Saiyuu no Ryokou: The Continuing Adventures of Yuriko

The Story So Far: Yuriko is somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of Midori's immediate relatives. She's met Midori's mother and appears to have passed the initial test with flying colors.


Volume 2, Issue 5

"The Lion's Den"


Yuriko wasn't sure what she expected when she entered the house, but this was definitely *not* it. Later, in a moment of quiet reflection, she realized that she had assumed Aoi's whirlwind mania would have wreaked havoc wherever it passed. Instead, she found a front room filled with happy laughter, background sounds of music, children playing, and the smell of noodles boiling. Family sounds, house smells.

Midori's two brothers preceded them into the house, carrying the heaviest of their bags.

Hayao turned and addressed the two women as they slipped their shoes off. "Do you want to be shown your room now, or do you want to enter the fray?"

Midori shot a questioning look at Yuriko, who shrugged indecisively. The writer turned back with a smile. "They've seen me looking worse – and no one's ever seen Yuri, so I think we'll do introductions right away. Is that okay with you?" This last was asked over her shoulder to the blonde.

Yuri waved any concern away. "I look like an only slightly rumpled version of myself. Introductions are fine."

"Great!" Hayao said. "Sato and I will drop your stuff off in your room and we'll be back in a sec." The two men shuffled off with the luggage, while Yuriko slipped into one of the pairs of guest slippers that awaited them.

"Nice guys," Yuri murmured after they passed along the hall.

"Hayao's the best," Midori agreed. While Yuriko had never yet met Midori's second oldest brother, she knew from many stories that they had been co-conspirators as children and were still very close as adults. Like Midori, Hayao was a writer – although his work was confined to technical subjects.

When they entered the expansive living room, several faces, adult and adolescent, turned to greet them.

Midori waved generally at everyone. Two women stood quickly to embrace her, which they did simultaneously. As everyone began speaking at once, Yuriko's brain momentarily shut off.

For a single second, time stopped. Yuriko felt the room slide away from her, faces disappearing into the dark lonely room that had been her life for many years. Years of having only a single person that she could consider "family" – a person not a blood relation at all.

Then time started again, and Yuriko smiled at the thought of her brother, her sister, sister's husband and child, and the many friends that had become a family much more supportive than she could have ever imagined. And it was just that kind of support that she could feel as she entered the room. She saw curiosity on many faces, true, but nothing like rejection or disgust, or any of the things she had associated with "family" for so long.

And then there wasn't time to think of such things, because Ritsuko was greeting her, and Youko was a large, handsome, older woman, but Yuuka was small and willowy and Natsumi was like a grown-up Aoi, and Masaki *was* a lot like Hayao, and Gin and Mihoshi stood there, grinning like it was all a big joke and there were a million young faces, all of whom welcomed Yuriko into their home, into their family, with an enthusiasm that would have made her weep, if she had had a second to process it.

Misono and Sakura were at last allowed to gape at the idol, and joining them was Keisuke, older than they, and probably the frequent object of their admiration. Keisuke was Gin's son and he was almost as tall as the blonde idol, and liable to grow another inch or two. Yuriko got a strong handshake from him, then was whisked away by the girls to meet the "other kids." She heard Midori call something after her, and laughter, but wasn't able to make out the words, over the delighted giggles of the two girls who were pulling her into the back of the house.

The "other kids" appeared to be Satoshi's son Fuuma - a serious youth of about ten who smiled nervously up at her; Youko's children by a previous marriage, Yuuji and Kurika; and Akane, a young, energetic girl of about four who couldn't sit still. Just watching her bouncing around the room made Yuriko tired.

Fuuma pushed up a pair of wire rim glasses and spoke in a quiet, querulous voice. "I'm sorry to be rude, but...what relationship are you to Auntie Midori?"

Yuriko was more taken aback at the formality of the language than the question, but before she could answer, Kurika jumped in.

"She's her husband, silly." The girl was obviously pleased with her own powers of observation.

Fuuma stared. "That doesn't make sense."

Yuriko licked her lips and pressed them shut as the conversation raged around her.

"Girls can't be husbands." Yuuji had his mother's large frame and handsome face.

"Can too." Kurika stuck to her guns.

Yuriko's eyes flicked to Sakura and Misono, then flicked away quickly, for fear of bursting into laughter. Her lips began to twitch.

"Auntie Midori has a husband," Fuuma pondered, almost to himself. "Doesn't she?" His eyes searched those of the older girls.

"She did," Sakura agreed, her own eyes sparkling with mischief. "She traded him in for this one."

"Right!" Misono agreed cheerfully. "A much better deal, I think. Yuriko-san's famous, you know."

Yuriko's eyebrows were threatening to rise completely off her face, but she forced herself to remain silent.

"Famous?" Little Akane stopped bouncing up and down long enough to stare up at Yuriko. "What for?"

"I'm a singer." Yuriko managed to keep her voice even.

"Yeah?" Yuuji puffed up his chest skeptically. "Sing something for us."

"Yuu!!" Kurika reached out and hit her brother, who immediately swatted her back. Fuuma shrank away, as either of the other two was obviously capable of hurting him quite by accident in any ensuing wrestling match.

Yuriko opened her mouth to answer – not that she had any idea what to say, when Sakura rescued her.

"Hey!" the older girl said to all the children, "there's ice cream for anyone who wants. Anyone interested?"

The unanimous shouts of "yes!" effectively ended the conversation. Misono escorted Yuriko back to the adults, while Sakura shepherded the children to the kitchen for the promised treat.

When they reached a quiet hallway, Misono turned to Yuriko, with an evil smile. "That probably wasn't really nice, but we did want you to meet them all, and well, basically – I'm not very nice." She laughed, unrepentant.

Yuriko gave her a reassuring grin. "I've faced the press – this was a piece of cake." The grin turned nasty. "And I'll let your aunt know that you take after her."

Misono grinned back. "If it's any consolation – you came through beautifully."

"I guess," Yuriko said thoughtfully, "with such talent in the family, fame doesn't really impress you guys much."

"Oh no!" Misono said sincerely. "I'm absolutely mortified at my own behavior." She began to walk away, then turned with a giggle. "Remind me to tell you about the time the Prime Minister's children were here for tea – and what Auntie Midori did to them." With a last laugh, she ran off quickly, leaving Yuriko to navigate the unfamiliar hallways herself.

When she managed to make her way back into the living room, she found Midori in an animated conversation with her father. She caught the writer's eye. Midori paused, then said something to her father, and walked over quickly.

"Are you alright?" The dark eyes looked her over worriedly.

"I'm fine – just slightly grilled on both sides." Yuriko rolled her eyes.

"Did I warn you about my family's sense of humor?" Midori asked.

"Yes – but I didn't think it would be my so-called fans who'd get me first!"

The writer curled a hand into the crook of Yuri's elbow comfortingly. "I probably should say something to comfort you, but you might as well complete the mortification process right away. Come on and I'll introduce you to my father."