Fruits Basket Fan Fiction ❯ Seasons of Sorrow ❯ Embers of Summer's Glory = Lightening Struck...Thunder Follows ( Chapter 59 )

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

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Embers of Summer's Glory
Chapter 59: Lightening Struck…Thunder Follows
“Hmm, the competition does seem fierce from up here, ne, Akito-san?”
Of course, he knew that he had better luck getting crickets to sing for him rather than getting this particular young woman to reply, but he did so enjoy the slight arch to her brow as she momentarily considered his comment only to toss it aside. She did have lovely brows.
Turning away from the ceiling-to-floor window overlooking the arena floor, Shigure noted that she was still calmly sitting in her reclining chair with the bowl of oranges on her lap, just as he had seen her upon coming into her private suite. The sweet acidic scent of oranges filled the air as she peeled yet another orange only to set them aside in another bowl. “Three oranges are more than enough for one person, Akito-san. Why peel a fourth?”
Surprisingly she had replied this time…and rather quietly at that. “These aren't all for me.”
Smiling broadly, he remarked, “Well, I'm not all that fond of oranges, Akito-san.”
“Then it's a good thing that these aren't for you,” she retorted calmly as she began peeling another.
`And we're back to the condescending attitude. I do miss that, too.' Wryly grinning, he gathered his yukata and carefully kneeled down to sit by her feet. Setting his arms on top of her knees, he laid his chin on them to silently gaze at her hands working briskly at their task. Even though she once again ignored his presence, she hadn't pushed him away from her. And so, he began to observe her.
She was a picture of serenity, simply put. Her face was clear of any frown or dark look, merely looking down to her hands as she continued her task. She sported very little signs that she had been ill, her fatigue barely showing up in her eyes. She was even dressed more elegantly, that's to say her attire consisted of a fitted jacket with a closed neckline, coupled that with her usual flair for close-fitted slacks. What made it more elegant was the small crystal barrette clipped in her hair, no doubt a touch of flair from Ayame himself. It was a real pity that it revealed nothing of her delicate skin… the touch of such soft, warm skin, heated only when he—
“If your thoughts take a dive to the gutter, I suggest you leave.”
Sheepishly grinning, he easily retorted, “Eh, I was only thinking good things.”
“Good to your libido, you mean,” she murmured. Pausing in her work, she looked up with an exasperated air and pinned him with one of her withered stares. “Why don't you continue to look out the window and observe the assets of those tramps that will no doubt `inspire' you for the next perverted novel your infested brain produces?”
Groaning, the put-out Inu hid his pouting face in his arms and grumbled loudly, “Mou, I had only written that one TINY book! I had to…the deadline for something, ANYTHING, had just surprised me that morning. I was a bit drunk, I admit, but—”
“I don't want to hear details, you dolt!” Finished with her orange, she huffed and nudged his head off her knees none-too-gently. “Off, I need to wash my hands.”
“Yes, my queen,” he crooned as he quickly recovered to giver her a light peck to the lips. “Anything for the queen of my dreams!”
Rolling her eyes at his declaration, she shoved him aside as she stood up and walked to the sink by the small liquor bar. Throwing away the peels and washing off her hands, she gathered her limited patience and repeated a question that was never answered by the cunning Inu. “When are you leaving?”
“You do know, Akito-san, that Yuki is fully capable of peeling his own oranges. He's a big boy now,” he replied dryly while settling himself comfortably in her chair. “But he's no man…that I can assure you.”
“Jealous, my overgrown puppy?” Shutting off the faucet, she dried her hands on a towel before turning to him with a smirk on her lips. “If you wanted my attention, you could just ask for it.”
Scoffing at the implication that he was a common dog that begged to be recognized, he stood up abruptly and quite literally stalked over to her, meeting the silent challenge in her eyes head on with one of his own. Looking down on her, he remembered many a time in which they would have this sort of staring contest, neither daring to give an inch, to concede. It would of course lead to a more heated intimacy should she have been in a fair mood, but he didn't think that to be the case at the moment. Shameful, really…he really did wish to indulge his fantasy in this suite…
Letting his heated stare become less so, he reached out to her to caress the soft skin of her cheek, truly looking at her from up close. He noted every curve of her face, every eyelash, every line on her lips. Her eyes…deep as the ocean and they hid just as many secrets. Her scent…soft and delicate. It was all still the same since he last took in her features this closely. How long has it been? It ached…that beating organ in his chest ached as he recalled the last time he beheld her in this light…when she was at peace. Content.
And this time around, he had nothing to do with it. How…empty…it felt, to know that.
Leaning into her neck closely, the strong scent of peeled oranges heavy between them, he deeply breathed in her smell and softly remarked to her ear, “Are you sure it's me that misses the attention?”
She didn't answer, merely turned her head to meet his softened gaze. It was a brief moment of understanding for the both of them, neither saying what each knew deep down. That she would never go back to how things were between them. What he couldn't tell was whether it was due to her terminal health or a change of heart…and he wasn't too sure he wanted to know.
`She'll take that truth to the grave with her. That much is for sure,' he mused soberly as she brushed past him to sit back down. `But…Akito…I do hope you keep fighting your battle…just a little more…until I can fulfill that oath I made to you so long ago. After everything that's happened and will happen, it's rather laughable to think that I had waited all these years to do just one simple thing. And it's all for you…only for you…my one and only.'
He turned to her with a wide grin. “Have it your way then, my dear…but don't complain later that you miss my charms. I can only accommodate so much, you know.”
“Your barking is being ignored,” she airily replied while setting the bowl aside on the table.
He watched bemusedly as she started inspecting her nails to be sure they were clean…she was always rather fastidious with her appearance, be it to look `masculine' for whatever reason she contrived or more often than not, to look intimidating. And he was fairly certain that what he was about to say will definitely have her looking down on him with no small degree of intimidation. She never shied away from confrontations…she thrived on them.
“Be that as it may, Akito-san, I must insist.” Walking over to the window, he observed how the competitors were starting to align into position to start the semi-finals for the men's division. Spotting Kyo in the bunch, he casually asked, “Ne, Akito-san, what are your plans in this public announcement concerning Yuki-kun?”
“What concern is that of yours?” she sharply retorted as she fixed her penetrating gaze on him. “You don't usually show interest in my business affairs.”
“Business…is that all it is?” Turning away from the window, he met her scrutinizing stare, the mirth in his eyes from earlier now all gone to be replaced with a calculating stare of his own. “Some may not find it so…impersonal.”
“Hn, no problem of mine. I handle my affairs as I see fit.” She abruptly turned her head away to see beyond Shigure and look out the window, observing the boisterous crowd in the arena. Not spotting the head of one individual that she was looking for, she heavily sighed and sank back in her leather chair, seemingly dismissing the Inu's inquisitive nature into her affairs.
Knowing that her response was the most he'll get without being more specific, he went in a different direction that would give a more forthcoming reply. “And what of Yuki-kun? What would he think of your…handling?”
She turned to him with a knowing smile. “Yuki will understand this decision better than most…he's like that.”
Her blind faith in the Rat was not misplaced—even he had to concede that Yuki was the epitome of the word `understanding'. And that was not something he could compete with.
He sometimes truly hated reality…he really did.
“Please forgive my interruption, Akito-sama. Kureno-san had brought a young gentleman that carries no form of identification or pass—”
“If Kureno is bringing him in, then it's fine,” she cut in exasperatedly into the intercom that was placed on the table next to her chair for convenience. Letting go of the call button, she sighed in frustration as she stood up with a huff. “Stupid overzealous flea…this building's damn security has no common sense.”
“Now, now…this floor has a high security clearance in place,” he calmly remarked to soothe over her irritable nerves. “It's hard to even get on the elevator to get to this floor! Even I have to keep my badge and ID close. And I'm a famous literary artist!”
“Only in your head,” she retorted crossly.
He briefly scowled at the comment before suddenly reaching out to her and holding her close, not willing to surrender her so soon. Inhaling deeply the rosy scent in her hair, he pulled back to meet her defiant stare with a small grin. Though she was clearly displeased with his gesture, she was allowing it…his grin widened. `This girl loves me…very.'
(Knock, knock)
The soft rap at the door broke through their momentary trance. In response, she pushed past him without a word to meet the opening door. She irately called out, “Kureno! I had told you to inform those imbeciles of Yuki's presence here—”
“It's fine, Akito. Heh, he might not look it, but Kureno is very authoritative when he wants to be.” Feeling the stare of another, Yuki turned and asked, “Shigure…is there something wrong?”
Startled from his reverie, the Inu quickly brought his attention to the youth before him…and his wardrobe. “Yuki-kun! My…it's just…well, you do look an awful like a friend I know well—”
“Don't even…”
Backpedaling had never happened so fast for Shigure. “Ehhh…yes the…ah, the dark aura. Beware of the Nezumi's dark aura…loud and clear, Yuki-kun!”
“Ta-da! Akito-san, just as you ordered, I threw away the `toilet water' you were given as tea by the staff and found this delicious blend just for you! I also located `something resembling food' that's not served by the `stupidly inept' cafeteria personnel,” loudly declared Kagura as she waltzed into the room, her right hand holding up a tray of food, the other holding a large, stainless steel thermos.
“Gomen nasai, Akito… I was amiss in my responsibilities. I had meant to arrange for your food and beverages personally but was delayed with the event schedule,” shamefully explained Kureno as he gathered the signed papers from Akito into his binder. “I am truly very sorry—”
“Enough, just…go deal with those idiots downstairs so I don't have to.” Seeing her dutiful attendant leave, she sighed heavily before going over to the sink and washing her hands. “Kagura, bring those over here…I trust that they are fit to be consumed.”
“Absolutely! Ayame-chan had barely put up a fuss!” Setting her cargo on the counter, she turned to Yuki with a smile and wink. “He's such a good volunteer…hardly any tears shed!”
Although Yuki was all grins, Shigure knew his silver-haired cousin all too well. His visit was now definitely over. “That's my queue…if Aya had shed any tears or raised any sort of fuss, Haa-san is bound to use a needle on him just to settle him down. Akito-san, I'm so pleased to see you up and about for today's grand events. I shall visit the Honke later in the week! Yuki-kun…I'll see you at the house soon, ne? Kagura, service our lady well and good luck at your matches…we'll be cheering you on!”
She waved back happily. “Hai!”
“Kagura, was all this prepared by Nii-san?” asked Yuki curiously.
“Then I'm sure it's edible…it's one of his few qualities,” Akito added as she served her snacks onto a plate.
Serving himself as well, Yuki took note of all the food that was just on one tray. `Kagura has arms of steel to be carrying this much around.' “This is a lot of food, Kagura…we don't need this much. I smell oranges, too…we can have those with the tea. You should take some of this back to Nii-san.”
“Oh, sure! I just wanted you two to have first pickings,” she replied assuredly. She continued further with a wide smile as she served them their tea in the cups she also pilfered from her `volunteer'. “That, plus…this is a celebratory feast! Akito-san's back on her feet and Yun-chan is happy…no more worry-lines on that pretty little face of his! All reasons to celebrate, ne?”
Akito had remained silent as she sipped her tea, her thoughts seemingly elsewhere as Yuki smiled softly. There was really nothing to be said between them…all was said or not said when they were alone.
Shigure was once more the quiet, observant member of the Jyuunishi as he stood outside by the doorway. Having seen them come in, how she so easily dismissed his presence from her reclusive world, only to replace him with…her first. Her first connection to life beyond her father's arms…her first friend to hear the heart-felt laughs from her…her first shoulder to lean on when she felt alone…her first reason for living when her father died, however warped the relationship later became.
Yes, that was Yuki to her in the beginning…but now, and to his detriment, it had become much different, even beyond how it once was in that far-off beginning. All signs were indicating that this close bond was being reinforced by the very curse that tied her to the Rat since the moment Yuki came into the world. It was cause for alarm…severing the link, their sacred tie, will be more difficult when the time came. But he—the Inu of the Jyuunishi, the most loyal—will sever it…with one short, clean deed.
He'll only come to regret that it ended differently for them all.
“Now, remember that this particular opponent likes to use his kicks as a distraction. Watch his shoulders…it could turn very quickly from a kick to a punch to your hip.”
“I got it, Shishou…don't worry.”
“Yeah, Shihan…he's good at learning from his mistakes.”
“Shut up, Haru! You're the one that's finally participating in the matches!”
“Kyo, Hatsuharu…”
Both competitors immediately settled down upon seeing their teacher's tight-lipped smiling and ever-darkening aura. It hadn't taken too much intelligence on their part to determine that to cooperate was a far better alternative than to face Kazuma's discipline when his patience had worn thin during these semi-final matches.
Seeing the friendly atmosphere plummet again (Kyo's too-close proximity with Haru's teasing was doing nothing less), Tohru hurriedly called out, “Eh, please, the two of you…together this time! And no more scowling…I'm sure Shishou-san would like pictures with the both of you smiling.”
Neither budged to create this picture of camaraderie for her, each grumbling lowly about the other being a moron or idiot and other indiscreet words. So she sighed in resignation and offered a bribe. Not at all like her, but it's what she's had to resort to these past few days at the tournament. `Kagura-san's ideas work all the time with them.' “I had made your bentos extra special today with a surprise…”
Immediately the two Jyuunishi turned to face her with wide grins…she quickly snapped the shot before their reactions faded into obscurity. `Well, it was a nice shot…I'm happy to have gotten it.' “Arigatou, Kyo-kun, Hatsuharu-san.”
(“Next competitors, please come into the ring.”)
“Kyo, you're up!” called out Kazuma.
“On my way!” Kyo shook off whatever nerves he still had and boldly stepped forth until he felt a restraint on his shoulder. Looking back, he curiously asked, “Tohru? What's wrong?”
“Sumimasen, Kyo-kun…” Releasing him abruptly, Tohru looked to her hand, aghast at having reached out to him when she had nothing brilliant to say that would explain her action. She just…needed to. To hold on when he seemed to be drifting out of her reach by even a little… `He's out of reach…cut off…alone… I hadn't wanted that when I told him those things in the morning!'
It was like that all throughout the morning competition. While each in their team had taken their turn competing, Kyo hadn't once looked to her or spoken much with his teammates. The tension in their group was about ready to snap at any given time, so she had done her best to alleviate the situation by taking candid shots of all of them at one point or another. It was a welcome distraction, yet Kyo still remained detached from the group. Guilt weighed heavily on her.
`If only I hadn't pushed him into a confrontation this morning. He has so much on his mind already…I should have known better than to upset him! There's a time for everything…I could have told him that it was better to talk about it all later when things were more settled. How foolish of me—'
“Oi! Quit spacing out on me!”
The sudden reply jerked her from her spiraling thoughts. Snapping her head up, she was surprised to see him so close to her now. Taking a hesitant step back, she stammered, “I-I'm sorry…I was…I wasn't thinking—”
“Yeah…well, that's no surprise.” Her dumbfounded look was a welcome sight for Kyo. In all honesty, all through the morning competitions, he couldn't shake off the fact of how easily she took to stand by Yuki despite his earlier pleas. She looked completely at ease when she was with the Nezumi and afterward, seemed rather determined to keep busy and not approach him. Maybe he had been giving off that `stay away from me' vibe, but he hadn't meant her!
Now though she looked thoroughly flustered…and troubled. `Just Tohru being normal like always…normal. She's been too worried lately because of me and my issues. Always caring…she deserves better.' That last thought left him with a sick feeling, so he pushed it aside to focus on her but was abruptly interrupted.
“Kyo…they're waiting for you NOW,” remarked Tetsuya urgently from behind him.
Tohru quickly bowed apologetically. “Oh, I'm sorry! I'm holding you up now—”
“It's okay, really.” Leaning in carefully, Kyo quietly continued, “You know, I do respect and trust you, Tohru. Whatever you have on your mind, just say it plain like you did this morning. I may not like it, but it's from you, so…it's fine. Let's talk more after the tournament, okay? Just us…”
Blushing but also smiling brightly, she nodded happily. “Hai, that would be great.”
“Yeah, I'm comin'!” With a soft pat to her head and a smile for her, he dashed off to make it to his match.
“You really have that guy wrapped not just around your finger, but your whole hand.”
Tohru looked over her shoulder to see one of the dojo's participants standing by her and watching Kyo's match closely. “Ah…Ohashi-san! I…don't understand what you mean.”
Ohashi Hajime grinned widely and took the liberty of squeezing her shoulder as he leaned in. “Don't be shy, Honda-san. It's not hard to see how hung up you both are with one another. Especially Kyo…I tell you that guy literally has stars in his eyes when he looks at you. Right, Hiko?”
“Whatever,” lowly replied Tenaka Hiko while paying close attention to Kyo's counter strikes to his opponent, noting how the talented Sohma narrowly missed a punch to the head. “Damn, that was close.”
“Ah, he'll come out on top…this match is in the bag.” Hajime nudged Tohru further and asked, “Ne, did you always hang out with Kyo after his practices? I heard that you once lived in the same house he does! Anything special went on—”
“DAMMIT! WHAT THE HELL?!?” cried out Hajime as rubbed the back of his sore head, looking around him to see who had belted him one.
“Hn, it was a big fly,” mumbled Haru lowly as he carefully examined his hands.
Astounded, Hajime lashed out, “WHAT'S YOUR PROB—”
“Ox hate flies,” retorted Haru just as calmly as before with a deadpan look.
Stunned at how utterly pointless his teammate's comments were, Hajime angrily got up to his face. “You have REAL issues, MAN! SICK ISSUES!”
“What's with all the yelling?”
Tohru had been nervously looking at the two young men `converse' when she heard the soft-spoken voice cut through the growing tension. Only that gentle voice was enough to draw Haru's attention away from most anything. She couldn't help the relieved, “Yuki-kun!”
Tossing the confrontation with his fuming teammate aside, Haru quickly latched onto Yuki's sleeve. “What took you so long? Our revered leader can't seem to get enough of you, huh?”
“HEY, I'm talking here!” Hajime continued to vent.
“Akito-san?” Tohru hadn't known that their clan head was nearby. Akito had been seriously ill, no? Anxiously, she now looked all around her, suddenly feeling the distinctive gaze of said clan head. `What if Akito-san decides to make an appearance? Now of all times…'
“I wasn't with Akito all this time, baka,” Yuki remarked lowly. He abruptly pulled his arm away from Haru's clutches, only to mercilessly grab the Ox's ear. “Remember what we discussed in the car? To not be of trouble…?”
“Damn good grip there, Yuki,” Haru winced in reply as his darker half was fighting for dominance. Suddenly, with a sly smirk, he whispered, “You know that Ohashi-san was talking trash to Honda-san, so—”
Hajime quickly cut in, “I was talking calmly with her before you HIT ME!”
“What is the problem back here?” Kazuma sternly asked as he stood blocking Hiko's view of the floor where just finished. The teacher had hoped that by keeping most of his unruly students at a distance from the arena floor, and with Tohru among them, he wouldn't have to contend with their unpredictable behavior while he observed the semi-final matches of their competition before the female competitions commenced. A lot of good that did…
`At each others throats so much that an event staff member had to bring my attention to it during Kyo's match!' In short, he wasn't pleased…his stress was now officially ready to snap. “This is just the semi-finals…competing in the finals will be much more difficult which is why I had you settled back here out of sight so that you may focus on observing your opponents without distraction. Your squabbling is not what I want to be advised of by staff employees!”
Yuki quickly let go of Haru and grabbed Tohru as he made to stand to the side and out of the way when Kazuma started lecturing the team. Just as Tohru was about to step out and profusely apologize for them all, he held her arm firmly, letting his gaze when she looked to him speak for itself…they were not to interfere, period.
“Hai, Shihan. Please forgive our rude behavior,” commented in unison the squabbling teammates. It seemed that all had unanimously agreed to not argue at this moment and offer their apologies as they humbly bowed before their exasperated sensei.
Allowing his anger to deflate somewhat, Kazuma handed them each a folder. “This is the breakdown of each team and the opponents involved for the finals. It's just been handed to me by the judges. Look over them carefully over your lunch hour. Dismissed.”
The team quickly filed out to their designated lounge where they were to have their lunch served without the public scrutiny or the media bearing down on them for a story. Kazuma was thankful that the huge facility housed enough small, private rooms behind the main arena to be used for each competing team's needs. It was necessary that they all had time to themselves until the next round of competitions started up.
Haru had stayed behind and now went to stand by Yuki's side once again. “Hey, Honda-san packed lunch for us to eat here in the back. Want to eat with us?”
“Yuki!” exclaimed Kazuma as he just then noticed the silent, observant youth. He swiftly bowed in apology. “I'm so sorry for not realizing you were there.”
Yuki quickly motioned to his old sensei to cease his apology. He really started to loathe his well-publicized position; already family members like Kazuma that have known him for so long were beginning to follow formal protocol around him. He'll have to speak with those few members, including Kazuma, privately on this… “No, that's fine…no apology is needed, Shihan. I'm the one who's sorry for intruding…you're so busy today. I just wished I could help out more instead of having to meet all these people whose faces I can't even remember…”
“Oh, so that's what you've been up to.” Shaking his head, Haru sympathetically began to rub the obvious tension from Yuki's shoulders. His sympathy was not appreciated, though, as the shorter youth smacked his hands away, throwing a glare up to him for good measure. `Heh, still doesn't like my love in public…typical.'
“People, Yuki-kun? Who did you have to meet?” inquired Tohru. `Wasn't he just with Akito? Hatsuharu-san had said so…'
“Yes…apparently there are a number of people that want to meet—” Yuki stopped short as he realized that he hadn't told Tohru about his new status in the family. It just never really came up as a topic to openly discuss in everyday talk, not to mention it had been a hectic time since Obon when he had first known of it. It was also a topic he would love to forget had ever existed.
Smiling brightly, he went off in a different direction. “There are just too many people in this place…too many bodies…too loud. That's really all there is to it.”
“Oh…of course.” She had anticipated more from him, but before she could say anything else, Haru cut in.
“So you're coming to eat lunch with us?” Haru figured that if he posed his request as more as a `fact', Yuki can't help but to agree. `Don't give him the choice to say no…works for me.'
“I hadn't said I would, Haru,” countered Yuki tiredly, knowing full well of the Ox's intentions…Haru is that clever with words if it gets him what he wants. “There are still a few more interviews and introductions to be made. By then the women's competition will be in full swing if not close to finishing. I honestly just came by here to take a small break before being hauled off again. I had meant to come by earlier, Shihan, to apologize for not being of any help to you today when you need it the most.”
“Please, Yuki, it's not necessary. I know of the hard work you put in this past week, so I'm very happy that you were able to come to this tournament.” Frowning slightly, Kazuma approached him closely. “But you should find some time to eat something…it will be a very long second half, what with the women's finals competition and then the men's finals right after.”
“Yes, Yuki-kun, Shishou-san is right!” Quickly Tohru dug into the bag she had slung over her shoulder that usually housed the expensive camera she was lugging around as she took pictures. Grasping the desired item, she happily offered the small tin can to Yuki whose questioning glance told her of his confusion. “I had made these onigiri for whoever needed a quick snack between matches. Most everyone was too busy today focusing on these last matches so they didn't eat any.”
Blushing slightly, Yuki gently pushed away her generous offering. “I couldn't take any meals away from the team—”
Laying his hand on the youth's shoulder, Kazuma assured him with a warm smile, “Trust me, Yuki, they won't be snacking at all today. With the way our competition is shaping up for later, I doubt they'll even want to eat their lunch. So feel free to accept…I insist.”
“It's even in this small tin can. You can take it easily with you to eat between your interviews,” added Tohru, relieved that Yuki will eat for his own good. `Shishou-san is right…Yuki-kun had worked so hard all week to look after Akito-san. He needs to regain his strength.'
Gingerly handling the tin can as porcelain, Yuki gently smiled in thanks, holding onto Tohru's hand just a bit longer to convey how content he was at that moment. It was such a relief to be here with her and the others…they didn't demand his attention, merely accepted whatever he could afford to give them, which currently wasn't much. Having had to meet and greet with people whom scrambled for just a moment's attention from him was utterly draining.
`It's so much like high school all over again. You'd think that it'll be different after you leave school…I suppose some things just can't ever change.'
Tohru felt the color in her cheeks heat up more than usual. Yuki always manages to surprise her most pleasantly with his simple gestures. Giving her mental state a good shake, she hurriedly gathered her wits to consider her next suggestion, only to end up opting for what's best for Yuki's health. `He needs our support…my support.'
Wide smile set in place, she urged, “Yuki-kun, you should come with us after the tournament to eat dinner, in celebration of today's events. Uo-chan and Hana-chan will be there, too! It's been a long time since you've seen them, ne?”
Recognizing Tohru's valiant efforts to look after Yuki's obvious need to relax, Kazuma joined her as well, thankful for his sudden change in plans with Kyo. `It's a shame we'll have to miss dinner with her and the others. But it is for the best in the end.' “I can make the arrangements, Yuki, with no trouble at all. Just meet up with the group after the final matches have finished.”
“Tch, don't bother with it, Shishou. He's got a whole bunch of idiots at his beck and call, including the ten drones over there. Let them deal with him.”
All abruptly turned their attention to the tall youth that was toweling himself dry as he looked down to several sheaves of paper, no doubt details entailing his opponents' capabilities in the finals. Tohru was too shocked to respond, not having known that he was right behind her while the others just saw him appear as Kazuma finished speaking.
Haru spoke out first. “It's Shihan's business if he wants to do what he wants to do for Yuki, Kyo.”
“What Shishou `wants'?” testily replied the Cat as his demeanor turned hard towards the Ox. “Or what Shishou was ordered?”
“Kyo…that will be enough,” quietly remarked Kazuma, not certain, or rather, hoping his suspicions were wrong. He could be wrong…he needed to be wrong. Suddenly the end of the tournament seemed to loom too far away…
This rather small issue was entirely being blown way off the mark in his opinion. Yuki hadn't wanted his first conversation with Kyo since Obon to be over a pointless argument, but there it was. `At least he's not avoiding my presence like the plague. This has to count as progress.'
Withholding his heavy sigh, he left the tense situation between father and son alone and turned to Tohru with an apologetic smile. “Tohru-san, I'm so sorry, but I can't go. I've already made prior arrangements for after the tournament. I'll be more than happy to take you out to dinner privately at another time…your friends are more than welcome to join us.”
The tight clenching of his arm and leg muscles was giving him an ache Kyo didn't need. Yet he had to hold back the strongest of any urge he's ever had before to pummel the Nezumi where he stood, simpering like a fool to Tohru and ignoring him altogether. He had enough of being ignored.
He bit out angrily, “What? Can't tell her the full truth, Rat? Just SAY it…you're meeting up with Akito after the tournament.”
“Kyo, ENOUGH,” sternly warned Kazuma, his hand now on the youth's rigid shoulder.
“That's none of your damn business, Kyo,” cut in Haru as his hackles were tested to the limits, his darker nature now coming out of hiding. `Stupid Cat don't know when to leave it alone!'
Tohru had anxiously looked from one tense form to the other, the situation escalating beyond a mere gripe. She hadn't meant for her suggestion to create such a cold rift amongst them, especially the one building between Kyo and Kazuma. `I had only wanted for Yuki-kun to be with us…to be himself…for all of them to be themselves…'
“Fine…it's not that big of a secret. I did make plans with Akito already.” Giving the Cat a hard glare of his own, Yuki looked away to softly smile to Tohru's downturned face. Lifting her chin, he gently told her, “Don't be upset, Tohru-san, you've done nothing wrong. And I really do appreciate your kind invitation. It made me very happy.”
Her smile faltered somewhat because of her lingering ache with the strain between father and son, but she gave it to Yuki freely…he didn't need her to be a burden but to be a support now. “I'm glad. Then, you'll be having dinner with Akito-san? Please give Akito-san my best and congratulations for such a good recovery. The family needs Akito-san.”
He did sense the underlying concern in her smile, but this was the best he could hope to do for her at this moment…to get far and away from here. To truly ease her worries, he would need to haul the bitter Neko to a dark, quiet corner, preferably alone, and beat the ever lovin— `Tempting… but hardly worth the thought. If there's a way to fix this, it'll be up to him to actually listen to me for once. Not now, though…I'll strap him to a chair later.'
Giving her hand a squeeze in reassurance, hoping that she would understand the gesture, he calmly replied, “Thank you, although I think after our tour of the exhibition on the sixth floor, Akito will be too tired for dining out. We'll see, though…”
As they had continued to talk, Kyo slipped out of Kazuma's grasp, intent on reaching the obscure corner where a hallway led to the various lounge rooms reserved for the participants. He had walked off with a dark glare to any who would follow him, including Kazuma and Haru. Yet the Ox was not one to allow a mere look from the enraged Cat to stop him. He'd been given that look one too many times over the years.
“Oi…why's the Cat sulking in a corner all by his lonesome self?”
Was it too much to ask to be left alone? Apparently so since the grating voice of one stubborn Ox filtered through Kyo's ears just as he entered the thankfully empty hallway. He hadn't wanted to draw attention to himself, knowing that Tohru would see and know how much strain he was under. `She would worry herself to a fever…that's who she is. Our problems are hers to suffer…she just takes them to heart so much.'
“Go back to your Rat, stupid Ox,” curtly replied Kyo, not caring if the remark sets off the unstable youth standing next to him. How surprised he was when he felt a hand gently grasp his shoulder. He couldn't help but to see with his own eyes if it was someone else instead of Haru. He was furthered shocked to see the concern in those solemn eyes.
“Why do you always cast yourself out?” asked Haru quietly.
Speechless at first when the simple question was asked, Kyo hurriedly retorted, “I DON'T cast myself out! I just don't want to blow up anymore than I've already had! Tohru and Shishou don't deserve to see me—”
“Yeah, they do. We all do,” interjected the tall youth, his voice still serene to the ears. “Can't you see the problem of holding back, of bottling it all up inside for so long that you're bursting without meaning to? That's what all this is after all is said and done, don't you think?”
Kyo shoved the consoling hand off his shoulder and incredulously remarked, “So you want me to be like YOU, blowing up whenever and however I like?! Sorry, but that ain't the right way—”
“So what if it ain't the right way?!” argued Haru. “What matters is that we'll know that you're dealing with problems you can't handle alone. Keeping it to yourself like you have…it worries us all, not just Honda-san. And believe it or not, that includes Yuki—”
“Damn, I should have known you'd bring up that bastard's name!” angrily stated Kyo as he made to push past the Ox to join his teammates in the lounge. Unfortunately his fellow Jyuunishi disagreed.
Haru was quick to latch onto the slick Cat that was making his exit, swiftly pinning him to the wall. Kyo's reflexes were good, but this Ox wasn't half-bad either. “I'm your oldest friend, Kyo…cut it any way you want, but it's the truth. I know you and you can play the damned Cat that's angry all the time with everyone else, but I see through it for what it is…damn, stinkin' FEAR. The Cat is scared shitless and the big question is, why? Tell me Kyo because you can't take it anymore…WHY?”
“BECAUSE I KNOW THE TRUTH, DAMMIT!” lashed out the Neko, his red-orange eyes wide open with such strong emotion that it struck Haru speechless. Kyo's breathing quickened and his joints ached from all the stress from tightening his muscles. Yet all that mattered little…all Kyo could hear was Rin's voice, melodic in its tone, and see her hard eyes convey the outrage barely restrained in its depths…
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…
“Kureno-nii passed on Akito's message that Kazuma had better CONTINUE taking care of the Rat like he had these past few months at the dojofor allowing the Neko to `roam wild'. That…your `freedom' will be secured if he does it well.” Pausing here, she laughed bitterly as she went on, “That Kazuma's past failures in looking after the Rat would be overlooked if he began placing everything in the right priority…mainly that you're expendable. That he'd better be prepared for some announcement at the tournament today having to do with placing the right priorities in line.That Yuki was more than prepared for it, and that he should support the Rat's efforts when the time came.
His eyes were transfixed with her constant pacing now, his ears only hearing her words now, but hardly listening to her anymore. What more did he have to hear that didn't already twist the knife in his heart?
Damn, smug son-of-a…Kureno-nii droned on and on as if reading some damn script! Think about it, though…all this time, all these YEARS probably…Kazuma-san was… Out of all my screwed up family members, Kazuma-san doesn't deserve to be on the receiving end of thatRat's or his damnmaster's f—”
“Are you sure, Isuzu-san? Perhaps you had misunderstood…”
It was then that Tohru had come into their conversation, seemingly now having occurred ages ago instead of this morning. And all Kyo could find himself doing now was to slide down against the wall and pull his knees close to hide his pained expression…to hide from the very knowledge that his devotion to the one man he loved dearly as his father was also burdening the man. Rin was correct…
`Shishou doesn't deserve it…none of it…least of all, LEAST of all…me.'
There were no further words Haru could use to draw out the Neko from his lonely depths of despair. It just wasn't within his power. So he settled to be the friend that Kyo knew him to be…
He parked himself right next to the silent Neko and prayed for once that the pain of their existence didn't revisit them for the rest of the day. The strain was too much for any of them to bear anymore.
It was snapping loose.
Oh my friggin' goodness! (06-16-08):
Yes, that's right, you are reading this! After so long, many probably thought I've been neglectful and inconsiderate and…please stop me, my dears!
It's been an ongoing nightmare to realize that my work affects my energy levels to produce good writing. Man, that first part with Akito/Shigure was too hard…and it was supposed to be the easiest! Actually, the Akito/Shigure scene took a month while all this other stuff took the next month, particularly this past couple of weeks. Talk about imbalance!
How about the tension…suspense…heartache? Hopefully all were pleased with it. There will be such a big dose of this and more in my next chapter release which I'm working on RIGHT NOW. I'm not pausing for a moment on this, no way, no how!
Musical note: “Innocence” by Avril Lavigne. Quite the piece to remember heading into the next chapter because every chapter up `til now was the fragile innocence that the Sohmas fiercely held onto, each in their own way. How it all comes down…see me in the next chapter!