Fruits Basket Fan Fiction ❯ Seasons of Sorrow ❯ Embers of Summer's Glory = Bonds Reinforced, Bonds Breaking ( Chapter 56 )

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

DISCLAIMER: Welcome to my world of fanfiction based on Takaya-sensei's manga…tread carefully.
Embers of Summer's Glory
Chapter 56: Bonds Reinforced, Bonds Breaking
The gentle tinkling of a chime carried in the brisk wind, heard only by the birds that were busily setting up to start their day. The rustlings of leaves also add to the morning ritual, with large, white clouds flitting across the sky against a stark blue sky. Of course, this all was merely a backdrop to the musical melody floating across the grand estate of the Sohma family.
`Hn…at least I think it is. They play pretty well…no surprise,' smiling widely, Haru laying on his stomach and staring out to the gardens across from him. The veranda was warm despite the cool morning breeze, the sun having shone on it earlier. He sighed heavily, closing his eyes to let the delicate notes of a piano and the strings of a violin soothe him to a state beyond relaxation. `Heh, it's no wonder Akito likes to lay out like this outside. Feels pretty good…'
“Haru…you're not falling asleep on me, are you? You asked me to help you relax for your big matches today, ne? I'm going to stop playing if you're just falling asleep on me. I've got a lot of things to do, too, for today.”
Heaving a heavy sigh, Haru shifted his head to view his companions playing in the parlor room. Seeing the one at the piano, he slowly became focused on the rhythm his fingers deftly touched the keys with, those wide, gray-violet eyes focused on nothing before him but the melody in his mind. It was mesmerizing…all of it…
“I'm wide awake, Yuki. You two play great…we should do this more often.” Sitting up, he stretched carefully and gave a good yawn. “You sure can play…uh, what's the name of the dead guy you're playing?”
Shaking his head and sighing ruefully, Yuki answered, “His name is Mozart, Haru…and could you please show a little respect for the dead?”
Trying to keep his glee from ruining his playing, Momiji commented carefully, “Ne, Haru, you're right, though. Yuki plays really good! I have to keep my music sheets in front of me just to follow along at a decent pace.”
“Hn? Am I off-balance, Momiji? I'll slow down…it's my first time playing a due. I must have lost track somewhere along the third bar.” Yuki took care to slow down the tempo of his rhythm, berating himself for mentally drifting off as he usually did when he played alone.
“No, you're fine…better than fine.” Coming to the final piece of the melody, Momiji finished it with a flourish, as did Yuki in perfect timing. Setting his violin inside its case, he went to sit next to Yuki as he saw up close the Nezumi's fingers delicately hit each key swiftly, another melody soon coming out of the piano.
“Chopin…the best of the composers for the piano. I'm very sure he'd have liked to hear you play his music, Yuki.” Smiling fondly at him, Momiji resisted the urge to hug his fellow musician, lest he ruin the aptly timed melody of Grande Valse Brillante. Yet his happy countenance turned into a pout as he complained. “Mou, we should play more often together…it is great practice for me! I wish you'd have told me sooner that you played the piano, ne, Haru?”
“Hn…oh… I've always known.” Seeing the shocked look on Momiji's face, Haru clarified. “It's not that I meant to keep it a secret. It's just that…Yuki doesn't play for just anyone, you know?”
“Oh…” Looking troubled for having touched on a delicate subject, Momiji turned to Yuki and softly whispered, “Gomen ne…I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable.”
Smiling gently, Yuki shook his head as another melody came to mind, his fingers fluidly taking the notes into a different direction. “You didn't make me feel uncomfortable. Haru said the truth…I didn't usually play outside of this room, but over the summer I've branched out a little by playing for Nii-san at his shop. I just don't like a big audience…but with the family, it's okay. If you want to practice with me, just let me know in advance, and I'll arrange for it here.”
“Why not at your brother's shop?” Looking out the open shoji door that led down another corridor that connected to the Jyuunishi's god, the Usagi quietly added, “It'll be less…inconvenient. Akito wouldn't want us so near and all…”
Turning to Momiji, Yuki gave him a measured gaze before returning his attention to the piano keys. Equally quiet, he replied, “Akito likes to hear you play…even leaves the door and windows open when you're practicing.” He suddenly grinned as he spoke normally, “Anyway, practicing at my brother's workshop is NOT advisable. The idiot is hard to handle with just me playing. Besides…he tends to close his shop when I'm there, so I don't like to visit too often if I can help it.”
Laughing lightly, Momiji would have to concur that Ayame would never leave Yuki alone if he were to visit more often. His cheerful thoughts then took him from an ecstatic Snake wrapped `lovingly' around his Mouse to his violin, his eyes drifting to the old instrument laying innocently in its case. An heirloom passed down from his father's side, he was surprised to learn that his playing could be anything remotely worth listening to by the clan head.
`Pretty strange to hear Yuki say that… Sure, the subject hardly comes up, but…it's not like him to share private matters about Akito with me.' He chanced a glance over to Haru, wordlessly conveying to him his confusion. Anything deemed strange about Yuki or Akito was usually explained to him by the perceptive Ox. He was very glad for this connection to the elusive members of their private circle.
Haru understood Momiji's confusion, knowing that it wasn't like Yuki to divulge information on Akito without reason. Which led him to one conclusion…the Nezumi was worried about Akito, enough so to let down his guard and be vocal about less spoken matters. If that wasn't a clue, the melancholy look in the Nezumi's eyes when he spoke of her was a clear indication of it.
It irked him, he had to admit, that Yuki cared enough to such a degree for someone who'd done more harm than good to him over the years. `Irked? Hell, the bad taste in my mouth from just thinking about it is giving me nausea. Damn…it's not healthy for Yuki to be near her anymore. Not to speak ill of the dead or those close to it, but man, I can't say I'm sorry to hear that Akito's been more ill as of late. If she's closer down that road to being really dead and gone, all the better.'
He stared at Yuki's hands once again as they began another melody, barely soothing his growing anxiety. `Rin didn't hear wrong…Akito hates Yuki. And from the looks of things, our dear `god' is using Yuki for all he's worth to her. Hmph…next clan head, huh? Yuki is definitely worth a lot more to her now than before…and to the clan. It's good, though, that he'll be the one in power and in charge of us all…can't think of a better person to do it.'
He heavily sighed as the ultimate question behind his consternation came back at him. `Why does he put up with it, though? He's not that blind to her lies or whatever pretty words she's using on him, is he? I…I don't know anymore. I've only known about his close contact with her for several months. Anything before then…how long ago did she start manipulating him again? It was pure hell trying to get through to him when he lived at the estate…what would happen if I tried now? That…person has been nothing but good to him! Telling him about Akito's comments to Rin…how will he take it?'
The reserved notes of the melody came to an end, the silence meeting it rather heavy. Setting his anxiety aside, Haru stood up and went to sit on Yuki's other side, plucking a fresh-cut rose from the crystal vase on the piano. Rubbing the blooming flower to Yuki's nose, he grinned upon seeing Yuki's despondent gaze turn to face him with a ready-reprimand while snatching the delicate bloom away. `I suppose I've known the answer to my stupid questions all along… Akito's motives and plans be damned. I've always watched your back, haven't I, Yuki?'
“Don't be grabbing them, Haru…they need to bloom properly,” Yuki scolded him as he set the flower back in its expensive vase.
“Hn…” Leaning closer into Yuki's face, he softly commented, “You shouldn't worry so much about Akito. Hatori-niisan had said that she had overcome the flu as best as she could. Why don't you take it easy and rest at home? You might have been staying over at our house these past few days, but you barely spent any time in my presence.”
`Am I so transparent? But…to take time off now…' Yuki shook his head as he began another melodious tune. “I'll take it easy after the tournament is over. I was supposed to have been helping Shihan and Kunimitsu-san all this week…I'm just surprised that'd they still take me in to help out today.”
“It's been AWESOME to watch the tournament, Yuki! I still can't believe it's already the last day…it went by so fast!” Barely holding back his glee, Momiji stood up and began to mimic thrusts and punches that he'd seen from his seat at the tournament. “You should've seen Haru take down his opponents with some serious punches and kicks to the head!”
“Don't those count against you, Haru?” asked Yuki skeptically.
“Nah, not in this tournament. In those matches, we wear the headgear and gloves on the feet and hands. It's pretty annoying if you ask me,” stated Haru with a frown upon recalling those instances in which he was fairly wrapped in foam for his `protection'. `Take the damn things off and fight like a real man is what I say.'
“Anyway, the preliminary matches are all over, even for the girls. No one came near Kagura-nee in her matches. Heh, don't make her mad, Yuki. She had beaten some of those girls with just two strikes!” Forgoing previous thoughts of disturbing his fellow musician, Momiji squeezed Yuki from behind. “I can't wait to see the final rounds with you today. It's been so long since we've been together! I want to make each moment count!”
“Weren't we together for Obon just two weeks ago? I thought it was a good time, too (`aside from Akito catching a bad cold')…” commented Yuki as he managed to finish the final note to his melody despite Momiji's firm embrace. `I'm not going to get anywhere with my playing today. Might as well close shop…'
“Well, yeah, I suppose. But it'll be the best time we've had together since our trip to the beach!” Reeling back his cheer momentarily, Momiji quietly added, “Besides…Haru's right. You're exhausted from having to look after Akito. If nothing else, you'll get a breath of fresh air from having stayed confined to the estate all this time.”
“I chose to stay in, Momiji…I'm not confined. Kureno's been too busy helping Master Haji with the business aspect of the tournament and the family business in connection with it. And Hatori can't look after her when he has to see his other patients. My taking care of her was a logical choice, don't you think?” Seeing that the young Usagi reluctantly took his point, Yuki assuaged him further as he widely smiled. “It's fine…really. I'll be having a nice rest period after all this is over. No more teaching at the dojo…school is not even an issue anymore… (Pause) Hn…strange…”
“What is?” asked Momiji curiously.
Shaking his head in mild disbelief, Yuki carefully chose his words as his new thoughts dawned on him, a wry grin coming to his face. “I'll have nothing to do from now on. It's a strange feeling…I've been so busy with one thing or another for the past few years. Now…there isn't anything remotely close to a schedule that I have to follow anymore. I…I'll have all the time in the world. Heh, it's really strange…”
Haru snorted as he grinned as well. “Hmph, knowing you, you'll find something to keep yourself busy. How about sparring with me once in a while? Or catch up on your reading?”
“And helping me with my violin practice! You know, Haru, it wouldn't hurt to get his help on school studies, too. He must have great notes since he graduated at the top of his class.” With the topic broached, Momiji turned to look at Yuki squarely and dared to ask, “Yuki, why didn't you go to—”
“—work for the family, right? I'm pretty sure our parents are making the arrangements for us to be employed in their businesses.” Turning a mischievous eye to Yuki, he slyly remarked, “You know, I heard your big brother mention he needs a model for his new autumn wardrobe line—”
“DON'T start, Haru,” quickly interjected a flustered Nezumi. Yes, he had heard, quite often courtesy of Ayame's loud mouth, of this `opportunity' for any lucky male model to work at the shop. `Last I checked, hell hadn't frozen over. And even then, I'd rather roll over and play with a cat in my rat form if only to avoid modeling for Nii-san.'
Momiji looked over to Haru to see his disapproval of him pursuing the subject anymore. Yes, like all other members of the family, they, too, were not able to understand why Yuki renounced his chance to advance his education. It was an opportunity unlike any other to grace previous cursed generations…to be able to live outside the circle with full blessing from the clan head. And Yuki…he who had been confined to the estate for a time…he who had escaped the clutches of mania from an oppressive clan head…he who had all the reason to free himself completely from the family… He turned away from the chance. And he never explained himself.
They accepted it but curiosity was very strong in him. He had really wanted to know the reason, but Haru had cut in before he got the chance. That in itself was a warning for him to drop the subject. `But I couldn't help it…I can`t imagine giving up my opportunity to study abroad on what I love to do most. What could have made Yuki reject the offer of a university education? Did Akito manipulate him to not take the opportunity? It wouldn't make sense if she had allowed it to begin with. Then again, Akito knows how to twist his mind around…she knows how to do that sort of thing real well.'
“Well, I can always lend a hand to you two whenever you need me…music or otherwise,” remarked Yuki, ignorant of his companion's rampant thoughts. He mused loudly while wiping down the piano with a dust cloth, “It'll be good to catch up on my hobbies…my gardening for one. Tohru-san's been too kind by doing it all by herself these past few months…I've only managed to help out a little.”
“Which reminds me…” Haru quickly took out his cell-phone and began dialing. “You'll definitely be going today to the tournament, so let me call Honda-san and have her get your access-badge ready.”
Yuki gave him a thankful smile. “And tell her I said thanks for holding onto it for me.”
Watching Haru speak with Tohru outside on the veranda, Momiji turned to Yuki, noting the soft gaze in his eyes upon mention of her name. Knowing the reason behind the fond look, it was cause for concern. Not that it was any of his business, but he couldn't help worrying…
He knew how much his teasing annoyed the hell out of Kyo when it involved Kyo's feelings for Tohru. Yet no amount of teasing could ever truly dim what he'd seen in the Neko's eyes over the years thanks to his strong relationship with Tohru. Hope in all its purity had finally reached those red-orange eyes that were once so full of anger and gloom.
He would never say anything discouraging to the Nezumi, his personal relationship with him not nearly close to a bond as that of Haru's—really…only Haru knew Yuki the best, the Ox being the only one who dared to associate himself with the Rat when it was forbidden to do so. But due to this distance between himself and Yuki, he was that much closer to Kyo. And he'd come to know Kyo well enough…the loud Neko who constantly was chasing him down to do him bodily harm…the one who loved to argue with him if only for the sake of winning a pointless argument…the one who didn't turn his back on him when he was the loneliest. The elder brother he never had…
He pushed his wandering thoughts aside, yet, his curiosity lent fire to his impulsiveness. If only to see the reaction in Yuki's eyes…he felt compelled to comment, “Tohru-kun was over with Kyo this morning to help him with his sparring. She's even been staying over to make him a good breakfast each morning and dinner each night.”
Surprised at the sudden remark, Yuki was momentarily speechless before setting his cloth aside and replying calmly, “That's very kind of her. It's important to have a good meal to keep your strength up. The matches are difficult on both body and mind.”
“Yeah…” Momiji didn't detect anything remotely emotional in that response. Lukewarm at best…what a disappointment. And so his infamous impulsiveness ran off with his mouth in high gear. “Aren't you going to run out and see her?”
Yuki couldn't help looking at Momiji strangely. “No…I'll be seeing her later at the tournament.”
`Geez, I've seen bigger reactions from Harii just yawning!' Sighing dejectedly, Momiji stood up and gently patted Yuki's head. “It's okay…I'm sure when the time comes, you'll understand.”
Now Yuki was dumbfounded. “Eh?”
Closing his violin case, Momiji waved good-bye to Yuki as he went out to the veranda with case in tow. He momentarily spoke to Haru before taking off in the direction of Hatori's house. Today was a big day for all of them…
Haru finished his call and went in, but upon seeing Yuki's bewildered expression, he couldn't help but snicker. “What's with the face? Not that it's bad…it's kinda cute.”
Yuki gave a light shove to Haru once he sat down next to him. “Save it. Did you get everything straightened out with Tohru-san?”
“Hn…all's good for today.” Haru hesitated to speak any further, wondering how much should he pry into a recent development that was more than just unsettling. Reaching out, he stroked Yuki's soft hair, certain that he'd have it batted quickly by the Nezumi's hands. It didn't happen which only gave him more cause for concern.
His tone was hushed, “You know, no matter how many years pass us, I can't know how to help if I don't know what's on your mind. You always hold it all in…building up all sorts of stress.”
Seeing no other reaction from his companion other than a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders and a pointed stare to the gardens outside, Haru pushed on, certain his next statement would incite a more vocal response from Yuki. “Why are you avoiding going home?”
Certainly enough, the Nezumi's straight posture immediately slumped along with a heavy sigh. Either not caring or even noticing the hand stroking his head, Yuki stared down to his hands that were folded on his lap, his fingers brushing against each other delicately as if they could pick out his thoughts and lay them bare for Haru to see.
Arriving to the only answer he had, Yuki replied quietly, “Home isn't exactly where I'm wanted at the moment. By being here, it's not so…cold, you know?”
“Does Kyo's silence bug you that much?” asked the Ox knowingly.
Yuki heavily sighed and gave it thought, reluctantly agreeing. In all his years since coming in contact with Kyo, words were always exchanged. Vindictive verbal lashings…open challenges declared with such passion…half-decent conversations where understanding took place. This was the range of their verbal exchanges over the years.
Now…silence. Kyo was quiet. Not one word of any kind came forth from the Neko since Obon. Not even a look of disdain…Kyo simply refused to acknowledge his existence at home or at the dojo. He did try, though, to talk with Kyo that very evening upon arriving home from their Obon celebration. Brick walls were more forthcoming in their response. The Neko simply walked past him after one final glance of indifference…
Since then, mornings have silently greeted his ears as he went about his normal routine, Kyo having already left before dawn. His commute to the dojo was often lonely as well since Tohru accompanied the Neko, her early schedule coinciding with Kyo's due to the chaotic last minute details her office was in charge of for the grand tournament. At the dojo, the Neko would be intensely focused on sparring, never once looking his way. His commute home would be no different than the morning commute.
Evenings were quiet once again, much like how it was long before Tohru or Kyo came to live at Shigure's home. He ate, watched a little television, went to read in his room…and waited. Kyo never came in before midnight, thwarting any chance to speak with him at a reasonable hour. After several nights of such behavior and much pestering from the Inu, Kyo harshly retorted to back the hell off. It worked…Shigure had since miraculously refrained from speaking of the matter to the Neko or to him. Yet tension at home only thickened…the unnatural silence only adding to it.
The matter with Kyo was no easy subject to bring up and the Nezumi's continued meditative state only confirmed the Ox's suspicions that the Nezumi was just as concerned as he was. It just wasn't normal for the Neko to be so focused and disciplined in his training that he conversed only when needed while at the dojo. He seemed possessed, driven to reach his goal with minimal distraction.
`All Kyo ever does is practice with Tetsuya-san or me…not that it's abnormal since we were preparing for the tournament. Shihan was a slave driver these past couple of weeks after Obon. And Kyo's been making damn sure that he doesn't even catch a glimpse of Yuki. Even that one time when Yuki asked him point-blank to fill out another tournament-related form, Kyo just walked past him as if he didn't exist. (Sigh) Hn…maybe that's what's buggin' Yuki the most…to not be seen…to not be acknowledged as someone, only as something. Too close to how it is with his parents…'
“Give the idiot time, Yuki. From what you told me, it was hell on earth when you had to clean up another mess that bastard made.” Frowning, he grumbled lowly, “Pft, can't understand why we can't just oust that man from the family…I'll give him a good ass-kicking right outta the family…”
Smiling wryly, Yuki stood up and away to walk to the doorway to the veranda. Heavily breathing in, he leaned against the edge and slid down to his bottom, his knees tucked in to give him small comfort to his problems. “You're right…I know that. I'm just restless today…it's been a long week. Heh, at least Kyo's been getting a long vacation from my presence both at home and at the dojo. Too bad he'll have to see me today, though…”
“Well, the baka Neko will just have to suck it up. He can't keep avoiding you for forever, you know.” Haru's eyes suddenly lit up with an idea. “Next week, we'll tackle him together and pin him down. Then you can make him listen to you. And afterwards, I'm sure he'll be willing to take me on in a good sparring…great for releasing tension, you know.”
“Heheh, you're hopeless,” commented Yuki lightly, his mood considerably better than before. `Always count on Haru to make me see the obvious. Of course Kyo needs time and waiting another week to really confront him isn't a bad idea. Man, I must be tired if I can't even think that logically.'
Seeing Yuki relaxed as he'll ever be pleased the Ox immensely. “You and I should start getting ready for this tournament, Yuki—”
“I quite agree. But you shouldn't leave without saying good-bye.”
Haru stilled upon hearing her soft voice. He immediately tensed with Rin's words echoing in his mind. It took effort to reel in his self-control and not lash out at this individual that was using Yuki. Instead he carefully kneeled in her presence and lowered his cool gaze to the floor.
“I wasn't leaving yet, Akito.” Yuki checked his watch to see the hour…he didn't think he wasn't running late in his morning schedule. Still, she's wide-awake now and obviously ready for breakfast, which he hadn't managed to prepare just yet. `I was so caught up with my playing and…other things.' “Sumimasen, I'll have the maid prepare your breakfast right away—”
“No need,” she interjected calmly, “I've already run into one of the fools. She'll be bringing it up for the both of us.”
Knowing how she loathed interacting with the maidservants, Yuki apologetically looked to her. How Kureno had managed to look after her for all these years was a heavenly talent he never fully appreciated until this week. Over this past week alone as her temporary personal attendant he'd managed to break two teacups, one dinner plate, three glasses, spill hot tea all over himself, fall asleep twice when he should have been reading reports to her from outlying family businesses…hell, even determining her temperature with a thermometer was a challenge. He hoped Hatori would never ask how he managed to break the medical instrument.
Akito gracefully past the kneeled Ox without sparing him a glance, and upon reaching Yuki, she settled down next to him. She began stroking his cheek as she quietly remarked, “You may leave.”
Haru knew the command was directed at him. He quietly bowed his head in response and stood up to walk out to the veranda and retrieve his boots. He was tempted to turn around and speak with Yuki to encourage him to leave with him. Yet the Nezumi's remarks made him stop short.
“I'll call you when I'm ready to leave, Haru,” stated Yuki sedately, keeping his stare on the Ox to be sure he took the hint in his remark. He was not going to leave just then…he simply wasn't.
Huffing inwardly that he was waylaid, Haru stiffly nodded and once he had his shoes on, bowed low to both of his superiors. He knew Yuki hated it when he did that, but there was no way around the family formalities anymore. Yuki was now the official heir to lead the clan, and anyone including Akito would see it as extremely rude if anyone of the family, Jyuunishi included, didn't behave accordingly.
Watching his old friend leave so formally, Yuki felt bile churn within him. He hated to abide by these family's rules and traditions, but currently he had to endure it.
Akito felt his displeasure and she smoothly stated, “It's the way things are, Yuki. Even Tou-sama had to adhere to tradition.” She further added as she tucked a few of his stray hairs behind a delicate ear, “Yet, he found balance, remarkably. You will as well once you have full control of this family.”
Her caresses never ceased, and he was reassured upon hearing her comment about her father that there are ways to bend the family and their rules to his will. Only time had to pass…only with her passing will it all come to pass. His rising elation evaporated…
Coldness settled in his veins as he recalled this past week. It was an eventful week with his ineptitude sometimes getting in the way as he looked after her. But it was during those hours when her illness took hold of her in its merciless clutches that he saw how far advanced her deteriorated health had become. During the light of day or the dark of the night, he saw her struggle for breath or thrash under her covers with a high fever, only to be shivering with cold sweat the next day. It was during those wee hours of the night that he felt most helpless and alone as he tried to reach out to her with just mundane talk, if only to have her focus on something other than the tides of pain…
He was told repeatedly during Hatori's daily medical visits that her illnesses tended to fluctuate from one extreme to the next, but it still unnerved him to be so limited in helping her overcome them with mere cold cloths or hot water bottles or the occasional chemical compress. Her medication was limited as she had already become resistant to many antibiotics—she had to simply endure the torment the illness inflicted on her…so said their revered doctor. It was all handled so…normally. From personal experience he knew Hatori to be nonchalant when he cared for him as his doctor, but to see it applied in such a situation as Akito's… It made him ill to the point that he lost his temper and slapped away Hatori's hand when he tried to take her temperature.
He mentally cringed now at the memory being replayed…Hatori utterly shocked at his unexpected action but more so when he was told to get out since his services as a doctor were of no use anymore. He knew that he had given the doctor the same hard look and authoritative air from back when he had stated that he'd be the one looking after Akito in Kureno's stead amidst fervent protests. Hatori did the same then as before…he had quietly gathered his things and left without a word.
The embarrassment and inevitable shame for his actions came after many hours when he had finally managed to calm down enough and rest for a while, only then confronting his logical reasoning. Haru had said it best once…logic was a bitch. It was also merciless since it incessantly pounded him with more reasons to feel guilty. Damn if his conscience couldn't handle anymore justified guilt!
Certainly his excuses were acceptable…little to no rest over the last few days while tending to Akito at night and even less chance to eat were certainly good basis to fly off the handle. But he was WARNED…that was the sore spot on his damaged pride! He had been warned REPEATEDLY that it was no small undertaking to look after Akito while she was ill. He had assumed to be capable of it regardless. How mistaken he was.
Incredibly mortified with his self-analysis, he did what any natural being with the curse of the Rat would do…he hid under a thick blanket. Akito had by then settled to a more rested state, her fever having been broken during the day. So he had remained in a corner of her room, hearing her raspy but regular breathing, fumbling with a loose thread on the cuff of his pants…all from under a blanket.
He must've loved his makeshift wall, enough to have fallen asleep, because the next thing he recalled hearing was Hatori's footsteps as he approached Akito's bed to check on her progress like he always did before calling it a day. The doctor's presence in the room had been enough for his Nezumi instincts to kick in, and he didn't waste time as he huddled closer into his corner, then wrapping the blanket tighter to seem very small and insignificant…hell, he had felt like that.
Oh yes, it had been a brilliant idea…right up there with him cooking instant ramen. He had felt Hatori's silent presence before him, waiting for him to unravel himself from under the blanket. After ten minutes of hesitating, he had given in…partially. Apparently the blanket was alive because he couldn't extricate himself completely from it, only barely poking his head partially from an opening.
It had been his turn to look shocked. There was the doctor before him…sitting back on his heels with an elbow propped on a knee, his chin held by his hand. And most surprisingly, he had sported a small grin.
`And I had felt nothing but shame. I couldn't even look him in the eye! But…he helped me out of that mess—really, how hopeless am I that I got stuck in a blanket?!—with that grin of his still in place. I had tried to say I was sorry, but he had told me that it was okay and that he understood. Still…I felt so stupid…'
“Your thoughts take you too far away from me, Yuki,” remarked Akito sourly as she firmly tugged a few strands of his silky bangs.
`Ow. That brought me back.' Wincing slightly, he replied, “Gomen…I was thinking how fast the week went by. The tournament's all but over after today…”
“Hn…so I've noticed. It'll be good riddance…that event has too many of my employees scrambling around all over the city. It's been terribly time-consuming.” Letting out a frustrated sigh, she leaned heavily into Yuki's slim frame, laying her head upon his shoulder as she took in the early morning view of the gardens. “You played marvelously well earlier…”
He looked down on her, quietly replying, “I hadn't meant to wake you.”
“It was fine…I needed to get up. I was tired of being confined to that bed.” She closed her eyes to the scenic view and let herself relax against Yuki, straining to hear his heart beat in his veins. His warmth and smell was all she had sought when she woke up. She didn't want to be deprived of it any longer than she had to.
She had awoken better than she had in months, especially upon hearing the melody resound down the hallways. She was so sure that her flu would last for weeks as they had before. Hatori and Kureno certainly thought so. What a shock to see that it whittled down to just a cold within a few days in the Nezumi's care and just as easily remedied, of course, that was after a few nights of nonstop battling against the illness. The morning she woke up with coherent thought and attitude to match, Kureno was astounded but happy, Hatori was rather speechless, and her dear Nezumi was sleeping soundly upright in a chair next to her bed.
`Perhaps having him close by isn't so bad when I'm ill. It'll at least cut down on me having to take those damn injections. But…only then, never during THOSE times. I will NEVER have him near shouting distance when those moments take hold of me. Never…' She fisted her hand in her lap, narrowing her eyes at that last unwelcome thought.
“Akito, is there something wrong?” Yuki took hold of her clenched fist, worried that her sudden rapid breathing was indicative of another bout of illness coming down on her.
“Don't be silly…something's always wrong with me. But I'm fine, relatively speaking.” Unclenching her hand, she lifted her head and looked to him squarely. “When do you have to leave?”
Up close, her visage was much like before, pallid but with a flush of color…this latest bout of illness had definitely come to an end. “I'll leave after we've eaten breakfast.”
`Doesn't sound like much of a choice for me…Hatori is rubbing off on him.' With a sly grin, she inched closer as she whispered, “I'll eat breakfast with you IF…”
She paused as she started to giggle, no doubt a joke only she could perceive at the moment. He was glad to see her in good spirits but was curious as to what she wanted in exchange for eating breakfast. `I wasn't going to force her to eat. A little would do her good, though…it would be enough.' Returning her widening smile, he asked, “If what, Akito?”
With a gleam to her eye, she nuzzled into his neck and deeply breathed in his scent. “If you convince Hatori and Kureno to leave me alone when I, too, attend this grandiose event.”
“You…you want to come to the tournament?” he asked incredulously. “But…you're still recuperating—”
She immediately pulled away with a scowl. “Yuki…don't. You're starting to sound just like them!”
Just as she was prepared to stand up and stomp off, he took hold of her wrist quickly. “No…I…I only meant to say that it'll be a huge crowd and rather noisy. It'll be hard on your senses…but…if you're up to it, I can have Master Haji make arrangements to have one of the suites cleared for your personal use. You can watch all of the tournament from in there on one of the big screen monitors and still have an excellent view of the floor.”
Smiling with a haughty air, she gave it thought but then began to frown. “I'd rather not be there if you're not there. What's the point of going if I have no escort?”
“Kureno will be there for sure…and Master Haji can certainly spare some time—”
“I don't want to have people just `spare' their time to be with me!” she lashed out with a growing rage as she tried pulling her wrist from Yuki's grip.
He tightened his hold and calmly replied, “Only for a short while when I can't be there. I…I don't want you to be alone when you've just overcome a bad case of the flu.”
“So now you've decided to be a nursemaid for me?! I have Kureno for that!” Finally freeing herself from his grasp, she stood up and began to march off when she suddenly had her way blocked by Yuki.
Latching onto her slim shoulders, he bowed his head and lowly remarked, “I'm no nursemaid…nor a caretaker. I've proven that rather well this week. I…I do worry…I'm very good at worrying.” He looked up to meet her stern gaze with a soft smile. “Heh, you've even said so yourself. But I don't mind worrying, so please, come to the tournament. I'll be worrying about you regardless if you're there or not. At least, you'll be close by for me to check in on you every so often. And I won't worry so much. Maybe after all the matches are done with, we can go to the adjacent exhibit halls to view the antiquity exhibition still on display. It'll be pretty deserted since everyone will be at the tournament…it'll be just the two of us. Is that okay with you?”
Her anger had dissipated as he went on, clearly pleased with the new arrangements. The exhibition hardly interested her, but if he was willing to spend time with her outside of this gilded cage that was the estate, she was more than up to viewing old relics and such. “Yes…this is acceptable. But just the two of us…I can't bear to stomach the presence of the others.”
The `others' she was referring to have to be Kureno and Hatori since they were usually her constant companions and would most likely voice their protests of her being there at the tournament. He himself didn't wholly agree with her being there after just overcoming such an illness, but if it made her happy, then he'd do what he can to make it possible. After all, her demands weren't extraordinary, and she rarely did ask for anything…her way of asking is of course strange, but it was her way.
`I don't blame her…it is exhausting having to be confined to one room. If all she wants is to get away from here for a while, it should be fine as long as we keep her exposure to stressful environments to a minimum. They would have to agree…' Smiling gently, he replied, “I'll call them after our breakfast to have the arrangements done up. I think you'll like to see some of the pieces that caught my attention on the sixth floor…”
“Mon FRERE!!!” sang out a voice from within the house.
The idea of a quiet breakfast flew out the door when Yuki heard the booming voice. Groaning audibly, he quietly asked, “Why is he HERE?”
“I had called him, of course. There is NO way you're going to attend this overblown event wearing THAT,” declared Akito proudly, pointing her glare towards his current attire.
Aghast at what she had said or what she was glaring at, he stammered in his response, “M-my outfit is what I wear to my classes! There's nothing wrong with it.”
Eyeing the simple white practice outfit tied with the black belt, she shook her head with disapproval. “There's plenty wrong with it. It's OLD and…PLAIN. And you'll be going out there representing this family as its future Head! By now, there will be many in that industry that will have gotten that juicy piece of gossip. I'll not have you going out to be amidst those hyenas dressed like some hired-hand!”
“But…Akito…I, I AM hired help for Shihan—”
“Don't fret, I took care of it all for you, you'll see,” interjected Akito with a small smile.
“YUKI!!!” bellowed the individual as he got closer. “Lo and behold, your one and only most devoted brother is here to perform `Operation: Battlefield'!”
`What the hell does that mean?!' Trying vainly to escape the situation, Yuki was held in place by Akito's strong grip on his arm. His troubled gray-violet eyes turned to meet gold-green eyes that were eyeing him from the doorway with something akin to horror.
Ayame really didn't think the emergency call early in the morning was necessary as he was already planning to drop in on his brother to bestow a present for him to wear at the tournament. It was his duty after all, brotherhood aside, since he was the dojo's appointed tailor for their uniforms. Yet he wasn't prepared for what his sensitive retinas would see upon entering the room the maidservant had said his brother was in. His prized bounce in his step was cut short as he eyed his magnificent brother.
Boring…too damn boring. White rice had more impact than his brother's painfully simple attire. In short, he was…appalled. And he expressed it so well… “SIN!!! Have you no SHAME?! This is…ANARCHY to all that is FASHIONABLE! I can't let you commit this fashion SUICIDE, in PUBLIC no less!!!”
Feeling Akito finally release him, Yuki strode over to confront the barbaric charges. He irately retorted, “NII-SAN! Everyone else is wearing something similar, so it's not so bad to wear this—”
“FASHION WRECK!!! That's what your outfit screams at me! No, I can't…I WON'T allow for this travesty to continue! I will SAVE YOU from the humiliation!” Ignoring the shouts from his younger sibling, Ayame whipped around and went out into the hallway, only to come back immediately, carrying two large, heavy handbags along with a travel bag. “Now…time to engage into the battlefront!”
“And to think you were going to have your entourage with you the whole time while wearing that BLASPHEMY against fashion!” went on Ayame without letup as he started to set up an area where he'll prepare the right facial masques along with a little polish to those gray-colored tresses that will make them stand out even more. A pair of scissors to give Yuki a needed trim was already sharpened to perfection…
Having tuned out his brother's ranting in his ear, Ayame smiled widely as he pulled out his latest masterpiece from the travel bag. `A little steam will do it wonders to take out those little wrinkles… I'm so happy that I went with this color for the others' uniforms!' “Now, Akito has charged me with giving you the very best I can produce…and here it is! Don't worry, this will match in color to what your entourage will be wearing. I've already handed out the colored handkerchiefs and ties to all ten of them. Ooooh, I'm getting CHILLS already…you'll definitely be dressing the part of our clan head if my name isn't Ayame the Bold and Beautiful!”
Yuki was bowled over within moments of hearing Ayame rattle off with no concern or consideration to what he thought of this. But his shock came to an all-new crescendo as he eyed the outfit and heard Ayame speak. Speechless…even coherent thought escaped him…why, he couldn't be sure.
`Did he say TEN? What's with that warning tag on the outfit -No water or sweat allowed near me.-? Is THAT what I'm wearing? Is that REALLY what I'll be wearing?! It's too…too—'
“Perfect. I approve Ayame…snap to it, time is of the essence,” ordered Akito as she settled to sit outside and began to eat her morning meal, the maid having dropped it off as Ayame was flying off the handle. `We all have a reputation to uphold…Tou-sama had always said so. It's a job passed down from one clan head to the next. I will train you properly Yuki, by force if need be…'
Gaping, Yuki called out, “I REALLY don't think—”
“Good! Less thinking, more action! STRIP, BROTHER! I will correct the error of your ways! HUSTLE!” chirped Ayame as he very nearly tackled his brother to the ground while `helping' him out of his clothes. “These rags will be BURNED IN EFFIGY!
The brothers' wrestling was lost on Akito as she ate her meal in peace, looking forward to seeing how well Yuki will perform today as the official heir to lead the family. Yes…her months…no, years of planning have finally come down to this day, aside from his performance at Obon. Already he was showing authority over those that would oppose his beliefs, even those closest to him. He didn't enforce his demands quite as well as she would have liked him to, but with time and experience, she was confident that he'll develop the necessary rapport with others to convey his wishes or final decisions without them being questioned. She had never tolerated it, and she would be damned if anyone questioned the decisions of a reigning clan head of the Sohmas.
Giggling caught her attention as she turned to see a laughing, half-dressed youth pinned under a flustered tailor who was vainly trying to remove the offensive garments by force apparently. Yuki alternated between intense struggles and bouts of laughter as Ayame intensified his efforts to undress him. She heavily sighed resignedly…it was painfully obvious that the Snake knew very little of Yuki's greatest and carefully guarded weakness…
`And Yuki does keep that part of his nature very private. Who would have thought? Our dear, quiet, reserved Nezumi is quite ticklish…'
Thrust. Kick. Crouch. Swing. Block.
The motions of his limbs were flawless and executed with the grace of his cursed spirit. His breathing was maintained at an even pace, and he even managed a conversation with his audience sitting on the veranda all at the same time.
“So, you're sure you want to head straight home tonight? I'm pretty sure we'll be going out afterwards to celebrate our big victory at the tournament.” Pausing momentarily in his forward thrust of the fist, he glanced at her resolute expression. “You deserve to celebrate with all of us, too. You've worked just as hard as the rest of us.”
“No, I'm sure. Uo-chan and Hana-chan have been doing all my chores while I was staying over here for the week. It's time I took back my responsibilities,” replied Tohru with resolve as she packed all her remaining belongings in her duffel bag. Satisfied with her packing, she looked over to Kyo who was completing the final form to his kata. If it were possible, and likely it was, he was even sharper with his reflexes now than ever before. As much of an amateur as she is, even she knew how much a better fighter Kyo had become, so much so he was seemingly en par with his revered instructor, though Kyo ardently claimed that he still lacked the experience Kazuma held in spades.
Still, on this last day of the tournament, he was indeed the top contender to win all of his matches, perhaps the championship itself. Indeed, seeing him practice in this same clearing where he patiently taught her the basics of self-defense made her realize just how much Kyo has grown both physically and mentally over these past few months.
His physique was well toned and even lethal from hours spent on practicing his katas, not slouched over a textbook. His eyes held a glint that spoke of heightened awareness, even razor-sharp as they practically dissected his opponents each and every move. His fists and feet became a blur often when his limbs were busy blocking attacks or taking down an opponent. And his height…well, suffice to say that she now stood at his shoulder whereas before she stood level with his chin at graduation.
`He's definitely not like before when he fought with Yuki-kun time and again. He's come so far from being that person…both in body and in mind. But…his mind… It worries me.' Certainly his maturity had grown from before, so his quick-temper was reined in a bit. His mental capacities to direct his body to defeat his opponents had grown remarkably well under Kazuma's tutelage. All this was well observed by her eyes, and she couldn't be happier.
No, it's what he desperately tried to hide from her that held her concern. She had not meant to pry into family affairs too much…after all, she had been the one to move out of this cherished home. She had no right to ask about anything if she didn't live there anymore. So while visiting and having tea, she had asked kindly when Yuki was returning from his sojourn at the estate…that's what Shigure had said when she had called to speak with him about his entrance badge to the tournament.
Cold and bitter…that's what she saw and felt in Kyo's hard gaze to the table in front of him. Nothing like she had encountered before when she had lived in the house…these sensations were far more potent in its severity. In a very controlled tone, he had only stated that only Shigure knew. It was succinct. No barbs about Shigure being an idiot, no flaming comments about the ugly Rat running around the home…simply nothing. It was only then that she felt how `off' the usually amicable atmosphere had become. She had felt it upon entering the home, but she didn't realize what it was until that moment.
She had known when this had all started. This strange behavior along with his pent-up frustrations that occasionally lashed out when encountering Uo as she pestered him during his visits to the apartment had their start since Obon. As delicately as she had tried to get him to open up to her about what had happened that day when she left him at the courtyard, it was to no avail. He merely smiled sadly and thanked her for her concern, but that he was dealing with it just fine.
She didn't agree and as much as she wanted to ask others about that day, Yuki especially, she knew well that it was Kyo's privacy. So she held in her own frustrated tears of being so helpless and decided to take action in another way. She had called her friends to let them know that she was staying over for the week at least, if only to be of some use to Kyo that needed comfort whether he sought it or not. She never dared to broach the topic again, and by evening on her first day over, her beloved old home was beginning to feel warm and inviting once more. Kyo was more relaxed and talkative, and Shigure had only made two comments about her staying on as his personal attendant which earned the Inu two sound knocks upside the head. Yes, things were definitely heading in the right direction…
`He's not entirely himself like before, but he's doing much better now with only the tournament as his main focus. Maybe when it's all over, he'll be more inclined to talk things over with me. If not…I shouldn't worry, but…maybe Yuki-kun may know something.'
“Tohru? Oi, I was just asking…if you don't think your friends want to join up with us to celebrate, I won't ask anymore—”
Shaking away her dazed mind, she laughed sheepishly and bowed her head in apology. “Sumimasen, Kyo-kun…I was just thinking, that's all. Uh, ano, I don't want to burden Shishou-san with my friends' presence when he wants to celebrate with this team—”
Toweling himself off while cooling down from his warm-up exercises, he waved off her comment. “It's fine, trust me. Just call up your friends now so that way they can meet us outside the arena after the tournament is over. I'm just sorry that we can't get them inside to watch the tournament…”
She quickly assured him, “Iie…you don't have to apologize. The tickets to the tournament have been sold out since last year. Besides, they've not missed one match since it started airing this week on TV and on the radio. Hehe, Uo-chan is especially happy…she stuck up for you when your team was trailing, and cheered rather loudly in the library when she heard on her headphones that your team rose to the top with other teams. But…eheh…she has said that she would `lynch you `til you bled and your atoms fell apart' if you lost in the final rounds. I, uh, think she was referring to some bet she had made…funny, ne?”
He narrowed his gaze in the direction of Tohru's apartment, almost wheedling out the blonde hair of an irritable woman who apparently stood to lose quite a sum of yen if he were to lose. To see the ex-Yankee crawl on her knees to her debtors…yes, it was a tempting possibility. `Damn, the things I give up to come out a winner…' “Yeah…it's a laugh. You better make the call soon…we'll be leaving in thirty minutes and the kitchen—”
“EEAAH! The kitchen hasn't been cleaned!” She quickly ran off inside to finish her duties along with making her phone call. So much needed to be done and so little time to do it all… “Arigato, Kyo-kun!”
“Such beauty… It's a thrilling pleasure to see our blooming flower fleet about my humble abode like old times. Though I admit I worry…if she hurries any further to carry out her sacred deeds, she's liable to run into a wall. I can't afford anymore repairs on this place until my novel is completed.”
Kyo's small smile turned into a glower as he turned his gaze to Shigure. He spat out, “Baka Inu, she's not done that in a long time, even before she left the house.”
“Mou, such an attitude! Still ruffled, aren't we, kitty?” Walking out into the veranda, Shigure quietly remarked, “Perhaps your perturbed moments from earlier still have you rattled, hm? May I suggest that you talk it over with her if not with me…”
“Shut up!” Kyo viciously turned away, angry and ashamed that another member of the Jyuunishi circle yet again witnessed his weakest moment since Obon. Never mind that Momiji and Hiro were the last to have seen him like that…they remarkably held their tongue up `til now. He was…grateful, for that small consideration on their part.
It will not be the case with this inquisitive Inu. Kyo had made quite a ruckus just the night before (or early morning hour however you see it), enough to draw the author from his office to check on him. It was amazing that he hadn't woken Tohru…she must have been exhausted after three days of intensely fulfilling her duties to Kazuma at the tournament.
`Horror' was not an apt word to what he encountered at that ungodly hour. And it had to occur prior to the last day of the tournament. Yes, he had been preoccupied with the lack of his `dreams' with Tohru ever since that night at the beachside, but to have them come crashing down on him in such a horrific manner…
His hands trembled at the rising sensation when he recalled just mere moments of those nightmares. The sick void in his stomach…the dry mouth…throat constricted… `Dammit. How the hell am I supposed to understand any of it if it's so damn confusing all the time?! All those…vermin…that's what they are in the end anyway. Just small disease carriers…'
It was horrible but the dream became one of outright terror as he saw the rats scurry all over a bleeding corpse, the dim lighting barely allowing him to make it all out. Bile began to rise up just knowing that he remembered what the feeling was when he saw… `She was just…infested. Diseased…INFESTED with those DAMN THINGS. Those…sores…'
No. He dared not continue in his thoughts. He had awoken immediately upon realizing the identity of that deteriorated body, shoved a concerned Inu to the side, and hastily ran out the door to open Tohru's door with a flourish. He marched right in without regard if it was proper and planted himself right by her bed. Never once did he take his eyes off of her steady breathing. He had remained by her side, resolutely refusing to leave her no matter what threats the Inu could conjure. It was only the dawn's waking rays that stirred him from his sentinel duty and prompted him to put in an extra amount of exercise that morning to release the pent-up stress from his dream.
“Kyo-kun…you have to realize that we will worry regardless if you share your fears with us or not. Tohru-kun especially…” With a heavy sigh and those short, but true words, Shigure retreated into his home, allowing the Neko his privacy once more as he did when he couldn't draw Kyo out of Tohru's room.
Never mind that the Neko's wrist blistered and bled before his eyes as he tried to shake Kyo awake. What held his full attention was the beaded bracelet, enchanted as it was at that moment, each bead pulsing with an unknown pressure and extending its effects outward much like the ripples in the water. The tremor was felt by his blood bond with the Jyuunishi…almost as if…
`This is an unforeseen development. To think…our bond with one another in this cursed plane of existence…those ties that bound us with no rhyme or reason for generations…it actually responded with its own thrum of energy. And dare I think it…it's starting to raise its own -voice-…'
Taking a smoke in his office (thankful Yuki had left for the week), he ceased his musings for now, deciding that he may just decide to show up to the tournament after all. Besides, he needed the inspiration that only the female physique at the peak of their performance could provide to his more refined sensibilities. It was as he gathered his sketchpad to take down `notes' that he heard a conversation escalate magnificently…
`Heh, perhaps I don't need to make the trip after all. There's enough drama going on out there!'
Kyo had turned away from the veranda, intent on meditating to distance himself from his current problems. Yet he couldn't help the downward glance…to his wrist. No, not to that…to his bracelet. Aesthetically plain, very…merely beads on a string. Always, as far back as he could remember, this small bit of accessory adorned his wrist with no other purpose other than subduing his second form, his more degraded existence as the Neko of the Jyuunishi.
Raw emotion boiled from that knowledge, but also, strangely, understanding. He looked down to fully view his wrist, then holding his hand up to see the beads against the backdrop of the sky above him. He fingered each bead delicately, a part of him wanting to wrench the offensive article off of him and bury it somewhere. Yet, his other, more reasonable part of himself knew to never dare attempt it. His eyes took in the current state of his wrist that was severely blistered upon waking up from his dream.
Clean and undamaged, as if it weren't broiled to a crisp in the late evening/early morning hour…that's what he's seeing now. It was all real, so why does his body hide the evidence of his episode? Why does it deny the incident ever occurred? At least, that's what he concluded when he started to practice outside and only noticed then that his wrist was fully healed.
`Fully healed…? Healing takes time…this wasn't a healing. And if my body wasn't healed, that means it wasn't my body that was damaged but somethin' else… But, hell…it damn well hurt! (Sigh) The bracelet…these damn beads…it was the only thing that really reacted outside of my dreams. But…for how long has it been doin' it? It's not like I take a peek at the damn thing after one of those dreams. Still…I know the pain from the beads had only started just recently…when the landscape in the dreams turned dark… When she was in trouble…'
Understanding only now began to fully dawn on him, a detail that he had always known about, but never took into consideration. His beads weren't necessarily tied to him, but to his cursed spirit. `Ah hell…the Cat. One of the forms…the good or the…other… One of `em is pitchin' one hell of a fit. And I'm willin' to bet that it ain't the tamer version. But…why now? Why the hell is that…spirit…now just clawin' its way into my mind? It's bad enough that it actually exists in my body, and it takes form when the bracelet comes off…'
“Why? Why now? What is it…what do you want?” Gritting his teeth, he darkly remarked to the entity within his veins, “I won't let anything hurt her…EVER.”
“Yo, Kyo…am I interrupting your conversation with the tree?”
He abruptly turned to face the newcomer and was clearly shocked to see her coming from around the house. “Rin…what're you doing here? I would've figured you'd be with Haru heading over to the arena by now.”
“Hn…yeah, well, that was my plan, too, but…apparently not,” Rin tersely replied as she flicked her long hair over her shoulder. Reaching the veranda, she sat down tiredly, her feet aching because she was breaking in a new pair of high-heeled sandals.
He couldn't believe what he just heard. The Ox…alone…without an escort to lead him to the arena? `What the HELL is she thinkin'?!' “Pft, you're lettin' that clueless guy go off on his own to the tournament? Are you crazy? We need him there by 10:30AM—he'll never get there TODAY, let alone ON TIME, if he's off by himself!”
She smoothed her dress to just over knees, letting Kyo's verbal alarm flow over her. “Oh, retract your claws, Kyo…it's not like I had much of a choice. And I never did say he'd be by himself. You'd heard, right?”
“Heard what?” His confusion bled away to realization. “Oh, he's heading up there with Momiji then, huh? Well, if they're riding in Hatori's little car, I wouldn't want to be cooped up in the same car with the bouncing Rabbit.”
“Well, yeah, Haru's going to the tournament in Hatori-nii's car, but it's not with Momiji.” She sat up straight, looking about her as if the very trees had ears to listen in on her conversation. Looking at him squarely, she pointedly asked, “How much do you know of what's going on with the Nezumi?”
It was clear that the very mention of the name had sent dark thoughts running through the Neko's mind. He even turned away from her as if to walk away, but the hard edge in her tone halted his steps.
“Look, I'm not forcing you to `fess up on what went down on Obon. I have a pretty good guess what went on then…it's not like I don't know the `love' a parent in this family can bestow on the kid possessed with a cursed spirit.” She in turn grimly looked to the hard ground below her feet, her own mind bringing up memories of her own treatment at the hands of her abusive parents.
If there were a fellow companion in this Jyuunishi circle that he could relate with in regards to a hateful biological father, it'd be Rin. Sad fact that she had both parents looking down on her. Taking a deep breath, he turned back around and slowly made his way to the veranda, sitting just a ways from her. “I'll only say that the Nezumi was there… Since then, I just ignore the bastard. It's easy not to care if he doesn't exist, you know?”
“Okay…I get that. But when it involves the Rat, ignorance can backfire, understand?” She looked over to meet his blank gaze, understanding that it was his way of coping with an obvious problem Yuki represented. And what she still had yet to share with him will only strengthen that resolve. “I came here to give you fair warning first of all. He is tagging along with Haru, which is why I'm making myself scarce.”
His surprise resembled hers from earlier, and then turned to resentment. Slapping down his towel onto the ground, he marched about in the clearing, pacing himself and forcing his mind to stem the flow of his anger. “Didn't that…(sigh)…wasn't he supposed to be cooped up with Akito? Why show up now if he missed the majority of the tournament? Shishou sure as hell didn't need his help after all. We managed just fine without that damn…”
His enraged comments trailed off as he ran his hand through his heavy locks in frustration. It was near-heaven as he fought with his teammates at the tournament this whole week. Sure, it was a hassle having an escort from the family's private aides with him all the time because of the capacity crowd (Kagura and Haru both shared his contempt on this so-called necessary arrangement), but he was no less excited and content. They all fought toward a goal, Kazuma and Kunimitsu both giving fine advice and direction when needed. With Tohru constantly by his side there and at his home, it really made his life infinitely so much better, the heavy burdens of his cursed form and private family life only a bad memory easily shoved away.
It was all to end today with a sure victory over his opponents. And he had planned to ride this wave of blissful contentment without stray reminders of his problems just around the corner. “Shishou should just call up the Honke and tell the kuso Nezumi that there's no point in going out to the tournament since he knows nothing—”
“Yeah…about that…” Here she took in a deep breath and stood up to closely face Kyo, keeping her voice down for what she knew that what she was about to impart was highly confidential. “I keep my eyes and ears wide open, Kyo. I even tried to warn Tohru long ago to stay away, far away, from the Rat for good reason. Nothing good ever comes with just hanging around him. And from what I just learned, it's high time you became less ignorant, too.”
The images of his earlier nightmare suddenly hit him, his body immediately reacting with tension. His breath hitched as he quietly asked, “What is it, Rin?”
As he heard her speak, he was very tempted to lash out and deny her words. Each phrase she uttered only made the chill press down on him further, although his blood boiled beyond hope of calming down. Yet, he stood there, eerily silent and absorbing all she had said. Numbness set in…disappointment, too, but not with Kazuma. Even after all his spoken bravado from earlier, it all came to naught as he realized the foolish ideal he still held onto…
`God, why do I bother to hold onto it? I'm a dumb FOOL and to stay ignorant of all this mess that was going on this WHOLE TIME…it's a mistake I won't ever make again. EVER.'
“Are you sure, Isuzu-san? Perhaps you had misunderstood…”
Two sets of eyes turned quickly to face the girl by the veranda, one set clearly surprised to see her standing there apparently overhearing everything said and another set looking to her with a hard stare. Tohru began to wilt under the scrutiny, but her mind quickly recalled the words that were softly spoken between the cursed members of the Jyuunishi. She knew that she had spoken out of turn, but she couldn't refrain expressing her concerns. She had felt…offense, her ears nor heart not believing a word that was being said. But this was Rin, and as far as she's known her, Rin wasn't one to lie. Giving her the benefit of the doubt was obviously called for.
She straightened her posture and went down from the veranda, setting her dishrag onto the floor. Hiding her tremulous hands, behind her back, she carefully chose her next words, “Isuzu-san, Kyo-kun, forgive me for intruding. It's not my place to speak so out of turn, but…I know Yuki, and I know that what you're saying cannot be entirely true—”
“Tohru, please. I know what I heard and seen…I'm sure Kyo wouldn't doubt what I've said to be true.” Rin looked to the Neko before her, seeing that he has yet to say a word. Was he also going to doubt her words? `With Tohru it's a lost cause, but I'd thought that at least Kyo would have more sense since he KNOWS what is the truth in our family, not whatever fantasy Tohru has in mind from hanging around that Rat for so long…'
Kyo stood there staring at Tohru, but also seeing past her…recalling their times together over the years. The first time they had met when he crashed through her bedroom ceiling…when he had `poofed' to his cat form and she blamed herself for it…her kind, fearful yet determined eyes as she held onto him when he was in his second form…the hope in her eyes whenever he saw her in his dreams…
He brushed past Rin and firmly gripped Tohru by the shoulders. He leaned down and gave her the look that brook of no argument. “Tohru, you can't have anything more to do with Sohma Yuki—”
“Kyo-kun!” she cried out horrified.
He pressed relentlessly, “Tohru, you hanging around him is gonna land you in one HELL of a mess. You were already warned about it at Obon, remember? Akito isn't about to give you another one…”
“Yeah, be glad you had one at all, though, that's probably because you've been out of reach to an EXTENT,” stressed Rin towards the end.
“Tohru…” Drawing her attention back to him, ignoring her glistening eyes full of emotion, he quietly went on knowing that forcing the decision on her wasn't what he wanted to do, but… `She was warned…I was warned in that dream. And with what Rin had told me, there's no chance in hell that I'm ever gonna let that bastard and his owner near her to screw with her life.'
“I know it's hard to hear this, Tohru, but I need you to trust me on this. That Nezumi with his owner are NOT who you believe them to be. Don't give them the chance to prove to you how wrong it is to even know them.”
Looking away, she dejectedly remarked, “You're…you really are referring to him like some…THING. I…no… (Sniffles) Sumimasen…it's just that…it hurts to hear you say that about someone who does ca—”
“Look at me, Tohru.” Not letting her disheartened, teary gaze stop him from saying what needed to be said, he leaned his face further to her own, catching her line of sight and holding it. His very eyes implored for her understanding and compliance. “Why can't you trust ME on this? Please…I can't protect you if you keep reaching out to the kuso Nezumi. For your sake, you need to walk away from him when he comes to you…PLEASE.”
Openly but quietly sobbing, she shook her head. “Kyo-kun…I can't…”
Still he pushed onward, never letting off his firm grip on her shoulders nor his determined voice falter. “Then ask yourself this, Tohru…what would your mother think after seeing all that's been going on and hearing what Rin just heard? Would she trust them anymore than we do? Would she want you in harm's way? That's what's gonna happen, Tohru…a lot sooner than you think. I don't want you hurting like this…but I beg you, please…if you trust me, do this for me. Let me take care of you.”
Her delicate tears fell down her cheeks freely, her hands feeling heavy and listless on her sides that they wouldn't move to reach up and clean her face. Heavy in her heart and split in her devotions to those that she cares for the most…the inner peace she was accustomed to coming to a shattering end. It hurt…deep inside…she was numb from the heartache…
Kyo had asked, no, BEGGED to be listened to. He NEVER asked anything of her…not once.
And then…a small, shy smile from long ago invaded her mind. It was of a boy she had met years ago before her mother had passed on, her memory now vague to truly remember him wholly and so no longer did the boy have a complete face in her mind. But…his smile…one full of encouragement and trust was what stood out in her memory. She remembered feeling sadness coming from the boy, but didn't understand why; she only knew that the boy had resolutely went forward until he finished his task…all with this smile of hope that made her follow him blindly.
Gentle. She couldn't help feeling that such a smile reminded her so much of Yuki. Completely harmless…sometimes apprehensive…other times shy…at times sorrowful…but above all else, he was very kind.
Trust. One word that now held the balance of her split world. Yuki trusted her to stand by him as she had vowed that she would. Kyo is begging for her to do the same with him. She would have to forsake her vow to Yuki if she were to act on Kyo's pleas to trust him to know what's best for her.
Choice. Choosing one close friend over the other…it's what it really came down to. She's never had to face this before…there was never a reason to.
Believe. Both held a truth to their side…both held her implicit trust. But one didn't demand to forsake a close bond with a friend.
—If my doubt shows through, or worse, if I should fail…tell me, what would you say to me then?—
Her mother had said it best long ago about what to do when others doubt… She had answered Yuki honestly then at the beach. She will do no less for Kyo.
“I trust you, Kyo-kun…I do,” she softly whispered as she looked away and wiped her face clean. Taking a deep breath, she looked straight into his solemn eyes and quietly stated, “But do you trust me or do you doubt me? Family…shouldn't be split apart like this! I'm going to BELIEVE in you both to know and do what's best.”
Pulling herself away from his loosened grasp, she quickly ran off inside, picking up the rags on the floor, and never once looking back to see Kyo's disappointed countenance. Gritting his teeth, he rubbed his eyes hard and furiously pulled on his hair. Taking in deep breaths, he quickly calmed down and faced Rin with resolute gaze.
“If you want to help with bringing them down so that they can't EVER come back up, then keep your eyes and ears open at the tournament. I'll create that opportunity for you.”
Having stood silent as Kyo tried to talk sense into Tohru, Rin nodded, understanding full well his meaning, but also relieved that finally she was proactively seeking a solution to this old threat from within. No longer will they or the others be submitted to the burden and yoke from the `god' that they were forced to come to blows with at one point or another. The time to turn the tides in this circle of tyranny had finally come…and she will finally make good on her warnings to those two beings, particularly Akito. Yes, relief from years of fear was in sight…
Shigure could only look on with a measured gaze at his fellow Jyuunishi members.
`Well, then, so it has come down to this, has it? (Heavily sighs) Akito…Yuki…how will you stand against them…or me, when all your weaknesses will become exposed?'
Author commentary (01-17-08):
Good day/evening to all! Welcome to a new year and more fun and drama from my epic fanfic novel, SOS! Glad to have you back! And to those just joining us, welcome aboard!
Wow, so much has been going on since I last posted. I'm over my personal crisis and busily trying to catch up with SOS. I made good progress with this chapter, though the structure fluctuated from descriptive to mental musings to narrative and back to normal sequence of events. It was a roller-coaster ride that I hope was worth the wait!
Events from as far back as the spring segment (Chapter 29) are being implied here (particularly the part about Rin warning Tohru about Yuki) and of course, the now famous beach scene in Chapter 52 with Tohru vowing to stand by Yuki. A lot of my story's content and developments are coming together quickly, and I'm just sorry I couldn't include it in this release. But this chapter is definitely the main set up of how this summer segment will end, so from here on out, we are going to see things happen very fast.
Haru/Yuki moment was a long time in coming, I think. Akito/Yuki moment, too…ties that are reinforced. Kyo with Rin on newest development that will be spelled out next time I release…this is the part where the ties are breaking apart. And poor Tohru is stuck in-between, but stays true to her beliefs, reinforcing her ties. I believe my chapter title says it all.
Musical moment: “Reach” performed by Gloria Estefan. I had this in mind particularly when Tohru was at a crossroads in this chapter. To let go or keep going forward and reaching for hope. Notice how Kyo's dreams of Tohru coincide with this…notice also this song can be applied to how Yuki keeps going forward with his beliefs, not allowing to be dissuaded by others in the family. All in all the song holds out hope for everyone…hm, where am I leading everyone?
Thanks to all my readers and reviewers, both signed and anonymous…you guys are awesome!!! Now all I ask and somewhat beg is for you to let me know your thoughts on this. Keep SOS and spread your lovin' by clickin' my clicker below! Take care to all and I will see you in my next chapter release…DON'T MISS IT! You will REALLY want to read it! Promise! Ja ne!