"The Younger Man"
By Louise Babyshampoo

      I like cute guys.
      I always do.
      Especially the ones with black hair and eyes... they're just so beautiful in my eyes. They have always been my type since the day I knew love. I have seen too many people with blonde or brunette hair when I lived France, so may be that's why I long for a black-haired guy as my boyfriend. Funny, isn't it? But true!
      I keep asking myself.
      So do other people around me.
      Who is the love of my life?
      I am surrounded by five cute guys, plus one sweet but sometimes annoying little boy, but I never harbor such a feeling to all of them... except one. Ryo. Now, remember what I said about getting a black-haired guy as my boyfriend? Well, this time it has nothing to do with my feelings towards him. I like him as a good companion, happy or sad, or even when I need time to think to myself. I love him as a friend, brother and then as a man in spite of his age.
      Yes, he is four years younger than me.
      That's not a problem, although sometimes I use the reason to conceal my deepest feelings. Well, yeah, I couldn't bring myself to love him... at first. It just felt... inappropriate. Not right. I felt uncomfortable with this feeling. I thought that was only adolescent dreams. The part of me that hadn't matured enough. I thought that I didn't really love him and used him only to escape from my loneliness.
      But... I was wrong. I couldn't stop loving him, no matter how hard I tried to forget him. I realize now that I don't love him because of the above reasons, but because Ryo is Ryo. I love him for being just the way he is.
      I always love his smile, his gentleness towards me, his kindness... even his hot temper! He is very cute, but on the other hand, he is also understanding and matured. However, there is one thing that I love most from him. *giggle*
      To put it bluntly...
      It is his kiss.

      One year had passed since the day we kissed on the Tokyo Tower. There was still nothing between us ever since. I had said to him that the kiss was a mistake when he had mentioned about having a further relationship. I did not want that. All I wanted was an everlasting friendship, not an eternal love between us. I was just simply too scared to love him. I still was not ready to open myself completely to him.
      Besides, he was younger than me.
      Simply too young that it was easy to use it as a reason to turn him down.
      I glimpsed outside the study room's window and noticed that it was snowing outside. No wonder it was quite chilly inside, in spite of the fire in the room. May be I should put more logs in the fire. I sighed inwardly, then looked at the others. They were surprisingly very quiet since our New Year's party ended eight hours ago. We decided to have a quiet and nice rest after we cleaned up all the mess from the party. It was really a great night.
      Touma, as usual, was reading a heavy volume of book about science. He stayed here this holiday because his mother had decided to stay longer in China. He said she was doing a very important research about the political condition there, so she would not be back for another month. That was why he decided to spend the whole holiday in my house. There would be no one if he went back home, anyway. His father would be busy with his experiments in the university laboratory, too.
      Shin decided that celebrating New Year's without his family would be fine, especially when he had been in charge of babysitting Tamami-chan, his baby niece, instead of having fun last holiday. He said the baby girl was too noisy and annoying, which made me quite surprised, considering Shin's gentle nature. One would assume easily that Shin was the most perfect babysitter in the world!
      Shu took me by surprise. He was actually reading a book! Well, not quite, since he was reading a manga... but he still had not touched his snacks in the past half an hour. Now, that was an improvement! Touma and Ryo had dared him not to eat his snacks for three hours and he accepted their challenge. Stupid. Now he had to struggle to hold his hand from the snacks or lose a thousand yen to the others.
      It was good to have Seiji around that year. I did not know what had happened, but suddenly he announced that he would not go back to his home town to celebrate New Year together with his family, even if that was an old tradition. They always celebrated it together for as long as I remembered. Seiji's family line was quite old, thus it had certain amount of traditions in its system. Every time I asked him about it, he kept a straight face and answered curtly, "It's nothing." I knew he hid something from us. Something... hm, interesting.
      I glanced sideways to Ryo and found him staring back at me. His face blushed almost immediately as he pretended to look at something else, anything, but me. I giggled softly at his reaction... he was cuter than ever! Especially those deep serious eyes. I could see embarrassment written on his face. He really blushed easily.
      "Ryo, what are you doing?" I asked and gave him a playful smile.
      "N-nothing! I-I did nothing!" he stuttered, still trying to look away from me.
      I grinned evilly and decided to tease him a bit, "You're lying, ne? May be you want to beg me not to tell the others about you talking to yourself in your room last time? Or was it to Byakuen?" The white tiger only growled and approached me lazily as if he was supporting every word I said. He purred contentedly as I scratched the spot behind his ear. "Ne, Byakuen?" said me, giving him an affectionate smile.
      The others turned to Ryo as I finished saying those things. There was amusement and curiosity written on their faces. One thing was clear. Ryo would never talk to himself or to Byakuen unless he felt miserable or was in trouble. He tends to do that, he never really opens himself to the others.
      Ryo was almost jumping off the sofa as he saw expectations in his friends' eyes. Sure his friends would never force him to spill out everything, or... would they? He waved a hand in front of his face and shook his head vigorously, denying every single unspoken question his friends had in their eyes., "No! I'm okay! Don't believe her! She said those nasty lies about me because she's NASUTI, anyway."
      I glared forcefully at him and fumed, but I smiled in defeat as he grinned back to me, still refusing to give his friends a hint. I knew that I could never force him. I glanced to my watch. Eight o'clock.
      I was bored. Really, really bored.
      I wish I could talk the guys into having an outing, today. It was New Year, anyway. We had to go to the temple and pray for a better year.
      "Guys... I am thinking..." A voice startled me as someone said exactly the same thing as me at the same time. It was Ryo. He blushed and grinned sheepishly at me, scratching his head. I nodded to him and said calmly, "How about going to a temple? It's New Year, anyway."
      The others stared at me with surprise in their widened eyes. They stopped their activities almost immediately.
      "What?!" I asked them uneasily. I do not like people staring at me.
      "I thought you were tired..." Seiji's voice trailed off.
      "And you have lotsa work to do," added Shin.
      I chuckled and shook my head slowly. So they were concerned about my well being, anyway. Lifting my face upright, I looked into their eyes and said, "Don't you see that I'm serious? Get ready in two hours!! You guys need a bath, after you poured the champagne on each other's heads."
      No one moved out of the room. They were still staring at me with an 'are-you-sure-about-this' look on their faces. That made me sigh aloud. Didn't they ever think that everybody needs a break once in a while? I did not want to be cooped up here in the study room, facing the computer all the time, for sure.
      "What are you waiting for?! Get GOING!!"
      Everybody jumped off their seats and ran out of the room as soon as I ordered them. Sometimes I could not believe the fact that they were Yoroiden Samurai Troopers, a group of teenagers that defeated Arago and saved the world from evil's hands.

      The snow had stopped falling by the time we reached the temple. I was very happy. That was the first time I wore my kimono. I did it in haste, so it may be not too neatly done, but it was still okay. The only problem I had was to keep the rim of the kimono from slipping while I was tying the obi around my waist. That was why I only used the simplest style. Too much trouble. However, I must admit that I looked very good in it. I almost could not contain my laughter as I saw the guys' blushing faces, staring at my new self.
      "When are we going to eat?" Shu asked me impatiently.
      "Later, after we finish praying," I replied him calmly.
      Shu yawned loudly as we walked on the temple's stairs. It was clear that he was bored. The others were just looking around their surrounding with interests as we approached the temple. There were a lot of people praying already.
      "Che, so many people. I wonder how we will walk through them..." Ryo broke the silence between us, looking slightly worried. There were a lot of people, indeed. One had to force their way if he really wanted to reach the temple quickly.
      "Don't worry, we'll find a way!!" I said cheerfully, trying to cover my own worries. Just how could I walk through the mob while I was wearing a kimono?! I almost sighed out loud if I did not remember my remark earlier.
      "Oh!" I cried softly as someone bumped into me accidentally. I lost my balance and tumbled backward, but a strong and protective arm circled my shoulders and prevented me from falling down. My heart was pounding as the shock was starting to wear off. Ryo was holding me tightly, eyes never left the figure who almost struck me down. He seemed a bit annoyed.
      "They should be more careful," he mumbled. "Are they blind?"
      No one said a thing as Seiji suddenly whistled loudly and remarked, "My, my. You guys are sure very cosy. Don't you think that it got a little bit hotter here?" The others only chuckled at his comments, making the situation between me and Ryo even more awkward. Ryo let me go all of sudden, his face was blushing. He went ahead without looking back, straight to the temple, forcing his way through the people around him.
      "Now, Princess... your obi is a bit crushed, I think," Seiji said behind me, but I barely listened to him. He fussed over my obi, giving it a tuck here and there, saying, "There. Your obi is pretty again. Ryo really should be more careful next time."
      I turned around and mumbled, "Arigatou," then focused my attention back to the temple.
      He waved it off and told me, "Having two sisters are really useful, sometimes." Then he tapped on my shoulder and winked at me.
      "Hey, he's really gone, you know," I heard Touma speaking, shielding his eyes from the morning sun with his arm while he was looking for Ryo. He lowered his arm and glanced sharply at Seiji with accusation in his eyes. "Seiji, you really shouldn't push him like that. You know that he's not comfortable with..."
      "I didn't," Seiji cut him short. "He was the strange one. I only teased him a bit." He lifted his face upright, challenging Touma's every word.
      Shin sighed, holding his hands up, saying, "Okay guys... let's quit. We have to find Ryo as soon as possible or we'll have more troubles. Right, Shu?" He turned to his side only to find that his friend was not there anymore.
      "Oh Kami-sama... why did I agree to come here in the first place?" Shin groaned, massaging his temples. "First, it was Ryo, then it's Shu, now!"
      "I don't notice where he's gone..." Touma said thoughtfully to himself, then turned to his other friend, "Seiji, do you?"
      Seiji shook his head. "I've got no idea. He must be looking for mochi, somewhere."
      "Uh-huh..." I shook my head slowly, losing tracks of what was happening around me. First it was Ryo, now...
      Straightening his jacket, Touma grinned sheepishly and said, almost to himself, "Looks like we have to do it by ourselves. Ready?"
      The three of us nodded. "Okay," I said.
      Shin extended his hand and reached for my hand, holding it tightly. He looked into my eyes seriously and said in a low voice, "Don't get separated from me! We're going in, now."
      My lips curled as I nodded and answered him, "Okay!"
      I thought it would be easy just to be going with the flow of people going up and down, but it was not. In fact, my hand slipped from Shin's as the mob pushed me further and further away. I was left alone behind before I knew it.
      "Shin! Touma! Seiji!" I called out the guys' names as I was being bumped by other people around me. I really learned an really important lesson, back then. Never ever wear a kimono again if you want to visit a temple! I was really stupid. Of course they would not hear me. I even could not see them from my place. It was really frustrating and tiring.
      A very excited group of high school girls bumped into me and knocked me down as they ran downstairs, giggling and gossiping at the same time. My ankle got twisted and none of them tried to help me. One of them even glared and snapped at me, "Just watch where you're going!! Don't you have eyes?!"
      I was just going to reply her with some sarcastic words when I heard a very familiar voice come from behind me. "And just tell me where yours are!!" He had said the words sternly and drawn the group's attention successfully . They started to whisper and giggle behind their palms. Obviously they were smitten by the speaker's look.
      "Why don't you just say your apologies and get the hell out of here before I lose my patience?! I hate giggling girls!" he roared, causing some of the girls to gasp in shock.
      I tried to balance myself by leaning on him and said softly, "Ryo, it's okay. It's only a minor injury, anyway."
      "It's not okay for me, Nasuti." He had said it curtly that I was afraid he would also snap at me if I tried to stop him again. So I just watched the girls' reactions in amusement, waiting for them to say their apologies.
      The girl that glared at me just now sighed in defeat and chirped before she was scurrying away with her group, "Gomen, I didn't mean it."
      I giggled behind my palm as Ryo relaxed himself, smiling at me. "What?" he asked me gently.
      "It was nothing. " I still could not stop my giggles, "It was just the expressions they wore when you finally gave in to your infamous temper. They were terrified, you know." I tapped my finger lightly on his nose and said, "You're really a bad boy. Ne?"
      His face was blushing one more time. He really blushed easily. But I liked that, because I found him very cute with red face. Really. "You know that I have some temper, anyway, and... hey! Stop laughing! It's not a funny thing, my temper..."
      I held my hands up, saying, "Okay, okay. I'll stop, but... hmmphhi hi hihi...!!" I really could not stop it. Maybe I needed someone to close my mouth? I saw Ryo fuming, but his annoyed expression was changing gradually into a smile.
      "Okay, okay... I'm lost..." he said, grinning ear to ear. Then he asked me, his happy face turning into one with concern, "Now, is your leg still hurt? I saw you fell quite hard."
      "It's okay, but I couldn't walk."
      "Where?" He knelt down beside me and probed my ankle with his skillful fingers. It was my turn to blush now. He never showed me such a gesture before. He lifted his face and grinned mischievously as he asked me, "Is that better?"
      I could only nod.
      "Do I still have to carry you?"
      I could not answer this one. I was torn between saying yes and no.
      He laughed at my confusion, and said, almost to himself, "I take it as yes." Then he scooped me up and walked upstairs while supporting my body. I know that I was not that light with all my kimono attributes, but he seemed to do it easily. Everybody was looking as we approached the temple, making me feel even more uneasy in process. I leaned my head toward Ryo's ear, whispering, "You can put me down here. My ankle doesn't hurt anymore."
      He gave me a surprised look, then mumbled seriously, "No, you couldn't walk, so I have to carry you there. I'm afraid your injury will be pretty serious if you force yourself to walk."
      "That's why I said we should stop here! I don't want to pray anymore!!" I said, almost losing my control. I really could not stand the looks other people wore in their faces. Some seemed amused, the others were annoyed. I did not like both of them. That was why I asked him to stop.
      Ryo only stared at me dumbly, then told me, "But we're here already and I'm just about to put you down. Well?"
      I laughed sheepishly and slipped down from Ryo's strong arms. I really could not concentrate on my prayer. My mind kept going back to Ryo every time I prayed, about him and the gang.
      Kami-sama... forgive me, for I can't concentrate now... I promise I'll make up for it next year...
      I heard a faint chuckle beside me and opened an eye. "What?!" I glared at him.
      "Nothing," answered Ryo. Obviously he was hiding something from me. "Really..."
      "Just tell me..."
      He acted as if he was thinking very hard, then said in an amused voice, "I think you're not praying."
      I blushed at his very comment, feeling guilty, while he continued laughing. Why he was suddenly like that? He acted different from what he would normally. Well, he was still being cheerful, but it felt different. He seemed more open and relaxed, somehow... especially after I refused his confession a year ago.
      "Anyway," he cleared his throat, trying to gain back my attention, "let's do a lucky draw from that tree over there." He pointed to a tree where paper with some fortune matters written on it were tied on the branches. I untied a piece of paper and unfolded it carefully. Lucky. I was going to have a lucky year. I lifted my eyes and saw Ryo's grim face. He held the paper in front of his face, staring at it quietly. I was curious, so I took a peek at his paper. What was written there made me almost laugh. I tried to contain my laughter my best. He was going to be very unlucky this year. And he really took it seriously.
      "Come on..." I tugged on his jacket, giggling softly, "It's only a paper anyway... don't take it seriously."
      "But I'm unlucky!!" He wailed his protest and made me jump in the process. I really could not hold my laughter anymore.
      "Ryo, I really don't expect you to be believing in such a thing!" I said between my laughter.
      He could only grin sheepishly at my remark. "Ehehe... that's what my mother used to tell me when I was very little, anyway. We always went to the temple every new year and we were having a good time..." he said, smiling wistfully.
      I stopped laughing all of sudden, looking at him squarely. "Your mother?" I repeated his words. Then I realized that he really seldom talked about his family.
      "Yes, She was really pretty with these blue crystal eyes and black, long hair..." he said, pointing at himself.
      I gave him a lopsided smile and nudged him on his ribs, "She must be exactly like you... beautiful."
      He scratched his head and grinned sheepishly, clearly embarrassed by my remark. "Aa... we even had nicknames for each other..."
      "Huh?" I frowned at this.
      "I called her Mama-chama and she Ryo-chama to me." He rubbed his nose, continuing his monologue. "We always pretended that Mama was a princess and I was the prince. We..."
      My laughter exploded at that point. Ryo, playing rescue-the-princess-game with her mother? I really could not imagine his childhood. I could not imagine him with wooden sword, running around the house to rescue his princess mother. And what was that about Mama-chama and Ryo-chama ? Oh, he was just so CUTE!!
      "Hey, stop laughing!!" Ryo whispered from behind his teeth, "Everybody is looking!!"
      "I will, but I don't know how..." was my reply.
      "Cut it out, Nasuti..." Ryo warned me impatiently. "Just stop."
      I wiped away a rolling tear, then told him, "Then show me how!!"
      What I did not expect was the fact that Ryo would kiss me in public. I never thought he dare to do that. He lowered his face and captured my lips in his before I could think of anything. I was thinking of slapping him, but the thought was gone as he deepened our kiss. The only thing I know was a collective gasps from other people around us, but I did not know what was happening next when Ryo held my head and kneaded the back of my neck with his expert fingers. He tasted like honey, candies and mochi, mixed into one. He made my head go around every time he dropped tiny kisses on my lips, taking his time to explore mine.
      I was still stunned from the kiss when he withdrew from me and laughed mischievously. He dropped a light kiss on my cheek he said to me, "There. I've stopped you already. Who said I couldn't do it? Never ever underestimate Ryo-chama. Understand?"
      I could only nod as an answer. I could still taste him in my mouth as I looked deeply into his eyes, wanting for more. So I closed my eyes, raising my chin, waiting for him doing the miraculous work over me again. I did not care anymore about other people. I could hear his laughter, rumbling inside his throat as his lips approached mine.
      "Hooooiiiii!! NASUTIIII!! RYOOO!!"
      We snapped our heads up and knocked each other's head in the process. I rubbed my head and looked around as Ryo stared in horror at one point of direction.
      "What's wrong?" I asked him. I turned my head and saw them. All three of them, shouting on top of their lungs, looking for us. Shu was too busy stuffing his mouth with his food; that was why he did not shout as well. It seemed that they did not see us kissing, but they were really embarrassing! Looking for us THAT way!!
      At last Seiji spotted us and called out, "Oooiii!! Where have the two of you been? We've been looking for you guys all over the place !"
      Shin ran toward us and said his apology for leaving me behind while Ryo was pretending to be angry with him. Touma was behind Seiji, waving frantically that he almost knocked down a passer by.
      Che, I wonder why they had to be here. I was having a good time 'til they came!


      Yeah... that's the end of my new year outing... not particularly cool, huh? I don't know why, but the kiss started to make me think about our relationship. He was really kind to me... and I often took it for granted.
      Well, I admit that he is like a brother to me, but I think it's more than that. There is something going on between us.
      And I think he's more mature than other people at his age, so his age was not a problem, actually. And he could understand me better than anyone else. He understands my dreams, my loneliness... everything. I felt more comfortable talking to him than to anyone else.
      I think... I have to admit it.
      I love him, too... as a man, not as a friend or brother.
      I love Ryo-chama.

      "I loovveee... Ryoooo-chamaa..."
      Touma was reading the contents of Nasuti's diary while she was finishing the last line. Nasuti closed the book shut as she finally realized that someone was beside her all the time. She whirled around and was faced by Touma's sheepish grin. She really could not say a word. She did not know whether she had to be angry or crying.
      "Hello," Touma chirped, waving a hand in front of Nasuti's face. "I just came in to return your book when I suddenly saw you writing something and got curious. So I took a little peek... hehe."
      "Touma," Nasuti said, cursing under her breath, "have you ever heard about the word 'privacy'?"
      He cupped his palm around his ear and said, "Oh, what's that? Maybe you could explain it to me?"
      Nasuti curled her fist, all ready to strike Touma on the head. "Touma..." she said with a trembling voice, "you..."
      "Oops!" Touma said, giggling to himself. "Anyway, I'll borrow this for a while. This would be a very interesting story for the guys... hehehe..." He reached for the diary and snatched it away before Nasuti could do a thing. The next thing happened was Nasuti chasing Touma around, cursing him with every language she knew. Touma was obviously waiting for the other guys to come out before he announced his big news. By the time Nasuti almost got a grip on her diary, he shouted the words on top of his lungs, making sure that everyone in the world would hear them.
      "Nasuti is in love with RYO-CHAMAAAA!!"
      Nasuti covered her ears with her hands, shouting back at him. "TOUMAAAA!!"
      And the chase was on again.

      Okay, this was the sequel of Ryo's story 'The Older Woman', hope you like it!! Make sure you read the other one before you read this one!! This one is also related to Crystal Blue, but it is optional whether you want to read it or not. You'll still understand the story anyway, if you haven't read that one. Anyway, tell me what you think of this one. Is that better or worse that the prequel? I'm waiting for your emails... ^_^

      Notes on the Japanese words :

      obi : the sash that is tied around the kimono
      -chama : a corruption form of -sama. Means Mr. or can be Lord in some cases.
      Arigatou : Thank You.
      Gomen : sorry
      mochi : Japanese traditional new year's food
      Kami-sama : God
      There is a tradition in Japan to tie lots of pieces of paper with fortune telling written on them on the branches of a tree, so the people could untie them and see whether they would have a lucky year or not.
      Okay, that's it for today and happy reading!! ^_^

      Thanks to Sensei Ita-chama for her wonderful ideas... although I haven't used one in this story, but they did lead me to other ideas... ehehehehe *grinning happily* Arigatou!! Sensei emang sugoi!! (Sensei is really great!) *grin*