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Lost in My SQL

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                 The day was warm out. I stepped out of the office for a breath of fresh air, and some quiet. My coworkers had been kind, throwing an impromptu office birthday bash for me. I appreciated the gesture, though the thought of being forty-five was…weird. Most people, by the time they hit my age, had a house, kids, hell, a good few had grand kids.  I had the house. In fact, except for the presence of a significant other and kids, I had my dream life.  I traveled internationally, had friends for whom I would gladly give my life, and was godmother to all their kids. I truly loved pretty much everything about my life, except for that one missing piece. 

                But, I had also decided that I was done with the dating scene. That was a young person’s game, and I couldn’t truthfully say that about myself anymore.  Forty-five was no spring chicken, and I was tired of wasting my time on a pointless pursuit.

                My phone dinged, and I unlocked the screen to see a game notification. It was a ‘text’ from my love interest in one of those silly otome games. I had a few minutes before my break was over, so took a seat on the bench and opened the app, smiling as the pretty two-dimensional faces winked or smirked up at me from the screen. 

                I started reading through the latest part of the story, giggling, fondly remembering what it was like to be young and in love, and to feel like you had the world at your feet and time on your side. 

                A coworker sat next to me, leaning over to see what I was doing.

                “Oh, you play these games, too?” She asked with that irritating tone that meant she clearly felt that a woman twenty years her senior was much too old to be enjoying such nonsense.

                Ignoring the tone, I answered the question.

                “Yep. With this new project, I’m lucky to get five minutes to read anything not work related, anymore. That’s just about enough time to get through a daily set of chapter tickets. Plus, the art is great.”

                “Oh,” she answered, clearly confused by my answer.  “I didn’t realize anyone else played them.” Shyly, she showed me her phone, and all the otome apps she had.

                “Do you think these games make it harder to find a boyfriend?” She asked.

                “No. Stupid men make that harder. Hells, if I’d had access to these when I was in college, I probably would have been far more discerning in the men I chose to date back then.”  I snorted. “Or I wouldn’t have dated real men at all…”

                She laughed. “I know the feeling.”

                She looked around furtively as the door into the office building opened.

                “But don’t you think it’s… embarrassing… to play these games?”

                “Nope. I am a grown-ass woman. I own my home, free and clear, I pay all my own bills, I have no debts, I speak multiple languages and have multiple college degrees. If someone doesn’t like the fact that I spend a few free minutes of my time each day to de-stress by playing these silly dating sim games, they can kiss my lily-white ass. Their opinion has no effect on what I choose to do with my time, and anyone small-minded enough to think that it should can bugger off.”

                She smiled and nodded, accessing her own game. 

                I stood up to return to the office. It was Friday night, and my friends had planned a huge bash for me, at my house. I didn’t want to get stuck late at work.

                The rest of the day passed quickly, and I hopped into my Jeep for the drive home.  I decided to take the top down and take the scenic route and drove home along Seven Devils and Beavers Hill road, until it joined back up with the Pacific Coast highway.  It added a couple hours to my drive, but it was my birthday, and it was absolutely worth it.  My favorite part of the world was here, along the Oregon coast.

                When I got home, there were cars in my driveway and lights in my house. I walked in to a party, thrown for me by the people I considered my family.  I had no blood relatives that I knew of, me being an only child of two other only children, both of whom had passed within a year of my college graduation.   

                As I made my way up the steps, I was greeted by the laughter of my godchildren. The oldest was fifteen, the youngest, two. 

                “You gave us just enough time, Aunty Ava,” the fifteen-year-old informed me.

                 “Excellent. That was totally my plan,” I smiled and winked at her, picking up the smallest of the children and heading into my house. 

                As soon as I stepped into the great room, a chorus of ‘happy birthday’ started, and I was confronted with a cake with a handful of candles.

                “Blow, Aunty Ava!” The two-year-old instructed.

                “Yes, ma’am,” I answered, taking a deep breath and blowing out the candles.

                She clapped her little hands. “You do good!” She congratulated me.

                I laughed and set her carefully on the ground.

                “Thank you, Angel,” I said, before making my way around the room, hugging everyone and thanking them for the party.

                Much later, after dinner, the kids were all watching movies, and while those adults who wouldn’t be driving were all drinking, we started talking.

                “So, Ava, what did you decide to do for your birthday this year?”

                “I’m going to take a three-month cruise around the world.”

                “Seriously? When?”

                “It starts next month. Anyone wanna house sit?”

                Several hands went up.

                “Excellent. Just remember, three months is a long time. All of you come talk with me later, we’ll figure out a schedule.”

                “Are you going with anyone special?”

                I rolled my eyes.

                “You know I’m not.”

                “Not even that hot firefighter we met at the Independence Day picnic last month? He was all kinds of into you.”

                A phone with a picture of myself and said firefighter was presented to me.

                “'Hot firefighter'? I see what you did there. He was pretty cute. I think his name was Chris. And no. I haven’t seen or heard from him.”

                “Well you could have called him.”

                “I don’t have his number, and I’ve been focusing on getting my current caseload closed so I can go on my cruise without a guilty conscience.”

                “Maybe you’ll meet someone on the cruise.”

                “You know what? I don’t even care about that any more. In fact,” I ran up the stairs to my room, retrieving my grandmother’s wedding set from my jewelry cabinet, and returned to the great room.

                “From this day on, I no longer care about dating.” I slid the rings onto my finger. “I promise to spend the rest of my life doing what I love, what’s important to me, and not worrying about whether I find that ‘special someone’.”

                There was applause and laughter.

                Someone piped up from the back of the room. “This is when you’ll meet him!”

                “I don’t care,” I answered. “I’ve wasted too much time and money on a pointless pursuit. Not gonna happen anymore.”

                The rest of the night passed in laughter and love.  It was nearly two in the morning before the last guest left, the precursor of a big storm rolling in, blocking out the stars over the ocean.

                I changed into pajamas and brushed my teeth, and then walked out onto the balcony outside my bedroom to watch the storm come in.  There wasn’t much rain, but a lot of wind and lightning.

                 I sat on a chair and put my feet up on the banister, sipping at some water. The light show dancing across the water was breathtaking. I checked my phone as each of my friends texted me, telling me they’d all arrived home safely. Once I had replied to the last one, I shut off my phone and turned to head inside, stretching as I headed for bed.

                My skin tingled and the hairs on my arms stood on end. A metallic scent wafted through the air, and I recognized the tang of ozone a split second before everything turned white.

 

                I woke in a strange bed. My eyelids were heavy, and it took a couple minutes of struggling with them. I’d get one open, and it would drift closed while I fought to open the other.  Finally, they cooperated enough that I could start trying to focus on the room I was in. 

                A heart monitor was clipped to my finger, a blood pressure cuff around my left bicep, and a saline drip in my arm.  The room was dark, except for the light directly over my head. The blinds over the window were partially open, and I could see the gray light of early morning.  I swallowed and felt the pressure of a tube running down my throat.

                I patted around the rails of the bed, trying to find the button to raise the head of the bed. I was still searching when a blond man entered the room.

                “Ah, our mystery woman awakes,” he remarked in a clipped British accent.

                It took a moment for my eyes to focus on his face. Somehow, he seemed vaguely familiar. I wracked my brain, trying to figure out how I knew the man.

                “I’ll bet you’re a bit thirsty, aren’t you? Let me help.”  He pushed the button to raise my head, filled a paper cup with water from the sink in the room, stuck a straw in it, and held it to my lips.

                I hadn’t realized how dry my mouth was until the water hit my tongue, and I drank greedily.

                “That’s enough for now, dear,” the doctor said, taking the cup away. “You’ve been unconscious for a few days now. Don’t want to upset your tummy.”

                That caught me off-guard. I hadn’t had a doctor that said ‘tummy’ since I was little. I focused again on the man standing over me.  Honey-blond hair, blue-gray eyes. He was handsome, but I couldn’t for the life of me recall from where I knew him. He wasn’t a coworker, wasn’t a friend of a friend, nor a client. 

                “So, dear lady,” he asked, sitting beside me on the bed, “what’s your name?”

                I looked around the room, trying to figure out where I was.  There were signs on the wall, like you’d see in any medical clinic. The difference here is that they were in Japanese kanji on one side, English on the other.

                “…Ava. Ava Brady. Can I ask where I am, doctor…?”

                “Foster. Luke Foster. You are in my private clinic, in the Tres Spades hotel, in Tokyo, Japan. Apparently, you landed on one of my colleagues after you fell from the sky.”

                I was glad to already be sitting down. The way the world spun and my head swum would have guaranteed me falling flat on my face otherwise.

                I could feel my mouth working, but no sound came out, and I finally put my hands over my mouth. There was no way this was possible. I had been at my home in Bandon, Oregon. There was a party, and, while I’d had some alcohol, I hadn’t been drunk. There was no way in hell I’d flown across the damned Pacific Ocean. That was all I could focus on. I purposely ignored the part where a character from a game was talking to me, in a setting from a game. That was entirely too much to take in right now.

                “Hmm… a touch of laryngitis? No. Perhaps just a bit of shock.”

                I nodded my head. ‘Shock’ was putting it lightly.

                “Just a moment, dear lady. My colleagues will be happy to know that you are awake.” He turned away and picked up the in-room phone and hit a button. “She’s awake now, if you want to come down.”

                He hung up the phone and returned to my bedside.

                “Have you found your voice yet, my dear?”

                I took a deep breath and swallowed around the feeding tube down my throat. 

                “I-“ I cleared my throat. “I think so.” My voice was hoarse.

                “You know, I think while we wait for the others to arrive, we’ll remove that feeding tube. You’ll be able to eat on your own now that you’re awake.”  He moved to the phone and called a nurse in to the room. 

                She arrived quickly and smiled at me. 

                “This is going to feel a little uncomfortable, but it will be over shortly,” he told me, laying the bed flat again and pulling on some gloves.

                The nurse smiled apologetically and pulled away the tape that held the tube on my cheek.

                “Okay. Now, I need you to take in a deep breath, and I’m going to have you let it out slowly as we remove the tube. Ready?” He waited for me to breathe in and nod. “Ok. Go.”

                It felt strange as the tube was pulled out slowly. It stung, and I found myself blinking rapidly and fighting the urge to swallow.  It was over shortly, and one of them handed me a tissue to wipe my nose.  I coughed a couple times as the bed was raised to the sitting position again, and the nurse handed me the water cup.

                “Thank, uhm,” I had to clear my throat. “Thank you.”

                “My pleasure,” she answered. “Would you like to brush your hair?”

                “Uh, yes, please.” 

                She handed me a small mirror and went to find a comb.

                I got another shock when I looked in the mirror.  Soulful, but very confused, big brown eyes stared back at me.  This was not my face. It was a very cute face, don’t get me wrong, but not mine. The face gazing back at me was a somewhat older version of the generically pretty MC face in every otome game.

                I nearly dropped the mirror.

                “Come now, it’s not that bad. Remember, you’ve been unconscious for several days,” the doctor offered, misunderstanding my confusion.

                “This isn’t me…” I vaguely noticed the door of the room swinging open, and several men entering. “This can’t be real. This has got to be some kind of hallucination…” 

                “What are you babbling about?” 

                A new voice joined the fray, and I looked up to see a handsome smirk.

                “Ah, Eisuke. As you can see, our mystery woman is awake, and quite confused.”

                Someone turned on the overhead light in the room, and I blinked in the brightness for a moment. I looked up to see eight faces surrounding me, vaguely familiar, yet unknown.

                “The patient is one Ava Brady,” the doctor spoke up.

                I wasn’t yet able to really to think of him as Luke Foster, character in a phone game.

                “I was struck by lightning. I thought your life flashed before your eyes when you died,” I babbled. “That can be the only explanation. I’m dead, and this is some weird-ass purgatory. I mean, I’m not Christian, so I don’t really know how this all works.” I cackled and buried not-my-face in not-my-hands, sobbing.

                “What’s all this about, Foster?” The man at the foot of the bed demanded.

                “This is the first time she’s been awake. I have no idea.”

                “Looks like she’s nuts,” the shortest of the bunch observed. He wore a smock and had a red bandana tied around his head.

                “Ota, the lady is in shock. Be nice.” A taller man, wearing a fedora, elbowed him.

                “Why do we all have to be here?” A man in glasses asked, looking bored.

                “Perhaps we can help the lady recover her memory,” fedora man offered.

                “Ah, good idea, Baba.”

                I cackled again.

                “Maybe this is a hallucination? That’s another great explanation…” I looked up, meeting each of their eyes in turn.  “After all, you’re all characters in a game. You can’t really be here. I can’t really be here. This has to be a fever dream…a nightmare…”  I started pinching my arms, legs, cheeks, anywhere I could reach.

                “Maybe that fall knocked her loopy.” The one that looked to be the youngest observed.

                “Fall?” I asked.

                “Yes. Perhaps we can help restore your memory.” He turned to face the one nearest my right hand. “Mamo, perhaps you could help the lady out?”

                I met the cool gray gaze of the man in question. His full lips pursed, and he raked a hand through his wavy hair. Dark stubble covered his square jaw.

                “Not much to tell,” he answered with a shrug. “I was walkin’ from the back of an apartment building to my car in front, after finishing a job. There aren’t any windows in the alley, but there was a flash of light, and you dropped out of nowhere. The only thing you had was a newly-activated phone.”

                “What do you remember?” The man who had to be Mitsunari Baba asked me.

                I rubbed my eyes and sighed.

                “I had been sitting on the balcony of my home, waiting for my friends to let me know that they’d all reached their homes safely. There was a big storm rolling in off the ocean. Once Mike texted me that he and his family were home, I turned off my phone and started heading into my house to go to bed. There was a huge flash of lightening over the house, everything turned white, and then I was here.”

                “Sounds like a sci-fi movie,” Ota commented. “A bad one.”

                “Hah. Tel me about. I’m the one living it,” I sniped.

                “And where is home?”

                “Oregon. A little place called Bandon-by-the-Sea.”

                The looks on their faces were another nail in the coffin of my hope that this was all some weird hallucination.

                “And where is that?” Ota asked.

                “It’s on the west coast of the United States,” I answered. “A few hours north of San Francisco.”

                Ota handed his phone over.

                “Show us on the map where it’s located,” he said with a smirk.

                “You know, there’s a reason I never played your route,” I scowled. “I’m glad to see my decision was a good one.”

                Every one of the men stared at me, varying degrees of concern on their faces.

                I ignored them and looked at the phone on my hands. On the screen was a map of the countries of this world. Japan, of course, was fairly well fleshed out, nearly as detailed as the real country. Off the coast to the south, roughly where Taiwan should have been, was a small island labeled ‘Yamato’. China was much less detailed, and mostly just Hong Kong. Most of Asia was nonexistent. There was no India. The African continent was a vague blob, with only Saudi Arabia marked. The Eurasian portion of the map was most interesting. Where a good portion of China would have been, the country of Oriens existed. Phillip, Dres Van, Altaria, Charles, Sanct Sybil, and even Shaharazal. Liberty was farthest west, with Italy, France, England and Switzerland tacked on in almost the correct places. Ireland was a tiny dot. Across the Atlantic, the American continent was almost comical. Canada was sort-of there. The States were a blob with New York, D.C., and Cambridge Massachusetts on the east coast, California and Washington on the west coast. Hawaii was still there, and Las Vegas. Well, they were sort-of there.  The shape of the country was vague. Central and South America were there-ish. 

                “Oh. My. God. Where in the hell am I? What the fuck is this world?” My hands were shaking so hard I dropped the phone on the bed.

                “This has to be some kind of pre-death experience,” I muttered. “Lightening struck my house, and my body is probably crushed under the weight, and I’m just slowly dying, experiencing the setting of the game I last played until my mind finally shuts down. I hope it doesn’t take too long. This is insane.”

                I buried my face in my hands, then lifted my head enough to look at them.

                “This isn’t even my own body. My last moments of life are being spent as an MC in a damn game. Holy shit.”

                From the corner of my eye, I saw the doctor… Luke… injecting something into the saline drip, and I honestly couldn’t blame him.

                I reached for the button pad and pressed the one that would lower the head of the bed.

                “Good idea,” I observed. “Maybe when I wake up I’ll be home, and this will all have been some bizarre nightmare. Or I’ll be dead. Either way, this mind fuck will be done.” I closed my eyes and turned my head away from the audience in the room, too deep in confusion and self-pity to hear anything else they may have said.

Chapter Text

               The next time I woke up, I kept my eyes shut tight, praying that even though it felt as though I was still in the strange hospital bed, I would open them and somehow be back in my own bed. In my own room, in my own house. Or at least a hospital bed in my world.

                No such luck. I opened my eyes to see the same dual-language signs hanging in the room. The saline drip, blood pressure cuff, and heart rate monitor had all been removed at some point. My hand was bandaged and still tender to the touch at the site of the needle entry.

                I realized that I needed to pee, so I clambered out of the bed and toward the bathroom. Hospital robes here were as revealing as those back home.

                “Have to remember that when I leave the bathroom,” I muttered.

                As I approached the sink to wash my hands, I caught sight of myself in the mirror and screamed, before covering my mouth with one hand.

                “Jesus!” I swore. I’d forgotten that I was no longer me-me, but Voltage-me, and sighed as I washed my hands and splashed water on my face.

                I stared at the woman in the mirror for a moment. The deep brown eyes that I recalled from last night. Shoulder-length brown hair in a simple bob cut. Slightly curved brows and thick black lashes, a button nose, high cheekbones, a rounded face and mouth with slightly thin lips greeted me. Suddenly curious, I pulled open the snap at the neck of the gown and took it off, taking in the look of this new body. Smallish breasts, narrow hips, flat ass, unblemished skin, and no sign of the muscle definition that I had worked so hard to attain and maintain, to say nothing of my few tattoos.

                I heaved a sigh and pulled the hospital gown back on.

                “At least I have eyes,” I muttered, opening the door to return to the bed.

                Luke stood right outside the door, a stack of clothes in his hands.

                I jumped, clutching the edges of the hospital gown.

                “Oh, apologies dear lady. I just thought you might like to shower and go outside.”

                I nearly hugged him at the mention of a shower, though I was less enthused at the thought of wandering around almost-Tokyo.

                He handed the clothes over, then walked to a small closet and pulled out a small bag.

                “This should have everything you need in it,” he said, handing it over.

                It contained hotel-room size toiletries emblazoned with the Tres Spades logo.

                “Makes sense,” I muttered, recalling that he’d said this clinic was in the hotel.

                “Here are some towels, too. The shower is in there.” He pointed into the bathroom I’d just been in.

                I hadn’t noticed a shower, but I’d been a little preoccupied. I nodded and returned to the bathroom, setting everything on the counter.

                “Just press the call button when you’re done, Ava,” Luke called out, closing the door behind me.

                I sighed, looking around until I spied the shower enclosure and walked over to turn on the water.

                While it got hot, I pulled the hospital gown off again, and took the bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash out of the bag. I was gratified to see a small comb as well, along with a tiny tube of toothpaste and small toothbrush.

                I stepped into the shower and took my time, enjoying the feel of the hot water on my skin and trying to figure out what in the hell to do next. I didn’t really want to live in this world. It had always been a place I enjoyed visiting, virtually, when I had a few spare minutes.

                “How in the hell am I going to get home?” I asked the shower head. It gave me as good an answer as I’d managed to come up with on my own, which was nothing. “Gods. How in the hell did I get here?” There was no answer to that question, either.

                I sighed.

                “Guess I should get out before someone decides I’ve taken too long and comes to make sure I haven’t tried to kill myself or something.”

                I turned off the water and stepped over the short rim of the enclosure, leaning over to twist some of the excess water out of my hair.

                The towels were soft and fluffy as I patted myself dry, still wondering what in the hell I was going to do. I had no ID, no money, no way to prove my education or qualifications.

                I used the lotion on my face, neck, and hands, staring at myself in the mirror.

                “If I’m stuck here, how am I going to support myself? Shit.”

                I jumped at a knock on the door.

                “Still all right in there, Ava?” Luke’s voice was muffled through the door.

                “Yes,” I called. “Just getting dressed now.”

                I pulled on the clothes that he’d given me, combed my still-damp hair, and gave my teeth a quick swipe with the toothbrush.

                I opened the door to see the doctor and the original Tres Spades crew.

                “Um, what do I do with the towels and robe?” I asked.

                “Oh, if you could drop them in the laundry hamper, I know the nurses will appreciate it,” he answered.

                I nodded and did so, looking around the room.

                “If you’re ready to go, your shoes are beside the door,” he offered.

               

                As it turned out, we didn’t walk. I gawked out the window as the limo drove through the city, finally pulling between two buildings, parking in a lot in the back.  We piled out of the limo, and Mamoru led us all to the place between the buildings where I had entered this world.

                There was a strange feeling in the air here. Waves of pressure pulsed through my head, and when the men spoke, it sounded as though their voices were coming to me from underwater. The pressure waves grew stronger; it got hard to breathe, and I had to lean against a wall to keep from falling over. Luke looked concerned, reaching a hand out to me.

                The pressure shot up, then stopped abruptly, along with all sounds in the area.

                “This is it. I’ve finally died,” I muttered.

                I blinked at the ground as two pairs of booted feet arrived in front of mine.

                I looked up slowly, my eyes darting between a pair of curious blue eyes and another pair that were a haughty golden brown. Behind these two were four others, watching intently.

                I noticed that aside from myself and the newcomers, all dressed in costumes somewhere between overblown military and boy band, everything else was frozen.

                “Jee-zus FUCK,” I swore as I let out a long breath.

                “I don’t think that’s right.” Ichthys observed.

                The haughty one took my chin in one hand and moved my head back and forth, his gaze searching.

                “Not a goddess, but definitely not a standard goldfish,” he remarked.

                “No kidding,” I retorted. I had immediately recognized the characters from Star Crossed Myth but was still in denial about the whole being transported to a game world thing.

                “I don’t suppose you boys can send me home? Or wake me up? Or fucking let me die already? This hallucination is fucking nuts.”

                “I’m afraid it’s not a hallucination,” Huedhaut replied. “This is all quite real. I sense the remnants of very powerful magic. I have no idea how to reverse it, or indeed, even how to work it.”

                I rubbed my forehead with the fingers of both hands.

                “You’re telling me this mind fuck is real, and I’m stuck here?”

                “You seem to be fond of that word,” Dui noted disapprovingly.

                “Yes, I am, because it’s a very versatile fucking word. And fits this situation so fucking well.”

                “Tell me what happened just before you came here,” Huedhaut requested.

                I recapped the story for the gods. Leon’s expression never changed, but those of the others grew more surprised as I finished with the description of my arrival in this world.

                “That would explain the massive magic pulse we all felt the other day,” he mused. “Is there anything we can do right now to help you out while I investigate this occurrence?”

                “Uh… well, I need money, ID, proof of my skills, since it appears that I’m going to have to get a place to live and a job to support myself in a whole new world.” I shook my head as the lyrics to the Disney song ran through my head. A large, flat pack appeared on the ground in front of me. Inside it were jewels and rolls of cash, a driver’s license and passport, along with diplomas from universities in this world. The pictures on the IDs all featured photos of not-me.

                Even with that issue, a shiver of relief ran down my back.

                “Thank you,” I said, grateful for the help. I took off my jacket and slid the pack on, then put the jacket back on.  “These guys would notice if a bag of money and jewels suddenly just appeared in my hands,” I explained.

                “I have another idea,” Leon spoke, snapping his fingers. “These goldfish will provide you with a home until we find more answers to this problem.”

                I raised my eyebrows at him.

                “We don’t know how or why you’re here, or who brought you. Staying with them will be safer than being on your own. Try not to mess things up too much.”

                “I will find you when I’ve learned more,” Huedhaut told me before the gods winked out of existence and the world started moving again.

                “Wow,” I muttered, shaking my head.

                “Are you okay,” Luke asked, one hand reaching for my shoulder.

                “Uh, yeah…,” I drawled. “It just felt really weird for a second.”

                Eisuke tapped one foot on the ground, apparently impatient that the answers hadn’t just magically appeared upon our arrival.

                “Let’s go back to the penthouse,” he decided. “I have questions for you, and I’d rather discuss them in private.”

                Everyone agreed, and we piled back into the limo, returning to the hotel.

 

                About half an hour later, we were gathered in the great room of the penthouse suite. Drinks were arrayed in front of us, and Baba had whipped up some finger foods.

                “You said we were characters in a game,” Eisuke spoke at me. “Explain.”

                I sighed, and started from the beginning, giving a very sketchy overview of their game, and emphasizing that it was a dating sim.

                “Are there other games that take place here?” He asked.

                “Yes.”

                I went on to talk about several of the other games that took place here.

                “Are there locations from those games that we can investigate?” He asked, still unconvinced.

                “Uh, probably. Some of the other game locations are the Long Island sports bar, alternately called Kunian; there’s the Addison and Rhodes advertising company; Urban Casino and Resort in Roppongi; Sanno Corporation; Shiki Publishing and Seasonelle magazine; Aikawa Dot Com and Sakakibara Holdings…”

                “That should be enough to start with,” Eisuke cut me off. “Now, you need to choose one of us to stay with.”

                Oh, hell no, I thought.

                “I’d prefer a suite of my own, so that my presence will interfere less with your usual habits.”

                He looked for a moment like he was going to argue, then nodded his head.

                “Good idea. The one between Soryu and Mamo is empty, you can have that one.”

                “Thank you,” I bowed my head. “I appreciate the gesture.”

                He nodded and made a phone call, then turned back to me.

                “Now, how about the names of some other people that your games say live here?”

                “Right, names.” I sighed, then started ticking them off on my fingers. “Kunihiko Aikawa. Subaru Ichiyanagi. Daiichi Katsuragi. Shunichiro Tachibana. Hiroshi Kirisawa. Ryoichi Hirose. Satsuki Kitaoji. Iori Enjo. Akiyoshi Zaizen. Takamasa Saeki. Seiji Goto…”

                “That will do.” His face had remained mostly impassive, but it appeared as though he’d recognized at least a couple of the names.

                The elevator opened, and Kenzaki entered the penthouse, handing something to Eisuke. His eyes widened when he looked at me, nodded, and left.

                Eisuke handed over the object in his hand.

                “This is your keycard. Don’t lose it, or you won’t be able to access the penthouse.”

                He took out his wallet, pulled out a card, and handed it over. 

                “I imagine you’ll need some clothes. Go to the boutique downstairs and get a few things. Tomorrow, one of us will take you to a department store, where you can get more of what you’ll need. Make certain it’s suitable for my personal assistant.”

                “Thank you,” I said again, surprised and grateful but wondering if this was Eisuke’s idea, or something planted by the gods.

                He stood from the table and nodded, heading up the stairs to his personal suite.

               

                “So, dear lady,” Baba leaned forward, “would you like to see your room first, or go shopping?”

                The realization that I didn’t know what size clothing I needed to purchase made the decision easy.

                “I’d like to see my room first, please.”

                “Of course.” He stood with a flourish and offered his arm.

                I draped one hand on his arm and let him lead me down the hall where the suites were located.

                He threw open the door and welcomed me in.

                It was pretty much the same as in the game illustrations, the only difference now being that I was seeing them in real life rather than game CGs. The furnishings were as luxurious as I had imagined.

                Conscious of the pack under my jacket, I excused myself to the bathroom.

                “Just give me a moment. I need to see what size clothes I’m wearing.”

                Ota scoffed. “You don’t know what size clothes you wear?”

                He sauntered over to stand in front of me, leering down his nose.

                I tried to recall how tall he was, as that would give me some idea how tall this not-me was.

                “Dude, I told you before. This is not my body. I have no idea what size the clothes need to be. I’m not from this world.”

                “That’s right. You’re some kind of space cadet or something.”

                Quick as a snake, I reached up, grabbed his ear and twisted it, pulling him down to one side enough that he had to look up at me.

                “Keep using that tone, chuckles, and I’ll show you ‘or something’. Am I clear?” I growled.

                “Yes, ma’am,” he whimpered.

                I let go of his ear and stalked to the bathroom, removing my jacket and placing my pack in a drawer near the toilet.

                There wasn’t a size tag in the jacket, but it was oversized for this body. I took off my shirt and bra, trying to commit the sizes to memory, then checked the jeans and shoes, as well.

                Leaving the jacket hanging on the back of the bathroom door, I returned to the living room, where Baba still waited for me.

                “All set?” He asked, a little too brightly.

                I just nodded and followed him out of the suite and to the penthouse elevator.

 

                Surprisingly, there was a fairly wide selection of items to choose from in the hotel boutique. I picked up a pair of pajamas, and a couple outfits that would be suitable for a middle-aged secretary. The underwear and bras were what you’d expect in a place that caters to a lot of honeymoons, so I just selected the least racy versions of each that I could find, grabbed a couple pairs of nylon stockings and a fancy notebook and pen set, and moved to the register.

                The items were rung up quickly, and when I handed over the card to pay, the girl behind the register went wide-eyed.

                “Are you a new employee?” She asked.

                “Yes,” I answered. “I start in a couple days.”

                “What will you be doing?”

                “I am to be Mr. Ichinomiya’s personal assistant.”

                “Wow! That’s why you don’t have to wear a uniform. What’s your name?”

                “I’m Ava.”

                “Nice to meet you, Ava. I’m Yuki. Welcome to the Tres Spades family!”

                She handed over the card and the bag with my purchases.

                “Thank you,” I answered. “I’m looking forward to a new start.” 

                I wasn’t really, but that wasn’t something she needed to know.

                I wandered out of the boutique, surprising Baba, who was speaking with Mamoru.

                “That didn’t take long,” he remarked, taking the bag from my hand.

                “Well, there’s not much in that boutique that could be considered ‘professional’ dress.”

                “True. We have plenty of time, is there anywhere else you’d like to go?”

                “Could you give me a tour of the hotel?”

                “Of course, dear lady.” He switched the bag to his other hand and offered me his arm again.

                He was still being nervously polite, but I chose to ignore that, using the excuse that these guys were no where near as stressed out I was right at this moment in time.

                I slipped my hand into the crook of his elbow and followed his lead. Mamoru trailed behind us, as I was introduced to the hotel.

                We went through the employee cafeteria, through the large kitchens and the convention areas and gardens. The men showed me the large hotel pool and the fitness center.

                “Your keycard will get you into any of these places, at any time of the day,” Baba offered, no longer quite so nervous.

                “There’s a private pool and gym up in the penthouse, as well,” he continued.

                We returned to the elevator that would lift us to the penthouse. Once the doors slid closed, Mamoru turned to me.

                “Got any more questions?”

                Taking a deep breath, I nodded.

                “In the game back in my world, you guys run a black-market auction that Eisuke started in order to search for his long-lost sister. Is that a thing here, or is it just story embellishment?”

                The two men looked at each other, their expressions somewhere between amazed, suspicious, and shocked.

                Neither of them said anything for several minutes.

                “I think we should bring the Boss in on this one,” Baba finally answered as the doors slid open to the penthouse.

                I nodded, taking the bag with my purchases from him.

                “I’ll go put these away.” I headed toward my suite, while Mamoru made his way up to Eisuke’s suite.

                In my room, the first thing I did was grab the pack from the bathroom, hurriedly slipping the rolled cash and jewelry into the back of a dresser drawer. I put the pajamas and lingerie on top and closed the drawer, leaving the paperwork in the bag on my bed.

                I had just finished hanging the blouses and skirts when Eisuke came charging in, red-faced and angry, sucking all the oxygen from the room. He stopped toe-to-toe with me and grabbed my shoulders, lifting me to my toes.

                “How do you know about the auctions? How do you know about my sister?” He demanded, his face so close to mine that I could smell the sugar and coffee on his breath. The other bidders followed closely behind.

                I drew in a deep breath, fighting to keep my cool, and met his gaze directly.

                “As I’ve already told you, in the world that I come from, all of you are characters in a game. The auction is a central tenet of the game. It’s how the player character is introduced to all of you. The player character is a maid in the hotel. One day she’s in need of some supplies and is sent to the basement to retrieve them. She wanders into a room she’s never been in before. It’s dark, she gets spooked, and knocks over a statue of Venus, which gets broken. In place of the statue, she is put up in the auction. The only bidders are some creepy old dude and one of you, depending upon which character route the player has chosen.”

                He glared at me for a full minute longer, his fingers digging into my shoulders, before he let go and took a step back, crossing his arms over his chest.

                “I know you’re not lying, but everything you claim is unbelievable.”

                I snorted.

                “Tell me about it.” I sighed. “Look, I know this is hard for you guys to believe. This is hard for me to believe. I’m still expecting to wake up at any moment, either in my own bed from the weirdest damned dream I’ve ever had in my life; or in a hospital bed somewhere. Honestly, I’m terrified that I’ve lost everything I worked so hard to earn over the course of my life.”

                I shrugged my shoulders, my hands at my sides.

                “It would have been great if the gods of this world had given me some way of proving to you that I’m telling the truth, but they didn’t even know what kind of magic brought me here, other than it was pretty powerful magic.”

                “Gods?”

                “Yes. And yes, they too have a game in my world. They are trying to figure out if there’s a way for me to go home, and in the meantime have created some documentation for this world, proving my accomplishments from my world, and some ID so I can live in this world while I’m here.”

                Eisuke’s eyebrow quirked up.

                “Let me see this documentation.”

                I slid the paperwork from the bag and spread it out over the bed.

                He turned and sifted through it.

                “You really earned all of these?”

                “Yes.”

                “Seems I made the right choice in bringing you on board, then.” His self-satisfied smirk had returned. “Were you able to find something suitable to wear?”

                “It was tough, but there were a couple things that are good for a professional setting.”  I reached into my pocket and handed him back the credit card.

                He nodded, slipping it back into his wallet.

                “Tomorrow morning, we will go to a department store and make certain you have a complete wardrobe. I will also provide a computer that has all the necessary information on it so that you will be ready to work on Monday.”

                “Thank you,” I bowed my head. “I won’t let you down.”

                In true MC fashion… I thought ironically.

                “Of course, you won’t. I only hire the best.” He turned on his heel and swooped out of the room, followed by most of the bidders.

                Baba winked, a soft smile on his face.

                “Welcome to the family, Ava.” He followed the others out of my suite.

                I flopped backwards onto the bed.

                “That was close.”

                I reached over and picked up the passport that had been created for me and flipped through it.

                “I should have asked if they could make me, me again. Oh well. Maybe I’ll get a chance to ask that later.”

                I rolled off the bed and to my feet and gathered up all of the paperwork. I knew there was a desk out in the sitting room, so I took everything out there. One small drawer on the top had a key in it, so I put everything in there and locked it. Then I remembered the money and jewelry, so returned to the bedroom, grabbed them, and moved them to the locking drawer, as well. 

                After that, I flopped onto the couch and turned on the television, searching through the channels for something to watch, settling finally on an international news station.

                “Be a good idea to get up to speed on the happenings of this world,” I muttered in the empty room.

                After a few minutes, my hands needed something to do, so I grabbed a hotel pen and notebook and started writing out a list of all the things I was going to need to buy tomorrow, so I didn’t forget anything. Work wear, leisure wear, athletic wear, makeup and toiletries, sketch pads and pencils and markers. At least I already had a nice writing notebook, emblazoned with the Tres Spades logo.

                “Maybe I’ll get another one, just to be sure I don’t run out of paper in the middle of a thought. Shit. I'm going to have to open a checking account here."

                I had already decided to write down everything that happened to me on this adventure. I had no idea what I’d do with it – maybe change names and locations and turn it into a fantasy story. Maybe in this world I could become a bestselling writer or something. It seemed horribly unfair to be dragged to a fantasy world and have to spend my time as just another nine to five drone.

                I have no idea how long I sat there. A knock on the door startled me.

                “Come in.”

                Ota poked his head in the door.

                “Hey, Baba made dinner if you’re hungry.”

                “Oh, yes. Thank you.” I put the notebook and pen aside and stood up, turning off the television.

                He waited for me at the door.

                “Ota, I want to apologize for earlier. I overstepped my boundaries. I’m sorry.”

                He grinned.

                “It’s okay. I was being an asshole and you were under a whole lot of stress. I got to thinking about it after we all left, imagining how I’d feel if everything I’ve ever known and loved and worked for was ripped away from me, and I was left as a stranger in a strange land, having to start all over. It wasn’t a great feeling.”

                He looked around furtively, making certain no one else was around.

                “I have never seen anyone stand up to Eisuke like you did. That takes guts. I think I’m going to like having you here.”

Chapter Text

               By the second week, things had pretty well settled into a routine. In addition to acting as Eisuke’s secretary, I was put in charge of cataloguing the new acquisitions for the auction and arranging Ota’s schedule so that he could appraise them.  I was also charged with helping to keep the penthouse clean between maid visits.

                I had been contemplating selling a couple of the jewels given me by the gods in the auction, but I wasn’t entirely certain yet that I wanted the boys to know that I had them.

                “Brady. Coffee.” Eisuke called as the elevator doors slid closed behind him. He took a seat on one of the couches, crossing one leg over the other.

                I had learned to keep the coffee machine handy at all times for him, so it only took a moment to brew a cup and add the correct amount of sugar. It was still steaming when I set it on the coffee table in front of him.

                He nodded from behind his business magazine, finishing whatever he was reading.

                As he set the magazine down, Ota wandered in from his suite. He was wearing his painting smock and the red bandana that he used to keep his hair out of his face as he worked. I thought he was drunk at first, which wasn’t unusual for him.

                Eisuke eyed him as he picked up his coffee.

                “Ota, what’s wrong?”

                I was impressed that Eisuke knew him well enough to know when something wasn’t right.

                Ota didn’t answer, instead falling onto the couch where Eisuke sat, causing him to spill the hot coffee down the front of his lavender shirt.

                Eisuke hissed and jumped to his feet.

                I took the cup from his hand.

                “Get me some butter,” he demanded, loosening his tie and practically ripping his suit jacket off.

                I laid a hand on Ota’s forehead, yanking it away almost immediately.

                “He’s got one hell of a fever,” I muttered. I looked up to meet Eisuke’s gaze. “What the hell do you want butter for?”

                He had nearly unbuttoned his shirt.

                “For the burns,” he growled.

                I rolled my eyes and grabbed his wrist, dragging him into the kitchen.

                “You don’t put butter on burns, that makes them worse.”

                I turned on the faucet, checking that the water was as cold as it got, grabbed a clean washcloth and got it wet, then handed it to him.

                “Cold water. Pat, don’t rub.”

                While he did that, I grabbed a clean hand towel and got it wet, wringing out the excess water, and wrapped it around a plastic baggie filled with ice.

                I put more ice in a glass, and filled it with cold water, picked up the towel, and turned to head back into the great room.

                “Where are you going?” Eisuke demanded.

                “To get Ota comfortable so I can call Luke.”

                “What about me?”

                “I’ll be right back. Just keep the cold water on the burns.”

                Ota had scooted further up the couch, but still lay there, listless, eyes closed and muttering incoherently.

                “Ota, can you take a drink?”

                He moaned but didn’t move.

                I used a finger to drip water onto his parched lips.

                That was enough to get him to open his eyes. I helped him to sit up and drink the water.

                He flopped back down onto the couch and whined.

                I pulled the sweat-soaked bandana off his head and replaced it with the ice-filled towel. He pressed it harder against his head and sighed.

                I took my phone out of my pocket, scrolling through the short list of contacts to find the doctor. He picked up after the second ring.

                “Ava! How can I help you, dear lady?”

                “Luke, Ota is delirious and running a fever. Can you come check on him?”

                “I’ll be right there,” he answered.

                “Thank you.” I disconnected the call and returned to the kitchen, where Eisuke stood, shirtless and scowling.

                “How’s that burn?” I asked.

                “Painful,” he answered shortly. Bright red splotches marred the smooth expanse of skin on his chest and stomach.

                “Keep putting cool water on it then,” I said.

                “What about my shirt?”

                “What about it?”

                “The stain.”

                I picked up the shirt and ran the area with the coffee spot under warm water, until the stain was nearly gone. A drop of dish soap and a little scrubbing took care of the last of it.

                I wrung the water out and turned off the hot water, leaving only cold again.

                “Good as new.” I held out my hand for the washcloth, putting cool water on it again, and handing it back.

                “What now?”

                “I’ll get the burn gel. Since you don’t have any appointments tonight, I suggest you either go shirtless or unbuttoned. It’s better if you can let the air circulate around the burn for a while. We’ll bandage it when you’re ready to go to bed.”

                “You’re telling me to go without a shirt all night?”

                “Without a shirt, or at least with your shirt unbuttoned. You want to avoid binding and friction.”

                He tossed his shirt over one shoulder and picked up his tie, a sudden, mischievous glint in his eyes.

                Before I could react, he’d caught both of my wrists in the loop of the tie, tightening it and pulling me close.

                His nose was less than an inch from mine.

                “What if I like binding and friction?” He whispered.

                This close, I could smell his understated cologne, feel his warm breath on my skin.

                I had to close my eyes and suck in a deep breath before I answered.

                “Where sex is concerned, that’s great if it’s what you and your partner want. When we’re talking about burns, you risk infection and major scarring.”

                His smirk turned into a pout, and he loosened the tie, setting my wrists free as Luke poked his head into the kitchen.

                “You’re no fun, Brady,” he muttered, swaggering toward the great room.

                I rolled my eyes behind his back.

                “What’s the verdict on Ota, Doc?” I asked.

                “He’s got a nasty case of the flu,” Luke answered. “I’ve administered an antiviral and given him something to bring his fever down. I recommend an extra-thorough cleaning of the penthouse, to prevent anyone else from contracting it.”

                I nodded. “I’ll make sure the girls know this evening, and we’ll take care of it in the morning. I’ll head to the store later and pick up some sanitizing cleaner, too.”

                “Excellent,” he agreed, then looked around the room, gazing up the stairs where Eisuke had just disappeared into his suite. “What was that scene in the kitchen all about?”

                I shrugged. “Eisuke teasing, I guess. I think he’s still irritated that I stood up to him that first night.”

                Luke nodded. “The man can hold a grudge.”

                The two of us helped Ota to his bed. With the maids coming in to clean nearly every day, none of the rooms got terribly messy, so an extra-thorough cleaning wouldn’t be a big deal.

                In my suite, I washed my hands thoroughly, wiped down my phone with a cotton pad soaked in rubbing alcohol and grabbed my purse, heading to the store for this world’s versions of Lysol and Cold-Eeze.

 

                Though I had texted all the boys with some precautions to prevent their contracting the flu, within three days, Eisuke, Baba, Soryu, and Mamoru were all sick. Luke knew better, Shuichi was out of town on business, and the other two didn’t spend that much time in the penthouse.

                I didn’t have to visit the gym once that week, not that I would have had time. I was kept busy running around the penthouse, caring for five separate sick men.

                Soryu was the best patient, doing his best to take care of himself, obedient about taking his medicine or drinking water and juice, and resting. Of course, I did have the advantage in that Inui was there to help with his boss.

                Baba was next best, following all of Luke’s instructions. The only downside was that he tended to get much more touchy-feely when he didn’t feel good.

                Surprisingly, Eisuke was next on the list. Though he was demanding, he understood that the quickest way to get back on his feet was to follow instructions. He hated being confined, hated not having the energy he was used to having, but he did what was needed.

                Ota was the living epitome of “man flu”, once his fever broke, and even though, being the youngest of the lot, his was the quickest recovery.

                Mamoru was the worst, ignoring advice, forcing himself to work, until about four days in, when he collapsed in the penthouse with labored breathing, clammy skin, and a raging fever. I got him to his bed and called Luke.

                “Looks as though our resident detective has earned himself a nasty case of pneumonia. I’ve taken a swab to take to the lab, so we can find out whether it’s viral or bacterial. I could move him to the clinic, but I think he’ll be more comfortable here.”

                “Okay, what do I need to do?” I sighed.

                Luke patted my shoulder and smiled gently.

                “I’m starting to think that perhaps your coming here was a bit of divine intervention. I’ll bring down an oxygen tank, a saline drip, and will administer antibiotics. I will need you to make certain he stays down, stays comfortable, and, this is most important – doesn’t smoke.”

                I raised my eyebrows at the blond.

                “That’s easier said than done,” I replied.

                “I know. I will bring some nicotine patches with me. That, at least, will help with some of his habit. I’m not sure what to do about the oral fixation, though.”

                “I’ll go find some flavored toothpicks,” I offered. “They helped a couple of my friends quit.”

                “Excellent. Perhaps we can get our cop to quit smoking, once and for all, as well.”

                “The penthouse would certainly smell nicer,” I added.

                He nodded, smiling.

                “Well, my dear, I will run up to my clinic to get what I need and be right back. Keep an eye on our patient until I get back.”

                “Understood.”

 

                That night, I got ready for bed and headed into Mamoru’s suite, taking over the second bed. Luke had also brought down a large foam wedge, so Mamoru could sleep propped up.

                His pneumonia was found to be bacterial in nature, so Luke showed me how to administer the intravenous antibiotics.

                I set up a bowl of ice water for keeping cloths cool, made sure he was as comfortable as possible, and turned out the lights.

                I turned them back on, deciding that it would be a good idea to have a couple of nightlights, and retrieved them from my suite.

                I was up every couple of hours, but his fever broke in the early morning.  After a three-hour nap, I headed back to my room to change into clothes and make my rounds of the rest of the boys.

                Ota and Baba were sitting on one of the couches when I walked into the great room.

                “Hey, why did you sleep with Mamo?” Ota whined.

                “I didn’t sleep with him,” I replied, holding the thermometer to his forehead. “I slept in the same room so that I could hear if he stopped breathing. His fever broke a few hours ago, so he’s sleeping much better now.”

                “Are you going to sleep in his room again tonight?”

                I moved over to check Baba.

                “Probably. Until he doesn’t have to have the oxygen, anyway. He should be fine to be on his own after that.”

                “Thank you for taking such good care of us,” Baba offered, trying to wind an arm around my waist.

                I patted him on the head and extricated myself, heading to the kitchen for two glasses of juice.

                “You’re welcome. I’m just glad I’ve been able to help.”

                “Actually, it has been nice having someone to take care of us,” Ota observed.

                I set the glasses on the coffee table in front of the men.

                “Thank you.” I smiled at them. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check on the other two patients.”

                My first stop was Soryu’s suite. I knocked, listening for an invitation. Instead, Soryu pulled the door open, worry and irritation clearly stamped on his face.

                “It’s Inui,” he explained, leading the way to the bedroom.

                Upon our arrival, I saw Inui, red-faced and sweating, thrashing in the second bed.

                I hurried over, resting the inside of my wrist on his forehead.

                I pointed at the bedside table.

                “Soryu, will you hand me the thermometer, please?”

                 The mobster handed over the device, and I popped the cover off the sensor and ran it over Inui’s forehead until it beeped.

                “Congratulations, Ryosuke,” I said. “You have a fever of one-hundred and four. Did you remember to wash your hands?”

                Even miserable, he managed to look guilty.

                “Not always,” he admitted.

                “Well, hang on just a bit longer. We’ll get you taken care of, too.”

                Soryu set the flu medicine down, and retrieved a clean washcloth from the bathroom, dipping it in the bowl of ice water, then wringing it out before placing it on Inui’s forehead.

                The brunet sighed in relief.

                I called Luke, asking him to bring down some more of the antiviral medicine, and measured out of dose of the flu relief medicine.

                “Take this. It’ll take a little while to kick in, so keep the washcloth and ice water handy. Do you want water or juice to drink?”

                “Water, please,” he croaked.

                “Okay.” I headed into the bathroom to wash the dosing cup and my hands, returned the cup to the medicine bottle, and made my way to the kitchen.

                I added a straw to the glass of ice water and carried it into Inui.

                Soryu had returned to his own bed.

                I held the glass while Inui took a drink, then set it on the table closest to him.

                “Now, you two just rest. You’ll get over this bug faster that way. Soryu, is there anything else you need?”

                “No, thank you.” He picked his book up and settled in to read again.

                “Okay. I’ll be back to check on you both later. I’m not sure when Luke will get here.”

                “Tell him to knock and then come in.”

                “You got it.”

                I returned to the kitchen and washed my hands, then headed up to check on Eisuke.

                “It’s about time,” Eisuke grumped.

                “Inui is sick now, too,” I answered. “How are you feeling? And how is that burn?”

                “Not all the way back yet, but close now. The burn is nearly gone. Bring me my laptop. I can do a little bit of work.”

                “All right, but don’t overdo it.”

                He scowled at me.

                “Yes, mother.”

                I rolled my eyes at him and plopped his laptop onto his lap.

                “Don’t use that tone of voice with me, young man.”

                He snorted and turned his attention to the computer, letting me know that I was dismissed.

                I returned to the great room, peeking in on Mamoru before retrieving the bottle of almost-Lysol and hosing every surface with the stuff for the fifth time this week.

               

                Mamoru slept most of the day. It was nearly nine by the time he decided he was hungry.

                I pushed the room service cart into his bedroom. He was returning from the bathroom, breathing heavily from the exertion, though he refused the breathing mask.

                I set up the tray on his lap while he scratched irritably at a spot on his arm.

                “What is this?” He demanded.

                “A nicotine patch,” I answered, setting his bowl of soba on the tray. “Luke hoped it would help you with your recovery.”

                “Why?” He grumped, peeling the small bit of sticky plastic off his arm.

                “You can’t smoke while you have pneumonia.”

                He scowled and turned his attention to his noodles.

                I set a new patch on the nightstand nearest him.

                “In case it gets bad,” I said, and left him to his meal.

                Half an hour later, I went in to check on him. He’d finished his noodles and slipped the oxygen mask back over his nose.

                I put the remote for the television on the nightstand, put the empty dishes on the room service tray, folded the legs of the lap tray and slid it between his bed and the nightstand.

                Before leaving, I opened the drawer with the syringe and bottle of antibiotics, and gave him the last intravenous dose, squirting the lightly-colored liquid into the saline solution that ran through the tube into his arm.

                “What’s that?” He watched, eyes narrowed.

                “Your last dose of I.V. antibiotics. Starting tomorrow, you’ll switch to pills for a few days.”

                “Why?”

                “Because you’re awake. Luke wasn’t sure how long you’d be unconscious, so he started them this way.”

                “Why antibiotics?”

                “Your flu morphed into bacterial pneumonia.”

                “Where are my smokes?”

                I raised an eyebrow as I answered him.

                “Gone, until you have been declared healthy by Luke.”

                He scowled again, crossing his arms over his chest.

                “Pout all you want,” I offered. “It won’t change a thing.”

                I pushed the cart with the dirty dishes on it out to the great room, parking it beside the elevator and calling room service to pick it up.

                An hour later, I had changed into my pajamas and gotten ready for bed. I picked up my soft blanket and the fish-shaped pillow I used for snuggling and made my way into Mamoru’s suite.

                The man himself was up and searching the suite.

                “Why are you here?” He huffed.

                “I’m your babysitter for the night,” I retorted. “You’re not going to find any cigarettes anywhere in the penthouse.”

                He glared at me, wheezing.

                “You suck.”

                “Only if I really like someone,” I replied, helping him to his bed.

                His eyes opened wide, cheeks red and mouth working, though he didn’t actually say anything.

                He still hadn’t come up with a good comeback by the time I had the oxygen mask in place and his blankets pulled up to his chest.

                “I really need a smoke,” he whimpered.

                “I’m sorry. You’re going to have to make do with patches and this stuff.” I pointed out the flavored toothpicks and the selection of candies on his nightstand.

                “Cigarette smoke is only going to slow your recovery, and an open flame in the near vicinity of pure oxygen is worse for your health than smoking."

                His shoulders slumped, and his pout deepened.

                “Fine,” he grumped. “How do I use this thing?”

                He tore open the patch and glared at it.

                “We’ll put it in a different spot than the last one,” I said, plucking it from his fingers and putting it in place on the opposite shoulder from the last one.

                He grumbled as I pulled the sleeve of his t-shirt back into place.

Chapter Text

          It was very early as I made my way through the penthouse, navigating the detritus of last night’s party. I needed some tea before starting the day.

          “It’s a huge mess, and I’m going to have to clean it up before the boys get up.”  I heaved a sigh as I heated water and prepared the tea. 

          I wandered back through the living area of the penthouse and slid open the door to the balcony.  The eastern horizon flamed pink in the pre-dawn gray. Hundreds of feet down below, street lamps still glowed. A breeze blew past lightly, and I breathed deeply of the fresh air. I leaned on the banister, sipping my tea.

          “I hope you all haven’t forgotten me,” I spoke aloud to the sky. “It’s been almost a month since I was dragged to this world. I’d really appreciate some answers, so I can figure out how to move forward.”

          “Who ya talkin’ to?”

          The unexpected voice nearly caused me to drop my cup. I whipped around to see Mamoru walking toward me, shirtless, lit cigarette between his lips, loose cotton pants slung low around his hips.

          “The gods,” I answered, turning back around to the view beyond the building.

          He joined me at the banister, drawing in a lungful of the smoke and blowing it out. 

          “Why?”

          I shrugged.

          “I’ve been here for nearly a month with no word about whether or not I can get back home. I hate feeing like I’m on hold, you know? I thought you’d decided to quit?”

          I was glad I’d chosen to tell the penthouse boys (a joke that was only for me, as no one here would have ever heard of the Petshop Boys), the whole story. It had made the last month a little easier. Between that story and the fact that I was a good decade older than the oldest of them, had prevented any advances, which had made it possible to get to know them as friends, rather than prospective romantic interests.  Simple conversation was much easier this way.

          “Do you want to go home? And how are you going to explain where you’ve been? Foster recommended not going cold turkey. I’m down to three a day.”

          His questions caught me off guard and I shrugged.

          “I don’t know,” I sighed. “To be honest, I’ve tried not to think too hard about it, in case the portal that brought me here is one way. I think I want to go home. That’s where I earned my degrees. That’s where I learned seven different languages. It’s where such family as I have is located. It could very well be interesting to stay here, but I don’t know what I would do here.”

          “You didn’t mention any romantic interests waiting for you.”

          I snorted derisively.

          “Of everything I have accomplished in my life, that’s one thing that never really worked out.  Not for lack of trying, mind you. I went on so many damn dates that I just got tired of the game, you know? That may have been part of the reason I started playing those ridiculous games. If I couldn’t find that ‘special someone’ in real life, at least I could live vicariously through my player character.”

          He laughed.

          “That seems kind of, I don’t know…”

          “I think the word you’re looking for is ‘pathetic’, but I don’t care. In a society obsessed with youth, trying to be part of the dating scene as a middle-aged woman was brutal. I got tired of the constant let downs. In fact, on my last birthday, I married myself. I was done with the search and decided to focus all that wasted energy on something worthwhile.” I drew in a breath and sighed. “Shit! I just realized that, if time passes here the same as it does back home, I’ve missed my cruise. That was an expensive cruise. Damn it!” 

          He turned around, leaning his ass against the banister and crossing his arms over his chest. 

          I watched him out of the corner of my eye, admiring the flex and stretch of the muscles under his skin.

          “Could you go to this world’s version of your home?”

          I shook my head.

          “No. It has never been mentioned in one of the stories, so doesn’t even exist here. I did an internet search already.”

          “That’s rough.”

          I finished my tea and shrugged again.

          “It is what it is.” I yawned and stretched. “I don’t have a problem dealing with whatever situation comes along. I’d just like to be able to get the ball rolling on it, whatever it is. I hate being stuck, and I don’t like imposing myself here.”

          “Well, I’ll tell you something that the others will never say. Well, Baba might. We’re all happy that you’re here. Things have just run more smoothly since you’ve been here.  You’re the only one able to handle Eisuke’s women and Ota’s moods and Soryu’s organizing, and everything else that’s come up in the last few weeks. It was weird at first, yeah, but don’t think you’re imposing.”

          I smiled up at him.

          “Thanks for that.  I appreciate it.”  I stretched and turned away from the banister. “Thanks for the chat this morning. I’d better get dressed and get the penthouse cleaned before the boss gets up. Then I’ve got to finish helping Soryu with his filing. Good morning.”  I waved over my shoulder and returned to my room. 

Chapter Text

          It was nearly another week before the gods finally returned. Right in the middle of the planning meeting for the next week, everyone else froze.  I looked around to see Leon’s smirking face.

          “Hello, again, Goldfish. I see you’ve made yourself at home here.”

          “Well, it was kind of necessary.”

          “True. But, it proves your resilience and your intelligence.”

          “So, what’s the verdict?”

          Behind Leon, Huedhaut sighed.

          “I’m afraid the news is bad. The portal only works one way. There is no way to get you home.”

          My chest constricted, and my nose stung. I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to breathe smoothly.

          “I kind of expected that, but I was hoping it would be otherwise.”

          I pressed the heels of my hands into my eyes and breathed deeply, before looking up to meet the gazes of the gods.  Most were passively interested. I noticed a woman was with them this time. She must be the human incarnation of Clotho, and I found myself wondering which of the gods she’d chosen, and if that was even necessary here. She and Ichthys looked to be the only other members of the group with any concern for me and those like me.

          Huedhaut apparently had more to say.

          “What else?” I asked, meeting his gaze.

           “I have found that this portal opens several times a year and has every year that the games in your world have existed.”

          “Has someone from my world been pulled through every time?”

          He nodded his head, once.

          I did some quick calculations, based on when Voltage first went live, then another thought occurred to me.

          “Is it exclusively Voltage games, or is it otome games in general?”

          “All of them. Each company, you could say, has its own individual version of this world.”

          “Holy shit! That’s more than twenty years and hundreds of games. How many people from my world have been brought here? Are they dropped into the… the… section?… of this world that corresponds to a game they are playing, or is it random? Is it one game per opening of the portal, or is someone dropped into each section every time it opens?”

          “These are things that I have yet to ascertain, along with the means to close it.”

          I sighed, glad that at least he was trying to find a way to stop it.

          “We are prepared to do everything in our power to make certain that you are safe and happy in this world.”

          “Thank you,” I smiled up at them. “I appreciate that.” I heaved a sigh. “Because I was afraid this might be the case, I’ve prepared a list of requests.”

          Leon smiled indulgently.  “Ask, and it is yours.”

          “Okay. First off, I want to be me. This body is cute and all, but it isn’t mine. I want my own body, my own face.”

          He snapped his fingers, and I felt a ‘whoosh’ of air, my body tingling.

          “Done.” 

          I checked the inside of my wrists for the small tattoos I’d had done, and there they were; reached up to pull the hair sticks that held my hair back, happy to see the red curls with purple streaks back where they should be.

         “Next, and I apologize for being overly self-indulgent here, but I want to have the option of experiencing something here that I never could in my world. I want to have perfect recall of every beat, note, and lyric of every song from my world that I have known in my life. Also, I want to be able to play any instrument, and have the voice of an angel, with amazing range.”

           Leon laughed.

          “Do you want to read music, too?”

          “I can already do that. Since this is a fantasy world, I decided that I would like to have the option of living out one of my fantasies.”

          He snapped his fingers again.

          “Done.”

          “Thank you. Third, since I’m not the only one here, I want to be able to contact everyone else that has come through the portal from my world, to see if they want to be part of a support group, of sorts. I would appreciate it if you all would be willing to help them out, as well, if they need it. Also, I would like to be notified any time someone new comes through, in order to offer them the help they will need.”

          I noticed Huedhaut’s mouth twitch as he suppressed a smile.

          “Done.” Leon seemed a bit put out by this request, but I really didn’t care. “Anything else, Goldfish?”

          “Yes. One more thing. I want you to make me twenty years younger. Knowing everything that I know now, but physically twenty years younger.”

          “Why?”

          “In the same vein as having the option of becoming a rock star in this world, I want the option of being able to meet someone and have a family of my own.”

          Leon snorted.

          “With one of these goldfish?” He gestured around the table at the bidders.

          “I don’t know. And not at all if it will affect the games in my world. I received many hours of enjoyment from these characters, and I would hate to deprive anyone else of that same enjoyment. Maybe I’ll go find some sweet NPC somewhere. Maybe I’ll look up the characters in the old games, the ones that don’t get updated anymore, and are close to being removed from the servers. If one of those characters suddenly becomes unplayable in my world, it won’t matter. I don’t know if I’ll actually go that far – I’ve spent all of my adult life on my own and am pretty used to it. I just want the option. Also, I need my paperwork to reflect this change.”

          Huedhaut and Leon exchanged a look, and Leon nodded.

          “Done.” He snapped his fingers.

          My body tingled again, and when I looked at my hands, they looked younger.  I stood up and walked to the nearest mirror. My green eyes stared back at me. The bump on the bridge of my nose and the scar in my eyebrow from a bicycle accident when I was a kid were back. The fine lines to which I’d become accustomed were gone, as were those first gray strands that only I could see.  The little aches that had begun to creep up on me were no more. The clothes I was wearing fit better.  Even with daily workouts and an active lifestyle, middle age spread is still a thing.

          For a moment, I was too overwhelmed to do anything but stare.

          I jumped when a hand pressed itself into my lower back.

          “Is this acceptable?”  Leon’s voice was in my ear, with a hint of concern.

          I whirled around and flung my arms around his chest.

          “It’s perfect. Thank you.”

          He patted my back awkwardly as I hugged him. 

          “I’m glad you approve.” His voice now was warm with amusement.

          “I’m sorry,” I apologized as I stepped away from him. “I couldn’t help myself.”

          “Of course not,” he agreed, his usual haughty smirk back in place.

          “Can I ask one more thing?”

           “Of course.”

          “Can you make it so these guys,” I waved at the bidders, “don’t remember the other me?”

           He snapped his fingers again.

          “Done. As far as they are concerned, you have always been thus.”

          “Thank you.”

          The group of them stood together.

          “I will contact you as soon as I have found the others from your world,” Huedhaut promised, just before they winked out of existence, and the meeting picked up from the moment it had stopped.

          I returned to my seat as Eisuke looked at me. 

          “We’re throwing a pool party on Friday. I want you there.”

          I raised an eyebrow at him.

          “Okay.”

          “What’s wrong?”

          “Ah. The gods visited. The portal is one way.”

           Baba reached over to pat my hand.

          “I thought something about you looked different. Do you need to leave?”

          “No, thank you,” I answered, squeezing his hand in return. “I kind of expected to hear that news, which was why I knew what to ask for, so that I can make a new life in this world.”

          “Does that mean you’re going to stay here?” Ota asked eagerly.

          “Uh…”

          “Yes.” Eisuke answered for me, in a tone that brooked no argument.

          “…yes”, I agreed.

          For now, anyway, I thought as Eisuke continued with his meeting.

Chapter Text

          The boys sat around the table, their partners for the night beside them.

          I made certain there were plenty of finger foods and drinks laid out on the side bar.

          “If that’s everything, I’m going to head out for the evening. Have a good night. Try not to make a huge mess, as I have to clean it up in the morning.”  I turned to head toward my room to grab my purse before leaving.

          “Brady!”  Eisuke spoke loudly.

          I turned back around to meet his gaze.

          “Sit.” He pointed at the empty chair between Soryu and Mamoru.  “We’re playing pairs tonight, and Soryu needs a partner.”

          I debated with myself for a moment, then shrugged and walked over to the table, taking the seat.

          “Pairs what?” I asked as Baba dealt the cards.

          “Strip poker!” Ota had been drinking most of the day and was very excited at the prospect.

          “Seriously?” I looked around the table, and while there were tipsy grins, there was no sign of deception. I met Soryu’s gaze, and he inclined his head slightly, and shrugged his shoulders.

          I shook my head, sighing.

          “One question, because I know you. Does the ‘stripping’ part apply to everyone? Or just some of us?”

          Ota laughed so hard he snorted.

          “It applies to everyone,” Baba assured me.

          “All right. Let’s play.”  I had hoped that the rule was going to be selectively applied, so that I could bow out. “I’ll apologize right now, Soryu. I have never had a poker face.”

          “Straight poker, nothing special, other than that we are all playing as pairs. As soon as one partner is fully unclothed, that team is out. Ante up, everyone. Boss, you’ll start.”

          As the guys each pushed a small stack of chips into the center and Eisuke planned his play, I looked around at the table. The other boys were in their usual after-work dress, slacks and button-down shirts, though Ota had a bandana tied around his head. The other women were in cocktail dresses. It was unlikely it would be long before they were out. I was glad that I had chosen a more business-like outfit today, with a knee-length skirt, blouse, waistcoat, and tie. Soryu, likewise, was still wearing his tie and suit jacket. These gave us slight advantages, assuming we didn’t have a bad run of hands.  I relaxed a little, leaning closer to Soryu as he arranged the cards in his hand and trying to recall how to play poker.

 

          Five hands in, and Soryu and I were ahead, having won four of the previous rounds. Ota and his partner were already out. Ota had been angry, because she hadn’t worn underwear, which had been their undoing.  She had wanted to return to Ota’s room, to continue their party in private. Ignoring the woman, he took a seat on the couch and watched as the rest of us continued to play.

 

          Eisuke was shuffling the cards as I delivered another round of drinks to the table.  Eisuke and his date, Min, and Mamoru and his date, Yuki, were the other two teams left. Soryu and I still had the advantage, being the only team who still had our shirts. Baba and his date had lost out a couple rounds after Ota. Baba, ever the gentleman, had invited Ota’s date to join him and his date in his suite.

          “So, Ava, what is it you do here?” Min asked, sipping at her wine.

          “Personal assistant, housekeeper, chef, nurse, bouncer… mother hen.” 

          She smiled.

           “Are they that difficult?”

          I made a show of looking around the living area and smirked.

          “They cause a lot more trouble than you would think possible for grown men with jobs.”

          She laughed.

          “I have five brothers. I can understand.”

          She sat back as Yuki cut the deck and Mamoru dealt the hand.

          The bets circled the table a handful of times, as we all built our hands.  As each team finished their final bets, Soryu and I looked at each other. All we had were two pair. Unless we were extremely lucky, we were literally about to lose our shirts.

          Baba returned from his room wearing loose cotton pants and took a seat on the couch.

          The hands were revealed, and, indeed, we lost out shirts. As I opened the buttons of my blouse, I was suddenly very glad that I had decided to wear the lacy, pretty bra and panties set that I’d gotten in the hotel gift shop. I wondered briefly if that hadn’t, perhaps, been a bit of divine intervention, because I generally prefer the simpler styles. 

          Eisuke and Min were the other losing team this round, and they were now out of the game.  I turned around to set my blouse on the pile of my other clothes.  Ota, who had fallen asleep, chose that moment to wake up.

          “Whoa, Ava! I didn’t know you had ink!”

          “Yes, you did Ota. You’re just too drunk to remember.”

          What I hoped was the last hand was dealt. Soryu and I looked at our cards. We had the beginnings of a royal flush – all we needed were the king and queen of hearts. What were our odds of getting those two cards, though?

          He raised an eyebrow at me, asking if we should go for it.  I nodded, and he pushed another stack of chips into the pile at the center. 

          Mamoru took a moment to decide, then pushed a stack of his chips into the center.

          Soryu took the two bad cards out of our hand and tossed them toward Mamoru, who slid the top two cards off the draw pile and slid them across the table toward us. 

          Soryu picked up the cards and looked at them, then looked at me.

          “Don’t show me!” I said. “I won’t be able to keep a straight face, whether they’re good or bad.” I put my hands over my eyes, peeking through my fingers.

          Soryu nodded, put all five of our cards together in a stack in his hand, and pushed another stack of chips into the center. Either that was good news, or he was simply trying to be kind.

          I tried not to hold my breath as Mamoru considered his cards and pushed a stack of his chips into the center and nodded.

          Mamoru laid his hand on the table, revealing a straight of diamonds. He was, by far, the best gambler among the bidders. I had watched him clear a gaming table any number of times since my arrival.

          Soryu nodded solemnly and took his time in arranging our hand before laying them out.  The king and queen had shown up for us, giving us a royal flush. 

          I let out the breath that I had been holding in spite of myself and sent a silent ‘thank you’ to anyone that may have been listening and leaned against the back of my chair.

          “Holy shit, Soryu. I didn’t realize you had such a flair for the dramatic.”

          He smiled his quiet smile and swept all of the chips on that were on the table into a bag, then handed the bag to me.

          “Thank you, but you should take half of them.”

          “I have enough. You take these. Sleep well.”  He gathered up his clothes and headed to his suite.

          “Leave it to Sor to be the true gentleman,” Baba remarked as he picked up the clothing left by the women in his room.

          I stood and picked up my own clothes, slipping my feet back into my heels to minimize the amount I had to carry, occasionally looking over to watch him.

          “I don’t think he’s the only one, Baba.”

          Mamoru had lit a cigarette while Yuki put her clothes back on. He looked as though he was going to take a seat on the couch, thought better of it, and escorted her to the elevator, making certain she had the keycard to her room.  He turned away as she tried to kiss him and took a seat on the couch.

          Eisuke and Min had picked up their clothes and made their way up to his suite. 

          “Do you want any help cleaning up?” Baba asked, gowns in one hand, the other supporting a drunk Ota.

          “No. I’ll take care of it in the morning. Good night, you three.”

          I returned to my suite, glad once again that I had insisted on being given one of the empty rooms, rather than having to share with one of the guys.

          I brushed my teeth, changed into my pajamas, and fell onto my bed, falling asleep almost immediately.

Chapter Text

            I looked around at the mess and sighed.
            The “pool party” had become an entire penthouse party. The boys were escorting the guests to their cars, leaving me to clean up the mess.
            “I need a girls’ movie night something fierce,” I muttered, tossing empty bottles into the cleaning cart.

            Suddenly, it struck me.

            I had no way to have a girls’ movie night. Though I had gotten to know a handful of other women in this universe, none of them were more than friendly acquaintances. I didn’t know any of them well enough for a sleepover and pajama party. Even if I had gotten closer with them, none of them knew my story. The only people in this world who did where the men with whom I currently lived. A wave of grief washed over me, so strongly that all I could do was wrap my arms around my knees and cry. I don’t know how long I sat there, drowning in emotions I couldn’t hide from any longer.

            The next thing I knew, a pair of arms were around my shoulders, and my head was pressed against a silk-clad chest.

            “What’s happened, sweet lady? Did someone hurt you?” His fingers slid through my hair.


            Before I could say anything, the elevator dinged its arrival.

            “Baba! What did you do?” Ota’s voice was accusatory over the footsteps running toward us.


            “Me? What did you do to her?” Baba shot back, trying to shield me from the artist, who was reaching for me.


            Doors slammed, and within minutes, three more voices joined the cacophony.


            I tried to wriggle free, but Baba, apparently mistaking my intent, held me tighter and tried to twist away from the others. He slid one arm under my knees and rose to his feet.


            Finally, able to see more than his chest, I noticed Soryu reaching inside his jacket.


            “DON’T YOU DARE!!!!” I yelled. Loudly enough to catch everyone’s attention.


            Soryu’s hand froze mere inches from the lapel, eyes wide with surprise, and you could have heard a pin drop in the sudden silence.


            I dropped a kiss on Baba’s cheek.

            “Thank you for your concern, Mitsu. Please put me down.”


            “Of course, princess.” He set me gently on my feet but stayed close.


            I walked to Soryu next, raising up on my tiptoes to kiss his cheek.


            “I’m sorry I yelled. Thank you for your concern, but the gun doesn’t need to come out every time there’s an argument.”


            I made my way around the rest of the men, giving each a kiss and thanking them, then returned to the center of the circle.


            “I apologize for being the cause of such a ruckus. Please go back to what you were doing.”

            “But, why were you crying?” Ota refused to let it go.

            “I….” I sighed. “I was just, I don’t know, overwhelmed, I guess is the best way to describe it. While I was cleaning, I happened to think about how much I’d love a girls’ night in. Then it occurred to me that all of my girlfriends are on the other side of a one-way portal. It just hit me that everyone I used to go out with, everyone I had parties with, every person with whom I have a shared history, is gone.” I thought about it for a moment. “I guess, technically, I’m the one who left, but the effect is the same. The sheer depth of the whole ‘starting from scratch’ thing caught me off guard.”


            “So, we aren’t good enough?” He asked, voice subdued.

           I took one of his hands in mine.


            “Ota, it has nothing to do with being ‘good enough’. You guys are wonderful, and I love every one of you. There are no words to convey just how much I appreciate you all. Look, Eisuke and Soryu have known each other since grade school. You and Mitsu have known each other since you were a kid. You’ve all known Mamoru for years. You all have a shared history. The five of you were the first people in this world that I met, and I’ve known you for a few weeks. It’s a matter of depth, I guess. I don’t have shared history with anyone here, and I miss that deep connection.”

 

            “So just pick one of us to date.”


            I blinked at him for a moment, noticing the others nodding their heads to his suggestion.

 


            “It’s not that easy. I have no idea if what happens here has any bearing on the games in my world.”


            “So?”


            “Well, there are two possibilities. The first is that nothing that happens in this world actually has any sort of impact on the games in my world…”


            “Well, there you go.”


            “The second, and it’s every bit as likely as the first, is that what happens to you guys here DOES impact the games in my world, to the point that characters have to be removed from the stories. Up to and including a wipe of the servers that store the information. What happens to you if your character gets wiped – essentially deleted and restored from an earlier save point? As far as we know, you exist because of the game. If your character gets taken out of the game, do you cease to exist? I don’t have the answers, and so I won’t risk any of you for my convenience.”


            Solemn faces stared back at me.


            “How can we find out what you need to know?” Eisuke’s arms were crossed over his chest.


            I shrugged.


            “A god is currently searching for the information. I don’t know that we will have access to any information that he doesn’t.”

 

 

            A few days later, I was returning from having gone out to a movie. Going to the movies alone was one of my favorite pass-times. I didn’t have to worry about whether or not my date liked it, so I could see any movie I wanted. Afterward, I could get whatever treat I wanted.
            While not quite as good as a pajama party with my besties, it was a close second, giving a bit of normalcy to this whole crazy situation.


            My phone buzzed as I stepped off the bus that stopped nearest the hotel, and I swiped across the green phone icon.


            “Mamo? What’s up?”


            “Hey kid. Where are you?”


            “Um, walking toward the hotel. Why?”


            “So, you’ll be here soon?”


            “Yeah, less than ten minutes.”


            “Okay. See you when you get here.”


            He ended the call.

            I stared at the screen for several seconds.


            “What the hell was that all about?” I demanded.


             The device had no answer for me, so I put it back in my pocket and resumed walking toward the shining tower of the Tres Spades.

            By the time the elevator neared the penthouse, I was strangely nervous, forcing myself to take long, slow breaths as the car stopped and the doors slid open.


            I never would have thought to expect the sight that greeted me.


            Six of the nine bidders stood there, wearing matching silk pajamas.


            I blinked at them for a moment as I stepped out of the elevator.


            Ota ran forward, a pair of silk pajamas in his hand.


            “You need to put these on so we can start the party.”


            “The….. party?”

            “Your three-month anniversary party!”


            Baba stepped forward.


            “We know it’s not quite the same as a girls’ night, but we wanted to express how important you have become to all of us.”


            I choked, caught somewhere between laughing and crying.


            “You guys didn’t have to do this.”


            “We know. Now go change so we can get started here.” Eisuke stood with a hand on a hip. “What movie are we going to watch first?”


            “Um, well, I just saw a chick flick, so maybe something with action?”


           He shooed me to my suite.

            “Go get changed, unless you want to change right here.” He waggled his eyebrows at me.


            “Not in a million years,” I answered, heading for my suite.

Chapter Text

            I sat at the computer, entering the information from the latest auction, when I felt someone standing behind me.

            I turned around, surprised to see a man standing there. Ancient and ethereal, possessed of a painful, cold beauty. The power that radiated from him was so strong as to be suffocating. I froze. I knew him from the Star-Crossed Myth game. I was being visited by the King of Heaven, Himself.

            “So, you are the goldfish that has my ministers in a tizzy.”

            I blinked, unable to speak.

            “What is it about you that has them so worked up?”

            He walked up to me, taking my chin in his hands, and turned my head from side to side before staring into my eyes.

            “I see. You are from the other world. You fell through my portal.”

            I blinked.

            “You created that portal? Why?”

            “For amusement, among other things.”

            “What?”

            “The denizens of this realm, their choices, their actions, their futures, are all foreseeable. I need entertainment, so I bring some of you here each year to shake things up.”

            “You steal people from their lives for your own entertainment? That’s a little sociopathic.”

            He smiled indulgently at me. There was no comfort in it.

            “When you have an eternity of the same thing stretching before you, you will think otherwise.”

            I shook my head as well as I could.

            “Hardly. And you don’t have an eternity, anyway. You have as long as the game you’re in remains popular enough to be updated. Once it gets to the point that no one is paying for the content anymore, it’ll be removed from the servers.”

            “No, child. In this universe, I do have eternity. An eternity behind me, an eternity before me. I bring your kind here because, while I love my children, they are all predictable. They do the same things, over and over. The only time something changes is when a person who isn’t of this universe arrives. And then I get a few years of entertainment, until they, too, succumb to the magic of this universe. I know you’ve seen it, in those who have been here longest. They don’t even remember their previous lives anymore.”

            “Some of them do. They remember the children they were forced to leave behind. They wonder every day how those children are doing. What kind of people they’ve become. And while they go through the motions, they hate being here.”

            “Oh, I know. I just don’t care. I relish the amusement. This is why the portals won’t be closed. As much as I enjoy the chaos when one of you arrives here, this universe also requires the influx of new blood. Of new energy; new thoughts. I will allow my ministers to help newcomers, and, because it seems to bother you so much, I won’t bring people with children, but these are the only concessions I will grant.”

            He disappeared, and I could breathe freely again.

            “Who the hell was that?”

            I turned my head to see Mamoru at the door, fear and anger clear on his face.

            “The king of the gods,” I answered.

            He walked quickly to my side, placing a finger under my chin and tilting my head up to meet his gaze.

            “You okay, kid?”

            “Yes. It was a shock to see him there, is all.”

            He didn’t look entirely convinced, but he lowered his hand.

            “Eisuke wants to talk to you.”

            “All right. I ‘ll be right there.” I returned my attention to the computer, making certain the information was properly saved before I shut it down. I stared at the black screen, trying to recall anything I could from the game about the king.

            “You sure you’re okay?”

            “Mamo!” I jumped at his voice.

            He smiled.

            “Didn’t mean to scare ya.”

            I shook my head as I stood up, pushing in the chair and grabbing my phone.

            “Sorry. I thought you had gone back to the other room. I was just wondering why the king would bother to show himself to me. It’s not like there’s much that I can do to ruin his fun. Unless he’s worried that Huedhaut may be able to shut the portals.”   I shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ll have to discuss it with him… assuming I see him again.”

            We returned to the living area and joined the others at the table. Baba scooted over, and I sat next to him, with Mamoru sliding in beside me. I noticed that even Inui and Samejima were here today.

            “Brady!”

            Eisuke speared me with his sharp gaze.

            “Why do you want to leave?”

            I froze, suddenly confronted by several hurt, accusing stares.

            “I-I’m not ‘leaving’ leaving. I just want to go camping for a few days. Just taking a break.” 

            I recalled that I had asked Eisuke about a taking a short trip, just a couple days ago.

            “Why?”

            “Well, you guys are pretty intense. I just need to recharge my batteries. And, since this world is my home now, I want to start exploring it.”

            “But why camping?”

            “I enjoy being out in nature, away from the hand of man. Well, except for my tent and sleeping bag.”

            “So… you sleep outside, without a bed or lights or anything?” Ota seemed befuddled.

            “I sleep in a tent, which is made of canvas, and a sleeping bag. My light is the campfire and a lantern. There’s a good chance I won’t even have cell service.”

            The expressions around the table had now changed and ran the gamut from mild curiosity to outright horror.

            “No bed?” Ota’s voice was barely above a whisper.

            “How will you get there?” Eisuke’s eyes narrowed.

            “I bought a little SUV.”

            “With what money?”

            “My poker winnings.”

            Soryu and Baba laughed, and Mamoru snorted.

            Eisuke actually looked crestfallen for a split second.

            “How long will you be gone?”

            “A week, at most.”

            “A week!”

            “What can you do in the wilderness by yourself, for a week?” Ota seemed astonished.

            “I can write; I can hike; I can meditate. All without interruptions.”

            “No more than a week,” Eisuke insisted.

            “I promise.”

Chapter Text

            The day finally arrived for my little getaway. I had done most of my packing the previous night. All I had left this morning was my toiletries.

            I braided my hair, made a last check of my rooms and walked out, closing the door behind me.

            When I reached the living room the whole gang was there.

            “Aren’t you all supposed to be working?”

            Baba’s smile was sheepish. “Everyone wanted to say goodbye.”

            “That’s sweet guys, but I’m not going to be gone for long. About the time you’ve gotten used to a pure bachelor pad again, I’ll be back.”

 

 

            I arrived at my campsite, about a quarter of a mile from the shores of Lake Biwa, in the early afternoon.  I quickly set up my small tent, inflating my air mattress and laying out my sleeping bag, blankets, and pillows, as well as a small rug in front of the door; and putting the bags that held my clothes and toiletries inside. I sprayed the inside with peppermint oil spray to keep the bugs out, unzipped the canvas covers on the windows, and zipped the screen door closed.

            Once that was done, I set up my small table and chair, set up the little hibachi grill, and stacked some logs and tinder in the fire pit. I decided to explore the area while I still had some light, so locked my valuables in my car and headed off. 

            I headed down to the lake shore first; took off my shoes and socks and walked along the beach with my feet in ankle-deep water. Most of the other campers had left for the day, though there was a small music festival happening nearby.

            After a bit, I sat on the beach to let my feet dry, just enjoying the breeze and the waves lapping the shore.

            As much as I loved the boys, it was nice to be truly alone again. I have always craved time to myself. In the old world, I had been able to find solitude pretty much any time I needed it. This world was a different story, and I could feel the way it affected me.

            Once my feet were dry, I brushed the sand off and put my shoes and socks on and headed back up into the forested hills.

            I had been wandering for about thirty minutes when I reached a part of the mountain that felt different than anywhere else. There was an electric buzz in the air, that got stronger as I headed in one direction.

            Walking also got more difficult as I neared the spot, as though the air was getting thicker. I finally stopped, confused. Nothing looked different. It was all one large, lovely mountain meadow. But I felt like I was walking through chest-deep water.

            “Don’t go any further, Ava.”

            I turned to find the source of the voice. Huedhaut stood a couple feet behind me.

            “What is this place?”

            “This is the border between our world and a similar world.”

            “Similar?”

            He nodded, then strode forward and took me by the hand.

            “Don’t let go.”

            “Okay.”

            When our hands met, the air lightened, and we took a few more steps. The buzzing was louder, and as we stepped across a line of stones in the dirt, the scene changed.

            I blinked.

            We were now in a small village. Going by the local technology on display, it was sometime during the late sixteenth century. Around the time Oda Nobunaga was consolidating his power. I blinked a few more times as several men in flamboyant kimono walked past.

            “You have got to be kidding me,” I spoke quietly. “These are characters from an entirely different company. The ginger is my favorite and is this story’s version of Goemon Ishikawa.”

            As though he’d heard me, the man in question stopped in his tracks, turned, and sauntered back in our direction, confident smirk on his face.

            “Of course, I’m your favorite,” he spoke, wrapping his arms around my waist and spinning me around. “I’m the best there is.” He bent me back a little and kissed me. His lips were warm and soft, and I could taste the sake’ he’d recently imbibed. I could smell soap and sweat and horse and fire on him, and my knees were turning to jelly and my heart pounding in my ears before he stood me upright, my fingers clutching at the front of his kimono.

            He twirled his fingers in my hair and nipped at my neck.

            “I have a job to take care of right now. Come see me at the inn this evening.”  He spun away with a wink, joining the others of his group.

            My head was swimming and it was hard to breathe, and dear gods but I wanted more.

            “I’ll see what I can do,” I rasped. 

            I put my hands to my cheeks and rubbed at them, while Huedhaut chuckled.

            I took a few deep breaths to regain my equilibrium.

            “Holy shit. That was unexpected.”

            The god who brought me here laughed at my discomfiture.

            “Not funny, Hue.” I shook my finger at him. “Are there other parts of this world that correspond to other companies?”

            He nodded and took my hand, turning us around to return through the barrier.

            I thought briefly of asking him to take me to Cheritz land, so I could meet my favorite cat-loving billionaire, but decided it would probably be a bad idea, after my reaction to Goemon. Then another, slightly horrifying thought, occurred to me.

            “Hue, are there lands for EVERY otome game in my world?”

            “Yes.”

            “Even the one with the birds and the one with the human-faced horse?”

            He actually guffawed, laughing so hard he had to bend over and put his hands on his knees.

            “Yes,” he answered, when he could speak again. “Would you like to visit them?”

            “No thanks. So much ‘nope’ there. No, thank you.” My hands were raised in front of my chest as if to ward off some monster.

            “A single ‘no’ would have sufficed.”  He was still amused, however.

            After we returned to Voltage land, we walked through the mountains for a while longer before returning to my campsite.

            “So, have you found out anything else about the king’s portals?”

            “Nothing more than what I’ve already told you.”

            “But how could he have made portals to those other lands? I thought you were Voltage creations.”

            “We are the gods of this entire world, not just this particular land. We appear in different forms in those other stories. The crux of the question is whether we were created by those stories being written, or we caused those stories to be written in order for our world to be found.”

            I blinked at him, trying to wrap my brain around what he’d just said.

            “That is some serious ‘chicken or egg’ stuff. Because if it’s the latter, then what happens in this world has no effect on the stories in my world. But, if it’s the former, then what happens here can have an impact on the stories, which means it could have an impact on the whole world.”

            “Indeed. I’m still working on answering that question, Ava. I know that you are waiting for the answer, because that will help you to decide what path to take in this world, while I’m simply curious. I promise that I will find an answer for us as soon as I can.”

            “Thank you, Hue. I appreciate it.”

            He nodded, and raised his hand, snapping out of existence.

            The sun was low in the sky, so I got the fire started, and lit the little grill. Then I opened a can of stew and set it on the grill to warm up, while I went through a few yoga poses, allowing my conversation with the god to roll around my mind, until my dinner was warmed through.

            After eating, I changed into pajamas and brushed my teeth, and pulled out my notebook, writing down everything I could remember of the afternoon’s events. 

            I was nearly finished when goosebumps ran up my spine. I looked around, the feel of eyes heavy on me.  I set my notebook aside and stood up, trying to figure out the direction of the sensation. 

            The cause revealed itself, well, himself, shortly, striding out of the woods, confident smirk on his face. He stopped in front of me, so close I had to tilt my head back to meet his eyes.

            “Goemon? How are you here? Why are you here?”

            “Silly girl, the barrier weakens at night.” He stepped closer and slid his arms around my waist, nuzzling my neck. “As for the why, that would be you.”

            Already, my body was warm in anticipation, my hands sliding up to his shoulders and my knees going weak.

            “Me? Why?”  Coherent thought was difficult, but I was curious.

            His hands slid under my shirt, one sliding up my back, the other wriggling down the back of my pants to cup one butt cheek.  At the same time, he started nibbling and sucking his way up my neck, until he could drop kisses all over my face.

            “Because I want you,” was the simple reply, breathed in my ear.

            “Oh. Okay.”  I managed to answer.

            In the space between one breath and the next, he had us inside my tent, and I freely gave myself up to the pleasure he offered.

 

            It was still dark out when I felt stirring beside me, though the eastern sky was a lighter gray.

            Goemon was stroking my back, and I lifted my head from his chest.

            “Good morning, Goemon.”

            “Mmm, I do like the sound of my name from your lips. Especially,” he flipped us over, so he was on top of me, “when you are singing in passion. Let me hear your voice one more time, before I have to leave.”  He pressed his lips to mine, one of his hands slipping between my legs.

            All too happy to oblige, I spread them open wide, allowing him inside again.  It wasn’t long before I was a back-scratching, heavy breathing, screaming and trembling mess under his skillful touch. 

            A few more furious pumps, and he groaned his own release, burying his face in my neck for a minute, before pushing himself up on his arms.

            “I wish that I could stay longer, beautiful girl, because I get the feeling I will never see you again. But the barrier will soon be too strong to cross, and I shouldn’t be in this land when that happens.” 

            He leaned down and kissed me again, soft and lingering this time.

            “At least give me your name, to go with the memory of my night with an angel.”

            “Ava,” I answered, threading my hands through his hair.

            “Ava…” he breathed my name. “Thank you.”

            He pushed up onto his knees, caressing my thighs.

            “You are breathtaking, lying beneath me in the predawn light, my marks all over your fair skin.”

            He reached for his clothes, sliding his arms into the sleeves of his kimono as he kept his eyes on me.

            With a sigh, he leaned down to kiss me again, stretching his body on top of me. I wrapped my arms and legs around him again, tangling my fingers in his hair as I kissed him back. I could feel him hardening in excitement again.

            With a frustrated growl, he tore himself away.

            “Goodbye, sweet Ava.” He slipped out of the tent, hurrying towards the woods.

            I poked my head out the door in time to see him turn around and wave.

            I blew him a kiss as he disappeared into the darkness.

            I returned to my bed. It was colder this time. I wrapped the blankets around me, happy that they still held his scent, and went back to sleep.

 

            The sun was fully up by the time I awoke again.  I stretched and yawned, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that I was naked, I would have believed last night to be a dream.  I smiled and ran my hands down my body, freezing when I heard footsteps.

            “Geez, kid, why aren’t you up yet?”

            Mamoru’s grumpy voice floated in through the canvas.

            “Because I don’t want to be up yet. Why are you here?”

            I sat up, suddenly suspicious.

            “Don’t tell me you put a tracking device in something.”

            I could hear him kicking the ground with his foot.

            “Okay, I won’t tell you.”

            I flopped back on the mattress, sighing.

            “Give me a minute to get dressed.”

            “I could come in and help.”

            I glanced down at the hickeys that were scattered all over my chest and stomach and thighs, knowing full well there were many I couldn’t see, as well, and sighed. I hate hickeys.

            “Uh, I’m good, thanks.”

            I hurriedly pulled on some clothes and stepped out of the tent, running my fingers through my hair.

            “’bout time.”

            The sun on my face was suddenly blocked, and I squinted up at him.

            “Why are you here?”

            “Checking on you.”

            I raised an eyebrow at him.

            “I didn’t want you to be alone if that king guy came back.”

            “Thank you,” I said, smiling up at him. This is why you’re my favorite, I thought.

             I walked over to the grill and lit it.

            “I don’t think the king of heaven will bother with me anymore, though. He knows I can’t do anything to him, though he granted me one concession. He promised that he would, at least, not drag parents to this place, forcing them to abandon their children. Beyond that, he’s going to allow the other gods to help out both those that have already been brought here – if they want it – and those that will come down the line. I think that’s as good as it’s going to get.”

            I walked to the back door of my vehicle, Mamoru trailing behind, and hit the button to open it.

            “Will you take the cooler over to the grill, please?” 

            He nodded and lifted it out, heading over to the grill, while I pulled out pans and other dishes, and followed him over. 

            “Anything else?”

            “Let’s get a chair out for you.”

            “You have another chair?”

            “Something told me to bring a spare.”

            “Maybe I’m gettin’ predictable.”

            “I don’t think you have to worry about that.”

            He took a seat in the second chair while I whipped up some scrambled eggs, and we ate in companionable silence. 

            I cleaned up the few dishes and put them back in the car.  I took out my song notebook to begin writing and sat in my chair.

            Mamoru opened his backpack and pulled out a large piece of fabric.  I thought it was a pup tent at first, but it turned out to be a hammock.

            Of course, the nap king would think to bring a hammock. I smiled as I watched him hang it between the nearest trees.

            Once he was done, he climbed in and promptly fell asleep.

            I took the opportunity to watch him for a few minutes. I could never figure out why he’d somehow become my favorite. Soryu’s and Baba’s stories had both made me cry, but this slacker with a heart of gold had somehow become my number one bias. He was the star of most of the fanfics that I’d indulged in writing, and his was the only route that I’d purchased all the side stories and latest seasons.  I knew a lot of facts about him but was only now getting the chance to really know the man behind the character. The same could be said of all the bidders, though I didn’t know as much about them at the start.  Ota had been my least favorite and had only read a summary of his first season route. Here, even he was starting to grow on me. 

            I sat back in my chair, turning my gaze to the forest in front of me, as I recalled again my first – and hopefully only - conversation with the king of the gods.

            He had said that, eventually, every person that came here from my world succumbed to the magic of this world, becoming a random NPC. I had met a few of those who had been dragged here, and he seemed to be at least partially correct. I wasn’t sure if that was due to the environment, or more of a protective measure on the part of the people, themselves. Except for those who’d left behind young children. They had never forgotten, never really assimilated.  I wondered briefly what that might mean for me. Would I really be happy being the cute but nameless wife of a necessary NPC? Maybe it would be better all-around if I just stayed single and moved out on my own. I had already proven that I could support myself as a songwriter, even if I never went any farther than that.

            I glanced over at Mamoru again.

            That would mean leaving my boys, and that would be hardest of all, even after just these few months among them. 

            With a sigh, I decided I’d give Huedhaut a little while longer to figure out whether or not a romance with any of the main characters of any story would be feasible. If all else failed, I could always buy some land here near the barrier and enjoy the occasional fling with Goemon.  At least, for as long as he was around.  His game hadn’t been updated in a couple years and wasn’t even available in the app store anymore.  Who knew how long it would be until his game was deleted from the servers. Maybe I could convince him to cross the barrier and stay with me, here in this land to which neither of us was native. At least that way I wouldn’t risk any of my boys.  

            I sighed and shook my head.  More information was necessary before making any major decisions. For now, I’d just stick with what I had.

 

 

            A deafening crash of thunder jerked me from a sound sleep.  It was chased by a show of lightning that lit up the midnight sky. Moments later, buckets began pouring from the sky.

            “Oh shit. Mamo!” 

            My self-appointed guard dog was still outside, in his hammock.

            I slipped my feet into my boots and grabbed my poncho, before running out to meet him.  He was already completely drenched in the few seconds it took me to get there.

            “I didn’t order a late night cold shower”, he grumped.

            “Well, you got one anyway. Come in the tent and dry off.”

            “Just give me your poncho. I’ll wait out the storm.”

            “Everything is wet, and it’s nearly freezing out here. You can’t stay outside when you’re soaked to the skin. Besides, there’s lightning. What good is it going to do anyone if you get burnt to a crisp?”

            He looked like he was going to argue some more, so I grabbed his hand and yanked, pulling him out of the hammock. 

            I managed to drag him to the tent, shoving him inside.

            “You need to get out of those wet clothes." I was careful to make sure I didn't fling water everywhere as I took off my poncho and laid it out in front of the door. "I’ll find you a towel. Your backpack is right behind you, so you can get some dry clothes on.”

            He looked around the inside of the tent, obviously noting the lack of privacy.

            I rolled my eyes.

            “Look, I’ll turn around. Just get into some dry clothes before hypothermia starts to set in, ya’ stubborn grump.”

            I turned around, opening my possibles box. I heard him moving and started searching for the towel that I knew was in there.

            Keeping my back to him, I held the towel out.  After he took it, I returned to the box, reorganizing things so the I could put the lid back on.

            “Okay, now what?”

            I turned around to see him straightening the hem of his t-shirt.

            “Now we try to sleep. Tomorrow we’ll be stringing up a drying line and drying all the wet stuff.”

            “What about the lightning?”

            “The tent is well grounded. The rain fly is rubber. There’s a rubber mat under the tent, and another, thicker one under the air bed.” I lifted the corner of the mattress to show him. “Barring a direct hit, we’ll be fine.”

            “I dunno… you seem to have this knack for attracting unwanted attention from powerful people.” He rolled his eyes skyward.

            “Psshhh… whatever.” I pushed his shoulder and pointed toward my jacket. “The keys are in the right-hand pocket, if you’d rather sleep in the car.” 

            I kicked my boots off and sat on the air mattress, reaching out to turn on the small radiant heater that sat to one side, and then burrowing under the blankets, staying on one side of the full-size mattress.

            It only took a moment before he joined me.

            “And you call me stubborn,” he huffed, pulling the blankets up to his chin and rolling onto his side to face me

            “Mm… takes one to know one.”

            “I thought the saying was ‘opposites attract’.”

            “There is that, but not polar opposites.”

            “Do we qualify as that?”

            I laughed around a yawn and closed my eyes.

            “Not even close. Sleep well, Mamoru.”

            “Good. G’night, kid.”

            I was nearly asleep when I felt him beginning to stroke my hair.

 

            A cold blast of wind woke me.  The light was a cold gray, and I could hear drops on the rain fly of the tent. The air smelled crisp and cold, and I shivered, searching for the blankets. Mamoru ducked back into the tent and picked up the towel, rubbing his hair and wiping off his shoulders. He dropped the towel back onto the chair and dove back into the bed.

            “Wet and cold out there,” he muttered, scooting close.

            “What were you doing?”

            “Needed a smoke.”

            “I thought you had quit.”

            In answer, he slipped his ice-cold hands under the hem of my shirt.

            “Holy shit, Mamoru!” I grabbed at his wrists, desperate to get away from the cold.

            “You’re warm,” he protested, pulling me closer.

            “You’re not!” I retorted, trying to push him away.

            “So, you should share,” he reasoned.

            I sighed and gave up, dropping one arm over his shoulder as I pulled the blankets over our heads.

            “You are impossible,” I stated.

             “That’s why you love me.”  He tucked my head under his chin, and we fell asleep again.

Chapter Text

                The guys were all muttering together, stopping the moment I entered the room. That should have been my first clue, but I didn’t catch it.

                “Hey, AJ,” Ota called.

                “Hey what?” I asked, sitting in my usual spot and firing up my computer.

                “If you were to, say, judge a dick contest, what criteria would you use?”

                I blinked several times and coughed.

                “If I what now?” I asked, not certain I’d heard the question correctly, and almost dreading the answer.

                “You know. Guys’ dongs. If you were judging, say size, how would you go about it?”

                I raised an eyebrow incredulously. Ota’s expression was curious, the rest were unreadable, though none of them would meet my gaze.

                “Well…. I suppose you’d have to measure them when they’re flaccid, as well as hard, in order to get a true idea. I mean, it’s not that big a deal if a dude is six inches unaroused, and seven when he’s aroused. But, a guy that’s like three inches flaccid and seven hard, that’s a huge change. You also have to consider girth, in addition to length. Why are you asking about this?”

                “No reason. It’s something I saw on television and was curious about your opinion.” He smiled like the Cheshire cat and sat back.

                “Huh,” I snorted. “Okay. Glad I could help.”

                I was still a little uneasy but pushed the feeling aside as the planning meeting got underway.

 

                It was a couple weeks later that I realized the trap into which I’d stumbled.

                I was looking forward to a quiet evening, as all the penthouse boys who weren’t out of town were going out on dates with their current girlfriends.

                They’d all left, and I had changed into my comfy pajamas, that consisted of a soft cotton camisole and shorts, and queued up a couple of sci-fi movies to watch. I headed into the kitchen to pop some popcorn and grab some ice for my drink.

                Hands full of treats, I meandered back into the great room, to find Eisuke, Ota, Baba, and Mamoru, all smelling of alcohol and getting undressed. Their equally tipsy dates giggled and smirked. Soryu stood off to one side, looking irritated and embarrassed.

                “What are you doing?” I watched, horrified, as slacks were pushed down to ankles, quickly lifting my eyes to at least chest height as they all turned to face me.

                “Finding out who has the biggest dick,” Ota crowed.

                “Okay, but why?”

                “So we’ll know.”

                “It matters?”

                “Of course, it does. Don’t you think so?”

                “It’s been my experience that ability matters more than size. Quality over quantity.”

                The boys scowled at this, while the women nodded in agreement.

                “Well, I guess after you’ve taken our measurements, you’ll have to sleep with all of us to really determine who’s best,” Eisuke stated with a wink.

                “Okay, that’s not gonna happen,” I answered with a shake of my head. “And why am I the one doing the measuring?”

                “Because you’re the only one we all trust to be honest.”

                I set my ice and popcorn on an end table.

                “Why is this my life now?” I asked the ceiling. “You’d better be getting a hell of a kick out of this,” I muttered at the king.

                I sighed and headed to the bar, pulling out the decanter of whiskey and a shot glass.

                “I’m gonna need a drink for this,” I muttered.

                “You don’t have to do this,” Soryu’s voice was low in my ear. “They’re not really themselves.”

                I poured a shot and tossed it back, enjoying the burn of the alcohol as it slid down my throat.

                I poured a second shot, capped the whiskey and put it back in the cupboard, then looked up at Soryu.

                “How so?”

                “Acting strangely, not remembering people they should know, doing things they would never do, no matter how drunk they were.”

                I downed the second shot and slammed the glass on the bar.

                “Mother fucker,” I gasped.

                “Pardon?”

                “The king of the gods. He said the reason he’s pulling people from my world is for his entertainment. I didn’t think he’d go so far as to control others. That’s pretty low.”

                “Refuse him.”

                I thought about it for a moment, then shook my head.

                “Can’t risk it. If he’s willing to put people under his control, it’s not hard to believe that he’d hurt them, as well.” I sighed. “How drunk were the boys?”

                “Staggering, which is odd because Ota is usually the only one that gets that drunk.”

                I crossed the first two fingers of my right hand.

                “Here’s hoping they’re too drunk to remember all of this. Too bad we won’t be, huh?”  I winked and lightly punched his shoulder.

                He smiled his quiet smile and nodded. “I intend to try, though.”

                “Don’t make me have to call Luke to treat a nasty case of alcohol poisoning.”

                I squared my shoulders and walked to the drawer that I knew contained a ruler and rubber bands. After making certain that all four rubber bands were the same size, I cut them so that they could easily be wrapped around an object, or body part, in this case, and a marker. I picked up a notepad from the table and returned to the drunken group.

                “All right, ladies,” I spoke to the dates. These were not the women they had left with earlier in the evening. “I’m going to need your help with this. First, we’re going to measure before you get the guys all hot and bothered, and then again once they’re ready to ride. I’ll need you to hold… things… still for me, so I can get accurate measurements.”

                Excited at getting to be part of the party, the women staggered over beside their respective dates, and we got underway.

                It went surprisingly easily. I managed to figure out a way to get the measurements while avoiding actually looking directly at the boys’ members.

                It’s not that I’m a prude or anything. I quite enjoy the sight of a beautifully-made man, and all of these guys more than qualified.

                It was just that, over the months that I’d been here, I’d come to love and respect them too much to invade their privacy like that.

                I was seething with anger at the king, for this farce which felt too much like assault for my comfort, and I hoped he could hear my thoughts. I directed all of my anger at him, while we finished up this ridiculous game.

                I tore the pages with the measurements off the notebook and shoved them in a pocket, tossed the rubber bands, and returned the ruler and marker to the drawer.

                “Okay, ladies and gentlemen.” I was still resolutely keeping my gaze above their shoulders. “Good news, bad news time. The good news is that all of the boys are well gifted. The bad news is that it’s going to take me some time to figure out the winner, because it’s going to involve math. In the meantime, you lucky ladies can go find out how skilled they are in the use of their… tools.”

                I shooed the group toward their individual suites and turned to head to my own, when I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder.

                Eisuke’s voice whispered in my ear.

                “Don’t you want to find that out for yourself?”

                I turned to look at him, close enough that I could see that he really wasn’t himself.

                “I’m sure these ladies are experienced enough to be able to decide if you’re good lovers. I trust their judgement.”

                Eisuke’s grip on my shoulder tightened to the point that I was certain there would be bruises in the morning.

                He opened his mouth to speak, but then Soryu was there, prying his hand off of me and stepping between us.

                “Eisuke, I think you should listen to what Ava says and go to your suite with your date.”

                Eisuke scowled, then turned around and headed back to the woman who had accompanied him.

                “Boys,” I called out, trying not to laugh, “pull up your pants. It’ll be easier to walk.”

                I turned my head as they all bent over to grab their pants, doing what I could to keep their privacy intact.

                As we heard doors closing, Soryu turned to me, concern clear in his gray eyes.

                “Are you going to be all right?”

                “Yes, thank you. I think that will be the end of this. I hope the king heard every damned thing I thought of him while that was happening. None of it was flattering. I have my doubts that it will change anything, but I hope he’ll at least think twice before forcing people to his will, that asshole.”

                “Is there anything else I can do?”

                I shrugged my shoulders.

                “Pray that none of them remembers this; and erase any security camera footage there might be. Gods, can you imagine the shitstorm if it gets leaked?” I closed my eyes and shuddered.

                Soryu nodded, still concerned.

                “I’m right next door if you need anything. Just knock.”

                “Thank you, Soryu. I appreciate your help.”

                He nodded and headed to his suite.

                I sighed again, wandering over to the table that held my popcorn and glass of, well, mostly water now. I swallowed the water in a few quick gulps and took my dishes into the kitchen to deal with in the morning.

                “So much for movie night..."

Chapter Text

 

                I woke in my bed, naked and painfully aroused. My dreams last night had been filled with sex, and I was pretty sure it was more torture on behalf of the king.

                “Ava! Are you awake?” Baba’s voice was muffled through the wood of the door.

                I wrapped my silk robe around my body and hurried to the door, opening it just enough to peek through.

                “Mitsu? What’s up?”

                “Uhm, Boss wants to see us all in his office,” he answered.

                “Okay. Just give me a few minutes to clean up.”

                I hurried back to my bedroom, picking up my shorts and camisole, though I couldn’t find my underwear. Knowing I didn’t have a lot of time, I went into the bathroom and turned on the shower, keeping the water fairly cool. I piled my hair on top of my head and stepped in, hoping the cold water would calm me down. Instead, it just seemed to make things worse. I lifted the handheld shower head from its hook, and sat on the floor, legs spread. It only took a few seconds of aiming the cool water at my overheated and overly-sensitive core to bring on an orgasm. It seemed to have worked, so I pushed myself off the floor of the shower, turned off the water, and stepped out, drying myself as I walked to my closet.

                I grabbed a pair of underwear and dragged them up my still-damp legs, pulled a simple sundress over my head, draped a silk scarf over my shoulders and let my hair back down, before I hurried to Eisuke’s office.

                As I climbed the stairs, I was hyper aware of the way the lace crotch of my underwear rubbed against me, the way the silk of my dress rubbed against my nipples.

                “God damn you,” I muttered at the king of the gods. “Can’t you just leave me the fuck alone?”

                All the boys from last night were there, seated on chairs around the meeting table. Eisuke stood at the head of the table, Soryu beside him. A large monitor sat on the table, hooked to Eisuke’s laptop.

                I sat in the empty chair between Mamoru and another empty chair, squeezing my thighs together and fighting to keep my breathing steady. Soryu took a seat in the other empty chair.

                I raised an eyebrow at Soryu.

                “Eisuke has a second, secret feed that I didn’t know about,” he apologized.

                “Oh shit,” was all I could manage.

                He smiled weakly.

                “I’m beginning to understand your penchant for swearing.”

                “I’m sure you’re all wondering why I’ve called you here,” Eisuke stated, glancing at me then away. “Before I answer that, I have a question for all of you. How many of you remember what happened after we arrived at the bar last night?”

                He glared around the table at his companions of last night. They all sat quietly, lost in thought.

                “I remember getting to the bar,” Baba spoke up. “We met that group of lovely ladies, and then the next thing I recall is waking up in bed this morning, alone.”

                Mamoru and Ota nodded in agreement.

                Eisuke snorted.

                “That’s all I remember, too. Therefore, I took it upon myself to try and figure this mystery out. I replayed the feed from the camera in the great room. I think most of you will be… surprised… to see what happened.”

                Without further ado, he started the video playing, beginning as I was walking into the kitchen for ice and popcorn. These cameras had sound, so we could hear all hear the sounds of popping corn and clinking ice.

                I already knew what came next, so I stole glances at the faces of the men around me as the video continued and tried not to fidget in my chair.

                The screen split in two at the point where Soryu and I walked to the bar. Our conversation was a little muffled by the giggling of the women in the background, but Eisuke managed to clear it up enough that our words could be heard.

                Around me, the men were all blushing, staring down at the table in front of them.

                The video finally ended.

                I squirmed uncomfortably.

At the same moment, Eisuke gripped my shoulder and memories of my dreams flashed through my head – the king taunting me with visions of an orgy. I was intensely aware of his subtle cologne and the heat of his hand on my skin. I fanned my burning face, hoping it would be taken for embarrassment from watching the video.

                “So,” Eisuke spoke into the silent room. “What should we do?”

                “First… ahem… first thing,” I had to clear my throat before I could speak, “delete that footage from everywhere you’ve got it saved, up to and including destroying the physical hard drive,” I stated. “Were this footage to be leaked, it could do irreparable damage to your reputation. If we were in the States, your stock price would probably go up. The same can’t be said for Japan. Beyond that, I don’t know.”

                “You said that it was your guess that this king of the gods was controlling us,” Mamoru stated, looking over my shoulder and adding his now cigarette-free scent to the mix. “That would explain why we don’t remember any of this.” His breath was hot on my neck.

                “Do you think he would do something like this again?” Baba asked.

                “Honestly, I have no idea,” I said. “I don’t know what his goal was with this stunt, so I have no idea if this,” I gestured at the monitor, “made him happy. If he was looking to piss me off, he did it. If he was looking for something… hrm… different, well, he didn’t get that. My hope is that he won’t stoop that low again, but it’s only a hope.” I uncrossed my legs and crossed them the opposite way, squeezing my thighs together and hoping this would be done soon.

                “How did you know we weren’t acting of our own free will?” Ota asked.

                “Soryu said that you’d all been acting strangely for a good chunk of the night – drinking way more than usual, saying and doing things that you would never do, even drunk off your asses. Then, at the end when I was speaking with Eisuke, I was close enough to look into his eyes, and he wasn’t there.”

                “What does that mean?”

                “Well, it was like the difference between looking into the eyes of a living, breathing person, and those of a doll. Or a sculpture. Though it was his body, his soul wasn’t there.”

                The artist leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest.

                “Is there anything we can do to protect ourselves?” Baba asked.

                “I don’t know,” I answered.

                I sent a plea to Leon and Huedhaut, though I didn’t hold out much hope that they’d show up anytime soon. In this, I was pleasantly surprised.

                The men around me froze, and Leon appeared.

                “What is it this time, Goldfish?” He demanded, a grin on his face. Almost as quickly as it appeared, it disappeared. “What happened here?”

                I briefly explained the previous night’s excitement, pointing at the monitor.

                The ginger god walked over to Eisuke and placed a hand on his head, a scowl growing on his face.

                “Why did he do this?” He whispered.

                “Is there anything you can do to protect them from this kind of thing?” I answered his question with one of my own.

                He frowned, and I felt it as magic pulsed through the room.

                “Shall I remove these memories?”

                “My vote is for yes, but it would be a good idea to ask them what they want.”

                Leon nodded, and the men in the room jumped at his sudden presence.

                 Soryu jumped to his feet, reaching into his jacket.

                I grabbed his arm, even though I knew that being shot would be little more than an annoyance to the god.

                “No, Soryu! This is Leon, the god of Leo. He’s one of the gods who have been helping me.”

                Soryu dropped his hand to his side.

                Leon nodded and spoke.

                “I have already done what I could to prevent the king taking you over again. Huedhaut may be able to do more, with research. Ava insisted that I ask you if you wanted the memory of last night to be erased from your mind. Make your choice.”

                He crossed his arms over his chest and tapped the toes of one foot.

                “I think I want to forget it,” Baba was the first to speak.

                “I agree,” Ota added. “I don’t think I can look AJ in the eyes right now.”

                After a minute more of discussion, they had reached a consensus. None of them wanted to remember last night.

                Leon nodded and raised his hand to snap his fingers.

                “Wait,” Eisuke jumped in. “Who won?”

                “What?” I blinked at him.

                His usual smirk was back on his face.

                “Who won?”

                I drew in a deep breath and squinted at him.

                “Really?”

                “Yes. You went to all that trouble, seems only fair.”

                “I wanna know, too!” Ota piped up.

                I sighed, covering my eyes with one hand, rubbing my temples with the thumb and middle finger.

                “All right. Eisuke won in length, though there was less than five centimeters difference between the longest and shortest. Ota won for the most change between… resting and excited. Mamoru won for girth. Leon, please make sure they forget that part, too. Also, can you erase all the copies of the security camera footage, wherever it’s being stored?”

                “Consider it done, Goldfish.” He snapped his fingers. The guys were all frozen again.

                “Thank you, Leon,” I said.

                “I’m not finished yet,” he said with a smirk. He walked over to stand in front of me, lifting my chin with one finger.

                “You have another problem.”

                “Do I?” I laughed nervously, uncrossing and crossing my legs again.

                “Indeed.” He leaned in close to me. “I can smell your arousal. Even these pathetic goldfish can pick up on it.”

                He gestured around the room, and it didn’t take much to notice the bulges in pants, the darkened eyes.

                Embarrassed, I sighed. “It’s because of my dreams last night, and I’m pretty sure the king had a hand in that, too. I don’t suppose you can snap that away, too?”

                He scowled.

                “I cannot. And I cannot understand why our king persists on tormenting you thus. This enchantment, this need that has been placed upon you, must be satiated.”

                “Hell’s bells. I thought last night was bad. Well, I’ll go to my room and… uh… take care of it.”

                His smirk was back, one hand sliding up my arm, his breath hot on my neck.

                “This need cannot be sated via artificial means. It will only be ended with full skin on skin contact.”

                I was getting hotter and more sensitive by the second.

                “You’re not helping, Leon,” I whimpered, balling my hands into fists and squeezing my eyes shut.

                “You must live the dreams, Goldfish.”

                “WHAT!?” My eyes popped open. “No! That can’t happen. What about the games… the… the connection between this world and the other one?”

                He chuckled.

                “You’re making progress, Goldfish, though you needn’t worry about that. Once their memories are gone, it will be as if this whole thing never happened.”

                “Really?”

                “Of course. It is the only way to end this part of the king’s game. The dreams you were sent, you must physically experience. To their fullest.” His tone was highly suggestive, his brows raised.

                I shivered, dread and excitement warring within me.

                “I don’t know if I can go through with this,” I whispered. These men were the closest thing I had to a family in this world.

                “You must, Goldfish, else this torment will never end. I will do what I can to make it easier for you.”

                “When it’s done, can you erase my memories of this event, too?”

                His confident smirk faded.

                “I don’t know. However, I promise you that I will try.”

                I heaved a sigh and nodded my head.

                “That’ll have to do. I guess it’s time to just do it.”

                “Indeed. Enjoy this, Goldfish. It won’t happen again. Well, unless you want it to.”

                He disappeared with a snap of his fingers.

                The feel of the room had changed. Ties were being loosened, shirts unbuttoned. All eyes were on me, as I squirmed in my chair.

                I watched Eisuke as he closed his laptop and set it on a small table behind his chair, followed by the monitor, resumed his seat, and met my gaze.

                “Ava, come here.” He rolled his chair back a bit and pointed to a spot between himself and the table.

                I drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, choosing to give in to the lust, and stood, stepping around my chair. I paused as I passed Mamoru, and he reached out and slid his fingers up the inside of one leg and back down.

                I resumed my walk to Eisuke, stopping when I had reached the indicated spot. I could feel the table pressing against my ass. He set one of his feet between mine, edging me into a wider stance.

                His fingers dug into my thighs and I watched as his nostrils flared, breathing in the scent of my arousal.

                “You have come to be very important to all of us. Is there something we can do for you?” His voice was husky.

                I drew in a deep breath.

                “I don’t know. Is there something in particular you’d like to do for me?”

                Eisuke nodded,once.

                “I think you know what we’d like to do for you, or to you, as the case may be. Would you like that?”

                “I think I would like that very much.”

                There was a brief noise of the rest of the men rising and pushing their chairs away from the table. I looked around to see them all beginning to strip. Baba winked when I caught his eye.

                “Very well. Gentlemen, you heard the lady.”

                Eisuke tugged off my scarf, revealing the fact that my thin silk dress did nothing to hide my arousal.

                He leaned forward and drew one nipple into his mouth, sucking and nipping.

                I moaned and laced my fingers through his hair, closing my hand into a fist.

                Vaguely, I heard a clatter of running feet leaving the room.

                One of Eisuke’s hands slid under the hem of my dress, sliding up the inside of my thigh. One finger began stroking the wet crotch of my underwear, and I whimpered.

                His mouth moved to my other nipple, while his second hand joined the first under my dress, tugging my panties down my legs until I could step out of them.

                As his hands ran back up my legs, he caught the hem of my dress, pushing it up and lifting it off over my head.

                “Lie back on the table,” he whispered, and I eagerly complied, shivering at the feel of the cold wood against my hot skin. I lifted my heels onto the edge of the table, spreading my legs open at the slightest push on my knees.

                A hot, wet tongue licked up my slit, the tip teasing my clit and I gasped.

                “I like the way you taste, Ava.”

                The running feet returned to the room, and a panting Ota hove into my view.

                “I brought the lube and condoms,” he declared proudly, holding up a purple tube and a black and gold box.

                I reached out to pet his soft blond hair.

                “You’re such a good boy, Ota,” I whispered.

                He smiled and leaned down, his fierce kiss leaving my lips tingling as he licked his way down my neck and upper chest. When he reached the nearest nipple, his tongue circled around it before his lips sealed around the sensitive nub, sucking hard.

                Another hot mouth enveloped my other nipple, as fingers slid inside of me, stroking and tickling.

                I came hard, my back arching off the table.

                As I floated down from my high, I heard a disagreement taking place.

                “Hey, no one fucks her until everyone has tasted her!” Ota protested.

                “Hm, and what does Ava have to say about it?” Eisuke countered.

                I wanted to be fucked. God did I want it, but I felt the need to mediate.

                “Fair is fair,” I agreed, hoping to move things along.

                “Very well,” Eisuke agreed, stepping away from his spot so that someone else could take over.

                Another mouth sealed over my clit as Eisuke walked to stand near my head. He was naked, his skin flushed and his cock standing at attention and throbbing. He was close enough that I reached out and started caressing him. His hissed intake of breath as my fingers closed around him and began stroking was sexy as hell. He leaned over, placing his hands on the table and thrusting his hips forward in time with my strokes.

                I tore my eyes away from the sight of him and turned my head, to meet the heated gaze of Mamoru. He too, was naked and ready to go, but was standing back from the table.

                “Mamo,” I whispered, beckoning him closer.  As soon as he was in reach, I circled my fingers around his tip and stroked along his length. When I closed my hand around his shaft, there was a gap of an inch between the tips of my thumb and middle finger.

                His head lolled back.

                “Fu-u-u-ck, babe,” he whispered.

                I moaned, partly due to what someone’s mouth was doing to me, and partly because I found myself imagining how wonderful he would feel inside me.

                It wasn’t long until I found out.

                Someone was kissing me, two mouths were working my nipples, a hard cock was in each of my hands, other hands were everywhere, when I felt stubble scratching down the inside of one thigh, followed by hot kisses that trailed all the way to the juncture between my legs.

                A tongue slid the length of my pussy before flicking my clit, while fingers slid inside of me, tickling and stretching.

                I came again, and felt a face rubbing between my legs.

                Whoever was kissing me stopped, and I opened my eyes as I felt large hands under my knees and a dick rubbing against my hypersensitive flesh.

                Mamoru’s eyes never left mine as he slowly pushed inside of me.

                My back arched and I moaned his name. He stopped when his balls hit my ass, and I could feel him throbbing inside of me. I clenched down on him, eager to feel every bit of him.

                He lifted my ankles to his shoulders and started to move within me, slowly at first, then picking up speed.

                I moaned his name as the mouths left my tits, the rest of the men turning to watch as he fucked me.

                For a moment, the only sound was that of our bodies slapping together.

                “Damn, Mamo!” Ota remarked, stroking himself.

                I noticed the others following suit as they watched Mamoru slamming into me.

                With the other men out of the way, Mamoru spread my legs open again and leaned forward, taking possession of my mouth, his tongue stroking my own.

                I reached down and grabbed his ass, urging him deeper.

                “Uh… fuck, Mamo. I’m gonna cum.”

                “Good. I wanna feel you come on my dick. I’m gonna be the first to cum inside you.”

                A tiny part of my brain panicked, but it wasn’t enough to stop what was happening. That part of my brain cursed the king of the gods again, while most of my consciousness was given over to the pleasure of the moment.

                I came hard, locking my ankles around his thighs, my nails digging into the flesh of his ass.

                He came at the same time, continuing to pump his hips as the warmth of his seed spread through my belly.

                He kissed me again before standing upright and pulling out.

                I whimpered at the emptiness, but that didn’t last long.

                Soryu entered my line of sight next.

                He gave me a quick smile then looked down, watching as he pushed into me with a sigh.

                “You’re so warm, Ava,” he whispered, sliding in and out slowly, “and fit like a glove.”

                I whimpered and moaned as he alternated his speed and force as he pounded into me.

                Ota and Baba had walked over and flanked Soryu, watching as he fucked into me and stroking themselves.

                Another orgasm hit me, and as I shuddered through it, I felt hot liquid hitting my thighs as they came on me.

                Soryu’s rhythm stuttered and he slammed into me as he came, his fingetips digging in where he held my legs open.

                As he stood there panting, Ota and Baba came over with tissues, wiping up their messes.

                Eisuke replaced Soryu between my legs.

                “Your pussy is nicely lubed up now,” he commented, pushing into me. “I generally prefer to be the one to fill my lover, but this is interesting.”

                He pulled my legs closed, setting both ankles on one of his shoulders and setting a grueling pace.

                I came a couple of times before he spread my legs again, thrust a few more times, and pulled his cock out of me, coming on my stomach.

                He wiped most of his jizz off with his purple silk handkerchief and held out a hand to help me sit up.

 

                “How about a bath?”

                “That sounds amazing,” I panted, clutching the side of the table to steady myself.

                He smirked and nodded at someone behind me before heading into his private suite.

                Strong arms lifted me, and it took a moment for me to realize that it was Soryu, carrying me to Eisuke’s bathroom.

                His tub was quite large, but it filled quickly.

                Soryu stepped carefully into the steaming water before he set me on my feet.

                It only took a moment for the rest of the boys to join us in the tub. Even in the large garden tub, it was a snug fit for six adults.

                I felt hands on my waist, and I was lifted and settled on Baba’s lap. He had a washcloth and started wiping my body down.

                It was actually pretty relaxing, and I laid my head on his shoulder.

                “What do you want now, Ava?” Eisuke whispered in my ear.

                “Hm. Well, you all tasted me, so I think I should get to taste you.”

                “I like the way you think.” He pushed himself up so he was sitting on the side of the tub.

                I watched the water streaming down his smooth skin, rivulets following the tracks of his muscles, droplets glistening in the light.

                His cock was standing at attention and twitching as he sat there.

                I sat up, kissed Baba on one cheek, and moved between Eisuke’s knees.

                “Show me how good you are,” he growled.

                I shivered in anticipation and reached out with my finger first, circling his tip with a featherlight touch. My tongue followed the same path as my fingers, around and down the length of his shaft. I stroked him with one hand while I licked and sucked his balls, eliciting a moan as one of his hands tangled in my hair.

                In one long stroke, I licked up to his tip and then took him into my mouth, as deeply as I could. I sucked in my cheeks as I slid back up his shaft, allowing his tip to pop out of my mouth. I blew on his cock before taking him I again, this time bobbing up and down his length. He hissed his pleasure, his hand cupping the back of my head.

                My hands were on his thighs, and I could feel him tensing, keeping himself from thrusting into my mouth.

                I altered the length and speed and angle of my strokes, humming and taking him deep and swallowing around him, playing with his balls. It wasn’t long before I could hear his breathing get ragged, his thighs quivering.  I switched to the combo I now knew he liked best, ghosting the fingers of one hand up the inside of one thigh until I could apply pressure to his prostate.

                His hips bucked and he called my name as he came in my mouth.

                “Ahhh,” he sighed as he slid back down into the water, cupping my face and kissing me. “God, you’re good,” he whispered.

                “You’re welcome,” I grinned at him.

                He gave me his signature smirk and handed me a glass of water from somewhere.

                After cleansing my palate, I set the glass on the side of the tub and licked my lips, waiting for the next one.

                I made my way around the tub in this fashion, tailoring my style as I learned what each man preferred.

                Soryu held my hair out of the way and liked it best when he could see my mouth moving over him.

                Baba was the noisiest of the bunch, cooing and talking the entire time.

                Ota came the quickest. I had barely figured out his preferences when he yelled.

                “Oh, god, Ava… I’m gonna come!” 

                And he did.

                Mamoru was last.

                He’d been sitting on the side of the tub while I finished off Ota, slowly stroking himself.

                Ota had slid back into the tub while I had a drink of water.

                “Ava, how are you gonna fit Mamo’s monster into your mouth?”

                I licked my lips and smiled.

                “I love a challenge.”

                I moved between Mamoru’s knees, the fingers of both hands sliding up the insides of his thighs.

                I took hold of his dick with both hands, sliding them up and down his shaft while I licked his tip like an ice cream cone.

                “Ss-sweetheart…” he hissed, his fingers gliding though my hair. “You don’t have to…”

                “Mm… watch me.”

                I bent my head to my task, slowly enveloping him in my mouth until I got use to his size. Then I was able to get to work figuring out how he liked it best.

                “Fuck, babe,” Mamoru whispered as I swallowed around him.

                “Holy shit! Way to go, Ava!” Ota had become my cheerleader.

                It took a few minutes, but finally, I felt Mamoru’s legs begin to quiver; heard his breath hitch in his chest, and then he came, repeating my name and petting my head.

                Once he was sitting in the tub again, he put one finger under my chin.

                “You’re amazing,” he whispered, peppering my face with kisses.

               

                We moved the party back to the meeting room.

                Ota sat in a heavy wingback chair, practically bouncing.

                “Hey Ava, wanna get a little kinkier?”

                I walked over to him, and he drew me onto his lap, his hands resting on my hips.

                “What, an orgy with the five of you isn’t enough?”

                I tried to be snarky, but the unnatural lust that pumped through me was making it difficult.

                He started nibbling the length of my neck.

                “How about this time,” he spoke in between bites as his hands slid around to the front of my body. One slid up to play with my tits, the other down to fondle my clit, “two of us have you at one time?”

                I writhed on his lap, his hard dick sliding between my ass cheeks.

                “H-how are we doing this?” I panted.

                The fingers on my clit moved faster, and I came in moments.

                He turned my head and kissed me.

                “Sit up for a sec,” he whispered.

                I don’t know where they came from, but he suddenly had the lube and condoms in his hand. He rolled a condom onto his cock and lubed up.

                “Well, I’m taking your ass,” he declared, gripping my hips and maneuvering until his could slip inside me. “That leaves your sweet pussy for someone else.”

                He put his hands under my knees and spread my legs open, hooking them over the arms of the chair and started slowly rolling his hips.

                Baba wasted no time in taking Ota’s suggestion.

                I moaned as his cock slid inside of me. He caught my moan with a kiss.

                “How is this, Princess?” He asked as he, too, started to thrust into me.

                My head lolled back at all the different sensations. Ota and Baba timed their thrusts so one was sliding in as the other was sliding out.

                The pressure was building quickly, and I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t even form coherent words.

                “I think she’s gonna cum, Baba,” Ota panted behind me.

                “I think we should both be inside of her when she does,” Baba replied. “What do you think, Princess?”

                All I could do was nod and whimper.

                Baba kissed my forehead.

                “As you wish, darling.”

                The two men began altering their thrusts until they were pushing into me at the same time.

                A few strokes being filled to the brim was all it took to push me over the edge. Ota and Baba rammed into me and stopped as I shuddered around them.

                “Holy shit,” Ota breathed, his hips lifting as he came.

                Baba took over complete control, free to speed up now that he no longer had to coordinate with Ota. A few more thrusts and he shot his load inside me.

                He kissed me as he wound down.

                “Do you have any idea how beautiful you are like this?” He asked. He brushed a bit of hair away from my face and rubbed his nose against mine. “Can you stand, darling?”

                “Um…hang on a minute.” I had to physically pull my legs off the arms of the chairs and stretch them as tingles ran their length.

                Baba slipped his arms around my waist.

                “Allow me,” he spoke in my ear before gently lifting me to my feet.

                I slid my arms around his neck and let my forehead rest against his chest.

                “Thank you.”

                Arms slid around my waist from behind me, and a warm mouth pressed kisses across my shoulders.

                “You’re like the goddess of the penthouse,” Ota added his thoughts. “I never thought I’d get the chance to do something like this.”

                I reached behind my head with one hand, running my fingers through his hair, and laughed a little.

                “Well, this is certainly not something I ever would have experienced back in the old world.”

                He laughed, pressing against me.

                “You mean you weren’t some kind of sex goddess over there?”

                “Not even close,” I scoffed. “That world isn’t nearly as, hmm, magical, as this one.”

                “Do you still miss it?”

                “From time to time, I wonder how everyone I left behind is doing. I hope that they’re all living happily. That’s about it.”

                 “The real question,” Baba asked, turning and guiding me toward the small couch where Mamoru and Eisuke sat, both hard and throbbing, “is are you happy here?”

                Eisuke wore his signature smirk as he rolled on a condom and applied a liberal amount of lube. I straddled Mamoru’s thighs, locking gazes with him as I mounted him.

                “Yesss,” I sighed.

                Mamoru reached out and pulled me against his chest, kissing me deeply. Our tongues twined together, his fingers digging into my hips.

                Another set of fingers clawed down my back and grasped my ass.

                “I’ve watched this ass walking around my penthouse for months now, always wondering what it would feel like,” Eisuke growled from behind me. “Now I get to find out.”

                I felt the tip of his cock pressing against my ass and then pushing inside of me.

                “Oh, fuck,” I sighed.

                “That is what’s happening, yes,” Eisuke chuckled.

                He slid all the way out and pushed slowly into me again.

                “I like the way you feel when I’m inside of you, Ava.”

                Mamoru started rolling his hips.

                “Agreed. You feel damn good, sweetheart.”

                He dropped kisses across my chest and shoulders.

                “I think we should make this last as long as possible, Mamo.”

                “Yep. I like to hear all the sounds she makes.”

                Soryu slid a chair behind us, leaning back as he stroked himself and watched.

                I have no idea how many times I came that session. My arms gave out, my head and shoulders falling to Mamoru’s chest. He kissed my forehead as I lay there, panting, whimpering, screaming.

                Two pairs of hands held my hips in position as the men fucked into me.

                Soryu’s hand started pumping faster, head thrown back, hips bucking as he came all over his hand.

                It was one of the hottest things I’d ever seen.

                They finally slowed their brutal pace; first Eisuke then Mamoru stuttered and stopped. With both of them inside me, I could feel both of them, throbbing as they orgasmed.

                Eisuke leaned over and pressed kisses across my shoulders before he pulled out.

                Mamoru waited until Eisuke stood up, and then he wrapped his arms around my shoulders.

                “Beautiful,” he whispered.

                Ota and Baba appeared from somewhere, carrying a bucket and a stack of towels, respectively.

                “We thought you might like to clean yourselves up a bit,” Baba dipped a towel into the bucket and started wiping me down, careful to get every inch.

                “Thank you, Micchy,” I sighed, leaning into his touch.

                “Hm, I think our goddess is in need of some rest,” he observed.

                “Absolutely,” I agreed.

                He dropped the towel on the floor and picked me up, carrying me over to the couch. The others joined us as they finished cleaning themselves up, and we all passed out.

               

                Ota woke me with kisses.

                “Ava, come with me. I want to paint you!”

                I sat up and looked around. Except for the lack of blood, the room looked like the scene of mass murder. The boys slept where ever they’d wound up.

                Personally, I was hoping that we were done now, but judging by the arousal already flowing through me, we weren’t done entertaining the king yet.

                I shivered and Ota took my hands, pulling me to me feet and against his body.

                He was quite ready to go, too. As I came to my feet, his dick wound up between my thighs.

                “Holy shit, I’ve never been this horny before,” he muttered, hips thrusting slightly.

                “That makes two of us,” I agreed, matching his thrusts with my own.

                He growled and pushed me up against a wall. I hooked a leg over one hip and he slid inside.

                “God, how are you already so wet? You are so fucking hot.”

                He slid a finger down to my clit, pressing and rubbing in tiny circles as he pounded into me.

I was still coming down from my orgasm when his hit, gasping.

                We clung to each other for a moment before he pulled himself out.

                “Let’s go take a quick shower first,” he breathed.

                “Excellent idea.”

                We left the meeting room and went down the stairs, straight to his suite.

                Our shower was a quick one – just enough to rinse off, and we were back out to his studio.  He laid a large canvas on the floor and pointed where he wanted me to sit. 

                When he returned with his paint palette, I was where he wanted me, leaning back on my hands, knees bent and feet spread.

                “Perfect,” he whispered, falling to his knees in front of me.

                Using his fingers, he spread paint around my breasts, my stomach, and the tops of my thighs.

                “All right. When you lay down, I want you to make sure your legs are spread wide to be fucked.”

                I nodded and turned over, careful not to smear any of the paint.

                Ota watched from behind as I positioned my knees and hands.

                Before I could lie down, I felt his tongue on me, licking the length of my slit and tickling my clit.

                I whimpered and pushed against his face.

                “Not yet, Koro,” he whispered. “Be a good girl for Master, and you’ll be rewarded.”

                Once he’d pulled back, I lowered my body to the canvas, feet up and to the sides, hands outstretched.

                It was all I could do not to move when I felt something sliding between my thighs.

                “Hmm…,” he wondered, one hand kneading my ass. “How far in should this dick go?”

                I heard soft rubber hitting the canvas, felt it ghosting along my inner thighs as he toyed with the positioning.

                His fingers brushed my entrance.

                “My Koro is truly a bitch in heat, always wanting to be fucked.”

                I could feel his cock rubbing against the back of my thigh.

                “The only way this would be better is if you were lactating.”

                I blinked. The only place I’d ever seen that particular kink was in hentai.

                Something cold slid up the inside of one thigh and down the other.

                “Okay. Get up carefully. There are wet towels to wipe the paint off.”

                Gently, I pushed myself up, ass first, until I could clamber over the wet paint.

                As I wiped off the paint, I watched him tracing around a large dildo.

                Once he was done, he turned toward me, grabbing a clean towel and helping to wipe off the paint.

                My breasts felt strange, hot and especially tingly at the nipples.

                Ota’s eyes widened and he leaned forward, his tongue flicking experimentally.

                “Oh, Koro…” he breathed, before latching on and sucking. 

                Liquid… milk?... dribbled down my stomach from the nipple that wasn’t being sucked, while my pussy clenched in pleasure.

                After a minute, he moved to the other side.

                “You really are perfect,” he whispered, fastening a collar around my neck.

                 “Now, be a good bitch in heat and let Master make you pregnant.”

                That was actually the last thing I wanted, but my body reacted otherwise.

                In a flash, I was on my knees, whining and rubbing against him.

                “Good girl, but something is still missing.”

                He picked up a piece of what I had thought was fabric from the floor. Turned out, it was a butt plug with a tail attached.

                He grabbed another tube of lube from a drawer and coated the metallic plug end, along with one of his fingers.

                “You’re going to like this, Koro,” he whispered, working his lubed finger into my ass before gently giving me my tail. He smiled and pressed a small button at the end, starting it vibrating.

                “Oh, god,” I sighed, coming from the stretch and vibration alone.

                When my vision cleared, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one in costume, so to speak.

                He had slipped on a wearable sheath that looked like the werewolf dildos I’d seen online. It had a spatulate end with a small tip, a fairly wide shaft, and ended in the knot. His dick throbbed inside, and a loop wrapped around his balls to keep in place.

                “Show Master what you want, Koro,” he urged, hips thrust forward.

                Precum already dripped from the tip of the dick sheath.

                Wagging my ‘tail’, I crawled toward him and buried my nose in his crotch, licking and sucking his balls, and licking the length of his ‘dick’. Once I’d licked its entirety, I took it in my mouth, sucking as hard as I could.

                He groaned, his fingers tangled in my hair.

                “Such a good girl,” he whispered. “But you need to stop. I can’t give you babies if I cum in your mouth.”

                I kept the suction up as I allowed him to slide out of my mouth.

                He lounged on the floor, his back against the foot of his bed.

                “Come here, Koro,” he beckoned.

                I crawled over beside him.

                “Feed me like you’ll feed our babies,” he ordered, holding his mouth open.

                I put one hand on his nearest shoulder, and with the other, squirted milk from my breast into his mouth before pressing the nipple against his tongue.

                He sealed his lips around my nipple and sucked, loud and greedy.

                I felt his dick rubbing against my thigh.

                “I need to be inside you, Koro.”

                I put both hands against the foot of his bed and straddled his hips, slowly lowering myself onto him.

                The extra stretch from the sheath, along with the vibration and extra pressure from the butt plug and him sucking on my tits gave me the strongest orgasm I’d had. My back arched and I screamed his name as I shuddered.

                “Fffuck, Koro!” His fingers dug, into my hips. After a moment he started to move inside me.

                I was hypersensitive as hell already and came a couple more times as he fucked into me. After the last time he froze, mouth on one of my nipples, his arms wrapped around me.

                After a moment, he kissed my neck and slid out of me.

                “Turn around.”

                I did so, presenting my tailed ass to him, and he slid into me again, thrusting hard and fast, and wiggling the butt plug, bringing on another orgasm.

                I laid my forehead on my crossed arms, too shaky to support my weight as he slammed into me.

                His fingers dug into my hips, holding me still as he alternated his speed and angle of attack, until finally I felt a stutter in his rhythm. With a last, hard thrust, he pushed the knot inside of me and draped himself over my back as he came, dropping kisses across my shoulders.

                “How are you so perfect?” He whispered, turning off the vibration and easing out the butt plug, then himself, then the sheath.

                “Get up on the bed. I’ll be right back.”  He stood and carried his toys into his bathroom.

                Exhausted, I did just that, pulling myself up and stretching out.

                “Don’t fall asleep yet,” he said.

                I opened my eyes to see him bringing over an armload of pillows.

                With practiced ease, he piled them into a sort of nest around us, then climbed between my legs. His head was on my shoulder, where it didn’t require much movement to get my nearest nipple into his mouth.

                He closed his eyes, sucking gently.

                I let my fingers slide through his hair and my eyes drift closed.

                I don’t know how long we lay like that, but soon enough I felt him getting hard again. A small shift, and he was inside me, his thrusts slow and lazy this time.

                “I’ve never had so much sex all at once,” he muttered.

                “Neither have I.”

                “I’m glad it was with you, Ava.”

                “Me too, Ota.”

                He switched nipples and let one finger make its way to my clit, adding lazy circles there until we both came, and then fell asleep.

                He was still inside me when I woke up, hard again and fucking me in his sleep. It didn’t take long before he came and rolled off me.

                I managed to climb out of his nest and headed to his bathroom for another shower.

 

                My plan had been to go straight to my suite, until I remembered that my dress and underwear were still in the meeting room.

                With a sigh, I walked my naked ass up the stairs.

                The rest of the boys were still sprawled about the room. I couldn’t help but admire them as I walked past them to find my clothes, and nor could I help the irritation the warred with the rising desire to be thoroughly fucked by all of them.

                The king still wasn’t done with us.

                I bent over to grab my things and felt a hard cock pressing against my ass while hands clutched my hips.

                “Hello, Princess.”

                “Mm…Micchy,” I answered, grinding against him, wet again.

                He slid into me with a groan.

                “So warm and wet, Princess. Like you’ve been waiting for me.”

                “I have been.”

                “Well, I’ll have to make sure your time has been well spent.”  He bent over and nibbled at my neck, while one hand slid around, long fingers playing with my clit.

                I moaned and pushed back against him.

                “I’m sure you will.”

                It didn’t take long for me to come, and he followed shortly after.

                Using someone’s tie, he wiped his jizz off my thighs and tossed it aside, then lifted me in his arms.

                “Let’s go play, Princess.”

                “What are we going to play?”

                His smile was secretive as he carried me to his suite.

                I had a moment to reflect on the last few hours. I’d had more orgasms today than I’d had in years.  I was coming like a porn star, though I had no idea if all of theirs were real. Mine certainly were.

                “What, are we your own personal porno, your majesty?”

                I hoped the king could hear the derision in my thoughts.

                We arrived in Baba’s suite. He set me on the bed with a kiss and disappeared into his closet. He returned with what could best be described as a negligee ballgown in a pale pink. Floral lace made up the bustier; the skirt was tulle.

                “You are the Queen,” he whispered as he dressed me. “I’m the king of the neighboring country. You’ve turned down all of my proposals. What you don’t know is that, in my country, for a marriage to be legal, all I have to do is make you cum.”

                He slapped my ass.

                “Go hide, so I can find you, Your Majesty.”

                I hurried out of the bedroom, only pausing for a moment in the living room. There was a coat closet near the door. I ran over and opened it just a bit before heading to the bathroom. The suites were all the same, so I knew I could hide behind the bathroom door.

                The bathroom was filled with steam when I got there, with a shower running and the bathtub full.

                I only had a moment to wonder what was up before I heard the doorknob turning. I ducked into the little spot behind the door.

                “Oh dear,” Baba called in a stage whisper. “It seems the Queen has run into the swamp. I hope she doesn’t get terribly lost.”

                He was wearing a full body mesh suit with a strategic slit in front that currently was barely keeping his cock inside the outfit.

                As he turned away from me, I started sliding away from him, my back pressed against the damp wall.

                He turned as I moved, and I froze.

                He walked toward me, hand outstretched.

                “Come now, darling. Stop all this foolishness.”

                “I’ll never marry you!”

                “I think you’ll change your tune when you see what I have to offer.” He thrust his hips forward and gave them a twitch. Apparently, this was something he’d practiced, as his cock slipped out of the front slit, ready for action.

                I pressed my thighs together and stifled a whimper.

                “No. You don’t have anything I need.”

                I had sidled to the door of the shower by this time. The door was closed but not latched.

                He turned and spotted me, so I ducked into the shower, slipping around the spray of water.

                He was there in three steps, latching the door behind him.

                “I beg to differ, Majesty.” He stalked closer to me, his voice a low growl that I could feel between my legs. “You see, I’ve been watching you for some time, darling.”

                He was close enough to touch now.

                I tried to dodge around him, but there wasn’t that much room in the shower.

                He caught my arm and dragged me through the water, pinning me between himself and the side of the enclosure.

                “Oh dear, you’re all wet. We’re going to have to get that gown off of you now.”

                His chest was pressed against my back as his hands slid down my sides. He shifted his stance a bit, pushing his cock between my thighs, where the tip rubbed against my entrance with only a thin layer of tulle between us.

                “I infiltrated your personal guard weeks ago,” he whispered in my ear and nibbled at my neck. “I’ve watched as you sought relief from your pent-up lust,” he drew one of my hands to his mouth and kissed the fingers, “with only these small, dainty fingers.” He continued to roll his hips the tiniest amount, so his tip rubbed against me. “Watched as you battled the loneliness that comes with ruling on your own.” He nibbled at my neck. “You don’t know how many times I wanted to come to your rescue, to give you what you so desperately need.”

                He pulled away slightly, and I whined at the loss of what little friction there had been, but it didn’t last long, as he turned me around and pinned me against the side again.

                “I…I don’t believe you,” I managed to gasp.

                “I was hoping you would say that,” he answered with a smile. “Allow me to prove it to you.”

                He pressed a hard kiss to my lips before nibbling his way to my breasts. While his mouth closed over one nipple, the fingers of one hand played with the other.

                Meanwhile, his second hand had slid down my side and up under the skirt, where he started playing with my clit.

                I whimpered, unable to stop my hips bucking.

                “You see, darling, even your body knows what your mind continues to refuse.”

                He kissed his way down my stomach, pulling the skirt up and out of his way and lifting one of my legs over his shoulder as his mouth joined his hand. 

                “Micchy…,” I sighed his name, my fingers tangling in his hair.

                He hummed in response, continuing his ministrations until I screamed.

                “What think you, darling?”

                “I’m not convinced yet,” I pouted.

                His grin widened as he stripped the negligee off me, followed by his bodysuit.

                “I was hoping you’d say that.”

                He slung me over his shoulder, turned off the water, and moved gingerly out of the shower. His fingers teased my pussy as he walked.

                “Trust me, Your Majesty. You will be quite happy being my queen.”

                I slapped his ass.

                “Being a good ruler requires more than sex.”

                “Of course, it does. As I’ve told you, I’ve been watching you for weeks. Your skills as a leader are what convinced me that you need to become my wife. Joining our countries will make us stronger.”

                He laid me gently on one of the beds and climbed between my legs.

                “My Queen, allow me to show you how much better we can be together.”

                The tip of his cock waited expectantly at my entrance.

                “Very well, knave. Convince me.”

                “As you wish.”

                He kissed me as he slid inside with a sigh.

                “Perfection.”

                He started out by rolling his hips at an achingly slow pace, kissing every spot he could reach. Gradually, his pace increased, lifting us to the brink of an orgasm. Then he’d stop for several seconds, and slowly build up again.

                I lost track of the times he pulled us back from the edge. All I could focus on was how badly I wanted to come, how badly I wanted to feel him come inside me.

                “Please, Micchy,” I gasped, my entire body aching for release as he slammed into me.

                “Then come for me, darling,” he whispered in my ear, then pressed his lips against mine.

                All I could do was cling to him as I came. He kept up his steady rhythm throughout my orgasm and his own. Three separate times, I felt his heat blossom in my belly before he finally slowed and stopped, breathing heavily, his face buried in my neck.

                “Marvelous, darling,” he whispered. “Thank you.”

                He kissed me and rolled over, pulling me with him.

                I snuggled into him, stretching an arm across his chest.

                His fingers slid through my hair a couple times, winding several strands around one of his fingers and letting them fall loose as we drifted to sleep.

                Baba was still deeply asleep when I woke. I pushed myself onto my hands and knees, pressed a kiss to his forehead, and slid out of the bed.

                First stop was his bathroom. The bathtub was still full, the water still hot, and scented. I slid into the water, relaxing against the side, and noticed the stack of towels on the side.

                I dunked my hair in the water, scrubbed my scalp, and stood up. After I squeezed the excess water out, I wrapped a towel around my hair and sat back down, rubbing my hands over my body, taking a couple extra moments to clean between my legs.

                The tiny, detached part of my mind observed how easily I’d been reaching an orgasm, and also marveled that I wasn’t sore as hell and walking sideways. I was grateful for that small mercy and assumed that it was part of Leon’s promise to make this easier. Much as I hated what was happening, I hoped that blessing would continue for a bit longer. If I was right, I still had three men to fuck. Well, I hoped it wasn’t more than three men.

                Sighing, I heaved myself out of the tub, opening the drain before I climbed out.

                I dried my body and took the towel off my hair, leaving them on the floor as I headed back to Eisuke’s meeting room for my next tryst.

 

                Soryu, Eisuke, and Mamoru were still sprawled on chairs when I arrived, and I wondered who would be my next partner.

                I looked around and found my dress and underwear laying where I’d dropped them when Baba took me.

                I picked them up and wondered where my scarf had wound up. Looked around for it.

                Just as I spotted it, strong arms wrapped around me from behind, a hard cock pressed against my back, a pair of lips gliding along my neck.

                “I want you,” was mumbled into my ear.

                I reached a hand up and ran my fingers through straight, jet black hair.

                “You have me, Soryu.”

                “Not here.”

                “Take me where you want to go.”

                Staying behind me, he turned us toward the door and walked us out of the room.

                The one little spot of lust-free sanity in my brain congratulated myself on remembering to bring my clothes this time. When we reached Soryu’s door, I tossed my stuff in front of my door. I was going to have to go back for my scarf, but that would wait.

                Once inside Soryu’s suite, we stopped beside the couch and he fondled me for a minute.

                “Bend over.”

                Smiling, I spread my feet and bent over, holding onto the arm of the couch for balance, and arched my back to present my ass.

                He spent another few seconds running his hands over me, sliding his fingers inside me. At last, he stepped closer and slid his cock into me, ever so slowly. He stopped when he fully inside, then slowly slipped out again. He kept it up for several minutes, slowly gliding in and out, his hands gripping my hips.

                “I like to watch as I enter you,” his voice was low and hoarse. “I like the feeling of being swallowed whole by you.”

                He sped up, moving quicker, alternating between long, smooth strokes and short, jerky ones.

                I could feel my climax coming on.

                “Soryu,” I gasped, “I’m coming.”

                A couple more quick thrusts, and he slammed all the way into me as my orgasm hit.

                He groaned and sucked in a deep breath as I clenched around him. After a moment, he started thrusting again.

                I came three more times before he allowed himself to finally orgasm. His warmth filled my belly and ran down my thighs.

                From somewhere, he grabbed a towel and wiped it up, and led me into the bedroom.

                He sat on the corner of one bed, near a full-length mirror, and beckoned me over.

                He was already ready to go again. He turned me around so that I was facing the mirror, as well. He drew me onto his lap, holding his cock so that he slid into me as I sat down. With his knees between mine, he spread his legs wide, our joining on full display.

                He leaned back and started rolling his hips. After a moment, I joined in, matching his rhythm.

                He grinned. “Greedy girl.”

                I met his gaze in the mirror. “I love getting a good fucking,” I answered.

                He looped an arm around my waist and leaned forward with a growl.

                “Then that’s what you’ll get.”

                He started thrusting harder and faster. So fast I was bouncing on his lap.

                My orgasm hit fast and hard, and I leaned against him as my body went boneless.

                He came shortly afterward, his seed spurting out as he pounded in and out, until he fell back on the bed, panting.

                I laid back on him, stretching my arms around his neck.

                “Ohhh…. Soryu,” I purred.

                I felt his laugh in his chest as his hands slid up my sides.

                “I like that sound from you,” he whispered. “Almost as much as I like to hear you whine and pant and moan when you’re about to come.”

                “Well, you’ve caused that reaction a few times today.”

                “Hm. And I’m going to see it again before today is over.”

                He moved me over to the bed and stood up, walking over to move the mirror to the side of the bed.

                “Let’s go clean up a little,” he said, one hand extended toward me.

                We walked together into the bathroom, where he started the shower.

                We took several minutes to slowly wash each other, hands everywhere.

                By the time were rinsed off, we were both ready to go again. We barely took the time to dry off before we headed back into the bedroom.

                He lay on his back on the bed, the mirror within reach of his hand.

                “Come and show me what else you can do, greedy girl.”

                Eagerly, I climbed onto the bed and straddled his hips, taking him inside of me again. I leaned back on my hands and started rolling my hips in a circle.

                “That’s pleasant,” he observed.

                “Mm. I’m just getting warmed up.”

                I added in rocking back and forth, slowly at first.

                “I like this view,” he whispered, his gaze locked in place as he took in the sight of our sex. “I like it very much.”

                He reached out and teased my clit.

                “I get to see this,” he slid several fingers in with his dick.

                I moaned at the extra stretch and friction.

                “And that,” his gaze locked with mine.

                He pushed himself up to sitting and grabbed the back of my neck, pulling me in for a deep kiss.

                He laid back on the bed, and we worked together to attain our next orgasms. Mine hit first, though only by a couple seconds.

                My head was back as I caught my breath. I could feel him, still semi-hard inside of me. Almost reflexively, I clenched around him, a slow, ragged rhythm.

                “Mm… come here, greedy girl.”

                I looked up to see him reaching for me, so I leaned forward, settling on his chest. He bent his knees, pressing his thighs against my ass, and wrapped his arms around my shoulders.

                “We’ll rest for a bit, greedy girl, then I’m going to fuck you again.”

                He pressed a kiss on my forehead.

                “Sounds like a plan,” I agreed. I planted a kiss in the middle of his chest and let my eyes drift closed.

                When I woke, his knees had relaxed open, trapping my feet. I had a brief moment to be grateful that they hadn’t gone numb, before I realized that he was still inside me, hard again and throbbing.

                Then the lust took over again. I started rolling my hips and clenching around him.

                “What a lovely way to be awakened, greedy girl.” His deep voice rumbled from his chest.

                “Not gonna lie, waking up with a throbbing hard cock already in my pussy was pretty nice, too.”

                “Happy to be of service,” he answered, grabbing my hips. “But I said I was going to fuck you this time. Hold on.”

                With a quick shove, he rolled us over on the bed, so I was now under him.

                “This is a nice view, too.” He smiled down at me.

                “Yes it is.”

                This new angle offered more friction to my clit as he moved, and I bit my lip at the sheer pleasure.

                His movements were slow and steady for several minutes, our bodies moving together, frantic kisses landing wherever we could reach.

                After a bit, he pushed himself to his knees and grabbed my ankles, spreading my legs wide. He looked down, watching himself slide in and out.

                His breathing was getting ragged. He let go of one ankle, that hand dragging up my leg. His thumb pressed and rubbed my clit. I whimpered as I felt the pressure building up, higher and higher.

                “Come for me, greedy girl.”

                And I did just that, my back arching as I called his name.

                He came soon after, stretching out above me and pressing his lips to mine. I wrapped my self around him as the kiss went on. His hips pumped a few times, and he came again, harder than the last time.

                I held him as he shuddered and panted.

                “Amazing…” he whispered in my ear and kissed the side of my head.

                “Thanks. You were pretty darn great, too.”

                He chuckled and rolled over, pulling me with him.

                “Thank you.” He kissed my forehead, his arms wrapped tightly around my shoulders.

                We drifted to sleep.

                Once again, he was sleeping soundly when I woke up.

                I wriggled out of his embrace, kissed his nearest cheek, and headed into the bathroom to rinse off.

 

 

                I turned off the water and turned around to see Eisuke standing there, towel in hand, signature smirk on his face, my scarf draped over one shoulder.

                I stepped out and he handed me the towel.

                “I appreciate you taking the time to clean yourself up,” he remarked, watching as I patted myself dry.

                “The way today has gone, it’s been a necessity.” I tossed the towel aside.

                He slid a hand between my legs, his fingers slipping inside of me.

                “You still seem to be wet.”

                “Mm… I’ve been wet and horny since I woke up this morning.”

                He withdrew his fingers and licked off my juices.

                “Good. I’m looking forward to having your undivided attention.”

                “I’m all yours.”

                “Of course.” He took my scarf and tied my hands together with one end. The other end, he tied around my eyes, then picked me up and carried me to his suite.

                I was laid on a bench of some kind.  My hands were untied, and the loose end of the scarf was also wrapped around my eyes. My arms were tied down by my sides. My legs were placed in what felt like gynecological stirrups and tied in place.

                One hand ghosted up my stomach, one finger stopping to loop around my breasts. I felt cold bars above and below them, and then they were clamped in place.

                His mouth fastened on first one nipple, then the other.

                “Not too tight?”

                “It’s fine.”

                He licked his way up to my ear.

                “Safe word is ‘tie’,” he whispered.

                “Understood.”

                He kissed me and pulled away. I heard him moving around the room. Random things touched me – whisper-soft feathers ghosting over my breasts, something cold and pointy gliding down my stomach and along my inner thighs.

                I gasped when something smooth, cold and solid slid into me.

                “You’re so wet. This is perfect.”

                After a few twisting thrusts, the smooth object was removed, and a larger, rougher one took its place.

                I whimpered and tried to move.

                The object was removed.

                “Hold still.”

                “Yes, sir.”

                The object slid back in, twisting and thrusting this time.

                “Good girl. ‘Sir’ is fine. ‘Master’ is better.”

                “Yes, Master.”

                After a few more twisting thrusts, the object was removed, and a mouth replaced it, sucking on my clit and licking the length of my slit.

                “Good girls get rewarded.”

                I shivered and fought to hold still.

                “Thank you, Master.”

                Long fingers slid into me, curling into my g-spot. Pressure was rising fast, low in my stomach.

                “M-master, I’m so close! May I come?”

                “Yes, my good girl. Come on my face.”

                His mouth fastened on my clit again, sucking hard.

                I came with a shout, my body spasming.

                The fingers slid out of my pussy and began massaging my ass, using my juices to lube there.

                A mouth fastened on the inside of one thigh, sucking hard enough that I knew there would be a hickey.

                “Thank you, Master,” I panted.

                I felt him stand, the solid warmth of his cock resting on the crease of my right thigh.

                I whimpered and wiggled, wanting him inside me.

                He moved away.

                “Naughty girls get punished.” His voice was low as he spoke, and I heard large items being moved.

                Something was positioned right at my entrance. I heard a motor start up, and the items from before slid into me, the larger, rougher one in my pussy, the smaller smooth one in my ass. Slowly at first, then a little bit faster.

                While that was happening, things were clamped onto my nipples.

                “Holy shit!” I gasped when the electric shocks shot through me.

                The fuck machine sped up even more.

                Eisuke had moved up to my head. His cock rubbed against my cheek. He turned my head and pushed himself into my mouth, until his tip hit the back of my throat.

                “You don’t get to come again until you suck me off, naughty girl.”

                One of his hands cupped the back of my head, tangling in my hair. The other tilted my chin up so that he was able to penetrate further.

                Under normal circumstances, this would have gotten my gag reflex going. Not today. I supposed this was another of Leon’s gifts, allowing me to deepthroat Eisuke.

                I moaned around him and swallowed.

                Restrained as I was, I couldn’t move my head, and had to let Eisuke set the pace. I focused on breathing as his hips moved.

                “I have a mirror between your knees, naughty girl, so I can watch your pussy and ass get fucked while I fuck your mouth. It’s a very pretty sight.”

                I could feel the pressure of an orgasm building again and whimpered around him.

                Another electric shock shot through my nipples. It wasn’t painful, just not pleasant.

                “Not yet.”

                The machine sped up another notch, and so did Eisuke’s hips.

                I hummed and swallowed around him, sucking as he slid out.

                “Swallow every last drop,” he ordered, just before his hips stuttered.

                He came hard. Lucky for me, he hadn’t been all the way at the back of my throat, though he did continue to pump his hips slowly as I swallowed.

                “Mm, fuck that’s good. Keep sucking.”

                As his dick softened in my mouth, I was able to start teasing the tip with my tongue.

                A clamp was removed from one of my nipples and a tongue roved over and around it, followed by a sucking mouth.

                The mouth moved from my nipple to the side of my breast, sucking and biting. When he was happy with that mark, he moved over a little farther, leaving a trail of hickeys across my chest.

                He freed the other nipple, licking and sucking, and reached down to finger my clit.

                “Come now.”

                The machine kept pumping into me as I came, my cries stifled by the dick in my mouth. I was so hypersensitive that it almost hurt.

                The machine slowed but didn’t stop, the finger on my clit still rubbing circles.

                His mouth came off my nipple for just a moment.

                “Again.”

                He moved back to the first nipple.

                I noticed that he was starting to get hard again just as another orgasm hit.

                He pulled out of my mouth and kissed me and proceeded to mark my body, all while the machine continued to pound into me.

                About the time he decided he’d marked me enough, I felt another orgasm closing in.

                He stretched his body alongside mine, sucking on my neck, right over the artery. His fingers found my clit again.

                “Again,” he whispered, moving to leave another mark on me.

                It wasn’t long before I was crying out again, my back arching.

                Finally, the machine slowed and stopped completely, both dildos buried at their deepest point.

                The clamp around my breasts was removed, and a cool cloth was wiped along my body. His hot mouth trailed after the cloth.

                “You were amazing, Ava,” he said, slowly removing the fuck machine dildos. The cloth wiped between my legs while he left marks on my inner thighs.

                When he was done there, he left for a moment, then returned, standing between my legs.

                I felt him rubbing some kind of oil or lotion on my skin. Each time he moved, his cock brushed against my entrance, and I shivered.

                My legs were untied, followed by my arms. An arm slid under my shoulders, helping me to sit, and my scarf was removed from my eyes.

                I blinked a few times, trying to get my eyes to focus.

                Something touched my lips.

                “Drink.” Eisuke’s voice was low as he held the cup of water for me.

                I hadn’t realized how thirsty I was and made short work of the water.

                “Thank you.” I looked up to meet his gaze.

                His eyes were soft as he caressed my cheek. He leaned down and kissed me again, before gathering me in his arms and carrying me to his bed.

                He laid me down, then followed suit, gathering me close. We cuddled for a few minutes.

                “I want you to lay on top of me. Put me inside of you and stretch out.”

                I moved and straddled his hips, grasping his cock and holding it as I lowered myself onto him.

                “Mm. God, you feel good, Ava.”

                His hands traveled up my stomach, over my chest, and back down to my hips.

                “My marks look good on you, too. When you’re my woman, I’ll mark you as mine all the time.”

                I stretched out, resting my head in the crook of his neck. His knees lifted and he started rolling his hips, fucking up into me.

                “What if I mark you?” I asked, sucking at his neck.

                “Please do,” he chuckled.  “Ah, it feels so good to be inside of you. I want you to come on my cock.”

                It wasn’t long before I did just that, my head thrown back, sighing his name.

                He kept pumping until he came, burying himself to the hilt as his heat spilled into me.

                He pulled me tightly against him, his fingers caressing my back. It wasn’t long before I dozed off.

                When I woke, he was spooning me, one arm loose around my waist.

                I tried to slip away, but that arm tightened.

                “Don’t leave,” he whispered.

                I rolled over to face him, peppering his face with kisses.

                “I’m here.”

                “Good.”

                He rolled us so that he was on top and slid into me again. His pace this time was slow, almost lazy.

                “I should come all over you; get my scent all over you so other men will know who you belong to.”

                I felt it would be best not to argue the point. After this was over, Leon would erase their memories, and hopefully mine, too. It would be as though none of this ever happened, and I prayed we’d be able to get back to our normal routine.

                I was still planning on moving out of the penthouse. Between my poker winnings, my salary, and the royalties from the songs I’d already sold, I had plenty to go on, and I needed to get out and explore this world that was now my home.

                Contrary to his words, he stayed as he was, pumping into me, slow and hard.

                I wrapped myself around him, my nails digging into his back with the leisurely pleasure.

                I don’t know how long it was before I came again, but it was hard and fast, leaving me clinging to Eisuke.

                “God, that’s the best feeling,” he whispered, thrusting as he came.

                He pulled me with him as he rolled over, his fingers sliding through my hair.

                “So, tell me about the others.”

                “Well, Ota is a furry with lactation and impregnation kinks. Baba is a romantic storyteller. Soryu likes to be able to see himself penetrating.”

                “And me?”

                “You’re a dom, but that’s not a surprise.”

                “And who’s the best?”

                “Well there are two problems with answering that right now. The first is that I haven’t had Mamo alone yet, so I don’t have an equitable basis in making the decision. Second, it would be a very subjective decision. Thus far, everyone has been quite skilled, even with their kinks exaggerated. Everyone has delivered multiple orgasms. When all is said and done, the choice would come down to whomever winds up fitting my personal preferences the best. That’s unfair to those who are every bit as skilled, but not as compatible.”

                “So you’re saying I’ll have to wait until you’re officially my woman to know.”

                I laughed and kissed the side of his neck.

                “Something like that, sure.”

 He kissed my forehead and fell asleep.

               

                His breathing was slow and steady when I was finally able to slip away from him. Following my routine of the day, I stepped into his shower and cleaned up, before leaving his suite. As I dried off in front of the mirror, I sighed at the sight of all the hickeys.

                I hate hickeys.

                “I don’t suppose you can get rid of all this?” I asked the empty room. There was no answer, so I headed out.

                I grabbed my scarf on the way out.

                As I made my way through his meeting room, I noticed that Mamoru was no longer there. I stopped for a moment, staring at the spot where he’d been sleeping, disappointment, concern, and relief all flooding through me at once.

                I shook myself and headed down the stairs and toward my suite.

                I felt a warm ‘whoosh’ as my foot hit the floor of the great room. Curious, I wandered over to one of the small wall mirrors, to see all Eisuke’s marks gone.

                “Thank you, Leon.”

                As I reached to open my door, I noticed that Mamoru’s was open.

                I tossed my stuff into my living room and headed toward his open door.

                The lust rushed through me again when I saw him sprawled on the couch, hard cock resting on his stomach.

                I was already dripping wet as I recalled the way he filled me to the brim.

                I walked toward him, getting in my hands and knees when I was close, and crawling between his legs.

                I dragged my nails up the insides of his thighs, watching his cock twitch. I moved closer and licked the length of him.

                “Hm, thought you’d be too tired for me, babe.” His voice was hoarse.

                I looked up to meet his gaze as I licked him.

                “I would never be too tired for my favorite,” I answered.

                A slow smile spread across his face as he drew me up to his lap.

                “Your favorite, huh? Since when?”

                It was too late to change the subject now. I’d have to pray that this conversation disappeared along with the memories of the orgy.

                “Since I first read your story. I can’t pinpoint why. Other stories made me cry, but I was always most excited for yours.”

                I rubbed myself against his dick.

                “Getting to know you in real life has only solidified my opinion.”

                He wrapped an arm around my waist, pulling me close. His free hand lifted my chin so he could kiss me, ever so gently.

                “Well, Sweetheart, I promise I won’t let you down.”

                “I know.” I slid my arms around his neck. “You never do.”

                “Wrap those legs around me, babe.”

                I did so as he stood up, his hands sliding under my ass as he walked into his bedroom.

                He laid me on his bed, kissing me again before he straightened up.

                “God, you’re beautiful.”  He lifted my left foot to his shoulder.

                Starting at my ankle, he slowly kissed his way down my leg, running his tongue along the crease and nipping just adjacent to my clit.

                Then he stood and did the same with my right leg, taking his time, dragging his stubbled chin along the inside of my thigh.

                When he finally reached the top this time, he teased my clit with the tip of his tongue.

                “Mmamooh….” I sighed.

                He hummed against me.

                “I like that.” It was a quick observation before he went back to what he’d been doing.

                His fingers slid into me as he sucked.

                I yelled and bucked against his face as I came.

                Smirking, he started kissing and licking his way up my stomach, stopping to drag his stubble over my skin.

                As he latched onto one nipple, my fingers tangled in his hair and I sighed his name.

                He kissed his way up my neck.

                “I love the sounds you make,” he whispered before he kissed me.

                His hands pressed the insides of my thighs, spreading them wide before he slid into me.

                I came around him as he filled me, stretching and rubbing.

                “Fuck, babe…” he breathed into my neck, holding himself still as my orgasm subsided.

                “Your fault,” I panted. “You’re so big you hit all the sweet spots, and hot, and god I can feel you throbbing inside me…”

                He started moving, rolling his hips in long, slow strokes.

                “Mm… I’m happy to take the blame for making you feel good.”

                He picked up speed, his strokes shorter and harder.

                I clung to him, my nails digging into his back and whimpering.

                “God, Mamo…”

                His hands slid down my sides to my hips, holding them steady, and he took possession of my mouth, kissing me though my next orgasm.

                “Ava…” he moaned my name as his hips stuttered and he came deep inside me, driving me over the edge again.

                He pushed himself up on his elbows and kissed me before he pulled out and rolled us over.

                “I’ve wanted you in my bed for so long,” he whispered, kissing my forehead.

                I stretched my free arm across his chest and snuggled into him.

                “Are we gonna remember any of this in the morning?” His voice was pained.

                “No.” I didn’t have the heart to lie to him.

                His arms tightened around me.

                “I was afraid of that. I guess it just means that we’ll have the chance for a second first time then.”

                “Something to look forward to, then,” I answered, pressing a kiss on his near cheek.

                “Oh, I do.” He kissed my forehead again, and we drifted to sleep.

               

                I woke up to fingertips gliding over my skin. My top leg was draped across his thighs, and I could feel his dick, hard and throbbing, pressed against my thigh.

                I pressed a kiss to his chest, my free hand ghosting over his skin until I could tickle one nipple with the tip of a finger.

                “Mmm… that’s nice,” he mumbled into my hair.

                Next, I drew lazy circles along his chest and down his stomach, until my fingers found his dick. Starting at the tip, I swirled little circles along the length.

                He moaned and thrust his hips a bit.

                I rubbed against his hip, in need of friction.

                “Mmm… babe…,” he whispered. “Take what you need.”

                I certainly didn’t need to be told twice.

                I pushed myself up until I was fully straddling his hips.

                I rubbed against his length a few times few times before taking hold and sliding slowly onto him.

                I sighed happily as he filled me and clenched around him as I rolled my hips.

                He lifted himself on one elbow and reached for me with his other hand.

                His fingers slipped around the back of my neck as I leaned down to meet his mouth with my own, our tongues caressing, my hands on his chest.

                With a moan, he started thrusting into me.

                I leaned back, my hands grabbing his thighs as I started rocking on my knees.

                His hands grasped my hips.

                “Go slow,” he demanded. “Let this last for as long as possible.”

                I slowed my pace, lengthening the strokes so that he pulled all the way out and pushed back into me again. My head lolled back as the heat and pressure began to slowly build.

                “Ah, god, sweetheart,” he sighed. “How are you real?”

                Feeling my climax near, I whimpered, picking up speed again.

                “Come here.” His hands slid up my sides, tugging me down to him.

                His arms wrapped around my shoulders.

                I laid my forehead at the junction of his neck and shoulder, my hands on either side of his chest, gripping the sheets as I moved.

                “I wanna feel all of you,” he whispered.

                “Mamo…” I sighed his name as my orgasm hit and I shuddered in his arms.

                I felt his thighs clenching as he fought to keep his own at bay.

                “I don’t want this to end,” his voice was hoarse in my ear. Who knows how long it will be before I can make love to you again.”

                His arms tightened around me and he rolled us, taking over.

                I took his face in my hands and kissed him, locking my ankles around his thighs.

                He kept his strokes long and slow for as long as he could.

                As soon as he felt his orgasm nearing, he stopped thrusting, one hand sliding between us until a finger found my clit.

                “I want us to come together,” he panted.

                It was only a few moments before my orgasm hit, sending him over the edge.

                My nails dug into the flesh of his back, my legs tightening around his hips.

                He relaxed into my embrace, his head on the pillow next to mine, breathing heavily.

                I let one of my hands slide up and tangle in his hair.

                Finally, he pushed himself up onto his elbows and leaned in to kiss me, then pulled me along as he rolled onto his back. He tucked my head under his chin, wrapping himself around me, and we drifted back to sleep.

 

                His arms were still around me when I woke, though loosely now. He slept deeply, his breathing slow, his face relaxed.

                I dropped a kiss in the hollow at the base of his neck before wriggling out of his arms.

                Before I left the bed, I kissed him again, my heart aching a bit this time.

                I made my way to my suite, closing and locking the door behind me, and wandered into my bathroom to shower again.

                I stood in the warm water, lost between sadness, anger, and relief. The king had put all of us through one hell of an ordeal.

                “Happy now, you mother fucker?” I muttered out loud.

                I laid my head against the cool tile of the wall and let my eyes close.

                I don’t know how long I stood there before I heard a voice beside me.

               

                “Goldfish. It seems there has been an unforeseen circumstance to my helping you.”

                Leon’s voice was pained.

                I opened my eyes to see him beside me.

                Naked, beside me in the shower, and apparently painfully aroused.

                I sighed.

                “You too?”

                He didn’t come right out and say “Duh!”, but his expression conveyed that meaning.

                “Sorry.” I reached for his closest hand and pressed myself against him. “You’ve bent over backwards to help me. I will happily help you any way I can.”

                His arms wrapped around my shoulders.

                “Not here.”

                Suddenly, my shower was gone, and we were in a huge bed, in a room I didn’t recognize.

                Leon slid between my legs and buried himself inside of me with a groan.

                I came around him, shuddering and clutching at him.

                He kissed me and started moving; short fast strokes, long slow strokes, whatever took his fancy at the moment.

                I have no idea how many times I came. The orgasms were very nearly one after another, some quick and shallow, others deep and long-lasting. All I could do was hold on as Leon took what he needed from me.

                Randomly, he would change our position – standing, sitting, lying, kneeling – and continue pounding into me.

                At last, his climax hit. He drove himself all the way inside of me as he came, heat blossoming low in my belly and sending me into such a hard orgasm, I’m pretty sure my eyes rolled back in my head while my back arched against him and my arms squeezed around his chest.

                “Ava…” he sighed my name into my hair and kissed my forehead. “Thank you.”

                “Always happy to help,” I answered through my own heavy breaths.

                He chuckled and rolled us over, his arms tight around my shoulders.

                “Sleep now. I will ensure there are no adverse consequences from this event. It will all be over in the morning.”

                “Thank you, Leon.”

                He pressed a kiss to my forehead.

                “That’s the first time I’ve ever really been thanked for what I do.”

Chapter Text

                I woke up alone in the huge bed.

                Holding the blankets against my chest, I sat up.

                A white silk robe appeared beside me.

                “Good morning.”

                I looked around to see Leon, seated in a chair near a window. He was setting a book on the table beside his chair.

                “Huedhaut has some information for you, but I thought you might like a bath first.”

                I slid the sleeves up my arms and tied the robe closed before clambering out of the bed.

                “Oh, you have no idea,” I sighed.

                He chuckled indulgently as he walked toward me, taking my hand when he was near enough.

                With a snap, we were in a huge, spa-like bathroom.

                A stack of towels and folded clothes lay on a bench near the lip of the marble tub.

                “I’ll leave you to your bath… unless you'd like my company.” His voice was quiet in my ear, his breath hot on my neck.

                I shivered in response and shook my head.

                “Your company is wonderful, but I’ve had all the… intimacy… that I can handle for a while.”

                He laughed out loud. “Very good. Take your time, Ava. I’ll keep the others out of here.”

                “Thank you.”

                He nodded and disappeared.

                I let the robe slip down my arms and walked slowly into the marble tub. There was a fountain in the center, and the water was scented. Sometimes it was a light floral scent, others it smelled like freshly baked cookies. Still others like a roaring campfire in the mountains or a hot day beside the ocean.

                The water was deliciously hot, steam rising off the surface. I dunked my head under the water then rose just enough to breathe as I rested my head against the side of the tub and let myself float, soaking in the heat.

                My whole body ached like I’d just finished an over-the-top workout, which I guess, in a sense, I had.

                I don’t know how long I lounged in the water, but decided it was time to get out.

                I noticed as I stepped out of the water that all of my aches were gone.

                I squeezed the excess water from my hair and wrapped a towel around it before I started drying my body.

                Of course, the towels in the gods’ realm were magical. A single pass, and I was dry enough to slide the silken underwear up my legs with no problem. I took the towel off my hair and slid the simple dress over my head.

                There were no shoes to put on, but I found a wide-toothed comb on the bench. I started combing through my hair, finding that it was softer than ever.

                “Man, not even the super expensive oils ever got my hair this soft,” I muttered.

                I sat for a minute, my fingers carding the length of my hair, my mind wandering over the events of however long it had been since the measuring.

                I recalled everything that had happened, even with Leon.

                It made me sad to think that we had all been forced into something that we never would have done otherwise.

                “I hope the boys are okay,” I spoke to the empty room. “Hope they don’t remember anything.”

                “Their memories have been mostly wiped,” Leon answered as he reappeared.

                I jumped at the sudden pronouncement and looked up at him.

                “’Mostly’?”

                He held out a hand to me. I took it and stood.

                “Come.”

                In a flash, we were in a study that would be the envy of any scholar or booklover.

                “Ava, welcome,” Huedhaut strode toward us, taking my hand in both of his when he was close enough.

                “You made it through the king’s ‘trials’ amazingly well.”

                “Because I had help.” I shot a sideways glance at Leon.

                He placed a finger under my chin, his bright blue eyes boring into me.

                “I think you would have survived just fine without the lion’s help. He just made it easier and quicker.”

                “Quicker was great, though.”

                “I’m certain,” he laughed. “I’m also certain you have some questions. Let me tell you what we’ve discovered, and then you can ask about anything that still isn’t clear.”

                I nodded.

                “Very well. First off, your memories of this event. Being from the other universe, your brain chemistry and structure is just different enough from the people of this one that we cannot wipe your memories. Not without causing you serious harm. As for your companions in the penthouse, we discovered that we couldn’t completely wipe their memories of this event without altering their personalities. I don’t know if it’s due to your influence and involvement, or the king’s enchantment. I suspect it’s a bit of both. So, they don’t recall the orgy portion. They do, however, recall a glorious lovemaking session with an amazing, though mysterious partner. We were able to implant the suspicion that the whole thing was nothing more than a vibrant dream.”

                He walked over to the globe on the desk and spun it.

                “I am almost certain that whatever happens here in this universe has no bearing whatsoever on the games in your world. Those games encapsulate a snapshot in time of this world, which are then embellished and fictionalized in order to fit within the parameters of the story.”

                “’Almost certain’?”

                He smiled.

                “I can’t be absolutely certain until something happens here that is in direct opposition to the stories in your world, but from everything I’ve learned, I doubt you have anything to worry about.”

                “So, are you going to choose one of your boys when I return you to that penthouse?” Leon asked, smirking.

                I shook my head.

                “No. At least, not right now. Even with all the trials and tribulations, I’ve been gifted with the opportunity to live out a fantasy. Back in the old world, back when this was all just fiction, I used to daydream about being in this world. Where I would go, who I see. I always imagined it would just be the world featured in whatever particular game I was playing at the time. The reality is that I have a literal world set out before me, not just one small slice.”

                “Wouldn’t it be more fun with company?”

                I shrugged.

                “I explored my own world alone for over two decades and have come to prefer it. I can follow my own agenda, go where I want to go, see what I want to see. I realize it sounds selfish at first blush, but I learned the hard way not to wait until life was perfect to go and do things. Life will never be perfect. Even in this world, humans don’t have forever.”

                “That could be an argument in favor of choosing a lover right now.”

                “I know. But I also know myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t be able to be the best partner for anyone right now. I still need to deal with any after affects from the king’s abuse.”

                “That word seems extreme,” Huedhaut interjected.

                “Does it? All seven of us were forced to perform acts that we never would have, under normal circumstances, all for his entertainment. You’ve already admitted that you can’t further alter anyone’s memories without causing further harm. That suggests to me that somewhere, somehow, some type of mental or emotional harm has been done to all of us.”

                Leon scowled, while Huedhaut frowned, arms crossed.

                “You may have something there,” he finally admitted. “Do you have questions concerning anything else?”

                “Nothing that I can think of off the top of my head,” I answered with a shrug.

                “Very well. If I learn anything new about this situation, I will let you know.” He reached into a drawer and pulled out a notebook and pen set, handing the items to me. “You may never need this, but if some question comes up, that doesn’t need an immediate answer, write it in this book. I will see it and get back to you.”

                “Thank you, Huedhaut.” I smiled up at the blue-eyed god.

                He took my hands in both of his again, his smile kind.

                “The pleasure is mine, Ava. I must admit, I’m looking forward to seeing what more excitement you cause.”

                I laughed.

                “I hope you won’t be offended if I try my best not to cause a lot of excitement. I just want to live my life, whatever I decide to do with it.”

                He placed my hand in Leon’s, and, in the blink of an eye, we were back in my suite.

                “I’ll be keeping an eye on you, Goldfish. Put your gifts to good use.”

                Then he was gone.

                “Thank you, Leon. For everything.”

                I took the notebook and put it in the table beside my bed.

                I noticed my pajamas from the night of the measuring, as well as my clothes from the previous day, lying on the floor.

                I picked them up and went to toss them into my hamper, when I noticed a crinkling sound.

                In the pocket of my pajama shorts was the notebook paper that had all the boys’ measurements on it.

                I folded it over a couple times and headed into the great room. 

                Eisuke, Soryu, and Baba sat at the table, a calendar and several magazines spread out as they decided on a propitious date for the next auction.

                Their voices were low, and the usual hum of noise in the penthouse was not there.

                I opened my mouth to say hello and was immediately shushed.

                I raised an eyebrow at Baba.

                “Everyone has a terrible hangover,” he whispered.

                Soryu and Eisuke winced at the sound.

                I nodded in understanding and waved as I walked past, making my way to Mamoru, who lay on a couch.

                “Mamo, can I borrow your lighter for a minute?” I made sure to speak as quietly as possible.

                One gray eye opened as he reached into a pants pocket.

                “Sure thing, kid.”

                The silver case was engraved with his initials on one side, and a lotus flower on the other.

                I headed into the kitchen with it, stopping in front of the sink. I turned on the water and unfolded the pages, holding them over the sink.

                I lit the pages on fire, holding them low in the sink as they burned, satisfied to watch the ashes being washed down the drain.

                “What’s that all about?” Mamoru asked, walking up behind me and leaning against the counter as the last corner blackened and drifted down the drain.

                “Nothing that matters,” I answered, turning off the water.

                I made certain the lighter case was cool to the touch and handed it back with a smile.

                “Thank you.”

                “Any time.” He glanced down the drain, then back to me, fidgeting with the lighter’s flip top. “Everything okay?”

                I lifted and dropped one shoulder.

                “So far, so good. You don’t seem to be suffering like the others.”

                “It’s true I don’t have a hangover. Seems you don’t, either.”

                “Nope. But I didn’t go out with you guys last night. Is the lotus on your lighter just part of the decoration?”

                He shook his head.

                “It’s the logo for my folks’ sake’ brewery.”

                “Really? That’s cool.”

                “Have you been?”

                “No. It’s been a crazy few months, what with being sent to an alternate world and being harassed by the gods of that world and all.” I offered a wry smile.

                “Huh,” he snorted. “Understandable. I’m going undercover for a while tomorrow. Maybe when I get back, I’ll take you.”

                Walking side by side, we returned to the great room.

                “Sounds like a great idea. Try not to do anything dangerous while you’re undercover.”

                “Tch. I never do anything dangerous.”

                “How can someone who’s so good at bluffing at the gaming tables be such a terrible liar?”

                He laughed and patted my head.

                “Try to stay outta trouble.”

                “That’s a tall order, all things considered, but I’ll do my best.”

                He waved over one shoulder as he headed for the elevator.

                “Brady!” Eisuke paged me, his voice hoarse.

                I turned and walked to the table, sliding in beside Baba.

                One long, imperious finger pointed at the calendar, where a day some two months hence had been circled in red.

                “This is the date for the next auction. I want a detailed list of what we already have to offer. Get the invitations ready. Check the number of usable masks and paddles for the bidders. Prepare the storage room for new acquisitions. I will begin providing a list of invitees in a couple of days.”

                “Will do,” I nodded, punching the date into the calendar on my phone, and adding the new marching orders to my list.

                I felt eyes on me and looked up to see three separate gazes boring into me.

                I raised my eyebrows.

                “What?” I asked.

                “You don’t have a hangover.” Eisuke stated the phrase like it was damning evidence of a crime. The collar of his shirt was unbuttoned, the hickey I’d given him on full display.

                “No. I watched sci-fi movies last night. I did have a couple shots of whiskey, but that was on top of water and food.”

                His eyes narrowed.

                “You stayed here?”

                “Yeah. You guys were all going out with new dates. There was no reason for me to be there.”

                “Who did I go out with?”

                “I don’t know. You met them at whatever bar you went to.”

                “You didn’t meet them when we came back to the penthouse?”

                “Nope. Sorry.”

Chapter Text

                Most of the guys sat tensely in the great room of the penthouse. I was strangely comforted to know I wasn’t the only one who was nervous.

                The statue of Venus had been broken this evening, with the hapless maid put up for auction in its place.

                The atmosphere in the bidders’ box had been strained from the moment Baba and Ota reported what had happened, and it had only ratcheted up from there.

                They’d had a brief conference, discussing what they should do.

                “What do you think we should do, Brady?” Eisuke asked me. “Should we call it off?”

                I was taken aback at his question. Over the months here, I had learned that they truly were working as vigilantes – ensuring stolen artwork was returned to those from whom it had been stolen, rescuing women and girls from organizations like the Yakuza. (The youngest had been thirteen and had been intended to be a ‘gift’ from one high-ranking terrorist to another.)

                “You could just rescue the poor girl. It’s not her fault the statue was being stored in a place that it shouldn’t have been. An innocent woman shouldn’t have to pay for your oversight.”

                He’d frowned and nodded, and as soon as her cage had been wheeled onto the stage, they each sat forward, waiting for the bidding to start.

                After a few times back and forth, bidding against some skeezy dude in the front row, they pooled their resources and placed the winning bid of twenty million.

                Everything was over now, and we were all just waiting for Baba and Ota to bring her up to the penthouse.

                It was only a couple of minutes before the elevator doors opened and the trio stepped out, the oldest and youngest of the bidders flanking an obviously confused and terrified young woman.

                Eisuke stood in front of her, introducing everyone, and then started on his “choose one” spiel. As the poor girl stood in front of him, gazing around the room, her distress mounted.

                He crossed his arms impatiently and was about ready to just haul her off.

                “Eisuke, stop trying to be a big scary asshole.”  I inserted myself part way between them. “Can’t you see she’s already scared? And your attitude here isn’t helping things.” 

                I turned to face the maid.

                “I know this is scary and confusing, I hope we’ll be able to get everything worked out tomorrow. I’m Ava. What’s your name?”

                “Fu-Fumiko…” she stuttered.

                “Fumiko. There has been a huge misunderstanding happen here, and it is, in no way, your fault. I hope you’ll be patient while we get things worked out. I promise you will be safe, and we will get you returned to your regular life as quickly as possible.”

                I turned back to Eisuke.

                “You have another empty suite. Can’t you just let her have that one until we get this worked out?”

                He shook his head once.

                “I want someone to keep an eye on her for now, for her safety and ours.” He looked over my shoulder at Fumiko. “You need to choose one of us.”

                Fumiko drew in a deep, shuddering breath and looked straight at me.

                “Ava.”

                There were audible sighs of disappointment from a couple of the men present.

                I masked my misgivings behind a smile and reached out to her, guiding her to my room. I showed her where the remote for the television lived, into the bedroom to show her which bed she could use, and into the bathroom to show her where the toiletries and towels were stored.

                I was about to ask her if she wanted a shower when her stomach growled loudly.

                Her cheeks shone a bright red and she covered her face with her hands.

                I laughed.

                “That’s a mood. Let’s go raid the kitchen.”

                I led the way back through the great room, which was empty now, and into the huge kitchen.

                “If Mitsu ever decides to quit his day job, he could become a top chef somewhere, easily,” I said, opening the fridge.

                With no small thanks to my efforts, all the leftovers were labeled and organized.

                “What sounds good? We have soba and ramen, we have burgers, we have lasagna and chicken cacciatore’. Help yourself to whatever looks good.”

                I stepped aside to let her into the space and busied myself putting the kettle on for tea.

 

                We finished our bedtime snack, cleaned up the kitchen, and returned to my suite.

                “Would you like to shower before bed?” I asked her.

                She nodded slowly.

                “Okay.” I moved to the dresser where I had begun keeping spare clothes for the women that the boys routinely brought to the penthouse and pulled out some soft pajamas and a pair of underwear.

                “These should be okay for tonight. If you want to wash your clothes, I have a mini washer.

                She nodded her head again and we went into the bathroom, where I showed her how to use the machine. I handed her a hotel toiletry bag, grabbed my toothbrush and toothpaste and left the bathroom.

                I heard water running and the little machine started whirring, followed quickly by the sound of the shower running.

                I took a few minutes to stretch and mull things over in my mind, before changing into my nightgown and combing through my hair.

                I squeezed some toothpaste onto my toothbrush and grabbed a washcloth, heading through the darkened great room to the kitchen to wash my face and brush my teeth, then headed back toward my suite.

                “Is this how the game starts in your world?”

                “Hell, Mamo!” His voice in the darkness startled me. “Um, pretty much. The first chapter is the intro, explaining the back story of the player character and setting up the premise of the game. At the end of the introduction, the player chooses which character to “romance”.” I emphasized with air quotes.

                “And how, exactly, does our game start?”

                “Well, the player character is going about her day as a maid in the hotel, when she stumbles across a stolen statue, accidentally breaking it, and she is put in the auction in its place. When she is brought up to the penthouse, she chooses a bachelor to be her guard, and goes with him to his suite. In Soryu’s route, he pretty much ignores her, even though she’s terrified. He appreciates that she’s so quiet, and not doused in perfume.

                “In Eisuke’s route, he gets bored waiting for her make her choice, and carries her to his suite. Of course, she is the only one who can make his coffee properly, and encourages him to find his sister, and later to introduce himself when he does find her.

                “In your route, you use her to help you find the location of the cult that is responsible for the death of your partner.”

                He shifted uncomfortably and snorted derisively, crossing his arms over his chest.

                “That sounds a little ridiculous.”

                I laughed.

                “Mamo, they’re romance games. Of course, they’re ridiculous. That’s part of the charm. The player gets to step out of her – or his – everyday, mundane world and live in a fantasy world for a while. Just like with any other form of fiction, it’s a way to escape from the troubles of the real world.”

                “In the game, is there a character like you?”

                I shook my head.

                “I guess this will be a test to find out if what happens in this world affects the games in my old world.”

                I grimaced, hoping I hadn’t just broken the game.

 

                A crash from my suite made us both jump and he turned, stepping in front of me.

                “That doesn’t sound good,” I muttered.

                We hurried to my suite, where we found Fumiko trying frantically to lift the washing machine back onto the counter and slipping in the soapy water on the floor. Finished with her shower, it appeared as though she’d put on her pajamas and had been putting her clothes in for the rinse cycle.

                “Whoa,” Mamoru muttered.

                Fumiko yelped, surprised.

                I walked gingerly into the bathroom, stopping in front of her and setting my hands on her shoulder.

                “It’s all right, Fumiko. Calm down. Are you hurt?”

                Embarrassed, she nodded and looked down at her feet. Blood flowed freely from a gash on one.

                “Oh dear. Sit down.” I pulled her to the toilet and made her sit, then wrapped a hand towel around the injury.  I turned to see Mamoru lifting the machine back up to the counter.

                “Thank you,” I said. “Will you please go get Luke? She’s probably going to need stitches.”

                He nodded and left the room.

                By this time, all the commotion had drawn the rest of the boys, who were now openly gaping through the door.

                I sighed.

                “If ya’ all are going to be here, at least grab a towel and start drying the floor.”

                Most of the spectators, seeing that things were under control, turned and left. Ota and Baba each grabbed a towel, dropping them on the floor and sliding them around, soaking up the worst of the water.

                I made Fumiko prop her foot on a stool and sit back, then dropped a towel on the floor, as well, sliding it across the floor with my feet.

                Eisuke leaned against the doorframe, watching impassively.

                “Is your machine broken?” He asked.

                “Hm? Oh, I don’t know. I was going to look at it once Luke gets here. It’s not a big deal if it is. It’s an easily replaceable thing. I’m more concerned about Fumiko at this point.”

                “You barely know her,” Ota remarked, kicking his wet towel aside and grabbing a dry one.

                “It’s called empathy, Ota. Compassion? Kindness? Maybe you’ve heard of them?”

                “Heard of them. Never seen any point to them.”

                I watched him, on hands and knees, wiping up the spilled water and grinned.

                “I beg to differ.”

                He looked up, saw me smiling, and blushed.

                “What if I’m just down here to try and get a look up your nightgown so I can see your underwear?”

                “What if I told you I’m not wearing any?”

                He and Baba froze like deer in the headlights, and I started laughing.

                “Sorry, guys. I am, in fact, wearing underwear. They’re the boy short style. And no, I won’t show you.”

                Mamoru returned with Luke in tow, eyebrows raised.

                “Be careful, Doctor,” I said. “The floor is still slippery.”

                “Thank you, dear lady,” he answered, tiptoeing across the still-damp tile. He knelt in front of Fumiko and opened his bag, before unwrapping the towel and inspecting her injury.

                I gathered the wet towels and tossed them into the tub, thanking Baba and Ota for helping, then headed over to check out the little washing machine.

                Mamoru leaned against the counter beside me.

                “I didn’t notice anything obvious when I put it on the counter,” he spoke quietly.

                I nodded and lifted the lid, setting Fumiko’s clothes into one of the sinks.

                “I’m not seeing any breaks in the washer compartment.”  I reached into a drawer and pulled out a screwdriver.

                “You keep tools in the bathroom?” He asked.

                “Yes. I have the basics in every room, so I don’t have to search everywhere when I need something. Don’t you?”

                “No. You’re just weird.”

                I started removing the screws that secured the outer shell to the frame.

                “What you call weird I call practical.” 

                I set the outer shell aside and knelt, inspecting the inside, turning the wash compartment to see if it caught anywhere.

                “Still not seeing anything.”

                I looked up to meet Mamoru’s gaze.

                “There’s a cup by the sink. Will you fill it and then start pouring water into the wash compartment, please?”

                He stared down at me intently for just a second, then blushed and turned around, clearing his throat.

                “Cup. Water. Yeah.”  He filled the cup and started pouring it in slowly as I watched for leaks.

                “I, uh, I think it’s full,” he said, putting the cup aside.

                “Okay, thank you.”  I stood up and moved to check the drain hose attachment. “I don’t see any cracks here. I’m going to plug it in and see what happens.”

                I plugged the machine in to the wall, closed the lid, made sure the hose was in the sink, and hit the button.

                It was noisier than usual without the outer casing, but I didn’t see any problems in the operation. It reached the drain cycle, and again, there were no problems.

                “Looks to be in fine working order,” I commented, securing the outer case as it finished its cycle.

                “Good news all around, then,” Luke commented. “Miss Fumiko is all set, though I don’t want her putting any weight on that foot for 24 hours.” He looked toward the door, making eye contact with Soryu, who’d been quietly watching the proceedings from my bedroom. “Soryu, would you mind carrying the young lady to her bed?”

                He shrugged and shouldered his way into the room, easily lifting Fumiko.

                I shooed the remaining gawkers out of the way, moving to the bed she would be sleeping in and pulling down the covers.

                “Do we need to elevate her foot?” I asked, stepping aside so that Soryu could lay her down.

                “Yes, that would be good for tonight,” Luke answered.

                “Okay, give me a minute.”  I hurried to the bedding closet and pulled out a large bedspread, then to the drawer where I kept random tools and supplies, grabbing a long bungee cord. I rolled the folded bedspread and wrapped the bungee cord tightly around the center. 

                Luke carefully lifted her foot, so I could place the rolled spread under her ankle.

                “Do you have a large sock to put over her foot, so it doesn’t have to be under the pressure of the blankets?” He asked.

                “Yes,” I answered and nodded, going to my sock drawer and pulling out a fluffy slipper sock.

                I slid it gingerly over her foot while Luke tucked the rest of the blankets around her.

                “I gave her a painkiller and some antibiotics,” he said. “She should sleep quite well tonight. I’ll check in in the morning.” With a quick bow, he left the room.

                I escorted the rest of the spectators out, thanking each of them for their help, and returned to the bathroom.

                Mamoru was still there. As I walked in, he was returning the screwdriver to its drawer.

                “You didn’t have to do that,” I leaned against the counter beside him.

                “I know,” he answered, smirking. “What are you gonna do now?”

                “I’m going to get her clothes rinsed and hung up to dry, and then I’m going to bed before there’s any more excitement tonight. There’s a big enough mess to clean up tomorrow.”

                “Do you need any help?”

                “No. This will only take a couple of minutes.”

                “All right. I’ll go to bed myself, then.”

                I took one of his hands and pressed it between both of mine.

                “Thank you for your help tonight, Mamo.”

                He took my chin between the thumb and forefinger of his free hand.

                “Anything for you, kid. G’night.”

                He winked and sauntered out of the room.

Chapter Text

               

                 Fumiko had been with us for almost a month. As in the game, Eisuke had seen to it that she was made the lead maid for the penthouse. Unlike in the game, he had seen video of the former lead maid abusing her after the promotion. The former lead maid and her flunkies were no longer employed at Tres Spades, and Fumiko had her own team with her.

                As she became comfortable with the boys, her sassy side came out, and I’m not going to lie. Watching her take the arrogant diplomat down a peg or two was becoming my favorite pastime.

                Today during the weekly meeting, Shuichi had been bragging about his sexual stamina. Again.

                After more than six months of this conversation, I simply tuned him out, focusing instead on organizing Eisuke’s plans.

                Shuichi didn’t normally join us. He was gone too often to be terribly involved in things. When he was here, we could always tell when he was getting bored. He got more irritating.

                Eisuke had stepped away to take a phone call, and before anyone else could say anything, Shuichi launched into a detailed version of his latest conquest.

                Mamoru closed his eyes and leaned his head against the back of the chair.

                Soryu took his phone out of his pocket and pretended to make a phone call.

                Baba stood and walked into the kitchen.

                Only Ota listened to Shuichi, hanging on the diplomat’s every word.

                He got louder and more graphic as the girls came in with their cart. Three sets of cheeks glowed a bright pink, then Fumiko scowled.

                “Dude. Nobody wants to hear that crap.  A real man would never speak about his sexual partners in that manner. Also, nobody believes you.”

                Shuichi scowled, pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, and gestured to Ota.

                “He’s enthralled.”

                “I rest my case.”

                Beside me, Mamoru snorted.

                I pursed my lips, raised my eyebrows, and coughed to cover the laughter that I couldn’t stop.

                He glared at me.

                “Sorry, Shu, but she’s not wrong. I told you as much a few weeks ago. And anyway, Ota’s drunk. You could be reciting ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and he’d still be fascinated.”

                Ota laughed and rested his head on the table.

                “I like Little Red Riding Hood. It’d make a great hentai.”

                Baba returned to the room at that moment.

                “Ota, I think now would be a good time for you to go take a nap.”

                “Okay.”

                Unsteady, the artist rose to his feet and staggered toward his room. Baba hurried after to make sure he didn’t fall.

                Eisuke strode back into the room.

                “Done with your story yet? Can I get back to my meeting?”

                “You should do something about the impertinence and disrespect, Ichinomiya.”

                “You brought this on yourself. I would recommend bedding one of them,” here Eisuke waved his hand vaguely in the direction of myself, Fumiko, and the other maids, “but they’ve all heard the way you talk about your conquests, and no woman wants that for herself.”

                “Dating advice from Eisuke Ichinomiya is an invaluable resource, Shuichi,” Baba remarked as he returned to the meeting room and took his seat.

                Shuichi scowled again and stood up, storming out of the room.

                “Apologies, ladies and gentlemen,” Eisuke said, resuming his seat. “Shu is a good man, he just has a tendency to be an asshole.”

                “Takes one to know one,” Fumiko muttered under her breath, returning to her job.

                I choked and shook my head.

                Eisuke pretended not to notice, though I’m sure he heard. The man had almost preternatural hearing abilities.

                He informed us of his plans to build a hotel in Saudi Arabia, and another in London.

                “I will be out of town for several weeks as negotiations are finalized. Ava, I have received several requests for rescues via the auction. I want you to investigate these requests and rank them from most urgent to least. If a few are to be believed, we may need to hold an impromptu session.”

                “Understood,” I nodded as I added the request to my to-do list.

                A few moments later, the contact info I would need for verification hit my work email, and I transferred it over to my auction to-do list.

                “When I return,” he continued, “I’ve arranged for a business meeting with some oversees companies. Ava, I want you there.”

                I pulled up my calendar.

                “Can you give me a more exact date?”

                “The week of the eighteenth of September.”

                “Okay, but just be aware that I have a prior commitment on the twenty-first. I will be gone all day.”

                “What are you doing?”

                “I’m writing and recording some songs with a band. They’re about to hit their tenth anniversary together and want to change things up a little.”

                “Which band?” Fumiko asked?

                “I promised I wouldn’t tell until after the new album is released. Sorry.”

                “Not even a hint?”

                “Nope. Though I’m sure if you sat down to think about it, there aren’t that many bands who’ve been around for that long. That’ll lessen a bunch of possible answers.”

                She pouted, but it didn’t last long.

                “Fine. If I figure it out, will you give me a prize?”

                “How about tickets to a show? If you even like the band, that is. Just understand, I won’t be able to confirm or deny any of your guesses until the album is out and concerts are scheduled.”

                “I can live with that.”

                “Okay. Let the games begin, then.”

                Eisuke cleared his throat for attention again.

                “Are you quite done?”

                “Yes, sir,” Fumiko nodded, and her crew got to their jobs of cleaning the penthouse suites.

Chapter Text

                 I had been at the recording studio for three hours before he stormed in.  Luckily, we were taking a break, Kyohei, Iori and I discussing what they were looking for as far as songs for their next album, while Takashi made his way through the songs that I had already recorded.

                “We’re looking for a more grown-up sound,” Kyohei explained. “We’ve sort of gone past the practical age of the typical ‘boy band’. The band needs to grow up and evolve, just as we have.”

                “I understand…”

                “Anybody else feel a sudden chill in the air?” Nagito asked, just as the door of the meeting room burst open.

                In the doorframe stood Eisuke, aggravation clearly etched on his face. As soon as he spotted me, he stalked over, not stopping until we were toe-to-toe.

                “Where were you?” He growled.

                “I’ve been here, like I said I would be.”

                “You missed the meeting with Sanderson. You’ve known about it for two days.” His finger was at my nose.

                “And YOU,” I retorted, jabbing my finger into his chest with every word, “knew that I had studio time today. You’ve known about it for more than six WEEKS.”

                He had stepped back with every jab, and looked as though he were about to respond, but I hadn’t finished saying my piece yet.

                “In fact, I reminded you yesterday, and this morning before I left. Now, if you forgot, or, more likely, ignored my reminders, that is entirely on you.”

                His mouth worked soundlessly for a moment. I would have laughed at the sight if I hadn’t been so irritated, myself.

                “Give me your keycard.”  He held out a hand. “You’re done.”

                “Two things. Number one. You are ending my contract early, so I expect a severance package equal to what my earnings – plus bonuses - would be, had the contract ended naturally. Number two. When I am finished here today, I will return to the penthouse, pack my things, and I will leave the keycard on my way out.”

                “And what if I don’t agree to those?”

                “At the very least, I can let it be known that Eiskue Ichinomiya doesn’t uphold his end of deals. Think about how many of the people that you do business with know me. Beyond that,” here the gods of the department of punishments sprang to mind, “I can cause you much more trouble.”

                The arrogant expression on his face was washed away as he seemed to realize what I was talking about.

                “Fine. The money will be in your account this evening. I expect the keycard in my hand this evening.”

                He turned and stalked back out of the room.

                I drew in a lungful of air and turned to the members of Revance.

                “My apologies, gentlemen.”

                “Sounds like you need a place to stay,” Kyohei observed.

                “We have an extra bedroom at our place,” Nagito added.

                “As well as a full studio,” Takashi finished.

                “Are you talking about the storage room with a bed in it?” Kota interjected.

                Iori laughed. “He’s not wrong. We have a lot of stuff in that room. I’m not sure it’s polite to offer someone a corner of a room.”

                Kyohei thought for a moment.

                “How about this? Give us until tomorrow morning and we’ll have that room cleaned up and ready for you.”

                I thought about it for a minute. I’d be leaving one group of boys for another, in much closer quarters. Also, the Revance boys had no idea about my truth, so I would have to be more guarded. I didn’t know as much about these boys, having only played a couple of the routes in their game, and read the wiki page. I know that Ryo comes back after a bit, so it would only be a short-term arrangement, and in the meantime, I would have the opportunity to figure out what I wanted to do with my new life here, and make sure I had enough money set aside to buy a house somewhere, depending upon what path I chose.

                “You know what? That sounds like a deal,” I answered. I held out a hand to Kyohei, and we shook on it. I then proceeded to shake hands with the rest of the band. All except Nagito, who wrapped me in a bear-hug.

                Takashi handed me a business card with an address and code written on the back.

                “The code is for the gate. I’ve already heard a couple potential songs that I’d like to talk about.”

                “Thank you.” I slid the card into my cell phone case and returned it to my pocket.

                We all left the meeting room, I to go do some more recording, Revance to do whatever it is that boybands do when they aren’t recording or touring.

                “We’ll see you tomorrow, Ava!” Nagito hugged me once more before following the others.

                “I can’t wait!” I called after him.

 

                After a few more hours in the studio, I made certain that all of the electronic files were on my computer, and not the studio computer, and then burned a cd of the songs, so that I would have a hard copy in case the files on the computer got corrupted. After that, I packed things up and headed to a nearby café for dinner. 

                While there, I made reservations at a capsule hotel for the night. I’d always wanted to try one out, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

                Then, I headed to the penthouse, for the last time.  I’ll admit, I got a little teary-eyed, thinking I would never again be in this elevator, heading up to the penthouse, with my first loves in the Voltage world.

                Things change, regardless of if you’re in a strange, other world. Even though I had always intended to leave, I could feel my heart breaking just a little bit.

                The elevator doors opened on an empty great room. All of the guys were out and about, which would make things a little easier, in all honesty.

                I headed straight to my suite, pulled my luggage out of my closet, and quickly packed my few things.  I had added to my wardrobe while here – it had been a necessity. What I hadn’t done was buy a lot of ‘stuff’, and I was grateful I’d had the foresight to forego collecting tchotchkes. Everything except my guitars fit into the luggage.  I latched the smaller case to the larger case, strapped the overnight bag to those, slung my electric guitar across my body, and carried the acoustic guitar in one hand, pulling the luggage with the other. 

                I hit the button to call the elevator car back up and took the opportunity to take a last look around.  I was sad, and yet excited, much like when I’d left my family home, heading off to college on the other side of the country. More so because these guys were the closest thing to family that I had in this world. They were the only people who knew my secret. 

                My nose started to sting, and I could feel tears at the corners of my eyes. The doors of the elevator slid open as I was dabbing my eyes, and I looked up to see Mamoru. He stepped out long enough to take the handle of my luggage and my acoustic guitar and stepped back into the elevator.

                “Spill,” he ordered as soon as the doors were closed.

                “I was at the recording studio today. As has been the plan for the last six weeks. I reminded Eisuke last night, and before I left this morning. This afternoon, he stormed in while I was in a meeting with a band, yelled at me for not being here for his meeting, and then told me to leave the penthouse. So, that’s what I’m doing.” I shrugged one shoulder.

                Mamoru frowned, raking his fingers through his hair.

                “I could talk to him,” he offered.

                “No. We both know that wouldn’t do any good. I’ve already made other arrangements, and it’s time for me to get on with my life here. It’s been nearly nine months now. It’s time for me to get on with things.”

                He nodded, still not happy.

                We reached the ground floor, and he followed me out to my car. We loaded everything into the back.

                “Don’t be a stranger, okay kid?” He rubbed the back of his head, suddenly embarrassed, and I laughed, and wrapped my arms around his chest. It was unfairly cute that he insisted on calling me ‘kid’ when I was, technically, older than him. His arms wrapped around my shoulders.

                “I have your number in my phone, and we’re connected on every social media platform there is. Plus, you have to come with me the next time I go gambling, because I only win when you’re with me.”

                “Sounds like a date,” he snorted a laugh and loosened his hold. “Don’t take any crap from anyone.”

                “You know I won’t.” I tilted my head back to meet his gaze, long enough to wink. I pulled the keycard from my pocket and tucked it into one of his jacket pockets. “Make sure Eisuke gets that. My severance package depends upon it.”

                He nodded, and his arms began to drop from my shoulders. I started to take a step back, when he cupped my face in his hands and pressed his lips to mine. I grabbed onto his wrists, holding tighter as the kiss drew on, my knees turning to jelly and my heart doing flipflops in my chest. He broke the kiss softly, resting his forehead against mine as we both regained our breath.

                “If you ever need anything… I don’t give a damn where I am or what time it is, you call me. Understand?”

                “Ye-es…” I managed to gasp.

                He kissed my forehead and left, heading back into the hotel.

                I managed to climb into my car, my head swimming, my lips still tingling. Finally, I drove away, heading to the capsule hotel.