Fruits Basket Fan Fiction ❯ Seasons of Sorrow ❯ Embers of Summer's Glory = Power Struggles ( Chapter 45 )

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

DISCLAIMER: Thanks to Takaya-sensei for being creative and giving us Furuba world!
Special Note: Another lengthy chapter ahead but not as much as others. Good enough warning…read on!
Embers of Summer's Glory
Chapter 45: Power Struggles
“Of all the parts of the Japanese sword, the tsuba, otherwise known as the hand guard, is ranked second in importance to the overall blade due to its purpose of protecting the hand of the user.”
“Shishou-san, does it look better from this angle or should I lift it a little higher?”
“Definitely higher, Tohru-kun, ne, Kazuma-san?”
“Kazuma, I think we can move this statue over here where it will sort of `welcome' the visitors as they step off the elevator. What do you think?”
“Usually of two main categories, the tsubaare generally made of plain iron with a cut-out or silhouette design, known as the sukashi-tsubaor they can be made of a soft metal known as kinkowork. Both varieties come in gold, copper, silver, or regular iron, most being skillfully crafted and given special designs derived from religious affiliations, nature, legends, or the family crest, commonly called the mon.”
“Ah, yes, please Kunimitsu, have the statue facing the elevator. I'm sure it'll make an impact upon the visitor's entry to the exhibit floor. Tohru-kun, why don't you and Momiji leave that tapestry there for now until I can pull Kyo away from his reading to help you both out?”
“Hehe, I never figured Kyo to be stuck inside a book,” remarked Momiji merrily while taking out another item from the crate next to them.
“Kyo-kun…” called out Tohru yet again, wondering what was so interesting about the book red-headed young man bought at the gift shop downstairs.
`Hm…the traditional katana, wakizashi…the daisho set…they have to be handled with the cutting edge up…' Shaking his head, Kyo couldn't pay any mind to the conversations surrounding him. The book was just that good of a read… `Man, lots of history on these old swords. I wonder if Oyaji knows something more about them. Heh, I'm gonna quiz that old man with what's in this book…see how smart the old coot is…'
“Hey, Shishou, did you know that back in the old days they tested the power and sharpness of a sword by using it on an actual dead body or maybe even on a criminal? That's wild!” quipped Kyo as he continued to skim the book further for more juicy details. “Hey, it says here that these swords could cut through armor…even dismember bodies! Is that for real, Shishou?”
“Wow, let me read your book when you're done, Kyo!” replied Momiji excitedly.
“Eh…that's very…interesting, Kyo-kun,” stated Tohru, mentally repulsed at her mind's image of what Kyo had said. Tossing the image out, she replaced it with their current task of finishing the arrangements of this exhibit on the sixth floor. “Kyo-kun, would you mind helping us with this tapestry for the wall?”
“Uh, sure, yeah…sorry.” Setting his book to the side, he went up to her to grasp the heavy tapestry from her. “Where do you want it?”
`Heh, I should have asked her to get his attention sooner. It would have saved me from calling out to him so often with no results.' Smiling widely at the duo putting up the latest addition to the floor, Kazuma looked around at the work they've accomplished. It was a far cry from how sparsely decorated the floor had been. He was very pleased with the progress they had made today. It was a Saturday, typically a day of rest for him, sort of. He usually dealt with business that was related to his dojo on this day since during the week he'd be too busy instructing his students for the most part. Alas, paperwork mounted sky-high by the time Saturday rolled around, but he managed well with Kunimitsu's help.
Today, however, was different. He had a mission to fulfill, handed down to him by none other than his grandfather. Master Haji had to tend to another meeting, and so, left the task of finishing the arrangements on this exhibit floor to him. Naturally, reliable help was immediately recruited, and for Kyo's part, it was unwilling.
`Kyo really didn't want to spend his day of free time to practice on his own inside a building. It's good to have Tohru-kun on my side; she's so willing to help. It was a shame I couldn't get Yuki or Hatsuharu to come. Hatsuharu had wandered off somewhere, and Yuki was already gone by the time I called earlier today. Kyo wasn't even sure where he went…he did mention that Yuki was still half-asleep and mumbling something about a broken clock lens. He must have been still dreaming…'
“So, Tohru-kun, how is your technique improving? Practicing by yourself must be of a setback without Kyo there to guide you,” remarked Kazuma as he helped Kunimitsu with moving the armored samurai statue to its new position in front of the elevators.
“Oh, that's fine. I wouldn't want to take up Kyo-kun's time away from his practice for the tournament. He left me very simple instructions to go by while practicing on my own, and Kagura-san has helped me from time to time.” Directing both Kyo and Momiji to hang the wall covering at a particular angle, she turned to Kazuma and asked, “Shishou-san, will we be handling the displays already inside the casings?”
“No, those were already arranged by Haji-ojiisan personally. Besides, these casings are completely secure behind sensor-tempered glass with security to match. Only Haji-ojiisan has the code to deactivate it.” Taking a few steps back to admire the positioning of the statue, Kazuma directed Kunimitsu to move it an inch forward.
Satisfied with how the tapestry hung, Kyo went back to his book, but couldn't help but slyly comment, “It'd be cool to break it and see if titanium bars really will lock this place down.”
“Don't even think about testing that out. Besides, the casings themselves have their own set of bars to keep anything else from being taken. Kunimitsu, I think that does it…good suggestion,” praised the Sohma teacher to his assistant, seeing that the statue did indeed `greet' anyone coming off the elevators.
“Ano, Shishou-san, these items in the casings... Tetsuya-san was describing them to us at the exhibition gala the other night—” commented Tohru before Kazuma cut her off unexpectedly.
“Kunimitsu, I think there's one more crate to bring up here. Could you go ahead and retrieve that for me? I'll get Kyo to help me clear this area back here for it. Thanks.” Kazuma went forward to where he was going to rearrange the artifacts already there to make room for the last items to be displayed here.
“Sure thing. I'll be right back,” replied Kunimitsu as he quickly complied with Kazuma's orders, disappearing behind elevator doors that will take him to the shipping docks below the building.
“Gomen nasai, Tohru-kun. It wasn't necessary for Kunimitsu to hear my comments about those particular items. Please continue,” explained Kazuma as he gazed at her apologetically.
Kyo slammed his book, his exasperation evident in his eyes. “I don't see why not, Shishou. He's been around long enough to trust with the truth—”
“Kyo, we've discussed this before. Please, let us not continue on this topic.” It was true, Kazuma admitted, that Kunimitsu has been an old friend to himself and a good role model as well for Kyo as he grew up. Still, Sohma family law prevailed, and Kunimitsu was not a member of the `inner circle', and Akito was not about to let another `outsider' in on their secret.
“Yeah, fine, whatever…” mumbled Kyo disdainfully, leafing through his book with a hard glare.
Taking a breather, the younger teen with a growth spurt that now left Tohru far behind along with his Nezumi cousin sat down heavily on the ornate chairs that were spread out across the room. “Um, Tohru-kun, I wasn't here, so tell me what Suya-kun told you about these things. Do they belong to our family or were they borrowed…?”
Kazuma took the liberty to answer for her, glad for the distraction. “Actually, most of the artifacts on display here and those downstairs are from various private family collections. But the real treasures are what are in these casings. It's why we're limiting the flow of traffic through this exhibit floor as an extra security precaution.”
“Yeah, Tetsuya said something about them being in the family for generations or something like that…” spoke up Kyo from his intent reading of his book. “Something that old has gotta be worth something.”
“Well, they are priceless, but their worth extends far beyond the monetary value. Why don't you two look closely at the tsuba on those swords in the middle casing?” Leading Tohru and Momiji to the display, Kazuma saw their expressions turn to awe as they carefully surveyed the pieces inside that Tetsuya had barely discussed with Tohru the other night. “This daisho set should seem very familiar to you, Momiji-kun.”
“Look, Tohru-kun! It has Yuki and Kyo on it! Well, actually it's the Nezumi and Neko from the Jyuunishi! They look like they're going round and round on the hand guard, each chasing the other. Heh, that's pretty close to the truth today, right Tohru-kun?” remarked Momiji with a laugh.
“Can it, baka usagi. Ain't no way that…” Kyo's retort and temper quickly fell away as he, too, stood next to them by the casing, truly observing the items for himself, the other night being he was too distracted to inspect them then. It was true…the hand guard held decorative renderings of the two main characters of the Jyuunishi legend. `Hmph, that Cat is too scrawny compared to my animal form. We look nothing alike.'
“Momiji-kun, that print of a tree that's on the sheath of the long sword looks familiar…” pointed out Tohru curiously.
“Kazuma-san, isn't that the same tree that's a statue at the Zodiac Gardens?” pondered Momiji as he gave it more thought. Brightening, he recalled the details of that statue. “It is! I remember it real well…it had the Cat and Mouse around the tall tree. It's a huge statue with the prettiest flowers all around the base of it. Hehe, I remember I got lost in that maze with Haru leading the way. Heh… It was really strange…being there and all.”
Tohru noted that Momiji was correct. From the one time she had been in that part of the gardens, the drawing of the tree was the exact replica of the statue, down to the number of branches…all twelve of them. She smiled faintly at the memory…it had been a memorable evening. Turning her attention back to his previous remark, she asked, “What was so strange, Momiji-kun? It was very peaceful when Yuki-kun took me there.”
“You had visited then, Tohru-kun?” Kazuma asked incredulously. Rare was the occasion an outside visitor was allowed to view the equally rare statues. But then again, if Yuki had been there, it was most likely overlooked by the family. He hoped anyway. “So what did you think of them? They are the oldest artifacts we possess as a family. Not many historians that aren't family know about them.”
“They were incredible, Shishou-san. They all…breathed life, if that's imaginable. It's just a shame that you can't decipher the inscriptions on any of the statues.” She nodded at this last comment, recalling that Yuki mentioned that no one in the family's history has ever known what those writings indicated. And to think that they may hold the key to releasing them from their old curse.
The elder Sohma wholeheartedly agreed with her unsaid thoughts. “Yes, I know what you mean. It would prove most helpful. I'm happy that Haji-ojiisan consented to bring these older items out of hiding, though—they were long overdue to be seen by others. Who knows, maybe it'll stir more debate on the origins of our family's curse. Perhaps more of the truth will be revealed…somehow.”
Tohru sympathized with the Sohma, patting his shoulder gently as he gazed longingly at the prized artifacts before them. `I hope so, too, Shishou-san. Everyone seems so…tired. So very tired from the curse…'
Tohru was not oblivious to their growing plight. The heavy burden of the curse has become more so as time ticked by, notably so that many of the Jyuunishi's sheer will was waning under the heavy weight of it all. The family in general was slowly feeling the effects of this development. And she felt so helpless to stand by them and incapable of doing anything useful but be there for them.
As they were lost to their somber thoughts, Momiji had gone over to the Neko, noticing that Kyo was presently mesmerized with the artifacts before him. He dared to interrupt the silent musings of his relative. “Kyo, how do you like them? Are they like the ones in the pictures in your book?”
Kyo heard the question, but failed to articulate a thought in response, his mind too fascinated with the old relics. The dark cherry mahogany of the katana's saya…along its length the gold imprints of the tree he knew all too well…the hilt wrapped with a dark maroon cloth of some sort…the wakizashi sporting a similar motif…a large folding fan spread open to show off it's pattern of the Zodiac animals with that same tree… It became clear to him then…
“That's the Sohma's mon, our family crest. Am I right, Shishou?” asked Kyo, staring keenly at the other casings that represented the same motif, the Jyuunishi mon.
Kazuma grinned and nodded. “Hai. This floor specifically showcases our family's mon, which you've guessed right. The Jyuunishi legend is embedded in all aspects of our family history, and so the family's mon took after this. Even today, all of our official documentation pertaining to the family, business or personal, will have our mon seal embedded on the document.”
Momiji immediately nodded in agreement. “That's so true! I see Papa's paperwork all the time, and it always had the design. I never knew why until now…I just didn't really think it was important enough to ask. You must have noticed it, too, Tohru-kun at the office, ne?”
“Yes, you're right! I just didn't make the connection… It's truly extraordinary, Shishou-san! An actual family crest still in use today after so many years…I've never really seen one before! Your family must be so honored to have one,” exclaimed Tohru as she stared with renewed awe at the casings and other items around the floor that bore the Sohma's mon.
“Hm…we've even had the emblem stitched onto the uniforms to be worn for the tournament. Once our tailor is done with the special order and drops them off at the dojo, I'll have Kyo bring you over so you may see them.” Seeing her clasp her hands together and smiling eagerly in anticipation of that day, Kazuma turned to his son, noticing then that he was strangely silent. “Kyo, is this fine with you as well?”
Kyo was once again lost to his private musings, carefully analyzing each piece in this casing. All the other items lost his interest quickly, his main interest now being the very old weapons that seemed to call his attention. They did remind him of the ones he read in his book, but yet, they were very different. That wasn't unusual considering anything related to this family is unique.
`At least I know that my dreams…visions…whatever, have something to do with this family crest. That damn tree…it's always there, always the same, burnt or not. She has something to do with this…and that kid. They all have something to do with this…but that means those statues have something to do with this mess, too. Argh…just more and more questions! Where the hell are my answers, dammit?! I'm running short on time. I'm—'
Kyo's musings were suddenly cut short as he glanced down at his left wrist. Narrowing his gaze, he knew now that what he had seen the night before was no illusion. The antique bracelet that was his to wear for all his days did emanate a soft glow, imperceptible to others that hardly looked at the thing, but to him, it was obvious. As if the damnable jewelry pulsed with a life not his own…
`Could these things have something to do with my bracelet? It's old enough, right?' Not wanting to bring any attention to his bracelet, he casually inquired, “Shishou, is my bracelet…the Neko's bracelet, I mean…is it, you know, a part of this…stuff?”
Kazuma pondered on this unexpected question, not entirely sure how best to answer given the fact that very little is known about the origins of some of the older items on display, including the bracelet adorning the wrists of generations of the Neko spirit. “Well, it does share a commonality with the collection…their origins are unknown. I know that the bracelet was examined at one point, but I was told it gave no other clue as to where it came from, what it's even made of.” Taking his son's wrist into his hand, Kazuma analyzed the bracelet, remembering how it once looked like on the wrist of another long ago. Sighing heavily, he gently let go and smiled to his son. “Perhaps we can ask Haji-ojiisan later to see what else he may know about this…if you're interested.”
Finally…a chance to get a glance at the history of what this bracelet involved. Well, that is if there was any history at all to be had with this thing. `No, I've got to think positive…have hope, right? Isn't that what she keeps telling me?'
Kyo responded, “Yeah, that'd be fine. Maybe we can also ask him what's so funny about that old sword there. It's…weird.”
“Oh, you've noticed then?” asked Kazuma with a grin.
“Noticed what, Kazuma-san?” inquired Momiji in confusion as he tried looking closely at the item that Kyo was staring at before.
“It seems like all the other swords that I've seen in pictures and at museums,” added Tohru as she, too, concentrated on trying to see what Kyo saw.
“Actually, Kyo's right. It's different from the others, but Haji-ojiisan never told me why that was though. He had told me to figure out what it was that made it `special' from the others.” Kazuma couldn't help smiling wryly as he thought of how obstinate his grandfather can be at times. His grandfather always took great pride in teaching him about family history the hard way, never outright telling him the answer. “So far, I'm not any closer to the answer than I had been when he first showed it to me several months ago. But he did say that he would be generous enough to give me a clue later on. Maybe you can have it figured out before then, Kyo. It'll certainly please him.”
“Pft, yeah, right. If I could beat him at his own game, I would. All I know is that it's pretty…'off', I guess. It's not right, that's all.” Giving one final stare to the artifacts, Kyo walked away and unconsciously rubbed his neck down, suddenly feeling the shivers. Mentally shrugging it off, he now focused on his new goal…to determine just what the hell is going on with her, the boy, the stalwart tree, Jyuunishi statues, and the bracelet that everyone would just as soon avoid looking at it. After all, it was the visual reminder of their curse…of their pain and sorrow.
`Avoiding the truth is what this family has done for too damn long. Not anymore. Not if I have anything to do with it. I won't let Tohru become the victim of this curse or whatever hell is waiting for us at the end of it all.' Carefully gazing at her from the corner of his eyes, he saw how she smiled so brilliantly, so carefree. Her smile that in his eyes lit the world… `…Lit my world. She's my light…my hope, and I won't lose the little hope that I have.'
“—and so, given the economic impact of this acquisition, we need to finalize all aspects of the terms agreed upon.”
“And I agree with you, Tetsuya-kun. However, we still cannot make any final decision—”
“I'm not entirely clear on the other contract we obtained from the offices at Beijing. Is there any way we can—”
“Of course, Kureno-san, the contract had a list of terms as well—”
“Seto-kun, the paperwork I left for you last week needs to be completed by the end of today. I cannot wait any longer for it—”
“—with all the publicity in their journals, they have been eager to finalize the arrangements, Yamagi-san. Also, the Museum of Antiquities from Hong Kong had called again to schedule for their private—”
“Yes, Hina-san?”
“Should I arrange for the drinks and snacks be brought to the conference room across the hallway or in here?” asked his personal assistant. Seeing the confusion in his eyes, she checked her wristwatch again, confirming that a break was indeed long overdue for this hardworking group.
Hina was so caught up with taking diction notes and meeting minutes on this important gathering of the heads from the various divisions of the family's business enterprises that she completely forgotten to arrange a break time for them all. She would have had Tohru fulfill this administrative duty, but alas, she didn't have the heart to bring Tohru in on a weekend. The poor girl worked diligently in everything else, it was only right to allow her the reprieve while she as the executive assistant dealt with the unsavory aspects of her job, including coming in on a weekend when demanded of her which thankfully wasn't too often.
Her superior widened his eyes as he, too, confirmed the late morning hour. “Yes, thank you, Hina-san. Have the refreshments brought in here.”
Nodding in consent, she inwardly gasped at her lapse of memory. “Sohma-san, please forgive me, but an earlier phone call came through. It seems your nephew will be escorting your daughter to a musical conference later this afternoon. He requests that you pick them up at eight this evening.”
“Ah yes, Momiji…Momo was looking forward to it this week,” replied the Sohma father, smiling softly at the thought of his children spending more and more time together as siblings should. It hardly seemed that a curse plagued his son, what with the increase in their outings his children have been enjoying. He's even noted how his wife smiled fondly on the boy when he's not looking…she probably didn't even realize it herself. It was very good to be sure.
“Let him know that I'll be there.” Turning to look back to his fellow associates, he called out for attention. “Gentlemen, pardon me, but it's my fault for delaying our refreshments. They will be served shortly, so if you'd like to go ahead and tend to phone calls, now is the time to do so.”
A general consensus amongst the fatigued executives had many taking off their jackets (if they wore suits) while others stood up and stretched and pulled weary joints. Others took to their phones and returned messages or made phone calls related to the state of affairs being discussed at this gathering. The short rest was welcomed.
“Kureno-kun, I didn't get a chance to properly greet you earlier. How's your go playing coming along?” asked Master Haji jovially as he walked to Kureno's seat by the head of the table, all the while stretching out his back. `Those chairs are too plush for my liking…'
Setting various documents aside for later perusal, Kureno smiled kindly to the elderly Sohma. It was quite some time ago that he'd been allowed personal time to himself. He recalled that he had an old score to settle with this gentleman, having been beaten at go four out of five games. “Some progress, Master Haji. I've actually recruited another player. He's helped me tremendously with my playing; perhaps we can have him join us in our next game?”
“Oh-ho! Fresh meat! Do get him to join us then,” Master Haji eagerly replied with a twinkle to his eye. Few were the people in his circle that actually wished to play the age-old game, let alone were any good at it. Looking to the man just over Kureno's shoulder, he slyly grinned. “What do you say, Seto-kun? Would you like a rematch later today? I did bring my board along for this trip…”
“I have plans already, Master Haji,” tersely remarked Seto, keeping his seemingly polite expression intact. “Have you finished the last of the exhibit displays? There are some very important clients that have been expressing their desire for months now to see the more rare collections.”
“Otou-san, as I told you, the exhibit displays were 80 percent completed the night of the opening gala,” cut in Tetsuya smoothly from behind Master Haji, his cell phone set to his ear as if he were put on hold.
Kureno was familiar with this scene playing out. He has seen many times in these sort of meetings these two particular members barely exchange words before an `altercation' presented itself. And inevitably a `mediator' would have to referee between the bickering parties. Naturally, this was all done delicately. Still, he didn't like being a witness to them or being caught in the middle of them. Such instances were better left in more capable hands.
Sighing lightly, Kureno stood and discreetly walked off (barely noticed by the others) to retrieve his briefcase in the office next door that contained other documents that required Akito's personal attention. It was times like these that he wished for Akito's health to allow her to attend these gatherings instead of him handling the matters in her stead. Yet, her deteriorating health was an obstacle that couldn't be overcome…
Just this morning he was pretty certain that her condition had turned for the worst when he found her under a tree with his cell phone tucked under her arm, seemingly dead to the world. Even now he could still feel the horrible pit in his abdomen when he really thought her to be… Shaking his head of the thought, he was glad that he was mistaken. She was truly dead to the world, though…dead asleep. How she and Yuki really shared that trait… He was just glad that he could tuck her back into bed with little fuss from her. He still wondered how she managed to fall asleep under a tree last night, but unfortunately she was too groggy to explain anything other than to leave her alone to go back to sleep.
`Then I had better make sure to take detailed notes of the topics discussed. She will be in no mood to have vague reports on anything today.' He set about making the few phone calls to other colleagues, wondering vaguely how the others were faring in the conference room. He just hoped the `mediator' found middle ground with the two parties.
Sohma Tetsuya was apparently very accustomed to being in the middle between two very influential members of the family that had strong personalities. It was not something he looked forward to doing, but seeing as these two never let an opportunity pass them to show their superiority over the other, he handled them rather even-handedly. It also paid to be the elderly Sohma's favored pupil…at least Master Haji listened to him unlike a certain strict father he knew.
Looking down to his elderly sensei of iaido with deep respect, he further confirmed with him, “I'm certain Master Haji is making the final touches to the exhibit, ne, Master Haji?”
“Well, of course…it's being completed as we speak. Kazu-kun is very trustworthy with fulfilling this task.” Master Haji had then graced Seto with a wide smile full of veiled contempt, clearly a sign that he was ready to continue their previous intense tête-à-tête. “I'm sure your important clients won't be disappointed. If so, then take them over to the other location you take a liking to every now and then.”
If he had thought the previous round between the two was intense, then it paled in comparison to the now heavy atmosphere amongst them. The insinuation from his sensei was rather too close for comfort apparently. Not that going to such locations was beneath them (the teahouse they usually took their clients to was one of the finest in all of Japan), but rather that it was a subject not meant to be so liberally discussed. Tetsuya felt the hairs rise on his neck when he saw the hard glare sent from his father to his sensei even though the old man seemed unfazed by it.
`Honestly, these two need to take it elsewhere…' Rubbing his eyes of their fatigue and also out of exasperation, Tetsuya remarked coolly, “Gentlemen, our break time is short. I'm sure you would both agree to continue this another time…”
With a slick smile, Master Haji dispelled the tension in the air. “You are correct…I do need to make a few calls. We'll have `drinks' later, won't we, Seto-kun?”
“Of course, Master Haji,” replied tightly Seto as he respectfully bowed and left them both to their own devices.
“Heh, your father is quite the character,” remarked Master Haji with a grin as he sat back down to set to work.
“Much like someone I know,” retorted Tetsuya with a knowing look to the elder Sohma who only grinned widely. Just then he heard the person on the other line of his cell phone, the wait finally over.
It was at this moment that Hina quickly made her way through the conference room, letting the idle conversations of the executives go over her head as she delivered the message to her superior. Seeing him read her note, he snapped his head up then just as suddenly turned to the office door she just came through. Setting his mouth into a grim line, he nodded to his personal assistant and dismissed her, wordlessly letting her know that he understood. As he pondered on what to do, he knew it was best he confronted the development head on, and so stood up and left the same way she did.
Seto was negotiating in depth the revamping of another division when he saw a stranger walk into the conference room. He immediately narrowed his gaze, finally recognizing the individual. Terminating the call with reassurances that he'd call later, he hurriedly went to his son, knowing that his son had interacted with this individual before.
“Tetsuya.” His son turned from his view of the outside window to face him, gesturing that he was on the phone. Seto merely gave him the `look' that needed no further explanation.
Tetsuya ended his call as tactfully as he could, inwardly cringing that he'd have to go through being put on hold again when he called back. “Father, what is the matter?”
“Isn't that the boy I saw you with at the opening gala?” asked Seto testily as he gestured with his head in the direction just over his right shoulder. “What is he doing here?”
Tetsuya quickly took a look and was also surprised by this intrusion. Feeling the bitter taste back in his mouth whenever he saw the guy, he replied, “Yes, that's the one. He's an assistant with Shihan…perhaps he's here on his behalf.”
“Nonsense. If that were the case, Kazuma would just show himself. Besides, Master Haji represents all of Kazuma's interests at these gatherings. There's no use for that boy to be here.” Looking over his shoulder, he gave the boy one final look of contempt before curtly demanding, “Get him out of here.”
Nodding in understanding, Tetsuya was starting to make his way there when he saw Master Haji approach the individual. Both father and son looked on in confusion at this, Tetsuya reasoning, “Perhaps our problem is already being taken care of, Father.”
`I don't see Kureno anywhere… And I don't know anyone in this room.' Sighing heavily, Yuki shifted uneasily by the doorway, looking at everything around him, finding nothing that would conceal his obvious presence if the strangers' stares were anything to go by. He really wished he had dressed better when he left the house. The clothes he wore around the house just didn't blend in well in this high-powered office atmosphere. He did finally spot a chair in a distant corner, and so quickly sought refuge there.
Twirling his fingers on his lap, he let out a sigh of relief, thankful that not everyone looked his way or glared at him if they did. Oh yes, he saw the looks from two individuals in the room, one being Tetsuya. `He's definitely not letting go of whatever chip is on his shoulder. Joy…'
“Yuki-sama, what brings you here to our dull gathering?” asked merrily Master Haji as he startled the young Sohma with his sudden presence, bowing low in greeting and respect. This didn't go unnoticed by others that couldn't hear them clearly but were watching them.
He'd rather not have attention drawn to him with this manner of greeting, but Yuki didn't wish to insult his elder either. He was relieved that he finally saw a friendly face in this sea of strangers, and so smiled kindly and stood up, bowing respectfully to the elderly man. “I'm sorry for my intrusion, Master Haji…”
“Pft, don't be. You're a sight for these old eyes of mine,” chirped Master Haji while readjusting his spectacles on his nose. “I'm honored you came. We should have lunch later—”
“Master Haji, I must insist that you desist in your conversation with this…young man,” abruptly interrupted Seto as he eyed Yuki with a calculating gaze. “This is a business gathering.”
The stare from this new individual didn't go over Yuki's head. It was one that he was all too familiar with, and frankly, it was becoming rather tiring to having to be subjected to it. `Being put down without a word…how classic. He didn't even wait until we were formally introduced.' Giving the adult a polite bow of his head, he calmly replied, “I apologize for my presence. I was under the impression that you were not formally gathered at the moment. If you could direct me to where Kureno is, I will be out of your way.”
The lack of respect in Yuki's greeting of his father angered Tetsuya to a great extent. True his father didn't properly introduce himself, but Yuki should have still shown proper respect to his superiors, bowing by the waist as is proper. “Perhaps it would be best if you left now. I'll have Kureno-san find you when he's done with his work, Yu—”
Perhaps we've all gotten off the wrong foot,” cut in Master Haji as he leveled a glare of his own that immediately stiffened the spines of his two Sohma relatives that were beyond being rude. He truly wondered if Seto had any common sense because if he did, he would have seen exactly who Yuki was. Smiling apologetically, he directed himself back to Yuki. “Do forgive our trespasses. Allow me to make amends by making the introductions—”
“Oh, but I insist that the honor be mine, Master Haji.”
The soft statement quickly silenced all in the room. With wide eyes, Seto, Tetsuya, and even Master Haji took in the new addition to their gathering. Just behind the petite individual stood Hina, with a look of alarm that she shared with Momiji's father. Both knew well what had just occurred and truly hoped that their special guest would be lenient, if only this once.
“Akito-sama…you honor us with your presence,” commented Master Haji quietly while bowing low to the Head of the family.
Akito silently acknowledged the gesture with a nod of her head, then looked pointedly to the other men he had been speaking to. She smiled, though it didn't reach her eyes, when they, too, bowed low to their superior.
“Is there a problem with whom I bring to these gatherings, Seto-san?” As she saw him revert his attention back to her, she narrowed her gaze. She really wasn't in the mood to repeat herself. “Well?
“Forgive me, Akito-sama, I was only shocked that this child was your guest,” stoically replied the elder Sohma, clearly displeased with the turn the situation took, all because of a mere kid…
“Yes, of course you'd be confused. Well then, allow me to clear things up for you,” she replied in a slightly condescending manner that didn't go unnoticed. Grinning widely at his now veiled contempt at being treated this way, she pushed him aside as she stood next to her Rat. “Sohma Seto, I present to you, as well as to the others who are listening in, Sohma Yuki. You remember…you had personally visited him on the day of his birth. That's quite some time ago. Being eighteen doesn't qualify him as a child, but he is young.”
That did surprise Tetsuya. He really had thought Yuki to be younger, which was rather foolish on his part. The quiet teen did just graduate from high school, but it was in his experience that you could always graduate early if you're smart enough. He did at the age of sixteen, and so assumed the same of Yuki. However, he was cut off guard that Yuki knew Akito personally, at least that's what was understood with the way the boy carried himself around their clan head and vice-versa. When he looked to his father for any confirmation to his assumptions, he was shocked to see that his father was clearly stunned…and showing it.
Sohma Seto prided himself in never allowing others around him in the business world to deduce what he's thinking…after all, that was key to any major transaction between powerful enterprises. Still, he would always curse many things when it came to Sohma Akito. The clan head knew exactly how to push his buttons to get a reaction out of him.
It was no different now, being placed in a position that made him feel like the fool that no doubt Akito wanted him to be. He now took a hard look at the teenager that Akito introduced as Sohma Yuki, and found that from the beginning, he truly had not been seeing the boy for what he was. The boy who was born to lead alongside the Head of the family…the favored Nezumi with his `God'. And that made all the difference to any Sohma—in short the boy was his superior.
He admittedly makes mistakes, few and far between, but he does. Yet, rarely was the occasion that he found reason enough to apologize for them. However, in this case, this was not a choice…Akito's piercing gaze told him as much.
`So much like her father was…' Regaining his composure, he turned to Yuki with a solemn gaze and bowed low in respect and in apology. “Forgive my misunderstanding, Yuki-sama. It has been a long time since I last saw you. New Year's from a few years ago was probably the last time I recall seeing you in passing.”
Yuki nodded in acknowledgement. He really doesn't remember seeing this individual, but like always, there are many members in this family that he's not familiar with. Slowly he's coming to know more about them as Akito deemed fit. He suddenly brightened in realization.
“Tetsuya-san is your son, yes?” asked Yuki curiously.
“You guessed right, Yuki,” interjected Akito smoothly as she led the teen forward away from father and son. “This elderly Sohma is Master Haji, whom I believe you already met at the gala the other night, correct?”
Yuki knew what she was doing at this point, but he felt helpless to say anything about it. She never tolerated being talked down to, and from what his conversation with her last night indicated to him, she wasn't going to allow it be done with him. It was a truce that he had agreed to in a way. Snubbing them was her way of keeping them in check, which he thought was actually very civil of her. Not many could get away with just a rebuff from the clan head. They were indeed lucky that she was in a good mood.
“Yes, he was very kind to explain a few of his pieces to me.” Smiling again in hopes of dispelling the tension, he complimented the senior Sohma. “Your exhibit was exquisite, Master Haji. I hope to take a better tour with my friends later on. I'm sure they would enjoy it. Thank you for the special pass as well.”
Master Haji bowed yet again and returned the smile. He, too, felt the abruptness on Akito's part and knew to tread carefully at the moment. “You are most welcome, Yuki-sama.”
“Come Yuki, there are others I want you to meet. Master Haji, do retrieve Kureno from wherever he's holed up in,” said Akito while leading her charge away but not before throwing a frown across her shoulder to Seto. It spoke volumes of what she really wanted to say to him, and she was pleased to see him tighten his jaw at the visual assault. How she loved seeing him squirm…it was one of a few perks of having to tolerate him.
It was no secret amongst their tight-nit circles of the Sohma family businesses. Sohma Seto was driven to take over the coveted position from Akito when she passes. The fact that he groomed his son early on for leading business divisions in the family business was proof enough that he planned to keep this position in his family.
Ever since Akito's father, Akira, passed on, he has been relentless in his efforts to take over earlier, all to no avail. The family was just too rigid with their traditions…family law as it were. It didn't matter to them that Akito was a female, that she was young, that she was sickly. Her added position of being `God' to the Jyuunishi was even seen as a blessing on their personal lives as well as on their financial endeavors. Truly, they flourished both ways while she has remained as their clan head.
And from what most gathered from this confrontation between the two, the power struggles were going to a whole new level.
Kureno didn't make his entry a minute too soon. Hina had gone to inform him of Akito's sudden appearance with Yuki as he just finished with one business call. Fearing damage control would be necessary, he quickly gathered his work and briskly made his way to the main conference room where they were all gathered. He berated himself constantly for not confirming with her this morning if she did want to come to the meeting after all.
“Akito, I apologize for not being here to greet you and Yuki,” remarked Kureno while bowing low in apology. It didn't escape his attention that there was a tension in the room, most likely because she and Seto were in the same room. It wouldn't be the first time.
“Kureno, there you are. I had sent Master Haji to look for you; now he has to be retrieved. What detained you?” snapped Akito, her good mood swiftly becoming a distant memory. She then dismissed the people she had just finished introducing to Yuki when Kureno had arrived. Waving off the explanation Kureno was about to give, she went to sit down at the head of the long conference table, gesturing to Yuki to sit at her right. “No matter. The meeting has been detained long enough. Have the other branches been contacted and ready to proceed?”
She was in the middle of accommodating herself comfortably in her chair when she threw that question out in the open. Neither Yuki nor Kureno knew to whom that question was posed to, but both then heard Momiji's father speak up.
“Hai, Akito-sama. Per your instructions, the branches from Hong Kong, Beijing, Germany, France, and San Francisco are all up-linked to this room and waiting to proceed with the meeting.” He then nodded to Hina in which she hurriedly entered a flurry of keystrokes into her wireless notebook, quickly activating the dark monitor screens placed strategically around the room, the faces of the directors of each branch clearly being broadcasted. “Gentlemen, please confirm that you are receiving our signal now.”
As they were confirming that they were receiving the signal, Kureno looked to Seto and the others in which they returned his perplexed look with their look of astonishment. He had hoped that perhaps they knew of what Akito was doing, but upon seeing their confusion, knew that not to be the case.
Taking the initiative to act as the `interpreter' of all things Akito does or say, he softly whispers to her, “Akito, were these arrangements already made with the other branches? The others were not made aware of the change in plans—”
“No, as is my right to do so, I'm taking the liberty of making the change of plans. This won't take long, so you may start removing the ones from here that do not need to be here for this meeting,” she primly replied as she shooed him away. Looking to Yuki who sat quietly observing them all innocently, she grinned and added, “Kureno, get us something to drink as well. We're rather thirsty from rushing around this morning.”
Yuki did have to agree with her on this. Early that morning after having taken his broken clock to have it fixed at the jewelers shop near his home, he had planned on picking up something to eat. However, as he exited the shop, he saw Akito's vehicle pull up alongside. He did wonder how she knew to find him there, but he never doubted that if she wanted to find him, she could and would. Curious as to why she was looking for him (he was sure her stamina would be worse than his this morning after their late evening chat), he didn't question her as he got in the car and they drove off. She then only indicated that she wanted his company today for a get-together she was arranging. He saw nothing wrong with that…unusual, but nothing alarming.
He never dreamed that she would bring him here of all places. He felt his contentment evaporate upon reaching this floor, feeling every bit out of place in such surroundings. It was then that Akito told him to find Kureno in the conference room to arrange for some refreshments for himself and her. And…
`I smell food.' Fine, he consented he was quite hungry. Glancing discreetly to just over his shoulder, he spied his source of consternation. And that nice spread of fruit and bread and the cheese… `Man, I should have eaten before I left the house. Is that provolone?'
Kureno knew his priorities well, no matter how they were phrased to him by his Master. Whispering to Momiji's father that he start clearing the room of the `unnecessary' individuals for this particular meeting that Akito arranged at the last minute, he swiftly went to the table of food and started preparing plates for both Akito and Yuki. Upon presenting a tray with plates of food along with drinks to the two at the conference table, he was pleased to see the Nezumi's eyes light up, which Akito saw as well. Her change in demeanor was quick.
“My, this does look wonderful, ne, Yuki?” Smiling widely to him, she set to eating her portion of her meal contentedly. This was enough to relax her companion sufficiently to enjoy his meal as well, giving Kureno a look of thanks for the food. Perhaps now Akito will cool down after she's had her breakfast.
Seto was beside himself with resentment. It was clear to him how much this boy held sway over Akito's moods. He never thought he would be witness to such a relationship as theirs…but now wasn't the time to ponder over this. As many in the room were gathering documents and leaving them temporarily, he went over to her side.
He succinctly advised, “Akito-sama, perhaps we can have this particular meeting set for another day since we were not prepared to—”
“Come now, Seto-san,” she remarked after taking a few bites, finally dabbing a napkin to her mouth. Eyeing him with mirth, she pointedly stated, “I thought that you were always up for a challenge. Surely you're ready for anything I come up with.”
Standing to his full height with his arms rigid at his sides, Seto looked down at her with barely veiled disdain. “I see it as being wise to consider that not everyone is as clever as the clan head to be prepared for anything—”
“Ne, Yuki? What was said from that book you read the other day for me?” Looking at Yuki's face contort to confusion, Akito went on. “You picked it from Hatori's collection of western literary authors…something about wisdom and fools…”
Yuki had tried downplaying his presence amidst this verbal feud of sorts. Keeping his gaze fixed on his plate, he very quietly ate his late breakfast. But seeing that Akito was not about to leave him out of it, he thought on what she had meant and finally recalled that particular passage he had read for her when she was confined to her bed a few days past. Upon realizing its meaning on who will hear it, he inwardly groaned, and prayed that perhaps she would change her mind. Glancing at her for just such a chance, he was immediately disappointed upon seeing her pointed gaze meet his own. There was no doubt about it…she was fully intent on wreaking havoc…in the most discreet of ways.
“Yes, it was a quote from an English writer.” Taking a napkin to dab his mouth, he took a sip of his juice to swallow the lump in his throat before continuing, still very hesitant to state what he had read. It was definitely not in the best interests of peace to say it, but Akito wasn't giving him much of a choice.
'The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.' It's a quote meant only to better oneself…many take heed to it, Sohma-san.” He highly doubted his brief explanation behind the meaning of the quote was of any comfort to the adult Sohma, but he did try to keep matters neutral. If only she wasn't so dead set on ruining his endeavors…
“I do like that first half of the verse, Yuki…it's fitting at times, ne?” she commented lightly while leaning back in her chair with a sly grin in place.
`Fine…now he's really pissed,' thought the Nezumi as he observed his Master's remarks definitely hit what seemed to be the final nerve on the elder Sohma. He was taken aback as well when the man suddenly bestowed him with a livid glare. `Of course, I'm the cause for all that is bad. It never fails…'
“Seto-san, please gather the necessary documents for this meeting. We must keep it brief today,” called out Kureno to direct the man's attention away from Yuki as well as to deter Akito from taking matters further down the drain. He understood that Seto had every right to be upset, but he won't allow any disrespect to be shown to either Yuki or Akito. His firm façade and unyielding stance before Seto clearly conveyed this, but his eyes also pleaded with him to just drop the issue before their family head made them regret for confronting her.
Master Haji also thought along the same lines as Kureno did. He nudged Seto to the side as he said nonchalantly, “Come, come, we mustn't keep our family head from attending to more important matters. Let's get this over with.”
Realizing that her source of amusement was now busily getting ready for their impromptu meeting, Akito shrugged noncommittally and settled herself comfortably again in her plush chair. She smiled lazily as she turned to stare at Yuki who was looking down solemnly at his leftovers. She carefully brushed his hair from his eyes, tucking it gently behind his ear.
“You mustn't fret, Yuki. There are those that just can't or won't accept the truth that exists. It's no fault of ours,” she quietly stated with conviction.
It was simply said, and it was so true, even he couldn't dispute that. Still, Yuki knew her remark involved more than what just happened. “How much truth are `those' aware of?”
Grinning happily that her trust in Yuki's ability to be perceptive was not unfounded, she leaned forward in her seat. Taking his hand from his lap, she softly traced each finger, completely mesmerized by how small and frail they seem but knowing how fierce they can become. She mentally chuckled as it certainly reminded her of herself.
“You'll see.”
Yuki didn't have time anymore to ponder further on her statement. The door was now shut and the window blinds closed, with only six remaining in the room, not including Akito or himself. Kureno, Master Haji, Seto, Momiji's father, Yamagi, and…
With that, the meeting commenced. In all his years as a Sohma…no, in all his years as a Jyuunishi member, not once did he sincerely give thorough thought to how all the machinations worked behind the Sohma family legacy and their business enterprises. But now, sitting there alongside Akito, silently observing the very core of how the private affairs of this family were dealt with behind closed doors, he came to an understanding of sorts of the how's and why's of many things. How they managed to consolidate funds confidentially for the members of the family pertaining to the Jyuunishi…why they decided on which members of the family took care of certain divisions within the business…how they personally made the final decisions on any major transaction or agreement, be it business-related or family-related.
It was all very overwhelming. He couldn't help but be in awe with it all. Despite their differences here or overseas, all took care to not let one issue or grievance escape their perusal if warranted.
Control—that's what it all boiled down to. That same control that held his own life as well as his fellow Jyuunishi members in such tight knots. That same control that he had felt suffocate him on more than one occasion. Control over their lives…especially their lives as Jyuunishi members. It was all held very tightly together in this room.
Lashing out…defying them… passionately protesting against it all…how many times had he told himself he would do this if ever given the opportunity? Now was such an opportunity…the people that mattered the most in the family are here in this very room or on the monitors. All he had to do was say the words…any words…the words…
But he couldn't. And after sitting there for one hour, he knew that he never would. Why?
`To be free of their control, for all of us to exercise our own free will…in the end, that can't truly be had. Not for us…not for any of us…not even for them.' How horrible reality could be at times. This all-powerful control knew no boundaries. It encompassed everything…everyone…having no mercy on those under its power.
And it was all upheld to ensure that not one thing, no matter how trivial, caused a lapse in its power or far worse, a loss of controlling that power. Who knew what would be the consequences if such power were to shift one way or the other? To consider the possibility…no, it was much too horrid to contemplate. How ironic to fear the power that you wield…to fear the possibilities…to fear.
`And that's where all this control comes from. As bad as our fear is of our curse being discovered, it pales compared to losing control over our curse and the power that comes with it.' He felt defeated but at the same time resolved, as if this small understanding of this part of the curse was what he needed to further understand the motives behind Akito's actions and those supporting her.
`Their control is their security that nothing worse comes to pass. And that is a possibility that scares them the most…' Solemnly gazing at each one, he saw the commitment each held to keep everything balanced in the large household. A balance that required sacrifices from all sides…
So, what of him? What is he to do now? To continue being sheltered away from the intricacies of how their house is run…to choose to be ignorant? Should he just continue pitying their lot in life or bitterly resent them for controlling their lives, knowing it was all they have ever known to do to keep their family protected from the unknown?
At this, he knew what must be done…what was his role and why Akito brought him here. It was something he would have to decide for himself…and decide he did. Perhaps in a small way, it'll be enough…
`If control is what they mean to keep, then I will be sure to be there when they try to exercise it. If only to make the burden a little easier to bear for all of us, I will help. And I mustn't be afraid to do it.'
The hour passed swiftly for Kureno. As the official record keeper of these meetings, he kept close contact with all that was spoken and done here. He gave each member present a calculating gaze, discerning anything that would need to be brought to his Master's attention. She demanded complete submission from all, no exceptions, and it was his duty to see that it does happen.
He was pleasantly surprised to see Yuki facing them all with a serene gaze, calmly examining everything around him, taking it all in. He knew that this day would come, after all, Akito's time sadly grew short. To initiate Yuki into this world that was so far removed and unsecured…it was Akito's last resort. She had told him as much in private discussions.
It was her hope that he as her faithful Bird would always remain as a stand-in for when the time came for her to pass on and her Nezumi to take charge as is demanded of his station. But the situation was turning very ugly with Seto leading the way. A faction was growing, and to quell it, Akito knew what had to be done. And she has been doing it for the past few months by introducing Yuki to strategic individuals within the family. She trusted that the rest be left to Yuki's innate ability to draw them all to follow his lead regardless of his age and lack of experience.
`And our family has never been happier. There are still some siding with Seto-san, but there's still time. Enough to gather sufficient support for Yuki before Akito passes on. The ending of an era can bring so much upheaval…and to know that Yuki will be caught up in it…I have to be there. I will be there.'
The meeting dispersed after a total of one hour and twenty-five minutes. It was too long in Akito's opinion as she stood up to stretch her weary limbs. She was fatigued now and couldn't wait to go home. Perhaps Yuki will play for her when they get there. He seemed calm and collected, like always. His behavior today was beyond commendable. She caught his gaze and smiled proudly at him. It was enough to let him know that he did well. Extremely well.
“Seto, if you don't stop throwing daggers at them visually, you will find yourself in a very difficult position,” advised Master Haji lowly from behind the indignant Sohma, dropping his favored honorific to add more emphasis on his warning. He then saw to his shock Seto walking purposefully to the pair. He vainly called out, “Seto!”
Seto was much too incensed now and wasn't going to let this pass. “Akito-sama, a word in private, please.”
Arching her brow in annoyance, Akito sighed heavily, pondering as to why she had to be the one to tolerate fools. It was part of her role as clan head, but she certainly despised it. Not wanting Yuki to be present any longer than he had to be (besides, he did what needed to be done even though he wasn't aware of it), she nodded in agreement. “Yuki, why don't you go wait for me outside? I'll be out shortly.”
“Hai, Akito,” replied the Nezumi with a nod. He barely caught a glance of his father's back as it exited the room. He hastily went to follow.
As everyone left, Akito and Seto remained in the room. And the temperature dramatically plunged in the room as each leveled a bitter glare at one another. Formalities were quickly dropped.
“You really didn't think that you'd be the only one to be prepared for my demise?” bit out Akito tartly as she stood toe to toe with her subordinate who looked mildly shocked for the moment. “What, you didn't think I wouldn't realize what you're doing behind my back? Let me save you the trouble, Seto-san, and perhaps what's left of your so-called dignity…I will ensure the continuation of this family. Not you, not your heir, me.”
Her withering glare was enough to draw a reaction from Seto as he looked directly at her. “Then you must realize that this family needs proper guidance—your little circle of Jyuunishi should remain behind sealed doors, not running around in the open or even including themselves in the confidential affairs of our family at these meetings.”
“Who I decide to come to these meetings is for me to decide, not you. How MY Jyuunishi are handled is for ME to decide, not YOU.” Seething with repressed rage, she stood steadfast before him, the urge to lash out very appealing. “You are only on this board to provide advice, nothing more, nothing less, and I ONLY allow for that because Tou-sama had permitted it.”
“Your father would have wanted to secure the legacy of this family above all else. That…CHILD can't possibly do that!” he declared ardently while pointing out the door Yuki went through. “He barely completed high school and even rejected further education! Even Akira-sama would not have approved of his decisions or yours!”
She swiftly thrust a finger to his chest, not bothering to keep her temper in check any longer. “Tou-sama worked hard, very hard to keep this family together for me while he could, and he trusted ME to leave it in the best of hands! Yours aren't it—”
“Akito-sama, your responsibility demands—”
“DO NOT INTERRUPT ME!” Clearly she was now infuriated with him for speaking of her father as if he knew him better than her. She was her father's daughter…no one will use the memory of her father against her, not while she still breathed.
The elevated voices could be heard out in the lobby area, a bit muffled, but one could tell that currently it wasn't pleasant to be in that room. Yuki held back for a moment and wondered if he should return to the room to calm down Akito. But she did order him to stay out of it pretty much. Settling to leave it alone, he went in search of his father in one of the other offices down several corridors.
He reached a large corner office that overlooked a skyline of smaller buildings, but also a large green forest just over the horizon. As Yuki gazed at the tall silhouette of his father as he moved about, he couldn't help but think that he really didn't inherit much of his father's features. Certainly not his height, that's for sure. Taking a deep breath, he knocked lightly on the open door. “Ohayo, Tou-san. How are you today?”
His father looked up from his table where most of his documents were spread out. He gave Yuki a simple nod as he continued gathering his work. “Yuki…I thought you would have left by now with Akito-san.”
“No…Akito had to talk in private with someone,” replied the teen. Looking around his father's office, he noted that while it was simply decorated, the pictures that did adorn his office were those of his father and mother with other important-looking people.
Strangers…his father would have pictures of people that were of no relation adorn his walls. Yet, there was not one picture of him or his brother anywhere to be seen. It was not surprising, considering their relationship with one another…or lack of one would be more accurate. He was birthed…and that's as far as their relationship went.
Still, it was a grim reality that he wasn't keen on facing at the moment. He was standing here…waiting…outside the office…politely waiting… Realizing that his father will not be inviting him in for a `fatherly chat', he was about to dismiss himself when the man finally spoke.
“Is it true?” asked the elder Sohma.
His son could only look at him baffled. “Is what true, Tou-san?”
With a tilt of the head, his father looked at him with a measuring gaze. “Tell me, what did you learn in our private board meeting?”
He wasn't sure how to answer that, so Yuki answered carefully, “I learned that so much is done and sacrificed in order to protect our family…to protect the Jyuunishi in particular.”
“Hm. That is a good observation. Let me tell you what I learned.” He then stood up and walked to his son at the doorway, looking down at him indifferently. “I learned that you can do nothing with your life and even reject a full education at a top university, and still be in `God's' favor…enough so that you are included in our private board meetings where others have had to prove their loyalty and commitment to the family's welfare over their long years. And even then, that may not be enough for our family head. That's an interesting lesson, wouldn't you agree, Yuki?”
Yuki could only watch his father with a veiled expression, listening intently to all he said. And of course, it was true. Every word of it. Truly, how could he deny the truth of the matter? However, he couldn't help the decisions that were made for him when he didn't realize them until too late. So he focused instead on one part of the sour remark.
He quietly responded, “I see…you disapprove of my decision to discontinue my studies.”
“My approval of anything related to you is of no importance. I may be your father, but I'm not your guardian. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to finish these reports before our other meeting reconvenes.” His father shut the door in his face as a dismissal, leaving him standing out there in the hallway.
“Your arrogance will only further strain the relationships amongst the family. Can you discern this by now, Yuki-sama?”
Contempt dripped from that comment as Yuki turned slowly to face Tetsuya. He was just two doors down…had he heard their discussion?
Humiliated. He had often been subjected to this in some form or another in the past, less frequently nowadays…still, it was not done so publicly.
“If I'm arrogant, what does that make you?” retorted Yuki, his voice deathly hushed. Taking quick strides until he finally stood face to face with this Sohma, he continued to stare coldly at him. “When you say to another that they are arrogant, you are really saying that you feel inferior to that person. So…is this accurate? Do you believe yourself to be inferior…to be beneath me in worth? Enlighten me then, whose problem is this? With me or with you who can't help but feel inferior?”
Tetsuya had realized his mistake too late. With Yuki's ire rising ever so calmly with each word spoken, he realized way too late that he had overstepped his bounds. He personally didn't appreciate anyone walking in on his private discussions with his father, and here he had done it to another with no qualms and with no understanding of what that discussion meant to Yuki. To being stared at with that much dislike from someone who was normally very considerate was rather unsettling. And dare he admit it, he felt justly reprimanded. All he could do now was just stand there with his head slightly bowed. That made him all the more bitter…who indeed was the more mature Sohma now?
Yuki merely shook his head and didn't bother to wait for an answer as he walked past Tetsuya without another glance. He dallied too long here, and Akito must surely be looking for him by now. It was better that he left this mess behind him, not trusting himself to keep his calm…he already revealed too much by letting another know how upset he actually is.
`I want to go home.' It was all he wanted now…to escape this world where he was obviously not wanted nor belonged in. He was completely unaware that this was precisely what was being argued rather heatedly in the large conference room.
“I may be closer to my grave, but I will not tolerate your insolence! As far as MY responsibility goes, it is to take care not to listen to FOOLS that surround me constantly! Now you listen, and listen well. You or your son WILL NOT take over my seat in this family when I'm gone. Yuki and anyone else I have designated WILL BE the ones to ensure the legacy of this family and the Jyuunishi. THAT is MY decision as your CLAN HEAD!
“They can't know of what's best for this family, least of all a CHILD!”
“You WILL follow him! He is your SUPERIOR, the Nezumi of the Jyuunishi. That in itself is assurance enough that he can and will take care of this family!” Breathing heavily with her declaration, she looked deep into his eyes, her steely gaze meeting his own gaze that slightly wavered. “How long do you think you can delude yourself into believing that you or anyone else you pick can secure the legacy of this family? It's not your place. You can deny it all you want, but even YOU cannot escape a simple truth…”
Bracing himself for what she would say, he cautiously asked, “And that is…?”
She smirked wickedly at this. “Your innate instinct to trust him. Even now, it's so hard for you to just dismiss the Nezumi, to truly deny him his birthright. You can lie to yourself all you want, but in the end you know how unique the situation is with this generation of the Jyuunishi… I, the `God', along with the Nezumi born with the complete collection of the Jyuunishi at our disposal… Did you really think you had any chance to take what rightfully belongs to us? Tou-sama took care that that NEVER happened and trusted me to do the same before I passed on. It will be Yuki's birthright when the time comes and all the Jyuunishi will follow, as will the rest of the family, including you and your family.”
How Seto wished to refute all her allegations and conclusions and deductions, but reluctantly admitted that it wouldn't change anything. With Akito, everything was finite, absolute. He knew to concede defeat…if only for now. In the meantime, it's time he got to know his true competition better. “If you are so certain of this, then I request an audience…a personal audience with the Nezumi. As a member of the board, it is my right to interview the next candidate to the seat of the house.”
Akito tightly stood in her place, this demand grating her nerves all the more when she knew that it was his way of still trying to reject her decisions, only this time he'll be dragging Yuki into his struggles for control of the family. Much to her chagrin, she knew it couldn't be avoided. But then again…
Grinning widely, she closed the gap between them and softly patted his cheek. “Then so be it. You'll only prove me right.” She then firmly took hold of his hair as her eyes suddenly glinted with malice, vehemently warning him in a low tone, “If you damage what's mine, you WILL regret it. Clear enough for you?”
Akito's temper was not one to be crossed, even he knew that. And he wasn't stupid enough to try tempting it by `damaging' what was hers. He had already heard what had happened to the last person who had done that…frankly, he believed the person had gotten off easy. He knew he wouldn't be shown that sort of mercy.
“Hai, Akito-sama. It will only be an interview, nothing more,” confirmed Seto as he evenly met her gaze, not once flinching under her `care'.
“Good, I have nothing more to discuss with you.” She walked off calmly with an air of indifference, exiting out of the stuffy room with one thing on her mind. “Kureno, I'm leaving you to deal with the rest. Where's Yuki?”
Kureno hurriedly went after her as she began searching all the offices around her. Sensing her mounting frustration, he called out, “Akito, I believe he went in search of—”
“No one, Akito,” came the soft reply from behind them both.
As ill as she could become, her hearing was always impeccable, and she quickly noted the subdued tone of her Nezumi. Observing him further, she could tell how he faltered with his cool attitude under her scrutiny, his discomfort then made all too apparent to her perceptive eyes.
“Is that so?” she asked, critically now gazing at him.
Not allowing his wall of fortitude to cave, he nodded. “Yes, Akito. I'm ready to leave now.”
Smiling widely, she in turn embraced him and contentedly replied, “Of course you are. This place is enough to drive me insane. And there are always those that make it even worse…”
Master Haji observed them all discreetly from another office, in particular at Akito and Yuki. There was much to their relationship that he only vaguely knew of but was determined to learn more. It was vital that he understood this in order to see where the family's future was headed. Volatile times were ahead of them, and with Seto leading the way, he knew his assistance will be needed now more than ever to keep their precarious control of power in check. It was why he was introduced formally to Yuki…it's what this whole meeting was truly about. Akito was declaring her position loud and clear and was more than ready to take on any opposition to her position and that of her heir.
All seemed to finally conclude with an eerie sense of calmness. Kureno inwardly breathed a huge sigh of relief, glad that `disagreements' among them didn't completely blow out of proportion. He saw her serenely continue walking along with Yuki to the elevators until she paused momentarily and turned right back around.
Quizzically looking down at her, the young man leaned down when she softly whispered into his ear, “You will correct him.”
It was quietly said, gently told even. Yet it implied so much more. Kureno knew full well of her full intent behind those words. And he had no choice but to fulfill her command. Nothing stayed hidden in Akito's eyes, and he will have to remind a certain father of this.
She walked back to Yuki with a smile on her lips, nothing but satisfaction emanating from her. As they boarded the elevator and the doors closed, she grasped his arm and leaned into him heavily. It was only in these moments that she could finally set her burden aside, not bothering to hide her fatigue since those that would judge her based on her weakness were no longer around her.
“It's so tiring, Yuki…” she murmured silently as she closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, smiling contentedly while further relaxing against him. Smoothing unseen wrinkles on his shirt, she opened her eyes to stare listlessly to a mirrored wall as the elevator descended. “I'm so tired…”
Yuki glanced to the mirror, seeing her reflection express exactly how she felt. He then saw his own visage match that of hers…strange, he really hadn't realized how drained he had become. This whole morning certainly took its toll on them both.
Tilting his head down, he closed his own eyes as well and deeply breathed in. Smiling sadly, he softly replied into her hair, “I know. I'm a little tired, too.”
“Look at me,” she suddenly remarked while pulling away to stand before him.
Startled, he quickly straightened himself and looked at her, meeting her piercing gaze with his own solemn gaze. “Yes?”
“You do believe me, don't you?” she demanded to know.
Taking in her meaning behind her words, he replied without hesitation, “Of course. I would not doubt what you say.”
“Good.” Pleased to see no uncertainty in his eyes, she took his face in her two palms, gently rubbing away the sadness he kept carefully hidden from the world, but which she could plainly see. He never could keep his true feelings hidden from her gifted sight. She mentally raged that Kureno had better have taken care of the reason for this. No one touched what was hers…period.
“You are more than they'll ever imagine you to be. If they can't understand this or accept the truth, they are fools…fools that will be dealt with swiftly by me personally.” Embracing him yet again, she smiled with a glint to her eyes. “All will be as it should be…do not worry.”
Standing there, hearing the tone in her voice which was full of intent and determination to see it through, plus discerning what she truly meant by it, he closed his eyes in deep thought. Truly, she has a way with words. It's always truth, somehow, some way, always a grain of truth to her remarks.
After today's meeting, he understood that it was a `necessary evil' as they say…a firm hand is called for when dealing with the more unruly members of this large and powerful family. And after observing those around her that would sooner relinquish her of title and control than giving her their support, he honestly couldn't help feeling that she was justified in her actions and aggression…if only a little.
Still, he will make every effort to temper her actions when he could…to be sure her use of power doesn't come down like an `iron fist' unless absolutely necessary and only on those that deserve it.
Power is control and that control equals responsibility. Akito was blessed and cursed with this sole responsibility as their clan head…the Jyuunishi's `God'. And it is his duty as the Nezumi to support her when she can't find it elsewhere. And he will…because…even he has his limits…
`I pity the idiot that does cross her…I can't stop her once she starts. And very likely, I won't want to.'
Corner of a Tortured Mind (09-08-06):
Whoa…excuse the `french', but DAMN! That last part with Yuki and Akito even gave me the chills!
Ahem, now back to the usual.
Yes, it's me! Greetings from being lost at sea! Sort of…heh! I delayed the chapter release, I know. Please forgive me!!! It was all meant to bring a serious aspect of my story to the front. It's really important to keep this chapter in mind because it relates to a major theme of the whole storyline, and interestingly, I think canon Furuba follows this theme. Control…power…who really wields it? It's an incredibly intricate web the Sohma's weave…I only took one strand and twisted it to my story. Hope you like!
The first half is really meant to bring to light certain details from Kyo's corner. Not much, but enough to move his role in the story further.
Wow, this whole chapter was rather `heavy', ne? It must be so, though, but fret not, next few chaps should be of the `lighter' variety. We need more `life' back in here, and who better than the vivacious Jyuunishi and supporting cast!
As I've said, the Sohma's weave an intricate web of power play, something Akito is very familiar with. Poor Yuki seems to have been dumped in the shrouded world that lies just behind closed doors. This form of ruling a family of such importance isn't unusual in the real Japanese culture, so said the same book I took the information from in Kyo's section at the beginning of the chapter. I really need to find the title of that book…rest assured censors, the terminology and explanations in that section were not taken word for word and what's more, my local library provided the source material. Thank you. Now back to the regular stuff…^o^. FOUND IT! The title of the book is: Samurai, The Weapons and Spirit of the Japanese Warrior by Clive Sinclair. It's really a great book with big color photos & black/white ones, too. Lots of details regarding anything with the weaponry used back then are given in a concise and understandable manner. It's not a bad purchase…it would look good on the coffee table!
I also made it a point to explain the custom of `bowing'. One of my reviewers expressed confusion because of being unfamiliar with that custom, and so here I decided to elaborate this more so that others that had the same confusion could understand the why's of their behavior related to their bows. Let me know if it needs more work.
I can't believe I forgot to point this out! The quote from Yuki's remarks with Akito and Seto is actually a quote from good ol' Shakespeare. From what play exactly, I don't know, but it's pretty good for this momentous scene that highlighted the `butting of heads'.
A whole lot was spent on our supporting cast plus their interactions with Akito in this segment. Tetsuya's role is further established in the family and their businesses as well as that of his father, Seto, and Master Haji. To clarify further, Seto and Master Haji are both in the `inner' circle of the family, so they are both aware of the Jyuunishi and Akito's special status within the family. How did you like it? Let me just point out that the `heat in the kitchen' will be boiling soon enough!
Yuki's dad. That man is never given a name in the manga (as far as I recall), and his relationship with Yuki is not much to go by. He's hardly mentioned in canon, but Yuki does ask for him when he sees his mother. Not even a picture of the man is given. That's canon, so it was hard to see how the two interact with one another. I figured it had to be pretty strained, but more civil than that with his mother…kind of like a father/son thing. His height was a little something I wanted to throw in for artistic sake…how I love to point out how short the Nezumi is! Still, if the mother treated Yuki so horribly in the past, then his father must have had three blind eyes or something because he's never even recalled in Yuki's flashbacks on his childhood. A father that does nothing is no better than a mother that does the wrong thing…my opinion and it shows.
As fas as musical selection is concerned for this chapter, I think I'm at a loss. Heh, it happens. It's more about their message that one cannot be alone when they have one other that is willing to be there during the hard times. Suffice to say that it can go both ways with Akito/Yuki's developing relationship. Before it was constant friction one way or another, but now that is no longer the case. Yuki is trying to understand her better, and this chapter is pivotal in his decision to go forward and supporting her as is the role of Nezumi and `God'. It'll be very interesting to see where this will lead them both…if `God' was fearsome before, imagine with the backing of the Nezumi. Both are revered in the old story…both are `special'. Boy, I love taking liberties with the old folk story as my basis!
My selections are unusual, that's for sure. Anyway, musical moments: “I'll Stand by You” from The Pretenders (soundtrack of A Walk in the Clouds—fantastic movie and yummy Keanu Reaves)…it's good for the last portion of Akito/Yuki—I think it can go both ways with them; now, extremely unusual because the setting of the song has nothing to do with this storyline, BUT it fits (read the lyrics and hopefully you'll see!) so well with Akito's position in the family...”Gangsta's Paradise” by Coolio; and lastly, “Will You be There” by Michael Jackson…it goes well with Yuki's feelings on where does he stand with the family and who will really be there when he has to face them.
Whew, I'm beat. Hard chapter but VERY important. It's a big turning point with the storyline, so you'll see it come again later on. But now for more refreshing times in the family…goodness knows I need it! It's easier to phrase those sort of chapters than these heavy-duty kind.
Thanks to all my readers and reviewers, especially over at Mediaminer! Thank you and keep up with your reviewing there, my dear MMorg readers! You have all been so patient and wonderful with you reviews…any questions or confusions, please let me know! As you can see, I'm more than happy to clarify it personally and in future chapter releases.
Leave your commentaries for the day on your way out…take care! Ja ne!