I was inspired to write this story after reading "Secrets" by kazenostigmafan4ever.
It's All About The Money
"Hey, this is what I'm paid for, Princess."
Kazuma had that smirk on his face when he said it, too. It was the last straw for Ayano.
It had been a long day. The youma they'd been chasing all morning was a lot tougher than it had looked. On top of that, Ayaon had let her concentration lax and Kazuma had to save her from being drowned. She hated water youma. In short, it had been a horrible day all around.
And when she was so gracious as to thank him for his assistance, Kazuma had the nerve to bring that subject up again. Money. It really upset her to know that Kazuma Yagami, the most powerful wind user she'd ever known, and someone she thought was her friend, was bought and paid for by her father to train her and be her bodyguard.
He expected to get paid for everything he did. It was so wrong! Why couldn't he do something just because it was the right thing? Why did he have to be so-mercenary? Didn't she mean anything to him?
She couldn't even stand to be around him anymore. Not right now. She needed to go home and cool down, so she began to stomp away."
"Where are you going, Ayano?"
"I'm going home! Goodbye!"
He watched her go. It was fun to tease the little redheaded minx, but there was more reason than that for his barbs. He had a lot more enemies than Ayano had. Everyone who'd gotten close to him in the past had been hurt or killed and he would leave Japan in a minute if he thought that might happen to Ayano. It was bad enough that he worked with her every day. That, all by itself, probably made her a target. He was selfish enough to realize that he didn't want to leave her. Ever. But, it just couldn't be that way. The best thing for Ayano, he decided, was for him to go away and never come back. He was beginning to think that the day for that to happen is coming very soon.
Talking to Jugo, he had hinted at possibly leaving some day, but her father had practically begged him to stay. Jugo still had dreams of bringing Kazuma back into the Kannagi family. And he was going to use Kazuma's feelings for Ayano to reel him back in. Kazuma couldn't allow that. He cared for Ayano too much to see her hurt because of him. If he was really going to be honest with himself, he'd admit that he couldn't bear the thought of what happened to Tsui-Ling happen to Ayano.
If Jugo had dreams of grandkids running around the family compound, it would have to be from someone other than him. Just thinking of Ayano with someone else made his heart stop. He knew it had to happen some day and when it did, Kazuma vowed he would be far away.
So, instead of kissing her or holding her like he wanted to, he teased her and made her angry enough to walk away from him. It hurt to do that, but what choice did he have? He walked towards his apartment, buried in his thoughts, as a light rain began to fall.
Jugo was sitting down to a nice cup of tea when Ayano barged in, closing the door firmly behind her. She was angry. So what else was new? She only got this upset over one person. As he calmly sipped his tea, he wondered what it was that she imagined Kazuma had done now? He knew he didn't really have to wonder because his daughter was certainly going to tell him. In detail. And loudly.
Ayano Kannagi was most certainly her late mother's daughter. They shared the same general appearance, red hair and slim figure, but more importantly, they shared the same temperament. It took her mother years to learn to control hers while Ayano was still learning. Jugo had hoped that Kazuma's laid back demeanor and his lessons would begin to rub off on the girl. There was noticeable improvement, but there was still a little ways to go.
He had to admit to himself that Ayano was no longer a girl, but a woman. Only when she let her temper get the best of her did she act like a child. Thankfully it didn't happen as often as it used to. Part of the reason was that she really was growing up. The other part, he was certain, was because of Kazuma. And yet, Kazuma was also the reason she sometimes reverted back into a young girl. It was very confusing.
"Father, I cannot work with that man anymore! I'm a grown woman and I don't need a bodyguard..."
"...I think you need to take my feelings..."
"...into account when you-"
"Sit down, Ayano!" He hated yelling, but when she was like this, it was the only way to get her to slow down and maybe even listen.
Ayano had the grace to be embarrassed at her behavior in front of her father. She blushed prettily and sat down in front of him and hung her head. Most of her anger drained from her face and her body relaxed.
"I'm sorry, father. I just get so mad."
"I know, dear, but you have to try to control this anger of yours. Anger is important for generating fire magic, but anger out of control is dangerous for you and everyone around you. As the next head of the Kannagi Clan, you must be able to control yourself."
She sighed, "Yes, Kazuma has lectured me on that more than once."
"That is part of the reason he is here, Ayano. To help you with that."
"He doesn't care about any of that, father. All he cares about is the money. Always talking about his getting paid to do this and that and I'm sick of it", she said bitterly. "Even when he saved my life, he charged us for that stupid elixir he gave me."
"So, you want him to do these things for you and not the money?"
"For me? No—I—he..." Tears glistened in her eyes as she tried to explain what she meant.
"You want him to care about you, is that it?"
He head bowed, she admitted in a small voice, "Yes. Is that so much to ask?"
Well, he got her to admit something, at least.
He had to admit to himself that he had ulterior motives in all of this. The Kannagi line must continue and to do that, Ayano would someday need to get married and have children. Kazuma had been cast out of the Kannagi clan for his lack of proficiency in fire magic, but has since become someone who, aside from the Spirit King of the Wind himself, many consider the most powerful wind magic user in the world. Bringing him back into the family by someday marrying Ayano would be perfect.
It wasn't as if there was no attraction between them. He had seen it, all of Ayano's friends had seen it. Even Kazuma had seen it, though for some frustrating reason he refused to act on it. The only one who remained seemingly clueless was Ayano herself. She knew it on an instinctive level, but would not acknowledge it. Should he try to force her to acknowledge it? None of his other matchmaking ideas seemed to work. Might as well give it a try.
"Alright, it's settled then." Jugo stood up as he said this.
"What is settled, father?"
"You are right, daughter. You are a grown woman now and have no need of a bodyguard or a partner. There are plenty of Kannagi relations that can help us with our cases, and then there's always Kirika and the special investigations unit to help also."
Ayano rose too. "Thank you, father, I-"
"And so, I'm letting Kazuma out of our contract. He can resume the life he led before he came back to Japan and you can have some peace of mind."
"What!" Her legs gave way and she plopped back down to the floor. The look of panic on her face was so endearing that Jugo wanted to laugh, but he kept his face and voice stern.
"This is what you are asking for, is it not? Frankly, I'm tired of you coming in here every other week and throwing a tantrum about Kazuma. Perhaps this is for the best, anyway. I may have been wrong to think that Kazuma could help you with your training and your control issues. It seems that maybe Kazuma is what's holding you back from your full potential."
"That's crazy, father! Kazuma has taught me a lot. I wouldn't be anywhere near as proficient with my magic if it wasn't for him!" Ayano managed to get to her feet again to face her father. She was angry again, but she was in control of herself. Jugo was very impressed.
"Crazy? Isn't this what you've been asking me to do?"
"No! I mean, yes-I". Her tears were back, but she wasn't even trying to hold them back now.
Now that the damn had broken on her emotions, Ayano was ready to speak rationally and Jugo could help her figure out what the problem really was.
"Let us sit down again, Ayano, and see if we can figure out what's really going on."
They sank down to the floor again, as Ayano wiped her eyes. She was staring at the floor again, but that was fine with Jugo. He knew that meant that she was ready to really talk.
"Now, what is it about this that is really bothering you?"
"It's like I said before, he keeps bringing up the money you pay him. He doesn't work with me because it's the right thing to do, he does it for the money. It's always the money." She sniffled and wiped her eyes again.
"You want him to work with you and teach you because he wants to. And because he cares for you, is that it?"
Still staring at the floor, she nodded. "Yes."
Now, Jugo really had a problem. How to tell her the truth without breaking confidence with Kazuma? While Ayano sat trying to collect herself again, Jugo thought the matter over. He and Kazuma never really had a spoken agreement about this, so telling Ayano wouldn't really be breaking his trust, now would it? His reasoning was a little thin, but he excused himself on the grounds that this was really about his daughter's happiness and not just about some contract. Besides, he and Kazuma had been lying to her since the beginning and it had to stop. Kazuma lied directly, but Jugo had lied by not correcting this sooner.
He got up from the floor and walked across the room. When he returned he was carrying a ledger. An accounting book that had "Kazuma Yagami" on the cover. He handed the book to Ayano.
"As the next head of the family, you should be knowledgable about our expenditures. This is the ledger we use to keep track of every payment to Kazuma."
She opened the book and began to go over the figures. Each case that Kazuma was hired for was on it along with notes on what service was rendered and what price was paid. She was a little shocked to note that the prices weren't as exorbitant as Kazuma had led her to believe.
More shocking was the fact that there was nothing noted in there involving 'bodyguard' or 'training' or 'elixir'. She also noted that the first entry should have been the case involving saving his brother Ren from the Fūga Clan, but there was no entry for it at all. She remembered how angry she was when he said he wanted to be paid for saving his own brother. How insulted she felt, even after her father had assured her that he asked for money only in order to save face.
But it wasn't true. Almost none of it was true. Sure, he got paid for working cases, but he was an investigator by trade and he did have to live, right? And he wasn't making the king's ransom he was always bragging to her about. He probably made some cash from Special Investigations too, but they didn't call him in all that often.
She thought that she should really be mad at him for lying to her all this time, but she just couldn't work up the anger this time. But, why? Why did he lie to her about this? He knew damn well that when he did mention the money, she flew off into a rage at him. He wanted her to get angry enough at him to leave. Why? And why did she feel so sad thinking about it?
Ayano closed the ledger and handed it back to her father with a tired "Thank you" and slowly rose to her feet again. The air seemed to go out of her. She felt empty.
"You aren't going to cancel Kazuma's contract, are you, father?"
"Only if you want me to, Ayano."
"No, please don't." She moved towards the door.
"Where are you going now?"
She stopped, but did not turn around. "I was going to see Kazuma and demand an explanation, but I think it would be better if I slept on it, first. I want to work some things out in my mind and I need to think carefully about what I want to say to him." She closed the door softly behind her as she left.
Well, either things are going to turn around for the better now or it's all over. Unfortunately, he had no idea which it would be. For the first time in her life, Jugo had no idea what she was thinking.
He stared at the door for a moment after Ayano had gone. There were tears in his eyes now.
"She really has grown up."
To be continued in Chapter 2.