“Was it just me, or did Saeko seem to like Khota just a bit?” Saya asked as the two headed home. To her house anyway. Where there would certainly be a reckoning with her parents.
“Ah, you know,” Takashi came up short at that. “Now that you mention it, she did seem to warm up to him. I guess that sword didn’t hurt anything.”
“Seeing him take out two thugs in about five seconds probably didn’t do him any harm either,” Saya snorted.
“Hey, I got one, too,” Takashi mocked complained. “Your parents are going to kill me,” he sighed, leaning back into the seat.
“No they won’t,” she assured him. “We’ll probably not get to go out for a while, maybe. I don’t know. It depends on how this plays out.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, looking at her.
“We’ll see,” was all she would say.
“What the hell happened to Khota?” Takashi asked a minute later. “He’s like a completely different person than the guy I watched leaving school for the summer.”
“He looks good,” Saya admitted. “Got moves, too. America was good to him it appears. And he hit a growth spurt,” she added.
“He doesn’t look that good,” Takashi grumbled, good natured.
“Jealous much, my baka?” Saya grinned.
“Nah,” he waved it away. “It’s not like I really like you or anything.”
“You baka!” Saya exploded in laughter, pounding him on the arm.
“Your baka,” he nodded as he almost always did.
“Yes,” she nodded, laying her head on his shoulder. “My baka, indeed.”
“I eagerly await hearing the reason why I was contacted by a police official, an SAT officer no less, about the conduct of my daughter and her beau.”
Souichiro Takagi did not look happy at all.
“Takagi-dono, Saya was not involved in this in any way, first of all,” Takashi said firmly. “I want that to be clear.”
“I was so informed by Sergeant Minami,” the older man reluctantly agreed, still glowering.
“Three men approached our table while we were talking and began insulting Saya and Saeko,” Takashi continued. “We tried to defuse the situation, even telling them to please move along. They did not, and their insults turned to threats.”
“Threats,” Don Takagi leaned forward, his glower replaced by a look of intense interest.
“Yes, Dono,” Takashi nodded. “The implication was of a . . . sexual nature,” he struggled to find a way to tell Saya’s father exactly what had happened.
“He called me a smart mouthed whore and said he could shut me up!” Saya exclaimed out of nowhere, eyes brimming with unshed tears. Don Takagi’s eyebrows rose at that and he turned his gaze back to Takashi.
“Is this true?” he asked quietly. Takashi would swear later that the temperature in the room fell at least ten degrees about then.
“I’m afraid it is, Dono,” he nodded. “The speaker then made some kind of threatening gesture toward our friend Khota, and. . .well. . . .”
“I believe that Sergeant Minami mentioned a broken arm with a compound fracture, crushed larynx, broken nose, cheek bone and eye socket, possible ruptured testes, and two severely dislocated kneecaps,” Takagi rattled off the injury list as if he’d practiced it for hours. “One of which may still prove to be broken.” He leaned forward.
“Would you say that is accurate, Takashi-kun?” he asked softly.
“That. . .sounds about right, Dono,” Takashi nodded.
“I see,” he nodded, then looked at his wife and daughter. “Leave us,” he ordered simply. Yuriko nodded and pulled a now trembling Saya with her, closing the doors to the study and leaving the two men alone.
Don Takagi looked at Takashi for a full sixty seconds, which seemed like an eternity, in silence. Takashi endured the staring, knowing that if he flinched here, he would never get back Don Takagi’s respect, assuming he had it to start with.
The older man rose abruptly to his feet, towering over the teen, and only by sheer force of will did Takashi manage to stay rooted to the floor. Takagi looked at him for another minute, almost as if measuring him, and Takashi weathered that minute as well, forcing himself to at least appear calm.
Suddenly, Don Takagi turned and stepped behind his desk, his back to Takashi. When he turned back around, he held a small decanter and two glasses. Without a word he set the glasses on is desk and poured each glass about half-full.
“Drink,” he ordered simply, and Takashi picked up one of the glasses as Don Takagi took the other. He waited on the older man to turn his glass up before upending his own.
It was saki. Very, very good saki. It burned his throat as it ran down, almost choking him. By the thinnest of margins was he able to prevent himself from gasping for air. Without a word Don Takagi re-filled the glasses, and Takashi endured another round of the burning liquor. It was easier this time, since he knew what to expect.
“Well done,” Takagi said finally, his posturing clearly over. “When you first came to me, asking permission to ‘date’ my daughter, I told you that she was never to be shamed by you, or your actions. Did I not?”
“Yes, Dono,” Takashi replied, fighting to stay calm. Was Don Takagi going to send him away? Forbid him to see Saya anymore? Did he think that Takashi had somehow shamed his daughter tonight?
“Had you allowed that. . .trash, to call my daughter a whore unanswered, I would have sent you from my home in shame, never to return,” Takagi told him. “I would have refused her any permission of seeing you again, ever. You would have been barred from ever setting foot inside this house again.”
“You are your father’s son, however,” Takagi almost smiled. “You did well tonight, my son,” the Don did smile then. “There will be no repercussions against you or your friends,” he added. “Nor will there be any charges filed, though I’m told you already knew that.”
“Yes, Dono,” Takashi praised the heavens that he didn’t stammer.
“It seems to me that calling me ‘Dono’ is no longer acceptable,” Takagi mused. “I am reliably informed that you call Master Busujima ‘oji-san’. Is this correct?”
“At his order, yes,” Takashi nodded.
“Very well,” Takagi nodded. “You have proven to me that my daughter is in good hands tonight, Takashi. You will henceforth call me oji-san when we two are alone as we are now,” he smiled, and Takashi was almost sure it was the first real smile the man had ever directed toward him.
“Y-yes, o-oji-san,” Takashi bowed.
“In any other company, you may simply refer to me as Don,” he continued. “I suspect that you and my daughter are talking of the future by now, though I might be mistaken.”
“We have spoken only of this school year, Do-, er, oji-san,” Takashi told him. “We are considering what we will do after high school.”
“What plans have you made, then?” Takagi motioned for Takashi to sit.
“I admit that I am unsure as yet,” Takashi replied. “There are a number of avenues open to me, or course, and since my grades have improved, more such avenues are becoming available.”
“Does any one of them interest you above the others?”
“Two, so far,” Takashi admitted. “One is. . .to say it is a long shot is being generous,” he admitted.
“And that would be?”
“I want to learn how to forge a sword,” Takashi told him. “I want to learn how to fold steel into a blade that will be here long after I am gone.”
Perhaps nothing he could have said would have surprised Takagi more than that.
“May I ask why this has attracted your interest?” he asked carefully.
“There are several reasons, oji-san, chief among them is simply that I want to craft something that would last so long and still be respected well after I have left here. And. . .under the tutelage of Saeko-chan and Kage-san I have learned to love the sword,” he admitted. “Tonight. . .I held only a plastic replica of a katana. I used it to cripple a man, most likely,” he admitted. “But. . .I did not do so at random. It was targeted violence, against someone who deserved it. Who needed to be removed from the public. And I did so with the blade, plastic or not.”
“Had I used a real blade tonight, that man would not be crippled, but dead,” Takashi continued. “It gave me perspective that I had lacked until now, I think. I know, now, the power of the sword, oji-san. You told us the blade was a demanding mistress.” Takagi nodded.
“She is also a powerful and seductive lover,” he almost whispered. “I want to create that, oji-san. Use it as well,” he admitted. “Especially where and when needed, such as tonight. But. . .ultimately, I want to create them.”
“I want to craft a blade worthy of your daughter, and give it her name,” Takashi’s eyes were bright now, no longer focused on the Don, or even the room they sat in. The saki had loosened his tongue and his mind and he was speaking freely to his girl’s father for the first time.
“Most would have offered such to me, instead,” Takagi told him after a minute. “Possibly as a bribe, or as tribute, perhaps. An attempt to curry favor, or a sop to my pride and vanity. Why not you, Takashi Komuro?” he asked, smiling as softly as Takashi figured Don Takagi, Lord of Tokonosu, was capable.
“I love you and Yuriko-oka-san very much, oji-san, You have become my family. But my love for your daughter is far greater than anything else. There is nothing I will not do for her. No limit to how far I will go to keep her safe. To make her happy, so long as our honor is not compromised by it, I will see it done if she desires it and I am capable of doing it.”
“To create a blade such as the one Kage-oji-san allowed me to hold, and give it her name? Her name would still be spoken centuries from now, because of that blade. And whoever saw it would know that she was loved as much as any man could possibly love a woman.”
Takagi leaned forward, studying Takashi again. Finally he grunted slightly and stood once more. He went to the shelf behind him and selected a book. Walking to where Takashi sat, he handed the book to him.
“Take this and study it, Takashi,” he told him. “When you have read it, return it to me, and if you still desire to learn how to craft a blade, then you will learn. There are too few men in Japan who still preserve our ways. Those who do are honored men.”
“Thank you, oji-san,” Takashi took the book, looking at the frayed edges and worn cover.
“Do not lose it,” Takagi told him as he returned to his seat. “It is far older than I. I would suggest you make a copy of it, in fact,” he smiled. “But it must be done by hand, not by machine. Take your own bound book and copy what is there,” he nodded to the book in Takashi’s hand. “Doing so will help you learn what lies within it. When you are done, bring mine back to me, and we shall speak of this again.”
“Yes, oji-san,” Takashi nodded, holding the book reverently. This whole thing seemed unreal.
“It is probably not a good idea for you to go home tonight,” Takagi said as he poured them both another glass. “I will have Yuriko call and explain to Nobiki what has happened, and that I have asked you to stay here and support Saya. Though in truth I am suspicious of her sudden fear,” he almost smiled at that.
“As you wish, oji-san,” Takashi took the glass and waited for Takagi to take his own.
“To the mistress, Takashi,” he smiled.
“To the mistress, oji-san.”
“What is going on in there?” Saya wondered aloud as she and her mother waited in the library.
“If Takashi hasn’t been thrown from the house by now, daughter, I believe you can stop worrying,” Yuriko told her, smiling. “If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that your father is right now re-evaluating Takashi-kun.”
“What? Why?” Saya looked more concerned than ever.
“Because in your father’s eyes, Takashi became a man tonight,” her mother said simply. “He will treat with Takashi differently from now on, I suspect. I could be wrong, of course,” she shrugged suddenly, but her tone implied that such was unlikely.
“He didn’t do anything wrong,” Saya was almost defensive.
“No, he didn’t,” her mother agreed, surprising Saya.
“I thought you would be mad,” she admitted. “I expected Poppa to be furious,” she added.
“Oh, he was that,” Yuriko laughed lightly. “In fact, furious may not be sufficient enough description, I’m not sure. But a mostly that anger was for the scum who approached you,” her voice grew hard.
“Your father is not a very understanding man, Saya,” Yuriko spoke plainly to her daughter for once. “Nor is he forgiving. He has a very direct way of looking at things. An extremely direct way. Takashi acted in such a way tonight.” She looked at Saya warmly.
“And he did it defending you. That is what has impressed your father, Saya. Takashi has shed blood in your defense. In the code that your father lives by, will no doubt die by, that makes him. . .special,” she settled for saying.
“He is special,” Saya’s head came up.
“Oh, yes, daughter,” her mother smiled gently at her. “That he is.”
“Yuriko,” Souichiro’s voice boomed from the door to the study. “Takashi will be staying the night! Please inform Nobiki of this. His presence is required, with her blessing, to comfort our daughter in her time of distress over this ordeal.”
Unseen by mother and daughter, Takagi suddenly turned to a slightly drunk Takashi and winked.
“As you wish, husband,” Yuriko called back, beaming at Saya who’s mouth had fallen open. “Saya, dear, close your mouth and have someone prepare a guest room for your beau. The one beside your room will be the most helpful, so he can be close by to comfort you in your distress over this terrible ordeal.” Yuriko put a lot of ‘acting’ into that last line as she repeated most of what Don Takagi had said.
“And daughter,” Yuriko added slyly, “if you intend to use such an act again, I would suggest you practice before doing so. Your ‘frightened damsel’ routine needs work.”
Saya’s face grew red at first, until it dawned on her what her mother was saying. She perked up suddenly, eyes growing bright, then just as quick reverted to her ‘he called me whore’ look of a teen age girl, stricken with fear.
“Yes, Momma,” she said meekly. “I will do so right away,” she added and then ran to see to Takashi’s room.
“Oh dear me,” Yuriko shook her head as she made her way to the phone in her office. “What will those two get into next.”
While Takashi was drinking with his ‘oji-san’ at Takagi-manor, Khota Hirano was walking Saeko Busujima to the bus stop she needed to get home.
“It isn’t necessary for you to accompany me, Hirano-kun,” she told him gently. “I assure you I am fine.”
“I know,” he nodded.
“You do?” Saeko asked.
“You’re ranked perhaps second in Japan in kendo?” Khota looked at her. “And that plastic sword I just gave you can withstand the force of being ran over by a semi-truck. No doubt you are quite capable of defending yourself.”
“Then why accompany me like this?” she asked, smiling.
“Does my company offend you, Senpai?” he asked her, looking concerned. “I have not given offense, have I?” he sounded slightly worried.
“In no way,” she promised. “You have been a complete gentleman for all but about ten seconds of this entire evening,” she semi-teased.
“Ah, yes,” Khota nodded, his mouth set in a line. He looked. . .grim, Saeko thought. “Perhaps I over reacted,” he sighed.
“I do not believe so,” Saeko told him. “Nor does Saya. And obviously Minami-sama doesn’t either, else you would be in custody.”
“True,” he nodded. “Anyway, to answer your question, I need to get on the second bus that stops here to get home,” he smiled at her as they reached the small stop. Saeko laughed as Khota revealed his reason for coming there.
“And here I thought I had a suitor, suddenly,” she exclaimed.
“You shouldn’t joke about such things, Senpai,” Khota almost smiled, but didn’t. “I am in no way fit to be a suitor for a woman of such quality as the lady you obviously are. I have no doubt that there are as many broken hearts in your wake as there are bones,” his smile did bloom then. She noted idly that the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“Such flattery, Hirano-kun,” Saeko laughed. “And so well done, I must say. But you might be surprised to find no broken hearts behind me.”
“I assure you, Senpai, a woman of your grace need only walk by a man to break his heart,” Khota told her. “And that is not flattery but a simple fact. If you are not the most attractive girl at Fujimi, then I have yet to meet the one who is.”
“Hirano-kun!” Saeko playfully slapped his shoulder. “Are you flirting with me?” she asked.
“No,” Khota shook his head. “I’m afraid my experience in those areas is quite limited, Senpai. I wouldn’t know how to flirt,” he admitted bashfully. “And if I did, I would certainly lack the nerve to flirt with you,” he added with a rye grin.
“Really?” Saeko asked. “Why?”
“Well, let’s see,” Khota looked up to the stars. “You’re beautiful and graceful and essentially all the things I’m not,” he held up a finger. “You are a senior, I am a junior,” he held up a second finger. “You are the daughter of a respected sword master and samurai who is part of the Imperial Guard. You yourself are a nationally known kendo competitor, thus your station is wildly above me in too many ways to name,” a final finger. “And I’m out of fingers,” he said, looking at his hand. “Sorry.”
“You are very proper, Hirano-kun,” she said finally. “Very polite and obviously well mannered. What happened to you?”
“What?” Khota’s head turned to give her his undivided attention. “What do you mean?”
“I saw you tonight, Hirano-kun,” Saeko was deadly serious now. “I saw the beast that lurks inside you, just for a second. Straining to get out, yet controlled. What created it? What releases it?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugged, not bothering to deny it. “I suspect it was always there, waiting. Brought to life by a combination of things that reached a fulcrum while I was in America. It doesn’t matter,” he shrugged again. “Tonight’s events will likely not be repeated.”
“One can never assume such a thing, Hirano-kun,” Saeko said gravely. Khota looked at her, gazing into the ground at nothing.
“I sense you have your own burden in that respect, Senpai,” he said softly.
“I suppose I do share that experience with you, Hirano-kun,” Saeko agreed. She stood as a bus pulled to a stop in front of them.
“I had an enjoyable evening, Hirano-kun,” she told him. “Perhaps. . .perhaps we will enjoy such an evening again,” she settled for saying.
“I would find that enjoyable indeed,” Khota nodded. “Good night, Senpai.”
Khota sat alone then, waiting for his own bus, trying to stop the trembling in his hands. There had been a time when he would have said that trembling was the result of fear.
He knew better, these days.
“Are you all right?” Takashi asked Saya as they walked together to her room.
“I’m fine,” Saya nodded. “I admit I’m a bundle of nerves and energy at the moment,” she added, “but I’m fine.”
“Good,” he nodded. Takashi was feeling the effects of the liquor he had shared with his ‘oji-san’, and was doing his best to be very correct as a result.
“What is wrong with you?” Saya asked, peering at him intently. “What is that smell?” she asked suspiciously.
“Ah,” Takashi hesitated. “Ah, your father and I had a. . .a talk,” he managed to say. “He, uh, might have given me something to drink,” he added.
“Something to drink?” Saya eyebrow rose. “Saki, for instance?” she demanded.
“Perhaps,” Takashi wasn’t sure he was supposed to tell her that.
“Oh my,” Saya said quietly. “Did he take it from the bar, or from behind his desk, in the cabinet?” she asked gently. Softly.
“Ah, behind his desk,” Takashi replied, deciding that evading her wasn’t going to work. “Is that bad?”
“No,” she shook her head, smiling at the floor. “No, my baka, that is in no way bad at all,” she told him, hugging his arm to her tightly. “No way at all.”
Her father had a ceremonial decanter of saki that he rarely used. He kept it in a cabinet behind his desk, using it only on rare occasions. That he had shared it with Takashi was. . .significant. She wasn’t sure exactly how significant as yet, but her mother had been right.
There had been a shift in her father’s attitude toward her boyfriend tonight.
“Here,” she told him, stopping at the door to his room, right next to hers. “Come on, baka,” she opened the door and pulled him inside.
“I’m sorry all that happened, Saya,” Takashi said, once they were out of the hallway and out of sight and hearing of others.
“That wasn’t your fault, Takashi,” she told him, shaking her head. Then she stopped, looking at him.
“I assume you aren’t apologizing for defending me,” she eyed him narrowly.
“Of course not,” he scoffed. “That is something I will never apologize for,” he told her. “To anyone, including your father,” he added. Saya thought her heart would burst, hearing that, but she hid it well.
“That’s good, then,” she settled for saying. “I think you need to lie down, my baka,” she teased. “You are almost drunk.”
“I don’t think it’s almost,” he shook his head, which he immediately regretted as it resulted in his being left slightly dizzy.
“Easy, my drunken baka,” she told him softly, wrapping her arm around him and guiding him toward the bed. “Don’t fall on me again.”
“I won’t,” he promised. “I didn’t mean to the first time.”
“I know,” her voice was almost a coo it was so gentle. “Come on,” she told him as they reached the bed. “Sit down,” she guided him into a sleeping position on the bed. Kneeling, she pulled his shoes and socks off his feet, slipping them under the bed. Next was his over shirt, which she laid on the table beside the bed.
Loosening his belt, she then pushed him gently back, turning him until he was laying almost correctly in the bed. Hesitating only a moment, she took off her own shoes and crawled up beside him. His arm went around her instantly and she reveled in the feeling of his strong grip, so possessive and protective of her. She lay her head on his chest, listening to his heart beat.
“I love you, Saya,” Takashi said quietly. “I always have, I think.”
“I know,” she replied softly. She could tell by his breathing that he was already asleep. His chest began to rise and fall, slow and steady, and she lay there, head on his chest, listening.