A/N: I've just recieved word that there is at least one faithful reader of this fic. Hence, this next chapter is dedicated to you, Rael-Lirdu! Thanks so much for being so faithful! I hope that this lives up to your expectations, at the same time showing the resilience of human spirit.
Disclaimer: ...like you don't know the drill...
Chapter 5: Relationships and Loss
"Tadaimasu!" Kai called, hanging his jacket on the coatrack. It had been a windy morning, which had turned into a rainy afternoon. The slate-haired teen was glad to finally be within the shelter of his home. "Mom? Dad? Grandpa?" he called his relatives in turn while walking down the hall.
"Kai?" Hiwatari Soichirou stepped out of the living room, looking somewhat...stricken. Upon seeing his grandfather's face, a chill went through the boy's body. He timidly approached the elder.
"Grandpa?" he began, touching the gray-haired man's arm. "Wh-what's wrong?"
Instead of replying, Soichirou clapped a hand on Kai's shoulder and led him slowly into the living room, taking deep breaths as though to steady himself.
Why does he look so...so sad Kai thought, feeling his heartbeat intensifying as he was made to sit down on the couch.
"Kai, I...I don't know how to tell you this," the elder Hiwatari started, looking his grandson in the eye, "but there's no beating around the bush about it." He sighed. "Yuuhi and Akiko were supposed to come home today, right?"
Kai's heart skipped a beat upon hearing that the news he was about to recieve concerned his parents.
Soichirou seemed not be able to help himself anymore. He got up, approached Kai, and knelt in front of him. "I just recieved word from the Osaka Emergency Center. Apparently, the return flight your parents were on crashed just outside of the Osaka prefecture. The injured were immediately carted off, but only a handful survived." Soichirou's hands, which had been gripping the amethyst-eyed teen's shoulders, tightened their grip, and the slate-gray of the elder's eyes hid behind the pale brown of the eyelids. "Kai..." he continued, his voice breaking. "Susumu and Akiko...they were among those presumed dead...the search-and-rescue team...couldn't find their bodies, and..."
For a few minutes, there was only shocked silence on Kai's part, and Soichirou sobbed quietly, his hands still on Kai's shoulders. And then, slowly, the full realization descended, like a bomb dropped suddenly from the sky. Amethyst pools welled up and spilled over, tracing rivers down the teen's pale cheeks. A chocked sob burst free from the constricted throat, and Kai threw himself into his grandfather's arms. Once encircled within the protective embrace of his guardian, the dam, the wall that had been holding back the tears, broke.
The two stayed like that for what seemed like hours, each one trying to lessen the other's pain and sadness while trying to ease their own. They took comfort in being in each other's presence, because they knew that each other was all they would have from that moment on.
A near-inaudible, knocking sound.
What was that? Kai raised his head from the sky-blue pillow and turned towards the door, faint traces of liquid sadness staining his cheeks. It had been three days after what was left of the Hiwatari family recieved the news, but Kai still couldn't seem to stop himself from bursting into fresh tears whenever someone mentioned his parents, or if he saw a photograph. As a result, he kept to himself and stayed in his room, going down only eat - if he felt like it.
"Kai-sama?" Slowly, the door creaked open, and one of the maids peeked in, looking anxious. Kai immediately sat up and hurriedly wiped the last few tears away.
"There are four young people around your age who claim to be your friends. They said they want to see you."
"O-of course," Kai stammered, standing up. "But...please, tell them to come up. I don't want to disturb Grandfather and his friends downstairs."
The maid bowed and left, looking uncertain about the legitimacy of the slate-haired teen's request. In a traditional wake, all guests were to be met on the main floor of the house, and were only to be entertained by relatives after they had paid their last respects to the deceased, whose bodies were to be displayed - already in their casket - in the largest room. But then again, this wasn't as traditional as anyone would have liked: since neither Yuuhi's nor Akiko's body was found, there was nothing to display. Hence, Soichirou elected to dispense with tradition, just this once.
Another knock. Kai glanced up from his curled-up position on the bed. He knew who it was. "O-hairi," he called out. Once more, the oak panel swung inward, and in stepped - his hunch was right - Yuri, Takao, Rei, and Hiromi. The auburn-haired girl came forward him and sat beside him on the bed, laying a comforting hand on the teen's shoulder.
"Kai, I can't tell you how sorry I am, to hear what happened..." Hiromi said quietly, trying to look him in the eye.
"We know how much you loved your parents," Yuri added, settling into the swivel chair at Kai's desk.
"And we'd like you to know that we're here for you, man." Takao finished, sitting on Kai's other side.
"Besides, you never know, but this could be part of your God's plan..." Rei suggested, giving a small smile. "Remember Romans 8:28? 'For all things work according to Hiswill-'"
"'-to those that love His word.'" Kai finished, glancing up. "Rei, what are you getting at?"
"Just what you told me, Kai." The neko-jin stepped closer, a grim smile on his face. "You have to trust this is part of your God's plan for you. Your parents' deaths aren't meaningless; you just have to find out the reason, or wait for the reason to be revealed to you."
Kai gave a small smile. "Learning fast, aren't we? I can see that our thrice-a-week discipleship meetings are helping."
"And they should help you, too..." Rei replied, taking a seat on a wooden stool he found close by. "I hope you don't mind, though, that I said 'your God'; I'm still not sure whether to accept Him or not..."
"Don't worry; you'll get there..."
Yuri cleared his throat. "In case you two haven't noticed, there are three more of us in the room..."
"Oh, right. Sorry..." The slate-haired teen smiled apologetically. "Anyway, you guys didn't have to come directly after school; I doubt you had time to grab a snack before heading here, seeing at how early it is..."
"That's okay, Kai." Hiromi smiled. "What's more important: friends, or food?"
"True..." Kai muttered, glancing down at the floor. After a few moments, he stood up, then turned to face his companions. "C'mon," he started, making his way towards the door. "I think the snacks are being served now. You guys should get a little something..."
"Won't that look weird?" Yuri looked uncertain. "We just come downstairs and grab a bite to eat, hardly traditional..."
"It's all right; Ojiisan won't mind." Kai smiled again.
"If you say so..."
"Good morning, everyone!" the light brown-haired, thirty-something woman said loudly as she stepped up to the desk at the front of the classroom. Instantly, students who were still talking quieted down and glanced at her.
"Ohayou gozaimasu, Shibuya-sensei," Kai called from his seat in the third room, standing up as he did so. The class followed suit, only their greeting was much louder than Kai's - an anxiety-induced reaction, to be sure.
'Shibuya' just smiled, and then set down her clipboard. She then glanced directly at the slate-haired teen. "Hiwatari, it's nice to have you back. I'd like to apologize, though; I'm afraid I haven't been to offer my personal condolences; in case you don't know, I knew your mother from college, but unfortunately, we weren't that close. Perhaps if I-"
"Domo, sensei," Kai interrupted politely, a sad smile on his face. "I'm sure Grandfather will understand. I'd appreciate it, though, if we would refrain from mentioning it; I haven't come to terms with...the incident yet."
The teacher looked taken aback, blinking a few times before picking up her class list. "Well, if you insist..." she took a deep breath. "All right, everyone. I'll be taking attendance now...Azuki?"
"Grandfather? I'm home!" Kai called, kneeling down to take off his school shoes and slip on his slippers. He entered the living room, dropped his school bag onto the sofa, and then wandered back into the main hall. Barely two weeks after 'the ceremony' - as the amethyst-eyed teen preferred to call it - had arrived, and already it seemed that he and his last living relative were back to business as usual.
Hiwatari Soichirou poked his head out of his study. "Oh, Kai, there you are," he said gruffly. Kai nodded, offering a small smile. He knew his elder wasn't angry; he really was like that at this time in the afternoon.
"So..." Soichirou began, putting down the newspaper he held. "Are you planning anything tonight?"
Kai glanced up from retrieving his bag. He shook his head, and then added, "No, I'm not. May I ask why?"
The elderly Hiwatari let out a bark of laughter. "You needn't be so formal, boy! You remind me of your father, the way you speak. He acted that way, too, when he was around your age..." he reached over and ruffled Kai's hair, just as Susumu had. Kai blinked. Perhaps this was where his father had gotten the habit!
"Just because I'm the CEO of a well-known, multi-national company doesn't mean that I have to be treated as such by my own family, you know..." Soichirou settled down on the couch.
"Gomen." The slate-haired teen looked sheepish as he took a seat beside his grandfather. "I guess I'm...not used to speaking with you, Grandpa..."
"That's more like it..." Soichirou chuckled again, picking up his paper and folding it properly. "Anyway, Kai, I wanted to know if you had any plans for the evening because I'd wanted for us to go out to dinner together."
Purple orbs widened. "Y-you mean, just the two of us? Tonight?"
The gray-haired man nodded slowly. "Yes, tonight. And then, afterwards, we'll watch a movie. Well, if we can catch the last full show and if there's anything good on."
"But...why so suddenly?" Kai started twiddling his thumbs, something he did when he felt nervous about asking what he felt was a personal or otherwise offensive question.
"Well...the accident made me rethink my priorities, and I realized that I wasn't as close to your mom and dad as I wanted to be. So, my guess is, God is telling me that I should focus a bit more on getting to know you more than I do now."
"Hmm..." the slate-haired teen looked thoughtful. "We don't really talk much, do we?" he glanced up at his guardian, giving a sheepish smile.
The pair fell silent, content in each other's company. They had a lovely view of the sky through the bay window in front of them, and occasionally a bird or more - there were many nesting in the trees surrounding the estate - would fly by, chirping and twittering away. After a while, Soichirou turned to look at his grandson.
The young teen glanced up. "Yes?"
"Around two months ago, Susumu told me that you like drawing and mentioned an on-going comic book. May I see it? I have to say, I'm interested..."
Kai stood up quickly. "Um...s-sure! Hang on; I'll just go grab my portfolio from my room..." In a few minutes, the slate-haired teen had returned, a large, dark blue envelope clutched in his hands. This he handed to his grandfather. "Here."
Soichirou slowly lifted the flap and reached into the envelope. One by one, he took out the loose sheets of paper. For what seemed like forever to the teen, his elder scanned each page. At length, he glanced up, grinning proudly.
"Kai, I knew you were good and that you dabbled in art for a while, but I never expected this, not at your age. How long has this been going on?"
"It's been going on for a while now, Grandpa," Kai replied. "I'm working on it with Takao and Yuri."
"So it's a collaborated work." Soichirou slid the papers back into the envelope and handed the entire thing to Kai. "Tell me, Kai, are you planning to become a comic book illustrator when you graduate?"
Kai blinked. "Uh...Well, I've been thinking about it, but-"
"Uh-uh-uh..." the older Hiwatari waggled a finger in his grandson's face. "No 'buts', young man. You've been thinking about it, that's all there is to it."
"Okay..." The slate-haired teen wasn't sure where this conversation was going.
"Well, now that I've seen your work, I believe this dream of yours is going to turn out fine, Kai," Soichirou stood up. "By 'dream', I mean your wanting to 'go pro', so to speak, and work on your own comic. Anyway, here goes. If, by the time you finish high school, you still want to become a comic book illustrator, then I'll see to it that you're introduced to some comic book publishers I know."
Kai jumped up and hugged his elder ecstatically. "Thank you so much, Grandpa!"
Soichirou chuckled as he pryed himself loose from the teen's clutches. "Take note, though," he continued firmly. "You won't be shown favor just because you're related to me. Blood only takes you so far in this world. And I'll only introduce you; presenting copies of your portfolio and preparing your application letter will be your responsibility."
Kai grinned. "I know about that part, Grandfather, don't worry. Besides, introducing me to several publishers is more than enough!"
"I see..." Once more, Soichirou ruffled the slate-gray hair. "Well, enough on the future. You need to get changed if we're going to go to dinner and get to the theater afterwards. We have to come home early enough so you can finish at least half your homework."
"How about we go to dinner today, and then the movies tomorrow?" Kai suggested, already clutching his school bag. "After all, the movie listings don't change until Wednesday next week; there's no need to hurry."
"Well..." Kai's grandfather looked thoughtful. "I suppose you're right about that...Very well, then...off with you, now!"
"All right, all right, I'm going!" Kai said, half-laughing at the elder's bad British accent. "Just quit the accents; it doesn't suit you..."
"Just hurry up, Kai; I don't want the chauffeur to get agitated at being stuck in rush-hour traffic..."
A/N: O.o Okay, this chapter was a bit...strange to write. As seen from the manga and anime, Kai and his grandfather don't really get along... ; Ah, well...this is an AU fic, after all, so I guess it's acceptable and/or excusable to have them a bit OOC.
Well, hope you guys enjoyed this...installment. Hopefully the next update won't take as long...