Standard disclaimers apply here.

BIG MACHINE

Chapter Four: Late in the Evening

Three AM

***

A couple cuddled and sitting together in one of the wooden benches was sharing one large mug of coffee while admiring the stars which were starting to come out behind the dark blue clouds.

A boy was clasping a policeman's hand tightly, wailing because he lost his mother in the crowd while walking through the busy sidewalks.

Women and men of different ages were busy coming in and out of the shopping malls because of the midnight sales, causing quite a rampage and heavy traffic in the streets.

Cars were moving in a slow progress.  Traffic lights and enforcers didn't help a bit.

Tokyo was completely busy tonight.

And somewhere in the center of all chaos was a black Ford barely moving.  The driver took a glance at his rearview mirror to his only passenger sitting at the back.  He was about to apologize for the traffic but decided otherwise.  He didn't sense any annoyance from her anyway.  Well honestly, he didn't hear her utter any word nor did he sense any sense of presence from her since she went in to the car. 

It was like she wasn't even there.

The driver shrugged and turned his attention back to the road.

Tsukushi was gripping her hands so tightly together in her lap that she didn't noticed her nails digging in a bit painfully to her skin.  She was staring at her clasped hands numbly, her dark eyes unflinching for minutes.  She may have appeared so calm and reserved on the outside but in truth, great anxiety was playing inside her uncontrollably.  She didn't know what to do with it.  But really, she didn't have to do anything for her fate was already decided for her.  She had no other options but to obey.  She couldn't turn her back now.  She couldn't run away.

The mere thought of actually living with one of the most famous and important families in the whole country, was unnerving for Tsukushi.  It wasn't like she despised those kinds of families like the Nishikados.  Actually, the Makinos were closely ranked with them when it came to business and wealth aspect.  Only that their family wasn't as prevalent as some.  It was just that she was troubled about the idea of being exposed and distinguished if she was suddenly associated with them.

In total honesty, Tsukushi was very much afraid of her name being out in the open.  For a few years she spent all of her efforts and time in making herself as imperceptible as possible.  So she became part of those invisible people in the society, most especially in Eitoku.  She had shunned her sociable, friendly and active personality for a withdrawn, secretive and mysterious character.  Not after learning what popularity and recognition could do.

No, she wouldn't go back there again.

She closed her eyes, her hands still clasped together, silently praying to the unknown for some ingenious miracle to put her out of this big dilemma.  'What will I do?  What should I do?' Tsukushi repeated her questions in her head like a mantra. 

'Maybe I might be able to escape the Nishikado mansion – Yeah, like that's even possible.'  Tsukushi frowned.  'I bet they have the highest security in town.  And even if I go missing for a day, Mrs. Nishikado will immediately assign her men to look for me, for sure.'

She opened her eyes and sighed heavily.  She slumped down the leather seat, staring outside the window vacantly.  She hardly even noticed the frenzied activities in the streets.

Tsukushi felt so annoyingly helpless.  She couldn't think of anything else other than her current predicament.  She couldn't help but blame her mother for all these.  But then her mother wouldn't fly out of the country if it weren't for her father, so she blamed him as well.  But then again, the Onika M was the main reason why her parents were away and left her with no one in Japan but their family friend.  In the end, she blamed the blameless Nishikados as well.  And with that, her anger went to the F4 too.

She blamed everyone and everything.  She blamed herself.  Hell, she even blamed the driver of Mrs. Nishikado's Ford, who was driving quietly and rather smoothly, now that the traffic seemed to have decreased.

Tsukushi wanted to smack her head hard over and over again.  Blaming the world wouldn't get her anywhere.  'Doing nothing wouldn't get me anywhere too!'

Like her early thought, she couldn't do anything but to follow fate's cruel plans.  Her hands were cuffed, her feet with heavy chain balls.  She was nothing but a pet, a mere slave of destiny's cunning mind.  Yeah, and add a dog collar to complete the picture.  'Oh fuck, I hate dogs,' Tsukushi thought vehemently.

'Why do I have to be inside this hell again?  Isn't once enough?'

***

The rapid play of the disco lights and green lasers added to the hyperactivity of the people inside The Cellar.  The techno music was blaring and the dj in the booth seemed to be restless as he continued on scratching and mixing sounds from the cds.  The dance floor was jam-packed with so many people that nobody on the room minded who their partners were anymore.  Guys got to touch the ladies' assets without any complaints.  And the ladies didn't bother with the various touches just as long as they submit themselves to the music.  While obvious party people crammed together on the dance floor, some resolved to stay behind in the bar, drinking alcohols and whatever creative drinks the bartenders could create.

Tsukasa downed all of his vodka in one drinking.  Before he could motion for the bartender to put more in his glass, a feminine hand on his right already made the gesture.  He waited for the bartender to fill up his glass before turning to the appealing woman sitting next to him.

"I love vodka too," the woman said huskily, eyeing Tsukasa like a shark would to its prey.

Tsukusa took a moment looking over the woman first before replying.  Dark haired, dark eyes, pale complexion, and heavily make-upped, she was wearing a little black jersey dress with deep plunging neckline.  His emotionless gaze stopped at her blatant show of cleavage.

"Everybody drinks vodka," Tsukasa said flatly.

But instead of backing away from his cold tone, the woman just scooted nearer to him.  She even dared to put her dainty manicured fingers on his arm.  "But I especially like vodka when I share it with someone as beautiful as you are."

Tsukasa raised a brow and smiled coolly.  "I like sharing my drinks too."

She smiled triumphantly.  "A toast then…," and she held up her glass, "To a newfound… friendship."

The brims of their glasses touched and made a small clink sound.  Tsukasa watched the woman unblinkingly as she sipped her drink.  While she, too, matched his steady stare.

"Friends?" Tsukasa asked, his tone quite suggesting another matter.

The gleam in the woman's eyes sharpened more.  Her red painted lips curved upwards and she leaned forward to him, unashamedly giving him a bigger view.  Sophisticatedly, she flipped her long hair off of her shoulder, and then tilted her neck to one side.

"We can change that."  Then she added, after licking her lips suggestively at him, "Tonight."

But Tsukusa merely snickered.  He turned his attention back to his vodka and took one last drink.  He then pulled out a bill and put it down the bar in front of him.  Finally, he switched back to the woman, who was still looking at him expectantly.

He sighed heavily and caressed her cheek softly with his fingers.  Looking at her mockingly, he said, "Sorry to disappoint you sweetheart, but… I don't see anything worth changing."

The woman looked at him, confused.  So Tsukasa exhaled noisily and annoyingly while fighting down the urge to roll his eyes.  He quickly snatched back his fingers and explained impatiently, "I don't befriend strangers, especially those of the vampire types."

Before the woman could say anything else more, he stood up and started to walk away.  But then he paused for a second and gave her one last look.  "And I make sure I limit my share of drinks to those beautiful people only," he said, stressing out the words like she did earlier.

And with that, he walked off.

***

"Welcome to Nishikado Estate, ma'am," the driver said, glancing at her in the rearview mirror.

Quite startled, Tsukushi looked up to glance at the driver.  She didn't realize that they have reached the house, or rather the mansion, already.  However, he immediately stepped out of the car and went to the backdoor and opened it for her.  Dazedly, Tsukushi stepped out too and wasn't so surprised to find Mrs. Nishikado smiling down at her on the front door.

"Tsukushi," Mrs. Nishikado said as she walked down the steps to embrace the younger lady.  "I'm so glad to have you in my home."

Tsukushi forced a grateful smile.  "Thank you for letting me stay, Mrs. Ni – uh, Aunt Ami."

Mrs. Nishikado chuckled.  "You're most welcome, dear.  Anything for my best friend's daughter."

With an arm around Tsukushi, they entered the huge mansion.  As Tsukushi's brown eyes wandered to the different paintings hanging on the walls in awe, Mrs. Nishikado turned to the housemaids and instructed, "Kindly put all of her bags to the room I ordered you to clean earlier."

The maids nodded and went out of the foyer with the bags in their hands.  Mrs. Nishikado watched Tsukushi as she looked into the art works displayed.

"Do you like art?" she suddenly asked.

Tsukushi looked at her and nodded.  "I like to sketch and paint."

"When I was a small kid I dreamed of becoming a famous painter," Mrs. Nishikado said.  "But then again I would also like to be a ballerina, violinist, doctor…"  She trailed off then chuckled.  "How about you, what do you want to pursue?"

"I'm not so sure yet," Tsukushi replied.  "Well maybe something in the arts department."

"That'll be good.  You're lucky your parents are very understanding to not pressure you with anything you don't want to do," she said.  Then her face turned somber.  "I don't know what Soujirou wants to be."

Shaking her head lightly, she added, "His father expects him to take over the business someday."

Judging from the older woman's expression and tone, Tsukushi presumed that there was more to Mr. Nishikado's expectations of his son.  She immediately felt sorry for her old friend. 

"Well anyway," Mrs. Nishikado interrupted her thoughts.  "Speaking of my son—"

Tsukushi involuntarily stiffened.

"Unfortunately he's living with his friends in a condominium.  A penthouse, I believe.  So you won't be able to see him everyday while you're on stay here," Mrs. Nishikado said, looking apologetic.

But Tsukushi was immediately beyond relieved to hear that news.  'So that means I can go in and out of Eitoku without anyone knowing that I'm staying at one of the F4's mansion!  Well maybe except for Soujirou but I doubt he'll even announced that piece of crap to everyone.  Fate isn't so merciless after all.' 

However, she didn't let her joyous relief show on her face.  She jerkily nodded.  "It's all right, Aunt Ami.  I – uh… We see each other in school anyway."

'At least they're one-sided meetings,' she silently added.

"Madame," a maid walked toward them and bowed.  "The room has been prepared."

"Good."  Turning to Tsukushi, Mrs. Nishikado said, "Your things have been arranged already in one of our guestrooms.  Would you like to see your room now or would you like to have tea with me for a while first?"

Tsukushi smiled, and this time, for real.  She didn't even mind not having coffee instead.  "Tea would be great." 

***

"Damn it I think I have a headache coming," Tsukasa said.  He was rubbing his temples slowly while sitting down on the comfy couch.

"Dude, want some aspirins?" Soujirou offered.

"I hate medicines," Tsukasa muttered.

"Why don't you sleep it out, like Rui here."  Soujrou smirked as he glanced at the sleeping Rui who looked very comfortable slouching on the other settee.

"I can't sleep with this fucking headache," Tsukasa growled.  He cursed more as he rested his head down in his hands. 

"Maybe it's karma for turning down that vamp earlier."

Tsukasa glared at his friend.  "I don't like vampires.  She's not my type."

"Then who is?" Soujirou inquired.  "I didn't know you have requirements for a woman."

"I'm not like you."

"Hey, that's not true.  I also pick who I'll sleep with," he said.  "The problem with you Tsukasa is you're TOO picky."

"I'm not picky," Tsukasa snapped.

Soujirou snorted.  "Then tell me, when was the last time you got laid, eh?"

"That's none of your business!"

Soujirou laughed.  Tsukasa only glowered more.  "It's your fault that I got this stupid headache," he complained, deliberately changing the topic.

Soujirou looked surprised.  "Why me?"

"If you didn't bring us to that damn club then I wouldn't have gotten this," Tsukasa reasoned out.

"Hey, it was Akira who pointed it out not me!" Soujirou protested.  But the suspect wasn't present at that moment as Akira run off with his newly found date, leaving the rest of his friends behind in the club.  It was after then that Soujirou's mother called him up in his mobile, ordering him to go to the Nishikado Estate at that same night because she has to tell him something very important and couldn't be delayed, as she said.

So the F3 escaped The Cellar and directly drove to the Nishikado mansion.

"Why don't you start looking for your mother now and see what she has something for you?" Tsukasa suggested irritably.

Soujirou shrugged.  "Okay then.  Get comfortable," he said teasingly.  Laughing, he went out of their living room.

Like his friend suggested, Tsukasa tried to sleep.  He closed his eyes tiredly but instantly opened them again.  The more he concentrated on his headache, the more it got worse.  So he tried to divert his attention to something else.  His eyes fell on Rui and got jealous annoyingly.  He wished he could rest like his friend does.

'I shouldn't have taken that second bottle.  Damn hangover,' Tsukasa cursed.

He stood up, thinking of going to the comfort room.  So he went out of the living room but suddenly stopped in the hallway.  He looked to his left, then to his right.  He didn't know where to find the restroom.

Tsukasa decided to take the left way.  A bit drowsily, he walked down the hallway until he reached a staircase.  Thinking that there might be rooms upstairs, then there's a big probability that there's at least one restroom. 

When he reached the top of the staircase, he saw another problem.  There were so many doors down the hall.  How could he find the comfort room?  Rubbing the bridge in his nose, he walked down to his right and tried the doors.  But they were all locked.

A little further, Tsukasa saw faint light coming out of the small gap on the bottom of the door.  Breathing out a sigh of relief, he walked towards it and opened the door.

But what Tsukasa entered in wasn't at all a restroom.

In the middle of the huge bed was a sleeping girl under a heavy comforter.  Surprised and confused, and his headache momentarily forgotten, Tsukasa took quiet steps toward the girl. 

She looked so contented snuggled under the covers.  The only part of her that wasn't concealed was her face and her long brown hair.

'Cute,' Tsukasa noted, as he stared at the girl.  'But who is she?  Soujirou never mentioned anyone else staying at their house.'

Deciding to ask his friend later, he looked around the room and saw another door.  Wishing it was what he was looking for, he walked toward it and turned the knob.  Greatly thankful, he entered the restroom.

***

The sun has fully risen when Tsukushi woke up.  She yawned and stretched and smiled.  It certainly didn't feel like home but the guestroom was just as large, cozy and very well-ventilated as well.  Not to mention that the pastel colored wallpaper and her huge soft bed made her feel so much like a princess. 

It was going to be a good day.  She could just feel it.

Tsukushi stood up and automatically went for the bathroom.  But she paused when she saw that the door to her restroom was open.  'Did I leave it open last night?' she asked herself.  Shrugging, she went on and took a shower.

Half an hour later, Tsukushi was ready to go downstairs and look for Mrs. Nishikado.  She remembered her saying that they would have breakfast together.  Smiling, she went out of her room, then down the staircase.  Halfway toward the dining room to look for Mrs. Nishikado, she heard an unfamiliar male voice behind her.

"Good morning, love!"

Startled, Tsukushi turned around. 

And stared. 

And froze.

***

Author's Notes:

Thanks so much again for the reviews!  I won't mention the names but really I'm so grateful that you're still reading this pathetic fanfic of mine. ^_^

Yes, Tsukushi is definitely hiding something and yes, it has something to do with her past.  It's too cliché, don't you think?  Lol!  But I promise I'll make this story most enjoyable as I can.

Your reviews never fail to inspire me and to keep me typing.  Review please! =)

~3am