Destined for Greatness

 

Part One

 

This is so incredibly boring. I slouched in my seat at the back of the room, trying to look like I was fascinated with what was happening around me. Iím not even going to be ruling these lands; why the hell do I have to attend the council meetings? It was nothing but a bunch of old, self-important nobles gathering around to tell my grandfather Ė and, in turn, my sister Ė how to run the district. And what was my job?

Oh, thatís simple. I was supposed to sit at the back, keep my mouth shut, and "try to learn something". Thanks a bunch, grandfather. I love you too.

So what do you do when youíre nearly seventeen? When your birthdayís less than a week away and you get the feeling your family has completely forgotten? Come on! I remembered their birthdays; the least they could do was try to remember mine. I mean, itís not like I asked for much. Just some vague semblance of loveÖ I understood that the Tokiwa district was right next to ours, and that they had a lot of problems. I understood that it wouldnít be good if some of that trouble spread over into Masara district. And I understood that it wasnít a good sign if some of Lord Sakakiís soldiers were prowling around the city. But, really, would it be too much to ask for them to force out a Ďhappy birthdayí as they passed me in the hall on the day I turned seventeen? It would only take five seconds of their precious time; that wasnít much.

"Shigeru." Grandfatherís voice jolted me out of my half-dozing state. I blinked up at him as he gave me a stern look. "The meeting is over," he told me dryly. "You can wake up now."

"Sorry," I muttered, pushing myself to my feet. Iíd been sitting too long; my legs felt numb. "I didnít mean to fall asleep; some of these people would just make better livings if they sang lullabies to children. And then at least theyíd be doing something useful."

He gave me a look that clearly stated he wasnít amused by my sarcasm. "Shigeru, all Iím doing is trying to help you gain some valuable knowledge. The least you could do is co-operate."

"Why? Itís not like Iíll ever use any of this knowledge." I crossed my arms over my chest. "Iím not really going to be doing anything with my life, Grandfather. Iím second-born. About all Iím good for is some kind of alliance marriage. There have to be rulers out there who are my age and looking for a co-ruler. Iím a decoration and a power tool, and thereís not much anyone can do about that, now is there?"

"ShigeruÖ" Grandfather sighed and rubbed a hand over his eyes. "When you were born," he began, for about the millionth time, "and when I had found out that your mother was dead, I made myself a promise. I wanted your life to m Ė "

" Ė mean something. I know." I sighed and rolled my eyes. "Iíve heard this speech a million times. Itís time to face facts, though, wouldnít you say? Thereís no way possible for me to do anything great. Iím second-born. I wonít be ruling, there arenít any wars, and nobody needs a dragon slain or anything like that. Thereís nothing great for me to do. Youíre going to have to content yourself instead with watching me die of boredom."

He gave me a quizzical look. "Are you that bored, Shigeru?"

"Gods, yes!" I leaned against the wall and stared at him as if he were an idiot not to have noticed it. Well, he sort of was. "All I have are books, and studying, and these stupid council meetings. And weapons training, of course." Actually, that was what I felt I was best at, secretly, but my grandfather was a scholar, so he didnít value swordsmanship much. "I donít even remember the last time I had someone my own age to talk to!"

He smiled faintly. "If youíre looking for companionship, I happen to know that there are several young ladies about whoíd jump at the chance to spend time with you."

I couldnít help the blush spreading across my face. "Not that! Iím talking about having someone to talk to. Hard as it may be to believe, Iím not interested in girls yet."

"Shigeru, youíre sixteen," he told me, as if I didnít know. "Perhaps youíre interested in boys insteadÖ"

I am not having this conversation. I am not having this conversation. As it turned out, though, I was. "No, Iím not." I glared at the wall as if it had caused all my troubles. "Iím attracted to nothing and nobody, which only means that thereís something else I canít do to keep from being bored."

Grandfather shook his head. "You have a birthday coming up in a few days, havenít you?"

"Iím amazed you remembered," I muttered, not looking at him.

He gave me a sharp look. "We may be busy, Shigeru, but we havenít forgotten about you. And I think perhaps I may have an idea that will help with that loneliness."

I snorted a laugh. "What are you going to do, buy me a friend?"

The look on his face after I said that was not very reassuring. "I have work to do, Shigeru," he told me, avoiding the question. "Youíd better get back to your own rooms Ė unless youíre heading to the armoryÖ" I could sense his disapproval at that.

"You know," I said deliberately, "I think I will. I could use a little more training." And I walked off without giving him even a glance back. And you could use a good dose of reality. Greatness just isnít in my job description.

~~~~~~

"Are you two going to stand there staring at each other all day?" I frowned at my two best friends, but it wasnít a real complaint and they knew it. "Come on, Iíve got place to be, people to meetÖ"

"Go meet íem yourself," Hiroshi muttered, tossing me a grin. Wow, I had managed to take his attention from Kasumi. And for a whole half a second, too. It was a pretty great accomplishment. "And leave us alone."

"Alone? Leave you alone?" I gave a gasp, clasping both hands over my mouth. "How could I leave the two of you without a proper chaperone? Here." I moved Hiroshi away from Kasumi, then stood right between them, putting one arm around each of their shoulders. "Now thatís better. Iíll keep you guys decent, donít worry."

Kasumi thwaped me with the back of her hand. "Sure, Toshi, it looks real normal now: three kids standing at the side of the street, two of whom are being mauled by the third!"

"Iím no kid," I protested lightly. "Iíll be seventeen in a month and a bit. Maybe you guys are kidsÖ"

"Sure." Hiroshi pushed me away, and I fell back, laughing. "Weíre even too old to spend time with you. Remember, weíre already seventeen. Itís just that we have to let you tag along with us because youíre too young to be trusted on your own." He mock scowled as I beamed back at him, one arm still around Kasumiís shoulders. "And take your hands off my girl!"

"But Iím just a kid; what are you worried about?" I stuck my tongue out at him. Kasumi shoved me away with a grin.

"Youíre so immature, Satoshi!" she lectured me, trying to look stern. "When are you going to grow up? Youíre still sticking your tongue out at people; just look at you!"

"Whath wong with my thongue?" I asked, not bothering to put my tongue back in my mouth before I started speaking. "You guyth are jutht jealouth becauth yourth arenít ath good!"

"Yours gets more exercise," Hiroshi countered as Kasumi gave in to laughter. "All the food you eatÖ all the talking you doÖ Iím surprised it still works!" He ducked away as I lunged at him.

"Guys," Kasumi said in a practical tone, interrupting our mock-fight. "We only have half a day for browsing around, and thereís a marketplace close by thatís just waiting for us to go do some shopping."

"We donít even have any money," I complained, falling obediently into step beside my friends. "How can you call it shopping? What weíre doing is looking around wishing we had the money to buy this stuff."

"All right, looking and wishing." Kasumi shrugged. "Letís just not waste our time."

The marketplace was totally crowded, as usual, and we had to push our way through walls of people, trying not to be too rough in case they were nobles of some kind. Being orphans, we were pretty low on the social scale, and there was a fine line between pushing through a crowd and Ďstirring up troubleí. Crossing it meant youíd better be quick on your feet. The little stands lined the sides of the wide street, for miles long as far as I could see, and they were full of furs and jewels and all kinds of fascinating things. Some were even from other districts. It was a sight I could never get enough of; all kinds of unusual and interesting things just waiting for my to explore them. We were only allowed to come there once a week, and every time we did, it was all new and different. I loved it.

Hiroshi nudged me, and pointed. "Bow and arrows," he announced, and I followed the line of his finger with my eyes, to where a stand sat which sold bows and quivers of arrows. I would kill for a chance to use that weapon Ė and Hiroshi knew that as well as I did.

He grinned at my expression of longing. "Want to stop?"

I managed to tear my eyes away and shook my head. "Naw, no point." It wasnít a good feeling to look at them and know I couldnít have them. "Letís just keep going."

We started moving again, and my eyes swung over the stands almost absently. I could hear people chattering around me, and Hiroshi was pointing out nice furs and jewelry to Kasumi Ė making outrageous promises to get her all of it when they moved into their own place and became successful. My mind and eyes wandered.

I donít know how long it was before my gaze caught on something ruby-red, and very shinyÖ In a small Tokiwa stand, there was an arrangement of strangely-shaped stones, a brilliant red one at the very center. I couldnít stop looking at it.

"Guys." I reached out to stop my friends, but my fingers met nothing but air. "Guys?" I turned. Hiroshi and Kasumi had disappeared. "Oh great," I muttered, now torn between the desire to check out that intriguing stand and the obligation I felt to try and find my friends.

The former won out. I made my way through the crowd, ducking around fast-moving people. The guy manning the stand gave me a small, emotionless smile, which looked out of place on his dark face. I didnít care, though; the only things I was interested in were those stones.

"Pommel stones," he grunted as I reached out hesitantly to look at them. "These used to be set at the hilt of some very famous swords, you know." His eyes seemed to burn into my face as he watched me. "You can look at them if you wish."

"OhÖ thanks." I took him up on his offer and found my fingers reaching immediately for the red stone in the center of the arrangement. Raised up to eye level, it was even more fascinating than before. Light reflected off of it and danced across my face, mesmorizing me for a momentÖ

A long, silvery shape swung the red jewel around, making it dance. "He likes it, see?" a deep voice said, and the ruby-colored lights swirled around even moreÖ

My mind snapped abruptly back to reality, and I shook my head to clear it. The owner of the stand was staring at me intently. "Are you all right?" he asked, not sounding very concerned at all.

"Y-yes Ė fine." I tored my eyes ffrom the enchanting depths of the red stone. That was weirdÖ "UmÖ sorry to seem spaced out; I get like that sometimes." I rubbed the back of my neck nervously. "Can I ask whose sword this one was on?"

"That?" He didnít even look down to examine the stone; his piercing gaze remained right where it was, locking me in place. "It adorned the sword of the late ruler of Tokiwa district. When he took over and won his duel, our new Lord Sakaki had the jewel removed and the sword destroyed. But, of course, you would know all about that, wouldnít you?"

I squirmed. "I donít know much about Tokiwa district. I live in an orphanage. And I really canít afford this." I went to set down the ruby stone, but before I could drop it and pull back my hand, he reached out with lightening speed and grasped my wrist. "Hey!"

Ignoring my outburst, he leaned forward to study me intently. That hard grip made my wrist sore, but I couldnít pull free. "You live in an orphanage?" It was more a comment than a question. "And, before they were killed, you had parentsÖ"

"I lived with my mother." I was starting to become a bit torn between fear and irritation. I tried to reclaim my hand, but his grip was like iron. "Until I was five."


"And what was her name, your mother?" His questions sounded too intense for just passing interest.

"UhhÖ I donít remember." I glanced around quickly to see if there was anyone who could help me. For the most part, though, people seemed to be ignoring us. Oh, right. No one really cared about what happened to some random orphan, did they? "I was only five; how could I?"

"How did she die?" he asked then, quite bluntly. I thought that was pretty darn rude, but he had a death grip on my wrist, and I really didnít want to find out what heíd do if I didnít answer his questions.

"Our house burned down," I told him in a mutter, looking away. Where were Hiroshi and Kasumi? "She was inside when it happened. Can I go?" I tugged against his grip, feeling a little more fear than I had before. "My friends are waitingÖ let go, please."

He didnít let go; instead, his eyes seemed to glint wickedly. "Stay," he almost purred, and my eyes widened as he pulled a sharp dagger from his sleeve. "We have quite a bit to discuss, young master Satoshi." I yanked against his hold frantically, but there was no escape. Just as I opened my mouth to yell for help, though, we were interrupted.

"Is there a problem here?" My head swung back and I was relieved to see one of the Masara district fortress guards standing behind me, a hand on his sword hilt and his gaze fixed on the owner of that stand.

"No problem." The dagger had vanished, and my wrist was released. I snatched my hand back, rubbing it to try and relieve the soreness. The ruby pommel stone was still clutched in my fist, but I forgot about it almost immediately as the manís eyes met mine. "We were just having a little business discussion, thatís all. I sold him a stone."

The guard looked at me. "Yeah Ė right." My tone was just faintly sarcastic, but I wasnít about to say anything. Nobody would take the word of some dingy orphan over a market stand-owner. "A business discussion. Sure." I showed him the stone.

"Good. Then letís move along, shall we?" The guard took hold of my arm just above the elbow and dragged me away from the stand. I stuffed the stone into my pocket Ė stealing wasnít a habit of mine, but under the circumstancesÖ I waited for him to shove me away into the crowd again, but he kept hold of me, heading for the edge of the market area.

"UhÖ" I wasnít sure if Iíd gotten his attention, but I kept talking anyway. "I think you can let me go now. Iíve got a couple of friends waiting for me, you know, andÖ"

"Iíve been instructed," he interrupted me abruptly, "to bring you back to the fortress. And thatís what I intend to do."

Me? Go to the fortress? I wracked my brain, trying to remember if Iíd done anything that might get me into that much trouble, and came up with a negative answer. Unless tying the sleeves of Hiroshiís shirts in knots counts as a crimeÖ "I think youíve made a mistake. I havenít done anything wrong; you must have the wrong person."

He glanced at me. "Is your name Satoshi?"

"WellÖ yeahÖ" I admitted reluctantly.

"Then youíre the right person," he replied shortly and went about dragging me off. "And youíre not in any trouble, so relax. Thatís not why youíre going there."

"Why, then?" I asked suspiciously. I had a sneaking feeling that I was not going to react well to whatever reason he hadÖ

As it turned out, that was an understatement.

~~~~~~

"Happy birthday, Shigeru!"

I nearly dropped my books as my grandfather and sister suddenly yelled in my ear. I hadnít even realized they were in the library with me. Nanami kissed me on the cheek. "Surprise!" she said cheerfully. "Iíll bet you thought we forgot, didnít you? So much for the infallible Ookido Shigeru."

A grin spread on my face before I could stop it. "Oh, I knew all along that you were planning something. I just didnít want to spoil your surprise."

"Sure, Shigeru." She laughed at me and hugged my shoulders briefly. "Iíve a present for you. Itís nothing much, but I was pressed for time. I hope you enjoy it anyway." She smiled mischievously and bent for something at her feet. When she rose again, she held, across both hands, a brilliant, polished sword.

"Nanami!" I eyed the weapon with some awe, ignoring Grandfatherís grumbling. It looked like it was balanced just perfectly for meÖ I took it from her hands and helt it up experimentally. The familiar Ďrightnessí I got when holding a sword that suited me perfectly sprang up at once as I moved the blade slowly, getting the feel of it. "This is just perfect!" I announced reverently, tearing my eyes from this new prize to stare at my beaming sister. "ButÖ how did you get one that fit me so right? I meanÖ"

"I took one of the swords you always practice with to the smithy and had him make you a better copy of the same type," she explained, obviously pleased with my reaction. "Now you have your own sword, Shigeru. I know itís what you wanted. And do you like it?"

I belted the sheath and put the sword back into it. "Like it? Of course." I put aside arrogance and my own stand-offish nature and hugged my sister tightly. "Thanks, Nanami," I managed to mumble. "This means a lotÖ"

"I know." She straightened and smiled. "But Grandfather has a present for you as well, Shigeru." She turned toward the older man, who still stood in the doorway. "Can I tell him?"

Grandfather waved his hand, and Nanami took that to mean Ďyesí. "You wonít believe this, Shigeru," she grinned, almost wickedly. "But Grandfather bought you a friend!"

My jaw almost hit the floor. "HeÖ what!?"

"Well, not really bought," she ammended, taking a delighted pleasure in my shock. "He just picked him up from some orphanage. The guards will probably have him here by now, right?" She didnít wait for an answer. "We should head to the throne room."

I felt like my legs were going to give out on me. "You kidnapped someone to be my friend!?"

"Oh, Shigeru, relax," Nanami remarked calmly, darting out the door to walk briskly down the hall. All we could do was try to keep up with her. "Heís just going to be staying here instead of there. And look, this place is a lot better than any orphanage."

"Yeah, but you kidnapped him!" I couldnít seem to get past that point for some reason.

"We didnít kidnap him, exactly," she said glibly. "We just ordered him to present himself to the ruling family of Masara district. And then had guards inforce it." She shrugged.

"Nanami," I growled. "I am not accepting a kidnapped friend. Not only is that insulting, but itís immoral and wrong, and I wonít be a part of it!"

"Oh, come on," she coaxed. "Itís not that bad. Just enjoy yourself."

"Absolutely not!" I crossed my arms over my chest and glared at her as we walked into the throne room. "I woud never, under any circumstances, be a party to Ė "

"Let go of me right now, you sons of swine-rejects! You canít do this to me! Iíve got rights! Iíll tear you to pieces! Iíll spit on the graves of your ancestors! Iíll hurt you so badly even your grandchildren will feel it! LetÖmeÖgo!"

I stopped in my tracks, and my breath caught in my throat. "Spirited, isnít he?" Nanami whispered in my ear. I wasnít listening.

Pale skinÖ black hairÖ Everything that always was there at the back of my mine; everything that haunted my dreams without letting me know what it was I wanted. The two burly guards he was struggling with looked about twice his size, and yet he refused to back down. The alabaster skin of his face was flushed and his soft brown eyes ablaze with fury. Again I got that strange impression of a spirit that shouldnít fit in that slender body, even as much as it had grown in nearly seven years. He was beautiful. He was more than beautiful. He wasÖ beyond description.

"You canít do this to me!" I heard him wail, and that snapped me out of my trance. Without waiting to see what my sister and grandfather might have to say, I stepped forward into the room. The guards snapped to attention immediately, and the boyís Ė Satoshiís Ė angry gaze met mine. I saw nothing but fury and defiance in his eyes.

"My Lord Shigeru." The guards forced Satoshi to his knees. "You will kneel in the presense of the ruling family of Masara district!" The orphan boyís eyes glared up at me, burning with hatred and helpless rage.

"Stop that!" I snapped at the guards. "Hasnít he been through enough? Let him go!"

They released him immediately and he stood, brushing his clothes off indignantly. "Just who do you think you are!?" he demanded, glaring at me. "You canít just do this to me! Iím a person too! Iíve got rightsÖ"

I have no idea what came over me after that.

"Of course you do." I gave him a superior smirk. "Youíve gone every right to obey the ruler of these lands just like everyone else does." I spoke over his angry protests. "And Iím even going to give you a choice, Satoshi; howís that for fair? Live in the fortress or live in the dungeon. And you have every right to spend a few days asking the rats for advice. Isnít that great?"

He fumed helplessly for a minute, then clenched his fists and turned his face back up toward mine. "Itís not fair! I hate this place and I hate you! Why should I have to live here and be your stupid little playmate? Itís not fair!"

I shrugged. "Life isnít fair. Now, if youíll just come with meÖ" I walked forward ad brushed past him airily, moving toward the hallway that would lead to my personal chambers. "Iíll show you to your quarters. If youíre very good, maybe Iíll even show you around the rest of your new home as well. Oh, and a word of advice to you," I added, glancing back over my shoulder. "Obeying without question is far less humiliating than having the guards drag you from place to place. Keep that in mind."

He was furious, of course, but what could he do? I heard him stomping after me and smiled slightly. True, I was being an arrogant bastard, but something about the way he was venting his frustrationsÖ I hadnít felt so alive in a long time. It was great!

"Youíre a jerk," he muttered, coming just within earshot of me.

I smirked. "Yeah, maybe. Youíre a brat, so weíre even. Besides, itís not that bad. At least you know where your clothes are this time."

"That was you!" He didnít sound surprised, more like Iíd just confirmed something heíd suspected earlier. "I knew I recognized your ugly face from somewhere!"

I turned slightly to grin at him. "Ugly, hmm?"

He floundered about for a minute, then subsided into a frustrated silence. I didnít laugh. That wouldíve been just too much. I didnít want him to try and pound me into the ground or anythingÖ I risked a glance back. His eyes were beautiful, even filled with anger. I was more attracted to him than Iíd ever been to another person in my entire life. In fact, I could put together every scrap of attraction Iíd felt in my life, and it wouldnít equal half of what I felt right now. There was just something about him.

"These are my rooms." I led him into the elaborate section of our fortress that I called my own, and walked straight across to a door at the side of my bedroom chamber. "Youíll be staying in the guest room. Itís not all that huge, but it should be all right."

I opened the door and led him into a decent-sized room with a large bed, mirror, and some drawer and closet space in case he needed it. "Will this be all right with you?"

He glared at me.

"All right, moving right along." I shut the door to his room, then led him out of my chambers and back into the hall. "Iíll show you where the facilities are, as well as the library and the armory. Thatís all you need to see for today. But maybe you could learn to use a weapon of some kind later on, Satoshi."

That caught his interest, though he tried to hide it. "Maybe," he said sulkily, feining disinterest. I decided not to press the issue.

The Ďtourí was largely uneventful, particularly because Satoshi was being uncharacteristically silent. I got the feeling that he was one of those very vocal people who loved to talk, so the fact that he spent the entire time glaring at me in silence was probably not a good sign. And did I care? Well, letís see. Iíd spent most of my life being bored out of my mind. Satoshi was new, exciting, and utterly fascinating. Selfishly, I decided that I did want to keep him in my life, if only for the chance to relieve that boredom Ė and, incidentally, to revell in the fact that I had this beautiful person so close to me.

I chose to end in the armory, probably because of that spark of interest Iíd seen when I mentioned weaponry to Satoshi. Besides, I couldnít resist the chance to show off my new sword.

"Iím pretty good with most weapons," I told him, drawing my sword and holding it across my hands. "My best skill is in swordsmanship, but I like to think Iím decent with most others. If you wish, I can teach you to use any weapon you choose. Dagger, sword, bow and arrowsÖ"

That got a reaction. For a moment, Satoshiís eyes widened and the anger left them. But he corrected that immediately, not willing to back down. "Maybe Iíll teach myself," he said defiantly.

"You can try. Itíll be amusing, at least." I smirked, and he glared at me again. I sheathed my sword and turned back toward the door, gesturing for him to follow. "Well, youíve seen the important places. Is there anything in particular that youíd like to do?"

I waited for him to demand his freedom or something of the sort, but he didnít. "Am I still allowed to see my real friends?" he asked, half bitterly and half sulkily.

"Just ask." I shrugged. "And Iíll request that they be brought here. Who did you want to see? Someone from the place you were staying at?"

"Someone from home," he snapped. "And his name is Mikagami Hiroshi. Can your big goons handle that, or do you need a detailed painting to find him with?"

"That wonít be necessary." I entered my room and yanked a bell pull to summon a servant. "Iíll have your friend here within the time space of an hour. You might want to rest; youíve probably had an exciting day." I opened the door to his room for him.

"More like horrifying," he muttered, storming past me. "First being attacked by some nut with a knife and then being dragged off to be a prisoner to some arrogant jerk who calls himself a noble! Oh yeah, itís been great. Real exciting."

I hardly heard his insult. "Somebody attacked you?" An unusual wave of concern flooded me.

He looked up at me with a stubborn expression on his face. "Thatís none of your business! And Iím not telling you, so there!" He turned his back on me, arms crossed over his chest.

"Thatís up to you, of course." I smiled and shook my head. "Well, then, I guess Iíll leave you to start getting used to your new home." Then I smirked at his glare, backed out of the room, and shut the door on him firmly.

~~~~~~

I glared at the door, fists clenched, even though I knew Shigeru couldnít see me any more. I hated him! He was arrogant, charming, and painfully beautiful Ė and I couldnít stand him! He drove me absolutely wild, the self-centered bastard! Why did he have to be so right all the time? It wasnít fair!

"Stupid Shigeru!" I muttered under my breath. I would slit my own throat before I became friends with him! If I had to, Iíd remain just as angry as I was then for the rest of the time he tried to keep me there. Until he had to let me go!

Iíll bet Hiroshi and Kasumi are worried about meÖ Do they know whatís happening, or do these nobles just take what they want and not bother explaining to those affected by their actions? Argh! Ignoring the fact that it was irrational and totally ineffective, I stuck my tongue out at the door. So there, you arrogant pig!

I could just see Shigeruís expression at that: those all-too-perfect stormy eyes clouded with amusement and lips curved in a superior smirk. Damn him! Why does he have to be soÖ perfect all the time? I angrily tore my eyes from the door.

Big mistake. The first thing I found in my line of vision was a masterfully crafted painting in a clay frame Ė a fairly recent piece of work that captured the three members of the ruling family very accurately. In fact, it was too accurate. Shigeruís disturbingly attractive face had the same infuriorating smirk Iíd become so used to seeing in the past little while.

"ARGH!" I think I snapped at the point; after being threatened, manhandled, and generally made fun of all afternoon, I couldnít keep my emotions in any more. Impulsively, I ripped the picture from the wall and flung it to the ground. The loud crack it made as the clay frame shattered to pieces was surprisingly satisfying.

My eyes searched the room for more breakable objects Ė and met with a small water goblet made of fragile-looking glass. Without pausing for thought, I snatched it up and hurled it with all my strength against the door. "I hate you!" I yelled defiantly. "I hate you and I hope you die horribly!"

Itís hard to stop me when Iím on a roll, and I was definitely rolling by then. There were no more smashable objects, so I yanked the covers off my bed and threw them across the room. "This isnít fair!" I wailed one last time, then flopped down on top of the sheets, hands still clenched tightly into fists.

"I hate you," I muttered helplessly. "I hate you, Shigeru. I hate your perfect life and your perfect looks and your stupid, perfect arrogance! Itís justÖ notÖ fair!" My fingers unclenched and grasped the sheets tightly. I felt soÖ helpless.

A knock on the door interrupted my pity-party. "Satoshi?"

I got up right away and opened the door. "Hiro!" He met me with a grin and flung an arm around my shoulders. Behind him, Shigeru was silently surveying the mess Iíd made of my room. To my annoyance, though, he didnít look upset. He caught my gaze and raised an eyebrow. Surpressing the urge to growl, I pulled Hiroshi into my room and slammed the door in my captorís face.

"Wow." Hiroshi looked around the room, then smiled at me. "Well, I see youíve wasted no time in giving the place your own personalized touch, Toshi. So tell me" Ė and this made his grin widen Ė "how does it feel to be lounging about it in luxury, hmm?"

I blinked, and my mouth opened and closed silently. "ButÖ what do you mean? Iím a prisoner!"

"Oh, please." He waved a hand. "Look at this place. Iíll bet youíve got at least as much freedom as we have at the orphanage, and the living quarters are about twenty times better! Iíd kill to be in your position."

Just the way he said that made me feel utterly ridiculous. "You wouldnít say that if you knew what Shigeru was like," I muttered, grasping for the only thing that could possibly stand up against his argument. Heíd started me thinking, though. I plopped down on the bed, which was soft beneath me. The bed Iíd had before was close to rock-solid. And Iíd get to use a bow and arrows! Why the hell was I complaining?

"Satoshi," my best friend began, eyes glinting with good-natured amusement, "if I was given the chance you have, Shigeru could be an ogre with five horns and fire coming out of his nostrils and I wouldnít care! Besides, he seems to have a real thing for you."

I flushed, half in embarrassment and half in frustration. "But that means heíll never let me go!" I cried, flopping back onto the bed.

"Take my advice and enjoy this while it lasts." Hiroshi sat down beside me and patted my shoulder. "I mean, itís just the same as before, right? Do you get a day to go to the market?"

"I dunno." I sighed. "I didnít ask. And I donít wanna talk to him." My voice sounded petulant, like it belonged to some pouting child.

"Poor Toshi." He grinned again, not looking very sorry at all. "Youíll figure something out."

"Well, I know one thing for sure," I announced, sitting up and staring at the closed door with determination. "Iím never giving in to him." Not ever.

 

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