CHAPTER 7: THE NECESSARY DUET?
The look on Hino Kahoko's face was priceless. "Our what??"
Yunoki Azuma smirked, "Why do you look so surprised? Isn't it natural for a couple to get married once they're engaged?"
"But we are not a couple!"
Silence befell upon the two of them the moment she said those words. Azuma had averted his gaze to another framed photograph on Kahoko's desk and had his back facing her. She couldn't see how the expression of his beautiful face had hardened upon her words, albeit only momentarily. Kahoko could only furrow her eyebrows in bewilderment at the sudden cold and silent treatment from her 'fiancé'. Did she say anything wrong? What's with the sudden mood change?
"We… are not a real couple." said Kahoko eventually, still confused, "And you've never told me anything about getting married. You only told me to repeat the same favor I did for you four years ago."
"Don't you think it's rather tedious to simply repeat the whole thing?" Azuma replied with a bored tone. He turned around and Kahoko saw a familiar glint of menace in his dark eyes. "If we raise the bar a little, won't that make everything more interesting?"
"…Raise the bar? You make it sound like it's a game!" she responded in shock.
Azuma grinned and put the framed picture back to its previous spot on the desk, "But it is a game, Kahoko." Slowly he approached Kahoko who was still sitting on the bed and stopped right in front of her. He stooped down and playfully caressed Kahoko's chin and cheeks, sending Kahoko's cheeks ablaze with the color crimson, "Everything is a game, even marriage."
Kahoko turned her flaming cheeks away, "Even… marriage?" she asked in confusion.
"Marriage is a joke, Kahoko. In fact it's the stupidest game of all." said Azuma coldly, "It's just a wager between two incapable individuals, who decided to join forces to insure their further survival. After all, two is better than one right in the game of survival. Isn't it so unrefined?"
"If… If you feel that way about marriage, then why are you asking me to marry you?" asked Kahoko defiantly.
Smiling, Azuma used his right hand to cup Kahoko's fair chin and he smoothly averted her face back to facing his once again. Her expression was unreadable, a mixture of confusion, irritation, and sorrow. She never ceases to puzzle him. He could read everyone like a book, but not her. And that is why he can't get enough of her.
"Because it's necessary." said Azuma in a faint whisper as he moved his index finger to her still-crimson cheek and caressed it. "For both our survivals."
Before Kahoko could respond, there was a knock on her bedroom door. Almost reluctantly, Azuma retrieved his hand from Kahoko's flushed face. Before doing so however, he teasingly brushed her lips with his thumb, letting it linger there for a while, sending sparks to Kahoko's insides and making her blush once again.
"I will wait for a satisfying answer from you." he said as he smiled gently. It was the perfect plastic smile that Kahoko knew too well, for it was the smile that he displayed once the world came knocking. "By the way, I'm sure you don't need reminding that all of this must be kept confidential." he said as he approached the door. Kahoko could hear faint murmuring from behind that door, and understood that not only her mother was there.
Sighing, Kahoko hung her head in defeat. She knew what kind of consequences would await her should she disobey him. "I understand." she squeaked.
Azuma chuckled amusedly as he put his hand on the doorknob, "I don't think I will get bored of you any time soon." murmured the beautiful male youth to himself before opening the door, which to Kahoko's surprise, revealed a string of colorful visitors on the doorway. In fact, the moment the door was opened, there was a loud noise and a few familiar figures stumbled into the doorway. The ones that remained standing before the open doorway were Kahoko's mother, who was chuckling and blushing uncomfortably; Hanabusa Nao, Kahoko's oldest best friend from high-school, who was shaking her head; and Tsuchiura Ryoutarou, Kahoko's best guy friend, who was rubbing his temple, apparently embarrassed that he was part of the group.
"Ara… Did we disturb you, Kahoko, Azuma-kun?" giggled Kahoko's mother innocently.
"Not at all, okaa-sama. I was just going to let Kahoko know about the guests but it seemed that they have taken the trouble to come here instead." Still flashing his perfect angelic smile, Azuma turned fondly to the crowd who were mostly on the floor and on top of each other. "Good morning, everyone. Good morning, Tsuchiura-kun, Hanabusa-san." he added to the only member of the party that was still standing. "May I ask why you are now divided into two?"
"Let's just say they got… over-excited and a little curious with your 'romantic morning greeting' in front of the door and you opened the door at the nick of time, Yunoki-senpai." explained the raven haired Nao, sighing.
The burly pianist beside her remained speechless and merely covered his face in sheer mortification, regretting why he came with such a disgraceful group. Not to mention that his own girlfriend was among the group that was still lying on top of each other on the floor.
"Yeah, perfect timing as always, Yunoki." grinned Hihara Kazuki cheerfully, lifting his head to face his smiling best friend and laughing naively.
"Good morning, Hihara." chuckled Azuma. "I'm glad to see you so lively in the morning, but don't you think it's best for you to get up now? I fear you are crushing poor Shouji-san."
"Eh…?" Hihara blinked, and then lowered his head to the person that was below him. Sure enough, he was lying on top of his own girlfriend, Shouji Megumi, whose cheeks were the same color as ripe tomatoes at that moment. Unlike the others who had fallen face-down, apparently Shouji was 'luckier' as her foot had slipped momentarily before the whole crew tumbled and Hihara had pulled her hand before she could fall. It's too bad that Hihara (who had meant to save Shouji from falling down) was actually pulled in from the impact, hence making both of them fall on top of each other. And so Hihara hadn't realized that the 'soft cushion' that his head had fallen into earlier were actually his girlfriend's bosom. Hihara also didn't realize that his face was dangerously too close to her at that moment.
That was, of course, until Azuma attentively pointed those out for him.
To Azuma's enjoyment, the reaction on his best friend's face was immediate. The trumpeter yelped in embarrassment as his own face turned an embarrassing shade of crimson. "Me-Me-Me… MEGU-CHAN!! I'm sorry!! I'm SORRY!!" He hastily straightened himself up and got to his own two feet. His face was still red as lobster when he held out his hand for Shouji to reach, helping her stand up. The beautiful kouhai was still shaking when she accepted Hihara's hand, her hazel eyes turned away as she couldn't bring herself to look at her boyfriend in the eyes at that moment.
Hihara seems to have msitaken Shouji's body language for anger and grew even more panicked, "Megu-chan, I'm sorry!! It… I didn't do it on purpose… I didn't mean to fall on your bre…" he stopped as he realized that what he said was only going to be the last nail on his coffin. Hihara's face turned even redder and so did Shouji's. After a brief moment of awkward silence, Hihara whispered timidly, "I'm sorry… Are you okay?"
"No, we're not!!" said three female voices in unison.
Hihara and Shouji were evidently startled and literally jumped at the sound. They had forgotten about the other unlucky beings who had fallen face-down and were still on the floor. Before them were a slightly irritated-looking Amou Namie, a wincing Mori Manami, and an embarrassed-looking Sakurano Mio. Mori was the 'luckiest' of the three since she had fallen on Mio's back with no one on top of her. Amou and Mio on the other hand, had both their faces flat on the floor. Amou was in fact the one with the shortest end of the stick, because not only was she on the very bottom, she had had both Shouji and Hihara on her back until just now.
"That scene was really sweet and all, Hihara-senpai, but please don't do it while the two of you are on my back." groaned Amou as she rolled her body backwards, her face now looking upwards at both Shouji and Hihara.
"Ah, I'm sorry, senpai!" blushed Shouji as she began helping Amou up. "Sorry, Amou-chan…" Hihara piped in as he also helped Amou get to her feet.
Tsuchiura had also stooped down and reached for Mori's hands, pulling his girlfriend up with one strong yank using one hand and holding her back with the other, just in case she lost her balance. "You okay? Sometimes you are too clumsy." He murmured with a frown on his face, but it was evident that he was also worried for her.
Mori giggled at Tsuchiura's uneasy expression. It's true that her hand and left shoulder ached because Hihara's arm had fallen on top of it, but seeing her boyfriend so worried for her was enough to make her forget a little about the pain. "Mmm… I'm just fine, Ryou. You're right, I'll be careful next time. Thanks for worrying, ne." she smiled somewhat sweetly, causing Tsuchiura's face to turn into a very, very light shade of scarlet. He quickly turned his face away, but of course such a cute expression from the manly, burly former midfielder was too obvious to not be noticed. Even Kahoko couldn't help but privately giggle at his actions.
"Are you alright, Sakurano-san?" said Azuma, smiling ever so gently as he held out his hand to the still on-the-floor Mio.
There were sparkles on Mio's eyes as she gushingly took Azuma's hand and stand up. If she was experiencing any pain, she didn't show it. In fact, she didn't look like she had just experienced the fall at all. She was grinning from ear to ear, gawking at Azuma with adoration on her face. Kahoko could read that best friend of hers like a book, and she knew that Mio must be thanking her lucky stars at that moment for letting her be helped up by the famous Yunoki Azuma. Kahoko wouldn't even be surprised if Mio pictured her 'fiancé' as a knight in shining armor at that moment.
"Ano, by the way, it's great to see you look better, Hino-senpai." said the still blushing Shouji suddenly, as she bowed her head, returning the group's focus back to Kahoko. "And, congratulations on your engagement, Hino-senpai, Yunoki-senpai."
"Why thank you, Shouji-san." said Azuma gently.
Kahoko wasn't sure how to reply, so she followed Azuma's lead, "Err, thank you, Shouji-chan… Thank you for your concern. I'm sorry if I have caused any trouble these past three days."
"Ah, that's right! Congratulations to the both of you." said Nao with a smile on her face.
"Kaho-chan, I can't believe you're engaged!" Mio's head was practically in the clouds, as she couldn't stop gushing and squealing. "The famous violin romance legend is finally coming true!"
"Mio, don't tell me you still believe that 'violin romance' stuff?" Nao huffed.
Kahoko chuckled, "Yes, Mio, you seriously haven't changed since high-school."
Mori grinned, "But you know, who would have thought that out of all of us, you would be the one to get engaged first, Hino-chan?"
"Yeah, I thought you two would be first." Amou chimed in, throwing teasing glances at Mori and Tsuchiura. "You two have after all been dating for three years now. I heard from my trusted resources in Seisou U that you two are quite the golden couple."
"G-Golden couple?" Tsuchiura's face flushed, "Who told you that nonsense, Amou?" he growled agitatedly. He would surely give that person a piece of his mind!
Mori giggled and tugged her boyfriend's elbow carefully just in case to stop him from the prospect of perhaps strangling Amou (though she knew that won't happen since Tsuchiura would after all never hurt women), "Now, Amou-san, those are only rumors. In fact, I thought it would be Hihara-senpai and Shouji-chan first. Hihara-senpai had after all graduated just like Yunoki-senpai did."
All eyes immediately traveled to the couple who were still standing awkwardly next to each other, avoiding each other's eyes. At Mori's words, the two turned beet red once again.
Hihara's forehead filled with nervous perspiration. "Ah, errr… I want to find a steady job first." he yelped, uncomfortable with the 'thoughtful' glances his friends were sending him. "And I want to wait until Megu-chan graduates."
"Then you do have plans on proposing to Shouji-san, Hihara?" Azuma chuckled in delight.
If Hihara's face was scarlet before, it had now officially lost all colors on it. His jaw had dropped and his bullion eyes rounded magnificently to the size of saucers at Azuma's words. "Yu-Yunoki!! Stop teasing me!!" he shrieked in horror.
And if everyone thought the reaction on Hihara's face was priceless, they should have seen the look on Shouji's. The poor girl's face was so scarlet and her whole body was shaking terribly. Sure, she wasn't as helplessly shy as her friend, Fuyuumi Shouko, but she too had a faint heart. Apparently, the recent events hadn't been to her poor heart's benefit. After Hihara's outburst, she immediately bowed and asked to be excused to the restroom, all the while murmuring something about being glad to see Kahoko back on her feet. Without further ado Shouji stormed out of the doorway and with her gone so abruptly, Hihara began to panic.
"Oh, poor child. Does she even know where the restroom is?" Mrs. Hino said thoughtfully. "I think the direction she's heading to is the attic."
"Wha…. WHAT SHOULD I DO??" Hihara shrieked in terror, as he began tugging his light lime-colored hair in confusion. "What do I do? I made her angry, didn't I? I'm the worst boyfriend!! I didn't mean to. I… I wanted to ask her parents first before… ARRRGHH!! What do I do? I have only met her parents three times! What do I do if she cries? Her parents trusted me with her! What do I do? What do I do??"
Kahoko gazed at her now agitated senpai worriedly, "Err, Hihara-senpai, please calm down."
"Just go after her." Tsuchiura said. He was frowning but it was evident that he too didn't like seeing Hihara so confused.
Azuma approached his best friend and patted his shoulder gently, "That's right, Hihara. Just go after her and explain it to her. You mean her no harm, right?" he smiled reassuringly.
"She's just surprised, that's all." said Nao, always the logical person in times of crisis like this.
"I… I hope so…" Hihara murmured, tears threatening to come out of his eyes in panic. He was like a little child who had just been separated from his mother in a crowded department store. "Are you sure it's okay for me to go after her?"
Azuma nodded patiently. Perhaps that was the shot of courage that Hihara needed and slowly he began to recompose himself. Taking a deep breath, he said, "Okay, I will talk to Megu-chan first. Then I'll help you out on 'that', Yunoki."
With that said, Hihara stormed out following the path that his girlfriend had taken. Mrs. Hino chuckled warmly at the site, "You have such lively friends, Kahoko."
"We're sorry for bothering you, mam." Tsuchiura sighed as he bowed and the others followed suit. Somehow, Tsuchiura had gotten used to clearing the mess that Hihara had made. It was unclear who the older one was between the two green haired youth, since Tsuchiura had always acted more mature and had taken it to himself to be responsible for the well-being of his friends.
"Oh, no, not at all." Mrs. Hino smiled fondly, "The house has been quiet and dull but with Kotoko and Hiroto staying over, and also with you children so kindly coming over to visit as well, it brings back wonderful memories. I guess you got sick for good reasons sometimes, Kahoko."
"Okaa-san, shouldn't a mother be worried if her child gets sick?" Kahoko asked in disbelief, making her mother laugh gently.
"Yes, yes, you're right. How are you feeling, dear?" asked Mrs. Hino.
"I had taken the liberty to check earlier, and her temperature has returned to normal, okaa-sama.
Azuma smiled reassuringly. "I hope it's alright."
Kahoko stared at him in disbelief. 'When did he…?' But when she noticed him smiling ever so calmly at her, she had her own questions answered. Her cheeks grew hotter at the remembrance of how he had for a moment pressed his forehead onto hers when he was pinning her down on her own bed. He must have been using that opportunity to 'check her temperature' as well. He must have felt her temperature too when he was holding her hands at that time.
Mrs. Hino smiled fondly at the dashing youth. "I'm glad to hear that, Azuma-kun."
"Aww, Kaho-chan!!" squealed Mio excitedly, "You are so lucky, to have a fiancé who cares so much about you!"
Kahoko forced a smile. 'If only they knew just how much he 'cared'.'
"Oh, that's right. I heard rumors that Yunoki-senpai won't leave your bedside for the past three days. Is it true?" Amou asked inquisitively.
"Eh?" Kahoko blinked.
"Amou-chan, this isn't the time to be looking for news!" giggled Mori.
"That's right. You're not going to put anything to your columns would you?" questioned Nao.
"Relax!" Amou grinned. "I transferred the reporting responsibility to someone else, since I was afraid about getting too personal. Hino-chan's my friend after all. But you don't have secrets from your friend, right, Hino-chan?"
Kahoko's face flushed at the mention of the word 'secret', and felt a sharp pang inside her heart. Strangely, it was Azuma who came to her rescue, "Was that a trick question, Amou-san?" he asked while flashing his trademark angelic smile. "Oh, and that rumor isn't entirely true."
"Really?" Now it was Amou's turns to be surprised.
"As much as I would have loved to always be by my dear fiancé's side while she's sick, there are some things that made me unable to do so during the day. So I only accompany her at nighttimes, sometimes taking turns with Kotoko-oneesama." he explained patiently. "But since onee-sama is pregnant, we usually don't let her stay up too late."
"And that's why I told you I'm fine, little brother." voiced out a new voice from outside the room. It was a rather cranky female voice, and Kahoko immediately noticed it as her sister's. Sure enough, Kanazawa Kotoko's beautiful face emerged from the doorway as she made way to the bedroom.
"Onee-san! I thought you were asleep." said Kahoko before her sister hugged her with all her might, murmuring on Kahoko's ear that she was glad Kahoko was okay. Kahoko smiled at her sister's antics that were obviously influenced by hormones. "I'm okay. Thank you for worrying about me." Kahoko whispered to her sister reassuringly.
"She's so easily awaken nowadays." sighed another voice, this time it was male's, which everyone recognized as Kanazawa Hiroto's. The handsome teacher stood on the doorway, sighing tiredly at the sight of his wife. "Deprived me of my own sleep as well."
"Err, yeah, we're sorry about all the noise we're making, Kana-yan." Tsuchiura groaned.
Kanazawa smiled, "Hey, it's okay. It's Hihara who's making all these noise right. My, that kid will never grow up." And then his smile transformed into a teasing grin, "Though I think he might have grown a little. I could have sworn I heard him going after Shouji and loudly declaring something about 'love', 'meeting her parents', and that sort of grown up stuff. Time flies fast huh? Now you kids are already talking about engagements and getting married."
"K… Kana-yan! Don't spread misleading rumors!" shouted Hihara from outside the room, causing the people inside the bedroom to giggle in amusement. A few moments later, a very red Hihara returned with the still flushed Shouji. However the two had held hands at that moment, albeit still a little awkwardly, so Kahoko assumed that the two had 'made peace' with each other. Kahoko gazed at the couple fondly, for they are one of the most innocent couple she had ever known.
"Whoops, did I say it out loud?" Kanazawa smirked playfully. "Oh, and by the way, breakfast is ready, okaa-san. I made some more omelet rice and other things for the whole gang."
Mrs. Hino's face lightened up in happiness. She had always adored her son-in-law because of his top-notch cooking abilities, "Thank you, Hiroto-kun. Now everyone, let's get down and have breakfast."
"Did you say breakfast??" Hihara's eyes twinkled, "Yeah!! I'm all for breakfast! Thank you, Kana-yan!!"
"Wow, you went through all that trouble for us, Kana-yan." Tsuchiura said, grinning. "You should have called me to help. Thank you and sorry for the trouble."
"I didn't even know you could cook, sensei." said Mori, surprise apparent on her face.
"Err, well, it's just some simple dishes." Kanazawa blushed.
"That's why I said onee-san would be happy if she married you, se… I mean, onii-san." Kahoko smiled, before turning to her older sister who was still hugging her, "Right, onee-san?"
Kahoko could have sworn she saw a tinge of adorable pink on her sister's face before Kotoko cleared her throat and released Kahoko from the death grip. "Well, err… Hiro… has his plus points."
Mrs. Hino pinched her oldest daugher's arm, "What do you mean he has his plus points?" she glared at Kotoko, "You should be grateful that such a capable handsome guy would take a feisty girl like you for a wife."
"Eh? Why are you standing up for him? I'm yourdaughter here." said Kotoko defiantly.
"Don't worry, okaa-san, Kotoko's liveliness is what makes her cute in the first place." Kanazawa smiled, but it was momentarily since afterwards he covered his face with his hands, "Oh man, did I say that out loud."
Everyone giggled at the married couple. Kanazawa had always looked completely out of breath and sometimes even clueless whenever he was around his wife, which was an adorable sight to see for everyone who had always thought Kanazawa would be the more mature type. It turns out that Kanazawa was sometimes almost as innocent as Hihara.
"Now, off to breakfast, you kids." Kanazawa cleared his throat and began to talk authoritatively. "Kaho, if you're still not feeling well, you could eat in your room. Yunoki had after brought food here."
"Oh that's right. Yunoki-senpai, are you planning on spoon-feeding Hino-chan?" Amou asked mischievously.
Kahoko's pupils dilated at Amou's suggestion, while Azuma merely chuckled. "Ah, well…" he said, turning to her. "That's up to her of course."
"No need!" Kahoko blurted out immediately, causing the others to look at her in surprise. "Err... well, I'm quite alright now and I really want to get out of my room. I want to have breakfast with everyone." she added uncomfortably and turned at her 'fiancé', "Is it okay… Azuma-san?"
"Of course." He smiled back, causing the corners of Kahoko's mouth to give a violent twitch. Inwardly Kahoko heaved a tired sigh. She had to play the role as a doting fiancé after all, despite the fact that she hated lying to everyone once again. It brought her back to what happened four years ago, when she lied to everyone about the nature of her magic violin.
And so the whole party walked together to the dining room, except for Kahoko who had asked to be excused to at least change her clothes first. She was still in her sleeping attire after all. After she had washed her face, brushed her teeth, and quickly changed, she stepped out of her room only to find Tsuchiura standing in front of her room with his back leaning against the walls.
"Tsuchiura-kun? Is something wrong?" Kahoko asked in bewilderment. She certainly didn't expect to see him there.
The tall pianist gazed at her with his piercing bullion eyes and sighed, "I didn't even know that you and Yunoki-senpai were that close. So that whole scene at the party surprised the hell out of me."
Kahoko was at lost for words. She could only stand there as she closed the doors behind her, avoiding his reproving eyes.
"I'm sorry, Tsuchiura-kun." was the only thing she could say, and she truly meant it.
Tsuchiura took a deep breath and placed his palm on Kahoko's head, patting it. "I once told you that if you ever need help, you can come to me right?" Kahoko looked up and glanced at his face. He was smiling. "That hasn't changed. If you ever need someone to talk to, you know you could always count on me."
Kahoko gave a bitter smile and nodded. Her head never felt heavier when she did so.
Out of all her friends, Kahoko hated keeping secrets from Tsuchiura the most. He was after all, not only her best friend but also her most trusted ally. Like Tsuchiura once said, they were partners in crime. Perhaps their special relationship had been predestined by Fate, because from the very start Tsuchiura had always been there whenever she needed him.
Four years ago, Tsuchiura had saved Kahoko from breaking her neck when she nearly fell from the stairs. He then saved her from being humiliated in public when he became her impromptu accompanist on the first stage of the concours, even though he didn't want to reveal his piano prowess. Some, no scratch that, a LOT had mistaken their relationship for being beyond friendly but both of them had denied it. Tsuchiura had helped her countless times, from helping her tune her violin strings, recommending songs for her to practice, and sometimes accompanying her home when it gets dark. He was, like Len, her neighbor, and had only lived a few blocks down to hers. And though she had kept her relationship with Len from the world, she had trusted Tsuchiura with that secret.
Yes, Tsuchiura was the only person that she had actually told about Len. But Tsuchiura said he wasn't at all surprised to learn about it. He was after all quite observant, especially when it comes to matters concerning Kahoko. And since he wasn't exactly fond of Tsukimori Len, of course he noticed the increasing frequency of his rival's interactions with Kahoko. Tsuchiura also knew that Kahoko had been going to and fro school with the cerulean haired violinist, since the three of them share the same path to school. He just didn't say anything to her because he wanted her to confirm it herself. And when Kahoko finally did, he said that he would keep their relationship a secret, stating that he was glad she trusted him. However, Tsuchiura had also said he would make Len's life miserable should Len break Kahoko's heart, much to Kahoko's dismay and Len's annoyance. Tsuchiura was after all, not the joking type.
From the start, Tsuchiura despised the idea of Len leaving for Vienna. In fact, he had frontally sneered the idea to Len, stating that one could improve musically without going to Vienna. But the main reason he had been opposed to the idea because he knew that if Len left, it would devastate Kahoko. And when Len actually did, it was Tsuchiura who tried his best to always be there for the heartbroken Kahoko. She never showed her misery to the world and she had always veining a smile, but he knew she cried all night for weeks. Sometimes he would walk past her house at night and see that the light on the room facing the East hadn't been turned off yet, and he knew she was crying herself to sleep once again. And of course how could he not how she didn't want to play 'Ave Maria' in the Christmas Concert that was held on their senior year in Seisou Gakuin? To this day, he had never heard her play that song again.
Tsuchiura knew, and he took some foolish pride in that. He liked it that she trusted him with a secret that she had kept from the world, even from her other friends. And all he wanted was to remain that way –the person who will protect her from harm. He wanted to remain a person that Kahoko trusts.
Kahoko understood this, and that was why now it felt so hard for her to smile at him normally.
"Oh, and this might be late, but congratulations on your engagement." said Tsuchiura as both of them walked together downstairs. He was sincerely smiling to her, and it made her even more uncomfortable.
She was once again keeping another secret, and this time she couldn't divulge it even to him. For what would Tsuchiura think of her should he know that she had agreed on this 'engagement' deal because of money? Kahoko couldn't face losing her friendship with Tsuchiura, and as much as it pained her, she had to keep this secret from him.
'I'm truly sorry', Kahoko mourned inwardly.
"If Yunoki-senpai ever do you wrong, you know I could take him in one blow." he grinned.
Kahoko couldn't help but giggle a little, "Thank you, Tsuchiura-kun, but I don't think that's necessary. And I do hope that's a joke."
Tsuchiura eyed her and heaved a relieved sigh. "I'm glad that you seem to have gotten your spirits back. We were all so worried when you collapsed. Kaji freaked out and had almost wanted to take you to his grandfather's hospital. You should have seen him fight after that event with Yunoki-senpai."
Kahoko sighed, "They're fighting again?"
"Well, more like a heated discussion." continued Tsuchiura, "Yunoki-senpai said that you just needed rest in the peace of your own house and Kaji insisted that since he's a Med student, he knows best and it would be better for you to be taken to the hospital. But then Yunoki-senpai argued that taking you to the hospital would attract paparazzi to the hospital and would not only disturb you but also disturb the other patients."
"Sounds like their kind of fight alright." Kahoko rolled her eyes. "And then what happened?"
"Well, we said that Yunoki-senpai had a point. So Kaji finally gave up." Tsuchiura chuckled fondly at the memory of a childishly sulking Kaji Aoi, "After that Yunoki-senpai called his mother's family doctor from Morioka and asked for a house visit."
Kahoko sighed exasperatedly once again. She still couldn't understand why those two could never along. Even after four years of knowing each other and the fact that both Azuma and Kaji went to the same university didn't change the nature of their relationship. She remembered that back on her high-school days, those two would smile in front of her but glared at each other, insisting that they were not fighting but merely 'chatting'.
"Really… Those two are always smiling and all in public. But once they're together, I could sense this deadly battle aura from both of them." Tsuchiura mused and shook his head.
Kahoko laughed dryly, and then remembered something. "By the way, where's Kaji-kun?"
"Oh, he couldn't make it since he had things to do on the hospital." replied Tsuchiura. "It looks like his grandfather is giving him some hard training since Kaji's expected to be the next head of the hospital. He says hello though. So did Ousaki-senpai."
Kahoko gasped and slapped her forehead at the mention of Ousaki's name. "Oh, no! I slept for three days!! Ousaki-senpai's flight to Paris is supposed to be…"
"Yesterday." Tsuchiura continued it for her, and Kahoko's face fell in disappointment. "He wanted to cancel his flight first since he was worried for you, but we all convinced him that you would have wanted him to go. But he wanted us to say hello to you too once you wake up. Oh, and he wanted me to extend his congratulations on your engagement." Tsuchiura added.
Kahoko mourned her ignorance, "Oh, man… I still wanted to take him around town since he had helped me a lot these past few weeks. And he's not going to be back for the next four months too since he's going to Vienna as well. I'll e-mail him later then."
Yunoki Azuma's perfectly shaped eyebrow arched at the suggestion. The usually calm and composed smile on his face was threatening to crumble at that moment.
"Hihara, Amou-san, you can't be serious."
"But we are, Yunoki-senpai." Amou tsked, "This is the only way for you to go out without being noticed. You said it yourself that you've been tailed relentlessly by those colleagues of mine for the last three days right? So I'm imparting some of my wisdom to you right now."
Azuma was dangerously starting to lose his cool "And that wisdom you're implying is?"
"A disguise!!" shouted Hihara happily, "It's a brilliant idea, Yunoki! You just need to wear these and you're off to go. Amou-chan said that it's simple and effective!"
"Ara? What's going on?" Kahoko's head popped into the living room, where the remaining members of the group were. "I thought we were having breakfast. Err, Amou-chan, what are those?" Kahoko stared curiously at the short haired amber wig, a few pairs of extremely large sunglasses, a few scarves, and an overcoat on Amou's hands.
It was Mio who replied excitedly "It's the perfect escape plan for Yunoki-senpai, Kaho-chan! Kyahh, the suspense! I feel just like in a spy movie right now!"
"I think this is more of a parody than a spy movie." Nao replied, shaking her head.
"Huh?" Tsuchiura arched his eyebrows.
"Yunoki-senpai is going to pretend to be me." Shouji explained. "She gave me that overcoat yesterday and asked me to wear that today. And now… I understand why."
"Why look so glum, Shouji-chan? Isn't this the perfect plan?" Amou beamed animatedly, "Yunoki-senpai had after all asked Hihara-senpai to drive him to wherever he needs to go right? By the way, senpai, are you still not telling me where you're going?" she turned to Azuma.
"I'm afraid not, Amou-san." he smiled serenely, but Kahoko noticed that he was staring at the 'disguise items' in horror. As feminine-looking as he may be, Azuma was and always will be a man. There was no way he would let his male pride get hurt and wear women's clothing, wig, and pretend to be a woman!
"But why use a disguise?" Kahoko voiced Azuma's thoughts out loud, for she too was at lost at the current happenings.
"You haven't looked outside the house have you, Kaho?" Nao asked.
"It's a complete media frenzy out there." Tsuchiura explained, "They've been stalking your house for the past three days. We had a rough time just trying to get in your house today."
Kahoko's jaw dropped. She was utterly speechless. She had heard a lot of noise coming from outside her house, but since her bedroom window was facing the East and not directly facing the front of the house, she couldn't see what was going on. She took a closer look at her surroundings, and noticed that all the windows were completely covered with blinds and curtains. No wonder her house felt a little darker than usual.
"You kids seriously never fail to surprise me with these ideas of yours." Kanazawa laughed.
"Why not just the overcoat? I think that should be enough, right?" Mrs. Hino chimed in.
"But his face and his long hair would be a problem." said Kotoko. "The press has familiarized themselves with Azuma-kun's face after all."
"And don't you think the height difference is a little… different, Amou-chan?" asked Mori, who had her own doubts about this plan, "Yunoki-senpai is after all above 170 cm, and Shouji-chan barely reaches 165."
"Err, well, Amou-senpai had asked me to wear high-heeled boot today." piped Shouji.
Kahoko stared at Amou in astonishment, "Amou-chan, you're serious about this plan aren't you?"
"I am going to have that Amou put to sleep." said Azuma, without hesitation taking off the short amber wig and the flashy magenta scarf right after the car had made a turn and no paparazzi were on their tail. He threw the items to the back seat in a fit and began taking off the bobby-pins and bands that were responsible for holding his silky lavender hair in place.
"Hey, don't do that, Yunoki. My aniki would be sad." Hihara replied on the driver's seat, "But you have to admit that it's effective, ne, Yunoki?"
Either Hihara was too focused on his driving or he pretended not to notice, but it seemed that he failed to realize that his dearest best friend had just shot a deathly glare at him.
"Do you want to be taken care of too, Hihara?" asked Azuma in a warning tone. His voice was dark with rage and concealed embarrassment. His male pride had after all been wounded. "I can't believe that you and Shouji actually agreed to this plan without telling me."
"Well Amou-chan said it was supposed to be a surprise." Hihara pouted, "Sorry, Yunoki, but I was concerned too that those photographers would follow you around like they did for the past three days. We even had experienced hell trying to get into the car just now right?"
"Whatever. Just drive." snapped Azuma.
To Azuma's surprise, Hihara looked at him and grinned. "You're giving me the creeps. What's with the stupid grin, Hihara?"
"I'm just glad that you're honest with your feelings in front of me, Yunoki." Hihara answered lightly.
Azuma eyed his best friend suspiciously, then averted his gaze to the window, privately smiling to himself and carefully trying not to show it in front of Hihara. Yes, it has been four years ever since that incident. Did you really think that after being close friends for seven years, Hihara remained oblivious about Yunoki Azuma's true nature? In fact, that little incident happened during one of the practice sessions for the Christmas concert. Azuma, Hihara, and Kahoko were practicing together but Azuma had a hard time focusing on the task at hand. At that time, Azuma asked to be excused but the concerned Hihara and Kahoko took it upon themselves to find out what was bothering Azuma. And so the two had searched for the flutist and found him in the school auditorium's backstage, seemingly at lost with himself. Azuma was so engulfed in his family's financial problems at that time and the pressures he was receiving to quit music.
Kahoko and Hihara had never seen Azuma look so fragile, and both of them decided to talk to him. Unexpectedly though, Azuma had snapped and told Hihara to mind his own business, shedding his own need to appear polite to another person besides Kahoko. Hihara, who had never seen Azuma act in such a vulgar manner, was of course startled at first. Especially when Azuma told him that him being rude and mean is in his true nature, and if Hihara couldn't handle it then he should leave Azuma alone.
To Azuma's surprise, Hihara didn't leave him alone. Hihara had patiently remained by his side at that time, stating that he was Azuma's friend and he would accept Azuma even if he was a criminal. Hihara had also said that he wouldn't leave Azuma's side when Azuma seems to be experiencing trouble, since helping each other out is what friends do.
And with that acceptance, Azuma's relationship with Hihara deepened. Their friendship wasn't based on a façade anymore. Hihara had known Azuma's true nature, and Azuma wasn't shy on teasing and bullying Hihara any longer whenever the two were alone or were only in the presence of Kahoko. Sometimes Azuma could act like an older brother to Hihara, helping Hihara tone down his over-exuberance (though not with much success) and to learn more self control. Hihara had also pointed out to Azuma to be more true to himself and that he would always be available whenever Azuma needed him. The whole thing continued for four years, even though both of them went to different universities, and because of it, both had matured in their own way. Azuma was quite surprised by it of course, since he never knew that he would gain so many by being friends with somebody who's directly his opposite.
"You are just as annoying as her." Azuma said as he took off the oversized glasses that had been hanging loosely on his nose.
Hihara laughed, "You still call her that, Yunoki? Really now, she's your fiancé. You should treat her with more care."
"Hihara, I saw you talking to Miyabi at the party." Azuma opted to change the subject. "Just how much did she tell you?"
Hihara's face became a little more serious at the mention of Miyabi's name, "Not much. She just asked me to take some of your stuff, like your clothes, your flute, and a few sealed boxes, put them in my car, and give them to you later. I didn't understand what she was talking about at first until I saw your little scene."
Hihara then turned his face and looked at Azuma, "Yunoki, I really hope you're not toying with Hino-chan this time."
"Ah, so that's why you haven't congratulated us on the engagement." Azuma chuckled. "Sometimes you're smarter than you look, Hihara."
"I'm serious. I might not know exactly what you're up to, but please don't hurt her, Yunoki. Hino-chan has been hurt far too many times these past four years."
Out of all the people Kaji Aoi had not wanted to see, the smiling lavender haired youth in front of him was on the top of that list. His nemesis clearly wasn't pleased either by their meeting, though he had subtly tried to cover it with an angelic smile.
"What a surprise to see you here, Kaji-kun." said Azuma calmly. "I see the white suit suits you. You will make a very fine doctor."
Kaji smiled back, trying his best to not show his irritation, "I should be the one to say that, Yunoki-san. I am honored that a celebrity like you are actually a patron of my grandfather's hospital. I do hope there's nothing wrong with you." he added sarcastically.
Azuma got the hint, but retained his composed state, "I'm 'touched'by your concern, Kaji-kun, but I'm perfectly fine. I came here to visit someone else."
"You're still so kind-hearted, Yunoki-san." Kaji gave a dangerous smile. "Like always, you're putting other people first before yourself."
Azuma chuckled at the ironic remark, "You praise me too much, Kaji-kun."
Kaji smiled and took a deep breath, looking at his surroundings and noticed that the other nurses and people in the wing was too preoccupied to listen to what they were saying to each other. "Let's cut the chase, Yunoki-san." Kaji began, still with a light tone and a smile on his face. "Of all the hospitals in Tokyo, why did you come here?"
Azuma grinned. His nemesis wasn't a fool after all. "I'm sure you know this is not the place to talk about such matters."
Kaji's face became serious, "Follow me then." he turned around and led his former senpai to the rooftops of the hospital. It was quite a long trip, but it was proven to be the best spot for their conversation since no one was there.
"I heard Hino-san is awake." Kaji opened the conversation.
"You have wonderful resources, Kaji-kun." Azuma smirked, "And I not only mean Tsuchiura. You seem to have finally used your father's resources as well to guard the house."
Kaji chuckled amusedly, "As expected of the honor student. I assume that those other men stationed nearby the house that my men mentioned are yours? Or rather, the men your maternal family sent you from Morioka?"
"You have always been very sharp, Kaji-kun. Yes, those are the men sent from my mother's Ibaragi clan, and I'm glad that your men have worked quite well with them. So far nothing has happened to my dear fiancé and her family because of that. Who would ever think that we could work so well together?" Azuma sneered.
Kaji's mouth gave a violent twitch, "What game are you playing at, Yunoki-san?" he said darkly.
"Surely a man with your insight has figured it out already." Azuma scoffed, a darker edge in his tone. "And I'm sure you know the reason behind everything as well as my dear fiancé's little secret."
Kaji frowned, gritting his teeth in agitation, "You did all this just to stop the merger?"
"Now, now, we both know there is no such thing as a merger when it comes to the Grand Fuji Group. The Yunoki Group was facing a hostile take-over, thanks to the incapability of my second older brother to run the business properly."
"And you sacrificed yourself for this cause? How very noble." Kaji snickered.
"I'm not as noble as you think, Kaji-kun." Azuma smiled calmly.
To Azuma's surprise, Kaji suddenly leaped to his front and grabbed him by the collar. "If you dare hurt Hino-san, I swear I will show you what hell looks like. How dare you use her for your silly little games?!" growled Kaji dangerously.
Azuma chuckled, "You seem to lose your cool when it comes to her, Kaji-kun. But should you be behaving so violently in your own grandfather's hospital?"
"However." Azuma cut in, now glaring back at Kaji's emerald eyes with his piercing dark ones. Calmly he released Kaji's grip on him and straightened himself up. "I am the one who's supposed to say those words to you."
Kaji arched his blonde eyebrows, "What are you talking about?"
"I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, or rather, whoI'm talking about. Don't you dare play with her. She's not like your other stupid fans." Azuma said darkly with a warning tone. "So don't even think of giving her false hopes. Should you harm just one lock of my sister's hair, I will be the one to show you to the depths of hell."
And here it is: my longest chapter yet! Finally it's out of my system!! Sorry for the long delay once again. Hope you won't be disappointed by this chapter.
About Tsuchiura and Len being Kahoko's neighbor, it's actually true according to the first Corda game. I was surprised too since the anime didn't show it, but it's true. And also about Hihara knowing Azuma's true nature, this was also something that happened in the game. Their friendship is adorable in my opinion. I hope I can do it justice in the next chapters of my story (since obviously I didn't do it justice in this chapter).
And maybe some are disappointed that I didn't write about the wedding yet in this chapter. I think it's reasonable for Kahoko to think it over first, since getting married is a major step and she's doing this not out of love but because of a bargain. Personally, I don't think she's the kind of person who could jump so easily at a contract marriage. And after all, Azuma only asked her to be his fiancé at first. He never said anything about getting married when she accepted the deal in the first place. So what will Kahoko's choice be? (drumrolls) By the way, have you ever wondered what their married life would be like (if she agrees to be Azuma's wife of course)?
I didn't write anything about Len here (dodges rotten tomatoes) but he will have a part in (hopefully) the near future. As for requests of him crashing the wedding, oh my, you guys have livelier imagination than me. We'll see.
Of course, I want to thank you the people who have read and even reviewed my story so far. Thank you also to my friends in NeoRomance and CR who provided me with information on the character.
And as for you reading this right now, hope you like this chapter and don't hesitate to review!