Fire! Fire tore at Rem, feeding on his skin at an alarming rate, dissolving his flesh as though he had been doused in a generous portion of acid. His entire body was awash in flames. He screamed; his body wretched and convulsing in agony. Why was this happening to him? Why was he in this much pain?

    A sudden, soothing coolness passed over him and the intense pain simply vanished! Rem remained still, reveling in the newfound peace. For a moment, he’d almost thought he’d gone to hell. Wait? Had he even died? His sore midriff sure felt real, as did the pain in his arms and legs. Though, lessened in intensity, he could still feel the pounding headache that had been plaguing him. He hesitantly opened his eyes, only to find that he was actually floating face down in a pool of water.

    He panicked suddenly, only just realizing his lungs were on the verge of exploding. Arms flailing like a drowning cat, he clawed himself to the surface and took in the deepest breath of air he’d ever taken in his life. When he recovered from the subsequent coughing fit, he finally paid attention to his surroundings.

    He was in the courtyard’s water fountain, and only a few meters away, Warukko East Municipal High School was ablaze. The building groaned loudly over the sound of the flames as, bit by bit, it succumbed to the damage that had been inflicted upon it during the night’s events. The heat emanating from the smoldering structure was just as intense as it had been on the inside. Rem felt a strange sadness at seeing the school like this. Sure he’d hated having to show up and deal with its annoying populace on a daily basis, but he’d never had a grudge on the school itself. And, in a single, terrible moment, he remembered the expensive pair of sneakers still locked tight in his cubby in the building’s lobby. ‘Crap….’ Seven months of extortion down the drain. He stared at the burning building for a while, and then the obvious question came to mind.

    “H-how’d I get out here?” he whispered, “I thought I was a goner for sure…”

    “You’re welcome,” came a monotone voice from directly behind him. The hairs on the back of Rem’s neck stood on end as he whirled around to confront its owner. At the opposite edge of the fountain sat his best friend, the Music Club’s guitarist, Vinz Hayamizu, drenched from head to toe. His porcelain skin, which vastly contrasted his black hair -usually spiked but now matted to his scalp because of the water-, his dull brown eyes and black polished fingernails, reflected the flickering, orange flames that leapt up from the school. He sported the school’s uniform minus the blazer; his once white shirt now a patchwork of soot and burn holes. His androgynous good looks added an air of mystery to his whole Gothic theme, not to mention the dark crucifix earrings that dangled from each of his earlobes.

Vinz rose to his feet, revealing a slim, yet well-built physique, and gestured a lackluster greeting, his perpetually-bored expression changing into one of concern.

    “Wha!? What the hell!?” Rem exclaimed, forcing himself to keep his rate of breathing in check, “Geez, Vinz, I thought I told you never to sneak up on me like that!”

“Meh,” he droned, “it’s your own fault for not paying attention.”

Sighing, Rem turned his attention back to the burning building. “How’d you get me out?”

    “Got in through the emergency exit, got out through the window,” the Goth replied quietly. For as long as Rem had known the boy, Vinz always broached any situation presented to him with the same calm, indifferent demeanor as he did now.

    Rem stared up at what was left of the third floor and tried to envision what had occurred. The drop from the third floor windows to the second floor awning wasn’t an impossible feat, and from there Vinz could easily have skidded along the wall until he got to the courtyard. Two questions offered themselves: ‘What happened to Meteor-Girl?’ and ‘How had he ended up in the fountain?’ The former heavily outweighed the latter and so he inquired about it.

“I’ve got good news and bad news.” The pale-skinned boy simply dug his hands into his trouser pockets and shrugged, regaining a disinterested look. “The good news is that I took care of it. As usual.”

“You took care of it?” Rem asked, scrunching his face up in confusion. Then, the full meaning of Vinz’s response hit him and a panic he had never known, not even when the girl had stood before him threatening certain doom, chilled him to the core. “Wait… you don’t mean!?”

Among the Goth’s many talents were the ever incredible arts of wordplay and deception. Despite his shady exterior and uncharismatic personality, Vinz possessed the uncanny ability to get even the staunchest of skeptics to place their absolute trust in him; not that he had the need to use his silver tongue all that often. Rem was not only immune to his friend’s charms but he had found the perfect way to exploit it.

It was no secret that Rem Sasaki was a free spirit. He paid no attention to the rules, took even less notice of authority figures and had committed more criminal misdemeanors than he had fingers and toes; however, his greatest claim to notoriety was his womanizing ways. Rem’s curly black hair, creamy brown skin, and emerald green eyes coalesced with his boyish good looks and tempered physique to achieve the happy medium between pop-idol and rogue. When added to his bad boy personality, an aphrodisiac-like effect resulted, drawing females to him like plants to sunlight. Unfortunately, his reputation had reached saturation point at Warukko East High, so his trysts were usually limited to girls from other schools.

The main problem was that, because of these things, Rem’s mother kept him on quite the tight leash and usually saw through any form of deception that he might direct her way. This was where his spiky haired compatriot came in. Rin Sasaki trusted few people but, luckily for Rem, Vinz was one of them. As long as his friend corroborated his stories, Rem was golden. Anytime he needed to sneak a girl over, Vinz would ‘escort’ her there and introduce her as his own love interest. Then, he’d simply slip out a window, leaving Rem and the lucky lady to their own devices. And now that Vinz said he’d taken care of things… as usual…

    Rem splashed his way out of the fountain and tightly grabbed the other boy by the collar, his eyes wide and his face showing a perfect mix of panic and anger. “What the hell made you think THAT was one of MY girls!?”

    Unruffled as always, Vinz gave him one of his patented ‘meh’ looks and roughly brushed Rem’s hands off of him.

    “I found you both unconscious in there,” he said, “she was passed out on top of you. What was I supposed to think?”

    Rem blinked in confusion. “W-wha? Passed out on top of me…?” Vinz nodded and tossed a cell phone at him, which he fumbled a bit to catch. “Huh? Hey, this is mine.”

    “Luckily, I’d met up with an… associate… on the way here. I had him carry the girl to your place,” the Goth continued, “I called to let Chie-san know ahead of time. She should be expecting them.” When Rem simply stared at him with a dumbfounded expression on his face, he quickly added. “Don’t worry, she’s my new girlfriend. Had a bit too much to drink. She’s still out cold, the way I hear it.”

    Rem took a few sharp intakes of breath. “Do…do you have any idea what you’ve just done?!” he cried, pointing to the near demolished building behind him, “She’s the one who did all this!”

    The pale youth arched an eyebrow with all the skepticism he could muster. “Did you get hit in the head or something?”

    “We’ve got to get back to my place! If she wakes up there…” Rem could just picture his home demolished, a large pillar of flame spouting from the debris, and atop it, Meteor-Girl laughing her sexy little ass off. “C’mon! Let’s go! This place is attracting all sorts of attention.” Sirens blared, distant at first, but rapidly drawing closer to their location. Rem made to run but caught himself when he realized that Vinz hadn’t budged an inch. “Hey, come on! Hurry it up, man!”

    “…which brings us to the bad news,” Vinz announced, gesturing at the school gates. Rem followed his gaze only to find that the spectacle had already attracted quite the crowd of onlookers. Dozens of people milled about outside the school compound, pressing against the locked gates, murmuring and muttering all sorts of rumors amongst themselves. In the midst of the gathering were some of their fellow students, the horror on their faces mixed with a morbid fascination that Rem was sure he’d have shared if he were among them. A few of them had already noticed the boys, pointing them out to the ones who hadn’t.

    “If you weren’t so heavy I’d have gotten away without anyone spotting us,” Vinz noted dryly, “It was all I could do to get you out of there.”

“Screw you, man.”

The sirens were unbearably close now, and within seconds, fire trucks and police squad cars screeched to a halt just behind the onlookers. The crowd parted quickly as the fire fighters cut the locks on the gate and poured into the courtyard, several uniformed police officers and plainclothes detectives following their lead. Rem slumped to the ground in defeat as a group of officers surrounded them, barking for them to remain still. Two of the policemen rushed them and slapped handcuffs around their wrists. Rem had been in this position before, dozens of times, but tonight, he was far too exhausted and overwhelmed to make any smart-assed remarks.

“Well, well, look who it is!” A stern-faced, young detective strode up to the two, folding his arms and giving them the most condescending of glares. “If it isn’t my two favorite misfits.” When they remained silent, a spark of anger ignited within the man’s eyes and burned relentlessly, but he restrained himself otherwise, instead, giving them a smile. “Hayamizu may get off lightly, but you…” he knelt before Rem and forced the boy’s chin up so that they were staring at each other. Rem fought every impulse that crept up within him to spit in the man’s face. “…Sasaki, I’ve finally got you.”

“Detective Matsudaira,” called one of the officers holding them, “What should we do? We don’t actually have any proof that they’re connected to the fire.”

Matsudaira craned his neck to look at the man over his shoulder. “Oh, they’re connected. That much I do know. How? I don’t. Still, we’ve got them on trespassing at the very least.” He gave a satisfied chuckle and shoved Rem’s chin to the side which, in the boy’s odd pose, caused him to topple over. “You two do know that students aren’t supposed to be on this compound at night unless sanctioned by the school… right?” The detective stood up and began to walk away. “Take ‘em down to the precinct. I’m sure Okita’ll have fun with ‘em.” He paused midstride. “Use the back entrance… they’re still minors. We’ll be in some hot shit if we parade ‘em through the streets like that.”

The officers nodded in acknowledgement, lifting the boys to their feet. Rem remained silent as they were escorted out the back way. Getting arrested alone would be more than enough to make any one of his schoolmates wet their pants, however, it was simply an annoyance to Rem, albeit a major one. His mind was more focused on getting home quickly enough to deal with the homicidal sleeping beauty.