Disclaimer: Nope, still don't own it. Drat!
Author's Notes: I warn you now that this story is pointless and is merely my horrible attempt at humor. O_o It's really not my fault either, blame the plot bunnies. And .hack//GIFT.
Takes place after the end of Quarantine. Enjoy.
Playing On Heartstrings
As most things do, it started with a rumor.
"Guest what? I saw Kazu and Terajima kissing!"
Instantly, BlackRose coughed violently on the Health Drink she had been swallowing, doubling over at the waist as she tried to keep herself from choking. Next to her, Mistral patted her back almost absently, still too drawn up in the tale she was spinning.
"Well, I didn't actually see the kissing, but Rachel told me that Natsume told her that she saw the both of them together in a Forest field catching some alone time under the trees." The Wavemaster bounced on her toes. "Isn't it so romantic?" She sighed, dreamily. "Who would have thought that those two would get together?"
Realizing that BlackRose had yet to come up for air, the tiny Wavemaster frowned worriedly, "Hey, are you alright?"
"She's fine," Kite answered, an amused smile on his face. His partner threw him a dirty look.
"Well, anyway," Mirstral continued obliviously, "Rachel said that they promised to meet again tonight at the huge party CC Corp. is throwing for the new version of The World that's opening tomorrow. Apparently, they're going to confess their feelings for each other!" The Wavemaster beamed.
BlackRose's eyes narrowed. "Shouldn't they have done that before they kissed?"
Mistral shrugged, her excitement undiminished. "I suppose they just got caught up in the moment. Which means tonight will be extra special for them! Eeeeee, I can't wait!"
"Neither can I," the Heavy Blade snarled, almost to herself. "I'll give them both a piece of my mind."
Mistral blinked and Kite made a calming gesture towards his partner. "Don't you think you might be overreact— "
He was cut off as BlackRose swung to face him, crimson eyes blazing. "Of course I'm not overreacting! My brother is way too young to be sneaking around with a girl! What is he thinking? I just can't believe it!," she fumed.
Kite decided it probably wasn't the best time then to point out that Kazu and Terajima were close in age, and that if he wanted to press the issue, he could also remind her that she was in fact two years older than Kite himself. Wisely though, he chose not to say anything. He liked his head where it was.
Besides, he was pretty sure that part of her rant had to do with the fact that Kazu had been with Terajima. If it had been anyone else, his partner might have been able to handle it, considering their own online relationship, but BlackRose had never really liked Terajima. He still hadn't quite figured out why. She became decidedly tight-lipped when he asked so he had given it up after a few attempts. It was always better not to push the Heavy Blade too far, people lost digital limbs that way.
"Then you should come to the Event tonight!" Mistral exclaimed, "Then you can see for yourself! Of course, it's not really an Event, but it's going to be a lot of fun and I hear Lios is even going to open the hot springs for us! We'll be sure to find Kazu and Terajima there!"
If possible, BlackRose's glower became even darker and Kite decided it was time for him to intervene before she exploded.
"Sounds like fun, Mistral. We'll be there."
The Wavemaster grinned. "Alright! Well, I'd better get going then. I've got lots of housework to do before tonight. See ya there!" She winked and was off, running down the streets of Fort Ouph in that carefree way of hers that only Mistral could pull off.
When she was out of site, Kite turned to his partner, eyeing her carefully. "BlackRose…"
"I have tennis practice in an hour. I'd better go, too," she said shortly, spinning on her heel and heading towards the Chaos Gate as if she were going to war. Kite exhaled heavily and then almost jumped as a gauntleted fist hit his shoulder in what he supposed was a sympathetic gesture. The iron clad figure of Marlo stepped up beside him, his head turned to follow BlackRose's exit.
"Women," he snorted. "Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. Might as well throw yourself off the side of the city, save yourself the misery." He barked a laugh and Kite smothered a long suffering sigh.
It was going to be long day.
* * * *
Despite what Mistral had said, the CC Corps' party to celebrate the release of The World's new version was an Event. The largest to date, in fact. There was no goal to it, of course, it was just an opportunity for everyone to get together and have a little fun, enjoy the finer side of Lios' ability to create whatever he wanted within the game. After all, BlackRose thought they more than deserved it, especially Kite. The Phases were gone, the corruption of the system quarantined. Everything was as it should have been, except that most ordinary players had no idea who had been responsible for the stabilization of The World. It was not something she thought about often, she was too grateful for the awakening of all the coma victims, but it did make her a bit sad that no one but their party would ever really know what Kite had done for them.
That's why she was going to enjoy this Event as much as possible. It was their right and she wasn't going to let it go to waste.
Especially the hot springs.
She tested the water with her toes before stepping in, hugging her towel close to her body as she got used to the temperature. It was amazing what the mind could make real.
The section she was in was empty except for her, but she could hear laughing voices beyond the perimeter fence, some from the men's side of the springs, some from other female sections. BlackRose rather enjoyed the solitude, though. She had needed some time to sort out of her feelings and it looked like The World was the place to do it.
"Perhaps I did overreact," she murmured aloud. She had had time to cool down and, as Kazu had been elsewhere, she hadn't been able to unleash her temper on him, instead forced to contain it and work through it. An email from Kite had helped, reminding her to meet him at the hot springs. He was there now, on the other side of the fence somewhere in the one of the men's sections. It was nice, really, knowing he wasn't far away.
She mentally scolded herself for that thought a moment later. She was going to turn into a great big pile of mush around him if she didn't watch herself.
"Ahhh!" In the midst of a startled turn, she lost her footing on the slippery rocks and went down, falling completely into the water, towel and all. She came up a second later, sputtering and generally cursing all over the place. On the deck stood the one person she had not wanted to see that night, Terajima, and further more, she looked absolutely mortified.
"Oh… Oh my goodness, I'm so terribly sorry!"
Spitting out water, BlackRose glowered at the Heavy Axeman as she struggled to get out of the spring, her drenched towel making any sort of movement difficult. Terajima met her as she emerged, babbling apologies as she handed BlackRose a fresh towel.
"You should know better than to sneak up on people like that," she snapped, throwing her ruined towel to the side as she wrapped the dry one around herself. Terajima bowed in shame.
"I know, and it was completely my fault! Can you ever forgive me?"
BlackRose blinked, thrown off balance by Terajima's deep felt admission, and ran her fingers through her wet hair irritably. Did the girl have to be so nice? Couldn't she just have laughed evilly and said she had done it on purpose? It would have made being angry at her so much easier. As it was, BlackRose felt her annoyance slip away at the look of shame in the Heavy Axeman's eyes.
"Well, I suppose there's no harm done," she muttered, causing Terajima to smile brilliantly.
"Oh thank you, BlackRose! You are so nice." BlackRose blinked again, surprised by the compliment, but had no time to react as Terajima continued. "I'm sorry I scared you, but there is something I really need to ask you." The angelic character hesitated.
Despite herself, the Heavy Blade felt her curiosity rise. "Well? Spit it out already."
Terajima wrung her hands together. "Uhm… I wanted your advice about… about your brother."
* * * *
"What?" Kite tilted his head, wondering if he had heard right. Across from him, sitting on the edge of the deck, feet dangling in the water, Kazu blushed.
"I know it's strange for me to be asking you this, but Sis never says anything but nice things about you, and that's rare for her." Kite smiled. "She's been really happy lately and I know its because of you, so I was wondering if… Well, if you wouldn't mind helping me with Terajima?"
Kite wondered how he got himself into these situations. "What do you mean?"
If possible, BlackRose's brother managed to look even more embarrassed. "Well, I get all nervous around her, and nothing I say comes out right. I just…" He shrugged uneasily. "I need someone to tell me what to say."
Kite grimaced. "I'm not sure that's such a great idea." At Kazu's crestfallen look, he hurried to explain. "Your sister says that I clam up when I should be reacting."
"This would be different," Kazu pressed, suddenly earnest. "You wouldn't have to talk to her yourself, just tell me what to say when the time comes. She won't even know you're there."
"What, you mean like, hide in the bushes or something?"
The Wavemaster nodded quickly, "Exactly! That's exactly what I mean!"
Kite didn't have the heart to tell him he had been joking, not when he was taking the situation so seriously. Still, Kite was sure this idea of his would end in disaster. Things that involved secrets always did.
The Twin Blade leaned forward. "Kazu, don't you think it would be wrong to trick Terajima like this? After all, if I'm coaching you, it would be as if I were saying those things to her. They wouldn't come from you, and if there is one thing I've learned, it's that these types of things come better from the heart."
Kazu hung his head. "I suppose you're right. I just wanted this night to go perfectly, you know? I don't want to mess it up." The Wavemaster's eyes grew watery and Kite felt his sympathetic drive kick in. He didn't like it when people were upset, not if he could do something about it. And what would it really hurt? Terajima would probably never know he had ever been there anyway, and if it got Kazu past his fear of speaking…
Kite sighed. BlackRose was right. He was a pushover when it came to tears.
"Alright, what do you want me to do?"
* * * *
"Should we really be doing this? I mean, if we get caught…"
"Oh geez, are you whimping out already? Come on, be a man, Elk. Grow a spine for a goodness sake."
Nuke glanced back his co-conspirators and shushed them. "Do you want them to hear? And did you have to wear all that armor, Marlo? You sound like a freight train."
"Shut your mouth, Nuke, and hurry up," the Blademaster snapped. "I didn't come all the way out here to stare at your rear end."
Nuke rolled his eyes but started forward again, crawling through the tall grass that ringed the hot springs with as much stealth as he could muster. Marlo followed close behind him, with Elk at the end, the timid Wavemaster more than a little apprehensive about their scheme. It had been Nuke's idea to catch a glimpse of the girls as they bathed and he had recruited Marlo, who had nothing better to do, and Elk, who had not really understood what they were doing until now. Needless to say, he had regrets.
"If BlackRose catches us, she'll kill us," Elk whispered fervently. "Can't we just go back? I really think this is a bad idea."
"Don't tell me you're afraid of one little girl," Marlo scorned, following Nuke as they continued to sneak towards the female side of the springs.
"If you were smart, you'd be afraid of her," Nuke muttered, and then grinned. "But danger is what makes the whole thing fun."
"What?" Marlo barked.
* * * *
"Let me get this straight," BlackRose said at last, adjusting her towel as she started to wade into the water again, a bit more cautious about the rocks this time. "You want me to hide in the bushes during your secret meeting with my brother so that I can whisper to you what you should say in order to make a good impression? Are you crazy?"
"I know it seems foolish," Terajima replied, seating herself on the edge of the deck gracefully, wings fluttering a little. "But you know Kazu best. You're the only one who can help me say what I need to say. If I went alone, I'd be sure to make a complete idiot of myself. Besides," the Heavy Axeman lowered her head. "you're so much stronger than me, so confidant. I'm just— "
"Did you ever have a crush on Kite?"
The angel blinked, her halo wobbling. Fortunately for her, she didn't act as if she had no idea what BlackRose was talking about. Instead, in the face of BlackRose's solemn expression, she answered as truthfully as she could.
"I thought I did, at one time." She smiled slightly. "He's so nice and caring, and brave, too. He never made me feel like just another newbie." She took a breath. "But I realized something the more I came to know him." Blue eyes locked with garnet ones. "He could see only you."
BlackRose inhaled shakily.
"You two had a connection I could never have. It was you he always turned to and it was you he chose to go with him in the end." Terajima's expression was gentle. "You see, I could never compete with you. We're different, and I think Kite made his choice long before we met, even if he didn't know it."
The Heavy Blade swallowed, suddenly unsure of herself. So many things had started to make sense to her and these new revelations were daunting, to say the least. Had she been an idiot all this time?
"Just for a little while, I want to borrow your strength," the Heavy Axeman said softly. "Just for a little while, until I can find my own."
BlackRose cleared her throat. "You're wrong. You're already much stronger than I'll ever be, but if you want my help, you've got it." Before Terajima could thank her though, she turned sharply to the left, tilting her head in puzzlement.
"Did you hear something?"
* * * *
"Ah! I have routed out a trio of trespassers intent on dishonoring yonder fair ladies! But justice will prevail, for I am— "
"PIROS!" Three voices cried together, and then there was a mad scrambling as Nuke, Marlo, and Elk attempted to escape the righteous Heavy Axeman. The next thing they knew, all three miscreants were sprawled in knee deep water, the privacy fence destroyed behind them, and two very shocked girls in front of them.
There was a single moment when no one moved, and then Terajima seemed to recall that she was slightly naked and did the only thing a girl in her situation could do.
She screamed. Loudly.
That was when Piros came striding in, intent on dispensing punishment, only to be distracted by the sight before him causing him to trip over the prone players and land face first in the water. By then Marlo and Nuke were already on their feet, attempting to bolt, when the sound of steel made them freeze in mid-step, their eyes wide.
Terajima stopped screaming.
"You know," BlackRose said lazily, "it's really surprising what men think they can get away with." She lifted her Forsaken Light that she had taken out of inventory, calmly inspecting the edge as she spoke. "What's even more surprising is how reluctant I am to let you all leave here. Alive. Perhaps I should just let you all wander around here as ghosts for awhile. Maybe that would teach you some respect."
Piros surfaced with a sputter. "But, my dear BlackRose, I was only— "
Forsaken Light's razor edge moved towards him, leaving a red afterimage in its wake. The Heavy Axeman shut his mouth.
"But, as this is supposed to be a party, I'm going to be charitable and give you five seconds to get out of here." BlackRose's eyes narrowed at Marlo who looked insubordinate and the Blademaster nodded stiffly. "One…"
Another rush of scrambling and splashing and Nuke, Marlo, and Elk were gone in a burst of speed. Only Piros was left, still stammering his innocence, but retreated quickly enough when BlackRose threw a scrub brush at him.
"I can't believe those guys!" BlackRose said irritably, lowering Forsaken Light until it's edge trailed in the water. "Especially Elk. Nuke and Marlo I can understand, but him..."
Terajima, who had felt the need to wrap three towels around herself, spoke thoughtfully. "I'll bet they lied to him to get him to come along. I don't think Elk has it in him to do something so despicable."
BlackRose arched an eyebrow. "Yes, well, you never can tell." She grinned suddenly, her good humor returning. "But at least it'll be a good story later. Kazu's sure to be jealous."
The Heavy Axeman blushed. "Thank you," she said sincerely, "Thank you."
* * * *
The World could be really beautiful, Kite mused, as he sat outside the bathhouse waiting for BlackRose. The stars were shining, the darkness was soft and inviting, and people were obviously having fun as they ran by, laughing and lighthearted. He had even heard screams awhile go, people living it up in a virtual playground. Almost nothing was impossible in The World, especially on that night. Kite didn't know why but he felt a certain excitement in every nerve, as if he were wired for something to happen, some event that would spark all his energy.
Even as he sat there, looking outwardly patient, his heart was restless. It was time to enjoy a world uncorrupted at last.
"I was wondering if you were still here." BlackRose emerged from the dimly lit entrance of the bathhouse, her hands clasped in front of her. "Sorry I'm late, I had to…uhm…take care of something."
Kite felt his jaw drop.
There in the moonlight stood his best friend, his partner, and possibly the prettiest girl he had seen in a long time. Maybe ever. She was dressed in one of the kimonos provided for the female players as special items and she was completely transformed from the warrior he saw everyday. The kimono she wore was a dark purple, with pink cherry blossom petals on the hem that matched her hair. Her eyes were soft as she looked at him and he suddenly wondered if he could still speak.
"You look nice."
Yup. He could. Like an idiot. Nice?
She seemed to expect nothing more from him, however, because she smiled and twirled for him. "You like it? I thought maybe it was a bit too… well… girly, but I guess it will do."
He nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Luckily, she filled the silence.
"Oh, Kite, I almost forgot. Uhm, I kinda have something I need to do right now. It won't take long and then I'll meet you for the fireworks. Alright?"
"Yeah, I actually have something I need to do, too." He hesitated, suddenly wishing he hadn't promised Kazu he would help. More than anything, he simply wanted to stay with her.
She seemed to read his mind because she grinned mischievously. "Don't worry, we'll see each other soon. On the hilltop, okay?"
And then she was hurrying away, disappearing into the shadows of the forest with ease.
Kite sighed and headed the opposite direction, hoping what he was going to do was worth the trouble.
* * * *
"Why did I agree to this?" BlackRose mumbled to herself as she picked a leaf out of her hair. Sitting in the bushes was very uncomfortable, not to mention itchy.
"He's coming," Terajima whispered in front of her, where she stood waiting in the glen. The Heavy Axeman was also dressed in a kimono, a blue one, and her pearly wings fluttered anxiously. BlackRose leaned forward, trying to peek through the underbrush for a good view.
Across the way, Kazu appeared, one hand reaching behind to rub his neck self-consciously as he spotted Terajima. When he was about five feet away from her, he stopped, shifting on his feet nervously.
BlackRose rolled her eyes. Say something you idiot.
It was Terajima, though, that broke the silence. "Good evening."
Kazu started. "G..Good evening." He hesitated and tilted his head as if listening to something far away. "You look very pretty."
BlackRose blinked. Well, perhaps he wasn't such a loser when it came to girls after all.
"Thank you," Terajima stammered, blushing.
"You look very handsome, too," BlackRose prodded. The angel nodded once and the Heavy Blade rubbed her temples. It was going to be a long night.
"You look very handsome, too," Terajima repeated, causing Kazu to laugh lightly.
"Well, not really, but thank you anyway." He paused. "Terajima, I suppose you want to know why I asked you to meet me here. The truth is I have something to tell you." Kazu took a breath. "I… I like you."
BlackRose grinned to herself. Way to go, little brother. Suddenly something large and soft snuffled her hair. Eyes wide, she turned her head slowly, her face draining of color.
If possible, out in the clearing, Terajima's cheeks grew redder. "I… I like— "
"GRUNTY!" BlackRose screamed, dashing out from her hiding place in a panic. Behind her, a Noble Grunty came loping after her, hearts in its eyes.
"Oh, mon ami, you are beautiful, mon ami! Come back, mon ami!"
Kazu jumped in surprise. "Sis?"
BlackRose ignored him, running as fast as she could, the kimono forcing her to take smaller steps. She reached the other side of the glen before her outfit finally got the better of her and she tripped, falling into the soft grass with a muffled cry. Immediately an arm cushioned her fall and a gloved hand covered her mouth, forcing her into silence.
"Just keep quiet," a familiar voice whispered. BlackRose stopped struggling against the person holding her and looked up, wide wine-colored eyes meeting aqua blue. A few feet away, the Noble Grunty looked around, completely confused.
"Mon ami?" After a few minutes, it ambled off in search of her elsewhere, leaving Kazu and Terajima standing stricken in the clearing.
"What… just happened?" Kazu asked finally. Next to him, Terajima shook her head.
"I have no idea."
Kazu turned to her. "Maybe we should go somewhere else. I… I think we need some privacy." He looked pointedly towards the spot where Kite was hiding before guiding Terajima further into the woods, their characters disappearing into the shadows.
Kite relaxed and took his hand away, helping her to sit up as she looked at him, incredulous. "What are you doing here? I thought we were meeting later?"
Kite had the grace to look embarrassed. "Well, your brother asked me for some help in talking to Terajima so I— "
"Kazu asked you to coach him?" BlackRose interrupted, surprised. Kite nodded. "But that's crazy, Terajima asked me to coach her!"
BlackRose threw up her hands. "Has everyone gone insane?"
Kite smiled. "No. I think everyone's just enjoying themselves. After all, The World is a game."
The Heavy Blade felt her annoyance drain away, something Kite could do to her with ease. "Not to everyone," she amended and felt his arm tighten around her.
"Not to everyone," he agreed. She grinned and stood up quickly, pulling him up with her.
"Come on, let's go before we miss the fireworks."
Kite's eyebrows rose. "You don't want to wait for them?" He motioned his head towards the forest.
"They'll be fine on their own. If we can figure it out, so can they. Besides," she winked at him, "I have a rumor to tell Mistral."
Her partner could only laugh.
* * * *
"Man, this has been some night," Nuke said, stretched out flat on his back as he watched the fireworks. Next to him, Marlo nodded sharply.
Nuke grinned. "It was well worth the danger, don't you think, Elk?"
"Eh, don't bother, Nuke. He's been traumatized."
"Oh." Pause. "Want to go spy on Kazu and Terajima? I saw them run off into the woods a little while ago."
I told you it was pointless. Don't give me that look. ^_~