "How else are you going to be a doctor if you don't finish your education?"

"A doctor?" I blinked. "But, I already swore I'm never going to share the resurrection technique with anyone," I declared, gritting my teeth. I don't care what anyone says, it's never happening.

"That's fine," Rika nodded seriously. "But you obviously have talent. With ATs, and with medicine." She gave me a small smile, and I brightened. It looks like she had finally begun to recognize the awesome of the Crow! The smile faded a second after.

"But isn't medical school expensive," I muttered, and this time Rika grimaced too as I hit a snag in her dreams.

"Itsuki-sama," Rika and I looked over to see Sano nearby, kneeling right next to us. "During the battles before Sora's defeat, someone very dear to me was hurt. The doctors are unable to tell if she will survive. If you would please offer this unworthy one your help, then all of the Sano industries would be behind you. I would see to it personally, that you receive the best of education."

"Er," I began, wishing I could scratch my ear. "Well, I don't mind helping you out as a personal favor, but I'm not doing it somewhere anyone can spy on me." I blinked, realizing something else. "You!" I glared up at Rika. She looked down on me with a smug smile. "You're trying to make me respectable!"

"Mmhmm," she didn't even try to deny it!

"Help! Rea! I'm being corrupted!" I called for assistance from the only one I could trust. Surely my girlfriend will…

"Oh! I'm gonna be married to a doctor!" Rea sighed happily.

"Would you hurry up and get dressed?" Ringo asked, sighing as Rea still hadn't bothered to put her clothes on. "That goes for you two too!"

"Nope!" Simca hummed, already stalking towards me. "We still haven't finished the tuning, and now that Crow isn't going anywhere…"

"No! Stay back, with your sexy boobies and naked bodies! Back!" I didn't want to be tuned!

"It's for your own good, Crow-kun," Kururu declared looking earnest. "If you're not careful, you could get even more seriously hurt!"

"I'll help," Rea declared seriously. "If it's for Ikki-chan's safety, I can get naked too!"

"It's not for his safety, it's not for his safety, it's not for his safety!" Ringo chanted desperately as Rea started tossed her panties aside happily.

"Then is it for the threesomes?" Rea asked, not really minding as she hopped over to where Simca and Kururu were closing in on me.

"Actually, with this many it would probably be an orgy," Simca told her slyly.

"Oooh!" Rea nodded her understanding.

"Hey, Ringo," Mikan grinned, sliding up to grab at the apple's shirt. "If you don't hurry up, you're gonna fall behind!"

"Wait, no!" Ringo cried as her older sister started stripping her. "I have to prepare myselffff!"

I didn't know if this was one of those moments where I should cry, of it I should just accept it as the realization of a dream.

Either way…


The Ending

Agito swore to himself as he managed to escape that madhouse. Behind, he could still here as Itsuki was assaulted by all those weirdoes he managed to attract.

"Fuck," he muttered, kicking at a stone before turning around and sticking a sock on the doorknob. He doubted anyone else would show up, but at least Itsuki would take it down when it was safe to go back in there.

"All that fine ass, and not a one of them modest," he muttered as he started making his way back to his room. "I thought they were kinky before, but this is just gonna get worse."

Still, as Agito made his way back, he couldn't keep a small, albeit sharp smile from forming.

They'd done it. Sora was gone, the Sky Regalia was out of anyone's hands now that the Wind Regalia was destroyed, and even though it had been close, it looked like Itsuki was going to be alright. His friend might even be on the fast track to getting some genuine recognition for being the genius he was.

Not that Agito would ever tell Itsuki that. Too much would go to the Crow's head, after all.

Still, even though this looked like the happy ending he never thought would happen, Agito couldn't help but rub at his head, grimacing.

"No Agito," he said with a sigh. "I won't help you go gag shopping."

He sighed. Why did his other half have to be so impressionable?


Author's Conclusion: What can I say? Sometimes I like to do the weird stuff. This story was fun, because as reviewers note in the past sometimes my main characters start to all sound like each other. I wanted to take a try and making a new character with a serious story line which differed from the normal way I write, so I tried to really change the feel for Itsuki as compared to the way I normally write first person.

Beyond that, I've been wanting to dabble with a story with bizarre and unusual fetish themes for a bit. Sankarea was sort of the inspiration for that, the part where Rea really thinks about the fact that she might end up eating the main character and starts to get turned on by it despite herself specifically. After that, well, the story just fell together on its own.

If anyone is wondering just how Itsuki managed to complete the resurrection process, the best part of using Air Gear is that it is a Shounen manga, and all events which surpass the bounds of known science can be attributed to the characters GAR. Thus, Itsuki combined the power of GAR with SCIENCE to make GAIENCE, and a whole new world opened before him.

Or something like that.

Anyway, that's it for Wabi Sabi. Hope you enjoyed the ride, and now it's back to In Flight!