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      For the ones who don't know, kimodameshi is a game that is played during summer. In the game, we have to walk in the night according to the path that has been planned before and got some people hiding to make some scary things along the way to surprise the others. We could walk by ourselves or by pairs, depending on how the rules are set. Hope I explain myself well...

"Kimodameshi"
By Louise Babyshampoo

      "Nasuti, don't be stupid." I looked around in desperation, trying to figure out where exactly we ended up. Beside me, Nasuti was also frowning, turning the map in her hands upside down and narrowing her eyes in determination. She hadn't given up to the fact she wasn't a very good map-reader. On the backseat, three guys were snoozing soundly, in spite of the fact that they were crammed uncomfortably, much to their dismay.
      I sighed in exasperation, massaging my nose bridge tiredly. I had been behind the wheel forthe last four hours and we hadn't found the villa yet. Nasuti insisted that the villa existed somewhere along the coast, but I wasn't so sure she got the location right. Anyway, like now, she had read the map upside down, causing her failure to find the place in the last four hours. She thought she would find the place if she read it that way.
      The guys had volunteered to do the map reading for her, but she claimed to be more than capable than "some strangers who have no idea about the town". Well, okay. I knew she was the owner of the villa that supposed to be the place where we'd spend our summer holiday in the next couple of days, but she just couldn't say that to us, could she?
      "Nasuti, are you done?" I inquired in a bored tone, which she'd supposedly sense if she paid more attention to me than to the map in front of her face.
      "Not yet," she muffled, silently telling me to keep quiet. "Just keep going. Or else we'll arrive there very late."
      I threw my arms in the air and groaned forlornly, trying to suppress the urge of grabbing the map from her hands just like that and do it myself. "How am I supposed to drive if you never tell me the way? Or may be I should take over. Here, let me see." I was actually asking her politely to offer her some assistance, but she glared at me and clutched the map in a protective gesture. Hmmph, women!
      "What? What's wrong with me reading the map?" I asked her defensively, trying to dismiss the whole thing and keep my patience intact at the same time. "You can do the driving part. You're better off with that, as far as I remember."
      "Oh," Nasuti responded nonchalantly. "So, I have to sit behind the steering wheel all the time, huh? So I couldn't try new things?" After that, she diverted her attention back to the map and continued with her own business, ignoring my glare. "I read the map, you drive. Is that a problem?"
      "As a matter of fact, it is," I retorted the challenge in her voice, gritting my teeth in mild anger. "You keep delaying our journey, and everybody is tired about that. Just look at them," I gestured to the backseat with my chin, "they're exhausted. Weary. Can't you see that?"
      A hand shot up in the air as a sleepy voice tuned in, "I'm not tired, Ryo... just feel rather sleepy after I hear your constant arguments with Nasuti over and over."
      I shot a scorching glance at the owner of the voice, scolding him under my breath, "Geez, thank you so much, Touma, but I never asked for your contribution. I perfectly know that our little discussion here bores you guys so much that you even don't bother to help us out with the map."
      "That's not the reason, fire boy." Another sleepy voice. "She won't even let me touch it!" It was Seiji's.
      "Yeah, right..." Shin peeped beside Seiji, then nudged Shu's ribs for his support. He only received a faint snore as the answer.
      My scowl deepened, I started the engine and tried to drive away from the spot, muttering under my breath grudgingly. However, there was always one problem after the other. I just knew it when I failed to move the car even though I very nearly stomped on the gas pedal. It was pretty embarrassing, but… oh GOD! The car's wheels stuck in the sand! And it seemed that it stuck quite deep!
      I was frozen on my seat, cold sweat dripping down my brows. I had to break down the bad news to the guys, but I didn't know how. They would be outraged, for sure. Especially Nasuti. This was her favourite jeep.
      "What's wrong?" I flinched when I heard Nasuti's voice echoing in my ears. "Just keep going. I'll tell you the way while you're driving."
      I glanced hesitantly at her before I told her the bad news, "Er… I think we have a problem here. The car's stuck."
      Nasuti's little mouth formed a nice round 'o' as she dropped the map on her lap. She looked genuinely in shock. However, with the time passing by, her expression turned into one with anger, deep scowl ruining her pretty face.
      "Ryo…" she growled under her breath, looking as if she was ready to whack my head anytime soon. The others had woken up with interest clearly flickering in their eyes. "Just how exactly did you manage to drag us all into your mess?"
      "It's not my mess anyway," I tried to defend my poor self ."And it just happened like that! How was I supposed to know when the car was gonna stick? That's stupid, Nasuti. And mind you, you're the one who ordered me to stop over here, by the way."
      "The car's stuck? No way!" I started to hear some more reactions from the back, which was Shin's. And geez… he whined. That was very unlike him.
      "Hm… I told you that I was better than Ryo…" Seiji said thoughtfully, but not by all means considerate with my feelings. "If I was the one who drove this car, it wouldn't be stuck in a place like this. Trust me."
      I inhaled deeply and counted to ten, refusing to let my temper get the better of me. And as usual, I was the one who was in charge of finding the solution of the current problem. I turned to Nasuti and tried to explain the whole situation as clearly as possible. "Look Nasuti, we will try to push this car forward while you're driving it, okay?"
      Without wasting more time, everybody jumped out of the car and got ready to push it. Nasuti herself hopped onto the driver's seat and started the engine. "I'm ready, guys!" I could hear her clear voice ring in the air, tearing the silence of the cold afternoon air. It was almost dark, so we had to hurry.
      We were about to push the car forward, but scattered away when we suddenly felt that the car was going to the wrong way. It was going backwards! We all tried our best to avoid the car, which we did quite successfully, thanks to our skill, and stared at it in shock as the car was put into halt with a loud screeching sound.
      We still hadn't recovered from our shock when Nasuti bolted out of the car and checked on everybody with worry in her eyes, shouting, "Are you guys okay?! I'm so very sorry! I didn't change the gears while I was pressing the gas pedal! It was all my fault!" She looked as if she almost cried with fear and guilt.
      I was about to say something to comfort her when I heard a low groan from behind the car. It was Touma's. I thought he…
      "He didn't make it." Shin looked at me with blank eyes, his statement voicing my worst thought. We all looked at each other dumbly before we finally rushed to Touma's side, examining his body for broken bones. Seiji was the first to react. He was the calmest one, as usual. He quickly scanned Touma's body with his healing power and gave us a wry smile after he was sure about everything. Touma's wounds were not fatal; it was just…
      Yeah, he got several broken ribs, and a twisted ankle. And his face…
      "Oh, maaaan… that's gonna hurt so much by tomorrow. You'll sport a large bruise later." Shu contributed his thought, supporting Touma's body with his own into a sitting position. Touma cried out loud at the slightest nudge that Shu did in order to adjust his body into a more comfortable position, causing Nasuti's shoulders to flinch with every cry she heard. I glanced swiftly at her and put a protective arm around her, trying to ease her burden a little. She sure felt very guilty towards Touma.
      "Augh! You'd better be gentle to me!" Touma wailed, tried nothing to cover his pains. Well, they should be very painful, anyway, so it was no wonder. Painkiller soon would be his next best friend after his books. I was positive about that.
      "We'd better get you to the hospital really fast…" My suggestion died in mid sentence as I heard Shin's sudden interruption.
      "No. I don't think so." His lips thinned grimly; he seemed like he was in deep thought.
      Nasuti whirled around and gave him a concerned look, asking him reluctantly although she looked as if she didn't really want to know the answer. "Why? What's wrong?"
      Shin turned his attention from whatever had occupied him for the last few minutes and shook his head wearily. "It seems that a sharp stone chip has pierced your jeep's wheel, Nasuti. And I remember that we haven't got any extras with us right now. We just forget to replace it after the last accident." He carefully stated, "And it is too dark for us to go anywhere with an injured man."
      "Oh God…" Seiji groaned, mindlessly scratching his fine hairstyle in annoyance; a trace of frustration reflected clearly in his liquid brown eyes.
      Everybody fell into silence, didn't really know what to say or do. What happened in the past fifteen minutes or so was just too much for us to bear. What was left now was the option of finding Nasuti's damned mansion and seeking some help there. However, Touma's injuries were in the way. It was almost impossible for him to walk around and look for the place that even its existence wasn't yet confirmed. We only had one more choice left.
      "Guys," I raised my voice a bit to gain their attention, "I think we'd better go looking for help..."
      "What about Touma?" Shu cut in, desperation in his voice. "He couldn't even lift an arm!"
      I gave him my sternest gaze, which I was sure he couldn't even see it in the dark, then told him with some authority in my voice, "Of course we won't leave him alone, Shu. Some of us will stay with him while the rest are finding the mansion. We'll start from there and pick you guys up later. Now, who wants to stay with him?" I looked around, noticing that none of the boys volunteered.
      I sighed aloud, "Well… in that case…"
      "You go, Ryo," Touma said in strained voice, obviously from the pain, "with Nasuti. The others will keep me company, here. Right, Seiji?"
      When Seiji gave him no response and just stared blankly at him, Touma gave the other a pinch. Seiji yelped and shouted in the air, "Yeah, yeah! O-of course!!"
      "What about the others? Is that only Nasuti and me going?"
      Under Touma's sharp glare, Shu nodded his head quickly without asking, while Shin's eyes were twinkling before he finally answered, "I think that's the best way. We'll stay here and take care of him while you two find some assistance."
      I could almost see a secret smile plastered on his face under the moonlight, but I chose not to think about it although there was obviously something fishy going on here, knowing Touma. I raised one of my eyebrows in irk and turned around to regard Nasuti. "Nasuti?"
      Nasuti, guilt still shining through her eyes, nodded quickly without even thinking of what was going on around her. She looked very troubled by the accident just now. Nevertheless, an accident was an accident. I thought she should recover quickly, get on with it and solve the problem at the same time. There was no time in contemplating your regrets. It was no use.
      Instead of telling her that, I patted her shoulders gently and told her to get ready. Armed with a long torch, a map and a little money, we set off our journey to look for the mansion.
      Through the dark forest.
      Only the two of us.

*****

       I could feel Nasuti's cold hand reach for mine as we walked side by side. It was shaking. I could almost feel her fears penetrate every layer of my skin, all of them bared to me. She didn't even make an attempt to hide them from me. She was very truly afraid.
      Of course she had her reasons to be afraid. It was the path that I chose to reach the mansion as soon as possible. That time I didn't let Nasuti touch the map and did the map reading myself, and within a few minutes I found out a short cut that would lead us to the place in twenty minutes' walk. It was, unfortunately, very dark and surrounded by huge lining trees, making it resemble a path to a haunted castle. And Nasuti hated darkness, even when she had a torch with her. I could sense it the moment I saw reluctance in her eyes when I showed her the way that we were going to take.
      Nasuti let out a small cry as a gush of wind blew between us, then rushed forward and hugged my arm tightly. I could feel blush creep on my cheeks as I attempted to pry her arms off my arm rather awkwardly and got away as far as the respectable distance would permit, without making her feel that I was avoiding her. However, she didn't intend to let go and it took a few minutes before I actually gave up and continued walking with her tagging along very closely beside me.
      "It's only night wind. Don't worry," I told her curtly, afraid that she would see past my embarrassment and discover my true feelings. It felt so right to have her arms hugging mine. So the accident wasn't so bad after all. She only nodded weakly and walked beside me, her pale face was even more ashen under the torch's light. I could feel myself soften at the sight and reached out for her hand, squeezing it gently, transferring half my courage into her. Well, if only I could.
      Our relationship had been bad and awkward since Touma announced Nasuti's big secret. Naturally it would solve the problem and would bring us together, but the truth had been very different. Instead of ending up together, we were more like sworn enemies these days. We often engaged in constant arguments and mocking in an attempt to hide our embarrassment toward each other. We didn't get along well any more. The only good thing about that very incident was that I knew at last that Nasuti loved me, at least at the moment she wrote the phrase in her diary.
      I had tried everything to resolve our relationship back to normal and act as if there was nothing between us, but I found it difficult to do so. The blame was on me. It wasn't Nasuti's fault. It was just too damn impossible to just ignore the feelings and get on with life as if there was nothing important happening between us. And yet I wasn't ready for that, too. I knew that I had to talk to her to clarify some things that could lead to some misunderstandings, but I wasn't ready to open my heart and mind entirely to her. There were some things that I wanted to keep secret from her for the time being.
      So I just kept silent while trying to think of something else apart from Nasuti, but it didn't help, too. The problem kept visiting my mind on and on, yearning to be solved and done. Nobody could see it in my face, I was sure about that, but it was there, haunting me with every step I make.
      "Ryo, is something amiss?" Nasuti asked me with wavering voice, obviously from the cold. I peered from the corners of my eyes and saw her adjusting her thick jacket while trying not to lose her hold on me at the same time. When I didn't answer, she shook her head and laughed humourlessly, saying, "Sorry, we supposed to be in holiday and have fun right now, but my carelessness has brought us into this."
      I shook my head slowly, as I drew her nearer and walked more rapidly. "It wasn't entirely your fault. I should have helped you with the map, but I didn't."
      There was an eerie silence for a few seconds before she went on, "But I was the one who crashed the car into Touma! I…"
      "It was only an accident, Nasuti, so please don't trouble yourself too much." I insisted, "See the bright side. At least he doesn't suffer from fatal injuries. He'll be okay in a few weeks' time."
      I could almost feel her nod beside me and smiled as I heard her walking faster beside me to match my pace. Silence was filling in between us once again, but it wasn't long until she spoke up, telling me, "You've grown up."
      I only chuckled lightly as I shook my head in response. "Is that so?"
      "Yes, I noticed that just now when you were barking orders to the others. I think you're a born leader. No wonder you've got the position as the leader of the team."
      I gave her a solemn smile and told her what I thought. "You flatter me."
      She shook her head rapidly, her eyebrows furrowed together. "Yes, honestly. And… you're also a bit distant to me these days."
      I halted my steps at the very remark. It sounded disturbingly true and annoying at the same time. She had hit the right spot in me. "And?"
      She only shrugged then let go of my hand. "I want to know why."
      I couldn't answer that. It could mean opening myself completely before her, and I didn't want that. "I… don't know what you mean." I avoided her eyes while I desperately was trying to find a way to change a subject. And I was the worst at changing subjects, too!
      It was fairly clear that she didn't intend for both of us to drop the subject matter without strong reasons. "I mean… after Touma announced my indirect confession to the world." She grabbed my hands and forced me to look at her eyes, then said with a pained expression in her eyes, which I almost couldn't bear looking. "What's wrong with us?!" She tossed me the question, almost yelling, "Why couldn't we just be like before?"
      I decided to ignore her recent outburst and kept on walking, since I wasn't really sure about what to do next. "It's getting late, Nasuti, and Touma needs us." I told her impatiently, but softly, "We have to reach the villa as soon as possible." I was about to drag her with me when she suddenly shouted at me.
      "NO! Please!"
      Bewildered, I turned around and looked at her askance, waiting for her explanation, "Nasuti?"
      "I mean… I could walk by myself. You don't have to drag me around…" She trailed off, taking a sudden interest in her feet. I only sighed my annoyance away and walked past her, and only stopped long enough for her to follow me. After that, there was nothing more between us but silence. No one dared to fill in the conversation. Silence was the best alternative at that time, since we were afraid of telling each other wrong things.
      However, things were about to change at the same time. I didn't realise it when I heard a gush of wind and some creatures chirping above my head noisily. All I did was follow my instinct and duck down before the creatures got me, then rolled away to avoid them.
      It wasn't like that with Nasuti. I could hear her horrified scream as the creatures attacked her, flying around her as she tried to brush them away in panic. There were bats around us! I reached for the torch that fell beside me to make them go away and cursed under my breath when I found out that it had broken. I decided to jump into the area anyway and flailed the torch to scare the bats away.
      Nasuti was hugging her knees to her chests, sobbing quietly as she refused to lift up her face. I knew she was very afraid and all the incidents that had happened in the past few hours had gotten on her nerves. I let her be for a few minutes and waited for her to calm down before we actually had to continue our journey, but I didn't see any signs of her stopping crying anytime soon. So I knelt down beside her and gathered her in my arms, and started soothing her in my own clumsy way. I started by stroking her flaming hair gently and murmured soft words into her ears, but her sobs never stopped, merely getting louder and louder. I tried kissing her tears away, but they kept dripping down her white translucent cheeks. I also tried telling her to stop crying, but it seemed as if she never listened.
      So I just held her head against my shoulder, waiting for her to calm herself down eventually. She was older than I was, but she was still a woman, anyway. I could understand the shock really drained all the courage that she could muster to enter the forest.
      I decided to speak up when I felt that her tears would last forever. "Nasuti, don't be afraid. You know that I would never leave you here alone."
      Miraculously the tears stopped as she lifted her face and stared at me with confusion in her eyes. "Ryo?"
      "You have to trust me." I tried to convince her, although I wasn't sure she was convinced myself.
      "But I thought you never cared for me," Nasuti whispered back, wiping her tears away with the back of her hands. "I think you just want to get away as far as possible from me. Not that I blame you. I was older, and there are many other prettier girls in this world that would swoon around you upon the fact that you chose one of them. I know why you're so disturbed by the fact that Touma announced that I love you. I used to think that you loved me back, but seeing your reaction..."
      I scratched my head in disbelief over knowing what she thought of me all the time. I was so selfish. I had never been thinking of Nasuti's feelings when I acted that way. I should have considered her feelings more. I never thought that concealing myself also meant that I was hurting other people. There I was, kneeling beside Nasuti like a total idiot, and I could do nothing besides stare at her tremulously; her statement about me had terminated my brain's action completely. I knew that the problem was there and that I had to solve it by telling her the truth, but at the same time I also felt that our relationship would get even worse if I told her that. I was utterly confused.
      However, seeing her pleading eyes was like a thousand knives piercing my heart. I couldn't stand the pained look that she wore on her face, the look that kept telling me, 'I can't stand this anymore'. Nonetheless, I didn't want to see her hurt, especially by me. Hurting her was the last thing in my life I had ever wished to do. Because of that, I decided to tell her the truth instead of telling her another lie. She had opened her heart to me, although not directly, and it was my turn to do the same thing.
      There was a small problem, though. I didn't know how to tell her my feelings. I have a belief that saying 'I love you' doesn't mean anything. I wanted to tell her my deepest feeling in a very special way that only the two of us shared and understood.
      There was also hurt pride and fear of rejection gnawing my heart, though. Once I asked her to be the love of my life, but she rejected me with the reason that I was way too young for her. She was right, of course. The fact was there. I was almost four years younger than she was, and that was a lot. That was why I chose to remain silent even after I had kissed her twice. For me, we were better off as friends, although I must admit that I did long for other kind of relationship apart from being her best friend.
      I closed my eyes tightly before I made up my mind. Strange. When I opened them again, I could see the contour of her face clearly, even only under the dim moonlight. She looked unusually beautiful and serene, as if she was a fairy princess. Slowly I began to relax, and before I knew it, my words flowed like water, spilling out every content of my heart.
      "Nasuti," I started, brushing some strays of fiery red hair away from her face, "remember when we went out together for our first date at Tokyo Tower?"
      Clearly it seemed that she didn't understand where this conversation would lead her, but she nodded anyway. "Yes, I remember," she replied, her voice rough from her tears just now.
      I closed my eyes, imagining the situation back then. "You knew that I was afraid of heights. Would you just leave me alone on top of the Tokyo Tower?"
      "No..." I could hear her saying the word thoughtfully.
      "I'm also like that." I opened my eyes back and met her pool of blue eyes. "I won't leave you. You're afraid of darkness, so I won't let the fear overcome you. I will be at your side. Always. Forever. I… I always long to be by your side, you know." I felt my confidence shrinking as I saw perplexity and disbelief in her eyes. Should I say the phrase? Couldn't she understand by merely looking into my eyes? Did I have to do it? "That… is if you'll have me. I won't force my way," I quickly added, and nervously waited for her reaction.
      I had none, which was quite frustrating. I deserved one, actually.
      I blinked several times before I expressed the cursed phrase to make myself clear enough for her to understand the meaning behind my long talk, but a finger flew to my lips, silencing me altogether.
      "Shhh…"
      I backed off, startled, and gaped at her askew, demanding for answer. Then the most wonderful thing happened to me. Nasuti smiled, actually smiled tenderly at me; her beautiful ocean blue eyes sparkling with tears of joy. Silently she stood on her bended knees, then approached me delicately and brushed her soft lips lingeringly on my cheek. Then she was back sitting on her heels facing me, her tears glistening.
      "Thank you," she mouthed, touching my face tentatively with her fingertips. "Thank you for opening your heart to me. I know how much it means to you to really open yourself like this." She looked down at her lap only to lift up her face once again, new tears of joy streaming down her cheeks, saying, "You don't have you say that you love me. I understand everything. And I am very sorry for ever doubting your feelings."
      I only smiled feebly as a response, shaking my head swiftly as I took her hand in mine and placed it gently on my face, memorizing the feel of her soft, small hand. I was surprised that she didn't take it back from me. "You always hold a special place in me," I told her as a matter of fact. "For me, you're my destiny."
      She sighed, then withdrew her hand only to cradle my face in her palms as she shifted closer; her face was only inches away from mine, making me blush at the very feel of the heat radiating from the surface of her skin. "And so are you," she whispered in my ears. "And sorry that it took me two whole years to realize that I loved you. Sorry to make you wait and feel uncertain about everything. I am only one foolish woman that doesn't deserve you. Really."
      I shook my head and grabbed both her wrists, helping her to stand up as I got up to my feet myself. "No," I stated, giving her a searching look as I traced the contour of her face with the back of my hand, "as long as you prove your love in your action, you are well worth anything. As for me, I will try to act like the man you wish I could be and prove myself that I am worthy of your love. I won't hurt you; I never have wished for that."
      "Sanada Ryo, you're the best man I could ever have!" Nasuti let out a watery laugh, jumping and embracing my neck tightly at the same time. "I don't want you to change… never ever! I even love your short temper and your stubbornness, everything about you! To hell with Seiji's courtesy, I never need that. I…." She paused for a while to look into my eyes before continuing with a loving smile, "I always want you, for me alone. If you're food, I won't share you, even with Shu."
      I gave her an expression of mock indignation at that remark and retorted, "Hmm….very witty, Nasuti. First you think of me as too young for you, and now I am as food?"
      Her muffled giggles made me want to laugh myself. "No," she uttered, "you're just my Ryo; that's all."
      I forced her down and grinned from ear to ear at her. "Even when I wasn't a very good boy?"
      "Even when you aren't as good as you're now." She nodded back, agreeing on whatever I just said.
      I only grinned back at her, didn't know exactly what to say. Sensing my sudden silence, she stopped laughing and asked me with some degree of playfulness in her voice, "What's in your mind?"
      "I don't know." I shook my head in amusement and started walking with my arm draped around her small shoulders, trying to protect her from the night's chilling air. "I think having you around will make my life a little merrier."
      "Only a little?" she teased me back, poking a finger into my waist and earning an annoyed glare from me. I was ticklish, and that was a hell of good reason for hating people touching the very sensitive spot around my waist. I just hate being tickled.
      "Yes, and that's it." I snorted in irritation, but nevertheless tightened my arm around her. The night was getting colder, although it was summer, and I was afraid that she would catch a cold later on.
      "No, you're a gentle and kind young man," she mumbled against my shirt, snuggled closer to feel my warmth. I naturally blushed at the intimacy and of course, at her praising comment. I was never praised openly by a girl before. But I didn't mind that. In fact I did quite enjoy it.
      However, fate decided that two or three or four incidents weren't enough for us. As we enjoyed each other's company and walked quickly toward the small light that was getting brighter and brighter, a big root was in our way and we tripped on it before we knew it. Suppressing a few groans, I helped Nasuti up and checked on her, but breathed in relief as I found no injuries in her.
      "Are you okay?"
      Nasuti shook her head rapidly as she tried to regain her balance, leaning her hand against my body for support. "I'm fine," she told me, although I could see from the reflection in her eyes that the bump was quite hurting. "It's just a few scratches and all…"
      I could see that she was about to finish her sentence, but it died all of a sudden. The calm expression in her face was replaced by a horrified one as her fists moved to cover her mouth. She screamed. Very loud, for God's sake.
      "What? What happened? Nasuti…" I attempted to calm her down, but the nervous look in her face forced me to believe that something terribly wrong had happened. Moreover, she kept pointing at something that was obviously behind my back, though she couldn't find her voice to say it out loud. My heart thumped against my chest, I risked a glance at my back and rewarded by the most hideous face with hollow eyes and pale skin. I screamed spontaneously, grabbing Nasuti's hand and ran for cover. That face! It must be the ghost of the forest! Our conversation must have disturbed his sleep and he decided to punish us because of that.
      Yes, that was what Mother told me when I was little. Never to disturb the spirits of nature in their sleep, or else…
      Suddenly I felt my body was kind of floating in the air, before it actually descended very quickly into a hole. I could imagine how many bruises I was going to get tomorrow as my body bumped into some rocks and unmistakably hard ground. I winced as I finally bumped onto the bottom of the pit, sending my body jolting.
      "Ryo!" I could hear Nasuti yelling at me from above. "Are you all right?"
      "Yeah, I'm…"
      I hadn't finished my answer when I heard her distant shriek, following by a loud crash as Nasuti's body fell on top of mine, sending me groaning and cursing under my breath. Moaning softly, my burden proceeded to smooth the wrinkles on her clothes, which wasn't very favourable of her. I was glad that she was still in one piece, but she was heavy, for God's sake!
      "Nasuti, would you mind removing yourself, please?" I shot her a pleading look, suppressing the urge to cry out when a pain shot through my leg as she squirmed to lift herself up from me. I thought I had a broken leg.
      Nasuti knelt beside me and fussed over me, her eyes clouded with worries. "Sorry, Ryo," she chirped, "don't mean that."
      "I know…" I tried to smile, but I guessed it would look more like a grimace. "It's not your fault. Now..." I scanned the whole area and decided to give up since it was too dark to see anything. Apparently we were in sort of a cave below the ground.
      It was only seconds later that we actually heard people calling our names from above the ground. "Ooooiiiiii, Ryo, Nasuti! Are you all right?"
      I recognized the voice as Shin's. Relieved, I shouted back at him, "Yes! But quick, help us! My leg seems like it's broken, and I need help soon!"
      "Don't worry!" I could hear another voice, then a chuckle and a mutter. "I never expected him to be that afraid to see your face, Seiji."
      "Oh, shut up, Shu! That's not funny at all!" I could hear Seiji scold Shu and chuckled to myself in spite of the pain. So the guys had looked for us all along. I took it that they got some unexpected help from some people that coincidentally found them, then decided to search for us, too. What I never expected was that Seiji's face could appear quite scary under the torch's light.
      Suddenly a fuzzy warm feeling appeared from the back of my mind, calming me down. I smiled wistfully as I felt Nasuti's hand touching my shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly. I could almost see a smile plastered on her lovely face.
      I felt content to the deepest corner of my heart.

Epilogue 

      "I don't believe you did this to us!" I could hear Nasuti's outraged cry as she looked at him in bewilderment. I, myself, didn't want to believe that he schemed everything about me and Nasuti searching for help together, only the two of us, regardless some unexpected accidents along the way, which he obviously never thought of. Such a genius! His brain sure worked very fast, even after he got knocked down by the jeep.
      We just found out that Touma was the cause of our suffering after Nasuti accidentally found out his mobile phone this morning. We found out later on that instead of waiting for our help, he had called the ambulance himself and left for the nearest hospital fifteen minutes later. That jerk! Why should he always be so involved in our private matters? Didn't he have his own to handle?
      After that, he asked the other guys to spy on us, having predicted the path that we would take to reach the villa, which was supported by, surprisingly, Shin, whom we always thought to be quiet and mature and one hundred percent different from Touma.
      Touma, sitting on the opposite couch, pouting, ignored Nasuti's outburst and took a sudden interest in his book more than what he usually would display to us. His intent eyes said that he would not answer any of her angry comments. He knew better than having Nasuti ambush him with her sharp tongue. And Nasuti wouldn't even care whether Touma was sick or not; she would just keep going on preaching him about not to meddle in other people's business.
      "I didn't plan for him," - he had meant me - "to get injured as well…" he replied stubbornly, refusing to admit his fault. He had meant well, but sometimes he also had to learn how to respect others' privacy. He wasn't living alone, was he?
      "But…" Nasuti was about to throw another of her sweet sarcasms, but Touma cut her short, again.
      "And I didn't mean to scare you, too. It's Seiji's fault. His hair looks terrible under dim light," he said defensively, hoping that his reasoning would calm her down a bit, but there was no way to stop Nasuti's wrath right now. Seiji also started to curse in the background. Knowing her, she would give him ultimate punishment sooner or later.
      "All I did was trying to give you guys a chance to make up for it! So please have mercy and leave me alone, 'cause my ribs are killing me! You know it well that they're broken, don't you? Or… oh, yeah, I know!" He whirled around on his seat, wincing in pain in the process. "You don't really love him, do you?"
      Telling her that was obviously the stupidest mistake that Touma had ever made. Seeing the look of murder in her eyes, I could almost imagine what she would do next. She might end up whacking Touma's head with something hard and render him unconscious. Or…
      My forehead creased in bewilderment as Nasuti strode long steps to my direction and… to my dismay, grabbed the collar of my shirt and kissed me fully in the mouth in front of my other gaping comrades. I stared at her slack jaws as she ended her lingering kiss abruptly and whirled around to face Touma, scorching him with her smouldering eyes.
      "Holy cow!" was the only thing that I could think of and say right then. Then came the blushing part. No matter what, I couldn't help but felt embarrassed with such a public display of affection, even in front of my own friends! May be I should get even on her, sometime.
      "Nice show, Nasuti." I could hear Seiji's dry comment from across the living room. "You've convinced us well." Shin only chuckled in amusement, followed by Shu's low whistle and cheer. As for Touma, he smiled smugly to himself, maybe silently congratulating himself for his successful efforts.
      "Now, Touma. It's your turn." I could hear Nasuti's voice ringing throughout the room.
      "No need for thanks… it's my pleasure to bring you two together." Touma dismissed the angry tone in Nasuti's voice. He really didn't know his limit. He should know that he ventured with Nasuti's unpredictable mood! "I just do what I can…"
      "No painkiller for two days!" Nasuti growled, followed by an outraged gasp from Touma. He shot up from his seat, but was forced down again when the pain seared.
      "Nasuti, how could you!" he wailed, but Nasuti's word was final. No one could change her mind anymore. With one last murdering look at Touma, she marched out of the room and slammed the door behind her. The others only smirked at the murderous look Touma wore in his face, while I only felt pity for him. I could imagine his agony in the next two days.
      As I turned around to speak with Touma to offer him some painkiller that I happened to have with me, Seiji stepped closer to me and shot me a pained look, grumbling, "Do I look that bad? Am I really that ugly?"
      I sighed as I gave him a helpless grin; Shin and Shu laughed their heads off as Touma scolded them to stop. Stroking the snow-white gips that bound my broken leg, I stated, "As a matter of fact…"
      "Yes?"
      "I thought you were the devil himself."

~Owari


      Hello, minna-sama! Here's my sequel to "The Younger Man", a romance between Nasuti and Ryo. Different from the other prequels, I think this one is more serious and less romantic, but no matter, I don't want to get the stories too mushy anyway. :P Ok, hope you'll like it and wait for the next story from Nasuti's point of view : "Kimodameshi: Please Take Care of Me". Ja neeeeee!