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Ephemeral Ascendence

Ephemeral Ascendence

[Private] In modern-day Tokyo, the last of the taiji-ya find themselves embroiled in a war for the ages.

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Topics: adventure, alternate universe, anime, contracts, daiyokai, demons, dragons, fantasy, humor, kitsune, mature, mild adult content, modern, nekoyokai, okamiyokai, oni, original, slayers, taiji-ya, and yokai (Add Tags »)
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Introduction




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Demons—powerful beings of varying natures, capable of both great evil and benevolence. They come in many varieties, from the hulking, horned oni to the sleek, seductive kitsune to the winged, spiritual tengu. What they have in common however, is that even now, even today, they walk among humans, disguised and under the radar, but unmistakably alien all the same. Many years ago, these yōkai ruled our world, openly wearing the traits of their heritage and commanding the might of armies, feudal lords over humans and other demons alike. The strongest of these were the Seven Daiyōkai, the beautiful, powerful lords of the highest demon bloodlines, the very paragons of demonic strength and prowess.

As time passed and humanity grew, however, the Seven knew that, for all their strength, they would not forever be able to hold back the growing tide of humanity. Marked as other by their distinctive appearances, they were feared, and some of them rightly so, for many demons were creatures of great bloodlust and violence who had little qualm about killing and consuming lesser beings, especially humans. But humans were always a resourceful race, and their intelligence, coupled with the arrogance of the yōkai, allowed for the formation of the taiji-ya, the Slayers. Humans with special senses and lifetimes’ worth of combat training, they fought tirelessly to defend their people from the petty yōkai who would devastate their fields and steal away their children, and for a long time, the Daiyōkai allowed this. But others interfered, having a special grudge against the Slayers and also the hanyō, the offspring of humans and demons, as often monstrous as beautiful and fey. Spurned by yōkai, many hanyō took up arms in the Slayers’ war on demonkind, and in time, the fighting grew so pitched that the Seven knew it could not be allowed to continue.

And so it was that the yōkai, faced with the prospect of a long battle against humanity that may well end their species forever, chose instead to assimilate, shedding their otherworldly appearances and taking on the forms of humans themselves, working their way into human society. Their long lives allowed many of them to accrue vast sums of resources, and many gravitated towards the upper classes of the world, still in some ways ruling as they always had, but this time with a subtler, defter touch. So good were they at donning these disguises that eventually, they faded from human memory, becoming only myth, stories told to children at night.

But there are those who never forgot. The taiji-ya, too, went into hiding, continuing to cultivate their secret arts and hunt down those demons that revealed themselves to be enemies of mankind. With others, they formed alliances, often sealed with a Contract—a mechanism by which a human taiji-ya could share a demon’s lifespan and gain some of his or her power, usually in exchange for a period of servitude. The more powerful the demon, the better the result, but of course few demons were willing to make such binding arrangements with humans, and so the practice remained rare, but coveted.

In modern-day Tokyo dwell the remnants of what was once the greatest clan of taiji-ya in the world—the Yukimura clan. The heirs of this clan are about to play an important role in events they cannot even begin to predict. Their ancestral calling will become the only thing that stands between them and certain death, but even it will not be enough to save them, in the end. For that, they will require allies, and these will not be easy to come by.

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Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami "I wonder how long happiness will last, this time."
Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi "I can't help but feel that the life I've known is now on a very definite deadline."
Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura "Somehow, this is my life now. It's not half-bad."
Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami "There are things that I dread... things that I do not want to happen."
Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura "My life isn't what I thought it'd be... but I'd rather be here, now. With them."
Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori "Some things change. Others... not so much."

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Tokyo || 2020

Tokyo || 2020 by Aethyia

A world that could have been, through a mirror slightly darker.

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Setting

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Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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This year, Satoru's birthday fell on a Saturday.

He'd almost managed to forget it—not completely, but enough that it had only occurred to him that today was the day when he'd checked his phone in the morning and observed the date. April 23rd. He was eighteen years old today.

It was the first birthday he'd ever had without his parents and the rest of his family around. That was a difficult thought to swallow; he dropped the phone back onto the mattress and dressed without any feeling of excitement or anticipation. He'd never been one for making himself the center of attention, but he had enjoyed his birthdays in the past because everyone else was together for a while.

He'd just have to get used to that not being the case anymore.

Pulling his hair up on his head, he dressed for a normal day around the estate and pulled open the door to his room, heading towards the kitchen with the intention of making himself some breakfast. While he was sure he was welcome to the large meals the staff made to be shared amongst themselves, he preferred to do his own cooking, still not quite sure that he should accept such gestures. He was only a temporary tenant here, after all.

“Toto-chan!" Ryoka called out, appearing around the corner. Satoru hadn't made it to the kitchen yet, and she was wearing a big grin on her face. She stepped to the side before circling him. Quirking an eyebrow, her face smoothed over to a more gentle smile. “My little Toto isn't so small any more. I think I'm going to cry," she spoke, but it was obvious in the small quirk of her lips that she was joking. Instead, she shook her head and placed a hand on her hip.

“And if I know my otōto, he's going to the kitchen to make breakfast, right?" she stated, a more mischievous smile crossing her face. “Well, sorry to say, kiddo, but you're spending your breakfast with me. It's not every day my little otōto turns eighteen, after all," she continued. “Ichi-kun has given me the morning off, and I'm spending it with you."

“So... where do you want to go? There are a few places around here that have a really good selection as far as breakfast goes."

Satoru didn't bother concealing his heavy sigh. "Anytime you want to stop calling me like I'm under ten years old would be great, Ryoka." Frankly he hated being called 'Toto-chan,' but really no matter how many times he said so, she wasn't great at paying attention. Or caring about his opinion, as the case may be.

He didn't really especially want to go celebrate or do anything for the day, either, but... he was conscious in a new way that they may not have that much regular time left together, even if he stayed in the city for college. So he just shrugged. "I don't really care where we go. Pick someplace with pastries you want to eat or something." He offered a slight smile, more tired than happy, but he was trying. Even if he'd never be able to muster half her enthusiasm.

Ryoka chuckled lightly beneath her breath and shook her head. “Alright, Satoru," she stated, smiling a little softer than she usually did. “Today is supposed to be your day, but if you insist, there's a little shop not too far from here we can go to. It's within walking distance, and it's not usually crowded, so it might be just to your liking," she continued, rolling out her shoulders slightly. She took a step forward before stopping and turning in his direction. She pursed her lips together as if she wanted to say something, but she remained quiet.

“I know I don't say it often, Satoru, but... I want you to know I am proud of you. Despite me constantly getting on your nerves and all," she finally spoke, the same soft smile on her face. There was nothing mischievous about it, and seemed to be genuine. She sighed, though, and turned back around to lead him out.

It didn't take them long to reach the bakery, and Ryoka opened the door to let him through. “So... is there anything you want to do today, Satoru? I didn't get you anything because I know you don't like gifts, but I want to do something with you other than just breakfast."

To his credit, he did try to think of something. Making his way into the bakery, Satoru distantly registered the warm scents of cinnamon and apples, as well as the sharper tang of raspberry tart. Somewhere else he wanted to go...

It occurred to him, not for the first time, that he didn't really have a lot of hobbies. Basically everything he did was work or work-related, except his music, and that wasn't exactly something that you went somewhere else to enjoy. He'd been to the museum pretty recently—more than once since he'd gone with Etsuko and Ichikage, actually. But he wasn't really feeling the desire to go again, nor to go anywhere else in particular.

His eyes narrowed thoughtfully. An idea—a ridiculous idea, but an interesting one—occurred to him. Something one of his friends had mentioned doing once. "Actually," he said, "what would you think of taking some of the others out to play paintball?"

Ryoka blinked a little slowly, at first. Her head was tilted, and she seemed to be processing his suggestion. “I think they'd love it. I know I would," she spoke in a nonchalant manner, but she was smiling all the same. “After breakfast, we should go ask them," she spoke, making her way towards the counter. She ordered something for herself, thanked the woman behind the bar, and turned towards him.

“I suppose I could also just send them a text, but that doesn't seem nearly as personal as actually asking them," she stated, running a hand through her hair and giving it a light shake. She looked genuinely excited about it, though, if the grin on her face was anything to go by.

Satoru nodded, putting in his order as well and smiling thinly when the raspberry tart was handed to him on a small plate over the counter, along with a cup of black coffee and a little container of milk to flavor it. Following Ryoka back to the table, he sat down across from her in the little booth.

"Something tells me it's going to be a lot more intense with them than with pretty much anyone else," he observed, breaking a piece off the tart. It hit his tongue with a sort of effervescent sweetness, the sugary confection melting away and yielding to the tart sting of the concentrated raspberries. He could deal with sweet if there was also sour involved. "You wanna take a bet on who wins? My money's on Kiyoshi-dono."

It was perhaps an odd bet to make, but Satoru had his reasons for thinking so. "I'll put two thousand yen on it."

Ryoka feigned a hurtful look. “You don't have much faith in your sister? Ouch, Satoru, that hurts," she spoke, taking a bite out of her strawberry danish. She chewed it in a thoughtful manner before washing it down with a cup of milk. “But my bet would be on Mika-chan. She's... she has the looks of someone skilled," she stated, taking another bite out of her danish.

“I'll take your bet, though, so when you loose, I'll have an extra two thousand yen to buy more pastries with," she continued, grinning in his direction. Her love of pastries, or anything sweet for that matter, was no secret. She finished off her danish and her drink before setting the cup aside. “Here, we'll shake on it," she stated, though she didn't hold out her hand immediately. It seemed she was waiting for him to finish before shaking his hand.

Satoru popped the piece he was holding in his mouth and wiped his fingers on his napkin before reaching across the table, a slightly-sly smile on his face. He was definitely counting on Mika being skilled, but not in the same obvious way that Ryoka was. That was like her—observant, but not quite as observant as he was.

"It's a wager, then. If someone else wins, we'll call it even."

Maybe he'd buy himself something with his winnings.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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Etsuko was, admittedly, a little excited and confused. She was currently adjusting the goggles on her face, and rolling down the sleeves to her shirt. They were at the paintball range for Satoru's birthday, and she felt a little out of place. She'd only been once, but it was two years ago. She didn't really remember how to play. Shaking the thought from her head, she glanced towards the others. Mika was standing with Kiyoshi, who looked extremely confused about the paintball gun in his hands, and Ryoka was standing with Ichikage.

She looked like she was muttering something to him that was amusing because she was grinning, which was never a good sign with Ryoka. Satoru was to Etsuko's left, and he looked a little happy. Or at least she thought he was. She wasn't good at reading body language, but he had been smiling slightly when he'd returned with Ryoka from their breakfast. Shrugging lightly to herself, she adjusted the paintball gun in her hand and turned towards Satoru.

“So... uh, how is this played, again, exactly? Are we supposed to do it in small groups, or as a sort of free-for-all?" she asked. If it were the latter, Etsuko was certain she'd be covered in paint by the end of it.

Not far away, Mika was helping Kiyoshi strap himself into his protective vest—all of them had rental equipment that was mostly black, but with accents in a color that matched the paintballs they'd be using. Kiyo's were yellow, Mika's green.

Satoru next to her was clipping his CO2 tank onto his back. Those apparently provided the air that "shot" the paintballs from the rifle-like guns they'd been given. Their faces all bore paint in their colors as well, since tō-san had insisted. Satoru's were double vertical lines under his eyes all the way down his jaw and neck; he hadn't put his own goggles on his face yet, and turned towards her when she asked the question. His paint color almost matched his eyes: a dark, cobalt blue.

"It sort of depends on what we want to do," he said. "The winner of the match is sort of split between who gets the most hits on other people and takes the least themselves, but I don't see any reason there wouldn't be teamwork." He shrugged, hefting his paint gun so that the barrel faced the sky and pulling his goggles down over his eyes. "But since we each have a color, there's still only one winner."

She already knew she was going to lose, but it didn't stop a small smile crossing her face. At least they would be having fun, she hoped. “Well, I guess I'll say to the winner go the spoils," she stated, laughing to herself at the stupid comment. It's not like they were waging anything. “But, uh, good luck?" she stated a little unsure of herself.

“Hey you two, stop looking so adorable together and get over here," Ryoka's voice called out, causing Etsuko's face to heat slightly. She pursed her lips in Ryoka's direction, and narrowed her eyes slightly. “What?" she stated, not bothering to hide the grin on her face. Etsuko shook her head slightly and sighed softly.

“You shouldn't tease Tsu-chan so early, Ryoka-san," Kiyoshi spoke finally, glancing around at the others. Etsuko inwardly groaned and rolled her eyes. The two of them together was not an ideal combination, however; she already knew tō-san added to the mix was bound to be disasterous. She could almost feel it in her bones; they were up to something.

They were always up to something.

Ichikage, fully decked out in his own set of gear with red accents, wore his matching facepaint in a surprisingly-intricate pattern for some reason. He was still loading paintballs into the feeder thing on top of his rifle, but snapped it closed a moment later. "So here's the rules: no intentionally aiming for anyone's head, no powers, and we have a thirty-second setup window to take our positions, starting..." he paused, flashing them all a toothy grin. "Now."

He was off in a flash, heading what was probably in a general westward direction. There were all kinds of obstacles and such settled around the area, from half-fallen walls to the hollowed-out shell of what used to be a building of some kind to the copses of trees. He cleared a wall in a single bound—powers or not, they were still playing paintball with yōkai.

And that, at the moment, Etsuko decided was unfair. Mika-chan, Kiyo-kun, and tō-san still had the advantage. She sighed heavily, but allowed herself to grin. That didn't mean she had to give up at the beginning, though. She'd lose, yes, but she wasn't going to go down without a fight. Ryoka had taken off in the opposite direction of tō-san, but she was laughing almost maniacally. It wouldn't be too hard to find her if she kept that up. Kiyo-kun had taken off with Mika-chan, causing Etsuko to inwardly laugh. Old habits must be hard to break for him.

Etsuko, however, decided to go in the direction of tō-san before veering off a little to the left. She wanted to find cover, first. Then, she could scope the area out and see if anyone passed her by. She frowned slightly to herself, though. She didn't want to camp, exactly. She'd heard her friends use the term whenever they played their games, but she'd never been too interested in system games. All she knew was that camping was a lame thing to do.

And she didn't want to be lame.

She managed to find cover in a hollowed mound, setting her paintball gun up so that she could see if anything was nearby. Sighing to herself, she moved from her spot, only to have something whip past her. She yelped, throwing herself to the side to avoid it.

“Well you're no fun, Tsu-chan," it was Ryoka's voice. Etsuko turned to face her, and narrowed her eyes. Ryoka opened her mouth to say something, but she was prevented from doing that when something collided with her shoulder, causing her to wince. “Ow, what the..." she stated, turning her gun on the culprit.

"You should have been paying better attention, Ryoka-san." Ichikage sing-songed the words, ducking behind a tree, which absorbed the light blue paintball headed his way. He'd managed to shoot from... quite a long distance, actually.

He would have that kind of skill, though. Etsuko snorted when Ryoka muttered beneath her breath, however; it turned into a bout of laughter when Ryoka was hit with another paintball. “Am I a walking target or something?" she stated out loud, glancing down at the yellow paint splattered on her other shoulder.

“The purpose is to keep moving and get as many hits as possible, is it not?" Kiyoshi's voiced called out. He had a point. Etsuko turned her gun on Ryoka, shooting a paint ball in her direction as well. Ryoka was now sporting three different paint colors on her person, but she merely grinned.

“How right you are, Kiyo-kun," she stated, aiming her paintball gun towards Etsuko. Etsuko yelped as she tried to get out of the way, however; the sharp stinging sensation in her shoulder and the pale blue color paint there, gave way that she was hit. Ryoka laughed before turning on Kiyoshi.

A very well-aimed green paintball knocked her arm off-course, and the shot missed, going wide instead. Mika only sported one mark thus far—a dark blue one that meant Satoru must have hit her at some earlier point. "This way, sir," she directed, pointing with the muzzle of her rifle. The two of them disappeared as well, scattering the field once again.

Though it started as mostly a free-for-all, it swiftly became apparent that Mika was not aiming for Kiyoshi, and in fact stepped in front of a couple of hits he might otherwise have taken, from Ryoka and Ichikage respectively. Aside from Kiyo, everyone bore at least some paint, the most prominent colors being green and dark red, though it looked like Satoru wasn't doing too bad for himself either. Ryoka had mostly prevented herself from doing that well by pretty much always giving away her position with laughter. It didn't help that she wasn't hiding, either.

It was when Etsuko was crouching behind a wall that she felt another body slide in next to her, facing the other direction. "Don't shoot," Satoru said, inching up to peer back over the wall. He ducked immediately, a red paintball whizzing by over his head. "You want a truce? They're gonna destroy us otherwise." Despite the almost-seriousness of his tone, he was actually smiling a little, the blue paint on his face already smeared out of its neat lines.

Etsuko glanced down at her attire, noticing the various paint covering her before she glanced back up. “Truce," she agreed. They were getting destroyed, and Etsuko didn't exactly want to lose. Besides, if Mika-chan was taking care of Kiyo-kun, Etsuko could team up with Satoru. It gave her a better chance at something, she supposed. “I'll go first," she stated, lifting her head over the wall to make sure it was safe. “I can distract them and you can go for the shots."

He was likely a better shot than she was, after all. She had done okay, but the color schemes on everyone indicated that the lead painters was a tie between Ichikage and Mika-chan. There needed to be more color other than just red and green.

Satoru nodded. "Okay. Don't stay exposed for too long, and whatever you do, don't stop moving." He gave her a short nod before hefting the barrel of his paintball gun over the lip of the roof, sniper-style. "Whenever you're ready."

Etsuko took a deep breath. She could be the bait, while Satoru picked off the others. It was a good team dynamic, she supposed. Shaking her head, she lifted herself from where she was, and jumped out. She could feel the sharp sting of a paint ball on her shoulder, and judging by the color, it belonged to Ichikage. Another paintball managed to miss her, but in the end, she ended up almost as covered in paint as Ryoka had.

Ryoka was primarily blue and red, some hints of green and yellow peeking through, however; Etsuko was covered in all the colors. She didn't mind so much; she had had fun with them. Catching her breath, she glanced towards Satoru, and grinned in his direction. The others were taking off their gear, and were getting ready to declare who won. A quick glance in Kiyoshi's direction, however, showed he wasn't even colored. Not a single paint ball managed to hit him.

“Well, that was fun," she spoke in Satoru's direction. She, honestly, couldn't remember the last time she'd had this much fun. With anyone. “I, uh... happy birthday, Satoru," she stated a little awkwardly. It had occured to her that she hadn't told him that, yet. “I hope you had as much fun as I did."

“Yeah, Satoru," Ryoka chimed in, wiping the streaks of paint off of her face. Kiyoshi was offering Mika a towel at this point, but he was glancing in Satoru's direction as well, a strange soft smile on his face.

“I believe we all had... a good time," he stated, almost as if he was unsure of the wording. Etsuko just rolled her eyes at him, but she was still smiling all the same.

Satoru did a rare thing, then: he actually smiled. A real one, broad enough to flash teeth and light up his entire face. "It was great, honestly. Thanks, everyone." His smile turned a little sly, then, and his eyes sought out his sister's.

"And Ryoka: you owe me twenty bucks."

Ryoka grumbled something beneath her breath, but she didn't seem too upset about the statement. Instead, she reached into her back pocket and pulled out what appeared to be her wallet. She shifted through it and pulled out the amount she owed. She handed it to Satoru, causing Etsuko to keep her brow raised. They placed some sort of bet, probably. She shrugged her shoulders, though. It's not like it pertained to her. She pursed her lips together, and chewed her bottom lip, thoughtfully.

She'd gotten something for Satoru for his birthday, but it was a custom order. She had placed it a little late, though. It had cost her a lot, considering the material was hard to come by, but Kiyoshi had offered to help her with the payment. She'd spent most of her own money because she wanted to get something special for Satoru. Something that would be helpful, too. It would be done next month, so maybe she could give it to him as a graduation present, instead?

“So, now that we've finished brutalizing each other, should we go out to dinner?" Ryoka stated, interrupting Etsuko's thoughts. She blinked in Ryoka's direction, who was grinning broadly towards Satoru. She'd tell him about it later. “Because I'm starving," Ryoka continued, causing Etsuko to give her a flat look.

“Ryoka-san, you're always starving."

"Sounds like an excellent idea to me," tō-san added. "Let's get cleaned up at home; I'll make us a reservation at that new dim sum place."

Setting

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Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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Satoru nudged the papers together with his fingertips, pressing his lips together and sighing through his nose. He'd been dreading this decision for a while, but he was running out of time to make it—and he'd put off talking to his one remaining family member about it for too long. It was with a certain heaviness that he stood up, folding the papers along their creases and exiting his room in search of his sister.

It was her day off, so he tried her room first, lifting his hand and rapping his knuckles on the doorframe. "Nee-san. Are you in there?"

There was a soft thud on the other side, and some shuffling. He could hear Ryoka muttering profanities underneath her breath before she pulled the door open. “Eh, Satoru?" she stated, running her hand through her ponytail and giving it a shake. It looked like she was trying to detangle it, but considering how long it was, she would need to take a brush to it. She was dressed in a pair of baggy pants, and a dark red tank top. Maybe she was going to go out for a run?

“Whatcha need, kiddo?" she asked, focusing her gaze on him. Her eyes were slightly lighter than Satoru's, but there was something else behind them. It made her eyes brighter than they were, perhaps because she was happier these days.

Not that noticing this made him feel any better. If anything, he worried that the discussion might put a bit of a damper on things. He hoped not, but... given everything that had happened to their family, what might have been a pretty normal discussion about his future plans could easily turn into an emotional minefield, considering just how close they'd become over the last... half a year? Maybe it was more than that—his sense of time was just so off these days.

"Can I come in?" he asked. "I need to talk to you about something—but if you have plans right now, I can come back later." He kept his voice neutral; it wasn't exactly an emergency and he didn't want her to think it demanded her attention right now if she wanted or needed to be elsewhere.

“Sure," she replied, opening the door wider as if to let him in. “I was just about to head out for a bit of a run, but that can wait. I'm off all day so..." she trailed off before ushering him in. Her room was, surprisingly neat. Ryoka was never one for well-cleaned rooms, but perhaps considering where they lived, it made sense. There was a small table in her room, and she pointed towards it, the point clear to take a seat.

“So, what is it that you need to speak with me about?" she asked, and for once, there was no teasing tone to her voice. She sounded genuinely interested in what he had to say, and she was holding his gaze with a strange kind of steadiness.

He wasn't sure if he found that reassuring or just more daunting. Still, Satoru had never been one to beat around the bush when the option to be direct was available. So he settled himself down at the table and set the letters down on the surface in front of him. Folded like this, they were just innocuous sheets of white paper, the American one sized slightly differently from the Japanese one, but fitting together well enough for his purposes.

"It's about college," he said simply, pushing the letters towards her. "I need to decide between these two places, and I want to know what you think." It might be his life—he knew it was, that these decisions were his to make. But there wasn't any point in ignoring the obvious either: Ryoka was important to him, and to his life, and he cared about what she thought of all this. Her opinion mattered to him, just like he knew his mattered to her.

It wouldn't be fair to make the decision without talking it over with her first.

“College?" she stated more than questioned. She took one of the papers, and opened it. Her eyes scanned the paper, apparently reading the information on it. When she was done with the first one, she picked up the other one, and read it as well. Her brows had furrowed slightly, and her lips were pursed in a thin manner. She stayed quiet for a few minutes after that, and simply stared at the papers. It was almost as if she were contemplating what to say.

It was at least another five minutes before she sighed, heavily. “So, you've been accepted into two colleges. One is here, but the other one..." she paused, lifting her gaze to meet his. Her brows were still furrowed, but it seemed more because she was thinking about something rather than being upset.

“It's in America." The tone was laced with something light and soft. “And you want to know what I think about which one you should go to," it sounded more like she was talking to herself, but she was still holding his gaze. Her shoulders slumped, though, as did her posture and she remained quiet.

“I think... you should go to the one you want to the most, Satoru," she finally spoke, shaking her head lightly. “If you go to the American college, you'll be so far away," she stated, and there was something heavy in the way she said it. Her voice almost cracked when she spoke, but she appeared to be calm about her statement.

“But if you go to the one here, you'd be close by," she continued, pursing her lips together. “Satoru," she called his name, and for once, she looked completely serious. “I've told you before that, whatever you wanted to do with your life, I would support you. What do you feel is best for you?" she asked, tilting her head just slightly.

Satoru glanced down at this hands, folded together on the table. "That's what I'm trying to figure out," he said, releasing a sigh. "MIT is... not just any American school. It's probably close to the best school in the world for the kinds of things I'm interested in." That fact alone was hard to turn down, and his English was easily good enough to make it feasible.

"On the other hand... Todai's a really good school, too, and I would be closer. Could probably still live here, if Motoyami-sama didn't mind. Or at least get a place in the city close by." He raised his eyes to meet hers again, pushing his glasses up his nose.

“I don't think he'd mind," she spoke, a small smile fluttering across her face for a second. She sighed again, and leaned back a bit to stare up at the ceiling. “From what I hear, though, is that MIT might be a better fit for you. You know I'm not proficient in a lot of things, and I wouldn't be able to tell you the difference in which college is better or worse, but," she paused to take a breath and lower her gaze to his.

“It sounds like MIT would be the best school for you. For whatever it is you are interested in, if it's the closest to the best school for you... I think you should go." She sounded completely sincere about it.

If it came to that, she was probably right. For his studies, there was nowhere better to go. But...

He grit his teeth for a moment, shaking his head slightly. His ponytail settled against his back when he leaned forward slightly, bracing his forearms on the table. "What if that's not the only issue, though?" he asked quietly. "What if it also matters to me whether I'll be here—whether I'll be able to..."

A grimace formed over Satoru's face. It was hard to find the right words for this uneasy feeling. It was never quite right there on the surface for him to name easily. It was more like a hunch, or an instinct, something below the level of conscious thought. "It's just—we're the only ones left. I don't know if I can just... walk away from that. Have a different life."

Once, it had been exactly what he wanted. When he'd had to worry about his parents disapproving and trying to keep him in the family business. Ironically it was now, when he was really free to choose his path, that he wasn't so sure he wanted out of that life anymore.

“But isn't that what you wanted?" she asked, tilting her head in slight confusion. “I understand if what you're worried about is me, but," she stated, pursing her lips into a thin line. Her lip quirked slightly to the left as if she were chewing on it. “If it's that important to you, Satoru, you don't have to worry about me. I'm not... I might not be any good out in the real world, but I don't want you to stay because we're the last ones. I mean..." she stated, sighing in frustration. She scratched the back of her head before shaking it.

“If you stayed, I wouldn't feel... worried about you. I'd know where you were, and I'd be able to help if something happened, however; if something happened to you overseas..." she trailed off, the implication clear: she wouldn't be able to do anything. She smiled softly in his direction, though.

“Maybe you can have the best of both worlds? You could go to Todai, and you could stay here. At least here, you have people who could help you with your abilities, and you'd still be getting into a decent college, right?" she stated.

It wasn't just for her that he felt this way, though he'd be lying if he said she wasn't a big part of it. Slowly, he dipped his chin, nodding his head down. "I've... been thinking the same," he admitted. "It's just a really difficult opportunity to turn down, even though I know that I want to." He couldn't help but think of all the what-ifs and could-happens.

“Well kiddo," she began, leaning back so that her arms were draped behind her. “If what you really want is to be here, I won't try to change your mind," she stated, grinning in his direction. “But, Satoru, I want you to be absolutely sure this is what you really want. I don't... I don't want you to regret anything. You're a bright kid with a bright future ahead of you," she spoke with a sort of seriousness to her voice.

“As much as I want you here, safe where I can keep an eye on you, I want you to be happy, more than anything. If going to MIT makes you happy, then go. If staying here, going to Todai makes you happier, then stay here and go to Todai. Your happiness is all that matters to me, even if my selfish little heart wants you here," she stated, a soft crack in her voice giving way to what she was actually feeling.

A lump rose in Satoru's throat, one he had to try and swallow past so that he could speak as well. "Okay," he replied quietly, his voice almost a whisper. "I got it. Thanks, Ryoka." Impulsively, he stood, gesturing for her to do the same and sort of shrugging his arms open a bit. Hopefully she'd read his intention without him having to explain or ask, because he wasn't sure his voice would hold that long.

She stood as well, and walked around the table. The force with which she hugged him with, though, conveyed everything that she was feeling. There was a slight tremor in her body, but she didn't say anything. She simply hugged him, and remained where she was. She let go after a few minutes, though, and smiled at him.

“You're welcome," she finally stated. “Now, I have a run to go make. Do you want to come with?" she asked, raising a brow when she did. Her eyes were slightly glossy, but she blinked a few times as if to clear them.

"Give me two minutes to change," he replied, squeezing once before releasing her and stepping away from the hug. "And we'll throw in some obstacles. I know how much you love those."

Setting

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Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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Etsuko sighed softly, and kept staring at the papers in front of her. She'd been accepted into three different colleges: Toho Gakuen School of Music, Juilliard, and Kunitachi College of Music. All three were exceptional places, and considering that she wanted to pursure a career in music, either one would be a good choice. Juilliard had only one drawback, though. It was in New York, in America. Etsuko had made the application on behalf of her teacher. He had said that The Juilliard was one of the best music schools in the world, but Etsuko hadn't been too interested in it.

Mainly because it would mean that she'd have to leave and take residence in America. She wasn't too sure she wanted to do that, though. Toho and Kunitachi were both well-known colleges, and they were both situated in Tokyo. She could stay here while she went to school to either of them. Toho, though... Toho had been her first choice. One of her favorite violinists had attended there, and it was mostly the reason why she'd worked so hard on her music. She'd been so excited when she received the letter, but now she had three choices.

Maybe she could ask for advice? If she could, maybe, find out someone else's opinion, it might make it easier to decide. Otō-san would be her main priority, but she had a feeling she knew what he'd say. Kiyo-kun wasn't exactly college-smart, but that didn't mean she didn't value his opinion, either. Mika-chan... Etsuko valued her opinion and advice more than anything, but she wasn't so sure Mika would be able to help with this particular decision. She wondered, briefly, where Satoru was going to attend. Would he be close by, too? Or was he going somewhere overseas?

She shook the thought from her mind. That wasn't important, right now. She needed to make a decision where she was going to go, but she needed to find someone, first, and ask their opinion. She grabbed the papers, and stood from her spot on the floor. With the papers in hand, she walked from her room, intent on finding someone to help her make a hard decision.

As luck would have it, the first person she ran into was Satoru; from the way he was dressed, he'd just come in from a run. The sleeveless shirt was one of those loose ones with extremely large armholes, black and sticking to him in places with sweat. The also-black track pants made regular rustling sounds as he walked the engawa, seemingly lost in thought.

Not enough so not to notice her though—his eyes snapped back into focus as their paths drew closer to crossing. "Fuji—er. Sorry. Etsuko." He still said her name like it was foreign somehow, with an exaggerated slowness. Probably because he was still getting used to it. Pushing his glasses up his nose, he stopped slightly more than a respectable distance away from her. "You're up kind of early." It was true that the sun had only come up about an hour or so ago.

“Yeah, I couldn't sleep much, last night," she confessed. Graduation was approaching, and so were the application deadlines. She wasn't able to sleep much because she couldn't make a decision on which college she wanted to attend. If she'd been accepted into just one, it would have been an easy choice.

“Graduation's just around the corner and I haven't chosen a college yet. I have three to choose from," she stated, pulling the papers in front of her. “I was, uh, looking for advice from someone," she continued, smiling nervously. “What about you, Satoru? Have you decided where you're going to go?" she asked, tilting her head slightly. She was curious, but he didn't have to tell her if he didn't want to.

He shrugged. "I had a few too, then narrowed it down to two. I think I'm going to Todai. What are your options?" Glancing around, he seemed to realize that standing around at the middle of the engawa might not be the best place to have the conversation. "Uh, do you wanna sit down somewhere? I was headed back to my room, but we could head to the kitchen instead or something."

“Oh, sure," she stuttered, moving slightly so that there was a little more room between them. Not that there wasn't any space, or anything. She could feel her face warming slightly before she pushed it down. She lead them to the kitchen, and took a seat on one of the available chairs, settling the papers down in front of her as she did. Spreading them out, she sighed softly, and glanced in Satoru's direction.

“My options are these three; Juilliard, Kunitachi, and Toho," she began, chewing her bottom lip before continuing. “I'm not entirely sure about Juilliard, though. I don't want to leave Japan to study abroad. Not for music, at least." It wasn't entirely that, either. She didn't want to be too far from her family, not with everything that has happened so far.

If she left, there was no telling what might happen. Otō-san, Kiyo-kun, and Mika-chan wouldn't be there a second time if anything happened to her, and that was not a thought she wanted to entertain. “So I guess that kind of eliminates that one," she laughed nervously. She probably should have done that earlier.

Satoru hummed thoughtfully. "That was the hardest thing for me," he said. "Deciding if I wanted to go to the States to study or not. I took out all the other options in Japan because Todai was the best one and also close by. Is one of the schools obviously better than the other one for what you want to do? Music?" It seemed even the last part was new information to him, but then they hadn't really talked about this with each other before, for whatever reason.

He almost took the stool next to hers, but then reoriented himself towards the fridge instead, cracking the door open and withdrawing several punnets of fresh fruit and the milk. "I'm making shakes. You want one?"

“Sure," she answered, taking in a light breath. Was one better than the other? Toho and Kunitachi were, essentially, the same school. Kunitachi was Toho's predecessor, having been the Tokyo Music Conservatory at one time. “In regards to which would be the best, Toho has the most recognition," she began, pursing her lips lightly. “Kunitachi also has a great reputation, but... one of my favorite violinists was a student at Toho. He was the reason I got into music and wanted to attend in the first place."

She'd applied to Kunitachi in the event that she wasn't able to go to Toho. “I guess, it really just comes down to which one would be better for me," and that was a hard decision. She played well, and wanted to pursue a career in playing her violin, however; was she really good enough to attend Toho? Kunitachi was almost like attending Toho, but she had the option to actually attend.

“I'm just not sure if I choose Toho, I'd be able to live up to all the expectations," she nearly whispered it.

There was a short pause while Satoru ran the blender, emptying it halfway out into a cup before adding what looked like some kind of powder into it and blending a bit longer. When he was done, he gave her the first glass, settling onto one of the other stools with his own and taking a gulp before speaking.

"Well, you had to send them tapes of you playing for admission, right? Seems like they think you're good enough. Maybe you should, too." He lifted his shoulders in a slight shrug, taking another sip of the shake. It was sort of a purple-ish pink color, with a smooth consistency.

She frowned slightly. That was easier said than done. Just because they think didn't necessarily mean she was. He still had a point, though. She let her shoulders relax slightly, and shook her head. “Well, I suppose I could give it a try," she spoke, rolling her eyes softly before taking a drink of her own smoothie.

“At least it'd be closer to the house, and actually," she paused, blinking in realization. She laughed lightly to herself and pursed her lips together to keep from laughing too loudly. “It'd be almost in the same area as Todai." They were both located in Bunkyō, after all.

He nodded slightly. "Looks like it." The glass thudded softly against the counter as he put it down; he squinted slightly at her from beneath his glasses. "You know, if it doesn't work out, you can always transfer. It's not the end of the world if you do that later. Seems like it's worth trying the harder one to see what happens, you know?" Satoru smiled halfway, looking somewhere between uncomfortable and... encouraging, maybe? His expression was hard to place.

"I'd hate to see you let the fear of something that might happen get in your way, you know?"

“Yeah, you're right. Plus, if I let something like that get to me now, how could I ever be anything more? If it's not challenging, then I'm not really learning anything new," she stated, smiling a little awkwardly as she did. He had a point; if Toho didn't work out, she could transfer elsewhere. But she wouldn't know unless she tried first.

“Thanks, Satoru, you've been a big help," she spoke, smiling less awkwardly in his direction. “I think I'll choose Toho, and go from there." She just needed to send her acceptance in, and let otō-san know her decision.

“Oh, and thanks for the smoothie. It was good."

"Glad I could help," he said with a nod, finishing off his own drink. "And Etsuko: congratulations."

“Thanks," she stated, clearing her throat awkwardly. She couldn't fight the blush this time.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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Hotaru no hikari, mado no yuki,
Fumi yomu tsukihi, kasane tsutsu
Itsushika toshi mo, sugi no to wo,
Aketezo kesa wa, wakare yuku.


The graduation ceremony itself had been more or less what they'd been practicing for over the last several weeks, from the speeches to the diploma handouts to the songs and all that, but in the minutes since, the crowd had broken up and was now mostly milling around outside the school building, in the gardens behind it. Early April as it was, the cherry trees were budding; a few of the flowers had already bloomed, their pink petals now littering the light green grass of the season.

Satoru, still in uniform, sipped idly from his cup of water, watching his classmates and their families mingle with each other. There were no few instances of tearful hugging and the like, people more or less dissolving at the realization that they wouldn't be seeing each other nearly so regularly anymore.

Tomaru mo yuku mo, kagiri tote,
Katami ni omou, chiyorozu no,
Kokoro no hashi wo, hitokoto ni,
Sakiku to bakari, utau nari.


He wasn't surprised that even yōkai did this. They had friends, too, after all, and most of the ones at the school weren't much if at all older than he was—still teenagers. He squinted against an obnoxious camera flash in the corner of his eye; two girls were taking a picture together.

He'd lost track of the clump of people that had come to the ceremony for himself and Etsuko, but he wasn't too worried about it. They'd show up again eventually, probably at an inconvenient time. Like a bad rash—especially his sister and her employer.

Etsuko wasn't too far from where he was. She was standing with a small group, her friends likely, and chatting amicably with them. She was smiling until the one on her left, Haru-kun as she had called him, leaned into her ear and said something. Whatever it was, it caused her face to turn a deep red. She shook her head almost violently while he laughed. With pursed lips, she turned towards Satoru's direction and waved. She said something to her friends, and left their side to join him.

“Hey, Satoru. Congratulations," she stated, the red on her face now just a light pink. “I take it Ryoka-san and Otō-san have disappeared?" she stated, glancing around as if to look for them.

"Congratulations to you, too," he replied, leaning a little more comfortably back against the tree behind him. The skin on his chest was a bit itchy beneath the uniform, maybe from the proximity of so many yōkai. "And if I know my sister at all, they're probably conducting a raid on the refreshments table. I saw some fancy-looking mochi earlier. She might leave enough for some of the other guests to have some."

He had no idea how his sister had developed a bottomless abyss for a stomach, but she had one. Usually that was the kind of thing people said about teenage boys, but Satoru himself probably only ate slightly more than the average person, and he figured that made sense since he also worked out a lot more. Ryoka, though—that was just freakish.

Etsuko snickered lightly, and shook her head. “Yeah, and I bet otō-san is encouraging it. They're so weird, but I suppose it's good for the both of them. I haven't seen otō-san that happy to have someone as... strange as him, I suppose," she stated, rolling her eyes with a grin. She blinked, though, as if she were trying to focus her attention and glanced back at him.

“I can't believe it's actually over," she stated, her attention going back towards the crowds of people. “I mean, not over, over, but... you know what I mean," she stated, furrowing her brows slightly.

He nodded, reaching up to rub at the back of his neck. "It's pretty weird," he admitted. "I mean, I know we're not legally adults yet or whatever, but it still kind of feels like... the last part of being a kid is over with." Not that he'd felt much like a kid in a long time now. Definitely not since his family had died.

"Where are all your friends headed?" He mostly asked to be polite; Etsuko didn't hang out with anyone he disliked, but he'd just... never really made friends easily. She and her ridiculous family were really—

They were really all he had, come to think of it.

“Some of them are going home to family businesses," she spoke. It made some sense considering some of her friends were yōkai. Some would either go back to their homes, but a few would actually attend some colleges. “Chihiro-chan is going abroad to study in America. She's going for medicine, and I think Haru-kun is actually going to Todai, as well," she stated, her brows furrowing just a little deeper.

“None of them are going to Toho, though," she stated, sounding just the slightest bit upset. She smiled, though, so it probably didn't bother her too much. “But I guess that just means I'll have to make friends there, too," she spoke, grinning up at him.

Tsukushi no kiwami, michi no oku,
Umi yama tooku, hedatsu tomo,
Sono magokoro wa, hedate naku,
Hitoe ni tsukuse, kuni no tame


"You're good at that, though," he said matter-of-factly. If she could make even a few friends in a school full of young yōkai, most of whom were predisposed to think of her as inferior to them, he was willing to bet she could do so just about anywhere. Certainly at a normal university, where the students were overwhelmingly humans and lots of them would share her interests. "So I think you'll be fine."

She snorted softly to herself. “I suppose you're right," she stated. “But in the mean time, at least I'll be able to see one of my friends on an almost daily basis," she stated, the grin on her face smoothing out to something more mild. She was probably referring to him considering they lived in the same house, technically.

“Hey Satoru," she spoke almost cautiously, as if what she were about to say was something meant only between them. She stayed quiet for a few seconds before shaking her head. “Thanks for being my friend this last year. It's meant... a lot to me," she finally spoke. “I, um," she started again and shifted a bit on her feet. Whatever she was going to say, didn't make it past her lips because a sudden flash seemed to temporarily stun her.

“Aww, look at that. It's almost too perfect," Ryoka stated, holding the camera in her hand. There was a strange grin on her face, like she'd meant to do that. Knowing her, she probably did.

Ichikage was right behind her, and in fact leaned down to prop his chin on Ryoka's head, also grinning. Satoru didn't bother resisting the urge to roll his eyes.

"Really, Ryoka?" He arched an eyebrow at the both of them, unsurprised that they were being annoying. It was the kind of event where family members just... did that kind of thing. He wasn't mad about it or anything, but it would have been nice if she'd interrupted in a less-obnoxious way.

Satoru sighed, turning back to Etsuko for a minute. "Ignore her. What were you going to say?"

Etsuko didn't look amused, but she shook her head. “It's not important," she replied, glancing towards Ichikage and Ryoka. Her eyes narrowed slightly in their direction, causing Ryoka to snicker. She heaved out heavy sigh and slumped her shoulders. “Where are Kiyo-kun and Mika-chan?" she asked, instead.

“Somewhere around here, I would assume," Ryoka responded. “And yes, really, Satoru. You both looked adorable and I couldn't resist," she added, still grinning. Etsuko visibly rolled her eyes at the statement.

“Isn't there a dessert table that needs raiding?" she stated, quirking a brow in Ryoka and Ichikage's direction. “Tō-san can help you find it, I'm sure." She was giving both of them a flat look.

Satoru snorted, matching the look on Etsuko's face and leveling it in the same direction.

Ichikage laughed at that, standing up straight again and tugging on Ryoka's sleeve. "Ne, Ryoka-san. We should leave them alone, don't you think?"

They moved off after that, definitely towards the dessert table. Satoru rolled his eyes and sighed again—both of those things seemed to happen a lot when those two were around at the same time.

Of course, that left him with Etsuko and a conversation that now seemed to be stalling. "Uh... anyway. Congratulations. Again." For some reason, he felt his face getting a little warmer, and his ears—especially his ears.

What the hell?

She smiled up at him. “Yeah, you too, Satoru. Congratulations. Can... I give you a hug?" she asked, stepping back a bit. “I just... I wanted to ask beforehand because I know you're not usually too comfortable with... that," she continued, sounding a bit unsure of her wording. She stuttered a bit, too, something she hasn't done in a while. Her face turned a light shade of red as she glanced down at the ground for a second. She didn't quite meet his gaze, though, when she lifted her head back up.

He blinked. "I, uh..." If his face hadn't turned red before, it probably was now. He hesitated for a moment; she was right. He generally didn't go in for much personal contact with people, but—oddly he didn't mind the idea. Maybe because she'd actually asked instead of just assuming he'd be all right with it.

Satoru felt a little like he'd been kicked square in the chest: a bit short of breath and with the beginning of some kind of adrenaline response. His tongue was a little too heavy in his mouth, but he nodded. "S-sure. That's fine."

He opened his arms slightly, as if in invitation, though the idea had been Etsuko's.

She met his gaze when he did, smiled, and stepped in to hug him. It wasn't a long one, a bit brief, but her arms gave a tight squeeze. “Congratulations, for a third, Satoru. Thanks, again, for being one of my best friends," she'd muttered it since her face was slightly pressed against him, considering she was shorter than he was.

"Yeah. You, too, Etsuko."

Even though part of their lives were ending, Satoru didn't regret that this was part of it that wasn't. In fact—he felt relieved, more than anything. Relieved that the best thing that had come of his time at school wasn't finishing along with the rest.

It was okay to carry some things with him into the future, he supposed.

Chishima no oku mo, Okinawa mo
Yashima no uchi no, mamori nari
Itaran kuni ni, isaoshiku
Tsutome yo waga se, tsutsuganaku

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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Kiyoshi sighed, adjusting the tie around his neck. He'd learned how to that a little more proficiently after Mika had taught him, among other things. It was a dark purple in color, and it contrasted against the light grey suit he wore. Another thing Mika had taught him. He smiled softly to himself as he shifted his ponytail behind him. Today was a special day, as his father had called it. Kiyoshi couldn't exactly remember why, but he suspected it had something to do with him. They were all gathering in the foyer for some kind of dinner, but Kiyoshi would have much preferred to do it here.

He couldn't exactly refuse, though. His father had planned it out months in advance, and he'd rather not let Ichikage down. Kiyoshi might not have always been fond of Ichikage, but he was still his father. Pursing his lips together, he made sure everything was in place before leaving his room. The walk to the foyer was quick, and indeed, everyone was already waiting for him.

“Well look who's handsome today," Ryoka stated, grinning in his direction. She was dressed in a spaghetti strap v-neck red chiffon dress, and surprisingly not in her uniform. Considering where they were going, it made some sense to Kiyoshi. She'd also started wearing red more often, but it was a nice color for her, he supposed. Her hair was left down, but it wasn't as unruly as it usually was. It was a little straighter, but Kiyoshi wasn't one for such things. Fashion, hair, clothes, those were not exactly his forte.

“You look nice as well, Ryoka-san," he simply stated. Etsuko snorted softly, causing Kiyoshi to tilt his head. She was dressed in a more modest halter dress, though the color was a deep sapphire blue. It almost looked black if not for the sheen. “As do you, Tsu-chan," he stated, the subtle quirk of his lips giving way to his teasing nature. He almost chuckled when her face turned pink, and she pursed her lips together at him.

"Ne, is everyone ready?" His father chose that moment to appear, looking basically the same as he always did in human guise, only this time in a suit. It was fairly straightforward as they went, and he'd elected for a cream colored silk tie rather than anything brighter. The suit itself was black, as was Satoru's.

The younger Yukimura looked much less comfortable in his, tugging a bit awkwardly at the cuffs of his shirt and then his black tie. It was knotted very neatly, but obviously he wasn't used to wearing one as part of anything fancier than his school uniform. Clearing his throat, he glanced around at the others, pressing his lips together and gamely trying to suppress his discomfort.

"We look weird, is how we look," he grumbled. It was hard to tell, but he seemed to be making an effort not to look directly at Etsuko. Though classes had started for both of them at the university by this point, they both still lived on the grounds, and their summer break was quickly approaching. Still—it seemed like Kiyoshi saw less of both of them than he used to, so they probably saw less of each other than before as well.

"Anyway, uh, Sakuragi-san said she was going to go have someone pull the car around and just meet us all there, so."

“We do not look weird, Satoru," Ryoka spoke in a nearly hushed voice, pursing her lips in his direction. Kiyoshi just raised a brow, and said nothing. He supposed both of the Yukimura hadn't really dressed nicely, or in any kind of fashion before. Perhaps because of their lifestyle as taiji-ya. Did they do what his family did, go to important meetings in formal attire, or dinners and lunches? Probably not, but the thought did not linger long. Instead, they made their way to where Mika was, indeed, waiting, and Kiyoshi merely blinked in her direction.

“You look lovely, Mika-chan," he spoke before he registered what he'd actually said. He could feel a smile inching across his face as well, and his eyes softened for just a fraction.

“Of course she does; Mika-chan always looks lovely," Ryoka chimed in, but there was no hint of teasing in her voice. It sounded more matter-of-fact and obvious than anything else. Kiyoshi just furrowed his brows and did his best not to sigh.

Mika, typically, frowned slightly at the commentary. It was hard to say why she did that, but she was consistent about it, at least—outright compliments, especially about her appearance, tended to produce that reaction in her.

"We are attending dinner at a very formal restaurant," she replied, adjusting her pale sleeves slightly. She'd chosen to wear a kimono rather than a dress—come to think of it, she'd never worn a dress that he knew of. The garment was black and white, with a pattern of pale golden flowers on a branch, and the same color and silver on the obi. "I am merely dressed appropriately for the occasion."

"And armed appropriately, too, right?" Mirth glittered in Ichikage's eyes; he was clearly teasing her.

She probably knew it, even, but responded seriously all the same. "Of course, Motoyami-sama."

The car pulled up, then, Abe-san at the wheel as usual. Mika opened the door for the rest of them to pile into the back of the limousine, which for once was just about the right size for all the people that needed to fit in it. Ichikage immediately pulled Ryoka over to sit next to him, nodding Satoru into the seat across. When Mika herself entered last of all, the only spot left was the one immediately next to Kiyoshi. She took it, folding her hands neatly into her lap as Abe-san pulled out of the driveway.

Kiyoshi felt something pull in his chest when she did. He couldn't help but smile a little more. The ride to the restaurant was relatively quiet—about as quiet as it could be with Ichikage and Ryoka, anyway. When they arrived, everyone filed out of the car, and almost instinctively, Kiyoshi stood next to Mika. He wasn't quite sure why he did, but he put it down as something natural. She was, after all, his guard, and he had to be within her sights at all times. He blinked slowly at that thought.

They approached the stand where the hostess was, and she smiled brightly at the large group. “Welcome," she greeted, glancing at the party of six. “Name on the reservation?" she asked, flipping the book open in front of her.

“Motoyami," Kiyoshi spoke first. The woman, Aiko, from her nametag, nodded and flipped through the book, frowning slightly when she did.

“It looks like I have two reservations for the name of Motoyami. One is for a party of four, and the other for two," she stated, glancing back up to meet his gaze. She looked sincerely confused, and perhaps she was. Kiyoshi sighed heavily.

“Is there a table available for the size of our group?" he asked, watching as she gave an apologetic bow.

“Unfortunately all of the tables that would have been large enough are booked for the evening," she stated, causing Kiyoshi's expression to fall flat. He glanced towards Ichikage and furrowed his brows lightly.

His father hummed; crossing his arms loosely over his chest. "That can't be right," he said, brow furrowing in much the same way Kiyoshi's was. "Micchan, you made the reservations, didn't you?"

Mika looked slightly perturbed, which was saying something since little ever made it past the stoic expression she so often wore. "Yes, sir. I'm certain I made it for a party of six."

Aiko was beginning to look a little nervous, like she expected to be yelled at or something, but Ichikage forestalled any such worries by waving a hand. "It's quite all right. We'll take this as it is. Since Ryoka-san has to be with me and Micchan should stay with Kiki, we'll stay in separate groups. Cricket, Satoru-kun, would you like to come with us?" It made some sense to do it that way, since Satoru was Ryoka's brother.

But then again, Satoru and Etsuko could have taken the table for two instead of Kiyoshi and Mika. Oddly, though, Kiyoshi didn't mind. Etsuko, however, nodded her head. “I don't see why not," she stated, shrugging lightly in the process. Kiyoshi pursed his lips together, but he allowed his shoulders to relax. Aiko waved another hostess over, and handed her two menus.

“Mizuki will show you to your table," she spoke, smiling still in an apologetic manner. “If the four of you will follow me, I'll show you to your table as well," she stated, ushering the others away. Mizuki, however, motioned for Kiyoshi and Mika to follow her. He glanced over his shoulder for a brief second towards his father, and narrowed his eyes. He had a feeling Ichikage was behind this, however; he allowed a small smile to cross his features. He supposed it wouldn't be that bad.

“Can I start you off with anything to drink?" Mizuki asked once Kiyoshi and Mika were seated. Kiyoshi pursed his lips together, flipping open the book to glance at the selection. He didn't see anything that caught his immediate attention, though.

“Water will be fine for now, thank you," he spoke, glancing in Mika's direction. He'd order something else if something popped up.

Her own reply was immediate. "Water for me as well too, thank you." No doubt she considered herself to still be on the job, to some extent, which meant she'd never let herself drink anything.

“Alright, two waters," she spoke, bowing slightly before leaving. Kiyoshi frowned just, though, as he glanced through the menu. He didn't understand why the reservation was made here. His father knew Kiyoshi was never one for such places, but today had to have been something a little more special. Knowing Ichikage, though, today could have just been something his father did on a whim. Even if the reservations were made a head of time, his father had some pull to do things on a whim like this.

“Mika-chan," he spoke, turning another page before glancing up at her. “Are you well?" he asked, tilting his head just slightly. He never knew what to say to her, or why his throat always seemed to dry up when he tried. He could sit in silence with her, and be completely happy, however; he also wanted to know her. More-so than what he already knew about her, at least.

She was looking at him strangely, one eyebrow raised slightly over the other. It was a frequent expression of hers, when she expressed anything at all. "I'm quite fine, sir, though considering what day it is, that should probably be something I ask you." She cracked open her menu, scanning the items on offer dispassionately. She'd never seemed to take particular pleasure in the atmosphere of an expensive sort of place—but it was nonetheless obvious that she appreciated quality in basically everything, including food.

He supposed he was the same. He didn't particularly like these kinds of places, but he didn't mind them so much when he was with his family, or her. He blinked a little slowly at her comment, though, when it registered what she said. Tilting his head slightly, he furrowed his brows in her direction.

“Is there some particular event going on?" he asked. He wasn't too sure what today was. Did he forget a meeting of some sort? Was today someone's anniversary? “Why would you be asking me, that?" because he didn't quite understand. What was so special about today?

Mika snorted, a tiny smile flickering across her face for just a second. Mizuki came back with their water before she could answer, though, and the smile disappeared into her glass when she lifted it to her mouth. It was only after the waitress had left again with their dinner orders that she answered his question.

"Sir, it's your birthday. That's the entire point of this dinner." She set the glass back down, letting her hands rest below the table in her lap. Even in a relaxed setting like this, her posture didn't slump even slightly.

Kiyoshi didn't register what Mika had said. He'd seen it, that small smile. He felt like he couldn't breathe at the moment, as if all the air had been sucked out of him, and his heart rate increased. It wasn't until he realized that he was smiling as well, and staring, that he cleared his throat awkwardly. He took a sip of his water, trying to get some moisture in his throat. It felt dry all of a sudden.

“My birthday?" he finally questioned. Was today his birthday? “Oh," was the only thing he said. He'd forgotten his own birthday. This was not the first time it happened, he knew that. He should have known, however, that Ichikage would have remembered it. “Otō-sama's idea," he spoke out loud. It was more of a statement than a question, and he sighed softly.

“How are things with you, though," he asked. Even if it was his birthday, he didn't have anything in his life worth mentioning at the moment. Mika, though, had days off that she spent doing other things. He wanted to know how she was faring, and what she did. He wanted to know her because he still wanted to talk to her. Here, he knew, would not be the best place to do it.

But if he could at least glean some things from her personal life, of things she did outside, then the talk would be easier. That was what he was hoping for, at least.

"The two are not entirely unrelated, you know," she told him, perhaps referring to his birthday and also the answer to her question. That had to be what it was, though the connection was not at first immediately obvious. "I suppose I can understand not really finding your birthday too significant—I don't either. But..."

She exhaled through her nose, dropping her eyes to regard the glass of water in front of her. There was a strange expression on her face—her brows were knit, forming a little line above her nose, but she looked more puzzled than anything. "This marks twenty-five of your birthdays since we met," she said at last, the furrow deepening. Mika's tone betrayed some level of uncertainty, like she wasn't sure she really wanted to say that. "I'm sure it's not a very significant amount of time for you, but for me... that's most of my life, by a lot of years."

That was right; Mika had been taken in when she was about seven years old. She had been but a young girl out on the streets, pick-pocketing people in order to survive. He'd known that much when she tried stealing from him. The thought brought a solemn smile to his face, though. She'd grown up in his care, under his father's care, and the care of the household. Unlike Etsuko, however, she wasn't raised as a ward. She wasn't a daughter to the house of Motoyami, like Etsuko was, but that didn't stop Kiyoshi from feeling like she was still family.

“Despite the circumstances of how we met, I'm grateful that we did," he spoke gently. She might not be, but Kiyoshi could not claim to know her thoughts. He wanted her to know this thing, though. This one thought and emotion he'd always felt from meeting her. “I hope... it hasn't been an unpleasant life for you Mika-chan," he continued, pursing his lips lightly. That was the last thing he wanted for her. If it had been... he couldn't finish the thought. It brought an unpleasant restrictive feeling in his chest where his heart was.

"Upleasant?" she echoed, face hard to read.

Unfortunately the waitress chose that moment to reappear with their food, and Mika paused to thank her and pick up her utensils. The restaurant was a western-style one, with forks and knives and such—most of the food was Italian, though there were some Greek dishes available as well. Mika spent several moments winding her linguine around her fork, pausing with the utensil still on the plate, held still as she studied him with compressed lips.

"Sir, my life has been—" She stopped, shaking her head slightly; he could see the subtle movement where she swallowed. "What could ever make you think that anything about it has been unpleasant for me?"

Mostly because he'd never seen her smile. He'd seen it twice, now, that he could think of. The first time he'd seen her smile was when she was speaking with Oda-dono. That thought produced a foreign feeling in his chest, one he knew was the same as displeasure but also something else. Something that felt... sad? He couldn't quite place it. The second time she'd smiled was only moments ago, despite how small it was.

“You have spent most of your time as my guard with hardly any time to yourself. The days you do have off I've..." he paused momentarily to stare down at his own plate. He hadn't touched it yet, though he could smell that it was particularly pleasant. Maybe that was because there was a different smell he was focused on. He couldn't be too sure.

“I've never really made it easy for you, either," he finally spoke, glancing back in her direction. He'd tried not to do that any longer, but it was hard when he felt like something was missing. Like he missed her, for some strange reason. He'd never felt that with Sakura. She wasn't around as often as Mika, and though he spoke with her on a daily basis and went to dinners with her, he didn't quite miss her the same way he missed Mika.

“I have said it plenty of times before, but I want you to be happy, Mika-chan. I... am not good at noticing things like that when it comes to you, and all I ever seem to do is cause you great pains and headaches," he confessed solemnly. Even though he was currently trying to learn things on his own, he felt like he was burdening her by taking away some of her free time. If Ryoka could notice that Mika was happy with her job, with her current state, why couldn't he?

"That's..." Mika sighed, taking a bite of her dinner and chewing slowly. It gave her a moment to gather the words she wanted; at least that's what it looked like she was doing.

She met his eyes deliberately, something she did not do that often, given her strict observance to most of the norms of traditional servitude. "If it seems to cause me trouble, sir, that's only because it is hard work. I would feel the same as anyone's assistant about that. Also, it's... important, to me, to maintain professionalism at all times. But—but the work I do—it's the most—" She struggled for a moment, dropping her eyes back down to her plate, the certainty and ease leeching out of her tone and leaving it soft.

"What I do—helping you, protecting you and the things you care about—I don't care if it's easy. I don't care if it gives me headaches or means I don't have a lot of days to myself." She gripped her glass hard enough that the pads of her fingers began to whiten, seemingly only then realizing she was in real danger of breaking it and easing her hold. "I don't care about any of that, and I wish you wouldn't either. Because it's..."

She very visibly forced herself to reinitiate eye contact. "It's all I've ever wanted. For me, being able to do this—it's an honor, and a privilege. My whole life, I've done everything I could to be worthy of it. Of being the person who is allowed to help you achieve the things you want to do. And every time you ask me if I'd rather be doing something else, or if I want to leave for the day... it feels as though I've failed in that."

“Mika..." he began, though he paused and kept his gaze on her. Didn't she know, though? Everything he was able to do was because of her. For everything she was able to do, for every task she was able to handle, if it wasn't for her, Kiyoshi would not have achieved as much as he has. He might have years of life under him, but it wasn't until he'd met her, had her as a guard had he realized how much more he could do. He took a deep breath, slow and agonizing. He ached, and he wasn't completely oblivious as to why.

He lowered his gaze for a moment, before clearing his throat softly. “Mika, you have not failed in anything," he spoke the last word with a bit more emphasis, and slowly. “You have done more for me in the last two decades than anyone else ever has. Because of you, I have learned new things. Because of you, I no longer have to feel useless when it comes to tying my own ties, or something so simple as clothing choice," he offered her a small smile.

“I apologize if that is how I have made you feel. That was never my intention," he stated. If he had known that doing that was making her feel like that, he wouldn't have suggested it so often. “I only wished for you to be more than just a guard," he spoke, though he was unsure of what he meant by that. “I only wished to be your friend," though that wasn't quite the word he was searching for.

He could not name what it was.

Mika curled her fingers back around her fork, lifting it deliberately and slowly making her way through half her plate of pasta. She had heard everything he'd said—that much was clear from the way she'd listened with obvious attention while he was speaking. But anything by way of response was a long time in coming. She'd always been like this: slow and careful where others were flippant or hasty.

She ate with the sort of meticulous neatness that came with needing to fit into his social circles. In a lot of ways, she did, at least as far as her behavior and mannerisms were concerned. But in other ways, she would only ever be able to be an outsider to it, an auxiliary to him. Mika was habitually a lot more conscious of station than Kiyoshi himself; she enforced polite distance even with someone as personable and gregarious as his father.

"It's not that I don't like you, sir. Or that I think our personalities are incompatible in some way. It's just... relationships like this aren't the same as friendships. They can't be. Already, people—" she grimaced slightly. "They say things. They see our situation from the outside and assume things about us. You're a daiyōkai and a prince, and I'm a very young, female hanyō. They don't believe I could possibly be of use to you at my job, and so I must have obtained my position in some other way." Mika set her fork down on the plate, tines facing downwards. "Many of the possibilities are damaging, to your reputation and standing. And so I protect those things by behaving in a way that makes it very clear that I am here to do a job, and that I am excellent at it. My conduct must be above reproach, because this is a form of protection as well. If I were to act like your friend, then I would be worse at this part of my work."

Kiyoshi did not bother to hide his expression from her. His lips pursed into a fine line and his brows furrowed deeply. People said things like that about her? He was unaware of such things, and knowing this all now, made him upset. It made him angry, almost. He could feel his throat constrict in an unpleasant way, and he could not lift the sudden mood change. Mika was, as she said, excellent at the things she did.

She was talented, graceful, and so many other things he could not say. “I am sorry," he apologized, instead. He knew the others would not stoop to that, and he knew that she would not accept his apology, however; it was something he wanted to say. “I am sorry that they say those things about you. You are... regardless of my station, or where we stand, I still consider you my friend, Mika. A dearest friend, nonetheless." How could she be anything less than that?

“I want to make those things easier for you, to make them understand that you are good at your job, and that you have earned that because of your skill. I am afraid I would not know how to make them understand, though." He couldn't just force people to do that. Customs were hard to change; he would know that for as long as he lived. And not many houses were not like House Motoyami who embraced that sort of eccentricity.

She shook her head faintly. "I appreciate your support, sir. Truly, I do. But this isn't the kind of situation that can be solved by simply telling people that they are mistaken. It is something I have to deal with in the only way available to me: by being professional and competent and doing my job well. They will see, and some of them will change their minds when they do. That's all I can hope for."

“You deserve more," he stated softly, shaking his head. She deserved so much more, more than what he could give her. “I am thankful that I get to spend this day with you, though." Of all the people he could of spent it with, he was glad it was with her. He chanced a glance towards his father's table, and smiled lightly. He'd have to thank him someday, though he was not going to do it today.

For now, this would have to do.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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Ichikage kept half an ear on the conversation several tables away, but the majority of his attention remained on the other three people with him. They'd all put in their orders by now, and were waiting for things to get back to them. He turned the stem of the wineglass in his hand, sloshing the red liquid slightly inside.

"So Cricket, Satoru-kun: how are you finding your classes?" He moved his eyes from the wine to the two young humans across the table from him. Neither of them had alcohol, of course, but he hadn't seen any harm in partaking. This little wouldn't do anything at all to him.

Ryoka had a glass as well, but she hadn't touched it yet, perhaps saving it for when the food arrived. Etsuko, however, glanced up from her hands and tilted pursed her lips together. More in thought than anything else, it appeared. “Classes are going well," she spoke a little slower, as if those were not the words she wanted to use. She shrugged, though, and took a drink from her glass of water.

“We have a project coming up, soon, where we have to compose something together. And it can't be a piece that already exists," she muttered.

“So something original?" Ryoka chimed in, apparently curious to it.

“Something like that," Etsuko replied, nodding her head at the same time.

"That's kind of implied by the word composed, isn't it?" Satoru smiled when he said it, softening the possible implications of the correction. "I'm sure you'll do fine, anyway." He lifted his glass of water to his lips and swallowed a few times.

Ichikage maintained a patient silence, and was rewarded with an answer to the original question.

"Mine are pretty good, I guess. I've got a project, too, for civic engineering. We have to design a water conveyance system for a settlement without indoor plumbing. The cool thing is that it's also a contest for a development group—they want models that can actually work in remote places without easy access to water."

"Sounds practical," Ichikage mused with some approval. "But I thought you were more of a computer engineering type, Satoru-kun."

The young man hummed, then shrugged. "I am. But the degree is more generalized, so... I'm doing other stuff too, for now."

Ryoka sniffled softly, though it was a feigned kind. “They grow up so quickly, don't they," she stated, wiping away a non-existent tear. Etsuko snorted softly and rolled her eyes.

“It's not like that, Ryoka-san," she muttered, but she was smiling somewhat. Ryoka laughed lightly, causing Etsuko to furrow her brows at her. “And what about you, otō-san? Still meddling in everyone's affairs?" She spoke it less as a question, and more as something obvious. Ryoka snorted, choking on her drink of water at the same time.

Ichikage feigned offense, placing a hand over his heart and leaning back slightly. "You know, maybe the real way to think about this is that everyone else is continuously meddling in my affairs. In my house and my businesses and all that, hm?"

Satoru snorted. "He kind of has a point."

The daiyōkai beamed. "If Satoru-kun says it, it must be true." His grin momentarily disappeared behind his wineglass.

“Hm, that's not how that works," Etsuko replied, pursing her lips with a slight smile. She almost looked like she was smirking. “While it is your house, we do our best to stay out of your way. And yet somehow there you always are," she spoke, rolling her eyes with a bigger smile on her face.

“It's not like it's a big house," Ryoka chimed in, making an attempt to lean on her arm, however; she straightened back out. She was still grinning in Etsuko's direction, though.

“To you, maybe not."

“Hm, if that's what you say. What about you, Satoru? Made any new friends at your school?" She was smirking at Satoru in a way she did when she was teasing him.

He rolled his eyes, obviously unimpressed with her segue. "None of your business, Ryoka." Their food arrived, and he speared a meatball with his fork, not volunteering anything further on the subject.

Ichikage, sensing opportunity, elected to press the point. "Ah. Secret friends then. But what kind of a friend could be so secret that you'd keep them from your sister, hmm?"

Satoru regarded him with unamused eyes.

“Oh? Secret friends? Could it be?" Ryoka started, leaning forward somewhat with curious eyes. “Has my ototō found that special friend?" she continued, her smile inching wider. Etsuko rolled her eyes lightly, but remained quiet for a moment.

“And this is why no one likes you, otō-san," she finally spoke, giving Ichikage a flat look.

He grinned back at her, unrepentant. Satoru only sighed loudly and ate another forkful of spaghetti.

"Anyway," Ichikage said, taking mercy on the both of them for a moment. "Kiki and Micchan are having a nice little heart-to-heart over there, aren't they?" He glanced down the room at his son and Mika, whose hands were currently folded in her lap. She looked vaguely uncomfortable, almost, though he doubted anyone here but him would be able to hear the words she was speaking.

Still, body language could say a lot.

Ryoka chuckled lightly but turned her head, as best as she could, towards Mika and Kiki's table. The grin she was wearing, softened to a mild smile before she turned back around. “It's about time they did. I was beginning to worry about those two. Kiyo-kun is a little dense, but hopefully he'll be able to work things out with her."

“Dense is putting it mildly, Ryoka-san. I doubt Kiyo-kun even knows," Etsuko spoke, almost as if she were aware of the problem between Kiyoshi and Mika. She didn't say anything further, though, and began to eat her linguini.

He wouldn't have put it past her to know. Cricket had the heart of a romantic, and she spent a lot of time with the both of them. Add to that the fact that she didn't quite feel the force of status considerations the way others would, and Ichikage was not at all socked that she had the opinion she did.

Satoru looked a little more thoughtful, only glancing their way once. "Isn't he engaged, though? I mean, I thought that woman I saw once was his fiancée, right?" Confusion temporarily distorted his features. "Or am I just totally misunderstanding what you all are getting at?"

"No, no," Ichikage countered, waving a hand. Luckily it wasn't the one with a forkful of ravioli attached. "You're quite right on both counts." It was probably the closest he'd come to expressing any kind of view about Sakura Itō.

“Yes, Kiyo-kun is engaged to Itō-san," Etsuko spoke first, though she didn't continue. She placed another fork full of her pasta in her mouth and chewed it. Ryoka, however, had just finished the spoonful of food she had been eating, and turned her attention to Satoru.

“Kiyo-kun is about the same as you when it comes to those kinds of things, though," she spoke, referring to Satoru, apparently. “He's engaged to a woman he doesn't love because he already has another person he loves. In this case, they're both either too blind to see it, or they're letting something else get in between them. I'm betting it's a little of both."

“You know how politics work when it comes to yōkai," she added, though her lips were pursed as if she thought the whole thing was a bit ridiculous.

Satoru obviously did not understand the comparison. "Ne, Ryoka, I know you think I have secret girlfriends or something, but I'm not engaged." He cocked his eyebrow at her. "And the hooker jokes were just jokes."

Ichikage snorted into his wine, unable to stop the startled laugh that passed his lips. "I'm not sure what that means, but it sounds quite interesting," he prompted.

Ryoka nearly choked on her drink since she'd taken the moment to sip from her glass, however; she didn't bother to hide the laugh that escaped her. She waved a hand in front of her, though, as if attempting to reassure the others that she was alright. Etsuko, however, had turned a slight shade of pink, but had diverted her attention to her food. She coughed lightly into her hand before working on her plate, again.

“And I know you think your sister is a dunce, but I am not. Besides, you didn't deny you had secret girlfriends. I'm sure you do, and you don't want to risk embarrassing yourself by introducing them to me. It's alright, you're not breaking my little heart or anything," Ryoka spoke, still suffering from small bouts of laughter.

“But the hookers... you said that's what you'd spend your savings on if it weren't always being used to bail me out," she added, the grin on her face turning almost mischievous.

These two were really something. Ichikage found himself grinning, not bothering to make any attempt to conceal the fact. It would seem Satoru had quite the robust sense of humor after all, even if it was a bit dark. And apparently only surfaced with people he was close to. That was perfectly understandable; Ichikage was glad he'd been able to see a hint of it.

A hint of nostalgia was nagging at him—Yutaka's humor hadn't been all that different. And they really did look so similar, even if the lion's share of the personality resemblance was between his old friend and Ryoka.

"Very interesting lives the both of you lead," he noted. Ryoka's arrest record was of course known to him, given the background checks he performed on his employees. It didn't concern him—minor scuffles that had resulted in fines, which apparently Satoru had paid. That seemed to track.

Ryoka merely shrugged her shoulders. “I'm not sure interesting is the word I'd use, but..." she began, the large smile on her face softening to something more solemn. “We're doing the best we can," she continued, shaking her head lightly.

“I'd say it's no different than what goes on at our household. It's probably why the both of you have fit in so well," Etsuko stated in a nonchalant fashion, probably because she hadn't meant to say it out loud. Her face had turned a deeper shade of pink and her eyes had widened slightly.

“I always knew you liked us."

"Oh, very much," Ichikage replied, leaving his exact meaning ambiguous and returning to his ravioli.

His life had become so much more lively in the last year or so—there was no denying that.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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“Welcome to Hawaii!"

Ryoka blinked a little stupidly. A woman, sleek tanned skin and beautiful jet hair, placed a wreath of flowers around Ryoka's neck, and proceeded to do the same to the others. She didn't understand what the woman had said, but she supposed it must have been a form of greeting. Unlike Satoru, Ryoka hadn't bothered to learn the English language. It made her cringe every time it was spoken, but at the current moment, she almost wished she had.

“What is this?" she asked, instead. Etsuko huffed lightly with an amused look on her face.

“It's called a lei, Ryoka-san. They often hang it around tourists' necks for good luck or some other thing," she replied, toying with the lei that was around her neck. Ryoka just pursed her lips together and quirked a brow. Good Luck? Who needed that kind of nonsense?

Ichikage must have caught the look, because he pretended to give her a scolding expression. "Ryoka-san, be nice and accept the gesture. You never know when a little luck might come in handy." For some reason, he was wearing no fewer than three leis, a purple one, a pink one, and a yellow one. A glance back at the hotel greeters confirmed that the three of them only had one color each. Had they all wanted to give him one or had he just asked for three? With him, either was possible.

Mika, being a much more serious bodyguard about this kind of thing than Ryoka, had accepted Kiyoshi's on his behalf, and after a cursory inspection, handed it to him so he could wear it. Hers was the same violet as Ichikage's first.

Satoru sneezed; then smiled apologetically at the greeter he'd been standing closest to, saying something in English that made her laugh. He ended up with a bunch of pink flowers around his neck for the trouble.

The hotel itself was ridiculously high-end, from the rich wood floor to the way it practically screamed luxury. Still, it wasn't too in-your-face; the lobby at least was more inviting than off-putting, the gentle smell of something slightly sweet wafting from outside by the pool.

"Shall we check in?" Mika asked, the most efficient member of the group as always.

“Yes, let's check in!" she spoke, perhaps a little too enthusiastically. The place, though nice, wasn't exactly what Ryoka had in mind. They were here for vacation, and she wanted to see everything. Not to mention she wanted to try their mochi and other sweets. Hawaii was known for having some of the best sweets, especially when it came to pineapples. Maybe it was something to do with the active volcanoes and the ash that made the soil, fertile. Whatever it was, Ryoka wanted to check in so she could drop her bag off, and then explore.

“We'll be here for a few days, Ryoka-san. There is no need to rush," Kiyoshi spoke, almost as if he'd read her mind about the ordeal. Kind of strange, but Ryoka shrugged it off. She wasn't going to bother masking anything of that sort. She'd never been outside of Japan, and Hawaii was new territory for her. She wanted to explore. Etsuko was laughing quietly at the whole thing, but Ryoka just shot her a grin.

“When your life is as fleeting as ours, Kiyo-kun, some things must be rushed in order to enjoy it," she spoke, causing Etsuko to snort.

“Isn't it the other way around? Aren't you supposed to take things slowly and enjoy them while they last?"

“Maybe."

"Patience has never been Ryoka's strong suit," Satoru added, adjusting his grip on his bag so that it slung over his shoulder.

Mika completed the check-in process; it seemed the group had a total of three double rooms, which meant everyone would have their own bed. Everyone was next to each other, so that wasn't an issue; it looked like they had rooms on the top floor of the hotel.

They and their things just barely fit into the elevator, which carried them towards the twentieth floor at a pace far too slow for Ryoka's current state of mind. When at last the doors opened, they stepped out into a spacious room that looked like some kind of combination dining space and lounge. Three doors led to the bedrooms and bathrooms, presumably. The whole thing had the same relaxed luxury as the lobby, only the floors were made of bamboo with colorful woven rugs and multicolored cushions big enough to sleep on. The windows were open, letting a breeze stir the gauzy white curtains as it moved fresh air throughout the space.

"So, uh... how are we splitting up, exactly?" Satoru asked, eyeing the accommodations. "And wait... do we have this whole floor?"

It sure looked like they did. There was even a small kitchen.

“Yes, we do," Kiyoshi replied as if it were a normal thing. Ryoka whistled slightly before turning her attention towards Satoru. A grin pulled at her lips at his earlier question, though.

“Well, isn't it obvious how we should split up?" she stated, watching the confusion play across Etsuko's face. Ryoka wanted to laugh. “Mika obviously needs to keep watch over Kiyo-kun, and I have to keep an eye on Ichi. I'm his guard, y'know. You and Tsu-chan can share a room," she spoke, watching as the color nearly drained from Etsuko's face. Kiyoshi didn't seem to catch on to what Ryoka was saying since his face remained passive.

“Uh, wouldn't it make more sense if otō-san shared a room with Kiyo-kun? And I shared a room with Mika-chan?" she spoke. Ryoka snorted softly.

Ichikage shook his head almost immediately, stepping up beside Ryoka and slinging his arm casually over her shoulders. "Uh-uh, Cricket. Even though we're here to have fun, Ryoka-san and Micchan are still on the job. Satoru-kun has proven himself a reliable guardian, so I trust him not to let anything happen to you, ne?"

Satoru's face started to turn an interesting shade of pink; he muttered something under his breath that Ryoka could not hear. Ichikage must have heard it, though, because he grinned a little wider, squeezing her far shoulder before letting his arm drop away.

"Anyhow, we're in here—let's get everything put down before we head out to explore." Ichikage pointed towards the door furthest to the left, opening it and gesturing Ryoka in ahead of him.

It was taking a lot of willpower not to laugh her ass off at the moment. The look on Satoru's face was worth it, and the interesting shades of pink he and Etsuko were sporting was far too entertaining. She'd have to thank Ichikage for that, later. Ryoka cleared her throat, and stepped in front of Ichikage. Etsuko mumbled something behind her, and stepped in as well. She set her bag down next to the couch, and took a seat on it, leaning back to relax it seemed. Ryoka set her bag down as well, but immediately made for the window. The view was beautiful.

“So, what should we do first?" Etsuko asked as Kiyoshi took a seat next to her. He looked a little tired, but that could have just been how he wanted to appear. Ryoka wasn't even entirely sure what his tired face looked like since it never really moved. Except for the times he was with Mika, of course.

“Everything."

“We can't do everything, Ryoka-san."

“We can try."

"There's a cultural center, the beach and water sports, a nature preserve, a temple, scuba diving, hiking, restaurants and magic shows, horseback riding, art museums, shopping, and so on." Mika rattled off the list without so much as blinking.

"Where would you like to begin?"

“So many options, so little time," Ryoka muttered beneath her breath. Ryoka wasn't one for shopping, though. She supposed they could do that last. She'd need souveniers to take back with her, so it made sense to her to do that last. They'd just arrived not too long ago from a rather long flight, too. While she wasn't one for concern, the others might want some reprieve.

“How about we start with something relaxing?" she suggested. She could be merciful, sometimes.

“That's a little vague, Ryoka-san," Etsuko spoke, turning her head so that she was facing Ryoka.

“That's because you didn't let me finish," she replied, grinning in Etsuko's direction. “We could go scope out the art museums," she added. It was calming in some aspects, she supposed. “Or, you, Mika, and myself can go shopping for swimsuits so we can go to the beach," she stated, a large grin forming on her lips. Etsuko merely pursed her lips together and gave Ryoka a flat look.

“No."

"We will be spending a considerable amount of time in the water," Mika mused. "Anyone lacking the proper supplies should be sure to secure them before we go to the beach. Perhaps that ought to be our day tomorrow, so that there is time."

Satoru blinked. "Are we all going to the art museum? No offense, Ryoka, but I know they aren't really your thing." He reached up to neaten his ponytail now that his hands were free of bags, pulling the tie free and smoothing his hair before putting the tie back in.

Ryoka smiled. “You know me too well, Satoru," she spoke, still finding it hard not to call him Toto-chan. She was trying to respect his wishes, but some habits were just so hard to break. She shook her head, though, and sighed. “But you're not wrong. Museums really aren't my thing," she added, chewing her bottom lip in the process.

“I just thought you'd all like to relax since we just spent a couple of hours on a plane," she stated, quirking a brow as she spoke. “Art museums are kind of boring, but they're also relaxing in some senses. I mean, we don't all have to go. If you want to rest here, you can stay here," she shrugged her shoulders. Either way, just because she wanted to do something right now didn't mean they all had to follow her.

He shrugged. "I'm fine with whatever. Maybe we can do that, then get anything we need for tomorrow, then eat."

"Sounds like a plan to me. Let's go, shall we?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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Satoru wasn't any paler than most Japanese people, so he didn't feel as though he stood out too much in the context of the beach here. Some of the others were another matter entirely—especially Kiyoshi. He looked sort of like he'd sunburn in less than five minutes.

But it was still only late morning, and they'd just arrived after a ridiculously-fancy but also delicious brunch. Apparently the plan was to spend the whole day on or around the beach; it looked like all manner of related activities were available. Surfboards for rent, a couple of boats with snorkel and scuba gear for hire, even paragliding over the water.

And because this was clearly a vacation spot, there were plenty of shacks set up along the beach with food and drinks as well. Satoru figured this was one of those cases where the only thing that would prevent overcrowding was the fact that this was a stretch of beach they'd had to pay to even access, which meant it was probably the rich people version of public. It still kind of weirded him out sometimes, when he thought about how much money the Motoyami must have at their disposal. He knew it wasn't endless, and that many of the businesses under the umbrella were nonprofit or donated large chunks of their funds to charitable causes, but it was also true that he and Ryoka didn't have to spend a yen to get themselves here, and that cost was clearly never an obstacle for Ichikage or Kiyoshi.

The Yukimura were well off, but not on that level.

Better to enjoy it without considering it, at this point.

The sun overhead was already warm, though not unpleasantly so. The water probably would be too, in a tropical place like this. gentle waves rolled into shore, folding curls of the turquoise ocean in on itself. Those might well build up to decent surfing in a few hours, but for now it looked like swimming and lounging sort of weather. Also weird to think about—Satoru could swim, but he'd never lounged in his life.

Mika, currently outfitted in a loose white linen shirt and denim shorts, staked their red beach umbrella into the ground and opened it, creating a canopy big enough for most of them to fit under. Ichikage put the second one next to it, making a continuous area of shade that would definitely house them all of necessary. Satoru put down the two rented beach chairs he was carrying, then slid his duffel bag off his shoulder as well. It looked like they weren't too far from the changing tents.

“Ne, it's so pretty out here!" Ryoka stated, coming to stand next to him. Her arm was currently pulled over her left side, like she was trying to stretch it or pop it. Unlike Mika, she was dressed in a red tank top and a pair of black shorts. She was always simple when it came to clothing. She turned to face him, though, with a large grin on her face.

“It's so... blue," she continued. She snickered softly as if she found the statement funny. She probably did, for whatever reason. “I'm going to go get something from that stand over there, one of their drinks. Do you want anything?" she asked, pointing to one of the nearby shacks.

"Uhhh... some kind of soda or slushy or something?" Satoru shrugged loosely, wondering if she'd be able to order without any English.

That problem sorted itself out when Ichikage headed that way as well, hands shoved into the pockets of the jeans he'd rolled to his knees. His shirt was loose and blue, halfway unbuttoned—the sleeves rolled to his elbows and his hair pulled into a sloppy short tail.

Well... that worked. Satoru was almost certain Ichikage spoke English. He knew Mika did, and probably Kiyoshi, too. a far cry from the school trip second year, when almost no one had been able to and they all floundered around New York.

“Hey, Satoru," Etsuko greeted suddenly, appearing to his left. She was smiling and was holding a drink in her left hand. It looked like a soda of some sort. She was wearing a black skirt, it seemed, with a sky blue halter top. She blinked slowly, though, when something else caught her attention, and she scoffed lightly. “I guess Kiyo-kun hasn't quite figured out how to use a sunscreen bottle, yet," she spoke, pointing in Kiyoshi's direction.

He was holding the bottle in one hand, and staring at it. It looked puzzling to him, if the slight pull of his lips downwards was anything to go by. He lifted it closer as if he were inspecting it, before turning it in Mika's direction.

“He really is hopeless with some things," Etsuko spoke, shaking her head softly. “Anyway, how are you doing now that it's summer break?" she asked, quirking a brow in his direction as she took a drink of her soda.

He snorted softly. "I'm in Hawaii on a vacation I didn't even have to pay for, Etsuko," he pointed out with a wry smile. "So I'd say I'm doing pretty well." He stretched a moment, folding his hands together behind his neck. His eyes fell closed for just a moment as he savored the warmth on his skin. He blinked them open again slowly.

"You want to go swim or something? Seems like a waste to come to the beach and stay out of the water."

“It's not a waste if you enjoy everything else around you. The views can be nice, too," she replied, a look of mild amusement crossing her features. “Swimming, though, sounds like it'd be nice when it's a little warmer in the day. I know... this might sound a little childish, but I was planning on building sandcastles for now. I haven't done that in years," she admitted, pursing her lips lightly together.

“But, uh, if you want to go swimming, we could do that, too."

Sandcastles? That wasn't what he'd been expecting to hear. "Huh. I guess that could be fun. Maybe we could all build one and see who comes up with what." He'd been about to propose a contest, but not everything needed to be one. Probably something he ought to work on about himself.

He was already looking at the sand, planning the possibilities. He was an engineering student, after all; it would be pretty unimpressive if he couldn't manage a decent one at least.

“That does sound like fun," she agreed, though she snorted softly. “Although I can't promise anything impressive. Kiyo-kun, I doubt, has ever made a sandcastle," she began, shaking her head lightly. “I highly doubt Mika's ever made one, either. Otō-san, though... he does all kinds of weird things. Chances are he's made one before," she stated, laughing lightly to herself.

"I think Ryoka's tried," Satoru added. "But mostly she liked to destroy them when we were kids, so... none of them really got past a tower or two." Still, it seemed like it would be interesting to find out. Turning around to face back towards the others, he waved them over with a gesture.

It was bound to be good for a laugh, if nothing else.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami
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Kiyoshi stared, dumbfounded by the shovel in one hand, and a small bucket in the other. They were both made of plastic, and a bright yellow color. That wasn't what had him stumped, though. Satoru and Etsuko had issued a sort of funtime they should all do, and it required making a castle in the sand. He'd never done anything like that before. He glanced towards the others, watching as Ryoka sat down and began piling sand near her. Etsuko wasn't too far off, though she seemed to be in a more contemplative mood.

He glanced towards Mika, and pursed his lips together. “Mika-chan, what am I supposed to do with these?" he asked, holding up the tools in his hands.

Mika, whose bucket and shovel were both extremely bright pink for some reason, lifted an eyebrow at him. Tucking the shovel under her elbow, she turned the bucket upside down. "Do you see how this almost resembles a tower from a Western-style castle? Pack it full of wet sand, and it will keep its shape. Then you can build other castle-like features with your hands, until you have something that looks like a complete building."

She glanced around for a moment, then nodded at where his father was just pulling his bucket away from where he'd tipped it over against the ground. The sand-shape it left behind did indeed appear to have crenelations, of a sort.

Kiyoshi arched a brow, and pursed his lips together. Taking in a deep breath, he released it slowly, and kneeled down to pack sand into his bucket. Once it was sufficiently full, he glanced towards the water, and made his way towards it. He was almost knee-deep in the water before he dropped the bucket into it, making sure he still had a grip on it so it wouldn't float away.

He smiled to himself as he lifted it out of the water, and made his way back to Mika. He kneeled down on one leg, and tilted the bucket over, however; it didn't have the same effect. Unlike Ichikage's, whose castle had remained mostly solid and in place, the wet sand Kiyoshi had gathered was mostly muddy water. He frowned.

“Mika-chan, what did I do wrong?" he asked, confused as to what had just happened. Didn't he do as she stated, pack the bucket full of wet sand?

She snorted at him. "Sir, that's more water than sand. It won't stick together if you flood it. Try collecting from a little further up. Where the waves touch, but not actually under the water." She stepped out of her sandals, padding along the sand until she reached the line that marked the boundary between wet and dry sand. With the assistance of her spade, she packed the pail full of the sand, then carried it back over towards him.

Sweeping the ruined pile of sand away with the side of her foot, she tapped down what was left until it was close to flat, then upended her own bucket. When she pulled the plastic away, a perfect sand turret stood in its place. With a small smile, she met his eyes. "See? Simple."

Kiyoshi felt his lips pull into a deep frown. She made it sound simple, but it didn't look simple. He took a deep breath, and followed her example. He walked to the line she had been at, and stuck his shovel into the sand. Once his bucket was filled appropriately, he walked back towards Mika, and set it down next to hers. Carefully, he tipped it over until it lay completely against the sand. When he lifted the bucket, what should have been a replica of Mika's sand turret, there was a crumbled tower.

Any sudden movement, and it would crumble completely. Kiyoshi sighed heavily through his nose. “Perhaps this is not my calling," he mumbled beneath his breath. He could feel the frustration building up in his muscles, however; he managed to keep his expression passive.

A soft chuckle followed the declaration, low and subdued. Mika's hand moved, as if to reach for him in some way, but she aborted the motion before it could finish. "Well, sir, it is only your first effort. Why don't I make the towers, and you can build some of the walls between them? You won't need the bucket for those."

Kiyoshi blinked slowly. For a moment, he thought his hearing had gone... something. Not quite deaf, and not quite so loud that it hurt. It was a pleasant sound, one that he'd never quite heard before, and he stared at Mika with a rather incredulous look. He knew he was doing it because he could feel a slight squeeze in his chest, and he'd swallowed rather thickly. It wasn't something he was accustomed to, and he had to blink his eyes a few moments in order to gather his thoughts.

He hadn't heard what she said, initially.

“Alright," he finally spoke, finding his voice a bit softer than he was used to. He could do that, he supposed. With the shovel in hand, Kiyoshi did his best to make the sandcastle walls, however; each attempt he made, the walls were never stable enough. He sighed heavily, laying the flat side of the shovel against a wall in an attempt to smooth it out. By the time he was finished, he'd managed to get one wall stable.

“Perhaps this should be another thing I learn in my down time." It certainly wouldn't hurt.

"I'm not certain that's the best use for the zen garden," she replied crisply, somehow able to maintain her professional air despite the fact that she was wearing denim shorts and had grains of wet sound on her bare feet.

She took a look at his wall, tilting her head and tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. It was slightly past her shoulders now; long enough that she'd pulled it back into a short ponytail, but several pieces kept falling back into her face. A soft breath left her in a huff, and she set her bucket and pail aside, crouching between two as-yet-unconnected towers. Motioning with a hand, she signaled for him to join her, then dug her fingers into the sand, accumulating a small pile and pressing it together with a firm touch. A few inches to the left, she repeated the same, the wall shaping itself beneath her hands.

"Here—you try from that side."

He quirked a brow, but joined her where she was. He mimicked her motions, grabbing sand between his hands and making a small pile. He smiled as he repeated the process, pushing and molding the sand like she had. It had taken them a few minutes, perhaps half an hour, but by the end of it, Kiyoshi was nearly felt his face incapable of movement. He had been smiling the entire time they were building the sandcastle, and it had been nice.

Nice, because Mika had helped him build it, even if they were supposed to make their own. In a way, this was theirs. Something Mika and himself, created. He felt odd about that sudden thought that passed. It wasn't an unpleasant thought, and strange as it was in his own mind, he actually liked it. His brows furrowed deeply in confusion, but he shook his head to clear the thought away.

“I think we've made quite the fortress," he finally spoke, glancing in Mika's direction. He could feel pieces of sand stuck to his face, and some of it stuck in his hair. Most of it, however, was currently on his hands and forearms.

While he'd mostly taken over the task of building the walls, Mika had added fine details to them, using mostly what looked like the toothpick end of what had once been a drink umbrella. At his assessment, she tucked it away in her pocket and withdrew a handkerchief.

"You've—you've got a bit of sand on your face, sir. May I?" She gestured vaguely with the handkerchief towards him.

Instinctively, he wiped his own face, first. That, however, only managed to leave more sand on his face than he'd originally had. He leaned forward, instead. “If you don't mind," he finally spoke, leaning a bit closer so that she had a proper reach. He, however, didn't remove his gaze from her. He kept his eyes locked with hers, and for some strange reason, he could feel his heart rate pick up.

It felt strange. Maybe...

He lifted his hand where it had been, and moved a strand of hair from her face. It had fallen into her eyes, and he'd wanted to keep looking at them. “You had sand on your face as well." It wasn't an entire lie.

"Ah—" It seemed like Mika had meant to say something, but she stopped there instead. "Th-thank you." She cleared her throat quietly, lifting the handkerchief to his face and gently dabbing away the sand. Her breath was warm against his cheek, and slightly irregular.

She shifted, moving out of her crouch and onto her knees. It brought her a little closer, and a little higher, so that her nose was only perhaps six inches from his own. Mika wore a look of intent concentration, as though she were devoting great focus to her task.

This close and he could smell her. He didn't even have to breathe in order to know her scent. It was just there, like some kind of fragrance he could relish in. He could feel his vision focusing in and out, as if it were suddenly foggy outside. All he had to do was lean in...

“Watch out!" a voiced called out. Kiyoshi managed to move in time as a volley ball hit the sandcastle. It would have hit him had he not moved.

“You idiot!" Ryoka shouted, though the person who'd shouted first looked vaguely confused. Apparently they didn't understand Japanese, however; he looked vaguely mortified by the fact that the ball had nearly hit Kiyoshi and Mika.

“Apologies, Mika. Are you alright?" he asked, turning his attention away from the scene Ryoka was currently making with the guy.

Mika cleared her throat, shifting back onto her feet and standing. The handkerchief disappeared into a pocket. "Quite fine, sir. Thank you for your concern." She paused, then glanced to her left. "It appears, however, that our fortress has not borne the assault quite so well."

“So it seems," he spoke, glancing at the now-ruined sandcastle. He smiled, though, and glanced back in her direction. “We shall have to build a new one and reinforce it with proper fortifications," he stated matter-of-fact. He glanced to make sure it was clear, though it appeared that Ryoka was still arguing with the man. He chuckled lightly, and shook his head.

“Shall we? he asked, grabbing hold of the bucket and shovel.

"Let's."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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After sandcastle building had yielded a runaway winner in the form of Satoru's mathematically-precise construction of many turrets and towers, beach activities had transitioned somewhat. Ichikage now reclined on one of the rented canvas chairs, an alarmingly-bright red drink in a tall glass in one hand. He didn't really need the sunglasses he was wearing, but they seemed to fit the setting. Plus they afforded him the opportunity to study whatever he wanted without giving himself away—something he could do anyway but that the dark lenses made just that much easier.

It looked like most everyone was getting ready to either go swimming or head over to one of the booths that allowed the rental of surfboards. He was inclined to let them do that; the results were sure to be entertaining in either case. Curling his toes and then relaxing them again, he relished in the warmth of the afternoon sun, crossing one leg over another and sliding his glass into the cup designed to hold it at the end of the chair's arm.

He'd already told Ryoka that she didn't need to stay here just because he intended to. He didn't want to spoil the fun of her vacation, after all—and it wasn't as though he actually required protection. If anything appeared which could honestly do him in, she was unfortunately not positioned to be much of a threat against it. Not that he doubted she'd try; she was quite remarkably earnest in that way. The usefulness of her position was, as she was learning to demonstrate, having someone who could act as an extension of himself, and go places he might find difficult to access. Say things he could not officially say, and the like. With a bit more time to learn, she might even be able to take on the functions of an assistant, much as Micchan did.

But unlike Micchan, Ichikage thought that even the most dedicated assistants ought to take time off every now and then, and this was the perfect opportunity.

He wondered if Kiki planned to try surfing. Now that would be something to see.

It seemed, however, that Kiyoshi was heading in Ichikage's direction, his face passive as always. “Otō-sama," he greeted, taking a seat on Ichikage's left. He pushed out a heavy sigh, and closed his eyes. He still sported a few grains of sand on his face, and some of it was lodged in his hair. It was easy to see considering his hair was as pale as he was.

“Are you going to just watch everyone?" he asked, opening one eye to stare in Ichikage's direction.

Ichikage shrugged, re-rolling the sleeves of his loose shirt up to his elbows. "I thought it might produce some entertaining results," he replied with an askew smile. "And I think I'm quite right, since it looks like everyone just decided to go rent surfboards." Indeed, the remaining four members of the group headed to the rental kiosk.

In the meantime, he refocused his attention on his sun. "Have fun building sandcastles, did you?"

Kiyoshi responded with a flat look, opening his other eye so that both of them were on Ichikage. He merely shrugged, though. “I suppose you could say that," he stated, but the small smile that inched across his face told another story. “And what of you? Your sandcastle didn't make it past a wall and two turrets. It looked like you were focusing mostly on the little sand people," he added, arching a somewhat amused brow.

“I think I even saw some that resembled the family," he spoke, possibly referring to the others.

Ichikage hummed. "What can I say? I'm not used to doing things on human deadlines. I wanted to reconstruct the castle from a story I read Etsuko when she was a little girl. It was going to be quite hilarious—I had plans to dress her sand counterpart as the princess and make Satoru-kun her prince. I, naturally, was going to be the dragon. Alas, work was slow."

He picked the drink up from its cupholder and took a long sip, savoring the fruity flavor accompanied by the brown sugar notes of rum. Licking his lips, he set it back down and then shot Kiyoshi a mischievous glance. "Though from the way things were looking a moment ago, perhaps a recasting would be in order. Micchan would make quite the daring princess, would she not?"

Kiyoshi had an expression on his face that appeared to be the beginnings of a laugh, however; Ichikage's last statement caused his face to pull into an unamused look. His brows furrowed for a minute, as if he were contemplating what Ichikage said. Shaking his head, Kiyoshi scoffed lightly.

“I'm not sure Mika-chan would appreciate being called a daring princess. She would probably prefer the heroic knight," he spoke, his face remaining serious-like. He snorted, though, giving way to the fact that he was joking. Kiyoshi never joked about anything.

Ichikage let out a short bark of laughter. "That she would, no doubt." His eyes flicked back down the beach, where the others had procured their rental surfboards. They headed back towards Ichikage and Kiyoshi, probably so they'd have somewhere secure to leave their beach wear since swimsuits would be required for their activity of choice. He raised a hand to wave lazily as they approached.

Satoru was the first to arrive, staking his board into the sand. "Are you two sure you don't want to come?" he asked, flipping open the cooler and withdrawing a bottle of water. He cracked it and took several swallows before replacing the cap and handing it off to Ryoka. "Apparently the waves are going to be pretty good."

"So say the people renting out the equipment, anyway." Mika stuck her board in the sand as well.

Kiyoshi blinked slowly before turning his attention to the boards. He pursed his lips together, as if he were actually contemplating whether or not he would go with them. Ryoka, who'd taken the bottle Satoru had handed her, quirked a brow. A slow grin formed on her lips, though. “You should come with, Kiyo-kun. You can't let Mika-chan show us all up, can you? What if she falls into the water? What are you going to do then?" she stated, causing Kiyoshi to furrow his brows, deeply.

“Mika-chan is quite skilled in a lot of things, Ryoka-san. I'm sure surfing will be no problem for her," he spoke, his tone carrying a hint of confidence for Mika, apparently. Etsuko rolled her eyes, having been the last one to arrive.

“You're not very good at having fun, are you?" Ryoka stated, but shrugged her shoulders. “That's fine by me, but don't say I didn't say so when she does fall," she spoke before walking towards the beach, board in hand.

“What about you, tō-san? Are you going to join us?" Etsuko asked. Apparently Kiyoshi had decided to go, though, since he stood up and made his way towards the rental stand.

Ichikage waved his hand. "No, no, you kids have fun." He did sometimes enjoy playing the 'old man' card. At the corner of his eye, Mika pulled off her blouse, stepping out of her shorts as well. Not unexpectedly, her swimwear was rather conservative: a black one-piece suit with a slash of purple from left shoulder to right hip with white stenciled lilies along the same.

She picked the board back up and nodded slightly to him before taking off back towards the water.

"Well... guess we'd better get out there, too, if we're gonna stand a chance against her, right?" Satoru shrugged at Etsuko, then followed after.

Etsuko snorted softly. “Be there in a second," she called after Satoru, turning her attention back to Ichikage. “And you'll have fun by watching us all fall off of our boards," she spoke, stepping out of her sandals. The only article of clothing she removed were the pair of black shorts she'd been wearing. The sky blue halter had served as the top piece of a two-piece. It was modest as most things went. It appeared that Ryoka was the only one dressed in a more exposed two piece, though. It was a deep red, almost maroon, color.

Ichikage allowed himself a moment of objective appreciation for this fact, but didn't let it go so long as to be either creepy or obvious.

“Are you certain you don't want to come?" Kiyoshi said, glancing down at Ichikage. He'd changed into a pair of black swim trunks, but he was wearing a white tank top. “You'd get a better view of all of the... falls," he spoke, though he sounded unsure of his wording.

He snorted. "I might be old, but my eyes are still plenty good, Kiki. I don't plan to miss a single detail, thank you." Grinning, he waved him off with a shooing motion. "Now go entertain me, all of you."

Kiyoshi scoffed lightly. “Some things never change, do they?" he stated, shaking his head. He made his way towards the others, and stood back a bit. By this time, Ryoka had already entered the water and was the first one out. Etsuko wasn't too far behind, but she'd remained near the water's edge, not quite going into the water yet.

Kiyoshi, however, seemed a little hesitant to enter the water. Perhaps he was unsure of something, but whatever it was, disappeared when he entered. The first few attempts they made, saw Ryoka falling off of her board a few times. Etsuko had managed to keep some balance on her board, falling off at least three times. Kiyoshi, however, seemed to be managing better than they were. He'd only fallen off once.

In any case, it was a wealth of entertainment for Ichikage. Every time a new wave swelled, he watched them all try to position themselves to ride it through to its conclusion. Inevitably, at least one of them would tilt too far in some direction—forward, backward, left, right—and fall right into the ocean with a rather spectacular splash. He spent more or less the entire time chuckling. Some of the spills were truly excellent.

So excellent, in fact, that he began to film them with his phone, subtly so that it would not be easily noticed.

Micchan's balance was of course excellent; she didn't fall more than once, and even then she turned it into an actual dive. Slightly less hilarious, but amusing in its own way. Satoru was having less luck, but though most of his early runs were disastrous, he did appear to learn quickly.

Etsuko seemed resigned to her fate, and sat on one of the boards. She was speaking with Kiyoshi who'd merely nodded. Asking for advice, apparently, since he swam out a little further with her behind him. Ryoka, however, seemed rather adamant at staying on her board, falling off nearly every time she stood up. Her balance should have been a given, considering her ex-profession, however; it seemed that balancing on a board was a different thing altogether for her.

After a few more tries, she was the first to give-up, and made her way back towards the shore. Her brows were furrowed deeply, but she blinked in mild surprise when she was approached by a man holding a board. He was trying to talk to her about possible lessons, however; Ryoka didn't know English. She merely shrugged, pointed in Ichikage's direction, and made her way towards him. She speared the board into the sand, and took a seat to his left.

“You could have shared in our humiliation, you know," she spoke, pointing out into the water as Etsuko fell once more. Kiyoshi seemed to find it funny, though, since he was laughing. It was subtle, but nonetheless a laugh.

That was good; he laughed so seldom Ichikage sometimes wondered if he'd forgotten how. He paused in his study of the scene to arch a brow over his shades. "Ne, Ryoka-chan. It wouldn't have been humiliation—I already know how to surf."

Sometimes, a life as long as his had its advantages.

“One of many talents, I'm sure," she scoffed, leaning back in her chair. “But I suppose that's one of the benefits of a long life. You get to learn new things, and then perfect them," she spoke with a sort of whimsical air, however; it sounded like she almost envied him for it. She shrugged, though, snorting softly when Kiyoshi fell off of his board. That would make it the second time he fell.

“Sometimes, the only thing that reminds me of the relation you have to Kiyoshi is the fact that you both look alike," she stated, grinning as she closed her eyes. “Other than that, he acts nothing like you."

"I know, right?" Ichikage sipped his drink again before offering it to Ryoka. "He needs to learn to have more fun. I'm counting this as a good start."

“Oh, thank you," she spoke, taking the cup and taking a sip. She wasn't expecting the flavor, if the way her face twisted slightly was anything to go by. “And I agree, this is a good start for him. I don't think I've heard him laugh since I've been here. Let alone seen him smiling so much." She handed Ichikage back his cup and arched her brow in the direction of the others.

“I'd have to say the same thing about Toto-chan," she spoke, nodding her head in Satoru's direction. “He seems happier as well. I'm glad because if he's happy, that makes me happy," she stated, huffing lightly to herself.

"Family's strange like that." He smiled at her, tipping the glass in miniature toast before downing the rest of the contents.

Family was strange in many ways, especially his. But what was life without a little strangeness?

Setting

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Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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The first couple of days had been rather pleasant and hilarious. At least for Ryoka, they had been. The third day was already drawing to a close, but she still felt a little restless. She had a lot on her mind, and she couldn't really sort it out, properly. She knew part of her mind was on Ichikage. She wouldn't deny that there was a sort of attraction she had to him, but she wasn't a child. She knew it wouldn't amount to anything. It was, to her, similar to a hero complex.

He'd basically saved Satoru and herself from whatever fate they had, and had given them a place to stay. More importantly, she'd earned her job as his bodyguard. She was putting it down that whatever crush, or infatuation she had for him was just that. It would sort itself out, eventually, and she resigned herself to it. She pursed her lips together, running a hand through her hair to smooth it out. She wondered if Mika felt the same about Kiyoshi, though.

That day on the beach, when they were building sandcastles, Ryoka had seen it. The way Kiyoshi had leaned in, the way they were both fixated on each other for that brief moment. She'd been upset when the moment was ruined by that damn volley ball. A small grin pulled at her lips. There was one way to find out, and Ryoka knew that Mika could use a bit of a break. Polar opposites they might have been, but at the current moment, Ryoka knew they were kindred spirits.

With that in mind, she made her way to her drawer, pulling out a pair a dark gray, wrap blouse. It was sleeveless, pefect for the warm weather, and fitting enough for the scene she had in mind. The black pants that accompanied the shirt, were ones Mika had picked out during one of their shopping days. She appreciated Mika's sense of fashion, considering Ryoka had none of her own. That wasn't to say she dressed badly. She often had Satoru help out, so she wasn't completely hopeless.

Once she was properly dressed, hair pulled back into a tail, she made her way to the room Kiyoshi and Mika shared. She almost snickered to herself for that. Forcing the laugh down, she took a breath, and knocked on the door. She already knew who would answer first.

She wasn't wrong; Mika pulled open the door promptly afterwards, a slight flicker of purplish light fading from her eyes until they were back to their usual gunmetal grey. She wasn't quite dressed for the outing Ryoka had in mind, but that could presumably be fixed if she agreed to go.

"Ryoka-san. Come in." Obviously much too polite to leave her standing out in the hallway, Mika stepped aside, admitting her to the room she and Kiyoshi shared. It was of course ridiculously-neat and well organized, even if it was abundantly clear which side of it was Mika's and which side was Kiyoshi's.

"Is there something we can do for you?"

“Hm, not particularly, no," she responded, stepping to the side. Kiyoshi was currently sitting in the corner on one of the chairs, a book in hand. He glanced up and tilted his head. It was, in some ways, adorable when he did that. She wondered how Mika was able to remain so calm when he did that. The quizzical look on his face caused Ryoka to chuckle, though.

“But there is something I might be able to do for you," she stated, watching Kiyoshi's brow arch a little higher. “I want you to go with me to the local bar just down the street. You could use a bit of a break from sandface over there," she spoke, nodding her head in Kiyoshi's direction. He gave Ryoka a flat look, but seemed curious enough that he spoke.

“You should go, Mika-chan. I will be fine here with otō-sama while you are out."

Mika hesitated for a moment, pursing her lips. After a glance at Kiyoshi, though, she sighed quietly through her nose. "Very well," she said quietly. "Give me five minutes to get dressed."

Retrieving a suitcase from under her bed, Mika shifted around a few of the articles inside before moving to the bathroom and shutting the door behind her. As promised, it took her only about five minutes before she reemerged, hair let down around her shoulders and dressed somewhat more appropriately for the bar: white lace and denim shorts, sheer black tights, tall heeled ankle boots, and a deep purple blouse, fitted neatly to her figure but cast off at the shoulders, the sleeves only about two inches long. She slipped her phone into one pocket of the shorts, and her sunglasses onto her face.

"Shall we?"

“Let's." She'd expected a little resistance, honestly. She wasn't going to complain, though, since she'd achieved her desired result. Ryoka smiled at Mika and nodded her head, stepping out of the room and to the side allowing Mika to follow her. The bar she had in mind was a few blocks away from the hotel, and considering the reviews and the liveliness of the place, she could speak with Mika without any real eavesdropping. Ichikage and Kiyoshi were both daiyōkai, and their hearing was exceptional. She didn't have to be a genius to know that, but the talk she wanted with Mika was confidential.

At least she wanted it to be.

“It'll be easier and quicker if we walk," she stated once everything was in order. She lead the way, keeping relatively quiet during the walk. It only took about ten minutes to reach their destination. It was a tiki bar, which meant they would be spending their time outside. That was fine with Ryoka—a little fresh air was good for them even if the last couple of days were spent outside. She settled into one of the wooden chairs, and smiled at the bartender.

He handed her a menu, and one for Mika. Ryoka pursed her lips together as she read the choices. Even though she couldn't speak English, Mika was with her. She could just ask Mika to order her drink for the time being. “Mika-chan, could you order this for me?" she asked, pointing to a cocktail called Zombie.

Mika nodded slowly, though not before a pause. Her mouth pulled slightly to the side, perhaps at the ingredient list for the drink, which of course Ryoka could not read. Turning to the bartender, she spoke rapidly in English, the incomprehensible string of words having the end result of a cocktail that matched the picture being set in front of Ryoka. Mika's drink was electric blue, served in a martini glass with a pink umbrella sticking out of it.

The sun was setting over the beach to Ryoka's left; as it did, the crowd around the bar picked up a little—mostly young single people by the look of it, and a fair mix of locals and tourists. Probably most of them were American, though there were a couple people speaking something that might have been Spanish a couple of tables down.

"So, why the sudden need for a trip to the bar, Ryoka-san?" Mika was eying her with something approaching suspicion over the rim of her glass, one eyebrow arched.

Ryoka didn't answer at first, instead, choosing to take a sip of her drink. It was a bit sour, but she liked sour things. She liked a lot of things, she supposed. She took in a deep breath, afterwards, and stared at Mika. She needed to choose her words carefully. Not because she wanted to be delicate about the situation, but because she wasn't exactly sure what to say. How could she put into words what she wanted Mika to know? She grinned.

“Because I needed a date, and Etsuko's too young to go with me. Have you never been on one, Mika-chan, a date?" she asked, arching her brow and taking another sip of her cocktail.

"Probably, if this qualifies as one." Mika blinked, unperturbed by her assertion. "But for most definitions, no. Why—have you?" She seemed to expect an answer in the affirmative, leaning a little back on her chair and crossing one leg over the other.

Ryoka gave Mika a flat look. “You've never been on a date? You? On a date?" she spoke, almost in disbelief. Mika was pretty, beautiful even, but how had she never been on a date? “Seriously?" she stated, taking a long drink of her cocktail. She pursed her lips together, sighed, and shook her head.

“Yes, to your earlier question," she decided to say. She'd been on a date, but growing up the way she did left little room for things like that. Ryoka was, she'd admit, a bit of a romantic, though. “I'm a little surprised, though, Mika-chan. I would have thought you'd have been on at least one. Is there a reason why you haven't? I mean, you're a good-looking woman, I'm sure someone must have approached you," she continued, arching her brow and leaning on her arm.

Mika set her drink down on the table, leaning forward again to stir it with the toothpick end of the little umbrella. "Our reasons aren't so different, I suspect," she said, giving Ryoka a look that said she'd picked up more from her answer than just exactly what she'd mentioned outright. "My lifestyle doesn't allow for the time it would take to maintain a commitment of that sort, and I'm not interested in casual or shallow relationships." She shrugged slightly, furrowing her brow at her drink for a moment as though it had offended her somewhere.

With a sigh, she picked up the glass and downed the rest, motioning for another. "You can understand that at this point, though, can't you? The job—it takes a lot out of you. And even if you try to spend your off hours somewhere far from it... it eventually it just becomes your life. They become the people you care about, and everyone and everything else just... bores you. Or so it went for me, anyway." Mika tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

Ryoka smiled solemnly. Mika had a point in what she said. Somewhere a long the way, these people, the Motoyami household, became dear to her. She cherished them in a way that she didn't think she would. With Satoru, it was different because he was her brother. She'd always cherish him, but these people were not blood-related to her. She cherished them as if they were.

“It sounds to me," she began, pausing only to finish off her own drink, “like there's something more to it. It's not that everything else bores you; it's because there's something you're not acknowledging."

“Something you're refusing, or not admitting to yourself. I understand, I think," she couldn't say for certain, though. “You and I are kindred spirits in that way, I suppose," she stated, waving the bartender order and pointing to her drink. She couldn't order herself another one without speaking in English, but it seemed the bartender understood. Her drink was replinished, and she took a slow drink from it.

“Tell me something, Mika-chan. Do you like someone? Someone you know you shouldn't, but you can't help it? I know I do," she admitted softly. It wasn't an easy admission, and something like that wasn't easy to do. She was hoping that her own admission would help Mika do the same.

This was Mika, of course, so things would not be precisely that easy. "Like?" she replied, giving the word a slow emphasis. "If you mean that the way I suppose you do, then you must be very careful, Ryoka-san. Yōkai are not—" She paused, as if uncertain how she wanted to continue. Her lips pinched slightly, giving her a moue of concern.

"It is a very different thing, to be the kind of being who has lived thousands of years and will live thousands more. Maybe too different." She said it softly, the concern more obvious now; it sounded like Mika was concerned for her.

“Hm, I'm aware of that little fact," perhaps more-so than she wanted to be. She knew that human lives and yōkai lives were different, and would always be different. There was no changing that. “But that's the beauty of being a human, I suppose," she stated, taking another drink. “We don't get to choose who we like, Mika-chan. It's just something that happens. Our hearts are traitorous bastards that way, but it is what it is."

“It's not a crime to like anyone, Mika-chan. Admitting to it can be sort of... liberating, but it's up to you whether or not you actually want to do something about it. Besides, it's not like I'm in any position to do anything about it," because she was human. She might have liked who she liked, but that didn't mean anything would come of it. Ryoka, as much as she was a romantic, was a bit of realist. She knew her limits, what she could achieve and what she couldn't.

“You, though, I bet you could," she spoke. Mika had more of a chance than Ryoka did. That was blatantly obvious to anyone who had eyes.

"I don't like anyone," Mika replied softly, already halfway through her second glass. She seemed to be holding it well, but even as much as she'd had gentled her expression a bit, making her a little easier to read. There was something almost morose about the set of her mouth, coupled with a... wistfulness? Maybe that was it. "That word—it's not even close to the right one."

She sighed through her nose, the sound almost lost in the jovial music that had begun to pick up from the DJ setup on the far side of the terrace area. "Maybe there isn't a right word." Her lips pursed again; she met Ryoka's eyes steadily. "I don't suppose anyone's told you this, but I've actually been with them since I was a child. Kiyoshi-sama—"

She winced, then threw back the rest of her drink. A short conversation with the bartender produced a tray with four shot glasses on it, each a different vibrant color. Mika picked up a purple one, and gestured for Ryoka to choose one as well. "If I tell you any of this, it stays between us."

“My word is my bond." She'd said something similar to Kiyoshi, once. “It's practically my specialty, keeping secrets," considering she was taiji-ya and all. She chose one that was her favorite color, red, and held it in her hands.

Mika moved her shot glass towards Ryoka. "A promise, then." Their glasses clinked together and Mika tipped her head back, the amethyst-purple liquid disappearing in a single swallow. She didn't even look perturbed by the taste, merely setting the glass down on the table with a decisive thunk.

She sighed, a little more of the tension bleeding out of her. "I was a street kid. Homeless, on my good days. Trapped in some government facility or with a well-meaning foster family on my bad days." She didn't explain that—but maybe she didn't have to. A hanyō child probably wasn't something most people were equipped to handle, and Mika probably would have had trouble pretending to be human as a small girl.

"So I made my living like most of those kids do: any way I could. In my case, it was stealing. Pickpocketing, mostly. The occasional more deliberate burglary or shoplift. I was small, and quick, and though my powers hadn't fully developed yet, also pretty good at not leaving traces." She nudged a second shot towards Ryoka—the blue one, keeping the lemon-yellow one for herself, though she didn't pick it up right away.

"So one day I'm at my usual hunting grounds in Asakusa. Easier to blend than Ginza, but pretty fat wallets regardless, if you know what I mean." She managed a slightly-wry smirk, an expression Ryoka had never seen on her face before. It was a little less cool and professional than most of what she let herself show—an echo of the streetwise pickpocket bleeding through. "I'm scoping out the potential marks, when I see this... man. Except I can sense that he's not a man, without really even knowing what a yōkai is or that I'm half of one. And I can't explain it, but I just feel this—this pull. Like... like all my life it's been raining and suddenly the sun comes out and it doesn't make any sense."

Mika shook her head, scoffing under her breath. "Naturally, I figure it's some kind of trick or that I'm fooling myself because I've never seen anyone so beautiful before. So I decide to steal from him. Like it's some kind of competition, like I want to prove to myself that he's not better than me even though some part of me just knows he is."

With a shrug, she picked up the other glass. "He caught me."

Ryoka, had she not taken what Mika said seriously, wanted to laugh. She didn't know Mika's life had been like that. It couldn't have been easy, but Ryoka felt happy. Happy because Mika was sharing something about her past with Ryoka. That it had been Kiyoshi who caught her, caused her to arch a brow.

“And what happened after that? It's hard to imagine, after knowing him now, that Kiyoshi would have done anything about it." Kiyoshi didn't look like the kind of person who would have taken offense to being stolen from. If anything, he seemed like the kind of person who would have given them everything in his wallet, and been on his way. He was a weird one, but she couldn't really blame him.

That time, Mika snorted outright. "Of course not. He offered to feed me, and I wasn't in any position to say no to a free lunch. I was honestly surprised he hadn't hit me." She took the other shot there, setting the glass down next to the first. "Plied me with questions during the meal. Eventually found out I had no place to live and didn't even know what I was, let alone what he was. So he asked me to come back to his house with him, meet his family. I didn't want to at first, but he kept coming back. He always seemed to be able to find me. And he'd always take me someplace to eat, until finally I agreed to at least see the place."

A little smile turned the corners of her mouth. "Honestly at first I thought he was a kidnapper, you know. But I was pretty confident in my escape abilities, and I'd used my money to buy a knife, so I figured I was prepared for the worst if he tried anything funny. I'm sure he knew—I wasn't all that subtle back then. But he never said anything about it. It took me half a year to stop sleeping with it under my pillow."

Ryoka didn't bother to keep her laugh concealed. She laughed so hard that her sides began to hurt, and nearby people were giving her looks of concern. Once she was able to regain her composure, she downed the shot in her hand, and slammed the glass back on the table. It wasn't hard enough to break it, but the sound it made did startle Ryoka a bit. She cleared her throat and turned her attention back to Mika.

“Mm, Kiyoshi the kidnapper. It's pretty obvious to see why you would have thought that," she stated, shaking her head with a large grin on her face. Something Mika said, though, had stood out to Ryoka. And as the closet romantic that she was, the grin turned into something a little more sly.

“Do you ever think that the reason he was able to find you all the time was because of the thread you both share? You know, the little Red Thread of Fate?" she asked, not bothering to hide her implication of what it meant.

Mika rolled her eyes. "Ryoka, it was because I was a hanyō child with no ki control that stuck to the same districts because I needed the money I could get there. All appearances to the contrary, Kiyoshi-sama is a very intelligent man. It didn't take much effort for him to figure out."

Ryoka scoffed and rolled her eyes as well. “You two really are hopeless," she stated, leaning back in her chair. She ran a hand through her ponytail, and pulled it over her shoulder. Leaning back towards the counter, she sighed softly. “Well, since you told me something about yourself, I suppose I could do the same. Don't... tell anyone I told you this," she began.

“I have a reputation to uphold, you understand," because of all people, Mika would understand. At least Ryoka hoped. “Despite popular opinion, I like classical music. It's why I enjoy listening to Satoru and Etsuko play their instruments," it wasn't a grand admittance, but it was something no one knew about her. She doubted Satoru knew, but he was a bright kid. He probably knew.

"Huh." Mika assessed the piece of information while studying Ryoka's face, adjusting her mental list of her qualities to accommodate the new one, probably. "This might sound weird, but I could see that. You've got depth, Ryoka." She scrunched her nose and smiled, the expression carefree in a way that just had to mean she wasn't sober.

"This isn't that kind of music, but are you interested in dancing? I believe I've seen no fewer than four men and a woman appreciate your appearance since we came in. If that's something you're interested in."

Ryoka huffed lightly. “Well, too bad for them since my heart is taken and you're my date. So," she stated, standing from her chair. She stood up a little too fast, though, since she felt slightly dizzy, but she managed to regain her balance. She cleared her throat, pushed her chair in, and offered Mika her hand. “I shall take you up on your offer: let's dance," she grinned as she spoke.

“But you know, Mika-chan, it's okay to admit that you love someone. Even if it's just to yourself." Admitting it out loud was another thing, and harder to do.

Mika took the offered hand. "I shall think on what you've said."

“Good."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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"I hope you all brought some good clothes," Ichikage said, pausing to chew over another mouthful of pancakes. "Because we're headed to the casino this evening."

Satoru paused in the middle of lifting a slice of bacon to his mouth—room service American-breakfast-for-dinner had been Ryoka's idea, probably for an excuse to stuff her face with more pastries. She was probably addicted.

"There's a casino here? I thought gambling was illegal in Hawaii."

Ichikage grinned. "Yes, but that's why we're boarding a cruise boat. Once it takes us just far enough out onto the ocean, that law will no longer apply. Hence, casino." He glanced at Mika, who primly set her fork down and picked up the sleek tablet next to her elbow on the table.

"Motoyami-sama has requested that each of you be given a sum of five hundred dollars to play with, which should enable you to partake in the activities as you choose, even if you are unskilled at them," she said, scrolling through something on the tablet. "The funds should have hit your bank accounts this morning."

"I don't want you to worry about saving it," the daiyōkai added, "or feel too cautious about using your own. Also, Cricket, the attendants will look the other way even though you aren't yet eighteen. I figured you were close enough to share the fun."

Satoru could believe that three thousand dollars was pocket change to Ichikage, though it still weirded him out a little bit to think of it. That was... a lot of yen. Still, he was already considering how he'd invest his—he'd partaken in more than one round of online poker and blackjack; perhaps it would be a good chance to see how he could put those skills to use.

Etsuko gave Ichikage a flat look, taking a bite of her pancakes at the same time. Once she swallowed it, she continued giving him a flat look. “Really, tō-san?" she stated, furrowing her brows. “A casino?" she continued. Ryoka, who was still stuffing her face, snorted softly. How she managed not to choke at the same time was something else entirely.

“It could be fun, Tsu-chan," Kiyoshi spoke, smiling somewhat in her direction. Etsuko merely furrowed her brows in his direction, but rolled her eyes when his smile shifted just slightly.

“By fun, I think you mean humiliating in some fashion or another," she retorted, causing Kiyoshi to huff lightly. It almost sounded like a laugh, but it was too subtle to tell.

“Come now, Tsu-Tsu, it'll be fun. You should at least try it," Ryoka spoke, apparently finished with her breakfast. Etsuko sighed heavily.

“Fine."

Satoru was certainly looking forward to it.




Given the exhortation to dress nicely, Satoru had opted for a crisp, dark blue shirt, sleeves rolled neatly to his elbows, and black dress pants, though he didn't own especially nice shoes, and so the fact that his converse weren't dirty or torn would have to be enough in that respect. He forewent the tie—he didn't like them as a rule and let the highest two buttons on his shirt undone. Tucking his wallet into his pocket, he crossed the room and knocked on the bathroom door.

"Etsuko? Are you ready? It's time to get going."

“Coming," she spoke from the other side. A second later, the door opened and Etsuko let herself out. She was dressed in a black, chiffon halter dress. The front part of it only fell to her knees, but it was slightly longer towards the back. She had a pair of black heels on, the ones that laced a little past her ankles. She'd left her hair down, though. She blinked at him before smiling.

“I suppose we should go meet the others," she spoke, grabbing her bag and making her way towards the door.

"Sure, uh—" Satoru debated letting the slight spike in his gut go unremarked upon, but... he'd never been the type of person to just sit around and do nothing. Even when he wasn't exactly sure what he wanted. "You look... really nice, by the way." He offered a half-smile, the expression probably betraying a little of his unease.

But this was Etsuko, and it was just a compliment. If he couldn't compliment his friends when the situation warranted, then he was doing a bad job being a friend, regardless of what other... things might be involved.

“Thanks," she stated, giving him another smile. “You look nice as well, a little more handsome than cute," she continued, the subtle quirk of her lip disappearing as soon as it appeared. She turned back towards the door, opened it, and stepped outside. She waited for Satoru to exit as well, before she blinked up at him.

“I'm not going to lie, I don't think I'll be participating in any of the games. Is... it alright if I just watch your games? I mean, Kiyo-kun and Mika-chan will be around, I just don't trust Ryoka-san or tō-san," she spoke, pursing her lips together.

He nodded, a warmth lodged in his chest that wouldn't quite disappear. Since he didn't really want it to, that was fine by him. "I don't mind," he said with a shrug, reaching up to shift part of his fringe away from his eyes. "But if you have any interest in learning or playing, let me know."

They were joined by the others in short order. Ichikage had elected to wear a pinstriped suit, and Mika had opted for a button-down shirt and light grey trousers with her heels. As usual, whatever weapons she was carrying were not visible. Ryoka was wearing a dark blue, almost navy, sleeveless blouse with a black skirt. Kiyoshi was wearing a light grey suit, fitted with a dark purple tie, his hair pulled back into a tail. His bangs, however, seemed to hover in his eyes, though they were swept to the side a bit. It was as if someone had moved them that way.

The trip to the boat was relatively short by hired car, and the six of the boarded without incident. Ichikage had been right—no one even checked his or Etsuko's IDs, and the both of them had to look right on the borderline of legal age to be here. Something told him that the drinks wouldn't be subject to much scrutiny, either, though he wasn't too interested.

The interior of the boat was the casino floor, carpeted in rich red, with mahogany game tables covered in the classic green matting, crisp lines delineating the distinctive borders of each game. Jingling noises came from a bank of slot machines along the far wall; well-dressed people mingled around the tables and along the bar, opposite the machines. It all had a very... elaborate feel to it.

“I didn't know casinos could look so pretty," Ryoka stated, turning her head to look around. Kiyoshi arched a brow in her direction, but didn't say anything.

“I take it you've never been to a casino?" Etsuko asked, causing Ryoka to shake her head.

“Nope, but neither have you, Tsu-chan. Unless... you secretly aren't the sweet little Tsu-chan we all know and love," Ryoka stated, grinning slightly as Etsuko rolled her hands.

“You're not cute, either, Ryoka-san."

“Are we all going to crowd around the tables?" Kiyoshi spoke before Ryoka could reply. She arched a brow at the question, but didn't say anything. “We are a large group, after all."

"Well, there's plenty of room," Ichikage replied, shrugging and removing his sunglasses now that they were indoors. He tucked them into the breast pocket of the suit. "But I think I'm going to venture to the bar first, actually. Care to join me, Ryoka-san?" He extended his elbow slightly away from his body in invitation.

“How can I say no?" she stated, placing her hand on his offered elbow. “You four have fun," she stated, winking specifically in Satoru's direction. Etsuko scoffed lightly, while Kiyoshi merely blinked before furrowing his brows.

“Mika-chan, will you accompany me to that table over there?" he asked, glancing in her direction. He had pointed to one of the poker tables, seemingly interested in what the people were doing on that side.

Mika hummed thoughtfully. "Poker? I wouldn't mind." They'd all obtained chips already on the way in; Mika's were stored in a small satchel currently dangling from her wrist. "...but I was unaware you knew how to play, sir."

Kiyoshi's response, if any, was lost to the general noise of the crowd as they departed, leaving Satoru to shrug at Etsuko. "If it's all right with you, I was thinking I'd go play blackjack." He gestured with his head towards one of the other tables, where a few people were already playing, several more spectating. He wasn't dumb enough to say it right in the middle of the casino floor, but blackjack was the most mathematical of the games on offer, and Satoru had a feeling he could game it if he took some time to settle into playing.

He was less confident in his ability to hide his emotions, and had no interest at all in anything random like roulette or slot machines.

Figuring he could do worse than to take Ichikage's lead in this one small respect, he offered Etsuko his arm. "What do you say to pretending we're fancy as hell and spending a stupid amount of your dad's money in the process?" He offered a half-smile to show he was joking—at least mostly.

“Hey, now, I'd like to think we are fancy as hell," she spoke. She was grinning, which probably meant she was taking his joke as it was. “Let's go see how you fare at blackjack, hm?" she spoke, taking his arm in the process. She didn't say anything after that, instead, following him to the table. She stood behind him once they'd reached the table, probably deciding it was better than taking up room where other people might have wanted to sit.

“I've seen it played before, but I don't recall what the exact purpose was. It's to beat the house, right?" she asked once Satoru was situated.

"More or less," he replied, taking a seat at the table once the current round finished. The dealer, of course, remained standing, as did the spectators behind the players. While the cards were reshuffled, Satoru extracted his bag of chips from his pocket. "There's various strategies for how to handle things depending on what the dealer's upcard is, and what the player gets to start with."

In the first game, the dealer's upcard was a 7, which was quite good. Satoru's was better, though—he had a 10, and then his second card turned out to be a three. The player to his left went bust, which was unfortunate but sometimes happened when the dealer's situation forced risk. When his turn came around, Satoru motioned for a hit, frowning slightly when he received a two. Fifteen. Not enough to be a good place to stop, given the dealer's card. He'd have to risk it, too.

Once more, he motioned forward. A five.

He immediately signaled his intention to stand. The dealer stood at nineteen, meaning that Satoru got his chips back, now doubled. Not a bad start.

Etsuko had remained quiet during his game. She was either paying attention to what he was doing, or distracted by something else. “Seems easy enough," she finally spoke, leaning a forward so that she was over his shoulder a bit. It seemed she was trying to get a better look since her gaze was kept forward on the cards and dealer.

“You're not off to a bad start, Satoru," she stated, turning her head so that she was staring at him, and smiling.

He hadn't been paying as much attention to his surroundings as he could have, but when he shifted his eyes sideways, she was a lot closer than he'd expected. Satoru's heart jumped, partly surprise and partly... not. He swallowed. "Uh, yeah," he replied quietly. "For now, I guess."

She looked like she was about to say something, however; someone tapped her on her shoulder. She blinked mildly and pulled back, turning to face the person who called her attention. He looked to be a year or two older than Satoru. He also looked like he had mixed origins, some Japanese features mixed with American, possibly. His hair was dark brown in color, perhaps a little past his shoulders, and held back in a low tie. His eyes, however, were a blue color. He was smiling at Etsuko, though, and her face had turned a slightly pink hue.

“I haven't seen you here, before. Are you new?" he asked, his smile still on his face. Etsuko blinked, seemingly at a loss for words, and nodded her head. “Oh, where are my manners," he stated, picking up her hand and placing a kiss on the back of it. He lingered a bit longer than what was polite, but Etsuko didn't seem to mind.

“My name is Shane Kurokawa," he stated, confirming his mixed heritage. Etsuko cleared her throat and withdrew her hand as he released it.

“I-I'm Etsuko Fujimori," she stuttered slightly.

“It's a pleasure to meet you, Etsuko," he spoke, causing her to smile albeit nervously. “Are you interested in playing blackjack?" he asked, arching his brow as he did. Etsuko tilted her head a bit and furrowed her brows. Her eyes widened slightly as she shook her head.

“Oh, no. I'm watching my friend play. I don't like playing games like these, but I don't mind watching them being played," she answered, tilting her head in Satoru's direction.

“Friend, hm?" he repeated the word as if he were slightly suspicious of it. He said nothing of it, though, and chuckled. “Well, if games are not your forte, would you care to join me for refreshments? Nothing strong, I promise," he continued. Etsuko's face went from slightly pink to a darker shade, however; she glanced in Satoru's direction.

“Oh, uh," she seemed at a loss for words.

Satoru stood on his eighteen, taking a moment to glance back a bit more fully at the situation. The way Etsuko's face was pink like that... he felt something sink into the pit of his stomach. It took him longer than it should have to find any words; he swallowed thickly and shrugged, feigning nonchalance he could not actually muster.

"Feel free, if you want," he said carefully, flicking his eyes to Shane. The back of his throat tasted sour, but he wasn't going to do something as idiotic as try and tell Etsuko what she could do or where she could go—much less who with.

Something in her expresion fell, almost as if that wasn't what she was expecting to hear. She opened her mouth to say something, but shook her head, instead. She turned towards Shane, and offered a slight smile. “Okay, then. I'll... be back," she spoke hesitantly, giving Satoru one last glance before following after Shane. They weren't too far, considering there was a bar nearby, but their conversation was drowned out by the environment.

“Satoru!" Ryoka nearly shouted his name, as she slipped into the seat next to him. She glanced around, allowing a slight frown to cross her lips. “Where'd Tsu-Tsu go?" she asked, quirking a brow in the process.

"You have to play if you're sitting, Ryoka," he replied flatly, ceding his bet to the house. He hadn't paid close enough attention to the odds last time—he wasn't surprised he'd lost considering that. "Etsuko has gone to... make friends." He couldn't help the very faint sour note which appeared on the last two words. He lowered his eyes to his cards as they were dealt.

“I'm aware how the game works, thank you," she spoke, placing her chips down at the table. She was dealt cards as well, and she turned her gaze to the game. “Oh, is that so?" she stated, almost as if she didn't believe him. “Then tell me," she began, motioning for a hit, before continuing,“why it sounds like you're upset about it?"

She motioned for another hit, causing her to bust. Her shoulders slumped before she turned her attention back to Satoru.

He hit twice, then stood on a seventeen. It wasn't optimal, but the house had crappy positioning, so it could well win.

Satoru sighed. He knew if he denied it, she'd keep bothering him until he talked, and he couldn't exactly just walk away from her right now. The less fuss that got made about this, the better. And that meant copping to the facts, no matter how much he hated the idea.

"Yeah, well..." he shrugged, almost sullenly. "Guy seems awfully chummy for basically being a stranger." Honestly, there was probably nothing wrong with him. Satoru knew why he'd approached, though—you didn't walk up to someone you didn't know and fail to introduce yourself to the friend she was clearly with. Not unless you were after something very specific. But that was Etsuko's business, not his.

Not his.

Ryoka snorted softly. “Yeah, well, isn't that how friends start out? Strangers eventually become friends, you should know that. Besides, Tsu-Tsu's a smart girl, she's probably just being nice." She was, apparently, waiting for the next game to start since she placed more chips on the table. “But you know something, from the looks of it," she began, glancing over her shoulder towards the area Etsuko and Shane had walked off to.

“It seems like they're really getting along. She's actually smiling a bit," she spoke, taking a drink from the glass of water on her left. She'd brought it with her, apparently. “Doesn't that bother you just a little, though?" she asked, curiosity laced in her voice. It was obvious she wasn't trying to hide it.

"It shouldn't," he said firmly, trying to close off the topic. The house took its turn. Bust. He raked his winnings towards him, not in the least bit consoled by the fact that he was doing exceptionally well. "Etsuko deserves to have friends, and she's good at making them. She should enjoy vacation in whatever way she sees fit."

Dammit if he still didn't sound unhappy about it, though.

“Ah, but you didn't say it doesn't. Wording is important, Satoru," she spoke, motioning the dealer for her cards. She didn't seem to have much luck since she lost, again. “It does bother you, you just don't want to admit it." She draped her arm behind her chair as she leaned back in it, a strange grin pulling on her lips. It was almost as if she figured something out, but she always grinned when she was teasing him.

Satoru gritted his teeth. "No fucking shit, Ryoka," he snapped, glad in a distant way that no one else at the table could understand Japanese. He glowered down at the table, unwisely asking for another hit and grimacing when he went bust as a result. "Figure that one out all by yourself?"

A muscle in his jaw jumped. He hadn't meant to be that harsh with her, but she was pushing at something he didn't want to have pushed at. He didn't know what to think of it himself, really, but he did know he wasn't planning to pull any macho bullshit and try to control anything about Etsuko's life. No matter what his feelings were. And if there was nothing to be done about it, he'd rather not think of it.

Ryoka didn't seem to mind that he snapped at her. If anything, her expression softened just a fraction. “Nope, I had help," she spoke, leaning forward on the table. She put more chips on, waiting to be dealt before she spoke again. “You know what I think?" she started, motioning for a hit. She glanced at him from the corner of her eye, the same soft expression still on her face.

“You're jealous." She motioned for another hit, waving her hand to hold when she held seventeen. “I don't think it has anything to do with her making friends. I've seen you when she's with her friends, her male friends. You've never really seemed bothered by it because you knew that's all they were."

“I think it has a lot to do with the fact that you're scared she might mean a little more to you," she continued. “And that any potential suitors that come her way, might take her away from you. Am I wrong?" She quirked a brow in his direction.

He scoffed under his breath. "She can't be taken away. She doesn't belong to me, or anyone else but herself." He knew, of course, that this wasn't what Ryoka had meant, but he just didn't want to talk about it. It was too new, too raw, and he didn't like the way it felt dark and heavy in his stomach. Like he was going to be sick.

Jealousy? Maybe. If so, he hoped he never felt it again. "I don't want to talk about this."

She sighed heavily, perhaps because of what he said, or the fact that she'd lost. Either way, she shook her head. “I know you don't, but you need to," she spoke, leaning back so that she was sitting properly in her chair. “Even if you don't talk to me, you should talk to someone." She kept her gaze on the table, pursing her lips.

“It helps, you know, sorting out your feelings with someone else. You can't do it on your own. I know I couldn't," she spoke, scoffing just lightly under her breath. “I guess that's the difference between you and I, though. But you know... you should do it soon. You might not get another chance."

A muscle in his jaw flexed, but Satoru remained silent. He was done with the conversation—whatever she though he needed, he wasn't having any of it. Not now.

Returning his attention to the game table, he gestured for the dealer to hit him again.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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The other day had been weird.

Almost everyone had doubled, or tripled, the amount that otō-san had given them. Kiyoshi had, oddly, managed to remain with the original five hundred, even though he'd played a few games. Ryoka had lost all of her money, including Etsuko's, who had given her the five hundred she had. She didn't play any of the games, and she'd been a little occupied.

Shane, as it turned out, was a really nice guy. He seemed genuinely interested in getting to know her, and paid attention when she spoke. He'd also picked up on the fact that Etsuko wasn't interested in him. He said as much well into the second hour of their conversation. He said it was a shame, but he wasn't going to pursue her any further. She, however, had felt a little upset. When he first approached her, she had hoped that Satoru would have taken her momentary stun as a hint. A hint that she really didn't want to join Shane, but rather, she wanted to stay with Satoru.

It was a childish thing, considering she was an adult, almost. She could make her own decisions, but the fact that he didn't say anything caused something in her heart to drop. They were just friends. She had to constantly tell herself that because there were days where it felt like something else. Something that made her happy, and as sappy as it sounded, made her heart sing.

Today was the last day of their vacation. They would be flying back to Japan, tomorrow, and everything would go back to the way it was. Them being just friends. She pursed her lips together at the thought. Why did that make her sad? Why did it hurt so much to acknowledge that fact? Sighing softly to herself, she dressed for the warm weather: a pair of black shorts that fell mid-thigh, her sandals, and a dark navy halter-top. She pulled her hair into a braided tail, and tossed it over her shoulder. She needed to clear her mind, for now, and the best way to do that was fresh air. She left the shared room, Satoru having left earlier for a reason or another, and made her way down the hall.

All she had to do was clear her mind, right? And everything would go back to normal.

Before the elevator, she had to cross the common room. As it turned out, it wasn't unoccupied; Ichikage was lazily draped over one of the couches, one hand resting across his body, the other on the floor. He looked like he was asleep—perfectly serene and still, save for the steady rise and fall of his chest.

But as she stepped into the room itself, one of his eyes cracked open, shifting easily towards her in a way that suggested he'd known she was coming since she'd left her room. Possibly before. He had excellent hearing, but his ability to predict people was probably even better. "You look a little perturbed, Cricket," he observed, a tiny smile touching the corners of his mouth. "Something I can help you with, perhaps?"

“Not unless you know some magical concoction that'll clear my mind," she responded, giving him a small smile. It was all she could muster at the moment. She chewed her bottom lip, thoughtfully. She was contemplating whether or not she would continue her way outside, or stay inside and talk to him. He always had a way of helping her out, even if he teased her often.

“I just have a lot on my mind, is all," she finally spoke, making her way towards him. “I was just about to go outside for a walk. The fresh air helps, you know?" she stated it as something obvious. It was to her, at least. “Do you want to come with? We can walk and chat at the same time. I know you miss those."

He grinned at her. "Of course I do. I'm such a lonely old man since you went away to school." He was clearly joking, at least mostly—no doubt the time she spent on campus did to some extent take away from their time together, though.

Bracing his hands, Ichikage pushed himself up, straightening his bright patterned shirt and more ordinary loose shorts. They rode the elevator down together, and struck off in an easterly direction from the hotel.

"I don't have any magical concoctions, but I've found that sometimes talking to other people is just as helpful," he said after a while, lifting both hands to lace his fingers together behind his head as he walked. "Would you like to give it a try, Cricket?"

That was easier said than done, but he did have a point. Her only problem with that was she didn't know where to start. “Where to start," she finally spoke, taking in a slow breath. They passed by a few shops, but none of them caught her eye. “It's all confusing, really, but," she paused so she could glance up at him. He was taller than her, as were mostly everyone else in her house.

“Tō-san, have you ever loved anyone?" she asked, tilting her head as she did. He'd never really talked about Kiyoshi's mother, and she'd never really seen anyone with him. At least not in the sense of what she meant. Yōkai matters were a different thing, she knew that much.

He seemed to take a long time to consider the question, a block and a half passing in silence. His brows furrowed, and his mouth tugged down. "Maybe," he murmured softly. "A very long time ago. I suppose it depends on what you mean by that word." He shook his head slightly, glancing down at her from the corner of his eye. "Since I'm guessing you don't mean it the way I love you or Kiki or Micchan, for example."

She huffed slightly. “You're mostly right," she replied to his statement. It wasn't quite the same love that she carried for Kiyoshi, Mika, or Ichikage. It felt different in a way she couldn't explain. She loved Satoru, yes, but for a long time, she thought it was the platonic sort. The kind you feel for your best friend, or anyone you cared about.

“I mean it in the way modern times associates it with. Not... like those sappy romance movies. Those are just over dramatic and don't really capture the emotion properly." They didn't for her, at least, but she could appreciate a good romance movie if it was done properly. “The kind where you actually want to spend the rest of your life with that person because they mean the world to you, and they're your best friend. You care about them and want them to be happy, but..." she paused, pulling on her bottom lip with her teeth.

“I don't know."

"Perhaps the kind where they make you wish to become the best version of yourself? Where the companionship and understanding are easy and warm most of the time, and where even the disagreements, challenging as they can be, enrich your life? How am I doing?" Ichikage offered her a small smile, their footsteps carrying them closer towards the beach. Other people moved about, but they were all so intent upon their own aims that the two of them got only a few passing glances.

“Exactly," she responded. Sometimes she forgot how wise Ichikage could be. “You couldn't have said it any better," she continued, sighing softly. It was hard to say, exactly, though. Etsuko knew she was still young, and that things could change for her. “But how do you know that it's not just something that's..." she paused, furrowing her brows as she tried to think of the right words.

“How do you know it's not just a passing breeze?" she asked. It was the only way she could describe it. “How do you know that it's not something that's just going to fade over time?"

He made a soft sound in the back of his throat, sliding his sandals off as they hit the beach proper. Bending, he picked them up, letting the straps dangle from the fingers of his left hand. "Well... attraction fades, and it's true that even people who are in love can fall out of it. In fact, I'm sure that if you asked any successful married couple, they would tell you that there are times where they aren't exactly in love." He moved over the sand with the same ease he did everything, naturally adjusting his gait to the terrain.

"But loving someone doesn't mean being in love with them at all times. It means supporting each other and having a relationship strong enough to survive through the more difficult periods. It's respecting each other enough to wait out the rough patches—and that comes down to respect and friendship and care." His eyes fell half-lidded, giving him a contemplative, unfocused look. "If it's just passion and emotion all the time, it's like building a castle on sand. First volleyball comes along, and everything's gone."

“And this is why you're the parent, and I'm the child." She was still learning, she supposed. She smiled, following Ichikage by removing her sandals, and picking them up. “But that makes sense," she spoke, allowing the smile on her face to falter a bit. Satoru and herself were different in many ways, but that didn't change the fact that she felt something for her best friend. She blinked slowly, shaking her head.

“I guess that's where the saying comes in about falling in love with your best friend," she muttered. Ichikage would hear it, but it wasn't like she was trying to keep it from him. She was having this conversation with him, after all.

His free hand fell atop her head gently, where he rested it a moment as they walked. "That's a very nice way of saying I'm an old fogey, Cricket." His hand slid along her hair until it rested comfortably at the back of her neck. "But I suppose experience might have granted me some wisdom." He grinned down at her.

"So... are you planning to share any of this with Satoru-kun, or is it going to remain a love from afar?"

She was half way from scoffing when his last statement caused her to inhale quickly. The result was the coughing fit she had, causing her face to turn a deep red. She cleared her throat once she was able to breathe properly, and pursed her lips together. “No," she answered slowly because she was unsure.

“I mean... it's not something I can just say. I can't just go up to him and say 'hey, by the way, Satoru, I've had a crush on you for two years and now I think I love you." It's not that easy," she muttered, frowning at Ichikage. She sighed heavily, and slumped her shoulders.

“Plus... I don't want to jeopardize our friendship. He means a lot to me, and I don't... I don't want to lose that just because he doesn't feel the same." She would rather keep it to herself than lose the friendship they had.

"Well... I suppose I can understand that," he replied, nodding sagely. "Good friendships are very important things, and difficult to come by."

He let his hand fall away and back to his side. The late-afternoon sun was gradually yellowing, shifting into what would surely become a magnificent sunset over their last day in Hawaii. "But don't give up, Cricket. Sometimes, we have to have patience before we can get the best things in life. But sometimes, we have to reach for them."

She took his hand in hers, and gave it a light squeeze. “I never said anything about giving up. Just that I'm unsure of whether or not I'll say anything, but," she paused to smile up at him. She wasn't going to give up hope, but she would have to think about how she'd go about it. “I hope... I hope you meet someone like that, too, tō-san. You deserve to be happy, too. And not the kind of happiness that Kiyo-kun, Mika-chan, or myself can give you."

She really wanted that for him, more than anything. . “Let's go get ice cream. I want to try their piña colada flavored one." Maybe she'd tell Satoru, or maybe she'd let things continue as they were. She had to think carefully about what she would do.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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When they'd arrived back in Japan, Mika had found a letter waiting for her, on her desk.

This was not exactly unexpected, though she was surprised to see it so soon. The writer had, after all, been informed of her plans to be out of the country for the last week, and so knew that she would not be here to receive it. Perhaps he'd simply decided to write her anyway.

There was something flattering about that, truthfully. To think that someone liked talking to her that much. Wanted to talk to her that much, but understood how important her job was to her and why she couldn't be available for that sort of thing all the time. Hence the letters, to which she could reply at her leisure.

So on her first day back into the office, a half-hour before Kiyoshi was due in, Mika picked up the thick envelope. The stationery was always nice, but frankly she thought the elegance of his handwriting was more remarkable still. She'd studied calligraphy along with the other arts, and while she didn't dislike her small, neat script, it was certainly nothing so beautiful as his.

Carefully, she sliced the letter open at its top, pulling the paper itself from the envelope. Several pages—but that was normal.

Sitting back in her chair with a cup of tea resting on one knee, Mika began to read.

There was a light knock on Mika's door before it opened to reveal Etsuko. “Mika-chan," she greeted, pushing the door open a little more so that she could step inside. She closed it behind her, though, and was holding something in her hands. It was a long black box, almost a foot in length. There was a single white strip on it, and appeared to be a present. Etsuko smiled at Mika, clearly excited about it, though.

“Mika-chan, it's finally finished. If... if you have a moment, could I have your opinion on it?" she asked, pulling the box so that she was holding it with both hands. “It's Satoru's birthday gift, even if it's a couple of months late. I was hoping to give it to him on mine as a sort of... reverse gift giving thing." Her face had turned a light pink and darkened as she had spoken.

She'd felt Etsuko approach, but had expected her to keep walking right past the office. When she didn't, Mika glanced up, taking in the box and her friend's face with a sudden understanding of the situation.

Folding the letter back up at its original creases, Mika set it aside and beckoned Etsuko forward. "All right," she agreed readily. "What is it?"

“It's a wakizashi," she replied happily, taking a seat in front of Mika. She set the box down on the table, and lifted the top portion of it. “Specifically, it was made from meteorite material," she explained, setting the top off to the side. She pulled the blade from the box, and set it down on the table. The tsuka was a deep blue color, almost navy. The sheath itself was also a dark blue, but there was a silver dragon etched into it with ruby eyes. By the head, there looked to be a kamon. It looked like the Yukimura crest, slated in the same silver color. When she pulled the blade from the sheath, however, Etsuko frowned slightly.

“It's... I don't know if it's something he'll like. I read online that meteorites are, supposedly, embued with magical properties, but," she trailed off, setting the blade in front of Mika. The blade was black, not the traditional silver, perhaps due to the materials used to forge it. On the blade, itself, were distinct kanji that read Yukimura Satoru.

“Do you think it's... too much?"

Mika tilted her head down at the blade, studying it for a moment before reaching towards it, pausing before she actually touched it. "May I?"

As soon as Etsuko gave her permission, Mika lifted the wakizashi carefully in both hands, sliding the blade a few inches from the sheath and inspecting it. Without trying it out herself, it seemed quite well-balanced. "Generally one does not inscribe one's own name into a blade in such a manner," she said, gently so that it hopefully would not come across as criticism. She couldn't imagine Satoru being particularly inclined to do such a thing either, but it was a gift, not a piece he'd commissioned for himself.

"And the particular mineral balance in some meteorites does make them suitable for acting as ki channels, but your craftsman only would have been able to blend so much in with the steel, else the forging process wouldn't work. Who did you have do the crafting?"

She'd sighed softly after Mika's first statement, but smiled at the second. “Otō-san recommended him," she stated, pursing her lips together in a thoughtful manner. “His name is Masamune Hattori," she answered. She leaned back into her chair only to slide down it. She sighed heavily before readjusting herself.

“I knew I shouldn't have had his name engraved into it, but," she paused, pursing her lips into a pout-like manner. “I got excited, I guess," she finally spoke after a few moments of silence.

Mika shrugged. "I doubt very much Satoru-kun will be overly bothered by it. The gift is thoughtful, and I'm sure he's the type of person who will care about that most of all." Admittedly, she wasn't quite sure what Etsuko wanted her to say about it otherwise; she seemed to be looking for some kind of reassurance that her choice had not been a bad one, but if the blunt truth didn't convince her, Mika couldn't say what would.

She was not, after all, especially good at convincing people of things.

"Are you looking forward to your party?" she asked instead. Ichikage had not yet revealed what the party would be, though Mika was in on the secret, as she had to be the one to make the arrangements with him. As far as she knew, he'd only told Etsuko to invite as many people as she wanted for the whole day, and to make sure they all dressed for activity.

Etsuko seemed happy regardless, and smiled at Mika. “I am," she replied, moving a little further towards the edge of her seat. She placed her hands on the edge and leaned forward. “I'm excited about it because it's the first one that..." she paused, furrowing her brows slightly. She seemed to be searching for the words since she began chewing on the bottom of her lip.

“It's the first one that feels like my family is complete. I... don't know how else to explain it. I mean, it's not like it wasn't before," she spoke quickly, leaning back into her chair. “It just feels like it's finally how it's supposed to be." She shrugged lightly.

Mika found a small smile tilting her lips, and she made a soft humming sound in the back of her throat. Leaning back in her chair, she crossed one leg over the other. "Complete, hm? Well, I suppose you've been hopelessly waiting for him for a while now; perhaps that's simply a natural response." The teasing was light; even this much was something Mika rarely indulged in, considering that everyone else already tended to do that when they were all in proximity.

But that didn't mean she was entirely above the fray. Her eyes glittered with mirth.

Etsuko gave Mika a flat look. “Ha, ha, very funny," she spoke in a tone that matched her look. She rolled her eyes, but the smile on her face remained. “And it's not like that, Mika-chan. He's just... he's one of my best friends," she stated, folding her arms over her chest. “Friends can be family, too, and not in that kind of way," she continued, closing her eyes for a moment.

“Besides, I'm... it's not," she seemed to have trouble explaining herself. She took a slow breath and smiled up at Mika. “Nothing will come of it if I say anything about it. I don't want to ruin our friendship because it's a one-sided thing. Just because I'm in love with him doesn't mean he feels the same about me. Don't you feel like that sometimes? Not wanting to put something at risk just because you feel a certain way?" she asked, tilting her head in an inquisitive manner.

"Welcome to life," Mika replied quietly, dredging up a half smile. The attempt to balance one's own emotional needs with those of other people was not an easy one, perhaps especially in a situation like theirs, where some of those people were human, and some of them were yōkai. The complications that introduced were pervasive, but not always obvious.

"But you know, Etsuko... there are some things you can't suppress forever. Eventually, trying to keep them to yourself might come to be painful. Perhaps painful in a way that puts a strain on the very friendship you're trying to preserve." She let her hands fall in her lap, lacing her fingers together.

"Just... something to think about."

“And this is why you're my best friend," she spoke, huffing lightly. “But... you're not wrong. It's just not something I can easily bring up," she muttered, furrowing her brows deeper. “In time, maybe, but enough about that. Thanks for the advice, Mika-chan. About that and the wakizashi," she stated, leaning forward to collect the weapon. She placed it back into the box, and sealed it.

She pulled it close to her, holding it like it was something precious. “You know, Mika-chan," she started, standing up from her chair. “You should also think about it," she spoke, though she didn't clarify what she meant by that. She smiled at Mika, and walked towards the door. She opened it, looking vaguely surprised as she did.

“Be nice, Kiyo-kun," she spoke, before moving around him. Kiyoshi was still standing by Mika's door, hand partially raised as if he were about to knock, and a confused expression on his face.

“Did I interrupt something?" he asked, still standing at her door.

If Mika had been the type to react to something like that, she would have sighed. She didn't quite understand the continuing insistence implied by the likes of Ryoka and Etsuko and even Ichikage. Was it so difficult to understand that devotion could take many forms, and not all of them had anything to do with romantic attachment?

She shook her head slightly at her employer. "No, sir. Etsuko-chan only came by to ask my opinion on something. As I've given it, she is leaving."

Sparing a thought for the letter on her desk, she dismissed it. She'd read it later. Right now, there were other things she needed to attend to. "The first item on your itinerary today is a board meeting at the publishing company. I believe the topic is the childhood literacy initiative you're setting up in Bangladesh." She'd heard things were going well, so the meeting shouldn't be too stressful, at least.

"And then you've a lunch with..." Mika paused, but only momentarily. "Ito-sama specifically requested to see you today. It seems she has something important to discuss with you. I've kept your afternoon free in case that goes beyond lunch." Appointments with his fiancée tended to do that, which Mika supposed was understandable, considering. Who wouldn't want to spend more time with the person they loved most?

She ignored the slight tightening in her throat, inwardly cursing the others for trying to get her to think this way about any of it. It was just a fleeting impression, a little seed of what-if that would never find purchase in the soil. That was all.

"If that doesn't happen, however, you'll be able to use the time to catch up on some of the work that accumulated while we were on vacation."

Kiyoshi sighed. The way his shoulders slumped slightly, and the slight tilt of his head downwards suggested that he wasn't exactly happy about the lunch meeting. He was smiling about the previous meeting until Mika mentioned Ito-sama. It almost looked like he didn't want to go from the way his lips were pursed and his brows were slightly furrowed. He seemed to shake it off, though, since he glanced back up towards Mika.

“Thank you, Mika-chan," he spoke, the small smile returning to his face. “For everything," he added, his gaze lingering with hers a moment longer before he dropped it.

It irritated her sometimes; the way he'd say such vague things. Things that could be interpreted as not meaning anything in particular or else meaning quite a lot. She rarely knew what to make of them exactly, even all this time.

One thing she did understand, though, was the expression on his face at the mention of his lunchtime appointment. Mika's brows furrowed; it really wasn't any of her business. But—wasn't it? She might not have any say in Kiyoshi's personal life, and that was how things should be. But at the same time, she recognized that she was a part of it, and that for whatever reason he tended to confide in her, and wanted her to act more like his friend, inappropriate as she still sort of considered that.

Mika bit the inside of her cheek, the sting doing little to clear her thoughts. Releasing a soft breath through her nose, she set her tablet down and regarded him as he settled at his desk.

"Sir—" she grimaced, already thinking better of the question. But it was halfway out there already, wasn't it? "About Ito-sama. Do you really—?"

Her jaw clicked shut. That wasn't the question she'd meant to ask. Not at all. Inwardly surprised with herself in the most unpleasant of ways, Mika clamped down on the rising feeling of unease in her stomach and quickly amended. "If you'd like another day to recover from the trip, I can cancel the appointment."

Ito would probably seize the phone from her own assistant and use the offense to spit bile at her for several minutes straight, but Mika would do it anyway, if that was what he wanted.

He regarded her for a moment, blinking slowly as he did. “No, that won't be necessary," he finally spoke, his brows still slightly furrowed. “I will notify her, myself. I think... it would be better if she heard it from me," he stated, offering Mika a half-smile. He remained quiet for a moment longer, as if he were contemplating something. He was looking at his desk with an intense expression on his face. He seemed to have realized this since his face softened a moment, and he blinked back up at Mika.

“I will require assistance with the phone, though," he stated, pursing his lips together. Of all the new things he had learned, operating a phone still proved to be a bit of a problem for him.

She snorted. "Very well, sir. I'll dial the number. Perhaps we could spend this afternoon selecting birthday presents for Etsuko, instead."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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Etsuko couldn't sleep last night.

She was too excited about today. It was the day she finally turned eighteen, however; that was not what had her excited. She'd spent the majority of yesterday finding the rest of her gifts, the ones she wanted to hand out to everyone else. Usually, it was the opposite. It was her birthday, but she wanted to do something different this year. Something that wasn't ordinary, perhaps, because the people in her life were not ordinary at all.

And she loved them regardless.

The reason she couldn't sleep, though, was because of the object currently in her arms. After she'd spoken to Mika about it the other day, she'd debated whether or not she'd actually give it to Satoru. She'd intended to give it to him, but she'd been slightly hesitant about it. Was it good enough for him? Would he even like it? Mika had managed to only temporarily banish those fears from Etsuko, however; her palms were getting sweaty. She was nervous, but maybe that was just her nerves working against her?

She took a deep breath, and managed to will her legs forward. She wanted to give everyone their gifts before they left the estate. She wasn't entirely sure where they were going, yet, but she'd dressed as Ichikage had suggested. She was in a pair of black shorts and a white tank top with a dark blue summer jacket. Her shoes were plain white sneakers that were easily slipped on. She'd left her hair down, however, since she didn't feel like doing much with it. She could always throw it up in a tail if she needed to.

She wanted to give Satoru his gift, first, for a number of reasons. One of them was mainly that this was a personal gift. She didn't want the others to make it any more awkward than it already was. It was hard enough to get the courage to give it to him, let alone try and make it seem as a gift from one friend to another. Another, more logical reason, was the fact that weapons were not something to carry around unless you were Mika or Ryoka. They were bodyguards.

With that in mind, she tucked the gift under her arm, securing it as she made her way to find Satoru. Hopefully she could find him before the others were around. They still had about an hour before they were to leave.

Unsurprisingly, he was in his bedroom. She could hear someone moving around inside when she stopped outside the door; the rustle of fabric hitting the floor and then more of it sliding over skin, followed by something that sounded like a contemplative hum and the sound of the closet door closing. The flow of sound stopped when she knocked, a heartbeat's pause as he no doubt used the senses he'd been born with to figure out who was outside his room without needing to see her.

"Uh... just a second." More rustling, a soft thud. Some shuffling, footsteps—and then at last the door opened. Satoru blinked at her, obviously surprised to see her early. His hair was still unbound, spilling over his shoulders and back like strands of liquid ink. He'd dressed mostly casually, a white t-shirt with a slight v at the neck and dark jeans, though there was a black leather jacket thrown over his neatly-made bed. He'd foregone his glasses, probably to make use of the aviators currently sitting in the neckline of the shirt.

"I'm not late already, am I?" His eyes fell to the box in her hands, one eyebrow climbing his forehead.

Any words currently in her mouth, seemed to disappear. He looked handsome. She swallowed thickly, and forced her gaze down for a moment. She could feel her face on fire, and for a moment, Etsuko cursed herself for reacting that way. Clearing her throat, she glanced back up and offered him a smile, shaking her head as a way of answering him.

“Actually, no. We're still early, but," she started, shifting in her spot nervously. Now she just felt ridiculous, standing here with a gift for him in her hands on her birthday. Why did it feel so hard to breath, suddenly? Clearing her throat a second time, she held the box out towards him.

“I... know this might seem weird, but I actually have something for you. I meant to give it to you for your birthday, but it took him longer than expected to make it," she spoke, trying her best not to look as awkward as she felt. “It's, um, I hope you like it." Her face was definitely red by now, she could feel it.

Satoru accepted the box with what might have been a shade of his own awkwardness. "Oh, uh—thanks. If you want to come in, I can open it?" Stepping away from his door, he retreated inside, laying the box on the bed for a second. He looked around, as though somewhat anxious about the state of the room, which was ridiculous because he might well have been the neatest person living at the estate. It was almost military in its precision, everything lines up nicely and every surface dusted.

Apparently finding nothing to correct, he tugged on the ribbon on the box, throwing her an unreadable glance before he opened the box. His lips parted slightly in surprise when he saw what was inside, and he lifted the sword out of the container with a care approaching reverence, studying the details with a clear, sharp eye before he ventured to unsheath it.

A soft noise escaped him when he saw the characters for his name; it sounded vaguely like disbelief. "It's... uh... this is really fancy, isn't it?" Satoru smoothed the pad of his thumb along the side of the blade, following the contour of the weapon until it tapered to a point at the end. "Wow, uh—I dunno what to say, Etsuko. This is kind of—" He paused, clearly unsure of what to say. Carefully, he fitted the sword back to its sheath.

“It's too much isn't it?" she stated softly. She knew she shouldn't have gone overboard with it, but she wanted to get him something nice. Something that he'd be able to use and something that would be helpful to him in some way or another. This was the only thing she could think of. Sure, he played the piano, and she could have gotten him something along the lines of music sheets, however; it didn't seem right.

“I wasn't too sure what to get you, and... I'd done a little bit of research on meteorite minerals and how they could be useful," she paused, realizing she was speaking a little too fast. She took in a slow breath, and tried to slow down her speech. “And I'm sorry about your name being engraved on it. Mika-chan told me it wasn't something someone usually does, but," she wasn't exactly familiar with things like that.

Etsuko had not grown up learning about weapons or any significance they might hold to someone. It was too late now, of course, but she still felt slightly bad about it. “Happy belated birthday?" she wasn't too sure what else she could say. She felt ridiculous now, and it didn't help that she could feel her face turning a deeper shade of red. It was probably noticeable by now. She inwardly groaned.

Satoru set the whole thing back down in its box, smiling slightly at her. "Hey," he said. "This was really thoughtful of you. I mean it. And I—I appreciate you trying to learn about something you don't know just so you could do this for me. It's not exactly my taste, and much fancier than anything I'd feel comfortable using, but that's not your fault." He nodded at a sword display rack on the wall. There was already an ornamental katana there, on the upper set of pegs.

"That's my dad's katana. It's not my taste either, and I'd never use it in a fight unless I had no other choice. It means too much, you know?" It did seem to be an elaborate weapon, though much older than the brand-new blade she'd given him.

Picking the wakizashi back up, he walked it over to the spot, lifting it and settling it comfortably on the lower set of pegs, right beneath the other. "This actually works perfectly, because Ryoka and I split his daishō, and she got the wakizashi. So now I've got one of each."

Etsuko smiled as best as she could. She would admit that it stung a bit, knowing that he wouldn't use it exactly. “I guess I'm still learning new things about you," she muttered softly. Her eyes widened slightly at the realization that she'd said it out loud, but there was nothing much she could do about it. “Friends usually do that, right?" she spoke, smiling awkwardly.

“A-Anyway, I'll let you finish?" she stated, raising a brow in his direction. She'd managed to fight down her blush, and kept the awkwardness to a minimum. It didn't help that her hands were tingling, though, and it felt slightly harder to breath. It would have been easier if she'd thought about this as a friend giving another friend a gift, but for some reason, it didn't seem like that to her. Why did she have to like him so much?

"Sure. I'll be out soon. And, uh, Etsuko? Thanks. For the gift. I'll save yours for today, though." He offered her a brief smile, then reached towards his desk, where one of the elastic ties he used for his hair lay next to his computer.

“You're welcome," she stated, offering a smile over her shoulder as she left his room. She closed the door behind her, lingered for a moment longer than necessary before pushing herself forward. She sighed softly, gaze on the floor as she made her way towards the foyer. Everyone was going to meet there, but there was still about half an hour before they did. When she approached, however, she was surprised to see Ryoka there, sitting in one of the chairs.

“Oh, Tsu-Tsu, you're early," she spoke. She was dressed in a white shirt with a red, short sleeved cardigan over it and a pair of blue skinny jeans. Her hair was mostly pulled back into a messy tail, but she didn't seem bothered by it. Instead, she merely grinned.

“Ah, yeah, I just thought I'd wait for everyone here. Oh, actually," she replied, reaching for the bag at her side. She still had everyone's gifts with her since they were smaller than Satoru's. “I have something for you," she continued, pulling out Ryoka's gift. It wasn't as elaborate as Satoru's, just a pair of blue-tooth headphones. “I know you like to go running in the mornings and I figured these would be easier than heaving around an iPod," she spoke, watching as Ryoka lifted a brow.

“Oh? Thanks, Tsu-Tsu, but isn't it supposed to be the other way around? Aren't we supposed to be giving you gifts?" she asked, causing Etsuko to shake her head.

“I wanted to do something special, for once. Plus, I have the best gift already," she began, smiling just a little wider. “I get to spend today with the people I love and care about the most."

“Only you would want something like that," Kiyoshi spoke, smiling slightly in her direction as she furrowed her brows at him. He was dressed casually, surprising even to Etsuko. The suit was a grey color, though the shirt underneath it was plain and white. His pants were the same grey color and the shoes he'd put on seemed more sneakers than the polished boots he'd usually wear.

Mika, of course, trailed a step behind him and to the left. She was dressed more casually than Kiyoshi, in dark denim capris, wedge sandals, and a white blouse with a tan jacket. Her hair was in two very small low pigtails, just brushing her shoulders and leaving pieces loose about her face. "Etsuko is unusually mature for her eighteen years, and understands the value of experiences over material things."

Moving past Kiyoshi, she stopped in front of Etsuko, a small smile on her face. "Happy birthday." Opening her arms, Mika wrapped Etsuko in a warm, firm hug.

“See, Mika understands," she stated, feeling slightly giddy from the hug. She could almost feel the confusion on Kiyoshi's face, and once she stepped back from Mika, she could see it. Kiyoshi's brows were furrowed deeply, and his lips were pursed into a deep line. It was obvious to Etsuko that he was both confused and jealous. He'd probably never received a hug from Mika, and Etsuko could feel the grin on her face turning slightly mischievous.

“Wait? Why don't I get hugs?" Ryoka chimed in before Etsuko could say anything.

“I've never seen Mika-chan hug anyone," Kiyoshi added, his voice slightly low. Etsuko could almost hear the pout in his voice, and she was doing her best not to laugh at him.

Mika rolled her eyes, but someone clearly found it much funnier than that. Ichikage's laughter filtered into the room just barely in advance of the man himself, who entered with a familiar surety of motion that verged on swagger, hands stuffed into the pockets of his dark grey pants. The shirt he wore was only two-thirds buttoned, a light blue that suggested the season.

"She's hugged me," he offered, clearly trying to get a rise out of Kiyoshi. It seemed to work since Kiyoshi gave Ichikage a flat look, though he still looked like he was on the verge of a pout.

Mika sighed. "Once. And I was twelve."

Ichikage grinned brightly. "Still once more than anyone but Cricket. Speaking of which..." He swooped in and gave Etsuko a hug, too, easily picking her up off the ground and swinging her around once before setting her back down on her feet. "Ready for your surprise?"

Satoru slipped into the room then, too, leather jacket now thrown on over the rest of his clothes, and wearing dark blue canvas shoes.

Caught slightly off guard, Etsuko let out a slight yelp sound when Ichikage picked her up, and could feel her face turn red in embarrassment. “Tō-san!" she stated once he'd set her back down. She frowned in his direction, and scowled at him. “Where are we going this year?" she decided to ask, ignoring Ryoka who was laughing at her.

“That was too adorable," she could hear Ryoka mutter beneath her breath, but chose to ignore the older woman.

"Can't tell you yet, or it's not a surprise," Ichikage replied, tugging playfully at a strand of her hair. "Let's all get in the car, and we'll take you to see it, instead."

Etsuko rolled her eyes, but smiled nonetheless. “Fine, fine. Have it your way." She would admit, if only to herself, that she was kind of excited about it. She just hoped it wasn't anything too ridiculous.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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Ichikage was first out of the car when it arrived at its destination, mostly because he wanted to have a good view of Cricket's face when she realized the nature of the surprise. So he took the liberty of opening the door on her side, inviting her out with a sweeping gesture.

"Surprise, and all that."

In front of her loomed a large, arched gate, the distinctive castle silhouette beyond clearly visible in the late afternoon sun. The place was almost astoundingly quiet, save for the music playing from the entrance. He could make out more noise beyond—the rattle and hum of rides, quieter sounds of vendors and other staff members, most likely about to work the easiest shift of their lives. The arch read, in romanji, TOKYO DISNEYLAND.

"It's all yours, for the evening at least."

Etsuko merely blinked, and glanced between Ichikage and the gate a few times. Her facial expression was flat for the most part, however; her eyes slowly widened as it finally seemed to dawn on her. “Wait... what? All... mine?" she started out, still vaguely confused. She groaned out loud before shaking her head and tilting it down.

“Tō-san, you didn't," she began in what sounded like disbelief. “Tell me you didn't," she continued, still having trouble processing the fact.

“Otō-sama, did you rent out the entirety of it for the day?" Kiyoshi asked, brow arched in amusement in Etsuko's direction. He'd stepped behind her, and turned his attention to Ichikage.

“He did." She didn't seem entirely upset anymore, and simply rolled her eyes. Taking a breath, she stepped beside Ichikage and wrapped her arms around him. “I hate you, but thank you," she muttered, her face buried in his shirt probably to hide the embarrassment on her face.

He chuckled softly, giving her a brief squeeze. "If it makes you feel any better, it's only for half a day. The last few hours it's usually open, and then a bit of extended evening time." She wasn't usually the type of person who liked inconveniencing others, and he didn't want her to feel at all guilty about having fun. So when Mika had suggested this timing as a form of compromise, he'd been happy to go along with it.

"In any case, your friends are already inside. Everyone's got free run of the place, but save some room for dinner, because we'll all be eating together at about eight o'clock."

“It makes me feel a little better," she muttered, pulling away from the hug. She blinked, and glanced around at the others. “What are you all going to do, though?" she asked, a hint of curiosity in her voice. Her eyes had narrowed slightly in Ryoka's direction as if she were suspicious of her of something.

“Hey, I plan on checking out all of the vendors and what they have for desserts," Ryoka spoke, holding her hands up in front of her. “You've nothing to worry from me," she added, though the smile on her face suggested otherwise.

“We won't be too far, Tsu-chan, but it's your birthday. You should go have fun without worrying about us," Kiyoshi added, smiling just soft enough that it wasn't entirely without mischief.

“That's what I'm worried about," Etsuko replied with a flat look. She shook her head, though, and glanced towards Satoru. “Uh, do you want to come with me or..." she trailed off, apparently not sure of what to ask him.

He considered that a moment; probably wondering how the gaggle of friends would receive him. Ichikage doubted he need worry—in his experience, young men who looked like Satoru didn't run into much trouble integrating with groups of their peers, even if there was some awkwardness involved on his part. "...Sure," he said at last, lifting his shoulders and half-smiling. "But you're going to have to introduce me. I know the high school group, but I've never met any of your new college friends."

“That's fine; I'm sure they'll love you, too," she stated, apparently happy with the thought since she was smiling a little more. Ryoka snorted softly, but didn't say anything until Etsuko and Satoru had left the group.

“They grow up so fast," she spoke, wiping a non-existent tear from her left eye. Kiyoshi looked confused at the statement, though.

“How so? They still look the same," he spoke, causing Ryoka to snort softly.

“You'll get it one day, Kiyo-kun."

Ichikage barked a laugh. "Will he, though? A couple thousand years should probably have been enough time to 'get it,' and yet..." He trailed off, making a vague gesture in Kiyoshi's direction.

Mika hid a smile with her hand, before smoothing the expression away as though it had never been there.

"Anyway," he continued, "I for one will be heading for the rollercoaster first thing. Anyone interested in joining, or shall I be riding all by my lonesome?"

“It would be bad form if I let you go by yourself," Ryoka stated, glancing at Ichikage with an amused look on her face. She was probably trying her best not to laugh at the expression on Kiyoshi's face. His lips were pursed into a fine line and he looked vaguely annoyed. Unamused, if anything.

“I do not like rollercoasters," Kiyoshi stated, his brows furrowing deeper. “They are—"

“Too fast? Too high? I didn't know Kiyo-kun could be afraid of something so... trivial as a rollercoaster," Ryoka interrupted, causing Kiyoshi's face to fall flat.

“They don't frighten me, Ryoka-san. I simply do not like them," he responded, causing Ryoka to snort softly.

“You keep telling yourself that, Kiyo-kun."

"He's always been a bit of a spoilsport," Ichikage added, grinning at his frowning child. "Not sure where he got it from, since I'm the most fun person I know. His mother knew how to have a laugh, too." He didn't often mention her; though he'd made a point of not letting Kiyoshi forget about her, she had died such a long time ago now that even his memories of her had gone a little fuzzy at the edges. It was simply the way of things.

Kiyoshi didn't look too amused about the statement, and merely stared in Ichikage's direction with a flat look. “It's alright, Kiyo-kun, everyone's scared of something. I'm scared of lady bugs, if that helps. I mean, they're adorable and tiny, but there's just something about 'em," Ryoka spoke, shrugging her shoulders in the process.

“Plus, the only thing Kiyo-kun inherited from you was the pretty hair. Even his facial structure isn't the same. He has more feminine qualities," she continued, waving her hand around Kiyoshi's face, though at a polite distance.

“Mika-chan, would you like to go elsewhere?" Kiyoshi asked, turning towards Mika and ignoring Ryoka's statement.

She was prevented from answering for a minute by Ichikage's laughter, which had waxed into a sonorous, full-belly sound. It was just like Kiyoshi to react to offense that way, with a metaphorical sniff and his dander all up before he stalked off. He was really more cat than wolf sometimes.

When it waned again, she rolled her eyes slightly. Finally able to provide an answer to Kiki's question, she did. "If that's your wish, sir." She gave Ichikage and Ryoka a small nod before following him away.

That left Ichikage with Ryoka, which of course he didn't mind in the slightest. "So happy to hear that my son's not the only one with pretty hair," he drawled. "I was beginning to think you had a bit of a crush on him. Made me feel left out." He had, of course, entertained no such suspicion, but he was interested in hearing how she reacted.

In the meantime, he started his way over to the rollercoaster, poured concrete underneath the flat soles of his sneakers.

“Pft, a crush on Kiyo-kun? Ha," she stated, laughing lightly as she walked next to him. “He might be handsome, or pretty, take your pick, but Kiyo-kun's taken. I'm not that kind of woman, you know." She glanced up at him, a smirk on her face as she rolled her eyes. “If I'd known that you felt left out, I would have said something sooner. Can't have you feeling left out, can we?" She arched a brow in his direction before pursing her lips together.

Her cheeks began to puff slightly, though it became obvious why. She started laughing. “I'm sorry, Ichi-kun," she spoke between laughs. Once she managed to settle her breaths, she straightened back out, and glanced back up at him. “But do tell me next time if I make you feel left out. I don't want it getting back that my boss is feeling unappreciated."

His grin stretched wide over his face. "Feeding my ego is not in the job description, you know," he replied. It wasn't anything he hadn't already deduced, and in truth not anything all that important, but he couldn't deny that it was flattering anyway. "But if you would like to continue doing so, by all means. I never get tired of compliments from lovely women."

She snorted softly, rolling her eyes as she did. “I'm sure you don't. You get compliments almost on a daily basis when you're out, and that's not including the days you're," she paused, arching a contemplative brow. She seemed to be searching for the right word. “When you're like this, dressed handsomely and things," she finally spoke, gesturing with her hands in a similar manner he'd done earlier to Kiyoshi.

“I guarantee women would be all over you right now if you hadn't rented the entire park out for the evening," she stated, laughing softly as she did. “And it's not really feeding your ego if I'm stating facts, right?" she stated, seemingly happy with the conclusion.

"A fact artfully stated is a compliment," he replied, lifting his hands and folding them together behind his head. "And compliments are certainly one way to inflate my sense of self importance. Unlike flattery, which is just empty falsehood."

He elected not to comment on the bit about people being all over him—in truth he attributed that more to the strength of yōki that he exuded. Even when he suppressed it, it acted on an unconscious level, and it tended to have an effect on people. Especially those who hadn't any ki or yōki of their own, or who hadn't grown used to the effect over time. Strangers, in other words. He could hardly consider it any real charm of his, really.

At that point, though, they reached the rollercoaster. There was of course no line, and they were immediately loaded into the front car. Ichikage shuffled over so Ryoka could take the spot next to him, patting the seat a couple times before taking off his sunglasses and putting them in his pocket so he wouldn't lose them on the ride.

She took the seat next to him, still grinning from ear to ear as she did. She stayed quiet for a moment longer, the smile fading from her face and turning into something more contemplative. “If you were that lonely for compliments, Ichi-kun, you could have just told me. I'd compliment you every day if need be. Although if there are other ways to inflate your sense of self importance, I'm sure we'll find out sooner or later," she stated, the joke still light in her tone.

“It's not like I'm going to go complimenting anyone else, though. Well, besides Kiyo-kun because it's fun and his reactions are hilarious," she continued, reaching up to roll her ponytail into a bun before the ride started. It was probably to keep it from flying around since it was still long, despite being pulled back.

He snickered, pausing as the rollercoaster's brakes were disengaged and it started forward, rolling a long a flat length of track before sloping upwards slightly. "My confidence is not quite so fragile as that, dear Ryoka-san. But, as I said, if that's something you decide you want to do, I certainly won't complain."

An amusing thought occurring to him, Ichikage leaned slightly sideways and spoke a bit more quietly. "Though if you think of any other ways you might like to stroke my ego, do feel free to let me know."

The rollercoaster dropped, perfectly on time.

The expression on her face went from confused to deeply confused before turning a deep shade of red. By the time they came around to the top again, the entirety of her face was red, including the tips of her ears and down to her neck line. She'd blinked a few times, and had kept her attention forward, her throat working as if she were having a difficult time breathing.

“That's hardly fair," she finally spoke, the red slowly receding from her face. “And inappropriate all things considered. You're my boss, in the end. But, that doesn't mean I can't go out and find someone or someone's. You remember what Satoru said, yeah? Hookers and blow," she seemed capable of joking still, though she still hadn't glanced in his direction.

He shook his head, eyes glittering with ill-concealed mirth. "So you could," he agreed readily. "And you're welcome to, if that's what you want." He tilted his head at her as the rollercoaster climbed yet again, this time to the highest of its peaks. "I hope I've not made you too uncomfortable, Ryoka-san. You're welcome to set boundaries wherever you want them, and I will abide. I do tend to be rather inappropriate when left to my own devices, I must confess."

She had a fair enough point about their employment arrangement, and he wanted to make it very clear that he would not take advantage. Would only pay her as much attention as she wanted and welcomed. He valued keeping talented people in his employ and happy there more than the chance to have a bit of fun, however amusing it was making her blush like that. She deserved the respect, in any case.

She snorted softly. “You misunderstand me, Ichi-kun," she spoke, finally turning towards him. I personally don't care what's appropriate and what's not. You should know that by now," she began, giving him a lop-sided grin, “we're almost kindred spirits that way. That being said, however, Mika-chan has made it very clear how others would take that, and I am not going to be that person."

The grin faltered a bit as she shook her head. “Different worlds and different lives, or something to that manner," she spoke, probably referring to what Mika had told her. “Besides, we're both adults, right? Well... different types of adults, I guess, but still," she continued, though it sounded like she was rambling now. She pursed her lips together in a contemplative manner before shaking her head.

“And unlike Mika-chan and Tsu-chan, mine is just a passing fancy, and unlike those two, I own up to my shit, thank you. So, there you have it," she spoke as she shrugged her shoulders.

He was prevented from answering immediately by the drop, which lurched them forward and made it feel for a moment as though his stomach was somewhere up near his heart before gravity kicked back in and it dropped. He saw a flash off to the side; probably a ride camera taking their picture.

The rollercoaster veered sideways, first tilting to the left, and then to the right. Ichikage held himself in place enough that he didn't inadvertantly run into her, but her shoulder brushed his arm on the reversal, something he of course didn't mind in the slightest.

When they finally leveled out for a moment, he arched an eyebrow at her. "Your directness is refreshing as usual, Ryoka-san. Do let me know if and when the fancy passes. Until then I shall keep you entertained with more salacious commentary, I'm sure." The rollercoaster pulled back into the stop, the bar popping loose of its socket and allowing the both of them out.

"I'd like whatever picture was just taken, please," he informed the attendant, who nodded rapidly a few times and headed behind the booth counter set to the left of the ride.

She snickered softly at his statement. “Mm, I'm afraid if that keeps up, it'll never pass," she responded, glancing over in the direction the attendant had gone. “But in all seriousness," she began, glancing back in his direction. The smile had disappeared from her face, and she wore an expression that expressed what she was to say next, was important to her. “I wasn't lying when I said I own up to my shit. Yes, I say it's a passing fancy, and that might be true, but..." she started, pausing for a slow breath.

“Just know that you're, technically, stuck with me until you fire me. So..." she spoke, though the expression on her face hinted that that wasn't what she wanted to say, exactly. “I guess that's kind of bad news for the others," she snickered softly, reaching up to release her hair from its bind. She pulled it back into a ponytail once she'd combed her fingers through.

Ichikage's smile dimmed, until it was something a little less farcical, more genuine. "Fear not, my dear. They can handle it. As can I."
Perhaps as she thought, it was merely a fleeting feeling—he'd felt enough intense-but-temporary attractions to know that they were far more common than anything that lasted. And it may be that yōki had something to do with it, and that as she grew more accustomed to it, the feeling would fade accordingly. In any case, he certainly wasn't going to make her employment contingent upon any one result, and that was really the only thing that mattered in the long run.

They reached the booth, and the attendant handed them a hand-sized photo, protected for now by a thin sheet of clear plastic. Ichikage laughed when he saw it: his own face was contorted into a manic grin with a hint of mischief. There were still visible hints of pink on Ryoka's face. He handed the image to her, then momentarily diverted his attention back to the attendant.

"Make that two copies, thank you."

Setting

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Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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“Etsu-chan!" It was Chihiro who greeted her first, and Etsuko grinned broadly as she embraced the hug from her friend. “Happy Birthday, Tsu-chan," she continued, stepping back to let Etsuko breath. For a human, Chihiro was surprisingly strong, but that might have just been the fact that she was excited. She was always easy to read. She, however, glanced in Satoru's direction, a big grin flashing on her face as she glanced towards Etsuko.

“And it's Yukimura-san. Wait," she paused, blinking slowly as she glanced between the two. “Are you two—" Etsuko panicked, and covered her friend's mouth. She could feel her face heating up as Chihiro chuckled through her hand.

“Chi-chan, don't be so mean to Tsu-chan. It's her birthday," Haru interjected, lacing his arm with Chihiro's and pulling her away. Etsuko sighed heavily; she'd forgotten how bad her friends were, sometimes. Rolling her eyes, she managed to smile at them as Haru nodded in Satoru's direction, his way of greeting him.

“It's good to see you guys," she spoke, glancing over their shoulders to the other two occupants of the table. “Satoru, you know Chihiro and Haru," she spoke, referring to the friends in front of them. They'd approached the table by then, and the two people sitting there, glanced up from their own conversation. “This is Nozomi Yanagi, and Yuma Kaneshiro," she introduced. Nozomi smiled, though it looked a little mischievous from where Etsuko was standing.

“So we finally get to meet Tsu-chan's boyfriend? No wonder she talks so much about you, you're handsome," she stated, leaning forward to lay her chin on her hand. Yuma rolled his eyes but glanced at Satoru.

“Nozomi, it's obvious they're just friends. Stop embarrassing Etsuko, we all know how much you like doing that," he spoke, shaking his head. “But it is finally nice to meet you. She does talk about you non-stop," he continued, smirking in Etsuko's direction and causing her to inwardly groan. She needed to make new friends.

To his credit, Satoru was handling it about as well as could be expected. He'd never been one for big groups that she knew of, and no doubt found some of the comments as awkward as she did—especially when Nozomi just came out and told him he was handsome. His face was a few shades pinker than normal as he bowed slightly. A bit stiff, but not a disaster by any means.

"Nice to meet you both, and to see the two of you again," he said diplomatically, lifting a hand to rub at the back of his neck. "You apparently already know that I'm Satoru Yukimura; just Yukimura's fine."

“Yukimura it is," Yuma replied, with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders. He always seemed either disinterested in something, or just bored. But that's how he was; he was actually a good guy and studied a little too much. That, and he was a bit more serious. That he was actually joking and making light of the situation, though, was a good thing, Etsuko supposed.

“No need to be a so formal, Yukimura. We're all friends here, and that includes you whether you like it or not," Nozomi stated, causing Etsuko to roll her eyes.

“Well, now that everyone is introduced and acquainted, what do you guys want to do first?" Etsuko asked, doing her best to keep the situation from turning into a big embarrasment. She knew her friends well enough that they would, no doubt, tease her about her crush on Satoru, but she hoped they would be merciful. At least.

Chihiro hummed softly while Haru seemed lost in the clouds. He was the only y?kai friend she'd actually made in High School. His aloofness, she would have attributed to the type he was, but that didn't seem right. Kitsune were usually more... active, or some other energetic level. Haru wasn't like that at all. He seemed rather content where he was, despite being so young.

“Let's go on that ride." Haru pointed towards one of the attractions, and Etsuko could almost feel the color drain from her face.

“Oh, let's." Nozomi seemed as excited about it as Chihiro was, and Etsuko inwardly groaned. They would choose a ride like that. Splash Mountain wasn't exactly a bad ride, but looking at the carts... she glanced in Satoru's direction. Her face began to heat up as she turned to face Chihiro.

“It'll be fun, Tsu-chan. You can ride with Yukimura, I'll ride with Yu-kun, and Chi-chan can ride with Haru-kun," Nozomi continued, causing Etsuko to roll her eyes.

“What do you say, Satoru?" it wouldn't hurt to ask, she supposed.

He gave a small shrug, looking almost perplexed at her reservation. "Sure? Unless you don't want to go for some reason?" Apparently, he'd interpreted her behavior as some sort of reluctance towards the ride itself.

She offered a half-smile before shaking her head. It wasn't the ride she was relunctant to get on. The carts were, as were most rides, made for two people. They were pretty decently sized, which meant that there would be plenty of space between them, however; whatever thought she might have had, she quashed it. She didn't need those kinds of thoughts, not when she was going to be sitting next to him and enjoying a ride.

“I suppose that settles it," she stated, making her way towards the attraction with the others. Once the attendant let them through, the first two seats were taken by her friends, leaving the back two seats open for her and Satoru. She inwardly sighed a breath of relief. At least they wouldn't be able to tease her if they couldn't see her, but the sly smile Nozomi shot her caused her expression to flatten.

“I guess we'll take this one," she spoke, gesturing to the last seat. There would be an empty cart in front of them that separated the two of them from the others. Etsuko was okay with that. Once they were all seated and properly secured, Etsuko folded her hands in her lap, keeping her gaze down for the most part. Sitting so close to him, it was a little more daunting than actually sleeping in the same room as him during their stay in Hawaii. Which was ridiculous to Etsuko. She'd sat next to him plenty of times before. It wouldn't be any different, right?

Satoru seemed preoccupied with checking his jacket pocket for some reason, and pulled it closed by the zip just as the ride started to move. Once he'd done that, though, he hummed thoughtfully and glanced at her from the corner of his eye. "Uh... are you all right, Etsuko? It seems like something's bothering you. If you'd have rather sat with one of the others, I can always—I dunno. Suggest something different next time?" He grimaced, probably because doing something like that wasn't really the way he usually was, but apparently he was willing to try anyway.

Etsuko furrowed her brows, mostly to herself. “It's not that, Satoru," she spoke, hoping to find the right words so that he wouldn't feel... awkward? She didn't want him to just because she was feeling that way. “I just... uh, it's," she began, laughing nervously to calm the sudden increase in her heartbeat. Ugh, why does this have to be difficult? It was a thought that shouldn't be. They were friends, no matter how much she wished it was more than that. Clearing her throat, she shook her head.

“I don't mind sitting next to you, it's just that I know how uncomfortable you can get..." She'd paused because she wasn't sure how to say the next words. Either option meant a hint of embarrassment for both of them. “I know being too close or physically touching someone can be a bit uncomfortable for you, and these carts are kind of small," she spoke, though it was true. She'd caught on that much about him; it was the reason she'd asked him if she could hug him during the graduation ceremony.

His eyes widened with surprise behind his glasses, flecked with small drops of water from the occasional spray of the ride. "Oh. Uh... don't worry about it. You're right that I'm not all that comfortable with most people, but I don't think it's a problem here." He smiled a little wryly, then shrugged. "I mean, if you've grabbed a person and jumped off a building with them, then an accidental brush or whatever's no big deal, right?"

She pursed her lips together. “That was a life or death situation," she muttered, gripping the bars a little too firmly when the ride shook a bit. “It's not like we had much choice," she continued, sighing softly. “But if you don't... mind," she spoke, clearing her throat in between the last two words. She relaxed a bit, just in time for the second climb up. There was still a couple of inches between them, and she managed not to feel so tense.

There was a mechanical frog to the side, saying something but Etsuko wasn't paying too much attention. All she could hear was the sound of her heart beat, and the occasional swallow from herself. “I, uh," she began, trying to make some sort of conversation. “I hope they haven't been too much," she decided to say, referring to the earlier comments from her friends and nodding her head in their direction. They were coming up to a cave, and from where she sat, she could see a few mechanical puppets.

He caught onto her meaning easily enough, sighing heavily and shaking his head. "Honestly? It's not worse than what our family does. I can deal with it—don't worry about me." He dropped eye contact with her then, holding the bar of the ride much more loosely than she was. His face assumed a pensive frown; he stared with too much intensity at the water directly in front of their boat. But whatever he was thinking of, he elected not to share it, lapsing into silence instead.

Whatever smile had been on her face, she could feel it disappearing. “I suppose you have a point," she spoke softly, glancing to the left side of her. The mechanical puppets seemed to resemble a weasel of some sort, and a rabbit and a bird. It would have been entertaining if Etsuko was paying attention to what they were singing, however; she couldn't seem to focus properly. She turned her attention back to Satoru, swaying a bit when the cart was forced to turn.

“Hey, Satoru," she began, speaking a little hesitantly. She opened her mouth to continue, but found her throat dry. It forced her to close her mouth, and she pulled on the bottom of her lip. “Thanks for coming out with us today," she spoke, though it was in a hushed voice. She wasn't sure if he could hear her over the loud music of the puppets.

“That's not what you wanted to say, Tsu-chan," she could hear Haru yell over his shoulder. He was looking forward, and Chihiro's shoulders were shaking. She was probably laughing.

"Ne, Ishida, didn't your mother ever teach you that it's rude to eavesdrop?" Satoru made a rude gesture in his general direction, rolling his eyes and sitting back in the ride with his arms crossed over his chest. "How about you idiots let her decide what she does and doesn't wanna say?"

“It's not eavesdropping if you can hear what's being said," Haru replied, snickering softly. Chihiro elbowed him in the side, though, causing him to feign a hurt look. “Ne, Chi-chan, that hurt," he stated, rubbing his side as Etsuko rolled her eyes. That wouldn't have hurt him, not in the slightest.

“It's alright, Satoru," she stated, shaking her head in the process. “He's mostly right, that's not what I really wanted to say," she continued, glancing towards the side as they neared the exit. It was dark, and most of the mechanical puppets were behind them. They paused near the edge of the waterfall, hovering for just a second. “I... just wanted to say that I—" she wasn't sure if he heard her since the roar of the fall seemed to drown out her voice. That and the fact that Chihiro and Haru both yelled at the same time as they'd fallen. She wasn't even sure she'd said it, herself, though she could feel her face heating up.

Maybe that was for the best. Satoru certainly didn't seem to react, squinting at her and cocking his head to the side. "Didn't catch that, sorry." The ride pulled up at the disembarking point, and Satoru hopped out first, extending an arm to give her a hand out. "I'm pretty sure your old man isn't going to be able to hold out much longer without doing cake and presents, so maybe we should head back that way?"

She huffed lightly. That would be her luck, she supposed. “Yeah, tō-san's like that. He's much more an overgrown child than anyone I've ever met," she replied, laughing softly as she took his hand. She had to keep herself from sucking in a deep breath, and furrowed her brows to herself.

“Let's go make sure they haven't spent the attendants, either. Especially since Ryoka likes to terrorize the vendors with all the food she likes to eat," she stated, allowing a small grin to cross her features. Maybe she'd get the courage to actually tell him, again, that she liked him some other day.

“I'll meet you guys there, I want to ride this thing again," Haru spoke, a strange grin on his face. Chihiro rolled her eyes, and Nozomi merely chuckled.

“I'll stay with the idiot; you all go enjoy presents and such. Tsu-chan, make sure Nozomi doesn't stuff her face with cake. You'll never hear the end of it," Yuma spoke, following after Haru. Nozomi was yelling something at Yuma, but Etsuko couldn't really hear since she was laughing.

“Don't worry, Nozomi, Ryoka-san might be generous enough to leave you some," Etsuko replied, causing Nozomi to arch a confused brow.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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Dinner was loud and celebratory, in the way that such things usually ended up. The cake followed after, and the hour was getting a little late by the time they managed to begin the process of opening presents. Etsuko's friends had left after theirs were done, probably to make it home before it was far too late at night. That left family, though the lively atmosphere hadn't faded in the slightest.

Satoru was feeling kind of awkward about the whole thing. The box in his pocket felt like a lead weight; it had been a conspicuous presence for the entire afternoon and evening, and he still didn't feel too sure about it. So for now, he kept it to himself; she had plenty of other gifts to work through anyway.

Ichikage handed her his present first; the box was about one foot wide and two and a half long or so; a fancy wooden one, inlaid with maki-e, that itself was probably quite expensive. "Happy birthday, Cricket," he said, trademark grin flashing across his face.

“Tō-san," she spoke softly, opening the gift with extreme care. “Oh, it's..." she continued, pulling out a violin. It was a bit different than the one she already had, and the way it was crafted suggested it was an electric violin. “Thank you, tō-san," she spoke, holding the violin in her hand with a smile.

“Ne, Tsu-chan, open mine next," Ryoka stated, handing Etsuko two boxes. One was smaller, about the size of a jewelry box. “You'll thank me later for it," she stated, grinning her usual way. Etsuko merely quirked a brow, but opened them regardless. She'd opened the small one, first, and for a moment, she didn't take it out.

“Really, Ryoka?" she stated, lifting it out of its box. It was a simple bracelet, silver in color, with a few charm hooks on it. There was one already tied to it, though it looked like someone's name. Satoru's name, to be exact. There was a small, dark blue gem in the middle of it. Ryoka seemed to find it hilarious, though, since she laughed.

“Yes, really, but don't worry, Tsu-chan. You have all of our names, too. The charms are in the other box," she stated, causing Etsuko to place the bracelet down and open the other box. As Ryoka stated, Etsuko pulled out five other charms, crafted into everyone's name with similar gems in the middle. Kiyoshi's had a yellow one, Ichikage's was red, Ryoka's was a lighter blue, and Mika's seemed to be green.

“Thanks, Ryoka," Etsuko spoke, offering a small smile in her direction. Ryoka just smiled as if she'd given the best gift.

Mika pushed the next box across the cleared table, smiling slightly as a breeze ruffled everyone's hair. Eating outside wasn't exactly a new experience, but eating outside at night in an otherwise-empty Tokyo Disneyland certainly was. Mika's box had a dusty pink ribbon tied over the white wood; it was long and rather close to flat. Satoru figured it was a garment of some sort.

"Happy birthday," she said quietly.

“Thank you, Mika-chan," she spoke, taking the box and opening it. Her eyes widened slightly, and she seemed to have trouble speaking. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, and it was another minute before she pulled the garment out. It was a black yukata, covered in various flowers that resembled the peony flower, all colored in pink or a shade of it.

“Mika-chan, it's beautiful," she stated, as she folded it back into the box. “Thank you, Mika-chan. It even has my favorite color on it," she continued, the smile returning to her face a little brighter. Kiyoshi stepped forward next, and reached into his pocket.

“I did not want to wrap it," he spoke, pulling his hand away to produce his gift to her. It was a soft pink kanzashi with the Motoyami crest on it. “It's supposed to compliment the yukata, or at least that is what was said," he continued, causing Etsuko's smile to widen.

“Thanks, onii-san," she spoke, causing Kiyoshi's shoulders to tense for a moment before relaxing again. His expression softened as he placed a hand on her head.

“And you are welcome," he spoke, stepping back so that he was standing with Mika and the others.

There was a slightly-too-long pause in which Ichikage shot a discreet look in Satoru's direction. His stomach turned uncomfortably. Some part of the unease must have shown on his face, because Mika immediately stepped in to cover.

"I think I should like to see the aquarium," she declared mildly. "I understand that it is also available to us?"

Ichikage picked up on her hint immediately. "It is. Lit quite interestingly at night, too, as I understand it. I think I'll go with you. What do you think, Ryoka-san? You look like an octopus sort of woman to me. I myself quite enjoy sharks."

“You know me so well," Ryoka replied, taking a step next to Ichikage. “They are fascinating creatures, almost more-so than you guys," she continued, Etsuko looked slightly confused, but she didn't say anything. Kiyoshi merely nodded his head in agreement, apparently not seeing a need to say anything. He did, however, spare a glance towards Satoru and Etsuko before following after Mika.

“You two have fun, now," she spoke over her shoulder as she followed the others. Etsuko merely shook her head.

“They really are something," she spoke, setting the kanzashi down inside the box with the yukata. “Are you doing alright, Satoru?" she asked, turning her attention towards him. “You seem... a little tense. Ah, a little more than usual, that is," she stated, tilting her head slightly.

Satoru resisted the urge to roll his eyes. It would be at himself, but it might not seem that way without knowing what was going on in his head, and he wasn't quite ready to let her in on the whole mess just yet. "Uh... fine," he said, probably unconvincingly. "I just—would you mind walking with me for a bit? I wanted to... ask you something."

Technically true. Vague, stupid, and not very helpful, but true.

He pushed a breath out, hearing it hiss between his teeth. He'd never really thought of himself as a coward before, but he was definitely feeling positively yellow-bellied right now. Maybe the air would help him clear enough of the cobwebs out of his head to figure out how to say what he wanted to.

“Sure, uh, give me a second to put these up," she answered, standing from her spot and placing the gifts she'd received in their proper places. “Sorry for the wait," she spoke once she was done. She walked next to him, folding her hands behind her back as she did. She hummed a soft breath as she glanced up at him.

“So, what is it that you wanted to ask?" she asked, keeping her gaze steady with his.

He didn't answer at first, striking out towards the most obvious landmark they could see in the dark: the castle, lit in half a dozen colors now that the sun had disappeared past the horizon. Satoru sighed, a bit more gently this time. Etsuko was probably wondering what the hell was wrong with him at this point; he couldn't say he blamed her if she was.

Before he lost his nerve, he unzipped the pocket of his jacket and withdrew the small bamboo box inside. It had once had a ribbon on it, but the time in his pocket had squished the bow it had been tied in. "So, uh... I have to take an elective as part of my schedule at Todai. Something in the arts or humanities. I ended up in an art class because it fit with my schedule the best. The first thing we learned how to do was wire sculpture. Just basic stuff. Light-catchers for windows and stuff. But I worked on it a little more, till I could make, well—that."

Was he talking too much? He was talking too much. Thinning his lips, he extended the box towards her.

She took it from him, her hand brushing his slightly. “Sorry," she spoke, pulling back and taking a step back as well. She didn't open it, immediately, and simply stared at it. It was like she was trying to figure something out, the way her brows furrowed slightly and her lips pursed together. It took her another minute before she opened it, and once she did, she blinked slowly. Like with Mika's gift, she seemed to have trouble speaking, her throat working softly as she lifted the necklace out of the box.

“Satoru it's..." she started, but didn't finish. “I... it's beautiful," she finally spoke, as she pulled it out completely. She sucked in a quick breath, like she'd gasped, before turning her attention towards him. “Thank you, Satoru, I mean that," she stated as she took a step forward, stopping only momentarily to glance up at him.

“May I?" she asked, making a slight motion with her arms. It seemed she wanted to hug him, again.

Satoru hesitated for just a moment. There were still things he wanted to say, and he wasn't sure how well that was going to go if he gave himself any time in which to second-guess himself. On the other hand, if the rest of this went as bad as half of him expected it to, then maybe this would be the last time she ever asked him.

Thinking about it that way gave him practically no choice at all. "Yeah," he said, grimacing when his voice cracked slightly. "I mean, sure. Go ahead." He opened his arms a little stiffly. He was admittedly not quite used to this personal contact thing, but more than that, unease still sat like an ember in his guts, slowly burning its way through him.

She smiled and stepped forward, wrapping her arms around him and giving him a light squeeze. She didn't linger too long, though, and stepped back. She opened the clasp to the necklace, and tied it around her neck. She smiled as she held the dragonfly pendant in between her thumb and forefinger. “It really is nice," she stated, though it sounded like she was talking to herself for a moment. She looked back up at him, though, and tilted her head.

“But you still had something you wanted to ask me, right?" she asked, folding her hands behind her back, again.

It was weird, honestly. Objectively, the act was a person putting on a necklace. Nothing particularly moving, or even that interesting. It was everyday, normal—quotidian, as his English professor probably would have said. But something about this context, these circumstances, made it feel like something much more than that.

He wondered if maybe he hadn't subconsciously thought about this moment when he was making the thing, repeating the crafting process over and over again over nights in the art workshop when the class had moved on but the idea was still lodged in his head. If maybe anticipation of it hadn't been part of what kept him making the same object until it was just so—just the way he wanted it. If he hadn't imagined it sitting just there at the center of her clavicle when he'd measured out the length of the chain, selected the colors of the stones that threw the castle's light back in miniature.

He forced his eyes away from the necklace and to her face, feeling the back of his neck and the tips of his ears starting to burn. Fortunately, it was dark enough that it probably wasn't obvious. Meeting her eyes proved just as difficult, and his dropped to his own shoes for a moment. "I—yeah." Satoru gritted his teeth. He'd always been shit at talking to people about personal stuff, but it had never bugged him this much or seemed this important.

"I do, but I don't know how well I can explain it." He was always better at—

He glanced back up sharply, his eyes narrowing unconsciously behind his glasses. "Etsuko—do you trust me?" The question came out sharper than he intended, more demanding. Just a yes or a no. If it was the wrong one, he'd forget the rest of it and count himself lucky to have caught it before he made an idiot out of himself.

“Of course I do," she replied almost immediately. There was no hint of doubt in her voice when she'd spoken, and she took a step forward. It almost seemed like an unconscious decision on her part.

Satoru pulled in a deep breath and swallowed past his dry throat. He really hoped he wasn't about to fuck up that trust.

"Close your eyes," he rasped softly.

“Okay," she spoke, quirking a brow in his direction before closing her eyes. “Now what?" she asked as one of her brows raised. Her eyes were still closed, though.

He'd heard people use the expression 'my heart was in my throat' before, but he'd never really connected it to any specific sensation. But this—the rising lump that almost threatened to choke him—this had to be what they meant. He could hear his own heartbeat in his ears, the rush of his blood almost drowning out everything but his shaky breaths.

Not her, though.

Of course not her.

His throat clicked as he fought to swallow past the lump, raising one of his hands to rest his fingertips carefully on her cheek. The skin there was so soft, especially compared to his callused hands. "Now," he whispered, "you stop me the second I do something you don't want." He took a step in, his thumb smoothing over the arch of her skeptically-raised brow.

She was a lot shorter than him; it wasn't that he hadn't noticed before. Just that it had never quite been this... salient. Lifting his other hand, he tipped her chin up and bent until he was sure she could feel his breath over her face. Enough time to warn her, maybe, because he couldn't muster the words to ask what he'd really wanted to.

It was with the same deliberate slowness, time enough for her to back away, that he closed the last few inches, tilting his head slightly to the side just in time. Their noses brushed as Satoru pressed his lips to Etsuko's, tentative and gentle.

He was always better at actions than words.

She had tensed slightly before he kissed her, however; she seemed to relax and leaned forward. Her hands, once down at her sides, were now wrapped around his neck, and it was she who changed the dynamic of the kiss. Where his had been gentle, hers had seemed to be almost full of relief. She smiled, though, before pulling back.

“Ah, sorry," she stuttered, taking a step back and smoothing out her clothes. “I just... um," she continued, unable to find the words, it seemed. The lights on her side seemed to illuminate the deep red on her face. “I've... wanted to do that for a while, now," she spoke almost in a hushed tone, but she glanced back in his direction.

Satoru could almost understand why most people spent so much of their lives chasing this feeling. His chest ached, but there was also an immense sense of relief, of elation, that it didn't even bother him. He huffed softly when she spoke, offering a half-smile.

"Yeah," he confessed, shrugging sheepishly and moving his hand back to tuck some hair behind her ear. "Me, too." He cleared his throat, sliding his fingers until they brushed her nape. "I, uh—can I take that to mean it's okay if we do it again?"

She blinked in mild surprise, but smiled nonetheless. She shook her head, and lifted her hand so that it rested on his arm. “I'd like that, actually," she answered, standing on the tips of her toes as she did. “And Satoru," she spoke, stopping for just a second. “Thanks for the best birthday gift."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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He blinked.

She blinked.

“Ne, Kiyo-kun, what just happened?" Ryoka asked, tilting her head as she did. Kiyoshi merely blinked again, and mimicked her reaction. His head tilted as well, and his lips pursed together. He'd turned the corner apparently at the same time as she did, resulting in an almost collision. She'd twisted out of the way, though, and was standing to his left.

“I think... I almost ran into you," he spoke, pursing his lips together. He hadn't meant to, but he wasn't exactly in his right frame of mind. It was a week to date that his marriage was to happen, and the past few days, he'd felt sullen about it. He couldn't exactly describe the feeling, only that he wanted to postpone it, somehow. To call it off, specifically. Why? he couldn't say. It was a feeling, something he had to do, and wanted.

“Little bit airheaded, no?" she stated, her brow raised in amusement. “It's alright, Kiyo-kun, but what's clouding that head of yours?" she asked, not bothering to hide the curiosity in her voice. He raised a brow in her direction, his eyes narrowing just slightly. She raised her arms as if to dispell any threats or concern, and grinned. “I promise what you say here will not leave these lips, if that's what you're concerned with."

It wasn't that, exactly. Sighing softly, he shook his head. “Tomorrow is the rehersal," he spoke, though he couldn't help the disappointment leaking from his voice. Her expression went from confused, to realization of what he meant. “But lately... I haven't been sure," of what, he couldn't say. Sure if he wanted to marry Sakura, sure if he even loved her?

He blinked slowly at that thought. Did he love her? His brows furrowed, and Ryoka chuckled softly. “Well, Kiyo-kun. Are you getting cold feet, or has this been something you've felt for a while now?" she asked, causing his frown to deepen.

“I think it's best if this discussion isn't out in the open," he spoke, simply. Ryoka nodded her head in agreement, stepping off to the side to allow him room.

“It also sounds like a discussion to be had with your father," she spoke, stepping in line next to him as they walked. Kiyoshi furrowed his brows at her. Why would he need to tell Ichikage? “He might have some choice words for you, Kiyo-kun. It helps to seek advice from your parents, especially about something like this, right?" she spoke, a soft crack in her voice. She cleared it softly, and shook her head.

“You have some truth," he replied, turning his attention forward. It was still half an hour before Mika would start her duties, and he'd be able to resume his daily life until... he paused in that thought and blinked. If he married Sakura, he knew she wouldn't want Mika as his bodyguard. She had been so insistent on getting a new one for him, and it was something he never understood. Mika was good at her job, great, even.

But the thought that she wouldn't be by his side any longer... it was a hard one to swallow.

As he approached his father's office, he was able to catch quiet voices issuing from inside.

"I'm surprised you managed to cultivate the connection to this degree, Micchan. As far as I can tell, the offer is quite genuine." Though the words lilted with Ichikage's typical amusement, there was a more somber undertone to them.

A short pause followed, then a sigh. Mika. "I fear it worked too well," she replied slowly. "I'm not sure how to turn down the offer without offending him."

Ichikage hummed; the sound of shuffling paper followed. "Do you want to?" he asked. "The wedding's in a week—we both know she won't let you stay beyond that. And he'll concede, because that's what he does. It wouldn't be so bad to have the next thing lined up, right?"

The pause there was several seconds long, and heavy. "...Is that an order, Motoyami-sama?"

It was Ichikage's turn to sigh. "Does it have to be, Mika?"

Another pause; this time her tone was decisive. "No," she said, voice crisp. "I understand, sir."

His father took on an air of conciliation. "I know it's not what you expected, Micchan. But it could be good for you." There was disappointment there, too, but it did not seem to be directed at her in particular.

"As you say, sir." Kiyoshi knew that tone of voice—Mika used it on him when she was agreeing for the sake of keeping things going smoothly, even when she had some personal reservations about it. Usually when he insisted they break schedule for something.

The door to the office opened just as Kiyoshi reached it; Mika glanced up. She didn't seem surprised by his presence—they'd no doubt both sensed him approaching, though she may not have known she'd been overheard. She tilted her chin up to meet his eyes briefly, then bowed and stepped around him.

"Excuse me, Kiyoshi-sama." Her tone was abnormally curt, and she moved past him in the doorway without any accidental contact, heading in the opposite direction and leaving him alone with his father.

Ichikage, for his part, observed this with a strangely-neutral expression. "Come inside, Kiki, Ryoka-san," he said, gesturing accordingly. "And shut the door, please."

An uncomfortable feeling was planted in Kiyoshi's chest, and he had to keep himself from reaching out to Mika, to stop her from leaving. He turned his attention back to Ichikage, though, and stepped inside. Ryoka, however, shook her head and only ushered Kiyoshi in. “I'm simply delivering Kiyoshi to you, Ichi-kun. Parent and child conversation and all. Plus, I'm off today and I have a date," she stated, though the way she spoke the word seemed a little conspicuous. Kiyoshi merely shrugged his shoulders, though, and watched as she closed the door as she left.

“Otō-sama," he finally greeted, though his lips were still pursed. “Is Mika-chan alright?" he asked, first. He was much more concerned with her at the moment than his own predicament. He'd caught some of the conversation, but he did not know what it was about.

Ichikage shrugged noncommittally. "Well, Kiki, she's a week out from losing the job she's had for about a dozen years now. For someone who hasn't even lived half a century yet, that's a considerable change. But I think she's handling it as well as anyone can handle things like that." He gestured to one of the cushions in front of his low desk, an obvious invitation to sit.

He took the seat, but felt his lips purse into a deep line. Why was everyone so convinced that Mika would no longer serve as his guard? That she would simply be replaced by someone Sakura had wanted? That wasn't what he wanted, but he'd never truly made that clear. Perhaps that was his fault?

“But she isn't," he finally spoke, though the words felt heavy in his mouth for some strange reason. “Mika will still be..." he paused, finding the words hard to say. “She'll still be my guard," he wasn't entirely sure if that sounded convincing, though. He almost didn't believe it himself. Life without Mika as his guard, without her by his side, didn't seem like one Kiyoshi wanted. She was his friend, and one he wanted to keep for as long as he could.

His father's expression was bland as he blinked at him, almost skeptical. "Really, now?" he queried flatly. "Because it seems both Micchan and Ito-san are not under that impression. This is probably a conversation you should have had with both of them quite some time ago, isn't it?"

Kiyoshi sighed heavily. It's not that he hadn't had the conversation with them. He had had that conversation, however; both of them seemed to have taken it the wrong way. Sakura had been adamantly against it, but he thought he had made it clear that Mika was not being replaced. With Mika, though, he'd thought she knew she had a choice. Perhaps that wasn't what they thought? Perhaps he'd disillusioned himself into believing they knew that?

“It needs to be rectified," he finally spoke. “I have spoken with Mika about it before, asked her opinion on what she wanted, but..." she'd never really answered him. “Perhaps I should ask again," because if she wanted to stay, to be his guard, then he would make it clear to Sakura that Mika was not going to leave. If she couldn't accept that, then it would be best to...

“Perhaps I should call the thing off," he spoke softly. It was softer than he was used to speaking, and for a moment, he wasn't even sure he'd spoken. His brows furrowed deeply. He couldn't just call off the wedding, though, not without bringing shame to Sakura's house. He'd have to do it in a way that would appease both sides. He just wasn't sure how.

His father's eyes turned sharp, the red of them suddenly brighter against his face. "That's a very strange hill to die on, Kiki." He tilted his head back slightly, folding his arms into his sleeves. "It's very serious business, what you're suggesting. I spent years in negotiations with the Ito to make sure you could marry the person you wanted to." He blinked languidly, any trace of customary amusement gone from his tone.

"You need to be absolutely certain you want to do this before you do it. There will be no small stain on our honor as well as the honor of the Ito if you do, and we will certainly make bitter enemies of them for the rest of their natural lives. Given the current situation, that would not be a bridge burned without consequences." It would not doubt put a strain on their relationship with the Oda clan, of whom the Ito were a vassal house. Considering that that alliance was already more tenuous than some of the others, it was a real political risk, especially at a time when things seemed to be unsettled.

Kiyoshi pursed his lips into a fine line. He was not unaware of the strain it would cause, nor the political conflict it might start, however; before he made any decision, he would need to speak with Mika. He needed to speak with her. If what she wanted was to stay as his guard, then he would do what had to be done. If Sakura could not accept that Mika was to stay, then he would call off the wedding. If Mika wanted something else, something different, he would respect her wishes. He placed his forefinger and thumb on the bridge of his nose, and exhaled.

“I will speak with Mika beforehand. If... there is something else she wants, something else offered to her that she wants," it would be a hard thing to swallow, but he'd respect it. “I will let her go," he spoke. He wasn't entirely sure he wanted to let her go, though. She was too dear to him. Too something.

“Either way, I will be certain once I know her answer."

Ichikage hummed, then sighed, relaxing slightly in his posture. "I recommend consulting your own heart as well, Kiyoshi." The solemnity of his tone was underscored by the absence of the facetious nickname. "It is true that the futures of two women are in some sense suspended in the balance here, but so is your future. It is important to know where three people truly stand here, not just two."

Kiyoshi couldn't trust his own heart, though. It was doing things to him he didn't quite understand, but he supposed he could understand what his father was saying. For the most part, at least. “The only thing that matters will always be her," he spoke, referring to Mika. She was much more delicate than she appeared to be, and it had taken him a long time to see that. Or perhaps he was seeing something that wasn't true.

His father quirked an eyebrow at that, but said nothing.

“Thank you, otō-sama, for... the advice. I will see to it that there is little harm done," though he really couldn't guarantee it. “I suppose I should thank Ryoka as well, when she returns," he added, allowing the smallest of smiles to crack his face. She was partially right about consulting his parent. Ichikage had shed some light on his situation, but Kiyoshi had a hard decision to make. And he wasn't going to make it lightly.

“I will speak with Mika, first." She was his main priority. He would have to go from there.

"It is often wise to consult the people one's decisions may affect, yes." Ichikage offered a small smile. "Good luck, by the way—I do think you will need it."

Kiyoshi huffed slightly. “I will need more than luck if I am to convey everything properly," he replied, shaking his head and standing from the chair. He furrowed his brows, though, and took a deep breath. He just hoped that everything would be conveyed properly. Kiyoshi wasn't particularly articulate, and his meanings were often misunderstood, however; he couldn't afford that.

Not this time.

Not with her.

“I shall take my leave," he stated, bidding his father farewell. He was going to need a miracle, if anything.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami
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Mika brushed imaginary lint from her trousers—there was something reassuring in the fact that the knife was still there. Of course she wouldn't have lost it, but... some of the flickers she'd spotted this morning using her eyes had her somewhat on-edge.

It certainly didn't help that they were out in public at the moment. Kiyoshi had been invited to attend the opening of a new office building—one where Motoyami Incorporated would be opening their new Childhood Literacy office. That particular charitable effort was going so well that Ichikage and Kiyoshi had, with their board members, made the decision to scale it up, hiring more staff and necessitating the new, larger building. Fortunately, they'd found an already-existing one in downtown Tokyo that only needed some renovations as opposed to a completely new construction, and so the work had been done quite quickly.

Less fortunately, it was in a populated area, and even though the immediate grounds had been cleared for the ribbon-cutting, there were still far too many vulnerabilities in the setup for Mika to be entirely comfortable. Especially with the flickers.

The afternoon breeze stirred their hair atop the raised platform being used for the press conference. She and Kiyoshi were standing towards the back, facing away from the building and towards the crowd—he was expected to give a speech this afternoon before the cutting itself. At the moment, though, the podium was occupied by the CFO, an affable of longwinded older man named Hachiro Ueno.

Discreetly, Mika activated her eyes, peering again through the tiny subsection of the weave of fate that she was granted permission to see. In truth, it was a horribly-vague sort of sight; she usually only got the barest hints of things, and even then only when she directed her attention in the right ways. Rarely, she was gifted with a flash of actual mental images, like scenes played out from a movie, but with poor lighting and several distorting filters over the camera lens.

Nothing like that today, though. Just a feeling of foreboding that she couldn't quite shake. Her jaw tightened.

Kiyoshi appeared to be a little more somber than usual, his lips pulled into a constant frown rather than a thin line. He'd always been reserved in most of his expressions, but it appeared that he had a lot on his mind. Something was obviously distracting him, but he had not made any comment about what it could be. He kept mostly to himself, and hardly asked her opinion on the menial things he used to.

“Mika," he spoke suddenly, his voice quiet and laced with some undetectable emotion. He sounded almost pained to say her name, though. “After this," he continued, glancing down at her from the corner of his eyes. “Do you have time to talk? There... are some things I wish to speak with you about."

She had to fight the urge to flinch. At this point, with six days until his wedding, there was only one thing that could possibly be distracting him that much that he'd want to talk about with her. Mika bit the inside of her cheek, refusing to let her face betray her thoughts on the matter. "As you wish, sir—"

Her attention was drawn by a motion. Not even that, exactly, just a change in her peripheral vision. Like a shadow passing over something that had once been lit—

or a person moving in a window.

The foreboding feeling surged up into her chest. Mika did not second-guess herself.

"Get down!" she shouted, immediately stepping between the threat and Kiyoshi, urging him down with a firm hand on his shoulder at the same time. She shifted her yōki to her eyes and—

A split second before it hit, she knew it would. That didn't stop the pain of it, her entire body tensing as the hollow-point ripped straight through her shoulder and out the back side. Mika gritted her teeth hard, biting her tongue and drawing blood. Quickly, she met eyes with the head of building security. "South building, sixteenth floor, fourth window over. Send someone there now."

He nodded, barking orders into his headset, and Mika shifted her attention to her employer. With her undamaged arm, she took hold of his bicep, using it to guide him in front of her. "Hurry, sir, and stay low."

It would take more than a bullet to kill him, but—

Mika staggered, misplacing one of her feet on her way off the podium behind him. Before she could so much as recover her balance, she saw it: the image of another bullet, gleaming in the afternoon sun, striking Kiyoshi in the back.

Not on her watch.

Mika shifted, placing herself between the projectile and its intended destination. It struck her left side, pulling a harsh yell from her lungs, which tightened into a pained hiss when she clamped down on it. "Car—now." Her body felt sluggish, slower than usual, like she'd been tranquilized, and it was all she could do to keep herself upright and moving quickly as they headed for the car, held open by another member of the security team. Mika made sure Kiyoshi made it in first, then practically fell in after him, somehow misjudging how far she'd have to lift her foot to make it and tripping inside the limousine, landing on her hands and knees as the door shut behind her and the driver began to get them away from the scene.

For once, she couldn't be sure what direction they were going in. Her eyes blurred; she felt the uncomfortable, sticky-hot slick of her own blood running over her skin and seeping into the fabric of her suit. Her breathing was ragged; each new inhalation cost more effort than the last. When the car turned, her entire body lurched, and she found herself suddenly on the floor of the car, back against an empty bank of seats, head swimming.

Arms wrapped around her, pulling her from the floor as the car drove off. “Mika," Kiyoshi spoke her name, but there was something else in his voice. Something a little rougher, something deeper and angry. Kiyoshi had never expressed any kind of anger before, not even when things had bothered him. “Mika," he spoke again, cradling her against him. His grip had tightened, but it wasn't enough to hurt. It was more like he was trying to keep her secure. She could feel it in his arms, though, the tremors that were going through him.

It was almost as if he were having trouble containing himself, trying to keep something in check and in control. “Hospital," he continued speaking, but even his words were incoherent. It was almost as if he'd forgotten how to speak properly from the way he said each word slowly.

"No—ngh." Mika shifted so she was sitting up, planting a shaking hand on Kiyoshi's shoulder for leverage. His hold on her was helping her stay upright, but more important right now was conveying her orders to Abe. "The estate. Hospital's not—secure."

Abe regarded her in the rearview mirror, worry pinching his mouth, but there was never any question about whose orders took precedence in this situation. Kiyoshi was the daiyōkai, but Mika was the one trained and appointed to keep him safe, and she was put into that capacity by Ichikage.

“Yes ma'am."

Mika exhaled, the sound halfway between a relieved sigh and a pained groan. She had the distinct feeling that she was bleeding all over him, but despite the film of sweat forming over her body, she didn't seem to be bleeding as quickly as she'd expected. Instead everything was feeling... sluggish.

Of course.

She'd been poisoned.

A sharp bang sounded through the extended cabin; the rear window's glass cracked, but held. Shit.

“Abe. Give me your gun." Mika leaned forward to accept the weapon from the driver, who passed it back while keeping his eyes on the road.

“I'm not going to be able to outrun them in the limo," he said grimly.

“That's fine," she replied. “Just keep driving towards the estate. Sir, you need to let go of me and stay down." Another bullet cracked against the glass as she said it; Mika grimaced. If she could shoot out the tires on the chasing vehicle, she could consider her job done for the moment. The rest of the security team was sure to be close behind.

Kiyoshi either didn't listen to what she said, or hadn't heard it. He hadn't released his hold on her, either, and only seemed to tighten. His eyes, usually a pale grey color, were a more prominent gold. “You are in no position to do anything, Mika. You're hurt," he spoke, still in the heavy tone he'd spoken with earlier. He flinched slightly, though, perhaps because he was in no position to do anything, either.

“You're bleeding," he spoke, his hand moving to cover the one wound he could see. He seemed hesitant to release her, and applied some pressure to her wound. Taking a deep breath, his hold on her seemed to relax, but his hand remained on her wound. He'd no doubt heard what she'd spoken to Abe, and seemed to finally realize the situation they were in.

“Be... careful," he spoke, his tone regaining some softness.

“I'm professionally careful, sir," she replied, shifting away from him on the seat. She'd been practically in his lap, which was disconcerting in a way the situation prohibited her from really thinking about. Too many other things to be concerned with.

Flipping the safety off the gun, Mika made her way to the rear of the car. A better look at the rear window made her doubtful it would survive more than one or two shots: heavy cracks spiderwebbed nearly the whole thing at this point. The occasional gunshot still went off, but Abe was doing as well as anyone could taking evasive maneuvers with a limousine, and most of the shots were either hitting the armored body of the car or going wide.

It was quite a risk for them to take, pursuing once their initial attempt was thwarted; she expected that they'd stop pursuing sometime before they reached the estate, but if they managed to fire into the car before then, that would hardly matter.

“Left rear window!" Mika called. It began to roll down a moment later. Mika let the sting of rushing air snap her hazy vision into focus, then braced the gun in both hands and leaned out the window, squeezing the trigger of Abe's gun three times in quick succession.

The first shot landed on the headlight, the second just to the right in the wheel well. The third went wide, and Mika ducked back in with a low curse under her breath. A shot whizzed by where her head had been. She couldn't take another bullet and remain conscious. Gritting her teeth past another wave of nausea, Mika took a deep breath and forced her ki back into her eyes.

Leaning out the window once more, she fired a fourth time, this time striking the front right wheel of the car. With a secondary bang and a screech, the driver was forced to slam the brakes. Mika fell back so she was sitting on the floor, maintaining the necessary presence of mind to flip the safety back on before her vision whited out, and she lost her hold on consciousness.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami
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In his entirety of life, Kiyoshi couldn't remember a time when he'd been angry. Angry enough to want to harm whatever was the cause of his anger, however; now was not the time. If anything, he was angry with himself. Of course he knew the dangers of being a bodyguard, of being his bodyguard to be exact, but that did nothing to sway the guilt that was building inside of him. Eating at him. Mika had passed out before they'd reached the estate, and he'd refused to let anyone else touch her when he carried her out of the car. He wasn't in his right state of mind, and it was with coaxing from Ichikage that he'd finally allowed the estate doctors to take Mika from him.

They were no longer in danger, at least not immediately.

When he'd finally managed to calm himself, Kiyoshi found himself worried. They had not spoken a word of Mika's condition, whether or not she was fine or if she was injured far more than what he'd seen. He didn't know anything, and he couldn't keep still. He hadn't even been able to speak to Ichikage about the events that had unfolded, but he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to do that right now. Not without knowing if Mika was going to be okay. If she wasn't... the thought did not bear fruit as he quashed it.

She had to be alright. She was Mika, the strongest person he'd ever known. One of the most... he couldn't finish the thought. He cleared his throat, trying to swallow past the dry feeling in it. He forced his gaze upwards to finally meet his father's.

“Otō-sama," he managed to speak, but nothing else.

If anything, the gravity of the situation was only reinforced by Ichikage's demeanor: he was as serious as Kiyoshi had ever seen him—moreso, really. His jaw was tight; a well-contained tension carried in his usually loose and relaxed frame. He pushed a heavy breath through his nose. "The bullets were dosed with a specially distilled poison," he said quietly, crossing his arms over his chest. "It's extracted from blowfish and deathcap mushrooms, grown in a special process only known to some of the earliest taiji-ya clans. If infused with ki, it's strong enough to kill you or me, in a big enough dose."

His eyes narrowed. "Fortunately for Mika, she has taken small amounts of deathcap and other poisons since she was a child. It's given her enough resistance that she stands a chance of surviving, if she survives the wounds themselves." He said it all almost coldly, a tight undertone in his voice like a thread pulled near the breaking point.

"What happened, Kiyoshi?"

Kiyoshi could feel the tension spread across his face, the way it tightened every muscle, and for a moment, he remained silent. He wasn't even sure what happened. “We were downtown for the opening of the building," he spoke slowly, his brows furrowing deeply. “The opening ceremony had not quite started yet, and I was speaking with Mika," he continued. The only thing he'd actually spoke to her, though, was the desire to speak with her. He was going to inquire about her future, and what she had wanted to do, however; he wasn't going to be able to do that, now.

“The next thing I know is we're being shot at. Mika was struck, twice," or three times, he couldn't exactly remember. He'd been on the verge of losing himself to his bestial side. The side that wanted to destroy what had harmed something precious to him. “I could not see who the attackers were. Strange enough, I could not sense them, either," he continued. Ki and yōki signatures were easy to read, but he had sensed none of it.

“They chased us, and would have done more damage had Mika not been able to take out one of their tires," he added, breathing a heavy sigh.

Ichikage's eyes narrowed further. "I wonder," he murmured softly, "if we've not stumbled upon another motive for the Yukimura murders," he murmured. "No clan would give up their secrets to outsiders. And not just any member would know the growing techniques and ki manipulation necessary to distill the poison. The best chance at retrieving the information would be to clean out their archives."

It was hardly encouraging news, and it didn't seem like a complete motive. More likely it was just one part of a plan designed to kill many birds with the same stone.

There wasn't much time to respond, though; at that point Satoru emerged from Mika's room. Apparently he had some medical training—enough at least that Ichikage had declared that he was to assist the doctors that had been brought in from outside. They'd since left, so Satoru was tending to Mika's recovery himself.

He glanced between the two of them, rolling a pair of latex gloves off his hands and tossing them into a trash can. "She's awake," he said gently. "I don't know how long she'll stay that way—she really needs the rest. But she insisted on seeing you; I think she wants to make sure you weren't hurt." The last was directed mostly at Kiyoshi.

Something in his stomach dropped, and Kiyoshi felt his expression soften. Why would she want to make sure he wasn't hurt? If anything, he should be. He should be the one having the surgery, or on death's door, not her.

Not her.

“I will go see her," he spoke, almost like he was trying to convince himself. Maybe he was? Kiyoshi could not claim to know his own state of mind at the moment, and he wasn't sure he wanted to clear it. He nodded in Ichikage's direction, and made his way to Mika's room, however; he stopped just outside her door, and glanced over his shoulder towards Satoru.

“Many thanks, Satoru," he spoke, keeping his gaze on Satoru for a moment longer before entering Mika's room. He glanced at her, and the same feeling inside his stomach grew worse. It was almost as if his guilt was literally eating him alive. “Mika," he called out gently, trying his best not to overwhelm her in any way.

The bed had been set at an incline; she was at the moment on her tablet of all things, apparently working on something or other. It looked like they'd taken her off the IV and so on, though a monitor was still attached to her finger to make sure her heart rate remained within acceptable parameters. She was dressed in a very light blue hospital gown, blankets pulled to her waist. Beneath the gown, he could see irregular patches where she'd been bandaged, one near her hip and the other at her shoulder on the opposite side.

When he called out, she glanced up, meeting his eyes. There were dark circles under hers: she looked exhausted more than injured, her skin paler than usual and the lines of her face unusually sharp even for her. She swept her eyes over him with a small frown, clearly inspecting him for any injuries. There weren't any, and she relaxed slightly back into the mattress, offering him a soft nod.

"Good evening, sir."

He couldn't find it in himself to smile, though he had wanted to. For some reason or another, perhaps to ease whatever worries she might have had. He pushed a heavy sigh from his nose, and took a step forward, only to stop halfway to her bedside. He wanted to say something to her, but he couldn't find the words. What could he say? She'd been hurt, and that was on him. It didn't matter how many times he told himself that it was part of the job, that it was expected of her, however; he couldn't seem to accept it. He remained quiet for a minute longer before making his way to her side.

He didn't take the seat, and stood next to her bed. He had to refrain from reaching out to her, though, and offered her a meek smile. “Mika," he spoke out softly. “Are... you well?" he asked, though he knew it to be a redundant question. Of course she wasn't well. The proof was staring at him in the face. “I am sorry this has happened to you."

It shouldn't have; he should have been able to protect her.

Mika tilted her head at him almost curiously, then shrugged. Though the motion jostled her injured shoulder, she did not wince or flinch. "There's no need to apologize, sir. You're not the one that shot me." It was the sort of unapologetic pragmatism that he was used to from her. "Besides, you seem to be forgetting my job description. I'm not your secretary—I'm your bodyguard. I knew I was signing up for this when I agreed to do it."

She sighed through her nose, folding her hands together on her lap and lifting her chin to better make eye contact. "I'm glad I could do this at least once," she said, more softly than usual. "It makes me feel as though... there was a point to me being here, all these years."

He knew that, but that still didn't make him feel any better. For as long as he'd lived, his life had never been threatened in this way. Years of fighting and war, perhaps, but not like this. Maybe he was feeling it so much deeper because it had been her life at stake. He shook his head a little harshly, disturbing the strands of hair in his face.

“Mika," he spoke softly, again, sighing heavily as he finally allowed his posture to falter. Though she would heal, there was something he wanted to know. It was not the best time to ask this of her, but maybe it was? With this, maybe he could find out some truth. “Do you still want to do this? Still be my guard?" There was a heaviness to the words that surprised him, but he managed to keep a passive expression.

Whatever she decided, he would respect it. It was something he had to keep telling himself. As he'd told his father, only she mattered. Nothing else.

Mika looked down at her blanket, smoothing her fingers over the knit fabric and frowning down at them. She was quiet for a long time, tugging idly at a loose thread in the weave, brows furrowed. "I think... it's not as simple as that, sir," she said slowly. "What I want is for you to be safe. For a long time now, that had meant personally guaranteeing it, by remaining at your side."

She pulled again; the thread snapped. Pushing a heavy breath through her nose, she glanced briefly up at him. "But it has never been something I did alone. There's an entire team of people who helps—Abe-san and Kanzaki-san here and at various times other security people. And in order to be effective, they and I have to be on the same page, as well as coordinated and cooperative with your family. That's always been easy to do, because Motoyami-sama appointed me to this position, and the rest of the household understands and respects me and what I can do."

It seemed that she was waiting for him to draw a conclusion, because this time, her silence was expectant.

The crease in his forehead smoothed out, and he allowed his expression to soften. “But that is not what I asked," he stated. While it was true that she was, in some sense, part of a team that guarded him, she was the one he sought out. She was the one he wanted near at all times, and not the others. On her days off, it was hard being away from her, but he did not want to interfere with her personal life.

Even now, the days that she helped him learn how to do things on his own, he felt he was burdening her. Despite what she might have said, it was something that he'd felt. He would not deny, though, that he enjoyed it because it meant spending more time with her. Shaking his head, he pushed another sigh through his nose, and held a steady gaze with her. For a moment, he said nothing, remaining quiet until he could find the words he wanted to say.

“Do you want to stay as part of the team?" he paused for a moment before his expression hardened. “Do you want to stay with me?" the question, itself, caught him off guard, but he did not waver in his gaze.

He nearly missed it, but Mika's lower lip trembled just slightly before she answered. "That's not the right question, Kiyoshi-sama," she replied, quiet but also firm. Steely, in a familiar way. "Your household, your family... these things will be changing. And I know that I cannot continue to serve in the capacity I do now when that happens. It is imperative that your personal security be handled by someone your family will trust wholeheartedly, and not second-guess when it comes to important matters. I am not that person. I cannot be. And so I cannot stay."

It felt like a vice had gripped his heart, and was clenching it in a terrible way. His gaze dropped from hers, and he could feel a fine tremor go through him. She couldn't stay because his family was changing. Because his family needed to trust her. Didn't she know, though? She was his family, that he was... he swallowed thickly past the thought. He reached forward with his hand, wanting to offer her comfort of some kind, but dropped it back to his side.

“What..." he started, a slight crack in his voice that startled him. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, he glanced back up at her. “What if it wasn't going to change? What if..." he couldn't finish the sentence because he didn't know how to finish it. “What if it was called off?" His wedding would be postponed, without a doubt, because of this incident, however; he would call it off completely if that's what she wanted.

Mika regarded him with wide eyes, her expression for once as easy to read as large characters. The parted lips, lifted brows—it wasn't nearly as obvious as anyone else's shock, but on her face it was clear. She schooled it slowly, as though she had to think about how, and bit down on her lip.

With a small shake of her head, she reached forward, grasping the hand he'd let drop and using it to gently tug him closer. From where she sat, she tilted her head back, meeting his gaze directly. Hers was clearer and softer than he'd ever seen it. "Kiyoshi-sama... I'm not a little girl anymore. You don't have to protect me from life, or the way it changes." She swallowed, then lifted her other hand so she was clasping his in both of hers. The plastic monitor on her index finger was a cool, hard contrast to the warmth and softness of the skin beneath it. Her cheeks were slightly pink, but that could have just been her condition.

"I know that—" she paused, pulling in a slow, slightly unsteady breath. "I know that you care. About me. And I can't—I can't tell you how much it means to me that you do. But this decision... it can't have anything to do with me. It has to be between you and Ito-sama, and in terms of compromises, changing staff is a minor one. It's okay to tell me I have to—no." She shook her head again, regaining some of the firmness she'd lost.

"I'm telling you. After your wedding, I'm resigning my position. And—and I'm resigning at the end of the year regardless. So... so you don't have to take it into account."

It was his turn to express shock. She was going to resign... regardless? He felt his entire body lose it's composure, and he felt numb for some reason. “Why?" was the only question he could muster. Why was she going to resign, regardless? For as long as he'd known her, for everything that was being said, what could have had such an impact in her life to resign? Was it because of this? Was this something she'd been thinking about for a while now?

“Is it... because of this?" he added to his earlier question. He felt something in his chest, like his heart was being crushed. Like someone was trying to rip it out of him.

"No," she said immediately, her hair flickering around her cheeks with the force of her headshake. "No, it's not this at all. It's just—it's nothing. Motoyami-sama has another job for me to do and it might take quite a long time, that's all." She dropped her eyes back to the blanket, and relinquished her grip on his hand. Clearing her throat softly, she settled her hands back into her lap. "Excuse me."

She was quickly returning to her normal formality, it seemed. Her eyes closed, and she leaned back against the upraised mattress. It seemed to take her great effort to blink, like her eyelids were weighed down.

Kiyoshi took in a deep breath, allowing the different scents in the room to filter through his nose. He could only smell her, and it was taking a great deal of effort not to pull her to him. To hug her, to comfort her, to do something, but he knew it would be something she would not want. Instead, he glanced at her one last time, allowing his hand to brush her fringe to the side.

“I will leave you to rest, Mika," he spoke softly, dropping his hand to his side. He would need to ask his father about this assignment that he had for her, though.

"Thank you, sir."

The slow deliberateness with which she said it suggested that it was not just a direct response to his statement.

Ephemeral Ascendence: Out Of Character (OOC)

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