The boys were playing in the garden outside.
Akito was sitting in her bedroom, a book in her hands though she had not turned a single page since a few minutes ago. They were so noisy that she kept getting distracted, losing her attention on the poetry lines she was trying to understand.
Giving up, she closed the book and looked outside the window, observing them from the second floor.
She could see Shigure, Hatori, Ayame, Kureno, and Ritsu – the five Juunishi boys that were older than her. It was unusual for Ritsu to be there, for he was usually too shy and nervous to interact with anyone, even during the banquets. Perhaps his parents had some business matters to discuss with her father, so he got stuck here having nothing else to do in the main compound.
The other four boys, on the other hand, hung out here all the time. Especially Shigure, who often spent whole afternoons just reading by himself on the engawa downstairs. Sometimes Ayame and Hatori came along and they would chat all day. Other times Kureno would join them, and they would be off playing some games in the garden area.
Akito liked having her Juunishi close by, but how she wished they were here to see her. Her father said they all loved her, but often she felt like it wasn’t the case. Mainly she was most disappointed with Shigure, who had recently admitted to loving her the most and always thinking of her. It had left a deep impression on her but maybe she thought too highly of him. Clearly, she was far from his mind right now.
From what she could see and overhear, they seemed to have some kind of disagreement. Because there were five of them, they couldn’t decide on how to divide the teams equally. Ritsu kept apologising, hence the loud noises. To her surprise the other opposing voice belonged to Kureno.
“No, no, Ricchan, you should play. I don’t mind to just watch. You all go ahead,” said Kureno.
“But I’m the one who came here unannounced when you guys already have a plan. I’m so so so sorry. I apologise from the bottom of my heart and I will not disturb your games. Please, you all go ahead.”
“Shigure and Ayame are good at this. Three versus two should be fair enough since they insisted to always be in the same team,” Hatori argued.
“Of course, Tori. Me and Gure cannot be separated. Our hearts won’t be able to stand it,” Ayame flipped his long hair flirtatiously, winking at Shigure.
“Yes, that’s right, my dear Aaya. It would be a tragedy if we are situated at opposing party. We belong together, and nothing shall separate our love,” Shigure played along, exaggerating his sadness and laughing loudly a second after.
Watching Shigure and Ayame’s interaction made something boil within Akito.
Shigure was so irritating. First he claimed to love her when he always ignored her. And then he declared the same love to Ayame? So Shigure was the kind of person who threw pretty words carelessly. He probably laughed too after he left that day. Akito had been so stupid to actually believe he was sincere when he gave the flower and kissed her cheek.
She looked at the said flower replanted prettily on a vase in her room. She felt like throwing it out of the window, aiming at the dog’s head.
But she had another idea.
She left her room and walked towards them, startling them all when she suddenly appeared and grabbed Kureno’s arms. “I’ll join and be on Kureno’s team. We can be three teams of two.”
She was determined to make the smug dog feel as humiliated as she currently felt. Even if it’s just by beating him at a stupid game.
Shigure was very surprised to see her here suddenly. Wasn’t she just in her room only a minute ago? He thought he saw her by her window earlier.
He came here all the time and before this only once had Akito ever got out to interact with him. That was to ask him how he felt towards her. And now she just casually strolled into their game, just because she didn’t want to let Kureno get left behind?
“Are you sure you can play outside, Akito-san? The weather is quite hot today. What if you get sick?” Kureno asked, concern in his voice.
Which of course she’d take wrongly. “I can do whatever I want, Kureno. I’m not a child. Is it that you don’t want to team up with me?” She asked petulantly.
Kureno smiled. “Of course I want to be with you.”
Shigure looked at them and their still linked arms with a scowl. Something didn’t sit right in his chest and he recognised what it was.
For the first time he understood what jealousy felt like. He used to think it was a stupid petty feeling. Jealousy was what Ren felt towards her own daughter, pathetically competing over Akira’s affection. It was a strange feeling, to relate to somebody so pitiful like that.
But he also knew he was a possessive person. From the very beginning he wanted Akito for himself. Thankfully none of the other Juunishi seemed to be attracted to Akito the way he did, but was he mistaken? Did the rooster boy who always followed him around actually managed to captivate her attention too?
Ayame cocked a questioning look towards Shigure, probably expecting him to have a say about the current arrangement of teams. But Shigure refused to let his feeling show in his face.
So they played, two versus two versus two in something like a paintball à la battle royale but using water gun with dyed water as ammunition. Hatori explained the rules very briefly. “Basically if you get shot, you die, and you return to the main house. In the first two minutes everyone could go and find their hiding spots, no shootings allowed. After that, let all hell break loose until there is the last team standing.”
The area was big but there weren’t many good hiding places. There were a lot of big trees and bushes though, so the smaller kids like Ritsu and Akito could have advantage. But the Red Team, that was Ayame and Shigure, they were nimble and barbaric. They didn’t bother with hiding, just shooting all over the place at every suspicious direction.
Five minutes in, Hatori of Blue Team was unexpectedly the first to die. He jumped from under a thick bush to take Ayame down from the back, but not only did he miss, Shigure suddenly appeared on his right side and shot him square on his shoulder.
“A thousand years too early to kill off my darling Aaya, oh dear Haa-san,” Shigure chuckled, blowing a kiss to Ayame.
“Thank you, my shining knight Gure!”
The Dragon didn’t look too pissed to die so fast, but he grumbled over his now red streaked shirt. Ayame dramatically hugged him, “My heart hurts to know you tried to kill me, Tori. But it hurts even more to find you dead. Now please rest in peace at the main house!”
Just as he let Hatori go, a green water shot flew in between their bodies, startling all three boys.
Shigure immediately hid himself into the bushes, while Ayame jumped around to avoid further strikes. Hatori sighed and left, muttering a “Good luck, Ritsu” quietly. The war continued!
There were no more green shots fired after that. Shigure didn’t know whether that was Kureno or Akito, but whoever it was they were careful. He clicked his tongue. No matter what, the Green Team couldn’t win. He’d shoot them himself if he could.
Separated from Ayame now, for a few minutes he could only hear rustles in the bushes but no sight of anyone. “Oi! This is paintball, not hide and seek. Don’t be cowards, you guys,” Shigure yelled.
Silence greeted him until he heard Kureno yelped.
He found the Rooster boy laid on the ground, covered in red. Ayame was nowhere in sight, though.
“Were you the one who shot me, Gure-nii?” Kureno looked at him, stupefied.
“Huh? No. Must be Aaya. Man he’s good,” he whistled. Shigure felt a bit dissatisfied though. He really wanted to be the one who took Kureno down.
Well, no one said he couldn’t. Just as the boy was getting up, Shigure shot him again across his chest, cackling evilly. “Gure-niii,” Kureno whined, annoyed.
“My finger slipped,” Shigure said, zero remorse in his face.
Kureno tsk-ed and walked towards the main house, joining whoever had died too.
Shigure grinned. Things were looking good for the Red Team. But his enemies were now the ones he never faced before. He thought that Akito might be the type who waited and sniped when her target was in the vicinity. The earlier green shot must be from her then. While Ritsu was a quick little monkey, though a bit cowardly. He might be doing the same thing, but he’d keep moving to avoid getting caught.
He reloaded his water gun and began moving through bushes to bushes, utilising his canine speed and agility. Then he caught a distinct smell he’d recognise anywhere. Her sweet addictive scent.
All is fair in love and war, right?
It wasn’t long until he found her sitting on a branch of a medium height tree, nearby to Hatori’s murder site. So he had guessed correctly.
How she got up there, Shigure didn’t know. Perhaps Kureno lifted her up? It wasn’t an idea he liked to imagine. For a moment he just observed her from his hiding place. She looked so cute all serious and determined like that, scouting her surroundings with the water gun in her hand. Shigure had to think how to best kill her. If he suddenly shot her, she might get startled and ended up falling off the branch. The last thing he wanted was to cause her literal injury.
Shigure treaded carefully, slowly approaching the base of her tree. She hadn’t noticed him yet.
His plan would be to shoot her, run right under, and catch her in case she falls. Shoot–run–catch, shouldn’t be too difficult. He just needed to be a little bit closer to be secure, but down there he would be truly in plain sight, no cover at all.
Well Shigure was a risk taker. Damn how he wished Ayame was here to do the shooting.
Counting down from three in his heart, Shigure leaped and pulled the trigger.
As if happening in slow motion, Akito turned, her eyes wide open as she noted his sudden movement. The red water splash missed the target as she dodged in reflex, but her balance wavered as Shigure had predicted.
In instant Shigure dropped his water gun to catch her with both hands, all thoughts of the game disappeared as his priority was her safety. Seconds later she was safe in his arms, and they both breathed out in relief.
Akito however, repaid his heroic action by shooting right at his back, making him exclaim in surprise, almost dropping her in the process.
“Hah, I did it! I killed you!” She said in triumph, smiling brilliantly at her own victim. Shigure couldn’t even muster a fake disappointment. Seeing her safe in his embrace already made his own heart swell, and with her beaming like that he couldn't help smiling back, indulging her in her victory. She really should have joined along playing with them since long ago. Akito didn’t have much of a normal childhood after all. He didn’t know how much he missed seeing genuine joy in her face until right now.
Suddenly both of them were drenched in blue. They had totally forgotten that the game might still be ongoing.
They turned towards the source of the shot and Ritsu hesitantly came out of his hiding, raising his gun in the air. “I believe I’ve won? I’m the last one.”
“Ehhh?” Shigure exclaimed. “But Aaya—?”
Ritsu answered by shooting Shigure with another gun he held in his other hand. It was red.
Kureno walked back towards the main house, his thought was on the girl he left back on the tree branch. Hopefully she remained alright and didn’t get herself fallen. Akito was adamant in staying at that spot, since her physique wasn’t good for running around like the other boys. Kureno had no choice but to oblige.
He was surprised to find Ayame already back in the main house, drinking tea with Hatori. His shirt had green streaks.
“Aya-nii already died? I thought you were the one who shot me?” Kureno frowned.
“Nah, Akito shot me. I was just strolling around, minding my own business, when I got shot from up the tree. She targeted me before too, I think she has vendetta against me or something,” Ayame moaned. “Tori and Akito both want to hurt poor me. What did I do to deserve this misery?”
“Ssh Ayame. ‘He’. With Ritsu around and so many guests in the main house, be careful to not let it slip,” Hatori whispered, correcting him.
Ayame nodded flippantly.
“Wait, then who killed me? Did you leave your water gun there, Aya-nii?” Kureno asked.
“If it isn’t Shigure, then Ritsu must have Ayame’s gun and shot Kureno with it to create confusion. I can’t believe it. That’s actually a great strategy. Shigure will be less careful if he thinks Ayame’s still alive.”
“Shigure, Akito, Ritsu. Red, green, blue. Who do you think will be the victor? Any bets?” Ayame smirked. “My money is on my Gure, obviously.”
“I don’t think Gure-nii has the heart to shoot Akito. So I bet on my teammate,” said Kureno with conviction.
Hatori chuckled. “You’re quite perceptive, Kureno-kun. Yet you remain sticking so close with Akito…”
“Huh?” Kureno wanted to clarify, not understanding the meaning behind Hatori’s words at all. But in that second they heard the voices and approaching footsteps of the remaining kids.
Akito had blue tints on her yukata. Shigure had all three colours on his. Whilst Ritsu was all clean, waving the two guns. Surprisingly, the underdogs were the ones performing well.
They began retelling their conquests stories and their epic kills, and so Kureno’s curiosity went unanswered for now. He looked at Akito who looked thoroughly enjoying this, healthy and uninjured to his relief.
Even if Ritsu wasn’t around next time, Kureno thought it would be wonderful if Akito could join them again.
— The End —