=This particular something came out of five hours of what I like to call 'the best of Hana Yori Dango,' scenes, moments, and sitting through each of the three Junpei episodes, and all the hopeless romance. It worked out pretty well in misty-eyeing a good friend, so I took my own shot at scratching fanfare. There's no real start or end, I'll just keep writing until I get tired.=

Gilded Chocolate

-Part One... (million and two halves) Do we really have anything but ourselves?-

***

Once, I thought about what that girl said to me. "Without the Doumyouji brand name, you are nothing!" I realize that without my name, I would be the same as she. When she talked to me, when she took everything I gave and doubled her efforts against me, I saw things that I saw in myself.

Without my name, I would be just like that stubborn commoner. Maybe, just maybe, I could trust my Tsukasa with her. Maybe I could allow the chain to be broken, because maybe, this girl can give something I never could to him and this world.

When Tsukasa took all my words and orders head down and without a word of reproach, I discovered the depth of his emotions for this Makino Tsukushi. He didn't outgrow them, as I had hoped. He didn't move on, he lost his rude, brash protests to both myself and his arranged marriage. When that wild girl jumped onto his yacht and his bride happily abandoned ship, I knew there was no more that I could do to interfere. If I tried too hard, I would lose Tsukasa forever, both as my son and as the heir to the Doumyouji Corporation.

I couldn't allow that, so I allowed his love instead.

***

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if Tsukasa had never been there.

I wonder what would have happened if Tsukasa had never made a move while I was away, if he had never fallen in love with Makino Tsukushi. If when I had returned she was still infatuated with me, would I have taken advantage of her like I had tried to when she was with Tsukasa, or would I have been more successful when I did finally fall for that violent commoner?

On a night like this, I wonder. Shizuka is gone, working and studying, and I'm still job searching. All the lights are out and I've long given up this evening of finding anything in this language that I once thought I knew with relative ease. I wonder if I would be with Makino, protecting her, being by her side, playing my violin for her. Would she have shed as many tears? Would I have left with Shizuka when she came? Would I be the one who one day Makino Tsukushi fell asleep and woke up seeing?

Now I know that somewhere along the line I really did fall in love with her. At first she was merely a replacement for Shizuka, someone to keep me afloat when everything seemed to fall to pieces around me. But as soon as she stopped seeing me as the handsome, individualistic Hanazawa Rui and just as Rui, her friend and protector, I had fallen in love with her.

When as she stopped loving me she dropped all her pretenses, stopped trying to be what she thought I wanted her to be, and I really saw her. Slowly the pieces came together: Her adamant insistence that I follow my heart, her refusal to submit to Tsukasa, her courage. Bit by bit I found her and bit by bit I moved to her, until the time she accepted me as her friend rather than a figurehead and I fell in love.

Damn.

***

"Doumyouji!" Tsukushi shouted, stomping her foot with barely restrained impatience. "Hurry up already!" Awaiting a response but receiving none, she resigned herself to standing against the wall just outside his room. She heard the sound of running water briefly before the door opened.

"Finally!" Tsukushi sighed and propped her hands on her hips. Tsukasa raised one eyebrow.

"Finally what?" he asked, lightly readjusting one curled hair so it fell precisely where it should.

"You're like a girl. You take forever getting ready, and we're only going for dinner," she complained in a hardly scolding tone. Tsukasa shrugged his shoulders and straightened his red jacket, glancing over her with one eye.

"Shall we, then?" He offered, giving her his arm. Tsukushi let out a breath and could only shake her head at his constant need to primp. She accepted the invitation by slipping her elbow into his.

"All right, all right, but now I feel underdressed," she replied with a slight huff. Tsukasa glanced down at her short blue, Chinese-styled dress, and shook his head.

"It's fine, no one who sees us will say anything anyway," he said confidently, straightening his shoulders and deepening his voice. Tsukushi let out a chuckle.

"Of course no one will say anything, but it doesn't mean they're not thinking it," she pointed out. Tsukasa seemed to think about this for a moment before shaking his head.

"Don't worry. You look great."

The cruise had slowed the world to a standstill. Each day came as a fresh breath of air, bringing something free of tension, free of pain, and free of reality. There the world had no relevance or meaning outside of each daily activity and everything was meant to be enjoyed the fullest.

So, they did just that.

Tsukushi lightly tapped the table with her index finger, tugging with her free hand in annoyance at her dress. It was slightly too small for her and the fabric, although silky in appearance, scratched at her skin and made her feel as if she would burst out into hives at any moment.

"What are you doing?" Tsukasa asked brusquely, for he had been watching her discomfort for at least five minutes in silence. She seemed rather frustrated with the tight cloth and was doing her best to disguise it.

"It's nothing. Just... these clothes were all made for Shigeru!" Tsukushi's cheeks turned a light shade of pink. "They're too small for me," she said in a quiet voice.

Tsukasa blinked as a small grin spread across his face. His eyes narrowed mischievously and he leaned toward her, perking his ears. "Sorry, what was that? I couldn't hear you."

"They're too small," Tsukushi repeated, still barely above a whisper.

"Eh?"

"They're too small!" she shouted suddenly, surprising many of the patrons surrounding them. Tsukasa covered his mouth to hold in his laughter. "Oh, you!"

He smiled as her blush grew and she looked down at her hands. Even though they had only been on the cruise for less than two weeks, he had already discovered the most direct routes to pressing her buttons. So much that he actually learned which buttons caused which reactions, and he was quickly learning which ones were the best to press and which ones should, in his best interest, be left alone.

Though, at times, he found himself unable to resist. She was too cute when she got angry.

Tsukushi sighed lightly in the comfortable silence between them. She allowed herself to be absorbed slowly by the soft piano playing in the background, although some of its tune was marred by the chatting of other people sitting in the large dining hall. Though Tsukasa had wanted the large table in the center of the room, Tsukushi insisted that it was for larger parties and had finally convinced him to take a table close to the piano. When she admitted she wanted to hear the music, he had relented to sitting nearby but refused to take a table against the wall where Tsukushi would have preferred. But she was already learning to pick her battles so she could enjoy evenings such as this.

"Makino," Tsukasa said at last, drawing her attention back to him. "I have an idea for tonight."

Tsukushi raised her eyebrow. "Oh? What's that?"

"I set the pool off-limits for tonight, so I was wondering if you wanted to go swimming."

"You did that before asking?" Tsukushi asked, her eyebrows furrowing. "What if I said no and someone else wanted to use it?"

"What does it matter?" Tsukasa snorted. He crossed his arms and looked away. "They're just guests on the ship." Tsukushi pondered for a moment before smiling.

"I would enjoy swimming tonight," Tsukushi relented, deciding against taking the matter further. She really couldn't deny that the honeymooning couple were intended to be the center of the cruise anyway. "I always liked going at night to the public pool near our house when I was little. The lights make the water turn different colors." She sighed and rested her chin on her palm.

"I don't think I've ever really paid attention," Tsukasa admitted. Glancing at her he tilted his head. "You went to a public pool? You really are poor."

Tsukushi glared at him and he almost jumped when she lightly grasped her fork. "No, it's rather difficult to have a private pool when you live in an apartment complex."

The meal was rather uneventful, with the occasional comfortable pause to listen to the piano and a general flow of talk reminiscing over the day. "I never really thought tennis would be that fun," Tsukushi confessed. Tsukasa chuckled and narrowed his eyes playfully.

"I told you it would be," he gloated in response. "Maybe next time you'll actually score on me."

Tsukushi turned her head and made a 'hmph' sound. "And maybe next time you'll be able to block one of my spikes in volleyball!"

"What? You couldn't even take me on in serves, there was no competition!"

"You just can't admit you lost to a girl."

"I didn't lose."

"Then next time we'll keep score!"

There was hardly a lack of available activities on the massive boat, Tsukushi had noted early on. Despite the fact that a large section of the finer cabin space had been reserved for the couple, the ship seemed to have floor after floor of sports, relaxation resorts, and staterooms. Often after lunch they would break for a while to change and lounge about, finding lawn chairs and umbrellas on the deck or relaxing in their own private, luxurious drawing room. Tsukushi had discovered a secret stash of books early on in her greatly oversized walk-in closet. They were enclosed in a bag and came with a note reading, "Dear Tsukushi-chan: I thought you might need some time to yourself, so your friends Makiko and Kazuya helped me find some personal effects that you might enjoy. Good luck, Shigeru." Tsukushi had found the wide variety of novels intriguing and often read them while sitting on deck or before bed at night. Tsukasa had a well-developed exercise routine and she would often spend the time alone sprawled on the lounge's plush leather couch with a pillow and a book.

The pair returned to their rooms after dinner, where Tsukushi changed into her swimsuit and dashed back into the hall with her towel.

She opened the door to Tsukasa's room and shouted, "Come on, Doumyouji!" He always managed to take plenty of time getting ready, even if they were just going to play a sport in the court below deck. "It's not that difficult to put on a pair of swimming trousers," she mumbled, fiddling with one of the straps on her blue suit. It was much like the one Tsukasa had bought for her on the trip to his private island, and despite the fact that it was rather fancy her plainness overrode any semblance of refinement.

Tsukasa finally came out, closing the door behind him with a rush of air. He wore a loose red tanktop and carried a towel over one shoulder. He looked at her briefly before suggesting, "You might want to bring some clothes to put on later, it will be much more chilly at night when we get out of the water." He blushed ever so lightly.

Tsukushi smiled at the thought and nodded her head, pushing her towel into his hands to hold before dashing back into her room. She fumbled through her clothes until she found a loose shirt and her exercise shorts to bring along.

The sun had already sunk below the horizon by the time they had climbed a flight of stairs to the pool. It lay on the rear of the boat on deck, and all but two of the plastic lawn chairs had been stacked against the railing. Tsukushi ran from the stairwell to the chairs, her water sandals slapping the deck as she went. She put her towel and clothes on the first chair sloppily, followed by her sandals and the tie holding her hair back. Since money seemed to not be an issue--Tsukushi had not once seen Tsukasa carry any, so she assumed that everything was already paid for--she felt no remorse in taking a brief trip to the small salon on one of the lower decks. It was wonderful to get a proper cut, for Rui's "craft" job had made little difference after a few months of growth.

Tsukushi covered her eyes from the spray as the pool erupted with a sudden splash. Raising one eyebrow she watched Tsukasa come to the surface, his hair's wild curls already relaxing in the cool water. He shook his head for a second before he half walked, half swam towards the edge of the pool where she stood. "So, are you coming in?"

Tsukushi sat down on the tile, letting her feet drift into the water. She looked thoughtful for a moment. "Maybe, in a little while." Tsukasa nodded and lightly fell onto his back, using his feet to propel himself away toward the center of the large pool. Tsukushi yawned and observed his movement, his body illuminated by the fluorescent lights lurking just beneath the surface. The strong ripples in the water gave off a wavy, surreal glow, casting the emerald undulations onto any vertical plane.

Before she could blink, Tsukushi found herself slide past the tile she had previously been perched on and become immersed in cold water, a pair of hands pulling her by her ankles. She tried to scream, but the sound was muffled by the depths. She struggled only momentarily for air before she was hoisted above the surface, gasping and spluttering.

Tsukasa laughed loudly, his hands releasing her torso as she lashed out at him with one arm. He backed away, dropping back into the water and drifting away, avoiding her glare. "What on earth was that for?" she cried, quickly swimming after him. Seeing Tsukushi approaching, he stopped and stood back up in the water. It was just deep enough that his arms were above it but she had trouble taking breaths without getting mouthfuls of water.

"What was what for?" Tsukushi stared at him, her anger giving way to frustration.

"What do you mean by that? You just pulled me in! What if I had drowned?" she scolded, finally grabbing onto the nearby pool's edge to keep herself afloat. Tsukasa huffed indignantly.

"You would not have drowned," he replied, his eyes narrowing seriously. "I would not have let you." Tsukushi closed her mouth as her eyes widened, her cheeks flushing under his hard stare. The only sound was that of slight splashing as Tsukasa came closer, his straight hair falling in dripping locks around his face.

"Doumyouji..." Tsukushi mumbled. Throughout all of their activities, they had been spending more time running about and doing as much as possible than merely talking alone together, so very few opportunities had arisen for anything besides fun. Tsukasa quirked one eyebrow as his hand reached up to lightly cup her chin.

"I really thought you had left me forever," he said in a low voice, lightly brushing some of her wet hair from her eyes. Tsukushi lowered her eyelashes.

"When you and Shigeru disappeared, I thought the same thing," she replied. Tsukasa only nodded silent understanding, lightly tipping her chin upwards so she looked directly at him. Without a moment's hesitation he lowered his head and captured her lips with his own.

Tsukushi never ceased marveling at his kisses. Even when he had been violent or rough with her, his kisses were always so warm, so gentle. Rui's lips were cold--like his hands--and she always remembered them lacking emotion, as if a kiss were something purely physical. But with Tsukasa, kisses held the real pieces to his heart, the softer, kinder parts that rarely peeked through his violent, hardened exterior.

These were the kisses that Tsukushi could safely drown in. One of her hands found his shoulder and the other his waist, which upon contact, she remembered was bare. She could almost feel him smile against her lips.

"This was a good idea," Tsukasa said as they parted. He smiled proudly, nodding his head. "And it was my idea!" Opening her mouth to respond, Tsukushi thought better and only shook her head. He certainly could benefit from a lesson in humility.

Tsukushi suddenly lowered her eyebrows, glancing around and observing that she was trapped between Tsukasa and the poolside. He was still patting himself on the back, so she took the opportunity to put one hand on the tile, propelling herself forward. With one motion she let her lips brush his for a brief moment, just long enough for him to be shocked still. Taking advantage of his immobility she dove into the water to the side, jetting past him toward the deep end.

Upon reaching the wall Tsukushi rose to the surface, where she peered out over the pool without raising too much of her body above the water. Noting that Tsukasa was not where she left him, she looked warily around, searching the green, brightly-illuminated depths for any sign of him. When she didn't see his silhouette anywhere above the surface, she found herself slightly worried.

"Doumyouji?" she called, although the pool was not really large enough to equate her volume. When there was no reply, she splashed the water a bit nervously. "Doumyouji!"

The small sound of running water seemed deafening in the silence. Before Tsukushi could react she felt a pair of hands wrap around her middle. She let out a terrified scream, and she frantically tried to distinguish the sudden black shadow just below the surface.

Tsukasa's head sprung from the water, splashing her and filling her open mouth with water. Tsukushi struggled against his grip, coughing and shouting curses as his wild laughter filled her ears. After clearing her sinuses of the chlorinated liquid, she stared openly at Tsukasa. He continued to guffaw, his head thrown back in mirth.

"Doumyouji?" she asked, still feeling his hands wrapped tightly around her waist. Tsukasa slowly calmed down into a few chuckles, his cheeks still red. "Are you okay?"

Tsukasa nodded, his smile having not completely faded. "You should have seen your face..." She winced when his expression threatened that he would burst out laughing again. He only shook his head, as if clearing away his laughter, and looked at her with an amused grin. She could hardly restrain her responding smile. His grip tightened briefly on her waist before he released her and let her float on her own.

"We should head in," he suggested, having finally regained his composure. She nodded her head and turned, climbing out of the pool on the side, while Tsukasa swam over to the ladder and walked out. Tsukushi shook her head, joining him as he walked toward the two pool chairs sitting nearby.

Tsukushi lightly toweled her hair and body before turning around so she could slip her flimsy outfit on over her swimsuit. Draping the towel over one arm she waited for Tsukasa, who was still drying his slightly curling mane. When he was done they walked in silence to the stairwell and back to their private section.

Tsukushi stopped at her door, slipping the key in and opening it before she felt a hand on her shoulder. Glancing back she saw Tsukasa standing behind her, his eyes narrowed and serious. "Doumyouji?" she asked quietly.

"Let's have an early breakfast. I'll come by your door at seven." His words came out as more of a command than a request.

"Seven? That's a little bit too early, I'd have to be up at six-thirty to be ready in time," Tsukushi protested. Tsukasa turned his head and she spun around, crossing her arms. "Seven-thirty at the earliest."

He looked at her out of the corner of his eye, and noting her pointed look, furrowed his brow. "Fine, seven-thirty. I'll see you then." With a curt nod Tsukasa walked past her to his own room.

Letting out a "harrumph!" Tsukushi went into her room, closing the door behind her with an audible click. She leaned back against it, her thoughts brushing past their encounter in the pool. She swallowed as she remembered his rough hands around her waist.

Tsukushi walked into the bathroom, hanging her moist towel on the rack before going on a voyage to find a pair of pajamas in the enormous closet. After changing, brushing her teeth and washing her face, she reminded herself to take a shower the next morning to get off the chlorine as she was too tired to attempt it right then.

Tsukushi pulled back the blankets on her greatly oversized bed and climbed in, shivering against the cold. She lay in quiet contemplation with the light still on beside her. When she had first arrived on the ship, there were shocked murmurs and whispers among the entire rest of the cruise guests. Had O'okawahara-san lost her mind? Who was this wild schoolgirl? What about the wedding?

She sighed and sat up, opening the front drawer of the small bed table. Tsukushi took out a small envelope, which read "Tsukushi" across the front in a cute scrawl. Lightly opening the already unsealed top she withdrew a small letter and turned it over in her fingers. She had already read it twice, but she was always amazed at how all of their friends had come together to create the perfect plan.

"Tsukushi-chan,

"Please forgive Tsukasa for not coming after you. You are the only one who can knock real sense into his thick head, so I hope you use these five months well. And don't worry about anything; it was easy to convince your parents of your 'decision,' and I'm positive you won't miss all that much at school. Of course, if you need help, your friends have volunteered to help you with anything you need to make up when you return.

"All the wedding documents were fake or voided, as most of them were not intended to be completed until we had departed on the honeymoon. Just have fun and be sure to write to us whenever you get to where you're going.

"O'okawahara Shigeru."

Tsukushi puzzled momentarily over the last sentence. "Where am I going?" she wondered aloud. She smiled slightly at her friend's clever wording and folded the letter, placing it back inside the envelope and closing it once more. After setting it back into the drawer she turned out the light and sank into her pillow, letting sleep slowly overtake her.