A/N: I suggest rereading the whole story to freshen your memory.
A/N 2: Expect errors…Read and Review!
Disclaimer: I do not own Mai-Hime
Chapter VII: Hidden Treasure
A hand fumbled for the switch as the figure entered the darkened room. The lights went on and the person found themselves bombarded by the sight and smell of dirty clothes, empty beer cans and take-out boxes that were strewn all over the place.
There was a sigh.
The stranger walked towards the filthy center table to grab the remote control. As the screen came to life, they flipped through the channel and left it playing an old cartoon they'd seen numerous times.
The person reached for a bottle of wine from the counter and poured some in a glass. Their eyes lingered on the dark liquid for quite some time, seemingly absorbed by it.
Their stupor was broken by the wailing of an ambulance that was passing by. They took a swig from the wine and strode back to the living room. The figure placed the glass on the table before they slouched on the messy sofa.
Eyes glided over the T.V. as it played the familiar cartoon. They suddenly smiled.
But it wasn't a happy one.
The figure pulled out an object from inside their pocket and gazed at it attentively. It was too late when they realized that tears had already fallen from their eyes. Their silent display of grief morphed into a sobbing fit, crying in an uncontrolled manner.
There, in their hand was a photograph of a yellow-haired young girl with striking blue eyes. She wore a lovely white dress as a huge grin was displayed on her little, innocent face.
"I'm so sorry."
Shizuru's mysterious words had been plaguing my mind since she uttered them. And everytime I tried to decipher what she had said, I always arrived to only one conclusion: She fell in love with her lover behind Shinji's back, and she couldn't do anything to stop what she felt.
I made many attempts to confront Shizuru about the admission, but they all ended in failure. She had been ignoring me for more than a week now, and I didn't know how to feel about that.
It's not like I wanted her to notice me, like I'd been longing for her; it's just that she normally smiled at me despite of everything. She also looked while listening to whatever I had to say no matter how harsh and insulting they were.
'So you want her to go back as your punching bag?'
I was taken aback by my own thoughts. It took a while before the other part of my brain was able to form a reply.
'Stop making me look like the villain here. She's not my punching bag, okay? The things I've been throwing at her are real. Did you forget how she admitted everything? The woman totally deserves it.'
'But are you even sure you got the riddle right?'
That halted my steps towards the dining room. But before I could ponder on it, small arms encircled my waist for an embrace.
Miyuki looked up at me, wearing a wide smile. She didn't say anything as I returned the affection. She unwrapped herself from me afterwards and went scampering off to where I was headed.
The ruby-eyed woman was in the middle of preparing the food on the table when I entered. It didn't look that she noticed me though.
Her presence during meals was something I had gotten used to. It didn't bother me that much anymore simply because Miyuki was there to make me feel better. Even if it's only for temporary, the child made it easier to omit my anger for the woman.
I saw Shizuru pin a few strands of her hair behind an ear. And as she did so, I ceased from my strides while her movements seemed to have turned into slow-motion. I didn't know what was happening but I found myself in a daze; staring intently at her face. She looked up from what she was doing.
Green suddenly met crimson.
The moment stayed for seconds only to be disrupted by Shizuru looking away. Following her form retreat to the kitchen, the slow effect in her motion was gone. I felt stupid.
And something else.
'Of course she ignored me again! And what the hell even was that? Have I gone mad? Ugh, I'm just tired, ain't I?'
I abruptly heard Miyuki's snickering from her seat. That little lady had a knack for saving me from my internal musings. Her snickers didn't stop until I sat on one of the dining seats. I playfully furrowed my brow as if angry and then asked.
"Is there something funny, young lady?"
She just stifled her giggles behind a small hand whilst I glanced at her in wonder- and then it clicked.
I sighed, blushing a little. "It's not what it looked like, Miyuki."
"If Papa says so…" she uttered, still in a giggle fit.
The Kyoto-woman came back with a bowl of rice in hand. She landed a questioning look at her snickering child. "Ara, Miyuki seems really happy."
"It's nothing." I swiftly claimed before Miyuki could answer with something that would surely embarrass me.
Shizuru heard what I said but didn't bother to spare me even a single glance. She sat beside her daughter after placing the bowl on the table.
That was the kind of silent treatment she'd been giving me for quite a long while now. And I hated it. It made me feel all kinds of awful things, and they're all confusing the hell out of me.
I gritted my teeth and just proceeded to consume my dinner.
Miyuki had stopped from her mirth as her mother fixed her food. She gazed at me with her usual big smile which earned her a reluctant grin from me. Shizuru could spoil my mood but Miyuki was like an antidote to everything.
"Wanna play later, Miyuki?" I smirked.
The kid suddenly perked up and eagerly nodded. "Yes, Papa! I want to!" She turned to her mother and continued with so much enthusiasm, "Did you hear that, Mama? I get to play with Papa Natsuki again after a three-day drought! Yay!"
Shizuru and I chuckled at that. "Ara, my Miyuki was counting?"
"Papa had been too busy so I counted the days she didn't get to play with me."
The woman wore a jubilant yet soft expression that strangely made me think how I'd like to see more of that than anything else.
'If you like that so much, perhaps you need to stop insulting her first.'
'I don't want to deal with your nonsense right now. Get lost.'
The other half of my conscience did actually went back to the deepest corner of mind, leaving me with Miyuki and her mother to our meal.
She snaked her arms around his naked form from the back as he stood. He was peeking outside the window, phone held to his ear.
"I hope all is well then. Okay, I'll get back to you later."
"Who is that?" she queried after the call ended.
He turned to his lover and kissed her softly on the lips. "Family's been missing me a lot." He smiled, leading the equally unclothed woman back on the bed.
"Ara, I didn't know you still have family. Aren't your parents already gone?" she asked as she laid on the mattress.
He sat on the edge of the bed while placing the phone on the nightstand. He grabbed a cigar then lit it, taking a long drag afterwards.
"They're dead but I still got a sibling." the smoke wafted through as he replied.
"Ara, I'd like to meet her then." She moved in a sitting position to tie up her tawny mane. "How's she like?"
He craned his neck a little to look back at the woman who was now crawling on all fours towards him. She clung onto him, raining little kisses on his broad back upto his neck.
"She's perfect, Shizuru." he uttered, his yellow orbs softening. She stopped before she could kiss him on his mouth.
"How's that bruise of yours? Does it still hurt?" he questioned as he took another drag from the cigarette.
"It's close to completely healing." She touched the fading bruise on her right rib.
"Be careful next time, love."
She leaned the side of her head on his back with her arms surrounding his waist. He couldn't see how she muttered with a doleful smile.
"I love you, Reito."
"I love you too, Shizuru."
"Man, drawing people is really hard." I heard Nao say as she stretched her arms upwards with a groan. We were inside a classroom, busying ourselves with the activity.
"We're now in our last year as students, but you're still here whining over that." I chided without removing my gaze from my work.
"Well, I'm sorry I'm not as good as you, Your Highness." she countered sardonically. She craned her neck to peek at my desk. "Why the hell does that look like Shizuru-san?"
I quickly shot her an offended look. "And how the fuck does this look like her, dumbass? Are you high?"
She reached for my sketch abruptly and examined it closer. I tried to snatch it back but she just swatted my hands away.
"Hey! Give that back, asshole!"
Nao nodded to herself slowly then handed it over to me. I glared at her afterwards.
"Yep, it's Shizuru-san, no doubt."
I looked at her like she grew two heads.
"The eyes, nose, lips- oh Natsuki, you're in big, big trouble." she claimed dramatically, head shaking.
"I'm done with you." I rolled my eyes as I returned my attention to what Nao had been claiming to resemble Shizuru.
'This doesn't look like that woman at all. Why would I even draw her in the first place? Nao has totally cracked, yep.'
'You are either the densest or the most stubborn person in this entire universe. And you're a lost cause. What a pity.'
'Did I ask for your opinion?'
"Just chill out, Wolf. You're gonna give yourself aneurysm with that scowl. I was only kidding…not." the last word was said in murmur but I still heard her. The red-head laughed while working on the sketch of her mother.
"Ha. Ha. Ha. Funny." I drawled with sarcasm.
"Shizuru-san is a piece of art though. I wouldn't blame anyone who'd take her as their muse even if they hated her." she stated in earnest.
"I told you, this is not her." I insisted.
She chuckled to herself. "You protest too much, bitch."
"Go fuck yourself with a cactus, then."
"I will but only if you do it first."
"In your dreams."
It was close to eight p.m. when I got out of my class. My body was exhausted and I felt like going home that very instant.
'Father must be on his way home by this time.' I thought, checking my watch.
Nao didn't take any night class this year because according to her; she'd rather spend time with her mom at home more than anything else. My bestfriend's a shithead, but she's a real softie when it came to her mother.
A sudden squeal reached my ears as I swerved at an almost empty corner of the corridor. It was Shiho and her fellow groupies stalking our Marketing professor, Kanzaki Reito. The man simply smiled at their embarrassing behavior.
"Geez, when are they going to stop." I said under my breath.
"Kuga-san," the teacher unexpectedly called, noticing my approaching form.
I stopped on my track and looked at him questioningly.
"It's about your essay. If you won't mind, please follow me to the teacher's office." he said then walked off.
I trailed after him while I wondered what might had happened to my paper. Shiho and her friends were following behind like dogs which was really irritating.
"Oi, Munakata, will you bug off?" I spoke with obvious annoyance.
"Stop flattering yourself, Kuga. You're not the one we're after." she answered haughtily.
I was about to reply when she suddenly said, "Oh, and Kuga, how does it feel like living with a grade A slut like your sister Shizuka- that's her name right?"
Their mocking laughter echoed through the hallway as I lost the ability to speak all of a sudden. And then something happened.
I pushed the pink-haired girl so hard that she ended up fully sprawled across the floor. She groaned in pain as her friends came rushing to her aid, asking her if she's alright.
"You shut your mouth!" I snarled at everyone of them as they looked up at my seething appearance.
Shiho seemed to have gotten over the shock of her fall. She moved to stand up, face contorting into anger. "How fucking dare you!"
Her aim of hitting me with her fist was lost when the obsidian-haired professor placed himself between Shiho and I.
"That's enough, ladies." his voice was with seriousness.
I glowered at Shiho while she did the same to me.
"This isn't over yet, Kuga!" she pointed at me threateningly while her minions held her back.
"Try me, bitch! Come at me and I'm gonna kill you!" I spat back as Reito tried to separate us further.
"Kill me? Like how your sister drove your brother to kill himself? Or are you going to straight up murder me right here?" she expressed with a challenging tone.
"What did you say, you piece of shit?!" I growled, my patience all gone.
"May I remind you that I can send both of you to the guidance office for a suspension?" the teacher intervened and that made me halt.
It became a glaring match before Shiho flipped her hair as she turned on her heel to walk away. She wasn't that far when she gave me one last glare over her shoulder "You'll pay for this, Kuga. Mark my words."
I flipped her off as her friends shot the same daggers at me. Then they were gone.
Still angry, I left without saying a word to the teacher. He didn't have a choice but to only look as I disappeared from his view.
I came home to find father dozing off on the couch of the living room. A 10 p.m. program was playing on the T.V. screen.
I shook him lightly to wake him up. "Father, it's time to go back to bed."
He groaned quietly as his eyes drifted open. "Natsuki." He found his bearing and pulled himself from his slouched form. He glanced at me seconds later. "You smell of alcohol."
There's no point in lying, so I did a subtle nod. "Just a little." I said sheepishly.
"You're nearly twenty-two now, Natsuki; I don't like having to still tell you on what to do. But please, avoid driving while drunk." he voiced out in a reprimanding tone as he stood up.
I pouted, "But I'm not drunk."
He just looked at me then patted my head, messing my hair a bit. He trudged off later on as I proceeded to go upstairs after I turned off the television.
I tossed my bag as I fell on the bed. I felt quite hazy from the booze but not enough to knock me down completely.
After the fight with Shiho, I just had to drown myself with alcohol in order to forget things. But I came to my senses eventually and left before I could end up drunk. Thank God for having a high level of tolerance to alcohol though; six glasses didn't budge me that much. It's one of the few things Nao's really been envious of me.
I swerved a glance at the discarded bag and reached for it. Sitting upright, I slid out the sketchpad and opened it at a certain page. I looked at it purposely. A few moments later, I threw it back on the bed.
I deeply sighed.
I motioned to open the nightstand's drawer and took a key. As I knelt on the bedside, I pulled out a medium-sized, old, wooden box beneath the bed. I dusted it off shortly then opened it with the key.
It was like nostalgia suddenly blew up in my face- and it hit me hard. Inside the box were things I thought I had forgotten; old pictures of me and my family, and some memorabilia from the past.
I smiled as I looked at them one by one. There was a photo of me and Nao when we were in elementary, only I had a derp face while Nao sported a semi-serious look. I didn't like it back then because of how I looked, but it got a laugh out of me now.
Next one was a shot of Shinji when he was in highschool. He was wearing a stupid costume that was for a play they did. A grin formed on my lips as I remembered that he wore it going to school. According to him, everyone stared at him funny when he arrived there.
A photograph of my mother with all three of us came next and it made me smile. My mom was pregnant with me as she sat beside father, who had a young Shinji sitting on his lap. Happiness was written all over their faces.
I picked up another one from the pile afterwards. It was a picture of me, my father and my brother infront of the Eiffel Tower. Shinji and I had this goofy expression while dad wore a wide grin of his own. I chuckled, eyes shimmering a little.
It was the following photograph that really got me feeling a lot of things. Long suppressed emotions came flooding back, like there was no tomorrow.
She looked at the camera with a dazzling smile. Her cardinal pools shone like the brightest of diamonds while the birds in the background were like angels as they soared. She was a goddess.
She was Shizuru Fujino.
My hand shook as my blurry gaze landed on the old sketches of mine that I tried to throw away many years ago, but couldn't. Nao wasn't lying when she said that the woman I drew looked like Shizuru. My subconscious knew it was her from the start no matter how much in denial I was about it.
I choked on a sob as I looked on what was being laid infront of me.
She'd always been my inspiration ever since the day I first saw her, and that frightened me, especially when I found out who she really was. So I locked her up and burned her to oblivion inside my memory as if she never existed.
Or so, that's what I thought.
I took a smiling picture of my brother and his wife from the box. I stared at it with so much intent as my eyes were drowning in tears.
I chose to despise Shizuru to convince my self that I was over her for years, because I thought it was easier that way. I didn't have to feel guilty of anything; I didn't have to feel like I was betraying my own brother. Hating her was the only solution I knew.
But the woman had been deeply etched somewhere inside my chest for so long- trying to erase her was futile. The deepest part of my mind had known that to be an impossibility, but that didn't stop me from trying like the stubborn person I was. I built walls around me. However, she just had to comeback in the forefront and just like that, the walls crumbled.
"This is so wrong." I sobbed to myself. "What else should I do to make this go away?"
'You don't have to do anything but accept it. Running away and surrounding yourself with those walls have proven not to work anymore. They never did. You only ended up hurting yourself and the people that you love and care for.'
"But I can't do this to Shinji." I choked. "And I've hurt Shizuru too much to go back. She's also in love with someone already." I buried my face on my palms as I cried.
"I don't deserve her."
- Seven years ago –
"Best. Trip. Ever!" a tall, dark-haired young man exclaimed as he took in the sophisticated beauty of daylight Paris. It was cold but his green orbs held warmth of unbridled joy.
"Not too loud, brother." I called out. My face was tinted with a bit of blush as we were given odd stares by the French locals and other tourists who were passing by.
Shinji grinned sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. "Sorry, Na-chan. Just got quite excited."
"This place is brilliant." it was my father. He roamed his eyes about the Eiffel Tower's vicinity as he smiled to himself.
I lifted the camera that was dangling around my neck, and took a shot of my father while the famous tower stood proudly behind him. He chuckled a little when he saw what I did.
"Hello, can you take our picture please?" I heard my brother suddenly speak in his broken english with what seemed to be French man.
"Oh, sure!" the man answered. Shinji thanked him after. Turning to me, he moved to take the camera from my hand and gave it to the stranger.
My brother and I stood on both sides of our father, displaying our goofiest faces as my old man grinned. The French offered to take one more shot, so we did another pose for the camera.
When it was over, all three of us thanked the stranger. I hanged the camera back around my neck and resumed the excursion.
A man kneeling before a woman, in his hand was a ring, caught our attention. Like us, some people gathered around to what's likely a proposal.
"Will you marry me?" he asked with hopeful eyes.
The woman seemed to be in shock at first but her expression was replaced with utter happiness. Her tears of joy fell as she said "Yes".
The man quickly stood up and scooped her in a tight embrace, twirling his fiancee around. The spectators clapped their hands, seemingly happy for the newly engaged couple.
"Take notes, brother." I teased after I saw Shinji look on with too much interest.
He blushed a little at the implication then he chortled.
"But too bad, you're unlucky with girls." I said, playfully mocking his ego.
"You're one to talk. Who got dumped by her boyfriend last month again? Definitely not me." He smirked victoriously as I frowned at him, fuming red.
Father laughed behind us at our banter. "Someday, you'll find the right person for you. And who knows, maybe this person is just right around the corner of this place." He came closer to us and affectionately patted both of our heads. "When you do finally find your special one, your mother and I would surely love to meet her."
There was solemnity in the air as he released the two of us. With the thought of our deceased family member, the three of us looked up to the sky as the birds flew with freedom.
"You know, Na-chan, maybe the vendor over there is my destined one. What do you think?" Shinji blurted out, lightening the mood while my father chuckled at that.
"Anything's possible. This is called the City of Love after all." I shrugged as I raised the camera to focus on the area with fountains.
My brother asked for what food we would like to eat then took off to buy some. Father excused himself for the restroom afterwards, leaving me by myself to wander the vicinity of Paris' pride and glory.
I took shots of random people doing various things; kids running across with blissful innocence, old couples showing affection even after time had long since passed them by, and youthful individuals dancing and singing along to tunes of tomorrow.
I stood were numerous birds freely roamed the path. People threw grains and seeds for the fowls to feed on as I captured moments one after another.
My camera lens zoomed in on a flying pigeon which abruptly perched itself on someone's raised hand. I couldn't see the person's face but I knew it was a woman. She had luxuriant caramel-colored tresses that I thought could belong to a model.
She tried to level the bird closer to her visage by lowering her hand, but the fowl just flew away. That startled her a bit although she chuckled softly to herself right after.
The focus of my camera diverted from the bird to the woman in question. And as she turned to gaze at my direction, I caught myself struck by her beauty.
She had the eyes with the color of blood, which sparkled like the rarest of gems. Drawn on her lips was a mysterious smile that I would never ever forget.
She was the most beautiful person that I had ever seen.
I couldn't help but capture that moment as the birds hovered behind her. Lowering the camera down from obstructing my face, I stared at the woman who stood several feet away from me.
As my father's words came rushing back, I found myself whispering three words.
"I found her."
To Be Continued…
A/N 3: Hello, I'm back and I'm sorry! LOL. I'll try to update this once or twice a month. Thanks for the patience!