Fruits Basket Fan Fiction ❯ Seasons of Sorrow ❯ Embers of Summer's Glory = The Wild World I Live In ( Chapter 62 )

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

DISCLAIMER: The original Fruits Basket characters credited to Takaya-sensei. I only claim the storyline and subsequent anarchy my fiction works create.
Embers of Summer's Glory
Chapter 62: The Wild World I Live In
The paths in life
Are very difficult to go through
Difficult to walk through
I cannot find my way through it…
He stretched an arm.
Intense scrutiny came from all sides.
He stretched one leg.
Whispers came from the lowliest of personnel to the highest officials as they observed him.
Yuki pulled and stretched his body mechanically, focused only on the feel of his muscles pulling and stretching to accommodate the need. He ignored everything around him, including the worried looks of his cousins. His eyes…mind…body…all tuned and ready to meet his opponent. He spared no other thought for fear that it would bring down emotions that would cripple him. Yet the events replayed themselves in the very back of his mind, being dissected to the smallest detail.
Where had he gone wrong back then? Earlier, not too long after having left Tohru's side, he had met with the organizers that were to `interview' him. He had spotted Master Haji behind them although the elderly Sohma had refused to look at him then. How stupid of him not to have questioned it.
But with his quickly changing surroundings, he had given it very little thought as he was presented to a few of the tournament's organizers. He had politely answered their few questions up until they asked if he was ready to make his introductory speech to the crowd. Shocked as he was, he merely smiled politely, his mind in a whirl as to what he was supposed to say at an event he knew very little about. And very quickly…too quickly…he was being introduced to a crowd of thousands.
It was an introduction that he never expected.
No amount of preparation could have helped him. It was all he could do to remain standing where he was. Had he become pale? He had felt his blood drain from his face. Had he looked green? He had surely felt the pit of his stomach give a sudden lurch, his mouth dry up, and his throat constrict suddenly. But most importantly, did he have to go? Yes…he had to. Master Haji had personally steered him up the stairs to the arena floor with nothing said to him.
What could have been said to make it right? What can be said now? What should be said? What needed to be said?
Over and over the questions had plagued his mind when he took the microphone from the announcer and made his speech. He distantly recalled the last speech he had given to a crowd…his graduation ceremony. Full of promise…to himself and to his close-knit family of Jyuunishi. But this…farce…it was nothing like it.
Words indeed bubbled forth as eloquent as the leaf that flows with the wind…yet it felt like poison spewing forth from his sinful mouth. Each phrase he uttered seemed like the motion of a knife plunged into the thread that tied his bond with another, more delicate being. How frail that thread was…it gave with a flick of his traitorous mouth.
It literally pained him and his very being as the Nezumi. His body trembled with the restraint he put on himself to appear calm.
So, he went on…he had fulfilled his task. And with the rapid beating of his heart ready to burst from his chest, he had hurriedly got off the stage and urged his escorts to walk him faster to his group. Yells, shouts, questions, pictures…the frenzy around him was nothing to what was occurring in his mind.
And suddenly, one look. One look through the sea of bodies and flashes of bulbs. One look that was enough to stop his determined gait. It all came down to one glance from Kyo…and it was done.
That one scene stuck to his mind's eye as he now eyed the opponent that was to be Kyo's. The third and final match of the tournament…sadly, events that came about had led to this. He had sincerely wished he had sparred with Haru more. It would have at least prepared the younger teen for the potential under-handed reflexes from unscrupulous opponents.
After having held his own for the most part of his final match, Haru was to the point where all he needed was one more hit. Overconfidence overcame his better judgment. Despite Kazuma's warnings, Haru realized too late that he was being lulled into a false sense of security. He was about to make a perfect kick to his opponent's abdomen, only then to feel the blood drain from his head as he went down to his knees, the pain from his groin unbearable. Of course to the observer it looked like he had seemingly pulled a muscle, but Haru later told him that he felt the illegal blow acutely. He had to hand it to the opponent…the blow was too quick for the eyes of the referee to catch, and it was enough to render the injured teen immobile and unable to compete further.
Naturally, Haru's darker persona didn't spare any pleasantries…he was royally pissed off when he was hauled off the floor, throwing obscenities left and right, swearing up and down that he would make the other pay after the tournament was over. Yuki was at a loss of how to prevent the upcoming catastrophe…Haru could be quite the raging bull if he wanted to be.
Thankfully, Tetsuya managed better with his final match. Being the more experienced and skilled at this sport than Haru, he evaded many thrusts and kicks that didn't exactly fall under the `legal' category. It had seemed that these particular competitors aimed to humiliate them before actually defeating them fairly in their matches.
Once Tetsuya's opponent was warned for the last time, both competitors let loose on one another. It was an even match until finally the other rammed a fist into his abdomen…an opening if he ever saw one. With the close proximity, he finished his opponent with a clean, very hard thrust to the other's chest, sending the other sprawling on the floor. Though Yuki was sure that Tetsuya had suffered at least a couple of cracked ribs, the young man was ecstatic, the evident pain well worth it as his opponent could barely breathe when he was taken off the floor. The match was declared his win.
Needless to say, it now came down to the last match, his. His match…not Kyo's. Kyo was never to take this opponent down on this momentous occasion. Kyo was never to represent his family's dojo proudly…never to stand tall at the podium when the name of Sohma Dojo is declared the tri-annual tournament winner…never to look to his father figure with a great sense of accomplishment. No…he, Sohma Yuki, Nezumi of the Jyuunishi, made certain of that. His stomach lurched with an unforgiving pang for the umpteenth time that hour.
“Are you done with your warm-up exercises, Yuki-kun?” asked Kunimitsu kindly, rubbing his shoulders carefully to loosen tense muscles. “I'll be standing on your far right, so please signal to me if you feel that you've reached your limit or if anything else is wrong, okay?”
Yuki quickly snapped out of his spiraling thoughts and began his stretches of the upper body. “Gomen ne…I understand. I'm almost done with these stretches.”
Kunimitsu smiled widely and ruffled the delicate strands on Yuki's head, his joy not hidden. “Fantastic! You must keep the mind clear out there or else this guy will make sure you don't get a chance to recover from your mental lapses. And I did promise Kazuma and before he went back to his suite, Master Haji, too, that I would see to your well-being as you take on this match for Kyo. (Heavily sighs) A sudden stomach virus…of all the things to happen to Kyo at the last moment… It certainly explains Kyo bolting from the floor. Kazuma had told me that it was so severe that he was taken home to recuperate. I've never seen the man so disappointed. I could only imagine how Kyo's taking it.”
“Hai…” Kazuma had done well in providing the most believable story that explained his presence there. It was all Yuki could do to keep his visage clear of guilt, his voice steady.
Everyone had been shell-shocked upon having heard the news of Kyo's sudden illness, but they were thoroughly floored when they had seen the gray-haired youth in the dojo's uniform come towards the arena floor flanked by his escorts. When it had been confirmed by Kazuma's announcement that he was to be Kyo's replacement, pure pandemonium broke out. The media, the staff, even the other team…all had been clamoring to talk with Kazuma and one even challenged the decision to allow the youth to fight in Kyo's stead.
And so here they were indeed…after all had been loudly said and overdone, Yuki stood at the edge of the fighting circle, straining to look cool and collected. It was hard for him to remain so…he felt Kazuma's absence now more than ever. Certainly the head teacher of the dojo had a good excuse to remain with the team to show his full faith in his pupil, but Yuki knew better. It was why Kunimitsu was the one guiding him now and why having that very knowledge kept driving his thoughts into turmoil.
The cloud of dismay was driven away from Kunimitsu's eyes as he smiled brightly once more, massaging Yuki's shoulders heartily. “And so here we are! You wouldn't believe the pressure that's on me to see that the great head of the Sohma family is not hurt too badly out there, heh! (Whispers softly) Thank you, Yuki-kun…sincerely. What you're doing for us cannot be measured in words.”
“…thank you for your support, Tomoda-sensei,” murmured the youth, his mind once again teetering elsewhere.
`Hands are clammy…it's cold…' Yuki rubbed his hands and wiggled his toes, both ends feeling chilled despite his rapid heartbeat. He only heard muffled words now from the announcer, no doubt using bombastic words to promote this final match. The coldness…it seemed to be spreading into his very middle.
“Yuki-kun…it's time. Do your best!” urged Kunimitsu as he now moved over to the far right, slight worry in his gaze but still full of hope. Kazuma had assured him all will be well, and he was no fool to doubt his teacher's word after all these years.
Kunimitsu's reassured attitude did not transmit to Yuki. He walked carefully across the mats to face his opponent, barely registering the smirk on the other's face.
He tugged at his sash to secure it for the tenth time.
His hands still felt cold but so did his feet…the air-conditioning in the building must be at full blast, what with the huge crowd and all.
Fighting…it was all he had been doing today. The cycle never stopped…
(Dodged a kick to the shoulder)
It was continually spinning…and spinning…
(Dodged another thrust to the nose)
It was now all a blur…with no beginning…
(Dodged a blow to the abdomen)
No ending…
(Dodged another kick to the head)
Never to end…
`What the HELL is he doing?! Or NOT doing from the looks of it?!' The raging thoughts circled Haru's mind yet again as he observed the lithe youth barely avoid another upward thrust to the nose. `Oh, COME ON! That was a cheap shot! Make a call, damn ref!'
“Hatsuharu-kun, you're going to injure your groin further if you keep jumping up like that. Just stay seated,” advised Tetsuya coolly, not that he was any better at repressing his indignation at the way the final match was being played out. His fists were tightly clenched, knuckles white as he observed Yuki seemingly struggling just to avoid getting hit. His aching ribs had now started to protest at his somewhat expressive reaction to the proceedings.
He coldly glared at the two opponents on the floor. The wild roar of the crowd around him didn't let up one moment, certain that one of the opponents would crash to the floor when one mistake was made. And certainly enough, one did.
Haru angrily cried out as he shot up from his seat, “DAMN REF, CALL THAT RIGHT, DAMN SON OF A—”
Score one for the opposing team…and not by any legal means. Tetsuya drowned out Haru's cries to decapitate the referee when the match was over and focused squarely on the young clan head kneeling on the floor. The kick to the knee was not a pretty sight, and it surely brought Yuki out of whatever daze he had been in, the blank gaze in his large eyes now replaced with repressed pain. Yet the youth persevered, waving off any help from anyone, his lips in a grim line as he hoisted himself up to his feet.
Taking deep breaths to ease the pain, Yuki slightly wavered on his feet but nodded for the referee to continue the match. The dangerous melody of the art known as karate began to take on a whole different level of intensity as each opponent faced each other.
“Come on, Yuki-kun…you can get that back! Five points is all you need!” called out Kunimitsu encouragingly amongst the shouts from around the floor.
Five points was an infinitely long goal to reach when facing excruciating pain. Yuki felt his mouth dry and useless, his heaving not helping it. It did however bring focus to his chaotic thoughts, now all centered in suppressing the pain. A mere tenth of a second…it was all his opponent needed to execute a perfect kick to his knee. Just a slip of his mental hold…
“Did you see that?! Pft, bet Kyo-sempai would have brought down that bastard long ago—”
“—he looks like the wind can knock him over. What the hell he's doing up there?!”
“It's all politics after all…you can do whatever you want if you've got the name and money—”
“—and he flaunts himself like some kind of savior! What a joke to our dojo…to Shihan!”
The cycle of fighting…of hating…it will never end.
“And the Sohma heir is down again, ladies and gentlemen! This is becoming quite the familiar sight! He was hit twice, moving up their rivalfrom Thailand to THREE points over ZERO in this final match of the tournament! The star athlete from Thailand is known for his infamous style to utilize each opportunity presented and capitalize on it…what a remarkable talent to observe attoday's glorious event! A timeout is called by the Sohma Dojo…they'll need a replacement for the replacement at this rate!”
“And we're off to another brawl of the muscles at this year's tournament, ladies and gentlemen! Your humble announcer here has seen many over the years at events such as today's, but I assure you that the one occurring below my observation suite is the largest by far. Two entire dojos going at each other is the sort of thing legends are built on! Yes sir, despite the terrible pain no doubt his groin is giving him, Sohma Hatsuharu is giving it his all to beating the spit out of—eh…well, he WAS beating the youth to a bloody mess, but his sensei seems to be getting a firm hold on him and the others in his dojo. Sohma Kazuma-sensei is quite the capable teacher as many in this industry know well. Ah yes, I see that the officials have called it and are now ejecting the members of the two dojos involved in the brawl with much protest from the audience. The assistant Tomoda-sensei is escorting his charges off the floor. The two dojo's respective Sensei are allowed to remain to observe the finale of the match. It's not too long now…it's all but over anyway.”
The nasal-like tone of the announcer echoed throughout the arena, irritating greatly one Sohma. He was glad that he managed to stay out of the brawl between the dojos. Tensions were high and emotional states were even higher…it was only a matter of time before Haru caved under the pressure of his more aggressive side and started throwing punches. Tetsuya was amazed he had held out this long. He should have known further disparaging of Yuki's character was not to be tolerated by the youth. He would be lying if he hadn't felt the same. He would be grossly lying.
Tetsuya couldn't really explain it…the surge of emotion from deep within each time the opponent landed a hit on Yuki. The raw…rage. It was alien, yet at the same time, it was a welcomed cold heat that flowed swiftly in his veins. His knuckles frequently popped as he clenched them hard, barely holding himself together. The ache from his ribs was all but ignored at this point.
“You just had the wind knocked out of you, Yuki. He struck your chest with his foot from in front, and when you went down, he struck again with his hand on your back. He has a three point advantage now.” Kazuma's voice methodically listed what had occurred to the stunned teen as Yuki teetered on his feet before Kazuma trying to regain his breath. His wheezing worried the two elder Sohma athletes.
Kazuma quietly asked “Can you continue, Yuki? We can stop this now—”
“NO.” With a firm voice and look, Yuki silenced further inquiries as he turned around and walked back onto the main floor, his breathing still uneven.
“No, Tetsuya. He has given the order. Let him be,” remarked Kazuma sedately.
Tetsuya couldn't fathom an idea as to why his teacher seemed resigned to allow this `massacre' to continue. No words of encouragement…no dissuasion even attempted…nothing. He turned to look at the match as Kazuma had, his anxiety growing as the match commenced and Yuki barely evading the other's quick thrusts and kicks. The roar of the crowd was deafening as they sensed the impending finale.
No sound reached Yuki's ears other than his hard breathing and beating of his heart. And as hard as he tried, his mind was also riddled with thoughts that literally yelled at him…images that burned into his memory and refused to be put aside for later. His evasion of his opponent's attacks was deplorable, he knew, but all he could see…hear…even the smell…
The sight of betrayal and hurt in the eyes of those that trusted him…
To hear the profound disappointment in another's voice that was once so full of hope…
And all he could smell…
…was the foul stench of his existence as the Nezumi of the Jyuunishi.
“And once again Sohma is down! Sohma Kazuma-sensei is already by his side to assess the damage. It would have been easier on Sohma Kazuma-sensei to have forfeited the match…prolonging this match is absolute torture on thisSohma youth! His opponent only managed to land one hit that time…only one left to declare the dojo from Thailand the winner!”
The pain from biting his tongue was truly excruciating, drowning out all other aches and pains he had. Swallowing the blood and saliva proved more than his already queasy stomach could handle as he started to heavily cough into the mats. Yuki felt a firm grip on his shoulders to help lift him from the floor. He had preferred the cool mats on his heated skin…it helped to calm the nausea.
“YUKI-SAMA! Are you bleeding badly?!”
He smiled wryly. “Tetsuya-san…(cough)…are you actually…(cough, cough) concerned?”
“OF COURSE I AM!” Taking a moment to collect himself as he realized that Yuki was at least responding, Tetsuya calmly spoke with only a trace of worry, “You're spitting up blood, Yuki-sama…hardly anything to smile about.”
Yuki's smile widened for a moment before he began hacking again. He could sense the sincerity in Tetsuya's tone and gaze. For once, the revered title felt comforting coming from this young man that once held such disdain for him. He didn't bother to question it…he felt better.
“I just bit my tongue…(cough, cough). I hope I can…(cough)…taste my food after this.” Taking in deep yet shaky breaths finally calmed his stomach and his hacking. He cleared his throat and ran his tongue all around inside his mouth to soothe the wound. With his voice now clean and clear, he added, “It's not bad…I'm fine…really.”
Tetsuya merely raised his brow high as he stared at him incredulously. “And your ankle is giving you no grief either, eh?”
“I only twisted it—” His breath stopped short as he sharply gasped when he stood up fluidly from the floor. The numbness he felt on his left ankle began to harshly protest any pressure to stand on the foot. At least now he knew why he had fallen so ungraciously to the mats…his body instinctively reacted to protect his biggest injury.
“Sirs, we need to know now if you plan to continue or forfeit your match—”
“According to regulations, we have two minutes so BACK OFF,” growled Tetsuya in response as he unconsciously held Yuki closer and away from the curious stare (more like gawking) of the referee. Affronted, the referee sauntered off and called the one time-out they had to use. The smug look on the opponent's face was enough to nearly send Tetsuya over and break his jaw. The gentle coughing next to him snapped him from his rash thoughts, worry now replacing anger.
“Do you feel this, Yuki?” asked Kazuma while he kneeled down to delicately probe Yuki's injured foot. The swelling around the ankle did not bode well…
“DON'T!” Yuki quickly jerked his foot away and leaned heavily on Tetsuya. Landing on the injured ankle only sent harsh throbs back up his leg. His frown deepened as he started heavily breathing.
“Very well, then,” quietly remarked Kazuma. He stood up and talked over the injured youth, “Tetsuya, take him back to the locker rooms and call over Hatori—”
Both Sohma men looked down to Yuki, astounded by his passionate protest. Before either of them could say anything in response, Yuki broke away from Tetsuya's grip and began to hobble away back to the main floor. Kazuma was quick to grasp the youth's arm. Yuki began to furiously struggle with Kazuma's iron grip and refused to be led away from the floor. It was hard to stay in one place with only one good foot, but he managed, much to his teacher's dismay.
“Yuki, you're in NO condition to continue—”
“Shihan, please release me!”
“Stop struggling! You're making a scene—”
“Let me go, NOW.
“You are MY responsibility, Yuki! If you're injured further—”
The arena was overflowing with media, official delegates, and a capacity crowd…all making enough noise to render many hoarse from having yelled so much in order to be heard. Yet the words of one injured youth were heard clearer than any bell…it ripped through whatever haze may have clouded Kazuma's mind. He abruptly released the young athlete.
“One minute, sirs…ONE MINUTE.”
`He's right…so very right.' Kazuma felt an overwhelming sense of shame, realizing how true Yuki's words were. And sadly…bitterly so…he knew he couldn't behave differently. Not back to how things were before. Not now…possibly not ever.
Whatever tenuous hold his teacher had held over his bearings was reduced to nothing with his cutting response. His old teacher's slumped shoulders and crushed expression tore at his heart, not because he was the one who inflicted the hurt but because his spontaneous remark was true. Not until that instant when Kazuma reacted to his words did he realize it was the harsh truth. It was the truth he had not wanted to acknowledge.
`It's just as well…what I am will always be me. The Nezumi…either loved or hated…as it always was. As it always will be.' He suddenly began to laugh, softly as his throat was still hoarse from his earlier bouts of coughing, but he was indeed laughing.
Tetsuya knew hysteria when he saw it…his newly appointed clan head was on the very verge of having one. The laughter would throw off anyone (if his earlier remarks of calling himself a rat hadn't already) but deep in the youth's large, expressive eyes was a being fumbling around for help where there was none to be found apparently. That and the young man was literally on the verge of tears.
“I…I just want it to end…” was Yuki's quiet remark in between his bursts of laughter that rang with a beauty so heartbreaking. How else could he express his desire that this cycle of hate or whatever form it took that he found all around him should leave him be?
“It will be over in THIRTY seconds” was the irate remark from the referee as he came to warn them for the last time before retreating to his post.
Tetsuya brushed past a silent Kazuma and abruptly gripped Yuki firmly by his shoulders, leaning in closely so that anyone with a magnified camera lens wouldn't be able to tell what he was saying. “Look at me, Yuki-sama.”
Surprised as he was, Yuki obediently looked to his fellow dojo member. Eyes wide, he said nothing to the young man's piercing gaze.
`At least, he stopped laughing.' Tetsuya did not let up in his determined stare. “You want this to end? Good…finish this first! Kick the bloody hell out of that bastard across from you! Take down this problem first! And when you're done, you can take care of the other problems one at a time…ONE at a time. You can only do so much with those two hands of yours…you are one and only. Do you understand?”
Yuki tentatively looked to Kazuma's shocked gaze before having his head grasped by a pair of strong hands demanding his attention.
“LOOK AT ME,” growled Tetsuya. “Whatever problems the family has now will wait. First, go up to that POMPOUS WINDBAG and beat him into oblivion. The referee, too…he's been getting on my damn nerves for the last half hour.”
Finally…a small but sincere smile graced Yuki's face. He couldn't help but lightly laugh as well…Tetsuya's expression was dead serious…it was too ridiculous. Not to mention that the referee looked miffed when he overheard him.
His voice came out small and lost, “…you think me capable of it? I've been quite the…embarrassment. Not much to be proud of.”
“You aren't capable of embarrassing anyone, least of all our family. You are, however, capable of handling this fool. One only has to see you in action once to be sure.” Seeing the youth sigh heavily as he finally looked to his opponent for what was very likely the first time, never having spared his opponent a true look the whole time, the elder Sohma softly continued, “You can do this. Just like you can and will resolve the other matters that are on your mind.”
“Not everything has a resolution…” murmured Yuki just as quietly, his dejection returning once more.
“True. Yet, you still hope…you still try.” And the clarity once he uttered those words was staggering. It was too simple, yet so very true. Who is Sohma Yuki he had once asked. The answer was never a secret…it was always there in plain view all along.
Hoping and trying…with never a guarantee… That was Sohma Yuki.
He released him and stood back. “Please, look at me. Look, Yuki-sama.”
With sudden change in tone, Yuki did finally look at Tetsuya…and he saw him for the first time. The sincerity that was not there in prior discussions but is now…it never wavered. It was resolute and…proud.
Tetsuya pushed on, “You're Sohma Yuki, OUR clan head, and we could be no prouder. And no one makes a mockery of you without consequence. So either take care of this problem, Yuki-sama, or I will personally see to their asses getting kicked to the streets for having insulted you and hurt you. Hatsuharu-kun will just have to wait his turn. The family will happily take care of the legalities. No joke…cracked ribs or not, I will beat them bald!”
`As serious as everand he's really insisting on beating the hell out of them just for me. That's actually…very kind of him.' Ridiculous as it was for someone other than Haru wanting to stand up for his honor so ardently, Yuki couldn't help the comfort he felt in that. He was also very certain that should he give the word, Tetsuya would indeed put a very real hurt on his opponent, damn the consequences.
`So willing to support me when I can't hold my own, though it would be much easier to abandon me. And so proud. Proud of me, when I'm at my worst.' Whatever past objections Tetsuya may have had against him, he now stood before him, believing in him without a shred of doubt. To have come this far…
He will not allow Tetsuya's hope in him be in vain. And he would not give up his hopes either. Not one hope of his is ever in vain.
Gently smiling, he merely nodded to Tetsuya and confidently strode with a limp to the main floor, paying no mind to the glower of the referee or his opponent. The loud announcer was announcing this to be the grand finale of the match and the tournament. How true that would be.
Seeing Yuki stride forward with nothing to hope for yet still willing to try, Tetsuya felt his pride rise. He'd hoped his words would reach the dejected youth, if not to win the match at least to strengthen his somewhat broken spirit. He had not understood why his mother held such pride in her voice whenever she spoke of Yuki to him (no doubt trying to get him to see her way versus his father's), but now, he could honestly say that he felt that very same sense of pride. It felt as natural as breathing. He felt whole…complete.
Kazuma drew closer to Tetsuya to keep their conversation private amidst the mass media surrounding them. “Hai?”
“Yuki-sama is our clan head, our responsibility. Do you understand my dilemma, Shihan?” Tetsuya leveled a heavy stare on his teacher, his voice still soft, yet commanding. “My clan head is by all accounts a child…a child. But he is OUR clan head. Should he find himself at a loss, we will be the ones to suffer. Do you understand now, Shihan? I can't…I won't allow for him to fall. I will have Yuki-sama protected…from anything…from anyone. Do you understand, Shihan?”
There was disbelief in Tetsuya's tone as he mentioned Yuki's young age and family status repeatedly. But the disbelief turned swiftly to strong pride as he pointed out that he regarded Yuki as their rightful head of the family though technically Akito still held the reins. Yes…Kazuma understood.
The warning was heard loudly and thoroughly.
`Nicely put, Tetsuya…I would expect no less from Seto's son and Master Haji's prized pupil.' Kazuma inclined his head to the younger Sohma, quietly stating, “I will handle Kyo and all related issues personally. Yuki…will have his opportunity with him then.”
“Arigato gozaimasu, Shihan…for your understanding.” Both men now stood to the side of the main floor, intent on seeing the vain hopes of their newly appointed clan head come to fruition or fail. Apprehension built up in their hearts.
Yuki felt none of that, only feeling certain of one thing as he took his stance opposite his opponent.
“Ano…please forgive me,” remarked Yuki quietly to his opponent.
“EH?” It was the first time Yuki spoke to him. The opponent's bewildered expression changed back to his smug look. “Pft, no worries…just don't move too much or else I'll hurt more of that pretty face. Don't want to damage too much of the goods…damn fine goods you have.” After which he threw Yuki a small smooch and a wink.
His eyes widened further than they had ever been. `My -PRETTY- face? My -DAMN FINE GOODS-? WHAT THE HELL?! And was that a KISS?' Whatever twinge of guilt he had for an instant turned to molten lava in his veins. He rested his weight on his good foot, lessening the pain from his injured ankle. Eyes narrowed to mere slivers and glittered with controlled rage, his teeth clenched as he bit out, “Actually, I need to be elsewhere, so I am sorry this must end so suddenly. A true shame I can't prolong it…”
“WHAT?!” Incredulously staring at the Sohma, the opponent remained focus on hearing the final whistle. And then it will be all over too soon. Only one shot remained for him to take…three tenths of a second at most. It was time he finally finished off the pretty face of this rich boy. And just maybe he can…nah, no time to think on that. Later, of course.
Not even three tenths of a second after the whistle blew. And it was finally over.
The roar of the arena was deafening. The shout-outs from the announcer were lost in the clamor. The stampede of the media was immediate. And one lone combatant stood calmly and walked away without a care to the ensuing chaos, mumbling a few choice words that he should have made his opponent suffer the pain of a thousand hot knives.
His limp was barely noticeable as his entourage of guards surrounded him faster than any man with a pen or camera could reach him.

Kazuma could understand why Master Haji had opted to remain in the staff-only designated areas. It was to avoid the pandemonium that was now raining down on him. It was difficult to maneuver his way through the throng as literally hundreds of flashbulbs flashed in his face. He could barely make out Tetsuya who was right in front of him…such was the spotlight on them. He could only hope that the staff the arena employed was doing a better job at protecting Yuki than they were of them.
Yuki couldn't disagree more. The horde of bodies pressing in on him from all sides was past overwhelming, the staff a poor help. He could only now be grateful from the bottom of his heart that the family had insisted on his entourage. Surrounding him from all sides like an impenetrable wall, his entourage moved alongside him at a snail's pace. His injury didn't help matters any, slowing him down as he trudged along.
How he missed the peace and harmony from his home. The breezy wind blowing through the veranda as he lied on the floor. The soft rustling of leaves being blown around by that same breeze. Gentle and soothing…
His impenetrable wall gave in a little from the right, his bodyguard nudging him enough for him to pin too much weight on his left foot. The pain immediately rendered him immobile, stilling him as he drew in a sharp gasp.
A flurry of actions took place all at once. He could only register the one…the sudden upsweep of his legs as one of his guards carried him and held him close, quickly moving with the flow of the other guards as they charged ahead as one unit. The oppressing crowd parted like melting butter when faced with such a force as ten bulky men dead set on protecting their prized possession.
`A stampede of elephants would be less discreet… But I'm not complaining.' Through the madness, Yuki very carefully hid further into his guard, intent on keeping his face away from the prying eyes and especially those large camera lenses. He refused to be fodder for their newspapers, broadcasts, podcasts…
“Just bear with it a few minutes more, sir. We're almost to the back of the arena. Then we'll get you to the locker rooms. We'll get your transport ready while you dress.” His escort turned to another and instructed, “Have someone contact Sohma Hatori-sensei so he can attend to Yuki-sama's injuries.”
“At once.”
Yuki felt immense relief as it all finally dawned on him…it was over. The endless preparations, the interviews, the plastic smiles he had to give, the tournament itself, and now the quickly thinning crowds…it was done. He was sore, he ached…but finally, it was all behind him…he could live with the pain. He sagged further into his escort, his eyes drifting shut to finally just rest. True rest…
His eyes snapped open. Rest was a luxury. He had other more important issues to address that will be far more difficult to resolve than his match. He almost wished his match dragged on a little more…
“We're here, sir. I'll set you down in here—”
“Perhaps we'll take you to another room, sir. One less crowded…”
Yuki whole-heartedly agreed as he gave a friendly wave. The members from Kazuma's dojo that were ousted from the floor earlier and were confined to the locker rooms were much too energized for his tolerance levels. As they continued down the corridor, he was further comforted to notice how less noisy it was becoming.
“Here we are, sir. There's only this one member of your family's dojo—”
“He knows who I am.”
Yuki turned wide eyes to the source once he was settled on an empty bench. “Haru? Why are you here alone?”
“Resting mainly.” Seeing Yuki's incredulous stare, Haru huffed as he shifted uncomfortably on his bench, shifting an ice bag on his groin. His mood was quite sour. “You do know that `behaving' takes a lot of work. The bas—”
“You know what…I don't want to know,” quickly interjected Yuki tiredly. Sighing heavily, he looked Haru over. “So…what's your damage level?”
“Pft…I'm in better shape than some others,” remarked Haru with a smirk. His smirk then turned to a true smile. “Saw you on the flat screen…I knew you could do it.”
(Sigh) “Yeah, well…it hurts to be a winner in this sport,” murmured the lithe youth as he nursed his swollen ankle. He vaguely wondered if it was as bad as or worse than the injury he had sustained when his mother had paid him a visit at his school. It didn't look as bad as the injury he had incurred back then from her `loving' attention.
“Sir, please forgive us!” declared one of Yuki's guards as he stood to attention. He swiftly turned to another associate, “Call those guys upstairs and demand what's the delay with the doctor!”
“The family doctor is coming down. Unfortunately, it's anarchy out there.” Kunimitsu walked past the entourage, holding up a bag for Yuki to take. “Here are your clothes. I gathered them when the dojo was sentenced to the locker room. I am SO PROUD OF YOU!”
Yuki took Kunimitsu's big hug in stride. “Thank you, Tomoda-sensei.”
The remaining entourage bowed low to Yuki. “Sir, we'll leave you here while we guard the main entrance to the locker rooms. We cannot risk the chance that anyone would slip by the security the arena provided.”
Yuki inclined his head in response. “Of course…thank you very much for your earlier assistance.”
“It was our honor to serve you, Yuki-sama.” They hurriedly left to lend a hand to the other security personnel…it really was chaotic at the entrance if they could hear the shouts this far into the rooms.
“Kazuma can't come back here until he's done with all the interviews, but trust me, he's VERY proud.” Kunimitsu kneeled down and quickly examined Yuki's injury with an expert eye. “You seem to endure the pain well…good indication that it's just a bad sprain. Let me track down some ice and a hot water bottle.”
Seeing the man drift out of the locker room as swiftly as he drifted in, Haru shook his head in amazement. “He may not look it, but Tomoda-sensei's a tough wall to go through when you're trying to kick asses.”
Yuki widely smiled, then grimaced. As enticing as it was to take it easy and wait for a pack of ice, he couldn't afford the luxury. He took his clothes from the bag and began to undress.
“Yuki…what's the rush? Relax.” Haru laid back on his bench, sighing heavily as he closed his eyes tiredly. The whishing of clothes being discarded and others being put on drew him from his rest. “Man, you dress quick—OH HEY, WHOA! WHERE ARE YOU GOING?! OW!”
Yuki limped over to Haru, the younger Sohma wincing as he held the ice pack closely to his injury. “Take it easy…don't just jerk up like that.”
“Me take it easy?! You sit down…you shouldn't be on that foot!” griped Haru.
Smiling ruefully, Yuki reached out to smooth the other's unruly hair consolingly. “My adrenaline rush hasn't worn off. My ankle may hurt, but it's still numb…weird that. Anyway, I need to go. Stay put.”
Haru grasped Yuki's wrist as he was trying to leave. “Where are you going? If it's to the estate, then wait `til Hatori-nii gets down here, and you can go home with him.”
“I'm not going home just yet…let go of my wrist,” remarked Yuki exasperated. Too many people today have sought to hold him back once his mind was made up.
“Then answer my question,” stubbornly insisted the Ox, his grip becoming like iron. “Nothing can be so important that you're bailing on getting medical attention.” He momentarily paused at that thought. “Okay, maybe you do want to avoid the medical attention, but hey…it's NECESSARY. Sprains are a serious business, too. You can't just shake it off.”
“Look, I'm not going far. I need to stop by somewhere…I'll call Hatori from there when I'm done and then he can cart me off to his clinic. Will you let go now?” Yuki persisted in demanding as his wrist protested the harsh pull-on-pull treatment.
“Stop where?” Critically eyeing his close relative, Haru lowly remarked, “Are you going to try to find Kyo?”
Yuki abruptly stopped pulling. “Haru…”
“Now REALLY is not a good time…try getting a hold of him tomorrow,” advised Haru as his grip tightened further. “We'll go together…he'll throw his fists at me first, then he'll calm down enough—”
“I'm not visiting Kyo…as if that were possible today…” trailed off Yuki he renewed his struggles.
Haru's grip suddenly became vise-like, rigid. The eyes of an infuriated Ox stared up at him. “Hell no…HELL NO! NOT A CHANCE IN ANY FREEZING VERSION OF WHATEVER HELL THERE IS AM I LETTING YOU GO TO AKITO!!!”
“Haru, stop it—”
“NO! AW, DAMN ALL THE LUCK WE GET IN THIS FREAKIN' LIFE OF OURS! DAMMIT!!! You are NOT leaving to see that…DAMN, there's not even a NAME for that kind of freak! NO, NO WAY…that's just NOT going to happen!”
“Haru-chan, you're hurting Yun-chan…let go of him!”
Haru was taken aback by not only Kagura's demanding voice but also by her unfriendly smack to the head. It was enough to loosen his hold, Yuki all but grateful for it as he slipped his hand away, massaging the redness from his fair skin. Haru's darkening mood didn't lift however as he scowled at her.
“What the HELL are you doin' here?! This is the MENS room if you can't read straight—”
“DAMMIT, CUT IT OUT!!!” as he rubbed another sore spot to the head.
“Only until you stop being a nasty grump to your elders, Black Haru-chan,” shot back Kagura without a care. Turning to Yuki, she widely smiled and quickly held him in a big hug. “You were MAGNIFICENT, Yun-chan! I made myself scarce in one of the small rooms in the back while I waited for you. I wanted to stick around by the floor, but it got too crowded out there! My butt was actually pinched by some lame-ass bas—”
“Do you have any idea what he's about to do?!” cried out the youngest teen who was now struggling to stand and hopefully tower over the other two in the room. His dominating height wasn't as dominating as he hunched over pitifully, the ice bag still held to his groin.
“Um…no.” Her gentle eyes turned away from the pathetic Ox, leveling their expectant stare to the other. Yuki didn't seem comfortable with the shift in attention. She worriedly asked, “Yun-chan…is everything okay? You really should sit down and get your foot looked after—”
“NO. I'm leaving now.” If Kagura put it to her mind, she would be capable of succeeding where Haru had failed. He needed to leave. “I'll call Hatori in a little bit from where I am.”
She was quick to stop his flight before it started as she stood directly in his path. “Haru-chan's worried and rightfully so. You should stay put—”
“Who the hell's worried?!” angrily shouted Haru. “Damn IDIOT is actually taking off to SEE THAT TYRANT! After all that's happened…ARGH! When will it become OBVIOUS to your THICK SKULL that that BITCH doesn't deserve—”
The ranting of the Ox stopped short when he was suddenly faced with a clenched fist right at the tip of his nose. The arm it was attached to shuddered with the tight restraint the owner held. It was all just so impulsive…his angry words…the insults…not that he was sorry. But he did know when not to push Yuki too far. Like now.
“I'm leaving…without your `blessing',” darkly remarked Yuki with bitter sarcasm. He brought his arm back down, his form still stiff. Turning to Kagura, he quietly stated, “Please move. I need to see Akito.”
It was there again…that stare she hated…the stare of the Nezumi when reality haunted him into despair. Yet, he was there, dead set on facing it and just maybe…maybe changing it. He just couldn't let go of his hopes…no matter how obscenely futile it was to hope.
She sighed heavily as she shook her head. She calmly walked to his side, his eyes warily seeing her abruptly stop next to him. She then unexpectedly swung his left arm over her shoulder, her right arm around his waist holding him firmly to her side. “I'm very glad that you're not a heavy guy, Yun-chan. We can't move fast if you were.”
His large eyes blinked repeatedly at the sudden turn of events. Yuki had to ask, “Kagura…why—?”
“Is this important to you, Yun-chan? Yes or no?” demanded to know the very serious Boar.
His reply was quick. “Yes.”
“Then let's get going…time is a precious commodity in this world, you know,” she casually commented as she began leading them out the room. She shouted over her shoulder, “Haru-chan, be sure to tell Hatori-chan to expect our call real soon!”
Haru's response was furious, “Kagura-nee, don't you DARE help him to see that—”
“Don't bother finishing that remark, Haru-chan. You'll only make Yun-chan feel guilty later for having beaten your ass to a bloody corpse.” Pausing in her brisk strides to the doorway, she looked over shoulder and quietly continued, “This isn't about anyone else but about Yun-chan…I thought of all people, you'd understand that by now, Haru-chan. Yun-chan needs us…and I won't turn my back on him.”
The words were the slap she couldn't give him. And it stunned the Ox into silence as the other two Jyuunishi slowly but steadily began their trek out of the private rooms.
“That was harsh, Kagura,” murmured Yuki as he looked back with concern to the room Haru was in.
Grasping his left hand securely over her left shoulder, she responded with a tired sigh, “It was the truth…sometimes it's just not gentle.”
After several heartbeats and shuffling feet, he softly whispered, “Thank you…even though you don't agree with me.”
She smiled wryly. “No, but…I believe in you. Whatever and however and even why…I trust you with it all. And I trust you with Kyo-kun. Do you understand, Yun-chan?”
Understanding was not believing, not for him at the moment. Despite all that had happened today and that she certainly knew about with great detail, she still trusts him with what he knew she considers sacred…Kyo's well-being.
His dejection cleared as he raised his head up proudly. He would take care to never lose her confidence in him. “I won't betray your trust, Kagura…promise.”
She smiled at his determined demeanor. Truly, nothing could defeat the Nezumi when he made his mind up…
Yet, what was to unfold later only brought to the forefront her earlier words…truth is not always gentle. And neither is reality.
Connecting the dots (03-23-09):
Well, isn't this is a mess? How will the cornered Nezumi make it out this time? Rats are resourceful when they need to be…
Okay, I've obviously have been dragging this event through the gutters for a while but it's for good reason! How's the mounting tension keeping you guys? Hopefully you're still hanging by your nails to see what's next, but that's my wishful thinking…
The scenes with Kazuma and Tetsuya with Yuki were the toughest in this segment. The volatile climate of their emotions was only fueled by the tournament coming to an official end. I really wanted it to be kept true to how each would react given the circumstances.
Tetsuya's character has evolved over the storyline and I'm immensely pleased with how I've woven him into their family problems. Kazuma, having been in this tight-knit circle for so long, had unknowingly drawn the line with his relationship with Yuki, his paternal status with Kyo his utmost priority. Given the hardships Kyo is facing, can anyone find fault in Kazuma's feelings? I had hoped to convey that much.
I'm trying to keep ahead of these chapters I release so please forgive me if I delay a bit in releasing the new material. I have to be absolutely sure that once I release a chapter, I won't go back to it for anything other than grammar/spelling corrections and the occasional honorific/cultural fixes. So far, I'm sticking to this rule of mine, and I'm very happy with the results…a good, solid storyline.
Musical lyrics above are still from the old Spanish song from the previous chapter. I think it went well with this chapter's mood. Bleak…despair…Yuki was definitely feeling it here. But he's very determined to go against it. Musical lyrics above are still from the old Spanish song from the previous chapter. I think it went well with this chapter's mood. Bleak…despair…Yuki was definitely feeling it here. But he's very determined to go against it.  I also listened to "Wild World" by Cat Stevens (also performed recently by Mr. Big)...the title of the chapter was somewhat inspired by the song.  It's basically a song warning a loved one of how cruel life can be when they're all on their own.  That's so true with what Yuki and Kyo are both facing at this point.  How sad..
Thanks to all as always for such wonderful support! To those that read and to those that have me on a fave/alert list and especially to those who review…MANY thanks and hugs from here to you! Take extra care of yourselves!!! `Til next time!