The temple bell started ringing.
“Oh, it seems the New Year has begun. King, Kusanagi-san, Happy New Year!”
“I see. Then it’s the countdown till this year ends, right?” With this, Totsuka strained his hears listening to the bell.
“Stop thinking stupid things”.
“That dangerous thing can only be an evil omen, no matter how you slice it. …Ah, Mikoto? I’d like to give you a little piece of advice, just to be on the safe side - don’t get weird ideas, OK?” Kusanagi said turning his head to look over his shoulder.
Mikoto remained silent, which was nothing new, still gazing in the direction of the shrine, so it was unclear whether he heard Kusanagi’s warning at all.
“…Huh? Say, isn’t the bell they’re ringing supposed to be in the shrine…?”
“Is there another temple somewhere near?”
“Hm… Ah, then why don’t we go visit it, too?”
Ignoring the sullen look on Totsuka’s face, Kusanagi extended his index and middle fingers with a crispy new 10,000 yen bill held between them. “We lost a lot of money this year, so I gotta have the gods charge me with fighting spirit for the next year. For prosperity in business and luck with money I will bow my head as many times as needed”.
“Donation is precisely what I’m gonna use it for. You gotta make your resolve known to the gods, and a Fukuzawa Yukichi**** is great for that”.
“Stop spewing nonesense. Letting brats who only eat, get in fights and sleep have a Fukuzawa is way too generous”.
“It’s precisely because donating is about feelings that I gotta give this much. Didn’t I tell you already? I really need gods to fill me with fighting spirit for the next year cause I couldn’t stop cold sweat from pouring when I was trying to strike the end-of-year balance in my account book…” Kusanagi said with utmost seriousness, his eyes glinting sharply. From that dangerous glint, one might think that he was about to raid a yakuza’s office rather than offer a prayer.
Flabbergasted, Totsuka shook his head. “Well, do as you please if you’re such a rich man, Kusanagi-san”.
“You mean Anna?”
“Ah”, Totsuka gave a wry grin.
Kusanagi’s expression turned progressively sourer as he seemingly recalled something. “Since the clientele in the bar turned bad, all the good customers started to avoid my establishment like a plague, and when I ask the brats to help me, they always end up breaking glasses and stuff left and right; add to that the ever growing food expenses… ah, I just can’t take it anymore, seriously”.
Totsuka’s wry grin became more bitter as he listened to how fed up with the situation Kusanagi was. Every complaint was true. The bar HOMRA had become the gathering spot for team 'Homura’. Young hotblooded guys who gathered under the Red King, Suoh Mikoto, hung out there around the clock. Moreover, they didn’t really drink alcoholic drinks and didn’t order food all that much. There were proper paying customers among them, but most of them were not, only showing up at the bar to hang out. To make things worse, they were always very loud when they gathered, unwittingly chasing away other customers. To Kusanagi, the bar’s owner and bartender, it was a really sore issue. Except, even though he complained, the first one to come out of his way to help was also none other than said Kusanagi. When a member didn’t turn up, at first he would feel relieved, but before long relief would be replaced with worry, because basically, he was a good person.
“Well, still, we had a promising new addition this year, right?”
“No, no, I don’t mean Anna. I’m talking about Yata and Fushimi”.
“Kusanagi-san, it was mean of you. He wanted to come with us so badly, so you should have just let him”.
“We could’ve just let King stay then”.
“Ahaha, can’t argue with that. Well, I hope he won’t be bored back at the bar - he has Fushimi and Kamamoto with him after all. It would be great if they let Anna to stay up late tonight, though”.
Kusanagi had closed the bar before going, but there were still a few members of Homura left inside, all because Yata suggested they gather there and enter the new year all together.
It hadn’t been long since Yata joined Homura, but he was well on his way to becoming the leading figure of the younger part of Homura. He was younger than the most, and his brazen speech and conduct also stood out. However, the complete lack of hidden agenda and, most of all, his clear adoration to Suoh that was evident even to outsiders, quickly won him the trust of those who also adored Suoh as their 'king’. Their respect extended to the point that even Kamamoto, the next senior member after Kusanagi and Totsuka, addressed him as 'Yata-san’, attaching the polite 'san’ to his name.
“Yata will be OK, but I’m not so sure about Fushimi. I’m afraid he’s sitting alone in some corner again, playing with his PDA right about now”.
“You shouldn’t put it that way. I don’t 'tame’ them, I just try to get along with everyone, is all. And actually, I think that I’m doing pretty good even with Fushimi”. Totsuka smiled uneasily at Kusanagi’s remark. Then his face suddenly became serious, “Say, Kusanagi-san… about Yata and Fushimi… what do you really think of them?”
“…One can retire from being a clansman?”
“So you consider promising not only Yata but Fushimi as well?”
“Fairly? Fushimi can do that?” Totsuka asked with doubt, making Kusanagi break into a grin.
“…I must say that I’m surprised. I didn’t know you were of such a high opinion about Fushimi”.
“Geh. And you get influenced by the brats way too easily. I don’t mind you hanging around with them, but take your position more seriously and train them properly, would ya”.
“Oh really? Then why do I have this feeling that I’m the only one to get the short end of the stick all the time?” Kusanagi didn’t feel like joking, continuing his ceaseless complaints.
“…Right. It’d be easier on me, too, then”, Kusanagi added with a mean expression appearing on his face again.
True indeed, Totsuka thought as he nodded. Upon reflection, in the beginning they themselves were nothing more than misfits who had nothing to do with each other. But then, they came to gather under their king, Suoh Mikoto and were able to form a functioning team, giving birth to the wonderous 'bonds’. He prayed for those bonds to last for a long, long time and bring their own personal brand of happiness to each of them. But of course, this was not going to be easy.
Totsuka grinned broadly and said in a joking manner, “Kusanagi-san, speaking of, how about we have King train Fushimi personally? For example, they could go to karaoke, just the two of them”.
“The atmosphere in the karaoke room will be incredibly tense, I bet. I wonder which one of them will give up first and take the mike? Or maybe they both will just sit in silence for hours, eh?”
“Even Kamamoto’s iron stomach might not be able to take that”.
Suoh didn’t reply. As both Kusanagi and Totsuka turned to look over their shoulders, their eyes widened in pure wonder.
“Wow! King’s surprisingly skilled, huh!”
“He’s so dignified. It’s such a shame I don’t have the camera with me”.
“Yeah. And we’ve crossed from one year to the next doing something rather stupid”.
Then, Totsuka beamed cheerfully at the other two. “Well, here I go again. King, Kusanagi-san, Happy New Year! I’m looking forward to spending another year with you!