Most days, especially warm summer days like this one, Kousaku savored long car rides. Buildings, roads, signs, those were all delightful. But the real treat was people, and the tiny snippets of their lives that Kousaku was able to observe while passing by. A woman stops to shift the bags she holds in her hands, struggling to stop them from crashing to the ground. A man in punk clothing leans against the side of a building, cigarette in hand, nonchalantly watching each person that strolls past, desperately hoping that even one of them will notice him. A kid starts to run into the street, barely stopped in time by a quick, firm grasp from their parent, never for a moment realizing how close they came to death. Those were the sorts of things that Kousaku loved to watch. Yet today, they all passed him by without his notice, despite his weary eyes staring out the window of a quickly-moving taxi.
She was dead. His mother, the most important person in his life, was dead and gone. That was his reality now, despite how vehemently he had tried to deny it. He'd cried, of course. He'd cried until his body ached from the effort. But now, there was nothing. Just this sick, nebulous sort of numbness. Would he ever feel anything again? In the way that he used to, at least? Every emotion since her death mere days ago had felt dull, distant, disconnected. Like something outside himself was projecting them onto him.
"We're almost there, kid," the rough voice of the cab driver said, the man not even shooting Kousaku a glance. Listlessly, Kousaku's eyes moved up to gaze into the rear view mirror, taking in the man's small, beady eyes and wrinkled skin. Since the moment Kousaku gave him the address, the man had looked tense and nervous, and he had made it no secret how anxious he was to be done with this particular client. Given the man's initial reaction, Kousaku had been surprised the man even agreed to drive him.
The car came to a sudden stop, causing Kousaku's head to jerk violently forward and nearly collide with the seat in front of him. The driver practically begged him to hurry with handing over the cab fee, and the moment Kousaku closed the cab door from the outside, the man sped off as quick as his car would allow.
It didn't take Kousaku long to figure out why the driver had behaved that way. Displayed proudly next to the doors that led into the estate was a sign that proudly labelled the entire property as belonging to the Yakuza. All at once, Kousaku found himself nearly overwhelmed by fear, the emotion gripping him harder than any had since his mother's death
This was the correct address, wasn't it? Pulling out his phone, he opened up a navigation app, checking the address for his current location with the address listed on the envelope he held in his other hand. They were one and the same. ...But why in the world would his mother send him to a Yakuza house? Had she not known, somehow?
Taking a deep breath, he attempted to steady himself. There was only one way to find out what was going on, and it was by walking through those doors. Stuffing his phone back into his pocket, he grabbed the handle of his suitcase and gripped the envelope tight. He could do this.
Trying not to crumple the letter too much, he knocked against the large wooden doors. A moment later they opened, and a guy the size of a house stepped outside. This monster of a man gazed down at Kousaku through a pair of sunglasses, expression cold.
It took Kousaku a beat to respond, as he internally wrestled with an overly strong flight response. "K-kousaku, sir. M-my mother sent me here…" He held up the letter. In large, bold characters it read "For Ibari Oozora."
The large man's eyes widened, and a massive hand reached out to take the letter. Reluctantly, Kousaku let the letter slide from his grasp. He'd wanted to give it directly to whoever this "Ibari" was, but he valued his life too much to fight about it.
Looking the envelope over once more, the giant man stepped back and gestured for Kousaku to enter. Against his better judgement, he did so. In short order, he was led to a small waiting room and told to sit there until someone came to speak with him. He sat, despite the fact that his brain was screaming "run!" so loud that it was a miracle no one else could hear it.
At first, he'd assumed being alone would be better than continuing to be in the presence of that hulking man. And yet he quickly found that the anxiety and anticipation of sitting alone in a small room just waiting for who-knows-what to appear was somehow even worse. What if he really did just run away? Would anyone try to stop him? And regardless, where would he go? To be honest, even if he stuck around and waited, he had no idea where he'd go afterward. His mother had requested he move to Tokyo, but had said virtually nothing about where in Tokyo he should actually go. He was beginning to realize that he really should've thought this whole thing through… starting with actually looking this address up before he went to it.
The soft sound of a door sliding open removed him from his train of thought. He glanced to the side, surprised to see a beautiful girl with light blonde hair smiling back at him. Immediately all the fears building inside of him were swept away, as though his mind had to commit itself entirety in order to comprehend this sudden angel's beauty.
Her head popped back out of the room, but the door remained open. Curious, he watched as she looked from side-to-side, as though making sure no one was watching. Then, apparently satisfied, she stepped through the door and closed it behind her, taking a seat a few meters from Kousaku.
"Hi!" she said, smiling warmly. "I'm Hibari Oozora, 3rd daughter of Ibari Oozora. ...Who're you?"
Hibari. What a gorgeous name. Had he ever heard it before? He didn't think so. Oh, crap, he still needed to respond. "K-Kousaku!"
Her smile warped a little, taking on a mischievous edge. "Just Kousaku?"
Laughing uneasily, he said, "Oh, no, Sakamoto! Kousaku Sakamoto."
Still wearing that playful smile, Hibari said, "And what're you doing in my house, Kousaku Sakamoto?"
Something about hearing his full name said in this girl's beautiful, breathy voice put butterflies in Kousaku's stomach. "O-oh, well… My, um…. My mother died." He paused, unsurprised to see the smile leave Hibari's face.
"Oh, I'm… I'm sorry to hear that." She looked away, and he wondered for a moment if she was able to relate to that particular pain. For her sake, he hoped not.
"Yeah… but she, on her deathbed-" He stopped for a moment, fighting back tears and the sob that threatened to wrack his body. Hibari sat silently, a look of sympathy upon her face. "Um, anyway... she asked me to move to Tokyo, and she gave me a letter to give to your father, Ibari. I have no idea why… I guess they knew each other?"
Recognition lit up Hibari's face. "I think you're right, actually. There's a woman from before dad married mom that he's mentioned before. They were romantically involved way, way back, I think."
Nodding, Kousaku looked away, his thoughts swirling angrily in his head once again. Mom had sent him to some Yakuza man she used to have a thing for? Why? And more importantly, why wouldn't she tell him anything about it!? His eyes found Hibari again, and these angry thoughts melted away into nothingness. After a good ten seconds of him silently staring at her, she quirked an eyebrow. He laughed, realizing how weird he'd just been. "Sorry, I just… I'm absolutely terrified to be here, honestly. Never been in or even near a Yakuza house before. But your face is, I mean, you are- Ugh. It's nice to talk to someone nice like you."
That grin of hers was back in full force. "Oh, don't worry. The people around here aren't nearly as scary as they look." She sidled up next to him, getting much closer than he expected. The smell of her hair took control of his senses - sweet… a little fruity. Plum, maybe? Whatever it was, it sent a shiver down his spine. The look in her eyes told him that she knew exactly how she was making him feel, and that she was enjoying every second of it. Smiling wide, she said, "Besides, if anyone gives you trouble, I've got your back."
"Hibari! Dammit, Hibari, where are you!?" shouted an angry voice from some other part of the house. Instantly, Hibari hopped onto her feet and walked the few paces between her and the door. Pulling it open and taking a step through, she cast one last look at Kousaku - a smile and a wink - before closing the door and leaving him alone once again.
Kousaku had heard the phrase "love at first sight" before, but until now he'd always thought it was bs. Admittedly, even now he wasn't sure if what he was feeling was love, necessarily, but it was a more intense crush than any he'd felt before, that much was certain. Part of him felt sure that, no matter the danger involved in living here, it was worth it if it meant getting to see her again.
That sense of certainty slowly drained as the minutes ticked by, replaced by the familiar sense of unease and rising panic from before. By the time the door slid open again, Kousaku was once more contemplating running for it.
Unlike last time, it was no beautiful girl that stuck her head in - instead, it was a middle-aged man, who looked at Kousaku like he was none too happy to see him. The man stepped fully into the room, and though he wasn't as big or as tall as the man from earlier, his presence was arguably even more intimidating.
Brandishing the envelope Kousaku had brought like a weapon, the man said, "So. She was your mother?"
It was hard to breathe right now. Had it been this hot in here before? "Y-yes, sir," he replied, his whole body shaking.
Crashing down to his knees, the man set the letter aside and grabbed hold of Kousaku's hands. Staring at Kousaku with a determined expression and tears brimming in his eyes, the man said, his voice much softer now, "Your mother was one of the most amazing women I ever had the fortune to know. I knew nothing of her passing until your letter, and I assure you…" He stopped, taking a moment to compose himself. "Her loss weighs heavily on my soul."
This was not how Kousaku had expected the situation to go. He appreciated the man's heartfelt words, which had brought him near tears again himself, but he still didn't know who in the world this was. Ibari, hopefully.
As though reading his mind, the man let Kousaku's hands go. "I am Ibari Oozora, as you may have guessed, and I assure you, I am more than happy to honor your mother's last request."
Kousaku blinked and stared. "Um… you mean that I move to Tokyo…?"
Ibari chuckled, a deep, rumbling sort of thing. "Partly. Did you not read the letter you were so kind to bring to me in person?" Kousaku shook his head. He'd thought about it, but his mother hadn't asked him to, so it felt like it would have been… wrong. "I see, I see. Well, my boy, the letter says many things, and one of those things is a request that I provide you a home here in Tokyo." He laughed again, smiling wide. "And I know of no better home than my own!"
For a moment, all Kousaku could do was stare, mouth hanging open. When he finally managed to pull himself together, he bowed deeply multiple times. "T-thank you! Thank you so much! That's so good of you!" Determination gripped his own face now, as he proclaimed, "I promise I'll be the best houseguest you've ever had!"
Another big, hearty laugh shook the room. Slapping the side of Kousaku's arm, Ibari said, "Such a great attitude! We'll get along just fine, you and I!" Getting to his feet, Ibari flung the door to the hall open, and gestured for Kousaku to follow. "C'mon, son, dinner should be just about ready, and I'd love for you to meet the rest of the family!"
A while later, Kousaku sat at a giant dining table covered in plates of delicious-looking food. Next to him was a young red-headed girl, and across from him were two older women women with dark hair. Ibari sat at the head of the table, and across from him was Hibari, as stunning as ever.
"So Dad, who's this?" said one of the girls across from Kousaku, the one with shoulder-level black hair and parted bangs.
Finishing yet another swig of the sake bottle that he'd been holding since the moment he sat down, Ibari peered over at Kousaku, like he'd forgotten the boy was there. "Ah, yes! Well, this is Harue-san's son, Kousaku!" All four children, even the young one sitting next to him, nodded in recognition, to Kousaku's surprise. "She has, unfortunately…. passed." He took another long drink from the sake bottle; it had to be near empty by now. "Her final wish was that I take her son in, and so, this wonderful young man will be staying with us!"
All four children seemed excited by this news, to varying degrees. The two women across from Kousaku started whispering to each other, that signature smirk popped up on Hibari's face again, and the little girl next to him was literally bouncing in her seat.
"Introduce us, introduce us!" she shouted, beaming.
"Of course!" Ibari said, swaying in his seat. He pointed at one of the women across from Kousaku - the older-looking one with long black hair and bangs. "That's Tsugumi, my eldest daughter!"
With a small nod and a friendly smile, Tsugumi said, "Nice to meet you!"
"She recently left art school, for a job as a professional illustrator!" Raising the bottle of sake toward her, he said, "Doing her father proud!"
Blushing, Tsugumi said, "Daddy, stop it!" Her heart wasn't in the admonishment.
"Then there's my second daughter, dear Tsubame!" He gestured toward the girl next to Tsugumi, who smiled back pleasantly. "She's a third year in high school, and her grades make me as proud of her as I am of her older sister!"
"Dad..." Tsubame said, grinning from ear-to-ear. Looking over at Kousaku, she said, "I'm assuming you're going to go to school, huh?" Kousaku shrugged, then nodded. He hadn't thought about it, but he didn't see why he wouldn't. "Cool. So yeah, we'll be going to school together."
"My turn, my turn!" the girl next to Kousaku shouted, kicking her feet into the underside of the table.
With another resounding chuckle, Ibari said, "Ah, yes, and my youngest daughter, little Suzume! She's the smartest ten year old I've ever met!"
Raising an eyebrow, Suzume said, "Daddy, how many ten year olds have you actually met?"
"Enough!" he said, laughing and swaying so much that, for a moment, Kousaku worried he'd actually tip over.
When the laughter died down, Kousaku's eyes naturally wandered over to the only daughter that hadn't yet been introduced. But the seconds flew by, and still the only sounds to be heard were those of the people around him eating their food. However, Hibari wasn't among those that making sounds. Instead, she sat silently, fuming, glaring across the table at her oblivious father. Kousaku cast about for a reason why Ibari would be ignoring one of his kids. Had he just forgotten…? He was pretty drunk. Perhaps if Kousaku just asked…
"So, what about your other daughter?" Kousaku said, gesturing her way.
At virtually the same time as Kousaku, Hibari shouted, "Just gonna try and skip over me, huh, Dad?"
Wrinkles creased Ibari's brow. He sighed deeply, looking at neither of them. Then, slowly, his sunken eyes moved upward, fixing on Hibari. His frown was so wide that it crossed nearly his entire face. With another heavy sigh, he cast his steely gaze on Kousaku. "He is my-"
His gaze shifted back to Hibari, where it sat, unmoving, for an uncomfortable length of time. Finally, after what must have been nearly 30 seconds, it returned to Kousaku. With a third sigh, the largest yet, he said, "Hibari is my… other child."
The gears in Kousaku's mind struggled to turn, unsure of how to process what was happening. Ibari's gaze turned back to Hibari, and the two proceeded to silently glare daggers at one another, which did little to aid Kousaku in understanding the situation. Hibari was… not a girl? Her father didn't seem to think so, at least... But why would that be…? It was impossible to be sure right now, but one thing he was sure of was that he'd unwittingly stepped into the middle of an argument that had been going on between those two for a very long time.
The rest of dinner passed by in silence. Very awkward silence. When everyone was finished, Ibari asked Tsubame to escort Kousaku to the spare bedroom. Both kids seemed eager to take the opportunity to leave the room.
On the way, Kousaku's mind continued to work toward figuring out what exactly was going on. Luck wasn't on his side, though, or perhaps it was a lack of life experience. Perhaps Tsubame could help.
"Hey, so… about Hibari," he started.
Giving a sigh remarkably similar to her father's, Tsubame said, "Yeah, thought you'd ask about that." Pinching her nose for a moment, she turned to stare at Kousaku, clearly annoyed. "Look, I don't really wanna… get into it. But the gist is that he's my brother who's been insisting he's my sister for years now." Why? Why in the world would someone do that? It didn't make a bit of sense to Kousaku. You couldn't change your gender, so why would someone try to lie about it, especially to their own family, who would obviously know the truth? Though, he had to admit… Hibari did look a lot like a girl. He'd probably have no trouble convincing other people. He had convinced Kousaku.
The fact that Kousaku had felt an intense attraction to someone that was actually a guy hit him suddenly, like a smack to the back of the head. That gorgeous woman was… a guy. Shit… But, well, it didn't mean anything, that Kousaku had felt that way. Afterall, Hibari was very convincing, so it was hardly Kousaku's fault… Still, though. Shooting a glaring Tsubame's way, he said, "Why the hell does your dad let him dress like that!? And wear his hair like that, and smell like that, and-" He stopped, realizing Tsubame was looking at him strangely. ...Probably for the 'smell' comment, now that he was thinking about it. "I, uh, I mean…"
Shaking her head, Tsubame cut him off. "I don't need to know." Again, a sigh. "Look, we've tried, okay? But there's no stopping him with this thing. You cut his hair while he's sleeping, he buys a wig that he manages to make look just as good as the real thing. You take his girly clothes away, and he just steals mine. You call him your 'brother', or your 'son', or 'he', and he 'corrects' you until you give up. It's just… easier, to let him look like that. And to avoid those words. Too much of a headache to fight about it constantly." As though illustrating the point, she put a finger to her temple, lightly massaging it.
The only thing Kousaku could think was 'why?' Why would someone be so obsessed with something like that? But he could tell Tsubame didn't have an answer, and that she really didn't want to talk to him anymore, either. So he thanked her for escorting him and stepped into his new room.
It was bigger than he'd expected, and furnished with a nice desk, chair, and bed. Looking around, he was fairly sure it was actually bigger than his old room, though not by a lot. Leaning his suitcase against the bed, he sat down, surprised by how soft it felt. They were Yakuza, though, so he supposed it made sense they could afford the comfiest of beds. ...Yakuza, sheesh… he'd nearly forgotten.
The door across the way suddenly slid open, giving Kousaku a small scare. He'd assumed it was a closet! Instead, it was apparently a door into the next room, which he assumed was Hibari's, since she was the one standing in the doorway. Crap - he. It was going to take a while to get used to that… except Tsubame had told him to try to avoid actually using it around Hibari, so… Ugh, his head hurt.
"They're wrong, you know," Hibari said, arms crossed and a great deal of irritation lining her face. She didn't look directly at Kousaku at first, but after a few beats of silence, her head turned his way. "About me, I mean. I am a girl. Doesn't matter what I was born as, or what my body's like."
There was definitely an actual headache forming now, Kousaku was sure of it. "What… what d'you mean, it doesn't matter? How could that not matter?"
Rolling her eyes, Hibari stepped into the room and grabbed the nearby chair. She plopped down into it, resting her chin on her hand and staring directly at Kousaku. "I'm not going to say this a lot, I've already said it ad nauseum to the rest of the people in this house." Looking away, she mumbled, "Suzume's the only one who seems to actually get it." She turned her eyes back to Kousaku. "Being a girl has a lot more to do with the mind than with the body. My mind's a girl's, so I am a girl."
Though he was trying, really trying, to wrap his mind around this, it just conflicted with so many things that he'd been taught about how the world worked. It was nearly impossible to reconcile Hibari's views with views that Kousaku had always assumed were common sense. She seemed smart, but was she really smarter than everyone? Smarter than common sense?
"I wanna understand you, but it just doesn't make sense," he said with a dramatic shrug.
Hibari's gaze went cold, and Kousaku worried for a moment that she was about to yell at him like she had her father. Instead, she stood abruptly, and just as abruptly her expression shifted into a sultry smile. The suddenness of the change struck fear into Kousaku's heart, which escalated wildly as Hibari sauntered toward him, a sway in her hips.
"You want me to show you exactly how much of a woman I am?" she said, her voice pitched lower, sexier, her tongue flitting across her lips tantalizingly.
Wait, but, she's… he? Wow but she really seems like a 'she', and...
Brain short-circuiting, Kousaku leaped up, grabbed the covers on his bed and then dove beneath them, as though they could shield him from the world outside their reach. "N-n-no, I'm okay, thanks!" he said, his voice undoubtedly muffled to Hibari.
Sharp laughter pierced the air, and he poked his head out to see that Hibari was openly laughing at him, a finger pointed his way mockingly. Wiping a tear from her eye, she grinned sadistically. "Oh, you're going to be fun."
With that, she left, practically slamming the door behind her. Kousaku wasn't sure how long he stared at that door, but he knew it was a lot longer than he should have. When he finally switched the lights off and crawled back into bed, he found sleep nearly impossible to grasp. His mind wouldn't stop racing, hopping back and forth between his mother, Hibari, suddenly living with Yakuza, Hibari, the strange yet mostly friendly Oozora family, and Hibari.
At some point, sleep finally found him. And yet, even in dreams, his mind continued to turn to the blonde goddess sleeping in the room right next to his. He didn't know it, but outside the realm of dreams, he was smiling.