After the Sunset
Love is patient and kind;
It is not jealous or boastful
It does not keep a record of wrongs,
It does not delight with evil
But is happy with the Truth
Aya's designer stood back to marvel at her creation. "My goodness. You are beautiful."
Aya looked admiringly at her reflection at the full-length mirror. Her long hair fell in dark waves down to her angel-white gown, while a sheer luminous veil floated like a mist around her. Her skirt ballooned daintily from her tiny waist, silver-and-white crystals twinkling all around her... She was indeed a vision of perfection. A dark-haired beauty that came straight from the pages of fairy tales, emerging from an enchanted forest swathe in flowing white veils...
I love you Rei. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.
"Alright, the cake was fine." Aya paced back and forth, holding the cordless phone against her ear. "We will be using peach… With ribbons, flowers… Of course, we'll use roses—"
"Tell them to use Sunflowers."
Aya twisted around to look curiously at her fiancé. Rei rarely spoke, and in the last few weeks he had grown even more quiet… but enough of that. They are to be married, and both of them shall settle into their new roles soon enough.
"Did you say Sunflowers?" Aya asked.
"Yeah." A faint light seemed to form in his usually cool eyes. "the big yellow ones."
"You heard my fiancé." Aya said gaily to the phone. "Sunflowers. Yes, you can use other flowers to go with it." Aya put down the receiver, cocking her head. "I didn't know you liked sunflowers?" She padded over to give Rei a peck on his cheek, hooking her arms around his neck.
Rei shrugged. "I just think they are pretty…"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Otohata is in a meeting. You can stay in his office of course." Rei's secretary graciously ushered her to Rei's door. "I shall inform you the moment the meeting ends."
Aya entered the office, putting down her broad-brimmed lilac hat.
With a resigned sigh, she surveyed the room. It was the usual gray-black-off-white ensemble, Rei's office. It could have been much more beautiful, with its wall-to-floor windows which let the sunlight through. Maybe she could suggest that Rei buy himself a plant to decorate that corner that begged to be filled. Her steps were small and unhurried, eyes taking in the staid white draperies, the unimaginatively black chair, and the large mahogany desk that sat hulkingly in the middle of the office. Everything seemed too dull and boring… which only made what she was about to see even more wonderful. There, sitting close to the window, was the most beautiful sunflower she had ever seen.
Aya took a small breath, unaware that she had been holding it back. The rays of the sun struck the flower's petals, making her even more golden and radiant.
"What a beautiful thing…" Aya mused. Her fingers barely touched the flower, afraid of shaking the dewdrops that still covered its petals. It was a large bloom, her golden petals radiating out like the sun's rays. It was not overly pretty in any way, and yet… the sunflower had its own presence-- like it was almost talking to you. By the way her bright face was uptilted animatedly towards you, her green leaves gesturing upwards like open palms to the sky beyond the window. From her little spot, she managed to radiate enough beauty that it filled Rei's office…
…Oh my God.
Aya raised a shaky hand to her mouth. The realization was so numbingly painful, she felt the ground shift beneath her feet. The strength drained from Aya's legs that she had to grab the nearest thing to support her weight.
Oh God, Rei….. why didn't you… Oh God, Oh God…
Aya gazed hurtfully at the bright bloom, bitter tears streaming down her cheeks.
Ran, it's you, isn't it?
Why won't you leave us alone?
"Flight SV348 is now boarding, Flight SV348 is now boarding"
Aya blinked away the moisture that threatened to flow from her eyes. She stood up, and wheeled her suitcase towards her gate.
"You must know why we are all here?" Hiroto-san, his plump face engaging in its happiness. "Our pre-orders of the Autumn issue is going off the roof! The magazine is not yet out, but I've been receiving requests left and right for reserve copies."
The office rocked with jubilation, staffers rapping the tables with glee.
"We have to thank Kotobuki-san for all this."
Ran raised her copper head at the mention of her name. She gave an uneasy smile, guilty of having her mind drifting far far away. "Wha? Oh, no—ehehe. I wasn't me—"
"We love you Ran!"
Her officemates swarmed like happy bees around her.
"Just think of what I could buy with the bonuses…"
"You're so lucky, I can kill you!"
As she rode on the waves of mirth and success, she couldn't help but remember a certain memory… the faces dimmed… and the voices faded….
Ran stared down her panic-bitten nails. She was pathetic. Her schooling was pitiful. Outside school, her life was riding high in flying colors. She loved life, she loved to dance. She was Shibuya's Star. But in school, her life was about to go down the drain.
She focused unseeingly on the floor. The gravity of what was going to happen was already sinking in, chilling her to the bones. She was going to flunk 11th grade. Her friends, her classmates—they were all going to graduate ahead of her… while she will be left behind.
"2,345 squared is equals to—" Rei looked up when Ran's answer didn't come. "Ran?"
There was a silly grin on Ran's face. "Hahahaha!" "Math is so stupid, don't you think?"
Rei gave her his famous expressionless look that really made you doubt yourself and your self-worth.
Ran hung her head, hiding her face with her bangs. She knew exactly what Rei thought of her… a dimwit. He always seemed to take pleasure in pointing that out with his jibes and teasing… Oh, she laughs or glares away his comments… but in the end, she knows that –she- is the joke. Rei thought of her as a hare-brained, hyperactive girl who can never grow a brain…
"You can do this Ran. You just need to focus, that's all…"
Her heart seemed to stop beating. Did she just hear Rei say that?
Tears stung at her eyes at the unexpected gentleness of his voice. Ran lifted her head to give him her usual bright cheery smile. But the moment she looked into his eyes, she broke into tears.
Crap. Why am I crying? Crap, crap, crap! I can't cry! Not in front of Rei of all people!
Blindly, she groped for something, anything, to cover her face with, while tears completely muddled her view.
Ran didn't know how it happened, but moments later, she was in the warm cocoon of Rei's arms. Ran's breathe seized in her throat, her eyes bulging.
Is this… is this really happening?
"It's okay Ran..." Rei's voice was so soft, so comforting… Rei hugged her closer, making her cheek press against his neck, his arms all around her, like he was never going to let her go...
Ran splashed the cool water against her face.
They are just memories. Sweet, but they are only memories…
One hand held a boxful of chocolate donuts, another held a can of cookies. Yet still another bag held a big bucket of cheese popcorn, and another bag of take-out food.
Goodness, Ran. How can you eat all these and still look… nice. Rei mused, waiting patiently beside the closed elevators.
"I always see your face around. Do you work here?"
Rei turned to look at him. The cleaning man's eyes caught the long black single-breasted coat that screamed of power and money, and the the deep bluish gray depth to his eyes that commanded attention and obedience. "I guess not." The man's face softened by age, grinned from ear to ear. "It's a lady, then. "
Rei looked away, smiling a little at the man's astute observation. "Yes."
"She must be very lucky, to have you."
Rei shook his head, smiling lopsidedly. "She is not in love with me."
"But, you have told her, haven't you?" he asked, overtaken by his curiousity. "…You haven't, because you're still hoping that she might love you in the end?"
Rei stared at the man, catching himself. He was confiding the most personal things about his life to a complete stranger. The man seemed to sense this, and promptly backed off. "Alright. I will go back to my mopping now."
"…Yes." Rei called after him. "But she has never seen me as anything else but a very good friend."
"Listen to me, son." He laid a sympathetic hand on Rei's shoulder.
"There comes a time when you need to accept things as they are…"
"Sir Otohata, may I come in?"
Watanabe's fairly panicked face came into focus. Rei straightened from his slump, stretching his aching back muscles. "Of course."
Watanabe took the seat wordlessly, and spent the next few seconds 'arranging' himself on the seat, if there was any more room on it.
"Watanabe, you can say whatever it is that you want to me." Rei assured.
"Sir… I have to tell you sir that, well, uh…" "Some members of the board have spoken to me…" Watanabe grimaced, as the Japanese were never comfortable about verbal directness. " As much as I am honored that you have trusted me to lead a lot of the meetings, I have to tell you sir that I am not at really at a position…"
Rei shook his head. "Has anyone disrespected you in any way?"
"It's not that sir." The carrot head shook his mop of hair. "Most of the board does not really care about this hotel sir… their interests really lie on their own money and their investments… We need you, Sir. I can't do this on my own."
Rei nodded understandingly. "You don't have to worry. I have been following your progress, and you have performed very well. I also scheduled another meeting this afternoon." Rei smiled. "But I do appreciate your concern for the Otohata. We owe our success to people who truly care about it."
"Being an Otohata means a lot of responsibility." Shimaru said quietly. "I gave you all the freedom in the world when I agreed to let you choose your school, and keep your identity under wraps… but now, the company needs you…" Shimaru took a long, thoughtful drag of cigarette, and Rei suddenly realized how old his father really was.
"This is my legacy to you… I've done all I can to make sure that you will have a future, that you will not wander the streets and beg people to give you a living. You have everything, and how people would kill to be in your place… A lot of people depend on you…" Shimaru looked at him then, his own blue eyes meeting his own.
"All I ask of you is to remember who you are."
A black limousine halted in front of the hotel. A door opened, and a pair of long, shapely legs swung out of the car.
Her blond mane of hair glowed under the golden lights, immaculately cut light grey suit matching her coloring perfectly. Elegantly, she strode towards the famed hotel's receiving area.
"Mr. Rei Otohata please."
The male receptionist couldn't help but look up because of her halting English accent. "I'm sorry madame." He glanced pointedly at the grandfather clock chiming a few meters away. It was short of 6 am in the morning. "Do you have an appointment?"
She raised a disapproving brow. "His fiancée does not need an appointment, don't you think?"
At the sight of the receptionist's obvious shock, the woman thought of introducing herself. "I am Catherine Nordune, I'm sure you've heard of my father." She tossed her long hair, adjusting her cap tilted proudly over her head. "Is he here?"
"Yes, you can say that. But I don't agree with the part—" Rei stopped, as Catherine's svelte figure crossed his line of vision. "What are you doing here?"
Kat shrugged her shoulders. "I wanted to see you."
Rei's face darkened. "We will continue this later." Rei replaced the receiver to glower at the woman. "What are you doing here? I made myself clear enough, haven't I?"
"Come now, Rei." The blonde settled on the soft couch, a soft smile touching her lips. "You need me. The Otohata is strong right now, but how long do you think it's going to last?"
Rei looked away, scowling. "I'll think of something."
"Don't be a fool. If you want to expand Otohata, you will need my help… you actually need something to build your hotels with, Mr. Otohata. You can't build them from your head, alone. As strong as your ideas may be…"
"You heard me." Rei pressed the intercom. "Kindly escort Ms. Nordune—"
"There's no need." Her green eyes were cool. "I forgive you this time, Rei. Because you are so… young. But I am convinced that you will see it my way in the end… and… I still love you."
The door latch clicked behind her.
Rei stared hard into the wall.
He hated this feeling… people, circumstances, and even Fate herself maneuvering him into a corner where there seemed to be no way out…
Catherine was right. He needed her. With a few phone calls, she could ruin everything that he had worked so hard for… and unwittingly ruin all the people who work for him as well…
Rei buried his face into his hands. He looked down, and found his sunflower smiling up to him.
"You always find a reason to smile, don't you."
Tired grey eyes watched the sun's dying rays. The sun sets very swiftly, and once she touches the horizon the night will claim the sky.
The doorbell rang. Ran bolted from her bed with the irritating buzzing sound.
Ran rubbed her sleepy eyes in disbelief.
She stumbled from her bed in the dark, blankets trailing messily after her on the carpeted floor. She opened the door, ready to blast away Hitomi, Yamato, or whoever-the-heck it was at her door—
"Can't you wait until I actually get some sleep—"
Rei was leaning against the wall, jacket clutched messily on one hand. His blue eyes opened and focused unsteadily on Ran.
He looked miserable. His hair was a mess, shirtsleeves rolled up carelessly while his tie dangled from his neck.
"Gosh, Rei." Ran opened the door wider. "You've been drinking?"
"Yeah..." Rei answered quietly. His eyes were downcast, and Ran noticed the dark shadows under his eyes "Can I come in?"
There was a faintly pleading note in his voice, and a dejected way he hung on to the door frame, and Ran couldn't help but be affected by it.
Rei straightened up unsteadily, but waved Ran away when she made a move to help him in. He sank into the nearest couch, taking a comforted sigh as the cushions hugged his tired body.
"Do you need anything?" Ran suddenly asked. "Water? I read somewhere that pineapple juice works great with hangovers—" Ran furrowed her brow. "I don't know if it works the same with someone drunk—" "But I think coffee does okay, I've been drunk before but I don't really remember—"
Rei's soft chuckle reached her ears, making her look at him.
"I'll be alright Ran…" his eyes opened and closed sleepily. "I just need to rest…"
Ran continued pacing restlessly, her eyes watching her friend. Finally, she settled down, sitting beside Rei. Another moment passed, and she decided that she would need to take off his boots.
Rei lifted his head as Ran took the boots away. Her hands then went to his necktie, untying it. She left him for a while and then returned with a cool wet towel, and he closed his eyes again as the towel gently wiped his face, while her fingers softly brushed his bangs away.
Rei opened his eyes. There was something in his eyes that made Ran's breath hitch, and she just had to look away, unable to hold his gaze.
"I'm sorry… If I had ever been… unkind to you …"
Ran looked at him again, shaking her head vigorously. "Oh no, you've been very good to me."
"I remember…"Rei mumbled, closing his eyes tiredly. "that I used to tease you a lot… and I always made fun of what… of the things that you loved doing… I'm really sorry…"
Ran suddenly found her eyes clouding with tears. There was a heaviness in her heart that she couldn't understand, an overwhelming sorrow that emanated from Rei which she had no idea was the reason for, and yet it brought a painful lump in her throat.
"Rei… what's wrong?"
He raised a hand, passing it over her cheek in a ghost of a caress.
"I should have given you… that bag…" Rei's smile was bittersweet. "The one that.. you tried tak- taking away, when we… first met...I should've… let you have it…"
Ran looked at Rei's sleeping face with misty eyes, confused with the mix of feelings that surged through her. There had always been so much to ask and have answers for, too many questions that had been forgotten along with the passing of time.
Rei, why did you come back? Everything had already changed...
Thanks to all those who reviewed, all the RanRei fans, all of the incurable romantics, (blows kisses.) I don't have as much free time as I once had, but like I said, I really am aiming to finish this fic, and I already had an ending in mind when I wrote this one. RanxRei forever :D