Kawachi knew they shouldn’t have done it. Of course, “injera” didn’t actually sound anything like “ninja” at all, but this was Suwabara and of course that crazy scary sword guy would connect it with something like that. Kawachi saw it coming. He’d warned them—
Okay, actually, he hadn’t. But he’d suspected something! And he’d kept the bread from getting to Kuroyan, at least, so they were saved the reaction of a true food lover. Not that Suwabara didn’t like food, but Kuroyan was a whole ‘nother league.
And anyways, these clothes were kind of cool. Kawachi had just about worked himself into being content with the situation. Okay, so it was freezing cold, but the mountains were quite… barren and snowy but would have been pretty were it summertime, and his hair hadn’t been transfigured into something obscene. In fact, he thought, pirouetting, eyes down to see how the ninja gear clung, he actually looked kind of awesome this time. Except ow, hidden knives not meant to be twirled with. He pulled those out to examine, and also to get them out of his shoes.
He had hidden knives. Seriously, this was cool, he thought, and then someone else’s knife whizzed past his ear.
“What is going on?” Kawachi yelled, and was greeted with what seemed to be someone’s head sticking its way out of the mountainside.
“Kawachi?” The head was hidden underneath a ridiculous (but kind of awesome) huge horned samurai helmet, and as the rest of the person emerged Kawachi could see that this guy was really kind of short, and seemed too small to lug around the heavy armor he seemed to be wearing as easily as he was. Of course, Kawachi thought. “Oh, no! Kawachi?” the person said.
The thrower was – of course it was Azuma. All the misfortune in his life, Kawachi thought, could be traced back to Azuma. Azuma outdid him no matter how hard he tried, Azuma guilt-tripped him with regularity, Azuma was the reason Kawachi had people attempting to possess him using remarkably delicious bread.
“Kawachi!” Azuma was crying as he ran towards him, no really, crying, tears streaming down the cheeks and getting frozen halfway crying. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to, really, I just-”
“Why were you throwing knives at me?” Kawachi asked.
“I’m so sorry!” Azuma was really bawling now. “I didn’t know it was you, and I only did it because Kanmuri said to!”
“What?” Kawachi set his hands on Azuma’s shoulders and glowered down at him with all the intimidation he could muster as a lightly-clothed ninja could towards someone whose helmet was heavy, horned, and in the way of Kawachi’s withering glare. He reconsidered the situation, stepped back, and bent down to look Azuma eye to eye.
“Wait,” said Kawachi, “Kanmuri said to cut my head off? And you tried to?”
“I didn’t know it was you! Kanmuri said Suwabara had to be trying to get a message across with this reaction, and so we were coming up with words that sounded like injera, and Kanmuri said it was probably injure because Suwabara’s a big scary sort of guy, and we didn’t want to hurt Kanmuri or Tsukino or the manager, so Kanmuri said it would probably be the best to just try to hurt the first person that walked by outside. We didn’t know it was you!”
“Wait,” said Kawachi, “You think Suwabara wanted to cut my head off, too?”
“Not your head! It’s a reaction! I don’t think he can control himself. Now come on, let’s get back to the cave to figure out what we’re going to do next.” Azuma sort of wrangled a bit with the armor, but not nearly as much as he ought to have by all rights, and gripped Kawachi’s wrist to drag him back the way he came.
Kawachi thought they should slow down a little bit, because he was still stuck on the part where they thought throwing knives at random walkbys that happened to be him was a good idea. He pulled back.
Azuma turned towards him, and ew, his nose was snotty but he’d just stopped sobbing and it looked like if Kawachi let him sit there he’d just start again. And more snot was a bad idea, because Azuma’s face was already halfway to being an icicle. So Kawachi decided he’d have to say something, and he said: “No. I’m not going back to the cave with you, because you guys obviously don’t think I’m important enough to avoid killing, and because you guys obviously don’t even bother looking for me before making decisions. I’m probably better off on my own.”
And then he ran off, fast, because otherwise he knew Azuma was going to drag him off to the cave anyways. As frustrating as it was, Azuma was pretty athletic.
Kawachi ran and ran, and as he did he thought. He thought mostly about Azuma.
He thought about how he was only working in this pathetically dingy Southern Branch Store because Azuma was, only managed to tie for third in the Pantasia Newcomers’ Battle because Azuma had to take first, only was forced to pull that horribly embarrassing stunt in the Monaco Cup because everyone had already decided to rely on Azuma to procure the actual bread. He thought, also, about how Azuma never seemed to notice. Azuma lived in his own little world, where of course he was the best, of course he could do anything and everyone just had to work around him.
Kawachi remembered the first day he’d met Azuma, at the one-day trial. Azuma hadn’t even cared about Pantasia, not as an end in itself. Even then he’d been dreaming big for years, about Japan, about bringing bread to the greater world. It was enough to give a person an inferiority complex Kirisaki’s weight in bread. It had made Kawachi feel horrible about himself, especially when he had fed Azuma that sob story in order to get him to help with the croissant against Suwabara. Azuma had believed him, and then he’d gone and withdrawn from the test. Stupid, selfless, naïve idiot.
Kawachi stopped running. Azuma was thoughtless, a lot of the time, and insensitive, but he was single-minded with the intensity of a Deebu cry at 300 phon. There was no way he would just watch Kawachi run away from him, then turn back and return to the cave, with Kanmuri and whoever else was there.
Or maybe he would. He was kind of self-centered. And he liked to take bites out of Kawachi on occasion, which demonstrated a stunning lack of care.
But how likely was that? And it was cold, and Azuma had been all drippy, and that couldn’t be good for health purposes. Kawachi kneeled down, rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet, then snapped up and ran back the way he’d come.
He got lost, of course. That was what happened when a person ran around aimlessly for some time: they got lost. And then it started snowing, and Kawachi had no clue how much time had passed. As it happened, he found himself at the cave before finding Azuma. He entered. Chances were Azuma’d be there waiting, roasting something over a fire and chatting merrily with whoever else was there.
But he wasn’t. Instead Kanmuri was there (rich nobleman), and Tsukino (in a very nice kimono), and the manager (samurai as well), and Monica of all people – oh right, Suwabara’s reaction – and Kuroyan, and Sophie, and. Well. A lot of people. But not Azuma.
“Oh,” Kanmuri said. “You’re finally here. That took a while. Is Azuma close behind?”
That was it, Kawachi thought. He opened his mouth to deliver the tongue-lashing of the decade, except that he found himself completely empty of words. Instead he gaped a little like a fish, growled very manfully and not at all like a little boy whimpering, and put forth a great effort towards standing still and regaining his calm before deciding it wasn’t worth it and rushing outside.
“Hello,” said a man who looked rather American and certainly had not been standing outside the mouth of the cave before. “Are you looking for your friend? My name is Kid, and I can help you.” Ordinarily Kawachi would be even a little bit suspicious, but it was cold and he was tired and he couldn’t find Azuma, so he just nodded.
“Then follow me,” the man said, and so Kawachi did, up and down and around the mountain, into a pathway that he totally wouldn’t have seen on his own, through one cave-like passage and back out, all the way to a patch of melted snow not quite frozen into ice yet. Of course, thought Kawachi, Azuma and his hands.
Kid had mysteriously disappeared.
Kawachi was all set to do something cool - kick Azuma in the head and wake him up and save him from the brink of death or something, but Kanmuri interrupted him. What? Kanmuri? Where had he come from?
“We followed you,” Kanmuri said, even though Kawachi didn't think he'd answered out loud. He reached his arm out backwards to point at the mass of people behind. “They’ll be here in a minute – some of the stronger ones are helping the slower runners, so they’re running a bit slower than I am. You didn’t really give us very much notice.” He stopped, waiting as if Kawachi was supposed to provide some sort of explanation here, but hell no Kawachi wasn’t. Kanmuri seemed content enough with this as he picked back right up again after a few seconds pause.
“Kinoshita showed up after Azuma’d gone running off, and it didn’t look like Azuma’d succeeded the first time, so we tried injuring him. Just a little nick, but it didn’t do anything. So we figured we’d gotten the message wrong, and we went on to our second guess, which… wasn’t all that intuitive. And we had to wait for you and Azuma to get back. But it was our only second guess, and so…” Kanmuri’s words were trailing off a little, the words seeming to blur together in a squishy sort of mumble, like Kawachi’s baguettes on a bad day. The rest of the pack seemed to be catching up, and the mountains seemed to be shifting, going from a dull brown-grey to a dirty supply-room concrete, but Kawachi knew this supply room, and this was good, this was the Pantasia Southern Branch Store, this was home.
“We must have found it,” Kanmuri was saying. “I guess it means that now we’re all together.”