Fruits Basket Fan Fiction ❯ Seasons of Sorrow ❯ Embers of Summer's Glory = Truths in the Shadows ( Chapter 48 )

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

DISCLAIMER: Welcome to my fanfic based on Takaya-Sensei's Fruits Basket!
Special Note: Another two in one chapter release for all those readers who waited patiently for this release. Thank you for your support!
Embers of Summer's Glory
Chapter 48: Truths in the Shadows
“Phew…well, that about wraps up the cleaning for this room. Man, my shoulders ache!” exclaimed Shinpachi.
Picking up the last of the dirty rags, later tossing them into the overflowing basket, Yunosuke heartily agreed. “Yeah…this room was the toughest. Who knew those big apes sweat buckets on the floor.”
“Ew…that's too gross to imagine,” replied Himeka with a shiver as she wiped her perspiring brow against her sleeve. Readjusting her glasses against her damp nose, she looked to her wristwatch and noting the hour, sighed heavily. “We still have one hour left. I suppose the outside porch is our next assignment. Yuki-Sensei did say to leave this half of the dojo spotless. That includes outside, right?”
“He's cruel!” griped Shinpachi, downing the contents of his water bottle in a few gulps. “Ain't our fault those creeps—”
“Give it a rest already, Shin…” cut in Yunosuke tiredly. “The sooner we're done, the sooner we can go home.”
“Are you really in such a rush to go home?” was the unexpected question.
“Yuki-Sensei!” called out Himeka happily. Waving all around them, she immediately reported to her teacher. “Look, we left the whole room sparkly clean! Now all we have left is the porch outside and—”
“Heh, you certainly gave it your all. Thank you.” Yuki carefully inspected their work, having already finished with his chores of cleaning the outside gardens, change rooms, and hallways. Tuckered out himself, he was pleased that the children dutifully completed their tasks that were in part `punishment' for the prank they pulled earlier. Now for their next task…
“How about we do something a little different?” Upon seeing their worn-out but resigned gazes, the grin he had withheld was released, stunning his students slightly. He quickly answered, “The mock fights between the tournament members and others are in full swing right now. Would you three like to—”
“HAI!!!” yelped with joy the children as they leaped into the air. Yunosuke was the one to quickly sober up and ask tentatively, “Ano…Yuki-Sensei…we won't be in the way, right? I wouldn't want to disturb them…”
“Aw, Yubo, don't spoil it for us!” groaned Shinpachi as he prayed that his teacher would let them go anyway.
“It's all right, Shinpachi-kun, Yunosuke-kun,” replied Yuki calmly. “I had already spoken to Shihan about it, and he was more than happy to accommodate us. So let's not be of further delay…”
Leading the trio of excited students to the main dojo, Yuki felt elated to be giving them this opportunity to observe the more experienced members in a totally different environment. Before, it was merely seeing them in practice, which lacked their true talent and skill…no, they reserved just such abilities for the real matches, such as the ones that were occurring at that moment. It would be a wonderful experience for the children to see how far they can go if they only apply themselves. His students held such promise at such an early age…he was so proud of them.
And, he had to admit, he was curious to see how good this team is that Kazuma put together. So much time and effort was put into their training for just this tournament. It stands to reason that they will do what's necessary to make their sensei proud. He could clearly tell that they held Kazuma in such high regard.
Finally arriving at their destination, he could overhear through the shoji doors the matches going on inside the main training room. Turning to his students, he quickly held his hand up to indicate that silence on their part must be exercised during the time that they are there. Wordlessly conveying that they were ready, he quietly opened the door and ushered his students inside before him, indicating that they remain in the far back corner that held a clear view of the arena. They all kneeled onto the tatami mats silently behind the last line of students that were already there.
Glad to see that the kids were now transfixed on the scene in front of them, he swiftly glanced around. Haru's fixed gaze met his own, the Ox being on the opposite wall facing them from across the arena, his position in the first row where the starters were sitting clearly indicating the high position he had earned over the years as Kazuma's student.
`No surprise that he'd spot me all the way back here. Ah, there's the old glare from our Neko. Hmph, I guess he snapped out of his funk from earlier.' Moving on, Yuki perceived other glares, namely from Hiko and Hajime. Those were livid stares that would cook him on the spot if it actually mattered for him to care. No, what caught his attention now was the hard stare from another Sohma. Tetsuya had obviously not forgotten their last encounter with one another at the family meeting. That was certainly memorable…
So intent was their staring contest that he failed to notice someone joining him along with his students. Turning to face him, Yuki is taken aback at the visitor. “Master Haji…”
“Eh, this is undoubtedly a pleasure, Yuki-sama.” Settling himself better on his knees, Master Haji looked to the match that was just concluding. Pleased that he had just made it in time to see Kyo's and Tetsuya's match, he whispered to Yuki eagerly, “Are you also here to lend your support to our family?”
“Hm?” Now aware that Master Haji is part of the circle that knows about their family's intimate details, including their curse, Yuki was admittedly a bit leery to speak with him any further, unsure of just exactly where he stands with this man. Sure the elderly Sohma addressed him as his superior and seemed very kind, but it's been his experience that everyone in the inner circle had already a preconceived notion of what they thought of him even though they've never spoken to him before. It left him at a loss as to whether or not he should place any trust on the man…for all he knew, the man couldn't stand him.
Still, if Master Haji did happen to be that sort of person, he was quite sure that Akito wouldn't have formally introduced him to the elder. Kureno had said so before that Akito would only introduce him to those she approves of or something like that.
`Although he did just come up to me and started talking to me so normally before Akito had the chance to introduce him to me. Did have some sort of agenda then? Or was he just curious about the Nezumi of the Jyuunishi? Or was he curious about me? It's so complicated dealing with these people…my family… (Sigh) In any case, I have to be nice…he hasn't done anything wrong as far as I know.'
Warily Yuki recalled Master Haji's question and was rather puzzled on how to best answer it. He was rather anxious of his fellow Jyuunishi's performances. He knew that any opponent facing Kyo would likely meet defeat…damn Neko will accept nothing but that, no matter the cost (speaking from personal experience). Yet, the usually focused Neko had been rather distracted as of late… enough so that it could lead to him letting his guard down and then ending up with an injury. Not a good thing when the tournament is just around the corner.
Personally, he was very excited to see how much of a fighter Haru truly is inside the arena. It'd be his first time actually seeing the Ox in a real match against others, other than in `black' mode. It would be something else, he was sure of that.
“Perhaps,” was the simple answer Yuki settled on giving the elder Sohma. He then turned his attention back to the arena when he saw Kunimitsu stand in the middle of it.
“Tenaka Hiko…Ohashi Hajime. Step forward.” The two students stood up promptly and joined the teacher at the arena. Bowing to him then to each other, they awaited Kunimitsu's next command. Arm outstretched, he gave it. “Fight.”
Master Haji scarcely paid attention to this match. Oh, the students were outstanding otherwise they wouldn't be on the team. No, they didn't lack skills, just finesse in executing them. Plus discipline in certain forms of their katas…well, all in all he'd judge them to be average. Nothing bad, but nothing great either. It'll be good enough to root out other opponents of the same level from other teams at the tournament.
The elderly Sohma instead turned his attention to his young relative next to him. Truly, he was eager to continue their earlier conversation—it wasn't often that he found himself in the presence of the Nezumi (their past encounters had been their only encounters up to those times)—but refrained from doing so. Instead he recalled the young Sohma's reply to his earlier question, noting that although it was short, it was enough. He dryly grinned at this, understanding that Yuki was neither too familiar nor comfortable with discovering him to being a member of the inner circle within the family. He was pretty sure Akito had kept the boy ignorant of his personal past relationship with the previous Neko of the Jyuunishi. Perhaps he could acquaint himself better with the Nezumi with that as a basis of understanding…
Perhaps not.
`It's a shame that I can't be to him what I am to Kyo. There's sadly too much history between us…even though he knows nothing of it I can't ignore it. I should…goodness knows Nii-san would have wanted that of me, but…I just can't. Because after all is said and done…Yuki is the Nezumi, the child that holds Akito's endorsement, while Kyo is the Neko that will never have it.' He became somber on these musings, which then led him to look to Kyo across the arena. The glint in the Neko's eyes was hard and aimed directly at the Nezumi.
`Such a dark reminder of why I can't become attached to the Nezumi. I can't allow myself to think of Yuki beyond being Akito's favorite…her chosen one…her Nezumi. No matter how hard the temptation is to bask in the Nezumi's presence, to get to know the boy…I won't.'
And the temptation was great, he admitted…he'd already fallen prey to it the few times he had spoken to the boy of his own accord. Kazuma wasn't the only one with the dilemma of wanting to be in Yuki's presence more often but knowing it would prove to be a problem by doing so. The pull to the Nezumi was staggering, even for him, one of the few of the elderly Sohma generation that had known the previous Jyuunishi line and still lived.
It was startling, truly. He felt that pull the instant the boy was birthed, remembering at the time that it was similar in strength to that of the young `God' at the time of her birth. It was something indescribable at first, but then he could sense it to be for what it was…a connection…a harmony that wasn't there before in the Sohma family, not for a long, long time.
Those that knew of the private matter received news of the birth of the Nezumi in such close proximity with that of the `God' with a wave of relief and pride. He soon left his secluded villa in the northern mountains to visit the Nezumi shortly after his birth. He had held the child with great care, completely mesmerized with the grand aura that emanated from his small body, how strong and overwhelming his presence already was for being so young. So much like that of the young `God' at the time.
How very different it was for another Sohma birth. Upon the Neko being born, a great shame was felt amongst the family. And he, the youngest brother of the previous Neko, could only shed his tears of joy in private, as they were not shared by anyone else. The Neko had a commanding presence as well, but to many it was looked down upon with sheer disgust. Even the Neko's own father was no better than the rest that despised the infamous Jyuunishi's presence.
One look to the young Neko back then, and it was clear that his loyalty couldn't be divided. The boy would only know that whereas the Nezumi was held in high regard, the Neko would be shunned for life. As he grew older, Kyo came to understand this notion fully. The turn from innocence to bitterness was heartbreaking for this elder Sohma to witness. The Neko now only saw any encouragement or praise from the adults about the Nezumi to be a veiled comment that he was of no worth at all. And sadly, he was right in his understanding of the dark motives behind their remarks.
`Such anger…such hate…instilled in a young child's mind so early in life. And having it all directed to one source… For all the praise they gave the Nezumi, it only amplified Kyo's hatred of him. It's no wonder that then and even now, Kyo would feel betrayed if we give the Nezumi any more attention than what's necessary. How is Kazu-kun dealing with this now with the Nezumi regularly at the dojo? Akito certainly made things difficult for him with her involvement.'
Stirring from his distant thoughts, he noted that the ongoing match was quickly coming to its conclusion. Shyly glancing to the Nezumi, he saw that Yuki was also unimpressed with the match, practically stifling a yawn out of apparent boredom. Yet he brightly grinned to his students and softly whispered to them different points relating to the match.
`He is so much like Kazu-kun. He would make a great teacher if he gave it more effort.' Laughing internally at the absurdity of that possibility, he almost failed to notice that the match had finished.
After confirming that Kazuma finished with his notations, Kunimitsu now called out the next pair. “Miho Keisuke, Sohma Hatsuharu…step forward.” Both did as told, bowing to him, then to each other. He called out, “Fight.”
It didn't escape Yuki's notice that Haru held a devious smirk just then. `What is he planning on doing? Hm…somehow, I just don't want to know the answer to that.'
The uncharacteristic smirk didn't vanish as the opponents faced each other off in an apparent standstill as they sized each other up. It was Haru that finally broke the silence, blatantly ignoring Kazuma's previous instructions about keeping focused on the match.
“You know, Miho-san…I was waiting for this moment to come for quite some time now,” murmured Haru softly to his opponent, his sharp gaze never wavering.
Aware that Kazuma wasn't pleased with the disruption during a match, Keisuke kept his response to the point. “Oh? I hope it'll be worth it.”
“Oh, it will be.” And with no further words, Haru cut through the distance and swiftly swiped Keisuke's legs from under him, effectively landing his opponent on his back. The victory was short-lived as Keisuke quickly rolled out of the way to avoid a punch to the gut.
Back on his feet, Keisuke barely had a chance to avoid the next fist that nearly made contact with his chest. Instead, he crouched low and returned the favor by swiping Haru's legs from beneath him.
In such close proximity with him, Haru couldn't roll away, but he did catch Keisuke's fist with his hand before it connected to his chest. One swift kick-up, and Keisuke was flipped over his head where he landed flat on his back with a thud.
Not giving Keisuke the chance to roll away this time, Haru pinned him with his arm against his throat, clearly not allowed in the arena, but then again the Ox wasn't really interested in following the rules at the moment. As his arm fell on his victim like an iron clamp, he mildly remarked, “You know, you haven't apologized.”
“Uuuuggh…what…are you…uuuggghhh,” grunted Keisuke as he gasped for needed air.
“Hatsuharu, release him NOW.” The chilling command from Kazuma was however met with deaf ears. It baffled the teacher to no end how Haru in `non-Black' mode is refusing to obey his commands. He was tempted to interfere in this match since it was clearly breaking the rules of an official match, but he was worried that by doing so it would bring out the darker aspect of Haru's personality, something he hadn't wanted to handle during a grading of such importance, not to mention the witnesses all around them from different levels and classes.
`No, Hatsuharu is in his right mind and knows what he's doing. What has him so riled that he's blatantly ignoring my orders?' Kazuma's thoughts ceased when he heard another voice call out.
“Haru…stand down,” was the soft, cool reply heard in the large room.
Master Haji didn't know which had him so stunned…the calm, collected Nezumi giving the order or the fact that the Ox was complying without hesitation. It mattered little, he supposed, since it was rather clear that the black/white-haired youth favored the Nezumi above all others.
Standing up gracefully while looking down at his coughing opponent, Haru leaned down to take an arm to pull him up. Keisuke was too out of it to realize what was going on until he heard the soft voice of the `out-of-control' Sohma.
“You see, witnessing your embarrassment was well worth it,” was the soft-spoken remark from Haru, his eyes glinting coldly momentarily until they brightened in slight amusement. “I suppose the apology to Yuki will have to come later.”
Eyes widening at having heard this, Keisuke couldn't help but sputter, “Wha—how could you…(cough)…it's been so long! (Cough) How long…your grudge—”
“Yuki, a word.” Kazuma stood abruptly as he said this, taking long, sure strides towards the entrance of the room. The clipped command wasn't lost on the people there. Few have heard Kazuma sound so…harshly, and not in a good way.
Quickly standing and motioning for his students to remain seated with Master Haji, Yuki carefully maneuvered around the elderly Sohma and made his way across the arena to where Kazuma was by the entry doors. It was the first time he had ever had that tone directed at him by Kazuma, so he was fast to reach his teacher's side without delay.
Looking down to the slim youth into his large grey/violet eyes conveying confusion and worry, Kazuma steeled himself for what he was about to say. “You will NEVER do that again, am I clear? I must have the full cooperation of all that are here to learn what I have to teach them, including Hatsuharu. If he cannot respond to my commands, then I will deal with him personally, not you. It isn't your place to circumvent my authority while at this dojo. If you disagree with this, then leave now.”
It was all said in such low tones, but a razor-sharp edge graced those tones. Yuki felt it cut through him coldly, and he could only bow his head low, keeping his gaze on the hardwood floor. Apparently he had committed a major faux pas without realizing it. His inexperience dealing with a place such as this that abided by rules and tradition became rather apparent to all those that were witnessing the exchange.
“But…I…Haru wasn't going to give up…I could tell. Shihan, you had to have known that. I had to do something before it got serious.' He was about to voice his reasons for having done what he had done when he heard the whispering and murmurs amongst the collective group.
“Oh come on, that was cool! Just saying it once, and he was off of him in a flash!”
“Shihan has nothing on Yuki-Sensei! Heh, I never saw Hatsuharu-Sempai obey so fast!”
“I hope Shihan finally kicks out the show-off.”
“He thinks he's so much better than the rest of us just because…”
Yuki hurriedly clamped his ears to the varied remarks. He could even envision their facial expressions particularly those that he knew were smirking at his predicament. He really hadn't meant for his outburst to disrupt the class so much. It was his aim to avoid uproar within the classroom as was usually the outcome whenever Haru became unnecessarily violent.
`I acted on just impulse. I just knew it…Haru wasn't about to budge, not when it was about THAT. I never knew Haru was still sore about that. Still…I didn't seem to help matters any.' He couldn't help the dejection from entering his gaze, knowing now that he had disappointed Kazuma. He had now become that which he had promised he wouldn't become…a burden.
It took everything Kazuma had to hold his piercing gaze on the youth, never letting the disapproval falter from his look. It was so easy to forget that Yuki was never trained officially at his dojo, nor was he ever exposed to the intricacies of how life at this place revolved. No, the youth had nothing but a few lessons he remembered as a child to guide him through the arduous life the dojo presented. And so far, Yuki really had excelled as both a teacher and student, never once complaining of how hard the manual labor was or if the students in general gave him a hard time.
`Truth be told, this is all my fault. I should have paid more attention; if Hatsuharu was unusually upset, it could only have been for one reason. And that reason is standing right before me…' Sighing heavily, he closed his eyes to the youth, bringing his hand to lightly massage his closed lids. Yet, even with his eyes shut, he could still see the dejected look seep into the startled eyes of the youth. Really, he hadn't meant for his voice to cut through like that…it was done rather automatically and mainly for the benefit of the class that was listening intently on their conversation. He had to set the example—that was all he had thought about at the time.
`No, if the WHOLE truth be told, that wasn't the only thing going through my mind. I took outside issues into this. I've not been able to settle down since Akito's sudden visit earlier. And to take it out on… (Sigh) She appears so unexpectedly…her visits always tend to shake everything around her; nothing is back to normal when she leaves you. And here I took it out on someone so innocent of it all—didn't Haji-ojiisan warn me not to be unsure around Yuki?'
Noting how silent and pensive his teacher was, Yuki strongly felt the disappointment emanate from Kazuma, certain that it was due to his interference with the class. Bowing low at the waist in apology, he decided to leave further explanations for a later time, not wanting to prolong this situation anymore.
“Sumimasen, Shihan. It was my fault Haru became upset with Miho-san in the first place.” The soft apology drew a startled jerk from Kazuma and an entirely different reaction from another Sohma.
“It's NOT your fault, Yuki,” firmly interjected Haru as he cut into their conversation, abruptly appearing beside Yuki's bowed form.
His gaze was pointed as he looked to the others that were snickering behind his back, silencing them in a heartbeat. He then looked down to his shorter relative, catching Yuki's pleading gaze but chose to ignore it. Pushing headlong into what he set out to do, he turned back to face Kazuma's own piercing gaze on him, clearly displeased with his disruption. Again, it mattered little what the adult Sohma had thought of his actions. After all, when all was said and done…
“It's all my doing, Shihan. Yuki had nothing to do with what I did to Miho-san.” Not one to back down before Kazuma, Haru held his ground beside a flustered Yuki who was trying to keep him out of it with his persistent nudges. Instead, the Ox leaned into Kazuma's ears and whispered clearly for only him to hear, “I answer to only one, Shihan, and that one is not you. Outside the dojo or inside, that will never change. I'm sorry, but that is the truth.”
Leaning back, Haru brightly grinned to a visibly shaken Kazuma. “I'm ready to accept my punishment, Shihan.”
Brows quirked in bewilderment, Yuki was hesitant on how to reply. Before, Kazuma was upset with Haru's interruption; now, the teacher was seemingly at a loss of how to respond to a seemingly innocent remark from the Ox. Knowing it had to do with whatever Haru whispered to the man, Yuki held his breath and pressed onward.
“Sumimasen, Shihan, but I'll leave now. Please excuse me.” Quickly bowing to his distraught teacher, Yuki held up his hand to Haru's oncoming protest, mouthing to him that he had done enough. If only he had backed out as soon as he had said so…
“Running away is what you do best, ne Yuki-Sensei?” The curt reply from Keisuke was heard clearly from across the room. The now recovered opponent went on in his rant on his perception of Yuki thus far, “Isn't that so? Whenever it gets too difficult, you back away, hiding so that others clean up your mess.”
“WHAT THE HELL IS YOUR PROBLEM, MIHO?” angrily shouted `black' Haru as he made his intent to lunge at him, only to be stopped by Yuki's firm grasp on his shoulder.
`Damn, talk about a situation getting shot straight to hell…' mused Master Haji wearily as he inched closer to Yuki's students, they being rather innocent and likely will wish to rush up there in defense of their beloved teacher—the little girl's adoring eyes said as much. Curious as to what was whispered between the Ox and Kazuma since Kazuma's eyes gave away his shock, he perceived that his chance to find out would have to be at another time.
Another Sohma was rather curious himself, but he refrained from joining the little interlude. Kyo had no interest in getting mixed up in this mess. His experience being at the dojo and with Kazuma most of his life taught him well that they were all treading on extremely thin ice. He pitied the idiots for disrupting the grading matches…they will regret it later.
Tetsuya was also familiar with Kazuma's disciplinary methods and knew better than to say anything at the moment, even though his close friend was directly in the line of fire. His teammates were about to join in on the foray, but one hard glare to Hajime and Hiko swiftly put a stop to their actions, both humbly backing down. Neither one wanted to face his method of subduing them.
“I have no problem, Haru-san. It is only an observation from my part and others as well. He only walks away and never faces—” Keisuke quickly blocks a kick to the face from Haru's long reach with his leg. He swiftly grasps the opportunity and withholds Haru's leg abruptly, all ready to use his elbow to land a blow when he was suddenly knocked back on the floor. He didn't even register the connection to his chest until he laid there, heaving heavily as he tried to catch his lost breath.
Honestly, it was just raw reaction on his part. From withholding Haru around the waist to prevent the Ox from landing a kick on the unsuspecting Keisuke to landing a blow of his own when he saw the threat to his friend, Yuki did not think…again. His mess just got messier…and he didn't have a clue of how to fix it without making it worse. It already looked like he circumvented Kazuma's authority by taking matters out of his teacher's hands, again.
Looking back to Haru, he saw the amusement in his eyes at seeing Keisuke on his back for the second time in under five minutes. Catching the Ox's gaze, he narrowed his stare strictly, wordlessly reprimanding him for taking this grudge too far. Haru could only look away, never having had to deal with the Nezumi's displeasure before. Sparing no further glance to Haru or Kazuma, he quietly left the room…and his mess.
`Well, at least one thing was learned with this ridiculous display. Yuki is fast to react…or it could be that Keisuke was caught off guard. Or both. We'll just have to wait and see.' Tetsuya's thoughts were shared by others that saw the swift actions of the young teacher.
Who would have thought it? Yuki at two places virtually at once. From the firm hold on the normally strong Haru to changing positions abruptly to lunge a fist into Keisuke's chest with such unhurried grace. It didn't even seem that the young teacher put any effort into it at all. For a beginner to take down two seasoned opponents, essentially, it was rather interesting. Truly…interesting.
“Keisuke-kun, Hatsuharu…you both will remain after class to discuss your punishment. Am I clear?” Kazuma's sharp tone brook for no argument at this point. And if that wasn't enough, his frosty glare was more than enough to silence any words on their part as they hurriedly went to take their previous seats.
He was livid, that much Kazuma admitted to himself. He was just baffled as to who specifically, if anyone, he was angry with. Maybe he was just angry at himself for letting the situation skyrocket out of control…
“Kunimitsu, continue with the matches.” He then set himself back down to where he was grading his students before, his countenance visibly stressed. One glance to his grandfather, and he knew that a discussion was just ahead them. `Later…I'll deal with this later.'
Exactly the thoughts one Neko shared with him.
Kagura was intently facing her task at hand, all else around her becoming meaningless. She was steady with her hand, her gaze held true to what's in front of her. Slowly, but gently, she took her hand to her face, firmly holding her instrument in her delicate fingers. Close, so very closely, she struck swiftly and to the mark.
“There! Damn, tweezing brows is just so hard nowadays; I have to do it outdoors to get enough light. Hm…maybe waxing will work better for me…” Setting aside her tweezers and mirror, she looked out to the gardens around her as she sat outside the girl's dojo. Giving her high ponytail a flick over her shoulder, she mused that the length of it may need to be shortened for the upcoming tournament. Smoothing her rumpled uniform, she sighed happily, content to know that she had a whole afternoon to herself now that her classes with Kazuma and Kunimitsu were postponed until tomorrow. Speaking of which…
“I wonder how their ranking matches are coming along…it's been over two hours. Heh, Kyo-kun ought to be making a hit or two! Haru-chan, too!” She then felt her giddy mood vanish, sighing heavily at the thought of the next Sohma male that was participating. `Yeah, HIM. Tetsuya-kun… I'm sure he's just as good as Kyo-kun, if not better. He's been training longer than Kyo-kun.'
“He has? I did not know that.”
She jerked to her feet at hearing that remark from behind her. Looking to who had spoken it, she let out a long breath in relief. “Goodness, Yun-chan, you startled me! Must be your `animal instincts', ne? And how did you know what I was thinking?”
“You actually voiced your thoughts out loud.” With a wry smile, Yuki put down his pail and rag, having already finished his cleaning of the girls' dojo. Deciding to take a break before cleaning the surrounding grounds, he knelt down to where she was before, feeling every sore muscle on his body. “Your dojo was in sore need of a good cleaning. I'm sorry I wasn't able to get to it sooner.”
“Heh, don't worry about it. You in the midst of a sea of female estrogen would not bode well,” smiled widely the Boar, recalling vivid images of hormone-driven girls that more often than not faced her ire when they insisted on their desire to `acquaint' themselves with Yuki. “Heheh, as it is, it's tough keeping those wolves in sheep's clothing from going over to the guys' dojo every day to take a peep at you or the others. Good thing your class is at the same time as the girls. And you're always so discreet whenever you're around doing other things.”
Settling herself next to him, she looked to the lush flowers around them, feeling very tranquil with her fellow Nezumi at her side. She'd come to appreciate the calming influence his presence had on her, bringing her a sense of peace when her mind would try to tear it down with problems. Problems like her ongoing dilemma with certain family members…
“Hm.” Lying back on the cool grass, he stared high into the late day, birds twittering and making their last minute flights before night set in. Yawning lightly, he breathed in heavily the hot summer breeze, letting out a long breath as he became lethargic when the air settled into his bones. Lazily looking to Kagura, he noted the distant look in her eyes while staring at Kazuma's prized flower bushes. Not wanting to bring up a sore subject, but feeling the need to do so, he asked, “So, what had your mind on Tetsuya-san?”
“Eh?” She looked down to him unsure of what he meant. Perceiving only concern from him, she shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly. “Oh…um, nothing really. I just mentioned it because of the ranking matches going on. They should be close to being over by now…why are you here? Shouldn't you be there with them?”
Closing his eyes at the sudden remembrance of what had occurred earlier, he groaned audibly. He had hoped that by burying himself in his chores he'd at least put off having to think about that minor incident, let alone talk about it with anyone. “Mmmm… I saw a little of it. (Heavily sighs) Anyway, I wanted to catch up on work I've put off, so I'm here now. You seem to know a lot about Tetsuya-san.”
She was curious to know why he blatantly dodged her question, but left it alone seeing how tired he was. Deciding to go along with his change in subject, she replied, “Oh, well, it just happens to be that way. I mean, he's about a couple of years older than I am, so we're just about the same age. More in common I suppose. Although he's way smarter than I am. Did you know he's working on his bachelor's degree in his studies? Heh, it pays to have private tutors early in life, ne?”
He blankly gazed at the swaying leaves of the trees high above him, vaguely wondering how much effort Tetsuya put into his lessons at Kazuma's dojo if he's so busy with his university studies. Talk about over-achieving… “I guess so…I never wanted any.”
Kagura's sunny smile immediately turned into a frown. She then glanced around her, making doubly sure that no one would overhear what she was about to voice out loud. “Yun-chan…you know the rumors about him, don't you?”
Noticing the sudden change in her tone, he sat up and gave her his full attention. “No, what are they?”
Feeling the full weight of his mesmerizing gaze on her, she temporarily hesitated in giving a response. In her opinion, Yuki was too close to the growing antagonism between the family members, he being in a coveted position of the family. He may not fully understand the ramifications if her words turned out to be true, but at least he'll be wary of those that were aiming to take advantage of him and his innocence. Not that she'd believe Tetsuya of it, but his father…
“Well, it's just that…Tetsuya-kun's dad… He's been taking steps…to take the lead as head of the family once Akito-san passes on. It's what Tetsuya-kun was raised for…to be his heir.” She stopped here, not wanting to say anymore since the rest was really just gossip…confinement for the Jyuunishi as a group in an undisclosed location being one ridiculous idea. `Pft, as if our parents would let that happen. Such wild ideas…'
“Seto-san wants to…lead the family? And then…pass it on to Tetsuya-san…as his heir?” remarked the youth slowly as those outrageous words registered in his mind.
`It makes sense now, why Seto-san doesn't get along with Akito. If the rumor's true, then all his efforts as of late…could they have something to do with it? Is he trying to control us…to submit to him like we do with Akito? It sure seems like it what with the way he's been with Ritsu and Kagura… But why single them out? He's not being oppressive with the others or me, not that he'd have much success anyway.' He counted off the other Jyuunishi as he continued this line of thought.
`Hatori, Nii-san, and Shigure aren't about to bat an eye for him, that's for sure. I…well, I'm pretty much off limits to just about everyone in the family, save a few Akito's introduced to me. Kureno deals with him often, but I don't think Seto-san has any commanding influence over him. Then there's Kyo, Haru, Rin, Momiji, Hiro, and Kisa. Kyo's a target no matter what, but he hasn't said much, and he would voice his opinion LOUDLY if he's being pressured by anyone in particular. No one can catch Rin let alone dominate her. With the rest, their parents are too devoted one way or the other. Akito is one thing but Seto-san would be a real fool to try anything with them.'
Going over all this was giving Yuki a frightful headache. It made sense but didn't at the same time. Controlling the Jyuunishi is not as easy as it sounded, the ambitious man must know that. Still, the fact that he's focusing whatever efforts on trying to take the position as head of the family once Akito dies…it was morbid. It was sick and demented given the fact that Akito is ALIVE and more or less well.
`She's still ALIVE! It's no wonder she's bitter with the way they flaunt the fact of her imminent death as just another order of business…trivial. It's NOT.'
Yuki swiftly stood up, his breathing becoming heavier with each passing moment, his sudden resentment becoming intense. He abruptly began pacing, his mind going a mile a second. He couldn't help murmuring as he applied hard pressure to his temples, “She's not dead yet…she's ALIVE. Damn him for making it harder on her.”
Her frequent visits to her clan head for tea made for interesting discoveries. If she hadn't known how involved Yuki had become in Akito's life, she would have been stunned at his behavior. It was her understanding that there was bad history between the `God' and Nezumi—the imbalance…the disharmony…it was all felt within their Jyuunishi bond. But over the last few years, particularly over these last few months, she has known of the strengthened bond between those two. The reasons behind it were ignorable if it meant that they as a whole enjoyed a renewed balance, a tenuous harmony that she was very sure hadn't been felt for many generations.
That was her perception on this unique relationship between Akito and Yuki. It was clear that Akito's welfare meant a lot to the Nezumi and vice-versa. Their relationship, as odd as it is, is the basis of their unity as the Jyuunishi. It was also a precious gift that afforded her the cherished relationship she has now with her lovable Monkey.
The bond between `God' and Nezumi was not one to trifle with, nor the one shared amongst the Jyuunishi as a whole. `That man is an idiot if he really thinks he can get away with trying anything with Yun-chan or Akito or anyone else with the curse. He has no idea what we're capable of…what I'm willing to do. And I'm willing to do just about anything to keep us safe…'
“You're right, Yun-chan. But a lot of family members think the same way. I only keep my ears open; they like to gossip to Kaa-san a lot.” Seeing the Nezumi so distraught, she stood up as well and patted his back gently to hopefully calm him down. “Don't fret so much, Yun-chan. Akito-san can deal with that kind of person…I mean, let's face it. She's been leading this family through thin and thinner for most of her life. Add that on top of being, you know, THAT person to us Jyuunishi. She can handle him.”
He suddenly ceased in his pacing, standing still as his hand tapped his chin worriedly. His concern was heavy as his eyes drooped lowly to look at the dark green grass. “He's messing with you and your family and others; what's to stop him from going further? How far is he willing to go? She shouldn't have to be putting up with that NONSENSE. It's hard as it is being like she is now. What's he trying to do…push her to an early grave?”
He couldn't help the onslaught of his worries and voicing them. His nerves were frayed beyond hope for the rest of the day and now this bit of news, or rumor, came his way. He kept seeing in his mind the moments of despair that Akito carried with her, away from the prying eyes of the family, only to share them with him and him only.
`She's dying…she's dying and they're being infuriatingly ridiculous in wanting to take control of the family. Don't they care about anything but power? What good is it if you're dead? She'll be dead…'
“Kagura, fetch Kureno over at the other end of the complex. He seems to be having a terrible time trying to locate me.”
Both Jyuunishi jerked to look behind them upon hearing the statement. She stood there regally, leaning against one of the large trees, carefully scrutinizing them both. Kagura did panic at first, realizing that Akito must have heard their discussion. Yet there was no time to mull over her indiscretion for getting Yuki worked up over these rampant rumors. She quickly acted.
“Yes, Akito-san. I'll be back shortly,” she responded with a low bow to her `God'. Offering one last glance of comfort to the Nezumi, Kagura smiled softly and hurriedly went off in search of one Bird.
Seeing the Boar go off on her order, Akito sighed heavily and sat down gingerly against the trunk of the tree. She closed her eyes and heftily drew in another breath of fresh air, only to release the same breath slowly. Feeling the soft warmth of Yuki's body next to her, she leaned against his shoulder, noting that he smelled of his sweat, still a winter morning's scent but now tinged with a slight musk. She decided that she much preferred him to be clean.
“Why do you do such menial labor?” she asked languidly, settling herself further into her human pillow by wrapping her arms around his available arm.
“It's my job, Akito,” quietly replied Yuki, drawing his knees up to his chest while looking down at Akito's head comfortably resting on his shoulder. After having been thoroughly agitated with being told what was being talked about behind closed doors, he found that he couldn't shake his unease off. Akito had surely heard what they were discussing.
Deciding to broach a safer subject before he pressed her for answers of his main concern, he asked, “Why would Kureno be elsewhere looking for you?”
That drew a chuckle from her, small as it was, but indeed a chuckle. Looking up to his large gray/violet eyes shadowed only by his heavy lashes, she smirked impishly, her eyes withholding the truth that only she found to be funny. “Heh…he's so easy to fool! (Giggles) You know he's not much for finding someone who's hiding…hehe. Oh…it's so fun to see him running around like a strutting rooster searching for me. (Giggles)
Yuki closely took in her countenance and his large eyes widened even further. Thrusting his hand to her face, he felt her high temperature despite the summer heat. Worriedly he admonished her, “Why are you hiding from him when you're this sick? You should be—”
“You still worry too much,” she cut in as she lethargically waved off his comments. Her eyes narrowed at her oncoming thoughts, her discontent coming off in waves. “Besides, I had business to conduct with that…man. I am so glad I don't have to deal with that idiot too often. Him and his pet…ugh, they make me ill.”
Suffice to say that he now knows why she was there at all. She hardly spoke of Kazuma or Kyo with him, either now or before. He simply assumed that she just didn't deal with them that often, at least, not enough to make her mention them more often. Well, his assumption wasn't too far from the truth…
Letting that matter rest since it would only aggravate her to speak of it, he cautiously treaded on the other topic plaguing his mind. “Akito, about what Kagura said—”
“She has a WIDE trap—she should learn to hold her tongue,” was her clipped remark, her frown deepening.
Feeling her temper simmering just beneath her fever, he gently took her hands to ease the stress there. He absently noted how small her hands were, how fine and slim her fingers tapered down to her trimmed fingernails. Ironic how these very hands that looked so innocent were the ones that dealt such harsh blows (physically and figuratively) to the Jyuunishi and to the others if she felt the desire to do so. She's done much with these hands…
And yet, despite her actions with them in the past, all the hate and anger associated with them, these small hands now held a greater responsibility than ever before. They are now paving the way for their future in this family…without her.
Relief washed over him at having felt that his calming actions did have its desired effect as she began to relax further into him. To add to his gesture, he softly whispered, “She meant well…she's worried about us and these rumors. If they're true, then I shouldn't be kept ignorant of them, don't you agree?”
She really hated the soothing effect his caress is having on her tattered nerves. It didn't allow for her to get angry as she was wont to do, especially at the audacious girl that had the impudence to speak of matters that shouldn't be spoken about. Damn rumors…if they were circulating to the point that the parents of the Jyuunishi were getting wind of it, it really was no wonder that the elder Jyuunishi hadn't approached the subject with her. But then again, she had been rather indisposed with her constant battles with one illness or another. They probably didn't want to aggravate her condition with needless meddling into HER private affairs. Or they were wise enough to keep their mouths shut.
“Those RUMORS are my business. I am still head of this leeching family…if they were of any importance, I would have said something. Since I HAVEN'T, they're NOT.” Satisfied with her answer, she closed her eyes and once again retreated into her foggy mind where the world around them mattered little and all that counted was this moment. A moment that, unlike the family she was born into, wasn't mired with rumors, rebellious attitudes, overbearing responsibilities…chaos…
But content as she was with ending the matter, she sensed to her chagrin her Nezumi's disappointment at hearing remarks, his unrelenting worry weighing so heavily that she could feel it smothering them both. She sighed heavily, frustrated that her words apparently did little to conclude the matter as she thought it to be. Yet that slowly ebbed when she opened her dazed eyes to see how he still held her hands as if cradling delicate porcelain.
Looking to their linked hands, she grudgingly concedes and coolly states, “Your worries are unfounded. I am not about to keel over just because some envious fool thinks that he can outwit me with his games. Nor am I going to just let him take the reins of this family, not even from my cold, dead hands. I am very good at what I do, Yuki…you remember that.”
Yuki couldn't help but look down in awe at her crown of raven-black hair. Not even the mark of death had a hold over her objectives, her reach into the depths of this family. She uttered her words with a self-assurance that knew no such thing as failure. Even in her fevered state, she was never one to back down from stating the truth as she saw it or to remind others that she was no weakling, no matter the state of her health.
Remarkable. She managed to scold him but also settle his rising fears with her usual way with words. He couldn't help the smile that came to his lips at realizing that, now feeling rather foolish at having behaved the way he did when he listened to Kagura. Today just hasn't been all that very good to him…
“You're too kind, Yuki…it's why you fuss so much.”
Looking down to her, he couldn't help the small laugh when he heard that. She looked to be asleep while resting on his shoulder, her eyes closed to the gardens around them, but he knew better. She was still very attached to his arm and her grip only tightened further. “Heh, you always say that.”
“It's true. You should stop it.”
Quirking his brow, he had to ask, “Stop fussing or stop being kind?”
No reply came forthcoming.
“That was awesome!” exclaimed Hiro. “Man, I can't wait until my lessons start up in fall! What do you say, Kisa?”
“It was amazing to see the practice matches with the team going to the tournament,” agreed Kisa with an excited smile. Turning to the elder Sohma walking next to her, she shyly remarked, “Kazu-um, Shihan, Okaa-san told me to tell you that she'll be by next week to finalize all the paperwork with you.”
“That's fine, Kisa-chan. Let her know I'll be expecting her,” replied Kazuma kindly, all the while taking the last few shots left in the roll of film in Kyo's camera. `Tohru-kun would be most appreciative of the pictures we're taking for her. I made sure to include plenty of Kyo's match with Tetsuya-kun.'
“I'm so glad Tou-san already got my stuff done. Yep, and I'll be able to knock down Kyo in no time flat!” declared the overzealous Sheep.
Up ahead of the group, Kyo guffawed. “Pft, dream on, SQUIRT.”
Master Haji was eager to share his thoughts on the subject. “Now that'll be something worth waiting to see. You just give me a call, Hiro-kun, and I'll be the first to congratulate you when you knock him senseless.”
Kazuma could only look to his grandfather next to him, giving the elderly man a hard nudge in hopes that it would silence him. It was, however, too late from keeping the orange/red-haired teen riled up.
“Oh, shut it, old man! I'll kick your wrinkled carcass right out of this dojo with one hand!”
“MORON! When you kick something, it's with your FOOT, not with your HAND! BAKA!”
“We have NAMES, Kyo,” bit out Hiro from behind the enraged teen, keeping Kisa closer to him in case the `adults' got into it with each other. “And we're NOT kids.”
“Hey, what kind of thanks is that for looking out for you two?!” griped Kyo as he rounded on the shorter youth that glared right back.
“Kyo, Haji-ojiisan…would you two NOT scare my future student?” Leaning down next to Kisa, Kazuma grasped her shoulder affectionately while gently replying, “You will need to ignore them when they're together. Not much intelligence circulates between the two when they're together.”
“HEY!” shouted both opponents simultaneously, which only prompted both from looking at one another for the time being.
`They are too alike in some ways.' Taking calming breaths to regain his worn patience, Kazuma asked, “Haji-ojiisan, at what time did you want Kyo and myself to arrive at the facility you rented for this special showing?”
Thinking about the time he'll need to get things set up, Master Haji settled on a time. “I'll call you on the day, schedules right now too inconsistent, but around ten in the morning is fine. Tetsuya-kun should be in by then and will be ready to show you some of the techniques he'll be using at next year's iado tournament.”
Kyo wondered what it would be like, his experience with the martial arts limited to Kazuma's teachings at the dojo. But Tetsuya…he was blessed with free reign to study a variety of forms, from archery to kendo, specifically the drawing/cutting with an actual sword—iado—hence why he associated with Master Haji more than with Kazuma. It was very difficult to accomplish, but Tetsuya was an over-achiever, and besides, his father demands perfection from the guy. It's why the hard-working Sohma had to leave right after the matches to return to his father's offices.
`Talk about being wound tighter than a drum,' mused Kyo idly. Looking off into a vacant classroom as they paused in the middle of the hallway, he ventured to ask, “Oyaji, didn't Tetsuya get his 9th Dan status yet?”
“He was supposed to but had decided to postpone taking the exam until this whole business with this year's tournament is done and over with.” Giving Kazuma a wide grin, Master Haji went on, “Tetsuya-kun wanted to give his very best at this tournament for you.”
“Hn…he is like that…” trailed off Kazuma in his soft reply, honestly thankful that Tetsuya was doing this for him at all. The young man didn't have to but was more than happy to volunteer his time to represent them at this tournament. `And with the way he and Kyo took their skills seriously in their matches earlier, our dojo will definitely be in the top tier of the finalists.'
“It's too bad we took such a long tour of the grounds that we missed Onii-chan's match with…eh, ano, I don't remember…Hiro-chan?” asked Kisa as she fumbled with the name.
“Miho Keisuke, I think. Hey, where did Haru walk off to? I didn't get a chance to ask him how his match went…he just took off. Was he that bad?” questioned Hiro, oblivious to the stern gaze from Kazuma that was leveled on Kyo. “You know it isn't smart to let the guy walk off; he's liable to get lost in a heartbeat.”
“Perhaps he's looking for Yuki-oniichan, Hiro-chan. He wasn't at the matches at all,” wisely guessed Kisa, knowing that if the Nezumi was in close proximity, the Ox was sure to keep close within distance of sight and touch.
“Yes, very astute, Kisa-chan,” replied Master Haji serenely. Giving Kazuma a knowing look, he continued, “Perhaps Yuki-sama is elsewhere tending to his duties. And wherever he may be, Haru-kun would be sure to follow.”
“Kyo, please retrieve them both, especially Hatsuharu.” He was calm in his remarks, but the slight narrow in Kazuma's eyes gave away his aggravation with the missing Ox.
“I'll come with you, Onii-chan,” spoke up Kisa softly yet determined to help. “I'm closer to him and would know his pattern of wandering.”
“Ergh, great…search and rescue of a lost Ox. Wonderful,” grumbled Hiro with disdain.
“Keh, you and me both,” complained Kyo lowly while leading them down the halls.
Watching the three Jyuunishi walk away until they turned a corner, Master Haji then leveled a heavy stare on his grandson. “Now, Kazu-kun, what did the Ox say that shook you up good?”
Kazuma's aggravation with a certain Jyuunishi vanished when he recalled those words from earlier. Not to mention that the small glares that he received from his youngest class practically declared their loyalty to their young teacher, in a sense giving him the rebuke in their indifferent attitude as they left with Tetsuya. He already felt disconcerted with what occurred with Yuki…his conscience demanding he rectify this matter as soon as possible.
Distracted as he was during the remaining grading matches, he heavily deliberated over Haru's remarks and finally came to a conclusion.
“The truth, Haji-ojiisan. The young Ox merely stated the truth…one I've ignored for too long.”
In another part of the grounds, a certain Neko was on the hunt for the elusive Ox. As more time passed, the more irate he was becoming.
“Damn, how far can that fool go?” huffed angrily Kyo, dragging the younger Sohma pair briskly across the gardens. “He can't have gone far…he was still wearing the uniform!”
“Your fault for lettin' him loose,” Hiro reminded him yet again.
“We should turn to the right, Onii-chan,” suggested Kisa softly as she paused in their hurried stride. Looking off to the right into the denser part of the grounds, she became perplexed and it showed.
Coming to the young Tiger's side, Hiro asked, “You okay, Kisa? Is it this way?”
Shaking away her confusion, she brightly smiled and nodded. “Hai. Let's hurry before Haru-oniichan wanders further away.”
“That's for sure.” Not bothering to check if the Neko was following, Hiro walked alongside Kisa at a steady pace, going further into the dense shrubbery. Wanting to break her heavy silence that didn't sit well with him, he casually inquired, “Hey, um, was it okay with your mother to come over to my house for dinner?”
“Yes, it was fine,” she answered quietly, her distraction now evident as she began rubbing her hands together. “Ano…Hiro-chan…”
“What's the matter?” He abruptly grasped her arm and held her still, looking straight into her eyes to keep her from looking away. “Tell me.”
“What's the hold-up? Is this the way or not?” demanded to know Kyo, the tension thickening in the air as his patience was just about up, though he refrained it well.
“Well, let her talk, Kyo!” Dismissing the impatient Neko, Hiro turned to Kisa worriedly. “Are you okay?”
She glanced back in the direction they were heading, her gaze apprehensive. Shaking her head, she smiled sadly at her childhood friend. “I'm sorry, but…I…I just can't. I can't go any further. I'm sorry.”
“Why not?” pressed Kyo.
Ignoring him, Hiro looked down at her beseeching eyes that begged him not to make her go on. He was startled, too, when she lowly raised a question to him.
“Don't you sense it, too, Hiro-chan? I…I'm sure you would. Just listen.” She then stood rigid on her feet, staring to the path ahead of them, silently glad that her companion was doing the same and not doubting her.
Odd as her request was, he had never denied her anything and wasn't about to. He listened as she had stated, still unable to hear anything else other than the increasing breezes flowing through the leaves of the massive trees around them, at times rustling the flower bushes surrounding them. The late hour of the day was encroaching on them quickly, which had him mildly concerned since he really didn't want to stay out here this late. Listening to the cicadas greet the early evening hour had him wondering what was for dinner…
There. He heard it muffled, but now focusing on it, it became more clear. Although he had wished Kisa had been a little more specific as to what she meant with `listening', at least he was able to understand her apprehension. And it was shared.
“Come on.” This was no suggestion on the Sheep's part as he held the girl's hand firmly while they passed Kyo with no further explanation, heading back where they had come from.
Kyo had no time for the mysteries. He wanted answers NOW. “Where the hell are you going?! I don't hear anything unusual out here!”
Kisa felt immense relief at being taken back but was also afraid of Kyo's reaction if she told him what they `heard'. Wishing that Tohru were there to calm him down, she stammered in her response, “I'm s-sorry, Onii-chan. We…we can't go.”
“Kisa, don't bother explaining it to the Neko. He has no understanding at all about this,” called out Hiro as he pulled her along down their path.
“Hiro, DON'T mess with me today.” The chilling retort from the Neko was enough to still the retreating Sheep.
Letting Kisa go momentarily, Hiro marched up to the taller Sohma and faced him down. It's true what they say of the Cat…he was different from the rest of them. It was not just physical appearances or even the second form this particular Jyuunishi took. It was much more than what the naked eye could see. And all one had to do was…listen. Something only the Jyuunishi could do.
He firmly explained, “You're not going to understand, Kyo…that's just the way it is. Just take my word for it…you DON'T want to go that way right now.”
“What WAY is that?!” bit out Kyo lividly. “And what is down that way?”
“You want it spelled out for you…FINE. You're the NEKO, Kyo, that's why it is the way it is. You CAN'T `listen' to what we hear, OKAY? And if you really want to know what's down that way, it's Haru. But he's NOT alone and we're NOT going.” Seething in repressed anger, Hiro turned on his heel and stomped back to Kisa's side. Careful not to hurt her as he grasped her arm, he led her quickly away back to the dojo…away from the confrontation that he knew was coming.
`Just because I'm the CAT I won't understand, he says. That…ARGH!' Kyo gritted his teeth as he very nearly trembled with rage that had been stamped down for too long. It was time that he let someone have it; who better than the Ox?
Not thinking or caring all that much who could be with Haru, he stalked off angrily back in the direction Kisa had led them towards. Muttering lowly of misguided brats, he only felt his ire rising with each step he took, finally seeing that the dense grounds thinned out to reveal a clearing. And lo and behold…
“Nothing…absolutely no one and nothing. They LIED to me?!”
“I wouldn't speak too loudly, Kyo,” was the advice whispered from just behind Kyo.
Whirling around, Kyo was shocked with the placid countenance of the Ox. “HARU—”
Clamping his hand across the Neko's mouth, Haru held his finger up and frowned harshly, indicating that he had to keep his voice down. Not that Kyo was willing to comply at the moment by the way he shoved the Ox back and off of him. That's when he finally heard them.
“Are you sure, Akito? We can always—”
“Kureno, enough. See, Yuki, why I keep him away when I can? He can smother you with his `honey'. Aggravating…”
“I'll come by tonight to visit you. If you go rest now, you'll be able to eat some of the watermelon I'll be bringing with me.”
“Why, Yuki, resorting to bribery now? I wouldn't have thought it possible of you.”
“I…no, it's more like an…incentive…”
“You know…you sound more like me everyday.”
It was an extremely normal conversation between `God' and Rat, to the point one would call playful banter. As bizarre as that was, Haru was thankful that most of their chat was not centering on anything confidential. Well hidden behind massive tree trunks and dense shrubbery, he himself had only come upon them as they were resting quietly, only to be roused by Kureno's presence. From there, it was really just a never-ending discussion between Akito and her Bird on making her whereabouts known at all times since her health doesn't permit excessive exercise or to be out and about, etc., etc.
Haru couldn't help but be mesmerized by the unity found between Akito and Yuki, palpable to the senses. He wasn't too sure at first where his instincts were directing him when he set out to find the Rat to apologize for his earlier behavior. He wandered aimlessly until finally his steps became more certain, more determined even. And then, he heard it, although it was more internal…the whole `hearing' feat.
It was a strong beat, but then as he drew closer, it became more of a low thrum echoing inside his bond with the Jyuunishi. Usually it was dormant, silent, he only aware that it was there, ingrained into his very being. Yet, it seemed to have awakened…practically thrumming aloud with a life all its own.
Quite honestly, it frightened him, so acutely that he fell to his knees by the slightest of breezes. But just as quickly as the fear came it was later overcome with warmth that calmed his heightened senses. An unprecedented harmony resonated from the link…it came to be the most treasured sensation his Jyuunishi spirit had ever felt. The `black' aspect of his personality became muted…the peace his spirit had sought for so long was quenched instantly.
Naturally, he was curious and wary all at once. It was no small deed when he finally managed to move his legs to direct him to the source of this thrumming, innately having already felt Akito's presence nearby. Truthfully, he'd rather avoid meeting the clan head, `God' of the Jyuunishi. Still, he had pressed on, and upon arriving at his secluded spot without being seen or heard, he was beyond shell-shocked at the scene before him. Much like Kyo was now.
Kyo went slack in his aggressive stance next to the Ox. How else could he react, seeing that Yuki was very comfortable in the presence of Akito? They were interacting with one another in a manner that reminded him of that one time he saw them together after their graduation ceremony last spring.
Contentment. That's what it was. The feeling that nothing else was required to make their world whole…complete.
`Just by looking at them, it's nauseating. But…still…I KNOW there's something else there. It's right there, right where I can touch it, taste it…listen to it. So, why can't I? It's just so damn cold…that link that ties me to them…it's dead. Dead quiet…it's always been DEAD QUIET! WHY, DAMMIT?!'
“You can't hear it, can you?”
The soft assertion drew Kyo out of his spiraling thoughts. Looking to Haru aghast, he quickly recovered and scowled. “What are you talking about? Of course I can hear them talk!”
“That's not what I meant, and you know it.” Turning his solemn gaze back to the trio that were a good distance a away, Haru let out a tired sigh. He stared for a while longer before continuing in his train of thoughts, vainly hoping that Kyo would receive it without question. “Don't let it bother you…regardless of the silence.”
Kyo leveled a livid glare on the Ox then toward the other party, feeling his throat constrict with sharp pain, unusually sensing his Neko spirit rebel at the mere silence that shouldn't be there in the bond. His left hand trembled as he clenched it hard, his beaded bracelet standing out in sharp contrast against his tanned skin. If he had paid it any mind, he would've noticed the slight burning sensation being felt, as if the spirit form were sympathetic to his plight and was fighting its confinement brought on by the bracelet to help him. He didn't even realize that he was heavily breathing until he felt the Ox's reassuring hand on his shoulder.
Haru looked to him with barely-veiled worry. “Don't, Kyo. You know why you can't hear it. No amount of force will ever change that.”
“What are YOU `hearing' then, huh?” lowly retorted Kyo angrily. “Since I'm the stupid CAT and not part of your little group, what the HELL is it that's so DAMN important that you feel the need to keep it to yourselves?!”
Haru was quite certain that Kyo was only a stone's throw away from barging into that clearing with Akito and Yuki. That would not be good, for anyone. Looking away to an indiscernible point in the trees, he ventured to comment on a different matter altogether, knowing it would pull a full-blown reaction from Kyo but also divert his attention from the Rat and `God'.
“It can't be helped, Kyo…as the Cat, you won't understand even if I did explain. Shihan now knows better than to question the way things are. I made sure to remind him of it earlier. He understood clearly.” Having said this, he braced himself for the next few moments as he held his breath inadvertently.
The reaction was more restrained, but no less volatile. Kyo had suddenly gripped the front of the Ox's uniform and slammed him against a tall tree close by. Eyes glinting with bitter rage, he bit out, “What didyou say to him, Ox? ANSWER ME! If you're playing some stupid mind tricks with him, I swear—”
Unfazed at the rough treatment since he was surprisingly mellow, Haru looked calmly into the raging fire in Kyo's flaming red/orange eyes. He then glanced back at the others, his gaze landing on Akito then lingering on Yuki. Strange how they took their hands together that way, she holding her right palm up against Yuki's left palm. The joined contact between them seemed…familiar.
He then saw Akito lean into Yuki's ear briefly, the smile of the young `God' wide as she let her hand drop from his palm, calmly walking off with the Bird in tow. The Rat just stood there…staring after her. The strong, live pulse he felt in their bond faded back to merely a soft hum. So soft…yet very steady.
Haru's brought his eyes back to the enraged Neko, his final response brief. “Have you ever wondered if being this angry is probably why you can't `hear' it? Down in those dark depths of your spirit Neko…must be pretty quiet…lonely.”
“Kyo-kun! Haru-chan! Drop him, Kyo-kun…let him go!” fervently called out Kagura as she burst into their private clearing from behind them. Seeing the unwillingness in the Neko's stance to even shift an inch, she reached them at a quick pace and laid a firm grasp on his shoulder. “Kyo-kun…you know I can make you do it. Please…”
Reluctant to admit it, Kyo angrily backed off with one final shove of the pinned teen to the tree. Ignoring Kagura fawning over the fallen Ox, he looked to where Akito and Yuki were, but found that no one was there. The tête-à-tête between Rat and `God' along with the Bird was no more.
“Kyo-kun, what's the matter with you? What are you two doing out here anyway?” demanded to know Kagura, forcing the suddenly quiet Neko to look at her with disinterest. “Well?”
“Nothing,” calmly murmured Haru as he wearily stood up and straightened his uniform. Rubbing the back of his sore head, he blankly looked at her. “What are you here for?”
Alarmed at the turn of the question, she looked away abashed. “I…well, I was around already. You?”
“Hm.” Understanding that she probably had a good idea who was there previously, Haru began walking back towards the dojo buildings. “Guess the party's over. Want to come?”
Kagura smiled in quiet understanding, aware now that the Ox was quite perceptive despite his lack of direction. Feeling an ominous chill, she turned to regard Kyo's silent form. It only reminded her of how oddly angry he had been when pinning Haru against the tree. In all her years knowing them both, never had she seen the Neko so angry and repulsed with the Ox, so similar to how he'd react when Akito was around…she was quite certain Kyo would have done Haru true harm if she hadn't intervened.
However her actions were not entirely noble. She was close by as well, having respectfully kept her distance far enough from the `meeting', not wanting to anger Akito anymore. At first, she stood to the side when Haru showed up. Her alarm grew to large proportions when Kyo arrived, but still, she let it alone. She only thought better of it and cut into their latest tirade when they were so very close to disclosing themselves as an audience to Akito and the others. With Akito already in a sour mood, that would have been truly a mess that she didn't want to see happen.
“Did you `hear' it, too, Kagura? And don't beat around the bush with me, okay?”
It was so sudden…so heartbreaking hearing the forlorn tone in Kyo's voice. Anger and rage were replaced with indescribable despair…hopelessness. No longer standing tall, the Neko could only look away from them as he stared to the ground dejectedly.
Just like the outcast he was born under.
It was one word she had the hardest time saying without her voice cracking, but she forced it out somehow. “Y-yes.”
Haru had turned around to witness this exchange. It hurt him, too, to have to face the Neko when he was defeated by the simple truth. A truth that burned the soul of not only the Neko, but everyone that knew about it. The truth that the Neko could and would not ever belong.
“Why is everyone standing here?”
`Definitely not the person that needed to be here.' Haru was quick to reply, “Waiting. Yuki, about earlier…”
“It's fine. Just…let it go,” Yuki tiredly dismissing Haru's comment. Looking to the Ox's apologetic gaze, he went on with firm resolve. “I don't want you causing anymore trouble for Shihan, okay? He's been extremely patient with us, and it's not fair of anyone of `us' to take advantage of his kindness. Do you understand?”
Oh, he understood perfectly. And Haru was about to protest rather adamantly on this issue…he did go out on the proverbial limb to reiterate to Kazuma that it did matter who they answered to as Jyuunishi. He never voiced it strongly before in all the years as the Ox because it honestly didn't mattered much to him. But somehow, nowadays, and especially after `hearing' for the first time their bond thrumming steadily, it was only right that he not submit to anyone other than to this one person…and grudgingly to Akito.
`I know I'm not the only one feeling this…Kagura-nee is proof enough. To have a breakthrough like this in our bond can't just be shoved to the side and ignored. Unless…unless…' Haru's eyes widened as it dawned on him. “You don't `hear' anything, do you, Yuki?”
Yuki looked to the other two, thinking that maybe they could enlighten him as to what is going on and what was it he was supposed to be hearing. Noting Kagura fidgeting with her long hair as she stared agitatedly at Kyo's isolated presence, he promptly looked to the Cat.
Tuning out Haru's query for the moment, he noticed the usually belligerent Neko to be unusually silent. Kyo's red-orange eyes stared limply to the ground, only carrying a look Yuki had never thought to see…that of defeat. The fiery spark normally seen in those heated eyes that defied the will of those that chose to oppress the Neko was no longer there. It didn't sit well with him.
`He's not even acknowledging me. Did he really…' Closing his eyes with a soft sigh, Yuki approached Kyo warily. Tempted as he was to offer some consolation to the Neko, he refrained, though, he wasn't sure why talking with Akito would have bothered Kyo this much…it hadn't before. He carefully asked, “So, why are you here? I doubt anything Akito or I said was of any importance to you.”
Heavy silence became more so as the minutes ticked by. Yuki by now was becoming nervous, certain that he needed to do or say something that would pull the Neko from his apparent dark thoughts. Swiftly, before he put more thought to it, he gently grasped the still shoulder of the Neko.
He softly pleaded, “Kyo…say something.”
Kyo's response was prompt and very clear. He had taken Yuki's right wrist that was on his shoulder, his right hand clamped firmly on the lithe limb. Internally, Kyo was surprised how fragile it felt in his palm, the incredible strength humming in the Nezumi's veins yet encased in such a delicate body.
Kagura held back Haru with her firm grip on his arm, though her clamp was more like a vise. Despite Haru's dislike of her stopping him, she shook her head to let him know wordlessly that they were not to interfere. She looked to her old friends, vainly praying for a peace between them that could not be.
“You let me grab you…” stated Kyo lowly, his now-hard gaze not looking up.
To his credit, Yuki didn't flinch on the clamp on his wrist, though it did hurt. Years of training himself to never appear weak was never wasted. He steadily went on calmly, “I know. Are you talking to me now?”
“Why bother? Doesn't change a damn thing.” Finally Kyo looked up, meeting Yuki's intense gaze with his own. Shoving to the side the captured limb, he stared down impetuously at the Nezumi, looking unnaturally sedate but feeling completely the opposite. He refused to `talk' to Yuki, but he will speak his mind.
“YOU were really chummy with your precious `God',” he spat. “Why the big change in getting on the Oni's good side? Kissing up to the prick when it's dying is PATHETIC, even for you. The bastard should do us all a favor and just DIE. Saves us from having to see its rotting carcass—”
Both Haru and Kagura flinched when they saw the action taken. Granted Kyo had overstepped his bounds of propriety, but that was nothing new. Although….this time…this one time the cruel remarks unleashed sounded desperate. It could be understood, though…when Kyo hurts, he lashes back however he can. Nevertheless that didn't exempt him from the consequences of his words.
“Heh…seems I spoke the truth, huh? Damn truth always hurts…” commented Kyo idly as he sneered down at the quiet Nezumi. Yet, just as he was about to soothe his sore cheek from the backhand he received, he was given another surprise.
Had Yuki not been so tired from all his duties, a good kick to the other's head would have sufficed for him. The first backhand was purely spontaneous. The thrust to the chest executed too quickly for the eyes to catch were more to relieve his building frustration, he now immediately regretting having felt anything remotely compassionate when the Neko had seemed so forlorn.
To feel your body give out day by day, feeling less alive with each passing year…and everyone only looking away until the deed is complete. `Kyo would at least live long…Akito will be DEAD by next summer.'
“The only TRUTH you know is only what YOU want to SEE, what YOU want to HEAR, what YOU want to BELIEVE, you SELFISH CAT! And this is a truth…the only carcass rotting here is YOUR SECOND FORM!” Heaving heavily after having cried out his harried thoughts, Yuki trembled with pent up emotion, unsure of what else to do or say since Kyo just remained on his backside on the ground, staring at him as if wanting to retort but failing to find the right phrases to voice them. The Nezumi was now coming to realize that quite a number of Sohma wanted Akito's death to hasten its agonizingly slow pace. Blinking, he looked away from Kyo's stare, pondering on this particular ugly truth. It did indeed hurt.
`There's pain wherever I look into this family. It's so suffocating…' Giving that passing thought more consideration, Yuki now understood what it was he saw in Kyo's eyes earlier that day when he ran into him to give him the camera. It made sense…the despair is well shared amongst them as Jyuunishi, the Cat most of all, what with his second form and all…
`To be smothered in a never-ending cycle of misery. To take in so much of it throughout your life…it's no wonder the baka gives as good as he gets… And I'm…I'm no better than those that put him down. I shouldn't have said those things…'
“Some truths are better left unsaid,” he murmured softly to himself. Was this something Akito had been trying to teach him by evading his questions regarding matters with his parents, with the family in general? Slowly he backed away, feeling shame for ever having lashed out at Kyo like other members of the family would just because Kyo was the Cat.
“It's shameful that we have to keep hurting each other just to lessen the pain we always carry. In the end, it changes nothing. And I really am tired of it.”
Saying this more to himself, Yuki turned around without waiting to hear a reply, intent on putting this mess of a day fully behind him.
Hardly looking up as he softly walked across the clearing with nary a glance to the other two Jyuunishi, he abruptly paused in his stride upon a shrouded path that led to the dojo. Taking a deep breath, he uttered what he must before leaving them. “Akito told me to tell you `hello'. And that if you listen in on our private conversations again, Shihan will be made aware of your misbehavior.”
Seeing the Nezumi walk away wearily but still with a grace the melded with the breeze, Kagura couldn't help but feel pity. Truly, it wasn't fair for Yuki to carry so many burdens or for Kyo to endure a malady far worse than turning into a cat or worse, his second form. No, Kyo's malady was that of being profoundly bitter and unable to let it go.
Haru was also of same frame of mind. “Kyo…this has to stop. It's not good for either of you.”
The Neko was too lost in his dark thoughts to pay any mind to the Ox's remarks. He had stood up when the Nezumi disappeared, but couldn't make a move to follow him and even call out to him as was usual for him. Yuki's earlier accusations of him being selfish and everything else struck him hard. It was so…true…partially. Hell, his second form gave him nausea. It did smell rotten.
But then he caught the Nezumi's soft comment about truths being left unsaid…and he couldn't agree more. All truths relating to their curse were a poison to the soul, none more so than having to die early in life. Even he realized that being the infamous Cat with an enchanted bracelet that bound his second form didn't quite measure up to that hard truth. He was the lucky one.
`I'm tired, too, Rat. I'm damn tired…' Frowning slightly, Kyo turned to face a solemn Haru and asked, “Did I hear an apology somewhere in the Rat's long rant?”
Kagura was startled by Kyo's quick turn in moods. Recalling what was said by her Nezumi friend, she smiled weakly and laughed lightly. “Yeah. I think you did.”
Snorting at that absurdity, Kyo stretched fully to release the tension in his muscles. He hadn't realized it before, and now he was starting to feel a cramp in his leg. “Hmph…baka Nezumi. As if what he or Akito says matters to me. Pft…bet ya he didn't know I was holding back from blocking his moves, huh, Haru?”
`That is true, but…he is really letting the matter go? He's a strange one.' Haru couldn't help but smile as well at his old friend. `Unpredictable and strange and hot-headed and… Heh, but still good.'
“Sure, Kyo.” Patting the Neko absently on the head, he ignored the expected glare from Kyo as he made his way through the trees only to rear back suddenly. He looks to the left, then to the right…up…and down. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply…he smelled the sweet scent of a summer evening. Dusk was upon them so soon…
Alarmed, Kagura anxiously asked, “Haru-chan? What's—”
“What's up with you, Ox?” impatiently cut in Kyo, though he was slightly concerned that maybe Haru had hurt his bare-feet on the ground. Unlike them, the Ox had gone off from the dojo without sandals.
Coming up behind him, Kyo reached out to grasp the strong shoulder of the Sohma teen. “Spill it—you're starting to freak me out…again.”
“Go on, Haru-chan,” joined in Kagura on Haru's other side.
Bowing his head down, Haru exhaled heavily before looking to the dark tree-line around him. Turning to Kyo, he seriously stated, “This isn't the way to the dojo, is it?”
Both could only look to the Ox in utter disbelief.
Itty-bitty Author's Corner for the Deranged (02-06-07):
Now, I know what you may be thinking. Where the HELL have I been? Heh, I beg for forgiveness, really! Let's see…had vacation, got sick, returned from vacation, felt sicker while the whole time before, during, and after, my left wrist was killing me. Damn carpal…then it was a pinched nerve on the thumb. OUCH. Yeah, so from recuperating from both flu and injury, I was unable to really work on this until mid-January…a little before that, but not a whole lot. But I'm fine now, can't you tell? Two in one chapters aren't my favorite, but you guys deserve it for waiting so long for me. Thank you!
Before I forget, this chapter makes references to events spread throughout my fic world of Furuba. SOS chapters 25, 31, 38, 43, 45 plus side-fics Sometimes…, chapter 5 and The Problems With a Rat, chapter 2. One way or another I've had to resort to these `back-issues' to emphasize different points in this chapter release.
Wow, this chapter really wasn't what I had in mind. This `day at the dojo' was supposed to be more `filler' more than anything, but instead it ran off and left me to deal with the hard details. And it was HARD. Akito/Yuki moments were quite the charmer…plus this last portion with Yuki/Kyo. UGH…I never felt so disgusted at myself for not getting it just right. I tweaked until it couldn't be tweaked anymore. This is the best I could offer…I'm not too thrilled with it, but I can't do more to it. I think it ran too long…yet, I knew much of it was necessary for later developments. I will be thanking my runaway muse when the time comes to reveal the heart of the plot fully for all to read. The support structure to this plot is spread so heavily in this chapter…I do believe you'll know where I'm heading with this.
It's important to note how much Yuki resembles Akito in their handling of certain issues. Both are different yet eerily the same…two sides of the same coin. Interesting how Akito made mention of this in a way…very interesting. I'll let you chew on that.
Looks like Master Haji is also struggling between his loyalties with both Cat and Rat. This split in loyalty is also emphasized between Haru and Kazuma. And of course the discussion between Kazuma and Yuki was tough on them both. Such division is highlighted for good reason!
Yuki/Kagura moments highlighted the budding relationship between Rat and `God'. It's important that I emphasize this as often as possible using different characters. Trust me, Kagura's personal musings on this are worthy to remember.
The last portion of the story emphasized on the bond of the Jyuunishi that was now `active' to the point that the Jyuunishi were starting to pick it up. It's important to note that this is heavily linked to the Akito/Yuki's strengthened relationship. Honestly, this portion was the part that ran away from me…it was REALLY difficult to get it worded just right. Finally, I left it alone and hope that the idea is at least understood. It's a very intricate part of the main plotline, so do your best to remember this!
The music pic for this chapter is “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal. To me, I would apply the lyrics in a figurative sense to the rising situation with Kyo's `exile' from the `warmth' of the bond. It repulses yet draws him in like nothing else. To see this `rose' in the form of the Jyuunishi unity that didn't include him, it's a light in the darkness his life has been for so long. Now he knows it's there…but still out of his reach. Frustrating? Oh yeah…and it'll matter later on.
Well, I believe no more damage can be done to the chapter release. I will be working on the next chapter which will bring back some good ol' Sohma fun! All this angst is important, too, so you'll see it as well in the next release. Man, we're making progress…ever so slowly, but we're getting there! Sei, my beloved editor, is back from the clutches known as academics…I'll be hitting those chappies you reviewed/revised and give them the final blessing so I can upload them! I'll chat more with you later…
Thanks again to all who read and most of all, to those that review. Mediaminer readers are highly encouraged to leave a note behind…it does my muse wonders. If I've not replied back to you, please let me know…I always want to personally thank those that review me!
Take care, and I will see you around soon enough. Don't forget to drop me a note of critique, compliments, corrections…yep! Ja ne!