No matter how hot the fire ran in her veins, she felt like she was touching ice whenever she touched him. She wished oh so much to feel warmth instead. But since when did the wind do anything but blow you off?
When she heard he had return, many scenarios ran through her mind: Kazuma wanting a rematch, wanting revenge, or, dare she hope, wanting to reconnect. The reality was harsher than she predicted. Not anger, not revenge. Kazuma was indifferent. He didn't hate or miss them. And if he was bitter, he didn't let control. He almost acted like there was no history between them at all.
He was a cold. A cold that could not be warmed by fire.
She was the princess with passionate fire burning through her and he was the cold soldier. She battled with all her heart and his cold calculations led to victory without a sweat. She furiously assaulted, he calmly deflected.
She argued relentlessly for new beginnings, for reconcile, for a closer family. He coldly declined. Her burning frustration led to tears rolling down her cheeks. He only glared.
She madly dashed after him…and he calmly glided away.
"Jerk…" she accused.
"Child…" he responded.
The small boy cowered away from her, begging for mercy. And in return she set him ablaze. He pointlessly rolled on the floor, trying to put the fire out, his eyes filled with terror. He cowered.
She smirked, satisfied with the defeat she had handed the wimp. Suddenly he stopped trembling. And she suddenly wondered that she could have killed him. The boy opened his eyes again, and this time it was her turn to feel fear.
His eyes shined with a blue light and the fire that entrapped him was shattered with a gust. Her own fire-red eyes widened with terror. The boy drew back his arm, and with a blade of wind, he cut her in two.
She awoke in bed, gasping for air and viciously twitching where she thought he had cut her.
Her breathing softened as she came to terms that it was only a nightmare. She threw of her covers, which only now served keep her overheated from the sweat she was feeling. Her head fell back on her pillow.
Sighing, she looked out her window into the night. Part of her wonders if she really did kill that gentle boy on that fateful day…
She tried little things: sitting beside him on the bus and at restaurants, only to be met with weird looks and scooting farther away. She would try to walk with him, but she could never keep pace (which she knew he did on purpose). She tried to touch him, and he'd pull away
Whenever she tried to come closer, he'd always back away.
And it hurt.
6. Strictly Business
He could see through the bullshit jobs. Old man Kannagi was claiming it was a bodyguard job, or that she may be in trouble. He always did pay, but Kazuma knew it was just to try to get him and the girl closer... and him back into the family. Kazuma saw through the ploy, he would never again be the puppet.
The elder's eyebrows rose. "No?"
"I'm too busy. Find someone else." And he walked away.
Of course, there was no else that Jugo Kannagi wanted.
7. Name calling
He eyed the photo again and again as the train cruised along towards the city. The man was registered as a pedophile, and had a clear hatred for the Kannagis. Nothing Kazuma couldn't handle. He could certainly do it without the help of that man. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his father, excuse me, EX-father sitting in the seat across the aisle. The glimpse was brief, but Genma had caught it.
"Just don't screw this up boy! You're supposed to protect the girl from him!"
Ren and Ayano gulped while Genma smirked, waiting to see what insult Kazuma would retaliate with.
The boy calmly looked up.
"Don't worry Mister Kannagi. Your niece will be safe." And with that Kazuma returned his gaze to the photo.
Ayano looked to Genma, who's old and tired face looked out the window with sadness Ayano could barely catch a glimpse of.
Degradation, age insults, Genma would have taken anything but calm, formal indifference.
His "lovers" infuriated her. He would always be with someone when she spied on him. And she only that did on a few nights! – The nights she knew he was going out with someone, that is. A few times she would happen to just "run into them." Oh how priceless.
He would freeze up in horror and then jump away from whatever little hussy he was with, begging for mercy and giving desperate excuses only to meet the wrath of her blade.
Of course this was all fantasy being played out in her head. A fantasy that she hoped beyond hope would be realized one day.
In realty, he and the little hussy would step out of the lobby of their hotel to find her standing there like a deer in the headlights.
And all Kazuma did was coolly raise his eyebrow. "What's up kid?"
Like he wasn't doing anything wrong at all.
She hoped her touch would mean something. First it was just to bug him, but with no reaction, she then did it to try to reach out. She held his hand; lie against him when they sat beside each other on the bus after a long day was over; cry on his shoulder; and held him in the most passionate of embraces.
Each time he would do something in return: squeeze her hand, lay his head on her's, pat her head when she wept, and return her gentle hugs.
But it was all fake and she knew it. He did it just to keep her happy and off his back.
At the end of the day, no matter how close they became, he needed that space between them.
No matter how far she reached in, she couldn't get beyond the looking glass.
"Ah, Mister Yagami, I pleased you could make time for me today," Joku generously offered.
"Damn that name," Ayano cursed. She had never liked it. Damn that fake name that was not, and never would be, him.
The boy simply nodded as he was led inside by the Kannagi elder.
Ayano furiously scooted along the wall's outside like some half-ass ninja, listening through the crack in the door to their talk.
"So tell me" the old man began. "What do you think of Ayano?"
The spoken girl slapped her hand over her mouth to catch her verbal outburst. W-Wha-?!
The young man thoughtfully messed his hair about. "Well she shows improvement, but she still has a way to go. Her discipline certainly leaves a bit to be desired. If she could spend less time whining and more practicing, that would be a start."
Ayano sighed. Only talking like her coach. How boring… and irritating with that last little quip of his.
"Not what I meant."
Her ears perked up.
"Yagami-kun – As a woman, what do you think of her?"
Again, she had to slap her mouth with one hand. Her other hand gripped in a vengeful vice. What the hell was Father doing?!
"A real looker, some lucky guy." She could hear the damn smirk in his voice. She could also hear the frown in her father's.
"Kazuma." The evading was over. "I am considering having the two of you being married."
The room was silent, not that Ayano could tell from the rant going on in her head.
And just WHY would she want to marry HIM?! An all-knowing arrogant bastard who didn't think any farther than past his next paycheck-who had absolutely no respect for anyone but himself and couldn't show decency or discretion if would save his life not to mention he was a jerk, bad dresser-
"Cut the crap."
The girl was shocked from her stupor. Kazuma was cold, but she rarely heard him snap at someone.
"What is this really about?" the boy demanded.
"Trying to bring me back into the family ranks?"
This time, Ayano didn't catch her gasp in time.
"May I ask why you refuse?"
"WHY WOULD I ACCEPT?!"
"First you people burn me, disgrace me, denounce me, and then exile me. Now you're trying to rein me in?"
"Burn him…" that one had stung. "Kazuma…" Ayano sadly whispered.
"Kazuma-kun," The elder reasoned. "I have always regretted not stopping your exile from the family."
"Didn't seem to broken up back then; no one did."
"Your father's accusations of you being weak were harsh Kazuma. You must believe me when I say that your father was hurt to watch you leave, but he wanted you to find your own way."
"I should thank you I guess," the younger man sneered. "If you hadn't abandoned me I never would have gained this much power. But don't think I'm gonna thank you by selling you my freedom. What could I have to gain by joining your family?"
The elder man sighed. "Kazuma, I do not condone what was done to you. But you must admit it turned you into a strong man. Stronger than anyone could have believed."
"Character-building?!" The boy raged. "That's your excuse?! You throw me to the wolves to see if I'll come out alive and call it improving my self-esteem?! DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT I SURVIVED THROUGH?!"
The elder man closed his eyes, but did not turn his head away. "Kazuma, I cannot imagine what trials you have endured-"
"And now you're ready to reap the benefits."
The words made the Kannagi draw back. And so did Ayano.
"You see my power as a way to strengthen your family. With me on board and under your thumb, no one can oppose you."
"That is not true Kazuma!" Joku's voice rose. "I don't have any desire to use you as some weapon! What I wish for is a new beginning. I know that we have inflicted great shame upon you in the past, but some part of you must have wished to return home, to see your own family again…am I wrong?"
Ayano held her breath outside. By now tears were falling down her cheeks as she listened to Kazuma's anger and her father's negotiating. Did he miss them? At all?
"I already found it."
"I found my family. I found home once. In Hong Kong."
She didn't know whether it was from rage or sadness, but Ayano started to tremble. No…Don't say that. Don't say it. You did not replace us.
"Cui-Lin was my family. My REAL family."
Joku's eyes narrowed.
"I have heard of her before Kazuma," his voice rose in ire considerably. "I do not know what the extent of your relationship with that girl was. I do know that she was important to you. But she does constitute a family."
"And who are YOU to say that?!" Kazuma was clearly struggling to keep his cool complexion.
But still he continued. "She was the person that cared about me. She would never use me like a pawn to get what she wanted, or reject me because I didn't fit her bill of perfection."
His eyes held a resounding defiance that was enough to even shake the foundation of the most confident and resilient of world-wise men like Joku.
Joku could not deny the fact that the desired outcome he sought would come at a high cost of work, but truth be told he never imagined to meet such solid resistance.
The day Kazuma left, Joku knew that one day he would return. What he did not know was whether the Kannagi family would face him as an ally or an enemy, although the latter certainly looked more plausible.
But still the Kannagi elder believed in hope: the hope that perhaps Kazuma would be welcomed back into the family one way or another.
But now…it was looking less and less likely that Kazuma would ever concede.
And indeed, the solid resolution on Kazuma's face showed he fully believed every word from his own mouth: "She loved me for who I am. You only want me for my power."
There was nothing Joku could say.
Kazuma rose and started for the door. "This discussion is over."
"THE HELL IT IS!"
Ayano had held her piece and now she could hold it no more. The wooden wall gave way as she crashed through with Enraiha drawn and blazing.
Kazuma guarded against the red head's wild slash with a gust of wind formed into a blade, holding the flaming sword at bay.
Her eyes blazed as she relentlessly pushed forward while Kazuma calmly held her in place.
No matter how hard she pushed he wouldn't…
He looked so calm…
"Damn him... DAMN HIM!"
"IS THAT HOW YOU SEE US?!"
He didn't so much as flinch. "Yes."
"WHY KAZUMA?!" Her eyes were blazing with rage-no wait, passion…frustration? Maybe all of them at once.
"Do you…really hate us that much?" Her voice was trembling. "So much that now YOU'RE forsaking US?!"
Her relentless pushing made him edge backwards.
"Are you really gonna keep pushing us away like that?! Are you never going to accept us?! Your father? Ren? ME?!"
This heat… Kazuma had to step back.
"Real family…" It ran through Ayano's head over and over. That girl…
"You're telling me that girl means more to you?!"
Kazuma was actually straining.
"It doesn't matter damn it! I don't care how bad your pride is hurt! I don't care what happened in the past! You cannot replace us! You can't just let us go!"
She drew black blade to strike.
"SHE IS NOT YOUR FAMILY!" Ayano cried. "WE ARE!"
Kazuma had had enough.
His eyes glowed blue and with a decisive blast, Ayano's flames were blown like candles.
She fell to her knees, her power finally give out. Her hands balled into face. Frustrated tears rolled down her cheeks.
All he did was stare down coldly. "You're the ones who let me go. You don't get to take me back."
Kazuma said nothing else as he walked out of the room.
The Kannagi elder surveyed the scene before him, and for the first time, he truly comprehended just how devious the boy was.
He knew that they felt guilty over his exile. He had returned, but just out of their reach.
He looked down somberly at his poor, defeated, frustrated daughter as she again cried over that boy whom eight years ago she would not have given the time of day.
His return did too things: first offered a chance for reconcile with the family, and second it offered to potential to have a powerful ally within the family.
Redemption of old sins and new strength, both Kazuma cruelly teased them with, holding them both just beyond their reach.
Ayano furiously slashed and stabbed with Enraiha, unable to penetrate that damn witch's monster of blade that she so effortlessly twirled around. Even if it was just a soulless copy of the girl Kazuma once loved, she could see something in those irises.
And just now Ayano could have sworn she saw her smirk.
Ayano screeched as she furiously slashed and hacked, forcing her opponent to do nothing but defend.
This damn witch knew what she meant to Kazuma, and that even in death this little redhead could not beat her.
Why? What did this girl have? WHY WAS SHE SO SPECIAL TO HIM?!
Ayano's eyes blazed. Was it just out of spite for the Kannagi's and her? Why did he love this girl?! WHY?!
And then she could see.
When their blades clashed, she could see the memories. They were brief, but it was like looking at movie clips of their life together.
She would scold him for getting home late and he would only smile, seeing the worry in her eyes. A pinch of her cheek fixed that.
The setting sun over Hong Kong illuminated their bodies flush against each other as Kazuma helped her slice the onion into the pot, It was a good thing he was focusing on getting the cooking right. She was a little too busy blushing. He noted the fact her hands seemed to quiver as his hands held hers.
He pretended to feel so down if a job went wrong. "Why oh why keep a bum like me around?" It was so obvious she'd never let him go. Still Cui-Lin couldn't help but tease him with that big smile and even bigger eyes of hers: "But you're so cute!" He could barely hold back his laughter at that.
They lived so simply, but they were so happy. And the way he looked her. The way he would never look at Ayano. And to see the oh so clear and obvious love she held for him in that girl's eyes that she had for him…
Ayano became so infuriated it was hard to see strait.
Her blind fury finally caught up with her and she missed a strike. One mistake was that was needed for the clone to strike.
Ayano crashed to the ground, holding her side in pain. Blood poured from the wound, forcing her to stay down.
She looked to Kazuma as he called the wind to his aid. It answered as gusts danced about him, focusing and conforming to his mind's commands.
She had seen something twinkle in his eye when he first set sight on the girl. Ayano had caught even though it was brief. It was something she had wanted to look at her with for so long…
It was all part of her master plan.
She would force to spend every yen he made of the Kannagis' contracts on dinners, shopping sprees, whatever she could think of. She would spend him right out of the little penthouse of him and make him live in the Kannagi compound. His room and board would be his payment then.
But no matter what, he always seemed to have more on hand. Just how much did he make anyways?!
And even worse he spent money like it was nothing. She would ask for the most extravagant stuff and he would just shrug and "Sure."
"If it's too much," she sassed with a grin. "I guess I could let you stay our house."
Her grin turned dark then. "But of course you have to pay us somehow."
His eyes narrowed…and he smiled. "That's okay." He saw right through it. "I'll be just fine. Your guys aren't the only people I take contracts from anyway."
She couldn't win… and she wasn't sure how much more lobster she could stomach anyways.
He never relied on them. She couldn't get him to stay.
Although there was no scheming going on behind closed doors, she, Ren, and Joku worked together to try to ease Kazuma back into life with the family.
But sharp senses forbid Kazuma from falling into any trap. This family had hurt him before, and why would they no do it again?
But still they tried.
Ren did his part, making Kazuma hang around with all the time at the compound. Help with homework, teaching him something about magic, or just "playing," any excuse he could to make Kazuma spend time around home. And yet Ren, despite his young age, perceived a somewhat sad look in his brother's eye, telling him despite his good intentions, and that it was never his fault to begin with, his onii-sama would not be coming home.
Old man Kannagi offered Kazuma to stay for tea. He showed Kazuma around the compound. All of it Kazuma took in good-naturedly, but ultimately he steered to conversation to what job the old man had for him today.
No matter how hard she worked him over on his wallet with the countless "dates," she couldn't break him to move in with them.
When the sun went down, he would always leave and it meant going to sleep knowing yet another day had ended in failure for her.
"See ya later," he would say.
Yeah she knew, but it always hurt to watch him go.
But of course it would never be change. It would always work out for him. In the end they were paying him, and with that money he kept the distance between them large. Of course they couldn't afford not to hire him, that power of his was too precious a service.
And so when he walked out the gate, she could do nothing to stop him. She could call out, but he would just ignore. She could try to catch him, but he would only blow away like the wind.
No…all she could do was watch; watch as he walked through gate from the Kannagis' sanctum, cross the bridge, and melt away into the city beyond.
When he was here, she could see him, she could touch him. But when he left, he felt like a memory, a ghost that had only visited her in her mind, and briefly she wondered if he was even real.
If she could do it over eight years ago, she never would have let him go. She would still defeat him, take the title of head of the Kannagi family for herself, but she would not have let be exiled. Then he would never have left. He would never have turned out so strong and independent. He would have stayed right there with them. Right where he belongs.
But would he still have been the same person she had come to love if he had stayed?
She tugged at her hair and laughed out loud in frustration. It was catch-22. No matter what, he was always beyond her reach. But she second guessed herself then. Maybe if he had stayed he would not have been such a jerk. He would have stayed that sweet boy.
He would never have gained the Contract of the Wind either. He would never have gained the power that they all needed so badly and that allowed him to so freely deny their plans for him.
Because of his power, he had independence. He had freedom: the freedom to leave. And in the dark recesses of her mind, she feared that one day he may not comeback.
- - -