"The number you are calling is—"
At the sound of the monotone voice, Osamu quickly pressed the end call button and folded his cellphone.
Sighing inwardly, he shoved his cell into his pocket and chose to enjoy the ride to the hotel in silence.
Life had been busy in these last few weeks, he mused while letting his elbow rest against the car's window. Osamu had thought that his life as a pro duelist would mainly consist of dueling, but he had been wrong. Well, the guess had been right in the first few months of his initation, but after rising up in rank and winning several tournaments, everything had gradually changed. Attending formal parties and duel ceremonies, opening grand tournaments as a guest duelist, being interviewed on a daily routine, and going to one place after another to promote dueling were on his unofficial job description now.
He glanced at the scenery to admire the city lights from the high way. Deciding that he would need a refreshment, he proceeded to open the window and let the wind caress his face, blowing his chesnut hair. If felt nice and cold against his skin. The weather was getting colder since it was already autumn in this region, and Osamu wondered if he could make it back to the city again before winter.
Schedules had been very harsh on him lately, but since he had been assigned to the very place where Asuka was, he hadn't complained about it. What bothered him was the wait. He had to practically become an obedient dog for half a year until his rank and reputation had risen—finally bearing fruits for the league who had sponcored him. One year of waiting had been like ages for his part.
"We've almost arrived, sir," the driver who had been assigned to him called out from the front seat.
He straightened and massaged stiff muscles. "Already?"
"You were dozing off again, I presume?" he lightly asked. The driver, a fat middle-aged man with a short gray hair named Stahn, was a warm, friendly soul. He greatly reminded Osamu of a certain headmaster. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like they're drilling you like crazy lately. How long have you slept yesterday?"
"About three or four hours," he replied, already fighting down a yawn at the mention of the word 'sleep.'
Stahn shook his head empathetically. He, after all, was among the few people Osamu had gotten close to outside work and business. "I'm sure you don't need me to tell this to you, but health is important in a career like yours. You don't want to faint during an interview or fall during formal occassions, do you?"
The young duelist heaved a sigh. Must everyone comment on his health? He'd been told that he looked like a zombie by his assistants earlier this day, and certainly, he did not need a reminder. "I know, I know... I'll try to rest as soon as I get back."
"You'd better do, or you'll have panda-eyes by tomorrow. Just rest and enjoy the night for now."
Osamu raised a questioning brow at his last remark, but the driver simply shrugged it off and chuckled to himself. The sedan stopped in front of the hotel's front door and Osamu got out after thanking the ever-smiling man.
One privilege of being a pro duelist with a renowned sponsor supporting—or rather, enslaving—you is only the accomodation they provided you with. He entered the large building and stopped at the luxurious lobby to scan the people there. Asuka was nowhere to be seen. He had given her the number of his room and a copy of his identification code in case they couldn't meet as they had planned before.
Maybe she was unable to come, he guessed. Her college, he knew from their occassional talk via mails and phone, tended to shower their first and second year students with assignments before finally screening them individually for tournaments. It wasn't very typical for a duel college to have such a curriculum, but it could at least boast of their success by producing capable duelists year after year.
Taking the elevator straight to the tenth floor, he tried to reach Asuka once again. And once again he tried, once again he had to be dissapointed. Her cell seemed to be off, or maybe she was just in an unreachable area.
The elevator arrived with a 'ding', and he stepped out with a tired mind. Everything could wait, then, he thought as he made his way to his room, after he had a nice, undistrubed sleep. He could try to contact her again tomorrow morning. After all, he still had five more days in the city—though today was the only Saturday they were going to get. Producing a card key from his pokcet, he swiped it onto the device to his door and it clicked open.
He entered the suite room and walking straight to the kitchen, ready to grab for anything stored in his refrigerator—gods, even a cold water would be welcome, his throat felt so sore as tiredness invaded his mind. But before his feet carried him further, he stopped in his tracks and realized something was amiss.
The lights and the room warmer were on. And he still held the card.
Supposedly, he had to enter the card into a mini-device to turn on the electricity. Was there another card...? Before he could turn around to inspect the device at the front door, a pair of arms seized his waist from behind, almost making him jump in shock.
"What the—" he gasped as some weight on his back forced him to stumble forward and fell to the large cushion on the carpet.
But then a soft, familiar giggle broke, and it was then he realized who it was.
"Asuka," he breathed. Her arms loosened to let him turn to face her.
It was her, all right. An automatic smile was etched on Osamu's face the moment he saw her face.
They had, of course, informally 'met' through video calls numerous of times, and Osamu had been sure that she had not changed at all. But looking at her in flesh changed the thought, as he assessed her features and realized how one year had slightly matured her in appearance. Her hair was still kept in the same haircut, only it was a bit longer and has soft curls that hadn't been there before. She was wearing a white tight-fitting tank top and shorts that exposed her feminine curves and long legs perfectly.
He hadn't fallen for her because of her looks—if anything, he'd counted them as a bonus—but as a man, he couldn't help but to admire them every time he had the chance.
"You almost gave me a heart attack," he said finally as he shifted to give her some space on the cushion.
Asuka laughed—the sound high and naturally rythmed, instantly relieving Osamu of his fatigue. "That was your greeting after one year?" she playfully asked.
He leant in response, one hand cupping her cheek, and brushed her lips softly with his. His skin flared into electrical awareness at the slide of her lips on his, and the intention of keeping the lip contact brief faded away when a familiar sensation he had forgotten since their last moment together began to grow inside him.
Osamu pulled her back on instinct so she lay on top of him, making her long brown hair fell down on him, brushing his face slightly. He could smell the fresh scent of her shampoo and lillac in her parfume. His sore muscles were long forgotten then—reminding him of how long they had been apart. He kissed her neck, then back to her mouth, feeling a bit lost in the scent of her. Her hands slid around his neck beneath his jacket, a prickling sensation against his bare skin, to ensure that they didn't have to break free as she fell on his side.
And then what had begun so gently took its own life: he could hear her sigh softly into him as they were pressed to one another; they tasted each other deeply with an eagerness fueled by craving and longing as if testing the edge of their passion.
Osamu wondered, for a brief moment, if heat and electricity should always follow each time their skin touch whenever they were sharing a moment like these. Their kisses were deep and urgent, yet familiar all at once.
After a while, they both pulled back, just a few centimeters apart. Colors had risen up to her cheeks when she looked at him, her pupils dilating. Her breaths warmed his face with each draw.
They just lie there for some minutes, with their eyes focused on each other without feeling the need to communicate with words. Such was something he had been fond of sharing with her: silences. Osamu blinked slowly, with his hand still settled on her waist, and admired how the lights fell and reflected on her fair skin and brown hair, creating shades of golden.
Then the hand that was resting behind his ear moved to brush his cheek gently. "Ten points for me for sneaking up on you," she said, smiling.
Osamu snorted a laugh. "I didn't know we were keeping scores. How did you get inside?"
Her smile widened as it turned into a playful one. She drew herself closer to press her mouth gently into his before getting up. She went into the kitchen. Osamu sat up.
"I simply gave your room number and ID, and then called a certain someone to identify myself to the management."
Stahn. She must've called him to speak with the hotel's front desk to ensure that she was the very person whom she'd identified herself as. The driver's last remark, which was filled with jovial hints, resounded in Osamu's mind. He shook his head, laughing as he took off his jacket and tossed it to the sofa's armrest, then rested his back against it. Asuka had never ceased to amuse him. And this was the first time she'd pulled some trick on him.
She came back with two cans of soda, and she gave one to him before settling to sit by his side, resting her body easily against his. Osamu opened the can with one hand and took a gulp, silently grateful that he finally got the chance to wet his dry throat. He emptied it slowly and placed the can on the table at his side. Asuka, who was watching him, then chose the moment to voice her concern: "You look restless."
"Things have been quite busy in these past two weeks," he admitted. "There are some important events chained in a row. I even thought I should demand a salary increase next month."
She gave away a faint sympathetic smile as she took a sip. "You should rest while you have the chance. You don't have work tomorrow, right?"
"No." He paused, then amended the statement. "Not yet."
"I checked what's in your fridge, you know," she said, a warning in her tone. "You should eat more than just bread and canned meat."
Osamu winced. He had long lost his apetite over a healthy diet after he'd found out what kind of nightmare his shcedule could become, which led him into a pretty bad style of life by merely having a proper meal twice or thrice a week. Frozen and canned food fell into choice as he preferred an extra minute of sleeping over spending his precious time in the kitchen to cook. "Maybe I would—once things have calmed down a bit."
"Hey, is it that hard to buy some fresh meal after work?"
He had sometimes asked Stahn to buy him cooked meal from vendors or restaurants, but after his fatigue had trigerred his allergic to some types of food, he stopped. He was wise enough not to inform her of that and simply nodded in reply. "All right. I'll do it next time. So, how are things in the college?" he asked, trying to change the subject before she could dig about his unhealthy lifestyle any further. "Still flooded by papers and tests?"
"Yes," she sighed. "But since I'll be in my second year by next month, they'll die out eventually and change into deck building and dueling curriculum instead. I just have to survive until then."
She shook her head, a faint smile of self-satiscation curled her lips. "I'm quite enjoying it, actually. The air of competition is thicker here, and I guess I kinda like it. It makes me feel challanged," she shrugged.
There was nothing wrong with the college; it was just the curriculums at the Duel Academy had been too easy for her, he thought.
"Do you know that we've been given an assignment to build a deck against yours?"
"What?" he said, genuinely taken aback by the information.
She laughed at his expression. "I see someone is not used being a celebrity yet."
"I always, always hate seeing my face on the media," he muttered under his breath, scowling. And were people supposed to be happy to see a large poster that had their face zoomed in every corner? Man, he could never understand their common sense.
Asuka put her soda aside and touched his cheek, an amused look etched on her face. "Get used to it, then. Have more confidence in yourself."
"It's easy to have confidence in a duel. But outside the duel field, no. Unlike you, I'm not used at being pried on without my duel disk equipped."
"You're not comfortable with me looking closely at you?"
He eyed her, growing alarmed by the glitter in her eyes. "Since when do you find teasing me to be an entertainment?"
Asuka threw a playful smirk and leaned back into him. "A new hobby, you can say."
Somehow, he couldn't help but to think that she'd picked the traits from him. He would, in normal situations, counter them by playing along. But his mind was too tired for that right now, and he meant it when he'd said that he hated to see himself on the media.
"So, I conclude that everything's going well?"
"It is tiring, but I think it's paid off. I've learned many things in just a few months," she added after pausing. "Most of the students there are also skilled duelists, so I can learn much even when I'm not in class."
"Which means you've made the right choice, then."
Asuka's eyes became distant at the remark. She had had a hard time deciding over her future when they had only been a few days from graduation day. He recalled how troubled she had been during those days, so he chose to break the thick air of nostalgia. "Let me call Stahn to buy some food," he said as he rose to his feet.
It was then he realized that Asuka had been right: he was restless. His steps were heavy and his head became foggy. His personal agenda had dictated him to hit the bed as soon as he'd gotten into his room, but it had been neglected due to a pleasant surprise waiting for him there.
Realizing this, Asuka grabbed his arm in mid-tracks, fixing him a look, her brow slightly tauted in concern. "You really should rest, Osamu. It doesn't take a doctor to tell that you've not slept much in these last few days."
This. Again. Osamu tried to open his mouth to reply, but she was quicker. "Don't let me make you uncomfortable," she softly said. But when he didn't comply, she shot him a sharp look. "Do I have to drag you to your room?"
At that, he gave up and breathed deeply. He'd forgotten that Asuka could be very intimidating if she wanted to. And even if he'd wanted to resist, he didn't have the strength to debate. "Fine," he said as he squeezed his eyes shut. Diziness took over then, followed by a heavy feeling of drowsiness.
They made a way to the bedroom, and once there, he didn't bother to think nor did anything but to throw himself onto the mattress. Asuka sat at the edge. He could spot tenderness glowing in the hazel orbs despite the minimum lighting in the room.
"You drove me to bed like a child," he said, keeping his tone serious, "now I demand a bedtime story."
"A spoiled child, I'd say," she grinned while shoving her hair behind a shoulder as she leant closer. "And what makes you think I would comply?"
He eased himself into a more comfortable position and closed his eyes, thankful for the calming darkness. "A spoiled child always gets what he wants."
She laughed a little, but decided to play along nontheless. "Once upon a time, there lived a young knight..."
"In shining armour?"
She looked thoughtful for a moment. "Not anywhere near shiny, since he rarely checked up his own equipments—not to mention he had never cared of what he wore either."
"Hey, we have fashion designers in the league. They pick the clothes for every duelist on stage."
"That, and he was also very stubborn and witty, not to mention sarcastic and light-headed," she continued, as if not hearing his complaints. "One day, when he was out on a patrolling duty in the borderline, he got himself hurt by falling from his horse."
He opened one eye to look at her, skeptical. "And how could a trained knight fall off from his horse?"
"Ah. I forgot to add that he was also a sleepy-head."
He grunted at that. "I guess it was then our good-for-nothing knight was found by a passing young woman—who happened to be a princess from a neighboring kingdom."
Asuka lifted one shoulder casually, accepting the 'princess' spice into the storyline. "The princess, out of good will to help the wounded knight, then brought him to her castle and introduced him to the fair king ruling the kingdom."
"And I assume the princess had a secret agenda behind her noble action?"
She laughed then faked a frown. "True enough. Well, you see, her kingdom was caught up in a turmoil against another kingdom, whose lord seek to conquer her father's. One thing that had caught her attention was the knight's sword, which seemed to be refined and cared for. From the simple observation, she deduced that the knight might be of an astute fencer."
At the point, it was clear what the story would be like. Osamu smiled to himself in the darkness.
Asuka hadn't been interested in him except for his dueling skills at first, he knew, and eversince she'd lost a duel against him and Judai, she had been practically running after him on every possible occassion in order to seize either him or Judai as a sparring opponent—and much later on, as a Tag Duel partner. They had argued a lot during their first season as duel partners, with each commenting on the other's flaws and style of dueling. It hadn't been for long though, since a series of events had come up.
Dreadful as they might have been, Osamu was secretly thankful for them. Because it had been at those times that he'd gotten to understand dueling better, and looked at her in a different light.
"The knight chose to help defend the kingdom from the evil lord, even managed to get the king's son to return to the kingdom after being imprisoned by the enemy for years." She paused, glancing down at Osamu as if expecting him to throw in some comments. To which he did.
"Why do I get a feeling that you would hook me at the end of the tale?" His hand trailed up to skim on her hair. He said, "So, then the princess fell for the knight?"
Her smile grew as she moved closer and placed a kiss on his forehead that lingered for a moment before replying, "That is to be saved for the next session."
"Now rest," she ordered as she settled into a sitting position beside him, leaning her back against the wall. Long fingers ran through his short hair.
Osamu breathed in slowly, feeling his muscles and brain complying to the order right away. He closed his eyes while savouring her warmth and the light scent of her parfume. They were relaxing him, and he was thankful for her company; She was a soothing presence in the darkness.
A faint feeling of appreciation twitched the corners of his lips at the thought. The next second, he could feel the darkness looming around him taking over his sight and consciousness, shifting the balance of reality and dream.
Perhaps for once, he would be able to sleep soundly.
~ xx 0 xx ~
A/N : Finally, the Epilogue I promised. I hope I was able to end the story well. (Critiques and comments are always welcome!)
I humbly thank you guys for reviewing and supporting me on this fiction. Truly, you guys are my source of energy and motivation! *bear hugs all my viewers and reviewers one by one*
I'm wondering to write a sequel to this one, but only if the idea has supporters.