By Chocolate Wolfie
Author's Note: Hey all! Chocolate Wolfie here! This is my Oneshot sequel to my story The Darkness Beyond; it's written as a sort of one-year anniversary of one of my favorite fanfics to write. I'd like to take this time to dedicate this to Tylec Asroc, whom left lengthy reviews as well as good advice for me every chapter of the story. The title is inspired by the song "Simple and Clean" by Utada Hikaru. Much love to you all!
It was hard to believe that it had been an entire year.
The red-tressed teenager ran a hand over the pale pink fabric of her kimono, smoothing the imaginary wrinkles as she studied herself in the mirror. Adjusting her ponytail, Ichigo plucked a long, green and yellow haori off of her bed and slipped it into her shoulders, nervously chewing her lip as she paced across the room to her door and plodded down the hallway.
As soon as she stepped into the kitchen, the girl's mother looked up from her laptop where she was typing and bouncing a baby on her knee. Dewy brown orbs widened and then misted over in emotion, "Oh, Ichigo! You look beautiful!"
Ichigo sheepishly stared at her feet, covered in the awkwardly shaped tabi socks, "Thanks, Mama." She grumbled humbly, embarrassed at the same time.
Sakura Momoiya stood up from her chair, holding her six-month old daughter Ouka to her breast. "Oh! My baby's growing up! It seems just like yesterday me and your father were bringing you home from the hospital…" The redhead gushed, her voice flooded with nostalgia.
"I think you're getting me confused with Ouka, Mama." The teen sighed as her mother pulled her into a one-armed hug and giggled softly.
"Yeah, well." A voice grumpily stated as Shintaru Momoiya sauntered into the kitchen, his hands on his hips, "She's not that grown up." The brunette walked over to his daughter and looked her straight in the eye, his own brown ones narrowed, "If that boy tries anything on you- anything, I will personally ca-"
"Shin-chan!" Sakura gasped, pulling her arm off of Ichigo and planting it on her side, "Ichigo's been out on dates with Ryou-kun plenty of times! He's a charming young man and you know he's not like that."
"Yeah, yeah." Shintaru grumbled, rolling his eyes before he set them on his eldest daughter once more and they softened, "But Ichigo… you really are growing up into a beautiful young lady and I'm very proud of you."
"Tou-san…" Ichigo continued to blush, her complexion nearing the shade of a tomato as she embraced her father, burying her face into the crook of his neck.
"Which makes me all the more wary of that boy." Grumbled the tan man before Ichigo sighed, exasperated and pulled away from him, setting her hands firmly on her sides in a way eerily similar to that of her mother.
"Tou-san!" Huffed the redhead, "Will you EVER give it a rest?"
Pastel violet tresses fluttered softly in the wind as the tall young woman strode into the cemetery. She was dressed in a placid black jumper decorated with ivory outlines of lilies over a white turtleneck to protect her from the chill of early evening. Long black boots lightly treaded the lush grass, careful not to leave lasting impressions as the tall woman found her way to an ashen headstone marked Fujiwara. The young woman humbly placed her hands together and began to pray silently, offering her respects to her deceased father.
"Still coming to see him, Zakuro?" A soft voice inquired in English. Sapphire orbs widened, Zakuro's dark pupils becoming tiny dots as she slowly turned to see a regal woman cross the small cemetery towards her. Flaxen hair was gathered into a bun at the top of her head, which cascaded down into messy curls. She was dressed in a flutter blouse of many layers of mesh fabric the fell off of her shoulders, accompanied by a pair of white flared jeans. A white leather purse thrown over her shoulder completed the ensemble perfectly.
The woman stopped before Zakuro and reached out to take her face in her hand, each finger perfectly manicured. Dark orbs studied the younger woman's face as the elder woman turned her face to get a better look at it. "Still as pretty as a picture, I see." Commented the woman softly, letting her hand drop from Zakuro's face before she turned towards the grave, her expression slightly smug. The violet-tressed teen kept her eyes pinned on the woman as she blinked her sapphire orbs calmly as the two stood in silence.
"So, what brings you here," Zakuro began, "Kaa-san?"
"Don't worry, you look beautiful." Ryou laced his fingers with Ichigo's and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. Icy azure locked with dewy brown and he kissed her cheek softly. Ichigo forced a nervous smile before she broke his gaze, her eyes traveling to the orbs of light darting in a straight line through the tinted window.
Ichigo had never been to any sort of private formal event before; she'd have counted the large ball held in the honor of the mew mew's, but it was a more widespread, and she hadn't had to sit down and have a private dinner like this before.
When an old friend of Ryou's father had come into Tokyo with his family and invited him out to dinner and a performance of kabuki, the young man had been quick to invite Ichigo along with him.
Ichigo scrunched her hands up into fists, wishing that she could knot the fabric of her skirt nervously, but didn't want to take the chances of ruining her kimono. She shot an optic death ray to Ryou, whom had the leisure of choosing to wear a business suit to the dinner and performance.
As the limousine pulled up to the building with an elongated screech, Ichigo felt her stomach tie into nervous knots, her heart palpitating rapidly in her chest as it did so. The door opened, and the chauffer kindly took Ichigo's hand and helped her out, Ryou climbing out behind her, ignoring the man's outstretched hand completely. Ichigo adjusted her haori and smiled timidly at Ryou, whom reached out to run his hand through her long red ponytail, her hair having grown several inches in the past year.
"I have something for you." Said the towhead softly; reaching into his pocket, he removed a long wooden box and opened it. The inside was lined with white satin, on which an elegant silver hairpin rested, gems of stunning covers waterfalled off the hairpin, making small plik-ing noises as he slid it into her hair, running his fingers down the strands of gems, "It suits you."
Ichigo reached up to touch the hairpin, a light blush creeping onto her cheeks as her eyes met with Ryou's, "Thank you."
The blonde smiled softly and placed his hands on her shoulders, his lips meeting hers briefly, "And watch the cat-ears. I don't want to explain to Takahashi-San why my girlfriend is half Irimote Wildcat." Grinned the young man before Ichigo playfully whacked his arm. With a jovial chuckle, Ryou allowed Ichigo to take his offered arm and the two headed into the restaurant.
The blonde woman reached across the table and fingered a lock of Zakuro's hair, scoffing at it lightly before tossing it away, "I don't know why you continue to dye your hair that ridiculous color." Scowled the woman, "Its no wonder you haven't gotten a modeling job in so long. You're slipping."
"Kaa-san." Zakuro said softly to her mother, "I think its best I take a break every now and then. I have a very enjoyable job and-"
The blonde scoffed loudly, "What? Working at one of those low-life maid café's pouring tea for adolescent boys and perverted business men so they can stare down your shirt? You're better than that, Zakuro." The woman reached up to pat her already-flawless blonde hair, "And don't call me 'Kaa-san', it sounds so… old."
"All right then, Estelle." Zakuro nodded calmly, "And I don't see you complaining about bleaching your hair."
Estelle fingered her flaxen tresses in a nearly offended way, blue eyes narrowing coldly, "It looks natural."
"And besides." Said the younger woman calmly, reaching out to grasp her water. She took a brief sip, half-lidded sapphire orbs piercing her mother from over the rim of the cup, "It isn't as if your job isn't degrading."
Estelle's azure eyes widened in shock and she scoffed loudly with a toss of her hair, "At least I made it better than you." She sneered. Zakuro retained her calm aura and set down her cup, staring at the ice within as it swirled within the clear liquid, eventually spinning to a stop.
"Shirogane!" A businessman in his early fifties stood from the table where he was sitting. His graying black hair was combed over a blatantly noticeable bald spot, and his round face was scrunched into a smile, dark eyes squinting happily from behind thick spectacles. Mr. Takahashi reached out to wrap both his hands around Ryou's and shook it enthusiastically, "Good to see you, my boy! You still look like a blonde version of your father." The stout man placed a hand on his head and let it travel straight foreword, only meeting Ryou's chin, "Well I'll be damned. The little beanpole finally passed me up." Mr. Takahashi's sparkling eyes shifted away from Ryou and came to rest on Ichigo, his cheerful smile spreading ear-to-ear.
"And I would suppose this would be the lovely Momoiya-San." The stout businessman took Ichigo's hand and pressed it to his lips.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Takahashi-Sama." Whispered the redhead, her cheeks tinting pink. The man roared with laughter, patting the teenager on the hand in a comforting way.
"Oh, no need to be so formal, Momoiya-San." Mr. Takahashi grinned at the girl, his small eyes sparkling kindly. Ryou cleared his throat, placing his hands on his hips and the stout businessman rolled his eyes, "You can shut me up now, Shirogane. You're so polite sometimes that its just blatantly rude."
"Wouldn't you like to introduce your family, Takahashi?" The towhead inquired, slight exasperation showing through his voice. Mr. Takahashi smiled and turned back to the table where his family had been quietly waiting, used to his peculiar ways.
"Ah, yes. This is my lovely wife Miharu," A small woman dressed in a jade green kimono waved with a smile, "My son Tenkaru," A teenage boy, his black tresses dyed deep red, glanced up at the two and nodded, "And his girlfriend Yuki." A pretty girl with long black hair that framed her face beamed at the new arrivals and waved energetically.
"Its so good to see you again, Shirogane-Kun." Miharu stood from the table and embraced Ryou, the blonde smiling and accepting the hug warmly.
"Yo, Otouto." The faux redhead reached out to grasp Ryou's hand, "It's been awhile."
"I can say the same, Nii-san." The blonde nodded in agreement as Yuki promptly hopped up from the table to embrace Ryou.
"Oh, Ryou-Kun! Yuki-Chan's heard so much about you! Ten-Chan won't stop talking about Ryou-Kun! Yuki-Chan is so happy to meet Ryou-Kun!" The girl spun around to Ichigo, light brown eyes lucid with cheer, "Yuki-Chan's heard a little about Ichigo-Chan! Wow! Ichigo-Chan is sugoi, desu!"
"Um, thanks…" Ichigo muttered, wishing deeply that she could curl up in a little ball and hide under the table. While Miharu and Tenkaru were mild and relatively normal, Mr. Takahashi was slightly flamboyant and Yuki was… well, a three almonds short of a nut farm.
"I don't think being the star of a British porn magazine is the same as turning out more successful than me." The purple tressed young woman said after a five-minute pause, in which her and Estelle received their food. The blonde's blue orbs shot up from her food as she glared daggers at her daughter, "At least I have my dignity. You sold that to that magazine company when you were barely older than me."
"My decisions have nothing to do with you!" Estelle growled, tightening her grip on her fork. She threw the utensil down onto her salad with a dull clunk, slamming her hands onto the table and gripping it until her knuckles turned white as she stood from her seat, "Last time I checked, I was your mother!"
"Well, you sure aren't acting like it." Zakuro snapped firmly, her sapphire orbs flashing dangerously as she lightly set down her fork clasped her hands before her, meeting her mother's optic challenge with experienced eyes, "You never have! When I was little, the nanny practically raised me with Tou-san! You were always at your photo shoots or parties or fighting with him! When you two broke up, you sent me away to boarding school and had me come here for the summer. You never listened to me when I told you Tou-san had a drinking problem. After he died, you didn't even talk to me about it! You just shipped me off to therapy and got me a tutor so I could stay in Japan! I haven't seen you for four years and now you come here, calling ME unsuccessful?"
Estelle stood in shock, her blue orbs wide. She was still gripping the table, though much lighter at that point. Her mouth hung open, flapping as tiny unintelligible noises issued from it and she finally made a tiny choking noise and fell back into her seat, just as Zakuro stood up, her eyes narrowed.
"Excuse me. I have to use the restroom." She said in a calm voice and quietly walked off as Estelle stared after her, her eyes still wide.
Ichigo nervously poked at her salmon, her heart tying into knots as it pounded rapidly in her chest; she seemed to be the only person at the table not deep in conversation. Ryou, Mr. Takahashi, and Miharu were having an in-depth discussion about American politics that Ichigo couldn't have followed if she tried, and at the same time. Tenkaru was fingering the icy blue sleeve of Yuki's kimono as the girl giggled lightly every now and then as they talked about people they knew.
And Ichigo sat there, poking her salmon, feeling like a complete and utter idiot.
Biting her tongue, the girl stood up from her seat. Ryou's azure orbs flicked to her and she smiled softly, "I need to use the restroom. I'll be back in a moment."
"Okay." Smiled the flaxen-tressed young man, and resumed his conversation with the Takahashi's. As Ichigo found her way to the bathroom, she began to fear that she was going to chew a hole through her tongue sooner or later, as she had sworn she'd tasted blood a second earlier.
Stepping into the restroom, the teen studied her reflection. Long red tresses were tied into a ponytail, the colorful ornament sticking out of it appropriately. A red kimono framed her elegantly long body that had seemed to adapt to her curves in the past few years. Her jade green haori that faded into yellow at the sleeves draped over her small shoulders fell over her chest that she reluctantly admitted to herself had grown. She was growing up into a woman, and yet she still was a child.
"Ichigo, you're fourteen." The girl said to her reflection, dewy brown orbs narrowed in concentration, "You shouldn't be this nervous. You're gonna go out there and show them what you all got." Nodding to herself, the redhead turned on her heel and pushed open the restroom door, only to be met by soft, familiar voices.
Exiting the men's restroom was Tenkaru Takahashi and Ryou. Ichigo smiled, about to greet them, until her keen sense of hearing caught wind of their conversation and she pressed herself behind a large vase, eavesdropping on her boyfriend.
"-I mean, you two have been together, for a year, right?" Tenkaru was saying as the two stopped beside the payphones, "What's stopping you?"
"Ichigo isn't like that." The blonde replied. Ichigo's brow furrowed; what were they talking about?
"Come on! Every girl has it in her." Tenkaru pressed, playfully punching Ryou on the arm.
"Nii-san! Stop it!" Ryou argued, "You have to take the age difference into consideration, too! She's only a child."
The words didn't seem to process in her brain as quickly as they should have. She… that was her… was only… only, that meant that and nothing more… a child?
Something about those words seemed to stab her inside. Ichigo weakly groped for the door and pushed it open as she numbly plodded into the bathroom once more, gently grasping the edge of the marble counter. Her dewy brown orbs flickered up to the mirror, peering deeply into their reflection.
'She's only a child.'
Something in the teenage seemed to snap and Ichigo gripped the counter with all her might as a dull pounding began at the base of her eyes, building up a thick barrier of tears; she tried not to blink, knowing that it would send waterfalls down her cheeks. But the blurs beyond her eyes were becoming to much to bear and Ichigo squeezed her eyes shut, letting out a long sob as she stood in front of the mirror, those words repeating again and again in her mind. Tormenting her- chastising her, even.
The redhead gasped and wheeled around as Zakuro walked into the restroom, a concerned expression on her face. Hastily wiping the tears from her cheeks with the sleeve of her haori, Ichigo began to speak hastily.
"Z-Zakuro… what're you doing here?" The younger teen inquired, attempting to hold back the sound of tears in her voice.
"Dinner with… an old friend." Zakuro's sapphire orbs trailed down to the floor and then snapped back up to meet with Ichigo's dewy brown ones just as the bathroom door began to creak open. Estelle heard the muffled voices and thinned the crack in the door, watching her daughter from a distance, "But that's not important. What's the matter, Ichigo? Why were you crying?"
"I-I…" Ichigo stuttered, fidgeting under Zakuro's piercing gaze; however soft and concerned it was, the lupine young woman always had a way of using it to get information. The girl sighed and shook her head slowly, "You know how I went out to dinner with Ryou? We were seeing his dad's old friend and then going out to Kabuki with his family? Well… we came to dinner here, and… basically, I'm mentally flipping out. The son has a girlfriend that he's obsessing over and Takahashi-San and his wife are talking about serious things with Ryou and I'm just sitting there. So I decided to come here to take a breather and… I came out and I overheard Ryou and Tenkaru- the son- talking… Tenkaru was surprised that Ryou and I haven't…" Ichigo blushed and glanced to the floor sheepishly, "After being together for a year and Ryou said… 'You have to remember, she's only a child' or something like that."
"Ichigo." The young woman with the pastel violet tresses said softly, reaching out to embrace the girl, Ichigo floated into Zakuro's arms and stood still letting her "Older Sister" embrace her, "You're not a child. Look at the things you've done for us all. Look at the things you've done for yourself. Ryou knows you're not a child; he knows this better than anyone. He just loves you and he's trying to protect you. That's all, Ichigo. He doesn't think you're immature. He knows better. He just loves you."
Ichigo expelled a sigh and closed her eyes, finally hugging Zakuro back as a small smile curled onto the girl's lips. "Thanks you, Zakuro-onee-san. I don't know what we'd do without you." The red-tressed girl whispered, "It's odd how you can make everything better. Sometimes its like you're a back-up mom."
"Don't push it." Grumbled the young woman, breaking the embrace. Ichigo giggled as the elder girl placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and nodded softly. Ichigo returned the nod and no more words were spoken as the kimono-clad girl went to leave the bathroom, Estelle slipping out of the doorway just in time to avoid her; the blonde biting her lip in deep concentration.
Having found her mother gone from the restaurant, Zakuro reluctantly made her way back to the church. Finding herself in the same courtyard cemetery where she'd stared at the lucid stars with a kindly nun one long year ago. The lupine girl starred into the ebony velvet sky and held her arms around her body, shielding herself from the frigid air.
Zakuro turned around slowly, half-expecting to find the brunette nun, but instead found Estelle, quietly walking towards her, her blonde head bowed in shame. The woman stopped beside Zakuro and stared at her ex-husband's grave.
"I never listened to you, Zakuro. Not when you were a child reaching out for attention, not when you were a young woman trying to tell me that your father was dying. I never listened to you." The blonde bit her lip, shaking her head slowly, "But I'm going to change that now. I'll listen to you from now on, Zakuro. I just hope you'll listen to me now, when I'm trying to say I'm sorry."
"I forgive you."
Estelle looked up in shock, and her eyes met her daughters. Zakuro was smiling grimly, her hands clasped behind her back. Estelle began to smile, too, a weak, yet hopeful smile; one of the first true smile's she'd had in a very long time.
And the two sighed and looked up to the placid night sky with matching sets of sapphire orbs.