Chapter Nine

Disclaimer: I do not own Hana Yori Dango.

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Akira looked up as Yuki walked through the doors of the restaurant. He raised a brow as he spotted Soujiro walking closely behind her. Very closely.

"Eh? What's this, Yuki-chan? I thought you wanted me all to yourself, yet here you are making me the third wheel." He sighed in mock dejection. "A guy can only take so much…"

She giggled. "Sorry. Nishikado-san sort of invited himself."

"Forever ruining my plants to convince you to run away with me."

"Between the two of us, I'm better company and less moody." Soujiro pulled the chair out for Yuki, and sat down next to her. "And I probably look better in jeans."

Yuki couldn't quite keep herself from flushing.

"Oh, sure. That's what she wants you to think, but we all know she secretly pines for me." Akira winked at her.

"When I'm married, Akira-kun, I'll be sure to give you a call."

They both laughed at that.

"So, what kind of place is this, Yuki?" Soujiro asked, looking around. "Doesn't look like any pizza parlor I've been to."

The restaurant's interior design followed an Italian motif. The table, swathed in red, had a small circle of candles. Each candle held in an imprinted glass that projected shimmering images onto the wall. The walls and ceiling had mosaic replicas of different corners of Italy. The company of musicians was playing a soft rendition of Verdi's Aida. The overall effect was very pleasant.

"Pizza parlor by day, elegant Italian restaurant by night. Wait until you try the food." She said, opening a menu.

Several waitresses came by their table eager to serve members of the infamous F4. Even when they placed their orders, they still hovered, willing to present themselves at first sign of interest.

Both Akira and Soujiro were used to good food. Exquisite meals prepared by world class chefs had been a constant in their lives since they were young. They'd thought they'd seen it all.

Then their orders arrived.

Akira, having no idea what any of the dishes were, selected something called Hell's Breath. What he got was a plate of pillow shaped, bite sized puffs.

Soujiro, not a fan of greasy fast food, ordered the simplest titled dish. "The Classic" turned out to be what looked like a long piece of French bread.

The two shared an uneasy look.

"Afraid?" Yuki asked, amused. "Take a bite. I dare you."

Unable to resist a challenge, especially from her, Soujiro took a bite into the top. He closed his eyes at the delicious explosion of spices, meats and cheese. It was as if he'd taken a bite of ordinary pizza, a dish he'd avoided in the past, only the taste were amplified somehow.

Akira, not one to be shown up, picked up a puff and popped it into his mouth. His eyes widened, and watered. It was like a volcano had erupted in his mouth. Hot sauce, peppers, and every chili he'd ever been brave enough to sample, like a bomb. Hell's Breath indeed.

Grinning, Yuki handed him a glass of ice water, which he took gratefully. After a thoughtful glance at the plate, Akira picked up another puff.

"Good?" She asked, sampling a nibble at her own meal. Lasagna Calzone. They were too engrossed in their own food to answer.

"I just might," Akira said when his plate was cleared, "give up my attached loves and marry the chef."

"Thanks for the offer, kid, but I'm not interested." A man said, approaching the table. He didn't look much older than them, was of average height and appearance, but he gave off an intimidating aura that commanded respect. "Matsuoka-chan." He nodded to Yuki.

She smiled in greeting. "Hello, Kippei-san. I told you I'd be back."

"With a distraction that just might cripple me." He gave his workers a good glare that had them scrambling to attend to other customers. He turned back to give Soujiro and Akira an appraising look. "These are…friends of yours, Matsuoka-chan?"

She nodded. "Nishikado-san and Akira-kun are very good friends. They are friends with Tsukushi's Hanazawa-san."

"Are they?" It was said lightly with a clear note of suspicion.

To show they either meant her no harm, or were not intimidated by him, they both moved to touch Yuki. Akira covered her wrist, while Soujiro cupped the back of her neck. They smiled genially at him.

"Yuki-chan is our precious girl." Soujiro said, meeting the old man's gaze.

"We've known her for years." Akira added.

Yuki blushed at the attention. She gave Kippei a helpless shrug.

"Hmm…let me know if you need Yuzuyu-chan to walk home with you." With that he turned, barked a sharp order to his starry-eyed staff and returned to the kitchen.

"Yuzuyu-chan?" Akira asked questioningly.

Her gaze went toward the door. Sleeping beneath a table was a good sized pit bull. "She's trained to attack anyone with impure intentions." She told them cheerfully. "Since Kippei-san lives on my block, he's been kind enough to lend her to me when I have to go home late."

Akira quickly pulled his hand away from her. "Ah."

Soujiro was content to leave his arm where it was.

"Did the rest of the auction go well, Yuki-chan?" He asked conversationally.

She nodded, sipping at her drink. "Many couples were paired that day, and the proceeds went to the Theater Club." She sent Akira a beaming smile. "We also have many prospective students thanks to you, Akira-kun."

Akira returned her smile, ignoring Soujiro's grin. "Think nothing of it, Yuki-chan. I heard around the school that you're the unofficial guidance counselor."

"That's why you seem to have such a big fan club." Soujiro told her. "And why so many of the girls dislike me."

"They don't dislike you Nishikado-san. They just don't approve of you." She turned back to Akira. "I'm unbiased, and I've been known to listen. Underclassmen appreciate it."

"Would you mind extending that kindness to my sisters?"

"Sure. Give me a call, and we'll set something up."

He nodded, and then peered curiously at them. "So, what's this?" He asked, gesturing between the two. Soujiro with his arm loosely around her, Yuki curved naturally into him.

"Yuki-chan has surrendered to my charms." Soujiro said, with a smug grin.

"One date doesn't make me yours, Nishikado-san." She reminded him. "You still have a ways to go." She patted his cheek.

Without warning, he swooped down and took her mouth in a kiss quick enough for onlookers to miss, but hot enough to capture her full attention.

"Maybe not as far as you think, Yuki-tan."

Akira watched the exchange with rapt fascination, amused at how quickly the blush overwhelmed her face. The aura he'd noticed before was still there. A corner of his mouth lifted. This is going to be so fun to watch.

Yuki was saved from further embarrassment when her cell phone rang. Grateful for the interruption, she got up and walked to the far wall to take the call.

"I take it the plan has gone out the window?"

"Plan?"

"Date her to prove you're just friends?"

"Oh, that." Soujiro shrugged. "I don't know. Yuki-chan has become interesting in ways that I've never noticed before."

Better and better. Akira thought. "How so?"

"Well…" He thought about it. How to put his newly discovered attraction to her into words? "What's not to like? She smart, sexy and has a great sense of humor. I know she's not after me for my money, and I can trust her more than I do most women."

Akira shook his head. "But she's always been like that, Soujiro."

"Yes, but I just realized how much fun she is to have for myself." He shrugged.

He raised a brow at his friend. "You know, I think you're getting ahead of yourself. You talk like she's yours, but she doesn't yet have that vibe."

"Well, not now, but soon." Soujiro smiled at the girl in question as she returned.

"I've paid the bill already." She told them. "But I'm afraid I have somewhere I need to be."

"I'll give you a ride, Yuki-chan." Soujiro said, standing up.

"See you, Akira-kun."

He watched them leave, with a thoughtful look on his face. Soon, huh? He wondered if he realized how hopeful he looked just then.

(-)(-)(-)

"Turn here." Yuki told him.

"Eh? Back to school, Yuki-chan?" He asked as he turned into the school parking lot.

"They need my help with something." She opened the door, but paused with one foot on the ground. "Would you like to come, Nishikado-san?"

"Me?" He thought about the times Yuki, on her own, invited him to anything. It was rare. "Sure." She closed the door, and he drove to park in the faculty lot.

The school was obviously closed for the night. The lights were off, and the grounds were still. Yuki led him to the side of the school, to what he knew to be the school auditorium. She opened the door to a wide expanse of blue carpet. There were rows and rows of wooden seats, their black paint chipped in some places. The lights were one, and there was a group of students at the front. The two on stage appeared to be arguing over something.

"…he wouldn't do it like that. No girl would look twice at such a loser!"

"What loser? And how would you know, you damn prude?"

"Come on, you two, this isn't getting us anywhere."

"Ah, Matsuoka-senpai!" One of the students greeted her.

"Chiaki-chan." She nodded to her, and to the rest of the group. "You all remember Nishikado-san."

He grinned when a few girls sighed in his direction, while several of the boys glared at him. One boy in particular stood out. "Ah, Ichihara-kun, was it? And how is darling Keiko-chan doing? Any regrets?"

He kept the laughter in as the boy bared his teeth at him.

"So, what's wrong? Problems with the script? Who's the director for this one?" Yuki asked.

The girl who first greeted her stood up. "The players understand the story and their characters well, but it's...it's just not…" She trailed, gesturing with her hands trying to articulate their dilemma.

"It's not smooth?" Yuki smiled, remembering what it was like when she was just starting out in theater. They all nodded, relieved that she understood. "Okay, let's try something."

To Soujiro's surprise Yuki took his hand and walked up the steps to the right of the stage. "Will you help me, Nishikado-san?"

"I'm not good at this sort of thing, Yuki." The theatrics he'd seen in such environments wasn't something he wanted to take part in.

"This won't be painful, Nishikado-san. I promise."

When they reached the stage, all the lights went off. Soujiro blinked at the sudden brightness of a spotlight, illuminating the two of them, keeping everything else in darkness.

"Ne, Nishikado-san?" Yuki said. "Do you think I'm pretty?"

He smiled. "You've never been merely pretty to me, Yuki." He reached out and stroked her cheek grinning when he felt it warm beneath his fingertips.

She pulled back, forcing her heart to calm. "Pretty enough that if you saw me at a club, you'd come talk to me?" This was her stage, she was in control.

She took a few steps away and slowly reached up to unpin her hair. It cascaded like a river down her back. She turned, her big brown eyes sparkling with something mysterious and beguiling.

"I'd do more than talk to you, Yuki." He leaned against the wall and watched her intently. What are you up to? "I'd convince you to go home with me."

Either she'd been expecting it, or she knew him too well, because she simply raised her brow and replied coolly. "You and I both know that I'm not that easy, Nishikado-san. The most you would get from me would be my name."

He chuckled. He'd come across many women, and there wasn't a type that could resist him. Even Makino, if he tried hard enough. Yuki, though, was special. She didn't resist him so much as try to immune herself to his charms. And that was just unacceptable. "Yuki." He said, capturing her gaze. "Just looking at you, I know you wouldn't fall so easily." In two quick strides, he had her hand in his. He saw her bite her bottom lip, as if bracing herself. Hiding his smirk, he leaned down and nuzzled the inside of her wrist.

Damn him! She was weakening, and it infuriated her. Get a hold of yourself! You cannot let him have the upper hand! Then she thought of something.

Yuki was beginning to tremble when she suddenly stiffened. "You seem to have forgotten something, Nishikado-san." He stared in confusion as she slowly pulled her hand out of his grasp, her eyes cold.

"I haven't forgiven you." She crossed her arms, her mouth set in a tight line.

"E-Eh?" Stunned at the abrupt change, he blinked. He desperately searched his mind for what he had done to make her angry. Ah? She can't still be mad about…He peered at her expression. Yes, she can. He sighed. "If I saw you…anywhere, Yuki…I would look at you and know that you could never be one of those girls. I'm sorry that I made you think otherwise."

Yuki's eyes softened considerably. "There's hope for you yet, Nishikado-san."

It was that simple? Flowers, chocolates, jewelry…these things had failed. Yuki had not been impressed, while a simple apology had her smiling so sweetly at him. Will he ever understand her? Oh, well. Might as well go with it. "While I'm at it, I think I should give you a proper confession."

She barely had time for an undignified eep when he swept his arm underneath her knees pulled her up against his chest. "Nishikado-san?" Her immediate blush was both embarrassed and adorable.

"I know what you're trying to do, Yuki-chan."

"E-Eh?"

"Avoiding me. Not answering my calls. Always rejecting me…"

"B-But—"

"You think pretending we're still just friends, that there's nothing between, is going to work…"

"P-Put me down, Nishikado-san!" Too close! Her heart was racing.

"But it's no use. I intend to peel away every single defense you think you have against me. I'm not going to stop until every part of you is mine. And then…"

God, his voice! There was no way she could fight him like this. "A-And then…what?"

He looked into her eyes and gave what could only be described as a wicked smile. "Well…I'm at least going to get you to start calling me by my first name."

Silence reigned. Her staring up at him, red-faced and him grinning down at her.

The burst of applause and whistles startled them out of their little bubble. The lights went back on.

"Nishikado-san ! So cool!"

"Wah, Senpai was so cute! Matsuoka senpai, you're the best!"

Yuki, having quite forgotten their audience, pushed on Soujiro's shoulder, a silent request to be put down. When he complied, she was too mortified to look at him. She gave a weak smile to the others, and gave a graceful bow.

"Did that help?" She asked, a slight quiver in her voice. She glanced past Soujiro and directed her question to the group of three on stage with them.

The two that were arguing earlier, nodded earnestly.

"As always, you're such an inspiration, Senpai." The girl said, beaming. "Now if only this second rate actor was as cool as your Nishikado-san…"

"What'd you say? Like you could be as cute as Senpai, you tomboy."

"Why you—"

"Spend some time together." Yuki said, before they could get into it. "Chemistry between two actors is important. Being friends would help."

Soujiro and Yuki stayed a few minutes to watch them go through a scene, a modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, with a Tamiko, a man-hating ninja and Hiro, the playboy host that loved her.

When Chiaki announced that they were nearly there, and insisted that if they stayed any longer it would ruin the experience for the both of them, they were practically shoved out the door.

"The theater club is very secretive." Yuki explained. "Outsiders are hardly ever welcome behind the scenes."

"Hmm…" Soujiro gazed at her as she walked ahead of him, enjoying the gentle sway of her hips seemed to move in sync with all the subtle curves of her body as her scent whispered to him.

As she was reaching for the door handle, he gave into the urge to have his hands on her. Wrapping his arms around her, he whispered in her ear. "I meant what I said, Yuki."

She gulped. "I-I know." She shivered when he nuzzled into her neck. "It's getting late, Nishikado-san."

"Give me your Saturday."

"Eh?"

"The whole day. I intend to show you what exactly someone like me has to offer."

She raised a brow, noting how determined he looked. "A planned date?"

He nodded.

"Okay, Nishikado-san." She grinned. "Show me what you've got."

The ride to Yuki's house was quiet. He pulled up to the front, and turned to her. "Ne, Yuki-chan?"

"Hmm?"

He smiled. "I'll see you, tomorrow."

She smiled back. "Good night, Nishikado-san."

He watched her walk to her door, feeling an odd lightness. Whatever he had with Yuki, and wherever it would go, he had a feeling that it would be good.

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A/N

Sorry for the long wait. I don't know how I'm going to keep with a storyline that keeps changing in my head, but we'll see. Thank you for the reviews and alerts. See you in chapter 10.