A year after the events of the manga some of the girls at school begin treating Tsukushi badly again. Doumyouji decides to make it perfectly clear that she's still with him.
"You know this is the only time I can get free!" he protested. "Anyway, I'm not talking about /grades/. Even if you fail everything, one of the guys will make sure you get a job making plenty of money in one of their family businesses after you graduate."
"And end up as dumb as you? That's a fine way to feel about the education you're paying for! And you know I don't want to rely on you rich jerks for everything."
"It's not relying if we get you one job, idiot. I know you; you'll work so hard to make sure that you earn the job that people'll forget you weren't hired normally in a week. Even if it doesn't work out, you'll have something good to put on your resume when you go somewhere else."
"Ah... maybe you're right," she conceded, unwilling to keep arguing with him about it when he believed in her /so much/.
"Anyway, like I said, I wasn't talking about your schoolwork. How're the people treating you? Now that you're in the university they've finally forgotten about, you know, /that/, right?" he asked, skirting around his role in her school life becoming hell a few years before. Tsukushi didn't mind. She'd long since grown to accept that he didn't like taking responsibility for his actions, and as far as she was concerned more good than bad had come of that red tag anyway.
"Oh, that. Most people are fine now. Only Asai and her friends are back to being horrible. They've convinced themselves that we wouldn't still be together after more than a year apart, but it's not like I care about them anyway." She suddenly smiled wickedly, ducking her head so he wouldn't be able to see the expression. "Rui offered to be my surrogate boyfriend for the next three years so they'll leave me alone."
"/What?/ That bastard! I'm gonna beat the shit out of him!" Doumyouji shouted, like it was just a matter of running out the door to find the other man and there wasn't a country and an ocean between them.
She didn't have the willpower to keep up the charade, and burst into giggles as she reached out to turn the volume on the speakers down before his shouting could wake her brother. "Okay, I'm lying!" she admitted. It wasn't the entire truth; if Rui was around when they were being catty he'd occasionally put an arm around her shoulders or stop to drop a friendly kiss on the top of her head, making it perfectly clear without words that she was still tied very closely to the F4 even if her boyfriend wasn't around anymore. But she couldn't tell Doumyouji that. He wouldn't understand that it was just a show of support from a very close friend who she was very comfortable with.
He had finished sputtering while she thought, and angrily blurted out, "Then why the hell would you say something like that?"
She smiled warmly, reaching out to touch the image of his cheek on the screen, wishing that there was some way he could feel the touch. "As long as you'll still become a jealous idiot over nothing, I know that they're totally wrong."
"Hn," he grunted, and she thought she could just make out his cheeks reddening slightly in the small window. "You oughta know that anyway. We've got the red spring of fate holding us together, right?"
"That's 'string'," she corrected automatically, but now it was her turn to blush.
"Bah, whatever," he said airily, then looked at something off screen. "Damn, gotta go get ready for some dinner thing now. But look, I'll see if I can do something to get it through those bitches heads that you're stuck with me. Though you'd think announcing it on the national news would've been enough for anyone."
"Don't worry about it, I'm used to them by now. You have enough work to do, and it's not like I care about the opinions of girls who'll only be friendly when they think you have connections anyway."
"Screw work," he said, waving a hand through the air as if he could physically brush it away. "My number one job is making sure you stay happy, and you'd better remember that. Love you, all right?"
"I love you too," she replied, wanting to argue more in case he was planning something monumentally stupid, but knowing that the exchange marked the end of their conversation. They never ended their calls with good-bye, only with love, a superstition born of all the times they'd almost been parted for good. Sure enough, after one last smile the connection between them was cut off on his end as work stole him away from her once more.
• • •
She half expected him to stride into her classroom the next day--his eyes only on her as the room erupted into whispers about his return--and sweep her up into some clumsily-worded but dramatic in his own mind declaration of love. Then he would take a moment to warn all the boys in class exactly what he would do to them if they even thought of hitting on her while he was gone before dragging her off with him so they could at least spend the car ride to the airport together before he hopped back on his private jet and tried to get back before his mother thought anything of his day-long vanishing act.
Even though the mental picture she painted for herself made her squirm with embarrassment, she found herself growing disappointed as the hours passed without any sign of him. Logically she knew that she should be happy if he was finally starting to learn a little restraint, but if she'd learned one thing over the past few years it was that logic had little to do with love. She'd fallen for Doumyouji as a tactless idiot, and she didn't want him to change too much when she wasn't there to see it.
These thoughts were put to rest at lunchtime. She was eating with Kazaya, still her one major comfort in her class even now that most of her classmates were simply ignoring her at the worst, when she saw a man dressed in a full tuxedo, of all things, enter the room. When she saw him stop to talk to the first person he saw and they gestured towards her, she found her stomach caught in a strange-feeling place between tightening with excitement and dropping with dismay.
The man opened the door again, waving in someone--some/ones/ she saw in another moment--and directing them towards her seat. "Oh no," she said, covering her face with her hand when she saw the massive bouquets these new men where carrying. "Didn't he learn his lesson the last time he tried something like this?"
The parade of flowers felt like it went on forever, although when she counted later she found that there were really only ten bouquets; far more than he should have sent, but not enough to be completely ridiculous. Then the man in the tuxedo himself came forward.
"Makino Tsukushi?" he asked, his Japanese lightly accented. He must be from America, she realized, although his heritage was definitely Japanese so she hadn't realized it before. "I am Akasaka Issei, Doumyouji-sama's personal butler during his time in New York. Today he ordered me to fly here, dress up, and put this in your hands myself."
He pulled something out of his pocket small enough for his hand to keep it concealed from her. Automatically she held out her own hand to take it, discovering that it was a small jewelers box when he passed it over to her. Her eyes widened as she flipped it open, revealing a gold ring set with two large diamond, each shaped into a semi-circle, separated by a row of small rubies. "It's Saturn..." she breathed to herself, reaching up to touch her pendant as she realized it.
"Tsukushi-chan, is that..." Kazaya started, looking as stunned as she felt (and, oddly Tsukushi thought, a little depressed), then trailed off like he didn't really want to know the answer to his question.
Unfortunately for him, he couldn't really help getting it. As soon as he stopped talking, one of the other students who had crowded around Tsukushi to see the show blurted out, "It's an engagement ring!" and then it was like a dam that had been holding back gossip for the past few minutes burst, and she was surrounded by a flood of whispers.
She knew that the smart thing to do would be to snap the box shut again and shove it back in her pocket before anyone other than the people who had managed to get the spots closest to her could see it. The gossip wheel would turn, and with luck before the day was out everyone would be saying that it was actually a necklace or something. After all, they'd say, if the richest person she had ever know had really sent her an engagement ring, wouldn't she be wearing it?
The even smarter thing to do would have been to shove the box in her pocket as soon as she'd felt its shape and not given anyone the chance to see it at all.
But she ended up doing neither of those things. She felt like her mind was numb, her body moving on auto-pilot, as she slowly pulled the ring from its box and slid it onto her left ring finger. It fit perfectly, although it felt a little strange to be wearing something on a finger that had always been bare. It was beautiful, it was perfectly sentimental, and it probably had cost enough to feed her family for months.
She felt her eyes starting to sting and abruptly shoved herself out of her seat and stormed from the room, ignoring the butler plaintively asking, "Ah, should I tell Doumyouji-sama you accepted it then, miss?"
She had never let any of the rich bastards make her break down in front of her entire class before, and she'd be damned if she was going to start over this!
• • •
There was no question that she'd be awake that night to take his call. She didn't think she could have slept if she'd tried. She was just glad that she'd remembered to take off the ring before she got home, or her parents would be up to greet him too. Still, she hadn't been able to resist putting it back on her finger once everyone else had fallen asleep.
"So, he said as soon as his face appeared on her monitor, his expression carefully schooled into disinterest although it was clear to her that this was an act. "You get that thing I sent you? I didn't know what the right size would be, but Tsubaki thought--"
"Doumyouji, you idiot!" she burst out before he could finish talking. It wasn't really what she'd expected herself to say, but it was probably more honest than anything else she might have come up with.
"What?" he asked, blinking at her. "Is this about the flowers? I didn't order that many this time!"
"No you... you /idiot/," she said, her mind too frazzled to come up with anything other than repeating the same old familiar insult. She raised her hand so he could see the ring on it, and glared at him. "Don't you know that proposing is something you're supposed to do /in person?/"
He looked more baffled than ever. "That wasn't a proposal."
The rant she'd been working up about rich bastards being too stupid to even do something like this right died on her lips. "What?"
"Chh, and you call me an idiot." He ran a hand through his hair, carefully avoiding looking at the camera she saw him through. When he talked again it was all in a rush, like he thought that if he paused for a moment he'd be too embarrassed to get it all out. "We've been engaged for a year, stupid. Didn't you know I'm gonna marry you the day I get out of here?"
"Ah..." Tsukushi started, but was unable to get anything else out. She could feel her cheeks heating as she stared at him, and she knew that he was right. Even if she'd never considered it in so many words, and even though she hadn't gone along with his rushed proposal when he'd first found out he needed to leave, whenever she'd thought about the future ahead of her she had always known that she would marry Doumyouji once his years in American were over with. It hadn't even been something she needed to consciously think about, it was just a fact of her life now. Wasn't that what she had meant by her final declaration of war? Wasn't that what an engagement was?
"I just figured you could use something to make sure those bitches at the school knew about it too, all right?" He looked back at her finally, and she thought from the way his eyes were moving that he was trying to read her face in his screen, though with the position the videophone's camera was in compared to its screen meant that she still couldn't get a good look at his face while he was doing this. "So, you gonna wear it?"
"Well... I can't at home. You know how my family is, my dad will start slacking at work again if he knows that... that you're going to marry me." She saw his jaw tighten, and knew that he was trying not to look too upset. "But at school and at work... everyday. I'll wear it everyday."
She didn't bother fighting the tears that welled up this time as she beamed at him in her monitor. She just wished that the next three years separating them would vanish, so he could take her in his arms right there as she promised to be his wife.