Manjoume stared blankly at the bright screens before him.
The small-scale dueling tournament hosted by the Manjoume group had already ended, a charity event sponsored by the company he had been handling for the past two years. It aimed to encourage ordinary people who had yet to play Duel Monsters to have a first hand experience with the field, giving participants their own starter pack duel cards and duel disks.
It was the starting project for many other events he discussed with his team. From what he had gathered so far, it had been pretty much successful; he had high hopes for it, actually, and it pleased him to know that various volunteer groups also agreed to help in terms of manpower. It somehow displeased him, however, that despite being inside the main control room where he could oversee the event, he was not given the opportunity to witness the ending of the event due to an encounter with his brothers in that very room he was in.
It was painful, tender to touch. He knew, he felt that the spot under his left eye was in a terrible state after being the receiving end of his brother's fist. He could have evaded it if he wanted to, but years of experience told him it was less complicared to do otherwise. He was pretty much expecting it, anyway, after he had chosen to defy their wishes in favor of doing what he wanted. If there was a first time in this incident, it was that Chosaku opted for more physical rather than verbal means.
It started that morning. It was a rare occurrence that all of three of them were present in the Manjoume estate for breakfast, given their different schedules. His brothers were the only immediate family he had, and an outsider may think that he, Jun, would look forward to eating with them again, just like the old times. Perhaps he would, once upon a time, but ever since their parents died, his brothers had become distant, leaving him behind to fend for himself, his studies, his company.
But now, he hated, no, dreaded meeting them. Despite all of his achievements, they never failed to make him feel as if he were just a measly creature, an insignificant dog that they had to feed only because he had been around the same house as them. A dog that they expected to be loyal to them and follow their every commands. And if the dog disobeyed, there was punishment.
It made Jun wonder, what was his fault for earning their hate? Was it because they blamed him for the death of their mother because of his birth? Did they blame him for the death of their father, who was involved in a car accident when he was on his way to his Junior League championship tournament? They never really spoke about those incidents, because one day they just decided to turn away from him. But one thing was for sure, he knew he blamed himself.
It was their older brother Chosaku who changed drastically. He recalled him being a warm-hearted brother as a child, and he was actually very supportive of his interest in Duel Monsters, despite never playing it. But when their father died, the warmth was replaced with cold indifference. Jun tried to understand that it was because all responsibilities were placed on his hands when their father left the world.
Jun always had the feeling that Shoji did not like him, no matter how hard he tried to please him. Perhaps it was because Jun was not a good replacement for their mother, who he heard was very loving. Perhaps it was because Jun garnered more attention and support from his father than him. Nothing much had changed even when his father encountered the accident, but he felt the incident made Shoji justify his hate more for him.
That morning, Chosaku reminded him of their vision of Jun becoming the next Kaiba. He shrugged it off, telling his older brothers that he was doing the best that he could.
But what ticked Jun off was their next statement.
They clarified that they meant they wanted him to overthrow Kaiba and buy the KaibaCorp from him, and that no, Jun was not doing the best because Jun was wasting his time with his silly projects which were simply a waste of money.
No. That was not what he wanted. And they were not silly.
It wasn't just because he respected Kaiba. He had learned that not everything was about reigning superior, being at the top. There was also something great about co-existing with other people and getting along with them, something he envisioned with his branch company by having significant collaborations.
Jun explained that the tournament he planned was simply an investment for his future plans for the company. He even added that he was doing Chosaku a favor because the charity event was a way of boosting his image with the citizens, which would benefit him in political world.
But they did not listen. Instead, they ordered him to cancel the silly tournament and to attend a good investment deal that afternoon.
After breakfast, Jun crumpled the paper his brothers gave him and threw it to the fireplace.
There was no way he would stop the tournament just because they told him to. Not when he prepared wholeheartedly for it.
And when Chosaku learned that he did not show up in the meeting with the aspiring business partners, he took out his frustration on his face. Jun could've sworn that a smirk appeared on Shoji's face when it happened, even when his brother told Chosaku to stop.
His face was throbbing. The logical part in him said that he should probably get some ice and treat it as soon as possible, yet another part of him was unmoving, telling him to embrace the space he had even just for a few minutes, the quiet, comfortable darkness that the dim room had offered him. After a while, he realized that he already picked the latter choice. He was not ready to leave the room yet. He was not ready to show the people outside what had become of him.
He did not know how much time had passed until he heard a knock from behind him, and when he turned his chair around, the door began to open, giving way for a carpet of light to partially illuminate the room. Behind the door was a figure whose identity he could not make out at first due to the shadows of the room basking her features.
"Excuse me, I was told that the events coordinator is here—"
"He had just left," Manjoume replied immediately, earning him a gasp from the person whose identity he now recognized.
What was she doing here?
His own mind quickly answered for him as he recalled that her university was among the volunteer groups that assisted in the event that day.
He stood up, walking his way towards her, slowly showering himself with the light from the outside.
"Manjoume-kun," she regarded him with a smile that was hidden beneath the shadows, but it was soon replaced with a look of shock as he was nearing his approach.
"What do you need, Tenjoin-kun?" he said, completely ignoring her horrified expression.
She took a step closer, reaching out a hand. "Manjoume-kun, your face—!"
"Tenjoin-kun," he repeated with the same professional tone. Having an indifferent face was difficult in his state of vulnerability, so he tried to mask his emotions with a forced smile instead. His eye contact never faltered. "What do you need?"
It worked, somehow, and she explained that she needed some details about the events for some paperwork. He provided them easily for her.
"If you have more questions, you could contact me here," he said, handing her his business card.
She took it without peering her eyes away from him, with worry plastered all over her face, just like last time.
"Have a good day. If you'll excuse me..." Manjoume took a step back, ready to immerse himself back in solitude. Before he could however, Asuka caught his arm, stopping him in his tracks and inadvertently causing the door to open further, momentarily blinding him with more light entering his eyes.
"Manjoume-kun, are you okay?" He realized that her question puzzled him, not because how obvious the answer to it was, but because it made him experience an unfamiliar emotion.
He came up with a realization—not once in his life had someone ever ask it of him. Not once had anyone bothered to ask him that at home or in the academy.
The heat of her grip that enveloped his arm was contagious, spreading throughout his body.
"If you need someone to talk to, know that I am here to listen."
Whatever wall he was struggling to keep up came crashing down upon hearing her words.
"The company, my brothers," he started, recalling that he also said similar words to her before.
She let go of his arm, yet the warmth lingered. "I'm listening."
Soon the lights of the room were turned on, and they were sitting across each other as he disclosed the thoughts that he had earlier. The more he spoke, the less the weight he felt around his heart. He was not sure how long he talked, but Asuka patiently listened.
"Have you ever tried talking about it to your brothers?" he heard her say, and he did not know what expression she had because his eyes remained on the ground.
"No," he said, "I do not see the point in it. They do not listen."
Asuka went silent for a while. "Well, what if they do, but they just don't show it?"
"I do not find that believable. Do tell me an instance, then." It dawned to him how unfair his question was, since Asuka knew next to nothing about his brothers. Before he could rephrase it, she answered him, surprisingly.
"How about that thing about the chairs in your brother's café?"
"I haven't had the chance to visit that place again."
Asuka smiled. "Well, my brother Fubuki has, and he told me that there were more chairs than usual."
He felt his heart skip a beat. Was it really true? Shoji often dismissed his suggestions…
"You should see it for yourself," Asuka continued, the smile not leaving her face, "I think…it's a natural thing for siblings not to get along sometimes. Fubuki and I are like that because we have our differences, but it the end, the blood relations prevail."
It was Manjoume's turn to be silent, as he tried to digest what Asuka had said.
"Are you happy?" came her next question. When he did not reply immediately, she asked it again. "Are you happy with what you are doing?"
"I wouldn't say that I'm not happy with the company," he muttered, "but I would be lying if I said I don't have much preferred dream."
"And that dream is…?"
He shifted his position, turning his head to face her. "To duel. My aspirations to join the Pro-League never left. I want to duel all kinds of people around the world and I want them to know what I'm capable of."
"That's a great dream." Her eyes, which he realized were a beautiful shade of hazel, were sincere. "So what do you plan to do now?"
"I don't know," he said truthfully, because he did not really. "But I guess, talking to my brothers isn't a bad idea."
When Asuka chose not to say anything further, he took it as the opportunity to say one more thing that he had been meaning to tell her.
"Thank you, Tenjoin-kun."
"Not a problem." The way she smiled back triggered another surge of warmth on his face. "Hmm, to cheer you up, why don't we have a duel? It's been a long time since I had one."
"A duel?" he echoed with a questioning tone. But they had no duel disks lying around the room.
"We don't have duel disks at the moment… But we can do it the traditional way," she said, pointing with her thumb at a nearby table.
"Let's do it, then." For the first time that day, Manjoume's lips curled upwards in a smile.
"Don't think I'll go easy on you, though!" Asuka winked at him, and he huffed out in amusement. Although her dueling records had not surpassed his yet—unsurprising of course, since not a lot of people have that honor—he knew it was quite exceptional, nonetheless. "Before we start, could we now please do something about your face first?" she said, gesturing at his bruise.
Ah. He completely forgot about it.
He ended up requesting for ice from one of his staff, and while waiting, settled for using Asuka's water bottle as temporary relief for his bruise as they started their duel.
Even if he had always been used to the silent comforts of darkness, on that day, Manjoume learned to appreciate even the warm comfort of light, along with the hope it brought.