“So, what happened?”
Saya had waited until after breakfast on Sunday to call Saeko and ask about her date. More accurately, Takashi had practically sat on her until it was too late to call without being rude, and Saya couldn’t be rude to her friend.
So she had taken it out on Takashi, instead.
Now, she was over eager to hear from Saeko.
“I’m fine, Saya, how are you?” Saeko replied, and Saya could almost hear her smile.
“So it went well, then?” she asked excitedly, ignoring Saeko’s sarcasm.
“Yes, it went very well,” Saeko admitted. “We had a lovely evening, though I have to wonder how Khota knew exactly where my favorite place to eat was and what my favorite food is.”
“I had Takashi tell him, of course,” Saya admitted freely. “Define ‘very well’,” she got the discussion back on point.
“Very well is better than merely well,” Saeko couldn’t resist. She was as happy as she had ever been this morning, at least in a very long time.
“You know, no one likes a smart ass,” Saya told her flatly.
“If that were true, then Takashi wouldn’t be head over heels for you, sister,” Saeko teased.
“Not fair,” Saya muttered. “C’mon, now.”
“We had a very good time, and we talked a great deal. We got to know one another quite well, I think. We decided that we would go out again, and he will continue to come to see me fight.”
“Yes!” Saya almost yelled. “I knew it!”
“I didn’t know you liked him so much, Saya,” Saeko laughed.
“Ah, I admit I didn’t always, but. . .I didn’t really know him, either,” Saya replied. “Until Takashi and I started dating, I pretty much kept to myself for the most part. There are so many people who want to be my ‘friend’ because of my parents that. . .well . . . .”
“I understand,” Saeko eased up a bit. “I’m glad that Takashi was able to get you out of your shell. Had he not, then we perhaps would not have become friends. And that would have been a great loss.”
“For me too,” Saya agreed. “And you wouldn’t have met Khota,” she had to add.
“No, I would not,” Saeko agreed.
“So when are you going out again?” Saya demanded. “We have to double date some night, of course,” she added.
“Of course,” Saeko agreed. “Khota and I are going to see a movie on Thursday night this week. I can’t on Friday because I have a tournament Saturday morning.”
“I know, we’ve already made plans to be there,” Saya informed her. “So are you guys a couple now, or are you just dating or what?”
“We decided to leave that open for now,” Saeko admitted. “We both feel that would be too much, too soon. Neither of us are very experienced in these matters Saya. We have to be certain of ourselves before we get too carried away.”
“I know how that is,” Saya admitted. “Oh, I so wanted to be the girl that Takashi was wanting to impress, but then when I was, I was so scared I couldn’t think straight.”
“Yes,” Saeko agreed. “You do see our problem.”
“It’s not a problem unless you make it one, or allow it to become one,” Saya promised her. “You’re doing the right thing, at least going by what Takashi and I did. If it’s right, you won’t have to force it, it will come to you.”
“Dude, how’d it go?” Takashi asked as he and Khota talked later than day.
“It went fine,” Khota replied evenly. “She is a wonderful person and I enjoy her company very much.”
“But how’d it go?” Takashi repeated.
“I just said it went fine,” Khota sighed. “We went on one date, Takashi. We aren’t ready to be like you and Saya. We barely know each other, though we did learn a lot from each other last night. I. . .I enjoyed myself very much, to be honest.”
“Yes!” Takashi pumped a fist in the air. “I knew you guys would get along.”
“I met her father as well,” Khota added. “He seems like a great guy. Not at all what I pictured.”
“I know, right?” Takashi agreed. “He’s great! Makes me and Saya call him ‘oji-san’,” he laughed. “I love him to death, man. He’s the one who got me interested in sword making.”
“Ah, I didn’t tell you that, did I?” Takashi answered. “See, one of the things I think I might like to do after graduation is learn to make swords. The way they were made in the old days, I mean.”
“The folded steel, forged method?” Khota clarified.
“You know about that?” Takashi asked.
“I just visited the Museum of Edged Weapons with the only daughter of one of Japan’s foremost swordsmen, Takashi,” Khota sounded amused. “Who also happens to be the second national ranking kendo student in all of Japan until nationals. So yeah, I know about that.”
“Sorry, man,” Takashi chuckled. “Anyway, I don’t know that I’ll end up pursuing it, but. . .it’s one avenue I’m looking at. Hey, have you ever talked to Rika? About the police thing, I mean?”
“No, but it dawned on me a few days ago that she has no way to contact me except to visit the house, and I haven’t been there very often lately. She may have tried and given up.”
“I’ll send her your nu-, no, wait,” he cut himself off. “Even better, we’ll go see Shizuka-sensei tomorrow and give it to her. She can see that Rika gets it, and encourage her to give you a call. Cool?”
“Sure,” Khota agreed. “Listen, I have to go, man. I got some errands to run this afternoon. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, okay?”
“See you then.”
“I hate both you guys,” Morita said without preamble the next morning. “I used to just hate you, Takashi, but now? Now I hate you both.”
“What? Why? What did I, did we, do?” Takashi looked shocked.
“You start dating Takagi,” he pointed to Takashi, “and now he is dating Busujima-senpai,” he pointed to Khota.
“Who told you that?” Khota’s voice was low, almost a growl. It wasn’t aggressive, but it wasn’t nice, either.
“It’s all over school,” Morita replied. “So you don’t deny it?”
“Why would I deny it if it’s all over school?” Khota asked.
“I hate both of you,” Morita whined. “It’s not fair!”
“Senpai, is it true?” a second year kendo student asked when she met Saeko in the hallway.
“That would depend on what ‘it’ is, Tanaka-chan,” Saeko replied. “To what are you referring?”
“That you were on a date this weekend with a junior?” the girl asked plainly.
“Ah,” Saeko nodded. “Well, I see someone likes to talk.”
“A girl in 3C saw you with him at a restaurant where she works,” Tanaka told her. “I don’t think he has said anything.”
“So you know who it is?” Saeko asked, amused.
“Well. . .according to her, it’s that cute boy Hirano. The one who changed so much over the summer. He was kind of chubby and a loner last year but. . .whatever he did this summer really changed him.”
You have no idea, Saeko though wryly. If you did, you would run to the hills and hide away! she couldn’t help how gleeful it felt to think that.
“Well, since everyone already seems to know my personal business, then I see no point in denying that I did enjoy a very pleasant evening in Hirano-san’s company,” Saeko told the other girl. “Does that satisfy your curiosity, or would you like to know where else we went besides to eat?”
“Sorry, senpai,” Tanaka almost stammered, bowing low as she realized she had just offended her team Captain. “We were only curious.”
“Then please turn your curiosity somewhere besides my life outside this school,” Saeko told her plainly. “You do not see me engaging in gossip about your personal lives, do you?”
“Sorry, senpai,” the girl bowed again and stayed that way until Saeko passed. Once gone, she chastised herself for a few seconds for speaking to Tanaka that way, but. . .really. It was quite rude to simply approach someone about something so personal. Especially someone above you in rank.
She hoped that Khota would not be overly put out by this.
Khota and Takashi visited Shizuka after second class. She beamed when she saw Takashi.
“Hello Komuro-kun!” she exclaimed. “And I’m willing to bet this is Hirano-san!” she added, looking at Khota.
“Ah, yes, Shizuka-sensei,” Khota bowed. “I am.”
“Rika told me all about you, Hirano-san,” Shizuka almost cooed. “What can I do for you today?”
“Well, it’s about Rika-san that we came to see you,” Takashi admitted. “She offered to speak to Hirano-san about the police agency, but. . .well, under the circumstances, neither of us thought to make sure she had his contact information. I was hoping you could-”
“Of course I’ll give it to her!” Shizuka nodded. “I’d be glad to!”
“Thank you very much, sensei,” Khota told her, handing her a card with his name and number. “I sincerely appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome,” she told him, depositing the card in her bosom, which almost caused two nose bleeds at once. “Are you two staying out of trouble?” she asked.
“We are, sensei,” Takashi managed not to stammer. “Neither of us looks for trouble, I promise.”
“I told Rika that, too,” she nodded firmly.
“Thank you again, sensei,” Khota said as the two of them headed back to class.
“Don’t be strangers!”
“Wow,” Khota shook his head as they made their way down the hall.
“Really all you can say about it,” Takashi nodded.
Both turned to see three students from the senior class stalking toward them, angry looks on their faces.
“Three guesses what this is about,” Khota almost sighed.
“You can’t be serious,” Takashi said as the three stopped.
“You’re Hirano?” the first one demanded.
“That’s me,” Khota nodded. “You are?”
“You got no business dating a senior, punk,” the other boy didn’t bother giving his name.
“I can’t imagine a way that could be any less your concern,” Khota replied firmly. “I would ask you to return to your class, and allow us to do the same. There’s no reason for us to speak again.” Khota spoke very correctly. Stiffly, Takashi thought absently.
“What?” the second boy looked shocked. “Did you just say something?”
“Go ahead then,” Khota sighed, sliding one foot slightly behind him. “I don’t have all day.”
“No, no, no!” Takashi grabbed Khota by the arm, placing himself between his friend and the other boy. “Remember what the SAT said last time!” he sounded frantic. “Do that again and you’ll be in jail for sure!”
Khota caught on just in time and almost laughed at how comical Takashi was, but played along.
“I’m not concerned with the SAT,” he said simply. “This ass-wipe came asking for it. Not my fault.”
“That’s what you said last time, too!” Takashi shook his head. “If the school mentions your name the SAT will be all over us in minutes! They know where you go to school, man!”
“What the hell are you talking about?” one of the older boys demanded. Takashi turned to look at him, still clutching Khota to hold him back.
“Look, you guys need to go!” he told them urgently. “It’s not like I can really stop him if he wants to do this!”
“Do what?” another demanded, though he was showing concern now.
“Look, it hasn’t been that long ago that he-”
“What did I tell you about butting into my business?” Khota demanded, trying not to laugh.
“I’m just trying to help!” Takashi protested. “I’m trying to keep you out of trouble, like I promised the Commander I would. I might get in trouble too if you do to these guys what you did to the others at the mall!”
“None of your concern,” Khota replied coldly over Takashi’s shoulder.
“Man I can’t see all that blood again, dude!” Takashi almost wailed. “I can’t do it!”
“Blood?” he heard from behind him.
“It wasn’t the blood, man, I’m not a wuss!” Takashi said over his shoulder. “It was where it came from. I mean, the guy’s leg bone was just. . .just sticking out of the skin, man. Oh, I think I’m gonna puke just thinking about it,” Takashi made a gagging sound.
“Kagi, we need to get to class,” one of the three said and Takashi had to strain to keep from laughing out loud. Fortunately with his back turned, his shaking looked like more gagging instead of fighting back laughter.
“Are you really buying this?” the guy who’d spoken first demanded.
“I heard about that mall thing, man,” the other backer said. “I knew it was a student, but I. . .I didn’t know it might be this guy. That was a bad deal, man,” he tried to be quiet. “You need to let this go. Just in case.”
“The three guys from the mall are still in the hospital,” the third guy added. Takashi was about to bust a gut holding his laughter in and Khota had bitten the inside of his mouth until he was bleeding, which just made him look more angry.
“I think these guys are full of shit,” the ‘Kagi’ said finally. “But if you two pussies want to head back, then fine. Let’s go.” He glared at Khota one more time and then the three of them moved back down the hall to their own area of the school. Much faster than they had come. Takashi managed to wait until they were gone to lose it.
“Oh my God!” he howled. “How dumb can you be!”
“That was priceless,” Khota shook with laughter, hands on his knees as he gasped for air. “What made you think of that?”
“Rika telling us to stay out of trouble,” Takashi admitted. “If we kicked their ass, there is no way we stay out of trouble this time, man. We’d be out of school, too. Better this way.”
“It was more funny, anyway,” Khota agreed. “I told you this would happen, Takashi,” he reminded his friend.
“Are you sorry you did it?” Takashi asked, grinning.
“Not in the slightest,” Khota replied at once. “I’ll just find them off campus and-”
“What are you two doing out here?” Saya’s voice cracked down the hall. “And what the hell is so funny?”
Khota made his way out to the plaza to eat his lunch, since the roof was again closed off, though no one knew why. Morita was nowhere to be seen and Takashi was eating lunch with Saya these days, so he was on his on it seemed. Well, he’d done that plenty of times, hadn’t he.
“Khota-kun, may I join you?” he heard Saeko ask and turned to see the elegant sword woman walking toward him, bento box in hand.
“Of course, Saeko-chan,” he replied at once. “However, I must warn you-”
“I’m afraid that the news is already out, Khota,” Saeko sighed. “Apparently a girl working in the restaurant where we ate Saturday night is in my class and couldn’t wait to tell everyone she saw us there.”
“I’m sorry, Saeko,” Khota sighed. “I really am a lot of trouble, am I not,” he grinned.
“I’m of the opinion that you’re worth it,” she said simply, then smiled.
“Well, I had an issue of my own, as a matter of fact,” he chuckled as they sat down together, ignoring the stares they were getting from all over the plaza. “It seems that some of your classmates. . . .”
“Oh my,” Saeko tried not to laugh but couldn’t help it as an image of Takashi ‘struggling’ to hold Khota back came to mind. “What quick thinking. I’ll have to commend him for that in class.”
“Probably kept me out of trouble,” Khota nodded. “You know, he’s a really good friend to me,” he added. “Probably one of the few I’ve ever had.”
“He is a good friend to have,” she agreed. “As is Saya. I love them both very much. The siblings I have never had.”
“You don’t get many friends like that in a lifetime,” Khota mused. “Yeah, I’d have to say that Takashi is probably like that to me. I can’t say the same of Takagi, but that’s because I don’t know her that well. I do like her, though, and she takes good care of Takashi.”
“What did she say when she found you?” Saeko asked.
And so the two spent their lunch talking. It would become a regular thing for them to share lunch whenever they could. Eventually everyone would stop constantly talking about it, but for the next two weeks, Saeko Busujima and Khota Hirano dominated school gossip on most days.
Takashi had worked in his spare time to copy the book his ‘oji-san’ had lent him. It was a fascinating work, with many hand drawn illustrations that he meticulously copied into his own journal, an elegantly bound leather book that Saya had given him. Some nights she read with him, equally fascinated by the details of forging a work of art. She also helped him with some of the more detailed drawings.
“You’re quite the artist, Honey Badger,” Takashi noted one evening as the two sat in the Takagi Library. He was watching over her shoulder as she copied a particularly detailed drawing.
“I’m not, really,” she shook her head. “I mean, I can copy something, like this, but. . .I couldn’t draw it from memory.”
“Perhaps you could draw from a picture, then,” Takashi suggested as she finished.
“Hm,” she considered that. “Maybe. I don’t know.” She looked at him.
“What made you decide you might want to do something like this?” she asked him.
“I guess when we did our paper, talking to Kage-oji-san and researching how much detail went into this. And, to be honest, I’m fascinated by how strong the blades crafted this way can be. If I do it right, then something I make could still be around centuries after I’m dust in the ground.” He shrugged. “It’s a worthwhile goal. And it helps preserve our heritage.”
“You always find ways to impress me, my baka,” she smiled softly, kissing him gently. She jumped away from him as she heard her mother’s voice.
“Oh my,” Yuriko said in what Saya now called her ‘Shizuka voice’. “Did I interrupt something?”
“Why should tonight be special,” Saya muttered.
“What was that dear?”
“I said ‘not especially’,” Saya smiled at her mother. “Just helping Takashi copy a book father loaned him.”
“Ah,” Yuriko nodded. “Well, I came to tell you that I have to leave in the morning on business,” she got to what brought her to them. “I will be gone at least ten days, and your father is already away, so you will be in charge of the house, Saya.”
“Yes, mother,” Saya nodded.
“Takashi, I have decided that you may stay here during that time should you choose to,” Yuriko dropped a bomb on the two of them. “I trust the two of you to do the right thing, and I’m placing a great deal of trust in you both with this. If your mother approves, you may stay with Saya so that she won’t be here alone.”
“Ah, you honor me, oka-san,” Takashi stammered. “I will not disappoint you,” he bowed to her.
“I’m certain you won’t,” she smiled. “Saya, we will be entertaining the night after I return. I’m afraid I will require your presence as well, Takashi. It’s a Saturday, too, so I’m afraid it will rob you of your regular ‘date’ night. Perhaps this will make up for it,” she smiled again.
“You do not need to make up for it,” Takashi spoke for both of them.
“But I want to,” she said pointedly. “The two of you have shown great maturity and I am very proud of you both. Now, I have to pack and it’s about time for you to be headed home, Takashi. Make sure your mother approves your staying. I will call her and explain while you say good-bye.”
“Have a safe trip, oka-san,” Takashi nodded.
“Well,” Saya almost breathed after her mother had gone. “Will you stay here with me?” she asked, looking him in the eyes. It always took his breath away to see that look.
“Of course I will,” he replied at once. “I would do anything for you, Saya. You have to know that.”
“I do,” she nodded.
“Of course I trust you,” Nobiki replied when Takashi spoke to his mother about it. “You have proven yourself trustworthy time and again over the last year, Takashi. The change in your attitude and behavior since you and Saya became a couple, even before that really, had made me more proud of you than ever.”
“Thank you, mom,” Takashi felt a swell of pride at his mother’s words. “I won’t stay there every night, of course,” he added. “I can’t leave you alone all the time,” he kidded her.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine without supervision,” his mother scoffed. “But it would be nice to see you at least once during that time. I’ll expect you and Saya for supper on Wednesday as usual, assuming Yuriko doesn’t mind with her and Souichiro both gone.”
“We’ll be here.”