Let's go to the summer festival.
“To Stay By His Side.”
Takaya was on his way home from his part time job when his cellphone rang.
“Ah! Takaya, it’s me, Yuzuru.”
“You remember the temple on top of the hill behind our Junior High School building? I saw that the townspeople are preparing the Summer Festival there. Would you like to join us?”
“Who is ‘us’ ?” he was vaguely suspicious but wanted confirmation first.
“ Morino initially invited me... but then one thing lead to another and the whole class joined us in the end!”
Takaya rolled his eyes, Saori must have thought the Summer Festival would be a splendid idea to have a date with her Narita-kun~
“Today you were absent from school again, which is why I called you. Are you free tonight?”
“Well, I don’t have a night shift today---“
“That’s great! It’s been a while since we've gone to a Summer Festival, I think we only went once. We were in Year One of Senior High back then. But even then you were in a part time job helping the old man who runs the BBQ stall.This year’s festival though, I hope we can get to meet you, Takaya. You’ve been so busy exorcising Onryous with Naoe-san that I hardly get to see you lately.”
“Sorry.... Yuzuru... it’s just... it’s my duty...” in the space of a second, a harder edge had colored the teenager's voice, unconsciously his fist clenched. At that moment Ougi Takaya ceased to exist and Uesugi Kagetora had spoken in his place.
“It’s alright Takaya, I know it can’t be helped that Naoe-san and the others needed you to do the exorcisms" Yuzuru was insensible to the change. "Oh! Why not bring Miya-chan along too?”
“Miya?” Takaya's voice changed.
“Yeah. The more the merrier right? And besides, I’m sure Miya-chan would like to relax and enjoy herself too.”
“Oh... yeah.” Takaya bit his lip in guilt, “I’ve been such a bad brother to her. Not taking her to any interesting places and only caring about my part time jobs.”
“And knowing Miya-chan, she would never blame you but---“
“But instead she would smile and thank me for taking care of her. " His sigh was deep, "that girl. She can be so selfless and positive about her situation... she deserves a better life, really.”
“Just be yourself, Takaya. After all, you are her only family.”
Takaya only replied with a grunt. He didn’t tell Yuzuru about his separated parents, although Yuzuru had heard rumors from the gossiping aunts and teachers. Yuzuru, being Yuzuru, of course never asked Takaya about the sensitive matter.
“So then, let’s meet up around 7pm at the foot of the Temple stairway entrance okay? I’m sure I don’t need to tell you to come wearing a Yukata, instead of your work overalls.”
“I get it, I get it. Are you treating me like a kid or something? I know what a Summer Festival is.”
Yuzuru laughed from the other side of the line before closing the call.
Takaya shook his head and smiled. One of the few people that the teenager trusted and cared for was his bestfriend. After all, if Takaya hadn't met Yuzuru three years before, Takaya would have made a fatal mistake with his alcoholic father.
When Takaya reached home, he was surprised to see two very familiar vehicles.
A black Mercedes (if Takaya remembered correctly, the third car) and a bike he once raced with (which caused Takaya’s bike loan to double in payment). Quickly, Takaya ran up the stairs and dug around for his house keys. But before he could touch the knob, someone from inside opened the door.
“Welcome home, Takaya-san.”
“We have been waiting for you.”
“We?” Takaya raised an eyebrow.
“Yes.” Naoe smiled like a gentleman, “Haruie, Miya-san and I. Your sister informed us that your father is currently away for a few days.”
“Why is Nee-san here? And where’s Miya?”
Before Naoe could answer, Miya and the older woman exited her bedroom.
“Oh! Nii-chan! Welcome back!”
Takaya’s jaw dropped to the floor, “M-Miya?”
His sister was positively glowing with excitement, “what do you think?”
She did a little twirl to show off the pretty white Yukata with pink Sakura petals print across the material. The Obi across her waist was dark red in color, tied around with a thin rope.
The younger sibling stopped smiling when she didn’t hear an immediate reply from her brother, “Nii-chan? Do I... um, look strange?”
Naoe gave his master a quick jab to the arm, causing the older sibling to snap out of his reverie.
“Wh-why yes! Ah! No! I mean, you don’t look strange, Miya-chan! I mean, you look wonderful! Pretty!” Takaya blushed in embarassment before giving Naoe a side glance, that hurt, damn you.
“For real? Thank God, my friends always told me I had chubby cheeks and a fat neck which is why I hadn't worn any Kimono or Yukatas since Mom was...” She covered her mouth, forgetting that they were in the company of two guests so she quickly changed the topic with a forced smile, “uh, never mind.”
She turned to Haruie who stood next to her, “What I meant to say is, thank you for this Yukata, Ayako-san! Are you sure it’s alright for me to have it?”
“Ayako-san?” Takaya raised an eyebrow. He saw the woman too had dressed herself in a pretty dark purple Yukata with the flower of Hibiscus as the print pattern across the legs. She tied up her long wavy hair in a messy bun. Any men would take a second glance at her if she walked past them, even though two hundred years ago this babe was once a man.
Haruie grinned at him, “I was looking through my old luggage and found some of my Yukatas that I wore back in Junior High. I can’t wear them anymore so instead of leaving them in the storeroom, I decided to give them to Miya-chan. How nice that the Yukata was a good fit!”
“Nee-san, th-thank you.” Takaya blushed. He felt touched at his comrade’s gift because it had been a long time since he had seen such a carefree smile on Miya's face. It was true...his eyes slanted downward, away from her cheerful chattering . She wore a smile everyday so that I wouldn't worry about her classmates bullying her at school anymore.
Takaya always felt guilty for burdening his sister about his relationship with their father. Although their father was no longer an alcoholic and Takaya was strong enough now to defend himself, a chasm still existed between them. Miya, being her forgiving self, retained no thread of resentment toward their father. She hoped that Takaya could forgive their parents someday but something like this would take a long time to heal. It wasn't easy to forgive and forget. Takaya also knew that Miya shouldn’t have forced herself to smile around him. He knew that his young sister too wanted to enjoy her life. He knew that Miya would like to go out and hang out with her friends, shopping, karaoke, try out new cosmetics, buy new pretty clothes. But instead Miya confined herself to this house. Taking over their mother’s job of cooking the food, cleaning the house and paying the bills when Takaya gave her his salary from his part time jobs.
Takaya was grateful then of Haruie’s gift to Miya. His sister looked so happy wearing the pretty Yukata... then he blinked. Remembering that there was another person in the living room. Takaya then turned his attention to the monk next to him, saying with a trace of sarcasm in his tone; “and why are you here?”
Naoe smiled that polite business smile again, “just like Haru—I meant, Ayako-san, I also came here with a gift.”
“Nii-chan! Nii-chan! Naoe-san told me that he also bought you a Yukata! Isn’t that wonderful of him? Now we can all go to the Summer Festival at the Temple!” Miya clapped her hands in excitement.
“What?!” Takaya dropped his bike helmet to the floor.
“Naoe, be sure to meet up with us at the entrance gate at 7 o'clock, alright?” Haruie went to the door with Miya trailing after her.
“Of course, your sarcasm to my punctuality is unnecessary.” Naoe tightened his already neat necktie.
“Huh? Hey! Where are you two going?” Takaya grew puzzled.
“We’ll be going first, Nii-chan. Naoe-san here will help you dressed, okay?” His sister giggled and closed the door quickly before he could get in another word.
“Very well then, Takaya-san. You need a quick shower before I help you into your attire. Working at the gas station and returning home smelling like oil... Oh how am I ever going to explain this to Kenshin-kou if he found out about it.” Naoe sighed, pulling the teen to the shower.
“Oi! Oi! Wait the damn hell minute!”
Naoe dragged the teenager into the shower and turned on the shower head.
“What is it, Takaya-san?”
“Don’t you go all ` what is it` on me with that voice like those housewives back in the 50s! Why the hell are you here? In the shower, with me?! ”
“ I’m just doing my duties as your servant.” He said with an innocent expression as he pulled down the zipper of Takaya’s uniform.
“A servant wouldn’t go all touchy-feely after dragging me into the shower room and taking off my overalls!” he cried.
“Takaya-san, please don’t shout so loud. The woman next door will think I’m doing something to you.” Naoe calmly slipped off Takaya’s boxers.
“No, I won't.”
A vein popped on the teen’s forehead, “stop grinning like a pervert! Get out!”
He kicked Naoe out and slammed the door shut.
Naoe chuckled on the floor, “he made it sound like I had an ulterior motive. Hee...”
About five minutes later, a wet Takaya with only a towel around his waist, peeked out from behind the bathroom door. When he saw the empty hallway, quickly he entered his bedroom nearby and turned on the lights.
“Oh, Takaya-san.” Naoe smiled innocently.
Takaya felt like pulling his hair out in frustration. He just saw a naked Naoe who was about to wear his boxers!
“What the hell are you doing?!” The very red-faced teenager turned around, facing the wall.
“Since you were in the shower, I was thinking that maybe I should dress myself first before I attend you. However I didn’t know you’d finish your shower so quickly.”
“Urgh, why didn’t you turn on the fucking light?!”
“It wasn’t that dark yet.”
“And you didn’t even lock the damn door.”
“There’s only the two of us here.”
Takaya slowly turned and glimpsed Naoe fully dressed in his light green Yukata. The teenager almost drooled at the sight. Naoe was a handsome man, no wonder he was such a womanizer.
“Well then, Takaya-san. Come here and take off your towel. If you don’t dry off your hair, you’ll catch a cold.” Naoe approached him with a smile.
A smile that Takaya was really suspicious of.
“Never mind. Just wait for me outside, I can put on a Yukata by myself just fine.”
But Naoe acted as if he didn’t hear him and jerked the towel away swiftly.
“Takaya-san, what did I tell you about shouting so loudly?” Naoe shook his head as he dried off Takaya’s wet hair, “the woman next door might think I’m torturing you with toys or something.” There was an undercurrent to the older man's voice at the pronunciation of toys that made the teenager flush furiously.
“Toys?! Hey! Don’t just pull my towel like that! And stop touching my stomach!”
“I was just drying off your body.”
Takaya saw the older man rummaging through the teenager’s messy cupboard where he stored his undies.
“Ah! Stop! Don’t look!”
“Why, Takaya-san. Are you saying you’re not planning to wear any undergarment? I know it’s the Summer season and the hot weather is suffocating. But a man must at least wear an underwear even if it to wear a Fundoshi.”
“Who the heck wears a Fundoshi nowadays?! And stop smelling them, you pervert monk!!”
“I wasn’t smelling them. You make it sound like I have an ulterior motive.... hee...”
About half an hour later of struggling and blushing and one-sided arguments (Takaya shouting at Naoe while Naoe just smirking at him in glee), Takaya finally was dressed in a light blue Yukata.
“You’re done.” Naoe smiled as he brushed Takaya’s hair one last time with a comb.
A blushing Takaya shook his head, “next time I’ll tie you up and kick you into a storeroom if I’m ever going to get dressed around you.”
Naoe chuckled, “we wouldn’t have wasted time if you just obediently let me help you wear your Yukata.”
“I would if you didn’t touch me in strange places!”
“I was just checking as to why you’re not having enough fat in certain areas.”
“Well I’m still a growing boy, okay? I’m not like you, a full grown man!”
“Remind me to have a talk with Miya-san later. I’m sure she can alter the food she cooks for you to be more nutritious and healthy.”
“Don’t bother, you’re not my personal doctor or anything.”
Naoe looked at his watch and smiled, “ah, it’s 6.40 already. If we go now, we’ll reach the temple where the Summer Festival activities have started.”
Takaya sighed dramatically and followed Naoe to the door.
“Naoe, tell me, honestly. Why are you and Nee-san here? Is there a case related to the Yami Sengoku? I swear, do NOT involve my sister into this.”
But the older man simply smiled at him, “not to worry. We are here with the request of Narita-san.”
“Yes. He asked me if it was possible to have a little break from the daily exorcising mission. For some reason, I sensed a... slight resentment from Narita-san’s voice. But then again it was probably just my imagination.”
“Yuzuru asked you to come to my house and take us to the Summer Festival?”
“Yes, Nagahide has probably taken Narita-san there by now.”
“What? Chiaki is coming too?!”
“Yes, lately I realized that Nagahide has grown quite close to Narita-san. Well, that’s a good thing. I rarely saw Nagahide become attached to anyone other than himself.”
“What about Nee-san?”
“Well, I didn't think Miya-san would be comfortable if I came alone so I called Haruie. Coincidentally she too had a present for Miya-san, the Yukatas.”
Takaya climbed in the car and Naoe started the engine.
“Oh yes, when Haruie and I arrived at your house, Miya-san was really surprised. We told her that we were inviting her to the festival and the first thing she asked us was if it was okay to bring you along.”
“Yes, your sister is a good girl. She told us about how hardworking you are on your partime jobs. She’s worried you’ll ignore your health if you worked too hard. She was hoping we could convince you to join us at the Festival as a means of temporary rest. I know how uneasy you are after embracing your role as Uesugi Kagetora.”
“Did you tell her about me being a Yashashuu----“
“Rest assured, Takaya-san. She knows nothing and will not be involved with our mission.”
The short ride to the Temple was a quiet one, to the point that Naoe kept glancing at his lord in case Takaya has fallen asleep or something. After Naoe parked the car, they went to the long stairway at the top of the hill where the festival had started.
“Takaya-san?” The older man inquired when he realized his lord had stopped at the first stone step.
People of different ages walked up the stairway. Women in colorful Yukatas, the men, some in casual clothes while others with their wives and kids, wore Yukatas like the ones Naoe and Takaya had on.
“Takaya-san? What’s the matter?”
“I....” the teenager bit his lip, “I didn’t know both Yuzuru and Miya are that concerned over me... I feel so stupid right now, because I was so oblivious.... damn...”
Naoe grasped the teen’s shoulder, but Takaya still looked down at the ground, his expression falling.
“I was too focused on the mission that I almost had forgotten Yuzuru and Miya. Sometimes I lost contact with them for weeks and yet Miya would always welcome me with a smile and warm dinner while Yuzuru would often call my cellphone...”
“What kind of a leader am I if I couldn’t... even ...”
“Takaya-san, look at me.”
None of the passersby paid attention to the two men at the foot of the stairs.
“Please do not belittle yourself. You were there for them when they were at their weakest point, and now it’s their turn to be your support. It’s natural to want to help others, even when they themselves need protecting. Miya-san is your family, she loves you more than anyone. So does Narita-san, haven't the two of you been together since you were young?”
“Well, I met Yuzuru when I was in Junior high.”
“And yet the bond between you and him remains strong. Back when Shingen possessed Narita-san, I once told him---“
“Hey Takaya! There you are!” a familiar voice called the teenager from behind.
“Yo, Naoe. I see that you guys have arrived. Where’s Haruie?” Nagahide followed closely beside Yuzuru.
“She’s probably already up there at the stalls.” Naoe smiled.
“Takaya! Good to see that you made it!” his bestfriend grabbed his hands.
Yuzuru’s smile was so infectious that Takaya smiled a rare smile, “yeah. I can’t just sit at home and let you guys have all the fun!”
A crowd of teenagers approached the four men.
“Woah! I spot Ougi the delinquent!”
“Hey, don’t call him that or else you’ll get beaten up, Hiroshi.”
“My God, Saori! lower your volume for God's sake! I think my eardrums just burst!”
“You shut up, Takeshi!”
“Ahahaha, admit it, Takeshi! You’re just jealous that Morino got the hots on someone else.”
“I'll shut up after I shut yours, Maki!”
“Oh my, who is that hunk next to Ougi-kun?”
“Who? Oh my God, Nana-chan! Did you mean that man standing behind Ougi?”
“Yes, yes Mimi-chan! I wonder if he’s Ougi’s older brother?”
“No, no. I think he’s probably his father!”
“Father?! I think you need glasses, Chisato! Clearly that man is Ougi’s cousin!”
“Mimasaka Nanako, Fujitani Minami and Azuma Chisato! You three! Stop ogling and start walking! You’re blocking the pathway!”
“Oh, excuse us ~ we didn’t see you~”
“Do NOT mock me! I may be short but I AM the class president!!”
And the noisy crowd goes on.
Naoe bent slightly to whisper to his lord, “your classmates?”
“Yeap, such a noisy bunch.”
Naoe touched Takaya’s hand and the teenager shyly folded his fingers in his, “thank you, Naoe. If you hadn't come to fetch me, I would've missed all this.”
“Anything for you, my lord.”
“What was it you were about to say? Before Yuzuru came.”
“Oh that...” Naoe quickly swooped down and lightly touched their lips together, it was a very swift kiss that none of the classmates saw except Nagahide who rolled his eyes (Saori was animatedly talking to Yuzuru).
Takaya blushed a crimson red, “you idiot! People will see!”
“I’ll tell you later, when we’re at your bedroom. After all, we need to finish off that ‘activity’ when you tried to take away your undergarments from my grasp.”
“You’re one pervert maniac, you know.” Takaya blushed redder, remembering how he had struggled... no, more like writhing in Naoe’s arms....as Naoe ‘helped’ him choose which pair of boxers to wear...
“Oi, you two. We’re going to a festival here, not to a love hotel. Keep your hormones down or beat it.”
Naoe simply smiled at Nagahide. “Excuse us, we’ll behave.”
The vassal looked so happy with his master that he resembled more of a puppy in love than anything else.
Come to think of it.... Naoe had been smiling more often lately... now that Bakatora returned his feelings to hm.
Nagahide grinned, “well, ain’t it about time he did the right thing.”
“Hm? What did you said?”, Takaya blinked.
“Nah, nothin’. Was just talking to myself about this certain brat.”
The confused teenager didn’t get a chance to ask what his comrade meant because someone was calling him from several steps ahead of them.
“Onii-chan! Yuzuru-san! Naoe-san!”
“Oh! Miya-chan!” Yuzuru smiled when he saw the familiar girl coming down the stairway, “you look adorable!”
“Thank you!” she beamed at the older teen.
“WOAH! Look at that babe!!” Takeshi, Maki and the rest of the boys drooled when they saw the female Yashashuu.
Haruie just laughed at the attention, “you boys are 400 years too young to date someone like me.”
She saw Nagahide too has this stunned look on his face. She smirked and poked the bespectacled man’s forehead.
“Oww! What the—you almost make a dent there!” Nagahide grumbled as he rubbed his sore forehead.
Haruhie laughed, “oh boy, such a dramaking you are. I know I’m one attractive babe but for you to even gaze at me like a school boy... does this mean you got the hots for me, Nagahide?” she gave her comrade an exaggerated flirty wink.
Nagahide rolled his eyes and muttered some unintelligible words which made Haruhie grinned wider.
“Just so you know, I belong to Shintaro-san.”
Takeshi, Maki, Hiroshi and the rest of the drooling boys immediately cornered Chiaki after Haruhie left.
“Woah!! Chiak! Dude! You know her? Why didn’t you say so?!”
Nagahide scratched his head in annoyance, “shut the fuck up. I’m starting to get a migraine here.”
But the boys hardly felt threatened by Nagahide’s grumbling as they tailed after him.
“Nii-chan! Come on up!” Miya giggled and waved at her brother.
One by one, Takaya and his friends joined with Miya and Haruie at the festival.
Takaya turned his head to the back and saw the older man, “Naoe?”
The teenager has this grateful look on his face that Naoe hardly moved from his position, “Let’s go.”
“I’m right behind you, Takaya-san.”
Naoe walked up the stairs beside Takaya, smiling when he saw how cheerful Takaya looked as he joked around with Yuzuru, bickered with Nagahide and was teased by their classmates.
“Takaya-san, what I told Narita-san was to stay by your side. He has kept his promise, and so shall I. I will always follow you, even to the end of time.”