Title: Akai Tonbo

Authoress: Aria DC al Fine

Disclaimer: Not mine.

Warning: A bit of violence here and there

Chapter 3: Sacrifice

"OKAERINASAI (Welcome back), HASHIGUCHI-SAMA!" dozens of men chorused, backs flat against the walls of the corridors, and bowed in unison. "TSUKARESAMA DESHITA (Thank you for the hard work)!

A charismatic fifty-year old man walked through the path between two rows of men, his eyes sharp, his posture straight, stands of white hair forming streaks in his dark hair and moustaches. "Tadaima (I'm back home)," The boss of the largest Yakuza clan in Japan replied his subordinates, and reached out for his newest Mistress, a fair-skinned Eurasian with chestnut-coloured hair and shapely figure. "That was a tough job…Those Italian mafias…they were very demanding," he sighed. The Mistress crooned at him, and the thugs stepped out to offer massages.

In the midst of all the worshipping, the yakuza boss noticed that one person was absent from the hallway. It was hard to miss his second son – he could spot the boy's pink-haired head from miles away. "Aoyagi," He spoke. All fell silent and gave way to the long-haired man in black suit. "Hai, Oyabun-sama (Yes, boss)?"

"Where is Shigeru?"

"Ano…" Aoyagi took a while before answering, "Shigeru-bocchan is with Harumi-san. They had gone for a trip to Gero."

Hashiguchi raised an eyebrow, as if asking, 'why did he not ask for my permission?'

Aoyagi panicked. "Shigeru-Bocchan had been unwell for 3 days…Harumi-san suggested that Shigeru-Bocchan quickly be temporarily moved to Gero to improve his health…since Gero has fresher air and hot springs…and the Kitagawa clan has control over an inn in Gero…"

"Onsen!" The Mistress squealed and clung to the yakuza boss. "Ne, Hashiguchi-sama…can we go as well?" she pouted, and proposed in a 'plastic' cute voice.

"Mistress," Aoyagi looked torn, "Harumi-san said she intended to…" his cheeks reddened, "take her relationship with Shigeru-Bocchan to the next level…If we disturb them…"

"We'll be discrete!" the bimbo insisted, "Hashiguchi-sama…please…" she caressed his upper arm.

"Very well," the fifty-year old stated, "Aoyagi, prepare the limousine. We'll be going A.S.A.P."

"Yay!" The airhead kissed the yakuza boss on the cheek, "I love you!"

Harumi's heart stopped beating at the sight of the man who were supposed to be her future father-in-law. "Hashiguchi-sama!" She gasped, before dropping to her knees and knocked her head on the wooden floor in front of his feet, "Welcome to Hinata-Sou."

"Rise, child," the boss responded.

Harumi still couldn't believe her rotten luck. "Hashiguchi-sama, if you have told me earlier I would have asked the chief maid to prepare the best room for you," she lied through her teeth as a lump clogged the base of her throat.

"Well, I didn't want to disturb the blossoming relationship between you and my son…" Hashiguchi coughed at the innuendo, before looking around, "By the way, where's Shigeru? Aoyagi told me about the bug. I hope he's better."

'Think of something, think of something, think!!' Harumi screamed inwardly, as she put up a smile on her face, "Oh, he's definitely better! He's taking a stroll around the city right now." Before the yakuza boss could ask anything more, Harumi led her guests inside the inn. "Hashiguchi-sama, why don't you enjoy the onsen first? The trip here must be tiring…I'll prepare you delicious specialty dishes and the best local entertainment!"

As soon as the man left for the onsen, Harumi tried to call her fiancé repeatedly to warn him, but Kanmuri's cell phone was switched off, and there was no telephone line in her brother's flat. Frustrated, Harumi dedicated all her energy on distracting the yakuza boss for hours on end, serving him cups of sake and providing him with many beautiful women…She was hoping that he would collapse before nightfall so she could make her way back to Tokyo or disappeared from the face of the earth…

However, the Goddess of Fortune wasn't by her side that night. Hashiguchi stayed sober for a long time, and just as the clock struck nine times, the man turned to the brown-eyed girl, and inquired again. "Harumi, it's late. Where is Shigeru?" his expression was serious, a hint of worry in his voice.

The hand that was pouring sake to Hashiguchi's cup stopped still. 'Think of something!' Cold sweat bathed Harumi's temple. "He's…" her voice was misplaced, her mind reeling. "Oh, no! Shigure-san is lost!"

Hashiguchi had noticed that something was amiss. In the first place, Harumi wasn't the type to let Shigeru out of her sight if she wasn't sure he would be safe without her. If Shigeru was really touring around the city, Harumi would have sent the cleverest Kitagawa bodyguards to look after him. There was no doubt about it. "Harumi," the man whispered in a low, dangerous tone, his eyes flashing dangerously. "Don't lie to me."

All the happy noises made by the thugs Hashiguchi brought to Gero and their women vanished in a second. The temperature of the room seemed to go below zero degree. Everyone watched, breaths held, as Hashiguchi rose slowly, and stood over Harumi's trembling form. "Don't make me ask you again," the man hissed maliciously. "Where is my son?" he paused between each word, dragging the question.

Harumi was silent, her lips glued together. She would not, would never answer it. She would not say a word.

A vein throbbed on the fifty-year-old man's wrinkled temple. "Where is my son, you bitch!" he barked, pulled the girl up by her hair, and backhanded her across the cheek, hard, with a resounding smack, sending her sprawling across the room, her form bouncing off the wall.

"Harumi-sama!" one of the geishas shrieked, "Yuri, Akiko, someone!" she turned to the girls nearest to the door, "Call Yoshida!"

One of the geishas, a petite, pretty young woman, scrambled to her feet, but was stilled by Hashiguchi's deadly glare. "Aoyagi!" the yakuza boss called as he enclosed his hand around Harumi's wrist and dragged her out of the door to the backyard, "Drive the limousine! We're going back to Tokyo!"

The instruction triggered the Hashiguchi yakuza members to a flurry of actions. "Hai, Oyabun-sama!" Aoyagi exclaimed, and within minutes, they had exited the inn, leaving the geishas and Hashiguchi's new Mistress behind.

"Kawachi-san," a pink-haired, violet-eyed youth called the tanned blonde who was a few years his senior. Said blonde was sitting behind a table, stoning, eyes staring blankly at the wall. Kanmuri took a deep breath. "KAWACHI-SAN!"

"Nan ya de!" The Kansai boy jumped, "Kanmuri-han, odokasun'na (don't shock me)!"

"Demo (but), Kawachi-san," hands full with a basket of leftover breads, Kanmuri pointed at the oven with his chin, "The dinner bread you bake is burning!"

"Eeh?" True enough, the scent of carbon was permeating the air. Kawachi jumped and rushed to open the open. "ITAI (It hurts)! A-atsui (H-hot)!!" He nearly dropped the bread to the floor.

Kanmuri sighed. Kawachi was really a clown.

"Kanmuri-kun!" Azuma called from the stove, "Please bring the leftover breads here!"

"Hai!" the fair-skinned youth replied, and hurried to the stove, where the two sixteen-year-olds would then prepare Japan#56 together.

"Odoroita ne (I'm surprised)," Kanmuri commented, after the preparation was over and he was standing at the back of the store, seeing hordes of people asking for Kabukiage-Japan, "that leftover breads can be highly in demand like this…Azuma-kun is really something."

"Desu ne?" Tsukino entered from the kitchen and smiled. Kanmuri smiled back. Seeing the transformation of leftover bread to Japan#56 inspired Kanmuri to solidify and strengthen his conceptualization of breads so that he too, could invent his own bread.

"Demo, Zannen desu ne (But, it was such a pity)," Tsukino sighed, "that you didn't go to the TV Station to watch the match."

"Daijoubu desu," Kanmuri remarked, "I saw it from the television. It was enough." He opinionated in his heart, 'Of course I can't go to the TV station. I cannot get shot; almost every Hashiguchi and Kitagawa yakuza member knows my face.'

"But, but, but!" the brunette continued, "If the audience saw you, more people could have gone to Minami Tokyo Pantasia!" She put her hands on her waist, "Datte (Because), Kanmuri-kun has a bishounen (pretty boy) appeal!"

"Bi-bishounen appeal?" Kanmuri repeated, aghast. "What?"

Suddenly, a lightly tanned boy with swept back shoulder-length brown hair entered Kanmuri's view. Azuma's face was close to his own, his caramel eyes scrutinizing his features. "Bishounen ne…" the brunet muttered, "Well, you do look pretty," he finally remarked lightheartedly as he leaned back and crossed his arms behind his head.

Kanmuri's heart was beating faster, his pale cheeks painted with the colour of the sky during sunset. 'Why do I…feel nervous?' he asked himself before saying, in a small voice, "T-thank you…"

Tsukino smiled knowingly to herself before touching the pink-haired's boy shoulder lightly. "Kanmuri-kun, can we retreat back to the kitchen? I have a proposal to make."

"Employment?" Kanmuri gasped.

"Yes, employment," Tsukino nodded, "You've been with us for two weeks. I know you told us you're just here to learn how to bake, but you've already known how to bake all the breads we sell in this store. The taste of the breads you bake is also superb. I see no reason why I shouldn't offer you an official employment."

"B-but," it sounded too good to be true, "Won't I be an excess capacity?"

"Not at all," Tsukino retorted right away, "You passed the test Tenchou (the Manager) put you through. That alone should be an indication that he, as a Manager, had accepted you."

Kanmuri looked down at the flour-covered table. "I…"

"Tsukino's right, Kanmuri-kun!" Azuma exclaimed, and grinned, "It was so fun, baking bread with you. Join us!"

The 2nd granddaughter of the founder of Pantasia chain turned to the boy, "So?"

"I'll take it," Kanmuri replied, the gaze on his eyes firm. "Thank you, Tsukino-san, Azuma-kun."

"Now, let's party!" Tsukino changed her attitude abruptly, "we should have a party to welcome Kanmuri-kun!"

"Party! Party!" Azuma gushed, and the both of them did a dance.

"Ano ne!" Kanmuri exclaimed, "The shop!" Even as he tried to bring the two back to a serious mood, he couldn't deny that there was a small smile on his face.

The two weeks Kanmuri had been in Southern Tokyo Pantasia branch had been heaven for the pink-haired boy. The test the Manager gave him was his favourite. He enjoyed raking his brain to modify the bread he had already known and was extremely satisfied when an entirely different bread of a better taste and quality can be obtained. When he was baking bread, he was able to give all his energy, his concentration, everything he had, to the task and forget everything else.

Not to mention his companions…especially Azuma. He was so brilliant. Knowing practically nothing of western techniques, he still managed to come up with so many delicious breads. His conceptualization was ingenious. Kanmuri didn't think there was any limit for him. He dared venture to things others would have though unthinkable. To be honest, Kanmuri thought himself lucky having been taught by Azuma, and aspired to be like him.

And then, of course there was this foreign emotion…that made him take pleasure in being in his company…

"Kanmuri-kun," as if conjured by his mind, the brunet appeared, "have you finished cleaning up the kitchen?"

"Ato sukoshi (a bit more)," Kanmuri replied as he wiped the top of the tables with a rag, "I'm left with putting out the garbage bag…"

"Tetsudao ja (let me help you)!" Azuma snatched the big black plastic bag and opened the back door.

However, someone else opened the door from the outside faster than Azuma did, knocking the boy on the face, and the boy fell to his butt. "Itee (it hurts)!"

In normal situations, Kanmuri would go to his side and help Azuma up, but the sight that greeted the pink-haired boy caused his blood to curdle.

On the doorway, stood a fifty-year-old man in an obviously expensive black kimono with red intricate dragon embroidered on the sleeves and the back. There was a fierce, predatory expression on his wrinkled face, and his eyes were staring furiously at Kanmuri's own amethyst orbs. The man's right hand was holding on to a girl, whose dark-hair, which seemed to have been cut haggardly with a blunt scissor, covered half of her face; her petite body was covered with black and blue bruises, her split lips dripping blood. The girl struggled to get her wrist off the man, but the man kicked her in the gut. The girl threw her head back in pain, and only then, Kanmuri could recognise the girl.

"HARUMI!" he cried out, and rushed to get to his childhood friend, but was intercepted by Aoyagi and another thug, who held on to his arms and slammed him to the edge of the table, making him double over in pain, tears blurring his sight. "I'm sorry, Bocchan," Aoyagi muttered under his breath.

"Kanmuri-kun!" Azuma got up from his feet and tried to approach the pink-haired boy, but was hoisted up by two yakuza and pinned against the wall.

"Shigeru-san," Harumi gazed at Kanmuri, her eyes beseeching, "I'm sorry…I'm sorry! I didn't. I didn't say anything!" she said frantically.

Instantly, a guilty look passed over Aoyagi's face. Kanmuri gritted his teeth before calming himself down and looked back at his fiancée, mouthing, 'I know.'

"What's with the noise?" a girl's voice yelled, before Tsukino and Kawachi entered the kitchen from the store. Tsukino gasped and her feet gave out under her weight, and Kawachi hurried to catch her before she hit the floor. "Nan ya de?"

Hashiguchi shoved Harumi to his bodyguard for him to hold, before taking a few steps into the pandemonium that was the kitchen. "Shigeru," he hissed, multiple veins pulsing on his forehead, "Can you explain what you are doing here," he pulled his son by the collar and gripped his chin, "in this rat hole, wearing this hideous," he ripped the uniform with his other hand, sending buttons flying all over the place, "clothing?" he spat, his saliva showering Kanmuri's face.

Kanmuri winced. "Chichiue-sama (father)," he breathed weakly, the small of his spine still stinging from the impact against the table.

The yakuza boss wasn't done. "You ran away from home, assisted by this bitch, this lying fox," he nudged at Harumi, who was still struggling. "The only reason I hadn't cut her tongue is because she is the only child of the boss of the Kitagawa yakuza group!"

"Chichiue-sama," Kanmuri tried again, "I want to be a bread artisan."

The whole kitchen was engulfed in silence for a moment, before Hashiguchi bent down, his form shaking.


Kanmuri was interrupted by a loud, roaring laughter. "You? Panshokunin?" There was a maniacal gleam in his eyes. "DON'T MAKE ME LAUGH!" he raised his arm, and slapped his son on the cheek so hard his head hit the table behind him.

"Kanmuri-kun!" "Shigeru-san!" Azuma shouted simultaneously with Harumi and the two redoubled their efforts to get away. "Teme!" Kawachi left Tsukino, who was able to stand now, and attempted to reach the pink-haired boy, but was halted by a wall of burly men in black suits. "Tsukino!" The blonde Kansai boy turned his head to his employer. "Where the hell is Matsushiro-Tenchou?"

Tsukino bit her lips. "He's with Ryuu-san again…Apparently as he was in China two weeks ago he made another debt…"

"Kuso (shit)!" Kawachi barked, angry at his own helplessness and the circumstances, "He's never here when we need him!"

"You know that I have the intention to make you my successor, don't you?" Hashiguchi growled, his fingers curling around his son's neck. "Don't you?"

Kanmuri's face began to swell, the purple hideous on his pale skin. "Y-yes," he stuttered, blood leaking from the marks on his cheek, caused by his father's rings.

"Then…" he signaled at Aoyagi to hoist his son up. Aoyagi hesitated, but his boss' glare left him with no choice but to comply. He pulled his young master's right hand, laid it flat on the table and held it tightly by the wrist. "You know that running away from home equates betraying the group, don't you?"

Kanmuri's heart leapt to his throat. Knowing his father's intention, now, he began to struggle against the men's grip. "Chichiue-sama!" he looked up at the man that sired him, his eyes pleading.

But Hashiguchi only unsheathed the short sword he pulled out of his kimono, admired how the sharp blade reflected the lighting from the fluorescent lamp, and brought it close to Kanmuri's skin. "I had really been too kind to you," he sighed as the cold metal ghosted over the back of Kanmuri's hand, "I let you study in America. It seemed to have given you the notion that you're able to do as you please," the sword stopped above Kanmuri's pinky. "Now, I should discipline you."

"Hashiguchi-sama!" Harumi sobbed, "Please don't cut Shigeru-san's finger! He's your son!" the pitch of her voice kept on increasing until it broke at the last word.

"No!" Tsukino's green eyes widened. "Yamete kudasai!" the brunette knelt on the floor and begged, "Panshokunin ni totte, te wa ichiban daisetsuna mono desu (For a bread artisan, his hand is his most important thing)!"

"Well, then, I'll be able to kill two birds with one stone, won't I?" the yakuza boss sneered at the proxy-manager, before raising the blade over his head, "Exactly because Shigeru's my son, I must not treat him differently from any other yakuza!"

Harumi managed to force her way out of the thug's grip with a strength she didn't know she possessed. She flung herself to Hashiguchi's back, her hands hanging on to Hashiguchi's arm, the one that was holding the sword. "BITCH!" Hashiguchi spat, and flailed his limbs hard, kicking and elbowing the girl, "Let go of my hand! Let go! Let-"

As though time was frozen, everyone was still when the blade penetrated the brown-eyed girl on the abdomen. They were waiting for something, anything that gave them an indication that what they saw was real.

When blood began to spurt out from Harumi's middle, time flowed again. Tsukino closed her eyes, Kawachi gasped, and Azuma screamed. Horrified, Hashiguchi took a step away from the girl. Wide-eyed, Harumi touched the wound gingerly, disbelief etched on every line of her face, before she coughed more blood, and fell to the ground. Kanmuri let out a sound so animalistic he could barely believe it was human, let alone his own voice, and run to Harumi's side, Aoyagi and the other man letting their hold on the boy loose.

The pink-haired boy placed his fiancée's head on his lap gently. "Shikari shiro (hang on), Harumi," he stated softly and stroked her pain-laced face, which was drenched in cold sweat, before turning to Minami Tokyo Pantasia staff members. "Call ambulance! Hurry!"

Aoyagi approached, his hand hovering above the handle of the sword, but Kanmuri turned his murderous glare on him. "DON'T TAKE THE BLADE OUT!" he shouted with all the air in his lungs, "It'll worsen the blood loss!"

"Ano…" Tsukino, who had recovered from the initial shock, whispered, "There's a hospital 2 blocks away…It may be faster than calling an ambulance…"

Kanmuri attempted to lift Harumi in his slender arms, but he wasn't strong enough. The yakuza members rushed to do the job, but the boy tightened his hold around the wounded girl and barked at them fiercely, "Sawaru na (don't touch her)!"

"Kanmuri-han," Kawachi bent down and stretched his hands out to him, "You can't possibly carry her alone. Let me help."

Kanmuri bit his lower lip in frustration, hating his own weakness, before handing Harumi to the blonde, since he was the only person he trusted who were also strong enough to carry her to the hospital. As soon as he secured her in his arms, Kawachi took off, followed by Tsukino, Aoyagi, and many of the thugs. After that, there were only Azuma, Kanmuri, whose fists were clenched so tightly his knuckles were white, and Hashiguchi.

"Kanmuri-kun," Azuma touched Kanmuri's hands to get them to relax, to no avail. Instead, the pink-haired boy turned to stare at his father from the corner of his eyes, the expression on his face frosty, merciless.

"I-it's her fault!" Hashiguchi pointed at the bloodstain on the tiles, where Harumi was laid. "If she didn't interfere-"

"If anything happens to Harumi…"Kanmuri's voice was soft, but it could suspend the man's shouting. "I will never forgive you."

Hours passed – Kanmuri didn't know how many; for him, it seemed like an eternity, seconds ticking ten times slower – before the doctor who operated Harumi opened the door to the Emergency Unit in his doctor robes, took off his nose-and-mouth protector, and put up his thumb. "The operation was a success," He informed everyone who was assembled in the corridor – Kanmuri, Kawachi, Azuma, Tsukino, Hashiguchi and dozens of muscular thugs who nearly blocked the passageway – with a smile. "It helped that the blade wasn't taken out. She can be moved to another ward straight away. So please vacate the corridor and refrain from frightening the nurses and other patients."

Kanmuri was really relieved. He was the first to visit Harumi. As he sat on the chair next to the bed, Harumi slept peacefully. The violet-eyed boy smiled. "Yokata (thank goodness)," he whispered, his hand sweeping her haphazard fringe away from her eyes.

As he sat in tranquility, the door was slammed open. Harumi's father, Kitagawa Hajime, the boss of the Kitagawa yakuza group, a tall, well-built forty-five years old man with a slightly dumb look on his defined square face, barged into the room, shouting, "Harumi! My daughter!"

Kanmuri frowned at the man, his point finger in front of his lips. "Shush! Please be quiet," he whispered.

But Kitagawa didn't hear him; as soon as he laid his eyes on his only child, heavily bandaged and lying prone in a hospital bed, he turned livid. "Hashiguchi, you bastard!" he pulled Kanmuri's father into the room by the collar of his kimono, "It was you who wounded her, right? Yoshida told me!" he yelled to Hashiguchi's face.

Tsukino entered the room as well and tried to calm the two yakuza bosses down. "Sir, please keep it down!"

"Shut up! It's between me and this bastard!" Kitagawa bellowed, and raised one fist to punch the other man's face.

"Chichiue-sama!" a female voice cried out. Everyone turned his or her heads to find Harumi sitting up on the bed, her hand clutching her stomach. "Yamete kudasai (please stop)," she breathed heavily.

"Harumi!" Kanmuri ran to her side, "Don't strain yourself! Lie down!" he put a pillow behind her back for her to lean on.

"Chichiue-sama," the girl ignored the advice, "Hashiguchi-sama is not to blame."

The man rushed to the other side of the bed. "Harumi, I know you're kindhearted, but this is a bit too far-"

"No, please listen," her breathing became more laboured, "I am not blind to the yakuza codes; I have known the risks since the beginning."

"Then why are you willing to put your life in the line?" This time, it was Hashiguchi who asked. He approached the bed and stood next to his son.

"Watashi wa shiteru kara (because I know). Shigeru-san no yume, panshokunin ni naritai no yume wa hontou desu kara (Shigeru's dream of becoming a bread artisan is genuine)!" The girl, who was relying solely on her willpower to breathe now, clutched the old man's hand with her own bruised, frail one. "Please give Shigeru-san one chance to achieve his dream!" she forced herself to finish, her form trembling. Kanmuri saw a patch of red seeping out on the bandage around her middle and coerced her to lying down. "Stop speaking! Your wound is opening! Aoyagi, call the nurse!"

"No!" Harumi shook her head adamantly, "I refuse to be treated until Hashiguchi-sama gives Shigeru-san a chance!"

Touched by Harumi's fortitude, Hashiguchi's resolve weakened. "But how do I know that he has the talent?" He inquired, "Shigeru is my son. I don't want him to tread this path and get lost in the way! I can't allow him to be a bread artisan!"

"I have a proposal," Tsukino stepped in calmly. She stood at the end of the bed, Azuma and Kawachi at her left and right side. "I want to make use of this opportunity to inform Kawachi-kun and Azuma-kun of this as well." She raised her hand to show three red coloured cards with a golden 'P' printed on each card, and handed one each to Kawachi, Azuma and Kanmuri.

The three bread artisans inspected the cards. "Tsukino, what's this?" Kawachi asked.

"They're invitations to Pantasia's annual Newcomers' Battle," the green-eyed girl answered.

"Newcomers' Battle?" The three repeated, and stared at the cards seriously.

Tsukino explained, "Pantasia takes in fifty to a hundred bread artisans a year. The Battle is a competition between those artisans to see who the best is. This is a prestigious event that attracts the media's attention, it's being covered every year. The winner stands a chance to win a sum of money, study in France, and be noticed by the public, including many bread stores."

"Naru hodo (I see)," Azuma responded calmly, while Kawachi's eyes turned green with greed. "Whoa! I absolutely have to win this!" he exclaimed spiritedly.

Hashiguchi had his doubts. "It's just a battle between amateurs; what's so special about winning this Battle?"

Tsukino was about to argue, but she was beaten by a male voice coming from the doorway of the room. "That's where you're wrong."

Matsushiro Tenchou stood by the door in his afro glory, his muscles glistening with sweat. Hashiguchi and Kitagawa took one step back. 'That man look really strong,' they commented inwardly.

Tsukino turned and gasped in surprise. "Manager!"

"I returned to Minami Tokyo Pantasia, exhausted and hoping to be greeted by smiles, only to find the whole kitchen in a mess," the tanned, beefy man grumbled as he walked towards the bed, "I thought a burglar had broken in. Apparently, it was something even more dramatic," he gave a long-suffering sigh.

"That's Tenchou's own fault!" Kawachi retorted indignantly, "You weren't there when we needed you!"

"Suman (sorry)," The man said indifferently, aggravating Kawachi's irritation even further. Hair rising like a cat's, he fumed, "That's not the point!"

"Ma, ma (well, well), Kawachi-kun," Tsukino tried to appease Kawachi, "He's here now."

"Winning Pantasia's annual Newcomers' Battle is nothing special, you said?" The manager addressed Hashiguchi. "Nonsense! Newly employed in Pantasia doesn't mean those artisans are amateurs! Some of then have been bread artisans for more than twenty years! The Battle isn't something you look down upon! The winners of this Battle will grow to be highly skilled and renowned bread artisans!"

Tsukino nodded. "Our manager here is the man who can bake the best French bread in Japan. He was the winner of the Newcomers' Battle eleven years ago."

"Hmph!" the manager crossed his arms and basked in pride. Azuma ooh-ed in awe, while Kawachi only snorted. "I'll prove it to you! I'll be this year's winner!"

"If Kanmuri-kun can win this battle," Tsukino said to the pink-haired boy's father, "it means he has the talent, the willpower and the passion to be a bread artisan. It also ensures him a bright future as a bread artisan. You should at least think about it," she tried to convince him.

Everyone in the room was silent as Hashiguchi put his fingers on his chin, a sign that he was considering the offer. After a long, long time, he finally gave a response. "Very well."

"Chichiue-sama," Kanmuri whispered, his eyes staring at the man, happiness fizzling in his chest. A smile spread on Harumi's face.

"Tadashi (but)," Hashiguchi said before everyone danced in elation, dashing the rising hope, "I have a condition. Shigeru must be the 1st winner in this Battle. No other option. Otherwise, he is to return to the Hashiguchi estate, and be my successor." His sharp eyes gazed into his son's levelly.

"B-but," Harumi frowned, "Shigeru-san had just learned how to bake breads two weeks ago! He is severely disadvantaged against those who had been bread artisans for far longer!"

"It's okay, Harumi," Kanmuri stated with confidence, and returned his father's gaze bravely, his amethyst eyes filled with fiery determination. "I accept your condition."

Kawachi, Tsukino, Tenchou and Azuma smiled at each other. "I can't wait," the brown-haired artisan said excitedly.

"Now…" suddenly, Kanmuri's eyes turned warm as he reached for Harumi's hand, "you must agree to being treated. Aoyagi, call the nurse."

"Hai!" the man replied from outside. Kanmuri could hear the sounds of his footsteps becoming softer. "Minna (everyone)," the pale sixteen-year-old said, "Can you please leave us for a while?"

The people complied; they left one by one, Kitagawa giving his daughter a kiss on the top of her head, until there were only the two of them. "What is it?" Harumi asked worriedly, hoping it wasn't something very horrible. She had gone through a tiring fight and she wasn't sure she had enough energy for one more.

Kanmuri didn't answer straight away. He was quiet for a moment, a frown painted between his brows, before finally whispering, "You do realize that if I'm not a yakuza anymore, our engagement may be annulled, don't you?"

"Of course I do," Harumi said, a relieved smile on her face, "Shigeru-san, I thought it's something much worse."

The frown still hadn't disappeared. "It is bad," he insisted, "It means I can't help you achieve your dreams."

Harumi gazed at Kanmuri tenderly. "Shigeru-san…"

"You have done so much to help me!" Kanmuri voice rose, "I want to be able to repay you!"

"Then, win the Battle," her smile widened, "Seeing you achieve your own is enough."


"Shigeru-san," Harumi put her finger on his lips, "Hito no negai wa kanaetai nara, taika wa hitsuyo desu (to grant one's wish, there's a payment). Anata no negai kanaeru sono tame ni, anata no ikenie ni naru shikatanai nara, daijoubu desu (If I have to be sacrificed for the sake of making your wish come true, I don't mind)." (A/N: I got this from xxxholic)

"Harumi…" Kanmuri's chest constricted.

"Don't look like that. Smile!" the girl grinned, before her eyelids become too heavy. "I can't stay awake anymore…Oyasuminasai (good night), Shigeru-san."

"Oyasumi," Harumi heard Kanmuri's reply, then everything was black.


A/N: That was so LONG! I enjoyed writing the drama, though. Review please!