Author's Note: It was a looooong break indeed The highly anticipated Tanjou Tenge 2 never materialized, which all in itself was a giant disappointment for me. In addition, I've lost both of my betas so please have mercy when it comes to my grammar.
Disclaimer: I do not own Tenjou Tenge in any way or form.
Recommendation: For best viewing pleasure, set your width to ½.
"Thank you, Erika." Natsume Maya handed the docket back to her secretary with a wan smile and finish up typing the e-mail that she was about to send off to one of their contractors. She turned her attention back on to her keyboard just as Erika exited the office with a soft click of the door. She spared a glance at the digital clock down at the corner of the screen, mentally denoted her next appointment. Although the day had gotten off to a frantic start since this morning but things couldn't have gone any better than it already was.
The wedding consultant had just called and informed her that the reception caterer had the desert finished and was working on the main course. The florist had finalized the site decoration and the wedding cake had been delivered as scheduled. Her own staff had confirmed that guests were being pickup at pre-arranged locations en-route to the ceremony. And she was meeting her hair stylist and makeup artist for the first time in her life for just one person.
It was for the person that she cared about the most in this world. The person that Maya sworn on her dead brother's grave that she would protect, the only other living descendant of the Natsume family, her beloved younger sister - Natsume Aya. Who went missing for a year after that terrible battle with the Demon God...
Her rapid keystroke ceased mid stride, the e-mail dialog on her screen seemed to be fading into the background...
Her hand balled into a fist. She would not do this today. Today out of all days should be a joyous one. That fateful day three years ago was a miracle. Not a single life was lost when the world banded together...
Her thought trailed off again. It was not true, it was not true at all. The world owed it to one man's courage and his sheer will. It was through this man's love for Aya that the world averted destruction. It was through him, Takayanagi Masataka, that she had lived to this day.
Maya loathed the younger man at first. For he had singlehandedly defiled her honor to fulfill her duty as the descendent of the Natsume Family. She was supposed to forfeit her life that Souichiro's mother, Makiko selflessly entrusted to her, along with the power of Amateratsu's Dragon Gate by becoming the instrument to vanquish the Demon God. She understood her duty when Makiko revived her from her comatose state. She was ready, even privileged, to have offered her life in order to end the Thousand Year War. Weeks leading to the final confrontation, she established her will, bided farewells in her subtle ways to friends and family. She made all the preparations, mentally and physically, only to have the rug pulled from under her feet at the very last second.
The younger Takayanagi, without revealing his own agenda, succeeded in luring the Demon God onto himself, thus, sparing Souichiro from his ultimate demise. He also took away Maya's power, the inherited curse. The last thing she remembered before loosing consciousness was Aya's shrieking cry and her leaping silhouette into the blinding light.
Her contempt for the young Takayanagi eventually abated after months of soul searching. Although her duty and honor was ruined by the younger man, she had finally accepted that he did it through his steadfast conviction and unyielding devotion for Aya's happiness.
It was during that most trying times, when the purpose of her life was all but ripped away from her, that one person, Nagi Souichiro stayed by her side through and through, until she was able to find her footing again. Maya ignored his feeling for her ever since she knew about them, knowing full well that Aya's obsession with him even on their first meeting. But with Aya and Masataka gone, Souichiro became the closest link that she had to them. To further complicate the matter, Mitsuomi, the older brother to Masataka, wished to rekindle their relationship again.
The time that she had with Mitsuomi could be one of her fondest - had her brother Shin not gone berserk, and had Mitsuomi not killed her brother and gone to the other side against her crusade. After her brother's death, Maya became Mistuomi's primary rival when it comes to people who possessed special powers, namely the individuals with the Dragon Gate. Mitsuomi's newly formed Enforcement Group hunted down and prosecuted those with the unique ability, whereas Maya's Juken Club protected and neutralized those with the Dragon Gate. Their clashes finally brought their paths together, but their pride as a warrior, their honor as the leader of their respective group prevented them from overcoming their differences. During one of the pivotal battle against Shohaku's number one henchman, Maya was fatally wounded because Mitsuomi refused to concede, in what he thought was for the best interest of the Enforcement Group.
Now years later, even after the end of the War. Maya still could not overcome what she considered to be the ultimate act of betrayal between two lovers. Even though she understood fully the reason behind his action.
Her relationship with them went back and forth, despite her fervent attempt to the contrary. One day, exactly one year and twenty-three days after her disappearance, her baby sister came back to them. It was both the happiest and the most painful day of her life. When Aya had finally awakened from days of unexplained high fevers, the first person that she asked for was Souichiro. And it was right there and then that Maya decided to end her dalliance with him.
Souichiro resisted at first. But finally he relented, knowing better than going against her wish when it comes to Aya's well-being, as well as the apparent continuation her and Mitsuomi's romance. It had been two years since...
The intercom on her desk buzzed, blinked her out of her reveries. She dabbed at her eyes and pressed the dial.
"Natsume," she answered, clearing her throat.
"This is Oda...with security." The man sounded somewhat...hesitanted?
One of Maya's brows arched in amazement, as the chief of security for the Takayanagi tower, Oda was a veteran and had demonstrated time and again to be a competent and decisive leader, there shouldn't be too many things that would put off the man.
"Go ahead, Oda-san." Maya was suddenly very inclined to find out what it was.
"Ma'am," he began but caught himself. If Maya were present at where he is at right now, that slight stutters would had her bare witness to a flush and embarrasses Oda, which in itself would had been a sight to behold. It was also due to the fact that Maya made the world known her annoyance to be constantly referring to as Mistuomi's woman.
"Natsume-san, we have a possible code forty-seven in progress," Oda's hesitant voice came through the intercom.
Maya frowned. They had standard protocol for this type of occurrences. Ever since their disappearance, the Takayanagi family posted enormous bounty for the finding of the two missing warriors. Tens of thousands of impostors flooded in, all came for the handsome rewards. The bounty was eventually cancelled, after her sister was recovered two years ago. And the numbers of cases had diminished to virtually zero since. Oda and his team had becoming experts for dispatching them, why the perplexity?
"Aneki," the use of her honorific unsettled her. "We need help with this one."
"On my way." Maya pushed away from her desk and headed toward the elevator. Whoever this was, apparently gave more trouble than even Oda could handle. Her lips twisted into a thin smile. Perfect timing, Maya thought, it would be a perfect excuse to rid some of her anxieties for the wedding. She just hopes this time it would last longer then a minute.
Oda was there to greet her at the basement. Maya took the tablet that he offered and started gliding through the various reports with her finger as they were walking toward "the room." But her steps faltered when she skimmed to the next report.
"This...have you verify the result?" Maya couldn't believe what she was seeing on the screen.
"We ran the test twice," Oda replied firmly. "But..."
Maya's eyes strayed away from the DNA report and met his troubling gaze. She was speechless. The report indicated that this person's genetic materials show a ninety-seven percent resemblance to Masataka's sample on file. It was very unnerving for Oda to became this disturb, after all he had been serving the Takyanagi family for more then a decade and he had also participated in the battle against the Demon God.
"What is it?" She prompted gently.
"He...he is not the Masataka-sama that we know..." Oda gulped with effort, "And he...he requested for the knowledge on how to build a dam."
"Requested? A Dam?" Her brow arched but Oda nodded. Every single one that came forth and claimed to be the missing Takayanagi had all came for the same reason - the vast wealth that the Takayanagi family fostered for hundreds of years. But this person who matched almost exactly to Masataka genetically request for something that was unheard of before.
Wait! Did Oda just called that person Masataka-sama?
But she didn't have the heart to further burden the already troubled man. She resumed her steps with Oda in tow. One way or another, she would find out soon enough.
Maya stood rooted to the marble floor. Her eyes were as wide as it had ever been. Now she knew why Oda was having such difficulties. From the darken control room, on the other side of the one-way mirror, sat the man that had denied her of duty, stripped her of honor, and yet, had lingered in and out of her thoughts for the past three years.
This Masataka wore his hair a lot shorter than she remembered. It was cropped short from the side and the back, much like a brush cut but slight longer, it reminded her of Souichiro's before the Demon God possessed him at the Takayanagi Tower. The same set of long, curvy, almost feminine brows rest neatly atop of his shrouded eyes. The lightly convex nose, coupled with a thin, gently downcast lips and not to mention that heart shape chin with the strong jawline. The stale, coarse looking, kimono dress made Masataka look almost comical in it - sitting unperturbedly on a lone chair surrounded by phalanx of guards. The entire scene looked like a bad case of practical joke.
A torrent of chaotic emotions suddenly coursed through her vein. She knew she should had been happy, ecstatic even, to have their most trusted comrade, the man who singlehandedly ended the Thousand Year War back to their ranks. But the memory of her darkest days reared its spiteful head on her conscience. It reminded her what this man had put her through. A surge of white-hot fury swathed aside all other sentiment. She wanted him to acknowledge her suffering; she wanted to inflict the same amount of agony on him as she had endured.
"Leave us." May intoned coldly.
"But-" Oda began.
"I said leave us," her tone brooked no argument this time. Maya knew Oda and his men would be stationed outside just like they should but that was the furthest thing from her mind.
She waited until she heard the soft click behind her and the guards filed away from the adjacent room before she strode into the room with reinforced, padded wall and glared at the younger man.
"Did you kn-" the angry words stalled, the boiling rage evaporated into the silent room. She was ready to scold him senseless for showing up in this manner and for all the sufferings that he had put her through. But when Masataka unveiled his eyes, Maya reeled back as if she was hit by an invisible force.
His once lucid, unfaltering amber eyes that she remembered so well was no where in sight, instead, she was pinned by a pair of dull and lifeless gray that seemed to stare beyond her. The hollowness in them resembled much of the Thousand-Yard Stare with her psychology study at the university. For a split second she thought that this man in front was Sohaku reincarnated, blighted by the dark essence of the Demon God. But she quickly realized that was not the case. Even without her Amateratu's Dragon Gate, which was taken away by this very man, she still retained the ability to perceive dark influence, no matter how small the trace. This man was not corrupted. With her initial fear quenched and her anger dissipated, she was suddenly at a lost as where to begin...
"Are you in command here?" His words startle her. It was his voice, but huskier, laced with infinite weariness.
"Do you not know who I am?" Maya asked in return, her brows furrowed. Oda's apprehension replayed in her mind.
He is not the Masataka-sama that we knew.
Their eyes met and held. It took Maya a great deal of willpower not to avert her gaze from the cold hollowness. Then his eyes blinked, tiny sparkles of green and golden brown gradually saturated the insipid gray, a speck of recognition in his eyes.
Her brows furrowed deeper. He had not called her by the title since his acceptance into the Juken Club. He always addressed her as the Club Captain, even after he was out of the academy. What is happening with him?
A strange glint of light flashed across his orbs, then his features visibly tightened. "Is Aya...well?" Masataka asked in a deliberate manner.
May scowled at him. She could see the tensions in his shoulders, the molding veins on his neck and the slight shiver of his jawline. He knew what happen to her baby sister.
"What happen to Aya? Why didn't she remember anything?" Maya demanded, her anger was flaring back up again.
"Nothing?" His feature went visibly pale, his lips quivered in distress.
Her eyes flared. She grabbed him by the lapels and hauled him out of his chair, their face inches apart. "What have you done to her?" Maya growled dangerously, "Why was a year of her memory gone?"
Masatka's eyes widened in surprise but then it narrowed and refocused, comprehension gradually overtook his once panic stricken features.
At this distance Maya was momentarily dazzled by the swirls of emotions in his eyes. As the pain and despair gradually obscured all others, she could only stare mutedly at the soul that was etched by untold tribulation and wretchedness. It was almost too much to bear. But Maya dared not remove her gaze from the spectacles of hazel light. She was afraid that if she did, all the life that she had seen so far would be drained away, leaving this man desolated. And without knowing exactly why, his face began to blur into silhouette as hot tears wetted her cheeks.
His blur outline receded from her view when the fabrics slipped away from her slackened grips and she wipe at her tears in a fluster...and was greeted by the same dullness that she now despised.
"I did whatever that was needed to sent her back," the tone of cold indifference was perfect match to his eyes.
"Did you know that you have deprived me of my honor?" Maya whispered. She noted offhandedly that she had somehow accepted those mere words as his explanation for what happen to Aya. But right now, more than anything else, she wanted to be acknowledged by this man.
Their gaze never left one another. For a brief moment, Maya thought he wouldn't respond to her accusation.
"So you'll rather let your love ones suffer?" he sneered coldly at her.
Maya blinked at that. "But...but it was my duty-" she caught herself and answered in a rush fluster.
"Do not," Masataka's cold gaze hardened and his voice growled with a quiet intensity, "Mingle honor with duty." His piercing stare torn through her heart, "Never let anyone else other than yourself decide how to live your life, no matter how righteous they were." The raging ferocity suddenly diminished just as quickly as it cam, along with his features. "There is no honor in death, Natsume-san. The greatest honor to life is for you to live it to the fullest," the last few words was nothing but a hoarse hiss.
As if these mere words were his answers to the countless questions she had yet to ask, Masataka turned on his heels and headed toward the door.
"Masataka-kun wait," she rasped, then a afterthought hit her, she had never called him that in the past.
His steps never faltered.
"Aya's wedding is today," Maya blurted out, not knowing what else she could say make him stay.
His lanky frame came to a standstill, but he didn't turn, waiting.
"Aya would very much loved to have you be the guest of honor at her ceremony," Maya uttered quickly, her heart pounding. The thought of him leaving became so intolerable that she was willing to do anything, anything to make him stay. "And after, I will help you with what you need," she hesitated only slightly, "Whatever at all."
He couldn't help but smiled at the beaming young bride, who was adorned, in his opinion the most stunning gown imaginable, walked past before his very eyes, a sight that he had dreamed, wished for. At his unyielding insistence, they made his return and presence largely unknown. Disguised as members of the security detail, it gave Masataka the vista unlike any others.
Alive and vibrant, with gleaming eyes for the future, Aya walked on hand-in-hand with Maya-san, acting as both the Father of the Bride and as Made-of-Honor, who he dipped his head for a sincere, genuine gratitude.
Maya returned it with an un-perceptible nod, but the twinkles and the curves at the corner of her lips were unmistaken.
His eyes followed the two women from behind the dark but unclouded spectacles, and his smile faded. How fitting, Masataka sighed, letting it out slow and even. The happiest day of his life, the wedding of his beloved, felt strangely like a funeral. The verses of the clergyman as it been read sounded so much like an eulogy, for him.
No, he was beyond jealousy or resentment, especially now when he was old enough to be his father. As much as Masataka wanted to, his relationship with Aya never went beyond that of a close comrades, or siblings, at least for Aya.
His eyes strayed and landed on the groom, and Masataka almost snorted out loud. Although he had nothing against the younger man, but if memory serves, he couldn't help but still label him as a little punk - a punk that Aya had chosen over him. He sighed again; perhaps it was how it felt to have your daughter merry another man, Masataka reflected with bitter amusement. And that couldn't be further away from the truth.
Once Masataka realized what had happen to her - a mute and soulless doll after she came through the portal, he took care of her. Like a dutiful brother that he was, her well being, her every need was at the forefront of his every thought. Every decision that he made, every life that he had forsaken was to bring her back to this world. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Aya was the center of his universe, and she still was. Even years after her Sending, she was never far away from his thought.
This must be the gift that Iyo-san had mentioned in his dream, Masataka reflected. In a single day, not only did he put to the rest the greatest fear that had haunted him for so long - that Aya would returned as the same soulless vessel as she did in the Kingdom. Masataka was also able to endorse his effort to fruition in person, knowing that she was safe and sound with the man that she loves.
Was it worth it? An inner voice leered at him.
He clenched his jaw as a crashing wave of regret doused over him, causing his breathe to hitch.
He blinked back the tears that blurred the scene before him. When he refocused again, the ghosts of his past, those of him loved, those that loved him, hated him, despised him, friends and foes alike appeared in droves before his eyes. As the eulogy continued, the assembly of guests, of which many he could not named, blended with the ones that had etched in his memory.
"Do you, Nagi Souichiro, take Natsume Aya, to be your wedded wife..."
Masataka closed his eyes, the beautifully orchestrated words faded into the background. The vows that he made to her those many years ago, in that abandoned, desecrated chapel resonated in his heart.
"Do you, Natsume Aya, take Nagi Souichiro, to be your wedded husband..."
He had waited forty years for this moment, forty years for this closure and they were all here to pay their respect.
Have I kept my promise? He asked, praying for an answer.
"Yes," Aya chirped delightedly.
He opened his eyes in time to watch the married couple cement their joining with a sweet but chaste kiss on their lips. The hall erupted in cheers as the attending guest offered their best wishes with their standing ovations.
Masataka's lips twisted into a grimace. He closed his eyes once again, savoring the moment one last time before turning sharply on his heels, pushing the heavy double door open.
Yes, it was.
To Be Continued...