"You are cordially invited to Atobe Keisuke's seventieth birthday gala being held on the thirteenth of June. RSVP no later than the thirty-first of May."
Yukimura turns over the invitation to see if there is anything else on the back, then tucks it back into the thick envelope accompanying the item. He slides the thick stock across the table. The geisha stretches his legs out under the table and rubs at his calves. He watches Sanada drum his fingers over the invitation as he waits for the answer. All he wants right now is the tingling in his legs to cease. He can't exactly be Sanada's guest if he is unable to walk efficiently.
"Before you ask, I don't want to take Kirihara in your place."
"I wasn't going to suggest it."
The man glances at him and he pauses in his motions for a moment as he is looked over.
"You shouldn't be concerned with that still," Sanada says easily, tucking the envelope into his jacket. "That won't happen at this."
"That isn't the point, Sanada-san, and you don't know that."
"Enlighten me then," he presses, ignoring the other half of the statement.
Yukimura sighs. "Maybe some other time," he replies with a smile. There is no use discussing it now and he decides not to bother with arguing against going. "What kimono would you like me to wear?"
Sanada lifts a package and sets it on the table. "This one. It will guarantee that Atobe's son won't think you are part of the entertainment. I don't particularly feel like having you cater to him. He's rather... needy."
"If he is anything close to the rumours I've heard, then I don't want to anyway." Yukimura pulls the twine away from the package and tugs off the plain wrapping. The kimono is gorgeous, as always, a black silk that fades to silver with a blue obi. He runs his hands across the water-like fabric. "Anything else in particular you would like for me to do, Sanada-san?"
"No, but you might find something you are looking for while we are there."
Before Yukimura can ask what that means, Sanada is but a shrinking silhouette in the late-spring sun.
On the night in question, Kirihara ties his obi perfectly as he tucks the jade lotus into his hair. The novice frowns slightly as Yukimura waves away his attempts to help him stand.
"I'll be fine," he says despite the fact he is shaky on his feet.
"There's still time for me to change and go in your place," Kirihara says quickly. "I mean, Sanada-san's cranky and all, but I can handle it."
"It isn't Sanada-san that you would need to worry about. The family hosting the banquet is incredibly prestigious," the geisha says firmly. "Regardless of the circumstances, it has to be me. Besides, I won't have to do much moving except for walking in and leaving."
"Then you're coming back to the apartment, right?"
Yukimura nods. He knows Kirihara isn't convinced, but there isn't much he can do to help the situation. A brief knock on the door comes before Sanada steps into the room. The geisha watches as the man looks them both over. He offers his best smile and moves across the room as quickly as he can manage.
"I'll take over from here," Sanada tells Kirihara as Yukimura passes him. "Thank you."
The novice huffs, but doesn't fight him. He follows the pair out and makes sure the man helps Yukimura into the carriage before going back into the apartment.
"You can stop staring," Yukimura says, trying to mask the annoyance in his voice.
Sanada hums. "You might be able to ignore it, but I cannot. Next Thursday in Tokyo with Yagyuu or you retire to the manor. Your choice."
Yukimura looks away from the window and glares at his danna. "I'm fine."
"Clearly not. Since I have the means to do something about it, I will if you choose that route."
"Is neither an option?"
"You cannot seriously think you can continue to be a geisha in that condition. Your attempts so far are less than desirable."
"May I remind you that Kirihara was an option for this evening? So was your wife."
"I didn't want him and you weren't going to suggest it," Sanada responds nonchalantly. "I invited the top geisha in Gion for a reason, Renge. My wife would have ruined the event and I don't want to deal with that aftermath. However, had I known you were declining so quickly..."
"Sanada-san?" Yukimura asks when a few moments go by without completion of the thought.
The man glances over. "I would have refused the invitation rather than subject anyone to either of them."
Yukimura nods and leans back against the seat. The rest of the ride to the estate on the outskirts of Kyoto is silent except for the wooden wheels against the road. An abundance of lights signal their arrival. He watches the other vehicles unload their passengers in slow succession until it is their turn.
The mansion is expansive and bright, the decorations opulent and overdone. Yukimura thinks it looks distasteful, but he doesn't say anything, smiling demurely and bowing quickly to those people Sanada takes him past. The man leads him to a table near the front. A young novice pours him a cup of sake, her hands shaking. Yukimura wants to offer her a few words of encouragement, but she is gone before he can open his mouth.
"The one in the middle is the elder Atobe. To our right, his wife, and to our left with the geisha, his son, Atobe Keigo," Sanada leans over and whispers. "Keep an eye on him and you'll see what I meant earlier."
A loud snap echoes through the banquet hall. Servants file out and deposit plates in front of them. Geishas stand by to refill drinks and make quiet conversation. Yukimura's eyes dart around the room, taking in as much as possible. Halfway through dinner, he spots her, talking quietly with the younger Atobe, flashing her wrist at just the right moments. Even with her hair pulled back unnaturally tight and stark make-up, he would recognise his sister anywhere. His hand wraps around Sanada's free wrist tightly, causing his danna to quickly break off a conversation with Yanagi to turn to him.
"Oh," he says lightly. "I see you found what you were looking for."
All this time, his sister has been in his grasp, but practically unreachable. He digs his nails in further. The complete audacity of Sanada and his just knowing everything under the sun.
"Did you know she would be here?" he practically seethes.
"A minor inkling," Sanada says, peeling off the geisha's fingers. "If you'll excuse me."
He watches him walk up to Atobe and his sister. He watches, sees their mouths move, the way she looks away pretending not to listen. It was almost as if... no...
"My apologies, Renge," Yanagi says, putting a hand lightly on the geisha's forearm. "But you weren't the only apprentice my older sister took under her wing."
Yukimura pulls away hastily, moving to stand. A few shaky steps later and Sanada's hand on the small of his back is guiding him into his seat once more.
"I don't advise you to cause a scene here. If you will wait about an hour, you can see Kaede then. I've requested her for later," he says quietly. "Stop looking at me like that. Jealousy doesn't suit you."
"You requested my little sister, Sanada-san."
"For your benefit. You can thank me later when she is safe with you in Gion."
The geisha takes a deep breath. "Fine, I'll wait. ...What?"
"You heard me, now finish eating. We have an appointment in a little less than an hour."