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A little while later, you find yourself in a déjà vu.
Again, you're in the bright, contemporary staff lounge, again parked on the same king-sized modish couch, the same charming nurse fussing over your personal comfort. A few deviations mark this time, however. Firstly, your spirits aren't anywhere close as high as they were when you first stole into this room and very nearly planted your cack-handed nose in her bosoms. Secondly, you're very noticeably more clothed, and the dear nurse is busy bustling with a puffing tea urn rather than demanding you to show some knee.
She's showing enough knee for the two of you, anyhow.
“Here you go.” She gently sets a small steaming cup on the narrow table before you. “Sugar?”
She gives you a kind-hearted smile and goes to retrieve a cute varnished sugar-bowl from an overhanging cupboard.
“Here,” she says as she returns. “May I sit beside you? I'd like to be able to look at you closely.”
“I'd love you to. I mean, by all means.”
She smiles at that, too, and, having swept the short skirt under her thighs, she takes a seat, a respectful few inches kept diligently between your shoulders. The couch swells and wobbles like a gargantuan, earth-bound mollusc.
She sums that up with a small giggle. “I'll have a couple of questions for you,” she says then, a practised but laid-back tone. “A simple questionnaire – absolutely routine. I'll read you some statements, and then you'll tell me how true—or untrue—they hold to you. Simple as that.” She holds her cup to her cherry lips and takes a sip. “Ah,” she adds less officially, “but before we start, I'd like to, um, ask about one thing… and just personally – this isn't part of any test. Can I?”
How could she not? “Go ahead. Shoot.”
“All right. I don't mean to be nosy, but you seem so… uncommonly grim today. And I've heard Princess Kaguya say the same to Eir—to Master Eirin yesterday – that you're being… well, that you're depressed, because something happened, and that we should all… be kind to you, that's what she said. I really don't know that I should pry, but… would you mind if I asked? I'm just worried,” she follows up quickly, “I don't want to, um, intrude or anything.”
A hollow laugh flees your throat – an echo, probably, of all the smaller bitter laughs you've been holding in since the gloomy morning. “Oh, Reisen—” you shake your head sourly, “—you wouldn't believe how much I want to hug you right now.”
“Ah—” she makes a troubled gasp, “—um…”
“No, don't worry,” you assure her, “I'm not yet at the stage where I jump people whom I want to show affection. Still have a ways to go before I get that desperate. I'll tell you when I'm there so you have some time to find some shelter.”
“Ah, um, thank you…?”
“Anything for you, Reisen.”
“So, um…” she presses timidly, “…can you tell me why…?”
“Oh yes—” you set your cup down, “—what I reckoned,” you tell her grimly, “was that I've got all the good reason to think I'm suffering—what do you call it—withdrawal, or something of the sort.”
She looks shocked. “With—Withdrawal…?”
“Am I using the right term? Is that when you're suddenly out of the stuff you've been taking for the last couple of months and go all tits up for a few weeks?”
“Cracking. So there you have it,” you conclude, “I'm, uh… withdrawn, sort of.”
“… that's not what it means, though…”
“No, no,” she waves her small hand, “it's nothing. So you're… ‘withdrawn’ – that's what you think?”
“I've sussed that might be it.”
“And what are you… I mean, I didn't know… but what is it that you're…?”
She's visibly upset by the idea of your potential being a starved addict waiting for the perfect moment to shank her on the pretty head, steal her purse and dash off to score your next fix.
If only it were that simple.
“It's not really a ‘what,’ Reisen,” you tell her. “She wouldn't be too excited if we called her that, I don't reckon.”
Or just the opposite. She'd be very excited—in the other, murderous sense.
“So it's a…?”
“… but she—”
“Oh no,” you interrupt her, “don't you tell me she can ‘handle’ herself. And don't give me that look; you were about to tell me just that, weren't you? I don't buy it. Not at all. Hell, last time I let her ‘handle’ herself, she went and did something so utterly thoughtless I don't even know how she did it. And she hasn't so far bothered to kindly go about letting me in on whatever in the blazes she's done to herself. So yeah, if she can ‘handle’ herself like you all say, then I am the bloody book definition of amœba proteus – and no, I haven't the faintest idea if I even pronounced that right, let alone what it is. So there.”
Reisen gapes at you, startled, her beautiful eyes open wide. “Ah, I'm—” she stutters, “—I'm sorry, I didn't mean to…”
“No, you—bloody hell,” you choke on that apologetic look, “no, never mind! It's not you – it's me. It's my problem. Problems. Can't forget the plural. Never mind.”
She plays with her half-empty cup for a moment or two, apprehensively fingering its painted edges. “I've… known Fujiwara,” she says then, “or… kind of known her. We've never really spoken in person, but… I've heard from Princess Kaguya that she's a… resourceful person.”
“She was,” you correct. “I'm afraid I broke her.”
“Girls do do silly things for boys,” she agrees. Then she laughs. “Actually,” she says with a tiny smile, “now that I think back on it, she did want to do something a little outrageous the last time you two visited—during our field game.”
“She wouldn't follow orders,” Reisen explains. “I was the commander, but she disregarded everything I sent out to her team. She took her team and went to hunt down yours. She even made a speech to the other teams and got some of them to follow. She wanted to take you prisoner and win that way, from what I gather.”
“… wouldn't that be sort of against the rules?”
“I didn't dare tell her.”
She laughs at that, too, then sets her cup down on the table and takes up instead the notebook she's kept till now at her side. “Anyway,” she says, flipping through the pages, “can we begin? I've got to do this, and the faster we get it over with, the better… for both of us, I think.”
“All right,” you concede.
Against your own expectations, you sound more relaxed than you'd thought you were.
Reisen stops at some page and clears her throat. “Okay. As I said, the answers range from ‘not at all’ to ‘all the time,’ so just tell me how often you experience the factors I describe to you and we'll figure out which answer is the most fitting.”
“Okay, the first statement is: ‘I feel that others control what I think and feel.’”
“All the time,” you reply at once.
Reisen gives you a somewhat sceptical look. “… really?”
“Okay…” She scribbles something in her notebook, then continues. “Second is: ‘I hear or see things that others do not hear or see.’”
“All the time.”
“… are you sure?”
“Oh yes. Some of them I've even learned to like.”
“‘I feel it is very difficult for me to express myself in words that others can understand.’”
“All the time.”
This time the look is more than just sceptical. “… Shooter, please be serious.”
“I am serious. And don't—no, hold on, that was right. Never mind.”
She continues to stare at you for a while, but ultimately gives up. “Okay. Next: ‘I believe in more than one thing about reality and the world around me that nobody else seems to believe in.’”
“Such as that flying is bloody unnatural and should be forbidden? Quite a lot. Is there an answer like that on there? Quite a lot?”
“… there is,” she says, “but I don't think that's what it—”
“Never mind. Tick it.”
“All right. I'll take ‘somewhat,’ then.”
“… fine.” She ticks a box. “‘Others don't believe me when I tell them the things I see or hear.’”
“All the time. A no-brainer, really.”
She makes a resigned groan. “… okay, let's go on. So how about this one: ‘I have magical powers that nobody else has or can explain.’”
“Not at all, then?”
“Unless you're ready to believe a snotty 16-years-old that's grown up too soon and has a too-high opinion of herself,” you say, “I'm about as powerless as a deflated rubber chicken.”
“Okay. Not at all, in that case. Next one: ‘Others are plotting to get me.’”
“I'd prefer to believe otherwise.”
“… ‘moderately?’” she suggests.
“I'll take that. Sounds scientific.”
“… okay.” She writes it down, albeit reluctantly. “‘I find it difficult to get a hold of my thoughts.’”
“All the time. If I knew how to tie a lasso, I could imagine one and try that.”
“‘I can't trust what I'm thinking because I don't know if it's real or not.’”
“I'd be rather distressed if it were real. At times, I've got even wilder thoughts than Tarzan.”
That does it.
She slams the notebook on the table and turns to you with a nasty glare and knitted brows. All of a sudden you realise this is the first time you've seen her knit these brows—not counting the act you two engaged in during the weekend game—and that while startling enough to stop your heart for a beat, it only flatters her more. A scowling girl has something about her that you just want to grab and tug on till she's done fuming and settles down.
The dimples, perhaps.
“You're not taking this seriously at all!” she accuses. All while drawing well closer than those protocolary six inches. “I worry for you, I want to make sure you're okay, and you just make it into a joke!”
You don't put up your hands. Given her current position, it could give her the wrong idea. “Reisen,” you try to calm her down, “I swear to God, I'm as serious as can be. I know it sounds all incredible, but I'm not lying. I've had about the worst week you could imagine. I'm not making this up, I assure you. I'd much prefer I were making it up, in fact. What is the test for, anyway?” you try to divert her attention from your seemingly flippant answers. “Are you positive you're giving me the right one?”
She glares on for a few seconds, and then surrenders, falling back on the spot she sprang from. The couch springs itself when she does. “Schizophrenia,” she reveals coolly. “I worried you might have developed some symptoms due to the experiment. The test was for basic indications of classic schizophrenia.”
“Did I pass?”
“I don't know that it's viable any more, if what you're saying is true.”
“I've been involved in a lot lately, yes. Some of it might have been more supernatural than what you're used to seeing around these parts. I don't, however, thing that it justifies—” you break off.
“Shooter?” She looks at you, concerned. “What's wrong?”
“… Reisen,” you say quietly, “tell me…”
“… what in the bloody hell do you mean by ‘experiment?’”
She freezes as well.
A series of changes touches her delicate face. At first she's stupefied. At second, she begins to blush, but that dies soon when she starts to throw around a number of helpless glances. And then, her hands begin to tremble. At last, she looks back at you, tears welling up in the corners of her eyes.
“Ah—” she yelps, “I wasn't—”
“Supposed to tell me?” you fill in. Oddly, you discover you don't sound at all as angry as you thought you were. “I suspect Eirin ordered you not to tell me,” you continue. “Confidential information, she called it. A professional secret. I understand. Now tell me about this therapy, Reisen. And hurry, if you please; I can only hold a rein on my nerves for so long. I promise this will remain between the two of us. If you don't take too long.”
“Ah, yes, I—” she hiccups, “—I got an idea, from our talk, yes?”
“Our talk, about, um, modifying… about changing memories!” She does a couple of fast, incomprehensible gestures. “We talked about it the day you arrived! When I visited you in your room!”
“Oh yes,” you say, “I remember. Go on, please.”
“I couldn't—I couldn't believe that it hadn't occurred to me sooner, but after I'd talked with you, it just popped into my head, and…”
“And you told Eirin about it.”
She nods. About eight too many times than necessary. “Yes, and then—”
“She told you to put it to the test.”
“And you tested it.”
“I'm honoured. Now, what did that test entail?”
Reisen casts a quick glance at the door – either checking if you're still alone, or considering a tactical turning of tail. Seeing that the door is still closed—or, as a matter of fact, too closed and too far away—she sets her shaking hands on her lap and breathes in. “I'd never thought about it before,” she says, “but the issue of the brain struggling against the implanted false memory could be easily averted… or diverted, rather. I wasn't sure if it'd work, but the idea seemed sound!”
“And did it work?”
“Spectacularly!” she exclaims. A bit too eagerly than she'd intended, perhaps. “I mean, it worked perfectly! And it was so safe and clean! All I had to do is implant another memory beside the one we want the patient to believe. A memory that is so blatantly false the defence mechanisms will concentrate on it instead of the other one. A decoy, if you will. And it worked just wonderfully! Master Eirin was so satisfied with the results that she—” she trails off, partly thanks to your cold, hard stare. “But I set everything back to how it had been originally! I didn't… modify anything! I wouldn't—!”
“Delaney,” you repeat. “She was your guinea pig too, wasn't she?”
“What?” She blinks at you madly. “No! I didn't… I haven't tested it on anyone else yet! Are you… Are you positive that she…? No,” she says before you can speak up, “I never would have experimented on the younger staff. Master Eirin wouldn't allow it. I couldn't ruin their trust.”
“And yet you'd ruin ours.”
She covers with an unhealthy shade of red. “I'm sorry!” she cries, “but it couldn't have possibly failed! And you were the only human at hand, so…!” She rubs at her eyes with her sleeves. “Shooter, please!” she pleads. “I did it for science—to help people! I wouldn't have done it if it weren't safe! I even made it so you wouldn't remember! So it wouldn't bother you!”
“… I don't believe you,” you mutter. “I don't believe you at all.”
“I don't believe you, Reisen,” you say again, standing up. “I have no reason to. I'm going.”
“… what? Where?”
“To get Delaney,” you tell her. “And her friends. As many as I can find. I've got a fan-club here in the Clinic, did you know that? I might pay them a call. And then I'll find Reimu, and then we'll go straight to Eirin. We'll see how your ‘Master’ likes it when I make some of those uncomfortable revelations in front of half her staff.”
“No! Please don't!”
Screaming that, Reisen jumps from the couch and rushes to stand in your way.
She grabs both your wrists with her tender hands. She does her best to look threatening. She fails horribly. She attempts to make up by looking miserable. It doesn't convince you. At last, she resorts to plain begging.
And that, too, is lost on you.
“Shooter, please,” she tries nevertheless. “I messed up, it's my fault! I got carried away, I must have forgotten to complete the procedure! I am sorry! I really am! But you can't do that to Master Eirin! She only approved the experiment, nothing else!”
“Oh, I think there's a lot more going on than you're letting on.”
“Too many things don't add up, Reisen,” you tell her, “and to be honest, I've grown rather sick of things not adding up. It doesn't sit very well with my vision of the world, you see. I like it when things add up. It pleases my sense of aesthetics. But when the world is all shambolic – like now? I'm not pleased with it at all. In point of fact, I'm rather—”
What you are, though, will forever be open to speculation.
The door to the room opens—rather abruptly so—and cuts you off.
A person strides in – hastily, as if alarmed.
The person stops and looks at you and the half-crying nurse.
A scowl grows on the person's face.
“Now what in the sodding hell is going on here?” the person asks, suspicious.
And the rest is a daze.
A stifled squeal escapes from Reisen when you shove her aside. Another, similar cry sounds when you stumble, reaching out, towards the person who crashed your loony interview. Another yet flies right in your ear when you trap the person in your arms, pressing so tightly, so strongly, your head rings with the effort.
And not just the effort.
You want to say her name. You can't.
She wants to say yours. You don't let her.
You steal her voice. You kiss her lips.
Then her cheeks.
And then her nose.
And then her neck.
And then her shoulders.
And when she tries to protest, her lips again.
And it's not enough.
“Tiger—!” she manages to let out. “Stop! Udonge! Could you peel—yikes!—peel him off of me?! I beg you! He's—ack!—He's crazy!”
“Yeah, yeah, right!” She gives the nurse an acid look. “Sure, never mind, I'm sodding well sure he'll shed on his own sooner or later. Tiger, please,” she moans to you, “could you quit—yeek!—don't kiss me there! Oh, sodding hell! Udonge, hold up! Tiger! She's running away!”
Along with your answers, you might add.
And despite that, you don't care.
“Kiss me,” you demand.
“I don't care.”
“I don't give a damn. I want you to kiss me. Now, Mokou.”
“… oh, all right,” she gives in, “very well, I'll sodding kiss you if you're not going to shut up about it.”
And then she does just that.
It goes on for a while.
And some more.
And then—at your request—some more again.
At last, she pulls away and exhales a small, pleasant sigh. “… mm, Tiger?” she breathes. Her voice is low. Soft. Warm. And so very, very familiar. “What exactly were you doing just before I came in?”
“Not a lot, not really,” you tell her, nuzzling her lovely hair all the while. “Nothing too engaging, anyhow,” you carry on, “you've caught me doing more interesting things.”
She's wearing her own clothes, clean and ironed. A vague scent of lavender tickles your nostrils – the same air freshener Kaguya had on her. She must have gone to visit Her Highness' before searching you out, then. She's must have been in the Clinic for some time now – and you didn't even notice.
How blooming useless is that?
“Interesting for you, maybe,” she remarks a little tartly. “Are you sure we're on about the same things?”
“I never said for whom,” you return. “And where have you been? I missed you.”
“I've sort of noticed that myself. Care to let go of me for a bit? It hurts when you squeeze like this.”
“As soon as I've laid you down on that couch and kissed you some more.”
“Are you going to go off your rocker if I say no?”
“Hmm.” She pretends to consider. “All right then – but no kissing you-know-where. Or I'll kick you where you'll feel it.”
A kick in the jewels right now sounds like a dream come true.
Or at least the best thing since mechanical pencils.