|Under the Surface
Author: tripleT.Vo PM
All it took was for him to look at her. Just once. And like that, Sora's willpower would evaporate into thin air, leaving her completely vulnerable to Yamato again. Even after everything that had happened between them, Sora still cared for him. A Sorato.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Drama - Sora T. & Yamato I./Matt - Chapters: 15 - Words: 157,193 - Reviews: 178 - Favs: 77 - Follows: 87 - Updated: 02-25-13 - Published: 05-28-08 - id: 4285766
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Akiyoshi Hongo, creator of the Digimon concept, as well as various broadcasting networks. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Notes: I created a new blog through which the curious can follow my writing progress and whatnot at com. Feel free to stop by, take a look around, maybe even submit prompts if you feel like it! I've found that prompts are a productive way for me to work through my writing blocks, so it's a win-win for everyone.
This installment took longer to get around to than expected (Beta ever-so-helpfully noted that I had more typo and grammar mistakes in this chapter than normal… I can only hope I didn't make more in my final edits), so apologies for the delay. Nonetheless, I hope this chapter is an enjoyable read. Enjoy, and please review when you're done!
Under the Surface
Chapter XIV: Decision Day
When Wednesday morning dawned on Camp Odake, it seemed as though the student body - along with the staff of camp teachers and counselors - had finally realized that Friday's showcase was quickly approaching. The past week and a half had been a study in procrastination for the exhibition day. Now, panic had at last struck them all; the atmosphere of the entire camp had been upended. Teachers rarely lingered in the cafeteria during lunch now, instead hurrying off to the classroom cabins for last-minute teaching plan preparations. For the students' part, afternoon sessions were dedicated no longer to soccer games. They instead prepared and worried about the impending Friday disaster. (After all, there was no doubt in any of their minds that Friday would be a disaster. How could it be anything else, given how much they had all slacked off and procrastinated?)
As such, tensions were taut and tempers were running wild. The aggressive students snapped at the slightest provocation, occasionally resorting to the threat of fists to settle differences. Meanwhile, the more sensitive students teetered on the fine line between functionality and hysterics, occasionally retreating to the bathrooms for a good cry.
By the time Friday finally arrived, there had been four emotional breakdowns and two near-fights in the music department alone - and normally, the orchestra students had a reputation for being sedate. One could only wonder how the numbers were tallying up in the cutthroat business class, where Teacher Hiroyuki had accidentally created a classroom that practically bred rivalries and competition.
Camp drama was at an all time high; luckily, Yamato had managed to escape being a participant in any conflicts. Sure, Kosuke's reign of terror over the orchestra had gotten stronger ever since his suspension had been lifted. But Yamato had been careful not to neglect his bass practices, balancing them evenly with his WOLVES rehearsals, so Kosuke had no reason to seek him out. It was a welcome respite from what orchestra class used to be like.
And, since Tuesday, all had been quiet between Yamato and Sora.
He didn't really know how he felt about that, though.
On the one hand, there was relief - a great amount of it, actually. Relief that he and Sora hadn't gotten into a huge fight, relief that she had forgiven him. But that relief was countered by an undeniable sense of guilt, because there was still so much that he hadn't been able to tell her, still so many things that he had to take responsibility and apologize for. There was no relief for that guilty weight, though, if he wanted to respect Sora's request for distance between them. He would have to continue carrying those heavy truths alone.
Maybe that was supposed to be his penance for what had passed. Wasn't it a punishment of its own, to hold onto regrets and apologies without any chance for recourse? What right did he have to force his burdens on her anyway?
Maybe it was better this way.
Still, even though Yamato couldn't turn to Sora to talk, he yearned to talk to someone who could help him work through his confused thoughts. Taichi was out of the question: even though he tried to be fair, the brunet would always have a soft spot for Sora. Taichi would get mad at Yamato no matter what he said. Nor could Yamato go to Takeru. The very idea of asking his baby brother (well, technically Takeru was far from a baby, but that was beside the point) for advice on any topic made Yamato shift in discomfort. He was supposed to be the mature one, the advice-giver; he disliked even the thought of turning that relationship on its head.
Eventually, Yamato realized that there was really only one friend who he could turn to.
"That sounds like a difficult situation," Gabumon admitted in a hushed voice, his gaze clearly concerned even through the filter of Koushiro's laptop screen.
Yamato sighed, combing his hair back roughly with his fingers. "I just don't know what to do. I keep feeling like I should go and talk to her about how I feel, you know? There was so much that I wanted to say to her, but I didn't know how to bring it up. And now that we've agreed to stay out of each other's way, I'm stuck."
His Digimon partner looked as lost as Yamato felt. "But you've figured out what you want to say now? If you do go to her?" Gabumon asked at last.
Yamato hesitated. "Kind of."
Gabumon waited expectantly.
"Well, I guess I would tell her that I still care for her a lot." Yamato traced the lines of the keyboard with his finger, avoiding the webcam. "But I don't think she would believe me. With our history, and considering the way we've gone back and forth since coming here..."
"You would have to be very convincing to prove that you mean what you're saying."
"I know. I feel like shit over the way things turned out." Yamato covered his face with his hands. "It's not like I intentionally set out to hurt her. Everything fell together in that way, and I've kind of had to deal with them as they came at me. But I don't know how to apologize for all of that without sounding like a jackass who's only making more excuses."
A silence fell over them. When Yamato lowered his hands, he hesitantly met his partner's eyes. Gabumon's gaze was sympathetic, though, not condemning. Knowing that Gabumon was worried reminded Yamato of how lucky he was to have such a devoted friend. It eased some of the heaviness he felt still pressing down on him.
"Let's talk about something else," Yamato suggested finally, not wanting to dwell on his own problems any longer. Cheerfully, he asked, "What have you and the others been up to in the Digital World?"
Gabumon's eyes lit up.
Ten minutes later, Yamato rocked back in his chair, shaking with laughter. He pointed at Gabumon when he recovered, grinning. "You are a genius. That's brilliant!" He laughed again and asked eagerly, "Then what did he do, when he found out how you guys pranked him?"
"He doesn't know yet. Hopefully, it will stay that way!" Gabumon looked extremely pleased with Yamato's reaction. "There was a moment when he was still tangled up in the plastic wrap that he might have heard us from our hiding spot - that was terrifying! But Tentomon and I were very careful not to leave a trace when we made our getaway, so I think we're safe."
"Poor Agumon. He never saw it coming."
"Well, he should have! After that last prank of his -"
"Was that the one where he switched your shampoo with magenta dye?"
The Digimon turned magenta himself at the mention of it. "Let's not bring that up again. Some things are better off forgotten."
"Aw, come on, Gabumon," Yamato coaxed fondly. "It only lasted for a few days. Besides, only real men can wear pink with confidence, so that makes you all the more impressive."
At that, Gabumon narrowed his eyes. "I've never seen you wear magenta before."
Yamato's answer came a beat later. "Magenta doesn't look good with blond hair. Only girls can get away with that."
"Uh huh." Gabumon remained unconvinced but allowed the topic to drop. There was no satisfactory conclusion at the end of that line of questioning, anyway.
Before Yamato could defend himself against Gabumon's skepticism, however, Yamato noticed the dining hall doors starting to open in the periphery of his eye. Maintaining a casual pose, he let his hand rest on the back of the laptop - ready to angle the screen away and quietly say his goodbye, if necessary. He relaxed, though, when he saw that it was just one of the camp counselors, preoccupied with wheeling in a cart of hot food.
"How much longer are you staying online? Won't you have to go soon?" Gabumon asked, bringing Yamato's attention back to the computer.
"A few more minutes, I think. Once breakfast is officially served, the dining hall will probably fill up... I think that a lot of people are going to try and come in early for breakfast so that can finish their preparations for the day."
"You don't seem very nervous, though," Gabumon noted.
Yamato considered it. "I am a little nervous about orchestra. Since there are going to be scouts, I don't want to mess up and make the whole orchestra look bad." He stretched his spine and sighed. Thanks to Kosuke, Yamato felt like he had all the negatives of that particular scenario all figured out. "But I'm not really thinking about the WOLVES. It's just another performance for us."
The door of the dining hall began to open again, and Yamato paused to see who would be coming through. This time, it was Sora who entered.
His surprise at seeing her made his hand jerk by reflex, nearly making the laptop close before he realized what he was doing. As Yamato caught the lid and pushed it slowly back into position, a prickle of some emotion passed through him. Something akin to awkwardness and discomfort, he understood belatedly; Yamato had taken pains not to be alone with Sora in the past couple of days while he sorted out his feelings, and he certainly wasn't ready to be alone with her now. But there was no avoiding it. She caught his gaze from the end of the hall, and the uncertainty he felt in his chest bloomed on her face. She hesitated.
Yamato swallowed. "Morning," he called, relieved when his voice didn't waver.
He counted it as another victory when Sora's face cleared and she slowly approached his table. "Hello," she greeted with a quiet smile when she reached his side. "What are you doing here so early?"
"Talking to Gabumon, actually." Yamato angled the laptop slightly toward her. "Want to say hi?"
Her face brightened. Sora came over to sit by Yamato's side - he carefully avoided her elbow as she scooted her chair closer - before she smiled at the screen. "Hello, Gabumon."
His answering smile was as warm as ever. "How are you, Sora?"
"I'm okay! Just a little tired. I stayed up late last night to finish the mural. Oh, did Yamato tell you about it?"
Gabumon shook his head. "Not really. He only said that you were doing art for your camp course."
While Sora began to explain in greater detail what she had been up to during camp to Gabumon (who was, as ever, an attentive audience), Yamato tried to hastily organize the thoughts that had been eluding him. But even though Sora was sitting right beside him, so close that they would touch if he just moved his foot a few centimeters, he was still at a loss. Whatever apology he had been meaning to give her still refused to formulate for him. He could only sit and listen without comment, all the while cursing at his own ineptitude. When had it become so difficult to just talk to Sora?
Yamato remained preoccupied with his own thoughts before he noticed the camp doors opening again. The newcomer looked faintly familiar to him - a pretty Caucasian girl with long blonde hair - and he cleared his throat when he realized that he remembered seeing her with the art crowd. "Sora, is that your friend?"
"Hmm? Oh, yes." Sora's eyes darted to Yamato's in a split-second of panic when the blond girl clearly caught sight of Sora and started to head in their direction. Sora quickly promised Gabumon, "I'm going to be visiting Piyomon after I leave camp, so I'll visit you then."
Gabumon nodded quickly in understanding, and Sora then turned to Yamato. "I'll see you later?" She rose from her seat.
"Yeah. Bye." He watched Sora casually intercept her friend to lead her away from Yamato's table. When he was certain that they wouldn't be coming back, he sighed in relief and returned his attention back to the laptop to find that his Digimon partner had been observing him.
"If you miss her so much," Gabumon said carefully, "you should just tell her instead of waiting to find the perfect words. I'm sure that as long as you say what you feel honestly in your heart, Sora will understand."
Yamato nodded hesitantly, doubt slowing his reaction. "...I'll try."
Linda stepped closer to the mural wall. "Wow, this is pretty good. Did you paint your section all by yourself?"
A pleasant warmth heated Sora's cheeks at the other girl's compliment. Still, she felt compelled to dismiss it; she couldn't assume full credit for a project that had prominently featured the help of others. "Thanks, but I got a lot of pointers from Paul and the other artists." Sora traced the line of a tree branch fondly with her fingers. "They helped me correct some things and showed me lots of different techniques to try out. Without their help, it wouldn't look even half as good as it does now."
"Oh, come on, Sor." The casual nickname fell easily from Linda's lips as she earnestly reasoned, "Don't be so modest. I'm sure that you didn't need that much help. After all, if you didn't have some talent to begin with, they wouldn't have made you responsible for such a large section of the mural. You did great."
Sora blushed deeper at Linda's praise. With a small cough, she deflected the attention by gesturing Linda to step back so that they could admire the mural in its entirety. "The whole wall looks great, though. I can't believe that we actually pulled it off."
Linda smirked, seeing through Sora's change in subject easily. Still, she agreed, "I think everyone is going to get a huge shock later this morning when they come to breakfast. Which should make Paul happy." She laughed. "We're gonna have to try and stop the success from going to Paul's head, though, or else he's going to be insufferable."
Sora grinned, amused at the sheer improbability of that happening. She had never met anyone so unaware of or indifferent to their own accomplishments as the watercolor painter, and Sora imagined that the likelihood of his ever getting a swelled head was fairly slim. The same couldn't be said for some of the closer friends of her acquaintance... like Taichi, for example. For the moment, though, she shook the thoughts away and refocused on Linda. "By the way, how is your dress coming along? Did you two manage to finish it last night?"
Linda wrinkled her nose and tossed her long blonde hair over her shoulder. "Well, it's coming along, I guess. That's the most I can say for it. Yuu and I are having some… artistic differences." Her lips pursed. "He's very much into the avant garde aspect of fashion. He wants a million pleats and sparkles – a 'bam' factor, as he likes to call it. And I like that stuff too, don't get me wrong... "
"But just in moderation?"
Sighing, Linda nodded. "This is the first time he's working with fabrics - he originally came to art for sculpting, do you remember? - and so he doesn't know realistically how long it takes to finish something. Whenever he suggests something, I have to figure out how long it would take to work in an alternation, and we just don't have enough time. Which basically means that I've been vetoing him at nearly every turn, and he's starting to resent the fact that I won't let him experiment as much as he wants. " She huffed a short breath. "I don't like having to be the killjoy, but it's Friday morning now, and we're still not done. If I had actually let him go ahead with his extravagant ideas, we'd be even further behind than we already are."
Sora didn't know how to respond to that, and Linda seemed too upset to continue talking about it, so the girls wordlessly walked to the breakfast bar for food. When they sat down to eat, however, Sora said lightly, "I'm done with my portion of the wall now, and I promised to help the other artists finish the detailing on their parts of the mural. When I'm finished though, maybe I could help you guys finish your dress." She smiled. "The fashion show isn't until after dinner, right? Is that enough time for me to help out?"
"Oh Sora, would you really?" Linda placed a hand on Sora's forearm and squeezed it gratefully. "I would love to have you help us. Do you have experience with sewing?"
"Very little. My mom fixes all of that for us, and I've never been interested in clothes enough to ask her to teach me," Sora admitted. "But I know how to do simple things - putting on buttons and finishing hems. If you just show me what to do, I'm sure I could figure it out."
"If you can finish hems, that's good enough for me." Linda's entire face brightened. "Maybe with another sensible girl around, Yuu will finally see reason. I owe you one for this."
Sora grinned but warned, "You don't owe me anything yet. Let's wait and see how much I can help out first; we can reevaluate my usefulness after that."
Even at the best of times, the music room at camp was in general disarray. People left their instrument cases strewn across the floor. String musicians fought over the best chairs to sit on. Digital tuners were misplaced, and there was a distinct animosity between the brass section and just about everyone else in the orchestra.
Still, even that was nothing compared to the complete chaos that Wakana found herself standing in now.
By nighttime, the orchestra would be on stage, showing off all they had learned to scouts from all over Tokyo. Needless to say, it was a do or die moment. And right about now? Wakana was betting on 'die'; the musicians were about one inch from murdering each other, which didn't exactly give her confidence in their cooperative abilities.
Wakana sighed as she held her cello and surveyed the floor. Kosuke and his gang managed to claim all the practice rooms, but she wasn't so desperate for one that she was willing to ask any of them to share with her. And yet, how would she be able to practice in the main room? The brass musicians were drowning everyone out with their instruments, having refused to be relegated outside as they usually were.
"We always get forced outside practice," the furious trumpet section leader had argued with Kosuke. "While you guys are in here, with your stupid air conditioning, we always have to suffer out in the sun. No more!"
It was one of the rare times that Kosuke had been forced to back down, especially when the trumpet leader had appealed to Manami for support. In the interest of neglected justice, the brass had been given first rights to the main room... which meant Wakana could barely hear herself think over their noise. She felt doubtful that she would be able to hear her cello in the cacophony either. Most of the other string musicians grumpily resigned themselves to practicing outside, shooting disgruntled looks behind them as they went. The noise level was so bad that even Susumu, who was by far the most tolerant musician of the bunch, had thrown his hands up in defeat.
"There's no point in me staying now," the pianist had told Wakana on his way out. "I have all my music memorized, and if I stay in here, I'll just get a headache. And what good will that do?"
Susumu had left with the intention of helping the other camp careers prepare for the camp festivities. As far as Wakana now knew, he had made his way to Taichi's understaffed business stall and was pitching in there. The pianist had also informed Wakana in his last text that Koushiro, Hayate had been employed by the camp counselors with the rest of the engineering class to set up a concert stage and various sound projectors throughout the camp grounds.
She was a little jealous of Susumu's freedom; she wanted to be able to leave and see what the other camp careers were pulling off for the showcase, too. But Wakana had already made the decision not to invite her family or school friends in order to have more practice time. The chance of getting scouted by an important orchestral group was too significant to leave to luck. She reminded herself to push aside her curiosity about the other classes and just focus on herself. Perfection wasn't something that she could reasonably achieve in the time that she had left - she wasn't gifted enough for that. But Wakana was aiming for the best that she could personally do. Only time would tell if that effort was enough to give her the break she had been dreaming for.
Of course, the path to do the best that she could possibly do was turning out to be fraught with obstacles. She had expected Kosuke and his gang to swoop down on the practice room, so that wasn't a huge setback. However, she had had no way of foreseeing that the brass section would render the entire cabin useless for practicing. Huffing to herself in disappointment, Wakana decided to leave the music cabin. She would have to take her cello back to her cabin and practice there. It was an unfavorable scenario: she had realized early on in camp that the acoustics of the regular cabins were fairly terrible. Still, what other choice did she have?
Wakana had just finished putting her cello back into its hard protective case when someone cleared their throat loudly behind her. She turned around and paused. "Kayo." Wakana stood up and faced her section leader with squared shoulders and her chin just a touch too high to be casual. "I was just about to leave to go and practice."
"I need a moment of your time." Kayo was stiff where she stood, tension in her uncurled fingers. "Come with me to my practice room and we'll talk there."
Crossing her arms, Wakana shifted her weight otherwise but did not move. "Why? Here is fine."
Kayo was not amused. "You want to talk over the noise from the brass sectionals?"
"No, but I happen to have a lot to do." Wakana waited. "You know, if you're only going to tell me to practice more - don't worry, I'm planning to."
"It's not that."
Exasperated, Wakana planted her hands on her hips. "Then what is it?"
A flash of emotion came and went in Kayo's eyes before the section leader - to Wakana's surprise - lowered her gaze to the floor. It was as if Kayo's guard had fallen: the rigidness fell from her form as she began to twist her fingers together. "I need to ask a favor. From you."
Wakana blinked. "A favor," she repeated, mindful of the prickling suspicion riding up her spine. Was this some kind of trick?
She waited for Kayo to elaborate, but when Kayo remained mute, Wakana's feeling of suspicion grew. Her knee-jerk reaction was to reject Kayo's request. Wakana didn't want to help Kayo, not after the way she had tried to force the cello section to mold to her will. Kayo had never let them forget that she had won the section-leader seat, that she had so much promise that Kosuke himself tutored her privately. Wakana hated arrogance. She made no effort to hide it - why else would Kosuke and his crowd dislike her so much otherwise? But she bristled at Kayo's particular brand of arrogance because it was hubris, built on imagined self-importance. Really, Kayo was only marginally more skilled than the second-chair cellist. For her to strut around the cello section and look down on them when she was barely any better than they were was unbearable. And frankly, with what little practice time Wakana had left for herself, she wasn't in the mood to entertain Kayo's ego for some vague 'favor'.
Even as she inwardly prepared to reject Kayo's request, however, Wakana unwillingly paused before speaking. It wasn't in Wakana's nature to be so cruel. She couldn't force herself to be harsh, not when someone was asking her for a favor so desperately.
Because Kayo had to have been desperate for help if she had come to Wakana instead of Kosuke. That choice made Wakana hesitate even more; it made question her instinctual suspicions against her section-leader.
When Wakana cautiously reexamined Kayo's face, she saw something in the other cellist's expression that struck her as familiar. The set of Kayo's face held the same kind of vulnerability that Wakana had seen in Yamato's face, that first day when he had admitted to her that he didn't know how to read music. And, try as she might, the parallel to her friend was too much to ignore. Just as it did that first time, Wakana felt herself soften toward the girl in front of her. "All right." Wakana picked up her cello case and expectantly face her disbelieving section leader. "Let's go to your practice room and talk."
"Let's run it through the bridge again, guys. Akira, you need to be carefully about the tone of your notes, it's coming off a bit sharp – and Takahashi, can you loosen up on the cymbal crash? It takes Yutaka a while to recover and jump back in, and the louder you crash, the harder it is for Yutaka to hear his signal."
"All right." Takahashi uncharacteristically shot a glare at the pianist. "Though it wouldn't be so much of a problem if he would just keep count –"
"Stuff it, drummer boy, your pause in the bridge changes every time!" Yutaka's lip curled. "How am I supposed to count to something that always freaking changes?"
"Guys!" Yamato pinched the bridge of his nose in a futile attempt to hold back his headache. "Knock it off. Less whining, more playing, all right?"
Yutaka and Takahashi both shot resentful glares at their leader for that. But Yamato didn't back down, and after a moment, they both reluctantly deflated and grumbled apologizes.
"It's okay." Yamato shook his head as he looked back at his music sheet. He then signaled at Akira to start. "On your count."
They ran through the song again. It was better this time, but Yamato still wasn't satisfied. There was something off in the sound – something that he couldn't quite put his finger on –
"Why does your solo sound so damn angry, Ishida?" Yutaka asked, raising an eyebrow.
Yamato frowned briefly before busying himself with making notations on his music. "What are you talking about? It's not angry."
"Well, maybe not angry, exactly," Takahashi conceded with deliberate care, "but it definitely isn't mellow either."
Akira cleared his throat and tried awkwardly, "Look, Yamato, you've been sounding off the past couple of days. And it's your business, man, we're not gonna meddle – but it's affecting the way you play."
"And don't try to bullshit with us, either," Yutaka cut across before Yamato could give them his standard answer. "We know you better than that; something has to be going on for you to be doing more sighing and brooding lately than a hormonal girl."
"... A hormonal girl?" Yamato repeated evenly when he recovered, raising an eyebrow at the unrepentant set of Yutaka's jaw.
Takaishi and Akira made horrified, incomprehensible noises - shaking their heads vehemently as they physically distanced themselves from the volatile WOLVES pianist. Yutaka, though, was unafraid. "What?" He spread his hands. "Gonna hit me? Go for it - I won't even hit you back. I make it a point not to fight with girls."
Five beats of tense silence. Then, Yamato made a sound that was a cross between a chuckle and a snort. "Bastard. What the hell have I ever done to you for you to call me a girl?"
Like that, with Yamato's smile, the tension vanished. Yutaka grinned and pointed at the bewildered WOLVES in the corner of the room. "Nothing to me personally, but those two have been freaking out after you nearly ripped their heads off during Wednesday's practice. And when they freak out from your hormonal rages, they tend to mess up my playing too." He shrugged. "Just looking out for number one."
"I guess I have been an ass lately." Yamato rubbed the back of his neck, embarrassment washing over him. "Look, I owe you all an apology. There was just some drama with some of my friends here, and it's made me distracted and frustrated. I'm sorry for being an idiot about it and taking it out on you guys."
It was probably an inadequate apology in its vagueness, but none of the other members felt the need to push the issue. Yamato was grateful for the distance, even though some might have found it strange for a band of musicians to be so wary of sharing their feelings with each other. As he rallied them for another dry run of their music lineup, though, Yamato mused that maybe their distance was what made the WOLVES work. They left their private thoughts private and expressed their emotions through their music instead.
They didn't stop practicing until Yamato heard the orchestra congregating outside in the main room for their noon rehearsal. "I really think that we'll sound great tonight," he told them honestly as he packed up. "Everything is really smoothing together. Just stay focused and relaxed, and we'll be good."
Takahashi tucked his drum sticks away in his practice bag with his music. "Yutaka and I will come back around, what, six-thirty tonight?" At Yutaka's nod, Takahashi then turned to Akira. "Are you sure you don't want to head back to Tokyo with us? What are you planning on doing while you stay here?"
"I just wanted to hang around and see what was going on for the camp festival. I don't really feel up to commuting back into the city." Akira elbowed Yamato and waggled his eyebrow. "Besides, they did say that family and friends were invited. I'm here as Yamato's guest!"
"Right," Yamato said dryly. "Anyway, if you two are leaving, you should probably get going now. I have to go to practice, and no amount of smooth talking on my side will be enough to convince Manami that you guys are responsible enough to be left in the practice rooms without supervision."
Takahashi exchanged a glance with Yutaka before he frowned suspiciously at Yamato. "I think I heard an insult veiled somewhere in there."
Yamato didn't even blink as he held the door open for them to leave. "Yes, well, you were the one who got talked into letting Akira and Yutaka make that grand entrance on Tuesday afternoon. Don't think that I've forgotten about that."
Yutaka sniggered. "Yamato, ever heard of 'forgive and forget'?"
"I can forgive, but I never forget."
"I would have never pegged you down for the type to hold grudges, Ishida," a new voice commented.
Yamato turned and kept his expression neutral. "It's not that I hold grudges, Ito. I just have a good memory."
"That's Ito -?" Yutaka angrily hissed. Just as Yamato turned in alarm, recognizing the fighting tone of Yutaka's voice, Takahashi and Akira both grabbed the pianist's arms to hold him in place. All it took was another quick glance from Yamato to realize, however, that neither restraint would be effective if Kosuke pushed his luck. Akira looked just as ready to fight as Yutaka did, and Takahashi glared at Kosuke with obvious loathing.
Yamato looked sharply at them. The last thing he wanted was to give Kosuke more ammunition to bother them with - and the concertmaster would almost certainly interfere with their afternoon practice if they gave him the opening to do so. "I'll see you guys later," Yamato said firmly, locking eyes with each of the WOLVES and silently willing them not to make a scene. "Give me a call when you guys are planning on heading back, okay?"
"Right." Takahashi tugged at Akira and Yutaka, and they followed his lead reluctantly. "We'll see you later, Yamato. Good luck with rehearsal."
Even as they walked away, Yamato could pick out Yutaka's voice as he muttered darkly, "If he so much as thinks about sabotaging us tonight…."
"Your WOLVES are certainly loyal," Kosuke remarked as Yamato's shoulders fell with relief that a confrontation had been avoided. "Do they always follow what you tell them to do?"
"I don't command them, if that's what you're getting at," Yamato said as faced the violinist. "Don't talk about them as if they're trained pets. It's rude."
"Oh, my mistake. I forgot that you're wolves, not 'trained pets'. It refers to the fact that you're all unskilled and ill-disciplined, right?"
Tired of and annoyed by Kosuke's worn-out insults, Yamato merely rolled his eyes. "As much as I would love to re-discuss the skills that my band may or may not possess, I have better things to do with my time than beat this dead horse over again with you. Excuse me." With that said, Yamato bent in a shallow bow before neatly stepping around Kosuke to go to the main room. He did not bother to look back.
"Mimi, are you sure this is the right way to go?"
The brunette girl fanned herself with a hand, casting a despairing glance up at the hot sun. Other than that, however, she remained calm. She even smiled broadly at him when she looked back down. "Relax, Jyou! I remember the map. Besides, I'm sure everyone else here is walking to Camp Odake too." She gestured at the random strangers who passed them by on the hike up into the forest.
"I should have printed out Koushiro's directions from how to go from the bus stop to the camp before picking you up at the airport," Jyou fretted. "What if these people we're following are on a spiritual hike or something? We could be going in the wrong direction!"
Mimi blocked Jyou's path. Without speaking, she lifted her oversized sunglasses and amusedly peered up at him.
"What?" Jyou asked, made nervous from her scrutiny.
"Take a deep breath and exhale slowly," she instructed. "It'll stop you from hyperventilating."
"...Are you making fun of me?"
"No, of course I wouldn't!"
"I am not hyperventilating, Mimi," he informed her. "I'm just worrying. There is a difference."
"A very slight difference, for you," she teased.
Mimi suddenly moved, interrupting the progress of a group of boys going up the same path that they were on. "Excuse me, boys, but are you all going to Camp Odake?" she asked with a friendly smile.
The boy closest to Mimi turned faintly pink (Jyou didn't blame him, as Mimi was very pretty when she unleashed the full force of her smile) and stammered, "Odaku, er, Camp Odake? Y-Y-Yeah, we're all going up. Um. That way?" He pointed up the path, dazed, before looking back at his friends. But they were no help; they just looked similarly at a loss for words.
Mimi, however, either didn't notice or was too polite to comment on it. Instead, she merely widened her smile. "That's what I thought. Thank you so much for your help!" Mimi then turned to Jyou triumphantly, linking her arm with his and forcibly guiding him up the forest path again. "See, I told you so! You worry too much, Jyou. One of these days, you're going to get a stroke from all the worrying you do."
"You mean, an ulcer," Jyou corrected automatically, sparing a glance behind him in curiosity to see if the boys had recovered yet from their unexpected encounter with Mimi (they hadn't). Before he could make a comment about it, though, Mimi suddenly tugged on his elbow harder. "Oof - Mimi, please be careful, you almost hit my humerus there -"
"Sorry! But I couldn't help it; look, Takeru and Hikari are already here!" Mimi pulled on Jyou harder now, eager to meet with their young friends. "Hello there!"
Jyou couldn't hold back a smile at the sheer shock and happiness on Hikari and Takeru's faces as they turned to Mimi's voice. "Surprise," Jyou called out to them.
Mimi released her hold on him as she bounded ahead to warmly embrace Hikari. "It's so good to see you again!"
"I thought you weren't going to visit this year!" Takeru cheerfully accepted a hug from Mimi next.
"I wanted to make it a surprise this year. Jyou helped me book my tickets and I told Koushiro, but I made them promise not to tell anyone."
Jyou nodded solemnly. "She really did. She threatened bodily harm to me, so I had no choice but to keep quiet."
"No I didn't!" Mimi looked aghast that Jyou would suggest such a thing; Hikari, on the other hand, succumbed completely to giggles.
"Regardless of threats, you're still an accomplice!" Takeru told Jyou, his eyes bright with mirth. "That means that you have to take equal responsibility for the crime, you know."
Hikari elbowed Takeru gently before patting Jyou reassuringly on the shoulder. "Don't worry, Jyou, we all know how hard it is to say 'no' to Tachikawa Mimi." She then hugged Mimi again. "Oh, it's so good to see you again! We all missed you so much. Our get-togethers never feel complete unless you're here with us, too."
"Well, I'm here now." Mimi beamed. "Come on, let's go and try to find everyone else. That way, we can all catch up together."
Takeru nodded. "Why don't we split up to find everyone? Yamato told me where I could find him, and I think Sora's art class is supposed to be nearby his."
"Ooh, good idea. I have Koushiro's number - I could track him down," Mimi contributed.
"Taichi told me that the business and culinary classes have concession booths in the picnic area," Hikari added.
The three of them turned as one to look at Jyou, as if waiting for the eldest male in their company to approve of the plan. Jyou had to smile wryly at that; it reminded him strongly of how the Chosen always deferred to either Taichi or Yamato on their original Digital World adventures. Old habits die hard, apparently. "That sounds like a good plan to me, Takeru. I'll go with Mimi to look for Koushiro, and we'll all meet Hikari at the picnic area at two for lunch."
It took a bit of time and careful searching upon entering the Camp Odake grounds to find the picnic area. Once she did, however, Hikari easily caught sight of her older brother at the end of a long line of stalls. "Taichi!" she called out, waving at him as she ran in his direction.
Taichi whirled around, genuine pleasure already lighting up his face. "Hikari!" He grinned as he opened his arms to intercept his younger sister, and Hikari squeezed him with all the strength she had. He mussed up her hair fondly. "I missed you."
"I missed you too, big brother."
He released her. "I didn't expect you to get here until later with everyone else... and where are they, anyway?"
"Takeru went to go find Yamato and Sora. And Jyou's here - he went to go get Koushiro." Hikari explained to her brother the rest of the details of their plan of splitting up. She was careful to leave out any information about Mimi's presence, though; if she was honest with herself, Hikari really wanted to see Taichi get surprised later when everyone gathered in the picnic area.
"Ah okay. By the way, you look taller," Taichi noted distractedly. "C'mere -" he moved her up closer to him. "Holy crap, you're just under my nose now. When did this happen! I was only gone for two weeks!"
"Taichi!" Hikari pulled away and laughed. "Mom says that I'm having a growth spurt this summer."
"Well that's just unacceptable." Taichi narrowed his eyes in serious thought. "I guess I should sleep more, huh?"
"I guess so." She took the opportunity to look around the picnic area as her brother continued to grumble about how fast she was growing. The stall behind Taichi caught her attention - mostly because some of the people were blatantly watching them. She poked her brother. "Um, Taichi? Are those your friends?"
He turned around - the other people waved - and he lightly slapped himself on the forehead. "Oh, dang, it totally slipped my mind to introduce you to them. Sorry, let me fix that little mistake right now." Hikari followed after him, and Taichi gestured widely at the people working in the stall. "Meet Team Platinum, consisting of Kohei, Kiku, Umeko, and Eiji." Each member of Team Platinum waved back in greeting at the introduction. Taichi continued, "Team Platinum, this is my younger sister, Hikari." He wrapped his arm around her shoulders.
"Nice to meet you, little Yagami," the one named Kohei said with a grin. "Feel free to buy some of our snacks with your meal tickets."
"Yep, because we need, like, all the help we can get." Kiku nodded cheerfully.
Smiling uncertainly, Hikari's eyes darted automatically to Taichi for clarification. "Of course I'll buy your snacks. But what do you mean by -"
It was clear that Taichi didn't want to explain, however. "Nothing, nothing," he said instead hastily, waving his hands in the air as if that would be enough to disrupt the turn of the conversation. "She's just joking; Kiku always likes to crack these jokes – nothing serious, nope, not at all. But Kohei's right, if you'd like some of our snacks, we'd really appre –"
Kohei coughed to interrupt her brother's scattered distraction attempt. "Taichi has too much pride to admit it to you, but the truth is that Team Platinum is ranked pretty low against the other teams in our class, so we're going to need a miracle to help us save face, today."
"What kind of miracle do you mean?" Hikari asked, intrigued.
The rest of Team Platinum all looked at Taichi in prompting, and he sighed, sensing that it would be easiest if he just explained it all to Hikari. "As a business team, we kind of goofed off our first couple of days here, when we were building up the starting scores," Taichi explained. "But by the time we realized that we actually wanted to do well, it was too late to save ourselves from the fact that we're in dead last place. It didn't exactly help, either, that one of the members of our team jumped ship last week because we weren't doing such a good job."
Hikari noticed that some of the team members were exchanging annoyed looks with each other at Taichi's words. It seemed that her brother was giving her an abbreviated version of what was sure to be a sensitive topic with Team Platinum. She kept quiet though; she was used to Taichi censoring details when he talked to her. Plus, she figured that it would probably be easier to just ask Kiku or Kohei for the whole story later on, when Taichi was preoccupied with something else.
Taichi continued to explain, "We've managed to bring up our rank from last place this past week, but we're hoping to really redeem ourselves by selling out all of our snacks today – provided by the culinary skills of Umeko and Eiji." The chefs both paused from their preparatory work to smile at this mention. "We're taking a gamble on making our snacks cost more tickets. Since we're understaffed, we're hoping that the profit margin per rice cake will make up for our small supply… if that makes any sense." Taichi rubbed the back of his head uncomfortably. "We weren't allowed to premake any of the snacks. All of them have to be made fresh as they're ordered"
He trailed off, and Kohei took over in concluding with an ironic smile on his lips, "So, as you can guess, we're kind of screwed. Like I said, we need a miracle today – a big one – if we want to prove to the others that we're not total slackers. That we can be good at this, if we set our minds to it."
Hikari nodded slowly at the end of this, the wheels in her mind already spinning with the beginnings of an idea. When she made her mind, she turned to Taichi, hands planted on her hips. She waited expectantly for her older brother to catch on. "Well?"
Taichi blinked. He looked at Hikari's determined expression, took in her stance. Understanding flooded his features. "Oh. No. No, no, no, no, no. Don't even think about it!"
"Why not?" Hikari protested.
"That's against the rules!"
"What rules? Prove it and then I won't say another word about it. But if there's no rule against it, why not?"
"Um. Are we missing something here?" Kiku asked hesitantly. Her words were echoed by the puzzled looks from the rest of Team Platinum. "What's going on?"
Hikari ignored Taichi and faced the team – in particular, Umeko and Eiji. "I'm decent with kitchen work. My mom's not the best cook around, so I learned to cook for myself and Taichi pretty fast. How long will it take to learn what you're doing?"
"Are you offering to help us out?" Eiji asked incredulously, blinking in surprise.
"Of course!" Hikari smiled. "You guys said that you needed a miracle, right? I say this in the humblest way possible, but miracles are the kind of thing my friends and I specialize in. I'm sure I could convince them to help out too, when they arrive."
"But Hikari, it's not allowed," Taichi countered. "We're not allowed to get help from visiting friends or family –"
She crossed his arms at and lowered her eyes for a moment. Think, Hikari, think. There has to be a way around it. Another idea struck her. "But what if we're not helping you? What if we're working for you?"
Taichi stopped and frowned at her. "What do you mean?"
"It's a business strategy, isn't it? To contract outside help if you're understaffed with something? You just have to pay us and then we'd technically be working for you. Your business teacher shouldn't have anything to object to about that."
"But we don't have any money to pay you with. How would that work?"
Hikari cast her eyes around the stall for inspiration and then snapped her fingers. "How about food? We work in exchange for... let's say five snacks per hour. I think that's fair." She appealed to the rest of Team Platinum, knowing that she would have an easier time convincing the rest of them than it would if she only directed her pleas to Taichi. "Not everyone can cook, but we can all help out with something: washing the materials, packaging the food, handling the tickets when people buy the snacks. And of course, we would work in shifts, too, so that your workers get to have breaks in accordance to labor laws. That way, half of us can stay here to work and help out with the stall, but the others can take breaks to look around the rest of the camp fair." Hikari smiled widely when she saw the approval and hope on Team Platinum's face - and it only grew wider when they all turned to face Taichi.
Her big brother threw up his hands with a sort of weary resignation when he saw that he was the only person opposed to the plan. It was a gesture that Hikari was very familiar with, as it never really took long for her older brother to capitulate to her demands. "But I want to double-check with our business director before I give a 'yes' to this plan," Taichi said sternly. "Kohei, come with me. Let's see if we can get Hiroyuki to agree to this business tactic."
"Don't forget to keep it quiet," Kiku reminded them as Kohei crossed to join Taichi's side. "We don't want anyone else, like, catching onto us too early. Otherwise, our advantage will disappear!" The boys nodded before going off to find their director. Meanwhile, Kiku turned to Hikari and gestured for her to join the rest of them. "Well, we might as well get what help we can get from you before they come back. Why don't you come over here and watch how Umeko and Eiji work on the daifuku? It can be tricky!"
Hikari observed the two culinary specialists of Team Platinum carefully while she waited for Taichi to return. When Umeko suggested that Hikari try her hand at actually making the daifuku, she tried to mimic the way Eiji methodically mixed the ingredients and formed them into beautiful, tasty looking rice balls. She had just managed to finish her second rice ball when the boys returned.
"What did he say?" Kiku asked immediately, anxious as the rest of them to know.
Taichi and Kohei both broadly smiled together, and all of Team Platinum and Hikari seemed to release sighs simultaneously in response. "Hiroyuki and Hoshi thought that Hikari's idea was too clever to veto." Kohei chuckled and shook his head. "So they're giving it the thumbs up and wishing us the best of luck."
Taichi's eyes were bright with anticipation. "Let's see if this is the miracle that Team Platinum needs to turn this competition around!"
Team Platinum cheered.