Disclaimer: I do not own Hana Yori Dango
Tsukushi Makino was tired. She had been tired before, of course, but this bone weariness was a new level of tired she was unaccustomed to.
It wasn't so bad at first. She would rather not to have been shot in the first place, but it didn't hurt as much as she thought it would (but that might be the drugs). She got to catch up with her family, something that didn't happen often now that everyone was financially stable and busy keeping it that way. Akira's mother and the twins had even stopped by with flowers and a big stuffed panda. She did wonder a bit on why Usagi-san seemed a little sullen, but the twins just told her not to worry.
She knew, though, that any break from her responsibilities would eventually catch up with her. She had missed a major exam in one of her classes, and was falling behind on a project in another. While the agency had been understanding of her predicament, sending get well wishes and scheduling a two week leave for recovery, the designers she worked for hadn't been. Maruyama Keita had boasted of her talent, and agreed to lend her to others. A week before fashion week, no one wanted to hear that their top consultant was in the hospital. Her phone just continued to ring, when finally Susumu removed the battery and tossed it into the deep recesses of her purse.
Then came the reporters.
Like vultures, they swooped down on her while she was unable to escape or evade them, overrunning her nurses and bombarding her with questions, shoving their cameras, microphones and lights in her face. The stress was too much and she felt herself blacking out, the erratic beeping of her heart monitor being the last thing she heard.
When she woke up again, she was in a different room, alone. A sound at the door drew her, and she turned her head to see Akira and Nami.
"The associated press has been reprimanded, and banned from being 500 yards of you. Ever." Nami said, walking to her side. "You had been doing well enough before their visit that the doctor said you could be moved out of ICU."
Tsukushi tilted her head at the silent Akira. He looked pale and as tired as she felt. All the energy and drive she had always known him for was absent.
Nami glanced at him and then back at her. She squeezed her wrist and said, "I'll give you a few minutes." She touched her face briefly in an old habit of encouragement and moved to stand just outside the door.
"Are you alright?" Akira asked, stiffly.
"Better. All things considered." She was curious as to why he wouldn't come any closer. "Come here, Akira. So I can see you."
"I don't have a lot of time right now, Tsu—" He broke off as she started to get out of bed. He rushed to her side then, catching her as she lost her balance. "Not funny." He huffed and righted her.
What she was going to say, he'll never know, because she noticed the bulge at his side. Before he could react, she was lifting his shirt to reveal the thick bandages that wrapped around him. It was a testament, he supposed, of how close they'd become that she would bare his skin to her gaze.
Her eyes widened. "What happened on that roof, Akira?"
"Not this." He shrugged, and instantly regretted the movement. "I got rid of some of my tattoos."
He could see the wheels turning in her head, and he knew that, despite her limited exposure, she understood. She dropped her gaze. Before the guilt could swallow her, he cupped her head to face him.
"Stop. This was a long time coming, Tsukushi. Things need to change."
She looked up at him with so many questions in her eyes. He sighed, "Nearly a year ago I met this beautiful woman at a bar. She was with her friends, having drinks and flirting halfheartedly with younger men. She caught my eye immediately. But she looked so heartbreakingly sad. I've never seen anyone so sad."
He nodded, "At first, I did the whole charming seduction routine. I bought her a drink, and got her alone in one of the booths. I asked her what was so wrong that even I couldn't get her to smile. She—" He stopped and looked at her anxiously, "You have to believe, Tsukushi, that if I had known about the baby, I would have stepped in. I would have."
"I know. You are not the type to abandon someone in need. I also know it wasn't yours like Yi-Fu thought. F4 can't have children outside of marriage."
He stared at her, "How did you know about that?" No one, outside their immediate family knew. It was the one secret they hid from everyone.
"It's why you and Nishikado-san play around so much." She waved her hand dismissively. "Finish your story before the pain medication puts me to sleep and you have to go."
"Right," It wasn't important how she knew. It didn't really matter anymore anyway. "Li-Fa Tuan loved her husband. As cruel and unfeeling as he was, she loved him. He never hurt her, he saved her from her father's tyranny, and what little respect her gave her was more than she ever knew. She was grateful and longed for his affection, for his love. The only time he ever showed her a degree of soft feeling was when she birthed his heir." He sighed, feeling older than he was. "Li-Fa was raised differently, Tsukushi. Her husband was her master, and raising his children was her purpose. That was her world. Her husband viewed her as a possession, one that he polished and molded to match him, but didn't have the patience for as he ran his business. Li-Fa was desperate. She knew of me, of my connections, and she begged me to help her."
"You did something so that she got pregnant with her husband's child without his knowledge." It was starting to fall into place now, and Tsukushi was horrified of how tragic everything turned for the poor woman.
"It seemed she learned that her husband preferred men. He still viewed her as his, though, so when she told him she was pregnant, he either didn't believe her or thought she betrayed him. I was…away, when she came looking for me. Had I just kept an eye on her—"
Tsukushi took his hand. "Don't, Akira-kun. It wasn't your fault. She had so many choices, and she chose that one." She reached up to cup his face in both her hands, so that he'd look at her and listen to what she said, "You're going to start a new life, I can feel it. You need to learn to stop taking responsibility for things that you can't control. Let it go. Let it all go."
Without warning, Akira pulled her into his arms. "I'm going to miss you, Tsukushi. I'm going to miss you so much." He knew it would be awhile before he saw her again. By then she might already belong to Rui, so before he let go and gave his blessing he'd allow himself this one selfish act. He pulled back and placed his lips firmly on hers. It lasted for only a few seconds, but for him it was more than enough. Akira had never really been in love before, but with her…the wanting, the longing and the fiercely protective feelings…it was the closest he came. He saw the blank shock on her face, and the blush that seemed to engulf her whole head. "I'm truly sorry you were caught up in all this. Take care, Tsukushi," He said, and strolled out to meet Nami.
"And what exactly was the purpose of that? You know you'll only trouble Tsukushi." Nami remarked.
Akira shrugged, noncommittally. "How did you find me again?"
Nami gave an elegant snort, "Someone's always watching, Mimasaka-san. A call was placed from somewhere high up to my grandfather. The fact is, our organization and its activities is among the deepest secrets this side of the equator. For someone to be so in the know, that they were able to time it just before the elders could react is nothing short of diabolical brilliance. I told them I would take my place when a suitable partner was found. Either someone wanted to save you, or they desperately needed you out of the way."
The list was endless if Akira thought about it, but he had other things to worry about. "What happens now?"
"Well, now you need to disappear for awhile. Your family will remain in the standing they are now, while you familiarize yourself with the organization. Your disappearance will be an unsolvable mystery. You will need to know quite a bit, before you can return."
He smiled, for the first time in days. "Soujiro will not just accept the excuses handed to him. He will be stubborn and persistent."
She shrugged. "He is more than welcome to try." The two walked out of the hospital to a world seen but unseen. Years later they would be the most powerful pair the world will ever know, ruling with wisdom and judging with fairness. They would bring peace and development to the countries that needed it. They would be the diplomatic liaisons that stepped in before war ever became an option. And the person who made the call, that set it all in motion, would smile in her office thinking to herself, I win, Usagi-chan.
"Ne, Tsukushi, are you up to having visitors?" Yuki asked poking her head in her room. When her friend just stared blankly at her, she frowned. An odd sense of déjà vu hit her. The last time she visited her friend in the hospital and she had looked at her that way it was because…She raised a brow. "Were you kissed again, Tsukushi?" She meant it as a joke but the way she flushed and dove under the covers told her that she missed a very interesting encounter. "Todou-san, maybe this isn't a good time."
Tsukushi peeked over the covers and tried to compose herself. "It's okay, Yuki. I'm fine for a visit."
Yuki nodded, "Then I'll just make my rounds." She glanced at the older girl. "Please, don't stress her too much, Todou-san. Tsukushi has already been through a lot."
"I understand." When she left, Shizuka moved to stand by her bed. "You have such good people around you, Tsukushi-chan."
She drummed up a smile, "It's good to see you, Shizuka-san. Have you been here long?"
"In the hospital only a few minutes, in Japan only a few days. I've heard you've been quite busy yourself. Sonore Reflet's newest gem? Even my hairdresser in Paris has heard of you."
She blushed, "I don't know how it happened. It started out as a favor to Akira's sisters. One thing led to another and suddenly…"
Shizuka smiled, "Are you happy? Does it make you happy?"
Tsukushi shrugged. It was too soon to tell really. It paid the bills, and that was all that mattered to her at the moment. If it made her happy was something she would question later. "It has its moments. Satobe-san found out I knew you and has been nagging at me to get you to come back."
She laughed, "Rio Satobe has never forgiven Kaoru Sohma for stealing me. Was quite determined to steal me back." Shizuka studied the younger girl, she looked tired and pale from her ordeal, but her eyes were vibrant. Another day and she'd be raring to jump back into her work. "How are you, Tsukushi, really? I haven't seen you since my wedding. Things seem…different." They weren't talking about her career now.
Tsukushi tensed, feeling an echo of the ache that had broken so much of her. "I'm doing better," She said truthfully. "It was bad at first, but what break up isn't? I made my peace with it, and I'm moving on with my life."
There was more. They both knew there was more, but Shizuka knew it wasn't her place to ask.
After a moment of hesitation, Tsukushi asked, "Have you seen him, Shizuka-san? Domyouji? The guys don't really talk about it, but I know they miss him." When the most crippling of the heartache passed, and she desperately needed normalcy, she had been so grateful that they never abandoned her. That they reached out to her during her dark moments, trying to cheer her in their own ways. Knowing they were choosing her over their brother, was something she would never forget.
Shizuka sighed, remembering how he was when she left. She gave herself a mental shake. This girl, this amazing young woman she was speaking with, had been through an ordeal. She would not burden her with talk of her ex-boyfriend's withdrawal into himself and his spiraling health issues. Now was not the time.
Unbeknownst to her, Tsukushi could read very clearly the struggle on her face. She frowned. It had always been too painful to think of him, but she wondered now. What became of you, Domyouji?
Shizuka smiled, not completely successful in hiding the troubled sadness in her eyes. "He is stubborn, and working hard on his empire. Both of you have changed to shoulder the responsibilities of your adult life." Tsukushi opened her mouth to question her more, but there was something Shizuka wanted to know. "I'm surprised Rui isn't here. Yuki-san told me that none of the nurses could persuade him to leave you."
For the second time since she woke up, she felt heat envelop her face.
Though she could no longer doubt Rui's feelings for her, there was still that small voice in her head that told her she could never come as close to deserving him as totally as the woman in front of her. Not to mention it was awkward even thinking about discussing it with her. She was the closest equivalent to an ex-girlfriend Rui had, though they were never really together in that way.
"It's… complicated." Tsukushi winced at the inane response. "And anyway, he probably had to go back to work." There was a curious heaviness in her chest she was suddenly aware of. Disappointment, she realized.
"He was frantic while you were unconscious. He held your hand so tightly…and the way he looked at you…it was like he'd be happy never looking away," The redness on the younger girl's face as she kept talking delighted her. She felt something, she knew it. Soon. She might not have admitted it to herself yet, but soon.
Shizuka clasp her hand warmly, "He'll wait for you, Tsukushi-chan. And he won't wait nicely, either. He's not the same person anymore. It'll be like a siege. Stay strong and trust yourself."
Tsukushi opened her mouth to reply but a nurse bustled in, "I'm sorry to interrupt, but it's time for your medicine, Makino-san."
She made a face, and Shizuka laughed. "I should be going, anyway. I promised to have dinner with some friends tonight."
As she got up and adjusted her purse on her shoulder, Tsukushi said, "Ne, Shizuka-san? What do you think of my shoes?"
She glanced at the open closet near the doorway. On the bottom shelf, rested a pair of strappy leather flats with a path of sequins in a neat pattern around it. She smiled. Wear beautiful shoes and they will bring you to many beautiful places. She didn't forget.
Tsukushi was released from the hospital a little over a week later, with strict orders to attend a physical therapy session twice a week. The first one she was literally dragged to by Yuki and Soujiro who, she suspected, both had spies everywhere. These session worked to both strengthen her healing body and relax her over-stressed mind. With as intense as her injuries were and as the mountain of work she had to catch up on threatened to collapse on her, she was grateful for their insistence.
She was always tired, and sore, and tired… there never seemed to be an end to the work she had to do. As soon as she got one major project done, five more cropped up in its place. She wanted to scream out in frustration more than once, possibly take lighter fluid and a match to her desk, but she settled on simmering quietly. She growled at anyone who dared interrupt her. She once had a junior photographer in tears because he accidentally spilled coffee all over her notes. No one was brave enough to approach her, and often went to Satobe if they needed her for anything.
The thing was, she knew she was being an unreasonable ogre. She hated those people that took out their anger and frustration on others. She had always strived to at least try not to be one of those people whenever things were bad. If she survived Eitoku, then she certainly could…Her head shot up from her papers, causing the ladies walking by to flinch in surprise. Ignoring them, she picked up her jacket, and rushed out.
She made her way past the elevators, to the emergency staircase. She could feel herself get lighter as she climbed.
With both hands she pulled the door open, took a step out and immediately felt her body lock up. The sudden chill that skated up her spine was enough to pull a scream from her, but at the same time a pressure in her chest seemed to curl around her throat, keeping it in. her pounded heavily and painfully. No matter how hard she tried, she could not seem to get enough air to her lungs. The lack of oxygen made her dizzy and more than a little nauseous.
What's wrong with me? Why can't I breathe? She thought frantically. She fell to her knees, still gripping the door, unable to release it. She was terrified, and she had no idea why. She gave a violent start when she felt a hand on her shoulder.
She turned to meet Rui's concerned blue eyes.
Rui took one look at her trembling form and her wild panicked eyes, and pulled her into his arms. She let out a quiet whimper when he gently pried her hands off the handle. Holding her close, he didn't ask any questions or offer any words of reassurance. He simply rocked her, breathed with her, and waited.
After a few minutes, the tension seemed to drain out of her. The trembling stopped, her breath eased, and her heart slowed to its normal pace. The cold was gone. It was replaced by the incredible warmth that always filled her when he was near.
But as the panic ebbed, shame rose up.
She reached up to clutch at his sweater for a moment, before lying her hands flat on his chest and slowly pulling away. She stared at a spot on the wall, unable to look at him. Of all people, she hated that it was always Rui to see her at her weakest moments. She was supposed to be stronger than this. To suddenly become paralyzed on the spot for no reason was nothing short mortifying.
"Tsukushi?" When she refused to look at him, he cupped her chin and raised her head. "Have you eaten?"
She blinked, not expecting the question. She thought back to the little bag of fish crackers that was her last meal, and shook her head.
He nodded, stood up and pulled her with him. "Let's go."
"Eh?" But he was already pulling her hand and descending the stairs. "Where?"
"But my work—" The tower of files on her desk.
"It can wait."
"But—" Maruyama would kill her.
He stopped and looked directly into her eyes. "Come with me."
It can wait.
SORRY!SORRY!SORRY!SORRY!SORRY! It's been more than a year since I last updated, and I feel really really really guilty for not being on top of things. This story, and my other HYD fic are the only ties I have left to the series, so…the drive isn't as strong anymore. I want to thank everyone for reviewing, and the PMs I received that got me to pick up the story again. I don't want to give anyone false hope by saying that I'll update regularly from now on and finish the fic before the world ends, but neither will I put it on hiatus or forget it completely. Look forward to Chapter 27 someday.