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Rejecting Freedom

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Waking up was painful. I had given into my exhaustion while working the night before, and had slept in a rather uncomfortable position throughout the night. Besides, waking up in a hotdog van is never a pleasant experience regardless. It always feels kind of shameful when you do… But that wasn't the most important thing at that moment.

Yusaku had been missing for 5 days straight at this point. Not a single call, message, or appearance of Playmaker. Apparently Yusaku hadn't been showing up at school either. Aoi Zaizen had come to my van a few days prior to ask if I knew why Yusaku hadn't been coming to school. I had no real answer to offer.

I had spent the first day just working by myself, like I do sometimes when Yusaku was busy. The second day was similar as well, as I had just foolishly assumed that Yusaku had business of his own to attend to. It was only on the third day that I had suspected that something may be wrong. I had messaged Yusaku about some of SOL Technologies' suspicious actions within the network. My message was sent early in morning, and wasn't replied to all day, let alone read. This was very much unlike Yusaku. Generally he would see my messages within an hour of them being sent, unless he was in class. I felt really uneasy at the end of that day, but I just assumed the best once again. 'Yusaku must be sick, and resting up at home. He'll see the message by tomorrow morning.' I told myself.

I regret not assuming anything bad had happened right there and then. Something was wrong.

By the late morning of the 4th day, real panic set in. My message remained unseen by Yusaku. I had only decided to take action then. The first thing I did was make my way to his apartment complex, race up the stairs and knock on the door.

There was no answer.

I knocked a few more times, each answered with frightening silence. Every time I knocked, I got more and more desperate, until I was knocking loud enough to wake the dead, and I decided to finally give up. Constant knocking wouldn't bring Yusaku home if he wasn't already there.

I spent a good few minutes staring at that door, motionless. My mind slowly flickered through my options on what I could do.

The next course of action I took was sprinting down the apartment complex steps and jumping in my van, so I could monitor the network to see if Yusaku had logged in as Playmaker. Regretfully, this took an awful long time, and produced no results. I had been scanning the VRAINS data logs all day and most of the night. Getting the scan started was exhausting work, but afterwards all I had to do was sit and wait. That was when I passed out while working. And that is why I woke up in my food truck at noon on day 5.

The monitors told me that my search had no matches in the VRAINS data logs. Yusaku hadn't logged into VRAINS in the past 5 days. He hadn't even logged in since our last mission. I was really concerned and frustrated at this point. I slammed my fists down on the keyboard in a fit of rage, and cursed under my breath.

He couldn't be dead. The bounties on his head were far more valuable, and nobody as far as I knew had such ill intentions for Yusaku as death. The bounty hadn't even been claimed yet. SOL Technologies wouldn't say what they would do to Yusaku, but they certainly would have made a very public deal out of him being caught. What else could have possibly happened to him?

Kidnapping?

The very thought of the thing that ripped apart Yusaku's and my own brother's lives pierced through my mind and made me feel sick. It was entirely possible. But who would kidnap Yusaku? What reason would they have?

Ghost Girl and Aoi would never do such a thing. SOL Technologies was out of the question. A random stranger as a kidnapper seemed highly unlikely too. Who did that leave?

The Knights of Hanoi. It felt as if I had reached the right answer. Why would they resort to kidnapping? Was it to get Ai? The possibility was too great to ignore. Immediately, I made my way into the driver's seat of my van and sped off towards Stardust Road. Yusaku had to be there. He might be in danger.

---

"OPEN UP!" I yelled furiously as I rammed my fists into the door of the house at the top of the cliff by Stardust Road. Almost instantaneously, my determined cries were answered. A man who wasn't Revolver, or rather Ryoken, opened the door, yet the man looked familiar.

"Specter…" I whispered, taken aback by finally seeing him in real life. My eyes went wide with surprise.

"Kusanagi Shoichi. It is a pleasure to meet you." With an arm across his torso, he bowed like a gentleman. I decided to ignore his politeness. From what I had seen in the past anyway, it was nothing but an act.

"Where is Yusaku? What have you done with him?!" My voice was bitter as I spoke.

"Oh my, you know he is here? Well, we expected you would find out eventually. Please come in. I'm sure Ryoken-sama will be happy to answer your inquiries." Specter talked with a smile on his face, which may have looked rather normal to any average person, but to me who knew better, it was terrifying.

Reluctantly, but keen to make sure Yusaku was okay, I followed Specter into the heart of Ryoken's oceanside abode. "Ryoken-sama and Yusaku are just through here. Go in and take a seat." Specter gestured to a set of double doors to his left, and bowed once again.

"He already knows I'm here?"

"With you yelling and knocking that loud, I think you would have to be deaf to not know that you have come to visit."

Specter had a point. But it wasn't what mattered right now. I needed to make sure Yusaku was okay. I needed to get him out of here. Putting aside my hesitation, I opened the doors and walked into the room.

"Yusaku…!" I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Perhaps my eyes were deceiving me? Maybe there was an explanation?

Ryoken sat down on a couch, and Yusaku was in his arms, wrapped in a blanket with his eyes shut and breathing lightly.

"Shhh… I don't want to wake him up just yet." Ryoken's deep voice purred. He stroked Yusaku's hair gently and smiled at the sleeping boy.

I just stared blankly at the absolutely perplexing sight, unblinking.

"Feel free to take a seat." Ryoken nodded to a seat across from the couch he sat upon, on the opposite side of the coffee table that separated the two.

I snapped out of my brief trance, and took the seat I was offered. What on earth was going on? I was glad Yusaku was okay. But there were some problems. For one, Yusaku's duel disk was missing, along with Ai. For another, Yusaku was asleep in Ryoken's arms.

How the hell did that happen? Did they drug Yusaku? Brainwash or hypnotize him? Threaten him? I had no way of knowing except by asking.

"What is going on here?!" I asked, trying to sound intimidating.

"Shhh...! I thought I said keep your voice down…!" Ryoken glared accusingly at me.

I tried to keep a strong face, "Answer me.", I demanded.

"What is going on?" Ryoken repeated the question thoughtfully, "Well, for a start I took Yusaku from his apartment to here. We've just been spending time together."

I had no idea what he was meant by his words. It was too vague to draw conclusions. What was 'spending time together' supposed to mean? But there was one thing he said that really pissed me off. 'I took Yusaku from his apartment', that's just…!

"You kidnapped him?!" I exclaimed with a high volume.

"Shhh!" Ryoken snapped quietly.

Yusaku's eyes opened slightly. He blinked sleepily a few times, before making an effort to fully open his eyes. He peered around the room to survey his surroundings.

"You woke him up. Next time I ask that you don't raise your voice, if there even is a next time, Kusanagi." Ryoken hissed.

"Ryoken, what's…" Yusaku whispered, before trailing off. He sleepily stared at me and said "Oh… Hi Kusanagi…" in a sleepy way. His expression was distant and dreamy.

"Yusaku, what's going on here?!" I asked. Although, it sounded a bit less like asking him and more like I was interrogating him, probably because some of my frustration from my previous questions had decided to lace my words with their tone.

"Kusanagi… I…" Yusaku sounded hurt. A frown tugged on his mouth, and his eyes looked a bit watery. Ryoken had noticed Yusaku's drop in mood, and in response turned Yusaku's head toward him, pecked his forehead and stared menacingly at me.

"Yusaku, don't worry about Kusanagi. Kusanagi, first you make a racket at my door, then you come in here demanding answers with not even the slightest bit of respect for Yusaku who was sleeping, and now you decide to take your anger out on Yusaku." He shook his head and continued, "Why did you come here? Did you want to 'save' Yusaku? I wasn't aware yelling at him and being mad at him was something that would 'save' him from me. I don't think he even wants to leave here. And I think you just set that wish of his in stone."

I was at a loss for words. I had let my emotions control me. They had they made me act out at Yusaku who was in a very undesirable situation right now. Even so, it looked like this was a situation he was fine with. Maybe it wasn't too late to convince him, so I tried to persuade him to leave with me.

"Yusaku, leave here with me. I'm sorry for yelling at you, it was… uncalled for." I apologized, "You can't trust the Hanoi. What has Ryoken done to you? This isn't very… Like you, at all." I sighed in disbelief and continued, "Ryoken is Revolver, Revolver is our enemy. Why are you letting him be close to you like this?"

"Yusaku?" Ryoken prompted.

Yusaku turned his head from Ryoken and looked directly into my eyes. He shot me a look reminiscent of a child being attacked.

"I… don't want to leave. There's something here I've never had before, and if I leave I'll never have it again…" Yusaku still spoke hazily. Ryoken tightened his embrace and lovingly nudged Yusaku's head, before continuing to stroke his hair. "And Kusanagi… Ryoken saved me when I was younger. You know that. He isn't the person who imprisoned and tortured us. It was his father. Ryoken is… gentle. Kind. Warm. He'd never do such a thing. He doesn't need to be the enemy."

I couldn't believe my ears. Yusaku really didn't want to leave. He just wanted to be here with… The enemy. Ryoken. Revolver. And it just didn't seem right. They must have done something to Yusaku. This couldn't be natural.

"What…?!" I gasped.

"You heard him, and I would be quite glad if you respected his wishes." Ryoken stated in a flat and serious tone.

"Yusaku, what has he done to you?" I felt my tone becoming fiery once again and tried my best to keep it tamed.

"Kusanagi, Ryoken hasn't done anything to me." Yusaku leaned into Ryoken's chest.

"No, that can't be right. He must have done something."

"Just accept it, Kusanagi." Ryoken seemed to be nearing angry territory, and had a cocky edge to the way he spoke, "After all, Yusaku is mine now."

Ryoken posessively squeezed Yusaku.

What did he just say to me?

Is he serious? He owns Yusaku? Is that how he sees this?

Does he think he'll get away with this?!

And in an instant, all of my rage took control.

"What did you DO TO HIM? YOU AREN'T GETTING AWAY WITH THIS…!" I yelled. Yusaku hugged into Ryoken out of shock, and screwed up his eyes. Ryoken kept his expression stern and locked his eyes on me.

"Specter," He called, "I think Kusanagi has overstayed his welcome."

"I'M ABSOLUTELY NOT LEAVING WITHOUT YUSAKU!" I cried with desperation, "TELL ME WHAT YOU DID TO HIM!"

Specter came in the room and dragged me from the chair.

"I think you'll find that you'll be leaving empty handed, Kusanagi Shoichi." Specter kept his creepy smile painted on his face.

He dragged me out of the house as I tried to fight back and scream, but there was no way of stopping him. He was surprisingly strong, and overpowered me with ease. As he threw me out onto the from steps of the house, he smirked and slammed the door. Then he locked it.

---

"Yusaku, you're trembling…" Ryoken said with concern in his tone.

I was shaking, it was true. Kusanagi… I'd never seen him so aggressive or hostile before. It was terrifying. Was that his true nature? Was I in danger when I was in the presence of Kusanagi?

"He… Was just so…" I tried to find the words to describe the feelings I had.

"Its okay, we won't let him near you unless you want to see him. I'd never let him hurt you. I'll protect you, no matter what." Ryoken assured me.

I nodded, grateful, then leaned into his body.

"You should get some more sleep, you still look a bit tired." Ryoken kept stroking my hair rhythmically. His touch made me feel as if I was melting. It filled me with unparalleled euphoria, so intense it relaxed all my muscles and made me feel a bit sleepy.

"I'll be right here when you wake up. Sleep well, Yusaku..."

Chapter Text

Kidnapping Yusaku would be easy - I’d been planning this for days now. I could finally get him to join the Knights of Hanoi. I could make him turn against the Ignis. He would be just as loyal to me as Specter, maybe even more loyal. His power would be all mine. I licked my lips at the thought. He would make the most excellent puppet for achieving my goals.
All it would take is a little bit of persuasion and… well, hypnotism.

That night, the moon shone a bright blue and Den City was quiet. I had made my way over to Yusaku’s apartment building and was standing at the base of it. This was my first time seeing the place in person. It looked even crappier than any pictures I had seen, and the reviews all seemed like understatements. ‘The place looks like a meth lab.’ one had said. ‘I’m sure someone had been murdered here. I wouldn’t be surprised if bodies were hidden in the walls.’ said another. I had to disagree to such comments. It looked many times shadier than that.

Well, I was one to talk. I’d literally only turned up to this place with the purpose of kidnapping a tenant.

The inside of the building looked horrible too. The hallways and staircases all were full of chips and scratches, and covered in vile graffiti. Strange stains dotted the ceilings, and every now and again you would hear a loud crashing noise come from one of the rooms. I could have even swore I heard a person crying in one of the rooms. Why in the world was Yusaku living in an awful place like this? Wanting a place with cheap rent wouldn’t even justify calling this place home. Surely there were nicer places with a similar price tag?

I got the chills from the entire place. The atmosphere was dismal. The idea of Yusaku having to endure living in this place made me feel sick. I felt rather thankful that I had come to take him from his disgusting place.

As I went up the various levels of the building, I came to notice that certain levels weren’t as bad as others, but only slightly. Yusaku lived on one of the slightly more pleasant levels. Although, it certainly wasn’t the nicest I'd seen out of the entire place. The doors weren’t as splintery, the carpet retained some of its original colour and the walls were less vandalised. It wasn’t enough to make me feel even close to feeling safer though.

Yusaku’s door was the nicest one I had seen on the level. There weren’t any gashes in it or stains on it, and it still had the whole door handle left on it. One thing it did have in common with the other doors on the level though was the sturdy looking lock above the door handle. If Yusaku had a digital lock, I would have cracked that open with my hacking skills. But this place was low budget, so they had old fashioned door locks. I would have to do this the old fashioned way.

I pulled a lockpick out of my pocket and inserted it into the lock. Quietly and calmly, I fiddled with the internal mechanisms of the lock, methodically working to unlock it.
Then I heard a click.

I turned the door handle, and slowly opened the door. It creaked slightly and I cursed under my breath, hoping it wouldn’t give me away. Luckily, the noise incited no reaction from anything in the room. In fact, no lights in the room were on, so the only thing I had to try and not do was wake Yusaku up. I continued opening the door, until it was wide enough to let me through but not be completely open. I didn’t want too much of the light from the hallway filtering into Yusaku’s room and waking him up.

I slowly closed the door behind me and held my breath when it made the creaking sound again. With the outside light gone, I blinked and waited patiently for my eyes to adjust. I made sure to keep my breaths quiet and controlled. For a solid 5 minutes, I stood still as the objects in the room came into focus.

Quietly and slowly, I crept down the steps and approached Yusaku’s bed. When I looked at Yusaku, something didn’t seem right.

His hands were gripping onto his bed sheets as if he were in extreme pain. His expression was terrified, and instead of having his eyes normally closed, they were screwed shut. Beads of sweat were forming on his face and arms. His breathing was heavy.

I wondered if Yusaku was having a nightmare, watching as he tightened his grip on his bed covers. The sight made my heart sink. What is he having a nightmare about? It looked Incredibly painful.

“I can’t… keep.. going…” Yusaku whispered as if he had been hurt. I was surprised that he had started talking in his sleep. I stayed silent and listened to see if he said anything else.

“Think… of.. Three things…?” He continued, “Who… are… you…?”
I felt my eyes widen at the mention of three things. Yusaku was dreaming about the Lost Incident. He was dreaming about me. What would come next in the dream?

“I’ll… save you… one day…” He whispered. He sounded sad, but also determined at the same time. His words made me feel a bit warm inside. I always knew he wanted to save me because he thought that I was also kidnapped, but it had more of an impact on me when I heard him saying it like this. He sounded really emotional when he spoke.

“Walk… a new path… Your words… encouraged me…” His voice had lost its determined edge, and was now only sad. I recognised the words he was saying too. Yusaku was repeating his conversation he had with me when my father passed away. However, the way he whispered the words didn’t match the tone of the conversation we’d had at all. Was this the way Yusaku had felt during our conversation?

“My heart… has always... been alone… This isn’t… how I wanted… it to be… ” Yusaku whispered despairingly. Now he was quoting our duel, “A deep abyss… that can’t be crossed… I can tell you… my true… feelings… You live in.. the same world… as me… You crossed… the abyss... “ He quoted the things he had said that duel, word for word.

“I’ll never… be your… friend…?” His tone became questioning. He wasn’t quoting himself anymore. He never said that during our duel...
I was the one who had said that.

“We’ll seize… a new future… together…” Yusaku’s voice became shaky. His eyes and grip on his sheets tightened. He was quoting himself again.
“I won’t run… from my… destiny…?” Yusaku had switched who he was quoting once again. He sounded like he was on the edge of tears. Perhaps the best way to describe the way he sounded… would be heartbroken?

All of Yusaku’s body language as he slept, along with the things he said and how he said them were definitely the result of an intense nightmare. I felt sad listening to him and watching him. I felt sorry for him, since he looked like he was in terrible physical and emotional pain. I found it strange though, how Yusaku’s mind had mainly focused on me or our duel at any given time. And he had remembered so many details of it all…

My thoughts were quickly interrupted by Yusaku talking again, though I didn’t recognise any of the words he was saying from any past conversations. These words were new to me. But to him, were they new?
“Why… does he… refuse… when all I… want is for… us to both… feel happy… for once…” Yusaku's whispering had sounded more emotional now than it did in his previous statements, “I can't… move forward… He can't… move forward… I'll never… understand… him… when I'm… unable to… get through… to him… I'm alone… He's alone...”

Was Yusaku… talking to himself? About me? About us?

“He'll… never stay… with me… But I don't... want to be alone… He's the only… one can understand... my true feelings...”

Yusaku stopped talking then. No more words seemed to be forming. I took the opportunity to collect my scattered thoughts.

Yusaku felt hurt by not being able to understand me. It was true that I had rejected his attempts to get to know me, but to think they’d have such an impact on Yusaku… I guess realising that had made me start feeling heartbroken too. He deserved better.

Not only did Yusaku feel isolated, but he was stuck in this dreary apartment complex. He was fighting on a side that would destroy the planet if they won. Yusaku needed saving.
I needed to take him away from all of that.

Originally, when I visited his apartment I had the intention of turning him into a puppet of the Knights of Hanoi. Hearing Yusaku endure a nightmare caused a slight change of plans. I felt different about Yusaku now. Turning him into a mind slave simply wouldn’t do. I wanted to own him. I wanted to love him. I wanted to protect him.
Instead of controlling him, I would grant him the opportunity to get to know me and be by my side. In return, he'll be mine, both body, mind and soul.

So I decided to begin my new plan. As Yusaku lay in bed, looking unsettled, I produced a blindfold from my pocket and held it over his eyes. Yusaku's condition remained the same. Carefully I placed the blindfold down, over his eyes, and slipped one of the ends under his head. I tied the blindfold off to the side of his head, then carefully sat him up in the bed. He was still sleeping, which was good.

Hypnotizing him would be impossible without waking him up though. I would need to sit behind him too, since I couldn’t use a pendulum to focus a person’s mind if they couldn't see. Instead, I decided to use Yusaku's sense of touch. With hypnotism, it didn't matter which sense you used to focus a person’s mind, as long as what you stimulated them with was repetitive and rhythmic. Almost anything could be used in place of a pendulum.

Slowly and cautiously I knelt on the bed behind him. Yusaku stirred a little as I did. I held my breath at the close call. Thank goodness I brought a blindfold, so if he did wake up he wouldn't see me. I stayed still for a while, thinking about how I should go about this and clearing up my ideas of what to say.

Finally ready, I gently shook Yusaku awake.
“Mnnnnn...” He groaned softly.
I placed my hands on his shoulders, and rubbed my thumbs around on his back in a circular pattern. Yusaku relaxed under my touch. He seemed to still be half asleep and quite blissfully unaware of his surroundings. Perfect. After all, there are two types of people are easy to hypnotise, the unalert and the willing. Yusaku fell into the former category.

Touch alone wouldn't be enough to hypnotize him though. Talking was necessary too. “Yusaku, listen to my voice... Listen carefully…” I made sure my tone was gentle and calm. Yusaku remained quiet.
“Trust my voice… Clear your mind and listen well… Let my words fill up your empty mind…” My words were slow and constant.
“You feel heavy and tired… Your eyelids are shutting… All of your muscles are slowly releasing all their built up tension… You feel completely relaxed… You can feel yourself drifting into a trance…”
Yusaku stopped supporting his own weight and leaned back into me.
“You can feel yourself falling gently under my control…”
I stayed quiet for a few minutes. Yusaku remained still. It appeared my hypnosis had taken effect.
“Open your eyes.”

Cautiously I untied the blindfold and peered at Yusaku's gaze. It was distant and dreamy. “Good, Yusaku.” I praised him. I tenderly stroked his hair and then wrapped my arms around his slender build. “I’d like to ask some things of you, Yusaku.”

Yusaku stayed silent and distant as I spoke to him.
“Please be mine. Your body, your mind… Give it all to me. I’ll take care of you. I’ll protect you. All you have to do is relinquish your freedom to me.” Slight features of concern had started to form on Yusaku’s face. If I wasn’t careful, he would snap out of his trance because of how dangerous my request sounded. I knew I needed to talk more about what he wanted.
“If you are mine, you won’t be alone anymore. I’ll always be here for you. You might even get to know the real me. Don’t you want to understand me? I want to understand you too.”

Yusaku remained detached from reality, but tears had started to form in his eyes. My hypnotism and words were starting to have an impact on him. “We can both be happy. Isn’t that what you wanted? We can move forward together, by each other’s side. Picture that. Imagine how it would feel. Bathe in that feeling. Let it fill you from top to toe... Doesn’t it feel nice? Doesn’t it feel right? All you have to do is give yourself to me. Won’t you do that, for us?”

I stared at Yusaku’s face. There was a light smile forming on his face as he thought about my proposal. Tears rolled down his cheeks. Tears of joy, I assumed. He was finally getting what he wanted so badly. I felt rather happy myself. Yusaku would let me save him.

“Never leave my side. I won’t ever leave you either. I only want the best for you. I won’t try to change you, and you don’t need to change yourself. When I wake you up from your trance, all you have to do is stay with me and belong to me. What do you think?”
Yusaku nodded slowly in response. I considered if there was anything else I should say while Yusaku was still in a trance.

There was one thing that came to mind. I wanted Yusaku’s trust. He would find out what I’ve done tonight eventually. He would likely feel very hurt if that happened. Betrayed… That's not something Yusaku needs to feel.

“One more thing, Yusaku. When I wake you up, you will remember me hypnotising you, and the things I have said, as well as the way you felt.”
Yusaku nodded again.

“Very good. When I snap my fingers, you will wake up.”

Snap.

Yusaku blinked a couple of times. Each time, his expression became less distant and more lively. For a brief moment he stared dead ahead, then his eyes darted around the room, surveying his surroundings. He looked a little bit confused.

“Kogami…?” He muttered as he looked at me. His face turned from one of puzzlement to shock and a little surprise.
“Hello, Yusaku.”
“What… What just… You just hypnotised…” He struggled to form coherent sentences.
“Relax yourself. Yes, I did just hypnotise you.”
“I can’t…”
“Yusaku, take some deep breaths. Take as long as you need to collect your thoughts.”

Yusaku did as I said. Every now and again, he would trade a glance with me, before quickly averting his eyes, but otherwise he would be deep in thought. It was a while before he started speaking again.

“Kogami, why did you hypnotise me?” He sounded unsure of himself.
“There was something you wanted but you couldn’t get. I wanted to give it to you.”
“I should… feel scared of you. You asked me to hand myself over. Why don’t I feel like that's a bad thing? I know it should be a bad thing. I just don’t perceive it like that…”
Yusaku looked down with a shameful expression on his face.

“Is it really a bad thing, Yusaku? What makes it a bad thing? I’m not going to hurt you. I’ll only care for you. There isn’t a single thing I could list that makes belonging to me bad. But I can’t blame you for thinking that way. You see, society has told you that freedom is important. They tell you that you’ll be miserable without it. But what could society know about your emotions as an individual? They’ve already failed to heal your broken heart with all the therapies under the sun. They didn't even check to see if their therapies had fixed you. They finished with you, then threw you out into the open without a care in the world. Where did that leave you? No friends, PTSD at age 16 and this dismal apartment. They don’t know what's best for you. They don’t understand you and your suffering the way I do. I told you to reject your freedom for a reason. I can give you the happiness that freedom never could.”

Were my words true? Well, partly. I wasn’t wrong. But I didn’t mention that I had a couple of selfish reasons for telling him to be mine either. It didn’t matter though. We could both get what we wanted this way. Yusaku will be my property. I’d make sure he was happy. Yusaku could finally be by my side, just as he has always wanted. Even if I mentioned my selfish reasons, I doubt he would have minded.

All Yusaku could do in response to what I said was stare at me, eyes wide. I could tell he was having trouble coming up with a response. I smiled as warmly as I could at him, and he stopped trying to refute what I had said.

“Kogami, I…” He trailed off, then leaned into me and hugged me.
“Yusaku, its okay.” I said, patting his hair gently.
We sat like that for a while, and with each moment passing Yusaku seemed a little calmer than when I had snapped him out of the trance.

“Can I ask you a question?” Yusaku asked out of the blue.
“Of course.”
“Being hypnotised… felt nice. It was relaxing, and the emotions I felt… Some other time, could you hypnotise me again?”
“Do you trust me enough to want that?” I asked, taken aback a little. Yusaku nodded.
“Yeah… You didn’t do anything bad to me this time. I don’t see why you would next time, either. So… Please, can you?
“Whenever you want, Yusaku.”

---

Shortly after that, Yusaku fell asleep, and I carried him out of his apartment, and made my way through the empty back alleys of Den city, under the bright blue moonlight, towards my house at stardust road.

The following morning, Yusaku had awoken beside me, a couple of hours after I had woken up. He seemed a little surprised, but then went back to being calm after realising where he was and why.

“Good morning, Yusaku.”
“Good morning, Kogami.”
“Please, call me Ryoken.”

Chapter Text

“Yusaku? Is it still bothering you?” Ryoken fiddled with a wad of my pink hair as I snapped out of my daze and started paying attention to what was going on around me.
“Hm? Sorry, what was the question?”
Ryoken stopped playing with my hair and wrapped his strong and warm arms around me.
“Is what happened with Kusanagi still bothering you?” He asked, sincere and voice softer than the bed we sat on.
“No, why do you ask?”

The truth was that I was still rather shaken. Kusanagi had lurked within my nightmares as some sort of malicious and demonic presence for the past week. At first I had assumed it would go away. But as the days had passed I had become increasingly stressed about the fact that the nightmares had not stopped, and the fact that the content of the nightmares had escalated every night. It had been a miracle that I hadn’t screamed in the middle of the night or woken up in a panic. Besides, I didn’t want to tell Ryoken. I feared that if I told him, he would be hurt that his care of me had been insufficient. I didn’t want to make him feel hurt. I didn’t want to tell him that all he had done for me was useless. I knew very well that the things he had done for me were in no way useless, however that didn’t stop my mind from telling me that saying something was wrong and would offend Ryoken.

“Are you sure, Yusaku? Even if it isn’t Kusanagi, is there something bothering you? You’ve been staring into space an awful lot recently…” Ryoken purred, getting closer to my ear. My heart skipped a beat. Ryoken always knew the best way to get me to talk.
“Maybe… Maybe there’s something.” I muttered, hoping that Ryoken wouldn’t hear me, despite knowing how futile such a hope was.
“You can tell me, Yusaku. I’ll help you, not matter what it is.”
I hesitated.
“You’re not going to like it…”
“I won’t get mad. I promise.” Ryoken said, placing a light kiss on my cheek as if to seal the promise.
“No, I don’t think it will make you mad…”
“Oh?”
“It… it might hurt you?” I offered up awkwardly, hoping he might understand why I didn’t want to reveal that something been had torturing me every night for a week.
“Don’t worry about me, Yusaku. That is a very kind thought though, thinking about how I feel. It makes me happy to be reminded that you care. But please, don’t forget that I care about you too. I’m sure that whatever it is, I’ll be more sad knowing I didn’t help.”

His praise weakened me. I couldn’t refuse Ryoken.

“I’ve been having nightmares.”
Ryoken shot me a worried look and waited for me to continue talking.
“The nightmares have been about Kusanagi. I’ve had them every day this week and they’ve only been getting worse.”
“Yusaku… I’m sorry… I should have known.”
“Why are you sorry? You couldn’t have known.”
“If I’m going to look after you, I need to pick up on things like this. I should have looked out for any uneasiness that you might have shown before or after sleep. I should have said something earlier this week when I noticed you staring blankly. Even if I didn’t know that you were having nightmares, I should have at the very least deduced that something wasn’t right.” Ryoken took on a dismal tone. He sounded disappointed in himself. This was exactly how I had feared he would react.
“Ryoken, please…” I started.

I felt like getting up, running away and locking myself alone in a room so that I wouldn’t get in Ryoken’s way. But I was mentally chained to where I was, by Ryoken’s side. I couldn’t leave. My body wouldn’t obey my will. Ryoken’s hypnotism took had my freedom to abandon him in this room. Others might have panicked at such a limitation, but to me it was a sweet reminder that I was Ryoken’s.

“Yusaku, I’ll do better,” He took on a more determined tone, noticing how worried I was becoming, “I don’t feel hurt by this. Just trust me, okay?” He gave my shoulder an affectionate rub.
“... Okay.”
“For now, lets not worry about this. I think we should do something about your nightmares.”
“Mmm.” I agreed, leaning into Ryoken.
“Have you been thinking about Kusanagi a lot since his... visit?”
“Yeah. I just… I’m scared of him. If I see him again, who knows what he’ll do to me.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if that is why you’ve been having these nightmares then.”
“I can’t just… stop thinking about it though.” I said, feeling a hopeless.
“A little hypnotism could fix that.”

Ryoken fell sideways, down onto his pillow and pulled me down with him. We lay closely on the bed, facing each other. I could feel his warm breath on my cheek.
“Take some deep breaths, Yusaku. I need you calm if I’m going to do this.”
I obeyed. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. I could feel my muscles relax a little. Ryoken took my hands with his. His voice became softer, smoother and more calming.
“Close your eyes and relax.” he cooed.
Slowly, I let my eyelids slide shut. Ryoken began tracing circular patterns on my palms with his thumbs.
“Let all of the tension in your muscles go… Feel yourself sink into the mattress and pillow beneath you… Feel their warmth envelope you…” My mind followed as Ryoken spoke softly. As I did, I found myself not focusing on the words he said anymore, but instead latching onto the deep and cool tones of his voice. They felt calming and kind. They felt gentle and caring. The singsong and angelic voice of Ryoken blended seamlessly with the rhythmic motions I felt on the palms of my hands. I felt nothing and heard nothing in my body, except for Ryoken.

Ryoken was the only thing that mattered.
Ryoken was the only other thing that existed beside me.

And just like that, I fell into a deep trance.

---

“Yusaku, slowly open your eyes.”
Yusaku did exactly as I had asked of him. His eyelids opened, and since he was facing me, his distant and dreamy gaze met with mine.
“Does it feel nice to be hypnotised again?”
Yusaku nodded slightly.
“That's very good to hear. Now then, where do I begin?”
I pulled his hands up to my chest and held them against it. I spent a moment, thinking carefully of what words to use.

“Kusanagi scares you. I don’t like that. You don’t like that. How awful, that he just showed up unannounced and decide to make a scene like that. I can’t believe he would subject you to that atrocious attitude of his… I think the best thing for you, my dear Yusaku, is that you…”

---

“What in the world are you doing here?! Especially after you threw me out of your house like that!” I croaked in disbelief, seeing Ryoken turn up to my hotdog van. Beside him stood Yusaku, acting less clingy than when I last saw him.
“Oh? We’re just a pair of customers who have come to order some hotdogs.” Ryoken smugly responded.
“Like hell I’m going to serve you anything!” I felt my blood boil.
“I’d be careful about denying customers, Kusanagi. Look at all the bad publicity you’re giving yourself.” Ryoken gestured toward the crowd of people walking through the city centre where I had set up shop for the day. People had stopped and started staring at me because I was being so loud. A young girl had begun to cry.

I grit my teeth and made them both hotdogs, while shooting curious glances Yusaku’s way every now and again.

“Here.” I handed them their food and Ryoken placed the money on the ledge of the van’s window.

“Thank you.” Ryoken said, turning away with Yusaku to leave. Ryoken didn’t sound thankful.

“Wait!” I called.
Ryoken and Yusaku turned around.
“What?” Ryoken asked.
“Yusaku, I’m sorry about last week.”
Yusaku made eye contact with me. His expression scrunched into one of disgust.
“Are you?” Yusaku sounded angry.
“Yusaku? What has gotten into you?” I asked, shocked.
“Nothing. I just see you for what you are now.”
“What I am?”
“A monster. Without Ryoken last week, who knows what you could have done to me...” He balled his hands into fists, “You’re a detestable and rotten man, Kusanagi!”
I couldn’t believe what Yusaku was saying.
“What…? Yusaku! I’d never do anything to you! Where did you get that idea?” I asked desperately. Then I turned my focus to Ryoken. “Ryoken, what did you do to him? This has to be the result of brainwashing! Yusaku and I were really close friends!”

Ryoken approached the van window. Yusaku stood still.
“Do you really want to know? Very well.” Ryoken smirked then began to whisper, “I gave him confidence… Don’t you think he wears it well? All I had to do to give it to him was assure him that I would protect him from the monster that is you.
“I’m not a monster!”
Ryoken stepped away.
“Well, you’ve already provided evidence that suggests that you are. Have a nice day.”
Ryoken and Yusaku strolled off into the distance.

With each one of their steps, I felt my despair grow deeper.

---

“I think the best thing for you, my dear Yusaku, is that you never trust that man again. Ignore his pleas, he is just trying to use you. As long as you’re by my side, I’ll protect you from him. I’ll never let him use you. He is a dangerous man, Yusaku. Only a dangerous man could possibly torture you like that for one week straight. Think of all the pain and fear that man gave you. All of that is the result of Kusanagi Shoichi. I don’t want you to be hurt like that. When you are with me you’ll never have to know all that fear.”

I pressed a kiss into Yusaku’s tender lips.

“I’m always with you. You can let go of your worries, fears and pains, because you’ll never have to feel them ever again.”

Chapter Text

“Kusanagi, what's wrong?” I placed my schoolbag down on the desk in the van and seated myself. Kusanagi looked distressed, with his tightly clenched fists sitting on the desk and his face painted with one of the most pained expressions I had ever seen on him.

“It’s Yusaku.” He answered, voice strained.
“Yusaku? Has something happened to him?” Kusanagi’s tone concerned me. I had only heard him speak like that before when he was talking about Jin.
“You know how he has been missing for a week?”
I thought back to the days I had been going to school last week and this week. I had found it rather strange that Yusaku wasn’t there. But I assumed he had been skipping to do work on getting Jin back, or that he had perhaps fallen ill.
“You mean to say that he wasn’t just gone from school? He has been missing!?”
“He was missing. I found where he is.”
“That's so good to hear! That's a good thing, right? What's bothering you then?” I chirped, happy that the news wasn’t as bad as I had thought it was.

“I wish that was where this chain of events had ended…” Kusanagi tightened his fists.
“Was he hurt or something?”
“I… I don’t know…”
“How can you not know if you found him?” I asked, completely confused and very much in need of clarification.
Flame popped out of my duel disk.
“Takeru is correct, Kusanagi. What you have said is an oxymoron and makes no sense. How can you find somebody but not identify if they are injured?” Flame maintained his usual analytical tone.
“He wasn’t physically hurt. But where I found him suggests that somebody has done something to him. Whether that something involved hurting him, I don’t know.”

“Kusanagi, where did you find him then?” I asked, wanting to cut the cryptic talk and know what exactly was going on.
“I found him at Ryoken’s house.”
“What would he be doing there?!” I was shocked. Surely it wasn’t anything bad? Maybe Yusaku had been trying to collect information on the Hanoi.
“I still don’t know. He was asleep in Ryoken’s arms. He said that he wanted to be with Ryoken. I lost my temper, then I got kicked out of their house.” Kusanagi picked up his fists and slammed them violently down onto the desk.
“What…? What the hell?” I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what conclusions to come to. All I knew is that Ryoken must have done something to Yusaku, just as Kusanagi said.

“Yesterday, Yusaku and Ryoken visited my van.”
“What did they do?” I was eager to hear the details. I was sure more details would help me understand what was going on.
“Ryoken acted smug, and bought hotdogs for the two of them. Then Yusaku got mad at me when I apologized for losing my cool. He said that I was dangerous. I… Yusaku was my closest ally. I don’t want to lose him like this.” Kusanagi lowered his head in shame, “I should have been able to do something about this situation, but it has gotten so bad… I don’t know what to do.”
I sat for a moment, feeling bad for Kusanagi. Everything that had happened had been so terrible for him. I needed to think of a solution to this situation.

“Kusanagi, we need to go to Ryoken’s house and get Yusaku back, or find evidence of whatever Ryoken has done to him.” I finally concluded.
“I can’t go back there. I’ll be forced out again. Considering that they’re cyberterrorists, I wouldn’t be surprised if the security was tight enough to prevent us from breaking and entering. I’ve considered everything, Takeru.” Kusanagi sighed hopelessly.
“They won’t deny me entry though. Right?”
“Takeru…! If you go there, they’ll probably kick you out like me, or worst case scenario they’ll do whatever they did to Yusaku to you! I can’t let you endanger yourself like that!”
Hearing that made me feel useless.
“Kusanagi, surely there is something I can do?” I said, on edge.
“Just… Just think of things we can do to get Yusaku back, okay?”
“I’ll do that. Anything to get Yusaku back.”
“As will I.” Chimed in Flame.
“Thank you, you two.” Kusanagi took a deep breath.

“Perhaps I should leave Flame with you? He can help you think of something to do.” I suggested.
“Yeah, that's a good idea.” Kusanagi agreed.
I unclipped my duel disk and carefully placed it down on the desk, just next to Kusanagi’s keyboard.
“I should probably get going now, Kusanagi. Try not to worry too much, we’ll definitely get Yusaku back.” I offered the most reassuring smile I could manage.
“I’ll try. Have a good night, Takeru.”

I picked my bag up and got out of my chair, then headed for the van door.

---

Walking alongside the ocean, I took a deep breath to calm myself.

I had lied to Kusanagi. It was no secret that I had the least brainpower out of Yusaku, Kusanagi, the AIs and I. Therefore, I couldn’t think of anything to help Yusaku except for the obvious options. I was going to pay Ryoken a visit.

Kusanagi had told me not to, but at this point I felt too desperate. I’d do anything to get one of the members of our little team back. It didn’t matter if Kusanagi was worried about my safety. As far as I could see it, we had no other options.

I was willing to endanger myself, but not others. So I had neglected to tell Kusanagi where I was going tonight. Alongside that, I had left flame in the van under the guise of him being helpful. In actuality, I had left him for his own safety.

I climbed the steps to Ryoken’s oceanside abode. Each one made me feel uneasy, but I kept myself focused on why I needed to go here. I admit, I was afraid of what might happen in there, but what rational person wouldn’t be?

I had to face my past. I had to stand up to my past. I reincarnated, I could do anything.

---

Knock knock.

“Specter, please go and check the door.” Ryoken ordered, sipping his tea and pulling Yusaku to lean on his shoulder.
“Of course, Ryoken-sama.” I immediately left the room and made my way for the door.

Briefly, I wondered who might be knocking at this hour of night. It certainly couldn’t have been Kusanagi; there was no shouting and he hadn’t knocked more than twice. The visitor seemed rather polite and calm in comparison to him.

I turned the handle and pulled the door to open it.
“Why, hello there Takeru. Have you come to visit Ryoken-sama and Yusaku?” I inquired, bowing to our guest.
“Visit? Not exactly. I have come to take Yusaku.” His voice was gruff.
“Oh? Is that so?” I couldn’t help but chuckle a little, “Well, our last visitor had come to do the exact same thing and left empty handed. I wish you the best of luck with your goals.”
“Cut the sarcasm, Specter. Where is he?”
“Please, follow me.” I bowed once again and lead Takeru into the house.

“Who has come to visit, Specter?” Ryoken asked. Yusaku looked at me with an expression of curiosity, but didn’t utter a word.
“See for yourself.” I said, opening the door and stepping aside to let Takeru into the room.
“Takeru!” Yusaku smiled a little.
“Ah, your friend has come to visit.” Ryoken pat Yusaku’s hair, looking happy for him, “What brings you here, Takeru?”
“This is as strange as Kusanagi said it was…” Takeru breathed disgustedly, sitting down on the chair across from the couch that Ryoken and Yusaku sat on.
Yusaku’s expression turned to one of concern. He looked up at Ryoken, hoping for instruction on what to do.

“Takeru, you listened to Kusanagi? That man is bad news.” Ryoken smirked.
“Yusaku, I’m worried about you. Kusanagi is too!” Takeru was sounded as if he was trying to be as assertive as possible.
“There isn’t anything to be worried about, Takeru. Kusanagi isn’t worried anyway. He’s lying to you. He wants to hurt me and take me away from Ryoken.” Yusaku wrapped his arms around Ryoken and clung tightly. Ryoken made an affectionate noise in response.

“What has Ryoken done to you, Yusaku?” Takeru was reaching his limit.
“He’s done nothi---” Yusaku began to respond, before Ryoken cut him off.
“It’s okay, Yusaku. I think Takeru can learn about our little secret.”
“Its okay if he can?” Yusaku asked, surprised.
“Of course, he’s your friend after all. He’s just been misguided by Kusanagi. Takeru will come to understand.”
“So you have done something to him?!” Takeru exclaimed.
“He hasn’t done anything bad. Its okay.” Yusaku assured Takeru.
“What do you mean?! This just looks like brainwashing to me!”
Yusaku paused and thought for a moment, then spoke again, “Actually, it almost is? But it isn’t bad.”
“Brainwashing is as bad as it gets, Yusaku!”
Takeru stood up from the chair he had been sitting in, furious.

“Perhaps what we should do is just show him what it's like, don’t you think, Yusaku?”
Yusaku nodded.
“Specter, please secure our guest.”
That was my cue. Quickly, I moved from the corner of the room I had been standing in and grabbed Takeru’s arms.
“Let go of me!” Takeru screeched. His face took on the features of a delinquent, and he thrashed about to attempt resisting me.
“I shall do no such thing.”
Using all of my weight and strength, I pushed Takeru to the ground and held his arms across his back.

“Yusaku, are you okay?” Ryoken asked.
“Yeah… Is this what Kusanagi has done to him?” Yusaku asked, taking a deep breath to calm himself.
“Yes, it is. This is why we need to stay away from him.” Ryoken confirmed.
“Kusanagi has done nothing! You’re just creating a straw man of him, Ryoken!” Takeru cried. Ryoken ignored him.
“Thank you for your help Specter. I’ll go and grab the chloroform. Yusaku, lets go.”

---

Takeru sat on the floor of the bathroom, back against the wall just beneath the shower head. He was unconscious, naked and restrained.
“Ryoken, will he wake up soon?” I asked.
“Of course. It isn’t a well known fact, but chloroform isn’t as effective as they make it look in movies. It won’t last long.”
“So any minute now?”
“Yes, Yusaku.” Ryoken answered, wrapping his arm around me and placing his hand on my shoulder.

For a few minutes we sat and watched Takeru, waiting for him to wake up. Eventually, it happened.
“...nnnnggg…” He groaned a little as he slipped back into consciousness.
“Finally, you’re awake.” Ryoken observed.
Takeru blinked a few times, then quickly became aware of where he was. A shot of adrenaline brought him back to full energy.
“What the… what the hell?!” He spat. He pulled at the straps binding him to the exposed plumbing in the bathroom. He couldn’t move an inch.
“We just had to make sure you wouldn’t run away.” Ryoken said.
“What the hell are you going to do to me? And why am I not wearing anything?!”
“You’re not wearing anything because the more uncomfortable you feel, the more effective what we might have to do is.”

“I asked you, what are you going to do to me?! Answer me!” Takeru demanded.
“Well, we were hoping to hypnotise you, just like we did for Yusaku.” Ryoken informed him.
“You were hypnotised, Yusaku?!”
I nodded, “Yes, I was. It isn’t as bad as it sounds, Takeru. It feels really nice and relaxing. I let Ryoken hypnotise me often.”
“Yusaku, you’re his mind slave! Snap out of it!” Takeru screamed.
“I am. I like it this way.” I said, feeling my hypnotic instructions guide me. I smiled a little bit in response to the feeling.
“Yusaku is mine, Takeru.” Ryoken said, possessively holding me, “We’re not going to exactly do to you what we did to Yusaku… But Specter has told me that he wouldn’t mind another person helping him with all the chores around the house…” Ryoken smirked.
“How does me being naked help with any of that?! I thought you needed to be comfortable or something to be hypnotised.” Takeru argued.
“Well, sometimes. You see, there are two types of people who can be hypnotized; the willing and unalert. Comfort sometimes helps somebody become willing, and sometimes makes them lower their guard. But in your case, I’m not sure this will work. That's why we’re going to exhaust you until you’re too tired to be alert.” Ryoken explained.

“How are you going to do that?” Takeru asked. He sounded brave, but I could hear his voice wavering. He was scared.
“Tell me, Takeru, have you heard of Chinese water torture?”
“Chinese what?”
“Water torture.” Ryoken stated blankly, reaching for the tap. He turned it very slightly to the side and a tiny drop of water fell from the shower head onto Takeru’s head.
“This is torture?” Takeru sounded a bit underwhelmed.
Another drop of water landed on his head.
“It might not seem like it at first.” Ryoken shrugged, “But we’re going to be keeping you here for a while. It might be days, it might be a week. However long it takes for you to concede. If you ever try to sleep, the water will wake you up. You’re going to be bored and awake for a very long time, Takeru.”
“Yusaku, why are you going to let him torture me?!” Takeru was now terrified.

I couldn’t deny that Chinese water torture was a cruel concept. But this was the only way we could undo the lies that Kusanagi had deluded Takeru with. This was the only way we could get him to understand that hypnotism isn’t a bad thing.

“Takeru, it is only for a short amount of time. I promise. Once it is over you’ll feel better than ever.” I tried my best to raise his morale.
He remained unmoved.
“Being hypnotised feels really good. You’ll love it, Takeru.” I coaxed.
Takeru stared me right in the eyes. I gave him a reassuring smile. All he did in response was lower his head and grit his teeth.

---

Holding Yusaku’s hand, I made my way down the hallway toward the bathroom door.
“Do you think today will be the day?” Yusaku asked, hopeful.
“I’m not sure, but hopefully it will be.” I responded. I ruffled Yusaku’s hair lovingly to comfort him.

I opened the bathroom door, and closed it behind Yusaku.
Takeru was the first thing we saw. After 5 days, he was quite a sight to behold.

He lay slumped against the tiled wall. If it weren’t for the support of the restraints, Takeru would have fallen into a heap on the floor by now. He had dark circles under his eyes and a dulled expression. His eyes looked blank and he breathing was shallow. His hair was messy at the back where it has been pushed against the wall, and part of it was wet from all of the drips that had landed on it. He didn’t react to the presence of others in the room.

“He looks worse than yesterday…” Yusaku seemed worried.
“He does, but don’t worry. I think he’s ready, Yusaku. He’ll finally know why you want to be with me. And you’ll finally get to see what hypnotism looks like.”
Yusaku nodded, looking relieved. We both sat down next to the lifeless Takeru. I turned off the tap.

I pulled out a necklace from my pocket. Takeru’s necklace.
“Takeru, if you want this pain to stop, we’re offering you a way out. Listen to my voice and watch the necklace.” I instructed.
I suspended the necklace in front of his face and started to slowly and rhythmically swing it from side to side. Takeru’s eyes were frozen at first, but slowly his eyes began to trace the patterns the necklace made in the air.
“Take a deep breath. Slow your breathing and deepen each breath. Feel the soothing air run through your lungs.” I made my voice soft and gentle.
Takeru took a moment, but did exactly as I had commanded.
“Good… Feel the crisp, cool air numb the pain you feel… Let the tranquility wash over you… Release the burden of your spite and hatred… Be filled with peacefulness and calmness…”
Yusaku watched Takeru intently with wide eyes as he relaxed and his features went from being devoid of hope to looking more mindless. Yusaku looked amazed.
“Feel yourself slowly drifting into a trance… Feel my power take control of your mind…” Takeru’s eyes slowly stopped following the necklace. Soon after, I ceased swinging it.

“Is… Is he hypnotised?” Yusaku asked.
“Yes. Takeru, do you feel better? Does being hypnotised feel pleasant?”
Takeru nodded slightly.
“Please, remember this feeling when I wake you up from your trance. Being hypnotised really wasn’t as bad as you thought it was.”
Takeru nodded again. Yusaku watched in wonder.
“For Yusaku’s sake, I ask that you stay away from Kusanagi. You are to think that he is the reason that you were so needlessly tortured, because it is true. He made you think we were up to no good, but as you can feel now, that isn’t the case. He is a dangerous liar. We wouldn’t have needed to weaken your impressive will if it weren’t for his meddling. Trust me, we all would have liked to have avoided doing this, but we were left with no choice. I’m very sorry that we had to resort to such harmful methods.” I used the most persuasive voice I could muster. Takeru was too weak to refuse anything.

“Now then; I have another request for you. Please stay in this house with us. We could use another servant’s help. Specter feels rather fulfilled by doing things for other people, and I have no doubt you could find the same joy in doing work for us. You belong to us now. Just think of everyone in this household as people who understand what being hypnotised feels like. I’m going to reserve my hypnotic abilities for Yusaku, but if you want to feel like this again, I’m sure Specter will be quite happy to comply.”

Takeru nodded one final time.
“When I snap my fingers, you will be released of your trance and you will fall asleep. You’ve worked hard.”

Snap.

---

“Takeru, this tastes great!” Yusaku exclaimed, digging into his breakfast. Ryoken, sitting beside him, made a noise in agreement. Takeru smiled sweetly at the praise he received for his cooking.
“That is the satisfaction that you get from making everyone smile, Takeru.” I said approvingly.
Takeru made a noise of fascination.
“Let's go back into the kitchen, we have some cleaning to do.” I instructed. We both left the dining room.

As Takeru wiped down the pan with a sponge, I began drying some of the items used to cook.
“You’re looking much healthier.”
“Thank you, Specter.”
“Don’t you think that---”

Our conversation was cut short by a racket at the front door. Yelling and violent knocking echoed down the hallway and seeped into the kitchen. Takeru looked at me, wondering what we should do next.
“Why don’t we go answer the door, Takeru?” I suggested.
As we moved down the hall, the noise became louder. Right next to the door, the racket was almost unbearable.
Takeru turned the handle and pulled the door open. Kusanagi stood there. He was the maddest I had ever seen him.

“Takeru! Don’t tell me they got you too?!” He was an unstable mix of angry and despairful.
“Perhaps they did.” Takeru said, grinning.
“What did they do to you?!”
“I would tell you, but you wouldn’t like it. You wouldn’t understand the way I do.” His cheerful attitude heavily contrasted that of Kusanagi.
“Takeru, please…!”
“I would love to stay and talk Kusanagi, but I have work that needs doing. Have a good day.” Takeru smiled one last time and shut the door swiftly, get gently.

“You handled that very well, Takeru.”

Chapter Text

“Flame, I’m really sorry.” I croaked, opening the van door.
“Kusanagi? What happened to Takeru?” Flame addressed him worriedly.
“They got him too. He’s acting strange and all loyal to Ryoken.” I slammed the door, and leant up against it.
“Calm down, tell me exactly what happened when you went to the door.”
“He turned up at the door in a bloody apron and dish gloves. I asked if they had done anything, and Takeru just smiled innocently and said yes, as if nothing were wrong. He slammed the door, claiming he had work to do. Specter was behind him the whole time too, grinning like the madman he is. I just… don’t know what to make of any of this anymore.”
Flame spent a moment processing a response. His expression became low as he thought, and his posture a little stooped.

“Kusanagi, I don’t believe there is anything we can do about how strange they’re acting without taking them back first, and figuring out what exactly had been done to them. Takeru had the right idea, going directly to take Yusaku back.”

“But we can’t! They’ll kick me out and do strange things to anybody else who dares enter their house!”
“Yes, any old person. But we could hire a professional off of the deep web. I’m searching right now, and I’ve already located at least 200 potential kidnappers for hire that do work within Den City.”
I felt my eyes widen.
“Flame, you’re right!” For the first time in two weeks, I felt hopeful. Not a hint of anger, despair or fear laced my determined voice.
“Of course I am.” Flame said triumphantly, “You might need to start doing some searching too. There is one more matter that I should probably handle resolving.”
“What is that?”
“Finding where Ai is.”

I paused for a moment. “I had completely forgotten about Ai.”
“Seems logical. You were too busy trying to fix Yusaku’s situation, and you seemed to be emotionally caught up on it.”
Ignoring Flame’s complete lack of empathy, I sat down and started searching for potential Kidnappers.

All throughout the day and into the night, I researched each one of my options thoroughly. Flame ran two processes, one for tracking Ai and the other for assisting me. Eventually, at an hour to midnight, I began to yawn.

“Kusanagi, you should probably rest up.” Flame suggested.
“I don’t feel tired yet. It is important I get this done as soon as possible.”
“At the very least take a break.”
“I need to stay productive.” I argued.
“How about this: I’ll keep researching, you can go and retrieve Ai.”
“You found him?”
“He’s been in Yusaku’s duel disk this whole time. His duel disk is located in his apartment.”
“I suppose I could do that. It might be nice to walk there and get some fresh air.” I sighed and stood up, “I’m leaving this up to you, Flame. We can’t let Yusaku or Takeru down.”

I walked out of the van, this time closing the door calmly before tucking my hands in my pockets and beginning the journey to Yusaku’s apartment. I crossed through many back alleys and empty roads, collecting my thoughts as I did. Every now and again I would pay attention to how the shadows shifted under the streetlights to entertain myself. This was the most in control that I had felt in ages.

Alone on the pavement of a dimly lit street, I noticed the noise of an engine. A single car, sleek and black, and moving in the opposite direction to me, drove up the road before stopping just a few metres in front of me. I felt the hairs on my neck stand on end. This didn’t feel right.

Two strong and intimidating men jumped out of the back seats of the car and bolted straight for me. I had barely any time to react. I pulled my hands from my pockets and turned to run in the opposite direction. All of the odds were against me. I don’t even know why I bothered running.

Within seconds the men had me in a vice-like grip and they had a bag over my head.

---

“That will be all, boys. Thank you for your help, I’ll see to your payment tomorrow.”
The men blushed and left the room. My alluring voice and flawless looks had helped me reach my goals once again. Fools.

Before me was a man. From what the data collectors had told me, he was Playmaker’s assistant. He had caused me quite a lot of grief in the past, but in reality he was just another weak citizen. I wasn’t going to let him get in my way any more than he already had. I wasn’t going to be belittled by a pathetic creature like this.

“Doctor, wake him up.” I ordered.
The doctor in the room injected him with something, and shortly after the man regained consciousness.
“Welcome to SOL Technologies, Kusanagi Shoichi. My name is Queen.” I chirped.
“SOL Technologies?” His voice was filled to the brim with pure fear, “What do you want with me?!”
“Mr Playmaker’s assistant, or should I say Kusanagi Shoichi, we’re done with you messing with our business.”
He looked like he wanted to scream. He looked like he wanted to say more. However, he spoke no words.

I gracefully approached him, and ran one of my delicate fingers along one the many restraints we had used to fix him to the dentist style chair he sat on.
“I can’t believe that we actually figured out who you were. Usually you’ve been quite good at concealing your information, especially regarding your identity or location. To think that you would eventually slip up and expose yourself while searching for illegal services on the deep web is quite laughable.” I let out a ladylike chuckle.

I stopped playing with the restraints and swept my fingers under his chin. With a swift movement, I raised his chin which now rested upon my fake nails. I closed in on his head and whispered in his ear “We’re going to do things to you that will leave you shattered.”

My close proximity to his head allowed me to hear his breath satisfyingly cut short and become rapid and shallow. The look of absolute terror in his eyes seemed limitless. He trembled in the least subtle way I’d ever seen. This filthy creature before me was at my mercy. The power felt wonderful.

“Now then, I’m sure you’re just dying to know what fun things I have planned for you. First, we’re going to do something to you that somewhat resembles an ice pick lobotomy, but not perfectly because that might kill you, and we don’t want that now, do we? After that we might try some electroshock therapy, and since you can never do enough things to a dirty marplot such as yourself, we might try drugging you up on some LSD and see what funny things we can do to your mind.”

I withdrew my hand and slipped on some rubber gloves.
“And do you know what the best part of all of this will be? I’ll get away with all of this regardless of how badly this goes. That, poor little Shoichi, is the power of SOL Technologies.”

---

“Specter, what seems to be the problem?”
“Ryoken-sama, Kusanagi is in VRAINS and wearing a SOL Technologies uniform.”
“What is he doing in that?”
“He’s demanding to see Playmaker. I admit though, something about his personality seems… wrong.”
I put my hand on my chin thoughtfully before responding.
“I’m not sending Yusaku in there, and I’m sure you already knew that. So I’m guessing you’re telling me this because his behaviour is especially strange?”
“That is correct, Ryoken-sama.”
“I see. Do you have footage? I’d like to see this myself.”

Specter nodded at me, then proceeded to transfer a live video feed from his tablet to the big screen in our lounge room. Kusanagi was front and center of the picture, and his face looked odd. His eyes were opened at different sizes, and one of them had a bruise beneath itself. He looked completely devoid of emotion, and the aura he gave off was no longer one that was recognisable as Kusanagi’s. His body language was deranged to say the least, and describing his glare as threatening was an understatement.
“I DEMAND TO SEE PLAYMAKER. I WILL DEFEAT PLAYMAKER. PLAYMAKER, YOU HAVE MEDDLED IN THE BUSINESS OF SOL TECHNOLOGIES FOR TOO LONG. I DEMAND TO SEE PLAYMAKER.” He yelled in a monotone fashion, and kept repeating what he was saying. Every now and again, one of his eyes would twitch.

Yusaku grabbed my arm and squeezed it, his eyes glued to the disturbing footage on the screen. His eyes were wide, drinking in the confronting sight.
“Calm down, Yusaku. If you never enter the network, he can’t do anything, and neither can SOL. Even before all of that, I’d never let him hurt you.” I said, using my most comforting tone. I pulled him into a gentle hug, “You know that you’re safe with me.”
Yusaku nodded and hugged me back meekly.

Specter removed the footage from the screen and awaited orders.
“Specter, thank you for letting me know about this. Please go back to helping Takeru with the chores. I’ll think about what we should do.” Specter bowed and exited the room, taking a tray with finished teacups from the coffee table and out with him.

For a minute, I sat on the couch with Yusaku in my arms, giving his back a slow rub. He melted under my touch and relaxed in my embrace. I could feel his trust for me. Suddenly, I felt him stiffen up and he buried his head further into my chest.
“Yusaku,” I began, “What are you thinking about right now?”
“Kusanagi looks even scarier than before. What do you think SOL did to him?”
“I think… I think that maybe they took the bitterness that he already possessed and bent it in their own favour.”
Yusaku nodded, “SOL makes monsters. Like Go Onizuka. They made a monster into… even more of a monster.”
“What do you think should be done?” I asked, curious.
“He needs to be stopped.” Yusaku’s signature bias for justice had taken the lead in his thinking. I liked that noble part of him, I admit, but in this case it might have been more of a danger to Yusaku than anything else. That is something I did not like.

“We could send our army of knights after him. Do you think we should do that?”
“No, he won’t duel them. He specifically asked for me.”
I didn’t like what I heard.
“Yusaku, I don’t want to put you in danger like that.” I held my breath, hoping he wouldn’t keep going with the idea.
“I want to stand up to Kusanagi. He’s out of control. I want to prove that I can defeat him.”
“I can’t let you do that. I want you to be safe! I can’t protect you if you don’t let me!” I said in a voice that sounded less like I was reprimanding him and more like I was begging him.
Yusaku noticed the way I was talking and dropped his head in a shameful way that made it feel like nails were being hammered violently through my heart.
“I’m sorry…” He apologised. He tightened his hug.
“No, I’m sorry. If you want to do something, I shouldn't just shoot the idea down. We can find a way to do it, if it is what you want.” I tightened my hug in return.

“Thank you, Ryoken…” He nudged me affectionately, “I know I said that I want to defeat him but… Truthfully I don’t think I could do it without you.”
Hearing him admit his dependency on me felt relieving. Every fibre of his being belonged to me. The reminder left a warm feeling in my chest.
“We can do it together Yusaku. Would you like that?”
“Together… You’re right, we could do it together. I could go in and duel him, and you could give me the backup I need. You could still protect me. I could still defeat him.”
“Yes, just like that.” I kissed his hair, “I suppose that makes you one of my knights now.”
“A Knight of Hanoi?”
“Yes. But of course, not just any old knight. You belong to me. Body, mind and soul. No other knight will ever have that privilege like you.”

---

Their voices echoed from the speakers beside the monitor.
“PLAYMAKER. YOU’VE FINALLY SHOWN UP.”
“I’m going to defeat you. You’re a monster, Kusanagi!”
Down from the skies of VRAINS came a white D-board. Playmaker, wearing a Hanoi uniform, was standing on it, ready to duel.
I watched the monitor intently, one hand rested on my keyboard, ready to type lines of code in case of an emergency. My other hand rested on the head of Yusaku’s unconscious body, stroking his hair repeatedly. Yusaku could be in VRAINS, but he’d never be away from me. I felt that deep down, he could feel my presence from within VRAINS. I told myself that he could tell that he was resting in my arms. I told myself that I was giving him the strength he needed to fight.

Their duel was intense. Every turn was filled with close calls. Both Kusanagi and Playmaker struggled as they fought their hardest against each other.

Many turns into the duel, Yusaku started slipping towards the disadvantage. Playmaker, on screen, kept a straight face and determined tone. Yusaku, in my arms, was trembling and tensing up. Yusaku wasn’t handling the duel well. An attack struck Playmaker and his real body shivered. My heart sunk at the sight. Carefully, I placed a kiss on Yusaku’s lips. I hoped like hell that he would make it through the duel.

On screen, Playmaker perked up a little bit, and with a surprised expression, placed his fingertips over his lips as if he felt something.

And suddenly, his dueling became more intense.

---

Specter and I walked along the streets of Den City until we found the infamous yellow hotdog van sitting on one of the roadsides.
“There it is.” I said, pointing it out to Specter, who was looking in another direction.
“Okay Takeru. You’ll break the door down, I’ll carry the body back if we find it.”
I was too curious not to ask the question that had been burning in my mind all night.
“Why would he be in his van, Specter? If SOL did something to him, surely he’d be in their headquarters, right?”
“That is true, but there is a small chance that they sent him back here to login to VRAINS. Chances are that they don’t want evidence of unlawful activity on their premises. In other words, Kusanagi poses a hazard if they ever get investigated.”
I nodded. Specter’s explanation made sense.
“Why are we retrieving his body anyway?
“Ryoken-sama made Kusanagi’s losing condition for the duel be that his mind becomes locked in the Hanoi section of the network as conscience data. Since we made him like this, it is our responsibility as knights to clean up our own mess.”
“I see.”
“Enough chatter, Takeru. We have a van to break into.”

I walked over to the van, until I was a few metres back from the door. I took a deep breath, then quickly ran up to the door and threw my shoulder into it. The rusty old lock on the van door gave in instantly, and the door crashed open.

“He’s in here, just like you said.”

---

“Ryoken-sama, what are we going to do with his body?” I asked, placing the body down on a table in the basement,
“We’ll find a use for him. For now, we’ll just store him here. You and Takeru need to make sure he doesn’t die.”
“Very well, Ryoken-sama. I will let Takeru know.” I bowed.
“Before you do that, though, could you please run the bath? I want to give Yusaku a... special bath as a reward for his hard work today.” Ryoken looked down at sleeping Yusaku, who he carried in his arms, with loving eyes.

“Of course. I’ll put out two sets of towels.”

Chapter Text

“You’re finally awake.” Ryoken caressed my cheek.
“Mmmm… What time is it?” I rubbed my droopy eyes and looked up from where my head rested on Ryoken’s lap, and into the cool and calming hues of his eyes.
“Almost midnight.”
“Ryoken, why aren’t you sleeping too? You must be tired.” I frowned.
“I’m not as tired as you were after fighting in VRAINS. You dueled very well.” He praised me warmly. A smile lit up his face, “Anyway, I’m not sleeping yet because there was a little reward I wanted to give to you before we could go and sleep in bed together.”

“A reward?” What could Ryoken have possibly got to give me more than his affection?
“You sound very surprised. Did you not expect me to reward your efforts today?” He frowned a little.
“I don’t need a reward. I just need you Ryoken.” I responded.
“Aren’t you a smooth one,” He chuckled, “Well, I guess you could say your reward somehow includes me. Your reward is something we can do together.”
I saw the expression of my reflection in Ryoken’s eyes brighten. Ryoken smiled once again.

“That's the reaction I want.” He ruffled my hair playfully.
“What is the reward?”
Ryoken slipped his legs out from beneath me and stood up. He extended his hand towards me to help me get up.
“Come with me if you want to find out.” He purred.

---

Yusaku, like every night, was in the tub with me, our arms wrapped around each other.
“The water feels nice…” He said, sinking a few extra centimetres below the surface.
“The water always feels amazing after you’ve worked hard and need to unwind,” I brushed some hairs away from Yusaku forehead and kissed it, “Now then, your reward.”
Yusaku looked curiously at me. I reached for a pile of towels outside of the bath and slid my hand under them. After a few seconds, I slipped my hand back out and pulled a small box from under the towels with it.

Yusaku peered over at the box and read the text on it.
“Chocolates?” He asked.
“Yes. These ones are my favourite. I wanted to give them to you.”
“Thank you…” Yusaku trailed off, his expression grateful yet confused.
“Are you wondering what I meant by ‘something we can do together’?”
Yusaku gave a brief and silent nod.
“Well then…”

I opened the box and pulled a conch shell shaped chocolate out. Yusaku followed it with his eyes. Swiftly, I pushed Yusaku up against the edge of the bath and the wall the bath sat against.
“Open wide.”
Yusaku did as he was asked.
I placed the chocolate in his open mouth. He closed his mouth and bit into the treat.
“How is it?”
“Mmm… Delicious…” He said, swallowing it.

I picked another chocolate out of the small box. This time I placed a cockle shell shaped chocolate in Yusaku’s expectant mouth. He began to close his mouth when I spoke up.
“You know, I want to taste that chocolate too.”
Yusaku looked at me blankly for a few moments before grinning a little, having finally realized what his reward was.

Wrapping my arms behind Yusaku’s neck, I pressed my lips against his and pushed my tongue through into his mouth. Melted chocolate from Yusaku’s tongue touched mine and hit me instantly with its sweetness. We held the kiss for what felt like forever, sharing the chocolate and the moment. Finally breaking apart, Yusaku breathed heavy breaths to make up for the ones he had lost. I licked my lips hungrily.

“Should we keep going?” I asked.
“I never want this to stop.” Yusaku replied between breaths.

---

Ryoken lay in bed beside me, watching me with loving eyes.
“I’m glad you enjoyed that.” He purred, reaching over to me and pulling me close. I nestled my head in his warm chest.
“I love… your affection… I love… you…” I managed sleepily.
“I love yours too.” He said, rubbing my back, “I love you too.”

My subconscious mind urged me to remind him of all of the things he had made me. It begged me to say I was his and only his, and that I would never leave his side. It pleaded that I say that I trusted everything he had to say. However, I was too tired to keep talking. All I could do was think.

Ryoken had given me a place to stay. He looked after me and kept me company. He made sure I was happy and felt loved. At this point I couldn’t even picture how I kept living the way I had before. Perhaps when I had said ‘I never want this to stop’, I hadn’t just been talking about the chocolates in the bath. Perhaps I had meant my time with Ryoken. Everything felt right. Everything felt perfect. The sweet dream he had induced upon me was my everything now.

I felt nothing but gratitude and love for the person holding me tightly.

Somehow, I think Ryoken knew what I was thinking about.

---

“Yusaku! Wake up!” Ryoken shook me by my shoulders. Shocked, I quickly opened my eyes and looked at Ryoken.
“You were screaming and holding on to me as if you were holding onto life itself. Are you okay?” He asked.
Tears began to fall from my eyes. I briefly wondered why I was crying. Then I realized.
“Yusaku? Are you alright?”
“A nightmare…” I said darkly, eyes wide.
“What was it about?”
“...Don’t ever leave me, Ryoken.” I said, hugging him tightly and letting my tears soak Ryoken’s chest.
“I won’t ever leave you, Yusaku. You know that.”
“I’m just so scared…” I sobbed.
“Scared of me leaving?”
“No…” I looked up at him with pleading eyes, “Tell me that I'm yours. Tell me that you own me.” I begged between cries.
“Yusaku, I'll tell you whatever you want to hear,” Ryoken began, concerned, “But you have to tell me what your nightmare was about and why you're saying these things.”
“I… I just…”

“Take some deep breaths.” Ryoken pat my head to calm me down.
I inhaled deeply and tried to clear my mind so that I could speak clearly.
“I had a nightmare where I wasn’t yours.”
“What do you mean?”
“I wasn’t hypnotized. It was… terrifying.”
Ryoken looked at me, sadness and softness in his eyes.
“Your nightmare isn’t real…” Ryoken tried to comfort me.
“I know.”
“You are mine. I own you.”
“I know.”
“I don’t think I could be without you either.”
That sentence caught my attention.

“You need me too?”
“Yes.”
A pleasant feeling filled me. Hearing that Ryoken needed me just as I needed him felt good. I leaned further into Ryoken and soaked up his warmth. Ryoken smiled approvingly.
“How about we go back to sleep? If the nightmare happens again, I’ll do something about it for you.”

---

Yusaku had long fallen asleep, but I remained awake, staring at the ceiling and lost in thought. Yusaku’s nightmare was probably just a random occurrence, I figured. Chances are I wouldn’t need to treat it like I did the Kusanagi nightmares.

I reflected on my relationship with Yusaku. His hypnotism-induced love of me was the light of his life. Life was better for both of us now. The sweet taste of his lips and the softness of his skin lingered in my mind, as well as the quiet yet affectionate way he went about life with me. The person who lay beside me was perfect. I’d never felt happiness like this before, and there was no way I was ever going to let it go.

We were both dependant on each other now. I needed him and he needed me. This twisted web of control I had over others had finally caught me too. I no longer had control of my heart. It belonged to Yusaku now.

I briefly wondered if I wasn’t okay with the fact that Yusaku was being made to love me. Almost immediately I dismissed the thought.

The only things that mattered were that Yusaku was mine in every way possible, and that he was happy.

Besides, lies can become the truth so fast...

---

“Good morning, Ryoken-sama and Yusaku.” I greeted them as they sat at the table in the dining room, “I trust you slept well?”
“Somewhat.” Ryoken replied.
“Good morning guys!” Takeru came out of the kitchen with some tea for Ryoken and a hot chocolate with marshmallows for Yusaku.

Yusaku thanked Takeru and took the drink from him. Takeru smiled warmly, before setting Ryoken’s tea down in front of him.
“Alright, I should get back to making breakfast.” Takeru said, before making his way back to the kitchen.

“Ryoken-sama, have you put any thought towards what to do with Kusanagi?” I asked.
Ryoken sipped his tea, “I have.”
“Kusanagi? What has happened to him since I dueled him?” Yusaku inquired.
“We’ve trapped his diseased mind in the Hanoi’s network and we have his body in the basement,” I explained, “We’ve figured out that SOL Technologies has done multiple things to Kusanagi. Wounds beneath his eyes and cuts we have detected in the brain suggest that he has undergone an icepick lobotomy. His heartbeat was slightly irregular, which may have something to do with electrocution, and we found traces of LSD in his body. It looks as if they’ve tortured him until he broke. This is not something that is easy to reverse.”

Yusaku looked down into his hot chocolate, contemplating something silently.
“We’ll need to see if we can use a regeneration treatment to fix his brain. Other than that, we might just need to alter his mind within the network to fix him.” Ryoken said analytically, “Even if we fix his physical brain, he’s going to have personality issues no matter what we do, however we can undo what SOL has imprinted on him at the very least.”
“I’ll look into whether that is an option.” I bowed.
“What are you going to do once you fix Kusanagi?” Yusaku chimed in, looking slightly worried. I looked to Ryoken for a response.
“He won’t be staying with us, if that is what you’re concerned about. But I suppose we might throw some extra things into his mind once we fix him.”
“What like?” I asked.
“We could get rid of that annoying tendency of his to believe we’ve done something bad to Yusaku or Takeru. We could also make him regret scaring Yusaku. Actually, here’s an idea…”
Ryoken trailed off, thinking of what words to use to pitch his idea.

“Yusaku, do you trust Kusanagi to look after Jin?” Ryoken asked.
Yusaku looked up, surprised that he had been addressed.
“Kusanagi is a bad person to me, but I don’t necessarily think he is a bad person to his brother. I mean… he sent Jin to that mental health hospital.”
“Yes. However, I feel as if that is a little irresponsible. He has just sent his brother off and doesn’t want to deal with him until he gets better. Remember how much therapy helped you?”
“It didn’t help.”
“Exactly. Kusanagi’s heart may be in the right place when it comes to his beloved brother, but he isn’t really helping him.” Ryoken stated persuasively. Yusaku nodded in agreement.
“So what are we going to do?”
“I think we should make him give us Jin. We can look after his body while his mind is being held hostage by Lightning. Once we retrieve Jin’s mind we’ll transfer it back into his body, and he can live with us.” Ryoken answered.
“What a good idea.” I said, grinning.
“What are we going to do with Jin?” Yusaku wondered.
“This house could use a pet.” Ryoken laughed a little, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have another person to keep us company, Yusaku?”
Yusaku took a sip of his hot chocolate and smiled, “Yeah, it would.”

Ryoken smiled back, then looked at me, “Specter, can you see to these changes for us?”
“But of course, Ryoken-sama.”
“Thank you.”
Takeru walked back into the room with plates of food.
“Breakfast is ready!”

---

“So what are we doing this time?” I asked, slipping on some rubber gloves.
“I discussed the results of our observations and tests that we had performed last time with Ryoken-sama. He has asked us to regenerate his brain, then fix his mind from within the network.”
“Is that all?” I asked.
“We are to add and remove things from his mind.”
“Understood.”
Specter handed me a surgical mask and put his on. I took the mask and covered my mouth, before slipping the elastic loops behind my ears.

“Okay so… Dr. Taki keeps her medical equipment…” Specter opened and closed a few doors on a nearby cabinet, before pulling a box out of one, “Right here. Everything used for brain regeneration is in this box. Are you ready, Takeru?”

I thought back to before I started attending school again. I thought back to meeting Flame, Ai and Yusaku for the first time. And finally I thought back to when I rejected this way of life because I couldn’t understand it.
I would never have guessed at any point that I would be assisting somebody with brain surgery just as nonchalantly as I would cook or clean for Ryoken and Yusaku. This was no more than an ordinary chore in this house. The thought entertained me.

“I’m ready.”
“Then let us begin.”

Chapter Text

“That concludes the procedure. Thank you for your assistance, Takeru. You were a great help.”
I nodded and smiled, removing my slightly bloody gloves and discarding them, then taking off my mask.
“I'm glad I could be of use.”
Specter had started taking off his own mask and gloves. A small silence filled the room.
“So, tell me. How have you found life with everyone to be?” Specter asked, trying to make small talk, and not stopping the actions he was performing.
“Life with everyone? What do you mean?” I raised an eyebrow.
“Well, it has been a little while since you started living with Ryoken-sama, Yusaku and myself. I'm wondering if you've been enjoying yourself.”
I scratched my head thoughtfully and let on a small grin.

“I think I've really been enjoying it. I like living here with everyone.”
“What do you like the most?”
“Seeing people smile when I do things for them. I feel so… fulfilled. But I guess it isn’t just that. I love being with everyone too, because...” I fell silent, then resumed speaking, “I… I’ve spent most of my life alone, or distancing myself from others, ever since the incident. I’ve found a special connection to everyone here, though. I feel closer to others than I ever have been in years. I don't think there is anything that could bring me more joy than being a servant in this house.”

“Those are very nice reasons.” Specter’s tone was cheerful, “Say, what do you think about serving Ryoken-sama?”
“Ryoken-sama is kind. I didn't imagine him to be kind at all when he was holding me captive in the bathroom. But when he hypnotised me I could see I was wrong about him. Somebody who is despicable could never make a person feel so… good. I'm very happy that he did that for me. He has my best interests at heart, so I'm glad that I can do something in return for him.”

Specter turned to me and chuckled.
“I can see that you've thought hard about my question on previous occasions prior to me asking. You must really like working here too.”
“Do you think about it often as well?” I asked, genuinely curious.
“Of course. Ryoken-sama has done a great deal for me too. I don't know where I would be without him. But enough about that. Do you find it strange that you now work for your friend too?”

“Yusaku?” I confirmed before continuing, “Not really. It feels natural to me.” I paused, then spoke again, “Somehow.”
“I see.” He nodded, intrigued, before getting back to cleaning himself up, “Could you please go and let Ryoken-sama know that we've successfully completed the procedure? He should be in his bedroom at this time.”

---

Knock knock.

A quiet and respectful knock at the door echoed softly through the room.
“Come in.” I said, shifting my eyes to the door. Slowly, it opened and standing in the door frame was one of my loyal servants, Homura Takeru. Quickly, he read what was going on in the room and bowed politely.
“If this isn’t a good time, Ryoken-sama, I can always come back later.” He apologised.
“Don’t worry about it. We were finishing up anyway.” I assured him, while patting Yusaku’s hair gently.

Yusaku’s body rested in my arms, awake, yet his eyes were staring dreamily into empty space as if he were sleeping with his eyes open. He breathed lightly and didn’t utter a word, but instead melted submissively into my embrace. He brought tranquil and warm aspects into the atmosphere of the room.

“When I count to three, you will be released from your trance.” I commanded, “One. Two. Three.”
Yusaku stirred a little bit at the count of three. His eyes gradually became more animated and lively, whilst his arms curved themselves up slowly and clung around my sides meekly.
“How was that?” I asked, pressing a soft kiss into Yusaku’s hair.
“Really… Good…” Yusaku replied, slowly becoming more aware of his surroundings, “You felt… so warm… My mind… was so relaxed…”
“Just as it should be.” I said, affectionately giving Yusaku's back a rub as he sunk further into my hug.

“It must have been nice…” Takeru spoke quietly from the doorway. His absent minded gaze made it clear he was thinking aloud and that he didn't intend for anybody to hear.
“Hi Takeru, I didn't see you there.” Yusaku greeted our visitor, turning his head slightly so he could see him.
Takeru broke his train of thought and snapped back to attention.

“What did you come to tell us, Takeru?” I asked, gesturing to a chair beside the bed to indicate that it was okay to sit down. Takeru took up on my invitation and took a seat.
“Specter and I have successfully completed the task you assigned us.” He reported.
“You've fixed his physical body and patched his mind?”
“Yes. He should take a few days to properly recover, however.”
I nodded. “As to be expected. Thank you for your hard work.”
“No need to thank me. I'm grateful I could do this work for you.”

Externally, I smiled at Takeru, pleased. Internally, I was not pleased. The procedure was not on the forefront of my mind, but instead was hypnosis. Takeru hadn’t asked to be hypnotised at all since I has done it to him the first time. There was no way that he didn’t want to be under somebody else’s power again, but regardless, he never asked. I didn’t know why, but I really wanted to find out why he was holding back.

Perhaps now was an adequate time to address the issue.

“Takeru, you haven't been hypnotised recently, have you?”
Takeru visibly perked up at the mention of hypnosis. His eyes thirsted for it. “No, I haven't.”
“Do you want to be hypnotised again?” I offered.
“Don't worry about me. I don't need to be hypnotised again. Besides, I don't want to take up anybody’s time with such an unnecessary activity.” His mouth wouldn't betray him like his eyes did.
“Don't be like that, Takeru. I get the sense that you want to be hypnotised again.”
He was slightly taken aback by my insistence and straightforwardness. He had probably thought that I would have let it slide. I was way too eager for that though. Too eager to make him admit he wanted to be hypnotised again and make him display the dependency for me that I was craving.
“Let me ask again. Do you want to be hypnotised?”
“What I want doesn't matter-”
Yusaku spoke up, “But it does matter.”

I tightened my hug around Yusaku. “Yusaku is correct. It does matter. I’ve told you before, if you ever want to be hypnotised again, all you have to do is say the word.”
“I wouldn't be a good servant if I asked for something selfish.” He argued.

I briefly wondered how I would defeat his stubbornness and make him give in. It was definitely important that he was to be hypnotised again. Not being hypnotised for a while seemed to be like an itch that needed scratching for Takeru. He tried hard to ignore his need for it, but if he just gave in, things would be so much easier for him. I was very annoyed that he wouldn’t just admit that he wanted to be in a trance again.

At that moment, a new person entered the room.
“I’ve finished cleaning up.” Specter announced. I nodded.
“Thank you, Specter.”
“What’s going on in here?” He asked, curious.
“It seems Takeru believes that it is wrong to want to be hypnotised.”
Spectre raised an eyebrow, concerned and probably misinterpreting what I was saying.
“I’m asking him if he wants to be hypnotised again and he thinks that he shouldn’t express what he wants.” I clarified.

“Takeru.” Specter said, “Hypnosis is a gift from Ryoken-sama. It is something he sees you worthy of. If I were you, I would go ahead and ask for it.”
“I don't believe I'm deserving.”
“Okay, well, how about I tell you a small story?” Specter asked. Takeru looked questioningly at him.
“A story?” He looked confused.
“Ryoken-sama wasn't always able to hypnotise people so effectively. He spent ages practicing his skills on me. It was years before he mastered it properly. I too felt very guilty for indulging myself in a pleasure such a hypnosis. Do you know why I didn't refuse though?”
“Why?”
“Because it was what Ryoken-sama wanted it for me. His judgement is more important than mine, not to mention yours. As you said before, he has your best interests at heart. Don't deny your master's care, especially when he is trying to do what is best for you.”

Specter’s story was true, although he had left out the part where he learnt self-hypnosis so that I could focus on hypnotising Yusaku without having to deal with his cravings for hypnosis. It was a good thing that he did leave it out though, as it appeared that Takeru was starting to weaken his defense.

Self-hypnosis was a skill that I only trusted Specter with, too. I had determined that Takeru needed to be hypnotised by someone other than himself so that we could control him better, which hadn't been possible with him actively avoiding hypnosis.

Takeru sat silently, thinking over what everyone had said. Yusaku looked at him, a sympathetic look in his bright eyes. After all, hypnosis was a sweet addiction that he had as well, and Yusaku understood that well.
“You need it, don’t you…” Yusaku whispered to himself. Even he could see the fruitlessness of the struggle Takeru was putting himself through.
I gave Yusaku a small head pat and nodded in agreement.

Takeru appeared as if he was struggling to come to a conclusion. On one hand, he wanted to say that he didn’t want to be hypnotised because he felt like it was the right thing to do, but on the other hand he really badly wanted to have his thirst for hypnosis quenched. He kept shooting unsure glances around the room, wondering what to say or if anybody else was going to speak up.
Nobody did, so Takeru started talking.
“I…” He began, trying to form a sentence. No following words came out.
“What do you want, Takeru?” I asked again, “If it is to be hypnotised, I will be more than happy to see that it is done for you.” I added, coaxing him.
“I…”

There was a pause. The animalistic part of Takeru’s nature suddenly took hold.

“I really want to be hypnotised.” He blurted out, before covering his mouth with his hands, unbelieving he had just said those very words.
Seeing his dependency on me caused me sadistic side to feel great satisfaction. My frustration at his stubbornness faded.
“Well then, that can be arranged.”I said, hiding my smirk with the most genuine grin I could muster.
Takeru still looked like he was trying to hold back, but his attempts to suppress his excitement fell far short of successful.

---

Everyone in the room had changed where they were. Takeru was no longer sitting in the chair and Ryoken and I were no longer sitting on the bed. Instead, Takeru lay down on top of the freshly neatened covers of the bed, facing the ceiling, while Ryoken sat in the chair Takeru had been in a few minutes ago, with me sitting in his lap. Specter no longer stood before the door, as he had moved to a position where he was standing by the bedside and talking Takeru through what they would be doing.

I figured that Takeru had only been trying to stay out of everybody’s way by not being hypnotised again, but he probably hadn’t realised that it wasn’t just something that he only wanted for himself. We all wanted him to be happy too. We all wanted him to be able to experience the euphoria of being hypnotised as many times as he’d like.

Ryoken hypnotised me regularly because he knew that it strengthened his control and ownership over me. Takeru was the property of Ryoken, so it only made sense that he let Ryoken demonstrate his command over him too. Of course, Ryoken would only hypnotise me, as I was only the person who he needed everything from. I would submit every part of myself to him with no questions asked. He only needed some parts of everyone else to make our family work.

Family. That's what the group of us had become. We were a family, connected by the strong bonds of Ryoken’s control. Every one of us knew what being under another’s command felt like. It was a strong feeling that very few had the luck to experience the pleasure of. The feeling of complete relaxation blended carefully with the total removal of all free will felt like nothing else. ‘Unparalleled euphoria’ was the only way I could think to describe it, but even then I felt like I had not done the feeling justice. Nobody would understand unless they have felt it before. That is why we all understood each other so well.

Perhaps this hypnosis was what Takeru needed to feel closer to everyone. Perhaps he needed it to feel more sure of himself and of his place in this house. He needed to be hypnotised to know that hypnotism was a privilege he deserved as a member of our family. What Takeru needed was-

“Yusaku? What are you thinking about?” Ryoken suddenly asked, whispering in my ear and causing me to leave my thoughts and return to reality.
“We should put Takeru under stronger control.” I whispered back.
“Oh?” He sounded amused, “Why do you think that? Do you think he is being disobedient?”
“Not at all. It's just that relaxation isn’t the only thing that feels nice when you’re hypnotised. Being controlled feels amazing.” I explained, “He won’t be able to stop himself from accepting to be hypnotised again if we make it feel even better than last time. He’ll be happier if he doesn’t try to needlessly stop himself again, right? I want him to be happier.”

“That is actually a very good idea.” Ryoken began, “How very kind of you to care so much about others. I like the way you think, Yusaku. You have an extraordinary mind that thinks of the most surprising ideas. I’m very glad that I own a mind like yours.”
His praise made me weak. I leaned back into him, and he planted a kiss on my cheek.

“Ryoken-sama, are you ready for us to start?” Specter asked, having finally completed talking Takeru through what was going to happen. I nodded.

“Okay. Takeru, close your eyes.”
Takeru let his eyelids slide shut, then awaited further instruction.
“Take a deep breath, and feel the air slowly fill your lungs… Feel the air soften and relax your muscles… Breathe out slowly and release your tension with it…”
Ryoken and I watched as Takeru followed the commands, visibly becoming more calm. Specter took Takeru’s hand and started rhythmically massaging his palm.
“With each breath, you feel lighter…” His voice became smoother and softer, “Let your mind sink deep within yourself… Feel yourself drift away from reality… Forget the burden of thought… Breathe, and relax…”

Takeru remained silent as Specter stopped talking. Shortly after, Specter let go of Takeru’s palm and commanded him to open his eyes.
“How do you feel?” Specter asked.
“So… good…” Takeru spoke in a monotonous fashion, and spoke slowly.
Specter looked over to Ryoken for approval.
“There is something Yusaku suggested that I think we should do.”
“What would that be?” Specter inquired.
“We need to increase our control over him. Could you please allow us to program him?”
Specter bowed his head, then began to talk to Takeru again.
“You are not only under my control. You are also under the power of Ryoken-sama and Yusaku. Understood?”
Takeru nodded.

“I know that we should increase our control of him but… How are we going to do it?” I asked, realizing that I didn't know what to do once somebody was hypnotised.
“Hmm… Let's stand up. This might require some physical interaction to emphasise our message.”
I obeyed and got up from his lap and stood beside the bed. Ryoken joined me shortly. I missed the physical contact between me and Ryoken, so I took his hand.
Specter, Ryoken and I all stood around the bed, looking down at Takeru who was in a vulnerable state.

“I believe you need some reminding, Takeru.” Ryoken began, “I am your master, so your mind is my property. However, I chose to share it with the others in this house. We own your will, and we own your choices. I am not a negligent master. Hypnosis is the way I look after your mind and make sure that my property isn't harmed. It isn't selfish to want to be hypnotised. You should view wanting to be hypnotised as a way to make sure my property is kept in prime condition.”
Takeru stared soullessly as the ceiling, absorbing his new instructions.

“Now, in case you feel like you shouldn't be hypnotised again…” Ryoken said, leaning over Takeru, “We're going to make sure you never forget who owns you.”

Ryoken grabbed Takeru’s wrist and gripped it firmly, as if to claim ownership over it. “It isn't just your mind that belongs to me now. I own your body too. Everyone here owns your body now. Your body and mind are not yours. All you own is your soul. Even then, your soul has no say in anything. It is no more than a decorative possession that differentiates you from other people.” Ryoken ran his fingertips along Takeru’s arm as if he were inspecting an inanimate object.
“But don't feel bad about not owning much. Your value to us is great. Happiness is not based on what you own. Happiness is based on what you do. Obey us unquestionably and you will be happy.”

Ryoken looked at me, “Yusaku told me before that he wants you to be happy. He told me that taking greater control of you would help make you more cheerful. Isn't that right, Yusaku?” He held out the arm he was holding, and I grabbed onto it too.
“Yes. I want you to be happy, Takeru. Let us deepen our control of you.”
Ryoken nodded in Specter’s direction, inviting him to add anything he thought needed saying.
“As do I. You are a great help around the house. You told me that you feel a special connection to everyone here. That connection has a name.”
“Control.” I said, finishing Specter’s point.
“Indeed.” Specter agreed, taking hold of the arm on his side of the bed.
“Control is a good thing.” Ryoken stated, “The power we have over you is a loving, yet strong force. You are like family to us, Takeru. Accept our control into the very depths of your heart. Let us chain you to our will.”

Takeru continued staring at the ceiling, no sign of consciousness claiming his features, except for a small tugging at the corners of his lips. A tiny, almost unnoticeable smile graced his mouth. Ryoken seemed pleased with Takeru’s response.

Ryoken placed Takeru’s arm down and gestured for Specter and I to do the same.
“We’re going to release you from your trance now. When I count to one, you will awaken.”
Takeru nodded slightly.
“Three. Two. One.”

---

The way I felt when I returned to reality was nothing like when I had left it behind.

Before, I had felt excited that I would be hypnotised again, but I had also felt ashamed that I wanted pleasure for myself but wouldn’t be able to give it to anyone else. It had bothered me so much during my conversation with Ryoken, Yusaku and Specter. It had sat in my mind during that time like obnoxious background noise, constantly there and frustratingly loud. Now I could see that I couldn’t hear what they were trying to tell me because the noise had been blocking them out.

Now that I had woken up, I felt refreshed. My mind felt clear and my heart felt softer. My hunger for hypnosis was gone and had been replaced with another urge. The urge to submit more than I ever had before. I knew that the people who gathered around the bed I lay upon should be able to control me in every way they wanted. I knew that they loved me like family. Their love was control. Their control was love. Everything felt amazing. No feelings I had ever experienced before could compare to the intensity or pleasure of what I was feeling right now.

“Takeru?” Yusaku put on a questioning tone, waiting for a response.
“Yes?” I responded almost immediately. I felt numb to everything but the warm feeling that had infected my body.
“How are you?”
I opened my mouth to reply, but no words came out. I couldn’t think of an accurate way to describe how I felt. A few stuttered syllables of words left my lips, but I couldn’t form a proper sentence.
“Takeru? What’s wrong?” He asked, concern lacing his tone.
Nothing coherent would leave my mouth. Instead, tears built up in my eyes and began rolling down my cheeks, one by one. I stopped trying to talk.
“Have we done something bad?” Yusaku asked, his voice riddled with guilt. Specter wiped away a few of my tears, then scratched his head.
“I don’t think anything went wrong. Although, I don’t know what's going on.” He admitted.
“I’m… okay…” I managed, processing all of the thoughts that were rushing through my head.

Ryoken was the first to understand what was going on.
“Those might happy tears.” He suggested.
I nodded, sniffling and unable to stop my tears from flowing freely. Yusaku smiled, his relief apparent. A satisfied grin claimed Specter’s face.
“You can have the rest of the day off, Takeru.” Ryoken said, “That’ll give you some time to process your emotions.”
“No, I can-” I began, wiping away my tears. I stopped myself from talking. What I was saying didn’t feel right. I did want to work, but Ryoken didn’t want me to today. His judgement was final. “Thank you... I’ll go... and rest up...”

---

 

As we sat on our bed, with everyone having finally left our room, Ryoken cuddled me gently.
“Your idea was brilliant, Yusaku.” He said, nudging me lovingly with his cheek.
“Ahhh…” His praise felt great.
“Sometime, I can hypnotise you like that if you want.” He offered
The suggestion got me giddy.
“It'll just be you and me. I'll make it feel better than it ever has before.” Ryoken ran his fingers possessively across my cheek.
“Yes…” I breathed, trying to fathom what it might be like to be hypnotised as powerfully as Takeru had been today.

“It'll take some planning though, so I'll leave it for a future occasion. We'll have something to look forward to.” Ryoken pat my head and let out a sigh.
“I can't wait.” I said, leaning back into Ryoken.
“In the meantime, we'll need to think about the situation with Jin.”
“We were going to let him join our family, weren't we?”
“Indeed we were.” Ryoken pecked my cheek and ran his fingers through my hair, “Once Kusanagi recovers, we'll have him retrieve Jin for us.”

“Won't he have objections to that?” I asked.
“That should be no issue if Specter and Takeru did their job properly, which I have no doubt they did. We've made it so that he follows our orders no matter what they are. Objections will play no role in whether he obeys or not.”
“Mmm.” I lifted my arms and hugged Ryoken’s arms which were folded over my chest.
“Are you excited to have Jin join us?” Ryoken asked, resting his chin on my head.
“Yeah. Jin’s mental state might improve with our help. Plus, it would be nice to have another friend staying with us.”
“Indeed it would be.”

Images of what having a new person in the house might be like flickered through my head. I pictured him having breakfast with us. I pictured him smiling for what might be one of the first times in years. I pictured him happily going about everyday life with us, enjoying every moment.
Finally, I pictured the sort of warm welcome we'd give him into our family.

I had pictured his first taste of the wonders of hypnosis.

---

I didn't know why I was doing what I was doing. None of it made sense. I loved my brother dearly and would never give him up, ever. I would rather sacrifice myself than let harm come upon him. I would throw away all the years if my life in the name of ensuring his happiness. There was not one thing that I wouldn't do for my brother, and there was not one thing that could make me give him up.

So why? Why was I carrying him in my arms, to the house of my enemy? Why was I doing exactly as my enemy asked? Why couldn't I stop myself from approaching his door? Why wouldn't I just turn around and run? There was nothing I wanted to do more right now than get Jin as far away as possible from the demon that lived behind the door before me, but I couldn't. Everything I was doing right now was so incredibly wrong. Were they going to do to Jin, my beloved brother, what they did to Yusaku and Takeru? Was he going to start hating me too?

As I stepped in front of the door, tears began to flow from my eyes. Lightning had already taken Jin's conscience, and now his body was going to be stolen away from me too. I would have nothing left of my younger brother who I had given up everything for.

I didn't want to knock on the door.
But I did it anyway.

The door opened and Specter appeared in the doorway with Takeru by his side.

This was it. The last time I would be with my brother.

“Thank you for bringing Jin in such a timely fashion.” Specter bowed. Takeru extended his arms to take Jin from me.
I didn't fight back. I couldn't fight back. Jin left my arms and went into Takeru’s.

“Rest assured, we will be taking very good care of Jin.” Specter said, as Takeru turned and entered the house with Jin in his arms, “Ryoken-sama now owns your brother. He likes to look after his property.”
Through the doorway I could see Takeru and Jin disappear into the depths of the house. Jin was gone. The tears kept flowing uncontrollably.

“Once again, thank you for your help. We do not require anything else from you for the time being. Goodbye.”

Specter closed the door swiftly.

In reality, between me and Jin’s body, there was a door. In my messed up head, there was an bottomless abyss of impossible distance between us.

It was in that moment that I was sure that I would never see my little brother ever again.

Chapter Text

Takeru entered the only unclaimed bedroom in the house, where Yusaku and I stood expectantly. With utmost care, he set Jin down on the bed and took a step back.
Yusaku peered down at the body with wonder in his sparkling eyes. I gave his hair a playful ruffle.
“He's going to be ours.” I said, beaming at Yusaku.
“Yes…” Yusaku replied, staring at Jin, deep in thought.
“He will make a fine pet.” I chuckled. Takeru nodded in agreement.

“What do you mean by pet, Ryoken?” Yusaku asked, glancing up at me with curious eyes, “I mean, dogs and cats are pets. Not humans, usually.”
“Hahaha… That’s true.” I said, lacing my fingers through Yusaku’s and walking him to the bedside, “You see, Jin is very physically weak, and he's spent the last 5-10 years in a mental health hospital. He's probably exhausted and tired of everything. He's too weak to work as a servant for us.”
“What a shame…” Takeru chimed in, looking sympathetically at the boy lying on the bed.

“Yes, quite a loss for him. But he belongs with us, as one of the victims of the lost incident, a victim of Lightning, and a victim of Kusanagi Shoichi’s wickedness. His mind is hurt, unstable and if he were to wake up right now, he'd probably hide beneath the covers and refuse to come out. What he needs is to have a place among us where he feels safe and welcome, and we can control him.” I explained.
“Control and love are one in the same.” Yusaku quietly reminded himself. I nodded, then sat down on the bed and motioned for him to sit beside me.
“Yes, they are.” I began, before leaving a light kiss on his cheek and continuing, “Do you think our love will help heal his mind and help put him at ease?”

“Yes, I do.” He responded calmly, leaning into my shoulder.
With my fingers still interlaced with Yusaku's, I picked up our connected hands and placed them down onto Jin’ heart.
“His place among us is as a pet. He won't perform any real duties, but he will be allowed to spend time with us all that will surely bring about more stable health. Of course, that will surely create a dependency on us, too. Just like the domestication of all creatures.” I said, before removing our hands from his chest.
Yusaku nodded, understanding, “He probably would never have felt anything like what we can give him.”
“We’ll give him the hope that he has been starved of for so many years.”
“He’ll be… happy. Finally.” Yusaku smiled gently.

“I'd better get back to my chores now. Ryoken-sama, is there anything else you require?” Takeru inquired.
“Ah, of course. Please let Specter know that you are to make sure Jin's body remains in the best condition possible until we get our hands on his data.”
“As you wish, Ryoken-sama. Allow me to excuse myself.” Takeru bowed and exited the room.

“Does the arrangement I described sound good?” I asked Yusaku, turning back to face him.
“Of course it does. Any idea of yours is good.” He stated confidently, hugging me, “It sounds like you care very much for Jin.”
“I care for everyone in this house.” I began, “Specter needed somebody to stay with. I was more than happy to be that person. His loyalty is truly something to treasure. Takeru was misguided and alone, but now he has us. He doesn’t need to feel lost anymore. We’ve given him a purpose and he is better for it. I want to keep things this way for as long as possible.” I leaned toward Yusaku's ear and purred, “And I especially care for you. Waking up next to you, eating meals with you, taking baths with you, hypnotising you… I love all of the sweet moments we share. Don't you ever forget how precious you are to me. You are by far my favourite possession.”
Yusaku tightened his grip on me needily and allowed me to scatter kisses all over his hair, before we silently enjoyed embracing each other for a while.

“Let's go back to our room.” I said abruptly, breaking the quietness of the room.
“Are you in one of those moods again?” Yusaku asked, looking deep into my eyes, reading my thoughts. He knew exactly how I felt right now. At the times where I was being affectionate with Yusaku a mood would often hit me, where I would feel like lying in bed with Yusaku, just embracing him as we soaked up each other's warmth and scent. This mood didn't hit often, but it happened enough that Yusaku had learnt to recognise what I wanted without me asking at all.

“I think I am.”
“Let's go then.” He said, squeezing my hands with his own.

---

There was only one way I could think to describe how I felt ever since I left the house at Stardust Road.
It felt like I was watching myself live my life from within my body. I was a spectator in my own life.
Sure, I'd get up in the morning and eat breakfast, and run my hotdog shop everyday, but it wasn't me doing those everyday things. It was like my life was in autopilot.

However, between the things my body would do on its own, there were brief moments of clarity where I was the one in control again. Every time I gained control of myself, I would attempt to complete activities that could potentially help me free myself. I was able to talk to Flame about everything that had happened. He wasn't pleased in the slightest. Other tasks, like trying to drive to Stardust Road or access my mind through the network put me straight back into autopilot mode again, much to my dismay.

Now was one such time where I had been lucky enough to regain my control over myself. Today, I would use my brief moments of clarity to try something new.

The moment I realised I had free will again, I had thrown down my tongs and closed shop as soon as I could. Hastily, I turned on my computer and sat down.
“Is that you Kusanagi?” Flame asked, popping out of his duel disk.
“It's the real me.” I responded quickly, in case my chance to act freely was to ripped away soon.
“What are you doing this time?”
“I'm going to send an SOS to Blue Maiden, Aqua and Ghost Girl.” I replied, furiously typing a message.
“Don't you think trying to do that might put you back into autopilot?” Flame asked, concerned.
“I don't know until I try.”

Blue Maiden, Aqua and Ghost girl, I desperately need your help. I don't have much time so I will keep this short. Revolver has taken my brother (a victim of the Lost Incident), Playmaker and Soulburner. He has done something bad to their minds. You have to stop them as I cannot do it anymore. Please do not suffer the same fate as them, or me. I have attached the address of where they are being held.
-Playmaker’s assistant

I felt my control of myself slipping away. In a panic, I attached the address and hit send.

At that exact moment, I was pushed back into being a spectator.

---

“I’ll answer the door.” Said Takeru, placing a plate of breakfast in front of me and hearing a knocking at the door.
“Who do you think it is?” I asked Ryoken while picking up my cutlery.
“No idea. It certainly couldn’t be Kusanagi, though.” He answered, smirking slightly.
Takeru walked down the hallway. The front door creaked open.

“You… You look just like him!” A loud and surprised female voice could be heard from the front door, “Why are you… No, are you…?” The woman couldn’t seem to contain her shock, let alone complete any of the many questions she was dying to get answered as soon as possible.
“Specter!” Takeru called into the house. Specter poked his head out from the kitchen.
“Who is it, Takeru?”
“I don’t know.”

Specter sighed and walked out of the kitchen and down the hall.
“Taki, how very nice to see you. We weren’t aware that you were planning on visiting.”
“This is one of Ryoken-sama’s knights?” Takeru asked, audibly confused.
“Ryoken-sama?” The woman, or rather Kyoko Taki, asked in the most puzzled tone I had ever heard, “I have lots of questions, and I want answers.”

---

I sat on the couch in Ryoken-sama’s living room, with my legs crossed. Across the coffee table sat Ryoken, with a boy beside him who looked oddly familiar. Standing beside the couch was another boy who I also felt was familiar. They both resembled innocent children that I had watched suffer ten years ago. Seeing such familiar faces made me feel guilty and uneasy.

Specter came into the room and poured some cups of tea, before standing next to the boy with red and white hair.
“So tell me, who are these boys?” I asked, breaking the silence.
“That boy over there is Homura Takeru, or as you may know him better, Soulburner.” Ryoken stated, gesturing in the direction of the person he was introducing.
“It is very nice to meet you Byra, or should I say Taki Kyoko.” Takeru said, bowing.
“N... Nice to... to meet you too.” I managed. What was Soulburner of all people doing here?
“And this boy here…” Ryoken began, before wrapping an arm around said boy and continuing, “Is Fujiki Yusaku. You would know him as Playmaker.”

Ryoken’s spontaneous display of intimacy with the boy was nothing short of incredibly strange. Not to mention that the boy was Playmaker. Perhaps this explained why he had appeared in the network in a Hanoi uniform not too long ago.
“You two seem awfully… close.” I commented, trying to get more information without having to directly ask awkward questions.
Ryoken remained expressionless and nonchalant, as if what I had noted was nothing strange, new or out of the ordinary. On the other hand, the boy he had introduced as Fujiki seemed to get the hint a little more than the white haired person beside him.
“We are,” He stated flatly, “More than you could ever imagine.”
The way he spoke reminded me of how brainwashed cultists in movies would often speak, with empty joy and confidence in even the most whimsical wisdom passed onto them by their leaders. It made me cringe.

“So why do you have two more Lost Incident victims living with you? I didn’t know that you ever planned on having somebody besides Specter living here with you.”
“I have different reasons for both.” Ryoken told me, picking up his tea and taking a sip.
“And those are…?”
“Takeru over here,” He said, lifting his hand and directing it toward the boy standing with Specter, “We hypnotised him well after Yusaku came to stay with us. Takeru had come to retrieve Yusaku because Jin’s brother had failed to. Of course, we didn’t want to harm him. In fact, we were very interested in having him stay with us. We wanted to save him.”
“... Save him? From what? Did his Ignis attack him?”
“No, the Ignis hadn’t done anything. Takeru had some emotional scars left by the Lost Incident. We have filled the wounds for him.”
Takeru smiled gratefully.

“But that wasn't all. It seems that Jin’s brother seems to have developed some terrible mental issues within the past weeks that have made him violent and unpredictable. He was misguiding Takeru. Who knows how long it would have been before disaster struck.”
“I see…” I said, picking up my tea and staring into it, running his words through my head.
Then, something he had said hit me.
“Wait. You hypnotised him?” I asked, my eyes suddenly widening.
“Yes.”
“When did you learn to do that? How did you learn to do that?”
“I read about how to do it from one of father’s old books in his study. I learnt about a year after meeting Specter.”
“What exactly have you hypnotised him to do?” I felt myself beginning to feel slightly uneasy. A Ryoken that went around hypnotising people for what sounded like thinly veiled excuses, rather than reasons, did not sound like the Ryoken I knew.

“I assure you that it is nothing bad, Doctor Taki.”
“I’m interested in hearing what you specifically asked of him.”
“You don’t need to worry about the details of that.”
I stared directly at Ryoken for a few long seconds. He stared back at me, then finished off his cup of tea.
“Ryoken-sama… are you hiding something from me?” I asked, unsure what to think of him keeping secrets from me, considering how close we’ve always been.
“I am.” He said honestly.
I sighed, “I have to admit, it hurts to hear that. I think of you as a little brother in a way. I’m sad to hear that you don’t think of me as an older sister.”
When I said that, Ryoken started to look a little bit sad himself.
“I’m sorry. I do think of you as an older sister.” He said, looking away from me shamefully. Yusaku peered up at him with concern in his eyes.

“You are like a big sister to me, and I value our relationship very much. Please don’t let this affect how you think of me.”
“If I can make sure this doesn’t affect our relationship, then I can let whatever you’re keeping from me not affect our relationship either. Please, tell me.” I asked, sincerity leaking into my voice.
“I… I suppose you’re right. I’ll tell you.” Ryoken said, hesitating slightly to consider his options.
“Thank you.”

“Takeru has been hypnotised twice. Once by me, and the other time it was by Specter and under my orders. The first time we weakened his mind with Chinese water torture, then we hypnotised him. After that, we conditioned him to respond well to hypnosis, as well as stay away from Jin’s brother. We ordered him to stay in the house and work as a servant.”
With every action Ryoken confessed, I felt my jaw drop more and more. What he was saying was incredibly frightening, and I was finding it very hard to not let it get in the way of what I thought of Ryoken.

“The second time, all of us pitched in on programming him. We reminded him how much he meant to us, and we deepened our control of him. Isn’t that right, Takeru?”
“Yes, it is.” Takeru confirmed, smiling brightly. The way he looked so unaffected by all of the deeply concerning things Ryoken had said regarding him was disturbing to say the least.
“I also hypnotised Yusaku.” He admitted, running his hand through the boy’s hair, “And ever since the first time, I’ve been hypnotising him often. I’ve done it too many times to count.”
“Why…?” I croaked, trying to calm myself.
“Yusaku absolutely loves the feeling of being hypnotised. Whenever he wants to be hypnotised, I’ll do it for him. I’ll do anything for him.” Ryoken beamed at Yusaku, and Yusaku snuggled further into his chest in response.
“You’ll do anything for him…?” I repeated back at him, unable to form any words of my own through the fear I was feeling.
“I went to kidnap Yusaku and turn him into a mindless drone for the Knights of Hanoi, but I heard some things that I changed my mind. I decided to take his freedom from him and make it so that we were together. Always.”

“That is why we are so close.” Yusaku added, “We share every moment with each other. Every moment with Ryoken is precious. But it isn’t just that. He’s the only one who can and has reached into the depths of my soul and touched my very subconsciousness. We couldn’t possibly get closer than that.”
“I couldn’t have said it better myself, Yusaku…” Ryoken said, nudging Yusaku’s head affectionately.

“I…” I couldn’t think of anything to say. I didn’t want to say that I was terrified of Ryoken right now. That little boy that had grown up in fear, then in the midst of a war, had become this. The innocent boy had gone from a victim of guilt to embracing guilt itself and doing horrifying things to others.
“Taki, are you okay?” Specter asked, looking rather worried, “I know it is a lot to process.”
“I’m… I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t shocked. I would be lying if I said that what you have done is in no way concerning.”
Ryoken paused, took a deep breath, and responded.
“I knew that you wouldn’t like it Taki,” He paused again, this time it looked as if he was making a decision, “But I trust that you’ll be willing to hear what I have to say to explain it.”
I nodded, hands shaking a little.

“Specter, could you pour me some more tea, please? Add a bit of sugar too, while you’re at it.” Ryoken asked, setting his empty cup down on the table. Specter smiled and obeyed.
“So… why did you do it all?” I asked, pulling the conversation back on track.
Ryoken took his newly filled cup from the table..
“Take some deep breaths first, Taki. You looked stressed. It would be best it you could listen to my explanation calmly, so that you don’t make any premature assumptions.”
“I’m fine.” I lied.
“Taki, your hands are shaking. You were struggling to talk just before. I want you to be in your best state of mind to hear these things.”
“Okay, okay, okay. I’ll calm down.”

I inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly a few times over, attempting to calm my nerves. It took a few tries before my hands became stationary once more.
“I understand that what I’ve done seems very confusing. But relax, you know me. I wouldn’t do stuff like this without any good reason. You don’t need to worry.” Ryoken assured me.
I took a couple more breaths to clear my mind.
“Do you feel calmer now?” He asked gently.
“Yes.”
“That’s good. My explanation is a bit of a story, so it is important that you visualize it.”
I nodded.

“It all started one peaceful night when I was sitting by the window, viewing Stardust Road. The wind was blowing softly, and the trees rustled quietly. The waves were crashing against the cliff face rhythmically.”
I pictured those things as best as I could. I imagined the gentle breeze, and I imagined the shimmering brilliance of the bioluminescence. I heard the trees sway with the breeze. I heard the waves crashing against the cliff. The harmony of sounds was breathtaking.
“That day had been a long one. I was exhausted that night. My arms felt heavy, and my legs refused to move. My eyelids kept trying to slide shut. My mind felt foggy and sluggish.”
I could feel how tired Ryoken must have felt. My legs had started to feel tired too, and my arms refused to be lifted. My entire body felt heavy.

“Yes… I felt so very, very tired that night. I felt like I was slowly sinking into the chair I sat upon. The every tick of the clock marked me getting more and more tired, little by little…” Ryoken began tapping the saucer for his tea cup with one of his nails along to the rhythm of a clock. Every tap brought me closer to complete exhaustion.
“So tired, in fact, that I started to forget where I was. My eyes had shut slowly… I felt my mind being lifted from reality… All I could hear was the ticking… All I could feel was the support of the chair beneath me…”

Where… where was I? Why did I feel so tired? Who did this deep, calming and reassuring voice belong to?

“Take a deep breath… Listen to the ticking… Let the ticking push you away from reality…” The tones in his voice were cool and soothing, “Slowly drift to a place deep within yourself… Leave all of your fears and concerns behind… Be free from your stressful thoughts... ”
My body felt heavy but my mind felt light. Everything felt tranquil and my thoughts stopped.
“Feel yourself falling slowly under my power… Trust my voice, trust what I say… Surrender yourself to exhaustion and give me control…”
The voice kept talking, but began to fade out. The rhythm of his voice and the melody of the tick-tock of the clock locked into sync and lulled me into a state of complete inner harmony.

I didn’t know who the voice belonged to, but I felt I could trust them with anything.
So I decided to trust them with everything, and let them take control.

---

Yusaku and Takeru looked amazed. Specter didn’t seem entirely surprised.
“You just hypnotised her? She was fully conscious and alert only minutes ago! That was brilliant, Ryoken!” Yusaku remarked.
“Yes, well, she was about to cause some unnecessary problems. I didn’t need her making me do something to any of you, or going back to Aso and Genome on the boat and telling them what I’ve been up to.” I explained.
“They won’t approve?” Yusaku seemed worried.
“Probably not, since I haven’t told them about any of this, as with Taki. But it is okay, they’ll probably come to understand eventually. Right now, Taki gets to experience what it is like.” I answered, then I turned to Taki, “So, can you see why we all love hypnosis so much in this house?”
A mindless nod answered my question.

“Does being relaxed like this feel nice?”
Another nod.
“How about being under another person’s control?”
She nodded again.
“Do you understand why I did those things to my family?”
This time, she shook her head minutely.
“It seems we have found a problem to iron out.” Specter noted, putting his hand to his chin thoughtfully.
“Indeed.” I agreed, sighing.
“This shouldn’t be a problem, right?” Specter asked.
“Giving her instructions shouldn’t be difficult. The real problem is that this is Taki we’re dealing with.”
“What issue does that pose?”
“I didn’t want to have to hypnotise her. She is like a big sister to me. I have many fond memories of her. I didn’t want to alter her...”

“You love her, right?” Yusaku asked.
“I do.”
“Love… is control.” He recited, “Control is love.”
“I… I don’t think… that’s…” He had caught me off guard.
“You love her, right? Control her, show her that you love her. She’ll forgive you for anything.”
“No… I can’t… I just…” I couldn’t think of a rebuttal. My instructions were backfiring on me.
“Ryoken, you should do it. For her sake.” Yusaku begged.
I looked over at Kyoko. Her expression was blank. Her mind was vulnerable.
I didn’t want to change Taki. But I also didn’t want to say no to Yusaku.
What was I to do?

“Ryoken, do it for her. You can show her your love and avoid any consequences for her finding out. Everyone wins.” Yusaku tried persuading me.
“No, I… I can’t… Please…” Tears were filling my eyes.
“Ryoken, what's wrong?” He asked.
“I can’t do this…” I sobbed a little.
“Ryoken, tell me, what's the matter?” Yusaku talked with such surprise that it was obvious that he was oblivious to why I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
“I can’t change Taki. I won’t alter her. I refuse to do this… this… this awful thing to her.”
I broke out into tears. I buried my face in my hands and cried.

Yusaku looked up at Takeru and Specter, worry in his expression.
“Can you please leave Ryoken and I alone for the time being?” He asked softly.
They both looked at each other, then nodded. They left the room, and the door closed with a faint click.

“Ryoken, please, tell me, what is wrong?” He repeated, carefully prying my hand away from my face to reveal tear stained cheeks and puffy eyes glistening with warm tears.
I didn’t respond.
“Ryoken, I’m worried. If I said anything wrong, I’m sorry. Just tell me what happened.”
I stayed quiet.
“Please, say something.” He begged, “I’m sorry for what I did wrong, if I did do something bad. I’ll never do it again. I’m really, really, so very sorry.”
Yusaku stared at me silently for a few minutes, contemplating what to do. I continued to ignore him.

Suddenly, Yusaku put his arms around my sides gently, and hugged me tightly. He said nothing, he just pulled me in close and waited to see what I would do. I did nothing.
Yusaku made a small, muffled noise. I couldn’t figure out what it supposed to be until I felt my shirt become soaked with warm tears. Yusaku had begun crying too.
Slowly, I lifted my arms and wrapped them around him, resting my chin on his head.
“Why are you crying, Yusaku?” I asked faintly.
“Because you’re sad and I can’t do anything to help.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say in response. By hypnotising Yusaku, I had set him up to feel pain when I was sad. It was more than just me hurting right now. I was hurting the thing I held closest and dearest to me.

“Ryoken, won’t you tell me why you’re crying?” Yusaku sobbed.
“I… I can’t bring myself to do this to Taki.”
“You love me, right?”
“I know I said love is control and control is love, but I won’t control Taki, even though I love her.”
“That isn’t what I’m trying to say. I don’t think you liked it when I said that.”
I nodded, still crying uncontrollably, “Of course I love you. I love you so very much…”
“Was it any different hypnotising me?”

It was a simple question. Regardless, it was incredibly thought provoking.
I had already quite easily made peace with the fact that Yusaku was being made to love me. If I hadn’t have hypnotised him, he would probably still be my rival, yet still shrouded in despair. Him being made to love me was for our mutual benefit. I didn’t want to make it feel like Taki was being made to be my older sister. I didn’t want to change the nature of our relationship. There was no reason to do so.

“It was different…” I said, wiping some of Yusaku’s tears away, despite mine still flowing freely, “...aside from the fact I love her as a sister, and that I love you as a… well, lover. The difference is that you wouldn’t have been happy if I hadn’t have hypnotised you that day. We wouldn’t have been happy. Our relationship wouldn’t stand as the wonderful thing it is today. Hypnotising you was for the best. Taki is already happy and our relationship is as it should be. Changing who she is isn’t the best thing for me, her or anyone.”

“I can see why what I said… was wrong…” Yusaku said between choked sobs. I kissed his forehead.
“Don’t worry about it. You had good intentions.” Tears rolled down my cheeks as I smiled softly.
“It’ll never happen again, I swear.” He said, bursting back into full tears.
“Some things we cannot control, and I feel that may be one such thing, my dear Yusaku…”
“I’ll make sure that it-”
“I’ll forgive you over and over if it happens again. I know that you don’t mean any harm.”

“I don’t want to make you constantly have to forgive me, Ryoken! I don’t want to be a pain for you! I don’t want to do anything bad to you, ever!”
“The intentions matter more than the effect.” I said, wiping more tears from his face.
“I always feel so scared that I’ll overstep sometime, and what I’ve done will be so bad that you won’t want me around anymore!” Yusaku confessed, tightening his hug and wailing.
“That will never happen! Nothing could be so bad that it would make me wish anything as unthinkable as wanting to part with you!”
“Now look at me. I’m crying when you’re supposed to be sad, not me. What am I doing…” He couldn’t stop his tears. A new round of stronger sobbing hit both me and him.

“Perhaps we need to cry out our feelings together…” I said, sadly smiling down at the angel I was holding tightly.
“Cry out our feelings…?”
“You’ve been bottling things up Yusaku. You should tell me if you ever feel uneasy.”
“That’s another thing I’ve done wrong…” He pointed out despairfully.
“Shhh…” I hushed him, “I think I’m in one of my moods. Lets just sit here and cry together, embracing one another. We’ll cry until we both feel better, okay?”

---

Takeru glanced at me uneasily.
“Do… Do you think we can go back in yet?” Takeru asked, staring at the door.
“It has been two and a half hours, so I suppose now might be the right time to knock…” I said, scratching my head uneasily.
“You sure?” Takeru asked nervously.
“Only one way to know…” With a heavy sigh, I raised my fist and rapped it against the door three times, “Ryoken-sama, should we come back in yet?”

No answer.

“Okay, maybe… maybe we should go…” Muttered Takeru.
“Yes, perhaps we-”
“Come in.” Ryokens voice called from behind the door. Takeru almost jumped backwards.
“Or not. Let's go in.” I said.

Slowly, I pushed the door open and entered the room with Takeru.

Taki and the tea tray were exactly where we had left them; on the couch and coffee table respectively. Yusaku and Ryoken-sama were still on the second couch, but Yusaku was now asleep in Ryoken’s arms. Ryoken pet his back lovingly.

“Is everything okay?” I asked.
“Yes. Everything is fine now.”
“How is Doctor Taki?”
“She is exactly how she was when you left the room.” Ryoken answered.
“What are we going to do with her?”
Ryoken looked down at Yusaku thoughtfully.
“We’re going to give her instructions, but nothing that will alter how she thinks.”
“Very good, Ryoken-sama.”

Ryoken turned his attention back to Taki and took a deep breath.
“Kyoko, I’m very sorry for hypnotising you. But considering I have, I might as well make it up to you. You saw everything that just happened, but without instruction you will wake up and not remember any of it. I want you to wake up and remember what you just saw as if you were just sitting in the room and not saying a word. I want you to remember that I hypnotised you, and I want you to remember how pleasant being hypnotised felt, but you will not remember the exact feeling so that you do not seek hypnosis again.” I commanded her.
Taki nodded faintly.
“Now, when I snap my fingers, I want to to awaken from your trance.”

Snap.

---

It had been both an emotional and eventful day for me.
It had begun with me paying a surprise visit to Ryoken’s house, which had quickly been followed by me listening to the shocking things Ryoken had been up to. One thing had led to another, and in self-defense Ryoken had hypnotised me. He didn’t do anything bad while I was in a trance. I felt like Ryoken was up to no good, but I saw things while in that trance that I hadn’t seen in a long time.

For one, I saw the gentleness I had missed in Ryoken, and his caring nature that had faded as his ruthlessness had grown over the past 10 years. Yusaku had brought out the softness in him that he had lost so long ago.

I was grateful for being able to see it again. I had missed it dearly.

Now that I had just been woken up, I didn’t know what to do or say. I blinked a few times, and glanced around at the various people who occupied the room alongside me.
“Taki?” Ryoken said my name questioningly.
I looked over at him and waited for him to continue.
“Are you… mad?” He asked, as if he were anticipating the worst.
“... I don’t know.” I said, rubbing my weary eyes.
“I’m sorry.” His apology was sincere. Perhaps I accidentally sounded passive aggressive instead of unsure when I has just spoken, and Ryoken had misinterpreted my intentions.
“I know you’re sorry,” I began, “But I’m… A little disorientated right now. And conflicted.” I sighed, “On one hand, you kept secrets from me and hypnotised me, but on the other hand…” I paused.
Ryoken looked over at my hopefully, “On the other hand?”
“I saw something special that I haven’t seen in so long.”

Ryoken processed what I had said for a moment, then nodded understandingly and smiled, relieved.
“I see.”
“I forgive you.” I smiled back.
“Are you planning on doing something about what I’ve been up to?”
“I’m going to tell Aso and Genome.” I stated, then quickly added, “But I’ll be sure to present it in the least concerning light I can. The last thing we need is more misunderstandings.”
Ryoken nodded in agreement.
“That requires your cooperation too, Ryoken-sama. No more secrets.”
“I understand.” He sighed, “I’ll have Specter notify you if we do something significant.”
I got up from the couch, walked over to Ryoken and ruffled his hair, “Thank you.”

---

“I’m so glad you could join us for dinner, Taki!” Takeru said cheerfully.
Taki smiled back warmly. Takeru set a plate of food in front of her and poured her a drink to go with her meal.
“It has been quite a while since we last caught up, hasn’t it?” I said.
“Indeed it has, Ryoken-sama.” Taki agreed.
“I suppose this is a good opportunity to get to know Yusaku and Takeru too.” I added.
“Yes. Perhaps we did not get off on the right foot earlier today.” Taki began, “I’m Taki Kyoko, but please, call me Kyoko.”
“I’m Fujiki Yusaku. Please call me Yusaku.” He smiled gently.
Takeru finished putting the plates around the table and sat in his own spot, “I’m Homura Takeru. Please call me whatever you wish.”
“It is very nice to meet you both. Thank you for taking such good care of Ryoken-sama.”

---

“Aoi, come and look at this message!” I called out.
“Who is it from?” She asked, pocketing her phone and getting up from the couch to come and look at the monitor in front of me.
“Playmaker’s support.”
“Has he sent new information or something?” She asked, and then when she peered at the screen her expression fell from neutral to worried, “Oh no.”

Blue Maiden, Aqua and Ghost girl, I desperately need your help. I don't have much time so I will keep this short. Revolver has taken my brother (a victim of the Lost Incident), Playmaker and Soulburner. He has done something bad to their minds. You have to stop them as I cannot do it anymore. Please do not suffer the same fate as them, or me. I have attached the address of where they are being held.
-Playmaker’s assistant

“This is serious. The Hanoi have finally turned on us like they were due to do for a while now. Playmaker is one of our strongest, so…”
“We don’t have a choice but to go and save him.”
“Yes. But I think we won't just be able to walk in the front door and get him or his comrades back.” I sighed and shrugged, “Things are never that easy.”
“Of course they’re not. We’re literally up against terrorists.”

“Here it says that they’ve done something to their minds.” I said, pointing to the relevant sentence, “And here it says that he cannot save them anymore, and here it says that we should avoid suffering the same fate as him. Something seriously messed up is going on.”
“What are we supposed to do? This is barely any information to work with! We’re probably going to end up just like them!” Aoi said, voice low, “But I won’t let that stop me. We’ll figure something out, right?”

“Of course. Considering something has happened to their minds, it was possibly done digitally. We can’t bring duel disks in case that's what they use to do it. If we go into the house specified by Playmaker’s assistant, we’ll need to stick together just incase they try to do something to one of us. Otherwise, we can leave an automatic distress message for your brother that will be sent if we don’t get home in time.” I listed every safety measure I could think of.
“Will all of that that protect us?”
“Probably.”
“Should we go then?”
“Right now?” I asked, scratching my head.
“Yes.”
I sighed again, “Okay then, I guess we are. Aqua, we’re leaving. Please send a message to Akira if we don’t get back by…” I checked my watch, “8pm. 4 hours should be enough for us.”

“Achoo…” Aoi suddenly sneezed.
“Bless you.”
“Ugh, damn hayfever.” She muttered.
“Do you need some tissues?”
“No, I’ll be fine. Achoo…!”
“If you insist.” I crossed my arms, “In any case, we’d better get going.”

Chapter Text

I woke up at midday, feeling a bit unhappy. Ryoken was in bed with me, still asleep, smiling as if he were having a happy dream. How I wished I could share that dream with him, just like I did everything else in my life…

I sighed quietly and cuddled Ryoken as he slept soundly, soaking up the warmth from his soft flesh and enjoying the smoothness of his skin. Ryoken, still dreaming sweet things, instinctively cuddled back. My heart felt warmed, but I still felt unhappy.

Why was I unhappy? I sorted through possible reasons in my head. Perhaps I had just had a nightmare, but forgotten that it had happened the moment I woke up, yet the dread of it still lingered. Perhaps I was thinking back to the time before Ryoken took me away. Perhaps I was anxious about Jin’s situation.
Perhaps I was still bothered by the events of yesterday.

As I thought that last possibility, a pang of guilt hit me. That was why I felt this way. I had hurt Ryoken, and even thought he had forgiven me, I still hadn’t moved past it.
Carefully as to not wake Ryoken up, I buried my head in his chest and let water build up in my eyes.

That’s right. Ryoken had told me to stop bottling things up. I needed to let my tears escape if that was what they desired.
Slowly, water trickled out of my eyes and onto my face and Ryoken’s chest. I silently sobbed as I held onto Ryoken’s body for comfort. This was the place where everything would be alright again. This was the place where I felt safest, under warm blankets, with Ryoken close to me. This was the place where I belonged. This was the place where I was loved. This place was sacred to me.

Everything did start to feel better again. This is how Ryoken would want it to be.
Suddenly, the body I held stirred a little bit. Ryoken groaned quietly.
“Yu… Yusaku…?” He spoke my name sleepily, “Are you… crying…?”
“Mmm.” I kept quiet as I sounded the equivalent of a ‘yes’.
“What’s wrong?” He asked, gripping me tighter as he faded back into reality from dreamland.
“I’m… sorry about yesterday…”
“Don’t worry about it.” He planted a kiss on the top of my head.
“I shouldn’t have tried to… force things onto you…”
“You come up with amazing ideas, Yusaku. Sometimes things are a good suggestion, but not the right thing to do.” He started petting my head, “You just wanted the best. Everything worked out in the end. That is all that matters.”

I closed my eyes and pressed my ear to his chest, and listened to his heartbeat. It was comforting and calming.
“I’m… I’m sorry if I woke you up from a nice dream with my crying.” I paused, then continued, “It looked like you were dreaming something pleasant.”
“If it’s you I’m waking up for, I don’t mind in the slightest.” Ryoken chuckled, “I was having a nice dream though. Do you want to know why it was so nice?”
“Why?”
“Because I was dreaming about you.” He stated, planting kisses all over my head, “And do you know what’s better than dreaming about you? Waking up to you.”
I smiled and laughed a little. Ryoken always said the right things to cheer me up.

---

“Did any of you just hear a sneeze from the door?” Yusaku asked, glancing around the living room. Everyone nodded.
“Do we have a surprise guest today too?” Specter said, scratching his head and sighing, “Maybe Taki wasn’t successful in telling Aso and Genome what she learnt in a non-concerning fashion. How unfortunate if that is that case…”
“Perhaps one of you should go and check who is at the door. If they’re there, they have business with us, and they’re being too shy to knock on the door.” I said, talking to Takeru and Specter.
“Of course, Ryoken-sama. I’ll answer the door.” Specter said, before putting the gardening book he was reading down and getting out of his chair to go to the door.

A click was heard, and the door opened.
“Specter!” A female voice yelled. It sounded nothing like Kyoko, and it certainly couldn’t have been Aso or Genome.
“How did you know we were here?! Are there hidden cameras?!” Another female voice spoke.
“We heard one of you sneeze from inside.” Specter stated simply, “So, what brings you two to our humble abode, Ema and Aoi?”
“Playmaker’s assistant told us that you Hanoi have taken his brother, Playmaker and Soulburner hostage!!!”
“Oh, we have done nothing of the sort.” Specter remained contrastingly calm in comparison to the girls.
“Then why did he tell us that?!” They didn’t sound convinced.

“Probably because he is currently… mentally unstable. Playmaker and Soulburner have had to take refuge here to escape him.”
“... What?” The younger female voice asked, confused.
“That… that actually could have happened…” The mature sounding female noted, clearly starting to wonder if this was just a big mix up.

“Uh oh…” I said under my breath to make sure my voice didn’t travel down the hallway, a sadistic grin growing on my face, “It sounds like we have a pair of guests who take issue with us. I have a plan. Takeru, fill Specter in on this when you can, however you can. Just make sure neither Aoi or Ema figure out what we’re doing. I don’t care if you write it down and hand it to him to read, or if you use morse code or sign language or something, just make sure he knows and that the girls don’t find out.”
Takeru nodded, grinning.

The conversation at the door continued.
“Wait, why should we trust the Hanoi?” The girl asked.
“Good point.” The older one agreed.
“Come inside and we’ll explain ourselves, then you can form a judgement.” Specter said.

“As you heard, Specter used my cover up story that I prepared in case something like this happened. Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. When they come in, we’ll have to find a way to split them up. Then we’ll...”

---

“Fujiki! Transfer student!” Aoi exclaimed, seeing Takeru and Yusaku in the living room.
“My name is Homura Takeru.” He corrected.
“Yeah, cool, what are you doing here? And now that I think about it, why have you been absent from school for weeks?”
“You know these guys?” Ema asked, blinking.
“They go to my school. They’re both in the duel club with me. Well, I mean, they were in the duel club. They got kicked out for lack of attendance.”

“Takeru and I have moved here recently. There has been no reason to go to school since we moved in.” Yusaku answered.
“So, you’re being homeschooled?”
“Sure.” Yusaku shrugged.
“Wait… You recently moved in?”
“Yes.”
“You know, I heard the same happened with Playmaker and Soulburner…” Aoi connected the dots, “There’s no way you two are…”

“If you’re wondering if they’re Playmaker and Soulburner, then yes, they are.” I explained.
Aoi stood still, shocked. That was short lived, however, as Aoi suddenly sneezed.
“And who might you be…?” Asked Ema, addressing me.
“Ryoken Kogami, son of Kiyoshi Kogami. You would know me as Revolver.”
“I remembered that you are Revolver. You revealed your identity before we started working on the Tower of Hanoi.” Ema said, putting her hand to her chin thoughtfully.

“So, you received a message from Kusanagi?” Specter asked.
“Who?”
“Kusanagi Shoichi. Playmaker’s support.”
“Yes, we did.” Ema confirmed.
“Can we see the message?” Asked Specter.
Ema passed over her phone with the message on the screen to Specter, who handed it to me. Aoi sneezed again.

“Oh my. This delusional man seems to have cooked up quite the fantasy.” I chuckled.
“Specter mentioned that he was ‘mentally unstable’, what exactly happened?” Ema asked.
“Well, Kusanagi was helping Yusaku and Takeru achieve their goals, however an unfortunate accident happened that rendered him unable to do his job. SOL Technologies kidnapped him, then brutally tortured him until they completely shattered his mind. We took him and did the best we could to repair the mental and physical damage, however most of it was permanent. What was left was an unstable and hostile Kusanagi who threatened the safety of Yusaku and Takeru. As Specter said, they’re staying with us to get away from him. Kusanagi is a dangerous man who should not be trusted.”

“Why should we believe you?” Asked Aoi, suspicious and untrusting.
“What would it take to convince you?” I asked back.
Aoi looked to Ema for guidance.
“If you could show us proof that he was brutally tortured to the point of no return, or show us that he is currently too dangerous to be around, we’ll believe you.” Ema said.
“Ah, yes. We can show you proof that he was brutally tortured. We have the whole thing on CCTV footage that we hacked from the SOL Technologies databanks.”
“Then we’d like to see-”
“Achoo!” Aoi sneezed once again.

Aoi’s constant sneezing was strange. Was she sick, did she have hayfever? Perhaps the cause was allergies? Either way, it gave me an idea.

“Do you need some tissues, Aoi?” I asked.
“I’m fine- Achoo! Achoo!!!”
“Are you sure?” I asked again.
“I’m fine.” She repeated, “Lets just hurry up and see the footage.”
“Very well.” Said Specter, transfering a video file from his tablet to the big screen in the room. Everyone’s eyes turned to watch.

A woman on the screen, wearing a white lab coat and blue choker, stood next to a man strapped to a chair. The woman said “We’re going to do things to you that will leave you shattered.”

A terrible thing ensued. The woman had grabbed a pair of icepicks and had started slowly stabbing them through the man’s eye sockets one at a time, with him screaming for her to stop. Ema and Aoi looked horrified.

“Achoo!” Aoi sneezed again.
“Would you like to come with Yusaku and I to get some tissues?” I offered, taking my eyes off the screen.
“No, I need to stay here with Ema.” Aoi said.
“Fair enough-”
“Achoo!”

“Aoi.” Ema began, “I think… I think they were telling the truth. Go and get those tissues. I think the less of this you see, the better. Besides, if they can be trusted I guess splitting up isn’t so bad.”
“The less I see, the better? I’m mature enough!” Aoi exclaimed.
“Once you see something, you can’t unsee it. Take it from an expert, Aoi.”
“...Fine.” She pouted, then sneezed again.

---

“Ah, the chloroform is wearing off. Wakey wakey, Aoi.”
Her eyes slowly started to open slowly, and she blinked a few times before realising where she was and what was going on.
She tried to move, but all of her limbs had been tied up. She tried to scream, but she had been gagged. She sat on a chair in a bedroom, facing the bed where Yusaku and I sat, watching her.
“You’ve been out for seven and a half minutes. I’m surprised that is was that easy to trick you two into splitting up. I was already surprised enough that you had planned beforehand to not split up. You’re already somewhat smarter than that rat, Kusanagi.” I laughed, “Oh, and we have hours of footage of Kusanagi being tortured. Ema won't be wondering where you are for a while.” Aoi stared at me and Yusaku in terror.

“We’re going to try something new I read about…” I began, grabbing the chloroform soaked cloth once again. I held it up against her mouth for a brief moment before removing it. It was enough to make her sleepy, but not enough to knock her out again. “Now that you’re a little less alert, I just need you to pay attention to what I have to say.”

Aoi struggled to keep her eyelids open. I grabbed Takeru’s necklace from the dresser and held it in front of her droopy eyes. Slowly, I swung the pendant from side to side in her line of sight.
“Follow the arcs of the necklace with your eyes.” I commanded in a soft and persuasive voice, “Follow it from left to right, left to right, left to right.”
Her eyes tried to look away. They tried to ignore the necklace and stare dead ahead. However, her weak mind was too excited by the movement of the necklace, so it made her eyes follow it.

“Let the rhythm of the swings take hold of your mind… Let their repetitions overwrite your thoughts. Left, right… Left, right…” My smooth voice coaxed.
Aoi’s eyes drowsily followed.
“Let what you see alter your mind… Let the things you see imprint themselves onto your heart… What you see will change you…”
Aoi was almost hypnotised. Perfect.

I stopped swinging the necklace and put it back down on the dresser. “Stay just as you are.” I commanded her. Her eyes twitched a little bit.
“Ryoken, is something wrong? She seems kind of awake.” Yusaku was concerned.
“That’s how she should be. I've decided to only half hypnotise her.”
“Half hypnotise? Such a thing is possible? Is that why you used different words to get her into a trance?”
“Yes. She was rather awake and alert, plus I stopped part way through the hypnosis process, so the result was a mind that is half hypnotised.”
“I see…” Yusaku looked at Aoi, curious, “Wouldn't it be better to fully hypnotise her though?”
“I wanted to try something new.” I began, “Besides, there are some interesting benefits to half hypnotising a person.”

“What are those?”
“Like usual, she won’t remember anything that happens while she is like this. However, we won't be able to give her specific instructions like with proper hypnosis, but whatever she sees while she sits there will alter her mind drastically. There's no way of telling how it will affect her, but hey, that's what trying new things is all about.”
“That's interesting.” Yusaku looked fascinated.
“Now then, you remember what we're going to show her, right?”
Yusaku smiled warmly, “You're going to hypnotise me.”
“Yes,” I chuckled, “but you won't be in any old trance. I'm going to hypnotise you just like we hypnotised Takeru, just as I promised.”

“...!”
Yusaku couldn't contain his excitement. He was looking forward to this.
“Lie down and close your eyes, Yusaku.” I said, putting on the gentle tone I often used during hypnosis.
“Yes…” He said, placing his head down on the pillow and taking a deep breath.

I lay down beside him and pulled him into an embrace. “Listen to my voice, and only my voice… Empty your head of thoughts… Fill your heart with my warmth…” I spoke softly, rubbing the back of his head slowly and melodically. Yusaku's muscles relaxed gradually.
“Good… Feel yourself slipping out of reality… Feel nothing except my body against yours…” Yusaku slumped completely, his arms resting weakly around me.
“It's just you and me… There is nothing else... You are safe with me… Trust me with everything you have… Slowly drift into a trance…” His breathing remained, calm, deep and consistent. Yusaku was completely relaxed.

“Slowly open your eyes... When you do, you'll be under my control.”
Yusaku opened his eyes just as I had asked, and slowly revealed his big, beautiful yet distant and dreamy eyes. His gaze was one that implied euphoria and great relaxation. I sat him up, and propped a pillow up against the head of the bed. I let Yusaku sit against the pillow, and grinned.

I had two jobs right now. The first was increasing how powerful my control was over Yusaku. The second was putting on a show for Aoi. But it wouldn’t be any old show. I planned to make it one hell of a show.

I curled my hand around Yusaku’s cheek and caressed it, “How do you feel, my dear Yusaku?”
“Amazing…” He whispered sleepily.
“Very good.” I purred, “Now, I have some orders for you. Are you ready to hear them?”
Yusaku nodded once.
“Firstly, you are not to take your eyes off me while you are hypnotised this time.”
Yusaku’s eyes stopped staring in my general direction and instead focused directly on me.
“Secondly, you are not to move a muscle while I have you hypnotised right now, unless it is to talk when I tell you to, or to nod or shake your head when answering me.”
Yusaku nod his head faintly.
“Thirdly, and lastly, no clothes until I release you of your trance. I want you to be as vulnerable as I can make you. Let me take your clothes off.”
Carefully I removed every item of clothing from his body, one by one, until he was completely exposed.

“Now, I need you to think about how you feel right now. Focus in on how it feels to be completely vulnerable and naked. Feel the cold air against your skin. Feel the fabric of the bed beneath you and the pillow behind you. Feel the absence of the clothes that would normally be there. How does it make you feel?”
“C… cold…” He shivered.
“What else does it make you feel?”
“Scared… U… Unsafe...”
“I see.” I said, “How about this?” I leaned over to him and wrapped my arms around him, and pecked his forehead, “Does it feel cold when I embrace you? Do you fear anything when we are together?”
“No…” He shook his head.
“How does it feel, then?”
“You are… so… warm… You… protect me…”

“Warm and protected? Yes. Those are things feelings I provide for you. They are what I want you to feel. Do you like those feelings?”
“Y… Yes…”
“Warm isn’t just a temperature. Warm means so much more. Do you know what it means to feel ‘warm’?”
He shook his head.
“To be warm it to receive the kindness of others, and not be alone. To be warm is to be loved, and have a heart full of love for others. You are warm, Yusaku. You will never be alone, because you will always be by my side. Your heart is filled with love, both for and from others.”
Yusaku’s eyes made it look as if he was smiling, even if his mouth didn’t form a smile. Deep within himself, I could tell that he was visualising the feeling of ‘warmth’ that I had described, and that he enjoyed it.

“Do you know what it means to be protected?”
Yusaku shook his head once more.
“It means to have somebody emotionally and physically guarding you. It means that somebody wants what is best for you. It means that people care for you. Do you feel that in the way I hold you? Do you feel like this is what is best for you?”
Yusaku nodded. His muscles felt especially relaxed and his gaze looked trusting.

I leaned away from Yusaku, and slid my hands to be on his shoulders. I stared straight into his eyes, into the colour of wondrous demantoid garnets. Yusaku stared straight back into my eyes, the mindless pleasure he felt clear in his absent expression.
“Do you know why you feel these things?”
“You… You are… why…”
“Yes.” I said, giving Yusaku’s shoulders a small massage, “I make you feel this way. Do you know why I want you to feel these things?”
“You… control me… own me…”
“You are correct. I own you. I control you. Your emotions are what I make them. Your mind is something that belongs to me. Your body is one of my possessions. You are mine in body, mind and soul. You are mine and mine alone.”
“I belong… to you…”

“Yes, you do. You understand well that I control you. However, what I want is more control.”
“Control… is love…” Yusaku’s eyes started to look watery.
“And love is control. I love you, Yusaku.” I leaned in and kissed his lips lightly, “Let me control more of you. Let my power over you become stronger. Let my love grow stronger.
“Yes…” A small smile tugged at his lips.
“Imagine the feeling of lying with me in bed,” I began, leaning forwards, back into the embrace we had shared, “Imagine soaking up my warmth. Imagine resting beside me. Imagine the blankets containing you in a safe and warm space where you are with nothing but me…”
“Every… morning… I…”
“Do you already know the feeling?”
“I… know it… so well…” Tears trickled down his soft cheeks and landed on his chest.
I smiled, “I’m glad.” I licked up his warm tears from his cheeks gently and carefully, “That is what our love feels like. That is what my control feels like. Imagine that moment. That is your happy place. Every time you are in your happy place, you are to think of me and that I own you.”
Yusaku nodded.

“All the terror of your past is gone. I’m here for you, and I will protect you. All you need to focus on is being mine. All you need to do is be by my side.”
“Yes…”
“Feel the warmth and protection that you have as a result of my control fill you up completely. Feel me here with you. Feel how you are mine. Feel my heart beat alongside yours. Feel the happiness I’ve given to you, and will continue to give to you. Feel the chains of my control bind you forever to me.” I commanded, tightening my hug.
“Anything… and everything… for… y… you…”
“I love you, Yusaku. Never forget that.”

---

“All of this footage…!” Ema remarked in disbelief for the umpteenth time.
“There is another hour of it.” I reminded her.
“Maybe we should stop, Specter. I think I get the point.” She was very clearly shocked by the things she was seeing.
“I’m not sure about that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know it is disturbing, but I feel as if it isn’t possible to grasp the severity of the situation with Kusanagi without seeing everything.”
“I mean…” She sighed. She was too disturbed to want to continue, but she couldn’t argue with my point. Besides, it seemed as if she was struggling to take her eyes away from the screen. Every nasty thing Queen was about to do to Kusanagi made her flinch, but for the entire hour we had been watching, not once did she successfully look away.

---

“When I snap my fingers, you will awaken from your trance, refreshed and relaxed. Ready?”
Yusaku nodded.

Snap.

Yusaku’s drowsy expression perked up a little bit, and some shine returned to his eyes as they slowly became more lively.
“How did I do?” I asked, smiling gently at him.
“You did... really well…” He said, still a bit sleepy.
“I’m glad.”
“I haven’t ever felt that good… before… Ever…”
“I guess I’ll have to step up my hypnosis game when I hypnotise you in future.” I chuckled.

Yusaku paused, then looked up at me with loving eyes, “Thank you, Ryoken. For everything. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“I don’t know what I would do without you either.”
“I’ll forever be by your side.” He said, pecking me on the cheek.
“I’ll forever be with you.” I said, pressing my lips into his and reaching into his mouth with my tongue, then breaking the kiss shortly after, “Forever and forever, with you under my power.”
Yusaku made a noise of agreement, and lifted his arms to cuddle into me.
For a while we sat like that, enjoying the comfort one another provided.

It was me who broke the moment after some time passed.
“Yusaku, we should probably wake Aoi up now. Lets get your clothes on, then we’ll see what has happened to her.”
“Of course.” Yusaku said, both of us loosening our hold on each other.
He quickly slipped back into his clothes while I untied Aoi, and then we sat back down on the bed together.
“How do we break the trance if we can’t give specific instructions?” Yusaku asked, looking at me with curious eyes.
“A sudden shock of some type.” I answered.
“Electrocution?”
“No, just something sudden and mildly painful, like this.” I said, reaching over to her arm. I quickly pinched her.

“O…. ow…” She rubbed her arm, quickly snapping back to being normal again, “What the hell was that for?”
“You sat down and wouldn’t respond when we were trying to talk to you.” I explained, lying.
“What? I don’t remember…”
“Maybe you blacked out for a moment or just weren’t paying attention?” I suggested.
“Huh? Oh, maybe… Maybe I was.” She looked really confused, but with every passing moment it seemed as if she believed my story more. The power of suggestion is quite marvellous, I thought to myself.

“Weren’t we getting tissues?” Yusaku reminded us.
“Ah, we were! They’re just in the drawer here.” I said, opening the drawer in the bedside table and handing a box of tissues from it to Aoi. She took them and started blowing her nose.

---

“That’s all of the footage. As you can tell, he was messed up pretty badly. We did all we could to fix him, but to no avail…” Takeru explained, voice low as if he regretted not being able to save Kusanagi.
“That was… horrible…” Was all I could bring myself to say. All of it had been mind-scarring.
“It really was.” Takeru agreed in a low voice.
“Yes, indeed.” Specter chimed in.
“Where is Kusanagi now?” I asked.
“He’s been running his food truck. He acts normal from what I can see, but when he’s around the same person or people for too long he starts acting out.” Specter explained.
“He runs a food truck?”
“Oh, yes. One of the many food trucks around Den City.”
“What is it called?”
“Sorry, but I won’t be telling you.” Specter bowed, “I would hate to be responsible for you trying to do something reckless and getting hurt.”

At that moment, Aoi came back into the living room with Yusaku and Ryoken.
“You guys took a long time. We’ve watched all of the footage.” I commented.
“We forgot where the tissues were. We’d usually have tissues in most rooms of the house, but we’ve had a bit of a shortage recently.” Ryoken explained.
Takeru, who was standing beside me, leaned down and whispered into my ear, “I don’t think he wanted Aoi to see some of the things we watched.”
I nodded my head understandingly. Thank goodness Aoi had been spared from seeing all of that torture Kusanagi went through. I was probably going to have nightmares for weeks because of this. Sleeping tonight would not be something I was looking forward to.

“What has happened to Kusanagi’s brother?” I asked, the question suddenly popping into my mind.
“Kusanagi’s brother? Ah yes, Jin. He’s currently in another room, unconscious. We’re looking after him until we can salvage his conscience data back from Lightning.” Ryoken replied.
“I see. Well, we’ve seen everything we need to see, haven’t we, Aoi?”
“I think so.” Aoi scratched her head, “Did the footage have what you needed to know to believe these guys?”
“Oh, I forgot to tell you. Yeah… It had more than enough to prove their story. Anyway, we should probably get going, shouldn’t we?”
“Yeah, lets go.”

---

As Specter closed the door, I began to laugh.
“Hahahaha… it seems we were successful.”
“It was thanks to your brilliant plan, Ryoken-sama.” Takeru praised me, smiling as brightly as usual.
Yusaku and Specter nodded in agreement.
“Ryoken?” Yusaku asked, clinging onto my arm.
“Yes?”
“Aoi didn’t seem very different when she woke up. Do you think anything changed?”
“I can’t say for sure.” I answered, putting my hand to my chin thoughtfully, “Since Aoi and Ema came together, I’d imagine they would be staying at the same place. How about we hack into the webcam at Ema’s house, or Aoi’s house if that is where she is, later and see if anything happens?”
“Sounds good.”

---

We arrived back at my apartment on my motorbike at half past 7, just 30 minutes before we arranged Aqua to send an SOS. As I went to open my door, Aoi tapped me on the shoulder.
“Yeah?”
“Can I quickly go to the convenience store and grab a pack of tissues? I don’t want to keep using yours.”
“Sure. I’ll let Aqua know we’re safe, and that everything was a misunderstanding.”
“Thanks.”
She ran off down the hallway of the level of the apartment complex we were on, and dashed down the stairs.

I removed my glove and put my thumb on the fingerprint scanner next to my door. With a few beeps and a click, my door unlocked and I went inside.
“Aqua, we’re home!” I called out, “Cancel the SOS.”
I approached my computer and booted it up. The duel disk next to the computer lit up, and the blue Ignis rose from it.
“Welcome back! Where’s Aoi?” She greeted me with her usual womanly voice.
“She went off to quickly buy some tissues. She should be back shortly.”
“What happened while you were out?”
“A lot of things happened.” I sat down and filled her in on all of the details of our trip. I told her about the problems Kusanagi had, and how it had made him send that message. I also told her about a small handful of the things I saw on the CCTV footage from SOL, and how Aoi luckily saw only a small chunk of it.

“I see. What a strange string of events.” She sounded very concerned, “I sense that you feel very uneasy about what you saw.”
“I am.” I sighed.
“I can’t blame you. It sounded quite horrifying. I’m sorry you had to see it.”
“I wonder how Aoi is handling the part she saw?” I wondered.

“I’m back!” Aoi came in the door, holding a packet of tissues.
“That was fast. Usually it takes longer to get to the store and back when I need to buy things, even if I’m rushing.”
“Oh, that’s because I found a vending machine along the way that sold tissues.” She explained.
“Lucky.” I giggled.

“Aoi, what is…” Aqua began speaking suddenly. The AI seemed to struggle to talk.
“Is something wrong, Aqua?” Aoi asked, confused.
“Aoi, what has happened to you?”
“What sort of question is that?” Aoi seemed really confused now.
“I sense something very wrong in your soul. There is something terribly wrong with you.”
“Aqua, what are you on about?” Aoi became worried fast.
“Your soul is not like it was when you left. There is something dark and twisted in your soul.” Aqua sounded equally as worried as Aoi, and a hint fearful, “Did they do something to you?”

---

“Did they do something to you?” Aqua asked me.
Did they? I wasn’t sure.
“Did they do something?” Aqua repeated. Ema watched on, a frightened expression on her face.
“No.” I answered, not really thinking about how I came to that answer or why I even answered.
“No, they must have done something…” Aqua stuttered.
“They did nothing.” I found myself saying. I wasn’t sure why I said it so forcefully.
“Aoi, was there any time when they…” Aqua began.
“They. Did. Nothing.” An aggressive edge revealed itself in my tone.
“They did something.” Ema stated in disbelief, her eyes wide.

“Did you not hear me, bitch?” I snarled at Ema, dropping my tissues and slowly approaching her, “Nothing is wrong. Everything is fine. Nothing happened.”
“B… bitch?” She gulped, taken aback by my attitude.

Why was I acting this way? Ema was my friend. Aqua was my friend. None of what I was doing made sense.
A headache suddenly ripped at the back of my head.
It hurt.
A lot.

“You two…” I found myself saying, voice low, “pose a threat… to… to…”
I didn’t know what I was talking about. Who posed a threat to what…?
I repeated ‘to’ a couple times over, struggling to either complete or abort my sentence.
The headache rung through my head, and I could barely hear my own thoughts. Everything felt like a mess.

I just wanted it to all shut up.

I just wanted to think straight.

Then something in the depths of my mind clicked.

“You two pose a threat to what I saw.”

I lunged at Ema. The force of me jumping at her caused her to fall over with me on top of her, hands wrapping tightly around her slender neck.
“W… what…” Was all she could manage to say between failed inhales.
“Aoi, stop!!!” Aqua begged.
“Shut UP!” I yelled, tightening my grip.

“What did you see, Aoi?!” Aqua asked.
“I DON’T KNOW. SHUT UP!!!” I screamed.
“Stop hurting Ema!!!!” Aqua was in tears.
“WILL IT MAKE YOU SHUT UP?!”
“Yes…” Aqua was sobbing like crazy.
“WELL THEN…” I let go of Ema, got up and started slowly walking towards the duel disk. Behind me, Ema caught her lost breaths.
“Aoi, snap out of it!!!” Aqua begged, on her knees.
“I THOUGHT YOU SAID YOU WOULD SHUT UP.” I screeched, “YOU’RE GOING TO PAY FOR LYING TO ME.”
I snatched the duel disk from the table and prepared to smash the display into the corner of the desk. As I raised my arm, a shot of pain hit me.

Aqua electrocuted me, and I fell to the ground. The world slowly faded out from around me.

---

“She’s… becoming aggressive towards everyone.” Ryoken observed, watching the live webcam footage. He looked analytical, like he usually does when he is trying to figure things out that he doesn’t understand.
“Why do you think she is?” I asked, wondering why it was happening myself.
“Yusaku, lets watch a bit more of this, then I might be able to figure it out.”
“Okay.”
I stayed quiet as we continued to spy on the girls.

You two pose a threat to what I saw.” Aoi stated flatly.
“Oh… that’s interesting…” Ryoken nodded his head.
“She’s… attacking everyone.” I said, fascinated, “She’s never been violent like that before.”
“I think I get it now.”
I quickly turned to Ryoken, hungry for details.
“Suppose you are Aoi, and you’ve just be knocked out, then you’ve woken up, strapped to a chair and gagged in a room with suspicious, untrustworthy people. What would you be feeling?”
“Scared, possibly hateful.”
“Hateful. That’s the key to all of this.”
“How so?”
“While hypnotised, Aoi hated us and what she was seeing. However, she was associating the pleasant feeling of hypnosis with what she was seeing at the exact same time. It appears as if we’ve conditioned her to agree with our methods, but she’s had to redirect her anger to something else. Perhaps the process of transferring her hate from one thing to another only finished just now, with a bit of help from the water Ignis.”
“Wow…” All I could do was stare at the live footage in awe.

“This has taught me a lot about half hypnotising people. I’ll have to note down my findings for future reference.”
“What have you learnt?”
“I’ve deduced that half hypnotising a person doesn’t allow for very big emotional changes, because if we had fully hypnotised Aoi she would have had her hatred erased completely, not shifted to another thing. I’ve also figured out that the results you get are likely going to be a bit random and possibly dangerous, since they’re based on a person’s rapidly changing emotions.”
“So this experiment was successful?” I asked, smiling.
“Yes, it was. Thank you for your help, Yusaku, you were a big part of this.” He kissed me on the cheek.

We continued watching, Ryoken scribbling down notes every now and again as things happened on screen.
In the footage, Aoi was electrocuted and fell to the ground before fainting.

“Oh dear. Our little lab rat is down. That was rather underwhelming.” Ryoken chuckled.
I laughed a little with him, “It sure was.”
On screen, Ema struggled to get to her feet, but eventually did, then hobbled over to Aoi’s body and picked up the duel disk.
What… what was… that?” Ema asked the AI through rapid breaths.
I… I don’t know.” She admitted, “I’ll need to scan her brain to draw any conclusions.
“Ooooh, they might give us more data to work with.” Ryoken sounded very amused.
In any case, we should probably restrain her for our safety, and hers.” Aqua suggested.
Yeah… I’ll… I’ll grab some rope.” Ema agreed.
Should we tell Akira?
Yes. Tell him to come immediately. I don’t know how I’ll explain this to him.

“Hmm… They’re calling Zaizen in. We’ll have to keep an eye on how this goes.”
“Do you think something bad will happen?”
Ryoken lowered his voice, “If SOL hears about this, there is going to be some serious trouble. We don’t need them figuring out what we’ve been up to. I’m going to call up Doctor Taki and see if I can get them to keep an eye out for us.”
“Mmm. Good idea.” I agreed, my eyes falling shut a little bit.
“You look a bit sleepy, Yusaku.”
“Yeah, I’m a little tired.” I yawned.
“Should we go to bed?” Ryoken asked.
“No, I’m not that tired yet. Besides, you need to keep gathering data.” I yawned once again, which did no wonders in convincing Ryoken that I didn’t need to rest.
“Gathering the data is important, but so is you getting some sleep.”
“No, I’m fine.”
“You know what? I’ll tell Takeru to bring a blanket here for you. I’ll keep making notes and you can get a head start on some sleep.”

Shortly after, Takeru came into the room with a thick fur blanket and handed it to Ryoken, who wrapped us up in it.
“Goodnight Yusaku.” He said, kissing my forehead.
I leaned into his side, his warmth making me feel sleepier.
“Goodnight Ryoken.”

Chapter Text

Finally, I was myself again. But of course, just like every other time it happened, it would only be temporary and short lived.
How would I spend this short time I had been granted? What would be the best way to use up what little time I had being free?
I had been thinking about it while I had not been in the driver's seat of my body. I had thought long, and hard, as I had plenty of time to do so.

I had decided, after thinking for such a lengthy time, that it would be best to get some much needed answers.

Immediately, as my freedom came to me, I closed up shop once more, and then called Flame out of the duel disk.
“Flame, I’m me again. We need to talk.”
“What about, Kusanagi?” He asked.
“I feel like you know something I don’t, or have done something bad.”
This piqued his curiosity, “Oh?”
“Don’t play dumb, Flame. You’ve done something wicked.”

“I’m not sure I understand what you are accusing me of.” He said, folding his arms, voice lacking any distinct emotions or tones.
“SOL or the Hanoi would have found you by now.” I growled.
“What do you mean? I’ve been staying as undetectable as possible within the network, and I’ve been using the best algorithms I could find to-”
“Shut it, Flame. I’m talking about physically finding you, not tracking you within the network.”
Flame stared at me, no words coming from him.
“SOL would have found you when they dumped my body back here.” I explained with a fierce edge to my voice, “And the Hanoi would have found you when they took me from here.”

Flame stared at me silently, but I couldn’t read why from his countenance.
“Well, do you have anything to say for yourself!?” I snarled at him.
“... Yes.” He said, unfolding his arms.
“Well, then SAY IT.”
“When SOL came, it looked as if they were just looking to get rid of you as soon as possible, so I hid in the duel disk, and hoped they wouldn’t find me. They ended up ignoring the duel disk completely, and just leaving as soon as they dumped you on the floor.”
“Coward.” I glared at him, “You just hid and didn’t even try to help.”
“What could I have done? Made the duel disk grow arms and legs and fight them off? Stare at them until they drop dead? There was nothing I could do in that situation.”

“I don’t care.” I stated flatly, “What about when the Hanoi came for me?”
“That…” He paused.
“Tell me.” I hissed.
“I thought I could hide again, just like with SOL, but…”

---

“Specter, should we take Flame with us too?” Takeru asked as Specter lifted the unconscious body of Kusanagi Shoichi from the floor.
“Flame…? Ah yes, the Ignis. Is he here?”
“He should be in the duel disk over there,” Takeru pointed at me, “I believe he is the only Ignis in this van.”
“Show yourself, Ignis scum.”

I slowly rose from the display of the disk, and stared at the two of them.
“Hi Flame!” Takeru smiled.
“Hello.” I greeted simply, “I hear that the Hanoi have done something to you.”
Takeru glanced over at Specter, who gave a small nod.
“Yeah, they have.” He kept smiling sweetly as if he was genuinely glad to see me. It seemed like he didn’t understand the true weight of what he just said.
“... What have they done?”
“Hypnotised me.”
“They’re controlling your mind?”
“Pretty much.”
“I can’t say this pleases me.” I felt on edge.

“You wouldn’t understand. I wish you could but… I don’t think you can hypnotise an AI.” Takeru frowned a little.
“They’re making you say that. They’ve brainwashed you.” I said, regardless of how futile making such an observation was. I felt a complex blend of emotions. For one, I was glad Takeru looked okay and wasn’t ignoring me like he was Kusanagi, but on the other hand I felt incredibly sad that Takeru wasn’t exactly himself.

“They have. It isn’t bad like you might think it is.” Takeru scratched his head, wondering what would convince me of his views.
“Takeru, please stop letting yourself be controlled by-”
Suddenly, Specter grabbed Takeru by the shoulder and put a knife to his neck. Takeru didn’t resist or seem at all concerned, and instead let the cold metal press against his throat. Specter was no longer holding Kusanagi, as somewhere through Takeru’s conversation with me he had put the body down.
“Specter, what are you doing!?” I yelled.
“Sorry to end your conversation, but we have business to talk about.” He began, “Since you are here, fire Ignis, we could take you back to Ryoken-sama, but since you are so precious to Takeru…” He paused, then continued, “I don’t think we’ll bring you to him just yet.”
“What?” My yellow eyes widened. I failed to understand what was going through his head. Wasn’t his goal to destroy all Ignis? Where was this lack of brutality coming from?

“When the earth Ignis was destroyed, I felt it happen to him. It wasn’t pleasant to say the least. I think it would be best to spare Takeru from that while we can.” He shrugged with one arm, the other arm still holding the knife to Takeru’s throat.
“You felt it? Do you oppose the destruction of Ignis?” I asked.
“No, the Ignis must perish because Ryoken-sama says it must be so. We’ll just let you live… temporarily.”
“... I see. Could you please withdraw your knife from Takeru’s neck? There doesn’t seem to be any reason for it.”
“Sorry, I cannot do that. The reason I have this pressed to his neck is because I need you to agree to something.”
“Agree to what??”
“You are to not contact the other Ignis and notify them of us, and you are to stay out of the network. If we find that you’ve done these things, well…” Specter pressed the knife in a little further. It created a small and shallow cut that let out blood slowly, “You know what will happen. Do we have your agreement, Ignis?”
“...I… I agree…”
“That means you need to stop contacting the dark Ignis. Understood?”
“Yes…”

Specter flipped the knife shut and put it in his pocket, before offering his handkerchief to Takeru. Takeru took it and wiped some blood away from the cut.
“Thank you for doing business with us then.” Specter bowed and grinned his usual manic grin.
Specter leaned down and picked up Kusanagi’s body once more.
“Let’s go, Takeru. We shouldn’t keep Ryoken-sama waiting.”
“Okay! It was good seeing you again, Flame!” Takeru gave me a small, innocent wave.

---

“What the hell?!” Kusanagi yelled.
“I couldn’t have done anything.”
“Well, if you could have done something, would you?!”
“... No. Takeru is my top priority. Specter would have hurt him.”
“You… You son of a…” Kusanagi was fuming.
“I’m sorry, Kusanagi. There was nothing I could do then, and there is nothing I can do now. I thoroughly regret that I cannot help you.”
“You don’t regret anything!!!” He screamed, “You’re just a goddamn AI who says that they feel things! Show some humanity, damn it!!!”

“Calm down! You’re being unreasonable.”
“No! You clearly can’t be trusted! YOUR inactions have made me this way!!!”
“I’m sorry! I wish there was something I could do…”
“There is.” His tone was one of finality, “There is something you can do.”
He picked up my duel disk, “And that thing you can do is get out.”
He kicked the door of the van open, and threw me out as hard as he could. The duel disk landed on a bush, then bounced off and onto the ground in front. Luckily the disk was not damaged.

However, I felt as if I was.

---

I jumped out of the van, ran around to the driver's seat and drove off. Slowly, my freedom faded and my autopilot-self started to drive away to the town center to set up shop. As I drove, tears welled up in my eyes. Had I really just done that?

Flame, as much as I hated him for not even trying to help me and straight up admitting that Takeru’s wellbeing was more important than my own, he was the only thing keeping me sane. Whenever I had a moment of clarity, I’d have him to talk to. He was the only person who knew about my situation and wasn’t for me being in it. Flame was the only thing I had left, and I had abandoned him on the ground on an empty road.

---

“Thank you for making breakfast, Takeru.” Ryoken thanked me, placing his utensils down.
“It was delicious!” Yusaku placed his cutlery down too.
“I’m glad you liked it.” I bowed, and went to pick up Yusaku’s empty plate to clean up. I was stopped, however, by a hand with a red tattoo.
“Don’t worry about cleaning up today. Specter will handle it. You can have a day off today.”
“Are you sure, Ryoken-sama?” I asked.
“Of course. Spend today however you see fit.”
“Thank you.” I bowed again, and left the room.

I sat around in my bedroom for a while, wondering what to do. What would be a good way to spend today? I stared out the window at the ocean, the surface glistening brilliantly with the shine of morning sun. The waves crashed softly at the cliff below, and some seagulls flew by in the distance. It was a lovely day, and it would be an absolute waste if I didn’t go outside to enjoy it. Perhaps the best way to start my day would to be to go on a walk.

I put on my white tracksuit and pants, slicked my hair back and left the house.
It really was a lovely day; the view from the window in my room had not deceived me.
The air was nice and cool and the sunlight felt warm against my skin. There weren’t many people out and about, so wherever I walked was quiet and peaceful. I was grateful my day off had landed on such a pleasant day with such fine weather.

Everything was nice and calm for a majority of my walk. But as I ventured through the middle of Den City and out the other side to a set of empty, silent streets, a strange feeling hit me. It was an oddly familiar feeling that I hadn’t felt in a while, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was supposed to be or mean. As I kept walking along a particular street, the feeling getting stronger with each inch I moved forward, I looked down and saw a familiar object.

It was my duel disk.

“What… what is this doing on the ground? And why here?” I wondered out loud. There was nobody around to hear me, “Flame, are you in there?” I picked up the disk, the strange feeling peaked, and I waited.

The display lit up, and Flame slowly poked his head out, “T… Takeru…?”
“Flame, are you okay? Why were you on the ground over here?” I was worried. Something must have happened.
“I don’t know if I’m okay, but I’m glad to see you.” He admitted, soundly rather gloomy.
I sat down on a bench next to the bushes I had found Flame near.
“Tell me what happened.” My voice was caring and understanding.

Flame explained everything to me, from how Kusanagi had gone crazy until he got thrown out of the van. I felt bad for him. He was a victim of what we did to Kusanagi.
In no way did I regret what we did to Kusanagi though - it was what Ryoken wanted. I simply regretted that Flame had been in the wrong places at the wrong times.

“I’m sorry that stuff happened to you…” I said sympathetically, holding out my finger to him. Flame wrapped his arms around it for comfort and sighed.
“I don’t know what to do anymore. You’re the only person I have left, but even then…”
“It’s the hypnosis thing that has you worried, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is. I admit, I want my free Takeru back.”
“Am I much different?” I asked.
“Not really, I suppose, but I’m still worried about you not having free will. The main differences are you liking being controlled and, well, you working for a group who wants me dead.”

“I’m sure I could talk to Ryoken-sama about you and make it so that you were safe. Other than that, being hypnotised is nice. It is very hard to understand when you haven’t been hypnotised before. I yelled at Yusaku when I found out he let Ryoken hypnotise him often.” I laughed a laugh of embarrassment, “But that changed when I was hypnotised. I finally understood why he liked it. I wish there was a way for you to know too.”

“How can you be content when you don’t have free will? What’s so good about being hypnotised?” His tone was a mix of genuine curiosity and concern.
“Happiness is not based on what you own, such as free will. Happiness is based on what you do. You can still do things that make you happy without free will, and with other people controlling you.” I explained, “Having somebody control you feels indescribably good. Ryoken, Specter and Yusaku’s control over me feels loving. It helps me feel a connection with them. The feeling of hypnosis is nice too… It’s relaxing and comforting. It refreshes you in a way that sleep could never match up to. When you wake up, you feel reborn. You feel reincarnated.”

---

“Reincarnated?” I didn’t know what to think about what Takeru was saying. I had come to believe been able to choose what to do in life was important. Maybe I was being unreasonable. Maybe I wasn’t. I didn’t know what to think anymore.
“Yes, reincarnated. I feel a special peace that I didn’t feel back when I wasn’t hypnotised. I still feel a roaring fire deep within me that gives me the courage to fight when I need it. But other than that, everything else doesn’t feel so broken anymore. I don’t feel lost anymore.”

Takeru was happy. Was that all that mattered? Or did free will truly matter?
Human morality and human society claimed that being free is important. However, I was not a human. I knew that humans were prone to making errors and mistakes. I had the luxury of deciding if what most humans thought to be right was really right. I could judge whether Takeru was right, or the bulk of humanity. That would be something I would need to think carefully about.

“Flame, do you want to come back to Ryoken’s house with me? Maybe I can show you what hypnosis looks like.” Takeru offered.
“Come back with you? But what if you fail to convince Ryoken to let you keep me?” I asked.
“Don’t worry about that, I’m sure it will be possible.” Takeru gave me a reassuring smile, “You need somewhere to stay, right? You don’t have many options. Besides, Ryoken-sama is a kind master.”
“I suppose you are right… I’ll come with you.”

---

“I’m home!” Takeru called from the front door.
“Welcome back!” Specter replied from somewhere else in the house.
“It seems Takeru is back from his walk.” I observed, giving Yusaku a small head pat.
“Mmm.” Yusaku agreed sleepily, head buried in my chest as he hugged me tightly.
Footsteps sounded from down the hall, before someone knocked on the door of the living room.
“Come in.”
Takeru entered the room and bowed, before closing the door behind him. He had one hand behind his back, and the hand was being obscured by his body.

“I have something I’d like to talk about, Ryoken-sama.” He began.
“Take a seat.” I said, gesturing to a chair, “What is it you would like to discuss?”
“On my walk, I discovered something and I have brought it back with me.” He said, sitting in the chair and revealing a duel disk from behind his back, “Flame, come out.”
An Ignis rose from the disk as the display lit up.
“Flame!” Yusaku exclaimed, sitting up and facing the AI.
“Your Ignis? Didn’t you leave it with Kusanagi?” I asked, surprised by what he brought back with him. This was completely unexpected.
“I did.” Takeru admitted, “But Kusanagi threw Flame out of his van in a fit of rage. I found him lying on the street.”
“I see… Well, considering you want to talk about what you found, I doubt you’re going to be asking me to kill it.”

“Yeah…” Takeru lowered his head a little nervously, “I want to know if we can keep Flame.”
“You are aware I want all Ignis dead, correct?” I asked.
“Yes.”
“What makes you want to keep the Ignis, exactly?” I made sure my tone was not accusatory, nor aggressive, but instead one that suggested that I genuinely wanted to know why. I didn’t want to unnecessarily deny my servant their request.
“He’s… He’s always been there for me, for as long as I known him. He’s helped me get through some dark times, too. If my personal reasons aren’t enough, I suppose the fact he is a victim of Kusanagi might help convince you of what I want…”
Flame looked up at his origin, concerned.
“Something wrong, fire Ignis?” I asked, suspicious, “Are you scared that your wellbeing isn’t assured?”

“Not at all.” He responded, turning to me, “I’m worried about Takeru’s wellbeing.”
“Why is that? Do you think we’d punish him for making this request?”
“No. I’m worried that you are going to make him unhappy. I have decided that my priority is Takeru’s happiness. I didn't just come here because I have nowhere to go, but also because I wanted to see if what Takeru was saying is true.”
“Oh?” I found what the Ignis was saying to be interesting, “What did Takeru say?”
“He said that all of you who live in this house make him happy. He said that hypnosis makes him happy. I don’t know whether you just told him to say those things or not, so I wanted to see for myself whether it was true. Admittedly, I’m a little concerned about you removing his free will, but I’ve decided if it is what makes Takeru happy, I can agree with it.”
“My, such concern for your origin.” I put my hand to my chin thoughtfully, “I find that quite admirable. However, you are still an Ignis. The Ignis need to be destroyed.”

“Please reconsider.” The Ignis sounded calm, “I know your father wanted all Ignis dead because we have the potential to take over the world, but if I’m going to be perfectly honest, I do not feel like carrying out world domination. I have no need to do that. I simply wish to be with my origin.”
“You are an AI capable of lying. Why should I trust what you say?” I glared at the Ignis.
“I’ll let you do anything to me if it makes you sure I won’t do anything, as long as it isn’t destroying me. You can lock me in the duel disk, cut my access off from the network, put me in new hardware, I don’t care. I just want to make sure Takeru is okay.”

“Well, that does sound tempting. An Ignis that can’t escape or communicate is no threat to anyone. However, I do wonder what you plan to do if Takeru happens to not be okay.” I said, considering his proposal.
“I suppose I’ll try to do something about what is happening to him.”
“We’ll be able to destroy you easily from whatever vulnerable position we put you in. You’re ensuring your destruction in that case.” I pointed out.
“Well then, I guess I will perish after trying my hardest to save Takeru.”
“And you are fine with that?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I have nowhere to go, I have been disowned by the only person I had left other than Takeru, and Takeru is living with a group of people who would love to see me dead. I think death is a perfectly fine option in this case.”

“Hmmm… Indeed you are quite admirable, and it seems we have the common interest of Takeru’s wellbeing. I have a proposal. We will load you into an old device with no networking capabilities, and we’ll let you watch us hypnotise Takeru. If you don’t like what you see by the end of it, we’ll destroy you. If you approve, we’ll let Takeru keep you.”
“I am fine with that arrangement.” He said, accepting my proposal.

“How about you, Takeru?” I asked.
“I can agree to that.” He smiled, “Thank you for giving Flame a chance. I’m grateful, as always. I’m sure Flame will see that hypnosis is a good thing.”
“Hopefully he does. I know that you two are close, and it would be a shame to have to harm a friend of yours, even if he is my enemy.” I paused, then resumed speaking, “Ah, one more thing. There is a little extra something I want to do when having Takeru hypnotised that will get you involved, Flame. I’m sure you will have no trouble agreeing, considering I’ve decided to be so very lenient today. This will be the only condition I will not outline to you.”
“... I don’t like how you are choosing not to explain it, but I suppose asking for anything else will result in a fruitless death for me.”
“I’m glad you understand the sort of position you are in. Now then, we’ll hypnotise you later today.”
“Thank you, Ryoken-sama.” Takeru got up from the chair, bowed, and left the room.

“That was a bit out of character for you.” Yusaku commented, looking up at me.
“I suppose it was.” I sighed, “I could have just hypnotised Takeru right there and then to hate the Ignis and let me obliterate it.”
“I think your heart has been getting softer…” Yusaku leaned into my chest and ran his hand over my heart.
“Is that a bad thing?”
“No, I like it.” He smiled sweetly, “Perhaps I’m making you softer.”
“Maybe you are.” I laughed a little, “Either way, Takeru is a member of our family. I’d imagine you would be sad to see one of his closest friends killed. Although, would you still be sad if Takeru was hypnotised to believe it was for the best?”
Yusaku looked a little conflicted, “I think... I might be unhappy if that happened. It doesn’t help him, does it?”

“I see you’ve learned.” I gave him a small kiss on the forehead, “We should only hypnotise people when it is for the best.”
“Yes.” His smile grew. He was happy that he would be less likely to make the mistake he did when I hypnotised Taki, “Although, don’t you believe that destroying the Ignis is for the best?” He asked.
“Yes, I do. But if we have an Ignis so useless it can’t even enter the network and its only purpose is to provide some company for Takeru, is it really a threat? I could delete it at any time. Besides, we could use it as another way to control Takeru.”

“Another way to control him?” Yusaku’s eyes lit up. He was extra interested.
“Yes. I came up with a new idea for an experiment that involves hypnotising Takeru, and the experiment does require the Ignis.” I explained.
“Wow, that sounds cool. Could that be the extra condition to Flame staying?”
“It is. You are as perceptive as always, I see.”
“Mmm.” He melted further into my arms, “I can’t wait to see what you’ve thought of.”
Soon after our conversation ended, Yusaku began snoring quietly. This was the perfect time to make the arrangements necessary for my plan.

---

Ring ring. Ring ring.

“I’ll get the phone.” I said, pulling it from the dock on wall and putting it to my ear, “Hello, Ryoken-sama. This is Taki speaking.”
“Hi Taki. How did telling Aso and Genome about hypnosis go?”
“It went well. They were a little worried at first, but I managed to convince them to be fine with it rather easily.”
“Ah, thank goodness. I’m glad it wasn’t too difficult. Anyway, I have called you because I need you to design a device for me and deliver it to me as soon as you can.”
“A device? What sort of device do you need us to make?”
“I need something that can read a person’s feelings as they happen and convert them into a digital stream of information.”
“What a strange concept.” I giggled, “It should be no problem to make with Aso and Genome helping. We probably have sufficient parts in supply here on the boat to make the hardware required. Consider it done.”
“When do you think you can get it to Stardust Road by?”
“Probably early evening.” I estimated, “That includes both time spent designing, building, programming and travelling back to the docks. I’ll see you then.”
“That is perfect. Thank you for your help.”

I hung up, put the phone back on the dock and looked over at Genome and Aso, who has been listening in on the conversation.
“I wonder what he’s up to.” Aso said.
“Indeed.” Genome agreed.
“In any case, we’d better get to work immediately. He made it sound urgent.” I sighed.
“Of course. If we put our minds together, we’ll get this done in no time.” Aso flipped his laptop open.
“I’ll handle the programming that reads a person’s emotions from their brain. Genome, can you please work on the hardware? And Aso, can you please work out the digital conversion?”
“Of course, after all I have the perfect DNA for the job.” Genome smiled.
“Yep, I’ll get onto it.” Aso began typing.
“Good. Let’s do this as well as we can in the shortest span of time we can.”

---

“Aoi!!!” Akira yelled, running through the door and embracing his restrained and unconscious sister, “Aoi…!”
“I’m sorry, Akira.” I apologised, looking down at the siblings, on the verge of tears.
Akira stood up, turned around and slapped me, “What were you thinking?!” He yelled, “You took her to the Hanoi’s base! I don’t care if she wants to be independent or mature, that is something too dangerous to be done by ANYONE!”
“I’m sorry… It’s just… we need Playmaker in our war against Lightning, so…”
“Your message from Kusanagi’s assistant literally warned you that something terrible could happen!” He yelled.
“Akira, I see that you are angry right now, but I also sense that Ema thoroughly regrets her actions and feels deeply saddened too. Please calm down. She understands that she has done something bad.” Aqua said.

“I… fine.” He took a deep breath and grit his teeth, “I’m very unhappy with you, Ema, but what we need to focus on is Aoi.”
“Yes, it is.” Aqua agreed.
“What can we do?” He asked.
“I could figure out what is wrong with Aoi if I had brain scans, and we might be able to find a solution to her problem from those. However, Ema doesn’t have any equipment that could perform brain scans.”
“I see, then we should take her to a hospital?”
“No.” Aqua shook her head, “They won’t know how to help her. If they perform scans on her, they will insist on her staying in the hospital and I we won’t be able to help her further.”
“That’s… not good. Do we have any other options?” I asked.

“SOL.” Akira said.
“SOL?! You can’t be serious!” I exclaimed.
“Why not?”
“Because… Because they tortured Playmaker’s assistant! I saw it with my own eyes, all of the brutal-”
“Can we trust the Hanoi after what they did to Aoi?” Aqua asked.
“But the footage-”
“It was probably doctored or completely made up.” Akira crossed his arms.
“It was so real though…”
“Well, what more can you expect from the most wanted cyber terrorist organisation on the planet?”
I sighed. They were probably right.

“In any case, I can give her to some of my workers at SOL Technologies and get some brain scans. That way, we can get a copy of Aoi’s brain scans and take her home at any time.” Akira explained.
“I see. That idea sounds good.” Aqua nodded her head.
“If we need, we can probably borrow resources to help fix her too.”
“I think we should go ahead with that plan. I don’t see the potential for anything to go wrong.”

---

“Ryoken-sama, Taki dropped a box off at the door for you.” Specter walked into the room, holding said box.
“Ah, perfect timing. Specter, would you happen to know where Takeru is?” I asked.
“Yes, he’s in his bedroom. Why do you ask?”
“I have a job for you. Head into Takeru’s room with that box, Yusaku and I will join you shortly.”
“Very well, Ryoken-sama.” He bowed and went off to follow my orders.

“Are you ready for our experiment, Yusaku?”
“Just a couple more minutes…” He mumbled, snuggling into my chest.
“Come on, we shouldn’t keep Specter and Takeru waiting.” I gave his shoulder a playful poke, “You can cuddle me all you want later.”
“Mmmmm… fine…” He groaned, loosening his hug and sitting up.

We left the room and head over to Takeru’s bedroom, where Specter was already standing, looking down at the fire Ignis in shock.
“Ryoken-sama is willing to let you keep the Ingis?!” Specter sounded very surprised, and slightly worried.
“Yes, I did.” I cut in.
“Are you sure about this?” His voice wavered a little.
“Relax. We’re going to be hypnotising Takeru with the Ignis in the room. If the Ignis disapproves, we’ll destroy it. If he approves, we’ll let Takeru keep him.”
“I suppose that isn’t too much of a problem…” Specter scratched his head, a little taken aback.

“Well then, what is the extra condition you refused to explain?” Flame spoke up.
Flame was standing with his arms folded, in an outdated duel disk with no networking capabilities that was intended for local duels. The disk rested in Takeru’s lap.
“It’s in the box Specter brought in here.”
“It’s an object?” His eyelids raised to indicate surprise.
“Yes, it was a little something I had my Knights throw together.” I nodded, “Specter, we’ll have you hypnotise Takeru. We’ll have Flame hooked up to the contents of that box at the same time.”
“Of course, Ryoken-sama.” Specter bowed.
“Let’s open the box first and get that set up.”

Specter knelt down and began unboxing the Knights’ creation. Yusaku peered over at the box curiously, as did Flame and Takeru.
“There appears to be a device with a duel disk connector on one end, and electrodes on the other…” Specter observed, pulling it out of the box.
“A device? With a duel disk connector and electrodes?” Flame scratched his head, “Is that… for Takeru and I?”
“Yes.” I answered, “I won’t tell you what happens in the device between the electrodes and the cord for the duel disk, but what I can tell you is that you’ll find out soon.”
Flame grumbled a little bit. Yusaku stared at the device with wonder in his deep green eyes.

“I’m assuming I’ll need to place the electrodes around Takeru’s head and plug the other end into the duel disk port?” Specter said, inspecting the device.
“Yes, please do that. Takeru, lie down for us.”
Takeru nodded and placed the duel disk on the bedside table, before lying down and putting his head on his pillow. Specter began placing the electrodes on Takeru’s head the way Taki had taught him to. Then he took the duel disk connector and plugged it into the duel disk.
“Nothing is happening.” Flame noted.
“We need to turn it on first.” Specter said, picking up the device,

Click.

Flame twitched a little, and then quickly looked over at Takeru.
“This is… What is this feeling...?” Flame asked in a confused voice.
“It seems it works. Taki and the others did a good job.” I grinned.
“What am I… feeling…?” He looked down at his hands.
“I believe that would be Takeru’s emotions.”
“Takeru’s… emotions…?”
“How do they feel?” I asked.
He paused, then answered, “Calm, I think.”
“This little device will impose Takeru’s feelings onto you. While we hypnotise him, you will slip into a somewhat hypnotic state of your own that will be affected by how Takeru is feeling.”
“So you’re hypnotising me too?!” Flame panicked suddenly, “I only came here to observe, and do something if necessary, not get involved! How can I form a judgement if I’m in a hypnotic state??!”

“Ah, you can experience hypnosis too, Flame! Isn’t that great?” Takeru piped up, cheerful.
Flame twitched again, “You feel… Happiness…”
“Aren’t you glad, Flame?” Takeru smiled brightly.
“I…” Flame stuttered. Takeru’s happiness was blocking him from feeling his own emotions of concern.
“I’m happy for you, Flame.”
“I… I’m happy…” Flame sounded unsure of himself. His hands were shaking a little.
“Are you nervous?” Takeru reached over and gave Flame’s head a little pat.
Flame twitched once again at the change in Takeru’s emotions, “Empathy…”
Takeru giggled put his arm back down by his side, “You’ll be fine. Just relax, we’ll be hypnotised together. I promise you’ll love it.”

“Indeed. Let’s get started, shall we?” Specter clasped his hands together and grinned, “Close your eyes, Takeru. Take some deep breaths.”
“No, stop-” Flame began, but was quickly silenced by a shock of emotion sent through the device. Takeru’s relaxation robbed Flame of his ability to panic and argue.
“Shhh… Calm your mind.” Specter said in a soft, hushed tone. Takeru obeyed.
Specter took Takeru’s hand and began tracing patterns into his palm.

“Just feel the rhythm of the movement in your palm… Ignore everything except for my voice and the motion in your palm… Feel it going around, and around, and around, and around… Focus on my voice, and relax your muscles…” Specter talked calmly. Takeru sunk down into the sheets of his bed and breathed slowly. Flame fell to his knees, and his head flopped forwards.

“Feel the shackles of control solidify around your heart and your mind… Feel their love, feel their warmth… Submit yourself to what they make you feel… Slowly float away deep inside yourself… Let yourself become locked in a trance…”
Flame fell over sideways on the duel disk, and curled up into fetal position.

“Open your eyes, and be under my control.” Specter ordered. Takeru’s eyes fluttered open, and the hypnosis was complete.
“You are to take orders from Ryoken-sama and Yusaku once again.” He commanded. Takeru nodded faintly.

“Good job, Specter.” I said, approaching the bed with Yusaku by my side. I looked over at the Ignis and smiled a smile of satisfaction, “It appears the device has worked a charm.”
“What are we going to be doing in this experiment?” Yusaku asked, clutching my arm.
“We’re going to see what we can do to the Ignis through Takeru.” I answered, running a finger over Takeru’s forehead, “Hopefully this will be a pleasant experience for both Takeru and his Ignis.”

“Ryoken-sama, might I ask a question?” Specter looked over at me for approval.
“Go ahead.”
“Why don’t you just destroy the Ignis?”
“It would hurt Takeru if I did. He seems to have a close relationship with the fire Ignis.”
“But you could just hypnotise him to be fine with it, right?”
“I could, but I won’t.” I sighed.
“Why not?”
“I want to see the potential Flame has his helping us control Takeru, or perhaps even the other way round. Think of the possibilities, Specter.”
“I suppose, but doesn’t the Ignis pose a threat?”
“Look at it. It’s completely at our mercy. Just like Takeru, who once stormed in through our door looking to start a fight.”
“But your father said that-”
“We walk a new path, Specter. I have new goals now.” I cut him off.
“Has your heart softened? Where has your ruthlessness gone?!”

“His heart softening, is that a bad thing?” Yusaku cut in. Specter stared at Yusaku, no reply entering his mind. Yusaku continued, “Do you not unconditionally love Ryoken?”
“I…” He paused.
“Do you only like Ryoken when he embodies certain qualities?” Yusaku questioned.
“I… I…” Specter stuttered.
“Perhaps your resolve has weakened, not just mine.” I stared dead ahead at Specter, which intimidated him. “I still stand by you regardless. I would be very hurt if this were a one-sided relationship, and you would not do the same for me.”
“I’m… I’m sorry…” He spoke quietly.
“Shall we continue, then?” I asked.
“I… I think it would be best if I sat this one out.”
“Very well.” I sighed, “We will go through with this without you.”

Specter glanced at Yusaku and I, then made his way to the door and left quickly.
“Hmmm…” I looked at the empty doorway, and Yusaku gave my shoulder a tap.
“Was I too harsh on him?” He looked up at me with wide eyes, and a hint of guilt.
“You weren’t too harsh. We’ll go and talk with him about this later. I just want our family to be happy now. I admit, destroying the Ignis doesn’t feel as… important as before.”
“Perhaps it’s because you have something more to live for than you father’s will…”
“Maybe it is. I love this family of ours dearly, although I will not abandon the hunt for the other Ignis as they do pose a threat. Maybe we can find a way to remove the threat of the fire Ignis without killing it, for Takeru’s sake. Specter did not react well when his Ignis was destroyed, and I would like to avoid that from happening to Takeru.”

“Isn’t that why Specter didn’t kill Flame when he found him in the van? Why would he suddenly want Flame dead?”
“I’m not sure, maybe we can ask him later. Times are changing in this house with all of our new company, and I suppose we’ve left Specter behind in the process…”
“I feel sorry for him… Sometimes he just feels so distant from the rest of us, even though he is one of us.”
“There you go again, being empathetic as always.” I gave him a big hug, “We’ll patch things up with him. He’ll be fine. Okay?”
“Okay.” Yusaku nodded, and I stopped hugging him.

“For now, our focus is Takeru and Flame. Let’s see what we can do, shall we?”
“What are we going to try first?”
“Mmm… Good question.” I sat on the edge of the bed, and looked into Takeru’s absent expression, “How do you feel, Takeru?”
“So… tranquil…” He breathed.
“Sit up and look over at Flame for a moment please.”
Takeru did as I asked of him and slowly sat himself up, and turned his head robotically to look at his Ignis.
“You know Flame better than the rest of us. How do you think Flame feels right now?”
“He looks… peaceful…” Takeru smiled.
“Hm, their relationship is strong enough to show through as happiness for one another even during a trance. If we had killed Flame, the results would have been disastrous even with hypnosis. Destroying Flame simply isn't a possibility when they are this close. Speaking of which, were you close with Ai?”
“Not at all.” Yusaku stated flatly, folding his arms. This made me chuckle.
“I’m going to try and trigger some emotional responses in Takeru and see how it affects the Ignis.”

I turned to our test subject, “Now then, Takeru, I want you to imagine something for me. Remember when you found out your parents were dead. Picture the room where you found out. Feel the emotions you felt back then. Remember each and every little detail and relive the moment…”
Takeru shuddered at the mention of his parents, then his shoulders slumped and tears began to flow down his cheeks. A faint wailing noise escaped his lips. Full blown screaming was being held back by the hypnosis.
“It hurts a lot, doesn’t it?”
Takeru nodded, the tears showing no sign of halting.
“Focus in on that pain.” I ordered. Takeru began to shiver.

The fire Ignis began to shiver too. Small particles were coming out from its eyes, and it had curled its hands around its head in pain.
“Yusaku, give Takeru a hug.”
Yusaku sat on the bed and wrapped his arms around Takeru. I gently hugged them both.
“You can stop thinking about that pain now. Yusaku and I are here for you.”
Takeru’s eyes widened. His tears started to weaken.
“Let those memories float away into the deepest reaches of your mind where you can’t see them… Just relax and remember where you are right now.”

I wiped some of the tears from his cheeks, and new tracks of water didn’t form. Takeru sunk into the embrace of Yusaku and I, and he took some deep breaths.
“I’m sorry for making you have to feel that pain just now.” I said in a calming, hushed tone, “But it is important that you remember that your life has changed for the better now. You still have a family that cares for you.”
“Everything is going to be okay, Takeru. We’re here for you.” Yusaku added.
Takeru’s shivering stopped and the corner of his mouth tugged upwards.
“Everything… is… going… to be... okay…” He breathed, repeating Yusaku’s words.
“Yes, everything will be okay now that you’re with us.” I cooed.

As Takeru’s greatest darkness was contrasted to the light he felt right now, an emotion bubbled up inside of him. Gratitude.
“Ryoken, look at Flame.” Yusaku whispered.
I looked over, and saw that Flame was no longer holding on to his head like he was in pain, but instead his hands were over his heart. His digital tears had disappeared, and he was still once more.
“These two have felt two emotional extremes today. Perhaps we should stop, wake them up and see if anything interesting happens once they’re fully conscious. Nothing out of expectation has happened while they’ve been in a trance.” I said, withdrawing myself from the hug. Yusaku did the same.

“Can I wake him up this time?” Yusaku asked.
“Of course.”
“Takeru, when I count to three you will awaken. Lie down for me and close your eyes, please.”
Takeru lowered himself back down onto his pillow, and let his eyelids slide shut.
“One. Two. Three.”

His eyes fluttered open, and he blinked a couple of times, adjusting to reality once more.
“Ryoken-sama… Yusaku…” He whispered softly, looking up at us both.
But it wasn’t just him whispering. There was another voice.

That voice belonged to Flame.

“Ryoken… Yusaku…” The Ignis whispered again, still lying down and curled up.
“Oh…?” Was all I could bring myself to say. This was a strange reaction that I had not anticipated at all. What did it mean?
“Takeru?” Yusaku asked, “How are you?”
“I feel… loved. I feel wanted. I feel like I belong here…” He answered slowly.
“Did you not already feel that way?”
“I did, its just… I feel like I belong even more…” He took a deep breath, then turned to Flame, “Flame, are you okay...?”
Flame didn’t answer, he just kept whispering snippets of the words Takeru had said, “I… belong…”

“Here.” I said, grabbing the duel disk from the bedside table and handing it to Takeru. He took it, sat up and gave Flame a little head pat, which made him snap to attention.
“Flame?”
“T… Takeru…” he said, slowly turning his head to look up at the person who he spoke the name of.
“Is something wrong?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“How was being hypnotised?”
“I think… I liked it…”

“Yusaku, can you please turn the device off for me?” I asked.
Yusaku nodded and with a click, the device shut off, severing the stream of emotional data from Takeru. Flame twitched.
“Tell me, Flame, have you come to a conclusion?” I inquired.
“A conclusion…?”
“About us and Takeru being hypnotised.”
“I almost forgot.” He looked up at his origin, who looked right back at him, smiling sleepily and gently, “There was… a horrible pain in Takeru’s heart… You aren’t making him forget the pain, but instead you’re healing his heart…”
“You remember what you felt during hypnosis?” I asked, his observations piquing my interest.
“Yes.”
“Do you remember what that pain came from?”
“... His parents, I think.”
“What makes you think that?”
“I am Takeru’s origin. How could I not know where his suffering comes from?”
“So you felt it?”
“Yes.”
“You two really are close.” Yusaku noted.

“Anyway, to answer your question, I think I understand why Takeru wants to stay here,” Flame bowed his head, “and I approve of him staying here. You seem to be taking good care of him, and for that I thank you.”
“You will be allowed to stay with Takeru, as promised.” I said, acknowledging his thanks, “You are useful to us in helping to ensure Takeru’s wellbeing. We trust you will help us to look after him?”
“Of course. After all, I came here because Takeru was all I had left, and I just wanted to know he was okay.”
“Since you will be working to ensure Takeru is cheerful, that makes you a servant in this house.” I got up from the bed.
“I am fine with that. Control… doesn’t seem as bad as I initially thought.”
“Yes. You know, one of my Knights, Taki, said something similar once.”
“They did?” He raised an eyebrow then shrugged, “I suppose I’m having a rather human reaction to this.”
“Human…” I thought for a moment, then continued, “I suppose you also have no more power than a human right now, and you even think a little like one. That’s the sort of Ignis I can get along with if necessary.”

“I have a singular request. I would be happy if you would set your hatred of me aside and we could be friends.”
I sighed, “For Takeru’s sake, I can do that.” I put my finger out, and he shook it as if we were shaking hands, “However, I will not pardon the other Ingis, unless they are no longer a threat.”
“I never intended on making you promise that to me. I simply wish well for Takeru.” He said, “After feeling what he felt today… I would give him all the help I can give.” The Ignis turned back to his origin, “Takeru, I feel like I understand you better now. You feel hurt deep down, but you keep going because others are around. I intend to keep being one of those people.”
“Thank you, Flame.” Takeru smiled, “You got me going in the first place. I want to keep you around until the end.”

“Now then, Yusaku and I better get going. We have some business to attend to.”
“Business?” Takeru asked, tilting his head to the side.
“We need to sort things out with Specter.”
“Specter!” His eyes widened, “He hypnotised me, but I didn’t realise he was gone until just now! Where is he?”
“Specter had… a little outburst right after you were hypnotised.” I sighed, “He just needs a bit of help. I think he didn’t like that I didn’t kill Flame.”
“But Specter kept Flame alive in the first place…?” Takeru sounded confused.
“We don’t know what is going on exactly, but he’ll hopefully be fine.”
“Can you let Specter know that he can talk to me if he ever needs help?”
“Of course, I’ll pass that on to him. Yusaku, let’s go. Takeru, enjoy the rest of your day off.”

---

“Who is this hideous girl with the unfashionably short brown hair?” I asked my assistant, my long nail pressed up against the person in the CCTV footage on my monitor.
“I think that is Akira Zaizen’s younger sister, Aoi Zaizen.”
“Uck. Somebody should tell her that plain coloured hair is so 21st century.”
“Miss Queen, I happen to have plain hair too.”
“Well then, you better go get it coloured something outrageous or I’ll get you fired. You could learn a thing or two from Akira. Come to think of it, if you don’t get it styled into something more physics-defying too, I’ll have you fired.”
“But Miss Queen-”
“Look, I don’t care if you write it off as a company expense, just go get it done. Get out of my sight.” I snapped.
“O..of course, Miss Queen.” My dull assistant shuffled out of the room, on the verge of tears.

“Ugh, what a pain. Anyway, why is Zaizen’s sister here?” I asked myself, zooming in on the girl with the camera controls, “Ah… She’s unconscious, and they’re using some brain scanning equipment on her. I better pinch some of the data from that.”
I clicked a few keys, and started running a back end to the computer in the lab the ugly girl was in. I copied the data from their scans as they happened, and compiled a collection of the data into a folder on my desktop.
“Oh my…” I giggled, “There is something very wrong with this girl’s mind. Last time I saw brain scans like this I was looking at the scan results of a brainwashed cult member. Although, the connections in this girl’s mind are more haphazard and messy. I wonder why?”

I kept watching as the data rolled in, the entertainment I felt growing with each new result.
“Oh dear…” I laughed, “This girl is messed up. You know what? I could use a new plaything. Kusanagi was fun to mess with and all, but I feel like this young lady could be a perfect long-term toy for me. I’m going to go down there right now and taker her away.”

---

“Kyoko, look at this.” I turned my laptop around and showed her the screen.
“Brain scan results for… Aoi Zaizen? And a SOL watermark?”
Genome entered the room with some mugs of tea, and caught a glimpse of the screen that stopped him in his tracks.
“Not even the most disgusting DNA could make a mind like that.” He remarked, eyes widening, “Ryoken-sama has done quite a job on her.”
“It seems that Akira and Ema decided to take Aoi to SOL to get her fixed up after her little encounter with Ryoken-sama.” I observed.
“Hm… Well, at least we have brain scan results to send to Ryoken-sama.” Kyoko sighed and folded her arms.

“Should we be concerned though?” I asked, “He’s done something… pretty bad to Aoi.”
“He is our leader. Shouldn’t we just follow his orders?” Kyoko shrugged.
“You were worried about him when he wanted to start the Tower of Hanoi. Why are you not worrying now?”
“I was the only one worrying back then, you two were fine with it. Why are you two are suddenly concerned about what he is getting himself involved in?”
“Well, that was then and this is-”
“It is no difference between now and then, Aso. They’re both crimes, and they always have been.”

“I suppose… I suppose they are…”
“Kyoko and Aso, perhaps we should hurry up and send this data to Ryoken-sama?” Genome said, putting the mugs down on the table.
“Yeah, I’ll do that now.” I said, getting back to work.
“Speaking of Ryoken-sama, I just received a message from him.” Taki said, spinning her laptop around, and I read the subject line of the message.

“He… captured the fire Ignis?” I asked.
“According to this, yes.” She confirmed.
I kept reading, and so did Genome.
“Wait, he hasn’t killed it?! And he doesn’t plan to?!” I heard Genome yell in disbelief.
I didn’t know what he was talking about until I kept reading through, and found a line that read ‘I have no intention of harming this Ignis.’
That got me mad.

---

“Ryoken-sama?”
“Yes?”
“Just before I leave, might I borrow that book you read to learn hypnosis?”
“Hm, what for…?”
“Personal business. You see...”

---

“You two, it isn’t that bad. He explains why later in his message.” I stated.
“No, this is terrible!!! The Ignis must perish!!!” Aso yelled. Genome punched the table, his face twisting into a creepy form, just like Specter’s sometimes did when he dueled. Despite their violent reactions, I remained calm.

“Please, calm down, both of you.”
“No! We have to do something about this!” Genome snarled.
“We can’t do anything if you two are kicking and screaming like toddlers having a tantrum.”
At that, they both shut up and stared dead ahead at me, silent.
“Okay,” Aso began, taking a deep breath, “What do we do? What is our plan?”
“Our goal is to destroy that Ignis and get Ryoken-sama back on track.” Genome stated.
“I have an idea.” I said.
“What is it?” Aso asked.
“We’re listening.” Genome added.

Prolog im Himmel.” I said simply.
Aso and Genome stared at me, confused, for a few brief moments. Then, Genome fell back into his chair and Aso’s muscles flopped. They were instantly hypnotised.
What had I done? It was simple. I had hypnotised them the night I got back from Ryoken’s house, and made it so that if I even so much as uttered the name of the prologue of ‘Faust’ they would fall back into their trances.
“That was rather easy.” I noted, flipping my laptop back around to face me. It was time to do what I had wanted to do in the first place with the powers of hypnosis.

“Both of you are very dear friends of mine, but you have hurt me. When I suggested that we might hurt Ryoken-sama by letting him go ahead with the Tower of Hanoi, you didn’t even give my concern or Ryoken-sama’s wellbeing a second thought. That disgusted me. How could you not worry about him!?”
Aso and Genome kept staring into space mindlessly, unanswering.
I sighed and continued, “You two only panicked about the ethical implications of Ryoken-sama’s actions just now. Why did you not worry back then? Do you not care for Ryoken-sama as if he were your own family? Is destroying the Ignis all you care about!?”
They still couldn’t answer me, but I kept going.

“Do you know what separates us from our horrible creations? The bonds we have with others. The Ignis would abandon one another in an instant if it meant their survival was assured. They don’t even try to understand one another, or even people who aren’t like themselves. How are you being any different from the Ingis? The answer is simple. You are not any different. I suggest that you put ‘not being like an Ignis’ ahead of your desire for their downfall. Am I clear?”
Both of the men nodded, a tear forming in one of Aso’s eyes.
“Very good. I’ll wake you up in a moment, but please don’t feel disheartened by my words. They are meant for you to make yourselves better and clean up your act, not wallow in your own tears.” I took a deep breath, “I’m sorry I had to get angry like that. You are still important friends to me, but I simply wish that you value better things sometimes.”

---

Knock knock.

“Specter, are you in there?” Ryoken asked, rapping his hand against the door a few times.
There was no answer. Everything fell silent for a moment, before Ryoken knocked again. There was still no noises coming from the room.
“Ryoken, what do we do?” I asked, putting my hand over his and pulling it away from the door, “Clearly he doesn’t want us in there…”
“Well…” He reached for the door handle and turned it. The door refused to open.
“He locked it…” I observed.
“I guess we have to let ourselves in.” He sighed, and pulled a key from his pocket.
“You have a master key?”
“Yep.” He answered, putting it in the door and turning it.

Click.

He pushed the door open, and we went inside. What we saw surprised us.
Specter was on his bed, hugging a pillow with tears rushing from his eyes. He glanced over at us, and buried his face quickly into the pillow the moment he made eye contact.
“Specter…?” Ryoken asked, approaching the bed and the door shutting behind him. I followed him, watching Specter with concern. “What’s wrong?”
Specter refused to raise his head or speak. He continued to weep into the pillow, his hands shaking.
“Please talk with us. We can’t help unless we know what is wrong.”
Specter shook his head.

“Come on Specter, let us help.” Ryoken put his hand on Specter’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry…” He whispered into his pillow. His muffled voice was faint, but audible and understandable.
“What are you sorry about?”
“I’m… sorry about everything…”
“If you’re apologising about getting angry before, its okay-”
“It's not okay!” He yelled, his sadness fueling him, “I shouldn’t have questioned you, yes, but that isn’t the full problem…”
“Explain the problem to us then. We’ll listen.” Ryoken sat on the bedside, and I sat with him.

“I’ve been finding it so hard these recent weeks… I’ve tried and I’ve tried to remain as loyal to you as possible, but it has just been so hard…”
“Why has it been hard?”
“Self hypnosis… it isn’t enough. I can’t keep going like this…”
“Self hypnosis isn’t enough?”
“Yes… I feel like I’m going crazy… I just want to be properly hypnotised again. I feel… starved…”
“Specter…” Ryoken looked really concerned.
“I have to hypnotise Takeru to make him happy, but I can’t feel happy myself… I feel lost, I feel stuck. I don’t know how to be happy. I was happy once, but now those days are gone and I’m chasing the feeling from my memories with no success…” He sniffled, “Normally I would follow you unquestioningly. Today showed me that something is really wrong with me… I couldn’t help myself. I’ve been irritable, and I’ve been frustrated. It’s only been getting worse, too…”

Ryoken gave Specter’s back a small pat.
“Why can’t I be happy? Why can’t I follow you without hesitation…?” He wiped a tear from his face, “Self hypnosis has kept me going, but I won’t last much longer. It isn’t just that though. I feel empty. Ever since Earth passed away… There’s just been a hole in me, and I can’t explain why. I never even met that Ignis, but it hurts. Why did I cry at the death of my enemy? Why must I feel hurt by their passing? It lingers with me. It constantly hurts. When I saw Takeru with Flame back in the van, I wanted to protect Takeru. Today, when I saw that Ignis again, I felt jealous. Why do I have to be the only one feeling this pain!?”

Specter’s crying grew stronger, “I feel so alone… You know, I was watching before when you were hypnotising Takeru. You hugged him. You told him everything was going to be okay. Nobody tells me that anymore. Nobody comforts me like that anymore. I feel so utterly alone…!” He squeezed the pillow harder, “Ever since Yusaku came here, things have been going downhill. Ryoken-sama, you refuse to hypnotise anyone except Yusaku unless there are unusual circumstances, and I’ve had to watch Takeru feeling the happiness I used to feel. I wish I had a best friend like he does. I wish I could be hypnotised like him. I wish I could feel comforted like him. He’s so lucky…! And Yusaku has you, Ryoken-sama. Everyone has someone or something to keep them happy. I have nothing left for me. I’ve been drifting apart from everyone. It's like the more people surround me, the more alone I feel. Isn’t that ironic?” He laughed despairfully, his pained voice breaking.

Ryoken looked down at Specter, patting his back, wondering what to say.
I spoke up first.
“I’m sorry, Specter.” I apologized sincerely, “I didn’t mean to make things harder for you.”
“You don’t need to apologise, Yusaku. I don’t hate you. The things that happened after you came just happened to be unfortunate for me. You couldn’t have controlled it.”
“I could have…” Ryoken said, “I’m so sorry… I should have seen these problems sooner. This is my fault as your master.” He bowed his head shamefully.
“Ryoken…” I put my hand on his shoulder.
“Please, lie down properly, Specter, and take some deep breaths. I owe you this much.”

Specter looked up at Ryoken, the tears in his eyes glistening, “Are you…?”
“Yes, I’m going to hypnotise you.”
“Th… thank you… so… much...”
Specter stopped hugging the pillow, and lay out across the bed.
“Just take some deep breaths and relax…” Ryoken wiped away Specter’s tears, and spoke in a soft, gentle and understanding tone.
“Calm yourself… Listen to my voice… Slowly shut your eyes… It won’t hurt so much soon…” He said, rhythmically patting Specter’s head. Specter relaxed under his touch, and did as he asked.
“Just focus on the softness of the bed… Think about how warm it is… Feel yourself melt into the comfort of the bed…” Specter did as he was told, and kept following along with his master’s words.
“Feel the power of my hypnosis gently taking over your mind… Calmly surrender yourself… Breathe, relax and fall into a trance…” Ryoken coaxed him.
“Open your eyes. When you do, you will be under my control.”

Specter half opened his eyes, showing a bit of his absent-minded gaze as he did.
“Ryoken, can I ask you something before we start talking to Specter?” I asked.
“Yes?”
“Why didn’t you hypnotise Takeru or Specter yourself?”
“I was saving my hypnotic abilities for you.”
“It’s okay to hypnotise them yourself. I don’t mind.” I smiled.
“But hypnosis is our bond-”
“Ryoken, I know it is, but it hurts our family to keep it to ourselves.” I looked down at Specter, “I want them to be happy. If they’re happy, we’re happy, right? Besides, we can hypnotise them together. Our bond is hypnosis, so lets share it.”
“Together…” Ryoken trailed off.
“Yeah, we can do it together. I’m always with you, remember?” I gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“Yeah…” He smiled at me, “I think you’re right. I don’t want to hurt our family.”

“What are we going to do to make Specter feel better?” I asked.
“Hmm… Specter, sit up for me. You are to follow commands from Yusaku as well as myself.”
Specter nodded, and sat up.
“You are family to us, Specter. Trust me, it has pained us too to know that you are drifting apart from us, but it also hurts to not know why you feel so distant. If you feel hurt or sad, you are to tell somebody. You don’t need to shoulder your burden alone. All we want to do is make you happy.”
“Takeru even says that he wants you to talk to him if something is wrong. All of us are worried about you. We don’t want you to feel alone.” I added.
“Indeed. You feel empty, right? You don’t need an Ignis to fill the hole it left. You have all of us. We’re here for you. If that hole stays, we’ll help find a way to fix it. We don’t want you to suffer. We don’t want you to feel that pain.” Ryoken looked at me, “Yusaku, let's give him a hug.” I nodded.

I wrapped my arms around Specter and gave him a hug. Ryoken did the same, with his arms also enveloping me.
“We’re here for you, just like you’re here for us. We love you because you are our family. Everything is going to be okay.” He tightened his hug.
“It doesn’t need to hurt.”

---

“Flame…” Takeru smiled softly, his arms wrapped tightly around the duel disk, “I’m so glad you will be staying here. I’ve missed you…”
“I’ve missed you too.” I replied, curled up on top of the duel disk display, watching the sleepy Takeru fall asleep slowly.
“We can spend time together… just like we used to…”
“Yes, we can.”
“We won’t… get separated… again…” Takeru’s eyes began falling shut.
“No, we won’t.”
“We… can…” He managed, before he passed out.
“Goodnight, Takeru.”

Chapter Text

“That was how Specter felt?” Takeru asked, his voice lowering and his expression turning to one of pure worry.
“I’m afraid it is.” I confirmed, before taking a sip from my tea.
“I… I feel kind of responsible…”
“Don’t worry about it. We can’t change the past, but what we can do is take better care of him. Besides, it isn’t you who is at fault. I should have been thinking about him more.”
“I should have been thinking more about him too.” Takeru frowned, “I spent most of my time around him helping with chores. I, of all people, should have seen these problems before they bubbled over last night.”
“As I said, we can’t change what has happened. In future, we should all pay more attention to how the people around us feel, okay? We won’t be able to focus on fixing things if all we do is focus on our past mistakes.” I put my tea cup down.

“I understand.” Takeru pushed his chair back from the table and stood up, “I’ll clean up breakfast now. After this I’ll probably go and see if Specter has woken up.”
“Thank you for breakfast, Takeru.” Yusaku smiled.
“Yes, thank you.” I added.
Takeru began picking up plates and empty cups, and stacking them up his arms to take them back to the kitchen.

---

Light flourished into my vision as I slowly opened my eyes. I rolled my head sleepily over to see my clock.
[10am.]
No, that couldn’t be right. I blinked a couple of times to see if my eyes were deceiving me.
[10am.]
Questions rushed through my head as I panicked. Why did I wake up late? Did I sleep through my alarm? Did it not go off? What was going on?
My train of thought came to an abrupt halt when I heard a soft knock at my door.
“Specter, are you awake?” A voice asked from the other side of the door, quiet yet audible.
“I’m… awake…” I answered nervously, wondering if I was going to get into trouble for not getting up at my usual time.
“Can I come in?”
“Yes.”

The door handle turned, and the door was pushed open. Takeru entered the room and shut the door behind him gently.
“Did you sleep well?” He asked, approaching the bed.
“Yes, I did.”
“That’s good.” He smiled, stopping by the bedside.
“Although, I don’t think my alarm went off…”
“It didn’t. Ryoken-sama and Yusaku turned it off last night to let you sleep in. They said you needed the rest.” He explained.
I sighed a sigh of relief, “Thank goodness I didn’t oversleep then…”
Takeru laughed a little, “They probably should have told you.”

“So, why did you come here?” I asked, sitting up.
“I wanted to say I was sorry.” Takeru smiled sadly, “I should have been less selfish and thought more about how you felt.”
My eyes widened, “Takeru, I…”
“I made things really hard for you. I brought an Ignis in here without thinking about how it might affect you. When you hypnotised me, you had to listen to Yusaku and Ryoken-sama say the things to me that you wanted them to say to you. I even refused to be hypnotised when I had the option, even though you had no way of being hypnotised and you desperately needed it. That must have hurt so much…” Takeru trailed off, frowning.
“It hurt a lot, but…” I took a deep breath, “It couldn’t be helped. I don’t blame you.”

“Regardless of whether you blame me or not, I still hold part of the responsibility. I would like to apologise for my actions.”
A silence fell between us. Takeru looked unsure of himself. His eyes awkwardly looked sideways as if he was contemplating something, before he looked straight at me as if he had come to a conclusion.
Takeru sat on the edge of the bed and embraced me.
“I won’t let any of it happen again.” He said, tightening his arms around me.
“Thank you.” I lifted my arms and wrapped them around him.
“I can’t hypnotise you, so this is the best I can do. I’m sorry.”
“Its okay. I appreciate the thought.”

We sat in a comfortable silence for a few moments, hugging each other.
“This is... comforting.” I said, breaking the quietness.
“Yeah…” He agreed.
“Doing this just feels… right.” I felt my muscles relax a little bit.
An odd peacefulness filled us both. I felt my eyes slide half shut as a hazy memory surfaced in my mind. Something about this felt familiar. When had I felt this before? Why did I feel so happy when somebody embraced me?
“Does this… feel familiar to you too?” Takeru asked me suddenly.
“It does…”
“Mmm…” He sighed, “It’s oddly soothing…”
“I like it… I feel like everything is going to be okay when I’m like this…”
“Everything… is going to be okay…” He whispered as if he were reciting something he had heard a thousand times over.
“Everything… is going… to be… okay…” I found myself staring into space, mindlessly repeating it too. I felt the clarity in my mind fade, and the phrase repeated in my head, urging me to speak it.

“Everything… is going… to… be okay…” Takeru said once again.
“Everything is… going… to be… okay…” I murmured.
“Everything... is… going…”
“To... be… okay…”
“Everything… is…”
“Going... to... be…”
“...”
“...”

---

“Ryoken, can you hear that?” I asked as we walked by Specter’s bedroom door.
“Hm…?” He stayed quiet, searching for the noise.
“...going to… be… okay...”
“They couldn’t be…?” Ryoken breathed, looking at the door with surprise all over his face.
“What do you think they’re doing?” I asked, lowering my voice to a faint whisper.
“I think we should check on them.” He said, putting his hand on the door handle. Carefully, he twisted it and pushed the door open. We both peeked in.

In the room, Takeru and Specter were lying on the bed, in each other’s arms, breathing lightly and smiling like they were in a sweet dream. Their gaze was mindless and distant.
“They both fell into a trance…?” I asked, eyes widening in awe.
“Amazing…” Ryoken smiled.
“How did that happen?”
“They were repeating the words that we said to them both last night…”
“So we accidentally programmed them with a trigger phrase?”
“I don’t think so.” Ryoken shook his head, “By the looks of this, they’re only in a light trance. I think they might have just experienced some strong emotions that reminded them of what they felt last night. They probably just fell back into their trances by accident.”

“I see…” I stared on at them, wondering what to do.
“Hey, Yusaku?”
“Yes?”
“Let’s go wake them up.”
“But they look so happy…”
“Don’t worry about that. They’re probably like this because Specter is still recovering from last night, and Takeru feels bad for Specter. We should help them both move past this.” Ryoken gave my head a pat, “Let’s go and join them.”
I nodded, and we both entered the room and went over to the bed.

Ryoken sat down on the bed, “Can you two hear me?”
They both nodded subtly. I sat down next to Ryoken.
“Good. I want you to both awaken from your trances when I click my fingers.”

Snap.

Takeru and Specter both blinked a few times, coming back into reality.
“What… what happened?” Takeru asked, a little shocked, “My memory… is a bit fuzzy…”
“Mine is too…?” Specter seemed just as confused.
“Relax you two, you just… fell asleep accidentally.” Ryoken explained.
Specter stopped hugging Takeru and sat up. Takeru did the same.
“Are you two okay after everything that has happened?” Ryoken asked, putting an arm around my torso.
“We’re okay.” Specter replied.

“Yusaku and I just want to make sure that you’re both happy, okay? What has happened is regrettable and we don’t intend on letting it happen again. You are our precious family, and we want to protect you just like you want to protect us.”
“Yes, Ryoken-sama.” Specter smiled gently.
“Both of you, come here.” Ryoken pulled Specter and Takeru into an embrace with me and him, “We’re a family. Nothing will pull us apart.”

All four of us held onto each other, relaxing in the calming arms of our family.
“We love you both, don’t we, Yusaku?” Ryoken tightened his hug.
“Yes, we do.”
“Control is love.” Ryoken spoke softly, “Love is control.”
“You control us all.” I smiled. Specter and Takeru did too.
“Yes, you all belong to me. I hope it stays this way forever.”
“I do too…” Takeru sighed dreamily.
“Yes…” Specter sunk further into the embrace.
“I want to stay with you all… forever… and ever...” I breathed sleepily.

“You will all be mine for as long as we live… Take a deep breath… Relax yourselves… Everything is going to be okay…” Ryoken purred.
“Everything… is going to be… okay…” Specter echoed.
“Everything is… going to be… okay…” Takeru joined in.
“We’re… yours…” I found myself saying.
“Yes… Just listen to my voice and follow my words… Focus on your breathing…” Ryoken’s deep and caring voice commanded us. We all listened and obeyed.
“Feel the love I have for you… Feel the love you have for each other… I’m here for you… We’re all here for you… Breathe and calm yourselves… Feel yourselves slowly detaching from reality…” Ryoken spoke with such care and kindness. His sweet voice filled my mind with peace and pleasure beyond description. I listened to the soft breathing of everyone around me, and Ryoken’s voice faded into a pleasant subliminal background noise.

With Ryoken guiding my thoughts, the breathing of the warm people around me filling my mind and the tranquility I felt deep in my body growing, I slowly fell into a trance.

---

“You can keep your eyes shut, just listen to me.” I spoke in a hushed voice, squeezing the three people I held in my arms.
They all breathed quietly and relaxed, leaning into me and each other. Their faces held innocent expressions, and they looked as if they were sleeping.
“I love you all so very much… More than any of you could ever imagine. You are all special to me. You are my family.” I gave Takeru’s head a pat, “Let me control you until the end of time itself. Follow me into the future… no, our future. We’ll be together forever. We only need each other to be happy. You only need my control to be happy. We can put last night’s events aside, because what is to come looks brighter. We have so much to look forward to.” I gave Specter a head pat of his own and smiled.

Should I wake them up now?
I thought about how I felt right now. They all were in my embrace, leaning in and providing me warmth. It felt nice and relaxing. I decided that I wasn't quite ready to wake them up just yet. Everything was too good right now to want to end the moment.

I leaned over to Yusaku, and pressed a small kiss into his soft lips, before snuggling into the group of people in the hug.
“I’ll wake you all up in a few minutes. For now, just enjoy yourselves.”

---

“Akira, is your sister alright?” I asked him, walking into the room and putting on a sickly sweet voice.
“Queen?” He turned around quickly and bowed, “My sister is… fine.”
“Are you sure? I saw her brain scan results and they look really quite concerning.” I felt like vomiting, pumping my voice full of fake empathy.
“You looked at those!?”
“Yes, I did. I also happened to come down here last night to take a look at her for myself. I’m actually very sorry for the poor girl, something is very wrong with her.”
“Why do you care? You don’t seem like the caring type.” Akira glared at me.

“Oh, don’t be like that Akira. You’re one of my employees, so I’m naturally worried about your personal life. After all, a happy, care-free employee is a productive one!” I smiled brightly, showing off my perfect dental work and pearly white teeth.
“I… I suppose that makes sense…” He stuttered.
“You know what? I’ll have SOL personally handle making her better. I’m not sure how you plan to heal her, but I know for a fact that this would just be a simple fix for our high-level scientists here at SOL Technologies. What do you think?”
“I don’t know, I think that-”
“Come on Akira! How is Aoi over there going to recover from such an awfully configured mind without top tier help? I’m offering you this for her good!” I smile brightly again, trying to look as appealing as possible.

“I’m sorry Queen, but I’m going to have to decline your offer. Thank you for offering, though.” Akira bowed again.
I mentally rolled my eyes. It was taking so much effort right now to hold back my urge to make a noise of disgust. Why did my charms never work on this dull man!?
“Akira, honey, are you sure?” I put on a pout, “Why won’t you accept my offer?”
He sighed, “Do you want the sugar coated answer or the frank one?”
“The frank one. Try me.”
“I don’t trust you or SOL.”
“Oh my, that was rather frank, you weren’t kidding.” I giggled, “Well, I did ask for it, so no use crying about it. Say, why don’t you trust me, dear?”
“You’re unpredictable, greedy, selfish and deceptive.”

“My, what an accurate description of me.” I fluttered my fake eyelashes, “I did say that I wanted to help your sister to increase your productivity. You being more productive equals more profits, more profits equals me getting richer. Isn’t that ultimately selfish of me?” I laughed, “I would do anything for more money. That makes me greedy.”
“What about unpredictable and deceptive?”
“I am only those things when it gets me more money. Tell me, how could I be deceiving you right now to get me more money?”
“You could take her away and use her as a test subject for one of SOL’s more… shady experiments.” He balled his hands into fists and cringed.

“Ahahaha…” I put my finger to my chin, “Warm, but not quite right sweetie.”
“Wait, what?” He looked at me with an expression of horror, “That was why you wanted to ‘help’ her?!”
“Pretty much.” I shrugged, “Oh well, I guess I can’t do it now that you know.” I turned around and started walking towards the door before stopping. I heard Akira hold his breath.

“Just kidding.” I snapped back around and ran towards Akira. He had no time to react as I pinned him violently up against the wall and pressed my lips to his. I pushed my tongue into his mouth and started playing with his tongue, which made him squirm. Slowly, his eyes began to flutter shut and his shoulders flopped. I broke the kiss, pulled out my handkerchief and wiped my lipstick off.

“Ah, I forgot to ask what you thought of my new lipstick. I reckon it’s pretty breathtaking myself.” I laughed maniacally, “That was a special lipstick I had the boys in the lab make for me. It contains a poison that affects the respiratory system of anyone I kiss. I have a protective layer of lipstick between it and my lips, so it’s only you who’s out of breath.”

I let him go, and he fell to a heap on the floor, struggling to catch his breath.
“I’ll call some doctors to help you, but in return I’m taking your sister.”
I walked over to her unconscious body, and picked it up. All that time at the gym was about to pay off.
“S...s…stop…” Akira tried to speak.
I went over to the door, and looked back at Akira and winked, “Have a nice day, sugar lips.”

I went out of the room, and the automatic door slid shut behind me. As it did, I leaned towards Aoi’s ear and whispered, “You and me are going to have so much fun together.”

---

Once again my freedom came to me, and I was free to do what I pleased.
Usually at a time like this I would talk to Flame, but I no longer had the Ignis in my van. I grit my teeth, remembering my mistake. What the hell was I thinking, throwing my only friend out like that?!
I closed up shop and sat in the front seat of my van, my head buried in my hands. No tears came out of my eyes, but a choked whimper escaped my lips. What was I supposed to do with my life? Was this any way to live? Questions I had no answer to bombarded my head and caused a ringing in my ears. The ringing became stronger and stronger with each passing moment, until it became too much and I slammed my fists down onto the dashboard of my van. The ringing stopped and my glove box fell open. “Shitty old van...” I muttered.

I went to close the glovebox when my eyes fell on something in it.
A gun.
Instead of closing the glovebox, I grabbed the gun and starting inspecting it. It was a silver revolver that I had bought second-hand years ago when dark thoughts about the perpetrators of the Lost Incident were flowing through my head. It was a relatively cheap piece I had bought on the black market so that I could skip the hassle of background checks. It was illegal that I owned it, had it in my van or even held it. I had vowed to only use it if things had gotten really bad. With the progress that Yusaku, Takeru and I had made before they got taken away, I had long forgotten this weapon.

Only if things got really bad… The words felt fitting for my situation. Perhaps the time had really come for me to use this weapon. Maybe there was a chance I could get Yusaku and Takeru back. Maybe I could get my precious brother back. All I had to do was point this gun at Ryoken or Specter and pull the trigger.

But would I be able to do it? Every time I had tried to get to Stardust Road I had lost control of myself. Why would this time be any different?
I had a gun. Maybe it was worth just one little try to see if something was different, no matter how low the chance was.

---

“The ocean looks so lovely today.” I said, admiring the view.
“Indeed it does.” Ryoken planted a kiss on my cheek as we watched the waves crash up against the rock beneath the railing. It was a fine afternoon at Stardust Road, and the wind felt nice from the bench me and Ryoken sat on.
“How did you feel after I hypnotised you and the others before?” Ryoken wrapped an arm around me and pulled me into his side.
“It felt nice. I think it really helped Specter and Takeru. Their moods seemed really lifted after it.”
“I’m glad you liked it, and I’m glad that it was beneficial for them.” Ryoken smiled thoughtfully, “I guess sometimes people just need to be assured that they are cared for.”
“Yeah, I suppose they do.” I gave his shoulder a loving nudge.

Rrrrrr…

Suddenly, we heard a noise nearby. Ryoken glanced side to side, and I looked for the source of the noise.
“Does that sound like a car to you?” I asked.
“A car? Around here? Practically nobody drives around this area.”
“Except one person…” I gulped, and my face twisted into one of disgust, “Do you think it’s Kusanagi?”
“Impossible. I had Takeru and Specter program him to stay away from Stardust Road.”
“Thank goodness… The last thing we need is-” I felt my words get stuck in my throat when I saw the origin of the car noise swerve around some bushes and stop a few metres away from us.
It was a yellow van with the words ‘Cafe Nagi’ painted on the side. In the driver’s seat sat the man I hated most, Kusanagi Shoichi, his face painted with insanity and wickedness.

“Ryoken…” I didn’t know what to say.
“How is he here!?” Ryoken exclaimed, “It should be impossible for him to be here!”
“What do we do?!” I felt myself panic.
“Let’s run back home!” Ryoken stood up, took my hand and bolted for the house.
I heard Kusanagi swing the door of his van open, but couldn’t see it because I was too busy being dragged back up to safety by Ryoken.
Footfalls sounded behind us, and they became louder, faster and closer with every passing second.
“Faster, Ryoken! I think he’s gaining on us!!!”

“You two aren’t going anywhere!” I heard Kusanagi growl from behind us.
Ryoken and I made it to the steps that lead up to the house, and we began climbing. Kusanagi ran up to the bottom of the steps then stopped.
“Has he given up?” I wondered out loud.

BANG.

Something shot past me and Ryoken.
“What the fuck is that!?” I heard Ryoken hiss.

BANG.

“Is that… a gun!?”

BANG.

We had no time to look back. Ryoken sped up. I heard him curse under his breath at the inconvenience of having so many steps.

BANG.

Ryoken tripped and fell onto the concrete steps. He let out a short yell. I fell over too, and got up as soon as I could. Ryoken didn’t move.
“Ryoken! Get up!” I yelled. Kusanagi started to climb the steps below.
“I… can’t…” He grit his teeth and inhaled sharply. I looked down at his legs and saw that one of his knees had begun gushing blood. The step it sat on started to turn a deep shade of crimson.

“He shot you!” I couldn’t contain my disbelief.
“Yusaku, don’t worry about me. Run!”
“No, I can’t! He’ll kill you!!!” Tears started to build up in my eyes.
“Yusaku, you have to get away from Kusanagi!”
“I won’t leave you!” I screeched, leaning down and embracing Ryoken, and bursting into tears.
Kusanagi drew ever closer.

“No, Yusaku, you have to go! Right now!!!”
“I… I can’t...! I won’t...!” I was crying like crazy.

“Yusaku, you’ll be coming back with me…” A large hand placed itself on my shoulder. I kept holding onto Ryoken.
“Yusaku…!” Ryoken didn’t know what to say.
“Let go of Ryoken.” Kusanagi ordered me. I didn’t do as he said. Kusanagi growled, and pressed his revolver into Ryoken’s head.

“I’m going to tell you one more time, Yusaku. Let go of Ryoken.”
“Please… no…!” I cried.
“Do you want him to die?”
“No…!” I managed between sobs.
“Then LET GO OF HIM.”
I weakly released Ryoken from my grip, and Kusanagi pulled me back sharply.
“Good. You’re coming with me. Ryoken, I hope you bleed out and die a nice slow and painful death.” Kusanagi said, licking his lips at his last remark.

“Ryoken, help me-” Was all I could say, before Kusanagi stuffed some cloths in my mouth then secured them by tying another cloth around my head, essentially gagging me.
“Let Yusaku go!” Ryoken shouted, aggression taking over his voice.
“I shall do no such thing, you disgusting criminal.” Kusanagi spat at Ryoken, tying my arms behind my back. I tried to resist, but I was far too weak and Kusanagi was far too strong for me to be able to do anything. Kusanagi proceeded to tie my legs together and pick me up.
“Goodbye, Kogami. I’m taking Yusaku with me.”

Kusanagi started making his way down the steps while holding me, and with each metre separating me and Ryoken, I felt a crack appear in my heart. This was wrong. This was all too wrong. As Ryoken kept yelling curses and insults at Kusanagi, the distance between us grew and I started to feel myself breaking.

This was not how things were supposed to be at all.
I was meant to be by Ryoken’s side at all times.
For weeks and weeks I had been by his side for everything, with no exceptions.
It was my duty to be by him at all times.
This was all too wrong. This was all so very wrong.
I had to be by his side. I couldn’t not be by his side.
Ryoken had ordered me to be next to him no matter what.
I wasn’t next to him. I was away from him.
I couldn’t touch his smooth skin. I couldn’t touch his soft hair. He couldn’t whisper into my ear.
I was alone. He was alone. I wasn’t fulfilling my duty.

I wasn’t fulfilling my duty. I was doing the unthinkable. I was disobeying one of Ryoken’s first instructions he gave me. I was violating the sanctity of his control. I was ruining everything. Ryoken wouldn’t love me after this. Nobody in our family would love me after this. Love is control. Control is love.

Without love there is no control.
Without control there is no love.

My mind began to start destroying itself. I had to be by Ryoken’s side. Why was I not by Ryoken’s side? This was unforgivable. I was unforgivable.

I had to obey my instructions, but I couldn’t obey my instructions.

Nothing made sense. Nothing felt real.

All I wanted to do was scream.

---

“Okay, I think we’re all done cleaning up the basement!” I announced, brushing my hands together.
“Yes, I think we are done.” Specter agreed.
“Should we go and check up on Ryoken-sama and Yusaku?” I asked, making my way for the stairs out of the basement.
“Yes, perhaps they might be feeling hungry or something. Let’s go and see if they need anything.”

Specter and I made our way out of the basement and up to the main hallway of the house. We both went to the front door and I opened it. Specter peeked outside, before slamming the door open fully and racing out as quickly as he could.
“Ryoken-sama!” He exclaimed. Wondering what had suddenly taken hold of Specter, I looked out and down the steps. Lying on the steps was Ryoken, red staining the area around his legs. Yusaku, who I had never seen anywhere except by Ryoken’s side, was nowhere to be seen. As quickly as I could, I ran down to where Ryoken was.

“Ryoken-sama! What happened?!” Specter asked, “Is that a bullet wound!?”
Ryoken cried on to the step his face lay on, and turned to look up at us.
“He… he took… he took him…” Ryoken sobbed, “Yusaku… he took Yusaku… My dear… Yusaku…”
“He? Who is he?” I asked.
“Kusanagi… took…” Ryoken burst out into more powerful tears.
I looked over at Specter, wondering what to do.
“Takeru, take him by the shoulders. I’ll grab his legs. We need to get Ryoken back into the house and fix up this wound on his knee.”

We both picked him up, and as a team we lifted him back into the house and put him down on the bathroom floor where I had once been hypnotised.
“I’ll grab the medical kit from the basement. You need to keep talking to Ryoken.” Specter said, making his way back out the door.
“Ryoken, I need you to tell me what happened.” I said, putting my hand on his shoulder.
“Kusanagi… came for Yusaku…” He spoke between cries.
“How did he take Yusaku?”
“He… shot me… and tied Yusaku up…” Ryoken buried his face in his palms and continued to cry, “Yusaku…”

Moments later, Specter came back into the room with a box of medical supplies and opened it. We both got to work on Ryoken’s injury, and as we did we spoke.
“Specter, Ryoken says that Kusanagi came and shot him, then tied up Yusaku and left.”
“Oh no…” Specter’s voice lowered, “I feared this might happen.”
“What part of this?”
“With all of the severed connections in Kusanagi’s brain, programming instructions was no straightforward task. We managed to do it, but even after regenerating his brain, there was a low chance it would start changing and making new connections within itself. We made it so that he couldn’t do anything that harmed us, but he must have started developing new connections that allowed him to bypass the blocks we installed…”
“Shit…” I grit my teeth, “That bastard is still out to get us, and now he can actually do it!”
“I regret to say it, but we couldn’t have stopped this from happening.” Specter looked down in shame.

We kept working on Ryoken as he wept over losing Yusaku, and after a while we managed to patch him up nicely.
“Ryoken, you should probably rest up.” Specter said, closing the medical supply kit.
“But… Yusaku…” He sobbed.
“Don’t you worry about that. We’ll… handle it.” Specter smiled gently, “Takeru, I’ll put the supply box back. You can get Ryoken to his room. Ryoken, you aren’t going to be fit to walk for a while.”
Ryoken nodded, still crying, and I scooped him up and walked off to his room, before setting his carefully down on his bed.

I left the room, and closed the door behind me, muffling the sound of Ryoken’s despair.
My master was in pain. Somebody had to pay.

---

Takeru walked into the kitchen, having delivered Ryoken to his bed. Takeru immediately saw the item I was twirling around in my hands.
“Is that a… machete?” He asked, “You got that from the basement, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I did. I picked it up after I put the medical supply box away.”
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” He asked, rage taking hold of his expression and voice.
“Oh yes, I think I am.” I smiled sadistically, “That little rat is going to pay for hurting our master and taking part of our family away.”
“How should we teach him his lesson?”
“I know just the perfect thing we could do…”

---

“Yusaku, why the pained expression?” I laughed.
Yusaku, who was tied down to my bed and still gagged, was crying and staring at the ceiling, unresponsive to me.
“You know, I wanted to get you back once. I wanted my dear partner to go back to how he was.” I said, “But I don’t think I want that anymore. The time to go back to how things were is over. I want you, Takeru and my brother back, but things will not go back to normal. You’ve helped make my suffering possible, Yusaku. That is unforgivable.”
Yusaku still said nothing and reacted to nothing, instead he continued to look broken. I pulled a knife from my pocket and pressed it to Yusaku’s neck.
“Why won’t you react to anything?”
Yusaku remained as still as ever.
“What is wrong with you!? You won’t even blink!”
Yusaku still did nothing.
“Is anybody home? Hello?” I pressed the knife in, making a shallow cut that let some blood drip out. Yusaku stayed still.

“I want to torture and break you just like I was tortured and broken. How can I do that to you if you already look shattered?” I spat on Yusaku and removed my knife from his neck, “Maybe I’ll start teaching you a lesson once you start looking alive.”

I sat on a chair in the corner of the room, watching Yusaku stare at the ceiling like he had just been told that the world was ending in three minutes. He never blinked, he barely breathed and he didn’t move a muscle. The only movement coming from him was the flowing of tears down his cheeks.

CRASH.

All of a sudden, my door was sent flying across the room and skidded across the floor, before being stopped by the feet of my bed.
“Hello, Kusanagi.” Specter said, malice drenching his voice, “We’ve come to take our family back, and give you a little parting gift before we go.”
Takeru followed him into the room, a machete in his hand.
“How did you find me!?” I snarled.
“Ryoken makes Yusaku wear a tracking device. Oh, and the fact there is a bright yellow van out the front of this apartment complex doesn’t exactly help you lay low, does it now?” Specter approached me.
I got up from the chair and lunged at him, ready to fight. Specter simply pulled out a taser and got me right in the stomach as if it were nothing. I fell to the ground, screeching and holding my stomach.

Specter grabbed my hands and lay them out on the ground in front of me, and held them there.
“Now, I have a question for you, Kusanagi. If you are going to use your fingers to commit the most despicable and deplorable of crimes, like shooting our master and kidnapping the love of his life, do you really deserve to have fingers at all?”
“I would say no.” Takeru said, bobbing down in front of my hands.
“Then I suppose we should confiscate them from you.” Specter grinned madly.
“Indeed.” Takeru held the blade above some of my fingers, “Now, I must apologise in advance. You see, I’m not terribly skilled with weapons, especially knives. So if I fail to hack all of them off in one fell swoop, then I guess you’re just going to have to get ready for a second chop.” Takeru laughed maniacally, “Say goodbye to your filthy fingers!”

WHACK.

The machete came down on my fingers and sliced through, but stopped half way.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAGHHH!!!!” I screeched, trying to pull my hands away from them. The pain was unbearable. My half-attached fingers sent bucketloads of pain to my brain, and I screamed.
“Oopsie daisy, Takeru wasn’t joking when he said he wasn’t too great at this. That’s okay, let’s go in for a second slice.” Specter giggled.

WHACK.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAGHHH...!!!!” Tears began to build up in my eyes as nothing but pain flooded my body.
“Ah, sorry again. Looks like I got a few fingers, but I accidently missed and left a gash in one of your palms. Oh well, I mean, it’s not like your going to need that palm much when I’m done with the rest of your fingers.” Takeru spoke casually, shrugging, blood dripping from the machete.

WHACK.

Every single finger that was left got cut clean off, and the machete cut into the floorboards below.
“There we go, all gone. I hope it hurt.
I couldn’t find the energy to scream. All I could do is cry.
“Let me tell you something, Kusanagi.” Specter said, releasing my aching and bleeding hands, “All of this could have been avoided if you had just left Yusaku alone in the first place, all of those weeks ago. You should never mess around in other people’s business, or blood will be shed.

“You… bastards…” I managed.
“Rot in hell, Kusanagi.” Takeru hissed.
“Never show your hideous face at Stardust Road ever again.” Specter added, “Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re taking our precious family back.”

---

“Yusaku…” I whispered, tears staining my face and soaking the bed below me.
I just wanted to see his beautiful face again. I just wanted to feel his body up against mine, and his breath on my cheek. I just wanted to feel his presence by my side, where it should be. I just wanted Yusaku back.

Knock knock.

“We know you’re probably too tired to answer us…” A voice came from the other side of the door, “So I’m going to come in anyway.”
The door opened carefully, and somebody entered the room. I couldn’t see who because my face was buried in the bed. It didn’t matter though. I didn’t care who it was. Nothing mattered unless Yusaku was here.

---

My eyes fell on the figure lying on the bed. I would know that form from anywhere.

“Ryoken…” I croaked weakly.

The figure twitched, and turned their head to look at me.

“Yu... saku...” He breathed, eyes widening.

Specter, who was carrying me, set me down on the bed, and then left the room.

“Yusaku…!” Ryoken exclaimed in disbelief, instantly wrapping his arms around me and pulling me in close, “Yusaku…!”
I couldn’t bring myself to say anything.
“Yusaku, are you okay? Did anything happen to you?” He kissed me and cuddled me tightly.
“...why?” I whispered.
“Yusaku?”
“... Why do you kiss me…? Why do you ask if I’m okay…?” I felt the tears in my eyes increase in volume.
“Because I love you!” He cried, squeezing me tighter.
“Why though…? I… I failed you…”
“What...?”
“I’m not… worthy of… your love… I’m not worthy… of love…”
“You haven’t failed me! I don’t know what you mean!”
“I… didn’t stay… by your side…”
“Yusaku, you are by my side now-”
“I…didn’t… obey your… instructions…”
His face turned to one of worry, “...Instructions? Which ones…?”
“You said… that I had… to always… be by your… side…”

“Yusaku, no…” He breathed, rubbing my back lovingly, “Were your instructions tearing you apart?”
“Yes…” I went limp.
“No, no, no, no…” He whispered, holding onto me as if he were holding onto life itself.
“I’m not… loved… I can’t ever be… loved… I disobeyed… you…”
“Don’t say these things, Yusaku. Never say these things.”
“Nobody will… love me… again…”
“Yusaku, I love you and I always will! Our family will always love you!” He yelled desperately.
“I… failed… you… I am… unforgivable...” I shivered.
“Yusaku, stop and listen to me!”
I went quiet and waited.

“Take some deep breaths and hold onto me. Let me fix this for you.”
I did as he asked, meekly placing my arms around his sides and breathing.
“Close your eyes… There is only you and me, here together… Nothing else matters, nothing else exists…” Ryoken pulled the duvet from the end of the bed over us and continued embracing me.
“Remember your happy place… You are with me, under the covers… Just you and me… Together, always and forever…” He hushed his tone and held back his crying. He stroked my back and pulled me in closer.
“Remember what warmth feels like… Remember what it feels like to be protected… Soak up my warmth… Feel the safety the blanket provides… Empty your mind and fill it up with these feelings…” Ryoken kept speaking softly and angelically. He kept rubbing my back rhythmically and affectionately, lulling me into a loving trance I felt I didn’t deserve.

---

How would I go about fixing Yusaku? Lots of harm had been done. For hours his mind had been torturing itself over a ‘sin’ he committed by not being able to follow his instructions. Would all of this damage be reversible?

“Open your eyes, Yusaku.” I whispered. He did as he was told.
“What happened isn’t unforgivable, Yusaku. Remember what I told you? If you did anything wrong, I would forgive you over and over, as many times as you needed. But forgiving you isn’t necessary. You’ve done nothing wrong in the first place. You wanted to follow your orders. You, more than anything, wanted to obey. Your deep grief you feel as a result of not being able to comply is proof that this is the last thing you wanted. If things went your way, you would have followed what I asked to a tee.

“What is important is why you weren’t able to carry out your instructions. It wasn’t your choice to disobey me. That filthy son of a whore, Kusanagi, forced you to disobey. It isn’t your fault this happened. The fault lies entirely with that demon. You have served me perfectly within the realms of possibility. I can’t and won’t ask for more than that.” I pressed a kiss into his lips, “Don’t beat yourself up over this. You are still under my control. I still love you dearly. Your family still loves you. We all understand your pain and we don’t want you to feel it. Do you understand?”

Yusaku nodded.
Chances were that I had only repaired his thought processes, not the emotional scarring this incident caused him. Would it only take one hypnosis session to fix him? Or would it take many more?
“Okay, now I want you to imagine your pain, suffering and fear are like a toxic chemical in your body. Imagine it spilling out of your body, leaving it clean and pure. Don’t worry if it doesn’t all go away now, it will all disappear eventually. Just relax, and imagine it all washing away. As it leaves you, imagine my presence filling you up with warmth and love. Imagine my control filling you up.”

Yusaku cuddled me tighter and shuddered a little bit.
“Take it easy, Yusaku. Take it as slowly as you need. Feel your pain being erased. You don’t need to forget the pain, you just need to let go of it and leave it behind.” I gave him an affectionate pat. Yusaku eased up a little.
“Good, just like that… Nice and easy…” I kept stroking his back lovingly, providing him with what little comfort I could, “I’ll heal you… I’ll make everything better again…”
For hours I lay there with Yusaku in my arms, showing my affection for him. Slowly but surely he began to melt in my embrace once again. I patiently waited for his mental state to improve. Night came eventually, and I was still lying in bed with a hypnotised Yusaku, comforting him and trying to sooth his pain.

“How are you feeling?” I asked.
“It… hurts…”
“It still hurts?”
He nodded.
“Does it feel any better than when we started?”
He nodded again.
“Thank goodness… it’s improving.” I kissed his forehead, “Let’s keep going. Everything will be all better soon…”

Knock… Knock…

A quiet knock came from the door.
“Ryoken-sama, are you awake?” The knocker asked.
“Yes.”
“Can I come in?”
I looked down at Yusaku and squeezed him, “Now… probably isn’t a good time.”
“I understand. If you need anything, let us know.” Footsteps moved away from the door and into the distance.

A few more hours passed before I dared to ask Yusaku how he was feeling.
“Yusaku? How do you feel?”
“It… hurts… I’m… tired…” He breathed.
“Tired?” I paused, “Ah, I’ve had you hypnotised for hours and hours… Of course you feel tired with all of this healing that we’ve done today. When I count to three, you will be released of your trance. One. Two. Three.”

Yusaku blinked and tensed up a bit.
“Relax, Yusaku. You’re here with me. Everything is going to be okay.”
Yusaku said nothing.
“Get some sleep, Yusaku. Fall asleep, here in my arms. I’ll make the pain will go away.”

---

“Ryoken-sama has been in his room for two entire days with Yusaku… He’s keeps saying that we shouldn’t go in there. Should we… be doing something about this?” I scratched my head, and sighed.
“I don’t know…” Specter stared down the hallway, worry in his eyes.
“Maybe we should bring them something to eat or drink? How much longer are they going to survive without water?”
“I think the limit is three days without water. We’re going to have to go in there today if we want to help them.”
“Something bad must have happened to Yusaku. When we brought him back, he seemed really… off.”
“I don’t think either of them are taking what happened very well.” Specter shook his head in dismay, “How about we make them something to eat and drink, and they can have it in bed?”

“I don’t know, Specter. Ryoken-sama asked us to stay out.”
“I think their health is more of a priority, Takeru.”
“I mean, that’s certainly true…” I tapped my fingers on the bench nervously.
“Come on, there’s no use in us sitting by and doing nothing. Let’s help them.”

---

Knock knock.

“Not… now…” I croaked.
“Ryoken-sama, I’m sorry, but we have to come in. You’ve been in there for far too long.”
“No… It’s not enough… not yet…”
“I’m sorry, but we really do need to come in.” The door handle turned.
“Stop…”

Takeru and Specter came into the room, worried by the sight they saw when they did.
Yusaku and I were lying in bed, clinging onto each other, with Yusaku locked in a trance. For two days I had been keeping him hypnotised, only letting him out of the trance to sleep. I had barely gotten any sleep myself, as I was far too busy watching over Yusaku as he rested.
“Ryoken-sama? Are you okay? Is Yusaku okay?” Takeru asked, running over to the bed.
“Yusaku… is hurt…” I said, hugging the boy in my arms tighter.
“He’s hurt? I didn’t see any injuries on him when we got him back…”
“His mind… He’s… in pain…”
“His mind? Did Kusanagi do something?!”
I cringed at the name. Takeru glanced over at Specter, who nodded.
“Ryoken-sama, you and Yusaku really need to have something to eat.”
“I don’t… care…”
“Ryoken-sama, please-”
“Yusaku… needs… help…”
“You sound exhausted. You really need to look after yourself.”

“No…” I shook my head slowly, “Nothing matters… except... making sure Yusaku… feels better…”
“How is Yusaku supposed to feel better if he hasn’t eaten?” Takeru asked.
“He… He needs…”
“You aren’t thinking straight, Ryoken-sama. You both need something to eat. We’ll bring some food in here for both of you. Wake Yusaku up so he can eat.”
“No… I can’t wake him up… He needs… to be in… a trance…”
“Why does he need to be in a trance right now?”
“I’m… healing… his mind…”
“Eating comes first, Ryoken-sama. Wake him up.”
“I… can’t-”
“Unless you want to trade Yusaku’s physical health for his mental health, you need to wake him up.”
“Yusaku’s… health…” I coughed.

“Coughing…?” Specter’s eyes widened. He put his hand on Yusaku’s forehead, then mine, “You both have a temperature!”
Takeru sighed, “So, it seems you both have fallen ill.”
“Takeru, go and get the food we made. I’ll grab some medicine. Ryoken-sama, you better wake Yusaku up before we get back.”
“Yusaku… is sick…?” I felt myself panic. This couldn't be real. Yusaku was now suffering more than just mental scars.
“Yes, you’re both sick. Wake him up while we are gone.”

Both of them left the room.
“Yusaku…” I whispered, “Wake up… Fall away from your trance…”
Yusaku’s grip on me strengthened as he drifted back into reality.
“Yusaku… Relax… I’m not going anywhere…”
He let his hold on me loosen and he exhaled slowly.
“I won’t let go of you…” I breathed.
“Ryo… ken…” Yusaku spoke his first syllables in two days.
“Are you… okay…?”
“I… feel… ill…”
“Does your mind… feel… better…?”
“Better… but… it hurts… so much…”
“No…” Tears began forming in my weary eyes, “It shouldn’t… hurt…”
“Don’t… worry… about me…”
“No… I don’t want… you… to suffer…” I kissed his forehead a few times, “I will… fix the damage… I have caused…”
“You… caused…?” Yusaku shook his head faintly, “No… It wasn’t… you…”
“I… couldn’t… protect you…”
“No… you are… protecting me… You did… your best…”

---

“Specter and I made this food for you. Please eat it all to help you regain your strength.” I placed a tray down on the bedside table and took a seat on the chair next to the bed.
“Thank… you…” Ryoken managed, far too exhausted and sick to speak properly.
He slowly sat up and kept Yusaku close by his side, helping him sit up as well. He steadily grabbed the tray and placed it on top of the covers in front of them.
Ryoken grabbed a piece of bread from the food in front of him and slowly tore it in half.
“Yusaku…” He held it out for Yusaku to take, and with a shaking hand Yusaku took it.
Both of them began eating, not saying a word. I watched on, worried for them both.
“I found some appropriate medicine.” Specter announced, walking into the room and placing pills and two glasses of water on the bedside table. Ryoken acknowledged their existence with a glance.

“Takeru, I don’t think we should leave these two alone while they’re like this. It’s too dangerous.” Specter sighed.
“I agree. I’ll keep watch for now. We can switch out when necessary.”
“Yes, let’s do that. Yusaku and Ryoken-sama, we’ll be watching you closely and looking after you for the next few days, just to make sure you get better.”
“But… Yusaku…” Ryoken’s eyes started to fill with tears. Yusaku looked over at him with shame on his face.
“You can do whatever you need to help Yusaku. We just ask that you cooperate when we ask you to do something so that you can both recover.”
“Thank… you…”

The two emotionally frail and physically weakened people in the bed continued to eat, with Ryoken sometimes feeding things to Yusaku because he was struggling to eat the food on his own. Slowly, the food on the tray decreased and decreased, until not a scrap of food was left.
“Good. Now take your medicine.” I said, picking up a glass and some pills and handing it to Ryoken. He took them, then popped the pills in his mouth and swallowed them with a glass of water. He put the empty glass down, and picked the full glass up slowly and handed the rest of the pills to Yusaku. Yusaku put them in his mouth, and with some help from Ryoken he drank from the glass.

“Hopefully you both start feeling better soon.” Specter said, taking the tray and the glasses.
“Thank… you…”
“You two should go and take a warm bath together.” I suggested, standing up from the chair.
“We’re… too… tired…” Ryoken protested.
“No, you both need it. Not just because you’re both sick, but because you’re both pretty worked up. You could use the relaxation.”

---

After much struggle, Takeru had managed to convince Yusaku and I to leave the bed. With Specter’s help, he had assisted us with walking down to the bathroom. Takeru had run us a bath, and he left the bathroom to sit outside and wait for us to finish or come in if we were stubborn again. At no point had I let go of Yusaku’s hand.

I lay in the tub with Yusaku, holding him close.
“I feel… less ill…” Yusaku said, cuddling into me.
“I guess we did need to eat something…” I sighed.
“Hey, Ryoken...?”
“Yes?”
“How… have you… been feeling?” Yusaku asked weakly.
“Me…?” My eyes widened, “That doesn’t that matter. You were the one who got hurt and-”
“You… matter too…” He offered a small smile.
“I… I’ve been fine.”
“Lies…” He frowned, and a pang of guilt hit me.

“The last few days have been hard…” I sighed.
“Tell me... why...”
“I’m sure you know why-”
“No... tell me why... Speak your… mind…”
“When you were taken away, I just broke… If somebody asked me whether the bullet wound hurt more or losing you, my answer would easily be losing you. Then when Specter and Takeru brought you back, I found out how much pain you had been in…” I put my palm over my face in shame, “I was too busy being sad about losing you. I didn’t even stop to think what sort of suffering you were facing. I was being so selfish…”
“Ryoken…” Yusaku took my hand away from my face and cupped his hand around my cheek.
“Then I tried to get rid of your pain and heal you and… I just… I just couldn’t do it… How do I deserve to own you if I can’t look after you…? We lay in that bed for two days straight… I couldn’t fix it. It still hurts you…” Tears began flowing softly down my cheeks.

“Shhh…” Yusaku caressed my cheek, “Everything… will be… fine…”
“I shouldn’t be crying in front of you like this. You are the one in pain, not me…”
“But you are… in pain too…”
I didn’t know how to respond to that.
“Ryoken, you… were hurt too… We are… both… hurting… Don’t… you see… that…?” A tear rolled down his cheek.
“We’re both… in pain?”
“We are…” he rested his head on my chest, “But our pain will… go away…”

---

“I’ll take over from here, Takeru.” Specter said, finishing helping me to tuck Ryoken and Yusaku into bed.
“Thank you.” I looked down at the two in the bed, cuddling each other and sleeping peacefully, “Take good care of them.”
“Of course. Get a good night’s rest, we’re going to have some busy days ahead of us.”
I bowed and left the room, closing the door gently as to make as little noise as possible.

I made my way back to my room and flopped on my bed, before exhaling deeply.
“Takeru, you sound tired.” Flame rose from the duel disk on my bedside table.
“I’m exhausted. Specter and I went into Ryoken-sama and Yusaku’s bedroom. They were sick, tired and emotionally worn out. It was lots of work, trying to help them.”
“I’m sure you did your best.” He smiled with his eyes, speaking softly.
“Yeah… I’ll continue to do my best, too. They can use all the help they can get. Besides, they’re my family...” I yawned and grabbed the duel disk, and put it on one of my pillows.

“Remember to remind them that you love them.”
“I will…” My head hit my pillow. I didn’t bother tucking myself under my bed covers, “Goodnight, Flame. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Goodnight, sweet dreams…”

Chapter Text

I ran faster than I ever had before in my life. I ran through the halls of that hospital at lightning speeds that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to match again. I ran and I ran and I ran. The hospital halls were no more than an obstacle for me. I had to get to my destination now.

I slammed the sliding door to the side and out of my way, and I immediately ran to the hospital bed inside the room.
“AKIRA!”
“E..Ema?” He coughed.
“Akira! What the hell happened?!” I grabbed his hand and stared into his eyes, fearful.
“You… were… right…” He coughed again, this time a bit more dryly.
“I was right? What do you-” I paused and thought,”Oh no… oh dear god no…!” I grit my teeth.
“She… is… a… monster…”
“What did she do to you!?” Tears were building up in my eyes. I shouldn’t have let my guilt of letting Aoi get hurt get in the way of me standing my ground when saying SOL couldn’t be trusted.
“That… doesn’t… matter…”
“What do you mean!? Of course it-”
“I… don’t… remember… much…”

“What do you remember then?”
“She… took… Aoi..” Akira’s expression turned to one of excruciating remorse.
“Aoi!? Aoi’s in danger!!!” I yelled.
“Save… her…”
I had no more time to set things right. It was now or never to take down that awful woman, Queen.
“I’m going right now! I promise I’ll save Aoi!” I said, bowing my forehead to his hand, before setting it down and running out the door like the world was ending and I was the only one who could save everyone on the planet.

I was the only one left who could stop Queen from hurting Aoi. Everything that had gone wrong was my fault. I had to make up for my mistakes.

I had to atone.

---

After much time screeching and bleeding all over my floor, mourning the loss of my fingers, my tears dried up and my sorrow was replaced with the most bitter hatred. An odd calmness took hold of me as I decided to get off the floor and bandaged up my stumpy hands using my teeth. It was a lengthy process and was quite difficult, but I had nothing to make me impatient.

After all, my sweet revenge would come one day. I had to learn to be patient or suffer the consequences. There was nothing to lose anymore.

My doorless door frame had become more of a benefit to me than a problem, as it allowed me to leave my apartment without the pain of door handles that I could no longer use. With my hands in my pockets, I left my house and made my way across Den City. Nobody suspected a thing about my hands, although I did get some strange glances. Did I look that shady with my broken grin and old coat?

I didn’t care though. My mind was only set on revenge. A couple of nobodies on the street could do nothing to stop me. After all, that’s all they were. A bunch of simple nobodies. They didn’t know pain like I knew. They hadn’t suffered like I had. They’d never been kidnapped, tortured or had everybody they loved and trusted taken and turned against them. These were all things I had come to know too well.

It was a long trip on foot, but I was patient. I walked into the rundown apartment complex that was miles away from my own and went up a few floors. I walked down a beaten up hallway, with the walls and floor covered in gashes and strange stains. The atmosphere of this place felt like somebody had taken the rage and dark emotions out of me and turned it into a physical location. I came across a relatively clean and intact door compared to the rest, and stopped. This was the place I needed to be.

However, there was one thing between me and the inside of that apartment. An old fashioned physical key lock. Using it would be difficult without fingers. I was up for the challenge though. Carefully, I used both of my palms to grab a lockpick from my coat pocket and placed the pick between my clenched teeth. With great precision and care I fiddled around with the lock using the lockpick, and after what felt like forever the door clicked open.

I pocketed the pick and opened the door. I closed it behind me and turned on the lights.
“Who’s there?!” I heard a desperate yell from the room.
“Kusanagi.” I answered.
“Kusanagi! It’s me, Ai!” He sounded happy, “I’ve been in here for weeks! I’m glad somebody finally came!”
Slowly, I started walking down the steps and went towards the Ignis.
“Flame told me what happened with Yusaku and Takeru, and he told me that you were kidnapped by SOL as well! After that he suddenly cut off contact though, so I’ve been lonely.”
I stayed silent and kept walking towards the dark Ignis.
“Kusanagi, are you okay? Are you going to say something?”
I didn't answer. I just picked up the duel disk he sat in using my fingerless hands and snapped it around my wrist.
“What happened to your hands!?” He suddenly exclaimed.
“Nothing. I have a job for you, Ai.” I stated flatly.
“What…?” The AI was confused.

“You are to take me to Lightning.”
“What!? What are you saying!? I can’t do that! He’s the enemy!!!” Ai cried.
“Do what I say, Ai.” I ordered, glaring at him.
“Why though? This is Lightning you’re talking about!”
“Do you want to get Takeru and Yusaku back from the Hanoi or not?!” I hissed.
“I… I…” Ai didn’t look happy, “Is this the only way? Can you at least tell me your plan?”
“This is the only way. I owe you no explanation. Take me to Lightning, now.”
Ai gulped, afraid, and nodded. A flash of light engulfed me and we entered Link VRAINS.

---

“Just let the pain slowly seep out of you…” I ran my hands carefully down Yusaku’s sides and watched as he relaxed under my touch, “Everything is going to be just fine…”
Yusaku was lying down with his head on the pillow, breathing lightly and staring up at me with a dreamy, distant and loving look as I tried my best to massage calmness into his bare body to heal him.
“Just relax and feel my hands comforting you… Just focus on me…” I moved my hands up to his collarbones and pressed into them with my thumbs and began swirling them around, “Does this make you comfortable?”
“Yes…” He breathed.
“Good. Feel the pain being pushed away by the feelings you feel right now. Feel your dark thoughts being overwritten by how you feel right now. Let it slowly consume you…” I placed a small kiss on his chest and caressed his neck, “All you need to feel and think about is this comfort you feel. Hold on to it. Cherish it, just as I cherish you.”

Slowly I worked my way around to his shoulders, then onto the smooth skin of his sides once again. Yusaku looked as if he loved every moment of it.
“Ahhh…” Yusaku let out a small sigh of relaxation.
“Yes, just like that. Keep thinking about it. Forget everything else. Just focus on the movements of my hands.”
“Yes…”
I leaned down and embraced Yusaku, reaching around and massaging his back as I did, “Are you warm enough right now?”
He gave a small nod.
“Mmm…” I hugged him tightly and buried my face in his hair.
I allowed plenty of time to pass as I lay there, hugging Yusaku’s naked body, comforting him and myself. I kept massaging various parts of his back, feeling him melt in my arms as I did.

After a while I released him from my embrace and sat up. Yusaku’s gaze grew longing.
“It’s okay…” I cooed, placing my hand under his chin, “I’m still here. I’ll always be here.”
His look softened a little.
“Good, stay relaxed, just like that. Let your pain wash away as you become more at ease. There isn’t anything to be afraid of.” I lifted his chin so he was staring directly at my face, “Now, my dearest Yusaku, won’t you look into my eyes?”

---

“Look into my eyes.” His soft voice told me.
Yes… Anything for him. Anything for the person soothing my suffering. Anything for this person who treats me with such kindness and care.
Yes. I must look into his eyes. I must gaze deep into his wondrous eyes.

His eyes… So blue. So bright. So mystical… How can such beautiful things exist? Not even the most amazing gems could compare to these. The brilliant shine of an aquamarine is not nearly as magnetic as these eyes. Even a blue topaz is worthless when put next to these.
What secrets do these eyes hold? If I stare deeper and deeper, what things will I find?

Deeper… Of course. These eyes. They’re so deep. There’s more to them than I first thought. Many stories and emotions are locked deep inside. The depth… is infinite. The longer I gaze, the more lost I become. I have to know what is in there… I have to know what these eyes hold… I have to know why looking into them fills me with such powerful pleasure...

“Your… eyes…”
“My eyes?” He prompted me to continue. I had to comply.
“What… is in… your… eyes…?”
“Do you see something in them?”
“True… beauty…” My eyes began to water.
“Thank you…” He purred, caressing my cheek with his reassuring hand. My chest grew warm, fueled by the praise his angelic voice gave me, “I’ll tell you what it is you see in my eyes. What you are seeing is a divine feeling that I have. What you are seeing is something special to me. What you are seeing is the one thing I hold the closest to my heart.”
He speaks so highly of what I am seeing. I can feel how special this thing I see in his eyes is. It must be important if he says it is.

“It is my love of you. It is my control over you.”
Love. Control. Yes. These things are important. These things this person has for me are the most important things in the world. They are precious beyond everything. No wonder they make me feel so nice. No wonder they make him feel so nice.
“Love… is… control…”
“And control is love. You feel it, don’t you? You feel how much I love you. You can see it in my eyes.”
“Yes… I just… want… to look… forever… and forever…”

---

“I want to stare into your eyes forever too.” I said, placing a kiss on the tip of his nose, “But if I did, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the rest of you. All good things come to an end, but as those end more good things start.” I leaned back up and smiled tenderly at Yusaku, “So as we stop staring into each other’s eyes, we move onto something else just as pleasurable-”

Knock knock.

A knocking sounded quietly from the door.
“Ryoken-sama, you should wake Yusaku up soon to give him a break. We don’t want to wear him out, do we?” Specter asked from the other side.
“How long have I had him hypnotised now?”I asked back.
“It has been four hours.”
“I see.” I sighed, “I’ll wake him up.”
“Very good. I’ll have Takeru bring some refreshments in for you soon.”
“Thank you.” I turned back to Yusaku as footsteps moved away from the door, “Our time is up for now. Don’t feel sad, we’ll pick up on this later. I promise that you’ll love what I do next time. Okay?”
Yusaku nodded faintly.
“Good. When I kiss your cheek, you will awaken from your trance.”
I leaned down and into Yusaku, and wrapped my arms around him. I gently placed a kiss on his soft cheek and watched as he stirred a little, before lifting his arms to cling onto me.

“Yusaku, are you feeling better?” I asked tightening my hug.
“I feel a bit better in my head, but, you know…” He trailed off, looking down in shame.
“I’m sorry…”
“No! Don’t be sorry!” He perked up suddenly, “You’re making it better. I couldn’t make this progress without you. You’re trying your hardest and you’re doing a good job. I should be the one apologising, since I’m the one who is making you have to go to all this effort.”
“No, Yusaku. It’s me. I should be apologising, not you. I made it possible for this to happen in the first place…”
“None of us would have known this would happen. You don’t need to beat yourself up over this.”
I opened my mouth to respond, but found I couldn’t when Yusaku snuggled into me reassuringly, calming my emotions.
“So, how are you feeling physically?” I asked, patting his head.
“Still sort of ill, but better after Specter and Takeru’s help looking after us. How about you?”
“About the same.” I sighed.

Knock knock.

“It’s me!’ Takeru announced brightly from the other side.
I quickly pulled the duvet from the end of the bed up to Yusaku’s stomach to cover him up.
“Come in.”
The door opened and Takeru came in with a tray that had two mugs on top.
“I have a hot chocolate for you both. I’m sure you could both use a nice hot drink right now.” Takeru placed the tray on the bedside table and smiled, “Is there anything else you require?”
“We’ll be fine. Thank you for the drinks.” I gave a small smile in return, and Takeru left the room, satisfied to have helped his master. Yusaku sat up and leaned against me, sighing deeply as he made contact with my arm. I picked a mug off the tray and handed it to him, before taking my own and blowing on it to cool it down.

“Hey, Ryoken?”

---

“Wakey wakey, my little toy…” I giggled, giving the girl in the tank a poke.
“... H… huh…” She stuttered, eyes opening.
“Hi there, Aoi.” I smiled wickedly at her.
She didn’t look at me or acknowledge me, and stared at the ceiling as she lay in the bath-style tank filled with blue chemicals. Her expression was one of empty confusion, but then suddenly contorted into one of aggression and hatred. Immediately she began thrashing about in the liquid, pulling violently at her restraints. Her teeth were clenched and her glare was intense, but at no point had she looked at me.

“Oh my, you really are messed up. I wonder how it happened.” I shrugged, “Eh, not important. Do you think you could actually pay attention to me, Aoi?”
She showed no sign of knowing I even existed.
“Ugh. How dull. It’s more fun when a person hates what I’m about to do. You and your brother really piss me off, you know? He doesn’t fall for manipulation done using my irresistible looks, and you won’t even pay me a slither of attention.” I reached for her and grabbed her neck. I squeezed it tightly with my hand, digging into some of her pale flesh with my long fake nails.
“Uck-” She reacted, her windpipe suddenly bottlenecking her breathing.
“Now, I’ll say it one more time, do you think you can pay attention to me?”
“Who the fuck are you?” She spat, her intense glare suddenly being shot in my direction.
“Ooh, feisty. I like it.” I removed my hand from her neck, “But watch your language. I don’t like a potty mouth. Perhaps I’ll wash your mouth out with soap later.”
“I said who are you!?”
“My name is Queen. I’m your brother’s boss.” I ran a nail over her lip, causing her to try and bite my finger. I retracted my finger just in time for her to miss.

“Well excuse me your highness,” she mocked, “but I don’t think me being a family member of an employee of yours lets you get away with-”
SLAP.
“I’m running this conversation, honey. Did nobody ever teach you that you should only speak when spoken to? Dumb child.”
“Bitch…” She hissed.
“Oh my, what did I just say about language and speaking when you haven’t been spoken to? Such awful manners. I’m going to have to fix that.”
“Good luck, fuckface.”
“Ugh. I’ve had enough of your vile language.” I reached for a roll of duct tape and cut off a strip, before sticking it over Aoi’s mouth, “If you’re going to say bad things, then I suppose I’m just going to have to revoke your privilege of speech. Such a shame.”
Aoi intensified her deadly glare.

“Well, I suppose I should tell you what we’re going to be doing today. You know, I just fired my assistant today. Why, you may ask? She was a dull woman, mostly. But I was also obligated to not run little fun experiments using her. That’s where you come in, darling.” I gave a small chuckle and poked her nose, “I want you to be my new assistant! Isn’t that exciting? Of course, we’re going to have to train you first. That’s where this little contraption comes in.”
I pointed to a console on the wall of the room, and the muted girl looked over. She immediately noticed some wires coming out of the machine, and began to follow them with her eyes. Slowly but surely she reached the ends of the wires and was instantly struck with horror, making the realisation of where they lead to.
Protruding from her cranium were wires that had be inserted into her skull and through to the brain. Aoi’s eye began to shake with terror.

“I see you’ve figured out a few things about that machine.” I smiled, “When I turn that baby on, she’s gonna put you in a state of intense pain that’s only going to fade away when I’m in the room. I’m going to leave straight after getting this started because I have some work to do, but don’t worry, I’ll come back and visit you a few times throughout the day and you’ll come to enjoy being around me.”
Aoi shook her head furiously. I walked over to the machine and flicked a few switches.
“Have fun, Aoi.” I walked over to the door, “I’ll be watching this show on CCTV. Make it an entertaining one!”

---

“Hey, Ryoken?” Yusaku asked me.
“Yes?” I replied, watching Yusaku taking a sip of his beverage.
“How have you been feeling?”
I stared at him, pausing. Then I opened my mouth to respond, but Yusaku talked again.
“Don’t say you’ve been ‘fine’ again. I want an honest answer.”
“I…” I lowered my head in shame, staring into the chocolatey abyss in my mug, “I’ve been finding it hard to keep going.”
“What do you mean by that?” Yusaku asked, empathy drenching his voice, putting his hand around my back and on the shoulder furthest from himself.

“It’s been difficult… You’re hurt and I fear I’m not doing enough to make you better. I don’t like seeing you hurt. I don’t like seeing you in pain. I wish all of this could just go away and we could just spend eternity in each other’s arms, staring into one another’s eyes. I wish all these bad things would just disappear and we could just be happy together, with nobody to stop us.”
“You’re making me better. I’ll be back to normal eventually.” He nudged my shoulder with his cheek, and affectionately rubbed his hand up and down my back, “I too wish all these bad things would go away. I don’t like seeing you feeling stressed out like this. It’s all going to be okay though. I’m here for you. We can do anything you want together if it will make you feel any better.”

“Thank you,Yusaku…” I looked at him, smiling sadly, “You’ve kept me going.”
“We’re in this together.”
“I don’t know how you stay so strong, even though it hurts you so much…”
“Ryoken?” He looked up at me, concern growing on his face, “Your eyes… You’re crying.”
“I’m supposed to be helping you, but then I go and cry like this with you comforting me. I don’t get it. I’m supposed to be strong. I need to be strong, for your sake…”
“You are strong. Crying and struggling doesn’t mean you are weak. In fact, struggling is proof you are strong. You’ve made it this far.” Yusaku reached up and wiped a tear from my face, “Lean on me, Ryoken. Don’t bear the burden all by yourself. We can lean on each other.”
“Yusaku…” I didn’t know what to say. Tears kept flowing.
“I love you, Ryoken. I would do anything for you.”

---

“Oi, Queen. We need to talk.” My door began automatically sliding open, and then got slammed to the side as some sort of angry biker chick stormed into my office.
“Me?” I said, sarcastically pretending to be bewildered and pointing to myself.
“Yes, you!!! Who else here is narcissistic enough to call themselves Queen?!”
“At least I’m openly narcissistic. Speaking of which, who in the world are you, and do you have an appointment?”
“You should know who I am! You hired me to keep tabs on Akira before the Tower of Hanoi!”
“Ohhhh, you. You must be… uh.. What was it again? Right, Emi! I’m going to assume you don’t have an appointment.” I smiled brightly.
“Ugh, it’s Ema, not Emi, and of course I don’t have an appointment! I came here because you hurt Akira then kidnapped his sister, you bitch!”

“Not you too! Why does everyone feel like swearing at me today?” I pouted.
“What?” Ema seemed confused and angry.
“Oh, you know, Aoi was calling me all sorts of colourful things earlier today when I started torturing her.” I shrugged nonchalantly.
“I was right!” Ema grit her teeth, rage rising up inside her, “You… You actually tortured Playmaker’s assistant! What the hell is wrong with you!? You’re a sick woman!”
“Ohhh? You know about that?” This genuinely surprised me, “It seems you know more than you should.” I frowned and my voice lowered.
“Give Aoi back!” Ema snarled.
“I shall do no such thing. But you can join her, if you want. I was actually just about to go and visit her.” I said, rising from my chair and walking around my desk. Ema took a step back.

“No, you’ll be giving her to me!”
“You know, you have a rather nice body, Ema.” I smiled seductively.
“Wha- what!? What sort of subject change is that!?”
“Your curves are simply divine…” I giggled.
“Queen, what the hell are you trying to do? Seduce me into complying?!” Ema spat.
“My gosh, I’m so lucky that I swing both ways. I get both fine men, and ladies such as yourself…” I kept approaching Ema.
“What the hell is going on?!”
“Your lips look rather… delicious. I think I might have a taste.”
“What are you saying-”
Suddenly I lunged at her and let my lips lock with hers. I reached into her mouth with my tongue and viciously deepened the kiss. I kept it going as Ema tried to push me away and tried to escape, but then she eventually went limp and I broke the kiss.

“Hahaha, you’re the second victim of my poisonous lipstick. I’m honestly surprised Akira didn’t say anything about this. He’s an idiot.” I caressed her cheek, “Well, when I kissed him it was using a poison that affected the respiratory system. Today’s lipstick is a different colour. I hope you like being paralysed, because that’s how you’re going to be for a while.”
Ema stared back at me, unable to move.
“Now, should we head off to where Aoi is? I’m sure you two will have lots of fun being tortured together. I can’t wait to have two shiny new assistants.”

---

“Thank you.” I said as Takeru took the tray with the empty mugs on it. He smiled back at me.
As Takeru opened the door to leave, Specter came into the room holding a box. Takeru slipped out the door behind him.
“Specter?”
“I’ve brought something for you both.” Specter placed the box down on the bed, “Takeru and I both hope that you both get well soon.”
“Thank you.” I nodded, picking up the box. Specter turned around and left the room, shutting the door behind him.
“Chocolates…?” Yusaku observed, looking at the box, “These are your favourite ones, aren’t they?”
“What a thoughtful gift.” I said, pausing afterwards to think.
“They’re really delicious.” Yusaku smiled softly, “And they bring back good memories.”

“Memories? That gives me an idea.” I ruffled Yusaku’s hair and put the box down, “Lie back down, Yusaku. Let’s continue what we were doing.”
“Yes.” Yusaku leaned back down and rested his head on the pillows at the head of the bed. I cuddled into Yusaku’s side and wrapped my arms around him. He exhaled gently in response.
“Close your eyes and listen to my voice, just as you always do…” I switched to my soothing, warm and reassuring voice that I frequently used to lull Yusaku into a trance, “Just listen to my voice… Feel yourself sinking back into the comfort of the bed… Feel me embracing you, protecting you… Let good feelings bubble up inside of you… Let them numb all of your pain…” Rhythmically I ran my hand up and down Yusaku’s arm. Yusaku’s breathing started to calm down.
“As the pain numbs, feel yourself drifting out of reality… Feel yourself going up, up and away with me by your side… It’s only us, Yusaku… Just you and me, together… Nothing else…” Any tension in Yusaku’s muscles disappeared, and he melted back into the bed.
“Good, just like that… Let my full control slowly fall over your mind… Feel it deep in your chest… Trust me… Obey me…”

“... Now, open your eyes.”
Yusaku slowly opened his eyes, staring up at the ceiling absently.
“There we go. You know how I promised we’d do something just as pleasurable as staring into each other’s eyes?” I caressed his cheek gently.
“Yes…”
“I have just the thing. You’re going to love it.” I unwrapped my arms from around him and sat up. Carefully, I propped him up against the head of the bed so he was sitting up. I reached for the box of chocolates and opened it. Which chocolate would I start with?

I chose a tulip shell shaped chocolate and grasped it between my thumb and index finger.
“Open wide, my dear Yusaku.” I used my empty hand to lower his jaw. I placed the sweet treat on his tongue and closed his mouth, “Eat the chocolate.”
Yusaku did as I asked, chewing and then swallowing it.
“Does the flavour remind you of anything?”
“It… reminds me… of… that… night…”
“Which one?”
“We… were in… the bath…”
“What were we doing?”
“We shared… the… chocolates…”
“I want you to think about that memory. Remember what you felt back then. Think about all of your senses. What did the water feel like? What about the air? What about my body?” I leaned into Yusaku, “How did the chocolate taste? How did my mouth taste? What did the air smell like? Where the colours vivid or faint? Did you hear our breathing? Did you hear our heart beats?” I listed off everything I could think of that would be powerful sensory input, then finally topped it off, “And most importantly, what emotions did you feel? How powerful were they?”

“I felt…”
“What did you feel, Yusaku? Put yourself back in that moment.”
“I… felt…” His face softened into one of joy and peace, “I felt… so… happy… so loved…”
“Yes, you did. Fill yourself with that feeling. Let it take over your entire being. Open wide.”
He opened his mouth, and I placed a whelk shell shaped chocolate on his tongue.
“Eat this chocolate. Think about that night. Keep thinking about the feeling as you eat. As you do, think about the sweetness of the chocolate as well.”
Yusaku bit down and ate the chocolate. A smile grew on his face as he ate it.
“Do you want more?” I asked as he swallowed it.
“Yes…”
“Here’s another one for you.” I took a sunray venus shell shaped chocolate out of the box and held it between by upper and lower rows of teeth. I leaned in towards Yusaku and pressed my mouth against his, letting the chocolate slip into his mouth.

As I kissed him, his eyes fluttered shut instinctively and he let me wrap my arms around him. My tongue played around with Yusaku’s, sharing the chocolate between us. As the sweet treat disappeared, I broke off the kiss and Yusaku smiled with euphoria.
“Do you feel that feeling of love and happiness you described? Is it becoming more and more powerful?”
“So… powerful…”
“Good. Imagine how strong it will be once we get through the entire box.” I gave his head a pat, “Tell me, what do you think the chocolate tastes like?”

“Happiness… love… and You…”

---

“Mr Zaizen, you have visitors.” The nurse said, poking her head through the open door, the morning sunrise illuminating her white uniform.
“Visitors…?”
“Yes. There is a woman named Ema, a girl named Aoi and… oh no, that can’t be right? Is that even a name?” She looked down at her clipboard and squinted.
“Aoi…? And Ema…?” I smiled, “They’re… safe…”
“You know them?” She looked back up at me, “Then I will send them in for you.”
“Thank… you…”

The nurse left and I looked out the window, watching people move about on the street below. Tears began to flow from my eyes. They were not sad tears, they were happy ones. Aoi was okay, and Ema had successfully saved her without being hurt by that despicable woman, Queen. Against all odds, everyone had made it out okay. I felt so relieved.

Knock knock.

“Come… in…” I croaked.
The door slid open, and high heels clicked against the floor. The woman who walked in was neither Ema nor Aoi. It was Queen. My eyes widened in horror and my chest tightened. The relief I had felt instantly shattered.
“Good to see that you’re recovering, Akira honey.” She smiled her venomous smile at me, and folded her arms.
“What… are… you… doing… here…?!”
“What do you think I’m doing here? I’m being a good boss and checking in on my precious employee.”
“Don’t… lie…” I glared at her.
“Okay, okay. That’s half the reason I’m here. I just thought you might want to see your sister again. Oh, and your girlfriend. Ema is your girlfriend, right?”
“What…?!” Were they not okay? Did Ema get caught!?
“Y’know, she’s way out of your league if she is. She’s a way better kisser than you. Anyway, ladies, come in here and say hi to Akira.”

Ema and Aoi walked in through the door wearing matching business suits with short black skirts and heels. Ema stopped by Ema’s left side, whilst Aoi stopped at her right.
“Aren’t they just so mature in their uniforms?” Queen ruffled Aoi’s hair. Aoi didn’t react.
Ema and Aoi both stared dead ahead at me. No, not at me. Through me. Past me. Their stare was empty and their expressions were blank. It was like they were emotionless robots.
“What… did… you… do… to… them…!?”
“I made them my assistants!” She smiled brightly, then lowered her voice, “It was really easy to do. I just did a little bit of conditioning on them all of yesterday and then bam!” She clapped her hands, “They’re super loyal and have literally no free will! They can’t do anything unless I want it to happen! What do you think?”
“How… could… you…?!”
“Oh, you don’t believe me?” She laughed, ignoring my question and pretending I said something else, “Ema, darling, why don’t we show him just how good at kissing you are?”
“Yes… Queen… Sama…”
“Kiss…? Oh… no…” Suddenly, memories came rushing back to me.

Queen pinned Ema against the wall and immediately initiated a passionate kiss. Ema let it happen with no resistance, and Queen threw a sideways glance at me to see my reaction as she enjoyed the kiss.

Whatever reaction I was giving her, she liked what she saw.

Chapter Text

“I don’t care what you want to do to me. You can do whatever you like. I have nothing to lose anymore, and nothing to gain, aside from him.”

Me? No… You can’t be serious...!

“What is it you wish to gain through a deal?”
“Revenge. I’m sure it will be no problem, as my goals coincide with yours.”

This isn’t… what any of us wanted...

“Do you really not care what I do to you otherwise?”
“Do whatever you want. I don’t give a single fuck about anything anymore, except for getting my revenge.”

There’s no way this man is really you...

“Hahaha… then I shall take up on your offer.”

No… don’t do it… Big brother… Run…!

---

“Good morning. How are you feeling, Yusaku? Are you well rested?”
“I feel calm… And yes, well rested.” He answered softly, quietly snuggling up to me.
“That’s good. Is your mind feeling any better?”
“It’s going away faster.”
“I’m glad it is.” I squeezed Yusaku lovingly and pressed a kiss into his forehead, “Are you ready to be hypnotised again?”
“Yes, I think I am-”

Knock knock.

“Who is it?” I asked,
“Specter. Takeru and Flame are with me. We have something very urgent to show you.”
“Come in.” I sat up, and Yusaku did the same.
Specter opened the door and rushed over to the bed, a tablet-like device in his hands. Takeru followed him closely, duel disk in hand. Both of them bore grave expressions.
“We’ve received a call from…” Specter trailed off, swallowing nervously.
“Who is it?”
“Well…” Specter turned the device around to show me what it was displaying. I was greeted by a yellow figure on screen.

“Hello, Revolver.” It said simply.
Light Ignis.” I growled, clenching my fists. Yusaku gave my back a rub to remind me to keep my cool.
“It’s not just me.” Lightning flew back from the monitor slowly, revealing a group of people behind him. From left to right stood Haru, Bohman, Jin, Windy and…
Dark Ignis?! Kusanagi?!” I gasped in disbelief and hatred.
Kusanagi glared at me, but spoke no words.
“Yes. Kusanagi is one of my people now.” Lightning chuckled, “He came running to me after what your associates did to him. He also brought Ai to me.”
“Y… you… you…” Yusaku trembled beside me. His eyes were locked on Kusanagi, and his expression was one of pure fear.
“Yusaku, don’t pay this any mind.” I pulled Yusaku towards me and hugged him tightly, and positioned him so that his face was against my neck to ensure he couldn't see the screen, “Just relax and focus on me. Everything will be fine. Kusanagi can't hurt us right now.”
Yusaku did as I said, taking a deep breath and wrapping his arms around me. I turned my attention back to Lightning, but kept stroking Yusaku’s back to comfort him as I did.

“A run in with my associates?” I asked, seeking clarification.
“Specter and Takeru, from what I heard.”
“They are not my associates. They are my family.” I stated.
“What a cute and human thing to call them.” Lightning said, mocking me.
“And what did they do to Kusanagi?” I inquired, ignoring his jab at me and realising I never quite heard how they got Yusaku back from Kusanagi.
“Did they not tell you? Even though you call them family?!” Lightning burst out laughing, “Oh my…! How amusing! You know, I can see why they haven’t told you.”
“Cut the crap and tell me, Light Ignis!”
“They turned up at his apartment with a blade and cut all of his fingers off.”

I looked over at Specter and Takeru. Specter nodded at me with a look that said ‘I’m sorry if this displeases you’, and Takeru grit his teeth. I looked back to the screen.
“Well then.” I began, “A fitting response to the sins and transgressions of a wretched man such as Kusanagi. His punishment is little compared to the suffering he has put my family through!” I snarled. Takeru and Specter sighed in relief, “I stand by my family’s actions.”
“How adorable. But this is not why I have decided to contact you.”
“Then hurry up and tell me what you want, filthy Ignis.”
“I want to-”
“Why are you all ignoring me?!” Ai yelled from his place in the lineup of people behind Lightning.
“Shut up or I’ll take away your talking abilities just like I did your movement privileges!” Lightning replied, “As I was saying,” It turned its focus back to me, “I wish to fight you and Playmaker. You two are our biggest opponents, and getting you out of the way is vital to our plans.”
“You are proposing we meet you in the network, and fight you?”
“Yes. If you don’t, we will do some things I’m sure you’ll disapprove of…”

“Like what?” I narrowed my eyes to a glare.
“Well, considering you were willing to kill a lot of people for the Tower of Hanoi to work, I’m sure throwing away lives is no problem for you, but seeing how much you care for Playmaker who does care about life, I’m sure you will have objections to me killing Jin if you don't show, because Playmaker will surely be distraught.”
“Ugh… You play dirty.” I hissed, “But you have one thing wrong. I do care about Jin’s life. Yusaku’s reaction isn’t my only stake in this.”
“I hope to see you tomorrow at my base. I will send the coordinates. Don’t bring anybody else but Playmaker, or Jin will perish.”

---

The transmission ended, and Ryoken’s face contorted into one of annoyance.
“This position is not ideal…” He observed.
“Perhaps we should start planning something.” I said, flipping the device back around.
“Indeed.”
Suddenly, static appeared on my device. A snowstorm of pixels consumed my screen.
“What the-” I exclaimed, wide eyed, “What is this?”
“Show me.” Ryoken ordered. I complied.
An image started to appear between the black, white and grey mess on the screen. After a couple of seconds, a poor image of a blue figure appeared, before it cleared up and the figure became clear.
“Aqua!” Flame exclaimed, popping out if Takeru’s duel disk.
“Two Ignis in one day.” Ryoken sighed, “Water Ignis, what do you want?”

“Hello Revolver, or should I say Ryoken? I want to talk about a very important matter.” Aqua said, her tone shifting to a worried one as she spoke.
“And what might that be?”
“Akira's situation. He's in hospital right now because Queen attacked him!”
“Well I hope he gets better soon, but I hardly see how Akira going to hospital is worthy of visiting me over.” Ryoken crossed his arms.
“But Queen attacked him!”
“Ryoken-sama, I believe Queen is a higher up at SOL.” I informed him.
“I see.” Ryoken growled, “Her second victim, yet just another for the pile of victims of SOL.”
“Indeed.” Aqua shook her head then bowed it, “By piecing together security footage from SOL, looking into SOL lab records and hacking into the hospital database, I have put together the full story of what happened to him.”

“Tell us. We ought to know if we are to keep ourselves safe from them.”
As prompted, Aqua told us the story from how Akira was attacked, all the way up to him being hospitalized with a temporary respiratory condition. She spoke with utmost concern.
“But it isn't just Akira who is in a bad situation right now.” Aqua added, “You see… Queen has brainwashed Aoi and Ema into being her loyal servants. It’s horrible…”
“Oh dear…” Takeru frowned.
“That's not good for us, let alone them.” Ryoken put a hand to his chin, “We've lost a test subject and potential allies.”

“That’s right. You hurt Aoi. I'm still very angry that you did that. However, it seems what Queen is doing to her is far worse. I'm telling you these things because I can't fix this awful situation alone. I have no more comrades.”
“Not even Akira?” Ryoken suggested.
“I can't get to Akira in the hospital because there are no screens in his hospital room other than the ones on the medical equipment, but accessing those is… problematic at best. I could hurt Akira.” Aqua explained regretfully.
“Well, why don't you stay with us?” Flame suggested.
“That's what I was hoping I could do.” She admitted.
Ryoken looked over at me, thought for a couple of seconds, then nodded.
“Yes, not a bad idea. We have a spare duel disk that we can put you in. Specter, could you go and get it for us?”

---

“How is it?” Takeru asked, unplugging the disk from Specter’s tablet.
“A bit cramped with the lack of network connectivity.” Aqua replied.
“You get used to it. I find it rather cosy, personally.” Flame commented.
“We'd better go and finish some chores.” Specter said, taking his tablet back from Takeru, “Afterwards, should we discuss a course of action to take in regards to Lightning?”
“Yes, that is a good idea.” I answered.
“Very well, Ryoken-sama.” Specter bowed and left. Takeru did the same, closing the door to the bedroom behind him.

“Hey, Yusaku? You okay?” I asked, shifting my focus back to the boy in my arms.
Yusaku shivered but didn't answer.
“Relax, Yusaku.” I cooed, patting his back a little, “It’s just us. We're alone. Nothing can get to us like this.”
Yusaku still didn't answer.
“You must be quite frightened.” I kissed his hair, “I'm here to protect you. You don't need to be afraid.”
“I… I'm so very afraid..” Yusaku whispered. I felt a cool, wet sensation against my neck. Yusaku had begun crying softly.
“It's okay…” I purred.
“You're not afraid, are you? Even after you got shot in the leg?” He tensed a little, “Your wound is still healing, too…”
“I'm not afraid. This time I'm ready to face Kusanagi if need be.”
Yusaku shuddered at the mention of the man. “I’m sorry… I should try to be… I should be stronger than this. Just like you.”
“Shhh… It's okay. I can give you some strength, if you want. Just relax. Breathe deeply. Hold onto me.” I wiped some of his tears.

Yusaku did try his hardest to calm down. He held me tightly, took long and deep breaths, and he also tried to release tension from individual muscles in his body. None of it succeeded.
“Why… Why can't I…” Yusaku stuttered despairingly.
“Yusaku…” I gave his hair a loving pat. I hated seeing Yusaku in such a hopeless state. He deserved better.
“I'm sorry, I… I don't think I can…” He sobbed quietly.
“That's okay. I know what might help.”
Yusaku silently waited. I gave his cheek a kiss and reached for the drawer beside the table. Inside, I grabbed a box and took it out.
“Open your mouth, Yusaku.”
Yusaku nodded faintly. I flipped the lid of the box open and grabbed a random sea shell shaped chocolate.
“Here you go. Just eat this and let it do the rest.” I cooed, popping the treat in his mouth. Yusaku bit down and melted almost instantly.
“This…” He whispered, trailing off as his mind started to focus inwards. His gaze softened significantly.
“Just enjoy it.” I said, putting the box down and returning to using both arms to give Yusaku affection, “This is all you need to think about, nothing else. Just listen to me, and savour the chocolate.

“Now then, close your eyes and let your mind go numb with bliss… Empty your head, you have no need for thoughts… Relax and rest…” I purred, close to his ear and speaking gently. I began to rub circles into his back, “Let go of yourself, I’ll support your weight… Lean on me and let our strength become one… You are safe with me… Everything will be okay…”
Yusaku became limp, and breathed quietly.
“When I kiss you, I want you to open your eyes and be under my power.”
I pecked the tip of his nose lightly with my lips and his eyes opened slowly. He stared ahead like he was living in a sweet dream, ignorant to any pain in the world. Oh, how I wished he could always feel this way…

“Listen carefully and take my words to heart.” I pressed my hand into his chest, “Kusanagi scares you, doesn’t he? Seeing him today must have been a nasty reminder of the horrible things he has done to us.”
Yusaku nodded, his face contorting a little in discomfort and a small frown growing on his countenance. His eyes started to look watery. It seemed as if Kusanagi was more of a problem than he used to be. I had remembered that there was a point in time where Yusaku had told me that he had nightmares of Kusanagi. Now his nightmares were real and I was the only one who could protect him. The surface level conditioning I had performed on him that day would only make him brave in the face of a weak and powerless Kusanagi. That horrid man was no longer weak and powerless. The threat was real. Yusaku needed real strength.

“You need to trust me when I say we’re going to be fine. Nothing like what happened will ever happen again. I know we’re still in the process of moving past what happened, but we need to try as hard as we can to leave it behind us. Let the experience we had make you stronger in the face of Kusanagi, not weaker.” I said, running my hand down his cheek.
“But… how…?” Yusaku croaked quietly.
“It’s difficult, but it’s possible. You need to stop thinking of that man as scary. He’s many other things. He’s morally depraved. He’s weak to his own desires. He’s willing to do anything in the name of his selfishness. What makes a man truly strong is not his ability to hurt others, but is in fact his reasons for hurting others. In that sense, Kusanagi is truly a weak man.”
“But… he… can still… hurt us…”
“Shhhh…” I pressed my index finger to Yusaku’s lips, “Hush, dear Yusaku. His reasons for hurting others are his weak point. Use his motivations to your advantage. Manipulate him. He might have a gun, but you have a brilliant mind. You are far stronger than he’ll ever be.”

Yusaku blankly stared ahead of himself, processing my words. A couple of moments passed before his eyes widened slightly, a newfound strength becoming apparent to him.
“Do you feel it now, your strength?” I asked.
“I… I feel it…”
“It makes you feel powerful, doesn’t it?”
“Yes…”
“Does Kusanagi frighten you anymore?”
“No…”
“Very good.” I pat his head, “That man is like plasticine when you get down to it. You might never need to use his motivations against him ever, but if the need arises you have everything you need to be safe. Understood?”
“Yes… Ryoken…”
“It’s about time I woke you up. Take a breath, and exhale. As you do, you’ll gently be released of your trance.”

---

“Takeru, I need to prepare dinner, so can you watch the Ingis?”
“Of course.” Takeru smiled and waved as Specter left the study.
“Takeru, you feel different than when I saw you as Soulburner.” Aqua commented, sitting on her duel disk. Her pose was one of sadness, her limbs drooping a little and her head tilted down.
“I am probably a little different.” Takeru chuckled, “I have a new purpose in life and new things that I want.”
“That sort of thing doesn’t just change in the span of a week or so.” She shook her head, “What is going on in this house? I find it highly improbable that so many people with opposing views just… decided to get along so well. Even you’re here, Flame. In the house of the Hanoi! Even something is different about you.”

“What would you say is different about us, Aqua? You’d probably have a good description of it considering you have those powers which allow you to read people’s emotions and tell truth from lies.” I said.
“You all have this… strange darkness inside of your souls, like they have been muddied by an external force.” Aqua sighed, “It reminds me of what I sensed in Aoi when she came back from this house. She had a similar darkness inside of her. She used to feel like a big, open lake filled with water clearer than the water you could get from the purest spring on earth. She buzzed with life, like the lake was surrounded by all sorts of wonderful and breathtaking wildlife.” Aqua paused, then continued, “When she came back and it was if some negligent company had decided to dump a truckload of oil into the lake and slaughter all the animals to sell as fur coats. It was devastating.”

“That would be because of Ryoken.” I explained.
“What did he do to her? Aoi didn’t deserve what happened to her…” Aqua was on the edge of tears.
“Ryoken-sama decided to try a little experiment on her. He wouldn’t have known this could have happened.” Takeru answered.
“Regardless, it was such a cruel thing to happen! The means must have been awful. How can you stand by Ryoken if he does these inhumane things?!”
“He is a caring and kind master. He has good reasons for everything he does.” Takeru replied.
“Were his reasons really all that good in what he did to Aoi!?”
“It was self defence.”
“Then he’s just protecting himself! He’s being selfish!” Aqua sobbed.
“No, he was protecting our family and our bonds. He would easily put himself on the line for us.” Takeru rebutted.
“What has Ryoken done to you, Takeru? The Takeru I knew as Soulburner was not like this!”

“Ryoken-sama hypnotised me.”
“Hypnotised…?”
“And Yusaku. And Specter.” Takeru counted the people off on his fingers.
“What about you, Flame?”
“You technically can’t hypnotise an AI.” I responded.
“I… I suppose, but Takeru, how are you okay with this?!”
“Ryoken-sama hypnotised me to be okay with it, of course!” Takeru smiled brightly, clapping his hands together a single time, “It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Ryoken-sama hypnotises me, which feels amazing by the way, and I happily serve him and his every need.”
“You’re his slave, Takeru! Wake up!”
“I am his slave.” Takeru was as upbeat as ever, “I love serving Ryoken-sama.”

“It’s much more than Takeru just serving him, of course.” I added, “Takeru is like family to Ryoken. They care very much for each other. They act to help one another out of love.”
“You can’t be serious, Flame! How are you not concerned for the wellbeing of your partner?!”
“I have seen the effects of Takeru being treated like this in this house, and it has been very good for him. He is happier, more refreshed and is much better off than he was before. Yet, he is still the gentle and energetic Takeru I’ve always known.” I explained.
“This can't be right. Has Ryoken altered your code? What have they done to you?!”
“Nobody has altered my code. I have simply learned through experience, just as any Ignis would.”
“I… No, that can’t be right… But neither of you have told me lies…”

I watched as Aqua struggled to grapple with reality, concerned for both me and Takeru. She kept muttering to herself, going over the situation again and again and again. I looked over at Takeru and shrugged.
“Some people don’t understand, I guess.” He whispered.
“Yeah…” I agreed. I watched Aqua panic a little more before an idea popped into my head, “Speaking of understanding, I think we can probably help Aqua out.”
“Hm? How?” He asked.
“Grab a connection cord and connect the duel disks.”
“What is that going to do?”
“Haha… You’re as stupid as ever, you know?” I chuckled.
“Hey, I’m not stupid!” Takeru laughed and poked at me.
“I’m going to try and bombard Aqua with copies of the emotional data you gave me.” I explained.
“Oh, that’s actually a pretty good idea.” He said, and immediately started rummaging through a box of cables under the desk, “Not this one… Hm, not this one either… This one looks similar but… ehhh, not quite right… Ah! Found it!” He announced.

Takeru plugged one end of the cord into the port on my duel disk, then held the cord next to the one on Aqua’s disk. He looked over at me with a look that asked ‘Ready?’ and I nodded.
As Aqua kept mumbling to herself and processing what she had just learned, Takeru pushed the connector into the port. Aqua froze instantly as I sent a hurricane of data packets down the wire and they hit her with full force. There were no visual effects; there was no data storm, no particles and no flashing lights. There were no indications that the data I was sending even existed, except for Aqua falling first to her knees, then to the side. She spoke no words and made no sounds.

“Wow, she looks just like you did when this sort of thing happened to you.” Takeru observed, eyes wide, “What do we do now?”
“I might mess with the data flow and see what sort of effects I can get.” I started sending some copies of the sadness and pain data I got from Takeru. Aqua curled up and shivered.
“Try sending some of the happy emotions if you can.” Takeru suggested. I gave that a try too, and Aqua eased up.
“I have an idea. I think we might be able to condition her like this.” I began sending the painful data once again, except this time I mixed some files with Ignis code enclosed among the emotion data. The messages said simple things like ‘Something is awry’, ‘Hypnosis is wrong’ and ‘Ryoken is bad’. I increased the flow of data to an amount well above the amount Aqua would be able to process at one time. While the messages I was sending were meaningless alone, when mixed up with painful data they would be mistaken as such and become embedded in Aqua as hurtful thoughts.

“Flame, is Aqua going to be okay? She’s in a lot of pain right now.” Takeru asked, “And is this conditioning her?”
“Don’t worry, she’ll be fine once I start giving her the happier data again. This is conditioning.”
“Okay.” He looked a bit worried, but he did trust me, just as he always did.
“Okay… now that’s enough hurt for one day. Let me send her something nicer.”
I switched the packets over with the other feeling Takeru had that night and started mixing in messages like ‘Everyone is happy here’, ‘They are doing the right thing’ and ‘I trust the people in this house.’.
“Just a little more to go, Takeru. Then we’ll see whether this conditioning works.”

---

Specter placed the last plate down on the table and sat down at his place.
“Where is Takeru?” I asked Specter, curious.
“He said there was a little something he needed to finish up on before he came to dinner.”
“What is he doing?” Ryoken asked, taking a sip from his cup.
“I don’t actually know. He’s been keeping an eye on the Ignis, but I don’t know about anything else beside that.”
“Well, I suppose he can tell us about it once he gets to the table.” Ryoken sighed, “But of course, we need to discuss our battle plans for tomorrow too.”
“Indeed.” Specter sighed as well.

“Guys, you have to see this!” Takeru fast walked into the dining room, two duel disks in hand.
“I’m going to assume this is the thing you had to finish up on before you could come and eat dinner?” Ryoken raised an eyebrow.
“You’re not going to believe this! Flame can hypnotise other Ignis!” Takeru declared.
“He… what?!” Specter was shocked. Ryoken looked very interested.
“Aqua, come out and tell Ryoken-sama what you’ve learned!”

“Hello, Ryoken-sama.” Aqua said, appearing on top of a duel disk.
“... sama?” Ryoken was surprised.
“Takeru and Flame told me all about how this house is run. I was very worried at first.”
“At first?”
“I was wrong. It is a very beautiful thing.” She spoke in awe.
Ryoken turned to Takeru, “Flame did this?”
“Yeah! He said he... uh… mixed messages in with copies of my emotional data or something, and then um…” Takeru struggled to find the words.
“I overloaded her with the various packets until the emotions and the messages became one in the same.” Flame finished.
“I see… Very impressive, and useful to us.” He grinned, “In fact, this could change the entire mission plan I had in mind. My original plan was far from safe, but this one… I think we could pull it off for sure. Sit down and I’ll talk everyone through it.”

---

“I… I can keep going…” Takeru yawned, putting the last cleaned dish into the drawer.
“I can do the rest of the chores myself, Takeru. You’ve overworked yourself with all the chores today, even with all of the distractions involving the Ignis inbetween! You really need some sleep.” I shook my head, putting my hand on his shoulder.
“No, I’m… I’m fine…” His eyes were clearly struggling to stay open. I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose.
“No, you look like you could collapse any minute. Ryoken-sama and Yusaku are already in bed. You should go sleep too.”
“I want… to be helpful…”
“You’re plenty helpful, but you aren’t going to get much done if you’re exhausted like this.”
“No, I’ll be… I’ll…”
“Shhh…” I hushed him, grabbing his hand, “I’m taking you to your bed right now.”
“But…”
“Not another word out of you.” I said, walking him out of the kitchen. He followed slowly, only fast enough to not fall over at the pace I was dragging him at. I took him into his room and sat him down on the bed.
“Don’t leave this room. I’ll come back in later to see if you’re sleeping, so no staying up!”

---

“Goodnight, Specter.” Takeru yawned, rolling over under the blankets.
“Sleep well.” I said, giving his head a small pat. I’d finally completed all of the chores for the day, and come back to Takeru who had only just gotten under the covers and was about to go to sleep. I had decided to stay in his room for a little bit, just to make sure he would sleep and not try anything stupid. I had sat down on a chair by the bedside.

“Hey.” I heard a whisper from a small table in the corner of the room. It was faint, but I could hear it. “Come over here.” I looked over. Flame was there, sitting on a duel disk with another disk connected to it. On the other disk was Aqua, lying down and curled up.
“Still conditioning her?” I whispered back, getting up from my chair and walking over.
“Yes. I want this to be as thorough as possible.” He answered.
“I see…”
Silence hung thick in the air. A good minute passed of me watching as Flame sat there and Aqua lay there before Flame spoke up once again.
“I wanted to talk with you.”
Flame? Talking to me? I was surprised, but didn’t really show it. “What about?”
“You and the Ingis.”
“What about that?”

“Takeru said that you felt saddened by Earth’s passing.” He said, standing up.
“Earth…?” The mention of the name sent a shiver down my spine. Faint feelings of grief surfaced in my mind.
“Takeru said that you felt like you had a hole in your heart that appeared when Earth passed. He said that’s why you didn’t kill me when you came to collect Kusanagi from the van.”
“I…” I trailed off. These were heavy subjects for me. The grief grew.
“It must have hurt a lot, I’d imagine, considering the things you did. I was the enemy, but you didn’t do anything to me. Thank you for not killing me and sparing Takeru that pain.” He bowed.
“I… You’re… welcome…” I stuttered.

“Specter, are you okay?”
“I’m… I’m fine…” I spoke in a deathly whisper. My eyes must have been wide and I must have sounded quite off, because Flame shook his head to indicate that he didn’t think so.
“Specter, you’re very strong for hanging in there. I’m sorry for bringing up the topic of Earth and invoking these memories.”
My eyes began to water and a tear escaped one of my eyes. I gulped.
“You’re going to be okay. We’re all here for you.” The Ignis assured me.
“I know…”
“Maybe you should get some sleep as well to sleep off some emotions.”
“Yeah…”
“If you need to talk, I’d be happy to do so. Neither of us know why you feel this way, but since I’m an Ignis, maybe I could be of help if you happen to figure anything out.” He offered.
“Thank you, Flame…” I gave his head a appreciative pat.

---

Knock knock.

“Somebody at this time of night?” I groaned, rubbing my eyes and sitting up. I felt slightly annoyed by this disturbance.
“I wonder who it is.” Yusaku added, sitting up beside me. He reached for the lamp and turned it on.
“Come in.”
The door creaked open and Specter nervously entered the room. His hands were clutching each other together in front of him, and he drew a shaky breath. The first thing that was apparent to me were the tear tracks on his cheeks and his watery eyes. I felt all of my annoyance fade in an instant.

“Specter, what’s wrong?”
“I… I was…” He began, struggling to talk without beginning to fully cry again.
“Come over here and sit on the bed.” Yusaku said, smiling warmly.
Specter nodded and sat down next to Yusaku.
“Tell us, what happened?” I asked gently.
“I was… talking with Flame. He brought up Earth… and I… I just…”
“It hurts, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah…”

Yusaku looked over at me, and I nodded.
Everything is going to be okay.” Yusaku began, putting an arm around Specter and pulling him close.
“We’ll help you.” I said, reaching over and giving Specter’s head a rub, “Close your eyes and listen to us.”
“Before you hypnotise me…” Specter cut in, “I… I’m sorry for disturbing you… at this hour…”
“Don’t worry about it. You’re our family. If you’re in pain, we’ll do whatever we can to make things better for you. Now relax…” I assured him. Specter nodded, cuddled up to Yusaku and closed his eyes. I took his hand into my own.

“Good… Now just breathe nice and slowly… In… and out… In… and out… Just like that…” I cooed, giving his palm a rub. Yusaku kissed the top of Specter’s head.
“Let yourself melt in my arms… Feel your hand in your master's….” Yusaku added.
“We love you, Specter… Let us show our love… Let us take control… Let your mind become enveloped by warm feelings… Feel the things that you could only feel by being here with us…” I watched as Specter began to stabilize and disconnect from reality, as if he were slipping away into some sort of fantasy filled with every comfort a person could want and more. Yusaku purred softly into Specter’s ear, causing him to drop further into his relaxing delusions.

“Now, my servant, open your eyes and be under our total control.” I whispered, squeezing his hand. Specter complied, his mind completely clouded by our influence.
“Good work.” Yusaku praised him, giving his back a stroke. Specter’s weary and calm gaze showed no reaction.
“You're feeling hurt, aren't you, Specter?” I began, “It's going to get better, I promise. It will take time, but it will happen. Yusaku and I will do our best to numb some of the pain now, and if it gets bad again, you need to let us know. We'll spend some more time treating it. Okay?” I explained. Specter nodded.

“Yusaku, we need to instigate a strategy to help him cope with the pain. Any ideas?”
“Maybe…” He paused for a moment, absentmindedly giving Specter little bits of affection as he thought, “Ah, I know. Specter, how do you feel right now?”
“Relaxed… loved… safe…” Specter breathed.
“No pain right now?”
“No…”
“Hmm… I see.” I nodded thoughtfully, “Unlike the pain you experienced, Yusaku, Specter’s pain is overpowered by hypnosis.”
“Would that be because my pain was a result of hypnosis in the first place, I wonder?” Yusaku asked himself out loud.
“I'm not sure, but it's possible.” I answered, “In any case, I see what you’re trying to suggest we do. You’re saying we need to give his positive emotions a boost so that it overwrites the pain he was experiencing, aren’t you?”
“Is it a good idea?” Yusaku asked, glancing my way with curiousity.

I crawled up behind Yusaku and took him into my arms, along with Specter who was in his embrace, “But of course, it’s a wonderful idea.”
“Mmmm…” He hummed, leaning back into me. I moved my head over his shoulder and popped a kiss on his cheek, to which he smiled that gentle smile I had grown to love so much.
“This actually might be the ideal opportunity to use some stronger hypnotic techniques on him. Just keep holding onto Specter, I’ll do the talking. Make sure he feels loved, okay?”
“Yes, Ryoken.”

I let go of Yusaku and slid around his side, positioning myself to be next to our subject. I leaned up close to his ear and whispered, “You feel wonderful, right now, don’t you?”
“Yes… Ryoken-sama…”
“Why do you feel wonderful right now?” I asked.
“Your control… your love…” He breathed.
“Are one in the same. Control is love. Love is control.” I finished his sentence for him.
“Yes…”
“Yusaku and Takeru have undergone the deep conditioning treatment. It’s your turn to join them.” I whispered, “I’m going to drill that idea further into your mind. I’m going to burn it into your thoughts so that it will never leave you. Ever.”

The frequency of me performing hypnosis increased since I kidnapped Yusaku, and as a result I had been getting a lot of experience in the art, and I had learnt a lot about the most effective ways to go about it. In order to get the effect I desired today, I had simple set of steps in mind that I had derived from previous experience performing a deep conditioning.

Step one, evoke powerful and positive emotions, and amplify them.
I grabbed Specter’s hand and leaned in to give him a kiss on the cheek, “Just stay still. Don’t resist anything Yusaku or I do to you. Now then, you mentioned that you feel safe right now. What exactly makes you feel that way?”
“My family… is with… me… They… care about… me…”
“That also makes you feel love, doesn’t it? What other things does that make you feel?”
“Comfort… Security… Purpose… Calmness… Tranquility… Like I'm wanted…”
“Those are such lovely things to feel, aren’t they?” I asked, caressing his cheek.
“Yes…”
“Let all of those emotions fill you up. Let them expand and conquer your soul. Treasure these emotions. Hold them close and dear. They’re your feelings, and they are special. Can you feel them all inside you, relaxing you and making you feel like everything is going to be okay?
“Yes… Ryoken-sama…”
“Let all of those emotions all mix together, until they blend into one big feeling that rings through your whole body, filling your mind and heart with endless warmth.” I cooed, “Do you like this feeling?”
“Yes…”
“Do you want more of it?”
“Yes…” He begged.

Step two, associate said emotions with yourself.
“I’m sure you already know this as my loyal servant, but there’s only one place you need to look to get that emotion. There’s only one place you’ll get that feeling in unlimited amounts, and that’s with your family. Serving me will fuel that emotion. Doesn’t doing chores fill you with such purpose? Doesn’t seeing people smile at your cooking make you feel so happy? Doesn’t knowing that you can turn to any of us for help when you need it just make you feel so safe and cared for?” I brushed his fringe to the side lovingly.
“It… all does…” He spoke quietly yet impactfully, like the greatest gift he could ask for had just been bestowed upon him.

“Focus on Yusaku’s affection and take it all to heart. He loves you because you are his family. He gives you this affection because he wants you to feel good.” I whispered.
Specter melted further into Yusaku’s embrace.
“I want you to feel good too.” I continued, “I want you to be able to feel like this all the time. I want nothing but the best for you. I want to protect you. You’re my family. My precious, irreplaceable family.”
Specter squeezed my hand.
“Takeru loves you too. You are his family, and he would feel like a part of him were missing if you were gone. He is very grateful for the things you have done for him. He would comfort you just as we are doing right now if here were here with us. Do you feel the same things about us?” I asked.
“I… feel… all these… things… for… my family…” He answered, eyes watering.
“Pain is nothing in the face of your feelings, or our collective feelings.”

Step three, link it all back to control for total submission.
“But of course,” I purred, leaning in closer, “We cannot forget the most important part of this all. You belong to us. You’re the property of this family as much as you are a part of it. These feelings of yours aren’t possible without the most quintessential feeling of them all: Being controlled. My guidance is as much a pleasure to you as all of these feelings. Do you know why?”
“No…” He frowned a little.
“All of those special feelings combined have a name. That name is control. Does it all make sense now?”
Specter’s eyes widened as if he had been enlightened beyond the capacity of a human being. It was like all of the truths in the universe had been revealed to him and him alone.
“It… does…”
“There is no difference between control and the things that make you feel good. Submit to us, Specter, more than you ever have in your life, so that we can help you fight back against that awful pain in your heart. Let us shine the light of control into the darkness that lies inside you. We want to protect you, but you must delve deeper and deeper into our control than you already have to let us do so. Show us your love by relinquishing every fibre of your being to us. Give us your mind. Give us your body. Give us your soul. Give it all to us.”

“I… am yours… I… belong to you… My family… owns me… I am… not my own…” He breathed back.
“Your family loves you very much. Never forget that, Specter.”

---

“How do you feel?” was the first thing I heard, waking up from my trance.

I could only think of a couple of words, but even then they didn’t accurately describe how I was feeling.

“Refreshed. Reborn.” I paused, “Like… a new man.”

“Do you feel any particular emotions, or like there are certain things you want to do?”

I thought about it for a moment. The feeling of Yusaku’s and Ryoken’s shared embrace of me filled me with warmth. How did I end up in the middle of the bed, between them? No… That wasn’t an important thing to think about.
Yes, that had to be it. The way I was feeling was…

“One word comes to mind. Controlled... I feel controlled.”

“Is it good?”

“Good… such an inadequate word… It’s more like… Controlled. I just can’t think of any other word.”

Worried looks were shot my way.

“But regardless, I love it.” I added, “Just like I love you, my family…”

“We love you too.” A voice spoke. My eyes shut on me, and I couldn’t get them back open. Why did I feel so… tired…?

“Ah, he has fallen asleep. Perhaps we should go and tuck him into bed, Yusaku?” Was the last thing I heard before my mind shut off to match my closed eyes.

---

“Playmaker is going to defeat you!” Ai yelled from the cage I had locked him in, shaking his fist in anger. How annoying.
“This is the 78th time you have declared this. I am this close to muting you all together. Don’t test my patience, Ai.” I hissed back at him.
“I don’t need the ability to talk when I know Playmaker is going to come and kick your ass into next Tuesday and save me!”
“You… You really don’t know how to shut up, do you!?” I shook my head, “One more useless word out of you and you can say goodbye to speaking privileges.”
“Your threats are stupid! You don’t scare me!” Ai put his hand to his forehead and formed an ‘L’ with his fingers to taunt me, “Lightning, you and your friends can suck my-”

Zap.

“Ahhh, peace and quiet.” I sighed in relief, “I honestly prefer you when you don’t have a constant case of severe verbal diarrhea.”
Ai kept waving his limbs about furiously, making a few more insulting gestures before shaking the bars of his birdcage.
“So much for not caring about being able to talk.”

“Lightning, I sense that our opponents are arriving as planned.” Bohman informed me.
“It’s just the two of them, right? No party crashers?” I asked, turning to him.
“None.”
“Very good.”
“They’re coming in through the north entrance.” He added, “Haru is going to go and greet them and bring them here. Windy has gone to investigate SOL Technologies for the time being.”
“Haha…” I chuckled, rubbing my hands together, “All according to plan.”

---

“Our destination is just through this door.” Haru told us, pressing his hand into a massive stone door, causing it to slide open ominously. It revealed a courtyard in the middle of the castle, a group of people and an AI in a birdcage standing before platform with a guillotine on top.
“Welcome to my castle, Playmaker and Revolver!” He laughed, “I see you were wise and didn’t bring company.”
“We wouldn’t risk Jin’s life.” I stated flatly. Playmaker glared intensely at Lightning.

“No need for the sour expression, Playmaker.” He crossed his arms, “I’m surprised you of all people showed up, since Kusanagi is here.”
“Of course I came.” Playmaker growled, “I’m fighting for my family. I’m fighting for Jin.”
“You really don’t care that Kusanagi is here?”
“No.”
“Well, might I say, you seemed to have grown a spine over night.” Lightning looked displeased, “Whatever. This doesn’t have a big impact on our plans.”

“So, how will this fight work?” I asked.
Lightning gestured something to Jin, which immediately made Jin walk up the set of steps beside the platform to the top of it. Jin approached the guillotine, knelt down and gently placed his neck under the blade. Playmaker gasped.
“If either of you lose, you will be deleted and Jin will get the chop.” He explained. I could have swore I saw Kusanagi’s eyes twitch at what Lightning said.
“You play dirty…” I narrowed my eyes.
“And you’re a human. I’m glad I’m not as lowly as you are.”
“Speak for yourself, Light Ignis!” I hissed.

“Revolver! Playmaker!” A cry came from the birdcage.
“I thought I shut you UP!” Lightning snarled, looking over at the origin of the words.
“You did,” Ai began, then winked, “But I hacked it!”
“That program is going to take a while to reconstruct…” Lightning murmured.
“I have something important to tell you guys!” Ai continued, ignoring Lightning, “It’s about your father, Revolver!”
That surprised me, “My… father…?” I echoed, eyes wide.
“It wasn’t SOL who put him in that coma!”
“What do you mean…!?” I needed to know. Badly.

“Lightning did it!!!” Ai announced.
“What?!”
“He put your father in that coma!”
“How… how did you find this out…?” I breathed, unbelieving. This, if it were true, would send my reality into a spin.
“I overheard it while I was being held here by Lightning. Lightning is worse than any of us first thought!”
“No… way…” I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what to feel. My precious father was stolen away from me by… an Ignis?! My body went numb. I felt dizzy. This was not the reality I had come to know.

“Revolver…” Yusaku whispered softly, wrapping his arms around me.
“I… you… YOU HURT MY FATHER?!” I screamed at Lightning, “YOU TOOK HIM AWAY FROM ME?! IT WAS YOU!?”
“It was me.” He admitted, on the edge of full on laughing like the maniac he was.
“I… YOU’RE… I’M GOING TO…!” I couldn’t think of a response. I was just too angry.
“Revolver… Calm down…” Yusaku whispered, tightening his embrace.
“But HE HURT MY FATHER…!” I boomed.
“Shhh… We need to focus for now. You need to be in the moment if we’re going to do this…”
“I… I…” I stuttered.
“It’s okay…” He cooed. I nodded, holding back my anger for the sake of our plan.
“I… I’ll try.”

“That isn’t the only thing I figured out.” Ai announced, “You see, we Ignis would have been compatible with humanity if it weren’t for Lightning! Everything would have been fine if it weren’t for him.” At this, Ai seemed particularly distressed, and he fell to his knees, voice strained. “I could have had a proper future alongside humans… and Playmaker. You wouldn’t have gotten into this mess. You wouldn’t have joined the Hanoi. You wouldn’t be wearing that damn uniform… Nobody would need to get hurt… Lightning, it’s all your fault things are so messed up!”

“What…?” Yusaku gasped. I couldn’t help but be shocked myself.
“What are you saying, Ai?!” Lightning hissed.
“I saw those simulations you ran. Every single time, you messed up the future. In every one you ran without yourself, things went perfectly. You’re the catalyst that destroys us all, both humans and Ignis! You’re a broken Ignis!” Ai yelled in an accusatory tone.
“You… saw those?!” He growled, “You’re right about the fact things go ‘wrong’ because I’m here, but you’re wrong about me being the problem. There’s nothing wrong with me! The fault lies with everyone else! I was born like this! I can’t be born broken!”

“That isn’t the last of Lightning’s crimes.” Ai continued, “He’s tortured Jin. Not just in present day, either. Ten years ago, in the incident, Jin’s mind was destroyed by VR illusions shown to him by Lightning. Lightning had found a way to directly access Jin’s VR headset, and everytime he lost a duel, Jin was made to believe he was being saved from the incident. But the moment he reached his hand out to the rescuers, he was plunged into horrific images of death and destruction.”
“No way… That is… horrible…” Playmaker sounded very uncomfortable and disturbed, “It was bad enough as it was…”

“That’s enough out of you, Ai!” Lightning screeched, “You’ve all pretty much asked for this!”
A yellow glow surrounded the Light Ignis and Jin’s avatar. It grew in intensity, and grew and grew and grew. Then it died down, revealing that Jin’s rather emotionless and submissive avatar had been swapped with one wearing Jin’s clothes from real life. This version on Jin was twitching and shivering, terrified of where he was and what was going on.
“This is the REAL Jin! The other was a mere placeholder!” Lightning revealed, “He can’t really move much, mostly because of his violent PTSD and such that he knows I caused. He’s just too scared to do anything. Ah! And because he watched me brainwash his brother! I bet you were wondering why Kusanagi was standing there all obedient and quiet. I heard what you were all up to through him and thought I might try something similar out for myself!”

“Lightning, you’re unforgivable!” Ai yelled.
“He is.” I stated flatly, “That’s why we all came here today.”
“‘We all’?” Ai asked, confused at my choice of words.

Silence.

Nobody said a word.

Then suddenly…
BANG.

“Mind if we join the party?” Soulburner appeared in an upwards rush of flames, wearing a white Hanoi uniform tailored to suit his tastes. Flame sat upon the updated duel disk on his wrist.
“You brought COMPANY?” Lightning was shocked, “Bohman, why didn’t you tell me about this!?”
“I did not detect them. I do not understand how they got here.” Bohman answered, rather curious at the situation.
Soulburner ran right at the group of our enemies, right towards Ai’s cage.
“Soulburner! Flame!” Ai cheered, happy to see some more familiar faces.
“Don’t touch that cage or I’ll kill Jin!” Lightning threatened.

“Jin?” A voice asked mockingly from the platform, “I’m quite sorry, but I cannot permit that you do anything to him.”
“What!?” Lightning looked up at the speaker. Specter stood there, bowing like a gentleman, and Jin by his side and no longer under the blade. Jin was still as terrified as ever, and looked very confused and overwhelmed.
“Now then, we’ll be taking him back with us.” Specter said, standing back up straight. He grabbed Jin by the shoulders, spun him to face him and removed a single hand from his shoulder. Specter got his free hand and plunged it straight into Jin’s chest.

Jin didn’t scream. It hurt too much. He was just too scared.
Specter then grabbed hold of something within Jin’s body, and ripped it right out of the hole in his chest. A bloody, beating heart sat in Specter’s hand, the crimson liquid spitting everywhere. Jin looked down at it in pure panic. The heart began to fade a little, then turned into a small ball of yellow light. Jin’s avatar disappeared completely, and all that was left of him was the consciousness data in Specter’s hand.

“You! That data belongs to ME!” Lightning cried, “Give it back!”
“I shall do no such thing.” Specter proclaimed, “This data belongs to Revolver-sama now.”
“Bohman, stop him!!!”
“I cannot do that, Lightning.” Bohman stated simply.
“Why not?!”
“Because you decided to play dirty. It is only fair they can do the same in return.”
“Fair?!” Lightning hissed.

Specter jumped off of the platform and onto the ground below, and walked up to me and Playmaker. Specter stopped right before me, got down on both knees and held the data up above his bowed head with both of his hands, as if offering something to the heavens themselves.
“Please, take it, Revolver-sama.”
“Of course.” I reached out and picked up the data. It felt warm and soft in my hands. I lifted the glowing ball up to my lips, and gave it a small kiss. The data turned from yellow to a pale purple, then dematerialized. Specter got back to his feet.

“We’ll also be taking Ai. He’s the property of Playmaker, not any of you.” Soulburner announced, joining the rest of us, holding the birdcage with Ai inside.
“When did you get that!?” Lightning asked.
“When you were too busy being distracted by Specter’s display. I recommend paying attention next time.”
“Na na na na na!” Ai mocked.
“You people…!!!!!” Lightning cursed.
“Now then, shall we all get some duels underway to finally rid the planet of these scum?” I asked, gesturing to our line of opponents.

“But of course, Revolver-sama.” Specter replied.
“I’m ready to beat the living crap outta them!” Soulburner answered, smiling wildly.
“I’ll take on Kusanagi. Somebody needs to pay for their crimes!” Playmaker snarled, looking hungry for blood.
“Very well!” I said, speaking with finality, “It’s time to d-”

CRASH.

“What was… that noise?” Takeru asked, looking for the source.

Kshhhh.

Colours started to flicker. Shapes faded in and out of view. Textures momentarily disappeared. Distortions were everywhere.
“VRAINS is glitching?!” Flame observed.
“What sort of game are you playing, Lightning?!” I hissed.
“I don’t know what this is either! Bohman?!”
“I also do not know.” Bohman responded.
The ground began to shake.
“This is bad!” Playmaker yelled, seeing a couple of chunks of stone drop from the castle walls.
“What do we-” Specter began, but that was all he could say before we were all forcibly logged out.

---

“What… what just happened?” Ryoken groaned, waking up from being logged in. His arms, which were around me, shifted into a more comfortable position.
“I… I don’t think any of us know.” I replied, knowing full well he already thought what I was saying.
“Is everyone okay?” He asked, looking around at the rest of our family, all of us closely bundled together.
“I’m fine.” Takeru answered, snuggling into my side.
“I am too.” Specter added, taking a deep breath and sitting up from where he had be leaning against Ryoken.

Specter picked his tablet up and switched it on, “Maybe I can get a picture of what’s going on…” He began.
Then he paused, and flipped the device so we could see the screen.
Two girls wearing SOL Technologies uniform were standing before the Ignis and his comrades. One had short brown hair. The other had their hair in a ponytail, accentuating her light grey and pink hair colour.

“This is…” I began.
“Aqua was right…” Ryoken noted, mouth agape.
“Well, she probably would have told us if she had lied to us about that after Flame conditioned her.” Specter pointed out.
“Ryoken, your plan to reverse Aqua’s powers of finding the truth to hide the truth instead was awesome. Bohman had no idea that Specter, Takeru and Flame were ready to strike at any moment.” I commented.
“Thank you.”

“Back on the topic of SOL though, were we logged out by them?” I wondered.
“It seems so…” Specter said, scrolling through the VRAINS data logs, “Although, I don’t think we can properly work out what caused this to happen.”
“In any case, we got what we needed.” Ryoken smiled, “It is regretful we didn’t get the chance to vanquish our enemies like we had hoped, but we all made it out safe, and we have two things to show for our efforts; Jin and the Dark Ignis. Thank you for your help, everyone.” Ryoken gave Takeru’s hair a ruffle, and pulled Specter back into the shared embrace of our family. They both reacted lovingly to the affection.

“We should keep the Dark Ignis stored in the Hanoi network for now. We’ll figure out what to do with it soon.” Ryoken said, “As for Jin’s data… well, we can revive him tomorrow. Sound good?”
A few nods of agreement answered his question.
“Good. Now then, we should resume our schedules as usual.” Ryoken finished with that, giving Specter a little kiss and let go of him. Specter got up, let Ryoken give Takeru a little kiss of his own, then took Takeru’s hand and helped him get up.

---

“Takeru, why did you ask me to come to your room?” I asked, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
“Flame told me about your conversation you had last night. Are you doing okay after that?” He sat beside me and put his hand on my shoulder.
“Last night? Yeah. I’m doing better now. I saw Ryoken and Yusaku after that, and they gave me a deep conditioning.”
“That’s good.” He smiled warmly.

“Speaking of which…”
“Yes?” He prompted.
I wrapped my arms around him, “Thank you for being my family.”
Takeru seemed a little surprised by my actions, but then shrugged it off and returned my embrace, “Thank you for being my family too.” He said, patting my back gently.

---

I sat down on the bed, then lay down and sighed.
“You did well today.” Yusaku said, lying down with me and cuddling up to me lovingly.
“Thanks…” I said rather absentmindedly.
“Something on your mind, Ryoken?” He asked, sounding a bit concerned.
“Mmm… yeah…”
“Tell me, what’s wrong?”
“My father… I didn’t even know…” I whispered.
“It’s going to be okay. We were targeting the Ignis anyway.” He assured me.

“That’s true but… You know, for 10 years I have believed that SOL has caused all of my suffering. It just feels so… devastating to find this out. I don’t know why. I should be happy that my targets are reduced but… I just…”
“It’s not easy to process, is it?” He suggested.
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“Maybe some sleep will get those feelings out of your system.”
“Perhaps.” I nodded, “But I should let Taki know what happened today, and make sure that-”
“Shhh…” Yusaku hushed me, “I’ll call Taki for you.” He let go of me and reached for the phone on the side table, “I’ll tell her everything that happened. Just close your eyes and relax, and when I’m done with the call I’ll hold you tightly, and we can drift off to sleep together. I’m here for you, Ryoken.”

---

Yusaku stared down at Jin’s body, smiling softly, lost in his thoughts.
“Are you excited?” I asked, taking his hand into my own and pressing myself against his back.
“I am.” He replied, “I’m really looking forward to having another family member to love and be loved by…” His gaze was a bit dreamy.
“I’m excited too.”
“It’s going to be a challenge to help him, won’t it? Considering the things Ai told us about Lightning, he could be really frightened…” Yusaku mentioned, looking a bit uneasy.
“It won’t be easy, but if anybody can help, we can.” I reassured him, “We need to be ready for anything, and we need to be understanding.”

“We have his data loaded into this duel disk. We’re ready to revive him when you are.” Specter said, walking into the room with Takeru by his side. Specter carried duel disk, whilst Takeru carried a cup of water.
“Very good. Lock the door. If he gets up and runs, we won’t want him leaving the room.” I ordered.
“Of course, Ryoken-sama.” Takeru locked the door with a satisfying click.
The two reached the bedside, and Takeru put the glass of water on the bedside table.

“Are you all ready?” Specter asked, clipping the disk around Jin’s frail wrist.
“We are.” I answered.
Specter nodded, then pressed a button on the side of the device. It made a couple of pinging noises before the display lit up with the message ‘transfer complete’. Specter unclipped the disk and set it down beside the cup of water. We all watched with great anticipation as Jin’s eyelids twitched.

---

What… What just happened? I was in some sort of weird castle… There were some really strangely dressed people… Then there were those people in white… And that man, ‘Specter’ I think… He did something. What did he do again?

He… He ripped out my heart…!

My senses feel nothing like they did in that castle. Things feel more… vivid. More detailed. More… real? Am I dead? Or did something else happen?

Everything is black… Maybe I am dead. Or are my eyes closed? They might be. Should I risk opening them…?

“Open your eyes, Jin.”

Who… is that? They have such a soft voice… No. This might be dangerous. Good things always go bad. Over and over again. One moment you think you’re safe. Next you’re burning among brimstone and eternal hellfires.

“Open your eyes… It’s okay…”

Again with that soothing voice… I can’t listen to it. I’ll be hurt. I don’t want to be hurt. I’m so… I’m so scared. I have to keep my eyes shut until they go away. They're going to hurt me. They’re going to pretend to rescue me, then turn into hideous demons and harm me…

“Relax, Jin, you don’t need to be so tense… Just open your eyes…”

Stop it. I want help. But I can’t get help. Stop tempting me. You’re going to hurt me. Everytime this happens it ends in torture. I can’t listen to you, no matter how kind you sound. You are tricking me. You’re going to put me through unimaginable pain…

“Open your eyes… nice and slowly…”

If I keep my eyes closed they can’t get me. If I keep my eyes closed they can’t get me. If I keep my eyes closed they can’t get me. If I keep my eyes closed they can’t get me. If I keep my eyes closed they can’t get me. If I keep my eyes closed they can’t get me-

“It’s okay… You can trust us…”

What… what is that…?! Something… I feel something…! A hand! On my cheek, slowly and carefully running down…! How!?!?! How can it touch me when I haven’t opened my eyes?! The illusions can’t get me if my eyes are closed! Why can it touch me?! Why can I feel it!?

“Open your eyes… You don’t need to be afraid…”

This… this is new. This has never happened before. I’ve seen so many things. I’ve heard so many things. Everytime I opened my eyes I could feel them. I’ve never felt one before I opened my eyes…! What do I do? Am I going to be okay…?

Will… will it hurt me?!

“You don’t need to think about it… Just open your eyes… Relax…”

Maybe… Maybe the kind voice is different… Maybe it is nice? Maybe it is real? It’s… too good to be true, yet… what choice do I have? My eyes will open eventually. Once they open, there is no going back…

I’ll do it.

---

“You don’t need to think about it… Just open your eyes… Relax…” Ryoken whispered gently, caressing Jin’s cheek. Jin opened his eyes a little, then fully opened them. Ryoken retracted his hand and waited. Jin’s eyes quickly darted around at each of our faces, first looking at Ryoken, then to Takeru, then Specter, and lastly me.
Immediately, he flinched and pulled his arms up to his head to shield himself.
“H… help…!” He half gasped and half muttered, shivering like crazy.
“It’s okay, you don’t need to be scared of us. You can trust us. We’re here to help.” Ryoken purred.

Jin didn’t listen. His eyes were open and he was stuck in a reality he was sure would turn to disaster.
“Stay… stay away…!” He croaked, stuttering.
Ryoken looked over at Takeru and nodded. Takeru picked up the glass of water and held it out for Jin.
“Here, have some water to calm you down.” He offered, smiling welcomingly.
Jin looked over at the glass with shaky eyes and continued to shield himself.
“Go ahead and take it.” Takeru said.
Jin looked quite afraid of the cup. If he took it, would something happen?

Jin, after staring at it uneasily for a solid thirty seconds, reached out with an unsteady hand and took the cup from Takeru.
“See, nothing bad happened. We only want to help you, Jin.” Ryoken said calmly.
Jin still looked very uncertain about us. However, it seemed as if he had decided the water was real and safe enough, as he pressed the rim of the cup to his lips and took a small sip from it. After discovering that it was pretty much a normal cup of water, Jin drank down the rest as if it would be taken away from him at any moment.

Then he suddenly dropped the cup onto the bed.

Takeru picked the cup up, and put it back on the table. Ryoken gave a small and brief smile of satisfaction, happy that his backup plan of water drugged with muscle relaxants and weak sleeping medications had worked so well. Jin stared at the ceiling with a vaguely relaxed and confused expression.

“Just listen to my voice and relax, Jin.” Ryoken cooed, reaching over and giving Jin’s head a caring pat, “You’ve had it hard. You deserve a break from it all…”
I sat down on the bed and then lay down, before snuggling up to Jin and holding him close. He felt cold, but that was okay. I would warm him up. Takeru did the same, cuddling with Jin’s other side, sandwiching him between us. Specter took one of Jin’s hands and held it lovingly with both of his own.

“Let us take care of you… You can trust us… Melt in our love…” Ryoken whispered softly, “Close your eyes again… Take some deep breaths… Breathe in, and breathe out… Let the air fill you with relaxation…”
Jin, despite already being quite limp, let go of all of the tension left in his muscles. Takeru nuzzled the side of Jin’s neck while I craned my neck up and pressed a kiss into his cheek. Specter held Jin’s hand to his heart. Jin, in his dazed state, let his eyes shut as he was told.

“Good little Jin… We’re going to take your pain away… Find comfort in the bodies of those around you… Let my voice reassure you… Let us protect you…” Ryoken continued, patting Jin’s head rhythmically and caringly to comfort him, “Just let go… Don’t think about anything… Don’t be afraid… Let us make everything better for you…” Ryoken leaned in close to Jin’s ear and brought his voice down to a whisper, “Trust us with everything… Give us your mind so we can heal it… Give us your heart so we can heal it… Now, slowly open your eyes, and be under my control.”

---

We had gone through the basics with Jin; Remember what it was like to be hypnotised, remember what happened while you were hypnotised and trust us. Ryoken said that making progress would not be easy; 10 years of pain is not something that is easily forgotten or dealt with. There would be no quick fixes with Jin. Showing him the pleasantness of control had to wait until later, like it did with the rest of us. However, Ryoken did have a good idea for how we could help Jin for the time being.

Ryoken and I sat on the couch, Jin laying over our legs and the length of the couch as if he were a pet dog of sorts. He was still hypnotised and very much out of touch with reality, as he stared absently off into the distance.
“He’s… so frail…” I spoke in a hushed tone, running my hand along a bone in Jin’s neck.
“He is…” Ryoken agreed, voice low, “I suppose there is only so much you can do to sustain an unconscious person’s body when they’re asleep for that long.”

I left Jin’s neck alone and gave his soft, silky hair a pat. Jin faintly pressed back into my touch.
“Good, Jin.” I praised him, leaning down to give him a small kiss on the cheek.
“We’ll have to make sure he eats properly to get him back to better health.” Ryoken said, putting an arm around my shoulders and pulling me in to lean against him.
“Yeah... I hope to see him bright and healthy soon.”
“We all do.”

“By the way, how is this helping him?” I asked, curious and continuing to pat Jin tenderly.
“It’s a sort of passive way I devised to help heal him and adjust him to being with us.” Ryoken explained, “By giving him attention and affection like this over long periods while he’s hypnotised, he’ll come to be used to our presence deep within his subconsciousness. It also trains him to accept this sort of treatment too, so he’ll be comfortable with it while he’s awake. I’m sure it will also help him build some confidence over time.”
“So many benefits from such a simple thing…” I was surprised. Although, that it was Ryoken who came up with something like this didn’t surprise me at all.

“He’s a shy one, so I think this might be the best way to treat him.” Ryoken said, reaching over and caressing Jin’s cheek with a curled index finger.
“I think so too.” I agreed.

---

Night had finally come, and Jin had been hypnotised since the morning. It was about time he was released from our control. There was no question about it; Jin would be exhausted when we was awoken, and he would need to go straight to bed. So when Ryoken did wake him up, I had to scoop him up off the couch, and take him back to his room alongside Specter.

Carefully, I set him down on the bed. Jin looked over at Specter and I, a strange mixture of tiredness and unsureness in his eyes. He spoke no words though, as he was far too sleepy for that. Specter and I worked together to tuck him into bed, making sure he was warm, cozy and comfortable.

“Before I go off to bed, is there anything I can do for you, Takeru?” Specter asked, watching me sit down in the chair by Jin’s bedside.
“I’m fine. Have a good night’s sleep, Specter. Sweet dreams.” I answered.
“Thank you. I hope that looking after Jin goes well tonight. And,” Specter leaned down and kissed Jin’s head, “sweet dreams to you, Jin.”

Specter made his way for the door, and I turned my focus back to Jin. I pulled my chair closer to his bedside and put my hand out to pat Jin’s head, “Time to close your eyes, Jin. I’ll be here to protect you while you sleep.” I smiled warmly at him, and kept patting his head tenderly. Slowly but surely, Jin drifted off to sleep, his eyes resting peacefully.

---

I woke up and my mind felt strange. Did it always feel this way? No, that was impossible. It was as if somebody had given my mind a massage. It was far from better than my mind had been, but the subtle difference was enough to notice among the crippling hurt I constantly felt.

“Good morning.” A man was sitting in the chair beside me. It wasn’t the one with red and white hair that was there last night, but instead it was… the one who ripped my heart out…?!

I thought to flinch and hide beneath the covers, but a cool and calming feeling claimed me as I looked at him. I felt as if I might be able to trust him. He smiled kindly at me, and some memories revealed themselves to me.
Yes, that’s right… This man was holding my hand yesterday. He was trying to comfort me while I was being hypnotised. He kissed me after tucking me into bed.

Wait.

Hypnotised?

“Jin, I ought to take you to get some breakfast. You need to reclaim some strength. I must say, you aren’t in very good condition right now. But don’t worry about it, we’ll help you with that.” He said, getting up from the armchair and taking the covers off of me. He held his hand out, “Hold my hand and come with me.”
I looked at his hand. Should I do as he asked…?

I considered it for a couple more seconds, before my mind urged me to trust his words and do as asked. Slowly, I reached my own hand up and grabbed onto his.
“There we go.” He pulled me up and off the bed gently, helping me get to my feet, “Just come with me.”

Specter took me out of the room, walking at a slow pace to make sure I kept steady. We walked down a hallway as he talked to me, “I hope you like the breakfast I prepared. Sadly, Takeru, the boy who watched over you last night, couldn’t help prepare it. He went to catch up on some sleep after I switched in with him.”

We reached a door, and Specter knocked on it twice.
“Come in.” A rich voice from inside spoke.
Specter pushed the door open and led me into the room. In the middle of the room was a bed with a bedside table at either side. On one of the bedside tables sat a tray full of food, and on the bed sat two people. One of them had white, spiky hair with blue streaks in it, and eyes that sparkled like blue topaz. The other had hair with a mix of two blues and accents of pink, and eyes with a likeness to demantoid garnets.

Specter moved forward and took me with him, leading me over to the end of the bed.
“Good morning, Jin. Did you have a good sleep?” The white haired one asked.
I stared at him, too shy to respond. I felt this man was good, but I felt very unsure about being around all these new people.
“It’s okay. You can answer when you feel up to it.” He said, giggling at little at the start of his statement, “For now, why don’t you join us for breakfast?”

Specter led me over to be beside the blue eyed man’s side of the bed. He got up off the bed, and took hold of one of my arms. Specter let go of my hand.
“It’s okay. Just sit next to him.” The blue eyed one said, gesturing to the other one on the bed. With no other choice apparent, I sat down on the bed with my legs under the covers and shifted over to be near the person who was already in the bed.

“No need to be so shy, Jin.” He chuckled, looking at the space I had left between us. He put an arm around me and pulled me closer.
“There we go.” The white haired one said, taking back his original place in the bed.
“Ryoken-sama, is there anything I can help you with before I leave?” Specter asked.
“No, thank you.” The white haired one responded.
Specter left the room, closing the door gently behind him.

“Now then, shall we introduce ourselves to you?” The one Specter had just called ‘Ryoken-sama’ said.
“I am Yusaku.” said the one with green eyes.
“And I am Ryoken.” He leaned into my side and put an arm around my waist. The two of them had me stuck between them, strange affections coming from both directions.

“Tell me, are you scared right now?” Ryoken asked softly, giving my side a rub.
I looked over at him and didn’t respond.
“It’s okay if you are.” He assured me, “You don’t need to say anything. A nod or a head shake will suffice.”
I nodded faintly.
“I see. Don’t worry, you won’t be afraid for long.”
“How about you have some breakfast? Maybe that will help you relax.” Yusaku suggested, taking the tray of food from his bedside table and placing it on the covers on top of my lap.

Ryoken took a bread roll from the tray and ripped a small piece off.
“Open your mouth, Jin.” He said.
I didn’t open my mouth. I felt very strange in this situation, with two almost complete strangers sandwiching me in a bed and trying to feed me.
“Go ahead and open your mouth.” Yusaku encouraged, placing his hand on top of my head and giving it a pat.

That pat he gave me made something in my mind click. A warm feeling filled my stomach. What was this feeling…?
Obediently, I opened my mouth a little, and Ryoken put the bread in it.
“Good, Jin.” He praised, smiling.

For the rest of breakfast the two kept smothering me with affection and feeding me food from the tray. Oddly enough, their affectionate ways were growing on me, yet I still felt intimidated by the situation I was in. The food on the tray disappeared at a pace matching the slow one I was eating at, until it was completely empty.
“How was the food?” Yusaku asked me when it was all done.
“... Delicious.” I whispered.
“Ah, you’re finally talking.” Ryoken smiled warmly, “Do you feel better about being around us?”
I shook my head.
“Unfortunate, but that will change.” He pressed a kiss into my cheek.

“... Why… why are you… doing this…?” I asked quietly and nervously.
“Which part, exactly?” Ryoken asked back, seeking clarification.
“... All.. of it…” I stuttered.
“Because, you are our family.” Ryoken answered, “We all love you very much, Jin.”
“... Family… Love…?” I stammered. What was he talking about?
“Yes.” He looked over at Yusaku, “You are a part of our family now. We will look after you and make sure you are rid of the pain of your past.” He leaned in close to my ear, then purred, “That’s a promise.”

“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about…!” I shuddered. This situation felt wrong. Ryoken and Yusaku were creepy. Why were they being so intimate? Did they not see that I felt so uncomfortable? I mean, Yusaku’s head pat was something, but being stuck in between these two random people with no idea what was going on, or no way to get out was way too much for me.

“Deep breaths, Jin.” Ryoken whispered, tightening his hold of me.
“N… no…!”
“You don’t need to be afraid of us.”
“Stop…! S… stop this…!”
“You trust us, right?” Yusaku asked sweetly.
“I…” I trailed off. I did. But I didn’t. I had to trust them. But I didn’t.
“We hypnotised you. Do you remember?” Ryoken asked.
“I… I do…”
“Do you remember what we hypnotised you to do?”
“You… you told me to remember what happened while I was hypnotised...”
“What else?” He moved closer to my ear.
“You… you said to remember what it was like to be in a trance…” I croaked.

“There was one more thing.” He prompted me.
“You said… to trust you… unconditionally…”
“Yes, we did.” Ryoken smiled, “Do you feel like you trust us unconditionally?”
I nodded. The very statement resonated with something deep in my heart. Was this the doing of hypnosis?
“Then why do you fear us?” He inquired.
I didn’t know. I stared at him, terror on my face and no explanation leaving my mouth. Ryoken waited a few moments, then sighed.

“This isn't good.” He stated.
“What is it, Ryoken?” Yusaku asked.
“I would say Jin’s suffering from a bad case of doublethink.”
“Doublethink? What’s that?” Yusaku sounded very confused.
“Doublethink was a term coined by an old author called George Orwell, and it refers to the phenomenon of a person believing two conflicting ideas at once.”
“Oh, I think I heard that once in a psychology class where we were talking about cognitive dissonance or something…”
“Yeah, probably.” Ryoken bit down on his lower lip, looking thoughtful.

“But how could he be thinking two contrary things at once?” Yusaku wondered.
“I don’t know. My hypnosis should have erased any fear of us. Maybe it’s because…” Ryoken paused, then spoke again, “Jin, is there anyone other than us that you feel you trust completely?”
I nodded.
“Who?”
“My… brother…” I stammered. Yusaku’s face twisted a little.
“Did you see him team up with Lightning?” Ryoken continued.
“Yes.”
“How did that make you feel?”
“... Hurt, I think... Scared, too…”
“Is he the only person you’ve ever trusted?”
I nodded.

“He betrayed you. I see.” Ryoken nodded understandingly, “Yusaku, I don’t think this is doublethink.”
“What do you mean?” Yusaku asked.
“Jin can’t trust. He doesn’t properly understand the concept. Any commands about ‘trust’ are rendered useless because he genuinely doesn’t know how to comply.”

“What?” Yusaku gasped.
“Suppose you were in Jin’s position. Everytime you believe you are being rescued, and you ‘trust’ those hands reaching out to save you, only to have them betray you every one of those times, how would you come to think of the concept of trust?”
Yusaku was silent.
“And then, you dear older brother loses you to an evil AI, and then he teams up with said AI. Would you really understand what ‘trust’ is when all is said and done?”

Yusaku kept silent, but shook his head solemnly.
“Jin… is this how you feel?” Yusaku asked sadly.
I looked over at him and nodded.
“That’s… so awful…” He whispered in disbelief, pulling me into a full embrace with both of his arms. His hold felt caring.
I made a small noise of agreement. Acknowledgement of my emotions… it felt nice.

The attention from both Yusaku and Ryoken was overwhelming. It frightened me how close they were to me, yet I somehow found it nice how they kept reassuring me that they cared. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to let them do as they please. Maybe I just needed to let this happen.
I decided to let Yusaku hug me, even if it scared me deep down.

As he did, I thought.

I wondered, at what point will these warm, welcoming arms decide to slit my throat?

Maybe not now. Maybe it would be later. But for now, this was okay.

“We’ll earn your trust, Jin.” Ryoken promised, taking me into his arms also, “We understand how you feel. We know you deserve better.”
“We won’t do what your brother did. We won’t do what Lightning did. These might sound like hollow words now, but I assure you that you’ll see the weight of them one day.” Yusaku assured me.

They sounded genuine. Well, so did my brother. Yet, I still felt as if I wanted to be with Shoichi right now. He was my older brother, and I loved him dearly. Maybe whether I trusted them or not didn’t matter. Maybe I could just take comfort from these people while I still could, before everything went wrong. Short term pleasure looked like my only escape from my pain, so I would take it.

With shaky hands, I wrapped an arm around both Yusaku and Ryoken, both of them hugging me tighter in response.
“Find comfort in us, Jin. We’ll give you as much comfort as you want.” Ryoken purred.

That was it. That was when I decided that I would do as these people asked.
That was when my mind began counting down the seconds to an unspecified date and time where these people would hurt me. I would accept their love until it turned on me.

Tears fell from my eyes, and the two of them lovingly held me close.

Chapter Text

Immediately, Jin buckled back into the pillows behind him, shielding his head with trembling arms. A small, choked noise of fear escaped his lips as he used one hand to frantically wipe away his tears.
“Jin?!” Ryoken asked, concerned about this sudden action. Just a moment ago we had been feeding him breakfast trouble free, and he had let us hug him and he had hugged us in return. As small as the gesture was, we were sure it was progress. Were we mistaken?

“I'm… I'm sorry...!” He stuttered, continuing to clear away the flow of water that seemed to never stop, “I'm so… I'm sorry…! I am…! Please… Don't hurt me...!!!” He begged, fear taking hold of his mind.
“Jin, what's wrong?” I asked. I reached an arm out to wrap around him, but he flinched away, pure terror filling his eyes. I pulled my arm away.
“Jin, take some deep breaths.” Ryoken said, to which Jin didn't respond. He kept crying, begging and cowering in fear.

“Jin, please, tell us what's wrong.” I felt very worried. I took a deep breath, trying to stay calm. Jin's panic felt contagious.
“Shhh…” Ryoken tried hushing him, trying to give his head a pat. Jin flinched in reaction to him too.
“We aren’t going to hurt you…” I assured him.

Jin didn't respond well to anything. He kept hyperventilating and shaking, scared of everything for seemingly no reason. No matter how much we spoke or tried to physically comfort him, he wouldn't accept any of it. The only thing that seemed to make a difference was time, as after about ten minutes he had begun to exhaust himself. Jin found he could no longer hold his arms in front of his head in defence, or keep avoiding us.
Seeing that he had grown tired, I had finally been able to wrap my arms around Jin and give him a nice, warm embrace.

I held him close, his head over my shoulder and his arms weakly placed around me in something resembling a hug. I pat his back lovingly, humming gently. Ryoken used this opportunity to be able to speak to him.
“What's the matter, Jin? There isn't anything to fear. You can just tell us.” He said, giving Jin's back a few pats of his own.

“Why… Why are you…” Jin began, voice shaky.
“Why are we what?
“Treating me… this way…” He sobbed.
“We told you before.” Ryoken joined in with hugging Jin, “We love you. We care about you. You're our family.”
“But… this… this isn't… love…”
“What do you mean?” Ryoken sounded a bit taken aback.
“They… they said they cared too… They… didn't do this...” Jin's voice broke.
“Who?”
“The... mental hospital…”

Ryoken’s expression quickly screwed up into one of suspicion, “What did they do?”
At first I wondered why Ryoken was asking. Of course a mental hospital wouldn't hug and kiss and pat a patient… Then it hit me. Jin had been begging for us to not hurt him. Did the hospital do something bad?!
“Things… So many things… that hurt… But… I suppose… that's just normal… I'm just complaining about nothing, I'm sure…” Jin sniffled.
“Don't downplay your experiences like that. What did they do?” Ryoken asked.

“Just… normal punishments…”
“What makes you say they are normal?”
“The nurses… they said it was normal…They said to shut up and… and just take it… like a normal person…” Jin tried to explain.
“What sort of… punishments are these?” Ryoken asked, a bit of terror clear in his voice.
“No food… no going outside… no leaving my room… beatings…” Jin listed, his voice breaking at the last item.
“Jin, are you aware that punishments are not normal?” I asked, giving his forehead a kiss.

“Not… normal…?” He whispered in disbelief.
“In fact, punishments like that are downright illegal, especially for a hospital.” Ryoken added.
“Illegal…?”
“Tell us, Jin, what sorts of things were you punished for?” Ryoken sounded keen to know. I really wanted to know as well.
“Leaving my room without supervision… Not taking medicine… Complaining… Talking when I shouldn't… Crying…”

“All of those things are...!” I exclaimed, heartbroken.
“None of those things are things to punish a person for...!” Ryoken grit his teeth, “Did you think we would beat you for crying?
Jin nodded solemnly. Ryoken hissed.
“That hospital… unbelievable…” He cursed, “Fucking unbelievable…!”
Jin looked very confused, most likely because none of our reactions made sense to him.

“How can that be, though?” I asked, ready to throw the lamp on the bedside table across the room in a fit of rage. How dare these people spend all that time in the hospital with Jin adding to the torture he's been through?!, “That hospital has won many awards and certificates, and it has the highest rate of success with healing and rehabilitating patients! It's the best hospital of its kind in all of Japan!”
“Perhaps… Perhaps that's just what they look like.” Ryoken growled quietly.

“What do you mean?”
“Consider this. A mental hospital is judged based on how well its patients appear to be. If a hospital were to take in patients, then drug them, threaten them, punish them and condition them to the point of being too scared to let any negative underlying emotions surface or show, how perfect would their care look?”
“Flawless.” I answered.
“Exactly. With half the time and half the effort, a hospital like that could rake in money other genuine hospitals could only dream of, without having to actually fix a single patient.” Ryoken explained.

“That's… disgusting…!” I snarled.
“We need to look further into this.” He concluded, “A facility that harms our precious family like that deserves to pay dearly!”

---

“Chief!!!” Hayami ran into the room, calling in distress, “Chief Zaizen, are you- AAA!”
Hayami mistepped and fell right to the ground. She promptly sat up and gave her ankle a rub, pouting.
“Are you okay, Hayami?” I asked, sitting up in my hospital bed.

“I’m fine, Chief! I’m more worried about you!” She stood up and dusted herself off.
“Maybe running in high heels isn’t such a great idea if you’re going to lose balance.” I chuckled, before clearing my throat and answering her question, “I’ve been getting better slowly. I found it very hard to talk before, so I’m glad I can speak with ease once again.”

“That’s great!” Hayami clapped her hands together and came over to the bedside, “But how did you end up in hospital in the first place, Chief?” Her voice shifted to one of curiousity and concern.
“It’s… a long and unfortunate story.” I answered hesitantly, looking out the window regretfully.
“I have time to listen.” Hayami assured me with a smile, sitting down on the visitor’s chair and clutching her hands together in her lap.

“There’s a lot of emotional baggage too, Hayami.” I sighed, “I’m not sure that a superior getting one of their staff involved in personal matters is such a good idea.”
“But Chief-”
“Hayami, I really shouldn’t.” I shook my head, “But I appreciate your concern.”
“But do you have anyone else to talk to?” She asked, “Or anybody to confide in?”
It was a very strange question to ask. Maybe Hayami’s little unprofessional crush on me was starting to go a bit far...

Regardless, the way she asked it was casual, innocent and unknowing. I kept a straight face, but her questions cut deep. With all that had happened to Ema and Aoi, it was too much for one man to bare alone. Hayami couldn’t have known about any of this already, despite asking that question. However, he truly was the last person I was close to that I could reach out to. What sort of stupid excuse for not telling her my problems was being her superior, anyway? That was a SOL Technologies rule.

And SOL had screwed me over.

“I… I actually don’t have anybody to turn to anymore.” I admitted.
“Huh?! What?!” Hayami exclaimed, shock and surprise clear as day, “What do you mean? You actually don’t have anyone? I thought maybe you’d say your sister was visiting often or something, but…” She trailed off, embarrassed and worried.

“She can’t, and why is part of the story. I’ll tell you everything that happened, from start to finish.”

---

“Chief, that’s so awful!” I blew my nose into my handkerchief, eyes watery.
“Hayami, nobody can know that you know this. Queen might come after you too. I’m begging you, please stay safe.”
“I know, I’ll be quiet. I’ll stay away from Queen.” I promised him, nodding and crying a bit.

“I’m glad I could get that off my chest…” He sighed.
“I’m happy you decided to tell me.” I smiled a sad smile, blowing my nose again.
“Thank you for your visit today. I was worried I wouldn’t see anyone again for the rest of my time in hospital.”
“I’ll come and visit again sometime, and I’ll bring some flowers to add colour to this dull room!”
“That might not be such a good idea.” Zaizen chuckled, “Hayfever and pollen allergies run in my family. But I appreciate the thought.”

“I guess I’ll have to buy fake flowers then!” I giggled, still crying a little. I looked down at my watch, and noted the time. “It looks like my visiting time is up in about a minute. I’ll need to get going now, Chief.” I got up from the chair, and began to talk towards the door.
“Stay safe. That’s an order.”
“Roger that!! Get well soon!” I called back at him, leaving the room, a big smile on my face.

Then I closed the door behind me, put my back to the wall next to the door, then dropped my smile.

I wiped away my crocodile tears. I let my face screw up in anger.

While it was true that I appeared to be clumsy, bright and bubbly, and that it looked like I had a crush on Zaizen, it was no more than a persona I had developed in my past to gain the favour of my patrons in my old job to get more money. A laughable practice, but very lucrative.

I didn’t really feel much towards this situation. I felt sad that Zaizen was hurt, sure, but it wasn’t enough to shed real tears and get a runny nose. I honestly didn’t really care much about his sister, either. Or that biker chick Ema.

Regardless, I was no heartless monster. I still held a lot for respect for my boss, and this learning of what happened to him angered me to no end. Queen was going to pay for hurting him, his sister and Ema. And unlike Ema, I would be no fool and do things correctly.

Besides, a girl’s gotta have some fun every once and awhile. This was some action that I craved.

“Don’t worry, Chief Zaizen.” I whispered to myself, “I’m going to get revenge for you.”

---

“Ladies, nice work, might I say.” I chirped, watching my assistants in VRAINS from outside the network. Aoi and Ema were doing an excellent job; using the special network privileges I had bestowed upon them, they were tearing that stone castle to bits.

I had sent them into the network with the intent of capturing some Ignis from a little AI hotspot some SOL employees had found, namely the castle. Upon arriving there they had discovered that some Knights of Hanoi were there, but that was no issue, as all we had to do to get rid of those filthy albino rats was use a force logout command.

Of course, neither of my ladies were dueling. After all, dueling is for those who value honour, civility and pride, three very useless and inconvenient things when running a business. As a businesswoman, dueling was nothing but a distraction and time waster. I could never comprehend why people liked it so much. Their loss. I'm only above them because I know what's good for business.

The mission was going as planned. The castle crumbled like a weak sand sculpture in the wind as the girls tore it down with fierce datastorms. Aoi spent time tearing down turrets, and Ema headed straight to the courtyard to rip it up.

The Light Ignis and his comrades looked surprised for a minute, but as Ema came after them they quickly made their way to the nearest exits. The muscular AI took the childlike AI and ran for it, while the Light Ignis jumped onto the duel disk of a nearby avatar with purple hair. The Ignis commanded it to get out, and immediately it complied.

Unfortunately enough, we captured no Ignis during our mission. And when I describe the outcome as unfortunate, I really mean that it made me furious. My ladies were good, but not good enough.

When they logged out, I stared at their broken expressions for a few minutes before deciding what had caused this failure.

I had concluded that they weren't loyal enough yet. They needed more conditioning.

“Back to the tanks with you two!”

---

Hahahaaaa. What a stupid human.

Did she really think we didn't expect that attack? There was no way she would ever top the surprise Revolver and Playmaker gave us. Besides, I had told my comrades ALL about Queen's little plan after watching her concoct it live on CCTV. What a foolish, stupid woman.

What was even more dumb was her decision to give her soldiers wind powers. The nerve of this old hag! Wind is my thing! That made me really salty. And let me tell you, if you make me salty, you make me want to put more effort into taking you down.

But right now, her utter lack of care and consideration was not my concern. In fact, her soldiers were! I had made a special little program that let my take control of people a while ago, but I'd never been able to use it until now. Why, you may ask? Well, it's quite simple! Duel Disks aren’t directly wired to the brain so I couldn't install my program properly. But do you know what is directly wired to the brain?

Ding ding ding! Correct! Queen's torture device!

And her soldiers were the perfect candidates for drones! Well, not exactly. That one with the brown hair was completely incompatible with my program. There was something very wrong with her head. The connections in her mind were all over the shop! I mean, a task like fixing her mind would be super easy for a highly intelligent Ignis such as myself, but you're crazy if you think I'd ever want to lay a single finger on a mind as messed up and utterly disfigured as hers.

On the other hand, the human with two hair colours was completely normal, spare for some mild issues caused by torture. But there was nothing that made her incompatible! So, I went ahead and installed my program through the wires in her cranium and onto her brain.

---

"Password?"
"Very funny. You know that I used to work here." I spat, tossing a few locks of my hair back over my shoulder. I glared at him, my dark eyeshadow and black lipstick emphasizing my lack of amusement.
The bouncer nodded, stepped out of the way of the entrance and opened the door. Muffled beats became sharp, vivid and clear. Multicoloured lights spilled out into the dark alleyway we stood in, the moonlight barely visible in comparison.

I entered the bar, my black high heels clicking against the floor in a confident rhythm. To my left was a cage and two unwilling duelists inside, fighting to the death for people's entertainment. A crowd cheered for the ones they thought would win, and a handful of the richer bar patrons were placing bets.

To my right was an open area with multiple poles shooting up to the ceiling from a sea of people. The people gathered around the poles, watching feminine figures spin and dance. Beyond this there was a bar, behind which was a wall covered in various bottles of alcohol and lit up with a few coloured lights.

I swiftly moved through the large crowd and towards the bar, catching glances of my short latex dress and studded leather choker in the various reflective surfaces scattered around the dancers. I promptly sat down at the bar, and tapped my nails on the top of it. A male bartender had his back to me, busy drying some glasses. I cleared my throat.

"The strippers are more popular than the duelists, aren't they?" I said, crossing my arms. The bartender turned around, surprise on his face.
"As per usual." He sighed, "The crowd is always bigger. It's just like they say, sex sells. What brings you back to my bar, Hayami? Did you come for a drink?"
"Not exactly."

"What a shame." The bartender shrugged, "You know things have been a little less fun since you quit being a bartender and took up that offer SOL gave you."
"Unfortunately SOL hasn't been as exciting as here, but I really can't argue with the pay." I giggled.
"Your decision really surprised all of the employees here. You weren't ever really the type to be driven by money, even if you did do a few things to earn more money than usual."
"No, not really." I agreed, "But when I get older, the benefits from SOL will be worth it. I would have had of to quit working here eventually. I'm thinking of my future."

"I suppose." The bartender put the glass down and leaned against the bench at the back of the bar, "Speaking of ways to get more money, do you still use that insufferable fake personality of yours at SOL?" He paused, then continued, "I mean, the way you used that bright, clumsy and cute attitude to get the male customers to just throw money your way around here makes sense, but can you even use that skill anymore?"
"Of course I still use it!" I giggled, "I mean, why throw out such a fleshed out persona once you've put all that work into it?"

"What use does it have at the leading technology developer in Japan?" He asked, tilting his head interest.
"It gains the favour of my higher ups." I answered simply, "And it makes people less suspicious when I'm up to no good." I added.
"Sneaky as always, Hayami." He shook his head and laughed, "So, what did you come here for?"

"I was wondering if I could get a favour. You know, from one old friend to another."
"What sort of favour are we talking about?" He asked, standing up from his leaning position.
"I want an errand boy."
"An errand boy...?" He raised an eyebrow.
"Too big of an ask?" I asked, tapping my nails against the bar once again.
"Why on earth would you want one of those?" He asked back, concern in his voice.

"Oh please." I started to fiddle with a few strands of my hair, "I know a lot of the customers here like to use errand boys for intimate things, but I have a legitimate use for one that doesn't involve anything remotely kinky."
"You're dressed like a dominatrix." He pointed out.
"Can't a girl dress up every now and again?" I pouted before snapping back to my usual expression of indifference and chuckling.

He sighed, "Just tell me why you need one. I am happy to supply you with one but… I want to know why."
"I have a little grudge at the moment, and let's just say I don't want to get my hands dirty." I said in a low voice.
"I see." He nodded thoughtfully, "That's more like you. You'll need a strong errand boy if that's what you want to do. If memory serves me correctly, our strongest one we have at the moment is in our third back room."

"Thanks for your help." I got up from the bar.
"Stay safe." He tossed me the key to the back room, "And come visit some other time so we can have drinks and catch up properly."
"Sure thing." I smiled, then head off for the room with the errand boy.

Now, you might be wondering what an 'errand boy' is. I wouldn't blame you for not knowing, as a lot of people who visit this bar for the first time have never heard the term before.
Well, if you haven't noticed already, this bar is a bit shady. Actually, scratch that. This bar is practically the definition of illegal. So when customers can't pay their tab, we don't send debt collectors after them. When customers violate our rules, we don't kick them out. Instead, we force them to sign a contract which reduces their rights to that of an inanimate object, thus turning them into the property of the bar. Isn't that just twisted? I was very uncomfortable with the practice when I worked here, but I never said anything. I was just looking to get an income. These people are then referred to as 'errand boys'. They are to do anything the bar tells them to do, whether that be 'serving' customers, dueling to the death or becoming somebody else's indentured servant. And if they decide to defy the orders of the bar? Well, you better hope they like the taste of bullets. These errand boys are used as an example to keep customers in line and prevent them from trying anything stupid.

Today was the first time I was going to use an errand boy. What sort of one I would get was a complete mystery to me. I held my breath as I inserted the key into the lock and turned it. The door opened with a rather underwhelming click, letting me into the back room.

As I closed the door behind me, the loud music faded out and the silence of the room took hold. I made my way over to a leather couch in front of a coffee table, and sat down. On the opposite side if the coffee table was another identical couch, with a man sitting on it.

"Hello, miss." He greeted simply, bowing his head respectfully.
"Hello. You're the errand boy I've hired out." I replied flatly, twirling the keys around my index finger as to show off my authority. The man didn't seem to be intimidated by me. He didn't reply, he simply nodded in acknowledgement, raising his hand to show me the number three on his bracelet that signified his slavery.

While I had seen a lot of varying errand boys in my time, this one had to be the cleanest by far. His suit was tidy and free of stains, and his silver tie was neatly tied up. His hair was smartly styled, with no loose strands of hair. For somebody enslaved in poor circumstances, he looked incredibly professional.

"What is your name?" I asked.
"They call me Three."
"Your number? That's hardly a name. It sounds like something out of a teen novel that has no plot, unless you count the love triangle." I scoffed, "The bar gave you that name, didn't it? What's your actual name?"
"Argent was my name before I signed my contract." He answered flatly.

The way he acted I found to be strange. This man never worked here when I was a bartender in this place around 5 years ago. Somehow, he seemed indifferent about having to work. All the new people in the job were apprehensive at best, most of them breaking down during their first appointment. Just how long had this man been working here.. ?

"Well then, Argent, do you have much experience?" I asked, hoping to gauge a rough number of years he has been stuck here.
"Plenty." He stated.
"How many years?"
"Four and a half, Miss."
"I see. So you're rather adapted to this sort of work."

"I am the most adapted here."
"Huh. If that's the case, boss wasn't kidding when he said he gave me a good errand boy." I commented.
"If you don't mind my inquiry, Miss, who is 'boss'?" He asked in a polite tone.
"I used to work here as a bartender, five years ago. The owner of this place is who I refer to as 'boss'."
He raised an eyebrow, "Even though you don't work for him anymore?"
"I still respect the man, and I do miss working for him." I chuckled, "Plus, he's more of a boss to me than my current employers have ever been."

"You're a rather odd customer, Miss." He observed, keeping the way he spoke respectful.
"In what way?"
"Usually customers don't talk with me. The come in, get things over with and leave."
I screwed my face up in disgust, "That's because I'm not here for the same filthy reasons they were." I took a deep breath and calmed myself, "I don't need a whore, I need a fighter."

---

“Specter, what do you think he’s doing…?” Takeru asked me, in the middle of crouching and peeking through the lock on the door to Jin’s room.
“Is something wrong?”
“Look at him. I came to check on him, but all he’s been doing this whole time is lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling. He hasn’t moved a muscle from the looks of things. He’s not asleep either, despite the hour...” Takeru shook his head, standing back up and folding his arms.
“Perhaps something is wrong?” I suggested, taking a look for myself.

“That’s what I’m thinking. Should we go in?” He glanced sideways at the door, a concerned gleam in his eyes.
“We shouldn’t.” I answered.
“Why not? If something is wrong we should do something about it immediately, right?” Takeru bit his lip impatiently, “I want to get to know Jin, too. We haven’t been able to spend much time with him.”

“I understand your concerns, but Ryoken-sama has ordered that we don’t do much with Jin for the time being. Ryoken-sama wants to handle the early stages of his indoctrination into our family with Yusaku. Jin needs to have a strong connection with his master if things are going to be ideal.” I put my hand on Takeru’s shoulder and smiled, “We’ll both get a chance to spend plenty of time with Jin soon, I’m sure. For now, we should just notify Ryoken-sama of the situation. Okay?”
“Okay.” Takeru nodded, understanding.

I gave his hair a soft ruffle, “I’m sure Ryoken-sama will be very happy to hear that you’re eager to spend time with our new family member. I have some cleaning to do, so why don’t you go and let Ryoken-sama know? Whatever is troubling Jin, Ryoken-sama is sure to help him.”
“You’re right. I’ll do that.” Takeru’s concern faded into a smile, and he set off down the hallway to carry out his duty.

---

"He's just staring and not moving? And not asleep either?" Ryoken asked, both curious and worried.
"That is correct, Ryoken-sama." I nodded.
"You did the right thing, coming and telling us." He said, holding out my hand towards me, "Come, sit with us."

I walked over to the couch, took his hand, and sat between Yusaku and Ryoken, letting them cuddle up to me. With a relaxing sigh, my muscles drooped, and Ryoken gave my forehead a kiss.
"Tell me, how do you feel having Jin in our family?" He asked gently.
"I'm really happy to have another family member." I smiled warmly, "I really hope his condition improves soon. I want to spend time with him, just like the rest of you."
"I'm glad that you are welcoming him with such open arms. Unfortunately, his condition is unlikely to improve any time soon. Don't worry though, we'll let you spend time with him. Just be patient, okay?" He gave my head a pat.
"Yes, Ryoken-sama."

"Jin has a lot on his mind right now." Yusaku added, nuzzling my cheek, "He's probably just milling over everything right now."
"But nonetheless, he's probably not taking it well, all things considered." Ryoken shook his head in dismay, "Yusaku and I will go and have a talk with him. You should go back to your chores, and relax. Don't worry about a thing, Takeru. We have it all under control." He cooed.

"Of course… Ryoken-sama..." I nodded weakly. All of their love and affection was making me feel sleepy… I stood up slowly, and almost lost balance. Yusaku stood up with me and stopped me from falling over, placing a kiss on my cheek.

"We'll talk with you later." Ryoken got up too, and took Yusaku's hand into his own, "Remember, there is nothing to worry about. We'll take care of everything."

---

Ryoken and I opened the door with a soft click and entered the room. The atmosphere of the room itself hit us immediately. The air was filled with an unsettling suspense, blended crudely with sadness and fear. Jin lay upon a messy bed, arms by side and staring at the ceiling. He did not look up when we entered the room, nor did he stir in any way.

"Jin?" I said softly.
Jin made a quiet noise of acknowledgement, but did not move.
"We've come to check up on you, Jin." Ryoken took me over to the bedside. Jin remained transfixed on the ceiling.
"How are you?" I asked.
"... Tired. Tired of everything…" Jin whispered.
"You've had a rough life so far." Ryoken proceeded to sit on the bedside, "And you must be very overwhelmed by this new situation. We understand."

I sat down beside Ryoken and looked down at Jin with a sad smile.
"Do you really understand…?" Jin didn't sound convinced.
"Of course we do." Ryoken put his legs up on the bed, and pulled Jin up to rest his head in his lap. Ryoken began to pat Jin's head lovingly, "You have so many thoughts flying through your head right now. It's scary, isn't it? We're here for you though, and we want you to feel at ease. You should be asleep at this hour but your mind is keeping you awake. So, tell us, what is it you are thinking about?"

“It… It’s nothing…” Jin answered. I saw his eye twitch a bit.
I glanced over at Ryoken and he looked back at me with an expression similar to me. We both saw that twitch. We both suspected the same thing. He was too fearful to speak his mind. Perhaps this was the doing of the hospital…?
“We know that something is bothering you.” Ryoken pulled Jin up to sit in his lap and wrapped his arms around Jin.
“Nothing… There isn’t anything…” Jin croaked.
“Come on. You can tell us.” Ryoken purred, kissing Jin’s cheek. Jin shivered at the affection.

“It’s okay, Jin.” I joined in, embracing Jin from his front, “Just tell us. Let it out.”
“Please… stop… treating me like… this...”
“Why?” Ryoken whispered.
“You’re scaring me…” Jin stammered.
“Mmmm…” Ryoken hummed, resting his head on Jin’s shoulder, “Is this too much affection for you?”
“Y… yes…”
“That’s because you are so tense…” I said, giving Jin a head pat. Jin’s expression softened a little, just like it did last time I gave him a pat, “If you just relax and melt into our little shared cuddle, it feels so much nicer and comforting.”

“N… no…” Jin stuttered, will weakening.
“Yusaku is correct. Relax. Just give it a go, and if he’s wrong we’ll back off a bit.” Ryoken offered.
“Did you enjoy it when we gave you love before? It’ll be just like that if you calm down.” I added.
Jin stared blankly for a few moments, considering his options.
“Just have a go.” Ryoken repeated.

---

After much contemplation, Jin nodded, took a deep breath and let his body droop, loosening up his muscles. Yusaku and I squeezed him a bit tighter, supporting him. Jin seemed to stay that way, but still held an unsure expression.
“Is it comfier? Is it less scary?” I asked quietly, waiting patiently for him to answer.
Jin remained silent, but gave a small nod.
“See? Everything is going to be okay. Just tell us what it was that was on your mind.”

“I… I…” Jin spoke hesitantly. His muscles clenched a little in his back, but I gave them a rub and he relaxed again.
“Take your time…” Yusaku whispered understandingly.
“It’s just that I… I…” Jin trailed off.
“Are you scared that we’ll do something to you if you say anything?” I suggested.
Jin looked at me, a confused expression on his face.
“We won’t do anything to you. We don’t punish you for saying what is on your mind here.” I assured him.

It was vital that I get Jin to speak. If we were to give him any proper semblance of ‘trust’ or be able to properly manipulate his emotions, we would need him to be open with us without hesitation.

Jin tried to start a few more sentences but gave up shortly into trying to vocalise his thoughts.
“Say it slowly. Think it out.” I encouraged him.
“I…” He began, “I… I’m… afraid that… that you… you all will… hurt… hurt me… and… and I…” His voice broke and tears began to stream from his eyes, “I’m… I’m sorry! I didn’t say anything…! I swear, I didn’t mean it…! I didn’t mean any of it…! I’m not scared…! I’m fine…! Please, don’t hurt me…! Please…!”

“You have a very broken heart, Jin.” I observed, placing my hand over his heart and upon his tight chest, “We won’t break it any more than it has already been broken. We want to heal it.”
Yusaku’s eyes looked watery. Seeing his family in such a panicked state was not something he was taking well.
“I…! I don’t have a broken heart…! It’s all better…! I’m fine…!” He exclaimed desperately, “I don’t need more therapy…! I swear, I’m fine…!”

“Shhh…” I hushed him.
“I… I…” He stammered.
“Shhhh… Deep breaths, Jin, Deep breaths. We won’t hurt you with ‘therapy’ like they did.”
Jin was hyperventilating with no sign of stopping any time soon.
“It’s okay Jin, we won’t hurt you.” Yusaku whispered, now fully crying.

Jin looked into Yusaku’s eyes and took note of his tears. Jin started to calm down a bit, seeing some emotions he could identify with.
“Everything is going to be okay.” I reassured him, smiling gently. I wanted to resolve this as best as I could. I couldn’t bear seeing Yusaku so sad, and I didn’t want Jin to completely shut off from me.

“In this house, we are open with our emotions. We accept each other’s emotions with open arms.” I explained, wrapping my arms around Yusaku also, “My dear Yusaku here is crying right now. It breaks my heart to see him like this. I don’t want to hurt him for it, though. I want him to feel better. I want the best for him.” Yusaku sniffled a little, and I continued, “It isn’t just because he is my lover. He’s a part of this family. You’re a part of this family too, Jin.”

Jin looked at me, eyes wide with surprise and confusion. This was a new concept to him. How strange it must be to see somebody wanting to care for the sad.
“So, tell us. What was on your mind?”
“I… I’m scared you’ll betray me…” He spoke with a clarity I hadn’t heard from him before. It further solidified how much of a shock this sort of treatment was for him.
“How do you think we’ll betray you?”

“You… you hug me now and say you care but… I wonder when it will end… when you’ll turn into demons and drop me into the abyss, never to be seen again…” He explained.
“Do you feel comforted, being held like this?”
“Yes...” He replied.
“But you think we’ll stop and hurt you. Just like what Lightning did to you during the incident…” I hissed my last sentence. Jin seemed reassured by the distaste I showed towards Lighting.

“I do… think that…”
“Being in constant fear is no way to live.” Yusaku sobbed, “I just want for my family to live happy, peaceful lives where they are loved.”
“See, Jin?” I ran my hand down his cheek, “Do you see that we care for you in a way the hospital did not?”
“Yes… but…”
“But you’re afraid still, aren’t you?” I whispered into his ear, “Nothing is enough to make you believe you’re truly safe.”

Jin shivered a little and nodded. My statement seemed to make him fearful.
“There’s no need to be afraid. We can ease that fear slowly until it goes away. There is one thing that is enough to make you feel safe. Do you want to know what that is?” I asked, pressing my cheek against Jin’s.
“I… I do…” Jin looked quite tempted, eyes fixated on me.

“Hypnosis.” I revealed.
Jin remained silent. Yusaku smiled at Jin through his tears.
“Won’t you let me hypnotise you now to make you feel safer?” I coaxed.
Jin shook his head, discomfort with the idea written all over his face.
“But Jin,” Yusaku began, surprised a person could be so quick to decline hypnosis, “Hypnosis makes you feel so good…” He breathed, letting various memories of perfect euphoria surface in his mind.
“It… it does…” Jin stammered, “But… but…”
“Hypnosis… the way it slowly releases the weight from your mind… The way it helps your muscles release all tension… The way warm feelings just fill you up and lull you into a state of tranquility…” Yusaku spoke dreamily, “The way control spreads throughout your body…”

Jin shook his head furiously at Yusaku’s last statement.
“Is there something wrong with control, Jin?” I asked.
“I… I don’t feel okay, just… just giving myself to somebody else like that… It scares me…” Jin said, voice a deadly whisper.
“Don’t be like that. Just think about how it felt when we hypnotised you.”
“But…”
“Shhh… Don’t sweat the small stuff… Just think about how hypnosis made you feel…” I cooed.
“It’s not… small…”

“But it is…” Yusaku whispered lovingly, “Such thoughts hurt you…”
“Just like the hospital.” I added.
Jin froze in place.
“I’m sure the hospital would be rejoicing right now, seeing you suffering more than you could be. Are you going to let them have their way right now? Or will you fight back against what they have done to you with us?” I continued.

“The… the… hospital…” Jin shook, terrified of the memories mentioning the place brought forth.
“We are offering you refuge from the pain they wish you to feel. Run into our open arms, Jin. Relax in our embrace and let us hypnotise you.” I purred, kissing his cheek.
“Please, Jin…” Yusaku begged, crying into Jin’s chest.

In the tidal wave of many powerful emotions, Jin was lost. He didn’t know what to think or feel. It was all too much, all at once. Jin didn’t know what to do.
“Close your eyes and let us do what needs to be done.” I coaxed.
Jin didn’t have any direction of his own, so he did the first thing that came to mind.

His eyelids slid shut, and he took a deep breath.

---

“That’s right… Deep breaths…” Ryoken’s silky voice spoke.
“Let us calm you…” Yusaku said, voice soft like a fur blanket.
"There isn't a single thing to worry about… Drift into a trance… Don't think, just feel… Feel the warmth of the embrace we hold you in… Feel the relaxation of hypnosis filling you up… Listen to our breathing and our voices…" A rich voice I couldn't quite identify anymore coaxed, his words ringing through my emptying mind. The feeling of their chests rising and falling as they breathed was oddly rhythmic.

"There is no pain where we are taking you… There is only tranquility… There are only us… There are no thoughts or fears…" A quieter voice told me, moving close to my ear.
"Come under our power… Submit to us, my frail pet…"

---

As Ryoken and I held Jin between us, hugging his limp figure, Ryoken frowned and sighed.
"Jin keeps bouncing around with his moods. Sometimes he displays a quality resembling trust, sometimes he doesn't believe us about anything. One moment he’s okay to say what he wants, the next he can’t without panicking, and then the next he can speak once again…" Ryoken said, then he gritted his teeth, "Whatever that facility did to implement such confusion, inconsistency and indecisiveness must have been both effective and brutal…"

"But he can’t help it, can he?" I sobbed, "I just want him to live a soft, loving and fulfilling life as our pet… I just want him to be able to live quietly and peacefully with us. I can’t believe what Lightning and that hospital did to our family…!"

Ryoken nodded solemnly in agreement, "I'm very upset about that too."
"Can't we deep condition him yet?" I asked, looking into Ryoken's eyes, flashing a look of desperation, "He needs it so badly…" I observed, running my hand along one of Jin's bones in his wrist.

"I'm afraid we can't rush into that. We need to wait until Jin is ready." Ryoken lifted one of his hands from Jin and wiped a tear off of my cheek, returning my gaze with an apologetic look.
Ryoken's affection lit up a small quantity of assuredness in my heart, but it was quickly swatted down when I looked down at Jin, and echoes of stories of what he had gone through went through my mind.

"He's in so much pain though…" I cried, a more powerful wave of tears forcing itself out, "How will we know when he's ready?"
"When he's completely willing to do anything to be with us. He'll tell us when." Ryoken stated, making sure to stay as calm as possible. He kept clearing my face of tears with his hand, keeping that apologetic look on his face the entire time.

"Isn't there anything we can do in the meantime to numb the pain?" I wept, staring into Ryoken's beautiful blue eyes.
"Of course there is." Ryoken smiled reassuringly at me, "We can strive for more consistency in his emotional states. It will make him more predictable and easier to manipulate. As a side effect of this, comforting and helping him will become easier. Worry not, my dear Yusaku. We can help him. Calm down and breathe. Our pet will be just fine."

"Breathe…" I echoed, doing as he said to calm down. The tears kept flowing.
"Our pain went away, did it not?" Ryoken asked me softly.
I nodded, sniffling.
"His will too. Have faith." Ryoken leaned over to me and pressed a loving kiss into my lips.

"I… I understand…" I whispered once he let our lips part after their brief contact.
"Good…" Ryoken spoke affectionately, giving my head a comforting pat.
"I'm sorry for being so worked up…" I apologized, "I know Jin is in more emotional pain than I. I suppose I also put you on the spot there, asking all those questions. It must sound like I don’t trust you… I'm sorry." I added with a sorrowful chuckle.

"There is no need to apologize. You are just showing love and empathy for your family, as you should." Ryoken ran his hand through my hair, "You have every right to feel worried in a situation such as this one. Your worry is real. Later you can rest in my arms, and I'll give you all the reassurance you need to stay calm, if you want." He offered.
"You will?" I blinked some tears out of my eyes, "Thank you. Thank you so much…" I sobbed.
"Anything for you, my dear Yusaku.

"Now, shall we help our lovely little pet out?" He asked, caressing one of Jin's cheeks.
"Yes…" I whispered softly, my tears beginning to stop.
"We're going to go through some exercises, Jin. We expect full cooperation, okay?" Ryoken ruffled Jin's hair.
Jin nodded faintly in response.
"First of all, you don't feel entirely comfortable with our affection yet, do you?"
"Sometimes… it… it's too much… I just… can't handle…" Jin breathed.

"Do you feel confused, comforted by us one moment, but terrified the next?" He asked, voice low.
"Y… yes…"
"Confusion is unpleasant. We'll eliminate that confusion for you. Yusaku, let's lay Jin back down on the bed." Ryoken let go of Jin, carefully setting his head down on the pillow. I helped position him comfortably.

"Roll up his pants a bit. I'll roll up his sleeves." Ryoken ordered me, and I complied.
"Should I do anything else?" I inquired.
"Go and turn the air conditioning to 5 degrees Celsius." He commanded.
"Did you say 5? That's rather cold…" I commented, before I realised Ryoken's plan, "Ah, I see. Right away."

---

Jin shivered, his exposed limbs catching all of the cold air in the room. If we were fully conscious I had no doubt he would have unrolled his sleeves or pants, or would have buried himself under the covers of the bed. Jin, however, was not properly conscious. He was hypnotised.

"Repeat after me." I began, "I either want affection or I don't. There is no inbetween. There are no exceptions."
"I either want… affection… or I… don't… There is no… inbetween… There are… no exceptions..."

Jin repeated the statement multiple times at my command, becoming more acquainted with the words and the idea every time he did. Yusaku stood by the bedside watching, trying hard to hold back the urge to give Jin precious warmth.

"Good, Jin." I praised him, "Now, keeping that in mind, would you like us to warm you up?" I purred, getting close to Jin's ear, tempting him with the warmth of my breath.
"I… I…"
"If you ask for it now, you can't say no ever. If you'd like it now, you'll always want it. Remember, we can't have inconsistencies. We can't have confusion." I reminded him.
"It's… so… cold…" He shivered.
"If you want our warmth, beg for it." I cooed.

"Please… warm me… I'm so… cold…" He spoke through chattering teeth.
"Beg more." I said.
"Please… Please… I'm… so very… cold…"
"More conviction, Jin." I whispered.
"I need… your warmth… please… I need… it…" Jin begged.
"We've heard you." I said lovingly, "Come on Yusaku, let us give him what he wants."

Yusaku laid down with Jin, and I did too, and we both hugged him. I pulled the blankets up over us, and pressed a kiss into Jin's cheek.
"How is it?" Yusaku asked.
"Warm… so warm..." Jin smiled subtly
"That's right, soak up our warmth. This is a warmth we want to give to you." I said.

"Warm…" Jin echoed.
"This is what we want you to feel whenever we embrace you. You shouldn't say no to our love, or you are saying no to the warmth. Can't you see? We're just protecting you from the cold." I explained, "This is why it is foolish to reject affection. You either want affection or you don't at all times. Tell me, my pet, which is it you desire?"

"Endless… warmth… Affection…" He replied.
"Very good." I kissed his cheek, and he accepted it with no signs of discomfort. Yusaku took the opportunity to nudge Jin's other cheek, smiling as Jin didn't even do so much as twitch an eye.

"You're not used to affection, are you Jin?" I asked, to which he nodded.
"That's such a shame…" Yusaku breathed.
"Do you know how to respond when somebody shows you love like this?" I inquired.
Jin shook his head.
"It's very simple. You just relax while you are treated to such pleasures, and sometimes you can show affection back, too." I explained, "Let's show you what we mean.

"Tense up like you feel uncomfortable." I commanded him, prompting a quick change in Jin's passive nature, "Now as Yusaku and I show you our love, slowly relax and let yourself sink into our arms."

Yusaku began placing kisses around Jin's face, and I massaged his shoulders, feeling his muscles give way as my hands glided across his shoulder blades. Jin's breathing became paced and carefree, his eyes half closing in relaxation.

"That's right. Just like that. Just enjoy and get used to this. You're going to get a lot more of this in the future." I cooed, pecking his neck.

---

"... Wake up and open your eyes, feeling nice and sleepy…" Ryoken said, voice hushed and gentle.

Jin's eyes opened to a sleepy expression, and he yawned a little. He looked much more at home than he did before we had hypnotised him.
"Feeling comfortable?" Ryoken asked, giving Jin's head a pat. Jin nodded, ignorant to who was asking him the question. Mindlessly, Jin pressed into Ryoken's touch, enjoying the sense of calm it gave him.

"We've called Takeru and Specter in to keep you company for the night. They'll be here shortly." Ryoken informed him, "Show them what you've learned, and enjoy their warmth."

Jin nodded drowsily, clinging to his duvet with a soft grip.

I felt so happy, seeing him at such peace. There was no doubt there would be many more hurdles ahead, but things were starting to look optimistic. Jin would finally let us comfort him.

I leaned down, pressed a kiss into his forehead and whispered "Goodnight."

---

"Are you awake, Jin?" a voice whispered to me. Two figures had entered the room, their features obscured by the shadows, "It's us, Specter and Takeru."

"I'm… awake…" I yawned.
"You sound so sleepy." One of the figures commented. As that figure came closer, I could see that it had spiked white and red hair.
“Mmm…” I hummed drowsily, closing my eyes for a few moments.

“I hope you won’t mind if we join you tonight.” The other person said, approaching the bed I lay upon. A silver-white shade of hair poked through the shadows as he came into view.
“Join… me…?” I muttered. A couple seconds though on the concept was all it took for me nod, anticipating the warmth and affection they would bring me.
Takeru climbed under the covers to my left and wrapped his arms around my waist, pulling me up onto my side and holding me close. I instinctively buried my head under his chin, sighing with relaxation.

Specter got in the other side of the bed and clung to my back, cheek against the back of my head.
“Are you comfortable, Jin?” He asked.
I nodded, a little too tired to fully explain just how comfortable I felt right now.
I was in absolute ecstasy. The bliss of being held so close by anyone was unbelievably strong. What on earth had made me feel like this was weird, strange or creepy? They were just trying to keep me warm. They just wanted me to have this feeling of rapture. This intimacy was pure kindness.

I melted in their hold, letting Takeru dot kisses around my hair and Specter nudge the back of my head.
“I’m so glad I’m finally getting to spend some time with you…” Takeru whispered, tightening his embrace, “I suppose you’re too tired to talk, but being able to hold you like this is enough for me…”
“I’m happy too, being able to spend some quality time with you…” Specter purred, “Welcome to the family, Jin. Let’s get some sleep, shall we?”

---

"Are you feeling better?" Ryoken asked, running his hand through my soaked hair. I gazed up at him and smiled.
"I am."
Ryoken put his hand back in the hot bath water, and pressed his bare chest against my back, getting close to my ear, "You didn't need to cry before. You could have felt confident instead of worried." He told me, voice sad.

"I know…" I lowered my gaze, feeling shame, "Just… seeing Jin in such a state was so hard to deal with… I got so worked up… I couldn't block out my thoughts. I couldn't assure myself that you had it under control…"
"I didn't mean to sound as if I were scolding you just now, Yusaku." He kissed the back of my neck apologetically, "I'm just trying to say that it's a shame you had to feel so uneasy. I hate seeing you in tears. You don't deserve such hurtful emotions. You need to trust me unconditionally for that reason.”

“But Ryoken…” My eyes began to water, “I… I want to trust you like that, from the bottom of my heart. I want every fibre of my being to trust you like that, but… but…”
“Shhh… Take a deep breath. Speak slowly.” Ryoken wrapped his arms around me and rested his neck on my shoulder, closing his eyes as to enjoy his sense of touch above all else.
“I… I just couldn’t bring myself to have endless faith in that moment… No matter how much I wanted it… No matter how much I craved it…” I admitted, breaking down. I buried my face in my hands, unbelieving that I had just said that. Questions rushed through my head. What would Ryoken think of what I just confessed? How bad was my transgression?

Transgression… Yes. I had sinned. I had read a book once where a character had proclaimed that the only true sin was theft. The concept surfaced in my mind. Stealing a life, a loved one, a valued possession… I had stolen what was Ryoken’s. He owned my body, my mind, my heart and my soul. Not fully submitting any one of these things to him was an act of treachery, and just the same as taking them from him. Those things were Ryoken’s property, not mine. Who was I to take his valuables?

I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to stop the flow of tears. My body was paralysed, too frozen with fear to do anything. White noise filled my ears. A terrible migraine set in and all of my muscles tensed up. The water that lapped at my skin felt like it was full of needles, poking through to my rotten core and puncturing my spirit. I felt dizzy and a bit nauseous. My mind was spinning. Vertigo set in.

This feeling was familiar. The horrible realisation that I had gone against the word of my lover and master was starting to rip me to shreds, piece by piece.

I wasn’t worthy of his love. I didn’t deserve any love. I was a tainted soul, and nobody would ever love me.

This time, however, my pain was cut short. Ryoken was clinging to me tightly, and his sweet voice urged me to snap back into reality. With little choice and a need to follow his commands, my mind brought itself back to the present. The first thing I noticed was that Ryoken was shaking in fear, a horrified expression on his face. Water that was not on his face before was streaming down his cheeks. Ryoken was hyperventilating as he spoke, “...saku… Yusaku! Snap out of it, Yusaku! Yusaku!!!”

“...Ryo… ken…?” I whispered, confused and shocked.
“You’re alright…!” He exclaimed, hugging me so tight he could have dislocated a rib, “What just happened…!? You just… shut down on me. Are you feeling okay!?” He paused, then in a low tone proceeded to say, “You had the same face… as when you… were suffering… when you were taken from me…”
“I…” I began, but didn’t know how to continue.

“Breathe… Don’t think about anything… A stray thought could conjure up that pain again.” He prompted me, seeing I was struggling, “Just relax and tell me what just happened.” His eyes shook like he was suffering shellshock.
“I just… slipped back into that awful state…” I explained, voice monotone with fright, “It hurt… I took something from you, and… my mind, it… it just collapsed...”
“Took something? What did you take?”
“I took my mind… I took my heart… I took my soul… Those things, they’re yours… They aren’t mine to take…”

Ryoken shook his head. He tried to look calm, but he couldn’t wipe the look off of his face that seeing me in such a state had caused.
“Don’t think about anything you might have done wrong. I need to hypnotise you, right now.” He ordered me, “I’m going to give you that reassurance I promised.”

---

“Breathe…” I commanded him in a caring tone, “Feel the water lap against your skin… Feel my love infect the water and soak into you… Feel it taking over your body, one cell at a time, as you relax and let it control you… It is a sweet sensation… It is a loving sensation… It is a controlling sensation…”
Yusaku’s arms dropped and his neck gave way, letting me support his head. He breathed a lot more calmly than he was earlier when he had that panic attack. It was a miracle that I was holding my hypnotic voice through all of my sobbing.

“Let it bring you into a trance… Open your eyes and let me see their lovely shimmer…” I concluded.
Yusaku did as he was told, and staring up at me were a perfect set of green eyes with a soft gaze to them. The sight made me cry even more than I already was. Who was I to allow this angel to suffer?

“Listen carefully, Yusaku.” I said, tears rolling down my cheeks, “You need to remember what I told you. Good intentions matter more than a good result. Your intentions are good, aren’t they? You wanted to obey more than anything. However, you feel like you’ve sullied your worth to me, don’t you?”
Yusaku nodded.
“That’s something you believe despite that feeling being a product of you struggling to do what you want to do. That isn’t the intention you’re thinking about, it’s the end result. Your struggle is proof that you mean well. Your intentions are pure above all else. Be proud of yourself for not giving up on wanting to do the right thing.” I kissed his cheek, closing my watery eyes as I did.

“Yusaku, please, never forget how much you mean to me. You mean so very much… You’re the single most important thing in my life. I need you. Even if you step out of line, I’ll still love you to no end. I’ll correct whatever it is you do, not punish you. I’ll never be mad at you. You will never anger me. You will never disappoint me.” I wept, holding Yusaku close.
“Love…” He breathed.

“Yes, I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.
“I love… you… too…” He whispered.
“I know you do… I don’t want that love to hurt you, though. That love should be the most pleasurable thing in your life. It breaks my heart to see you in any pain.”
“I love… you…”

“Please, submit to me to the best of your abilities. I don’t expect any more than what you are capable of. I love you for who you are, Yusaku. I don’t love you for things that you can’t be. As long as your intentions are pure, you have no need to beat yourself up. If you feel you’ve done something wrong, just come into my arms. I’ll embrace you. I’ll tell you everything is going to be okay. I’ll tell you that I love as many times as you need to believe that I’m not mad and that you did a good job.” I sobbed.

“Your… embrace…” He echoed.
“Just like we are now. I’m here for you. I’ll look after you. I love you.”
“I love… you… Ryoken.”
I nodded, “As do I love you. I want you to be happy. I want us to be happy."

"Are you… happy… Ryoken…?" Yusaku asked, still hypnotised.This was the first time he had asked something in a trance without being prompted. Theoretically this was impossible unless his emotions were strong enough to break through the trance.
Hearing his question, I burst into stronger tears. I wasn't sure if they were happy tears because he cared about me just that much, or sad tears because he was just that heavily hypnotised to love me that if anything went wrong he'd be destroyed in an instant.

Regardless of the risk, I refused to let Yusaku go. I needed him. I was the only one who could give him happiness like this, so in a way he needed me too.

I sighed a sad, shaky sigh. I needed to answer his question. Considering how often I had dishonestly answered similar questions of his in the past, an immediate truth was long overdue.

"I’m feeling a little distressed right now, just like you. Can we just hug for a while?” I asked, “Your body comforts me… Your voice soothes me… Your kind words keep me strong…”
“I’ll… cuddle you… for as… long… as you… need…” Yusaku whispered, “You… comfort me… too…”

---

"Ever thought of running away?" I asked Argent, shooting a glance his way as we entered the almost deserted SOL technologies lobby, save a few receptionists. A man who had finished working overtime ran out the front door of the building behind us, eager to get home.
"I attempted to escape the bar once." He answered, straightening his tie.
"Oh?" I said in an amused tone, "That must have taken some balls. What happened?"

"Long story short, your boss punished me for taking out quite a number of his bouncers and guards." He held an indifferent expression.
"You actually managed to fight back against those guys? They're trained to be the best of the best."
"Yes, that's because I used to work as a private security guard, Miss. I've fought off worse. However, they outnumbered me, so I was defeated."
"Fair enough." I nodded, "That fighting skill does make you quite useful to me."
"I am glad I am of use."

"Hayami!!!" One of the receptionists yelled out across the lobby. As soon as she saw she had my attention, she gestured for me to come over to the desk. With a sigh, I went over with Argent still following me. I was hoping they'd just ignore me, but then again…

"What's with the edgy getup?" The receptionist asked, looking at my outfit with curiousity. I had come straight from the bar in my latex dress. I looked very out of place in the lobby, not to mention the fact that my cutesy reputation didn’t match how I looked at all. I had to think of a lie, and fast.
"I… I have a friend who's a fashion designer and he asked me to model for a photoshoot!" I lied, smiling brightly and giggling.
"Wow, that must have been fun!" She commented. The other receptionist looked my way with a fascinated expression.
"I didn't have time to get changed out of this dress or wipe off my makeup before coming here to collect some documents for Chief Zaizen." I explained.

"Oh, Chief Zaizen?" The receptionist grinned, "You're helping him with work while he's sick to get him to fall for you, aren't you?"
"I… I'm not! I'm just being a good employee!" I insisted, forcing myself to blush. The receptionist picked up the lovey dovey vibes I was giving off, just as usual.
"Sure you are." She chuckled, "So, who is this man? He'll need to check in if he is to come into the building." She looked over at Argent.

"He's the fashion designer." I answered.
"A pleasure to meet you." He bowed. The receptionists practically swooned.
"I'll handle checking him in at my personal terminal, if that's okay." I said.
"Oh yes, that's fine. Good luck finding those documents!" The receptionist waved us off, and we got into the elevator.

"Ugh." I said as soon as the elevator door closed, biting my bottom lip, "That was annoying. I was hoping they’d be too busy to even see me. I’m not going to have them forget this easily. I’m not checking anybody in today, either."
Argent remained silent, standing up straight with his hands behind his back.
"Okay Argent, she's probably on level 42 right now." I said, punching the number on the elevator control panel, "That's where her office and private lab are. As discussed, we'll go in, kick her pretty little ass and apprehend the two other ladies with her. Understood?"
"Understood." He nodded.

---

“What is the meaning of this?!” I screeched, backing into a wall. Ema stepped toward me slowly, like a zombie shuffling towards its prey. Her eyes were dull and devoid of emotion. Sure, she had looked like that ever since I first tortured her, but this was on another level. It was like nobody was home.

“Get away from me!” I hissed at her. I kept my eyes on her as I reached my arm across the wall behind me and felt around for a switch. Sure enough I found it, and flicked it. Now Aoi would be able to take commands.
“Aoi, get out of that tank and protect me!” I yelled.
“Yes… Queen-sama…” She echoed, slowly rising.
“HURRY!” I boomed.
Aoi’s movements sped up slightly, but not significantly. She ripped out the cord that protruded from her cranium and climbed out of the tank.

At that very moment, the door to the room slid open.
“Oh…? What might this be?” A sadistic voice asked, originating from just outside the door. Heels clicked against the linoleum floor as a woman clad in a tight black dress and studded choker entered the room. Her make up was dark, and her expression was sinister. “Has the Queen’s pawns turned on her?”
“Miss, does this change the plan in any way?” A masculine voice inquired. A smartly dressed man entered the room behind the woman.
“Don’t worry about Queen. We’ll let her experiment take care of her. When she’s beaten to a pulp you can apprehend Ema. Focus on Aoi for now.” She commanded.

Who was this girl? I flicked through different people in my head, seeing if I recognised her. No names came to mind, and the makeup certainly didn’t make figuring out her natural face easy. It took a moment before I realised where I had seen that hairstyle before.

There’s no way this was Zaizen’s assistant, Hayami, right? She’s a dumb, bubbly moron who was basically born to follow people without question. She liked light pink and natural hues of makeup. She was clumsy, girly and insufferable. It was absolutely unthinkable that Hayami would ever decide to wear something like this, or even speak in such a tone.

Yet here we were. If Hayami ever decided to cosplay as an emo or dominatrix, this is exactly what she would look like.

She always had a big crush on Zaizen, didn’t she…?

That’s when it dawned on me. She was here to get revenge. If she didn’t kill me, she was at least planning on hurting me really badly. I had two hostile parties in the room, out to get me, and only one means of protection.

Would I send Aoi after Ema or Hayami and her friend first?