Fruits Basket Fan Fiction ❯ Seasons of Sorrow ❯ Embers of Summer's Glory = Severing One Tie... ( Chapter 57 )

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

DISCLAIMER: Welcome as always…Takaya-sensei's Fruits Basket is a basket of trouble, ne?
Embers of Summer's Glory
Chapter 57: Severing One Tie…
“Waiter, can I have the sweet bean pastry special…it comes with the drink, right?”
“Yes, it does. How many will that be?”
“Two orders.”
“Right away, sir. Feel free to watch the tournament matches on the projection TV at your far left.”
“Oi! That's some screen! That wasn't there last month!”
“No, we brought it in for just this event.”
“Hell yeah! The tournament is heating up. Hope you made good bets on one of the finalists!”
The young man merely allowed his smirk to grow. Before he could add in his two-yen worth, the sudden chiming of bells drew his attention to the doorway. He was pleasantly shocked to see his newest customers. `They look so…so…normal! Man, what a few months after high school can do to some people!'
“Well, if it isn't my old schoolmates. You two look striking as ever…only, less so… The bleach-blond hair shall be missed, but I can do with the good `ole brown. And lo and behold, she's not wearin' black! Praise the miracle, ladies and gentlemen!”
Both Uo and Hanajima looked taken aback as much as the waiter had been. Uo was the first to react with a nice, friendly punch to his shoulder. “Heh, if it isn't the VP of Sohma Public Relations! How the hell are you, Manabe?!”
“Manabe-san…your waves brim with serenity,” added Hanajima quietly.
“Uh…yeah…yours, too, Hanajima-san,” warily replied Kakeru. The image of the former goth-like girl hell bent on getting her chocolates came to mind, but he shoved the memory away to welcome his old schoolmates. `At least she's not wearing the black nail polish anymore…must have been a PMS deal back then. Girls…glad mine ain't like that.' Leading them to a table, he warmly remarked, “So what leads you two former outcasts over to my neck of the woods? I hardly see anyone from high school around these parts…or at all.”
“The same can be said about you! What're you doin' workin' here?” retorted Uo with brimming curiosity. To see the `right-hand man' of the former student body president waiting tables at a chic café wasn't what she had in mind for him. In all honesty, she had thought him to be tanning himself on a beach like the bump-on-a-log he used to be while at school.
“Working to earn a living…more or less. College tuition just ain't cheap.” Putting in his orders from the previous party to the people in the back, he also took a seat with the girls as he poured them all cool cups of tea. “I moved out and have been sharing the expenses with a roommate since summer began.”
Sipping her tea, Uo found his story quite similar to another's. “Sounds like déjà-vu…Hanajima here has been doin' the same thing except there's more of us, so she doesn't need to work while she's at school. She's doin' great at her local college, right girl?”
Hanajima nodded in agreement. “I believe so…the students have yet to run in fear of me, so it must be well. How is your school Manabe-san? You're not at any of the nearby schools where we live…I've not seen you at all.”
“It's a small college that's over in this end of the world, so I hardly see anyone from my old school. It's a pretty obscure school, but it's small size suits me fine. That and it's CHEAP.” Finishing his tea in one gulp, he retrieved the orders from the kitchen and quickly dispersed them to his other customers. Returning to the girls' table, he asked them, “So…you guys here for the tournament? It's just three blocks away…”
“Explains why it's a dead place here!” remarked Uo jovially as she looked all around at the meager bodies occupying the wide-open tables.
“Yeah, for now! Wait `til later…this place will be packed from wall to wall when the tournament lets out.” Eyeing the big screen behind him, his gaze turned thoughtful as he asked, “How about your friend Honda-san? She's been doin' all right?”
“Tohru is doing very well…along with her surrogate family,” answered Hanajima lowly, her own gaze averted to her cup of tea that she had yet to taste.
Kakeru grinned sheepishly. “Heh…sorry about the subliminal question. Hey, you know that I like the girl well enough. I was just…curious…you know? How Yun-Yun or Kyon or even those crazy cousins of theirs are all doing. The family's got some serious thrill issues, let me tell ya.”
“Yeah, we know.” Uo couldn't help but grumble at that last remark, vividly remembering the last time she saw the family as a whole, or close to it, at their high school graduation. Some of Kyo's relatives were all right, but that one person that was the head of their family…Kakeru was partially right. They did have…issues.
“As I understand it, Sohma Yuki's two cousins will graduate after this school year is over. Tohru was very excited about that.” Hanajima had stopped here, not feeling up to providing any further details on the other two that meant a great deal to Tohru. The subject had become too touchy as of late for her to discuss honestly without hurting Tohru's feelings.
“And…Yun-Yun? Kyo?” prodded Kakeru hopefully.
“Why don't you know what's up with the Prince? Weren't you and him all buddies before graduating?” asked Uo curiously.
Sighing heavily, Kakeru replied, “Change of address for me and my phone was disconnected. When I tried his phone later in the summer, it was disconnected. And I can't get away from here…”
Hanajima sharply looked to her friend. “It's time that we dispensed with old attachments, Arisa…remember?”
“Fine, fine…” Seeing the unspoken question on Kakeru's face, Uo commented, “Hanajima don't like it when we use old nicknames. Or for that matter, it doesn't sit well with her to talk about that family, especially those two guys. Which if you're living on another planet, that may be possible, BUT you know what's been goin' down on the news, right?”
“Honestly, I've been swamped with work here up front or out in the back helping getting ready for the crowd. News comes in through one ear and out the other,” retorted Kakeru tiredly. “And that's if I even bother to recall that there was news to be had…I've been so BEAT! I need a vacation!”
“Well, actually the news isn't all that detailed yet, but they love throwin' out all the dirt that comes with that family. Apparently there's a short supply of juicy gossip when it involves the Sohmas.” Drinking her tea in one gulp, she gestured to the big screen. “Anyway, they've been makin' such a fuss about their family dojo winning in yesterday's quarter finals. Today's coverage will have it LIVE, but I've got the best juice…Tohru's my trusty insider!”
Really? What does the little lady divulge?” His curiosity had piqued. It wasn't usual that their friend would spread hearsay about others…
“She's not coughing up gossip, so suck that spit back in. She's the Sohma's team photographer…PLUS she wrings Kyo's ears for me to be sure he wins his matches. Damn idiot better annihilate the opposition…” She had two months salary running on the bet she had made two months ago with some `associates'. If Kyo had any love for his future children, he'll be forsaking any moment of rest to think, breathe, and above all WIN his matches…period.
Waving away her drifting thoughts, she recalled her previous line of thinking. “Anyway, you know about the Prin—I mean, Sohma's new role in life? Tohru's been nice enough to play it up but, really… He's come down from his lofty position of school royalty to hired help for his family's dojo. How about that?! The princely president of the council has been doing labor work!”
He looked at her very perplexed. “Yun-Yun…a laborer? Is that like, his pastime now? I don't' get it…”
“Never mind that now, Arisa. Take a look at what's on screen now… Listen to the broadcast,” urged Hanajima as she intently eyed the screen herself. It was…shocking what they were announcing, too incredible for her to even process in her mind. “Do you believe what they are saying, Arisa?”
Slack-jawed, Uo barely spit the words out. “But…I mean…no way. No way. NO WAY! Tohru's said nothing about this!”
“Hmph, so much for your insider…looks like I need to hook me up with an old friend,” added Kakeru as he, too, gaped openly upon hearing the broadcaster ramble on about…
“Yes, Arisawa-san! The tournament has definitely drawn the most renowned celebrities Japan has ever produced, but even more so the presence of such revered families having connections with only the very elite of society and business.”
“Quite right, Kusagi-san! And none more so revered in this city or elsewhere as the reclusive Sohmas. For their spokesperson to suddenly announce that their newly appointed heir to lead the family will be present at the tournament has sent a frenzy of paparazzi from all over the country and beyond to converge here today!”
“Yes, now as I had mentioned earlier, the Sohma family has announced that they will introduce their recently named heir, Sohma Yuki, at the finals TODAY. Now, there is VERY little to report on this individual, as is usually the case with any member of the Sohmas.”
“Isn't it always the case, Kusagi-san? What we do know of the newly appointed heir is that he was finally decided upon this past Obon.”
“Sources inside the business sector have made mention that the heir has already made his rounds around their main branches across Japan, Arisawa-san.”
“I will tell you this much, ladies…the heir is quite the fetching young bachelor fresh out of school. Not surprisingly, though, all photos the school had of him were sealed and all students at that school were too scared to provide us with any negatives—something about his `fan club' promising retribution of the evil kind should they cooperate with the media.”
“Admittedly a strange school system this Sohma heir graduated from. And I believe that's what's even more shocking, Arisawa-san.”
“Agreed! This decision from the family has sent many in the business sector and elsewhere reeling with the sudden news of appointing this heir who obviously has none of the education or experience one would expect from the head of such an infamous clan.”
“Indeed you're right, Arisawa-san! It's no wonder that many of the major financial institutions that have business connections with the secretive Sohma clan have sent their representatives to attend the tournament today in hopes of meeting the new heir in person to assess the young man's capabilities for themselves.”
“However unlikely that'll be, ne Kusagi-san? We in the media know all too well that if the Sohmas don't want to have anything to do with you, you won't have anything to do with them! They hardly allow for anyone outside their clan access to their more revered members within the clan. It looks like this young gentleman will follow his predecessor's footsteps and be nothing more than a shadow that controls the strings of one of the most influential families in Japan!”
“And a shame that is, Arisawa-san! Yet, the Sohma's infamous control over their privacy as well as discretion in all their public dealings is what we love most about them…the intrigue…the mystery…the challenge! And we hope to bring a little of that to you, our faithful viewers, at this year's Tri-Annual World Tournament—”
All three continued to stare at the screen dumbfounded, ignoring the fact that the broadcast went into a commercial break. But one thought they did share…
`What the HELL was that all about?'
“Shinpachi-kun! You're not supposed to rest your feet against the seat in front of you!”
“Aw, Himeka—you're ruining my mood! Nobody's in front anyway!”
“That makes no difference! People still have to sit there! If they see you, they may kick us all out! Yuki-Sensei always taught us to be respectful both in and out of the ring…”
“Pft…'where is Yuki-Sensei' or `Yuki-Sensei always taught us—'…you're driving me crazy with all your whining!”
“Can it, Shin…and put your feet down. It's not decent.”
“Geez, Yubo…you're no fun either.”
“Oi, what's no fun?”
All three youngsters quickly turned to welcome the newcomers with wide smiles. It was after all their third day in their constant company. All involved were glad that they had their seating in close proximity with one another as it allowed them to develop their relationships beyond mere acquaintances.
“Hiro, man, thank GOD you're here! These two are bringing me down,” quipped Shinpachi irritably. “We're here on the last day of the tournament and they're just sitting here with their noses in the programs like algae on a rock…they're no fun!”
“Is that so?” replied Hiro with a growing grin. Nodding to his two aforementioned friends whom were scowling behind Shinpachi's back, he remarked, “Well, come on then. We're supposed to be the ones to buy the snacks this time around, remember?”
Yunosuke widely grinned upon remembering the arrangement made amongst them to obtain the food and drinks for their small group. “Yeah, Shin. Megumi-san and me went to get them the first day, Himeka-chan and Kisa-san the second, and now today it's your turn with Hiro!”
“Yep! I want my green tea from the `X' brand, Shinpachi-kun!” daintily called out Himeka as she settled into her chair and after readjusting her large glasses, re-reads the program once more.
“Aw, man…this sucks!” complained Shinpachi.
“It's not that bad…come on. We still have time to look around at the booths downstairs in the corridors.” Turning to Kisa and Megumi, Hiro asked, “Need anything special besides the usual?”
“I'm fine with whatever you bring…Hiro,” blushed prettily Kisa as she settled in her chair behind Himeka.
Hiro practically glowed with the lack of honorific in his name. It was a long time in coming, but at Obon, he finally managed to scrounge up courage from some deep well inside him and boldly stated that he was no longer a child and to please refer to him as an equal. He knew what it meant to have her drop the old childish honorific that she had pegged him with his whole life. And most importantly, she knew the meaning behind it as well. It was that moment of instant clarity between them under the lights of the festival at the estate that they knew what step they were about to take. No further words were needed and neither looked back.
Looking to Megumi, he remembered how uncomfortable (fine, he was a bit jealous) he was at first to be near someone that had become a friend to Kisa. As he got to know him further when he joined Kisa's grade, he understood how the silent yet polite Megumi had become a good friend. He was…different…just like they were. He rather liked `different', and so Megumi came often with them when it involved school projects or after school activities, and of course, the occasional movie. That was a blessing…they were all fans of Mogeta.
And since Megumi was `different', he didn't question their particularities about avoiding crowds, usually ending up with them going anywhere too early or too late. It served well on this occasion as well since Megumi hardly gave the entourage that accompanied them a second glance when they picked Megumi up from his house to attend the tournament.
Some entourage, heck, even he was surprised! Their `guard dogs' were really just aides that the inner family provided for the Jyuunishi's specific `needs' in this crowd. The two gentlemen and two women in suits were always on either side of their small group, the two women surrounding Kisa and the two men surrounding Hiro. It was highly unlikely these hawk-eyed aides knew the true reason why they had to keep outside physical contact away from their charges, but they did so effectively without question.
`Damn they're good, too. I can barely breathe with them around!' Hiro huffed half-heartedly and told Megumi with certainty, “Oi, I'll get you those chicken dumplings this time around for sure. They can't have run out like yesterday.”
Megumi gave him a small grin, remembering how put out he was when they ran out of his favored snack. Skipping one seat over from Kisa's right, he sat down comfortably and politely replied, “Thank you…don't forget the dipping sauce.”
Hiro softly brushed Kisa's hand in parting (earning a blush from the shy girl) when he walked past her seat and waved Megumi off as he past him and dragged Shinpachi to help with carrying all their snacks, eager to return and not miss anything from this final day at the tournament. And yet despite this, the other attractions to this tournament were beckoning him as he was too excited to view the different variety of booths that catered to every taste of dojo life and, of course, the memorabilia. A tournament of this magnitude would not come again so soon, so he was relishing all that he could absorb in these past few days.
Still, his eagerness with everything was tempered with his ever-present anxiety to return to Kisa's side as soon as possible. It was just too uncomfortable when neither had the other around for `protection' in such large crowds, entourage or no. Already he was feeling the flutter of his nerves as the spirit of the Sheep shifted within him uncomfortably.
Kisa fared no better to quell the small beat of butterflies that flew around her middle, her eyes anxiously seeking out Hiro down the aisle of stairs. It was silly, she knew…they had two guards on them at all times. Hiro would never risk exposure by ditching their daunting presence. Yet…she waited very patiently for his return.
“Kisa-san, do you always have to keep your guards with you?” asked Yunosuke with a twinge of confusion. He was a Sohma himself and never did he have to be subjected to an escort service wherever he went. `She lives at the main estate like Hiro…maybe it's normal to have them when you live there. I'll ask Aniki later…'
“I wish I had them…then I wouldn't be trampled when I go through the crowds just to go to the bathroom,” reasoned Himeka as she frowned upon recalling how she was shoved around while trying to make her way through tall people just to get her hands washed.
Smiling sheepishly, Kisa smoothed her skirt over her knees and fairly calmly replied, “It's just a stipulation from my Okaa-san…she was worried about my being alone for so long without her…”
“But you're with Hiro…and even he has two guards. What gives?” persisted in asking Yunosuke.
“Our parents are very protective, and we had to accept them or else we couldn't come to the tournament,” truthfully remarked Kisa, inwardly grateful to see that the sincerity in her answer was finally accepted by the youth.
Megumi thought it to be rather odd, seeing as Kisa was almost always with Hiro when they went out and never with additional escort. He should know…he's been their `third-wheel' for quite some time now, not that the honest reference bothered him. They even sought him out frequently at school or afterwards just to have him in their company. He admitted that his lack of friends made him stand out more than he liked and saw Kisa as being the same, but he later saw her for her calming aura that her presence exuded. He didn't feel so…at odds with himself. And when Hiro joined their grade level, he was surprised to feel the same aura of calm from the somewhat-brash teen. This aura was likely a family trait, he deduced, since Sohma Yuki's aura was very much like theirs, only more so…more…pure in its potency.
Still, this calming aura did nothing to hide the fact that Hiro and himself couldn't be more opposite in personality…tastes… But in the end, it didn't matter. The distinction he had always felt about himself since he self-imposed his own peculiarities in sympathy to his sister's plight became less so, and with that, he felt that much lighter. He felt it each time his urge to smile with his friends became more frequent.
And what a set of friends he came to have… Their unusual vibe in their aura was calming enough but also unique. And of course, there was their very unusual habit to steer from crowds…always. He never questioned it (he had his share of odd habits—wearing dark clothes being one such oddity as his present attire attested to), but it didn't' change the fact that it was peculiar. He had gotten used to it all by now that the child's question about the bodyguards startled him to a certain degree.
`Kisa-san and Hiro must really find the touch of strangers unsettling to their nerves…or maybe their parents… Strange.' Deciding to let the matter drop as it would needlessly make Kisa nervous, Megumi asked, “Kisa-san, where's your other cousin…Ritsu-san? Will he not be joining us today?”
Kisa smiled brightly to her friend, glad that as always, Megumi sought to make her comfortable once again. Her heart knew where it stood, but her confidence was helped immensely to know that she had others she could count on at school as well. “Ritsu-oniichan will be over at the other end of the arena today. He wanted to take video of the girl's practice match ups before the finals come around. He had said that they usually were seated by that end of the arena, so he wanted to be near Kagura-oneesan.”
“I see…should we save him a seat at all?” he asked curiously.
She gave the idea some thought before replying, “Hm…we should just in case—”
“THERE HE IS!” cried out Himeka joyously as she excitedly pointed towards the floor.
“Ah, Himeka-chan, that's the other Sohma guy…Kyo-sempai. How did you mistake Yuki-Sensei for that one?” asked Yunosuke incredulously.
“Oh…” The disappointment was evident in the young girl's voice. “I guess he won't be coming today either…”
“He is coming…he's close by.”
The abrupt remark from the young lady behind them startled them. It seemed to have also shaken the young lady as her surprise was seen in her wide eyes. Megumi looked to her with a question plainly being asked and one she didn't feel like answering at all, let alone honestly.
“Ah…ano….eheh…um, that's to say, I'm certain he'll be here,” stammered Kisa in her response, quickly going through a mental list of remarks she'd heard at home relating to Yuki. “He's bound to show up on this last day of the big tournament…it's the place to be for a Sohma!”
Himeka and Yunosuke excitedly turned to each other as they each began to ask the other of what they should tell their favorite teacher…how the matches were settled in their early rounds, how their dojo came back from a near defeat…there was just so much to discuss! Shinpachi would be thrilled when he found out…
Kisa was relieved that they were distracted from asking her anything else. She tightly kept her mouth shut lest it feels the need to speak before thinking again. `It was there…the sense of Yuki-oniisan's presence…it was in the bond. It…-told- me he was coming closer to us? And I just said it out loud! What was I thinking?! Hiro-chan…Hiro…please come back soon. What if I say or DO something else? It's all been so strange lately…this bond of ours…'
Megumi once again remained silent on Kisa's behalf, but this time knowing that it wasn't normal that she remained practically on full alert. And whatever may be wrong this time around, it definitely involved the enigmatic Sohma Yuki.
`Just who are you really, Sohma Yuki, to have this effect on your family…and on others, even someone like me?'
Kagura was beside herself with joy. She couldn't help but wave merrily in the direction of the stands way above the arena floor. Swerving through the clusters of people throughout the arena, she finally made her way to the far wall, her escorts huffing along the way as they finally caught up with her.
“Kagura-sama…(panting)…your mother has given explicit instructions to have you in physical contact with us ONLY at all times—”
“RIT-CHAN!!!” called out Kagura merrily, plainly ignoring her distressed entourage. “Can you hear me now? I'm sorry about the cell-phone…there are too many signals in this place I think interfering with the phone calls!”
Ritsu only made hand gestures that he couldn't hear a word but that he was recording her just the same. The sound level of the arena was unfortunately too loud for anything more. Turning to his entourage of two men, Ritsu asked them kindly to transmit his well wishes to Kagura through their own private communiqué. As they did so, the two women assigned to Kagura nodded in acknowledgement and immediately brought their charge into closer contact with them.
“Kagura-sama…Ritsu-sama wished to convey that his hopes are with you in today's tournament, and that he'll be filming your event.” She paused as she was given more information from her male counterpart. “He also wanted to let you know that he'll be meeting you after the tournament to celebrate with the family.”
Smiling gratefully to her escorts, Kagura turned away to smile brightly to the man in charge of her heart. Waving at him ecstatically, she fondly gazed at him, knowing full well that his creeping blush meant that he knew what her unspoken gaze meant. Closing his eyes momentarily, he returned her heavy gaze with his own, conveying his unspoken thoughts to her as well. That done, he set to work to getting his digicam ready for filming, eager to get the culmination of Kagura's hard work over the years on film. Hours of sweat and determination from the Boar of the Zodiac will now be witnessed by all in the final rounds of the women's competition.
Sighing heavily and with a little disappointment, Kagura turned away and began making her way back to her teammates, followed closely by her entourage. She would have preferred to be without the guards, but it was a necessary evil in her point of view. As far as she knew, the Jyuunishi present at the tournament each had two bodyguards of the same gender as their own. Infiltrating the large crowds at this tournament would have been near impossible without the entourage.
“Tomoda-Sensei, are you sure he's coming today?!”
“EEEK! I can hardly stand it! He'll be so close by this time!”
“And to think, with his new position, he'll be even more wonderful!”
“Tomoda-Sensei, please let us go to find—”
“ENOUGH!” Kagura's loud response silenced her team as she also leveled a hard stare at each one of the excited girls. She had not anticipated seeing her teammates in such chaos nor was she in the mood to deal with it…she had really wanted to have a few moments alone with Ritsu before her matches. “You should all be focusing on the final competitions, not on Yun-chan! And leave Kunimitsu-Sensei alone—he doesn't know a thing about him.”
With a heavy sigh of relief, Kunimitsu took control of the put-out girls once more and dispersed them to their assigned spots to continue warming up. Turning to Kagura, he wearily smiled and bowed his head in thanks. “Kagura, your timing is impeccable. I can handle a team of females bent on winning a tournament, but when they turn into rabid fans, I'm at a slight disadvantage! They can become rather…lethal…in their desires…”
Bowing low to her second teacher, Kagura replied, “Sumimasen. Even the slightest rumor that Yun-chan would be nearby is causing such a fuss. His new position in the family is not helping matters either…”
“Well, if he does come by today, I certainly hope he has an entourage as efficient as yours, Kagura,” stated Kunimitsu as he pointed out her two escorts. “Please, could you do me a favor before warming up with the girls and take this binder over to Kazuma. If it isn't too much trouble, of course…”
“No, I'd be happy to.” Not noticing her escorts' grimaces at having to traverse the arena floor once again, she took the binder of what she presumed were their personal records for the competition and made her way once more through the growing crowds.
Multitudes were in their assigned areas trying to focus on their warm-ups and whatever advice their sensei was dispensing, with many assistants scurrying about the floor trying to complete an errand of any kind. There were also journalists and photographers from the media wandering about and taking the myriad of interviews and group pictures for their respective articles. Today was the last day of the tournament so many from the media was converging on the floor for final words before the competitions began.
The frenzy of multiple competitions of different levels being done all at the same time finally came down to this day. The female competitions were already down to the finals, while the men's competitions still had the semi-finals and finals to go through. The way the tournament was going to handle this was by having the men's semi-finals completed, then the women's finals competitions, and finally the men's finals. Needless to say this level of competition was bringing out only the very best and sometimes worst in the competitors. She knew many of the competitors from past competitions…they were all very good but also very tricky. She and her teammates along with the men from their dojo needed to be on their best guard to avoid an unseen and often illegal swipe to a vital area on their body. It wouldn't do to let them get an unfair advantage over them after all their hard work.
Kagura finally came up to the area where her dojo was assigned for the men's competitions. It was easy to identify fellow members of their dojo…their tailored uniforms were all colored a deep blue-violet instead of the standard white with black belt. Their family's crest patch, the true Sohma mon, stood out proudly on their backs, clearly identifying whom their dojo belonged to. The patch was a work of art that took Ayame and Mine many endless nights to perfect, the twelve branches of the tree distinctive along with the two animals gracing its trunk. Even Kyo had to relent that the uniform along with the mon was good enough to be worn at this main event.
`Heh, it beats the same white uniform with the black belt! Trust Aya-chan to bring flair to the old traditions!' Flicking her ponytail over her shoulder in slight apprehension, she called out to Tetsuya kindly, “Tetsuya-kun! I have something for Shihan from Kunimitsu-Sensei…where is he?”
The tall man turned around upon hearing her voice, a warm smile ready to greet her shy smile. “Shihan had just gone to meet up with Kyo and Honda-san by the back exit. Is that the binder that you need to give to him?”
“Hai,” she replied, looking down to the binder in her hands with an urge to just leave it with Tetsuya and leave. She knew she couldn't, though…Kyo would be arriving shortly, and she did want to wish him success today.
“He shouldn't be too long now…he had said that he wanted to have one final talk with all of us prior to the start of the tournament.” Sensing her apparent unease, Tetsuya looked over to her two escorts, perplexed as before to see their close presence. He had asked her the `why' question and, as with Haru and Kyo, the bodyguards were a stipulation from their parents, although in Kyo's case it was per Kazuma's request.
`Too unbelievable, yet there they are. And the guards' gazes…they're always all about, as if daring anyone to get near their charge. What is it that their parents are worried about…Shihan even? Our family isn't involved with seedy associates like other influential families are known to be…not that the offer hasn't presented itself to our family. And just as quickly the matter was remedied by Otou-san…always by him. Those people would come and go just as swiftly as they appeared…with their tails between their legs. I know…I had seen their faces as they went out of Otou-san's office. What had he said…what had he done? As much as I had asked, Otou-san never answered me.'
Sudden worry gripped him, and he couldn't help but to voice it. “Kagura-san, is there something the matter? Have you been approached by someone unscrupulous?”
The question brought Kagura out of her daze abruptly. “EH? I mean…I'm fine! Why would anyone `unscrupulous' bother with me?”
He bashfully looked away then, embarrassed that he had reacted so hastily to such an unfounded idea. “I apologize…I was merely speculating.”
“Oh…” Not sure how to perceive that remark, she hurriedly cut through the building tension with a quick smile. “Heh, well, an `unscrupulous' person isn't bothering me, but she sure is a pain! I swear if Mazuki keeps jabbering about being the top female athlete in this tournament, I'm going to knock her down on her skinny butt!”
He snorted and smirked in amusement, glad to see Kagura at ease now plus happy at the prospect of beating another person down if they upset her that much. He was now personally looking forward to seeing her kick this girl's `skinny butt'. “Well, be sure then to save me a seat to that event…it surely will prove to be more entertaining than this tournament.”
“Heh, it would be for me at least!” she exclaimed happily. “Honestly, her head has gotten so big—”
She whirled around when she heard the stern tone in his voice. Perplexed, she saw him practically charging towards her with his escort trailing him and his companion. “Kyo-kun?”
“What's the matter, Kyo?” asked Tetsuya as well, moving slightly in front of Kagura as the tension in the air escalated with Kyo's obvious displeasure.
Ignoring the other Sohma male, Kyo turned slightly to the side to glower directly at Kagura. “Where's Shishou, Kagura?”
“Didn't you meet up with him already?” she asked confusedly.
Kyo gritted his teeth in reply, “Obviously NOT if I'm asking!”
Tetsuya calmly interjected, “Kyo, just relax—”
“DON'T tell me to RELAX!” shot back Kyo angrily.
“You WILL relax, Kyo!” harshly reproved the captain of this team, his gaze just as hard as his father's. Noticing the curious eyes around them, Tetsuya lowered his voice. “Kyo, you're going to have to calm down and keep a lid on your temper. Kagura-san is waiting for Shihan, too, so have a seat and wait with her.”
“Kyo-kun, onegai…” pleaded his once silent companion. Turning to Kagura and Tetsuya, Tohru bowed low in apology. “Sumimasen…I had suggested to Kyo-kun that Kagura-san would know where to find Shishou-san.”
“It's alright, Honda-san,” remarked Tetsuya, still eyeing Kyo warily. He hadn't seen Kyo this upset and demanding before. Whatever was bothering the young man must be important. “Kyo…is there anything I can do to help you?”
Jaw clenched tightly, Kyo shook his head and brusquely stomped off to presumably hunt down his adopted father on his own. Both girls turned to each other with worry in their eyes and quickly made to follow the angry Neko.
“Tetsuya-kun…I'll see you later, ne?” called out Kagura over her shoulder as she disappeared amongst her entourage and the growing crowd.
Tempted as he was to follow, Tetsuya knew that he needed to stay in place of Kazuma. The urge dissipated as he spotted the very man they were waiting for. `Perhaps now Kyo will relax after speaking with Shihan…'
Calm and cool wasn't on Kyo's mindset. No…he was set to take the reins of his festering rage and lead it right to Kazuma's very face. Once spotting his adoptive father entering their side of the arena floor, Kyo marched swiftly to him. It pained him, but he shrugged it off forcefully and ignored the happy countenance Kazuma held. What needed to be said was going to be said NOW.
“Shishou…what the HELL is this about?!” demanded to know Kyo.
Today was unlike all other days in his long career as a martial arts teacher. Today was THE day in his long career…the day in which long hours of dedication to the art form and to his dojo were about to pay off. He had been ensuring that all was going smoothly according to schedule, or at least, as `smoothly' as can be had on such a tumultuous day…
The announcer had lost the list of names that had their team on it, the new event coordinator insisted that he was not who he said he was (he damn near came close to calling Master Haji just to vouch for him), the judges still couldn't find the misplaced binder of his dojo's female team and won't allow for them to compete if not found…and of course, the news that Akito had decided to drop in and observe the event from a private suite on the second floor certainly rounded out his morning.
Enough said he was not in the best of moods.
Yet, as was his greatest character trait, he pulled himself together to stand tall and ready to face his long awaited day. With a steady smile, he returned to the arena floor, having been notified in his rounds that Kyo had already arrived with Tohru. He was eager to welcome them both, as they usually were the only ones he could count on in taking the edge off his highly stressed life. However this time it wasn't to be apparently as he met up with a dark glare from his adoptive son. And with Kyo's harsh tone, Kazuma's ready smile was wiped off with a tired sigh.
Stress, confusion and a growing frustration manifested in his voice. “Perhaps if you elaborate, Kyo…what is `what' about?”
Kyo gritted his teeth once more, certain that his molars were grinding against one another. It was so unbearable…having to know the truth. A truth he was not sure he could swallow anymore than he had to. He had denied it upon hearing it…even now, a small portion of his heart was set on hearing Kazuma deny it as well. He must…because for the truth to be real, it meant that all his hard work…all his devotion that he put into working with Kazuma over the years at the dojo…all his heart and soul he poured in to make this man proud…
—“I keep my eyes and ears wide open, Kyo. … 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?”
“I had only found out about the Nezumi going to the tournament from Haru when he called to let me know this morning. I was just getting into the bath…” Rin paced around the clearing, restless and agitated with what she knew. “A while later, the phone rang, and I ran out to answer it thinking it was Haru changing his mind. Stupid, really…since when does the oaf ever give up spending time with his precious Nezumi over me? (Pause)Anyway, Kazuma-san had answered it before I did. He had said his name aloud as if not expecting the call…it was Kureno-nii. I wasn't going to eavesdrop on your dad, Kyo…honest. But…”
Sighing heavily, she kicked at a stone, watching it tumble away under the porch. “Kyo…I don't play ignorant when it involves the Rat because it usually involves that freak of a clan head. That's the only reason I stayed hidden and listened in on your dad's conversation by grabbing the extension in my room.”
Kyo's eyes were all wide open to take in whatever punches in the gut he was about to receive…a revelation usually did no less. Dry mouth and hammering heart, he breathed out, “And…what did you hear?”
She turned dark, stone-cold eyes to him as she bit out, “Kureno-nii had called just to remind Kazuma-san of his last talk with Akito over his business and the `other' thing…`arranged'long before you graduated from school.”
His breath came at a standstill, he was sure of it, when he heard her next words…—
He couldn't face it…no. But he really should, and now. Face his truth…his reality…his greatest fear…
Kyo looked into the eyes of the only man he had ever wanted to be like. Weary…stressed…concerned…those gentle eyes of his caretaker always held concern for him. Did they also hold the truth from him?
“Shishou…” Upon uttering the soft-spoken word, he immediately deflated and simply leaned his head onto the elder man's shoulder. This man…his father in truth…his greatest strength and his greatest weakness one and the same… `Onegai…deny it. Say it isn't so…lie to me if you have to. I'll believe it…I swear it. Anything…even a lie…is better than some… No…it's just not true…say it, Shishou…say it…'
He felt it in his bones, in his heart as a father…his son with a heartbroken spirit, and of all times for it to have happened… Not that Kazuma held the tournament above the welfare of his son, but today he felt split in different directions. If he could, he would have postponed it all and taken a day to sit with Kyo and truly talk. It's been so long since they actually had an honest conversation of what's been going on. And too much has been going on, especially involving the clan head and one particular Jyuunishi.
He was relieved…immensely so…when Yuki had taken the week off at the dojo and had even stayed away from the tournament. He noticed immediately the razor-edge on Kyo's tension ebb away just a bit more with each day. Still aloof and obsessed to drown out whatever demons haunted his poor mind with daily vigorous training prior to the tournament, but Kyo was coming around, so much so that he even smiled around Tohru. He could never thank enough Tohru's caring nature or his dumb luck that Akito's illness called away the main source of Kyo's frustration.
Now, all relief had come to a screeching halt as felt the very despair in Kyo's spirit. How he wanted to reach out and console him as he had always done in the past when Kyo barely spared him a glance. Yet…words from his grandfather from before came back with a haunting finality…
—Let it be. Let Kyo be…let him go. Let his Neko lead him the way… We've done all we can to guide Kyo the best way we know how. […] set him free to find his own way without holding him back with our regrets.—
`Yes…it's been a long time since we had an HONEST talk with one another. I will lay out all that I've withheld from him, and he will certainly do the same with what's been tormenting him. He's finally ready.' Gently he reached out to Kyo and brought him in to loosely embrace him, whispering softly for his ears only, “After the last competition, we can forgo any ceremony and leave together…just the two of us. They can celebrate without us.”
Always…ALWAYS…with very little said from him, this kind man understood him so well. It pained him but also gave him such overwhelming relief, knowing that after this arduous event was over, he'll have the answers he needed to hear. And whatever harsh blow he'll receive when his fears are confirmed, he will have that assurance in Kazuma's reliable presence that the person who understood him best will tell him the unveiled truth.
`Closing ceremonies be damned, I guess…' Kyo closed his eyes and nodded in agreement. He did feel a twinge of guilt that he'll miss the celebratory dinner, but he was sure he could make the time to take Tohru out privately…which was infinitely much better than any dinner with his teammates.
A sudden commotion drew all their attention to the doors exiting towards the rear entrance of the arena floor. The shoving and frantic calls to move out of the way by photographers along with journalists caused the Jyuunishi's private guards to stand that much closer to their charges. Just as Tohru was about to ask what the uproar was all about, Kazuma called out to Kagura.
Kazuma felt dread pool within him, knowing the reason behind the hubbub by the doors…he had just come from answering a page alerting him of the pending arrivals of the remainder of his group. It was time to steel himself for an agonizing day… “Kagura, is that the binder for your team?”
“Hai, Kunimitsu-Sensei had wanted you to have it,” replied Kagura as she handed over the large folder.
“Good.” Taking a quick review of its contents, Kazuma smiled brightly to the girls and remarked, “Would you two do me the favor of greeting our late arrivals? I'll need to get back to my group and have a few words with them to ready them for their competitions.”
Seeing them nod, Kazuma looked back to Kyo to see if he followed him, but was pained to discover that he was engrossed with the murmurings from the growing crowd at the exit door. “Kyo…it's time we head back.”
Kyo felt the emptiness quickly fill with the more familiar sentiment of rage. Even his breathing started to be affected, “But…Shishou—”
“No, Kyo.” Kazuma made sure his tone brook no argument. It was sharp enough to startle Kyo to divert his attention back to him. “Now is not the time for anything. Come…NOW.”
It was a dose of cold reality…his kind father figure had very nearly gotten angry with him. Kyo didn't presume to know what usually happened with people that angered Kazuma. The few people that managed such a feat usually told Kyo that never had they felt true fright until Kazuma unleashed his anger on them, and so warned him to never be stupid enough to try it.
He took heed to those words and followed dutifully without further protest, escorts in tow.
Watching the two walk away, Kagura had understood their tension and remained silent. Turning to her concerned companion, she smiled brightly and gave her a warm embrace, remarking, “No worries…Shihan and Kyo-kun really needed to head back to handle things before the upcoming competition. They'll be one of the teams that go up first.”
Nodding numbly but forcing a smile, Tohru had known that Kyo was still tormented by what Rin had told him earlier, his silence wringing very loudly during their car ride as she sat in front with Kyo's one bodyguard while Kyo and Shigure sat in the backseat. Upon arriving at the arena, Kyo had jumped out of the vehicle, making long strides that his own bodyguard had trouble keeping up. Shigure gave her arm a squeeze in comfort as he found his escort for the day and had gone off to their assigned suite, leaving her alone and even more anxious.
She hurriedly ran in to find Kyo searching for the one person that she knew would answer his questions honestly. She had feared that confrontation, but as always, the elder Sohma had known how to diffuse the escalating situation…for now. She still worried, but for the moment she calmed her raging thoughts, her curiosity now winning over.
“Kagura-san…what guest is Shishou-san having us greet?” she asked.
The heightened turmoil at the rear entrance of the arena took their attention once again and soon enough the answer was laid bare before Tohru's eyes.
Author's grievances (03-03-08):
This fanfic is making a liar out of me…really. I had wanted to put out more, but alas, this whole `setup' to the bigger things is dragging on! Necessary though…very necessary as I take you through the story further in upcoming chapters.
Nothing much to report except that this year's flu season almost hit me squarely! Thankfully I recuperated from the bad cold and still kept plugging away at this chapter, slow but surely. And here you have it…FINALLY!
I recommend to my readers to refresh their minds by re-reading previous chapters. Chapter 46 events was referred to here by Kazuma when he saw Kyo just barely hanging on by a thread…and chapter 56 in which part of Rin/Kyo's conversation is divulged. Like the Kakeru moment? I decided to have him do a cameo here…not sure if I'll drag him around the story for a little bit…maybe not. And Megumi…I liked having him being friends with Kisa and Hiro…it's good to see the Sohma situation from outside eyes and his were great to use.
BIG events coming around soon as Yuki finally makes his presence at the tournament! You will not be disappointed! Thanks to all for the support in your reviews/alerts/fave lists…all that trespass this domain rock it!!!