Part Twelve: Shigeru and Satoshi
"A way for us to get into the palace?" Satoshi asks softly, and I nod and gesture for my pack. If there’s something that I can do, anything at all… I want to be useful.
I mean, this is as close as I’m going to get to a miracle… Satoshi nods and hands me my bag. "What’s that?" He asks as I pull out my spellbook.
"Um, ‘Toshi, it looks like a book." Hiroshi says rather sarcastically. But I catch the look in Kasumi’s eyes… Go for it, she says. Well, I think I’m going to listen to her.
"It’s a spellbook." I say rather simply. Both Satoshi and Hiroshi are just staring at me. "It’s hard to explain, I suppose. The book was given to me by one of my father’s oldest advisors… I don’t even remember his name. My father had him put to death…"
I trail my fingers over the cover of the book. "I didn’t know, ‘Geru…" Satoshi murmurs, pale.
"It’s all right. I’m sure that Mejiro took pity on him in death. He was a good man…"
There’s a moment of silence, and then I break it all. "This is how I run away from my father," I tell them all, opening the book. "He normally has me back by now… but I think that he was more occupied with his war than running after his runaway son, this time."
Satoshi touches my arm gently, and Hiroshi speaks up. "So how do we get into the palace this way?"
I grin. "If there’s one thing I know, it’s all of the back passages within that palace like I know the back of my own two hands."
"So you have an idea of how we can get in?" Satoshi asks and I nod.
"Uh huh." I murmur. "I’ll have to go in by myself… I can only effect one person with this spell." I point it out. "But I can open the lower gate within… it’s used by servants."
Satoshi nods, and then looks to Kasumi and Hiroshi. There’s a determined look on his face, and Hiroshi nods with a faint smile on his lips. "Go for it, ‘Toshi." Hiroshi says, and I feel a weird sort of acceptance.
That’s when Satoshi turns back to me and draws his dagger. I must admit that there’s just a moment of panic… and then I realize that he’s cutting the bonds away from my wrists.
"Why?" I ask, and he rubs at the marks on my skin.
"I didn’t know I had it that tight, I’m sorry."
"But… Satoshi… why?" All right, I know that I should be happy. He trusts me. He trusts me… I’m not just a captive anymore. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this accepted…
"Isn’t it obvious, Shigeru?" Kasumi asks.
Hiroshi grins. "She’s right, Shigeru. You’re a part of this team now, so we have to treat you equally."
Satoshi lowers his gaze and I grin slightly. "I see. Thank you. For accepting me…"
"Of course I accept you!" Satoshi says, looking up at me. He’s blushing brightly and I wind my arms around him and pull him close. He makes a slightly surprised face before I kiss him.
Hiroshi muffles a giggle, and that’s what breaks it off. I pull away reluctantly, a sheepish look on my face. "Sorry, I couldn’t help myself."
Satoshi just smiles at me. "It’s all right, ‘Geru, it’s all right… I love you."
I smile and keep my arms around him tightly. "I love you too."
I’m actually surprised that Hiroshi and Kasumi aren’t oohing and aahing over us… I pull away again, and sigh. "We need to get to sleep early. We’re only going to be able to get so close to Fusube with the dragons, you know. We’re going to have to go on foot. Dragons are rather obvious, you know."
Hiroshi nods. "All right then, dinner first and then it’s time to rest. Unless someone else has something else to suggest…?"
I can barely feel consciousness slipping in past my barrior of heavy sleep. Time to get up? No. I feel way too comfortable, all warm and cozy... I don't want to get up yet. It's probably too early anyway. I snuggle into whatever's keeping me so warm and try to sleep some more.
Unforunately, I'm already too awake for that.
I sigh softly and open my eyes a little. Shigeru's face is right next to mine, and his breath brushes against my face. I forget to breathe, staring at him. He's so beautiful and perfect... How could I *not* know I was in love with him? His arms, no longer bound at the wrist, are wrapped around my waist, holding me tightly against him. I snuggle into his shoulder and decide not to get up.
Except I can't resist... I press my lips softly against his cheek. The skin is soft and warm, and it feels nice. A smile spreads on my face and I cuddle in closer to him. I could almost forget why we're lying on the ground at the edge of the Johto border.
Almost. But not quite.
"Mmm..." I think Shigeru is waking up. He stirs and his hands slide over my sides, pulling me even closer. I feel like I could almost become part of him, and it's so perfect... His eyes open, and there's only a moment of confusion before they fill up with love and affection as they focus on me. "'Morning." He yawns.
I smile. "Good morning, Shigeru." We're whispering -- so we don't wake Hiroshi and Kasumi, who are sleeping over at the other side of the fire pit. "Did you sleep well?"
"Mmm-hmm." He steals a kiss, soft and sweet. I think I melt against him. How close can we get without overlapping? I get the feeling we're trying to find out. "Sato, about today..."
I stop him with a hand over his mouth. "Let's wait until Hiroshi and Kasumi are awake, OK?" He nods and I take away my hand. "I love you."
"I love you too, Toshi." He rests his forehead against mine and we lie there for a while like that, enjoying being so close. Maybe it's just that we've only just gotten together, but I feel like I have to say those three words every chance I get. It feels so great to say them and mean it, then to hear them said back and with equal passion.
"What would happen?" I have to ask, after a while, "if your father were de-throned" -- I avoid the word 'killed' -- "and you had to take over the lands of Johto?"
"I'd abdicate," he says, without hesitation.
My breath catches. "But why?"
"Because the ruler of Johto would need an heir," he explains reasonably. "I'd have to take a wife, and I don't want one. I'd much rather spend the rest of my life with you than have to deal with it."
"But who would rule after you?" I ask, not unreasonably. "We don't want to have a civil war over the throne. And what if your successor is like Sakaki? It could mean..."
Now it's his turn to silence me, with a single finger across my lips. "I will make sure that I pick someone who will rule well. I at least know that I can determine who of those in the palace I can trust and who I can't." He smiles ruefully. "Though it's much harder to find the former."
"I'm sorry for that." I sigh and kiss his cheek again. I love how he's so warm... "It'll change, though. If you want, we can stay and try to help. I'm sure we could do something..."
"No." He looks me straight in the eyes at that, face serious. "I would never have you live in Johto. If we did, I wouldn't want to let you out the door of our house without Shiika or myself along. Those centuries of deterioration will be hard to erase. And besides" -- here, he smiles again -- "I have other plans for us."
"Do you?" I can't help an amused smile. "And don't I get a say in this? You'd better tell me about these plans of yours, Shigeru."
"Well," he begins, stroking my cheek lightly. "When the war ends, there won't be much call for soldiers. I mean, you might have a few things to do, of course, but I thought we might get a nice place in a small city somewhere, and just... relax, for a while. We'd have Shiika if we wanted to travel, and whenever we need a rest, there would be a home waiting for us." He gazes into my eyes as though hypnotized. "Just you and me, together forever. How does that sound?"
"I like it." I kiss him again, on the lips this time. "Of course, anything with you by my side sounds perfect, Geru." And I smile again.
"I love you," he whispers.
"Love you too." I can hear Hiroshi stirring, so I steal one last kiss before we have to face the day. "Love you forever, Shigeru..."
It's later and after we've eaten that we're discussing the coming plans again. "All we have to do is get into the palace." Satoshi murmurs, his face thoughtful and pale.
If only it were truly that easy. There's going to be so much more, and I know it. Maybe I'm not as relaxed as I thought I was. I don't want to bring him into this danger...
If there was a way that I could take it all by myself... I'd go with it. But there's not so there's not much else that I can do.
"We do. And then we have to get to my fathers laboratory. That's where he'd have something that could do this much damage to your lands... some sort of artifact, perhaps."
Kasumi nods. "A wizards power is in his most secret place."
But will I be able to make it in? The palace, yes. But my father's...? I won't think of that. I'm not going to let myself be worried.
When I come back to myself, Satoshi and Hiroshi are saying good-bye to Shiika and Koori. I look to Kasumi. "Do you think this will work?"
"All I can say is perhaps if we have faith, then we will make some sort of change."
"It's all we can ask for, do you think?"
She nods again and glances after Hiroshi. "It's not like they can't take care of themselves. If anyone, we're the ones who can't. They were raised on things like this..."
I look to Satoshi, my sweet Satoshi. And I know that she's right. Beyond his sweet exterior, he really is a soldier, he's more of a warrior than I could have ever been. I sigh. "I'm not helpless, though. And I know that you're not. We'll be able to hold our own."
She smiles. "I hope so. Chiyu willing..."
"And Mejiro, too."
"You're such a peculiar noble." She murmurs, shaking her head. I don't get to reply, because Satoshi and Hiroshi have returned.
"We told them that we have to go on our own," Satoshi says. I know that he's sad about this. But there's no way we could bring either dragon with us.
"They'll be waiting, though. There's a place nearby that's safe..."
"Then I guess we have to go now." Kasumi says.
She's right... we have our plans laid out, there's nothing left for us to move forward. "You're right." I say, standing. Hiroshi helps her to her feet, and I smile at Satoshi, gripping his hand tightly.
"I love you, Satoshi. I hope that I can truly help..."
"Of course you will, 'Geru. Don't doubt yourself."
And he's right about that. I can't. If I do, then I'll let him down...
We have to make our way through the thick forest towards the city. Fusube is very silent during the daylight hours, very few roam the streets. The back ways, though, take us right to the palace...
The palace... it's an ominous structure, and I hear a collective gasp. I can feel it, and I think they can too. The evil that it emanates... Something is going to happen, and it's not good.
"Wait here, I'll be right back." I tell them. Satoshi kisses me quickly, but I make it linger. If anything is to go wrong, I want this to remember. "Wish me luck." I grin weakly.
"Good luck, Shigeru." He says with a smile.
I cast the spell and then there's the normal tingle as it shifts down over me. The sensation of moving through stone is always an eerie one... The inside is drastically darker than out.
After my eyes adjust and make sure no one is around, I turn and return to the door, and then dispel the magic. I take hold of the lever and pull. It's solid and it takes a while for it to give... And then the door slides up with a noisy racket and light spills in.
"Come on, let's go." I tell them. "The door is set to go down on it's own..."
They shuffle inside, and I wave them after me. No time for sentimental moments, this is far more serious... I can't lead them the wrong way, I can't ruin this, I have to make sure that I do this... And not just for Satoshi...
We pass through the lower levels, and the 'ground' floor is only a door above. I peek out; no one is there. "All right, ready?" I ask. We have to cross this open part, there's no other way...
"Ready." I hear, in various voices. I open the door, and I move into the dim. "When I give the signal, you-"
"You'll what?" My father's voice asks, and the door closes behind us. I don't even know how to react. Where did he come from? "Father." I mumble, stepping to stand between him and Satoshi.
My heart nearly stops at that one word -- father. Gods... The very man who is bent on the destruction of my homeland is standing in front of me, and... I look past Shigeru and see the guards he has assembled in around him.
We've been caught.
My hand falls to my waist, where I keep my dagger. I don't have a sword -- since I'm a dragonrider, it's not assumed that I'd need one. I wouldn't be able to take out many guards, maybe just one or two if I'm lucky, and that's *with* Hiroshi's help.
"My, what a surprise," Sakaki comments sarcastically. "My wayward son, back with an entourage of friends. How rude of you, Shigeru. I would have liked to welcome our guests."
My hand clenches around my dagger. To my side, I see Hiroshi do the same, stepping in front of Kasumi as Shigeru had me.
Sakaki snaps his fingers, and the guards move to surround us. Hiroshi moves Kasumi as close to the center of the circle as he can, and I have to skip aside to avoid being tossed off in the same general direction. Shigeru's just a touch over-protective, I think. I can fight, and he can't. I should be standing in front of him.
"Introductions are in order, are they not?" Shigeru's father says off-handedly. "I do not recognize these rebels you've collected, Shigeru. But perhaps I have someone who will. Takeshi!"
A dark-skinned soldier appears at his side. I hear Hiroshi's sharp intake of breath, and risk a glance toward him. There *is* something about this man that is familiar...
"Do you recall having seen these three before?" Sakaki asks him.
Takeshi's cold gaze falls on us. "Satoshi," he announces, eyes on me, "is a dragonrider -- silver." He looks toward Hiroshi and a grim smile forms on his face. There are hard feelings there, I realize, watching them exchange glares. "Hiroshi rides a gold," he continues. "And the Lady would have been High Cleric had she not escaped."
"Honorable guests." Sakaki raises an eyebrow and smirks. "Thank you, Takeshi. Your assistance will be rewarded." The dark-skinned man falls back a ways. "I hadn't realized you'd befriended such important people, my dear son. You will, of course, permitt me to show them every hospitality." He waves, and the guards move in.
I draw my dagger almost on reflex, impulsively jumping in front of my unarmed Shigeru. "Satoshi!" he cries, in alarm. "Don't!"
"Drop your weapons, dragonriders," Sakaki sneers, and I notice that Hiroshi has mimicked me to protect Kasumi. "You're badly outnumbered. I will be merciful if you give yourselves up now. Fighting means punishment -- for *all* of you," he adds maliciously.
I glance back at Shigeru, biting my lip. He *can't* be hurt. I won't let it happen. Perhaps... If I behave... Sakaki would not harm his own son, would he?
My dagger drops to the ground.
"Good." Sakaki smiles. "Takeshi," he says again, summoning his dark-skinned guard. "Take the Lady and her protector to the dungeons. I'll deal with them later." I catch only one more glimpse of my best friend as he and Kasumi are led off, away from us.
"Shigeru." My love's father steps toward us, smiling. Fear clenches around my heart -- for him, not me. I try to put myself between him and his father. But, to my surprise, Sakaki is not moving over to Shigeru. Instead, he catches my chin in a harsh grip.
"You have exquisite taste in lovers," he remarks to his son, smirking as he studies my face. "A shame that he'll have to die, isn't it?"
Shigeru tries to lunge at his father, but he is restrained by guards. I hold perfectly still, gaze not faltering as I stare back at my captor. *I won't let you hurt him,* I think fiercely.
"Spirited, too," Sakaki murmurs. "You know, Shigeru, perhaps I *will* be merciful. I will spare your lover's life -- and leave him unharmed -- but you will have to learn to obey me from now on." He smiles, but there is no humor in it. "Understood?"
"Yes father." Shigeru's eyes meet mine, and I see desperation in them. He'd do anything, I know, to ensure my safety.
And I will fight just as fiercely for his.
Sakaki waves for the guards to lead his son from the room, then turns back toward me. I don't like what I see in his eyes... "I have plans for you," he says cruelly, retrieving my own dagger. "Great plans."
With the dagger firmly pressed against my neck, he leads me from the room.