Stakes are raised.
"That's so cool!" Takeru looked at his brother, his grin changing from enthusiasm to a pout. "You could have told me Yamato."
"It's kind of against the rules to tell, little bro," Yama--I was finding it hard to resist shortening his name--said complacently.
"Try not get to excited. Magic might be what called that creature to you two in the first place."
We all looked at Koushiro who was still typing, blissfully unaware of the fact he'd dropped a bombshell.
"Well, consider the problem. A lot of children use that park. Out of all the children there why did the creature chose the two children whose older siblings are wizards?"
Yamato had to close his mouth. Jun looked at us uncertainly. "Maybe itís a coincidence. After all, nothing's happened to Daisuke."
"You mean nothing yet." Koushiro really knew how to reassure people.
Yamato made this little growling noise in the back of his throat and stood up. I slipped in front of the still oblivious Koushiro before anything could happen.
"Wait--let's hear what he's come up with."
Koushiro blinked at me, realising the situation. "Magic runs in families, right? Let's hypothesise. Say that Hikari and Takeru possess it, albeit in a manner not enough to warrant a manual--that potential could be what that creature is after."
"I think you're right," I said. "Those runes she was making--give me my manual."
I flicked through it, looking at the different runes for any I recognized from the snake's enchantment--"Here! She used this rune--" I looked up at the title. "Transference and Control--"
"This doesn't look good," Jun said, looking over my shoulder.
"It does not." Koushiro sighed. "We now know what she was trying to do--"
"Wait. She referred to Hikari as her next meal--"
"You're welcome." To tell the truth I was surprised at how calmly Hikari and Takeru were taking this. The two of them were just sitting there, watching us.
"She could use magic--why would she need to--unless--" Koushiro went distant. "I'm going to theorize wildly here--perhaps this creature can manipulate magic but does not possess any of its own. In which case it must absorb other people's magic, in which case it would search for those with magic who are as yet unaware of it."
"That makes sense," I said. "Koushiro, are there any other searches you can do?"
"Well, the director of the element adept archives has yet to reply to my e-mail--if there's anyone who knows what that was, its him."
"Well, I guess that's it then." Yamato put his cup down. "Come on Takeru, let's get you home."
"But Yamato--I want to stay with Hikari and Taichi--" Takeru got pulled up.
"Later. Come on, let's go."
Jun stood up obediently. "See you at school tomorrow."
That's right--both Yamato and Jun wore the same green uniform I did. I wasn't really thinking about that.
"But you can't go!"
Yamato already heading to the door, stopped and removed my hand from his arm. "And why not?"
Good question. I swallowed. "Because I have to talk to you--"
"Some other time. See you round."
"Bye Taichi!" Jun hurried after him. Takeru didn't get a chance to say anything but I think he would have said goodbye.
"Well," Koushiro said.
"Yeah," I said, flopping onto the sofa beside my sister. "What was that about?"
"Takeru told me his brother is very protective of him. Because they don't get to see each other very often," Hikari informed us.
"But they're brothers," I said.
"They're parents aren't together. Takeru lives with his mother, Yamato with their Dad. They don't get on at all so they keep the boys apart."
"How do you know all this?"
"Takeru's my friend."
There was something in her tone that warned me not even to try the annoying big brother routine. I sighed. "So why would Yamato act like that? I was helping protect his brother."
"He probably doesn't want our help," Koushiro said. "Just let it go Taichi."
"We can't," I said.
Hikari and Koushiro looked at me.
"That creature--I don't think that we could have beaten her by ourselves Koushiro. And it got away from Yamato and Jun--I think it will take all four of us to catch it."
"Catch it?" Koushiro said. "Since when were we going to catch it?"
"Do we really want to leave it prowling round out there to pick on wizards less experienced than us?"
"No--" Koushiro sighed. "I suppose you're right. I'll start formulating plans."
"I'll help too," Hikari said.
"Hiakri, that's really nice, but what could you do?" I patted her head. "Forget about this."
"Okay," Hikari shrugged going to her room. "But let me know when you need bait."
I stared after her. "She can't mean that--"
"Actually, it's a logical suggestion--" Koushiro quavered under my glare.
"We are not using her as bait. Find some other plan!"
"Fine. And what will you do?"
"See if I can find a rune or something that will protect Hikari and Takeru. And work on Yamato. He has to see that we need to work together."
"For completeness sake, perhaps you should consider Daisuke too."
"Well, there is a chance he might possess some degree of magic--"
I laughed. "Koushiro, I like Daisuke, but there's no one I'd believe less likely of being magic--"
"Tachikawa Mimi," Koushiro said. "Motomiya Jun. You."
"You've made your point," I said. "I'll protect Daisuke too."
Hikari often walked to school with Takeru. It was relatively easy for Koushiro and I to put a shield on them, without attracting undue attention.
"What will this do?" Takeru asked.
"It'll just protect you from magical attacks and runes," I said. "If I'd given you a full shield, well, I wouldn't have enough energy to even get to school and no one would be able to get closer than a metre to you."
"I can see how that might be a problem," Hikari said. "See you after school, Tai."
"After school?" Koushiro asked.
"I've been asked to coach the soccer team again. It should give me the perfect opportunity to protect Daisuke."
We began walking again. "Any luck with identifying the creature?"
"Not yet. I'm still waiting for the archive director to contact me." Koushiro sighed. "I hope you have better luck with Yamato."
"Don't worry about it."
At lunch I found Yamato, sitting by himself at a table in the cafeteria, flipping through some pages. I sat down opposite him.
"You know," he said. "I might have been saving that seat."
"Are you?" I asked.
"Well there you go," I unloaded my tray. "What are you doing?"
"Really?" I looked with interest at the pages. "What do you write?"
"As in songs."
"Cool," I began eating. He seemed relieved that I didn't ask to look at them. I'd seen the way his hand had curled over them possessively and guessed he didn't want to share.
"I suppose I should thank-you," I said. "For showing up when you did. If you hadn't, I don't think I'd have been able to save Hikari, even with Koushiro."
He just shrugged.
"Of course, it's not over yet. That creature--we still don't know what it is, is out there--and it could come back. Worse, it might go after some kids who don't have older brothers to protect them."
Yamato shrugged again but I thought this time he seemed more interested.
"Koushiro's working on a plan to stop them, but we'd need you and Jun's help."
"I suppose," Yamato said coolly. "For Takeru."
I grinned. "That's the spirit!" I reached over and grabbed his hand. "I knew you'd agree. Now, we just have to find her--"
Yamato detached my hand. "Please don't do that."
"Because. You felt what happened before."
"That electric shock type thing. I know," I said. "It's weird. Koushiro and I have used our powers together tons of times and nothing like that has ever happened. Of course we don't have to touch to use them--why did you do that anyway?"
"Well, it just seemed appropriate. I mean, Jun is my partner, I usually work with her. I thought our powers might not combine well, us being strangers and all so I touched you to boost the contact between us--"
"It definitely worked!" I grinned at the memory. "We sent that snake-witch flying! That was great--I've never felt so much power! I can't wait until next time we try that--"
"What makes you think they'll be a next time?" Yamato said.
"But--dude," I said staring at him. He'd gone all impenetrable again. "There has to be. I mean, you felt how much power we had together--we're going to need that if we want to defeat her."
"It's nothing. We were probably just both concerned about our siblings and our emotions heightened our powers--What are you doing?"
I stood up and pulled him after me. "Only one way to be sure."
In the bushes beside the school hall we faced each other. "Flame okay with you?"
"Just as long as we don't get caught," Yamato sighed. "Attempted arson of the school hall--that will look great on my record."
"We won't get caught," I said, but being careful to draw the contain rune just in case. "There." A small fire sprung up. "Your turn."
"This is silly," Yamato said, from across the clearing. "But here goes--"
His eyes went distant--I supposed he was reaching out with his powers to take control of the flame. I looked back at the little fire and saw it flicker as he controlled it--and wow--
Just like before the feeling of effortless and boundless power returned. I felt warm, and safe, as well as slightly giddy by how much strength there was in that contact--and by my acute awareness of Yamato's presence in that touch. It just felt as if we were perfectly aligned--
"See? I told you so!"
"Taichi--" I looked up at Yamato and knew I couldn't look away. I was just held by his glance, as surely as if it had been a 'contain' rune.
"Taichi," Yamato repeated, sounding as if he was having the same problem I was. My breath caught as his hand reached up to brush my face but I didn't pull away. It felt so right--
So I was not altogether surprised when he kissed me.
As far as first kisses go, it was wonderful. Kind of like candyfloss--
I was roughly pushed back--
Yamato drew a deep breath. "This just didn't happen okay?"
"But--" I grabbed hold of his hand. "Dude--you felt that! That's far more power than Koushiro and I have ever had--it's incredible--"
"It means nothing! Jun is my partner--" Yamato glared at me then whirled around and stalked off.
"But--" I sighed.
I needed to talk to someone. And luckily I knew exactly where to find the perfect person.
Jyou was nothing if not reliable.
"So?" I said. "What do you think?"
Jyou carefully wiped his glasses before replying. "You know, Taichi, not being bonded myself I can't be absolutely certain, but it does sound as though you and Yamato have an unusual compatibility--"
"And we should be partners. It's so obvious to me, why doesn't he see it?"
Jyou started polishing his glasses again. "Taichi, what may be obvious to you may not necessarily be obvious to anyone else--."
"Never mind. Look, what's wrong with working with Koushiro?"
"Nothing. He's a great friend, and he's been a great partner. It's just--Yamato and I were meant to be."
"Are you sure? This does seem a little sudden."
"Jyou, I've never been so sure about anything in my life. Except maybe that I dislike math homework--"
"Taichi--" Jyou shook his head. "Well, you seem to have pretty good instincts."
"Great. Now, how do I get Yamato to see this?"
"Taichi, you may want to be careful. From the sounds of things, Yamato already has a partner that he's happy with."
"You mean Jun?"
"Taichi, Yamato's attachment to her might indicate that they are more than just friends. He might feel that a partnership with you would threaten their relationship."
"But that's stupid. I mean, Koushiro and I would still be friends--"
"Have you talked to Koushiro about this at all?"
"No. I've been so excited--"
"You may want to calm down a bit before you do so," Jyou said. "Taichi, Koushiro cares a lot about you. If you were to appear to be willing to dump that at a moments notice--"
"Oh. Of course," I said. "Thanks Jyou."
"Let me know how this all works out. By the way, how are you finding High School?"
"I'm not sure I understand exactly," Koushiro said as we walked home. "But if you're certain about this, Taichi, then I'll trust your judgement."
"Thanks Koushiro. I knew I could count on you," I changed my soccer ball to my other arm. "Now if only Yamato would see that--"
"What are you going to do about Jun?"
"What about Jun?" I asked, but before he could answer we were interrupted.
"Taichi! Are you here to coach our soccer team again? That is so cool! I've been practicing all summer! You want to see how good I've got?"
"Daisuke," I sighed. "I was the one helping you practice all summer, remember?"
"Oh yeah." He was daunted, but only for a second. "Come on, I'll help you get the soccer gear out."
"Great," I sighed. "What are you smiling for?"
Koushiro grinned. "He just reminded me of someone."
"Actually I have to go home now. Don't forget the runes."
"Come over to my house later."
"Isn't Koushiro going to stay?" Daisuke asked.
"Nah. It's been a long time since he's played soccer," I shrugged. "Daisuke, you've got something on your back."
"I do--not a kick me note, is it?"
"Well actually yes, but that wasn't it." I flicked the note off. "Hang on a second as I get rid of it."
Daisuke fidgeted as I traced the rune on his back.
"I bet this year is going to be great! I've been practicing really hard, I bet we win all our games."
"Uh-huh," I sealed the rune with my personal one and then put it into force. "There."
Was it my imagination or did I hear an angry hiss?
I looked up--a green shadow slipped out of sight among the bushes.
"Taichi? What are you waiting for? Let's go play soccer!"
"Taichi, you have guests," my mother said. "And pick your soccer gear up! I don't want it left all over the floor again--"
"I won't--" Mothers. I dumped my stuff in my room, then headed back to the lounge. "Uh--Yamato?"
Great--I was all sweaty and stuff from the practice, what a way to impress him--"Uh, what are you doing here?"
"I called them," Koushiro said and I noticed Jun and Takeru sitting on the sofa too. "We have a plan."
"Well what is it?" I looked at Hikari. "Tell me you're not involved."
"It's the only way, Taichi," Hikari said. "You need magic to attract that creature and it's probably not going to take on an experienced wizard--"
"That's right," Takeru said firmly. "We're your best bet."
"No!" Yamato said. "I won't allow this."
"It's our choice," Takeru said.
"No it's not. You think I'm going to let you put yourself in danger? It's stupid--"
"Koushiro--is there any other way?" I asked.
"I'm afraid not. We do not know the runes necessary to summon that creature because we cannot identify it. Therefore we have to make it come to us."
"And you really think it will come back to try Takeru and Hikari again? After we scared it off?"
"Well, can you think of anything else?"
"Short of walking the streets randomly to look for it, no." I sighed. "What the plan?"
"What?" Yamato grabbed me. "We have to talk." He hauled me into the hallway. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"What I'm doing?"
"You're making decisions like you're in charge--I won't let you put my little brother in danger!"
"Hey! Hikari's going to be in danger to--and it's not my decision, in case you hadn't noticed. It's theirs."
Yamato scowled turning his back on me. "How can you let your own sister do that?"
"Because we might be able to catch that thing. If we don't it will hurt other people." I sighed as I looked at his back. "We'll listen to Koushiro's plan and then we'll make a decision. They won't be able to do it without us."
"Fine." He didn't sound happy.
"Are you guys done?" Jun came into the hallway. "Koushiro's going to tell us his plan."
"In a minute," Yamato said. "Taichi, there's something we have got to get straight."
"And what would that be?"
"Yeah, Yama-chan. This sounds interesting."
Yamato sighed. "Jun, this is guy talk."
"So? Go right ahead." Jun grinned. "I've always wondered what guys talk about."
"Jun, I want to talk to Taichi without you here," Yamato said.
"Oh. Oh right. Well make it quick, Yama-chan. I miss you," Jun looked around and then leaned in and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "Hurry up!"
"We will," Yamato promised.
I was suddenly aware of what Jyou had meant.
It got clammy--and cold and I needed something to hold onto fast--how could I have missed that? Yamato and Jun weren't just partners--
"Bye--" Jun shut the door behind her.
I was suddenly slammed into the wall.
"What happened before means nothing, absolutely nothing, okay? You're not going to say anything about it to Jun--" Yamato said, pushing me harder against the wall. "Got that?"
"You can not," I glared at him. "Push me into anything!" He staggered back as I kicked him.
"Next time you want to bully someone, try picking someone who doesn't play soccer," I told him.
He didn't reply.
"Are you okay? I didn't kick you too hard?"
"Good," I stalked past him into the lounge.
"I'm not happy with this."
"Quit complaining. After all, even you had to admit this was our best chance." I liked Yamato sure. Only, he was being such a jerk.
I had to talk to Jyou again. After all, I knew Yamato was nice. I just had to figure out why he wouldn't show it. How did I know he was nice?
Well, there was the way he looked after Takeru. He really did look after him even if he was exactly nice while doing so. Takeru obviously looked up to him--
And then--well the rest of it wasn't even verbal. It just was. Instinct again, I suppose.
"Are you just going to stand there?"
"I've finished my runes," I said. "Once Jun has done with hers, I can enable mine, and we're all set."
The plan was pretty simple. Takeru and Hikari were to sit in the park, apparently engrossed in a book. However they would be within a ring of shield runes drawn by Jun, which she would activate once the snake woman turned up--of course, at that point I would activate my ring of runes, effectively trapping her.
"I just don't like the idea of Takeru being trapped in there with her."
"Didn't you hear me explaining the modifications in my plan?" Koushiro said. "It's really quite simple. Taichi and Jun have both included runes that will allow Hikari and Takeru to get out as soon as we have her trapped. I'll escort them to a safe place while the three of you stop her."
''There you see?" I grinned at Yamato. "We've thought of everything."
"I guess," Yamato smiled at me. It was only a small smile, kind of wistful, but it was a start.
"Everything's in place?" Koushiro said. "Places people!"
Jun and I were at opposite sides of the park. I scowled as Yamato went over to wait with her.
His partner. His girlfriend.
Why didn't I see that?
It wasn't fair or right, somehow. She was all wrong for him--and how did I know that?
She wasn't me.
Of course I was being illogical, and irrational--bluntly, my usual stuff.
I sat there thinking about how unfair it was. Then I gave up, and just watched Yamato.
Jun was going on about something. Yamato seemed to be having trouble listening--I smiled. Not that surprising. I don't think any one wanted to listen to someone gushing about how hot they were and how happy they were that they were going out with you--
I'd spent the afternoon, setting up runes with Jun. She seemed to have only one topic of conversation.
I didn't know what Yamato saw in her, but it was obviously something very good--otherwise he wouldn't put up with all of that.
I didn't get the concept of girlfriends.
A guy got a girlfriend. Suddenly he was being all goofy because she was showing up at practices--and then, he didn't have time to hang out after practice because he had to go home incase she phoned or hang around in places where she might go. I'd been dragged on a couple of these expeditions and had been dismayed to see people I'd formerly considered sane acting plain scary.
I returned to watching Takeru and Hikari.
To think that snake lady had attacked my sister--it still made me feel cold to think about it.
If she came back--well we could take her. And we would.
"Koushiro wanted me to tell you he just got an e-mail from Jyou. He thinks your decision was the right one, and he'll be coming by to help once his parents leave." Yamato's voice startled me.
"That's great," I said. "Jyou's another rune-master. He's at master level."
"Here sit," I told him. "You look as though you've got something on your mind."
He hesitated, then sat down.
"How can you be so calm? What if that thing comes back?"
"Isn't that the point?" I said. "Look, I know. I would like nothing better than for Hikari to be safe at home right now, but there's nothing I can do about it now, until we get rid of that thing. So, I can't worry because worrying would be pointless."
"You can really just turn it off like that," he sounded what--wistful?
"Yeah. Can't you?"
Yamato shook his head. "I keep thinking about what might happen if something went wrong."
"Yeah. Hikari mentioned something about you guys not seeing each other very often. That must be hard."
"Yes," Yamato said. "Yes it is."
I looked at him. He didn't look as distant as he usually did. "You want to talk about it?"
"You mean with you?" Yamato looked at me. "What makes you think I'd want to talk to you?"
I shrugged. "Nothing. But it struck me that you don't seem to be the sort of person who has a lot of people they can talk to. I thought you might want someone. You know. As a friend."
Yamato looked at me. "You--"
"Did you hear that?" I silenced him. "Hush."
There was nothing for a moment, then a dry scraping sound. Yamato swallowed.
"It's her, isn't it?"
"It's her." I grinned. "And is she ever in for a surprise."
She was not the only one.