MysticalXDreamer: Hello All. I'm sorry to say, this story has been discontinued. vv

And for you, my loyal readers, I have a special messege:

chapter twenty one: rise and fall, fall and rise

"Okay, mom," said Rika, putting an arm around her mother's shoulder. "What's wrong?"

"It's mom..."

"Huh? Grandma? What happened?" Rika asked anxiously.

"That's just it!" cried Rumiko. "She isn't! She's not at home and I can't get in touch with her!"

Rika stared blankly. "Maybe she's out shopping with her friends?" she asked. Why would her mother cry over something like this? She had been worried for nothing.

Rumiko sighed. "She hadn't said anything about going out with friends," she said. "I ate lunch with her today, and then went back to work. I haven't seen or heard from her since. And it's snowing out, Rika!"

"I noticed."

"Stop acting like nothing's wrong!"

"Mom! She could be stuck somewhere because of the snow," said Rika, trying her best to calm her mother down. The woman was hysterical.

Rumiko shook her head. "You don't understand... You don't understand..."

"What, mother?" she snapped. "What don't I understand?"

Takato's eyes darted between the mother and daughter, and he kept his mouth shut tight. He did not want to get in the middle of this.

"I didn't want to tell you..." Rumiko said, eyes looking downward. She clutched her pants tightly. "Someone saw him..."

"What?" asked Rika sharply, afraid of what her mother could say next.


And that was all it took for her to understand. "Please tell me you're joking," said Rika, looking away from her mother.

"Believe me, I wish I was."

"Where was he?"

"Loitering," Rumiko explained. "A few blocks from where your grandmother and I are staying."

"Dammit!" hissed Rika, holding back from saying an even worse profanity.

"It was a security guard on his way to work," she said. "He spotted him and immediately called the police. They showed up discreetly, but he was gone by the time they arrived..."

Rika swore in her head. Fuck... she inwardly groaned. She turned back to her mother. "When was this?"

"Just yesterday," she replied. "I called here before, but you weren't home. And now that I can't get in contact with mom I..." Her voice trailed off as she bit her lip. "I'm so worried... It could just be something stupid but..."

"Just when things finally get back to normal, he has to show his bloody face again! Why can't he just leave us alone?" she shouted.

"I was hesitant to come here, in case he was tailing me. But my guards said he wasn't around..."

Takato was still watching with caution.

"Argh!" groaned Rika in frustration, running a hand through her hair and partially pulling it out of her ponytail. She blew a strand of hair out of her eyes as she glanced back at her mother. "He's like an evil ninja or something," she muttered. "Always pulling off dirty deeds and vanishing in a puff of smoke."

"Stereotypical," Takato noted, hesitantly cracking a grin. "I'm not entirely sure real ninja disappear in a puff of smoke."

Rika had to smirk at his words, turning away from her mother to hide her amusement. Now was not the sort of situation to be amused in. She tossed Takato a slight grin to show she appreciated his attempt at a joke.

"I know I'm probably just freaking out over nothing, but it's still nerve wracking," Rumiko murmured.

All three of them jumped when the ringing of a phone echoed through the house. Realizing it needed to be answered, Takato grinned sheepishly at his shock and scurried to the nearest phone in reach. "Hello?" He paused. "Oh, hi mom." Another pause. "Nah, nothing. Rika's mom stopped by to say hello, but that's all."

Rika and her mother sighed in relief and turned back to face each other with silly smiles on their faces. They really were getting worked up over nothing.

"I'm sorry… I guess I should get back to work and such now," sighed Rumiko, running a hand through her wavy hair. She climbed to her feet and smiled weakly. "Sorry I was so nervous… And came all the way here and everything."

"It's fine mom," Rika replied, also standing. "You were worried. That's all."

Rumiko leant in to give her daughter a hug, but was interrupted by a familiar phone ringing. She glanced at her bag and dug around inside, pulling out her cell phone. Not recognizing the number, she answered it hesitantly. "Hello?"

Rika raised a curious eyebrow, hearing Takato laugh at something his mother must have said to him. She watched as her mother's face went from confused to utter shock and horror. "Mom…?" The phone slipped from her hands and Rika could hear someone saying "Miss Makino? Miss Makino?" from the earpiece.


Rika could feel her own face twist in worry as her mother's eyes welled with tears, threatening to flow down her cheeks. She threw herself at her daughter and wrapped her arms around her tightly. "Mom? What's wrong? Mom!"

"Your grandmother…"


"She's… she's in the hospital… Oh, god, Rika! She was shot!"

Rika would have fallen to the ground had her mother's arms not been firmly wrapped around her. She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out and her lips just opened and closed.

"We… need to go there. Right now," Rumiko said, pulling away from her daughter and putting on a strong front. She took in a deep breath and ignored the waterworks pouring down her face. Silently, she reached to the ground and picked up her cell phone, hanging up the call and replacing it back into her purse.

Rika's knees felt weak. Shot…? Grandma was shot…? Almost instantly, her mind conjured images of a bullet embedding itself into Faye and the dark haired girl falling to the ground to bleed. Screams. Sirens.

"What's going on?" Takato asked anxiously, reentering the room having finished the conversation with his own mother.

Rika stared at him pleadingly, unsure of what she wanted to say. Rumiko, however, had not lost her ability to speak and explained shortly, "My mother was shot. We're going to the hospital now."

Takato's jaw dropped. His eyes fell to the sullen Rika; her eyes begged him to do something, although she didn't know what.

"We need to go now," Rumiko ordered, tilting her head towards the door. "I have my car."

Takato nodded for both of them as Rumiko proceeded towards the exit. "Rika, let's go," he said, gently tugging her by a hand. She instantly tightened her grip around his fingers and he could feel her shaking. He led her from the house, making sure everything was securely locked behind him before the three piled into the car.

Rumiko sat up front with the driver, whom Rika vaguely recognized as an inviso-guard. No doubt her mother would have their numbers doubled by the end of the day. Rika and Takato sat in the back; she was still clutching his hand for dear life.

The ride to the hospital was in stillness, everyone afraid to make a noise. The tension and anticipation grew with each mile covered, the distance between them and the hospital shrinking each moment, but not soon enough. Finally, the large white building appeared before their eyes and the car started to brake in front of the main entrance. Not even waiting for it to come to a complete stop, Rumiko flung the door open and darted inside the hospital. Practically kicking her own door open, Rika flew after her mother leaving behind an apologetic Takato to close the doors they left open.

Rumiko was already at the front desk before Rika even stepped inside. She explained who she was and who she was looking for, and the receptionist directed her to the fifth floor. Barely two seconds later, all three of them were closing in on the elevator. The ride to the correct floor seemed to last forever, but the door finally dinged and they piled out.

The fifth floor was full of quiet hurrying, doctors scrambling to and fro through doors and down hallways. Rumiko quickly scurried to this floor's receptionist and repeated what she had told the woman downstairs.

"Mrs. Makino?" the young woman asked. She glanced through some paperwork. "She's in operating room five. I'm afraid you can't see her right now, but I'll inform the doctors of your arrival. The moment she is out of surgery, you'll be informed."

"Thank you," Rumiko said, nodding gratefully. She turned back towards her daughter and Takato, directing them to sit as she told them what the receptionist said. The two of them sat on a bench-like cushioned chair, while Rumiko claimed a regular one-person chair for herself.

The waiting room was full of anxious loved ones tucked away in pale yellow walls. In each corner sat a stand of magazines, although they were left untouched. No one cared to look at the newest celebrity gossip while a loved one was in surgery. All the chairs matched in their pale blue cushions and black arms and legs. The floor was tiled in white, but if one looked close enough they could see small blue speckles scattered within the tiles.

Rumiko soon drifted off into a daze, her eyes staring blankly ahead with an emotionless expression plastered on her face. She clutched her purse tightly in her arms with her feet still on the floor.

Rika and Takato were also silent on their cushioned bench. Takato desperately searched his mind for the proper words to say to his friend, but nothing surfaced. And he wasn't entirely sure the mother and daughter were in the mood for a cheerful conversation at the moment. He turned his gaze from the girl sitting barely inches from him and inwardly sighed. His eyes widened when he felt something warm but shaking wrap around his hand, instantly knowing it was Rika's fingers grabbing onto him. She wanted his support and he gave it by giving her hand a squeeze.

Rika didn't even know how fast time was flying by. Her imagination was running wild with scenarios revolving around her grandmother. She wasn't told who exactly had shot her, but it was obvious. She hated her mind for picturing the gun shooting her grandmother over and over, even though she had no idea what had actually happened. That in turn, would cause her to relive Faye's shooting months before. Clinging to Takato was all she could do for the next few hours, praying he would say nothing.

Finally, after gods know how many hours, a doctor decked out in blue scrubs approached the three of them and Rumiko was on her feet instantly. Takato nudged Rika and she looked up, her hopes and fears doubling.

"Miss Makino?"

"Yes, that's me. How is my mother?"

"She was shot near her side, close to the kidney area. We've removed the bullet, but she lost a lot of blood. She's currently being transported to the ICU."

"Will she… will she make it?" Rumiko asked hesitantly.

The doctor paused, never a good sign. "Things went smoothly during the operation, but her age is a factor. If she's given the proper care, she should recover given the time. It depends on her will and her body."

"I… I see. Can we see her?"

"In a few minutes, I'll have a nurse escort you to her room," the doctor explained. He tossed a curious look at Takato and his intertwined hand with Rika's. "However, it is family only…"

Rumiko nodded. "That's fine. That's… normal. Thank you."

The doctor nodded and turned around to do his doctor things. Rika and Takato climbed to their own feet and Rika lightly touched her mother's arm. "Grandma will fight," she said. "You know she will."

Before her mother could reply, a nurse in white and pasty pink came up to them, smiling politely. "The Makinos?" she asked and Rika nodded. "Please follow me."

The three followed after the nurse as she led them to an elevator and pressed the button for the sixth floor. Each creak the elevator made could be heard in the dead silence of the tiny compartment. The doors opened and the nurse stepped out, holding a finger to her lips in the quieting motion. "I'm afraid it's family only beyond those doors…" she said softly, taking a glance at Takato.

He grinned. "That's okay. I'll just sit over there," he said, pointing to a row of three chairs along the wall. "I'll be here till you're ready."

Rika nodded at him, before slowly pulling away from his hand. Almost instantly, she could feel her insides shaking with worry as she followed her mother and the nurse down the hall.

She felt like she was walking to her doom. The hallway was eerily quiet, with occasional mumbles as the only sound heard. The nurse stopped outside room 605 and nodded. "She's in here. Please don't do anything to wake her."

"Of course," Rumiko said gently. The nurse instructed them to put on apron like smocks that covered their bodies before stepping inside the room. Once the yellow smocks were on, Rika and her mother stepped into the room.

And there she was. Her grandmother lay motionless on the bed; the only thing that told them she was alive was her chest moving up and down slowly. She was hooked up to machines, all beeping as they monitored her heart rate and such.

She heard her mother lose control as broke down and cried. Rumiko controlled the level of her wails as her daughter gently tucked a stand of her hair behind her ear. "Oh, mom…" she whispered.

Rika took a few tentative steps forward, staring into her grandmother's emotionless face. How had the same woman been up and about for days before now? She didn't think she'd ever seen her grandmother looking so… frail.

Her eyes wandered down to her hip, where through the hospital dress, she could see her grandmother's bandaged wound. She… had really been shot. It had seemed so surreal up until now, but seeing the injury in the flesh, Rika could deny it no longer. Unbeknownst to her, tears rolled down her cheeks as she crept closer to the bed. "She'll… be okay…" she murmured. "She'll wake up any moment now. She'll smile and laugh at us for being such worrywarts."

Rumiko didn't reply.

"She… this won't keep her down. Nothing keeps Grandma down," Rika whispered, half laughing.

She heard footsteps approach the door and turned her head slowly to see who was entering the room. Her eyes widened when in the threshold stood Justin, smirking madly as he held up his gun directly at her. She scrambled backwards, crashing her back into the window.

"Now, now Rika. No running away. Daddy's just here to finish what he started," Justin said mockingly.

Rika shook her head furiously, desperately trying to scream, to warn her mother, but no sound came out. She heard the click of the trigger and shut her eyes tight, blocking out everything.


Her eyes opened. She was clutching the front of her smock tightly, eyes wide and still crying. Rumiko had swiftly run over and slipped an arm around her daughter. "Are you okay?" she asked, concerned.

Looking around, there was no Justin. It had all been in her head. But it still didn't make it any less real. She looked back to her grandmother and nearly shattered. "I… I can't be here right now," she muttered, turning her gaze away and slipping out of her mother's embrace.

"Rika? What's wrong?"

She stumbled for the door, tearing off the annoying smock along the way. As quickly as she could move without making too much noise, she rushed down the hall, ignoring the way her vision continued to blur with each passing second. She thought she heard a nurse ask if she was okay, but couldn't be sure. Finally, she reached the end of the hall and flung open the doors, exiting the isolated ICU area.


She looked up and never felt so grateful to see him in her entire life. "Takato…" she cried softly, speeding towards him and attacking him with a hug. She felt his arms slip around her back as she cried into his shirt. "Why?" she mumbled. "Why does all this keep happening?"

He answered honestly. "I… don't know…"

"First… first it was everything back then…. Then Faye… now grandma… God, is the world fucking against me?"

"Rika, it's okay. Isn't your grandmother in stable condition?"

"Stable but critical," she replied, unable to bring herself to pull her face away from his chest. He slowly felt his shirt getting damp. "I just… don't get it… everything was going so well…"


She tightened her grip around his shoulders, quite unable to stop herself. She felt a calming comfort from him, one she was eternally happy to have at the moment. As long as she stayed wrapped in his arms, she felt as if nothing could harm her anymore.

"I'm so scared…" she confessed softly. "I don't wanna lose her… I can't… We can't… I…"

"Shh… it's okay, Rika. You don't have to say anything anymore," he said, gently beginning to stroke her hair. "From everything I've heard about your grandmother, I'm sure she'll pull through. She seems like a fighter."

"She is… she is but…"

"I know, I know. Worry is a strange emotion."

She managed to bring her eyes to meet his at last, staring into concerned irises. His lips held a small smile, not a happy one but a friendly, reliable one that emanated trust. The fact that she was in love with him was briefly brought to the surface again, before being buried by thoughts of her grandmother. Once again, she dug her face into his shirt, feeling a support she hadn't ever felt before.


She pulled her head away and blinked as Faye randomly appeared from the elevator, looking as if she had just woken up from a nap. Her short, dark hair was messy and her clothes wrinkled. She lunged at Rika, nearly tackling her to the ground. They cringed, but quieted down as the nurse glared at them, ordering them to "Shh!"

"Faye?" Rika managed to croak out. "What… what are you doing here?"

"Takato called me," she replied, tilting her head in the boy's direction. "I barely had time to hang up the phone before I was out the door. Actually, I think my mom may have done that for me."


"He told me what he knew. No need to explain anything yet. I'm here," Faye smiled, squeezing her friend's shoulders. Rika lost it again and began to cry in her arms. Faye glanced at Takato and mouthed a silent 'Thank You'. A faint blush rose on his cheeks as he attempted to shrug nonchalantly. She hid her own smirk as she rubbed her hand along Rika's back.

"Thank you…" Rika said, pulling away from Faye to look at both of them in the eyes. "For being here with me… I… I don't know what I'd do if I was alone…"

"Don't be silly, Rika," Faye smiled, resting her head on Rika's shoulder. "Of course I'd be here. You practically lived at the hospital and my house when I was… you know… so why wouldn't I be here now, for you?"

Rika left out a soft laugh and beckoned for Takato to come closer. "Thank you, too, you know," she grinned.

"Eh, what can I say?" he offered weakly.

Rika threw her arms around both of them, pulling them as close to her as she humanly could. She felt an arm from each slip around her own back, squeezing her tightly. And never before in her life had Rika felt so loved.

They stayed that way in silence for a few moments, before deciding they were tired of standing and broke apart from the group hug. Faye pulled them along to the chairs Takato had been sitting in earlier. Rika sat in the center chair, with Faye and Takato on her left and right. She felt Faye's hand slip around hers, holding it tight. Even more shocking to her was that a few moments later Takato did the same thing.

On the outside, Rika was a mess. Her face was tear-stained and her clothes were crumpled. Inwardly, however, she felt an indescribable warmness that ate away at the anxiety she was feeling. Her grandmother was a stubborn woman and would not easily give in to death. In fact, now that she thought about it, Rika wouldn't be surprised if the eldest of the Makino woman insisted upon leaving the hospital as soon as she woke up. If the Grim Reaper walked into her room, her grandma would probably beat it up with the heart monitor. Rika almost laughed out loud at the thought, smiling sheepishly.

Everything would be fine. She had two wonderful friends with her right now, a caring if not eccentric mother and a strong grandmother. She didn't give a damn about Justin right now. One day, he would be gone and she wouldn't have to worry anymore. Until that day, she'd just have to be patient.

An hour passed before Rumiko appeared, approaching them without the smock on. "Mom?" Rika asked, climbing to her feet and startling Faye who had lightly dozed off.

"She isn't awake yet," Rumiko said, "But she's doing well. The doctor's expect her to wake up within three days."

"That's… great," Rika grinned. "Really great."

"Yay!" Faye cheered, climbing to her feet as well.

"I'm going to stay here until visiting hours are up, but you guys can leave if you want…" Rumiko said, crossing her arms.

Faye and Takato looked at Rika, no doubt planning to do whatever Rika decided. Rika felt a little uncomfortable with the pressure, but ignored the feeling. "I think… I'll go get something to eat right now. Then come back up and head out. I really hate hospitals."

Rumiko nodded before digging around in her purse. She pulled out a fifty and handed it to Rika. "For the three of you. Just give me the change later, okay?"

Her daughter nodded. "Thanks, mom."

"I'm going back to your grandma… Just tell me when you leave, okay?"

"Okay. Sounds like a plan," Rika agreed, shoving the money into her pocket. Rumiko gave her daughter a quick hug before shooing them into the elevator and heading back to her mother's room.

The three stood in the elevator as it went down to the bottom floor. Faye started rocking back and forth, a habit she had when things were tense or boring. Rika suspected it was both at once right now.

"I hate hospital food," Faye said suddenly as they stepped out onto the first floor. "I really hate it."

"'Cause of all of the stuff you had to eat back when?" Rika asked, smirking slightly.

"Yes. Gaaargh," Faye groaned, the sound coming from her throat. She pretended to gag, but stopped quickly as they passed a nurse.

"So you wanna go somewhere else to eat?" Takato asked, glancing at the exit.

"I dunno if we should. Mom might come looking for us," Rika replied, inhaling a deep breath. "Besides, Faye only got the healthy bad stuff. She didn't get the junky bad stuff. I must admit, their french fries taste rather good when doused with salt."

"I do like super salty fries," Faye said wistfully.

"To the cafeteria it is!" Takato decreed, pointing his index finger in a random direction. Rika shook her head, putting her hand on his and moving his hand towards another hallway.

"Cafeteria's that way."

"You didn't let me finish," he chided. "To the cafeteria it is! And thattaway we go!" He immediately started walking down the hall, leaving behind a giggling Rika and Faye, who ceased their laughter and half-jogged to catch up with him.

The cafeteria was normal as far as cafeteria standards go. There was beige colored tables set up around a dining area, each holding a variety of seats for different numbers of people. Five cash registers were aligned along the entrance to the so-called buffet, but only three had cashiers tending to them. Beyond the armory of minimum-wage workers was the holding place of the actual food, which the three friends eagerly rushed for.

"Fries!" Faye demanded, looking for them desperately. "I want fries!"

Rika steered her towards the heated section and the dark haired girl's face lit up. She quickly snatched a plate and began piling the thin, McDonald's looking fries on her plate. Chuckling, Rika grabbed her own plate and went off to find some randomly desired Macaroni and cheese. She glanced around to see Takato mingling around the salad bar. There didn't appear to be any hamburgers or hot dogs to go with her cheesy goodness, so Rika settled for a turkey sandwich and a few tomatoes off to the side.

They met up at the cash register, Rika in the lead for she held the cash. The cashier tossed a curious glance at Faye's French fry covered plate, the outline of a ham sandwich buried somewhere under the junk. Takato looked as if all he had was a salad, but there were quite a variety of foods on his plate.

"You three together?" asked the cashier, looking bored out of his mind. Rika nodded and he proceeded to ring them up, one after the other. The total was less than twenty, so she pocketed the remaining thirty dollars or so and followed her friends to a table.

Faye victoriously claimed an entire two chairs for herself, leaving Takato and Rika to sit next to one another. But at this point, Rika found she could care less. Suddenly, Faye looked scandalized. "Ohmygods! I need salt!" she wailed, leaping from her chairs and hurrying to find the rocks that had a tendency to raise blood pressure.

Takato laughed as Rika rolled her eyes, diving hungrily into her sandwich. Through a mouthful of turkey, she turned to Takato. "I didn't think of this before," she said. "Your mom is going to freak out when she gets home to an empty house."

"Crap!" he almost shouted, lowering his voice at the last second upon remembering they were in a hospital. "I gotta call her!"

"Good idea," she smirked, taking another large bite.

"Not my fault."

"I know. It's mine."

"Rika. Don't. Even. Think. About. It."

"About what?" she asked innocently.

"Blaming yourself again. That's all you seem to do when it comes to your family," Takato glared. "How many times do Faye and I have to drill it into your mind-"

"It's my fault 'cause I haven't lent you my cell phone yet," Rika interrupted, smirking. Takato found a small smile twisting on his lips as well. She reached around in her pockets, tossing out her phone on the table. "Your number's on speed dial. Three."

"Wow, so high up the rankings?" he asked, taking the phone and searching for the correct buttons.

"Only Faye and my house are before you. There's no one else for me to call."

"I feel privileged."

"You should be. Your lucky I even put you on there."

"Lucky indeed then."

As Takato started to call his house, Rika grinned. It was a small grin, but it popped up nonetheless. It was then that her mind conveniently chose to remind her of that little feeling she had for him and she shoved a bunch of fries in her mouth as a distraction. There was no way she could think of that now. No way.

Thankfully, Faye picked this moment to come bouncing back, three salt packages in her hand and looking positively gleeful. "Hope you didn't miss me too much, but I have returned at last!" she said, plopping into her chairs again and opening up salt package number one. All of the white, edible rocks were instantly poured over her fries.

"Here lays Faye," Rika said, watching as she opened the second salt packet. "Death by too much salt."

"Most likely."

Rika couldn't help her eye roll. She turned to Takato, who had somehow lost the cell phone, as it was no longer in sight. "Takato? Where's my phone?"

"The cashier was glaring at me. I forgot we're not supposed to have cell phones on inside the hospital."

"Damn, you're right," Rika replied, sticking another fry in her mouth. "No worries. We'll just go outside when we finish eating."

"Yay! Fresh air!" Faye cheered, dumping the remains of the third salt packet on her plate.

"It's a good thing we're in a hospital Faye," Takato said. "Because I've never seen anyone, anyone, use so much salt in my entire life."

"I like it."

"So I gathered," Takato said, stabbing at a piece of lettuce with his fork before bringing the leaf to his mouth.

The three ate the rest of their meal in peace, holding idle and somewhat random conversation as they munched along. The food felt delicious in their stomachs, silencing the grumbles it had been sending prior to getting fed. After dumping their trash in the garbage and stacking the plates with the rest of the dirty dishes, they left the cafeteria and headed for the exit.

The automatic doors slid open as they approached, Faye scampering outside quickly and spinning in the nightly air. Takato pulled out Rika's cell phone from its hiding place, searching around for service. Rika took to surveying the yard. The area wasn't anything special; just a few benches nestled along the sidewalk, in front of grassy dirt with small patches of flowers. A solitary tree stood in the corner, with a line of shrubbery from its trunk to the end of the wall.

"Mom?" Takato asked. "Hi! Yeah… sorry 'bout that…"

He went off in his own world, trying to explain the situation to his mother. Faye snuck up on Rika, grabbing her shoulders from behind and causing her friend to jump. "Faye? What?"

"There's something… different, I notice."


"Indeeeeeeeeeed," she said, drawing out the word. She spun Rika around to look her in the eyes. "Between you and him." She titled her head in Takato's direction, where he was heard saying, "No, no! Everything's fine now!"

"And I think you're imagining things," Rika said, outright lying. She couldn't bring herself to confess to her best friend just yet.

"And I think you're lying!" Faye hissed, narrowing her eyes. "You forget Rika. I know you better than anyone. And I know you're lying to me right now."


"But no worries! I'm not gonna press the matter right now. We've got more important things to worry about!" Faye said cheerfully.

Rika sighed with relief.

"But once the important things are gone, be prepared to be honest, Rika Nonaka-Makino."

Rika swallowed. She didn't doubt it in the slightest.

Thankfully, Takato chose now to bound back over to them, holding out the cell phone for her to take. "I told my mom a brief explanation, but she's expecting more details once we get home."

"No problem."

"What time is it anyway?" Faye asked, glancing at the darkened sky.

Takato glanced at his watch. "Roughly eight."


"Yeah. Seriously."

"Well, guess we should head back up before my mom starts to freak out and call the cops," Rika sighed, tilting her head towards the interior of the hospital.

"Would your mom call the police?" Takato asked as they started walking inside.

"Clearly, you don't know Rumiko Makino," Faye tutted, waving her finger in his face. She stepped on the weight sensor and darted in through the sliding doors. The other two followed behind her, Rika turning off the cell phone as they crossed the threshold. Faye began to hum a soft tune under her breath as they headed for the elevator. They went up in silence, slipping onto the correct floor without being noticed.

"You going back down to see her?" Faye asked, collapsing onto a chair in the makeshift waiting room along the wall. Takato did the same, looking up at her expectantly.

"Yeah… just briefly though. I can't stand seeing her look like that…" Rika confessed, biting her upper lip. "I think visiting hours are over at nine, so my mom'll leave then. I don't know if you guys wanna wait for her, or just walk home."

"Whatever you want, Rika my dear," Faye answered, smiling.

Rika grinned. "I'll decide when I get back then. Sorry I'm leaving you here to be bored…"

"No worries. I'm sure we'll find some way to entertain ourselves."

"Something that isn't risky," Takato added on, tossing a warning glare at Faye.

"Hey!" she snapped.

Rika laughed, shaking her head. "Just don't trigger any alarms or security. See you guys later," she said, waving with one hand as she turned around to head back to her grandmother's room. She didn't pay much attention to the walls and rooms along the way, just focusing on reaching her destination. Sighing, she pulled on a smock again and stepped into the room.

"Rika?" her mother asked from her seated position in a chair, scooted as close to the bed as possible without actually getting in the way of medical equipment.

"Hi mom," she said, walking over to the woman. "How is she?"

"The same."

Rika sighed, her eyes hesitantly falling to her grandmother's limp form. She hadn't budged a bit, although Rika scolded herself for not expecting that. "No news?"


"I … see." She paused. "Takato and Faye are still here."

"Are they? Aren't their parents worried?"

"Takato called his mom and Faye's good to go. We… might head off before you though…"

"Are you sure?" Rumiko asked. "We don't know where … he is and I don't want anything happening to you guys. I'd feel much better if I just drove the three of you home myself."

"Well, what time are you planning on leaving?"

"The latest I possibly can."

"And therein lies the problem," Rika explained, sitting on the arm of her mother's chair. "Unlike you, we can't skip school tomorrow and we have to get home at some point."

"You can skip."


"But that still leaves Takato and Faye. You're right. I guess… I'll leave soon then."

Biting her bottom lip, Rika thought for a moment. "Actually… you could just have someone drive us. You know, an inviso-guard or something."

"That's… a good idea."

"I don't like leaving Grandma this way but… I can't stand seeing her like this. As it is, the image won't get out of my head. Otherwise I'd stay late with you."

"I understand," Rumiko nodded, smiling warmly at her daughter. "It's no problem. When you leave, just tell the driver the plan."


Silence ate away at the room afterwards, neither mother nor daughter having any ideas for a good conversation at the moment. It dragged on for a minute, then a few minutes, the only sound filtering into the area was the beeping of the machines.

"Mom?" Rika said suddenly, looking a little embarrassed.

"Hm? What's wrong sweetie?"

"I know… it doesn't always seem like it," she started, fiddling with the sleeve of her annoying smock, "But…"

Rumiko said nothing; she simply looked to her daughter warmly.

"I love you, mom."

The older woman smiled. "I love you, too, Rika."

Not sure if she could continue to face her mom after such a confession, she nodded quickly and said, "I'm gonna head out now. Let me know … if anything happens." She quickly kissed her grandmother on the forehead and hurried from the room, not waiting for her mother to say anything else. Discarding the much-hated smock, she made her way back down the hall, feeling a little better inside.

"Rika?" Faye asked, standing as she saw her friend approach. "What's up? We leaving?"

"Yup," she replied as Takato climbed to his feet as well. "Mom's staying later, but she told me to have the inviso-guard drive us all home."

"Sounds like a plan!" Faye agreed, grinning.

"Um," Takato said hesitantly, looking between the two girls. "What's an 'inviso-guard'?"

Faye giggled as Rika smirked. "Guards hired by my mother. They're kinda like secret service, in a way. They follow us when needed, but they're never noticed."

"I … see," Takato muttered, a little floored by the fact that Rika had her own security guards.

"Don't worry," she added, patting him on the shoulder. "They don't follow 24/7. Although, actually, they might start doing that now that Justin's back on the prowl…"

"Sounds a little creepy if you ask me," Takato said, involuntarily shivering.

"Oh, believe me," Faye chirped, "It is. Can you imagine being like eight and discovering anytime you were with your best friend in public someone was watching you?"


"Shut up, Faye. It wasn't like that."

"Oh, yes it was, Rika m'dear."

"Feel free to ignore her, Takato. You know how she gets."

Faye hmphed and pouted, crossing her arms. "I admit, when you first told me it was a little cool, 'cause it was kinda like you were the president with all those people willing to die for you."

"Whatever, Faye-Faye."

"Argh! Just when I thought you had forgotten!"

"Why would I forget something so grand, Faye-Faye?" Rika chuckled, annunciating the nickname slowly.

"Bah. Can we leave already?"

Takato laughed softly as Rika nodded, leading the three of them back to the elevators. It was a silent walk down to the car, but for some reason, Rika felt a hell of a lot happier leaving the hospital than she had upon arrival.


MD: Heh? Not discontinued. It just went through... a long hiatus. Very. Long. But you can give much thanks to my beta, Ash (Yomi TC here on ffdotnet), for she is also my newest muse, acquired when needed most.
Actually, you can also blame her for taking a while to beta, for this chapter was actually finished like last week.
I already started chapter 22, so with some musing if needed, it should not be as long a wait again.

V is for VICTORY!