written by Michael Surbrook and David Kuijt

December 23rd. Shion sat in her bedroom and stared at the computer's calender. It would be Christmas in two days.

So this is Christmas
And what have you done?

Christmas. Shion tried to remember the last time she and Marta had spent Christmas, a real Christmas, together. Ten, fifteen, twenty years ago? She had a pretty clear memory of the two of them, both around ten years old, surrounded by shredded mounds of wrapping paper and numerous open boxes. Dolls, books, CDs, electronic games... the two had ended up sequestered in their shared room for the rest of of the day, trying out all their new toys, laughing and screeching like maniacs at each new bauble. Their father, who had yet to begin his slow side into the bottle, had simply smiled at their antics, while their mother had brought them dinner on a tray, allowing the two girls to exhaust themselves with play.

Another year older
And a new one just begun

Tomorrow, her sister would arrive with Ling Ling Li. According to Takeda, she was a 'friend', but unless Shion was totally misreading her sister's actions, Marta was desperately in love with this woman.

And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun

Wonderful. The first time in almost two decades that she and her sister might be able to spend some time together and Marta has to have her newest bed toy along. Perhaps she should ask Takeda to stay? Or perhaps not. It would only serve to further irritate Marta, and the last thing Shion wanted, especially in her current state, was to spend the holidays arguing with her sister. Granted, it wasn't like Shion had made a big deal about the holidays before, but then, her recent experiences had begun to chip at her normally cold, aristocratic demeanor.

The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

So, perhaps she would start by not snubbing Ling Ling. She knew the woman's reputation, anyone who worked the Rim did. Ling Ling was known to be intelligent and resourceful, somewhat of a switch from her sister's usual choice of lovers. Who knows, she might even find herself liking Ling Ling.

Thus, it seemed likely that by this time tomorrow, Ling Ling would have taken up residence in the guest bedroom. Turning to look out the window, she thought for a moment. Reaching a decision, she then picked up a phone. Marta wasn't the only one getting a Christmas present from the Empress this year.

A very happy Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

The kitchen smelled good, which was a surprise. Takeda was an erratic cook, and he had attempted to prepare many of their meals himself. He was looking at a bubbling pot now and frowning darkly. Even though the sauce seemed to be working as the recipe described, he was suspicious of it.

"Takeda?" Shion asked from the Kitchen entrance "You're not busy are you?"

"No, not at all," he said, clearing his face and putting the lid back on the pot. "With any luck this will work." Then his face fell, remembering last night's failure. "And if not, I'll go into town to get some Thai food. Don't you worry," he said, slightly worried.

"Worry? Why should I worry?" Shion gave Takeda a small smile. "If you ruin dinner, then you're buying, right?"

"Ha! Fair enough, I suppose," Takeda said ruefully. "What's up?"

Slowly rolling her wheelchair over to where Takdea stood in front of the stove, Shion stopped and sighed slightly. "I hate this," she mumbled under her breath, before composing herself.

"Takeda...you know that my sister is going to arriving soon, right?"


"I would like to... ask a... favor of you."

Takeda nodded, watching Shion closely.

Shion took a deep breath, inwardly wondering why she found this so hard. "I'd like you to leave soon after Marta returns. Just to make things easier all around."

Takeda nodded again, slowly. "Certainly. You're probably right—Marta isn't going to be comfortable with me here."

"And I think she will be even more high-strung now that Miss Li will be here..." Shion paused and gave Takeda a concerned look, "I do hope you realize I'm not trying to throw you out of the house?"

Takeda smiled. "Of course. Don't worry about it."

Shion glanced over at the stove and sniffed. "Well, whatever you're making smells good," she said, obviously trying to change the subject.

Takeda frowned. "Well, it isn't burnt yet, anyway. And I think this time I didn't add too much paprika and salt... it was a natural mistake, tablespoons for teaspoons..."

"Yes, well, since my cooking is limited to what I can heat up in a microwave, I won't comment."

Takeda nodded distractedly. "Should be another 30 minutes, I guess, if the noodles don't burn on the bottom."

"Good, I'll get ready then," Shion rolled her chair back a few feet,

"Oh, and Takeda?" She produced a package wrapped in green and gold paper from behind her wheelchair. "Merry Christmas."

Takeda's face looked confused, then lit up with a childish smile. "A Christmas present?" He took it awkwardly, holding it as if it was very fragile, or precious.

"Yes," Shion seemed pleased at Takeda's reaction, "But you're not allowed to open it yet."

Takeda looked at the package between his hands. "I've ... I don't know what to say, Shion. Is it Christmas today? Tomorrow?" He looked worried.

"Tomorrow." Shion paused and gave Takeda an inquisitive look, "You're not expected back in Neo York, are you?"

"No, no, nobody is expecting me there." He looked at the package carefully. "Ah, is there some ceremonial place that presents are stored until they're opened, like a tree?" Takeda looked very hesitant and unsure, although pleased with the gift.

"Normally, yes." Shion gave a slight shrug, "As you can see, we don't have one."

Takeda nodded. With a little telekinetic shove he floated the brightly-wrapped package out into the dining room, where it landed gently on the table. "Uhhh... uhm, ... Shion, will you be okay alone if I go out for a couple of hours after dinner?"

"I don't see why not, with luck, you might miss my sister's arrival."

Takeda chuckled.

Dinner went well. Third try seemed to be the charm, and this time the beef stroganof succeeded. Takeda was pleased to see that Shion ate well. She still looked thin and tired, and slept frequently, but her appetite had returned and with it some of her color. Now, the two of them sat at the small dinner table, staring at the scattered dishes and trying to find the energy to clean up.

The sudden opening of the door precluded any further conversation. Pushing her chair back, Shion stood up, leaning heavily on the table, the effort clearly visible on her face.

Takeda stood up also, turning towards the door.

"Shion?" Marta's voice called, "I'm back."

A moment later Marta stepped around the corner of the foyer, supporting Ling Ling on one arm. The Chinese fixer looked significantly better than when Takeda had seen her last, although she too looked exhausted and worn. Nodding her head at the pair standing at the dining table, Ling Ling managed a wan smile. "Hello," she said softly.

Takeda nodded and smiled in return.

Catching Takeda's movement out of the corner of her eye, Shion turned slightly, but didn't speak, settling for giving Takeda a slightly curious look.

Glancing about the dining room and kitchen, her face blank, Marta finally nodded towards the stairs. "I'm taking Ling Ling upstairs and putting her to bed," she announced, "There's some stuff out front."

That said, she turned towards the stairs, carefully helping Ling Ling move along.

Shion watched her go, her expression carefully neutral. "That, I take it was Miss Ling Ling Li?"

"Yup. She's looking better, though," Takeda noted.

"Hmm... you seemed happy to see her."

Takeda nodded. "I'm happy to see her better, anyway. She was a mass of blood when I met her, and I think this is the first time I've seen her upright."

Dropping back down into her chair, Shion dabbed at her face with a napkin. "Takeda, if you could look out front, I'll clean up here."

"Certainly. But it'll only take a moment—if you could just collect these dishes together, I'll be back in a moment to do them."

Atlantic City Zero Zone was perhaps the poorest and most desperate zone on the east coast. The Atlantic City Mission was one of the few lights of hope in the desolation of poverty, violence, and gangs.

It was 5 AM on Christmas morning. Most of the mission was asleep, but a young, dark haired man in a turtleneck sweater was on a step ladder putting up the last of the decorations when the phone rang.

He jerked convulsively in surprise, and grabbed for the wall to support himself. Glancing at the clock, he jumped off the ladder and, still holding the garland, lunged for the phone. He got it after the fourth ring.

"Atlantic City Mission," he said.

Takeda's image came up on the vidphone.

"Hello, I'm trying to reach Blade?"


"Blade? She gave me this phone number to call; she's a volunteer at the mission"

He sized up the caller on the vidscreen. Comfortably dressed, clean—an ordinary young man, by all appearances. The call was being made from a well-lit private home or apartment.

"There's no Miss Blade here," he said. Then, watching Takeda's expression he continued. "We don't use 'street names' at the Mission. If you describe her to me, I'll be glad to give her a message when she wakes up."

Takeda frowned. "She's not tall; about 5'3". Young—less than 20. She's been working there for about a year and a half, I'd guess. Her hair was short, and she changed it a lot."

He nodded in recognition. "OK. I'll ask her to call you. What's your name and number?"

"No, no! Please, this is important," Takeda appealed. "I'm calling long distance from New Zealand. Could you wake her up, please?"

The young man stared at Takeda through the vidscreen. "It's an emergency?" he asked.

Takeda looked back. "As I said, this is important. It is urgent. But it is not an emergency. I'm an old friend. I am asking you to wake her up; I assure you that she will forgive you the inconvenience. If you are willing to wake her, please do so. Calling back will be a waste of time. I need her help now, not hours from now."

"Look, I'm not going to wake her up and tell her 'some guy' wants to talk to her on the phone." He said, not unsympathetically. "What's your name?"

"Takeda. Takeda Johnson."

"OK. Hold on." Ron flipped the vidscreen to 'hold', then took a deep, bracing breath.

Johnson's description had been very clear, there was no doubt in Ron's mind who "Blade" was, but it had left out one vital detail. The girl was a telekinetic. A powerful one.

She was nice enough, but she routinely took the place of heavy machinery in her work for the mission, and, twice, he'd seen what she could do in it's defense. He'd also seen what she could do while having a nightmare. Waking her up suddenly was not something he was looking forward to. But if this man was a friend with an urgent problem...

He jogged up stairs to the volunteer quarters, and knocked, gently, on the door.

There was a muffled groan.

"Patty," he said tentatively. "Call for you."

"Huh?" there was a groan and some shuffling. "It's five in the morning. Who's calling?"

"Takeda Johnson. He said it's urgent."

"Takeda!" There could be no doubt that she recognized the name. Ron breathed a silent prayer of thanks that she hadn't waked in a panic.

There was a *thump*, then Patty's room-mate made a peevish complaint.

"Thanks, Ron," Patty said. "Tell him I'll be right there. I'll clear out, Sarah, go back to sleep."

Ron jogged back down the stairs and took the vidphone off hold. "She'll be with you in a couple of minutes," he said.

Takeda smiled in relief. "Thank you. Thanks a lot."

"You're welcome," Ron replied graciously.

There was a moment's uncomfortable silence. "Blade, huh?" Ron asked. "Where do you know her from?"

There was a noticable pause. "Neo York. We worked together, before she went down to the mission. Uhh, if she doesn't go by Blade down there, what name should I use if I call again?"

"We all know her as Patty," Ron said. There was a momentary struggle across his features, allowing Takeda to watch as curiosity beat out good manners. "What sort of work did you and she do in Neo York?"

Takeda's pause was even longer than before as he decided how to answer. "I guess you might call it ... crime prevention, mostly in the Neo York Zero Zone. But if she hasn't told you about it, I probably shouldn't. What about your mission there? What do you do? Is she happy?" Takeda seemed genuinely interested and concerned.

"Well, we're mostly teachers," Ron explained. "In addition to running a school for the basics we're setting up a sustainable economy. By the time I joined the mission it had already set up the farm, and taught people how to do the physical stuff, but the system isn't stable yet. Now there's the whole problem of teaching them to sell a product to the world outside the Atlantic City zone without letting themselves be exploited. Hopefully, within five years, the entire process from crop selection to marketing will be controlled by the locals, not the mission." He beamed with obvious pride as he described the work.

"Patty seems like a pretty happy person," he continued. Then looked up from the monitor momentarily, "but she can tell you herself," he continued as he stepped away from it.

Takeda could hear a quiet "Thanks, Ronny," before Blade appeared in the vidscreen. She wore a pullover sweater with christmas trees on it, and her hair, which had grown back to blonde and sholder length had been hurriedly pulled back from her face with a green head-band.

"Hi, Takeda," she smiled wryly at him. "Long time no see. Merry Christmas!"

Takeda smiled back "Merry Christmas, Blade! I'm really sorry about waking you up like this."

"'sokay. I would have gotten up in an hour anyway to get ready for Church. What's up?"

Takeda frowned hesitantly. "Well, I hope you don't think this is stupid. But it is Christmas Eve over here in New Zealand..."

Blade blinked, noticed the sunlit window on the vidscreen, and nodded.

"I need to find a good idea for a Christmas present for a ... lady friend. And I don't know much about buying presents, Blade—the only Christmas I ever had presents was the one two years ago, and you helped me then."

Blade opened her mouth then shut it again. She shook her head and laughed. "Takeda, you'll never change, will you?" she asked. "I can't tell you what present to get for someone I've never met, but I'll try to help."

Takeda smiled. "Thanks, Blade. I knew you'd help me out."

Still shaking her head, Blade explained. "Since you're asking me, I guess she hasn't told you what she wants. So you have two ways to go. You can either get her a 'safe' present, something she uses all the time and always gets herself, or you can go out on a limb and get her something that she'd never buy for herself, but makes you think of her."

Takeda frowned. "Something that makes me think of her? Rather than something that makes her think of me?"

Blade nodded. "Exactly. You want to give a gift that shows you're thinking about her. If it reminds her of something the two of you do together, that's good too, but in any case it will make her think of you because you gave it to her."

Takeda's eyebrows raised. "Gee, that makes sense."

Blade rolled her eyes and said, "thanks, Takeda. I guess everybody has to make sense occasionally."

Takeda smiled. "Even you, Blade," he kidded.

She chuckled a bit. "Is that it?" she asked. "Do you think you can find her something?"

"That's it," he frowned, "but I don't know if I can find her anything. Something that makes me think of her ... geeze, that isn't easy. Most of the things I can think of aren't very appropriate. I dunno, Blade. Do you have any other ideas?"

"Not really. Maybe if I knew her I could suggest something. Have you tried asking her friends?"

Takeda frowned. "I don't believe I know any. I could ask her sister, but Marta doesn't like me much." Takeda looked at Blade for a long moment. "I'm sorry, Blade, I didn't mean to get mysterious. The present is for Shion Nys."

Blade stared at Takeda, eyes wide. The connection suddenly cut out.

Back in New Zealand, Takeda frowned and shook his head. "Honesty is the best policy, right," he said ironically. "Bloody hell."

Pans clattered downstairs in the kitchen as Marta made breakfast. Shion was there also; their voices were indistinct, although now and then their tones rose as they disagreed about some point or other.

Takeda finished making his bed, as neat as it could be. They had been beaten by the creche-mother if their beds weren't neat back in Genom, he remembered now. He put his small overnight bag on the bed, ready for leaving. His flight wasn't for another five hours, but he had decided to leave right after breakfast and opening Shion's present.

On the side table beside the bed were three presents. After some thought Takeda had bought Marta and Ling Ling presents also, since he was buying one for Shion. It would have felt awkward otherwise, he had finally decided.

He left the presents in the room with his bag and went out into the upstairs hall, starting downstairs. On the way he noticed that Ling Ling's door was open. He stopped and knocked at the door.

"Come in." The voice was soft and almost hesitant, and to Takeda's suprise, bore a distinct Australian accent.

"Hi," Takeda said, leaning in and smiling. "I'll be leaving later this morning, but I wanted to check on you and see how you were doing before I went."

Ling Ling was sitting up in her bed, supported by a virtual mountain of cushions and pillows. She was wearing a brightly colored silk nightgown that did little to hide the curves of her ample breasts. A low tray lay across her legs, supporting a small teapot and a colorful ceramic cup.

She blinked, and gave Takeda a questioning glance. "I am feeling much better now that I've had a good night's sleep. Thank you for asking Mr...?" Ling Ling's voice trailed off as she realized she had no idea who her visitor was.

"Takeda. Takeda Johnson. I was part of the group that got you out of Dai Lo Wang's place, but I'm not surprised you don't remember. You were unconscious at the time."

Ling Ling seemed to twitch slightly at Takeda's words. "Well..." she said in her soft, slightly husky, voice, "thank you, Mr. Johnson. I will be forever in your debt."

Takeda sketched a bow and smiled. "It was my priviledge."

The view for the dining room was nothing short of spectacular. The sliding glass doors gave a fine view of the expansive back deck, with its implaced hot tub and pool, the vine-covered trellis, a broad swathe of grass and the bright strip of beach. Beyond, the Pacific crashed in long rollers, flinging foam and spray across the white sand.

Shion sat in her wheelchair and quietly studied the scene, losing herself in contemplation of the surf, clouds and wheeling seabirds.

Behind her, Ling Ling was nestled in a large overstuffed chair, her recently healed back pillowed by numerous soft cushions. Marta, meanwhile, busied herself with clearing away the breakfast dishes, fluttering nervously between her two charges.

To Takeda, Marta's behaviour was surprising. The angry, cocky, cold-hearted street samurai from Hong Kong and Mega Tokyo was gone now, replaced by an apprehensive young woman who fussed over Ling Ling and Shion like a mother hen over her chicks.

"So, Marta," Shion announced suddenly, "do you know what day it is?"

"Uhh... Thursday?" Marta sounded like she suspected a trick question.

Shion turned to look at her sister. "Christmas," she replied in a slightly disgusted tone of voice.

Takeda wasn't sure, but it looked like Ling Ling cracked a slight smile at the exchange.

"So, I... uh..." Marta stopped, looking slightly confused. "And?"

"And I thought it might be nice if we celebrated it together. It has been," Shion paused, "some time."

"All of us?" Marta's voice had an edge to it.

"No..." Shion said slowly, "just you, I and... Ling Ling. Takeda will be leaving soon to catch a flight back to Neo York."

"Oh..." Marta brightened, "I'd like that."

Shion cocked an eyebrow at her sister. "I'm sure,' she muttered quietly before turning to Takeda.

"So, Takeda, before you go, perhaps you'd like to open your gift?"

Takeda's face cracked in a wide smile. "You bet. But you gave me enough warning, and I found you a gift too, Shion." His smile turned slightly mischievous then. "I also got a little something for Marta, and for Ling Ling." Takeda held out his hand and three wrapped presents floated from where he had stashed them on a bookcase directly to his fingers.

Ling Ling started slightly at the sight, before resuming her usual placid demeanor. Marta seemed torn between anger and curiosity, with the result that she just stood there silently. Shion simply rolled her eyes.

Takeda stood and handed Shion her present with a little bow. Smiling, she bowed in return.

His present for Ling Ling was a small box only three inches on a side. A quiet 'Thank you' was her reply.

The box he offered to Marta was larger, nearly a foot long and half again as wide, although only a few inches deep. Marta stared at the box for a few moments, before finally relenting and taking the offered box.

"May I?" Ling Ling asked, holding the package firmly in her hands, as if she was afraid of dropping it. At Takeda's nodded assent, she carefully removed the wrapping paper and opened the lid. Revealed was a small carving of white jade, beautifully done in the shape of a crane with wings spread.

"Ahh..." Ling Ling exclaimed, "It's beautiful! Thank you."

Marta's eyes widened at the sight of the delicate jade carving. There was a brief moment where all of her anger melted away, and Marta's face reflected the joy Ling Ling had expressed about her Christmas gift. Then, she caught Takeda's eye, and quickly assumed a more stoic expression.

Popping one cyber razor, Marta slashed the paper away from her gift with a dramatic flourish. She then flicked the box lid away with her thumb. In Marta's box was a MBA Gyrojet III and two boxes of shells. There was a smartlink interface on the grip, modified so that she could use the pistol in either hand.

Marta stared at the pistol silently, at a loss - for once - for words. It was Shion who broke the silence.

"You got my sister a gun?"

Takeda shrugged and smiled. "What could be more appropriate?"

"But a gun?" Shion shook her head, "What am I going to do with you?"

Takeda's smile broadened mischievously.

Removing a single shell from one of the ammo boxes, Marta examined it's orange painted tip closely. "What's this?" she asked, "I don't recognize that color code."

"The ammo is something very new. It's a two-stage cartridge, but both stages are self-propelled. It is designed to penetrate spaced armour. In field tests it could shoot through brick walls, reinforced metal doors, and cars; still delivering effective stopping capability."

Marta grinned, "Cool..."

Muttering something about 'toys', Shion tapped Takeda's elbow. "Go ahead, you open yours now."

Takeda absentmindedly held his hand out and Shion's green and yellow present floated through space from its position on the table into his hand, but his eyes stayed on Marta as she was examining her new pistol.

"Marta, there's more." He glanced at Shion before continuing, face very serious. "I've tested that ammo against telekinetic fields. Specifically, against telekinetic walls. If the wall is far enough from the user's skin, that ammo can punch right through it without really slowing down."

"Unhunh..." Marta glanced down at the pistol round before looking over at Shion and Takeda. "Well... Mr. Johnson, thank you. I'm sure I'll find plenty of things to use this on."

Takeda ignored the irony in her tone. "My point was this, Marta. If you want to shoot a Genom telekinetic, this gun will give you a chance. The pistol you pointed at me when I arrived won't cut it." Takeda sat back, grim-faced. "If one of my brothers shows up, use that instead."

Ling Ling glanced up from examining her jade carving to give the others a questioning look. Quickly looking away, she settled for returning the tiny crane to its box.

Marta set the pistol down and took a deep breath. "I think I understand your intent, Mr. Johnson."

Shooting Takeda a dark look, Shion indicated the package resting on the table before him. "Will you open that?"

Takeda looked at his present for a long quiet moment. Finally he glanced at Shion, then started to open it.

The package contained two books. Real books, printed on paper with smooth leather covers and embossed titles. Turning them over, Takeda glanced at the spines. The larger of the two was Sun Tzu's The Art of War, while the smaller was a copy of Mushashi's The Book of Five Rings. Both were very fine Japanese editions.

Takeda touched the silky covers with his fingers, then lifted his eyes to Shion's. "Thank you very much." His voice was soft.

"I'm glad you like them," Shion smiled faintly.

Picking up the package resting on the table in front of her, Shion looked at it contemplativly. Slowly she pulled the ribbon away from the box and removed the wrapping. Lifting the cover, she glanced at the contents, her eye's widening a bit with suprise. Inside the package were three smaller presents, each wrapped separately. At Shion's upraised eyebrows, Takeda spoke up hesitantly. "Important things are done in threes, I've heard. I wasn't sure what to get you. I hope you won't ..., well, anyway, open them."

"Hmmm..." Shion seemed distracted, while Marta and Ling Ling sat silently, not wanting to interrupt the ceremony of present opening.

The first package was the smallest. Shion's long nails made short work of the wrapping, revealing a standard high-end data crystal for long term storage of computer data.

Turning the box to face everyone else at the table, Shion nodded to Takeda. "Your report I presume?"

Takeda nodded. "Slightly sanitized by my boss to remove connections that might be traced back to us, of course, but with full information on everything we found, busted, destroyed at the Genom base. I don't even know if it will be useful for you. But it is a slice of your life. Nobody can give you back the slice of your life they took, but you deserve to know about it."

Shion nodded and placed the data chip aside.

The second package Shion selected was larger, but light. When she opened it she held up a long shirt or negligee of beautiful grey silk. It was almost exactly the colour of her hair. The sleeves were long and wide, coming to a cuff embroidered with subtle patterns in white thread; the high neck was also embroidered. It was soft enough to use as a nightshirt, but opaque enough to use as formalwear.

"Ohhh..." she breathed, "It's beautiful... Thank you, Takeda."

Marta glanced quickly at Takeda, and then back at her sister. "I like the colors."

Ling Ling nodded, "It will go well with your hair."

Takeda blushed. "It made me think of you. I... I'm glad you like it."

The third package was almost as small as the first. It held a small black box, suitable for a bracelet. But inside, when Shion opened it, was a ragged piece of metal about the size of her palm. It looked like a piece of junk.

Shion stared at the object for some time before looking up, her expression one of confusion. "This is?"

Takeda looked at it for a moment, face worried, before he cleared his expression. "The third gift. I've ..." Takeda stood and turned away from the three women, staring at the pounding surf on the beach below. "... I've felt that we were linked, in a way, Shion. I saw you in my mind, floating, alone, in my dreams. Prescient dreams. That is why I decided to give you that bit of torn metal.

Takeda shook his head and turned back. "I'm sorry; I don't mean to spoil Christmas by reminding you. The first gift was for your mind; information. Maybe even painful information, because it is better to know what has happened, even if it hurts, than to be ignorant. The second gift was for your heart and soul—a thing of beauty and joy."

Takeda shook his head ruefully. "At least, I hope it will be that. The third gift is not for you, really. It is for me. I hope that you will accept it. It isn't worth anything, except to me. To me it is ... a totem, I guess. Of the price of freedom. It is a fragment of the scramjet that was destroyed when Masaru tried to take me back to Genom.

Takeda gestured, grimfaced, and the metal shard lifted gently from Shion's hands and spun in the light. "It was my birth, in a way. 357 people died in terror and pain so that I might be born. Because of my arrogance and Genom's ruthlessness."

Ling Ling stared openly at Takeda for a moment, before pushing her glasses back up her nose with one hand and looking away. Marta could be seen to silent mouth the words 'three-hundred fifty seven' before turning to stare pointedly at her sister. Shion ignored her sister's gaze, instead silent examining the slowly spinning chunk of metal before her.

"Why give it to me?" she asked, he voice barely above a whisper.

Takeda let his hand drop, and the spinning shard settled gently back into her hands. "That shard of metal means nothing, except to me. To me it is precious.

Takeda sat down again. "I ask you to take it as a gift." His face was worried, and it seemed to take effort for him to look Shion in the eye before continuing. "Because we are linked, in a way I don't understand. And I ask you to accept it, not as a gift for you, but as a gift to me."

"Linked?" Shion's hand slowly closed around the metal fragment. "What do you mean by linked?"

Takeda shrugged, but his eyes were anything but casual. "I don't know, Shion," he said quietly. "I wish I did."

Takeda came down the stairs carrying his small duffle. He could hear Marta and Ling Ling talking in the other room. Shion rolled her wheelchair into the hall; she had obviously been watching for this moment.

"It's time I was off," Takeda said quietly.

Nodding, Shion produced a cane, and slowly stood up. Panting slightly, she leaned heavily on the cane, and gestured to the front foor with her free hand. "Allow me to see you out, Mr. Johnson."

Takeda nodded. As they went out the door he watched Shion carefully, aware that she was making a point of the additional effort of standing and walking, but concerned about how much strength she had.

Standing on the front porch, the cool ocean breeze ruffling through the long strands of her hair, Shion looked almost wistful. She stood stiffly, her cane held tightly in her hand, staring out at the dark green mountains that made up the horizon. Finally, she turned to Takeda.

"Tell me, Mr. Johnson, did I ever thank you?"

Takeda shrugged awkwardly and smiled.

Cupping the side of his face in her hand, Shion smiled and bent her head slightly. "Thank you, Takeda," she whispered, before kissing him.

It took a long moment for Takeda to recover himself. He smiled. "Call me if you need anything." Then he faded into nothingness, and Shion felt the pulse of power that accompanied a teleport. The breeze blew through the space he had occupied as if he'd never been there at all.

Shaking her head slightly, Shion turned back to studying the far mountains. She stood there, silent and motionless, lost in her own thoughts, a single tear slowly making its way down one cheek.

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