I thought I already know how cold ice is, but I now realized how little I knew; it is easier to hold the ice falling from the sky than to hold his icy heart.
But I won't give up. Kami-sama will someday hear my prayer, and maybe, just maybe, He can melt its wintriness.
Even glaciers melt.
Promises 0: Maybe
This is the prequel of the Hao/Anna promises, just to set the record straight. Promises 2 (Horo/Tamao) will be published after this one.
I carefully carried the tray of snacks to the study, balancing precariously the bottle of milk and the plate of sandwich as I ascended the grand staircase of the Tao mansion.
At last, I arrived in front of the room. I used my foot to knock on the room, then waited.
As I scuffed my sneakers on the floor, I found myself reminiscing on the reason why I was staying in the Tao mansion.
Months ago, my onii-chan was training in the Tao compound when he met an accident, one that caused him to be put into comatose. The Tao family immediately decided to look after me while he still couldn't.
I was so used to living close to Mother Nature, and I would have opted to continue living so, but the second time the Tao family invited me to live in the mansion, it had been impossible to say 'no'. Not when the one who was inviting you was a grim-looking Ren Tao.
"Onee-san wants you to stay with us in the mansion," said Ren, crossing his arms.
I hugged Kororo to my chest, maintaining eye contact with the ground. I was afraid that if I meet his gaze, I might burst into flames, the way his eyes were piercing me. "I can make do on my own," I said quietly.
"My sister doesn't think so," he said. "Stop wasting time and come with me."
I lifted my eyes to him, ignoring the throbbing in my chest. "No, thank you. I'm staying put."
"It seems that you do not know a Tao very well," he said darkly. "A Tao never accepts an answer contrary to what he seeks." With no overture, he grabbed my hand and dragged me with him.
"W-Wait…" I looked down, feeling submissive and rebellious at the same time. I didn't want to leave the place, but there was something in him that could make 'no' disappear in my vocabulary.
"Your brother would like it very much if he wakes up and you'll be the first person that he would see." Ren glanced at me briefly, and then continued walking briskly.
The single fleeting look woke up something within my heart- one that made my heart jump out of its place. I had acknowledged back in the Patch Village that I felt something for the indifferent Chinese shaman, but two years after the shaman fight, the feeling hadn't died. His hands clasping mine lit the flame once again, waking up the sleeping embers within my heart.
By the time we were seated in his car, I have come to realize that I still am madly infatuated with Ren Tao.
I sighed impatiently when the door didn't open. I decided to put the food tray down to try the doorknob. To my surprise, the door swung open freely. Since when had Ren forgotten to close the door of any room in the mansion?
Clutching the snack tray once more, I stepped into the room, eyes roving for living figures. Seeing none, I decided to put down the food tray and leave it there.
The Tao family treats me well, and they do not ask me to help out in cleaning the mansion because they had enough maids to clean the entire Patch Village, but when it concerns Ren's needs – his personal belongings, his food, his personal orders – I would make it a point to help out. I was happy already in serving him in little ways, even if he wasn't aware of it.
I then noticed a telegram on the table. I was about to stand up and ignore it when my eyes caught the name 'Yoh'. I frowned. So the letter came from Yoh Asakura? The same person onii-chan and Ren wanted to defeat?
To my shock though, it wasn't the friendly Yoh Asakura-sent letter that I expected; it was a telegram from Master Mikihisa, sending word about Yoh's recent death.
I read on.
Master Mikihisa wants Ren to go to Japan and attend Yoh's funeral, and to help out in cheering Ms. Anna up. He narrated that Yoh died right in front of her, so she was in trauma right now. The company of Yoh's friends might help her.
"Didn't your mother teach you not to touch things that aren't yours?" boomed a familiar voice.
I lifted my eyes from the paper and found Ren Tao standing in front of me, fresh from his regular gym session. He was perspiring all over, and his shirt clung to his muscled body. I nearly fainted- heavens, Ren could be so damn sexy!
"Well?" he snapped.
"G-Gomen," I choked.
He grabbed the letter from my hands and crumpled it. He dropped it on the floor, then grabbed the glass of milk on the snack tray. He took one big thirsty gulp of it.
I watched in fascination, as if I was watching his every move in slow motion. There was no angle that diminishes the Ren Tao sexiness- even his milk moustache was complimentary to him too.
He put the half-empty glass of milk and stared at me. "So what are you still doing here?"
I blinked. "N-Nothing."
His eyes narrowed at me. "Then get out already."
I cleared my throat. "Are you…really going to leave?"
"You read the letter."
"When will you return?" I asked.
He raised his brows quizzically. "If I do reply, what is it to you?"
I quickly shook my head. "I…I just want to know."
He exhaled sharply, showing his impatience with me. "I'll try to ask Anna to go with me back here."
"W-Why?" I asked.
"My mother wants me to present her a fiancée that I would marry when I reach the age of twenty-one. It's our clan tradition."
I tried to fight off the dread growing within me. "S-So Ms. Anna is the girl you're planning to-"
"It will just be a make-believe engagement anyway." He looked out at the window. "I have no intention of losing my much-valued freedom."
That didn't bring me much relief. Whether the engagement was real or not, I wouldn't have a chance with him.
"After my birthday, Anna and I can go separate ways, and my mother can do nothing anymore about it," he finished.
"I-If you're going to marry, why don't you try to keep your bride anyway?" I asked.
He looked at me as if I was some kind of a naïveté display. "Because I love my freedom."
"Oh." I felt like a concrete hollow block just slammed on my fragile heart.
He rubbed his temples. "And why am I explaining things like this to you anyway?" He turned to the door. "Get out."
I nodded meekly and headed for the door. However, I couldn't resist sneaking a glance back at the boy I secretly love.
I had to smile as I let my eyes wander on his stone-cold but darkly handsome profile. I longed to run my fingers on him and trace his contour, in hope of softening its harsh, pointed edges.
Ren suddenly turned to me. His forehead creased when he saw me still standing by the door. "Do you have something else to say?" he asked curtly.
I shook my head and shut the door.
I have grown used to his snobbish ways; Jun-san told me that Ren was just going through a phase-after all, Ren Tao was the head of the clan, and incredible burden was on his shoulders, not to mention that he was being pressured to find a proper woman to be trained by his mother and Jun-sn to be a most proper wife for him.
When the time comes that he would bring that girl here, I wouldn't know what I would do. Just thinking of it was making me feel sick, my stomach uneasy. I wanted Ren Tao very much, even if I knew that it would be impossible.
I pushed open the door to my brother's room. I wasn't surprised anymore when I saw Tamamura Tamao sitting by my brother's bed, clutching his umoving hand. Aside from myself, it was Tamao who was devastated the most when the news about Onii-chan's accident broke.
I looked at her trembling hand, then patted her shoulders. "Tamao' nee-san?"
She blinked, and I felt my heart wrench. Her eyes tell me that she had not slept a wink yet- perhaps, because she was busy attending after Yoh's funeral. Still, she made it a point to visit my brother, the best friend she had for two years.
"Tamao'nee-san, please sleep. I'll look after onii-chan," I begged.
She quietly shook her head. "I'm fine. Please don't worry about me."
"Onii-san might get mad if he wakes up and sees you like that," I said, trying to lighten up the mood.
Our eyes both went to the comatose body of my brother. He looked peaceful, as if he never would wake up anymore. I pushed the thought out of my mind. No, onii-chan is fighting back for me…for Tamao'nee-san. We mustn't give up! For the past three months, even with his precarious situation, he didn't let go. So why should we?
"Master Yoh's brother came awhile ago," said Tamao out of the blue.
"Eh?" I heard enough from my brother about Hao Asakura, the reincarnated demon who nearly dominated the world if not for Yoh, to know that it wasn't good news. "What is he doing there?"
She sighed. "I heard him tell Master Yohmei that Yoh sent him there…to look after Ms. Anna."
I blinked. "H-How is Ms. Anna?"
"Still no progress. She refuses to leave her room…" Her voice shook. "Just some days ago, we were all so happy. Master Yoh has just announced that he will be marrying Ms. Anna next month…and then…and then I had to predict to Master Yoh that stupid…stupid…" She broke into a sob.
I bit my lip. Tamao told me that she predicted Yoh's fate…that he would never come back anymore when he leaves.
I remembered the letter. So the prediction did happen after all.
"It was all my fault…" she whispered.
"Of course not!" I said with all my heartfelt conviction. If onii-chan would see Tamao crying, hell would pay, that was for sure. I decided that I would cheer her up while he still couldn't. "Things happen, things that we have no control over. B-But we do have control over how we will react to them, and it is best that we react with genkiness, because no amount of tears can make the events come undone. So all we can do is to be brave." I clasped her hands. "And I'm sure Kami-sama has a reason for Yoh's death. Maybe He wants to give him the eternal rest that our slacker friend always craves for. And I'm sure Yoh is happy now wherever he is."
Tamao nodded. "That is exactly what Horo Horo could have told me."
"Heh! We're siblings! We're the other half of each other!"
Tamao rubbed her eyes. "Wait, let me get you some tea." She stood up, and I knew it was just an excuse for her to tidy herself up. We knew Jun-san might be worried when she sees nee-san like that.
When the door closed, I took my turn in talking to my brother's sleeping figure. "Onii-chan, Yoh died already, but that doesn't mean you're going to go there already and follow him. Did you see how pained Tamao' nee san looked awhile ago? Don't you even feel guilty for hurting her so much, after you swore to me that you will protect her because you want me to have a neesan?"
I smoothed my cheek against his hand. "I love you, onii-chan, and I know Tamao' neesan loves you too, she just doesn't say that out loud. So please, wake up already."
"I have so many things to tell you…about Ren Tao…he's really a jerk, but I still like him a lot. He's really snobbish, and yeah, he's looking for a wife. I don't think I would be fine if I see his wife already, so maybe you can do a favor and open your eyes already. So you can take me away from here already…I miss you so much, onii-chan…" The tears that I had been fighting back flew freely again.
"Ren is not here?" I blinked when Jun told me that some days later.
His elder sister nodded. "I think he w as alarmed when he learned that Hao was frequently visiting Anna-okami."
I bit my lip painfully when I remembered how Ren told me that he intends to take Anna home along with him.
"Pirika, what's wrong?" she asked gently when she noticed that my face had turn ashen.
"N-No, nothing. I'm fine…please excuse me." I fled towards my room, my hair flying behind me. Jun didn't ask anymore- I think she understood already anyway.
I had to prepare myself. In days, Ren would be home, and he might just be taking a wife along with him already.
It hurts…no matter how much I dull the pain…it hurts.