Red Threads of Destiny

Chapter 2

Then

It was nearing eight the time he had managed to leave Kamakura. His colleagues had wished him a safe and happy trip, as they had managed to leave earlier than him to go back to Tokyo. He could feel the team’s relief and wishes of getting rest, -after all, spending the last two months conducting special medical missions were not an easy feat at all.

As for him, he had just managed to fix everything needed to be fixed before deciding that he could finally leave. After a little drinking session (he had chosen not to drink too much as he still have a long drive home,) with the residents that he had befriended the last months who expressed their regrets of seeing him finally go back to Tokyo, and him assuring them that he would pay them a visit once in a while, he double-checked everything needed to be checked, and decided to take the long drive home.

He was getting frustrated by the time he had managed to make a left for the highway that will enter Tokyo. The road is full of cars. The highway was congested, by nine o’ clock in the evening.

What the hell is going on?

Traffic is usually common in any national city, but at this hour? The only times that something like this happened was when Christmas is nearing, or when the malls have a big sale-out bonus or something. He absent-mindedly honked his horn at an idiot driver who suddenly swerved in front of him without signaling or any warning.

“Dick.” He swore to no one in particular, wishing the driver to suddenly have a bout of stomach ache and maybe even loose bowel movement later on.

He had the strange urge to light a cigarette, except he didn’t have one with him. Then he recalled that he hadn’t really been friendly at all with cigarettes. Sighing at his utter ridiculousness, he switched his radio on, finding himself listening to one of Japan’s well-known and famous singers- Amuro Namie.

Ah, this. The coca-cola song. He recalled, smiling to himself. He remembered because this was the tune that his niece always danced to whenever his sister would pay him a visit with her in tow.

He opened the hand compartment and grabbed a gum, finding nothing else to let out his frustration on. He ripped off the wrapper carelessly and placed it back inside the hand compartment, making a mental post-it note in his head to throw it out later on.

Drumming his fingers lightly on the wheel, he sighed frustratingly and moved forward to a slow crawl as he again honked loudly at the same idiot driver who swerved to a sudden stop in front of him and almost made him hit the bumper -had it not been for his reflex reaction of stepping on the brake in time.

I swear I’m going to report this dick first thing tomorrow, dammit.

Leaning back and stretching his legs carefully, he removed his hands from the wheel and stretched his arms as far as they can go. Once he heard the satisfying crack somewhere in his shoulder blades, he removed his glasses as well and rubbed his nose bridge, feeling a headache coming on.

And then, as he looked out into the traffic in front of him, absent-mindedly listening to the catchy song he was tuned in at the moment, his thoughts began to wander.

He guessed that life still had been good to him. Despite of the fact that he had been practically missing out on everything that wasn’t work-related, he could say that his life so far, has been good. As good as it was for his age, a twenty seven year-old cardiologist, the youngest doctor ever to have joined the University of Tokyo Hospital in history. While many may have raised eyebrows at this, as it certainly was something worth baffling about, once people had managed to meet him, all doubts and questions certainly met the answers, and they could only marvel.

Given his educational history, he had managed to graduate from medicine in a short amount of time, around eight years. He was a scholar and obviously a genius, and though he certainly may have taken it for seven years, he had preferred not to hurry through his college. After all, he still had his life ahead of him, and he had been exhausted trying to hurry through it during his younger years. He just about had enough of trying to get ahead of anyone when all those years he had never really gotten there anyway.

His thoughts wandered to his friends, who were getting married in a weeks’ time. He got out his phone and swiped the screen, looking at his calendar, and swearing a bit to himself when he saw the date tomorrow.

Dang. It’s the bachelor party. He mused exhaustedly to himself. Will he be able to make it? Well, he should be able to, since technically it was his day off, and he is the best man.

Kana-chan’s gonna kill me if Komano tells her I wasn’t even there. Truthfully, he was amazed with Kana-chan’s… graciousness to even push Komano for a bachelor party, despite of her fiancé’s lack of interest to have one. He guessed that there was something to be said about that solid wall of trust that they had built with their relationship over the years, and he had to admit, it was something he admired from the two of them.

He rubbed his eyes and yawned. He should have enough sleep. But if this traffic doesn’t let up, he would have to show up there with eye bags.

To be honest, he was amazed that they were finally getting married. It hadn’t taken the whole team long to realize that the two of them, -Komano Tsutomu and Oe Kanade- were meant for each other. But Tsukue-kun, as his best girlfriend fondly called him, had certainly taken his time. They started going out before they graduated from high school, and had gone steady during their college years. Despite of the occasional fights and squabbles, they knew that the two truly loved each other. And then when he finally popped that question, proposing to her during one of their get-together dinners, Kana-chan had cried and said ‘yes’.

Well, he was glad for them. It’s just about time for them to get their act together. After all, Nishida already had his happy ending.

It had certainly been a surprise when Nishida had been the first to settle down. It was not because of his… well, looks, but because he was well aware that Komano and Nishida both had this crush on Kana-chan back then. They had been surprised when they had found out that he had begun dating someone during their last year of high school, and had been even more surprised to find out that he was dating Ousaka Megumu from Akashi First Girls’ High School, who had ‘tamed’ down her tendencies of being an innate sadist. He smirked to himself as he recalled how Nishida had reddened furiously when he had caught them unawares, as he was the one who had accidentally seen them together in one of the school festivals that he had been invited to. Three years after their graduation from college, they married, and Nishida had asked them, -he and Komano,- to be his groomsmen.

But then, nothing had been able to surprise him more than Tsukuba-kun and Hanano-san. Those two were probably the biggest surprise he’d ever had during his college years.

The moment that they had announced to everyone, during one of the club reunions, that they were together, it had felt as if a large meteor had fallen from the sky and had landed in front of them. Never had they thought that the two would end up together, because they could recall clearly how they would clash with one another even with the simple activities that they had to set up for strengthening the foundation of the karuta club. Hanano-san was the one who took the reins from him as the new president during the last quarter of their third year, with Tsukuba-kun as the vice president. He remembered being confident enough to leave the club in their hands, and they had certainly not been disappointed. He would occasionally receive calls from her regarding matches and regulations for tournaments, and he would once in a while hear the both of them debating over the phone with what they should do. So when they finally told everyone that they were an item, they certainly had been surprised, though, when he thought about it later on, they were a perfect match. Tsukuba-kun had the talent of reining in Hanano-san’s tendencies to go all out, and she in turn, pushed him to give his very best, which was far from the ‘best’ he had thought he could give.

He chuckled to himself. He guessed that the phrase ‘opposites attract’ really is somehow true.

So with all of his friends definitely now on the path of settling down, of course, he had not been saved from merciless teasing, -from his colleagues.

He had been used to the occasional questions of ‘When are you planning to marry?’ or ‘When are you going to introduce your girlfriend to us?’ and then the surprise on their faces when he told them that (1) no plans of marrying anytime soon, and (2) he doesn’t have a girlfriend, so technically, question no. 1 was definitely impossible. They would shake their heads, or cluck their tongues in sympathy, saying ‘You’re getting left behind by your friends!’ and ‘What? You’re wasting your time!’ but he would just smile, wave their sentiments aside and tell them that he wasn’t in a hurry anyway. One comment from his male colleague had actually hit close to home though.

It’s impossible he doesn’t have anyone he likes. Come on! He’s not a rock. There’s definitely someone, eh, Mashima? I smell that it’s… hmmm… an ‘unrequited love’? Yiha!

He had punched the guy on his kidney with a smile plastered on his lips, and told them that he, Mashima Taichi, for all intents and purposes, is single and thoroughly enjoying it.

So… what? You’re ‘single and uninterested in mingling’, is that it? You just about shot down every woman here who had you on their radar! Hahaha! Are you saying that you’re contented with… hmmm… what’s that famous line? Always the bridesmaid but… wait, let’s twist it. ‘Always a groomsman, but never the groom’? Hahaha! That is just funny!

He had given the guy a large smack behind the head, but that didn’t stop him from being the receiving butt of merciless teasing. After all, he, as an accomplished man and a doctor already for his age, was certainly worth of any attention. The idea that someone like him was spending years all alone by choice was certainly a surprise for both men and women of his age.

I mean… don’t you even miss doing the… you know? The ‘horizontal tango’? That is, if you have the experience already. Hahaha!

The guy was saved from him strangling him around the neck because the patients started arriving around that time. He had snorted to himself then, and went back into work mode.

Of course he already had the experience, and was certainly not a novice on that department. He just didn’t prefer telling his friends regarding that area straight-on. Like… hello, does it have to be spoken aloud?

He was cut-off from his trip down memory lane when the music he had been listening to –which was a new one already- was temporarily paused to make way for a newscast.

Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you news. Earlier, around three o’ clock in the after noon to be exact, the former Queen of Karuta, Ayase Chihaya-san, was reported to have been spotted at Narita Airport.

He choked on his gum and nearly swallowed it. Wonderful. His full attention had been dragged back into his radio, and he reached out to turn the volume up a little.

Several eyewitnesses and airport attendants have been able to confirm that the former ‘Queen’ have already returned to Japan. It may be recalled that Ayase Chihaya-san, at the height of her karuta career, had gone off to Seoul, Korea a year ago for reasons that to this day are still to be known. Rumors of a failed engagement with the then Karuta Meijin, Wataya Arata have been heard, but no one from both parties have confirmed it. It hadn’t been clear-

A sharp and loud ringing of a phone pierced through the air. He turned to his hand compartment and grabbed it, stared at the screen, and was surprised to see Tsuboguchi Hiroshi’s name flashing through the screen.

It wasn’t often did he get calls from Harada-sensei’s heir, (a private joke that he had to himself,) and ninety percent of those calls usually had to do with emergencies regarding karuta tournaments. He sighed to himself. What did this man want from him now?

He turned the volume of the radio down, removed his gum and wrapped it back into the wrapping paper, set up the phone for hands-free mode and took the call.

“Moshi-moshi, senpai.”

“Moshi-moshi, Matsuge-kun. I’m terribly sorry for calling you at this hour. Did I disturb you? His voice crackled through the earpiece. He sounded hassled and almost panicked that his eyebrows furrowed in concern. He carefully maneuvered the car as the pathway in front of him suddenly cleared, and he slipped in easily to the Tokyo lane.

“No, not really, but I’m in the middle of driving my way home from Kamakura.” He could hear noise in the background, some shouting even, something along the lines of Hurry the hell up, Tsuboguchi-san! that his forehead creased even more in concern. “Ano… Senpai. It’s kinda noisy. What’s going on-?”

“You’re on your way home? Goodness! Where are you right now? Can you make it here to Shiranami society in five minutes? We have an emergency!”

“What the hell? I’m still in Tokyo highway and the road is packed-“

“It’s Chihaya-chan!” Tsuboguchi-san all but wailed from the other end of the line. “She’s just come home and she came to visit us, but she-she fainted!”

“What! What the hell happened?” He honked at an another offending driver and stepped on the gas, zipping his way between the two lanes uncaringly. He heard other drivers honk as well at him, but he didn’t care. At least he had a valid reason, -he had an emergency.

He listened carefully and kept his attention on the road as Tsuboguchi explained what had happened. Apparently, Chihaya had already come home and had decided to visit the dojo. Them being enthusiastic about her finally coming home, they decided to throw an impromptu homecoming get-together for her.

“Have you even called a doctor already? Why on earth hadn’t you even noticed that she was already too pale!?” He scolded the older man, not in the mood for pleasantries right now.

It’s not that he didn’t want to be the one to look after her, but the situation is already too urgent for them to wait for him to arrive.

“We’ve already called but they’re still not here-“

“Listen carefully, senpai, and listen well if you want Chihaya to live.” His voice had gone professional, going to being Mashima-sensei. “I won’t be able to get there immediately, because I am in the middle of a damn traffic, and you don’t get to sit around waiting for the doctor. What was her temperature already? Right, and that’s going to make her delirious. Give her a spoon or a towel or something that she will be able to bite on because she could bite her tongue by accident.” He heard him call out to some of his members to do just that. “Try to make her temperature go down, -I don’t care if you have to wrap her in a blanket. I’ll try to get out of this traffic as soon as I can. Give me fifteen minutes.” He sped up as he spoke, stepping on the gas and swerving past a truck expertly, not in the mood to be dealing with the mad driver who he could swear just yelled at him with a few choice swear words that he ignored.

“Thank you, Matsuge-kun.”

“Don’t thank me, I haven’t done anything yet. Make sure to clear a pathway around her so she could breathe and the doctor could check her immediately. See you in a few.” He hang up and removed the earpiece, stuffing it back into the hand compartment.

And sighed to himself frustratingly.

So she was already back. He didn’t know if he should be glad or not. Wait, that’s not true. Of course he was glad to have her back. After all, he hadn’t seen her for a year, and it was he who saw her off when she had decided to leave Japan for a while. Of course, he missed her. With every fiber of his being.

And he didn’t miss the fact that he was still the one who would come to her rescue, that until now he was still her knight in shining armor, as cliché and mushy as it sounded.

The thought made him chuckle wryly to himself. The girl hadn’t even informed him that she’ll be returning today. Knowing her, she was probably planning to surprise him or something, and since she knew that some of his colleagues were affiliated with the media and all, she probably hadn’t wanted to let the media know. Unfortunately for her, she was still quite well-known. That was one of the prices she had to pay for becoming the Queen years ago, as ever since she had succeeded Wakamiya Shinobu at being the Queen, people started paying more attention to karuta, and naturally to her. That meant that she was placed into the status of a karuta superstar-slash-celebrity-slash-model.

And that worsened when she started going out with the then Karuta Meijin, their childhood friend and his former rival, Wataya Arata.

Oh, Wataya Arata. Grandson of the Eternal Meijin Wataya Hajime, karuta genius and all around athlete-slash-celebrity as well. If memory serves him right, it should have been their third anniversary as a couple this year, and probably their first anniversary of being married if Arata only had the courage to go through with their marriage.

He pressed the left light signal and turned lightly to the left direction, narrowly missing a suburban who had skidded beside him carelessly. He honked impatiently and saw the driver roll down his window. He realized that this was the same driver who he had nearly hit since earlier, the one who never signals or anything. The man looked drunk, -his cheeks had that unhealthy flush.

Ah. The dick driver.

Well, not only was he a dick. He was also an idiot.

The man started shouting inaudible, unclear words that he could only guess what it was, but he didn’t wait to hear it. He rolled down his window as well, flipped a finger at him, and drove off.

He didn’t have the patience to deal with idiots. Right now, he needed to attend to a patient.

And his broken-hearted best friend.

Or so he thought anyway.


Now

She had stood up on shaky legs and launched herself to him, and nearly gave him and Keiichi-nii a heart attack when her legs tangled over each other and she slipped. Despite of the fact that it has been a whole year when he had last played karuta, his reflexes came in handy as he automatically caught her and she just sort of fell ungracefully in his arms. “Chihaya!” he scolded, feeling his heart pound against his ribcage hard, as she grasped his shoulder in a motion as if she was drowning and she needed air, and all but buried her face against his chest.

“…Taichi.” She murmured against his chest, feeling as if the world suddenly turned upside down and tightened her arms around his waist that he coughed. “…Tai…chi.”

“Ow, Chihaya. Ow. The ribs. The ribs.” He groaned pointedly as he coughed all the same, and he felt her loosen her grip. “Yeah sweetheart, I missed you too.” He added as he chuckled lightly and returned her embrace, though he was still worried. “Go back to sleep. You need rest.”

“Don’t wanna.” She said, albeit more exhaustedly. He saw Keiichi-nii moved to go out of the room and tapped him on his shoulder, silently telling him to look after her. He sighed in response as Chihaya’s mother poked her head in to see why Keiichi had gone out, and as she saw her daughter embracing Taichi, a smile formed on her lips and she nodded, wordlessly telling him as well to take care of her.

How ironic. Here her family had entrusted her to him, when he was just the great best friend.

“Chihaya. You’re sick. Frighteningly sick that you fainted earlier. What were you thinking? You could have at least waited a day before you visited Tsuboguchi-san and the others. You know you needed rest before going into trips immediately.” He scolded her lightly, sounding exasperated and resigned. She looked up to him, and he saw her eyes glistening with unshed tears.

“M’sorry.” She murmured, blinking, and the two drops of tears fell. “Just got so excited.”

He automatically reached out to wipe the tears that had made their way down her cheeks. “Don’t go all weepy on me, Chihaya. Stop being such a crybaby.” He teased lightly, though he knew the reason all too well for her getting all emotional.

“I’m not a crybaby.” She responded indignantly, wiping her tears away from her eyes roughly. “What, am I not allowed to miss you?” She pouted, her words clearer this time as she straightened up from embracing him, though her arms remained wrapped around his waist.

“Of course you should miss me. After all, no one looked after you in Seoul. You didn’t have anyone to pester around.” He joked again, and he was grateful that the atmosphere felt, at least, considerably lighter now, as opposed from earlier when he could feel her brooding.

She glared at him with the force of a kitten, her eyes drooping, in danger of slipping close. Whatever medicine they had made her drink was certainly affecting her now. She was struggling just to even keep her eyes from closing. “W-What medicine did you make me take? I feel so… sleepy…” She slumped against his arms, nearly falling asleep.

“We didn’t make you drink anything that strong. You were just so exhausted.” He half-carried, half-assisted her back into her bed and he laid her down to it gently, and she reached out to tug at his sleeve, but even her fingers had already lost their strength that her hand slid down and came to grip his. He swept her hair back from her forehead. “Go back to sleep. You’ll need the strength in the morning.”

“You’re not leaving… so soon, right?” She asked groggily, her words half-audible now. Somehow, all the sudden movement and excitement from seeing him again had sapped the last of her energy, leaving her lethargic and a bit weak. Her dark eyes searched his for a response when he remained silent and unresponsive. “Taichi?”

“Well, I still haven’t gotten any proper sleep. I just came home from Kamakura, you know.” He told her, sounding as if he was peeved. He could feel her playing with his fingers, something that had become a habit of hers before whenever she held his hand.

Her brows furrowed. “Kamakura? What were doing you there?” She all but asked groggily.

Hs lips broke into a huge grin as he leaned forward and flicked her forehead. “Chihaya. I doubt you’ll be able to even understand what I’m saying. Just go to sleep now. We’ll talk in the morning.” He moved to stand up, but before he could even do just that, her listless form became a flurry of action.

“N-No wait! Taichi! Don’t leave yet!”

For whatever strength that she still possessed, Chihaya launched herself at him with unexpected speed that he was so caught off-guard that she landed on top of him, and he ended up sprawled beneath her, his arms eagle-spread beside him, her hands clutching at his chest.

“Chihaya! What-?”

At any other time that she would have done this he would have stiffened and panicked at her touch, especially with their position on her bed, but he missed her too much to even try pushing her off. And she is sick, anyway.

“D-Don’t leave yet!” She pleaded against his chest, her face mushed against him. “Don’t go. If you go I’ll miss you again, you know!” She sounded as if she was ready to cry.

Taichi exhaled an exasperated sigh out. She might be sick, but Ayase Chihaya can be so unexpectedly strong when you least expect her to be. He wrapped his arms around her slim frame, which was slimmer now than she used to be that it worried him. Even if she had done her best to hide her reaction from them a year ago from what had happened, he could tell that it had taken it’s toll on her. “Aren’t you going to let me sleep properly as well?” He asked resignedly, as her breathing hitched, and he felt her chest rise and fall against his.

“Y-You can stay here with me. We can fit on the bed, you know.” She offered drowsily, though she did her best to stay awake.

“And make Keiichi-nii and Ojiisan chase me out with a knife and a chainsaw? No thank you.” He joked, and she snorted somewhere on the top of his chest.

“They’re not going to do that.”

“You sound unsure.”

“I am sure. They are not going to do that, not to you at the very least. They trust you. Maybe even more than they do me.”

That last sentence had the effect of disarming him, and he didn’t know how to take it. Was she even joking, or had she actually meant that seriously? “Chihaya. What do you mean they don’t trust you?”

“I didn’t say that, I just said they trust you more than they do me.” She responded, her voice going drowsier and drowsier by the second, and she exhaled a long, drawn-out breath.

He didn’t even try to tell her that that almost meant the same thing. “I have a bachelor party to attend tomorrow, Chihaya. At least let me get enough sleep. I’m exhausted as well, you know, since I came home from work, unlike other people there who had just come home from a vacation from Seoul but is even sick.” He said, though his body refused to move. The exhaustion, as well as the worry and stress that Tsuboguchi-san had so unceremoniously dumped at him from earlier for her, was beginning to catch up to him, he guessed.

“Then stay here with me. Please, Taichi.“ She pleaded silently and exhaustedly as well. “I’ve missed you. It’s true.” She assured him, as if he didn’t want to believe what she was saying earlier.

He felt something twist his heart at the child-like way she admitted that she missed him. “Well I wasn’t the one who left for Seoul, Chihaya.”

“’M’sorry.” She snuggled against him more comfortably like a cat.

“Hmmm?”

“Had to… had to leave.” She didn’t sound as if she wanted to cry, but it hinted all the same, at how she was broken inside. Probably still broken. By how much, that was not what he was sure of. He did his best to help her recover by helping her book a ticket first thing after she found out that everything that they were planning to happen wouldn’t be happening at all, and guided her with her way around Seoul since it was the first time she would be leaving, -all alone and for a totally different country which she wasn’t familiar at all.

One would have expected that him, as the best friend, would have stopped her, or made her think twice about leaving. But no, he didn’t. While he hadn’t privately agreed with her decision to leave, because he thought- and he knew others would agree to it, -that that was quite the cowardly way out,- Taichi knew that she needed to get away. She had always never been good with dealing with emotions, and he was aware that the best way for her to cope would be to get away from it all then. He had consented to her wish of leaving Japan for a year, even when it was the height of her career as a model-slash-karuta superstar-slash-celebrity, because he knew that it would be best for her.

“I know.” He responded, after a few more minutes of silence from his end. “You don’t have to explain anything. Not to me, in the least.”

She didn’t respond. He wasn’t sure whether she had finally fallen asleep, because she just shifted, -probably trying to find a more comfortable position against him.

He sighed. She had even forgotten that she was lying practically on top of a healthy, twenty-seven year-old man. Honestly, she was already grown up and all, but she hadn’t changed out of being too trusting with other people, a fact which had never failed to frustrate him, even before. Well he wasn’t a part of the ‘other people’, but he couldn’t help but worry that her being too trusting would lead to her being taken advantage of easily again.

As she had been before, when she willingly exchanged email addresses and numbers with a guy who met her for the first time.

No, he would never take advantage of her. He was always the gentleman, never allowing his own desires to kiss her, or even just hold her hand before, trickle in. He had never changed out of the love he felt for her, and he had already learned too long ago that she wouldn’t feel the same for him, no matter what he did. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t continue loving her in silence… right?

Sighing heavily to himself, he shifted so that he could set her right on her back again, and when he moved to do just that, he found out that she was clutching at his collar with a death grip.

Dammit. She’s serious about not letting me leave.

He knew that she hadn’t meant anything earlier when she was asking him to stay for her. That was just the sentiment of a woman who had terribly missed her best friend. But for her to make sure that he wouldn’t leave without her noticing… he had to chuckle at that. That part of her hadn’t changed in the least, and he was glad for it.

He tried to pry off of her fingers from his collar, but she stirred and her eyelids fluttered open for a bit. “Stay.” She said, her voice sounding stern and serious. “Stay, Taichi…”

“Chihaya-“

And as if to punctuate her point, she pulled him in and rolled over to her side, throwing her arms around him and embracing him close as if he were her giant daddy bear that he automatically froze and held his breath in. At the moment all that he could think of was …Damn. Keiichi-nii’s gonna kill me, which he was grateful for, because he knew for a fact that if something like this happened before, he would be thinking …Damn. Stop thinking unholy thoughts, Mashima.

As laughable and cliché as his situation sounded, he couldn’t find it in himself to laugh at his utter ridiculousness.

He relaxed at his position, having no other choice but to accept the fact that he wouldn’t be going home anytime soon. He just prayed that her cousin or her father wouldn’t chase him out in the morning with either a butcher’s knife or a chainsaw, ready to tear him into pieces for sleeping with their beloved cousin and daughter. Well not sleeping together, but just… sleeping. Not… oh, you get the idea.

He stretched his legs and pulled her closer to his chest instead, not wanting her to wake up with a stiff neck later on. The movement made her sigh contentedly, as if she really was embracing her favorite daddy bear in the world.

He was exhausted yes, but now he felt too wired for sleep. His auburn eyes rested on the ceiling above him, which still had Chihaya’s old glow-in-the-dark patterns. He guessed that she hadn’t outgrown her love for them, and hadn’t been able to remove them even after all the years that had passed.

As it had before, his thoughts began to wander. But as Chihaya had refused to recall hers earlier, he welcomed his own.

Taichi had to admit that a part of him had died years ago. He was living the past years with… well, half of his life. Even when he knew that he was still giving his hundred percent in everything that he did, he knew that it was no longer the same for some aspects in his life.

Like love, for instance.

During the third year of their college in Todai, -Chihaya a sports education major, him a medical student,- Wataya Arata had confessed to Chihaya. It had happened during one of their karuta victory matches, -the time when he had managed to succeed Suo Hisashi at being the karuta Meijin. He wasn’t supposed to hear that incredible heart-breaking moment, but fate had a way of screwing things up for him, so he shouldn’t have bothered trying to avoid that moment.

“I’m in love with you, Chihaya.”

He had stopped, his hand on the doorknob of their dressing room. Taichi, for all the idiocy that he had possessed during his younger years, froze outside the door, his hand on the doorknob, his other hand clutching at the platter of graham that he was supposed to be bringing for the two of them. He was holding his breath very much like he had done earlier, but at that time his emotions were all in disarray, and his world had completely stood still.

“W-What? What do you mean with that, Arata…?” Came Chihaya’s small voice, sounding flustered and completely unsure all of a sudden.

He hadn’t wanted to hear what would happen next, because despite of what others might think of him, he had no desire of being an innate masochist. But he couldn’t move then, as if every muscle in his body had forgotten their job. He felt at that time as if a puppet master had him on his strings and was having pleasure letting him hear the entire moment, letting him bear witness to this moment that he didn’t know how he will survive later on.

Get away, Taichi. You have to get away…

But his feet had refused to move. Every muscle of his body had locked themselves in their place, and he wanted to curse whoever or whatever it is that had held him in his place. It felt as if someone had wiped superglue on the floor where he was standing, or as if he had been held by tar there.

“I’ve always been in love with you. Ever since you defended me from… from Taichi, when we were kids. I love you Chihaya. More than my own life.”

Taichi knew he had to do something, but the whole conversation continued with him listening. Sweat had appeared on his temple, and his heart was racing so fast that he just knew it could rival a racing car.

He didn’t know why he, of all people, had to hear this conversation. Did God secretly hate him? It made him wonder whether he had anything disrespectful on one of his altars before in his past life and was now paying dearly for it.

He was ready to pay for anything with everything he ever had, but this? This was just plain cruel. Had he done something incredibly bad that made God decide for him to be the secret witness to the moment the karuta God had finally chosen to side with Arata and give him the one woman they had loved their entire lives -Chihaya?

And when he finally heard Chihaya accept Wataya Arata’s feelings, his world, -his heart,- broke and shattered.

“I-I love you too.”

There was no feeling like it in the whole world. It was so incredibly painful that he thought he might lose his mind with just even hearing it.

Imagine feeling as if your skin was burning from the heat. Now imagine that pain a thousand times more, and concentrate the pain to just one place, -your heart. That was how hurtful it was, hearing the one person you loved your entire life tell another person who wasn’t you and could never be you that she loved him as well.

A part of him had died that day. Ever since then, he knew that a part of him was always missing, always incomplete. He was never the same again.

Others thought that that would have been the end of their friendship, but no, it hadn’t ended there. They remained friends, well, him and Chihaya in the least, but his friendship with Arata had been strained. And no one blamed him for it, no one had given him grief about it. Yes, they were together, but he had made it a point not to stay in the same room with them whenever they were with each other. It was at that point of time that he began turning his attention to his studies, which was beginning to be more demanding then. He had been grateful to it, because it gave his mind the opportunity to concentrate on it besides his love life and friendship, which had been in shambles.

Did he try to avoid her? Well yes, of course. Any self-respecting man would have tried to avoid the woman they love the most but was completely in love with someone else, because yeah, it hurt. It goddamn hurt, alright. But was he able to? At first, yes. He had distanced himself from her the first couple of weeks following Arata’s confession to her, and had been hanging out with the boys, -Komano and Nishida- more often that had been usual then just to avoid her. But when Chihaya had come to him and cried on him the first time she and Arata had this squabble of sorts, he realized that it was pointless trying to avoid her.

Looking back on it, Taichi didn’t know how he had managed to survive the pain. All he knew was that for the first three months of them as a couple he kept on telling himself that it would be better, just like what their friends used to tell him. And really, he did believe that things had started looking better for him then. Eventually he was able to accept that life is a bitch, and yes, things doesn’t often go your way no matter how much you wanted it to go your way like a mature adult. If you had your way all the time, who would be able to appreciate true happiness right? So he recognized that life gave him a bad deal, and he had adjusted to it accordingly, because in the battle between you and life, you have to win, no matter how hard it takes.

And hell yeah, was it hard.

That meant that it hadn’t been a walk in the park just trying to get back on his feet. But their friends had helped, and his studies did help. He had remained as Chihaya’s best friend, and hell, was he the best damn friend she ever had. Pathetic as it may have sounded, he had chosen to stay with her, be her shoulder to cry on, watched over her whenever she found herself in crossroads.

He did try to move on from her, but even as his friends had tried their best to help him move on, that had been easier said than done. He had tried dating, yes. That didn’t mean it worked out though. He had always found himself searching for one specific quality in that girl, and he would feel sick every time he realized that it resembled Chihaya one way or another.

He had given her his heart but she didn’t see it. Try as he might from taking it back, it felt as if she had already hidden it somewhere that she hadn’t even known about. What hurt the most was that she wasn’t even aware of it. Ugh.

They had gone steady for four years, and he had been busy with his medical studies. And before he graduated from Todai, Arata did something that brought the old pain back.

He had told him that he was planning to propose to Chihaya finally and marry her. He would have cared less, (despite of the fact that he had once again felt as if the world had swept him off of his feet,) but he couldn’t ignore the favor that Arata had asked him then.

“Will you be my best man?”

Any sane guy would have blanched and immediately turned him down, especially if the bride was the woman who they were still in love with. Perhaps, maybe they would have even thrown a token punch just to make their feelings clear about the whole matter.

“I don’t want to ask you to do this, Taichi, but you are still my best friend. It would mean so much to me. And of course… to Chihaya.”

And really, despite of the hurt that had once again exploded in his chest, Taichi did care for Chihaya’s feelings.

As he chuckled to himself in the darkness of Chihaya’s room, he realized that of all the crazy shit he had done his entire life, his decision a year ago had definitely taken the cake.

He had accepted.

And yeah, that was probably the most idiotic decision he’d ever made his entire life.


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