Fall festival had come faster than anyone expected. Kazuma hadn't planned on going, but after the LM2 incident, he thought it'd be better than staying at home where he'd be tempted by his laptop. And even though she also wasn't one for public events, Yuri was actually looking forward to the fall festival. With the help of Kiyomi and Kazuma's aunts, he and Yuri were now completely prepared for the event.
On the day of the festival, Kazuma found himself wearing his dad's old blue kimono. He tried rolling up the sleeves, which earned a glare from his mother, so he waited to go into town to do so. Since she was still working on Yuri's hair and makeup, he decided to go ahead into town and wait for Yuri there at their usual meeting spot. Things had turned out so much better after the events that happened several weeks ago.
After Hatsusagi got rid of Love Machine 2.0 once and for all, OZ was momentarily shut down for repairs. The news about the new Love Machine hadn't spread and was completely avoided thanks to a certain pixie, but many blogs were posted about King Kazma's fight, the disappearance of famous fighter Usagi, and the shutdown of Hojo Corp. Akira and everyone involved in his vindictive scheme were charged and arrested for accounts of kidnapping, hacking, and copyright infringement because of the unauthorized publication of the OZ cheat book. Needless to say, Kazuma was happy. It didn't take long for the site to start up and running again, but Yuri was hesitant to go on. In support, Kazuma also suspended himself from OZ until Yuri was comfortable enough to go back on. To preoccupy her time, Yuri worked overtime at the bookstore, where Kazuma spent his time reading manga, which she didn't object to this time.
As for the OZ club, Tanya had decided to disband the group until further notice. The next day, she had declared a meeting for the O.Z., or the OZ Zentries, a security group Kenta Takeuchi had reinvented with the help of Hatoshi and Chika Kato. They defended the citizens of OZ much like the OZ Security Task Force, except each member was in charge of their own assigned section of OZ. Natsuki was made commissioner as part of an internship while Kenji worked with the geek squad, and Hatsusagi was nominated as her second, which Yuri was very hesitant about. "I still need to think about it." The group would not be announced to the public until her final answer. Everybody made a second vote in case her answer was no, and The Unknown was made Hatsusagi's standby. This won complaints from Jiro until everyone reminded him that his account was yet to recover—not to mention he didn't work well with, well, anyone—so he was left to gripe. King Kazma was also yet to be heard from, but everyone knew he wouldn't join unless Hatsusagi did.
Kazuma stood outside of Takumura's ice cream shop with a fan in his hand as he watched the people around him prepare for this tonight's events. Despite his lack of enthusiasm, he was (slightly) looking forward to the fall festival. If anything, it would take Yuri's mind off of having to worry about joining O.Z. or even going back on OZ at all, and they both needed a break from this tedious routine they went through every day.
Not that he minded doing these things with Yuri. He said he wouldn't let her out of his sight, and he kept to his word. But even his mom pointed out that they needed some boundaries. So a week after he started following Yuri to the bookstore, Kazuma started going off to do homework at Takumura's to wait for her instead of immediately going home. The ice cream shop was only two blocks away, so he wouldn't have to worry about anything happening to Yuri while they were both busy. Though they doubted anything like that would happen to them again, they continued to stay on their toes, scheduling extra time for Shaolin Kung fu practice. Kazuma was still furious about the Suits kidnapping her, but at least justice was served.
"Hey, Kazuma!" Natsuki passed him on the street accompanied by Kenji, who only waved. Kazuma nodded as they passed.
All this time away from OZ got him thinking, too. King Kazma had been a large part of his life from his early teens up to now. He'd gained a lot of confidence and friends thanks to the white rabbit, but he knew that he couldn't always depend on the avatar as time passed. It wasn't King Kazma who was there for Yuri in her time of need. It wasn't King Kazma who held her hand or embraced her or kissed her (even the thought of that was weird). No, it was him, and Yuri was always there to remind him. And life hadn't been so bad without OZ. Besides school, being with his family and friends was actually more relaxing than he thought. In fact, it was kind of, sort of, dare he say it… fun.
"Fancy seeing you here, Kazuma." Kazuma was surprised to find Kenta here, in a midnight blue kimono. Next to him was his assistant, but at the moment, she looked like anything but. Her kimono was mauve embroidered with autumn flowers, and her hair was pinned up with a morning glory clip. Kei stood on Kenta's right wearing a fancy collar decorated with flowers. "From what you've told me," Kenta said, "you aren't really into this sort of thing."
Kazuma shrugged. "I thought it would be nice if me and Yuri came, 'cause we're a couple and whatever…" He coughed awkwardly as he tried to keep the blush off his face. "And what about you? What are you doing here?"
"I grew up here. I've never missed any of the seasonal festivities of Ueda. Where is Yuri, by the way?"
"My mom's helping her get ready. I thought I'd wait here."
"It looks like you don't have to wait much longer," Kiko spoke up.
When Kazuma looked up, his eyes widened.
There she was. This time, she was walking without her bike for he knew she couldn't ride it wearing the morning glory yukata Natsuki had loaned her. Her bangs were pinned back with lilies and her white hair flowed elegantly just above her shoulders. His mom didn't get carried away with the makeup like he feared, only lightly dabbing her cheeks with fair pink blush and a bit of lip gloss to give her face some color. Kazuma could feel his own cheeks burning up.
"Well, we'll leave you with your date, Kazuma," Kenta said. He winked at him before turning with Kiko on his arm, and Kei barked a goodbye before she followed her master obediently.
When Yuri was finally next to him, she smiled. "H-How do I look?" she asked timidly. "I told your mom not to give me any makeup, but she insisted—"
Kazuma silenced her with a kiss. "Beautiful," he said when he pulled back. "You look beautiful. And I'm not just saying that. Trust me; I've never complimented anyone like that, not even my mom."
Yuri blushed, her face appearing like tomato. "Thanks. You look handsome, too."
Kazuma took Yuri's hand and began leading her into town. The lanterns guided the way into the festival, where many friends, families, and couples alike were already engaged in certain activities.
They got something to eat first before participating in any games and stuffed their faces in octopus and cotton candy. Later, the two went to the goldfish stand where they met up with the Yamaguchi twins. Jiro, being competitive and compulsive as Kazuma when it came to games, challenged him, where Kazuma won effortlessly, and he began showing off his skills at other games, making the blonde boy very irate. The next stand they found Tanya and Kenno, and the hikikomori couple couldn't help noticing how unusually close they were. At the next stand, they ran into Kiyomi, Chiyo, and Kazuma's father, who had come back into town the day before. Chiyo, who was now in the stubbornly independent stage of her toddler years, was crying because she hadn't been able to win a single game. Seeing the teary-eyed three-year-old, Yuri gladly gave Chiyo her goldfish, and the little girl happily accepted it before giving her a hug. The stands slowly became vacant as everyone left so they could get comfortable spots for the fireworks, which started off the beginning of fall.
Kazuma took Yuri to the back, the perfect view for the fireworks. Natsuki told him about the spot, having experience from her last date with Kenji. As soon as the fireworks started, everything suddenly became ironically blissful. Kazuma didn't see the fireworks or the other spectators or even hear them as they reacted in awe of the colorful spectacle before them. He only saw Yuri, her spellbound gaze and her awestricken gasps. And as his thoughts expanded, they only led back to her.
As soon as the fireworks were over, the crowd began to disperse and everyone headed home. However, Yuri had other plans. While there was still a crowd, Yuri took Kazuma's hand and began leading him in the other direction. Kazuma didn't recognize where they were, but the area seemed familiar for some reason and he couldn't stop the question from coming out:
"Where are we going?"
"Just wait," was her quick response, and she continued to pull him through the field.
Yuri let go of his hand when they finally reached the intended destination. "There it is." They stood in front of a traditional Western manor. Despite how old the wood looked and how dusty the place smelled, Kazuma was positively certain that he knew what this place was. He just needed to figure out when he knew this place.
They took off their shoes before going inside, and Kazuma whistled when he saw the interior. Outside it might've just looked like a dusty, old manor, but inside, it was a dojo that was in amazing shape. The walls were freshly whipped of dust, the paper on the doors was evidently replaced, and the wooden floors were recently polished. Someone was looking after it, and it didn't take him long to figure out that someone was Yuri.
"What do you think?" she asked, giddy written all over her face.
After looking around for a moment, Kazuma began to recall a certain memory from his childhood:
The vast dojo was filled with many people of different ages and sizes moving in unison as they copied their master's moves. He insisted on standing on the furthest end of the lower left corner even though he was the smallest, but he was strong and determined and just as talented as the oldest member of the class; it wouldn't take long for him to catch up. Doing just as his grandfather did, he suddenly caught something in his periphery. There she was, that small, white-haired, gray-eyed little girl who always hid in the doorway to watch them practice. Behind her was a woman whom she resembled greatly.
He stopped his exercises for a moment to look at the girl curiously. When she noticed his gaze, she hid further behind the door. The woman patted her head affectionately, urging her daughter not to shroud herself. Taking her mother's hand, the little girl smiled and followed her like a little duckling.
Before he realized it, the class was over, and the only ones in the room were himself, his grandfather, and the kung fu master. As his grandfather was talking with the master, the little girl and her mother came in to join them. When the girl saw him, she smiled again. This time, he waved at her. Seeing the woman and child, the master stopped talking to his grandfather and gave them a smile—the smile she inherited from him. Taking her hand, the master led the little girl over to him.
"Kazuma, I'd like you to meet my daughter…"
"Hm?" She turned to him, having wandered to the other side of the room without waiting for an answer from him.
"This is your father's dojo, the one Sensei told me about. This was your home… That's why you got a job, isn't it?"
Yuri nodded with a nostalgic look on her face. "Yes. Kenta told me no one had actually claimed this property, so anyone can buy it. There's a small manor attached behind it. The best part is that it's right next to the Jinnouchi manor. Once I have the money I'll finally be able to buy it back; I can take back my family's home." The smile left and Yuri became flustered. "N-Not that the Jinnouchi manor isn't enough! It's just that… you guys have done so much for me already. I didn't want everyone to have to worry about it. Kenta had offered to buy it for me, and I was afraid your family would do the same. I wanted the privilege of earning this dojo on my own, and when the time comes for me to tell everybody, I hope to already have the dojo back." Nostalgia was suddenly replaced with giddy once again as Yuri went on about her future plans for her father's dojo.
A million thoughts were going through Kazuma's head as his girlfriend prattled on in excitement. Part of him was really proud of Yuri for being so independent, that part of Yuri that he helped blossom and grow. Another of part of him, he couldn't even describe in words. At least, that was what he was telling himself. He'd had this feeling in his chest since the day Yuri came back, when she was safe in his arms again. From that day on, he became irrationally overprotective of her, reluctant to let her out of his sight in fear that the warm feeling would go away, but confident enough to know that she was never too far away. The worst part was… he knew what this feeling was.
"I love you."
Yuri stopped talking and turned slowly to Kazuma. His face was beet red. "W-What?"
"Don't make me repeat myself." Kazuma took a shuttering breath before he explained himself. "I didn't know how else to say it. I heard about people feeling this way all the time, but I always thought that stuff only happened in sappy movies. But now…"
"Keep going," she urged. Her face was also turning red, and a hand went to her chest as her heart beat rapidly.
"I know I've been acting weird lately. Every second of the day, I always want to be by your side, and at night… God, Yuri! Please don't make me say it!"
"Tell me." As she walked towards him, he could practically feel the swift pace of her heart matching his own. She had no idea what she was doing to him. "Tell me everything. I want to know."
He gulped, working up the courage to fully omit his feelings to her. "You've done the impossible. You took me away from OZ, and the weirdest part is I can live without." The dojo became silent for a moment, as if both of their hearts had stopped simultaneously from this astonishing information. Kazuma gazed into Yuri's eyes, and all of a sudden, he could breathe again. "I can't believe these words are coming out of my mouth, either, Yuri, but these past few months have been so wonderful. And then it got me thinking…"
"About what?" Yuri's eyes never looked so… wanton.
"… I started thinking about a future where no one has to worry about OZ, stupid online responsibilities, or when the next idiot releases Love Machine 3.0. Not to mention all these bogus MMA competitions. None of it is as satisfying as the real thing. Then you showed me your dad's dojo, and I saw more: a future with you." Kazuma groaned abruptly. "Yuri, please just shut me up before I—"
His wish was granted when Yuri kissed him. The kiss matched his own hunger, but not even the succulent, fruity taste of her lips was enough to satiate him. His tongue danced along her teeth, pleading for entry. Before she could give in, Yuri pulled back and leaned into his shoulder as she caught her breath. Kazuma rested his chin on her snowy-white head.
"I love you," she whispered.
Kazuma smiled, planting another kiss on her forehead. "I love you, too." Looking out the open door, Kazuma realized how late it was. "We better go home." He sensed Yuri's hesitance and, with a smirk, pulled her out of his embrace until only one arm was holding her shoulders. "We'll come back tomorrow first thing in the morning."
Kazuma looked at her when he didn't receive a response and saw her drifting off. Shaking his head, Kazuma slightly crouched so she could fall on his back, adjusted her arms around his neck before taking her legs, and, after grabbing their shoes, carried her out of the dojo.
It only took him ten minutes to walk home when he realized the Takane dojo was facing their family's garden. The whole manor was asleep, and Kazuma did his best to make sure no one knew he and Yuri were just getting back. Entering her room, Kazuma gently set Yuri on the bed before lying down next to her. "Goodnight, Yuri."
As he drifted off to sleep, Kazuma saw the dojo, and in front of it, his future.
Sappy ending, I know, but believe or not, this isn't the end of Summer Wars for me. I've been thinking about doing a future fic ONE-SHOT for this, but I'm sorry to say it'll be a while before it gets published.
Thanks to you all who stuck with me in the end! R&R!