Chapter 7

The Dance and the Choice

Time passed slowly in the silence that followed.

Night had fallen. But the world around Asuka consisted only of a strong pair of arms wrapped around her, steady rhythm of Osamu's heart, the sound of waves crashing against the harbor, and the gentle breeze that swept her hair lightly. She didn't want to open her eyes or move from her comfortable position. Everything felt right and peaceful. And also kind of beautiful.

But reality was not going to be meek for too long. Time rolled on, and she knew she had to be apart with him after tomorrow's graduation ceremony. If she had been more honest with him and her own self, could this moment last longer? Probably.

She moved slowly from his chest without releasing her grip on his arm and stared into his dark eyes. They glowed red against the dim light in the dark. "We should go now," she said quietly. The party would start soon, and everyone would notice if she weren't present. How she despised her status as an unofficial duel madonna of the campus sometimes.

Osamu nodded, then smiled a little. "You're not really in the mood for it," he stated casually, brushing his fingers against her cheek.

Always reading her emotions as if they were naked in her face. She smiled back at him, aware of the heat rising up at his touch. "Too bad my mood and opinion don't count."

"Very selfless," he teased.

"You know I'm not."

"And neither am I." He leant forward to plant a soft kiss on her lips—which was too brief for her to return—before getting up to his feet. He hauled her up in one swift motion. "We'd better go now or you'd have to go to the ball with that uniform."

Asuka only smiled in return and tried not to speak. Words often failed her in situations like these, and she didn't want to ruin the moment. They walked hand in hand and climbed the stairs wordlessly. When they'd reached the higher ground where the road forked, Osamu released her hand and gestured towards the looming building some distance away. The dorm of Silfer Red was not far from where they were Asuka could already see the shadow of it. "I'll be going now. We'll meet at the main gate, then," he said. "I hope I still have something appropriate to wear."

Asuka chuckled at his remark. It was not a joke or a fake concern: Osamu had always been a casual dresser. His fair height and good looks were often concealed by plain clothing and a hat, making him almost unnoticeable most of the time. Even she wouldn't have been so conscious of his proportionate features if they hadn't spent the evening pressed against each other.

"I honestly don't really care if you planned to go like this," she said lightly. Wearing uniforms in a dance party was acceptable for male students—in fact, many Obelisk boys would. It was a different story for the girls, though. "You look just fine," she shrugged.

He grinned. "Yeah. But I guess I'm getting tired of wearing red all the time. And perhaps I could say the same to you."

"What do you mean?"

Osamu was already walking toward his dorm. "White suits you," he said with a faint smile. He didn't stop in his tracks and disappeared at a corner.

~ xx 0 xx ~

Asuka had hurriedly walked to her dorm. Despite the regret of admitting her feelings late, she couldn't ease the smile plastered on her face. She never knew that having a quiet moment with a man could elate her like this.

Going straight to her room, she quickly bolted to the bathroom. But before she turned the shower on and tossed her white Obelisk uniform, she slowly brought it closer to her face and inhaled. His scent was there. Smiling to herself, she quickly took a shower.

After she'd dried herself with a towel, she opened her dresser to look for a formal dress to wear. She didn't have many—there wasn't really a need in bringing many dresses when you were living in an isolated island—but enough for her to stand idly for a few minutes with her hands skimming past the fabric.

What should she wear? It was going to be a dance party, so it had to be something that was easy to move in, she decided. Her choice fell on two garments: the first one was a short, navy blue dress with sleeves that reached her elbows, and the other was an identical pair of the first. Only it was white and had no sleeves.

She chose the second one.

Never in her life she dressed to please only one person instead to put up a good show. It felt a bit awkward and silly at first, but she didn't try to dismiss the thought when all she could think about was their shared moment at the port. So in the next twenty minutes, Asuka busied herself to prepare for the party: putting on a silver bracelet from her father, a matching neackle, and chose a pair of heeled pumps of the same color. If it was going to be her last moment with Osamu, she would want it to be memorable for the both of them.

"Asuka-san," a voice called from the hallway. "Are you ready?" It sounded like Junko.

"We'll all be going in five minutes," said Momoe.

"Yes, just a minute." She threw one last glance at the mirror and breathed deeply. Her heart began to hammer again as she unconsciously recalled the feeling when his skin had come in contact with hers. Calm down, she said to herself. Be reasonable and act like a woman your age. You're not a teen anymore.

She opened the door and saw Junko and Momoe standing in front of her. They both looked lovely in their own way: Junko had chosen a light pink dress, while Momoe was wearing a shorter pale blue one. Both of the girls looked at her wide-eyed from head to toe she almost squirmed under their gaze. "W-what is it?"

"You look gorgeous," breathed Momoe in awe.

Junko slowly nodded in agreement, her jaw dropping an inch, eyes assessing Asuka's features closely. "Yeah... I never thought you'd wear something so..." She trailed off, not finding the right word, it seemed.

"Bold," her friend put in.

"Bold," she agreed.

Asuka's cheeks got hotter at their comments. She wasn't sure if she should be embarrassed or flattered. It was true, however, that the dress had left her back bare, not to mention that one end of the hem was shorter while the other side reached her knee. The fabric and conture of the dress exposed her upper body's curves in a tight fit.

"I..." She cleared her throat in an attempt to regain her composure. She could only hope her face didn't give away anything about her and Osamu. "Is there anything wrong in trying to look good for the last time in my school days?"

Junko grinned widely. "Absolutely not! You look very beautiful I'm sure all the boys would drool over you!"

"Stop it, idiot!" snapped Momoe with the same grin. "You're going to make her cheeks burn redder."

"But it's true!" said Junko. "Whoever gets to dance with you is a lucky guy indeed."

"I just hope he won't get a nosebleed or start to undress you in the middle of the dance," Momoe chirped.

"Both of you, please," Asuka sighed. She desperately tried to dismiss a vivid imagination of their fantasy, and succeeded only partially. "We should hurry or the others will leave without us."

The two laughed as they descended to the ground floor where every Obelisk girl had assembled. Asuka offered a polite, yet bashful smile to each every one of them as they praised her looks.

They all walked in groups to the campus ground after the dorm leader told them that it was time. Momoe and Junko were busy discussing what Fubuki would wear while the others were chatting lightly among themselves: 'Who's your partner?' 'How do you see me with this dress?' and so on. Asuka stayed on some brief conversations although her mind was elsewhere. How Osamu would react upon her sight, she wondered. Would he praise her? Swallowing, she dismissed all thoughts of the endless possibilities and focused on the road instead.

After walking for a few minutes, they arrived at the main gate. Some boys were already there, either chatting or merely waiting patiently for their partners to arrive. As she'd guessed, around half of the Obelisk boys didn't bother to change. Their uniform symbolized their pride of being an Obelisk. Their reaction, though, was just as Junko and Momoe had predicted: most of the eyes fell on her upon their arrival. She tried her best to ignore all of them.

The girls around her scattered, each meeting their partners while some others heading straight to the main building. Asuka's eyes darted from one side to another to look for Osamu. He was nowhere to be seen. Was he late? What could be keeping him—

"Searching for someone?"

The familiar voice almost made her jump. She turned round to see Osamu standing just a few paces away from her.

He was wearing a simple black suit with a buttoned white shirt under it. A matching dark jeans and a pair of black shoes. He looked casual and nonchalant with his hands buried in his pockets, but something about him was definitely striking, especially when compared to his usual appearance with the red uniform on.

He looked taller in stature and more confident in black; more masculine, more elegant.

Charming, even.

"Do you need to scare me like that?" she asked, trying to control her heart's fastening rhythm.

He lifted a shoulder. "It's a new hobby I find to be amusing." He walked closer to her and grabbed her by the waist, his eyes moved for a brief roam over her feature. Then, he smiled. "'Told you white looks good on you."

Asuka fought the strong urge to look away from him. Osamu chuckled, perhaps from reading her expression, and leant closer to whisper to her ear: "You're beautiful."

How she wished they were alone. So, rather than following her impulse and instinct telling her to pull his face against hers, she turned on her heels and motioned toward the campus building with a slight movement of her head. "We came to dance, didn't we? Let's get in, then."

"Yes, madam," he playfully replied.

She slipped a hand on his left arm and they both walked over to the dance hall.

Osamu was silent as usual, though by the faint smile he had on his face she could clearly tell that he was in a pleasant mood. It was rare for him to show his emotion so openly like that. But it infected her nonetheless, as a smile quickly curled up on her lips. Their moments together were usually filled with discussions over Tag Duel strategies or small talks if not comfortable silences, and very recently, with deliberate movements of their bodies and lips. But she had never thought, even once, of having him as a partner for any formal occasions.

It felt as if their relationship had been made official. And she rather liked it.

The pair got into the vast room decorated with rich golden linens and red carpet. The chandelier was glowing brightly, showering the interior with its shimmering light. People had already filled the room by the time they'd arrived. Three main colors that usually filled the island had now multiplied into dozens of different ones.

Asuka noticed that some girls had stolen a look at them as they passed by—at Osamu, to be precise—and whispered among themselves, their expressions colored with disbelief and awe. No wonder, she thought. No one would even consider the tall young man to be attractive while he was wearing a Silfer jacket and a hat that covered almost half of his face. The change must be shocking for them as it had been for her.

Some of the boys in the room, on the other hand, threw him murderous looks. Well, that was, if looks could kill. But since they couldn't, Osamu simply walked away, unfazed by their intense glares.

"Do you want to drink?" he asked.

"Yes, please."

"I'll be back in a moment." He slipped his arm free from hers and walked over to a nearby table.

Asuka was about to look for familiar faces when about ten of Obelisk boys came to her. She blinked in surprise. "May I help you all?"

"Tenjouin-san," one of them started, "it's fine to tell us if you're threatened or being blackmailed, you know."

"Huh?" was all she could respond to the sudden remark.

Another one added, "Yeah. If you were being forced by that Silfer to be his partner, you could've just told us."

"Wait," a shorter student said. Judging by his appearance and huge glasses hanging loosely over his nose, he was a nerd. "It's rude to offer help without knowing what is truly happening. So, please tell us, Tenjouin-san, are you, in any way, being forced to attend this party as that Silfer's partner?"

"Or," the first student wondered aloud, "had that low-ranked student cheated you in a duel?"

Realization slowly dawned to Asuka as the Obelisks started to voice their concern and speculations. She was about to retort when Osamu came back with two glasses of juice. He immediately received cold, piercing glares from the small group that had half-circled around Asuka.

"What is this?" he asked, bewildered. "Is something wrong?"

"No," she quickly said, slipping her hand to his arm once again and dragged him away from the glaring Obelisks. After they were paces away, she weaved a sigh and shook her head.

Osamu offered the drink to her while his eyes still glancing sideways at the crowd. "What happened?" he asked without looking at her.

"Nothing." She took a sip of her drink, feeling tired all of a sudden. "You shouldn't concern yourself with them."

"All right..."

Asuka grabbed his arm to draw his attention back to her. She mustered a smile. "The dance will start soon. Should we move to the center now?" she said softly.

"Let's go."

The music started the moment they made their way to the dance floor, filling the room with slow, alluring melodies. Boys and girls began to pair up while others who chose not to dance or did not have a partner stood at both sides of the room and enjoyed the drinks.

Osamu and Asuka faced up against each other. He took one of her hands in his while the other settled on her lower back. The sensation that was similar to electricity coursed through her skin once again, reminding her that she really needed to get used to his touch as fast as possible before her departure. There was no need to be bashful or anxious around him anymore now the smoke had already been cleared.

Every other couples had started to dance, and so had Osamu and Asuka. She let the music and his steady movement lead her when her eyes fell on the group of Obelisks that had approached her a moment before. They were standing near a large window at one side of the room, looking at them with tauted brows and angry scowls. She threw a glance to another side and spotted similar expressions written on some of the partnerless Obelisk boys' faces.

That Silfer.

Low-ranked student.

As she bitterly recalled the names they threw on Osamu, she felt a sudden surge of anger flowing through her veins. She disliked them. Why did they still bother to discriminate people based on the color of their uniforms on a day like this? If they really were true duelists, than they should know they couldn't measure people's capabilities by ranks alone. She remembered how some of them had commented sarcastically on his dueling skills. The Obelisk pride seemed to have corrupt some of them.


She snapped her head back to look up at him. "Yes?"

"Are you feeling unwell?"

"I-I'm all right." She tried to relax and inhaled. "Osamu... Aren't you... uncomfortable being called names and looked down upon?"

His brows lifted slightly. "Hmm? What's with the sudden interrogation?"

"I just want to know."

"No," he answered almost right away. "People can think and do whatever they want. They won't affect my performance on a duel anyway."

The logic suited him. And hers, sometimes. But this time, it was different. She couldn't help but becoming angry and uncomfortable at the unfair treatment he had to receive—more so when she seemed to be the cause of it. She felt guilty for all of this.

"Hey, are you sure you're all right?" he asked, clearly concerned by now. "You look a bit pale."

When they turned around in a slow motion, Asuka grasped the looks on the boys' faces again and anger bubbled up in her belly once again. She really hated them. She hated the looks in their eyes and her mind yelled out for herself to turn the table and fix things.

Then almost immediately, she pulled Osamu's head with one hand and pressed his lips against hers. She closed her eyes as soon as their lips made the slightest contact.

She could feel his breath being held in a gasp as their mouths collided and his body stopped moving, halting the dance.

Seconds seemed to pass like hours, then. Some shocked murmurs from people around her, as well as gasps and squeals, were audible. And they spread like wild fire across the room. Osamu was about to break free from the lip-lock, realizing that they'd drawn people's attention, but the arm that curved on the back of his neck didn't let him.

Asuka didn't pay any attention to the crowd anymore. Every sense she had felt then was being reduced into the single feeling of wanting on her lips. She'd been scared of this unknown feeling before. Scared of what she truly wanted, and at another side of herself that seemed to always scream for his scent and touch.

But now, she didn't have to feel that way: She knew what she wanted. She knew what she yearned for. And it was within her grasp. This time, she didn't have to deceive herself or conceal her feelings.

Slowly, she tilted her head to allow her to kiss him better, her other hand moved to pull him closer by the waist, closing the gap between their bodies. Osamu was still unmoving at first; he was probably taken aback by her sudden advance and tight grip. But when her bottom lip softly assessed his chin in a light tug, he bent his head and returned the kiss with his hands wrapped around her. His fingertips were cold against her bare skin it almost sent shiver to her spine.

The room went completely silent as the murmurs and chatters died down. Even without opening her eyes, she knew everyone was looking at them.

For a split second, embarrassment overflowed her mind. Never she imagined she would kiss a man in front of this many people! More so in the school! But when the voices of the boys calling Osamu names rang in her head, she discarded every ounce of embarrassment and shyness that had attacked her and let her mouth dig deeper into his, shutting everything except for his presence and the ecstatic feeling that were on the way to claim her mind and body.

Let them watch, she said to herself.

A sensation that felt familiar, yet oddly foreign at the same time, was beginning to conquer her. She didn't resist it this time, and threw both arms over his shoulders to the back of his head, breaking the slow pace, sighing almost impatiently as they parted to gasp for air. She pressed his head down with her hands for kisses that seemed to be more urgent and insistent. She could feel him making a deep rumbling sound that resembled a growl.

She felt out of control, yet not wanting herself to stop.

Asuka realized that none of the bystanders should not be able to look at their faces by now, given how tightly she'd clutched onto him. She could feel Osamu's hair brushed against her face as he followed her pace and dropped the weight of his head down to hers.

After what seemed to be minutes, she finally withdrew her mouth from his, only a few inches away, while her hands stayed on both sides of his head to keep his forehead glued to hers. Her face should be red like hell, she thought, judging from the heat escalating to her cheeks, while Osamu was breathless. She noted that colors had risen up to his face as well. His expression remained solid, though, when he looked at her.

Cheers and loud noises of people clapping thundered through the hall. They were mainly from the girls. She risked a glance at the Obelisk boys and was satisfied to see the look on their faces. Her action, then, must had hit them hard. Just as she'd intended.

"King and Queen of the Prom!" shouted a student.

"Encore! Encore! Encore!" the crowd were beaming while clapping.

She could hear her name being chanted gleefully by the girls. The two, apparently, had successfully stolen the spotlight tonight. Adrenaline coursed through her veins, making her unable to brush off the smile on her face. Asuka had never felt this kind of sensation without her duel disk and the holographic field on.

"Quite an uproar you've made," Osamu said. His breath, warm on her face, was filled with the scent of mint and musk.

She looked back at him, keenly aware of their proximity. The crowd was beginning to get louder. "I have never been a crowd pleaser," she admitted.

"Another similarity we share. But don't you think it's a bit rude to ignore them now?"

Asuka couldn't help but grin as he recognized the look in his eyes. Osamu was not smiling at all, but it was obvious he also felt what she felt. So, in one motion, they tightened their arms around each other and locked their lips together. Firmer and more confidently this time.

The effect on the crowd was almost immediate. They shouted and cheered, hollered and cried in excitement.

She never knew doing what the crowd demanded would be so self-pleasing. Their cheers, to which she'd associated with her opponents' losing moment or her own, was now pumping her blood. Being a madonna, then, was not so bad at all.

She pulled away from Osamu a moment later. While laughing to herself, she grabbed his hand and jogged out of the room, leaving the roaring crowds behind her. He was laughing, too, she realized, and it was the first time it sounded so carefree, high and pure.

Cold air blew on their faces soon after they were out of the building. They made a stop at the empty back yard and panted heavily, hands on knees.

After their laughter had ceased, they both straightened up and that was when Asuka realized that Osamu's hair was tousled. From the run, obviously, but also from the kiss that'd escalated in heat. She felt her cheeks burn hotter. She had let impulse and her own desires to claim her senses, making her unable to think before taking action.

"Now I demand answer: What was that for?" asked Osamu, still trying breathe normally.

Asuka filled her lungs with refreshing air and exhaled. Adrenaline rush stilled the smile on her lips. "A payback."

"Care to explain?"

Smile faded from her face. "I hate the way the treat you," she said while looking away. Her voice was hard. "They even asked me if I were forced to be your partner for the dance or if you had cheated on a duel against me."

Osamu opened his mouth to say something but decided against the idea and closed it. He sighed instead. A rueful smile was etched on his face.

"Was I wrong?" she asked reluctantly.

"They'd probably try to poison my breakfast tomorrow."

Oh. "Sorry..." She hadn't thought of the possibility her action would bring; only that she'd wanted to shut them up for once.

"Jealously is no simple matter, you see." One his hand moved to his hip as he relaxed. "Put yourself in their shoes for a change. Let's try an example: What would you do if you saw your crush kissing another woman in public?"

The thought of someone else kissing Osamu nauseated her it was as if she'd been kicked in the stomach. Asuka quickly dismissed the image away and dropped her gaze to the grassy ground, mumbling a low "I'm sorry."

He moved her chin upward. A corner of his lips quirked upward into a wry smile, his eyes were glittering with amusement. He leant closer, his face only some centimeters apart from hers. "But I guess you did show them an undeniable proof of my innocence."

Asuka gave a shaky laugh, her arms moved almost automatically to his shoulders. "Hopefully so."

Both of them were startled when a figure came to them, clapping. It turned out to be the Chancellor. They quickly separated themselves from each other and bowed their heads slightly to respect his presence.

"Ahh, that was an interesting show," the fat middle-aged man said in glee. "It's been a while since I last saw a crowd cheered like that outside a duel arena. Wait, I'm not interrupting the continuation, am I?" When the two were searching for words, he quickly added, "Don't worry. I'm going to leave as soon as I get what I've come to."

"May we ask what business you have with us, Sir?" asked Asuka politely. Deep down, she was afraid that they were going to be reprimanded for her brash action.

The Chancellor's eyes twinkled as his smile broadened. "Be at ease, Asuka Tenjouin, I'm not going to scold you or anything. I was kinda moved, actually." He laughed at his own joke, his hand wiping away a tear that wasn't there. Then again, maybe he'd been sincere with his words. Asuka couldn't say. It was, after all, the Chancellor. "And yes, I do have a business with the young lad here."

Osamu was characteristically silent; his face became serious.

"Have you considered of the options I've given to you?" the big man asked. His voice and eyes, although warm and kind, had this gravity of a man who was used to be in control.

Asuka threw her gaze at Osamu. Choice...? Could it be that Osamu had received some invitations too?

"I have," he replied after a moment of silence.

"Good! Mind to tell me of your choice?"

He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them, they were determined. "I choose to enter the league."