"Oww...," Miki complained, rubbing at a new sore spot on his shoulder. "That was no fair, brat."
Suzu stuck her tongue out at him. "Your own fault for being too slow, ojiisan."
Blue eyes widened. "O-ojiisan?!?" He repeated, choking a little on the word. "Who are you calling an ojiisan, you brat?" He lunged slightly at her, and she dodged back out of his reach again.
Sitting on the grass nearby, Aku chuckled softly at the other two's antics, trying to cover the sound as he covered his mouth. "Are they always like this?" he couldn't help asking the man beside him.
One auburn eye peeked open, took note of the action, and closed again. "Iie," Enjeru answered slowly. "Usually they're worse."
"Yeah. I was just wondering if they were..." He trailed off, unable to find the words he was looking for.
"Putting on a show?" the general prompted.
"Hai! That's it! I didn't know if they were putting on a show or what."
A faint smile touched the other man's lips but quickly vanished. "Iie. If anything, they're toning it down today." He sighed and stretched just a bit in the warm sunlight. "Normally there would be a lot of heavy innuendos."
"Miki-san would do that?"
The same eye opened again. "I didn't say it was Miki."
Enjeru chuckled softly. "Hai. Miki just sticks to the light flirting that can be easily written off. And Suzu never catches the first clue." He glanced back over at the fight again. "Saa... Looks like it's my turn to fight against Miki now." He slowly stood up and stretched a bit before retrieving his katana and starting into the field, passing Suzu as he went out.
"Ganbatte yo, Enjeru!" he called out as Suzu flopped down beside him.
She grinned in return and yelled, "Ganbatte, Miki-kun! If you win, I'll give you a prize!" She leaned back on the sparse grass until she was propped on her elbows to watch the fight. "So," she continued much more quietly, "how do you like it here, Aku-kun?"
"It's... nice," he hesitantly replied. What's she up to with this?
"How Enjeru-kun for a roommate?"
"I know he can be hard to put up with. Sometimes I think the only reason I can stand him is because he, Miki, and I have been friends forever."
He bit his lip, not quite sure how to put what he wanted to say, finally opting for the direct approach. "He told me that when you guys first met, you and Miki-san didn't like him very much."
She laughed, dropping down off her elbows to lay fully on the ground. "I bet he told you it was his fault too, didn't he?" He nodded slightly. "What'd he say?"
"That he was... hard to put up with and a half-breed."
"He called himself a pain in the ass, right?" He nodded again, a faint red staining his cheeks. "I called him that once when we were little and it stuck with him ever since; he hasn't let himself forget it. That's just how he is, never letting himself forget if he was anything else than perfect."
"His otousan was another general in the army. He always pushed Enjeru-kun too hard after Enjeru-kun went to live with him. He was never satisfied unless everything Enjeru-kun was perfect, and it rubbed off on Enjeru-kun. By the time we all met each other, he was... fragile." She sighed. "We never quite knew what to do or say around him, so Miki-kun and I avoided him as much we could." She grinned at a fond memory. "Until Marie hit us both upside the head and yelled at us for idiots."
"Gomen for saying this, Suzu-san, but that seems more like something you'd do."
She grinned a bit more, this time a bit sadly. "I'm a lot different now than I was back then" was all she'd say for a long time. When she finally spoke again, her voice was still unnaturally (for her) quiet. "I bet you're wondering why I'm telling you all this, ne, Aku-kun?"
"I'm sorry, but yes, I am, Suzu-san."
"Enjeru-kun is like a brother to me and Miki-kun; we both love him dearly. We don't want to see him get hurt, so we never argued when he refused to get attached to anything and anyone." She paused, sitting up and placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. "But he... really seems to like you, Aku-kun."
"He... likes me?"
"Well, it's obvious the two of you are becoming fast friends. Even Miki-kun and I can see it." She chuckled slightly. "He was fascinated by you from the first moment he saw you."
He blushed slightly again. "When I was being so..."
"Tough?" she supplied, a brilliant grin on her face. "Hells yeah! He was so totally zoned out. No one but Miki-kun and I ever talk back to him. It totally threw him for a loop the way nothing ever has before!" She hugged him gently. "It was totally cool, Aku-kun."
;"Is that so?"
"Hai. And he's been acting so much more normally the last couple of days since you've been here. He's been outside in the daylight, he's been talking somewhat civilly, and he's even smiled once or twice."
"He's laughed too..."
"Really?!?" she exploded.
"Oi, brat," Miki called over from where he and Enjeru stood, their swords locked, "unless you're cheering, keep it down, will you? In case you forgot, we're practicing over here."
She blew him a raspberry. "Gomen ne, ojiisan!"
"Quit calling me that - ack!" He turned his full attention back to Enjeru as the slightly shorter fighter's sword sliced just short of the front of his coat.
"Do they always fight for real like that?" She glanced back to him. "I noticed with you and Miki-san, neither of you were trying very hard, and you kept hitting him with the wrong end of your knives. So why do they fight for real?"
"Because Enjeru-kun doesn't know how to play fight. The one time he tried, he put himself out of commission for a week and a half with a half a dozen strained and torn muscles." Navy blue eyes grew large in surprise. "Hai, it's true. Now, tell me the truth: has Enjeru really laughed?"
He couldn't hold back a laugh of his own. "Hai hai, Suzu-san."
She winced playfully. "And one more thing, Aku-kun. For the gods' sake, quit calling me '-san'. It makes me feel old. I'm only a year or two older than you at the most." She winked now. "Or do you want me to start calling you 'Aku-chan'?"
The laughter wouldn't stop, and he dimly noted how good it felt to be able to laugh freely, to do just about anything he wanted freely. He faintly heard the white-haired woman beside him laughing as well, nowhere near as loudly as he was but still just as amused. Neither noticed that the practice session they were supposed to watching had slowed down and nearly stopped as the two fighters stared at them in a nearly identical soft, fond way.
"I haven't heard Suzu-chan laugh like that in a long time," Miki whispered. "Not since before... 'It' happened." Even in the way he spoke the word, it was possible to hear the way he capitalized that word. Sapphire blue eyes dropped slowly to stare at the ground. "I think I owe Aku one now." He glanced at the man before him and softly continued, "maybe more than just one."
"I don't need you to be an aniki to me anymore, Miki. You don't have to take care of me anymore like you used to." He frowned lightly. "I'm not as weak as I used to be."
"Not in the same ways." Enjeru frowned, swinging his katana at his friend again wildly. Miki blocked it easily; when the general was mad, he was unpredictable but easily to read; besides, he'd been fighting against him forever. "You can fight now, but you've forgotten how to trust."
This time the frown was sad. "I trust you and Suzu."
"What about Aku?" At the silence from the other man, he continued speaking. "He's going to be with us for quite a while now, and he's going to need friends."
Auburn eyes narrowed, and a sharp glitter entered them.. "I'm his friend. And what about you and Suzu?"
"You have to trust someone to be their friend. If you can't trust them, then you're not really friends. So are you really willing to be his friend?"
The anger apparent in Enjeru's eyes and movements finally spread to his face. "I don't want to talk about this anymore, Miki. Drop it."
"Iie. Not yet. Not until you answer my question. Are you going to trust him? Are you going to?"
"Why do you care?" he practically spit out. "Whose friend are you anyway?"
It had only been a matter of time before Enjeru grated on his last nerve, and the next slash of his sword came unnervingly close to slicing one of two best friends in half, instead only drawing a thin line of red blood across the other man's stomach. While neither of them seemed to notice, the two watching on the sidelines did, their laughter forgotten in the sudden replacement feeling of worry, springing to their feet. "Why does it always have to one extreme or the other with you, Enjeru?" he all but screamed at the other man as Enjeru's sword nicked the same shoulder Suzu had hit with the hilt end of her knife before.
"Because that's the way it is and nothing is going to change it!"
As Aku and Suzu watched in horror, both men shifted in ready positions, each one's sword prepared to do fatal damage to the other.
15 July 2001
Maa... I'm trying to requalify for my title of the Queen of Cliffhangers. How am I doing? ^_~ More reviews/e-mails mean quicker updates.
See you in the next chapter.