Through the Night

 

Part Seven: Shigeru and Kasumi

 

I glance up at the warm sky and sigh. I can't judge what time it is. I also don't know how much longer we're going to be on the ground... And I'm constantly cursing myself about the night before.

Honestly, Shigeru, what were you trying to pull?!

But we had been so close... if Shiika hadn't showed up, then I'm sure it would have happened. I wouldn't just be wondering what his lips would feel like in a kiss... I would have known for certain.

I'm so damn hopeless.

"Shigeru, aren't you hungry?" Satoshi asks from where he sits across from me. I smile and nod and try and eat the fruit that he had handed me. At least I can eat this on my own... I glance at him and he blushes and continues eating his ration.

This is some sick and twisted joke, that's all. Somewhere up above, the gods and goddesses are laughing at me because I'm a love struck idiot...

"What time is it?" I ask, pausing and looking back up at the sky. Clouds drift by, and it's an eerie sort of calm that has fallen over us both.

"Oh," he mumbles. "it's sometime past two..." He goes back to eating his food, with a slight smile.

"Thanks..." I murmur. All right, so I'm not the only hopeless one who happens to be in this clearing right now. But at least I know what I'm up against. If Satoshi feels anything at all... I sigh.

Shiika's *smirking* at me. It's unnerving.

Like she knows something that I have no chance of knowing...

"How long are you going to be on border patrol, anyway?" I ask softly. All right, so I'm not as hungry as I could be... I stare at the fruit and muse on other things that you can do with apples. That's a strikingly short list, I'll tell you that.

"Oh, a week and a half more." He says matter-of-factly.

I groan. This is just perfect. I'm going to be tied up for at least ten days more, and then who knows what they'll do to me once he gets me back to his superiors...

This is horribly random, but... "Can I have my bag?" He just stares at me and blinks. I can't help but blush. "I want to brush my hair." He laughs softly.

"All right, milord." He grins and then pulls the bag from where it's sitting. "Let me get it for you..." I wince. I hope he doesn't question anything...

"All right, Satoshi," I say with a smile.

He pulls out my book -- that precious spellbook of mine -- and he sets it aside, without a second glance. He rifles through the depths a bit more and then he yelps and pulls it out. With a triumphant smile, he tosses me the brush. I drop the apple to catch it. Better than or getting hit in the face.

"Oh," He grins sheepishly. "sorry about that."

"S'all right," I murmur in reply. And then I fight at brushing my hair. He's just staring at me, and this too is unnerving... "What are you staring at?"

He blinks then laughs again. "It's fun watching you preen."

I scoff at his accusation. "I am *not* preening, Satoshi! I just don't want my hair to knot..."

"I know, you have such nice hair... It's a beautiful color, it's like fire..." And I think, so are my cheeks. And his... oh isn't this wonderful. "I..." I mumble, then turn away. I look back at a question directed at me,

"What's this?"

Why does that sound like a bad question? He's got my spellbook on his lap, and he's flipping through it. He crinkles his nose in thought. "I can't read it..."

"It's in an ancient tongue, that's why," I say, a distant tone in my voice.

"Oh..." He looks interested. "What's it about?" What *is* it about? I don't know how to answer that. I hand him back my brush and he puts it away. I sigh. I guess he should know the truth...

"It's --" I begin, but then there's a cry... that was a dragon cry, actually. Shiika roars and Satoshi shoves the book away before tossing it at me. I manage to catch it and he stands, glancing around.

"That sounded familiar..." He says, and he jogs to Shiika's side. "Koori, no?" The silver nods, and then he says seriously, "Keep an eye on Shigeru, Shiika..."

He looks grim as he walks away. There's a wider plot of free space near us, by a stream that I remember from when we landed. It's in that direction that Satoshi walks. And then... "Hiroshi!"

Another dragon cry and the first gold dragon I've ever see lands. The puffs of dust that swirl reach me even at this distance. "What's going on?" Satoshi asks, as 'Hiroshi' and another slide off of the dragon. "It's horrible, Satoshi..." Hiroshi murmurs, breathless.

"What *is* it?" Satoshi demands, glancing from Hiroshi to his companion. I suppose if it was in better circumstances, that explainable yet at the time unexplainable jealousy would return... Just give it time.

The red haired woman who's with him is trembling. I can see that even from this distance. "Johto attacked the Orange Islands. It... everything's fallen apart."

My head lolls back and hits the tree trunk behind me. Oh goddess, this is just perfect. Hiroshi speaks again. "Come on, let's just sit down and we can explain it all..." He's holding onto the woman's arm, "Kasumi, please..."

They end up coming close and Hiroshi just stops and stares at me. "It looks like you've been busy..." Satoshi rubs the back of his neck nervously.

"He's my prisoner..." All right, so maybe Kasumi doesn't look at all pleased with that. Prisoner equals a citizen of Johto, and that's who... "He's friendly, though. He's a very strange prisoner..."

Hiroshi sits Kasumi down, and she does so. "Kasumi, tell Satoshi what happened, please... I... I'm sorry this is happening, but I had to find you, Satoshi. You understand?" He nods and Hiroshi sighs. He smiles weakly. "Do you have any salve? Koori was hit with an acid score..." Satoshi winces.

"Hai, check my bags..." Hiroshi smiles gratefully and does so, and Satoshi sits in between me and Kasumi. She's just glowering at me, yet then she sighs and looks much calmer as she gazes at her clutched hands. She's pale faced and I can only imagine what it must have been like...

At least I know why my father's not cared much for my disappearance. He had other things to do, and places to conquer... To think, that the wars could be starting up again. After all of this time...

It makes me glad to know I'm not there. And it makes me wish that I hadn't left... maybe I could have changed something, kept this from happening. Yet there's another part of me... that wants to make a difference, even now.

I get snapped from my reverie as Kasumi begins to speak. I keep my gaze on Satoshi, and then I look to her... For some reason, I think she looks familiar. But I just can't place her...

~~~~~

I relate the whole story to them -- the *whole* thing, even the parts that Hiroshi doesn't know; how our country wanted to stay neutral, how the Johto ambassador kept pressing his attentions on me... everything. It doesn't seem real when I'm saying it, more like some kind of fairy tale. I can't stop looking back and forth from Hiroshi to his friend Satoshi, either, because they're so alike and so different at the same time.

I had thought once that Hiroshi and Koori were like daylight brought to life... Well, if that's the case, then Satoshi and his silver are moonlight. It's almost surreal to see them standing next to each other, like representatives of day and night. I can tell they've been friends for a very long time, too -- they understand each other. I wish I could have that same bond with Hiroshi that Satoshi does... I have trouble dealing with the fact that there's someone else in his life who is closer to him than I am.

And then there's that prisoner, the Johto citizen. I shift my gaze over to him; he's looking at me too. Perhaps he recognizes me... I have the vaguest suspicion that I know him from somewhere. I can't think of a single person from that country that I have met who isn't a threat, so that doesn't speak well of him. Well, I haven't said yet who I am and I know Hiroshi won't say anything without my consent. So I'll wait to see if I can find out who *he* is, first.

"It's all right, Kasumi." Hiroshi's looking at me with worried eyes; I suppose I must look weary and upset. Well, I *feel* that way! I sigh and lean my head against his shoulder, then feel him put a comforting arm around me. *Take that, Satoshi!* I think, completely irrationally.

To my irritation, though, the dark-haired dragonrider doesn't even seem the slightest bit shaken by this. He looks worried as well, though, by my speech. "What does this mean for us, Hiro?" he asks seriously. The casual nickname totally floors me. *Hiro?* They even have pet names for each other! And he's not jealous, even when I'm this close to him...

*Stop that!* I order myself. I may be tired, but this isn't the time to be worried about jealousy and whatever Satoshi and Hiroshi have between them. I glance over at Shigeru again. Where have I seen him before? I know I've seen him somewhere...

"I don't know." Hiroshi sighs. "We can't worry about this now, though. We're going to have to get the news back to Kanto immediately. I'm not sure if Erika made it away or not, but even if she did, I have to take Kasumi to safety." His arm around my shoulders tightens protectively, and I feel so much better about everything.

"I can't leave the border unguarded, not now," Satoshi says stubbornly. "For all we know, they could be planning to take *us* next! I agree that we have to get the news back to the base as soon as possible, but one of us is also going to have to stay here in case they decide to invade. This could be just a diversion, you know. Attack the Orange Islands, then while we're off fighting for them, take us from behind!"

"I think you're right." I glance up, and see the troubled look on Hiroshi's face. Everything Satoshi has said makes sense, though it angers me even more to think that the destruction of my country could be a diversion. "Give Koori some time to heal, and we'll head back to Kanto. You can stay here to watch the border."

Satoshi nods. "That sounds all right. We'll ride back if there's any sign of trouble."

Hiroshi glances toward the prisoner, who hasn't said a word this whole time. "Want us to take him, as well?"

"No!" Satoshi says that just a little too quickly; my gaze instantly shifts up to his now-blushing face. "I-I mean, he might slow you down, Hiro, you don't want any extra weight, you know..." That is the lamest excuse I have ever heard. Hiroshi has a huge grin on his face...

"If I didn't know any better, I'd say you're enjoying his company," he teases, and Satoshi's face goes even redder.

"Well, maybe," he admitts. "We get along pretty well, and Shigeru hasn't tried to kill me yet..." At that, he smiles sheepishly.

Shigeru... Now, I do recall *that* name from somewhere. "Ookido Shigeru?" I ask, turning to gaze at the prisoner again. His eyes go wide as he stares back at me. Oh, I'm right. He is...

Satoshi looks at me, puzzled. "You know him?"

"I know *of* him." I give Shigeru a hard look, and he's staring back at me now with desperation written all over his face. I can almost hear his thoughts: *please don't tell, please don't tell...* Sorry, Ookido Shigeru. You are too dangerous to be left with an ignorant young dragonrider like Satoshi. He's Hiroshi's friend, and I have to protect him, because I owe Hiroshi so much.

"He's Sakaki's son," I announce, and my 'gaze' turns to a glare. Shigeru's face falls, as if I'd crushed him.

Hiroshi's hand tightens almost painfully around my shoulder, and I look up to see Satoshi staring down at Shigeru in shock. "Are you?" he asks. I'm surprised not to hear an accusation in his voice; he sounds surprised, yes, and curious -- but not angry.

"I was before I ran away," Shigeru mutters, now looking anywhere but at Satoshi. "He usually gets someone to bring me back... but I guess he had his mind on other things this time. I thought I was just lucky, and then I triggered that earth elemental he had set as a trap, and you found me..." He bites his lip. "That was probably the best thing that's ever happened to me. But I guess you don't believe me and all. Sorry." He stares at the ground as if it's the most interesting thing in the world.

Well, at least his last statement is correct. I have a lot of trouble believing *that*. Being captured is the best thing that's ever happened to you? Nice try, Shigeru. But I look up and Satoshi is smiling... not a bitter smile, either... Good gods, please don't tell me...

"I believe you," he says simply, and Shigeru looks up in shock. I know I must look similar. He meets both gazes squarely. "What?" And then he smiles so innocently; I'd find it cute if I didn't think he was nuts. "You haven't tried to hurt me, though I've given you a few chances. And we've talked, and I like you a lot... I don't think you're evil at all, Shigeru."

The heir to the throne of Johto looks as if he's going to melt into a puddle on the ground. "You... you think...?" He sounds like he can hardly believe what he's hearing -- I can hardly believe it myself.

Satoshi smiles so sweetly. "I know he's a good person. You believe me, don't you, Hiroshi? Tell them."

"I agree." I look up at him in suprise; have they *both* gone nuts? "I've known Satoshi all my life, Kasumi," he says firmly. "And there's one thing you can trust about him: he's a good judge of character. If he's says that Shigeru is a good person, than that's all that I need to know. I haven't ever seen someone turn out to be bad after Satoshi told me that they were good." He grins up at his friend.

I can't help feeling so jealous right then. Hiroshi would trust Satoshi's judgement, above all else? It's so... he *trusts* Satoshi; they've know each other so long, and that kind of bond isn't something I can get between. I'm horribly envious of Satoshi right now, more so than I can say.

I frown over at Shigeru, and find that he's not looking at me, but rather fixing Satoshi with such a rapturous gaze... He's been given approval, and looks as if just the fact that it came from the dark-haired dragonrider makes it the best gift he could ever receive. You know... I think we might have something in common...

"So you're going to keep him with you, 'Toshi, is that it?" Hiroshi asks, smiling slightly. The look he's giving his friend speaks volumes, but Satoshi just shrugs.

"I could use the company." He smiles down at Shigeru, who looks like he's going to faint. "Besides, there's no hurry to get him back to Kanto, like there is with you and Kasumi. You just tell Wataru that I'm still on border duty, and I'll let him know if anything happens."

"After Koori's wound is healed," Hiroshi adds. "We'll join you for a short while, I guess." He smiles at Satoshi, who returns it. Shigeru frowns, and I know there's a similar expression on my face.

Suddenly, I wish we *hadn't* found Satoshi, after all...

~~~~~

I never thought that it would be this bad. I want to sigh... I have so much weighing against the irrational jealousy that I feel -- I knew it would come in time... -- but even with that, I'm just not sure. Hiroshi and Satoshi... Hiroshi knows so much more about him, he's lived beside him, he has everything that I wish that I could have...

But he trusts me. Satoshi trusts me... that's more than it sounds like, yes? I know it is... He might even care... why else would he trust me?

But I've given him nothing to fear from me. I've been on my best behavior. I... I sigh softly and just stare at Satoshi. He's completely oblivious to whatever might be going on, and he and Hiroshi are talking amidst one another.

"That's a good idea, Hiro," Satoshi murmurs, and again I have to force myself to flinch at the sound of the nickname. It's just not fair... why can't I have that closeness with him?

"All of my ideas are good ones." Hiroshi replies with an easy grin, trying to lighten the mood. It works, at least a little... for Satoshi, that is. I'm too tense.

Kasumi, I note bleakly, keeps glancing from Hiroshi to Satoshi. For a moment I think she might be a new rival for Satoshi's affections -- As strange as that seems, that is what Hiroshi is, isn't it? -- but then I realize that she's frustrated when she looks at Satoshi... and is bleak and lost when she looks at Hiroshi, touched with something I know all too well.

You know, Kasumi and I seem to be in the same damned boat.

She's obviously fallen for Hiroshi, and if it's not obvious that I feel the same for Satoshi then something must be desperately wrong. Yet neither of them see this devotion...

What if they care for one another more than it seems? What if they have more than friendship... they have such an easy calm demeanor around one another. It could be possible... and that would just tear out my heart.

Hiroshi and Satoshi are still talking, I note absently... "How bad is Koori's wound, anyway?" Satoshi asks. Hiroshi's eyes cloud over.

"It's not severe..." Something about that... some things must be sacrificed in the line of duty. "But I don't want to risk it *getting* severe."

Satoshi nods sagely. "I know, you care too much about him for that..."

Hiroshi flashes a slight smile. "I know... I just hope that he'll be all right." Satoshi pats Hiroshi's shoulder and I fight back that flinch again.

"You know he will. Or else Shiika will have something to pick on him about..." That causes Hiroshi to laugh softly and Satoshi does as well. I just feel so very left out... Yet then Satoshi turns and his gaze meets mine and he blushes.

"Sorry, we've..."

I wave my hands dismissively -- seeing as they're tied together and all. "Don't worry, Satoshi. I wouldn't want to come in between you and your friend..."

There's a relieved light in Satoshi's eyes, and then Hiroshi turns to Kasumi. I must say, we're both very good at hiding this... I sigh again and glance at my bag as Hiroshi and Satoshi begin talking again. This time the conversation is peppered with words by Kasumi as well...

My gaze floats to my bag. You know... I could have escaped from square one. But... Satoshi... I didn't *want* to escape. I want to stay with him as much as I can. Just him and me... and I know that's not possible. Because I really can't just come between him and his friend.

I wonder who he would choose...

I don't even want to think about that. I don't want to think about that at al. It's not going to help me... I sigh again then look to the sky. I wonder where my father's armies will turn next... No, not where. When...

And I hope and pray that I'll be able to do something. Not just for Satoshi, either... But for all of them. I can't let him get away with this, I can't... it's grown personal. Very personal...

~~~~~

I sit down on the ground and sigh. Hiroshi and Satoshi are talking animatedly about something that I couldn't even begin to understand, and I just can't try to pretend I can talk about it as well. *This is really starting to bother me...*

I glance up to where Shigeru is still sitting. He looks about as surly over this whole thing as I feel. He's not looking at me right now, though; his eyes are glued to Satoshi. I can hardly blame him; he's in love and it's pitifully obvious. I feel the same way.

I understand how someone could fall in love with Satoshi, too. He's so much like Hiroshi... When he smiles at you, it's *at* you, like you're the only person around. I remember the looks Hiroshi and I exchanged during dinner last night... just last night, when I was still in the palace and everything was fine. I push that thought aside, shuddering, and turn back toward Satoshi and my gorgeous golden dragonrider.

Well, I *wish* he was mine.

This isn't really getting me anywhere. I need a distraction from *them*, and... well... there's not much around. I think it's desperation that drives me, but... I sigh and move over to sit beside Shigeru. "Ran away, hmm?" It's just a start to a conversation -- I have to trust him, because I trust Hiroshi, who trusts Satoshi, who... Oh, forget it! I *don't* trust Shigeru, not really.

He looks at me in surprise. "You don't believe me, do you?"

I smile. It doesn't reach my eyes, I know. "No."

"Well," he murmurs slowly, turning to gaze at Satoshi again, "At least there's one sane person in this camp. You're in fairly mad company, my Lady." There's no sarcasm in the title.

"Then you know who I am?" He could've figured it out, I suppose...

"No, I'm not that observant." He smiles as well, but he's still looking at Satoshi, so his eyes are soft enough to make it look real. "I do know that you must be a noble, because you knew my name. Satoshi didn't know it. I know Hiroshi didn't recognize it. But you did."

"Correct, Shigeru." I won't use his title. If he's telling the truth, he won't want me to, anyway -- and if he's not... well, then, he's not really worth the title. "You don't need to know who I am. Lady Kasumi, that is enough. Anything else is unimportant."

He looks away from Satoshi for a minute. "Why did you want to talk to me, my Lady?" There isn't any disdain in his voice, just a horrible resignation. "Did you have something in particular on your mind?"

"In a way." I look up to Hiroshi, who is laughing. He's so... gold. I see light and goodness when I look at him. It's perfect... "You're in love with Satoshi," I accuse, tearing my eyes away. "Aren't you?"

He blushes, but doesn't protest. "Aren't you in love with Hiroshi?"

"Yes." I don't blush, but I look away from his eyes. "I am, and to tell you the truth, Satoshi is driving me insane at the moment."

This gets a laugh out of him. "Well, we have something in common, then. I think Hiroshi has upset me ever since Satoshi first told me about him." He actually smiles at me. "So we agree not to trust each other, but for tonight, we can try to convince each other that there is nothing between those two beyond friendship?" His tone is lighthearted, but his eyes are pleading. I can see that he desperately wants to be convinced of that... I do too, actually, and the offer is just too good to pass up.

"Well, Hiroshi used to blush when I smiled at him," I said -- my way of accepting the offer. "He never even mentioned Satoshi to me, not once -- until we got here, almost."

He smiles. "Satoshi didn't tell me about Hiroshi until I asked about his past. He only thought of him when I brought a related subject up -- other than that, he didn't even bother to mention him."

"That's a good sign." I actually returned the smile for real. "Hiroshi offered to take me riding on Koori -- his gold. I just said I admired his dragon, and he gave me a ride..."

"Satoshi almost let me kiss him," Shigeru says, a small smile forming on his face. "I think he would've let me -- but Shiika came back, and he turned away." He sighs.

I wasn't expecting *that*. Wow... I smile. "So Satoshi and Hiroshi can't be together, beyond friends. Satoshi wouldn't let you kiss him otherwise. And he wants you to stay with him, remember? It must be you that he wants, not Hiroshi."

"And Hiroshi is teasing him about me," he points out. "He doesn't mind that Satoshi might -- *does* -- have feelings for me. So it has to be you that he wants, not Satoshi." There's determination in his voice now; earlier he had been so resigned. This really is helping -- I feel better too.

I sigh and smile over at the unknowing loves of our lives. "Look at them. They don't even have a clue, do they?" I roll my eyes. "They're supposed to be the dragonriders, and they really are impressive, but nobody ever mentions how incredibly *dense* they can be!"

He laughs and watches Satoshi. "And it just makes them that much more appealing. At least, it does for me. That's why it's so frustrating."

"You said it," I agree.

His eyes are fixed on Satoshi now; I don't think he's listening to me at the moment. I understand that, though, so I don't comment. "Dear Mejiro, he's beautiful," he sighs. I'm not sure he knows that he's speaking it out loud.

Mejiro... "The goddess of white magic?" I look at Shigeru curiously as he tears his eyes away and turns them back toward me. "Are you a mage, Shigeru?"

He looks trapped now. "Sort of... a white mage." He bites his lip nervously. "If my father had found out..." At that, he shudders, and I feel a pang of sympathy -- but only if he's being truthful. Well, he *did* say the name of the white-mages' goddess...

"So that's why there's a book of white magic just lying there on the ground," I muse. I had wondered... "It's yours, isn't it?"

He nods. "Satoshi found it in my bag -- but he didn't know what it was. I was about to tell him when you showed up."

"If you are a mage," I ask suddenly, "then why didn't you just use cantrip to escape? That's a very basic spell -- even an inexperienced mage should know it." I think I know the reason he didn't... He *wanted* to be a prisoner. And especially Satoshi's prisoner.

"I didn't want to escape." He shrugs, then smiles, and turns back toward Satoshi. I follow his example -- but my eyes are not on the dark-haired dragonrider. They are on his enchanting blond friend.

*It has to be me that he loves,* I think, somewhat desperately. *It has to.* Because I think I'll die if it's not...

 

Next