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Etsuko Fujimori

"Some things change. Others... not so much."

616 views · last seen in Tokyo || 2020
a character in “Ephemeral Ascendence”, originally authored by Mihael, as played by Nemeseia

Description

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xxImageImageImagexxxxEtsukoFujimori
xxxxxxxxx◙◙◙◙* Female xxxxx◙◙◙◙* 18 xxxxx◙◙◙◙* 5'3" xxxxx◙◙◙◙* 105 lbs. xxxxx◙◙◙◙* Human

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AASPD x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAAPWR x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAINT x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAACNG x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAWPN x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAACHA x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌


--Image- KI SENSE gauge power & type of yōkai—weak
KENDO some training in kendo; mild
MARTIAL ARTIST self-defense—weak
VIOLIN talented with the violin



Image I know it's hard
- - - - - - - feeling like you're trapped .


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Etsuko is an ball of energy. She always seems energetic with energy to spare. She tends to rub people the wrong way, though, because of this enthusiasm. Not a lot of people can handle the energy she exudes, and she's found it a bit difficult to make friends this way. She is a friendly person though, and does have a close circle of them, made up of mainly humans and the occasional demon (Mika and Kiyoshi excluded). She's very opinionated and doesn't like it when people try to push their ideals on her.

She believes what she wants to believe, and there is nothing that can change her mind about it. She knows that not all demons are as kind as those in the Motoyami household, but that doesn't mean she has to hold her tongue when they talk about her. And they do without her knowing about it, or so they think. It doesn't bother her, people's opinion of her, and she continues to go about with a strong head on her shoulders. Though, despite her energetic and friendly persona, Etsuko is painfully shy about the subject of love.

She is easily flustered, especially when people start talking about intimacy. It's just a subject she's never been used to, and one that she is growing more aware of each day. It probably doesn't help that she has a crush on one of her classmates, and she tends to be a little forward with him. She's mean to him, but perhaps not in the sense that one would expect. She doesn't tease him, or pick on him, but chooses rather to be blunt and forward with him. She doesn't understand it herself but—though she can be blunt with others—around him it just gets a little worse. She doesn't like it, especially when he lets the others pick on him, and tries to tell him this, too.

Regardless, Etsuko is pretty much a typical teenage girl, whose priorities might be a little mixed up. Where most girls her age are crushing on boys, worrying about what to wear, how their make-up looks, Etsuko is more concerned on practicing her fencing, or studying. She enjoys going out, sure, but it's not a necessity for her. She'll go to the movies if she's invited to go, or to the mall with the handful of friends she has, but she'd rather be home, or somewhere else. Plus, it doesn't help that she can have a bit of a temper and often leaps before thinking. It's landed her in some trouble before, but not enough so to alert Ichikage about it. He probably knows anyway, since he always seems to just know. It makes things that are supposed to be secret, a secret from him... like her crush.

Etsuko seems to have developed a bit of a stutter, and she doesn't like it. She can't control it, and it rears its ugly head at the most inconvenient of times. It even does so when she mentions him. Kiyo seems to think it cute and will often interrogate her about her progress. He does it in good fun, sometimes, but it has earned him no shortage of shoes thrown to the back of his head. She's a little better at it, now, but it is still persistent in showing up.


Image When you cannot see the light
- - - - - - - just take a breath .


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Etsuko doesn't talk about her past very often. She'll often say it's because she doesn't like talking aboiut it, and it wasn't all too interesting, however; the truth is, she doesn't remember much. She didn't have a terribly bad childhood, at least she doesn't believe she does, but trying to think about it causes her to become a little depressed. She was only a child, much too young for her to remember her parents, when Ichikage took her in. Supposedly, they had put her up for adoption, however; Etsuko vaguely remembers the smell of fire and smoke.

All she remembers, honestly, was falling asleep only to wake up to Ichikage smiling at her. From there on, she doesn't remember. It was a strange concept for Etsuko, though, growing up in the house of a yōkai, much less a daiyōkai lord. She was introduced into a world that she'd found to be frightening, and it did little for her senses, too.

Because of the yōki the yōkai exuded, Etsuko was able to pick up on the different energies around her. She became much more sensitive to it than the average human, but she learned to control it with the help of the household. But Ichikage proved to be an eccentric caretaker. He allowed her to do what she wanted, and allowed her to be herself. He never seemed to interfere in her affairs, only as a guiding hand, and eventually, Etsuko came to see him as her father.

Currently, she is attending a private school, one that houses many yōkai, however; there are other humans who attend there. Most of the humans do not seem to be aware of the demons, or their true natures, however; there is one that has recently caught her interest. She isn't entirely sure why, and she's never really interacted with him, but she will not deny the curiosity she feels.

She feels drawn to him, the way a moth is drawn to a flame. She's actually developed a bit of a crush on him, because of it. The fact that he seems to take things in stride is also something she admires about him. She would never say so to his face, though. She's much too shy for things like that. Perhaps one day she'll attempt to be his friend, however; with graduation just around the corner, she'll have to act fast if she wants to be even remotely close to being his friend.



Image Stand up / life is too damn short
- - - - - - - look around and count your blessings .




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Ichikage
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
Tō-san is an overgrown child... but he's still tō-san.

Nothing will ever change that. Nothing. Ichikage is, and will forever be, her father. Regardless of blood, regardless of status or words or anything that might happen, Etsuko considers Ichikage to be one of the most dearest people to her. He has, in so many ways, helped her to become the person she is today. Sure she might be strange, but she loves him nonetheless.

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Ryoka
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
Ryoka is... Ryoka. There are no words to describe her.

Though she doesn't spend as much time with Ryoka as she does Satoru, she is a little more inclined to respect her. She keeps Ichikage happy, it seems, despite the fact that they both are similar in their antics. If anything, they're a little too similar, but Etsuko doesn't mind. She's used to Ichikage; Ryoka's nothing compared to him.

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Kiyoshi
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
Maybe one day he'll see the things we see.

Out of the entire household, Etsuko spends most of her time with him, and Mika. He's her onii-san. There are no words to convey how much he means to her, and perhaps one day, she'll tell him such. In the mean time, she's going to continue to rely on him and Mika for the things she cannot say to the others.

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Mika
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
I am envious of Mika-chan.

Mika-chan is the type of woman Etsuko aspires to be, but knows she can never be. It's a little disheartening to know that, but she's also pretty sure Mika-chan doesn't know that Etsuko looks up to her like that. Still, Mika is her best friend. She'll always be Etsuko's best friend, and someday, she'll find the courage to tell Mika-chan that.

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Satoru
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
I think... I'm in love with my best friend.

Etsuko's not ignorant to what she feels. She might not be exactly acquainted with it, but she knows that she's in love with Satoru. Her original goal was to see if her crush was just that: a crush. But somehow, it's escalated into something more. She's just not sure how she's going to tell him... if she'll ever tell him. She values their friendship way too much to jeopardize it.

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Coding by Aethiya, inspired by maccotango's guide to the same.

So begins...

Etsuko Fujimori's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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Footnotes

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INK

Etsuko had been up since before dawn, already dressed in her usual attire required by Ginseki Academy. She didn't particularly care much for the color scheme they had chosen. It almost seemed appropriate all things considered, but still, her dress was firmly pressed and there was not a single article out of place. Her hair had been neatly brushed out with two white ribbons braided carefully in the dark strands. She'd left it down for easier management, however, it was currently tied.

"Alright, now to flip this," she muttered to herself, working on what appeared to be a delicate project. It was no secret in the Motoyami household that Etsuko liked to cook. More times than not, she woke before any of the household servants, and prepared her own meals. She would, occasionally, prepare something for the Motoyami's or her nee-chan, however; today was not one of those days. Instead, she packed an extra bento box just in case. Some of her friends would occasionally forget theirs, but it wasn't as if they lacked the means to buy their own meals.

"All finished. Now to just wrap it up and bring it with me," she continued to mutter as she wrapped the lunches in delicate cloth. Once she was finished, she cleaned up her station and waited for the one person who would be dropping her off today. Usually, nee-chan would do it before she attended to the Motoyami heir, however; there were few occasions (rare as they were) when one of the Motoyami's would. Today, however, was not one of those days. She was accompanied by one of the maids who informed her of the switch, and she sighed softly. Still, she smiled and thanked the woman before they made their way towards the Academy.

"Sayōnara, Hana-san!" she bid farewell to her driver once they had arrived, and smiled brightly. "Alright, Etsuko. Today will be the day!" she whispered to herself, though she wasn't entirely sure if her little pep talk to herself was really going to work. Before her thoughts could wander, she heard a familiar voice.

"Have fun, Toto-chan!" the woman had spoken, and a look of confusion crossed Etsuko's face. Who was Toto-chan? She'd never head that name before. When she managed to see who it was, a slight tinge of pink dusted her face. It was Yukimura Satoru. She could already hear the soft snickers of some of the other students, but she paid them no mind. Instead, she adjusted her bag over her shoulder, and made her way towards him.

"Ohayō gozaimasu, Yukimura-kun," she greeted, fighting down the blush that threatened to cover her face. She wasn't particularly good with speaking with him, but she wanted to greet him. It was probably the longest conversation they had between each other, the greetings.

As usual, Yukimura-kun looked slightly surprised that anyone was actually talking to him. The expression quickly faded, though, returning to neutrality. “Ohayō, Fujimori-san,” he replied, nodding slightly.

Clearly not expecting her to have anything else to say to him, he continued on his path inward to the school building. Like most days, a lot of the other students—particularly the older boys who were known for not being that nice—tracked his progress across the front yard. Several pairs of eyes were downright hostile, and of course the whispering was still there, but Yukimura-kun seemed basically oblivious to it. Either that, or he was really good at ignoring them.

Etsuko frowned slightly, not having a chance to say anything further when Yukimura-kun just left. It wasn't that uncommon, though, considering their previous conversations. She sighed, instead, and shuffled the bag over her shoulder to be a little more comfortable. Once that was settled, she made her way towards him, her mind racing with different things to say to him. She'd never had much reason to interact with him, nor to even speak past the usual greeting, however; today was supposed to be a new day. Even though she had a crush on him, she wanted to be his friend, at least.

"Was that your sister?" she finally spoke, mentally cursing herself for starting with something so stupid. The woman was at least related to him, somehow, since Etsuko had seen her a few times at the school. Whether it was to drop Yukimura-kun off, or pick him up, she was there. It's not like she could outright say Hey Yukimura-kun, is it okay if I call you Satoru-kun so we can be friends? if not something more? She immediately shook that thought out of her head. She didn't need those kinds of thoughts at the moment.

He blinked down at her. Yukimura-kun was quite tall; not as tall as some of the people Etsuko lived with, of course, but much taller than her at least. “Yeah,” he said slowly, nodding his head once. He seemed vaguely confused by her persistence, but he wasn’t trying to get her to away or anything. “That was ane-ue. She felt like dropping me off today, so…” He shrugged.

They arrived at the door into their classroom several minutes early. Yukimura-kun slid it open and stepped inside, sliding the strap of his bag off his shoulder and setting it over the hooks in the sides of his desk. Turning back to face her, he leaned back against the desk with his palms, studying her from behind his glasses. His eyes were very bright blue—a strange color for a Japanese person.

“Not to be rude, Fujimori-san,” he said, tilting his head slightly to the side. “But… is there something you need from me?”

Etsuko didn't exactly know how to take that, and there was a slight narrowing of her eyes. She wouldn't admit it, but his eyes were very pretty. "No, Yukimura-kun. I just thought... you know what, never mind," she spoke, realizing the words that were about to leave her mouth. Even if it wasn't in the way most people would think, she did want something from him. She wanted to be his friend, at least. He didn't have very many here, and from what she could tell, it wasn't easy either. She sighed softly, taking a step back to place her bag down at her desk. She stood there for a minute, though it seemed a bit longer, before giving a slight huff.

She was not going to give up that easily!

She made her way back to Yukimura-kun's desk, and stared at him, her eyes set in firm determination. "Actually, there is something I want, Yukimura-kun!" she finally declared. She probably should have been paying more attention to the volume of her voice, but she didn't particularly care. She was on a mission, and she was going to see it through even at her own expense.

"I want us to be friends!" she finally stated, not caring that a few more students managed to shuffle their way in.

Apparently, though, he was a lot more conscious of the additional students than she was. He frowned, knitting his brows together. “Keep your voice down,” he said quietly. Yukimura-kun’s eyes slid to the side; Keigo Yōsuke had just come in. Everyone knew Keigo was basically Yukimura’s personal antagonist; Etsuko also knew that he was the second son of a very prominent family of hebiyōkai—snake demons.

“Are you sure you’re feeling all right, Fujimori-san?” He said that louder, so everyone in the room could hear. “Perhaps you should see the nurse—that must be some fever.”

Keigo snorted aloud. “Anyone would have to be sick to stand anywhere near you, Yukimura.”

Yukimura-kun scoffed under his breath, soft enough that probably only Etsuko heard it. “If you don’t want to go to the nurse…” he paused, making deliberate eye contact with her. “…at least take lunch on the roof today. The fresh air might help.” He turned away from her, settling into his desk as the teacher arrived and called for everyone to be seated.

Did he just... Etsuko's face contorted into one of mixed anger and slight confusion when he finished speaking, realizing only a second later the voice that had responded was Keigo's. She turned and glared at the boy, however; she wasn't content to leave things be. "Keigo, mind your own business. And you!" she continued, focusing back on Yukimura-kun.

"We're not finished here, not by a long shot," she stated before making her way towards her desk, sitting with a slight huff and her cheeks slightly puffed out with color. By the end of the day, she was going to make him her friend whether he wanted to be or not.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

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INK

It was almost despite himself that Satoru found his way up to the roof at lunchtime.

Fujimori-san had really thrown him for a loop that morning with her sudden declaration that she wanted to be friends with him. Him—of all people. She’d been in his grade for the past three years, and never once had they so much as had a conversation longer than the exchange of greetings in the morning. Even that wasn’t something they went out of their way to do—he just greeted her if he happened to notice her. Most of the time, it was her that said hello to him. Even that wasn’t daily or anything. There really wasn’t any way for him to have expected that she wanted to be his friend.

Actually, part of him suspected that it was some kind of practical joke—something new that Keigo and his cronies were trying to do to humiliate him. Most of the students at this school were either really, really rich humans or equally-wealthy yōkai. There were even a few nobles. That much was an open secret. If you knew, you knew, but you never told it to anyone who didn’t. No one here knew he was one of those Yukimura, and Satoru planned to keep it that way. If anyone found out, things would only get way worse than they already were.

Keigo was an ass, so Satoru couldn’t put it past him that he’d roped Fujimori—knowingly or not—into some scheme. Maybe she was supposed to lead him somewhere so they could try and beat him up or taunt him or something. Usually, he was too smart to fall for the obvious ploys like that; Satoru made a point of keeping any confrontation they had to public places where others could see. Letting them hurl insults at him until a teacher intervened had earned him a reputation for being a doormat, but that was better than letting it turn into a fight. Keigo might be a yōkai, but Satoru was a taiji-ya—if it came to that, he could seriously hurt his classmate, and he didn’t want to.

But Fujimori didn’t even seem to get what he was saying to her when he implied that she should meet him here. On the one hand, that made it way less likely that Keigo had put her up to it. On the other… that just meant she’d been telling the truth, which was way more confusing. Why the hell would she want to be his friend? Didn’t she have any clue what that would do to her reputation? At best, people would make fun of her. At worst, well… she’d get what he got, and he had no idea if she’d be able to avoid the fights the way he did.

It might already be too late.

Sighing, he settled down near the fence, putting his back to it. His bento box thunked softly on the roof tiles next to him; Satoru pulled his legs into a crossed position underneath him. Summer would be here pretty soon; he was already feeling like he wanted to take the damn blazer off. But he left it on for the moment—it was a bit loose on him, which helped him look like the physically-unimpressive nerd he preferred to be thought of as.

It didn't take long for Fujimori-san to appear. The sound of the door opening was a dead giveaway to her arrival, and she immediately glanced in his direction. She seemed confused for a second, but the expression vanished almost as quickly. She didn't move from her spot, though, either, still seemingly contemplating what to do. It appeared she made up her mind, finally, as she walked towards him. She was fiddling with the hem of her skirt; apparently she was nervous.

"Yukimura-kun," she greeted, though if she was slightly disturbed how he reacted earlier, she didn't show it. "I meant what I said, earlier. I want us to be friends," she continued, this time staring him straight in the eyes.

Satoru sighed. He really doubted this girl had an elaborate deception of some kind planned, now that he could so clearly observe her body language. He wondered if he intimidated her somehow; if so, the fact that she wanted to be his friend was even weirder. Leaning sideways, he patted the ground a respectable distance away. “Have a seat, Fujimori-san.”

Straightening, he moved his bento to his lap, untying the cloth around it and unfolding it meticulously. “You surprised me, earlier,” he told her honestly. “I’m pretty sure no one’s ever said that to me before.” In fact, he was certain: even the friends he used to have, and the few casual acquaintances he had now, had never been so… direct about it. It had just sort of happened.

“But I mean… we don’t really know anything about each other; how are you so sure you want to be my friend?” He arched an eyebrow at her.

She took the seat he offered, keeping eye contact as she did so. She looked a little taken back by his statement, but said nothing. "Is it so weird that someone wants to be your friend, Yukimura-kun?" she asked him, but it sounded as if that wasn't what she truly wanted to say. She reached for her own bento box, pulling it from her bag and setting it down in front of her.

"How? That's not something you tell someone who wants to be your friend, Yukimura-kun," she chided, frowning as she did so. "You're supposed to take their offer of friendship when someone gives it to you, besides," she began, stopping momentarily to take a bite of her food before continuing. "You don't seem to have too many here. I thought that maybe you could use one at least at the end," she was probably referring to their graduation. This was their last year at Ginseki Academy, after all.

“It’s not like I’m desperate,” he grumbled, picking up his chopsticks and opening the first layer of his bento. He’d packed it himself, so it had all his favorite foods in it. Seriously, it was a fair question: she didn’t know the first thing about him. He sure didn’t know anything about her. Satoru would admit to limited experience, but he was pretty sure you didn’t just decide to be friends with a stranger for no reason at all.

Truth be told, it didn’t really matter to him if he had any friends in his last year or not. Most of his life was taken up with his family and their business; he wasn’t even sure whether or not his parents would be okay with him going to college. He was a special case, after all—even within the clan.

But he figured she probably wasn’t going to give up, and maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, to get to know someone who wasn’t part of that world. Satoru pushed a sigh out of his nose and popped a piece of fish into his mouth, chewing and swallowing before he spoke. “So… tell me about yourself, then,” he prompted, waving his neatly-clasped chopsticks in a vague motion. “How’d you end up at a school like Ginseki?”

It certainly wasn’t a normal place for a human to be.

At least she seemed more content to the prospect of becoming potential friends as a smile crossed her face. It wasn't a soft one, nor was it malicious in its appearance. It was more of a smile one would have once they accomplished something. "My Otō-san," she replied to his inquiry. "He pays for the tuition and fees. It... wasn't my first choice, but most of the people I knew were coming here. I didn't want to go anywhere else without them," she spoke, probably referring to her friends.

"What about you? How did you end up here?" she, in turn, questioned, keeping eye contact with him. "No offense, Yukimura-kun, but you don't seem the type to attend a school like this," she added, though she didn't exactly elaborate on what she meant by that.

Satoru’s brows knit. Either she meant he didn’t seem like the typical rich kid… or she knew what most of the student body really was. And that he wasn’t one. He shrugged, biting into an onigiri before he responded. “It’s the best high school in Tokyo for academics and kendō—those are my main interests anyway. So I took the entrance exam and got a scholarship.”

He mumbled the last part—he didn’t want to seem like he was boasting or anything. Ginseki only gave out one scholarship per year. He tried not to stand out, so not too many people knew that the person who had it in their year was him.

She seemed to have heard what he said as she dropped her chopsticks mid bite. She quickly gathered them back up and stared at him. It was a good five minutes before she spoke again. "I stand corrected, then. You really don't seem like the type, but good for you and your scholarship," she stated it in such a way that it wasn't meant to be insulting, but rather genuine. A sudden thought seemed to occur to her as she snapped her fingers. "You said kendō was one of your interests, right?" she stated rather than questioned.

"I know it's not the same thing, but fencing happens to be one of my favorite things, maybe you can teach me a bit about kendō? I've always wanted to try it, but between violin practice and fencing, there wasn't much time," her voice seemed to quiet towards the end of her sentence. "I can skip fencing for a few days if you agree," she continued, a hopeful spark behind her eyes.

“Uh…” Satoru had never really had anyone asking him for advice or teaching before. As the youngest member of his clan, he was perpetually the student; even the members he could easily beat in a match still acted like they were the teachers. And they were—because all of them still had more experience than he had.

Curse his genes; he could feel a blush forming on his face. It wasn’t even embarrassing! Well… maybe a little, but still! “I mean… I guess if you want me to.” he coughed into a hand, looking away briefly. “I’m not really that great or anything, but I could try.”

"Great!" she replied excitedly. Whether it was due to the warm day or something other, a small blush formed on her cheeks as well, but there was a content smile also forming. "Should I refer to you as Yukimura-senpai, then?" she questioned suddenly, a look of confusion crossing her face. "O-o-or should I just keep calling you Yukimura-kun?"

“Er—either’s fine!” her stutter only made him feel like this was more weird than it should have been. Satoru moved his hand around to rub at the nape of his neck; his fingers caught on a few strands of his hair. “Fujimori…?” He didn’t want to call her by her first name or anything—that was way too casual. But he might be able to manage her last name by itself, at least.

She blinked a few times before she seemed to realize what he was saying. "Ah, Fujimori is fine, but you can call me Etsuko! A-almost everyone else does," she played with the chopsticks in her hands, finally breaking the eye contact. She chewed the bottom of her lip for a second before returning her gaze to him. "Yukimura-kun," she began almost hesitantly. "W-when should we start practice?" she suddenly asked.

"The kendō club usually occupies the room after school."

It might be okay with her, but Satoru didn’t think he’d be able to do it without tripping over the word. Calling someone by their first name alone was something he hardly did even with members of his own family. “Well, uh… I have stuff to do after school today anyway,” he admitted, remembering that his sister was coming to pick him up. He wouldn’t be done with all of that until really late at night, but…

“I dunno how you feel about being up early, but if you wanted to get here an hour or two before class, the room’s open then.” He wouldn’t be getting much sleep, but it shouldn’t be a big deal. He could take the train in if no one wanted to drive him that early.

"Oh... oh of course!" she replied, glancing down at her bento box to find it empty. Apparently she wasn't paying too much attention to when she was eating in between the conversation. "Tomorrow morning it is! I'm... I'm usually up about that time, anyway," she spoke earnestly. She placed her now empty bento box into her bag, and packed away her things. Once she was finished, she stood from her spot, and dusted off some of the dirt on her clothing.

"Thanks, Yukimura-kun," she stated, bowing slightly before turning towards the door. Before she disappeared completely, she turned around and spoke. "I like you Yukimura-kun; we're going to be great friends, just you watch," and she left him to his own accord.

He blinked at her back as she left. He supposed time would tell on that one.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

After the hunt, the Yukimuras had arrived back at their house at about three in the morning. Satoru had taken his usual extremely-hot shower to wash the yōkai blood and guts off himself—he didn’t envy whichever family member got stuck with the laundry this time. He didn’t step out until his skin was nearly red from the heat and the strong soap he used. He hadn’t thrown up this time.

He wondered if the fact that he was finally getting used to the family business was a good thing or a bad thing.

On the one hand… his performance today had earned him words of praise from his parents. They were usually pretty stingy with that kind of thing—he couldn’t deny that it had felt pretty good for them to acknowledge him that way. But… the family business was killing things. Sometimes, it was kind of like killing really vicious, human-eating animals; that was what creatures like the saimyōshō amounted to. But tsuchigumo were really intelligent… and jorōgumo were basically equivalent to humans. They could speak, and think, and feel. It probably didn't happen that often, but he was pretty sure they could love, even.

Satoru thought that if you killed something that was capable of that, then it was probably murder. Maybe justified, maybe necessary. Maybe not. But murder either way.

His dreams were troubled; he slept only fitfully until his alarm pulled him back to wakefulness again, earlier than usual. He stared blankly at the time displayed on his phone for a full ten seconds before he remembered why. That was right—he’d promised Fujimori he’d teach her kendo this morning. Yawning, he rolled out of bed and shuffled quickly into his uniform, double-checking to make sure that no signs of the hunt last night remained on his person.

He’d never seemed to need quite as much sleep as other people, but even he was a little tired as he knocked around in the kitchen for a few minutes, assembling himself a hasty breakfast. There weren’t too many people up at this time—Ryoka definitely wouldn’t be. But Hibiki-ojisan, his father’s younger brother, was usually free and awake. Satoru considered asking him to drive him to school, but discarded the thought. He’d just take the train—the station wasn’t more than a fifteen-minute walk from the house.

Half an hour later, he stepped off at the stop nearest the school, making his way into the kendo practice rooms. Figuring she probably wouldn’t have thought of it herself, he poked through some of the shelves of spare uniforms and took his best guess for Fujimori’s size. His own was already in his locker.

Making his way into the main practice area with the uniform tucked under his arm, he glanced around.

It appeared Fujimori was already there, mostly in full gear except for the head piece. She looked wide awake, and almost excited. "Ohayō Yukimura-kun," she greeted, offering a polite bow before shuffling the helmet to the other arm. "I... was a little too excited this morning to start learning that I ended up making too much for breakfast. Would you like one afterwards?" she spoke, pointing to a set of neatly wrapped bento boxes. One was wrapped in a dark blue cloth, probably meant for him if he accepted it.

"Y-you don't have to if you don't want it. I can probably give it to Shiori-chan or Daichi-kun," she immediately stated, shaking her head lightly. "I won't be offended or anything," she added, smiling as if to reassure him.

Huh. He was pretty surprised that she knew how to wear a kendo uniform, despite having stated she was a fencer in the western style. He wondered if maybe she had relatives into the martial arts or something. He’d learned how to don gi and hakama right along with ordinary street clothes in his childhood. Satoru tossed the spare back onto the shelf—he’d neaten it later.

“Uh… I already ate,” he confessed, but remembered something immediately after. “But I did forget lunch today, so if you have extra…” he pursed his lips somewhat awkwardly. “I’d appreciate it.”

It wasn’t like he could afford the expensive catered food in the cafeteria.

"Sure thing, Yukimura-kun. I suppose after practice," she spoke, offering a half smile before turning her slipping the helmet on. "I know with fencing, stance and positioning is important. Kendo is almost the same way, but I can't exactly remember the stances Otō-san spoke of," she said, the sound slightly muffled by the helmet. She tried to get into a stance of sorts, but it looked more like she was being weighed down. The shinai wasn't being held properly, either, and her hands weren't placed in the right positions.

Satoru hummed in the back of his throat. Her father, huh? He’d learned all this from his father, too. And his uncle and his mother and occasionally his sister. But the fundamentals had been his dad’s doing—probably one of the clearest memories Satoru had of being a very young child.

Leaving his own helmet off for the moment, he approached Fujimori, grimacing slightly at the way she held the shinai. “You’re uh… you’re holding it wrong,” he said. It wasn’t the only thing she was doing wrong, but he figured he had to start somewhere. “Here, look at mine.” He took his own shinai in the basic beginner’s grip, adjusting his hands so they’d be easier to see. “See how mine are lined up? Try to do that.”

Fujimori seemed to frown when he spoke to her, but she nodded her head and tried her best to mimic his movements. She placed her hands in the opposite directions and fumbled with the shinai. "A shinai and a rapier are a bit different," she seemed to mumble beneath her breath. "A shinai requires both hands, but a rapier doesn't. Alright, Yukimura-kun, how's this?" she stated, positioning her hands the same way his were, but she was now gripping the shinai too high.

It seemed that she knew this as she glanced back at the way he was holding it, and readjusted her hands once more. "I will get this," she mumbled, trying once again to grip the shinai properly. For someone who knew fencing, gripping a shinai properly shouldn't have been this hard. "Alright, I think I have it," she finally spoke after a few minutes. Her hands were properly adjusted this time, but her stance was still off a bit.

“If you stand like that, you’re going to get knocked over really quickly,” he observed dryly. Relaxing his grip on his shinai, Satoru shifted it to one hand and lowered it. He walked a circle around where she was standing, taking specific mental notes on what was wrong. There were a lot of little details that added up to a lot—her shoulders, hips, legs and back could all use some adjusting. Even her arms… he suppressed a sigh. Being bad at something you were only starting wasn’t a crime.

Of course, that didn’t mean he was totally sure he’d be able to teach her how to be better at it. Teaching was a lot harder than just doing—he had to find words to describe things his body understood instinctively by this point. Just asking her to mimic his posture wasn’t going to work, because not everything she needed to do could be easily seen by someone who didn’t know what to look for. “Okay, uh… just… stop that for a second. Stand normally. Like you’re in the library or the hallway or something.” It would probably be easier to start from something familiar, right?

Fujimori laughed nervously and did as she was told. "Eh, Yukimura-kun, you don't have to go easy on me. My instructors never have," she spoke. "I just wanted you to know that," she added. She stood, and appeared to be standing as normally as she could.

He blinked. She must have meant her fencing instructors or something. “There’s no reason for me to be hard on you, is there?” Granted, his own instructors had been very harsh with him, but that was because success and failure were a matter of life and death in the family business. Since she wasn’t running around killing yōkai on a weekly basis, he saw no need to be too mean about things.

“Anyway… from how you’re standing now…” he mimicked her posture. It was a weird thing that most girls he knew stood in a much different way than guys, but then he supposed that’s what gender stereotypes did to people. “Widen your stance, like this. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, and you want to have one foot in front of the other.” He stood in the way he indicated. “Then bend your knees a little. Not drastically, but you don’t want them to be locked—that makes it easier to knock you over. Keep your hips aligned with your shoulders. You want to be comfortable and loose—holding too much tension before you need it isn’t helpful.”

He paused to make sure she’d followed—it was, now that he thought about it, kind of a lot of information at once.

"Eh, well no, I don't suppose so. But I know teaching something new to someone shouldn't be a walk in the park, either. How else are we supposed to learn if someone goes easy just because someone is just starting out?" she replied to his earlier statement. She remained silent thereafter, though. She appeared to study the way he was moving and tried mimicking his stance. It took her a few tries, and a few minutes, but she finally managed to almost mimic him. Her stance was still a little tense, but she seemed to be trying earnestly. Once she appeared satisfied, she glanced up at him and grinned. She now appeared to be mimicking him perfectly. She was no longer tense, and she seemed to have her knees bent at a comfortable angle.

"Alright, Yukimura-kun, what's next?" she asked.

He tilted his head. That was strange—she’d been awkward and stiff, and suddenly her stance was exceptionally good. Satoru’s eyes narrowed behind his glasses, but he declined to comment on it. Forgoing the headgear, he stood across from her, holding his shinai in an identical grip to hers.

“Try coming at me.”

"A-are you sure?" she seemed almost hesitant to come at him. She sighed reluctantly, and gripped her shinai before doing as she was told. She came at him, but the way she was holding her shinai was too loose, and it seemed to fly out of her hand before she could bring it down. She watched as it flew from her hand, and smiled sheepishly at him. "I guess my grip wasn't as firm as I thought it was," she stated before leaving to retrieve her shinai. Once she did, she returned and gripped it once more. "Once more," she spoke as this time she gripped it a little more tightly.

Her knuckles weren't white, which was good. Her grip wasn't too firm to where she'd hurt her wrists if she came at him wrong. But it was hard to tell exactly how firm her grip was this time. She tried once more, however, and attacked.

He couldn’t figure it out. Some of the things she did, she did competently, if not expertly. Other things… were worse than even the beginners he’d seen doing this under the tutelage of the Kendo Club sponsor. Of course, Satoru himself was much more than merely competent, so it hardly mattered for her chances here, but it was still confusing.

An almost-lazy motion moved his shinai up to block hers; they cracked against one another with a sharp sound, but Satoru’s arms were steady as iron. In a smooth follow-through, he brought the practice blade down lightly on her shoulder. “Point for me,” he said. In actual kendo matches, that meant they had to rest and start again. Of course, professionally it was different, but he had no intention of teaching her that.

She didn't even wince when the shinai connected with her shoulder, even if it was light. She sighed, though, when he spoke. "Point for you," she repeated. She pulled back and stood still. She didn't return to the stance to ready herself for another try. Instead, she just stood there, as if she were contemplating something. Maybe she was, but it appeared that she made up her mind. "Alright, Yukimura-kun, let's try this again," she spoke, settling back into a proper stance. Her grip seemed to change, but it was subtle. Perhaps she was getting a little more serious this time?

"Here I come," she spoke softly, coming at him once more.

Better—but it confirmed something for him. She was probably at the gokyū level—roughly what a martial art like karate would call a yellow belt. She’d done this before. Frowning, Satoru deflected her blow a little harder this time, stepping in and quickly striking her hip. Another point for him; or it would have been, if this were anything but a farce.

“What are you playing at?” he asked her flatly, stepping back and away. Satoru’s brows had a heavy furrow in them. He kept his voice neutral, but it was obvious that he wasn’t exactly happy. “You said you wanted to try kendo, but it’s clear that someone’s already taught you the basics. Is lying to people and wasting their time how you usually make friends? Or did someone put you up to this?” He didn’t sense Keigo’s yōki around anywhere, but he’d been kind of focused on what he was actually doing.

It surprised him, how offended he felt. Normally, this kind of thing didn’t bother him; he was used to people mocking him, or trying to get under his skin. It usually didn’t work. But maybe… maybe it was because he’d started to believe her, when she said she actually wanted to be friends. When she’d shown such obvious interest in something he liked. Apparently, he’d been right all along. How did that saying go?—It wasn’t paranoia if people were really out to get you.

"Playing at?" the grin that was on her face, vanished completely, and a look of confusion crossed her face before the realization dawned on her. She frowned, and glanced down, apparently too ashamed to look him in the eye when she next spoke. "No, Yukimura-kun, no one put me up to this. I... I wasn't trying to," she seemed lost for words. She, apparently, wasn't expecting him to catch on.

"I really meant what I said," she finally muttered. "I really did want us to be friends. Kendo was something I figured would be easier to do since Otō-san said it reveals a lot about a person's character, and a tutor is something I don't need. It would have been more of a waste of time if I asked you to tutor me. I didn't mean to mislead you, Yukimura-kun," she continued, removing her helmet so that she could finally glance up. She let the arm fall to her side, the one that held the shinai, and gave an apologetic bow.

"I'll understand if... if you can't forgive me or trust me after this, but that doesn't mean I don't want us to be friends. I'd rather we were," she added. It was subtle, but her hand was shaking.

Pulling in a deep breath, Satoru released it gustily. Raising his eyes to the ceiling—mostly so he didn’t have to look at her while he thought about this—he frowned slightly. He didn’t have any reason to believe her, and plenty of reasons not to, but… she did seem genuine. And if she was, he didn’t want to hurt her feelings or anything.

Tilting his chin back down, he met her eyes—the furrow was still there between his eyebrows. “You should have just told me that, you know.” He wouldn’t have minded if she’d said she had some experience but wanted to get better. He wasn’t even sure why she’d acted like she didn’t know anything in the first place. Was it supposed to be cute or something?

He knew sometimes people faked incompetence to get attention. Apparently it worked, too—or at least he assumed it did. But wasn’t that something girls did to guys they liked, or children to their parents? Neither case seemed right here—and he hadn’t thought Fujimori was the type to be that immature anyway. He almost asked, but figured it was probably better to drop it.

“Don’t… try not to lie to me again, okay? I don’t have other friends anymore, but I’m pretty sure that was a rule, even in middle school. If you want me to do something, just… ask me.”

"But then I wouldn't have... alright Yukimura-kun, I won't," she began, but decided to keep it as it was. She bowed once more apologetically before straightening her position. "All I know are the basics of Kendo. Otō-san didn't teach me anything else, and I started learning fencing around that time. I didn't have much time after that to learn, and Otō-san is too busy to teach me anything else. I would... I would like it if I could be your apprentice," she seemed to ask earnestly.

"If only that," she added, though it was a little unclear as to what she meant.

He pushed a breath out of his nose. With no idea what her father did, he couldn’t say which one of them was busier; in any case it wasn’t like he was made of free time, either. But he supposed teaching someone else could be a form of practice for him as well; it would keep him honest about doing his kata and things. So…

“All right,” he agreed. “Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Same time as this morning, and here. We’ll skip holidays or whatever, but otherwise I should be free then. How’s that?”

"Deal."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

Kiyoshi stood patiently by the door, waiting for Etsuko to come home from school. It was something he tried to do every day, but there were duties that called him away from it. He liked to greet her when she came through the door and ask her about her day. It was pleasant and kept him from over thinking things too much. As always, Mika was by his side, and he gave a side glance towards her. Offering a short smile, he returned his gaze back towards the door as it opened, revealing the little girl his father had taken in, so many years ago. Though now, she was considered a young woman, as she told him so many times before. He forgets that age works differently for humans and creatures such as himself.

"Etsuko," he greeted, watching as she smiled and waved to both him and Mika. "How was school?" he asked, as he'd always asked. She removed her bag, slipping out of her shoes before putting on her slippers.

"I'm making progress," she replied with a sort of happiness. He could see the shine behind her eyes, causing him to raise his brow.

"Progress?"

"With my new friend," she simply replied. He gave a light 'ah' before smiling. She had told him she was trying to make a new friend, but she didn't quite tell him who. From the way she seemed to be excited about it, he could only guess it might have something to do with the Yukimura boy she seemed so fond of speaking about. At least to him.

"How far did you get?" he asked, watching as a light blush formed on her face. She puffed her cheeks at him as he tilted his head in confusion. "What?" he questioned.

"Kiyo-chan, you can't just say things like that! Mika, tell him he can't say things like that," she spoke, leaving Kiyoshi deeply confused. Did he say something wrong?

“You can’t say things like that, Kiyoshi-sama,” Mika repeated dutifully. Her deadpan delivery was fairly normal for her, but there was a sliver of amusement just barely visible in her eyes. It disappeared quickly, however, and she elaborated in her usual blunt fashion. “Under normal circumstances, that specific wording would be used to ask to what extent she and her friend had initiated intimate contact.”

Picking a speck of dust off her blue kosode sleeve, Mika raised a delicate eyebrow at Etsuko. “It may become a pertinent question in the future, but it will remain an indecorous one.”

Well... that explains the pink dusting Etsuko's cheeks and why the sudden pink became an intense red. "Oh, thank you, Mika-chan. I apologize, Etsuko, I did not know that is what that phrase, meant. It's quite alright if you and your friend were intimate, though," he spoke, however; Etsuko seemed to cave in on herself, and was now slightly shaking. "Etsuko, are you alright, you're shaking," he questioned, concern laced in his tone, but there was also something light behind it as well. Etsuko merely glanced up at him, then towards Mika, and then back at him.

"My life is over," she simply stated before walking away. Kiyoshi merely looked confused before glancing at Mika.

"Was it something I said, Mika-chan?" he questioned, tilting his head in the process.

Mika frowned slightly at him. “You know exactly what you did, sir. Now if you are finished teasing Etsuko-chan, you do have several items of business to attend to this afternoon.” From inside her sleeve, Mika withdrew a cellular phone—she was much more competent with technology than he was. “You have a meeting with Moribito-sama in an hour—he’ll be coming here, so there’s no need to prepare anything in particular, but I believe he intends to propose a merger with Motoyami Industries.”

Motoyami Industries was, by human standards, one of the longest running and most successful international companies in the world. They were primarily, of all things, invested in the production, sale, and translation of books—his father’s idea, of course. Over time, the company had invested in other ventures, and even opened a specific wing for charitable causes. But Moribito was interested in the publishing part—he ran a rival company that operated within Japan alone.

“Also…” Mika paused for a short moment, but it was impossible to read her face. Her expression was always so neutral. “Ito-sama has indicated that she will be paying a visit today. I moved your four o’clock meeting to tomorrow to accommodate.”

Kiyoshi merely frowned in return. "As you wish, Mika-chan," he replied, allowing the frown to be pulled back into a passive line. He sighed, though, when she spoke of his duties. He was hoping his schedule would be a bit more free so he could spend time with his guardian, and perhaps have tea with Etsuko so he could make up with her. Apparently only one of those things were going to happen, but not in the way he intended it to be.

"Moribito-san?" he stated, moving so that they were now both walking at a leisurely pace. "Alright, then," he continued, though said nothing further on the matter. Moribito would either present a decent proposal, or he'll give Kiyoshi a reason to keep the two companies separate. His eyes, however, gained a sort of brightness to them when she spoke of Ito. Sakura was, in a manner of speaking, his fiancée. They were engaged to be married, however; it would still be a while before the marriage would actually happen. A common practice between demons, he was certain of.

"Sakura-san. It will be nice to see her today," since he last saw her about a week ago. Her visits were always pleasant, or at least he thought so.

“Of course, sir,” Mika replied. “In the meantime, you have an hour before Moribito-san’s arrival. If you prefer, I could find Etsuko-chan and call her to the office for tea?” Kiyoshi often didn’t actually have to say things for Mika to pick up on them. She’d been serving him for the better part of fifteen years—it seemed that in such a short time, she’d learned to interpret even small changes in his facial expressions. Or perhaps she simply knew his habits well enough to guess.

He glanced a Mika, a small flicker of surprise flashing across his face, but it settled into a smile. "I'd like that, thank you Mika-chan," he stated, laying a hand on her shoulder before removing it. "You, too. You'll be joining us for tea. The three of us need to have a chat. We haven't had one of those in a while," he spoke, a sly sort of smile covering his face.

“If you say so, Kiyoshi-sama.” She stepped away from his hand, bowed crisply, and took her leave, presumably to find Etsuko. He caught a flicker of bright blue before she averted her eyes—Mika was exceptionally suited to finding people, even those who did not wish to be found. No doubt she’d be back in a matter of minutes, if not sooner.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

Etsuko smiled thoughtfully to herself. She hummed a light tune, nothing in particular, and walked with a sort of skip. Today was the day; the day she and Mika had to themselves to go shopping. They'd kept it hidden from Kiyoshi and Ichikage, and how they managed to keep it this long from Ichikage was nothing short of a miracle. He always knew everything they did, or said. He even seemed to know where they went. But not this particular day. No, never this day. She countinued humming to herself before stopping inside the large mall.

"Mika-chan, where should we go first?" she inquired. They both could use a new shirt, and maybe a pair of shoes. She glanced down instinctively at her own shoes. They weren't out of shape, so she really didn't need a new pair. Maybe she could pick up a new violin, instead? "Oh, wait. I heard they opened up a new music store. Maybe we could go check it out and see if they have that bow I need," she stated. She'd broken her last bow the other day. Kiyoshi deserved it for poking fun at her.

Mika nodded slightly. “I believe it is where the stationary shop used to be,” she said, brushing a short lock of hair behind her ear. Given that they were outside of the estate, she was dressed to fit in: plain dark jeans tucked into knee-high boots and a long-sleeved shirt with a light bomber jacket. She slid her cell phone into her pocket. It was unlikely that Kiyoshi would be able to call either of them, but she kept it with her all the time anyway.

The strolled through the mall at a casual pace. It wasn’t really a matter of buying things for either of them—they simply enjoyed the opportunity to get away from the house, with each other. Mika studiously ignored the eyes they managed to draw. Etsuko had been able to notice that this happened pretty soon after they’d started the excursions. It must have been something about yōkai ki or looks or magnetism, or even just the fact that they made an interesting pair. But they usually got some amount of attention no matter what they did.

It wasn’t too bad, though. They made it to the music store within a couple minutes, even though nearly every kiosk hawker had tried to stop them to try out a scent or makeup product or whatever they were selling. Compared to the wide corridors between shops, the music store was relatively subdued; there was an old man behind the counter, but no other customers right now.

He looked up at them from his newspaper as they entered, smiling genially. “Good afternoon, ladies. Is there anything I can help you find?”

Etsuko didn't intentionally ignore the man. There were so many different things that her attention was preoccupied. When a voice being cleared filtered through, she turned her attention towards the old man. "Oh, sorry. There's just," she spoke again, her eyes trailing back to the different instruments. They had a violin that was similar to hers, and there was a piccolo flute hanging in the corner. What grabbed her attention the most was the cello, cherry wood colored, sitting on a display with a discount tag hanging over it. The store was still fairly new, why would it need to be discounted?

"I'm looking for a bow. I... broke mine by accident," she muttered, finally turning to face the man. "I need it for a Baroque violin. They are a bit hard to find and I was hoping you'd have one," she continued, trying her best to keep her eyes from wandering. They did, however, glance up at Mika. She didn't play music, but she had a really pretty singing voice. Etsuko heard it, once, but she wasn't sure if Mika needed anything, either.

"What about you, Mika-chan? Is there anything you need? Maybe an extra bow," she stated, the underlying meaning clear as day. Or at least to Etsuko, it was.

Mika raised an eyebrow, clearly understanding the implication.“Not in particular,” she replied, glancing around a bit. Her eyes alighted on the shop’s piano for a moment, then moved on. “Though I think I’ll take a look at the sheet music while you decide on a bow.” She gave the proprietor a polite nod and headed in that direction.

The old man bobbed his head a few times in understanding. “Feel free,” he said, then fixed his attention on Etsuko. “As it happens, we do have a selection of bows available for purchase.” Standing from the stool behind the counter, he took up a cane and leaned on it, shuffling towards the back of the store and motioning for Etsuko to follow. “Baroque, you said?”

He approached a case that held several bows, carefully separated from one another. They had a variety of woods; the horsehair in each was pristine. Nearby, a shelf held lots of rosin blocks, stacked neatly. With care, he lifted the glass top off the case, pushing it back on its hinge. “What size is it?” He blinked at her and tipped his head to the side. “7/8?”

Etsuko nodded her head when Mika spoke, and followed the man to the case of bows. She stared at the selection, and pondered which bow she wanted. She could use the swan-bill styled bow, or perhaps the pike-head. The only difference between the bows was the shape, and which one she preferred. "Yes, it's a 7/8, though I might need a spare for a 4/4, or the full-size," she answered, returning her attention towards the bow. She chewed the bottom of her lip in a thoughtful manner while trying to contemplate which bow she wanted more.

"Do you have any in the pike-head style?" she asked, turning her full attention to the man. Mika was somewhere near the music sheets, and Etsuko glanced over her shoulder to make sure she was there. "If you don't, I could use a swan-bill. Or if you have both, I'll take one of each," she stated, trying to make things a bit simple. If he didn't have either, well... she'd be out of luck.

The man nodded in a polite fashion. “How about a pike-head for the 7/8, and a swan-bill in full size?” He lifted the bows in question from the case, handing the first to Etsuko so she could get a sense of the feel and make of it.

From closer to the front of the shop, a few piano notes drifted softly towards them. The old man paused, cocking his head for a moment. A small smile turned his mouth up when the notes drifted into a fuller melody. It was a Chopin piece, one of the simpler nocturnes. With fewer notes to hide behind, playing such a piece well was dependent upon the technique of the pianist. Or so she’d learned from her music teacher, anyway.

She took the pike-head first, leveling it in the palm of her hand before making a mock violin on her arm. She drew the bow and played in the air, stopping only momentarily to enjoy music. With the music still in the room, she held the bow in both hands and nodded. "I'll take both of them," she spoke, handing the bow back to the man so he could ring her up.

She made her way towards the sound, glancing over towards the piano. She stopped, her hand immediately twitching at her side. It was him. He was here. She contemplated just leaving him to his music, and taking her bows and heading to the far side of the mall. But that wouldn't be nice, now would it? Besides, he was kind enough to teach her kendo, at least a little more than she knew already. Instead, she waited for him to finish before making her presence known.

"You play really well, Yukimura-kun. Did you have a tutor?" she spoke in a way as to not startle him. Perhaps he wasn't as easily startled as she was when she was engrossed with her own music, but she wanted to be sure all the same.

He didn’t startle, but nevertheless he was clearly surprised to see her there, straightening from the piano almost guiltily. He closed the dust cover over the keys carefully and stood quickly from the bench. “Not really,” he said. One of his hands reached up to curve around the back of his neck; he shifted from one foot to the other. “I mean, I took lessons in elementary school. In the band or whatever. After that… Murakami-san gives me tips, though.”

He nodded back at the old man at the counter. Murakami-san, as he’d been named, nodded back, a subtle twinkle in his heavy-lidded eyes.

“He’s been coming to see me on Saturdays since he was only as high as the counter,” Murakami said, the creases at the corners of his eyes deepening. “Is this a friend of yours, Satoru-kun?”

“Uh…” Yukimura looked like he didn’t quite know how to answer. His eyes flicked to her face for a moment before he refocused them on Murakami. “Yeah. Murakami-san, this is Fujimori-san, from my school. Fujimori, this is Murakami Yoshihiko-san. He owns this store—it used to be in a different mall though.”

Etsuko gave a polite bow to Murakami-san, but she couldn't help but feel a small swell of pride when he called her a friend. She knew, of course, that he still didn't consider their friendship something, but she was willing to take small steps. If, by the end of the school year, they were good friends, she'd at least have that much to count for. Instead, she smiled politely and decided to properly introduce herself.

"Fujimori Etsuko. It is a pleasure to meet you, Murakami-san. Maybe..." she paused, trailing off slightly towards the end. She wore a thoughtful expression as she contemplated asking him to practice with her, however; would it be too much to ask? He was already teaching her kendo, but there was a competition coming up in the summer. She could really use a pianist for one of her pieces. She could ask one of the piano players from the school, but she really didn't want to. Most of them were either sons or daughters from prestigious families of yokai descent. The only reason most of them put up with her was because she was Ichi's kid.

Admittedly, that stung a bit, but she had managed to make a few genuine friends within the academy. She glanced at Yukimura-kun and hoped to count him as one, eventually. "Are you here just to practice, then?" she decided against asking him. He probably wouldn't want to, and she already had him doing something else.

“Not at all,” he confessed. His fingers speared into the hair at the nape of his neck, further disheveling it—he tugged at the ends. “Actually, I just came by to say hello to Murakami-san. My sister has me doing a bunch of errands for her.” He made a face and gestured to several plastic bags near the piano. “I’ve still got a few left, but I decided to stop in since it was on the way.”

It was at that point that Mika reappeared, a slender folder of sheet music in her hands. She spotted them immediately, moving her eyes between Etsuko and Yukimura with a thoughtful expression. It lasted all of a split second before she fixed her attention on the latter. “You must be Yukimura-kun,” she said, her tone as matter-of-fact as always.

He blinked at her. “Uh, yeah.” He bowed swiftly, returning to an upright position with perhaps a bit too much haste. He seemed almost to be studying Mika for a second; then he shook his head a bit, as though to clear it of some thought he didn’t want.

“Sakuragi Mika,” she said, her voice coloring at the edges with a tiny sliver of amusement. “I’m a friend of Etsuko-chan’s.” Her own bow, slightly shallower, was also much more graceful and controlled. As usual, Mika didn’t get thrown off by anything.

Murakami cleared his throat softly, indicating that it was time for Etsuko to pay. The amount was considerably smaller than usual—at a guess, he’d given her two bows for around the price of one.

Etsuko just raised a confused brow before being called back to reality. "Mika-chan, this is, yeah, you've just introduced yourselves," she spoke nervously. She hadn't expected Mika to reappear so soon. Maybe it was just the nerves? She turned towards Murakami-san and pulled out her own wallet. She frowned slightly when she saw the price. She knew bows were slightly inexpensive, but this didn't seem quite right. Maybe she was reading too much into it. She did, after all, need both of them. She paid Murakami-san what was due, bowed politely, and turned towards Mika and Yukimura-kun.

"It was nice seeing you Yukimura-kun," she spoke, smiling brightly to avoid the nervous twitch of her hand. "Oh, well... if you'd like," she began, glancing at Mika and then back to him. "There's a place around the corner in the food court that has great smoothies. Would you like to come with us?" she asked, hoping it wouldn't be as awkward since Mika was around. This was, of course, assuming he'd want to go anyways. He could easily just say no, too.

Understanding dawned on Yukimura’s face. “You mean Orange Drop? I have to go there anyway—ane-ue wants a pineapple kiwi smoothie before we go…” He trailed off, rolling his eyes, and bent to pick up all the bags he’d brought in with him. There were quite a lot, but he didn’t seem to have any trouble carrying them. “Since we’re all headed that way, we might as well walk together.” He shrugged.

Mika stepped in front as they left, leaving the two teenagers to walk more or less by themselves. It was hard to tell if she could hear anything from the distance she was at, considering all the noise in the mall. Yukimura didn’t seem to mind either way.

“Violin, huh?” he said, gesturing to the bag she carried with his elbow since his hands were full. “Have you played long, or is it a new hobby?”

"I've been playing for a while, now. I wanted to play the flute, but I didn't have the lungs for it, a-apparently," she responded, mentally cursing herself for her stutter. She was doing so well, too. She glanced at Yukimura-kun, though, and continued. "But violin has always been fun. It actually helps, somewhat, with my fencing class. Both require a c-certain kind of balance that are similar in some ways," she continued, glancing down at the now interesting floor. She could feel the small heat creeping up her cheeks, and she did her best to fight it down.

"What about you, Y-Yukimura-kun, why haven't you joined the music class? I mean, you play the piano really well," she countered, hoping to save a little face. She made to glare slightly at Mika's back. Why did she have to be ahead of them?

He looked away for a second, a grim expression flitting over his face before disappearing. “I… my family doesn’t really know that I play. Not anymore, I mean. It’s not the kind of hobby they really approve of.” He didn’t explain why not, and his expression didn’t really invite the question. “So it’s better if I don’t… make a big deal out of it. Actually, please don’t mention it to ane-ue, if you happen to see her.”

"I won't," she responded, her voice softening. She furrowed her brows when he had spoken, and was a little confused. If he played so well, why wouldn't his parents approve? He could, potentially, be a great pianist if he kept practicing. If he even had tutors, he might become world-known, in time. Maybe she was overthinking that part, but he certainly had a potential for it. She sighed softly, but quickly replaced the solemn look with a smile. There was no need to feel so down about it, right? She opened her mouth to say something, however; she was slightly startled by a disgruntled yell.

"Stupid machine! What, no it ate my quarter!"

It was coming from the arcade a few stores down from Orange Drop. Etsuko blinked slowly before turning towards Yukimura-kun. "Apparently someone lost a quarter inside the arcade. This is why I don't trust arcades," she spoke before turning towards the store. They were near the counter by this time, and she placed her order for her smoothie. Strawberries and blackberries. Sweet and tart. "And now they are escorting the person out," she observed, watching as two of the managers escorted out a woman. She looked slightly familiar.

"Oh... Yukimura-kun, isn't that your onee-chan?" she inquired. She really did look like the woman who dropped Yukimura-kun off at their school.

He sighed deeply, paying for the smoothie he’d ordered. “Yeah,” he replied. “That’s her. Sorry to be rude, Fujimori, but I’ve gotta go make sure she doesn’t start demanding a refund for her quarter.” He rolled his eyes, picking the smoothie up off the counter.

"Uh, sure thing Yukimura-kun. See you at school, then," she responded as he left. Well, he certainly had an interesting family. Not as eccentric as her own, but close enough.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

After the young Yukimura had left to pursue his sister, Mika approached the counter. Ordering herself a lemon and raspberry smoothie, she paid for it and followed Etsuko out the door of the shop. Pulling some of the drink up through the straw, she silently lamented the excess of sugar. Maybe next time she’d have to combine two tart flavors. Still, the cold on her tongue was pleasant.

She strolled easily next to Etsuko now that there was no need to discreetly give the girl space with Yukimura. “You stutter, when you’re talking to him,” she observed mildly, letting her eyes wander over the various storefronts. Mika rarely bothered to buy anything for herself; she kept her clothing in good repair, and most of what she wore was the house servants’ uniform anyway. Only on outings away from the estate did she adopt the more modern styles. She used to think it was strange, how around that big old house, everyone wore fancy old clothes.

Now she simply understood that the house and the clothes didn’t seem all that old to the people who were in charge of it. She didn’t mind that—actually, she liked the uniform. It was plain, of course, but it was comfortable and modest. There were a lot of other jobs she could be doing where one or both of those things would be impossible.

“It’s cute.”

"I do not!" she exclaimed, a soft pink dusting her cheeks. She was in obvious denial, and Etsuko took a sip from her own drink. They must have made it a little too bitter since her lips pulled back. She seemed to ignore it though in favor of not saying anything else. "And no it is not," she muttered with the straw between her lips. She played nervously with her straw, but it was easy to see that she was a tad flustered by the statement.

"What did you get?" she asked, trying to change the subject.

The ploy was obvious, but Mika allowed it anyway. “Raspberry lemon,” she replied, holding it out to the side. “It’s a bit too sweet for me, however. You can try it though—I know you like more sugar than I do.”

"Oh?" she spoke, taking the cup and trying it. "This isn't too sweet. Maybe you'll like this one better. It's strawberries and blackberries. If you don't want to drink yours, that is," she offered.

Mika frowned thoughtfully, carefully taking the other cup from Etsuko’s hand. Trying a sip, she was pleased to find that it was much more sour than the other, and she nodded slightly. “I think a switch is in order.” She wasn’t overly concerned about using the straw Etsuko had been, and she doubted Etsuko would even notice it herself, so she didn’t make a fuss about changing them.

She eyed a display case of swords in a shop window; they were decorative, though, not functional. The tsuba were in unnecessarily-elaborate shapes, the tsuka-style hilts wrapped in deep colors. Compared to the tantō stashed in the inside pocket of her jacket, they were lovely, but useless. She didn’t even have to see the whole blades to know. Still, that’s not what most people cared about when it came to swords, in the modern age. She could hardly fault the makers. Good steel was expensive; people just weren’t willing to pay that much for the genuine article.

Well. Most people weren’t.

Returning her gaze forward, Mika took another swallow, and the two turned a corner. There were several more fashionable clothing stores here, and—unusually—a more traditional tailor’s, with a silk uchikake displayed in the window. It had a pattern of swooping cranes, embellishing the white fabric with gold, green, and red.

Mika supposed it wouldn’t be long before Ito-sama was having hers created, though of course someone of her stature would order such a garment custom to specification, not buy it already made. She moved her eyes away from the storefront and settled them on Etsuko. “Did you want to look at any clothes while we were here?”

Etsuko seemed to contemplate it for a second, glancing at her own clothes. She was dressed in a very typical manner. A black skirt with a white blouse over it. "Well, I suppose we should," she finally answered. "Otherwise, we would be spending our one day together, with just these things," she continued, holding up the bag that held her bows. She disappeared into the store, the one with the uchikake seconds after.

"Oh, look Mika," she stated, coming out from where she'd been, minutes later, holding up a silk blue furisode. There were, oddly enough, sakura blossoms on the sleeves, and petals imprinted upon the bottom. "This one would look pretty on you," she stated, holding up the kimono to Mika.

Mika studied the garment. It was, of course, quite pretty. Furisode were generally fairly formal these days—few people wore the more casual types of kimono. That was what other clothes were for. “Perhaps,” she demurred. She was hardly a kimono person in general, though she had learned how to move in them when she was growing up.

She couldn’t say the pattern was particularly appealing to her, however. Perhaps because it reminded her of someone she preferred not to think about when such thoughts could be avoided.

“But I don’t need any kimono. If you would like to get one for yourself, you’re certainly welcome to.” Mika had blanket permission to spend as much of the money on Motoyami-sama’s credit card as she desired. It was not permission she used very often, and when she did, it was usually for Etsuko—specifically for the items a little more expensive than her allowance typically covered.

Etsuko frowned at the statement, but said nothing. She placed the kimono back and reappeared, the frown still on her face. She seemed to contemplate something before finally deciding on it. "Mika-neechan," she spoke, her voice gaining a slight hint of stubborness in it. She could be stubborn when she wanted to, a trait the other Motoyami's seemed to share. But she was young, and perhaps not as tempered as the other two.

"We are not going to leave until you pick out a kimono," she finally said. She tapped her foot lightly, as if to say she was going to leave. "You have to wear one when my competition comes up," she continued. She was, of course, referencing to the music competition that would be happening in the summer. It was still a while before rehearsals and advertising would be posted around town. Or at least in the parts of town that knew about it.

Mika sighed under her breath. Etsuko could be almost as obstinate as the Motoyamis when she put her mind to it. She’d also chosen the one reason for which Mika had no easy counter—she made it a matter of sentiment. If Etsuko really wanted Mika to wear a kimono to her competition, then she’d have no choice. “Very well,” she said flatly, blinking slowly and pressing her lips into a line. “But not that one, and you’re getting one as well.”

The store had a few completed kimono, but mostly it displayed bolts of silk and other fabrics from which they could be made to a customer’s measurements. Mika kept herself generally away from anything that had sakura blossoms on it—they were a common motif, though. She also kept away from anything in pastel colors or with too many things on it. She had no particular desire to stand out, particularly not with loud colors or patterns.

Etsuko smiled in satisfaction. "Alright, deal," she responded, and smoothed out her blouse. "What about this one," she called out, pulling out another furisode. This one, however, had clouds on it, and the color itself was similar to the blue one she had pulled out earlier. The blue, however, was a little more pale, but didn't fall in the general category for pastels. "Oh wait," she spoke again, putting the one she held back. She resurfaced, this time with a deep red one. There were koi fish on this one, the golds and oranges contrasting against the red itself.

"This one would be gorgeous on you," Etsuko spoke in a way that youth had afforded her. She was, after all, still a teenage girl.

The koi fish were quite nice—though Mika lacked Etsuko’s enthusiasm for the subject. Still… she furrowed her brows a bit. Running her eye over the rack of display fabric swatches nearest her, she raised her hand to rest it on a black-and-red one. The silk was just as fine as any of the rest, but the comparatively dark palette, as well as the butterfly pattern in gold at the hem and sleeves, was subdued enough for her taste.

“This one, I think,” she murmured. Mika turned her eyes to Etsuko. “But what about you? Purple or pink would make nice colors on you, I think.” Etsuko has such a… bright personality, and softer colors would contrast well with the color of her hair and eyes.

"Oh that one is pretty," Etsuko almost whispered the statement as she slid her hands on the fabric. "Mine?" she questioned, before standing in a thoughtful manner. She glanced in the same direction Mika's furisode had been found. She spotted one, or so she seemed, reaching for a medium purple one. When she pulled it, there were patterns of orizuru on it in a pale pink color.

"What about this one?" she asked, holding it up to herself.

“It’s pretty, and the color is nice,” Mika replied honestly. “I’m going to have mine made into a ko-furisode. Would you prefer that for yours as well?” Their eventual attendance at a wedding would require full ō-furisode, but Mika didn’t have to worry about that. Servants, unlike family members, would simply be in more formal uniform, and not part of the wedding itself. For a recital like Etsuko’s, something less formal was fine.

"I'd like that, actually," she responded, obviously a little happier at the outcome. "Alright, let's go pay for these and get back home before they start to notice," she spoke. "Or worse."

“Does worse exist?" Mika wondered rhetorically. But she nodded, and they moved to the counter to give their measurements and wrap up the order.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

The last three weeks had been really odd. The Motoyami household seemed a little quieter than usual, and Etsuko had not seen either Ichikage or Kiyoshi as much as she'd like to say was normal. Kiyoshi wasn't entirely good at masking his face, and Etsuko could almost pick out the solemn look he wore. It was as if Sakura had broken his heart or something, though she couldn't say for sure. But that wasn't the case since Sakura was still around, occasionally. She was almost jealous of that, that Sakura was around Kiyoshi more than she was.

And then there'd been the whole incident at school. Yukimura-kun was missing from class for nearly three weeks. It was odd. He never seemed to miss a single day. He had to have been really sick if he was missing this much school. She had wanted to pass by where he lived, but it had occurred to her that she didn't know where he lived. She couldn't just ask the school, either, however; she could have feigned politeness and said she would have taken his missed assignments to him. She could have found out then. It, however, just didn't happen.

"Hello, earth to Etsuko," a voice called her out of her thoughts, and Etsuko glanced towards her friend. Chihiro was a yōkai whom she had befriended almost her first day of school. She was a nice girl, and her family wasn't as prominent as most of the others that attended this Academy, however; they were still respected enough. "Geez, Tsu, you've been zoning out of it for the last few days. Are all the lights still on up there? Chihiro spoke, gently tapping Etsuko on her head.

"I was just thinking," she replied, pushing her thoughts to the corner for another time. Chihiro merely raised a dark brow, as if she didn't believe her. "Is it a crime to think?" she continued, causing Chihiro to shake her head.

"You should at least pretend to pay attention to when someone is talking to you," she retorted, but seemed to drop the subject. "All I was saying was that the Yukimura kid is back. Hey wait!" Etsuko didn't need to hear anything else, and left her friend in hopes of seeing Yukimura-kun again. She made her way towards the front of the building, hoping to catch him at the lockers. He was there, and it looked like he'd just arrived.

"Yukimura-kun?" she called out hesitantly, just in case it was someone who looked like him.

He turned in her direction just as he lifted the locker door open. For a moment, his eyes seemed far away, as though he didn’t see her at all, but then they refocused and the impression was gone. He nodded slightly, though at first he said nothing, stooping to retrieve his outdoor shoes from the floor and trade them with the indoor ones. “Hello, Fujimori,” Yukimura said at last. His voice was dull, somewhat hollow, even, but other than that, he seemed normal enough.

Etsuko frowned slightly, but she decided that he was probably still under the weather, so to speak. "Ohayō, Yukimura-kun," she replied back. "Are you alright? I mean, you were gone for three weeks, I thought..." she trailed off, narrowing her eyes slightly. She didn't want to come off as one of those girls, but she couldn't exactly pretend not to be. She'd been really worried about him.

"I was worried about you, you know," friends were allowed to be worried about one another, right? "If I had known you were sick, or something, I would have..." she paused, not knowing exactly how to finish that sentence. There wasn't much she could have done. She sighed dejectedly, though. "You're feeling better though, right?"

Yukimura closed his shoe locker, dropping his indoor shoes to the floor and stepping into them. He seemed to be having difficulty looking at her, like he either couldn’t or didn’t want to make eye contact. His throat worked as he swallowed, shaking his head mutely. It took until he’d donned his shoes and picked up his bag before he spoke, making his way towards the classroom.

“I… wasn’t sick,” he said quietly. For a moment, he frowned; it was hard to say exactly what the expression meant, but he seemed to be struggling with something. “It’s just… there was…” He pulled in a heavy breath through his nose.

“Don’t worry about it.” He attempted to smile, but it resembled a grimace more than anything—a pained one, at that.

For a moment, she didn't know what to say. He told her not to worry about it, but how could she not? He seemed troubled by whatever it was he wanted, or was going, to say. She pursed her lips together, still unsure of how to proceed. "Okay," she finally spoke, however; she gave him a somewhat stern look. "Just, Yukimura-kun," she began, pausing momentarily to gather her words properly. She wanted him to know this, and she wanted to make sure she conveyed it in a way that wasn't too weird.

"I know we've only just become friends, even if we're still a bit rocky on that, but I want you to know, Yukimura-kun," she started, taking a deep breath before continuing. "If you need anything, I'm here. It's what friends do, right?" she offered him a small smile. She could do that much for him. If he wanted to talk about it, she would listen. If he just wanted to be left alone, she'd be reluctant to do it, but she'd do it anyway. "Just, don't think you don't have any friends here, because you do, you know," she added as an after thought. She didn't mean to babble on, but she wanted him to know that.

Yukimura looked back and forth between her and the door to the classroom for a moment, like he was trying to decide something. The torn look reappeared on his face. Grimly, he shook his head. “Not here.” He hesitated one moment more, then reached forward, taking one of her hands by the wrist. His grip was gentle, the skin of his hand warm on hers. His palms were strangely rough—they were more like otō-san’s hands than those of any of her other friends.

“This way.” He tugged her around a corner, away from he entrance to the classroom, then down a couple of other side hallways, until they reached what looked like a club or practice room of some kind, one she’d never been to. The sign outside was just in someone’s handwriting—it said “cooking club.”

Yukimura pulled the door open, poking his head inside before deciding it was good enough for… whatever he needed it for and stepping inside. No sooner had she followed than he closed it again. Only then did he seem to realize he had a grip on her wrist; he let go immediately. “Sorry,” he said, raking a hand though his black hair. “I just… I don’t want to say this where someone else might hear, you know?” It was hard to read the expression on his face, but the tightness of his mouth and narrow set of his eyes made it obvious that something was really bothering him.

"I-It's okay, Y-Yukimura-kun," she stuttered. He'd never held her hand before, and she could still feel the warmth of it even as he let go. She could feel her face was on fire, and she knew she had to be at least the color of a ripe tomato. He didn't mean anything by it, was the mantra she was currently trying to tell herself. Something was clearly bothering him, and maybe he just wanted to tell her something. He didn't mean anything by it, right? He didn't even know she had a crush on him. Wait, how would this look if someone walked in on them?! They were by themselves, in an empty classroom. She tried not to think about it; her face was only growing warmer.

"I-I just, i-is there something you wanted to s-say, Y-Yukimura-kun," by the love of Gods, why did she have to stutter around him?

He nodded jerkily; it seemed her nervousness was not helping him stay calm either, though they were probably anxious for different reasons, right? He sucked in an audible breath. “I…” The breath sawed back out of his lungs in a rush; he made a frustrated noise. “My parents… were killed. Three weeks ago. And… and so was the rest of my family, except… except my sister and I. That… that’s why I was gone.”

He paused for a moment, grimacing again and rubbing at the back of his neck. “I didn’t… I don’t want you to feel like you have to do anything, or say anything about it. That’s why I didn’t want to tell you. It happened, and there’s no changing it now, and…” He struggled for words. “Just… I think the best thing for me right now is trying to get back to normal as much as I can, so…”

For a moment, she just stared at him, her eyes slightly wide. His parents, his family... were killed? She made to say something, anything really, but she found she had no words. He said he wanted things to get back to normal, but how does one go back to being normal after something like that? Should she consider herself lucky that she didn't have to remember much about her family, that the family she has now was more than enough? She could feel it, the stinging in the back of her eyes, but she couldn't cry. If she did, then someone would know something was up, and Etsuko Fujimori didn't cry for just anything.

"Yukimura-kun," she hiccuped his name, almost calling him by his first name. She was at a loss for words. She wanted to say something, but what could she say. She was sorry for his loss? That seemed too monotonous, now. It was the automatic reaction people had to things like that. She didn't want to be that person. Instead, she glanced down at her feet, wiping her eyes with the back of her sleeve. "I'm... sorry, Yukimura-kun, I'm crying," she laughed at herself slightly. She knew she couldn't hold back her tears. She would have to wait a few minutes before she could go back to class, to appear a little more presentable.

“Uhh…” He lifted one of his hands halfway to her face, as if to brush away the tears, but stopped himself before he got anywhere near doing it. Instead, he reached into his pocket, tugging out a square of white fabric, plain but clearly a handkerchief. Awkwardly, he extended it towards her. “Please don’t cry,” he said, quietly. He glanced away; apparently something on the floor was really interesting just then.

“I didn’t mean to upset you, I just… didn’t want to lie and say everything was fine when it’s… not.”

She glanced back up at him, her hand twitching just slightly as she took his handkerchief. She wanted to hug him, but that would be inappropriate, wouldn't it? She managed to get herself in check, after a few minutes and took in a long breath. "It's okay, Yukimura-kun," she spoke, drying the remaining tears with the handkerchief. She kept it in her hand as she took another breath, steadying herself so she didn't seem too out of place when they went back to class. "Well, we should probably get back to class, then. I'm... glad you're okay, though, Yukimura-kun," she whispered softly. She really was glad he was okay. If he'd died too... it was a thought she didn't want to entertain.

He bit his lip. “’Okay’ might be an overstatement,” he replied, voice rasping slightly. Clearly, for all his desire to return to normalcy, it wasn’t as easy for him as just saying so. “But… thanks. I’m… I’m glad there’s someone here I could tell, at least. It’s less…” He trailed off, shaking his head.

For a moment, he peered at her face. It wasn’t clear why until he opened the door back up—he must have been checking to see that she’d stopped crying. “We should… get to class, yeah. It'll start soon.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

Ichikage flipped another page over, scanning the information on the application with evident boredom. Human, no evidence of awareness of yōkai. That was an automatic no—making more people aware of the existence of demons was something of a big no-no, and even he generally made sure not to do it. But the listing had been public, and so the first round of eliminations was just weeding for the people who actually understood what they were applying for.

Of course, not every human was an automatic rejection. There were a few who already knew about the yōkai hidden in their midst; Ichikage saw no reason to disqualify them. There was an obvious lifespan problem, of course: if he hired a human for the position, he was most likely looking at thirty years or fewer before he had to do all of this all over again. But humans were interesting; he enjoyed their company a great deal.

His peers found this eccentric of him; he thought they were the eccentric ones. Humans were everywhere—trying to avoid them basically reduced a person to a shut-in. He flipped another resume into the ‘no’ pile and picked up the next. As soon as he saw the name, a slow smile spread over his face. Well, well: look at that. How intriguing.

Ichikage was interrupted by a knock at his door. He didn’t need to see to know exactly who it was. “Come in, Cricket.”

"Konnichiwa, Ot-Ichikage-san," she greeted once she stepped inside. She was smiling when she walked in, which was a good thing. She'd been visibly upset the last few days. "How is the search going?" she asked, seating herself on one of the empty chairs.

Ichikage’s smile inched a little wider. It was adorable how she tried not to call him father to his face. He didn’t mind—but he also wouldn’t mind if she didn’t. It was true that he’d raised her, but he let her decide what that meant to her and call him accordingly. After all, he’d raised both Kiyoshi and Mika as well, and the latter insisted on referring to him as Motoyami-sama even then. Maybe one day, he’d convince them both not to worry so much about who was supposedly of higher station, but he was a patient man. He could wait.

He gestured to encompass the three stacks of paperwork on his desk. The ‘no’ pile was by far the largest. The ‘yes’ pile was very small—perhaps only seven or eight applications thick. But he still had another few dozen to get through. “Interesting,” he replied honestly. “I’m always intrigued to see who thinks they can handle me for more than an hour at a time.” He grinned at her, winking mischievously.

“Are you sure you don’t want to apply, little Cricket?”

She just gave him a flat look, and leaned on her hand. "No, Ichikage-san. I don't want to apply. If I did, you wouldn't let me do anything. And besides that, I can't even fight. What use would I be? I'd much prefer to play my violin and hang out with my friends since I actually have free time. Working for you wouldn't let me do that," she replied in a grumpy voice. She smiled, though, when she said it.

He chuckled; he supposed she had a point. Far be it for him to cut into her precious free time. There was little enough of that to go around as it was.

"Speaking of which," she began, moving in her chair so that she was apparently more comfortable. "I have a question for you, Ichi-san," she began, staring him in the eye. She seemed to contemplate her decision before she made up her mind. "If a friend of yours had something happen to them recently, and they wanted to act like everything was still normal, how do you go about that? Acting like nothing happened, I mean. They... told me what happened but," she seemed to trail off at the end. It was bothering her, clearly.

Ichikage leaned forward slightly, letting his chin fall into one of his hands. He set aside the Yukimura heiress’s application for a moment, fixing his attention on Etsuko instead. He had a feeling he knew what this was really about. Slowly, he blinked at her, pulling in a breath. “Grief is a very personal thing, Cricket. If someone says they want things to be normal for a while, then that’s the best thing to do. Everyone grieves differently—some people need to cry and be hugged and reassured. Other people… other people prefer to deal with that part of things themselves.”

He tilted his head slightly to the side. “I suppose, if I was in your situation, I’d try my best to do the kinds of things that we did before. I’d want to be careful not to carelessly mention something painful, of course, but people can be surprisingly tough. You don’t need to treat him like he’s made of glass.”He narrowed his eyes, a faintly-knowing glimmer appearing in them.

“But of course, if he wants to talk about it later, you should volunteer to listen. Does that help?”

She seemed to receive the information well enough as she nodded in response. "I suppose that does make sense. It won't be easy, though. We aren't good friends, but I'd like to think we were still in that budding part of friendship where they'd at least trust me that much. I mean, they told me what happened, so I guess I could count that as something, ne?" she seemed to conclude the information was useful and regained her smile.

"Oh! Before I forget," she spoke suddenly, rushing out of her chair and moving to his side. She proceeded to wrap her arms around him in an embrace, and let out a muffled 'umph'. "That's for being awesome," she stated, explaining her sudden hug. "And also, you shouldn't take too many of those seriously. I think most of them are trying to be your wife. I heard Haru-kun saying that that was why so many women applied," she added.

“What can I say?” he replied with amusement. “The ladies can’t stay away.” He put a hand atop her head and ruffled her hair gently. He suspected Haru-kun was a classmate, and likely a yōkai—that would certainly explain the knowledge. And it wasn’t a bad conjecture, in truth.

“Don’t worry, Cricket. Your dear Ichi-san won’t let any power-hungry ladies get their claws in him.” He wasn’t quite as young as Kiyoshi, after all.

"Yeah, well they still try," she muttered. "And I'm not concerned about whether they're power hungry or not," she continued, releasing her hold on him slightly so she could look up at him. "I'm more concerned about their mental health. You'd drive them all crazy before they'd even get a chance to hook you."

Ichikage threw back his head and laughed. “Well, then I've got nothing to worry about, do I?"

Setting

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Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

The house—well, no. It was probably better considered to be an estate, wasn’t it? With grounds and everything. That said, there was one main house, which was by itself enormous, and then a lot of garden and yardspace and a lot of anterior buildings. If Satoru had to guess, he’d say there were a at least five larger buildings for staff, as well as a full-sized dojo, a small shrine and its attendant buildings, a few supply sheds, and so on.

It wasn’t a complex of homes like his family had had, but it was even bigger, in terms of acreage. He’d expected a lot from one of the richest men in the world, but not quite this. It wasn’t even the space as much as the quality—everything from the paving-stone pathways to the wood to the lay of the gardens to the roof tiles was immaculately clean, well-kept, and luxuriant in a kind of understated, simple way that he knew probably cost more than outright gaudiness. It wasn’t ostentatious, just objectively beautiful.

The idea that his sister could actually end up working at a place like this for the person who owned it all, was starting to seem a lot less probable than when he’d first floated the idea. But that they were here at all, walking up the pathway to the main house, meant that she’d passed the first round of interviews and was here for the second. The call had mentioned that it would be more like a competition, with job candidates pitted against one another in a series of skill tests for the things they needed to know to be successful bodyguards.

There was so much yōki in the place that Satoru swore he could taste it on the back of his tongue. He was getting antsy, like something in his gut was aggravated by the feel of all the demonic energy around. It made him feel oddly… aggressive, he thought might be the word. Considering what he knew about his own personality and tendencies, Satoru was a little disturbed by the change, though he had no idea what the deal was.

"Yukimura-kun?" a voice called out almost tentatively, as if she was unsure that it was actually Satoru. "Yukimura-kun, what are you doing here!?" it was Fujimori who appeared in front of him, a look of confusion crossing her face.

Satoru was pretty sure he was wearing pretty much the same one.

Fujimori?” What the hell was she doing in a place like this, full of yōkai? He briefly considered the possibility that she was applying for the same job; they would be graduating in less than a year, after all. But he discarded the notion almost as soon as he thought of it; it wasn’t like her from what he knew, and as someone who’d fought her… she was lacking the skill required.

It occurred to him that he was just staring blankly, and hadn’t answered her question yet. “Uh… I mean.” He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. “That’s my sister Ryoka. She’s applying for a job here. What are you doing here?”

"Ah, well," she began, a light color of pink dusting herself. Ryoka snorted from behind Satoru, apparently finding the situation amusing. Fujimori, however, fidgeted slightly in her spot as Ryoka laced one arm around Satoru's shoulders, and stared at Fujimori.

"Oh? Fujimori is it? And who might this be?" she questioned, a sly smirk crossing her features. Fujimori just turned a deeper shade as she laughed nervously.

"Well, I go to the same school as Yukimura-kun, and I live here," she finally responded. "Ah, that means you're applying to be Otō-san's bodyguard, right?" she added, glancing towards Ryoka. Ryoka glanced down at Satoru, and cocked an eyebrow at him.

"You go to school with his daughter? And you didn't say anything?"

Satoru shot an incredulous look at Ryoka, then at Fujimori. “I didn’t know, obviously,” he replied. “You’re… your father is a yōkai?” She clearly wasn’t one, unless she was somehow disguising her ki. But he’d never heard of anyone being able to do that before.

“Does… does that mean you’re…?” He wouldn’t care if Etsuko was a demon herself—he might have hunted them for a living, but there was a vast difference between the kind of yōkai that preyed on humans and the ones that lived together with them. But even if he wouldn’t mind, he’d be extremely surprised.

"Wait, what? Oh, no! No I'm not a yōkai!" she blurted out suddenly. To Ryoka's credit, she held back a laugh as Fujimori turned a slight shade of red. "Otō-san isn't actually my biological father. I was adopted. I'm one hundred percent human, as far as I know," she muttered softly. Ryoka merely held an amused smile as she held Satoru's gaze.

"Geez, Toto, you know how to pick 'em don't you?" Ryoka spoke, watching as Etsuko's face turned a deeper red.

“Huh?” Satoru had no idea what she was talking about, or why Fujimori was turning progressively more red. Actually… “Are you okay?” he asked her. “You look like you might be running a fever or something…”

"Really Toto, really? She's embarrassed" Ryoka stated, giving her brother a slight deadpan gaze. Fujimori, however, merely nodded her head, and waved her hands in front of her face. "Is he always like this at school?" Ryoka asked Fujimori who merely stayed quiet but still seemed to sport a brilliant red blush on her face.

"I'm fine, Yukimura-kun. A-anyways, do you want me to show you the rest of the way? I-I don't mind," she stated, playing with the hem of her skirt this time as the floor seemed a lot more interesting to her. Ryoka merely grinned, like one of those chesire cats.

"We'd love it, Fujimori-chan. Right, Toto?" Ryoka stated, leaning over his shoulder.

Satoru was still a little caught up on the fact that Fujimori was embarrassed. Why would she be embarrassed? He couldn’t really think of anything in particular. Unless…

“Uh, sure,” he replied, falling into step beside her. Ryoka followed. Pursing his lips, Satoru lowered his voice slightly. “You uh… you don’t have to be embarrassed about being adopted or that your dad’s a yōkai, Fujimori. I won’t tell anyone at school or anything, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Satoru knew enough to know that family issues like that could be sensitive for some people. But even if he’d been enough of an ass to not care about her privacy… she was pretty much his only friend. Who the hell else would he tell?

Fujimori sputtered slightly. "What? No! That's... what?" she stated, giving him a slightly incredulous look. "That's... no, I'm not... adopted?" she continued, sputtering her words in slightly incoherent sentences. "It's okay, Yukimura-kun, that's not it," she finally managed to say. She sighed softly, as if something were weighing heavily on her, but said nothing else.

"Everyone knows I'm adopted at school, but they also know that Motoyami-sama is my otō-san. So, don't worry about it too much. I'm okay now. I just, it was nice meeting your sister," she stated, changing the subject. "But I didn't know she was applying for the job. Is she, has she worked in the field before?" Fujimori asked, apparently slightly curious.

“Oh. Um.” Satoru scratched the back of his head. “Kinda. My family… before. We were… do you know what a taiji-ya is?” He figured there was no point in keeping the family secret anymore. It was just him and Ryoka now. And neither of them seemed likely to try and restart the clan and go back to business. Besides, now that he knew she knew about yōkai, there wasn’t really any reason not to tell her.

"Taiji-ya? Like demon hunters? I know some things about it. Otō-san and Kiyo mentioned them once, but nothing more than that," she stated, tapping her chin in a thoughtful maner. "So, you were a taiji-ya... Oh..." she continued, stopping for just a second before continuing her walk. She seemed to figure something out when she did that, however; she didn't say anything. "But I take it you are no longer taiji-ya? You... you wouldn't be here if that were the case," she spoke, averting her eyes from him.

"You know, from where I'm standing," Ryoka started causing Fujimori to glance over her shoulder in her direction. "You guys look pretty cute walking together like that," she continued, causing Fujimori's face to turn a bright red again.

Satoru shot her a dirty look over his shoulder. “Knock it off, Ryoka.” He couldn’t help the slight warmth he felt on his face. Of all the people he met, none could get under his skin like his sister. He sighed, returning his attention to Fujimori. “Don’t let her bother you—she likes teasing people.”

"It's okay, Yukimura-kun. Kiyo is the same way," she muttered beneath her breath, the color still staining her cheeks slightly. Ryoka chuckled darkly behind them, but spared them both from further embarrassment. "A-anyway, Yukimura-kun. The area you're probably looking for is the one behind the house. If you keep following this path, you'll find it. I-I have to go find Kiyo and Mika-chan," she stated, giving a polite bow before taking off in a different direction.

"You have such nice friends, Toto," Ryoka chimed in once Fujimori was out of sight, a sly grin forming on her face.

“And you're horrible, Ryoka-neesan."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

Well.

That had been a pretty interesting way to spend an afternoon.

Satoru was surprised they were being so accommodating of him; to his knowledge, no one else had brought a family member long, though he did see that a couple of the women had come with servants. That seemed really bizarre. Not the fact that they had servants; his family had once had them as well. But the fact that they'd brought them. None of the staff that worked on the Yukimura estate were anyone's personal valets or anything. And surely that was what they had to be; the idea that a contender for a bodyguard position would herself have a bodyguard was pretty ridiculous.

But they must have known he was different, because they weren't making him sleep with the staff or anything. They let him stay in the room that had been set aside for Ryoka. She and twenty-seven other people were left; apparently, there was room enough for all of them. He could believe it, with how huge this castle was.

So huge, in fact, that he'd managed to get lost on his way to dinner. Ryoka and the other applicants were eating separately, but that kind of left him unsure what to do, so he'd been looking for the kitchen. Maybe he could ask the cook what to expect or volunteer to help or something.

It was pretty silent where he was, and there didn't seem to be many people around. It was another few minutes before he actually ran into someone, though it was immediately recognizable as to who. She looked slightly surprised, if the expression on her face was anything to go by. She blinked slowly at him, holding the piece of paper in her hands closer to her as she shifted nervously in her spot.

"Yukimura-kun," she greeted, but she furrowed her brows and tilted her head a bit. "Are you looking for something, Yukimura-kun? I thought you were with your sister," she stated, dropping her hand to the side with the paper.

“Oh, hey Fujimori. I was with her, but all the job applicants are eating together. Probably to learn about what they're doing tomorrow." He reached up to the back of his neck, rubbing at it absently with a hand. “I was trying to find the kitchen and ask the cook for something to eat; we're not supposed to leave and I wasn't sure what else to do."

He figured she had to know where it was, so it was fortunate that he'd run into her. He glanced at the slip of paper, but didn't comment on it. If it was anything that she wanted to share with the likes of him, she would, and he felt like it'd be rude to just ask her what she was doing here in the first place.

"Oh, it's not too far," she spoke, her expression becoming a little more cheerful. "If you'd like, I can show you where it is. I was on my way there to make a peanut butter sandwich, anyway," she spoke, smiling just faintly. "They always seem to help me concentrate, especially when I'm studying," she continued, waving the paper in her hand as if to prove her point. She frowned slightly, though.

"I'm falling behind in math, it seems," she muttered more to herself, staring at the paper in her hands. She lifted her gaze back to him, and waved a dismissive hand. "I mean, if you'd like I can show you where the kitchen is," she spoke, shaking her head at herself, it seemed.

“Uh... you don't have to, but if you're going anyway, I'd appreciate it," he said, falling in step beside her. He supposed the paper might be a practice worksheet or the score from the last exam or something. “The test last week was pretty tough compared to the stuff from last month." He nodded at the paper without attempting to look at it.

What he said was true, though he tactfully didn't mention that he'd made the same marks on both of them. “Which part seems to be giving you trouble?"

"It was pretty tough, but I think I just need to study more. I'd... been neglecting it for the last week because of otō-san and Kiyo-kun," she replied, furrowing her brows at the last name mentioned. "Otō-san because he'll be getting a bodyguard soon, and I'm worried about the kind of person who's going to get it. Kiyo-kun because... he's been teasing me a lot, lately," she continued, her frown deepening a bit. She didn't say why he was teasing her, though.

"But I just need to concentrate a little better, is all. My grades don't usually fall like this," she spoke, turning the paper around to show him the mark she'd received. It wasn't a very low one, but it was still pretty low. She sighed heavily. "Oh," she stated suddenly, turning so that she was looking at him.

"Are you and your sister finding everything okay? Are you both... comfortable? Because if you're not, or need anything, I'm sure I can get otō-san or Kiyo-kun to fix it."

It was honestly pretty surreal to him that she referred to people who were thousands of years old in such an informal manner. He wondered if she understood just how strange it was. If Satoru ever ended up meeting either of the Motoyami, he'd probably be on pins and needles just trying not to offend them.

He tried not to think about it. “Honestly, we're fine," he said, shaking his head faintly. He felt a tug at the back of his head as his high ponytail swished. “I didn't even think I'd be able to stay here, so it's already more than we expected, never mind that we have our own room and everything. Your, uh... Motoyami-sama has been more than generous enough as it is."

She huffed lightly. "Otō-san might not seem like it, but he's a pretty nice person. He likes making sure everyone is comfortable. A generous host, I suppose," she added, shrugging her shoulders. "I'm surprised you haven't met him, yet. He's usually around," she spoke, blinking mildly at him. "Kiyo-kun, too, though he's usually accompanied by Mika-chan," she spoke, a small smile crossing her face.

"But if you or your sister need something, sometime in the future, you shouldn't hesitate to ask, Yukimura-kun. Otō-san isn't exactly the type to become burdened by such things. He... might actually appreciate it," she stated as she turned her attention back in front of her. "Just another few minutes, and we'll be at the kitchen," she spoke, nodding her head in front of her.

That was fair enough for her to say. Maybe it was even true. But still he'd never dream of making any additional imposition. They seemed to have thought of everything anyway, aside from where he was easting dinner. But since he was a last-minute guest anyhow, that was hardly surprising.

They reached the kitchen, then; it was quite enormous, which wasn't a surprise considering how many people they had to feed out of it, but it was surprisingly modern compared with the rest of the home, with sleek, stainless-steel appliances, a dark granite-topped counter, and a neat, orderly selection of appliances and cookware. Most of the pots and pans were hung on a rack positioned above the large island.

There didn't seem to be anyone there; perhaps they'd already cleaned up for the day. That actually made things more awkward; he wasn't really sure he wanted to raid the daiyōkai's refrigerator. He glanced at Etsuko for a moment, pursing his lips. “Have you eaten dinner at all yet? I'd feel better making both of us something since I'm intruding."

"Intruding?" she questioned. She huffed lightly, and shook her head. "You're not intruding, Yukimura-kun," she spoke, though there was some amusement in her voice. "But to answer your question, no I have not. I don't usually get hungry enough for dinner when I'm studying. Peanut butter sandwiches always do the job for me," she answered.

"If it will make you feel better, though, I don't mind. Otō-san always keeps all of the fridges stocked. This is the main kitchen, but there's another, smaller one, on the other side of the house. That one is mostly used by the guests or servants whenever they are here, though," she continued, nodding her head towards the refrigerator.

"I'm pretty sure he keeps it stocked enough that you could literally make whatever you wanted," she added, almost like an after thought.

Well, if anything that made him feel more obnoxious, but whatever. He needed to eat, she should probably eat, so raiding the fridge it was. “What kind of food do you like?" he asked, cracking the fridge door open. It was a really large one, and stuffed to the brim with... well, everything, from the looks of it.

Maybe Fujimori had only been exaggerating slightly.

"Uh, sashimi, mostly," she answered. "But I could really go for omurice, or tonkatsu," she stated, a light color dusting her face. She laughed a little nervously when she spoke. "Oh, but I think sashimi would be easier, and a little quicker, don't you think?" she stated suddenly.

"I mean, if you're hungry now, it'd make sense to make something quick," she murmured softly.

He shook his head, gathering what he'd need from the refrigerator and setting it all down on the island. “It's fine. The only reason I started looking for the kitchen now is because I didn't want to disturb anyone too late at night."

Fortunately, there was cooked rice already available, which would save him a lot of preparation time. Taking down one of the larger cast-iron pans, Satoru set it on one of the burners, drizzling oil over the whole thing and leaving it to warm up.

“I don't mind if you study while you wait or whatever, Fujimori. You don't have to entertain me like a guest or anything." He was just here to support Ryoka, after all; it wasn't like she'd invited him to be here. Taking one of the cutting boards from its place, he slid a large chef's knife from the block and went to work on the onion.

"But Yukimura-kun, you are a guest," she spoke, blinking in a confused manner. "You might not be a participant, but you're still a guest here, in the house," she continued, frowning just slightly. She just shook her head after that, and placed the paper she'd been holding, down on the table top nearby.

"But I'm not sure if I could entertain you, anyways. I guess... I'm really just here keeping you company," she murmured softly before her eyes widened. "Oh... but that sounds kind of bad, doesn't it? It's... n-not really a p-problem, Yukimura-kun. I still have t-tomorrow to study, too. It's the weekend, after all," she spoke, stuttering slightly as she did so. She seemed nervous now.

Satoru wasn't really sure what the deal was with that—he didn't really get Fujimori sometimes. Uncertain how to respond, Satoru just shrugged and went back to cooking, tossing the onion into the pan and working on dicing the chicken. When that and the veggies were done, he put them in as well, adding ketchup and soy sauce.

“You said..." he started, wondering if it was any of his business. “You said you were worried about what kind of person might get the job. Is it because you're suspicious of the candidates' motives?" He thought he had an idea of what might concern her, but he didn't want to assume. Whisking some eggs and milk together in a bowl, he glanced over the island at her, arching a brow.

"Sort of," she answered, dropping her gaze to the cup of water in her hand. She'd grabbed it earlier, it looked like. "Most of the women who applied are after otō-san. Whether for his influence, or his... money," though they sounded the same.

"Many of them saw this as an opportunity to try and wed him, too," she shuddered slightly at that, "since most saw the ad as a wife search. I'm not sure how familar you are with things like that, since you were a taiji-ya, but otō-san's not like that. He wouldn't put an ad out for a wife."

She pursed her lips softly as she furrowed her brows. "I'm just concerned that the one who gets the position might try and take things too far. Otō-san is strong enough to protect himself, but still. He's my otō-san, and... I just don't want anything bad happening to him," she didn't speak so softly that time, but it was apparent how much she cared for her father.

“I guess that explains the kimono," he replied with a snort. Rolling his eyes, Satoru plated the fried rice and set the pan back down, pouring the egg mixture into it with a sizzle. “But I mean... some of them look really intense, like they've been training to fight their whole lives. I doubt all of them are after that, and I'm sure Sakuragi-san and Sanada-dono will be able to tell the difference."

Neither of them seemed like the kind of person to let something like that fly, after all. “I guess it's something most famous people probably have to deal with... even a daiyōkai." He spooned cheese and fried rice onto the rapidly-cooking eggs.

"Mika-chan and Sanada-san are really good at what they do, so I don't doubt that. Besides... Mika-chan's always had an eye for things like that," she smiled softly at her own statement, as if she found something funny about it.

"I don't think famous people put out ads for wives, Yukimura-kun, but in this case," she chuckled softly, shaking her head, "daiyōkai, or not, otō-san's going to have his hands full with whomever gets chosen. Though in all honesty... I kind of feel bad for the woman who gets the job. Otō-san is..." She paused for a second.

"Otō-san is otō-san. You'll understand once you meet him," she spoke as if he'd actually meet Motoyami-sama sometime soon. In person.

“Uh... I didn't mean that I think famous people... never mind." He'd meant dealing with people with bad motives was something they probably all had to do, but it really wasn't worth explaining. Instead, he took up the pan and flipped the omelet, catching it on the way back down and just barely browning the reverse side before he put it on a plate and slid it across the island.

“You don't have to wait for me," he said. “It'll only be a couple minutes more anyway. Do you want ketchup or soy sauce?"

"Ketchup," she replied, taking the dish with some cheerfulness. "This looks good, Yukimura-kun. Thanks," she spoke, glancing at the dish and then towards him. She offered him a small smile before she began to eat. "I suppose I should correct myself. This is good," she spoke with some mild shock written on her face.

"Is there anything you don't do, Yukimura-kun?" she asked, raising a brow in his direction.

“Uhh..." He rolled her the bottle of ketchup, then flipped his own omelet, setting it aside so he could clean the dishes before he ate.

For some reason, he found the question embarrassing. He'd never really thought of himself as particularly talented or anything; he just had a lot of hobbies that he enjoyed. The only hard part was finding the time for all of them, he supposed. But now he was searching desperately for something he knew he was terrible at so he could bring it up, which was kind of a weird thing to be considering. He didn't spend a lot of time thinking about what he didn't do.

“I don't know how to dance," he said. “And I haven't really learned to draw, either. I don't know much about most sports? I mean... there's a lot of stuff I can't do, honestly. I just... learn to do the things I need to."

"But I'm sure you'd be good at them, too, if you did do those things. And I don't think that's necessarily true, Yukimura-kun. Did you need to learn how to play the piano? You're really good at that, too, and cooking, and you've helped me learn kendo, so..." she trailed off, listing the things that she'd known about him. She seemed to contemplate something, though, before she spoke again.

"You're a lot more talented than most people I know. Even some of the yōkai around the household," she laughed softly. "It might surprise you, but you're a little more talented than Kiyo-kun. Kiyo-kun still can't operate a phone, or cook. His fashion sense is usually off, too. Mika-chan has to help him with all of that," she spoke, grinning as she did.

“Well, that's..." He cleared his throat awkwardly, picking up his spoon and taking a quick bite mostly to give himself some time to formulate a response to that. What did you say when someone told you you were 'more talented' than the heir to an entire region of the country? Even if he wasn't recognized by human governments, Satoru knew enough to know that it didn't matter. The Motoyami had dominion over the region, and all the yōkai in it answered to them. At least the ones who were smart enough to answer to anyone at all.

He swallowed; the eggs and rice stuck in his throat a little. “I mean... I can't imagine technology is easy for someone who measures his lifespan in centuries, Fujimori. And my fashion sense isn't great either. I just have my choice made for me because of the uniform." It wasn't great, as far as rebuttals went, but it was hard to wrap his head around the compliment to begin with. “I'm sure I'm nowhere near the level of ability required to run a whole company, much less a conglomerate of them. That's a talent, too. Next to something like that, cooking is kind of..." Satoru shoveled more food into his face.

"I'm not sure if I'd call it talent so much as dumb luck," she muttered beneath her breath. "Even so, otō-san is older than Kiyo-kun, and he can operate technology a lot better than Kiyo-kun, so... I'm not entirely sure on that one. And I wasn't saying you had a great fashion sense, either, Yukimura-kun," she spoke, though she must have realized she said it out loud, because her face turned a deep red.

"I m-mean, there's nothing w-wrong with the way you dress or anything," she tried to correct herself, it seemed. She poked at her food for a minute, keeping her gaze down at it. "Though honestly, if I had to choose between running a whole company or cooking as a talent," she finally spoke again, lifting her head up as she did.

"I think I'd choose cooking. It's more fun that way," she added.

He snorted, the corner of his mouth curling upwards. “You can say I have bad fashion sense if you want," he replied. “It's true, after all." He shrugged, letting her relative assessments of cooking and business pass without comment. Which she preferred was just that: her preference. It was fair enough as far as it went, but of course other people would have the opposite one.

He turned back to his meal, feeling strangely less awkward than before.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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Footnotes

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INK

It was kind of a surreal feeling to Etsuko. He was at her house. Of course, he wasn't here as a friend or anything so silly. He was here with his sister because she was applying to be Ichikage's bodyguard. If she remembered correctly, the tournament would be starting soon. Today, or tomorrow, she wasn't entirely sure. Still, she couldn't help the grin that spread across her face, nor the extra skip to her step. She was happy, perhaps a little too happy about it.

"Tsu-chan," Kiyoshi's voice stopped her in her tracks, and she turned to face him. Slowly. There was that same smile on her face, but she knew what that smile meant. "Can you help me with this? Mika-chan's busy," he spoke, lifting up a tablet. She blinked slowly at him, and pursed her lips together.

"What do you need, Kiyo-kun?" she asked, hesitantly. She narrowed her eyes at him as he kept that same smile on his face. "Because if you're trying to get into otō-san's account for the participants..." she stated, trailing off at the end. It was a clear indication that she wasn't going to help with that. He frowned, and shook his head.

"Nothing like that, Tsu-chan. I'm just trying to check my calendar for any events today. Since Mika-chan's been replaced with Kashiwagi-san," he spoke. She mouthed an 'oh' as she took the tablet from him. She'd forgotten about that. Mika was helping with the interviews and tournament so Kashiwagi-san had filled in for her. She snickered softly at that. It looked like Kiyoshi was either evading him again, or Kashiwagi-san was doing something else. She highly doubted that was the case.

"Kiyo-kun, you really shouldn't leave your bodyguards behind. You know how otō-san and Mika-chan get when you do," she spoke, entering the password for Kiyoshi's account. She'd remembered it only because it reminded her of Mika, somewhat. Cherry blossom. Of course, it took her a moment to realize that it could also be for Sakura, and she pursed her lips together.

"There," she spoke, pulling up his calendar for him. She handed him the tablet back, and he nodded his head. "You should get back to Kashiwagi-san, Kiyo-kun. You'll be in trouble if you don't," she spoke, watching as his face twisted into a sort of pout. He always did that, and if she wasn't slightly disturbed by it, she'd find it hilariously adorable.

"But I'm here, already. Can't I accompany you to where you're headed?" he asked, causing her to sigh heavily. She wasn't heading anywhere in particular, but she kind of did want to go see the next trial. It would be starting soon, or in a few hours. She couldn't remember.

"What about Kashiwagi-san?" she asked, raising a brow in his direction. He smiled in that same way that sent a shiver down her back.

"I'll be careful," he spoke, grinning somewhat. She just shook her head.

"Fine, you can come with me. But we're going to go find Kashiwagi-san, first. I don't want otō-san to find out you're walking around by yourself again. Let alone, Mika-chan. She'd probably strangle you," she spoke a little seriously. Kiyoshi didn't seem too bothered by it since he smiled. She sighed again.

The search for Kashiwagi was proving difficult. Of course, it was a very large property, and the bodyguard himself was probably wandering around trying to find Kiyoshi. Their progress ended up taking them past the exercise yard, currently converted to an arena of sorts for the upcoming trials. There were even benches for spectators and officials.

A few of the staff were still working on getting things set up, but a section had been cordoned off for participants to practice or warm up. A girl with chin-length brown hair was at work on the archery targets; a pretty woman with a cascade of red locks threw kunai at a straw dummy.

In the middle of one of the rings, though, Yukimura-kun and his sister were sparring. She had a kusarigama, while he held a katana in one hand and a wakizashi in the other. Deftly, he jumped out of the way of the ball on the end of the chain, taking the opportunity to duck in closer and bring the katana around in what might have been a feint, from the way he drew it away quickly and slashed with the wakizashi instead.

She hadn't noticed she was smiling until Kiyoshi pointed it out. "Tsu-chan, is that the boy you like?" he spoke out loud, and Etsuko could feel her face warm considerably. Luckily, they were still a little too far for Yukimura-kun and his sister to hear them, and she quickly turned to face Kiyoshi.

"Kiyo-kun, you can't say things like that! He doesn't know!" she spoke in a sharp whisper. Kiyoshi blinked mildly at her and tilted his head in a curious manner. She did not like the look on his face as he did so.

"Why not? Haven't you told him?" he asked, and Etsuko's face warmed further. It was at this point that Yukimura-kun and his sister stopped, and it was she who noticed them first.

"Hey Toto-chan, isn't that your friend, Etsuko?" she stated. Etsuko felt her shoulders tense, and didn't turn around to face them. "Oh look, it's the guy with the pretty hair," she added, which caught Etsuko's attention. She raised a brow at Kiyoshi who seemed to frown at the comment.

"I do not know why she says those things," he spoke, pulling his hair over his shoulder as if inspecting. Etsuko snickered softly and shook her head, turning around to finally face Yukimura-kun and his sister.

"Ohayō, Yukimura-kun, Yukimura-san," she greeted, watching a large grin cross Ryoka's face. She shuddered underneath it. It looked like Kiyoshi's when he was up to no good. "A-anyway, this is my onii-san, Kiyo-kun," she spoke, introducing Kiyoshi. He blinked, and offered them a polite bow.

"And you must be the Satoru-san," he spoke, his eyes drifting over towards Yukimura-kun.

Satoru looked surprised to have been singled out in such a fashion. He shook himself slightly and dropped into a ninety-degree bow. “Er... yes. Pleased to meet you, Motoyami-sama." He rose only after several seconds, frowning at his sister and elbowing her in the ribs. “Ryoka," he hissed softly. “That's Motoyami Kiyoshi, the heir. Don't say ridiculous things, and greet him properly." He narrowed his eyes at her behind his glasses.

Ryoka hissed softly back at Yukimura-kun, rubbing her side as she did so. She turned to face Kiyoshi and tilted her head. "He didn't say anything last time," she murmured, but bowed. It wasn't as polite as Yukimura-kun's had been, though. "Pleasure to meet you, Kiyoshi-san," she spoke, causing Kiyoshi to smile in response. Etsuko rolled her eyes. He was always happy when someone called him that, instead of Motoyami-sama. If she didn't know better, she'd think he hated being called that, but he didn't seem to mind either way.

"Kiyo-kun, this is Ryoka-san, Yukimura-kun's sister. She's applying to be otō-san's bodyguard," she introduced Ryoka since he already knew all about Yukimura-kun. Kiyoshi merely nodded as he kept the strange smile on his face. She didn't like that, actually.

"Congratulations on making it this far, Ryoka-san," he spoke, nodding in her direction. She grinned at him, and Etsuko felt another shiver go down her spine.

"Thanks, Kiyo-kun. It's not easy, but it's been fun," she spoke, causing Etsuko to shake her head. Kiyoshi just kept smiling, and nodded his head. His eyes drifted back to Yukimura-kun, though, and a sly smile crossed his lips.

"And what of you, Satoru-san, are you here cheering for your onee-chan?" he asked, causing Etsuko to inwardly groan. He was up to something. He had to be up to something.

“More like making sure she doesn't kill herself doing anything stupid," Satoru replied. A moment later, he stiffened. “Oh, uh... sorry. I shouldn't..." He seemed extremely uncomfortable in Kiyoshi's presence for some reason, most likely because of his status. It seemed he'd only spoken so freely on accident.

He shifted awkwardly, rolling his shoulders. “Thank you, by the way. I don't know exactly whose decision it was to let me stay here, but I'm grateful." He looked like he might have said more there, but instead he bowed again, slightly less-formally this time. It was still deep enough to make his long tail fall over his shoulder, where it remained when he straightened.

Kiyoshi laughed. Well, the sound was more like a soft chuckle, but Etsuko knew him a lot better than that. He was amused by Yukimura-kun's reaction, and she hit her forehead to her palm. "Kiyo-kun, it's not nice to laugh at people," she murmured, elbowing him in the side in a similar manner Yukimura-kun did, earlier. He chuckled softly, and shook his head.

"My apologies, but Satoru-san," he apologized, and turned his attention back to Yukimura-kun. "You needn't be so formal around me. I'm just a humble person today," he spoke, the smile on his face inching just the slightest bit. "Etsuko speaks very fondly of you," he added, causing Etsuko to turn a deep red. She was sure of it.

Ryoka laughed loudly, smacking Satoru on the back. "He's always like that, Kiyo-kun," she spoke once she'd calmed down, it seemed. Etsuko tried to bury her face in her hands. Why. Why did she agree to let Kiyoshi come along?

Someone has to not embarrass the family by acting familiar with daiyōkai," Satoru snapped back, scowling at his sister. He didn't seem to think anything in particular of Kiyoshi's comment; perhaps he'd interpreted it as something other than what it meant.

He sighed, looking apologetic. “In any case..." he paused, clearly trying to decide how seriously or how far to take Kiyoshi's request, “Kiyoshi-dono, please forgive my sister's lack of manners. She doesn't really know how to address people, but I'm sure she'd be perfectly willing to learn the necessary manners to live and work somewhere such as your home."

Ryoka seemed to blink before shrugging her shoulders. "He doesn't seem to mind," she spoke, tilting her head towards Kiyoshi. He nodded his head in agreement, or so it seemed. "And I'm sure that if he did, he'd... say something about it," she added. Etsuko shook her head.

"Ah, Yukimura-kun, Ryoka-san, perhaps... p-perhaps we should let you both get back to training? We're looking for Kashiwagi-san, anyway, so..." she really didn't know what else to say. Kiyoshi blinked down at her, though, and tilted his head slightly.

"But Tsu-chan, I don't need Kashiwagi-san, right now. I'm with you, and one of otō-sama's applicants. I'll be fine," he spoke, smiling down at her with that same sly smile. She could tell, her life was going to be ruined in the next few minutes if she didn't get Kiyoshi to leave with her elsewhere.

"I'm not your bodyguard, Kiyo-kun. And Ryoka-san's applying for the job. That doesn't mean she has it, yet," she spoke, shaking her head at him. "But I do wish you luck, Ryoka-san," she spoke immediately afterward. She didn't want Ryoka to think that she was speaking ill of her, or anything like that.

"No worries, Tsu-chan. And I'm flattered, Kiyo-kun thinks I can protect him," she spoke, and it looked like she was trying not to laugh.

"You're welcome, Ryoka-san," he spoke back. "Oh, before I forget," he spoke, turning back to Satoru. "Thank you for taking care of our Tsu-chan. I'm sure otō-sama appreciates it as well," he spoke, offering Yukimura-kun a bow. Etsuko could feel her eyes widen at that comment.

"Kiyo-kun! You can't say things like that!" she spoke, covering his mouth as best as she could with both of her hands. He was taller than her, after all. He just blinked in mild surprise and tilted his head as if to question, 'why not?' He really was going to be the death of her, one of these days. Ryoka seemed to find it funny, though, since she laughed.

If anything, Satoru just looked even more confused; half his mouth pulled back in something almost like a grimace, and he furrowed his brows behind his glasses. “I haven't really done anything worth thanking me for," he said, shrugging slightly. “Just... pretty normal friend stuff, really."

"See, friends, Kiyo-kun. Now hush before I have to go call Mika-chan and tell her you abandoned Kashiwagi-san... again," she spoke, making sure the threat was there. He blinked and frowned at her.

"You wouldn't," he spoke, and she allowed a small smirk to cross her features.

"I have her on speed dial. And I know how to operate it, Kiyo-kun," she threatened once more, pulling her phone out to show him. His frown deepened considerably.

"Alright, Tsu-chan, you win," he spoke, pouting as he did. She smiled to herself in victory. "But..."

"Nope, not a word Kiyo-kun," she knew he was going to say something else, but she didn't want him to. He embarrassed her enough as it was. "Don't mind Kiyo-kun, he's just spitting nonsense," she spoke, offering Yukimura-kun an apologetic bow. Ryoka didn't seem to contain her amusement, though, and seemed to be laughing at the entire exchange.

"It's okay, Kiyo-kun, Toto-chan does the same thing," she spoke, placing a hand on Yukimura-kun's shoulder before dropping it. This was, officially, the worst meeting. It had to be.

“Inform other people when you're full of..." There was a conspicuous pause. “Nonsense? Yes, I do. Now come on, Ryoka. You're not gonna last two minutes in this tournament if you stand around talking all day." He waved her back towards the ring with a shooing motion.

“Kiyoshi-dono, Fujimori." He dipped his head to both of them and followed his sister back to their practice.

Kiyoshi chuckled softly. "I see why you're so fond of him, Tsu-chan."

"Kiyoshi!" she really hated him sometimes.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

Satoru sighed, tucking the books under his arm and glancing around. It was pretty impossible to get any work done in the room he shared with Ryoka. He was happy that she'd won her second match as well, but he was ready to take a break from all of this and let himself do something a little more normal.

Though... trying to think of anything normal in this castle was pretty difficult. The Yukimura Clan had never struggled for food or anything, but this level of luxury and abundance was absolutely foreign to him. He felt keenly out of place here, and so right now, he was trying to find someplace to work that didn't remind him that he was a guest in the biggest house he'd ever seen.

“Yukimura-kun." The clear, precise tone could only belong to Mika. It was recognizable even though he'd only heard it a few times.

He glanced in the direction it came from, noting that Kiyoshi was with her and dropping into a bow. “Kyoshi-dono; Sakuragi-san."

Mika arched an eyebrow at him, returning the bow with a nod. “Are you, perhaps, looking for someplace quiet?"

He was surprised by the accuracy of the guess, until he followed her eyes to his books. Satoru supposed maybe it hadn't been a difficult inference to suppose that they were his schoolwork, and that he carried them because he needed to find somewhere to study. “I was hoping so, yes," he admitted. “Er... not that I think my lodgings are inadequate. It's just that Ryoka's there right now, and..." He figured it was best to let the rest of that sentence remain implied. He didn't really relish telling them that his sister was clingy and loud and never left him alone, or that being in a good mood like she was now made her much more inclined to tease and/or bother him.

“Hm." The single syllable gave him the impression that Mika knew anyway. She reached into her pocket and removed a small key on a beaded string. “My office should be adequate. It is to your left, three doors down. I trust you will not try to open any of the locked cabinets or drawers?"

Satoru's eyes widened in surprise. “O-of course not. I mean, thank you, Sakuragi-san."

Her eyes narrowed in a way that almost suggested a smile; she tossed him the key, which he caught one-handed, since the books occupied his other.

“That's a spare; please leave it in the room and lock the door behind you when you leave."

He nodded; she seemed satisfied with that.

"That was nice of you, Mika-chan," Kiyoshi spoke, arching a brow. "If you need a quiet place in the future, Satoru-san, there is also a library down the main hall. You are welcome to it, if you wish. No one visits there except for Tsu-chan when she needs to study. Otō-sama sometimes visits it, but it is very rare," he continued, the small smile on his face stretching just a bit.

"Is there anything you might be in need of, Satoru-san? We can provide it for you," he spoke, his head tilting slightly.

“No, sir," Satoru replied, made slightly uncomfortable once again by Kiyoshi's apparent informality. He knew it was polite to show concern for one's guests, but... well, maybe it was just another facet of his discomfort with the location. The people who lived in it were also pretty disconcerting, in their own way. “But thank you."

He bowed again, and left them to their business perhaps slightly too quickly, heading to the room Mika had specified. The key worked on the first door he tried, so he must have guessed properly. The office itself was extremely neat, but the furnishings were more modest than those elsewhere, tasteful but quite plain overall. He breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing it, making his way over to the desk.

It was completely clear of anything, so he set his books in a neat stack in the corner and moved the first in front of him, picking up his pen and getting right to work.

It was at least half an hour before the door opened to the office, and someone stepped in. "Mika-chan, otō-san's..." Fujimori stood in the door way and blinked at him. "Oh, sorry Yukimura-kun," she spoke, and exited. A few seconds later, the door opened again, and Fujimori held a confused expression. She glanced at him, out the door, and then back towards him.

"Yukimura-kun, what are you doing in Mika-chan's office?" she asked, the confusion still spreading on her face.

Satoru held up his math textbook by way of answer. “I needed someplace to study. Sakuragi-san said I could come here. If you're looking for her, I think she might have actually left the property; she and Kiyoshi-dono looked like they were on their way out."

"Oh..." she spoke, trailing off a bit. She sighed somewhat and slumped her shoulders. "I guess he'll have to wait till she comes back," she spoke, a small smirk pulling at her lips. It quickly disappeared though, as she glanced back towards him, and smiled. "Well, if you needed a place to study, Mika-chan's office is as good a place as any. No one, besides me, comes here to bother her. And Kiyo-kun, of course," she spoke, chuckling nervously.

"I guess I'll, uh, let you study then," she stated.

Part of him—the majority part, anyway—was quite happy to leave it at that. He needed to do his homework, and by that point, Fujimori was babbling, which was not helpful.

But there was also a small part of him that still felt like he owed these people something for even letting him stay here in the first place. So he could probably be a little nicer. Sighing internally, Satoru took the risk. “Do you still have the last math test? We can go over the questions you missed, if you want. I do better at things if I can practice explaining them to other people, so..." Not that he needed help with any of the things on that exam, but... she didn't have to know that.

She pursed her lips together and frowned. "I do, but..." she trailed off, as if she were unsure of what else to say. "I mean, I guess it won't hurt," she murmured more to herself than to him. "I don't have it with me; I have to go get it," she spoke, turning to leave the room. She did, and it was a few minutes before she returned, math test in hand, it looked like.

"Here it is," she spoke, placing it down on the desk. She had placed it in a way, though, that it wasn't in the way of anything else. She took a seat across from him, afterwards, and seemed to sit on her hands, leaning forward as she did. "These are the ones I missed, but out of the ones I did," she spoke, pulling one of her hands up to point at the questions.

"These two I'm familiar with already. It's... the other ones that are giving me a bit of trouble," she spoke, withdrawing her hand as she did.

He blinked down at the paper, scanning over her answers. Based on the ones she'd indicated, he thought he knew what her problem was. “Oh, I think you just need to practice with antiderivatives," he said. Given that they were in the advanced class in school, they were learning calculus as this point, but antiderivatives had only been covered a few days before the exam. It wasn't really surprising that she hadn't mastered them yet; he'd pulled an all-nighter with several complicated application problems before he felt totally comfortable with them.

“You know how to do a normal derivative, right? Like the derivative of x squared is 2x?"

The look on her face suggested she didn't. She sighed softly, and shook her head, the physical confirmation that she didn't. "Math isn't exactly the easiest subject for me," she murmured softly, leaning back in her seat. "The only reason why I haven't failed is because... I've managed to barely pass all of my tests," she continued, scratching the top of her head as she did.

"Studying helps, and sometimes Haru-kun will help tutor me, but," she said with a light sigh. "I suppose math is just one of those classes I'm not good at," she smiled a little ruefully. She seemed to shake it, though, and blinked.

"Who knows, maybe you'll be a better tutor," she spoke, huffing softly. "Since Yukimura-kun doesn't have anything he isn't good at," she joked lightly.

Satoru rolled his eyes. “You're never gonna lay off on that, are you?" he muttered, uncomfortable in the extreme but determined not to show it. With a sigh, he picked up a pencil and jotted down one of the basic derivative problems as well as the general formula.

“Okay, so... to take a basic derivative, first you want to look at the exponent. That's the little number higher up. If the formula is squared, the exponent is a two. If it's cubed, the exponent is a three, and so on. So take that number, and subtract one. If I start with 4x cubed, I subtract one from the exponent, leaving me with 4x squared. But there's another step. Instead of just changing the exponent, I also have to change the number in front of x. We started with a cubed formula and went down to a squared one. That means I have to multiply the front number by three. So the answer is 3 times 4x squared, which is?"

He glanced up at her, hoping she'd followed the explanation. He'd never claimed to be good at explaining things. Then something occurred to him, and he shook his head. “And you're plenty good at math, Fujimori. They wouldn't let you be in the advanced class if you weren't. Thinking you aren't good isn't going to help you get better."

She rolled her eyes this time. "You're right, it's not," she spoke, pausing only for a second to take a small breath, "but it helps me want to do better. It's... an odd way of thinking, I know, but it's what helps. And I never said I wasn't good at it, just that it wasn't easy." She just shrugged her shoulders, though. She chewed her bottom lip for a second as she seemed to contemplate his question.

She'd said exactly that, though, not thirty seconds ago. Satoru decided not to bring it up. It hardly mattered anyway.

"Hm, the answer would be..." she trailed off again, her eyes unusually fixed on the paper. "It'd be... sh-crap, um," she spoke, correcting herself from what seemed like a slip of the tongue. "It would be 12x, wouldn't it?" she asked, raising a brow in the process.

“12x squared," he corrected. “You started with a cubed formula, so you know you have to end with a squared one. Here, let's do a couple more of these..." He pulled his textbook towards him and copied a few more of that kind of problem down, just the basic ones so she could get those down before they moved onto the more complicated ones, never mind antiderivatives.

Turning the paper around, he slid it back to her. “Okay... so you do these ones. Walk me through your process."

"Yeah, squared," she seemed to state to herself, but took the paper from him. She frowned slightly as she stared at the paper. "Alright, I can do that," she spoke, softly, taking the paper and pencil. She began working on the problems, showing him how she did her problems. They worked for at least thirty minutes before she seemed to catch on. An hour in, and it seemed she was finally getting the hang of it.

"Ah, I think I finally got it," she stated, a light cheerful note in her voice. "Thanks, Yukimura-chan... I mean -kun," she spoke, correcting herself as quickly as she could. Her face took on a light pink color, probably because of the slip, however; she laughed nervously. "I think I'm finally getting the hang of it. If I keep this up, I just might pass with a higher score next time," she spoke, laughing nervously as she did.

"Oh, is it already that time," she spoke, glancing up at the clock. She pursed her lips together and shook her head. "Thanks for the help, Yukimura-kun. I'll keep practicing it this way. I have to go practice now," she spoke, leaving it a little vague as to what she meant. She seemed to notice and blinked softly. "The music recital is still a few months away, but I have to keep practicing, otherwise I'll lose the competition," she explained. She packed away the things she'd taken from Mika's desk, rearranging them the way they were, and stood.

"See you around, Yukimura-kun," she spoke, giving him a polite bow before turning around to walk out. She paused by the door, though, and shook her head. "For the record, you really are good at a lot of things. It's an admirable trait to have, Yukimura-kun," she grinned at him, but it didn't look like one that suggested she was teasing him.

He shrugged, feeling as usual a little embarrassed. Seriously, what was with her? It was like she always had to compliment him or tease him, or whatever. He wasn't used to dealing with people that... nice? Overbearing? Something like that. If she started calling him Yukimura-chan for real, he was going to call off this friendship. He wasn't a child or a young girl, for fuck's sake. He barely put up with that shit from Ryoka.

“Uh... sure. Whatever you say, Fujimori. Have fun practicing." He found he didn't really have anything else to say, so he let his eyes fall back to his own work. He'd just lost an hour, but he found he didn't mind much.

This was all just for the weekend anyway.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

Etsuko sighed heavily, drawing the bow across the strings in a lazy manner. She almost flinched at the sound. It sounded like something was dying. She sighed, and allowed her thoughts to drift. Sometimes, she hated how she got around Yukimura-kun. She hated herself for being some stuttering fool who couldn't really talk properly around him, and she was certain he either disliked her, or was on the verge of hating her. She could take the former, but if he actually hated her, well... she supposed it'd be no one's fault but her own.

Maybe... maybe should could satisfy herself with just being his friend. Maybe then, she'd get over this ridiculous crush she had on him. She pursed her lips together. She doubted it. She liked him, and she was old enough and smart enough to know that the way she liked him wasn't just as a friend. Oh, no. Her stupid hormones and teenage self had to go and like him as something more.

Sighing again, she tried pulling the bow again, flinching at the sound, and giving out a frustrated sigh. "Why!?" she spoke suddenly, letting the bow and violin fall to herself. "Why can't I concentrate?" she spoke, pursing her lips together as she did. Maybe she needed a break? "No, no break. That won't do," she spoke softly, rolling her eyes at herself. She chewed the bottom of her lip before she shook her head. Maybe... she could use that for her music? She'd always been good at expressing herself that way.

With that in mind, she brought the violin back to her chin, and began playing it. She smiled softly at the sound it produced. It was soft, and gentle, and nothing like how the world outside was. Especially since Ichikage's tournament was still going on.

"You play well, you know that?" a voice caused her to let out a small shriek, and immediately, her eyes fluttered open towards the source.

"Ryoka-san?" she questioned, blinking at the older Yukimura sibling. "T-thanks," she spoke, stuttering slightly. Ryoka seemed amused by it, though, and pushed herself off of the wall.

"Just stating the obvious, kiddo," she spoke, grinning in her direction. She didn't like that grin. It looked too much like Kiyoshi's. "But sorry to interrupt you. I got lost again, and was wondering if you'd show me back to the kitchen. I'm a little hungry and I can't find Toto-chan," she spoke.

"Oh, um, he was studying the last time I saw him," Etsuko replied, though she purposefully didn't say where. Even though Ryoka wouldn't know where Mika's office was, she suspected that he'd still want to study on his own. Ryoka, however, didn't seem to mind, and simply shrugged her shoulders.

"But if you still want to go to the kitchen, I can, um, show you the way, and make you something if you'd like. It wouldn't b-be a p-problem at all," she offered. It wasn't like she wouldn't benefit from a break, either. Maybe it'd even help her clear her mind? Ryoka's grin spread across her face.

"You're too sweet, you know that," she spoke, folding her arms across her chest. "And adorable," she added. Etsuko felt her face heat up a bit as she scratched her cheek.

"I-If you say so," was the only thing she could say. "A-Anyway, if you'll follow me, I can show you where it's at," she spoke stepping in front of Ryoka to lead the way.

They made it about halfway there before running into anyone else; when they did, it turned out to be Ichikage. Though she wasn't supposed to address him as otō-san when he was dressed like this: in the servant's uniform and with other measures of disguise, like the blond hair and contacts to darken his eyes to a more normal color. Rather, he was Ichijo-san in that guise, a minor member of staff in the household.

He spotted them, of course, lips curling into a smile. “Yukimura-san, Etsuko-chan! What a pleasant surprise this is."

"Hey, it's Ichi-kun," Ryoka spoke, causing Etsuko's eyes to widen in mild shock. Did she just address him as Ichi-kun? She glanced towards Ichijo, and pursed her lips together before shaking her head softly.

"Ichijo-san, I thought you were with otō-san," she spoke, implying that she meant elsewhere and not here. "Ryoka-san and I were just headed to the kitchen, though. I was going to help make her something to eat," she purposefully left out the fact that she would be making most of the food, however; this was otō-san, Ichijo disguise or not. He would know.

"She's being sweet, really. Toto-chan could take a lesson, or two, from her book," Ryoka spoke, causing Etsuko to sputter and blush.

"I don't... think so. He's... good the way he is?" she wasn't entirely sure how to state that, but Ryoka seemed to laugh, anyway.

He, of course, blithely ignored her implication that he should be somewhere else; he never really did do anything but what he felt like doing at the time. Maybe it had something to do with his age; he did tend to blame most of his bad habits on being old.

His eyes widened with false surprise when she told him they were heading to the kitchen; he smiled in a way that could only mean trouble. “Well, if Etsuko-chan is cooking, I can't not come along. If you'll have me, that is, ladies?" He bowed with overblown gallantry, no doubt meant to be a humorous mockery of formal manners.

Etsuko suppressed a groan. Really, this could only mean trouble, but she couldn't exactly say no, either. Instead, she just gave him a flat look. "Don't you have a tournament to oversee?" she replied in an equally flat tone. Ryoka, however, raised a brow at her, and then towards him.

"But wouldn't it be more fun if there were more people? Toto-chan never says anything about it, but I heard the more people to cook for, the more fun it is. Plus, Ichi-kun can help you, right?" Ryoka chimed in, causing a look of horror to cross Etsuko's face.

"Absolutely not. Unless you want to be poisoned," she spoke, blinking in rapid succession once she realized she'd said it out loud. "But I suppose one more mouth to feed won't be too much trouble," she spoke, narrowing her eyes lightly at Ichijo.

“I've never poisoned anyone with my cooking," he protested. “That's mean, Etsuko-chan. I'm going to tell Micchan you said so." He didn't seem genuinely put-off, of course, but he did give her a toothy grin. Somehow, Mika had become what most of the other members of the household threatened one another with when they wanted to get their own way.

Besides," he drawled. “The tournament's over for today, or Yukimura-san wouldn't be here, would she? And I'm only in charge of a few really basic things; more important people do the judging and all that boring stuff." He moved his hands as if to shoo them forward once more, and they reached the kitchen in short order.

Ichikage took a seat at the island, patting the one next to him for Ryoka to take. “This way we can just watch the master work," he said with clear amusement. It was a bit of an overstatement of her abilities, but he was prone to that sort of thing, no matter what guise he was in.

Ryoka happily took the seat next to him, and leaned forward on her hands and elbows. "And you say I'm mean," she murmured softly, shaking her head softly. She could do this, even if this was Yukimura-kun's sister. She'd made things for Ichikage a few times before, however; she wasn't going to make too much this time. Instead, she grabbed a pan, and a few pieces of fish, different varieties. She was hungry, too, now that she thought about it. Yukimura-kun had made omurice for her last time, but now she wanted sashimi.

And it would be quick and easy to make. She wasn't going to make anything too complicated at the moment. "What are you going to make, Etsu-chan?" Ryoka asked, tilting her head slightly. Etsuko raised a brow at her, though, and offered a half-smile.

"Sashimi. It's quick, it's easy, and I don't want to spend too much time on it. I still have to practice, you know that," she spoke, pointing the knife in Ichikage's direction. She blinked when she realized she did that, but shrugged her shoulders. She wasn't threatening him with it, and she really couldn't even if she wanted to. She'd just threaten him with Mika, if she had to. That caused her to smile.

"Sashimi? That's boring," Ryoka spoke, causing Etsuko to snort. She wasn't in a position to ask for anything special, anyway. If she really wanted something different, Ryoka could make her own food.

"Boring, yes. But quick and easy, like I said," she spoke, sighing somewhat. Maybe she should make something different? She shook the thought from her head. She could make Ikura, Hamachi, and Unagi sashimi if she really wanted to. She already had the fish; she just needed the eel. She went to retreive it from the fridge and laid it out with the other ingredients. Once she was finished, she laid the pieces on several plates. One for herself, Ryoka, and Ichikage.

"Now, eat the boring food," she spoke, watching as Ryoka chuckled softly.

I never said it was boring," Ichikage replied, picking up a piece with his chopsticks and lightly dipping it in soy sauce before adding a little ginger to the top and popping it into his mouth. “I happen to like simple food. Didn't they feed you already anyway, Yukimura-san? All the applicants have their meals made for them by the cooks, right?"

He paused a moment, then grinned. “Or is this just for your... how did you say it? Your inner fat kid?" He mimicked Ryok'as voice by pitching his own higher and adding a bit of a rasp. His own voice was a great deal smoother, but it was a passable impression.

For a moment, Etsuko thought Ryoka was going to choke. Her eyes had widened somewhat, and she coughed at the same time. She hit her chest a few times before she managed to laugh. Laugh. Who laughed when someone said something like that? Etsuko was slightly disturbed, actually, and held a piece of sashimi to her mouth. She knew her mouth was open, but she hadn't quite been able to put the food in, yet. She was staring with wide eyes at Ryoka.

"You know me too well, already, Ichi-kun. Yes... this is for my inner fat kid. I'm always hungry," she replied without missing a beat. Really, how did people go about talking like this? Was she really related to Yukimura-kun? "Etsu-chan, you doin' alright? You're staring and your food's just hanging from your mouth there," she spoke, pointing to Etsuko's chopsticks.

Etsuko quickly took a bite from it, shoving as much as she could so she wouldn't have to say anything, yet. Once she swallowed, she glanced back at Ichikage and Ryoka. "Ichi-san, that's not nice, and Ryoka-san, you shouldn't goad him. He won't let you live it down," she murmured. She still wasn't sure if she should be disturbed, shocked, or something else.

"Is that right? Hm, I guess I have to be more careful in what I say, then, right Etsu-chan?" Ryoka replied, grinning at her. If she survived this, she was certain grins were going to be the death of her.

“It's true," Ichikage said, with a sigh that sounded almost wistful. “I'm really not very nice. Everyone's always telling me how mean I am. But then they say bad things about me, and I feel like no one's on my side at all." He shook his head. “It can be hard living arond here, Yukimura-san. Especially if you have a sense of humor. Because really, no one else does."

He smiled sweetly at Etsuko. “Etsuko-chan, for example, hates being teased. Especially about Yukimura-kun~" He singsonged the name, winking at her such that Ryoka couldn't see.

Oh she wanted to strangle him right now. Could she do that, strangle a daiyōkai? It'd be worth it. Her face had to be about as red as it could possibly get. Ryoka, however, snorted loudly which gave way to a laugh. "Toto-chan? Really?" she spoke, drawing out the last word longer than necessary. She arched a brow, and leaned her head forward on her hands, elbows propped on the table.

"I mean, I don't see why not? Yukimura-kun is cute, isn't he? Adorable with his glasses and the way he's so serious all the time," she spoke, her smile turning almost as malicious. It was a contrast to the way she spoke, gently.

"It's not like that at all!" Etsuko nearly yelled. Why did they have to be so cruel? "Yukimura-kun is just... good at a lot of things and I admire him, is all," she spoke a little fast. The grin on Ryoka's face stretched as if she didn't quite believe her.

"Hm, admire, is it? You hear that, Ichi-kun? She admires my Toto-chan. Whatever am I to do? He's my otōto," she spoke, the grin never leaving her face.

“Mm, I don't know, Yukimura-san. I suppose it depends on how far the admiration extends. Etsuko-chan only says she admires his talent. Perhaps we should also ask if she admires his pretty blue eyes before we decide what to do. Hm, Etsuko-chan?" Even behind the colored contact lenses, Ichikage's eyes were glittering with his obvious amusement.

"And this is why no one likes you," she spoke, her lips pulling into a thin line. With the way her face was heating up, she was certain she'd pass out from it all. Ryoka, however, didn't seem too convinced, and just continued grinning.

"He does have pretty blue eyes, doesn't he? What about his hair, Etsu-chan? Do you favor men with long hair, or short hair? Personally, I like long hair, like Kiyo-kun's. It was pretty," she spoke, causing Etsuko's eyes to widen further.

"And you're horrible, too, Ryoka-san," she murmured against her food. Now she could see why Yukimura-kun never really spoke of his sister. She was as bad as Kiyoshi and Ichikage. She shuddered softly. If she got the job... she turned to face Ryoka.

"It's nothing to be ashamed of, Etsu-chan. It's perfectly natural for a young woman such as yourself to admire a handsome young man. I'm sure Ichi-kun's had his fair share of admirers, haven't you?" Ryoka spoke, elbowing Ichijo's bicep.

“Though my hair is unfortunately nowhere near as long and pretty as either Yukimura-kun's or Kiyoshi-san's," Ichikage said with a sigh. That was totally false—Etsuko knew that his hair was actually longer than either of theirs', and the same color as Kiyoshi's, but of course she couldn't say that.

He shrugged. “But no one gets quite as many admirers as Kiyoshi-san. He probably needs Micchan around just to keep them away. Don't go falling for him now, Yukimura-san. He has a fiancée." The way he said the word, rolling his eyes a little, indicated that he might not have thought much of that idea, though. It was curiously the most free Etsuko had ever seen him being with his opinion on the matter. Certainly the first hint she'd ever seen that he was anything but wholeheartedly approving.

Perhaps he was only saying it for the sake of his role as Ichijo?

"He's not my type," Ryoka snorted softly. "But there's nothing wrong with admiring the man, even if he does have a fianceé," she added, rolling her eyes in what seemed like good humor. Etsuko just placed her head in her hands, trying to bury the expression on her face. Really, these two were going to be the death of her one of these days. Hopefully, hopefully it wouldn't be like this if Ryoka got the job.

"You two are horrible," she couldn't help but mutter it out loud. Ryoka just grinned and shrugged her shoulders.

"What can I say? It's in my nature to tease adorable things. Or in this case," she paused to take another bite out of her food, "adorable people." Etsuko was certain her face turned on a new shade of red. Her face was probably purple by now.

"I'm sure we came here with the intent to eat, and not tease." She shoved another piece of sashimi into her mouth, her face pulling into a light pout. She knew she was pouting, and that it was childish, but these two were being horrible.

“I absolutely came here with the intention to do both," Ichikage replied, sharing a positively conspiratorial smile with Ryoka. Really, it seemed that they were getting along too well. If this was a vision of the future...

“But if you insist on being no fun, Etsuko-chan, I suppose we can find something else to talk about. Did you have any other questions about anything, Yukimura-san?" He effortlessly changed the gear of the conversation, perhaps sensing that she'd just about reached the limit of what she could take.

For that, she was glad.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

Kiyoshi was, for a lack of better words, exhausted. Some part of him, he wasn't sure, almost understood why the human men left it to the women they'd chosen, to deal with all the preparations of a wedding. It was tiring, and Sakura had practically taken over it in the end. He'd had a hand in the color scheme of things, but that was about it. They'd chosen on a color scheme of soft purples and subtle pinks. It suited her, perhaps, but Kiyoshi wasn't so sure. He wasn't accustomed to things like that. He was just glad that they could settle on a color.

Perhaps he should consult his female companions on the matter? Mika was, undoubtedly, out of the question, though. He wasn't sure if she had as much knowledge on things as he did. Etsuko was still too young, in his mind, to be thinking of things like that, however; she was also human. She was, technically, a young adult in their world. He pursed his lips together. Besides Mika and Etsuko, Kiyoshi didn't have many female companions. The household servants didn't really count, either.

He sighed softly, running a hand through his hair to untangle a few strands. The day had almost come to an end, and though he'd enjoyed lunch with Sakura, he was slightly glad that it was over. He wasn't sure why, though. Perhaps because he could finally focus on something else. He loved Sakura; he was marrying her, after all, but sometimes... he paused in that thought.

"Mika-chan, was there anything else on the agenda for today?" he asked, glancing down at her. They had already said goodbye to Sakura, and they were headed on their way home. If he needed to do anything else, he might as well do it now, rather than later.

She looked down at the screen in front of her, then back up at him, pursing her lips slightly. “Nothing that cannot be moved, sir." She sat primly on the opposite side of the car from him; Mika always had a certain enforced neatness about her. She was never disheveled. Even now, after a long afternoon in a situation which almost certainly must have bored her, she looked every bit as put-together as she had when she stepped into his room that morning to help arrange his wardrobe.

“Would you like me to check Etsuko-chan's schedule? She might be free to have tea with you at this time. Alternatively, I can move around your last appointment and you can rest early this evening." She fixed dark eyes on him and quirked one eyebrow, just slightly, fingers poised over the screen of her smartphone.

"Tea would be nice," he replied. Plus, it would give him a chance to see how her practicing and studying was going. He hadn't had the chance with everything that was going on. The tournament, Yukimura-san, Sakura-chan, all of it had kept him from seeing her as of late. He offered Mika a smile. "Would you check Tsu-chan's schedule? I'd like to speak with her," he spoke.

"And you of course," he wasn't going to leave Mika out of it. He never left her out of anything, or so he'd like to think. Did he leave her out in anything? He pursed his lips together. Hopefully not.

“Sir, you're quite capable of speaking to me whenever you wish," Mika pointed out, shaking her head slightly and moving her attention to the device. She tilted her head to the side, her eyes softening a little. She never smiled, not for anyone, but when Etsuko was on her mind, she came pretty close to doing so with her eyes at least. It was a very different sort of expression from the deliberately-neutral one she wore around others, including himself.

With a small nod, Mika typed out a rapid message on the device and set it down in her lap. “Etsuko-chan will meet us in your office when we arrive back at the estate," she confirmed. “We're almost there now."

Indeed, the car pulled to a stop shortly after, and Mika climbed out first, as the duties of her position demanded. Once she was satisfied no imminent threat to his safety was present, she opened his door as well, stepping to the side so he could exit.

"Thank you, Mika-chan," he spoke once he did. He knew he could talk to Mika whenever he wanted to, but it wasn't quite the same. At least with Etsuko around, Mika might be a little more open. He nodded slightly before taking off to his office. True to Mika's word, Etsuko was already waiting, though there was a small look of suspicion on her face. It only caused him to smile a little wider.

"Kiyo-kun, Mika-chan said you wanted to have tea, right?" she stated, causing him to nod. She narrowed her eyes at him still, as if she didn't quite believe him, but perhaps that was for the best. She knew how he was, but that still didn't stop him. She sighed softly, almost in relief before she glanced towards Mika. "Tea, right? And nothing else?" she asked Mika. She was probably trying to make sure this wasn't about Satoru-san.

"You wound me, Tsu-chan. Just tea and a light conversation," he spoke. That didn't mean he wouldn't bring it up, eventually. For now, he needed her to be lulled into a false sense of security. It wasn't much fun when she was guarded.

“Is it ever just tea?" Mika wondered aloud, probably providing Etsuko with the answer she was asking for in the process. She clearly had no care for whether or not Etsuko was unwary enough to be fun to tease.

Ushering the other two into the office, Mika set about the task of preparing the tea, using a small kettle on an end table in the corner. The two of them both drank enough that sending out for it every time was a waste, so this was the alternative. “Chamomile or lotus?" Mika asked, glancing over her shoulder at the both of them with an arched brow. “That's all we have at the moment."

"Chamomile."

"Lotus."

They'd both spoken at the same time, and Kiyoshi chuckled lightly. "Lotus," he spoke, correcting himself. It's not like they couldn't have chamomile another time. It wasn't his favorite, per se, but it wouldn't hurt to have something else for now. Etsuko nodded her head lightly, and glanced towards Mika.

"Lotus, it is," she spoke, as if reassuring the answer. "How was the color search?" she asked once she turned her attention back to Kiyoshi. He hummed softly, and shook his head.

"We settled on a few colors," he answered. Few was, perhaps, an understatement. They'd chosen at least four different shades of pink and at least two or three shades of purple. He couldn't remember, exactly. "And what of you? How has your practice gone?" he asked, she huffed slightly, leaning back into her chair. She looked upset, maybe? Her lips were pursed together, and she was frowning somewhat.

"It's not going too well, Kiyo-kun. I'm... there's too much noise," she murmured, but he just smiled. That wasn't what she was going to say, and he knew it. Still, he wasn't going to press, yet.

"You're distracted, is it?" he questioned, watching as a light pink colored her cheeks. "How far have you progressed with your friendship, Tsu-chan?" he asked, watching as the color deepened.

"Mika-chan! I thought you told him not to say things like that!" she nearly sputtered. He chuckled softly.

Mika hummed a terse note, preparing the tea with her back to them. “And when has he ever done as I instructed?" she inquired pointedly. For one, it wasn't strictly her place to tell Kiyoshi-sama what to do. She had a certain amount of discretionary authority over matters relating to his safety, but even those were only legitimated because Ichikage had appointed her to the role. In truth, she made requests, and he cooperated or did not as he pleased, even if they both treated it as something more equal than that.

She at least, never forgot what it really was.

“Have patience with him, Etsuko-chan," she continued, pouring the tea into three cups, breathing in the subtle floral scent of it. “Old men need their diversions, and little is so diverting as the lives of the young."

Kiyoshi chuckled softly. He supposed that was one way of putting it. He was old; he wasn't going to deny that. "Mika-chan is right, you know. Otō-sama is worse, and I'm just trying to prepare you for when he, inevitably, finds out," he spoke, smiling softly at her. She puffed her cheeks at him, causing him to chuckle again. It was, somewhat true, he supposed. His father was a lot worse than he could ever be. If Etsuko could handle him now, then it wouldn't be so bad when Ichikage found out about her crush.

Some part of him thought that Ichikage already knew. If anything, he was a bit more informed than Kiyoshi was. "That's no excuse, Kiyo-kun. You shouldn't say things like that. You know how they can be interpreted. But if you must know," she spoke, pursing her lips together and glancing down at her cup.

"We're just friends, Kiyo-kun. It's not like I'm in love with him, or anything. It's just a silly crush that I'm sure will phase out just like everything else does," she murmured against her cup. He smiled knowingly at her. "Even so, I still hope we're friends at the end of it all. I know this is our last year, but still," she paused to take a sip of her cup. There was a possibility that Ryoka could get the job. If that were the case, Kiyoshi was certain that Satoru would be around more often. He could feel a small smirk cross his lips, but he smoothed it back out.

"Hm, what do you think, Mika-chan? Do you think their friendship will last past graduation?" he asked, raising a brow at her. He, personally, would say that it would. But as she'd pointed out, her crush, however silly it may be to her, was still affecting her in the small ways. He could see it, and he was certain the others could, too. Certainly she wasn't in love, as she'd claimed. She was just a young woman with an admiration for a young man, he supposed.

Mika finished with the tea, turning back towards them and setting the tray down near where they sat. “Yukimura-kun seems like a reliable person," she said in a factual tone. “I believe that if Etsuko-chan indicates she wishes their friendship to extend beyond graduation, it will." She paused a moment and frowned slightly. “Though she may have to say so directly; he seems somewhat slow on the uptake in the social sense. He would have to be, if he has not noticed her feelings yet."

"Mika!" Etsuko exclaimed as Kiyoshi laughed softly. He supposed that was true. He seemed like a bright kid, though, perhaps things like that would be lost on him. He could not claim to know, but he supposed Mika had a point. He glanced towards Etsuko whose face turned a brilliant red color as she focused on her cup.

"It's nothing to be embarrassed about, Tsu-chan. If you want to stay friends, then say so. If you want something more than friendship, well..." he trailed off. She would get the implication, and it seemed that she did. She just gave him a flat look, took a sip from her cup, and placed it back down. She didn't take her eyes off of him.

"Easier said than done," she finally spoke. She sighed softly, and leaned back into her chair. "I think, for now, the best course is just to let things be. If I get the courage to say something before graduation, I will. If I don't... it just wasn't meant to be," she smiled softly at them and shook her head.

"If you say so, Tsu-chan," was the only thing he said. If that was how she felt, he would not say anything else on the matter. It as a delicate one, after all.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

Mika affixed her signature to the bottom of the page, handing the pen back to the delivery driver, along with a crisp paper note by way of tip. The Motoyami hired a courier service, which allowed them to have things delivered that were not normally delivered. Such were the benefits of unimaginable sums of money, she supposed. As it happened, she'd been able to arrange for several related items to come in at once, and took all the boxes into her hands at the same time, navigating the hallways with little difficulty.

Once she'd reached the empty guest bedroom she wanted, Mika set the boxes down on the raised futon and pulled open the closet door. The armor rack that she'd asked to have moved in here was already present; she took a specialized hanger out of the closet for the kimono. Sending off a quick pair of texts to Etsuko and Ryoka, she told them where to meet her and when—here, in ten minutes—and got to work.

Racking Ryoka's armor was easy; Mika had a set just like it. The actual armor pieces were light enough to be mobile, and most of the uniform was actually just fabric, but it was functional enough to do its job while being formal enough to satisfy the needs of formality when the guests were of a certain social class. It was very traditional—not something Ryoka would ever wear in front of people who knew nothing of the Motoyami's secrets. But for all other purposes, it would do. Mika rarely bothered with hers, since she spent so much of her time guarding Kiyoshi in the more modern setting of a corporate headquarters. But she supposed Ryoka could make much more frequent use of hers, considering that Ichikage rarely left the estate. Well... more rarely, anyway.

After she'd set the uniform up, she did the same for Etsuko's recital kimono. It was important for her to make sure that both garments fit to their satisfaction, else they'd have to be sent back for adjustments. The fit of the armor was clearly important; Mika had taken Ryoka's measurements a month ago, when she'd first been chosen for the job, but it had taken some time for the smith to complete the set to the required standard. Ichikage could be surprisingly fastidious about some things. Though he'd be more likely to call it "being a picky old man."

Once the kimono fabric was smoothed out as well, Mika stepped back. The third box, she left unopened; that could be dealt with later. It was hardly of any pressing concern. If they were on time, both of them should be appearing at any moment.

Etsuko was the first to arrive, stepping into the room with a smile on her face. "Mika-chan," she greeted, glancing towards the kimono. Something in her eyes seemed to light up, and the smile on her face grew just slightly. Before she could say anything, though, Ryoka stepped in behind her, holding something in her hand. She took a bite from it, revealing it to be a piece of chocolate mochi, and glanced in Mika's direction.

"Mika-san," Ryoka spoke, in the same manner of greeting as Etsuko. She glanced around, and raised a brow before finishing off the last of her mochi. "Mika-san, is that what I think it is?" she asked, glancing towards the uniform. Her eyes roamed over it, as if she were inspecting it for something. The uniform was covered in the house colors, red trimmed around the arms of the haori, and down the middle. The Motoyami crest was outlined in black on the left sleeve, but the crest itself was a bronze-like gold.

The hakama was red as well, with the same bronze-like gold trimmings on the bottom portion. The armor, however, was mostly black and bronze. The chest armor was sleeveless, but the gauntlets traveled past the bicep region of the arm, connecting with the bottom half of the shoulder.

"Is that what we're required to wear?" she asked, letting her gaze fall back to Mika. She seemed slightly skepitcal at first, but the large grin on her face suggested otherwise. Etsuko raised a brow in Ryoka's direction, but said nothing.

"Should she try it on to see how it fits?" Etsuko finally spoke, glancing in Mika's direction. Ryoka seemed excited at the prospect, and glanced at Mika as well.

"The uniform is not a requirement," Mika said, clarifying for Ryoka. "You may also wear the servants' uniform as I do, or appropriate modern clothing when you accompany Motoyami-sama off the estate grounds. But this is what we wear for official visits and more formal gatherings, and is optional at any time you're on the grounds." Her own uniform was only an ordinary dark red shitagi, with a black kosode beneath, and black hakama and tabi. The crest, in bronzed gold, was on the back.

She tilted her head at the armor rack, then figured there might be more useful information to convey. Crossing her arms, she blinked once at Ryoka. "True gold is reserved for actual members of the household, which is why this color is more bronzed. But the red is the same, and you wear the crest of House Motoyami. As do we all." She pursed her lips. "The formal uniform is Motoyami-sama's design and taste, but you will need to try it on to be sure the armor especially fits correctly."

Ryoka didn't seem to pay too much attention to what Mika was saying. Her eyes kept traveling back to the uniform, and there was a certain grin on her face that made her seem mischievous. "So, as long as I'm on the grounds, I get to wear this?" she asked, though the question seemed more rhetorical. She made a strange sound, almost like a squeal, which seemed to startle Etsuko. Almost immediately, Ryoka made for the armor, and began pulling her shirt off.

"Ryoka-san!" Etsuko nearly shouted, quickly making her way towards Ryoka and pulling the shirt back down. Ryoka blinked almost quizzically down at Etsuko, and tilted her head. "The door's still open! You should wait until it's closed before you try changing," she nearly chidded. Ryoka made an 'oh' with her mouth, and waited until Etsuko closed the door.

"Now can I try it on?" she asked, but didn't wait for an answer. The pink staining Etsuko's cheeks, darkened slightly as she glanced away. Within the span of a few minutes, Ryoka managed to pull the uniform on, however; she didn't seem to be wearing it properly. "Uh, Mika-san, a little help, please?"

Mika pushed a breath out through her nose. She would have expected a taiji-ya to be better-versed in wearing traditional clothing, but apparently her experience was limited. She wondered if the other woman even knew how to wear a kimono.

Well, it didn't matter either way. She was perfectly capable of learning what she needed to know, and Mika perfectly capable of teaching her. "Here." She stepped closer, pulling the haori away from Ryoka's body for a moment. "Take the armor back off—you've fastened it improperly, and it won't sit well if you don't adjust the juban." The juban was a light, white fabric wrap, this one without sleeves and cut off just below the hips, so that the armor would sit comfortably.

Once they had it sorted out, Mika put the armor back on over Ryoka's head, careful to remove her hair from between the layers before she tied it at the sides where it was meant to fasten. Then went the outer haori, the ties at the waist, and finally, the detached sleeves. She folded the haori neatly into place crosswise. "That's better."

"Even though it's formal, it's still nice. Mika-chan, you should wear yours more often," Etsuko spoke, smiling somewhat towards the outfit. Ryoka seemed too engrossed in her uniform that she remained quiet, though small squeaks escaped her. It almost looked like she was trying to contain her squealing. "Ryoka-san, are you alright?" Etsuko asked, a small hint of concern laced in her voice.

Ryoka, however, slipped her arm out of the haori, and was only partially wearing it. "So much better. Seriously, Mika-san, how do you not wear this every day? It's... it's," she didn't seem to know what she wanted to say. "It's amazing," she nearly drawled the words out.

"Mika-chan, is it possible for someone to get drunk on clothing? I think Ryoka-san's a little too excited about her uniform," Etsuko spoke, earning a large grin from Ryoka.

"Oh, you have no idea," Ryoka spoke, and glanced back at her uniform. "It's so comfortable, too!"

"I spend much more time outside the estate than you likely will," Mika replied factually. "My job requires more modern clothing selections." And in the house, she preferred the servants' uniform. It was better for her personally not to stand out. It wouldn't matter as much in Ryoka's case; the damage was already done in that case. Though her Contract with Mika had worn off after the tournament, her ki was still very different from that of the demons in residence or the other human servants.

She didn't smile, but she did allow a trace of her amusement to show through in her tone. "If you like it so much, you should thank Motoyami-sama. He is the one who designed and selected it." Mika lifted her shoulders, then turned to Etsuko. "You need to try on that kimono for fit as well. Better not to find out it's too big on the day of your recital."

"Oh, is that so? Well, I suppose I should. Wait, where is he? I'll go do it now!" Ryoka stated, and indeed, she made towards the door, however; she stopped when Mika spoke to Etsuko. A smile crossed her face, one that almost resembled the older Motoyami's. "A recital? What kind of recital is it?" she asked. Etsuko didn't seem to catch onto what Ryoka was saying, and merely smiled in return.

"It's for school. I play the violin, and I'll be performing for school. A few other of my classmates will be doing the same thing," she replied, glancing towards her kimono. "They're all different, though. Ah, since you're officially otō-san's guard, you'll be attending, too, right?" she asked. Ryoka merely grinned.

"I suppose I shall be. And we'll make sure Toto-chan looks his best for it, too," she spoke, the grin stretching further across her face. Etsuko's face turned a light pink, and she turned her attention back to her kimono.

"The entire school will be there, Ryoka-san," she spoke, as if she were trying to divert the implication of Ryoka's words. "Not that it really matters," she muttered, mostly to herself it seemed. Ryoka didn't appear to hear Etsuko, and shook her head.

"Hm, we'll see about that, Etsu-chan. What do you think, Mika-san?" Ryoka asked, raising a brow in Mika's direction. Etsuko looked like she was doing her best to ignore Ryoka, and removed the kimono. She laid it across her arms, and sighed softly.

"I'm going to go try this on without Ryoka-san in the room," Etsuko spoke, and looked to excuse herself.

"I will assist you." Tying a kimono was nearly impossible for one person to do alone, especially the more formal kind, like this one was. "Ryoka-san, you are welcome to either change back or wear your uniform out. It is, after all, yours now." She paused. "Motoyami-sama is currently on the roof of the main building, if you would like to see him."

Setting

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Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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He heard Sakuragi-san click her tongue against her teeth behind him. "How much of your total power is that?"

Satoru whirled, his ponytail lashing against his back. Hurriedly, he pulled up the sleeve he'd shrugged out of, settling his gi more securely over his frame. It was one thing when he was just training with men or his sister, but... he cleared his throat awkwardly. Mika—Sakuragi-san—was very clearly not a man or his sister. Satoru hoped any redness in his face would be mistaken for exertion.

"Uh." He coughed a bit and tried again. She had to be talking about his target practice. "Per strike?" When she nodded, he returned the gesture, fixing his eyes slightly to the left of her head. "Probably about ten percent strength. I'm..." He grimaced. "I'm not really accurate with any more than thirty, though. So it's not that useful."

She tilted her head to the side, crossing her arms loosely over her chest. She'd clearly just come from outside, given her modern attire, so it was a safe bet that Kiyoshi was nearby as well. Satoru didn't want to be rude by searching for him when she was standing right in front of him, though. So he kept his attention on the conversation.

"On the contrary. It's quite impressive." She glanced past him to the targets he'd set up around the ring. Or rather, the smoking remains where the targets had been. "I almost didn't recognize your ki as human. If that's what you can do with ten percent, you would do well to invest as much effort as you can in mastering the talent."

Satoru blinked. It wasn't like he disagreed, just that... "I'm sure you're right," he said quietly. "But I don't actually know how to even begin. None of my family knew how to teach me, so..." He shrugged, kicking a bit awkwardly at the dirt under his feet. "I'm kind of making this up as I go along."

While Sakuragi-san's face remained impassive, he thought he saw a flicker of some emotion there. Perhaps... surprise? She was much harder to read than anyone else he'd ever met. "Then it's even more impressive," she said simply. "And the solution may be near to hand. There are people here who can teach you."

"Mika-chan is correct, Yukimura-san. If you have that much talent from being self-taught, you could benefit more in your ability if you were trained properly. As a matter of fact," Kiyoshi appeared almost immediately after Sakuragi-san spoke, and seemed to be holding a soft smile. "I could help you during the times that I am free, or we could have Mika-chan and one of the other household members help you. Of course, this is assuming you'd be willing to have us teach you, Yukimura-san," he continued, glancing in Sakuragi-san's direction as if to reinforce what he just said.

She nodded, like it was the most normal thing in the world to offer something like that. They were both quite... nonchalant about it.

Satoru wasn't able to be the same. "I..." he tried to speak, but didn't really succeed at first. For as long as he'd been old enough to manifest his powers, control of this one had been a serious problem. He'd reached the point he was at only after a lot of accidents and not really letting himself reach the upper limit of what he could do, for fear it'd kill him—or someone else. Compared to what yōkai could do, he was sure it was both unimpressive and too volatile. But they...

His jaw clocked shut, and he bowed deeply, dark hair sliding over his shoulder to hang halfway to the ground. He swallowed thickly, keeping himself bent. "Thank you. I'd... I'd be honored." He rose, moving his eyes first to Sakuragi-san, and then Kiyoshi-dono. "I'm afraid I don't have anything to offer in return. Unless, uh..." It was almost embarrassing to make the offer, but he figured he had to return the generosity somehow. "Maybe you need something done with computers or something. I'm fairly good with technology."

Kiyoshi frowned, though it was unclear as to why. "There is no need to offer anything in return for the services, Yukimura-san. If you wish to control your abilites, we will gladly help. You are part of this household, now," he spoke, though the frown on his face remained. "Besides, Mika-chan takes care of the technology for me," his frown deepened as he said that.

"If, perhaps, something comes up where any of the members of this household need assistance, you could help out in that way? I'm sure they would appreciate it."

Sakuragi-san seemed considerably more pragmatic, however; no sooner had Kiyoshi-dono finished speaking than she'd reached into a pocket and withdrawn a sleek smartphone and held it out towards him, the screen unlocked. "If you would be so kind as to program in your number," she said, arching a brow ever so slightly at him. "I will call you if anything of that nature comes up that I don't know how to fix."

Satoru nodded dumbly, a little stuck on the fact that she wanted his phone number. It was stupid of him—really stupid—but he couldn't suppress a small spike of happiness anyway. Business, it was just for business. He had literally no chance at anything else, and shouldn't even be thinking in these terms in the first place... Shoving down the thoughts and awkward, half-formed feelings that went with, he swiftly programmed his number in, listing himself as Yukimura, Satoru, which he figured was the best way to go. All her other contacts had that businesslike format, and there were a lot of them.

"I... don't have mine with me," he admitted. He hadn't thought it would be necessary while he was just training, after all.

Sakuragi-san shook her head. "That's fine. I'll send you a message and you can just save the number whenever you get back to it." She took her phone back from him, returning it to her pocket. "I'll be in touch once I rearrange Kiyoshi-sama's schedule to account for your lessons. I'll be sure not to schedule during school hours. Is there any other time that isn't good?"

He shook his head. "Uh, no. I'm pretty free most of the time."

Kiyoshi-dono nodded, and smiled. "I look forward to helping you, Yukimura-san," he spoke. It looked like he was going to say more, however; a voice called out to him, and Sakuragi-san, causing Kiyoshi to glance in the direction it came from. It sounded like Fujimori was calling him. A second later, and she came into sight, smiling towards Kiyoshi-dono and Sakuragi-san. It seemed to falter somewhat, when her eyes landed on Satoru.

"Ah, Kiyo-kun, Mika-chan," she greeted the both of them first before turning her attention towards Satoru. "Yukimura-kun, good afternoon," she greeted him last, and turned her attention back to Kiyoshi and Sakuragi-san. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but Mika-chan, can I borrow you for an hour, or so? I need... help with practice and I can't find anyone else," she asked. Kiyoshi glanced at Satoru, then towards Fujimori. It was faint, but it almost looked like Kiyoshi was smirking.

"Sorry, Etsu-chan, but Mika-chan is still accompanying me. I'm afraid she's still on duty," Kiyoshi spoke before anyone else, and Fujimori frowned. "But I'm sure Yukimura-san could help you with that. Isn't that right, Yukimura-san?" he spoke, glancing at Satoru with a strange smile.

"Depends on the kind of practice?" Satoru said, accidentally inflecting it as a question. He still practiced kendō with her sometimes, but he doubted he'd be much help with her fencing or whatever. He glanced down at his wardrobe, blinking. "Also, I might need a shower first, but if that's all okay and it's something I can do, then sure."

"It's... it's for my recital, actually. Mika-chan plays the piano really well and my accompanist broke her arm. Mika-chan was helping me practice since Yuka-chan's arm won't heal in time for the recital," she spoke it all in one breath, and Kiyoshi merely nodded his head. "I'll have to find a replacement for her, too," she muttered, though it looked like it was more to herself than to them.

"You... you don't have to, Yukimura-kun. I can wait for Mika-chan to get off of work," she added, fidgeting in her spot. Kiyoshi shook his head, though.

"There are a few things we need to go over, Etsu-chan. It might take a while. Besides, Yukimura-san said he'd help if he could. And it sounds like he can. You should accept, Tsu-Tsu," he spoke, causing her to frown. It seemed she didn't like being called that, and she sighed.

"It's up to Yukimura-kun, but I'd appreciate it," she finally stated, her gaze drifting back to him.

Satoru tilted his head, then shrugged. "Well, I play decently enough, I suppose. So I can probably stand in for a while, if you just want to practice." He could understand if she'd prefer Sakuragi do it on a more permanent basis, but a practice session or two shouldn't be a major issue, right? "Just, uh... give me about half an hour to get changed and stuff."

He nodded, then bowed again to the other two, a little less deeply than last time. "Kiyoshi-dono. Sakuragi-san. Thank you again."

"You're quite welcome, Yukimura-san," Kiyoshi replied, bowing in response. Fujimori nodded her head in agreement, and bowed as well.

"Thanks, Yukimura-kun. I won't take up too much of your time. An hour of practice should be fine, or even thirty minutes. It'll all help, regardless. Uh, I'll go prepare the music room while you change. That way it'll be ready," she stated. Kiyoshi-dono laid his hand on Fujimori's shoulder, and it looked like he gave her a gentle squeeze. She furrowed her brows at him, but said nothing.

"If you need help finding the music room, just ask one of the servants and they'll guide you," he spoke, turning his attention towards Satoru. He nodded once more before taking his leave.

"It's not hard to find, Kiyo-kun," Fujimori called after him, but she said it softly and rolled her eyes. "It's in the west wing opposite of where you and Ryoka-san are staying. Thanks again, Yukimura-kun," she stated, sighing in what seemed to be relief.

"West wing. Got it." Satoru gave her a quick nod. "I'll be there soon."

Setting

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Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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Etsuko wasn't sure why she was excited. Maybe it was because Yukimura-kun agreed to help her? Of course, he didn't have to, but he did. It made her happy, but she also felt a little bad about it. She could have waited for Mika to be done with her duties, and some part of her knew Kiyoshi was doing it on purpose. She just wouldn't be able to prove it. Sighing softly to herself, she shook her head and began moving instruments around. She pulled the cover from the piano, folded it neatly, and set it on a nearby table.

Once she was done, she sat on the bench and struck a few keys. The piano wasn't an instrument she could play, but she knew enough of how it should sound when it was tuned properly. If it wasn't tuned, she wouldn't be able to play along to it with her violin. She stood from her spot, and moved to the other side of the room where most of the string instruments were kept. She stored her violin in the closet next to it, though, so no one else would use it. Normally, she wouldn't mind, however; this violin was special to her.

Ichikage had given it to her when she was seven, and she treasured it dearly. A smile pulled to her lips at the memory and she pulled the instrument from its case. She grabbed the bow and drew it across the strings, smiling a little more when the sound was to her standards. Once that was done, she set it aside and placed a hand on her hip. She didn't know which song to practice. She'd been practicing at least three different ones; each one had it's own uniqueness to it but she'd have to choose one for the recital.

The current one, Moonlight Sonata, could be played with both the violin and the piano, but this version of it held more piano parts. It wouldn't necessarily do if she was trying to stand out as a violinist. There was one she hadn't practiced in a while. Perhaps she should start with that one, and then move on to something else? With that in mind, she went to find the sheets, and set them into the proper stands. Nodding in satisfaction, she grinned.

"I think this one should be easy enough," she spoke, glancing at the sheet for her part. Hopefully, Yukimura-kun could play this piece. If he couldn't, then she could find something else.

A soft knock on the door of the music room sounded not ten minutes after she'd arrived. "Fujimori? It's me. I'm coming in." After a minute pause, perhaps to see if she had any reason to protest, the handle turned and Yukimura-kun stepped into the room. In stark contrast to his traditional practice gear, he was now wearing a loose, dark blue hooded sweatshirt and a pair of black jeans and very old sneakers, by the looks of it. His long hair was still wet, presumably from the shower he'd intended to take. He'd pulled it into a tail at the nape of his neck; it rested over his left shoulder, leaving a slight damp patch on the sweater.

Hands shoved in the pocket at the front of his hoodie, he made his way over to the piano and slid easily onto the bench. He flipped through the sheet music."Kreutzer, huh?" he asked, turning back to the first page. "I guess it is a recital, so it makes sense." The piece was a violin sonata, meaning that the violin part was much more prominent. "Is it going to be competitive, or are you just doing it to give a performance?" He threw one leg over the bench so that he was sitting on it sideways, which let him face her where she stood next to her music stand.

"Both, actually," she replied, smiling somewhat. To her credit, she was doing a good job keeping herself composed. He looked... well he looked nice even if what he was wearing was just a simple sweatshirt and jeans. She coughed slightly, clearing her throat and glanced away. She focused on her paper, though, so it wouldn't seem too weird. Was she being awkward? Oh, she hoped she wasn't.

"The recital is going to decide whether or not I can keep competing. The performance part of the recital is why I need an accompanist. The competitive part of it is a solo piece," she replied. It felt easier to talk about her work than it did anything else. It also made this feel less awkward than it already was.

"I haven't chosen my performance act, yet, and Mika-chan was helping me decide which one. We've managed to narrow it down to four. Kreutzer and three others," but so far, Kreutzer was her favorite. She might go with that.

Yukimura-kun nodded slightly. "So you have a competitive piece and an exhibition piece," he concluded. "Do you know what you're competing with, yet?" He said it like he might have an opinion, but he didn't seem inclined to force it on her if he did. Instead, he just rested his deep blue eyes on hers, blinking slowly once. If he'd noticed any awkwardness on her part, he wasn't giving any sign of it.

She was thankful for that, actually. She blinked slowly, though, bringing herself back to reality. "I don't, actually. I figured that once I chose my exhibition piece, the competitive one would come next. I didn't want to choose something that sounded too similar to each other," she replied. She sighed softly at that. She only had a couple of more months to chose both pieces, and then at least another month until the recital itself.

If she didn't submit something before the deadline, she'd be automatically disqualified. She didn't want that to happen, but choosing a piece of art was more difficult than she expected it to be. "I think I might choose this one, though, for my exhibition piece. If I do, it might make choosing easier," at least she hoped it could. She pursed her lips together, though. There was something she was working on, something that would be slightly original, but she wasn't sure she was confident enough to submit it.

"Actually," she began. It couldn't hurt to at least admit that she had something planned. It's not like he'd make fun of her for it, or at least she didn't think he would. "I've been working on something for almost," she paused, trying to recall exactly when she started it.

"It's been almost a year since I started it," though it might have been a little longer than that. "They encouraged us to write an original piece, but it wasn't a requirement, per se," and she knew that most of the other students weren't going to take that route.

He seemed to consider that for a moment, before abruptly throwing his leg back over the bench to sit at the piano properly. "If you're going to have the time to compose anything, you need to get your exhibition piece down soon," he said, though it didn't really sound like an admonishment. He was just very matter-of-fact about it.

Yukimura-kun didn't strike the middle c of the piano like she'd seen some people do. He played more like Mika-chan did, just kind of... leaning into it, in a way that was difficult to describe. They both played with their whole bodies. He ran a quick scale, as if checking that the instrument was in tune. Nodding slightly, he glanced aside at her. "I'll count us in. Five, six, seven, eight."

He was right. Nodding, she placed the violin properly against her shoulder, and pulled the bow across the strings. The sound was slightly off, but she managed to correct it by the time it was Yukimura-kun's turn to enter. When he did, she continued with her violin, pulling the bow and moving to the beat. Once the music began to pick up pace, she began to lean into her violin. She was losing herself into the music as she'd done before.

It was easy to forget about a lot of things when she played. It was mostly the reason why she'd chosen to play an instrument to begin with. There were not a lot of bad things in her life. As a matter of fact, she'd lived a rather luxurious life compared to most. But there were some things that just didn't feel right. She couldn't put words to it, so she used music as a way to express herself. She loved her family, more than anything, and she would never say that they were horrible. Otō-san was strange, and so was Kiyo-kun, but they were her family.

Smiling against the violin, she continued playing, listening and following Yukimura-kun as he played. It was... fun.

Though she couldn't really watch Yukimura-kun, she could hear him. The piece was gentle, almost melancholy in places, and the feeling of it was conveyed with a certain kind of light smoothness in his playing, the more percussive notes hitting in a weightier, ponderous fashion. There wasn't a hint of unsteadiness or hesitation, not even when the tempo abruptly picked up about two minutes in and demanded quick flurries of notes.

Before she knew it, she was pulling the bow through the final set of the song, following Yukimura-kun until it ended. They had been playing for a little over thirty minutes, but to her, it only felt like a few. She'd been so engrossed with the music, that she'd almost forgot she'd been playing with Yukimura-kun. She turned to face him, and offered him a bow.

"Thanks, Yukimura-kun. That was... that was actually really fun. I didn't know you could play so well," and to be truthful, she hadn't really expected him to. She knew he played a little of it, and that he was good. But he played really well. A sudden thought occured to her. If he could play that well, then perhaps...

"Yukimura-kun, could you, maybe, be my accompanist?" it was a long shot, she knew. Mika-chan, though, wouldn't be able to do it. She wasn't a student, and Etsuko wasn't sure they'd make an exception. Yuka-chan wouldn't recover in time for the recital, but maybe they'd make an exception if it was Yukimura-kun?

"You don't have to," because he wasn't obligated to do anything for her, really. "And I'd understand if you didn't want to," and she would. She was asking a lot from him, now that she thought about it. Maybe she shouldn't have asked?

His eyes widened a little, an expression of surprise crossing his face. "Did something happen to your usual pianist that's going to last so long?" he asked. That was probably fair—he'd only been told she needed some help today, after all.

She nodded. "Yuka-chan broke her arm in two different places. The doctor said it'll take a few months for her to recover properly. After her recovery, she's going to need physical therapy, too, so she won't be able to play this year," she stated. Yuka-chan was one of the very few humans in the school they attended. She wasn't a yōkai or a hanyō, so she wouldn't heal like they would. Etsuko had planned on asking one of the other students, however; this was an opportunity for her.

For what, she wasn't sure. Maybe to help their friendship? "I had planned on asking someone else, but since... well," she really didn't know how to end that sentence. Sighing softly, she shook her head and smiled. "You don't have to say anything, now, Yukimura-kun. I'll ask a few of the others to see if they can fill in," though she highly doubted they'd say yes. Some of them might just because of who her otō-san was. She mentally scoffed at that. She felt that it would be more fun to play with Yukimura-kun, though.

He looked like he was considering it. "I've... never played in public before," he admitted. "Not counting the store, anyway, and no one ever really comes in there, so..." His brows knitted. "Are you sure you want someone so inexperienced as an accompanist? I'll do it, if you like, but... I can understand if you'd want someone more reliable."

He had mentioned before that his playing was a secret from his family. They hadn't approved, or something like that, perhaps. So it made sense that he'd never performed in front of an audience before.

He did have a point. Not because he was inexperienced; if his playing was anything to go by, he was experienced. The part about playing in front of an audience, though, is what had her slightly worried. She hummed a soft note in the back of her throat. "I'm sure, Yukimura-kun. There's still a few months before the recital, so if you'd like, we could practice a few times a week. Maybe even cut out one of the kendo practices?" she suggested. She wouldn't mind doing that. Kendo was something fun to learn, but this recital was part of her livelihood.

It was the deciding factor for her future. "If we do, then maybe we could gradually have some of the staff come into the room so you could practice playing in front of people," she added. It would be a sort of win-win situation. She could practice, and he could practice playing for people. She would also have an accompanist for her recital.

Yukimura-kun seemed to be considering this. It wasn't clear what the source of his hesitation was. He didn't seem to be the kind of person who got too nervous in front of others; if he was competitive in kendo, he'd probably had a crowd of spectators for matches before. But still, he didn't look certain at first, fixing his eyes on the piano keys. He ran a finger lightly along the length of one, not using enough pressure to make any sound.

His brows furrowed for a long moment, but then he nodded, as if to himself, and his expression eased. "All right," he said at last. His voice was quiet; he raised his eyes to meet hers. "We can do that."

She felt her breath hitch in her throat for a second before she smiled. He was agreeing to be her accompanist, and she felt stupidly happy at the moment. "This... this means a lot to me, Yukimura-kun, arigatō," she spoke, bowing politely towards him. It did mean a lot to her, not just because he was agreeing to be her partner. It was some, unexplainable, feeling that was currently swelling inside, but she was going to ignore it for now.

"I think, Kreutzer will be the song we'll be playing for the performance," she stated, glancing back towards the sheets of music. "We can stop for today. I need to make some adjustments if this piece is the one we're going to do," and she was certain he had other things he wanted to do. She only needed him for an hour, and he wasn't obligated to stay any longer.

"Sure," he said. "But, uh... if you don't mind me adding something..." His mouth pulled to the side slightly; he almost looked nervous. "For the competition part? Maybe consider The Swan. Saint-Saens. It's not as well known as Beethoven, but it's a really nice piece. I think... you could play it really well." He stood, pushing his ponytail over his shoulder and shoving his hands back in his front pocket.

She'd heard it before, but maybe she should give it another listen. "I'll take it into consideration," she said, nodding her head in his direction. She would, especially if he was recommending it. Her lips tilted up just a little further. This turned out better than she'd expected it to be. She hadn't stuttered, and she wasn't as nervous.

Small steps.

Setting

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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 adjusted the sash of his layered yukata, making sure that it sat right. It wasn't a particularly lordly garment, but then he didn't want it to be. They were just going to the shrine for the New Year, like everyone else did. The less they stuck out, the better, though of course it would be impossible to avoid entirely. Swift fingers braided his long mass of white hair; when he released it, it thudded heavily against the back of the dark red yukata. The layer underneath was black, and there was a small crest on the sleeve, but other than that, nothing gave away the fact that he was the man he was.

He, unlike some people he could name, was quite used to blending in. He stepped into his geta, the strap of the sandal fitting into the split in his thick tabi. Weather hardly bothered him any, but he'd look very strange if he wasn't properly bundled against the cold. The over-haori, also black, helped quite a bit.

Sure that it would do, he stepped back out into his office. "Yukimura-san, are you sure you don't want to change out of your uniform before we go? You should at least take the armor off. People will stare otherwise." He kept his tone light and teasing, but he was serious enough about the armor part. She might not care, but he didn't want to draw a crowd around his family. No doubt the guards would be able to deal with it, but it would be inconvenient and unpleasant for most of the people going with them. Looking like ordinary civilians was preferable.

She pursed her lips together, almost as if she were pouting. She seemed to chew on her bottom lip in a thoughtful manner before she sighed. "I suppose you have a point," she seemed to agree with him, glancing down at her attire. "I'll just take the armor off. If I tried putting anything else on, I'd have to have Toto-chan help. I... can't tie a kimono, or yukata, properly without his help," she replied. She was, perhaps, a little too forward with such information, but it didn't seem to bother her.

It certainly didn't bother him any. Ichikage was far too old to be bothered about propriety or ridiculous things like that. He'd seen and heard it all by this point in his life, more or less. There just wasn't any offense left in him, really. He snorted at her admission; it turned into a chuckle. "Somehow, I'm not surprised, since it's you." He grinned, flashing teeth at her. "In that case, just leave the armor pieces here and wear the haori normally. It shouldn't be a problem."

He waved a hand easily. "We've got to go get the others, though. Cricket's fussy and it might take her a while unless we prod her along. Micchan has to dress two people, but she'll be on time anyway, so we'll get them first."

She complied, but snorted in response. "Cricket might take a little more time since there's a certain someone around," she muttered, fixing her haori properly. "And that would explain why Kiyo-kun always looks so spiffy. I need to ask Mika-san for her secrets. Maybe she could help me, too. That way, I don't have to keep bugging Toto-chan," she stated, shaking her head as if to herself.

"And I would be surprised if Mika-san was late. She's always... punctual," she added and moved so that she was standing beside him. "Alright, who are we collecting first? Pretty Hair-kun, or Etsuko-chan?" she asked, snorting softly at her name for Kiyoshi.

"You know, if you were anyone else, I'd worry you might have designs on my son," Ichikage replied facetiously, sliding open the door out of his study and heading down the hall. "Fortunately, it's you." He could see from miles away that Ryoka and Kiyoshi were the furthest thing from each other's type, so to speak. Mostly because Kiyoshi's type was Mika, even if he hadn't quite figured it out yet.

Maybe he never would. Ichikage hadn't yet decided to what extent he wanted to interfere with that. Normally, he wouldn't have hesitated, but Micchan was more delicate than she appeared, and there were other things to consider that could not be easily disregarded. But that was all for another day. For today, he'd done everything he could in that respect, and was looking forward to seeing the results.

"But yes, Kiki first. Micchan probably dressed him before herself, in case she ran short of time."

"Well, what can I say? Kiyo-kun has pretty hair, enviously so," she made a face, though, and shook her head. "I wonder if he'd consent to cutting it and making a wig out of it," she spoke, though it sounded more like she was stating it to herself. Snorting softly, she kept an even pace with him. She was a little taller than the average Japanese woman, so she didn't have much trouble keeping up.

"If it makes you feel left out, you have... slightly prettier hair, but don't tell Kiyo-kun I said that. He might take it the wrong way," she spoke, chuckling softly to herself. She took a deep breath, though, and cleared her throat. "But in all honesty, it sounds like Mika-san has her hands full trying to dress him, and herself. What about you, Ichi-kun? Who picks out your wardrobe? You can't possibly be the one," she asked, addressing him as she had since the beginning.

Oh, he had the prettier hair, did he? Now he knew she was bullshitting him. Ichikage found it more amusing than anything, though. "Flattery and insult in the same breath," he chided. "I certainly do dress myself, thank you. Can you imagine anyone else putting up with such a task, really?"

She tapped her chin with her index finger, as if she were giving it some thought. "I'm sure someone could. I mean, if Kiyo-kun could find someone, surely you can. I, obviously, am not volunteering for that," she visibly shuddered at that. "No offense, Ichi-kun," she spoke, chuckling lightly. "At least one of the Motoyami members knows how to dress themselves. I could say the same about us, though, but it doesn't really count. Toto-chan can't really dress himself either. He always picks such boring clothes. Oh!" she exclaimed suddenly, glancing towards him.

"You should help him. You dress nicely, he could learn a thing or two," she stated as if it were that easy.

He shook his head. "Well, I did inform him that nice clothes were mandatory today, so we'll see what he came up with, I guess." They reached Kiyoshi's door; Ichikage raised his hand and knocked. "Kiki, we're here! Let's go already." They still had to get Mika and the other two, after all.

"You know I don't like it when you call me that," Kiyoshi spoke not more than a few moments after Ichikage had knocked. His lips were pursed into a fine line, and he glanced towards Ryoka. "Ryoka-san," he spoke in way of greeting. Kiyoshi seemed to be dressed in a similar manner to Ichikage, only the coloration was different. Where Ichikage's was dark red, Kiyoshi's was more a charcoal grey. His clothing, however, looked a little more crisp.

"Kiyo-kun, it looks like you managed well for yourself," she spoke, the corners of her lips tilting upwards just slightly. He had a puzzled look to his face, but didn't say anything. "You look nice, Kiyo-kun," she stated, placing a hand on her hip. Kiyoshi narrowed his eyes just slightly, but smiled nonetheless.

"As... do you, Ryoka-san. Even if it is the unifrom," he added. It almost sounded like he was joking, but his face remained a little passive. "It seems you were not jesting about wearing it everywhere," he added, and a small smile pulled at his lips.

"I wasn't," she simply grinned back. "Alright, one down, three to go," she stated, glancing towards Ichikage. Kiyoshi did the same.

Satoru was next; his yukata proved to be dark blue. It had a subtle Yukimura crest, not entirely unlike the other two. He'd pulled his hair up high on his head as he often did. Ichikage didn't know many young men who wore their hair in such a traditional style, but he supposed if anyone was likely to, it was the son of a line of taiji-ya.

After that, they had to pause outside of Etsuko's room to wait for her to finish changing. He wouldn't be surprised if Cricket had forgotten they were going out today, too absorbed in her music practice to remember until there were only a few minutes left. The thought brought a smile to his face.

The door opened a few minutes later to produce Etsuko. She was dressed in a predominately black kimono. There were pink peony flowers on the bottom portion of her kimono, with one peony located on her left shoulder. There were also smaller, red peonies with a few orange ones as well. Her hair was pulled back into a bun, some strands falling out of the back of it. There was a single braid on the right side of her head, though, with the bun held in place by a sakura kanzashi.

"Sorry it took so long, Ichikage-san, Kiyo-kun," she greeted them first with a bright smile before her eyes landed on Ryoka and Satoru. "I... hope you weren't waiting long," she added, glancing down with a light pink hue dusting her cheeks.

"It's alright, Etsuko-chan, it was worth the wait. You look pretty," Ryoka spoke, causing the pink on Etsuko's face to deepen a bit.

"Ryoka-san is correct, you look nice, Tsu-chan," Kiyoshi chimmed in, a small smile pulling on his lips.

"Thanks," she muttered, playing with the hem of her sleeves. "Are we waiting on Mika-chan, too?" she asked, glancing towards Ichikage.

Ichikage glanced down at his phone. "She's already waiting for us, of course." Or so her message indicated.

He was getting a kick of watching Cricket. It would seem young Yukimura was not completely oblivious to her, either, though it seemed to be something he wasn't sure what to make of. He didn't blush, just kind of tilted his head, like there was a puzzle here he was trying to solve. But the reaction Ichikage most wanted to see—by which he meant "laugh at"—was yet to come.

Fortunately, he did not have to wait long for gratification. Mika was waiting for them just outside. She hadn't done much with her hair; it lay sleek to her shoulders as usual. But he had managed to force her to blend with the group by wearing a kimono. In defiance of him, perhaps, she'd selected a fairly plain one, but it suited her undeniably well all the same. Ichikage was the furthest thing from surprised by that; he'd known her mother once. He hadn't mentioned it yet, but the resemblance had only grown more striking as she grew.

The white she wore suited the season. The garment was edged in silver, really only visible when she moved, the way it glittered against the light. "You told me we were leaving ten minutes ago, Motoyami-sama," she chided.

Ichikage waved a lazy hand. "Did I? I must have forgotten. I do that a lot in my old age." From the corner of his eye, he glanced at Kiyoshi.

There was a soft smile on Kiyoshi's face. "Mika-chan, you look lovely," he spoke, though it looked more like he blurted it without really meaning to. Kiyoshi blinked mildly in surprise to himself, but didn't reel his words in. He simply kept his gaze on her. Etsuko was standing next to him, grinning just slightly and pushed her shoulder into his side.

"Come on, Kiyo-kun, you shouldn't keep Mika-chan waiting," she spoke, earning a light snort from Ryoka. She was, surprisingly, quiet on the situation.

Inwardly, Ichikage cackled, and it only got louder in his head when Mika started slightly, apparently quite surprised for all of half a second before her face smoothed over and she shook her head. "Thank you, sir. In any case, we should be going if we want to reach the shrine in time for the actual New Year." Her tone was as brisk and businesslike as Ichikage had expected; she always did that when she wasn't sure how to react to something: retreated into her professional demeanor.

"Ah yes. Let's go. It's not a very long walk, but if we want amazake and rice cakes, we should get there early," he declared. The younger Yukimura gave him a bit of side-eye at that, perhaps surprised by his childish concerns, but Ichikage didn't mind. He took delight in little things—it was basically mandatory if life was to be tolerable at all, after so many years alive.

The group headed down the path away from the estate. They couldn't all walk in one line, so he maneuvered himself beside Ryoka, forcing the others to organize themselves accordingly. One day they'd thank him for things like this, really.

"So... am I going to be buying up all the mochi to satisfy your sweet tooth, Yukimura-san?" He inquired playfully, ducking his head slightly to meet her eyes more easily.

"I doubt that they'll have enough to even do that," she replied back, almost too casually. As if she believed that. "But I'm sure they could substitute some daifuku, or some dango. Oh, they could probably add in manjū if they have any," she continued. She didn't even bat an eyelash as she listed the sweets. She kept his gaze, and raised her brow in an almost challenging manner.

"I'm not sure if you'll have enough for all of that," she added, smirking just slightly.

"Of all the ways to bankrupt myself, I never imagined this one," he confessed. "But I think I can handle it."

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Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

This year felt a little different. She was excited to be visiting the shrine with everyone, however; this year, there were two new additions: Ryoka and Yukimura-kun. She knew it was silly of her to think this way, but she couldn't help herself. She was happy, and she was sure she was smiling more often now, because of it. She glanced to her side where Yukimura-kun was, before returning her attention in front of her. She could feel the beginnings of a blush upon her face, and she did her best to fight it down. He looked nice; he always did no matter what he was wearing. Shaking the thought from her head, she took in a light breath.

"So, Yukimura-kun," she decided to break the silence. "How are you adjusting? Here, I mean, in the Motoyami household," she asked. Even though he'd been here for a couple of months, since October if she remembered right, he seemed well-adjusted to the place. Maybe that was just her thinking he was?

His brows furrowed slightly; for a moment, he glanced at her from the corners of his eyes. "Adjusting? You make it sound like I'm a puppy with a new home or something." He sounded slightly sour about the characterization, but it didn't last. "I mean, sure, it's not like living with—" Yukimura-kun cut himself off abruptly. She could hear him pull a breath in through his nose.

"It's not the same, but it's fine." He folded his arms into the sleeves of his yukata and refused to make eye contact.

Did it sound like she meant it that way? Etsuko furrowed her brows, and took her gaze away from him. That... that was uncalled for. She hadn't meant it that way; all she wanted to know was if he was comfortable. She knew it wasn't the same, but living in a place full of yōkai, hanyō, and humans, it couldn't have been easy for him. She wasn't going to pretend that she knew what he was feeling, either, because she didn't know. Ichikage had taken her in when she was young, around three or four. She couldn't remember.

"I'm sorry, Yukimura-kun, but that's not how I meant it," she stated, her brows furrowing deeper. She took a deep breath, and shook her head. She wasn't going to press, not with the way he'd answered her. Instead, she decided to remain quiet for a few minutes, trying to think of something else to talk about. They were on their way to the shrine, to make wishes for the upcoming new year. She didn't want to start the year off on bad terms.

"I've... started reading the score for the suggestion you gave me, The Swan," she decided to go with that. At least with music, it couldn't take a wrong direction, right? "It's a good choice," she added.

It seemed to take him several seconds too long to answer. She could see his throat work as he swallowed, and then his eyes closed for a moment. When he opened them, he turned back towards her, expression neutral. "It's... one of my favorites," he said softly. "I've been listening to it a fair bit lately; I suppose it's just on my mind." He lifted his shoulders in a shrug. It was hard to tell, but it seemed a little awkward somehow, like he wasn't quite sure he wanted to be sharing that information but had resolved to do it anyway.

"It takes a lot of talent to make a violin cry that way, I think."

She did her best to keep her expression as passive as she could. It was... something, she supposed, if he was telling her this. But she smiled at his last statment. "It really does. I first heard the violin being played during one of the passing orchestras. It was the reason why I wanted to learn the violin in the first place. One of the violinists was playing a violin solo of Casta Diva from Vincenzo Bellini. It was... one of the most beautiful pieces I'd ever heard," she huffed lightly at herself and smiled softly.

"Kiyo-kun said I cried during it, and then begged otō-san to buy me a violin after that, so I could play too," she admitted softly. It was an embarrassing memory, but it was true. She'd wanted to play the violin after that. It had become a passion of hers ever since. "I hope maybe one day I can be as good as that violinist," she added.

A soft gust of air escaped him, almost a chuckle. His eyes narrowed slightly with what looked like a little bit of mirth. "Better than me," he admitted. "I don't even remember what made me start wanting to play. But it was something I had that my family didn't have any say in. The one thing I chose for myself." A vaguely guilty look passed over his face.

"I used to always feel like they were stifling me, and music was my way of... escaping it. Escaping them." He was so quiet she almost couldn't hear him. "Now I just wish—" Yukimura-kun cleared his throat. They'd arrived at the shrine. "Uh... let's go get some amazake or mochi or something. You like that stuff, right Fujimori?" The others already seemed to be wandering as they pleased, in any case. Ryoka and otō-san were making a beeline for the snacks, it looked like.

She swallowed thickly, trying her best to contain the small feeling of sadness that constricted her chest. She nodded her head, instead, and smiled a little too brightly. "I do, actually. Amazake is my favorite. Mochi... not so much," she stated. Mochi was too chewy for her tastes. "Ah, what about you, Yukimura-kun. No offense, but you don't look like a sweets kind of person," she spoke honestly. Savory and sours looked more his preference, but what did she know?

He grimaced slightly. "Uh... not usually. I do kind of like anman or manju with azuki in them, though. That's usually what I eat when it's a holiday for sweets. And chocolate's not bad, if it's dark." He subtly turned them towards where the vendors were selling cups of amazake. It was actually kind of easy to navigate the crowd next to him; he was tall enough that people noticed him and got out of his way, more or less. He wasn't pushy, though, and waited patiently in the line.

Around them, snow was beginning to fall, fresh flakes joining the ones already piled on the ground. They landed in Yukimura-kun's long hair, glittering in the light for a while before his body heat melted them, and stuck to the eyelashes under his glasses. He didn't seem to notice. "Sorry for getting all weird on you, Fujimori. I swear I'm not usually this depressing."

She huffed slightly, but immediately shook her head. "Sorry, Yukimura-kun. I'm not laughing at you or anything," she stated, trying to make sure he didn't take it as such. "But... I kind of understand. It's the first time spending a holiday with someone else," and not with his family. Even though Ryoka was still around, it probably didn't feel the same. She didn't completely understand, but she could to some extent.

"Yeah." he nodded slightly, and then there was silence until it was their turn with the vendor. Yukimura-kun ordered both of them amazake and paid for it before she could so much as say anything, handing one of them to her carefully. "It's a little hot," he warned. For a moment, he glanced towards the large line for the shrine. They could see the others further ahead, but Yukimura pursed his lips.

"Do you care about the prayer tradition? We can wait in line if you do, but we could also sit down over there and get out of the snow a bit." He nodded to a bench under a tree, currently unoccupied. The branches wouldn't protect them from all of the flakes, but it would get them out of the crowd, at least.

"Not particularly, no," she answered truthfully. "Unless I'm with otō-san, or Kiyo-kun, I usually skip the prayer," which was true. "It can get a little too crowded for my tastes," she added, rolling her eyes at herself. Even when she came with her friends, she never really partook in the tradition. Maybe she just didn't like waiting in the line? She didn't know.

"We can go sit down and get out of this snow," she stated, making her way towards the bench. She sat, smoothing out her kimono a bit so she could sit properly. "There, that's better," she said once she was situated comfortably. She waited for Yukimura-kun to take a seat as well, before she glanced up. Even if she wasn't too fond of winter, she could still appreciate how the snow made everything pretty.

Not more than a minute had she looked up, she spotted something. "Oh, look, Yukimura-kun, a shooting star!" she stated, pointing up with one hand and elbowing his arm with her elbow. "Make a wish, quick," she continued. She couldn't fold her hands together, but she placed her free hand around her mug and lifted it to her face.

Let this year be a good one. For him.

She cracked one eye open and glanced towards Yukimura-kun.

He was looking at her, his brows furrowed slightly, as though he were contemplating a puzzle he hadn't figured out how to solve. He balanced his amazake on one knee, his right hand wrapped around it, but his head was tilted to the side and there was no mistaking that he'd been studying her. Even when she clearly noticed, he didn't look away, though his mouth did pull to one side, and he snorted softly. His expression was hard to read.

"I guess some people do still wish on stars," he said. It could have been a dismissive or judgemental thing to say, but he sounded... curious? Something more like that. He gave a slight shake of his head, then turned back so he was facing forward again. "You're something else, Fujimori. I don't think I've ever met anyone like you."

She huffed slightly. "That's because there isn't anyone like me," she stated, grinning slightly to herself. She was trying to keep things from turning awkward. She could already feel her cheeks rising in heat, but she was doing her best not to blush. Besides, he didn't mean it the way she wanted him to, but that was alright.

"That, and because I'm your friend," she continued, chuckling lightly and rolling her eyes at herself. "And for the record, yes some people still wish on stars. You should try it sometime," she added.

Yukimura-kun shook his head slightly. "If there's something I want that bad, I'd rather make it happen myself," he replied, apparently quite serious about it. "Whatever you wished for... I bet you could make it happen, if you tried hard enough. Unless it was world peace or something, I guess." He shrugged. "That might take a bit more work than you could do by yourself." He narrowed his eyes, but it looked like an expression of slight amusement rather than any kind of anger.

She puffed her cheeks. She was trying not to laugh at him. If only he knew what she wished for. "You wouldn't say that if you knew what I wished for," she spoke before she had time to actually think about it. "But I suppose world peace isn't something too farfetched. Who knows, now that I have a good friend, we'll be able to take the world by storm," she stated, laughing lightly at herself. It was, surprisingly, easier to talk with him. No more stuttering. No more awkward fidgeting.

"I think we should get back to the others, though. Otō-san might buy every vendor out if Ryoka-san keeps eating the way she does, and Kiyo-kun might get lost in the crowd. He gets lost very easily if Mika-chan isn't there to guide him," she spoke, shaking her head softly. Sometimes, she worried about her family.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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Etsuko was nervous. Her palms were sweaty; she was sweaty. She'd been practicing every day trying to perfect her music. She'd even forgotten that she'd asked Yukimura-kun to be her accompanist. She didn't remember until he'd said something about it. She took in a deep breath to steady her nerves, and released it slowly. Everyone was outside, sitting in the stadium and waiting for her, them, to come out. This was it. This was her time to show everyone what she was capable of. She would be next, after Mikazuki-kun. His exhibition piece was Moonlight Sonata.

She'd been beyond relieved that she hadn't chosen that piece. She was going to perform Kreutzer with Yukimura-kun. Even though Kreutzer was half an hour long, it would be worth it. Alright, I can do this. We can do this, she thought to herself. She still had a few minutes to do any final touches, and she wanted to make sure everything was set. Smoothing out her kimono, she made her way to where Yukimura-kun would be waiting. She was glad that the kimono she'd chosen was made in such a way that it wouldn't necessarily interfere with her movement. She continued on her way to find Yukimura-kun, and smiled when she did.

"This is it, Yukimura-kun," she stated. "We'll be going on in another ten minutes," she continued, tilting her head just slightly.

Yukimura-kun glanced up, some reply or another seemingly at the tip of his tongue. Unfortunately, he started to cough right after that, turning his face away and into the crook of his elbow for a few seconds. When he straightened, his face was a little red, probably from the coughing. He cleared his throat, then straightened to his full height. He'd gotten taller since she'd really become acquainted with him; he had to be almost six feet by this point.

He'd worn a tuxedo for the recital, a somber black with satin lapelles and a white shirt with a white silk bowtie. Most likely, Mika had something to do with the selection; it was the sort of simple elegance she dressed Kiyoshi with as well. His glasses were slightly different, too, rimless and square-shaped.

"Ten minutes, right," he murmured. "You, uh... Are you feeling okay? Not too nervous or anything?" He was awkward about it, but the concern for her state of mind seemed to be genuine.

"Me? Nervous?" she stated, though she grinned lightly. "I've got butterflies in my stomach, and my palms are sweating," she decided to answer, though. He looked handsome in his attire. She wasn't so sure about what she was wearing, now. It was a purple kimono with pale pink wisteria patterns on the bottom. Next to him, she felt overshadowed. Clothing really does make a difference on someone; even the shape of his glasses seemed to bring out his eyes a bit more. She cleared her throat nervously once she realized she was actually staring at him.

"But that's all part of being a musician. Nervous feelings are always there. It's easier to deal with once you get lost in your music, though, because you're doing something you love. Next to that, nothing else really matters. It's only you, and the music you play," she continued, her smile softening just a bit. She really did love playing music for people. "What about you? This is your first time performing in public, right?" she asked. This was a larger audience than the one provided back at the Motoyami residence.

"Yeah, but I'm not the one who's competing," he pointed out, offering half a smile. It faded, and he patted down his pockets, clearly in search of something. It didn't take him long to find it, apparently; he tugged a plain handkerchief out of his pocket and held it out towards her.

"You definitely don't want to play with sweaty hands," he remarked, raising an eyebrow. "And that kimono's way too nice to wipe them off on."

"You may not be competing, but you're still playing in front of people," she replied, rolling her eyes in good nature. She smiled, though, and took the offered handkerchief. "And you're too nice, trying to look out for me," she joked, using the cloth to wipe her hands. They would get sweaty again, but luckily, she'll already be playing her violin. It was easier to keep grip if she was already playing.

"In all honesty, though," she stated, glancing back up at him. "I think we'll be fine. You're talented on the piano, I'm talented with the violin," she began, trying to chase the last bits of nervousness away. "We make a good pair," she continued, huffing lightly to herself. She glanced towards the clock on the wall and sighed.

"I suppose it's almost time, Yukimura-kun," she said and took a step forward. "We should go wait by the curtains. Mikazuki-kun should be wrapping up his performance," she added.

He nodded slightly, following her to where they'd been instructed to wait for her turn at the exhibition. Yukimura-kun stood next to her, almost shoulder-to-shoulder. Just as the applause was swelling for the performance before, he leaned down slightly so she could hear him speak.

"You're going to kill this, Fujimori. I've heard you play this piece dozens of times. You're better than anyone else I've heard today, no contest. So don't worry about it." He sounded absolutely sure of what he was saying, and by now she knew well that he wasn't the sort of person to lie or exaggerate for the sake of someone's feelings.

That was enough to boost her confidence. She wasn't so sure she was going to kill it as he so eloquently put it, however; she did believe that they were going to give the audience a performance worth remembering. "If I kill it, it's because I have you, Yukimura-kun, as my accompanist," she stated truthfully, grinning at him in the process. "No one here can play the piano quite like you can," she continued. Before anything else could be spoken, they were motioned on stage.

Alright Etsuko, you can do this. She took a deep breath and waited for Yukimura-kun to situate himself. They both turned towards the audience, bowed, and moved to their respective places. Once they were both in place, she placed the violin to the crook of her neck, and glanced behind her. She nodded, as she had done the multiple times in practice, to let him know they were beginning. Slowly, she drew the bow across the violin, listening to the sound it created.

Somehow, Kreutzer had become her favorite piece to play. Maybe it was because of all those practice sessions with Yukimura-kun, or perhaps some other reason. She could hear Yukimura-kun behind her, playing his parts almost perfectly. She smiled, pulling her string faster when it was called for. Before she knew it, she was lost, paying only attention to the music she and Yukimura-kun were creating. It was... peaceful. For a moment, her mind wandered to whether or not Yukimura-kun felt the same.

Pulling her thoughts from that, she continued playing. When they approached the last notes, the pace picked up, and Etsuko was sweating slightly. She'd been so lost in her music that she forgot she moved with it, too. She opened her eyes, having realized she closed them for most of the play, and glanced towards Yukimura-kun, temporarily forgetting about the audience. She offered him an excited smile before turning towards the audience. The smile, however, faded as it remained quiet.

Did... did I mess up somewhere? she thought, fear creeping into her chest. She forced it down as best as she could, but it only swelled the longer it remained quiet. Her gaze dropped, and she waited for Yukimura-kun to join her before bowing to the audience. It was then, a slow clap began, the applause growing louder as it did. She thought she heard someone whistle, and breathed a sigh of relief. They returned behind the curtains, and she tried her best to contain the swelling of happiness that threatened to shorten her breaths.

"Arigatō, Yukimura-kun," she spoke softly. If it wasn't for him, this... whatever had just happened, wouldn't have been possible. "The competitive part of the recital is in another section of the auditorium, but I have a few minutes to collect myself before I play again," she spoke, still smiling. She was sure she was grinning, though.

He seemed to be pretty close to grinning himself, actually. "Don't thank me," he said, shaking his head. "That was all you." He set a hand on her shoulder for a moment and squeezed, a thoughtless gesture of encouragement. "Pretty sure the whistle was Ryoka, though. She's... obnoxious that way." His hand fell away and back to his side. "Need something to drink? I can run to the vending machines really quick if you do."

"I could use some water, or if they have it, Pocari Sweat," she stated, smiling nervously. Pocari Sweat was an odd drink, but she liked it mostly because it wasn't overly sweet. It was actually a little more salty, now that she thought about it. "Actually, just some water, please." she decided to correct herself. She didn't need anything salty right now. She was lightly sweating, and more than likely, she'd probably get too tired to finish the version of The Swan she intended to play.

When he returned with the drinks, she took hers and tried to drink it quickly. Unfortunately, she started choking, and coughed to clear her throat. Red-faced, she laughed nervously and glanced in Yukimura-kun's direction. "Sorry about that. A-anyway, I think it's almost time for my part. You can go join the others if you'd like," she spoke. He could do that, or stay behind the curtains. It was up to him.

"Oh, and... Yukimura-kun," she started, pausing only slightly to take a breath. "I... I hope you like this version of it, The Swan," she finished. It was still the same song, but she had changed the way it was played. It was almost slower.

He shook his head slightly, reaching to take the half-empty bottle of water from her hands. His fingers brushed over hers, but he didn't seem to notice. "I'm staying right here. Don't worry about whether anyone's going to like it. Just play it, Fujimori. The rest will follow or not, but it's not important."

But I'm worried if you'll like it, was the only thought that crossed her mind. Shaking her head softly, she took a deep breath to steady her nerves, once more. "Thanks, Yukimura-kun," she stated before leaving for the area she needed to be in. Once it was her turn, she tried to calm her hands. They were shaking. She pushed any doubts and fears out of her mind, and walked onto the stage. She bowed lightly towards the audience, turned the page to the score, and took a deep breath.

"Here goes nothing," she whispered, waiting for the piano to signal her in. She pulled the string across the violin slowly, and closed her eyes. Her thoughts were of only him, of what he'd been through the last year, and where he was now. The original song was a little more fast-paced, but the one she was playing now was slower, almost melancholic in a way. But it also held a small note of happiness to it, too.

Once she drew to the last note, she opened her eyes, and glanced towards the side as best as she could, trying to find Yukimura-kun. She couldn't see him, but somehow, she knew he was still there. This is for you, she thought as she pulled the final note through. She drew it slowly, letting it echo before finishing. She bowed towards the audience and smiled softly as they clapped. She wasn't too concerned about that, though.

She made her way towards the back, searching for Yukimura-kun. When she found him, she smiled softly. "Did... did you enjoy it?" she asked nervously, feeling her cheeks warm slightly.

The expression on his face was unreadable for a moment, but even in the darkness backstage, she could see that his eyes were a little too shining. He blinked a few times, clearing them and pulling in a deep breath, and offered her a small smile.

"Yeah, Fujimori," he said, something thick in his voice. "Yeah, I did."

She smiled softly. "I'm glad," she replied. And she was. Shaking her head, she glanced around him. "We should go find the others, now. We won't know the results until later this evening," she spoke, clearing her throat softly.

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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INK

The spread in front of them was quite sumptuous, Ichikage had to admit.

But, well, he felt he had license to go a little overboard in celebration of Cricket's achievement. She'd placed second in her recital, and he was of course telling everyone who would listen about how wonderful she was: the waitress, the host, everyone else at the table... it was quite worth it to watch her reactions.

He'd all but demanded they celebrate after her excellent showing at the competition. Of course, at a place like this, reservations were necessary months in advance, but he'd had Mika take care of it well ahead of time. He'd intended to celebrate no matter what the result, after all. That she'd done so well was only more reason to do so.

Ichikage sat at the head of their rectangular table, Etsuko to his left and Kiyoshi to his right. He'd sat Ryoka across from him so she could watch his back and satisfy the requirements of her position, but he was much less concerned with that than having fun. Mika was, of course, next to Kiyoshi, leaving the younger Yukimura between Cricket and his sister.

"Well, here we are, everyone. By all means, dig in. And remember to thank Cricket if you enjoy it; we are, after all, here because of her immense musical talent." He winked at Etsuko when he said it, conspicuously enough that no one at the table could have failed to notice.

"Cricket?" Yukimura-kun asked the question of her, picking up his chopsticks in his left hand.

Etsuko narrowed her eyes at him and furrowed her brows. "It's a nickname Ichikage-san calls me. He's the only one who does, though," she spoke, though there was a tone of bitterness in her voice. Probably because he called her that in front of Satoru. Ryoka huffed softly.

"But why Cricket?" she asked, causing Etsuko's frown to deepen. She rolled her eyes softly, though, and sighed.

"Because crickets rub there legs together in a way that's reminiscent to the violin. Since I play the violin...," she trailed off. She shrugged her shoulders. "At least that's what I like to believe," she muttered before taking a bite out of her food. She grinned somewhat, and glanced towards Kiyoshi, who had chuckled lightly at her.

"He calls Kiyo-kun, Kiki. I'm sure everyone will, eventually, get a nickname from Ichikage-san. It's a thing he does," she spoke, narrowing her eyes in his direction again. Kiyoshi was frowning by this point.

"Please don't call me that."

"Oh no, please do. I'm hoping it'll catch on, you see." Ichikage smiled enigmatically. He never had explained why he called Etsuko Cricket, and honestly he didn't intend to. It was funnier just to do it and watch her pout at him regardless.

Working his way slowly through his food, Ichikage propped his elbow on the table and his jaw in his hand, pretending to contemplate the others. "Mika is Micchan, of course. That one I might not recommend anyone else use. There's no telling whether she'll murder you in your sleep, after all."

Mika blinked at him, her lips pursing slightly, but she'd long ago learned the lesson that Kiyoshi still hadn't: it was better not to provide him more amusement in the form of a reaction.

He let his eyes fall on Ryoka. "I think Yukimura-san will be Yoyo." She was certainly energetic enough, and sort of tethered to him, though the string was invisible. "And Yukimura-kun..." He hummed. Satoru was already looking at him with something like mild dread.

"I don't know yet. But I'll think of something. So you have that to look forward to."

"Great," he deadpanned in reply.

Ryoka huffed out a short laugh. "Oh come on, Satoru. It can't be worse than Toto-chan, can it?" she chimed in, grinning at him. Etsuko looked slightly disturbed at what Ryoka had said, and Kiyoshi just tilted his head.

"Toto-chan?" he echoed, glancing towards Satoru. "I don't see how you could derive that kind of moniker from Satoru, Ryoka-san," he stated, glancing back towards Ryoka. She grinned at him, and opened her mouth to say something, however; Etsuko interjected.

"Anyway," she spoke, apparently trying to divert the attention away from the nicknames. "Don't listen to what Ichikage-san says. He's just an old man with too much time on his hands, and not enough entertainment," she stated. Ryoka merely laughed.

"Absolutely," Ichikage agreed. "My old-man life is far too boring, so I find myself with so little to do but bother everyone else. It's a bad habit by this point, I'm afraid." He nodded with false sagacity, bobbing his chin up and down.

Mika snorted. "You might be less bored if you did any of your work, instead of leaving it to other people, Motoyami-sama." She lifted the last of her noodles to her mouth with the sort of ingrained elegance that could not truly be taught.

Ichikage pouted. "That's mean, Micchan," he whined. "Making me do paperwork would be cruel and unusual punishment at my age." For all his exaggeration, there was a grain of truth in the statement; for most anything in the world, Ichikage had done enough of it to man it bored him to tears these days. At least teasing them all was still fun to him.

"See what I mean," Etsuko stated in a deadpan voice that almost rivaled Satoru's. "Old man. Too much time. So little entertainment," she continued, finishing off the rest of her food. Kiyoshi remained mostly silent, preoccupied with watching the exchanges, apparently. Ryoka was laughing by this point, but it seemed mostly contained.

"You make it seem like entertaining oneself should be a crime, Tsu-chan," she stated. Etsuko gave Ryoka a flat look, and stared at her for a few seconds.

"It should be for Ichikage-san," she stated, causing Ryoka to chuckle. "You just wait, Ryoka-san, he'll drag you into it, too," she continued, causing Ryoka to raise an eyebrow.

"Oh, really, now? I don't think that's possible, Tsu-chan. You see, Motoyami-san and I get along very well. Even the other day, we were talking about you and that certain someone you admire so much," she stated, grinning a little too widely. She leaned forward on her hand, and kept her gaze with Etsuko's.

Etsuko, however, seemed to turn a deep shade of red, before narrowing her eyes at Ichikage. "You guys are the worst."

Satoru looked vaguely confused, then shrugged, apparently deciding it wasn't any of his business. Shame; Ichikage so would have enjoyed holding the knowledge over his head. Mika, for her part, rolled her eyes and sighed softly. "Leave her be, at least for tonight," she said with a frown. "We are meant to be celebrating her success, in case you have forgotten."

"Of course not," Ichikage replied, feigning hurt by placing a hand over his heart. "How could I forget my little Cricket's impressive finish in her recital? I'm the proudest nosy old man there ever was." He grinned, flashing teeth at the table.

"She deserved the win, though," the younger Yukimura said quietly, shrugging and focusing quite intently on his plate. "The winner wasn't as good."

Mika blinked. "You think so? I found his performance to be one of the most technically proficient I've ever heard from someone in that age category." She raised an eyebrow.

Satoru lifted his head to meet her eyes, clearing his throat. "That's true," he admitted. "But it's not all about who is technically most accomplished. Fujimori conveyed the emotion of her piece much better than he did."

Ichikage leaned back in his chair, the smile on his face inching wider.

"I agree with Yukimura-san," Kiyoshi spoke, glancing in Etsuko's direction. "There were a few people in the audience who were quite moved with your choice, Tsu-Tsu," he continued, showing a soft smile. There was something behind that smile, though, that inched just a bit wider. "What made you choose that particular piece?" he questioned, though judging by the smile on his face, he knew.

Etsuko, however, managed to return to a healthier shade of not so red, and glanced down at her plate. As if it were the most interesting thing at the moment. She didn't look back up, but she did take a soft breath. It was easy to see by the movement of her shoulders.

"Yukimura-kun suggested it," she replied softly, almost too soft to hear.

"I see," he stated. Ryoka chuckled lightly, but it looked like she was trying to contain her laughter. "But Tsu-Tsu, isn't the original piece a little more fast-paced?" he asked, causing Etsuko to lift her head and stare at him. "You changed the way it was played, why?" he continued his questioning. Etsuko cleared her throat softly.

"I'm interested in knowing as well," Ryoka stated, leaning forward to prop her chin on her hands. Etsuko sighed, this time.

"I... had a particular audience in mind," she muttered, dropping her gaze back to her plate. Ryoka huffed softly.

"More like a particular person," Ryoka muttered, cracking a smile. Etsuko rolled her eyes and shook her head.

"It's actually not that simple, Ryoka-san. Changing the way a particular piece is played could be career suicide for most musicians. I changed the way it was played because there was something I wanted to convey. Music is supposed to make people feel something. Happiness. Sadness. Excitement."

"If a musician can't make you feel any of those things by the way they play their music, then they can't call themselves as such. So, yes, I might have had a particular person in mind when I played it, but..." she paused, huffing softly to herself.

"You played it well, Tsu-chan," Ryoka stated. To her credit, she looked like she was being genuine. Her voice had no traces of teasing in it. "I agree with Toto-chan, too. You should have won." Etsuko smiled.

"To the winner in our eyes, then," Ichikage said, raising his half-empty glass of water.

Mika huffed softly, but raised hers as well. The others followed, and for a little bit, their glasses all clinked together.

"Now keep eating. I've already ordered dessert."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

Generally speaking, Satoru hated Valentine's Day.

His shoe locker was right next to Yamada's, and Yamada was quite possibly the most popular person in the school. This meant that not only did he have to fight past a gaggle of people to change his damn shoes, but he also had to accept that his locker was going to be used as an overflow containment unit for Yamada's, because it wasn't like anyone got him anything.

That part was fine.

The part that wasn't fine was having to deal with all of this All. Damn. Day.

Yamada wasn't a particularly bad guy, as far as students at the school went. He was friends with Keigo, which was annoying, but Satoru tried not to hold it against him. Still, it was kind of annoying to have someone else's perfection shoved in your face for eight straight hours, which was basically what had happened on this holiday two years running to everyone who happened to be in Yamada's class. Satoru had been in it both first and second-years, and he still was. Seriously, if he heard one more girl waxing lyrical about Yamada's perfect hair or dreamy eyes or family connections—as some of the more worldly-minded tended to pay attention to—he was going to hurl.

It was annoying on a normal day, but easy to ignore. Only on Valentine's Day was he regularly accosted in the hall, or did people walk by the classroom and linger awkwardly, waiting for him to emerge so they could shove chocolates at him with lots of blushing and stammering. He kind of felt bad for them, but mostly he just wished the day was over.

So when the last bell rang, he packed his things at record speed. He had homework to do, but he'd take care of it all at home today, and not in the library where more of this nonsense was bound to still be happening.

His plan to be out before the insanity was stymied, once again, by the shoe lockers. Satoru opened his up, then had to take a quick step back when a shower of chocolate poured out. "Oh, for the love of—" Grumbling to himself, he set about picking them up. He could at least organize them on the bench or something. Whether he thought it was pointless or not, some people took this holiday really seriously, and put a lot of effort into handmaking their chocolates. He couldn't just leave them on the floor because he resented the use of his shoe locker.

"Over flow again?" a voice called out to him. It was Fujimori, and she looked to be slightly amused. She sighed softly, though, and shook her head. "You would think by now the other students would just wait for him or something," she mumbled, setting about helping him to pick up the chocolates. "Or you know, set aside a specific container for all of his... stuff," she had hesitated on the last word, as if she wanted to say something else, but didn't. Once everything was collected, and set aside, she turned to him and furrowed her brows.

"Um, I know... you don't like sweets or anything Yukimura-kun, but," she started, fidgeting with the bag strap over her shoulder. She pulled the bag off, though, and rummaged through it, apparently searching for something. She found it, eventually, and pulled it out. It was a small box that was wrapped in a dark blue cloth. It was almost a dark sapphire, and the cloth itself looked fairly new and expensive. It glistened like satin. She presented it to him, her face tinging a light pink color as she did.

"This... it's for you, Yukimura-kun. You said you liked dark chocolate, but I've never made anything with it before. It... it might not taste good, and I'd understand if you didn't like it or anything. You could just... throw it out if you don't," she spoke perhaps a little too fast.

Satoru put the last pieces of Yamada's chocolate on the bench. Standing, he blinked at Fujimori, feeling his face turning red against his will. It wasn't even a big deal, for goodness's sake! It made complete sense for her to get him giri, considering the accompanist thing he'd done for her earlier in the year. It made about a million times more sense than all the weird fluttering and honmei gifts to people you barely knew. But damn his genes and the resulting tendency to turn pink for every little reason.

"Uh." He found it really unlikely that she'd just magically guessed his favorite color, especially since it had nothing to do with the holiday at all. That made him extremely suspicious that Ryoka had something to do with this whole thing. He could almost hear her cackling at him, because her favorite thing to do was put him in awkward situations, regardless of how much they sucked for him or anyone else.

He sighed, pushing his glasses up his nose and offering Fujimori a wry half-smile. "I do like dark chocolate," he admitted. "Do you, uh." He paused; his ears colored the same hue as his face. "I probably can't eat them by myself. Do you want to share? Ryoka told me that Kiyoshi-dono broke your violin strings. We could go to the music store to get more, and eat on the way?"

"Oh, y-yeah, sure, Yukimura-kun," she stuttered, taking a step back. The pink on her face seemed to darken a bit, and she refused to make eye contact. "Kiyo-kun wanted to try his hand playing the violin, and he pulled too hard on the bow. He broke the strings, surprisingly, but not the bow," she spoke. She cleared her throat softly, and straightened herself out a bit.

"Luckily, there is a small music shop not too far from here. It's about a few minutes walk, but if... you don't mind coming along, I'd appreciate it. And... you could also tell me how they came out. Dark chocolate and baking don't exactly mix for me, so it was something new," she continued, though she still refused to make eye contact with him.

"Oh, uh... sure." He'd kind of been expecting to go to the music store in the mall, but now that he thought about it, this was probably a better idea. It wasn't a big deal if they just walked five minutes down the street, but a purposeful trip to a public location like that was... probably open to misinterpretation. Especially if he was carrying around her chocolates at the time.

Satoru changed his shoes, tucking the bundle under his arm for a moment, then followed Fujimori out of the building. Just when he thought he was going to get out of this with no further problems, they ran into Keigo. Carefully, Satoru shifted his grip on the bundle under his arms so it wouldn't be visible to him.

He'd intended to just walk past him, but apparently Keigo wasn't in that kind of mood today.

“Hey Yukimura!" Keigo crossed his arms, grinning at Satoru in an entirely unfriendly way. “How's it feel, being a loser for the third year running, huh?"

It took Satoru a second to figure out what he was talking about; when he did, he tilted his eyebrow slightly. "I dunno, Keigo, why don't you tell me?" He realized quite suddenly that he could actually look down his nose at the yōkai—Keigo was at least two inches shorter than him, now, though he was admittedly significantly broader, as well.

Keigo's face twisted into a sneer. “Wouldn't know as well as you," he replied, gripping his large biceps in his hands. “Nobody would."

Satoru excepted this with equanimity. "Yeah, okay. Can we go now?" He was frequently accused of doormat tendencies, because this was how it always went: he didn't reply to whatever Keigo said, and waited until they all thought they were done and he could get on with his life.

“What's the matter, man? So depressed you can't get laid that you're gonna go mope somewhere?" A few of his cronies chuckled. They always did that—even if what Keigo said wasn't witty in the slightest, as now.

Satoru sighed.

There was another sigh, a deeper one, to his side. It was obviously Fujimori sighing, though it sounded like she was irritated. "Are you seriously this bored, Keigo?" she stated. Her brows were furrowed, and she was giving Keigo a flat stare. "Don't you have some other place to be, away from here? Or are you just here to not make sense? Because what you just said, whatever it was, didn't," she continued. She rolled her eyes though, and turned to Satoru.

"We should probably get going before the place closes, Yukimura-kun," she stated, ignoring Keigo by this point.

Unexpectedly, Keigo reacted worse to that than Satoru had thought.

“Can it, Fujimori. You think just because your old man is some big-shot demon lord, you can tell me what the hell to do? Fuck off with your righteous bullshit, you pretentious little dirt-blood ningen." He glared openly at her, the words almost hissing from him. “I fucking hate people like you, you arrogant little bitch." Keigo took a menacing step forward, eyes flashing gold for a moment before receding to their disguised brown again.

"That's enough." Satoru took half a step to the side, putting himself directly between them. "Your business is with me, right Keigo? Leave her out of it."

Keigo spat at his feet. Satoru heard it sizzle on the concrete. Venom, then—he was more serious than it had seemed. Probably because Fujimori had interfered, not that this fact made it her fault. “I don't think it is. She wants to interfere in other people's business, she can accept the consequences."

The flat look on Fujimori's face turned into a sour expression. Her eyes narrowed in Keigo's direction, and it was obvious she was angry. "First off, my otō-san has nothing to do with what I say or do. Secondly, wow, you really are a huge moron like everyone says," she continued, the anger in her voice quite evident. She didn't take a step back when Keigo stepped forward. She merely remained where she was.

"And you're damn straight I'm going to interfere because it became my business the moment you stepped in my way. Just because you think you can do whatever you want, only reinforces how ignorant you really are. I'm not an arrogant ningen-bitch, you stupid moron. You say you hate people like me? You don't even know me. So piss off and go bug someone else. You don't want my otō-san, or onii-san, getting wind of this. And trust me, it won't be from me they hear it from," it almost sounded like she was threatening him.

If anyone had asked him, Satoru would have advised against escalating things. Not that he could blame Fujimori for being pissed off. But all he wanted was to leave, and usually the best option for that was just to let Keigo throw a few verbal daggers until everyone involved was satisfied by how tough he was, at which point, he'd get bored by Satoru's lack of response and move on.

But now he was pissed.

It happened in an instant. Viper-quick, Keigo struck. Just as fast, Satoru interceded. Even now, he was conscious of the repercussions of striking back, and so he didn't. The hit landed right in his guts; the breath left him in a gust. But he withstood it, doubling over slightly and lifting his head to look Keigo in the face. The other boy's face twisted in a snarl. His second hand snapped forward, wrapping around Satoru's neck and cutting off his air. Still he didn't move, didn't react beyond the involuntary. He just held himself steady and in place, unable to breathe.

“Hey Keigo... lay off, man. What if a teacher sees or something?" That was Yamada; he looked a little disturbed by the scene, but he didn't make any physical move to stop it either.

Keigo's hand tightened for a moment, but then he relented. Letting go of Satoru's throat, he stepped away, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “You're a fucking idiot, Yukimura. Dirt-blood." He grumbled the slur under his breath before he turned, leaving the area with his small gang in tow.

Satoru breathed carefully, pressing the side of his fist to his chest. Coughing several times, he cleared his throat and shook his head, chasing off the lightheadedness.

"Yukimura-kun," Fujimori called out to him. She was concerned, if the way she'd called out to him was anything to go by. "I'm," she paused, as if she didn't know how to finish that sentence. She sighed and shook her head. She cast her gaze to the ground, her brows still furrowed, and her hands clenched together.

"You shouldn't let him do that to you!" she suddenly stated. She glanced up, her face twisted into some mix of frustration and something else that was hard to identify. It wasn't quite concern, but something akin to fear. "I know... that you can take care of yourself considering what you used to do, but you shouldn't let him get away with doing that to you. He could have... he could have..." she continued, breathing a little heavier. She took in a deep breath, and kept his gaze. There was something glistening behind her eyes.

"I'm sorry, Yukimura-kun. I shouldn't have said that. We... should probably just go home," she spoke, lowering her gaze from his and keeping it away. "I can have Mika-chan take me to get strings, later," she continued, her voice considerably lower than it had been.

"I'm going to need a minute," he admitted, gesturing with his head towards the nearest bench. Making his way over to it, he sat, placing his chocolates down next to him on the wooden slats. Keigo was a full-blooded yōkai, even if he was a little shit, and his grip had hurt. If Satoru had been an ordinary human, he might have ended up with a crushed windpipe. He sighed, waiting for Fujimori to sit as well before he spoke.

It was an unseasonably warm day for February, so he wasn't particularly chilly. Not even when a crisp breeze came in from the side, stirring the loose strands of hair at the side of his face. He always wore it up, but some pieces inevitably escaped. Leaning against the bench's backrest, Satoru bent his arms so that his elbows rested on the edge of it, turning his head up a bit to take in the grey winter sky.

A soft breath passed through his nose. "You're allowed to have opinions, Fujimori," he said, his voice slightly raspy because of the still-healing damage to his throat. It was already bruised, mottling purple, but that would fade quickly as his body repaired itself with supernatural alacrity. "And you're allowed to share them with me. But I'm not sure what you wanted me to do instead? Hit you? Keigo doesn't know enough about humans to moderate his force. He could have killed you without even meaning to."

"And not you?" she retorted softly. She still hadn't lifted her gaze to meet his, instead, keeping it on the ground. "He could have easily hurt you, too, Yukimura-kun. At least..." she paused, swallowing thickly before sighing. "If he had hurt you, if something had happened to you, I don't... know," she continued, taking in a shallow breath. She seemed to be contemplating what she wanted to say.

"If something had happened to you, I don't know what I would have done. I like you, Yukimura-kun. You're easily one of the best friends I've had. Strange quirks and all," she stated, huffing lightly. She did smile a little, though.

"I suppose it was partly my fault, too, though. I shouldn't have pushed him. He made me angry, though," she spoke softly. "I didn't ask for otō-san to adopt me, and no one pressured him into it. It just... sort of happened. It's not like I asked to be part of the Motoyami family, but I am. I can't change that, and I would never want to. But just because they are my family doesn't mean I lord it over people. I don't think I can do or say whatever I want without repercussions. I know that, but," she sighed a little bit too heavily, as if she were exaggerating it a bit. Perhaps she was, by the way she shook her head, and smiled.

"Now I'm being mopey. I don't like being mopey, and it's your fault," she stated, but the smile on her face suggested otherwise.

Satoru blinked once, slowly. "He wasn't going to kill me," he replied quietly. "Keigo's an idiot, not a murderer. He doesn't swing at me that often, but it's better not to retaliate." Things only ever got worse if Keigo got angrier, and Satoru wasn't willing to fight back. There was no reason to do violence to one of his classmates. No reason to resort to that when there were other options.

Reaching down next to him, he unwrapped the cloth and let it fall away, opening the box to reveal a dozen neatly-placed dark chocolates. He smiled faintly, and shook his head. "I think you went a little overboard for giri," he observed, picking one out of its spot with long, careful fingers. "If I share with you, will you stop feeling mopey?" He raised an eyebrow, his tone quite light, considering what had just happened.

She cleared her throat softly, her face turning a light shade of pink. "Giri or not, I still owed you for agreeing to be my accompanist," she replied. "And that depends. I might not be mopey, but I make no promises on making faces. Dark chocolate is bitter, and I don't do well with bitter things. Sour and tart are more my flavors," she continued, the smile inching just a bit wider.

"But hey, there's a first time for everything, right?"

"Apparently so," he replied with a shrug. "First time anyone's ever given me chocolate on Valentine's Day, for one." He realized how that might sound only belatedly, then cleared his throat quickly. "Uh. Not that I have any expectations or anything. I get what it's for, so don't worry about that."

She gave him a look of disbelief. "Are you... really?" she stated, sounding a bit surprised. "I suppose, because you're not a yōkai or anything, but you're still cute, Yukimura-kun. I'm surprised..." she paused, her eyes growing wide, perhaps at the realization of what she just said.

"I mean... yeah, I'm just going to stop talking, now," she stated, grabbing one of the chocolates and placing it in her mouth.

Satoru found he wasn't really sure what to do with that, so he followed suit. It was kind of a bizarre... compliment? Observation? He wasn't thrilled to be described as cute, but she seemed to mean well.

He figured it was best to leave it at that.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

Mika busied herself making tea, using the small electric kettle settled on a small table off to one side of the office. Her back was to Ryoka, but she could sense the other woman move to the seating area and take a chair. The hanyō made no attempt to fill the silence with needless conversation—she would be talking plenty later. For the moment, she allowed the meditative motions of preparing tea to quiet her thoughts, and as usual, those were many.

Chief among the things on her mind, of course, was the fact that she had two months to prepare three people for an event that they really should have been given a year, at minimum, to brace for. It was, she knew, a sign of his trust in her that Motoyami-sama assigned her to do this rather than someone else, but that did not particularly increase her confidence that she would succeed. It was a lot to ask of them.

Letting a soft breath escape her nose—not quite a sigh—Mika turned at the sound of a knock. She knew before laying eyes on him that it was Satoru, but she met his dark eyes and nodded anyway, grating him wordless permission to enter. He seemed much recovered from his earlier ordeals, and was still dressed in his school uniform, without the blazer. Five minutes before she'd asked him to be here. At least she wouldn't have to teach him that as well.

That left Etsuko.

“Sorry I'm late!" Etsuko spoke, going through the door a few minutes after Satoru. Though she wasn't entirely late, she wasn't early, either. “Mika-chan, Yukimura-kun, Ryoka-san," she greeted, giving them all a quick bow. Ryoka snickered off to the side, but made no comment. Etsuko turned and gave Ryoka a flat look, but said nothing either.

“Looks like the gang is all here. S'pose we should get started, then," Ryoka spoke this time, crossing her legs in the chair she was sitting in. Her posture wasn't pristine in that chair, either, but she'd agreed to keep practicing. “Tsu-chan, you can sit next to me," Ryoka stated, grinning all the while.

“I'll pass, thank you," Etsuko replied in a deadpan voice.

Satoru rolled his eyes; Mika ignored the banter and went back to her desk, pulling open the top drawer and extracting the files she'd already prepared. It was important to maximize the efficiency of these lessons; she'd only have about an hour a day free for them. If they could study and practice without her to further their progress, all the better—and that's what these were for.

Handing one to each, she gave them a few moments to open them while she poured the tea. "Included in each of these packets is information on each of the most prominent visitors. The lords and their immediate family members have longer entires with pictures. Important retainers are included, though not all of them have available photos or portraits." She blinked, passing the tea to each of them as well. "Each lord also has his or her crest displayed in their entry, so that you might be able to recognize whose household is whose. For the duration of the Gathering, we will all be wearing the Motoyami crest accordingly." Motoyami-sama was usually quite lax in his uniform requirements, but that would not be the case while the others were present for the Gathering. It was crucial for things to run smoothly that everyone be able to identify members of the host staff.

Ryoka's eyes were skimming the pages, though it didn't look like she was actually processing the information. Etsuko appeared to be taking her time with the files, flipping through them a little more passively than Ryoka was. At least she didn't appear as confused as Ryoka did, but that was because Etsuko was already part of the Motoyami household and should have been somewhat familiar with the names and etiquette. She needed to learn other things as well, though, in order to avoid another incident.

“What is this Gathering, exactly? And why is it so important," Ryoka asked, though her eyes were still on the files in front of her. She was moving a particular one back and forth, as if she were trying to see some connection or another. Etsuko made a soft humming sound as if agreeing with Ryoka's statement.

“Is it kind of like an important meeting of some kind?" she asked, still keeping her eyes glued to the files. “Because it kind of sounds more like a big festival of some sort," she muttered this as if she were saying it to herself. Etsuko just kept reading the files in front of her, and took a drink of her tea.

"It's more like a business meeting or political summit, right?" Satoru glanced up from his own perusal of the file, which seemed to be much more absorbed than Ryoka's or even Etsuko's. Clearly he was interested in the information. Perhaps it had something to do with being a professional taiji-ya. It was, in a sense, their business to know everything possible about yōkai, though these days they had little access to most of that information.

Mika nodded, impressed that he knew even that much. "Yes. It's a meeting between yōkai lords. Originally, a Gathering was the only time when all seven daiyōkai would be in the same place, and they used it to discuss matters that affected them collectively. Given that there are now only three daiyōkai lines remaining, the other four Covenant houses are represented by whomever their lord is, instead. The purpose is still essentially the same, however: meet with each other and play politics, such as it is."

“Why are they having one, now?" Etsuko asked this time. She'd stopped what she was doing, and glancing directly at Mika. Ryoka hummed as well.

“Given that we have only two months to prepare for it, it must be something incredibly urgent," she stated, placing her files down as well. “From what you just said, it sounds like they're usually planned months in advance," she continued.

“This is the first time I'm participating in one," Etsuko chimed in.

"Often they are planned further in advance, yes," Mika said. "But truthfully, one has been due for a while now, and as a whole, we're prepared to handle it. Motoyami-sama wasn't thinking with the Gathering in mind during recent events, however, as it had not yet been called."

She exhaled, taking a slow sip of her tea. "As for the reason—there have been quite a number of significant events lately. Any one of them, or all of them together, would be adequate cause for Takashi-sama to call the Gathering." Her voice was quiet. "The death of the most prominent remaining taiji-ya clan is of concern to us all, for one. Kiyoshi-sama's impending marriage also means that the daimyō who wish to offer congratulations before the event must do so soon, which likely influenced the choice to hold it here. All kinds of factors go into these decisions."

Satoru pursed his lips, pushing his glasses up his nose. "Have you met any of the lords, Sakuragi-san?"

Mika inclined her head. "Some. Of the seven, and discounting Motoyami-sama, I have personally been in the presence of the kitsune, hebi, and tengu lords. But to call it meeting them is inaccurate. As a servant, I do not speak in such situations unless asked a direct question, and barring special request, I am not introduced. You should expect the same, as non-family members of Motoyami-sama's household."

Though...

"There may be some interest in all three of you. It is of course known that Etsuko-chan is Motoyami-sama's ward, and some are bound to be curious, though it's unlikely any of the daimyō will themselves make inquiries. Their retainers may seek you out, however. It's also possible that the two of you will be asked to provide testimony before the gathering on what you witnessed that night. They will be interested in figuring out who is responsible, and will want your information to help make that determination."

Etsuko looked vaguely uncomfortable at the statement of possibly being sought out. Ryoka, however, merely pressed her lips into a deep line. She didn't look pleased about being questioned, either, but perhaps that was a little understandable. She'd been there that night, and had seen almost her entire family wiped out. It was likely a sensitive topic for her.

“So, in the case that we do meet these retainers and lords, how are we to address them? Motoyami-sama is, obviously, a little more relaxed about the formalities here, but I'm assuming that that won't be the case during the Gathering. We can't just call everyone Motoyami-sama if they share the surname, right?" she stated.

“I'm... going to need help with that as well," Etsuko murmured. “I only know how to speak with the people of this household. I don't want to smear otō-sama's name," she continued, though her voice was a little softer this time. It was obvious she had things weighing on her mind. Etsuko had always been expressive that way, even if she didn't mean to be.

“I agree with Tsu-chan. I don't want to do something I'd otherwise do in any other situation. I also don't want to say something or address someone incorrectly," Ryoka stated, leaning on her arm a bit.

Mika nodded once, setting her teacup down and folding her hands in her lap. "This is indeed very important. The lords who are actually heads of their houses must always be referred to as 'heika.'"

Satoru blinked, pausing with his teacup halfway to his lips. "Like the Emperor of Japan?"

"Yes. They are royalty within their domains, and have to be addressed as such. Likewise, their family members who are not heads of house always get 'denka.' It's better to just use those words by themselves, unless they give you permission to use their names, in which case keep using it as an honorific. If they insist on more informality, switch to 'sama.' Above all, do what they tell you to, but those are your default rules of address." She paused, grimacing.

"And if you have cause to refer to either of the lords Motoyami in front of a third party, it is Motoyami-heika and Motoyami-denka. Never anything else. Even for you, Etsuko-chan."

"And bowing?" Satoru asked, blinking. "Full dogeza all the time would be counterproductive to efficiency, I think."

Mika hummed. "That much is unnecessary, unless you're approaching someone in a very formal situation, such as an official audience. Otherwise, remain standing, but bow deeply and properly whenever it is called for. It goes without saying that your own pronouns should be humble. There is no need for anything self-effacing unless you upset someone, but don't use 'ore' or anything too arrogant, obviously. 'Watakushi' will do." More formal than the standard, but not actively putting oneself down.

Etsuko nodded her head, paying attention to what was said. “So heika when in the presence of the head, and denka for those in the same household, but not the heads," she spoke mostly to herself, it seemed. Ryoka groaned lightly, but it didn't sound like she was upset about something. Likely, she was just having a hard time processing the information.

“All the formality for demons living in the present," she muttered more to herself. She took a deep sigh, though, and glanced back at the files. “Toto-chan, you're going to help me with this," she spoke it as if she were questioning whether or not he'd help her. But the tone suggested otherwise.

"I know," Satoru replied, clearly unsurprised. "I'll make you a study guide. And I mean... you say demons of the present, but a lot of them have been around since even before Japan as we know it was a thing, right?" He glanced at Mika.

She hummed her agreement. "Motoyami-sama and Takashi-sama are both the original daiyōkai of their lines, yes." She knew little of it, because Ichikage was extremely silent on the matter by his own choice, but from the few tidbits she'd learned, he'd lived in an ancient ages of gods and demons, when the divine still walked and shaped the earth. Long before recorded history, in any event. Even Kiyoshi had been born into a more civilized age, even if it was the Yayoi Period.

“Always be formal, always address someone formally unless stated otherwise, and bow deeply and properly when called for," Etsuko seemed to be talking to herself since her eyes were now back on the files.

“Is there anything else we'll need to do, Mika-chan? Are we to dress formally, too? I know Ryoka-san will be in uniform, but what about Yukimura-kun and myself? I don't think Yukimura-kun has anything with the Motoyami crest, and most of the kimono's I have don't bear the mark, either," she asked.

"That will need to be addressed," Mika replied simply. "At some point soon, we'll have seamstresses take both of your measurements, and you'll be provided appropriate clothing for the duration of the events. Formal dress will be necessary at most times, according to your station within the house." As Ichikage's ward, human or not, Etsuko would have kimono for the event, with family crests placed in the necessary places. Most likely, Satoru would be attired in a similar manner to Ryoka or the other staff; she would see about having guard uniforms made for him—that would perhaps suit better than the vestments of a domestic servant or shinobi.

“That's great," Ryoka mumbled, though she was smiling. “That means Toto-chan can finally look spiffy," she added, grinning towards Satoru. Etsuko rolled her eyes, and it looked like she was going to say something, however; she merely turned a light pink, and shook her head.

“That means the Gathering will happen just before graduation," she stated, sighing softly and taking a drink of her tea. “Guess that means I'll have to put a few things on hold in order to prepare for this," she continued. She likely meant her music. She smiled, though, and glanced towards Mika. “But if it's for tō-sama, it'll be okay," she stated, setting her cup down.

“Alright, so we have formalities down. Is there anything else we should know, Mika-san? Because I'm all out of questions," Ryoka spoke, arching a quizzical brow at Mika.

"Not today," Mika replied, "as I'm out of time. However, I've cleared this hour every day. Once each week, I'll be working one-on-one with each of you, and the other four days will be all of us practicing together. I encourage you to study and practice in your free time, also. These are not skills that come to a person in a few weeks of casual preparation, and I hope you will all take it appropriately seriously."

Satoru nodded solemnly. Etsuko nodded as well while Ryoka grinned.

"Good." With that, Mika dismissed them, trying not to think about the effort that lay ahead.

They had a long way to go.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

All the practice with Mika-chan was paying off, at least that's what it felt like for Etsuko. She'd been learning the names and faces of the visiting lords, and taking her time with proper etiquette. Learning to bow formally hadn't been too hard, considering she bowed most of the time during her recital and practice. It was learning how to address someone that had her at a loss for what to do. She knew she couldn't just say whatever she wanted to; not from the way Mika-chan had talked about it, and she certainly didn't want to upset Ichikage.

Not after all he's done for her.

She sighed softly, and ran a hand through her hair to untangle a few knots. Once she braided it over her shoulder, she pushed herself from her desk, and walked out of her room. She'd promised to help Ryoka with her posture since Ryoka's posture was horrible. Mika-chan was helping her as well, but Ryoka had been adamant at practicing it along with everything else. Yukimura-kun had, apparently, made true on his word and created a small guide for her. She snorted softly. Ryoka was something else, really. Shaking her head, she left to find the older Yukimura sibling. She was either with Ichikage, or Satoru.

It wouldn't be too hard to find her, right?

"There you are, Cricket." Even without the nickname, Ichikage's voice was unmistakable. He was in his human guise today, the one with short hair and golden eyes. He still stood out a lot, but at least his ears were the right shape to pass, and this body lacked claws. He'd never actually made it clear whether he was just hiding those features with some kind of illusion, or if he actually shapeshifted.

He smiled at her, his teeth almost too white but not at the moment pointed. "I was just looking for you. Are you busy today, or would you like to go somewhere?"

Etsuko narrowed her eyes suspiciously at him. He was planning something, right? She pursed her lips together, making it look as if she were trying to get a read on him. She learned long ago that she, and everyone else, couldn't. Once she was satisfied, she merely tilted her head to the side and quirked a brow.

“I'm not too busy, though I was looking for Ryoka-san. She wanted to practice her posture, again," she simply stated. It's not that she didn't want to help Ryoka right now, but Ryoka, like Ichikage, liked to tease her. She didn't need that kind of distraction when she was trying to learn proper etiquette.

“What were you looking for me, for?" she questioned, not really bothering to hide her curiosity. Most of the time he looked for her, it was for something that involved picking on her, or teasing her.

"Yare, yare, Etsuko-chan. You make it sound like I'm always planning something nefarious." From the way his grin stretched to show a few more teeth, he knew that the assessment was more or less accurate, even if he feigned offense to it. "Honestly, though—I just thought it would be nice to take a day away from work and practice and spend some time with my little Cricket." Reaching forward, he casually ruffled her hair with his hand, tucking a strand of it back where it had fallen a bit loose thanks to his mussing.

"You can choose the place, if you want. The mall? The beach? The park? Tokyo Disneyland? Whatever you like."

“And if I said the moon?" she replied, but she grinned and shook her head. “Honestly, I don't know. We have so many things to learn, so much to do. I suppose a break would be kind of nice," she added. Which it would, now that she thought about it. It's not like the Gathering was tomorrow, or anything. Besides, she hadn't been able to spend much time with Ichikage since the announcement. She pursed her lips together.

“Uh, how about we go to the art museum? We haven't been there in a long while, and I always find that the art they display is helpful with my music," she stated. Art, in any form, was inspiration enough. But the museum often displayed work that just moved her in a way that she had to recreate it. She wasn't that gifted, but she liked to try with her violin. It was interesting to hear art that way.

“Is it just going to be us, though?" because she wanted to believe he wasn't planning anything. Ichikage always had a way of slipping things in when she wasn't paying attention. Maybe she ought to do that more often?

He chuckled, his grin softening slightly. "Well, that's what I'd planned on, but perhaps you'd like to invite dear Satoru-kun as well? I can't promise a proper date atmosphere with me around, though." He raised a challenging eyebrow, clearly teasing her.

She could feel her face pull into something not amused. Her lips were pressed thinly, and she was giving him a deadpan look. She knew that was coming; she should have known that. Rolling her eyes, she shook her head. “You're not cute, tō-san," she stated bluntly.

He clearly and obviously pouted, giving her an expression that could easily be classed as 'puppy-eyed.' He didn't interrupt, though.

“Besides, Ryoka-san would be coming along, as well, wouldn't she? She's your guard, so she'd have to, right?" she asked. He couldn't simply just go without one of his guards, and she figured Ichikage would choose Ryoka just to make things worse. If it was the three of them, or even the four, she'd likely survive. If it was just Ichikage...

“But," she stated firmly, narrowing her eyes in Ichikage's direction. “Maybe Yukimura-kun would like to go, too. I don't know if he's fond of art, but I know he does play well," she spoke. If you liked one form of art, you liked another, right? That would make some sense, but perhaps only to her. But what if Yukimura-kun actually liked visual art and this was his first chance to see the nicer exhibits?

Ichikage sighed in a way that suggested more amusement than anything. "It was a joke, Cricket. If you really want them to come, we can invite them, but I was planning on it being just you and I today. We'd be away from the house, and surely you have enough faith in dear old tō-chan that you don't think we have to have a guard, right?" There was mischief in the familiar twinkle of his eyes.

She narrowed her eyes at him, again. “I know we don't have to have a guard. You're worse than Kiyoshi when he's without Mika-chan as his guard," and she only meant that he disappeared on everyone else who wasn't Mika. “But now that I'm thinking about it, Yukimura-kun really hasn't left the property since he and Ryoka have been here. Going to school isn't really leaving, either," she continued. Maybe he wanted to do something normal? Being surrounded by so much yōki and yōkai must have its limits on him, right?

“I'm sure he'd like to go, too," she stated, frowning in his direction. She wanted to do something nice for Yukimura-kun, she supposed. And going to the museum was just that. “It's not a date," she stated out loud, narrowing her eyes further in Ichikage's direction.

Ichikage shrugged, apparently willing enough to go along with the plan. "All right then, Cricket. Let's find him and you can ask him to come with us. Good luck telling him it's not a date, though."

Etsuko almost smiled until she heard the last part of his sentence. “You're not cute, tō-san," she repeated herself, frowning in his direction. “And it's not a date. I don't even have to say that, and he'd know it wasn't one," she stated, though she did pout slightly. It's not like she wanted it to be a date. She didn't even know where her own feelings stood for him, at the moment.

Yes, she liked him. But did she really like him that way? She enjoyed his company, and his friendship. She was content with that, right? Rolling her eyes softly, she turned on her heel and went to find Satoru. It wouldn't hurt to ask him, anyway, if he wanted to go. Right?

"Whatever you say, Cricket." Ichikage's voice was laden with amusement as he followed after her.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

When confronted with a set of information that needed memorizing, Satoru had done what he always did as a young taiji-ya and an ordinary student: made himself study materials and set to work committing them to memory.

"That's Oda Susumu-heika," he murmured, studying the image of the lord of torayōkai. The image was a photograph, rather than the much-older painted portrait that stood in for Takashi-heika, but they shared the same brilliant white hair as Ichikage and Kiyoshi. The mark of daiyōkai. Satoru privately wondered how it was that such a thing could be consistent; it wasn't as if all the daiyōkai were related, so there was no reason for them to share any physical characteristics.

And how was it that such a trait showed up only in them, and none of the family members they had who were not so distinguished? Without the hair, what made the difference between they and their lesser kin? Power, perhaps, but surely they didn't possess the full measure of that power even at birth, and the status did seem to be something a demon was born with or without. Genetic somehow, and yet somehow also crossing boundaries of species. He had no idea how that could be possible, unless all of them had a common ancestor, maybe. Satoru considered asking Ichikage, who might well be the only person who knew, but it was unlikely he'd get a straight answer. The lord seemed to enjoy prevaricating and making everyone else guess at his intentions.

Turning the card with the dignified-looking tora lord over, he glanced down at the next one. Delicate features, a sheet of dark hair, impossibly-long eyelashes. Tachibana Shiori-sama. Vassal to Oda-heika, and closest thing the subjugated bakeneko house had to a head. She looked... familiar, somehow. Like he'd seen her somewhere before. Maybe in a dream, or a long time ago in memory, but he couldn't put his finger on it. The eyes, though... something about her eyes.

“Yukimura-kun," Fujimori called out to him, something jovial in her voice. She always seemed happy about something, though he had no idea what it was. “Yukimura-kun, I don't mean to bother you, but I have something to ask you," she stated, making her way around to his field of vision.

“Otō-sama and I are going to the art museum, and I was wondering if you wanted to come with us. Just... you know, so you can get out of the house for a moment," she stated. She spoke of her home as if it were less than what it was.

He supposed that when you were used to it, it might not seem quite the way it did to him. Fujimori seemed kind of... well, she was privileged, there was no doubt about that. He had been, too, back when his family was still alive, though not nearly to the same extent. "Art museum?" he echoed, his brow furrowing.

Ichikage entered at that point, wearing a broad smile and, Satoru noticed, his human guise. Blinking at them both, he glanced between them. "You sure you want me to come with you?" Wasn't he basically her dad? He'd feel weird if he was getting in the middle of a family thing.

"I don't mind, Yukimura-kun. And Cricket here insisted that we ask you along."

Fujimori frowned in Ichikage's direction, but sighed. “I insisted on asking you if you wanted to come because I thought that you'd like a break. You've... never really left the estate since you've been here. Except to go to school, but that's not quite the same thing," she spoke, as if trying to give her reasons as to why she was asking him.

“So... here I am, asking if you'd like to join us," she continued, narrowing her eyes in Ichikage's direction.

The daiyōkai, of course, seemed entirely unperturbed. Satoru wasn't exactly sure why Etsuko was going to pains to distinguish what they'd said—it seemed to him like they agreed. He also didn't really have the heart to tell her that he was basically a homebody anyway. Even when he'd lived with his family, he pretty much just went out to go to school or on missions. It wasn't like he had friends, or any hobbies that required leaving the Yukimura compound. In fact, he kind of hated crowds.

But an art museum wouldn't be too crowded, right? He'd been to a couple before, and they'd all been manageable, except that one time he'd gone to see a special exhibition with Fukui-san. The less he thought about that, though, the better. Satoru glanced down once at his cards and study sheets, then back up. He supposed he could use the opportunity to ask Ichikage some questions, too, if he'd allow it.

With a short nod, he stood. "Sure. I'll go."

Fujimori smiled and leaned back on her heels, turning to leave. She seemed happy that he'd agreed. “We'll be going to the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum," she stated. That was one of the largest private museums. “It won't take long to get there," she spoke, the same jovial sound still in her voice. They drive itself had been almost half an hour, but it had remained relatively quiet. Fujimori would occasionally glance at Ichikage who took it upon himself to make a new ridiculous facial expression whenever she did, and then back out the car window before they'd arrived.

“And here we are," Fujimori spoke first, glancing at the large building in front of them. “I wonder if they have any new pieces up," she continued, though it seemed like she was talking more to herself than to either him, or Ichikage.

They both filed out of the car behind her; Ichikage didn't seem to find it necessary to have the driver open the door for them, which Satoru was grateful for. Some of the trappings of wealth that were just everywhere around him now really made him uneasy, but at least neither of the Motoyami seemed to insist on being fawned over. Their staff kept things running efficiently and well, but they weren't slavish or obsequious.

They let Etsuko lead the way throughout the museum. It was clear to Satoru within minutes that Ichikage had seen every piece in the place before; though he occasionally paused to appreciate one or another, the majority of his attention was on the people passing through the galleries. It was almost... surreal, to see him in this setting. Up until this point, the worlds had always been sharply divided for Satoru: there was school and the estate and hunts, and then the mundane world, with no yōkai.

Seeing a demon lord standing in the middle of a milling tide of humanity, Satoru wondered how any of them could ever really believe he was one of them. How they could ever believe he was anything like them. Without the constant stream of jokes, it was just so obvious that he was so... other. Different. More. He had the bearing of a lord even dressed in an ordinary suit, jacket replaced with a vest, in an ordinary color. Satoru would have thought that maybe it was just his ki, but he wasn't emitting any. At all.

Lowering his eyes from his contemplation of an ancient Japanese vase, Ichikage arched an eyebrow at him. "Something on your mind, Satoru-kun? Or have my stunning looks just enchanted you?" He grinned broadly, splitting the symmetry of his face with the crookedness of his smile.

Satoru frowned outright at him. "That's not it." He might have made a snide remark there, but that would have required forgetting that this was the daiyōkai lord of Tokyo, something that he at least couldn't quite bring himself to do, even if Ryoka seemed to have no problem with it. "I was honestly just wondering how that disguise could possibly work."

Ichikage seemed to know what he meant; he inclined his head just once, crossing his arms over his chest. "Most of the work isn't in the disguise; it's done by the people who see it." He spoke quietly enough that his words wouldn't carry to the people passing by around them; museums weren't the best places for loud conversation, anyway. "I could probably walk around without it, and most people would just assume I was a—what are they called? The people who dress up for events and things."

"A cosplayer?"

The daiyōkai hummed. "Yes. The human mind works on levels, Satoru-kun. It's easier to doubt the impression of a moment or an odd feeling someone gives you than it is to doubt your fundamental beliefs about how the world is. No matter how obviously real my ears would be, say, it isn't that difficult for a human to convince themselves that they saw something that wasn't there, or that they were mistaken about their impression. Certainly less difficult than giving up their skepticism about yōkai and immortality."

Satoru supposed that was true. He'd grown up knowing that those things existed—knowing that there was a hidden world behind the obvious one, and training to keep the separation in place. To keep the spheres safe from each other. But he supposed there were other things he didn't believe in. Things that would make him doubt his own eyes first if he saw them.

"Is that why you have the persona of a wealthy businessman? Because it's easier to dismiss your, uh..." He gestured noncommittally.

"Dashing good looks? Eccentricity? Fabulous wealth and impeccable taste?"

"...lordliness."

Ichikage laughed outright, though still quietly. "How astute of you. I like that in a person, Satoru-kun." Ichikage smiled enigmatically and moved his attention to the next artwork.

Well... that was hardly an answer, but he supposed it wasn't bad to have a trait that the daiyōkai liked. He was basically squatting at the guy's house until college, Ryoka's contract or not.

“I don't think that's a good thing, Yukimura-kun," Fujimori stated next to him. She'd returned from further down the hall, having left their side for an art piece that seemingly interested her. “Once otō-sama likes something in someone, it's hard to shake him off. If you ever feel like you're being followed, it's probably otō-sama," she stated, glancing at him from the sides of her eyes.

“But I wouldn't worry too much about it. Kiyo-kun usually keeps him well-entertained," she added, shrugging in a nonchalant manner.

Satoru couldn't imagine being interesting enough to warrant that kind of attention. "I don't think I really have to worry about stalkers," he mused. "They'd probably get bored." He spent most of his time at school, in his room, on the training grounds, or in Ichikage's library. That was really the sum total of his life. It surely didn't rate as interesting even in ordinary human terms, never mind stacked up against the other ways a daiyōkai could spend his time.

Ichikgae's eyes crinkled at the corners, as if with some private amusement, but he did not deign to share it with them. Instead, he redirected their attention forwards. "I think they have a new display of musical instruments through here," he said, pointing down one side of the gallery. "Seems to be a temporary exhibition. Might be of interest to you musicians, hm?"

Satoru supposed it might be, at that. He wondered if they had pianos.