The Zai of Reunion

A Law of Ueki Fanfiction

Sano Seiichiro X Rinko Gerrard

Ch. 2 - Dance

Due to the nature of its being an area for rest and relaxation, there is not much to do in a hot spring resort, even if you're the manager, especially if the said resort is small and mostly empty. Sano had been meaning to install a couple of karaoke rooms and a series of food and souvenir stalls, but so far all he'd been able to afford was a ping-pong table and a couple of low benches among the clearer areas of the surrounding trees, to serve as picnic or hang-out areas for guests with a feel for the outdoors. He went around, looking for his guests and trying to satisfy himself that they were having fun.

He found Mori, Ueki, Hideyoshi, and Kobasen engaged in an intense two-on-two ping-pong battle.

"You can't let them beat us!" Mori shrieked enthusiastically. "Remember! Kobasen said we'd be assured top marks if we won!"

"But Mori, we don't need him to bet that," Ueki said in a confused voice. "He's not our teacher any more. He can't change our grades."

"Says who?" replied Kobasen, delivering a vicious slice that Mori dove for and succeeded in countering.

"Whoa, did you hear that? I think you just splintered the table!" Hideyoshi jeered.

"Why, you-!"

When it seemed certain that Mori was not actually going to be able to damage the furnishings or the other guests (Ueki had gotten between her and Hideyoshi when she launched herself at him in a fury), Sano let his attention wander from them. He glanced around. He thought he had seen Rinko in the sidelines, watching the game with some amusement, but now she was nowhere to be found. He passed through the room and into the next. Finally he saw her across the hall. She had opened one of the other rooms and had wandered onto the grassy picnic area.

"Rinko!" he called, half-jogging to reach her.

She didn't immediately respond, so that Sano repeated himself in case he hadn't been heard. "Rinko," he said. Now she turned abruptly at the sound of her name. Sano stopped himself short so he would not bump into her, but he still ended up rather close. He had not noticed, last night, that the top of her head was only somewhere around his nose or chin. Three years before, they had been nearly the same height.

She tilted her head up to look at him. "Did you want me? Are we supposed to go grocery-shopping for dinner or something?" she wanted to know.

"I - ah -" Sano replied, feeling his neck and face heat up. She was standing too close. He fell back half a step and collected his thoughts. "Actually, I was just going around checking on you guys," he said. "I know there isn't much to do here yet, and you might be getting bored…"

Rinko smiled. "If you wanted business tips, you could have just said so," she said gently. "It's true, there isn't much here, but I think it's nice. Very relaxing atmosphere, tranquil and private. It's the perfect place for a weekend getaway, just to unwind. You've done an excellent job."

"Thank you," Sano replied, genuinely pleased. He had worked hard for years to get his little resort fixed. He still had great plans for it, but to be told that he'd done well was proof that he deserved to be proud of what he'd achieved.

"Well, if that's all," Rinko was saying.

"Oh," Sano said. "Oh. Well, actually…"

"You sure do use "actually" a whole lot now, Sano-kun."

"Somehow being around you makes me feel like I have to explain myself," Sano retorted automatically.

"Well, if that's the case, then I should be getting out of your hair," Rinko said lightly. She turned her head to the forested area close by. "Are there clear paths in there?"

"You don't need the clear paths," Sano replied, "but yes, there are. I have to warn you, though – sometimes there are wild animals, like foxes and bears."

Rinko beamed. "Then I must definitely go in!"

Sano's face fell. He had meant to discourage her from taking her walk, so that she would stay with him, although he had little idea what to do with her if she had. He had forgotten that Rinko was completely unable to see danger or malice in furry animals. She was precisely the type to get in trouble because some animal she thought was cute wanted to eat her and she could neither run away from it nor harm it. "…I'll go with you," he said.


The walk turned out to be entirely uneventful. If there were animals around, they were hiding from the noisy human explorers. Rinko tried to hide her disappointment, which made Sano smirk, although part of him was relieved, and another part of him regretted that he was unable to completely satisfy her – a guest, that is, a guest!

He tried to engage Rinko in idle chat, but somehow all he could think of was either three years ago, or business. He wasn't quite comfortable with bringing up Robert Haydn again, even if Rinko seemed okay with it, so he decided to talk business instead. "Do you think I can open formally before school starts in September?" he said.

Rinko shook her head doubtfully. "I think not," she said. "I mean, you're nearly ready, all you need is a bit more tweaking, but before a place can be opened you need a whole lot of publicity, and there's no way you'll get enough publicity by then," she said. "Besides, people don't usually go for onsen in summer."

"Maybe by the beginning of winter break, then?" Sano replied. "December-ish? Just before Christmas, maybe? What do you do just then anyway?"

Rinko's eyes narrowed momentarily, but then she shrugged. "I don't know," she replied. "I'm usually getting ready for parties. Especially on Christmas Eve." She took a deep breath and continued, her voice suddenly tight. "As you might recall."

"No, I - " Sano began, then stopped. Something not in her words told him that wasn't right, that she was expecting him to say something else. Parties? Christmas eve? He thought. Then it finally came to him. "Ack."

"I see you've remembered," Rinko noted, her voice still crisp and cool.

"Yes, I have," Sano replied, forcing his tone to be light. "Your birthday, of course. I sent you a card two years ago."

"I don't remember," Rinko replied tartly.

So that was it, Sano thought. "Look, I'm sorry about your birthday party last year," he replied. He found it hard to look at her, now that he knew what she was angry about. "I meant to go, but…"

Rinko smiled brightly. "I accept your apology," she said. "It's perfectly fine, now."

Sano stopped walking to look at her. He thought she still looked rather pained. Her answer had been too prompt, too happy. "No, it's not," he said heavily, after a while.

"…Right," Rinko said, after an even longer pause. She, too, had stopped walking. She plucked a leaf from a nearby tree and twirled it between her fingers. "It's good you don't seem to expect me to forgive you so easily. You might have at least told me you weren't coming."


Sano walked down a wide street in Azabu Prefecture, looking up at the houses in search of the Gerrards' Japan residence. He checked the invitation again, just to be sure. He'd heard that the Gerrards were rich, but he hadn't expected this. He felt like he'd been walking nearly an hour, and he hadn't gone past more than five lots, he guessed.

Finally he came up to a large wrought-iron gate, flanked on each end by thick marble pillars, each with a shiny bronze plaque that declared the mansion within to be the Gerrard home. A white granite single-room guard house sat in the middle of the entrance lane, perhaps ten meters or so from the gate. A uniformed security guard leaned over a microphone, and an intercom on one of the marble pillars blared to life. "Gerrard residence. Please state your business."

Sano walked up to the intercom, which blared again as the security guard added helpfully, "Press the button to speak." Sano did so. "My name is Sano Seiichiro," he said loudly and clearly. "I'm here for the birthday party of Rinko."

A rustling sound emanated from the intercom as the security guard rifled through some papers, apparently a list of guests. After a moment he said, "Sir, you are on the guest list. However, I'm afraid I can't let you in."

Sano frowned. "Why?"

"Sir, you haven't followed the dress code. I'm sorry, but my instructions are very clear."

"Dress code?" Sano asked, bewildered.

"Yes, sir. On the invitation, sir."

Nonplussed, Sano took his invitation out again. This time he examined every inch of it carefully. Finally, on the third page, in small font, he saw the English words: Please come in Victorian masquerade or formal Western attire.

Sano looked down at his best kimono and then at the gates, which remained implacably closed. He shrugged and walked off – he was obviously not getting in through there.

Still, a mere wall and tight-assed security guard could hardly keep out Sano Seiichiro. He moseyed nonchalantly down the street, and, turning a corner, estimated where he would have to be in order to get past the view of the security guard. He paced towards the right spot and then turned several towels to grappling-hooks, scaling the wall in moments.

He figured his kimono wasn't too bad, and he could always tie on a spare towel for a mask. It didn't take very long for him to get his bearings. There was noise and light coming from the opposite direction of the gate. He forged quickly towards the house.

And stopped, not twenty meters from its doors.

He had already seen that it was a big house, and, from the looks of the long buffet tables and various small tented gazebos scattered along the garden, a very big party. Still, there was nobody outside, and he could only have supposed that they were all inside, so that was where he was headed. Because he wasn't sure that other servants wouldn't try to throw him out, he had gone around the mansion looking for a window where he could see Rinko and perhaps wave to her; if she let him in, nobody would be able to throw him out, dress code or no.

He had succeeded in seeing her. He had not managed to call her attention. He had, in fact, not managed to do anything but stare.


"You were wearing an empress-cut gown, in soft gold, and had this little crown," Sano told Rinko softly. "You looked like a princess."

Rinko blushed but sniffed. "Ai-chan told you."

"You were dancing with an old man with hair the same color as yours, only with silver at the temples," Sano added. "You were talking with him."

"My father," Rinko sniffed again. "That Ai-chan! She tells you stories but doesn't get the characters straight!"

"You danced with a whole lot of guys, in a row. I remember Ueki, and Robert, and Kilnorton, and that person – your father – again," Sano continued. "Then you stopped and ran outside. I nearly called out, but you looked so upset I figured I couldn't just barge in."


She had danced with one guy after another, her eighteen roses, the eighteen men who had earned the most important places in her heart within her lifetime. It had been difficult to fill the spaces, because Rinko had not really made a lot of friends until after the God Battles. According to Western tradition her first dance went to her father, and of course she had reserved dances for Robert, who was her first boyfriend; Ueki, whom she considered a close personal friend; and Edward, whom she was, in a way, friends-with-benefits with. She had let her parents choose the rest of her dance partners – cousins, children of Gerrard business allies, scions of families they might someday ally with – with one exception: the last, and most important, dance.

The eighteenth rose: traditionally, the dance reserved for the man the debutante thought most highly of, the one she held dearest and loved the most.

There was really only one guy for the dance. He was, after all, the person she considered her equal and closest friend, the one who knew her best, the one she respected the most, whom she would die for and whom she would trust with her life on the battlefield. He was different from Robert, from Ueki, from Edward, from her father. He was only himself.

But as she looked around as the seventeenth dance ended, she could see that he still hadn't arrived.

So she had gone to the master of ceremonies and told him not to announce the name of the eighteenth rose as listed in the programme he held. Instead, she said, call out for her father.

The master of ceremonies had done so, and it was touching to see the surprise and joy in her father's face when she gave him the last dance. "First and last man in my life," she had teased him, and he had looked at her with such fond affection as he replied, "Of course – you're still Daddy's little girl." She couldn't help but respond to the love she felt from him, so she gave him a hug and finished the dance. When the music ended, however, she signaled a break to the master of ceremonies and ran outside while he entertained the crowd.

Sano, you stupid, stupid jerk, she had thought, blinking back angry tears.


Sano was surprised when Rinko suddenly punched him. "What the - ?"

"The last dance was supposed to be yours, you dumbass," she muttered darkly, punching him again. "But you didn't show and I had to improvise at the last minute. You ruined my evening."

Sano's surprise turned to upset. He hadn't thought it was so important. Wasn't it just a party? "I – I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't know."

"You never do!" she hissed.

She raised her fist again and tried to hit him, but he caught her hand easily. She didn't struggle. Instead, she began to cry.

Like many men, Sano was uncomfortable with women crying. Especially this one. He was too used to seeing her strong, and he hated seeing her hurt, especially knowing that it was his fault, even though he wasn't quite sure how. He cast about for a way to make her feel better, but he could only think of one thing. "Look," he said, "I know it's not quite the time, but if it's not too late, then - can I have this dance?"

Rinko did, indeed stop crying. She stared at him balefully, as if she wasn't sure if he was making fun of her or not, and therefore whether or not she ought to skewer him. Sano gave her a weak smile. "I'm already holding your hand," he said, raising her fist, which he had caught by the wrist. "So, all we have to do is…"

He placed one hand on her waist, like he had seen her partners do during the party he had not managed to attend. Then, because it felt right to him to do so, he pulled her a little bit closer, so that hardly a hand-span was between their bodies. They'd been closer before, among other things squeezed together in a tiny bathroom cubicle in battle, and she'd been flat on his back while he carried her to safety, but even without touching this somehow seemed more intimate. His smile faltered and disappeared. He found himself blushing, even more so when he discovered that she was blushing too.

"Y… you're not supposed to hold my wrist so tightly," Rinko stammered. "I – I mean, if you want to… to dance."

He tried to smile at her, to reassure her, but he found it difficult somehow. He released his grip on her wrist. She allowed her hand to settle into his, where it rested, comfortably, in the hollow of his palm. She had very soft hands, although he could feel scars here and there from misfires of her bead-bombs, very different from his own work-toughened skin. Since this had been his idea he tried to lead, but to tell the truth, he wasn't well-versed in Western dancing. He had hardly taken one step when he faltered. "There's no music," he excused himself weakly.

"You're not listening hard enough," Rinko replied softly, smiling at him now.

Indeed, now that she mentioned it, Sano could almost hear music, unless he was humming to himself. It suddenly seemed easier to move (Rinko was leading). And they managed to dance together very well.

(to be continued)

A/N: Now we learn what the invitation in Chapter 1 is about. ^_^ Incidentally, I might write something on that party, or at least a party involving Rinko, and a few other well-known rich kids… But not for this fic. Again, reviews and suggestions are welcome! I've planned out the next two chapters, but who knows...?