Hey all, if you haven't checked out "Dinner at Takano's" by the lovely and spicy Tentai t., I encourage you to do so and to leave her a review. I'll admit, I am proud of her, since it is her first fic and pleased she let me play editor with it a bit. Anyway it is a great three-shot: humorous, romantic, and has a hot Nostalgia lemon in it. Also my sweet cyber-uke,The Black Flamingo 101, has a great new Romantica three-shot started called "Air Suzuki-san" that's really fun also.
If you do read these, send a review too. It's the season for giving after all. And reviews are the fuel that keep us FF writers going.
Sekai ichi "Cat" sukoi
Chapter Forty-Three: Cloudburst
Despite how productive Ijuuin's workroom had been that Saturday, Yuu had been having trouble keeping both his eyes and his mind on his work. His gaze drifted once more over to Hisashi. The hybrid's blond head was studiously bent over the panels before him; his woolly ears, perked forward in concentration, flickering only occasionally.
But this wasn't what kept drawing Yuu's eyes to the neko: the Araki's thick bangs were now held back by two plain barrettes Mitsuki had lent him. After an hour of patiently fighting against his overlong curls, Hisashi had tired enough of continually pushing them back to even allow Mitsuki to put the barrettes in for him.
A smile twitched the corner of Yuu's mouth as he recalled Mitsuki's hesitant offer and Hisashi's quiet acceptance of the clips. The young woman's glow at having the chance to gently finger Hisashi's soft, blond curls had been all but blinding.
In that moment, Yuka's and even the allergic Ritsuka's envy had been palpable, but Yuu was very proud of his team. Both Yuka and Ritsuka had refrained from swarming Hisashi. And although it had obviously been very difficult for Mitsuki, she had only allowed herself one extra pet of Hisashi's pale head after efficiently fastening in the clips.
Hisashi too had continued to amaze Yuu. He had given Mitsuki a true, if timid, smile before returning to his work. Not only that, but Yuu had never seen someone so quickly master a new style. They had now been working for about three hours and Ijuuin had been so pleased with the hybrid's drawings, Hisashi was already drafting on actual panels.
If Aoi's not careful, she'll come back on Monday and find herself out of a job.
Yuu's smiled faded as he caught Hisashi shift in his chair and a grimace flicker across the blond neko's serious face.
Shit, I got so caught up in our work I forgot how long we've been sitting here. Hisashi's back must be killing him by now.
It took some effort for Hisashi to pull himself out of the world of the page, but after a moment, Yuu's fiery gaze was met by a pair of cautious, slate-blue orbs. Hisashi's ears swiveled back in question.
"What do you say we take an early lunch? I'll go to the vending machines and get us a few things… Besides, you could probably do with another coffee, or at least some tea."
A faint blush colored Hisashi's cheeks at the fact Yuu had already figured out his addiction to coffee. He'd started drinking it when he was ten, sneaking sips from Renaka's cups. He found that rather than revving him up, somehow the caffeinated brew soothed him.
Before he and Atsushi had been released from his breeder, he'd had a habit of drinking more than a pot a day, and his first shot that morning at the diner had set this old addiction roaring back to life.
Hisashi's ears hesitantly lifted at the thought of another cup and at the mention of lunch. They flattened however, when Yuu's suggestion brought unexpected cries of protest from the rest of the crew.
"Yuu-san!" Yuka sounded scandalized. "You can't go feeding Araki-chan vending machine food! Didn't you pack a lunch for him?"
Yuu's brow creased. He supposed Yuka was right, in his compromised state, Hisashi should be getting solid nutrition, but he was no cook and he almost always ate lunch from the machines himself.
"We had to leave in kind of a hurry this morning." Yuu didn't want his teammates to know of his lapse in good neko care.
We're going to definitely need to stop for groceries on the way home.
"I have some extra in my lunch today," Ritsuka offered.
"Me too!" Mitsuki beamed. "Let's have a picnic in the lounge!"
Yuka looked chagrined. "Hisashi can't come into our lounge.
"Stupid, company policies," she muttered under her breath.
"Well, then we can have it on the floor in here!" Mitsuki had become immediately invested in the notion of a picnic with the adorable blond as the guest of honor and was not to be dissuaded. She cast hopeful eyes over in Ijuuin's direction.
"Can we, Sensei?"
Hisashi's blush had deepened tenfold. "Please, don't trouble yourselves on my account. I'm sure whatever Yuu gets me will be fine."
"Am I invited?" As much as he loved food, Ijuuin hated cooking himself and he had long been envious of the home-cooked bentos brought to work by Mitsuki and Ritsuka.
"Of course!" the fangirl trio sang out in unison.
"I have some pastries I picked up this morning we can have too!" Yuka wasn't much for cooking herself, but she did have a bent for much higher quality consumables than Yuu did and felt compelled to contribute something as well.
Ijuuin's face pulled into a smile, despite how tired he felt. The energy that the Araki had seemed to bring to the room was morale boosting, his own included. He was greatly pleased Yuu had brought the neko with him to the studio.
"Well then, a picnic it is."
Yuka, Mitsuki, and Ritsuka rose from their seats and headed off to gather their lunch things.
"Aoi will be so jealous she missed out on this," Mitsuki giggled as they disappeared out the door.
"Serves her right for skipping out," Ritsuka sniffed.
When the ladies were gone, Ijuuin sighed and stretched. His dark eyes scanned all the pages on his desk. He called over to Yuu, "you know, with all the work done today and Araki-chan joining the crew, we might actually get this promotion finished early."
Yuu was hard pressed not to grin at the thought of Hisashi becoming a permanent member of Ijuuin's team.
I'd better talk to Kirishima-san about that before we head out today.
He looked over and noted that even Hisashi seemed mildly pleased by the praise, though the neko was working hard to act as if he hadn't heard.
Yuu's pleased expression slipped when a familiar face suddenly appeared in the open doorframe. The man standing there frowned. "Where's, Yoshida-kun?"
It took a bit of effort for Yuu to respond politely. The man in the door, Tsutakawa, was the editor for another big Marukawa manga artist, Katzutaka Hiromi. Tsutakawa was a coarse fellow with no tact and always, it seemed, having issues with his artists. What's more, he had no problems with tapping Ijuuin's team for help, often disrupting them at inconvenient times.
"Aoi-kun's gone today, Tsutakawa-san."
The frown on Tsutakawa's face deepened. "But I need help. Katzutaka-sensei has a deadline today. She's come into Marukawa in person to finish the project and she's having trouble with this panel. It's vital we get this resolved."
With a sigh Yuu stepped over to look at the page held in Tsutakawa's hands. He'd never been a big fan of Katzutaka's style. "What's the problem, Tsutakawa-san?"
It wasn't that Yuu couldn't tell what was wrong; it was more like he could see so many issues with the panels he didn't know which was the most pressing.
"She says it's the heroine's hands," Tsutakawa moaned. "That's why I was looking for Yoshida-kun."
Hisashi stood up slowly from the table trying hard to hide how stiff he'd become. He looked over at the two men and lightly cleared his throat. "Ummm, excuse me please, but perhaps I could help?"
Tsutakawa looked up from the page he held seeing Hisashi for the first time. He snorted. "And who are you, Neko-chan?"
He glanced from Hisashi back to Yuu. "When did you start using hybrids? I thought The Kan was a quality manga." Tsutakawa shifted his eyes back to the curly neko with flattened ears before him.
Hisashi had dropped his head at Tsutakawa's harsh words; even so, the editor continued to sneer at him. "I doubt very seriously you could be of any assistance."
Yuu felt his chest tighten with rage at Tsutakawa's unfair assessment, his mind flashed on all the pages of beautifully rendered hands and feet in Hisashi's sketchbooks. His anger grew when he looked over and saw Hisashi standing there: the blond neko was trembling, tail in hand, head bowed. Yuu understood what Tsutakawa's sharp tones might trigger in the hybrid, and what courage it must have taken for Hisashi to even speak up in the first place.
"I bet Hisashi could help you, Tsutakawa-san, better than Aoi-kun even. You shouldn't be so quick to judge!"
Tsutakawa's dark eyes widened in surprise at Yuu's rebuke; they grew wider still, when the redhead snatched the page from his hands and carried it over to Hisashi.
"Please forgive, Tsutakawa-san's rudeness, Hisashi. He's an idiot. But would you please take a look at this panel anyways?"
Hisashi raised his head, his blue eyes wide with discomfort. The last thing he wanted was to cause Yuu problems at his place of work. He glanced over at Tsutakawa who stood, glaring now, at both of them from the door.
I have to fix this so Yuu-san doesn't get into trouble.
He took the page from Yuu with shaky hands and stepped back to his spot at the station. It only took him a few seconds to see what was wrong.
"Ah, this isn't so hard to remedy."
Once again, like before, the moment he had the page to focus on, Hisashi's manner transformed. He picked up an eraser and made a few swipes then grabbed his pencil and confidently laid down some marks.
Still shocked by Yuu's impertinence, it took Tsutakawa a bit to realize that the neko was altering Katzutaka's panels. When it dawned on him, however, what Hisashi was doing, he dashed into the studio.
"What the hell! Don't…!"
Before he could finish, Hisashi lifted the page and held it out to him. Tsutakawa stopped short and his eyes popped. He reached out and took the page carefully from between Hisashi's bony fingers.
"What did you do to it? That's… That's amazing!"
Hisashi's blue eyes met those of the awestruck editor evenly. "It was quite simple really: your manga ka had the thumb on the wrong side of one of the hands."
Tsutakawa stared at Hisashi with a look of wonderment and then back to the panel in question. "But that's not the only thing you did. Right?" He held the page out and pointed to the corrected image.
"I mean, this looks incredible."
Pale cheeks grew pink at the words and Hisashi dropped his head for a moment. Then he stepped over beside Tsutakawa and pointed to some of his marks. "I'm sorry to say this, but Katzutaka-sensei's fingers here were a little awkward too and also, this arm wasn't quite right. But I fixed them."
"Indeed you did," Tsutakawa's voice had not lost its amazed tone.
Ijuuin had watched the whole exchange from his table but now he stood up and stepped over. He laid a gentle hand on Hisashi's shoulder. Yuu was the only one who caught Hisashi's wince at the touch.
"The Kan is a quality story, Tsutakawa-san, even if I do say so myself." The manga ka's dark eyes were stormy. "And Araki-kun here is very accomplished; he studied for years under Rurouri Renaka."
Tsutakawa's mouth dropped open at this information, and at the sudden appearance of The Kan's author. He'd been so caught up in his own artist's drama; he hadn't realized Ijuuin was there. The editor dropped his hands to his sides, still holding the page, and offered the manga ka a deep bow from his waist.
"Please, forgive me, Sensei. Of course, you're right. I meant you no disrespect. I am sorry to have spoken as I did. I have always been a great admirer of your work."
Ijuuin was hard pressed not to roll his eyes at these words. He grunted his assent, letting Tsutakawa know he accepted his petition, but that the man was not off the hook for his rudeness.
"I think that I am not the only one deserving of an apology here, Tsutakawa-kun."
Tsutakawa had straightened and turned immediately to Yuu. "Ah, yes, Yanase-kun… I am sorry for intruding and speaking so harshly."
Tsutakawa looked back at Ijuuin with concern. Ijuuin stared back shaking his head. "I appreciate your apologizing to Yuu-kun, but he wasn't the furson I meant."
The expression of chagrin on Tsutakawa's face deepened. He glanced uncomfortably at Hisashi. Though it was painful, Hisashi had remained still under Ijuuin's hand. His ears were flat, but quivered with the tension of the situation, his eyes fixed on a spot on the floor.
More so than his unease of having to endure a human forced to apologize to him, however, Hisashi was mortified that Ijuuin had brought Renaka's name up again, this time in front of Yuu.
What will Yuu think after he showed me her drawing last night and I didn't say anything?
"Ahem…" Tsutakawa cleared his throat and Hisashi looked up. "Er… It seems that Rurouri-sensei trained you well, Neko-chan."
Before Hisashi could say anything, Yuu jumped in. "His named is Araki, Araki Hisashi, Tsutakawa-san, and that hardly qualifies as an apology!"
Hisashi's eyes went wide at Yuu's words: what Tsutakawa had said was more than suitable in deference to his hybrid status. He was shocked when he looked back after feeling Ijuuin's hand leave his shoulder and saw the manga ka cross his arms over his chest and nod at Yuu's declaration.
Tsutakawa's dark eyes had likewise darted over, and he also saw Ijuuin's displeasure. His cheeks burned red with embarrassment, but he sucked a breath in through his teeth and bowed slightly to Hisashi.
"Ah, yes… Please forgive me, Araki-chan, for my earlier rudeness. I owe you a debt of gratitude for helping Katzutaka-sensei meet her deadline."
No sooner had Tsutakawa straightened from his bow, than a woman's harried voice called into the room.
"Tsutakawa-san! Oh, thank goodness I found you! I have another disaster!"
A middle-aged woman stepped into the room, bowing and apologizing to its occupants. Usually Katzutaka looked quite put together but today her appearance had that "end of the cycle" dishevelment. Even her usually impeccably coiffed hair looked frazzled.
She came over to the men and passed Tsutakawa a new page and took the other from her editor's hand. "Oh, my… This is perfect! Where's Yoshida-kun? I need to thank her and see if she can fix that one too."
Yuu offered the manga ka a slight bow. "Excuse me, Sensei, but Araki-kun fixed it. Aoi-kun is out today."
Katzutaka tipped her deadline-wild head and her eyes widened when Hisashi offered her a low bow.
"Aren't you a darling?!"
The three human males in the room all felt their eyes widen hearing an almost schoolgirl squee in the normally solemn artist's voice.
"Araki-chan, do you think you could help me with this one too? I always have had trouble with hands and when I'm rushed I turn into all thumbs!" Katzutaka lifted the page from Tsutakawa and moved over to Hisashi, setting the new page on the table before him.
Given her earlier mistake, Yuu thought Katzutaka's choice of words rather ironic.
Hisashi dipped his head. "I'll do my best, Sensei." Though in truth all the drama and being up for so long was suddenly weighing heavily on him and he was feeling very ill again. Even so, Hisashi studied the panel and, within just a few minutes, had this one resolved as well. He offered it to Katzutaka and tried not to flinch away when she reached out and gave a light pat to his curly head.
"Oh, Araki-chan, aren't you clever the clever neko?!"
Yuu frowned at the "pet" voice the manga ka was using, but remained silent. He could tell that Hisashi was struggling and wanted to get these people out of the studio and his ward resting before the hybrid collapsed.
"He trained with Rurouri-sensei," Tsutakawa offered, his tone ingratiating.
"And now you belong to Ijuuin-sensei?" Katszutaka's hand slipped down and caught Hisashi's sharp chin. She lifted his head up; her suddenly-bright eyes studied him appraisingly.
"No, Sensei, Araki-kun is staying with me."
The manga ka shifted her gaze over to Yuu. "I had heard about Rurouri-sensei's talented kittens years ago. Well, you have found quite an extraordinary pet then, haven't you, Yanase-kun.
"I don't suppose you'd ever lend him out?"
Yuu's eyes widened at the question.
"If not for work, than to stud maybe?
"Your Araki looks awfully thin, but his color is lovely and I have a surprisingly adept lady neko at home who assists me. She's of breeding age now and I imagine that combining their gifts, they might produce quite the protégé." Katzutaka's voice remained conversational, as though she were discussing the weather.
"I would pay you for his service of course."
She dropped her hand, allowing Hisashi's bright pink face to look away at last.
"N- no… Sensei." Yuu was appalled at the very notion and could tell by the way Hisashi's ears and tail were quivering that the neko was equally horrified by her suggestion.
"Too bad," Katzutaka sighed. "I hope you'll let me know if you change your mind."
The manga ka turned her eyes to Hisashi once more. "I imagine that Rurouri-sensei will be delighted to see how far one of her hybrids has advanced. Having a neko working for an artist of Ijuuin-sensei's caliber is quite a feat."
Ijuuin nodded his head at the implied compliment. "I heard she'll be visiting Marukawa soon. When is she coming again, Tsutakawa-kun?"
Tsutakawa puffed up importantly; even though he wasn't Renaka's normal editor he was handling her Tokyo productions at the moment while her regular editor was out on maternity leave. "She'll be here two days after Christmas."
Yuu watched as, at these words, Hisashi took a staggering step forward. He put out his lean arms and caught himself on the edge of the drafting table, working hard not to crumble to the floor.
"Oh, my!" Katzutaka stepped back and Tsutakawa protectively took her arm.
"Hisashi!" Yuu rushed over and pulled out a chair, he nudged it behind Hisashi's knees, urging his overtaxed ward to sit down.
Ijuuin looked on with concern. "Is he okay?"
There was no doubt in Yuu's mind that it was the mention of his first owner, Renaka, that had brought about the collapse, though he knew too that he should have been more careful with how much Hisashi worked in his condition as well. Still, to spare Hisashi's pride, he offered:
"He has some blood sugar issues. I'm sure he just needs a little food and he'll be fine."
Once he was sure Hisashi had settled into the chair, he looked up at the other three humans. "I'll go get him a sweet tea and see what's taking the rest of the team so long with lunch."
Katzutaka stepped back, the blond neko now looked quite unwell and she worried that perhaps Hisashi had some feline-hybrid illness. The artist was suddenly glad that Yanase had declined her impulsive request to have Hisashi sire her any more neko assistants.
"Yes, well, thank you, Yanase-kun, for loaning us your neko for these panels. It really was a tremendous help, but we have a deadline to meet. Right, Tsutakawa-san?" The manga ka now wanted to get out of the room as soon as possible. In truth, her pet, Midori, was responsible for the majority of her figures and she couldn't risk her help getting ill if the Araki had something contagious.
After a hasty good bye, Tsutakawa accompanied his author out the door. Ijuuin followed after, the usually self-absorbed artist making the surprising offer to go get the sweet tea for Hisashi.
As soon as they were gone, Hisashi folded over. He tucked his curly head down between his knees: the last few minutes had sent him spinning into a panic attack and he was fighting to breathe. Yuu knelt down in front of him and set a hand gently on one of the hybrid's knobby knees. He could feel Hisashi trembling. After a few minutes of silence, the wooly head lifted. Hisashi's ears were flat. His large blue eyes filled with tears.
"Yuu-san, I'm so sorry." Hisashi fought to bite back the sobs that threatened to spill out of his slender throat. He had wanted so much to prove himself worthy, but it was all just too much.
Yuu didn't say anything for a moment; he just slowly lifted his other hand and lightly cupped Hisashi's jaw. He brushed his thumb over his ward's tear-stained cheek.
"No, Hisashi, I'm sorry. I should have known better." He shook his head sadly. "I shouldn't have exposed you to so much so soon."
Hisashi bit his trembling lower lip. There was so much he wanted to say, but the words escaped him. He dropped his eyes and whispered, "R-Renaka-san."
Tipping his cinnamon head down until their foreheads touched, Yuu murmured soothingly, "Don't think about that now, Hisashi. We can talk about that later, at home. Okay?"
Not for the first time that day, Hisashi was touched by his foster owner's kindness. He nodded brokenly and wiped his eyes, trying hard to regain his composure. He pulled back slightly and stared into Yuu's burning gaze. Their faces were still so close they were almost touching.
Yuu now swept his thumb over Hisashi's full bottom lip. He leaned in.
"OH SWEET KAMI-SAMA!" CRASH! "SQUEEEEEEE!"
Yuka was standing in the studio doorway with her eyes popped large enough to be mistaken for a tree frog. Ritsuka had dropped her bento box, sending it crashing to the floor and its contents flying. Mitsuki stood just inside the doorway, the hand she held over her mouth doing very little to stifle her fangirl squee.
The commotion of the three artists coming unexpectedly upon their team leader, just a breath away from kissing his foster-hybrid was profound.
Yuu started and jumped up to his feet. Hisashi started too, unfortunately, seated as he was, his sudden movement caused the chair he was sitting in to rock backwards and he found himself unable to separate himself fast enough. Neko and chair went over together and crashed to the linoleum.
Hisashi let out a cry as his abused back hit the floor. The pain was profound and new tears filled his eyes. He curled into himself and covered his head with his arms not wanting anyone to see his weakness.
The three ladies quickly scurried over. They were shocked into silence as Hisashi's protective layers had ridden up on his torso in his fall and they were given a glimpse at, not only how truly thin the hybrid was, but also some of the damage that wrapped around Hisashi's lean back to his heaving sides.
Before they regained their voices, Yuu was there and gathered Hisashi to him, smoothing sweatshirts and undershirts back down, despite the fact that this new and sudden shifting caused Hisashi to groan in discomfort. Hisashi's pale hands grabbed the front of his foster owner's shirt and he pressed his face against it: it was the only place he could hide at that moment.
He was horribly embarrassed to be seen by Ijuuin's crew in his present state.
Yuu pulled one of Hisashi's hoods up, over the tumbled blond head, covering the trembling flat ears and blocking Hisashi's tears from view. He knew even more so than the rest of the artists, the true extent of Hisashi's wounds and understood that the blond neko must be in terrible pain after that jolt.
"Oh Yuu-san! We're so sorry… We just…" Ritsuka stood there blushing furiously, her hands gesturing frantically.
"It was so unexpected, I just never…" Yuka's own usually neutral cheeks were also pink. Her eyes still bulged and her mind raced as, in addition to the poor Araki neko, she recalled all her years of ribbing Yuu about his supposed hetro dalliances.
"Is Araki-chan going to be okay?" Misuki's voice was filled with concern, her eyes glistened with tears.
Carefully, Yuu helped Hisashi rise, while keeping the silently sobbing neko clasped to him. His expression was dark with worry.
"I am going to take Hisashi to the hybrid lounge and look him over. But I think he might need to rest there for a bit. He's been a little unwell lately and already put in more work today than perhaps maybe he should have."
"Okay, Hisashi?" Yuu whispered his question in to the folds of Hisashi's hood. After a moment he felt the head inside nod weakly against him.
"Mitsuki-kun, would you help me by carrying my bag? I have some things that might help Hisashi there." Yuu had packed some of his foster's meds before leaving that morning and was sure that Hisashi was going to need something both to relax him and for his pain.
"Of course, Yuu-san." Mitsuki darted around the table to get Yuu's work bag from beside his chair. "I'll bring my bento too, in case Hisashi feels up to eating something a little later." Her mind was already planning a huge gift basket in her head to give to Yuu to help him fatten up his ward.
Yuu helped Hisashi shift, so the hybrid was beside him. Hisashi still used Yuu to support himself and he kept his hooded head down, his face hidden. His fall-traumatized tail was down and curled tightly around one of his skinny thighs. Yuu tightened his arm around Hisashi's shoulders in a brief and gentle squeeze of reassurance.
A quiet hiccup could be heard from within Hisashi's hood. The fabric fluttered where the hybrid's ears lay underneath.
"Come on, Hisashi; let's get you fixed up, eh?" Yuu's voice was far more cheerful and carefree than he felt. Without a word, Hisashi began to limp alongside Yuu as the young seme led him out of the office. Yuu was careful to guide the hooded hybrid around Ritsuka's spilled lunch.
Mitsuki followed closely behind.
As soon as Yuu, Hisashi, and Mitsuki were gone, Yuka and Ritsuka immediately began to clean up the spilled bento.
After a brief period of silence, Ritsuka looked up from the spilled rice she'd swept into a pile. "Yuka, did you see…?"
Yuka looked up sharply from the sauce she was wiping up with a toner towel. "Hush, Ri!" She said the words with just enough sharpness to let Ritsuka know that what Hisashi had obviously been through at Takemoto's was something they were not going to be talking about… Ever.
"Poor Hisashi," both girls sighed in unison, under their breath.
A few minutes later, Ijuuin ambled back in with an open can of sweet tea in one hand and an unopened can of the same in the other. His dark brow rose in question seeing the scattered bento.
"What happened to our picnic?"
Yuka stood, holding a handful of soiled toner towels. "Cancelled on account of an unexpected storm, Sensei. Sorry."
Ijuuin's brow creased as he watched the young woman carry the stained paper to the trash and throw it away before dragging the waste-can over to Ritsuka to dump the rest of the ruined meal into it. While Yuka's words made little sense to him, the atmosphere in his studio had definitely shifted into a much grayer state.
He thought about asking where Yuu and the Araki had disappeared to, but then he saw the undamaged plate of baked goods Yuka had brought in sitting on his team's table.
He swallowed the last of his open can of sweet tea and tossed it into the recycling. He then popped the tab on the unopened can he still held, moved over to the table and grabbed a couple of the pastries before heading back to his own station to wait out the unexpected change in his studio's weather.
As always, thank you for reading. Sorry this took so long but it was hard to bring to a stopping point. Egoist is next and after that a flashback for Ritsu with some sweet Nostalgia Minimum sexy times. Heh.
Thank you my dear readers for the feedback, favorites and follows.