A teen girl who had to be Saeko Busujima answered the door, smiling ever so slightly as she greeted them.
“Hello, and welcome,” she said. “Please, come inside.”
“Please, pardon our intrusion,” Saya replied formally. The two entered and removed their shoes. “We have an appointment with Master Busujima this afternoon.”
“Yes, he is expecting you,” Saeko nodded. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to his office.” She turned and led the way through the house toward the attached dojo. The house was a work of art, it’s architecture having to date back into early Imperial history, Saya decided.
Busujima-senpai was elegant and cool, though in no way rude. She moved with a fluid grace one would expect to find in the offspring of one of the most well known swordsmen in Japan.
“Here you are,” Saeko bowed slightly. “I must return to the dojo, as I have a class.” She rapped on the door and then departed. Before Takashi or Saya could speak, a heavily built man with graying hair opened the door.
“Master Busujima,” Takashi bowed. “I am Komuro, Takashi, and this is-”
“You are Saya Takagi, are you not?” his deep voice rumbled. “You look like your mother, young lady, except for your eyes. Those you most certainly get from your father. Please, both of you, come in.” He led them into a spacious office and guided them into two chairs. Shelves lined the walls, filled with books. The few Takashi got a glimpse of were all concerning swords or other types of disciplines.
“Your father tells me you two are researching early sword making techniques,” he said as he settled into his chair.
“Yes, Busujima-dono,” Saya said respectfully. “We are of the opinion that modern manufacturing cannot craft a blade equal to those of even a few hundred years ago. Knowing that so many blades are still serviceable despite being made hundreds of years before is credible evidence that ancient techniques were in many ways superior to modern manufacturing.”
“That is true,” the man seemed pleased with their observations. “The key is the strength of the steel,” he told them. He took a blade from his desk, offering it hilt first. Takashi took it for them carefully, noting that it had a plastic guard on the edge.
“What you see here is an example of the finest quality blade currently made in Japan outside the few master craftsmen who remain,” Busujima told them. “It is a fine blade, admittedly, and with excellent workmanship for our modern times. Times when speed is more relevant than quality, I am afraid. While this blade is a fine weapon, under continued use, just normal use mind you,” he held a single finger in the air, “it would soon dull beyond the ability to sharpen sufficiently, and eventually even break.”
He took it back and lifted another blade, this one a bit more ornate. Takashi again received it for them both, nothing that this blade was heavier and the blade itself somewhat tarnished.
“That sword was made in the year 1265 AD,” Busujima told them, and Takashi instantly looked nervous.
“Relax, young Komuro,” the older man chuckled. “If Korean and Chinese bones could not break it, neither can you.”
“Bones?” Saya looked at the blade a bit more carefully, her face cringing slightly.
“Indeed, Takagi-chan,” Busujima nodded. “This blade has seen action in many battles. Slain many enemies in the hands of its masters. A true work of art.”
“It’s easy to forget that the true function of a sword is to be a weapon,” Takashi mused. “When you look at something like this, so. . .so beautiful,” he almost whispered, “it’s hard to think of it as a utilitarian object. Thank you, Busujima-dono, for allowing us to see this,” he carefully handed the blade back.
“You are welcome, young man,” the older man was pleased with Takashi’s attitude. “I sense in you a true appreciation for the blade.”
“I. . .I know very little about such things, Dono,” Takashi admitted. “But. . .it’s balance, it’s workmanship. . .it’s almost mesmerizing.”
“Indeed,” the older man nodded. “Tell me, both of you,” he looked at Saya as well. “First of all, I get the feeling that you two are more to each other than partners in a school paper.”
“Ah, yes sir, we are,” Takashi fielded that one. “Lady Saya and I are. . .that is to say that we. . . .”
“He is my boyfriend, Busujima-dono,” Saya finished for him. “What my parents would call a ‘suitor’.”
“I suspected as much,” the man smiled. “Tell me, have you two ever considered studying the art of the blade?” he asked innocently.
“Not until now,” Takashi admitted and Saya looked at him sharply.
“What does that mean?” she demanded, thinking back to the very attractive Busujima-senpai who had shown them in.
“Did you see that?” Takashi looked at her, then looked back to the blade that Busujima was only now laying down. “Saya, that thing is incredible!”
“Oi,” Saya shook her head, though relieved that Takashi hadn’t shown much interest in the Busujima daughter.
“What about you, Takagi-chan?” Kage asked. “Your father was once a student of mine. The blood of samurai flows in your veins.”
“I have not, dono,” Saya shook her head. “I have nothing against it, mind you. I simply have other pursuits.”
“I would like to see if the two of you have the instincts to study the blade,” Kage said suddenly. “Would you be interested in that?”
“Ah,” Takashi licked his lips, then looked at Saya.
“Saya?” he asked.
“How often would we need to be here, Dono?” she asked, temporizing.
“I want the two of you to train together,” he told them. “So it would be whenever the two of you could be here at the same time. My daughter, whom you met earlier, would begin your training, and as you progress I would step in to assist her. She is quite well known for her own skill.”
“We know of her,” Takashi nodded. “She is a year ahead of us at Fujimi High.”
“Good then!” Kage boomed. “It’s decided.” He scribbled a note on a piece of paper and handed it to Saya.
“This is in the mall near here, Takagi-chan. You know it?”
“Yes sir,” she nodded, looking at the address.
“You will go there, together, and be fitted for bokken. I will see the pair of you back here tomorrow after school, say at four. At that time I will formally introduce you to my daughter, and we will begin your training.” He stood.
“At the end of tomorrow’s session, we will again discuss the forging of a true blade.”
He led them to the front door of his home and showed them out, the two stunned teens still reeling from how fast things had happened.
“I will see you tomorrow!” Busujima seemed far too happy with himself as he closed the door. The two stood there for a few seconds, looking at each other, until finally Takashi spoke.
“What just happened here?”
“I think we’ve been set up,” Saya muttered as Hari drove them to the mall.
“You too, huh?” Takashi had calmed down once they were in the car and away from that beautiful, wonderful sword. “That just seemed a bit too-”
“Contrived?” Saya looked at him. “That’s the word you’re looking for, Takashi. The foremost sword master in modern Japan does not teach high school students who have no previous experience with the sword. Doesn’t happen.”
“Well, technically, he won’t be I guess,” Takashi frowned. “He said his daughter would be.” He sounded disappointed, Saya was thrilled to note.
“No desire to learn swordsmanship from a woman?” she asked, grinning.
“It’s not that,” he shook his head. “It’s just. . .Kage-san is just. . .fascinating,” he admitted finally.
“He is a presence,” she agreed. “I just assumed you wouldn’t mind being in the dojo with someone on Morita’s list,” she added.
“Are you jealous, Honey Badger?” Takashi grinned all of a sudden.
“No!” Saya snapped at once, arms crossing beneath her breasts.
“Saya,” he said more gently. “Busujima-senpai is attractive, I will grant you. But. . .she is certainly no more so than you are. And less so in my eyes. I don’t know why you don’t see it, Saya, but you are beautiful.”
Her hand lashed out and hit his arm, though not hard.
“Baka,” she murmured, her face hot.
“Your baka,” he nodded as the car pulled into the mall.
“Well, let’s go get ourselves a wooden sword, my Baka,” she sighed. “Where am I going to find the time for this?”
“We’ll do it together, so we’ll make this our time,” he said as he got out and helped the door for her. She looked up at him, her eyes growing soft. Something only Takashi and a few others would ever see.
“Yes. We will.”
Behind them, at the Busujima household, Kage Busujima was on the phone.
“Yes, he was almost hypnotized by the blade I showed him,” he smiled into the receiver. “No, no. Not like those baka. Not ‘sword fever’. It was more reverent. A true appreciation of the art and craft. You were, I believe, quite correct.” He listened for a moment.
“No, I do not think she would, if it were not for him,” he agreed. “I do believe I have met your future son-in-law, Souichiro,” he chuckled. “And a fine young man he is, I must say. I would not doubt that the blood of samurai past flows in his veins somewhere. A very honorable young man, I think.”
“Yes, yes. I will see to it. Or rather I will have Saeko see to it.” Pause. “She is not my equal yet, but she will be one day soon. A true prodigy, my daughter.”
“I will keep you updated if things change,” he nodded to himself. “But I rather think that so long as young Komuro is interested, Saya-chan will be as well.”
“Yo, Takashi, how about going to the mall after school?” Morita asked as he saw Takashi in the hall.
“Can’t,” Takashi shook his head. “Got somewhere I gotta be.”
“Yeah, I forgot,” Morita grinned. “You have to be on call now.”
“Not like that,” Takashi grinned at the ribbing. “I’m taking some lessons starting this afternoon. Saya too. Something we got into for our history report. I’m looking forward to it.”
“Cool,” Morita nodded. “Another time then, bro.”
“I can’t believe you got in trouble,” Hisashi shook his head as he looked at Rei across the lunch table. “What were you thinking?”
“I’m just tired of her attitude!” Rei snapped. “Sick of it!”
“What attitude, Rei?” Hisashi asked. “You went to her, not the other way around. What did you want with her, anyway?”
“Nothing,” Rei looked at her plate, face red. She couldn’t tell Hisashi what she had said to Takagi. He wouldn’t understand.
“Well, please don’t do anything like that again,” he told her. “You came to me and told me that Takashi was running his mouth about us, Rei, and that’s what led to. . .led me to. . .anyway,” he shook his head. “I’ve checked around, which I should have done first,” he admitted. “Takashi hasn’t said a word about either of us. Refuses to talk to anyone about us at all, in fact.”
“And I was told point blank yesterday that it was because of his request that I was allowed to return to school and that the police aren’t pursuing any charges against me. We were wrong about him, Rei. You were wrong about him.”
“I was told that he-” Rei started, but Hisashi cut her off.
“You were told a lie, then,” he said flatly. “Takashi isn’t the bad guy here, Rei,” he looked almost sick. “I am. I’m made out to be the villain in all this because I listened to you and lost my temper. I can’t let that happen again. I won’t get another chance.”
“I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I just. . .I’m sorry,” she didn’t know how to continue.
“Don’t worry about it,” Hisashi sighed. “Let’s just try and forget it and move on. And stay away from Takagi, all right?”
Rei nodded, not saying anything. Hisashi wouldn’t understand.
But Miyamoto couldn’t allow Takagi to get any closer to Takashi Komuro. She couldn’t. Hisashi definitely wouldn’t understand that.
“We will begin with stretching,” Saeko told them. The two were dressed in gi’s, Saya’s in pink of course, standing barefoot in the Busujima dojo.
“Stretching limbers us for our routines, but it’s more than that,” Saeko explained as she led them through the first exercise. “Stretching, over time, keeps you limber and actually, as the name implies, stretches your frame. To effectively use the sword, your entire body must be able to move with fluidity and grace. The power of a sword comes as much from it’s wielder as from it’s creator. A strong blade in weak hands is no better than no blade at all.”
“Oh, God,” Saya groaned as she felt her leg muscles pull against each other. “How can something feel good and yet horrible at the same time?”
“I have often wondered that myself,” Saeko agreed. “It will get better with time. It is important that you remember these, and do them even on days when you are not here for work outs. Continued practice will eventually leave you in an almost constant state of readiness, your muscles accustomed to the work they must learn to do if you are to master the sword.”
“I doubt we’ll be able to master the blade, senpai,” Takashi replied. “We are far older than most who start this type of training.”
“You cannot doubt yourself,” the young sword mistress told him at once. “Nor limit yourself. And your age has no bearing, other than certain habits you will have to break yourself from. If the two of you apply yourselves, there is no reason I cannot be looking at you across the floor of the kendo club next year, if you desire.”
“What?” Saya exclaimed. “That’s. . .no way,” she shook her head.
“So long as you believe that, it will be true,” Saeko said simply. “Apply yourself, Takagi-san, and you will succeed. I promise you.”
“I hurt all over,” Saya groaned as she and Takashi got back in the car for the ride home. “All I want now is a hot bath.”
“Me too,” Takashi agreed. “What did you think about what she said, though?”
“About the kendo club?” Saya snorted, but then grew serious. “You really are interested?”
“I don’t know,” Takashi shrugged. “It’s just. . .it’s something to think about. I mean, I wouldn’t do it without you,” he told her, looking her in the eye. “I’m not going to start something that takes away from my time with you, Saya.”
“Baka,” she slapped his arm weakly, face red.
“Anyway, just think it over,” he told her. “Besides. We may suck at this. Who knows?”
“How are you lessons going?” Souichiro asked one evening at supper. Takashi was over to eat. He and Saya had been taking lessons for four weeks as of that day, a Thursday, which had become a regular day for Takashi to have supper with the Takagi family.
“The stretches don’t hurt anymore,” Saya reported. “That’s about the best thing I can say so far.”
“I like it,” Takashi shrugged. “I do agree that it’s nice that the stretches don’t hurt anymore,” he grinned. “I would have told you before we started that I was in pretty good shape, too.”
“Such disciplines always find the weaknesses in the body,” the older man nodded. “That is why it is profitable to do them. To conquer those weaknesses and rid ourselves of them.”
“Well, at this rate, Saya and I won’t have many weaknesses left,” Takashi grinned ruefully.
“So it was the folding of the steel that helped strengthen it,” Takashi nodded.
“Exactly,” Kage Busujima nodded. “The multiple folding eliminated the impurities that even modern metallurgy techniques seem to leave behind. The process of folding the blade and hammering it back out was a tedious one, of course. It takes a very long time to fold a blade six hundred or more times.”
“Six hundred,” Saya shook her head in awe, writing as she did so. “I can’t imagine the patience that must have taken.”
“Few can, Saya-chan,” Kage smiled at her. He had come to like these two very much. More than that, they had become close to his daughter as she trained them.
“Busujima-dono, I believe we have more information than we require for our paper, but. . .we are indebted to you for such an in-depth look into the art of the sword, and especially into the crafting of such blades.”
“Does that mean you will not continue your lessons, Takashi-san?” Kage raised an eyebrow.
“No, we will continue,” Saya told him firmly. Takashi held off a smile, but did wink surreptitiously at the older man. Saya had noticed after nearly two months that certain physical attributes of hers had become more pronounced after the grueling work sessions that Saeko-senpai had put them through. She had noted that Takashi looked better as well.
“Excellent!” Kage clapped his hands once. “I know that Saeko will be pleased by this as well. She values your company very much.” He dropped the hint. He would see if this young man and woman would take it.
“She does?” Saya asked. “That is very flattering, Busujima-dono.”
“We are in her debt as well, Busujima-dono,” Takashi said. “She has taken great pains to help us when we struggled. Neither of us would be where we are if not for her.”
“Then perhaps you could do me a favor now, eh?” the older man asked.
“You have but to name it, if it is within our power,” Takashi said at once and Saya nodded her agreement.
“My daughter lives a solitary existence,” Kage told them quietly. “I know that you are underclassmen, and as such do not normally associate with those of higher rank, but. . .I believe that my daughter would welcome your friendship. And I would welcome her having two such friends as you.”
“I would be honored to call her my friend, Busujima-san,” Saya said solemnly. “There is no woman other than my mother whom I respect more.”
“High praise indeed,” Kage’s eyebrows rose sharply. “I will leave to you how you wish to include her in your activities. And do not sacrifice your time with each other, mind,” he warned. “Someday, perhaps she will have someone the same way you two have each other. The way her mother and I had each other,” his tone grew softer. “Two halves of the same whole.”
Takashi blinked at hearing his own thought about Saya, so long ago now it seemed, repeated to him by someone else.
“We will do whatever we can, sensei,” Takashi bowed. “And now, we have taken too much of your valuable time as it is. Never will I be able to thank you enough.”
“Nonsense,” the older man waved him away. “Both of you are welcome here at any time. Go safely, and I hope your paper is a success.”
“Thanks to you, I’m sure it will be,” Saya told him.
The car was waiting as usual when the two of them left the house. As they walked toward it, Takashi took Saya’s hand.
“What is it?” she asked. “Something he said hit you harder than the rest.”
“Two halves of the same whole,” Takashi repeated. Saya smiled at that, nodding.
“I had that same thought about you and me,” he told her. “The very day you found me on the stairs before I broke up with Miyamoto. The day I had decided that she had to go in fact. That I had made a mistake. You are the other half of me, Saya.”
“I love you Takashi,” Saya blurted out then. Her face went red but she didn’t look away. “I don’t mean I love you like a friend or a brother, either. I mean I love you. I know we’re young yet, but I think I know what love is, or at least what it looks like.”
“I love you too, Saya,” he nodded. He didn’t kiss her since they were in the open, but his eyes were shining just like hers.
“Lets go write our paper, baka.”