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Title - Unintended: A Tale of Clumsy Matchmaking and the Value of Custom Boots
Rating - T/PG-13

Chapter 4 – Show

“They’ve gone too far this time.”

As Kurogane predicted, the Royal Council of Advisors was displeased that the prince had elected to spend so much of his time watching the sparring at the tournament the previous month. The fact that he’d also gone to the only event where all the female competitors were more than half naked seemed to have been lost completely – along with any acknowledgement of the nobleman’s daughter.

Punishment came in the form of the next event. On schedule, one month after the tournament, was a fashion show. Yes, that’s right, a complete afternoon dedicated to frills and finery.

Kurogane growled at no one in particular. If a kid with strange, beady little eyes looked over at him with something akin to fear before grabbing his younger brother’s hand (they were practically twins, same creepy eyes and everything) and scampering off… Well, it was part of his job to look intimidating.

According to the Council, the event was tailored to help the prince met the maximum number of girls. He was to sit in a private box and watch as the participants showed off the work of the local seamsmiths, cobblers, milliners, and a select few haberdashers (there for the sake of balance and not, as the Council put it, to encourage the Prince to ogle the boys.) When a girl caught his eye, Kurogane was supposed to mark down the girl’s entry number so the prince could talk to her after her part in the show was finished.

This, of course, would not happen. The kid would spend half the time averting his gaze and the other half blushing hard enough to resemble a beet. When the Council found out, as they inevitably would, there would be hell to pay – though what could be worse than an idiotic fashion show was a mystery.

The only alternative was to spend the entirety of the event down on the same level as the rest of the participants. Maybe they’d run into someone the kid already knew – that would make things much easier. Kurogane had no desire to spend the whole afternoon actually watching the damn show.

Another of the prince’s bodyguards, Souma, had helped with the planning for this escapade in that she’d managed to round up a body double for the prince. The kid looked nothing like him. The boy did, however, look exactly like the cook who made those delicious dumplings a few months back. It worked well enough just the same. Girls pointed and giggled in the direction of the private box with the princely silhouette.

They hadn’t been there 5 minutes when a girl with long black hair passed them carrying a large suitcase. A short while later, the girl was passing them again going back the way she’d come – this time, minus the case. Syaoran was just milling around, unsure of the best course of action when the girl passed them again with another case.

The next time she came back, Syaoran called out to ask if she could use some help. The girl was thankful for the assistance and as the three worked their way back to her cart, she explained that she was one of the designers for the event and that she planned to document her debut with photographs if she could manage to find a model suitable enough. Her cases contained her fabric creations and all her photography equipment.

Kurogane ended up carrying the camera itself due to its size and weight. He’d seen a picture machine before, but never so close up.

After about fifteen minutes, the girl had all her equipment in place and ready for use. The timing worked out well for her because the day’s main feature was just getting started. The surprising thing was that she didn’t immediately begin taking pictures. The special plates that had to be used in the device were hard to come by she said and she couldn’t afford to waste them if the picture wasn’t going to turn out correctly. And so, while she waited for the perfect model to present itself among the girls on stage, she showed the prince how the camera worked.

Kurogane wasn’t terribly interested. That it did what it did was enough knowledge for him. He had no desire to use one or to have his own picture taken, so there wasn’t much use in paying attention as the girl spoke.

The boy announcing the event was using an odd device that amplified his voice so that he could speak at a normal volume and still be heard above the din of the crowd. Unlike the photography equipment, this machine was something Kurogane had not seen before. He took a minute to listen.

“Speaking of fashion history, even in the past, clothing was more than just a means for modesty and warmth. Did you know that primitive peoples first wore simple one-piece robes? They believed these garments warded off evil spirits. And that is the true origin of the word wardrobe.”

On the stage, a flat chested young woman with blond hair showed off a slightly boyish style of common wear while constantly being harassed by a small, pudgy, winged, childlike…thing flying around the model’s head. And why not? If that annoying marshmallow could exist, why not flying devil babies?

Next up was a pair displaying his and hers eveningwear. The “woman” was equally as flat chested as the last model but Kurogane was pretty sure that was due to the fact that this one really was a boy. From the scowl on his face, he had obviously been forced into the poufy monstrosity of a dress he was wearing. The thing was twice as wide as the boy was himself. He had to hold his hand noticeably away from his body in order to accept the assistance of his partner.

The other guy (whom Kurogane recognized as the young man who’d filled a report with the guard about a missing sister) seemed to be getting a kick out of his companion’s discomfort, though honestly, his clothes left some room for improvement too. He wore a military style jacket with polished gold buttons over a laced white shirt, which was all very well and fine, but also tight pants and boots up past his knees – merchant class fashion. That barely had time to grate on Kurogane’s nerves when, thankfully, he was distracted by a somewhat familiar voice yelling a somewhat familiar pair of words.

The yell came from the direction of the dressing tents. It was followed by several pieces of fabric being toss out of the third tent from the left, which was guarded by a pair of women in a new style of swimsuit, a suit that was in two pieces to show off an indecent amount of skin. Likely, the designer of their clothing was working on a new creation and didn’t want her ideas stolen. The royal military engineers were like that whenever they were working on improvements to the King’s siege machines.

The show dragged on and Kurogane found his mind wandering. It wasn’t that he was letting his guard down; he continued with his visual observations but his thoughts drifted, first to what training he had planned for himself the next day, next to what he would teach the prince, then, unexpectedly, he thought of that guy.

Why was he thinking of him?

It must be because, if previous trends held, he would show up right about now with some bold proclamation that was sure to be annoying beyond belief.

Yes, that was the only reason.

It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that the guy had been surprisingly skilled in battle, or how he managed to ignore obvious injuries, or that despite how much of a fool he made himself out to be, he was obviously much more calculating. Despite all the focus placed on attire on this day, it certainly couldn’t have anything to do with the way that the guy made the ridiculous merchant class fashions seem…not so ridiculous.

This time, it was not that annoying father that broke the serenity of the moment, it was the photographer girl. Halfway through the day’s main event, she let out a horrible squeal of delight and bolted away at high speed. It was the kind of sound Kurogane had been expecting from masses of girls at the sight of the prince until he realized that no one seemed to recognize the kid when he wasn’t dressed like royalty.

It only took a moment to see what she was running toward. That guy! Or, more specifically, he corrected a split second later, his daughter, complete with the pork bun on her shoulder. Either way, upon reaching the father-daughter pair, the photographer clasped the other girl’s hands in her own and even from Kurogane’s safe distance, he could see that she was positively gushing over the now bewildered girl. After a few minutes, the fawned over girl looked up at her father who merely nodded and then the photographer was dragging her new subject along toward her equipment.

“Oh, Kuro-med. I didn’t see you there.” The mutilation of his name was just as horrible as all the others but there was a lack of enthusiasm behind it. Instead of indulging his curiosity at the oddity, Kurogane left it alone and thanked his good luck that the lanky man didn’t seem to be his usual overly chipper, annoying as hell self.

The man’s left hand was wrapped in neat, overlapping strips of bandages. He’d obviously been to the healer as instructed. Kurogane was honor bound now to forgive the man’s actions at the spar. He sighed. Nothing good came from holding onto grudges anyway.

Not feeling obligated to verbally acknowledge his forgiveness, he kept his eyes averted from the man’s hand and pretended he hadn’t noticed. Instead, he merely slid to the left end of the bench he’d been sitting on and allowed the nobleman a seat next to him in the shade.

For once, the other man wasn’t feeling chatty, so they sat in a comfortable silence and watched as the man’s daughter was bustled in and out of a small, round dressing tent. Each time she came out, she was wearing a more ridiculous costume than the last, though somewhere in the deep recesses of his mind, Kurogane had to admit that the outfits did have a certain quality to them that suited the girl. He refused to acknowledge that trait as ‘cute.’

“Those two seem to be getting along well.”

“I’m glad Sakura has made another friend. And a fellow girl this time too. Girls her age should have a friend of the same gender.”

“What does gender matter?”

“Oh, nothing in and of itself. It’s just that boys and girl have different ways of seeing the world sometimes. Their brains work differently. And I want her to have a broad support system.”

“You make it sound as though she’s going to need one soon.”

“You never know what’s going to happen. She could wake up tomorrow to find me gone.”

“You’re a bit morbid today.”

“Ah, that wasn’t how I meant that.” Unsatisfied with the way the conversation was going, the nobleman took the opportunity to point out how the prince was being pushed into taking a picture while the designer directed Sakura in how to position her body for the proper pose. “Syaoran-kun certainly is amusing to watch as well.”

His deflection didn’t fool Kurogane. He grunted his agreement at the statement – now the photographer was insisting that the kid tell the girl just how wonderful she looked in the latest outfit and he was having problems getting the words out – and returned the talk to where it belonged. “How did you mean the comment then?”

The guy ignored him, fixed his eyes on the kids, but looked through them. This level of seriousness…he’d never seen it from this guy before but suddenly, Kurogane understood. This moroseness wasn’t unusual, wasn’t strange at all for this man. Just like he’d tried to hide his broken hand with a glove, it was what he hid with those ridiculous grins. Though Kurogane hadn’t thought it possible, his loathing for the fake smiles grew.

“Hiding your problems doesn’t make them go away.”

That got his attention. The man looked back at him, studied his face a moment, but couldn’t hold his gaze. He dropped his head. “Kurogane is very wise.”

Only this man could make him grit his teeth at his own name being properly pronounced.

“If only Sakura-chan’s parents were still alive…”

Kurogane gave a start, realizing he’d made some bad assumptions. Thinking about it now, the girl did look a bit old to be his biological daughter. It didn’t matter. The way he watched after her, he obviously thought of her as family.

“She still has you.”

“I should go check on Sakura-chan.” His voice was flat, as though what he’d said instead was ‘for now.’ The guy stood and took off in that direction without another word.

“Hey!” He grabbed the man’s arm before he got too far away. “Don’t go doing anything stupid. ” With a man like this, a man who would allow himself to be injured for no good reason, a command wasn’t good enough. “That girl needs you.”

The guy covered his face with a grin that couldn’t penetrate his eyes. “Ah, Kuro-keen, you don’t need to worry. You know me!”

They’d only met a couple of months ago, but… “Idiot. That’s what has me worried.”

The smile faltered an instant before it was renewed with increased determination. The sight caused Kurogane’s fists to clench.

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Proceed to Chapter 5.


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