"I have to call Yuki today," Tooru thought as she sat in the makeup chair as the makeup woman worked hard at concealing the bruise around her eye. "It was late last night, but I still broke my promise to call."
"Tooru-chan did you hear a word I said?" Hiromi asked impatiently.
"What?" Tooru barely stopped herself from turning her head to face Hiromi.
"I'll take that as a no," Hiromi huffed. "And I think I have my answer."
"Answer?" Tooru repeated. She wasn't feeling her best today. She'd barely slept for another hour before Hiromi was bustling into the room with a new outfit for the day and chattering a mile a minute. Tooru had found herself in the car, a store-bought riceball in her hand and sandwiched between Harada and Shido before the morning fog had fully cleared.
Once she'd woken up all the way, her head had started throbbing. The headache wasn't as bad as it had been the night before, but it was bad enough to be a constant distraction. She was too afraid of a repeat of the night before to ask for anything for it. She suspected Harada knew something was wrong from the way he kept glancing at her.
"I asked if you wanted to go out shopping straight after the shoot or go home and rest first," Hiromi frowned. "I think you need to go home and rest a bit more. You'd think with all the sleep you got yesterday you'd have a bit more stamina."
"But, Miz Honda didn't sleep all night," Shido interrupted. "She woke up late last night, pretty sick."
"Sick?" Hiromi's attention flipped between Harada, Shido and Tooru, a deep frown marring her usually sunny expression. "I heard it you had a bit of a reaction...it wasn't that bad, was it?"
"Well, she seemed okay this morning…" Shido started.
"It wasn't good, her reaction to your.. her… medicine," Harada said making the correction deliberate. "She ain't used to taking stuff like that. She was fine once she had a little water and some crackers."
Hiromi flushed at the implication that Tooru's illness was her fault. She had no idea that a simple tranquilizer would effect the girl so strongly. Hiromi had been taking them for so long she forgot how potent they could be to someone unused to medication. "I'm sure it wasn't that big a deal."
"Um-" Tooru decided to interrupt the show down brewing between her bodyguard and her assistant. "I was fine… really." Both of them turned to stare at her angrily and she shrank back into the chair. The makeup girl decided to make a run for it while no one was looking at her. "But, um…" Tooru stuttered, "I spoke to Shigure-san last night…"
"You did? When?" Hiromi interrupted.
"After I woke up. I, um, checked my phone and there were a lot of messages… so I sent a quick message just to let everyone know I was okay, and Kyou-kun called my back to yell at me for not sleeping since it was so late." Tooru played with the edge of the skirt Hiromi had brought for her. It was a white layered affair that poofed out from her hips. It felt really awkward to sit in and she couldn't help fuss with it. "And…um, Shigure-san was up too and we spoke for a little bit…" She bit her lip, thinking that Hiromi wasn't going to like her next request.
"And Shigure-san said that I should see Hatori-san today." She straightened up a bit in her chair and tried to look confident. "He said I had to."
"See who?" Hiromi folded her arms. "I thought we agreed that if you wanted to see your friends you'd schedule it with me instead of them just springing up." She wagged her finger at Tooru. "Didn't we? This Hatori-san will just have to wait. You obviously need to rest and then we really have to go shopping. Shigure may be your custodian but he can't dictate your schedule without going through me."
"I'm sorry," Tooru said, the pounding between her ears increasing as she felt her tension rise. "But Shigure-san said that it was in the contract that he could have a doctor come at any time to see me. And he said that Hatori-san would be coming to check on me today." She looked up at Hiromi with pleading eyes. "Hatori-san is so busy! And I think I'm fine, but Shigure-san said he would worry and worry until he heard from Hatori-san that I'm okay. If I'm not at home when Hatori-san comes…it will be such an inconvenience for him-"
"This "Hatori" is a doctor?" Hiromi's mouth drooped into a frown.
"Yes," Tooru confirmed. She avoided nodding, her headache was starting to get worse and the nausea was returning. She didn't know how she'd manage to cook on the show without being ill. She'd decided on cut out sandwiches and decorative veggies, so it shouldn't be too taxing. But she was regretting that she'd decided on a chicken salad for the sandwiches. The smell under the hot lights was going to be horrendous.
"I'll call Shigure to see when he's coming." Hiromi said, dripping with discontent. She flipped open her phone and stalked away, her pointy heels clacking against the cement floor of the studio.
"Don't worry, Miz Honda," Shido said soothingly. "Miz Hiromi is just mad because she got yelled at by Mister Sawatari."
"She did?" Tooru said looking up a the looming guard. "But why?"
"Because she gave you that pill," Shido said. "And we had to carry you up. He was really mad that you missed getting your picture taken coming out of the studio and coming home."
"Do you have a headache again?" Harada said kneeling down in front of her to look in her eyes.
"Yes." Tooru said, and placed a had over her stomach. "And.. um.."
"We gotta take care of that before you get under the lights," Harada said standing up and looking around. "We can't have you being sick on live TV." He snagged a thin, harried man with a head set who was trying to rush by. "Send someone out to the pharmacy for some pain relievers. Miz Honda's injury is troubling her this morning."
"I have some-" the man started to pat a pocket.
"We want a fresh bottle," Harada said looming over him and invading the smaller man's space threateningly. "Now."
"Right away! Miss Honda," the man said nodding to her. He pressed his earpiece to his ear and rattled off a series of commands as he scurried away.
Tooru felt terrible; the simple request was like knocking over an ant's nest in the studio. More then one person took off at a run out of the studio and other people scrambled to fill their positions as the show continued to run. The two hosts, a man and a woman didn't seem to notice as they reported on various news stories and had a parade of guests on for a few minutes at a time.
"This ain't anything," Shido said following her attention. "I was with one lady who had to have a ton of stuff before she'd even step into a studio. And if one little thing was wrong she'd throw a fit. Thing's would go real crazy then." Shido looked down at her. "So don't you worry, Miz Honda. It ain't like you're fer anything weird or anything."
"Mmm." Tooru could only nod. She glanced up at Harada but he continued to scan the crowd, always on duty. To distract herself, she pulled out her phone to see if anyone had left a message... though she wasn't expecting anything. Kyou knew she had a taping, and Shigure didn't call. Yuki...he must be up by now. Her finger hovered over his name on the screen. She felt horrible for not calling after she'd promised. Did she have time to call him now?
"Your pills," Harada said interrupting her thoughts. He looked down at her phone. "Gimme that, you shouldn't be foolin' with that in here. Don't you remember what Miz Hiromi said?" He plucked it out of her hands and replaced it with a sealed bottle of water and a little bottle of aspirin. "Take some medicine and close your eyes for a bit. You don't want to have that headache when you get up on stage."
Tooru did as she was told, trying not to pout.
"I can't believe I have to wake you up."
Kyou cracked an eye to see Yuki glaring down at him. "Wha-?" he muttered thickly. He glanced around the room, he wasn't sleeping in the living room. Why was the Rat in his room?
"Honda-san is going to be on soon." Yuki crossed his arms and tried to look nonchalant. "Shigure said you spoke to her last night."
Finally awake, Kyou sat up and his phone clattered out of the futon. He snatched it up. "Yeah so?" He glared at the rat, embarrassed and not wanting to share the conversation he'd had with her last night. He blushed at the memory. She said she liked it when it was just the two of us.
Yuki watched the cat's cheeks redden with irritation. "So… is she okay?" He blurted.
"You saw her on TV last night. What do you think?" Kyou said standing up and glancing at the clock. "Out of my way, she's going to be on soon." When the other boy didn't move he relented enough to say, "Didn't the damn dog tell you? He's sending Hatori over to look at her today. "
"He didn't." Yuki frowned, knowing Shigure had kept that from him so he'd feel compelled to wake up Kyou to find out about Tooru. He turned and stalked out of the room. Damn dog.
Kyou followed closely behind, just pausing to plug his phone into it's charger. It was nearly drained after being left on and open all night. He'd fallen asleep holding it.
"They've mentioned her in a couple of the "in the next hour" bits, but she hasn't been on yet," Shigure said as they entered the room.
"When is Hatori going over to see her?" Yuki said after glancing briefly at the TV.
"Mmm," Shigure checked the clock. "He's coming to pick me up once the airing ends. Hiromi-can called this morning, and I told her he'd be waiting for them to get back."
"When did she call?" Kyou looked away from the TV. It wasn't even six yet. He couldn't believe he'd slept through the phone ringing. The house phone was loud enough to wake the dead.
"About a half hour ago," Yuki answered. It had woken him up, but he hadn't gotten downstairs before Shigure had hung up. He rolled his shoulders, trying to shake off his irritation. Why would Tooru call Kyou when she'd promised to call him? He cast Kyou a look, "Why is Hatori going to see her? I thought she was okay."
"Just to assuage my worried mind," Shigure said carelessly. "She said Rising Star's medical staff checked her out, but I'll feel better once Ha-san has confirmed it." He frowned, and his face took a serious cast. "She sounded a bit off last night."
"Off?" Yuki asked. "Off how?"
"Oi, she's coming on," Kyou interrupted.
"Wake up, Miz Honda. You're on!" Shido dropped a heavy hand on her shoulder and gave her a shake.
Tooru's eyes flew open and her heart lept into her throat. "What?" She sat up and looked around. She'd only closed her eyes for a moment! She shook off a vague dream of little happy mice burying her in moonflowers. "Now?"
"Yes, now," Harada was brisk. He took her hand and pulled her out of the chair, forcing her to stand. He clipped on a mike to her collar and battery pack to the bow of her dress. He turned her back to him and tilted her chin up. "Headache gone? Feeling better?" His eyes flitted around her face, checking her over.
"Yes," Tooru answered, surprised. She felt a pressure behind her eyes, like the headache was just waiting to come back. But the nausea and the throbbing was gone, at least for now.
"Right. Get up on stage then; before you miss your mark," Harada said, giving her a little push.
"I'm sorry!" Tooru jumped away and nearly tripped over a mess of chords.
"It's okay, Miz Honda," Shido said, catching her before she could trip and setting her back on her feet. He kept hold of her hand, leading her towards the set. "They're still on commercial. You ain't late yet."
"No more sleeping on set," Hiromi said coming up and fussing with her hair as they got on stage. "I can't believe you almost missed your mark!"
"I'm sorry!" Tooru said starting to feel real panic set in. She couldn't remember the hosts name she was going to be teaching to cook! Or what she was cooking! She looked at the counter, trying to figure it out.
"Hello, Tooru-chan," a pleasant voice spoke up from behind her. Tooru turned and saw a woman in beige jacket and skirt, outfit complete with pearls and pumps, looking her over. "You look much better then you did on Tadashi's. I'm so glad your injury wasn't serious."
"Thank you," Tooru gave a little bow. The bright lights of the studio was making the pressure behind her eyes press harder. "It's kind of you to worry."
Looking between Tooru and the woman, and remembering how little she seemed to be aware of pop culture, Shido decided to try his hand at a rescue.
"It's nice of you to worry, Miz Choko," Shido said, his hint ham-handed and obvious. "Miz Tooru's been excited about makin' a lunch with you." Tooru flashed him an equally obvious look of gratitude. Hiromi rolled her eyes and pulled the man off the set with her.
"We're going to keep it simple since we don't have a finished lunch to show off," Choko said smoothly. She was well aware of the girl's amateur status, and didn't want to look like a fool if the girl froze up under the lights. Tooru was a little too old for that to be cute. "I've heard that you like to do some simple decorating with shapes, so we brought some chicken salad as you asked, and cheeses and veggies for you to decorate with, and different types of cutters for you to use. Just do what feels comfortable."
"Yes, Ma'am," Tooru said, wide eyed and intimidated by this put together woman. That had all been explained to her before, but she was grateful for the review.
"Oh, please don't call me Ma'am on camera," Choko said, barely hiding her horror. "Call me Choko, please."
A voice interrupted any response Tooru might have given."We're back in... five, four, three, two..."
"There she is!" Kyou said, pointing at the screen. "Finally!" The announcer had been talking about how she'd be on "soon" for at least a half hour.
"She looks..." Yuki trailed off. The dress they had her in was another frilly concoction, and it looked good on her. But there was something odd about her. "Strange."
"She's wearing a lot of makeup," Shigure frowned. "They must have been trying to hide the bruise."
"Yeah, well," Kyou said, "they failed." There was a dark shadow over half her face. "She looks like a wax doll." The heavy makeup made her look not quite real. It freaked him out.
They watched her putter around stage, making a garden of cheese flowers surrounding a bunny shaped chicken salad sandwich. She explained to the host what she was doing at each step. As her voice flowed into the room an invisible tension lifted. All three Sohma men relaxed, eyes drooping to half mast as they watched her. She looked tired and a little strange with all the makeup, but she seemed to be OK.
"So these are products made by Cute Lunch?" The host asked.
"Are they?" Tooru asked looking at the cutters. "I didn't know."
"Hmm," Shigure murmured.
"What?" Yuki asked.
"Cute Lunch is one of Tooru's sponsors," Shigure said. "This whole segment is really meant just to sell their equipment... and she just said she didn't even know it was their stuff."
"I hope they put some of these in the package they're sending me!" Tooru said looking at the bunny shaped sandwich cutter wistfully. She looked up at Choko. " They said they would give me some samples at the photo shoot, but it was canceled because of my accident. Hiromi-san said they were going to send me a care package instead." She fussed with cutting out a little heart out of some sliced watermelon. "I don't have anything so cute. And these flower shaped cutters make it go so much faster then piecing them together with the oval and circle cutters I have at home."
"Damn," Shigure grimaced.
"What now?" Kyou glanced at him.
Shigure shrugged, "She saved it."
"Isn't that good?" Kyou looked back on the screen. Tooru was detailing how she would usually make flowers, it was way more complicated. He'd never realized she'd spent so much time on their lunches.
"If she'd flubbed it, the company might have dropped her," Yuki huffed. "Without sponsors, she won't last long as an idol."
"Oh," Kyou muttered.
"So how many lunches do you make, typically?" Choko asked Tooru. "You cook for your staff don't you?"
"Staff?" Snorted Shigure. "She's only had one for about two days."
"Well," Tooru hesitated a moment on screen, laying some fake grass around a bed of tulip shaped cheese, "Everyone said I shouldn't bother on very busy days... but when I have time I like to cook for everyone."
"Everyone?" Choko prompted, quirking an eyebrow in polite interest.
"Why do they keep asking about that?" Kyou muttered. "So what if she makes a few lunches? Who cares!"
I care, Yuki thought as Tooru ticked off her staff on her fingers, explaining who each person was. If she was home she'd be making my...our... lunches right now instead of for "Shido-san who protects me" and "Hiromi-san who is my assistant."
"So has Tooru-chan ever given her lunches to anyone special?" Choko asked.
"Special?" Tooru blinked, pausing in the middle of laying a little heart above one of the flowers.
Choko gave sly smile, "When I was in school, girls used to give boys they liked bentos."
"Oh." Tooru looked at her bento and then at Choko. "Um..."
"Tooru-chan doesn't have anyone special?"
Completely arrested, both boys leaned forward towards the television.
Tooru gave a slow blink and then her cheeks colored. Yuki felt his heart leap into his throat. That meant "yes" didn't it. She was thinking of someone special right now!
"All my friends are special to me."
All? Or just one more then the others? Yuki bit at a fingernail, and gave Kyou a glance. He had a goofy grin on his face. The cat had spoken to Tooru last night... after she'd promised to call him! Yuki resisted the urge to check his phone again. He knew he didn't even have a single message.
"That's so sweet!" Choko said with a wide plastic smile. "Don't you think so, Ken?" She looked over to the other half of the set where her co-host sat.
"Yes, Choko! Simply incredible how you can do so much with so little." The man smiled with the whitest, largest smile Tooru had ever seen. It was dazzling. Everything else about him was unremarkable. "And it looks tasty too!"
"I wouldn't turn down a bento from Tooru-chan. Thank you for stopping by today, " Choko turned back to Tooru. "We'll have to have you back sometime so you can show us more."
"Oh, we're done?" Tooru blurted. She looked down at the array of tools she hadn't even gotten a chance to use. "But didn't even get to make a tulip!" She held up the cute little cutter. "Wouldn't that look cute in the garden?"
Choko and Ken laughed, loud false laughs, like the laugh tracks added to old TV shows. The lights went off on the kitchen set, and the show went back to commercial.
"It looks like that's it," Shigure said, clicking off the television. He got up. "Hatori will be here soon, I suppose I should get cleaned up."
"I'm coming too," Yuki said shooting to his feet. "I'll get dressed."
"What?" Kyou scrambled up after him. No way was he letting Yuki see Tooru if he didn't get to go. "Me too!"
"Aren't you boys forgetting something?" Shigure said scratching his head.
"What!" Kyou yelled. "I'm not forgetting anything."
"What about school?" Shigure grinned.
"Who the hell cares about school!" Kyou chopped a hand through the air.
"That's obvious," Yuki muttered, crossing his arms.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Kyou turned to him, automatically dropping into a defensive crouch as if he expected Yuki's words to fall like blows.
"You show off your stupidity with every word, every gesture." Yuki looked down his nose at the other boy. "Obviously, you wouldn't care about school. Even you know you're too stupid to learn."
"I care," Kyou muttered.
"And so does our sweet Tooru-chan." Shigure interrupted the burgeoning fight. "Do you really think she'll be happy to know you both skipped school?"
"I can afford to miss one day," Yuki huffed, seeing his chance slip through his fingers. He gave a glance towards Kyou, "Unlike some people."
"Aren't you supposed to be taking notes for when my little flower returns to school?" Shigure said casually. "Will you leave that to... who... Kyou? Uotani or Hanajima-chan?"
Yuki looked down at his feet rebelliously.
Shigure laid a hand on his shoulder. "Go get dressed for school." He looked a Kyou. "Both of you, so I can report to my little flower that you are both doing well. She doesn't need the extra worry."
"Che..." Kyou tsked under his breath, waving Shigure off like a fly. "Whatever." He stomped up the stairs.
Yuki stood rigid, waiting for the Cat to get out of hearing range. He looked up at Shigure, then away, not able to meet his eyes. "Just tell her to call me." He glanced at the Dog again, before looking at his feet. "Please?"
And with that, her segment was over. Choko shook her hand and told her good job, before clacking in her heals back to the other side of the set. A minute later Shido was ushering her off stage, guiding her through the gloom of the darkened set.
"Tooru-chan!" Hiromi said, bustling up and taking Shido's place while Harada cleared a path through the wandering techs and camera men back to the parking lot. "Good job. I was a little worried when you said you don't use those tools, but you managed perfectly."
"But I don't use those tools..." Tooru said, confused and distracted as her head started to throb.
"Yes, but Cute Lunch is one of your main backers," Hiromi said as they entered the parking garage. "But that was my fault, I didn't really give you proper prep. My bad." Hiromi led Tooru to the car, and let Shido and Tooru enter while Harada stood at attention by the car door. She squeezed in next to Tooru and Harada sat in the front next to the driver.
"Miz Honda, are you okay?" Shido asked, and she looked up to see him peering at her worriedly. "You don't look so good."
"I have a headache again," Tooru confessed. She wondered if Hatori would already be at the apartment when they got back. She hoped so.
She felt herself start to tear up.
"Does it hurt that bad, Miz Honda?" Shido asked worriedly. He looked up at Harada. "Should we call a doctor?"
Tooru quickly wiped her eyes and shook her head, cracking open the bottle of water Hiromi had handed her as they came off the set. "Hatori-san is coming," she explained, and took a sip.
She drifted off for a few minutes in the car, this time simply from exhaustion. It made for a nice short ride back to the apartment, free of Hiromi's pointed questions about what she'd like to shop for first, clothes, jewelry or shoes. She got the feeling that when Hatori did turn up, Hiromi would be trying to usher her out of the apartment just minutes later.
"Hold back," Harada tensed as he started to unlock the door. "Someone has been in the apartment."
"What?" Hiromi froze and pushed Tooru behind her, into Shido. The other man was on high alert, watching Harada. "How do you know?"
"I locked the bolt as well, it's undone," Harada waved them back and Shido pulled Tooru over to door to the stairs. "Call the car back around-"
The apartment door opened and Tooru felt Shido tighten his grip on her arm and start to pull her into the stairwell. She glanced over her shoulder at her apartment, just in time to see Harada grab Hatori as he opened the door to look out. Harada thrust him against the wall, twisting his arm up behind him and pressing a heavy hand onto his other shoulder.
"Harada-san!" She tried to struggle out of Shido's grip. "It's Hatori-san! I know him!"
Harada stepped back, relaxing his hold on the arm, but didn't remove his hand from Hatori's shoulder. "This is the doctor?"
"Yes," Hatori spoke for the first time. "I'm Souma Hatori."
Tooru hurried forward as soon as Shido let go her arm. "Hatori-san, are you okay?"
"I am unharmed," Hatori said straightening and pulling at his suit vest after being released. "Glad to see your security is diligent." The way he said the last word implied he meant the complete opposite. He was eye-level with the two bodyguards, but his tall, slim figure made them seem larger. The intimidation in his gaze made Harada's muscles tighten, even as he stepped back to let the man pass back into the apartment.
"How did you get in?" Shido asked, scratching his head.
"I let him in," Shigure cheerfully called from where he leaned just inside the door frame, and twirling his keyring on a finger. "I've been so worried about my little flower."
"Shigure-san!" Tooru cried joyfully, ignoring the throb her head made at her loud cry.
"Enough of this!" Harada groused. "Everyone out of the hall and into the apartment."
Shido acted like a loyal guard dog and herded Hiromi and Hatori in the apartment after Tooru followed Shigure in. Harada went in last, glancing around the empty hallway before shutting the door.
"You really should have called before coming over," Hiromi said, trying to keep a blush from her cheeks. The younger Soumas had been attractive enough, but these two men were just gorgeous! How had Tooru survived around all this male beauty?
"I tried," Shigure said, laying a hand on Tooru's shoulder. "But my sweet Tooru-chan's phone was going directly to voice mail."
Tooru gasped, "My phone!" She patted herself down but knew she didn't have it. The last she'd seen it was just before she'd gotten on stage. "Oh no!"
"Tooru-chan lost it?" Shigure's brow wrinkled.
"I have it," Shido said, pulling it from his pocket. "It was jest sittin' on the table and I wuz afraid someone might take it. 'M sorry, I put it on vibrate and forgot about it."
"Oh, thank you!" Tooru breathed. She clutched it to her chest when he dropped it in her hands. She'd never felt the lack of a cellphone before but now it represented her only connection to home. She couldn't believe she'd left it behind. She glanced down, there where three missed calls, all from Shigure.
"But now, will Tooru-chan introduce us all?" Shigure asked.
"Oh, yes, I'm sorry!" Tooru gave a little bow and gestured to the Souma men. "This is Souma Shigure, one of my guardians," she gave him a little smile. It was the first time Shigure had "officially" had claim over her. It felt nice to introduce him that way, like they were really family. "This is his relative, Souma Hatori. He's a doctor and Shigure-san wanted him to look over my injury." She added the last bit for Shido and Harada's benefit, she'd mentioned in the car he was coming but hadn't thought to say why.
"'Cause you got sick last night?" Shido asked.
"You were sick last night?" Hatori asked, pushing forward. "How?"
Tooru waved a hand quickly. "It wasn't anything," she tried. "Harada-san helped me. Oh, I haven't introduced Harada-san and Shido-san yet." She gestured to the two large men in turn. "Rising Stars assigned them to me to protect me. And this is Hiromi-san, my assistant."
Hatori barely gave them a glance, steering her into the kitchenette and one of the chairs. "How were you ill last night?" He pushed her chin up and peered into her eyes. "We need to wash off this makeup so I can see your injury better." She was still wearing the heavy foundation the studio had caked on to hide her ugly bruise.
"I had a bad headache that made me feel sick to my stomach and made the lights hurt," Tooru said, giving Shido smile in thanks as he handed her a damp towel. She gently sponged the makeup away from the bruise and the rest of her face.
"I thought it was 'cause of Miz Hiromi's medicine that you got sick," Shido said, hovering by worriedly. He missed the venomous glare Hiromi shot at him and Harada's rolled eyes.
"Medicine?" Hatori repeated. "What did you take?"
"It was my fault, she had a headache after the show yesterday and I gave her one of my painkillers. I forgot how strong they are-" Hiromi said with a smile.
"Bottle?" Hatori interrupted with a stern look, holding out his hand. Hiromi hid a pout and rummaged through her bag for it, dropping the little medicine bottle into his palm.
He examined the bottle's label, eyebrow rising and frown deepening. "This isn't just a painkiller, it's also a muscle relaxant and tranquillizer." He looked the woman over. "What do you take these for?"
"An old knee injury," Hiromi smiled. "Only when it acts up."
Hatori didn't lose his frown, he looked back at Tooru. "How many of these did you take?"
"I don't-" Tooru started, lowering her towel and brow creasing as she tried to remember.
"Just one," Harada interrupted. "She hadn't eaten much dinner either, so it worked very quickly. She passed out in the car on the ride home, and slept until-"
"Three or so?" Shigure asked. "That's when my little flower called."
"I was up a little before that," Tooru blushed. "When I woke up my mouth felt icky, and my head was muzzy. When I stood up, suddenly it hurt and I felt like I was going to be sick. I went into the bathroom, but when I turned on the lights it hurt... a lot. Then I got sick." She looked up at Hatori. "But Harada-san came in, and turned off the lights and made me lie down. I felt a little better. Then he gave me some crackers and some water and I felt a lot better." She flashed the large man a smile. "And he told me I shouldn't take anything unless I knew exactly what it was."
"Very wise," Hatori said giving the man a glance. Harada shifted uncomfortably. Hatori looked at Hiromi. "Do you have the records from her checkup?
"Not on me," Hiromi said with false cheer. "Tooru sprung this visit on me this morning just before we had to leave. I'm afraid I'm a bit on the spot. If you can wait a bit I can have them faxed over."
"The x-rays too, have them brought over," Hatori said shortly and then dismissed the woman from his notice, focusing back on Tooru. He pulled out a light and asked her to follow it with her eyes. Hiromi harrumphed and pulled out her phone to make some calls.
"Harada-san did this with his finger last night," Tooru commented, tracking it and trying not to squint. The aspirin had made her headache dim, but not go away, and the light was making it start to throb again.
"Are you feeling ill now?" Hatori asked, glancing at the other man. He knelt in front of Tooru and turned her head so he could see the bruise, already starting to fade from purple to yellow and green. He threaded his fingers through her hair and gently prodded at her skull.
"I have a headache," Tooru admitted, leaning into his touch and eyes drifting closed. She didn't know if he meant his examination to feel so soothing, but it felt good to her. She winced when he prodded a little closer to her bruise.
"Have you taken anything today?" Hatori asked, still on his knees and peering up at her. He gently extricated his hands from her hair and patted it back in place.
"Some aspirin," Tooru said. "Harada-san had them get a fresh bottle at the set."
"You look tired," Hatori commented. The makeup had hidden dark circles under her eyes.
"She was on the phone with Kyou for at least an hour last night," Shigure chimed in. "That means she only had an hour more sleep before she had to get up this morning, at most."
"But she fell asleep right after Tadashi's show," Hiromi said, "She was in bed before ten."
Hatori ignored Hiromi's comment and stood. He looked over at Harada. "You have medical training?"
"Some," Harada confirmed. "First aid... and a little sports medicine."
"Really?" Tooru asked, fascinated. "Why-"
Hatori put a hand on her shoulder to quiet her. "What was your impression last night?"
"Her pupils were reactin' fine, and she weren't seeing double or nothing," Harada said, looking uncomfortable. "Her reactions were normal. She don't have a concussion... The docs took x-rays yesterday and she didn't have any sign of it. She was just actin' like someone with a hang-over, I figured it was from Hiromi's pills."
"It most likely was a reaction to the medication," Hatori confirmed. He squeezed Tooru's shoulder again. "Though I want you to stay awake until I see the x-rays for myself." He looked up at Hiromi. "When will that be?"
"About fifteen minutes," Hiromi said checking her watch. "They're sending them over by messenger."
"I'll make some tea," Tooru offered, standing. "For while we wait." If she sat for much longer, she might drift off without meaning to.
"I've missed my little flower's tea!" Shigure said from his seat at the table. "I look forward to it."
Tooru nodded and exited into the kitchen.
"Hiromi-san, please sit," Hatori instructed gesturing to Tooru's vacated chair.
"If this is going to be a lecture about the pills, I'd rather stand," Hiromi crossed her arms, making her bangles clatter. "It was an honest mistake and I do apologize, but there was no harm done. I was just trying to help."
"That's not the issue," Hatori said. "I wish you examine your knee. You shouldn't be on such strong medication for an old injury."
"You want to... examine me?" Hiromi blinked, confusion causing her to lose a bit of her tense and angry demeanor. The tall, handsome man continued to stare through his bangs at her, hand on chair. "Seriously?"
"Which knee was injured, how long ago, and how was it injured?" Hatori asked. He lifted her bottle off the table and rattled it. "This type of medication should only be used within the initial healing stages. Taking this for too long can be habit forming and dangerous to your liver and stomach."
"Really?" Hiromi swallowed and stepped over to the chair. "It was my left knee... and almost a decade ago... nearly." Hatori knelt by her and removed her left shoe. Hiromi blushed as he grasped her knee in strong gentle hands gently exploring and guiding her to flex and bend it. "I hyper-extended it and tore... something... I can't remember the name. But it was right during the tour, so I didn't say anything about the pain. I didn't get it treated until weeks later- Ow!" She winced as Hatori tried to straighten her leg completely.
"I apologize," Hatori murmured, instantly letting the limb fall limp. "I'm going to extend it again tell me when you begin to feel discomfort." He slowly began to straighten her leg, carefully gauging her reactions.
Tooru return with the tea on a tray, setting a cup down in front of Shigure and placing two others on the table for Hiromi and Hatori. She handed Shido and Harada their tea.
"You didn't make some for yourself?" Shido asked as she handed Harada the last cup.
"Mine is in the kitchen," Tooru smiled. "I was thinking of starting lunch... with so many of us, it might take a while to put together."
"Miz Honda-" Harada began, face settling into a scowl.
"Let's order in," Shigure interrupted. "I haven't seen you in days. I'd rather spend time with you then have you disappear back into the kitchen again."
Tooru blushed,"Okay. I'll be right back."
Shigure talked Tooru into ordering an expensive and complicated sushi set for lunch, to celebrate two successful interviews. According to Hiromi the clips of her appearance on the Late Tonight Show had gone viral and were racking up nearly as many views as her ill-fated review of Death Has No Honor. The woman explained to Tooru that it was a very good thing when she apologized. The morning show hadn't gotten the same buzz, but it had only aired a few hours ago.
Tooru basked in Shigure's attention. He had a way of making her forget that her head hurt, and that she was tired. He made her laugh and forget to be nervous and scared. Hatori merely observed for the most part, though he reigned in Shigure when he got too loud or too... Shigure-ish. Just having him check her over made her feel so much better. And it made her feel just a teeny bit guilty how much she enjoyed how uncomfortable and intimidated Hiromi and the bodyguards seemed to feel around him.
She'd forgotten how he seemed when she'd first met him... all scary and stern. Now she could see the humor twinkling in his unhidden eye with each barb he sallied in their direction.
The courier came and Tooru ducked into the kitchen with the Souma men while Hiromi and Harada greeted him.
"I feel so much better now that I've seen you, my little flower," Shigure said once they were out of sight of the Rising Stars employees. "It's been too long."
"It's only been a few days," Tooru laughed. Her fingers ghosted along her bruise when smile made the skin pull in uncomfortable ways.
Shigure shook his head. "It's been weeks." He gently smoothed her hair out of the way and looked at the bruise, making a displeased tsk deep in his throat. "And it hasn't been easy on you, I know."
Tooru felt her throat thicken, and she blinked, trying not to cry. It had been weeks since she slept in her own bed, cooked in her own kitchen, and had some time to herself with no strangers around.
"My little flower has been so brave," Shigure laid a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. "You are doing such a good job."
"Shigure-san," Tooru whispered. "I want to go home."
"I know," Shigure said and shared a glance with Hatori. "We are working on it."
Before she could ask what he meant Hiromi popped into the kitchen. "Here are those records. Did you want to examine them here?" She gave a cheerful, if somewhat insincere smile. "Or did you want to go over them at home. It might be better-"
"Now is fine," Hatori said, accepting the envelope. He pulled out some complicated looking documents and another envelope of something that looked like large film negatives. He held these up to the light, and Tooru recognized them as the x-rays that had been taken yesterday. Shigure looked over his shoulder, and Tooru wondered what they were looking for.
"No concussion," Hatori said to the other man. "Nothing past the surface damage."
"You're sure?" Shigure asked, voice low. "What's causing the headache?
Hatori nodded, looking over the other documents. "Stress. Exhaustion." He looked up at Tooru. "I prescribe a nap, to be effective immediately."
"But Shigure-san and Hatori-san are here!" She wrung her hands. She didn't want to miss a moment of their visit sleeping.
"No arguments," Shigure said, taking her by the shoulder and turning her around out into the hallway. "I'll tuck you in."
"Shigure," Hatori's voice was warning enough. He looked down at Tooru, at her puckered brow and frown. It was so misplaced on her. "May I see your phone?"
Confused, she dug it out of her pocket and handed it to him.
He pushed a few buttons, and then handed it back. "I've added myself to your contacts. If anything happens in the future, or if you have any questions, call me first."
"I'm sure that won't be necessary," Hiromi interrupted. "This really was an anomaly. We make sure to take good care of our talent-"
"Like your manager took care of you?" Hatori countered with a raised brow. Hiromi flushed. Hatori dug into his pocket and pulled out a notepad. "This is the name of a doctor I went to school with. He works with a lot of athletes with long term injuries like yours. You should make an appointment. With proper treatment and physical therapy, you shouldn't need pain medicine like the ones you're on. I suggest also switching to something over the counter, less habit forming."
"Thank you," Hiromi mumbled, looking upset at having to say it. She pouted, "I'll take it under consideration." She gave Tooru a flat look. "You heard the doctor, go lay down. We still have to go shopping before your dinner meeting tonight, and you want to be well rested for that."
Tooru nodded, but turned to Shigure and Hatori, "I want to say goodbye properly. I'll take a nap after you leave." She silently begged them not to go.
Knowing her wishes, but knowing they couldn't stay either, Shigure put a hand on each of her shoulders and gave a little squeeze. It wasn't the hug she wanted, but it was enough to get his point across. "Then we will take our leave, my flower. Rest well, and sweet dreams. Please keep us informed of any other appearances. Momiji is becoming quite the expert at recording. He promised me a compilation DVD by the end of the week."
"Hatori-san and Shigure-san will come again?" Tooru said putting her hand on Shigure's wrist when she thought he might let go. "Hiromi-san said I could have everyone over on Saturday."
"I said maybe," Hiromi corrected. "It might not be this Saturday." When Tooru's expression turned to dismay, both Souma men turned to glare at her. "But, er, we'll definitely schedule something in soon. Promise!"
"We will visit again," Hatori promised, and Tooru believed him more then Hiromi. "Perhaps I'll bring Momiji next time. He's been asking."
"Yes! Thank you!" Tooru said, clapping her hands together. Momiji always managed to cheer her up. You couldn't be sad around him.
"Give Yuki a call," Shigure said. "He asked me to remind you, before he went to school."
Tooru blushed and looked down, "Yes, I owe him a call."
"After you nap and we shop," Hiromi said firmly. "And if there is time before your dinner meeting."
Glancing at the woman, and not wanting to argue, Tooru nodded. She suspected that she'd make sure there wasn't time at all. She looked back up at Shigure, "But tell him I will call, tonight."
Tooru followed the men to the door, though Harada kept her back as he checked to make sure the hallway was empty before ushering them out. Tooru watched the door close with a sinking heart.
"Miz Honda, the doc said you should be sleepin'," Shido pointed out when she just stood staring at the door. "Do you want some, uh, warm milk or somethin'?
Tooru gave him halfhearted smile, and just shook her head not wanting to risk speaking. She turned to trudge to her room.
"Set your alarm for one," Hiromi said, picking up her purse. "That should be a long enough nap. I'm going to head into the office and see if I can find out what else Sawatari has cooking for you."
"Yes, ma'am," Tooru said softly and fled before she could show how upset she really was. She quickly changed back into her pajamas and flopped into bed. She fell asleep before she could even think of setting her alarm.
She woke up hours later, her phone buzzing on the nightstand next to her head. She fumbled for it and looked at the display. It was an unfamiliar number.
"Hello?" She asked hesitantly.
"You shouldn't answer numbers you don't recognize, Miz Honda," Harada's dour voice came through the line. "You should let it go to voice mail, and you should let me record your message. That way if someone gets your number who shouldn't have it, they won't know for sure it's yours."
Tooru's brow wrinkled in confusion. Now that she knew it was him, she could hear his rumbling voice from the other room. Why was he calling from the same apartment to tell her that? "O-okay?"
"Miz Hiromi called. She's on her way over. It's past one, so you should be up when she gets here." Harada cut the line before she could say anything.
She stared at the phone. She supposed that was Harada's way of waking her up. She gave a little half smile, she'd noticed the man seemed to try his best not to be any where near her bedroom. His way of giving her privacy maybe?
She changed into one of her outfits from home, smiling at the simple blue house dress. All the fancy clothes Hiromi brought over made her feel like she was playing dress up. This was much more her style, comfortable but she hoped a little cute. She brushed her hair and tied in her yellow ribbons. She fiddled with the bows, thinking of Yuki. She really had to call him once she had a free moment! She felt guilty that he felt she had to be reminded of her promise.
She was feeling much better after her nap, and was even starting to feel a little excited about going shopping. She didn't really need any clothes, but it was always fun to look. And since she did need some things now that Hiromi and Sawatari seemed to be determined to keep shuttling her around in fancy circles maybe she could get some things that she liked instead of what Hiromi picked out.
She gave a little sigh as she exited her room. Probably not. Hiromi was very determined and she didn't know if she had the energy to fight her about clothes.
"You look better, Miz Honda," Shido said, standing at the end of the hall. "Do you feel better?"
"Yes," Tooru smiled. "Much better. Headache-san is gone."
"Good!" Hiromi said, popping in through the front door just as Shido asked his question. "And you're ready- What are you wearing?"
Tooru looked down at her dress.
"You can't go out like that," Hiromi took her by the shoulders and directed her back into her bedroom. "There are people downstairs with cameras. You have to have something presentable."
"This isn't presentable?" Tooru asked, confused. She wore this dress all the time. She craned over her shoulder to see if there was a stain or a tear she wasn't aware of.
"Not for a celebrity!" She opened Tooru's wardrobe and considered their choices. She sighed and waved a hand in the air, bangles clattering like mad. "We need this shopping trip so bad." She pulled out a sundress and a sweater. "This isn't awful, put this on."
It was the dress she'd been wearing when the original candid shot for Spotted had been taken. She hadn't been able to wear it since the magazine came out. It had been a favorite. Now it was just a reminder of everything she'd lost.
She shook herself and resigned herself to her current fate. Shigure had said they were trying to find a way to get her home. She just had to be patient. Tooru obediently changed and Harada brought a car around. He'd be driving this time. When they exited the building Tooru looked at the paparazzi crowd, noting that it had gotten bigger then the bunch in the morning. There had only been a handful of people clutching cameras this morning, and a scruffy man in a white van. The same van sat outside still, with the same man inside. He gave her a thumbs up when she looked at him and snapped a picture one handed. She gave them a little smile and wave, because Hiromi said that was what they were there to see and she figured that if they got up even earlier than she had to do their job they deserved a little consideration. The scruffy man managed an impressive second one handed camera shot.
"He's still there..." she murmured. He must be very dedicated.
"Good girl," Hiromi praised. "The photogs always like a friendly celeb."
"Don't be too friendly," Harada warned, keeping his eyes on the road. "Those guys are like sharks. You give 'em an inch, they'll take a mile. You smile at 'em outside, they'll be trying to get inside next."
"That's why we've got you strong young men here," Hiromi grinned. "You can keep those scary photographers at bay."
Harada snorted. "Where am I going anyway?"
"Where do you want to shop?" Hiromi asked Tooru. "Got any favorite stores you couldn't afford to buy at before? An outfit you were saving up for? Earrings you always really wanted, but didn't need?" She clasped her hands and gave a little breathless gasp and wiggled in place. "Oh, or a party dress. You never have a reason to buy them usually, but you'll be going to all kind of events now. Totally justifiable purchase!"
Tooru blinked, amazed at her enthusiasm. She'd never seen the woman so happy and excited. "Um, Hiromi-san..." she started hesitantly. "I don't usually do much shopping." She looked down at her fingers, twisting them together. "And I don't have that much money..." her cheeks flushed. She didn't usually like to talk about her finances with people. "So maybe you could suggest what I need so I don't have to pay back Rising Stars too much?"
"Pay back?" Hiromi blinked. "Hasn't anyone explained to you?"
"Explained?" Tooru repeated.
"Honey, we aren't going to be shopping with Rising Stars money," Hiromi said, and began to dig into her purse. "We're going to be shopping with yours."
Any enthusiasm she'd had for shopping died out. She didn't have any money, not money that could be spent on earrings and party dresses. She hadn't worked at the office building at all after Suitcase Travels, and the money from doing that show was earmarked for her tuition.
"Here," Hiromi pressed a long bank book into her hand. "This is the bank account that was set up when you signed with Rising Stars, it has your signing bonus, the fees for your appearances and your percentage of royalties for the clothes and jewelry lines you represent." When Tooru chose to stare at her instead of the book. Hiromi took it back and opened it and then gestured with a perfectly manicured nail at the 'total' line. "And this is your money... as of today."
Tooru goggled at the amount. More money than she had ever had in her whole life, including when both she and her Mother had been working. "That's all... mine?"
"All yours!" Hiromi grinned.
Tooru stared at Hiromi in disbelief, then over at Shido, who was looking over the front seat at her, for confirmation that she truly had heard what she just heard, seen what she'd just seen. He grinned and nodded.
"How about I take you to one of my favorite little shops?" Hiromi asked with a happy little wiggle. "We'll pick out something to wear for dinner..." She gave a conspiratorial wink, "and maybe a few more things."
"That sounds like fun," Tooru said, and actually meant it.
And it was fun. Hiromi was surprisingly willing to listen to Tooru's opinions on what clothes she wanted to buy and which ones she didn't. Once she had an idea of what Tooru liked Hiromi often direct Tooru's attention to higher quality versions. She picked out accessories that Tooru would never have thought of looking at... and talked her into trying on some things that hadn't looked too nice on the hangar but looked great on.
Tooru reflected that she hadn't really given Hiromi a chance. She actually never told the woman what she didn't like about the outfits she'd picked out before. Now that Hiromi saw what kind of things Tooru liked, she was doing her most to help her get the very best in that style.
But Tooru's arms were tiring with the weight of all of her packages, and her feet were beginning to ache. Hiromi's passion for shopping far outstripped her own. She found herself tuning out as Hiromi squealed at another display case of jewelry. If it glittered or shone, Hiromi loved it.
"Want me to hold some of those, Miz Honda?" Shido asked. Shido had started out as enthusiastic as Hiromi, complimenting every new outfit Tooru tried on. He'd nodded knowingly at every pair of earrings Hiromi had held to Tooru's ears. He'd even suggested a really nice strappy pair of sandals that neither woman had noticed when they ran into problem matching a new dress to a new pair of shoes. But now, hours later, his eyes had gotten glazed and bored and he hadn't given an opinion in a long time.
"Shouldn't do that," Harada said shortly. He'd remained aloof and constantly vigilant, scanning the crowd for threats. His gaze was able to scare off salespeople even behind his dark shades, or had until Hiromi made him stop. He glanced down at Tooru. "No offense, Miz Honda. But if our hands are full when something goes down, it could hamper our ability to protect you." Harada said the last with a pointed look to Shido.
"If, if," Hiromi reminded him,"If something happens, not when." Harada just rolled his eyes.
"Excuse me," a girl came up, clutching a package and looking starry-eyed. "Are you really Tooru-chan?"
"Yes," Tooru replied and gave a little head bob. "Hello."
"Omigod, it's her!" The girl squealed over her shoulder. Tooru followed her gaze and waved at a small gaggle of girls. They squealed and giggled too.
"It's so nice to meet you!" the girl gushed. "I just loved your song on Suitcase Travels, and you were so funny on Tadashi! Do you really think you'll sing with Sho?"
"Maybe," Tooru said. She'd spoken to curious sales clerks, shoppers, passerby and a host of other strangers. They all asked her questions like her answer would be something incredibly interesting and relevant to their lives. Did she like that dress? How was she doing today? Was her injury better? Did she make lunches today? What was she going to do next?
"This way Miz Honda," Harada said, placing a large hand on the small of her back and herding her away from the girl and her friends. "We don't have much time."
"Yes, Harada-san," Tooru nodded and then smiled over her shoulder at the girl. "Goodbye." She waved and the girl waved back. Harada had been running what he called "interference" for her all day, ending conversations she didn't know how to be in.
"Good job," Hiromi chirped. "You're getting better at that. But what did you forget?"
Tooru's brow wrinkled. Hiromi had gone over quite a few things she should say or shouldn't say to fans.
"She probably would have liked an autograph," Hiromi reminded.
"Oh, yes..." Tooru said ducking her head in apology. She didn't know if she could ever get used to offering her autograph to people.
"So where to next? We've got a good start on jewelry, nice couple of casual outfits, couple of fancy ones," Hiromi glanced around the various stores as they exited the shopping plaza and started down another street. She winked at Tooru, "That absolutely delish party dress, good find there... I'll have to make Sawatari aware of the brand maybe you can get a sponsorship-"
Tooru nodded dutifully, but her mind was beginning to wander despite her best efforts to stay focused. She glanced at the stores as they passed. When she'd had no money, she used to enjoy window shopping and playing "if I had a million to spend" with her mother or Hana-chan and Uo-chan. She'd always found tons of things she wanted and would enjoy having if money hadn't been an object. Now it really wasn't an object but she didn't see a single store she wanted to go into. All those things didn't seem at all important. What she wanted more then anything was a moment to call Yuki or text Kyou. She hadn't had any contact with them all day. Shigure had assured her they'd gone off to school after her morning broadcast but she was missing them keenly.
"We could do with some more shoes," Hiromi mused and then glared at Shido when he groaned. "She's only got three pair! We need a little more variety in then that!" She paused in front of a shoe store. "Maybe this place?"
Tooru's glanced over, but she couldn't see past Shido. She glanced across the street and found her attention arrested. There was a fancy cookware store just across the way. They had a cute little display of teapots and china cups. In the center was a fat little pot with a smiling jade Buddha imbedded on the side, it was surrounded by a circle of cups with very familiar animals them. It was darling!
"See something you like?" Hiromi asked, and Tooru was startled to find her at her elbow.
"That store," Tooru said shyly. "The teapot with the zodiac cups are very cute."
"Lets go buy it then!" Hiromi grinned. "We should be getting home soon. We've got the necessities, and you need to get changed. But we have time to do a little fun shopping."
"Oh, but I don't need another teapot," Tooru protested, nearly dropping her packages as she tried to wave her hands.
"Oh, honey," Hiromi gave her a patronizing look. "It's not about needing, it's about wanting. Sometimes it's okay to get something just because you want it, because you worked hard for it. And you've been working very hard these past couple of days. Don't think we haven't noticed. If a little teapot and some cups will make your day brighter, you should get it. It's one of the few perks we get."
When she didn't respond, she took Tooru's packages and thrust them firmly into Shido's hands. She grabbed Tooru by the wrist and ignored the bodyguards' complaints as she pulled her across the street. She pushed open the door.
"Hello! That teapot in the window, the one with the zodiac? How much?"
The proprietor blinked, he hadn't even been able to greet them she was moving so fast. "Which set?"
Hiromi dropped her wrist and pushed back past Shido and Harada, who'd finally caught up. "This one. We want it, please wrap it up for us." She looked at Tooru. "Is there anything else you want?"
"Oh um," Tooru started.
"Look around," Hiromi waved a hand. "I'll take care of this."
Tooru obediently looked around, and quickly fell in love with the store. It had all sorts of kitchen gadgets, the kinds of things that sliced, and diced and made julienne fries. It had gleaming pots and pans, and fancy rice-cookers with timers and buttons that she couldn't even guess at. The baking supplies were divine. They had the cutest little shaped baking pans, that would make cakes in the shapes of rabbits in frock-coats, cute little frogs or mice, roses and teapots. There was one huge pan in the shape of two halves of a cupcake. There griddles in the shapes of cartoon characters. There was even a Mogeta one for making Mogeta shaped pancakes! And, oh, the cookie cutters! There was one in every shape imaginable!
Harada and Shido watched her lightly touch the tools and pans with reverence. It was the first time they'd seen the girl look truly happy and unstressed. Hiromi came up between them and quirked an eyebrow.
"See anything you like?" The shopkeeper asked genially.
"I like everything!" Tooru enthused.
She turned back to the shelves, touching and poking and prodding. So many fun looking gadgets! So many cute accessories!
She found a whole section of bento supplies. There was a rack of boxes of every description, ones obviously for small children, fancy lacquer boxes, stainless steel, boxes with tiers, boxes that locked together and boxes that stacked. There were bands to hold them together and a whole wall of bento accessories. Tooru was just about to touch an absolutely adorable egg shaper in that would make a hard-boiled egg look like a bunny when Hiromi coughed pointedly behind her.
"You probably shouldn't buy anything that isn't made by Cute Lunch," Hiromi smiled. She nodded to the window. A few paparazzi had been following them from location to location, snapping pictures of them shopping. Tooru had almost forgotten they were there. "At least not right now. Besides they're sending you a gift box for representing them. You wouldn't want any duplicates."
"Oh, yes," Tooru nodded, looking at the wall in disappointment. Though she did look forward to seeing what kind of thing Cute Lunch would send her. Maybe some of those cute cutters? She eyed the boxes. "Can I buy lunch boxes?" She asked Hiromi. It was the one thing Yuki hadn't anticipated when furnishing her apartment, and this store had so many cute ones.
"Sure!" Hiromi nodded. "Get as many as you like."
A few minutes later she was regretting her flippant remark as Tooru weighed her, the proprietor and Shido's hands full of bento boxes. Hiromi had lost count at fifteen, struggling to hold onto the boxes Tooru had picked out already. She glanced at the clock and winced. They were going to have to rush to make their dinner appointment.
"Tooru-chan, honey," she called. "We really have to get going now." It was her third reminder to the girl. She normally didn't need a second prodding to do something.
"Found it!" Tooru said from her position on the floor next to the last bin of bento boxes. "It's perfect!" She said looking at the box she'd dug out.
"Ready to check out?" The proprietor was pleased as punch. She had over twenty bento boxes plus a very expensive full tea service picked out. Even better, this girl was apparently a celebrity and photographers had been taking pictures of her (and his store) for the better part of an hour.
"Yes!" Tooru chirped, adding the last bento box to a pile near her. "Can you wrap these ones up separately?" They were the ones that she figured she'd use the most. She'd found a cute blue box decorated with a stylized mouse and a scattering of ginko leaves, perfect for Yuki. She'd found buried in the bargain bin a rust orange box that had a cat lounging on the top of a wall under a blazing swirl of a sun. There had been lots of other bento boxes with cats, but they had all been too cutesy to be appropriate for Kyou, and this was the first one with an orange cat.
"These ones?" The store owner asked, gesturing to his chin to the six or so she had stacked on the floor. "No problem at all, miss."
"Thank you!" Tooru beamed at him.
Despite Harada's protests, both bodyguards had to be drafted into carrying packages now that they had all the clothes they bought and the bento purchases, at least until they got to the car. Harada consented only to carrying two shopping bags of clothes, so his vision would be clear. Shido carried the heavier packages, the teapot and some of the boxes, making it hard to see. Harada called a halt just outside the store.
"This isn't going to work. I'm going to go get the car. You all wait here. You," he said gesturing to to Shido as he started down the street. "Put that stuff down so you got your hands free."
"But the packaging will get dirty," Shido protested, looking at the concrete sidewalk.
"So what?" Harada growled. "Do it before those vultures get over here." He jerked a thumb at the paparazzi who'd retreated across the street when Harada had first left the store, glaring at them.
"It's okay, Shido-san," Tooru said quickly, trying to smooth out the fight before it began. "I don't mind." The big man frowned but put the package down.
"So what do you want to wear to dinner tonight?" Hiromi asked as Harada disappeared around the corner. "I think that little blue number will be perfect... maybe with this scarf? Definitely those jade earrings."
"I think Hiromi-san should decide," Tooru said. Now that she'd had a hand in picking out the outfits, she really didn't mind wearing whatever she was told. She'd been careful to avoid anything too frilly, fancy or hard to move in. "I don't know the restaurant I'm going to or what's appropriate."
"My choice? That can be dangerous..." Hiromi said with a laugh. "Can I do your makeup too?"
"If Hiromi-san wants," Tooru smiled, glad she could let Hiromi do something she seemed to enjoy. She really did work hard, and she hadn't been very appreciative. She'd even resented Hiromi more then once, for seeming to interfere with her being able to see the Soumas. It really wasn't fair when she was only trying to do her job.
Hiromi wiggled in place, her bangles and jewelry clattering. "See didn't I tell you shopping would be fun? I'm so glad that Tooru-chan is in a better mood. You can buy as many bento boxes as you want if it cheers you up this much."
Tooru bowed her head, ashamed that she'd been so obviously out of sorts. "I'm sorry if I was unpleasant earlier."
"I'm sure Miz Honda was just tired," Shido broke in. "You bin workin' real hard. Anybody'd get grumpy."
Grumpy! Tooru's face flushed bright red. "I'm so sorry!"
"It's no problem," Hiromi said, celebrating inside and trying not to smile too hard. This was a great breakthrough. Tooru was such a people-pleaser, she'd be trying twice as hard now not to be "grumpy" which could only work out well for Rising Stars. "Oh, there's the car!"
On the ride home she had Hiromi show her how to delete some of her texts, though she pouted at having to delete any of them. Logically she knew she didn't need ten identical texts from Kyou asking her to turn on her phone, but she wanted to keep every scrap of contact she had with both boys. I still haven't called Yuki. She knew he'd understand, but it didn't stop the niggle of guilt. Should she call him now? She bit her lip, glancing at Hiromi who was typing away at her phone and Shido who seemed to be napping in the front seat. Her eyes met Harada's briefly in the rear view mirror. She didn't know what she planned to say to Yuki, but she didn't feel comfortable with this many ears listening in.
Maybe she'd be able to sneak in a quick phone call when they got home.
"Okay, just go in an give your name," Hiromi said as they pulled up, hours later, in front of the restaurant. "They're waiting for you."
"Go in by myself?" Tooru asked, startled out of her doze. The nap she'd had earlier seemed very far away. She'd already been tired after her shopping trip, and they'd been running late afterward. Hiromi had been so concerned with getting her dressed that Tooru still didn't even know who she was eating dinner with.
"Of course Harada and Shido will be with you," Hiromi grinned. "They'll get you home after." She looked at her watch, "Now get going, I have a dinner date I don't want to be late for."
"Shido will walk you in," Harada said from the driver's seat.
"Who am I meeting?" She tried again.
"Sawatari and some people interested in doing business." The fact Hiromi was being so circumspect was making her nervous. "You'll see," Hiromi said, grin only widening. "Don't look so worried!"
"C'mon Miz Honda," Shido had already exited the car and was holding the door. "We should get inside."
"Yes," Tooru said, unable to wipe the worried frown from between her brows. She followed him into the restaurant, feeling strange even now she was in clothes that were more her own taste. She never would have stepped into a restaurant this fine before all of this.
"Miz Honda Tooru has arrived," Shido's voice was deeper and more serious then she was used to. She looked up at him and he'd become the same tall stranger she'd met in Hana-chan's living room.
"She's expected," Harada said to the hostess as he followed them in after handing the car over to the valet. "Sawatari party."
The hostess's eyes lit up and she smiled wide as she gestured past her into the restaurant. "Yes, this way."
Tooru followed her, wishing she could see past her to get a glimpse of whoever she was supposed to be meeting.
"I have to say, Miss Honda," the hostess said over her shoulder, "I enjoyed your appearance on the Late Tonight show."
"Oh, thank you," Tooru said, unsure how she was supposed to react.
"I'm even thinking of getting a pet rat, after seeing how cute Jumbo was with you," the girl giggled.
"Jumbo-san was very cute!" Tooru enthused. She hadn't wanted to give the rat back. "I think you'll enjoy keeping one."
"You shouldn't say the word "rat" too loudly in a restaurant," Sawatari scolded with a smile, standing beside a table.
"But pets are different then pests, " said a voice behind him, a voice Tooru knew.
"Director Daichi-san!" Tooru exclaimed, she looked at the other person at the now standing politely by the table and her smile widened, "And Yoshikawa-san!" There were was a woman at the table as well, seated beside Daichi.
Noticing her look Daichi placed his hand on the back of the woman's chair, "This is my wife, Yoko."
Tooru gave a polite bow and the woman inclined her head politely.
Sawatari looked at Harada and Shido, still hovering in the background. "You guys can go find yourselves something to eat and take a few hours off. We'll call you when we're ready to leave."
"Very good, sir." Harada said and nodded to the table before turning to go. Shido gave the room a quick glance and frowned when Tooru looked at them with clear distress.
He started to speak but saw Sawatari give a quick negative shake to his head from behind her. "See you later, Miz Honda," Shido said reluctantly. He knew she was in no real danger in the exclusive restaurant, but he felt bad leaving her alone. She looked at him like he was abandoning her.
Yoshikawa stood and pulled out a chair for her, indicating she should sit by him. She slid into the seat and smiled up at him in gratitude. Beneath his bushy brows she thought she detected a glimmer of eagerness, he was excited about something. He sat beside her and handed her a menu.
Daichi raised his eyebrows at his wife as Yoko gave a tilt to her head at the gesture. Their eyes met and they shared a wordless conversation at the strange occurrence. Yoshikawa was a long time friend, more then just a business partner. The interest he'd expressed in this young starlet was surreal. Daichi's wife had been so surprised when he mentioned it to her that she'd insisted on seeing for herself. Pulling out a chair might seem like a simple thing, but for the taciturn and nearly reclusive action star it was extraordinary.
"You seem to have established a good rappor with your staff," Daichi said approvingly. "I hear they are even living with you at the moment?"
"You've seen how the press is taken with her." Sawatari answered for her. "We've had to be extremely tight on security." It also helped to have ears with her whenever the Soumas might pop up.
"That must have been an adjustment," Daichi said smiling at her.
"Adjustment?" Tooru asked after realizing that Daichi both expected an answer and no one was going to interrupt and answer for her this time.
"From living with your family to living with two men." Daichi grinned, "I don't know many young women who would be handling themselves so well. Most girls your age would be too shy."
"Eh, oh!" Tooru said blushing, thinking how she'd felt when she first started living with the Sohmas. She supposed she could understand that. "Yes, but…" She said quickly, "Harada-san and Shido-san have been very kind which makes it much easier."
Yoshikawa leaned over and patted her hand, giving her an upturn to his lips that she supposed was meant to be a smile. "You're a good girl," he said. Tooru was a bit unnerved.
"So," Daichi said after the waitress had taken an order for ice tea from Tooru and Sawatari had settled into a seat on her other side, "have you been keeping your schedule free for me like I asked?"
Tooru had been trying to look over the menu, the dishes were all French, something she wasn't familiar with at all. She looked up at Daichi in surprise. "Eh?"
"What now?" Sawatari interrupted, looking between Tooru and Daichi. "When was this?"
"Um, oh..." Tooru tried to think, flustered and put on the spot. "Did Daichi-san?"
"I'm hurt," Daichi said, with a teasing lilt to his tone. "You don't remember every detail of our phone call?"
Secretly he was a little amazed. Had she really not relayed every word to her manager? He was a famous director after all. It wasn't like he called young newbies every day. Before he could get annoyed, his wife laid a hand over his on the table and quirked an eyebrow again. She was laughing at him for letting his ego get pricked. He tossed her a grin, thankful for the reminder to not let his pride get the best of him. It was hard when most people fawned all over him.
"Oh!" Tooru said clapping her hands, "Daichi-san said to tell Sawatari-san to not keep me too busy."
"And you didn't tell me?" Sawatari's smile was forced, and he spoke through gritted teeth. He hated being blindsided. He'd been trying to fill every moment of Tooru's day in an effort to keep maximize her current popularity (and also keep her from meeting the Sohmas too often).
Tooru bit her lip, smile fading. It wasn't that she'd forgotten, it was just she hadn't realized it was important.
"You should order this," Yoshikawa interrupted, pointing something to the menu. "Best thing here."
Tooru automatically looked down to what he was pointing at. "Oh, but that's awfully expensive," she blurted, then blushed. None of these people had to worry about money, and after looking at her bank book even she could afford this, but old habits died hard.
"My treat," Yoshikawa patted her hand and waved the waitress over.
"Yoshikawa-san doesn't have to do that," Tooru said distressed that now he thought she'd been fishing for a free meal. He just patted her hand again.
Yoko gave a soft laugh and leaned over to whisper in her husband's ear, "Is she for real?"
"Who knows? Sawatari claims he really did just pluck her off the street," he whispered back. He raised his voice and spoke with Tooru, "I've been following your appearances. I see your familiarity with animals isn't just within the zodiac stories. You seem very comfortable with them."
Tooru thought about the wide variety of animals she'd interacted with after meeting the Sohmas... Though most of her experience wasn't with real animals. "I've mostly just done a lot of reading," Tooru demurred. "But I like animals," she added.
"That's good, very good," Daichi smiled, and raised an eyebrow at Yoshikawa.
"So, you wanted our Tooru-chan to keep her schedule free?" Sawatari asked, taking the wine bottle at the table and topping of Daichi's glass.
"Well, Yoshikawa and I have been talking..." Daichi turned to Tooru, "You remember the project we spoke about?"
"The one about the Zodiac?" Tooru asked.
"We really liked your suggestion, the one about making the Cat one of the heroes," Daichi nodded. "It's really put us on a whole new track with the project."
"And your casting suggestions," Yoshikawa added.
"The dynamic of different ages is especially interesting," Daichi handed his menu to the waitress. "In fact, as we discussed the project, we found ourselves taking your comments as a major consideration. So much so that we felt we couldn't proceed without giving you credit."
"What kind of credit?" Sawatari asked.
"Writing, and production," Daichi said. "Really, it wouldn't be the same show with out her."
"She would be named as a co-creator," Yoshikawa said after he finished murmuring to the waitress and handing her his menu. He plucked Tooru's menu out of her hands as well.
"Oh, but I didn't do anything to deserve that," Tooru said. "I just answered questions that Daichi-san asked."
"But we've decided to run with all your suggestions," Daichi said cheerfully. "Wait until you see the cast we've got assembled. I think we've matched to your descriptions perfectly. And, of course, we'll want you to continue to give your input."
"And be on the show too," Yoshikawa reminded. "Very important part..."
"Oh, yes, didn't I say?" Daichi leaned forward. "With removing the Cat as the villain, we had to come up with something else. We've decided on the old "save the princess" wheeze. You'll be the princess."
"There isn't a princess in the Zodiac stories," Tooru said, mind whirling. She couldn't even process what they were saying.
"No, and there aren't any transforming robots either," Daichi laughed. "We are taking some liberties. The thought is, in some stories there is the Jade Emperor..."
"Or Buddha," Yoshikawa interrupted.
"Yes," Daichi nodded. "The premise we're taking is that the Jade Emperor, king of the moon, is losing his powers, and an evil force is trying to take over from the dark side of the moon. So he sends his daughter, the Jade Princess-"
"That's you," Yoshikawa said.
"-to Earth," Daichi continued as if he hadn't spoken. "To awaken his heroes, the Zodiac. You would discover them one by one and coach them into becoming a team."
"A princess, me?" Tooru gasped.
"Sounds like a major role," Sawatari said. "So she'd both get co-creator credit and star? So she'd be getting a salary, and both residuals and royalties..."
Daichi waved a hand back and forth. "We can settle those details later. Be assured that we plan to treat Tooru-chan very fairly."
"Star?" Tooru started to feel faint. "But that would mean acting? I can't possibly!"
"What?" Daichi and Sawatari chorused together.
"What she means is," Sawatari scrambled to cover, "that she couldn't without seeing the contract first-"
"No!" Tooru said vehemently. "I can't act. I'm terrible at it!" She turned to Yoshikawa. "I would just ruin your show! I know it!"
"It's just a children's program," Daichi said, bemused. "Not a drama. No one expects and award winning performance."
"Just be you," Yoshikawa said patting her hand.
"The role was made with your personality in mind," Daichi said sharing a glance with his wife. Her eyebrows were practically hidden in her hair. No one turned down an opportunity to work with him!
"But I really can't." Tooru said waving a hand. "I couldn't even act in my school plays. I messed it up and couldn't remember my lines."
Daichi frowned and looked at Sawatari. "I thought you said you were going to be putting her out for roles."
"After some training," Sawatari said, giving Tooru a smile that was more teeth then goodwill. "She's only just met with the acting coach. I'm sure with a little work she'll be more then able to star in your show."
"Ah," Daichi grinned. "It's just a little stage fright then."
"That's not-" Tooru started, but was interrupted when the waitress came back and set a plate of food in front of her, something french-looking and smothered in a buttery and rich smelling sauce. "Eh?"
"I ordered for you," Yoshikawa said. "Chicken. Everyone likes chicken."
"Thank you," Tooru said, trying to figure out what in front of her had once been part of a chicken.
"If it's not to your taste, feel free to order something else," Daichi waved to a waitress. "We need a menu over here."
"No, no," Tooru said quickly. "That would be a terrible waste! I… I just thought I might have gotten someone's meal since I didn't order." She smiled. "I'm sure I'll like it." It would be a waste of money and food to order something else, especially since her stomach was so full of knots she wasn't sure if she could eat more then a few bites of anything.
"It's good," Yoshikawa assured her, and she saw he had the same thing in front of him.
With everyone watching, Tooru cut off a small experimental chunk. She took a quick polite bite and smiled. It was as rich and buttery as it smelled, and if there was chicken in there she couldn't taste it for the sauce and toppings. "It's good," she said. It certainly was flavorful.
Yoshikawa nodded. "See?" He looked at Daichi.
"Yes, well, it looks like we will be able to do some business," Daichi smiled. "We're still in pre-production, so there is plenty of time for Tooru-chan to work with a coach to get ready for the part."
"We'll get to work together," Yoshikawa smiled. "I'm the Dark Moon King."
"You always make the best villain," Yoko said sipping her wine. "All the children will be terrified of you."
Tooru's mouth went into a little distressed oh, "Yoshikawa-san is going to be the villain? But Yoshikawa-san is such a nice person!"
"Someone needs to play the villain," Daichi smiled. "The heroes need someone to fight against."
"Why?" Tooru asked.
"So they can be heroic," Daichi spread his hands. "There has to be a reason they're fighting."
"So many bad things happen for no reason at all," Tooru said looking down at her plate, moving her food around. "They don't have to be caused by someone."
"I think that's a little too hard for children to grasp," Yoko said, putting a hand over her husband's to quell his obvious growing frustration. He wasn't usually challenged this way. "Children's stories are meant to give hope which means simplifying things sometimes."
Tooru was about to disagree again when she caught a glare and a quick shake of the head from Sawatari. She ducked her head and concentrated on slicing off another piece of chicken.
"Do you really not want to work with us?" Yoshiksawa asked, his brows wrinkling to form a thick caterpillar reaching for his hairline. "So many protests. Do you not like us?"
"Oh, no," Tooru hurried to assure him. "I like Yoshikawa-san and Director Daichi-san a lot."
"Then it's the project you dislike," Daichi said.
"No!" Tooru shook her head. "I love the Zodiac, and I think it sounds like an interesting story." She shook her head again. "It's just that I don't want to ruin it." She cast a pleading look to Daichi.
"Let's give it a chance," Daichi said firmly. He was determined to have Tooru on the project. She'd been invaluable already, with just a few comments here and there. Besides, Yoshikawa liked the girl. "If you're that bad we'll recast. But at the moment I can't picture anyone but you in the role."
Yoshikawa gave a grimace, which after a moment Tooru realized was a smile. "It's decided," he lifted his glass in a toast. "To the Zodiac Warriors."
"That's the working title anyway," Daichi said lifting his class and clinking it against Yoshikawa's.
"We'll enjoy working with you." Sawatari raised a glass and clinked it against theirs nodding at Tooru to do the same. What a windfall! Daichi had practically handed him a blank check. They were determined to have her, which meant Sawatari could charge what ever he wanted for the privilege.
Tooru raised a glass, and tried to smile. "To the Zodiac," she murmured. She hoped whatever Shigure's plans were that they happened quickly.
a.n. This seemed like a good place to stop. I must have re-written this chapter at least ten times. This version is actually an amalgam of the three I liked best. I was determined to update this chapter before I worked on anything else, because I kept putting it off. That meant both Full Course and Discoveries suffered on it's behalf. Expect updates to those shortly. (And by shortly, I mean in Merrow-time... so in less then a year...)