AUTHORS: Us Entitys
DISCLAIMER: Azure Dreams is a product of Konami; we're merely playing with the characters found therein.
PAIRINGS: Ghosh + Kou
NOTES: Written 02.13.2003. Figured we'd best post it where it could be read by other fans of the game.

All Hearts' Day:

Ghosh Rhode gazed out of his window arms crossed over his chest and sighed in misery. It didn't often rain in the secluded town of Monsbaiya. The last heavy downpour like the one currently falling had taken place eight years ago; the day Kou's father, Guy, and his partner Beldo had battled at the Tower top. However, this All Hearts Day had dawned with sheets of precipitation overflowing the small river and pond that ran through the heart of the town. It was a great disappointment as all the townspeople had been looking forward to having the All Hearts' Day Festival on the newly built fountain platform; a fountain that Ghosh and Kou had funded together as one of Ghosh's many petty games of one-upmanship. A competition Kou's only friend since childhood, Nico Southey, had unwittingly started. The weather was unfortunate indeed.

Today there would be no social. Everyone would stay inside and contemplate the wasted day; instead of dressing in their best church clothes they would find their most comfortable pajamas. The stands selling those delicious octopus balls and Kou t-shirts would be closed. If Cherrl Child were going to sell her Kou plush dolls then she would likely do so from her house; far on the other side of town and too long a walk in such dismal weather. This was unfortunate as well to Ghosh, who'd been thinking of getting one. And thinking of Kou led to the thought that perhaps it was a good thing that the All Hearts' Day festivities had been canceled. Kou had never gone to one before; his family had been poor until his recent accomplishments in the Tower. Ghosh supposed that it would have been embarrassing to show up in their everyday ragged, patched clothing. It was also customary to bring foodstuffs to share, however that had likely been out of the question; Kou was skin and bones.

Ghosh hailed from a wealthy family. He and his sister, Selfi, had never wanted for much. Admittedly, they had always picked on Kou unmercifully. A well of shame claimed Ghosh as he thought of it. Kou had been nothing but nice to them. Anything they said about him, he refused to deny. Kou would merely smile and nod his head, his deep ruby eyes unwavering as he faced those who mocked him. They picked at his clothes, called him names, made fun of him for having a house too tiny for a proper bathroom. Ghosh remembered well the days when the boy would bathe outside in a rusty garbage can and all Kou had ever said was 'So what, this feels good.' He never once complained about his status. He merely proved everyone wrong. He had proved Ghosh wrong.

Ghosh fingered his flaxen hair, blue eyes troubled. Kou would likely spend the day in the Tower, even if it did stop raining. Almost every eligible and beautiful female in town had succumbed to his charm. They would likely all be vying for his attention; dedicating their All Hearts' Day Dance to him. Kou had never once encouraged them, however for some reason or another quite a few females had latched onto him and were pressing the marriage issue. Nico Southey loved him because he had become what she had termed was cultured, she probably meant rich to Ghosh's way of thinking. Cherrl Child likely only loved him for fighting his way to the twenty-eighth floor of the Tower and finding the Healing herb; the only thing that would save her life. And Vivian Merca, whom had migrated to Monsbaiya very recently, had fallen for him because he supported her dream of being a dancer. Ghosh had to admit though, becoming fond of Kou was entirely too easy to do.

He couldn't say when he had begun to think of Kou as a possible romantic interest. Perhaps it was when Ghosh had covertly watched Kou bathe outside, or teased him, or left him little gifts in the Tower like a medicinal herb or a wind crystal under the pretense of having lost a battle between them. Perhaps he had always . . . loved him. From Kou's unfashionably, long, shaggy red hair, to his deep crimson eyes and full pink lips, Ghosh found himself keenly drawn to the boy. It was steadily becoming more difficult to keep up indifference or arrogance in Kou's presence. There were plenty of conflicting emotions when Ghosh met Kou in the Tower on the second floor. Challenging him to a duel instead of offering to go with him like he wanted to, sapped all of his concentration.

Selfi flouncing into the room ended his thought pattern. His sister held her witch's hat in both hands wringing the water from it on to his room floor. Her usual magic staff absent. She seemed a bit miffed at her bedraggled state, but there was a smile on her face. "What are you still laying in bed for Ghosh? Didn't you hear? They've decided to have the All Hearts' Day festival in the Amusement Center. They say you can the play the games and win prizes for your loved one." Selfi gave up on the hat and closed in on Ghosh's bed, a small stream forming from her dripping body. "I also heard Puffy Lips was invited as a guest of honor. They tracked him down before he could go back into the Tower and made him promise to be there. What's so great about Kou anyway?"

Ghosh shrugged, debated for a quick second on his choice of words, and then answered. "Well he did pay to have the Amusement Center built. All Hearts' Day wouldn't be possible if he hadn't."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Selfi muttered. "It's weird. Him being just as rich if not richer than us all of a sudden. Now you can't really make fun of him without someone whacking you on the head and saying 'show some respect' or something like that, when they used to say the same things."

Ghosh nodded, it was true. Lately he'd been keeping their little spats within the confines of the Tower. But then people in Monsbaiya tended to be anal about swords in town anyhow. "Hey, Selfi, do you have someone to Dance for?"

Selfi blinked her large blue eyes at her brother. One booted foot tapped the puddle of water at her feet. "Well, this one Hunter gave me a bouquet and a couple other gifts. I guess I'll dedicate my Dance to him. What about you? Anyone dancing for you, or that you'll give a Dance to?"

"Not this year," Ghosh answered.

Selfi immediately was sympathetic. "Oh, poor big brother," she murmured and mindful of her drenched state, reached out to pat Ghosh on the head. They were practically twins; the same age born ten months apart, Selfi hated for Ghosh to feel bad. "Well don't give up hope, someone might come along. But don't wait too long to go out looking, Fur said she was closing the hardware store early today. Hey, I heard she doesn't have anyone to Dance for . . ."

Ghosh groaned dramatically, "No thank you, Selfi" orange-haired, cherry-eyed, Fur Gots, the owner of the hardware store, was pretty enough but her tongue was lethal. Last he'd heard she and Kou were having a spat and so wasn't the best company at the moment.

"Well Patty is out of the question, even though I know you like her," Selfi continued. "The Diner is going to be open all day and night today, and her dad needs her help, so she won't be there."

"That's quite alright," Ghosh replied and Selfi's hand massaged his scalp. Patty Pan, the waitress at the Diner with the long pink hair pulled back into a pony tail, and lively green eyes, seemed nice enough. However, Patty was currently miffed at him for not paying his tab a few days earlier. That was her one pet peeve, and Ghosh wasn't ready to apologize yet.

"Well, how about Mia?" Selfi suggested, tongue in cheek.

Ghosh glared at her.

Selfi ruffled Ghosh's blond head. "Lighten up, it was a joke. Mia Myria's entirely too young and she's a stalker type. Last I saw she was following, Puffy Lips around. But that's everybody. I heard Vivian, Nico, and Cherrl, were all dedicating their Dance to Puffy Lips, Kou. And everybody's wondering if he'll get up and Dance with any of them."

"Well," Ghosh murmured. "Guess we won't know anything until we go, huh?"

Selfi smiled. "That sounds great. Sorry about your floor. I'll have one of the servants clean it up right away." With one last touch to his head, Selfi dripped her way back out of the room leaving an even greater puddle. Ghosh supposed little things like that didn't bother her anymore. Selfi was training to become a sorcerer and went into the Tower just as frequently as he did. She was a lot tougher than she looked.

Ghosh peaked out of his window once again. The weather seemed to have gotten far worse.

Ghosh lingered in the tub longer than he should have. But the water was warm, and the manacles on his mind heavy. He should not have brought up the Dance. This was the first year he didn't have some one guaranteed to Dance for him. Up until last year, anytime he didn't have a date, Selfi would do it so he wouldn't feel bad. But at sixteen they were considered grown ups now, and it wouldn't be proper for Selfi to give him a Dance anymore. And Ghosh felt that he didn't have the right to Dance for Kou's affections. Not yet anyway, not until he apologized completely; put his forehead to the floor in complete prostration.

After his bath he'd gone to the restaurant out of sheer necessity. There was only one servant working at his household today and it wasn't fair to have the man cook and trail his sister's dripping form through the house. The small Diner was full with All Hearts' Day lovers and loners alike. Patty Pan could be seen taking orders and running to and from the kitchen with record speed. After she'd settled the last customer she turned to face the doorway and her cheerful, if slightly harassed smile, drooped completely.

"Oh, it's you," she snorted. She placed one hand on her hip and glared.

"Don't worry, I'm paying this time and for the last one."

Instantly, Patty Pan's face lit up, her usual smile in place once again. "Then please sit here." She settled him by a Hunter and his supposed Dance partner. "And what would you like to order today?"

"Shining Prawns, please," Ghosh answered. Shining Prawns was Patty's specialty and it always put her in a better mood when she made it. The waitress's brighter smile sealed his guess.

"Coming right up," Patty beamed and then disappeared into the kitchen.

As he waited for his food Ghosh played with the salt and pepper shakers and even toyed with the napkin dispenser. All around him patrons obviously in love dined together, smiling, laughing, talking. And later they would likely dedicate their Dance to each other as any couple should on All Hearts' Day. Ghosh suddenly felt like throwing up or barring the doors and setting the place on fire. Holidays like this one that merely pointed out how alone you were never made much sense to him anyway. They were great if you had someone to celebrate with, or if you were bold enough to risk rejection, but generally useless to the majority of the population. Patty sat his plate in front of him and then sat down in the seat across from him.

"Just a quick break," she assured him. She closed her eyes and stretched out her long legs with a grimace. "It's been a long day so far and its only morning," she sighed. Patty's bright green eyes met his. "Storing up energy for your Dance?"

"No," Ghosh answered her shortly.

"Oh," Patty breathed. She fidgeted in her seat and then tried another angle. "Well I wish I were going, even though I don't have a Dance to dedicate to anyone. Well maybe to Kou, but I hear he already has three dancers lined up, and one is a professional, which really isn't any fair."

Ghosh paused in taking a bite out of the prawns. Poor girl was lonely. Patty Pan was fourteen years old, and he could only recall her going to one All Hearts' Day festival. That was before her father had deemed her old enough to work in the Diner. He made a mental note to get the girl something from Fur's place of business. Girls were so high in maintenance. "The Dance is supposed to be based on love not skill. I'm sure that if the love is pure it'll be better than even a professional."

"That's a really nice thing to say Ghosh."

The blond boy shrugged. It was easier to talk to Patty when he wasn't competing with Kou for her affection. It was a lot easier knowing who one was in love with period. The Diner's door opened and there was a pause throughout the establishment, and then raucous applause and hoots. At the door Kou stood, wild red hair drooping under the weight of the water dripping from it. Beside him flew his first tamed monster, a kewne that he had named Raja. He seemed more embarrassed than pleased at his reception, and to Ghosh looked as though he were either casting about for a place to hide or a reason to leave. Kou offered a shy smile and small wave, perusing the room with battle quick reflexes. Ghosh realized that he had found his reason three seconds after Kou had. There wasn't a single empty seat. However Patty was already popping up from hers and gesturing magnanimously for Kou to take it. The poor boy couldn't say no; his father had ingrained it into him at a young age to be nice to women. And so he sat across from Ghosh, with is kewne monster in his lap looking distinctly uncomfortable. So cute . . . He looks so adorable when he's upset, Ghosh thought hiding his charmed smile behind a bite of his prawns

"The usual, Kou?" Patty queried sweetly.

"Yes, please. Could you make that two?" he asked, indicating Raja.

"Of course." With a swish of her pink and white uniform, Patty returned to the kitchen not even bothering to write down the order.

"Oh. So you're not here to buy this place too," Ghosh remarked offhandedly the moment Patty was out of earshot.

Kou turned baleful burgundy eyes on him. His full lips compressed into a tight white line for a second before opening, "What is it with you?" Kou hissed. "You made fun of me because I was poor, and now you're picking at me because I'm not. Make up your mind."

Ghosh sniffed and turned his eyes back to his food. That hadn't been what he'd wanted to say. It had just slipped out of its own accord. Why couldn't he just say one semi-kind thing to a person that he actually genuinely liked? Why had it been so simple to spout sweet nothings in to ears he cared nothing for, but when it came to saying something important he was at a loss of words? Suddenly Shining Prawns looked dull and uninviting. Ghosh pushed his plate away and laid down his owed sum plus his current bill onto the table. "Make sure Patty gets this?" He turned hopeful blue eyes on Kou who looked like he'd been about to say something more.

Instead Kou said, "Sure." And maybe there was a flicker of something in his ruby eyes.

At the Amusement Center couples walked the floor hand in hand as they played the mini games and won prizes for their loved one. Ghosh arrived and shook rain water from his jacket when there was a lull in activity. It was just before the Dance would begin. More people were milling about clearing spaces for dancers, and dancers were getting their music right and doing last minute rehearsals. Ghosh was actually glad that he wasn't in on the whole Dance phenomena this year. With the majority of the Hunters back from the Tower and half the town come out of their homes for the festivities, it was crowded in the Amusement Center. Ghosh found a wall to lean against where he would have unlimited access to watching the dancers perform. With lead dancer of the Theater, Vivian, displaying her love, Ghosh couldn't say that it was altogether a bad year to be a mere spectator.

The Dance didn't begin until Kou arrived, over a half hour later. Jorda, Monsbaiya's priest, made a big to do about Kou' accomplishments and crowned him Biggest Heart of All, which was given to someone every year for their random acts of kindness. Kou didn't take the extra attention very well to Ghosh's way of thinking. He'd blushed as red as his hair and stammered something that could have been a 'thank-you' as he hugged his kewne, and then excused himself. As he was the Crowned, however, those who would present their Dance to him were allowed to go first.

Nico Southey came out then and declared who she performed for as was the custom. Her Dance was simple if a bit primal which matched her tomboyish nature. She ended with a turn and a wink for Kou. He'd smiled and applauded with the rest of the onlookers, and thanked her. However he didn't say that he would like to Dance with her later. Nico looked a bit disappointed but she hid it as well as she knew how.

Cherrl Child did not Dance as everyone had expected. She was still recovering from her illness and Dr. Hal had advised against it. However she did offer Kou one of her plush dolls; it was a replica of Raja, one of the familiars that had helped him make it to the Twenty-eighth floor of the Tower. Kou accepted it graciously, but did not offer anything in return. Vivian Merca's Dance was excruciatingly precise yet graceful. The crowd had sat enthralled as she dipped and posed, her ballet frail yet sturdy.

Kou treated Vivian no different from the other two. He stood from his seat and took her place in the cleared area. He didn't say who his Dance was for, merely said that that person would know. His steps were every bit as simple as Nico's but there was a polished sort of grace to it that not even Vivian could rival. For one split second a stunning crimson eye met Ghosh's and held it. And perhaps he was correct in that that person would know, if this burning intensity searing into me from just one of his eyes is any indication. Ghosh's breath caught. Kou's was a short dance, but it had accomplished what the previous ones had failed.

It was not until after Selfi's coy yet innocent Dance that Kou approached Ghosh. The blond saw him coming long before he was at his side. The entire slow encroachment Ghosh had wracked through every inch of his brain searching for something non-violent, non-insulting, non-intimidating thing to say. He wanted his words to be profound, something that let Kou know that he reciprocated those feelings Kou had Danced whole-heartedly, even though he behaved like such an ass most of the time.

"Ghosh . . ." Kou began hesitantly.

The flaxen haired youth could only cross his arms over his chest in his usual pose, however he lifted one gloved hand in a small wave and offered a shy smile, his blue eyes soft as he watched Kou. Something profound . . . something nice.