Summary: What makes him angry is that Honey just doesn't try. Written for 31 days at lj, February 24, 2007: the clever son.

And uhm hey, this probably contradicts/will contradict canon like whoa, in more ways than one. (At the very least, manga canon. Why is Chika so much crazier in the manga than the anime? Hm.) But this is how the Haninozukas work in my head, so.

And holy, a fic from me without parenthesis and excessive italics. Seriously.

The Prodigal Son

When they were children, Chika constantly followed Mitsukuni around. "The Haninozuka puppy", the adults jokingly called him at one point. "He's so adorable! Honey's such a good influence on him."

But it didn't matter.

Chika rather liked the last part of that, anyway.

And then Honey would step out and give him a wave, so he'd run away from the clusters of chuckling elders to play with his older brother. Because what else really mattered when he was five?

"Ne, Mitsukuni, we'll always be able to play together, right?"

"Un, Chika!"

And that was all the assurance he needed to keep on running.

-l-

"Honey's such a good influence on him."

"It's good, because I worried at first, about Yasuchika. When Mitsukuni was his age he was already sparring with my youngest students. But Yasuchika…he doesn't seem to have the spirit, the energy. So I hope that Mitsukuni will encourage him along."

"Either way, you have two amazing and adorable sons."

A chuckle. "They won't be quite as cuddly and adorable for long. They're sure to toughen up soon."

-l-

Even as Mitsukuni grew to be more and more of a startlingly powerful fighter, he still had that ever-boyish face. And that inexplicable love for cute and cuddly things. And cakes. And strawberries. And bunnies. And cakes.

Their mother smiled a lot, tucked him and Usa-chan in at night and said goodnight to all of his stuffed animals with him. Baked cakes with them in the afternoons despite their father's grumbling that that was what the cooks were for, wiped off the flour dust from their faces with the corner of her pure white apron and let them lick the last dollop of cream off of the spatula. Strawberry shortcakes were her best, he remembered. Honey only loved them more and more every time he ate one or three of them straight from the oven.

"You have a stomach for sweets just like your mother does," their father would sigh before ruffling his head fondly.

Chika hadn't found it odd at the time.

-l-

"Honey loves sweets very much, doesn't he?"

"And he always carries around that stuffed animal. Such an adorable little boy. You don't find many like him nowadays."

"You're underestimating him. He'll grow up to be one of the most powerful fighters one day. And when that time comes, he'll have no need for such superficial, sentimental things."

"But having a love for such things isn't necessarily a bad thing, Haninozuka-san."

"No, of course not. But it is if you're destined to surpass our clan."

-l-

Chika loved his mother very much.

His mother, in retrospect, had probably loved Mitsukuni the most.

Not that his parents would ever admit outright that they loved one son over the other. And in all likelihood, they didn't even realize it themselves. It was just something that was bound to happen if one son was more prodigious than the other in a family like theirs. That was all.

Chika never felt very bothered by the fact. Because, he loved his brother very much. No competition between them. Sure, his brother had his quirks – acting childish around some people and growing startlingly mature around others, consuming whole cakes in a sitting, strange techniques – but he loved him all the same.

He watched his brother and his mother conversing with low tones, marveled again at how he seemed to change into another person around her. He wouldn't even do that around their father, though that might've had something to do with the stuffed animals and the cakes.

He saw the way his mother seemed to be holding herself. She had always had a delicate constitution, he remembered, always seemed to move so carefully, like she could break eggshells if she stepped too hard on the ground. And several years ago, she had to stay in bed for an entire month as the doctors came and went from the mansion.

None of them ever told him why, and he learned not to ask.

Their mother looked up at him and smiled, beckoned him over.

Chika went.

Because he loved them very much.

-l-

"Ah, Mitsukuni."

"Mother. Are you feeling better?"

"Mmn, yes. Nothing that bed rest wouldn't cure, the doctor said."

Silence.

"Mother?"

"No, I'm sorry. I just…needed to catch my breath for a second."

"Mother…"

A low whisper. "Mitsukuni, take care of Chika if something happens to me, all right?"

"What?"

"No, nothing. Here, what would you like to do today? I talked to your father and he said it'd be fine to take a break today."

"But if I miss even one day, then – "

"Well, then you can go in a little later. The doctors told me that for a few days, I might have to go away somewhere for a while, so."

"The hospital? Is it…that serious, Mother?"

"…It might be. They don't know yet." Pause. "But let's not think about that today. What would you like to do? Bake a cake? I had the maids bring in fresh ingredients this morning. We can make strawberry shortcake, if you'd like."

"Really?"

"Of course."

-l-

One day, he wandered through the halls on his way to the kitchen, and heard voices floating from a room as he walked past.

"Mother – "

He stopped at the door.

"Yes, Mitsukuni, I know. But please, try your best. Be strong for Yasuchika and your father, and me."

Chika turned and walked the other way.

-l-

"Your father didn't want me to tell either of you, but I think you need to know."

"Mother – "

"The doctor gave us his latest report. It's…" A long pause. "I'm sorry, Mitsukuni."

Silence.

"It's terminal, isn't it?"

"I'm sorry, Mitsukuni, I'm sorry."

A slight waver in his voice. "It's…it's not your fault. You shouldn't apologize."

"But I can't leave all three of you behind. I'm not supposed to do that." A bittersweet smile. "I'm your mother, aren't I?"

"Mother – "

"Yes, Mitsukuni, I know. But please, try your best. Be strong for Yasuchika and your father. And me."

A long pause.

"And…don't let your training consume you after I… I know your father, and I know what he'd do. And Yasuchika has always resembled him more than you have. You may be regarded as a true successor of the Haninozukas, but remember, there is more than one way to be strong."

"I know. You've…taught me that, Mother."

"…I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry…"

-l-

Their mother died on a Wednesday.

Chika stood with his head bowed, sank and rose when the others did during the funeral rites. Sniffled a little bit, but that was okay, because he was a little boy and his mother was –

He glanced at Honey. His eyes were dry, did not even glimmer.

A strange feeling welled up inside of him, but he refused to think about it.

He had loved his brother too long to consider hating him now.

Too long.

But they say that hate is the same thing as love, don't they.

-l-

"We are so sorry, Haninozuka-san, for your loss and theirs. No child should be forced to go through what they have to bear right now."

"They're taking it pretty well. Mitsukuni's keeping a hold of himself, being a strong example for his brother, but at home, when nobody's there, he…"

"We're sorry."

"They're immersing themselves in their training. It'll do them good. Keep them strong."

Head bowing and departures.

"Haninozuka-san, allow us to express our sorrow for your loss."

-l-

Almost instantaneously, Honey increased the severity of his training regimen. Extra hours, extra sparring, extra drills. No cake, no strawberries, no Usa-chan. Chika put more effort into it as well, even getting appraising glances from his father once in a while.

When the two of them sparred, though, sometimes Chika would win. When Honey fought against any and all of the other students, that never happened, but sometimes, sometimes he would lose against his brother.

It made him feel good, knowing that he could take down the esteemed Haninozuka heir when no one else could. It made him feel great, knowing that he could bring him down.

He'd think about their mother and throw an extra punch to his gut to be sure.

"But Chika, you're becoming overconfident," Satoshi remarked to him one day as he walked out for a breath of air.

He ignored him.

"Just from watching, I don't think you know the full story. Your brother's letting you win some of those times, you know? Honey just doesn't do half the things he does when he fights you in any other battle."

"So you're saying I'm not strong enough, is that it?"

"No, you idiot, that's not what I'm saying!"

He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, walked forward. "It's what you're saying, and I'll tell you this: I am strong enough to defeat my brother."

Satoshi didn't try to pursue him as he left.

Chika didn't think about it.

-l-

"Takashi…"

"Mitsukuni."

"…Chika's been different lately, you know?"

"Aa."

"Before, when mother…things were different. Chika was different. He's kind of a stranger now, you know?"

"Aa."

"And you know…I think…he's mad at me."

"Maybe."

"I can see it the most when we're fighting. There's just something…an expression of his. And then it always makes me feel guilty. So I stop, and I let him win."

"I know. We all know."

"Yeah. I thought so."

"Satoshi tells me about it. He wanted me to tell you something."

"What?"

"You're doing a disservice to Chika, letting him win. Giving everything up."

"..."

"Mitsukuni."

"I know. I'm trying. It's just…being pulled by two different forces."

"Mn."

-l-

But one day, everything changed.

Chika came home to find Mitsukuni sitting with his stuffed bunny in the kitchen, happily eating a chocolate strawberry cake.

"Mitsukuni!"

He looked up. "Hey, Chika! Wanna share some cake?"

"No."

He shrugged. "That's too bad, because this is one of mother's recipes. It's really good."

A vein twitched in his temple. "You're supposed to spar with me in fifteen minutes."

"I know. I'll be there. I'm just having a snack first."

Not twitched. Throbbed.

Chika turned on his heel and left, clenching his fists.

Fifteen minutes later, they stayed clenched as he faced Mitsukuni in the dojo. He didn't know what got into his brother today, but he wasn't going to let it by. He wasn't. For mother, father, their family – he wasn't.

Fifteen seconds later, Chika found himself with his back to the floor and his triumphant brother standing above him. Fifteen seconds.

No.

"Do you admit defeat?"

"No."

"But Chika," his brother said with that childish tone and complete sincerity, "You have to! You can't even get up."

Startled, he looked down at his hands and saw that his sleeves were pinned down by shuriken. "When…?"

"When I dodged your kick and punched you in the stomach. I threw the shuriken right after."

He steamed. How could he. How could he. He wasn't supposed to lose. He'd been able to defeat him before, so why not today? Why? Was his motivation not good enough? Were Mitsukuni's childish ways and his yield to selfish desires somehow better, stronger?

No. No, no, no.

His brother bent down and pulled out the two shuriken, but didn't manage to get up before he grabbed his wrist.

"Chika." It wasn't a question.

"I swear to you, Mitsukuni, I will defeat you again. I can't believe this. Even after mother's death, even after father's requests, you've turned irresponsible in hardly one day. How?"

"Chika." He shook off his grip, slowly stood up. "I'm quitting the karate club."

Quitting.

He had to clear his mind for a moment, to take a breath. "You're…quitting."

"Yes."

"Are you trying to stain the Haninozuka name? How will father react?"

"I've already discussed it with him. He said it's all right, as long as I continue my training at home and stay as focused as before. I told him that I had another club at school and that I didn't think I could devote myself to both without being unfair to at least one of them. He said it was fine."

Chika stared at his brother, at this stranger, at that light in his eyes that proved he wouldn't back down from this.

"Fine, Mitsukuni. But you have no right – no right – to bear the Haninozuka name. You have no right to be the family's heir."

How dare he, how dare he do all of these things in one day. How dare he do any of these things at all.

And with that, he got to his feet and marched out of the dojo.

He didn't look back.

-l-

"You did the right thing, Mitsukuni."

"I think so."

Silence.

"So were you also invited to the Host Club by Suou?"

"Mn."

"I thought so. I think…it's the right thing to do."

"Yasuchika will understand one day."

"…I hope so. But until then, he'll just have to find what he thinks is true strength the way he wants to."

"Mn."

Silence.

"…You know, I think mother would have been proud of me."

"I think so."

-l-

He's never going to forgive his brother.

Every day, he polishes his glasses until they're crystal-bright, walks into the dojo, and trains. Trains himself, trains the students, just trains. And doesn't stop.

They say that hate is the same thing as love, don't they, echoes in the back of his mind, and he punches the sandbag an extra three times for good measure.

-l-

"Mitsukuni?"

He flew into her arms – or at least, would have, if he hadn't remembered her condition and restrained himself first. "Mother!"

"Say hello to your new baby brother, Mitsukuni. His name's Yasuchika."

"Chika!"

The baby gurgled.

"Aw, I think he likes that. Don't you, Chika?"

"Wow, a baby brother! He's so cute! I can't wait when he grows a little older! Do you think he likes stuffed animals?"

She laughed. "You sound like you're going to be a great older brother, Mitsukuni."

"I'm going to try my best!"

Another laugh. "Always take care of him no matter what, all right? Be a good example for him. Just in case."

"I promise, mother. I promise."

Years later, Haninozuka Mitsukuni keeps that promise to the best of his ability.

Whether Chika knows or not.

-l-


I rushed this like hell today to meet the deadline and almost missed it anyway, so. I'm not completely satisfied with this, and I think time would've helped it. So with any luck, I'll revisit this idea sometime in the future. This theme thing was a spur of the moment idea, anyway. There's also the 26th's theme, which I promised to write Ouran for, but…I don't know if I'll have time. We'll see. D:

Thank you so, so much to Dex for beta'ing while I was off playing my card games tonight.
(And, uh, I dunno what happened with that Yumichika thing. There was Yumizuka from the Tsukihime fic, then Officer Yumi from DC, and…stuff. You know? I don't know. And I wrote the last half during the car ride and then I suffered from a bout of nausea and blegh. excuses XD)

Thanks for reading, and comments and the like are loved. Very loved. :D