Yuuki's statement was met with silence. Stunned silence on the most part, but most definitely horrified silence on my part.

Did he just say what I thought he said?

I glanced around the room again. Everyone was still staring at Yuuki, and Yuuki was still beaming broadly.

The sinking feeling in my stomach got worse, not unlike a black hole that was rapidly devouring all of the happiness and normalcy in my life. And Yuuki's only making it worse. Why would he even think that that's a good idea? He knows I don't want any more weirdness in my life! I felt the urge to bash my head against the nearest hard substance while laughing hysterically at the top of my lungs.

Minato was the one to finally break the silence. "Yuuki… that's a brilliant idea!"

"What? No! That's a horrible idea," I yelped, trying to figure out how he even thought that it was a good idea.

To add injury to insult, Yuuki pouted at me, façade never slipping from the endearing one that he presented. "Aww… You don't like it, Onee-san?"

Of course I don't like it! I glared at him and was rewarded with a flash of mirth in his wide, innocent eyes. He's totally doing this to torture me. Why, Yuuki? Why?

Tsubaki shot me a slightly accusing look, as if to say, "How dare you upset the adorableness!" Ryo and Akira just mostly looked surprised, but they were quickly getting over it.

Then, suddenly, Minato frowned, an expression that didn't look too at home on his face. "Yuuki, there's a problem with this."

My heart leapt. Someone finally saw sense! Thank –

"What if she, although the thought is almost ridiculous, doesn't choose either of my sons?"

Any hope I felt vanished and I slumped. Is he serious? That's his complaint? That's not normal. I know that's not the normal response.

Yuuki tapped a slender finger to his lips thoughtfully. "You have a point… Well, how about whoever wins her heart, period, gets your company, no matter who it is? Or, if neither of them can win her over, then they just share the company." He paused, and then added, somehow still managing to sound innocent, "Or… If they both win over her heart, then I suppose they'll share the company, too."

Minato rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Interesting… But no on the idea of them sharing the company. I tried to share the responsibilities of running my company with my brother years ago. It taught me one very important thing. Never go into business with family. But… I love it, Yuuki! Whoever wins Umeko's heart will become the heir of my company! A battle of wits, brawn, and charm between men for the heart of a beautiful woman!" He sighed. "What a enchanting story…"

Okay, that's it. He's obviously insane, or maybe just out of touch with reality and living in his own dreamland where this sort of thing is perfectly fine.

"That's not going to happen," I said, "It's absolutely ridicul-"

I was cut off as people murmured agreement to the plan. All of them. Even Akira.

I stiffened and turned my head to look at him, since his arms were still around me. "Please tell me that you didn't just agree to this… farce."

He twitched one shoulder in an imitation of a shrug. "Well…"

I stomped on his foot for good measure, and he gave a stifled groan of pain, releasing me. "I can understand Ryo agreeing to this, but you?" I demanded.

"Hey," Ryo exclaimed, frowning. "I resent the implications of that."

I glanced back and forth from their faces. I can't believe this. They're actually serious about it. That's so utterly retarded. Is it a guy thing? Something about competitions? Stupid testosterone. But just… No. I'm putting my foot down. And if it doesn't work figuratively, then I'll do it literally… on someone's head… with the pointiest heels I can find.

I grabbed Yuuki's arm and then shot the most non-disturbed-looking smile I could manage at the people who were currently under Yuuki's spell. "Would you excuse us for a moment? I'd like to talk to Yuuki alone. Thank you," I said, and then promptly dragged Yuuki out of the room.

"Wahh! Oneechan, you're hurting me!" he wailed, flailing his arms.

My eye twitched, and I whipped around and stalked towards him, cornering him against the wall. "Don't even try that cute stuff with me, you little demon. What the hell are you thinking? I can't accuse you of not thinking, because you're always thinking and scheming. So, that begs the question… Why? Why are you doing this? Do you hate me? Is that it? Or could you possibly think that my life is too normal?" My voice had taken on an admittedly hysterical tinge.

Why would Yuuki do this to me? What have I done to deserve it? I mean, all he does is make profit off of our quasi-friendship, and… Oh. Reality hit me in the face like a fan-girl's photo-book, and hysteria was replaced with righteous anger.

"You did this just to get another book out of it, didn't you? This whole mess would be worth chapters, which translates into yen in your mind. Is that it?" I glowered at him.

He, in turn, looked up at me with big, liquid eyes, a hint of sparkling tears gathered at the corners of his eyes. "How could you accuse me of something so horrible as to make your life more difficult for the mere purpose of making money? I would never do something so horrible to my oneechan…"

I faltered slightly. He actually looked hurt at the accusation. Maybe I went too far. I mean, he's never actually done things one purpose to hurt me… too much.

His lips were turned down into something deeper and more downcast than his usual pout.

"Yuuki, I…" I swallowed. Did I actually hurt him? A pang of guilt went through me. "I'm sorry, I should have known that you wouldn't do that," I said quietly, reaching out and hugging him.

Immediately, he wrapped his thin arms around me. "It's okay… And besides, I didn't do it for the money, that's just a bonus. You were closer to the truth the first time."

I stiffened. What did he just say? I pulled away from him slowly. "So you hate me?"

"What? No! When I said more like the first one, I meant more like your life has been too normal. Not that I'm saying it's too normal, but… I think your love life needs help. I mean, it's taking way too long! I expected you to have a boyfriend by now. At least one, maybe two even."

A choking sound reached my ears, something that sounded like a rooster with a golf-ball in its throat was being subjected to electrical shock treatment. And then I realized it was me making the sound.

He's doing this because he doesn't like how my love life is?

"Geh…" I could almost feel part of my brain melting. And then I exploded. "What do you mean you don't like my love life? You… It's not active enough for you? I have so many people chasing me as a boy, a girl, and Umeko that I don't know what to do! Not only that, but more people keep on becoming interested in me. It's like I'm exuding pheromones. Why on earth would you want to make it more complicated?" I couldn't even begin to wrap my head around his reasoning.

He made a tutting sound, rocking back on his heels slightly. "We're talking about two different things. You're talking about all of the people who are chasing you. I agree you have a lot. I'm talking about a boyfriend. Oh, and they need to be able to deal with the craziness of your life, and beat off any people who are chasing you. I think Akira would do nicely. But so would Kaito, and maybe Shiro… Ryo's always a possibility, though…" he said musingly.

I couldn't do anything but gape at the person who was irrevocably, undeniably, and systematically destroying all semblance of normalcy in my life.

He's doing this because he thinks he's doing the right thing for my personal life. Yuuki's doing this because he wants me to be… happy? I tried to follow the logic of his thought processes. So, to make me happy… he has to destroy my normalcy and happiness further.

Almost as if he knew what I was thinking, he smiled sweetly, and said, "You know what they say, 'It's always darkest before the dawn'. This competition is just what's needed to fix this. For some reason, guys can't help but rise to the occasion when there's a competition. I'm guessing that you'll have a boyfriend within the next two… Hm. No, you're really stubborn, so I need to take that into account, too…" He trailed off, mumbling cutely, as if he was discussing which plushie to get instead of how to ruin my life.

And… The urge to strangle him was back.

"Yuuki, no. I-I appreciate that you want to help me, but this isn't the way to go about it. I don't need a boyfriend, and I have the horrible feeling that even if I got one, people would still chase me. So, just go back in there and use your cute-ness powers of persuasion to convince people that you were wrong about the whole idea, okay?"

He tilted his head to the side, pondering my request, and then said, "Nah. I still think it's a good idea. Remember, Yui. Yuuki knows best."

He… I … I stared at him. He's not going to change his mind, either. And what does he mean, "Yuuki knows best?" I'm having flashbacks of Big Brother here. I racked my brain for any idea that would make him listen to me.

"Yuuki… Don't make me tell Ayano about this," I threatened, expecting him to go pale at her very name.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen in the slightest. There was an almost imperceptible flinch at her name, but then a smirk slid its way onto his face. "You know what? I don't think she'd mind. At all."

That's totally not true! Ayano would listen to what he's planning on doing and… and… Oh, god. She'd probably help him. Because no matter who I choose this way, they get Minato's company, and that, by association, means I'd get it, too, and Ayano would love that… I'm doomed.

I slumped, fighting the urge to slide to the floor, curl up in the fetal position, and bemoan my life. I glared at Yuuki. This is all his fault. "I should put you over my knee and spank you."

He raised an eyebrow, smirk becoming more apparent and slightly more suggestive. "Oh, really?"

I gulped. Why… does he sound so interested? Scratch that, I don't want to know. There's absolutely nothing I can do to fix this. No one's going to listen to me.

Trying not to look like I was crying inside, I walked back into the room, Yuuki still smirking in a way that sort of perturbed me. I let my gaze trail around the room. Tsubaki and Minato were in deep conversation, something about making plans and a press conference.

That better be about some other business.

And Ryo and Akira were glaring at each other in some sort of weird standoff. Or, to be more accurate, Ryo was glaring, and I halfway expected him to pull the gun he'd had in my dream out and blast Akira with it. Akira was smirking more, hands shoved in his pockets, casually.

I scoffed inwardly. Guys. They're already getting competitive about this.

In one last-ditch attempt to save myself from what I knew was going to a very unpleasant experience, I turned to Minato. "But don't you want to leave your business to one of your sons. It's your life's work!"

He shook his head. "Ryo is only interested in technology, and Akira has his own business. This works perfectly for me. And it's so romantic…" He was going starry-eyed again.

That's it. I give up. You can't reason with crazy people. Maybe I can leave the country so I don't have to deal with this…

I moved to leave, but Tsubaki grabbed my sleeve. "Wait a minute! You said you'd deal with Ryo!" she growled, glaring at me.

Deal with him? Oh… The whole promising to make Ryo focus thing. Is there never an end to the stuff I have to deal with?

I stomped over to Ryo, interrupting his still ongoing staring contest with Akira.

Okay, how to go about this… I just need to reason with him, and… Oh, screw it.

I reached up and wrapped my arms around Ryo's neck, pressing close to him. "Ryo…" I said, fluttering my eyelashes at him. "You'll go and invent lots of things, right? All of those wonderful technologically advanced creations of yours? Because… it would make me really happy if you would." From under my lashes, I watched as his face steadily became pinker and a love-struck expression took over his face.

"You… You like my creations?" He sounded rather stunned, like it'd taken a taser to part of his brain.

I nodded, running my fingers through his short hair. "I do," I said breathily, channeling my inner Marilyn Monroe, and drifting even closer. "In fact, I love them."

I paused. Are… Are his glasses steaming up? His glasses were indeed started to fog up. Time to go in for the kill.

I stood up on the tips of my toes, brushing my lips against his, now beet red, ear, and murmured, "In fact… I think it's sexy when you go into mad-scientist mode, get that glint in your eyes. So, would you, Ryo? For me?" I let my hands slip down, brushing my fingers against his chest.

He didn't move for a moment, just stood there, muscles locked in place.

I wonder if that was too much. Maybe I broke him? Shoot. I didn't damage his brain, did I?

And then he burst into action, practically running from the room, and yelling, "To the lab, in the name of science!"

There was absolute silence in the room as everyone stared at me.

I shrugged, and gave them a weary glare. "Don't judge me. It was the quickest way I could think of." I turned to Tsubaki. "Happy now?"

She nodded, a notable flush on her cheeks.

Yuuki sniffed, a smile on his face, and muttered something about, "My little Yui is growing up."

Oh, for the love of… The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and I slowly turned around, only to meet narrowed grey-green eyes. Uh oh. Akira looked very much like he'd like to remove someone's intestines… with his teeth. Maybe I shouldn't have done that. His lips were pulled back in something that almost resembled a snarl, only increasing the resemblance to a wolf. Clearly, he wasn't happy with my… technique for dealing with Ryo.

He took a step towards me and I took a faltering one back.

"Akira…" I wasn't quite sure what to say. Probably something like, "Please get that homicidal look off your face. Or, if you have excess anger, please vent it on Yuuki."

He stalked towards me, and I couldn't back up quickly enough. The room spun as he swooped down and practically threw me over his shoulder.

What is he doing?! I whacked his back with my fists. "Akira, put me down! Put me down now," I said, trying to put as much authority as I possible could into the order.

He ignored me, besides letting out something that might have been a chuckle, wrapping one arm around my thighs to keep me from falling, and then striding out of the room.

I looked beseechingly at Yuuki, who was just watching with interest. "Yuuki, help me!"

He blinked at me. "Me? I don't know… I don't think Akira would like it if I interfered in the contest… Anyway, I'm sure you'll be fine. I'll see you later!"

"Traitor!" I yelled as Akira turned the corner out of the room. I am going to kill him. Or something worse. I need to think about this, but, in the mean time… "Akira, I'm serious. Put me down, now." Hopefully, he could feel the glare that was currently aimed at his back. It was the only part of him I could see, besides his legs and rather nice… No. No. No! I pulled my mind out of the gutter. I'm not giving into my hormones! My brain will prevail!

There was a ding that sounded rather like an elevator, and then Akira turned around, and I came face to face with several confused, flabbergasted, bewildered, bemused, clueless, disconcerted, and generally surprised people.

I was too annoyed to even blush.

One of the people, a middle-aged man, opened his mouth, and I cut him off. "Unless you can get him to put me down, please… just don't. I really don't want to explain this."

His mouth clamped shut.


Another woman spoke hesitantly, her voice a whisper. "Is he kidnapping you?"

I thought about it. Is he kidnapping me? I mean… I'm not really sure. I'm certainly not pleased that he's carrying me like his, but I do want to get out of here. Of course, this is kind of against my will, and I don't even know where he's going to take me. On the other side, if I say yes, then the situation is just going to get even more complicated.

I sighed. "It's complicated."

Her face became even more confused.

From behind me, I heard Akira say in a perfectly pleasant voice to someone I couldn't see, "If you stare at her once more, then you're going to find out all of the creative and painful things that I can do with two pens, a paper clip, and a rubber band."

There was a rather high-pitched yelp, and then silence, which grew tenser as each second passed.

If I can't see the guy, then he's probably behind me, meaning… Ah. He's staring at my butt. Lovely. I feel even more uncomfortable than I did before.

I squirmed. "Akira, put me down."

"Nope. You're barefoot. And probably tired."

"Who cares if I'm barefoot? And I'm not too tired to walk on my own! At least come up with some good excuses."

"Fine. How about I just want to carry you?"

"I…" Okay, that's really not fair when he says it in that voice. Why does he have to sound so honest about it? This is cheating, somehow.

The elevator dinged again, and Akira walked out, me still dangling over his shoulder.

As the elevator slid closed again, I heard one of the people exclaim suddenly, "Wait a minute… Wasn't that Umeko?"

Oh, yay. This is just going to be great. The gossip rags are going to have a field day with it. This just in: Idol Umeko kidnapped by mysterious, handsome stranger. I sighed, going limp after an unsuccessful attempt at sinking my knee into his stomach. Why can't I know any normal people?

Suddenly, he lifted me off of his shoulder, and I landed with a soft thump on… the seat of a car, his car to be exact. After shutting the door, he got in himself. For a moment, I debated making a run for it. But… He'd probably catch me, and where the heck would I run to? I don't have any money, and I'm not entirely sure where I am. Now, onto the next question. Where on earth is he taking me?

As the engine purred to life, he spoke, answering my unasked question. "I'm taking you back to the academy. You've had a long day."

I blinked. That's… so much more normal than I was expecting. "Thanks."

"Plus," he added, "This gives me more time to spend with you."

Stupid sweet demon person… I sank back into the seat, not even minding that much that he seemed to be driving far past the normal speed limit.

The next thing I knew, someone was softly calling my name.

Nooo… Five more minutes.

Something warm brushed my cheek, and I tilted my head to nuzzle against the phantom warmth. There was a chuckle, and I frowned slightly. Why does that sound so familiar?

"Yui... Get up."

I don't want to…

Something warm and soft pressed against my lips, and my eyes flew open as I scrambled backwards, only for my back to hit the door of the car.

"What do you think you're doing?" I shrieked, voice on the verge of breaking glass with its pitch.

Akira merely grinned. "You wouldn't wake up when I called your name, so I had to use more… creative means."

Bull! That is one of the worst excuses that I've ever heard. "You couldn't have just shaken my shoulder or something?" I demanded, perfectly logically and reasonably.

That earned me his grin taking on a distinctly roguish touch. "Now, where would the fun in that be?"

I just sputtered. Note to self. Definitely not safe to fall asleep in Akira's company… or Ryo's either probably… or Yuuki's. Not Takumi sempai either. Kaito's debatable. Wahh… I glared at him. It's not fair either that most girls probably would sell their grandmother's kidneys to wake up like that every morning, either.

With a final glare to let him know that I was not amused, which was probably less effective than it could have been thanks to my most likely flushed face, I glanced out the window.

What the…

What I was looking at was most definitely not Seikou Academy. It looked more like an old storage facility or store or something, with white paint peeling off slightly crumbling bricks and one large metal entrance.

Okay, I know I wasn't hallucinating when he told me that he was taking me back to Seikou. And I'm also fairly sure that his isn't Seikou. So, he lied and I'm being kidnapped. Possibly. And I really should be more disturbed about that.

I turned around, glaring. "This is not Seikou." The tone of my voice probably would have made Kouki cringe, but apparently Akira was made out of tougher stuff.

"I know, but you can't really go back there dressed like that, can you?" he asked, gesturing towards my dress-clad form.

I… hadn't even thought about that. Argh! Get yourself together, woman! Being chased by fans, discovering two of your love interests are half-brothers, and then getting roped into a marriage contest is no excuse to forget to cross-dress! I thought back on the sentence. Wow. That just proves how messed up my life is.

"Right. Thank you. But why are we here? And, speaking of that, where exactly is here?"

"This is my place," he answered, having somehow gotten out of the car and helped me out of it while I was berating myself. "And we're here because you need a change of clothes, so you can borrow mine." As he spoke, he unlocked a large padlock, and drew up the metal entrance, ushering me underneath.

Why do I have the feeling that this is just an excuse to get me into his place? Because it probably is.

I straightened up and glanced around.

The first impression was sort of creepy, and forbidding, and generally horror movie-esque. Steel hooks hung from a motionless conveyer belt in twisting lines across the large room, with gleaming trays underneath, leading into funnels and offshoots. In the far corner of the room, there were several items that looked suspiciously like rotary saws. A shiver ran up my spine, and not a good one.

Right, so either he brought me here to murder me and saw me into little, bitty pieces, or…

"This used to be a meatpacking company, but they went out of business, and I got the property at a good price. The location is getting more popular, so it'll be prime real estate in a few years. I live on the second floor, though. I just conduct business down here. Come on," he explained, most likely noticing my uneasy expression.

I noticed drains in the floor. Uh huh. And what sort of business would that be? I followed him up a metal staircase and though another doorway. Now this is more like what I was imagining… Sort of.

His flat, if it could be called that, was eclectic. The walls were all the brick of the building, unpainted except where someone had done a rather cool, slightly abstract graffiti of a sports car in spray paint. The floor was dark grey concrete, and the floor plan was completely open, meaning I had a view of a kitchen filled with gleaming chrome appliances, a king-sized bed outfitted with dark red, almost burgundy sheets, a table that was a sheet of glass over an old oil drum, complete with the brand's logo, a light fixture that appeared to be made out of neon signs, and several chairs that were old, weathered crates. It looked like the television shows where people took old items and repurposed them into new furniture and creative artwork had gone free-for-all on the room.

I'm not entirely sure this could be more different than Ryo's taste.

"What do you think?" I turned to see Akira watching me, eyes trained on my expression.

"I like it. It suits you, in some odd way."

"Good." And for some reason, that one word seemed to hold more meaning then just approval. "Come on, let's get you changed." He pointed over at what appeared to be a shipping container situated a few yards from the bed. "You can take anything you'd like from in there. There might be something that fits you."

I was almost surprised that he didn't move to follow me as I padded silently across the room.

Huh. So he really did bring me here just so that I could change my clothes, not to take advantage of me at all. That's actually rather unexpected, and a relief.

The inside of the container was completely filled with racks of clothes, stands with hats and ties, shelves for shoes, and drawers. One entire wall was a mirror. He actually had a walk-in closet.

I'm jealous. Can I count that as proof that my femininity hasn't been completely squashed by my time cross-dressing? I ran my fingers over a stand made out of old gears from which necklaces now hung. Yep. Sort of jealous. Okay, focus. Clothing. The sooner I dress as a guy, the sooner I can get back to Seikou, crawl under my covers, and pretend that my life didn't just get more complicated.

I eyed the clothing, searching for pants that either seemed like he'd outgrown them or had enough stretch that they wouldn't fall off, and a shirt that would hide the fact I had a figure.

A couple of minutes later, I gave a slow twirl in front of the mirror, eying myself critically. I had on a pair of torn grey pants that were extremely baggy on me, being held up by a belt, but would probably be skin-tight on Akira, a violet shirt with a black tie, a black vest over that, and my breasts were bound down with one of his scarves in an attempt to make myself look flatter. I'd pinned my hair into a bun with a rogue pencil I'd found, and I'd given up on trying to find shoes that would fit, since I could almost fit both of my feet in one of his shoes.

Well, I don't look too much girlier than I usually do when I'm dressed as a guy, not that that's saying much. At least I won't be going back to Seikou wearing a dress. That would be bad. Very bad. Either the boys would recognize me as Umeko, or they'd think that I was cross-dressing, neither of which are things I want to go through.

I stepped out of the closet to find Akira sprawled on his bed, long legs dangling off the edge, arms folded behind his head. His eyes fixed on me, and he sat up, signaling for me to come closer with a crooked finger.

I obliged, feeling slightly uncomfortably and flattered in a way that I probably shouldn't as his eyes raked over me.

"You know what?" he said finally, "I think I like you in my clothes."

Do. Not. Blush. It just encourages them. Instead, I shook my head. "Right. Don't get used to it."

Before I could move or react, he reached out and grabbed me around the waist, pulling me forward, and then I was in his lap, legs on either side of his, anchored firmly in place by his hands on my hips.

Now seemed like a good time to blush, and I did it spectacularly, most likely the color of the neon red sign hanging overhead. I wouldn't even be surprised if I was glowing, too.

"Akira! So not appropriate!" I yelped, managing a scolding tone, and placed my palms on his chest, trying to push away.

"I can honestly say that being appropriate is something no one's ever accused me of," he said with a wicked grin, and then his expression became more serious, softer somehow, too. "I could get used to it, you know. Very easily."

Um… What are we talking about again? I think we might have just switched topics, and my brain didn't make the transition.

"Excuse me?"

One warm thumb stroked the skin on my hip absentmindedly. "I could get used to seeing you in my clothes. Walking around my apartment." He flipped us over suddenly, so that I was trapped between him and the softness of the bed.

My breath hitched in my throat as callused fingers brushed my cheek, sweeping downwards towards my lips.

"What do you think, Yui?" he asked, thumb grazing my lip with a feather's touch.

My brain had turned into a pile of goo, no longer capable of processing all of the reasons that the situation was a very bad idea and why I should run for the nearest exit as fast as I could, or kick him so hard that all of his relatives felt the pain. In fact, the arguments didn't really seem to matter at all anymore.

Almost without my permission, I reached up and slid an arm around his neck, fingers brushing silky hair.

"I-" I started, and then –

– the door burst open, slamming into the brick wall with a forceful "crack!"

"Akira! We've got a problem. It's the – Oh…" Riku's voice trailed off when he saw us.

Like my mind was a computer suddenly getting an upgrade, it rebooted, and along with it came all of my common sense, which had disappeared mysteriously a few minutes before. I scrambled out from under a very tense Akira.

Riku was ever so slowly backing towards the door, face wary and more than a little nervous as he fixed his eyes unblinkingly on Akira. It reminds me of something I saw on television where the prey was waiting for the predator to make a move… and weighing its chances of surviving the encounter unscathed.

Akira's expression was thunderous and very clearly spelled out doom for Riku, if the sudden pallor of his face was anything to go by.

Unhurriedly and with a sort of dangerous grace, Akira stood up and turned to face Riku. "What exactly was so important that you had to barge in here?"

Unlike Ayano's voice, which got sweeter the more livid she was, Akira sounded exactly like how he felt. He sounded like he'd very much like to hang Riku from one of the meat hooks in the room below and use a carving knife to ever so slowly peel the flesh from his bones… while he was still alive, and maybe giving him blood transfusions so that he could feel the pain longer before dying of blood loss. Gruesome.

Riku gulped audibly, but straightened his back, and reported in an only slightly trembling voice, "It's the last shipment that we did with Tobi. He double-crossed us and took the shipment. We've got him downstairs, but we don't know where the batch is, and the drop is in twenty-four hours. Even if we can delay the drop, the shipment will only be safe while the coolant is still working. That's thirty-six hours, maximum. So, that's why I um… Interrupted. I thought you'd want to know. My apologies, boss. I didn't realize that you had company." He gave a little wave to me. "Hi, Yui."


Akira's scowl was still very clearly in place, but he at least seemed to realize the urgency of the situation.

I cleared my throat awkwardly and slid off of the bed. "I-I think that I'm going to go now… I should get back to Seikou, and you obviously are busy, so I'll just go and catch a bus or something," I said in the calmest voice I could muster, which undoubtedly sounded like I was suffering from the worse case of nerves ever, or that I was recovering from coming face to face with a giant, semi-bionic, human-eating killer clown.

Akira ran a hand over his face roughly, emitting a displeased and disgruntled growling sound, and then let out a huff of irritation. "Yeah, you should probably go, but it's getting late, and I don't want you taking a bus. Riku, drive Yui back to Seikou, and then report back here, got it?"

Riku nodded hurriedly.

I edged around the bed and paused beside Akira. What exactly does one say in a situation like this? I'm not entirely sure if I'm disappointed or relieved that that situation was interrupted by your minion?

Akira took the choice of what to say right out of my hands by taking my hands in his. He didn't pull me towards him like he had before, or anything like that. He just stood there, larger hands clasped around mine, and murmured. "I'll see you again soon, Yui. And just remember… I liked you before this competition thing of my father's started. I like you because of you, and for no other reason. I don't care about the company."

He's so… earnest about this. I sighed inwardly. Despite the fact that he's a demon, a delinquent, and I think he might be bewitching me somehow, he really is an at least semi-good person.

It seemed just wrong to leave without saying something, so standing on tip-toe, I pressed my lips to his cheek, and smiled. "I know. I never doubted that."

Riku cleared his throat in the background, and I realized that the situation was quickly becoming one of those romantic, mushy scenes in the movies where music played in the background while the two main characters gazed into each other's eyes, the parts that I always fast-forwarded through.

Clearing my throat in turn, I disentangled my hands from Akira's and backed away, still feeling distinctly awkward. "Right. I'm just doing to go… now."

Akira's smirk was back, and he started to unbutton his shirt. "Okay. I have business to take care of, but I'll see you soon, Yui, you can count on that. And maybe we can continue where we left off, before we were interrupted."

Riku winced, understanding that he still wasn't completely forgiven.

"Oh, and Riku? Tell the guys that I'll be down shortly. I just want to change into something that won't stain."

Won't… stain? That sounds extremely sketchy. And potentially painful for this poor Tobi person.

Riku moved to grab my hand, since my brain and my body didn't exactly seem to be cooperating with each other, and then paused with a glance at Akira, jerking his hand back to himself. "Yui, let's go."

I nodded, still feeling kind of nervous about what had just happened, but apparently I was the only one. Riku was too busy fearing for his life, and Akira was in the middle of changing, his shirt already halfway off.

I did an about-face and marched out the door. That's it. I'm going to ask the school doctor for some highly questionable pharmaceuticals that will tone down hormones. Although, with my luck, and the school doctor that we have, I'll wind up ingesting some radical, and possibly radioactive, treatment for bunions and then actually turn into a guy with an extra eye and super powers or something.

From the chuckle that followed me out the door, Akira roughly knew what I was thinking.

I hurried down the steps to the ground floor, and then paused at the sight in front of me.

What the heck?

A group of guys, a couple of whom I vaguely recognized from when Akira rescued me from Masao when he kidnapped me, were standing in a circle around a guy with his hands tied over his head and hanging from on of the rather sinister meat hooks. With badly bleached orange, reddish hair, a bruised, swollen cheek that made him look like he had mumps, and a cut on his temple, he didn't look so well.

"Hi…" I said hesitantly.

The guys, excluding the one on the meat hook, saluted me, for some reason. "Hi, Yui."

Okay, and they all know my name. That's only a little weird.

I chose to ignore it, and asked conversationally, "So, what's going on here?"

Some of the guys exchanged uneasy glances. "I don't know if we should tell you. No offense meant, but the boss might get upset if we did anything to mess up your innocence or something like that. You know, mentally scar you."

I snorted. "Mentally scar me? Please, by this point in my life, I think my entire psyche is made up of scars. What's happening here is probably going to be the most normal part of my whole day."

And it's really, really sad that that just may be the truth. Honestly, what is wrong with my life?

Well –, Metoo started.

Never mind. That was a rhetorical question.

They glanced towards Riku, and he sighed. "Yui, this is Tobi. I think you heard what he did upstairs."

Oh, so this is the guy who double-crossed Akira. A sudden thought, which I really shouldn't have been having, took hold of me. I'm in an old meatpacking place with people who are basically gangsters who are about to torture a double-crosser for information on where the package is… This sounds just like those mobster movies I love. All it needs are some accents and someone named Fat Joey or something like that. This may be my only chance to pretend to be in a mafia movie…

Later, I would reflect back on my decision, which seriously went against my generally good morals, and blame what I did on the insanity of the day leaking into my mind.

"And you haven't gotten him to talk yet?" I asked.

Riku shook his head, looking at me curiously.

Casually, I walked over to the controls of one the machines. "Do these still work?"

"Yeah, but-"

I pressed a giant red button, and the machines whirred into life. With a jerk, the hooks on the conveyer started to move, and Tobi along with them.

"Hey! What are you doing?"

I smiled at him, channeling my inner Ayano. "Just speeding things along. So, Tobi, where's the shipment?"

He sneered at me. "Like I'm going to tell you."

Oh, really? Well, if that's how he wants to play it…

I pressed another button, and the harsh grating of saws filled the air.

Tobi paled, and stared at the saws fixedly. "H-hey now… Turn that off." He was on a direct collision course with the saws.

I whistled innocently. "I'm sorry, I seem to have forgotten how." I gave a little gasp. "Oh! Just like how you've forgotten where the shipment is. What a coincidence, huh? Maybe, just maybe… if you remembered, I would, too."

He moved steadily closer to the saw, somehow getting paler as he went, and said nervously, "Stop joking around, and turn the thing off."

I shook my head, face a picture of contriteness. "Sorry, but my memory's not very good. It's a good thing that everything in here can be washed down with a hose, isn't it? And how lucky! I'm wearing dark clothes, too, so they won't stain. I wonder how far blood splatter from saws flies..."

By now, he was only a couple of yards away and writhing like mad, jerking on the hook with bound hands. "You're crazy! Stop her! Someone stop her! She's going to kill me!" he shouted, whites of his eyes showing.

No one moved to stop me. In fact, no one moved at all. They were all staring at the scene unfolding before them like it was a movie and they really wanted to know the ending.

"Let me make this perfectly clear. You tell me where the shipment is, and I let you live. You're useless otherwise, you know," I said plainly, paused, and then couldn't resist adding, "Capiche?"

"Okay! Okay, I'll tell you, just turn off the saw!" he wailed, trying to arch away from the ever closer blades.

What, really? That was almost too easy. Now… How exactly do I turn this off? I pulled on a lever, and to my horror, but probably more Tobi's, the conveyer sped up, brining him ever closer to the saw.

He shrieked in terror.

Uh oh. How do I turn this off? Where is the off button! Panic was rising now. I'm going to commit homicide. Nooo! I'm not going to do well in jail, and I don't want to give the universe, and karma, a reason to actually hate me. And he may be a scumbag, but that doesn't mean he should get sawed in half. Plus, I always thought that if I wound up committing homicide, it would be when I just cracked suddenly from strain and started attacking people with a screwdriver or something.

I pressed another button, and another saw, one on a rotating arm, came to life. Tobi screamed.

Why doesn't this thing have clear instructions?! And then I saw it. A fragment of a yellow and black label that said "top". Top? But the first letter is missing, so… Stop! I slammed by hand down on the button, and the entire factory line ground to an abrupt halt. I let out a sigh of relief. And that's why you always read the instructions.

After the deafening, shrill, roar of the saws, the sudden silence seemed out of place. I looked up, only to find everyone staring at me. Riku and the other assorted minions with a sort of staggered disbelief on their face, and Tobi with one of unspeakable horror, like I was some sort of malevolent fiend from the depths of the earth sent to torture him.

Then, gradually, their expressions changed to one of blatant admiration, which I somehow found more disturbing, except Tobi's expression, which didn't change.

While two of them set about getting a shaking Tobi down, another clasped my hand, eyes shining. "That was totally inspired! How you pretended to be innocent while sending him to his imminent doom and then accidently made it go faster instead of turning it off! A piece of art."

Right… Accidently making it go faster. Heh heh… eh. I think I just won't mention that Tobi was about ten seconds from getting split in half.

"I'm… glad you liked it?" I said unsurely, shaking his hand as what I had just done actually became apparent to my severely messed up mind.

Oh my… I just… No. I almost cut a guy in half. With a saw. What have I become?

I looked at Tobi, who was now on the ground, trembling violently. One of the guys standing over him asked roughly, "Now, you're going to tell us where it is, right?"

Tobi didn't answer, giving a body-wracking shudder instead.

The guy scowled, and prodded the now nerve-wracked thug with his foot. "Don't make me bring her back over here," he threatened, pointing in my direction.

"Nooo! No! Don't do that! I'll tell you everything!"

When did I become something to threaten people with? Probably since I almost CUT HIM IN HALF! There is something fundamentally wrong with me. Cross-dressing has twisted my soul, and the other part is owned by Yuuki.

I turned to Riku, who was watching the proceedings with an almost smug look.

"Riku?" I asked in a small voice, wrapping my arms around myself, "Can we go now, please?"

Yeah, before I start shooting people and dancing about waving their entrails or something equally as unstable, illegal, and unpleasant?

Probably noticing that I looked like I was going to start crying, the blond delinquent, who's fashion sense had apparently gotten worse, as shown by his bright green pants with more rips than fabric and his shirt that had enough studs cause a metal detector to malfunction, nodded and strode towards the door. "Yeah, let's go."

I followed him out, and into a nondescript car that was already waiting. We slid into the back seat, and Riku gave the directions to another delinquent who was driving. "Seikou Academy…" He snuck a glance at me and then added, "And try to drive smoothly. Don't take any sharp turns or do any erratic driving."

Right. He probably doesn't want me to have a heart attack or something. I can't believe I just… No. Maybe that was all just a massive hallucination brought about by the day's events on my psyche.

"Did I just threaten to cut someone in half?"

Riku looked mildly surprised by the question. "Why, yes you did."

I thought so, I just really hoped that I didn't. I whimpered. It must be the Ayano genes coming through. They've lain dormant this whole time, but now they're coming to the surface. And it's absolutely appalling that that actually makes sense to me. But, if I think about it, half my genes come from Hayate and half from Ayano, and, obviously, her genes would be dominant. I mean, look at them! Somehow, all of the craziness that's going on is activating them, because I flatly refuse that I would do that sort of thing on my own. I'm a nice, semi-normal, slightly unhinged, but only because of the circumstances, cross-dressing girl. Wah… I used to just be able to say that I was a nice girl.

A hand hesitantly patted my shoulder. "Yui? Are you alright? If you're upset about the exquisite job of intimidation and terrorizing that you did back there, please don't be. It was a very efficacious and appropriately carried out interrogation. Granted, I'd never expect you to do it, and it was a bit farther than we usually take things, but, nonetheless, it was a marvelous to watch. A truly sublime job, especially at the end where you pretended to not know how to shut off the machine and instead made it faster."

Efficacious? He still sounds like he swallowed a dictionary, and… His favorite part is where I really almost killed the guy.

I let out a pathetic sound that was halfway between a whimper and a sob. "It wasn't an act."

He cocked his head to the side. "I'm sorry?"

"It wasn't an act… I didn't know how to stop it."

Understanding washed over his face, and he paled. "Oh… That would have been…"He struggled to find the right words. "… unfortunate."

I curled up into a ball, and he suddenly looked like he understood why I looked like I was about to have a nervous breakdown.

There was a silence that wasn't quite awkward, but more anxious somehow, and then he said, "Yui… Would you like a hug? It always calms down my little sisters, and I get the impression that you acutely need one."

I nodded, probably piteously, and he scooted over on the seat to sit next to me, reaching one arm out and curling it around me comfortingly. "It's alright. I sincerely believe you when you said that that was doubtless the most conventional and normal part of your day, and perhaps that is one reason for you doing what you did. In addition, no harm was done to Tobi, except psychologically, of course, and I can refer him to an exceptional psychologist for that. We actually did far more physical damage to him. So please, don't feel guilty over what occurred," he said, all in a calm, even, and extremely literate tone of voice. And then, in a quieter voice added, "And please don't let Akira know that I hugged you. I rather like all of my limbs attached how they are to my body."

I almost laughed at that, and then leaned against Riku. You know, it's rather nice to be hugged by someone who doesn't have any ulterior motives. Refreshing, actually. I should obviously go to Shouta more for hugs, except Takumi sempai and who knows who else would probably find out and think that I liked him, and things would get even more complicated. For each action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, except it would be more like, I did something, it got misconstrued horribly, and then the reaction was gargantuan and completely mind-boggling in a bad way.

Riku gave me a squeeze, somehow realizing that my brain was frying. "I'm sure whatever else you're troubled about will work itself out," he said soothingly.

I just looked at him, and then shook my head and sighed. He's so innocent. Of course things won't work themselves out. It's like a ball of yarn. You can try to straighten it out, but it's just going to get more tangled and complicated until you either give up or wind up completely insane and spend the rest of your life with a permanent twitch in your left eye, an intense fear of bishonens, agoraphobia, xenophobia, tons of other phobias I don't know the names of, and the feeling that your soul is damaged beyond all repair.

And then I realized he was staring at me, looking vaguely shocked and mildly disturbed.


"I said that all out loud again, didn't I?"

He nodded.

"Right… Yeah. You don't quite know my life well enough, and for your own sanity, you don't want to know it, or get involved in it any better probably. I'm not really dramatizing it, either, which is sort of appalling."

The driver cleared his throat, and I looked out the window. We were back at Seikou. I pulled out of Riku's hug and stared at the school in the fading light. It looked so utterly and completely normal and peaceful.

Oh, how looks can be deceiving.

Bracing myself mentally for whatever atrocity was about to occur once I stepped back onto the school grounds, I forced a smile to my face for Riku's sake.

From the look on his face, it just made me look like I was mentally disturbed. "Would you like me to escort you to your dorms, Yui?"

I imagined what would happen. Let's see… With my luck, Takumi sempai, along with everyone, probably, would be waiting for me in my room, and then proceed to get entirely the wrong idea, order a hit out on Riku, and therefore starting a gang war with Akira. The resulting madness would split Japan in half and start a civil war.

"Heh heh… Thanks for the offer, but I don't think that's a good idea. I'll be fine… or something. Anyway, bye, Riku. I'm sure I'll see you again soon, whether I want to or not."

He seemed to be trying to figure out whether to take it as a compliment or not, but nonetheless said, "Yes, farewell, Yui. I hope you have a pleasant, normal time until we next meet."

Is it my imagination or did he put a whole lot of stress on "normal"?

I gave him a wan smile. "I really, really would like that, but I'm not getting my hopes up. They tend to get dashed."

Yup. Like a still red-hot samurai sword through lychee jelly.

I tried to think of an appropriate farewell for him. "But thanks anyways. And I hope your… business dealing go well."

He grinned. "Well, thanks to you, I'm certain the most recent one will."

Aaand… That just reminds me that I almost cut someone in half. Lovely. With a final wave, I shut the door to the car, and it drove off.

There goes the most normal person I've met in a while… besides Shouta that is. Who else do I know that's actually normal? Daisuke is pretty normal. And so is Koji, if you leave out the fact that he detests me and is blackmailing me. Can I include anyone else? Leah's normal, and Noriko is sort of normal, besides being part cyborg. Nanami's… I'm not sure how to categorize her. I compared my list of normal people with the definitely-not-normal-in-any-meaning-of-the-word-p eople list. That seems horribly unbalanced.

I hugged myself in a moment of severe self-pity, and the crinkle of paper caught my attention. Riffling through my pockets produced a business card in the inner pocket of my vest. It read: X Y, psychologist specializing in trauma cases. I flipped it over. On the back, it read, "I highly recommend her. Just in case you find yourself in need of someone to listen, Riku".

When did he slip that into my pocket? Probably when I was in a stress induced partial coma from what I almost did. I moved to throw the card away and then paused. Well… It can't hurt to keep it.

And, with that, I made my trek back to the dorm rooms, thankfully running into no one I knew, and praying to every deity, god, divinity, divine or celestial being, immortal, idol, or any other powerful being that could save me from bizarre situations. I held my breath as I opened the door to Shouta and my room, hoping against all logic that it would be empty except for Shouta.

The door swung open.

The room had only one person in it, but it wasn't Shouta. It was Kaito.

He was wearing a dark blue tank top and a pair of worn jeans with his usual array of silver and black jewelry. And he was lounging on the floor in front of my bed, back pressed against the side of it.

"Kaito?" I asked, nonplussed. "What are you doing here?" He raised his eyebrows, and I added hurriedly, "Not that I'm not glad to see you, it's just… and where's Shouta?"

"Shouta's in the game room. Another guy challenged him to a game of pool. I'm here because my roommate has temporarily taken over our dorm room and I needed to leave before I did something that I'd regret to him, and, more importantly, because I want to be here. We haven't hung out much recently."

Since my mind was functioning in fragments, I took the sentences one at a time. Shouta's playing. Fine. Kaito's roommate. Wait. Roommate? That's weird. I've never met his roommate. And… we haven't been hanging out much, have we? That needs to be remedied.

Exhausted, I dropped down onto the bed, only for him to immediately tug me down to the floor by his side. Practically boneless, I leaned against him and closed my eyes.

I could feel his gaze on me.

Silence, and then, "So, where have you been all day?"

Where have I been… I felt like breaking into hysterical laughter or crying. Both options seemed feasible. I burst into rather unhinged giggles.

Kaito was looking at me unsurely. "That bad?"

You have no idea…

Sighing, he pulled me closer.

"Well, at least-" He didn't get to finish his sentence, because the program on the television was suddenly interrupted.

"Hello. We interrupt your televised broadcasting for an important announcement, brought to you by Arakaki industries."

I chill went down my spine at the last two words.

This cannot be good. The last time I got a feeling of premonition this bad, Kouki rented the house to make extra money while Ayano and Hayate were out of town on business. Of course, it turned out that they belonged to a really weird cult that worshipped, of all things, the great Cthulhu. Not only that, but he'd somehow managed to be the ritual sacrifice for one of their ceremonies. Thankfully, they hadn't actually tried to kill him, but he had mentioned, in a haunted mutter, something about an octopus and SPAM.

Ryo and Akira's father, Minato's, face flashed onto the screen, and the twisting, horrible, sickening, really, really, bad feeling that something detrimental to my mental well being was about to happen got even stronger. And he was smiling, a charming sort of smile that made me want to shoot things for some reason.

"Hello, and thank you for coming to this little press conference of mine. I know you're all curious as to what it's about. Telling you that it was about the future of this company was a little vague, wasn't it? I'll be more specific now. It is about the future of my company, but it's also about… young love."

Oh, dear god…

There was silence, and then one of the reporters off screen asked, "Young… love?" He sounded as confused as I was miserable, which was to say a lot.

Minato nodded emphatically. "Yes. Young love. I was able to witness, earlier today, an example of that beautiful, delicate, special, intangible thing. It was stunning. Truly, the most wonderful thing in the world." His eyes looked misty.

I had the sudden urge to give him a black eye.

Minato straightened his shoulders and smiled again. "As many of you know, my son, Ryo, has his own technology company, and my other son, Akira, has business pursuits of his own. Neither of them feel any particular calling for the fashion industry or for running a magazine. So, I've decided that the person who can win that lovely, youthful flower, Umeko's heart, will have my company."

Someone kill him now. Or me. Something. Anything.

There was another period of silence, shocked silence, and then all hell erupted. There was an uproar of comments and a flurry of animated questions directed towards obviously, at least from my perspective, the severely brain damaged man.

"Now, now. Calm down. One question at a time."

A young bespectacled man raised his hand swiftly. "By Umeko, I take it that you mean Umeko the lingerie-modeling internet idol? The very one that works for Lolly's lingerie?"

I'm not entirely sure how that description could get more ridiculous.

Minato nodded. "Yes, that's exactly who I mean. I had the fortune to meet her today, and, after a dear friend made a suggestion, I decided on this course. I'll make what I said earlier clearer, so that were won't be as many questions that you all need to ask. I, Minato Arakaki, will, when I retire, hand over my company to whoever, man or woman,"

Is that my imagination, or is he blushing?

Over his shoulder, I saw Tsubaki glower at him. He continued after clearing his throat. "Man or woman, they will inherit the entirety of my company and its subsidiaries."

The picture on the television switched to an excited young woman clutching a microphone. "And there you have it. This has come as a complete surprise, and, before any of you come to the conclusion that Mr. Arakaki's business must be failing, I hasten to reassure you that that is not the case. He gave us complete, up to date, and thorough documentation on the subject, and it's clear that his empire is doing better than ever. Moving onto the next part of this declaration: Umeko. Internet idol. Mysterious and beautiful. Lingerie model. All words associated with her. And now we can add one more to the list. Jackpot. There's always been the search to figure out who she really is, but, now, it's spreading like wildfire. Ever since the announcement, hackers have been working overtime, private investigators have been hired, and, according to one source, even a few members of our very own police force are using their resources to try and find her. I'd say it's only a matter of time before her identity is found. What do you think, Yamato? Yamato?"

The camera panned over to another reporter, a man with a cell phone, speaking in a low voice. "… Yeah. That'll work. Just hack the system. I'll hire an investigator, too. We should have her located by next week at the very latest…"

"Yamato! What the hell?"

He jerked his head up, eyes wide, and suddenly very aware that he was on camera. "... Shit."

The screen went black, with white lettering that said, "We are having technological complications, and the system will be back shortly. We apologize for the inconvenience."

Eyes unseeing, I stared at the television. This can't be happening. This cannot be happening. He had a press conference… about that-which-shall-not-be-mentioned-in-name. Why… why would he do this? No, why would karma do this to me? I know I haven't done anything to deserve this. For something like this to happen I would have had to drop kick a basket full of newborn puppies from a plane into the crater of an active volcano in a past life. What sort of sadist would do that? I mean, even if I was a cannibal who enjoyed skinning cats in my spare time, while they were alive, I wouldn't deserve this. Probably.

Kaito shook his head. "Too bad. She deserves to have her privacy. People can be such vultures."

I let out something that could have been interpreted as a cough but which was in reality some sort of strangled sob, and climbed into his lap, resting my head against his chest.


I could understand his confusion. I never voluntarily climbed into his lap.

"Bad day, that's all," I muttered, starting to move off of him. That might possibly be the worst understatement since Pangaea.

Warm hands pressed against my back, keeping me from leaving his lap. Then, gently, he pulled me closer again, so that my cheek was resting on his chest, and I was flat against him. One hand curled around my waist, and the other went to my hair, smoothing it down, almost like he was petting me. It was rather calming.

This is… nice.

I let myself relax, as he murmured, "It must have been really, really bad to get you worked up like this. But it's over with now. The day's almost over, and you can just go to sleep and relax. And if there's anything I can do, let me know. There's no one that I need to pummel, is there?"

I almost laughed at the thoughtful tone of his voice, paired with the words, and shook my head. If only it was that easy.

He continued. "No one? Fine. And however bad your day was, just think of this. It couldn't have been as bad as Umeko's, right?"

I can't believe that he just said that.

It was so utterly wrong, and yet somehow hilarious. This time, I wasn't able to stop the hysterical laughter that bubbled up and spilled out. "Not as... Hahaha… Not as bad! He he…" My eyes were watering from laughing too much, and I couldn't catch a breath.

He said it couldn't have been as bad as what happened to Umeko… That's so priceless. Because I am Umeko! And that was only a piece of what happened!

Umm… Are you alright? Because I'm part of you, not even the sane part, and I'm getting worried, Metoo said.

And then another voice, one that wasn't imaginary this time, asked, "Yui? Yui? Answer me! You're kind of freaking me out." Kaito's light blue eyes were worried, brows drawn together in a confused frown.

I'm freaking him out? I'm freaking me out, apparently. I tried to stifle my laughter, which only made it sound like the giggles of some deranged non-human creature instead. Okay, I've got to calm down. Otherwise, Kaito's probably going to take me to meet some very nice doctors in white coats, with big needles, padded rooms, and straightjackets.

I struggled to keep my face straight, and responded, "Y-yeah?"

"Are you okay?" he asked, very obviously trying to keep his voice calm and even, probably for fear of setting me off even further.

I swallowed back the burble of laughter that wanted to escape. That's it. I've finally lost my mind. That's got to be the explanation here, because everything suddenly seems so horrible that it's funny. Well, it's either I've gone insane, or I ate some funny mushrooms or something. Did any suspicious looking person offer me food recently? I don't think so.

I turned my wandering mind back to Kaito. Unfortunately, there seems to be a witness to my break in sanity. Okay, just calm down, Yui. Deep breaths.

I closed my eyes, exhaled slowly, and then opened them again. "I'm fine. Sorry about that. I think all of the stress was getting to me is all. So, I'm fine. I just needed to release some of the pent up crazy. I'm fine."

He looked at me skeptically, one eyebrow raised. "You do realize that you just said you're fine three times, right? Me thinks the lady doth protest too much."

"I'm not a lady!"

Cue awkward silence.

"It's just a figure of speech, Yui," Kaito said, patting my hair like I was an upset kitten or something.

Right. I know that… Heh heh… eh.

Kaito's fingers slid down to the curve of my neck soothingly. His other hand came up to cup my cheek, tilting my head so that I was looking at him. "Yui… I know I've told you this before, but if you need anything, you come to me, okay? You can tell me anything," he said softly.

Somehow, during the course of the conversation, I had indeed would up on his lap, and our faces were so close that I could see every detail. The new piercing he'd gotten, the fact that he'd bleached his hair again and trimmed it, shaggy strands lying messily. Everything.

I… I know him. I could tell him anything, I know I could, and he wouldn't care. I could finally stop lying to him and tell him the truth. And maybe…

"Kaito, I need to tell you something. I-"

And then the door opened.

Shouta burst in. "Yui! We have a problem!" Then, he actually saw me and Kaito and abruptly turned pink, doing an about face and then standing there awkwardly for a moment before turning back around determinedly. "Okay, sorry for interrupting whatever moment you and Kaito were having, but there are more important issues. Kaito, can you leave? I need to talk to Yui, alone."

I just stared at him, too tired to get off of Kaito's lap, with my mind running in, not circles, but more like decagons, which were far more difficult to try to run in, but knowing that if Shouta needed Kaito to leave, that it was most likely extremely important, and probably had something to do with me cross-dressing.

But what struck me most about the situation was the striking resemblance it bore to what had happened only an hour or so before. What on earth is going on in my life. This is… déjà freaking vu...

I sighed, and then, groaning, climbed off of Kaito's lap and stood up, smiling apologetically at Kaito. "Sorry…"

Kaito was still looking back and forth slowly from me to Shouta, face virtually expressionless.

Oh, no. He probably thinks that we don't trust him or something… Boys can be rather touchy.

I opened my mouth to try to explain, but, before I could, Shouta grabbed Kaito's arm, pulling him up off of the floor, and propelled him towards the open door. "Sorry, Kaito, but I need to talk to Yui now. It's important. Bye!" And then he shut the door in a very bewildered and definitely annoyed Kaito's face.

There was silence on the other side of the door for a moment, something that sounded vaguely like, "What the hell…" and then the muted sound of footsteps, which slowly disappeared.

I turned to Shouta. "What. The. Heck. Shouta. What's so important? Did Mamori break up with you? Or is this about me? What could be so important?"

Shouta stopped his frenzied pacing momentarily to gape at me in horror. "Mamori? Wait, did she say anything about breaking up with me?"

"No, that was just an example, now-"

But he'd already gone back to pacing.

Okay, enough is enough.

I planted myself firmly in his path and placed my hands on his shoulders, holding him still. "Shouta. Calm down. Deep breaths, okay? Now, tell me what's going on," I ordered, voice soothing but authoritative.

His knees buckled, and he collapsed back onto his bed. "Yui, I don't know how to protect you from this! I promised Mamori that I would, but this is huge!" He sounded absolutely miserable.

I really, really don't like how this sounds. I think my stomach just twisted itself into a noose, and it's trying to strangle my liver. Or that's how it feels at least. Something bad is about to happen, isn't it? Something very bad. Nooooo… I can't handle anything else bad happening today. My soul can't take it.

"Shouta… please tell me what's going on. You're scaring me."

Normally tan face unnaturally pale, Shouta swallowed and said, "A new headmaster is taking over the school, and… he's doing background checks on all of the staff and… physicals on all of the students."

At first, what he said didn't register, and then, all of the sudden, it did. That, of course, resulted in my mind imploding, or something that felt like that.

Physicals on all of the students, I thought faintly. All of them. But I can't get a physical! There's no way that someone, even that doctor we have, will mistake my anatomy for that of a guy's. I barely look like a guy with my clothes on! This is bad, this is very bad. And there's no way to get around physicals. Unless… Maybe if I had enough time I could get a doctor from outside the school to vouch that I'm a guy? Yuuki would probably be able to set that up.

I threw out the idea to Shouta with a hopeful expression on my face, which was immediately crushed when he shook his head solemnly and said, "That won't work, either. Part of the announcement was that all physicals will be done by the school's doctor… tomorrow."

Tomorrow? There goes that idea… Maybe Yuuki could blackmail the doctor? But there's no guarantee that that would work…

Now I was the one pacing frantically.

Shouta guided me to the bed and gently pushed me down before saying, "Yui… that's not all of it."

Not all of it? How can that not be all of it?

Then, he dropped an even bigger bomb. "There's a rumor going around that he's doing this, not just because he's taking over the school, but because… someone tipped him off that there was a student in the school that isn't what they seem. That… one of the students is a girl disguised as a boy."

Shock and silence greeted that sentence as I stared at him with rapidly growing horror, fear, dismay, alarm, panic, foreboding, dread, distress, and general disbelief.

No way… how could he know that? Who told him? I mentally ran through everyone who knew I was a girl. But none of them would tell… would they? But… those are the only people who know. Or, at least, they're the only ones I know who know. That's not a good thought. No, no. I need to think about this calmly. There's something wrong with this, too. If someone knew I was a girl and told, why not just say it's me? Why have the headmaster check everyone? That doesn't make sense. Unless it's just some sort of bizarre coincidence, and it doesn't really have anything to do with me at all. Yeah, right. What are the odds of that being the truth?

I pressed the heels of my hands into my eyes, trying to ease the now throbbing headache.

What do I do? If I do nothing, I'm going to get found out, tomorrow. But I don't see how I can fix this, unless I could find someone to stand in for me and take the physical examination. But they'd have to have around the same height, or a little taller, the same weight, hair color, eye color… Where on earth would I find someone like that on such short notice? I mean, it's not like I know anyone who looks like me…

My jaw dropped open, and I stared off blankly into space for a moment as my brain made connections that might save me.

Then, in a flurry of movement, I whipped open my computer and clicked open the photo's file, scanning through them until I found the one I was looking for. It was a picture of me and a boy grinning at the camera, both dressed in dresses after he'd insisted that he'd make a better looking girl than me.

Long black hair could be taken care of with a wig, and we already have the same eye color. We actually look a lot alike. After all, we should, we're siblings after all. There's one person who might be able to save me. Possibly the last person I ever thought would. Kouki.

Hello! I'm back, and here with another chapter. I can honestly say that this is the longest chapter I've ever written... ever. I'm pretty sure I was blushing when I was writing certain parts of it, too. Ah... Yuuki does just love making Yui's life difficult, doesn't he? But his heart is in the right place, sort of. Anyway, I just want to reassure you all that I am still alive and writing this story, even though it's a while between updates. And, I have some announcements. One, in addition to the new avatar for this story that I mentioned last time (Come on! Look at it! It's so freaking adorable. Almost as cute as Yuuki. Bow down before the cuteness!) someone else is doing fanart, too. And it's amazing! Jazzanimez has been drawing pictures of Yui, and she's really talented. If you want to see them, just type "jazzNightcore deviant art" into google, click on the deviant art link that pops up, go to her gallery, and you can see a couple of pictures, one of Yui when Yuuki tricked her into working at the cafe for him, appropriately titled "Gothic Lolita Bred with New Age Techno Maid", and another of Yui playing soccer titled, "Yui". If you go to her anime section, you can also find a colored drawing of Yui. I'd give you the actual links, but they seem to get messed up whenever I try to do that. But... I just love the drawings so much! Thank you, Jazzanimez! And now... Well, actually, that was the only news, I had, so onto the reviews! No, wait. Just one more thing... I just want to say thank you to everyone who's reading this. Both the people who I recognize as having been reviewing for years, and the new people. Thank you so much!

KoriNeko18: Yes, I'm alive! Surprising, right? And, yes, I'm bringing new, longer chapters for your viewing pleasure. ^_^ I'm so glad that you liked the last chapter. A lot of it was ideas from friends, and I think it turned out great. Anyway, thanks so much for reviewing.

Bored411: Yeah... I'm sure Yui agrees with you. The whole winning-Umeko's heart thing that Yuuki cooked up? Totally sucks, for her at least. No one else seems to really mind. Mutants. Was this a quick enough update for you? I had it done a few days ago, but I was up at Lassen, and there was, sadly, no internet.

voidscorpenomega: You were worried that I'd stopped writing forever? GASP! Never! I solemnly swear that I will continue to write this story until the very end! (which is, incidentally, nowhere in sight). He hee. I'm really glad you liked the dream sequence, too. It was all a friend's idea, and I loved it.

Myanya: Right? No one would have guessed that Ryo and Akira were related. Surprise! The plot just got even more complicated. Aww... It makes me so incredibly happy when you say that this is the best, most hilarious story ever. I feel like hugging you!

alia: Hmm... Koji and Yui? I'm not sure about him liking her, but... Oh, jeez. You just gave me an idea for an awesome chapter. It's going to be mind-blowing.

PB and JELLYFISH: I know. Thinking of plots is so hard... I usually have to wait until they want to be written. Otherwise, writer's block (ahhh!) kicks in. And as for the last chapter being like Inception... I completely agree! That's the first thing that I thought of when Sanareth showed it to me! He's awesome. He does fanfics of my story, some of which you've read in here, and I only changed what he wrote a little bit.

Darklightningstorm:Uwah... I think you're right. I am being even meaner to Yui. But, but... it's so funny! Does that make me a bad person? I don't think so. A sadist? Perhaps. Maybe I should give her a break in a few chapters. What do you think?

bkpatt96: You've been reading my story for a long time, haven't you? It always makes me smile when I see that you're still reading it, though. And I take it as one of the highest compliments that you likened it to a cross between an anime and a K-drama. I really like Coffee Prince... I should start watching that again. But, I'm getting sidetracked. I just want to say thanks, and of course I'm going to reply to your review!

Iceleaf: I know, it had been a long time since I updated last, hadn't it? Hopefully, I can change that. And you're seriously reading the whole thing over again. Really? Wow. I... that is so cool! I'm squealing on the inside that you actually like the story that much!

Mr. Oompa Loompa: Yuuki is completely awesome, isn't he? He alternately destroys Yui's life, eradicating the normalcy that's left, and fixes it, keeping her sane. It's a delicate balance. He's one of my favorite characters. And... Awesome Username.

SoraAkihira: I think you were the only person to comment on the cover art for the story. Good job. It's absolutely adorable, isn't it? I love it so much. I know what you mean about having to reread stuff to remember who's who and what happened. I just had to reread a chunk of the story, and I'm the author!

Mystia: I know. I was really surprised that more people didn't comment on the picture, too. Humph. I mentioned it again this time. They need to appreciate it's cuteness. ^_^ I still have it as my screen on my computer. And yeah... I'm sort of dreading school starting. Wahh! It's getting closer and closer! Phoo. I just need to enjoy the rest of my summer and try not to think about it.

Hectic Method: Yuuki... He really is like a bad puppy, isn't he? I mean, he's my favorite (am I allowed to play favorites with my characters?) but really? He makes Yui's life so darned difficult. On the other hand, he's so cute that it practically makes up for it. Sort of. Who's your favorite character?

Guest: You love it? Yay! And I'm glad you're okay with waiting for the next update, since the chapters have gotten so much longer. I think you might be the only person who's ever said that. As for Yuuki showing up... He's just magical like that.

CodeName: A.N.D.Y: Yuuki is evil, isn't he? And brilliant, that's true. I can even imagine him having his own story (not that I'm going to do that.). He's just so... so, Yuuki. There's no other word for it. As for the question which I'm sure most people are pondering, will Yui's troubles ever end... Umm... Er... Hmm... Probably not. Not if Yuuki has anything to say about it, at least.

Kiteria: I had to go back and reread some of the story, too, to make sure I had things straight... and I wrote the darn thing. It's just getting so long, and there are so many characters! Jeez. I'm happy you liked the chapter, though, with all of it's insanity. I have to agree with the fact that Yui and Lolly both exploiting Yui is fundamentally wrong, but... what can you do? They're just too awesome and slightly evil to be denied. And, as for Shiro and Kaito and the others who don't know that Yui is Umeko, don't worry. They're still definitely in the running to win her heart. Along with the other... who knows how many people. Oh, and thank you! I'm glad you like my drawings.

E. Armstrong: Yes, yes, I'm back! And with more Yui-torturing! I mean, chapters. I definitely meant chapters. Heh heh... Right. And I will definitely keep writing this story. Thanks for reviewing!

jenndude5: Argh... I know. Yuuki being evil just seemed to snowball. I think he might be taking over the story. Maybe he should take a brief vacation... I'll think about that. And, as for the other things you mentioned, the universe hating her and all that, you're right. The topic of the story has veered off course from how I originally imagined it going. I can't remember the last soccer chapter I wrote, too. That will have to be rectified. Your comment about preventing people from finding out about her cross-dressing tendencies also gave me an idea for new chapters, so those will be the next two or three chapters. And even if it was 2:44 a.m when you reviewed, I most certainly will not disregard your review, especially when it made so much sense. But, it does make me wonder... what are you doing reading my story at that time of the morning?

The Purple Kit-Kat: I'm going to try to post more chapters without the horrible long wait in between them. And, if you do write a fanfiction for this story... please, please show it to me! I always get this retarded, super happy smile on my face when people draw pictures or do fanfiction of my story. I lurve it so incredibly much. See, lurve. It's even greater than love. Anyway, thanks for the props on making so many characters. I seem to make a bit too many of them, though. I can barely keep them straight. As for fanfiction, I do that, too, usually when I have writer's block on my own works.

Garnet-AsianAngel: Okay, first off, no you didn't hurt my feelings. I actually agree with most of what you wrote. Certain things have shifted in my story, and I'd like to put them more how they were to start with. One, there should be more soccer. Two, yes, Yui really should be trying to keep people from finding out about her instead of dealing with the love struck people who do know the truth. That's where the next couple of chapter's come in. And, as for Yuuki... Sigh. I know. He's everywhere. I just love him so much, but he's taking over the story. I'm thinking that he may take a vacation for a while... We'll see. I know almost everyone likes Yui, too. I think that's just my inner pervert coming out. Not sure. I always found harem mangas hilarious. Anyway, moving on. I'm actually grateful that you're being honest about your opinions. It helps my writing. Oh, and no need to apologize for your language. Really, it's downright polite next to what I hear from my brother. It's cool you're from Australia, though.

Jazzanimez: I... officially love you. The pictures that you drew are so, so cool! I'll talk more about that when I email you. But, as for what Yuuki's up to... Well, you found out. He's a twisted one, isn't he? And Kaito's back for a short appearance! I need to insert him and Shiro more into the plotline again. And more soccer. I miss coach Mori... I think I'll bring back some of the other characters as well. I hope you didn't mind that I told people how to find the pictures you drew. They're just so amazing.