Rivalry Stage 1

ACT 12: Battle Fever

By Amaniblue

AN: I guess my projections are way off on this one. I hadn't had a chance to go back to this fic for a while. Sorry about that folks, especially to those who are waiting for an update. I do plan to finish this story. I am determined too. -nods vehemently-

Edited: Fixed certain text that didn't fit current storyline.

Summary of the last act: With much relief, Takumi finds that his friends were much more interested in the upcoming battle than his run-in with his ardent tormentor, Sagano Rui. But once he left, the trios' delayed comments of said run-in may have been overheard by Natsuki Mogi. Meanwhile, Tachibana Yuuichi, the owner of the ESSO gas station, personally delivers a part to Sendo with whom he hadn't spoken to in many years. There, Yuuichi learns that the Redsuns' very own yellow FD had been the unfortunate target. Despite how anxious he was to know how the rest would be played, he received only cryptic replies from Masashi, the same mechanic who worked on Takumi's car back in Second Stage. In answer, the story veers to Kenta and Keisuke, whose own search for his beloved FD led him to the Twilight Bar once again. There, they met Koji, a mysterious newcomer mentioned in the past chapter. Koji, per Sendo's request, devises a plan to help his boss and uncle to 'stall for time'. While Rui and Jade reunites with an old friend, Sena, who seem to be a street racing junky that keep tracks of all the local events. From his friend, Rui discovers Takumi's growing popularity and his interest reached to full-fledge obsession.

///Streets of Akina///

The streets turned silent in her haste. The only audible sound was her labored breaths. Beads of sweat ran down her temples in rivulets mixing with the brimming tears from the corner of her eyes.

Mogi had thought to return the borrowed clothing as soon as possible and hopefully recapture the warmth and comfort only Takumi could supply. Earlier he had dropped her off nearby her parent's place. Per his sweet nature, Takumi just had to encourage her to seek help and comfort from her family. Mogi had shaken her head in dismay then and absently did likewise now. They were not Takumi however, only he was able to provide that feeling of security. He'd always had. But hearing the unexpected conversation, Mogi refuse to believe the slander in what Itsuki and his friends had spilled. For as frightened as she was of the previous night's event, she was more afraid of loosing Takumi. She would not, could not accept these false rumors.

It can't be true. Takumi is not...is not...he loves me. As memories flash across her eyes of their times together, her hands became taut on the handlebars, and her eyes burned with determination as she peddled with increase speed towards home. I will not loose him again.

///Somewhere in the 3rd ward of Myougi///

An orange S14 slowly crept through a narrow thoroughfare and pulled to a stop before what looks to be another plain looking restaurant that lined the whole street.

The driver side window rolled down and Kenta poked his head out to check again the small worn out sign that was blocked by two large red lanterns on each side. Oba- chan's Ramen.

"Yep, this is the place," he declared happily as he pulled his head back in and turned to flash a relieved grin to his sempai.

Unfortunately, Keisuke didn't feel his sentiments. The blond, upon hearing the positive identification, quickly opened the passenger door and flew out in haste to enter the establishment. He barely made it pass the threshold though. He couldn't believe his eyes and had to blink twice before the situation sunk in.

It must be the lunch hour rush. Salary men mixed in with construction workers and factory workers as well as a few students occupied all the tables while some filed in line to make their order all the way to the door. Keisuke absently scanned all the patrons visible and his hopes plummeted when it finally dawned on him, he couldn't remember what the guy looked like.

He had barely cast two glances at the bartender last night as he was so lost in his own thoughts at the time. Keisuke was vaguely able to recall the man's features. Salt and peppered hair… cropped short maybe. Mustache? No… maybe. Tall, kind of skinny, leathery looking skin? Shit! How the hell am I going to find the bastard and question him!?

He combed through his hair with one hand and released a growl in frustration.

A scrawny highschooler, who looked to be in his first years, that was standing before him turned around and shrank back from the killing aura emanating from the blond. When the boy heard another growl, a sweat drop appeared on the kid's brow before he left the line entirely and ran out.

Keisuke was oblivious to the boy's reaction however and continued scowling as he mused. Why hadn't that thought occurred to me until now? I could have asked for a description beforehand! Fuck! And I forgot to get the number of that damn bar too!

Hating his decision to tread back, Keisuke turned about face abruptly and bumped into a yielding body that unfortunately took the brunt of the momentum and landed on his rump.

"Keisuke-sempai!"

Upon hearing the familiar whine and feeling the lingering pain on his chest from the impact, Keisuke looked down at the sprawled figure and shook his head in disapproval. "Don't just sit there! Get up already!"

"Huh?" Kenta didn't have much time to ponder that before he was picked up by one arm and drag back to the car in which he had spent some time looking for a parking space. It was times like this, he'd longed to see the gentler— though rare as it was— side of his sempai again. But he didn't mind one bit if it meant he could spend time with the blond once more. It felt like the good old days before one tofu deliverer came along and ruined everything.

Thus he happily followed his sempai's lead and even managed to brush against the muscular figure every so often as the other drags him about Myougi. He had a feeling it was going to be a very long day. A dreamy smile appeared briefly before he quickly hid it from sight.

///Mt. Myougi, late evening///

"What's this about a new team?" Questioned Shingo who had just arrived at the meet and overheard two of his teammate's chatting excitedly.

The duo turned towards him and the one in a gray sweater (Yasuo was his name if Shingo remembered correctly) began with excitement, "Well there's this rumor—"

Unfortunately, Yasuo got interjected by his friend he was speaking with, "Ah, whatever. That's probably nothing anyways. I heard from Mizuho that— you know that ugly orange looking car from the Redsuns?"

Despite having been cut off from his gossiping details, Yasuo rolled his eyes and obliged his friend's telling with a nod of his head. Thus upon receiving the affirmation from both of his listeners, the man continued, "Well, that car was spotted around the third ward area this afternoon. Don't know why they're here, but Mizuho said that the car looked pretty banged up from the rear."

Shingo commented offhandedly, "Huh, I didn't hear anything about a lost battle at Akagi… I wonder who he went up against."

Then he smirked in with malice and quipped, "Serves him right ne? Now he can get a better paint job to cover up that orange mess."

The duo burst out laughing and was about to add their two cents when their fierce leader made his entrance.

"About time! If you arrived here any sooner, you would have been early for our next meet," sneered Takeshi as he advanced towards the bane of his existence.

The two knew better than to get themselves involved between their leaders. Especially during one of their squabbles. And it seems, one was brewing as the air around them suddenly turned chilly. Thus, they neatly moved away from ground zero and listened from the sidelines with the rest of their teammates who dispersed to a safer distance as well.

As always, Takeshi paid them no heed as he wholeheartedly targeted the other with his frustration. Although the anger from this morning's incident had successfully been shoved to a restless corner of his mind, the dark cloud stuck with him all day and he needed an outlet. Besides his long term irritation of his co-leader (though he would never admit it), Shouji Shingo, has not and probably will never be dismissed so easily. Thus he was happy to find the other ready for their habitual verbal spar.

"Shut up! I had to close the shop today."

"No way! You found a job!?" This was chanted in awe by the peanut gallery who seem to be always just within hearing distance.

"So— what's it to ya? Never heard of me working?" Shingo addressed his teammates with a shake of his fist. He was beginning to feel embarrass by his known reputation for quitting multiple jobs due to his fiery temperament. That fact only causes his anger to rise to the occasion.

"Yeah, but never a stable one!" quip one Night Kids' member wearing a blue NY METS baseball cap.

Shingo had instantly turned his disgusted gaze to the speaker and stared him down. It worked beautifully as the man gave a nervous laugh and hid amongst the gallery. Having made his example of any further comments regarding him, Shingo readdressed his initial question to no one in particular. "So what's this I hear of a new team?"

Takeshi couldn't help but smirk at his co-leader's most effective arsenal and provided the answer matter-of-factly, "There's a new team in town according to the Speed Stars. Rumor is, they are intending to race here at Myougi's route 22 against the Redsuns."

"And you're going to JUST let them?" Shingo baited the Night Kids' leader.

In automatic response, Takeshi took the bait. "Of course I'm not going to JUST let them. Besides it's just a rumor."

Shingo raised a skeptical brow in mockery. In which Takeshi snarled rather forcefully. "JUST shut up."

///Foothills of Mt. Akagi///

The cool breeze wafted in circular motions across the valley at the base of the mountain. Relatively few vehicles pass through the area. Half a dozen cars were parked on the side of the road with artificial light dispersed in strategic places to light up the Redsuns' designated gathering. It was a perfect night to practice. Unfortunately, not all of the members were present to take advantage of the road.

"Have you heard from sempai, Nakamura, or Fujiwara yet?" Inquire the driver of the white Honda Integra DC2 who had just finished his run downhill.

"No," answered Fumihiro who was getting more than slightly worried. Normally, a few minutes were normal for any Redsuns' member, but an hour had passed and not a word from any of the three. Even their leader's initial good mood had disappeared altogether. Fumihiro flashed an agitated glance at the chain smoking, silent figure that was leaning against a tree near the white Savanna RX-7 that was parked behind the bright setup.

Illuminating through the horizon, a pair of headlights cut through the semi-darken road and pulled off to the side next to the Integra. A solemn face Keisuke exited the orange S14 and stood next to the car as he scanned the gathering for his brother and Takumi. His features scrunched up in puzzlement upon recognizing the solitary figure of his brother and ventured to approach him.

Kenta, on the other hand, treaded lightly behind. He knew full well how the Redsuns' leader feels about promptness and broken commitments. Since he already had one earful lecture of his insubordination the other night, he was afraid this might be the excuse the older Takahashi needs to kick him out of the team.

Keisuke ventured as close as an arm spread could allow and stopped in front of his brother. Whatever scenarios he had thought of upon facing his brother and Takumi together, Keisuke had not expected the stony face figure before him standing alone in the shadows. Thinking perhaps that Takumi was making a test run at the top of the mountain; the blond released an internal sigh of relief.

He was still confused by his discovery and seeing them together would have made his day even more bizarre. The whole afternoon seem so surreal as if someone was playing a practical joke on him and Keisuke is still waiting for the punch line. He had to return back to the bar thrice for one stupid thing or another and then the moron in charge laughingly remarks that he'd given him the wrong itinerary.

Oops my ass! Keisuke had lost it (almost, mind you) and was about to deck the guy when Kenta fretfully jumped in before his hand even shot out. The blond couldn't say whether he was thankful of his buddy's intervention though. Forget the fact he was sick and tired of being jerked around, there was something about the moron that rubbed him the wrong way. So in a fit of temper, Keisuke stormed out and shouted a threat that he'll return tomorrow and his car better be there or else.

So by the time they stopped and had a quick bite before heading to the meet, it was already late. He hadn't meant to loose track of time, but the whole ordeal had left him drain and ill-temper. He didn't want to hear his brother give him any lectures regarding his tardiness. So Keisuke bowed deeply just to placate his brother and said tersely, "I'm sorry aniki."

When he straightened, Keisuke openly allowed Ryousuke to ponder whatever he wants since he'd already made his point clear. His brother's eyes bored into his for a full minute before he opened his mouth to speak. Whatever he was about to say was never heard since the sound of an approaching vehicle alerted the arrival of another late member.

Takumi pulled up behind the orange S14 and exited his car. It took him a few seconds before his searching eyes lit up on the collecting small group. He quietly walked towards them while rubbing his neck along the way and stopped a few feet towards the left side of Ryousuke and in front of Keisuke.

Oddly enough, Keisuke felt a sudden change with his brother. The shift was subtle, but he'd felt it nonetheless. Ryousuke had been indifferent before, but the cold aura now was unmistakable. It confused him and he wondered, what's going on?

"You're late," stated Ryousuke flatly.

Oblivious of the solemn atmosphere, Takumi answered in his usual absent manner while he continued to rub the back of his neck and replied in his usual manner, "Ah."

Ryousuke took the last drag of the cigarette he was smoking then dropped it to the ground. With the ball of his shoes, he staunched the burning tip as he continued in that same tone, "I suggest you figure out what your priorities are."

He then pushed himself away from the tree then turn smoothly towards his white Savanna.

Takumi didn't even stop to think even as he cut into the older Takahashi's path.

"I'm sorry I'm late," Apologized the baffled hachi-roku driver.

The Redsuns' leader jaw went taut before he spat out. "Get out of my way."

Unable to comprehend this side of the older man, Takumi relentlessly pursue him as he could feel his own frustration rising, "What's gotten into you?"

"Either you move or I make you move." With that last part bitten out, Ryousuke brushed pass a stunned Takumi. With jerky motions, Ryousuke opened his car door and threw himself into the seat. The angry roar of the ignition startled the other members who hadn't been paying attention to the little scene. The white FD pulled out of the side lot with a swerve of the taillights trailing around the bend.

Takumi snapped out of his stunned stupor. Of all the times he had known the older Takahashi that was the first time he had seen him like this and over something Takumi still haven't figured out yet. Angry at the uncalled for display, the Trueno driver decided not to stick around either. He ignored Keisuke's calling of his name and strode pass the perplexed members of the Redsuns to make his getaway exit in the opposite direction of one Takahashi Ryousuke.

///TBC — Act 13: Rite of Way///

Review Responses (Thank you for commenting):

RuByMoOn17 – Thank you!

Toki Mirage – Oh dear… I'm sorry to make you wait. See! I'd updated again… [don't kill me, j/k

FireShadows – …um… that was over 4000 words! I'll see what I can do to lengthen the next chapter. Mogi will definitely have a part to play. Yes, I'm sorry to tease Keisuke and his car like this (for I love both dearly) but it is so much fun ne?

Motty – Thank you!

Hinata – Thank you for reviewing and I apologize for not being a regular updater. I will try my best to finish this fic. As for the choice of whom Takumi will pick… well, that will be giving away to much ne? Since the chase has just started?