AUTHOR'S NOTES: So did you wait long enough for this? Heh. Thank you to those who have been sticking with this story for so long and I'm sorry for the lengthy time between updates but after discovering Naruto and, more recently, Bleach, my Furuba muse fell into a very long hibernating sleep and I had a very difficult time waking it up. Plus, I had two very different versions of this chapter to decide between which stumped me for quite a bit too. I liked this version the best though and I hope it's worth the wait.
Oh, and since there have been a lot of new developments in the manga since my last update on this fic nearly ten months ago, I'm too lazy right now to go back and fix up the details to match up with the manga storyline. So if it bothers anyone, just consider this a type of AU fic as the storyline I developed for this fic years ago before these new developments is the one I'm going to be following for now. Perhaps one day I'll revise everything to match up (I've already spotted some things I want to fix if only in the formatting) and, then again…perhaps not.
A mini-glossary of roughly translated English equivalents of Japanese:
hai – yes
ara – oh, my
iie – no
maa – well
ne – 'hey' or 'right' depending on context
arigatou – thank you
sumimasen – I'm sorry / excuse me
ano – sound of hesitation like saying 'well' or 'um'
itterasshai – take care (said to someone leaving home)
ittekimasu – I'm leaving (said by someone when leaving home)
CHAPTER 8: To Whisk Away…Or Not?
"Ehhhh!" Tohru exclaimed.
Eyes wide and feeling a flush creeping over her cheeks, she could only stare dumbly back at Shigure's cheerful features and wonder if she had heard him wrong. It wouldn't be the first time something like that had happened, after all, and she'd had a lot of shocks already today what with Shigure's unexpected appearance after her interview, the fiancé fiasco, the news that Yuki might possibly be gay – she worriedly wondered why he'd never mentioned it to her – and then the even stranger experience with Shigure actually organizing the groceries. Too many jarring surprises this morning must have affected her thinking because it was completely ridiculous to even assume that Shigure had just asked –
"How would Tohru-kun like to spend a love-love weekend with me on the coast?" Shigure repeated.
Her eyes kept careful track of his lips as they formed the words heard by her ears. It took a while but, bit-by-bit, it gradually sunk in that neither her ears or her eyes were playing tricks on her mind and that Shigure had really asked what he'd asked. And once the full meaning of what he'd asked finally registered with her –
"Ehhhh!" Tohru exclaimed again.
Shigure repeated the question once more and Tohru suddenly –
Alarming fuzziness clouded her mind. She didn't know what to think, what to feel, or discern whether she was possibly caught in some strange stress-induced dream that had no place in reality. Then again, it could be that this was truly reality and Shigure, being Shigure, was simply joking around. It certainly wouldn't be the first time but it was a little odd as he hadn't made any such jokes lately ever since Yuki and Kyou had left. But that had to be it. It was just a joke and Shigure couldn't really be –
Tohru blinked as Shigure's voice penetrated her fogged mind. "What?"
"I said I'm completely serious." A smile tipped the corners of his mouth. "Surely you didn't think I was joking?"
"Oh, really. Would I do that to you?"
"It's okay. Don't answer that."
"H-Hai," she stuttered while thinking, He's serious?
"I know what you must be thinking so let me just explain. I want to…I have to tell you that…Tohru-kun, I'm a writer."
Tohru started to frown. Does Shigure not know that I already know that? But…he was the one who first told me that. Confusion was paramount until alarm set in. Oh! Maybe Shigure-san's sick and forgot. What if he's…He's delirious! That's why he asked me to go on a love-love trip with him and then told me he was a writer again because he thought I didn't know. All that stress from writing must have made his body weak and now he's sick – I should call Hatori-san!
"Shigure-san!" Tohru suddenly burst out in all concern. "It'll be okay."
He blinked. "It will?"
"Hai. I'll take care of everything so you should go lie down and rest."
As she spoke, she reached up to towards his bemused features only to pause midway when she was reminded that her hands were still stained with dinner preparations. She was quick to wipe them off on her apron before placing a hand on his forehead. It felt normal, which only alarmed her more as she could find no logical physical explanation for his sudden delirium. This problem was much too big for her and, as she was far from being a doctor, she knew that Hatori had to be called in.
"Please, lie down and rest, Shigure-san," she pleaded worriedly. "And I'll call Hatori-san right away!"
Shigure shook his head. "Why?"
"To help, of course!"
"Help with what?"
It was much worse than she thought. "Don't worry," she made in effort to keep her voice soothing. "Just rest and I'll call Hatori-san and then…and then he'll come and fix you!"
"What!" Shigure winced at the immediate image that invoked. "Ah, Tohru-kun. I don't think that will be necessary."
"But, Shigure-san, you need to be fixed!"
He winced again. "Please, if nothing else, stop phrasing it like that."
"Never mind." Shigure spent a moment contemplating the ceiling, and then he heaved a sigh. "Tohru-kun, it's partially my fault but there seems to be a bit of a misunderstanding here. For one thing…I'm not sick."
"Oh?" She eyed him doubtfully. "Sometimes I don't want to admit I'm sick either, even when I am. But it's not very healthy to deny it and-"
"I'm not sick!"
And then felt guilty at the immediate contrite that flickered across his features. She warily watched as he shook his head again and contemplated the ceiling some more. Just in case, she took a peek up but saw nothing fascinating about it. He regained her full attention once more as his lips moved, as if he were mumbling lowly to himself, and she thought it was probably her imagination again or her hearing really did need to be checked out because it almost sounded like he said –
Not sick in the way you mean.
She must have misheard.
Odd how she seemed to be doing so much of that lately. Perhaps scheduling herself for another check up with Hatori was an idea she needed to take under further consideration. Maybe she would though –
She still thought Shigure should see Hatori first.
She found Shigure regarding her with a strange look of mixed resignation and exasperation. It was reassuring as she'd seen it before with regards to herself and even with Yuki and Kyou in the aftermath of one of their fights, usually after a piece of furniture had been irreparably damaged. So surely whatever was going on couldn't be too worrisome – could it?
"Tohru-kun, I apologize for raising my voice." He rubbed the back of his neck. "I didn't mean to but…I've been under some stress lately."
She nodded. Exactly as she had thought!
"But I'm not sick so there's no need to bring Ha-san into this. Obviously, I should have phrased my proposition to you differently, but I am still asking – will you come away with me for the weekend?"
"Eheh. I really should have put it differently. But, as I was saying, I'm a writer and a writer has certain duties that he's assigned to fulfill. However being me, I'm quite proud to say I've been fairly successful at avoiding nearly all of them. Within reason, of course."
Not sure whether she should agree or not, Tohru opted for safe silence.
"Apparently, over the years my diligent shirking has piled up and, as Mitchan is so fond of frequently reminding me – I'm due her one at the very least. Mitchan's been trying to get me to go to one of these for years and I've always avoided them. Until now. She put her foot down and, this time, I just couldn't refuse." Smilingly, he shrugged. "Editors. What can you do?"
"But, Shigure-san." Her brow furrowed. "What does Mitchan-san have to do with the weekend?"
"Writing convention," he responded promptly and his brow wrinkled as he frowned. "I think Mitchan's hoping that listening to other writers speak will give me a new respect for deadlines and other writing nonsense. Honestly, what does she expect of me?"
Once again, Tohru opted for safety in silence.
"But, this time, I was kind enough to cave in. The convention isn't really on the coast, but close enough to it. It's in Hokkaido, Sapporo to be exact. Reservations for two have already been made since I was allowed a guest. Our plane leaves on Friday and since today's Saturday, that'll give you nearly a week to get ready."
Mind whirling, she stuttered, "B-But why me, Shigure-san?"
"Maa, part of the convention entails a formal party held at the end. It's expected that those attending bring a date and since it's difficult finding someone who knows about the curse, you're the first person I thought of. Needless to say, it would be a problem if any…mishap occurred and the chances of that happening with someone who doesn't know is much more likely than with someone who does. So," Shigure looked hopeful, "won't Tohru-kun be kind enough to help a writer in need?"
Put like that, it was difficult for Tohru to refuse. After everything he'd done for her, it was wonderful to be presented with a chance to repay him for all the kindnesses he'd shown her since she had first taken up residence in his home. Even so…
"But, Shigure-san, I can't."
"There are so many things I have to do. Like…work. What about work? I'm scheduled for the next weekend."
"Don't worry. You work for the Soumas. A simple call and we can get you rescheduled."
"Consider it one of the benefits of the family."
"Shigure-san, I want to help. Really I do. But the money – I think I should stay and work."
"Ah, I can take care of that too. I know working is important to you but, Tohru-kun, I'll pay you to come with me."
"That doesn't sound fair." She frowned. "I get to go on a trip and get paid for it? I don't think that's right."
"But you would be doing me a favor. Consider it a job. After all, you'll be taking time out of your busy schedule to help me and traveling to the other end of Japan being forced to listen to some boring lectures is hardly a vacation. And I'll be all alone there by myself. Mitchan has other writers she's taking care of and I won't know anyone there since I've usually avoided attending these things so I haven't really come into contact with other people. I'd like someone to keep me company and keep me from being so lonely and everyone else I can think of to take has other things to do."
Tohru was torn. There were dozens of reasons why she couldn't go on this trip but…it sounded like Shigure was really in trouble. Still, to be paid for it…it bothered her to accept payment for helping someone who'd already given her so much that she didn't think she'd ever be able to fully return in kind.
"Tohru-kun, won't you help me?"
"I don't know…"
"Ara, Tohru-kun's resisting so hard. Is the idea of going on a trip with just me really so bad?"
"Of course not," she automatically responded though the idea did worry her for several reasons. "That is…I mean…I still don't know…"
The pleading tone accompanied equally pleading eyes had her wavering dangerously.
"You're my last hope, Tohru-kun. There's no one I can count on other than you."
Tohru sighed. "Okay. If Shigure-san really thinks it won't be too much trouble-"
"Oh, it's not, it's not."
His smile practically beamed at her and she felt herself returning the gesture in kind. Though she still had doubts, many of them in fact, and was anxious as to how she's explain this to certain people, she must be doing the right thing if her acceptance made him this happy. She was doing something that pleased him so surely there was nothing to worry –
"Oh!" she suddenly exclaimed. "Clothes!"
"Clothes?" he repeated in confusion.
"I don't have the right clothes." She vaguely remembered a formal party being mentioned. Panic was as equal as relief. "I don't have a formal dress for a party! Dresses are expensive and I don't have to money so…I can't go!"
"Tohru-kun, Tohru-kun. It's okay. Calm down. I have that covered."
She blinked. "You do?"
"Iie. Since I'm dragging you away and messing up your schedule, it's only right that I provide for everything, ne?"
"Hai. And I've spoken to Aya earlier and he'll be over later in the week to drop off some clothes for you to wear on the trip."
"Eh!" Everything seemed to be moving too fast. "Clothes for me?"
"Of course. Surely, you don't expect me to wear pretty dresses?"
Distracted by a sudden horrible mental image, she shivered and dazedly replied, "Ah, of…of course not."
"You see? Obviously you're the only one suited to wear Aya's designs."
"But…the cost. I couldn't possibly accept-"
"Think nothing of it! He had extras lying around and, since he already had your measurements on file, once I told him what was needed it was a simple matter of picking out what he already had in stock. It's not as if Aya went through any extra effort in throwing together a set of outfits other than to pick them out."
"And Aya was so looking forward to it, too."
"…eh? Ayame-san was?
"That's right. And you wouldn't want to be cruel to Aya, would you?"
Her eyes widened. "Cruel to Ayame-san?"
"Hai. Once I told him about the trip, Aya was so excited to have someone be able to show off his designs in a faraway place like Sapporo! It would be like a modeling job, it's a great advertising opportunity to have his label noticed on another island. Who knows? It might even bring Aya more business in the long run. Starting in Sapporo is just the first step and, if a lot of people take interest, his name could even be widely known across all of Hokkaido! Why, if Tohru-kun were to refuse," Shigure sighed mournfully, "I'd hate to see Aya's disappointed face."
"Oh…" Picturing it had her in distress. "I don't want to see that either."
"Hai," Shigure sighed again. "Aya even gave me business cards for you to carry so that, if anyone were to ask you about who designed your clothes, you could hand them out so they could contact him for orders. Aya was looking forward to having a new stream of customers but…if Tohru-kun doesn't want to-"
"Oh, wait!" She looked at Shigure earnestly. "I can't let Ayame-san down – and Shigure-san too! It just wouldn't be right."
He cocked his head. "So, Tohru-kun will come with me?"
"Hai, I'll do it!" Hands fisted in sudden determination as the reasons for her hesitation were temporarily forgotten. "I'll do my best and wear Ayame-san's designs and give everyone who asks his business card!"
"Arigatou, Tohru-kun." Shigure smiled. "I knew you wouldn't disappoint me."
The next day, a pleased Shigure full from another home-cooked breakfast hummed tunelessly beneath his breath as he perused the morning newspaper, leaning leisurely against the table. Then he suddenly stopped humming, newspaper forgotten, and chuckled.
He couldn't help himself.
The look on her face had been priceless.
Of course, he'd been expecting her initial shock at his proposition when first mentioned. Maybe it was a bit cruel but teasing her was always an enjoyable pastime and, with Kyou and Yuki away, devoid of the usual physical punishments as the result.
Granted, there had been those few minor misunderstandings along the way – he hadn't thought she would think he was sick and then the idea of being fixed was…best not to be thought of again! And he hadn't expected her to put up as much of a protest as she had. It had been more work than he thought it would be, but he was rather pleased overall since he had finally gotten her to agree in the end.
A weekend alone with Tohru-kun.
It was truly amazing what could be accomplished in a few brief hours with that wonderful invention known as the telephone combined with the gift that was Souma Shigure. That he had made arrangements before asking Tohru's permission and that she would accept was a given – he was too good at being what he was to have her slip through his trap. So what if he'd told a few little white lies in the process? It was him, who he was. He was a sneaky bastard and he just wouldn't be him if he didn't lie every once in a while. Take away his lies and then what did he have left?
The mere idea was too frightening to contemplate.
Besides, it wasn't as if he was doing anything horrible. He was just trying to get a girl to fall in love with him, not commit murder and mayhem. So, really, it was all in best interest.
But he could and would make it hers too.
He just hoped that Ayame would have the clothes he'd requested for Tohru finished by the time the next weekend rolled around. After the initial reaming about Ayame's secret 'dates' with Tohru, to which Ayame had danced around with such profuse and flowering bubbly speeches that left even Shigure whirling in colored confusion, he had taken up the newest project with a flamboyant gusto that practically left behind a glittering trail of rainbow dust fluttering in the air.
Some things truly never changed.
Oddly enough, when asked, Ayame really had seemed neutral over the phone when Shigure had presented the idea of whisking Tohru away on a trip. Although they hadn't dwelled very long on the topic, it was awkward and Ayame had seemed too caught up in dreaming up his newest creation to pay much attention, apparently Hatori had been right about the fashion designer's sentiments. The tension that might have existed with the circumstances surrounding a best friend, a semi-estranged brother, and the female they were both interested in wasn't as bad as it could have been.
Whatever the case and the possible reasons behind it, Shigure supposed he could only be grateful. Life hadn't always been easy for any of them; his friends were few as it was and the loss of one wasn't something he cared to contemplate.
All in all, things were working out fairly well.
Ayame had a new project he could throw himself into with his usual exuberant devotion. Mitchan had nearly cried a river of tears in happiness that he was getting serious about his writing and had been ecstatic over making the travel arrangements. Tohru would be getting a new wardrobe, a vacation from work and the usual house chores, and the satisfaction of helping those in need. And Shigure was getting what he wanted by providing others with things that made them happy.
Who knew he could be so self-sacrificing?
RING! RING! RING!
"I'll get it!" was a familiar cry.
Curiously, Shigure cocked his head and wondered who could be calling them in the morning. He'd already turned in the rough for his newest manuscript to Mitchan last week, so it couldn't be her haranguing him again about deadlines. And anyone else he could thing of –
Knew better than to call him in the morning.
Laying the newspaper down on the table, he strained his ears. Tohru hadn't called for him so the phone call was obviously meant for her and Shigure had never had much in the way of scruples when it came to eavesdropping. Just as long as he wasn't caught at it, everything was all good. That was his philosophy and he made the most of it. Though he couldn't catch all the words that were being said on her end, the acoustics were such that he heard enough to put him on edge.
"…Hatsuharu-san…hai…Sweet-Cup Café…half an hour…hai…won't tell…be there…"
He was quick to pick up the newspaper again and pretended to read when he heard her moving around. It wasn't long until her footsteps across the wooden floors stopped beside him.
At her hesitant words, Shigure looked up quizzically. "Hai?"
"I have to leave for a while. Is there anything Shigure-san needs before I go?"
"Not at all." He kept his smile friendly. "But can I ask where Tohru-kun is going?"
"Oh!" A faint pink dusted her cheeks as she looked away. "Ah…Momiji-kun! Momiji-kun asked to watch a movie together today before I have to work tonight. Is…is that okay?"
"It's fine. So I guess I won't expect you back until later?"
"Hai. I've already made lunch and dinner. It's in the kitchen so..."
"I understand. All I have to do is heat and eat."
"Don't worry. When it comes to button pushing, I'm the king of microwaving."
That made her smile. "Alright, then. I guess I'll be going now."
Another smile, a tiny wave, and then she was gone.
The friendly smile slipped off of Shigure as if it had never been. A dark scowl took residence instead as he contemplated the newest puzzle pieces that had fallen into his lap, the newest unwelcome wrench threatening to mangle his carefully machinated plans.
He couldn't believe it. Even now, it was so unexpected that he still had a hard time wrapping his mind around it.
Tohru had lied to him.
She hadn't done it very well, but the fact remained that she had still done it. Feeling hurt and completely suspicious, he had to adjust his course of action. First things first – before he could assess what groundwork needed to be laid, he needed to get all the facts.
And he knew just how to do it.
Souma Shigure was going undercover.