***Final chapter . Thank you to all who have read this far and special thanks to those who have taken the time to comment. It means more than you know.
I didn't really edit this as hard as normal so I apologize for any inconsistencies.
It's All About The Money – Chapter 4
He got to Osaka's at 6:45. Just a little early. It gave him a little time to think but that probably wasn't good. He wondered if he should have declined her invitation to dinner. She obviously had something in mind other than food and he was afraid of what that something might be. Yet a part of him was excited too. He had to admit that any one-on-one time with Ayano outside of work always got his blood going.
She was beautiful, of course, and that could always rouse his interest, but there was more to it. Although she gave people the impression that she was just an excitable hot-head with too much power, he knew that there was more to her than that.
Ayano was intelligent. She was no airhead princess getting by on her good looks and daddy's money. She managed to learn quickly the lessons he taught. Well, learning control of her anger took a long time, but she made progress. There were only one or two things that could set her off and make her act on pure emotion instead of thinking things through. Strangely enough, those few things all had to do with him.
Well, that would be taken care of tonight. He resolved last night that he had to leave. He would go to America and work for the McDonald family for awhile. Catherine would be thrilled, he was sure. After a couple of months of her drama, he would move on to somewhere else.
If he didn't do it now, he would never be able to. He had to leave in order to set her free. Free to follow her destiny. To live and take her rightful place as head of the Kannagi family with a husband who could give her suitable heirs. Without the baggage of his past and his enemies getting in her way. The thought of her being with someone else made him angry. The thought of leaving her left him empty inside. No, he should definitely have declined her invitation to dinner.
A limousine pulled up to the curb. It was Ayano. Right on time. The driver got out and opened the door. The first thing he saw was a beatiful pair of legs and tiny feet touch down on the pavement. What he saw next almost landed him on the pavement.
She stood there for a second as if waiting for the applause. And, make no mistake, there should have been applause. She was stunning. A pale green dress that ended in a thin band of ruffles at her ankles and wrists. The contrast with her hair made her tresses look like they were on fire. To complete the outfit was a small ruby necklace on a thin chain. Her eyes sparkled. She carried herself with confidence, but not arrogance. There was nothing sexier than a woman who looked good and knew it.
All his 'noble' thoughts went right out of his head for a bit. Everything he wanted in life was in front of him. He tried for a casual attitude, but he couldn't do it. She was a vision in that dress. A vision that was walking towards him.
As soon as she saw his face she knew she had picked the perfect dress. It had fit her right off the rack with no alterations needed. Putting it on made her feel confident and sexy and happy. It as if it was made just for her. He was dazzled, just as she had hoped. His eyes had that stunned looked that she had dreamed about, and a hint of desire. Perfect.
She walked towards him slowly, seductively. She wanted this moment to last. To show the idiot exactly what he was trying to run away from. Ayano knew that she could not convince him to stay this easily, but it was a great start.
"Good evening, Kazuma. You looked great." And he did. She was thrilled to note that he had bought a new suit. A new suit for their date. He was trying to impress her too and it showed that this was important for him too. It was a suit of soft brown to match his hair and eyes and it made him look even more handsome than usual.
It took Kazuma a moment to snap out of his daze. "You look lovely, Ayano.", he said softly, still staring into her eyes. She was going to melt into a puddle right there on the sidewalk, she was certain. He crooked his arm and she placed her hand on it. They walked into the restaurant together. The first round of this fight went to Ayano, for sure.
The interior of Osaka's was as elegant as the exterior. Chandeliers tastefully dotted the ceiling over elegant tables and chairs and a soft, silky carpet of deep blue. They were led to their table by the maître d' and Kazuma held out Ayano's chair for her as they settled in and opened their menus.
The waiter soon arrived to take their drink orders. "A bottle of the house wine, please."
"And for the lady?" he turned towards Ayano.
"I'll have the same please. Just bring another glass."
"Very good, miss." He turned and left.
Kazuma had obviously forgotten that Ayano had recently turned twenty and could now drink. It was another subtle reminder to him that she was an adult now.
"What's so funny, Ayano?" She was hiding her face in the menu as she giggled. She was a woman now, but that didn't mean she had to be a stick-in-the-mud.
"I was waiting for you to say that you would be ordering the most expensive item on the menu. Just like I always do when you are the one paying the bill."
"I'll leave that kind of thing to you" he chuckled.
The waiter returned and poured their wine after Kazuma had inspected it. That reminded Ayano of how much he had traveled the world and that she had spent her whole life in Japan. She decided that she needed some worldly experience too, and that she would have to get out and see other places. And who better to guide her than Kazuma? The thought of traveling to foreign countries and seeing sights she'd only read about, with Kazuma at her side made her excited.
She sipped her wine. Very smooth, but she didn't really like alcohol all that much. She'd only ordered it to prove a point to Kazuma. She held the glass, however, because it was better than just sitting there demurely with both her hands in her lap.
Kazuma was way off balance and he knew it. He was in a beautiful restaurant, and he was sitting there with the most gorgeous woman in the room. He couldn't be absolutely sure about that because he couldn't take his eyes off Ayano to even glance at anyone else there. Ayano had chosen to sit with her back to the window, which left him sitting with his back to the rest of the room so he could either look at Ayano or the landscape outside. He had no interest in the landscape.
Whatever plan she had cooked up was working. His control of the situation ended as soon as she exited the limo. She had him under a spell, and he wasn't sure he wanted to break it. Why couldn't he have one night to enjoy Ayano like he'd wanted to for so long? Because he just couldn't. It would just get her hopes up, not to mention his own. But it was so tempting.
As they ate their shrimp appetizers (she insisted on feeding Kazuma using her own shrimp fork, much to his discomfort), Ayano saw that he began to withdraw again. The sparkle was gone from his eyes. She could guess why, but she wasn't going to let it happen. Not tonight. Not ever, if she had her way.
The appetizer dishes were removed and their main courses arrived. Both had chosen lobster. As they each picked at their food, Ayano decided it was time to start to their real topic of conversation.
She waited until he met her gaze. "Why do you push me away?"
"What do you mean?"
She wasn't going to dignify that with an answer, so she waited.
"I have to leave, Ayano."
"I've taught you all I can now. Time for me to move on. Time to make money somewhere else."
"No, you won't lie to me about this, Kazuma. I saw the family accounting books. As the heir, I need to learn all about the Kannagi finances. I know that you lied to me about all the money and I know you did it to push me away from you. I deserve to know the truth. Tell me. Why?"
She waited patiently while he collected himself. That's when she glanced up at the ceiling in the center of the room. There was a shadow up there! It was a spirit of some sort and it way trying to loosen the bolts holding one of the big chandeliers. If it fell, it would take out at least 6 people. No-no-no-no! Not now! Her whole evening was going to be ruined and she would never be able to get Kazuma to talk about this again. She kept her face a mask, but inside she was crying and screaming. This wasn't fair!
As she was about to tell Kazuma what was happening and ruin the rest of her life, she saw a thin beam of flame go up from one of the tables and hit the spirit. It couldn't have been thicker than a pencil. It quickly dissolved the creature and immediately the flame winked out. Nobody else had noticed.
She glanced over where the beam came from and saw her father and Renn sitting at a table on the far side of the room. Renn was sipping a glass of water, but Jugo was smiling at Ayano. Now she really wanted to cry. He somehow knew how important this was to Ayano and he was there to make sure that nothing ruined. it. He was the best father in the whole world.
She watched out of the corner of her eye as Jugo and Renn got up and left the restaurant. She was so grateful she thought her heart would burst. And Kazuma hadn't noticed any of it.
He couldn't believe she was so direct with that question, though he should have known better. This was Ayano, after all. Still, he was completely caught off guard when she asked him why he pushed her away. She had figured out what he was doing and he had no answer ready for her. His tongue got tied and his brain went numb. So, he went with some directness of his own and told her he had to leave. Of course she would ask why, but he thought he was prepared for that by telling her that he was done here. She wasn't buying it. He was an idiot.
He was at a loss again, so he decided that since she wanted the truth, he would give it to her. And he did. He reminded her about her responsibility to the family and that she would someday need to get married and have an heir. She reddened slightly at the idea, but she kept silent, waiting for him to finish. He then went on to remind her about his enemies and how his staying around put her in more danger than she needed to be in.
"Why are you really leaving, Kazuma?" He knew what she was getting at and all of a sudden, the idea of telling her seemed like a good idea. He would never get to indulge himself again after tonight. He would at least muster the courage to tell her how he felt about her.
He took a deep breath before answering quietly, "I'm leaving because I love you, Ayano, and I don't want to see you hurt and I don't want to get in the way of your destiny."
He eyes welled up with tears and she took out a handkerchief from her bag. By the time she finished wiping them though, there was fire in her eyes. Yet, when she reached across the table for his hand, her grasp was surprisingly gentle. She stared into his eyes with such intensity that he couldn't look away if he'd wanted to.
This was her chance to convince him that they could be together, should be together. She had already known his concerns and she was ready to do battle. For both of them.
"I love you too, Kazuma. But I am a grown woman and I will not be led to my 'destiny', as you call it, like a sheep to get sheared. I will decide my own destiny. I will make my own decisions about my life.
About your other concerns. Your enemies are my enemies. Past, present, future. And we will deal with them just as we have always done. Together. I do not believe for one second that you have an enemy out there that has a chance of defeating us together.
Now, about my family obligations. Your father must have skipped your family history lessons, or you just weren't paying attention. What you failed to learn is that Kannagi fire magic is passed on from the maternal side, so 'my husband' would have no bearing on our child's abilities."
Now that was something he didn't know. Genma had concentrated his attention on trying to train his son's weak fire magic abilities and didn't spend much time on anything else. No wonder Jugo had no qualms about Kazuma being with Ayano. He knew all about this too, of course.
Her eyes softened and she squeezed his hands before continuing.
"Please don't run away from me. From us. I know you are scared. So am I. I'm terrified. It's nothing to be ashamed of. What I'm scared of more than anything right now is you leaving me. Everything else we can work out together." Tears ran slowly down her face. "If you run away from me now, I will never forgive you. Can you honestly tell me that you can live with that?"
Kazuma's surrender was inevitable. He didn't stand a chance, he just didn't know it til now. He leaned over the table towards her and whispered "No, I can't live with that." When his lips met hers, she was ready for him. It was her first kiss. That kiss when he gave her elixir didn't count and neither did a kiss on the nose. This was the one she was waiting for. It was soft and tender and everything she had ever dreamed it would be. She reached up to entwine her fingers into the hair at the back of his head and pull him down harder.
Reluctantly, they broke apart, but only so he could stare into her eyes. "I won't run away from you, Ayano. I will not leave. I promise. You are right. We can work out anything together and I'm sorry that I didn't understand that sooner."
She was so deliriously happy, she pulled his head down quickly for another kiss. She didn't care what the other diners thought. All that she knew was that she had won the fight by a knock-out.
For all you aspiring writers, here's a little plotbunny for you. Kannagi fire magic is passed down from the female side of things. Kazuma's mother died, but it wasn't explained how. Did she commit suicide because she blamed herself for her son's lack of magic talent? Or was something else going on?