"The Older Woman"
By Louise Babyshampoo

      Yo!
      I am Sanada Ryo, age, eighteen years old.
      I like sport activities a lot, especially soccer.
      I am a little hot-headed, but hey! That's me! I can't change what I am, right?
      I was the leader of the five *cough* great warriors who saved the World from Talpa's dark realm and his minions. Yes, that's right. We're pretty much heroes... hahaha! No, I'm just kidding. It was nothing, really.
      I love okonomiyaki, sushi and... Nasuti! But ssshhhh... please, don't tell the others about this. They'll tease me mercilessly. They just won't let me go for things like that. They have guessed it more or less, but still I simply won't let them know.
      You ask me what I like in her? Well... a lot! Er... her smile, her pretty face, her hair, her... huh? What? Oh, you mean in her personality? Now, that's a difficult question. I never really think of that, actually.
      Uh, I really don't know how to explain this one. Well, she... she... uh, I know! She's a lot like my mother! Oh, come on, don't look at me as if I have grown two horns. It's just natural! She acts like a mother to everyone! Oh okay, so you don't believe me. That's fine by me, sayona... hey! Don't pull the collar of my shirt like that! You will ruin it. That's a birthday present from Nasuti. Let it go!
      What?! Tell you everything? Hey, I don't even know if she likes me or not. She shows the same attitude to everyone else. How am I supposed to know her feelings towards me? Oh, Kami-sama, you're really persistent. Fine! I'll tell you everything I know about Nasuti. Just lemme go, now!
      Now... how to start? Actually... it started about a year ago, when I was still seventeen. As you know, I'm the leader of Samurai Troopers, so I'm not used to being bossed around. Well, I don't say that I like being the boss, but everybody just respects my status as their leader. But not in Nasuti's case. She treated me... differently. She... understands my feelings. That's a long story, if you want me to tell you. Oh? You want to hear it? No, no, you're kidding. What? You'll wait?
      *sigh*
      Oookkaayyy... here's my story.
      Now, listen.

*****

      It was a cold night, that winter. I was alone in my room, watching the snow fall bit by bit. It was almost Christmas. Everyone else was having a holiday and went home to visit their own families. Shin had gone back to Yamaguchi two days ago when he received a call from his sister about his newborn niece. A pretty little girl, he had told his friends what his sister had said on the phone. Everyone had cheered and congratulated him on becoming an uncle.
      "Hope she'll cook better than you," said Shu, slapping his friend's back.
      Shin scolded him openly and punched his arm lightly. Swinging his bag on his shoulder, he shook his finger and said, "No one will defeat Shin-sama in cooking."
      I just laughed at his comment on himself. Anyway, he was the cook in the house, right?
      Touma's mother had picked him up straight from the airport. Oh, I forgot one thing. Touma's mother is an international journalist, so she goes abroad a lot. She called Touma from the airport and told him that she wanted to spend some time with him on Christmas Day, so she asked him to spend the whole holiday with her. He agreed and had his mom pick him up an hour ago.
      Seiji's family had an old tradition. They always (and without fail) celebrated New Year together. So Seiji packed up a few days ago and took a train to his hometown, Sendai. I heard him complaining about meeting his 'monstrous' sisters to Touma. Touma just laughed it off and wished him good luck.
      And so did Shu. We visited Shu's family in Yokohama a week ago and stayed there until late. When we decided to go back, Shu's siblings forced him to stay there for the whole holiday, so we went back to Nasuti's house without Shu. It was okay, besides, Shu looked so happy with his family. He just loved his family very much.
      Everybody had taken a break from the war routine, which was all right, since it was really quiet lately. There was no attack from the Warlords; everything was just so peaceful.
      So... what about me?
      My dad would not be coming back from his trip to Africa anytime soon, so there was no need in going home. I stayed here with Nasuti, doing nothing. I did not plan anything for my holiday, because I thought the others would be here to accompany me, but that was okay. I was used to being alone, anyway.
      However...
      I... I felt rather strange tonight. I thought I would be all right, but I did not. I felt so lonely without my friends. I wanted to meet them so badly and spend the whole Christmas Eve with them. Well, not that I disliked Natsuti's company, it was just that...
      I sighed inwardly. Now I realized that I wanted that Christmas to be a very special day for me to remember. And I could not do that without my friends. They were the ones who filled my days with joyous laughter despite the battles that kept coming up. Spending the holiday with Nasuti? She was still working on her research for her university project. Of course I could not disturb her, right?
      My ears caught a faint sound of Byakuen's paws against the floor as the white tiger approached me slowly. I smiled at him and scratched a spot behind his left ear. He purred contentedly like a little kitten. Sometimes it is hard to believe that he is a giant white tiger.
      "Are you lonely, too, Byakuen?" I said, running my fingers through his white and black fur. The tiger only stared into my eyes as if he understood my feelings and gave me a big grin. I chuckled at this and said again, "Yeah, yeah, I know. As long as you got your milk, everything's fine for you."
      I moved my eyes from Byakuen to the window and said, almost to myself, "I wish something more meaningful would happen this Christmas Eve."
      I did not know I was not alone until I heard someone clear her throat behind me. I turned around and saw Nasuti's slim form leaning against the door's frame. How long had she been standing there? I blushed when I saw amusement clearly written on her face. She had heard my monologue! "What are you doing sneaking into other people's rooms?! Just go away!" I snapped at her in an attempt to cover my awkwardness.
      My words should have hurt her feelings, but what was happened was quite the opposite. She still looked at me with mischief in her eyes, but her expression had softened somehow. That night she was different. She looked so pretty in her white turtleneck and black velvet skirt. She wore knee-high black socks and a pair of black leather shoes with a ribbon across each shoe. She seemed so dressed up for a person who planned to stay at home to write her essay. I knew she was up to something.
      "What's the matter?" I asked her curiously.
      "Oh, nothing," she replied. "Just want to see if you're ready or not."
      I lifted one of my eyebrows and asked her back, "What for?"
      Instead of answering my question, she turned her back on me and said in her clear voice, "Just be ready and get down in five minutes, okay? See you downstairs, baby." She turned to me only to blow a kiss at my direction before she headed downstairs. I could not help but be startled by her sudden attitude towards me. She never acted that way in front of the other guys. In fact, it was the first time I had seen her like that. She looked more carefree and younger than usual. In fact she almost looked as young and lively as a girl my age. Gone was the thoughtful Nasuti I usually encountered.
      Anyway, that was the first time we went out together, just the two of us. We used Nasuti's other car, a red metallic Mazda sport car (I just love red!!). She drove under the streetlamps of Tokyo Highways, and never once did she mention our destination. When my patience finally reached its limit and I asked her where we were going, she just answered me lightly, "We're going to see a very big Christmas tree. A verrrryyyy big one."
      And that was it. She just would not let me know. When we finally reached our destination, I gaped to see that the one she actually meant with a 'verrrryyy big Christmas Tree' was the infamous Tokyo Tower. I opened the car's door slowly, never removing my eyes from the very giant tower in front of me. The lamps illuminated the tower from the tip to the base. They looked like the lamps on the Christmas Tree.
      I swung around to face Nasuti and looked at her askance.
      Nasuti had stepped out of her car and looked at the tower wistfully. She looked very feminine and beautiful all of sudden. I wondered what was going on in her mind. She seemed to be thinking about the past.
      "It's very beautiful, isn't it?" she whispered, almost to herself.
      I focused my eyes back to the Tokyo Tower, and could not say a thing but nodded.
      "I wanted to see this since I was a little girl. A very big Tokyo Christmas Tree... never seen one in France," she stated, her eyelids half closed.
      I was speechless. What did she actually want? Did she go here only to see the Tokyo Tower, no more, no less? Why did she ask me to come in the first place?
      Suddenly Nasuti turned to me and asked me a unexpected question, "Ryo, do you remember your Christmases?"
      I stared at her blankly and shook my head. Of course I could remember them, but there was no point in telling her. All my Christmases and New Years had been the same. My father was always away from home, thus he never had the opportunity to celebrate the occassions together with me.
      "It's lonely, isn't it, being alone?" she asked me again, adjusting her thick white coat.
      I smiled ironically and nodded once more. She was right. I did feel lonely. I was used to being alone before, without friends. But I was not anymore. I was not the Ryo I used to be. I felt like everybody else was leaving me behind.
      She gave me a knowing smile, then turned her attention back to the tower. "This is really the most beautiful tree I've ever seen..." she sighed, smiling contentedly.
      "Oh? And what about the 'tree' you saw in Paris? Haven't you seen enough 'tree' like that already?" I grinned at her, feeling smug all of sudden. "For example, that 'Eiffel tree'? It was much bigger than this one, right?"
      Nasuti gave me one of her annoyed expressions, then scolded me under her breath. "They are different," she said stubbornly. I chuckled. She really looked like a little girl when she pouted like that.
      "And what's the difference?" I teased her some more and smiled at her difficulty in answering me.
      "The difference?" she repeated the question, looking slightly worried. "It's... ah, never mind! You boys would never understand things like this," she said finally, waving off my question.
      I stuck out my tongue and turned my attention back to the tower. It did look beautiful with all the lamps. Suddenly it did not seem like it used to be. Was it only my feelings or because of the beautiful creature beside me?
      Something soft and cold floated down and touched my nose. I looked up and saw the snow falling down again. I smiled and talked to Nasuti without looking directly at her, "It's snowing again." She did not answer me, but I felt her soft hand grab my arm and pull me towards the tower's lift. I followed her, feeling a bit awkward about her hand linking with mine. We have never been that close before.
      We hopped inside the lift and went straight to the highest floor. Nasuti giggled in delight. It was clear that she was enjoying every bit of this. It was hard to believe her being childlike like that. We usually saw her as our big sister, the one who always took care of us.
      Nasuti walked out of the lift as soon as it reached the highest floor. She ran all over the place, throwing comments on whatever she saw in front of her. For me, that was nothing. That was just one of any other scenes of Tokyo city, but Nasuti treated it like one of the seven wonders.
      She ran back to me, linking her arms with mine and pulled me closer to the railing. "Look, look, Ryo!! Isn't the snow very beautiful from here?" She asked me and gave me one of her expectant looks. I sighed, then looked outside. Nasuti was right. The falling snow was indeed beautiful. However, the longer I looked, the more I felt dizzy. I did not know that I was afraid of heights until then. Usually I ignored my fear when I was fighting the Warlords, but this time it was different. It was very peaceful up there and I did not have to worry about Talpa and his warlords, so the fear started to take over me. I detached myself from Nasuti, walked back to the lift and slid down as I leaned my back against the wall.
      Nasuti looked a bit puzzled, then ran to me and kneelt beside me. "Ryo, doshite? Daijobu ka? You look pale." There was a hint of worry in her tone, "Are you all right?"
      I did not want to be her laughing stock, so I just muffled my answer.
      "What?" She gave me a puzzled look. She really did not catch what I just said.
      I growled, feeling embarrassed all of sudden. "I'm afraid of HEIGHTS!!" I said out loud, enough to make a few couples turn their heads to us and gave us a disapproving frown.
      Nasuti put a hand on my mouth and her finger in front of her lips, "Sssh," she whispered, her voice wavering with laughter. "You don't want those couples to kill you, right? World hero or not, those people won't take it lightly if you disturb their night." She giggled softly and stared deeply into my eyes. "Ne, do-you-un-der-stand?" She tapped my nose lightly. I nodded silently and she removed her hand from my mouth.
      Patting my head, she eased herself beside me and drew her knees to her chest, hugging them. She rested her head on her knees, singing a Christmas tune softly. I never knew she could sing quite so good. But it was not the only thing that drew me to her voice. There was loneliness in it. I felt that she was alone in the brightness of her surrounding.
      "You're also lonely, aren't you?" I asked her gently, smoothing my pants as I got up. She jerked her head up and looked at me questioningly. She refused to meet my eyes when I glanced sideway to her and winked. I took it as yes.
      "How could you come to that conclusion? I'm always cheerful, you know," she blurted out, trying to conceal her real feelings.
      "I'm also cheerful, but you say I'm lonely, right?" I said it carefully, did not want to push her too far.
      It was silent for a few minutes, then I heard Nasuti's voice broke the silence. "Papa always worked in holiday and Mama was always busy with her social gatherings. They never had time for an unimportant little girl like me. I have always been left alone at home," she said quietly. "It wasn't 'til I met Ojiisama that I felt happy. That was why I came back to Japan several years ago. To start a new life. But..."
      I waited for her words patiently, careful not to rush her.
      "He died already and I felt that I was left alone," she finished her narration. "I admit... I got carried away a bit," she added, wiping away the tears in her eyes. "It was the first time I visited Tokyo Tower without... my grandfather. We always visited this tower every Christmas."
      "I'm sorry," was all I could manage.
      She smiled at me and said, "That's okay." She lifted her face and told me, "It's me who should say sorry. Actually I dragged you out here to cheer you up, but you ended up helping me to come to the terms of my grandfather's death. I could never get over it."
      I shook my head, laughing. "You will, sometime in the future." I extended my hand to her and said, "Shall we go?"
      She grinned, then took my hand and answered me, "Yes, I believe we must leave now."
      I helped her up as I stared at her small red lips with half closed lids, feeling a suddden urge to brush my own lips with them. She just looked so vulnerable that night, not like the usual strong Nasuti I knew. I pulled her into my embrace and captured her lips in mine, eyes closing slowly as I deepened our kiss. She moaned in surprise, but otherwise did not refuse my kiss. She clenched the rim of my jacket in her hands, her eyelids dropped slowly. I felt very dizzy as her soft mouth nibbled my lips, leaving warmth in my heart.
      She was the first who withdrew from the kiss. She lowered her eyes, took a sudden interest in her white coat's buttons. "Ryo, this is not right. You're very naughty. That was my first kiss, you know," she said, her fingers playing with the buttons of her coat.
      I sank my hands in my jeans' pockets, feeling guilty all of sudden. Yes, she was right. I should not do that.
      "But I felt better, now..." Her voice trailed off. "So I forgive you."
      I stared dumbly at her. Instead of getting angry with me, she forgave my bad manners. She was strange that night. Something in her that I had never seen before surfaced. I had never known she was like that. "Why?" I felt very stupid, but I asked her anyway.
      "It felt good."
      I gaped at her, did not know what to say. She lifted her face, a mischievous smile was playing on her lips. "You also felt that, didn't you?" She poked my ribs playfully. "Admit it... come on, Ryo!"
      I could feel a blush creep on my cheek, I felt very embarassed. "Yeah, well... I.... ano..."
      Nasuti giggled gleefully, then running along, leaving me behind. "Tonight we're a couple!!" she shouted at the top of her lungs, and motioned me to follow her. "We'll celebrate tonight and make it the Christmas we'll always remember!!"
      I shook my head, chuckling to myself. She was such a kid, I noted inwardly. Another aspect of her that I had to explore yet. Now I realized that I did not really now the real Natsuti. She was so similar to me in a way. Our deepest loneliness. That was the same.
      She cupped her hands near her mouth and shouted at me, "OOOIIII!! Are you coming or not?! Hayaku, we still have to visit some more places. I wan to visit Ginza, Shibuya, Harajuku..."
      "Hey, that's a lot!" I replied, shouting back at her. "Are you sure you want to finish it in one night?"
      "Uhm," she nodded, smiling widely at me, "and I also want to go to the skate rink."
      "But Nasuti, I CAN'T skate!!" I protested, giving her a desperate look. "I like ALL sports except skating!"
      She ran back to me and held my hand in hers. "Don't care. That's the punishment for kissing me without warning, baby."
      I could only roll my eyes as she pulled me with her. I took one last look at the falling snowing, savoring every beauty of it. That night was indeed very beautiful.

      Continue? What do you mean with continue? It's the end of the story! What do you mean there should be something else? Well, you know what happened next, anyway. Oh, okay, okay, don't be angry. I'll tell you.
      Well... actually... to be perfectly honest...
      I... she... ano...
      We...
      We didn't end up together!! Now, now, don't stare at me like that. Makes me feel uneasy. Believe me, I'm totally honest!! After that we spent the night driving around Tokyo and that's it! The relationship didn't develop as I expected at first. At the end of the day Nasuti told me that what she said earlier wasn't serious and that I was too young for her, anyway. *sigh* I always knew that it would end that way. She was back to the former Nasuti the next morning. That night was never mentioned again between us.
      However...
      I always feel that she's still hiding something from me. I still hope that she will return my feelings someday. I'm sure of it.
      I'm sure that it isn't because I'm too young for her. I... somehow know it.

Epilogue

      "RYO!!"
      Ryo snapped his head up as he heard Nasuti's voice calling for him. He turned to Nasuti and gave her a panicked look. "Yes, Nasuti?"
      Nasuti sighed and leaned against the door frame, folding her arms in front of her chest, "What the hell are you doing, talking alone? You know, I begin to think you're crazy."
      Ryo shook his head violently and laughed nervously. He reached for Byakuen and patted his head, saying, "No, I'm not. I'm playing with Byakuen. Right, Byakuen? Byakuen?"
      The white tiger just snorted aloud and walked back to his spot, lowering his body lazily. His every movement said that Ryo was NOT only PLAYING with him. Natsuti cast a doubtful look to him as Ryo grinning nervously.
      Finally Nasuti gave up as Ryo only looked at her and smiled idiotically. She threw her arms in the air and said, "Nevermind. I just came to tell you that dinner's ready. I'll go to tell Touma and the others." She closed the door behind her, then headed for Touma's and Seiji's room. She smiled as she walked, her mind was still on Ryo's handsome figure. He was sooooo cute. She wondered what it would be like if he was her boyfriend. Her face blushed at the very thought.
      Meanwhile, Ryo scolded his white tiger for he was not 'supporting' him. The tiger only grinned widely, showing a row of white, shiny fangs as he walked, circling Ryo's place. "Next time I won't tell you my secret again. I'll use a real journal instead of a walking one. Che!" He turned to Byakuen and told him, "You couldn't be trusted. You may be an extraordinary tiger, but I doubt you understand my story. Oh, all right, I'll go and have dinner now."
      Byakuen only stared at his master as he left the room, did not move an inch. There was a glint of mischivousness in the tiger's eyes.
      Oh, you're wrong, Ryo, his mind said, of course I understand it all. I'm an extraordinary tiger, am I not? I just want to help you and Nasuti to be together.
      Just look and see...

Owari... for now.


Author's note : Okay... so I'm planning for the sequel, but it would be Nasuti's story. That's quite long, isn't it? And your comments are very welcome. I'm glad if you like it. Ryo was always one of my favorites.
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