Cookies for Oniitan
By Laura Schiller
Series: Shugo Chara
Copyright: Peach Pit
Tadase had intented to settle down on the deck chair of his balcony with his math reader and get some studying done on this fine Friday afternoon. After that, he had meant to immerse himself in the latest volume of Detective Conan. He had not planned on unwanted visitors popping up on the balcony, especially not one who could make Tadase's blood boil by the mere mention of his name.
"Tsukiyomi Ikuto!" he snarled, jumping up and scanning the balcony for Kiseki.
The little Shugo Chara leaped out of his master's pocket and pointed an accusing scepter at both Ikuto and Yoru. "How dare you peasants invade out home!"
"Relax, kiddy king." Ikuto held up his arms, cat ears twitching with amusement. "I'm not gonna hurt you. Don't you trust your onii-tan anymore?"
Behind the smirk was a hint of genuine sadness, but Tadase did not notice.
"What do you want?" he asked curtly, folding his arms.
"Who cares what they want?" Kiseki raged. "Let's throw them off the balcony and be done with it!"
"Yeah, yeah, shut up." Yoru waved a dismissive paw. "I'd like to see you try!"
"Yoru." The warning note in Ikuto's voice sent the cat dropping down to the balcony railing. "Don't start anything. Come here."
Muttering under his breath, Yoru crept into Ikuto's shirt pocket and stayed there.
"Now look," said the older boy, with not a hint of irony in his face or voice. "I just wanna talk, okay? I'm tired of things being...like this. I'm especially tired of being shouted at by you every time you see me. I want to...at least try to explain."
"Explain what?" Tadase's voice was bitter. "How you and your sister used me? How you pretended to be my friends just to get information about Shugo Charas? I didn't forget, you know! I waited at that playground for weeks and you never came! Now you come sneaking here again with your cat ears and your arrogance and you think you can fool me again? No way!"
He paused for breath; his voice was getting dangerously wobbly. He couldn't tell if it was from the rare exertion of shouting or from impending tears. He prayed it was not the latter; he would die before crying in front of his former friend.
Ikuto's eyes were softer than his voice as he perched carefully on the balcony rail.
"Keep ranting," he said with a tiny crooked smile. "Just get it all out of your system. I'll listen."
"Oh, shut up."
"Very original response."
"Okay, sorry." Ikuto jumped off the balcony rail and sat down on the floor, leaning his head against the rail. "I can't help being sarcastic. You're just so funny when you get mad. Remember that time Utau made fun of your hairstyle? You yelled at her in exactly the same way."
The memory made them both fall silent, thinking of those fleeting afternoons at the playground together. Tall, stern-faced Ikuto taking care of his younger playmates, teaching them grown-up skills like bicycle riding and defending them from bullies. Tadase almost felt as if he were there again. How he had looked up to his strong and protective 'onii-tan', who with his five additional years seemed nearly grown-up.
"I want to tell you what happened that day," Ikuto began. "The first day we...didn't come. We couldn't come. See, that was the day our mother remarried."
He made a face. "Our father had been missing for...years. I don't even remember what year he left. We were living on welfare – you remember how we took you to the Salvation Army shop and you rummaged around like it was a treasure hunt? But it wasn't fun for us. That man...Hoshina, the owner of Easter...was rich and he wanted to marry Mother. And she'd given up on Father coming back anyway. So she thought, might as well. He promised her that her son and daughter would receive an excellent education." His eyes clouded over. "And we did. An education on how to cheat."
Tadase's eyes were wide. There were so many things about Ikuto he had never known. He felt guilty for shouting at him now.
"At the day of the wedding, Hoshina gave us a contract to sign. We thought it was part of the ceremony or something. He gave us a golden fountain pen to sign with and we were so proud. It was like we were grown up. I was twelve and Utau eleven. We had no idea we were signing away our lives to Easter."
"Signing away your - ?"
"Yeah. Since Hoshina was our stepfather and burdened with our living expenses, he decided we should 'earn our keep', as he put it. Everything he spends on us – clothes, food, etcetera – gets added to the dept we have to pay off. Mother never said a word to prevent it. She's just an empty shell now. Utau got pushed into becoming a child star. And because Yoru's a good asset in a fight, I ended up in the department that searches for the Embryo, which is how I became your enemy."
His eyes seemed to focus on a distant spot in the horizon. Then, catching sight of Tadase, they refocused on his face.
"And as to why Utau and I didn't contact you...we moved. Clear to the other side of town. I didn't know how to find the playground again. And our phone and computer use was monitored too. We weren't allowed any contact outside of Easter. But you know what?" With a sudden flash of energy. "If I ever do find the Embryo, I'll never give it to that man, I swear. I'm gonna use it to clear my debt and run away with Utau and Mother. I want to search for Father...if he's even still alive."
"Is..." Tadase hesitated. "Is that why you still go by Tsukiyomi? Because it's your father's name?"
Ikuto nodded. "That's the one thing they couldn't take away from me. That and my violin. That man doesn't even know about it, otherwise he and those other bloodsuckers at Easter would put me on display in a concert hall. Like an exotic animal in a cage. I hate that!"
Tadase's mind whirled. He had no doubt that his friend was telling the truth. Shock, pity, guilt and joy somersaulted around his head – joy, because he realized that Utau and Ikuto had cared about him after all.
In that one word, quietly spoken, all his feelings were contained. He forgave Ikuto, wholeheartedly for disappearing from his life three years ago.
All his former friendship and affection welled up inside him; he didn't realize how his eyes began to swim until Ikuto held out his hands in alarm.
"Oi, Tadase! Don't look at me like that! You're a big kid now, remember? No tears!"
Tadase turned red as a tomato and disappeared through the balcony door. A snorting noise was heard; a few moments later, he came back with a red nose, carrying a tray with two glasses of milk and a plateful of shortbread cookies.
"Who said anything about tears?" He said haughtily. "I was just remembering my duties as a host. And cats like milk, so I thought it would be fitting."
He remembered perfectly well that Ikuto had loved milk as a child, but he wasn't about to admit that fact.
Ikuto's eyes gleamed. "You bet they do. Come on out, Yoru."
Yoru proved the point by breaking into a cheer as he saw the milk. The teenager and the child threw back their heads and laughed together, just like they used to do.
Throughout the afternoon, not wanting to spoil the newfound peace, neither of them mentioned a certain pink-haired girl. That was an argument best left for another day.