9: Believe in Me
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Mei was sitting at the table in front of the biggest screen and was playing a game with an ongoing space battle underway when Danika exited the VR-medi pod.

"Sorry I took so long," Danika apologized, to announce her return.

Mei didn't respond at first, and then after the screen flashed with a bigger explosion she sent her ship streaking away from the scene and said calmly, "I expected you to take longer, just a minute."

"Sure," Danika agreed. She checked her phone and saw that Shinichi had replied, twice.

He'd sent: "Okay, I've got an extra half hour, want to play?"

Then he'd sent: "Danika? You still haven't logged in to the game this morning? SilentSky is going to join us in Endless Song after all. MatchlessMinion and I sold the last of the lamps we took from the pyramid after we recovered the ruby rat. And my dad says Kit's stronger than we think and she'll be alright."

Danika was so curious that she swiped over to the 'Living Jade Empire' app, but her cousin laid her hand over Danika's screen blocking her view. When she looked up, Mei said, "Let's go. Do you really believe that your boyfriend is actually Aichi Shinichi?"

"Why do you think he's not?" Danika countered swiftly.

"You can't spend two minutes detached from a gaming device, why would a pop star date you? And the media would have you plastered all over as 'top idol's disabled doll' or something if he really was," Mei answered as she scooted over to the door.

"Ew," Danika replied dryly as she tucked her phone away. "I hope that you're not going to write the article."

"Do you have any proof that he really is?" Mei asked as Danika transferred to her chair.

Danika gazed up at her without answering for a long moment. Mei backed up as she pushed her way out of the tiny apartment and watched as her door shut. "I'm actually still pretty angry about you telling my father that Shinichi might try to take advantage of me, even though that finally got him talking to me again, and now you're questioning Shinichi's identity? Not that it's any of your business, but what exactly are you trying for?" Danika asked rather sharply.

"OK, that is not exactly what I said to uncle Dimitri, and I'm obviously going about this the wrong way," Mei admitted. "But you'd be worried too if our positions were reversed."

Danika was seriously tempted to turn around and spend the day in 'Living Jade Empire' as she'd planned, but instead she drew a long breath and then said, "So just say whatever it is that you're thinking clearly."

Mei smiled at her affectionately, and replied, "Well, from my point of view, you suddenly snuck a mention of a younger guy you've started dating into one of your infrequent life updates, and then you send me a photo of a pop star. I totally thought it was a joke, but you replied like you were serious. And you sent me a picture of you two together as proof, and then you joined a social site that you've been avoiding forever, and that TangledWords ID added a whole album of pictures of you..." she trailed off.

"Yes," Danika agreed calmly. "And?"

"And I honestly expected you to reveal that TangledWords was actually someone talented with photo manipulation, until I ran into uncle Dimitri and uh…" Mei hesitated again and glanced at Danika.

"And his girlfriend?" Danika prompted.

"Yeah," Mei agreed with relief. "She's nice I guess, but it was a surprise."

Danika felt a little relieved that she wasn't the only one to whom her father's partner had been a surprise, but she prompted dryly, "And? Shinichi takes pretty nice photos, but if he's talented in photo manipulation he hasn't revealed it to me yet."

"Uncle Dimitri said that he's not sure how to react to you being involved with a public figure, and he really seemed to think that you're actually dating Aichi Shinichi," Mei complained.

"Because I am, but I'm honestly not sure how to react to being involved with such a public figure, when it actually becomes public either," Danika admitted. "But I certainly don't need my family doubting that he's even real?"

Mei didn't answer right away, but Danika didn't press her, because she could tell that Mei was really thinking about it. They didn't go far, just over to the shop where Danika sometimes bought bubble tea. Mei avoided her question by placing her order and waiting until Danika had too.

When they were seated at one of the little tables outside, Danika pulled her phone back out and messaged Shinichi, "Sorry. I hope he's right. I'm having breakfast with my cousin Mei, who can't quite believe that you're real."

"Why you?" Mei asked finally.

"I don't know," Danika replied wryly. "And sometimes I wonder the same thing, but other times I realize that I still like him more everyday, and I just hope he doesn't change his mind."

Shinichi responded faster than Mei. "Cool. OK, tell her to watch tonight's concert live stream. ;) "

"He says to tell you to watch tonight's concert," Danika repeated.

"What?" Mei asked blankly.

Danika shrugged, since she couldn't answer that.

Another message arrived: "I mean the one two hours from now, Naoki insists that it'll still be early afternoon for you."


Danika watched the concert with Mei in front of the largest screen on her table. It was a little disorienting to see Shinichi and the other members of Underneath standing in an open stadium beneath a night sky, while the sun was shining brightly through the window beside her, and know that it was happening right now.

"How's this supposed to prove anything?" Mei demanded again.

"I don't know," Danika repeated.

Underneath began to sing, but it wasn't one of the songs that Shinichi had written since they'd met. It was one of their most popular though, since even Danika had recognized it before she'd ever looked anything up. She didn't hear anything different about the lyrics.

She hadn't been able to guess what to expect, but she couldn't help laughing and wishing that she'd been ready to take a picture of her cousin's face. After the first song ended, Shinichi walked calmly to the front of the stage. He looked straight into the camera, pointed, and called out, "Mei! You can believe in me! That girl is mine!"

Mei looked like he'd shot her with a taser through the screen. Her mouth opened and closed silently for a moment.

Shinichi spun away from the camera, and Akito launched the next song with an elaborate flourish across the keyboard. Kimitoshi was actually the one who began to sing first, but Danika blushed anyway. Their second song was 'Flying By', the song with ZipZing worked into the lyrics in a dozen ways. Naoki winked at the camera as he joined in.

Mei turned and looked at Danika's blush. "Seriously!?" she demanded with a high pitched squeak.