Case Fifty

A Mere Human

Please, don't let go. Please, don't let go.

My child-like hands fastened to the only person who could save me.

I was dangling above a pit of darkness. The faceless boy was trying his best. I knew he was, but I could still feel my hands slipping.

"Just a little more," I heard him say.

"Please, Tsugumuchi," I sobbed, failing to stay calm, "I promise I'll be good. I'll help your Mommy."

The faceless man came in sight to pry each finger from the boy. One, two, three.

"Noooooooooooo," the boy cried, as I fell screaming.

This was new. Everything felt real. The hot, summer day made our hands slippery, sealing my fate. Instead of me and my savior being alone, there was a man there with us. His hand was paler than any adult I had ever seen before. This sickly-looking hand betrayed me and allowed the darkness to swallow me whole.

I pinched my cheeks. This was a dream, not reality.

Day Three was hot, very much like the dream. Perhaps the heat wave caused the reflection. Groggy, I scratched my head and looked around.

My eyes widened when I saw the time. It was already the late afternoon. Horrified, I rushed to get ready. Midway through my struggle with my jeans, the door slid upon.

Sakurako came in with a tray. Surprised to see me awake, she put the tray down. "Get back into bed," she said, trying to push me.

"I'm fine."

"You have a fever-,"

"I don't." This unbearable heat was making me hot, not a fever. "It's the weather."

"Those aren't even your pants!"

Hopping around, I tried to force them on. How could my jeans shrink overnight? Taking them off, I looked at the size. I was a little above the average size, but the pants did not match. These jeans were for runway models. Only Endo fit the profile.

Casually, I folded the jeans and placed it on her duffel bag. I found my bag and pulled out my capris.

Snatching it from my hand, Sakurako threw it aside and held up a kimono. "You need to rest."

"I'm not sick!"

"Stop being fucking stubborn! For once in your life, listen to someone!"

Her yelling at me was not great, especially when I saw the nerve on her forehead. Enraged, it was visibly throbbing and ready to burst. Out of fear for my friend's health, I took the kimono.

As I slipped it on, she said, "I brought a cooling pad and a water jug. Amamiya is bringing food in a bit."

Obediently, I went under the covers as she brought the tray closer. "Thanks," I said, when she offered the cup.

"Because you're sick, I'm not going to lecture you."

Thank goodness. I did not want her shouting at me. "Screw it," she gave in. "What compelled you to leave! Didn't you even think about how worried we would be? The teachers were freaking out. You could have been having a seizure in the middle of nowhere or worse dead!"

"Sorry," I mumbled, sipping a bit of the water.

"And if you were dead, what about your parents? Did you even think about them? Is there really no filial bone in your body?"

This girl excelled in the power of guilt trip. My mother could not compare to her right now. Internally, I squirmed. I knew how worried my parents could get. Since the accident, my mother became more neurotic while my father was careful to not upset me. Even though there was no definite prognosis, they continued to worry.

Until I have my own children, this nagging concern would evade me. "I'm sorry," I repeated, when she was huffing and puffing. "I know I'm defected for not thinking."

"You're not defective," she tapped my head. "There is a functioning brain right in there. Use it once in awhile, especially when you're about to do something stupid. Stop going on impulse!"

I had to smile. In all my years, I never had a friend this concerned about me. Not Kimiko, not Harumi, not Rena, not Amamiya.

Sakurako was the only one to stay with me during my time of need. When my mind was scattered from the loss of my followers, she was there to cheer me up. She would joke, call, gossip and cheer me on. When everyone was gone, she was there.

"Asuka," she exclaimed, when I pulled her into a hug.

I was not the affectionate type. I showed my gratitude with little words of thanks. It was hard to convey great appreciation. So, I hugged her. It was the only thing I could use with my parents.

"I don't have a fever."

Pulling away, she touched my forehead with the back of her hand. "You…don't have a fever?"

I ripped off the cooling pad and flipped the blanket to leave. "Like I told you," I tightened the wrapping around my waist before heading out, "It's the weather."

"If it's so hot, why are you trying to suffocate yourself?"

Unbeknownst to her, there was a boy walking around this very inn who had fallen for me. To keep him from further depression, I had to lock up the goods. Patting my chest, I informed her, "These assets are coveted."

"What assets?"

I did not know which hurt more the question or her matter-of-fact tone. My pride was at stake. I was the girl who developed first in middle school.

With our hands still firmly placed over my chest, Yuki happened to be walking down the hall. As soon as he saw the precarious situation, he returned to where he came.

Removing her hand, she snapped, "Just because I like girls doesn't mean I'm the go-to person for breast examinations."

When I saw Ishiragi coming from the direction of the entrance, I contemplated on letting the notorious player touch me. He already groped my behind. Why not add a breast or two?

Realizing my mindset would cause the suffragettes to turn in their graves, I quickly put up my arms as an X.

"Hey," he said, confused by my guarding. "Have you seen Sumiwara?"

Sakurako did not hesitate to tell him. "Check the dining hall," she pointed at the corridor on the right.

He nodded his thanks.

Wait a minute! What was he doing here?

Ishiragi Izo, being a high school graduate, has no business being here. Unless he came for Yuki.

"Asuka," Sakurako shouted when I went after him.

XXX

He had to have a reason for not seeing his family. He had to have a good reason for never talking about them. He had to have a good reason for never mentioning his relationship with Ishiragi.

"Go back," I heard Yuki demand. If I had taken another step, I would have been caught. Pulling back, I hid behind the wall. Peeking a little bit, I saw Ishiragi holding out a bag.

"Come," he said, dangling the bag in front of him.

"No," Yuki shoved him away.

He started to walk towards my direction.

"Do you think I like groveling?" Fortunately, that made Yuki stopped from discovering my eavesdropping.

Ishiragi asked again, "Do you think I like groveling? True, I should have checked up on you. I should have been the big cousin, who's always there. But, I wasn't. It's true, I knew where you were for a long time and I did nothing with it. I have no right to talk to you not after what we all did to you. If he wasn't so sick, I wouldn't be here-,"

"You're right! You lost your chance. You all did. Just because the bastard is dying! That's why you pulled this entire stunt. Paying for my school trip and brainwashing my uncle?! Even though I was forced to come here, I still can choose what the fuck I'm going to do!

"She won't be there! It will just be Ojii-san and you-,"

"You can tell him the same thing I've been telling them for the past ten years. Fuck off!"

I never stood a chance. He was too quick for me to escape.

Confused by their conversation, I focused on trying to piece things together. From what I knew thus far, Yuki lived with his uncle's family and he did not like Ishiragi. With the newly added information, he was on the outs with his family and he was avoiding someone specifically.

Yukiko already exposed that part. There was no interest on his part to see his sister. She was desperate, his grandfather was desperate.

Why would he be so cruel?

Without warning, he found me.

His eyes broke my heart. In a split second, the hatred in his eyes was replaced by ones of sorrow. He was disappointed. With me.

"Yuki," I tried to explain my foolish need to sleuth.

Instantaneously, the guard was up. The stirring emotion within him became hidden by the now familiar vacant mask of his.

Hearing my voice, Ishiragi turned around the corridor and found us in the standstill. With one look, he knew of my betrayal. "Since she's so curious, I'll tell her about Yukiko."

The name struck fear into Yuki. Taking my hand, he wanted to get away far from Ishiragi.

However, I could not let him run.

"I know," I blurted out.

What is the point in running?

Ishiragi possessed no leverage over him. There was no point in hiding anything.

I was glad to have his back facing me. I did not have the courage to face him. It was shameful how I scurried around for information without going to him.

When I had seen his eyes, I knew he wanted to cry.

I hated myself for being the one to choke up. I had no right.

"I-I saw her."

Turning around, panic washed over his face. Silent, I stared back.

Seeing the panic settle in him, I frantically grabbed unto his wrist. Roughly, he wrenched it away. "Yuki," I pleaded.

"Let him go," Ishiragi said.

I ignored him and ran after Yuki.


I had to ignore everyone. Yuki had a head start over me and there was no way of knowing where he was going.

I hated Kyoto's vastness. Every turn I took, I was confronted with new obstacles. Markets, crowds of people, wild dogs, cars…Every turn I took, there was no Yuki. The more blond boys' shoulders I grabbed, the more dejected I became.

During the hours I spent searching for him, I did not notice the dark clouds forming. It was not until the heavy rain poured that I realized how useless the hunt was.

But, I could not stop. Not when Yuki was wandering aimlessly in a city he hated.

Multiple times, people tried to persuade me out of the storm. I did not care about getting a cold. The rain drenched me from head to toe and it was doing the same to Yuki.

This was my entire fault.

Me and my big mouth.

From the start, I should have been supportive.

Ishiragi's words could not affect me. I knew there had to be a reason for Yuki's frigid relation with his family.

But, curiosity had to overwhelm me.

Thus far, I should have been satisfied with what he entrusted me: Chiaki.

She and her family were the people he loved.

Stop this nonsense. Stop thinking about him never coming back.

This fear was new and more worrisome than I expected. The guilt tore in me to the point I could no longer breathe.

The weight of this responsibility was great and daunting. Before we could even deal with the Hitonoseri, this madness happened.

Collapsing from the combination of suffocation and heavy pelts of rain, I fell to my hands and knees. "Get up," I shouted to myself. "Get the fuck up!"

This was not the time to wallow in the pits of despair. The days of crippling whirlwind emotions were over. I had my wits back and there was no way I was going to slip into the confusion of my mind.

I smiled, amused with my luck. It had been awhile since I sensed a supernatural being without seeing first.

Standing not too far from me was Yukiko's Sensei.

She too smiled sardonically.

"It has been awhile since I met a kid of your caliber," she said in an eerily sweet voice.

XXX

The snow-white woman was alone. Yukiko was nowhere in sight and the chained Antonio was temporarily freed.

Or jailed somewhere else.

Rising up, I returned the greeting, "I could say the same about you."

As if I were her prey, she was circling around me. Ever since I saw that look of hers, I could not afford to keep my eyes off of her.

"Are you saddened to not see the boy?"

"I'd be a liar if I said I didn't."

Suddenly, she stopped when she was struck by an epiphany. "You're not looking for the boy. You're looking for someone else."

I stiffened and quickly regretted letting slip of my concern.

"Ah. You're looking for someone who's still alive." Sniffing the air, her eyebrows furrowed, "Someone who's familiar."

There was no way she was a spirit. She could not be. She had to be something else.

My heart pounded uncontrollably when I realized I was facing a demon.

"That brat really is here," she growled, her teeth turning shark-like. When she whirled herself to vanish, I launched and knocked her to the ground.

The only strategy I had was keeping her from finding Yuki. If she found him, Yukiko would.

Her sharpened nails made a swipe for me, but I managed to roll under and send her flying back. I wasted no time at glancing at my glowing hands.

She now had the intention to tear me apart by ligaments.

"You dare attack me," she snarled, her nails getting longer by the second. "A mere human!"

The nails expanded towards me. By mere luck, I slipped on the mud as I ran which caused me to escape death for a second time. Her nails furrowed into a tree trunk when she missed the target.

"You said I'm a kid with caliber. Why aren't you surprised?"

Struggling with pulling her hand out, she slashed the tree with her free hand.

Crap.

She chased after me into the park and shot her expanded nails again. This time, I was ready to deflect. I knocked the attack away with the side of my hand. In the process, I incinerated through her nails. Realizing this 'mere human' was becoming a force to reckon with; she retracted her nails and proceeded to goad me into a furious hand-to-hand combat.

This time, she had the upper hand. Blow for blow, I was getting weaker while she persevered on until finally, she moved me against a tree with her arm pressing into my throat. Suffocating till I was blue in the face, her face contorted freakishly. She loved every second of this.

Slamming me harder into the tree, she laughed. "You caught me on a bad day. You see, I'm stronger than this-Slam!-Thanks to that punk, I've been dealing with a hundred years of starvation. Fortunately, his seal is weakening and you will have the pleasure of being my first meal-Slam!- Your flesh and spiritual energy will quench my hunger."

I tried to get out, but these hands were failing me. Slowly, the world started to become hazy.

"Ah, ah," she chided, "Not yet. The child of the Hitonoseri is more delectable while they're alive."

While everything was going dark, her hold over me loosened. My body plopped to the wet earth when she suddenly vanished.

In and out, I was slipping from consciousness. Each time I was deliriously woken up, someone was patting my face and muttering words.

"This is not your destiny," a man's voice repeatedly said.

Groaning, I fought to sleep. My body was exhausted and cold. "This is not your destiny."

His voice was becoming clearer and much louder.

Bit by bit, my droopy eyes opened. There was a man looming over me.

"Yuki?"

The man remained silent. Coming back to reality, I noticed his thumb was pressed on my forehead. Then, I saw the paleness of his skin. Next, his dark kimono. His empty, ocean green eyes. Finally, his disheveled, short orange hair.

"Taiki?"

Again, there was no reply.

Gently, he brushed back my hair from my face. Lowering to my ear, he whispered something.

"ASUKA!"

I heard Yuki pounding and splashing towards me. He wasted no time in trying to wake me. Whatever the man said, my exhaustion started to overtake me. Yuki's cries were being drowned by the sounds of a child crying.

"Tsugumuchi!"

My little legs were racing to a young man, staring at the window. He was wearing gray striped trousers and a high-collared white shirt with a dark waistcoat. He had his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His jet black hair was sleek and reached the nape of his neck.

Hearing me call out his name, he turned to warmly smile. His hazel eyes were filled with happiness, which warmed my heart.

It was odd to see the Natori's great-grandfather looking at me with such fondness.


A/N: Wooho! Chapter Fifty! Lol it took over forty chapters to up the romance! I've spent three years with this story and for three years, the romance has always been a struggle among other things. Even when I deal with writer's block, Asuka and Yuki always manage to keep me thinking.

Thanks to everyone for reading and continuing to do so!