There's a first time for everything, whether meeting someone for the first time or experiencing a certain happiness or sadness for the first time. Susato's got her own share of experiences, and of things she's learned.
Susato is six years old when she meets Asougi Kazuma for the first time.
She hides behind her mother’s legs, still unused to the sudden presence of the man who is her father in her everyday life which had, until now, consisted of herself, her mother, and her grandmother. The appearance of a boy is just as startling, and his eyes scare her at first; his gaze seems to pierce outward into the world, far sharper than the katana he clutches to his chest. That edge is at least held safely in its sheath, but the blades in the boy’s eyes feel as though they might cut Susato into ribbons at any moment.
He must notice her fear, because he blinks, and by the time his eyes open once more those blades are sheathed as well. Susato knows that they are still there, just as she knows that the katana in his hands exists behind its cover, but they are no longer pointed outward. His eyes are sad, instead, but this too disturbs Susato’s tiny heart and she buries her face halfway into the fabric of her mother’s hakama.
“Susato, where is your greeting?” her mother asks her.
The boy blinks again, and this time his sadness is covered as well. All there is left in his eyes is... not much. But only at first; as she looks into his eyes, she sees a small spark of something. Susato can’t quite say what it is, but it isn’t anger, or pain, or sadness. Nothing is there that would drive this boy to hurt Susato.
“Hello... my name is, Su... Susato.”
(Once she is older, Susato learns what hope looks like reflected in human eyes.)
Susato is eight years old when she learns of the difference between blood and adopted siblings for the first time.
“He’s not really your brother, your dad found him, right?” her friend tells her when Susato excitedly relays the story of how Kazuma threw a rock at a hawk harassing their chickens and nailed it right in the belly.
“What?” The concept makes no sense to Susato; Kazuma lives with Susato and her parents, he eats meals with Susato and her parents, he sleeps in the same room with Susato and her parents, he wears the clothing that Mother and Father buy for him-
“He’s not actually related to you,” another friend explains. “So, he’s not really your brother. You have to be related to him to be his sister, like me and my sister.”
“But... he doesn’t do anything different than Susato,” she says confusedly. “Why is it different if we’re not related?”
“It just is. If you’re not related with the same parents, then you’re not actually siblings.”
Susato feels confusion, but mostly uncontrollable despair. Kazuma isn’t her brother? How could he not be when he gives her piggy-back rides, and teaches her jujitsu, and buys her candy when their parents aren’t looking? Does he really not love her, then, if they aren’t really siblings?
But maybe that is true. Kazuma once chased her with a handful of worms, and he called her extra-extra stupid when she called him stupid once, and he snapped at her to stop being so annoying when he was reading and she wanted to play with him, and he pushed her when she broke his favorite pencil in half-
Two arms suddenly grab her from behind and hoist her in the air as she shrieks in surprise. Her feet dangling, Susato turns her head to see Kazuma’s grinning face.
“Your mother said that it’s almost time for dinner!” he says. “Your father said that it’s fish!”
Susato stares into Kazuma’s eyes, and sees little twinkles of delight and affection.
(Once she is older, Susato learns that not everything that everyone says is worth listening to.)
Susato is ten years old when she makes a life-changing decision for the first time.
“A judicial assistant?” her mother asks, tilting her head sideways ever so slightly as she usually does when something bewilders her. “Where on earth did you even learn a word like that?”
“From Kazuma!” Susato reports, standing up straight with her hands behind her back just like her brother.
“Put your hands down, Susato, there’s no need to stand like a soldier. Why do you want to become one?”
“Because of Kazuma!”
Her mother looks at her father, and Susato is old enough now to understand that her mother only does that in this way when she doesn’t know how to react.
“Is this because he wants to be a lawyer?” her father asks her.
“Yes! He said he wants to be the best lawyer in all of Japan, and he needs a judicial assistant to do that! So I told him that I would be his assistant!”
She wasn’t exactly sure what to expect as far as reactions from her parents went, but confused silence certainly wasn’t one of them.
“...Susato, you know that-”
“I know that being a girl makes it harder.”
Both of her parents exhale in a way that means “good gracious, what have we created” except they’ve been doing that whenever Kazuma makes resolute statements about his future as well.
“I don’t think it should be harder for me to do it,” Susato says. “I want to change that too. I can’t be a lawyer, so I’ll be a judicial assistant. But Kazuma said he’ll change the legal system so that one day I can be a lawyer too. I have to help him do that, and all of the other things he wants to change.”
“That’s a very big goal,” her father tells her.
“I never doubted that you did,” he says. “I suppose that’s why the two of you have decided to do this.”
(Once she is older, Susato learns that her parents never expected her to be a “normal” girl in any sense of the word.)
Susato is twelve years old when she first meets Asougi Sayaka for the first time.
This is Kazuma’s first mother, the one he is related to by blood. She has tired eyes, a kind smile, and such short hair that Susato has never seen on a woman before. It’s so that maintaining it is easier, her mother explains to her, because Sayaka-sama is sick and has a difficult time doing many things. It may seem odd, but it makes life easier and that is what is the most important right now.
She holds Kazuma tightly when he hugs her, and tells him that he’s grown so big. Susato feels like he hasn’t gotten that big, but Susato has also spent every day of the last six years growing up with Kazuma, so maybe she just hasn’t noticed. To Sayaka-sama, who hasn’t seen Kazuma in at least a year, he must look much taller. He is nineteen now, almost a full adult. Soon, he will enter university, then become a lawyer, then change the whole of the Japanese legal system, and Susato is going to help him every step of the way.
Kazuma says exactly that to his mother. Susato takes the moment to hug her own mother, whom she has also not seen in a whole year.
“Oh, you’ve grown so big too,” her mother laughs. “Too big to carry around now!”
“Mother, I’ve been too big to carry around for quite some time now,” Susato reminds her.
Susato misses her mother dearly, but she thinks of Kazuma and how much longer he’s been away from his mother. About a year ago, Sayaka-sama’s health had suddenly worsened from its already weak state, and Susato’s mother had left the capital city for Shikoku to care for Sayaka-sama. That had certainly blown a variety of whispers and chatter around the neighborhood, the good professor’s wife leaving him with their daughter and an adopted son to travel halfway across the country and care for an ailing widow?
Kazuma likens such talk to the chatterings of birds which could mimic human voices, simply speaking without any understanding of the meaning to the noises they make. Susato never ceases to find the comparison side-achingly hilarious.
“Oh, Susato. It’s so nice to finally meet you. Kazuma says so much about you when he writes to me,” Sayaka-sama tells Susato, who fixes Kazuma with an embarrassed half-glare, half-smile. “I’m thankful that he has such a good sister.”
“I’m glad to have him as my brother,” Susato says, smiling widely and hoping that Sayaka-sama understands that Susato understands why her mother needed to leave home. “When you feel well enough for it, I hope you’ll visit our home in the capital.”
“I’d love to,” Sayaka-sama replies. “Of course.”
(Once she is older, Susato learns why her mother had always asked her if there was any one she liked, rather than any boys .)
Susato is fourteen years old when she acts on a crush for the first time.
Murasame Haori is... well. Very cute! Very sweet! Very kind! Very... everything good!
“You’re in love,” is the incredibly to-the-point response she gets from Kazuma, which is not helpful in the least because Susato already knows that.
“Yes?” Susato says. “I’m not sure how repeating that will help me talk to Haori-sama, though!”
Kazuma fixes her with a look somewhere in between exasperated and hopeless as he wipes down Karuma’s blade with a cloth.
“Why are you asking me how to talk to a girl?” he asks her. “Do I look like someone who speaks to women?”
“You look like someone who probably has a lot of women speaking to him,” Susato points out, and Kazuma snaps his mouth shut with a glare at the statement. “You’re right though, I shouldn’t ask you. You couldn’t possibly handle yourself through a conversation with a girl you liked.”
Susato probably shouldn’t be saying things like that while Kazuma has Karuma’s blade anywhere near his hands, because he definitely fumbles the cloth for a moment before mentally collecting himself.
“I’m not sure whether you’re here to ask for advice or insult me,” he says, finishing his handiwork and resheathing the katana.
“I can do both.”
Susato sighs and looks out the window, watching the strong winds blow the clouds through the sky. Haori is so wonderful, such a sweet girl, Susato’s best friend in the whole world. Is it really a crush to think of her that way? Maybe Susato does simply admire Haori a great deal, as one should with a best friend. But is it really just admiration to think about holding your best friend’s hand, to wonder what kissing her might be like?
No, that’s definitely not just friendship. It does not pay to be silly, Susato, or to ask questions that you already know the answer to.
“I think I’m going to talk to Haori-sama about it,” Susato announces to Kazuma, who is trying his best to seem uninterested in the topic in retaliation for her insulting him earlier, but is clearly failing at concealing his deep investment in the developments of his sister’s crush on her best friend.
Susato is horrendously nervous when she speaks to Haori about it. It doesn’t help when Haori turns red and goes completely wide-eyed silent when Susato finishes her confession, or the fact that the cicadas are screeching up a storm, and it’s starting to get a little too silent and too loud all at once Susato’s comfort. She’s about leave in embarrassment when Haori grabs Susato’s hand and clasps it in both of her own, still silent, but her eyes now wide with a different emotion other than surprise.
“Su-susato chan? You’re being honest?”
“Why would I lie about this?” Susato asks in bewilderment.
“Well, it’s just- it’s surprising to me, that’s all!”
“I know, b-but why would I lie?”
“Oh, I don’t think you would ever lie, Susato-chan!”
And then Haori leans in and kisses her right on the forehead, and Susato goes home in a bit of a daze rubbing the spot as if she had smacked her head. It’s turned red from the friction by the time she passes through the doorway, and her father fusses about the whole thing, mistaking her rubbing as pain.
(Once she is older, Susato learns that her father had hoped his daughter might find a good wife for herself.)
Susato is sixteen years old the when her heart is shattered for the first time.
No amount of crying, of anger, of screaming, of anything at all, will stop the loss from eating at her from inside. It would be no different had she been stabbed in the chest. Her emotions bleed from her the way blood would from a wound. Passing Karuma onto Naruhodou-sama and approving of him taking Kazuma’s place does little to ease the pain. There is no replacing people, and while Naruhodou-sama might be capable of standing in Kazuma’s place for the exchange program, there is nothing that will ever stand in Kazuma’s exact place in Susato’s life.
Her brother is gone.
Had this been how Kazuma had felt when he lost his father?
Naruhodou-sama tries hard not to cry, Susato can tell. She wonders if he and Kazuma had been as close as she and Haori are. What a terrible weight to bear, to be accused of killing your best friend while suffering through the loss of him... and what a terrible thing of Susato to do to suspect Naruhodou-sama despite all of that. It doesn’t matter that she was in a great deal of pain as well, such a reaction is unwarranted.
He rubs his eyes on his sleeve, presses his fingers at the inner corner of his eyes, does a great deal of little things to hide the fact that there are tears threatening to spill. Susato wishes she could tell him to stop trying to hide it, that emotions can’t be contained like that without threatening an explosion from the pressure of it all. She worries what kind of way Naruhodou-sama will explode, because she knows that he will, and when it happens it will be ugly and deeply painful.
He ends up breaking down mid-lesson one day. Puts his head down on his notebook, and simply stops moving. Susato shakes his shoulder and tries to get him back into a normal sitting position by warning him about bad posture and hurting his back, but he lies there as if dead himself.
“Naruhodou-sama, this isn’t funny,” she says, beginning to panic. “Please, just... I think you should rest.”
“I’m resting,” he tells her flatly from the desk.
“I don’t want to rest in the bed. That’s Asougi’s.”
The comment freezes Susato’s heart to the core, and it breaks through all of her defenses at once. Why that comment in particular is the one to bring it down, she doesn’t know, but there is a well of tears in her eyes that overflows instantly and then she’s on the floor, her head braced against the side of the desk from a horrible headache as she cries.
Naruhodou-sama has his own breakdown, sitting at the desk. She can hear him crying too. Then she hears the sound of the wooden chair scraping against the deck, and a heavy thump, and then two arms wrapped around her shoulders. When she opens her eyes, a head of short black hair obscures her field of vision.
“I miss him so much,” Naruhodou-sama sobs into her shoulder. “Susato-san, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I couldn’t do anything.”
“You shouldn’t apologize. Nobody could do anything,” she says, hugging her arms around his chest. His ribs heave from the deep breaths he’s struggling to take. “Please don’t apologize to me.”
“I miss him.”
Susato had been sleeping in the second room of the first-class section, at the crew’s insistence. Perhaps they had felt bad for her, or perhaps they wanted to do something to apologize for what Nikomina had done. Tonight, though, she’s not sure that sleeping separately will be a good idea for herself, or for Naruhodou-sama. With a little difficulty she hoists him upward into a standing position, and leads him toward the bed.
He falls onto it face-first, perpendicular to the bed. Susato sighs in frustration and Naruhodou-sama picks himself up to move into a proper position, before once again letting himself fall face-first into the pillow. Propriety and social expectation would balk at the idea of a young woman and a young man sharing a bed for any reason, but Susato climbs over Naruhodou-sama and lays down on her back next to him, staring up at the ceiling of the room.
“...I don’t think he’s really gone, Susato-san,” Naruhodou-sama says. “I know he’s not here, but... I don’t think he’s gone. He’s still around, somehow.”
That’s the last thing he says before he goes quiet, and his even breathing indicates that he’s fallen asleep.
(Once she is older, Susato learns that a person’s spirit is much more than just their life force.)
Susato is eighteen years old when she has her first near-death experience.
It is not violent, or particularly scary. She is completely unaware of what a precarious situation she is in, soundly asleep while laying in a hospital bed from a sickness which had started like a simple cold, then progressed rapidly into something much more threatening. While she slumbers, she dreams; of streets that look much like those of the capital city, morphing into the streets of London as she walks down the middle of them. There are no carts or carriages or omnibuses in the road, just herself. When she looks down, she is wearing her usual kimono and hakama and boots.
She looks up and sees a face unfamiliar to her, but not one that she has never seen before. A man stands in front of her, taller than her, with a katana at his hip and a white cloth tying his long black hair back.
“Asougi-sama,” she replies, unsure of why his name comes so easily to her when she could hardly recognize Asougi Genshin. “Where am I?”
“A place where someone as young as you should not be,” he says, sadly. He moves to stand next to her and puts his arm out for her to take. She links elbows with him, and they begin to walk down this nameless London street.
“Am I dead, then?” she asks. The last thing she remembers is closing her eyes to the panicked faces of her father and Ryuunosuke.
“No. You are close to it, but not yet. Not as assuredly deceased as I am,” Asougi-sama says.
“You are quite the fighter, from what I know of you. As long as you do not give up, you will survive this.”
“I’m sick,” she tells him. “I’m not sure how I can fight a sickness.”
“I suppose it is difficult to Susato Toss or Susato Throw a disease,” Asougi-sama chuckles. “But keep that same spirit up, Susato-chan. Yuujin would be so sad to see you go.”
They continue to walk together, silently now. Susato glances at the sidewalks and sees little shops lined up much like the ones she had seen during her time in London. She feels an urge to look into the windows, which are fogged up. The text above them is incomprehensible.
“No,” Asougi-sama tells her sternly, pulling her back to his side. When had she started to wander off?
“J-just for a moment,” she says.
“Not even for a moment. A moment is all Death needs, Susato-chan.”
She looks down at the ground instead, to ignore the windows and signs pulling at her attention. One foot in front of the other, Susato, just keep walking. Ignore them.
“Kazuma misses you very much,” Susato begins, hoping to distract herself with a conversation. “And Sayaka-sama, too.”
“I miss them as well,” Asougi-sama replies, and his arm tightens to pull Susato in a little closer. “I am eternally grateful to your parents for helping them when I could not.”
“Is... is there anything you would like for me to tell Kazuma and Sayaka-sama?”
Asougi-sama sighs and seems to ponder the idea for a moment. Susato braves a look up at his face, pulling her line of sight from the ground. He seems troubled, and conflicted.
“The dead should not interact with the living so casually,” he says, finally. “There is a time and a place for that.”
“Isn’t that what we are doing right now? The dead and the living?” she asks.
“This is different. This is the time and place for it. Sayaka and Kazuma are not here, and I pray it stays that way for a very long time.”
“Asougi-sama, I hardly think that my relaying a message is anything like the dead speaking directly to the living.”
Something in the back of Susato’s head prickles for a moment, then turns into a dull, stabbing pain. It’s much like the heaviness she had felt on the Alaclaire the morning after eating the drugged chicken, and Susato grimaces at the familiar unpleasant feeling.
“It’s alright,” Asougi-sama tells her as she leans into him. “Pain is a feeling, and feeling means that you are alive.”
“I... I think I may wake up soon.”
“I meant that I don’t have very much longer to spend here.”
“Susato-chan, you say that as if that is a bad thing.”
“Asougi-sama... you know what I’m talking about.”
Susato stops in place, and Asougi-sama turns around in surprise when she unlinks her arm from his.
“Is there anything you would like for me to tell Kazuma and Sayaka-sama?” she asks again, more firmly this time. She didn’t think that Asougi-sama would be so stubborn, but knowing her brother, this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Asougi-sama blinks once, then smiles.
“Tell Kazuma that I’m proud of him. Tell Sayaka that I’m happy she is happy. And tell them both that I love them very much.”
“I will,” Susato replies, and when the stabbing pain in her head grows stronger and her eyes close against her will, she fights and fights and fights to open them again.
Her eyelids open slowly, and she is too tired to open them completely, but she can see the walls of the hospital again. Kazuma sits at her left, holding her hand in both of his tightly, slumped onto the bedside table in an uncomfortable-looking sleep. His grip is too strong for her to pull her hand back, so instead Susato opts to lift her other arm and thwap him weakly on the shoulder with her hand.
Kazuma startles awake at once.
“I thought you were in London,” she says, and it takes a moment for Kazuma to gather his wits about him to respond.
“I- I came as soon as I heard you had fallen ill.” Kazuma looks rather disheveled and exhausted; had he possibly just arrived not too long ago? Susato is unsure of how long she had been asleep, after all. “You were already unresponsive when I, I...”
Something behind his eyes cracks; the dam keeping his tears back overflows.
“I’m so glad you’re awake,” he chokes out, and presses the back of Susato’s hand against his mouth.
Right now is probably not a good time for Susato to mention that she met his father. She will relay Asougi-sama’s message later.
(Once she is older, Susato learns that Asougi Genshin had expressed a desire to meet Mikotoba Yuujin’s young daughter when they returned from their exchange trip.)
Susato is twenty years old when she sits down at her own desk at the Naruhodou Law Consultation Office for the first time.
“Feels heavy, doesn’t it?” Ryuunosuke asks her as she shifts in her seat to get comfortable.
“I suppose a little bit,” she replies, picking up a pen aimlessly and putting it back down. “It feels... solid.”
“More like a beginning.”
“Good to hear.” Ryuunosuke’s grin spreads all over his face and sends its giddy energy down to his restless feet. “We have a great deal of work to do, Naruhodou-san.”
“Oh, cut that out,” she tells him, swatting at Ryuunosuke with the pen. “I am still Judicial Assistant Mikotoba, even if I am also Attorney Naruhodou.”
“Is it fun, being both?” he asks. “A judicial assistant and a lawyer.”
“The two have different purposes and different tasks. I enjoy having my own cases, but I enjoy helping you with yours as well.”
“I’m glad to hear that, because once Asougi joins us you’ll have to help him with his cases too.”
“I hope that Attorney Naruhodou’s caseload will be adjusted accordingly?”
“Which Attorney Naruhodou?”
Susato smacks Ryuunosuke in the middle of his forehead with the pen.
(Once she is older, Susato will look back at this moment and smile at the end point of all of her ceaseless efforts, and the promising beginning of her career.)
This fic takes place in a "no dead moms" au. The title is a pun, はじめて could either be 初めて which is "for the first time" or 始めて which is "the start of something"