Royal Academy 為生学園
Episode 7 – Fire & Ice
The student council chambers were silent. The twilight of dawn cast a blue gloom over Isei. Sarako Himise stood in the dimly lit room knowing she had arrived at school early enough to not be interrupted by anyone else. She stood behind the council president’s desk, tapping her foot, arms crossed with her back facing the door. She didn’t like to be kept waiting; perhaps this was well known because the door to the council room opened as she finished her thought.
Sarako turned around to see a man of average height. He had dark, slightly curly hair pulled into a small, low ponytail. His face had the shadow of scruff and there were dark circles under his eyes as if he didn’t sleep much. Despite his appearance, his loose clothes were ill-fitting but clean. The man carried a small bag strapped around his person. He unzipped the bag, then laid photos out on the desk. This wasn’t her first time working with Kaho Tazuki.
Sarako picked up one of the photos, it was a clear shot of Mariette Obata and Dahlia Obata, Yukiji’s mother and younger sister. She set the photo down and picked up another of Yukiji’s father, Seijiro. Her eyes went up to Tazuki, glaring at him. The man chuckled and removed a few more photos. Sarako took them. They were photos of a man she did not recognize at the Obata residence.
“Who is this?” she asked.
Sarako flipped through some more photos. The man was young, with a resemblance to the Obatas. The bald man following him was obviously there to protect him.
“I knew you wouldn’t be satisfied with just pictures,” Tazuki said.
Sarako could feel the intensity of her eyes, patience waning. She didn’t want games. The photographer reached into his bag and pulled out a small recorder. Without needing to be asked, he hit the play button and set the voice recorder down.
It started off with some rustling and muffled voices. There was static which sounded more like the brush of fabric on the microphone than interference.
“…what brings you for a visit?” said a male voice.
“Business, but we can talk about that later,” said another male, voice slightly higher. “And of course, I simply wanted to see you and Mariette.”
A deep, short chuckle came. “You know you’re welcome here, right?”
There was a pause. “Yeah, I know. You’ve never turned me away, Seji.”
There was silence again on the recording and unidentifiable muffled noises. Sarako soon recognized the sound of a sliding door opening. There were footsteps then more silence for a minute.
“It is good to see you again, Yanosuke-sama,” said a different male voice. “Will you be staying for dinner?”
“Yes,” said Yanosuke.
The deeper voice came again, Seijiro, Sarako guessed.
“Stay for a while. I’m sure you can spare a couple of days,” Seijiro said.
“I do miss the young ones. How is my Hiro and Yuki-kun? Hopefully taking after their father.” The man chuckled.
“They’ll be excited to see you. Lia needs to see her uncle more often.”
There was a pause, a small voice excusing themselves, distant in the audio then the sound of the door shutting again. The sound of rustling and fabric came back then the tape cut off. Tazuki picked up the device and stored it again.
“’Uncle’?” Sarako said. “There isn’t a brother on the Obata family registry…”
“Perhaps you’re looking in the wrong place then,” Tazuki said.
Sarako looked at him for a second, then reached down to unlock a desk drawer to her right. She pulled out a book and opened it up. Inside were various photos. Some of Yukiji at the train station, ones of Nori letting out some girl in her car, Ueno Shiro arriving the first day of school, another of Shuhei with the Class 1-B teacher, holding hands, and even some of Risa Jones in upper Kiseirei after curfew. Sarako placed her new photos in the empty slots after the last few photos then closed the book again. Tazuki Kaho gave her a cautious look but didn’t say anything.
The queen of Isei reached back down into the drawer and came out with a white envelope, which she handed to Tazuki.
“Gokurousama. Thanks for the hard work,” she said with a small smile. She knew it didn’t reach her eyes.
Tazuki gave a short nod of his head, avoiding her eyes. He left without a word and Sarako replaced the photo album in the drawer, locking it once more.
* * *
The morning air was cold and brought his breath to a white fog in front of his mouth. They had a little under an hour till class would start. Students were already arriving, but they kept out of sight of the main entrance as they played on the courts behind the science building. Shuhei caught the basketball that was passed to him and looked at the only other player on the court.
“Congrats on making the team, Nori.”
Asegawa’s forehead was beading with a light sweat. Shuhei bounced the ball. Even if he had five inches over her five foot seven frame and was probably at least forty pounds heavier, he didn’t take her lightly. He dribbled the ball across his body then moved forward, turning as he did, so he could avoid her counter. Shuhei only took two steps before he decided to shoot. The ball arched and his form perfect.
A three pointer.
“I’m guessing you said something Min Soo?” Nori said.
“Isn’t that what you wanted?”
Nori gave him a look and Shuhei chuckled.
“Relax, I didn’t bribe her. I only put in a suggestion. The rest was you,” he said, passing her the ball, which she caught.
Nori immediately got into stance, bouncing the ball. Shuhei spread his legs and arms out.
“You mean you didn’t sabotage my chances?” Nori asked.
She ran forward, got into shooting pose, and then pivoted to her right after her fake. Shuhei saw through it though, and reached out with his long arms to intercept. Nori was faster though and turned her left shoulder to block his sight before running towards the hoop, stopping at the side and shooting a lay-up.
“Don’t you think that’s a bit paranoid?” Shuhei said.
“Not when it comes to you, Sakurano.”
Shuhei shook his head. “Can’t you call me ‘senpai’? It’s way cuter.”
Nori gave him a flat look.
“Are you concerned about what happened last week with that Takeda girl?”
Nori shrugged and Shuhei laughed.
“Don’t be coy,” he said. “You talked pretty big then. And I know just what sort of person you are. I’m really curious why you felt the need to step in for that girl. Especially after what happened to…what was her name?”
Nori glared. “I don’t want to hear her name from your mouth—.”
“Kimi,” Shuhei said. “After what happened to her, maybe I should be happy you’re trying to make a friend.”
Nori shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about that.”
Shuhei shrugged. “I’m giving you fair warning. You don’t want someone else to end up that way.”
Nori passed him the ball.
“Don’t you ever shut up?” she said.
“You’re still new to this world, but I’ll give you a little advice. We can surround ourselves with all the friends we wish.”
Shuhei jumped up and shot the ball from where he was standing. He watched it go into the basket.
“But in the end…people like us will always be alone.”
Sarako sat behind her desk, hands clasped on top of the smooth wood surface, watching as Yukiji Obata laid down a stack of class evaluation papers. Unlike most students, Yukiji regarded her expressionless, holding her gaze without flinching or looking away. Despite all her distaste for him, he did not show her fear, unlike when they were children. Back then, even though he was a push over, he always had Ueno Shiro backing him up.
Sarako picked up the stack of papers, rifling through them.
“These are all from first year and second year classes,” she said. “Where are the third year evaluations?”
Yukiji had his long blond hair pulled up into a ponytail with one side of his long bangs trailing down his face. Someone coughed at the meeting table to their right. Student council secretary Karan, and Treasurer Ayami sat with the vice-president, Junichi Honda. Yukiji was pretending not to notice Karan’s and Ayami’s interest in their conversation.
“I’m still waiting on class 3-C,” he answered. “Collecting evaluations for every year isn’t easy by myself.”
“I don’t care about your excuses.”
“Then you’ll have to wait for your evaluations.”
Sarako scowled. “We have deadlines for a reason. No one here is coming up short on their duties, Obata. So get me the evaluations by the end of the day, or relinquish your position as student rep.”
“That escalated quickly,” Honda said.
Sarako gave him a look, but he only smiled.
“I believe Yukiji suggested making the representative job a three person deal,” Honda said.
“Yeah, so he doesn’t have to do as much work as us,” Ayami said.
Yukiji only frowned.
Honda shrugged. “Makes sense to me.”
“Whatever,” Sarako said. “Make an appeal, but for now, do your job.”
Yukiji looked at her in silence. They had known each other since childhood, yet they couldn’t be farther from friends. Every meeting was an intense vie for control between them. Yukiji wasn’t as easy to make cry as when they were children but growing up didn’t change the fact that she would always be several steps ahead of him.
“I’m already tired of you, Obata.” Sarako waved a hand, dismissing him. She expected things to be somewhat similar to grade school, Ueno Shiro always coming to his aid, however, she noticed they hadn’t talked once. It made her smile.
Sarako collected the papers as Yukiji turned and left. On his way out, she could hear the surprise in his voice.
“Senpai, what are you doing here?” Yukiji asked, half way out the door.
“What’s with that expression? Do I have to scold the president?”
Sarako rolled her eyes, recognizing Sakurano’s voice. Yukiji answered in a small, awkward laugh.
“I’ll see you at lunch,” Yukiji said, stepping away so Sakurano Shuhei could enter.
Sarako placed the neat stack of papers in the second drawer to her left and glanced over at the other council members.
“Shouldn’t you all be making yourselves productive somewhere else?” she asked.
Junichi Honda pursed his lips, put his hands up as if to say he lost, then stood.
“Come on, girls, i’m sure there are some first years hanging around for you to put down and make yourselves feel better,” Junichi said.
Ayami and Karan gave him a look and stood up, complaining. Once the three of them left, Sakurano pulled up a chair and sat across from her, crossing his long legs. He had his usual smile on his face, as if the whole world were a big joke. Perhaps in his position, it truly was.
“I’m guessing you must have something good if you’ve called me here,” Sakurano said. “Something you can’t say aloud at lunch?”
Without a word, Sarako reached down to her right, unlocked the top drawer and pulled out a single photo and set it down on the desk.
“Not that I’d expect any less from you. I won’t ask how you got it,” Sakurano said.
Before he could look at the picture, Sarako placed a hand over it.
“You still haven’t found out why Ueno left?” she asked.
“No, but I did find out something else.”
Sarako’s expression didn’t change, but she was certainly intrigued.
“I don’t know why they sent him abroad, however, during that time he met a Elisa Keswick, a young heiress. Apparently they were good friends, enough so, they actually dated.”
Sarako listened silently.
“And there was even rumor that they could get engaged. I’m assuming the Ueno’s put an end to it,” Sakurano said.
“A Brit and Ueno Shiro?” Sarako couldn’t help but laugh. “Of course they wouldn’t allow their bloodline be sullied. They are just as traditional as our families.” But it was interesting nonetheless and not something too publicly known in Japan. She could bet even Yukiji wouldn’t know about his friend’s oversea excursions.
“But of course you won’t find anything in the tabloids. The Ueno’s are smarter than that,” Sakurano said.
Agreeing in silence, Sarako removed her hand from the photograph on the desk.
The photo was a clear shot of the mysterious “Yanosuke.” Sakurano picked the photo up. He took one look then frowned. Sarako sat up straighter. She hadn’t known Shuhei for quite as long as Yukiji or Shiro, but she could read his expression better.
“You know who this is, don’t you?” she asked.
After a moment, Sakurano set the photo back down, his smile gone.
“Years ago, I was a kid at the time, maybe four, I saw this man at the annual Enkai Banquet,” he said, tapping the picture.
“Who is he?”
“I’ll tell you exactly what my mother told me then, ‘keep your distance from the Obata’s.’”
Sarako found herself scowling.
“And what does that mean? I’ve never heard of Yanosuke Obata. Are you saying he’s really that half-blood’s uncle?”
Sakurano sighed. “It means there are some things even you don’t know, and aren’t supposed to know,” he said.
Sakurano was guarding his expression. Sarako watched him, then scoffed.
“So, you don’t know either, do you?”
He was quiet for a moment. “Sarako, I wouldn’t suggest digging around any further.” He picked up the photo. “Just having something like this around…if you were caught, as it is now, do you think your family could save you? They are the Obata’s after all, not even foreign blood has changed that.”
She narrowed her eyes and lifted her chin.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
Sakurando shook his head and folded the photo before putting it in his own pocket.
“Nothing,” he said, suddenly bringing his smile back. “And what would your mother think of your hobby? You must have quite the collection by now. A bit unsightly for a lady.”
“Yes, it is quite the collection. Quite condemning for some of us,” she answered, staring him in the eyes.
Sakurano’s smile faltered slightly, nothing slipped past him.
“Is that any way to act in front of the man you’re supposed to be courting?” he asked.
“We aren’t engaged yet.”
“It wouldn’t exactly help your chances to throw passive threats though,” he said.
Sarako gave him a cold look.
“Shuhei, don’t pretend anything we do or say in front of each other matters,” she said. “In the end, it isn’t our decision.” She understood politics, she was even good at it, and that’s how she knew she couldn’t fight against it. “You may act like you don’t care at all, but really, you’ve already given up.”
She wanted to believe she hadn’t just yet, but there wasn’t much a puppet could do, when tied up in strings.
“How mature of you, Ms. Himise. You’d sacrifice your own happiness to marry a man you don’t even love,” Sakurano said, standing. “Enjoy your tea with mother, today.” He went to the door and looked back. “And she prefers Sencha, not black.”
Sarako watched him leave, the door closing behind him. She sat back in her seat and looked over at the window, the dark outline of a bird was tiny against the blue sky. She watched it soar out of view and wondered if she’d ever even known love to begin with.
The school day had come to an end and he already had a date. Shuhei proceeded to the north wing of the main building. He walked casually and comfortably even though he was five minutes late. He didn’t know whether Sarako would listen to his warning or not, or Nori for that matter. Shuhei entered the North wing and climbed the steps to the top floor. He had other things to worry about than trivial squabbles involving Sarako.
In between classes 3-E and 3-F was a smaller room marked “Janitor’s Closet.” He went to the door, looked down the halls, then entered the room. The closet was big enough to hold a small get together of about ten people and had shelves and racks lining the walls. It smelled faintly of orange scented cleaning product. Waiting in the room was a woman. Professor Hikari Orihara turned around to face him, hair in a neat pile on top of her head. Her skirt was decent and her blouse buttoned all the way up.
Shuhei went to her without words and undid her top button.
“Isn’t it stuffy like this?” he said.
“Shuhei….” Hikari, stopped him with a hand. “I brought you here to talk, not for ‘that,’” she said.
“What is there to say? I’ve taken care of Takeda. She won’t talk.”
The professor glanced away. “Someone will find out, I know it,” she said.
Shuhei chuckled and swept a piece of hair from her face.
“Don’t you trust me? It’s fine.” He kissed the side of her face, lips touching the edge of her jawline. Orihara pulled away.
“I can’t stand seeing her face, the look in her eyes and knowing that she knows,” she said, voice soft. She met his eyes. “Little by little, I find myself hating that girl. She could get me fired, black listed even. I would never be able to teach again.”
Shuhei placed a hand on her shoulder. “Do you want me to get rid of her? I can have her expelled, she isn’t anyone important to my knowledge.”
Hikari looked at him. “I….” She looked down again then shook her head. “I just don’t think I can do this. I’m your teacher.”
Shuhei took her chin gently, bringing her eyes back up.
“It didn’t stop you before, and I don’t want to end this, not with you,” he said.
“But I’m already seeing someone…and it’s getting pretty serious,” she said. “Sometimes you have to grow up, Shuhei.”
“I thought we were pretty serious.”
She just shook her head and took a step back. Shuhei watched her and dropped his hand away.
“Figures, I knew you were like everyone else, Ms. Orihara. Don’t worry, you won’t lose all those promotions you asked for.” He turned around, ready to leave.
“I-it wasn’t like that! I did really…”
He turned to face her again, expressionless. She fell silent and he could see the truth in her eyes, that she’d gotten what she wanted, and maybe she had liked him a bit, but now that it had gotten dangerous, where was the benefit?
“I did like it, but I can’t bear being a secret, and always worrying.”
“You never worried about a thing. You let the Sakurano name shield you and give you everything you wanted,” he said.
Orihara opened her mouth, then closed it.
“I’ve always known about the other guy,” Shuhei said. “I didn’t care that you were that sort of woman.”
The professor griped her right arm with her left hand and looked down. She bit her lower lip and shook her head gently.
“I’m breaking up with you, Shuhei. It’s over,” Hikari said.
Shuhei looked at her.
“It’s not like we could have ever become a public item anyhow. To my family, you’re just common trash,” Shuhei said. “Otsukaresama, Orihara-sensei.”
Before he could see the tears fall from her shiny eyes, he left the closet. He closed the door behind him and leaned his back against it. She had ended it. She broke up with him as if he was just some little kid with a crush on his teacher. Shuhei stood up straight. He didn’t love her, but it was nice pretending to.
He headed for the stairs, chest tight. He wondered if it all still would have happened if not for Takeda Nonoka. Was Hikari always planning to end things so soon? He figured she was happy.
“What am I thinking?…” Shuhei said.
He watched the grey steps under his polished shoes as he descended. It was almost comical that he even cared enough to be bothered. He could have anyone, and here he was, being rejected by her. He thought he’d be angry, pissed off, maybe indifferent, but instead he felt…
Shuhei bumped into someone as he entered the first floor. Startled, he reached out to steady them and looked at the other in surprise.
“Senpai?” Yukiji said. “What are you still doing here?”
Shuhei blinked. “Uhh, just….not ready to go home. You?”
“Finishing up some club registrations,” he said, tucking a strand of his blond hair behind an ear. “I’m about to go home though.”
Shuhei gave a small grunt. “You take the train with Horuichi, right?”
Yuki nodded. “Yes, but he’s at Judo practice, so it’s just me today.”
“Then let me drive you home. My driver is outside.”
“What about Koyomi-chan?”
“My sister has club meetings as well.”
“But, I couldn’t ask you to do that, it’s fine,” Yuki said.
“You aren’t asking, I’m suggesting, so come on,” Shuhei said, chuckling. “Besides, I could use the company.”
Yukiji smiled and bowed slightly. “Thank you, senpai.”
They started walking, taking the first floor into the connecting first floor of the south wing. They moved in silence, heading for the last set of double doors at the end of the hallway. Shuhei peered at Yuki. He was surprisingly tall, though a few inches shorter than himself. His long legs made their walking pace equal. If Yukiji was into sports, Shuhei was knew he would’ve done well at basketball. Shuhei smiled. He almost couldn’t imagine Yukiji on the court, but he was sure he’d be just as graceful as he was when he danced.
They reached the doors and exited the building, walking down the steps and to the driveway that curved down to the school gates. Parked at the top was a chrome four door sedan with tinted windows. The driver, a short man with greying hair, got out upon their approach and opened the door for them, bowing at the waist and waiting till they had gotten completely in the car to close it. Shuhei sat next to Yuki.
The front cabin was divided by a window. Shuhei closed it so he couldn’t see or hear his driver. He watched the school roll away as they descended down the driveway. They hit the streets of Kiseirei unencumbered since most students had left before them or stayed behind for some sort of club. Shuhei was grateful he didn’t have basketball practice for once.
“Shuhei-senpai, are you alright? You look a bit out of it.”
He glanced at Yuki, who watched him with worried eyes.
“Maybe I’m in shock…or bored with school already,” Shuhei answered.
“What’s wrong? If you don’t mind me asking.”
The only thing that left his mouth was a sigh. He looked at his lowerclassmen and saw genuine concern. The thing he liked best about Yukiji and Sarako was both of them showed who they really were without pretense. Sarako may have been a complete bitch, but she was honest about it. She could pretend in front of his mother, but she never acted any different in front of him. Yukiji was the complete opposite of Sarako, but from the moment they met, he could see Yuki was truly nice and didn’t want to talk to him because of his family ties, but because he genuinely wanted to be friends. Shuhei gazed at Yuki.
“I was seeing someone…a girl my parents definitely wouldn’t have approved of,” Shuhei said.
Yuki watched him with slight surprise.
“Someone else found out though, then that girl dumped me for someone else,” he said, pausing. “After all the girls I’ve turned down, all the hearts I’ve broken, I guess I didn’t expect the same to happen to me.” He looked into Yuki’s green eyes. “Doesn’t that make me the worst?”
Yuki was silent for a moment then shook his head.
“I think it makes you naïve.”
Shuhei looked at him, then smiled. “Not holding back, huh?”
“It can be charming knowing you don’t have all the answers, senpai,” he answered
“I think only you would find that charming, Yuki,” he said. “You know you’re one of my favorite people, right?”
Yukiji seemed to blush. “Me? Why?”
Shuhei shrugged. “You make me want to be a nice person as well?”
“I think you’re a nice person.”
Shuhei smiled. “Now who’s naïve?”
The other student gave no reply, but the worry in his eyes did not fade. Shuhei lost his smile and reached into his pocket, pulling out the photo he took from Sarako.
“This belongs to you.” Shuhei handed the photo to Yuki then crossed his legs in the car, placing one arm on the back rest behind him as he watched Yuki unfold the picture, eyebrows furrowing.
“Ojiisan?” He looked at Shuhei. “Why do you…?”
“I procured it from less than hospitable hands,” Shuhei said. Yuki gazed at the picture. “I remember that man from the annual banquet, though, he never showed after that…I didn’t think a Yanosuke Obata existed.”
Yuki raised an eyebrow. “My uncle’s name is Yanosuke Ogata.”
Shuhei blinked. “Ogata?”…”
“He registered under the extended family, not the main. I think because my father is the oldest, the head of the family.” Yuki folded the picture back up. “I don’t really understand it, but all the extended family are Ogata.”
“That is…a bit strange. I didn’t know your family was so strict on succession,” Shuhei said, watching Yukiji slip the photo into his school bag.
Yuki sighed. “I already have an idea where you got this from, but isn’t this a bit too far?”
“Not for her.”
“Why show me? Aren’t you two…?”
“Betrothed?” Shuhei said, making Yukiji blush again. “No, not yet…” He gazed out the tinted windows. Right about now, Sarako would be with his mother, having tea and kissing up.
“She may seem harmless, Yuki, but she’s precise and ruthless. If she wants to hurt you, she will,” Shuhei said, handsome face a transparent reflection in the window. “It’s best to stay out of her way, and Ueno’s.”
“Shiro? What does she want with him?”
Shuhei didn’t answer, instead he turned his head to look at the male next to him. He was crushing the photo in his fist now, concerned only about their conversation. Shuhei reached his own hand down and laid it over Yukiji’s
“Why won’t you let your senpai protect you?”
With a look of slight surprise, Yukiji’s eyes softened.
“I know you just want to help me but…”
It was Yuki that turned his gaze out the window now. He took his hand back and watched the outside world slip by, eyes distant and in thought.
“I need to show that person that I really have grown stronger…”
When he replied, his voice was soft enough that Shuhei almost thought he imagined it. He considered him for a while and didn’t say anything more. Shuhei turned back to look out the window, riding in silence the rest of the way.
To be continued…
Next time on Royal Academy…
Episode 8 – The Long Goodbye.
“You are to do what is expected of an Ueno. Don’t shame this family”