Hey! So, official Last Chapter. Thanks so much to everyone who read and reviewed, I am eternally grateful. You all made this story so much more fun to write! I hope you all enjoy this chapter. Hopefully it clears everything up.
Before I stop ranting, however, I do have one question to ask.
Would anyone be interested in drawing a cover for this story? I am not a very talented artist and would love to have one of you illustrate a cover for this. I have a sort-of tradition of printing off my multi-chaptered stories and binding them into a book, and having a cover would make it that much better. In any case, if you're interested, simply say so in a review or a PM. Thanks! :)
Tezuka sighed and folded his newspaper, setting it on the glossy coffee table before him. A steaming mug came into view and he blinked as he accepted it with a nod as a slender figure sank down onto the couch beside him.
"Good morning," Fuji said cheerfully, sipping his tea.
"Good morning," Tezuka replied, peering cautiously into his cup. Rippling black coffee stared back at him.
"Just how you like it, right?" Fuji hummed, reaching for the paper and scanning the headlines.
"Yeah. Thanks," Tezuka said, taking a long drink, relishing the bitter taste.
Fuji set the paper down again and reached for the stack of mail instead. His lips moved as he mumbled the names of the senders to himself as he flipped through the collection of thin, white envelops, pausing briefly every now and then when a certain letter caught his attention. Tezuka watched for a moment before turning away and glancing out the window.
"Hmm, that's strange," Fuji said softly. Tezuka heard a slight thump as the stack of mail hit the coffee table and turned to Fuji with a raised eyebrow. The shorter man was holding a grey-ish envelope, written on in formal, black ink. The sender's handwriting suggested old age, for the characters had been painted with a brush and in a very traditional style.
"Who is it from?" Tezuka asked. Fuji shrugged and turned the envelope over, running his finger under the seal and pulling the contents out. He opened the letter slowly, slightly taken aback by the dark red wax seal that held the paper closed.
"Should I read it aloud?"
Tezuka nodded and took another sip of coffee.
Tezuka and Fuji,
I hope the two of you are faring well. All of this may seem to be a bit out of the blue, but rest assured that there is indeed a purpose in my contacting you. As I'm sure you know, I am now a rather prominent figure in business. A recent acquaintance of mine has entrusted me with some information the two of you may find relevant due to past events. It would be my utmost pleasure to meet with the both of you, as well as several other of our old friends, and share what I have learned. Assuming this letter arrives Saturday, March 15th, I would like to invite you both to my Tokyo estate this evening at five thirty. The address is written below. I am looking forward to seeing you both.
"Atobe?" Tezuka mused, setting his empty cup down on the table and reaching for the letter.
"What a surprise," Fuji said, running his finger over their names, written so carefully on the front of the envelope. "We'll go, then?"
"I can't think of a reason not to," Tezuka replied. Fuji nodded.
"It sounds interesting."
Atobe's so-called Tokyo estate was located on the outskirts of the city, on a hilltop overlooking downtown. Strings of festive lanterns lined the driveway, bobbing in the wind. Tezuka and Fuji parked at the base of the gravel road and walked up to the front door, which was opened by an old man in a dark suit.
"Welcome," he said, his voice low and warm. "Please allow me to escort you."
They followed him down a long hallway to a pair of glass doors, which they stepped through onto a veranda, softly illuminated by the same sorts of lanterns that had lit the driveway. A cluster of overstuffed armchairs sat off to the left, and from where they stood Tezuka and Fuji could see the backs of several heads. The butler bowed and exited, leaving Tezuka and Fuji to make their own way to the group. Atobe rose to greet them the moment he heard their footsteps, welcoming them with firm handshakes and familiar nods.
"It's good to see you," he said. "Please." He gestured to two of the chairs. Tezuka and Fuji sat. Across from them, Sanada Genichiroh sipped a tall glass of water, eyeing them strangely. Beside him, Oshitari Yuushi toyed with a button on his suit jacket. Shishido and Ootori were present as well, and not too long after Tezuka and Fuji had made themselves comfortable the glass doors swung open again and Inui strolled in with Kaidoh.
"Well, I think we can begin," Atobe said, setting down his glass of champagne and accepting the stack of papers handed to him by the butler. "Firstly, I would like to welcome all of you whom I have not seen in recent years," he said, glancing around. "I'm very pleased to see that you all seem to be doing well."
"Cut to the chase, Atobe," Sanada said, swirling the ice cubes around in his glass. Atobe laughed.
"Very well, then. I suppose we all go back far enough to forgo the usual formalities," he said. "I sometimes find it difficult to transition between work and socializing, since they merge so often." He cleared his throat and handed the stack of papers to Sanada. "Take one and pass it around," he ordered. "This is a report I was able to come by through a colleague. It concerns the affairs to which we were so... Brutally subjected," he said. Inui scanned the paper and raised his eyebrows.
"This is valuable," he said, glancing at Atobe. "How did you come across this?"
"Let's just say I have connections," Atobe replied, smirking. Inui shrugged.
"Well, no matter, but-"
"Hold a second," Shishido interrupted, scowling down at the paper. "Is this all true?"
"Yes," Atobe said.
"So you mean to say all that crap about world leaders freaking out over the government taking a little liberty with Article 9 was made up?" Shishido demanded.
"This is ridiculous," Sanada said, setting the paper down on the glass table and folding his arms across his chest. "I refuse to believe it. What about the money we were granted for reconstruction? The official UN apology? None of this makes sense."
"Doubtless that was all part of the hoax," Inui mumbled, his eyes skirting over the page. "Can you imagine the bad publicity these men would have had if their true purpose had been uncovered? It would have been horrendous. Career-ending, doubtless. In any case, their grants aided in repairing the damage that had been done to Japan in an external sense. But the economic damage took years to repair, and you know that. Therefore, they got what they wanted. In any case, all of these sources cited are entirely credible."
"It is sort of hard to believe, though," Kaidoh admitted, shrugging. "I mean..."
"So you mean to say that the jealousy of certain world leaders lead to the death of ninety seven Japanese civilians?" Tezuka asked.
"According to this paper, yes," Atobe said. "The threat of our rising economy against their falling ones was apparently enough to drive them well over the edge."
"That's sick," Shishido hissed, flinging the paper onto the ground.
"What will this paper mean?" Ootori asked softly.
"Most likely nothing," Atobe said, sighing. "The world of politics is dark and twisted, and I have no doubt that these sources, as valid as they are, will doubtless be discredited and the paper thrown into a dusty drawer and eventually forgotten."
Fuji nodded. "I suspected something of the like," he said.
"It's a shame we can't do anything about it," Oshitari mused, removing his glasses and absentmindedly cleaning the lenses with a scarlet handkerchief. "Sell our story, or something of the like. People like hearing those sorts of tragic tales, you know? With mildly happy endings."
"Doubtless that would get us nothing but sympathy," Sanada said, frowning.
"Tears sell," Oshitari replied, shrugging.
Atobe nodded thoughtfully. "And things that sell get noticed," he added. "Which means this whole affair could be brought out of that dusty drawer and back into the limelight."
"Which would make this paper far more difficult to ignore," Inui said excitedly, sitting forward in his chair.
"Who would write it?" Ootori asked, looking around.
"We could all do it, together," Fuji suggested. "Doubtless we all have a different account of what happened. If we can get in touch with everyone again, we can have everyone write what they remember and then meet to put the final thing together."
"And the fact that we weren't all in the same place will allow a broader view of the whole thing," Atobe said, shooting Sanada a look.
"Imagine it," Shishido said, leaning back in his chair and staring up and the darkening sky. "The tragic tale of a bunch of kids trapped in the midst of an attack fueled by political jealousy. It would sell like no other."
"Will they believe us, though?" Inui wondered aloud. "Or will they simply brush it off as a bunch of have-beens that want some attention?"
"We're hardly have-beens," Atobe scoffed, running a hand through his hair. "And we have evidence, don't we?"
"Sure," Ootori said. "Kawamura. I'm sure he has hospital documents."
"And Jiroh, and Kabaji," Atobe added.
"Yagyuu and Yukimura, too," Sanada said.
"It will be perfect," Atobe said, reaching for his champagne. "Let's have it done by this year's end."
And it was. Their book, entitled To Tomorrow, sold 63 million copies and the ruthless attack on Japan was thrust back into the limelight. The world leaders responsible for the attack were put on trial and eventually jailed for war crimes. The United Nations gave their second official apology.
"I can't really think of a better ending," Shishido said, grinning at the wall-sized promotional poster for the book. The thirty authors had agreed on the pseudonym "Truth," but had not bothered to keep their identities secret as they mentioned their names over and over in the book. They were scheduled to appear on a talk show for the afternoon, and had already been interviewed by some of the world's most prestigious newspapers and magazines.
"Of course, none of this is new to me," Atobe said, shrugging and slipping on his Armani sunglasses. "I've been in the limelight for my entire life."
"Shut up," Sanada said simply. Atobe laughed.
"Stop bickering, you two," Oshitari said, peering into a mirror and brushing his bangs out of his eyes.
"Whatever," Atobe said, rolling his eyes.
"Are you all ready to go on?" a stagehand asked, poking his head around into their dressing room. "We're live in five minutes."
"Well, here goes nothing," Kawamura said, sighing. "I'm terribly sorry if I let you all down."
"We need a tennis racket," Echizen muttered.
Momoshiro laughed. "You got that right!" he said, reaching over to ruffle the shorter man's hair. Echizen swatted his hand away with a half-hearted scowl as he pushed himself up out of his chair.
They stepped out of their dressing room and followed the stagehand down a long, dark passageway to a black door.
"Through here," he said, adjusting his earpiece and reaching for the knob. "Good luck!"
"It won't be needed," Atobe assured him, stepping through the door. Shishido rolled his eyes and pulled a face at Atobe's back.
The blinding stage lights hid the faces of the audience, but the roar of applause was deafening.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the host was saying, "please welcome Truth, the authors of the international bestseller To Tomorrow!" The applause grew louder.
"This is ridiculous," Tezuka muttered out of the corner of his mouth, glancing down at Fuji, who grinned.
"It's fun," he said. "It's an experience."
"One I could have done without," Tezuka grumbled.
"Well," Fuji said thoughtfully, "if you made it through the attack, I think you can make it through a talk show." He smiled again. "As long as we have each other, right? We can do anything."
Tezuka nodded, the corner of his mouth lifting slightly.
"Yeah," he agreed. "As long as we have each other."