Fruits Basket Fan Fiction ❯ Embers of Summer's Glory = Prelude to a Storm ( Chapter 58 )

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

DISCLAIMER: I own the storyline, OCs, plotline, the muses inspiring the fic…just not the main characters or Fruits Basket. That’s right!
 
 
Embers of Summer’s Glory
Chapter 58: Prelude to a Storm
 
 
“Give me another one, Momiji…”
 
“Hmmm…maybe I should have gone with Ritsu-nii and Kagura-nee earlier.”
 
“I told you to.”
 
Another, Momiji…”
 
“But it’s my favorite flavor, Yuki!”
 
“Momiji…just give it to him.”
 
“But Harii!”
 
“Momiji…”
 
“Okay…here, Yuki. At least give it a lick before—”
 
(WHACK!)
 
“OUCH! That hit my NOSE! My beautiful, regal nose…”
 
“Good aim, Yuki.”
 
Yuki paid no heed to Haru’s remark as he continued to seethe on his side of the family car, both legs and arms crossed firmly as if he were restraining himself from lunging at the elder sibling… which he was. He had been through too much in just one morning and having to ride with his brother on top of that was intolerable, especially when he was well beyond frustrated with him. His thoughts kept going back to earlier when Akito had been calmly having her breakfast, ignoring his pleas to be literally rescued from the crazed fashion designer…
 
`ARGH!!! This is just not FAIR!!!!!!’ He immediately stuck out his hand to Momiji, a heavy sigh from the Usagi indicating his reluctance to give up another of his favored sweets. Yuki however felt no consideration to the reluctant teen…the only thing that didn’t sit well with him was that they were all riding in this conspicuous limousine and his brother had made certain to sit well beyond his arm’s reach. `GRRRR…I get to sit by myself at the rear end of this damn car and he gets to sit off to the side on the other side of Hatori—DAMN SNAKE, using Hatori as his shield!!!’
 
Not feeling his weapon in his hand, Yuki turned to level a hard stare on Momiji, wordlessly conveying his demand to be met NOW. And so the younger Sohma did, grumbling lowly that grape was a hard flavor to find.
 
(WHACK!)
 
Grasping his face, Ayame tearfully cried out, “ITAI! THAT NEARLY POKED MY EYE OUT! STOP HIM, PLEASE, TORI-SAN! MY EYES BEG FOR MERCY—THEY’RE MY PRIZED TOOLS IN MY PROFESSION!”
 
`To HELL with MERCY!’ Unmoved, Yuki bit out angrily, “BAKA!!! No, not just a BAKA, an IDIOT the size of the SUUUNNNN!!!!!!!!!”
 
“Man, is he pissed,” lowly commented Haru as he sifted through a magazine article regarding the tournament. Sitting across from the `danger zone’ as he dubbed it, he looked to see a sulking Momiji next to him. “Oi, don’t get so down…I’ll get you some more of those chupas that you like so much, all right? (Whispers softly) Just keep giving them to Yuki…they’re more entertaining anyway when they’re being chucked at Mach 5 speed.”
 
Momiji leveled a withered stare to his companion, clearly not amused that his sweets were being pilfered for the sole purpose of hurting another. “I’d rather keep them—”
 
“Not today apparently…hand over another one,” cut in Haru as he gestured over to Yuki’s awaiting hand.
 
Deed done and another commenced.
 
(WHACK!)
 
“Damn.” He was infuriated that at that moment the driver of the elongated vehicle decided to make a hard turn, causing his aim to waver enough and miss Ayame, much to the Snake’s relief. Oh how he wished he could just get up and pound his brother into oblivion…and then slap him back to consciousness only to pound him some more. Incredibly tempting…to indulge his wish for just a mere minute or two…possibly an hour…
 
`Oh, but nooo, my damn conscience just has to butt in, doesn’t it? That and Hatori…giving me that LOOK—make Nii-san suffer, but not damage him. But…the IDIOT deserves it!!!!!!!!’
 
“Yes he does, but careful around the eyes, Yuki,” remarked Hatori lowly as he kept his eyes shut to distance himself of the events (and noise) surrounding him. His time at home with Haru and Momiji had given him sufficient practice to accomplish this.
 
Aghast of basically being sold out, Ayame cried out, “You read his thoughts, Tori-san, and you didn’t even tell him to STOP? Don’t you LOVE ME?”
 
“Fine…” Sighing heavily, Hatori looked to the seething teen whose defiant stare was all but daring him to calm down. But what caught his attention was something altogether different. “Yuki…how do you feel?”
 
“Tch, how do I feel?” retorted Yuki hotly. “Besides wanting to commit MURDER and—”
 
His rant was cut off as he saw Hatori carefully kneel before him and swiftly brought a handkerchief to his face. Needless to say Yuki was perplexed. “Ah…Hatori…what’s this—”
 
“Your nose…” The doctor shook his head as he continued, “If you were feeling ill, you should know better than to stress yourself unnecessarily.”
 
“I’m NOT ill…it’s just a runny nose,” mumbled Yuki as he gently blew his nose, sniffling a bit before dabbing his nose once more. It really had been just a runny nose and a headache an hour ago…yet his stress level was rather high, he admitted that. He glared once more to his brother. “Stress? That…MAN is doing this to me!”
 
“Mou, I worked so hard on your outfit, too…Akito even liked it well enough,” commented Ayame as he began to sulk for the umpteenth time for not receiving odes of thanks from his brother. “Really, just because the outfit remotely resembles my own style doesn’t mean—”
 
“Here we go again,” grumbled Momiji as he readied his stash of sweets once more. Hadn’t they gone through this cycle when they got into the car and Ayame kept spouting details about Yuki’s new outfit?
 
`It’s not that bad looking…pretty toned down from Aya-nii’s usual flair for clothing. It’s actually rather nice.’ Wisely deciding to keep his opinion to himself, Haru went over to Yuki’s side and plopped down next to him as Hatori continued to visually check the Nezumi over.
 
`—A calf-length, deep blue-violet outer silk jacket with the usual mandarin collar that’ll basically billow behind Yuki as he walks but not overly so with long sleeves that were bell-shaped at the wrists, ending with hand-sewn stitching resembling pale violet roses. The usual hand-stitched emblem of the family’s crest was sewn over his left breast, also colored a light violet to contrast with the dark fabric. All this paired with a black pair of slacks and shoes, NOT slippers, much to this fashionable designer’s protests.—’ Hatori mentally recited Ayame’s long-winded and rather detailed monologue when the excited tailor had called him earlier to report the latest news involving his brother…and also to plead for a ride to the tournament. It was the doctor’s brilliant idea to use the family’s personal limousine to transport them all if only to have room to himself without having to hear their bickering right in his ear.
 
`Must have been the lack of rest this week…I was obviously not in my right mind to suggest we all ride together.’ Mentally cursing his lack of sense when he most needed it, Hatori continued to take Yuki’s blood pressure. `Elevated…no surprise.’
 
“Well, other than an elevated heart beat, which may explain your flushed skin, and your congestion, you’re okay for now.” Heaving a heavy sigh, he sat back next to Ayame and looked to Yuki with a knowing stare. “I don’t have to remind you what you know very well…do I?”
 
Fisting the handkerchief in his hand, Yuki turned his hardened gaze elsewhere, wishing to ignore the doctor’s unspoken warning in his remark and in his stare. However, wishing is never getting, so he bit back his retort and settled for glaring at his reflection in the darkened window, opting to let his silence speak for him.
 
Ayame had looked on with slight apprehension as his friend carefully looked over Yuki, keeping quiet after a bit so that he didn’t distract Hatori from doing what he did best. Yet when the doctor merely gave the youth a verbal warning, he was mildly alarmed. For good reason…illnesses hardly struck his strong immune system and if they did, it wasn’t for long, but his younger brother’s constant infirmities could give even the solemn-faced doctor a true scare…that was a feat to acknowledge.
 
“Is Yuki fine then, Tori-san? Are you sure? Maybe you should take his temperature with a thermometer or even give him a shot.” Receiving only a wordless glare from his friend, he quickly added, “Oh, come now, Tori-san! He’s so stubborn when it comes to duty and honor and the like even when he should be resting, but then that’s to be expected from my youngest sibling—always determined to achieve greatness, much like his devoted and accomplished elder brother—”
 
“Nii-san!” Yuki’s head was pounding by now from the incessant chatter and from the overbearing presence his brother exuded. It was serious enough to roughly reprimand Ayame, but when he turned to his brother, he hesitated from doing so. His brother was rambling all right, but those golden-green eyes held worry aside from their usual flamboyance.
 
“Ayame, your brother will be fine,” remarked Hatori calmly, giving another knowing stare to the younger sibling. “He knows how to look after himself. And I’ll be there to remind him as well.”
 
“Certain, Tori-san?” persisted Ayame worriedly.
 
“M-hm.”
 
Yuki had shrunk back into his seat as he watched the passing scenery by his window, barely noticing the incoming clouds across the bright blue sky. As the two elder Sohmas conversed, he deftly avoided direct eye contact with Hatori when he glanced their way. He did have to give the doctor a pat on the back, though. One, Hatori didn’t insist on anything other than warning him to be careful. Two, the wise doctor calmed the rising worries of an obsessed sibling with the assurance that only he could give.
 
`Hatori’s gift to handle it all with just a few words…and implied commands. Hn, Akito is much like him in that regard.’ Taking in a much-needed deep breath, Yuki let out a long sigh that essentially drew out his pent up frustration and anger from before. Feeling now rather exhausted, he didn’t bother to care about appearances as he tiredly leaned his head against Haru’s shoulder.
 
“I’ll be good, Nii-san…I won’t push myself today,” quietly replied Yuki, resigned to accept the reality of being a brother to one Sohma Ayame and all the `joy’ that came with it…overbearing and overall nuttiness included. Seeing his brother’s clouded countenance lighten up dramatically upon hearing his assurances, he came to a conclusion. `A baka to the core, but Nii-san makes more sense when he’s happiest. Why change him?’
 
Grinning widely, Haru couldn’t help but add, “Heh, I’ll remember you said that.”
 
“Pft, don’t be so smug, Haru.” Lifting his head, Yuki leveled a good glare as he went on, “You better not throw anymore matches.”
 
“They were forfeits,” corrected Haru calmly.
 
“Whatever! You can’t just `not fight’ because you don’t like your opponents!” admonished Yuki, recalling the near defeat of the team because his cousin just outright refused to fight his opponents earlier in the competition.
 
“But they’re weak…and BORING. It’d be too one-sided, and I like to have my fun free of guilt,” replied Haru shamelessly as he sought to bring the Nezumi closer to him once more, resulting with a hand pushing his face away.
 
Stopping Haru’s advances, Yuki scolded the Ox once more. “Shihan’s team was almost ELIMINATED from the competition because of it, Haru! What did I tell you about burdening Shihan?”
 
Sitting back with a huff, Haru looked to the side and grumbled lowly, “To not be a burden…”
 
Massaging his temples, Yuki let it go at that, knowing that his warning was heard loud and clear this time…perhaps. It was enough to hope that Haru would listen this time around…Yuki just didn’t have the will to persist any longer in arguing about anything.
 
Feeling a tight, sore throat, likely from all his yelling from earlier, he asked, “Momiji, can I have a chupa? Whatever flavor…”
 
Momiji hesitated momentarily before realizing that Yuki was indeed going to enjoy the treat instead of using it as a weapon. The Usagi happily handed it over. “Plum flavoring is real good! Try it!”
 
“Yuki, that’s hardly a suitable analgesic for the sore throat,” remarked Hatori dryly while critically eyeing the candy.
 
Yuki closed his eyes and chose to ignore the last comment, feeling soothed with the sudden silence in the car. The very large, elongated, bombastic, eye-popping stretch-limousine that was fit to catch any and all eyes man possessed. It was a car he loathed to look at, let alone ride in.
 
“Why did we have to use this car? A charter bus would be less conspicuous than this boat,” remarked Yuki with disdain.
 
Hatori nonchalantly shrugged off the comment. “Convenience…we already have it parked in a garage at the estate and the chauffeur was more than excited to escort you anywhere.”
 
Me? That’s funny. I hardly know the man.” Loving the silence but wary as to why Ayame was quiet for so long, Yuki caught the quick fingering of his brother’s fingers on his cell phone. `He looks so…committed. I’m not even going to ask, so long as he’s quiet.’
 
Momiji was stumped momentarily before laughing heartily. “Yuki, EVERYONE knows who YOU are by now or haven’t you noticed?”
 
“He has been confined from the family and public for a while, Momiji,” pointed out Hatori as his eyes began to shift uncomfortably elsewhere. The topic was one he had wanted to avoid discussing, but it seemed a moot point now considering they were about to arrive at the arena and meet the public.
 
Looking between the two Jyuunishi, Yuki felt dread creeping up his spine as he forced the question that needed an answer. “Notice what?”
 
“Hehe, you’re not going to like it,” warned Haru with a widening grin.
 
Rubbing his face hard, Yuki deeply breathed in and bit out, “It can’t possibly be worse than wearing this getup and looking like my brother.”
 
“How rude!” piped in Ayame. “I’ll have you know my `getup’ is above and beyond normal standards—”
 
“Ayame…enough.” Deeply sighing, Hatori looked to Yuki’s apprehensive face and dealt the blow he kept from him while the youth was nursing Akito back to health this past week. “Your…ascension to your new position was more than well-received. The family saw fit to…flaunt their greatest asset in all the ways they could. Both inside the family…and outside.”
 
“How do you mean `outside’? No one else outside the family would care what I do,” remarked the Nezumi logically. Other than back at his old school and few instances outside of it, not counting his volunteer work at the dojo, he hardly interacted with the general public. It’s how he was raised, and being older now, he didn’t see the need nor did he harbor any desire to change that aspect of his life, content to live his life free of loud, congested gatherings. Today’s events were sadly the exception—thankfully a temporary exception.
 
Crunching on his candy, Momiji chimed in, “Not anymore. The family played up your new position A LOT. Lots of people want to meet you now…the `outside’ family, the media, my father’s business partners overseas, those at the martial arts tournament—”
 
“Momiji.” Taking in Yuki’s horror-stricken face upon listening to the Usagi, Hatori decided to best lay it all out succinctly and to the point. “Yuki, the family has long waited for this moment. Akito had been reclusive by choice, and the family was more than thrilled that they could downplay her existence—Akito was very young and a female when her father passed away too soon and left her to lead as the family’s head. (Pause) This is not the case with you…and they’ll have you properly honored in private as well as in public, which unfortunately means being the center of attention for the public to notice.”
 
`Yuki is their shining pride and joy—they’ll show him off like there’s no tomorrow. I’m pretty sure that’s what Hatori’s bottom line is.’ Nudging the Nezumi back from the stupor he seemed to be in, Haru remarked, “Look, it’s just a bunch of idiots with cameras running around at the arena. Let them take their pics and be done with it. You can’t do anything about it.”
 
Yuki rounded on his friend with a glare that rivaled Akito’s. “I’m NO ONE’S trophy, Haru—NO ONE’S.”
 
“But Haru’s right, Yuki.” Ignoring the glare aimed his way, Hatori briskly continued, “There’s no way to stop the family from flaunting you or your new position however they see fit. It’s better to cope with it until you find your own way to deal with them behind closed doors.”
 
Narrowing his gaze, Yuki tersely replied, “I’ll `deal with them’ NOW. Nii-san…”
 
Surprised that he was called on but slightly relieved that for once he wasn’t the cause of his brother’s displeasure, Ayame stopped texting to Mine about Yuki’s outfit. “Yes?”
 
“Give me your cell phone.” The item was quickly handed over and Yuki dialed a number he knew by memory. A ringtone later and the other end picked up. “Kureno…yes, I’m with Nii-san. (Pause) I need you to do something for me. I’m almost to the rear entrance of the arena…”
 
—ooo—
 
Kureno heaved a heavy sigh as he looked out over the eager gathering. Looking to his watch, it was only a matter of minutes before the arrival of a certain vehicle. It seemed the masses were pulsing with this very expectation, and even though it was the back entrance and space was limited, they all made each inch count. A fair amount of shuffling and shoving abounded amongst the journalists and their photographers.
 
`Kazuma-san should already be getting his team ready. I had hoped not to burden him anymore than I had to today, but this…zoo is too out of hand. I’ll need Haru—’
 
“Sohma-san! Any words for the press corps? Any at all?!”
 
“Sir, is there any truth to the rumors on the current clan head’s health before the reins were passed on to the heir?”
 
“What are the immediate plans from the new clan head for the family’s businesses?”
 
“What sort of special announcement will be made today at the tournament regarding the clan head—”
 
A whisper in his ear from one of the family’s aides let him know that the arrangements were finalized, only waiting for the vehicle to arrive. Giving a nod in acknowledgement, Kureno continued to ignore the babble from the media, having followed Akito’s orders to the letter. And true enough, the end result was what she had stated would happen…the media grew tired of his indifference and endless silence and let him be.
 
`Akito…she certainly surprised all of us when she arrived all on her own without an escort, Master Haji especially. He had to personally apologize to a politician that his suite was being revoked, though I’ve never seen Akito so pleased as she waved the man off with a wide smile…then promptly ordered us to -fumigate- the room. The cleaning crew did have a chore by cleaning the suite inside out in record time.’
 
Immersed in his thoughts as he was had all but effectively blocked out the rising commotion as word spread that a limousine was spotted in the incoming traffic. He was outwardly calm, but his nerves were quite rattled, both from Akito’s very close presence at the tournament as well as what’s to transpire at the event…having that morning’s discussion with Kazuma so close to his forethoughts was proving to be more troubling than he thought it would be.
 
`Really…this sort of handling of the private affairs should not be handled so abruptly, let alone with the public. Was it so necessary to move this part of Akito’s plans forward so soon?’
 
“THAT’S THE CAR!!! GET CLOSER!!”
 
It was his cue. Kureno quickly took action, gesturing to a few aides to take their positions, the others already in position by the curb. The mob was thick but was swiftly spread apart by very burly gentlemen who all had mysteriously well designed suits, their kerchiefs and ties a dark blue-violet color. The way to the entrance was open and not a moment too soon as Yuki’s transport pulled up.
 
“SOHMA-SAMA!!!”
 
“A BRIEF WORD, SIR!”
 
“WILL YOU BE A JUDGE AT THE FINALS OF THE TOURNAMENT?”
 
“WILL YOU BE PRESENTING THE TROPHY?”
 
“WHAT SPEECH DO YOU HAVE PLANNED FOR THE BIG ANNOUNCEMENT?”
 
The racket was loud and the journalists hounded the closed door, spouting questions left and right, flashes of pictures at a constant rhythm now. It was all a bit overwhelming for one youth.
 
“I’m not going out there.”
 
Hatori sighed, feeling the years of his adulthood weighing down him rather heavily at the moment. For the sixth time, he remarked, “Yuki, you have to. The arrangements you made are well in place—”
 
“I want to go home.”
 
The car was eerily silent upon the quiet statement made by the Nezumi. What could they say? Hell, they were bent on turning back themselves—the crowd was unbelievable…and it was the back way in!
 
Yuki sighed in response to the silence, words not needing to be said. `Somehow just saying what I said didn’t give me any relief. How disappointing.’
 
“Hatori…I’m ready to go in.” He snorted at that…who can be ready to face this hysteria over someone like him? `Some people just have no life…’
 
“All right…everyone, out. Ayame, stay close to your brother. Haru, remember to stay just ahead of Yuki. Momiji, stick to Yuki’s other side. I’ll be behind you, so keep your pace brisk but don’t run. Look straight ahead and whatever happens, do NOT stop.”
 
Quickly they all filed out upon seeing the clearing path to the entrance. The commotion was near unbearable but what astounded many was the number of young men that filed out of the vehicle. Who was Sohma Yuki?!
 
And to their detriment, the last stage of Yuki’s arrangements took place. The burly gentlemen not only kept the mob at bay, but also effectively rendered any good pictures useless. The large foil fans they suddenly spread out completely reflected the light of the bulbs, ruining many a shot. Many of the journalists were blinded and the momentary pause in the frenzy was enough to allow for the entourage to make their way to the door quickly and without further incident.
 
Kureno ushered them in, including the burly gentlemen that joined the small group. “Yuki, I’m glad the plan went as smoothly as it did. Are you well? Do you require any refreshments?”
 
`Always quick to serve Yuki’s needs first. Akito has him trained well.’ Haru cleared his voice and announced, “Well, time for me to fly, if my services aren’t needed anymore…”
 
“No…thank you, Haru.” Giving him a grateful pat on the back, Yuki waved him off as the Ox and his private escorts went off to search for his team. Turning back to his group, he was taken aback at the sheer number of his personal escorts surrounding him. “Kureno…how many were assigned to me?”
 
Before a fidgeting Bird could reply, Ayame happily cut in, “Mon frère, tsk! I had already told you earlier. So forgetful…can’t you tell by the color of their ties and kerchiefs? And I went through all that trouble to be sure they matched the color of your outfit.”
 
Yuki dreaded to do the math. But his eyes took in the numbers anyway and his mind was quick to supply the answer. Annoyance clearly in his eyes, he bit out, “Kureno…why TEN? Isn’t that a bit much?”
 
“Yuki, I was the one that told Kureno the amount.” Shrugging off the Rat’s glare once more, Hatori continued, “It makes sense…the more bodies between you and the press corps, the better. Seven will be handling crowd control around you and will make sure that any picture taken is unusable while the other three will see to your `protection’ amidst the crowds down in the arena floor.”
 
Heaving a sigh, Yuki nodded, agreeing that it was a sensible arrangement. Quietly mumbling an apology to Kureno, he inwardly chastised himself for having such a short fuse as of late. Lack of rest, constant worry, arguing with his demented brother, dodging the manic frenzy of the media—it had taken their toll on what little energy he managed to drum up when he got up this morning. And sadly, there will be very little respite in the near future…his day was just beginning.
 
The Nezumi’s exhaustion was obvious to Kureno, and he sincerely wished to alleviate if only a little the tension surrounding the young heir. And he would see that it be done…just not at the moment. “Yuki, I made arrangements for just a small interview to be done right over there by the wall. The journalists are well reputed and are strictly focused on the tournament. They will only ask questions related to today’s events, nothing else. They have also agreed to forgo taking any pictures during the interview.”
 
Saying `no’ was highly tempting and on the tip of his tongue. But Yuki’s mind ruled, and for the first time that morning, logic rang clear in his mind. `A little concession to the masses won’t hurt, if only to be polite. I can do polite…for a while.’
 
Seeing Yuki nod affirmatively released the knot of tension in Kureno’s shoulders. And he felt even greater relief when a pleasant smile appeared on Yuki’s face as he strode over to the awaiting press, the Nezumi’s shoulders held proudly as he greeted the small crowd with an air of authority.
 
“Looks like his time with the student council is paying off,” remarked Momiji as he noted the confidence in the Nezumi’s demeanor.
 
Ayame sniffled slightly as he leaned into his companion. “Look, Tori-san…my precious little brother is becoming such a fine young man! See how those reporters are just kowtowing to his regal presence—only Yuki can derive that reaction from them! He and I are so alike after all!”
 
Hatori surprisingly found that he couldn’t deny that rather astute observation. The few that were interviewing the youth were clearly taken aback at his clear, mature responses to their intuitive questions relating to the teams and the tournament in general. When those questions came up that were clearly wanting to have his opinion on who is the better team, Yuki replied with ease on how they all were better than the average human already, so they were all equally good in his opinion.
 
“Besides…if that weren’t said, I’m sure that I would be one very lonely guy in a sea of fists and kicks.” Yuki’s light-hearted remark was greeted warmly by the press. Diplomatic, honest, and a sense of humor…rarities that the press was all too happy to note in their interview, no doubt.
 
Clearly they were eager to continue with the interview, but Kureno knew it was time to wrap it up. But first, “Hatori-niisan, Ayame-niisan…your suite is prepared right across from Akito. I’m sorry for the last minute arrangement—”
 
“Pish, you’ve done more than enough!” exclaimed Ayame while giving the astonished Bird a mighty embrace to crack a few ribs.
 
“Ayame, YOU’VE done TOO much.” Grabbing the Snake by the arm and gesturing to Momiji to follow, Hatori briefly gave instructions as he was walking off, “Be sure that Yuki comes up soon to the suite.”
 
The entourage of three Jyuunishi and their escorts were lost amidst the growing crowd on the floor. Kureno swiftly cut in on the enthusiastic questioning, “Please forgive my intrusion, but our time is limited today. We hope you enjoy the rest of the tournament, gentlemen.”
 
Yuki departed with a pleasant smile and a respectful nod of the head to the reporters, pleased that he did well and was even more pleased that no photos were taken. He didn’t think his eyes could withstand more blinding flashes of light.
 
(Snap—FLASH)
 
He stumbled momentarily when such a telltale flash came upon him suddenly. He felt a few of his escorts surround him, his eyes furiously blinking away to recuperate their vision. He did however hear a bit of commotion from the source of the flash.
 
“Hey, it’s fine, trust me! Get your hands off her camera!”
 
“Sumimasen! I hadn’t meant to be rude or disrespectful or act of out of my place—”
 
“Do you even know who I am, IDIOTS?!”
 
Yuki knew the tone of that angry voice. And the other gentler, more apologetic tone could only belong to…”Tohru-san…”
 
Tohru immediately stood to attention, as did the others. She quickly ran to him and before reaching him (his entourage did form a rather effective cage around the Nezumi), bowed lowly to the waist. “Sumimasen gozaimasu, Yuki-kun! I was just…so happy to see you. You looked so amazing—I mean, I had wanted to take your picture today if you were coming, and then I saw you…”
 
Kureno was busily trying to sort the mess of the feuding entourages, each set on protecting their charges from the other bodyguards. `Too many and not enough time to get them all acquainted with one another.’ “Everyone, please, it’s all right. Stand down. Yuki, Kagura-san…Honda-san…my apologies. It’s my fault for the lack of organization here.”
 
Tohru immediately denied it and bowed repeatedly to Kureno, “No, not at all, it was my negligence for not being proper and asking to take Yuki-kun’s picture!”
 
“I hardly have the experience to handle these arrangements adequately, so please feel free to rest the blame on me,” retorted Kureno just as animatedly.
 
While the two’s behavior baffled the escorts on either side, the repeated apologies and gestures were a welcomed normalcy to the tired teen. Chuckling lightly, he let them continue on in their small world of apologies and promises of doing better. Giving his closest escorts quiet orders to give him privacy to speak with his relative, he turned to Kagura with a tired sigh.
 
“Long week?” Kagura asked knowingly.
 
He stretched tense limbs, finally feeling their blood circulate to the tips of his toes and fingers. Rubbing his arms upon finally feeling the chill of the air-conditioned building, he nodded in response to her query. “You’re probably more tired than I am, though.”
 
“Heh, a bit. But I think you’ve done the hardest work there is…” Looking him over, she had to agree with Tohru…Yuki did look radiant. Fatigued clearly, but his overall appearance exuded a serenity amidst the chaotic storm that was all around him. And it had very little to do with his stunning outfit.
 
`Ayame-chan really outdid himself with this outfit. Yun-chan now looks so much like him….just less extravagant.’ Experience told her to keep those thoughts to herself, but she did make her other observation vocal. “You look great, Yun-chan…the smile suits you. Very content.”
 
Shocked to hear that, Yuki raised his hand to his face, feeling that indeed there was a small smile there. Looking over to Tohru, he fondly remarked, “Hn, I suppose no matter how hard times may be, there’s always something to smile about.”
 
She reached out to her younger relative, giving him an affectionate squeeze to the arm. How often had he offered her his support when she needed it the most? “Has it been hard being with Akito all this time?”
 
He shook his head and patted her hand on his arm gently in reassurance. “It’s not that. I mean, it was hard looking after her, but I had wanted to do it. And she’s doing much better now—after a bad week with the flu, she was all set to come today since before I had breakfast! Heh, she’s one surprise after another…”
 
“Well, that’s no shock…Akito does excel in surprising us, though it must be said that her near-miraculous swift recovery is all because she had you all to herself the whole time,” she pointed out.
 
Widely grinning, he scoffed, “Heh, if that were true, I would be sure to stock up on caffeinated tablets or whatever. Late nights with her are hard on the sleep.”
 
His grin faded and his eyes distantly stared at something only he saw, her debilitated form coughing heavily as her lungs struggled to pull in air over her phlegm. He sitting next to her as he feebly tried to bring down her fever with a cold compress… It was a scene that repeated itself through his mind. And it only drove a hard fact straight into his heart…
 
He wasn’t blind…she was weaker. She was weaker now than before the flu…she was weaker on Obon than when she first introduced him to the Board of Elders…she was weaker on Graduation than when she struck his mother hard across a classroom. She was deteriorating with every beat of her weak heart, trapped in a frail body.
 
And all he was capable of doing for her was to stand by her through it all.
 
Looking off to the side, then up to the area over his shoulder where he imagined the executive suites to be, he mused that she was probably there demanding, never asking, that she be left alone. Coddling her while she was lucid always infuriated her. Turning back around to look down to his hands, noting how they always seemed to busy themselves with twiddling fingers, he softly continued, “But…if it were true…that would be a true miracle. A miracle I would never mind making happen as often as needed.”
 
There…Kagura caught the true reason behind his serenity. Amidst times of distress were the times that Yuki shined most, to not buckle under the weight of it all…to never let it overcome his hope. True it wasn’t so years ago when he was confined to the estate and/or Akito broke off his contact with the very limited world that surrounded him, but he built himself to be that much stronger when he left the estate. He became even more driven to do so when Tohru joined their family. Kagura was thankful to Tohru since she did so much for the shy youth that was wary of the world around him. His growth into his true role of the Nezumi shining above adversities that came his way was a beautiful thing for the Boar’s eyes to observe over the years.
 
Yet, what hope does he have to hold onto when faced with Akito’s inevitable demise? It was hard enough for her to see Akito’s health weakening as time quickly passed, but she knew that for Yuki, it had to be a struggle to see that harsh reality of the curse and not have a hope to look forward to. She knew it to be so because of the haunted stares he sometimes carried with him as he stared off at some wall while at the dojo working. Those stares were the mirror image of those that Akito held at times when she didn’t think the Boar was carefully observing her while having tea together. So what can the Nezumi of the Jyuunishi do but to hold a smile that was hopeful, serene amidst the sea of inevitability?
 
`What else can Yun-chan do but to lie to himself that there isn’t an end to the hope? Hope is not reality, Yun-chan…you can only hope for so much before it becomes a lie to yourself…’ Sighing heavily as she mused on this very serious but off-limits issue, she warmly embraced her companion, her mind pitying him but her heart driven to support him despite its futility. “Well, if you’re so set on giving up your precious sleep for her when the need arises, then I’d better do my part and provide assistance! Good company goes a long way to help a person recover faster, right? So, when you’re done checking on her, I’ll go up there after you leave. I’ll give her my best `companion’ presence while you’re busy down here.”
 
Wide eyes conveyed disbelief to what his ears heard. Someone actually volunteering to stay in Akito’s company for the sake of…being a companion. Kureno…Hatori…even Shigure…sometimes Ayame… Yes, these men are at one time or another `companion’ to her…either as a personal attendant, a doctor, a…friend or something like that. He really didn’t want to dwell on that at the moment…
 
Still, it was a far stretch to believe that now another wanted to be a `companion’ to Akito, especially one that was already obligated to accompany the clan head for an occasional tea. He knew Akito well and that small act was a heavy burden all on its own for the Boar to carry…why tack on another burden by being a companion to Akito now? “Kagura, thank you, but you have your obligations here and—”
 
“Oh, I’m okay on time…my matches aren’t until later on. I’ll amaze her with my `refined’ presence—I’ll guarantee that she won’t be bored,” she remarked as she gave him another reassuring embrace.
 
“I’m not worried about her getting bored…more like annoyed,” he murmured awkwardly as he warily looked over his shoulder once again.
 
“Only if I’m annoying which I’m not. Trust this Boar, okay, Yun-chan? I’ve learned well from the times I’ve had tea with her.” She reached up to bring his face back around and quietly added with firm resolution shining in her eyes, “Besides, it’s hard to hope when you’re the only one that does. I may not hope as much as you do, but if all I can do for you is to help you when you need it, then you have me whenever you need it. Rit-chan, too.”
 
Her determination to do by what she believes is right was always her greatest strength. Set on a path or action to take, no one can deter Kagura from doing so. She was true to her spirit…and Yuki was eternally grateful for it, his sincere smile enough to wordlessly say everything he didn’t have to say.
 
“Yuki-kun…Kagura-san! May I please take your picture?” asked Tohru excitedly upon seeing the two relatives quietly conversing amongst themselves. She was happy to see Yuki’s harried look from earlier all but gone and in its place a smile that certainly lit up his spirits from within. `Let that come out in the picture.’
 
“Sure! Here, how’s this?” asked Kagura as she linked her arm with Yuki’s. Her wide grin in place, she called out, “Hurry before anyone else notices!”
 
(Snap—FLASH)
 
“Wow, that flash is bright!” Blinking away the dots of white, Kagura happily waved to Tohru while giving a departing squeeze to Yuki’s hand, “I need to go, Tohru-kun, but I’ll see you later on at the match, ne?”
 
“Wait Kagura-san!” Quickly running up to the departing Boar, she warmly embraced her and whispered, “Arigatou…he looks tons better.”
 
Kagura squeezed back, pulled away, and gave her a knowing wink. “Oh, I have nothing on him compared to you! Be sure to keep him smiling for me!”
 
Bashfully looking away as Kagura left, Tohru took a breath to calm her suddenly beating heart, hoping that her blush wears off. Turning to Yuki, she joyfully reached for his hand and clasped it tightly. “Kureno-san told me that Akito-san is doing much better now. I’m so glad! You must be so relieved now.”
 
“I am,” Yuki quickly replied, choosing to close that sensitive topic with the quick response. Firmly holding onto her hand, he walked freely with little trepidation, thankful his many escorts created a nice bubble all to himself with Tohru. Ignoring the many not-so-subtle remarks made as he walked past the throng of journalists or competing dojos and discreetly looking the other way when flashes of failed pictures flared, he held her close, intent on reaching Kazuma’s group without delay.
 
“Yuki-kun, don’t you need to go upstairs? Kureno-san had said you had some business to take care of right now before the tournament started,” she remarked with slight unease, looking behind her as Kureno held himself back and trailed after them quietly. “I don’t want to be a bother and hold you from that.”
 
“Not at all. I’ll take care of it after I escort you back to Shihan.” He then leaned down and whispered in her ear, “But more importantly, I have this time with you all to myself. It’s a rare treat for me.”
 
Flustered beyond compare, Tohru looked away and babbled, “But you see, that’s not…I mean, I like being alone with you, too… that is to say, I like your company very much, and I can’t possibly be a good treat—”
 
“Hehe, you look cuter now than when you’re worrying about me.” Laughing lightly, he purposely slowed his quick pace and carefully interlocked his fingers with hers. He quietly continued, “I received all your text messages. I’m sorry I couldn’t return any of them.”
 
Fighting off her furious blush as she felt the slight caress from his fingers, she feebly replied, “N-no, no…I understand. I knew you were busy taking care of Akito-san. And now, you’re smiling from the heart…I’m so happy to see it. It’s been a long time.”
 
Her few words of encouragement through her texting helped him during the late hours he kept over the past few nights. But his joy was somewhat deflated since he knew he was also giving her reason to worry needlessly for him. He sighed as his turbulent week was coming to a final close in these hours before the tournament. `I won’t think on it anymore…it’s passed and I’m here with her now. I’ll have time to make it up to her after today…fully make it up to her.’
 
He suddenly pulled her to a stop and then pushed her away from him, only to twirl her around to hold her treacherously close. He began laughing upon seeing her stunned reaction, her eyes wide with surprise while she vainly tried to form coherent sentences. After having to deal with so much, it was liberating to enjoy these precious, innocent moments with her. Smiling so gently, he quietly remarked, “I missed this…so much. Thank you for this.” He then brought her hand up and barely brushed his lips against it, never once breaking the hypnotic hold his mesmerizing eyes held with her astounded stare. “Until later, Tohru-san.”
 
When Yuki broke off his contact as he walked off with this entourage, Tohru lifted her hand and dazedly waved him off, then abruptly looking to her hand in shock. Suddenly a burst of laughter came forth from her, though she wondered why. `It doesn’t matter…he’s so happy. He looks the best when he’s happiest. Simply beautiful.’
 
She had to conclude that his elation was rubbing off on her as she began humming to herself and smiling to the few journalists that looked her way curiously. It was only then that she realized she was already with Kazuma’s team, a few members looking at her with a question in their eyes. Yet none of those eyes held such a solemn stare as the pair of red-orange eyes did.
 
And she met those vividly colored eyes with a resolute stare of her own. The exchange was wordless. She would stand by her earlier declarations from that morning…and so would he.
 
* ~ *
 
Delays from an author (04-15-08):
 
Good day/evening! All is good in my merry little world of fanficdom. I don’t think that’s a real word but let’s go with the flow, ne?
 
Wow, what a time that has passed! I honestly wanted to put in more, but then realized that my fingers already `closed’ the chapter for me right where you read it. Stinking muses…don’t they know I want to move on to the very best part of this whole season?! Still, they usually know better than I on how to bring this story around to its very best. Oh, the pain…
 
I also took a whole two weeks off! Just doing nothing but visiting family elsewhere and such. FUN! I’m happy to say that although this chapter fought me, it came out feeling good and not just words on screen. It was so detached from me that I couldn’t put it out until I could finally feel it `reach’ me. So sorry it took a while, but I hope you found the chapter worthwhile!
 
From the more light-hearted moments to how it seriously wrapped up at the end, this chapter has it all. Slow progress but enough emotion to tie this chapter with the one before and the one to follow. I may have even included some long-winded description there, but I couldn’t stop the words on the screen from coming out and after spending good time on it, I left it alone. Not the best thing to do, but I just wanted to push this forward. The latter part of the chapter was the hardest to come up with but I’m happy with it, down to the little `stand-off’ between Tohru and Kyo! Don’t worry, no hard feelings here, just to each his own, you know?
 
Whoa, it’s been a while since I’ve had a selection for my musical corner. Let’s see, See-Saw’s performance of “Tsuki Hitotsu” (One Moon) is very adequate for this chapter (I heard this on some Gundam Seed soundtrack)…the melody, the wording…all good!
 
There are a number of previous chapters and side fics that are starting to affect the outcome here in these chapters. I hope you would all find the relevancy of previous chapters as you go through this current chain of events. If you’re lost, then send in your concerns…I’m always happy to clear up any details, just don’t ask me to reveal my story’s mysteries! Gotta keep you comin’ back, ne?
 
That said, I wish to send loads of thanks from this realm of cyberspace to you out there, reading and reviewing. Whether on ff/net or mm/org or elsewhere, thank you. All your words of encouragement and insight are most welcome in any of my review bins. And also on a personal note to one anonymous reviewer, your thoughts on how you feel when reading my fics does matter. It matters VERY much because it’s my ultimate goal in my storytelling that anyone reading feels connected to the true essence of the storyline through these wonderful characters. Their triumphs, failures, sorrows, and joys are ours in some way or another and it’s my sincerest wish that you connect on some level with it all. I know I do, and I won’t put out anything less than that. It’s why I delay in putting out the story faster…my gift, my curse!
 
And the whole writing deal…heck, I’m no professional! Just read my earlier chapters in this epic fanfic novel. Why do my readers keep coming back I wonder? I’m a rather disturbed individual with a very VIVID imagination. Again, the gift…the curse. See the trend? My sincerest thanks to you, Nono…you and your words, written well or not, matter to me, so please take care!
 
That about says all I need to say…the next chapter release will be coming out sooner than this one did only because I’ve got the ball rolling in the right direction now with my muses and motivation in mid-gear. I’m not too sure if I’ll update my other fic (Bleach fanfic) or continue on task with this one…probably continue with this fanfic until this particular event is done. It has to be DONE come snow or tornado! Keep me in your thoughts and push me onward with your reviews…I really do need the push! Take care all and thanks as always for your unwavering support! Ja ne!
Embers of Summer's Glory = Severing One Tie…
Embers of Summer's Glory = Let our tears fall where they may…