It was already hours passed sunrise, and Kagami was up and ready at the orphanage Kakeru's company supported. She volunteered to represent him at the place, but she also wanted to get out of the house. Kakeru and everyone were very protective of her only because of her poor health, but she didn't want them to treat her like a prisoner all the time. She had to associate with other people though she was quite shy around them, but being with children made her forget her problems and worries of life.

The chauffer opened the car door and helped Kagami out. The young girl happily gazed at the two story orphanage while Minari was getting out after her. Kagami felt the cold air against her cheeks, so she pulled the collar of her coat closer to her face, and her quiet breath drew a cloud of whispers in the air, dancing freely to no where. After the frosty mist faded away, she closed her eyes, thinking about how she could drift along life with no holds on her.

Her 'mama' had died a few years back, but she still had 'papa', Hotori, Minari, and especially Kakeru. She couldn't remember when she was never with Kakeru. He was always with her until around the time that 'mama' passed away. When Hotori and Minari returned from overseas, she had been with them ever since. It was as if Kakeru tried to keep his distance from her, but in place of his protection, he left it to the siblings.

She didn't long for things to change -- and so drastically. She didn't want anything to change and wondered at times if 'mama' was the very person that had kept them together as a family. It seemed that way after her departure from the living world, but Kagami never understood anyone's true feelings. They appeared to keep themselves busy with work like her 'papa' who pushed all his energy in the law firm and Kakeru's businesses, but it only hid the pain and sorrows.

Endless Game

created & written by K-chan

Chapter Two: Dreams Among Strangers

"Hime-sama," Minari called her back to reality. The woman was wrapping a deep-blue scarf around Kagami's neck. "You shouldn't be so careless in this weather." Kagami nodded as Minari looped the end into a knot before turning towards the building. "Let's hurry inside."

Kagami followed behind her as she looked up at Minari's back. Minari had always been kind to her, but there was something in her eyes that were different from the pure gentleness of their 'mama'. It was as if her actions were because of another, so she wasn't sure if Minari had been a good sister because of their 'mama' or not.

Minari held the door opened for Kagami to walk through and followed her in. It was a cozy building with the atmosphere of a family home to the children. The warmth reached Kagami, allowing her skin color to revive from the cold outdoors. The two ladies took off their shoes in the foyer and stepped into slippers that added to the setting of a home.

A woman of her late forties came into the hall to greet them, "Aah, you must be Akimoto-san!! Welcome, welcome!" She gestured the two down the hall into a huge room. Children were present with other volunteers and workers at the orphanage, handling holiday decorations. Kagami smiled at the wonderful sight, seeing children huddled together creating images from the heart.

A little girl about eight years old ran up to the three women, crying. "Arizawa-san! Arizawa-san!" Their hostess, Miss Arizawa, knelt down to the girl, telling her to calm down, as Minari took Kagami's coat and scarf from her. "Miki," she sniffled, holding up her drawing, "She drew on my puppy! It's not pretty anymore!"

Arizawa took a good look at the child's drawing and frowned a bit, "Miki did this, did she?" The little girl nodded. "I'll have a talk with her, so go back to the others while I talk to these ladies first." She nodded again before pausing to see who the guests were.

Kagami smiled to her and bent down slightly, whispering, "That puppy's very cute! Can you teach me how to draw one?" The girl wasn't too sure about Minari with her solemn look, but Kagami seemed like one of her friends, so she nodded, seemingly shy at first-time visitors. "That would be wonderul!" Kagami chirped. "My name is Kagami. What's yours?"

"Chisa." After informal introductions, Chisa took Kagami over to the other children who were busily working on their own projects. The girl introduced the others to Kagami and soon the latter was immersed in the children.

Minari watched, grinning to herself at how child-like Kagami was. She knew in her heart she had lost to Kagami many years ago, so the competition never began. It was better to admit one's loss than to continue a hopeless fight with more losses. She was content with the life they had before, but now things seemed to be heading to an end. Something nagged in her heart that everything she dreamt of was going to end like a snap of a branch.

Watching the same scene, Arizawa commented, "Akimoto-san works well with the children."

"Yes," she answered. "She has a way with people. Her charms are rather amazing -- not even she knows how much she affects others." Arizawa turned to her present companion with an interested look. She seemed surprised from the words that Minari had spoken since she didn't seem like a person to reveal her own opinions in such matters to strangers. "And before I forget," Minari said, taking an envelope from inside her coat, and handed it to the woman. "A small donation from Teijou-san."

She accepted it with a deep bow, knowing that Kakeru had always donated well to several orphanages. "Thank you, and please give Teijou-san our deepest appreciation. I will personally thank him as well."

Takehiko grabbed his wife's arm before she could dash out the front door. "Kaoru!" Her head spun back to face his own. The deep-green eyes glared into his, but they held more pain than any anger. The two continued to stare at each other in silence, reminding each other of those sleepless nights.

Nana was standing by the doorway, turning her head away. She didn't like seeing her mistress in a tormented state when she was so close to seeing her precious daughter again. At Kaoru's request, she was able to find out where Kakeru lived in Tokyo. It turned out the man had several places in the big city, which surprised her quite a bit. It took a few days to locate his and the others' actual living quarters.

Kaoru pulled her arm from his loosening grip, turning her back to him, but her husband's face returned to its severity. Even his voice echoed with firmness, "Kaoru, think about what you're doing. Even if you see her right now, you will only frighten her. She hasn't seen us for over ten years."

"Don't you see why?!!" she harshly informed him. "Those empty ten years without a mother... I should've never let her go! NEVER!! Even if... even if..." She closed her moist eyes, clenching her fists by her side, holding in the urge to break down and cry. She bit her bottom lip to suppress the sobs as Takehiko moved closer to his wife and wrapped his arms around her. She leaned back with her eyes opening slightly to let the tears roll down her face. "She's here, I know it, but all I'm asking right now is to see her -- to see her sweet face."

Takehiko grabbed her shoulders and turned her around to him. He wiped the wetness from her face and held it close to his with their foreheads touching. "I want to see her too, but we can't stop the world for a possible happiness that could just slip away the moment we have it." He saw her face flinched painfully at the thought. "Please have patience, my love. Tonight, we will have an end to this. We'll be a happy family again. Just wait until then." He lightly kissed her forehead, and she unwillingly nodded.

"All right. I will wait until tonight -- when we get Kagami back."

Nana saw the woman of quiet elegance with strength and authority in her manners returning, pushing aside her deep emotions from the world. It was the same appearance she had seen many years ago when she was little. Kaoru was the very woman she loved and idolized and would even give her own life for. "Let us go, Nana. We will continue with the regular schedule," Kaoru announced, keeping her voice calm.

Takehiko watched the two women leave in the car before reaching his hand out for something. A man in his late-thirties came up to Takehito and gave the coat to him. He was completely dressed in black including the hat on his head. There was a worrisome expression on his face that Takehito didn't take notice of, but neither did he bring any questions up about the scene he had just seen. "Yung-san, we should leave as well," Takehito said.

Yung was recently employeed by Takehito during a trip to China, and since working in the Seigawa household, he had never seen the lady of the house torn with emotions. He worried about the couple because the two treated him more like a friend than an employee, and he respected them for that. But deep within the family, there was more going on than he thought, and it frightened him. Yet at the same time, he was quite honored that his master had trusted him so to allow him to see the emotional side of his wife.

"Yes, sir," he replied and followed Takehiko out.

Takehiko entered the backseat of the car and waited till Yung started the engine. Slowly, the vehicle circled the patch of green in the middle of the front driveway before heading onto the main road. After seeing what his wife went through, he knew it was best to keep his meeting with Akimoto Honaru from her. He was as eager as Kaoru to find out about their daughter, but when it came to Kagami, Kaoru became an irrational woman. His thoughts on why Kakeru returned now disturbed him. What were the man's intention on taking his daughter with him, and why did he return ten years later? But it was certain that he had better kept his word and protected Kagami like he promised or he would have hell to pay.

"He was hoping to see me so soon?" Kakeru smiled slightly as Honaru informed of the meeting with Seigawa Takehiko. They were in a car on their way to Honaru's office. He shook his head and said, "No, I'm not in the mood right now."

It just wasn't time for him to have a confrontation with Kagami's parents, but it was unavoidable to invite them to dinner without leaving his name -- the name of a man who took their daughter away from them. He expected it had stirred all sorts of emotions in the household. He would rather avoid them at the moment, not because of fear, but because all of their questions could be answered by one person, and that person was Kagami herself.

Honaru shrugged, "But you will be tonight, right? After all, it was your idea." Even if Kakeru didn't tell him what he thought about Takehiko's request, he knew that it was best for the two to stay out of each other's sight until the designated time. He wasn't sure what would happen then, but the fear of losing Kagami tugged his heart. Kagami was a wonderful, young woman and was like a second daughter to him -- no, she was his daughter. Ever since Kakeru returned with Kagami, she had been a part of the Akimoto family, even to the point of adopting their surname only to avoid pestering media questions of her origins.

There was something about her that made her stand out in a crowd despite her quiet, reserved character. She was definitely special, and he understood from the beginning why Kakeru took her in his care. No one could deny that the fragile, five-year-old girl left a great impression in their lives as if their world revolved around her. He had always wondered what laid in her future, watching her grow up with his own children.

"Of course," Kakeru replied. At the sight of the harbor in the distance, he asked, "It would be a good idea to bring up the offer on the shipping company." Honaru smiled at the suggestion and patted the briefcase next to him. Kakeru was surprised the old man had already thought about it. He chuckled, "You know me very well, Akimoto-san."

"After all these years, I would," he began, "but the only person who knows you well enough is yourself." Kakeru returned to his solemn self as he glanced at his watch to see it was almost noon. Honaru noticed but didn't say anything, turning to the scenery outside the car. This contract would be one of the few that were in a sense LEGAL dealings. He chuckled silently at labeling himself as a 'crooked lawyer', negociating all sorts of businesses and money matter on Kakeru's behalf.

She stood at the archway, leaning slightly against it, as she watched her young 'sister' enjoying herself with the children. The longer Minari stared at her, the more she hated the girl for being who she was. Everything changed when she stepped into their lives, but was it really so bad having Kagami around? Her mother had consoled her once that Kagami's presence was a blessing in their lives. She was young then and didn't understand what that meant, but she couldn't deny its truth.

The young teenager from years ago rushed down the terminal, in complete bliss at the news of her crush's return. She glanced over her shoulder and saw her father and three other men quickening their pace to catch up to the girl. "Let's hurry, father! Kakeru-sama will be here soon!!" she said. She had waited for months to see him again, and when she found out from her mother, she persistently requested that she miss her afternoon classes just to see him.

They arrived at the designated gate, but it would twenty more minutes till the flight would arrive. Minari paced back and forth in the aisle while her father and the other men just waited in their seats. Whenever she heard the planes in the distant, she would rush up to the windows, hoping it would be the one Kakeru would be in. When the twenty minutes had passed, she was upset at the lateness, but it only took a few more minutes to reconcile the girl.

She was staring out the window when out the corner of her eye, she saw her father climbing to his feet. He was smiling, so she turned around and saw passengers leaving the gate. She was so overwhelmed with joy that she hurried to her father's side, wanting to jump up and down so Kakeru would see her.

She glanced from one person to another, searching for the familiar head of blonde. Her face brightened at spotting him, and what was more puzzling was he was looking elsewhere, and a gentle smile graced his face. It was the first time she had seen such a genuine smile. "Kakeru-sama!" she called, waving her hand. He looked in her direction and returned the wave as he pushed through the crowd. As he came towards them, her smile slowly disappeared, seeing that he was holding hands with another.

It was a young girl, around six years or so, with one hand securely in Kakeru's and the other holding onto a bunny doll. Minari was too stunned to speak, only staring at the little one, who reminded her of a porcelain doll with her creamy skin and her big, round eyes of jade. She looked so fragile and helpless, but the warmth and innocence radiated from her face.

Minari was frozen in her spot as her father knelt down to the girl with a chuckle, "And this must be little Kagami."

Her smile brightened at someone knowing her name, and politely, she bowed, "Yes, sir." Honaru patted her head, surprised at such a well-mannered child. "And this is bunny-chan," she giggled, holding the doll out to him. He laughed and nodded, gesturing Minari to come over to them.

Kagami's eyes turned to the older girl, and she watched her walk to them with great admiration. Honaru told his daughter to take care of Kagami for a few minutes as they got the luggages. Just the three men went to fetch it while Honaru talked to Kakeru about something, and from the looks on their faces, it was serious.

"Minari-san?" Kagami called quietly, climbing into the seat next to her.

"What is it?" she grumbled, frowning at the ground. She didn't care who Kagami was, where she was from, or why she was with Kakeru, but she just didn't like the attention the little one was getting from Kakeru. With her around, she wouldn't get his attention for herself anymore, and he wouldn't like her as much because he would just give his time and all to Kagami.

"You're pretty like my big sister," she said. Minari glanced over to her innocent smile, and it was hard to hate her. Then she held her bunny up to the older girl and said, "Even bunny-chan agrees." She didn't reply to that, but when her father and Kakeru were walking towards them, she knew it was time to go.

She stood up and extended a hand to the girl, "We're leaving now, Hime-sama." Coming back into the present, she was staring at those haunting, green eyes once again, but this time they were pleading to her not to leave yet. "We do have a busy schedule now," she reminded her and also added, "We can come back another time. If it's all right with Arizawa-san."

The woman nodded, "Of course! You're welcome here any time!"

Chisa grabbed onto Kagami's hand, "You promised to come back, big sister?!"

"I promise," she answered. "And we'll draw lots of pictures too!" After exchanging a few words of farewell, Minari and Kagami dressed warmly once again and were ready to leave the building. Just as they stepped out into the cold weather again, they saw another car pull up to the curb right behind theirs. Kagami wondered who it could be, so she didn't notice the troublesome expression on Minari.

"Let's go," she said, holding on to Kagami's arm, and led her down the walkway.

The women of the second car stepped out and were on their way towards the orphanage after grabbing some bags from the trunk. Nana carried them all, so her mistress wouldn't have to burden herself. They walked along the same pathway, and eventually the pairs of duets crossed paths. Kagami smiled politely at the women, and Kaoru looked at her oddly, but smiling and nodding all the same. The girl's face was strangely familiar as if she was looking into a mirror.

Kaoru slowed her pace down and was just a few meters from the front door when she stopped. She turned around to see the older woman getting into the car. It was the smirk on her face that she realized why the girl's face was so familiar. She ran for the car, but it was too late. The car had driven off before she could reach the curb.

Nana didn't move from her spot, watching Kaoru become frustrated with the situation. One look at the girl, and she had known it was Kagami. It was like she was looking at her own mistress then, but she chose to remain silent because she felt it wasn't time yet. If Kakeru had put such effort in inviting the Seigawas to dinner, then he wouldn't give up so easily right then. There was something more to the whole story.

That evening, Kagami sat in the traditional Japanese room, wearing a thin layer of white undergarments. She stared in the vanity mirror before her, noting the details of her own face. A knock on the door interrupted her peaceful time. "Come in," she said. The screen door slid opened, and a woman entered, carrying a tray of extravagant, colorful cloths. She placed it on the floor and closed the door.

"Your kimono has arrived, Miss," she said.

"Thank you." Kagami got up as the woman helped her dress. She slipped into the kimono and kept her arms raised as the woman worked diligently in preparing the traditional outfit on her. The fabric was of a sky-blue color with designs of lotus blossoms, and her obi was dark-blue to stand out against the bright colors.

When the dressing was complete, Kagami sat down again, and the woman began to brush her dark hair. After smoothing it out, she began to twist it into a tight bun and held it in place with several bobby pins. The final touch to her hair were a pair of jaded sticks that crossed, holding her hair together.

And the make-up was the last to be completed. Her skin was already light, but in the traditional way, the white powder was still applied to her face. Her eyebrows were only darkened at the start, and her lips were red as blood, bringing life to the ghostly face. Her cheeks were faintly touched up with a pink hue of blush.

When it was all done, the woman retreated aside to allow Kagami a chance to see the finishing product. She looked into the mirror once more and found a different face staring back at her. With a longer mirror on the opposite wall, she rose on her feet with the woman's help and stood there, staring at the reflection of a stranger. She looked so elegant and refined in the traditional clothing, but it couldn't really be her. Was she really the same girl that left her home, that left her family? What would they think of her now? Now, that she has returned to them.

"Kakeru-sama," she whispered, "why?"

She had come home early that afternoon with Minari after getting fitted into her kimono. She went to her room to rest, feeling exhausted from the various places they went to. She was just lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling, with her arms around the bunny doll that had been with her since she was little. She stayed that way for who knew how long, but she couldn't go to sleep. Kakeru had mentioned the dinner get-together a few days ago, and she had been eagerly prepared for it ever since, not sure why she was nervous and excited about it.

She heard a knock at her opened door, and when she turned to the visitor, she was surprised it was Kakeru. He was standing there like he had been watching her. He entered her room as she sat up and remained quiet, not sure what to say, since this was the first time in a long time that he came into her room. How strange that they were so close when she was a child, but as she grew, they became so distant, like strangers living under one roof.

Still hugging her bunny, she at least acknowledged him, "Kakeru-sama..." He just sat at the edge of her bed with his back to her. Staring at him, she just wanted to reach out to him and wrap her arms around him and hold him forever, but it never happened because she was afraid he would push her away even further. She just couldn't bare the thought of that happening, when she only had him from her past to hold onto.

"Your family," he finally spoke. "You remember them?"

"My family?" she repeated quietly as if to herself. It had been such a long time, and only shadows have lingered in her mind, being replaced by the current family she had.

"Your real family. Would you like to see them again?"

Her eyes widened at the question. "Kakeru-sama, do you mean... but why?" She could feel the tears on the verge of spilling. He turned around to look at her, surprised at her saddened expression. "Why, Kakeru-sama!" she cried, falling into his arms. He closed his eyes as his arms impulsively embraced her with so much pain in the air.

It felt good to have him hold her again, but it hurt her so much, not that she was about to see her biological parents in an hour but to know that she would leave his side. Kagami traced the outline of her face on the mirror and whispered, "Kakeru-sama... why are you getting rid of me?"

He sat across from his parents in the backseat of the car, noting their unusual silence at going to their dinner invitation. Shinji had never seen them this way before, at least not ever since the event over ten years ago that disrupted their family. And somehow, he had a feeling that it was all about that time, even though Nana had just told them about going to a dinner that evening.

He glanced over his shoulder to the front, where Yung and Nana were, both quiet as well. He couldn't stand it when his parents weren't themselves and wanted so bad to ask them something, just to say anything, but he just held his tongue and stared out the window. The glittering lights along the night horizon reminded him so much of his youngest sister: how her eyes would sparkle with such life at every little thing. Her health was never that good, so their mother would always keep her inside the house by her side while he and his other siblings would run around outside. He would see her by the window, watching them eagerly, but the sadness was evident in her beautiful eyes.

One time, he brought in a yellow flower to her, and it was just a coincidence that she sneezed, holding onto it happily, but their mother had seen everything and scolded him for giving his sister something that could be bad for her health. But from then on, he would gather all sorts of flowers and pressed them flat into a book instead. When he gave her the scrapbook, she was happy at receiving that as much as the real, three-dimensional one.

He had always been close to her, compared to his other siblings. They had so much in common, enjoying the quiet presence of each other, and they talked a lot about different things. They were the most compatiable of the four, but now those days seemed like distant dreams.

The vehicle finally arrived at Nanryuu Teahouse, coming to a slow stop at the front entrance. The car door opened, and Shinji let his parents out first before stepping out. He stood next to Nana as the couple was greeted by a man, who introduced himself as Honaru Akimoto. Their escort led them inside the building, where the teahouse workers took over from there.

The group of five followed the young woman upstairs into a private room, where it was already occuppied by Kakeru and the Akimoto siblings. "I apologize for our lateness," Takehiko said, sitting across from Kakeru. His wife took the space by his side, followed by Shinji and then Nana.

The room was large with a platform at the end as an area for entertainment. A small table was set in the center of the elevated floor, and on top of the table laid an instrument. It was a zither that Nana immediately recognized, having been familiar with it in her younger days, but this one was definitely of Chinese origins.

"It's quite all right," the blonde said, having notice the wandering eyes of Kaoru, and told her, "She'll be here soon. Minari."

"Yes," she replied. She stood up and left the room.

Shinji just couldn't believe it was the same man that took his sister away, but why had he returned? Were they just talking about his sister? His sister had come home? All sorts of questions twirled in his head, but he just couldn't understand why, after all this time? What did he achieve by taking her away from them? It only made their family miserable and distant. Was that his goal?

"I know you have many questions for me," Kakeru said, "But the answers are quite personal, and you wouldn't understand."

"I wouldn't understand?!" Kaoru shouted angrily, "Of course I wouldn't understand why you took my precious daughter away from me?! What did we ever do to you?!! After all these years, you show up again, thinking we would welcome you back with open arms!"

"Kaoru!" her husband said firmly, holding her back by the arm. He didn't want a big scene from this, and not many people knew of what exactly happened within his family, but people were only humans. And being human, they tend to gossip.

"I just want my daughter back!" she pleaded.

"Mother, please," Shinji tried to calm her down.

Kakeru looked away from them, already feeling the pain increase ten-fold. He knew he couldn't hold onto Kagami forever, and at this moment, he had to let his selfishness go. Honaru sensed the troubleness in his superior's manner and told the Seigawas, "But it will be up to Kagami to decide."

It was at this intense moment that Minari reappeared, and everyone tried to recompose themselves. She stepped aside as the teahouse girls entered, bring their meals. When everything was set, the girls departed, but Minari was still outside the room, waiting for one last person. Finally, Kagami entered with her eyes averted to the floor. They were all speechless, ignoring the delicious food before them, and watched the demure girl glide across the floor towards the zither.

She sat down and carefully pulled the sleeves of her kimono aside, getting ready to play a music piece. Her delicate fingers swept across the strings of silk, creating a series of melodic sounds, and she continued the sad melody by plucking, following the piece she loved to play. It was the one Kakeru heard often when he sat alone in the next room as she practiced, with only a wall physically between them.

Kagami poured herself into her music, letting each note reach some part of her listeners, because she was torn between her biological family and the man she loved. They could feel her pain and sorrow at the weight of her decision falling on her fragile shoulders, and Kakeru knew this. The tears threatened to overwhelm her, but in the middle of her performance, a string suddenly broke, ending the piece abruptly. Her green eyes stared at the instrument, as if it was a premonition.

"Kagami?" a gentle voice called her. She looked up and saw an older version of herself gazing down at her. "My sweet Kagami..." Kaoru opened her arms to the girl, and the mother and daughter reunited at last.

"Mama," she sobbed, burying her head into her mother's bosom. When Kaoru pulled back to see her daughter's face, Kagami's tears had smeared all her make-up, but she was still beautiful in her mother's eyes. Kaoru wiped away her tears, along with most of the white make-up, revealing her true skin.

Kagami looked around and found herself surrounded by her family. "Papa... Brother..." she whispered. She also noticed the Akimotos had stood up, watching them, but Kakeru was no where in sight. She looked at the screen door, which was left partly opened, and she hugged her mother again, hiding her broken heart within the happy reunion.

TO BE CONTINUED... Chapter Three: The Bonds We Make, The Bonds We Break

Anzue returns to Tokyo upon hearing that Kagami has come home, as well as the one who took her away. Old sisterly feelings return, and Kagami begins to understand why...

About the same time, an entreprenuer named Fujitara Hajime appears on the scene and he seems to know Kakeru and his past. Appearing with Hajime is Seigawa Seiji, who disappeared over ten years ago--right after Kagami left. It's a big family reunion for the Seigawas, but a happy one is unlikely.

Meanwhile, Minari confronts Anzue, and there's a showdown.

Among family chaos, Kakeru must deal with a stressed out Kagami while handling a private 'game' with Nana. Is Kagami hallucinating or is that apparition of the light-blue-haired woman real? What link does she have with Kakeru?

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

FINALLY!!! I know, I know... Gomen, Kei-chan!! Well, it's pretty long compared to the last chapter, so I hope you're happie with it. Although it's left on a sad part, it's not a cliffhanger... or is it?? Waaah, but it's not like suspenseful, ne? Anyway, I hoped you enjoyed it!!

Oh yeah, if you wanna hear the music piece that I imagined Kagami playing, you can downloaded it here: . It's in the Music folder, and the file is called Autumn Moon, a very small RealAudio file. =6_6=