Ultra A/N:

This is an alternate retelling of Bridging the Gap. It's uploaded here as it was meant to be read before I realized I was getting nowhere with this plot. This story ends at Chapter 8; I do not plan to continue writing it.

Chapter 8: Revelations

A/N:

Sawajiri might very well be the craziest, most impulsive character I've ever written or imagined, and if there's an actual person like her, I'd love for us to meet one day. Despite her glaringly obvious personality issues, I really like her and her Ojousama complex. In an attempt to spread my fondest for this girl, I've tried to somehow rationalize the sketchiness of her motives. After this, you will probably either love her or hate her – if I manage to do my job right! *crosses fingers* But maybe, you'll just end up thinking she's nuts. Which she totally is.

Disclaimer:

I do not own La Corda d'Oro; the whole concept belongs to Kure Yuki-sensei.

Previously:

Chapter 7: Party People

Tsukimori's eyes narrowed.

"Do you know-"

"Len? There you are."

A gorgeous young woman strode forward, taking Tsukimori's arm. She was wearing a beautiful sapphire gown and pearl jewelry, her hair pinned to her head in a bun. Kahoko stared. It can't be.

Sawajiri Erika had come to the party looking just like her.

Chapter 8: Revelations

The two women stared at each other.

Kahoko thought Erika looked simply breathtaking. Although they basically had the same appearance, there was something about Sawajiri Erika's manner of carrying herself that made her look sophisticated, whereas Kahoko only looked beautiful. Her straight back, poised chin and graceful stance gave her an aura of strength, a sense of confidence that Kahoko could only dream of achieving.

Erika smiled.

"Good evening, Kaho-senpai," she greeted warmly, her voice free from its usual childishness. "This is an awkward dilemma to get into, isn't it?"

"You two know each other?" Tsukimori asked, looking back and forth between the two women. "And since when have you been on first-name basis?"

Erika was spared the trouble of answering the question by Tsuchiura Ryoutaro's arrival.

"What's going on here?" he asked in a low voice, scanning the group before him, his eyes briefly meeting Tsukimori's. "You're attracting everyone's attention. Can't you talk about this someplace else? And why-"

He left his question unfinished as he looked between Kahoko and Erika, absorbing the gravity of the situation.

"Oh, let them stare," Erika said offhandedly. "I believe that was your intention from the very beginning, right, Azuma?"

"Erika," Tsukimori warned, as Yunoki Azuma's eyes narrowed in a glare.

"Actually, I believe it was yours, Erika," he replied. "Coming here in a dress like Hino-san's. What were you thinking?"

"Are you accusing me of being a copy cat?" Erika asked, raising an eyebrow. "As you very well know, I was one of the earliest guests to this party. If someone here deserves to be called a copy cat, it's certainly not me."

She looked at Kahoko, who flustered visibly.

"Don't talk to Kaho-chan like that," Hihara said, defending his date. "Kaho-chan would never do something like this. She didn't even want to come tonight! I mean-"

Kahoko blushed further as she felt five pairs of eyes stare at her. At that moment, all she wanted to do was get as far away from that place as possible, never seeing Tsukimori or Erika ever again. Given that she didn't copy Erika's outfit, at least not intentionally, it only meant either Erika copied her outfit or the whole fiasco was sheer coincidence. The chances of two people coming to a party looking exactly alike, however, were slim. And Kahoko couldn't think of any reason behind Erika copying her outfit aside from the intention of embarrassing her in front of Yunoki's guests, not to mention, the media.

Or maybe… in front of Len?

"What's going on here?" a voice repeated Tsuchiura's question earlier, distracting Kahoko. They all turned and saw a black haired man in a sleek black tuxedo walking towards them, a frown on his face.

It was Tsukimori's friend, the man who had saved her when she collapsed at the konbini.

"It's nothing, Makoto-kun," Erika said, smiling serenely. "We're just discussing an issue we have here." At this, she looked at Kahoko again. Takishima followed her gaze.

"Oh, it's you," he said, a bit surprised. "I wasn't expecting to see you here. Feeling better?"

Hihara and Yunoki looked from Takishima to Kahoko.

"Yes, thank you," Kahoko replied, smiling faintly. "Thanks for saving me that day."

"No problem," he acknowledged curtly. "Why are you wearing the same thing as Erika?"

"Um," Kahoko couldn't explain either.

You see, I actually didn't pick this dress. Yunoki-senpai's professional makeover team chose it for me to wear tonight, so I wouldn't look so bad beside Kazuki. Oh, and that holds only if Erika is to be believed. The real question you should be asking is, why is Erika wearing the same thing as I am? And why does she look like she's not at all shocked to see me dressed like a clone of her?

Even in her head the words sounded insane.

"Believe it or not," Kahoko replied instead, "I didn't come here intending to look like anyone. If I were given the chance to impersonate anyone in this room, I'd come dressed as a waitress. That way no one would notice me, and I could enjoy the party in peace."

Tsuchiura actually smiled. Hihara stared at Kahoko, eyes wide.

"Although this situation is completely unprecedented," she said, fully aware that even the guests were listening to her now, "I suggest we continue to enjoy tonight's event like nothing's wrong. Let's stop arguing over who copied whose outfit, and just pretend that this is all a coincidence. I certainly don't want to go through the bother of changing clothes. Do you, Erika-san?"

Erika considered her question, face impassive.

"No, I daresay not," Erika said, smirking. "In all honestly, I find this situation quite fascinating. What do you say we take full advantage of it?"

She let go of Tsukimori's arm and looked around. Spotting a nearby reporter taking stolen pictures of the commotion, she asked him, "You there, would you like to get an exclusive picture of us?"

The man rushed forward eagerly as Kahoko and Erika stood side by side, waiting for their photos to be taken. Not wanting to be left behind, the other reporters swarmed after him, and a full blown photo opportunity took place.

As camera lights flashed in their faces, Kahoko heard Erika whisper, "Nice save, Kaho-senpai. That was rather brave of you."

Kahoko didn't reply. She didn't know what to think. But she did want to get to the bottom of this, despite what she said earlier.

"Meet me at the rooftop by ten."

Kahoko looked at Erika, surprised. She was smiling at the cameramen, apologizing, saying her date was waiting for her. Kahoko watched as she went to stand beside Tsukimori Len, holding onto his arm. The camera lights flashed.

Swallowing the painful lump in her throat, Kahoko plastered a smile onto her face as she walked over to her friends. Yunoki was staring at her, his eyes glittering with some sort of suppressed emotion. Hihara looked at her with concern, squeezing her hand and interpreting her teary-eyed expression as something caused by extreme embarrassment.

Tsuchiura, however, knew the reason behind her anguish. Meeting her eyes, he smiled sadly and said,

"At least you look good."

XXX

Surprisingly, Kahoko found herself enjoying the rest of the party. After finding her friends – as it turned out, they were interviewing the party caterer under Nao's insistence – she found herself unwinding, laughing at Hihara and Nami's jokes, teasing Nao about Pierre-san and her extensive knowledge about his restaurant's layout, egging Mio on as she tried to pluck up enough courage to apologize to the grey-haired man she had puked on in the konbini.

"Oh my God," Mio moaned, seeing the rather attractive male they had pointed out to her. "I puked on a cutie, of all sorts."

"He's all right," Nao commented, sizing the stranger up. "A bit too boy-next-door, but he'll do."

"I think his name is Sato," Tsuchiura recalled. "That's what Tsukimori called him anyway, you know, after you three passed out-"

"You don't mean Sato Kyoushiro?" Nami exclaimed, so loudly that the others had to shush her. "I've read all about him! He's supposed to be a musical prodigy; he plays the cello, I think. He entered a local competition, and because he did so well, one of the judges offered him a scholarship in Prague. And he was only in grade school then!"

Mio groaned as they all laughed at her obvious despair.

"Come on," Nao said, smiling as she took Mio's arm. "I'll help you apologize to him."

As she watched her friends approach Sato, Kahoko thought about what Nami had just told them,

He's supposed to be a musical prodigy…

So this was the crowd Tsukimori Len now hung out with. That meant, somehow, Erika was an extremely gifted musician, too.

"What time is it?" she asked Tsuchiura, taking her eyes of Mio, who was now bowing low to a blushing Sato Kyoushiro.

"It's 10:05."

"Oh, I have to go somewhere," Kahoko said, panicking. She was late.

"Where are you going?" Nami asked, frowning.

"Bathroom," Kahoko lied.

"I'll come with you-"

"No, it's okay," Kahoko said, smiling. "I'll be back in a few, Kazuki," she said, smiling at her date. He nodded, smiling back at her.

Quickly and as unobtrusively as possible, Kahoko slipped out of the room and stepped into an elevator. Backing up against the cold wall, Kahoko sighed as the metal doors closed before her.

She had always known Sawajiri Erika to be a suspicious person – that much was true. The younger woman was too used to getting what she wanted, unabashedly using her charm to influence people, that Kahoko never felt relaxed when she was around. But truth be told, Kahoko didn't want to find out that Erika was as heartless as Yunoki painted her to be. She wanted to believe that Erika wouldn't go so low as to play such mean tricks on her just to get Tsukimori's attention.

Speaking of Tsukimori, Kahoko wondered why the man was so patient with Erika. He was not the type to be particularly kind to just anyone; in fact, he wasn't known to be kind to anyone at all. Perhaps he had changed over the six years they had not seen each other. Perhaps he loved Erika. Whatever the reason behind his attachment to Sawajiri Erika was, Kahoko wanted to know. Partly because she wanted to find out if he had any feelings for Erika, and partly because she wanted to know if Erika was kind enough for someone like Tsukimori Len to like her.

The elevator came to a stop, the metal doors opening in front of her. She had arrived at the topmost floor, and now she had to climb up to the rooftop using the stairs.

Her hand clutching the metal railing of the stairs for support, Kahoko vowed she would get all the answers she needed by tonight. Somehow, she would force Erika to tell her the truth – behind her return to Japan, behind her sudden attachment to Kahoko, behind her relationship with Len. Frowning at the thought of trying to force the truth out of potentially the most barefaced liar she would ever meet, Kahoko paused at the door to the rooftop.

She would force Erika to tell her the truth. No matter the cost.

Pushing the door open, Kahoko walked into the rooftop, greeted by the sight of Sawajiri Erika's back to her as the other woman stared at the city below. She stepped forward, gently closing the door behind her and making as little noise as possible, when suddenly, she jumped at the sound of Erika's voice breaking the stillness of the night.

"Did you know Yunoki Tower is one of the tallest buildings in all of Tokyo?" Erika told her, thoughtful. "It's also considered one of the most beautiful examples of modern architecture in the city. Although I don't particularly admire Azuma's other qualities," she paused, apparently lost in thought, "I have to admit he's got taste."

She turned around, seeing Kahoko staring at her from the middle of the dark rooftop.

"Come forward, Kaho-senpai," she invited, laughing. "I'm not going to push you off the building. That's a bit too inelegant for my style."

Kahoko remained standing where she was, looking at Erika in silence.

Erika sighed.

"Kaho-senpai, do you mind telling me a story?" she requested in typical singsong fashion. "I want to hear about your first date with Len, what was it like?"

Kahoko stepped forward, stopping to stand beside Erika.

"It was a disaster," she said, although she was smiling.

"That's all you have to say about it?" Erika asked, frowning slightly. "What did you do?"

Kahoko glanced at Erika, who was waiting for her to narrate. Although she had promised herself that she would uncover the truth tonight, at that moment, she found herself unable to ask Erika the question that burned at the back of her mind.

Instead, she began to say,

A/N: I never wrote their first date.

"Did you copy my outfit for tonight?" Kahoko asked outright. There was no point beating around the bush any longer.

Erika considered the question, her face half hidden in the moonlight.

"Yes, I did," she said. "Do you want to know why?" She looked at Kahoko, but the other woman was only staring at her with wide, unbelieving eyes. "It's my way of telling Azuma that I'm not planning to use you against him. I want you for myself."

"I-I don't understand…"

Erika shrugged, turning to face the city lights again. "It's pretty complicated actually," she admitted. "Sometimes I even wonder why I'm doing it. Still, the fact of the matter is… I lied to you, Kaho-senpai. I didn't come here for your help. I came here to ruin you once and for all."

She paused. With her back turned to Kahoko, she said, "Like I told you, Azuma thinks I'm planning to use you to come between our possible engagement. You asked before why he thinks that way. It's because-"

She bit her lip.

"You know what, forget I said anything," Erika said, waving her arms around. "It's not my secret to tell. But you should know that you are very special to Azuma, more than he cares to admit."

Erika sighed.

"To be honest, I don't understand why all these guys flock around you. True, you're sweet and charming, and you even have a streak of stupidity that turns you into a damsel in distress during critical situations, but so what? There are plenty of other girls out there with the same set of qualities, and they don't have knights in shining armors saving them all the time."

She fixed a beady eye on Kahoko.

"Don't think I'm bitter, Kaho-senpai," Erika said. "I don't care that you're a guy magnet, but I do care that you're attracting even Len."

"I-I've told you," Kahoko began to explain. "There's nothing going on between-"

"That's what you think," Erika interrupted smoothly, smirking. "I happen to know that he still thinks of that incident four years ago. When you stood him up, remember?"

Kahoko blanched.

"In case you don't know why he asked you to wait two years, not one or three or four, I'll tell you why," Erika said. "Every two years, in the month of February, the Linden International Music Festival is held in Prague. In case you don't know, it's regarded as the most rigorous and prestigious competition for classical musicians under the age of 30, its categories ranging from orchestra to composition. Len didn't go to Vienna just to study music. He went there with the goal of competing in Linden… and winning it for you."

Erika began to pace.

"As the whole world well knows, he won first prize for violin at the 119th Linden fest, the first Asian ever to do so," she said. "Ecstatic at his success, he came home, finally feeling as though he was good enough to ask for your hand in marriage."

At this, Erika rolled her eyes.

"Imagine his surprise when you didn't turn up as promised. At first, he was worried. He kept coming back to that spot for days, hoping you'd turn up. But then days turned into weeks, and finally, he realized something was wrong."

"It was then that he decided to look for you, Kaho-senpai."

The entire time, Kahoko had been staring at her fingers, which were shaking at the things she heard. As Erika mentioned her name, however, her head snapped up, and she met the other woman's gaze.

"With a little help, he found out that the last time any of your friends had seen you face to face was two years before that time, right after your high school graduation. Since then, the most anybody heard from you was an email once every few months, most of which didn't even contain information regarding your whereabouts. Enlisting the help of a private investigator, Len found out that the last witness to see you in Yokohama saw you getting onboard a train with a man."

Erika met Kahoko's gaze.

"Daidouji Kanata," she intoned slowly. "Does the name sound familiar?"

"H-how did you…?"

"It wasn't me who found out; it was Len," Erika said. "I really am surprised by that guy. Upon realizing the possibility of you leaving him for another man, he still searched for you, ending up in Saga-ken, in a little town whose name I can't even remember. He searched around a bit, asking the villagers, and coming up with the conclusion that for two years, you cohabited with a local potter named Daidouji Kanata in a secluded cottage by the mountains."

She said all this offhandedly, and the face that was turned to Kahoko was calm. Her eyes, however, burned with raw hate.

"Do you deny it?"

Just by looking at Kahoko's face, stained by tear tracts and crumpled in anguish, one could surmise the answer.

"No," she whispered, closing her eyes. "No, I don't deny it."

With a triumphant look, Erika crossed her arms and stared at the city lights.

"Len thought so, too. That's why he went back to Vienna and concentrated on his music. I was a first year then, in the same college as him, and as I've said before, I didn't like him much. I taunted him, and bullied him, and was basically downright mean to him just because he never fought back. Then one day, Makoto took me aside and told me to just 'quit it' because the guy was 'heartbroken'. And then he told me everything he knew about you, the girl who broke the great Tsukimori Len's heart and got away with it."

Erika's gaze was lost, far away, the city lights reflected in her eyes.

"At that moment, I realized it was my life's mission to make him happy," she whispered, her eyes glazed. "The tragedy was, eventually, I fell in love with him. Worse, I knew he would never fall in love with me, because he was still in love with you. I didn't mind. I told him I'd wait. And he would just smile and tell me I was wasting my time. But I waited like I said I would, never pressuring him, at the back of my mind cursing you, the unknown girl who had caused him so much pain… He never told me or Makoto your name, you know. I guess he knew we'd hunt you down and flay you alive the moment we found out…"

"And then one day!" Erika laughed, a harsh sound that was full of bitter resentment. "Oribe, Hinata and Sato were in town; Oribe and Hinata study in Paris, Sato studies in Prague. We were hanging out in Takishima's house, just bumming around. Sato, being an otaku, had recently discovered a new anime series to rave about. Because we were all homesick and had nothing in particular to do anyway, we ended up watching it. As you can guess, it was Wanted Perfect Orchestra."

"For the five of us who had never seen the show before, its score seemed amazingly captivating. Even the insert songs and the opening and ending themes were good. We all found ourselves raving about it, and then Sato dropped the bomb. He said that although the songs were done by different performers, they were all written by the same person. Apparently, this show was only her second one, but she was already getting the attention of both the Japanese public and the music circle. The most amazing thing about the composer, Sato said, was that she kept mostly to herself. Not once had she been interviewed in print or in television, and she didn't even have a proper talent agency. The enigma's name was Hino Kahoko."

Kahoko's tears had dried up. She found herself staring at Erika, who was looking at the city lights with unseeing eyes.

"The moment that glass of wine dropped from Len's hand, we knew it was you. I confronted Len about it, because obviously, he had not moved on at all. And you know what he said? He asked me to be his girlfriend." For some reason Erika looked angry. "At the most ill-timed, most inappropriate moment, he asked me to go out with him. I mean, I was ready to be the rebound girl but- Wouldn't you get mad at that? He was obviously just forcing himself to like me, and it hurt him more than it hurt me."

"It was then that I got sick and tired of it all," Erika said, closing her eyes. "I realized that in the end, it would have to be either you or me, and prolonging the agony didn't help any of us. Eventually, the two of you would meet again, and he'd have to decide if he still wants to chase after you or not. Being impatient," at this, she smiled at Kahoko, "I wanted to rush things a bit. So I came here before he did, and met you before he could."

"I told myself that I had a mission, and that was to test whether you're deserving of Len or not. I would pretend to ask for your help in getting Len to like me, and I'd judge you based on your answer. If you fought for him, I would help you get him back. If you didn't, I would fight you."

"I hope you're beginning to understand why I'm acting like this right now," she said, her gaze hardening. "Not once did you even show a sign that you were willing to fight for him. You just did everything I told you to do! You didn't even complain, even though it was so obvious that you're still in love with him!"

"And you know what's worse?" Erika was becoming agitated, and it showed. "The fact that you flit from one guy to the next, pretending to be an innocent little victim all the time when everything is your fault!"

She closed her eyes as though seeing Kahoko made her blood boil. "Len doesn't deserve you. So you know what? I'm keeping him for myself. It's true he doesn't love me, but," she shrugged, as though it didn't matter, "I never went all out in pursuing him anyway. I was always just waiting for him to move on, never forcing him to like me. But this time, I'm going to fight for him."

Erika looked at Kahoko, challenging her. "I'm giving you one last shot at Tsukimori Len. I'm going to win him, but I plan to win him fair and square. That's why," she paused, thinking, "you need Yunoki Azuma. You're too weak an opponent to fight against me, so you need him to back you up. Wearing the same thing you wore today… it was my way of telling him I hated you." She smiled. "I'm pretty sure he got the message."

There was silence between the two women as their minds drifted to their own thoughts. Then, suddenly, Erika stretched noisily, and with a smile, told Kahoko, "Aren't you going down yet? I'm pretty sure they're looking all over for you right now. That Hihara," she said with a smile, shaking her head. "Are you coming then?"

But Kahoko did not answer. She was looking at the city lights with a lost look on her face, as though she was tired of the day's events and she just wanted to rest.

Taking Kahoko's silence as a no, Erika began to walk away. She stopped midway through the rooftop, however, when a voice called her name,

"Erika-san," Kahoko whispered. "I know I've caused you and Len much pain. And… I completely agree with you when you said you can take care of him better than I'll ever be able to. That's why-"

Erika whirled around just in time to see Kahoko bowing low to her.

"I leave Len to you," she said. "I refuse to fight you for his sake. Please," she begged, her voice breaking, "take care of him."

Erika stood rooted to the spot for a moment. Then, with a small smile, she said,

"You disgust me, Hino Kahoko."

She opened the rooftop door, and stepped into the stairway, dimly aware of a shadow that had fallen to the ground. Walking down, Erika saw that someone blocked her path, his figure casting a looming shadow on her.

Yunoki Azuma sighed and rubbed his forehead.

"You should never try to explain things when you're mad, Erika," he said softly, his voice tinged with irritation. "I got lost halfway through your story, and I'm supposed to be the smartest one in the family."

Erika smiled.

"I know, and I'm really sorry," Erika said, clapping her hands together and bowing consecutively. "It's just that I get so emotional while talking about Len. And explaining his actions to that girl - of all people!"

She looked like she was resisting the urge to pull her hair.

Yunoki only stared at her.

"Allow me to clarify a few things," he said. "You came back to Japan with the intention of testing Hino-san to see if she deserves Tsukimori. Based on your assessment, she failed."

"Miserably, yes."

"So now, you're going to force Tsukimori to choose between the two of you by fighting against Hino-san?"

"That's the plan, yes."

"If you win, she backs off-"

"That's right."

"If she wins, you back off-"

"That's right as well."

"And for this, hm, let's call it a 'showdown', you want me to assist Hino-san because you think she can't fight you on her own?"

"Yes, will you help her then?"

"That's beside the point," Yunoki told her, waving her question aside. "The fact of the matter is, Hino-san has already given up. She refuses to go against you, so you're free to take Tsukimori for yourself."

"Haven't you been listening?" Erika berated impatiently. "I want to win him fair and square. I'm going to make that girl fight for Len, whether she wants to or not, and then I'm going to trounce her."

"And you planned all this knowing completely that Tsukimori and Hino are still in love with each other?"

"They don't want to admit it," Erika shrugged. "Love is impotent unless manifested."

"You realize you're on the losing end here-"

"Nuh-uh," Erika said, wagging a finger. "I've got a few tricks up my sleeve. Trust me, Azuma. I will make Tsukimori Len fall in love with me."

Yunoki stared at her.

"This is the worst plan I have ever heard of," Yunoki said, covering his eyes with his hand. "I'm afraid you have gone insane."

Erika only laughed.

"What about it, Azuma?" she patted his arm playfully. "Aren't we all fools in love and war? Besides," she added sadly. "It's time for him to make a decision."

Yunoki sighed.

"I have a question," he said, his voice pained. "I have known you for a long time, and I know nothing misses you. Did you know that Tsukimori Len would return to Japan just right after you would?"

"No, that was completely unexpected," she admitted. "Although I must admit it's a welcome surprise. It makes things much easier."

"Having said that, I take it to mean that your goal is to cause as much chaos as possible?"

"Precisely. Completely spot-on, Azuma."

Yunoki looked at her smiling face, not fooled by the disguise.

"You will only end up hurting yourself," he told her.

Erika sighed deeply.

"Actually, I intend to have a lot of fun," she told him, smiling even wider. "And I'm sure you'll enjoy what I've planned as well. So what do you say, Azuma? Will you help Kaho-senpai?"

"You know I don't have a choice," Yunoki said dejectedly. "If I refuse you'll just find a way to get me to do it, right?"

Erika actually laughed.

"You know me very well, Azuma," she said, wiping the tears from her eyes. Sobering up, she smiled at him one last time. "I don't mean to boss you around or anything, but I think you should check up on Kaho-senpai."

"I think I should wait for her to calm down," Yunoki said, looking at the rooftop door.

"Actually, I'm worried she'll jump off the building," Erika said, walking past Yunoki. "It seems I've really upset her…"

Yunoki only scowled. When she was well out of earshot, he said,

"We all know she's not the suicidal one."

A/N:

Ah. That sucked. I finished the whole dialogue in one night, a feat for me, but that made it looked so messed up. I'm going to try to repair it some more, checking on it from time to time. To be honest, my real problem is not describing what's happening. It's deciding what Sawajiri plans to do. This story is turning really nuts. Then again, it does come with a warning that says Insanity Inside. Please don't hurl tomatoes at me. *hides*