Author's Note: I was royally pissed off after reading chapter 133 of the manga(spoiler warning! if you haven't, go read it first!) Oh! Great was basically setting Masataka up for failure. ARGH! I am steaming up just thinking about it. Huge thank to DarkSacredJewelXoX for editing this chapter into something readable – Beta read by DarkSacredJewelXoX.
Disclaimer: I do not own Tenjou Tenge in any way or form.
Recommendation: For best viewing pleasure, set your width to ½.
The cool autumn breeze brought the scent of cherry blossoms from the tsukiyama garden outside. Aya savored the aroma; her breathing was calm and steady. Even with the eyes closed she could paint a vivid mental picture of her surroundings in the dojo. The opened shoji doors, the encased shrine, ancient scrolls that was past down through generations, the textures of the wooden floorboard and even the individual floundering cherry blossom petals. Her senses could pickup anything around her more acutely than if she were to look at it - without the use of her Dragon's Eyes, an aptitude she acquired during her training pilgrimage with-
Her heart stuttered at the thought of the man, and the pain caused her breath to hitch. Her nose started to clog and the brimming tears stung her eyes. Guilt and regret shored up like rushing tide and threatened to engulf her whole. Her grip on the pommel of the odachi was so tight that the jewel trinkets on the scabbard were rattling slightly. Drawing a quick breath, she willed the grief to abate and before she exhaled; the blade glinted in the afternoon sun and arced through the air. Her frame rose to follow the sharp edges, her long tresses and the stylish kendo uniform danced in pursuit. As the sword and the flesh waltzed in perfect synchronicity she felt a faint presence, a ghostly whisper, an ever-fading reminiscence of what was and what could have been.
"Aya-chan," she heard Takayanagi-senpai calling out after her.
"Yes?" Aya glanced back; her heart still throbbed at her own revelation: how much she depended on the Senpai's resolve and fortitude.
Senpai stopped a few paces away from her. "I want to become strong together with you," his hazel eyes gazed at her unflinchingly. "I love you."
She blinked and her mind went blank. She vaguely remembered that her hand came up and grabbed hold of the straps on her school bag as if to hold on for dear life. A gentle breeze came over them from the sea and she didn't even have the right mind to keep her long hair from obscure his features from her view.
She had the greatest admiration for the man standing before her, he who possessed no Dragon Gate power, who was not blight by the revolving curse of the Thousand Year War, who could have carry on with his life unhindered by all the miseries and torments brought on by the Wheels of Fate, plunged himself head first into the midst of unimaginable nightmare and became one of her most trusted comrades and a pillar of strength to combat Kago Shohaku's menacing reign.
To her Takayanagi-senpai was a kindhearted person. He was always there for everyone in the time of their needs. Never once did she thought of his kindness as sentimental or even affectionate, even when she was at her most vulnerable he made no mention of any sort of affections...until now. This placed her in the most awkward setting, how could she possibly explain the red string of destiny that bind her and Souichiro-sama throughout the entire conflict, that their destinies were as entwined as the weaving threads in the loom of time, but she respected him too much to lead him in any other way except the truth...
Takayanagi-senpai's timid voice snapped her out of her reveries. When her eyes finally refocused on her upperclassman, his cheek were flush red with embarrassed or was it…disheartened?
"Ah...eh...it's fine Aya-chan." Senpai's hands flopped wildly in front of him, he was looking everywhere except at her. "I don't expect an answer from you-I..I sort of knew what it would be...ugh," he sighed in defeat but then broke into a boyish smile. "I just felt that I owe it to myself to say it."
He said it with such earnestnessthat she felt both privileged and mortified at the same time. "Why...senpai?" She really didn't know what else to say, but she finally got to her senses and brushed her curls behind her ear.
Masataka shrugged good-naturally, an easy smile appeared across his features. "Because it's you…anyways," he tussled her hair playfully, "it's late, I'll see you tomorrow at the tournament bright and early, okay?" And with those words her most respected upperclassman left her standing in the dusk of the setting sun.
As expected they crushed the First Kendo Club in an overwhelming display of prowess. Just like Bob on the previous day, Aya alone defeated the contingent of five from the opposition team with elegant ease. Throughout the fight Takayanagi-senpai cheered her on just as loudly as everyone else, yesterday's event notwithstanding. For that she was grateful and because of the injuries the Enforcement Group suffered from an unsanctioned fight, their forfeiture became involuntary and the Juken Club officially became the new Enforcement Group at the Toudo Academy.
In a move that surprised everyone including Aya herself, Takayanagi-senpai declined, however respectfully, to her sister - Maya's edict to become the new team captain at the handoff ceremony. Instead he nominated and passed the Enforcement Group banner to Bob and announced his resignation from the Club as well as his inclination to withdraw from the Academy.
"It's time that I stand on my own," he said as in way of explanation. "I've been relying on all of you for far too long." He offered a deep and respectful bow to the entire club members and left the podium with the entire student body gaping in stunned blathering. Aya couldn't look at him throughout the entire exchange but she went after him anyway. She caught him just outside the stairwell. "Senpai..." Her steps faltered, she didn't know how to broach the subject, but she also didn't want what transpired yesterday to be the cause of him leaving.
"Aya-chan?" Takayanagi-senpai looked genuinely surprised when he turned to the sound of her footsteps. "What's the matter? Is everything alright?" He rushed over to her, his brows creased with consternation.
"Senpai..." she tried but soon trailed off. What right did she have to ask him to stay? She couldn't return his feelings and yet she needed his strength to help set Souichiro-sama free, but what could she tell him? By the way Senpai although I can't reciprocate your feelings I need you to stay where you are and risk you life for us. The thought made her wanted to be sick. When did she became so awful-
"Aya!" Takayanagi-senpai's hand gave her a solid jolt on the shoulder. "What is going on? " He was looking very concern now. "Are you not feeling well? Let's get you to the infirmary-"
"Was it because of me?" she blurted out, "Are you leaving because of me?"
Senpai turned toward her when she started to speak but recoiled back in shock upon hearing her words.
"No, absolutely not!" Senpai's eyes widened with shock, but his tone was firm. He placed both hand on her shoulder. "You wouldn't think that I am doing this because of yesterday..." he voice suddenly trailed off, his eyes lost focus briefly. Then the realization hit with full force. "Oh..." His cheeks tinged with redness but he regained his composure quickly. "Aya, please believe me, what happen yesterday had no bearing what so ever with the decision that I've made earlier, none!"
She gazed into his unwavering eyes searching for any signs of pretense and for the briefest moment realized how calm and incredibly clear they were. She could help but ask, "Truly?"
"Of course!" His hold on her shoulder tightened buthe let go a moment later like it was burned, realizing how inappropriate it was and turn his back to her. "Look," he sighed - in relief? One hand rubbing his forehead, "I can't say I fully understand your...feelings for Nagi, but it was precisely that loyalty and devotion that I fell-" he came to an abrupt halt, bewilderment written across his face at his own slip.
Aya caught the underlying insinuation and her face was beginning to turn hot.
Takayanagi-senpai cleared his throat. "I realized that although my physical endurance and techniques were progressing but my mind set was not. I became complacent knowing that I was surrounded by friends and that will not always be the case...ugh," his features twisted in dismay. "I didn't mean it that way." He buried his face in his hand.
"May I come with you?" She found herself smiling at his apparent blunder, the dismal feeling from earlier lifting from his profession. It wasn't her original intent but this would have to do.
"What?" His face shot up and his jaw slacked.
"You are too sly, Senpai!" Aya teased him with mock testiness.
"Why-how-when..." the man was so tongue tied that he couldn't form a complete sentence.
"Was that your idea of becoming strong together? By leaving me in the dust?" She pouted.
He was in a terrible fluster. "Ah...I...no-I mean-"
"But if you let me come alone then maybe I'll let this one slide." She crossed her arms, glaring at him with as much spite as she could muster without breaking into laughter.
They both burst out laughing; the uneasiness sizzled into thin air. In the end Takayanagi-senpai told her, "I couldn't have found a better training partner than you."
With the destruction of the Takayanagi Tower in the city, all salvageable assets were being moved to the research facility in Kyoto including the people that were killed and resurrected by Susano, Kago, and Nagi. Over there they got more than they bargained for. Tawara-san alone dealt out enough punishment that both the Senpai and herself had to be hospitalized after every "session". Coupled with the Kabane siblings they really had their work cut out for them. Along the way, Senpai's brother would join the fray along with Nee-sama as well as the gang from school for was later dubbed as the "Mortal Combat".
Four months into their training, they were able to fight Tawara-san to a stalemate. Two months after that no one at the research facility were able to oppose them in the bout.
At Tawara-san's suggestion, they took their training on the road. According to the chip that Takayanagi-senpai safeguarded, it contained locations of people that possessed special power. If they were able to persuade enough of them to join their cause not only would they hinder Susano's prowess, they would also be able to choose the location and hopefully the time of the final confrontation.
It was a perilous undertaking. It would have been far more easier if their mission was to capture those people, but persuasion required time and in most cases they had to resort to a duel or submission by force and more often then not, they found only battered bodies and mingled corpses. Their goal and Susano's were one of the same and yet completely different. She and Senpai tried to preserve life while Susano attempted to end all.
The law of probability ensured their eventual encounter with Susano on the course of their assignment and they didboth times a near brush with death. Only by Souichiro-sama's timely intervention did they escape with their lives. Three years after they stumbled upon the Demon God once more on an assignment overseas. It was a particular brutal battle, their subject was killed outright before their eyes, but this timethey were no pushovers. Their tempo matched Susano's on equal footing that nightto the point of inflicting a devastating blow that forced Susano to withdraw.
"Why didn't you finish it?" Aya asked him in a whisper when she was bandaging his bloodied arm back at the safe house.
His eyes darted away; his features fell. He knew what she was referring to: the final blow that he landed, if he wanted to, all their suffering would be over. After a long moment of silence he finally spoke, "We were not ready-I...I was not ready, yet."
"Why didn't you do it..." her voice quivered. "You should have done it!" Her voice beganrising, a rush of adrenaline coursed through her veins. "Every minute Souichiro-sama stays in that body is a minute he suffers in agony, why couldn't you see that!" she spat. "Or perhaps you enjoy our times together a little too much? I am sick and tired of watching him suffer just so his body wouldn't kill us ought right-" She threw the bandages and the fasteners at him in rage. "You do that again and I'll find a way to set him free without you!" With that she stormed out of the room.
The image of him hunched over, all bruised and bloodied, worn and exhausted prior to the door clicking shut brought her trotting back to the door in less then a minute. Aya knew before she slammed the door behind her that she was more angry at herself than at him. Her inability to augment for him at the direst moment led to the current train of disappointment. She knewfrom the bottom of her heart how hard Senpai impaled himself during the intervening years of their journey. How, day after day, fight after fight, he dragged his pain infused and battered body tirelessly to the next set of training regime. She could not have ask for a more consummated comrade for their endeavor and here she was incriminating him for her incompetence.
She recalled that one night during one of his rigorous training regimes, half way through completing a strike form he collapsed suddenly. She rushed over to his side sheer exhaustion haunted his countenance. Wheezing forcefully, he was still trying to get up.
"That's enough Senpai, please, no more," she pleaded supporting him the best way she could.
Using her body as leverage, Takayanagi-senpai got up to unsteady feet, still leaning heavily onto her shoulder. "It never..." he panted,"will be...enough...not-not until I have Nagi standing right next to you."
That was when she knew the magnitude of his commitment to her.
When Aya opened the door, he was still at the same disarray she left him with: head sagged between the shoulders, blackening bruises and angry welts strewn across his bare flesh. The unfinished dressings were once again soaked red with blood.
Swallowing the lump in her throat she sat down quietly behind him and started to undo the soaked gauze, but the tears of shame came without warning and blurred her vision and her hands were shaking with remorse.
"Aya-" Whatever Takayanagi-senpai was about to say was cut short by her arms enfolding him into an embrace, her frame conformed to his back and her cheek flushed against his flesh.
"I am sorry," she croaked, the tears wouldn't stop coming. "I'm so-" she gulped down another gut wrenching sob, finally realizing the enormity of her false accusation. "...sorry. I didn't mean it...I-" She felt one of his hands laced through hers and her cry doubled. Words were inadequate to express her feelings so she held onto him and wept, begging for the forgiveness that she knew was already granted to her.
Neither one ever mentioned the incident again, but from time to time particularly after some harrowing battles they would trust the feat of their boundaries and draw strength from each other's embrace and it was through that warmth and comfort did she realize just how significant Takayanagi-senpai was to her.
When all intelligence pointed to Susano's impending arrival back to Japan, they threw a party honoring their combined efforts as well as commemorating those who had fallen during the Thousand Year War.
She went and looked for Takayanagi-senpai when she noticed that he wasn't present at the party. He was sitting on one of the stone benches in the courtyard; his arms supported his reclining body, and stared up at the cloudless night bathed in moonlight. She trotted up to him wordlessly, stopping just short of the bench. The corner of his mouth twitched slightly, acknowledging her presence; both took pleasure in the comfortable silence.
"Have you thought about what you wanted to do...after?" His voice, low and alluring, flew into her consciousness. She too was mesmerized by the enchanting moonlight. She alsoknew exactly what he meant by "after."
"No," she whispered, her sight lost in the pale light. "I have not."
She felt rather than saw his smile forming at his lips. "Why are you smiling?" She glared at him with annoyance; he had been doing a lot of that lately.
His smile turned mischievous. "I see a person in your future..." he leered at her, "and he shall become your husband-"
"Senpai!" she scolded at him halfheartedly.
"I am not fooling around, the moon fairy had told me," he said matter-of-factly.
She rolled her eyes; she couldn't believe that Senpai would choose this moment to be playful. "Have I by chance met this prince charming of mine just yet?" For reasons that eluded her she was actually playing along.
Takayanagi-senpai pursed his lips, contemplating. "Hmm...now that I come to think about it, you actually might have...hmm, how interesting." His index finger tapped on his cheek thoughtfully. The gesture brought smile to her face, her earlier anxieties dwindling. "But one thing I am sure of, she told me-" he began.
"She?" She feigned ignorance.
"The moon fairy," he threw daggers at her with his eyes. "She told me that you'll meet him again tomorrow."
Her feature froze in place, the smile that was there just moments ago evaporated into the cold night air. "That's not fair..." she rasped.
He was unfazed. "The moon fairy doesn't lie, nor do I." His playful smirk was gone. His golden irises stared back at her with unwavering determination.
She hesitated for a moment but move to sit right next to him their fingers almost touching. "What would happen tomorrow Senpai?" she whispered. Her eyes fixed on one of the stone slates beneath her feet.
"The end of the Thousand Year War. the demise of Kago Shohaku, and the reclamation of Nagi Souichiro," he paused, her eyes came up and met his steady gaze. "And the dawn of your happiness." His face broke into a huge grin.
Aya couldn't help but smile back at him. She didn't know who move first, but their fingers laced as one; both turned their gaze to the white light above, waiting for the morning to come.
The final confrontation raged on for the entire day. The whole research facility was reduced to nothing but rubble. Blood was spilled on every square meter of this once placid institute. Nee-sama did her best to nullify the demonic power rampaging inside Susano but it still wasn't enough. More than half of their numbers fell within minutes of the commencement. The rest fought on, some went in by pairs, others in mass but they were all trounced by Susano's staggering domination.
Then the tide of the battle started to shift. It began with Bob-kun who unleashed a torrential barrage of attacks. One of his swiping kicks knocked Susano flat to the ground. Although Bob-kun was swept aside by the time Susano got up that seemed to unnerve the Demon God. Then came the combination assaults from Tawara-san and Takayanagi-san. Even though they did not last as long as Bob the damages they inflicted on Susano were far more severe.
At last, only Takayanagi-senpai and herself were standing between him and Maya nee-sama whose Amaterasu Gate was what Susano needed to crack the passage to Hell wide open.
Moments before they hurled themselves into the den of Armageddon her eyes inadvertently sought for his. When they met she recognized the fear, the uncertainty, the hopelessness and the regret that was probably a perfect mirror of her own, but then it was quickly dispelled. Instead a staunch resolve took its place and with it he led her into battle.
Standing behind a pillar, Maya watched her younger sister performed her battle ritual. And just like how she was now, Maya reflected, recalling the event of that fateful day. She watched on helplessly, vulnerable and exposed as her comrades fell to the hands of the Demon God one by one while she was stillholding onto the last reserve of her Ki and her sanity trying to contain the vile monstrosities from spilling into their world. Only after even the formidable Bunshichi and Mitsuomi fell victim to the might of the sprouting evil did she realized that the end was near.
When Aya and Masataka's assault commenced, it was the most concerted effort she had ever witnessed. It was like watching an extraordinary performance of ballet only this one was more deadly and much more desperate. Their limbs would crisscross but never touch. Their figures would whirl but never tangle. Her blade would slash at an opening he fostered by parrying an attack. His knuckles would pummel their enemy when her block presented an opportunity.
Maya was captivated by such display of coherency by the two warriors. Even on their best terms she and Mitsuomi wouldn't even come close to the amount of damage they were dishing out and in such synchronicity. Just when the victory seemed certain, her knees buckled and the last of her remaining Ki had been exhausted.
With a thunderous roar, Susano discharged an influx of Ki as the suppressed demonic power was unleash, knocking back the two attacking fighters. Then in an blink of an eye it flashed before Masataka who was barely able to parry in time for a strike that sent him reeling back in pain. More followed, each blow sent the younger Takayanagi stumbling back further, and blood splattered into the air. Its arm drew back, ready to deliver the final strike...
Aya leapt high above the Demon God, her otachi coming down with blistering swiftness. The afterglow of her Ki suffused into the blade arched through the night air, into the back of the man that she loved with all her heart.
Susano howled in pain, black mist gushing out from its open wound,but that didn't stop a lightning fast backhand that shattered the sword and sent shrapnel flying into her younger sister. Maya heard the faint whimper and a pink mist from the exit wounds as Aya stumbled backward. The wounded demon reversed direction and went after its fresh attacker but before it could reach Aya, Masataka stormed in and kneed it on the back of the head with a tremendous hit, sending the Demon crashing into the ground.
The young Takayanagi paused by Aya's prone form only briefly before lunging toward the now standing Susano.
"Nagi Souichiro!" Masataka screamed on the top of his lungs. "You spineless coward!" He leapt into the air landing three kicks in rapid succession on its face; he barely touched down, delivering a powerful flying back kick followed by a combination reverse roundhouse/heel kick, toppling the demon. The darkening mist was getting more dense with each successive decimation.
It was not yet the end. Susano retaliated with series of powerful punches, every one a certain life-ending strike, missing by a hair every time from its intended target, but that did not dissuade Masataka with his furious retort. "With all the elegant blather about destroying the Wheel of Destiny you cowered in fear under Susano's influence-" dodging a near miss over his head, part of his bangs were cleaved clean off showering both with splinters. He continued. "Where is that arrogant freshman that wants to beat me up now? Where is that cocky bastard that wishes to change his own fate? Come out and fight me as a yourself, Nagi Souichiro!"
Maya breathed a sigh of relief when she managed to creep over and found Aya still breathing, however weakly. Then the approaching clamor caused her to look up.
It was a brutal slugging feast. The two figures traded punches and kicks without any form or style. Like two wounded beasts fighting with their dying breath to whatever bitter end that awaited them and just as quickly the black smolder that shrouded them like a cloak disappeared. Susano...no, it wasn't, the sigil of the Death God was strangely absent. Instead, beads of sweat and tresses of curls pasted on his pale skin. The red glows of crimson radiating from the eyes earlier had also disappeared.
"Do...it...sen...pai..." a voice uttered weakly.
"Finish it, Takayanagi!" Maya cried after the men with their backs to her. She cradled Aya's unconscious form closer, waiting for the inevitable.
Everything went into slow motion.
The young disciple took a step forward, the ground in which it landed cracked and caved under the intense stress. His left shoulder drew back, the elbow lowered, ready to deliver the finishing blow with an uppercut. The expected bone crashing sound never came. The dark essence of the Death God surged upward from Nagi's collapsing form and pierced into the body of Masaka Takayanagi.
When she came to, something heavy had just landed beside her in a loud thud.
"Souichiro-sama," she exclaimed. She would recognize him anywhere even with the long hair. Although his face was marred with cuts and bruises, he looked peaceful in slumber. Aya instinctively pulled him into her embrace, looking for signs of major trauma.
"No." She heard a ghostly whimper beside her.
She followed the sound of the voice and before she saw who it was, a figure caught her eye instead.
Takayanagi-senpai stood unmoving, eyes stared in wonderment as the black mist swirled around his hands and forearms. His once handsome face was puffy and swollen, a vicious cut on his eyebrow bleeding into his swollen shut left eye. Bruises were already forming on his expose flesh. His hair was snarled and caked in blood. His gaze lifted and their eyes met. A smile began to form on his bloodied lips.
"We win, Aya," he rasped weakly, but his smile grew. The revolting mist pooled beneath his feet. His eyes strayed to their conjoint hands, a look of sheer contentment spread across his features.
"Find true happiness now, okay?"
Maya's eyes widened even further. She watched in horror as Kago's evil essence swarmed over the young Takayanagi, who did not put up even the slightest resistance. The reason was not clear to her and that made her eyes burn, Masataka's reservation baffled her. Being one of the stronger combatants in the group, he held back from direct confrontation with Susano right from the beginning. He provided only enough intervention when fellow comrades' lives were in mortal danger. His goal was to spare Nagi's life all along, knowing full well that once the vassel suffered enough trauma it would have to seek a new host and he made sure that he was the last one standing for what was to come. She watched on with solemn eyes and Masataka's eyelids fluttered close for she believed to be the last time and with Aya's disjointing sob in the background.
Her vision blurred, his reluctance finally dawned on her. Aya heard a voice not of her own called out to this man, broken and sniveling as his hand raised over his heart and the manifestation of the most concentrated Ki she had ever witness.
Maya's heart stuttered when Masataka released the built up Ki. From her vantage point his hand suddenly jerked away from his chest and the blast stream seemingly shot through his head. He stood froze in shock, his eyes wild with disbelief and before anyone could make a sound, his scream pierced through the night.
Senpai was spewing blood and grunting in agony. Dark veins bulged and swelled from his arms, chest, neck and onto his cheeks and temples. His body went into a violent spasm in which he doubled over and coughed up more blood. Aya was up and running toward him before his knees hit the ground.
"Not a step closer!" He stopped her in the tracks a few feet away, his bloody palm shivered in the air. The hand slowly balled into a fist as he attempted to stand but faltered. Aya took a step forward-
The Ki burst shoved her backward, his fingers twisted in pain. "Stay...back..." he seethed through clenched teeth.
More tears came. His bloodshot eyes were begging for her to stay where she was. The words of encouragement that he offered yesterday now sounded like the vilest curse. All the trainings that he had gone through, all the pains that he had suffered, the loneliness that he had to endure and even the future that he had promised. All at his expense.
Masataka drove Aya back with another Ki blast, knocking her down. He then half crawled, half stumbled over to where she and Nagi were, his shivering hand hovered above her chest, over where the Amaterasu Gate was. She slumped over Nagi's prone form when nausea hit with full force as the Gate was absorbed. Her hazy eyesight trailed overhis silhouette back to a clearing; moments later a brilliant radiance blinded her completely, followed by Aya's horror-stricken shriek-
The sound of Aya's otachi hitting the wooden floorboard rocked her out of her reveries. Maya was moving before she realized it and was next to Aya in an instant.
Her younger sister cradled the side of her arm; blood was seeping through her fingers staining her sleeve. Her breaths were uneven, eyes were closed, and sweat dotted her features. Maya healed the deep laceration with her carefully conserved Ki and noticed that Aya was biting down on her lips hard enough to draw blood.
"What's wrong?" she prodded gently.
Aya merely shook her head; her eyes remained closed. She pried those soiled fingers off to check the wound when Aya croaked, "I miss him."
Maya's movement froze for a moment then resumed. "We all did." She knew exactly whom she was referring to.
Her lashes fluttered open and the sorrow within almost made her avert her eyes. "It has been two years..." she trailed off.
"We will find him," Maya soothed not certain if she was trying to convince her or herself. "Come on," she prompted gently. "The brat is coming over in a little bit." The mention of Nagi got Aya's attention. "The appointment is at six-thirty. It took Mitsuomi a week for book this for you guys, don't screw this one up."
Aya smiled back but it didn't reach her eyes. She was going for her sword when Maya stopped her.
"Go get change already, I'll take care of your mess."
Aya nodded her thanks and trotted out of the room. Maya's eyes followed her out and then returned to the bloody stain on the blade.
Where are you, Takayanagi Masataka?
To Be Continued...