Fruits Basket Fan Fiction ❯ Seasons of Sorrow ❯ Embers of Summer's Glory = Holding It Together ( Chapter 51 )

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

DISCLAIMER: Welcome to all my readers…new and old alike! Takaya-sensei's Fruits Basket has come to a close in Japan, but in my fanfiction, it's just starting to spice up! Enjoy the read!
Embers of Summer's Glory
Chapter 51: Holding it Together
Shigure had one goal in mind. Nothing will deter him from his self-imposed mission. Absolutely nothing.
“I will venture where none have dared before…into the lair of the Dragon, or at least, that of its pixie child the Seahorse…heh. Yes, my dear, adulterated audience, your lowly Jyuunishi is bearing witness to such an event. The event in which few have witnessed before…in which even fewer have survived. Please, brace yourselves for what is to take place…”
“Stop with your melodrama, Shigure. I do KNOW my way around a kitchen…unlike you.”
“Yes, but…it's just that…help me, Aya!” Focus shifts quickly from Hatori's back to the slim figure of another at the kitchen counter. The repetitious action of chopping is heard without relenting from the tailor's direction.
“Tori-san, Gure-san is just aghast because you're wearing that `burn-me-to-a-crisp' apron! Truly, it's beginning to hurt my eyes! Please let me get the apron I use in the kitchen…I assure you of its fashion-worthiness! It's my biggest seller at the store!”
Hatori swiftly calls out with alarm, “Ayame, watch how you're chopping those leeks! You'll cut those fingers of yours right off!”
A knife was abruptly thrust to his face by an oblivious tailor who waved it about further to emphasize his point. “Tori-san, you are shaming me! As your personal tailor, it's my SACRED DUTY to keep you well-dressed in only the best of styles! And here…(sniffles)…dear, I just can't bear to see that thing on you anymore!”
“Ahem, actually my dear Aya, I was hoping you'd mention the fact that Haa-san is cooking for us. He hardly ever does.” Focus is taken off of sobbing tailor to exasperated cook. Camera zooms in to the large fringe of hair over the injured eye, then to the openly-glaring eye that was focused on the camera. “Mou, don't be such a wuss, Haa-san. Just let the poor soul have his way. It's just an apron.”
“YOU wear it then,” gritted out Hatori as he none-too-gently cut chunks of meat into stew-size.
“Hmph, well the pink ruffle across the hem and straps may be a bit much for my tastes, but the phrase stitched on it is so cute! I think it suits you!”
“I'm NOT wearing an apron that has `KISS THE COOK' in bold kanji!” The incensed adult took his meat to the stove and allowed it to sizzle in the wok. His back now turned to Shigure, the focus fell on the silent tailor that was slumped on the counter, mumbling softly about horrid nightmares involving equally horrid aprons. The torching of aprons was heard clearly though.
“Come here, Aya. Haa-san just doesn't have good taste like we do. I liked my apron you gave me.” Camera shifts focus to floor as Shigure embraces his cousin with sympathy. His calm voice heard clearly in the kitchen while the focus returns to the chef-for-the-day. “Let's be glad that he's cooking for us period. I must say that my intestinal tract gave a shout of joy to know it wouldn't be poisoned any further by Yuki's culinary talents.”
Focus of video quickly turned to Ayame's astonished expression. The `tears' that ran down his cheeks glistened like jewels in the night…a picture certainly useful for another novel. “Gure-san! My brother's culinary arts are a little on the inedible side, but he more than makes up for it in effort! Besides, I'll eat anything he makes…ANYTHING! Never mind the trip to the hospital afterwards…I will have died with a smile!”
“Quit exaggerating, Nii-san. My cooking isn't THAT bad.” The Nezumi briskly walks through the vast kitchen in view of the camera, quickly retrieving a cup from the cupboard and juice from the refrigerator.
“Be quiet, baka Inu! Besides, you only forbade me from going into the kitchen at home, not here!” The glaring eyes of the enraged Nezumi burned like coals of fire…another inspiration for a novel.
“ENOUGH. Ayame, bring me the vegetables you're done with. Shigure, I told you to keep quiet or else no lunch for YOU.” Video focused on Hatori's busy hands at the stove. His back was rigid as was his gaze on the man behind the lens. “Or would you prefer I feed you scraps outside like an actual dog?”
“Tori-san, so quick to be harsh! Now, rub that frown off your beautiful face…here are your prized vegetables cut only by my talented hands.” A bowl of vegetables was given to Hatori with a bow. Smiling widely into the lens, Ayame flounced to his brother's side, flicking his shimmering hair that was in a long braid over his shoulder. “So…is my brother ready to join me in a walk around the beachfront? HMMM?”
Grimacing with repressed joy, Yuki took another long swig of his juice. Camera then focuses to Ayame's feet as Shigure leans over to the young Sohma, whispering to the Nezumi's ears only, “Now, Yuki-kun, you did agree to this way before we came on this trip…that was the sole condition for me coming along for Tohru-kun's sake.”
Writer quickly shirks away from the sizzling aura of the Nezumi. With camera's focus back on the boy, Shigure remarked airily, “Am I right?”
Dark gaze aimed straight through the lens. Yuki tartly replied, “I hate you.”
“So long as you go like the darling little brother you are!” quipped the grinning Inu as the focus was now aimed at the dazzling smile that belonged to the elder brother. “Why Aya…your tears glisten like pearl drops…exquisite…the perfect backdrop to my summer adult novel—OOMPH!”
A loud smack is heard clearly as the camera's view is suddenly shifted upside down with a concerned Snake looking to the injured Dog. “My goodness, Gure-san, that does look like it hurt.”
“Come on, Nii-san…let's get going before it gets too hot,” grumbled the `excited' Nezumi as he pulled a willing Snake along outdoors.
Silence with the sizzling of food is heard. Pots and pans clang together…more sizzling. Heavily sighing, the cook calls out, “Shigure get off the floor…it's unsanitary…for my floor.”
Groans heard. Camera's image of Hatori approaching is upside down…closer now and his feet are larger than life in the camera's focus. “Hm…here's the power swi—”
(Recording off)
“I like the lilac-colored crane. Is there more of that color?” asked Kisa while folding a red-colored construction paper.
“Here, you, go, Kyo-san. More green paper for you.” Bright green construction paper was handed to him by Kureno who had his share of blue construction paper.
“Here, Kisa…you can have my share,” replied Hiro while handing her his portion of lilac-colored paper.
“Say, Kisa, did you decide on a word yet?” Kyo readied his pen on the finished crane that laid on the table with others.
“Oh…yes, it's `smiles'. I like…them…a lot.” Mumbling the last to herself, especially when she thought of the smile that she loved to see the most, she blushed prettily and immediately began working on the next crane. They had many to make.
`Smile, huh? Does she like that girl's smiles? Or maybe Haru's? Maybe some guy at school?' mused Hiro in a growing panic, his thoughts then taking him back in time to see how often he smiled around her. He agreed that he needed to smile more often but no too often or else he'd look like a doofus. She wouldn't want to look at a doofus for long. Or maybe she does…she hangs around Tohru often enough. Either way, he needs to do better…better than HER, better than HIM, better than that mysterious guy at school.
`Tohru-san's idea is coming along very well. It's helping these young ones express themselves more…and not just by words alone.' Kureno couldn't help the small grin as he glanced at the younger Jyuunishi. He saw how Kisa blushed and hid herself in her work, slyly glancing at an oblivious boy every so often. Said boy busied himself with his crane, his eyes lost in thought but strangely with a growing anxiety.
Kyo as well began to think along the same lines as Hiro, only with less anxiety and more with fondness. He loved the smiles Tohru would bestow on a simple flower, on a summer breeze, but most especially on him. Those were the best smiles.
He lightly grinned as he glanced outdoors to see Tohru with the others busily working on their share of the project. He would have preferred being in her presence, but Kagura had laid down the `law' for this project…stay with the Jyuunishi you know least about.
`Hell, if that were the case, why isn't Ritsu with me?! Talk about fair… Hmph. Then again, it's good she has him with her. He may not go off the handle as much, but, man…it's still awkward being around him. Guess after having her all over me for so long, it's weird to be around the guy she ended up dating in the end.' And so, here he was in Kureno's group, along with Kisa and Hiro. He didn't miss either Haru or Momiji with their incessant teasing, therefore this group was actually okay with him. He was just glad that Yuki had taken Ayame for a walk. There was no amount of pain from Kagura that could convince him to take the Snake into his circle.
Still, he was wary. This has been the first time he was actually left alone with the three. It was good that he got to talking with Kureno earlier before their humiliating ending at the tug-o-war battle. At least, it didn't feel as awkward as it would have been had he been left alone with Hiro and Kisa.
Events from their last conversation together at the dojo were fresh on his mind, including what had happened afterwards. The argument…the line drawn between the Neko and the illustrious circle of the Jyuunishi…the evasive link or bond that was there but far out of his reach but well within the `hearing' range of the illustrious Jyuunishi… Yes, his memory was quite vividly filled with those moments.
Apparently it held true with Kisa and Hiro as well as they did their best from being left alone with him for too long at the beginning of their vacation. Hiro even had the semblance of being speechless when around him, hardly normal. Kisa could only look down with hard blush, tripping over her own words around him as she excused herself in his presence.
However days pass, their family vacation continuing in an unhurried pace, giving them all ample time to grow somewhat comfortable with each other. Then they were being thrown together to complete this project, reinforcing his wariness once again. But that, too, was fading as the hours ticked by one after another. The rigid tension in the air lifted a bit at a time until they got used to the comfortable spells of silence between them while quietly working on their paper cranes.
Strangely, he felt that he was embraced in an invisible veil of assurance from them, that they for their part felt comfortable and at peace with him there. There was no wall between the Cat and the illustrious Tiger and Sheep, not today. And from the looks and feel of it, neither was there one with the Bird, a favored animal of their clan head.
He couldn't help but wonder then that he only felt the despair of being the rejected Neko back then at the dojo because `God' and Nezumi were together. He honestly could care less what they talked of or why they were together to begin with, but the coincidence was too much to ignore. Will his Neko spirit forever be rejected based on the unity of those two of the infamous fable? To never `listen' to the bond, to never join their link with one another? Did they even know? Akito knew many things if not everything…at least, that was the perception. And Yuki…
The only TRUTH you know is only what YOU want to SEE, what YOU want to HEAR, what YOU want to BELIEVE—”
At the time he was shocked, hell, they all were. Yuki livid, not because of a bickering match, but truly LIVID? He REALLY wanted to prove the Rat wrong, REALLY. But it was hard…he relived the passion of those words time and again when he was alone, when he laughed with Tohru during their commutes together…when he looked at Yuki across the dinner table or when they walked alone together. It was never brought up again between them, but he felt the marked difference ever since then.
The taut string of tension that always tied them down when together was still there, but he was certain that it was unraveling. Was that a good thing for them? He wasn't sure…he wasn't sure of anything anymore. Logic as he knew it was seriously skewed at this time. And to add to that…
“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 reallyam tired of it.”
So many truths and lies surrounded him…he honestly couldn't tell the difference between them anymore. Which is truth…which is the lie? He can now definitely understand Tohru's words from his dream…fear was holding him back. Fear of actually receiving an answer…fear of simply the act of hoping for acceptance amongst the Jyuunishi… so much confusion weighed heavily down on him.
His mind drifted back to his working hands on the finished crane. He looked up, and noted the fond grin from Hiro as the young teen gave Kisa more of his lilac paper, the young girl in turn smiling widely as she accepted them. Looking to Kureno, the man was pensive but relaxed all the same if a little anxious.
It's no small shock to this Neko to see this latchkey of Akito's be so accepting of all of them, including himself, the hated Neko. The man was just so…honest, a bit gullible, a bit unsure, but very fragile. The guy may be too shy for his own health, but he admitted that the Bird was all right with them. In many ways, he was like Tohru, and in other ways, so much like them…another member strung along the tiresome road of being Jyuunishi.
“Kyo-san, I'm sorry. My manners…” murmured softly Kureno as he set aside his work, his hand reaching out to the tea set in the middle of their table. Taking the kettle, he carefully poured into Kyo's empty cup a steaming cup of tea as well as refilling the others.
“Thanks,” replied Hiro as Kisa smiled brightly in thanks.
Returning her smile with one of his own, the elder Sohma inclined his head in acceptance, then went back to work on the paper cranes. All the while the smile stayed put on the man's lips, his rigid posture relaxing even more than before.
“Oh, here you go, Kyo-oniichan. Tohru-oneechan had said you liked yellow.” Handing the new packet of yellow construction paper to him, Kisa smiled brightly to him as well. “Yellow is also Tohru-oneechan's favorite colors, ne?”
“Well, MY favorite colors are…not yellow.” Hiro quickly silenced himself as he blushed brightly while working harder on his cranes. He would embarrass her if he told her that he liked the color of her Jyuunishi spirit the best, stripes and all. No, he wouldn't tell her this…not now anyway.
Kureno glanced carefully to his Jyuunishi companion, and smiled even more. `So quick to jump in and out of telling her how he honestly feels.'
Was he confused…unsure of what may be true or false in the world his Neko spirit lived in? Hell yes. Yet, despite the uncertainty and despair of being the Neko, it was in small moments like these that he could see and feel the warmth that wasn't deceptive in its nature. It was in this warmth amongst them, this veil of assurance, while working on these paper cranes that made him believe, if only for now, that hope wasn't far-fetched…not for the Neko, not for them the Jyuunishi.
The warmth hope gave off was addictive. It's no wonder why he yearned for it…why they all did. It's why they all could smile today, right? Why shouldn't he have a share in their hope, too?
“Oi, Kureno, your turn for the word on this crane,” gestured Kyo to his finished crane.
“Oh…eh, yes, of course. I've been trying to think of it.” Kureno thought hard as he had been for the past few minutes on just the right word that would describe what he liked most of those he cared for. Smiling softly, he remarked, “I believe `determination' suits best.”
“Heh, that's a good quality to admire, Kureno-ojiichan,” replied Kisa with a nod.
Hiro nodded in agreement as well. “Yeah…I'm determined to beat Kyo in our spars in the future. That's good determination, right, Kisa?”
“Eh…well, I think so…” she grinned sheepishly.
Kyo narrowed his gaze on the youngest Jyuunishi. `This kid has a mouth already…can't wait to put him in his place when his classes start.' Turning his nose down at the runt, he haughtily remarked, “Pft, your `determination' is wishful thinking, SQUIRT.”
“I'm taller than the girls now, so DON'T call me that, OLD MAN!” shot back irritably Hiro…his height was always a sore point but now there was no need for it. He really was growing taller, and fast catching up to Momiji.
“OLD MAN?! What the…DAMN PUNK! I”ll show you RESPECT for your ELDERS!” He ignored the inner voice in his mind that his words eerily sounded a lot like those of an elderly Sohma he knew well.
“Kureno-ojiichan, would you like more sweet-bean cake?” asked Kisa kindly as she served herself from the plate of snacks next to her, oblivious to the bickering between the Cat and Sheep.
Kureno was of like-mind as well. Seeing them bicker often during this trip would do that to anyone. “Thank you, Kisa-chan. You are most kind.”
The warmth of their togetherness quickly dissipated on the winds of a summer breeze.
The dark umbrella with lace-edging swayed over their heads along with the brisk summer winds over the ocean. Seagulls soared overhead as high as the winds themselves, their calls heard over many miles. But their squawks were nothing compared the chatter of one individual that filled the void of silence one would normally enjoy at the seaside. And the chatter was nonstop.
“Nii-san, how can you carry all that with you?” interjected Yuki as he briskly walked the warm beach. He really wanted their walk done and over with…he didn't need to be laid up again over heat exhaustion. Being susceptible to that made him cautious of how long he actually stayed outdoors under the hot sun. Of course, a small part of him worried for his brother's delicate condition as well…a very small part.
Ayame was lost to many of his joyous musings, his heart soaring above the seagulls since he was in the private company of his beloved younger brother. No amount of sun or heat in existence could draw him away from his euphoria. He gave his brother's question small thought before continuing his rambling. “Mon petit frere, this long coat is to protect my skin from being flambéed under this vigorous sun. And my wide-brimmed, multi-colored straw hat is to prevent further sun damage to my beautiful tresses. I can't have dull hair in my line of work!”
“Then leave the umbrella at the very least…it's attracting attention from orbit,” grumbled the teen while distancing himself from the oddity known as his elder brother. `Even those sunglasses scream -yakuza-…hmph, a gangster with a flamboyant style.'
“But my dark blue umbrella is especially made for the beach with light refracting fabric on the outside to keep those nasty UVA/UVB rays at bay! Besides, it matches with my gentlemen's bag…it carries my basic necessities for being out in the wilderness, you know…colorless string that goes with anything, needle, buttons, snaps, hook-n-eye, pins, safety pins, bug spray, flares, a cell phone that's low on battery… (Moans) I shouldn't have called Mine to confirm if our Autumn line is set to go!”
Eyeing his brother's huge frilly-laced umbrella that had little mice stitched all over the hem with contempt, Yuki began to walk even faster along the beach. He was glad to have changed from his open cotton shirt and swimming trunks into his usual attire of high mandarin collar, short-sleeved shirt and a pair of slacks. He felt more comfortable, not to mention cleaner…their tiff at the tug-o-war left a mess on his other clothes. Walking around with sand down your back and in other areas left unsaid made for a very uncomfortable walk.
“Ahhh, nothing beats a good walk…although your `walk' is more like `running'. Honestly…(huff)…could you slow down?” Taking out a matching fan to his umbrella, Ayame huffed lightly as he finally stood still, finally taking notice of the far blue horizon. “My goodness! Look at all that water! I'm sure Tori-san would feel at home with his brethren in close proximity.”
Yuki looked behind him to see his brother not moving forward. `He's going to collapse of heat exhaustion if he stays out much longer.' Willing away the worry, he walked to his elder brother's side, giving the man's sleeve a good tug. “Nii-san, we need to get going. Remember…the sun…it'll fry you quick if you stay in the same spot for much longer.”
“How far does the ocean run, hm? Ever wonder about that? It just keeps going and going until you hit land somewhere…” Suddenly Ayame thrust his arm out and pulled an unwilling younger brother into his embrace. Smiling widely, he couldn't hold back the urge to rub his cheek against his brother's own. “I'm SO happy, Yuki. I want to remember this for as long as the ocean tides continue to rise and fall.”
`That's a long while…' As strong as the desire was to remove the appendage from his shoulder, Yuki resigned to the clutches of the Snake and looked out to the deep waters of the ocean as well. There's no amount of cajoling or bodily harm he could commit on the elder Sohma that would move said Sohma along the beach. If Ayame wanted to stay put, he'd stay put, no buts about that. His brother surprised him often of the strength he possessed in those slim limbs of his.
Upon feeling his brother so close to him, Yuki slyly glanced at the man's profile, painfully aware of how similar they both looked alike. Aside from the bruising around the neck, of course…
“Niisan, does your neck hurt anymore? I hadn't meant to put so much pressure…well, not THAT much…” mumbled Yuki worriedly.
Hearing the concern and guilt only brought more joy to the Snake's smile. Hell, the boy could have run him over with a car for all he cared, so long as the wounds were all from him. “Pish, these rings of love are for me to flaunt to others that my brother has a strong grip! I can only hope you bestow more on me so I can show others that you care so much.”
`I think the lack of oxygen to his head messed him up…severely.' Sighing lightly, he laid his hand softly against his brother's bruised neck, glad to see that it didn't look like it would discolor any further. As angry as he was with his brother at the time, he still should have restrained himself. He was careless, and Hatori's glare after the incident only made the guilt drive home a bit further. He was just grateful his brother hid them from everyone else…he couldn't face the disappointment in Tohru's eyes if she saw that. After all, she had pleaded with him to go easy on the man.
Feeling Yuki distressed with the injury inflicted on his person, Ayame heaved a heavy sigh and only tightened his embrace. “Yuki, really, it's fine. I had upset you with ruining your bonding moment with Tohru-kun. So please, feel free to swing away at your older brother anytime. I usually deserve it, don't I?”
“No, Nii-san, this time, I was in the wrong. Gomen ne.” Not wanting to look anymore at it, Yuki looked out to the blue horizon that had enthralled his brother so much. He suddenly started at what his brother had just said. “My `bonding moment'…where did you get that?”
Looking to the astonished eyes of the Nezumi, Ayame gleefully brought out his rather large journal where his creative ideas were always laid out in detail. Licking a delicate finger, he fingered his way to the section he had created just this morning. Having Shigure around was great for inspiration. “Oh, mon frere, these eyes of mine can not only hypnotize the ladies from blocks away, but can also see the underlying tension of a man's need to be near his lady fair. Quite frankly, these aren't cries I hear…no, no, NO! I'm hearing the screams for help here, ne? And so here I am as always ready to live and serve my one and only younger brother! Really, my little treasure trove, you should allow me to make the appropriate arrangements to bring you two further moments of bliss…of togetherness…of blushing moments in the gardens…of heated moments of rapture in the—”
“ENOUGH! I DON'T want to hear anymore!” Stomping away from the somewhat lucid mind of the Snake, Yuki got far enough away to resist the urge to let his brother meet the sandy beach face first, courtesy of a well-placed smack to the head. Taking in even breaths, he turned around and faced the man that desperately needed to mind his own business. “Nii-san, WHATEVER you have in mind, ANYTHING REMOTELY RELATED to Tohru-san and me TOGETHER in some sort of subtext and beyond is OFF LIMITS to YOU. PLEASE!”
Pouting now at having his ideas shot down before their fruition, Ayame tucked his journal away in his bag in a huff, now having a little trouble putting it back in. He packed too much stuff as always. Giving up momentarily, he looked to his brother with a plea in his eyes. Not wanting to relent, he called out, “Yuki, why don't you just ask her to be with you for just a moment? Trust me, it'll lead to many more moments under the sun, moon, stars—”
“Nii-san, NOT NOW. It's…complicated.” Turning away from him, Yuki walked tiredly away, his train of thought now taking him in other directions he had wished to stave off at least until his vacation was over.
`Family intrigue, coupe d'etat in-the-making taking place behind closed doors, Akito's health…Akito…Obon…Kyo…the Tournament…Kyo… Well, at least Kyo seems to be easing up now. That's…good…I think. So long as he's preoccupied with something other than me, I'm not going to complain. But Akito…she's tired. Damn tired. And the vultures are circling around her…and me. Why would I ever want Tohru-san near any of that? Not now…not anytime soon anyway.'
“The people that matter most to us usually are.”
Jerked away from his dwindling mire of musings, Yuki turned around to see his brother eloquently standing with that horrid umbrella over his shoulder. Only his brother could pull off such a ridiculous scene with finesse and regality. “Nii-san…”
“Complicated as they may be, it means you must put in more effort into keeping them close. It's never easy, and likely you'll only succeed half the time. Then again…it's true what is said…anything worth having is worth the effort.” Wanting to clear the forlorn expression from his younger brother's face, Ayame smiled brilliantly as he gently tucked wayward strands of the teen's hair behind an ear. “You're worth all of my efforts. And if you need help with keeping whomever close, I'm always on your side, okay?”
“Nii-san…” Yuki was speechless at how so well said those words were. So concise and to the point and meaningful… “Did you get that from Hatori?”
Bashfully looking away, Ayame shrugged his shoulders and sheepishly grinned. “Eh, well, you see…I was really down on my hands and feet and you were so far off my reach and my goodness that was so long ago, but I was hanging by a silk thread and it wasn't coming together for us and Tori-san was really smart, too, since he knows me so well and he can say things in just the right way, which reminds me of Tohru-kun, but honestly that last part was all me, so I didn't think—”
Ayame abruptly stopped as Yuki held his head down so that their foreheads met. Staring into the elder Sohma's captivating eyes (even he couldn't deny that), Yuki smiled softly. “I get the point. And it was fine the way you said it. Thank you.”
Tearing up at having said the right thing at the right time, Ayame felt he almost had a coronary from all the blood rushing about in his system. It was too much for him not to burst into a shooting star across the watery terrain of the open seas… “YUKI, I WILL FOREVER HOLD YOU CLOSE IN MY HEART, IN MY THOUGHTS, IN MY VERY FLESH AND BONES…I'LL BE THE SHADOW IN YOUR WALK, THE CHEER IN YOUR GRIN—”
“NII-SAN, PUT ME DOWN!!!” Struggling against the sudden onslaught of a Snake's love, this Rat tried unclamping himself from the bone-breaking embrace. `I don't think Kagura (grunting) has anything to worry about (grunting) in her embraces…they're set to maim. (Grunting) This idiot's embraces are set to KILL!'
Ayame was oblivious to it all as usual, his joy consuming him whole as he swung Yuki around and around under the bright sun of summer. He cared not for the things he dropped as they flew off with the brisk ocean wind, his mind currently in favor of his brother's outpour of love. Yes, Yuki's struggles demonstrated the passion of their brotherly bonding…it had to be. “COME, YUKI! SHARE IN MY WORLD OF SIBLING UNITY!!! OH HAIL OUR UNION THAT WILL STAND TO TIME INDEFINITE AND BEYOND AND (gasp)oh my.”
Sputtering, a slender snake amongst a heap of clothing looked about him with an air of disdain, his tail-end swishing in irritation. “Well, damn. That put a damper on our unity of brotherhood, ne?”
The Nezumi involved could only lay beside the Snake with a glower to his face as he had the wind knocked out of him from falling on his back. His uncanny reflexes certainly came in handy in avoiding crushing his brother.
Yuki stared at the endless blue sky above him with great annoyance. `Damn is right. Now I have to hunt down all his crap scattered across the beach by myself…damn.'
`Damn fool. What good are maidservants if they can't even make a decent cup of tea? Is Ayame the only baka in this family that can do it right?! Even Kureno can manage a semi-decent brew!'
`I never liked that tea set anyway.'
And Akito proceeded to drop each cup, each plate, and ultimately the pitcher itself out her window. There's no point in ruining her sitting room with sub par tea and a tea set that was ugly. Let the maids pick up the mess outside…it'll keep them from infesting her favorite room with their presence.
`They all have wide traps anyway. I'm sure they'd run off with their tails between their legs but oh so ready to spread the latest gossip to all the other bitches…'
“Akito-sama, are you finished with your tea? Would you like anything else?” The maidservant carefully kept her kneeled position at the doorway with her head bowed, perceptively glancing around the room for the tea set she had brought in earlier.
“That battery-acid you served as `tea' is to never be served to me again…are we clear?” Giving the lowly servant a sneer in her direction, Akito resumed her earlier observation of the gardens below from her window perch, idly wondering if she should have another koi pond put in. She would have to feed the fish though…or have someone else feed them. Decisions…
“Hai, Akito-sama. Excuse me for asking…your tea set, Akito-sama?” cautiously asked servant, wary that said item could very well be hurled in her direction, especially if the clan head was that displeased with the tea.
“Fetch it yourself…it's outside. I have no use for detestable things staying in my presence.” Yes, it would be infinitely more fun to see them go down on their knees and scrounge around for the broken pieces below her window. Lessons must be learned the hard way with these servants that don't know any better.
“Hai, Akito-sama,” respectfully spoke the elder servant, internally relieved but also consternated that she was forced to clean up the mess that she knew awaited her outside. She prayed for Kureno's return very soon…he was their safety buffer against the wrath of the clan head.
After hearing the closing of her door, Akito grinned widely, proud that she was able to instill fear and respect into this household despite being worse for wear. She knew Hatori and Kureno had both instructed the staff to keep close tabs on her to be sure she took her medication, got enough rest and food… Pitiful. She had cleverly managed to alienate each and every servant in the home with less-than-astute tactics. Not one dared to come near her anymore for fear of her infamous reprisals…verbally or physically.
Of course, the entertainment value of utilizing such methods could only hold her interest for so long. `Hell, a whole week seems much longer than it should. I'm BORED out of my skull!'
Regardless, she had demanded to be left alone. It was ultimately necessary. One, she was damn near ready to commit suicide just to have a moment to herself without the presence of her personal physician or her personal attendant. Honestly, her deathbed was looking rather inviting compared to the twenty-four surveillance she'd been receiving for the past few weeks. She was never left alone for longer than five minutes! Perhaps her last stunt at having went to the Kazuma's dojo against doctor's orders therefore prolonging her bout of fever along with ditching Kureno while there may have made them overly paranoid, but still…
Reason number one was enough to warrant a reprieve from their warden-like duties. But reason number two was actually more imperative…
A muffled remark came through the closed shoji. “Akito-sama, your visitor awaits you in the third parlor room in the east wing.”
Hearing the retreat of footsteps from her door, Akito decided to slowly lift herself from her window seat and face the true reason she wished to be left alone for this week. After all, re-educating the fool under her charge was always taxing on her nerves, and she didn't wish for an interruption from her Jyuunishi's zealous efforts to keep her calm.
She was rather damn tired of being calm.
Taking her robe from a hanging hook by the window, she put it on gently and heaved a heavy sigh. It had been becoming quite tiresome to perform the most inane of acts…dressing herself, brushing her teeth, her hair…walking to the bathroom even. Deplorable…
Still, with head held high, she walked slowly but confidently out of her room and down the hall. She had rested all this week just so that her strength would show through today with no problem. And she would show the idiot exactly the strength that it takes to lead this family.
It was a lengthy walk to the east wing and she was deliberately taking her time to reach her visitor. She stopped along the way to reach out a window or two, turning her hand under the sun to grasp the warmth shining down on this summer afternoon. Her pale skin seemed white under the sunlight…Kureno and Hatori would be incredibly pleased to see her getting some sun now, if only a little.
Twenty-five minutes later, she finally made her way into the parlor room, none too perturbed by the veiled glare thrown her way by her visitor who immediately prostrated himself before her. As she gracefully walked with fluid steps to her plush cushion laid at a distance from her visitor, she tucked her hair elegantly behind her ear, only to barely give her visitor a side-glance. She didn't have to incline herself to this man or excuse herself for her tardiness.
“My, what a fine day we're having today, ne, Seto-san?” She grinned widely as she settled herself on her cushion, arranging her robes about her carefully to keep them from getting rumpled. She then looked straight at him, happy to see the joints in his jaw clenching and unclenching in repressed tension. Tilting her head to the side, she narrowed her gaze, waiting patiently for his reply. Very patiently. And another pause went by…
“Hai, Akito-sama.” Kneeling rigidly, he composed himself and immediately got to the point of his unease. “Your abrupt invitation was an honor, but also a surprise.”
“Hm, I'm sure it was.” Sighing lightly, she took the fan that was tucked in the folds of her yukata and began to fan herself lazily. She looked out the shoji door to the gardens outside, noting that the lilies had bees all about. Would they come inside through the open door? Would they sting her visitor? Bringing back her idle mind from happy thoughts, she got on with the business at hand.
“The construction on the concert hall is still on schedule, correct?” she asked indifferently, already knowing the answer due to Kureno's meticulous reports she was provided with on a daily basis. Still, she did have to keep up the appearances of a concerned clan head.
Seto considered himself a man that took every precaution to stay ahead of his opponents. In doing so, knowledge was always key. He's had informants in all levels of the family's financial and personal organizations for some time now. He had personally made sure of their anonymity and their connection to him, ensuring that he was kept fully informed of the happenings in the family without her knowledge.
He was well aware of her ploys in verbal warfare. And make no mistake that she perceived any conversation between them as such. Much like this one was turning out to be. Naturally, he answered carefully. “As had been discussed in our last business meeting, the project is nearing 80 percent completion. We should be well under way to open in the fall as planned.” Concise and factual…he would not dare elaborate further lest he reveal too much.
She, however, knew the art of revealing too little. However, this time around, his reply was adequate and expected. Whatever knowledge he held back for himself mattered not to her. In the end, he did not matter.
“Of course. You also received the invitation from the Honke to our celebration of Obon. It'll be held here at the main estate…a `private' affair as you well understand.” She steadily kept her piercing gaze on him, not once wavering from her confident air.
Seto knew of this already from his sources, but admittedly he was astonished that she would choose to celebrate this event with family (at least, a portion of them) when she never has before. After much personal deliberation, there's only one reason he can come up with as to why she would choose to have the inner family circle celebrate this event together with her.
`She's out of time. And she's making her move early before the New Year.'
“Thank you for the invitation. I gladly accept.” Sitting perfectly straight, he returned her piercing gaze with one of his own. If she was taking action now, so would he. “Will I be under the correct understanding that you wish to formally introduce the Nezumi to the family at this event?”
“There's no `wish' about it…I AM going to formally introduce Yuki at Obon,” she declared with a tight grin. “Why delay the inevitable any further? It's not like anyone has any valid objections anyway.”
“There are PLENTY of objections to this action you will be taking. He's NOT qualified in the LEAST to lead this family—”
“As I said, `valid' objections are lacking,” she cut in with a sneer. Gathering her robes to her thin body, she stood at her full height, haughtily looking down on her rebellious subordinate. “Yuki's performance of the tea ceremony in front of the family members would be his rite of passage…enough to please even the traditionalists in our little circle. Believe my words that this family WILL have him as the next clan head.”
Keeping his calm and restraining his rising temper, he quietly retorted, “The Nezumi is but a CHILD that chose not to pursue advanced studies to further his education. He's clearly demonstrating lack of maturity, sense, knowledge, EXPERIENCE—”
“—all that your precious heir happens to have, ne, Seto-san?” Keeping her stony gaze locked with his, she hunched down to just in front of her elder relative, cupping her chin delicately. Slowly, a grin took form and twisted to a smirk. “Do you think me ignorant of your meddling with my Jyuunishi? They are mine…MINE. And I know well their value to any family wishing to possess one of their very own.”
His stony gaze never wavered even as she leaned forward so very closely. Her eyes filling with mirth could only mean that she knew of his designs on a particular member of the Jyuunishi. He had only to blame his desperation that was equal to her desperation. An act of desperation to possess control over the family and Jyuunishi at whatever cost…especially the Jyuunishi, the epitome of their family's wealth and power.
“I had thought that my lack of action was enough to indicate my decision on the matter. But I suppose you wouldn't understand such a polite reply from me.” Shaking her head in disappointment, she reached out and carefully patted his cheek. How tiring it is to re-educate the fools in the family.
“Your son may have all the accolades to prove his qualifications as being `worthy' of being the next clan head…maybe even enough to reward him with one of my Jyuunishi as his bride.” The tender care she had been giving soon turned cold as her hand stilled on his face, her eyes of dark blue as hard as any precious stone. “It is a good ploy I must admit. Going so far as to discredit a family of one of my Jyuunishi who has an attachment to a certain prize you're after. A prize indeed for you. By obtaining one of my Jyuunishi to wed your son, it would ensure that the family perceives my blessing with the union AND with him. The whole package, ne? A `well-qualified' heir with a Jyuunishi as his wife…practically screams picture-perfect.”
He steadily kept staring at her, never wavering in his kneeled upright position nor in his voice as he spoke out. “The Monkey is beneath anyone's notice and therefore irrelevant. I can assure you that the family is very favorable to the match between the Boar and my son. A union such as theirs will ensure stability and continuity of an honorable legacy such as our name bears. The Boar…Kagura…will not object against the wishes of the family, of that I'm sure of.”
Her tantrums were nothing new to this Sohma male. Her remarks hit the mark time and again, but he bade his time to reply. He did feel his ire spun almost out of control, but held it back just enough to bit out, “If you're so enamored with the idea of having the Nezumi lead the family, then I request a personal audience with him. An interview if you will. Unless, of course, you don't trust him to be alone…on his own…away from your side… You do coddle him so…
How her blood boiled in her veins…it wished to bubble forth and scald, no BURN the unrepentant fool before her. And yet, she couldn't deny the request as it was kindly put. She loathed having to concede, but as the clan head introducing the heir, it was a request she couldn't refuse. And damn it all, he knew that.
“So be it. I'm sure you'll find him quite the individual. There is no other like him.” Taking measured breaths, she regained her bearings slowly, tightening her robes further around her. She was about to exit when she abruptly turned around, a small smile that was as cold as a winter evening adorning her flushed face. Bowing down slightly, she leaned in carefully and whispered softly, “And as such, I WILL cut you of your legacy before it even begins to bear fruit should you harm him. You are no mother of mine that I must institutionalize instead of eliminate. Do remember that.”
Her parting words resonated in his mind, the chill she left behind as she left the room enveloping him from within. A bitter chill…
It was the first time he felt true fear of incurring the true wrath of the Sohma's `God'.
A wrath that wouldn't hesitate to annihilate once unleashed.
Twiddle-dee and DUM! (05-26-07):
This will be a quick `hello' and `sorry' and `I'll try better' type of note! Why? Because I'm TIRED! SLEEP…yum…
I was counting on making this chapter release much larger (for waiting so patiently), but it didn't work out that way. But for sure, the next chapter will be great and will put a finale on the summer trip! I'll talk lots more then.
Musical moments: “Don't Dream It's Over” sung originally by Crowded House and later brought back by Sixpence None the Richer. Great groups! The choral lyrics as well as other parts of the song lend a sense of the struggles of standing tall when being brought down by those around you…'the world comes in…to build a wall between us'…'a battle ahead…many battles are lost'…'we know they won't win…don't ever let them win'. All these phrases fit in with this chapter…the struggles from different members of the family striving to keep afloat of their problems that threaten to drown them. Hope you agree!
Well, enough silly rambles. Again, thanks to all of my readers that come back time and again to my little haven of insanity! To all my reviewers, BIG cyber hugs from me to you! Hope to read more of your thoughts…take care everyone…until next time. Trust me, it won't be as long to update as this last one was! Ja!