Fruits Basket Fan Fiction ❯ Seasons of Sorrow ❯ Memories of Spring = In Hope I Believe ( Chapter 35 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

DISCLAIMER: At 3AM in the morning, I don't really care to own anything but a good bed.
35) Memories of Spring - In Hope I Believe
Both gentlemen directed their locked gazes to the person just over Hatori's shoulder. She walked towards them with head held high and proudly. Whereas before when she came upon the group she gave off a repressive air, she now carried with her something infinitely different. The aura she now emanated clearly spoke of her stature in this powerful family, particularly within the circle of the Jyuunishi, which they keenly felt when she returned to the gathering. However, that's not what had them or their guests practically gaping at her.
Akito was smiling. And not just merely smiling…she was brightly smiling. That small act gave her a more relaxed demeanor, one that was completely at ease with the environment around her. If truth be told, she was as approachable as Tohru, and that really shocked the majority there. As if this weren't enough to floor them, the next thing she did really had them wondering if she was really the same clan head that had walked off haughtily with Tohru.
Approaching Yuki with her smile in place, she reached out and embraced him warmly. As much as she wanted to, Akito refrained from holding onto him longer and reaching up to breathe in his unique scent deeply into her very being. She would never get enough of it, but this time she'll wait when they weren't in such a public setting. She considered it a very personal gesture from her to her precious, and it just wouldn't do for others to partake in it with their presence.
Truly it floored them…it really did. Akito never carried herself in this manner around them. They didn't even know that she was actually capable of it. But their eyes did not deceive them…and within the circle of the Jyuunishi that had partaken in the `banquet' by their `god', the blood bond that tied their very essence to each other fortified their link with one another in this perceived unity between the nezumi and `god'.
Such unanimity was received with mixed emotions with these members. It was generally a sense relief and elation, but then they questioned this with their own personal doubts with the `why's' and `how's' that were too many to ignore.
While his two guests were silently observant of what went on before them, Kazuma's own disorderly thoughts ran rampant and wild. He could perceive the serenity that the Jyuunishi shared and was happy to see that the worst of this `storm' has passed. Yet, he was also saddened, knowing full well that this bond didn't include one member of the Jyuunishi legend. He looked to the not-so-far distance and saw exactly what he had dreaded.
Many didn't think the Cat of the Zodiac to be perceptive, but they were mistaken. Kyo could discern many things, and one thing he has learned to identify was the harmony that existed amongst the Jyuunishi members. Albeit it was all headed by a dark and very twisted leader, but it was there just the same. That very link that bonded them to one another and `god' was palpable and desirable, but never accessible to the Neko. Certainly, Kyo had done what he could (even so far as to irrationally make a deal with Akito) to have the opportunity to be included in this bond, but Kazuma knew that the hot-headed youth was aware deep down that it was never meant to be. Just another dream shattered…hopeless…
`Bitterness…denial…anger.' It was incredible how the normally scowling youth could show so many emotions across his face in one instant. Sighing softly, Kazuma looked to the young lady by his son's side, and took small comfort to see that she knew how this situation was affecting her companion. As helpless as she and himself were to protect Kyo from the eternal truth that has plagued each Neko of the Jyuunishi over the centuries, they can still do what they can to be sure that the light of hope never leaves his eyes.
`In all honesty, all the Jyuunishi not only wish for it but also are doing all that they can to be sure it stays that way. It's why they are very different from past Jyuunishi, and why I believe that they'll succeed.' Smiling fondly on this thought, Kazuma gazed once more at the shared moment between the Nezumi of the Jyuunishi and his `god'. With a poignant smile, he mused, `If only I can get Kyo to believe that Yuki really isn't his true enemy. His enemy was always one thing…fear. Fear of becoming like his so-called father…fear of being left to rot in an old `cage'…fear of losing what he has…fear of losing who he cherishes…fear of just losing everything that makes up his hope in life. And unfortunately all that fear has become immortalized into one being…Yuki.'
Unaware of the widespread thoughts Kazuma pondered, Yuki stood in Akito's embrace, at first rigidly then relaxing somewhat. It has been some time ago that he had come across this side of Akito during his private visits. At first and even now, it always made him feel a little more than self-conscious of why she would behave this way whenever she greeted him. Then, as with everything that usually involved her, he accepted it and moved on.
Shoving his awkwardness aside like he normally would, he calmly replied, “Akito, we…just arrived.” All the while he glanced around her briefly. `So far all looks well…she's not angry or anything. Where are the others?'
“So I see. I was just busy giving my…regards to the other graduates,” Akito primly replied. Ridding herself of the apparently unpleasant thoughts going through her mind, she turned to him with a proud smile. “Were you thanked by the family appropriately?”
`Regards?' Finally seeing the two graduates Akito had just spoken to, Yuki caught a glimpse of their faces. The glimpse was enough… `I see her `regards' left one of them rather bitter…no shock there. What did she say to them?' As much as he wanted to ask her, now was definitely not the time. He knew Akito well enough to know that if she had to interact in any level with Kyo, she was usually rather sour afterwards. Good thing that she knew how to keep it discreet…for now.
“Uh…yes, I think the whole family actually came today to bid me their congratulations. It took a while to finally…” His remark trailed off when he noted that she was actually half-listening. Her gaze was now turned to something behind him, and from the looks of her gaze, she was definitely irritated. Turning his head to look over his shoulder, he wondered, `What's back there? She's about ready to really lose her temper…'
“Damn…and I mean DAMN!” exclaimed Uo to Hana in as a low a tone as she could muster. “Did you see how the banshees were practically about to bust with their jealousy when they saw the Prince with someone else and that someone was actually hugging him?! Hehehe, at least you're not the only one that can scare off them wackos with just a look. The Prince's fan club sure took off like the devil was at their heels…(whispers very lowly)…hell, that look from the clan head is giving me the creeps! Talk about the look that would freeze hell over…”
If Yuki had heard, he would have agreed. Akito was definitely becoming more in touch with her volatile side as each moment passed. Stiffening in her posture and all but glaring the look of promised torture to his more than avid fans, Akito quietly seethed for only him to hear, “Stupid girls. Utterly disgusting.”
Seeing her narrow her gaze further at the retreating backs of the girls, Yuki thought quickly on how to placate her before she finally lashed out for all eyes to see. It really was amazing that up to this point, she managed to behave civilly with the Jyuunishi and the Neko around. Hand reaching up, he hesitantly brought it down to gently pat her head as he remarked tranquilly, “They are troublesome, but it's of no importance now—they're gone.”
Akito had felt the gentle pat on her head, and was startled from her inner rage at the females that dared to look upon her precious as if to lay claim. Surprised that Yuki would show this much physical contact with her (and in public no less), she couldn't help but smile even wider than before. Pleased to hear his remark and the attention bestowed on her by him, she responded evenly, “You are correct…it is meaningless.”
She then heard the whispers going on from somewhere. Turning her head to its source, she saw that Tohru's friends were still there. `Damn, I had thought they would have left by now. Oh…that's right, they are waiting on the stupid girl. Well, they can have her now, the fools.' Barely trying to suppress a sneer in their direction, she managed to finally notice that Kazuma was there as well. `Ah yes…'
“Well, Kazuma, what did you think of Yuki's speech? Was it not perfect?” inquired the clan head proudly while leading Yuki to the adult by the arm.
Alarms sounded off in Kazuma's mind. He knew well that any answer on this topic would surely anger his already agitated son (who finally joined the gathering on the outer fringes). Yet, as much as he wanted to believe that Akito was doing this on purpose just to upset the Zodiac cat, he knew it not to be the case. She was not giving off that sort of `vibe', if you will, that would indicate maliciousness on her part. That in itself really shocked the martial arts teacher…since when did the clan head, the Jyuunishi's `god', become genuinely interested in someone's answer? Since when did the opinion matter to her enough for her to inquire about it?
Then, of course, the answer stood before him, in the shape of one slim youth with gray hair and gray/violet eyes. The same youth that looked ready to fall over up onstage when giving his speech, yet he remained firm and determined to finish his task to the very end. The strength this youth conveyed in his words impressed his audience and even more so, his `god'. Akito truly seemed pleased with Yuki…and that's when the errant thought struck him hard.
`My God, could it really be that simple? But why now…why be this way now when in the past it was so different? I've been looking so hard for the answers…looking into intricate theories of why she has allowed Kyo his extended freedom. And all along, the answer was right before me. It was so simple, yet I did not see it for what it was.' He recalled her smile, her words just now, her behavior now and in the past…they were all triggered by the same thing. And now knowing the truth, he knew he could never tell Kyo.
`He'd never understand nor believe that Akito is capable of actually caring. How can I tell him that he owes his freedom to the one person he resents the most, to tell him it's because Akito cares so much for another? He'll just perceive it to be something conspiratorial in nature. Kyo would never understand...he's just not part of that bond that ties the Jyuunishi together. I'm pretty sure even for them it's hard to believe…' Suddenly Yuki's own words from his speech came back to him…
“To hope is to believe, even when you've been given every reason not to…”
Staring back at Yuki, he could see that those words held so much truth for the nezumi. `Could it be that he too he finds it hard to believe that she cares? Still…that is why he believes…because he hopes. And he's not letting go of hope.'
Noting the pensive air that surrounded his former martial arts teacher, Yuki looked to Akito who was becoming impatient with the man's silence. He also noted that Kazuma glanced momentarily to Kyo, giving him a pretty good idea as to why the preoccupied adult was hesitant to respond to the clan head's inquiry.
Not wanting to put him on the spot with Kyo as a witness, Yuki remarked serenely, “Shihan, I'm sorry that I did not see you before. I hope the ceremony wasn't too terrible for you to endure.”
Thankful for Yuki's quick and neutral remark, Kazuma replied evenly with a small smile, “Not at all. I heard mention by many that the ceremony seemed to fly by for them…sort of. Your speech really was the highlight of the ceremony…the family is very proud.”
“That is so true, Kazuma-dono,” interjected Shigure as well. “His speech wasn't what we worked on, but it was a true work of art! Yuki, I do believe that you have a calling in the field of writing…”
“You do honor me with your compliment of my dear brother, Gure-san! I'll see to it that Yuki's remarkable talent is not wasted, mark my words!” proclaimed determinedly Ayame.
“Ayame…” replied Hatori tiredly in hopes of reigning in Ayame's enthusiasm that could very well irritate Akito. However his worry was unfounded as Akito spoke out.
“Indeed…Yuki has many talents. Which reminds me…” Turning her full attention to Kureno who stood next to her, she asked, “Is everything ready like we discussed?”
Kureno looked to Ayame as if looking to confirm his thoughts. Ayame nodded happily and so Kureno replied, “Yes, we are ready when you are.”
“Excellent. Its time we left then…Yuki, shall we?” Taking his elbow and leading him on, Akito turned to Shigure and Hatori and replied haughtily, “Do look after our little circle while we're gone. Oh, and Kazuma…” Letting go of Yuki, she quickly stood very close to the eldest Sohma there. She reached up with her right hand caringly to tilt his head down close to her own. While her facial features remained serene, she spoke quietly in a frigid tone to his ear, “Do restrain your little mongrel. The next time, I will not be so…forgiving. That I promise.”
Not moving from her position, she turned her head to glance at Kyo and saw that she held his full attention, if his frowns were any proof. With a derisive smirk, she coolly remarked silently while caressing Kazuma's cheek lightly, “He does look so carefree…doesn't he? It's a shame that the cat's liberty is so…precarious. A real shame.” Smiling unabashedly at the teacher's stiff demeanor and clenched jaw, Akito was about to go on with her cutting remarks when she felt a hand on her shoulder.
“Akito, it is getting late. We should get going,” softly replied Yuki while barely glancing at Kazuma apologetically. `I'm so sorry, Shihan… I never wanted it to get to this point.'
She smiled innocently to Yuki, not catching the look he had given to Kazuma. With great satisfaction displayed across her face, she moved away from the distraught father. “Yes, of course. I'm done here.”
As she walked away with Kureno along with Ayame following dutifully, Yuki paused in his stride and turned once more to the family, fully expecting to see their faces troubled with their most recent brush with `god's' presence. The emotions he saw across their faces ranged from astonishment to wariness…something he had imagined them to be. It was after all the first time they've seen Akito and himself interact in this manner…even Haru, who knew to some degree of what's been going on, seemed apprehensive. But that had more to do with Rin's quickly darkening mood and Kyo's seething form that was barely restrained. Akito certainly had a knack to rub people the wrong way, especially these last two Zodiacs.
He smiled assuredly to all and waved them off casually, so as not to appear that anything seemed out of the ordinary with his situation, especially with `outsiders' observing the already tense atmosphere. His gaze then lingered on Tohru… His heart clenched somewhat to see her by Kyo's side, but what really had him worried was the crestfallen expression in her eyes. She was so troubled that she clung to Kyo's arm as a life support…either that, or she saw right through the heart of the matter and is doing her best to calm the raging neko.
`Yes, she did see what Akito was trying to do with Kyo and Shihan. Damn, what did the baka neko do to set off Akito like that? It wasn't like Akito was in the best mood to begin with… He knows better than to do that—now he's got Tohru-san upset because of his lack of control! The baka…'
Pausing in his rampaging musings, he looked to Tohru and stared, hoping she would perceive that she was being stared at. She was of course too lost in her own thoughts from the looks of it since she didn't look up. He was about to give up when Kagura, who came to stand by her, gently nudged Tohru.
Startled by the gesture, Tohru looked up and saw Kagura nod her head in the direction across from them. Bewildered, Tohru looked in that direction and saw what Kagura was trying to `tell' her. Just seeing Yuki standing there, staring at her, made her blush madly. Determined to seem calm and collected, she forced a smile to her face as she waved good-bye.
It hurt. There really isn't any other way to describe it. To him, the Nezumi of the Jyuunishi, it hurt to remember how the Neko was able to give the security and support to the one he cherishes dearly. Recalling this morning's events, it still shook him to the core. But…
`It's not like she rejected me in any way. She didn't give preference either way except with her one remark of never taking her necklace off, and I wasn't even supposed to be listening. She really was completely neutral in her reactions…overly happy and content, and overly concerned the next, but that's how she always is. Yes…that's who she is. And I wouldn't want it any other way.'
Finding peace in that understanding, he allowed that one light of hope to reach his eyes as he smiled to her from the heart. `I'm not letting go of my hope just yet…if I wait long enough, it'll come in it's own time. I just have to believe.'
Tohru was surprised to see Yuki smile at her in that way. The smile that was very near and dear to her…the smile that came from within and conveyed everything that he was. It was the smile that said nothing but everything all at once. She felt so in harmony with herself at that moment, the vestiges of her frayed nerves long swept away by his gentle smile. Yes, all will be well…that's what he's trying to tell her. And she'll believe that because he believes it.
`I trust you,' affirmed Tohru to herself as she smiled whole-heartedly and waved enthusiastically at Yuki who then walked away from all of them.
“Au revoir, ma famille! Until the next rise of the sun or the moon…whichever comes first!” called out Ayame as he frantically waved his good-byes while walking away.
“Can I use that as a title in one of my books, Aya?” cried out Shigure hopeful.
“Of course! You do honor me, Gure-san! I can't ever thank you eno—“ Just then Ayame was pulled away a little more than forcefully by Yuki's hand, but still yapping away merrily.
To rip the smile off Akito's face—that was Kyo's true purpose at the moment if anybody had asked him. He was close, very close to giving in to the rage that boiled within. He honestly didn't know how he managed to stay put when Akito advanced on his father figure. Even though deep down he knew that he was somewhat to blame for inciting `god's' wrath upon them, he gave no leeway to feel guilty for trying to help Tohru. She didn't deserve to be singled-out and bear the scrutiny of this obsessed `god'.
Yet, what really had set him off was to see the nezumi curry the favor of the sadistic `god'. Couldn't the kuso nezumi see what Akito had done to upset them all by screwing with Tohru's mind? Or was the scheming rat too engrossed with being by `god's' side, never once giving any consideration to how they were all enduring the presence of Akito? That stupid smile he gave Tohru…it was just a ploy to get her to submit to his `charms', just like he does with everyone else. It's all a lie…a farce…a mask to hide the deceit…to hide the traitor within him.
“I truly wish…to become a better person…for myself and for my family.”
He shook his head furiously at this echo of Yuki's remark from his speech. `What a bunch a crock! Like he'd actually care about reaching out to the rest of us…' Yet no matter how hard he tried to convince himself of that, the other statement that had him shell-shocked in his seat at the ceremony came up in his mind unbidden.
“To hope is to believe, even when you've been given every reason not to.”
His face contorted into a disgusted expression, his mouth set in a grim line. He couldn't help but feel his stomach twist on that remark. The seemingly innocent remark left him astounded for one reason only…he actually felt that he could believe Yuki. To hope to believe in the nezumi… For the neko to trust the nezumi
`LIES! I can't believe I almost trusted him for an instant! DAMN LIAR!!! I trust him for one second, and he and his `god' will damn well make sure I regret it. The fools! It's obvious they are in on something together. Kuso nezumi may say otherwise, but he and Akito are working together to…to…DAMMIT! I don't know what they're planning, but it's something big. I can just feel it…they're hiding something. (Pause) Are they planning to involve Tohru somehow?' This mere thought definitely had Kyo seeing red, teeth grinding and jaw clenched with a gaze that could set the world on fire.
He then inwardly nodded resolutely to himself. `No, Yuki. You and your freak of a `god' can go straight to hell for all I care with all your twisted plans. But neither of you will EVER lay a hand on her. You'll NEVER get the chance to ruin her life like you have done to our lives. So help me, even if it costs me my freedom, I'll see to it. I will…'
Weighty thoughts of another nature also plagued a young individual, who had felt the need to share them with only one that could possibly understand them.
“Saki,” he whispered, “did you feel that?”
“Megumi, there are many things I'm sensing. The Sohmas have…overwhelming auras (`one in particular'). You must be more specific,” replied Hana just as quietly.
“I don't know how to describe it. I don't have your gift,” mumbled Megumi softly.
“Well…was it forboding, oppressive…?” asked Hana calmly. `That certainly was the case a moment ago…now it's completely vanished.'
Shaking his head negatively, Megumi replied, “Iie. It was…warm, yet sad. Very sad… What could it mean?”
Sighing softy, Hana focused her senses to perceive if indeed Megumi was right. Oddly though, none of what he described is what she's sensing. “I'm sorry, but there is nothing like that there anymore. Perhaps you misinterpreted the sensations…it happens to me at times.”
“Perhaps…” He quietly stood by his sister, staring down at his shoes, lost in his thoughts once more that Hana couldn't help noticing.
“Megumi, if there is something more you want to ask then please share it. Just because I don't sense it doesn't mean it's not there.” Hoping to draw him out, she laid her hand gently on his shoulder, kindly noting that very soon her little brother won't be so little anymore once his growth spurt hits him, likely during the summer.
“It's just that…what I felt just now was what I saw before…with Sohma Yuki. It's…really strange. I honestly don't know how to express it. Do you feel this way at times when you're around him?” He looked up to her eyes, his solemn gaze meeting her own.
Smiling down at him, she replied, “At times, I honestly don't know what to make of the Sohmas…any of them. Especially with Sohma Yuki…a strange mystery he truly encompasses within his aura. Even his wave structure is unique amongst his family. Well, his and the family's clan head.”
Turning now towards the quiet group, she fixated her gaze on the one Sohma that had such fiery waves just moments before when the clan head was present. Thinking over what Megumi said, she mentally ran a comparison and found that those two weren't the only ones with such intense wave structures.
`Intriguing…their waves just seem to grow. Yes, very intriguing. Still…' Looking back at her brother, she remarked, “Although I didn't sense this `feeling' you felt before and just now, consider it an honor that you were made aware of it.”
“Honor? That I was made aware of it? I do not understand, Saki,” commented the perplexed youth.
Leaning down so that she was level with his eyes, she stared into them intensely and smiled wider than before. “Well, he may not know it, but Sohma Yuki allowed his aura to interact with you. I have never been given such an honor by him. And it truly is an honor for his aura never reaches out to anyone else. Whatever it saw in you gives him enough peace to share something very intimate with you. Do cherish it, Megumi. It's a precious gift you must never undervalue.”
Seeing her smile and then clarifying what it was that he had seen and felt gave him the resolve to always remember the moment shared between himself and the Sohma youth. Certainly he may never come to understand it, but understanding was not always possible. That was okay so long as he accepted it for what it was—an honor for him. And cherish this he will…for now and always.

A heavy silence settled amongst the dwindling group, aside from Shigure's shouts to the snake that was dragged away by the rat. It fell upon them all, too thick to be just shrugged off. Unsure of what to do, Tohru fiddled with her newly acquired bracelet and looked around at the faces that spelled relief but also fatigue. She was trying to come up with something that would lighten everyone's mood when she heard Kazuma speak up.
“Well, I must be a terrible father,” remarked the demure adult quietly.
“Eh?” Tohru immediately went over to him and stammered in reply, “But…you…you are a very good father, Shishou-san. I know it…”
Laying his hand on her shoulder, Kazuma looked down on her and smiled widely. She stood dumbfounded for a moment as he grinned further and replied, “Of course I am…I've not even congratulated my own son on his graduation. I am terrible.”
Kisa and Momiji couldn't help but giggle in relief at Kazuma's light-hearted remark that quickly defused the tension in the air. Momiji happily replied, “Hehe, Kazuma-san, you're too funny. Kyo, aren't you going to say anything?”
Kyo, like Tohru, was still too surprised to say anything. Hearing Kazuma's follow-up remark, he could only roll his eyes and cross his arms in a gesture that meant he was fully ignoring his surrogate father's jokes. Still, when Momiji asked him to reply, he growled back in response, “Oh, shut up baka usagi…I don't have to say anythi—“
He was cut off when he felt Kazuma's warm embrace. Smiling down affectionately on his grouchy son, Kazuma patted him on the back soothingly. He softly whispered, “Don't be so upset. We're here now…let's enjoy this time with those we care, ne?”
Hearing the heartfelt words of his adoptive father, Kyo felt all his strain from these past few moments melt away. Blushing slightly with all the attention he was getting, he looked away and merely nodded to the question posed, too afraid that his voice may give him away at how much those words meant to him.
“Aw…that's too cute,” Momiji sniffled with `tears' in his eyes while observing them from afar. Hoisting the ever-faithful digicam to a better position (Haru passed the `torch' on when Momiji had asked), the emotional teen called out, “Kyo, look over here! I want to get a good shot just like the one I got with Hiro hugging Kisa!”
“Hey, get that damn camera off me!” yelled Kyo irately to the digicam with Kazuma looking on contentedly.
“NANI?!” Enraged that the one private moment he managed to have with Kisa during the day was caught on film, Hiro launched himself onto the now fugitive usagi. “COME BACK HERE YOU DAMN RABBIT! I'M GONNA RIP YOUR EARS OFF!!!”
“Oh my, I hope they are careful,” replied Kazuma quietly. Pondering on a thought, Kazuma tapped his chin delicately and asked, “Kyo, isn't that the same digital camcorder that was used to record everything that happened this morning?”
Only the whoosh of wind answered Kazuma as he saw Kyo charge into the foray between rabbit and sheep. “Kyo, please don't damage the camera. I was hoping to obtain a copy of the film…”
“BAKA USAGI, COME BACK HERE!!!” yelled Kyo as he joined Hiro in tracking down the elusive teen.
“TOOOOORRRRRHHHHHUUUUU!!!!!!!” cried out Momiji in `tears' while dodging each swipe from the rabid neko and sheep. “SAVE ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
“LIKE HELL—GIVE IT TO ME!” bellowed Kyo as reached out to grasp the frightened teen's shirt collar. However, just as he was to grasp it, he suddenly felt the need to completely stop his actions. Clutching his stomach and trying very hard not to squirm with his legs, the classic tell-tale sign of the need to `go', he cursed lowly, “Dammit, son of a…”

Seeing Kyo retreat abruptly and walk away towards the school building, Kagura called out curiously, “Ano, Kyo-kun, is there something the matter? You were almost close to catch—“
“LEAVE ME ALONE!” blurted out Kyo loudly while walking really fast to his destination. `Damn this medication! It's doing nothing for me!'
“I was being polite, and you go and bite my head off. You UNGRATEFUL JERK!!!!!!!!!” exclaimed Kagura angrily while hauling Kyo up with one fist and pounding him with the other.
“My dear, uh…I mean, he didn't mean to upset you with his remark. He just seemed bothered by something on his mind, that's all,” tried to reason Ritsu while braving the storm known as Kagura as he tentatively reached out to grasp her shoulder gently.
“All right! Now this party's gettin' good!” called out Uo with a gleeful smile. “Smack him good, girl! Mop the ground with his sorry ass!”
`She's certainly more than able to take Kyo on—I should get them to spar more often. I do feel very sorry for her opponents at the tournament.' Sighing heavily, Kazuma walked to the dueling Jyuunishi. Mindful not to push Kagura really over the edge (not even he wanted to be on the receiving end of one of her rampages), he replied “Kagura, please do take care not to damage him too much. He is rather dear to me, and I do require him to be intact for the tournament.”
“AWESOME!” cried out merrily Momiji as he stood next the amused Hiro who was also observing the open display of `comraderie' between the neko and boar with a smirk on his face. “Oh wait! Let me catch this on video…”
“You never give up, do you usagi?” remarked Hiro tersely, too tired to go after anther chase of the digicam.
“Will we have copies as well, Momiji-niisan? I'm sure Kaa-san would very much like to see this, too,” replied Kisa softly as she stood next to Hiro blissfully.
“Sure! This will be a great tape to watch over and over and over…” replied Momiji as he happily filmed all the glory of this quickly ending family reunion.
`Maybe I should have told them that the video in the digicam is brand new. The old one is already put away for safe-keeping.' Shrugging his shoulders nonchalantly, Haru went over to the object of his concern, Rin. She was visibly upset with what had occurred with the clan head and Yuki, but no matter how hard he tried to reason with her privately, she held fast to her beliefs. And it seemed that she was more than willing to share them with an innocent and rather susceptible individual…
“Eh…ano….Kyo-kun…Kagura-san…” As the words failed her, Tohru looked on helplessly. Sighing in defeat, she tiredly smiled at the all too common scene, satisfied that the threat of exposure of the Sohma's family troubles was no longer a possibility. She was paying little mind to who was watching her, and failed to notice the new presence next to her until she was startled by the cool remark.
“Find this…touching?” asked Rin quietly.
Clasping her beating heart, Tohru whirled around to her right and saw the troubled lady scowling at the scene before them. Swallowing inaudibly, she stammered in her reply, “Is-Isuzu-san. Yo-you surprised m-me.”
Giving her a deadpan look, Rin turned back to the quarrelling Jyuunishi and stared at them with a growing frown.
`She must not like all the noise they're making. (Gasp) Is she mad that I didn't answer her question? But, how to answer her…?' Wringing her hands worriedly, Tohru glanced around, wishing that somehow she could make Rin feel better when it was obvious that she was anything but. Recalling the unsettling events, she could only wonder how it was that Rin, Kyo and perhaps Haru had kept themselves in check the whole time Akito had pushed them all to their limits.
“Ano…ah…it's good to see things are…okay. Right?” Tohru could only stare hopefully at the bothered young lady as she stood rigidly next to her.
Shaking her head in disbelief, Rin smiled sardonically and turned on her. Staring hard as if to bore a hole through Tohru's head, she narrowed her gaze and replied quietly, “Okay? This…all this…is okay? To you?”
Unsure of how best to reply to that, Tohru bowed her head slightly, staring blankly at her clasped hands. Pressing her lips firmly together, she commented lowly, “I know that…it must have been very hard…for you and the others. With Akito-san, I mean.”
“It's nothing new, Tohru. Its how it's been and how it'll always be.” Leaning closer, Rin caught Tohru's gaze and held it fully as she asked the one question that sounded rather familiar to Tohru. “So, care to share whatever Akito told you? Or should I just go with my best guess?”
She wanted to look away…she really tried. But Tohru found that her eyes were transfixed onto Rin's own pair, unwilling (maybe unable) to break out of the trance. Still, even though it appeared that nothing moved forward, Tohru's thoughts were all rushing about, too jumbled to be considered coherent. Ultimately, she gave the only answer that she could.
“Akito-san…only wanted me to understand how important your family is. And I agreed,” commented Tohru solemnly. “That was all.”
Backing away slightly, Rin held Tohru's gaze a while more until dawning realization graced her hard expression. “I see. Then tell me…how long are you going to believe in a lie? It's pretty obvious that Akito has more pull on the rat than before…the look that was there. The tender embrace they shared. (Derisively she laughs.) How the ties that bind grow tighter every day between those two. And you know I'm not the only one who thinks so…everyone knows it, too. It's only a matter of time before `god' and the pet get close enough to wreck havoc with anyone within their grasp.”
“Rin, you don't know that. The only thing you know for sure is what every one of us saw earlier. So stop intimidating Honda-san,” interjected Haru as he stood between the two ladies, clearly annoyed with Rin's persistence to ruin Tohru's relationship with Yuki.
Sighing in exasperation, Rin leaned into his face. “Blindly loyally to the rat as always. Haru, you saw, and I know for a fact that Akito gets more than just a passing hello from the—“
“And what does that prove, Rin?” asked the Ox of the Zodiac in a deep tone. Narrowing his gaze further, he continued in an even lower tone, “It means nothing more than what it is. Quit trying to see things that aren't there.”
Tohru finally tore her gaze away from the two arguing Jyuunishi, too distraught to look at them any longer. `A lie? Is that what Yuki-kun is to her…a liar? How can I explain it to her that she can trust him? True, we can't understand his motives or his actions, but that's just how he is with all of us…even with me. The only one that seems to understand him is Akito-san…' Admitting that even in her mind caused a great ache to grow within her heart, so much so that she mentally shook her mind of the dark thoughts for now. Yet, with the ache, she realized that the words she wanted to say were already spoken by another.
“Believe…in a lie?” asked Tohru quietly but loud enough to be heard by the other two who immediately stopped their conversation to turn and look at her. Still with her gaze to the ground, she pressed on, “No, I…I do not believe in a lie. I believe in Yuki-kun. I believe because I have hope. `To hope is to believe, even when you've been given every reason not to.' Those were Yuki-kun's words earlier…and I trust him. I do.”
She then looked squarely into Rin's eyes, seeing the turmoil found there despite her bold words. “You must have so many reasons not to trust his words. I know it is…difficult…not to be able to understand someone close to you. It seems that no matter how close they are to you, they still seem so far away. But is it really as hopeless as it seems? Can't you try…to reach out and hope, even though you don't understand?”
“Why are you so afraid to believe me? …afraid…to just hope?”
Tohru's words rang loud and clear in Rin's mind as she recalled yet once again the strained conversation she had with Yuki long ago. Afraid? Her? It was a notion she had balked at before…however, this time around she could only feel the cold creep into her bones as her inner self once again tried to reach out to that ray of hope that shone through the darkness that her life was bathed in.
`No! Not even for a moment. No matter how bad I want to... I can't fall for the deceit in this family…I won't!' With that stubborn thought, Rin turned on her heel and stomped off at a quick pace.
Tohru looked on in defeat, saddened that she couldn't even do one thing right all day long. `I'm no good to Yuki-kun or to his family…why did they ever put up with me?'
“Honda-san, don't worry. She just needs to let off a little steam,” consoled Haru calmly. Giving her a gentle pat on the back, he smiled softly and replied, “I do want to thank you, though, for being strong for our family's sake. Rin may not show it, but she was glad that you were here. (Whispers) You know, she does mean well. It's nothing against you personally…it's just tough being her. And she barely puts up with herself.”
Tohru smiled gratefully to the tall teen, relieved to know that neither he nor Rin bore ill will against her. “I'm glad that you were all able to come today, Hatsuharu-san. It must have been so hard to stay in such a large crowd.”
“Hm…we got good seats. It wasn't too bad except with the usher.” Frowning slightly on the vague memory, he shook his head of the passing thought and smiled widely. “Hey, I got to run to catch up with my fair lady before she really disappears. Congrats on your graduation.”
“Arigatou,” replied Tohru happily to the retreating guy. She then stopped short of waving him off when he quickly returned to her side.
Haru quietly remarked, “You know, it's good that you hold true to your beliefs. Don't give them up for anyone…not even for Akito. And…thanks…for believing in him.” Smiling fondly once more, Haru walked off in search of his runaway lady companion.
Staring at his back, Tohru nodded in agreement, resolved to keep his advice to heart. `That's right. I can't give up all that I know to be true…no matter the reasons people give me to believe otherwise. Not if it means to lose my trust in Yuki-kun…'
Shigure came to stand before her along with Hatori and laid a hand gently on her shoulder. Gazing at her softly, he asked, “Tohru-kun, are you okay? It seems that the `sun' in our family may have been a little too harsh on our delicate flower, wouldn't you say, Haa-san?”
“Oh, um…I'm okay, really! I'm just tired…it's been such a long day. But I'm so thrilled that you and everyone else came!” she exclaimed happily.
“Of course, my dear! Nor rain nor sleet nor bad karma would keep us away today to see you fulfill your mother's promise! You were also magnificent today with the family.” Turning to Hatori, Shigure strove to gain a reply from the silent doctor. “Come on, Haa-san, even you have to admit that our dear Tohru-kun held herself up pretty well with Akito-san, ne?”
Hatori coolly glowered at the writer, of which the writer merely grinned at. Not wanting to put Tohru under any more stress, he kindly gazed at her and replied, “Honda-kun, congratulations on a job well done with graduating with your class. But be proud for yourself as well…it takes great effort to do what you did.”
“Sure, sure, I was just about to point that out as well,” agreed Shigure readily. “Well, Tohru-kun, I did say before that you have guests to tend to, so please go right ahead and get going. Please don't detain your plans on account of little ol' me.”
“Hehe, not at all. I'm glad I got to talk with you before I left with my friends,” said Tohru with a wistful air. Bowing slightly to bid her leave, she turned away and walked to where the others were. She called out over her to them, “I'll be calling to let you know how my moving is coming along. I hope to have a welcome dinner with all of you in a couple of weeks!”
“We'll be there, don't you worry! I'll talk with you soon!” Sighing in slight fatigue, Shigure then glanced with a mild smirk at his companion. Seeing Hatori just as fatigued as he was, Shigure remarked, “Hm, looks like you went through the wringer. Come on, let's get these charges of ours back home and relax a bit, ne?”
Sighing heavily, Hatori turned in the same direction as Tohru, set on retrieving the remaining Jyuunishi youths, some of which were currently plaguing Kyo. He dryly remarked to the content inu, “I see you are a little more than `satisfied' with the eventful day we had.”
“Ho-hum is more like it. I didn't get to do much, but it was entertaining to see our dear Akito-san mingle with the family. I tell you, there's never a dull moment around her,” replied Shigure with a dry laugh. “I do wonder though what plan our dear has set up for Yuki-kun. To involve Aya of all people…she must have been desperate…”
Pausing for a moment in his stride, Hatori turned to the pondering writer and arched a brow high as he stared for a moment. Continuing in his walk, he asked wryly, “Is this jealousy I hear…to not be the one she goes to anymore?”
“For shame, Haa-san, after all our years of friendship, you would at least improve your tact.” Groaning loudly, Shigure ran his hand through his hair, pausing long enough to also pull out a cigarette. Lighting the nicotine drug, he remarked, “Truly, your bedside manner really reeks.”
“I don't hear complaints,” responded the doctor with a small grin. He stopped in his stride and turned to his old friend. “And you still haven't answered the question.”
Deeply inhaling his cigarette, he felt the soothing effects run its course in his veins, the edge on his nerves numbed to nothing. Shigure was never one to back down from a challenge or dare, such as he perceived Hatori's question to be. Yet he knew he couldn't divulge much information as to what really was going on. Such as it was, matters of great importance were developing rather rapidly, and he was finding it that he was not only fighting outside influences to keep these developments progressing.
`If only that were it. It would be so much easier if that were just the case…on my nerves anyway.' Clearing his throat, he inhaled deeply once again before replying quietly, “Well, we all must make sacrifices to get what we want. Even me…even me.”
Unsure as to the sudden somber attitude of his usually jovial friend, Hatori turned to the scene before him, seeing his younger charges interact with one another so comfortably without a hint of the tension that once permeated the air. Kyo now having a yelling match with Tohru's friend, Uo, while Tohru refereed with her other friends, Momiji and Hiro having a tug-of-war with the digicam (the darn thing was built to last) while Kisa refereed that match. Kagura and Ritsu were off in their own world, content with watching everyone else. Content to see all is well once more…
`Still…content is not what I feel, no matter how much I want to.' The knot that suddenly pervaded his heart twisted even more so, constricting his throat enough that regular breathing was difficult.
`Why? Why do I feel that somehow, some way all of this is being taken away from us bit by bit—and there is nothing I can do to change it?' Such a thought scared him so much that he resolutely shoved it away. Far away…so that whatever truth lies out there in the dark shadows stays out there…never to see the light of day.
`He knows. He may not realize it, but he does,' was Shigure's passing thought as he saw Hatori's fearful expression. Taking one last drag of his cigarette, he exhaled deeply, pensive with his own resolute thoughts. `To hide from what we fear…how pathetic our family truly has become. Not that it's our fault really. Still, you can't hide forever…we can't live like that anymore. And for that, the truth will come to light...I will see to it. I will.'
“Akito, it would be best to do this another time…”
I'm not going back home. So STOP pestering me, Kureno,” bit out Akito irately as she held her head in obvious pain. Gritting her teeth, she breathed in and out deeply, vainly trying to soothe her full-blown migraine.
Thus continued his ongoing debate with Akito, and so far, Kureno wasn't making any progress. The ride to their destination had basically consisted of him trying to convince the ailing clan head to change her current plans for another day. It was clearly evident that she was in no condition to wander about the city, but her stubbornness was a streak to be reckoned with.
`She's not making it any easier on herself by pushing her body beyond its limits.' Limits she had exceeded by far if her painful headache was any clue. He knew as of yesterday that it would take a great deal of strength on her part just to show up on this day. She had been having such a hard time getting any sleep with her latest bout of nightmares on top of the fact that still couldn't fight off her constant headaches (due to the lack of sleep or the nightmares themselves he wasn't sure anymore).
Yet, bright and early she was up before dawn. When he had arrived in her personal chambers to let her know that her breakfast was served, she was busily getting last minute details taken care of for her after-ceremony rendezvous with Yuki. Seeing her so determined to fulfill her tasks for the day actually gave him some piece of mind, knowing that she'll be fine so long as she took it easy.
`I will never learn…since when did she ever pay heed to my warnings or Hatori-niisan's for that matter?' Sighing inwardly, Kureno braced himself for his next round of persuasive tactics that were failing him miserably. “Akito, I only meant to say that it would probably be far more enjoyable for you if we could—“
“Enjoyable?!” she snarled as she glared at the timid bird. “Right now the only thing I'm finding that could possibly be even remotely related to that is if you SHUT UP! GODS, MY HEAD HURTS AND YOU DON'T KEEP QUIET!
Her loud outburst resounded inside the multi-passenger sedan. Breathing shallowly, she turned to glance across from her at Kureno's serene expression, clearly used to her sudden animated bursts of anger. She then glanced to the man next to him, seeing that Ayame was only slightly taken aback at her outburst but wisely kept silent. It was then that she realized that he wasn't necessarily looking at her but at the person next to her.
`Damn…does nothing go my way today?' Akito closed her eyes as she sighed heavily at this thought. Exasperated that she couldn't manage to keep herself in check as she had set out to do when she left the estate today, she sat back further in her corner of the seat, for once not seeking the close proximity of her favored person. She then brought both legs up to her chest and wrapped her slim arms around them, knees then cradling her head as she kept her eyes closed to the world that was bent on defying her carefully laid plans.
`First this wretched body keeps failing me, and then I couldn't even finish my business with that stupid girl because of that THING! I lost my control because of that filth's presence! To just lose it like that and get sick because of that THING?! How pathetic! I cannot be weak when I'm around that THING! I need to keep my control…I NEED IT. I WON'T LOSE IT.' The throbbing of her migraine was now making it hard for her to form any further coherent thoughts save one that was always at the back of her mind…
`I can't be weak…not around Yuki. I need to be strong. I can't have him see me as weak.' Clenching her hands into fists, she clenched her jaw as she silently vowed, `I will prevail. I am strong…no filth of humanity will break my control over myself. I am the head of this family…'god' to the Jyuunishi. And damn it all, I won't lose my control over something so petty as those two fools. They are nothing and unworthy of my attention. They will soon learn not to interfere with my personal affairs. I will see to it.'
The silence in the car was too loud, if that made any sense. Yuki could feel the stillness bear down on his body with no foreseeable way to lift it. He had known that it was only a matter of time before Akito would let out her frustrations fully. He waited patiently and quietly while sitting next to her, and certainly enough, she lashed out against Kureno after she insisted that he leave her be. As much as he inwardly flinched at the harsh words she dealt on the worried man, he was personally glad that she held out this long. If she had snapped before when all eyes were upon her, the situation would indeed have been very difficult to resolve.
Still, her lashing out now didn't lessen its impact on the occupants in this vehicle. Kureno immediately became subdued, but more out of respect to Akito's `insistence' to not be bothered than due to her unkind reprimands. Thankfully his older brother merely kept silent, however he honestly felt that there was a hint of a smile behind that placid expression on his brother's face.
`He's unbelievable. At a time like this, he's still taking this all with a grain of salt.' Sighing lightly, Yuki fully faced Akito's withdrawn body. He noted how she was still livid, but now too tired physically and in obvious pain to care anymore about what had set her off to begin with.
“Tired, in pain—she should go back home. I'm both, too, and home sounds really nice.' He saw how she slightly rocked herself with her arms wrapped around her drawn-up knees, stubbornly refusing to let her current condition beat her and ruin her plans, whatever they may be. He still didn't know what they were or where they were going, but it must be something important if Akito was resolved in carrying them out regardless of what state she was in.
`She shouldn't push herself so hard. How can she get any better if she keeps abusing herself this way? Plans can always wait or be changed altogether. She should—` He suddenly stopped in his thoughts and groaned inwardly at his current track of mind. Those words that he just thought sounded eerily familiar…
`And why shouldn't they? Whenever I was sick, they've been drilled into my head by Hatori for as long as I can remember.' As dire as the situation was, Yuki couldn't help but smile wryly at the circumstances they were in. He noticed how the other two young men in the car stared at him in confusion, no doubt wondering why he was smiling.
Fatigue, the dull ache left over from his own migraine, stress—all this and more was just a bit too much for him now. What else could he do but smile wider and silently laugh, all the while shaking his head in disbelief. Honestly, how could such a predictably perfect day turn out to be so horrid but then not overly so? Does that even make sense? Truthfully, he didn't know nor care now…besides, smiling and lightly laughing relieved the stress in his mind and body, if only a little.
`So…I'm turning into Hatori. (Mentally laughs at this.) That's actually rather sad…hm…considering that I never liked the way he tries to control my life whenever I'm ill. Heh, but I can't blame him. He does mean well, just like Kureno does with me and Akito—even if they do get carried away at times. Still, I can't blame Akito either…because quite honestly I would be doing the same thing. Just not biting peoples' heads off.'
Breathing in deeply and closing his eyes momentarily, Yuki gave a bright smile to the two bewildered men before him (although he could have sworn that he saw his brother hide a knowing smirk) and turned his body around to reach out to Akito. Exhaling inaudibly, he reached out with his right hand and nudged her shoulder slightly. When he saw her weary eyes snap open to attention, he kindly smiled, which of course caught her by surprise.
“Akito, if your head hurt so much, why did you not mention it before?” asked Yuki softly.
Seeing him reach out to her as if he actually cared was so unexpected that Akito was at a loss for words. She blinked her eyes repeatedly, earnestly trying to determine if what she saw and felt were not some twisted delusion of her pained mind. Seeing the picture before her remain and Yuki's hand still on her shoulder, she recalled his question and tried to focus on an answer that would make her seem stronger than she felt.
“I…it will be fine. My headache is already passing.” To prove her point, she stuck out her chin in defiance of her invisible foe, not willing to outwardly relent to the constant ache. She may still not have budged her body from its position, but she'll be damned if her face gave anything that could be perceived as pitiable. She already felt pathetic, no need to go advertising it or openly admit it for that matter, especially not to Yuki.
`God, this is really weird. It's like I'm hearing myself when it's me being lectured by Hatori. (Sigh) Well, I know what I don't want to hear when I'm like this…' He pulled his hand away and slid over until he was sitting right next to her. He casually settled himself comfortably as he crossed his arms across his abdomen.
Sighing lightly, he closed his eyes and quietly continued, “I see. Headaches do come and go. It's good to see that your headache is passing.” Opening his eyes, he gazed at the quiet man across from him and asked, “Kureno, how long `til we get to where we're going?”
Such a casual question amidst the odd circumstances, but that was not what had caught Kureno's attention. No, it wasn't the remark but the look in the teen's eyes that had him rather taken aback somewhat. He knew that Yuki was well aware of his position of insisting that Akito be taken back to the estate. Yet, those eyes clearly spoke loudly what his words basically implied.
`I can see why he's asking me this and not her. He's letting me know that we're not going to the estate just yet.' Noting that Yuki's eyes conveyed clearly that there was no use in arguing the point any further, the Bird of the Zodiac yielded under the gaze of the Rat.
“Twenty minutes. Traffic is a little heavy in the area we're heading to,” finally responded Kureno.
Smiling thankfully at him, Yuki said, “Good. That is very good to hear.”
Confused, wary, confused some more. Was it her imagination or did Yuki just stuck up for her? Akito saw the small interaction between the two Sohma males to determine what was going on. And it gave her immense pleasure to see how well Yuki executed his authority over his fellow Jyuunishi member. She always perceived Kureno to be someone you needed to handle gently, but she could never manage that when she was under a lot of strain.
`I am very pleased. Yuki did well with handling Kureno, and Kureno did well in obeying without question. This is coming along very well with my arrangements…' Satisfied that the entire world is not completely against her on this day, she pondered momentarily on the fact that arrangements indeed had been made and are still being worked out to her favor.
Gazing at Yuki with an unreadable expression, she loosened her hold on her knees and sat up instead of being hunched over her knees. She then leaned onto Yuki's right shoulder and settled herself there, wrapping her arms around his right arm. Content with finally being able to breathe in his scent, she snuggled closer and tightened her hold on his arm, somewhat in doubt that he may want to push her away since they were in front of the other two in the car (not like she cared). He didn't, and so she sighed heavily and stared listlessly out the car window along with Yuki. But whereas his mind is somewhat clear but fatigued, she had one thought drifting along in her mind.
`Arrangements…when it all ends, that's all I'll leave behind.'
“Ano, shouldn't we have hard hats?” asked Yuki bewildered.
“Nonsense, mon cheri,” admonished Ayame as he stood proudly next to him. Breathing in deeply, he commented with a wide grin on his face, “My, that lovely smell of plaster and paint along with that fresh wood smell really can overload your olfactory system. Aaah…so, who's ready to pass out?”
“Ayame-niisan, they worked on those two things just yesterday. It's still rather fresh I'm afraid.” Gazing back at Akito, Kureno worried that the smell would only intensify her migraine. If it did, she gave no outward expression of it as she walked around calmly, inspecting the area around her carefully. Just the same, he'll have to remove her from there lest she falls seriously ill again, something that Hatori would surely blame him for not preventing it. Steeling himself for the certain storm she'll inflict on him when he approached her on this, he abruptly stopped when someone else diverted her attention.
“Akito, do come this way. I have the perfect thing just for you,” replied Ayame merrily as he swept her away in a different direction from where they were headed. Well, not actually `sweep', but he did it very well with little resistance on her part.
Sighing in defeat, Kureno turned back to his current charge and saw how Yuki marveled at the sheer size of the area they were in. Clearing his throat, he quietly asked, “Ne, Yuki, you're not too bothered by the fresh fumes?”
“I'm managing fine,” was Yuki's distracted remark as he gazed hard at the immense hall they were in. Or was it a reception area? No matter, it was very grand, despite the fact that it wasn't finished.
Yuki did wonder what this place was when they drove up to it. The location was a bit secluded from the hubbub of the city (trademark Sohma feature) so it actually took a while to get here. And when he actually got out of their vehicle, all he saw was a very large piece of property amidst the forest with signs clearly indicating that it was under construction.
Regardless of this minor detail, he could plainly make out that this whole building was exquisite in its detailing and grandeur. Not too much, not too little, just enough. Many of the details that were to be considered as part of the design of the structure were either hidden under protective tarp or under plastic wrappings, so he couldn't really tell what they were. All this undoubtedly indicated that this entire property belonged to the Sohmas. No real surprise there.
`I guess Akito wanted to look at this place before we head back to the estate. Everything done by the family must always have her blessing after all.' Coughing slightly, Yuki breathed carefully so as not to breathe in too much of the fumes in the air.
“Why don't we walk over there, Yuki?” pointed Kureno to a hallway winding away to a bright room at the end of it. “The paint and plaster was done only in this area. That room down there is actually well ventilated and has a very nice view. Come.”
Watching them leave to go to the other room, Akito serenely stood next to Ayame who was busy rummaging through his bag that he had left there early that morning.
“Hm, where is it? Aha! Here it is!” called out Ayame as he held up a large thermos in victory. “Now, this is a special blend I made. I'm sure it'll relax those knots in your shoulders.”
Arching her brow as she narrowed her gaze on the man before her, Akito icily replied, “What knots? I have none.”
“Here…careful it's hot,” he warned as he handed her a ceramic cup full of his tea (having his tea in a plastic cup would be insulting). Quickly serving himself, he sighed in relief. “Mmm. That hits the spot, ne?”
Feeling that she was slighted since he didn't answer her question, she was ready to just let him have it when he suddenly gasped in shock. Startled by his reaction, she settled back once more, assuring herself that he just realized his mistake.
“I almost forgot. How unkind of me! Such deplorable manners I've managed to acquire! Tsk, tsk this just won't do. Mou, this must be remedied by the grandest of means.” Nodding in acceptance of his `self-scolding', Ayame turned to Akito who stared at him in expectation.
Yet, what she was expecting was not what he did next. He set his cup down next to the thermos, and when he faced her again, he gave her a dazzling smile.
Confusion evident in her eyes along with a heavy trace of impatience, she stood there waiting for his answer to her earlier question. `Why is he smiling like an idiot? He's trying my patience with his foolish grin and—`
She never did finish her train of thought. How could she when all the blood seemingly rushed to her head when she saw and felt Ayame lean in to softly kiss her cheek. Whether it was out of rage or shock or whatever, her head was pounding with this sudden rush, the migraine all but forgotten.
Truthfully, and no amount of persuasion from anyone will ever make her confess this, she was struck speechless for the first time in her life. Even her mental processes were all stuck in mid-motion when he carried out his action. Even so, one question did manage to isolate itself clearly from the murky mire that invaded her mind.
`Why? Is he MOCKING ME? WHY?' Staring incredulously at the male Jyuunishi, she was about to voice these thoughts out loud (very loudly), when he smiled brightly once more and gently tapped her nose with one delicate finger. She honestly felt that her eyes couldn't get any wider as she inwardly raged at his audacity. `HOW DARE HE?! HOW DA—`
“Thank you. Thank you so much, Akito,” Ayame quietly whispered as he gazed seriously into her eyes.
Relaxing her hard grip on her cup, Akito felt the tension from her anger dissipate at his rather out-of-the-blue remark. Annoyed that she couldn't follow his flow of thinking, she asked in exasperation, “For what?”
“For being you,” he replied serenely. Sighing heavily, he took his cup of tea once more and sipped it calmly. Looking back at her, he smiled tiredly as he continued, “I wish I could have been the one to finally put her in her place. Still, I'm glad that you were there. The situation did require a…firm hand.” He then quietly whispers, “Yuki didn't deserve to be treated that way by that woman. Hm, if you ask me, she should have gotten it worse.”
Setting his cup down once more, he filled two other cups with his tea. He winked at her and smiled widely once more as he softly remarked, “Just don't tell Yuki I said that.”
“Akito, are you ready to proceed?” asked Kureno demurely as he approached the quiet pair with Yuki in tow.
“But of course we are, Kureno-kun. Here, this is for you and this other one is for you, my sweet!” Giving Kureno and Yuki their tea cups, Ayame clapped his hands together in apparent joy as he slid over to Kureno's side. Grasping his arm, Ayame pulled him along. “Come, Kureno-kun, let's take the lead! I'm just too excited to see what's behind those doors. Come, come, don't dawdle.”
Watching his brother drag a helpless Kureno to the doors further beyond, Yuki couldn't help but be thankful that it wasn't him in his brother's tight grip. Turning his attention to Akito, he noted that she stood still with her teacup held in both hands, staring listlessly at its contents.
“Akito, are you okay?” asked Yuki, concerned that maybe she had suddenly become sick with the fumes in the air.
She was trying very hard to remember. To recall a moment in time. To grasp at any memory that could have remotely resembled to what she had just heard from the Snake. When she came up empty-handed, she frowned slightly at the thought that was passing through her mind which she quickly dismissed as she shook herself from her reverie.
“Well enough, I suppose. What do you think of this place, Yuki? Think this edifice will stand to par with the other Sohma facilities we've constructed?” questioned Akito while walking ahead to follow the other two Sohmas that had gone through the doors.
Keeping his pace equal to her own, he pondered momentarily on the questions asked before responding. “It's not styled in the modern sense like the other buildings. There's a lot of natural scenery that lends its own decorative touch. It's pretty exquisite. I don't think any building will have the same ambience as this one will.”
“So…you find it…appealing?” she asked with an expectant gaze set on him while pausing in her step at the doorway.
Stopping in his stride, he looked away from the half-done décor to stare back at his companion, wondering vaguely why she looked for his approval. Shrugging the thought aside, he replied serenely, “Sure. At least, to me it is. Heh, Nii-san would say that the building will turn heads…”
Allowing a small smile to grace her face, she grasped his arm and pulled him inside the darker room just on the other side of the doorway. “Well, once this building is completed, it'll do more than just turn heads…”
Her words echoed along with their footsteps as they walked further into the massive room. And as he continued walking, he couldn't help but stare in awe at the ceilings high above him. Yet what truly grasped his attention was what lay before him, all around him. He stopped in his pace to just simply stare at everything that was all around him. It was only then that he was finally realizing what this all was.
“No other concert hall has ever been built quite like this, I assure you,” she resolutely affirmed. “And it'll be more than that as well. But you'll just have to wait to see your gift in all its glory on opening day. I'm planning it for sometime in the fall…”
If the concert hall itself wasn't breathtaking, even with all the construction debris littered everywhere, her words were. They literally sucked the breath out of him as he gave more consideration to her words.
“Gift? You…you're giving me…this place…as a gift?” he stammered in shock.
“Well, don't look so surprised, Yuki,” admonished Akito as she pulled him along down the aisle they were walking. “You did graduate. Why wouldn't I give you a gift? Besides, whenever you're ready to perform in front of a large audience, you will have this place at your disposal. I think that's a nice arrangement, don't you?”
“Akito,” he called out to her as he stopped in his stride, effectively halting her from going further down the aisle. Rubbing his arms absently, he struggled to articulate the words that expressed his overwhelmed mind. “This is…I…I don't understand why you're doing this. I…you're giving me a building…concert hall or whatever. I don't know how a concert hall works. I…I don't…I'm not even sure if my playing will be any good to anybody. This gift is just…too much…for someone like me. I wouldn't…I…”
His voice trailed off as he turned away from her, his thoughts in turmoil as he vainly tried to put them in some logical order. Why? It always comes back to that question with her. The answer had always eluded him, but now he wanted to know the answer. After so many months of the constant doubt…no, not months, years. To doubt her motives then and now…her seemingly good intentions…to doubt…
`I'm just so tired of having to push it away. To have the doubt always there behind every single word she breathes. I'm just so sick of doubting. I don't want to doubt anymore.' He wants her answer now. An answer that could irrevocably change the way their relationship had been developing up until then…for better or for worse, he wasn't sure. Could he risk losing the barely tangible peace that has sprung between them by insisting on an answer from her? Would she even answer him honestly?
`Akito's no liar…if she believes it to be true, she will voice it, whether anyone agrees with her truth or not. Still, can I even take a chance to hear the truth from her? (Sighs heavily.) To be afraid of the answer would be to always doubt…' He turned to her abruptly, held himself at his full height, and looked straight into her eyes. And he finally asked…
Akito had wanted to just snap him out of his sudden reverie. He simply stood there with his back to her. That irked her some, but not enough to bother her. What did bother her was his silence. He was a quiet person by nature, but this silence was deafening. He was obviously upset, but she doubted it was due to the nature of her gift.
Okay, maybe giving him a large piece of property was a bit overwhelming for someone who barely owned a pair of roller-skates and whatever personal belongings he has at Shigure's home, despite the large trust fund he himself was bestowed with at the time of his birth. The family's had this entire project in the making for quite a number of years, and it was only recently that they were inquiring as to who this property would belong to ultimately. As clan head her word is final, so she gave her directive to them, and now she was informing the new owner of said arrangement.
`Is it perhaps the fact that because I'm the one giving it to him is what's upsetting him?' Feeling anger creep up on her at the mere thought that he was rejecting her and/or her gift, she clenched her hand into a tight fist. Then she felt the anger give way to something even more unsettling…disappointment. And that disturbed her even more.
Sighing heavily she leaned against the chair behind her that was under a heavy plastic tarp. Staring at his back, she was about to call out to him and basically demand what's the matter when he suddenly turned and asked her the one question she didn't have a clear answer for. She was stunned and made no indication that she even heard the question, thus he repeated himself.
“Akito, why? Can you please just answer that? I need to know.” Yuki kept his gaze on her bewildered expression, her eyes searching through his own as if she didn't understand the question. The he finally saw it…the dawning of realization finally settled in her eyes. She immediately closed herself off as her face became unreadable once again.
`Why? And he wants an answer now, of all times?' Sighing inwardly, she debated on giving him an answer. She honestly didn't want to give him answer, but that soon changed when he refused to look away. He just stood there…waiting…and…
“Strange…” she quietly commented offhandedly as she reached out to caress his face with one hand, gently tracing the fading remnants of his injury. “The fear…the doubt…it's all there. Yet you still find it in you to hope that I would give you an answer. Mmm…an answer you're not sure you want to hear. Hm…”
Once again she did the unthinkable. She looked away. As she turned away from him, she rubbed away the knot that was in her shoulder and phrased her next words carefully. “You said `to hope is to believe, even when you've been given every reason not to.' Well, I suppose you could say that I've given you every good reason to not believe a word I say or believe anything that I do. So, I don't expect you to understand the `why' of all that I am or all that I do then and now…I barely understand it myself.”
Turning back to face him squarely, she walked up to him until she stood mere inches from him. And suddenly she brightly smiled and embraced him warmly. “I don't need you to understand. Just take it for what it is…a gift from me to you. Believe me if you will.”
Disbelief…yes, that's certainly a word that aptly described Yuki at the moment. After all the mental debates he went through to understand why she was they way she was and why she did what she did, it all came boiling down to one truth. And he finally had the courage to ask what that was, and she answered it…sort of. Apparently the whole truth was something that evaded even her, and so she had opted not to answer it fully.
`She's right…I don't understand her answer. But did I ever expect otherwise? Hm, I guess not.' Standing there in her embrace, and he recalled all the times he had been worried out of his mind of the final outcome of hearing her answer…
`The future of our reality is seldom as bad as the future of our fears. How true those words are…I asked, and I'm still in one piece.' After all that worrying, all those headaches…all the stress… It was no wonder that he started to laugh lightly at the absurdity of it all. He must have startled Akito because she immediately broke away from him and stared at him as if he lost his mind which only made him laugh a little louder.
“I'm…I'm sorry. Hehe, I'm not mocking you or anything. I'm just…heheh…I'm laughing at me.” Rubbing the back of his neck absent-mindedly, he pulled himself together somewhat before settling down. Tiredly smiling down at her, he sighed and nodded only once to her before walking back down the aisle, mindful of the debris that was in the way. Pausing in his stride, he turned his head to her as he remarked, “I'm…I'm not well versed on how you run a place like this. How am I going to do this?”
`Unbelievable…he's actually choosing to believe…to hope…' Shaking her head as if lecturing a child, she replied, “You don't do anything other than meet on a monthly basis with the couple that will be administrating this place for you. They will manage the regular day-to-day affairs of running this facility and meet with the board on a regular basis on your behalf. Your decision is final, and if you have any questions or problems, Kureno and myself are always available.”
“Oh. That sounds…perfectly well laid out,” he responded in understanding. Frowning slightly, he asked, “So…who will be the managing couple? Are they new…?”
“You've met them already,” she went on as she once again grasped his arm and led him down further towards the stage that loomed ahead of them. “Yamagi-san and Keiko-san are excellent caretakers of the other property where the family's heirlooms are kept. Kureno has already spoken to them on this matter. But enough of that…we'll discuss all the details later. Come along, I would like to sit down.”
Finally reaching the first row of chairs, Yuki now took a look at the concert hall from this vantage point. Even with all the unfinished surfaces and plastic tarps, he could see how beautifully exquisite this structure will be (fall can never come soon enough). And to think that this all belonged to him…
`Yes, I have a building. And here I thought gift monies were hard to accept. Still…she got me a gift. I frankly was never expecting one from her. And here I am, standing in it…and I can't bring myself to not like it. I do…I really do like my gift.' Smiling softly at these passing thoughts, he finally sipped his now cold tea and turned around to take a closer look at the stage. His eyes widened at finally realizing that the piano he played at his brother's shop was up there. He couldn't help but whirl around to ask his brother why it was up there, but before he could ask, his brother beat him to it.
“Oh, well, we couldn't move the one at the main estate. That would have been sacrilegious to the Sohma propriety…it's a priceless antique after all,” explained Ayame matter-of-factly. With a flourish, he settled down on a seat that was behind Akito's and Kureno's seats, careful to keep the dusty tarps at bay. Tucking a stray strand of hair behind his ear, he sipped his cup of tea before proceeding, “So, Kureno-kun just happened to remember that you mentioned that you played at my shop on the piano there. And here I thought you never talked about our sessions together as loving brothers…”
“Nii-san…” bit out Yuki in warning. He could already sense that Ayame was straying from the main point of the conversation, and in hopes of avoiding pointless explanations from him, he intervened quickly. “Could you just answer in plain, simple, but not too simple, words why it's up there to begin with?”
“Pff, we're back to that again?” his brother asked with a pout. Setting his cup down, he ran his hand through his bangs once more as he thought hard, very hard. Tilting his head to the side, he tapped his chin slightly in serious contemplation. “Well…”
“Never mind, it's okay,” butt in Yuki quickly before his impatience snapped.
“I had asked Ayame-niisan to arrange for it to be brought here, Yuki,” explained Kureno.
“Eh? But why?” wondered Yuki out loud.
“Because I want to hear you play here,” quietly interjected Akito who was by now sitting down in her seat with knees drawn up to her chest as her arms wrapped around them. Keeping her head tilted back, her eyes closed to the world, she sighed heavily once again to soothe away the dull ache her migraine had left behind.
Opening her eyes, she tilted her face to stare at him with a slight grin in place. “You do play well, Yuki. I would not say that if it weren't true. If anyone says otherwise, they are simply stupid fools.” Curling up in her seat further, she closed her eyes once more, fatigue from the strenuous day finally settling in.
Both Kureno and Ayame turned to Yuki expectantly which Yuki noticed. Breathing in deeply, he sighed inaudibly as he quickly made his way to the piano, which was rather complicated since he couldn't find the stairs.
`Man, it must have been a hassle to get the piano up there.' Finally locating the makeshift steps, he walked briskly to the instrument and surveyed it for any damage that may have occurred in transit.
Confident that the piano was perfectly tuned, he glanced to see what his small audience would suggest that he play for them. No one gave any indication as the two male members down there merely smiled back at him waiting for him to just play whatever.
He then turned his attention to Akito who was still curled up in her seat but now was staring at him, chin propped up on her knees. `She looks so exhausted, not that she'd ever admit it. Looks like her migraine along with everything else has sapped her of all her energy. She certainly goes out of her way to do what she wants to do…not that I'm one to talk.'
Turning to the keys in front of him, he closed his eyes as he felt the melody in his mind and heart come through his arms, then hands, then fingers. Slowly the melody came to life in the notes that could now be heard from the piano. Truly the hall was well built and laid out so that the acoustics of the simple notes from the piano were heard throughout. Swiftly the sound filtered through the grand hall, its distinct and soothing timbre felt in the hearts and minds of the small audience below.
`It's beautiful. Akito was not exaggerating when she said that he played beautifully. I wonder why he ever thought that he didn't play well.' Shrugging the thought away, he glanced sideways to see that the clan head indeed was mesmerized with the calming and melancholy melody that Yuki was playing. He could literally see the kinks and knots (yes, Ayame was correct) being smoothed out from her tense form. He had no doubts that she'll have no trouble sleeping tonight…she was practically dozing off in her seat. She was terribly tired…
`At least for now she has some peace of mind. She's had so little of it as of late.' Gazing back at his charge up on stage, he smiled serenely and sincerely hoped that the best was still to come for both Yuki and Akito. `Their lives have been wrought with such misery and hopelessness. It's time they be given some measure of peace between them, even if there are some obstacles to overcome. And I'll be there for them should they need me…to serve them with all that I am.'
Ayame was glad that he sat here, behind everyone. It allowed him to survey everything in front of him, to see the serene expression of Kureno, to see Akito's relaxed pose, to see Yuki play the piano with a finesse not found in even the greatest pianists in the world (well, at least in his opinion). He settled back in his seat further, sighing deeply as he allowed the simple but compelling melody to seep into his very being. He could never get enough of hearing his younger brother play.
`What an odd family I'm mixed up in. Odd, but still good—Yuki & Akito sure do fit the bill with that phrase.' Turning pensive, he stuck his hand into his pocket and stared at the object in his hand. Glancing up to see the peaceful expression on his younger brother's face, he once more stared at the small object and became saddened.
`He must be so disappointed to not have given this present to her. After all our plans…after hoping for so much…' Being present during that great moment in his brother's life—the moment a man gives his fair lady a beautiful gift—was something of a treat for him to witness…after all, this was his only brother. He hid well so that Yuki didn't catch him `coincidentally' in the same vicinity. That would have been a painful encounter.
Still, instead of the rosy scene he was expecting, he came upon a very distressing moment. So distraught was his precious brother that he threw away the partially broken gift. `Partially' being the key word because the main gift was now in his hands. Yes, he salvaged the one thing that wasn't damaged, and he vowed to make it up to Yuki.
`And I will…you'll see, my very dear brother,' he declared silently as the soothing melody was slowly coming to an end.
Yuki continued playing to his heart's content, oblivious to the varying degree of thoughts that pervaded the minds of his audience. He was much too consumed in relaying the melody he felt that best suited the ambience. He couldn't help but feel surprisingly free, much like the melody he chose to play. It carried a tone of hope that he could only pray that would reach the one person he was actually playing this for.
`I believe in my hope. It's carried me this far and has not failed me. It's hard, though…so hard to hold onto. But for Akito, she has no hope…she was never given any to begin with. All she was given to look forward to was our loyalty and her ultimate death for the family. And what hope could she find in that? That our loyalty be unequivocal, that her death be quick and painless?' Closing his eyes to these depressing thoughts, he knew that what little hope she did have in these matters were now mere embers of what they once were many years ago…such is `god's' fate.
`Fact is our loyalty is not indisputable—not completely. There's always the doubt… Then there's her imminent death…quick and painless? Hardly. You can see it in her eyes…well, at least I can. All the pain…the loneliness…the hopelessness… Hmph, strange that I can now see that after letting go of my doubt.' Opening his eyes once again to the keys in front of him, he breathed in deeply as he came close to finishing his piece. Glancing sideways to the female currently occupying his thoughts, he noted that she was exactly as he had expected she would be…content, at peace with herself…if only for the moment.
`It's so lacking…what I do is painfully inadequate. Still, what hope can I offer her if not through my playing? She asks nothing else from me.' As the final notes left his fingers, he contemplated further on the matter before coming to a resolution that would irrevocably alter their relationship.
`Tohru-san had fanned the embers of hope within me long ago. She showed me how possible it was to bring oneself out of the darkness and into the bright light of hope's grace. It is only right that I do the same for one who cannot help herself. It will be harder…much harder…but I have faith that my hope will carry me through, no matter the odds.'
Finishing the piece, he turned to Akito and for the first time in many years, smiled compassionately in her direction. `Just maybe…perhaps…my hope will become her own. And with that, we will all truly be free…'
To alter the relationship for better or worse…time will tell. Time that, unbeknownst to Yuki, was quickly dwindling away…
Final Respects to this Segment (09-09-05):
FINALLY!!! Tears of utter joy from me to you, dear readers! Thank you so much for hanging in there with me with this last chapter for the `spring' segment. Wasn't easy to do, but you have all been so patient and wonderful with me.
I knew many would be worried for our sick nezumi, but alas, the main focus of the story is not on that. Like I said, it's a background type of thing…a way to support the main development of the story. And the story is still moving forward, and with that, more light will be shed on this matter. So I'm sorry if many are worried about this…I didn't think it'd generate this much concern. But I'm glad because it shows you care about our dear Yuki so much!
Okay, I'm keeping this area short and to the point because I'm dead tired and half-asleep. So, moving on, this story really had some momentum going for it. Hopefully it was all good in the end…you be the judge.
I spent a good portion of my weekends on certain parts of this chapter, most recently on the Akito/Yuki interaction. This was particularly important due to the fact that this was basically how Yuki was moving forward in his developing relationship with Akito. It was very tough to put that interaction together—here's praying that it came off fine.
Musical moments…plenty! Well, I liked the “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve and the main idea behind the song—I listened to it while I was in the last chapter and portions of the beginning of this chapter. For Yuki/Tohru's and Yuki/Akito's subtle interactions (mainly from Yuki's POV), I listened to both “The River” by Garth Brooks and “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson, once again. The meaning in their lyrics struck true for their interactions, particularly between Yuki and Akito. This resolve on Yuki's part is a vital point in Yuki's life because he was moving forward without looking back and along for the ride is Akito. Hm, what am I planning here? Oh, the mystery!
Last musical suggestion would be “My Father's Favorite” by Patrick Doyle that was played in the movie Sense and Sensibility—it was the tune Kate Winslet played in the very beginning with Emma Thompson looking on. I liked it a lot for this portion towards the very end with Yuki at the piano. There's sample snippets of what it sounds like up in or It's serene, beautiful, simple…just like our dear Yuki!
Mistic Fox: Thank you for taking the time to read my rather long fic! It's no easy feat to follow me in this wild adventure of mine so thank you so much for supporting me! I love tormenting my Yuki, can't you tell? I'm a very naughty kitty!
Souma Yukino: Wow, thanks so, so, so much for your kind words. They struck true with what I'm trying to accomplish through this fic. I want to make this fic `real' to my audience in the sense that this could very well happen, all their sorrows and hopes through life's trials. We can all relate, and so I hope you will continue to enjoy it with that in mind. There's more to come for our daring trio, promise!
S.B. Kisses: Put those Jyuunishi together in any social event is never a good idea…Hatori will need more than a puff to get through this! I personally think he'll hit the bottle! Thank you for the nice thoughts on the Megumi/Yuki scene. I'm glad it did flow well for you. Through chapters to come, this scene will be explained. Thank you for hanging in there still…I think I will have my margaritas after this!
Coiling Death: Kazuma/Hana…that is disturbing! Heheh, I can only hope that I conveyed the same sense of lunacy that was shown in the manga. Kyo's reaction was priceless! Our dear Akito certainly isn't letting Tohru get away with just advice. What's in store? Who knows…we'll see in the next two segments!
Dark Inu Fan: Yep, my chaps have become longer as I am ending this segment. It just worked out that way unfortunately. Did it drag for you? That's my main concern when putting out these long chaps. I try splitting them up when it's possible, and other times I just bite the bullet. If I did have Tohru reply to Akito's remark as you stated, it would definitely have lead to a different outcome altogether, which I'm not ready to introduce at this stage of the storyline. Besides, predictability is what I'm trying to stay away from, so I avoided the part that Tohru would voice something on this regard. Let's just say that it was a loose thread that I'll stitch back into the story later on. Hope I can have you there when I do! I do appreciate your time and effort to read through my chapters…it really means a lot to me. Thank you!
Zone-Out: Yeah, the Sohma family can be rather interesting when they're together. Never a dull moment with them! But it's oh so tough to put together! I'm glad you liked! The Megumi/Yuki scene was meant to stand out, yet blend in at the same time—if that makes any sense. As I told my other reviewer, the clarification will come in time. All that I ask is that you keep this little tidbit of info tucked away. All will be explained in the future segments of SOS. Cookies? Hm, I think I gave away many in this chapter!
Ah…I'm beat and tired. I can barely read the words on my screen. If I'm a little off on the grammar/usage/spelling, blame it all on fatigue. I'm just so TIRED! I'm gonna need some time to myself to gather my wits once more.
I can't believe it…this is it for the spring segment. I DID IT! Let's PARTY! Break out the drinks…nonalcoholic, of course! Can't be promoting underage drinking now can I? I'm so glad I finally pulled this off. It was a nightmare, but hey, it came out to just how I had arranged it to be after many hours of tweaking.
Let me say thank you…thank you…thank you! To all my readers and reviewers and email buddies…your words always encouraged me to move forward. And as I take the brief break from this fic as mentioned before, I hope that you will still continue to nurture this crazy author with your kind words. They do mean so much to me.
I will have SOS in hiatus, but also under a revision plan. It's actually more like a cleanup process with using an actual editor instead of my old, dried up eyes. Miya-chan is my cherished editor, and my chapters will have their revisions made according to her kind editing. Oh, how I do appreciate this! Thank you, Miya!
I will also be working on my romantic/drama/angst fic with Kagura/Ritsu. This will be interesting to see how far it goes…I'm planning it to be a multi-chapter one-shot. We'll see how it comes along.
Well, I'm done for the night…er, morning. I hope to hear your thoughts, critiques, pearls of wisdom, etc. Feel free to share them with me…I'll be checking the review bin frequently! Take care everyone!
Until we meet again…in Summer! Ja ne!