Part Three


He knew he was dreaming.

He stood on a busy street, pushed and shoved one way or the other by indifferent human traffic. He knew he was looking for something, something he had lost a long time ago. But the thing was, he didn't know what it was. What if he found it, but couldn't recognize it?

He realized that he was actually leaning on a makeshift cane and that he was injured, but he didn't feel any pain. When he touched his own body, it was like touching cotton.

Something caught his attention and his head snapped up, but he could see nothing out of the ordinary. Just people and faces, shifting, changing, but all indifferent.

But there had been something a moment ago, a flash of color, a whiff of some familiar scent, the featherlight touch of a forgotten memory on his dreaming mind.

What was it?

Yuusuke's eyes flew open and he stared at the stone ceiling, so far above him. In the darkness of his chambers, he thought he saw dark splotches on it, like dried blood. He turned his head slightly to look out the window. The yellow Makai moon stared back at him, heavy and bloated.

There goes the rest of the night, he thought.

Definitely put on weight.

Shizuru eyed the other woman critically over her glass of iced lemon tea. Could use a bit of update on the fashion sense too, she thought.

"Shizuru, I feel like a goldfish in a bowl."

"Ah, gomen." Shizuru flashed a smile. "It's just that I haven't seen you for so long, Keiko. You musn't mind my staring."

"I must look like a - like a hippo!" Yukimura Keiko laughed, a hint of red on her cheeks.

"Oh, not at all," Shizuru said smoothly. She ran a finger around the wet rim of her glass. "Have you watched the anime movie Genesis X?"

"I'm a bit too old for anime," Keiko smiled.

"It's about these two good friends who pilot really cool-looking mecha and then one of them goes mad and kills the heroine who happens to be his own sister and the other guy's close friend."

"What happens in the end?"

"Everybody dies."

Keiko's face looked weird for a moment, as if she wasn't sure if she was going to laugh, smile, shake her head in disapproval, roll her eyes in disdain or cry. She settled for a smile. "The things kids watch these days."

"So how's Kenji?"

A short silence. "You know we're separated," Keiko replied, mildly reproving.

"So? That means you can't be friends?"

"Yes. You can't go back to friendship once you've crossed the boundary. It's a one-way street."

"So that means you and Yuusuke aren't friends?"

"Yuusuke? I thought we were talking about Kenji."

"I think we're talking about both."

"Well, I wish you'd enlighten me, because I can't keep up with our conversation." After a short sulk, she went on, "I haven't seen Yuusuke for... years. I doubt he even remembers me."

"Oh, he just asked about you yesterday."

"You saw him?"

"At Kazuma's."

Keiko looked down at her hands, then at the diminishing cubes of ice in her drink. "Is he - well?"

"The usual. He doesn't look a day older."

Keiko looked up, and sighed, a little wistfully. "While we just grow older and older with the years."

"Uh-hmm. Well, everybody ages, except youkai..."

She was interrupted by an impossibly cheerful voice. "Hi, you guys!"

Shizuru looked up. "... and certain Reikai ferrygirls."

Botan didn't look a day older than the first time they met either. I feel like Wendy, Shizuru thought, and Yuusuke's Peter Pan. But who's Botan then?

"Um, I know I haven't seen you guys for ages, but I really can't stay long," the blue-haired ferrygirl began, not getting off the oar she had arrived on. She wobbled precariously with her feet a few inches off the floor. Since the other diners in the cafe didn't faint or run away screaming, Shizuru assumed that Botan was in her invisible mode. "I'm on an errand from Koenma," she was saying, "Just wanted to tell you not to expect any visits from the Makai or Reikai for some time. Koenma's closing off every portal to the Ningenkai and nobody's allowed to pass through the worlds, not even on legitimate business."

Shizuru lit a cigarette. They were in the smoking zone, of course. "Why's he doing that?"

"Oh, ah, well..." Botan hedged, looking wide-eyed as she tried to think up a plausible answer.

Shizuru sighed. "It's not a secret, is it?"

"Well, sort of..."

"All right, then we won't ask," Keiko said, with a warning glance at Shizuru. Botan looked visibly relieved.

"Wait a minute." Shizuru's brain had finally caught up with her. "Nobody is allowed to cross the barrier? Not even you and the other ferrygirls?"

Botan looked at her, solemn for once. "Not even us."

"But then-" Keiko's eyes widened at the implication.

Both women took in a sharp intake of breath, but it was Shizuru who managed to say it.

"There'll be no more death."

Okay, so this is an *extremely* slow moving fic...

 Part Four

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